The Making of
10863 Bushranger presented by Act Belong Commit is a physical and virtual exhibition of North Midlands Project about the life and stories of Western Australian bushranger Frank Thomas. The online version of the exhibition can be viewed here.
The exhibition and its strategic ambition was devised by visual artist Di Taylor and North Midlands Project lead Artistic, Culture & Wellness Director David Bowman-Bright. The vision was further developed with input from North Midlands Project's Artistic, Cultural & Wellness Directors. In response to identified community needs, the primary objective was to engage the community with an interesting locally-relevant story that emoted to people and encouraged positive mental wellbeing.
The essence of the exhibition was created by visual artist Di Taylor with enriching contributions from local artist Delys Fraser, singer-songwriter Ashlea Reale, emerging writer Lauren Selfe, program curator Shiona Herbert and historian-curator Andrew Bowman-Bright.
Di Taylor is an established Western Australian visual artist with a wealth of knowledge and experience from a career spanning over 45 years. Di works from an open studio in the Perth suburb of Mount Hawthorn where she creates and sells her artworks. She has successfully exhibited across multiple states of Australia and regularly donates her time and art to charities.
"To be complacent is not an option, I strive to be inventive, creative, inspiring and always compassionate." - Di
In 2017 Di was the first artist in residence contracted to collaborate with North Midlands Project and The Bank Gallery in Carnamah. Her remit was to connect with the communities of the North Midlands, explore the stories of bushranger Frank Thomas and transform them into a series of artworks. The resulting exhibition aimed to both tell the story of Frank but also impart to audiences the importance of keeping mentally healthy.
Di was especially interested in the project as it involved making a positive community impact. From time spent as a farmer's wife on a property in regional New South Wales, she was able to draw on many of her personal experiences and had an innate understanding of what would work in a rural community. Di was very passionate about ensuring the exhibition succeeded and that it sparked interest, discussion, compassion and understanding.
Over a period of time Di immersed herself in the story of Frank Thomas to gain a detailed picture of who he was as a person. A focus of Di's attention was ensuring that the artworks reflected his fragility. He was a highly intelligent person, which is evident from his abilities to escape and avoid capture. However, he was largely misunderstood and often mistreated due to being a unique and different individual.
As she created the series of artworks, Di frequently revisited elements of the life and stories of Frank to explore and re-explore who he was, how he was treated and the emotions experienced during his life. Di hopes that the exhibition, in addition to encouraging positive mental wellbeing, also inspires people to celebrate the uniqueness and differences in others.
Di conducted multiple school and community workshops in Carnamah, Coorow, Eneabba, Mingenew, Morawa, Perenjori and Three Springs. In addition to talking about Frank and sharing her artistic skills, she also ran a series of arts-based mental resilience workshops. Her artworks about Frank became truly regional as they were created in multiple different places and spaces across the North Midlands.
The resulting exhibition, 10863 Bushranger presented by Act Belong Commit, was launched at The Bank Gallery in Carnamah in 2017 and toured to the Sunshine Festival in Geraldton and to the historic Fremantle Prison in Perth - where Frank had been held under prisoner number 10863.
In opening the exhibition at Fremantle, the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries director-general Duncan Ord commended the quality of the artworks, the intrigue of the story, the value of the exhibition's mental wellbeing message and how apt it was for it to be shown in a heritage building where it had such strong meaning and relevance.
The exhibition was seen by over 23,000 during its first four months in 2017.
Di returned to regional Western Australia in 2018 to create an additional and retrospective artwork. With some time having passed, it was an opportunity to take another look at Frank and his story. Di commenced the new artwork, Just Before Dawn, live before a crowd at the inaugural Wind on Water Festival in Geraldton. While the original artworks are quite literal, Just Before Dawn has darker tones with a burst of colour that represents the care but also tension between Frank and his father.
North Midlands Project would like to thank Di for the passion, enthusiasm and dedication she gave to this project. You can find out more about Di and see many samples of her work at www.ditaylor.com.au and on Facebook, Instragram and YouTube.
Delys Fraser has lived in Perenjori since she was a young child and works as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer with the WA Country Health Service. After many years of fascination with her ancestors' culture, she began learning the art of Aboriginal dot painting in 2008. Delys sold her first artwork in 2013 and now regularly gives works to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, which are sold to assist Aboriginal students boarding at Nagle College in Geraldton and in support of flood and fire victims around Australia.
"I am enjoying painting about my country where I grew up. In my artworks I display the beauty of this wildflower country." - Delys
In 2018 Delys and Di both accepted the challenging task of working together to create a cross-cultural collaborative artwork to be added to the 10863 Bushranger exhibition. Their brief was to create a new work about Joachim Dido, the Aboriginal man employed by the police to help track bushranger Frank Thomas.
The connection of Dido adds an additional dimension to the story of Frank. Dido was employed by the police for his exceptional skill as a tracker but in what was probably an act of compassion, he chose not to track particularly well. Whether he knew Frank or not, it is clear that he didn't wish for the police to catch up with him!
Di and Delys worked on the artwork both together at the same time and separately. Through this process the resulting work has elements of their joint and individual work.
Through dot painting, Delys represented the story of Dido's life from New Norcia to Moora, Carnamah and Three Springs. She included life events, movements, sport and geographical features. Her very different style makes the work highly contrasting to the rest of the exhibition. However, the contributions of Di and her unique style ensure, that despite it being so different, that it still fits seamlessly into the exhibition.
You can see the artwork Dido and the rest of the exhibition at 10863 Bushranger presented by Act Belong Commit.
Ashlea Reale is a singer-songwriter, guitarist and high school music teacher. She takes inspiration from the mystery and plight of characters from Western Australia's past. She has performed at folk music festivals across Australia and internationally.
To quote Triple J Unearthed, Ashlea "is a prominent fixture in the Western Australian folk scene, bringing local folklore to the forefront. She captivates audiences with her charming stories of local outlaws while her songwriting style displays her ability to combine humour with the heartfelt through clever melodic devices. Forgotten stories of bushrangers, convicts, lust and misfortune come to life through her raw, emotional songwriting. Her presence exudes a humble confidence that encompasses her well rounded musicianship."
"Frank Thomas was just a bit of a troublemaker really. He had an unfortunate end for a bushranger." - Ashlea
Ashlea had previously written the song Hold on to Your Horse about the exploits of Frank Thomas. Accompanied by Marlie Wanseth, she performed the song alongside the 10863 Bushranger exhibition in both Carnamah and Fremantle. The song is featured in the online version of the exhibition and can be found on her album Dead Men Tell No Lies.
There is an embedded player to listen to Ashlea's song Hold on to Your Horse within the exhibition at 10863 Bushranger presented by Act Belong Commit.
Lauren Selfe grew up in Geraldton and Carnamah and pursues writing as an active hobby and potential future vocation. She was commissioned for the first time to write a short story about Frank Thomas for the 10863 Bushranger exhibition.
While the artworks of the exhibition are accompanied by historical interpretation, Lauren's story emotively looks at the final reality for Frank from his own perspective. Her story added an extra dimension to the exhibition, which has been greatly appreciated by audiences.
In writing her story, Lauren was influenced by Di's artworks, Ashlea's song and historically accurate information about Frank provided by both the project's curator Andrew Bowman-Bright and the Carnamah Historical Society & Museum. In response to her story, lead artist Di Taylor created the exhibition's final artwork Dreaming of Freedom.
You can read Lauren's story and see the artwork it inspired within the exhibition at 10863 Bushranger presented by Act Belong Commit.
Shiona Herbert has been in the education industry for over 20 years and is well known in Western Australia for developing engaging public programs and education resources. She is the director of Ignite Your Audience and works as a primary school teacher in WA's Mid West region.
"So exciting to see this man's life come to life!" - Shiona
Shiona developed a series of programs and activities linked to the Australian Curriculum that engaged schools in Carnamah, Coorow, Eneabba, Geraldton, Mingenew, Morawa, Perenjori and Three Springs. An adapted version of the resource is available online and can be used in classrooms anywhere in Australia in conjunction with the online version of the exhibition.
You can see an entire suite of resources created by Shiona, including the 10863 Bushranger resource, at www.carnamah.com.au/education
Historian & Curator
Andrew Bowman-Bright has worked across the gallery, library, archive and museum (GLAM) sector in both Perth and regional Western Australia. He was the Outstanding Newcomer in the 2013 WA Heritage Awards and over the following years played a major role in four projects that won Museums and Galleries National Awards.
Andrew extensively researched bushranger Frank Thomas and Aboriginal tracker Joachim Dido. A wide variety of sources were consulted including prison registers, police records, historic newspapers and oral histories. This research helped inspire the works created by Di, Delys, Ashlea, Lauren and Shiona.
Andrew curated the physical 10863 Bushranger exhibition and its online reproduction. This included the placement and order of the artworks, the careful writing of all accompanying text and the graphic design of the exhibition's interpretative panels. While it is very much an exhibitions of artworks, it uniquely tells a historical narrative that is overlaid with a message encouraging positive mental wellbeing.
In its closing remarks the exhibition is pulled together by reminding people about the importance of staying mentally healthy and how this can be achieved.
One of Di's artworks, Red Hills, was featured on a free magnet distributed during the exhibition with helpline numbers on the back. The magnet was handed out within an A5 bi-fold brochure that gave additional information about Frank and his life. This subtle approach to encouraging people to reach out if they needed help proved effective with multiple testimonials from the community whose family members had utilised the aesthetic cards displayed on their fridges.
All of the historic information and stories uncovered through this project can now be found within the entries for Frank, Dido and others in the the Biographical Dictionary of Coorow, Carnamah and Three Springs.
Partners + Supporters
North Midlands Project would like to thank the thousands of individuals from the North Midlands, Mid West and Perth who have engaged with the 10863 Bushranger exhibition.
The exhibition was sponsored by Healthway to promote the Act Belong Commit message. During its creation a series of school and community workshops with lead artist Di Taylor and songwriter Ashlea Reale were held across the six shires of the North Midlands.
The 2018 expansion of the exhibition was supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The expansion was accompanied by live-painting, demonstrations and skill-based workshops across the southern half of WA's Mid West region.
We'd like to thank Fremantle Prison and the City of Greater Geraldton for providing exhibition venues, the Western Australian History Foundation for supporting the development of the accompanying education resource and the Carnamah Historical Society for taking the exhibition to new audiences by adding it to the Virtual Museum: to be known and distinguished as Carnamah.