'Lover of the Real Australia and Sane Art': William Bolton MBE and the Lionel Lindsay Art Gallery and Library

By Althofer, Jayson | The Australian Library Journal, November 2007 | Go to article overview
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'Lover of the Real Australia and Sane Art': William Bolton MBE and the Lionel Lindsay Art Gallery and Library


Althofer, Jayson, The Australian Library Journal


Toowoomba-based businessman and benefactor William (Bill) Bolton MBE (1905-1973) collected printed materials, manuscripts and artworks with assistance from Sir Lionel and Sir Daryl Lindsay. Prime Minister Robert Menzies opened Bolton's collection--The Lionel Lindsay Art Gallery and Library- in Toowoomba on 4 April 1959. Sir Lionel hoped that public access to this Gallery and Library would help restore white Australian nationalism and cultural homogeneity. Bolton himself wished his collections to whet patriotic traditions. This paper outlines Bolton's life and 'the romantic combination of entrepreneurship and mateship' that shaped his benefactions.

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Bill Bolton's collection of Australiana, housed in a 'converted bungalow', was officially opened as the Lionel Lindsay Art Gallery and Library by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in Toowoomba on 4 April 1959. (1) Bolton, managing director of a transport company named after Cobb & Co., the historic coach line, wanted his collection to give regional Queenslanders access to the European history of Australia, a select documentary and visual record of the nation's pioneer heritage, and proof of Australian military prowess. Collection strengths include journals of South Seas exploration, of the First Fleet and of inland expeditions, literature of the 'Bulletin School' and official accounts of Australian participation in the World Wars. Besides the artworks, which number over five hundred, the printed items in the Lionel Lindsay Gallery and Library, some three thousand books, manuscripts and maps, cover many of the same collecting areas as the bequests of David Scott Mitchell and Sir William Dixson.

Lionel Lindsay's biographer writes, 'Bolton had a vision of a library and art gallery specifically promoting Australian interests'. (2) For Lindsay himself those interests included militaristic patriotism, anti-Communism, an aristocratic aversion to 'the mob', capitalist philanthropy and noblesse oblige, as opposed to state welfare. As he told A. S. Lean, 'an old soldier':

   We've got a damn good country and ... some damn fine chaps working,
   Bill Bolton's one of them; but the men who are working for the good
   of their country are frustrated invariably by pacifists. [I have]
   strong beliefs in ... the fine generous people we've got, but by
   Christ I have a detestation for the mob that's led by the nose.
   They have no right to a voice ... The Australian who is pretty
   feckless, give him discipline and he has got initiative, they
   proved it in both wars, that's why I'm so proud of the Anzacs ... I
   tell you the trouble, the [pacifist] morons are all nearly by
   temperament Commos, they want something for nothing and they think
   the State will keep them.

   [Bolton] is a real Australian, he admires the Anzacs as much as
   anybody can, admires the Australian spirit by collecting art, which
   starts, of course, in painting with Roberts and Streeton, the
   actual painting of the native born ... Australia wants more men
   like him ... he wants the Australians ... to grow up with a love of
   their own country and to know of its traditions ... he's buying all
   the early Australiana possible from Phillip's time onwards, and
   also Australian literature, and he's gradually getting together a
   collection of our best painters ... it is to the [private]
   collector you must look and give him his chance to buy by not
   handicapping him by too much taxation. (3)

Lindsay and others compared Bolton with several collectors and benefactors. After the official opening, the director of the Moreton Galleries in Brisbane wrote:

   People with ideas like those of Mr and Mrs Bolton are few and far
   between--unfortunately. We remember such men as J. F. Archibald,
   Alfred Felton, Richard Wynne, Sir John Sulman, Howard Hinton and in
   our own State, John Darnell, and they were great Australians who
   were keen to see our history and art nurtured and developed,
   something so vitally important to us but realised by so very few. 

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