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Colgate University, Curtin University expand collaboration with Colgate’s gift of indigenous art

By Debra Townsend on May 7, 2013
This 1949 painting by Reynold Hart is called "A Native Corroboree." It is one of the 119 indigenous artworks going from Colgate to Curtin University in Western Australia.

This 1949 painting by Reynold Hart is called “A Native Corroboree.” It is one of the 119 indigenous artworks going from Colgate to Curtin University in Western Australia.

In an important example of international, cultural, and educational collaboration, Colgate University will give 119 indigenous artworks to Curtin University in Western Australia. The works, a significant part of the heritage and history of the region, were created by Noongar children who were part of Australia’s “Stolen Generations.”

The artwork, which includes drawings and paintings produced between 1945 and 1951 at the Carrolup Native School and Settlement in the southwest region of Western Australia, was the subject of international news coverage in 2005 when it was exhibited in Colgate’s Picker Art Gallery.

In recognition of the gift, Curtin University Vice Chancellor Professor Jeanette Hacket and Colgate University Provost and Dean of the Faculty Douglas Hicks signed a memorandum of agreement today during a ceremony at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University. A painting, “Hunting” by Reynold Hart, was given at the ceremony to symbolize the future transfer of the full collection.

Hacket said the longstanding academic connection between Curtin and Colgate has created a strong relationship that is expected to continue for many more years. “We are grateful that Colgate sees the deep and enduring value in returning the art to Noongar country,” she said.

The Noongar art pieces were given to Colgate in 1966 by Herbert Mayer ‘29, a well-known New York City collector. He had purchased the works from a major benefactor to the Carrolup School, Florence Rutter, who provided funds to the school and its children.

The artwork features native landscape and bush scenes as well as animals, hunting, and traditional Noongar cultural activities. The genre has influenced the work of several well-known contemporary Australian artists.


The Carrolup collection represents a painful time in Western Australian history. Between 1910 and 1970, an estimated 100,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents and sent to institutions or placed with white foster families.

This policy was designed to ‘assimilate’ indigenous people, and these children became known as the “Stolen Generations.”  Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to the affected families on behalf of the Australian government in February 2008.

The collection has been, and will continue to be, the focus of joint study between Curtin and Colgate. During the past eight years, many Colgate students, under the guidance of Professor Ellen Percy Kraly, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of geography, have travelled to Western Australia to visit the Mungart Boodja Art Centre and the John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University to learn about Noongar art and culture in the region.

Kraly initiated the talks among Colgate, Curtin, and Noongar leaders. “The relocation of the art will allow both the conservation and exhibition of the work for future generations of Noongar people and others in Western Australia,” she said. “The work has so much meaning in country that it deserves to be within the hearts, souls, and eyes of the people.”

Hicks said that Colgate’s goal is to provide access to the art for Noongar people, particularly those in rural Western Australia. “We hold these treasures in high regard and expect to continue and even extend the cooperative educational and exhibition efforts around them,” he said.

The gift of the artwork is the result of more than a year of discussion between Colgate and Curtin, and consultation with the representatives from the Mungart Boodja organization.

Spokesperson for the Mungart Boodja organization Ezzard Flowers said the community was pleased to see the historic art returned to its country of origin.

“It is a time for celebration in Noongar country and in Western Australia. We are very grateful to our friends at Colgate who understand how much this means to us.”

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst (left) and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Douglas Hicks sign the agreement with Curtin University of Western Australia.

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst (left) and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Douglas Hicks sign the agreement with Curtin University, of Western Australia.


  • Paul Craig '77 said:

    I live in Perth and have an office adjacent to the Curtin campus. When will the artwork arrive in Perth? I would love to be part of the event.

    • Matt Hames said:

      Hi Paul,

      The details are still being worked out with Curtin University. When we know the details, we will report them in this news section.

  • Margaret Cromwell said:

    My time and experiences in Western Australia with the Noongar people are so special that they are hard to put into words. I try my best, though, when people ask about the rain sticks and boomerang hanging in my room. I always describe to them our visit to the sacred birthing site or the breathtaking scenery in Carrolup country.

    I am so proud to have been part of such an important cause. Thank you to Ellen Kraly for all of her hard work, and for giving myself and the other Colgate students such a wonderful opportunity to experience.

  • Rebecca Brereton said:

    Congratulations! What a truly momentous occasion that took years of hard work, relationship-building, moving forward when we thought we were moving backwards… and an unwavering commitment on the part of Ellen and Colgate (including all of us who have had the privilege of being directly connected to the artwork!) to ensure continued access to, educational opportunities around, and preservation of such an important piece of Australian and Noongar history and culture.

  • Erin McNally '15 said:

    Talented and inspirational artistic pieces- everyone should try to check them out at the Picker Art Gallery while they can! I truly feel honored to be traveling to Australia next semester to hopefully get a taste of the Colgate-Curtin connection as well.

  • Christopher Nulty '09 said:

    I had the incredible opportunity of traveling to Western Australia in 2008 with Professor Kraly and 13 other students for what became one of the most important experiences of my Colgate career. There are no words that can express what an incredibly vital role Ellen Kraly played in building and facilitating this relationship, transforming the way so many Colgate students (beyond just those who traveled to Australia) understand the power and privilege of art and culture.

  • Meg Hanley '11 said:

    Repatriation is as much a celebration of the return of these works as it is a celebration of their time at Colgate. Through the Colgate-Curtin-Noongar connection, more than 50 students (myself included) have been welcomed to Western Australia by Noongar elders, anthropologists and artists. Our experience was more than a cultural exchange; it was a movement towards understanding a dispossessed people and the landscapes that define their being. Here’s to a continued relationships between these three unique groups! I hope that Colgate will continue to “search within”, exploring its holdings in order to create such special bonds across cultures, institutes and continents.

  • Jack Romedahl said:

    Totally fantastic artwork! And much appreciated words with this sentence “The work has so much meaning in country that it deserves to be within the hearts, souls, and eyes of the people.”