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National Museum launches new exhibition, 'Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route'

5 August 2015

Stories of Contact, Conflict and Survival told in Contemporary Indigenous Artwork

Stories of contact, conflict and survival are featured in a striking new exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route, which includes 17 pieces not previously displayed.

Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route explores the history of the famous West Australian droving road (the Canning Stock Route) through the stories of the country it cuts across. Through the works of desert artists and the stories of traditional custodians, the exhibition tells the story of the Canning Stock Route's impact on Aboriginal people, and the importance of the Country surrounding it.

Consultant Curator John Carty says the exhibition tells the story of an important time in Australia’s history.

Kaninjaku is a story of how history unfolded in the 20th century for Western Desert people. It explores how one droving road impacted Aboriginal life, law and ecology in different ways. It is a story told through art, but it is also a story about where that art comes from,” said Dr Carty.

Iconic Indigenous artist Rover Thomas is among the artists represented in the exhibition, along with Helicopter Tjungurrayi, Kumpaya Girgaba, Jan Billycan, Wakartu Cory Surprise and Curtis Taylor, who are all showing pieces inspired by a six-week return-to-country trip in 2007.

National Museum Director Mathew Trinca said the exhibition is an opportunity to showcase new works from The Canning Stock Route Collection – a jewel in the crown of the National Museum’s National Historical Collection.

“We first exhibited the Canning Stock Route collection in 2010–11 to record numbers – the public really responded to this story. In Kaninjaku, we wanted to showcase 17 pieces that had not previously been displayed,” said Dr Trinca.

“It’s a significant artistic collection and a credit to FORM – the not-for-profit arts organisation in Perth with whom we worked closely on this project,” he added.

Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route will be on display from August 3 in the Focus Gallery at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. There are 37 objects in the exhibition, 17 of which have not been displayed before.

For more information please contact Ashley Grimmer, (02) 6208 5091 – 0409 461 619 – media@nma.gov.au

About the Canning Stock Route

The Canning Stock Route is the longest historic stock route in the world. Late 19th century industrial expansion in Western Australia sparked the need for stock routes allowing cattle to be moved from stations in the north to markets in the south. First surveyed in 1906 by Alfred Canning, the route comprised 48 wells spaced at intervals of no more than one day's walk apart, along an 1800 kilometre stretch of track. The route links Wiluna in the south with Sturt Creek in the north and traverses the traditional lands of nine Aboriginal language groups.

Although Canning's original map records observations of the land and water resources, it makes no mention of Indigenous places through which the route traversed or their associated meanings.

The development of the ultimately unsuccessful cattle route dramatically affected the lives of Aboriginal people. The National Museum’s collection is the first significant attempt to document the Aboriginal experience of the Canning Stock Route. The collection redresses Canning's omission and records the impact of the stock route on Indigenous lives and country.

About the Canning Stock Route Collection

This collection was acquired in 2009 and includes 116 paintings, sculptural works, contemporary cultural objects, documentary material, and oral histories by 60 artists who travelled along the Canning Stock Route on a return-to-country trip in 2007. This project was initiated by FORM, a not-for-profit arts organisation in Perth.

The six-week journey with traditional owners inspired the artworks, many of which were produced during the journey and provided a unique opportunity for artists to reconnect with traditional lands.

The National Museum of Australia regards this collection as one of truly national significance, providing a unique archive of indigenous social and cultural histories. It is an important addition to the nation’s heritage and history collections.

Kaninjaku online

Images from the Kaninjaku exhibition are available on the Museum’s website.