Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The background to how a painted portrait was created.

Creating art is always a challenge for every artist. Depending on what motivates the artist, the subject matter can be tricky. Some may be motivated by sales. Some may be motivated by some social cause. Some may wish to create something that resonates with the viewer.

I like to put myself in the latter category. I create art that I hope will strike a chord with the person looking at it and the demographic I aim for are those who are currently serving or have served and those that love and support them.

Here is a short video on what spurred me to paint my wife's portrait. I was very proud when she - then my girlfriend - went to Tarin Kot, Afghanistan as a nurse and as the commander of the Royal Australian Air Force combat surgical team.

So when the opportunity came to enter the RAAF's Heritage Awards Art Prize, she was the natural choice for the subject of the entry.

Unfortunately, it did not win... but the then Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, liked it so much that he requested it be acquired for the RAAF's Official Art Collection.

With much pride, I parted with the portrait, and now my wife has pride of place in the RAAF's history.  Ad Astra!

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To visit Sharon's website, go to

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Story of 'Soldier, Rest! The Last of the Light Horsemen'

Soldier, Rest! The Last of the Light Horsemen Pencil on board
600mm x 1800mm

When I was a kid, I remember reading a quote from a poem by Sir Walter Scott called 'Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare o'er."  Another was the last verse from the Eric Bogle song 'And the band played Waltzing Matilda,' which also drifted through my thoughts over many years. It told of the ponderings of a returned serviceman from Gallipoli who lost both his legs during the fighting and his musings at his fate.

Both haunted me and when I was older and started undertaking art, decided to do an image of an old Light Horseman - the last of the Light Horsemen - astride his Waler, thinking about the mates he'd lost. It seemed fitting that both those passages should accompany the image and so when I created prints of it, I sought and obtained permission from Larrikin Music to use the Eric Bogle lyrics which I coupled with the Scott poem. I added both passages to the print that I created of my drawing.

Here they are in full. I hope you find that they both go well with the image of the Last of the Light Horsemen.

SOLDIER, rest! thy warfare o'er,   Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking; Dream of battled fields no more,   Days of danger, nights of waking.  (Sir Walter Scott)
"And now every April I sit on my porch, and I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march, reviving old dreams and past glories.
And the old men march slowly, all bone-stiff and sore.
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war.
And the young people ask: 'What are they marching for?'
And I ask  myself the same question.
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call.
But year after year...
More old men disappear...
Some day no-one will march there at all.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong...
'Who'll come a Wlaltzing Matilda with me?'"
(Eric Bogle)

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

A video tribute to the Lancaster

An Avro Lancaster - F for Freddie - that was I was commissioned to create and research by the descendants of Flight Lieutenant Robert Anderson, RAAF.

The Avro Lancaster was one of the critical aircraft of World War II and along with the other four-engined giants such as the Short Stirling and Handley-Page Halifax were the mainstay of Bomber Command.

This video shows some Lancasters flying and is overlaid with a recording of the conversation of a Lancaster crew on a bombing mission being attacked by a German aircraft.

RAAF aircrew flew in Bomber Command in RAF squadrons and special 'Article XV' squadrons - RAAF squadrons raised for service with the RAF.

Friday, 13 April 2018

The story of the Mont St Quentin Digger - Peronne, France

My painting of the Mont St Quentin Digger - Memorial to the 2nd Division, AIF in France
(acrylic on canvas board)

This is a painting I did of a statue in France. Many may have visited it. It’s the Mont St Quentin Digger – the memorial to the Australian Imperial Force’s 2nd Division.

This statue was unveiled in 1971 but it was not the first to stand there. The original memorial to 2nd Division was paid for by members of the Division and was dedicated in 1925. It depicted an Australian soldier bayoneting an eagle. 

The original statue being unveiled. Note the size of the statue compared to the dignitaries standing around the plinth.

The eagle was the emblem of the German empire and the idea of destroying the German eagle was not unique to the sculptor. 

The images above show a French poster seeking war bonds and a Canadian Army recruiting poster from the First World War.

The sculptor was Charles Web Gilbert, a self-taught artist who was commissioned to create the statue even though Charles Bean – noted historian – thought it was not in the spirit of the Diggers of the AIF. 

The Statue being created. Note Gilbert standing to the left of the statue, an indication of the scale of the work.
Australian War Memorial H15606

But Gilbert's statue was unveiled by Marschal Foch to great acclaim and stood on its plinth for 16 years. Gilbert was in his fifties when he created this statue carting clay and bronze by himself. He worked himself to death and died two days before photos of his creation being unveiled in France arrived at his home.

Unveiling the statue. Marshal Foch pulls the lanyard of the Australian Flag to reveal Gilbert's statue.

During the occupation of the town by German troops in 1940, the memorial was torn down by Wehrmacht soldiers and its fate is unknown. 31 years later and the current statue was unveiled depicting a pensive Digger with rifle slung.

The Digger lies on the steps and the reliefs have been jimmied off their frames and sit at the base of the plinth. The fate of the statue, destroyed by angry German Troops, is unknown.

For more artwork by me, please visit

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Women and war and why the pelican pierces her breast.

My artwork of the stained glass window of Devotion. Enamel paint on canvas on wood. Painted in honour of my wife, Sharon Bown, former RAAF Nursing Officer, it is currently hanging in my living room!

Above the stained-glass window of the Australian nurse in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial is the symbols of each state of Australia as found on our Coat of Arms.
The Pelican in its Piety above the symbols of the states of Australia sits above the image of Devotion in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial
Above that is the image of a pelican piercing its breast and feeding its young.
It may sound incongruous, but the symbology is quite striking for it depicts a symbol which shows piety – devotion – in the legend of the pelican.

It was said that the pelican, devoted to its young, would pierce its breast to allow the blood to feed its young. This pious act would nourish the weak chicks but would cost the life of the mother pelican.

Sister Fanny Hines from Victoria was the first woman to die on active service for Australia. During the 2nd Boer War, she was the only source of comfort for 26 wounded soldiers in Bulawayo, Rhodesia.

Left alone to tend to these wounded soldiers in the days before anesthesia or penicillin, she worked tirelessly until she herself contracted pneumonia and with no-one  to care for her, she worked until she died. Just as the pelican suffered to save her young, so did Fanny to save her patients with both dying.

Napier Waller. He lost an arm at the Battle of Bullecourt but learnt to write and draw with his left hand and went on to create the amazing mosaics and stained glass windows in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial.
Piety is another word for devotion. The artist of the stained-glass windows, Napier Waller, deliberately made each stained glass window a grey/blue theme. Devotion is the only window with a stark red colour – the cape of the nurse. He lost an arm at Bullecourt and for the better part of a year was cared for by nurses. His use of red is an homage to their devotion.

As we come to Anzac Day, there will be many female veterans marching amongst the thousands of men. They will wear their medals on their left breast signifying that they earnt them themselves in the service of their country. While the bulk of our soldiers, sailors and airmen may be male, we have thousands of sisters-in-arms in our ranks and who were formally in our ranks… and they all started with the nurses of the Boer War.

Lest we Forget.

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Monday, 9 April 2018

Hats off to the Herc - Lockheed C-130 Hercules

Every now and then, an aircraft design is so successful that it spans generations. The Douglas DC-3; the Bell UH-1 Iroquois; the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, the Boeing 737... the list goes on.

One of my favourites is the C-130 Hercules which entered Australian service in 1958 making the Royal Australian Air Force the second nation outside the United States to operate this marvelous aircraft. No 36 Squadron accepted the aircraft as a replacement for its DC-3s which must have been a quantum leap in capability back then.

Today, the RAAF operates the C-130J (J model) after having operated the A model, E model and H model.

Like many of my ADF colleagues, I have had the pleasure of being transported in a Herc and during my time as Official RAAF War Artist after my stint as a drone pilot with the RAAF, I wanted to do a tribute to the Herc crews.

Above is my pastel painting of a Herc crew called "C-130 into Tarin Kot" showing the pilot and co-pilot of a J model Herc passing the mountains as it does its resup run into this base in Afghanistan.

Below is a picture from the Australian War Memorial of an Aeromedical Evacuation out of South Vietnam in an A model back in the '60s with a RAAF AME nurse looking after wounded Australian soldiers as they RTA (Return to Australia).

Long live the Herc!

RAAF Aeromedical Evacuation Nurse on C-130A returning from South Vietnam (AWM MAL/66/004/01)

RAAF Hercules at RAAF Museum. C-130A in the foreground then an E Model, H Model and J Model in the rear. For more info go to


No 1 Squadron's F/A-18F.