kilmenyPerhaps as long as twenty five years ago certainly more than twenty years ago I was in Venice, on a trip to touristy Murano and I bought a little statuette of an eighteenth century fellow sitting at his desk, wig atop his head, quiver in hand writing on a scroll, a vase of ink at the ready with a candelabra which adds both grace and light. It seemed so small and delicate (its about 1½ inches cubed), it struck me as unlikely that Id get it back to Australia in one piece. But the man who sold it to me put it in a small box with cotton wool. It wasnt the greatest solution the box was eminently crushable but it survived the journey.

Back home, having started cartooning in a substantial part of my days my little fellow, who it seemed to me must surely be Mozart, sat on the window sill in front of my desk all through that time companion and talisman as I cartooned away. Drawing and painting is an intensely calm and enjoyable thing to do and it doesnt surprise me that there are so many artists who live into their nineties often the ones painting the most serene paintings, like Monet and some who dont, like Picasso. But of course there are unlucky exceptions.

My little guy didnt survive the transition to economics all that well. Doing economics seemed so much less gracious than drawing and painting, and I couldnt really look Mozart in the eye. He became neglected despite retaining his usual place on the window sill, at least for a time. When we moved to Melbourne, Mozart ended up on top of the pelmet in my bedroom becoming rather forlorn and gathering dust. I acknowledge him from time to time wondering how, after all my efforts, hes somehow managed to lose one of three candles on his candelabra.

Anyway, about five or so years ago, Rafe Champion sent me a parcel with some articles in it that wed discussed. And he accompanied it with a couple of postcards. One was a lovely, fanciful picture of what seemed to be my old Mozart, on this occasion sitting at and playing his piano forte in the Sydney botanical gardens, with the harbour bridge arching decorously in the background and a duck landing (actually on looking closer and thinking about it, it must be taking flight) in a lovely pond in the foreground. I popped the postcard in the little rille made by the roll of the blind on my window and its flat surface. Mozart had weaved his way back into my life. And there he sat.

About two years later it occurred to me to ask where Rafe got these cute postcards, and immediately on asking such an obvious question I wondered whether his wife had done them. Id met her briefly. And yes, on inspecting the postcard further, it announced that the illustration was by Kilmeny Niland who has illustrated many fine Australian childrens books. (Australia has magnificent childrens books). For a while now I have looked at Mozart and thought about the fact that Kilmeny has been suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This normally yields to chemotherapy but Kilmenys case has been a rarer more aggressive and more drug resistant T-cell variety.

Last night Rafe e-mailed me to tell me that Kilmeny had died yesterday at Greenwich Hospital. As Rafe put it She crossed the Styx at noon today (Friday). It was a release, by November or December she really had enough of the process. I barely knew Kilmeny, though we shared an enjoyable lunch at Bondi a few years ago. But I am one of many no doubt mostly younger than me whose lives she had touched in ways that she would never know. And many other than me would want to convey their condolences to Kilmenys family and particularly to Rafe in a loss which, as is the way with such things, is incomprehensible.

PS: I sent this post to Rafe to get his permission to post it, and it returned with his permission and the suggestion that I also post this photo.


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12 Responses to Kilmeny

  1. James Farrell says:

    That’s a nice story and an obviously heartfelt personal tribute.

    Please accept my deepest condolences, Rafe, when you get around to reading this.

  2. Ken Parish says:

    Our thoughts are with each of you Rafe. And thank you Nicholas.

  3. Rafe, this is terrible news. Please accept our condolences.

  4. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Rafe, so sorry to hear of your loss.

  5. Legal Eagle says:

    Dear Rafe, I’m so sorry to hear that. We have a number of books illustrated by Kilmeny at home here, and we love them. My deepest condolences to you and your family. LE

  6. cjoye says:

    Rafe, my thoughts are with you.

  7. Geoff Honnor says:

    That was lovely Nicholas. Rafe, I’m really very sad to hear this. Kilmeny’s illustrations are beautiful and resonant with all the creativity that one might expect from the daughter of Ruth Park and Darcy Niland. My thoughts are with you.

  8. rog says:

    I am very sad to hear of your loss Rafe, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  9. Jacques Chester says:

    Sorry to hear the sad news, Rafe.

  10. pedro says:

    How tremendously sad. And especial condolences for your young family Rafe. Growing up without dad was hard. How you would do it without mum I can’t imagine.

  11. TimT says:

    I join in with everyone else, Rafe – I’m sorry to hear this and extend condolences to you and your family.

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