Central to the Canning Stock Route Project’s ethos is the desire to create ongoing leadership and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people via means that are adaptive, responsive and culturally appropriate; the aim was to help build networks and opportunities for economic empowerment that would continue long after the Project ended. As well as employing Aboriginal cultural advisors, translators and technicians on the team, FORM devised two development programs for emerging Aboriginal professionals: one for curators and one for filmmakers. Under the guidance and guardianship of industry professionals and the broader team, a small group of aspiring curators, filmmakers and photographers were mentored at the nucleus of the Project. Meeting regularly in Perth, Canberra, on Country and in communities they played a key role in the development of the collection and the exhibition, which grew out of it.
Increasingly these young professionals became cultural intermediaries for the 120 participating artists and contributors. The depth of their commitment and enthusiasm equipped them to be passionate ambassadors for the Project and for the exhibition, and enabled them, on behalf of their desert families to communicate its story to urban audiences.
Wally Caruana, former curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia, and filmmaker Nicole Ma were the key mentors on the project, leading the emerging professionals and the broader project team through the development of both programs.
But while Caruana and Ma were able to guide their colleagues through many of the technical and artistic aspects of curatorship and audio-visual work, the deeply important cultural dimension of engagement with and handling of traditional knowledge lay in the domain of the Project’s senior cultural advisors and translators Putuparri Tom Lawford and Ngalangka Nola Taylor. Their guidance gave confidence to the younger members of the team, and represented an appropriate level of authority and knowledge in observing protocol approved by older artists and countrymen.
As such, the Canning Stock Route Project’s mentorship program has provided valuable skills development and enhanced the capacity for shared learning between all members of the team.