Pat Yates put his artistic talent to good use while he served in New Guinea and the Solomons during World War II. The drawings he produced from 1942 – 1945 will be displayed publicly for the very first time in the Port Macquarie Library from April 1 – 14. Pat tells us about his exhibition – and his dream of taking his artworks on the road …
Pat, how did you actually become interested in drawing?
Always, as a kid – when I was little – I’d be drawing things. I was mad about drawing. I particularly remember during the Depression years my uncle lived in the same street.
He used to sell newspapers, and he used to bring home the placards they used in those days – the ones that were leaning up at the newsagents or at the tram stops. I could scribble and draw on the back of them. He used to draw too – but he only drew cowboys and horses!
I drew everything I could see – pots and pans … trees … people. Then, just after the war started, I started to do a correspondence course with ICS – which is still going! That was really interesting.
Then of course, the Army came along. I was still drawing in the Army. I always remember going on a hike as a soldier with a pack on your back – training. We’d all sit down and we’d still have our packs on – and the pack would become a cushion when you leaned against a tree. Out would come my notebook, and I’d sketch the soldiers.
What materials did you draw with while you were in the army?
I only had an old split nib pen, a bottle of Indian ink, that I kept in a little tin (so it wouldn’t break), a rubber, a couple of pencils, a brush and a roll of cartridge paper in a tube.
I used to do some drawings – maybe half a dozen of them, then I’d roll them up in a tube and post them home to Betty [my wife].
What happened after you came home from the war?
In 1946, under the Commonwealth reconstruction scheme, I took up the art course offered at East Sydney Technical College – later this became the National Art School. This was at Darlinghurst, in Sydney. My fellow students were 15 ex-servicemen and 3 ex-service women. It was a 5-year full-time course, with no fees for the first 2 years (except for materials).
For the remaining few years of the course, I had to take out a loan to pay for the course. We were paid £5 per week and it cost me £2 per week just for travelling, as we were living in Dee Why at the time, which meant at least 4 hours travelling each day.
After 18 months, it became very difficult for us. In the school holidays I had to work at other things to make ends meet, and Betty was also working. During this period we were building our first house and expecting our first child. So, I terminated my art course and was thereafter involved in the building trade.
I thought I’d go back to it when I retired – family had to come first.
I lived in Dee Why for 10 years. I bought our first block of land for £45! Then we went to Springwood for 18 years; that’s where the children mostly grew up and went to school.
From there, when we had only one boy left at home – he was 14 and worked with me – we moved to Mudgee. We were there for 28 years, and moved here [to Port Macquarie] 9 – almost 10 years ago.
I only did a little bit of drawing while I was out west – mostly some pen and ink drawings of old buildings and gold fields. At that time, in Mudgee, I got all the old drawings I’d done out of cardboard boxes. Some had been damaged – they’d been wet, or destroyed by vermin etc.
There was a pretty good reason why you decided to resurrect your drawings at this time, wasn’t there?
Yes. It was the 50th anniversary of cessation of hostilities in the Pacific [in 1995], so I thought I’d get them out and see what I could save. I didn’t hang them all.
I wrote to the museum in Canberra – I’ve written to them twice over the years, and sent them some very good copies. The museum couldn’t show them – they told me they already had 56,000 in storage they’d like to show, but they just didn’t have the space. I tried to decide what to do with them – they take up a lot of space.
When I came here [Port Macquarie], I decided to frame them all and put them under glass. I came up with this scheme and framed them, so they are very portable and they can easily be shown to other people – especially in places like libraries.
So the plan is to take the drawings you created from 1942 – 1945, while you served in New Guinea and the Solomons, and turn them into a travelling exhibition?
Yes. I’m in the process of applying for a grant now. I’ve tried some other venues, but the libraries have been the best. The drawings – they’re educational; it’s printed matter that can be seen.
There will be about 40 drawings in the exhibition. There are a couple from 1942, and the last three months after the war is when I did most of them – while I was waiting to come home on a boat.
There are drawings of servicemen, native people and some of the Americans we befriended. The beauty of this exhibition is that the way I’ve framed them; they’re so light. They won’t damage the wall when they’re hung.
Your upcoming exhibition in the Port Macquarie Library is the first time your work has been shown publicly?
Yes, the first time they’ve been shown to the public. They’re being shown at the library from the 1 – 14 April. I will try to be there in the afternoons, in case anyone wants to talk to me and ask questions. There will be a visitors’ book there for people to sign and make remarks.
From there, they’ll be taken to Laurieton United Services Club the long weekend in April. I’ve also written to Forster, but after that I’ll need grants [funding], to take the exhibition further.
Out of all the drawings you’ve done, what is your favourite?
Mostly the portraits of the people I knew – they’re my favourites.
For all the people planning to come along and have a look at your exhibition, what do you hope they’ll gain from the experience?
It will bring back memories for some of them too. As you get older, you live on your memories.
What will you personally gain out of exhibiting your work ?
For me, nothing personally … just seeing the enjoyment of other people.
This is not for commercial gain, and the grant I’m applying for is not from a commercial aspect. The works aren’t for sale.
Thank you Pat. Good luck with your exhibition and plans to take your art on the road.
Interview by Jo Atkins.