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Durack, Elizabeth (1915 - 2000)

CMG, OBE

Born
1915
Died
2000
Occupation
Artist, Writer and Illustrator
Alternative Names
  • Clancy, Elizabeth (married name)

Summary

Born in Claremont in 1915, acclaimed Australian painter and illustrator, Elizabeth Durack, achieved both fame and controversy during her lifetime. For most of her life, Durack's success rested on her extensive body of paintings, drawings, and book illustrations, depicting outback life and Aboriginal settlements in Australia's remote north-west and which reflected her childhood experience. In recognition of her service to art and literature, Elizabeth Durack was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1966 and the Order of St Michael & St George - Commanders (CMG) in 1982. In 1997 Elizabeth Durack achieved fame of a different kind when she exploded into media prominence upon admitting to entering work into Aboriginal art exhibitions under the name 'Eddie Burrup'. Despite the controversy Durack continued to paint under the nom de brush 'Eddie Burrup' until two weeks before her death on 25 May 2000.

Details

Elizabeth Durack was born on the 6 July 1915, the daughter of one of the few old pastoralist families in the Kimberley region with a reputation for not shooting Aboriginal people in the 19th century. After a childhood in remote Western Australia, Elizabeth was educated at the Loreto Convent in Perth. In the mid 1930s she travelled to Europe where she studied at the Chelsea Polytechnic in London. Throughout her life Elizabeth Durack travelled widely in Australia, Africa, US, the Indian Ocean, Oceania, the Pacific and Asia, her extensive travels always providing inspiration and featuring prominently in her art.

Elizabeth Durack's early life on cattle stations in the northern Kimberley region of Western Australia unquestionably provided an inspiration for some of her earliest drawings which were published in The Bulletin in 1935. Both Elizabeth and her sister Mary were influenced by both the landscape and their encounters with Aboriginal people on station properties, something that is reflected in their collaborative and individual work. Elizabeth illustrated many books, which were published in conjunction with her sister, Dame Mary Durack.

In 1939, Elizabeth Durack married Francis Clancy and moved to Sydney, but the marriage was short-lived and Elizabeth returned to Western Australia in the mid 1940s.

In the 1950s and 1960s Elizabeth attained recognition for her work featuring the Miriuwong people in the Ord River area. She was one of the first white painters to adopt indigenous painting techniques in her work and began painting pictures on Aboriginal themes long before the Aboriginal art boom of the 1970s. The 'Eddie Burrup' controversy in 1997 supposedly stunned Elizabeth who was bewildered by the storm that erupted following her admission. Although it is true that her 'Eddie Burrup' confession was made voluntarily, by way of friend and art historian, Robert Smith, it was perhaps a little disingenuous of Elizabeth, given the contretemps surrounding issues of cultural appropriation at the time, to claim surprise at the heated response it received. If, as Smith says, Elizabeth's decision to confess was made 'because she feared the situation was getting out of hand', it is hard to accept her naïve bewilderment about the ensuing controversy. Despite the tempest her confession wrought in the art world and beyond, Durack continued to paint under the nom de brush 'Eddie Burrup' until two weeks before her death.

In recognition of her service to art and literature, Elizabeth Durack was apponted as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1966 and the Order of St Michael & St George - Commanders (CMG) in 1982. She died at her Perth home, aged 84, after a long battle with cancer on 25 May, 2002. She is survived by her two children, Michael and Perpetua.

Sources used to compile this entry: Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Women's Redress Press, Sydney, 1988, 258 pp. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-78644.

Related entries

Archival resources

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University

  • Elizabeth Durack; Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University. Details

Australian National University Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts

  • Durack, Elizabeth, Sketch-books, VOG D947s; Australian National University Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Details

Curtin University of Technology, T L Robertson Library (WCU)

  • Seeing through Indonesia / by Elizabeth Durak, 1973, [C] Q 959.8 DUR; Curtin University of Technology, T L Robertson Library (WCU). Details

JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia

  • Papers, 1886 - 1991, MN 71; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia. Details
  • Papers, 1936 - 1981, MN 1781; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia. Details

Murdoch University

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Conversation with Elizabeth Durack, c. 1965, ORAL DeB 103; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details
  • Interview with Elizabeth Durack, 1997 - 1998, ORAL TRC 3876; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

The University of Melbourne, Baillieu Library Special Collections

  • Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation Ltd., 1911 - 1982, 88/85; The University of Melbourne, Baillieu Library Special Collections. Details

University of Western Australia, University Archives

  • Westerly Archives, 1956 - 1990, MS 95; University of Western Australia, University Archives. Details

Judith Ion

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0067b.htm

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