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New family connection to historic paintings created by Nyungar children

Media release

Aboriginal artist Kathleen Toomath will continue her late mother’s legacy to help safeguard the treasured collection of artworks created by Nyungar children who were part of Australia’s Stolen Generations.

Kathleen Toomath and Michelle Broun, pictured with some of the Carrolup works. Photo credit: Sam Proctor.

Ms Toomath, the daughter of the late Alma Toomath (nee Cuttabutt), the last-known surviving Carrolup artist who passed away earlier this year, has been appointed the Carrolup Manager at the John Curtin Gallery.

Her appointment coincides with the opening of a new interim exhibition, titled ‘Carrolup Coolingah Wirn’, meaning the spirit of Carrolup children, which is the first exhibition curated by Michelle Broun, the Curator of Australian First Nations Art at the John Curtin Gallery.

John Curtin Gallery Director Chris Malcolm said he was delighted to welcome Ms Toomath to the Gallery to protect and promote the Carrolup collection, including the significant work her mother started as a child living at the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s.

“Aunty Alma was a Stolen Generations survivor, taken from her family as a young child who entrusted her own artwork, alongside others repatriated from Colgate University in the US, into the care of the John Curtin Gallery,” Mr Malcolm said.

“An artist and advocate in her own right, it is only fitting that Kathleen joins the John Curtin Gallery to ensure these precious artworks remain protected and accessible to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people throughout Western Australia and beyond.

“Kathleen will be deeply involved in the development of the Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, which will become the dedicated new home for The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks within the Curtin University Art Collection.”

Ms Toomath said she was honoured to play a key role in safeguarding the precious stories of Nyungar children who were taken from their families.

“Each of these works tell a unique story from every child’s experience and I embrace my new role in nurturing and sharing these remarkable works for generations to come,” Ms Toomath said.

After an incredible 65-year journey circumnavigating the world including a 40-year hiatus in the US, where the works lay undiscovered in storage, Colgate University in New York granted Curtin University’s John Curtin Gallery custodianship of the Collection in 2013, where they are cared for under the guidance of the Carrolup Elders Reference Group.

Carrolup Elders Reference Group Chair Tony Hansen said the new interim exhibition focused on a cohort of stolen children whose artworks and stories provided opportunities for truthful conversations about the impact of colonisation, the Stolen Generations, and the rights of children today.

“This engaging exhibition is built around a selection of artworks from The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks and will offer an interim home until the Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling opens in 2023,” Mr Hansen said.

“The interim exhibition will create opportunities for schools and other interested groups to visit the works and learn about the children’s stories in a culturally safe space.”

Carrolup Coolingah Wirn’ opens to the public from Wednesday, November 17, at the John Curtin Gallery.

For more information about the exhibition and The Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, visit here.