22 08 11 - Anthony White Fellowship

*Speakers: Margaret Nichols (M), Anthony White (A)

*Audience: (Au)


*Date: 11/8/22

M:       Good evening and welcome to the National Library. Thank you all for attending this evening’s presentation of the 2020 Creative Arts Fellow Anthony White either here in the theatre at the National Library or online. Welcome everyone.

My name is Margaret Nichols, I’m Chair of the Friends of the National Library Committee.

I would like to begin by acknowledging Australia’s first people as the traditional owners and custodians of the land and give my respect to their elders past and present and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. I would also like to pay my respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people whose land we are meeting on today.

Each year the Friends Group sponsors a Creative Arts Fellowship, a four-week period which offers Australian artists and writers an opportunity to develop new work that is inspired or informed by the Library’s collections. Since this program commenced in 2015 the $10,000 Creative Arts Fellowship has been awarded to an eclectic array of musicians, choreographers, visual artists and playwrights, all of whom have delved into very different parts of the Library’s collection.

Tonight we welcome Anthony White, our 2020 Creative Arts Fellow whose fellowship focus is entitled The Stockade Project. Anthony is an Australian visual artist who lives in Paris which explains why he’s been unable to take up his fellowship until now.

Since graduating from the National Arts School Sydney Anthony has produced international exhibitions for galleries based primarily in Australia and in Hong Kong, London and France. Hopefully Anthony can show some images of his work later.

The Stockade Project refers to Anthony’s interest in Sidney Nolan’s mural on the Eureka Stockade, made for the Reserve Bank building in Melbourne in the ‘60s and since removed to the ANU campus in 2019. Anthony is currently finishing up his four-week research, ie, today in the Sidney Nolan Collection in the National Library’s Manuscripts collection. In his lecture he will take us through his interest in and research into Nolan’s work and explore links with other interesting people.

Please join me in welcoming Anthony White, the 2020 recipient of the Creative Arts Fellowship supported by the Friends of the National Library.


A:        Thank you so much, Margaret, that’s such a lovely introduction.

Okay so I would like to just first – I would just really like to thank the people here in the Fellowships, the Friends, of course, of the National Library, Sharon O’Brien, Kathryn Favell, Kelly Torrens, everybody here at the Library for all their help in getting everything together for me. I’m so happy to be here after such a delayed time of COVID.

So this talk brings together my interest in civil disobedience in the history of democracy which have underpinned my work for many years now. And places them alongside a mural completed by Sidney Nolan in 1966 which commemorates the Eureka Stockade. And for the last few weeks I’ve been researching Nolan’s papers here which are held in the archive which includes specific references to Nolan’s thinking around Eureka and the influence of a book written in 1855 by the Italian revolutionary, Raffaello Carboni. He - Carboni wrote an eyewitness account of the events at Eureka.

But before we dive in I thought it might be helpful to give some context as to how this research sits within my current thinking about the times we’re living in. So my current research has been motivated by the emergence of the gilets jaunes or the yellow vest movement in Paris in 2018 and an interest in the protest movement more broadly in the context of the global rise of the far right. As democracy declines throughout the world I see acts of civil disobedience such as protests organised by the gilets jaunes in the streets of Paris as increasingly important.

I think - I just want to just take a minute there to just clarify something. I’m not – I think that civil disobedience is something that is enacted by ordinary people and not necessarily radical out of hand violent protests so I think that that is where democracy is engaged. So there’s no doubt that we live in a time of democratic decline.

Last year freedomhouse.org, an organisation which works to defend human rights and promote democratic change published an article by Sarah Repucci and Amy Slipowitz titled Democracy Under Siege in which they state, the impact of the long-term democratic decline has become increasingly global in nature. Broad enough to be felt by those living under the cruellest dictatorships as well as by citizens of longstanding democracies. Nearly 75% of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration last year. The ongoing decline has given rise to claims of democracy’s inherent inferiority.

So every day in the studio I ask myself this question, how can I as an artist activate that social space? How can I use history, use our history - something special because I'm not in Australia so I’m aware of that even more – to bring attention to issues of human rights and how can I help to activate democracy through cultural interventions and peaceful protests? These are big questions and maybe I might never solve these questions but I saw a possible route to answering them in 2019 when I read about Nolan’s Eureka mural at the time of the announcement that the work was going to be moved here to the Australian National University in Canberra.

So as you can see from the slides it’s a colossal work, it’s enamel on copper, 20m long by 3.6m high comprising of 66 copperplates and weighing 1.5 tons. The copper sheets were enamelled in the finger and thumb method of the primitive sand-painters and executed in London with the help of two collaborators. It depicts scenes of frantic skirmishes so during the battle, and the enamel and copper evokes something of the volatility of the battle Nolan is depicting. I’ll discuss the mural and its reception more fully in a moment but I wanted to give you an image of the monumental scale of Nolan’s commitment to the idea of Eureka.

There have been countless interpretations of the Eureka Stockade as I sort of discovered as I was digging deep into all the archival material. It’s been well documented in literature, cinema, theatre and individual arts, notably by Norman Lindsay and of course Sidney Nolan whose archive is held here at the National Library and the archive comprises of 200 boxes, maps, folios, albums and an accumulation of personal and business records, the bulk of which date from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. And it documents both his personal life and his artistic career.

So Nolan’s career of course is familiar to pretty much everybody but – so I’ll keep the introduction brief but for those who are new to his work, and especially the people that are looking on the internet, Sidney Nolan was one of the most important Australian artists of the 20th century. He was born in 1917 and he died in 1992. And he established himself as a major international artist during the years – from the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s.

He often explored themes taken from Australian national folklore or the psyche of Australia’s colonial past, particularly the antiheroes of Ned Kelly and Burke and Wills as well as events of national significance such as Gallipoli and an important series completed in the 1980s responding to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Researching Nolan’s archive has offered me the opportunity to reflect on his practice in relation to my own which is similarly drawn to questioning ideas around Australian national identity, questions which Nolan continued to ask during his working life in Europe and after his move to Britain in 1952 where he lived for the rest of his life.

So you can see here’s just a very small selection from the archive. Nolan’s work represents his assertions on nationalism, national identity, sovereignty and themes relating to civil disobedience and anticolonialism and has been written about extensively. He distils these ideas into the sharp black square of Ned Kelly’s helmet but these ideas are also key in his monumental but lesser known Eureka Stockade which was commissioned ironically by the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1962 and now has a new home here in Canberra at the ANU.

As I mentioned earlier - I’ll return to discuss Eureka mural specifically in a moment but I just wanted to paint a picture to you of the Victorian gold rush and give a little bit more background to the Eureka Stockade. Oh actually and that’s a letter to the Queen, I forgot to mention. Just to illustrate for people that don’t know and people that are watching on the internet the – just how famous he was. I mean there’s a letter from the Queen to Sidney Nolan just saying thank you and here’s a snapshot of us at lunch. So I thought that was pretty cool to put in.

Now the Eureka Stockade rebellion was the name given to an armed clash which took place at Ballarat, Victoria on the 3rd of December 1854. Between 1851 and 1853 thousands of people headed to the newly discovered goldfields at Ballarat to seek their fortunes and the colonial government implemented what the gold-diggers considered to be a costly and exploitative system of licensing and hunted down diggers who refused to pay their fees. They were notorious for spot checks. Hostilities commenced when the police continued aggressive campaigns in search of licences and even though diggers had determined to limit their licence renewals, in a last ditch attempt of civil disobedience the diggers constructed a stockade, a sort of defensive stronghold and burnt their official documents in front of the police just as the Kelly gang would later burn mortgages in the banks they raided. In the end the diggers were defeated by the police and 30 people were killed.

Karl Marx, exiled in London in 1855, provides a good understanding of the dynamics. The really important question at issue around which the revolutionary movement in the province of Victoria evolves are two, the gold-diggers demand the abolition of licences for gold prospecting, that is, a direct tax on labour. Secondly, they demand the abolition of the property qualification for members of the Chamber of Representatives. It’s not difficult to notice that these are essentially similar reasons to those which led to the Declaration of Independence of the United States but with the difference that in Australia the opposition arises from the workers against monopolists tied up with the colonial bureaucracy.

This fight for freedom, albeit briefly and relatively small-scale, was in effect an armed insurrection, an Australian revolution and in the decades that followed the Eureka Stockade – Eureka rebellion, rather, it became the keystone of a national culture. Writing in 1914 the Australian socialist journalist and trade unionist, Robert Samuel Ross, argued that early exploration produced both settlers and diggers as social forces. Between them the settlers and diggers found an Australia that mattered and germinated those tendencies that together are making a mighty nation and a mightier people.

Mark Twain, himself a champion of the union movement and critic of the ruling classes, visited the Victorian goldfields in 1895 as part of a world tour. Writing in his book, Following the Equator, a Journey Around the World which was published in 1897, a few years afterwards, bye and bye there was a result and I think it may be called the finest thing in Australian history. It was a revolution, small in size but great politically. It was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression. It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. I really like that, another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. I relate to that.

So the leaders of the rebellion against a colonial government were Peter Lalor, Tom Kennedy and an Italian revolutionary by the name of Raffaello Carboni who I mentioned previously. Carboni would refer to himself as a dirty foreigner, a self-deprecating remark which typified the attitude towards immigrants at the time. Marcus Clark described him as a sinister Italian conspirator who write, harangued, jeered and wept by turns. So a bit of a flamboyant character. That’s him.

So I’d like to dwell on Carboni a bit more, just a little longer here as his book, The Eureka Stockade, which Nolan owned was crucial to the development of the Eureka mural and had been an important influence to his work since at least 1949. So in a letter that Nolan wrote to Elwyn Lynn in 1978 Nolan mentions reading Carboni’s book as a catalyst to the series, The Works on Glass of the Vignettes which preceded the actual mural of the Eureka Stockade. These were exhibited in Sydney at Macquarie Galleries in 1949 and Nolan writes, I read Carboni’s book on the rebellion and I took what he said as gospel. I did not try to do a large historical summing up but I did it as I read it in the book, they are so to speak one-off snapshots of each episode and of the dramatist [persone] 19:32.

Incidentally the National Library here has an electronic version of the book online if anybody’s interested in reading it.

So who was Carboni exactly? He was born in Urbino, Italy in 1817 and he died in Rome in 1875. He was a writer, a composer, a linguist and a political activist. He was a devoted Italian nationalist. He supported the political revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Giuseppe Mazzini in their attempt at the unification of Italy. He also fought in the battle for the short-lived Roman Republic in 1849 just prior to arriving in Victoria. Carboni was in Australia for just three years. He was one of the principal protagonists at Eureka. A digger himself, he was present during the rebellion on the goldfields and his book, the full title of which is The Eureka Stockade, The Consequence of Some Pirates Wanting on Quarterdeck a Rebellion, published just a year after the uprising is the only complete firsthand eyewitness account of it.

Carboni’s book describes in great detail the events leading up to the final attack by the Redcoats but his comparatively brief description of the actual battle leaves you with no doubt as to the swift defeat suffered by the diggers. The old command, charge, was distinctly heard and the Redcoats rushed with fixed bayonets to storm the Stockade. A few cuts, kicks and pulling down and the job was done. Too quickly for their wonted ardour for they actually thrust their bayonets on the body of the dead and wounded strewn about on the ground. A wild hurrah burst out and the Southern Cross was torn down, I should say, among their laughter as it had been a prize from a maypole.

So what was the result of the Eureka Stockade? Despite or maybe because of it, such a thorough defeat, the Eureka uprising has occupied a special place in the imaginations of subsequent generations of Australians. Len Fox, the activist, socialist and artist in his introduction to his 1963 book, The Strange Story of the Eureka Flag, describes it as a crucial episode in a series of struggles by the Australian people towards democracy and nationhood and its impact in forming what we call the Australian way of life.

To quote Robert Ross again, Eureka was the pioneer and supreme Australian event in the spectacular sense. It was a pivotal moment, it led directly to the introduction of unprecedented democratic reforms including the Victorian Act of July 1855 which established the constitution in Victoria as well as a wholly elected legislative council and assembly. As H V Evatt puts it in his introduction to the 1942 version of Carboni’s book, it effectively gave birth to Australian democracy.

So with that in mind Eureka as a symbol of revolution, and Australia’s anti-ruling class mentality in mind, let’s return to Nolan’s Eureka mural itself. The first thing you notice is the impact of the rusty brown of the copper base which emphasises the hot, earthy palate and reds and oranges, ochres, browns and ambers, a scarred blazing landscape onto which Nolan transposes the Ballarat goldfields. At the upper centre I’ve got two – actually two images of detail here – at the upper centre of the 20m span is the Eureka flag which you can see there is sort of black up the top. To its left an image of an armed policeman on horseback looms over the scene, the horses’ hooves trampling two figures below.

To the right another armed policeman leans over the body of a digger which lies in the dirt. Further left a digger carries his wounded mate to safety and at the opposite edges of the composition diggers are at work with their pick axes and shovels in front of the Eureka Hotel at the far left. Now I think you might be able to see that there. Yeah, you can see that ‘cause that’s the closest on the far left. While at the far right a mounted policeman leads his battalion towards the diggers’ tents.

When it was unveiled at the Reserve Bank in Melbourne in 1966 the journalist Keith Dunstan writing for The Sun newspaper noted what you’ve all probably already been thinking, the contrast between the mural’s subject and its setting, he found it odd that a nice conservative respectable bank should condone such insurrection but he added perhaps one could argue how right they are to show such a devoted interest in gold.

I have to mention in my research and stumbling across different archives and the Reserve Bank material, that I found some letters and discovered the Reserve Bank’s Governor, Mr Herbert Cole Coombs who I’m sure that you’re all familiar with being here because he was such a large figure. So Mr Coombs, commonly known as Nugget, was born in 1906 and he died in 1997 and this is an image of him here in Canberra at the National Library.

He was an Australian economist and a public servant and his economic policy was informed by his time in London during the great depression during his postgraduate studies. In an interview in 1992 he stated, that the economic system is society’s institution for the conduct of giving people access to a livelihood to enable them to feed themselves and their children, clothe themselves and find the material basis for a civilised, dignified human existence. That in my view is what the economic system is for, it is not for the purpose of enabling individuals to become wealthy nor is it for persuading people that happiness comes from possessions - except for buying paintings, of course – and from access to services. He said those things are largely irrelevant. That’s an incredible man. The more I read about him the more I’m blown away by the remarks that’s coming from him as an economist.

He's best known for having been the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia in which he served from 1960 to 1968 but he was also one of Australia’s most outstanding influential public servants, serving and advising seven Prime Ministers over a 30-year period. From the letters that I’ve read here in the collection here at the Library and also at the Reserve Bank archives he had a great connection with Sidney Nolan and Cynthia. There was a great energy in that first meeting from what I could ascertain from the letters.

Now back to the mural. In 2002 the late art historian – no, not that one, the late art historian, T G Rosenthal, compared the work to Picasso’s Guernica. While there is no comparison whatsoever with the visual inventiveness let alone the frenetic energy of Picasso’s Guernica he wrote, one cannot help wonder whether Nolan was not at least thinking of that painting.

Rosenthal acknowledged the depth of Nolan’s practice but he pointed out that in contrast to Guernica, Eureka was a proper battle lost and won so that his tone is less judgmental, more that of someone recording a momentous event in a way that enables us to focus on the individuals who participated in it and were scarred by it.

I think this is its strength, it’s like a late 18th century British history painting, those high art paintings in the grand style that included modern historical subjects such as battle scenes and became an important form of contemporary documentation. During the first half of the 19th century around the time of the Eureka Stockade history painting was one of the few ways that the British public could experience its overseas empire. This style of painting fell out of favour following the breakup of the British empire after the second world war. It was possibly an unfashionable thing for a contemporary painter of the Commonwealth, to make a history painting in 1962 but perhaps Nolan saw the Reserve Bank commission as a way of using his most traditional genre, usually commissioned by kings and colonisers, to place the memory of the Eureka diggers and their failed revolution at the heart of the ruling establishment, a kind of ghosted trojan horse, a reminder to the financial classes of the dangers of greed.

So in closing, by drawing upon the rich collection of primary sources here in the Nolan archive at the National Library I’ve come to appreciate the depth of Nolan, his subject matter, his character. He seems to be drawn to encapsulate failure. A major theme in his work is the depiction of defeated subjects from the soldiers at Gallipoli, the Kelly gang, the tragic explorers of Burke and Wills to the diggers at Eureka. The one thing in common is that they were all defeated or failed at their attempts. I’m interested in this use of failure in Nolan’s work because it speaks to me of the potential of creativity to speak truth to power. It magnifies the aspect of art as action which is key to my work and it brings awareness to how art and cultural artefact can be used to raise questions about systems of oppression.

That quote from Mark Twain keeps ringing in my ears. Maybe it’s true of Nolan’s artistic legacy also, another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. Thank you very much.

So now I just wanted to show you a couple of pictures of my work if you’re not too – falling asleep on me. So this is a work that I had in the Glover Prize in 2021 and I’ll just – I’ve got a few works there. I’m not going to read – I’m not going to tell you about all of them, I’ll just show you some images and I’ll just read about some of them.

So Tasmania is under threat from ecological disaster. During 2019 at the base of Federation Peak, fires were at the edge of the surrounding alpine forests. In a devastatingly short amount of time ecological threat has gone from fantasy to a reality. The fires of 2019 signify a new age of climate catastrophe, one in which we need urgent action to slow down the immediate effects of an increase in sea temperatures, heat waves and extreme rain events.

So the southwest of the island, vastly uninhabited area, a world heritage site is beginning to die as documented in various media reports, most notably from a Guardian article dated in February 2019 which the [author] 34:19 signed as Professor Peter Davies, was quoted as saying, the island’s vast and globally unique wild lands, the heart of the world heritage area was dying. The iconic habitats of rainforest, button grass plains and heathlands had begun to vanish because of climate change. These paintings are a call to action to hold the government accountable for the health of their citizens and protect the local environment by refusing fossil fuel companies exploitation rights to the land and help safeguard our country from ecological collapse.

So I felt a particular urgency to make this painting and it happened quite quickly. Then I’ll just flick through and then you’re welcome at the end just to ask any questions. I think I'm going to show you a whole bunch of images and they’re quite distinct works, they’re quite diverse in ranges of techniques and stuff and I think that’s what I’m interested in, is searching for a way in by using different techniques, a way in to formulation of the image, right? Some works are in Australia, some are in France, some are in Latvia. I have a show at the moment in Latvia here at the Mark Rothko Art Centre and it goes until the end of October so if you find yourself in that part of the world you’re welcome to visit. Here’s work that’s there as well [unclear] 36:23.

I can tell you a little bit about these two. So these series of works were sort of inspired by collecting found objects and making collages of different things. So these series of collages, l'effondrement, which roughly translates to the collapse marries disparate forms ranging from the spontaneous gestural work of [doust] 36:50 rag imprints, gestural paintily touches and hard edge geometrical imagery, structures given to the overall composition through the intervention of found objects and the assemblage of graphic elements alongside the destruction of the paintily image. I’m interested in the use of destruction as a creative force. I was motivated by earlier readings of some French theorists, Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens in a book about collapsology, which is very difficult to say, in 2015.

The idea in their book was that the end of the industrialised civilisation could be much nearer than what we think because the effects of climate change effectively brought on by the consequences of unlimited capitalism, their theory predicts that society will break down. The work depicts primarily through the use of monochrome, very minimal palate, a sense of industrialised landscape punctuated by the use of hard graphic vinyl signage that I found on the streets of Paris. So I found these two giant rolls of vinyl just on the street and then I started cutting them up and using them in collages.

Then this is just some installation shots from Latvia. There’s those two collages I was just talking about. That’s me in the studio. The studio. That’s it.

Now if you have any questions or if there’s anybody that wants to ask me anything, if I can answer your question then I’d be happy to hear what you would like to ask me.


A:        Thank you.

M:       If there are any questions we’ve got two microphones, one on either side. Please wait for the microphone to come to you because it’s being streamed and they would like to hear your question. So no questions.

A:        Oh that’s good.

M:       There are hands.

Au:      Thanks Anthony, I’m up here in the back.

A:        Yeah, hello.

Au:      Hello. I’m curious to know, given that you applied for the Fellowship a couple of years ago, now you’ve finally been here, what has changed for you in your thinking about the work over the last two to three years? Were there any surprises? Are you thinking differently about how the research may play out in your own work compared to where you were a couple of years ago?

A:        Yeah, the great thing about coming and looking at an archive, and especially somebody’s archive like Sidney Nolan is that it speaks to you on all different levels like – oh he didn’t – because I didn’t find a lot of written information about Eureka in his diaries but what I did find is the way that actual images talked to him so he was just constantly writing down just references, just references just like little – almost like a bit of beat poetry, really, just phrases, things like that. Actually when I was in Germany I started – I did a residency there and that sort of happened to me with the newspapers like I was reading newspapers and certain phrases would get stuck in your head. Then there’s like a link between those phrases and the motivation for starting and continuing work. So the motivation comes from somewhere so it was good to see the way that – of his artistic process because he kept everything like he just like kept everything, it’s like so many things to like get through, it was quite – but also it was exciting to be rifling through somebody’s stuff, yeah. Yeah, no, it was really good. Yeah, I had a blast, yeah.

Yeah, no but in terms of me making work from it that is – oh yeah, there’s multiple things that – you sort of need to let the dust settle and then you come back when the dust has settled. I mean it’s – the great thing about research or reading and spending time in an intense way is that you get all of these tangents and then things with a bit of hindsight, when the dust settles you come back to it and you’ve got all this energy to go off in different things, right? What it does is that – and the good thing too like being in the presence of other fellows here is that they say their research could propel them forward for 10 years so that’s quite incredible when you think about that. So yeah, no, it was definitely encouraging and positive.

Are there any other questions?

Au:      COVID safety, I’m so impressed. So congratulations. So I’m curious, you talk about the search for the Australian identity and I hear this a lot and particularly when people are referencing Mr Nolan’s work and I feel that that’s wonderful. Has there been any consideration about the fact that Australia didn’t exist until 1901 and the falsification of the Australian identity going back past that?

A:        Yeah.

Au:      Which is a common characteristic of the Australian narrative, whatever that is because what I find – I mean I don’t really have a question, I’m sort of conversation, I could have just waited ‘til afterwards if there’s more important questions, what I find sort of really interesting is that the notion of diggership coming from that.

A:        The notion of what, sorry?

Au:      Like well the notion of digger coming from that, our Anzacs and what have you and that idea of search for an identity, whatever that was before because Australia wasn't even an idea at that time. The idea of she’ll be right and are we being given a fair go sort of Australian ways of doing has many connections to what you’re exploring here. I just think that it’s interesting that – I guess what I'm just trying to say is maybe a little Post-It there if you haven’t already for your subconscious to really think about when we look at Sidney Nolan and particularly – I know that worked very well – particularly when we look at it, we look at it as an Australian icon, right? You know it’s iconically Australian but it wasn’t – what he’s painting was not Australia because it didn’t exist. So I find that so fascinating because that search and that failurism that you talk about and that constant get up off your feet and dust off and then drop and that she’ll be right sort of attitude that we have as Australians, I just find it so interesting. Anyway I didn’t really ask a question. I'm – the dust is settling, Mr White.

A:        Hey, I think actually that’s really good, what you just mentioned because you hear it a lot, nationality, sense of national identity but all of that is based on the premise that we made up a fiction and took this land away from its rightful people who were here. So that is actually the fundamental thing of national identity. Our national identity should be based in that revelation that we live on unceded territory so first, because every principle and every statement needs sort of breaking down, doesn’t it? So it’s good that you asked that question because if you say similar phrases people just go oh yeah, okay but yeah, it’s exactly right, what does that mean?

Because it’s a bit of a fiction, isn’t it? At that stage and mythology, mythology in the art world is powerful but it goes on and it goes on and it goes on. It’s about currency, actually, currency is what makes something alive and powerful, hey? Explaining – for me, right? Explaining an art practice in relation to something like democracy in relation to something like abstract painting, people don’t get it so you have to draw the subjects closer together. So by visiting here, by visiting the Library, by visiting this work it drew those subjects closer together. That’s what my journey as an artist is, to draw those subjects closer together in order for me as an ex-pat living abroad to ask myself questions, who am I? What am I doing here? What is it as Australia that I can – that I work out in my studio every day? Yeah so thank you for your question.

M:       Is there another –

Au:      I was going to ask Anthony about – like this commission for the Reserve Bank as Australia’s primary holder of money and what – was there any documentation about the commission relationship in the archive and was there any letters ‘cause I’ve been and looked in other parts of the archive for other reasons and it is quite telling seeing different correspondences from people to Nolan and vice versa. So this was not necessarily an expected subject matter for the Reserve Bank so yeah, was there anything there?

A:        There was one letter that I saw that Nolan talked about, his initial meeting with Nugget and I think Nugget was so progressive that he actually was just into whatever Nolan was into and that he wanted to promote art and he wanted to give artists a viable way to make a living and he wanted to do it as generously as possible. So I think that there wasn’t any brief, I didn’t see any documentation. I looked through like 180 letters and most of it was documentation, invoices and things like that but I didn’t see any sort of specifications from Nugget saying ah well you know I think this is what you should be doing, there wasn’t anything like that.

There was an initial letter that Sidney Nolan sent saying yeah, I’ve got an idea, it’ll probably be on aluminium, it’s probably going to be this, 60 panels, I’m going to do it in London, I’m going to get it there by this date and then he changed his mind a bit and then he thought oh yeah, copper’s probably better and so that’s the only information that I could find. Yeah, most of it’s just technical, not inspirational briefs as to what it’s supposed to be.

Au:      Was there a financial value to the [unclear] 50:22?

A:        There was, yeah so I just can’t think off the top of my head now, 24,000 so that would have been over 100,000 – oh don’t quote me on that, 160,000 by today’s standards. I did the calculation of like back then but yeah, it had a breakdown of it and letters detailing his financial tax implications with the government if he received all that money in one go. But yeah, it was a considerable amount of money at the time, yeah. So he had to be paid in six lots for the next six years. Yeah, $24,000 it was over six – six times 4,000 per year, yeah. Yeah.

M:       No more questions? Well thank you, Anthony, it’s been a privilege to hear of Nolan’s legacy and also of the Eureka Stockade’s legacy. We are pleased that the Creative Arts Fellowship has provided you with the opportunity to research into the Library’s collection and to bring the genesis of Nolan’s Stockade to new audiences and more importantly your reaction to the Stockade. We are looking forward to seeing what you can produce, particularly if we’ve seen some of your paintings which are very varied.

A:        They are very varied, yes, they are.

M:       So it will be great to see your reaction in an artistic sense. No more questions so I just need to say that the applications for the 2023 round of fellowships, these keep going, these are closed. We look forward to announcing the news of the Friends 2023 Creative Arts Fellow later in the year. Thank you for attending and please join me again in thanking Anthony.


A:        Thanks very much.

End of recording

Anthony White is an Australian artist who lives and works in Paris, France, and is a 2020 Creative Arts Fellow supported by the Friends of the National Library.

Since graduating from the National Art School, Sydney, White has produced international exhibitions for galleries based primarily in Australia and in Hong Kong, London and France. As Creative Arts Fellow at the National Library, White has investigated material from the Sidney Nolan collection related to the creation of the Eureka Stockade mural commissioned by the Reserve Bank. This research will inform a new body of abstract paintings that incorporate painterly interventions and collage for exhibition.

You can learn more about our Fellowships program here https://bit.ly/3TNuu8B