Queensland artist John Morrison has made a career out of painting the bush and its people, culminating in a spectacular body of work on bushranger Harry Readford.

Story By Janette Jenyns

John Morrison sees the Australian outback as the landscape that forged a nation. “The bush makes us what we are,” he says. And he feels compelled to paint it, every brushstroke demonstrating his strong connection to the land and his love of its rich history.
At the Walk of Art Gallery in Roma, Qld, John strolls along the polished wooden floorboards, meeting and greeting with his charming, lopsided grin. Tall, lean and with a dignified air, he explains that the artworks at the gallery represent his life and passions. Opening an exhibition there, John said, “The world about us would be desolate, except for the world within us. So welcome to part of the world within me”. It’s a brave thing to do – to reveal so much. John explains, “You’re putting yourself on show, opening yourself up to comment and criticism, but I enjoy seeing the pleasure on people’s faces, too”.
John won his first art prize at age 12, painting a scene of the woodchop as he remembered it from the Brisbane Ekka.
He says his earliest memory is of painting – it’s been something he’s always done, as much a part of him as the breath in his body or the blood in his veins.
Some of his happiest times were spent on his grandfather’s cattle property at Esk in south-east Queensland. He listened, wide-eyed and enthralled, to his grandfather’s tales of the legendary bushranger Harry Readford. “He walked 1200 head of prime cattle from Bowen Downs, Longreach, across the Strzelecki Desert to South Australia in 1870, just 10 years after Burke and Wills had perished there,” his grandfather had told him. “And I met him once, myself.” The exploits of Readford (sometimes spelt “Redford”) were to be a continuing thread in John’s life.

This story excerpt is from Issue #76

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2011