48. HUGH SAWREY
Queensland-born Hugh Sawrey painted scenes from his own life experiences; the people he met and the places he visited. During his early years, he worked as a drover and shearer throughout Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Memories from this period of his life became the source for his prolific renderings from this period of Australia’s history. Hugh Sawrey’s paintings preserve these stories which otherwise would have been lost to posterity.
Sawrey was largely self-taught as an artist, initially experimenting with drawing in charcoal from campfires on scraps of paper he was able to scrounge. During the 1960s, he embarked on a career as an artist and attended Jon Molvig’s (1923-1970) drawing classes which at that time were quite informal. The artist began painting murals for country pubs in exchange for accommodation and food, often depicting the poems of Banjo Patterson. His most well-known murals include The Geebung Polo Club and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, commissioned by the Royal Hotel in Brisbane – both saved prior to the demolition of the hotel in 1968.
The present work, A Question of Honour, depicts a brawl taking place in front of a country watering hole, The Commercial Hotel. The artist would have been familiar with these pubs which populate Australian country towns from his droving days. Fights would often break out between the patrons at the end of a long day and were usually settled quickly and forgotten soon after. A Question of Honour demontrates Sawrey’s artistic capabilities - this dramatic scene reflects not only his talent as a painter but also his affection for the Australian landscape and its people. Sawrey’s characteristic palette and technique conveys the drama and excitement of the unfolding melee.
The artist devoted his artistic career to depicting the pioneering years of the pastoral industries across Australia, before many of the traditions were lost or replaced by machinery. Sawrey laments, ‘In the Forties in the Channel Country it was mainly horse work. It was open country and we mustered from one waterhole to the next. The men and women took pride in what they were doing and took pride in their gear, the belts and buckles, the stirrups, bridles and saddles. Today, it’s motorcycles and four-wheel drives, a real mechanical age. It’s a shame.’1
This attitude was the genesis of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach in western Queensland. Together with R. M. Williams, Sawrey auctioned off some of his paintings to provide funding for the construction of the building. The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 29 April 1988 and as a result Sawrey was awarded an Order of the British Empire on 14 January 1989. The success of his vision ensured that he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia on 20 January 1999 for 'his service to the preservation of Australia’s rural heritage through the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre and to the promotion of tourism’.
1.Sunday Mail , Brisbane, 2 February 1997
Caroline Jones MArtAdmin