Creative Routes: An artistic journey along the Canning Stock Route

Creative Routes: Indigenous artists of the Canning Stock Route

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On a chilly Canberra day (is there any other type in winter?), I visited the Australian museum to view an exhibition titled
“ Kaninjaku: stories from the Canning stock route”.  This area which takes in a number of tribal homelands along the remote deserts of Western Australia, is vibrant with a unique and diverse range of  Indigenous artists. The route which travels from Halls creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the mid west is the longest stock route in the world. It was a huge achievement and named in honour of its creator, Alfred Canning.

It is also has a dark and brutal history. The country which the explorer passed through was difficult terrain for a white man. He needed the help of the Indigenous trackers which was freely given and in return he treated the people savagely. I cannot describe in detail some of the shocking things Canning and his cohorts  did. They were sufficient to lead to the establishment in 1908 of a Royal Commission into his behaviour. Call me cynical, but I was not surprised to learn of his exoneration, he was an important figure in opening the West.

“This place has been continually visited and possibly inhabited for the past 15–25,000 years.”
Dr Shaun Canning, archaeologist and anthropologist and great grand-nephew of Alfred Canning.

But every generation is different and the grand nephew of the explorer valued the creative products of the ancient Indigenous tribes of the area. As I stood before each painting, allowing them to affect me, I was taken by the unique approach of each artist in depicting their cultural homelands. Some artists wanted to recognise the skill and hard work of the black drovers, others painted a traditional homeland without the influence of white men who they believed killed the Rainbow Serpent, a creator being when they poisoned the wells.  The richness and versatility of their creations is testimony to the strength and resilience of the artists’ spirit.

4 thoughts on “Creative Routes: An artistic journey along the Canning Stock Route

  1. Hi Kate. I have a brother-in-law who’s addicted to travelling the Canning Stock Route in a 4WD. These images are amazing. And I like the juxtaposition of ‘the newest technologies with the oldest culture.’ You must have enjoyed your visit very much.

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  2. Thanks Denise yes, I really enjoyed the different aspects of the experience; different histories, different impacts of the desert on white explorers and Indigenous and most of all the creative responses of the artists to the past and present,

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  3. The artistry is breathtaking, and I’m sure the journey even more so. The harshness of their treatment when their needs were met so generously doesn’t jive does it. Why? And yet it still goes on today, and still we have no answers. I’d always thought education would make the difference but it hasn’t.

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