Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany WA | 24 March – 4 June

John Curtin Gallery, Bentley, WA | 20 June – 21 August

NEXIS Narrogin Exhibition Space, WA | 9 September – 16 October


How the project developed

Prior to the Bella Kelly Retrospective, Bella Kelly has generally been described as being influenced by the Carrolup School, and as being part of the legacy of the Carrolup School1.  Research undertaken in 2014, for an exhibition titled Ripples in the Pond indicated that there could be a different understanding of Bella Kelly’s history.  There was anecdotal evidence that Bella Kelly was painting before the child artists at Carrolup, and that she could be considered to be the starting point for the style of art that became known as the Carrolup School or Carrolup Art.

Ripples in the Pond

This exhibition was presented by the Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany, Western Australia from 31 May to 2 August, 2014.  Curated by Annette Davis, Ripples in the Pond presented paintings by eleven artists who have a connection to the Carrolup School: Lance Chadd Tjylljungoo, Quinton Colbung, Revel Cooper, Parnell Dempster, Athol Farmer Moordipa, Pauline Farmer, Phllip Hansen, Alan Kelly, Bella Kelly, Kelvin Penny, and Graham “Swag” Taylor.

The expression “ripples in the pond” is often used by Noongar Elder Ezzard Flowers to describe the impact of the Carrolup School on Noongar art.   This style is traced back to the drawings and paintings by the school boy artists at Carrolup School from 1946 to 1950.   Although art was pursued at the School for less than five years, the style has influenced generations of artists in the Great Southern.

The artworks were borrowed from private and public collections in the Great Southern, including the City of Albany Collection.  Through these contacts, the curator became aware of the view that Bella Kelly played a much more significant role in the history of Noongar art than previously assumed.


Koolark Koort Koorliny  (Heart Coming Home)

Ripples in the Pond was presented to coincide with the presentation by Curtin University of Koolark Koort Koorliny  (Heart Coming Home) at the Albany Town Hall from 24 May  to 29 June, 2014.  This exhibition from Curtin University brought home 48 drawings and paintings by the child artists, artworks which were missing for 64 years before being discovered in 2004 at the Colgate University, New York State, USA.   In 2013, the Colgate University made the significant decision to donate the artworks, known as The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork, to Curtin University in Perth. Koolark Koort Koorliny  (Heart Coming Home) was an exciting event for the Great Southern region.

Connection to Community

As part of the public program for Ripples in the Pond an afternoon of talks was held at the Vancouver Arts Centre on 14 June, 2014, with contributions by Cheryl and Caroline Narkle, two of Bella Kelly’s daughters, and local art collector and writer, Tony Davis.  An enthusiastic audience of 80 people heard about Bella Kelly and her art.  Many of those present were proud to say that they owned one or more paintings by Bella Kelly.  Their stories of how they acquired the paintings gave a fascinating insight into the region’s rural history, as well as highlighting aspects of Aboriginal history.  It was clear that a project focussing on Bella Kelly would be a significant contribution to our cultural history.

The view that Bella Kelly was painting a distinctive “Carrolup-like” style before the child artists at Carrolup was put forward by people who knew Bella and knew her art career.   It was an intriguing argument that deserved further research.

The Vancouver Arts Centre applied for funding to research and develop the Bella Kelly Retrospective exhibition. A grant was successfully obtained from WA Department of Culture and the Arts, through their Community CONNECT funding program as the project supports and encourages broader access to the City of Albany art collection, which now holds four of Bella’s works. The project was also supported through the Department of Regional Development’s Creative Regions funding program devolved through Country Arts WA.

Cheryl and Caroline Narkle have supported the project from the beginning, and the memories and information that they have shared have been invaluable.   In addition, the research by local author and art collector, Tony Davis, has revealed gems of information that contribute to the picture of Bella Kelly’s significance.


Looking for paintings by Bella Kelly

The call out for paintings was made in October and November 2015 through an interview on ABC Great Southern radio and ABC Facebook and online coverage, articles in the two Albany newspapers, (the Albany Advertiser and the Great Southern Weekender), and through a listing in The West Australian’s "Can You Help" column.

The result was enthusiastic and extensive.  Over 100 people contacted the curator to tell her that they had one or more paintings which resulted in over 230 paintings coming to light.  These artworks were all in private collections.  Many had been bought directly from the artist.  What became apparent as the curator listened to the stories of how the paintings had come into the owner’s home, was that the painting was part of their personal and family history. It represented a point of connection between the owner, Bella Kelly and their shared history living in small rural towns in the Great Southern.

An unexpected benefit to the City of Albany Collection was the donation of two watercolours on paper, by Bella Kelly and her son Gregory Kelly.  The owner Gwen Guest had acquired them in Narrogin in the 1960s and had been looking for an appropriate home for the two paintings.  Seeing the City of Albany’s interest in Bella Kelly, Gwen Guest generously gifted them to the City of Albany Collection.


Exhibition tour

Initially, the exhibition was to be presented at the single venue of the Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany.   From early in the research phase, Arts Narrogin expressed interest in showing the exhibition, as Bella Kelly lived in Narrogin for many years.  When John Curtin Gallery indicated their interest in showing it in mid 2016, dates fell into place very quickly.  The exhibition’s tour from Albany to Perth and Narrogin increases the reach of the exhibition and of Bella Kelly’s story.

The exhibition contributes to the ongoing conversation about the history of Noongar art and of Bella Kelly’s role in the development of the distinctive style of Noongar art known as Carrolup Art.  It is hoped that more stories of Bella Kelly and other Noongar artists will come to light as the exhibition tours.


1 Brenda L Croft with Janda Gooding,  South West Central, Indigneous Art from south Western Australia 1833-2002,  Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2003, page 27.

Descendants of the prolific artist Bella Kelly at the Ripples in the Pond exhibition: Cheryl Narkle, Jade Dimer, Kira-Lee Dimer, Tahliah Dimer, Dakota Dimer and Tommy Dimer. Photographer Annette Davis.

Annette Davis, Curator

During the last ten years Annette has worked on a number of Noongar history projects, including the Gnowangerup Cultural and Heritage Centre (2005-2012) Ripples in the Pond exhibition (2014) and the Bella Kelly Retrospective (2016).  She has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) 1984 and Master of Philosophy (Australian Studies) 1991 from the University of Western Australia.  Annette has had extensive experience as a curator and exhibition co-ordinator, and previous projects have included Guy Grey-Smith’s Landscapes of Western Australia (touring exhibition 1996-97), Listen to the Land - Aboriginal Art from the Edith Cowan University Collection (1999 national touring exhibition) and Paperartzi events presented by NewArts Inc in Albany in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

Cheryl Narkle, Advisor

Born in 1954 in Narrogin, Cheryl Narkle was 8 years old when taken away from her mother Bella Kelly and father Largey Narkle.  Along with her siblings Geoffrey (1951-2005), Lorrice (1955-2015) and Caroline, she was detained at the Wandering Mission.  Her art talent was recognised at a young age when she won first prize in an art competition at the Narrogin Agricultural Show. Cheryl was able to leave the Mission when she was 15 years old, and she reunited with her mother in Mt Barker.  Cheryl has lived in central Australia, the Top End and the north-west and now lives in Albany.  She paints at Mungart Boodja Art Centre, Albany, and exhibits regularly.

Caroline Narkle, Advisor

Caroline was born in Narrogin in 1957, and was taken to Wandering Mission when she was 5 years old.  After 8 years there, she reunited with her mother Bella Kelly in Mt Barker.  An award winning artist, Caroline featured in the 2015 Revealed exhibition of Emerging Aboriginal Artists from Western Australia.  With her sister Cheryl, she paints at Mungart Boodja Art Centre, Albany. In 2015 Caroline and Cheryl joined three Wadjella artists in a 10 month collaborative art project which culminated in the exhibition Mamang Koort – Heart of the Whale, at the Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany, for the 2016 Great Southern Festival.

Tony Davis, Advisor

Born in Narrogin, Tony grew up on a family farming property in the Kulyalling District of the Pingelly-Brookton in area, not far from Boyagin Rock, an area rich in Aboriginal heritage.  His interest in Aboriginal culture was sparked when, at about 10 years of age, he found some Aboriginal artifacts.  Tony first encountered Bella Kelly when he was working in Cranbrook as a young man in the mid 1960s.  Bella was selling her paintings in the street, and Tony bought his first painting from her in 1967.  This was the beginning of an ongoing interest in her art.  In the 1980s, through his friendship with Bella’s son Geoffrey Narkle, Tony learnt more about Bella’s history and her contribution to Noongar art.  Tony is currently writing a book about Bella Kelly, her art and its association with the foundations of Noongar art, and what is today recognised as Carrolup Art.



Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany WA24 March – 4 June

John Curtin Gallery, Bentley, WA20 June – 21 August

NEXIS Narrogin Exhibition Space, WA 9 September – 16 October