Barbara Blackman (b. 1928), was the daughter of William and Gertrude Patterson. She was born in Brisbane and educated at Brisbane State High School and the University of Queensland. At university she was closely associated with the literary journal Barjai and became friends with young writers such as Judith Wright, Barrie Reid, Laurence Collinson, Jill Hellyer and Thea Astley. In 1950 she moved to Melbourne where she met and married the artist Charles Blackman. She worked as an artist’s model, knew most of the leading Melbourne artists and played an active role in the Contemporary Art Society after it was revived in 1953. The Blackman family led a somewhat itinerant life, establishing and later leaving homes in Melbourne, Brisbane, London, Paris and Sydney. The marriage was dissolved in 1981.
Blackman was born with poor eyesight and it progressively worsened in the 1950s. In later years she was a campaigner for talking books and libraries for the blind, a producer for the Radio for the Print Handicapped and was involved in the National Federation of Blind Citizens. At the same time, she was active in a number of cultural and educational organisations. She managed a graphic prints business, was chair of the trustees of Chiron College in Sydney (1972–76), founded the Little Lookout Theatre, and in 1997 set up the Barbara Blackman Temenos Foundation to bring speakers from the Temenos Academy to Australia. She has published poems, essays and reviews in a wide range of newspapers and literary journals. She is also an outstanding letter-writer. Her correspondence with Judith Wright was published under the title Portrait of a Friendship: The Letters of Barbara Blackman and Judith Wright 1950–2000 (2007).
Blackman was an experienced radio interviewer and in 1981 she decided to undertake an oral history project, with a focus on artists. Most of the people whom she interviewed were already known to her and the style of many of the recordings was conversational. She travelled widely with her tape recorder and, while assisted financially by the Library, she selected the interviewees and made all the arrangements. She wrote, ‘I find it most effective to keep my ear to the ground and approach someone at the right time and when I am in the right place for them’. The recordings came to an end in 1989. In 2006 Blackman received the Australasian Sound Recordings Association Award for Excellence.
The Library acquired the oral history recordings of Blackman between 1982 and 1989.
The Barbara Blackman Collection consists of 149 oral history recordings, mostly of Australian painters, sculptors, potters and others concerned with the visual arts. In addition, there are a number of interviews with writers, musicians, theatre producers, actors, architects, medical researchers, ophthalmologists, occupational therapists and schoolteachers. The recordings were made in all states of Australia and also in Britain and Italy between 1982 and 1989.
The painters, who form the largest group, include many lesser-known artists as well as such established figures as Lina Bryans, Judy Cassab, Roy Churcher, John Coburn, Kevin Connor, Ray Crooke, Roy Dalgarno, Frances Derham, Robert Dickerson, Donald Friend, Laurence Hope, Robert Juniper, Justin O’Brien, Clifton Pugh, Jan Senbergs, Andrew Sibley and Albert Tucker. Other artists represented in the collection include the sculptors and potters Tom Bass, Marea Gazzard, Inge King, Lenton Parr and Kathleen Shillam, the cartoonists George Finey and Tony Rafty, and the photographer Axel Poignant.
Among the other interviewees are the art dealer Joseph Brown, the gallery directors Georges Mora and Barry Stern, the dance director Margaret Walker, the economist Colin Clark, the architect Gordon Ford and the ophthalmologist Reuben Hertzberg.
The Blackman recordings are held at various locations within the Oral History Collection. They have been catalogued individually. Some are also available online.
Barbara Blackman, Glass After Glass: Autobiographical Reflections, Viking, Melbourne, 1997.
Hazel De Berg, Barbara Blackman interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection, 1974, ORAL TRC 1/797–798.
Merome McPhee, The Moving Spirit, West Australian, 15 February 1975, p. 27.