Allan Parkes was a really good person to get to know. I was very lucky to have spent 25 years working with him at the old East Sydney Technical College. He was a great character. I really enjoyed our conversations. He seemed to be very well-educated, but I remember him telling me that he was brought up in the country on a property, with an absent father, who was away working in Sydney, earning the money to support the venture. So perhaps Allan was home schooled? Whatever his formal education, he had a wonderful speaking voice with particularly clear diction. Perhaps a result of some private schooling? (I learned at Allan’s funeral service that he was educated remotely by the ‘school of the air’ and by correspondence schooling. His beautiful diction and hand writing were a result of his self imposed and determined effort to ‘improve’ himself. A defiantly independent individual.) He was very well read and could converse on a wide range of topics. He always seemed to be borrowing books from the Art School Library on a regular basis.
He was a fine mentor in my early days there at the ‘Tech’. He was one of the ‘elders’ who helped grow me up. I admired him and remember him very fondly.
He came and stayed with us at our home in Balmoral Village on one occasion in the 80’s and gave me a lesson on how to cut and dress sandstone, to make the window sills for our house. I learnt a lot in a very short time and went on to carve all the sandstone window sills for our house over the next 9 months. I’m a slow worker. Allan gave me one of his pitching tools which I still have and even now, 30 years later, it still gets occasional use, as I’m currently building a new stone retaining wall at our property.
He often greeted me with “Hello Citizen” A reference to the French republic, but there was a lot more going on there, not all of which I ever got to the bottom of, but I enjoyed listening to his stories of working as a drover up in the Gulf country. I remember stories of restoration stonework on some big churches, carving the gargoyles for the Government House in The Domain. Very interesting and sad stories of his time as a news correspondent in Burma during the war. Some very brief descriptions of his detention and torture by the Japanese forces there. His discussions of French faience pottery. The need for more colour in the brown and green 70’s ceramics (which was a very accurate and timely prediction, that later came to pass), he was interested in organic gardening, native plant propagation, red wine, water-colours, sculpture. So many topics. He was so erudite, cultured, well read and he had a beautiful hand. We have a few notes and letters from him and even though they are hastily draughted, the lettering is exquisite.
I met him, when I first enrolled at ESTC in 1971. At that time he was the Technical Assistant in the Ceramics Dept. He was immediately engaging, supportive and helpful. Always ready with some advice and ideas to get the most out of my time there. Although he was only the TA in the Dept. he actually taught me more than some of the full-time staff that were employed there.
I recall going to him early in my first year as a student at the Tech and complaining about how I was so unhappy with my work that had just emerged from the kiln. He put one hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I know that you might feel disappointed just now, but I know that you will go straight back out there and make a better one”. I didn’t know that at all! But once he told me, I realised that I could, and so I did.
I didn’t know his history and what he had gone through in the war at that time. I must have appeared to him as a soft, spoilt, indulged, whingeing, middle-class brat, but he didn’t tell me that. What he told me, was to get over it and go and make another one, only not just one, but ten more. Good advice, well received, and because I did, we got on really well after that.
Janine and I used to call in at his home in Concord West at times during the 70’s when we lived in Dural and found ourselves passing by. He was still married to Helen in those days and we met Freya Marc and Manon there. Helen used to lend me her books on Native plant propagation and cultivation. It was Helen and Allan, who introduced us to the work of Edna Walling and that had yet another great effect on our lives. We are still keen native gardeners to this day.
Janine and I have spent some time reflecting and remembering Allan with great fondness during the past week, since we heard of his passing. He was so very good to us both at different times during our student years and then later in different ways. He always seemed so European in outlook, while also being so quintessentially Australian. He drank red wine when everyone was drinking beer. He drank beer when everyone switched to red, when wine became trendy. When boutique breweries evolved and both wine and beer became trendy, he drank cognac. A true individual, he owned a vehicle for his stone mason’s business, when no-one else could afford one, later, he caught public transport when everyone else drove.
He was never far from a roll-your-own cigarette, always rolled rather shakily from some intensely dark, very strong, Dutch tobacco. Later, when his hands became a bit too shaky for roll-your-owns, he switched to cigars.
He was a good artist and multi-skilled. I knew him as a sculptor in stone, ceramics, ice and butter. He often crafted images in butter or ice for use as center-pieces in table settings for big events in the food school at ESTC. This is an ancient tradition that very few people were aware of and skillful in – except of course Allan. He was also a very good water-colourist as well. I remember seeing his design sketches for the new sandstone drive-in gate at ESTC. He did a beautiful design and accompanying water-colour image. I didn’t know until recently, that he had also painted in oils in his latter years.
Allan was asked to repair the gargoyles on Government House in the Domain. He refused the job to re-create the old European originals. Instead, he submitted all new designs based on Australian native animals. I remember going there one day to visit him on-site. He was just finishing off the echidna corner piece. He had a natural gift for sculpture, which he honed through hard work and practice. The gargoyles looked strange up close when viewed on the ground, but suddenly emerged in perfect perspective once they were installed up in the parapet and viewed from 50 feet below. How did he know how to get that sense of perspective just right? He was very good! Allan also designed and built the copper cockerel weather-vane on the roof of the old circular library building at ESTC. This image was later adapted to become the logo for the Art School. As far as I know, it’s still up there. Look for it the next time you visit the National Art School.
Allan left his mark in so many ways on the people that he interacted with and on the very real structural fabric of Sydney itself. Not many people can say that.
So we all have our own Allan in our minds eye and memories. We all come here today to add our own little bit to the complex picture of the complete man.
Citizen Parkes, well-read, complex, deep, richly informed, engaging.
Fondly remembered, sadly missed.
A funeral service will be held for Allan at Rookwood Cemetery, West Chapel, on Tuesday 13th of October at 2.00pm.
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