Ode to Ben Quilty

There is so much thanks to bestow upon Australian Archibald prize winner & Official war artist Mr Ben Quilty.

A recent guest on ABC television show, Home Delivery with Julia Zemiro- Ben came across as a great artistic talent, intellect and humanitarian- wearing his heart on his sleeve, sensitivity ozzing from every pore.

My Mum commented post show, in one of our almost dayly phone catch ups that she felt ‘ He looked tired’. She attributed this tiredness to Ben’s friendship with Bali Nine prisoner, Myuran Sukumaran and the suffering he endured whilst campaigning to save his life, grief experienced upon his execution.

According to my Mum, the loss of his mate had ‘Aged him’. I agreed. I felt that Ben had as an artist, more importantly, as human being, had suffered deeply for his art, his beliefs, his values. His genuineness, personable nature & belief in the inherit goodness in other making him susceptible to highest of highs, the lowest of lows.

Ah Mr Quilty there is so much to thank you for. Not only do I say thank you for highlighting the injustices of the prison systems, the redemptive quality of the Arts, shining a light on the suffering endured by military personal, physical & mental, and of the importance for positive role models for young people, especially young men.

But what I want to thank you for is for shining the spotlight on a book I believe every person that calls Australia home should read. The Secret River, by Kate Grenville. Well into my eighth year of employment at the University of Sydney, and this book had sat in abundance in my office since I could remember.

Hundreds & hundreds of copies, the official book gifted to all first year University students. The concept had failed to take off, hence an over supply of the novel, countless copies strewn in every corner of our student resource library. I had often glanced at the book, but it bleak front cover of misty grays and murky whites did not excite me.

But by chance a friend and I attended a literary event in Marrickville in late 2014. Arriving early, or so we thought, we headed to the pub for a quick snack pre show. We arrived back at the venue to be told we had nearly missed the entire event- only one panelist remained- Mr Quilty.

The panel was reciting a letter to a person they wanted to thank. Someone who had challenged their thoughts & ideals, or shaped heir childhood, directing and guiding them. Mr Quilty was thanking Kate Grenville for writing the award winning novel’ The Secret River’ …..my ears pricked up, time stood still..I was finally ready to listen to each & every word about this book-

” Thank you Kate Grenville for writing a version of White Australian history never before documented in a way that induced tears, shame and rage. A true account of white settlement. Thank you for not shying away from the blood shed, brutality, disease inflicted upon the indigenous people & decimation of their culture at the hands of the Imperialist. This is the story that is not accounted for in our school systems- glossed over, as if this land and it people, it’s stories are but 200 years old. Thank you Kate Grenville for giving a voice to our countries dark past, to a culture & a people, with stories & traditions some 40,000 years old”

I left the Marrickville Theatre knowing what I had to do. The next day at work, I scooped up 3 copies of ‘ The Secret River’, blowing dust of the covers as I placed the books into my bag. My secret treasure- I was finally enlightened & ready to delve into this novel.

My holiday reading had been decided- and I devoured the book in two days. It was a hard read, a book my Mum told me, she had not been able to complete due to the graphic description of the fate dealt to this countries first people.

But I share Mr Quitly’s opinion…and wish the University of Sydney’s vision that this book be a MUST read to all undergrads had been successful. The Secret River, provides a version of white settlement that deserves a platform. A big platform, all school syllabus’s a small step in the right direction.

That you Ben Quilty for your insistence I read this book. You are a visionary and agent for change on so many levels. You suffer for your art and I hope my thanks helps to make it just that tiny bit worth it.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fangs Mama
    May 29, 2016 @ 22:48:13

    I had not even heard of this book, but I will put it on my reading list. And I’ll try to catch the iView version of Ben’s interview with Julia. Thanks for the tips Missus.


  2. Catch Up With A Mate
    May 29, 2016 @ 23:19:13

    Suz, it is a confronting read. But a necessary one. Xx


  3. Sandra Boyle
    May 30, 2016 @ 04:09:09

    A fitting tribute to Ben Quilty and Kate Grenville. Thank you. xx


  4. Steve Boyle
    May 31, 2016 @ 01:41:41

    One of your best entries


  5. Catch Up With A Mate
    Aug 29, 2017 @ 00:08:53

    Reblogged this on Catch Up With A Mate and commented:

    Last night on the ABC 7.30 report, the story of an art teacher, whose engaging teaching style is shaping young lives. Her presence and influence capturing the attention of one of our countries most civic minded artists – Mr Ben Quilty.

    A perfect post to round out a month of recyled blog entries.



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