|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: August 5, 2002
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
Can I take you back to the Brisbane of your childhood, and ask you to paint a visual picture of the environment that you grew up in? Of your house and your street and your neighbourhood.
Just visually, because you like looking at things.
Tell us what it was like.
Well when I first saw the house - my first memories are when I was living at Southport. I don't know what my father was doing, but we were living at Southport - and those are my very, very early memories.
And we must have moved to Holland Park in Brisbane, probably when I was about, um, three or four. Not very old. And my first memory is calling at the house, which my parents had owned. My grandfather has designed it. He was an architect.
And it was then in the middle of cow paddocks. It was just a house, standing in this great paddock full of cows. When we moved in - when we finally left Southport and moved into Holland Park - it was still a dirt road, you know, running up the middle with no curves, no gutters.
And there were still cows wandering up and down and Mum always had to have a fence because they'd be eating her flowers if we didn't. But the great magical thing for me as a child was just down the bottom, there was a lovely creek.
Now that creek is now a subterranean drain, I'm afraid, in deep suburbia, but it was the most magical creek. It was one of those lovely little creeks that had crystal clear water and that green cow cropped grass going right up to the edge.
And every now and then, a little bit of, ah, the bank would break away and become a little island, topped with this little lovely little pad of green grass. I used to remember - sit on that, and just watch the water run by and dream, and that was really probably one of my favourite spots.
Mum, on the other hand, didn't like me going down there, because she thought it was just a little bit out of sight, and there used to be gypsies in those days. Now not that the gypsies would have done anything to me at all - had the slightest interest in me - but she still had that Victorian residue of the thing that the gypsies were not to be trusted and that they might even steal children. All of that nonsense.
They used to camp down the creek a little bit further on, and ah, they'd go into the bush. The bush was paddocks. This creek ran through paddocks, and then it ran into bush. And that was wonderful, too, 'cause that's where we used to make our cubbies, in the bush.
But the gypsies would go into the bush and cut clothes props. And they'd cut them off, you know, a little branching tree, pile them onto the back of the horse dray and then go through the streets of Brisbane with their "clothes props". You know, they'd call out - they had one of those wonderful almost Cockney calls.
What were clothes props for?
Oh, for clothes-lines. When they were long, they were stretched between poles, and you get heavy clothes on them, you've got to prop it up in the middle so that the - you know - the sheets don't dangle on the grass, or on the ground.
And I know Mum, for all of her thing about gypsies, she still used to buy clothes props from them. The other thing I remember about those days - and I'm talking now, ah, mid-thirties in Brisbane - was the Depression.
I didn't know it was a Depression, of course, but it was the tramps. And the tramps that used to come - we called them tramps. They were people just down and outs, you know, looking for food or work. And they'd come to the back door. We had a house on stilts, a ... an old Queenslander type of house, and they'd always come up to the back door.
Mum would never give them money, you see, because they might spend it on cigarettes or beer. And I thought what if the poor brutes just wanted a beer and a cigarette. She'd always make them a peanut butter sandwich. I used to think, oh God, peanut butter.
But they'd very kindly tuck this peanut butter - packet of peanut butter sandwiches into their pockets and then go to the next house. And they used to do that, just go from house to house, asking for money, for jobs, or, you know odd jobs around the place, or for food.
And they became just a part of my, er, early memories, and I thought the world was just divided into tramps, gypsies and other people, ie. us. Um, I had some friends there, but not terribly many friends. The real friends I got was when I went to school. I went first to the nearest state school, which was at a suburb called Buranda and I didn't like that.
I was completely confused about school. I had no idea why I was going, what I was supposed to be doing. Um - one of my nightmares was that - 'cause it was burning hot Queensland weather. At lunchtime, we all had to troop downstairs with our little bakelite bags, you know, our little cardboard suitcases, and at the word of 'go', we'd all open our suitcases to get at our lunch.
We'd be sitting in searing ranks on benches. And this terrible smell of peanut butter sandwiches and bananas that had been trapped into these bakelite bags for hours, and really, it just - I just couldn't eat. It just put me off completely. And it's put me off bananas, I'm afraid, for the rest of my life.
How old were you when you moved to the house that had the gypsies at the bottom of the garden?
Um, I would have been probably three or four, I think. I think that's about the age, and at five - I didn't go to school at five because my brother, according to Mum - was not well and had to have correspondence.
Now I don't know whether he was or whether he wasn't. I think Ian was a little bit coddled by Mum and Gran. And so I - he was doing correspondence. He was a year older than I. And so she, in a way couldn't take me to school, so I did correspondence as well.
And that proved to be a bit of a problem, actually, because correspondence thrust you forward much quicker than school. And I'll never forget at this Baranda State School, still quite unsure of what on earth I was doing there, what I was supposed to be doing, and the teacher saying, "Now children, we're going on a wonderful journey today".
"We're going up the hill and down the hill and up the hill". And I thought, "Oh, you silly fool, you're just making a letter 'y'". Because of course I at this time was doing cursive writing, because I had, um, correspondence, you see, one to one, with Mum teaching just my brother and me.
But, um, I didn't enjoy Baranda, and then at the age of seven - I think it was my grandmother paid for Ian and I to go to private schools. Ian went to Church of England Grammar School, and I went to Somerville House. And that I did enjoy. That's when I got friends.
That was the difference, was it? The friends? Or what was it about school that appealed to you?
I think one of the things was the revelation of what school was about. It dawned then. I remember in that first year at school [there] was a tree down the bottom. The junior school up in the hill and then there was a dip, and the senior school up there. And in the dip was the running course where we used to play.
And there was a tree and I used to love - like I used to sit on my little islands in the creek - I used to sit in the 'y' shape of the branch of this tree. And I remember sitting up there, feeling very happy and pleased with myself, and some children down below in my class taunting me.
They were saying, "Betty Churcher, second last again. Betty Churcher, second last again". I wasn't even last. It was more ignominious than that. And it just dawned on me, "Ah, that's what it's about. It's about achieving". You - when in exams, I would be there chewing my pencil and looking out the window and, you know, not doing anything, not realising what was expected of me, I think.
And I thought, "Oh, I see. Right". Betty Chu - Betty Cameron won't be last again.
Yes, you did say 'Betty Churcher'. We might get you to tell us that again with the Betty Cameron in, 'cause that's a lovely story.
I said 'Betty Cameron' the first time. "Betty Cameron's last again", didn't I?
No, you said 'Churcher'.
Ah, I said 'Churcher', did I?
But this is the problem about two names, isn't it?
Yeah, well, it is a problem.
But anyway, going back now to before you went to school and setting up the family. Can you tell me what was your father like?
Dad was a Scot. He was, um, a dour Scot. He'd had a rough life. His mother had died soon after - I think he was about two or three months old. She must have died as a result of his birth. He had an older sister.
And in those days, in the late nineteenth century, it was the practice - if you lost the wife - the first wife, you'd farm out the children of that marriage to someone else so that you could get on with your life. And that's what happened to Dad.
He went to a grandmother on the shores of Loch Tay which is in the highlands, and his sister, Marion, went somewhere else, so he never grew up with his sister. Nor did he grow up with his stepbrothers and sisters - because his father then married again, and had something like four or five children.
Because I remember during the war, during the Second World War, the phone went and this American marine was on the other end, and Dad being the dour, you know, being interrupted from his Jack Dyer [sic] - Jack Davey program or whatever, was saying, "Who is it? Who is it?''
And this American voice, "Well, it's a silly fool, it's your brother". And, ah, Jim, this half brother, came and stayed with us, and ah - but Dad was, he was a very unfamily man. He didn't want family, he didn't want to know anything about that second family.
He wasn't very friendly, I didn't think, to Uncle Jim, you know, this American marine. The American marine just wanted to fill us with ice creams and candy. And of course ration was on so he was rather thwarted in that.
But, um, I remember he couldn't understand that we weren't constantly wanting to eat ice cream, as the American childrens [sic] do, did. But, um, he was, ah, a very earnest man, you know. He was - I loved him, as every daughter loves their father, I think.
But I loved him very, very dearly and ah, I looked on him as my support. Mum and Gran seemed to be so focused on Ian, you know, the eldest boy - and I think that was a nineteenth century thing too, you know. The boy was what it was all about. And my Gran I didn't like.
Did she live with you?
No she didn't, thank goodness. But she was - Mum never lost the fact that the most important people in her life was her parents, then her husband, then her son, and then her daughter. And she somehow made this very clear and none of us, whatever rank we were at, really liked it.
Dad didn't like having to vacate his seat, you know, for Granddad when Granddad came into the house. Ah, Ian didn't like, you know, being supplanted by Dad, and I didn't like being supplanted by Ian. And I think, you know, that that was - to make it so clear that we all understood where we sat in the hierarchy was a bit of a mistake, as I look on it. But we all make mistakes, I have to say.
But, um ...
But looking at things hierarchically is a mistake that you've avoided all your life?
Ah, probably, but you know, I'd love to hear my children on the subject. You never know, do you, and Mum might have been amazed to hear me say that. You know, you just don't know. You think you're doing the right thing and I remember just recently I'm going - do you mind if I leap around a little bit?
No, no, that's alright. I'll bring you back.
I just remember my younger son saying to me how, um, he couldn't understand how I left them do their things by themselves. I'd let them go to cricket practice by themselves and I didn't stay and watch and - and he couldn't forgive me for that.
And my oldest son said, "Oh, I was so pleased you didn't. I couldn't bear to have one of those parents that hung around". So I said to Tim, "There you are. You're not going to please everyone". And I think I did that. I think we all work in um, almost, er, like a pendulum swing.
I did that because I was never out of the sight of my parents for two minutes, for some terrible fate that would befall me. And so when I had children, I was determined they were going to have the freedom of the world, you know. They could come and go and do what they pleased, when they wanted and how they wanted.
And of course, that was a mistake, too.
How was your family affected by the Depression? Did it affect you economically at all?
It didn't seem to. Dad had a job with the Vacuum Oil Company. I remember he was earning - what, why one remembers is - he was earning four pounds a week, which in the early thirties was, you know, reasonable.
Um, Gran seemed to have money. Gran always provided the money for her daughter, really, you know, for Mum. And we always went on holidays to Southport at Christmas time, you know, and stayed at this lovely guest-house for five weeks.
We, we - I know we wouldn't have done that on Dad's salary. That was Gran and Granddad, you know, providing the money. But it didn't seem to really affect us, no.
Um, the war affected - I was very conscious of the war, and the feeling of what bad luck, you know, that my childhood should be shadowed by this war that prevented you to have - from having chocolates and stopped the Brisbane Exhibition and Sideshow Alley and all of those things that I thought, you know, most important to my life at the time.
Yes, how old were you when the war broke out?
When the war broke out in '39, I would have been eight, and of course it straddled those years - eight, nine - for the four years. Seven, I was seven going on eight. And, ah, so I hadn't long been at Somerville House when the war broke out.
And the only austerity, of course, was rationing. You know, clothes rationing and food rationing, but not seriously. Not like it was in England.
But I remember they had in shops, which was terribly tantalising, all of the, ah, Cadbury's blocks of chocolates, you know, which were just the, er, promotional boxes. They weren't really chocolates at all. They were just cardboard. And the shopkeepers kept them up there.
And I thought, well that's very unfair, because we can't buy chocolate. We can't get it. They're only cardboard, ah, facsimiles.
Your father hadn't had much family life himself. Did that affect the way he was able to behave within your family? I mean, in the family that he made with your mother and yourselves?
Yes, I think it probably did.
In what way?
He was very rigid. Um, they had that completely old school thing. Mum did everything domestic. Dad did nothing. Dad just sat and received his cups of tea and his slices of toast, or whatever.
Um, and he literally couldn't make a cup of tea because when Mum was sick some years later, she asked me if I'd go over and make Dad his tea. And I said, '"That's ridiculous, Mum". I, by this time, had a small family.
I said, "I'm not going to drive all the way to Holland Park to make Dad a cup of tea". And she said," Dear, he can't do it. He doesn't know how to do it". And ah - which suited him, I'm sure, not to know. But that was the sort of family that - and he thought that that was how it should be. That was the natural order of things.
And when I came to get through Somerville House, you know, and get to the end of my schooling, ah, he decided that I should leave at Grade 10, which is like the Intermediate. And I desperately wanted to go on.
I knew that I really truly wanted to go on to Senior, or HSC, you know, ah - university qualifying. And he made this very, very puzzling comment to me. He said, "Look, Betty, it's not that - just that it's - won't be useful. You'll only get married. You won't need an education".
He said, "It spoils a girl". And I remember thinking,"How can it spoil a girl?", you know. Because I was too young, really, to get on to what he was talking about. What he was talking about is that it'd give me aspirations and ah, hopes and ambitions that perhaps, you know, might spoil it for somebody who wanted to have his tea made for him every morning, noon and night.
But he was that sort of a Scot, you know, and um ...
But despite this, you did feel that he was your champion in the household.
Where did that come from?
And he was. Well, because Mum and Gran were so focussed on Ian. So focussed on Ian. And, um, to the extent of silly little things. Like Gran would give us pocket money, and she'd give Ian, say, a shilling, and she'd give me threepence.
Now there's only eighteen months between us. Our need for chocolate sherbets, etcetera, there was no difference. But you know, it was just these silly distinctions that she'd keep drawing that - you know, the eldest boy, important, the youngest girl, threepence'll do.
And, ah, things like that. And Dad would come in on that and try and balance that out and make things fairer for me.
There were just the two of you ... The two children.
My elder brother and me. And, ah, we didn't see a great deal of each other when we were growing up in Brisbane, although we both, you know, had our family in Brisbane. But nicely, we've now - we've got to this great age, we're now seeing more of each other and we're much, much closer than we'd ever been in any of our lives.
So it, it's a really nice thing that happens towards the end of your life, I think. You sort of put away all of those little hurts and um ... complaints, and can relate to someone much more easily.
Do you think that that different treatment that was given to your brother and you had a really profound effect on your childhood?
Yes, it, it really did. It, it - the sense of unfairness was huge. I remember I used to dream about it at night and then wake up in the morning and couldn't separate the dream from reality. And of course, I'd probably - a very petulant little girl. I'm sure I probably was. But it was because of this, this profound sense of unfairness. You know, everything that I did seemed to be wrong and everything that Ian did seemed to be right.
And it did affect you, because at that age you can't stand back and look at it objectively. [INTERRUPTION]
How did your mother show this? You mentioned an indicident - the sort of incident that happened with your grandmother. But how did your mother show her favouritism to Ian?
Well probably if I heard it once I heard it a thousand times, "Oh dear, he's a boy. Naturally he would have that, you know, pref[erence] ... favour". You know, I wasn't allowed to go down the creek, for instance. Ian was. That was because he was a boy, you know.
And none of this made a great deal of sense to me. And um - they were - I just felt, to be honest, that I'd been born the wrong sex. I'd just really think, "What terrible bad luck to be born a girl, and I'm going to be straddled with this for the rest of my life".
And that can only have come from one source, can't it? And that is a sort of the conditioning that happens within that household. If there'd been more of us, if there'd been other boys and other girls, it probably would have been much, you know, would have been diluted and probably wouldn't have been such um ... a thing.
Or maybe I was making too much of it. I don't know. My, my brother said to me when I, I mentioned this on another er, interview somewhere and he said, "Look Betty, it's about time you put that behind you. You know, that was years and years ago". And I know what he meant, you know.
It is time I put that behind me. But I'm just bringing it out now because it is one of the formative things. I think my ... er ... I suppose it's my ambition - but my determination to do things has been grounded in the fact that I was told very early and very firmly that I couldn't.
Just about everything I wanted to do I couldn't, because I was a girl. "No, you can't, because you're a girl." Or "Yes he can because he's a boy". And you know, this difference was being highlighted all the time in our life.
But there was something in you that wouldn't accept that. You didn't accept that that was reasonable ...
Whereas probably a lot of other girls of your generation did accept that that was reasonable.
They may have, yes. But I - no, it just made me infuriated. Angry. Made me hate my Gran. I've never got over that, I have to say. Didn't make me hate my mother.
But what about your brother? Did you hate him?
Ah, I think hate is probably too strong a word, but I certainly didn't enjoy him in the way I'm enjoying him now. And I do enjoy him now. And er, he's the same, sort of very much a driven person. He's got a similar personality to me in many ways. Er, he was driven in a - quite a different way.
Much more profitable way. Made a great deal of money, in other words. But ...
He was an engineer. He was, um, a structural engineer. But he made his money by going into his own business and he, he built this business up into a huge business in Queensland and up through the Pacific, and ah, and then, you know, throughout Australia. So he became really quite a wealthy man.
Now you had this moment at school where you realised that school was about success. And clearly, from the song they were chanting to you, you weren't at that stage much of a success.
No. No, because as I say, I'd be told to do an exam and I'd be sort of not realising why it was important to do these little sums, or do whatever we were being asked to do, and I'd just chew my pencil and dream. I was a great dreamer. And just be staring out the window and hand in a paper that had probably two sums done.
Because I didn't realise what the name of the game was, you see.
And once you did realise it, what effect did that have on you?
Well, I started coming top. I was going to really, you know - that was going to be the end of that. Betty Cameron was not going to be second last again, if that was the name of the game. So, um, no, I then did work hard, and, er, I worked hard at school really right up until the end, until I got grabbed by art, and then I'm ashamed to say I let all of the academic stuff go because I was so obsessed with art and succeeding in that area.
So I wasted - I reckon I wasted my last two years at school, academically.
How did the other girls at school see you?
Always as a bit of a leader. I was always class captain, you know, from about the age of eight or nine. Um, I s'pose I was a bit of a bossy boots. I don't know. It's hard to say. But, ah, I was popular.
I wasn't - I was reasonable at sports. I was a bit of a swimmer. I wasn't a great sports person. Um, I wasn't when we got on in, ah, school the top of the class. I wasn't the dux of the school for instance or anything like that.
So my academic performance wasn't brilliant. It was above average. So - but I must have, ah, liked leading and they just liked being led and that's how it happened, you know. And I was - I wasn't school captain, either. A friend of mine was school captain.
But the school captain wasn't voted by popular vote. It was the staff. And I think the staff were a wake up to me, whereas ... (laughs)
Well actually, I was going to ask you, how did the teachers see you?
Oh, I think the teachers saw me as a bit of a, um ... rule unto myself, and I think it irked them a bit. Miss Craig, who was the headmistress, was quite extraordinary. She recognised - she saw in me this potential to be something, and she encouraged me. She was - we were all terrified of her. She was a very sort of upright, you know - always wore her academic gown around the school.
Frightened the life out of us. But she did marvellous things, without my even knowing she did it. When Dad was determined I was going to leave after Grade 10, for fear of being spoilt, she - I didn't know this at the time, but she rang him up and said that if it was a matter of money, then the school would waive the fees. Now this of course shocked and shamed Dad to a point that, you know, he was never going to admit that it wasn't money.
But anyway, Miss Craig let me stay on, and I was doing a little bit of teaching in the Junior School, and that's how she managed to waive the fees. So I did the last two years without paying school fees, but doing a little bit of teaching in the Junior School.
What kind of teaching?
Teaching art. See, by this time it was clear to Miss Craig that I was, um, really obsessed by art, and that this was going to be my forte, and she was an extraordinary woman. She really wanted us all to succeed in whatever we did, whether we were going to be wives and mothers, we had to do that very well.
Whether we were going to be engineers, or doctors, or artists, or writers, or journalists, whatever, we had to do it to the best of our ability. And in that she was a great inspiration. And in that, I'm really pleased, I think, that it was an all girls school. I think that that moving away from that cramping thing of not being a boy, to be suddenly in a world which was all girls with a headmistress and with all the teachers, women teachers, it gave me that feeling that, ah, it needn't necessarily be, you know, a chain around my legs, you know.
I, I can perform and manage, you know, within this female environment.
When it came to that decision about going on at school or not, where did your mother fall in that? Your father was opposed.
Dad was opposed. Mum was sort of opposed. Mum [sic] real wish was for me to go to secretarial college and marry a bank manager, or even better, to be a doctor's receptionist and marry a doctor. Ooh, that would have been very good. Or a - anything, you see, that was sort of - had a little bit of status and class and an assured income.
And she could not for the life of her see that how following this course that I wanted to follow - art - how it could ever get me into that situation where I would meet these likely people, and she was quite right. Roy wasn't like what she thought the likely person ... ah, and that's really ...
And that was quite fine. She just wanted to see me comfortably and financially and happily settled. And, ah, I think it did worry her that Roy and I were clearly not ever going to be, ah, financially settled in the way she wanted us to be.
When you were teaching in the school, teaching the ...
Yeah, student teacher type thing, yes.
Um, how did that work out? How did that affect your capacity to do your own studies?
Well as I say, I let my own studies go ... abysmally. You know, I remember I, I passed all my exams, but not as I could have. It didn't ,that didn't take a huge amount of time. That was just teaching little kids painting. There was no preparation, there was no correction. It was nothing like that. It was just sort of really house minding little kids. And they just saw me as a big senior schoolgirl and, um - so that yeah, there wasn't a discipline problem or anything.
But, ah, I used to skip classes to stay down in the art studio and, ah, Miss Craig turned a blind eye to that, I think to the fury of a lot of the staff. And I remember being really caught out with my Modern History exam for Senior, because I cut everything down to the finest level. I'd worked it out. Now there is there a choice - you know, you get multiple choice. If I do this part of the book, read it, and I was reading for the first time - this was just in the swot week, you know, before the exam - and I'd read it with great intensity, out of a choice, I'll be able to sort of forget about the second and third part of the book.
And when I got into the exam, it was at the Brisbane Exhibition, I'll never forget it. This person - I, I pronounced, you know, rather sort of pompously that this was what I'd done. And this girl said, "Betty, didn't you listen? Didn't you know? There are three sections, each with a compulsory question". And I realised that suddenly I was going to get two compulsory questions which I just simply couldn't answer.
I remember crawling under the Exhibition Building and reading about Karl Marx, you know at the rate of knots. Enough to pass, I have to say. And indeed, I got a B but I could easily have got an A in history. Those were the subjects that I really did well at, or could do well at.
But not doing it the way I was doing it.
What was it like teaching those little - those little ones?
Oh, it was good. I was doing it not on my own, with the Art teacher, and the Art teacher I had a complete crush on. You know, she was just perfect. Pat Prentice, you know, ooh. You know, and so to be with her, was the name of the game. And so I wouldn't care, you know, I'd have gone to the ends of the world to - for her.
And, ah, so I just really enjoyed that. I just saw that as a bonus. I saw it as a bonus being able to stay on for those extra two years, and a bonus to have more time with art.
I was interested because you later became such a terrific teacher, and that was your first experience of ...
That's interesting, yes.
I just wondered at that initial, at that initial time, you hadn't really engaged with experiencing what it was like to turn somebody on to a subject.
Not really. I was so in love with Pat Prentice, oh, just as long as I was near her, that was all that mattered. And, ah, no I don't think I was - I was going around, you know, helping them do their drawings and things like that. But no, it wasn't really until I started teaching, when I finished school, when I finished my HSC - or my Senior as it was called in Queensland - I then went back, straight back to the school as a teacher, teaching Art History and Art.
And that's I think when I first felt the joy of being able to share an enthusiasm. And that was probably the beginning of it, I think.
Was she a good Art teacher, Pat Prentice?
Yes, she was fantastic. Terrific person. She's still alive. She's living up in Redcliffe in Brisbane. And I see a lot of her. You know, I see as much of her as I can. Um ... yes, I think she was terrific. She was a water-colourist, you know, so it was all in that tradition, you know, of water-colour painting in Queensland, but she had that ability to enthuse and a willingness to give time.
You know, she'd take us out on Sundays and weekends, outdoor sketching, the seniors or sub-senior girls. And, and that was brilliant, you know, because we all thought the sun rise - rose and set with her, so we all loved her. But, ah, it was just wonderful to have someone interested enough.
You know, if it had been me I think teaching, I might have thought the weekend is my own. You know, I'm not going to have these kids traipsing around with me. But she did. And in that respect, she was brilliant. So, ah, I really enjoyed it.
Can we go back now and trace through a little bit the evolution of your interest in the visual world, and your discovery of your own ability in art? When did you first realise that you actually had talent in this area?
Well I, I just could draw. I was a bit like a child who's got, you know, perfect pitch. You think everybody's got it. And kids would say, "I can't draw", and I thought that that's ridiculous. "You can see, therefore you can draw."
And I can remember, you know, I could just draw. If I could see it, I could just put it down. One of my earliest memories - our drawing lessons, they'd make a contemporary art class shudder - but they'd bring in, children would bring in toys and they would put up these toys, and we in our pastel books, you know, with the different coloured pastel papers and our coloured pens, pastels, would have to draw this.
And ah, on this occasion, it was a Mickey Mouse toy, and he had his black Mickey Mouse nose, seen against his black Mickey Mouse ear. And I remember puzzling, "Now how am I going to make that nose come forward?" Now at that age, about six, you - a child at six would have done it sideways, you know, almost like a diagram.
But I want to do it visually, you know. And I remember hitting on the thing - well now, if I put a white line around the nose, it'll separate it from the, the black of the nose from the black of the ear and the nose will come forward. And it was a most wonderful moment of revelation. And that was, you know, silly little kids' crayons.
But I think it was from then I just - slowly dawned on me that everyone couldn't draw, and that just being able to see didn't automatically mean that you could draw. It was, it really was a gift. You know, just something I could do. And Dad had ... had it. You know, Dad used to draw and paint. And, um ...
Could Ian draw?
Not really. Not to the same extent. Um ... Ian could draw more child art, but I was really never interested in child art. I was really interested in observation. Trying to draw the world around me and what I was seeing. And that's why the Mickey Mouse was such a revelation, when I suddenly realised I could draw something coming straight at me.
And that ability to depict an illusion, really, was what I was about.
Were your parents pleased that you had this talent?
Dad was. See, this is where I think Dad came in. Dad was always - because he had it, and he encouraged me enormously in this - helped me, helped me to draw, helped me at home and, ah, and really loved it, that I could do it.
When did it first dawn on you that it might be your vocation, that you might actually be able to use this to live by, or to work with ...
Yes, I - that was a difficult one, because all I could think of - I didn't know what an artist was, but I knew there were commercial artists. And the commercial artist used to in those days, you know, all of the ads there'd be a drawing of a shoe, and a drawing of a pair of corsets and a drawing of a hat and I thought, "Oh dear, oh dear. But if that's how it is, that's how it is."
"I'll have to become a commercial artist." And I can remember even trying to do drawings of shoes practise against the time I was going to be a commercial artist.
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