When Bush Babies went to Narrogin in 2013, the project took another direction.
CAN had planned to run a series of digital media, storytelling, oral history and craft workshops to assist Noongar families in Narrogin and Katanning to tell their own Bush Babies stories. The project was launched with an exhibition at the Arts Space Gallery in Narrogin. Celebrating the strength and resilience of Noongar families, the launch showcased the stunning imagery collected during the first two phases of Bush Babies in Kellerberrin and Quairading.
We never expected the exhibition to inspire a whole new journey for the Bush Babies project.
One of the features of the exhibition was an image of Kellerberrin Elder Hazel Winmar. Affectionately known as ‘Nana Purple’, Hazel was believed to be the oldest Ballardong woman at the time. Born on the side of the railway tracks just outside of Brookton in 1914, her story is just one of the Bush Babies’ memories documented during CAN’s successful community arts project. Hazel very sadly passed away in 2014 at 100 years old, in her home town of Kellerberrin surrounded by family and friends.
When local Narrogin artist Graham Smith saw the image of Nana Purple taken by photographer Jarrad Sengan, he was so taken aback he wanted to paint her portrait. His beautiful painting inspired other artists, including Noongar artists, to honour the Elders in the exhibition by painting their portraits. From that small seed, The Bush Babies: Honouring Our Elders portrait exhibition grew.
The first exhibition of these works was in May 2014 at the Nexus Gallery in Narrogin. It then replatformed in Perth during 2014 NAIDOC Week at the WA Museum and State Library of WA. The Elders, artists and their families travelled from all over Noongar country to attend the Perth launch. The exhibition was a huge success, sharing these Bush Babies’ stories to more than 72,000 visitors, and in 2015 became part of ART ON THE MOVE’s national touring program.
Bush Babies Narrogin also involved arts workshops in basket weaving, digital media, painting, oral history and storytelling. Some highlights were Narrogin Senior High School students helping local Elders record and produce short films about their lives, and in Katanning, local Elders and students coming together to share digital media and cultural exchanges, including a reunion at Carrolup Mission.