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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Speak for the trees

Narrative and storytelling

The Amazing Face, lesson 6

Today we will LOOK at the portrait of Dr Bob Brown by Harold Thornton; THINK about narrative and storytelling; WATCH a video interview with Dr Bob Brown; READ an article by Michael Desmond; DO a couple of activities and finish with a quiz.

Portraiture is storytelling. Through a portrait we can explore a life’s journey. Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz is both a portrait and a history painting. The artist, Harold Thornton, captured the events and sites surrounding the Franklin River campaign, which drew international attention to south west Tasmania in the early 1980s. Thornton even inserted himself into the painting! He tells the story as he saw it. The huge painting is a patchwork of different moments presented as one image. Designed to be readable, key figures from the time are depicted such that they’re recognisable.

Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz
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Watch

In this Portrait Story, Dr Bob Brown discusses the events that occurred during the Franklin River campaign as depicted in his portrait by Harold 'The Kangaroo' Thornton. ‘It’s not one story, there’s one hundred stories in this picture. That’s what’s so good about it.’.

Interview with Bob Brown
Video: 12 minutes

Read

On first inspection, the wild rumpus of smiling trees, cavorting green gnomes, ships, planes and tractors dominated by a benign and colossal Dr Bob Brown appears comedic and not at all a serious attempt to record Australian history. This is, nonetheless, an important history painting, one of a handful of Australian paintings that could be so described.

Read the Portrait article Where the Wild Things Are by Michael Desmond.

Solo Activity

Narrative is central to this portrait of Bob Brown. Use collage to create your own narrative portrait.

You will need: drawing paper or cardboard; glue or tape; various collage materials (eg. – old newspapers, magazines, cards, wrapping paper)

  1. Using a mix of various collage materials create your own narrative portrait. Cut out pictures and arrange them onto your paper or cardboard to build up the layers for the background. Stick them down once you’re happy with the arrangement.
  2. Now look for images of eclectic items that you could include in your collage, such as furniture, or outside items such as a car, deck chairs ... spaceships(!). Think Monty Python perhaps! The pictures you select can be amusing and, if desired, without obvious relevance to each other.
  3. Find an image of at least one figure and place it/them in the collage also. You may find yourself creating a narrative portrait in the same way that Harold Thornton composed this significant story.

Connected activity

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Test your storytelling skills with a friend.

You will need: paper; pencil

  1. Have a video call with a friend or a phone call while you are both on email. This is a game of draw an historical event in Australian history! There are 6 rounds (3 turns each). 
  2. You have one minute to draw an event from Australian history – no text allowed. 
  3. If you have a video, you can do it live while your friend guesses, or finish your drawing and email it to your friend for them to guess.

Quiz

Bob Brown was a founding member of which organisation?

Why did Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti believe history painting was the highest form of art?

The artist Harold Thornton was also known as:

Next lesson

7. The right note: Arrangement and composition

Related information

Bob Brown

In defence of the 'leech ridden ditch'

Portrait story

Bob Brown discusses the events that occurred during the Franklin River campaign as depicted in his portrait by Harold 'The Kangaroo' Thornton.

Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz
Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz
Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz
Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz

Where the wild things are

Magazine article by Michael Desmond, 2009

Michael Desmond explores the complex portrait of Dr Bob Brown by Harold 'The Kangaroo' Thornton.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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