Riverbend I, 1966

Sidney Nolan, Riverbend, 1966 oil on canvas 152.5 x 122.0 cm

Francine Stock is a British radio and television presenter and novelist.

"In just three weeks over the winter of 1964/65, Sidney Nolan executed this massive series – nine panels, each five foot by four - depicting Ned Kelly playing catch-as-catch-can with the police along a creek winding between towering eucalyptus. It was nearly twenty years since his first Kelly series; Nolan was painting now beside another river, the Thames at Putney. In the paintings, the relationship between land and protagonists had changed, too.

Like much of Nolan’s work, these nine images (which also serve as one huge landscape) are cinematic, immersive. Like time, the river flows. The drama plays out not as sequential story-board (though there’s narrative) but in accumulated detail. The figures are dwarfed by the gliding river and the hot, aromatic forest. In the first panel, despite Kelly’s distinctive helmet, their bodies could be strips of bark on the gum trees, almost phosphorescent from the refracted glare of the unseen sky.

When Nolan was painting Riverbend I I was a child living in Melbourne. For my seventh birthday, an adult cousin gave me a book of the Kelly series with commentary by Robert Melville. Decades later, back in Britain, I’d find a glorious reproduction of Riverbend I and yearn to see it in the ANU collection at the Drill Hall Gallery in Canberra, not so much for the Kelly story as the evocation of a remembered landscape. By then, I’d encountered Nolan’s influence in films …Walkabout, Wake in Fright, The Proposition, Mad Max even… an influence that was always experimental, travelling through time and space to convey the strongest sense of place. "

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