A STORY AND PAINTINGS
by Br Don Gallagher CFC
(Brougham Press, 2008, hardback, 166pp, $49.95 including p & h.
Available from St Edmund's College, Canberra, see order form below)
Despite its mundane looking title, A Story & Paintings is a gem of a publication from one of Australia's great unsung talents, and an exemplar of Catholic religious life at its finest, Br Don Gallagher.
This attractively produced book, as its title indicates, consists of two sections, one a brief (61 pages) autobiography, written in the third person, and the other, over one hundred selected reproductions of Br Gallagher's beautiful paintings.
It is evident from the background provided on this book's dustcover that Br Don has embodied the best qualities of those good teachers we have all loved and admired: 'Because of his kindness, his gentle persuasiveness, his sense of humour and his obvious sincerity boys respond very positively to his instruction. He has a remarkable ability to draw out the very best in his students'.
Born in 1925 in Warrnambool, Victoria, young Don Gallagher left home at 14 to join the Christian Brothers juniorate in Sydney. On completion of his teacher training and spiritual formation, Br Don taught thousands of boys around New South Wales before moving to St Edmund's College in Canberra in 1967, where he resides in retirement today.
Br Don's talents for writing, photography, art and attractive layout were utilised in, among other things, production of the St Edmund's Annual Magazine, at one time named as the best school magazine in Australia. He has also been a successful choir master and hockey coach.
His paintings have been hung in the annual Archibald and Wynne exhibitions and adorned collections throughout Australia and overseas. As this book shows, he is equally at home painting portraits, still life and landscapes. He has also written an instructional book on painting, See it! Paint it!, and has been a contributing editor to The Australian Artist.
Br Gallagher's brief autobiography in the present book highlights his striking talent as a writer, with his eye for vivid detail, lively dialogue and comic sensibility. One is reminded at times of Albert Facey's classic, A Fortunate Life, and Br Don's story could translate equally well to film.
In addition, his vivid memories of the Australian Catholic community, its parishes, schools and religious life, from the 1920s onwards is a valuable slice of history which brings the past back to life. The older ones amongst us will relate readily to much of Br Don's story.
Particularly moving is his encounter with his favourite teacher from his first days at school, Sister Andrea. She was clearly a formative influence on Br Gallagher's humane approach to teaching.
Towards the end of his autobiography, Br Don writes: 'He [Br Gallagher] found the Mercy Sisters' plot and went searching for Sister Andrea's grave. He noticed one where fresh flowers had been placed, and there, with disbelieving eyes he read, Sister Mary Andrea McLean, died 1933, aged 28. 'Oh sister, is this your latest trick? Only 28! So young! Sixty years ago, he thought, well ... sixty years in our time. But Sister, you're outside our time. Eternity, they call it ... The last day has already arrived in your time. You have your resurrected body now, your beautiful, kindly smile is in place as of old.' So good to know.'
It is a pity Br Don did not write a lot more about his fascinating life story, as the little we have whets the appetite.
Equally impressive and appealing is his talent for painting, as highlighted by the examples in this book.
In his Introduction to the section on his paintings, Br Don sets out his artistic philosophy: 'It was said of Monet that 'his pictures are untouched by any emotion, except what he feels when he looks.' So the difficulty is to paint with feeling without departing from the visual truth. This is not easy. But it helps to regard the visible world with reverence or a kind of awe, considering the light itself to be the subject - light falling on pots, people or paddocks (still-lifes, portraits, landscapes). I hope there are some paintings in this collection that tell their story. Not to everyone. But to someone.'
Br Don Gallagher's story, both in writing and painting, is heart warming, and well worth encountering.
St Edmund's College Canberra
110 Canberra Avenue
GRIFFITH ACT 2603
Phone: (02) 6295 3598
Fax: (02) 6295 1356