With bright colours and Aussie larrikinism, Broken Hill artist Howard William Steer paints visual jokes, raising thousands of dollars for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and other charities.

Story By Ken Eastwood

Howard William Steer is missing a couple of fingers. In 1994 he was working at the entertainment centre in Broken Hill, NSW, when a 60-kilogram curtain weight fell from on high, ripping his arm open and continuing on through the floor. “I got a free flight to save my hand,” Howard says. “They flew me by flying doctor to Adelaide.”
Since then a little character has appeared in many of Howard’s gaudy paintings – an old-fashioned doctor in a suit with wings on his back, carrying a doctor’s bag. This ‘flying doctor’ is often cruising through the air above a scene, or appears front and centre as part of the piece’s narrative. He’s sitting on a barrel marked ‘barrel of laughs’ chatting with a pharmacist, and soaring above emus in an outback scene labelled ‘teaching us how to fly’. “I’ve got him healing the soles of RM Williams, and I’ve got the flying doctor with Band-Aids on the Aussie flag, and he’s healing the emu and the kangaroo on the coat of arms,” he says. The little character has become a defining mark of a Howard Steer painting, and Howard says he’s based on the short western serials he saw as a child, where the doctor often seemed to be dressed as an undertaker. “Back in those days, if he couldn’t fix you, he’d bury you,” he says.
Howard, 68, has become an active fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), donating almost a gallery of work to it and other charities. “I don’t know how much money I’ve raised for the Flying Doctor, but I know I’m over $400,000,” he says. Howard has painted mining helmets for charity, as well as country singer John Williamson’s guitar, and was commissioned by the RFDS to paint a work for Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

This Story is from Issue #107

Outback Magazine: June/July 2016