The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Rodney Milgate

6 October 1979

James Gleeson: When you first exhibited, was that at the Macquarie?

Rodney Milgate: Yes, it was. I think I was about 27 years of age. Nineteen sixty-two was the first show. I, in fact, showed one painting which my brother put into an exhibition when I was 18, and it was hung upside down at Bathurst and commended by Hal Missingham.

James Gleeson: That just goes to show a good picture is good any way.

Rodney Milgate: Well, that sobered me a little bit. But I don't think I was painting altogether seriously then. I mean, it was serious with me but the results were fairly ordinary. But then I decided that I was accumulating these things around me, and there was the inner voice said that perhaps a few things were beginning to come together. I was completely in limbo. I knew no one. I didn't know a painter and I didn't have that sort of access to information. So I sat down with the phone book one day where it said art galleries and I went through perhaps then–I don't know–four or five of the galleries and had the most extraordinary comments from people who said, ‘Oh, no'–one I remember very well–‘I just handle the five best painters in Australia', was one comment. They went broke, of course; and some other comments. But the last one that I rang was Macquarie Galleries and I'll never forget it. Treania Smith–now Bennett–said, ‘Yes, will you be home on Wednesday week and we'll come and have a look', and they gave them my first show.

James Gleeson: Was Lucy Swanton with her then?

Rodney Milgate: No, she wasn't, no.

James Gleeson: She had already retired from the gallery?

Rodney Milgate: She had gone, yes. So that's how I did it. I was surprised they came out, and I was amazed that they liked what they saw. I'll always be grateful to them and, of course, I still show with them just for that reason. I wasn't put off and they were interested enough to come and have a look.

James Gleeson: Rod, you at one stage were working with the ABC as a news announcer?

Rodney Milgate: Well, not quite. I've done some funny jobs in order to paint. I have worked in different capacities purely as a casual with the ABC. But I decided I could probably get more painting done by becoming an actor, which was offered to me when I was high school teaching. I taught for two years as a high school art teacher. It's very boring stuff but I did an amateur play in the country which a Sydney producer saw and said, ‘If you come to Sydney', and I came to Sydney and I was offered professional acting, just one role at The Independent which I took. Robyn Lovejoy saw that and I auditioned for The Trust Players and that's how I became a professional actor and not a schoolteacher.

James Gleeson: I see.

Rodney Milgate: I never resigned from teaching, I was going back to it, but it just never worked out that way.


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