Artist reimagines Ballarat’s rich history

Naïve and fantastical: Penny Hetherington with her canvas of Lola Montez. Hetherington is using her art to help Ballarat remember its history. Picture: Amber Wilson

Naïve and fantastical: Penny Hetherington with her canvas of Lola Montez. Hetherington is using her art to help Ballarat remember its history. Picture: Amber Wilson

Imagine a vivid Lola Montez, clad in violet and swinging down a mine shaft with a glass of champagne in hand.

Penny Hetherington’s artwork is all about examining historical figures and retelling their stories – albeit with a decidedly feminine perspective.

She has spent hours researching in libraries to uncover Ballarat’s history and the colourful figures that made it so fascinating.

Among the characters explored are dancer and entertainer Lola Montez, Eureka Flag figure Captain Henry Ross, and journalist and entertainer Charles Thatcher.

She’s also researched beyond Ballarat, reimagining the stories of Ned Kelly, the first indigenous aviator Len Waters, and bushranger Jimmy Governor.

They led her down on a rope and she apparently had a glass of champagne in her hand because she had to go down in style. - Artist Penny Hetherington

“I love painting about historical things and Australian stories from the past – the colonial era is my favourite,” she said.

“When I look back at high school, we never learnt any Ballarat history, which I think is a shame. I think some of it has been forgotten in education. It provides a background of where we came from.”

Hetherington said she enjoyed reimagining the historical figures in the naïve style, such as her Lola Montez painting.

“The diggers invited her to go down a gold mine to look at all the gold. They led her down on a rope and she apparently had a glass of champagne in her hand because she had to go down in style,” she said.

She said while she wasn’t a feminist, her reimagining of Ballarat’s past had a feminine perspective and a glamorised look.

“They are true stories but some of it has probably been romanticised a bit. It’s a bit like the movies – they make it a bit more glamorous,” she said.

“I guess it’s just coming from a woman’s point of view. If I was a guy, the characters would be a bit more masculine-looking. There’s an attraction about my characters.”

Hetherington is about to open a new exhibition at the Backspace Gallery, Terra Australis, which is intended to be educational, inspiring and fun.

Her aim is for visitors to feel they’ve learnt something new about Australia’s history while also being entertained.

The exhibition focuses on canvas paintings, illustrated artist books, papier mache sculptures and digitally-drawn portraits.

Terra Australis runs December 1 to 18, with a launch on December 3.