Australian Art


Helen Harrison
Helen Harrison

AKA: Helen Stanistreet

Born: 1918 Bendigo

Died: 1991
  • Mixed Media
  • Painter
  • Print Maker

Helen was the only child of Francis James Mansergh Stanistreet and Gertrude May Orme. Frank Stanistreet managed "Auchmore" (prounced Ockmore) a property at Raywood north of Bendigo. It belonged to Scotsman Lee Atkinson who only came to Australia occasionally, relying on Frank's management skills to run it which he ably did, caring for the 30,000 acre property from 1900-48.
Gertrude was a strong woman, artistically inclined. A beautiful handworker, a collector of antiques and a woman of taste.

Helen went to school at Girton College in Bendigo and remained there until senior secondary years which were completed at "Clyde" on the slopes of Mt. Macedon near Woodend.
Helen like her mother had an artistic best, and her close friend Patience Bennett recalls Helen winning an Art Prize whilst at "Clyde" and describing her as "naturally creative".

Being extremely glad to leave "Clyde" (she had always disliked it as did Patience), Helen went to the School of Mines in Bendigo to study Art. She was there on and off for a four year period and then went back to "Auchmore". She seems to have been doing oil paintings and wood carvings during those years.

Helen and Patience went to a Bachelor and Spinsters Ball at "Fortuna" the ex George Lansell Mansion that had been turned into an entertainment centre. There Helen met Allan Henry Morris and ignoring their age difference of nearly a decade they married in 1941. They first lived in Surrey Hills in Melbourne and a short time later moved to Geelong. It was during this time that Allan and Helen joined the Communist Party.

The atrocities of the Spanish Civil War embedded in peoples mind and the rise of Fascism taking place - depression and war everywhere - people with a social conscience worldwide were joining the communists as a ray of hope for a better world. It was the same time as Vic and Ailsa O'Connor and Noel Counihan were also joining the Party, and out of that group grew the Social Realist painters in Melbourne.
The Morris's first son Peter Francis was born in 1943 followed a year later by another son David Charles. The family moved to Echuca where Allan had taken up a teaching position. The marriage soured Helen packed up her babies and returned to "Auchmore", and there met Ray Harrison who was jackarooing on the property. They married in the Geelong Registry Office in 1948.

1948 spelt the death knell for "Auchmore" the Government bought up properties in that region for Soldier settlements and the land was broken up. One door closes and another opens.
Ray had been a navigator with the RAAF and was eligible to apply, and so came about "Yarran~ore", a property of 910 acres consisting partly of the original "Auchmore" and "Yarraberb" estates. Ray and Helen built that up to be one of the best managed farms in the region.

Sometime in the late 50s Helen undertook some formal training at RMIT (of a summer school nature) being tutored by John Youll and Wes Pemberthy. It was also the time she befriended Clifton Pugh as also members of the Monsalvat Art Community. Helen was forever experimenting and her natural curiosity led her all over the place and it wasn't till the end of her life that she settled down to watercolours and printmaking.
Helen's first known exhibition took place at the Brolga Motel/Hotel on the shores of Lake Eppalock which seemed the most appropriate venue for her Pen Ink and wash drawings of Brolgas inspired by her early memories of "Auchmore".
In 1965 she enrolled at the School of Mines and did drawing classes with Bill Delecca.

In the 70s Helen became avidly involved in the spinning, weaving phenomena of that decade resulting in a joint exhibition in May 1976 at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with Erica Beilharz titled Fibre & Form showing sixteen works each. We got to know Helen during this time and she possessed very great skills, but one got the feeling she had not found what she was searching for.

In 1976 Helen was one of the 1200 delegates from 67 countries that participated at the world craft conference in Mexico. There were 27 delegates from Australia and three of those came from Bendigo. Helen participated in the Fibre Workshops run by renowned English fibreworker Anne Sutton.
In 1979 Helen became a councillor with the Shire of Marong and served on numerous other committees one of which was council representation on the Natural Resources Conservation League of Victoria. She stayed on with the League after concluding as a councillor and took on the Presidency for 88/89. She was an environmentalist, but was keen to promote "Practical conservation". It was also the time she took part in a printmaking workshop run by German printmaker in Bendigo who was in Australia for a short time.
Sometime in the 80s she visited China and came back totally enthused by what she had seen. She immediately undertook a calligraphy course. She again re-visited China with son Peter in 1990.
Helen left "Yarranmore" in the latter 80s and moved to Pt.

Lonsdale and that's where she returned to what I believe was her favourite medium - watercolours. She enrolled at Deakin and undertook a printmaking course from which she gained immense satisfaction.

Helen had an operation for cancer on her thyroid gland in the latter part of the 80s. For a while there was reprieve. She continued painting and printing resulting in an exhibition in 1990 held at the "Lossi Mouth Restaurant" Pt. Lonsdale.
Helen lost the battle on September nth, 1991. Her last weeks spent in her Pt. Lonsdale lounge room painting the sunset vistas seen through her large windows.

Patience believes "they were her best paintings ever". From the sixties onwards Helen exhibited on a regular basis with the Herald/Sun Outdoor Art Show and the Eaglehawk Dahlia and Arts Festival Art Show.
Helen organised her own epilogue for the funeral using a quote from "The Last Twenty Years" by Lloyd Rees.
"I was overwhelmed with the fact of endlessness - it gives life a sense of mystery that will always be with me - our sun is only one of millions but, in itself, it has become for me a symbol of that endlessness and of the miracle of life itself ... Finally, my abiding thought is of the miraculousness of life, the miraculousness of everything, right down to the last pebble".

Sources: Peter Morris,
Patience Bennett


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