Kangaroo at Ayers Rock, c. 1966

Sidney Nolan, Kangaroo at Ayers Rock, c.1966, crayon, ink and dye on paper, 52 x 76 cm. © Sidney Nolan Trust

Anthony and Pru Napolitano live just outside Presteigne and were Sidney and Mary’s farming neighbours when they lived at The Rodd. From the Nolans’ arrival, Pru helped Mary to manage the land and livestock before the employment of a full time farm worker. Pru continued to help Mary with the farm accounts and organising the early recitals and exhibitions of the Sidney Nolan Trust.

“My mother Betty was friendly with Mary, she would go and have coffee with her, and Mary would come over to us. On one occasion, Mary came in to see my Mother and I was in the house with my father Luigi. He said lets go out and leave the women in peace. So we went out and walked around the back of Mary’s car, a Mercedes estate, and the in the load space was one of Sidney’s paintings. My father looked through the back window and said something like, “Good god look at that. Who would want that? But some bloody fool would probably pay a lot of money for it!” Then I realised that Sidney was sat in the front of the car with the window open, as it was a lovely sunny day, with a sort of smile on his face. We made a hasty retreat and nothing was ever said on the matter, although he had obviously heard.

We didn’t see a lot of Sidney he was a very private person and he would spend a lot of time upstairs in the House, in the room in the attic where he played his music. Once a week he would go to Hay with John Hull and would always come back with carrier bags full of books.

It was mainly Mary that we dealt with although most of the instructions came from him, certainly with regard to the cattle and the purchase of the cattle. Sidney was very hands-on as far as the Welsh Blacks were concerned and he would go to the sales himself, although he did end up paying extortionate prices for them. He went to Dolgowlod, when they had the dispersal sale and paid an astronomical £5,600 Guinea’s for a cow called Doldowlod Jean, which was a breed record. I don’t think that she ever had a calf during the time she spent at The Rodd. Everywhere he went to buy cattle they saw him coming. Sadly, when he was selling they never made quite so much.

He was a very generous man, but quite soft and a little gullible. When we went around the shows, usually he would end up winning something and he would be very pleased. We used to go in the beer tent after and he would look quite distinguished, as he dressed quite differently from all the Welsh farmers with a hat with a large floppy brim. He always had a big wad of cash on him, like a roll in his pocket, and fifties I am sure. He’d peel one off and send us up to the bar to pay for the drinks. We hadn’t seen anything like that, before or since.
In 1987, at Easter, my son Spencer was born. I rung my Mother to tell her of the birth and they must have gone out to The Rodd to tell Mary. I met up with them there after I came back from the hospital. They were having coffee on the lawn. As soon as I arrived, Sidney disappeared. He didn’t say anything but he came back with a ready cooled bottle of champagne and he popped the cork and we all toasted the new arrival.

Sidney used to paint in the courtyard of the old barns, with spray paint in the open air. We didn’t really understand a lot of it although I did like the Dog and Duck Hotel and the Hare in the Trap that he had hanging in the library. There was also one of those carcass paintings with a ram in a tree and in particular a nice one of a kangaroo in front of an Australian scene, Ayers Rock I think. On the whole we didn’t know if we liked or disliked his work but it always was intriguing. You could see why people enjoyed it though because it was different, years ahead of his time probably.”

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