#NOLAN100 - NO.50

Going to Work, Rising Sun Hotel, 1948

David Ferry

"Paintings have a way of drawing you in; a situation whereby all manner of senses; recollections and perhaps even portents reveal themselves.

I was in Australia last year and visited a former miming town in South Australia, called Burra*. Burra is important for its industrial history (copper mining); it also gave me a glimpse of ‘former life’ outside the main cities of Melbourne and Sydney, which are very much Twenty First Century icons of business and contemporary super culture. Burra however, seemed mainly to exist through the past with the modern concession of a few coffee shops and a Tourist Office.

I was able to obtain a ‘Burra Heritage Passport’ that enabled me to visit sites of historical and industrial importance, with your own ‘key’, so I was able to meander at leisure, and stop and explore the work and industrial constructions of early settlers (mainly Welsh and Cornish). It was a type of industrial archeological theme park, but somehow I was also very aware of the ‘present time’ coupled with the realization that I was so far away from home.  I stayed in a hotel remarkably similar to the ‘Rising Sun’.

Nolan’s painting ‘Rising Sun Hotel’* from 1948 offers a powerful reminder to me of my own footprint in Burra! There is a man and a bicycle (me) and the man (me) is standing in front of a building that was built at a time of Victorian industrial expansion but reminiscent of ‘Wild West’ films from an entirely different continent. All this completely displaced my already dysfunctional ‘away from home’ compass. To add further to the bewilderment of the familiar/unfamiliar, the film Breaker Morant** was filmed in locations around Burra and particularly at the Redruth Goal, (as though it was meant to be in the Transvaal!).

The raw graphic power of Nolan’s ‘Rising Sun Hotel’, with its curious and evocative time/space anomalies (a type of human loneliness) assumes an evocation in me of a time past, but also a time and location recently experienced.

Good paintings draw you in!"


* Burra is a historic tourist town of South Australia, in the Clare Valley region of the Mount Lofty Ranges. Mining began in 1851 and supplied 89% of South Australia's and 5% of the world's copper for 15 years, and has been credited (along with the mines at Kapunda) with saving the economy of the new colony of South Australia. Miners and townspeople migrated to Burra primarily from Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Germany. The mine first closed in 1877, and opened for a last time from 1970 to 1981. When the mine was exhausted the population shrank dramatically. Today the town is a centre for farming, and it is one of the best-preserved towns of the Victorian era in Australia.

I stayed in the historic ‘Bon Accord Hotel’ in Burra. Built to accommodate the new railway line during the peak of Burra’s industrial might. This is a building remarkably similar to Nolan’s ‘Rising Sun Hotel’.

** Breaker Morant is a 1980 Australian war/ trial film directed by Bruce Beresford.  The film concerns the 1902 court martial, one of the first war crime prosecutions in British military history. Australians serving in the British Army during the Second Anglo-Boer War, Lts. Morant, Handcock, and Witton were accused of murdering captured enemy combatants and an unarmed civilian in the Northern Transvaal. In 1980, the film won ten Australian Film Institute Awards and nominated for the 1980 Academy Award.


David Ferry RE:  artist, and Emeritus Professor of Printmaking at the Cardiff School of Art and Design. He is currently Chairman of the Chelsea Arts Club, London.

Going to work, Rising Sun Hotel, 1948, Ripolin enamel on hardboard, 91.4 x 121.9 cm, The University of Western Australia Art Collection, Perth, Tom Collins Memorial Fund 1953, © Sidney Nolan Trust

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