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 photo it was given by convicted child sex offender Rolf Harris.

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

Local governments and other organizations rushed to tear down Harris’ artwork and paint over murals in 2014 after the now 92-year-old was found guilty of indecently assaulting four women 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 photographed Uluru by Rolf Harris from the foyer of the Moncrieff Theatre.(ABC News)

Local people sharing 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 place.

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

A report submitted to the council said most of the 50 per cent of respondents who opposed keeping the artwork did not want “a known pedophile and the lifelong trauma he caused children” to be removed. “celebrate” by displaying the painting.

A white-haired man with 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 members of the community suggested that the picture should be valued by an art dealer before being sold, with the proceeds to be donated to a suitable cause.

Others wanted the piece destroyed.

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

“We as one of the councils were of the opinion that it belonged to the community and given that it was such an equal division, we decided that we should not sell it and that we should keep it for future generations, ” he said.

“We are here to make decisions on behalf of our community. It is reasonable to keep it as our community’s property.”

Mr Smith acknowledged that many liked the artwork, but said the painting would not be displayed back at the town hall.

“I think it’s a lovely painting but I don’t condone anything at all [Harris’s] past actions,” he said.

Quairading is not the only Wheatbelt town to have received art from Harris, and a decision by the Shire of Dalwallinu to restock a painting following his conviction attracted significant backlash. The painting has since been removed from public view.

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

Street view of a country town with flowers in the middle of the road and a historic country pub.
Dalwallinu County has removed its Rolf Harris painting from the exhibition.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

In 2015, Harris was stripped of the honors bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II after his portrait of the late queen was unveiled in 2005.

The ABC reported in September that the current location of the portrait is unknown, and that it was last seen by the public at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.

A building supply store in Caulfield painted over a British Paints advert made by Harris and Madame Tussauds Sydney removed his 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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