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Byron Shire
January 22, 2022

Mungo’s Archibald entry ‘not just a portrait’

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Tweed artist Victor Cusack with his Archibald Prize entry portrait of Mungo MacCallum.
Ocean Shores artist Victor Cusack with his Archibald Prize entry portrait of Mungo MacCallum. Photo Robin Osborne

Luis Feliu

Ocean Shores artist Victor Cusack, who has entered a portrait of renowned political journalist Mungo MacCallum in this year’s Archibald Prize, says he painted it primarily in honour of the veteran writer’s brilliant career.

The portrait, titled ‘Mungo’s Journey’, followed multiple sittings this year with the revered columnist and regular Byron Shire Echo/Echonetdaily scribe, who also lives at Ocean Shores.

Mungo, 73, is recovering from a recent illness, which many of his keen readers say may have left him ‘voiceless, but not silenced’, as he continues enlightening them with his witty and wry commentary on national affairs.

And like many of his admirers, Victor is impressed.

‘The strength of his aging hand remains obvious from his still powerful journalism, now speechless but as productive, relevant and humorous as ever, like music flowing from his active brain,’ he said.

‘This painting is not just a portrait, but an acknowledgement of Mungo MacCallum’s luminous lifelong career and contribution as Australia’s  best known political journalist.’

Victor admits Mungo’s current state of health was ‘a strong and complex’ influence in painting the portrait this year, six years after they first agreed on him sitting ‘over a glass of red in a northern NSW winery’.

‘But each time we met again, we both delayed starting until I was confronted by the nature of his illness,’ he said.

‘Aging and dignity are not always compatible, but Mungo’s career portrait deserved to be presented with the dignified looks of this curmudgenous old “Lion”, still with a mind amazingly acute and as productive as ever.’

Victor said the painting, an oil on acrylic background, shows two main portraits of Mungo which ‘invoke our inevitable aging process, one exhausted from illness as he is today; the other as he recently was during most of the years I have known him’.

‘Politicians who had significant influences on his career are represented by Keating and Hawke from the centre-left, and Howard and Abbott from the extreme right; leaders among the many that polarised his political and philosophical “centre left” bent,’ he said.

Victor told Echonetdaily that when he asked Mungo who were the strongest ‘positive versus negative’ influences on his life and career, his ‘mute reply burst forth in a scribbled avalanche of intelligent memories and people’.

‘Gandhi, politicians right and left, philosophers, aboriginals, authors from every age, country and school, all inextricably tangled with his love of nature, archaeology, cricket and the sea (all scribbles now retained),’ he said.

‘His voiceless answer burst joyfully forth in frustration, saying “I like risk takers” and names tumbled from his pen: “Plenty of fire in the belly in peace marchers! I marched in the moratoriums”.’

Victor’s painting is just one of the 77-year-old’s many talents. The longtime north coast resident pioneered establishing clumping bamboos in Australia and has written books on the many uses of bamboo (seen in many bookshelves in the northern rivers) called Bamboo Rediscovered and Bamboo World.

Mungo’s many books on politics (and cooking too) are also well read locally and nationally. Two popular ones are The Man Who Laughs, an autobiographical account of Australian politics in the post-Holt years, and How To Be A Megalomaniac, an instructional guide for aspiring politicians.

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