Max Angus 

(This paper was delivered to a THRA meeting on 8 February 2005.) 

After several false starts on this autobiographical sketch, I decided to follow Dylan Thomas in his introduction to Under Milk Wood: ‘To begin at the beginning … ‘ 

I was born on 30 October. 19 l 4, just weeks after the death of William Charles Piguenit. the firsc Tasmanian-born painter to achieve national acclaim. When I was a child, my father took me ·to the Art Gallery in Hobart to see Piguenit’s huge canvas, The Hawkesbury-early morning. My father was a painter of a different kind: a tradesman, expert in house-painting. paper-hanging and interior decorating. He encouraged his three sons to draw and gave us largish remnants of wall-paper. left over from various jobs, for us to use the reverse side for drawing in pastel and pencil. Two of us became immediately addicted (for life, as it turned out). Our youngest brother escaped, to become a successful business man. Then I was enrolled at Albuera Street Infant School. I had, during infancy. drawn freely and naturally with my left hand. When I reached First Primer. and began to write, I was told that I must write with my right hand. My teacher made a tube from an exercise book and shoved it up my left foreann, to prevent me from writing with my left hand. Miss Ida Quigley. our Art teacher. allowed me to draw wii.h my left hand. My class teacher did n(){ object, presumably regarding drawing as relatively unimportant; so here I am today, writing exclusively with my right hand, and drawing or painting with my left. 

As I rose thr’ough the grades. it became clear that in many subjects I was only fair to average. I looked forward to writing an occasional essay, but arithmetic bored me. On reaching fifth class we were reminded that the dreaded qualifying exam would need to be passed at the end of the year if we wished to go on to three years of secondary education. We needed all the help we could get. It came, in the form of the most dynamic, engaging. enthusiastic and brilliant man. He was Ron Bartram. His ability to impart his Jove of music. speech, and the arts was astonishing. He saw my drawings, and those of my brother Don, then in fourth class, and entered us in a competition for a poster announcing the ‘Made in Tasmania’ exhibition at the City Hall. Open to all schools, it carried a first prize of £2 and second prize of £1. We won both prizes. 

On passing the Qualifying Exam.ination, 1 could then choose between the Hobart Seate High School and the Hobart Junior Technical School. My father consulted Mr George Limb. Headmaster at Campbell Street Scace School. His advice was simple: ‘Mr Angus, we are heading for a terrible economic depression. White-collar workers will lose their jobs in thousands. Enrol your son at the Technical School, where he may learn something more practical’. 

I was duly enrolled ac rhe Technical School. Thrown into the maelstrom of the school’s curriculum, I Jived in dread of classes in Algebra. Trigonometry. Physics and Maths, but remember my joy in Art classes, Building Drawing. English and Geometry. Sheet-metalwork and Carpentry I barely managed. 

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Somehow, I got through that first year, chastened, but glad to be at that school. After the exams, my Headmaster, Mr Robert Hudspeth, called me to his office. My e~amination results lay on his desk. He smiled, and noted that my results for Algebra, Trigonometry, and Maths held little promise. Carpentry and Sheet-metal work were only fair. My marks for Art were a different matter. He asked me if I hoped to become an artist. I told him that I did. He then asked me if I would like to attend Art classes in the Senior School during the periods normally allowed to Carpentry and Sheet-metal work. I was in a daze of disbelief and gratitude. 

Next day, I appeared in the locker-room of the Senior Art School surrounded by a number of young women, towering above me, full of confidence and viewing me with astonishment. One, obviously upset, said. ‘Where did this little brat come from?’ I didn’t care. I had been chosen from more than six hundred boys to attend Art classes in the Senior School. It was then that I met Mr Lucien Dechaineux, the tall. dignified, Belgian- born Principal of the College, Head of the Art Department: painter. sculptor, architect and lecturer. 

I was not to know, then, how hard he had fought to establish an Art School within the College. It is hard to believe today. but he had great difficulty in persuading the Education Department that a nude model was needed for classes in Life Drawing. Some parents were also outraged. Victorian and Edwardian Hobart was hardly ready for this assault on its finer sensibilities. Dechaineux won the day, (and the night, as male students, unable to attend any day classes because they had day jobs of their own, rolled up in numbers at night, to draw from the nude model). 

Almost two years later Mr Hudspeth again called me to his office. A commercial artist, J. Barry Laurance, had approached him, looking for a boy who had done well at Art, to enter his employ. Mr Hudspeth strongly advised me r.o take the job, as unemployment was rising. So, here I was, exactly fourteen, working with a first-rate commercial artist on a salary of thirteen shillings a week. It was not to last The great Wall Street crash, unprecedented bankruptcies and suicides, changed the world. Mr Laurance could no longer pay my wages. I was on the street, out of work, at fourteen. My facher acted quickly. On 1January1929, I was indentured for a five-year apprenticeship to a signwriting and display firm. J. J. Harrington. This business was in the heart of Hobart, off Elizabeth Street, reached by a lane and a wooden bridge, that crossed the Hobart Rivulet. The old, convict-built workshop was on a site now named Wellington Square, at the rear of the Argyle Street Carpark. We did almost everything that brush and pen could manage: posters, show-cards, smart displays, an occasional newspaper illustration, roof-signs, wall-signs. street signs, sale signs; discreet gold leaf letters on shop windows or a solicitor’s entrance door; signs on veranda fascias for shops of all kinds. 

Large commercial firms used shop fronts, walls, and shop windows to advertise their wares. Perhaps Nestle’s Chocolate or Robur Tea would be presented on a side wall or veranda fascia. A small space was allowed for the shop-owner’s name, always referred to as ‘compensation’, as though the infliction of a product’s brand-name demanded solace after injury. 

Harrington’s had no motor-\iehicle for the transport of ladders, trescles and planks needed for the scaffolding of jobs. A two-wheeled hand-cart was used for this. It had a centre shaft to steer it and to enable it to be pushed along by a man. 

At fifteen, I found myself pushing this cart, loaded with two heavy trestles and a sixteen-foot plank to a shop in Glenon:hy, five miles distant. The usual Nestle’s 

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Chocolate in gold-leaf letters, and the proprietor’s name as ‘compensation’ still left me facing a return trip to Hobart. At least the last two miles from New Town to Hobart was down-hill all the way. Triumphant. safely dodging traffic. trams and pedestrians, I wheeled into Harrington’s entrance, the plank protruding fore and aft, clattered down the rough ·little Jane when a sharp rise took me to the wooden deck of the bridge over the rivulet. where I jerked it hard-a-port, to come to rest in the yard. 

For small jobs. a single, twelve-foot ladder was carried on a sign-writer’s shoulder for extraordinary distances, on foot. One such journey remains in my memory, best recalled in my employer’s words: ‘I want you to take the twelve-foot ladder and your sign-box. catch the 1.25 ferry to Lindisfarne. Walk across the recreation ground, then you’ll find a track chat takes you down the cliff to the water’s edge. You’ll find a ten-foot post there with a board across the top, already painted white. Write ‘Submarine Cable’ in four-inch letters on each side in black. Then get yourself across to the ferry terminal at Bellerive [about three miles away, over hills and gravel roads!] where you’ll find another sign- board. Do the same again. There’s a ferry at a quarter to five . Catch that back to Hobart’. It was a wonderful day, calm and sunny, and I managed it. 

Another task was bizarre in concept, with more than a touch of comedy, and today would be considered criminal. A large oil tank of three million gallons capacity stood near Macquarie Point. Hobart. It was perhaps sixty to seventy feet high. and painted silver. I was given a scale plan showing the word ‘PLUS’ to be lettered in black on the side facing the Derwent. The capital letter ‘P’ was more than twelve feet tall. All I had was Harrington’s forty-five foot extension ladder. The ladder had to be fully extended to enable me to reach the top of these huge letters. As I climbed the ladder it began to steadily bow inwards. The higher I climbed, the more vertical the top part of the ladder became. Thus the rungs of the ladder almost touched the slippery steel surface of the tank. I had to rely on my fingertips in order to hang on. I took careful measurements from the plan before climbing the ladder, and painted the areas I could reach above me and to either side. A large paint-pot half-full of black enamel hung on a piece of wire. hooked to a rung below me. A four-inch brush was used to cover the small area I could reach each time the ladder was moved. My boss had provided me with a burly painter to help extend the ladder and stand firmly at the bottom of it, holding t.,e sides to prevent it moving across the slippery surface of the rounded, steel tank with me on it. He was a jovial old North Hobart footballer. It was 24 December. He had already prepared himself for Christmas by being a trifle drunk. Happily. blissfully asleep, far below me, the ladder was his support. not mine. Finally, the job finished, we arrived back at the shop, wished each other a happy Christmas, and walked home. 

As the five years of my apprenticeship slowly passed, the depression worsened. The two senior signwriters left the firm for any pickings they could find. By 1932 I was the only signwriter left. As an apprentice, even in my third year, my wages were only twenty-two shillings a week. Most signwriters earned seven times that amount. Consequently, there was much more profit to be made from me. I became the prime source of income for the Harrington .family. My brother Don had by then found employment at the venerable hardware firm. Charles Davis Ltd_ as assistant window- dresser. display artist, show-card writer and ticket writer. We both attended art classes at the Technical College at night, and dreamt of becoming Commercial Artists. There were no advertising agencies in Hobart, nor would there be for almost twenty-five years. We would have to move to Melbourne. In 1938 we did so. I did not return to Tasmania to live until the end of World War IL 

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Melbourne seemed, to us, a mecca of opportunity unavailable in Hobart. Our first studio in Melbourne was in Hardware House; it was small but ample enough for our business, which was almost non-existent. We picked up a few small jobs from small printers in narrow lanes. We nervously approached some well-established advertising agencies. They had their own artists. One day we found a recently established firm, Claude Mooney Advertising, whose front man perused our small portfolios of artwork. ‘You blokes can draw’, he said. ‘Most of those who have come here can’t. I’ll give you some work’. Our night classes in Hobart had paid off. Soon we were doing all the artwork the agency needed. As our income increased, so did the rumblings of war in Europe. On 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. My brother and I bad prepared all the artwork for a campaign launching the DKW car in Australia. It was Hitler’s ‘people’s car’ built by Auto-Union. Mooney’s lost the account and the German representatives in Australia were interned for the duration of World War II. 

It was only a matter of time before Don and I would be in the Armed Forces. My first few weeks in the army were spent at Victoria Barracks, the ivy-covered blue-stone building in St Kilda Road not far from the River Yarra. This ancient building smelled of old floor-polish and stale air. Muffled doors closed on dreary, dun-coloured rooms made not less drear by their inhabitants. The days dragged. Eventually, I was ordered to report to Army transport for duty in Brisbane, to work in an entirely different kind of building at St Lucia, a riverside suburb. It was the barely-finished, handsome, sandstone Queensland University re-named ‘Advanced Land Headquarters’ of the Australian Army under the command of General Sir Thomas Blarney. 

The title of my unit was ‘General Staff Intelligence, Advanced LHQ’. The central, square tower of the new building at St Lucia housed the Battle Room with its wall maps, flags and other pictorial indicators. I was placed in charge of the Draughting Room, which provided all the material for a Weekly Intelligence Review to be published, including illustrated maps, oblique and vertical aerial photographs, all of which was classified TOP SECRET. an American version of the British MOST SECRET. 

In Brisbane we were all given recreational leave for one day a week. I spent this mostly in landscape painting. I met a number of local artists, and attended drawing sessions with American and Australian artists at a large city studio. The last year of the war was perhaps the most interesting for me. I was transferred to a unit called the Far Eastern Liaison Office (FELO for short), a most mysterious and enigmatic crew of people trained in all manner of ways for obstructing and undermining the enemy: saboteurs from a section known as Z Special were trained to operate behind enemy lines; others to blow up ships in enemy-occupied harbours by attaching limpet bombs to their hulls underwater at night. Brave acts indeed; the late Doug Plaister, one-time Lord Mayor of Hobart. was a member of Z Special. 

I was placed in charge of a section of FELO formed to produce psychological and propaganda leaflets for distribution within the whole of the South-West Pacific area. These leaflets were printed in different languages: Japanese, British and Dutch Malay, Chinese, Indonesian. Pidgin English, and native dialects. We had experts at FELO versed in all these languages, together with the cultures and political backgrounds of these people. Besides people from other places, I had three Japanese prisoners of war working on leaflets designed to encourage Japanese soldiers to leave their bunkers on islands re- taken by Allied forces, and give themselves up, with a promise of humane treatment in POW camps in Australia, so tha.t they could survive the war and return to their families. To persuade these men to give themselves up, when all their lives they had been taught 

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never to allow themselves to be taken alive, would be difficult in the extreme. A Japanese naval officer captured at B una, in New Guinea, proved to be equal to the task. He was the leader of my Japanese POW team of three, engaged in the production of leaflets. Convinced that lives would be saved on both sides by a peaceful surrender, the young officer. son of a Minister for Education in Tokyo, set about the task of persuasion. Thousands gave themselves up: he was said to have been worth a light cruiser or squadron of planes to the Allied Forces. The three men were. of course, carefully repatriated when war ended, vowing to ‘help to democratise Japan’. 

Award-winning Australian journalist, Scott Bevan, wrote a book in 2004. Battle Lines- Australian Artists at War, in which he wrote of my time in Brisbane, and of my strange role as an artist. All other artists in his book were accredited War Artists. I was an undercover man, as were most of us at FELO. 

I was discharged from the army on 21 November 1945 with no black marks and no medals, at Royal Park, Melbourne. I visited Claude Mooney Advertising in the city. and told their top man that l was returning to Tasmania to paint landscapes. He was disgusted. ‘That’s something you do when you’ve made your money and retired’. he said. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ 

In fact, my wife was already in Tasmania with our small son, staying with her parents. and nursing her ailing mother. Her father ran the small post office at Grove, in the country about twenty miles from Hobart. I was welcomed to their home, and began painting immediately. I held my first exhibition of Tasmanian landscapes in Melbourne on 24 September, 1946. 

In 1947, following an exhibition I had at John Martin’s Gallery in Adelaide, I called on war artist Ivor Hele, at his studio at Aldinga, just down the coast. I had become quite friendly with him during the War, when he spent some weeks at our Headquarters at St Lucia, working on a large canvas of Australian and Polish forces at Tobruk, destined to be a gift from General Blarney to the Polish Commander who fought with his brigade alongside Australian soldiers. It was a huge task for Ivor. During spells from painting, he was always sure of coffee and cake at our draughting room. I learned much from this great war artist during his informal visits. 

Three years later, he again reviewed my work. He asked me if l knew of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme (C.R.T.S.). He told me that thousands of soldiers had benefited from this enlightened scheme, which provided three years training in approved courses in many walks of life, including Art. Approved applicants were paid a modest living allowance during their course of study. He said, ‘You will be free to study anything you want. without the need to sell anything, at a vital point in your career’ . I agreed. 

Back in Hobart, with a strange nostalgia, I arrived at the same rooms of the Art Department at the Technical College where I first studied as a boy in the 1920s and as a young man in the 1930s, under Lucien Dechaincux. 

Dechaineux was no longer there. having retired in 1939 to his private studio in the city. The Head of the Art Department was Launceston-born Jack Carington Smith, who had won the New South Wales Travelling Scholarship in 1936, giving him two important years of study abroad, mainly in London. He was to become one of Australia’s most distinguished artists in the field of portraiture and landscape. Herc. then, was the man with whom I would be studying for the next three years. He was a shy. reserved man who never raised his voice. His work was subdued in colour. dignified in treatment. His students adored him. Young women melted. I remember thinking how different his work 

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was from that of Ivor Hele when I first saw it. The mention of Ivor’s name would bring an uncharacteristic flush of subdued rage to his cheeks and a deep frown on his brow. He allowed himself to say abruptly: ‘Bad taste! Too clever!’ This was not new to me. I had heard students complain of Hele’s work in Brisbane during the war. ‘Good taste’ was being cultivated even then, perhaps as a longed-for refuge from war. Ivor Hele did his battle-drawings in the company of soldiers within earshot of the enemy at times. and certainly under fire. He knew, first-hand, that war was misery, anguish, mud, sand and blood. He drew and painted his men at war, sometimes as the victor, more often the walking wounded, the blinded, the maimed; the hasty and reverential burials in the jungle; the squalor of it all. 

So, here I was with Jack Carington Smith for three years. Whatever I learned from him, I told myself, it would be valuable: it was. There were two other fine arts students with me under C.R.T.S, Alan Mcintyre and Alan Frost, destined for distinguished teaching careers in Art, and for life-long friendship. In 1950, we each received our diplomas and left the School. Only I would return, five years later, as an outside assessor, to follow Lucien Dechaineux. 

At the end of 1950, half-way through the twentieth century, Ire-embarked on my free- lance career. I had resisted a career in full-time teaching, preferring occasional talks to groups, or being tutor for week-end art workshops for the Adult Education Board, or other societies or groups throughout the island. During the next two decades I painted a number of stage sets for operas at the Theatre Royal and both private people and institutions were brave enough to commission me to create murals for them. Most have now disappeared from view, either from the demolition of buildings or from well-meant ‘renovations’. I did a lot of graphic design and advertising art, to help keep the wolf from the door-even apple- case labels for Roy Cox, artist and manager of Cox Kay, Pty Ltd. Printers. Well-known local artists, including Stephen Walker and myself, designed a number of these labels, albeit unwillingly, as they involved a tedious and time-consuming technique in preparatory work for Cox Kay to avoid the very high cost of colour printing in those days. These labels became, to our astonishment, decades later, ‘collector’s items’, and copies are held in the archives of the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts. No doubt it will soon contain a copy of a handsome volume, about to be published: a history of apple case labels, prepared by Chris Cowles and David Walker. 

Roy Cox was a lithographer, (examples of his work are held in the National Print Collection, Canberra), printer and water colour painter of the first order. In the mid 1950s he invited me to paint with him on a one-day-a-week basis. His business life precluded week days. We settled for Sundays. This was the beginning of a group, unplanned but small in number. During the half-century of this group’s existence membership has changed from time to time. Present members are: Patricia Giles, Elspeth Vaughan, Brian and Jenny Young, Mollie Maxwell and John Traynor and, qf course, myself. The medium most used. because of its portability, is water colour. to this has been added gouache, pastel, charcoal and ink, or all together: the lot, referred to as ‘mixed media’. 

Early in 1948, Tasman Fehlberg arrived in Hobart with his young wife and family, appointed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to take charge of Radio Broadcasts for Primary Schools in Tasmania.· He was an educationist, painter, and a devotee of literature. He read stories to his children every day before the evening meal. He visited the Art Department al lhe Hobart Technical College during its C.R.T.S. years, and asked Alan Mcintyre and me if we would write a series of radio talks for his ‘Art for Schools’ programme. There were no TV broadcasts then, so no visual aids. Quite a challenge. Tas 

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Fehlberg saw our task as stirring children’s imaginacion on a subject chosen by us to the point·where chey couldn’t wait to hop into it. Short musical breaks were followed by gee- ups from us:. ‘Have you given che tiger the look he should have? Is the small dog happy? (It was a long way from ‘We shall now do a drawing of an apple in pastel!’) ‘Art for Schools’ went on for years. Teachers loved the series because it helped them and the children, who went on wich their work long after our fifteen minute broadcast. 

In 1950, one had to be a member of an established Art Society or Group, to have any chance ‘of showing paintings publicly, and that was only once a year. I had joined the Art Society of Tasmania in 1948, and later became a council member. I became aware that the Society was mid-Victorian in its attitude co Art. Its members were mostly elderly, as no young people were joining. Mr Alfred Pedder had been President for fifteen years. At the Annual General Meeting of 1950. having heard of my nomination for the position, he made a short speech of thanks for past support and left the room. Pandemonium. Incomprehension. Melodrama. People stood up, crying ‘Outrage!’. demanding justice. 

Someone then moved that Archdeacon Barrett (a Patron) assume the chair, to restore order. He calmly asked the quaking secretary if she had any nominations for President. ‘Yes’, she whispered, ‘Mr Max Angus.’ Elderly members groaned loudly; a few clapped politely; Archdeacon Barrett then declared me President. Word reached the Launceston Art Society that some young hot-heads had taken over in Hobart! It was a turning point. Today, the Art Society of Tasmania is flourishing. Excellent work in both traditional and contemporary forms ensures its place in our society. 

In 1955 I’was appointed to the State Art Advisory Board, and to the post of outside assessor at the annual examination of Certificate and Fine Art Diploma students, statewide. Lucien Dechaineux had retired from this position earlier. Annual meetings of the State Art Advisory Board took place each November, straight after the assessments, chaired by Mr John Omond, Superintendent of Technical Education. A man of wide experience in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, he was also a perceptive and sensitive chairman, listening carefully to Jack Carington Smith, Yem Hodgman. and myself. 

Carington Smith could now begin to voice his opinions on aspects of the Art Department Syllabus, drafted originally by Lucien Dechaineux. Ht; found them. in some cases, too technically inclined. Step by step, as time passed, it could be seen that a School of Art, separate from the Technical College. was inevitable. John Omond was sympathetic, but realised the difficulties. Would we draw up a report? Of course. Briefly. we asked that the new school be built on land partly occupied by Rose Bay High School. In case our report gathered dust, we decided on a bold move: seek audience with the Minister for Education. W.H. (Bill) Neilson, later to become Premier. He received us graciously. The Government did not have the money to build a new Art School at Rose Bay. But (with a twinkle). ‘The University will soon be moving to its new campus at Sandy Bay. How would you like the old building on the Domain for your new Art School?’ We had done it. It was the first step towards the now large and cornplex Centre for the Arts in Hunter Street, Hobart. 

The early 50s were fruitful. Tas Fehlberg had won the Sesqui-Centennial Art Prize. Lloyd Jones had ftown me into Lake Pedder in 1953; it was not then under threat. In l 954 I had an exhibition of paintings I did while camped there. It was at the Adult Education Board’s foyer of their office opposite the G.P.O., not a gallery proper, but a beginning. 

ln 1956 Tasman Fehlberg returned from an overseas leave and study tour co stage an exhibition at Wrest Point Hotel. At the opening he was handed a telegram: ‘Report to 

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ABC Melbourne to take charge of the Schools Broadcasts Section there’. Melbourne was starry-eyed about the forth-coming Olympic Games. Everyone found a good reason to be at Olympic Park, including the Schools Broadcasts Section. Planning for schools progi-arnmes and material for the booklet for children was behind: come and fix it! Tas Fehlberg went sadly. Long hours were spent, night and day, to get everything back on track, but he found the current booklet dull and unimaginative in design and content. He wrote to me. Would I be interested in taking over the design and illustration of the Victorian booklet if my quote was acceptable to the ABC? Annually, for the following fourteen years, I designed and illustrated the Victorian Schools Broadcasts booklet. That was not the end of the matter; in Sydney, in 1961, a malfunction in ABC procedures caused a log-jam in the system, affecting Schools Broadcasts, and it was unresolved by management. Fehlberg was transferred to Sydney, and solved the problem. Would I come to Sydney and discuss the New South Wales booklet? It needed some help. There was resistance within his department. An artist from Melbourne? To do our book? (An artist from Hobart was quite another matter. Hot flushes receded.) 

In May of each year, I visited Melbourne and Sydney for some weeks. going through all the proposed new programmes with producers, script-writers, liaison officers and other experts in the many professions involved in the production of educational broadcasts. 

The logistics of production were formidable; the dead-lines demanding. Between planning and printing were six months of hard work for me. night and day. The New South Wales booklet was of 128 pages; the half-million copies printed required fifteen hundred tonnes of paper. I felt seriously involved in my joyous task, and knew that great numbers of children would be listening to radio broadcasts especially prepared for them, and guided by my illustrations for a myriad of subjects: science. songs. stories, dance and drama, or just plain fun. Caricatures, cartoons and crazy drawings have always fallen easily from me. I believe it to be a gift of some kind that not all artists possess. John Olsen has it in abundance; other fine Australian artists not at all. Christopher Koch has the gift: other fine writers might well envy him. For me, it was my great support, in the early morning or late at night, alone in my studio. I could not have lasted the distance of those marathon years without counting on the children: they enjoy both the serious and the absurd. 

For me, those years stabilised my life in art. Six months of ABC booklets at cen to twelve hours a day earned me enough money to leave the remainder of each year for painting. I was now approaching sixty; was it time for me to devote myself to painting full-time? I would think about it. 

Then, without warning, a terrible event took place. On 6 January 1972, a friend, much-loved and trusted, was drowned in a canoeing accident on the Gordon River; his name was Olegas Truchanas, a Lithuanian-born Tasmanian, who had earned the respect of thousands throughout the nation for his great work in conservation in Tasmania’s South-west wilderness, and his heroic fight to try to save the incomparable Lake Pedder from flooding, as part of a Hydro-eleccric power development 

His superl:> photographs were a source of great enlightenment for the thousands who saw his audio-visuals of Lake Pedder at Hobart Town Hall where there was standing room only on eight consecutive occasions. 

On the day of his funeral service, an awful sense of loss overt.oak me. I spoke to friends: Tm going to do a book on Olegas’. Within days I had a committee, all friends of Olegas, all versed in either photography or painting (or both), willing to help. An 

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appeal was launched. with a splendid response, across the nation, but unfortunately. not enough to print the handsome volume we had in mind. A series of Banquet Auctions at Wrest Point Hotel, held in conjunction with the Lions Club of Kinghorough. doubled our funds. Still not enough. The committee appealed to the Arts Council of Australia. The reply: ‘The Arts Council is quite prepared to assist photography as an Art Form. but not for photography which is essentially documentary’. The Olegas Truchanas Publication Commirtee then decided to invite all those who had donated money to the original appeal to subscribe to a pre-publication offer at a special discount. Money rolled in: we were over-subscribed and had increased our order to six thousand. The printers, Wilke and Company, of Melbourne. said we would never sell so many. Olegas’s widow. Melva. agreed to the large order: ‘I want his message to reach as many people as possible’. 

This first edition’ sold out within weeks after its launching in 1973 by the Federal Minister of the Environment, Dr Moss Cass. It had taken three years for the committee and myself to achieve this unexpected success. It had taken most of my time during this period to design the book. write the memoir. and finally, to supervise the printing of this edition. I was not to know. then, that I would be required to print, over the years, seven more re-runs of the book. At the printing of the eighth (and final) edition, forty thousand volumes had been produced. I had spent a total of three months of accumulated time at Wilke’s. supervising the printing. 

Before the final runs of The World of Oleg as Truchan as had taken place, I was already at work on another book. I’d had it in mind for years. confident that one day I’d get around to it. Working on The World of Olegas Truchanas acted as a catalyst. I’d been determined to create a book about Olegas, so that he and his work would not be forgotten. This new book would be about someone who had been forgotten, or remained unknown to all but a few admirers. His name was Francis Guillemard Simpkinson De Wesselow, ( 1819-1906). A brilliant landscape painter. and an officer in the Royal Navy. he was stationed at the Rossbank Magnetic Observatory at Hobart Town from September 1844 to December 1848. During this period he completed some two hundred watercolours, often in the company of John Skinner Prout, the most famous of colonial a11ists of his time. Simpkinson took all these works back to London in 1848, where they remained. scarcely looked at. for almost half a century. Responding to a request from the Royal Society of Tasmania, which was seeking historical relics. he presented the Society with his entire collection. shipped in a zinc-lined box to Hobart. Later. some paintings were framed. but they have been shown only occasionally over the past century. When I first saw his watercolours. I was adolescent, and bowled over by what I saw. The freshness and vitality amazed me: it still does. The great 360° panorama of Hobart Town in 1848 is incomparable; it is completed in six joined sheets. Jt shows every detail of settlement with an accuracy that delights our eye today. allowing us to recognise. perfectly placed. rhe early buildings that still exist. His brushwork flows with Mozartian elegance, never tired or dull. his joy apparent in every stroke. 

Simpkinson had good reason to be joyful during his four-year stay in Vi!n Diemen’s Land. After thirteen years at sea, trained in the delineation of the world’s un-mapped coastlines, the young officer now had a comfortable job at the Observatory, in the midst of scenic splendour. Socially. he was well-placed. His mother was Lady Jane Franklin’s 

I. A Deed of Trust was drawn up to ensure that any profit from sale~ would go to Melva and the children. 

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sister. His uncle, Sir John Franklin, had recommended him for the post he now had. At twenty-five, unattached, the world was his oyster. 

By 1980, the Royal Society of Tasmania had given me permission to proceed with the proposed book. and to reproduce any of Simpkinson’s landscapes in it. Now, the world was my oyster! As if this were not enough, Dan Sprod, doyen of publishers of limited edition books. lived a few streets away in Sandy Bay. He, too, was excited about publishing the book. He gave me complete freedom to design and write it. A qujet, amicable man, with steely resolve that the highest standards be met, he was for me, the ideal person. He was publisher, editor, historian, distributor and financier. I was author, designer and supervisor of printing. Those who have a copy of this book might be interested to know that the sumptuous paper used in its making, and chosen by Dan. has an archival life of some five hundred years! 

Five hundred years is, historically. a considerable time. We can dream of it, or conjecture: but we cannot experience it. Even my own life-span of ninety years can, to the young. appear to be beyond their grasp. For myself, I believe that old age gives me a better understanding of the events that I have experienced than was possible earlier. To ‘piece together’ became much more possible after seventy than it was earlier. 

Today’s children are born into a society where ‘contemporary’ art is the norm. They did not see its birth, and are not shocked, as their parents, and certainly their grandparents, might have been. By contrast, I have lived through the great changes that I have already described. 

I have said that Lucien Dechaineux when I first studied with him, had worked very hard to introduce Art into Technical Education. A generation later I returned to the same Art Department to study with Jack Carington Smith. He was already chafing under what he saw as Dechaineux’s Art Curriculum: ‘too technical in its approach’. He wanted a separate Art School, away from the Technical College. I have already mentioned that I was, a few years later, on a committee to help bring this about. I was to see much more. In keeping with established practice in Western countries, Contemporary Art took centre stage. In fairly rapid succession the Tasmanian School of Art went first to the TAFE College, then to the University of Tasmania. It now resides in the Hunter Street Centre for the Arts Building, surely one of the world’s most spectacular sites for an Art Schooi. Geoff Parr, originally from New South Wales, worked with Dechaineux-like zeal to establish this great centre, but with entirely different ends in view. Or is it, in the end, so very different? Both men built their schools around the technology of their rimes. Jack Carington Smith cared only for painting: he was neither theorist or zealot 

I have, as noted. never wanted to teach art full-time, nor have I the gift that leads to the art of administration but I have been, for the past eighteen years. annually, tutor at John Traynor’s Suncoast ‘Artventure’ Art School at St Helen’s: twenty to twenty-five students from all States for two weeks. I do not lay down a course. I try to help my students according to what I believe their individual personalities suggest might be applicable. Slow? Yes! Fruitful? They have found it so, some having been to all my schools down the years. 

Finally, my ninetieth birthday was celebrated by a wonderful party, generously given by Stephen and Elizabeth Walkes at their Studio at Campania, together with a retrospective exhibition of my work. Featured at their studio was a group of seven murals painted for the ‘Gaslighter’ restaurant in 1970. These panels had been removed when the restaurant was sold and were stored in a barn for many years. Shown in the ‘Living 

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Artists’ week in 2003 by Nevin Hurst. they were bought by Roger and Allana Corbin. who have generously given them to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. 


A ninety-year life told in a few thousand words will necessarily be full of holes and omissions but, I hope. not inconsistencies. l write in a linear style. not given to a density of prose, Brevity is customary for me. Some might think it strange. for example, that I have not mentioned my last book A Salute 10 Watercolour’. I felt that the two I have reviewed in some detail were enough in this short essay. 

While my books totalled a decade of work, I still painted regularly during this period. I have had more than sixty solo exhibitions, and have ta.ken part in countless group shows, both in Tasmania and interstate. My CV records that I am represented in a number of State and regional galleries, the CommonweaJth Collection, and the University of Tasmania. I was honoured with a retrospective exhibition (‘Forty Years of Painting’) at the University in 1978, and again in 1988 as part of the Australian Bi- centennial celebrations. (1 won the City of Hoban Art Prize that same year) The Freeman Gallery in Hobart also staged a series of large exhibitions of my work during this period. In 1978 I was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to art and the community, and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (London) in 1987. 

I have been luckier than most, always supported by my family, colleagues and friends in a life that has been so full of interest and satisfaction. 

I thank Dr Michael Roe and the Committee of the Tasmanian Historical Research Society for inviting me to present my thoughts on ‘My Tasmanian Life’. 


‘The World of Olegas Truchanas’ , Max Angus. Olegas Truchanas Publication Committee 1975 

‘Simpkinson De Wesselow’. Max Angus, Blubber Head Press 1984 ‘The Cultured Mind’ -The Skilful Hand’, Jill Waters 1998 ‘A Salute to Watercolour’. Max Angus. Blubber Head Press 1996 

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