The Murals at the Family Hotel

The Family Hotel, Tibooburra

During the 1960s Australian artists Clifton Pugh, Russell Drysdale and others spent time painting in the outback in the surrounding area.

The ‘big wet of 1969 and resultant flood stranded Pugh and so to pass the time, he started to paint on the walls and so began the 'living' art gallery, to which many other artists contributed.

A three-time Archibald Prize winner (including for the portrait of Gough Whitlam hanging in Parliament House), Pugh’s impressionistic mural is racy, complete with a naked devil bearing an uncanny resemblance to the then publican Barney Davie as well as several female nudes, two of whom were inspired by Barney’s own daughters.

The artwork frames the bar, along with others by artists including Russell Drysdale, Eric Minchin and Rich Amor, making the Family Hotel much more than just another outback pub.

Clifton Pugh

Oral history: "I can't put a timing on the mural, I have a feeling it is around 1969, Clifton did not own the pub at the time, it was owned by Barney Davie (pictured above). He and Clifton were mates, Clifton used to bring art classes into the desert to do week-long art things. The story goes that Clifton got stuck at the pub during the wet, got bored and started painting the walls."

At the Family Hotel, Pugh painted a devil who looked like his ex-wife's boyfriend and two nudes who turned out to be the pub owner's daughters.

When Pugh's first marriage failed he bought a property in 1951 from a poultry farmer bushland near Cottlesbridge which had been chopped but not cleared for firewood; he paid for the land by working in the poultry sheds.

He formed a co-operative of artists and supporters who wanted to live cheaply in a tranquil place near Melbourne; when the co-operative split up each person took a section of the land. Pugh at first camped on the site then built a wattle-and-daub shack. When a wild cat he'd tamed died, he saw the small birds return to the bush; this and his association with the Monash University Zoology department taught him to value the indigenous animals and flora; close observation of the nature and its cyclical rhythms became a key theme in Pugh's paintings from this time. He was joined in the shack, to which he added in mud brick, by Marlene.

They had two children, Shane and Dailan, and Pugh added to the house to accommodate the family's needs. He and Marlene split up in 1969 and in 1970 he brought Judith to Dunmoochin, as the property was known. Pugh became a strong environmental activist, and in 1989 set up the Dunmoochin Foundation which provides residences for artists at the property.

He later had other one-man shows in London (1975 and 1976) and Tel Aviv (1979), as well as many in Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

When Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister the Historic memorials Committee bought Pugh's portrait of him and it is the official portrait hanging at New Parliament House in Canberra.

  • 1965 - R A Henderson
  • 1971 - Sir John McEwen
  • 1972 - The Hon E G Whitlam

In 1990 he was named the Australian War Memorial's official artist at the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.

  • Painting People (Commonwealth Film Unit)
  • Bird and Animal (Eltham Films)
  • Four Painters (ATV Channel 0, Melbourne)
  • See It My Way (ABC Channel 2, Sydney)
  • The Diamantina ( De Montignie Media Productions)
  • A Fragile Country