|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: August 8, 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.
In the course of your lifetime, things have changed dramatically for women. Of all the social movements that have happened in that time, people would probably cite the changes in the position of women as being maybe even at the top of the list. How have you experienced that? How has it affected you, and what have you observed from when you were a little girl in Brisbane until now?
Well, well I sort of missed out on that, you know. I was a victim of the old order. I do sort of envy young women that, you know, enter life with a clear idea of where they're going, what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. Ah, I think that also has its problems for them though because they have such a clear idea.
And that sort of seems to be pulling them in a direction that they may or may not want to be going in, but when they get to be 39 or 40, you know, and suddenly realise they're not going to have any children, they're not going to get married, they're not going to - all of those things.
And I think the lot of a woman is very hard, because you have got, you know, those two very strong urges. You do feel that you need to reproduce, and I think this is just built into our biology. But you also have a need to do other things, in whatever area that you're drawn to. And I think those two things are at war and there's no solution, I don't think.
I think the situation has changed, I think men are now much more helpful, much more sense of responsibility [sic] in making it a shared process, and all of that. But when the chips are down, the final responsibility for all of that is the woman, and it has to be. She's the one who has the baby, for instance. Although the man is now allowed into the labour ward, which they weren't when I had all of mine which was a decided disadvantage.
Um, but, um, I think - I don't think there are many girls that would now feel that they had just been born into the wrong gender, as I felt. You know, I just felt what a terrible stroke of bad luck that I happened to be a girl. I really didn't want to be a girl. I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to do all the things that Ian was doing.
I wanted to be - have the freedoms that Ian had that I didn't seem to have, and didn't want to have anything to do with being a girl and I'd think, "Why didn't Mum give me a name that was also - could have also been a boy's name like Frances, or... Why Betty, for God's sake?"
But despite all that, even when you were a child, you said you always knew that you wanted to have babies.
Oh, yes. No, I did. I always wanted to have babies, and, ah, I always - have never, for a split second, regretted that. My choice, you know, to have babies rather than say, pursue the career. And I feel very envious of women, and they do, and they can, and they do it with great success, pursue both with equal fervour and with equal success.
They do have families and they do keep their careers going. I just couldn't.
But Betty, you did.
Oh yes, I did, but not - painting is a very inward and solitary thing. It's very, very hard to paint when you've got other people desperately and urgently relying on you. I remember when the children were little, I tried to start painting again. I remember setting myself up, I had this verandah, and the living room had closed doors, and the children had gone to sleep. So I went out onto the verandah, closed these glass doors from the house to the verandah, and I set up the easel and I got my paints out, and I started to paint.
And one of them - I forget which one it was - woke up, came in looking for Mummy, and wanted Mummy, and I can remember, his face squashed against the glass, this dribbling, screaming face because I wouldn't open the door. And I wouldn't and wouldn't, I kept on doggedly painting away and ignoring this sort of frantic little face at the window, and then I gave up.
You know, and I thought, "Well no, this is ridiculous". And that was, I think, probably the last time I seriously tried to paint. But that's the sort of thing that's really, really hard. I don't know how they do it. I don't know the answer to it. I couldn't do it.
You'd always drawn things you loved.
Didn't you want to draw your babies?
Yes, I did. I drew them - and I remember drawing Ben - but only when they were little immobile things. As soon as they became active and mobile, they're jolly difficult to, to draw. But, um ...
But when you say you didn't have your career, and have your babies too, you're talking about a career as an artist.
As an artist.
You did have a career, and a very successful one, combining it with the family, as a teacher and a gallery director.
Yes, but I think that is possible. You see, I think painting - anything creative which requires your total inward imagination and inward concentration - is terribly difficult to do if you're not on your own. If you're - I'm sure composing music, I'm sure paint-... I know painting pictures. You couldn't paint a picture while you were sort of also boiling up a stew and sort of seeing to a child. You know, you can't do it.
But you can't teach a class or run a gallery that way, either. The difference is that you go somewhere else to do that. You don't try to do it at home.
Yes, well probably if I'd had a studio away from home and had home help, it might have been a very, very different thing. But I didn't have either of those things, and, ah - no, that's true. But it doesn't - running a gallery and teaching doesn't call on your deep inward emotions in the way that the family does. And that is what you are pouring into your painting.
And once I had another vessel as it were to pour it into, these four little people, I found when I turned to that container where all of that emotional energy was, it just wasn't there. It had gone there. And, um, that's why I say that's why I envy some people, because obviously they can control that. Keep that sort of creative energy alive inside them.
I seem to put it all into the kids, and that's what I found was missing. When I did paint, it had a sort of, um - you know, I was talking about that serious intent, you know, that you look for in a painting. I seemed to be going through the motions, trying to paint a picture, rather than trying to do something because there was no other alternative, there was nothing else to do that would satisfy me other than paint that picture.
And, ah, that's what went.
What did Roy think about you giving up your painting?
I don't know that he thought a great deal about it. But he probably thought it was a good idea. I don't know. You'd have to ask him. But I think he thought - he could see me struggling away there, and in turmoil and frantic trying to make it happen, and I think he probably thought it was a good idea.
When you're in a situation, which you must have been from time to time in your life, where those two sides of your life, your family and your work, and by this time your work as a teacher and a gallery director, came into conflict, where did your ultimate priority lie?
Oh well, with the family. Always. Always, you know, if there was something happening. Like tonight, I have to say, you know, my ultimate priority is not to get this finished, but to have that dinner with the children, and that's still - you know, it's still like that. And, and so it would have been then, you know. If something had happened, if a child was sick, or something, that became the most important thing, not the teaching or not the gallery directing.
So I s'pose the ultimate responsibility remained the family. But, you know, my ...
Did you ever have to make a decision that you felt neglected your work in order to take care of the family?
No I didn't. You see, remember Roy was at home painting in the studio. So if a child was sick, I didn't have to ever do that thing - I used to feel so sorry for members of staff, when they had to bring their child, sick child into work, because the husband was working and they were working, and this poor little thing, all he wanted to do was to be in bed and here he is, sort of sitting in his mother's office because ...
No, I never had that, thank goodness. You know, that would have torn me apart. If a child was sick, they had the luxury of being sick, in bed, where they wanted to be.
See, I suppose a lot of young women who are trying to juggle the two, um, now, would look at you as someone who pioneered all of this and say, "Well, you know, how did you manage?" Well, you did have a husband at home, but also, what else did you do? What did you do about child care? What did you do about housework?
Well, I had, um, at first, when I was - I was only teaching when I had little children. I had Ben and Paul only, I had - well even before Paul was born - I had a woman that - I only was teaching at Moreton Bay, one day a week. And um - no, two days - and I had this lovely woman that used to come in. She was like a homely aunty. They used to call her Aunty But.
Her name was Mrs Butler. And Aunty But used to come in and look after them, and she'd do a little bit of ironing, or something. But the main task was just to be there for the kids. And she became deeply involved with them. She was a lovely person. And, um, then I went through a series of various housekeepers, you know, who'd come and live in.
And then we moved from our little tiny house to Indooroopilly, where we had a very big old Queenslander, with lots of rooms, and I realised I could have a live-in help. And that's when my teaching was looking as if it was just sort of - you know, it had gone from one day to two days, to two days and two nights, to three days and two nights. You know, it was getting bigger and bigger.
And, ah, so I realised I could have a live-in, and in those days, I'm talking about the early mid '70s. There were lots of - the girls from Cherbourg, which was an Aboriginal settlement outside of Murgon, you know out Kingaroy way - they'd come down to town, to Brisbane, get work as a housekeeper, live in.
And we got the beautiful Necie. Her name was Venice Sheen. She's now in, ah, Cairns. And, ah, a woman of enormous beauty then. I don't know what ... - I haven't seen her for ages. But, ah, great intelligence. And she was a great boon to our family, because she was 19, and the boys were just turning - coming into their teens, so they had an older sister, really, virtually.
And Vernice really became a member of the family, until I spoilt it all by insisting she went to business college and mucked up her life completely.
Because you felt that she could do something other than ...
Oh, she was so clever. She was so clever. She'd be down watering the garden and I'd come home, and she'd say, "Oh Betty, um, Betty Moon rang. The number is 7648 3291". I'd say, "How do you know that?" "Oh", she said, "She told me". I said, "But when?" "Oh, about an hour ago." I thought, "Ooh, what a secretary you'd make for someone". And then she went to business college and did terribly well. Got a grant.
And I was insistent that she did it properly, didn't stay living with us. You know, got herself her own - a room, you know, and became independent and really did it. And she dropped out and she said to me, "Well Betty, when did you last see an Aboriginal girl in a doctor's reception room or in a hotel reception?" And I was racking my brains, and she was right. Then, she would have gone through this business college, got her degree, done her typing and shorthand, and had no - would have no opportunities, really, to use it.
She was so intelligent and sensible that she thought she was just wasting her time, and she probably was. So my brilliant idea of breaking this terrible cycle of Cherbourg, domestic help, babies, Cherbourg, domestic help, babies, you know. I thought, "Well, we've got to get out of this. We've got to stop this". But she was right and I was wrong.
But she was a great joy in our life, I have to say.
All through your life there have been headlines about you being the first woman to do this, or the first woman to do that.
Could you just run through those occasions where you've broken through the barriers?
Yes, well I was the first woman to become Dean of a school of art and design. And soon after another woman - it's interesting. Once you break the mould, it - you know, other people then start thinking, "Oh", and they start looking at women. And I remember, er, Chisholm appointed a woman not long after I'd been appointed to be the Dean at Phillip Institute.
I was the first woman to ever direct a state gallery, when I became Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. And certainly, the first woman to be the director of a national gallery. And it amused me when I got there to find that Col Madigan - it just hadn't ever entered his head that there would ever be a female director. When I went along to the toilet - only going to be for men. Only men were going to occupy that top floor.
And, and that has been, you know, pretty sort of stronged [sic] stereotyping. When I grew up, I was a little bit like Vernice. Looking out there, and saying, "Well, what opportunities are there?" That's why I felt desperate about being a girl, because wherever you looked, there were men in every situation. There were no women except in the nursing profession and in the theatre, really, as far as I could see from, you know, my standpoint in Brisbane.
And there didn't seem to be opportunity - like at the Royal College of Art, there wasn't a single woman on staff. Ah, at the Brisbane Technical College, not a single woman on staff. And this is why I think it was so good for me to go to Somerville House, where they were all women, and where Miss Craig, you know, the Queen of them all was such an imposing woman. That was really terribly important.
I think if I'd gone to a co-ed school, I'd have still been in that same cycle of it being about male achievement and female achievement sitting somewhere down here.
How did the press greet your appointments?
With some, um, I felt rudeness. I remember the, um, announcement when I became Director of the National Gallery here in Canberra. The, ah, what do you call the headline? The strip ... was '58 year old mother of four gets top job'. And I remember thinking, James Mollison had just moved to Victoria, and I could imagine the headline - he and I are the same age. '58 year old father of none gets top job'. You know, it just is unheard of.
When you turn it around, reverse it, it becomes as outrageous as it actually is. And I actually think that that did contribute, to some extent, to my slow take at the National Gallery. I think a lot of the staff were thinking that, you know. She's just a 58 year old mother of four. And, ah, it does colour people's thinking. And it - the, the media, I have to say, became very, very supportive in the end.
But not at the beginning, and I was amused to notice, you know, when the new director came, after I retired when this Brian Kennedy came, the open-hearted, you know, way he was - front page of every newspaper, you know, 'the great thing' and all that I got was this little strip about being a mother of 4, and I thought, "Oh well".
But he's travelled in the opposite direction from you.
Well, he started off popular and he's moved in the other direction.
There I am not going to go.
What does it mean to you, Betty, to be an Australian? You've had a sort of slightly ambivalent attitude to this country, in terms of what you've found elsewhere. But what does it mean to you to be an Australian?
Well when I'm away, I'm always so relieved to come back, and I think how lucky we are to have this clarity of atmosphere, to have this space. And I think space is not just physical space. There's mental space as well. I think this is one of the great things about Australia. It's true that all of my education has been elsewhere, and wherever you're educated, somehow, your heart lies.
And London is my other home. There's no doubt about that. I spent six years there when I was at the Royal College of Art, and then nearly a year and a half when I - no, it was just a year, really, straight twelve months - when I was at the Courtald. But where you study, where you, um, share a student life with people, is- becomes very much another home.
And when I went to London this last time, I was aware that I was - may be visiting it for the last time, and committing a lot of it to loving memory. But it is loving memory that I have for, for London, and everything it can offer. But so is it here. And I think if I was given the two on a plate, you know, "You may live here or here", I think without a doubt, it would be Australia.
And could you really say why?
I think because of that mental and physical space, and the climate. I think these things are more important than we know. And I think that lack of light. You always think of London in the bright sunlight, London in the spring. But that sort of - when I watched the Commonwealth Games in that pouring rain, you know that rain, and realising that was the norm, not the exception.
And I think it does something to your spirits. They've now started this thing in Norway of trying to put people under lights, you know, so that they won't get depressed in the long winter months. There's something to do with your spirits and, and light. And I think this country is, is a blessed country from that point of view.
Where else in the world could I live in this environment, being 30 minutes away from a major university, a major art gallery, a major library. You know, its just unheard of. To live like this in England, you have to go sort of into the wilds of Cornwall or Somerset or somewhere.
Do you think you're an optimistic person?
Yeah, I do. I always assume things are going to work out, but I'm always conscious of the fact that they may not. That's always at the back. You know, I'm just - getting myself prepared for that in case it happens. But basically, yes, I am optimistic.
What, in the course of your life, have you enjoyed doing most? If - if you think about what gives you reliable, deep pleasure, what are the things that give you that?
I really think, if I could have it all over again, you know, if someone said, "Okay, you can do this bit of your life again", I would do the babyhood of my boys. I just wished I hadn't been so engaged in other things. I would love to have spent more time, in fact, all of my time, when they were in that lovely growing up ...
My memory of them growing up is of just, sort of frantic, you know, getting in the washing, watching the sky because, you know, the nappies were running out, and making sure that this one was in bed. And, you know, that frantic getting things done rather than enjoying them. I would just love to do that bit again.
And how would you do it differently?
Well, whether one could do it differently ...
What would you do about the nappies?
Yes, what would you do about the nappies? Well now of course, you have disposable nappies so the fact that the - I had children in nappies for about something like six years, it seemed - so nappies loomed large in my imagination. But, um, it is, it's problematic, but I'd like to try. See, I have more quality time with my grandchildren, really, I feel, than with my - than I had with my children.
But then I look at them - the mothers, and I think they're probably the same. They're dashing around doing their bit. It's probably not possible. Probably what I'm talking about is a dream.
What is it about the quality time with a small child that so appeals to you?
Well, teaching them, I s'pose, you know. Encouraging them, introducing them to sights and sounds and different things, you know. I don't think I spent enough of that, you know, just, you know, with their imagination. It was all too practical, to make sure their nose wasn't running, and their dinner had been eaten and their lunch had been packed. You know, it was all of that sort of stuff.
I don't know that I ever spent enough time in training them to - or encouraging them to listen to things. Whether it's music or a crow, you know, I don't care. Or to look at things. How to look at things. How to experience things. That's what I think I'd like to do again.
But you remember enough of doing it to remember the joy of it.
Mmm, and to realise that I think I wasn't doing enough of it.
What have you found difficult in your life?
I s'pose holding it all together. Hold ... you know, because it is really hard. You've got six different people, all going in different directions and trying to keep all this as a unit, and holding it all together, and keeping it all working, you know, in the way that those six different people need it to work. I think that has been really hard.
You're describing the six people of your family, not the people at the gallery.
No, I'm describing my family. The people at the gallery are better able to look after themselves.
But it had to be held together too.
It did, it did, and that's where I think, sometimes - you know, one thing as I said, you know, assists with another. But um, you ask me, you know, the most difficult thing and I think that has been, you know, maintaining that, and keeping that from shattering. Because it can so easily shatter.
And when it shatters you never know what ill effects might be beneficial effects. One never know [sic] what effects it's going to have on the people that are involved. [INTERRUPTION]
The women's movement was very strong and active by the time you got some of your top jobs. Was there any sense in you that you had to go for them for the sake of other women?
No, I was never a trailblazer for the feminist cause. I - as I've said - I slipped into my jobs more or less because they were offered, rather than I aspired after them. But I was terribly conscious of the fact that this was an unusual thing to do. And I think those newspaper reports that treated me almost like a freak, a woman in this top job etcetera, only underlined that.
But it was always a little bit of part of that hesitancy of mine, you know, what I called the 'who me' syndrome. You know, "Is this for me? Could I possibly do this?" I think it was the fact that no woman had ever done it. I didn't think, "Goody, I will do it and therefore others will follow", I have to admit. I didn't think that.
But I did think, "Gee, can I do this? Is this appropriate?" And when they asked me about the National Gallery, I immediately said, "No". I said actually to Cathy Santamaria, "No, that's not my job". I said, "That's - I can't do that'. I said - I actually said that, "I can't do that". I said, you know, "Someone like Patrick McCaughey, you need someone like that".
And that was my belief, even though I'd done those things at that point. And if there hadn't been that annoying little other thing that happened - I can't even remember what it was that made me pick up the phone and ask if the job was still going - that's how it would have stayed, and I would never have been the director of a national gallery.
But fortunately, Robert Holmes à Court annoyed me one more time, and I made the decision.
You were 60 years old when they appointed you.
58, wasn't I?
No, 58, that's right. Sorry, it was the 58 year old woman. You were 58 when they appointed you, so you were not just a woman, you were an older woman. Do you think that age is more of a problem for women?
Yes, I think an older man is considered to be appropriate, and an older woman is considered not. Now I don't know why that is. I, I've never in a funny way caught on to the fact that having been 58, I had a huge advantage over a whole lot of people, in the backlog of experience that I had, in my track record that I had, in the variety of things that I've done in my life.
I only ever saw myself - the inadequacies in me. I never sort of saw those as positives, you know, in fronting up with them as a positive. And looking back now, I wonder why I didn't, because I do think that the older you get, the more you can tackle things, and the more rounded view you bring to it. I almost feel now that if I were to direct the gallery, I'd even do it better know.
You know, just in the experience I've gained since then, like working with Tony Eggleton on the Centenary of Federation. The little - you know, you're learning and rounding off your experience all the time. So by the time you get to 58, you're a pretty well-rounded, pretty experienced person. And I was letting 30 year olds intimidate me.
30 year olds who had come up through the gallery, through all the whole sort of hierarchy of the gallery staff, because I didn't have that behind me. I had plenty else, but I didn't have that behind me. I was being, ah, almost negated for that reason.
So do you think that your experience was one of the most important things in your success? And if so, why is it that youth tends to be given the leadership roles over experience? Why do you think that is?
I really don't know, except I do think that they think of women as grannies, but I don't think they think of older men, like Sir Robert Cotton, I don't think anyone would ever have thought of him as a granddad. I'm just picking someone that I can think of who's an older man who has achieved quite a lot in his life. But an older woman is just regarded as a, you know, doddery old granny.
Now that's just unfortunate. It's just a thing - a social thing that happens. I don't believe in it. I don't think it's true. I think women, like men, gain and grow as they grow older.
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
I've never felt as if I'm a feminist, and yet I get terribly upset when I see women being thrust into that terrible situation. Like I have terrible fights with Roy over Islam, because I just cannot bear that way women are treated, you know, that complete negation of women. You know, I find that anathema, and everything - fibre of my body becomes wildly feminist.
But I don't think I am really a feminist in the true sense of the word because I don't think of it enough. You know, like when you asked me did I think of being a trailblazer for the feminist cause. No I didn't. And, um, a true feminist would do that. But I get terribly angry when I see women being put down or negated or treated as a chattel or any of that.
And, and that's a sure way of getting me riled.
Now with this work that you've been doing, the research you've been doing, and the television programs you've been doing, what's your real motivation behind that?
Well, it started, interestingly enough, just before I, um, retired from the gallery. By accident I struck that Sister Wendy. Do you remember the nun that did those - and she was sweeping down a road in Rome and with her buck teeth and her habit flying. And she said, "Now I'm going to show you something you've never seen before", and she darted into a little - and I think immediately, "I bet you're not". I thought, "Smart alec".
And she darted into this little chapel and showed me this Bernini sculpture that I'd never seen before, and I thought, "Oh, couldn't you do that in Australia with regional galleries?" Show people the riches that reside, not in the state and the galleries or in the National Gallery, but in small regional galleries. And that was the birth of the idea.
And I was being interviewed in my retirement, you know, what I was going to do in retirement, and someone said, "We don't have a sister - a secular Sister Wendy here, do we?" And I said, "Well, actually, you may". And the ABC, it was Paul Grabowski then that was the, um, er, executive producer, and he got onto me immediately.
And as suddenly, I became totally enthusiastic and the idea of that first series, Take Five, was just that. To go to regional galleries and find something of particular interest, like the Degas at Mildura, or the, the Glover in Adelaide, you know. There was something that [sic] of particular interest that was there, that people may not have known about.
And it was just a lovely format. The, the five minute format came out quite by accident. They were going to be half-hours. And I was talking to Paul Grabowski, and I said, "You know, the trouble is, Paul, I know with programming, I know where arts programs go, and I'm trying to get to people who wouldn't ever in a fit turn [sic] - tune in to an arts program". And he said, "You couldn't do it in five minutes, could you?"
And I said, "Well you could do anything. Of course I could do it in five minutes". And what it was, there was that five minute slot before the news on Sunday that Ian Parmenter has, you know, with his cooking program. He was looking to have a longer program somewhere else. And it looked as if that five minute [sic] might be going begging.
And Paul Grabowski said, "Well, I'd like to put my hand up for that. If you can - think you can do a five minute ...", but it didn't happen. Ian Parmenter obviously didn't get his other slot, he kept that one - but the five minute, because of that format, was programmed at a time where an arts program would never have been. And that's why it got that broad cover.
And that's what I was trying to do. I didn't want to talk to an art audience. I wanted to talk to people that hadn't - wouldn't look at an art program or had probably never stepped into a gallery.
And where did you move onto from there?
Well then, after Take Five, I still had a lot of, um, interest in this format, but I wanted more space. I thought the five minutes was just too restricting. So they then gave me seven minutes, and even those two minutes - two minutes of television is very valuable. And, ah, even those two minutes allowed me to expand a little bit. And that was a series called Eye To Eye.
And the emphasis moved a little bit away from unknown thing [sic] in regional galleries, just to interesting things anywhere in the country, but really, still relating basically to, um, Australian art. And then the next and last one went to ten minutes. So the time has just been inching up. And that was to look at works of art in Australian collections but not Australian - works of art that come from elsewhere, America, England, Europe, but got into the country in extraordinary ways.
One of the ones that I really wanted to do but they didn't use it was a panel that's in - now in the Art Gallery of South Australia that arrived in the false base of a shipping crate in 1880, and it was about to be tossed out. It was never collected by whoever concealed it in the false base of the shipping crate, and it was just spotted by a stevedore.
He noticed there was something funny about this crate and they opened it up, and there was this panel of an altar-piece. And it was a real mystery. It's never been solved, because it was before, you know, moveable cultural heritage laws. There was no bar on importation of works of art. Why conceal it in the bottom of a shipping crate, you know, with other goods in it?
Why was it never collected? You know, it's a real - and they all had a little bit of that sort of mystery about them, and I loved doing it, and that was the last one I did.
And are you going to do more?
Yeah, the one I'm working on - I did one, worked - I wanted to do one on Aboriginal art, very much. I just really wanted to treat it as a serious art history, not as an, a strange ethnographic phenomenon, but as a serious art history. Why was this phenomenon so important as a contemporary art movement?
By looking at the full stretch of some of the leading artists. And in studying their careers - as you would study the career of Matisse, or Picasso, or anyone - in studying their careers, get to understand that this is not just a dot painting. This is something much, much more and there is a great deal of difference between this painting and say a dot painting in a tourist shop.
But that didn't happen for a variety of reasons - politically, mostly - so I'm now working on ...
Really. Yes, the fact that I wasn't indigenous and I was trying to deal with complex, you know, cross-cultural issues. I was trying to show how an ancient tradition flourished and flowered as new opportunities, or new materials, became available. What happened when acrylic paint was given to them? What happened when they then got canvas? What happened when, you know, each time that they seized on this new material, and used it with great imagination, creative effect.
But I don't think it had ever - I don't think it's ever been properly looked at, and I was going to start - I was going to do the Northern Territory, and how the paintings moved from the rock face to bark, when Sir Baldwin Spencer commissioned them. And they were a really - the first really moveable, portable art was the result of a European commission.
And that's really fascinating, that they were starting to reproduce these things onto a moveable thing. They had painted before, on bark, when they - for their wet season shelters. And they had painted their - simply to educate young children to some of the major stories, and to, I think, embellish their environment the way we all do.
But then they would just abandon those, leave those paintings and then build another wet season shelter and then redecorate that. It's all fascinating stuff and I think it would have been terrific interest [sic], and terrific interest to overseas audience [sic]. I was going to call it Through Other Eyes, because I realised we could never see it through their eyes.
And, um, it was going to be that. It would have been very sensitively done and carefully done, and I'm sure would not have offended the Aboriginal people. But the lawyers were just concerned that, you know, there's been a lot of trouble. And it just all seemed too difficult, so I withdrew from that. And I'm now doing, um, a series - not a series, a single hour - on the two World Wars and how attitudes to war have changed and how you can see that change through the art that was produced.
Both the official war artists and the so-called amateurs, who were recording little things like in the trenches at Gallipoli, as a way of making clear to those back home what they were going through. And so they've got that same, serious urgency I talked about earlier. Not a great deal of technical skill, they're not great artists, but they're riveting images because there's that terrific desire to say, "This is how it was".
One of them's made by a young man lying on a stretcher, waiting for the stretcher bearers to take him down to base camp, and very moving. And they write little diary notes as to what they're seeing and what they've been doing and what they've been through. Wonderful little history. It brings the whole conflict vividly to life. And - but that's still in the gestation period. That's to come.
[end of interview]