A tribute to Gwen Webb OAM

Dawn Stubbs, Munro


I GINGERLY climbed the stairs, feeling just a little nervous; public art galleries always had an air of sophistication about them.

So to me I was entering unknown territory with trepidation.

It was 1981.

With my husband Chris, our two daughters, plus another child on the way that we didn’t yet know about, and a half-nude cockatoo called Fred, we arrived in Gippsland.

It was August.

Cold and in the middle of a drought, we had no electricity, a 1000 gallon tank of water, little money, but an ever-positive (if not a naive) view of our new life in the bush.

We had come from the city, and most folks thought that we would return as soon as we gathered the sense that we were born with.

Chris was easily employed as a builder for a local company, so I was left to stoke up the old combustion stove – which took hours.

Kelly, our five-year-old, was at school, and our nine-month-old Crystal had developed pneumonia and was rushed to Sale hospital where she stayed for more than a week.

I spent much of my time in and out of hospital and roaming past the shops in Raymond St.

Having no close relatives in the area and worrying about my baby, you could say I was suffering from loneliness.

One shop caught my eye.

It had something in the window about the local art gallery, so off I went to investigate.

I had begun painting with watercolours before we left Melbourne.

I was no Picasso, but I was eager to learn.

At the top of the stairs was the welcoming face of director Gwen Webb, and staff members Pat McCubbin, Bev Smith and her sister Maxine Matheson.

Those four women welcomed me, the newcomer, with open arms.

I certainly needn’t have worried.

Gwen Webb and that art gallery became a lifeline to me, as it did for so many in the community.

I was a young mum in great need of friendship, which I received in spades.

Today I pay tribute to our dearest Gwenny, who became a close friend and mentor, especially to our three children one of which, who started in Gippsland all those years ago with pneumonia, is now director of the East Gippsland Art Gallery.

To our dear friend Gwen who passed away peacefully on November 25, and to her extended family, she will always hold a special place in our hearts, and never be forgotten.