Gray Smith, The Trap and Other Works
The following information is attributed to the 'FernArtz' website. Gray was born in Melbourne in 1919 and studied under Max Meldrum, Founder of Austrlalian tonalism and representational painting). Gray suffered considerably in his early years from grand mal seizures and Epilespy. This had an effect on his development and social acceptance. Gray became an 'observer of man.' A man outside, silently forbidden to become the socially constructed ‘Aussie bloke’. Gray through his isolation of self and personal rejection brought on through the illness as a result he developed a strong sense of irony familiar in his artwork and poetry.
Artwork produced throughout the 1950’s evolved the romanticised ‘Aussie bloke’. This man too, was isolated and at odds with the landscape. The theme of isolation and dislocation from either landscape or society was a reoccurring theme and developed many forms throughout his life. Between 1947 and 1960, Gray settled with Joy Hester (whom he married in 1959) in Melbourne and associated closely with other artists including Sydney Nolan, the Boyd family, Mirka Mora, John Percival and many others.
In 1961, Gray Smith and his family moved to Canberra with Joan Upward. Their thirteen year (1960-1973) union sees; Joan and Gray forge a strong bond through the research of local history where Gray produces his largest body of artworks which receives National acclaim. This is evidenced in articles in newsprint, producing artwork for an ABC TV documentary on Daisy Bates and being sponsored to live and exhibit in Paris. Between 1962 and 1967 Gray held a number of solo and group exhibitions in Canberra and Melbourne and won the Helena Rubinstein portrait Prize Portrait at the David Jones Gallery ACT (1966). Between 1971 and 1972, Smith became the Art Critic for the Canberra Times (one of many distinguished artists and curators to hold the role). From 1976 to his death in 1990, Smith continued to paint but due to ill-health never exhibited.
The Works of Art
The University of Canberra holds four works of art in its Collection by Gray Smith. The first is a simple composition painted with enamel onto board and shows a man driving a pony and rap on a red path in a rural setting. The work is a good representation of Smith's style which continues in his series depicting activities, events and movement in a rural setting. His works can be favourably compared to Sydney Nolan and his Ned Kelly series. Distillation, the Robbing at Ainslie's Camp and the Queanbeyan Coach were all painted in 1966 and were no doubt inspired by the research into the local Canberran history. Much like the Ned Kelly Series, these works have a linear narrative 'story-telling' quality about them. They are great examples of Australian post-modern history paintings.
The Robbing of Ainslie's Camp (An incident recorded in the Federal Capital Pioneer courtesy of Trove):
Towards the end of 1826, Limestone Plains was much troubled by a gang of bushrangers, the principals being
two escaped convicts, arch scoundrels, by name John Tennant and John Rix. Among their numerous depredations
they visited and robbed the hut of Mr. Ainslie at "Pialligo," who subsequently, giving evidence against them, signed
his depositions as "James Ainslie, superintendent to the Hon. Mr. Campbell at Limestone Plains." The following
is the substance of his evidence:—On November 21 or 22, 1826, James Ainslie took the whole of Mr. Campbell's men, with one exception, to wash sheep, leaving as hut-keeper a man named Charles Bowman, an assigned servant of Mr. Campbell, who at this time was an invalid. About noon, a man (afterwards identified as Tennant) arrived at the hut armed with a pistol, which he presented at Bowman, threatening to blow his brains out if he so much as looked at him.He then bound Bowman hand and foot and tied a blanket round his head. Presntly another man arrived on the scene, and from the sounds that ensued. Bowman judged that they were breaking into the store. Ainsle returning home about 3 pm, found everything in confusion. Presently another man arrived on the scene, and the storeroom burst open, and his poor hutkeeper in the condition just de-
scribed. He immediately liberated Bowman, and with him proceeded tto investigate the extent of the robbery,
which consisted of 29lb. of Brazil tobacco, four blue vests, two blue jackets, one striped vest, one black vest, one yellow vest, one light-colored vest with pearl buttons, one light colored vest with covered buttons, one black silk handkerchief, one plaid cot-
ton handkerchief, three red shirts, pair jean trousers, pair fustian trousers, upwards of 150lb. of flour, a quantity of tea and sugar, two or three gallons of spirits, powder and shot, pair half boots, four holey dollars, three Spanish dollars, two rupees, one Spitalfields silk handkerchief, one cotton night-cap, and one small horse-pistol, which had been hanging on a nail beside
Mr. Ainslie's bed. Possibly this shial,horse-pistol may have been a relic of his old soldiering days, and even have
been carried by him at Waterloo. Whatever other weaknesses Ainslie may have had, he certainly had a tender regard for waistcoats, judging by the choice assortment of which he has just been relieved by the bushrangers. Knowing that Tennant and his party were in the vicinity, Ainslie felt convinced that they were responsible for the robbery. Next morning Ainslie, in company with Mr. Cowan, went out in search of the bushrangers and their loot, and found in a hollow tree a quantity of tea and sugar in a sack tied in the middle. Mr. Cowan mentions that, after taking the tea and sugar home, he, in company with Mr. Duncan Macfarlane, superintendent to Mr. George Palmer, went out again and quite accidentally came upon Tennant hiding under a fallen tree, close to where the tea and sugar had been secreted. Tennant, who was armed with a fowling-piece, immediately
started up and cried out to Cowan, "If you come any further, I'll blow your brains out." As Cowan and Macfarlane were unarmed, they considered discretion the better part of valor and retired.
The Robbing of the Queanbeyan Coach
The following passage describes an incident in 1864 of the robbery of the Queanbeyan mail:
We have to:day to chronicle another mail robbery, as having taken place in this district, the mails from Queanbeyan (via Gundaroo), Guandoroo and Collector, having been stuck up about a quarter toeight o'clock, yesterday morning, a couple of miles this side of Collector. The statement of the mail man who drove Mr Moranis coach, Patrick Swing is as follows :— He left Collector at half-past seven o'clock a.m. and being rather behind hand, drove rapidly. When about two miles from Collector, on a scrubby hill, a man, apparently about six feet high, active looking and wearing' a long white coat with some black about it and his face covered with white cloth with eye holes, rode up and presented a revolver, ordered him to stop and dismount. Swing stopped the coach and together 'with another man named Edmund Walsh, who had been looking for some horses belonging to Mr Moron, and who was a passenger, got down and were compelled by the robber, who got off his horse, to walk some short distance into the bush and lie down with their faces to the ground, the man telling them not to stir until he came back. The robber then left them, and went back to the coach, from which he took the three mailbags, and galloped off. ' From Swing he took £1 8s in money, and a handsome meerschaum pipe that cost £3. Walsh had nothing on him, and escaped unmolested. Swing had in his pocket about £25 worth of gold that he was bringing from Mr' Frazer, of Gundaroo, and this he attempted to drop unperceived into his boot ; but the bushranger, observing him, made him hold his hands up over his head, and then- closely searched' him, of course getting the gold ; Swing and Walsh remained where they were for, as they think, about half an hour, and then they heard a voice hallooing to them. Getting up, they went to the coach, and found Mr Belford, a settler in the neighborhood, who was driving Mrs, Simpson, of Collector, into Goulburn. Mr Belford says he left Collector not more than five minutes after the mail, but as he did not drive fast, this will account for the delay. When he saw the coach standing in the road, he imagined it had been quitted by the coachman for a moment, and never suspected that it had been robbed. On hearing what had taken place, Mrs Simpson, who had about £20 in her purse and had sent diOO moro by the mail that morning, was afraid to pfocbed
further, and at once returned with Mr Belford to Collector, Swing and Walsh coming on in the mail to Goulburn, and arriving here at 12.40 p.m. in stead of 11.30 a.m., the proper hour. Mr Belford then got 'a horse and, with constables Burke and Nelson, came back to the place, where the mail was stuck up, and searched all round_ for half a mile, but could find no trace of the mailbags, nor see the marks of a horse's feet with shoes on, near the spot where the coach was stopped, although there were several marks of horse's feet without shoes. Burke and ? Mr Belford then ' rode- on to Goulburn to give information, Nelson returning to Collector. Within three quarters of an hour of their reaching. Goulbourn, Captain Zouch, with senior-constable Hughes and a black, tracker, started for Collector together with -Burke and Mr Belford, and it is to be hoped that the robber will be captured. According to the mailman and ' Walsh, the robber was mounted on a fine upstanding horse, about sixteen hands high, of a bay color inclining to brown. It appears that several publicans from Collector and elsewhere sent, down the money for their annual licenses to the treasury by this mail, it having to be sent in by the 30th June, and it is probable that the robber was aware _ of this, as it was being openly talked of in Collector on Monday evening. Owing to the rising of Brook's Creek, two moils from Gundaroo. and Collector were 'due yesterday, and as there are generally sevenior eight registered letters from Gundaroo, it is probable the robber made a haul of not less than £200.