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Canning Stock Route

“When they were laying out the Canning Stock Route, whitefellas used to get Martu people to show them where the permanent water was. The whitefellas was asking Martu people to show them permanent water, like soaks and rockholes, for a shortcut from Wiluna to Billiluna. When the whitefellas found out where the permanent water was, they made wells in every place and they called it the Canning Stock Route. That was how they went cut-across.”

– Yanjimi Peter Rowlands


Western Australia’s gold rush, beginning in 1885, created a huge demand for beef from mines located between Halls Creek and Wiluna. At that time, most of Western Australia’s cattle came from the Kimberley, though an infestation of tropical ticks among the East Kimberley herds gave the West Kimberley pastoralists a monopoly on the beef trade — causing prices to soar. A Royal Commission in 1904 proposed the construction of a stock route through Western Australia’s desert country to eliminate the ticks through exposure to its hot, dry conditions, resulting in the near 2000 kilometre Canning Stock Route. The proposal was successful insofar as the eradication of ticks was concerned; however, the establishment of the Canning Stock Route was to have far reaching repercussions for Western Australia’s Aboriginal population. 

The construction of the route by Alfred Canning and his team in 1910 resulted in first contact with Europeans for many Martu then living a pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) life in the desert. This contact began with Canning’s use of Aboriginal guides to lead him to the sources of water that would be transformed into 48 stock route wells. Acts of cruelty toward these guides included, amongst other things, chaining them at night to prevent their escape and giving them salt water to drink, thereby ensuring their thirst and subsequent necessity to lead the party to water sources.

Following the construction of the Canning Stock Route, Martu encountered Europeans and other Martu working as cattle drovers as they would travel up and down the Stock Route from water source to water source. Increasingly, pujiman followed the route to newly established ration depots, mission and pastoral stations. They were drawn to the route in search of food, by a sense of curiosity, or by loneliness. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, most of the desert family groups had left the desert. Eventually, these factors combined with an extreme and prolonged drought in the 1960s to prompt the few remaining pujiman to move in from the desert. One of the last major migrations of Martu people occurred in 1963, when many of the pujiman born Martumili Artists moved to Jigalong.

Patterns of movement which had defined Aboriginal people’s relationships to Country were forever changed by the Canning Stock Route, but the Martu relationship with Country remains strong through the maintenance of physical and cultural ties to desert life and knowledge.

Name: Roxanne Anderson

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Derby


Born on Barwidgee Station at the first well on the Canning Stock Route near Top Mill, Western Australia, Roxanne Anderson is of the Martu people. Coming from a long line of talented artists, she is experimental in her approach, developing her own style. Working in various colour combinations, Roxanne brings to life the traditional stories of the Martu people which is embedded into the depth and detail of her paintings.

Derby is renowned for being the home of the Boab Tree which symbolises the essence and majesty of the Kimberley Region. Roxanne enjoys bringing these trees to life and interweaving their story with her own. Her work is highly sought after and attracts buyers from Australia and overseas.

Those who visit Derby may have been lucky enough to meet Roxanne. You will know her by her relaxed nature, warm personality and great sense of humour.

Roxanne was selected for The Revealed Exhibition 2015. The Revealed exhibition showcases art by emerging Western Australian Aboriginal artists, across a variety of artistic mediums and with a diverse range of styles.

Roxanne’s ‘Canning Stock Route’ was selected by Headsox Australia. “By purchasing an Aboriginal Desert Art Headsox, you are helping us support Aboriginal Artist’s and their communities.” – Head Sox

© the artist / art centre