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Eulogy by Alistair Hay

Jules is going to cover Gillian’s life more comprehensively and Fiona will talk about her art, so I will limit myself to the period of the late 60s and early 70s.

I first met Gillian in 1967 at Hornsey College of Art in London where we were both doing post-graduate studies.

By good luck or possibly design we worked together on several projects as part of the course.

Inevitably our course work became extra-curricula.

There was Gillian, the gorgeous lass from Lancashire with the engaging soft accent and me, the awkward young Aussie getting his first European experience - in the late 60s London was a beacon to young Australians escaping the conservative strictures of the time.

After the course finished we moved in together, sharing a house in Barnes, London with a friend and her two boys. Gillian was working nearby at Garnet College as a Senior Technician in Visual Aids. One of her close colleagues there was a lecturer in Comparative Religion who encouraged her interest in this area. 

In 1969 we married at Kensington Registry Office and continued to live in Barnes. As well as our life in London we visited Lancaster regularly to stay with Gillian’s parents, from whom she got her love of literature and social concerns.

I was keen to return to Australia for a while to introduce my new family to my parents. I felt that we could have a better lifestyle here and could also save more money to take back to the UK later.

So in 1970 I returned to Australia, settling in Canberra although I had never been here before, to be followed in 1971, somewhat reluctantly by Gillian and Jules.

Initially Gillian found Canberra quite alien, she once said after a visit to Civic that she wondered if there was a curfew, it was so empty. 

Gradually after that initial culture shock she came to love the landscape and climate, She liked the high-key sun-bleached colours of the land and clear skies.

She started work at the School of Art in 1972, at a time when teacher training was conducted one day a week in Sydney until a course was established here. She was a magnet to creative people who were drawn to her by her genuine interest in them, her charm, creativity, intellect, forthright opinions and independent thought. She found that the Canberra creative community was lively and welcoming in this era of ponchos and fondue-dinner parties.

In 1974 we separated amicably and divorced about ten years later. 

I witnessed her ability to motivate and interest people when I attended a drawing class she taught and was impressed as how she opened our eyes to seeing things beyond the model by arranging strong side lighting of the model to project an arabesque shadow on the wall which formed part of our drawing.

In 1978 I started work at the yet-to be-opened National Gallery of Australia. As the NGA gradually become an employer of arts graduates in Canberra I was meeting some of Gillian’s talented protegees from the School of Art some of whom are now prominent in several art institutions. 

We stayed in contact after I left Canberra in 1986, meeting from time to time, often at the Gallery to revisit parts of the Collection that she liked. She sought meaning in art, she was not a decorator. When questioned about her attitude to her art and its audience Gillian replied, “I want my art to be of the sort that could be rediscovered in a thousand years’ time and interpreted by social anthropologists as a comment on our civilization”. 

Jumping ahead to now, less than four weeks ago I visited her at Calvary Hospital and during these visits I was reminded of our discussions of forty years ago about life, society and art– her lively mind and enthusiasm was not diminished by her struggle with illness. I saw that she was thinner and weaker physically but I also saw again the lively gorgeous lass from Lancashire that I first met in 1967. 

Alistair's visit to Gillian in Binalong November 2008

Her finest legacy Jules is an embodiment of her great qualities and we have also the enduring legacy of her work, her students, colleagues, loved friends and Amy and Lila.

The website Jules created for Gillian has received many beautiful comments about how she has touched our lives. Here are two extracts from the blogs:

Our fondest memory of her is the determination she showed to walk up Mt. Kosciusko for your wedding in her red skirt, stockings and her red lipstick on. The profound love she showed for Jules and Amy on that day, in her speech, the wedding cake, and her joy, was fantastic to behold.

Gillian was courageous and gracious. I said goodbye. It was my great privilege to have Gillian as visiting artist in the Press Studio at Megalo this year. During that time we all were given so much knowledge and wisdom. Thank you Gillian from us all.

We invite you to visit the guestbook and share your thoughts.

[Alistair then said an emotional goodbye to Gillian's ashes]
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:33
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:34
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:34