Art: The long route home

Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route is a vibrant multimedia exhibition. It tells the story of dispersal and conflict that marks this infamous cattle drovers’ trail from the perspective of the Aboriginal peoples whose land it dissects. 

The Canning Stock Route follows a track almost 2,000km long from Halls Creek in Kimberley, Western Australia, to Wiluna on the edge of the Western Desert (700 km northeast of Perth). A chain of 54 wells, each roughly one day’s walk apart, marks the path that cuts across the traditional lands of many Aboriginal groups. In April 1906, Alfred Canning was commissioned to survey a route along which up to 800 head of cattle could be driven. He used the knowledge of local people to help guide him – men who were often coerced into cooperating with Canning’s team and restrained from escape by police-issue neck-chains. 

Initially, three painters from six art centres along the drovers’ trail were invited to participate in the Canning Stock Route Project in early 2007. Just one year later, around 90 artists from 10 different language groups were involved. Despite the great physical distances separating them, almost all the participants were related by marriage, kinship or blood – their dispersal a consequence of the making and use of the route. 

Yiwarra Kuju provides an insight into a wider five-year project that recorded the oral histories and cultural heritage of the communities living along the Canning Stock Route. It combines traditional style Aboriginal painting (acrylic on canvas) with short films, photographs and an astonishing 8-metre-long interactive multimedia installation that takes the viewer on a thought-provoking journey along the route itself.


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