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John Brack: Collins St., 5p.m. 1955


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John Brack’s Collins Street, 5p.m. is considered to be both an iconic painting of peak-hour Melbourne and a social commentary on daily life in the 1950s. The closed faces of the workers, and their lack of awareness of each other – each alone in the crowd – depicts a population emotionally closed down by the daily grind.

Brack painted from his experience of working in a city-based insurance company as a young man, using sketches made over many weeks, while observing streams of city workers leaving for home, from the vantage point of a Collins Street doorway between 4.45pm and 5.15pm.

We’ll talk about the changing nature of work over the decades, and how the familiar site immortalised by Brack has evolved over the centuries. What was Collins Street like before urbanisation – and even colonisation? What’s different (and the same) about working life in Australia? And where are all the women … in the painting (which only depicts a few) and in the upper echelons of today’s working world?

Kirsty Grant, senior curator of Australian Art at NGV, will talk about the artwork and place it in context.

Gary Presland, historian and expert in Aboriginal and natural history, will talk about the history of the Collins Street site.

Gideon Haigh, journalist and author of The Office, will talk about working life, with a specific example from history.

Leslie Cannold, feminist writer and philosopher, will talk about women in leadership.

The Bedroom Philosopher, Justin Heazlewood – writer, comedian and musician – will deliver a creative response to the painting.

Australian Art Starting Conversations

Certain timeless works of art make us see the world differently. By experiencing famous paintings or sculptures, we can form an idea of what life was like when they were created.

But how much can iconic art teach us about the world today? Taking four historical works as a starting point, our guests make a series of lateral leaps to explore the diversity of the modern world through the prism of classic art.

After a curator from the National Gallery of Victoria places the work in context, three different speakers will explore the tangents that arise, leading the discussion surrounding the piece in new and unexpected directions. The evening concludes with a creative response directly inspired by the artwork itself.

In this instalment, Aboriginal and natural history expert Gary Presland, sport and business journalist Gideon Haigh, musician and comedian Justin Heazlewood (The Bedroom Philosopher) and writer, feminist and ethicist Leslie Cannold will present ideas inspired by John Brack’s Collins St., 5p.m..

Please enter through the North entrance, via Arts Centre Melbourne forecourt.

Presented by the Wheeler Centre and the NGV.


Michael Williams

Michael Williams joined Sydney Writers’ Festival in September 2020, as the Artistic Director navigating the post-pandemic landscape going into the 2021 festival. He has spent the past decade at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne; as its founding Head of Programming in 200... Read more

Gary Presland

Dr Gary Presland is an archaeologist, historian and author. His principal interests are in the landscapes and Aboriginal culture of pre-European Melbourne. He has been extensively published on these subjects, and his book The place for a village: how nature has shaped the city of Melbourne was judge... Read more

Justin Heazlewood

Justin Heazlewood is one of Australia’s most versatile storytellers. Music and comedy fans know him best as the ARIA award-nominated Bedroom Philosopher, a moniker under which Heazlewood has released several albums of incisive, brutally funny and often heartbreaking songs. Heazlewood is also a wr... Read more

Kirsty Grant

Kirsty Grant has worked at the NGV in various capacities; as curator of Australian Prints and Drawings from 1994-2007 and since then as Senior Curator of Australian Art. In her current role she has responsibility for the collection of Australian paintings, sculpture and decorative arts made up to 19... Read more

Leslie Cannold

Dr Leslie Cannold’s expertise is gender and inspirational leadership. Her public contributions in these areas have earned her awards for Australian Humanist of the Year and multiple notices as one of Australia’s most influential public intellectuals and women. Leslie is a nonfiction and fiction ... Read more

Gideon Haigh

Gideon Haigh has been a journalist 32 years, published 32 books and edited seven others.  His latest is book is Stroke of Genius: Victor Trumper and the Shot That Changed Cricket published in 2016 by Penguin Random House.


Clemenger BBDO Auditorium, NGV International

180 St Kilda Road Melbourne Victoria 3000

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