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Bailed Up by Tom Roberts

May 27, 2017

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Robert’s painting, Bailed Up,  shows – in all its bright glory – the true light of Australia. He belonged to the Heidelberg School of Painting which eschewed the earlier gloomy portrayals of the Australian landscape for a more realistic, light-filled representation of the landscape.  The sunlight and landscape are also a subjects of this painting. Bright sunlight is often a feature of Robert’s and his Heidelberg colleagues’ paintings.

You can see by some of the close-ups of this very large painting the faces and expressions of the various robbers and ‘victims’.  One of the highway men appears to be having a relaxed chat to the couple in the carriage.  Another passenger who is sitting with his son is calmly smoking his pipe. The mounted bush ranger to the far left of the painting is casually leaning over without any real attempt at being menacing.  Everyone is aware of what behaviour is expected and the robbery proceeds unhurried and with civility.

Just as a matter of interest, Australia in this period was not one country but rather several colonies.  The Colonies of Victoria and Queensland actually belonged to New South Wales but were granted their independence in the 1850’s.  When gold was discovered in Victoria in 1853 immigrants flooded into the colony.  Police and government officials were at first overwhelmed.  Many police abandoned their positions to join in the gold rush, as did many sailors, tradesmen, farmers and people of every profession.

When the government did manage to bring some order to the chaos and began profiting from the huge sums of money generated by the Gold, the latest modern equipment and technology from Germany and the United States was imported and put to effective use.  Victoria went from an agrarian based back water of the British Empire to an industrial powerhouse in the space of ten years.  What took Europe centuries to achieve, blossomed in Victoria in an incredibly short space of time.

Victoria and New South Wales didn’t have to rely on British technology.  Britain was still in the Industrial Revolution, but the United States and Germany were the vanguards of the best technology and innovation.  For instance, look at the coach featured in the painting .  It is a Cobb and Co Coach.  Cobb was an American who came to Australia for the 1850’s Gold Rush.  He was appalled by the inferior rigid British wagons and so imported the cutting edge American Stage Coaches (Wells Fargo) which became the chief means of transport between the larger cities and the Gold Fields.  They also became the chief target for highway robbers because they carried gold and passengers with valuables.  It wasn’t until railways were completed that the dominance of ships and stage coaches was surpassed.   The arrival of trains and fast steam ships meant that travel time was cut.  These advances coincided with the invention of the Telegraph – instant communication over long distances.  It was a combination of trains and telegraph that led to the demise of Bush rangers.

Fun facts – in the late 19th Century the World’s first combined harvester and refrigerator were invented by James Harrison (Geelong Victoria).  This further enriched Australia as more acreage could be harvested less expensively and meat could be transported by ship to foreign ports without having to be cured.  Melbourne became wealthy and was known as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.  It even had the World’s first skyscraper (building with steel skeleton).  Wealth also brought in some of the finest art works from Europe.  The first feature length movies in the World were filmed in Victoria – ‘The Life of Christ’ and ‘Ned Kelly’.  Only fragments remain of both movies.

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