Works from the Donald Friend Collection
27 October 2013


(1915 - 1989)

oil on board

45.0 x 64.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Donald. 42

$40,000 - 60,000
Sold for $39,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 31 - 27 October 2013, Sydney

Exhibition of Paintings by Donald Friend, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 20 May – 1 June 1942, cat. 7 (as 'Malaytown, Cairns')

Catalogue text

Donald Friend's connection with Malay Town in Cairns goes back to 1932 and his early determination to be an artist. Rebelling against his grazier father's wishes for him to follow in his footsteps, Friend ran off to North Queensland, where he joined up with the Torres Straits Islander family of Charlie and Umma Sailor and their son Titien. Virtually adopted as one of them, he joined their pearling luggers working between Cairns and Thursday Island. The free life appealed. 'He delighted in their company, their physical energy and joy of life' From childhood he had fed his imagination with tales of Arabian nights and exotic realms, and at Thursday Island he found a place that matched these dreams.1 It was the beginning of a lifelong attraction to people of exotic cultures. As Barry Pearce put it, Friend preferred 'mixing with people who seemed to move to some pulse of life beyond the ken of Europeans'.2

After sojourns in London, Lagos and Ikerre in Nigeria, Friend only returned to Australia in 1940 - because of the outbreak of war. As the city life of Sydney palled, he escaped again to Malay Town and the Sailor family. The 1942 paintings, Malay Town, Cairns; Trader (once in the collection of Jacqueline Crookston, Sydney); and Cairns Store (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) all belong to this time. It was a brief, idyllic period, cut short by military service and later twelve months as an official war artist.

Malay Town, Cairns, together with the other two paintings, are redolent with the relaxed lifestyle of Cairns, blended with Friend's incomparable wit. In Trader, with its idiosyncratic animalistic decorations atop the thatched roof, the name 'D. FRIEND/TRADER' is painted proudly across the doorway. Significantly, nobody is at work, ease and indulgence in the pleasure of doing nothing being paramount. The individuality of these figures continue in Cairns Store, where likewise everything is relaxed - even what might seem to be work is not taken too strenuously. And the sensuous colours are of edible delight. Malay Town, Cairns is an engaging casual jumble. The rhythm of life pulses equally through the houses on stilts as the surrounding landscape, each taking on its own animated force. Even the trees metamorphose into objects of curiosity - both in appearance and by their inquisitive action. The native bird to the left quizzically observes the group of three people, posed as if for a painted remembrance. Friend must have found it hard to leave all this behind. Generously, he left us this and other paintings for the enjoyment of those who want to get away from it all!

1. Gray, A., (ed.), The Diaries of Donald Friend, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002, Canberra, vol.1, p. xxii
2. Pearce, B., Donald Friend, 1915-1989: Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1990, p. 10