Arthur Evan Read / Australia 1911—78 / The cane town 1955 / Oil on plywood / Acquired 1955. H.C. Richards Memorial Prize (winning entry) / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

Arthur Evan Read
The cane town 1955

Not Currently on Display

The generalised titles of some works by Arthur Evan Read (several pictures entitled ‘Cane town’ exist and all are different) suggest that they are intended to represent a type of North Queensland townscape or scenery. However, the actual sites can often be identified.

There are numerous points of reference in this work. The painted sign on the first building on the left-hand side of the painting reads ‘…FICE HOTEL’, referring to the Post Office Hotel at 27 Mill Street which was owned by the Lunn family. The hotel is still on this site but it has been refurbished. The next sign reads ‘PHOTOPLAY’ and during the 1950s Mossman had a Photoplay Cinema next door to the Post Office Hotel. The Photoplay Cinema was built by Bob Lunn early in the century. The Lunns also had the Ford dealership for the region which was located under the front of the picture theatre but the space was so tiny they could only display one car.2 This building has since been demolished and replaced with a mini-mart.

The Mossman Mill and its chimneys appear at the back of the buildings and further behind that Mount Thomas can be seen. The old Canegrowers Executive adjoins, although it is not clearly marked in the painting. Another important detail is the cane train which runs on tracks through the centre of town — it is a key feature of the townscape of Mossman, there is not another in the region.

The cane town was awarded the Queensland Art Gallery’s H.C. Richards Prize for Landscape Painting in 1955.


1. Telephone conversation with Mr Doug Sherrington, 18 July 2001.
2. Identification of the owners of the business from: Ingles, Alf. ‘A century ago in Mossman’. ‘The Cairns Post’, 19 July 2001.

Arthur Evan Read, like many artists in southern Australia, sought a more convenient expression of ‘the exotic’ by travelling to the cane growing areas of North Queensland. He lived in this area for a total of seven years in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Read was born in North Fitzroy, Melbourne, the eldest of five children. He studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne c.1935-39 and during these years supported himself by working as a farm labourer. His first experience of the landscape of North Queensland came soon after when he travelled to Townsville with fellow artist L.S. Pendlebury. Read married Heather Landon in 1941 and their children Margo and Philip were born in 1942 and 1946 respectively. The family moved to Sydney in 1943 where Read associated with artists such as G.F. Lawrence and Sali Herman, and where he worked as a member of the ground staff of Australian National Airlines during the war. In 1949 he moved to Flying Fish Point, near Innisfail, for a year and stayed here again between 1950-56 when he worked variously as a cane-cutter, house painter and store-keeper before moving to Brisbane.

Read held exhibitions of his work at the Moreton Galleries in 1947 and at the Johnstone Gallery in 1953 but his work came into national prominence when he was awarded the 1954 Wynne Prize for his painting ‘Cooktown’. Subsequently Read was appointed Art Instructor at the Central Technical College in 1960, holding this position until 1967. Read took a trip to Lightning Ridge in 1964 and after his retirement from the College travelled around Australia by car. He was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Queensland Art Gallery between 1969-77 and acted as Assistant Director in 1973.