In post-war Australia, William Dobell was a household name. But the most famous artist in the land was a broken man.
His Archibald Prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith was the subject of a sensational legal case, challenging not only Dobell’s right to the prize, but the very idea of art itself. Dobell won the legal battle but lost so much else. His health was shattered, and his desire to paint was wiped out. He had to get away.
Just north of Sydney, Wangi Wangi is far removed from big city life. Dobell moved to Wangi to escape fame, but in that beguiling little place he found community and friendship, and he rediscovered the passion to paint – and the joy of life.
Through years of research and interviews with Dobell’s friends and long-time locals, acclaimed author and former Wangi resident Scott Bevan discovered how the village protected the artist, cared and posed for him, drank and partied with him. Wangi loved him as one of their own. To the world, he was Sir William Dobell, famous artist, but to Wangi, he was simply Bill.
This is the story of one of Australia’s greatest artists. It explores how ambition and talent took a working class boy a long way in the world, and how the reaction to one painting almost destroyed him. It’s also a celebration of community, and how one man finally discovered where he belonged – in the unlikeliest of places.
Scott Bevan is a Sydney-based writer, broadcaster and journalist. Like Dobell, he was born in Newcastle and has lived in Wangi Wangi. Unlike Dobell, Scott can’t paint. Bill – The Lifeof William Dobell is Scott’s fourth book.