Stradbroke ferry, a reminder of Charles Blackman’s time in Brisbane


The time Charles Blackman (12 August 1928-2018) spent in Queensland was central to his development as one of the most important Australian artists of his generation. It was during his early visits to Brisbane first in 1948 and then regularly from 1952 that the artist experienced the sense of intense personal discovery that was to launch his career trajectory.

Painted the year when Blackman left Melbourne and rented a cottage on North Stradbroke Island, Stradbroke ferry 1952 (Illustrated) on display within the Queensland Art Gallery’s Australian Art Collection, Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries (10-13) is one of his most impressive works from this profoundly creative period.

Amity, on the northwestern shores of North Stradbroke Island — within Moreton Bay — was a three-hour launch trip from Brisbane’s CBD. Then only accessible by boat with the Mirimar, Mirabel or Mirana, the seaside village welcomed visitors from 1935 when Hayles Cruises started a passenger service.

Through photography taken during Blackman’s time in Brisbane, we follow in the footsteps of the artist on his journey to Stradbroke Island. Amity Point was the main landing on the island from Brisbane’s terminal at North Quay beside the Victoria Bridge (replaced with the current bridge in 1969). The Hayles vessels provided not only bay excursion trips, but also were a popular means of travelling upstream, especially to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Signage for ‘Hayles River & Bay Excursion Trips’ at North Quay c.1950s

William Arthur Jones (Photographer) / Office and wharf signage for ‘Hayles River & Bay Excursion Trips’ at North Quay beside the Victoria Bridge c.1950s / 99184250441202061 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Hayles Cruises wharves at North Quay beside Victoria Bridge 1959

Hayles Wharves, North Quay 1959 / 99183505569102061 & 99183507606402061 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

MV Mirana leaving Brisbane heading toward Stradbroke Island c.1950

MV Mirana leaving Brisbane heading toward Stradbroke Island c.1950 / 99183506861902061 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Amity Point terminal, Stradbroke Island 1950s

MV Mirimar at Amity Point, Stradbroke Island c.1950s / UQFL477 / Courtesy: Fryer Library Photograph Collection, The University of Queensland, Brisbane

Charles Blackman ‘Stradbroke ferry’ 1952

Charles Blackman, Australia 1928-2018 / Stradbroke ferry 1952 / Enamel and tempera on heavy cardboard / 63.5 x 76cm / Gift of Barbara Blackman AO through the QAGOMA Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency

In February 1948, Blackman visited the Moreton Galleries in Brisbane, and saw an exhibition of works by Sidney Nolan, inspired by Nolan’s time on Fraser Island. Deeply impressed, Blackman later told curator Laurie Thomas: ‘What I liked about them was that they were dark, mysterious, almost surreal’.1 ‘Trapping the inner feeling in the paint’ was how he later described these and Nolan’s Queensland outback works.2 Nolan’s Moreton Galleries exhibition revealed to Blackman the power of a painting to articulate a clear and particular vision.

Stradbroke ferry strongly references this Nolan influence, depicting the ferry to this popular island holiday spot at night, the application of paint evoking the jewel-like lights of the ship and coastal settlement reflected in the sea. Blackman rented a cottage on Stradbroke that year where he painted, sending ‘back to Sunday Reid about fifty small pictures on quarter size boards of birds, beaches, boys leaping off rocks, and shy white horses’.3 The environs of south east Queensland clearly inspired the young artist.

Through his friendship with Barrett Reid, Blackman was introduced to the art patrons John and Sunday Reed in Melbourne, and, through them, saw Nolan’s early St Kilda works.4 In 1952, before Blackman left Melbourne for Brisbane, Sunday Reed presented him with a leather plumber’s bag filled with brushes and small tins of Dulux enamel paint.

That same year, once in Brisbane, Blackman painted Barnes Auto, Brisbane 1952 (Illustrated) and City lights 1952 (Illustrated). The bright, glossy surface of both suggests they may have been painted with house paints, possibly those given to him by Sunday Reed. Equally so with Stradbroke ferry which also uses enamel paints.

Stradbroke ferry effectively links the work of avant-garde artists and writers of 1940’s and 1950’s Brisbane with their southern counterparts and is an integral part of the story of Australian art in the years immediately following World War Two.

Charles Blackman ‘Barnes Auto, Brisbane’ 1952

Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928, Barnes Auto Brisbane 1952
Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928 / Barnes Auto, Brisbane 1952 / Oil and enamel on cardboard / Purchased 2008 with funds derived from the gifts of Maria Therese Treweeke, Lady Trout, SH Ervin, Sali Herman, Sir James (Robert) McGregor, Robert Wilson, Captain Neil McEacharn, Naomi and Simon Bracegirdle and Oscar Edwards / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Charles Raymond Blackman/Copyright Agency

Charles Blackman ‘City lights’ 1952

Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928, City lights 1952
Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928 / City lights 1952 / Oil and enamel on cardboard / Purchased 2005 with funds raised through the QAG Foundation Blackman Art Appeal / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency

Curatorial extracts from Michael Hawker, former Curator, Australian Art, QAGOMA, research and supplementary material compiled by Elliott Murray, Senior Digital Marketing Officer, QAGOMA.

1 Thomas, Laurie. ‘The Most Noble Art of Them All: The Writings of Laurie Thomas’, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1976, p.171.
2 St John Moore, Felicity. ‘Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls and Angels: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Charles Blackman’ [exhibition catalogue], NGV, Melbourne, 1993, p.5; Nolan’s Queensland outback works from 1948 were viewed by Blackman at the David Jones Art Gallery in Sydney in 1949.
3 Ibid, p. 17.
4 Examples of Nolan’s St Kilda works were held by the Reeds at their home in Heide.