An artwork of Victoria Cross recipient, William "Bill" Newton, painted by this year's Archibald Prize winner, Blak Douglas, has been gifted to the Australian War Memorial.
A flight lieutenant with the No. 22 Squadron, Mr Newton was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for valour and devotion to duty, the only such award made to a member of the Royal Australian Air Force in the Pacific theatre.
Mr Newton flew in 52 operations and was known for his fearless approach to offensive actions flying Boston light bombers with the No. 22 Squadron. He was captured and executed on March 29, 1943.
The artwork was commissioned in 2021 by Mr Newton's family, with the intention of donating it to the Australian War Memorial, and a copy to be given to the No. 22 Squadron.
"Bill's Victoria Cross is here in the Hall of Valour, and it will now have this magnificent artwork. And it's about remembering for future generations," Mr Newton's nephew, Nick Newton said.
"When I'm long gone, and my son hopefully will continue doing these occasions. It's all about remembering. And every occasion that I attend an airforce function, I'm completely overwhelmed with the reverence with which he is still held by the air force, and rightly so."
The posthumous portrait of Bill Newton, painted by Dhungutti artist Blak Douglas (also known as Adam Hill), was based on one of the photographs of the 23-year-old Newton held at the memorial.
Blak Douglas doesn't paint many portraits - usually only one a year for the Archibald Prize, which he won this year with his work featuring Karla Dickens - so the artwork of Mr Newton is rare.
This particular work features several symbolic images, including a bold yellow sun that Blak Douglas said comes from the grandfather spirit, and seven streaks in the sky to represent the Seven Sisters dreaming.
It's also framed in a creation by Adam Joseph, a relative of William Newton, which features native flora. It's because of this and the overall help with the content of the work that Blak Douglas refers to the work as a collaboration.
"Adam Joseph alerted to the fact that the war memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney has an arrangement of eucalyptus trees, and they're actually in a shape that is commensurate with a ceremonial practice of a corroboree ground on most parts of the eastern seaboard," Blak Douglas said.
"So Adam expressed that it might be novel to use those as the cultural metaphor in this painting.
"And we've got a beautiful combination of the Australian military guard and the spirit plane. It's the first opportunity I have had to represent a war aircraft in a spiritual sense, ie, a kind of a painting you might see in a cave, like up in Darwin, where we see the Japanese fighters depicted in cave art."
The painting was unveiled in front of Newton's family and saw Blak Douglas play the didgeridoo as part of the handover ceremony on Friday.
"The memorial is thrilled to have this prestigious work by Blak Douglas in our collection," Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson said.
"We don't have anything like it. This evocative painting by such an accomplished artist will help us to honour the memory of Flight Lieutenant William Newton VC for generations to come. We thank the Newton family for their generosity."
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