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Global 21 fourth quarter 2015

along the route. Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route is a collection of paintings, artefacts and photographs exploring the history and significance of the Stock Route from the perspective of the people living in the Western Desert. Curator John Carty, who is also a historian and anthropologist at the Australian National University, says: “The Canning Stock Route Collection came about as part of a three-year collaborative research project with Aboriginal artists and communities around the Western Desert region of Western Australia. “We knew there would be centenary celebrations about the road as a colonial and frontier achievement – a classic, and historically blinkered, Australian narrative that negates the longer stories the road intersected with: the stories of Aboriginal Australia. So we wanted to work with the artists and storytellers to turn the road inside out, and reveal it back to the Australian public as a different kind of history.” In working with artists to explore accounts of the Stock Route, FORM – the arts organisation that originally started the project – found that the concept soon opened the door to fascinating narratives about the lives and histories of the Aboriginal people who lived close to the road, which created an exhibition that went far beyond the legacy of the road itself. “When we set out to tell this story,” says Carty, “I thought I’d be recording Aboriginal oral histories of the Stock Route. But it turns out that was a really limited way of thinking about it. The stories that the artists told and painted are far bigger and far more interesting than the story of that road. Desert people tell the story of the world that road cut across: stories of family, of ecology, of the ancient songlines, stories of their home. The Stock Route is just a scratch on the surface of that story; that longer, deeper version of Australian history.” The name of the exhibition – Kaninjaku – is the term for Canning Stock Route in the language of the local Martu people. It is also the name of a painting by artist Kumpaya Girgaba, whose own life could be the subject of an exhibition. “Kumpaya Girgaba is a hell of a woman!” says Carty. “The life she has lived is hard to get into a proper scale – the velocity of change she has seen in her lifetime is probably unparalleled in human history. She grew up walking around the desert as a young woman, with no contact with white people. Now she finds herself a historian and an artist of international repute! And yet, as with all the artists involved, her grace and generosity in sharing her stories with Australians is boundless.” Interestingly, the painting Kaninjaku doesn’t actually have the Canning Stock Route in it. Or if it is in there, it is one of red, orange and white lines that represent the sandhills of the desert. “In Kumpaya’s way of seeing things,” Carty says, “the Stock Route is far less important than the story, beauty and power of her country.” Mervyn Street is the artist behind Old Days of the Stockmen, another stand-out painting from the exhibition. He painted it in 2012, drawing on images conjured up by tales he had heard from relatives who worked as drovers on the Stock Route. Aboriginal stockmen and women outnumbered the white drovers using the Stock Route in In Focus Australia its later days and contributed greatly to its success. Street was born in 1960 at Louisa Downs Station in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia and grew up speaking Gooniyandi. He’s now an author, illustrator and carver, as well as being a painter, and teaches his native language to younger generations. “A lotta old people telling me ’bout how they used to drove from Billiluna straight across to Wiluna,” says Street. “But they’re not in the photos, they got no name. Nothing. They gotta be part of this droving story.” With Aboriginal Australians still struggling with land rights, and not yet enjoying the same levels of protection and recognition under law that indigenous minority groups have been granted in some other countries, projects that tell of history from the point of view of Aboriginals are ever more important. Carty despairs as he cites outgoing Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s often quoted description of Australia as ‘scarcely settled’ when the British first arrived. “It’s difficult to tell stories in any country that sit in opposition to the master narrative of the public,” he laments. “Most Australians remain somewhat ignorant of the depth and breadth of Aboriginal history over which British colonial history was laid. This exhibition seeks to address ‘History used to be written by those holding the pens; hopefully in Australia it is also now being re-written by those holding the paintbrushes’ Left: Kaninjaku (2008) Acrylic on canvas Kumpaya Girgaba, Martumili Artists © John Veevers, John Veevers Collection, Audiovisual Archive, AIATSIS Above: The survey helicopter at Natawalu (Well 40) in 1957 with, from the left: Wimmitji Tjapangati, Mickey Candle, Ngangu, Brandy Tjungurrayi and Dick Cowboy www.global global four th quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 65


Global 21 fourth quarter 2015
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