Wheatbelt council decides against selling controversial painting by convicted child sex offender Rolf Harris

When should the art be separated from the artist? This is the question a local government in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt grappled with this week when it voted against selling the painting it was gifted by convicted child sex offender Rolf Harris.

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

Local governments and other institutions rushed to tear down Harris’s artworks and paint over murals in 2014 after the now-92-year-old was found guilty of indecently assaulting four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.

The Quairading piece has been in storage ever since, 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 removed a painting of Uluru by Rolf Harris from the foyer of the Moncrieff Theatre.(ABC News)

Locals divided over painting

Community feedback was subsequently sought on what should be done with the artwork, with about half of the 75 people who responded saying they wanted to keep the painting in a prominent area.

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 presented to the council stated that most of the 50 percent of respondents opposed to keeping the artwork did not want a “known paedophile and the life-long trauma he inflicted on children” to be “celebrated” by displaying the painting.

A white-haired man with black-rimmed glasses stands beside a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as photographers take pictures.
Rolf Harris at the unveiling of his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on December 19, 2005.(AP Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Some community members suggested the painting be valued by an art dealer before being sold, with proceeds to be donated to a suitable cause.

Others wanted the piece destroyed.

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

“We took the view as a council collective that it is the property of the community and given it was such an equal split, we decided we shouldn’t sell it and we should retain it for the future generations,” he said.

“We are here to make decisions on behalf of our community. It is reasonable that it be retained as the property of our community.”

Mr. Smith acknowledged many were fond of the artwork, but said the painting would not be placed back on display in the town hall.

“I think it’s a lovely painting but in no way do I condone any of it [Harris’s] past actions,” he said.

Quairading is not the only Wheatbelt town to have received art by Harris, and a decision by the Shire of Dalwallinu to rehang 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 for it to be moved, displayed or sold.

A streetscape of a country town with flowers in the middle of the road and a historic country pub.
The Shire of Dalwallinu has removed its Rolf Harris painting from display.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

In 2015, Harris was stripped of honors awarded to him by Queen Elizabeth II after his painting of the late monarch was unveiled in 2005.

The ABC reported in September that the current location of the portrait is unknown, with the last public sighting being in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery.

A building supplies store in Caulfield painted over a British Paints advertisement made by Harris and Madame Tussauds Sydney removed its wax figure of the entertainer following community feedback.

Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months’ jail, but was released after serving only three years.

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