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Art collection gift prompts gallery call
BUNURONG ward councillor Les
Larke has outlined a vision for the cre-
ation of a public art space/art gallery in
Wonthaggi, with a long term focus on
the possibility of the establishment of a
regional art facility in the town.
Catalyst for the exciting project has
been the gifting of an art and book col-
lection to the Bass Coast Shire worth in
excess of $1 million, and the old Wont-
haggi Post Office has been suggested as
an ideal venue.
Speaking at the December meeting of
council held in Cowes, Cr Larke spoke
passionately about the opportunities
the gifting of the valuable collection
opened up not just to the people of Won-
thaggi, but for the whole shire.
“The Robert Smith Social Realism
Collection, comprising art works and
books, is valued at in excess of $1 mil-
lion,” Cr Larke told all present, adding
that the “stunning” collection includes
a Picasso, and many original works
by the famous Australian artist Noel
Noel Counihan was a social realist
painter, printmaker, cartoonist and il-
lustrator, whose work often reflecting
the politics and social hardships of his
He spent time in Wonthaggi in the
1940s, and his fondness for the work-
ing class town, with its proud back-
ground, history and heritage, is well
He completed a famous series of lino
cuts known as ‘The Miners back in the
1940s based on his observations while
living in the town, and these were in fact
purchased by the Bass Coast Shire in
2010 to coincide with Wonthaggi’s cen-
But they have never been put on pub-
lic display and are apparently stored in
a council vault somewhere.
Cr Larke described the Counihan
works in the collection being gifted to
Wonthaggi as second only to the collec-
tion by the artist on display in the Na-
tional Gallery in Canberra.
Added to the lino cuts already pur-
chased by council, the collection is even
He also commented that possibly the
biggest Shakespeare collection in Aus-
tralia is part of the collection.
“If this collection is managed and pro-
moted properly, the community, visitors
and business as a whole will benefit
greatly,” Cr Larke said.
“Perhaps this will be a catalyst for
achieving government funding for a re-
gional gallery. And a research library
“With this art and book collection will
come community pride.”
“It will be a boon for our proposed
education precinct. Our students will
be able to refer to visual arts as never
before, and connect with their history
Cr Larke also referred to the many
other art works acquired by the Bass
Coast Shire Council over the years,
many of which do not see the light of
day, and which he would like to see ex-
hibited across the shire.
“Council has significant art works
stored in various buildings, that I envis-
age would be made available for various
exhibitions around the shire,” he said
“This in turn will lift the status of the
arts in this region, and could lead to the
establishment of a regional gallery.”
The shire holds many other valuable
art works - 97 pieces in fact - with some
located in shire buildings, but many in
storage units, well away from the public
It is clearly Cr Larke’s aim to see this
He had the support of all councillors,
with the Island ward’s Cr Michael Whel-
an stating he had observed “a lot of local
art” but lamenting that “we hide it under
“We do need a public space for art
work to be observed,” he commented.
“We need to think big on these mat-
“We are blessed with the artists that
we have here, as well as the Collection
we have been gifted.
“We have a responsibility to show
Cr Larke’s fellow councillors unani-
mously supported the motion he put
forth, requesting Bass Coast CEO Paul
Buckley to prepare a report for the
council’s February meeting, outlining
options to house and display art collec-
tions owned by the community.
The report is to include the future use
of the Old Wonthaggi Post Office Build-
ing as an option for an Art Gallery, and
outline the cost of a master plan, indica-
tive time frames and indicative costs for
implementation of the options identi-
In the meantime, the old Post Office
will continue to be used as a council
meeting space and for council events.
The Cough . . . Stone Dust, by Australian art activist Noel Counihan,
is one of a series of six lino cuts completed in the 1940s, reflecting the
hardships endured by Wonthaggi’s miners.
‘The Young Wheeler’ by Noel Counihan, is part of ‘The Miners’ series of
lino cuts purchased by the Bass Coast Shire in 2010.
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