Beauty of art within tragic gaol

Pilbara News - - Lifestyle - Louise Alling­ham

Roe­bourne Art Group cel­e­brated the open­ing of its new gallery in the old Roe­bourne gaol precinct last Fri­day night.

Dozens of peo­ple en­joyed drinks, hors d’oeu­vres, and pre­sen­ta­tions and viewed the group’s art­works in a beau­ti­ful her­itage-listed set­ting.

The group has moved into the fa­cil­ity af­ter sev­eral months of hav­ing no per­ma­nent premises.

RAG chief ex­ec­u­tive Rex Wider­strom said it was a new be­gin­ning for the group.

RAG had to va­cate its for­mer premises back in March af­ter be­ing served an evic­tion no­tice from its cor­po­ra­tion-owned build­ing. “We’ve been in a sub­stan­dard premises for so long so we did have to shut down and an arts cen­tre’s not an easy thing to move,” Mr Wider­strom said.

“It got to the point where wa­ter was com­ing out of the pow­er­points in the wet sea­son, there was haz­ards ga­lore where we were, so in the end Work­safe con­demned it and that was sort of the trig­ger re­ally.”

Mr Wider­strom said the group had re­ceived lots of com­mu­nity sup­port dur­ing the tough times.

“I went on the web and said to the wider com­mu­nity ‘help!’ and the mob were quite con­cerned but I said ‘I’ve got a feel­ing the Pil­bara will save us’ and it did,” he said.

At the open­ing, mu­seum cu­ra­tor Eileen Wright told the crowd about the gaol’s tragic in­dige­nous his­tory. “Roe­bourne gaol was the first gaol in the North West and there­fore was the meet­ing point of colo­nial law and or­der gov­er­nance and con­trol of the Abo­rig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of this land,” she said.

Built in 1896, the gaol was de­signed to ac­com­mo­date 14 pris­on­ers but of­ten housed up to 40, many of whom were in­dige­nous peo­ple who had re­belled against the slave labour they had been forced into.

“The other ma­jor rea­son they were here was for spear­ing cat­tle or oth­er­wise im­ping­ing on pas­toral land that they no longer had ac­cess too tht was their tra­di­tional land,” Ms Wright said.

“You can imag­ine the grief and the be­wil­der­ment of the peo­ple in here.”

Mr Wider­strom said some mem­bers of RAG were ap­pre­hen­sive about mov­ing to the gaol. “That was an is­sue for our mob and some of them said ‘I don’t think the spir­its are go­ing to be happy’,” Mr Wider­strom said.

“I went, as I al­ways do, to (el­ders) Pansy (Hicks) and Vi­o­let (Sam­son) and I said ‘what’s the feel­ing?’ and they said, ‘the spir­its are there, we’re do­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful, we’re con­tin­u­ing their cul­ture, we’re in­creas­ing re­spect for their cul­ture, what bet­ter use could such a tragic place be put to?’.”

Pic­ture: Louise Alling­ham

Roe­bourne Art Group now has a per­ma­nent set­ting to dis­play and sell art­work.

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