During the late 1940s a unique art movement grew from the heart of the Great Southern that would change the way the world viewed Aboriginal Australians. Some have heard of Carrolup, or what is now known as Marribank, but the phenomenon of the child artists whose work became world famous remains a mystery to many. Social anthropologist Professor John Stanton is one of the key people who has worked to uncover and share the story of Carrolup, its history and significance. Between Katanning and Kojonup lies the site of Carrolup Native Settlement. Though now in a state of disrepair, its story is very much alive. Established in 1915, 40km from Katanning, Aboriginal children led an institutionalised life at the settlement. In 1947, a small group of boys aged seven to 14 started to attract attention at the Katanning Agricultural Show and then in Perth for their “remarkable” landscape art. The children’s teacher, Noel White, earned their confidence and trust with his education program of art-based activities. Their drawings, done in crayons or chalk, improved over time as a result of regular bush “rambles” and Mr White’s ability to show the children how to harness their artistic talent. Professor Stanton has spent the better part of 40 years researching and working on the Carrolup Project with his colleague David Clark, aiming to preserve the legacy of the child artists by bringing their story to light. The professor was in Albany at the weekend for a series of presentations about the Carrolup child artists. The New Zealand-raised 71-year-old said he believed he was born an anthropologist. He first became aware of the Carrolup child art in 1976 when he was working at the University of WA as the curator of the Berndt Museum of Anthropology. There, he saw two landscape paintings by Revel Cooper, one of the more famous child artists, framing the study door of Ronald Berndt, and the research began. In July 1949, UK woman Florence Rutter saw examples of the children’s artworks in a magazine and was so impressed she visited the settlement and bought some of their pieces. “I realised these boys had become world famous from 1940-1951 to when (Carrolup) closed and they were known all over the world through the work of Florence Rutter introducing people to this art which she thought would help the children develop a profession as artists,” Professor Stanton said. Mrs Rutter exhibited the drawings around Australia, New Zealand and later Europe. Professor Stanton had been searching for the lost collection for 25 years — and his stubborn determination has been vindicated. In 2005, he made a 38-hour trip to the US with Goreng elder Ezzard Flowers and Athol Farmer in the hope of bringing back 20 pieces for the 2006 Koorah Collingah (Children Long Ago) exhibition in Katanning. “It was very emotional,” Professor Stanton said. “We asked to be alone and cry, it was the first time it had been seen by Noongar people in 55 years. “It was one of the strongest experiences I’ve had in 50 years working with Aboriginal people.” The collection was eventually returned to Noongar Boodja and can now be found in the John Curtin Gallery. Professor Stanton said the re-emergence of the Carrolup child artist story had put a spotlight on an exciting period in Aboriginal art. “A lot of artists in the 1980s-90s right through to today were inspired by the work of the landscape artists of that early period,” he said. “This was something emerged through the children with the support of a teacher, an ordinary primary school teacher, “(Mr White) taught them to see what they were looking at, to develop ideas about perspective, composition, balance and detail. “He’d take them for rambles in the bush then they would come back and draw with pastel and watercolour what they had seen. “He was a sympathetic teacher who helped develop the best abilities they had. Really it was the children who had the talent but he had the talent of being a good teacher and encouraging in the right way.” Professor Stanton said he believed the Carrolup Project had made a positive impact on Noongar and Whadjulla people alike. With the weekend’s events a first for Albany, he said he wanted to help more people discover that something special had happened in the Great Southern in the 1940s. He and Mr Clark set up a website a few years ago to get the story out there and bring it to the attention of modern media. “The most important thing is that the children’s art has inspired generations of other regions’ artists and that will continue into the future,” he said. “A lot of people still don’t know what that happened here on a little so-called government native settlement for children right in the middle of this region. “That’s why we are starting to talk about the story as being a focal point of the history of the South West and the history of Australia. It’s a great story.” For more information, visit www.carrolup.info.