Pub mural's lost legacy

Tom Gleghorn, 'Mousehole Harbour, Cornwall' During the 'Dunstan Decade' in South Australia, Don Dunstan commissioned Adelaide painter Tom Gleghorn to do a mural for the newly upgraded and renovated arrivals hall at Port Adelaide.

Tom was at the height of his considerable powers and acknowledged as one of Australia's leading artists. Behind him in the mid-70s lay a string of some 30 awards, 34 solo exhibitions, representation in major Australian and international galleries and a record as an inspirational and innovative university and college teacher of art.

None of this recognition, however, had in any way blunted or inhibited his famously larrikin ways or had any impact on his long-haired, colourful and bejewelled appearance.

Accepting the commission, Tom enlisted the aid of Mitch, his best student, hired a large space in the Adelaide Hills village of Summertown, carted all the materials up there in Mitch's old ute and started work. The finished mural would be painted in sections in the improvised Summertown studio then pieced together on the wall of the Port Adelaide arrivals hall.

Once into their routine, Tom and Mitch would start work early, knock off around one for lunch then resume an hour or so later and work till late because the deadline was a tough one.

There was no pub in Summertown so each day they would drive the few kilometres to the next town, Uraidla, for a counter lunch. As always, Tom's first entrance into the front bar caused a mild and muffled sensation but his gregarious affability, wit and easygoing ways soon won over the locals.

When, after about a week of lunch time visitations the barman asked, 'What do you blokes do? You workin' round here?' Mitch explained they were painters and they were doing a job in Summertown.

Always fascinated by the passing parade and human foibles, Tom became absorbed in a drama that was part of the Uraidla pub's lunchtime routine. This was a daily game of pool between two of the locals, 'Moose' Maguire and 'Everyday' Albert. Moose was so called because he had a large and, some said, much too inquisitive nose. Albert's nickname, 'Everyday', was much more explicable. He had never missed a day at the pub.

But what interested Tom about Moose Maguire and Everyday Albert was that Albert never won a game of pool. Day after day they would square off at the table and day after day Moose would either clean him up or, occasionally, when Albert seemed to be finding some touch, sneak in with an amazingly potted black right at the death.

Tom shouted Albert a few beers, barracked for him, even had Mitch give him some coaching, but nothing changed the result. Each day as they left to return to Summertown, Albert, an irascible, disgruntled sort of bloke at the best of times, would be slamming his cue back in the rack and shouting Moose — yet again.

After a couple of weeks of this, Tom one lunch time announced to the usual crowd that if Everyday Albert could win just one match before he and Mitch finished work in Summertown, he would paint the side wall of the bar. Albert redoubled his efforts. The lunchtime pool game became as tense as a session of Pot Black, lacking only Whispering Ted Lowe's sibilant commentary.

Twice Albert came very close but missed crucial shots. Then, it happened. Albert 'got up'.

Next morning, Tom and Mitch arrived with their gear. Mitch cleaned down the wall and Tom got to work. His painting at that time was very much inclined to hard edge abstract landscapes dominated by bright bands of colour. This is what he put on the wall. It was instantly recognisable to Gleghorn aficionados. But you didn't have to be one because he signed it anyway!

The publican was dumbfounded, the locals bewildered, and Everyday Albert, sensing that some further dimension had been added to his triumph, was thoroughly obnoxious. Mitch told the publican that he now had a very valuable mural on his wall.

'The Great Uraidla Pub Mural' was the wonder and the enigma of locals and tourists alike. It stayed there, unmolested, as its curious magnetic attraction became more and more obvious. Not to mention that the occasional knowledgeable blow-in would be flabbergasted and deeply impressed to find 'a Gleghorn' on the wall.

About a year after these events, the publican sold out and the new man came in, took one look at the Great Uraidla Pub Mural and said, 'Get rid of it'. He was deaf to advice and so, in came the sand blaster and scarified the Gleghorn from the wall.

Under certain circumstances — like when the Philistines broach the castle gates and invade the fortress — the survival test for great art is not necessarily an instructive one.

Tom Gleghorn (BMG ART)

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple down the road: the life and times of the MCG.



Topic tags: brian matthews, Tom Gleghorn, Great Uraidla Pub Mural



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