A Scot's a Scot for a' that

IT WAS a special moment for gallery director Gordon Morrison when the Old Lange Syne exhibition was opened during the week. 

The biggest exhibition the Art Gallery of Ballarat has  undertaken, it ties closely to his own heritage. 

Mr Morrison’s father was a Scot, married to a Polish woman he met while studying at Glasgow University. She was a refugee during the second world war. 

They immigrated to Australia in 1948, when his father was paid to come out by the CSIRO and work as a scientist. 

He said his father was proud of his Scottish background, often sharing stories of when he grew up.

“When my father was a young boy, they would often spend a Sunday night at my grandparents,” Mr Morrison said. 

“The adults sat around the table and children stood around the edge, as their elders and betters got served before them. How times have changed.” 

He moved to the outskirts of Glasgow as a 10-year-old.

He said his uncle often spoke about how closely the Sabbath was held.

“On Sunday you stayed inside and read the Bible.

“You get a kind of ambivalence, that often they had a strong sense of national identity, but it was good for some to escape to Australia.” 

Mr Morrison said unlike other countries in the UK, Scotland had a great sense of education.

“Everyone had to read the Bible on Sundays so therefore everyone read.”

His father died last year, after being unwell for the last year of his life. 

“Before he died, he gave me his father’s whisky flask. 

“I have memories from when I was a boy, going for walks with my grandfather and him bringing it along.” 

He said his father was thrilled when he told him about the upcoming exhibition. 

“I think he was happy a gallery was doing something more than high end art, but something that told history.”

Mr Morrison said he would have loved for his father to have seen it.

“We would have made special arrangements just so he could have come.” 

Now he looks forward to showing his aunt and uncle around the exhibition. 

“My father’s younger sister later immigrated to Australia as well, in 1964. 

“I suppose she was persuaded that it was a good place and encouraged to try it out, most likely by my father.

“They still live in Melbourne and have very strong Scottish accents.”

He said curators Patricia Macdonald and Alison Inglis had researched the concept of the exhibition before presenting it before him. 

“They were the driving force behind the exhibition,” Mr Morrison said. 

“They approached me knowing I had the connection to Scotland myself.”

Mr Morrison has inherited his own 1841 series from the famous novelist Sir Walter Scott, an author featured in the exhibition. 

“Any Scot that came to Australia in the 19th century would have had copies.”

One of Mr Morrison’s personal belongings will be part of the exhibition, a map of Scotland dating back to 1827. 

Mr Morrison said a great thing about the old map was because of the scale you could look and see many of the smaller villages. 

He said Ballarat had rich Scottish heritage, with much of the area and surrounds settled by Scots. 

“I’m very proud of the gallery, that we’re trying to do something that connects to people,” he said.

 “It takes some of our permanent collection, combining it with work from elsewhere in the state and world.

“I knew it would be an enormous task and expensive.”

He said there were loans from across Australia and Great Britain, including pieces couriered out from the National History Museum in London. 

“We had to find a quarter of a million dollars in extra funding just to pull this off.”

He said the Ballarat Highlands Society was very supportive, contributing $40,000 towards the show.

 He said Scotland was a place he wants to explore more, planning to go back for the first time in almost 30 years next year. 

“Both of my Scottish grandparents were alive up into my early 20s, so I visited them five or so times while I was growing up,” Mr Morrison said. 

“I have very strong memories of visiting them and spending time with them.”

He said he particularly wants to visit the region where his Morrison clan came from, Kirkintilloch near Perth. 

“The Morrison clan is quite big.”

Pictured, his kilt is made with the Ancient Hunting Morrison tartan.

“There are lots of different Morrison tartans, but this is the one that’s parentally approved as being ours.

“Some clans can have up to 20 different tartans.”

Although Mr Morrison hasn’t worn his tartan much, he said it did have a special feeling. 

“When you get into the gear, you get the feeling it’s a bit special. You’re not wearing trousers anymore.” 

Although Mr Morrison still has ties to Scotland, the last time he visited was in 1986.

“It was the year my grandfather died. We visited soon before his passing.”

Mr Morrison wants to do more ancestral research. 

“The Morrison clan is supposed to have come from the north-west of Scotland, but my family comes from Perthshire on the central east coast,” he said. 

“I want to find out what happened there and how my clan ended up there.”

Naturally, Mr Morrison said he also wanted to see many of the great galleries around Scotland and walk through some of the extraordinary landscapes. 

“You walk around this exhibition and you can see some of the gorgeous landscapes.”

The exhibition is the largest the Art Gallery of Ballarat has produced.

“It’s the largest in terms of numbers of works, number of lendings, and space in the gallery. It occupies three separate gallery rooms.”

He said a lot of the work related to the early scientific exploration of Australia, including Thomas Watling’s work shipped out from the National History Museum in London.

“He was a convict that was sent to Australia for forging Scottish pound notes.

“He was forced to be an unpaid servant in Australia. 

“He did some topographical work of Port Jackson.”

Mr Morrison said the works were sent back to London and ended up in a British museum.

“They have been away from Australia for 220 years, for us to borrow eight back and exhibit them in Australia for the first time is quite special.”

He said there is a large range of work, including indigenous scenes, plants, animals and topographical views. 

“How you work out relationships with different artworks is always an enjoyable challenge in an exhibition. 

“There are spectacular images of the highlands, where you give a feel that it belongs in a royal residence.”

He said famous artist Eugene von Guerard often took up residence in runs that Scots had settled and painted their residences, some of which were exhibited. 

Mr Morrison said his favourite painting in the exhibition was a landscape at the Isle of Skye, by Keeley Halswelle.

 “It’s amazing looking down at the rocky gully with the mist coming in. At a distance it resolves itself in a very different way.” 

Although, it didn’t come easily to acquire the piece.

“I had to go in to bat for this piece,” he said. 

“It was taking up a wall at the National Gallery of Victoria and so it put them out a bit to loan it to us, but they were very cooperative.”

Another piece of work that’s quality had deteriorated was restored by the National Gallery of Victoria, ready for display as part of the Ballarat exhibition. 

“I’m still bowled over by it.

“It’s so big. At times I was worried that it wouldn’t come together. But I’m really pleased with how its turned out. 

As director of the gallery, Mr Morrison wrote to other institutions presenting the case as to why works should be lent.

“That has to be done at a director to director level.”

He said he challenged curators on why they should be getting works in, to ensure the exhibition was of the highest quality. 

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