FIFTEEN of Australia’s more than 100 recipients of the Victoria Cross are on display in a stunning exhibition at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at HMAS Albatross.
The Victoria Cross exhibition is the works of renown artist George Petrou.
The VC, as it is known, is the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime.
The exhibition features Victoria Cross recipients, ranging from Australia’s first, Sir Neville Howse (Boer War) to our most recent, Cameron Baird (Afghanistan).
Mr Petrou said it was a hard decision to choose just 15 to reproduce.
“I definitely wanted Sir Neville Howse as our first and Cameron Baird as our last as my bookends but I also wanted to feature Keith Payne,” he said.
“I am a bit of a World War I tragic. There were 64 VCs awarded in the first World War so I wanted to do a lot of them and ended up with 13.
“It was hard to narrow the list down but I had to go for around 15 and 16 for the exhibition.”
Incredibly he started work on the exhibition about a year and a half ago.
“It all started with Joe Maxwell who was one of The Lost Diggers - that sparked an interest in VCs, to be honest I didn’t know a lot about them. And here we are,” he said.
“I do a lot of research into the people I paint. I try and get their personality and incorporate other elements into the work, try and show a bit of the unknown. Things people might not know about them.
“It has been a fascinating journey, I’m also involved in The Victoria Cross, Australia Remembers book project on the 100 Australian Victoria Cross recipients with author Michael C. Madden. We have spoken to 58 family members of VC recipients and that also provided great insight.”
Mr Petrou runs a graphic design business and does not regard himself as a “fulltime artist” however he said his painting is taking more and more of his time.
“Once I get into the zone I try and keep going on an artwork and finish it before moving onto the next,” he said.
He said it was hard to nominate a favourite work in the exhibition, but admitted “being taken” with the painting of Martin O’Meara, the stretcher bearer from Pozières.
“He has an incredible story and a sad story at the same time. There was a lot of work in that piece but I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” he said.
“It’s a different artwork.
“In fact the first ever VC I held was Martin O’Meara’s. It’s housed in the Fremantle Military Museum.”
As for his next series of work, he’s hoping to produce something on the youth in the first World War.
“I have come across some amazing stories,” he said “I still have some work to finish the VC project but there are some fascinating stories. There is one of the ‘Young Digger’ a young French boy adopted by Australian soldiers and brought back to Australia; our youngest Anzac James Martin who went to Gallipoli at just 14 years and seven months and our youngest VC William Jackson, who has a Wollongong connection.”
One of the man featured in the exhibition is Keith Payne, who is quickly becoming one of Nowra’s most favourite visitors and a regular at Digger Day activities.
“It is great to be featured as part of the exhibition,” Mr Payne said “George has done a bloody brilliant job. The artworks are all so lifelike - their eyes are brilliant.
“I’m amazed how George can bring the characters he paints to life.
“The way he has selected the pose of his subject - brilliant.”
The exhibition will remain on display at the Admiral Robertson Art Gallery at the museum until early July before moving to the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre during the Digger Day activities.