The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 14
The writer apologises for the delay in presenting Part 14. Here provided is a link for readers to the previous Part 13.
The accused had purchased the painting from the artist, the same one-time friend of my brother and a local resident. The artist was fearful, especially concerned he may become the next target of police attention and potential vandalism.
I had known of the artist’s intention to the painting. I critiqued it for him as he asked of me when it was completed. I thought the work was excellent, regardless a departure. The artist was a landscape painter. He did win a major award with a
beautiful seated female nude. This instead was of a female nude lying across a bed on her back and her head hanging back over the bed edge at the forefront of the painting; a figure barely more than a semblance visible in a doorway at some distance from the main subject I knew was female. I am unsure in recall if that could be easily determined.
I have not viewed the painting for now 47 years so I do question my memory of the exact detail , but the colour gradation and palette; however perhaps a third of the height of the canvas was painted in an almost monochromatic dark charcoal-hue other than for an implication of a source of light behind the figure in the doorway. The nude lying on the bed was a work of realism in the style of the artist’s landscape paintings. I knew he sought a Renaissance depth and perspective. Nothing is revealed of the personality of the room neither its contents. A seeming dispersal of light coated the tones of the skin. I do not remember a racial description. The hair colour was I believe dark. The artist moved about a middle third of the painting out of the dark of distance to an effect of depth beyond the bed.
My admiration of the painting remains the sense of still moment.
The painting was seized by police who searched the accused’s small wooden boat in the belief they would find drugs. They had exhibited as was anticipated of their raids little discriminatory care of his belongings. They produced no search warrant, Not finding drugs of any description and perhaps foreseeing the need to establish an alibi for their behaviour in full view on a public beach, the police alleged they were walking
not far from the water’s edge past the location of an open boat parked stern to bow facing the esplanade road. They saw the painting. They were confronted and offended.
Thus the truth was eliminated that they had pulled the accused’s belongings every which way out of a meagre forward cabin where the painting was lodged for its protection from salt encrustation and sand in a surround of clothing.
The accused was seriously frightened. The thought alone of a conviction on a charge of anything terrified anybody were they vulnerable and exposed to what was potential of being continuingly apprehended by members of the Queensland Police Force, but the accused was from the UK, not an Australian resident or citizen. Serious consequences were potential affect on his future if judgement was pronounced in favour of the prosecution, to only be deported to the UK with a highlight of a criminal prosecution for obscenity.
The criminals must have been laughing as the saying goes. Some years later, 30 years ago now the Fitzgerald Enquiry in Queensland established irrefutable proof of the long-term involvement of key figures at the highest levels of government and policing in corruption and their financing through protection rackets, gambling and prostitution.
Meanwhile, back at the beach community, resourceful individuals put their heads together as is the wont of people of integrity where community and its reputation is at stake and kin fearful of corrupt administrative governance at every level, its members living with a siege mindset, their homes in danger of ransack.
A local lawyer was engaged whose reputation met the requisite critera that his genuine interest was the accused’s welfare and social justice.
What were the qualifications of the arresting officer to establish an artwork is obscene, offensive and to whom is it offensive if so and why.
I witnessed my first life demonstration of the practical use of mathematics and
experienced the wonder. For anyone to see into the boat’s interior from where the police alleged they had and were concerned for the public, minors for starters were ruled out beyond reasonable doubt by trigonometry. A passer-by needed to be 12 feet tall (3.6m).
Nothing would ever cause the accused in the circumstances to even smile we were to realise. My heart went out to him as result of my assuredly announcing by way of pure instinct the next stumbling block the police would meet with was no professional artist leastwise in the immediate district would witness the painting was obscene per se. The police would present in court without that evidence. He abjectly anxious announced to me I was to remember his entire future was at stake.
The feeling of sorrowful guilt that I failed when he needed comfort to assist his anxiety has never left me, remembered of course because I nevertheless learned a valuable life lesson about the relativity of perspective.
In place of others who chose to not be recognised for fear of immediate reprisals, I attended in clothes I hoped again rendered me conservative and unrecognisable. My responsibility was to deliver my court report back to the beach community without
being apprehended and charged on any pretence. The community’s members anticipated retaliation for what was assumed an inevitable outcome the case would be thrown out of court.
The courtroom was packed. A hotch potch of business suits and brilliantly coloured and sequinned gowns worn by people I had never in my life seen and hair styles that were glorious, dreads and shining, gleaming, beaded, braided filled the gallery standing room only and and my memory for this life time. Permission for observers to stand respectfully was further granted. Where everybody came from I do not know.
The magistrate doused periodic outbursts of guffaws. He warned contempt of court. The court fell quiet. The trigonometry was presented with grave attention to its detail by diagrammatic representation.
The accused described himself as being on holiday from the UK where he was a merchant seaman by profession. The accused made the revelation he was a former student of art at a UK art collegeof reasonable renown. The police prosecution persevered that the depiction of nudity in a public place was offensive where passers-by did not expect to view nudity; however declared the painting in the same breath as obscene. The reason was advanced that the painting showed an obscene relationship.
No apprehending police officer in their right mind would consider in my cautious viewpoint presenting themselves alone in a public courtroom as witnesses of their own assessment of an artwork. They did. Advice on the grape vine was they had tried to
engage at least one local artist so what I had surmised proved true. The police officers attested when asked to having no training in art. The magistrate enquired of the arresting officer what Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David meant to him in the scheme of things. He drew an entire blank. The confused officer had no idea what that was.
The accused cross questioned by the magistrate what was the meaning to the accused of the painting advised he intended to take the painting with him on his return to the UK as a memento of his holiday in Australia. Why did he buy this painting? He bought it as a study in ochres. What did he consider was the relationship between the figures in the painting? He had not considered the subject matter of there being two figures in the painting. His interest was technical. He repeated he valued the painting as a study in ochres
The magistrate advised the accused that he, the magistrate supposed the accused would not display the painting in, say the front window of, say a department store in the main street of Cairns and the accused agreed; if the accused had not, the magistrate could not find the painting was displayed in a public place and neither intention. The accused was exonerated of the charge and free to leave the court.
I interpreted the magistrate’s inclusion of definition of a public place achieved the unexpected clarity of a finding opposed by inference to the controversial seizing of art work by the Queensland police out of display in a public art gallery and equally to its
being potentially seized out of a private home or display in a private art collection. The court’s packed gallery of observers were cognisant to restrain their exuberance until they exited the court room.
In the evening I recited the court case near word for word to an assembled group sitting cross legged on the floor at my feet. My capacity with memory had been well identified as a skill of no small function. The charming detail remains in memory that the next day the accused was no longer burdened with anxiety when I commented to him that the police as I presupposed appeared no doubt perforce without an expert art witness. He asked to my surprise and in wonder how did I know.
I did not know. I interpreted the status of the intelligence and experience of the police purely on the trigonometry presented to me by the mathematicians. My immediate thought had been that if they had not thought of the detail they could not view the interior of the boat from where they had claimed the painting was visible to the public, they would have likely given little or no consideration to how difficult the next step would be of enticing a local art specialist to testify the painting was obscene.
Why did I presuppose the responsible police officers could not forward themselves as sufficient and suitable witnesses?
Perhaps it did take a local and former Queensland University student who was a victim of the Queensland Government’s Education Department to hazard an informed guess what the educational status was of the Queensland Police in 1970.
No maths. No art. No deductive reasoning. No common weal.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson