Ngurra Kuju Walyja - One Country, One People: the Canning Stock Route project
Ngurra Kuju Walyja: One Country, One People is an innovative art, heritage and cultural project celebrating the lives and stories of Western Desert Aboriginal people.
It explores their connections to the country surrounding the Canning Stock Route as it bisects the deserts of Western Australia.
The Canning Stock route is a 1,750 km track through the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson deserts in Western Australia joining the towns of Wiluna and Halls Creek. It was developed to meet the demand for meat in the south west of the state during the gold rushes and expansion of the colony.
The route was pioneered by Alfred Canning in 1906–07 to transport cattle from the Kimberley to the southern goldfields. Canning sank more than 50 wells along the route using Aboriginal guides; it was the guides' knowledge of local water sources which made it possible to drive the cattle across this vast and inhospitable remote area.
The Canning Stock route runs through the country of nine language groups, providing a point of inspiration for exploring the heritage, culture and art of Aboriginal Australians in remote Australia.
it is important for the stories to be told for the Stock Route, from the Aboriginal point of view. If kartiya [non-Aboriginal people] are celebrating a hundred years, Aboriginal people should tell their story for history too…People want to talk about their Country. They are still worrying about Country. These stories are important. [Kumanjayi] said he is getting old now and asks "who are these young people who will keep going to Country?
Joy Nuggett, Walmajarri, cultural liaison officer, Fitzroy Crossing
The Canning Stock Route project was devised by cultural organisation FORM in Western Australia to examine and document, through art, film, music and oral history, what the Canning Stock route means for Aboriginal Australians. FORM brought together a large group of artists representing nine Aboriginal art centres and organisations from remote communities in the Little Sandy, Great Sandy and Gibson deserts and the Kimberley.
‘The Canning Stock Route Project harnesses and acknowledges some of the important voices of the first Australians from across the Western Desert,' says FORM's Cultural Relations Manager Carly Davenport, who is also managing the Canning Stock Route Project. ‘The many participants, agencies, organisations and partners on the Project are collaborating because they recognise there is no better time in Australian history than now, particularly post 2008's National Apology, to celebrate Western Australia's vibrant cultural forces.'
seventy artists, including some of Australia's most senior and respected artists—Eubena Nampitjin, Jan Billycan, Helicopter Tjungurrayi, Spider Snell and Patrick Olodoodi Tjungurrayi—took a return-to-country journey in 2007, travelling the length of the Canning Stock Route. They were joined on their journey through the lands of Martu, Kukatja, Manyjilyjarra, Wangkajunga, Walmajarri and Yulparija peoples by a team of Aboriginal cultural advisors, interpreters, curators, filmmakers, mechanics and health workers.
During the journey, artists participated in workshops to create artworks inspired by the history and country of the stock route; oral histories were recorded and photographs and film documented the trip.
Clifford Brooks is a Martu artist connected to Tjukurba Gallery in Wiluna. ‘The white man history has been told and it's today in the book. But our history is not there properly. That's one way to tell 'em. We've got to tell 'em through our paintings. They might see it through there.'
The Canning Stock Route Project has created a beautiful and exciting collection of artworks, cultural objects and cultural material. Nearly 100 artists and countrymen have participated in the project.
Nurturing young Aboriginal curators
The Canning Stock Route Project is much more than a process of documenting Stock Route country through art. The project is also contributing to the professional development of young Aboriginal Australians in the areas of photography, film and curatorship.
Three Aboriginal multimedia trainees, Clint Dixon, Kenneth ‘KJ' Martin and Morika Biljabu, documented the Canning Stock Route journey under the supervision of a professional film crew, by recording oral histories and making short films.
They continue to work with the curatorial team in readying multimedia content for the exhibition. Three emerging Aboriginal curators, Louise Mengil, Terry Murray and Hayley Atkins, are working with the curatorial team at FORM and the National Museum of Australia to develop the exhibition.
All of the young professionals come from remote communities, and travel every few months to Perth or Canberra for weeklong intensive sessions with the Perth-based core Project team. They are also closely involved on the ground when the team travels out bush to the communities to run workshops or consult with artists.
‘I get to help tell the story of the Canning Stock Route which tells the history from an Aboriginal world view,' says Louise Mengil from the Mirruwong tribe in the Kununurra area. ‘Our job is to tell the story of the nine art centres involved and all their artists and make sure all the pieces of the project fit together, so that there are no missing pieces for our history.' The skills that these young Aboriginal curators are developing through this project, together with their cultural knowledge, creates a valuable model for museums and art galleries curating Aboriginal material. The mentorship model established by the project also illustrates how remote-based individuals can participate in professional development programs and still maintain their commitments to family and community life.
The National Museum of Australia recently purchased the collection of Project artworks and accompanying documentary materials which will appear in the exhibition. As a result, these Canning Stock Route Project materials will stay together as a collection, becoming part of the National Historical Collection.
The remaining archive of original cultural content gathered by the Project, which includes numerous oral histories, transcripts and many hours of audio-visual material, as well as thousands of photographs will be returned to the participating Aboriginal arts and cultural centres.
"The Canning Stock Route collection is one of the most important collections which the Museum has acquired," said Craddock Morton, director of the National Museum of Australia.
"For many years, the story of the stock route was represented as a white man's story—this collection makes us recognise that its history goes back much further and is held in the minds and hearts of the Aboriginal people of the region."
Tjukurba Gallery (Wiluna), Martumili Artists (Newman, Punmu, Jigalong, Parngurr) Yulparija Artists(Bidyadanga), Mangkaja Artists (Fitzroy Crossing), Ngurra Artists (Halls Creek), Paruku IPA (Mulan), Warlayirti Artists (Balgo), Papunya Tula (Kiwirrkurra) and Kayili Artists (Patjarr) participated in the project. Partners: BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Lotterywest, The Indigenous Land Corporation and the National Museum of Australia. Supporting partners: Freehills, BHP Billiton Nickel West, Landgate.
The project is also supported by Visions Australia and the Western Australian Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts, Department of Water, Department of Local Government and Regional Development, and Aboriginal Economic Development.