Shepparton News

Passion for local history

- — Marnie

Hello and welcome back.

I hope your sun is shining and your favourite shops are open.

Just before this last lockdown, I had a coffee (and a very large vanilla slice) with John Gribben. His knowledge of, and passion for, our local history is always inspiring and I came away wanting to know more about John Longstaff. The resulting story follows.

John also taught me, as his father had taught him, how to eat a vanilla slice in public — but I still came away with sticky fingers.

Sir John Longstaff

Although Sir John lived in Shepparton for a relatively short time, his attachment to the town — throughout his lifetime — was apparent.

He was born in Clunes in 1861 and, in 1874, his family relocated to Shepparton.

His father, Ralph, was a shopkeeper and opened his first store in Mooroopna (now Billy’s Bakehouse). It has been referred to as a drapery store but, in truth Ralph sold anything he thought people might need, from flour to building materials.

His second store was in Wyndham St, Shepparton, and his third in Mundoona (27 km north of Shepparton).

A very young and disinteres­ted John was in charge of the Mundoona store.

He spent his time drawing pictures of his customers and filed the appropriat­e account behind each sketch.

When customers arrived to pay their account, they were surprised to see their likenesses attached.

However, this proved useful when, one day, the police arrived looking for a particular man; John produced a sketch and said: ‘Yes. He was here 10 minutes ago.’

Around this period, John painted a sign for the Methodist Free Church and designed certificat­es for Shepparton Pastoral Society.

However, retail was not his forte and he worked briefly as a clerk (this was in Shepparton but I can’t find details) and then accepted a job at a Melbourne Importers.

It was at this point that his career as an artist began to develop when he attended the art school of the National Gallery of Victoria.

His father was opposed to this initially, however his mother’s encouragem­ent won the day.

(This interests me because his talent seems to have come from his father’s side of the family. His cousin, Will Longstaff, born in Ballarat 1879, was also a successful painter.)

A scholarshi­p (the art school’s first travelling scholarshi­p) eventually took John to London, France and Spain and, shortly before leaving Melbourne, he made (what has been described as) an impetuous marriage to Rosa Crocker.

John painted many famous faces, including King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

He returned to Melbourne in 1920 (while maintainin­g his wife and children in London).

He won the Archibald Prize five times and was the first Australian artist to be knighted (1933).

At one point, a client asked Sir John for a painting 4 ft by 5 ft. When it was complete, the client complained.

She wanted it 5 ft high and 4 ft wide, whereas he had painted it 4 ft high and 5 ft wide (landscape).

He painted it again and the original was donated to the Borough of Shepparton by his mother.

In 1929, Sir John painted Ellis Rowan (who has been mentioned in this column a couple of times — on the second occasion I spelt her name correctly).

Sir John assisted in the opening of our first art gallery in 1936, selecting the gallery’s first purchase.

His son, also Ralph, won the Military Cross during WW1 and here is an article from the local newspaper:

Mr and Mrs Ralph Longstaff of ‘Stanhope’ Wyndham-street, have received a letter from their son Mr. John Longstaff, the well-known artist, who resides in London, in which it was stated that his son, Capt. Ralph Longstaff (their grandson) who a short time ago was awarded the Military Cross for bravery on the battlefiel­d, had been decorated by His Majesty the King at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, January 22nd. 1918. His Majesty pinned the Military Cross upon Captain Longstaff’s chest, and shaking hands with him, congratula­ted him upon his achievemen­t. Mr John Longstaff (father of the solder), a few years back, re-visited Shepparton, to see Mrs and Mrs. Ralph Longstaff senior and was warmly welcomed by his many friends who knew him in his boyhood days, and they, no doubt, will be pleased to learn of the distinctio­n gained by his son.

According to Raymond West, in 1960 our gallery held four Longstaff paintings, including individual works of his parents, which were donated.

The list of artists at that time also includes Namatjira, Streeton, Norman Lindsay, Rowell and, of course, John Pick.

In all, 94 paintings, valued 61 years ago at £5000.

An exhibition, at the Shepparton Art Gallery in 2012, was entitled A Portrait of a Lady and displayed Sir John’s paintings of women.

Sir John died in Melbourne on October 1, 1941.

I thank John Gribben and Geoff Allemand for their inspiratio­n – and assistance with this story.

Under the Clock

Last week, our ‘Under the Clock’ article mentioned the Union Hotel — and I was unsure where it was located.

Geoff Allemand, from the Lost Shepparton Shop, has sent a photo of the hotel — and it was an earlier incarnatio­n of the Aussie; at that time, the proprietor was W.J. Nolan. February 5, 1914

Next week’s carnival — Never before has there been in promise such great success for the Shepparton Carnival, which is to be held at the Recreation Reserve, next Tuesday and Wednesday, February 10th and 11th. Everything is well in hand; the cash prizes total £455; record entries have been received, and the various contests are bound to be very keen, especially with the crack pedestrian­s who have come from all parts of the Commonweal­th. Of course the Band Contest will be one of the chief attraction­s; the fireworks another; but the general programme is a very varied one, intended to suit all tastes: and it is quite expected that quite 14,000 or 15,000 people will be in Shepparton next week. Mr. John Stubbs, the able secretary, who elevates the dispositio­n of details to a fine art, has, with the assistance of his two daughters (the Misses E and F Stubbs), been working at high pressure these several weeks; and the result can only be record success for the Carnival. What is very necessary now is that the Carnival committee should see that Nixon street is well watered at least a couple of days prior to, and on Wednesday, so as to keep the dust well down.

My comment: I remember a carnival being held on New Year’s Day — a couple of world wars later. I think it was largely an athletics event because my father was always trying to persuade my mother to attend with him.

He must have won the day, at least a couple of times, because I remember watching people run; and my dad explaining that one particular runner would be in the next Olympics.

I tried to be interested but it was very, very hot. I think this was also at Deakin Reserve.

Legacy of lockdown

We emerge from our eighth lockdown and, presumably, move into the next phase shortly.

I listened closely to the instructio­ns regarding downloadin­g our ‘passports’ and then turned the television off — abruptly.

I don’t want to go to places where others aren’t welcome.

I understand the reasoning behind it all but it feels more like punishing some — rather than rewarding most.

We are going where no democracy has gone before and we don’t know how long this twotiered society will last. I am incredibly sad.

The protests in London and New York, about what is happening here, make me wonder if people outside this country are seeing it more clearly than we are.

We have, like the good citizens we are, accepted each stage of this weird experience, with patience and relatively good humour.

I’ll try to shake off this grey cloud. It has just arrived and I haven’t yet sorted through my thoughts.

Please tell me, if you feel I am being unnecessar­ily sad.

I’ll be better company next week, I promise.

May it be easy, my friends


Letter: Town Talk. Shepparton News. P.O. Box 204. Shepparton 3631.

Phone: Send a text on 0418 962 507. (Note: text only. I will call you back, if you wish)

 ?? ??
 ?? Pictures: Lost Shepparton Shop ?? The local: The Union Hotel.
Pictures: Lost Shepparton Shop The local: The Union Hotel.
 ?? ?? Creative: Certificat­e for the Show designed by John Longstaff 1886.
Creative: Certificat­e for the Show designed by John Longstaff 1886.
 ?? ?? Signage: Methodist Church sign designed by John Longstaff.
Signage: Methodist Church sign designed by John Longstaff.

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