The guest on The Fine Line on Tuesday 1 July was Julie Burdis, painter, ceramist and author who was born in the north of England and on a rainy grey day, aged 15 years old, while at the cinema had her life changed forever, when by chance ended up watching the film ‘A Town Like Alice’. Julie was entranced with the infinite blue horizons with not a cloud in sight and went home and told her mother ‘I’m going to Alice Springs’.
It took Julie another 3 years to save up the £100 for the boat fare to Australia and after 9 months staying with friends in Geelong, bought a train ticket on the Ghan and after some time in Adelaide, set off once again for Alice Springs arriving with just £7’s in her pocket. En route, when the Ghan was going uphill, Julie would jump off the train and walk alongside it captivated by the desert landscape….then jump back on again as the Ghan continued on its journey.
Within in a week, Julie went down to the ‘Rock’ where as one of only 14 people working there (and the only teenager), she spent 6 months working in the Ansett hotel. The only contact with the outside world was the regular visit by the Flying Doctor’s aeroplane and it was while here that Julie first started painting the landscape of the red sands, dark tree trunks and blue skies.
Julie spoke of her transition into other forms of painting and of her ‘Charge of the White Brigade’ series of paintings depicting how she likes to observe the irony of life and translates this into a social commentary. Julie also spoke how as a little girl during the war in England, people were encouraged to help the war effort by growing vegetables or having livestock in their back gardens. Julie’s family had ‘chooks’ or ‘chickens as they are called there and how her great fondness of chooks from then inspired her renowned chook paintings which she has exhibited in different galleries including the June Marriott Gallery at Central Craft.
Over the years Julie has returned time and time again to Alice Springs and in the 1970’s met ceramist David Parnell who was making and selling wheel thrown mugs for $3. He gave Julie a lump of clay which she hand built into a dead tree, selling her ‘sculpture’ for $12. This was the beginning of her love of hand built ‘range pots’ using the coloured clays that emulated the layers of the rocks in the central Australian ranges. When Julie’s friend and potter Ingrid Waterson left town, Julie went on to buy her kiln and business and still makes her popular ‘Sand Pots’ using clay the colours of the central Australian desert sands.
In between the creativity of painting and ceramics, Julie finds time to follow her other passion which is writing. Her first book ‘Dirty Linen’ is a humourous look at her early days down at the ‘Rock’ and how it was there she met and fell in love with a dashing pilot Geoffrey Robinson. Julie went on to recount the romantic story of how 8 years ago they met up again, after about 50 years from when they first met in the dry desert landscape, are now, finally, married.
Julie is writing again with a series of stories linked over time and place called ‘Julie’s Diary’; and still paints and pots and loves her chooks.
Jen Standish-White talks with Julie Burdis, painter, ceramist and author.
Broadcast: Tuesday 1 July 2014 at 12 noon on 8CCC Community Radio 102.1FM
Producer and Presenter: Jen Standish-White