Wednesday, January 02, 2013


                                                     My Family Acrylic on Paper 37 x 53 cm  1976-77
Photo taken after the painting was framed, hence the flash light reflection.

I have not created any new work, or even started on anything, over the Christmas/New Year break. So I thought I would reminisce

During the Christmas school holidays of 1976-77 I decided to enter an art competition which was being held to celebrate Queen Elisabeth II's Silver Jubilee. I was home from boarding school and painted a couple of paintings inspired by the theme of the competition, the family. This theme had been chosen by the Queen herself.

I painted a few images of my family; Mum, Dad, and my two younger brothers, Wilfred and Douglas. With my Mum's help I chose the painting above as the one which I ultimately entered into the competition. My Mum did not wear glasses a lot back then, but she was studying a Masters Degree [research thesis] from the University of Queensland, and the glasses must have made an impact on me. I posted [snail mail kind back then] the painting and it won the Senior Section prize! This was long before digital image art prize pre-selection processes!

By the time the award was announced I had returned to boarding school for my senior year. I remember I was sitting in a class when I received a request from the principal's office to immediately see her. A sudden thought pounced into my mind...I had won the art competition! And no..... I did not think I was in my school friends, even over 30 years later say...I was a bit of a boring studious goodie goodie. [Check out this photo on my brother Wilfred's BLOG]

So, I went to the office and people were smiling. I was told my Dad wanted to speak to me on the phone. Oh! Well, I picked up the phone and he told me I had won, and that the award would be presented by the Queen at a reception at Government House. Mum and Dad were allowed to attend too. We would be given various protocols prior to the event. Well, I was excited! Whether a you are a monarchist or not, at  age 16 the prospect of meeting the Queen was pretty damn exciting.

Some short time later, my parents and my two younger brothers picked me up from school in Toowoomba and we drove to Brisbane, where we stayed is a swish hotel...well it was then. My brothers were to stay in the hotel room while my parents and I attended the function at Government House. A bit boring for them... but no! They found a wad of money hidden behind the curtain rod. Very exciting for two teenage boys [goodness knows what they had been doing when they found the money]. We reported it to the hotel management, who made attempts to find out the owner. Luckily for my brothers, they did not trace the owner and the money was given to them. It must not have been a large enough amount of money to warrant further investigation...and who knows how long it had been there?

The reception at Government House was reasonably informal, although we had received various edicts about what to wear ie: hat, gloves! At the last minute we were told we did not have to wear either, hence my description of 'reasonably informal'. I defiantly did not wear my school uniform, which the headmistress had wanted me to wear. I decided that because I had been on school holidays when I painted the painting, plus I had found the entry forms etc on my own, I would wear my own dress. I was also pretty disappointed with the art education I was receiving at my school and felt the school did not deserve any accolades! I had gone to boarding school for the last two years of my secondary schooling after previously attending the local high school in Dalby where the art education was fantastic. I did love boarding school and the other subjects were taught well [Biology particularly well with a wonderful teacher].

At Government House we were ushered into a smallish reception room. The 4-5 age group winning paintings, plus runners' up, were displayed on screens. Each of the winners was asked to stand with their painting. The disconcerting thing was the huge number of journalists and photographers also in the room, grouped in front of us, nudging each other and flash lights flashing etc. When the Queen entered the room the flash lights went into overdrive, like a strobe! She spoke for a few minutes to each of the winners, presenting us with our awards. I shook her hand, which felt like a fleeting butterfly. I had been told she does this to protect her hand from being constantly squeezed or squashed. You can imagine the kind of repetitive strain shaking hundreds to thousands of hands might cause! I am sure she's developed a great technique to avoid having her hand suffer. Imagine how many hands she would have shaken by now!

Shaking hands is an art! I imagine if one was a Queen, or some other major dignitary, that you would have to think about protecting your fingers and hand from constant squeezing. But, there is another problem for those of us who shake hands off and on, and that is having your fingers squashed, so much so that you feel a lot of pain. You know the kind...when a bloke grabs your fingers, rather than your whole hand, and almost crushes every small bone.

I was taught how to shake hands without having my fingers squashed by my Mum. She'd been shown a trick by my paternal grandfather, who apart from being  a successful farmer, had also been a federal member of the Australian  Parliament...and had to shake the odd hand or two. He was the member 1951-1966 representing Maranoa, the largest electorate in Queensland straddling approx 731,297 sq km. He had also attended the Queen's coronation in 1952 as one of Australia's official representatives. As a child I remember my grandmother telling me what it was like in Westminster Abbey. She also had to get ball gowns made for the trip and I remember she showed me  dark silk fitted one. All hazy memories now.

Am I going to tell you my Mum/grandfather's hand shake trick? Well, I can try but it is difficult...essentially you make sure you place your thumb between the other person's thumb and pointing finger, extending your thumb's reach up towards the other person's wrist. You then exert the required pressure to shake hands. This type of grasp means the other person cannot squeeze in a way that hurts...and neither can you.

This kind of hand shake is particularly great for women, who don't have to protect themselves from a repetitive strain, for two main reasons 1. you don't get hurt 2. you develop a firm hand shake. Men often remark on my handshake! Good country girl style I tell them!

The photo below is of me meeting Queen Elisabeth II. The man with his back to the photographer is the then Director General for Education [don't know his name]. The young boy on the right won the section for special needs children. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event too! His painting is the one above him.

As you can see I wore my own dress. I also wore high heeled sandals that made me even more amazonian standing well over 180cm tall. The Queen is very short and I felt gargantuan beside her, but I seem quite happy in this photo! We spoke for a few minutes about my painting and my inspiration before she moved on to the very excited young boy. The whole experience was great and certainly very memorable.

Me receiving my award from Queen Elisabeth II 1977
MY FAMILY Acrylic on paper 37 x 53 cm
So, as you know from reading above, the painting is my family, inspired by the theme of the family chosen by the Queen. I am in profile against my Dad's face, then there is Mum, with glasses. My youngest brother Douglas is on the far right beside Mum, and my other brother Wilfred is on the left behind me. I used a palette knife and brush to create My Family. It was painted at the kitchen table.



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