The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Christo­pher Allen

For Auld Lang Syne: Im­ages of Scot­tish Aus­tralia from the First Fleet to Fed­er­a­tion Art Gallery of Bal­larat, to July 27

THE Scots were al­ways stub­bornly in­de­pen­dent, even when all the Bri­tons were Celtic peo­ples. The Ro­mans never con­quered Scot­land, and Hadrian built his wall to con­tain them in their wild north­ern lands. Af­ter the fall of Rome and the in­va­sion of Ger­manic An­gles and Sax­ons, Scot­land, like other border­lands, was one of the places where the old Celtic in­hab­i­tants of the Bri­tish Isles con­tin­ued to main­tain their sep­a­rate iden­tity.

In the 16th century, the Scots were con­verted to Calvin­ism, so while the English were Angli­cans, the Scots were Pres­by­te­ri­ans. The choice of Ire­land to re­main Catholic and Scot­land to be­come Protes­tant had sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences for both peo­ples for the next half mil­len­nium. How­ever hu­mour­less the Calvin­ists could be, they did be­lieve that ev­ery­one had to form a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with God, and this meant read­ing divine scrip­ture.

Thus the Ref­or­ma­tion brought a higher level of lit­er­acy to Scot­land than to many other coun­tries. Build­ing on this ad­van­tage, and on a long­stand­ing com­mit­ment to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, the Scots of the En­light­en­ment pe­riod made a dis­pro­por­tion­ate con­tri­bu­tion, among Bri­tish in­tel­lec­tu­als gen­er­ally, to his­tory, phi­los­o­phy, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy.

At the same time, life in Scot­land was not easy. The land was com­par­a­tively poor and the weather harsh, and the High­land Clear­ances of the late 18th and early 19th century put additional pres­sure on ru­ral pop­u­la­tions, driv­ing many to seek a new life else­where; the vast ex­pan­sion of the Bri­tish Em­pire in the late 18th century would open up abun­dant op­por­tu­ni­ties from In­dia to Canada and Aus­tralia.

The Scots, ed­u­cated, re­source­ful and tough, were prom­i­nent in the ex­plo­ration and early coloni­sa­tion of Aus­tralia. As we learn from this fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in Bal­larat, Cap­tain Cook’s artist Syd­ney Parkin­son was a Scot, as was Thomas Watling, the con­vict pain­ter who left us some of the first pic­tures of Aus­tralia and of the Abo­rig­ines by a trained artist.

The Scots were un­der-rep­re­sented among the con­vict pop­u­la­tion, who were re­spon­si­ble for much of the early vi­o­lence against the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion, and En­light­en­ment so­cial and po­lit­i­cal thought en­cour­aged a sense of com­mon hu­man­ity.

Watling’s por­traits are sym­pa­thetic, with a con­cern both for cul­ture and habits — such as the pic­ture of a man stand­ing on one leg with the other bent, his foot propped against his

The Heart of the Coolins, Isle of Skye knee — and for the per­son­al­ity of in­di­vid­u­als. One sketch shows al­most all the im­por­tant mem­bers of the govern­ment — in­clud­ing Gover­nor Phillip and Cap­tain Hunter, an­other Scot and Phillip’s suc­ces­sor — vis­it­ing a na­tive woman de­scribed in the cap­tion of the draw­ing as dis­tressed. A ver­sion of the same com­po­si­tion was adapted for the ti­tle page of an early vol­ume on the progress of the new colony.

It seems that the woman’s child is sick or even dead; and per­haps the of­fi­cial party are vis­it­ing — ac­com­pa­nied by the med­i­cal of­fi­cer, to whom Watling had been as­signed — be­cause they sus­pect an out­break of small­pox. Nearby, the most mov­ing im­age in the ex­hi­bi­tion is a tiny wa­ter­colour sketch of what the artist be­lieved to be the burial site of na­tives who had died of small­pox. The empti­ness and still­ness of the scene are un­der­scored by the soli­tary fig­ure of a horse­man who looks on.

From a slightly later pe­riod, but be­gin­ning as early as John Glover, there are se­ries of por­traits of hand­some houses and prop­er­ties, many of which, es­pe­cially in Vic­to­ria, were es­tab­lished by the en­ter­pris­ing and hard­work­ing Scots. But here again, of course, the spread of colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion was at the ex­pense of the na­tive in­hab­i­tants. There is a par­tic­u­larly telling pair of pic­tures by von Guer­ard — house por­traits were not un­com­monly con­ceived as a kind of dip­tych — in one of which a pale and a dark bull lock horns, per­haps a dis­creet al­lu­sion to the armed clashes that had on this oc­ca­sion taken place, while in the other, a small group of Abo­rig­ines move in a desul­tory way through land they had once oc­cu­pied.

Many Abo­rig­i­nal place names at least were pre­served by an­other Scot, Thomas Mitchell,

(1886) by Kee­ley Hal­swelle, top; por­trait of Sir Thomas Liv­ing­stone Mitchell (1830s), artist un­known, above

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