Fine Art Australia

Elizabeth Durack


Elizabeth Durack was born in Perth on 6 July, 1915 and died in May, 2000. Her grandfather, Patrick Durack was an early pioneering pastoralist in the Kimberley region during the late nineteenth century. Elizabeth began drawing at an early age teaming up with her sister, the late Dame Mary Durack to produce children's books such as Piccaninnies and The Way of the Whirlwind.

When she completed her schooling Elizabeth settled on the family pastoral station at Argyle in the Kimberley. She worked briefly for The Bulletin in 1935 before travelling to England in 1936 taking classes at the Chelsea Polytechnic in London. She returned to Australia in 1937 moving to Sydney and in 1939 she married Sydney journalist Francis Clancy.

Elizabeth returned to the Kimberley in 1946 settling in Broome. In that same year she had her first exhibition of her paintings at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. The late 1940's proved to be a prolific period in Elizabeth's career. She had returned to Ivanhoe Station and built herself a bark shed studio on the banks of the Ord River. Between 1946 and 1950 she held eleven solo exhibitions, five of them in Perth. By the late 1950's her leitmotif of Aboriginal subjects and station life was well known to Perth audiences. She held many exhibitions throughout the 50's in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.

In 1961 Elizabeth was one of only three women artists represented in the landmark exhibition "Recent Australian Paintings" at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. Other artists in this exhibition included Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, Fred Williams and Brett Whiteley. Five years later she was awarded the OBE for her contribution to art and literature.

During the 1970's Elizabeth developed a theme "The rim, the rim of our brittle and disintegrating world" concerned with movement instead of recognisable subject matter. As part of the celebrations for Western Australia'a sesquicentenary in 1979, her work was chosen to represent the state at the World Trade Centre in New York.

In 1982 Elizabeth received the CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George). The eighties also saw the artist once more preoccupied with the landscape of the north. In 1989 Elizabeth, along with Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, was a guest artist at the Australia-Ireland Conference. She received an honorary doctorate from Murdoch University in 1994.

To say that Elizabeth Durack was a remarkable woman is an understatement. She has been able to protray humanity with warmth and affection, always following her own vision and at times choosing an unfashionable path, tackling difficult and delicate subjects. It was Elizabeth's dedication to depicting Aborigines within the rugged and hostile outback environment of Australia that set her apart from her contemporaries. Her work stands as a forceful document of the changing artistic and social patterns of our country. Her paintings may sometimes make us feel uncomfortable, but they are done with honesty and commitment that cannot be ignored.

NB: Some of the above information was taken from the biographical notes of Silvia Conroy and the writings of Janda Gooding in the Brochure "Derivations and Directions".