Reading an art magazine I came a brief paragraph about a little known Australian woman artist, Violet Teague (1972-1951) who once took a taxi from an outer Melbourne suburb to central Australia. Intrigued, I did an internet search to find out more about her. The more I read, the more interested I became.
Born into a wealthy Melbourne family Violet was educated by a French governess then, later, at a private girl’s school. In the 1890s she travelled to Europe where she visited the art galleries and studied art in Belgium and England. Returning to Melbourne in the early 1900s she established herself portrait painter of international renown. She also co-created a book of woodcuts and haiku style verses with another woman artist. This book is now considered to be the first Australian artist book.
The story of how she came to take a taxi to outback Australia is particularly fascinating. During a prolonged drought in central Australia 1920s the pastor of the Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission wanted to pipe good drinking water to the mission from a spring 7km away. Neither the church or the government would help him. In 1932 the Melbourne artist Jessie Traill visited Hermannsburg with Violet’s sister, Una. When they returned to Melbourne and told Violet how aboriginal people around the mission were dying because of the drought she became determined to do something.
Hiring a Studebaker taxi and driver Violet and her sister Una journeyed to the mission, nearly 2,500 km away from their home. Camping along the way, Violet painted delicate watercolours of the country they passed through.
When she returned to Melbourne Violet sold her paintings and other works donated by the Victorian Artist Society. She also set up newspaper appeals and was able to raise enough money to pay for the pipe line. Aboriginal men dug the trench to the spring by hand and in 1935 fresh water was piped into the mission.
It is in her paintings of the wild ocean coastline of Victoria that Violet Teague’s strength of character and indomitable spirit finds visual expression. She is an artist that deserves to be better known.