Stolen Generations artwork missing for 70 years discovered in Manjimup home

A lost piece of artwork painted by an Aboriginal child of Australia’s Stolen Generations has been discovered hanging in a WA home 70 years later.

WARNING: Aboriginal spirit Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of deceased people.

The historic artwork was drawn by Ross Jones while at Carrolup Native Settlement near Katanning in Western Australia’s Great Southern region.

Hand drawn pieces by children at the mission in the 1940s have been discovered across the world in recent years with the latest work found hanging in a home in Manjimup.

‘Incredible find’

John Curtin Gallery’s Carrolup manager Kathleen Toomath, the daughter of Carrolup artist Alma Toomath, said the discovery was exciting.

“It’s incredible that we’ve got the job,” she said.

The artwork created by a child has been discovered decades later. (Supplied: Sam Proctor)

“It’s truly wonderful to have located another missing artwork.”

The piece was identified by Manjimup doctor Patrick Pemberton who recognized its similarities to other Carrolup pieces during a public appeal by the gallery in July.

Several pieces were sent to the UK for an exhibition in the hope of discovering more lost works which held historical and cultural significance.

Ms Toomath said adding to the remarkable discovery was the fact the gallery had a photo of Brian holding the piece taken when he was at the mission aged 13.

His family were invited to view the piece, which depicts rolling hills and gumtrees, in private at the gallery.

An Aboriginal teen holding a drawing
Ross Jones with his artwork painted at Carrolup Native Settlement in WA’s south. (Courtesy of Noelene White Collection)

Family’s reaction

Ms Toomath said family members of the late Mr Jones were stunned by the discovery.

“It may be a humble piece of art created by a child aged six to 14 which is the only representation of that person’s life, you can imagine how precious that can be to someone,” she said.

“It’s crucial to find works to help connect to their families and place.”

Works late around the world

The mission was founded with a forced march of about 180 Aboriginal people from a reserve near Katanning to the facility south-west of the town.

English woman Florence Rutter heard about the extraordinary drawings and visited Carrolup in 1949.

She was given about 1,000 pictures to take back to London to exhibit and sell, with the intention that money would come back to Carrolup.

A painting of a corroboree
‘A Native Corroboree’ – a painting by Reynold Hart from 1949.(Supplied)

They were then distributed around the world, with many still unaccounted for, but 120 paintings were discovered by chance in storage at Colgate University, New York, in 2004.

Ross Jones’ work was purchased by Dr Pemberton’s father at Foyle’s Art Gallery during Ms Rutter’s exhibition in London in 1951.

Carrolup Elders Reference Group chair Tony Hansen said the artworks had significant cultural value.

“These artworks show how young Aboriginal children – forcibly separated from their families, isolated, segregated, traumatized and living in an unknown place – still found beauty and connection to country through their art,” he said.

A painting of kangaroos on an outback landscape
Down to Drink is one of the long-lost Carrolup artworks returning to country.(Supplied: Paul Dempster)

The artwork has been loaned to the gallery until early next year.

The gallery wants to hear from members of Ross Jones’ family and anyone who believes they may possess a Carrolup work.

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