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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Barry Humphries

In their own words

Recorded 1981

Barry Humphries
Audio: 2 minutes

I was disappointed in Melbourne University, because in a way, although people didn’t wear uniforms, they did. They wore the uniforms of rebellious university students just as they do today, and in a sense they’re the most conformist of all social groups.

I was surprised and disappointed at this, so, again, with the aid of some of my old Melbourne Grammar friends and a few new ones, we reformed the Dada group and we held, in two consecutive years of 1951 and 1952, two widely publicised and spectacular Dada exhibitions in the men’s lounge of the Union at Melbourne University. The catalogues of these two Dada exhibitions survive and are, of course, interesting documents of the period. They consist really of an anarchic attack on certain aspects of modern art which were becoming domesticated – that is to say, Melbourne housewives who knew nothing about art, other than perhaps Arthur Streeton or Hans Heysen on a calendar, were now espousing the post-impressionists, so the exhibitions contained scathing attacks of Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne, indeed on everything that was acceptable to the Australian bourgeoisie, indeed the informed Australian bourgeoisie of this period.

These were happenings, I suppose, though that word hadn’t been coined. As the students came along I would stand on a dais and open the exhibition with a kind of crazy speech and already I was giving vent to a frustrated theatrical energy. I was moving slowly, you know, from painting, from a pictorial language to a theatrical means of self-expression. Within, I was merely a frustrated youth, not at all knowing how best to please my parents, what profession indeed I would ever follow and when was it all going to end?

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Barry Humphries is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Related people

Barry Humphries

Related information

No Laughing Matter

Magazine article by Simon Elliott, 2002

The biographical exhibition of Barry Humphries was the first display of its kind at the National Portrait Gallery.

Rarely Everage

The Lives of Barry Humphries

Previous exhibition, 2002

The exhibition begins with Barry's childhood in Camberwell, Melbourne and chronicles his days as a struggling actor in Australia and England, his creation of characters including Barry McKenzie, Dame Edna Everage, Sandy Stone and Sir Les Patterson

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency