Is the Onus on You, Lin or Robyn?

lin-onusAbove: “Robyn” by Lin Onus (1995), synthetic polymer paint on canvas (181x181cm).

William McLintock Onus (aka Lin Onus)  was born on 4 December 1948 at St. George’s Hospital, Kew, Melbourne, Victoria to William Townsend Onus Sr, Yorta Yorta and Mary Kelly, of Scottish parentage. Lin Onus was educated in the 1950s and 1960s at Deepdene Primary School and Balwyn High School in Melbourne.

With both Scottish and Indigenous Australian heritage; (His father Bill Onus, was the founder of the Aboriginal Advancement League and was the first Aboriginal JP, dying in 1968, a year after the fruits of a long campaign, the referendum giving Indigenous Australians the right to vote).

  • Onus was largely a self-taught urban artist who, after being expelled from Balwyn High School for fighting, began his working life as a motor mechanic before making artifacts for the tourist market with his father’s business, Aboriginal Enterprise Novelties.

Above: Riddle of the Koi (1994) synthetic polymer paint on canvas diptych 200 x 400 cm

Onus became a successful painter, sculptor and maker of prints. His works often involve symbolism from Indigenous styles of painting, along with recontextualisation of modern artistic elements.

The images in his works include haunting portrayals of the Barmah Forest red gum eucalypts of his father’s ancestral country, and the use of rarrk cross-hatching-based painting style that he learned whilst visiting the Indigenous communities of Maningrida.

  • Lin Onus had a heart attack and died at the age of 47, on 24 October 1996.  He was buried at the settlement of Cummeragunja on the New South Wales-Victorian border-line.
  • Four years later, on 8 December 2000, as part of Aboriginal Reconciliation, Peter Bond, Principal of Balwyn High School, at its presentation night at Dallas Brooks Hall, issued a posthumous apology to Lin Onus for being expelled from its school in the early 1960s, as reported in the Herald-Sun newspaper (Friday, 8 December 2000, p.8.)

Robyn is part of Onus’s Arafura Swamp pictures, where he animated the waters deep overall field of blue with the reflected images of trees and clouds and swirling shoals of local perch. He also produced several paintings which included a naked female figure floating in the water. Robyn was one of these and Onus described this painting as such:

I liked…the idea of placing Robyn against a background of large coloured pebbles as they reminded me of rock pools which I had seen in the Kimberley region, (in) North Western Australia. Pools which had crystal clear water and which reflected a great deal of colour.  Similarly the notion of bright colour appealed to me as I was reminded of the vividness of the urban environment and all of the art work I saw whilst I was in Madrid. There was a strong connection with the colouring used and my memories of Spain. Both Spanish and Australian  landscapes have influenced the colouring and texture of this work.

  • So, I ask you, is the Onus on Lin or Robyn?
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