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Global 21 fourth quarter 2015

In Focus Australia Dreaming and droving: the Canning Stock Route When the centenary of the opening of an iconic droving route through Western Australia’s desert approached, a local art group knew that official celebrations would likely tell its story from the perspective of the white settlers. So they put together an exhibition from the point of view of the desert people who had lived in the area for thousands of years Katie Silvester When a helicopter landed in the Western Australia desert in 1957, the Aboriginal people who saw it land thought it was a giant wasp or dragonfly. Some of them had never seen a white person before. None of them had seen a helicopter. The aircraft had brought mining surveyors to the area, but unlike so many other encounters between indigenous and European cultures in that era, this one was beneficial for both sides. The surveyors shared food with the people they met and soon found themselves caught up in a medical emergency when ten-year-old Tjungurrayi was taken seriously ill and his family requested help to transport him to Balgo mission. Tjungurrayi says: “I was walking around long time, but I got sick … that’s when that helicopter got me. He came in a helicopter and put it down at my father’s camp. He spoke to me not in Kukatja, but in English. I was sitting there puzzled. I spoke in Kukatja: ‘Take me to Balgo to the medicine.’ They put in on the helicopter right there, me and my mother.” Tjungurrayi’s health was restored by medics at the mission and he has been known as ‘Helicopter’ ever since. A photograph of Tjungurrayi standing by the helicopter with other Kukatja people is one of the centre pieces of an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra called Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route. The Canning Stock Route was created in the early 1900s, as a means to droving cattle through Western Australia between the gold mining town of Wiluna to Stuart Creek in the north, across 1,800 km of desert. Surveyor Alfred Canning plotted the route, along which wells were dug to water the cattle. The Stock Route suffered mixed fortunes. There was soon conflict between the local people and the whites, with deaths on both sides – the indigenous community resented their vital water supplies being re-routed to wells, attacking surveyors and early drovers. In retaliation, some Aboriginals were killed and others enslaved and forced to show surveyors where water could be found. However, in the later years of the Stock Route, which fell out of use in 1959 thanks to more modern transport methods, Aboriginal people themselves found work as drovers 64 l www.global -br ief ing.org four th quar ter 2015 global


Global 21 fourth quarter 2015
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