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The Epic Tale of the time when I met Jack Absalom…

Posted on Monday 9 March 2015


A note for anyone who isn’t an Australian aged 35 or over— Jack Absalom is one of the ‘Brushmen of the Bush’ Australian Outback painters (check Wikipedia) who pretty-much created the popular genre along with Pro Hart and a few others during the 1970s. Before he got into art, he was actually a full-on outback worker and adventurer of considerable experience. One time he was hired as an outback travel guide by a few artists wanting to camp and paint, and Jack decided to give the brush thing a go…

Incoming Epic Tale! (in three parts!)


In 1981 my Mother took my brothers and I on a September school holiday road-trip out to Broken Hill. About 30 kilometres sort of the town, the car came to a stop (can’t remember why), but luckily an old guy stopped and help Mum get the car started.

When we get in to Broken Hill, the touristy options back then were Pro Hart’s art gallery, the nearby town of Silverton —and that was about it for touring at the time. We’re at the Hart gallery when the old guy who helped with the car shows up, and introduces himself as Jack Absalom, who said he was somewhat of a painter himself (Jack didn’t really become a household name until a few years later), and he invited us over to his house for tea and scones with his wife. Needless to say, Jack made a huge impression on me and my younger brothers. It was also at Jack’s place where I found out about Opals, and I still remember the moment when I thought one day I would be buying opal jewelery for a girlfriend/wife…

Unfortunately, Mum had pretty-much spent all the souvenir money at the Pro Hart’s place, so we left with only a few postcards.


32 years later— I finally manage to return to Broken Hill! The first thing I do on arriving at the town is head straight to Absalom’s place– which is now a full-on gallery.

I’m the only person there when I enter, except for an old woman with black hair care-taking. I give the amazing ‘new’ gallery a full look over, and put aside the souvenirs for my family that we were supposed to get 3 decades ago. Afterwards, I go off to marvel at the much much bigger opal collection that is the centerpiece of Absalom’s gallery– it’s claimed to be the biggest privately-owned Opal collection in the Southern Hemisphere. Opals are still very awesome.

A while later, I noticed that there’s this old guy going through the art books that I want to buy and writing in them! It is, of course, Jack sneaking in his autograph…

!!! … No, Jack didn’t remember my family from 32 years ago, but I did get to tell him why I had to come back there. In spite of his pushing 90 and looking like he’s out of puff, he wanted to wrap the artbooks so I could post them. I got to meet Jack Absalom again! I probably spent about another 20 minutes at the gallery.

Afterwards, I took care of some less important things like where I was going to stay the night. I ended up at the cheapest pub accommodation I could find, the Palace Hotel …where some of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ was filmed. Ha. A fantastically restored building, and only $45/night, about half the price of regular Motels in BH.


After the visit to Broken Hill, I went camping for a week down around the Mendinee Lakes area. While I was there, I realized I’d forgotten something…

A few years after we met Jack in 1981, he did the television series based on his book, which I think really is what made him a household name in Australia. In one episode, he says the most essential piece of outback survival equipment that you must have when traveling in remote areas is… a deck of playing cards.

…If your car/4wd breaks down seriously, and you’re stranded out in the middle of nowhere, he says the thing you must do is to first– find some shade, sit down, boil the billy, and have a cup of tea while playing a game of Patience. It’ll calm you down, you’ll be able to think about things clearly… and some smartarse will appear out of nowhere and tell you to put the red 10 on the black Jack, and help will have arrived.

My younger brother Tim, who is now a Cop in the Northern Territory, has been repeating Jack’s joke Ad Nauseum for the past 30 bloody years! I’m the camping guy in the family, and whenever I go on a trip, he’ll tell me to bring the pack of playing cards without fail…

At Mendinee… I realized I did have a pack of playing cards on me! …and it was Tim’s birthday in a few days… I made a change to my camping plans, heading straight for Broken Hill and the Absalom Gallery again. I asked for Jack, and explained that I would like him to autograph the deck of cards– turning them into Official Jack Absalom Outback Survival Playing Cards! He humored me and signed them.

I posted the cards up to my brother, and when he got them he was over the moon. Everyone at the cop station was told the story about the cards, and our early brush with greatness with Jack Absalom. And hopefully his Wife has begun thumping him for always repeating that overused playing cards joke.


On that second visit to Jack’s place was when I also got to mention I was on an around-Australia camping trip on the Postie bike. He told me to wait there, and left for the gallery’s storage room, returning with a copy of his famous “Safe Outback Travel” book. He said it was free, and insisted that I take it! “THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE!” He was deadly serious about it! He’s 90 years old, and it was clear of how pissed-off he would be if he had to come out and rescue me…

He asked if there was anything about the camping that I was having trouble with. I said nothing as yet, although my plan to travel across the Nullarbor and along the north coast of Western Australia would mean having to figure out some way to carry enough water for my needs.

“I DON’T CARRY WATER! … I MAKE WATER!” …in the “I MAKE WATER SPRING UP FROM THE GROUND ON COMMAND!” tone of voice! :D

And so that’s when I got to meet Jack Absalom during my Postie Bike Around Australia Camping Trip…


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