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ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE BLOCK

14 June 2003 and 28 January, 2007


BILL CLEMENTS

A Sculptor's Tribute to Mum Shirl and Fr Ted Kennedy

Bill Clements’ works of art are a tribute to ‘the exceptional’ who he says must always be honoured. He has sculpted works to honour Fr Ted Kennedy and Shirley Smith (Mum Shirl). Bill was born in Melbourne in 1933. He studied at National Gallery School, Melbourne and Fine Arts, Melbourne University, 1973-1955 and studied sculpture at the National Art School, East Sydney, 1960-62. He was a good friend of Fr Ted Kennedy and Mum Shirl.


Bill Clements:

I can’t remember when I first met Shirley Smith. It would have been around 1979 or 1980. Whenever I was in Sydney, I would make my way on a Sunday morning to St Vincent’s in Redfern. She was always there. After the Mass said by Fr Ted Kennedy, she would speak to the concerns of the day. She didn’t waste words and always drew the attention of the congregation to the matters of life and death that she with many others had to deal with on a daily basis, and as we knew, always without the necessary financial resources.

The life size portrait came about by chance. One morning in February 1985, I had just seen someone off at Adelaide airport and as I came out, I saw her sitting alone in the airport concourse. We were both surprised to see each other and I said ‘What are you doing here, Shirley?’

‘Listen, Bill’, she said, ‘if the people who are supposed to pick me up don’t turn up in the next fifteen minutes, I’m getting on the next plane back to Sydney.’ It turned out that she had been invited as guest of honour to the First Aboriginal Women’s Art Festival. She had been waiting for some time, and someone had obviously slept in.

‘Don’t do that,’ I said, ‘come home and have breakfast.’ Afterwards we sat outside and talked about people and events in Sydney. During the conversation, at some point, I said that I thought it was time I started to do her portrait. She agreed. So right there and then we made a start with drawings and photographs. Later we went over to meet the people who were to be her hosts during the Festival. They were very apologetic. It turned out that some young person had forgotten to turn up at the airport to collect her. Everything went well from then on, and at the Festival theatre later in the week, she was given a great welcome by the audience.

Three years later, I returned to New South Wales. From that time, the portrait began to get under way and I did more studies at her home in Ashfield. As she spent so much of her life visiting prisoners all over the state which was of course how she came to be known as Mum Shirl, one day I intuitively decided to place the shadow of bars on one side of a clay study. Over the years I must have made three versions, as well as smaller studies. Sometimes with the bars, sometimes without.  Eventually on the advice of Ted Kennedy, I decided to keep them.

She came to see how the work was progressing and brought along a grandchild, who looked at the image and said ‘Nana’! Except for a replica of the Prison Visitors badge which was withdrawn from her by the Department of Corrective Services and which I intend to restore, it has reached the final version.

During these years, I met with the Wiradjuri Council of Elders who gave their permission for the work.  All that now remains is the need to develop a public fund to cover the costs of casting as a lost wax bronze and other associated costs. A place looking out onto Redfern Street has been found at St Vincent’s. Five years have gone by since her death and the funeral service in St Mary’s Catherdral, it’s time to honour a remarkable woman, someone who knew what leadership was all about.

June 14, 2003

The photographs [associated with Fr Ted Kennedy] are the finished reliefs (each 600 x 200) which are yet to be cast in bronze.

The works commemorate the moment in 1971 when Fr Ted Kennedy decided to open the doors of the presbytery and St Vincent’s Church and provide sanctuary for the homeless Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal people came from all over New South Wales and Queensland into Sydney in the year after the 1967 referendum.  ‘Not without cost!’ Bill exclaimed.  Fr Ted was beaten up and often sustained bruises as those who were with him testify.

January 28, 2007

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The three relief sculptures featured below are called 'SANCTUARY':


1) Meeting

Helen Waters, first visitor at Fr Ted Kennedy's presbytery at St Vincent's Church, Redfern


2) Mum Shirl and the City

Mum Shirl comforting the afflicted

3) Image of Fr Ted Kennedy

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An earlier work by Bill Clements honours Aboriginal hero, Mum Shirl.

Mrs Shirley C. Smith M.B.E., A.M.
     
   
    Meeting  
     
   
    Mum Shirl and the City  
     
   
    Image of Fr Ted Kennedy  
     
   
    Mrs Shirley C. Smith M.B.E., A.M.  
     
   
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