Many readers will be aware of Melbourne artist and graphic designer, George Petrou OAM and his paintings of individual Anzacs and celebrated Australians. His distinctive paintings which vividly bring to life the individuals from our past now hang in institutions across Australia and overseas.
Now George – in conjunction with Big Sky Publishing – has captured this work in a single, large format volume of over 400 pages, lavishly illustrated. Recently I met up with George in Oakleigh’s Greek precinct to see and talk about this new book.
The book tells George’s personal story – of his commitment to honouring the service of many of Australia’s service personnel, of how this commitment helped him personally through the challenges of chemotherapy and how his work has touched thousands across Australia. Many descendants of the veterans concerned – as well as some veterans themselves – were consulted by George as he created his paintings and in the writing of the stories.
As George says the sacrifices made by the men and women covered by his work – stories of hardship, endurance and change – had a huge impact on him and are an inspiration to us all as we deal with the challenges of life. It is this realisation that compelled George to create these paintings and this book.
The over 70 portraits and stories are contained across four chapters, the central ones being those concerned with the First World War’s Lost Diggers of Vignacourt and Australian Victoria Cross recipients across many of the conflicts Australia has been engaged in (from the Boer War to Vietnam and beyond). Other chapters cover his portraits of other great Australians (such as Charles Kingsford Smith, Nancy Wake and Banjo Paterson)
A feature of the book is the reaction of most of his commemorative paintings, along with the original photographs of the individuals concerned, accompanied by their story and how their story and the painting has touched Australians today.
Amongst the stories of bravery and sacrifice are a number that will resonate with many of Australia’s Hellenic community. These include his portrait of Matron Grace Wilson who served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign and young Hector Vasyli of Brisbane. He includes the story of the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Melbourne’s Albert Park (of which George has long been a supporter) and Melbourne’s own Lambis Englezos and his work on the lost diggers of Fromelles. Many of the other stories contained in the book also have personal connections to Greece, such as that of Albert Jacka and Weary Dunlop, who both served in Greece during wartime.
I heartily recommend George’s new book. Not only is it beautifully presented – as one would expect from George – but it is a unique publication. Anyone interested in the service of Australia’s veterans, in commemorative art and the art and charitable work of this great Greek-Australian should get themselves a copy of this impressive volume. You may not be able to obtain one of George’s commemorative creations but you can get a copy of his book. The perfect gift or display for your corporate office. And you will be contributing to assisting Australia’s veterans as well.
It is no surprise that Cypriot-born George was awarded the OAM in June 2020 for “Services to the Visual Arts and to Veterans.” Recognition well deserved.
The book is priced at $70, with limited edition packs and special collectors editions also available. The book will be available in bookshops and from Big Sky Publishing later in the year. Those who wish to purchase a copy pre-sale can do so now by contacting George Petrou direct via www.georgepetrou.com.au or 0427 777 185. The proceeds from all pre-sale orders will go to assist veterans charities.
Jim Claven is a a trained historian, freelance writer and author of Lemnos Gallipoli Revealed and the forthcoming Grecian Adventure: Anzac Trail Stories & Photographs – Greece 1941. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org