LOOKING BACK: JILL BOOTH
Art and teaching are the main themes of Jill Booth’s life, as she explained to Moya Stevens
Having a great grandfather, a grandfather and a mother in the teaching profession, it may have been inevitable that Jill also become a teacher however it provided a means to pursue her natural artistic talent and passion.
Jill spent her early years in Mahogany Creek, in the Perth Hills, where her parents ran a mixed orchard.
“I think being brought up in an orchard taught me a great deal of practical skills,” Jill said, “and I quite enjoyed milking cows, picking fruit and building the fruit boxes we needed to pack the fruit for market.”
Educated at Perth Modern School and later at Claremont Teachers College and the University of WA, Jill started her teaching in Fremantle where she had up to 60 Year 6 students in her class.
“It was a challenge controlling such large classes but I learned to give the students a task then stand at the back of the room and, if any of the kids were planning on doing something naughty, they foolishly would look back at me, so I knew what they were up to.”
Primary school teaching involved all facets of education but Jill was trained as an Art Teacher so, after suffering chilblains because of the cold, she sought warmer weather and ended up teaching in Carnarvon, Alice Springs and later Darwin where she met Ian Booth, whom she married.
“In 1961, they were looking for a settlement manager at Wave Hill Station, about 800km south of Darwin,” Jill said, “and the settlement consisted of a house, school, store and various other buildings.
“So Ian managed the settlement and I opened the school – and the children were so smart, bright and cheerful.”
Whilst at Wave Hill, Jill was offered a flight in a small plane by a visiting clergyman.
“When we took off, the pilot started to grumble about something, pulled a few switches then told us to ‘hold on’.
“I thought I was going to die when we came crashing down, but the plane flipped over and I managed to get out through a window, very shaken up,” she said, “and apparently the pastor was a cheapskate and hadn’t fuelled up with av gas but with motor spirit.”
Jill’s romance with outback Australia continued with her and Ian, and now two daughters, Virginia and Miranda, living and working in remote places such as Port Hedland, the Kimberleys, Point Samson and eventually buying a caravan park at Kalbarri.
“I taught school in many places and I also held art sessions for adults, many of them the local Aboriginals,” she said.
“I didn’t and still don’t care what materials I use in my art and working with the indigenous in various areas allowed me to learn their ways with art whilst I helping them with the principles of design.”
It was sometime in the 80s when Jill came across a promotional flyer about Port Douglas that was put together by Diane Cilento and various businesses around the town.
“It looked so lovely with none of the usual sales hype so we came to visit several times in the 80s and ended up buying a property in the early 90s at Mowbray where we built an art gallery,” Jill said.
Laughing, Jill mentioned that they “left the girls behind in Perth but they soon followed us here”.
Jill, Ian and daughters opened another gallery just off Macrossan Street, Port Douglas Gallery of Fine Arts and she admits that galleries were not necessarily great earners but they lived a very comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle.
In 2003 Ian passed away and so the galleries were eventually closed.
“In 2008 a friend, Louise Collier, and I decided to establish an arts festival in Port Douglas – Go Troppo Arts Festival,” Jill said, “and we were the first event to be held at the Sugar Wharf. “The first year we had more than 300 people come through, so it was a great success.
“It was also a great deal of hard work so after Louise left the area and the funding dried up, mainly to do with the council amalgamation, I just couldn’t do it anymore, although it was hugely popular for the 3 years it was held.”
Jill has been very much part of the art scene in the Douglas Shire, being a member of Arthouse Port Douglas, Port Douglas Artists Inc, DAB in Mossman, a teacher and mentor to many.
Her inspirations come from her surroundings and she says the colour and vibrancy of the tropical north are constant stimuli for her painting, sculpture and fabric art.
Jill reflected on how things have changed around Port Douglas but mostly she said, it has stayed very much the same as when she and her family settled her in the ’90s.
“The hills stay the same, the ocean’s the same, the people are still friendly and it is still an exciting place to live.”
The pilot started to grumble about something then told us to hold on. I thought I was going to die when we came crashing down, but the plane flipped over and I managed to get out through a window
Jill Booth today. Inset: with Ian Booth