Our Projects

Sharing Aboriginal stories of station life in the Pilbara

Launched in Port Hedland and Perth during November, Marlbatharndu Wanggagu: Once Upon A Time in the West uses oral histories, photography, and public art to tell the station stories of the Yinhawangka, Banyjima and Nyiyaparli people.

The project is a collaboration between IBN and FORM that began around a year ago after IBN people expressed a desire to share their station stories.

Curator Sharmila Wood said the stories are little known, but of huge significance to the elders who once worked as stockmen, station hands and domestic servants on stations; contributing significantly to the owners’ prosperity.

“Next year is the 99 year renewal of pastoral leases so we thought it was a very important project to do at this moment,” she said.

Working with anthropologist Andrew Dowding, Ms Wood collected oral histories and took three artists to the region; each artist produced work after hearing the stories of station life first-hand from the elders.

“There were very mixed emotions and bittersweet memories that people had,” Ms Wood said.

“On one hand, most people remember that time very fondly. They recall being with family and having a lot of cultural strength.

“People talk about the singing and dancing and cultural practices, because they were still on country.

“They were very good at what they did on the station; they enjoyed working with horses and spending months on country mustering.

“At the same time there was a lot of hardship. People weren’t paid, they worked for rations.

“Despite a very oppressive regime people did find ways to exist and thrive on the stations. When they were forced to move into towns in the 1960s I think that was a very difficult period.”

IBN believes this project is important as it puts a part of history on display that everyday Australians probably don’t know about. Images from the project can be seen at the IBN head office in South Hedland, around the South Hedland shopping precinct, and at IBN Services on Pinnacles Street in Wedgefield.

To view an electronic version of the book with stories and images from the project click here