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BORN IN 1969
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On April 1st, Australians were treated to a preview of Times Magazine’s portrait of Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies. This particular day was very popular in those years for the playing of practical jokes on all and sundry. When the portrait appeared on this morning, many people thought that here again they were being the victims of some giant set-up.

It wasn’t the painter. He was not under suspicion. He was the renowned William Dobell. Nor was it was the great and lofty Bob Menzies. Rather, it was the whole concept of art itself.  Surely, many argued, a painting of a person should look like the person. It should not look like some caricature, or some cartoon sketch.  Really, it must look just like the man himself, warts and all, precisely. Equally, others said that portraits should present faithful images of the sitter. Otherwise, just fantasise.

So, April got off to a good start. Here was a topic where everyone had an opinion, and everyone could suddenly become an expert on the theory of art.

Letters, Weaver Hawkins,  North Sydney.   People do not seem to see the obvious: that the strongest influence on William Dobell, our great portrait painter, is and always has been Rembrandt, that genius of the long past before man had been enabled to allow his human vision to be perverted by the camera.

Mr Dobell has to an extraordinary degree been able as an artist to retain that power of depicting forcefully his true impression of the sitter in addition to making a fine picture of a portrait. 

Letters, Caroline Gillespie, Cammeray.   Dobell’s portrait is shocking. It looks much more like Alfred Hitchcock than Menzies, and a critically ill Mr Hitchcock at that!

Letters, J Ayling, Ryde.   My dictionary, an old one admittedly, defines a portrait as a “likeness in oil or watercolours” and surely the only reason for spending large sums of money on portraits of prominent people is to present them as they actually appear. What possible purpose, then, is there in labelling Mr Dobell’s arrangements of colour (however interesting they may be) as well-known names?

While one may sympathise with Mr Dobell if he really sees human beings as he depicts them, it seems most unfair to deceive a future age in this way, for on present indications they will be confused and bewildered enough as things are.


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 ABOUT THIS SERIES   …  But after that, I realized that I really knew very little about these parents  of mine They had been born about the start of the Twentieth Century, and they died in 1970 and 1980. For their last 50 years, I was old enough to speak with a bit of sense.  I could have talked to them a lot about their lives. I could have found out about the times they lived in.  But I did not.  I know almost nothing about them really. Their courtship? Working in the pits? The Lock-out in the Depression? Losing their second child? Being dusted as a miner? The shootings at Rothbury? My uncles killed in the War? Love on the dole? There were hundreds, thousands of questions that I would now like to ask them.  But, alas, I can’t. It’s too late.

Thus, prompted by my guilt, I resolved to write these books. They describe happenings that affected people, real people.  The whole series is, to coin a modern phrase, designed to push the reader’s buttons, to make you remember and wonder at things  forgotten. The books might just let nostalgia see the light of day, so that oldies and youngies will talk about the past and re-discover a heritage otherwise forgotten. 

Hopefully, they will spark discussions between generations, and foster the asking and answering of questions that should not remain unanswered.