Amanda Stuart – Nine Men, Nine Lives Exhibition
Image by Yanni Dellaportas
Every Man has a Story
Each of the men in this exhibition, ‘Nine Men : Nine Lives’ has an interesting story they were willing to share with me. From a conversation that went for one or two hours and often included 10,000 words, their story emerged. Each man seemed to know what he wanted to share. My task was then to edit the story down to 850 words, for the purpose of the exhibition. What I first envisaged as a photography project became more of a narrative, the telling of a story, supported by images. The exhibition brings together my love of writing, photography and people’s lives.
“When I began the project, I did not know where it would lead, and nor did I realise the stories they told me would hold such significance for each one – a chance encounter that changed the course of one man’s life, the experience of war for two, and leaving their home and culture for three others. And while the circumstances were completely different, several experiences are common to two or more men – chasing snakes and lizards as young boys, a deep respect for aboriginal culture and art, and a great love of nature. I enjoyed seeing these connections as the stories unfolded.
Some people (myself included) doubted that it would be possible to present the stories in the form of a visual poster but, with the help of a highly creative designer, I feel the stories and images combine to portray the essence of the nine men.
My portrait of each man is designed to complement their story, and to show who they are today. They were not intended to be studio portraits. I am especially grateful to Catherine Caia who did such an incredible job on the design of the posters and to John Hardiman, who not only printed the posters and portraits but helped me with the framing.
I am deeply grateful to the nine men – to Clarry, Dale, Doug, Jeff, John, Les, Lionel and Theodoros who told me their stories with such honesty. Bob Flanagan died at the end of last year – I thank his daughter Deb for his story; it has a particular significance and I am certain Bob would be smiling. Without these men’s stories, the exhibition would not be taking place.”
– Amanda Stuart
I was a Citizen Military Forces Captain with an armoured unit, the Prince of Wales Light Horse Regiment, a unit with a distinguished history dating back to 1885. In 1966 I volunteered and was accepted for military service in South Vietnam with the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV).
AATTV was an elite unit of 200 men serving with the South Vietnamese Armed Forces, U.S. Special Forces and Montagnards as military advisors. We operated in ones and twos and were spread the length and breadth of South Vietnam, often into isolated outposts in the jungle and highlands. Our motto was ‘Persevere’. AATTV was the first unit into Vietnam in 1962 and, ten years later, the last out.
Four Victoria Crosses, 113 Imperial awards, an American Meritorious Unit Citation, a Vietnamese Unit Citation and over 300 Foreign awards indicated that bravery and dedication were not found wanting. ‘The Team’ suffered the highest casualty rate of all Australian units in Vietnam, with 33 killed and 126 wounded. After being in country about two months and seeing several Americans I knew killed by sniper fire and land mines, I realised that I would have to be very lucky to survive my 12 months. We all had a saying when we parted from each other: “Take Care,” and “Expect the Unexpected.”
I learned to live with the stress of it all and carry out my duties, but as time went by the mental pressure kept building up. I was used to the sight of casualties, but it weighed heavily on my mind that I could easily be one of them. I lost many Australian, American and Vietnamese friends. Some were killed, some seriously wounded, others assassinated, abducted, beaten and buried alive.
Outwardly, I appeared collected and carrying out my orders. Inwardly, I’d tell myself that “Today could be the day – we are going to Long Son island and all those mines.” By this stage I had just missed being killed five times. Once was when travelling on a gravel road in a jeep close behind my American Colonel’s jeep; I suggested he order a 113 APC carrier to place itself ahead of him. He did so and, within 50 metres, it ran over a massive mine which blew the carrier’s engine out onto the road. The explosion killed both crew. Other times included disabling eight carefully prepared boobytrap mines, travelling in a jeep which ran over a large mine that didn’t explode, being in a minefield for about two hours with 36 dead Main Force Viet Cong, and in a chopper which was shot down when flying at a very low level. My nerves had just about stretched the rubber band the full distance.
I sat in my jeep, one day, thinking. I had to do something about getting my nerves under control. I opened my field notebook and, after a lot of positive, cold-blooded decisions rattled around in my head, I listed what I had to do:
Accept the fact that I will not survive. I will not be a coward. I will carry out my duties, no matter the risk. I will kill anyone I saw as a threat to me. To hesitate one second meant my death. I will clear my mind of all my family. No distractions. I will eradicate religion. Praying instead of thinking would be the death of me. There was no GOD in Vietnam. NO mercy. NO compassion. I will shut my conscience down. There will be NOTHING I could not do. Satisfied, I felt a profound wave of relief. Everything looked good again.
I then mentally dug a very deep, concrete lined hole, placed all my discards one by one in the hole, thinking “you will stay there.” Once all were in and accounted for, I covered the hole with ten feet of concrete and carefully trowelled it smooth. “I will open this up if and when I get home.” That did not happen. Everything is still buried deep. To my surprise, I survived 18 months of never-ending warfare, with many more encounters when I should have been killed. My body came home, but my soul is still in Vietnam. I had been carved down to the bone. I had no emotions left. Over the years, my memories and nightmares have cost me. June, my wife, has helped me keep myself together. Without her I am lost.
20 years ago I joined the Victorian Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. For the first time I was among friends. With June’s blessing, I partially handled my restlessness with long-distance riding on my Harley-Davidson motorbike. I ride annually 12,000 kms around the western half of Australia in eight weeks. 13 circuits, so far.
In many respects, it is Vietnam all over again; every day on the road in the outback I take my life in my hands. The wild life is a constant threat but I have to carry on and complete the ride no matter what. These rides have been my best shot at self-therapy. One thing, though, I will never forgive or forget the treatment handed out to me on my return to Australia.
Clarry was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.
I had always enjoyed running and when I turned 14, I decided to join the local Chelsea Athletics club. I wasn’t academic so I left school and started working as a shoemaker, learning through the local bootmaker, a bit like an apprenticeship today. I worked in a number of different shops in the city.
When I was 18, a friend told me about a weekend camp for athletics training in Portsea, run by Percy Cerutty. The camps ran for a period of six weekends; my friend and I signed up. This was in 1955. That camp and meeting Percy Cerutty was to change my life completely.
A lot of Percy’s training philosophies were spartan – in the middle of winter, running completely naked along the back beach, and jumping into the ocean. Bass Strait is one of the coldest oceans in the world. Some of us worked out it was better to run along the beach before we went into the ocean. You could get warm, then you hit the cold water and you got that lovely tingly feeling. Percy preferred his boys to run at the water’s edge, up to their ankles in the sea or in the dunes, struggling through deep sand. We would run in the dunes at the back beach, between the Portsea Lifesaving Club and Sorrento Back Beach. From Sorrento to London Bridge was approximately a two-mile run.
I was a quiet person; whatever Percy said to do, I would make an effort. I never had much ability, but I had a lot of determination. I was willing to train and listen to Percy. I learned so much; he helped me be a better person. He taught us to think for ourselves and to stand up for what we thought was right. He encouraged us to read philosophers and to listen to all kinds of music. He felt we should be able to appreciate every aspect of life. He said: “What’s the good of being able to run a four- minute mile if you can’t appreciate a beautiful sunset?”
Breakfast at the camp consisted of John Bull rolled oats, (uncooked), some chopped apple, banana and a few sultanas. But no milk. Percy thought milk was only for babies. He believed strongly in extreme exercise and a healthy diet. Lunch was a salad. The evening meal was a little more satisfying; it was cooked by Percy’s wife Nancy and was often meat and three vegetables. Nancy was like a second mother and I loved her dearly. She was very caring to all us boys.
In 1956 Herb Elliott came to Melbourne from Perth, to watch the Olympics. Percy had seen him running and had a talk to Herb and his parents. Herb went to Portsea after the ‘56 Olympics and he had four years to train for the next Olympics. I often trained with Herb. At that time there was no sporting institute in Australia and no scholarships so what Percy Cerutty offered was fairly unique. In August 1958 Herb set the world record in the mile run, clocking 3:54.5.
In 1960, I formed part of the Olympic contingent in Rome. Herb had made the team; Percy was going, and I knew a lot of the athletes and distance runners. I went to Naples by ship, hitchhiked to Rome where I caught up with Percy – he was an unofficial coach for the team. In those days you could get into the villages. Percy got me an Australian track top and I would wear it and run in the back gate. If I was stopped, I’d just say “I’ve been out training with the Australian team…”
In the 1500 metres at the Rome Olympics, Herb Elliott won the gold medal and bettered his own world record with a time of 3:35.6.
After the Olympics I hitchhiked through Europe to London, where I lived and worked for two years. I met my wife Alyson during that time, and we returned to Melbourne a few months before the birth of our first son. We had our own shop and we made some money over the years, so we decided to return to the Peninsula and buy a property in Blairgowrie.
If I hadn’t met Percy, I wouldn’t have gone to the Olympics or hitch hiked through Europe. I wouldn’t have met my wife in England or had our three sons. And I wouldn’t be living in Blairgowrie today.
Sadly for Doug, Alyson died in 2018 and he misses her greatly. At 81, he still lives the Percy Cerutty life, with regular exercise, weights training and walking. He still eats rolled oats for breakfast, but these days it’s cooked porridge in winter, and he does have milk.
We lie on the ground near the ocean beach and Lionel begins the healing meditation: “Take a deep breath; breathe in all the positive energy – energy from the ground beneath you, Mother Earth; the pure energy from Grandfather Sun, the wind and the ocean; this is the purest air in the world, straight off Bass Strait…” Then the haunting sound of his yidaki (didgeridoo) fills the air.
Lionel’s family was part of the stolen generation. His mother and her brother, Archie Roach, the singer songwriter, were taken from the family when they were very young. Archie was only two. His moving song “They took the children away” describes the whole family’s suffering:
This story’s right, this story’s true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they didn’t keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep
Said to us come take our hand
Sent us off to mission land.
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away.
Lionel’s mother was put into a family as a domestic servant at a young age. Over the course of several years, she was treated shamefully by a number of men. As a result of the trauma she suffered, she was unable to care for Lionel or his two sisters. They lived with family members for a time before being put into foster homes; they were split up and sent to different families around Victoria. Lionel’s father was German/Dutch but he left the family when Lionel was just three.
In Lionel’s words:
“I never blamed my mum for what I went through, what all us kids went through because she experienced far worse. She found it hard – she had mental problems as a result of the abuse. We got moved around a lot as little kids because she couldn’t look after us.
My younger sister Nola got taken by a foster family on the Mornington Peninsula but Irmegard and I ended up all over Victoria with different families. One day a foster family rocked up in a big white car and took Irmegard away, which was a really bad time for me. A week later they took me to another foster family in Tanti. The mum was lovely and wanted to care for me but I was too traumatized, so they took me back. Two weeks later the family who had taken in Nola came and took Irmegard and me to their home. I spent the rest of my life growing up in Main Ridge, which was hard because I’d started life in an indigenous community. And then I had to deal with racism. That was a big shock. Racism was everybody, everywhere.
My Uncle Archie’s song ‘Mission Road’ is my favourite because, like Archie, I didn’t have the chance to sit with my mum and my family, and talk or ask questions. It’s still a problem for me. Growing up there was no hugging or kissing, not even talking with your own family. My foster family were loving, caring people but they didn’t really understand Indigenous culture. But we had a mum and a dad and we had a roof over our heads. And I had my first bed. We had food every night; before that we were always hungry.
When I was about 25, I started to learn about indigenous culture, our true culture, not just what was taught in schools. I decided if I can educate and maybe change a few people, I can make a difference. I began studying everything I could from my people, asking millions of questions. I want to help save our culture. There are good people out there who want to understand and who value our culture. We weren’t just savages living in tents. We were the first society, we built structures, we formed villages, we were the first bread makers. Then there’s the healing side. I’ve been doing healing since I was a little kid – sitting in the middle of the bush, healing animals, getting rid of headaches.”
Since Living Culture was launched officially in 2018, Lionel has been in great demand. He takes people on guided walks in coastal and bush settings, teaching about the flora and fauna. Schools and kindergartens invite him to teach young children about Aboriginal culture. He is invited to perform smoking ceremonies and to give talks about aboriginal healing and spirituality.
Through immersing himself in his true culture and sharing it with others, Lionel has found the path to his own healing.
(20 May 1932 – 10 December 2018)
Bob was born in 1932. When he was just three years old, his father, a merchant seaman, left the family and Bob grew up as an only child, living with his mother and grandmother in East Prahran. Bob described his father as a loner; he saw little of him when he was young but reconnected with him later in life.
There was very little money in the family and the years of the Depression in Australia had a profound influence on Bob. For the rest of his life he saved anything he thought might be useful one day – including axe handles!
Bob was apprenticed to a builder for 5 years, but in his final year he was advised to become a teacher, and he studied for a further five years, training to be a Technical School Trade Teacher. He spent 32 years as a teacher, mostly at Sandringham Technical School, teaching Woodwork. This was to have serious implications later in his life.
He married Jacqui at the age of 23; they had been friends since the age of 14. Bob began building his own house in Chadstone and moved in when their eldest child, Debbie, was just six weeks old. Three sons were born in the next five years.
One of Bob’s proudest (and most enjoyable) accomplishments was as a football umpire for the VFL and AFL, from the age of 16 to his retirement from umpiring at the age of 46 (when someone found out how old he was!).
He had a strong sense of civic duty and was heavily involved in community activities. He received many awards for public service including Life Governor of the Royal Children’s Hospital and Life member of the AFL Umpires Association.
Bob’s main pleasure in life centred around friendship – he delighted in contact and connection with family and friends. He was a loving father and grandfather and a kind and loyal friend.
At the age of 45, Bob left his marriage, just as his father had done. He came to regret his decision and was never again as contented as he was in the early years with his wife and young children. Bob liked women and his life after leaving his family was certainly colourful, if not totally fulfilling.
A Proponent of Euthanasia
Having enjoyed excellent health all his life, Bob became unwell in 2017. After initial hospital stays for pneumonia and asthma, on 15 June 2018 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.This brought to an end not just his working life but the social contacts he enjoyed so much. In recent time it came to light that Sandringham Technical School, where he worked for 23 years had serious asbestos problems.
In Bob’s words: “The woodwork shop at Sandringham Tech was exposed to the asbestos cement roof made of ‘Super 6’ sheets. There was no ceiling, so whatever broke off from the sheets would become airborne particles and fall into the classroom. We didn’t know we were at risk”.
Super 6 sheets have been found to be a leading cause of asbestos-related lung cancer.
As his illness progressed, Bob suffered terribly. He had no energy and no quality of life. None of the things that gave him joy were possible any longer. At this stage all Bob wanted was to end his life. He was distressed that the new euthanasia law hadn’t come in, as he would have been an obvious candidate.
Bob was admitted to hospital palliative care on 3 December 2018 and died one week later, on 10 December 2018.
Bob was a wonderful friend to me for over 50 years. One of the last times I spoke to him on the phone he asked me “Do you know any ‘putter-downers?’” I told him about Dying with Dignity and contacted Dr Rodney Syme on his behalf. He had spoken at a Probus meeting in Blairgowrie. Dr Syme spoke with Bob by phone and offered him great support.
Vale dear friend; you are greatly missed
It was a chance event – you might call it an accident or a coincidence – and it changed the course of my life when I was a teenager.
My friends and I were desperately looking for a particular party; we’d consumed far too much alcohol along the way and stumbled into what we thought was the party. But it was a church youth group. Not surprisingly we attracted a lot of attention and the youth leader offered to take us home. Now that he knew where I lived, he would visit me every Tuesday and invite me to a bible study group. Eventually I ran out of excuses and agreed to go along. The timing was right; I was 17 and wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I had always had an interest in spirituality and a curiosity about the world and I wanted answers. I enjoyed the studies immensely and questioned everything. Only my closest friends would have known; we often talked about things like the afterlife. It was something I never discussed with my parents or my siblings.
Being involved in the church allowed me to be myself; I felt warmly free and unhindered by ego. It was an unpretentious atmosphere and I loved the honesty. It was both fun and meaningful. Of course the teenage girls were a drawcard. My only concern was that I had abandoned my friends. My parents couldn’t understand how I had gone from being a typical teenage boy, getting drunk on weekends, to one who spent his time in church. I think my father was happier with the beer drinking son he could understand!
I was doing a carpentry apprenticeship and working, while becoming more and more involved with the church – talking to young kids about their problems. I felt I needed some training and signed up for a one-year Bible College course, which extended to two years, during which time I met my wife to be. The course prepared me for leadership and I ended up in a Brethren church for a time. There was a big youth group and I could help people in a significant way. The more involved I became the more I loved it. I worked in a number of churches and we were then approached by a group who wanted us to travel around Victoria in a caravan, preaching in little regional churches that couldn’t afford
a minister. I was 24, my wife just 20. We spent a couple of years on the road and it was a very exciting time. Our first child was born at the end of the first year. I learned a great deal and met wonderful people.
Fast forward to the year 2000. We were living in Bendigo and having some marriage issues; my wife was unhappy, largely because I was busy working as a minister and spending too little time at home. She had shown interest in another man. I decided to approach the leadership team of our church for some advice. I was shocked when the
Pastor told me I had done nothing wrong – that my wife was completely at fault and needed to be reprimanded and disciplined for not loving me or supporting me to do God’s work. I told him I disagreed completely; she was not the one at fault.
The real crisis occurred the following Sunday; it was obvious when we arrived at church that word had spread. I was sitting with my wife and two young children in the middle of the service. To my horror, the Minister announced to the large congregation: “We must all support Jeff, his wife needs to be reprimanded for not supporting him”. My wife burst into tears and my children were visibly upset; we got up and left the church, never to return.
Word spread and I was no longer invited to speak to youth groups in the community; it was as though I had leprosy and no one wanted to be infected. No one gave me the chance to explain. I was cast out – no longer a part of the community in which I had lived and worked. Sadness overwhelmed me.
I never blamed God or felt that I have lost God’s love but I lost all faith in the system and in many of its leaders. I have never been to church since. I put my trust in the church and the church betrayed that trust. Some would say I abandoned my faith and the person I used to be; nothing could be further from the truth. I perform my ministry in my day to day life – I’m not told who to love. It’s my decision alone. Sadly my marriage ended.
I’ve spent several years with a wonderful art group developing my skills, and it’s now time for me to experiment, to develop my creative ability and spend my time doing the things I love. Art for me is incredibly satisfying – watching something emerge on the canvas, something that I have created.
Having lived on the Mornington Peninsula for fifteen years, my partner and I decided to buy a house on 5 acres in Gippsland. We are both excited about the opportunity to develop a more creative lifestyle, with plenty of space around us.
When Jeff told me his story of leaving the church, he sowed the seed for my ‘Nine Men’ portrait project. He plans to write the full story once he is settled in his new home.
I grew up in a close family on the outskirts of Sherman, Texas. I spent most of my childhood outside, fishing in the creek, hunting in the woods or chasing lizards and snakes. My grandparents were farmers and ranchers and I used to help them hauling hay, picking crops and pulling calves. Most of all I loved fishing; as soon as I’d get home from school, I’d grab a tackle box and a couple of reels and head to the creek or lake.
There was one adventure I didn’t plan. My best friend Rick and I would trap raccoons and sell the pelts for Christmas money. We used leg traps, something I would never do today. I remember buying some brand new ones and I was very excited because the ones I had were old rusty ones of my grandfather’s. The new shiny steel traps had a pan in the middle – when you pressed down on the pan, the steel mouth would snap shut really fast. One day I was testing it on my bed, opening the trap and dropping a pencil on to the pan so the trap would snap shut and break the pencil in half. I thought it was great. Something distracted me and I started watching TV. I lay down on my bed, forgetting the trap was there – it snapped onto my back, near my shoulder blade. To release the jaws of the trap you had to grab it with two hands and disengage the spring, but I couldn’t reach it. Nobody was home. I was running around the house with the trap stuck to my back, and I didn’t have a shirt on either. About 30 minutes later my Dad pulled into the driveway. I ran outside and yelled “Dad, Dad, get this trap off my back”. I just remember Dad trying to disengage the springs, but he was laughing so much it was shaking the trap on my back. And that hurt. Anyway, he got the trap off. I had a beautiful, round bruise on my back for ages. It probably served me right for trapping animals.
There were always two guns in a gun rack in the back of my father’s truck and he would go deer hunting and we’d have venison. I hunted deer, rabbits and quail and I’d go fishing. But I was a ‘catch and release’ fisherman even as a child. I would throw the fish back and think to myself “I’ll catch him again, some other time”.
When I was about 19, I was in a deer stand, waiting with a high-powered rifle for a deer. Suddenly the thought came to me: “If a deer walks out in front of me today, I don’t think I can shoot it”. Hunting was part of the culture or target practice for me; it wasn’t hunting or killing. And I thought to myself: “I think I would rather just have a camera”.
I can see, looking back, it was a real turning point in my life.
Now I live on Phillip Island. I’m a Senior Manager with DHS which is a high-stress job. My passion is photography. I love the fact that it gets me out into nature and relaxes me. It’s a very personal thing – being in the moment and experiencing nature. If the weather is terrible, it just adds to the experience and the beauty around me.
I started Photo Rangers about five years ago. I love taking workshops and teaching people about the environment and the uniqueness of nature. Sometimes it’s about seeing the beauty we often take for granted. I feel an obligation to teach people about the uniqueness of Phillip island. The island has its own eco-system – it’s fragile and unique. I help people understand the movements of the wallabies and the birds. I want to protect the birds, especially the shearwaters. For six months of the year the birds nest in their burrows and I try to protect them by discouraging people from going off the track or going to the bottom of the Pinnacles and disturbing their burrows. I’d like to understand the Boonwurrung people’s connection with the island. I know it’s not my land. My land is back home. I’d like to get an understanding from the people who do call it home and have a claim to the land.
Both my parents have some native background. My Dad’s ancestors moved to Texas in 1819. They were asked to come and kill the Comanche and then be a buffer with the United States. So, in our family history – we’ve been Mexican, Republic of Texas, Confederate and American. We’ve seen a lot of flags over the same land. My ancestors were basically driven away in 1836. The Texas Rangers came and said: “If you don’t start moving now, we’re going to shoot you”. My people, chose to assimilate, so then the republic of Texas came in and said: “Either you move to the reservation in Oklahoma, or we’re going to kill you”. Most of my people ran. And I finished up here – in Australia on Phillip Island, a place I love.
I first learnt about the shearwaters when on a Photo Rangers workshop with Dale; seeing literally thousands of birds fly in at sunset to nest in their burrows is a truly magical experience.
‘When you love the earth, you are close to nature.’
– Theodoros Pouniotis
In a small village called Livadia in Northern Greece, 12-year-old Theo Pouniotis noticed a sparse patch of ground in the schoolyard. He asked his teacher if he could create a garden. The students were all children of farmers; teachers were sent to the village to serve short contracts. Theo imagined the teachers eating his harvest. He had learnt from the cradle, watching and listening to his father, ‘If you worked the earth, the earth gave back.’
Using cuttings from his own garden, Theo wandered around the village knocking on the doors of people whose gardens he admired, asking for clippings and advice. Slowly he built up his school garden. Over the years the garden flourished. Teachers came and went, nourished by the garden. Theo lived across the road from the school and tended the garden even in school holidays. He chatted about gardening to anyone who would listen. People would pop their heads over the fence and speak about latest ideas in making things grow. Theo listened carefully and applied what he learnt. He grew vegetables – garlic, onions, green beans, tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and corn as well as fruits – pears, apricots, plums and apples. He added flowers for their beauty. The young boy could make anything grow.
In Theo’s classroom, there was a girl called Grammata who caught his eye. Sometimes she helped him in the school garden and sometimes she didn’t. Little did either of them know, they would be gardening together forever. Theo’s parents had been on the lookout for a suitable wife for him and Grammata’s parents had already found her a husband.
They both defied their parents and eloped. After a month in the city, the newlyweds returned to face the music.
But their happiness was soon shattered when Theo left for compulsory military service. In his absence, Grammata’s stomach swelled with their first child. Grammata sent him a photo of their tiny daughter. When it came in the mail, he cried all night. As the little girl grew, she would run up to any man in uniform and call him Daddy.
In Theo’s words:
When I left school I became a tailor, but I never forgot about gardening. During my apprenticeship, I saw a connection between making a fine suit and creating a beautiful garden. I saw beauty in both. After World War II, Greece was devastated financially; all energy had gone into supporting the war effort. Invaders had stripped Greece of its wealth. Civil war soon added to the chaos. There was a shortage of food, of jobs and opportunity. Ships loaded with loved ones set sail to distant lands of opportunity and became the subject of songs and poems. My brother moved to Australia and made a life for himself and his family. I responded to his siren call and followed him to Australia, with my father’s blessing. My story is the migrant’s story.
When I arrived in Australia, I rented a single room in a house for my wife and two children in Brunswick. Our only window looked onto dirt and I was compelled to change our view to the outside world. I felt in my soul that if I could create a beautiful garden, just as I had done as a young boy, it would give me a sense of continuity from the land
of my birth to my new homeland. To my landlord’s surprise, I was able to transform the garden from brown to green. We sent our son and daughter back to Greece to live with my parents while my wife and I worked hard for two long years. I then returned to my homeland to open up a tailor’s shop, as I had promised. But the political unrest made
Australia seem like the place where I belonged. I realised that once you move to a new country, you never really belong; your heart is divided. Creating the garden formed a bridge between the two countries that felt like home to me.
Finally settling in Rye, I created my forever garden. Into this new garden I have poured my soul. My garden has given me an understanding about the family: like a garden, life must be nurtured with patience. It needs to be fertilised and nourished. A person, like a garden, must not be neglected or else they will die.
I like to tell my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren:
‘Look for the beauty in life. Be optimistic, work hard and believe in yourself. My garden keeps me happy and fit. There is a link between the cycle of the garden and the cycle of life. You can’t tell a red rose how to grow but you can nurture it and provide it with what it needs to thrive’.
Theo is known for sharing his wisdom with his family – a wisdom that always seems to wind back to gardening. He shares his life’s stories with them and loves them unconditionally. He is the gardener – not just of his garden, but of his family.
WW2 The sinking of HMAS Nestor
On 22 May 1941 it was decided to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet from forces available in the Indian Ocean for the passage of two Malta convoys, one from Gibraltar, the other from Egypt. The forces were sent to cover the eastern convoy of Operation Vigorous, including the four Australian N-Class destroyers – Nestor, Norman, Napier and Nizam. The eastern convoy under the command of Rear Admiral Philip Vian assembled at Port Said and Haifa, sailing on 12 June for Malta, escorted by eight cruisers and twenty-six destroyers. The presence at sea of a large portion of the Italian fleet, and the lack of fuel caused by diversionary tactics and repeated air attack, finally forced the entire convoy to return to Egypt. One cruiser, HMS Hermione, three destroyers, HM Ships Airedale and Hasty, and HMAS Nestor as well as two merchant ships were sunk; several ships including three cruisers were damaged. Counter attack in the air sank the Italian cruiser Trento and severely damaged other units of the enemy fleet. www.navy.gov.au The Fleet.
I was born in 1919 on October 24th and grew up in Melbourne, the second of three children. I was born at home – the doctor came to the house to deliver babies in those days. My wife and I built our house in Garden Street, Blairgowrie, in 1973 and I have lived there ever since. My wife died 11 years ago.
I never knew my grandfather but I remember my grandmother, although I only ever saw her in bed. As children we had to make our own fun – we made footballs out of newspaper, played hockey on our push bikes and made stilts to walk on. We used to play in the street; it was good fun.
At 16 years of age, I joined the Sea Scouts and when I turned 18, I joined the Reserves and took the oath “To fight for King and Country.” Eleven months later war broke out, in September 1939. I was called up two weeks later and I was away for two and a half years. I laugh when I read about these blokes who go away for six months and think that’s tough.
I was drafted to HMS Arawa, an armed British merchant cruiser, previously a passenger ship. She was fitted with very old 6” guns and one 3” high angle gun for aircraft. Our job was to patrol off Japan and capture any German ships in Japanese waters.
On 20 November 1941 I was drafted to HMAS Nestor, one of the N-Class destroyers on loan to Australia. We sailed with a convoy to Gibraltar and then on to Malta, where we arrived on Christmas Day. While having Christmas dinner, we were interrupted three times by the Germans bombing. We sailed that night for Alexandria on patrol work and on New Year’s Eve we were part of a task force that shelled Bardia (Libya) to help our troops. We went through the Suez Canal to Port Sudan in the Red Sea, escorting HMS Indomitable, an aircraft carrier transporting Hurricane fighters to Malaysia. Later we joined a convoy heading for Malta. Malta was desperate for fuel, food and ammunition as the Germans and Italians were sinking most convoys.
We dodged bombs for four days; our Captain was sitting in his chair all day long. A dive bomber would come down, drop its bomb, and the Captain would yell:
“Port 20, a bomb’s landed behind us…”.
Finally one landed on our radar antenna, skidded off and landed alongside the boiler room, blowing a hole in it. My action station was below deck, in B shell room, next to the boiler room. I was very lucky – the bulk head held. We were being shelled and I was down below deck, two decks down. There was a loud bang, all the lights went out – we were on an angle, the emergency lighting came on, and they yelled from inside the turrets:
“Quick, come upstairs, we’ve been hit.” We shot upstairs. And I still remember, even today, standing on the lid of the magazine, where the shell room was.
As soon as we got hit, we stopped dead in the water; there was no steam and no movement. All of a sudden, three torpedo bombers came at us. There were 5 A-Class destroyers in all but only three of us there. Then three other ships came to look after us and circle us. We couldn’t fire our guns because we were on an angle. Eventually the Javelin towed us, but the tow lines kept breaking and finally the Nestor was scuttled on 16 June 1942.
The two and a half years in the navy was wonderful. I couldn’t have wished for a better experience – it was an adventure because it was dangerous. The ship, I was on, the Nestor, sank but even though it was terrifying at the time, I didn’t even get wet!
Les’s story has echoes for me of my uncle’s wartime experience in the RAF; he too was born in 1919 but sadly contracted polio during the war and died in his fifties.
Les turns 100 in October this year; I am pleased to be able to honour him in the exhibition.
My father was born in Austria. We called him Rocky – after Rock Hudson; he thought he was God’s gift to women. He was a very courageous man who was conscripted into the German army and fought on the Russian Front. He received many medals for bravery.
He was quite a talented painter in his early years, but when he came to Australia, he became obsessed by reptiles and founded a reptile and animal sanctuary in Renmark, South Australia. He must have been bitten hundreds of times. One famous occasion my mother found him slumped in the outside toilet after a bite; she had no car, so she loaded him into a wheelbarrow and wheeled him to the nearest hospital.
I was the second of four boys – we spent our childhood chasing and capturing snakes and lizards for the sanctuary. We still have a 250-acre animal sanctuary in Northern Queensland.
I took a different path. I thought I was the black sheep in the family. I hated the animal farm, but I loved the bush and nature. My father would yell at me “Vy you not chasing ze lizards?”
But he gave me the tenacity, the genetic capacity to focus on one thing, to nurture the ability to paint, and to see something special in the landscape, the visual texture. I fell in love with the landscape – the cliffs and rocks of the Murray River, the Flinders ranges, Kakadu, and then the sea. What I saw became a kind of gateway to the soul. I was captivated from an early age by the vast expanse of the landscape.
And my father always challenged me to do better. He would criticise me for coming second both in sport and in school exams. I decided “I’ll show him”, and the following year I came first.
The essence of my painting and my artwork is texture; in the landscape, whatever I’m looking at, I see texture. I relate to the colour, the tone and texture. It’s a visual experience. It’s a gateway to the soul. When you connect with people, a lot of the time you are connecting with their soul.
Someone might walk along the beach and feel something – be moved by what they’re seeing. If I can capture that walk along the beach in whatever aspect – a low tide, tranquility or a summery feel – they will connect to my painting.
My objective is always to connect with the viewer. I know how to paint, so I have to capture that moment on a canvas through the use of paint, through my craftsmanship and all the hard work I’ve done and when the viewer comes along and has the same emotion as I did when I experienced it, I can connect with them.
If I want to paint the back beach, I go down in winter and then you get these lovely fronts, beautiful clouds, and movement in the waves. I forget about any problems in my life and I just look, and I’m inspired by what’s happening around me. That’s why I paint the landscape – because I have a great love for it – I always have had. If I go to the outback it’s the ruggedness, the sense of texture, space, chaos. There aren’t a lot of rhythms out there.
Our indigenous forebears talk about the land and I feel a real connection to it. In terms of our indigenous connection, a lot of what I do is splatter and dots – I see that in the landscape, particularly in the outback. It’s so spindly, and it’s broken up and there are rocks and worn pebbles. And if you look at a lot of Aboriginal art, that’s what they were seeing. They were well advanced in their artistic talent and I love that and I try to get a little of it into my work too. I was brought up in Renmark, it’s dry and semi-arid. Later I fell in love with the sea – I could paint the sea in the same spot 1000 times over and it would always be different.
There are times I’ve revisited the fauna of my childhood – all the reptiles we had as kids. I did a painting of two goannas; it was a tribute to my dad, that painting.
John has “come first” in many Art Shows in Australia and overseas. Recently he received a major award at the Camberwell Art Show.