February 8th 2007
From the archives: Denis Hardy - Bombs and Brushes
As part of Magnetic Times recess we take pleasure in republishing the following story from our printed editions, this time from September 2001. In this first of two parts, Magnetic Island's celebrated maritime artist, Denis Hardy, talks of his adventurous life and times, from a "mudskipper" childhood in South Townsville to dangerous military operations and the beginings of a Barefoot Gallery on Magnetic Island.
It is 1960 and 'Snowy' Martin, an RAAF transport fitter is watching an airforce bomber which had just landed at Garbutt Airforce Base in Townsville. The plane had been on a bomb training exercise and had taxied in toward the awaiting ground crew. A big redheaded man steps out as the plane pulls to a halt. The engine is still running and the redheaded man walks under the craft, inspecting the undercarriage.
The release mechanism for a practice bomb has failed and the 12 kilo explosive hangs precariously while the redheaded man is looking up, trying to see what is holding it. The engine then splutters to a halt with a final shudder and, as it does, the bomb drops. But the redheaded man - a rugby league secondrower - takes the heavy mark and, cradling it like an infant, ever so gently unscrews the detonator, slips it into his pocket and puts the bomb down. This exhibition of coolness under extreme pressure was the bravest thing Snowy had ever seen. The redheaded man's name was Denis Hardy.
"Dad was a good Lodge man - an Adelaide Steamship Company foreman - while mum was chronically Catholic" says Denis Hardy, former yacht racing champ, RAAF armaments fitter, highly admired maritime artist and, now, former owner of Nelly Bay's Barefoot Gallery.
Born at his grandmother's house in McIllwraith Street, South Townsville, Denis is a genuine "Mudskipper" the traditional name given to all born in the low lying, Ross Island vicinity. As a small child Denis still remembers the slit trenches and the day the Japs bombed a coconut tree south of the city.
"We were told to run into the trenches for protection but when we got there it was full of Yank servicemen!" says Denis with a wheezy laugh. "I remember Victory Day well. They pinned a victory medal on all of us kids and sent us home for the rest of the day. Some wharfies stole a keg from the yanks and opened it up in the street passing out drinks to other wharfies on their way home."
It was a childhood of "unlimited freedom" as far as Denis was concerned. "I learnt to run on the mudflats without burning my feet. We'd spend our free time doing all the things kids would want to do: prawning with a cast net, shenanigans with catapults, paddling around in tin canoes and going to war with the Railway Estate mob".
But Denis had another childhood interest, it was more of a passion and a talent. "I can remember drawing boats when I was five. I would look at them and go home and draw them and the gulls. It was instinctive" he says.
High school was a more authoritarian experience. "I went to the Brother's college in Stanton Crescent where discipline was swift and reinforced with leather. We all played rugby league and though it was 'acceptable' to lose against Mt Carmel (Catholic school) going down against Grammar (Church of England) was simply not on. Some of the Brothers were dedicated teachers while others were little short of fascists. If we lost to Grammar we'd be kept in for extra Latin on Saturdays."
In 1958, Denis, who'd been a bright pupil, went off to the Justice Department to study law. He found the experience, however, "intensely boring" and soon left to join the airforce. "I was looking for some adventure and wanted to be a pilot." says Denis who was first sent to Richmond Air Base and later to Wagga Wagga.
Unfortunately Denis's eyesight wasn't up to scratch for piloting. Instead, he became an armaments fitter. "I was trained up by 1961 and sent to San Diego California to the Lockheed factory where I learned all about the reconnaissance and anti-sub Neptune bombers. I trained in electronic missile systems".
While stationed in California Denis got to see the work of the marine painters of the Monterey peninsular. "I visited Carmel a small town which happened to have eighty galleries. They were almost all dedicated to marine art. People came from all over the U.S. to visit and I saw what could be done and I got very interested and enthused".
Seascapes by Dennis Hardy
The Airforce returned Denis to Australia where for a time he instructed other armaments fitters until he was posted to Butterworth base in Malaysia. From there he was sent to Thailand to work on what was an extremely controversial and to this day, little known chapter to the Vietnam war.
The CIA, ran a covert bombing operation out of Ubon in Thailand near the Laotian and Cambodian border. The unmarked planes were piloted by "civilians" who would be disowned by their own side if shot down.
Denis is annoyed that the service people involved in this secret war were never properly acknowledged for the work they performed nor the risks they undertook.
Being subject to sporadic rocket attacks from the surrounding jungle Denis lived in an isolated and sometimes terrifying world. "One of our blokes was out on patrol in the jungle hills not far from the base. He would have just been reported as missing in action but his body was discovered, ripped to bits. He'd been pulled out of his sleeping bag, by the head, by one of the resident tigers".
In 1968 Denis made a big decision: he would returned to Australia. While still within the service, he had taken up engineering drafting but now had to decide if he was going to sign up for another 5 years. He'd been posted to Laverton Victoria, or "Pleurisy Plains"as it was called. "I was watching the rain freeze on the window and it was December and I thought "No, I'm heading for the coconuts!"
Denis wasn't just heading for the coconuts. He was heading for a whole new life.
The painters of Monterey had cast a long spell and the boy who so often drew the boats in the Ross River was about to return to his long lost love forever. "I moved to the Sunshine Coast and opened the first Barefoot Gallery. I called it that because I would never have to wear shoes anymore".This was at Perugian Beach but that proved too cold still. After three years I sold up and moved to Magnetic Island.
(Editor's update: The original Barefoot Gallery on Magnetic was located on Sooning Street in Nelly Bay where the present Moke Magnetic have their office. Dennis and partner Leslie eventually sold the business to David Stafford and Sasha Edgley who have now relocated the gallery to become Barefoot Food Wine and Art in Horseshoe Bay)
Denis had always had wonderful times as a kid visiting MI. His dad had a corrugated iron, dirt floored beach house on the Esplanade at Nelly Bay. On returning Denis quickly immersed himself in the vivid happy days when, with just an old truck chassis and motor he and a mate or two would drive to Picnic Bay, pick up two kegs of beer and return to Arcadia's San Marino, next to the RSL.
"Everybody put in two quid (pounds) and it was 'drink as much as you can'.
"There was no crime to speak of then. All the houses were left open and were only known by name and not by number. Everyone knew each other. Mrs McCabe was the Island Postmistress and she was the Island's complete source of information and gossip.
"She would even tell my mum if I hadn't fronted for Mass. She was chronically Catholic too!
"Then there were characters like David 'Meatball' Richardson. He was a great big fella - 22 or 23 stone (150kg) - who would often be found at the head of the jetty looking for hoods or blokes with tattoos. He would just tell them as they stepped up the jetty to 'Get off my Island!'".
Denis (far left) with mates including, "Meatball" Richardson at centre right at Alma Bay in the 1960s.
But, according to Denis, "Meatball fell foul of the one Island cop. Meatball was in the habit of wearing fairly brief, swimming togs. Unfortunately his rolls of fat would tend to cause the togs to roll down a bit too far and one day the cop approached him saying, 'If you appear on the Island tomorrow like that I'm gonna arrest you!' Meatball protested saying they were the legal 4 inches on the side but the Island cop told him he was setting a bad example. The next day everybody showed up at the beach to watch the event unfold and to our delight Meatball appeared before the policeman and all in his togs but they were held up by a pair of fireman's braces and therefore legal. Amid derisive cheers the cop retreated."
To be continued.
Story: George Hirst
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