Friedl Gardner was born at Fyansford near Geelong in 1920. Her father, Victor Rathausky was Austrian. He came to Australia with his young son, Kurt in 1912 to work for Troedel & Cooper, an Austrian firm that produced art papers. His wife in Austria was to follow him to Australia, but then refused after he arrived.
Victor Rathausky c.1915
In Australia, Victor met and married Dorothy Steven. Her mother was English and her father Scottish. They had come to Australia from England in the 1880s and settled in Bordertown, South Australia. They later moved from Bordertown to South Yarra in Melbourne where Dorothy was born.
In 1917 Victor and Dorothy rented the home of artists Merric and Doris Boyd in Murrumbeena while Merric participated in the First World War. The Rathauskys' lived in Murrumbeena for two years, until Merric's return in 1919. Victor had a good deal in common with Merric. Both men were artistic; Merric with his pottery and Victor his interest in photography. They also shared a strong sense of aesthetics and a love for the natural world. Similarly Doris Boyd and Dorothy Rathausky shared a strong aesthetic and an interest and involvement in art. The Boyds and the Rathauskys became life-long friends.
Dorothy Rathausky and her children; from left, Victor, Friedl and Karin at Fyanford c.1920.
Victor was offered a position as Mill Manager at the Australian Pulp and Paper Mills at Fyansford, and they went there to live. Karin Rathausky was born there 1916, followed by Victor in 1918 and Friedl in 1920. In 1922 the family moved to Coolangatta Road in Camberwell. There, they had three more daughters. Doyna was born in 1921, April in 1925, and Rima in 1930.
From Camberwell, the family visited the Boyds at Open Country. These visits to the Boyds represent some of Friedl's earliest and warmest memories. Looking back, Friedl said, "I think what the Boyds and the Rathauskys had in common is that they were tolerant and very understanding. They were all intellectuals in the very best sense because they loved all humanity. This is what I loved about the Boyds; they believed that the essential humanness is something to be valued, absolutely, over and above everything else. They didn't believe in ambition. They believed in doing well in what you are suited to do, not for money but to satisfy the inner being. And they talked like that. We talked about having gifts that are God given and having gifts that are through our genes from our parents."
During the Depression the family lost their home in Camberwell. Victor found work at the gasworks in Highett and the family went to live there. From Moorabbin they continued to visit the Boyds. Friedl went to Mont Albert Central School for years 7 and 8 and then Mangarra Road, Canterbury for years 9 and 10. She was a prefect at Mangarra Road. She loved History, English and Art, and was in the school choir. She did very well in these subjects, but failed geometry and consequently was not able to enter university.
At the age of sixteen,
Friedl worked briefly as maid in St. Kilda before finding work as a
model in a city dress shop. She learnt commercial art for one year from
Bess Colquohoun, a Melbourne artist in Little Collins Street. Her Aunt
paid her fees. Friends of her family knew that she was longing to be
an artist and gave her a year at George Bell's, doing fine arts. While
attending George Bell's she lived with her grandmother in South Yarra.
Friedl, and her father Victor c. 1945
the Rathausky family lived in Ferncroft Avenue in East Malvern. In 1940
Friedl married George Larsson, a man of English and Swedish extraction.
They bought a house in Lane Cove in Sydney around the time of the declaration
of the Second World War. Her husband went to War. Friedl returned to
Melbourne to see her family in 1944 with her three year old daughter,
Sandra. At that time, she was pregnant with her second child, Greer.
She payed a visit to the Boyds. "Nothing had changed. I got
a lovely welcome. I wanted to buy some pottery and Merric just sold
them for a song, typically. They were seconds, if you'd like to call
them that. I bought three pieces o pottery that day and took them back
to Sydney. I missed Melbourne very much, but I loved Sydney and was
very happy there. It was wonderful coming back to Open Country for that
Friedl in her garden at Pymble 1956
Friedl's husband had a mental breakdown as a result of his wartime experience. The family returned to Melbourne to live in North Balwyn. With her husband's condition worsening, Friedl took their three children and left him. "George came back from the War a completely changed man. I felt terribly sorry for him. We'd been very happy in Sydney. He used to call our flat in Kings Cross 'seventh heaven'. The War destroyed him."
While Friedl was living in Sydney, her parents moved to Glen Iris. Her father retired, and he and Dorothy moved to Portsea to live in a family home called 'Poet's Cottage'. In 1954 Friedl's mother committed suicide. Victor lived on at Portsea for another twenty years.
Friedl and her father Victor at Diamond Bay, Victoria c. 1960
Friedl found work with the advertising agency George Pattersons as a layout and copywriter, before becoming an account executive there. In 1959 she purchased a property 'Cherrygarth' in the Dandenong Ranges, and later on that year married academic, Godfrey Gardner. She worked at George Pattersons for twelve years and during this time, continued to make regular visits to Portsea to visit Victor. In 1970 she left George Pattersons, largely to care for her father whose health was failing. He died in 1973 while she was overseas.
Cherrygarth, showing house and upstairs studio 2003*
Friedl continued to live at 'Cherrygarth' and cultivate her garden there. She was been a strong supporter of Amnesty International and her local environment group, and hosted garden days to raise funds for these organizations. Her garden was a vital part of her life, as was her family and her interest in art. Friedl had more than her fair share of adversity in life, yet continued to find inspiration in life and inspire those around her with her generousity and positivity.
Friedl died on the 14th of September, 2008. She is greatly missed by all who new her.
Old tree at Cherrygarth 2003*
Friedl talks about her art
"I always had an interest in art. There was a lot of art in my family and we were all interested in it, in one way or another. I discovered that I could paint when I was very young and sick in bed with chicken pox. My mother gave me some paper and some paints.
I enjoyed painting things from nature. My interest in nature began very early in my life. My mother and father both loved nature, and taught us a lot about its beauty. I tried painting in oils, but I was hopeless with them. They were too 'heavy' for me. I liked watercolour. I felt they were softer and more suited to painting nature. There is a lovely gentleness about watercolour.
I didn't really start painting until after I came to Cherrygarth and had finished working in the city. Before then, I just didn't have the time. I was leaving early in the morning and getting home late in the afternoon, and looking after my girls, so there was never any time to paint. When I finished work in 1970, I had the time.
I didn't really have a routine, except that I'd do my housework, and then start painting. I'd usually be painting by mid-morning, but a lot would depend on the light. Often I would try to get to my studio in the early morning, because if there was brilliant light coming in, I couldn't paint because it was too bright. Before I had a studio, I worked at the kitchen table. How long I worked for depended on the day. If I was sketching, I would do that very quickly, but if I was doing something bigger, I could work on it for a whole day, easily.
Friedl at Cherrygarth 1988
I had an exhibition of thirty-eight paintings of cuttings from Australian trees at Austraflora in the Dandenongs. They all sold within a week. One person would tell another about them, and because they weren't terribly expensive, they sold very quickly. I sold a lot of paintings that way.
The idea of using tissue paper in my paintings was my own. I used to wipe my hands on tissues, and that is how it started. I thought that I'd like to try painting on them. When I was doing a painting using the tissue paper, I'd firstly work out what I was going to paint, and draw it. When I had done that and knew the colours I wanted to use, I'd paint the tissues in those colours. They would take about two days to dry before I could use them. Then I would cut or tear the tissue to the shapes that I wanted. I would use just a little glue to hold them down, and then press them. Sometimes I would paint a background in watercolour, and then use the tissue paper over that. A lot of the collages I made with tissue paper came from my head, but the paintings of nature were done from nature itself. I used a photograph for 'Twin Lakes'. The Twin Lakes are in South Australia. I took a photograph of the lakes when I was there and painted them after I came home. I didn't often take photographs, but I thought that that scene was so beautiful; it just appealed to me.
Friedl at home of Margot, and Rob Beck Cheltenham, Victoria 1991
I have always been interested in photography. I got that interest from my father, who was a wonderful black and white photographer. My garden is my main subject. I just walk around it until I see something that I think is worth photographing.
Japanese Maple at Cherrygarth photographed by Friedl Gardner in 2003
The ponds in my garden are number one, because I love water. The photographs preserve the beauty of it, because when I die, my daughters will have those photographs. I've just recently been taking photographs of the water lilies because they have been beautiful this year.
I have always painted for pleasure; I just loved painting."
River Wattles 1972*
Southern Seas 1972*
Tall Trees 1978
Read Margot Beck talking about her mother, Friedl.
Margot Beck and Friedl Gardner February 2003
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This web site was conceived by Colin Smith, written Colin Smith and Margot Beck and developed by Paul Caine and Colin Smith in partnership and with permission from Friedl Gardner 2002
All photographs have been reproduced with permission of Copyright Owner
* Photographed by Paul Caine