Sunday, April 22, 2018


Special  feature marking reopening of the Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton, North Queensland , destroyed by  fire three years  ago .   
New  Zealand  artist Violet  Bowring  drew a  portrait of   A.B. " Banjo" Paterson who contributed to the  archetypal image of  an  Australian , encapsulated   in  the song   Waltzing  Matilda  and the  famous  Man from Snowy River  ballad .  Her  drawing  featured  on the  above  front cover  of   Banjo  Paterson verse selected   by   bibliophile  Walter  Stone . 
 By Peter Simon
 Bowring   died  in  Townsville  on January 21, 1980, aged 90. In the many treasures  stored  in the    Special Collections section at  the  Eddie Koiki  Mabo Library  at  James Cook  University  is  the  Bowring   archive .
It contains the Paterson portrait  and  interesting information  about  her  early days in New Zealand; studying art  in London ;  her artwork  run on the  ground  breaking  cover of  a 1914 German year book  ; involvement  in  the Sydney art scene  ,  during  which  time  she did portraits  of   well known  people , Paterson  one  of   them.

The 1930   portrait was commissioned by  Paterson's wife, shown at  an exhibition of   the Women's Industrial Arts Society , with which Violet was associated,  bought  by  the  Australian   Club  of  which  Banjo was  a  member .    
It seems a  pastel portrait  was also done of Paterson's  son.  One of  those  in Bowring's  illustrations,  simply identified  as   Admiral" Teddy" Evans, turns out to be  Edward, lst Baron Montevans ,   highly decorated   British  naval officer and   Antarctic  explorer  ( Mount Evans  named after him  by Scott ) , appointed  Rear Admiral Commanding  the  Royal Australian Navy Fleet  in 1928.  After a life  full of  adventure , two world wars ,  he  chaired a commitee to   formalise  rules for  professional wrestling  in  the UK, known as  Admiral Lord  Montevans  rules.

( The  above  naval story  is  another indication  that once you start   going through the wondrous  material in Special Collections  you could find yourself   on a phantasmagorical  voyage  to  the South  Pole , chatting to Amundsen along the way ,  followed  by  some  arm  wresting in  a  Pommie  pub ) 

It is not at all  clear , but Admiral Evans  may have  married a  relative of  Bowring's ,  Hilda Russell ,  daughter  of  a  local solicitor and  niece of G. W. Russell, member of parliament for Christchurch , New Zealand . There are  photographs of  Violet  in  Christchurch  with   parents   and  relatives and of a brother in the Bay of Islands .           
I was  delighted to discover  that Bowring had drawn a pastel portrait of the daughter  of   Sydney newspaper tycoon  Sir Hugh Denison . In my odds and ends  is a 1936  presentation copy  of  a  book to  Sir Hugh and Lady Denison    from    another  talented and strong woman  from the same era  as  Bowring ,  Florence M.  Taylor, a town planner , writer  and  publisher . 
 She was the first woman in  Australia  to have a  glider pilot's licence and cast a  critical eye over  Townsville and Magnetic Island  when she passed through on a voyage to  Asia . Why, she asked , would they  have  large clocks on  the war memorial in Townsville...those  clocks have since disappeared.  
Taylor  sailed on  recording shipboard romances and observations  and wrote the presentation  illustrated tome , A Pot-Pourri of  Eastern Asia , 396pp, which warned  about  the  rising  aims and secrecy of  Japan .
The  New Zealand content in the university collection  includes  some details of Violet's  early artistic  output,  winning  certificates of  merit  for  drawing in 1908 and l909  , political cartooning , involvement with  the Canterbury Society of Arts . 
Her husband , Auckland born artist  Walter Armiger  Bowring , born 1874, like Banjo Paterson,  was highly regarded as  a "true colonial artist "and to some extent   had a similar  life to  Paterson . At  one stage in Auckland  he worked with the  satirical artist  W. Bloomfield  whose  depictions of Kiwi life  were  popular .
 A  portrait painter and illustrator, Walter   covered   the NZ involvement in the  Boer War  and  his 1916  grim painting  , above, of the first  New Zealand   troops arriving  at Wellington  from  Gallipoli  aboard the  Willochra  was  an  event in which  it was said   civilians  experienced   loss  of   innocence  about the war when  confronted by the grim reality  of amputations,  other  injuries, broken  men . His request to become a war artist  was turned down .

In London Walter  had   studied     under Augustus  John   and William Orpen . He also   contributed  black and white drawings to the  London Punch, Graphic and Sketch .   There  is  a  portrait  of  him  in  the university collection . 

Arriving in  Sydney  in 1925 , he was  soon busy doing portraits. He and   Violet  , above , received  write ups , she presented as  a modern woman , fashionably dressed , often  posing  for  her  husband. Many of his works were hung in Archibald exhibitions ; his  portraits of  members of  the   Fairfax newspaper  family were bought  by  the  National Portrait Gallery . He died in  1931. 

In 1941 , one of Violet's drawings  became  the first  four colour illustration in  Woman's Day magazine.  Despite the  fact  that  she  was well known in Sydney, vice president  of the  Society of  Women Painters , she seems to have been  almost  forgotten  as  has   her  husband . A New Zealand  article about him, without mentioning  Violet, said despite his skills  he seemed to have suffered  from  being regarded as  too  commercial . 
For  some unclear reason , possibly because it was cheaper to live there ,  Violet moved to  Townsville  in  1950 , aged 60 . At one stage she shared a flat on The Strand with Jessie  Macqueen , who  ran a Townsville  bookshop,was into women's rowing and  rifle shooting  and wrote   The Real Magnetic , about Magnetic Island .
Both wrote to the Townsville  Bulletin deploring the lack of an art  gallery in the city  . There is a photograph in the university collection of  the two friends dressed up for a party , Violet  like a man , with a moustache, in a suit with a hat . In colonial times in New Zealand   Walter , regarded as a  larrikin in some ways ,  had  dressed   as a  woman  for  theatricals . That's  him  below on  the  right.
Violet's art collection  and personal papers suffered as a result of  two events- a huge fire in the bulk sugar storage  terminal  in 1960  which showered the city with  gunk  and Cyclone Althea in 1971. Some of her artwork was hung in an art gallery in   Bowen  Road .  At  the age of 70 she had  a  motorscooter.

There is mention of  a person in Townsville  related to  Oliver Towns Osborne, of  Adelaide , said to be the great great grandson of Robert Towns , after whom Townsville  had  been  named .   

Moving to  the Garden Settlement  home for  the aged , she kept her possessions  in  a small  suitcase and  a  carton . By 1981 the Encyclopedia of  Australian Art  contained  a  six line listing   for Walter  Bowring, no mention of Violet . 
A  puzzle  emerged during  perusal of   Violet's collection . The  portrait  of a  man was  said  to possibly be  a  parliamentarian . Wonder  who ? Later on  he was identified  as  John Murray, formerly of Townsville , manager of the Orient Station  outside Ingham ,  an MP , the portrait  done about  1960.