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'Canning Stock Route' by Mervyn Street, 2008


'Canning Stock Route' by Mervyn Street, 2008

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Mervyn Street grew up hearing the stories of relatives who had been Canning Stock Route drovers. As a young man he worked as a stockman himself, at Carnegie Station near Wiluna, where he met many of the Martu people who had worked closely with, and were related by marriage to, his own family members in Fitzroy Crossing and Billiluna.

On the Canning Stock Route, droving teams were always led by white bosses. However, their success depended on the skill of the Aboriginal stockmen and women, who far outnumbered the white drovers. One of Mervyn's primary concerns in participating in the Canning Stock Route project (Mervyn travelled the length of the stock route with the FORM project in 2007) was to ensure that the Aboriginal people who made the stock route possible would be included in the history of that road.

"A lotta old people telling me 'bout [how] they used to drove from Billiluna straight across to Wiluna. But they're not in the photos, they got no name. Nothing. They got to be part of this droving story." (Mervyn Street, 2007)

The Canning Stock Route is the world's longest historic stock route, and it was reputedly Australia's most difficult. From 1911 to 1931 only eight mobs of cattle made the trip to Wiluna. After the wells were reconditioned, on average just one mob of 300-800 head was driven down the stock route each year. Most were mustered at Billiluna and Sturt Creek stations. The round trip from old Halls Creek station to Wiluna and back took about seven months, the return trip without cattle being faster. Droving teams travelled with 'plants', or teams, of about 15 camels and 50 workhorses, packhorses and night horses. Camels carried heavy loads and were used to draw water, a huge job given that 800 head of cattle, and a team of horses and camels, could consume over 30,000 litres of water at each well.

Aboriginal stockmen and women, although not named in the mainstream history of the stock route, are remembered with pride by Aboriginal people today."Long time ago, our father and our uncle all been droving to Canning Stock Road... They been handling the cattle all the way along, droving to Wiluna." (Yanpiyarti Ned Cox, Fitzroy Crossing, 2007)

Physical description

A red toned painting onn canvas with a low horizon showing a setting sun in yellow with silhouettes of horse, cattle and people in black. The horizon line and a few grassy shrubs have been painted in gold tones with shadows in brown. A star and crescent moon in cream with yellow highlights are in the upper right of the painting. A measurement at the bottom reads '120 x 60' and at the left side reads '60 x 120' while a stamp in the bottom right corner reads 'Cat # MS/210/MJ / form. / The / Canning / Stock / Route / Project'. On the back of the painting in black marker and pencil are the texts 'MERVYN STREET / 492/08' and 'Mangkaja Arts / 60 x 120'.

Statement of significance

The Canning Stock Route collection is comprised of 125 works and includes paintings, drawings, baskets, boomerangs, coolamons, headdresses, carved figures and shields.

The Canning Stock Route is a no-longer-used cattle droving route that traverses the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts of central Western Australia. Comprised of 48 wells along an 1800 kilometres 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. The route was founded in 1905 when Alfred Canning was commissioned to investigate a route suitable for the droving of 500 head of cattle, with water sources spaced at intervals of no more than one day's walk apart. Although Canning's map records observations of the land and water resources, it makes no mention of Indigenous places and their associated meanings which the route traversed. This collection, composed of 'painting stories', sculptural works and oral histories, re-dresses Canning's omission and records the impact of the stock route on Indigenous lives and country. A six week journey with traditional owners held in July and August of 2007 inspired the artworks, many of which were produced during the journey, and provided an opportunity for more than 70 senior and emerging artists to reconnect with traditional lands..

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