#Nolan 100

No.24 Policeman in a Wombat Hole - Kay Whitney

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No.24 Policeman in a Wombat Hole - Kay Whitney

I chose this painting for the way it engages and enthralls the thousands of children who visit it each year. It is whimsical, playful, irreverent and loaded with symbolism.

These qualities are not lost on young audiences. Children ‘get Nolan’. As an educator, I sit with them on the floor of the gallery and ask them to look and look again. “Tell me what you see? What do you think is happening in this painting?” Their eyes get wider, it’s hard not to giggle and the deluge of observation and opinion begins. The artist would be pleased I’m sure!

The painting retells the incident where the Kelly Gang thwarts a police search party at Stringybark Creek. Constable McIntyre managed to flee and hid in a wombat hole. True story! The trooper is comically depicted upside down, head in the sand, arms and legs protruding from the wombat hole. A handwritten note provides clues to the narrative:

“Ned Kelly and others stuck us up today, when we were disarmed. Lonigan and Scanlon shot. I am hiding in a wombat hole until dark”.

In the painting, we see a displaced and startled wombat and a magpie and lizard look on. Their inclusion suggests that Nolan was familiar with Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter. At one point in the Jerilderie Letter, Ned Kelly describes the police officers as:

“a parcel of big ugly, fat-necked, wombat-headed, big-bellied, magpie-legged, narrow hipped, splay-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs and English Landlords”.

The children are shocked by the cheekiness of this, but equally delighted, and they can’t contain their laughter by now. They promise me they will never to be so rude to a police officer!

The Jerilderie Letter offers an historical insight into Australian identity and is one of only two original Kelly documents known to have survived. In it, Kelly outlines the justifications for his actions and the injustices he and his family suffered at the hands of a corrupt police force. This manifesto is regarded by some as an early call for an Australian republic.

Children are drawn to Nolan’s vibrant use of colour, bold form and a narrative that transports them to Australia in the ‘olden days’. Nolan’s paintings are brought to life with what children see, think and wonder. “These paintings are about a game of hide and seek,” a child offers. “I wonder what it’s like inside a wombat’s burrow,” another child speculates. “Is it dark in there? Is it quiet? What does it smell like? Eeew!” We all pretend to be bushrangers, mount our steeds and set up camp in front of another painting.

I grew up in ‘Kelly Country’, near Jerilderie. Here, the sunlight flattens forms and big skies end abruptly where the earth begins like a hard-edge abstract painting. Nolan’s landscapes resonate with me. I reckon Nolan has nailed it, on so many levels, in this painting."


Kay Whitney is the Nolan Access and Learning Officer at Canberra Museum and Gallery

Sidney Nolan, Policeman in wombat hole, 1946, Enamel on composition board, Dimensions 91.8 x 122.3cms, The Foundation Collection comprises 24 paintings donated by the artist, Sidney Nolan in 1974, The Nolan Collection is managed by Canberra Museum and Gallery, on behalf of the Australian Government.

No.1 - Four Abstracts - Alexander Downer

No.2 - Self Portrait - Angus Trumble

No.3 - Arabian Tree - Kendrah Morgan

No.4 Riverbend I - Francine Stock

No.5 - Desert - Andrew Logan

No.6 Dog and Duck - Jane Clark

No.7 Vivisector - Tim Abdallah

No.8 In the Cave - Rebecca Daniels

No.9 Young Soldier - Clare Woods

No.10 Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell

No.11 Bird - Deborah Ely

No. 12 Hare in Trap - Nicholas Usherwood

No.13 Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

No.14 Death of a Poet - Simon Martin

No.15 Study for Samson et Dalila - Elijah Moshinsky

No.16 Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

No.17 Quilting the Armour - Jackie Haliday

No.18 Snake - David Walsh

No.19 Angel and the Tree - Dr Nicky McWilliam

No.20 Brian the Stockman at Wave Hill Mounting a Dead Horse - Damian Smith

No.21 Steve Hart Dressed as a Girl -Jennifer Higgie

No.22 Women and Billabong - Anthony Plant

No.23 Agricultural Hotel - Philip Mead

No.24 Policeman in a Wombat Hole - Kay Whitney

No.25 Peter Grimes - David Lipsey

No.26 Self Portrait in Youth - Barry Pearce & Duncan Fallowell

No.27 Riverbend I - Ian Dungavell

No.28 Drowned Soldier at Anzac as Icarus - Paul Gough

No.29 Thames - John Tooley

No.30 Girl - Amelda Langslow

No.31 Ned Kelly and Policeman - Daniel Crawshaw

No.32 Tarred and Feathered - Nick Cave

No.33 Self Portrait - Denise Mimmocchi

No.34 Peter Grimes's Apprentice - George Vass

No.35 The Emu Hunt - Roger Law

No.36 Luna Park - Paula Dredge

No.37 Rose in Coffee Pot - Anthony Collier

No.38 The Cardplayers - Nevin Jayawardena

No.39 Bathers - Lesley Harding

No.40 Aboriginal Girl - Jennie Milne

No.41 Pretty Polly Mine - Michael Brand

No 42. Roses in a Merric Boyd Vase - Jack Galloway

No 43. Brett Whiteley - Jonathan Watkins

No 44. Island - Nick Yelverton

No 45. Luna Park - Bill Granger

No 46. Face of the Damned - Kate McMillan

No 47. Central Australia - Leanne Santoro

No 48. Crane - Brian Adams

No 49. Myself - Simon Mundy

No 50. Going to Work, Rising Sun Hotel, 1948 - David Ferry

No 51. Figure at Harar - Andrew Turley

No 52, Greek Figures - Simon Pierse

No 53. Randolph Stow - Suzanne Falkiner

No 54. Landscape No.27 (Convalescence) - Suzanne Falkiner

No 55. Self portrait - Oliver McCall

No 56. McMurdo Sound - Mike Clements

No 57. Faun, Woman, Rider, Horse - Mark Fraser

No 58. Season in Hell (Benjamin Britten) - Anne Bean

No 59. The Slip - Humphrey Ocean

No 60. Central Australia - Chris Drury

No 61. Riverbend - Christina Slade

No 62. Head - Celia Johnson

No 63. Myth Rider - Desmond Browne

No 64. Stockman - Bridget McDonnell

No 65. Untitled (flower) - Roma Piotrowska

No 66. Chinese Landscape - Celia Perceval

No 67. Untitled - Des Hughes

No 68. Crucifixion - Rod Bugg

No 69. Icebergs - Laurence Hall

No 70. Bather in a Lily Pool - Amanda Fitzwilliams

No 71. Breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head - Michael Berkeley

No 72. Carcase in Swamp - Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva

No 73. Ern Malley - Isabella Boorman

No 74. Mrs Reardon at Glenrowan - Adrian Kelly

No 75. Landscape Carnarvon Range, Queensland - Catherine Noske

No 76. Abraham and Isaac - Sarah Bardwell

No 77. Rosa Mutabilis - Catherine Hunter

No 78. Artist drawing nude - Victoria Lynn

No 79. Boy and the moon - Natalie Wilson

NO 80. Explorer and Township - Helen Idle

No 81. All Tastes Like Dust in the Mouth... - Carolyn Leder

No 82. Young Boy Who Was Good at Latin - Roxy Shaw

No 83. Mrs Fraser - Anne Carter

No 84. Paradise Garden - David Oliver

No 85. Leda and the Swan - Marilyn Sweet

No 86. Burke and Wills at the Gulf - Jenny Watson

No 87. Dream of the latrine sitter - Ryan Johnston

No 88. Footballer - Gerard Vaughan

NO 89. Sketch for Ned Kelly - Amanda Fuller

NO 90. Woman in Lagoon - Jinx Nolan

No 91. Cherries in a bowl - Peter Blake

No 92. Fountain - Heywood Hill

No 93. Artist and painting - Charles Nodrum

No 94. Death of Constable Scanlon - Anita Taylor

No 95. Untitled (abstract) - David Jaffe

No 96. Digital image - Joe Studholme

No 97. Seated figure and bird - Sally Aitken

No 98. Burke and Wills expedition 'Gray sick' - Gary Sangster

No 99. Kangaroo at Ayers Rock - Pru and Anthony Napolitano

No 100. The Galaxy - Elizabeth Langslow

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