Wheatbelt council decides against selling controversial painting by convicted child sex offender Rolf Harris

When should the art be separated from the artist? That’s the question a local government in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt grappled with this week when it voted against selling the painting it was gifted by convicted child sex offender Rolf Harris.

At the request of one of his Perth Modern School peers, the disgraced entertainer painted a Quairading woodland scene in front of a packed crowd at the local town hall in 1983.

Local governments and other institutions rushed to tear down Harris’ artwork and murals in 2014 after the now 92-year-old was convicted of indecently assaulting four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.

The Quairading piece has been in storage since then, but the council recently received an offer from a private buyer willing to pay $3,000 for the painting.

Rolf Harris artwork in Bundaberg
Bundaberg Council has removed a painting of Uluru by Rolf Harris from the lobby of the Moncrieff Theatre.(ABC News)

Locals divided over painting

Community feedback was then sought on what should be done with the artwork, with around half of the 75 people who responded saying they wanted to keep the painting in a prominent area.

Supporters claimed it was a nostalgic work of art, with many fond memories of being enchanted as the painting took shape before their eyes.

A report presented to the council said most of the 50 percent of respondents opposed to preserving the artwork did not want a “known pedophile and the lifelong trauma he inflicted on children ” must be “celebrated” by displaying the painting.

A white-haired man wearing black-rimmed glasses stands next to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as photographers take pictures.
Rolf Harris at the unveiling of his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on 19 December 2005.(AP Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Some community members suggested that the painting be appraised by an art dealer before being sold, with the proceeds to be donated to a suitable cause.

Others wanted the piece destroyed.

Shire of Quairading president Peter Smith said the council ultimately decided the painting should not be sold.

“As a council collective, we took the position that it is the property of the community and since it was such an equal division, we decided that we should not sell it and we should keep it for future generations,” he said. said.

“We are here to make decisions on behalf of our community. It is reasonable that it be retained as the property of our community.”

Mr Smith admitted many loved the artwork but said the painting would not be displayed in the town hall again.

“I think it’s a beautiful painting, but I’m in no way endorsing any of it [Harris’s] past actions,” he said.

Quairading is not the only Wheatbelt town to receive art by Harris, and a decision by the Shire of Dalwallinu to re-hang a painting following his conviction has sparked a major backlash. The painting has since been removed from public view.

The City of Greater Geraldton has one artwork by Harris in storage in the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery, but Mayor Shane Van Styn said there were no plans to move, display or sell it.

A street view of a country town with flowers in the middle of the road and a historic country pub.
The Shire of Dalwallinu has removed its Rolf Harris painting from display.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

In 2015, Harris was stripped of honors awarded to him by Queen Elizabeth II after his painting of the late monarch was unveiled in 2005.

The ABC reported in September that the current location of the portrait is unknown, with the last public sighting in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery.

A building supply store in Caulfield that painted over a British Paints advertisement made by Harris and Madame Tussauds Sydney has removed its wax figure of the entertainer following feedback from the community.

Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison, but was released after serving just three years.

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