Heide Museum of Modern Art curators Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan discuss Modern Love, an intimate biography of the unconventional marriage of Heide founders John and Sunday Reed. The book also explores the Reeds' relationships with some of Australia's most celebrated artists and writers, including Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. Modern Love reveals the full story of the lives and art of Heide.
Audio transcript for Modern Love: The Lives of John and Sunday Reed
Speakers: Kylie Scroope (K), Kendrah Morgan (M), Lesley Harding (L)
Location: National Library of Australia
K: Welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Kylie Scroope and I’m the Curator of Manuscripts here at the Library. As we begin this evening I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we are now privileged to call home. I’m delighted you’ve joined us today to hear authors Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan discuss their most recent book Modern Love: The Lives of John and Sunday Reed. Lesley and Kendrah are curators at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, where they have long been immersed in the legacy of Heide’s founders, John and Sunday Reed. Together they’ve previously written about the Reeds in Sunday’s Kitchen and Sunday’s Garden which discussed in turn food and the landscape at Heide.
In their new book, Modern Love, they delve more intimately into the Reeds and their marriage, presenting a biography that intertwines with the lives of some of Australia’s most celebrated artists. Many of you, I'm sure, already know some of the story of Heide and the Reeds. They purchased the 15 acre property just outside Melbourne in 1934 not long after their marriage. They opened their home and hearts to an artistic circle, fostering an intellectual and creative environment often regarded as the birthplace of Australian modernism. Supporting this, of course, is the dynamic and unorthodox relationship of the Reeds themselves. This story from their formative years through to their deaths in 1981 just 10 days apart is the focus of modern love. Meticulously researched the book draws on the vast amount of literature that already exists surrounding the Reeds and on a remarkable range of primary sources that reveal the full story of John and Sunday’s lives. Please join me in welcoming Lesley and Kendrah.
M: Thanks, Kylie, and thanks everyone for coming tonight, it’s lovely to see you all here, it’s a very great welcome to Canberra. I’m Kendrah, that’s Lesley. We thought what we’d do tonight is we do have a PowerPoint with a slide show with images that we’ll roll through as we’re talking but we’re not going to talk to the PowerPoint, we’ll kind of just let you enjoy it. And the photographs are from the book itself so hopefully you’ll get to read it and you’ll see a bit more about the people in the PowerPoint in depth when you look at the book.
Anyway as Kylie mentioned we’ve both been curators at Heide for a very long time, me for 12 years, Lesley for 10 years. And as well as our exhibition work, about five or six years ago we began to write books about the social history of Heide and the first one, Sunday’s Kitchen, was really based on the fact that in the Heidi collection we have this amazing recipe book of Sunday Reed’s. And Sunday had a real garden to table ethos which has kind of currency today and she fed all the artists who came and gathered at Heide and nurtured them and we thought it would be a great thing to build a story around that which we did. And then the second book, Sunday’s Garden, was more about the development of the property at Heide. We weren’t ... we’re not gardeners so it was quite a challenge writing that book but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Really Heide was transferred from a very neglected former dairy farm when the Reeds bought it in 1934 to a very verdant parkland and sculpture park which it is today.
And anyway as we worked on these two books we met a lot of people who either knew the Reeds or knew their adopted son, Sweeney, and what we discovered was that other than food and gardening we always knew there was a lot more to tell about the story of Heide but really people began to tell us anecdotes and aspects of their interactions with the Reeds that weren’t on the public record. And not only that but as we went through the various primary sources including the voluminous Reed papers which consist of about 100 boxes of documents and each box has a set of about 20 files and each file has a set of about 20 to 30 documents in it, whether it’s letters or what have you, as we went through these we also began to find other pieces of this jigsaw of John and Sunday’s life that really we realised needed to be put fully into place.
And so we started this file that we very wryly dubbed ‘Sunday’s Secrets’ and we thought oh this is going to be the final word and the final book in the trilogy and as we gathered more and more information what we truly realised is that the truth is often stranger than fiction and the story of the Reeds’ lives was a really extraordinary one, it was an extraordinary partnership and the incredible central and catalystic role they played in the ... in terms of sending many famous Australian artists ... just to say Sydney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker, John Percival to toss a few names off the list ... they really sent these artists on a trajectory into their future careers and into becoming household names in Australian art.
So anyway we were commissioned by Melbourne University Press to write this book having pitched the idea of writing a third book in the trilogy which we kind of wanted to focus on the art but ended up being a biography so a very new genre for us. And what we thought we would do tonight is really talk to you about the first part of the Reeds’ lives because we’d love you to read the book and find out about the later parts so we’d like to give you a bit of a kind of ... an entrée into some of their early years, how their starts to life influenced their later interactions with very important artists in the history of Australian art and really what set them on the pathway to becoming the founders of Heide, the museum as we know it today.
So I’ll talk first a little bit about John’s back ... family background and then about Sunday’s and then I’m going to hand you to Lesley and we do a little bit of a tag team thing so to start with John Reed .. some of you will know probably a little bit about him... he came from a very affluent grazier family from northern Tasmania, he was born in ... just outside Launceston on a family property called Logan at Evandale. And he .. his grandfather, Henry Reed, was one of the founding pioneers of Tasmania, he was a very dynamic figure. He was actually the son of a Yorkshire postmaster and he came out to Van Diemen’s Land when he was about 21 in 1827. He landed in Hobart, he was ready to kind of seek his fortune in the colonies and he walked all the way to Launceston because he didn’t have enough money for a horse and he got a job in a mercantile business and eventually kind of worked his way up to having his own business having got a free land grant from the Lieutenant Governor of the time.
He started a series of whaling and sealing and trading ventures and began steadily to make quite a lot of money and ended up financing John Batman into the settlement of Port Philip in 1834, 1835. And at that time interestingly Henry Reed, John’s grandfather, claimed ... he was a very devout Wesleyan ... that he had given the very first sermon to be delivered in Melbourne to John Batman and his brother and to three indigenous men and then he took a ... went on a journey up the Yarra River with some of the indigenous men probably with their conversion in mind but interestingly he passed by the very site that Heide is developed on today so there’s a kind of nice synergy there.
And then Henry Reed spent a lot of time coming to and backward ... between England and Tasmania through the rest of the middle of the 1800s and he married twice and had ... he was very prodigious, had a lot of children, 11 or so with the first wife and five with the second and his very youngest son from the second marriage, Henry Junior, was John’s father. And Henry Junior ended up being the inheritor of Henry Senior’s estate when Henry Senior died in Tasmania in 1880 and there was an older son from the second marriage called Walter who probably should have inherited the estate but we discovered he was the black sheep of the family. He fell in love with a girl of convict stock who was well beneath his station and he died under very mysterious circumstances in a brothel in London. And John Reed’s nephew, Kenneth Von Bibra, told us that he always hoped that Walter died coming out of the brothel and not going into it.
Anyway Henry inherited this estate when he was just a boy, he was only about 10, I think and he ... his mother really wasn’t that keen for him to have a life on the land so she packed him up with some of his siblings and took him back to England where he studied medicine at Cambridge and he was going to be a missionary doctor when in the late ... early 1990 ... 1890 he’s discovered that the fam ... the matters of the family estate were in complete disarray, the trustees had been handling it badly and he was called back to Tasmania to run it. And so whether he liked it or not he had to follow this life on the land and he married his very beautiful Scottish girlfriend, I guess you could call her, Lilah Dennison, John’s mother in 1895 and brought her back to Tasmania where they settled predominantly at the ... well they kind of moved between three properties, Logan, a beautiful property called Wesleydale and another property called Mt Pleasant which is now owned by a Belgian champagne maker and is still in existence with a beautiful Victorian mansion of it. There’s probably a picture of it ... has gone past.
And here John spent the early years of his childhood with his own four siblings. He had this wavy mane of his hair and his brothers and sisters called him Paderewski after the Polish ... a Polish prime minister of the era who was an amazing concert pianist and had the same kind of dark wavy locks. But when John was only eight his parents, as did many parents of the upper social echelons at the time, sent him off to boarding school in England with his four older siblings. They were meant to sail on a Blue Line boat called the Waratah and luckily they didn’t go on that boat, they changed their tickets at the last minute because at first John was considered too young to go and then it was decided he should go with the older children and the Waratah was sunk on the journey and no trace of any of the passengers were ever found. But sadly he didn’t see his parents more than once or twice in five years, neither ... and you know the children were just there, they were looked after by various aunts and uncles and John and his brother ... older brother, Dick, suffered quite terribly, they went first to Pinewood School near Farnborough and then they went Cheltenham where Patrick White also attended a few years later.
And they suffered bullying because they had Australian accents and wore different clothes and so forth and John developed to be ... quite a lot of sporting prowess because he found that was the way to kind of get through and earn the respect of the other boys. And they came back to Australia with the outbreak of world war one and of course the little quartet that had sought you know gone off five years before were quite independent, they hadn’t had any parental authority in their lives when they left and they were all quite rebellious at that stage when they came back as adolescents. So the parents’ answer was ... Li ... Henry and Lilah packed them off again to boarding school and they went to ... the girls went to the Hermitage and the boys went to Geelong Grammar. And John kind of suffered all this difficulty all over again because now he had an English accent ... yes ... and now he wore ... and of course he wore English attire so it was kind of reverse bullying when he got to Geelong Grammar.
Anyhow he made a few interesting friends, one of them being Warwick Fairfax of the newspaper family and another being Alan McNeil who was from Brisco’s Hardware Merchants and when he left Geelong he ... a nice anecdote about when he returned to Tasmania just briefly before he went to Cambridge to his father’s alma mater to study law and that was because his parents had a phrenologist examine the shape of his head and he was ... they were told that his head shape was clearly suited to the law. He ... there was a great anecdote from that time around 1920 when the Prince of Wales was about to ... was visiting Australia to give thanks for services in the great war and the Prince of Wales came to Tasmania and was meant to be put up by John Reed’s family in Mt Pleasant and John Reed’s father, Henry, discovered that a number of Labor politicians ... ‘cause there was a Labor government at the time ... would be accompanying the royal party and as he was very right wing he couldn't countenance the idea of having these Labor politicians in his house and he cancelled the Prince’s visit much to the servants’ horror and Lilah’s horror and she was very delighted when she met the Prince at a function in Launceston a little bit later on that year and he said I’m really sorry you couldn’t have me, the hotel wasn’t much here and Lilah had a little bit of compensation.
Anyway George ... I mean John went off to study law at Cambridge and here really he came into his own. He attended Cambridge in the years when most of the male members of the Bloomsbury group were there, promoting this kind of air of intellectual aristocracy and free love, he began to attend lectures by Labour politicians and possibly high teas by the you know the Socialist Club and so forth. And he also interestingly befriended Harold Abrahams who was in ... the Olympic sprint champion who was commemorated in the movie, Chariots of Fire. So he had a fantastic time at Cambridge and it was really with great difficulty that after a lot of travelling in Europe and through South America on his way home that he returned to Melbourne with a bit of a heavy heart because he knew that his father would him to be a lawyer and really he desired at that point in his life when he was 24 to really take up a life on the land and work on the Reed family properties in northern Tasmania. But it was not to be and his father found him a position at the law firm, Blake and Wriggle, in Melbourne, one of Australia’s biggest law firms at the time. And it was at that point that he began to meet a very interesting group of people who Lesley will talk more about in a minute who really introduced him to modern art and began to open his horizons even further.
And to return now to Sunday and tell you a little about her early life before I hand you over to Lesley so Sunday was from Melbourne’s Baillieu family and her family background was fascinating as well. Her paternal grandfather, James George Baillieu, came out to Australia about 20 years after Henry senior, Henry Reed senior and he ... her distant relatives were actually lace-makers and mercers from Liege in present day Belgium but they came over to the United Kingdom and ... in the 1790s and her direct ancestors were in fact professional dancers and had a kind of variety of dance schools in Bristol. But the James George who was her paternal grandfather, his father was a dancing master but he had 13 children and lived in Wales and I think that to really alleviate the financial pressures on the family James George went to sea and he arrived in Australia in 1853 and he actually jumped ship in Portsea where the ship went into quarantine on the Mornington Peninsula because the captain was quite rough and used to knock the sailors about. And he tried twice to desert and was successful on the second attempt and he actually had to kind of float and swim on the ebb tide several kilometres over to the other side of the bay to Queenscliff and managed to escape detection supposedly hiding out in a cave.
And he very soon found a job working as an oarsman for the medical officer who went out ... rode out to meet the ships who were coming into quarantine and on one of the incoming ships he met Sunday’s grandmother, Emma, who was apparently a great beauty and arrived on a ship full of women called the Australia and apparently all the men at Queenscliff were wildly excited by the arrival of all these girls. And they were very young, Emma was only about 15 or 16 when they married but they gave their ages as 21 and 22 to circumvent the need for parental consent. And they lived on the beach at Port Lonsdale and James George became the assistant lighthouse keeper there and then in the 1880s he made a very astute business decision and borrowed some money off Edward Latham who was a brewery founder to build what is now known as the Ozone Hotel which was very successful and had an elite clientele and that really set the family’s business fortunes in motion.
And they had many children to James and Emma, 13 in total. Arthur, Sunday’s father, was about number seven but one of the older sons, W.L. (William Lawrence) Baillieu was the kind of business genius of the family and began to get into stockbroking and real estate and so forth and quite a few of the brothers including Sunday’s father worked with him and for him and that’s when the Baillieu fortunes began to really rise. So by the time Sunday was born in 1905 her father was very wealthy and had married Ethel Hamm from Ballarat, Sunday’s mother, and Sunday led a very privilege and quite cosseted family background. She didn’t actually ... she was home-schooled, she learnt French from a governess and earned an appreciation of art from her mother who was an amateur painter. But she didn’t actually go to school ‘til she was about 16 or so and she kind of ... she went to St Catherine’s which was a new school in Toorak at that point and kind of went through finishing school if you like.
And then Sunday had a bit of a capricious nature and by the time she was a teenager it was beginning to display itself quite significantly. She had a bit of a daredevil friend called Valerie Mule who later became Valerie Fairfax and the two girls had a few escapades together and particularly down at Sorrento where Sunday’s family had a holiday house. And then we know ... what we discovered during the research for the book using in particular Trove which is the National Library’s amazing online resource of digital newspapers, was that Sunday met in 1923 a young Irish American lad called Leonard Quinn who was going to significantly change her life and we discovered this through the social pages on Trove and managed to kind of track down how they came together. So now I’m going to get Lesley to take up the story and tell you all about Sunday’s husband who was the dastardly Leonard Quinn.
L: Kendrah’s been using this word, dastardly. He really is the villain of the peace or certainly in the early part of the story. I have to at this point say it was not only Trove where we discovered much about Leonard Quinn but my dear father who has been doing a little bit of genealogy and his access to lots of passenger lists and things and loves a little bit of detailed research managed to track down the time that Leonard Quinn came out to Australia and also to check out his original birthplace and date which has hitherto been inaccurately portrayed in previous books. So it turns out that he was actually a couple years older than Sunday but was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and he emigrated with his family to England in ... oh when he was about seven years of age. And in fact his father was a ... of all things a shoe dressings manufacturer so made polishes and waxes and that kind of thing in Northampton and you know he was a sort of average middle class lad but he clearly came over to Australia with his father on business when he was about 18.
And they arrived first in Sydney and it seems that probably at that point his father went back to England and he decided to stay on but the thing about Leonard Quinn was that he really wasn’t very interested in working so he quickly made his way down to Melbourne and ingratiated himself on the Toorak set. He was an excellent dancer, won many dancing competitions so of cour ... and he was a dash ... he was really dashing, he was very handsome and so the local girls really quite ... were taken by him so he had lots of charm and charisma. And we do know through Trove through those digitised newspapers that he came to Sunday’s coming–out dance which was you know very important and significant moment because very shortly thereafter the family were onto the relationship and they whisked Sunday away over to London for a year where she was to be presented at court.
And of course they were hoping beyond hope that she would meet some other eligible man over there that she might marry because she was clearly smitten with this fellow. They must have had some sort of correspondence, there are no extant letters however we do know a little bit about Leonard Quinn’s misdemeanours during that time because he pops up in the newspaper again in New Zealand where he wasn’t doing anything gainful. He’d said that he wanted to be a journalist but in fact just managed to get himself into trouble with the law by speeding of all things in New Zealand which would have been quite a hard thing ... no mean feat I suspect in that day.
K: I'm a Kiwi,s so I know. 1920, no cars.
L: But there’s really not much choice of what happened to Leonard Quinn because of course if you’re not appearing in the paper in the social columns you know it’s very hard to track you down. But we do know that by the time Sunday come back and in fact within a very short space of time they had resumed their long-distance relationship and unfortunately Sunday’s brother had died really unexpectedly, was only 25. He died of pneumonia or so suspected and Sunday decided at that point that she would run away to Sydney briefly with her friend, Valerie Mule, that Kendrah has already mentioned and it’s likely that the two of them rendezvoused in Sydney. By this stage we think that Leonard Quinn’s brother, Paul, was living in Sydney and so that may have been a convenient meeting up place and certainly within three months of that time Sunday had announced ... Sunday and Quinn had announced their engagement. The family were none too pleased of course and of cour ... and subsequently instead of having a wonderful society wedding as might be expected from a Baillieu daughter, they got married at a seaside Catholic church down at Sorrento. Only the family were in attendance and Valerie was there as well but there were no ... there was no kind of formal bridal party at all and the bride’s father and the groom’s mother both signed the wedding certificate, the marriage certificate.
And then they quickly ran away to ... on a motoring trip and stayed in Sydney for a year before heading over to the UK I suppose to be reunited with Leonard’s family and friends but also because Leonard had seen ... said run up a whole series of gambling debts in Sydney during that time and he was running away from them. So the Baillieus not ... after a certain period of time and not really hearing very much from Sunday decided to take their own and get another extended holiday in the UK and really just check up on her. And of course by this stage Sunday’s elder brother, Darren, was studying at Cambridge so there was a double excuse and similarly Ethel’s widowed sister was over there as well so it was a great opportunity for Arthur to resume some of his hospital work, he was by this stage on the board of the Melbourne Hospital and do some investigation and research for them but also really to check up on Sunday and make sure she was okay.
At a certain point in this trip Sunday and Leonard after meeting up with the Baillieus found themselves in Paris and there were a couple of interesting episodes which I’ll leave in the book and not recount now but sort of leading up to this but she was struck down unfortunately with an acute case of gonorrhoea which had been transferred of course by her promiscuous husband and she found herself in a Paris hospital having an emergency hysterectomy. And sadly at this time we found out from Mirka Mora in a recent interview, she was pregnant at the time. So Sunday had a really disastrous first marriage, it only went for a short period of time, really relatively and whilst the family came over and rescued her from London and she went back there for a few months for a couple of Baillieu family weddings in the intervening period she found her you know they all made their way back to Melbourne and I guess they wanted to put this episode behind her. Arthur had already set divorce proceedings in place.
It was during this real ... this initial period that Sunday was back that she met John Reed at a tennis party and it’s likely that John’s sister, Cynthia, was actually the connection, his youngest sister. Cynthia by this stage was working in Melbourne with a very avant garde furniture designer who you Canberrans will all know, Fred Ward. He had an interior design shop in Collins Street and it’s interesting that in fact the Reeds were probably more ... much more wealthy than the Baillieus, they kind of owned you know great swathe of northern Tasmania by this stage however Henry Reed had decided that all of the children including the girls would go and find their own work and make their own way in the world. So one of the sisters went over to Cambridge to study medicine and Cynthia had a number of careers but one of which was working as an interior designer. But she really was the introduction for John just a smidgeon before this too to a really fascinating group of intellectuals, artistic types so artists, journalists, writers and so forth and it was this milieu that really became foundational for John and Sunday and sort of set them on the path to their abiding interest in modern art.
Now Cynthia’s a really interesting character in our story and in fact it’d be wonderful if someone decided to write a biography of her one day because she had a fascinating life. She left Melbourne not long thereafter to pursue acting and she went off to Sydney and then went off to America to change career again and become a nurse but she was really the catalyst, not only for their introduction but their ... their own introduction but their introduction to this really quite avant garde group of Melbourne artists and the like. And the most important of those introductions of course was to a fellow called Sam Atyeo and he was a ... a bit of an enfant terribles, he had managed to get himself expelled from the National Gallery School in Melbourne for painting a rather controversial picture for the travelling scholarship prize which was ... which depicted the director of the school, Bernard Hall, in a night shirt as Lot flanked by his daughters which were naked students. So of course this naughty picture couldn’t be hung in the travelling scholarship exhibition and Cynthia decided to hang it in the Collins Street ... the Fred Ward Collins Street window where it managed to attract quite a lot of attention and publicity.
So Sam came to John and Sunday with a bit of reputation but they were really beguiled by this fellow, he was a real polymath, he was an architect, he was an interior designer, he was an industrial designer in that he made and designed furniture but he also had this fantastic eye for new painting and in fact probably painted what is regarded as the first truly abstract picture that Melbourne had seen which is in the collection up here in the National Gallery called ‘Organised Line to Yellow.’ Although it’s not currently up in the collection here because we’ve got it on display at Heide for an exhibition that’s accompanying our book. And the relationship with Sam very quickly developed into something much more intimate and in fact it became John and Sunday’s first experiment with an alternative type of relationship which was very early in their marriage, mind you, they only got married in 1932, and that’s the ménage a trois.
So Sam was a working class lad from Coburg which if anyone of you know Melbourne at all it’s right ... his address was right between the Coburg Cemetery and the Pentridge Prison so it was an insalubrious neighbourhood to say the least but he found himself spending more time at John and Sunday’s maisonette in the South Yarra that he did at home by this stage and he had a studio in the city. But it was their first ... I guess their first encounter of ... in terms of being very close to the making of art and this was something that really set up the way that they would frame and establish their relationships with artists much later on.
Sunday for a brief period studied at the George Bell School and was encouraged by Sam and his girlfriend, Moya Dyring, to do so but she had decided that she was insufficiently talented so gave it away fairly quickly but I guess that gave her a grounding in art which was really important so kind of like a ... it’s a critical sort of unspoken part of the tacit contract that she and John ended up having with artists, that she could really talk their language in a sense and really spot talent. But they were also both ... the pair of them were really widely read as well and they subscribed to lots of international journals and the Heide Library became quite notorious amongst that group of people. And someone like you know Albert Tucker whom they met later would often find himself you know reading his head off in the library and the absconding from the otherwise necessary work to help out in the garden which seemed to be another tacit contract that the Reeds had with people who visited there. So I might hand back to Kendrah now to talk a little bit about the ‘30s influx.
L: There really ... I guess I ... before I do I should just say that there are a number of waves of artists that we talk about at Heide and the most of famous of which are the 1940s group so Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Sydney Nolan, John Percival, Arthur Boyd, that group of artists who we call ... generally call the angry penguins. But there was that earlier wave which was Sam Atyeo, Moya Dyring and their colleagues and you know people like Fred Ward and the psychiatrist, Reg Ellery. And then later on there were another couple of waves of artists, Mirka Mora, Charles Blakeley etc in the 1950s and then by the ‘60s John had a different career, working as a Director of the Museum of Modern Art and Design of Australia and there was a new wa ... you know they were always ... always ... I guess that’s the point ... they were always interested in the new, the contemporary, the avant garde progressive in terms of art so the successive waves sort of moved not only through the Reeds’ lives but also through Heide which they purchased in 1934.
M: So what will ... I’ll pick up the story here and talk a little bit about the 1930s and we’ll lead you into the 1940s and then we might ask some questions ‘cause I know that we’ve been asked to talk for about half an hour, 40 minutes and we’re already getting to that point. As you can tell our heads are still full of this story and we’ve ... it always seems to just kind of come out whenever we start talking so we go into probably too much detail than we should. But picking up where Lesley left off, in 1934 Sam Atyeo was actually with the Reeds when they found and ... then they discovered and purchased Heide so they were ... Heide, as I’m sure many of you know, is in outer Melbourne and when ... back in 1934 it was quite rural near the suburb of Heidelberg, on the outskirts of Heidelberg.
And they were driving back from a meeting in Templestowe and they saw a small crowd gathered for an auction outside the Heide farmhouse and they just stopped the car and opportunistically ... they had been looking for a property, John and Sunday and we think that Arthur, Sunday’s father, had in fact offered to buy them their first property as a wedding present but they hadn’t found the right place yet ... and so John bid on this auction and Sam Attio reported this in a letter much later and voila, he said you know Heide was theirs for a thousand pounds which was about three years of John’s salary at the time so quite bargain. And soon afterwards they acquired a second allotment of land next door so all in all the property they acquired is 15 acres in total. And they lived in that old farmhouse for ... goodness, the first 30 years that they ... from 1934 until the mid-1960s when they build a second modernist residence on the property and both are still in existence today.
Anyway the other thing about Sam Atyeo which is interesting is that you know he was really Sunday’s lover, John wasn’t involved with him in a sexual sense but John became the lover of Sam’s own girlfriend, Moya Dyring, and when Lesley and I set out to write this book we actually had kind of hoped to desensationalise them of the stories surrounding Heide and its entanglements and what we’ve discovered was that it was even more Bohemian and experimental than we’d anticipated so we’ve gone and done the reverse and actually made it seem even more kind of ... I don’t know, saucy than we had anticipated. So we didn’t really realise that .. we knew that John and Moya had been lovers but their relationship actually went on for a number of years even ... ‘cause not long after this in 1936 and 1937 Sam Atyeo and Moya Dyring respectively and separately left Australia although they did marry later on and the relationship with Moya however ... between Moya and John continued whenever Moya returned to Australia right until the 1940s so she and John were very close ‘cause some people have often commented to us that they felt that John was kind of left out of all the goings-on but don’t worry, he wasn’t.
Anyway in the mid-1930s as ... oh well actually the later 1930s after Sam and Moya left I guess there was something of a creative hiatus in a way or ... in John and Sunday’s lives and it was really before the new wave of artists came into the orbit of Heide or the ambit of Heide and an important kind of turning point for the Reeds to meet new artists was the formation of the Contemporary Art Society in 1938. And I’m sure you’d know some of the history of this but it was really Robert Menzies who was then Attorney-General had suggested this very conservative body be developed called the Australian Academy of Art and a group of you know art benefactors and artists and likeminded people including the Reeds and an Italian bookseller who sold art books and prints in a progressive little shop in the city and the broadcaster and critic, Adrian Lawler, who was also a painter and a number of other people including George Bell from the Bell School ... Bellshaw School decided to come together and form another exhibiting body for artists that promoted progressive art in opposition to this very conservative Australian Academy.
And the Contemporary Art Society first came into being in July 1938 and it was through ... under the auspices of the Society that the Reeds did meet a lot of the other artists that we commonly associate with Heide including Albert Tucker who they met in 1938, Joy Hester, his partner and later his wife, who they met in 1939, and later Arthur Boyd and John Percival in the early 1940s. But not through the Contemporary Art Society, probably the key figure that they met in 1938 was Sydney Nolan and he came into their lives by a different route, he had been ... he was the ... a bit like Sam Atyeo who he was about to replace if you like in the kind of hierarchy of the Reeds’ affections ... he was a working class lad as he was the son of a tram driver who was brought up in St Kilda, left school at 14, worked in a factory, got some commercial art experience and was very determined. He wrote poetry as well as experimented with painting, he did a few sporadic night classes at the National Gallery School but it wasn’t really his thing, he wasn’t an academic artist by any means and he really wanted to go to Paris to the centre of modern art and develop his career.
So he put together a small folio of drawings, calligraphic kind of abstracted line drawings and took them to ... I'm not sure how he got the appointment but took them to Keith Murdoch’s office at The Herald newspaper and Keith Murdoch was quite dismissive and sent him on to Basil Burdet who was the art critic for The Herald and what Nolan really wanted was a travelling scholarship to get to Paris, someone to give him £50 or so. And Basil Burdet in turn sent him on to George Bell at the Bellshaw School and then George Bell said you know what? I think the person who might be interested in this folio is a solicitor whose office is up the road, he collects modern art and his name is John Reed. And John Reed later wrote of his first meeting with Sydney Nolan when Nolan walked into his office, that he just knew there was something about this man. There was something inexplicable, he sensed he had a bit of a wild untamed spirit and he had a very definite statement to make but he didn’t know what that statement was, he just knew he would make it. So John didn’t give him the money to go to Paris either but he did invite him back to Heide for dinner the following the night. And in many ways as they say the rest is history.
John and ... took you know John invited him, he had dinner, Nolan had dinner with he and Sunday and it was very soon after this that a rapport was struck up with Sunday and clearly there was a sexual attraction between them which was to play out. And because we’re kind of nearing the end of our time I’m going to telescope it a little bit but you’re very happy ... welcome to ... very happy to answer questions, we’re both happy to answer any questions you might have. But John ... really Nolan stayed at Heide on and off from that point for the next nearly 10 years until 1947. And at the time he met the Reeds he had a very beautiful girlfriend called Elizabeth Patterson who was also an art student and in fact Nolan married her in 1940 but the marriage was only short-lived although they had a child together, Imelda, in January 1941.
By that time the kind of I guess intrusion of the Reeds into Nolan’s life, because they were convinced that he was Australia’s next big talent and they wanted to promote him and they had ... were very intensely involved in all that he was doing ... his marriage with Elizabeth dissolved after the baby was born and she went to live with her parents and Nolan was basically shut out and so he really I guess by default made his choice and at that point he moved into Heide with John and Sunday and lived there except for a period of army service as I said until 1947 when ... and the situation became untenable and a rift developed between them all that was never ... never healed in fact. And Nolan’s ongoing relationship with the Reeds which was a strong one because after 1947 they wrote to him quite regularly and tried to contact him and he actually never responded to any of their correspondence or attempts to contact him, it was always through an intermediary but he married very suddenly Cynthia Reed, John Reed’s sister who Lesley has been talking about who was also by this point estranged with the Reeds. So it was a lifelong difficult relationship that is threaded throughout the entirety of the book and kind of reaches its resolution in the final chapter.
But I think we should probably stop talking there and we haven’t even told you about the Reeds’ adopted son, Sweeney, who was the son of artist, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker, who came into their lives. As you know Sunday didn’t have children and he came into their lives in 1947. That’s a whole another story but I think that’s a good place to end.
K: Thank you very much, Kendrah.
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