Donald Stuart Leslie Friend (1915-1989), the son of a grazier, was born in Sydney. He grew up on properties in northern New South Wales and was educated at Tudor House, Bowral, Cranbrook School and Sydney Grammar School. He began art classes at school and produced his first etching when he was 15. He worked briefly on the land and then spent a year in Torres Strait, working on luggers. In 1936 he went to London and studied at the Westminster Art School. His first personal exhibition of drawings was held in London in 1938. He then spent two years in Nigeria, where he lived with the Ogoga (ruler) in Ikerre.

In 1940 Friend returned to Sydney and began exhibiting with the Contemporary Art Society and the Sydney Society of Artists. In 1942 he enlisted with the AIF as a gunner and spent some time in northern Queensland. In 1945 he was appointed an official war artist, attached to the RAAF, and travelled to New Guinea, Labuan and Borneo. After the War he continued to lead an itinerant life. In 1946 he lived with other artists at ‘Merioola’, a colonial mansion in Sydney, then returned to northern Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands. In 1947 he bought a cottage at Hill End, the old goldmining town, and often painted there with Russell Drysdale. In 1949-50 and 1952-53 he lived in Britain and Italy, while in 1955-56 he worked alternately at Hill End and Sydney. In 1955 he won the Blake Prize for his painting ‘St John the Divine and Scenes from the Apocalypse’. In 1957 he settled in Sri Lanka, but returned to Australia in 1962. In 1967 he made his first visit to Bali, where he mainly lived from 1968 onwards. He became a legendary figure, residing like a feudal lord at his home at Sanur, with his gardeners, houseboys and antique collection, frequently visited by tourists and heads of government. However, his health slowly declined and in 1979 he returned permanently to Australia. His last years were spent in Sydney. In this period he produced a series of illustrated manuscripts, some of which were published, and he continued to paint and draw almost to the end.

In the 1940s Friend was linked with William Dobell and Russell Drysdale as one of the leading figures in modern Australian art. In later years his reputation declined and his hedonistic lifestyle, as well as sexual relationships with minors, received more attention than his art. When he died in 1989 some art critics saw him simply as a superb draughtsman and decorator, while others dwelt on his multiple talents. The curator Barry Pearce wrote of Friend’s ‘ability to turn his hand to almost anything, to decorate a box, make a piece of sculpture, illustrate books, a brilliant writer – in a way this lack of focus for his talents probably made it hard for people to come to grips with him’. These talents are especially evident in the manuscripts and diaries held in the National Library.


In 1978 the Library purchased from the Melbourne dealer Joseph Brown the manuscript of Birds from the Magic Mountain. The other three illustrated manuscripts of Donald Friend were acquired from Friend in 1983. In 1984 Friend began to donate his diaries to the Library under the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme and by the time of his death 34 volumes (1930-59) had been acquired. The remaining ten diaries and two notebooks were purchased from Friend’s executor in 1992. A manuscript on Balinese bronzes was bought from Peter Krantz of Sydney in 1994. The papers of Richard Griffin were acquired in 1991.


Manuscripts and Personal Papers

(i) The Diaries of Donald Friend

The Library holds 44 diaries of Donald Friend. Two of the diaries were written in 1930-31, when he was an adolescent. The series resumes in June 1942. There is a gap in the sequence between January 1968 and October 1969, as the diary for that period is held in the National Gallery of Australia. With that exception, there are no significant gaps in the period 1942-87. Two volumes contain a few entries for 1988, by which time Friend was in very poor health. It is not known whether Friend kept diaries between 1932 and 1942. The only other diaries known to exist are a 1929 diary held in the State Library of Queensland and the 1968-69 diary in the National Gallery of Australia.

The diaries vary considerably in size, shape and volume. The wartime diaries were written in slim, soft cover exercise books and each one usually covers only two or three months. After 1945 they were written in larger leather bound or cloth bound volumes and each one covers about two or three years. There are also changes in content. The entries are always detailed and often lengthy, but the early volumes contain few or no illustrations or inserts. The later volumes are profusely illustrated and many of them have letters, newspaper cuttings, photographs and printed items inserted. The letters were usually written by notable figures in the art world, such as Russell Drysdale, Robert Hughes, Lou Klepac and Jeffrey Smart.

The diaries of Donald Friend are without parallel in Australia. Right from the beginning, Friend wrote with flair. He was widely read, in many different genres, and he was a self-conscious stylist who could move easily from description to reflection, evocation, satire, gossip, ribaldry and fantasy. He had a strong sense of place, whether it was Hill End, Thursday Island, London, Italy or Bali. He wrote wittily, sardonically and sometimes affectionately about hundreds of people – artists, art dealers, gallery curators, collectors, companions, lovers – and he wrote passionately about his own desires, fears and tribulations. Anne Gray wrote that ‘most of all he provided an image of a charming, melancholic, anarchistic and dazzling individual’.

The diaries contain elements of the commonplace book and the artist’s journal. Nearly all of them are illustrated. Most of the drawings in the early volumes were quickly executed black and white sketches. In the later, larger volumes, there were fewer drawings, but they were more finished and he made more use of crayon, coloured ink and watercolour. The drawings range from portraits, self-portraits and figure studies to caricatures, satires, humorous and ribald subjects, still lifes and landscapes. The 1982-87 diary (no. 46), bound in full leather and stamped in gold, is an outstanding example of Friend’s art, with its portraits of artists and its landscapes and townscapes.

(ii) Manuscripts

The Library holds four of Friend’s manuscript books: Bumbooziana (1975), Birds from the Magic Mountain (1977), The Story of Jonah (1979) and Ayam Kesayangan III – the Prodigal Son’s Return (1980-82). The first two were published by Gryphon Press. They are all spectacular works, characterized by their elaborate and often erotic drawings, their humour, and their anarchic narratives.

Friend wrote several manuscripts on Balinese bronzes. The volume held in the Library, loosely bound in boards covered with Batik cloth, is a catalogue of some of the Balinese and Javanese bronzes that he collected in 1970-71. It is not an item of beauty, as many of the entries had been written quickly on scraps of paper and later pasted onto sheets. Each entry is accompanied by either a small photograph or a sketch. The longer entries discuss the artistic styles and influences that Friend discerned in the bronzes and the history and myths represented in the imagery. There are sometimes references to the provenance and touches of humour when Friend noted that he had been duped by a forger.

There are two notebooks kept by Friend in Nigeria in 1939.

  1. Letters of Donald Friend

The main collection of letters of Friend were written to Donald Murray (MS 8209). He met Murray when they were both art students in Sydney in the early 1930s and in 1947 they became the joint owners of the cottage at Hill End. There are about 80 letters written from Sydney, Albury, Brisbane, Cairns, London, Florence, Portofino, Ikerre and Singapore. The letters (photocopies) are mostly undated, and some are incomplete, but they seem to date from approximately 1938-50.

(iv) Papers of Richard Griffin

The seven albums of Richard Griffin (1937-1991), the Sydney bookseller, publisher and owner of Gryphon Press, are a major source on the later years of Donald Friend. One album is a bibliography of books published by Griffin in 1977-84, including eight works written and illustrated by Friend. The album contains prospectuses of the books, numerous reviews and newspaper articles about Friend, photographs, prints, and sketches by Friend, and writings by Griffin about his association with Friend. Three of the other albums also contain photographs, newspaper cuttings and prospectuses.

Oral history

The Library holds four oral history interviews with Donald Friend:

TRC 1/6 Interview with Hazel de Berg, 1963 (1 reel)

TRC 132 Interview with Ken Henderson, 1970 (1 cassette)

TRC 1793 Interview with Barbara Blackman, 1984 (3 cassettes)

TRC 5182 Interviews with Lou Klepac, 1980-84 (15 cassettes)


The Library holds one painting by Friend, a photomontage with oil, created as a hoax to illustrate an article written by Friend in 1940 on Australian primitive colonial art. It is entitled Early Australian primitive: boy with a poodle by Michael Collins (PIC/4038).


  1. Writings of Donald Friend

An alphabet of owls et cetera, 1981

Art in a classless society & viceversa, 1985

Birds from the Magic Mountain, 1977

A collection of Hillendiana, 1956

The diaries of Donald Friend, edited by Anne Gray and Paul Hetherington, 4 vols, 2001-6

Donald Friend in Bali, 1972

The farce of Sodom: by the Right Honourable Earl of Rochester, 1980

Gunner’s diary, 1943

Painter’s journal, 1946

Sundry notes & papers: being the recently discovered notes and documents of the Natural & Instinctive Bestiality Research Expedition, collected and collated under the title Bumbooziana, 1979

(ii) Biographies and studies of Friend

Friend, Gwen, My brother Donald: a memoir of Australian artist Donald Friend, 1994

Fry, Gavin and Colleen Fry, Donald Friend, Australian war artist 1945, 1982

Hughes, Robert, Donald Friend, 1965

Klepac, Lou, The genius of Donald Friend: drawings from the diaries 1942-1989, 2000

Pearce, Barry, ed., Donald Friend, 1915-1989: retrospective, 1990


The diaries and manuscripts of Donald Friend are housed in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 5959. A finding-aid is available online at The diaries have been microfilmed in colour and the reels are housed in the Newspaper and Microform Collection at G 28169-75. Selections from the diaries have been published by the Library in four volumes edited by Anne Gray (vol. 1) and Paul Hetherington (vols. 2-4). The letters to Donald Murray (MS 8209) and the albums of Richard Griffin (MS 8302) are also held in the Manuscripts Collection.

The oral history interviews are held in the Oral History Collection. The interviews with Barbara Blackman, Hazel de Berg and Ken Henderson have been transcribed. The painting by Friend is held in the Pictures Collection (PIC/4038) and the books are located in the Australian Collection.

Related collections

The State Library of Queensland and the National Gallery of Australia each hold a diary of Friend. Illustrated manuscripts by Friend are held in the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland, the Mitchell Library (State Library of New South Wales) and various private collections.


Hefner, Robert, An inventive magic: Donald Friend and his diaries, National Library of Australia News, vol. 11 (8), May 2001, pp 17-20

Hetherington, Paul, Artist as writer: the Donald Friend diaries as literature, Conversations, vol. 2 (1), June 2001, pp. 44-66

Heyward, Michael, The diaries of Donald Friend, Voices, vol. 4 (1), autumn 1994, pp. 5-21

Pearce, Barry, Donald Friend, Art and Australia, vol. 27 (3), autumn 1990, pp. 408-13

Pearce, Barry, ed., Donald Friend, 1915-1989: retrospective, Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1990