This weekend’s Carrolup Symposium added another chapter to the story of the Australian aboriginal child artwork that Colgate discovered in 2005 and returned to a descendent community at Curtin University in 2013.
The pieces currently on display in the Koolanga Boodja Neh Nidjuuk (Children Listen- ing and Looking on Country) exhibit at the Picker Art Gallery were created by aboriginal children who had been taken from their families from ages as young as 18 months. The children were locked in the “schools” at night and forcibly assimilated into Australian culture. This practice was widespread throughout Australia between 1910 and 1970, but it was only at the Carrolup Native School in Southwestern Australia that a teacher noticed one young boy drawing a tree and decided to buy art supplies for the children. Flash forward to 2005 and a large collection of these works were discovered at Colgate University. Through the efforts of Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies Ellen Kraly and other Colgate faculty, the works were returned to Curtin University in 2013. In honor of Colgate’s bicentennial, Curtin loaned a selection of works to the Picker Art Gallery in order to retell this story and strengthen the connection between Colgate and the Noongar community.
Dr. Anja Chavez, Director of University Museums at Colgate, began the welcome ceremony by recognizing that Colgate stands on Oneida nation land and thanking the Noongar elders and the representative from Curtin University who came from Australia. There were multiple representatives from the Oneida nation who then personally welcomed the Noongar elders to their land.
Before performing a Woods Edge Ceremony, an Oneida elder named Brian offered remarks on the tradition.
“We give our thanksgiving that we are able to meet, all walks of life, in this room,” Brian said.
During the ceremony, travelers were offered cool, fresh water to drink and their tears were symbolically wiped from their eyes with a cocktail napkin emblazoned with the bicentennial C, which replaced the traditional deerskin. They then were dusted off of any physical or spiritual obstructions that may have attached themselves along the way.
“We welcome you with peace, power and righteousness in a good heart and of a good mind,” Brian said to the Noongar people.
Many gifts were exchanged between the Oneida Nation, the Noongar visitors, Colgate and Curtin University, and the mutual respect was palpable in the words of each speaker. The works will be returning to Curtin University on June 30.
Contact Elizabeth Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.