Warmun Art Collection returned to the community

The story about the Warmun Art Project originally published in AICCM Newsletter No. 118, in July 2011, described the evacuation of the Warmun community art collection after flash flooding in March 2011. The flood destroyed most of the community buildings and infrastructure. The Warmun Art Centre and the art collection also suffered considerable damage and loss.

In March 2011, Marcelle Scott and Lyndon Ormond-Parker (CCMC) travelled to Warmun to assist in the evacuation of the collection, which contains significant early works by prominent artists such Rover Thomas, Hector Jandany and Queenie Mackenzie, among others. Approximately 190 artworks were taken to Melbourne for conservation treatment, carried out by CCMC staff and students.

Sophie Lewincamp unpacking collection works on-site

In late May-early June 2013, the collection was returned to the community, with the assistance of International Art Services. Marcelle Scott, Sophie Lewincamp and Vanessa Kowalski travelled to Warmun to assist in the relocation of the collection to the new storage facilities.  The new storage facilities are located in an elevated building, above the flood level. The room is environmentally controlled and the collection is stored in new horizontal plan drawers. The relocation of the collection was completed together with Warmun Art Centre workers and senior artists, to ensure that all works were stored appropriately, according to Gija culture.

To celebrate the return of the collection to the Warmun community, a Joonba (corroboree) was held. Senior artists, dancers and singers, together with children from the community, performed Gija Dreaming stories, which represent the many facets of their lives and beliefs. It is through these artforms – dance, singing and painting – that the Gija people keep their culture and their stories strong.  With the return of the historical collection to the community, the link back to their stories is restored.

The project has enabled a particularly strong relationship to grow over the past two years and has resulted in the development of a new partnership between Warmun Art Centre and the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation. The Gija Two-Way Learning Program is currently in development and will facilitate ongoing programs between the two Centres, which will contribute to the preservation of Gija culture and provide further avenues for two-way learning. 

Warmun Art Centre staff member Rosaleen Park and senior artist Rusty Peters documenting and unpacking collection in new storage area

Sophie, Rosaleen and Rusty documenting and unpacking collection in new storage area








The project was a unique learning experience for both conservators and students, from a treatment aspect, but also from a wider, community engagement aspect, reminding us why and for whom we conserve cultural heritage. 

Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from the original published in the National Newsletter. Read the full article.

Want more information?

Hear how this project gave conservators and students an increased understanding of the materials used by artists in the East Kimberley region, and the resilience of the materials, especially after suffering such damage. 

The great Warnum art rescue: AWAYE! with Daniel Browning

Handing back a cultural treasure: Bush Telegraph with Cameron Wilson