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Rover Thomas and his Brother

Story:Rover Thomas is one of Australia's most important artists - his paintings sparked a greater appreciation of Aboriginal art, both nationally and internationally.

Although he found fame as an East Kimberley artist Rover was a desert man, and the story of his life is interwoven with that of the Canning Stock Route. Rover was born in the 1920s in the Country near the middle stretch of the stock route. After his parents passed away he was picked up by a drover, Wally Dowling, who took him north to Billiluna and the Kimberley. Rover became a stockman himself. He was married and settled in Turkey Creek.

When Rover was taken by drovers his brother, Charlie Brooks (Clifford Brooks' father) was away travelling. When he returned Rover was gone. Charlie set off in search of his brother from Martilirri (Well 22). On his journey he encountered a horrible scene somewhere near Well 41:

'[My father] went looking for his young brother Rover back in his home Country, but nothing, empty. No track. Only track was a wagon wheel and yawarta (horse) and bullock, that's all... He been get up on a sandhill and he been look down... whitefella, massacre. They been got shot: [Aboriginal] men, women and children.' (Clifford Brooks)

'That old fella [Clifford’s father, Charlie], he knew in his heart that his young brother was still alive. Every time in the camp fire he used to tell me … 'My young brother is still alive somewhere up north.'' (Clifford Brooks)

Charlie Brooks and Rover Thomas were finally reunited in the 1980s, a lifetime later, after family recognised the Rover’s face in a newspaper. Charlie Brooks travelled to see his brother again for the first time, Clifford Brooks describes the intial encounter between the brothers:

'So when he arrived I got him off the bus at night, took him across to the car park. My old man was standing up and I took Rover across, and they didn’t know whether to yampulkaku [hug] or shake hand, they been cry. But I stood in the back there, I had tears coming out my eyes. I cried for them.' (Clifford Brooks)

'You have got to come back to your Country. You should have come through the Canning Stock Route. You went away from here through the stock route and you should have come back here, through the stock route. I’ve been waiting for you.' (Charlie Brooks to Rover Thomas, 1986)

Media Creator:Nicole Ma

Media date: 2010
Story Location: Wiluna
-26.59/120.22

Media Description:Clifford Brooks tells story his father's reunion with his younger brother Rover Thomas after 40 years apart.

Story contributor(s):Clifford Brooks, John Carty, Jarntu Rover Thomas, Charlie Brooks

Art Centre(s): Birriliburu Artists
Publisher: FORM
Media copyright: FORM
Source: CSROH_140_Clifford Brooks
Accession ID:20131024_FORM_MIRA_B0046_0007

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.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.

Name: Kenneth KJ Martin

KJ Kenneth Martin - CSR Project and Halls Creek [ORAL HISTORY]


Synopsis: KJ Kenneth Martin, one of the first Aboriginal members of the Canning Stock Route trip, discusses his background and the challenges and highlights of becoming involved in the Canning Stock Route Project, especially the Beijing exhibition and learning from Wally Caruana. KJ also speaks about the impact of negative media about Halls Creek, making good friends in the team, and how his involvement in the Canning Stock Route Project makes him feel proud.

Date: 2008-06-13
Art centre(s):
Language spoken: English
Catalogue number: CSROH_188_KJ_Kenneth_Martin
Interviewed By: Nicole Ma
Location Recorded: William Street, Perth
Latitude/Longitude: -31.95/115.85

Cultural Protocols: Public Access - Verbal Consent
Access: Public
Full transcript: Nicole Ma: Can you introduce yourself?

KJ Kenneth Martin: My name is KJ Martin from Halls Creek, up in the Kimberly, and I’m from the Kija tribe, my skin is Jungkurra. And I’ve got two kids, I work at the radio station, Language Centre and sometimes a drive up to Argyle taking workers to and from Halls Creek.

NM: How did you get onto the CSR project?

KM: One of my bosses from the Language Centre said she knew someone in Fitzroy who was going on the Canning Stock Route and she thought it would be good for me to go out there and work with some of the film crew that was on the Canning Stock Route, to get some more training – and a little bit in Final Cut Pro and how to … on the job training for camera and all that sort of stuff.

NM: What's been good about it? Bad about it? [Being in Perth]

KM: Well, it’s really cold, that might be one bad thing about it, but other than that everything’s been alright, you know. Watching the curator team select their paintings and sort of from the outside, behind the scenes, us mob watching and recording what they’re doing and what makes them select certain paintings is sort of a good thing about being here. Like, when I first started off a lot of people heard my opinion on what I thought about paintings and it’s changed a little bit then and it’s changed a whole heap now, just looking at … especially that gallery last night.

NM: What was special about the gallery last night?

KM: Oh just how they, the curators, put all the paintings together and moved them around so they make each other stand out, the paintings.

NM: What's the best thing you've learnt from being on the trip?

KM: I suppose having a talk to Wally, I spoke to him when we had dinner down at that Italian restaurant down the road somewhere. We were talking about how to look at paintings or what too see, I suppose, what to look for in a painting. I haven’t learnt that but I’ve been looking at paintings a little bit harder this week rather than I used to, I just had a quiet look and just head off, but now I’m really having a look at the painting in detail.

NM: What are you learning within this project?

KM: I don’t know what I’d like to do in this project, really. It’s good training. This week I learnt how to use a boom mic, we don’t usually do that at home, we just get a microphone and a stand and put it in front of them old people to have a yarn, and then we just put the camera on a tripod to record them.

NM: What do you want to do in the future?

KM: Well, make documentaries on where I live and stuff like that. For myself, about myself and maybe about where I’m from. Them sort of stuff. I’m interested in trying to make a documentary on Halls Creek itself about my point of view of Halls Creek, you know, being a person from there and growing up there, so I know all the people there. And I just want to let the people know that it’s not as bad as it sounds in papers and on television when something bad happens up north.

NM: So you want to tell stories from your point of view?

KM: Yeah. I’d like to. I think, maybe I’ve got good friends and a good family and a good sort of life. For this story I’m talking about in Halls Creek, the documentary I want to make is based around me and what I see, so I want to sort of get other people to see what I see and all the friends that I hang around … there are pretty good people, they’re funny people, and my family, they are a really happy family and we’re really tight, close together. It’s totally opposite to what people hear in the news, ‘cause there’s people who just come in and they think that’s all Halls Creek is. Yeah.

NM: How did being involved in the launch make you feel?

KM: Yeah, I felt good. I felt good when it all come together at the end. Wally had a speech there and sort of thanked all the people who were involved, which was good, made me feel good. You know, somebody coming from a place where there’s a lot of negatives in the news, and not many people who see this side of Halls Creek, me leaving Halls Creek to go for three weeks on the Canning Stock Route, working with you and Cam and everybody else, and Carly with FORM and Tim, so that may be one story in itself … but yeah, a little bit of recognition from Wally and I think it was BHP spokesperson there who said something last night about all the workers, with inputs into this Indigenous arts or the Canning Stock Route arts. So I felt really good about that, but, you know, it’s only for the people who were there I suppose. They’re not going to say that somebody from Halls Creek came down and had a really good part in what’s going on here. It’ll still be negative up there, but the positive that I’m down here, sort of thing. Yeah, well it’s been going on for two years now, ay. And this is my first time down here with this group of FORM.

[Helicopter flies over]

This project has been going for about two years, and I was on the last part of the Canning Stock Route, with all the painters, and some people come at lake Stretch, big corroboree and everything there, but this is my first time down in Perth with all the curators, and I’m working alongside Dixon there with operating the boom mic and maybe on the camera now and then, and it’s good on the job training sort of thing.

NM: What was the most fun thing that happened on the trip?

KM: What night was it? Wednesday night? Wednesday night we went down and had a few beers at down Rubix bar next to Ibis and we headed off to the club Carnigans, I think it is, and we were dancing there the whole night, ay. But I can’t say too much about that, people will be getting divorces. One bloke there he chatting up some girl there, we can’t mention no names, you guys have to figure out all that stuff yourself.

NM: So it's not all work? You're making friends?

KM: Oh yeah, I think this whole week’s been fun, you know. Even while you work, at least we can sort of socialise while we work. It’s been really easy. You know, have a break when you want to have a break and get back to work when you finished your little break. Yeah, heaps of friends. They’re all there in the back, do you see them behind me. Yeah, making some new mates and old mates and mate’s mates, mate’s rates. That’s it? Good.

END


Video recording: Tape 35
Source: CSROH_188_KJ_Kenneth_Martin
Rights: Cultural Owner & Storyteller: KJ Kenneth Martin; © 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.

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