Margaret Olley follows Conrad Martens in painting the McPherson Range


Margaret Olley (1923-2011) was deeply grateful when in 1962 her close friend, poet and art critic Pam Bell (1928-1995) invited Olley to visit her family home at Aroo station in Boonah (illustrated), just west of Ipswich near Brisbane. It provided Olley with new subject matter for a number of regional landscapes and homestead portraits, not having a drivers license Olley relied on others for transport, consequently her subject matter was usually limited to still-life and interior paintings.

Aroo Station

The homestead on Aroo, Boonah, the well-known property of Major B. C. Bell / Queensland Country Life (Qld: 1900-54) Thu 13 Oct 1938, page 2 / Courtesy: Trove, National Library Australia

Boonah landscape

Boonah landscape 1962 (illustrated) was inspired by the view of Roadvale and the distant McPherson Range which Olley took in as she travelled along the road to Aroo. There is an intense relationship created between the colours of the hot sun and red volcanic earth with the cooler tones of the grass in the foreground and fields either side of road that sweeps towards the distant mountains.



Margaret Olley, Australia 1923-2011 / Boonah landscape 1962 / Oil on board / 72.5 x 88cm / Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2012 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Margaret Olley Art Trust

View from the opposite direction

A closer view of the weatherboard Queenslanders and church in the distance captured in Olley’s painting can be seen in a c.1930 photograph of Milbong Lutheran Church (formally known as St Luke’s) and cemetery on Ipswich-Boonah Road from the opposite direction where her landscape was painted. Built in 1885, the church building was demolished in 1974 after it ceased being used as a church and was rebuilt as a house, the cemetery attached to the church remains today.

Milbong Lutheran Church (formally known as St Luke’s) and cemetery c.1930 / ba1464 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

The site of Boonah landscape today

The site of the Margaret Olley painting Boonah landscape, 2019 / Photographs: © Cath M. Charlton

Pam Bell

Olley’s portrait of Pam Bell (illustrated) won the 1962 Helena Rubinstein Portrait Prize (disbanded 2011) awarded for works by Australian artists, before being exhibited in the Archibald Prize that year. The oil on canvas was later destroyed in the fire at her family home ‘Farndon’ at 15 Morry Street, Hill End (now West End) in 1980 together with the loss of many of Olley’s early works, photographs, and objects from her travels.


(Left) Margaret Olley’s portrait Pam Bell 1962 / (Right) Polo at Goondiwindi: Pam Bell of ‘Aroo’ Boonah, Queensland. Australian Women’s Weekly, Wed 5 Sep 1956, page 29. Courtesy: Trove, National Library Australia

Margaret Olley and Pam Bell

Margaret Olley and Pam Bell (right), at the ‘Poetry 1947-1989’ book launch 1991 (Toowoomba: Rowland, 1990) / Photograph: Ray Fulton © QAGOMA / Collection: QAGOMA Research Library

Pam Bell’s father Major Bertram Charles Bell (1893-1941) was a well-known Queensland pastoralist and son of James Thomas Marsh Bell (1839–1903) and Gertrude Augusta Bell, a prominent family from Coochin Coochin, (illustrated) a 22,000-acre (8903 ha) property near Boonah, one of the oldest pastoral homesteads in Queensland’s Scenic Rim, recorded by Conrad Martens also in the Gallery’s Collection. Martens stayed at Coochin Coochin for nine days in November 1851 when it was occupied by George Fairholme, a pioneer settler, Bell purchased the property in 1883 and the homestead is still owned by the family today. Martens sketched remarkably accurate topographical outlines of the mountains in the area and the nearby Great Dividing Range and the McPherson Range which Olley would paint some 100 years later with Boonah landscape.

Edited extracts by Michael Hawker, Curator, Australian Art (to 1980). Additional research and supplementary material by Elliott Murray, Senior Digital Marketing Officer with support from the QAGOMA Research Library.

Views around Coochin Coochin station

Conrad Martens, England/Australia 1801-78 / Coochin 1851 / Pencil on off-white wove paper / 17.5 x 25.7cm / Acquired before 1954 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Views around Coochin Coochin station c.1920. Coochin is one of the oldest surviving homesteads in Queensland. It lies nestled in the Scenic Rim at Boonah, the junction of the Great Divide and McPherson range. Coochin homestead is one of the earliest pastoral runs in the Moreton District, settled in 1842 by David Hunter and James Fyffe. James Thomas Marsh Bell with partner Colville Hyde, purchased the freehold for 30 shillings an acre and then later Thomas Bell bought out Colville Hyde in 1901 / M780-0035-0001 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
The Coochin Coochin homestead and property, 2013 / Photograph: © Peter Law / 29211-0001-0003 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland

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Featured image detail: Margaret Olley Boonah landscape 1962
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