Digby Moran sitting in his sand sculpture for Djurra at City Hall Lismore in 2017. Photo Tree Faerie.
The popular and highly respected artist Albert (Digby) Moran died suddenly this week in Lismore at the age of 71. He is remembered as a humble, spiritual and selfless man, always with a ready smile and words of encouragement for young people.
Digby was born in Ballina in 1948. His mother was a Bundjalung woman and his father Dunghutti.
Young Digby spent his formative years in the mission community of Cabbage Tree Island, in the midst of the Richmond River, between Broadwater and Wardell in northern NSW. Surrounded by a large, supportive family, he remembered his childhood on the river as an idyllic time.
At sixteen he left to work as a cane cutter and then as a boxer with Jimmy Sharman's travelling troupe, following in the footsteps of his father Teddy, who had been a heavyweight champion of the north coast. Digby also played rugby league for Lower Woodburn.
After the relationship with the mother of his children collapsed, alcohol and cigarettes took a great toll on Digby's health. It was only when he managed to give up both substances that he started painting seriously.
His first step was an art course at Ballina TAFE in 1991, but it was 'too European' so Digby started to create art in his own cultural style.
'Painting gives me great pleasure and brings me peace,' he said. 'It is a way for me to tell the stories that were told to me by my grandparents and elders when I was growing up.'
Digby's work soon brought him acclaim in the Northern Rivers and then beyond.
In 1995 he had his first work selected for inclusion in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Islander Art Awards in Darwin. Digby exhibited in this competition multiple times, winning the People's Choice Award in 2000 for 'Mullet Spawning'.
In 1998 a cabinet made by Evans Head craftsman Kristin Crisp and painted by Digby won the open art section at the Southern Cross Art Award.
Digby exhibited in numerous group exhibitions at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in Sydney, Fireworks Art Gallery in Brisbane and Berlin Aboriginal Art Gallery in Germany. In 2002 he showed at the New Media Gallery in Vienna, Austria.
In 2004 his work was part of the exhibition 'Energy of the Earth' at Germany's Museum Hamelyn.
In 2009 Digby temporarily became a 'Living Book' as part of the Human Library project at the Lismore Library. He always enjoyed talking to people and breaking down stereotypes.
A travelling Australia Day ambassador for many years, in 2010 he had a solo show at the NSW Parliament.
Despite his growing fame, Digby Moran remained firmly connected to his own country. 'You’ll never catch me painting things like barramundi or crocodiles,' he said. 'Water is a big part of all Bundjalung Dreaming. I have always been a saltwater man.'
With his studio based in Lismore, Digby was an important contributor to numerous shows in his own region, including at Lismore Regional Gallery and Tweed Regional Gallery. Both galleries acquired his work.
Country was very important to Digby Moran. In a 2013 interview he said 'I love walking around the coast especially at Goanna Headland, Evans Head, just to feel the energy of the place.'
Traditional carved trees and shields from the region informed Digby's art practice, particularly the distinctive interwoven diamond shapes of his ancestors.
In addition to his gallery projects, Digby was an active public artist, with well-known large scale works including 'Someone's Always Watching You' outside Ballina Woolworths, an 85 metre mural inspired by the local natural environment at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre, and a major temporary sand sculpture, made in conjunction with Richard Clarke, on the grass outside Lismore's City Hall coinciding with NORPA's production Djurra in 2017.
It was during that year that Digby's home studio was devastated by the Lismore flood, with many of his current and past works destroyed by the mud and swirling waters. Undaunted, he went straight back to painting and transmuted the flood disaster into new art, reflecting on the swimming, camping and fishing of his childhood.
Gallery director Brett Adlington recalls that Digby's 'infectious laughter and smile would erupt under his curls with these memories'.
In 2018 a major solo show of this new work opened at Lismore Regional Gallery. 'Growing Up On The Island' became the most highly attended exhibition in the Gallery's history, apart from the Archibalds, indicating the special place Digby occupied in his community's heart.
But there was more to Digby Moran than his exhibitions.
Guided by what he described as spiritual instruction, Digby devoted a lot of energy to teaching children of all ages about art and creativity, both in Australia and the UK.
He also worked in drug and alcohol rehab at Namatjira Haven in Alstonville, showing others how art can help find a way out of the darkness, as it had done for him.
As news of Digby Moran's death spread, social media was flooded with memories from those who knew and were touched by the artist in different ways.
Mungo MacCallum wrote, 'A huge loss. His work has given us enormous pleasure over the years. We bought a few minor pieces and should have bought many more. In particular, while waiting for treatment for cancer at Lismore Base his great work was a genuine comfort – confirmation that life was worth living. Vale indeed.'
Film-maker Karenza Ebejer, who made a documentary accompanying Digby's final solo show at Lismore, said she was 'so sorry to hear of the passing of a great artist, Uncle Digby, who shared his life spirit with us through his canvas. My life is richer for having met him and hearing his story.'
Digby's partner Kerry Kelly said she was devastated by his loss. 'He is loved by so many people and will be sorely missed. Thank you all for supporting him.'
The Lismore Regional Gallery has opened a special display of work honouring Digby's artistic legacy, including a condolence book which visitors are welcome to use to share memories with his family.
People are also leaving flowers in the metalwork of Digby's Ballina artwork. Digby Moran leaves behind three daughters, a son and many much-loved grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Northern Rivers community will not be the same without him.
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One of Australia's foremost environmental activists, Bill Ryan, has died in Sydney at the age of 97.
Bill was part of the legendary Kokoda campaign during World War II, in which Australian troops finally stopped the southward advance of the Japanese Imperial Army in appalling, mountainous conditions. Wounded in action in 1942, Bill later returned to fight in New Britain.
After the war he worked for the PMG, and later Telecom Australia (now Telstra). Bill's son Colin also worked there, and both were involved in the struggle to improve workers' rights.
Bill struggled with PTSD and depression for many years following his military experiences. He was painfully aware that the sacrifices of the war did little to improve stark situations of injustice at home and abroad.
A lifelong and active trade unionist, Bill was also involved in successful campaigns against apartheid in South Africa and to end the Vietnam War.
After Bill retired, his beloved wife Joyce died, and his life temporarily lost all meaning. But concern for his grandchildren (and then great-grandchildren) motivated him to become a dedicated environmental activist, undaunted by the fact that he was almost blind and had trouble walking. “What sort of a world are we leaving for them?” he wondered.
Using a specially modified computer, Bill was able to stay on top of the latest science of global warming. He wrote letters and lobbied politicians. When that got nowhere, he joined civil disobedience campaigns to actively do something about the climate emergency, putting his own frail body on the line. His ever-supportive son (and expert sign painter) Colin was frequently arrested alongside him.
Bill was a passionate supporter of non-violent direct action.
When asked how he felt about being arrested, Bill said: “I was willing to put my life on the line in the Second World War, so putting my body on the line for climate action is a small inconvenience.”
Bill came to particular prominence during the struggle to save the Leard Forest from coal mining, but he was also tossed into the Hunter River alongside Josh Fox while supporting the Pacific Climate Warriors, marched with the Knitting Nannas in Narrabri, blocked railway tracks carrying coal trains, went to Parliament House in Canberra to educate politicians, blockaded Adani subsidiary Downer, and took the long train ride into Martin Place week after week to protest the insanity of Santos's Narrabri gas project.
He became a familiar sight on his walker outside the Channel Seven studio, educating Sydney-siders one on one.
I got to know him in the fights to save Gloucester from unconventional gas and coal, and to stop Santos in the Pilliga. But Bill was an integral part of innumerable campaigns, most of which came under the banner of climate change. He couldn't remember how many times he'd been arrested. His concern for environmental and social justice powered all that he did.
His gentle humour, integrity and passion moved all who met him.
As Bill put it: “People who are producing these fossil fuels and having them burned throughout the world, they're the enemy.”
Politically active throughout his life, Bill was a proud member of the NSW Greens. Senior Greens figures paid tribute to Bill Ryan including NSW MP David Shoebridge who said: “Bill led a principled and inspiring life. We are celebrating the example he set throughout his life.”
Former Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon said: “It is an enormous loss. Bill set a high standard for all of us. Just last Friday he was with the Knitting Nannas at a climate protest in Martin Place.”
Climate campaigner and trouble-maker Jono Moylan said Bill “knew that change becomes unstoppable when enough people act together. He knew the power of peaceful civil disobedience.” On social media, Jono paid tribute to his friend, saying: “You taught us to be resilient, you taught us to be generous, you taught us to be courageous and you taught us to be cantankerous when we need to be.
“Bill strongly believed in the power of people to create change. He believed in justice and treated everyone with equal respect. He was a thorn in the side of greed and short-sightedness while never losing his determination or cheeky sense of humour. We owe it all to Bill to carry on fighting until the world has moved on from fossil fuels.”
Fellow activist Annie Kia described Bill as an “inspirational” man with “Heart. Soul. Ethics. Resolve.” “He was a very caring man,” said Bill's son Gary Ryan. “His family are very proud of what he has accomplished, and what an inspiration he has been to so many fellow activists.”
In 2018, Bill won the John Davis Climate Award, which was presented at Parliament House in Sydney, and two months ago he shared the inaugural John Kaye Memorial Award for Social Justice and Environmental Protection, alongside fellow activist legend Jack Mundey.
Bill leaves behind two proud sons, two grand-children and three great-grandchildren. Vale Bill Ryan, a true Australian patriot whose courage and smile will be long-remembered.
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