Name: Carly Davenport
Carly Davenport - Working on the CSR Project [ORAL HISTORY]
Synopsis: Carly discusses the challenges and highlights of the CSR Project, and talks about the Olympics exhibition in Beijing, her favourite painting, and the role of Aboriginal curators in professional development.
Language spoken: English
Catalogue number: CSROH_182_Carly_Davenport
Interviewed By: Nicole Ma, Clint Dixon
Location Recorded: Old Masonic Hall, Nedlands
Cultural Protocols: Public Access - Verbal Consent
Full transcript: Nicole Ma: What's the difference between the last meeting and this one?
Carly Davenport: Really, each step of the curator’s programs and the multimedia programs are development steps upon each other. So, we started in October 2006 and then our second meeting was here now in April 2007. We’re all coming together again in two months time in June 9th to the 13th and then we have another meeting in October or November of this year. Then we have about three meetings next year and what our goal is, is to bring our six talents of the three filmmakers, photographers and the three curators all together. So we’ll actually launch at the National Museum of Australia, all coming together with a team setting it all up. So it’s really about, everything about this project is collaboration. It’s extraordinary how the curator’s program actually started, and really it was through the Canning Stock Route trip and then employing talents, the many people that came on board to help us facilitate and we were like ‘hmmm, we need to hang onto these people’. So, that’s really where it all sort of began. And then getting Government support on board and yeah, that’s sort of where it’s heading.
NM: What is the most successful angle of the project so far?
CD: I definitely think it’s the vibe. All of us are bringing our own thoughts, ideas, and I think we’re all getting along so well, it’s almost like we all feel very free to offer up our ideas and just be ourselves. It’s just so organic, it’s not like it’s happening within an institution. We’re all, I guess, a bunch of different types of people from different places and coming together has really been good alchemy really. Everyone has their own voice, their own bent, their own way of seeing and their own message and I think through, say, Wally Caruana’s mentorship from a curatorial perspective, that the curators feel really happy that they’re able to choose the works that they really love and why, and they’re able to agree and disagree and it’s a fabulous way I think for people to actually formulate a shared view of what this project’s about.
NM: From your position, what is the structure of the project?
CD: Well as project manager of the Canning Stock Route Project I have a very big job, but it’s kind of made easy too because of the people that are actually on board the project. So some days you might have a bit of a hard day but then someone rings you up, the message from out bush often and then the people that are here in Perth, there’s a really wonderful team supporting me really. And having worked with Wally years ago, he still mentors me also, so that’s pretty special. I think the project management side really … the biggest challenge probably is having to be in between everything, so I have to have my fingertips on everything – which is how people are feeling, who’s happy, what people’s needs are, what are potential sponsorship opportunities, working with Lynda Dorrington CEO of FORM and the rest of the team therein trying to get proper awareness of this project at a state level. All of that side of things, it’s almost I guess like that, partnership, sponsorship side as well as building the project from inside out and being … I kind of see my role as like being a spider and I’m pulling in the cobwebs from everywhere and then everyone makes there own sort of structure within that. So I’m working with what people are actually able to give me. Yeah.
NM: What has been the best moment for you?
CD: Oh goodness there’s so many. I think it’s, having been working for over 18 months already on this project, it’s people out bush, people in the art centres who hear the word Canning Stock Route or Canning Stock Route Project and they get so stoked. Like I could really see that people have an understanding of what it is that we’re trying to do. So for that to have been communicated through all the different layers and agencies and the bush telegraph is fantastic. So that gives me so much encouragement and it’s a real privilege to be able to actually see that in action, and it feeds me and it feeds, I think, the rest of the team and …. And it’s times like when say Louise Mengil and Hayley Atkins and Terry Murray and Morika Biljabu and Clint Dixon and KJ, when I see them absolutely relaxed and cruising and seeing things and being silly buggers as well that’s … yeah, it’s a fantastic joy to see that.
NM: What are the major difficulties confronting the project?
CD: Major difficulties? I think everyone wants a piece of it. In a sense of there’s … we’ve now generated, it’s almost like a critical mass point, like a tipping point, that we have such a small team yet we’re really dynamic as just this small team, and it’s just really important that we all sustain ourselves and that we can get in extra support when we need it. But when I say everyone wants a piece of it, it’s because it’s so passionate. People are actually getting the idea of what it’s about, in retelling Western Australian history, with the opportunity of taking that out to the globe. So corporates, Government agencies, people out on the street, every man and his dog, the taxi driver, my own dad ringing me up from Tasmania with a Slim Dusty song that was all about the Canning Stock Route, playing it on the phone to me while I’m there trying to do all these things. Everyone has some feeling sense of what the Western desert is about and that relationship of what the Canning Stock Route is. But then in saying that, we’re also working with knowing that a lot of mainstream Australians just don’t know anything about what the Canning Stock Route is about. So it’s a really fascinating way of seeing the two sides, people that are aware and people that aren’t aware. So we have to work through that middle part and make sure that there’s translation through both ways. Not just from an audience perspective but of course from an Indigenous perspective. And for me the biggest thing that I find so inspiring is to see people confident to tell their story, their life. The sad things, the happy things. There’s a personal journey, I think, for everybody. It’s the team working on the project, it’s the curators, it’s the people who are artists contributing their work, expressing their personal journey that might be their life or relationship to Country. Yet, I think we’re at this point in time where everyone wants to listen. There’s a … an empathy perhaps, but we’ve all got our radar on, we’re really wanting to hear what other people’s experiences have been in Country. Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question.
NM: What’s the vision that you have for the project?
CD: I see a lot. For me … for me, my interest is the whole educational side of things. The power of art and oral history to change people’s lives. Like, I’ve seen it in action, particularly for me in the Tiwi Islands. The ability for, I guess … for Aboriginal creatives, for artists, to say ‘right, yeah, I can do whatever I want here’. I used to have an expression on the Tiwi Islands, I went there with a vision, of actually thinking that … well, I might get a bit sidetracked if I go down the Tiwi Islands, so I might not go there ‘cause that’s a huge thing, huge journey. So …
NM: What's your vision for the project?
CD: In essence, the project … where it began, it hasn’t changed, even though so much has grown. So … the vision behind it has always been about, for me personally, every single individual person. I’m always thinking about a macro, I’m always seeing layers of circles and I see that one person that, you know, might be Stumpy Brown of Fitzroy Crossing and I think of her … or … one person has the power to actually influence. And this whole project is an amalgamation of so many people’s voices and stories and they’re giving it as a gift to all of us and … that is a privilege for all of us to listen, in many ways. So from that one individual person, it goes to his community or her community and through the art centre enterprise, which is a model that I fundamentally believe in - Aboriginal owned enterprises in remote out bush, it’s just the best news story in remote regional Australia, as a success, as a model. It’s really … from that community surrounding the art centre, which is always vibrant, always alive, always socially rich, always has it’s own hierarchy of who knows what to do and what not to do and has the right educators and influences – they find you, you know, if you’re quiet they come. They’re drawn, perhaps, to an inner question or purpose that all of us have. So working from that individual, that business in that community, that local space and in that coming out into the region, and from the very very beginning Tim Acker and myself always could see that around those three desert regions it’s an actual area that … it’s almost like a, as though all the artists are related, but there wasn’t a regionalisation from an art centre perspective in looking at that almost perfect circle around the three deserts. And for that, and both of us working within art centres, we just thought oh my God, something has to be done.
You know, there’s relationships of a cultural level, business level from Aboriginal business side, from the white fella art history, you know, Aboriginal side – all of those businesses. But we were looking to facilitate a project that could really bring all that together and at the same time put a spotlight onto things that we knew, having worked out bush, that most Australians just don’t know about. So, for me personally, that vision has always had education as it’s premise, raising awareness and there’s just so many untold histories, celebrated through dynamic, incredible, sexy art, that will break down people’s perceptions and understanding of remote and regional Australia and our first Indigenous people inhabitants of this country. So that’s usually my compass and then in looking at the community of that particular region, so we’re working within the Pilbara and the Kimberly and the mid-west and we’ve got four development commissions that have actually within the Government recognised ooh, yeah, this is an incredible heart of, not just of WA but of Australia, it’s a massive geographic spread of shires [?] and businesses and agencies and culture centres and language centres and native title units and we’re communicating … trying to raise awareness through all of those really. From that it hits our state, we’ve got a massive state here.
I think WA even is a little bit misunderstood by West Australians. There’s a lot of people here that do have a sense of place and identity, many of them … and I could think of a lot of amazing artists actually. Yet, on another side of things, there’s so much here, not just iron ore, not just resources that can be brought up out of the ground, you know. We’ve got this incredible economic relationship happening to China and other places around the world but the biggest thing that we should be getting behind as a nation is our environment, land and people. Without those two things we just won’t know ourselves. And it’s a critical point in time that we capture this, and then make sure that anyone who owns that, who has that, that is their story, their cultural property, has that to give to their community members. So that’s very much a driver. Moving up from beyond our state, hitting the east coast of Australia. Myself as a Tasmanian, I really want to see a strong Aboriginal art show go to Tasmania; I think it would be received really really well. Regional places around Australia like Aralong Culture Centre, Tandanyer in South Australia, there’s a lot of places that … jus … will get it, and that’s what the message really is all about. The vision from the beginning, which I can see is unfolding, and when we launch to national audiences in 18 months time and then go beyond our shores abroad, I think it’s going to remain the same, it’s like a pulsing light almost, it’s just getting a nucleus, it’s getting bigger and bigger, and … It’s really about the globe looking in, so if we can set up a project through Indigenous participation, people managing their stories, content and information, with transparency, with communication and understanding, people living in Berlin, New York, Beijing: they’ll feel that and they’ll see that. They’ll recognise that this is a project that is illuminating people’s stories, the truths. And sometimes, as we know, our own Australian identity is perceived … sometimes off our shore, in a way that we need to maybe get with it a bit more and improve our sense of self worth, individually but also as a country. And it’s often through the art world that are the first to pick up on that. They’ll recognise the hot artists, they’ll see the emerging artists and at the same time they’re really going to be tuned in to see that the rest of the planet can look into the heart of the Western desert. Who is there? Who belongs there? Who belongs to that Country? Who is there having successful businesses? It’s not just nothing out there, there’s a lot out there. Biodiversity, rock art, people’s communities and their families and relationships. We can’t just whitewash that, forget about that, Federal Government needs to know that there are successful ways of living in touch with nature in Country and not to move everyone to these urban centres like Alice Springs, Newman, Port Headland … taking people off their land, yeah.
NM: What's the next big mountain?
CD: I think perhaps the first milestone for us, there have been many milestones, I think the trip back to Country for six weeks with all of the people, all of the families coming, all of the party and the celebration, that was a milestone. To within seven months have that recognised that the International Olympic Committee want to have twenty works go to Beijing is really extraordinary, so … BHP Billiton Iron Ore have seen the potential of this project and as a sponsor of it, and their relationship to the International Olympic Committee, you know, they can see that the cultural product of Australia is its Indigenous … identity and culture needs to be celebrated and recognised and that’s … the opportunity of having a showcase in Beijing is extraordinary and to have that happen in its first … you know … before it’s even brought to Australian audiences is a really unique thing. So as project manager there’s a lot there that I need to provide leverage for, so utilising the opportunity of Beijing to educate other institutions around Australia to say hey, guys, there’s a really good thing going on over here. Yeah, the Chinese have got it. Our own Olympic Committee, they can see it, how ‘bout you, do you want to learn about Australian history? So …
NM: So you think it’s a very important development?
CD: Absolutely. I mean the fact that we’ll have up to four hundred thousand people walk through that space in ten days is extraordinary. So, the fact that it’s curated by own our Aboriginal curatorial team is fantastic. Yeah, they should be very proud of themselves.
NM: What other art exhibitions is it up against at the Olympics?
CD: In terms of the International Olympic Committee, that sponsor the Olympics, there is no other cultural product exhibition in the expo site, which is where our exhibition will be held. So, in representing Australia we’re the only cultural product in there. Another exhibition that will be on will be ‘The History of the Olympics’ – from Ancient Greece through to today. Yeah.
NM: What's your favourite painting? Why?
CD: I think um … Clifford Brooks as an artist, for me, is really special. I first met Clifford when we went out to Wiluna just to sort of see how to Jukuba Gallery, what it was all about, and I walked into the room and instantly noticed ‘ochre work’ with these canvases and I was just like ‘who’s that dude?’ And so I asked and then I saw his photo and I was like wow he looks really interesting, looks familiar, and then I met him and um … very special because of his relationship to Rover. The way that he tells that story of his father and that relationship is very, very, very special. Twelve years ago I worked with Wally Caruana on the CD-Rom called ‘Under A Southern Sun’, where Rover Thomas is featured on that, so I learnt a lot about Rover Thomas in the mid 90s. Things about his dreams and his psychic premonitions, and then when I met Clifford Brooks last year, a long time later, I could just see the power of family. I could see they were so much alike. I mean they’re very different people. But it was also, I mean Clifford’s work, he took himself to Warmun, the fact that he wanted to learn how his uncle ground up the ochres and he says he dreams of his uncle telling him that painting is to be taken to the world, this is how our message will get out there. And that’s, for me, the whole resonation of what this whole project’s really about.
NM: What brought on the idea of having young curators?
CD: I think through the collaboration of the team. I think we all knew that we had to engage the talent that we had been drawn to the project. I’ve always known about, I guess, the curatorial side of things, though I think it was really all of us, you know, Karen, Monique La Fontaine, Tim Acker, you know all of us were just going ‘oh yeah, there’s these extraordinary people, we have to keep them, we have to make sure that they can do that work’. And I think also to the … the numbers, it was just, I think, fortuitous that the numbers found themselves – as in three here, three there, it’s the perfect sort of … balance actually. Yeah. I could talk about that for longer, but … maybe I should. Should I?
I think we realised that without a nucleus, without a centre this thing could fall over. So, who is it that we can employ, with passion that they’ll want to stick and commit to the project and take it through, carry it on. But really importantly, who can be the ambassadors of taking this show themselves to the other places around Australia and overseas, and that’s what it should be about. And it’s good that FORM isn’t an institution, we’re a very diverse, cultural arts, change agency really if anything – across all mediums. So, it’s very much people saying I want to do this, like Hayley Atkins saying I want to work with and for my mob. You know, interviewing her yesterday. And she wants to do that because she wants to learn about people in the desert and how they live their life, how do they survive, how do they keep warm, you know, around the fires if they didn’t have blankets. So how do they get on the hot sand? So all these things she’s learning through, you know, asking people about painting stories. So, everyone has sort of designed their own part to play and everyone’s really individual. So if anything we’re harnessing that individuality and saying hey go for it. And like say talking to Terry Murray the other day and he said ‘look, what sort of … what will be at the end, you know, will I get this piece of paper, or what?’ And I sort of thought about it and it’s like well, Terry, you’re in a position to say what you want. What do you want to get out of it? Aside from this behind the scenes movie that can be a model of inspiration going out to all the 110 plus Aboriginal art centres across Australia. He’s got the opportunity to tell us, as a team, what he wants to do and how he wants to do that. Where he wants to go. What institutions in Canberra he wants to partner with or hook up with. Who do we need to keep listening to that will help strengthen and receive the exhibition when it arrives in Canberra next year. So … the sky’s the limit. And I need people around me that do that, that they see the sky’s the limit and then they’re all flying. Yeah.
[Talking about the behind the scenes DVD]
The essence and point of what this behind the scenes DVD is all about, like, having worked in art centres and all the people on the project have had some experience with art centres or the arts. It’s so rare that you see, especially captured on film, a hands on, what it takes to build a big project – even a small project. So I think the opportunity for the whole team to … just, like you say, be themselves and have that being brought and amalgamated together, and the opportunity for say Terry Murray, Louise Mengil and Hayley Atkins to actually be role models in travelling out to all the other art centres in Australia, I think that’s the most fantastic part of the whole project. So people in Arnhem land, people in New South Wales, anywhere, people can actually go ‘hey, yeah, those crew had an idea and here’s little examples and major big examples as to how over time they reached their goals’. And all of us I think have got shared goals. Like, even listening to Louise Mengil the other day, she’s actually visualising the opening and she’s seeing the colour of it and she’s thinking about the dress she’s gonna wear. She wants to write a letter to the Prime Minister. Just today she was telling me she wants to tell the Prime Minister, you know, we want to be there to shake your hand, so can you come? All this sort of thing, people are just … claiming it. And for Louise and Hayley and Terry, and Clint and Morika, and KJ. They’ve got this ability just to share their talent and that’s just going to influence so many people out bush and all over the place.
Video recording: Tape 12, Tape 13
Rights: © FORM, transcript only
Provenance: This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.