'Mas': a memoir

Speaking to your heart
Rosalind Carrodus

To The South Wind

Oh wind you are blowing
new life into me
You have loosened my anchor
My sails are all free
You are blowing me, wafting me
Out to the sea

The shore line is fading
away into mist
My masts are sun-kist
I will not take care, I will
sail as you list
Out to the open sea.
On the Ferry Boat
July 1818
coming home from the Varsity
---Mary Alice Evatt

I often think just how lucky I was having a mother like Mary Alice ('Mas' as she was known to her friends and family). I had a constant diet of music, literature, art and good conversation.

Both my parents were lovers of art, particularly modern art, and I was always surrounded with marvellous paintings, not only by well known artists, but with the works by my mother, some of which are in this exhibition. From a very early age I was conscious that mother was different. None of my friends had mothers who painted, had various artists as regular visitors to their home, or were taken to exhibitions as a matter of course.

I spent a lot of time when young at the studio of Grace Crowley which was in George Street, up a long, steep flight of stairs. On entering the studio one was greeted by a wonderful smell of paint and turpentine - the area was bright, happy. My mother, Grace, Rah Fizelle and the occasional other artist (such as Joan Tillam) would be there. Amazingly, I was never bored. I just loved the whole ambience of Grace Crowley's studio. I really think that my being able to be with such interesting artists during my early years has helped me to love and understand art.

Mother was always extremely supportive to young artists. She would go to as many of the exhibitions of young painters as she could and spend a lot of time talking to them, often buying an example of their work. She just loved being with the younger artists and always said that to support and encourage young people was terribly important to their development as artists.

When my father went into politics from being in the High Court, I think my mother was concerned that she would not be able to continue her art. Fortunately, she was able to manage to incorporate it into the very busy life of politics. Father was always so supportive of her and, when he could, would go to exhibitions with her. His love and knowledge of art was just as good as hers and some of the greatest joys to them both were to go to exhibitions, read art books together, discussing the contents in detail, and occasionally to buy a painting. Whenever my parents travelled they always took paintings and prints with them of their favourite works, so that as soon as they settled into a hotel room the paintings would be hung and they would instantly feel at home.

Mother always said you must only buy a work of art "when it spoke to your heart". Mary Alice also had the uncanny ability to be able to pick an artist who had a lot of prospective talent - she had a great 'eye'.

Mother became a lover of working with pastels, studying for several years with Desiderius Orban, a wonderful person and friend of hers - 'deo' as he was called by his students. Also, the years working with John Coburn and Tom Gleghorn in Canberra, where she lived after my father's death, were very stimulating for her and she became great friends with them both. Her involvement with the art world in Canberra was very good for her at that particular time. Until her death mother was still painting and was also doing sculpture - something that she had only commenced in her later years - and was loving it.

A large part of mother's life was spent as a trustee at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She was an enormously dedicated trustee, making some close friends - and naturally people she didn't agree with! Being such a devotee of modern art, and as several of her fellow trustees were not, she had some difficult times.

Three people stand out in my memory as fellow supporters - Sir Charles Lloyd Jones (he had a wonderful art collection, a lot of modern works), Douglas Dundas and Eric Lanker. The director of the gallery then was Hal Missingham, who was to become a very good friend of my parents. He was a great artist and a simply magnificent photographer, an enormously entertaining person and always very supportive to mother.

There is a part of my mother that most people are not aware of - she wrote the most beautiful poetry and prose. When my parents first met each other at Sydney University and through family friends, they soon fell in love, marrying after being engaged for about two years.

Daily they wrote to each other, poems and love letters full of happiness and joy - not only of their own love but of the love of the beauty around them. Even when married the letters and poems continued for many years. When I was young and my parents were away a lot, mother would write marvellous letters to me always full of great descriptions of where they were and would also come home with paintings and sketches of where they had been. It made me feel constantly close to them.

Writing these short memories about my mother has made her come to life so much in my thoughts. She was a most incredible person; a wonderful and stimulating mother, generous in every way in her love and support and in the knowledge and encouragement she always gave about art, books, life, people - not only to me but to her numerous friends - and particularly to my children.

To have this retrospective exhibition of Mary Alice's works seems long overdue. It will bring her artwork and her personality back vividly to her friends and introduce her work to art lovers.


Rosalind Carrodus is the daughter of Mary Alice and Doc Evatt. This essay has been reproduced with kind permission from the catalogue of the exhibition Mary Alice Evatt: 'Mas' 1898-1973 at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery from 30 March to 12 May 2002 (© 2002 Bathurst Regional Art Gallery). Image kindly provided by BBF Studios (telephone 02 6332 4542), which designed and produced the cataloque.


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