WHEN Dorothy Ambrose looks at the iconic Tom Roberts painting, Shearing the Rams, she sees her grandmother smiling back at her.
Her grandmother, Susan Bourne was about 9-years-old when the artist visited the Corowa district for an extended period to paint the landscape and the community.
It was in the shearing shed at Brocklesby Station near Redlands in the early 1890s that the young Susan Bourne was immortalised in oil paint as the Tar Boy in Roberts' painting.
But without her mischievous brothers, James and William and sister, Sophie it might not be Susan's smile that beams from the picture.
"One time Tom must have left his paints in the woolshed because the four children got hold of them and splashed them all around the shed when he wasn't there,'' Mrs Ambrose said.
"Consequently there was no paint for him to work with so they were ordered to walk to town to buy him some more.
"It was then Tom told my grandmother that he would pay her pack for being part of the game by painting her in to the picture.
"But I think he put her in the painting because he liked her face and to have her represent the face of the new nation which was about to come into being.
"She is the only person looking at the artist and the only person smiling in the painting.
"But she is not the only one of the four children in the painting, the two boys were painted into the picture but you can't see their faces.''
It was a story which stayed with Susan Bourne over the decades as she repeatedly told the story of how her image came to be.
"In her later years she got pretty tired of people coming to interview her about the picture,'' Mrs Ambrose said.
"The last time she went to a function in relation to the picture she would only go on the condition that I went with her to talk about it for her.
"People were standing around in awe but she wouldn't say anything about it.
"I think she was proud of it in her later years but early on it was just another thing that happened.
"She first saw the original when she was in her 70s and supposedly just stood there and said -- So there I am."
The Corowa Museum holds a collection of memorabilia from her grandmother that relates to the painting, not least, in Mrs Ambrose' eyes, the kitchen table where she shared many a cup of tea, stories and a game of cards.
The wooden table with a fake marble laminate top, reminiscent of many an Australian kitchen from the 1960s, takes pride of place along with the story of the painting and how it came to be created in the Corowa area.
Roberts first visited the station in 1886 to attend a family wedding as he was a distant relative of the Anderson family who owned the property at the time.
He returned in 1888 and made about 70 preliminary sketches for Shearing the Rams, returning the following year with his canvas.
Much of the painting was completed in the shearing shed and it was there he met the young Susan Bourne and her siblings whose parents, James and Isabella Bourne worked on the station.
"He used the get Susan to sweep the dust up so he could get the right light for his painting,'' she said.
"I remember the shearing shed, it was burned down in the 1960's as there were a lot of rabbits living under it.
"The funny thing is that the owners of the station at the time kept a piece of timber from the wall which they thought had some of Tom Roberts paint daubed on it.
"I don't think they were too impressed when I told them the story about my grandmother and her brothers getting into Tom's paints and that it was probably them who had splashed the paint on the wall.''
Susan Bourne’s life has been honoured at Corowa’s Federation Museum with photos and memorabilia. You can find more reports in David Thorpe’s HIDDEN TREASURES museum series linked below:
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