So runs the sub-title of a stunning Aboriginal Art exhibition that is now on tour from the National Museum of Australia. Of course, the Canning Stock Route has had its dominant “whitefella” story told many times. We claim it as the toughest, remotest and (at 1850km) longest historic stock route in the world. Around the 1900s, cattlemen in the East Kimberley ranges sought an effective and competitive means of getting their stock to market. A direct route through the desert to Wiluna was deemed to be both possible and desirable. Conveniently spaced water sources were all that were needed, and the desert Aborigines knew where these were. Cruel methods of manipulation and coercion of Aborigines from the various language groups enabled wells to be sunk alongside the soaks and watercourses along the otherwise arid way. The full story (from “whitefella” perspective) can be explored here.
The interactive art exhibition, Ngurra Kuju Walyja: One Country One People, allows us to hear the story as told by descendants of the Desert people, a diverse range of language groups that retain the custodianship of the pre stock route boundaries, stories, songs and culture that have helped them retain their identity and replicate it in art form. The stories are fascinating as the now disused stock route serves another purpose in binding these communities together while they continue to find and assert anew their place in 21st century Australia.
The exhibition is not a “black arm-band” approach to history (to coin a phrase introduced by a former prime minister), but a frank and open exercise in ensuring all voices are heard and that all perspectives are seen, thus affording a total picture rather than enabling us to continue to accept a partial telling as the whole. Apart from tragedy and loss, the stories include humour and appreciation stemming from encounters with the kartiya (n0n-Aborigines).
Such exhibitions go a long way to promoting mutual respect. If you get the chance, go and see!