Monday, February 19, 2018


A  tribute to a talented, determined woman -Margaret Vine - who contributed  to research for  major  books  on Australian artists ,  early important  documents in  the  nation's international  affairs and  the  production  of   Queensland  regional   memoirs  and Magnetic Island  heritage  signs .  During her life she collected pottery , jewellery , costumes , Persian carpets ,  books  and  indulged  a   deep interest in  opera . With  her liking  for  black , purple and green   clothing   and sporting  long  fingernails painted  green ,  some  children  went  in  awe of  her , asked  if  she  was  a  witch. 

The late Margaret  Ann  Vine, at the time  Mrs Willis,  talking  to  artist Sir Russell Drysdale  at  a January 1970 exhibition in  the  Johnstone  Gallery , Brisbane ,  to launch  the  Australian Art Library ,  the  function attended  by  leading  Australian   artists  and  sculptors. This  cutting, from the Australian Women's Weekly , reported she was stylishly dressed  in a tiered  dress of crisp black taffeta, with  black accessories .   

From  the  l950s to  early 1970s, the Johnstone  Gallery  was a major force  in the Australian  art  world .  The proprietors, Brian and Marjorie , were  close friends of Margaret's .  Brian ,  born in  India , educated in Adelaide, attended   Duntroon Military College , became  a captain. He   served  in America and  Europe  after the war ,  Margaret saying he  had  been personally   involved with  Dr Herbert Vere  Evatt ,  an art lover , who  from 1948-1949 was the third President of the  UN General Assembly ,  helped   draft  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  became leader of  the  Australian  Labor  Party . 
 By Peter Simon
For a short  time, Johnstone had  served as aide-de-camp to the Queensland Governor , Sir John Lavarack . Mrs Johnstone ,  an actress , into mime , added to the  atmosphere of  the   distinctive  gallery  they  ran at 6 Cintra Road , Bowen Hills.  Both were  foundation  members of  the Queensland Art  Gallery Society.   

Margaret's   connection with  the  dynamic  gallery proprietors  was  so  strong that  her  pet Beagle , Ponsonby, and  a   Dachshund  named  Lindy ,  owned  by   them , used  to send each  other  Christmas cards , one of  which  she  showed   me ,  along  with  a wide range of art  gallery  ephemera  and  catalogues.

Margaret  recalled that one   Christmas , Brian Johnstone had an ox tail sliced down the middle  to expose the marrow , put it  together, wrapped it up , and  had  it delivered  to  Ponsonby  who " went mad over  the gift ". In return, Margaret made  Christmas  cake , probably  using her mother's recipe with a dash of sago , cut it into cubes , wrapped it in cellophane , and sent it off  to the Johnstones  and   their   Dachshund .
The last Christmas card  sent out in l972, marking the end of the gallery, because Brian  had suffered  TB and they were both  tired,  showed  the Johnstones  in  an Australian  sleigh , led by their  dog, presents being thrown out the back , depicting  the  work  of  artists  connected with the gallery over the years, which included  Ray Crooke, James Gleeson, Margaret Olley, Charles Blackman , Arthur Boyd .  


 Born in Ashgrove, Brisbane , in 1936, Margaret remembered  being carried about on her father's  shoulders , he singing  what  she  later  identified as opera ,  showing  her  possums  and   birds. 

A  Brisbane  newspaper  asked parents to send in photographs of  their children  , the  snapshot  judged the  best  would be   turned  into a professionally produced portrait  in  a  special frame , behind  glass.  Portrayed holding a teddy bear,  Margaret's  photo won , see below.  It was offered  to the  National Photographic Portrait Gallery in Canberra   last year , but  it  was  declined . It now hangs  in this blog's den, not  far  from  a political  painting  by American artist  Bucklee  Bell, prominent in the  1967-1970  Underground Comix  movement of San Francisco and Berkeley, California , the subject of several posts in  Little Darwin .

From the age of about  three to five , the Vines  lived in a house  on stilts ,where Margaret often sat up close  to  a mantel  radio  ,  listening  to  people  singing . One day she  told  her mother  she had  heard "Darna  Derba"-Deanna  Durbin - the Canadian born-American singer and actress ,  performing.  On a swing under the house she imitated   a  song by  the  popular American  singer and actress , Jeanette  MacDonald. Nelson Eddy, who co-starred with  MacDonald , also inspired  her  singing . 

Travelling with her mother in  the  tram, she often stood up and broke into song , causing passengers to  clap .  She  announced she would like to become an  opera  singer .  When she accompanied her mother who went to  a dentist ,  she sat  quietly  in  the waiting room totally engrossed by the "yellow books"-National  Geographics . Staff remarked that it was  amazing that  she sat still,  turning  the pages over  and over  , as  most  young  children  fidgeted , ran   about.  It  was  an   indication  of   her  future  voracious  reading  and  interest in  so  many  subjects .    


Her father , a  bank employee, who had been educated at  Townsville Grammar, where he enrolled in 1923, became a  top cricketer , said to have taken  eight wickets  for   four  runs  , who  could  have  gone on  to  play for   Australia  but  for  the demands of  his  job . During WWll,  employed by  the Bank of Australasia as a teller , he   was  stationed  in the Lennon's  Building , Brisbane ,  used  by US supreme commander of Allied  forces in the Pacific,  General  Douglas MacArthur , and had  many   dealings  with  the Americans , helping them  convert  dollars into Australian currency , complimented   for  his   service .

The family moved about  during the  war  to such places as  Windsor and Enoggera ( where the school had air raid exercises and  she  found it claustrophobic looking up  from  trenches).  From there  they went to Oakey  where  an airport was being built  nearby and she saw her  first "black man "...  not  an  Aborigine , a " Negro " soldier. 

 An uncle  went to Singapore, was captured, spent time in Changi , and lost a leg . At one stage Margaret and her mother moved to a sheep and cattle property ,"Geradan"   at  Tara , near Dalby , where she had a pony , Sally . Her mother said she could ride the pony after  first doing her  intensive primary correspondence  course  and  getting it   right . She passed the  course  in six months  and was awarded  Mickey Mouse merits  for  her work .
While at Geradan in 1950 she received a  book as a   Christmas present from an aunty  and uncle,  the Ernestine  Hill  novel  My Love Must Wait ,the story of  maritime explorer  Matthew Flinders , and in  later life she  became  interested  in  maps  during   her   wide  ranging  research .  
In the postwar  period  the family continued to move about  due to her father's job with the  bank . At one school , where she studied home science " and all that jazz  ", cooking and sewing , she sat for  a  scholarship  exam  and tied  ninth in the state .
The school manager at the time was  rotund Eric  Davis, son of  the writer Arthur Hoey Davis (1868-1935), creator of Dad and Dave , author of  the  Australian classic , On Our Selection, written  under the  name  Steele Rudd . The son of Eric Davis was  named  Steele,  who  told  Margaret  she could  play   doubles  tennis with him  if she let him look at her homework  to see if  he had the right answers .
Because she was so bright ,  Eric Davis  bet her father a brand new shirt  that she would  come within the top 10  in  the scholarship exams.  Margaret commented that it would have been hard to find a shirt big enough to fit him because he weighed about  16stone . Prizes came her way in the shape  of school  book awards , one from Nambour High and Intermediate School in 1953, Seven League Boots by Richard Burton , which she kept until  2017 , by that time containing pencilled  in  margin  notes . 
Due to her father's  employment , the family moved to the mining town of Mount Isa in the l950s  and  she described  being driven  to the open  air theatre   by Len Evans , later the prominent  wine writer ,  in a 1925 Packard  car  with running boards , a pet  Collie dog , Prince ,   taken along  for  the ride ,  which   licked  ice cream  from  a  cone as they sat  in  canvas seats  gazing at  the screen .
 Her younger  brother, Jim,   said  there was hardly ever a night  without a message being flashed across  the screen for the  local  doctor  to come to the office  as he was  wanted . A book read  during that period in Mount Isa , when the  Vine  residence   was   8 Fifteenth Avenue , was  the  1952  Brisbane published   Where Strange Paths Go Down , by A.M. Duncan-Kemp, about  outback   Australia , retained by Margaret  until  late in  life .  Unfortunately not  going into details , she mentioned "theatricals "  performed  in  the Isa  and that Evans may have taken  part in  them .  
It became a bone of  contention that  her father told her she   could  not go to university because she was a  girl , that  she  should take up  teaching  instead.  In due course  she did  become  a  teacher  and  while  at a girls' school , slipped away  for  an  arty weekend  in  Brisbane  ,  attending  a  party dressed  as  Picasso's  giraffe , her  hair   pink .   So that she would  not stand  out at school   on  Monday  ,  she   hastily  washed   the colour  out of  her  hair .
 Years later, attending the school reunion, an old girl  informed her that  she had noticed  the teacher's hair  on that Monday had a  pink patch  at the  back  and had  drawn  other  girls   attention  to   the spectacle, who then trooped   behind  the  teacher ,  had   a  peek,  and   raised  eyebrows. During her teaching career she was presented with a number of  cookery books , one  entitled A French Woman for  a  Wife .

Last year, knowing she did not have much  time to live because of  cancer , with a colostomy  bag seemingly  affectionately called  Stanley , she  began to  provide me  with   disjointed  anecdotes   from   her   life   for  Little Darwin . 
 NEXT : Margaret puts herself through university , runs  a  café  , goes to Canberra , attends  lots  of   book sales , goes  overseas , tours  art  galleries  all the  way  to  Moscow  and   takes  in  some  auctions  along  the  way .