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

When should 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 a painting donated to it 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 institutions rushed to tear down Harris’ artwork and paint over the 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 since then, but the council recently received an offer from a private buyer willing to pay $3,000 for the painting.

Artwork by Rolf Harris in Bundaberg
Bundaberg Council has removed a painting of Uluru by Rolf Harris from the lobby of the Moncrieff Theatre.(ABC News)

Locals divided over painting

They later sought community feedback on what should be done with the artwork, with about half of the 75 people who responded saying they wanted to keep the painting on display.

Supporters claimed it was a nostalgic piece of art, and many have fond memories of being mesmerized as the painting unfolded before their eyes.

A report presented to the council stated that a majority of the 50 percent of respondents who opposed keeping the artwork did not want “a known pedophile and the lifelong trauma he caused children” to be “celebrated” by displaying the painting.

A white-haired man wearing 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 painting be appraised by an art dealer before being sold, with the proceeds donated to a worthy cause.

Others wanted to destroy the piece.

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

“As a joint council, we felt that it was community property and given such an equal division, we decided that it should not be sold and should be preserved for future generations,” he said.

“We’re here to make decisions on behalf of our community. It makes sense that it’s kept as our community’s property.”

Mr Smith acknowledged that many people liked the artwork, but said the painting would not be put on display at the town hall again.

“I think it’s a beautiful picture, but I’m in no way condoning any of it [Harris’s] past actions,” he said.

Quairading is not the only town in the Wheatbelt to receive Harris’ artwork, and Dalwallin County’s decision to re-hang the painting following his conviction has caused a huge backlash. The picture has since been withdrawn from the public.

The City of Greater Geraldton has one Harris artwork 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 authorities have removed their Rolf Harris painting from exhibition.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

In 2015, Harris was stripped of the honor bestowed on him by Queen Elizabeth II after his painting of the late monarch was revealed in 2005.

The ABC reported in September that the portrait’s current location was unknown, but it was last seen in public at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.

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

Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison, but was released after only three years in prison.

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