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Collection stories

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Donation from the Motton family

Ballet 1951, by Aileen Motton, was a donation from the Motton family to the National Museum. Motton created the work Ballet at Weipa Mission school, especially for Queensland’s Sunday Mail children’s art competition. Between 1943 and 1984, the competition was a Queensland tradition and an important event in the state’s education calendar. For the duration of the competition, a selection of entries, including those by the finalists, were printed in the newspaper. This competition promoted the schools as much as it was a ‘good news story’ for readers.

Motton was a 13-year-old student at Weipa Mission school when she painted Ballet. It represents a dance experience from her perspective; the work shows the dynamic movement and placement of performers and audience within a landscape. The title suggests the influence of the missionaries and the introduction of European cultural ideas into Motton’s world. The work itself depicts figures wearing grass skirts and dance props, which suggests a more traditional Tjungundji type of dance rather than that of Western-style ballet. As a 13-year-old Aboriginal girl, living on a mission under the constraints of ‘the Act’ (Aborigines Preservation and Protection Act and the Torres Strait Islanders Act, 1939), Motton would not have had access or permission to travel to places that would showcase ballet. However, the mission school would have had books and images that illustrated what a ballet was.

The missionary and teacher Mrs Margaret Wynne brought Ballet from Weipa to Brisbane in 1951. It was common practice for schools from across the state to submit works on behalf of their students. A photo and biography of the student and a caption explaining the work is still attached to the matting framing the painting along with the Sunday Mail completion stickers.

Barbara Paulson, Curator, ATSIP

Shineberg collection

Dianne Shineberg offered this material to the Museum as a donation. It was generated from a class oral history project that was completed in 1985, while Shineberg was a teacher at Woorabinda State School. Like most state schools in Aboriginal communities, the majority of students are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and this collection documents a ‘mission’ experience at Woorabinda from the perspective of year 8 students at the school in 1985. It presents the oral histories of their Elders who they invited into the classroom to share their stories and be recorded. This collection is significant as it represents an aspect of the social changes that occurred in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural groups in Queensland — in this instance Woorabinda — after the Queensland Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897) was superceded by the Commonwealth’s self-determination policy (1972). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were no longer forced to suppress their cultural practices or the use of languages, nor were they restricted from transferring cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

The material in this collection includes two audio cassette tapes. The first tape ‘Woorabinda men remember’ and the second tape ‘Woorabinda women remember’ include question–answer interviews which focus on what living in Woorabinda was like during the 1940s and 1950s. The information recorded relates to food, hunting, bush medicine, housing, social rules (such as dating and curfews), type of work performed and where elders were living before being relocated to Woorabinda. There are diagrams and drawings of plants and geographical maps alongside the handwritten transcripts.

This collection illustrates the dynamics and impacts of very important social changes, and the adaption by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to those changes. The content of the collection exemplifies the type of social changes that occurred at the community level, particularly during the 1980s. The existence of the collection itself is an important example of the formal inclusion of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural material and knowledge in the education curriculum in state schools. What makes this collection so important is that it represents ‘the invitation into the classroom’ of Elders to share their stories and cultural knowledge. As a community, Woorabinda saw the involvement of Elders in the education system, and the inclusion of more local cultural knowledge within the school curriculums, as a reversal of the cultural suppression practiced on the mission since its establishment in 1926. Aunty Margie Kemp said, ‘It was a step towards acknowledging the importance of our cultural knowledge, especially in educational systems that educate our children.’1


Barbara Paulson, Curator, ATSIP

1 Aunty Margie Kemp in conversation with Barbara Paulson, 2008.

Kamula Munu Anangu Kutjara

Early last year the Museum purchased two impressive and quirky camel sculptures. The camel sculptures, titled Kamula Maru munu Anangu Kutju (Black Camel with Rider) and Kamula Munu Anangu Kutjara (Camel with Two Riders) were created collaboratively by Dianne Ungukalpi Golding, Jean Burke and Kanytjupai Armstrong. Dianne sculpted both camels and Jean created the three riders while Kanytjupai crocheted the saddles and swags and made the leather leads. The artists used raffia, minarri (greybeard) grass, wool and leather to make the sculptures and the result is two colourful and striking works.

Both sculptures were first put on display at the Outstation Gallery in Darwin during the opening of Warakurna History Paintings exhibition. A painting by Dianne and six of Jean’s works were also in the exhibition. The museum is now lucky enough to own both the paintings and the sculptures.

The three artists are also a part of Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a non-profit organisation that is run by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. The organisation assists women in over 28 remote communities across Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia to sell their fibre art, which includes baskets, sculptures and seed jewellery that is made from a combination of native desert grasses, seeds and feathers, commercially bought raffia (sometimes dyed with native plants), and string and wool. The Museum owns other works by the artists who are involved in this organisation, including a number of wonderful baskets.

Rochelle Armstrong Intern, ATSIP

Johnny Cadell’s stockwhip

In 2005, the Museum purchased a stockwhip that was crafted by Johnny Cadell. Born in 1920, under the shade of a coolabah tree near Adelaide River, Northern Territory, Johnny Cadell went on to live a remarkable life, during which he undertook a number of interesting jobs such as being an actor, horse breaker, rodeo rider, leather plaiter and stockman.

Orphaned at a young age, Johnny spent part of his childhood working on stations near Arnhem Land until a fall from a horse left him with a broken collarbone. After this accident, he was sent to be educated at an orphanage in Darwin. As a teenager, he was sent with several other boys to Pine Creek to be fostered out as workers to local stations. At 24, he went to work in Adelaide training polo ponies, among other duties, for Reginald Murray — better known as RM — Williams. While working for RM, Johnny discovered the famous brumby Curio, who is still remembered as one of the best buckjumpers in Australian history; in the right circles, he is as famous as Phar Lap.

At this time, Johnny was also building a reputation as one of the best riders on the rodeo circuit, winning a number of Australian and state titles in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Perhaps his best-remembered victory occurred in 1951, when he won the title at Marrabel Rodeo. He achieved this only nine days after an operation to remove his appendix and he rode with just a ‘rubber bandage’ around his waist holding his wounds together. In 1957, his fame as a horseman led the producers of Robbery Under Arms to seek him out to play Warrigal, the Aboriginal sidekick to Peter Finch’s Captain Starlight. Publicity for the film took Johnny to London and, on his return, he appeared in the Australian television show Whiplash with Peter Graves.

Johnny’s gift with horses led him to become a trainer at the famed Police Greys (South Australian mounted police) at Thebarton Police Barracks in Adelaide. He retired from the force with distinction and moved to the Yorke Peninsula. He continued to teach and demonstrate his skills in leatherwork, particularly in Adelaide and on various Aboriginal missions around Yorke Peninsula, until his death in 1993. Johnny’s skill with leather was as remarkable as his skill with horses; the stockwhip in the Museum’s collection is a prime example of his abilities. This whip, made from kangaroo leather, has a weave that is intricate and the work of a remarkable craftsman and an Australian legend.

Rochelle Armstrong, Intern, ATSIP