February 11th 2007
From the archives: Denis Hardy: Bombs and Brushes (part 2)
In this the second part of, Magnetic Island artist, Denis Hardy's story from 2001 we learn about his developing artistic career, a new love, some great yachting yarns and even an emu chase down Picnic Bay beach.
Denis had married Luise Germaine in 1964. Between them they had two children, Sharon and Glen.
Leaving the cold of Victoria, Denis and Luise opened the first art gallery on the Sunshine Coast at Peregian Beach. It was also the first Barefoot Gallery and although proving quite a success, Denis still complained of being, "too cold" and set about a return to the deeper north. After three years they moved to Magnetic Island in 1974 but then to Townsville so the kids could attend school more easily.
Unfortunately the marriage was coming apart and Denis moved to Hawaii where he decided he should try and compete against the top maritime painters who resided there. Holding two successful shows in Hawaii he returned to Magnetic Island where he took custody of his children and set up residence at Crunden's farm at the back of Horseshoe Bay. Sadly, Luise passed away in 1986 with breast cancer at the age of 42.
After another stint on MI, Denis was induced to move to Cairns and join the "Home School", a live-in residential school of artists who worked out of Clifton Beach and supplied art to the Upstairs Gallery. There Denis could paint one work a month for rent and sell the rest through the Gallery too.
"I lived with the likes of Tom McAuley, Greg Dwyer, David Stacey, David Badcock, Wandjidari and Tania Heebon. We all lived in a sort of community. I was in charge and at times I had to keep some of them apart. There were plenty of conflicts of artistic temperament but it did keep professional artists together and the Upstairs Gallery ended up with the biggest turnover in Queensland.
"The owner, Denis McKinlay died young at 56 and it all fell apart. I came back to Magnetic and met Lesley" says Denis.
Lesley Martin had known Denis for years. She was Luise's best friend, but her deepest connection to Denis was through her dad, "Snowy" Martin who had (as described in part 1) witnessed Denis's bravery so many years before when he caught and disarmed a live practice bomb as it fell from an aircarft Denis was inspecting.
Lesley tells how she had lived in Cairns but never caught up to Denis there. "But I would return to Magnetic whenever I got the chance".
Denis recalls, "One day Lesley walked into the Picnic Bay Pub and challenged me to a game of pool and soundly beat me".
They renewed their acquaintanceship and Lesley began to stay at Denis's place whenever she was visiting the Island. Over several years the relationship grew until Lesley eventually moved down for good.
"I've travelled all over the Pacific looking for a better Island but I haven't found it yet. It's an easy going society without stress or strain," says Denis. "In Hawaii everybody carried a gun. In Tahiti they only wanted my money. In Fiji you can get caught in their racial crossfire and I didn't find Samoans very friendly."
Apart from his success at maritime art, Denis was also a sailor of great prowess. With many years spent mucking around with sailing boats, Denis took up yacht racing in 1975. With his boat, Manta II, Denis was sometimes assisted by his cousin Geoff, another talented yachtie. They held all the race records between Mackay and Cairns from 1975 - 1978. When they broke the record from Townsville to Brampton Island, from 36 to 33 hours, to much acclaim, the pair sailed back to Townsville in 24 hours - a new return record!
With practical joke loving Geoff on board, some quite "unusual" racing tactics were devised from time to time. In one hilarious incident, 10 seconds before the start of a major race, when the contestants were setting spinnakers to make for a spectacular start, cousin Geoff pulled out a Shanghai (sling-shot or catapult) and fires a stainless steel shackle pin into an opponents spinnaker. The rival skipper only noticed the pin hitting his deck and, assuming the worst - that the mast was about to fall - downed sails in seconds and off went the Hardy boys. Later, after a protest, investigations showed that there was nor rule about Shanghais.
Geoff recalls another race to Cairns with 40 knot winds, pouring rains and a very unflappable Denis. "Denis had gone below to sleep while everyone above stayed nervous and desperate to spot the Mourilyan harbour light, having missed several others on route. Eventually, Ken Woods spotted the light with great relief and cheered out loud. This managed to rouse Denis who never let anything bother him - but appeared from below asking, 'What's happening?' to which Ken replied, 'I've seen the light'. Denis replied, 'It's about time you changed your drinking habits!' and promptly returned to bed.
A far more serious tale involved the 1978 Townsville to Dunk Island race. As the boats were returning past Hinchinbrook a cyclone was reported coming in towards them. "The weather got real bad," says Denis. "We decided to head to the creek at Dungeness (on the mainland just south of Hinchinbrook). The winds were at 40 - 50 knots and it was a difficult entrance but we all got in except George Bolus's Ibis whose rooky crew insisted they be back at work the next day. She went up onto the rocks at Rattlesnake Island. Two of the crew were lost overboard but some by climbing up the mast to the top of the rock face. One of the crew, Bob Telford and a pregnant woman were swept under the rocks and ended up in a sea cave. It was only due to some extraordinary local knowledge that the couple were found at death's door. Tragically, Bob died a week later from an infected head injury but the woman survived." Denis believes the wreck of the Ibis is still in the cave.
Manta II was to suffer a similar, if less tragic fate. "The yardie at Hinchinbrook resort had moved her to another mooring but didn't secure her properly. She floated off and was sunk on the rocks."
Denis has many a Magnetic tale to tell as well. He recalls the days when he and a group of mates spent the weekend working on the construction of the Picnic Bay Lifesavers Club. At the end of the day the men realised they were out of tucker and low on money. Having eyed off the healthy chooks which frequented the pen at the back of the pub a couple of blokes went to investigate a free feed and with eyes obviously bigger than their tummies returned, not with a chook but the publican's pet emu! No doubt perceiving their intentions the bird was definitely unhappy and, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, took off at full speed leading a hopeless chase down the beach.
The much-loved (now demolished) old pub at Arcadia
Denis has other fond recollections of the old pub at Arcadia. His painting of it was reprduced and sold as a popular print. Denis recalls the old place affectionately, musing whimsically at how the "white ants all held hands" before it was demolished.
Denis, as his friends will know, hasn't enjoyed good health for quite a while. His time in the Royal Australian Air Force as an armaments fitter meant him being exposed to aircraft exhaust fumes 12 hours a day, which he claims, though without regret, as the original cause of his present advanced emphysema.
Having lived on Magnetic Island with Lesley, now his devoted wife and carer for the past nine years, Denis has worked steadily at his easel tucked into the corner of Nelly Bay's Barefoot Gallery. From there, surrounded by an exquisitely rich mess of oil paints, he works slowly and methodically across cresting turquoise waves and rocky Magnetic Shores or, where sailing ships sit atop liquid glass, floating, as if in space - over seabeds of aqua bleached sand, stone, coral and fish.
When pressed, Denis says, "There is something sensuous about applying oil paint. The colour, the texture, the feel of it," and that, "I'm not a spontaneous abstractionist although some of it is very good....but it's not my method."
Denis Hardy's paintings are, if anything, an expression of romance for the sea in a very accessible style. His aim is to "create a mood that makes them (the viewers) absolutely comfortable".
His major artistic influences are, Norman Lindsay, "Australia's greatest drawer, most of the English marine painters, Montague Dawson and the Heildleberg School of Streeton," which leads Denis to a story of how he noticed a painting which hung for years on the back of a door at (now deceased) Island identity, Gerry Kearn's house back in the 1970s. It wasn't a picture Gerry had even liked particularly but Denis knew it was something precious. He called a friend, an art dealer who came over to see it. The dealer immediately informed Gerry, "I'd be robbing you but would you accept $12,000 for it? Gerry didn't spend long deciding and accepted the dealer's offer. True to Denis's first impressions, the work was a previously uncatalogued Arthur Streeton - now worth a great deal more.
After two trips to intensive care on account of emphysema, Denis appears to be absorbing the pleasures of living all the more. "I take every day as a gift, every week as a bonus. Life is a treasure," he says.
(Editor's update: Even though Denis was suffering from advanced emphysema in 2001 when this story was written he continues to paint from his home in Horseshoe Bay and Lesley continues her devoted care of him)
Story: George Hirst
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