Considering Persephone - Gay Bilson, 2009
by Leeanne Crisp
watercolour on paper
frame: 116.4 x 166.5 cm
sheet: 102.5 x 153.0 cm
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Purchased with funds provided by Jan and Gary Whyte, Brian and Barbara Crisp, Gloria Kurtze, Jonathon Mills and Lawsoft Pty Ltd 2011
Gay Bilson (b. 1944) writer and former restaurateur, trained as a librarian before moving to Sydney from Melbourne with her partner, Tony Bilson, in the early 1970s (the couple were never married, but had two daughters, and Gay has long used Tony's surname). In 1973, the couple opened Tony's Bon Goût, the establishment, according to Mietta's guide, which began to flush the Labor Party out of clubs and pubs into 'trendy bistros'. In 1977 the couple opened Berowra Waters Inn in a Glenn Murcutt-designed building on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney; Tony left the restaurant, and the relationship, and Gay continued with the venture. For some years before it closed in 1994, Berowra Waters was regarded as Australia's best restaurant. In 1995 Gay Bilson took over Bennelong, in the Sydney Opera House, but she left the venture after three relatively unhappy years. In 1999 she moved to McLaren Vale, South Australia, where she has cultivated a reputation for living contentedly alone. Her meditative memoir, Plenty, won the Age book of the Year Award and the Nita B Kibble Award in 2005. She is an intermittent contributor to The Monthly.