Stoneslingers 2 (second version)
1994, 82 x 126 cms
The weirdest bit of synchronicity occurred with the sale of the first, Stone slingers late in November 1994. The painting had criss-crossed Australia from Perth, where it was painted, to Adelaide, and used as a catalogue cover for my exhibition at Greenhills, to Alice Springs, thence to Sydney, back to Melbourne, back to Alice and in July 1990 to Stuart Gerstman’s Richmond gallery for a further solo show. Stuart gave it prominence by plastering a reproduction of it to the gallery’s bulk-bottled wines, an opening night gimmick. Did he have ironic intentions, attaching an image of kids, whose fate was already linked to the nexus of inebriated misery attending town camps, to the wine bottles? I told him of the empty, green casks of cheap white Coolabah that littered the town’s riverbed. And of their pictorial logo, a pseudo-pointillist painting of a bourgeoisie couple decked in recreational finery, skiffing blithely upon untroubled waters: some Impressionist kitsch of halcyon days. It was news to him. For the grog’s main clients, its sickly saccharine contents and the carton’s deceptive image were more at odds than most signs dangled before the Arrernte.
The work didn’t sell at Gerstmans’. I stored it at my painter friend, Graeme Drendel’s home in Coburg. Late in 1991 its future owner was introduced to me in Alice Springs and it was shipped to Alice where it was sold on the 28th of November that year.
Mid afternoon I was at home breaking up the redundant barbecue with a crow bar. Ronja was inside watching The Simpsons, Raffi beside me under the grapevine. Within minutes stones were hitting the roof. I looked into the adjacent park. Three ten-year- old white kids were under the tree by the swings sixty metres away. Too far away. I puzzled while resuming with the crow bar. Then another attack. The kids had shrunk behind a tree. It had to be them. I saw them slip off up a nearby cul de sac, glancing in our direction. They doubled back and I noted the house they were entering. I bent into work. More stones! I rushed Raffi inside with Ronja, told her what was going on, and trotted barefoot through the park into their carport, and hoisted myself up onto its roof where they hid. I pinned the largest of them to the roof and told him what an idiot he was trying to knock out our solar panels and nearly hitting Raffi. I let him know this was between us not his parents. But only for this time.
I jumped from the roof onto a patch of bullhorn thorns. I could not afford to puncture my machismo until I got home. I was plucking thorns when Elaine returned from shopping. I told her what had happened. Mid story, more stones shattered the conversation. These were from smaller kids in the street who had ducked off to the house across the park. North this time. Not east like before. We were being surrounded. I followed them around to the backyard where they tried to dissolve into a party of adults and smaller kids relaxing under the verandah. I spelled out the issues angrily to the adults and stalked off flexing from confrontation.
The afternoon rolled into dusk. Again, the familiar clatter of stones. And my neighbour’s abuse. Elaine and I were outside weeding the vegetables and looked up to see him clambering his fence and lumber through the park in pursuit of a black youth. No chance of catching him, I thought. But his anger and the booze fuelled him to an unlikely capture. I watched my neighbour as he shoved the nimble assailant back towards his house. He put a hammerlock on him and pushed him through his park-side gate and back door. I worried that the lad was Theresa Ryder’s son, Shane Buzzacott. They soon emerged to the front lawn and I walked over to check the score. I noticed the boy’s shredded lip, but didn’t know him. He was abusing our neighbour, threatening to bother him into eternity.
‘I jus’ a young man, an’ you an old fella. I got plenty relations to square off with you. We get you, anytime.’
Street smart and bush wise, he was an index of the town’s rising generation. The neighbour was busy with an assortment of ‘rock ape’ and ‘coon’ rejoinders when the police arrived to take the matter out of his hands.
Why did the neighbour come in for a stoning? Surely not for the same reasons as we had from white kids. Whatever, such phenomena had not been encountered since that April long ago when Peter Schjeldahl visited. While recapping these events I made a connection to the day’s sale of Stone slingers, and the implied violence of the kids in the painting. The gap between art and life had narrowed again. The white kids had received a tongue-lashing. The black kid was physically violated and the law brought to bear.
During April 1994, I had another survey exhibition at the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct and it seemed appropriate to show that painting with a second version made in 1993. My style had changed in the eight-year interim. I tried to contact the owner and was shocked that he was in jail. This did not tally with the mild bloke I knew. I discovered he had been jailed for fourteen years for paedophilia with Aboriginal kids. What had he read in the painting? The painting had been stored at one of his friends’ home in Alice and I was able to borrow it for exhibition at the Cultural Precinct.
After the opening I flew to Melbourne. Graeme kindly picked me up from nearby Tullamarine terminal and I stayed the first night of my Melbourne visit with him and his family in Coburg. I recounted this tale of coincidences. Wendy, his wife, reminded him that during its brief housing with them, kids had pelted their roof on their way home from school for a few days until Graeme had rushed into the street and cussed them. We rolled our eyes in recognition and disbelief at this final bit of the jigsaw.
‘Where’s the painting going to after your show? grinned Graeme mischievously.
In the second version of Stoneslingers the pointillist handling of the paint had by and large been forsaken. Long ribbons of colour were used for the earth. I felt more competent about re-creating the scene and co-opting kids I knew well into posing for me.