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‘Stolen Generation’ artwork to transfer to Western Australia

News story

In an important example of international, cultural, and educational collaboration, Colgate University in New York will transfer 119 Indigenous artworks to Curtin University in Western Australia.

Parnell Dempster, Down to Drink, ca 1949, pastel, 58 x 76cm, Gift of Herbert Mayer ‘29
Parnell Dempster, Down to Drink, ca 1949, pastel, 58 x 76cm, Gift of Herbert Mayer ‘29

The works, a significant part of the heritage and history of the region, were created by Noongar children who were part of Australia’s ‘Stolen Generations.’

The artwork, which includes drawings and paintings produced between 1945 and 1951 at the Carrolup Native School and Settlement in the great

southern region of Western Australia, was the subject of international news coverage in 2005 when it was exhibited in Colgate’s Picker Art Gallery.

In recognition of the gift, Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jeanette Hacket and Colgate University Provost and Dean of the Faculty Professor Douglas Hicks signed a memorandum of agreement during a ceremony at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University today.

A painting, Hunting by Reynold Hart, was presented to Curtin at the ceremony to symbolise the future transfer of the full collection.

Professor Hacket said the longstanding academic connection between Curtin and Colgate has created a strong relationship that is expected to continue for many more years.

“We are grateful that Colgate sees the deep and enduring value in returning the art to Noongar country,” she said.

The Noongar art pieces were given to Colgate in 1966 by alumnus Herbert Mayer, a well-known New York City collector. He had purchased the works from a major benefactor to the Carrolup School, Florence Rutter, who provided funds to the school and its children.

The artwork features native landscape and bush scenes as well as animals, hunting, and traditional Noongar cultural activities. The genre has influenced the work of several well-known contemporary Australian artists.

The collection has, and will continue to be, the focus of joint study between Curtin and Colgate. Over the past eight years, many Colgate students, under the guidance of Professor Ellen Percy Kraly, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Geography, have travelled to Western Australia to visit the Mungart Boodja Art Centre and the John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University to learn about Noongar art and culture in the region.

Professor Kraly initiated the talks among Colgate, Curtin, and Noongar leaders.

“The relocation of the art will allow both the conservation and exhibition of the work for future generations of Noongar people and others in Western Australia,” she said.

“The work has so much meaning in country that it deserves to be within the hearts, souls, and eyes of the people.”

Professor Hicks said that Colgate’s goal is to provide access to the art for Noongar people, particularly those in rural Western Australia.

“We hold these treasures in high regard and expect to continue and even extend the cooperative educational and exhibition efforts around them,” he said.

The gift of the artwork is the result of more than a year of discussion between Colgate and Curtin, and consultation with representatives from the Mungart Boodja organisation.

Mungart Boodja organisation CEO, Ezzard Flowers, said the community was pleased to see the historic art returned to its country of origin.

“It is a time for celebration in Noongar country and in Western Australia. We are very grateful to our friends at Colgate who understand how much this means to us.”

Note to editor:

Colgate University is a highly selective residential liberal arts institution distinguished by the dedication of its 294 full-time faculty-scholars, and its commitment to global engagement, student-faculty research, off-campus study, sustainable practices, and utilizing technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience.

Curtin University is Western Australia’s largest and most multicultural university with the highest enrolment of Aboriginal students of any Australian university. Curtin was the first university in Australia to sign a Statement of Reconciliation and has a longstanding commitment to Indigenous education and culture.