Australian Biography

Betty Churcher - full interview transcript

Tape of 10

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Betty, when did you first get the idea that you might be able to make some kind of a living from art?

I don't know that I ever thought of making an actual living from art, to be perfectly honest. My main aim was - after I'd, you know, got to my Senior, my finals - was to get to somewhere where I could study art seriously.

And my - top of my list was London, but if London had failed, it would have been Melbourne. I don't think the professional side of it - this was probably what worried my mother - ever entered into it. Ah, I knew I could teach, because I had taught art - the minute I left school, I went straight back as a teacher at the same school, so I knew I could teach.

And, ah, so there was always that fall back of teaching. But I just wanted to paint.

And the notion of a life in art, and the notion that you wanted to paint. Where did you get the idea that you might be able to paint seriously? You spoke about how you knew about commercial art. Where did you get the idea that you might be able to paint in a different sort of way?

Well, I s'pose when I first - when Pat Prentice came to school and I started doing art history - and we had this awful little outline of art, written by William Orpen with these dreadful little black and white reproductions. But still, even in those overinked, black and white reproductions, I could see, you know, looking at Rembrandt, looking at Titian, looking at the great paintings of the world.

And I thought, yeah, that's what I want to do. But of course that's what I couldn't do, as it turned out, but that's what I actually wanted to do, and suddenly, commercial art had got - you know, had nothing to do with it. Finance had nothing to do with it.

It was simply - I wanted to get myself to a level where I could feel that I was sort of painting something of significance.

Could you remember as a child, what it was that you saw in those pictures that made you feel that?

Um ... I was - I loved Rembrandt. The master of darkness, but there was something about Rembrandt, and of course it was so dark it didn't matter in these black and white reproductions. But it was to do with people, the fact that Rembrandt seemed to conjure up these people that, you know, just across the centuries, the seventeenth century to the twentieth, and there they were, large as life, looking me in the eye.

And, ah, it was to do with that. To be able to capture someone and, ah, keep them forever, if you like.

Did you get much chance to look at art in any other form from the form that you had in this little black and white book?

Not a lot. You know, in Brisbane, my famous - the Queensland Art Gallery, my favourite picture was by Blandford Fletcher which was this picture called 'Evicted'. And what I loved about that, I s'pose, was the gentle grey tonality that this Newlyn school was espousing, out of Whistler. You know, that same school of late nineteenth century.

But also again people. You see, it was a typical Victorian story picture of the poor little widow woman and her child being evicted from the home, and what really got me in that picture were the autumn leaves on the ground. And they were just crisp and ... you felt you could just crunch them up in your hand.

And it was that tactility and reality that I thought, "If only I could do that".

What else did they have in the Brisbane Art Gallery?

They - I'm just trying very hard to think what else they did have. They had another picture called, um - another sentimental Victorian picture which I remember of 'Letter Home', of this old woman sort of ... you know, with her head on her hand and letter on the table, ah, gazing into space.

Um, I just used to go to 'Evicted' with such a - like a bee to honey. I, my parents had the view that, you know, we've done that. We've been to the art gallery. You don't need to go back. So I used to think up all sorts of ploys, you know, to get them to go back, just so that I could see 'Evicted'.

And what was your parents - did your parents enjoy going to the art gallery? Your father, who had liked painting himself?

Yes, but not again and again, and Dad was a bit of an irascible man. I remember on this one occasion, he said, "No, no, no, we're not going to the gallery again. We've been there". And I said, "Oh, but this is different. There's a big exhibition of war art on". And I just made it up on the spur of the moment and thought, "Oh gosh, you know, now what's going to happen when I get there?", you know, because he was irascible.

And when I got there, it was one of those strange things of childhood, you know, where you - it's just a coincidence but you think there's something more to it - there was an exhibition of war art, but they'd taken 'Evicted' down to accommodate it. So that taught me to tell lies.

Did you enjoy looking at the war art?

But I don't think I even looked. I think through the tears I couldn't see anything. My chance to see 'Evicted' had been taken from me. Ah, they had works by William Bustard, which I enjoyed. There wasn't a lot - there was really, aged seventeen when I went down to Sydney and Melbourne.

And I remember seeing my first Rembrandt. Or Rembrandts, 'cause they then had three. They've now got two. But one of the things that tickles me, the one that really got me, was a little self-portrait. Because again, you know, I seem to sort of feel I was looking into Rembrandt's very eyes, and that's the one that has now been discredited as not a Rembrandt at all.

And now, of course, looking at it I can see quite well why it's not and, and that it really is not. But, er, the other two Rembrandts, of course, were equally impressive.

Where did you get the confidence to think that you might be able to do something like that?

I think probably because I wasn't terribly good at anything else. Right from a little girl, you know, that my ability to draw had been, you know, a bit of a, um ... an ooh, ah, sort of experience. Everybody could, you know - said, "Oh draw me this and draw me that". You know, like my, my trick, if you like, that I could do.

And, ah, I s'pose Dad, who was an amateur water-colourist, and just wanted to do it. I just wanted to, even though - and I sensed that I had to be elsewhere to do it. You know, I had to leave Brisbane. I couldn't have done it from Brisbane.

So you ... you ... were you able to study at all in Brisbane, or ...

No, no. When I left school, I had the influence of that art teacher, Pat Prentice, which was invaluable. And that was the most valuable thing - was her unqualified enthusiasm for everything, and you know, the sky's the limit. That sort of feeling.

Did she teach you well technically?

Yes, but ... I was really an oil-painter and she was a water-colourist, so ah ... but she did. Yeah, she did. Ah, then when I left school, I had to quickly get myself a job, so I went straight back teaching at Somerville House, which is a very difficult thing to do. You know, leave Grade 11, leave Grade 12 and come back, and you're teaching Grade 11, you know, the kids that were in the class below you.

And that really was a test.

Did you like it?

I did like it. I particularly liked the sub-junior girls, because as far as they were concerned I was just the - a teacher. But for the others, ah, who had been my mates, you know, they used to pull my leg and make my life a misery a bit. But, ah, I don't know that I enjoyed that, teaching them. But I did enjoy teaching the ones that didn't know me and that I didn't know them.

Now you were earning money by teaching. What were your plans for how you were going to deal with this life in art that you were hoping for?

Well as I said, I knew I had to get out. And I knew that my teaching salary, which I think was four pound a week, or it might have then been a little bit more, not a lot, I knew that I would never get out on that. And I was a member of this Younger Artists' Group.

And we decided - well, actually it happened in an extraordinary way. There was a young, ah, reporter in the Courier Mail, and he got in touch with me. He wanted a leader story, you see. And he thought up this brilliant idea that the Younger Artists' Group would establish a travelling scholarship for one of its members.

And I thought, brilliant. So I chatted on and on and on about this, and then to my horror, it appeared in the paper the next day - and ah, the scholarship relied on the Royal Queensland Art Society, of which we were the Younger Artists' Group, of the Royal Queensland Art Society, had to donate dollar for dollar, everything we earned - this article says the Royal Queensland Art Society is going to donate a dollar for every dollar we earned.

They were reading it for the first time in the newspaper, so that caused a great stink. But I survived that one and they went ahead with it.

What kind of a stink did it cause? What did they do to you?

Oh, they were furious - furious that I should .... They thought that I had signed and sealed this and made these statements, and of course he had, not me. I'd - he'd floated this, "Well, if they give you a dollar for dollar". I'm thinking, "Yes, well maybe. It is possible, 'cause we could have exhibitions and the proceeds could go to this scholarship". But I was thinking this was something we could gradually develop and then announce in the fullness of time, after I'd spoken to the President of the Royal Queensland Art Society.

And they felt they'd been caught in a cleft stick, you see. That, this was the trouble.

But they could have repudiated the whole thing.

Oh, they could have. They certainly could have. But I think there must have been a little bit of that, "Oh, not a bad idea". You know, a bit of notice, you know. And it certainly did create a great deal of notice. Because we were having the first pavement art shows. We were putting up art in Queen Street, you know, on the pavement and selling it and the proceeds going to this scholarship.

So the Royal Queensland Art Society got a lot of profile out of it.

Betty, at that time in Brisbane, when you were doing this, and you were working with that Young Artists' Group, what kinds of paintings were you doing?

Well, I was doing, um, a lot of landscapes. I remember one that I did which I liked very much. I'd love to see it again now, was low tide at Wynnum. I was teaching at Wynnum, one of the schools I was teaching at. It was Moreton Bay Girls' High School. And there the tide goes out for miles, and it leaves this wonderful pattern of pools, waterpools in mud flats.

And, ah, it was a painting of that.

Why can't you see it now?

I don't know where it is. It was purchased by someone. It may not still exist. Then I tried to do - then I felt I was in a bit of a rut, you know, just doing these landscapes, you know, visual landscapes. So then I tried to do some rather more adventurous paintings, and that was a really - not a good idea, I don't think.

I remember doing a house in Spring Hill with a pawpaw tree growing up the side of it, you know, putting on thick paint. It was really more about style than content. Whereas the Wynnum painting was really about content, you know, that I just loved this thing of these mud flats going off into infinity. But here, I was trying to paint 'a picture' and I don't think it worked so well.

And the style was self-conscious?

I think it was self-conscious.

Where had you borrowed the style from, or had you worked it out for yourself?

I don't think I'd borrowed it, but I was trying to be, you know, a little bit modern, piling the paint on with a palette knife. And, you know, trying to be a little bit different, and scumbling and glazing paint, and you know, it was a bit of a concoction.

And the result wasn't as good as when you'd concentrated on your subject?

I don't think so. I think the - when the subject is driving you, inevitably it's a much better result than if an effect is driving you, and this really, I think was about effect. The paintings that I submitted for the scholarship that I eventually won, one of them was a, a religious painting that we had to do, and I did the raising of Lazarus.

And I think I've got a photograph of that somewhere. Not the painting. And I had my brother pose for Lazarus. Lazarus was lying on the ground, you know, going into the picture, like Mickey Mouse's nose, and ah, Christ was standing over him with his hands out like this. But of course, I'd drawn him badly. He didn't have enough space for his legs and Dad called the picture, he said it was called, 'Jesu, Lover Of Our Souls, See Me Standing In A Hole'. [laughs]

And that's the sort of thing you'd get from Dad. You know, completely devastating but very, very funny. But anyway, it won.

What made you confident that you were going to win this scholarship that you cooked up?

Oh, I wasn't. I wasn't. Believe me, no. There were three contenders that -and I, I'll never forget. I was teaching at Clayfield College. There were three schools I was teaching at - were Somerville House, Clayfield College and Moreton Bay Girls' High School. And I was teaching at Clayfield College and my now sister-in-law - she wasn't then, married to my brother - she was one of these younger artists and she was officiating at the judging.

So she found out that I had won it, and she rang me at Clayfield College. Well I will never forget it. It was the best thing that I've ever had. Nothing has ever touched it. I remember riding home in the tram, and it was just as if all of my dreams had come to fruition. I remember as the old tram turned the corner at Greenslopes, and I thought, "I'm outta here. I'm going to have a whole new life".

What would you have done if you hadn't have won?

Well the plan was to go to Melbourne, and study in Melbourne. And, you know, it was quite on the cards that I wouldn't, because there was a judging panel of three people and you can, you can never tell with these things.

So what was the scholarship actually to do?

It was actually to go overseas. I forget how much it was worth, but I know the fare over was ninety pounds. Ah, I think it was to go overseas and stay for three months or something, and come back. So, it was probably a hundred and fifty pounds, I don't know. Oh, no, it'd be - have to be more than that, wouldn't it, for ... if the single fare was ninety ...

Yes, I think it was about three hundred.

About three hundred, was it? Yes, I, I can't remember. But it was quite a lot of money to raise in those days. So over I went, and, um, it lasted for a while, but I stayed a bit longer.

Now you were going over there, though, on a scholarship not just to stay, but to study. Where were you to study?

Well, the only place I'd ever heard of was this place called the Byham Shaw School where Pat Prentice had studied. So it just never entered my head that these was anything else other than the Byham Shaw School. So the new Director of the Queensland Gallery was a man called Robert Haines. Wonderful man. And he said, "Well, where will you study?"

And I said, "The Byham Shaw". And he said, "For goodness sake, why?" And I said, "Well, where else?" And he had a friend who was then the principal of this school in Essex, and he said, "You've got to go either to the Slade or to the Royal College, but because they're both, er, tertiary institutions, you've got to get to them from another school. So go to this school of my friend and then get yourself into the Slade or the Royal College of Art."

And that's what I did. And without Robert, I suppose I'd have just sailed over there and enrolled into the Byham Shaw, which was rather a reactionary, you know, backward looking school at the time.

And so you went to Essex. And how was that for you?

Well it was south west Essex. It was sort of like Walthamstow so it was still really London. Um, it was - the whole of London, England, was magic for me. I s'pose having a Scottish father, and also, you've got to remember in those days, we were brought up on a solid diet of the English romantic poets, English history. All of our sensibilities were tuned to that little island.

And to get back there and to be actually seeing these places, you know, the Houses of Parliament and - it was just - and I'll never forget the walking into the National Gallery. In those days it was hardly - oh, very little attended. I've been in there when there's only been about one or two other people in the room, in the '50s.

And I look at it now and it's buzzing with people and I think, gosh, it wasn't so long ago that this was a funny little backwater off Trafalgar Square there and ah, you know, all of those riches - the down and outs used to come in and they'd sleep on the benches over the - where the heat came up.

There was no air-conditioning in the building at all. But in the winter they'd turn the heat on. And they'd - these down and outs would all sort of lie on these benches and ...

How did you get to England?

By boat, which was wonderful. When I was coming back from England just a little while ago, I thought, if only boats were still - I hate flying, with a bitter hatred - and I loved the boat trip. And, you know, the whole excitement of Colombo, calling into Sri Lanka, or then Ceylon, and the exotic thing of it all. It was just so exciting for a twenty one year old.

And was the art school what you'd hoped for?

Yes, it was. I was a bit uncertain about my ability to get into the Royal College, which was Robert's plan - Robert Haines' plan - because it was very, very competitive. But I told the principal, this man called Stuart Ray, ah, what I wanted to do, and he was very, very helpful. He helped me a lot. And I think I got in with a bit of a push here and a shove there by people like Stuart Ray and a couple of the staff at Walthamstow at the South West Essex Technical College.

I don't know whether I'd have got in there as easily as I did just under my own steam without anyone barracking for me.

What did you have to do to get in there?

Well, you had to submit, I think, three paintings. A figure composition, a landscape and a figure drawing. And then that was the first sift. And then out of that lot you then had to go in there and you had to do on the premises a life drawing and a figure composition drawing and something else.

And there was an interview. And I found out later that the drawings that we were doing there were really just to keep us busy while we waited for our turn for the interview. It all went on the interview. And there we were drawing and rubbing, and drawing and, you know, really trying so hard to get these drawings right.

And it was really - they were just sort of um - I don't know that they even looked at them. The interview was a terrifying experience, because the whole of the Royal College of Arts staff was lined up in a row, and, ah, they were asking very searching questions, you know. "What are you doing?" "Why are you doing it?"

"What's your biggest scheme?" "What's your ..." And a lot of things I'd really seriously never thought of before. But anyway, I got in, so ... I loved it. [INTERRUPTION]

So ... how did the Royal College of Art turn out for you once you'd been selected?

Well, after selection, everybody for the three years, there were thirty people in each year, so there are ninety graduates, you know, in any one year at the College. But everyone who made the third year graduated. But there was a very rigorous weed out at the end of the first year.

It was a pretty good system, you know, because they were saying, "Don't let a person waste three years and then say 'Sorry, you didn't make it'". But when you got to the end, you got a First Class Pass of which there was one or two, or three perhaps at most. The Second Class Pass was the maximum and the Third Class Pass were the people that they really would have failed, but they had somehow let them slip through that sieve of the first year.

So I got through my first year sieve quite happily. I did actually very well. I was a very good student. I won the composition every year at the long winter ... summer holidays, it was. Um, they would give a composition subject, and every one in the school, the whole ninety students, could have a go at that.

And I won it in the second year. So I was a, you know, a good student. What I didn't have, unfortunately, was the um ... whatever it is, you know, that allows you then to take that, what you have as a student, and the natural raw talent that I had - you know, this ability to draw - and move that on into the next square and the next square and the next square.

And that's what really sorts the sheep from the goats, I think. You know, that was, it - I didn't know this at the time, when I was at the Royal College, that I didn't have it, but I actually didn't have it.

But presumably your teachers couldn't see that you didn't have what ...

No.

... you didn't have, either. Because before you won those prizes and awards and high, high standing at the College, you had - that wasn't new to you. You'd won a lot of things back here as well.

Yes, I did. I was, as I say, I was a very good student. And I did very, very well at the end. I got a First Class - one of those very coveted First Class Passes. I got [a] travelling scholarship and the drawing prize. So really I, I did terribly well.

But I just didn't have this - I don't know whether I didn't have the staying power or whether at the first hump I fell, you know, but that was about the time I was having babies, and whether that sort of shifted my emphasis sideways, so that - and if I'd taken that first hurdle, perhaps I could have gone on and taken the second and the third. Who knows?

Before we get to that, though, back there as a student, and as I say, you'd won awards in Australia too, hadn't you?

I had. Yes. Right from being a little girl. I think it was the Courier Mail Art Prize and then there was the scholarship that I'd won. And no, I'd won lots of things. I was a little winner. And then of course I got ...

You'd, you'd achieved success. You weren't going to be second bottom ever.

No, I was never going to be second bottom again.

Now why do you think you won those awards?

Well, I think I was a good student.

What do you mean by that?

Well, I was doing good paintings, and drawings were good and, um ... you know, but I don't really think achieving in art really is about that. I think it is about more. It's about having that relentless obsession. See, I think my son's got it.

Um, leaving aside the sort of paintings that he does, that sort of relentless obsession, you know, that there is nothing else in the world that you want to do, and nothing else in the world that you're going to do, other than this.

But you did say that as a schoolgirl, you were obsessed with your work, to the extent that it affected other things.

Oh yes. But remember as a schoolgirl I didn't know I was going to be a mum.

Well, we're not - you're not a mother yet. We'll keep you back there ... Were you obsessed then?

Oh, yes. Absolutely, and it never entered my head that I was ever going to do anything else but be an artist. That's really what I wanted, and I had my sights set on that, firmly and rigorously.

And while you had your sights set on that, you're doing very good paintings.

Yes. Yes.

And drawings.

Yes. Yes.

What characterised them? How would you describe them now?

I was interested - as I said at the beginning - in people. I remember inveigling these two old souls, you know, who were sitting on a park bench, into my studio, these two men. Ah ... old age pensioners, or ... I don't know who they were, from some old age persons' home ...

Betty, how you were when you were that age, I have not in the least surprised [sic] you could draw those men in your studio.

There's another story in that, too. Anyway, I wanted to ... and this was, I suppose, an inference of Cézanne, Paul Cézanne. And I wanted to do a picture - this was for the Royal College, too, of two men, playing dom ... no playing c... no, dominoes. That's right, they were playing dominoes. And I sort of sat them at a table and they were in their sort of old coats and their hats, and one had a cap, I think.

You know, and they were playing dominoes. So I was interested in people. I remember another painting I did of three people sitting on a Tube train, 'cause I used to sit on the Tube, you know, all the time watching, you know, the people that just sit opposite. And the London transport sort of patterning, you know, of the seat.

And then the reflection of the other people in the, um, glass. You know when you're in the dark tunnel, how you get the reflection in the glass. And those were the sorts of things I was interested in. And portraits and life paintings. Not landscapes at all.

Why had you started in landscape when you'd always known you were interested in people?

Don't know. Probably Pat. Influence of Pat Prentice. Probably ah, the landscape was there, and the people weren't, although I used to draw my brother a bit, because he was, he would model for me. But it wasn't so easy then, to get people to model for you. And at the Royal College of Art I had friends, you know, other students who would model for me. And, ah ...

And so once you'd discovered the painting of people, you were really involved with it. Would you say you were still obsessed when you were there?

At the college? Oh, yes. Yes. Obsessed because I had never really got exactly what I wanted out of, you know, the painting of a human being and transporting that human being onto a two dimensional surface. You know, I'd just never quite achieved that, what I wanted to do. And that was what was driving me.

In stylistic terms, at that time in the '50s, in London, what were the new influences? What were the things that you were being opened up to that you hadn't seen back here?

Well the fashion in London at that time was Bernard Buffet, with his spiky things which I hated. I really hated them. But what was really interest ... influencing me, I think, was Paul Cézanne, Rembrandt, Chardin to a certain extent, but that was really what I was about, to see if I could somehow, in the 1950s, in London, you know, from a contemporary perspective, somehow translate 1950s life in the way that they had - nineteenth century and seventeenth century people - in their paintings.

But the influence really didn't come from other contemporary art. It was from art history more.

Did you have any teachers there that particularly influenced you?

No. The teaching at the Royal College was really almost non-existent in those days. It was thought, you know, because it was a postgraduate school, everyone had [sic] supposed to have done their full course at their other art school. So it was really a great lark. The teachers would congregate in the staff room.

There was a big communal staff room and I'll never forget. There they all were with their pipes and their cigars and their bottles of wine, and having a jolly good time, and every now and then, one of them would shuffle up the corridor and make a remark or two, but, um, the only remark that this Ruskin Spear - Ruskin Spear was probably the best painter who was there - and it was a very useful remark, but at the point, at the time, I couldn't see it.

He said, "You know the trouble with you?" And I'm sort of all agog, you know, I'm going to find out at last. "You try too hard." Now I know what he meant. I know exactly what he meant, but I didn't know at the time what he meant.

You know, relax a bit. You know, I was, you know, trying to screw - catch that image and, you know, screw it down, much too rigorously and firmly. And he was trying to tell me, "Loosen up a bit", you know. "Just let it happen".

But saying that, you know, "You try too hard", I thought, "Well, gosh, you can't try too hard". You know, it just went over my head, I'm afraid.

But it stayed with you.

It stayed with me still, yes. It's a remark I'll never forget, probably because it puzzled me. So whatever does he mean? And when it dawned on me what he meant, years later, that cemented it, I s'pose.

What were the other students there doing? What were they like and what kind of artists were they?

Well they were very good artists. Peter Blake was there when I was there. And I remember we had to put up a diploma show, what they called a diploma show at the end of the three years. And that's when they'd go 'round and do their assessment. And as I said, you'd - everyone would pass, but if you got one of those dreadful Third Class Passes, you know, forget it.

And I remember Pete, who I was very friendly with, Peter Blake, he was, into that slightly whimsical pop art thing, long before pop art really had become a fashion, long before Andy Warhol or any of the Americans were known, he was doing do-it-yourself collage kits.

You know, Warhol did his painting-by-numbers. Peter Blake did do-it-yourself collage. I said, "Pete, don't do it. You know, this - it'll be a disaster". But he had that sort of courage and whimsy to be able to do it. And of course, he was one of the other ones who got a First Class Pass.

What do you do with a do-it-yourself collage kit?

Oh well, he had the, ah, thing with the areas with numbers, and in a box were the numbers and there might be a piece of fur or something and you had to put number three on there and there might be sort of something here ...

Interactive art.

Interactive art. And I remember, you're not allowed to go upstairs when the judging was on, and I'd completely forgotten. And I just ran upstairs to get something, and there I saw this little clot of grey suits - they were all men, of course - grey suits nudging their way in to try and have a go at Pete's do-it-yourself collage kit.

And I raced back and I said, "Pete, I think you're a success. I think it's worked".

So he got a good pass.

Oh he did very well, yes. And so he should have.

And what did you do? Something more conventional?

More conventional, yes. Mine were mostly portraits, but I had a, a really shocking experience and I don't know the answer to what happened in this case. They asked me, Carel Weight and Roger de Grey and a few of the staff asked me to get out the works I was going to put up and - which I did, and lined them along the corridor.

And this is all very nervewracking stuff, and they wandered up and down and - not talking to me, talking amongst themselves, saying, "Mmm, bit disappointing really, yes". "Expected a little better than this." "Yeah, I thought it'd be a lot better, yes. It's, ah, not really impressive. Is it really?"

And I remember going home, Roy and I were living together and I said, "Roy, I'm not even going to put them up. There is no point". And Roy said, "Oh, don't be daft". You know, and he came in to help me. And he helped me put them up. But my ... um, confidence level was so low.

And then Roger de Grey came up and said, "No, no, no, no, this won't do". You know, we just hung it. And I just - I knew if I stayed there I was going to be rude, so I walked away. Roy stayed and they - and really, he was just trying to help me. Just hung it a bit better.

And then they gave me a First Class Pass so I, I never - I just don't know whether they meant it and whether their visiting - they always brought in a visiting, er, artist to - an outsider, and whether that person liked them and talked them out of it, or - that's going to be a mystery till I die.

So. Or whether they were just trying to, um, give me a shock, I don't know. Wasn't very pleasant, though.

Now let's - before we leave your student life and move on to the next thing - go back to take up another thing from your youth. When you were a teenager in an all girls school, how did you discover boys? When and how did you start going out with boys?

I wasn't terribly interested in boys ... then. Really, at all. I was quite wrong for the age. I was very tall and very thin and very angular, and the thing to be then was petite and bosomy and hourglass figure. I just was all wrong.

I'd have been alright, you know, in the '60s, but all wrong in the late '40s. And, ah, I hated dancing, because, ah, I was always taller than any of the boys. My father used to say, "Watch the chin, dear. Watch the chin". I said, "What do you mean?" "Brylcreem, you know. When you get the Brylcreem under your chin." [laughs]

He was very, um ... as I say, a great comic, but he got right to the point.

And did it bother you? Did it worry you?

No. No. I never forget - I was in a, all dressed up in my sort of strapless blue organdie or whatever it was you used to wear, the ballgown, going off and Dad was driving, I'm in the back of the car and I'm thinking, "Look, I really think I would rather be going anywhere in the world than where I'm going right now". And I thought, "Well, why do it? You don't have to do it". And I never went to another one.

And it was a lovely, liberating thing. But I just thought, you had to go to these balls and you had to sit on the side and be ignored by the boys. You know, the typical wallflower. If ever there was a wallflower, it was me. And just go through hell, just wishing yourself anywhere.

And this liberating thing, thinking, "Well, you know, you don't actually have to do it". And um, it was really at the Royal College, you know, when I started enjoying the whole thing of flirting, and ... etcetera.

So you were a late starter?

A late starter, yes.

And what was it like then? What was social life like for a Royal College of Art student, an Australian in London in the '50s?

Oh, pretty wild. We all had to smoke. I had to get myself used to smoking and - which I didn't like at first. And we used to smoke those dreadful little Player's Weights, you know. And I remember, I think everything but my little finger was a sort of like a dark - sort of about the colour of this floor, a deep sort of golden brown from, you know, painting while I was smoking. You know, the linseed oil.

And the nicotine just created an incredible effect on your hands.

[end of tape]

Proceed to Tape 3