Canning Route project highlights Aboriginal suffering and resistance

November 23, 2014

Mira Canning Stock Route Project

In the early part of the 20th century, the “Kings in Grass Castle” ― the cattle barons of northern Western Australia ― were profit-gouging the beef trade through controlling transport.

The WA government decided to break their monopoly by mapping a stock route from the Kimberley down through the state’s semi-arid interior to the southern markets.

Government surveyor Alfred Canning was appointed to the task in 1906. To map the water holes, he captured local Aboriginal people, fed them on salty beef until, desperate with thirst and tethered at the neck, they led him to water.

His barbarous methods led to a royal commission, which exonerated him.

However, when droving commenced, Aboriginal people resisted the intruders and drovers responded with massacres. The route was only used for a couple of years.

About 20 years later, the route was reopened, but only used 20 times before it again fell into disuse.

Starting in 2006, Aboriginal people from along the route began an artistic project to tell their story. More 100 Aboriginal artists and elders participated along with 250 other Aboriginal participants.

Mira means “to bring something hidden into the light” in the Martu Wangka language. The Mira project can be accessed online. It testifies to Australia’s racist heritage and the refusal of Aboriginal communities to forget what has been done to them.

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