Since January last year, researchers from the West Australian State Library have been working with the Martu and Ngaanyatjarra people to gather information on the long-lasting impacts of one of the state’s most historic expeditions.
The 1874 expedition of John Forrest, WA’s first Premier, and five of men shaped two state’s expedition history when the journey was made from Geraldton in Western Australia to Adelaide in South Australia.
The new exhibition ‘From Another View’ is centred on Aboriginal peoples’ experience during Forrest’s trek and unpacks the meaning of concepts such as exploration, colonisation and Country.
The project team engaged with select Aboriginal communities along the route, from Geraldton to Wingellina/Irrunytju to broaden the understanding of exploration and cross-cultural encounters. Traditional Owners would show the team different fauna and skills of surviving out bush, similar to what the Aboriginal Trackers did for Forrest and his men.
Noongar/ Yamatji woman Tui Raven is the project coordinator of ‘From Another View’, her role was to organise the on-country travel and liaison with Aboriginal groups, and she is also the curator of the exhibition.
“Aboriginal people’s culture is thousands of years old, and often when we talk about expedition history in Australia we miss our own voice,” Ms Raven told NITV News.
“It’s really important that we get to talk about what it was like before explores arrived and one of the ways to do that is talk about colonial impacts and colonial journeys within Australia,” she said.
Forrest’s expedition was the last of three he made between the years of 1869 to 1874. Forrest had been invited to lead the expedition which saw him travel through the uncharted centre of Western Australia to the overland telegraph line from Darwin to Adelaide, it took the party six months to make the journey.
The exhibition acknowledges two Aboriginal trackers, Kungaitch(Tommy Windich) and Beearragurl (Tommy Pierre), who helped Forrest and his party of five. It’s written in the history books that John and Alexander Forrest relied heavily on the trackers to survive the desert landscape. The men used their tracking skills to trace Aboriginal people's movements across Country which led them to water and animals.
Beearragurl had an ability to navigate both colonial and traditional worlds, he was praised by the Forrest men for his skill in locating food and water. Kungaitch was regarded as an exemplary marksman and tracker, he saved the lives of the party on a number of occasions.
Aboriginal trackers were not compensated for their skills or time to the same extent as the non- Indigenous men, however, Forrest named 'Windich Springs' after Kungaitch.
For Ms Raven as a descendant of Kungaitch, being a part of this exhibition was moving and said her non-Indigenous peers learnt a lot as well.
“I think it was a real eye-opener because we all sit in our office, we sit at our desk and we think we kind of know what it’s like until we actually go out there and sit quietly with our elders and learn,” she said.
The State Library partner with the great-great nephew of John Forrest, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and his foundation Minderoo to present the exhibition.
The exhibition spans over three sites, two in Perth and one in Geraldton, a public lecture series will also be hosted in South Australia and in London.