The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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(The Goyder channel approaching the void) 1975
Drawing, gouache, watercolour, pastel
image 191.0 h x 100.0 w cm
sheet 191.0 h x 100.0 w cm
more detail

John Olsen

9 April 1979

James Gleeson: Goodness. John, what’s the Goyder Channel?

John Olsen: Well, the Goyder Channel is the channel that joins Lake Eyre South to Lake Eyre North.

James Gleeson: Oh, I see.

John Olsen: They are both very big lakes. The train from Adelaide to Alice Springs, The Ghan, used to go very very close to the Goyder Channel.

James Gleeson: They are both very big lakes. The train from Adelaide to Alice Springs, The Ghan, used to go very very close to the Goyder Channel.

James Gleeson: I see.

John Olsen: But Goyder was a remarkable Surveyor-General of South Australia, and it was Goyder who really sort of mapped out the safe areas of the limits where you could not grow wheat beyond or sheep beyond.

James Gleeson: I see, yes.

John Olsen: So that’s the story of the Goyder Channel.

James Gleeson: Yes, yes. John, I remember this as a very big watercolour, or gouache is it?

John Olsen: Yes, yes. It’s on Japanese Torinoko paper which is the same paper that the Japanese make their screens from, and that’s the exact size of the Japanese screen. It’s made from a mulberry pulp, which makes it very sort of porous. It doesn’t really behave the same as ordinary watercolour paper, but it’s a fascinating paper.

James Gleeson: How do you spell it?

John Olsen: T O R I N O K O. Torinoko.

James Gleeson: Torinoko. John, what would be the best method of preserving and displaying that? Sitting it on silk and hanging it?

John Olsen: Yes, I think the best thing, what I think we’d find with this particular picture is that it’s floating.

James Gleeson: Yes.

John Olsen: It would be covered with an acrylic frame, a plastic sort of frame, which suits it.

James Gleeson: It does, yes.

John Olsen: Yes. I also like the idea of just the thing sort of hanging like the Sung Dynasty.

James Gleeson: Yes, yes.

John Olsen: There’s something very nice about that, isn’t there?

James Gleeson: Yes, I think it’s marvellous, yes, yes. But Jim Mollison I know had the idea. He’s in fact sending one of our conservators to China to learn the techniques of setting paper on to silk and hanging them as scrolls. Does that appeal to you as a way of

John Olsen: It can be appealing, but I think that his biggest problem will be preservation.

James Gleeson: Yes. Well, this is it. We’re conscious of it, a big sheet of paper like that does pose problems of keeping it flat in a vertical position. One of the ideas that was discussed was finding out this technique and putting it down on silk. Those things in China have lasted for many thousands of years.

John Olsen: Yes. Yes. You see, we were abominably trained as far as understanding what papers were and what inks are and, you know, it was a terrible generation in Australian art, you know, when I think of some of the Nolan’s.


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