Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The leaving of the Little Prince

Daily Telegraph Mirror, Sydney, Tuesday 16 June 1992. Whiteley is standing next to a prize winning painting of Thirroul.
Australian artist Brett Whiteley (born 7 April 1939) died from a drug overdose - a mixture of heroin, dextropropoxylene, aspirin, methadone and whiskey - sometime between speaking to his art dealer Stuart Purves on Sunday, 14 June 1992, and 8.20pm the next day (Monday 15th) when he was found dead in room number 4 at the Beach Motel, Thirroul, Australia (Bogle & Henry 1992, Ellicott 2009). At that time motel manager Alex Boceski and his father-in-law Con entered the room to find the television on and Whiteley laying in bed as though asleep, on his back and covered by a blanket pulled up to his chin, or, according to other accounts, in a foetal position lying on one side, or sprawled across the  bed. The police arrived shortly thereafter and, after being taken from the motel room, he was pronounced dead at Wollongong Hospital at 11.50 pm that evening. Early the next morning (Tuesday 16th) the police contacted his friend and author Tim Storrier who travelled down from Sydney to identify the body and take with him a lock of Whiteley's hair. It would be expected that the circumstances surrounding the death of such a public figure would be well known and clearly set out in the various histories of the man, yet there is a deal of ambiguity, confusion and conjecture arising from the various accounts. This blogs seeks to clear the air, so to speak, in regards to the death of Brett Whiteley.

"I'm just drawing the landscape ..... It really is beautiful down here."
                                                                              Brett Whiteley at Thirroul c.1990

The cause of death was given by the Wollongong coroner as a coronary embolism, most likely the result of an overdose of the methadone, whiskey and orange juice cocktail the artist used to help in his withdrawal from heroin. It is now known that methadone, if not used in a prescribed manner, can quickly turn from medicinal to toxic. It is not generally known that the drug is prone to overdose as a result of its tendency towards slow absorption by the body. As a result it can build up in the system, with a user such as Whiteley probably not aware of this cumulative effect. As a result, the artist may have gone to bed on the Sunday evening and, whilst watching television, fell into a deep mathadone-induced coma which resulted in his death. The most detailed account of the circumstances leading up to this is found in the Margot Hilton and Graeme Blundell book, Brett Whiteley: an unauthorised life (1996), though in some areas the account contained therein does not align with contemporary media reports. Their work was based on publically available information such as police and coroner reports, alongside numerous interviews with friends and acquaintances. As such it is an important source. Barry Dickens' 2002 rambling biography of Whiteley does not address the precise details of the death, despite speaking to some of his  closest associates from the time. Neither does the recent biography by Ashleigh Wilson (2016) add any great detail to this aspect of the artist's life, concentrating instead on the richness and variety of his work and activity leading up to the untimely death at Thirroul.   
The discovery of Whiteley's body by the Boceskis followed a call to the motel on the Monday afternoon at 4.15pm from Whiteley's de facto and partner of 5 years, Janice Spencer (Bogle 1992). The artist was due to check out on the Sunday, but when he had not returned to Sydney by the following day Spencer became worried and sought to contact him. She was intimately aware of his heroin addiction and the difficult methadone-based detoxification process he would put himself through on a regular basis. There was also a constant and very real possibility that an overdose could lead to death. Whiteley's father had died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56 and Brett was acutely aware of this. The artist was 53 at the timeSpencer had spoken about all of this to Whiteley on the Thursday of his leaving Sydney for Thirroul. Their parting was tearful on both sides. Nevertheless, Whiteley hopped into his white BMW convertible and drove south to Thirroul. Upon arrival that afternoon and check-in at the motel, he told Alex Boceski that he did not wish to be disturbed and calls should not be put through to his room. This was not unusual - Whiteley liked the solitude of the location and made a point to never have visitors. He would, instead, spend his time in Thirroul within the room painting and drawing or watching television; out walking along the beach and swimming or working; or purchasing food and alcohol from local shops and hotels. This low profile meant that there was no one on hand to alert medical authorities or revive the artist when he went into cardiac arrest. This most likely occurred on the Sunday afternoon or evening. Earlier that day Boceski had placed a TV guide under the door of Whiteley's unit, and that afternoon checked the room by looking in the rear window where he observed Whiteley seemingly asleep in bed. Following Spencer's unanswered call on Monday afternoon he decided to check again before going to bed. From room 4 he heard the TV blarring and noticed that the guide had not been touched. This raised his concerns and lead to the discovery of Whiteley's body late Monday evening. The news of the artist's death was released  on the morning of Tuesday 16 June. Various people visited the room that day, including the police and medical authorities, staff of the motel, and members of the media such as photographers Kirk Gilmore (Illawarra Mercury), Warren Kirby (The Australian) and Bruce Miller (Sydney Morning Herald)Newsfilm footage also exists of the body being removed from the motel room, supposely late on the Monday night.

Beach Motel, Thirroul, Tuesday, 16 June 1992, with (above) Brett Whiteley's BMW convertible parked outside of room 4 and (below) motel manager Alex Bosecki inside the room. Photographs: Kirk Gilmour. Source: Newspix.

The press photographs reveal ruffled sheets on the double bed situated within a very basic motel room. On the small table by the bedside can be seen an empty whiskey bottle and two used orange juice containers, plus a coffee cup, a jar of pills, an ashtray and a packet of cigarettes. These images were taken following a thorough search of the room by police, which necessarily left it in something of a mess and removed certain pieces of evidence. One report noted the discovery of two items of foil containing white powder and 4 used syringes in the room. According to his Kings Cross dealer Micheal Saker, Whitely had 3 grams of heroin on him when he left for Thirroul on Thursday afternoon (Dickens 2002). The police later stated that there were no drugs found in the room, with the caveat that they may have been there. According to the coroner's report three fresh needle marks were found, including two on the back of Whiteley's hand, suggesting that he had injected heroin shortly after his arrival on the Thursday afternoon. This was typical of the artist's detoxification regime. The hits of heroin would be followed by 'cold turkey' withdrawal, supported by the intake of drugs such as methadone, alcohol, aspirin and dextropropoxylene to help cope with the resultant pain and nausea.

According to hotel manager Bosecki, Whiteley had not been working during this visit, though another report suggests that there was evidence of drawings having been done that weekend. Over the following weeks and months local and international newspapers and magazines ran stories on the passing of this great Australian artist. In amongst those reports were further details of Whiteley's death and the circumstances leading up to it. The following account attempts to piece together these events, with a focus on the locale Thirroul and Whiteley's long-standing engagement with it.

The Thirroul connection

Brett Whiteley's death at the age of 53 was seen as a tragedy by many people outside of his immediate family. However some commentators, including expatriate Australian artist and writer Robert Hughes, were unsympathetic and, in the emotive immediate aftermath of his death, blamed the artist for squandering a unique talent. Apart from being one of Australia's most renown artists of the late twentieth century, Whiteley was also a father, partner and friend to many, both in Australia and overseas. The tragedy lay in the fact that he died at a relatively young age and alone, in a largely unknown town located on Australia's east coast, approximately 80km south of  the Sydney metropolis. Thirroul is rarely referred to by name in Whiteley's art, apart from in a single collaboration with Garry Shead in 1975 and a small sign in a 1988 tryptych of the beach there. To this day the locality is famous to Whiteley fans only as a place of death. Yet he drew and painted Thirroul on a number of occasions from the mid 1970s and developed a special relationship with the area by the time of that last, fatal encounter with heroin. Thirroul was a favourite place of escape in those final years as he dealt with the everyday pressures of life, including a then tumultuous relationship with his former wife Wendy; contentious and drawn out divorce proceedings; uncertainties in regards to recent partner Janice Spencer; and the ongoing struggle with drug addiction. The locale was also memorialised, though not specifically mentioned, in his award winning painting South Coast After the Rain, 1984, with its view looking south towards Thirroul and Wollongong from the lofty Kennedy's Hill near Austinmer (Moses 1984). Unbeknownst to the artist at the time, he was in fact painting the very place where he would die some 8 years later.

Brett Whiteley, South Coast after the Rain, oil and collage, June 1984. Private collection. View looking south over Thirroul towards Sandon Point headland and Wollongong lighthouse in the distance. Most likely taken from the balcony of an apartment building located on Kennedy's Hill. The Thirroul Beach Motel (unseen) is located just around the  corner and past the tree at the base of the road that runs down the right side of the work. Copyright Brett Whiteley Estate.

Why Thirroul? The answer lies in that fact that it is a picturesque localitysituated  on the coast not too distant from Sydney, though far enough away to be useful for someone like Brett Whiteley who was seeking to escape the rat-race, if only temporarily. Throughout his life Whitleley loved to travel and be on the move, with journeys of varying duration. In fact he spent most of the Sixties living in London, traveling throughout Europe and even undertaking a 2 year residency in America. During the early 1990s the journey from his Surry Hills studio would have taken just over an hour by road or rail. Thirroul itself is one of a string of coastal villages located on the ever diminishing strip of land between the mountain and the sea to the north of Wollongong and the industrial centre of Port Kembla. Whiteley was not the first artist to make his way there, for the picturesque landscape holds a natural attraction to those seeking to experience the "edge" i.e. that point of contact between earth and water / the mountain and the sea / ocean and beach. To the west of Thirroul was an overpowering, yet protective, 1000 foot high escarpment of dark, coaly sandstone rock glad in verdant green forest. The eastern edge was lined with golden sandy beaches, rocky foreshores of jutting headlands, and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean's outlier separating Australia from New Zealand and known as the Tasman Sea. The British author D.H. Lawrence had famously taken the train trip south from Sydney to Thirroul in 1922 and stayed there for six weeks with his wife Frieda, writing the novel Kangaroo in Wyewurk, a bungalow by the sea. The Thirroul Beach Motel where Brett Whiteley died  was a decidedly less picturesque locale, though importantly it was situated only a couple of minutes walking distance from the beach, and a little more from Wyewurk to the south. The spirit of Lawrence was one of the elements which attracted Whiteley to the place.

 D.H. Lawrence at Wyewurk, Thirroul, 1922.

By the late 1980s Thirroul was a town in the throes of change. After almost a century as a railway terminus, and longer as an industrial and manufacturing centre servicing nearby coal mines, coke works, clothing factories and brick manufacturing plants, the 1980s saw plant closures and large scale job losses in the region. The electrification of the railway line from Sydney in 1987 transformed the northern suburbs of Wollongong from industrial villages housing workers for local industry, to dormitory suburbs of Sydney with a substantial commuting population. Metropolitan retirees also moved to coastal Thirroul and house prices shot up, whilst out of work coal miners and factory workers in housing commission estates went on the dole or sought government-supported retraining. Thirroul developed a thriving drug culture during the latter decades of the twentieth century and this was perhaps an element which attracted Whiteley to it. Illicit and hallucinogenic drugs had, since the early 1960s, been an integral part of the predominant surf culture of Wollongong's northern beaches, beginning with marijuana, LSD and hashish before the take up of stronger and more dangerous drugs such as heroin and cocaine from the mid 1970s. This was around the same time that Whiteley first began using opiates. Alcohol was also popular, and its consumption was supported by the two Thirroul hotels - the Rex and Ryan's. It is likely that Whiteley, if needed, made contact with local drug dealers at the Rex Hotel, though he had regular and stable lines of supply in Sydney (Ellicott 2009).

Brett Whiteley had for a long period reflected his love of the Australian beach and its curvaceous geographical contours through his art, and these geographical elements were found in abundance about Thirroul, though the local elements are not specifically - or obviously - reflected in known works by him. The coastline of Illawarra's northern suburbs is distinguished by long and crescent moon shaped sandy beaches bound to the north and south by rocky headlands and platforms jutting into the swirling, dark blue and foaming white waters of the Pacific Ocean. The landscape is varied, picturesque and alive, with the sound of breaking surf echoing off the escarpment, mixed with that of  people enjoying the beaches in the summer months, heavy coal trains rolling along, and traffic cruising up and down Lawrence Hargraves Drive, the only road in or out. Whiteley was a regular visitor to the area from the 1970s and locals can recall him walking alone along the beach at Thirroul, and heading north to Austinmer or south towards Bulli and Sandon Point, lost in thought or perhaps meditatively thoughtless. He was also obviously a keen body surfer, using the ocean waters to both invigorate and inspire him during regular visits. Many of his beach works show unidentified individuals diving into the surf.

The final days

According to Hilton and Blundell, and arising out of their conversations with hotel manager Alec Bosecki and others, Whiteley had been making use of the Thirroul Beach Motel on a regular, monthly (and sometimes two weekly) basis during the four years leading up to his death in 1992. It was one of what his sister Frannie Hopkirk noted was his 'geographicals' i.e. places he would go to in an attempt to detox from heroin, away from the temptations of Sydney, and also to work (Hopkirk 1996). He had long felt the need to escape from the hustle and bustle that he also craved. For example, in a 1960 letter to his father Clem, written whilst working in Florence, Italy, he noted:

This has been my secret, strange & abnormally mystical ambition to sit alone without the burden [of others] - to retire entirely from everything and everyone that is important and allow my understanding .... of how environment can mould, shape or even stain the personality of genius. (Wilson 40)

Some 32 years later the same sentiment could be said to apply to his visited to Thirroul where he would stay for three to five days, largely keep to himself, and ask the landlord not to be disturbed - 'to sit alone' as he said. In the early stages of these latter visits (i.e. from about 1989) he would paint and sketch, however according to the manager of the motel, during the last year 6 to 12 months of his life the painting had ceased and he apparently spent his time at Thirroul dealing with his addiction, rather than focussing on his art, though he likely continued to draw. Unfortunately the process of detoxification could be brutal and all consuming:

I go cold turkey, I vomit, I wretch, get cramps for three days; it's hideous. I take sleeping pills or drink scotch whiskey to get through it. (Hawley 1992)

The nature of Whiteley's intense detoxification process did not always facilitate the free expression of his art and may have been the reason he apparently did not do much work at Thirroul during his final months. He may have been just too sick at times to paint or draw, though there are suggestions that during that final visit leading to his death he had been sketching. The whereabouts of these final works, whatever they were and if they indeed exist, remains a mystery. Art was the focus of Whiteley's life, and he frequently pointed out to people that he engaged with it on a daily, if not hourly basis, so integral was it to his very being. To not draw was unthinkable to the artist, no matter how sick he was.

Whiteley's routine on such occasions was to drive to Thirroul from his Surry Hills studio, arriving in his soft-top white BMW alone and with a supply of heroin and methadone to help him though the detox. If necessary he would score heroin from local dealers - a pair of gay men are mentioned by Hilton and Blundell as his drug suppliers whilst at Thirroul. He would also buy a bottle of whiskey from the local pub and some food from Jim's Fish Shop or the nearby Jewel's food market. Whiteley would then settle down on the bed in the hotel room, turn on the television to his favourite channel SBS, strip to his underwear and place a vomit bucket close by. He would take a shot of heroin intravenously and spend the next couple of days suffering the physical and mental tortures of withdrawal, assisted by a cocktail of various pills, methadone and alcohol in the form of whiskey mixed with orange juice. At Thirroul Whiteley would work through the excrutiating pain of withdrawal from heroin alone, with no distractions, coming out of it in the hope that - finally - he had kicked the habit. He would then head off in his BMW back to Sydney, where a return to using heroin would invariably occur. 

Whiteley had obviously hoped to do this when he headed south from Sydney on the afternoon of Thursday, 11 June 1992. However the portents were not good. According to his sister Frannie, he had nearly died during the detoxification session which took place less than a month previous at her Millthorpe property near Orange in western New South Wales, around the time of his birthday on 7 April. Throughout this particular ordeal - described in vivid detail within Hopkirk's biography of her brother - Frannie and girlfriend Janice Spencer were by his side to help him through the almost five days of pain and suffering. Frannie feared for his life, and both women nursed Whiteley as best they could on that occasion. That he would put himself through such an experience again rightly caused consternation amongst the two women who, at the time, were closest to Whiteley. According to Janice Spencer, Whiteley had been detoxing every two weeks at that point. In an interview shortly after his death, she noted the following in regards to her final parting with him on the Thursday afternoon as he headed off to Thirroul:

She recalled their final conversation before he left for his fatal sojourn in Thirroul: "I said, `Why are you doing this to yourself again? You know it's pointless, you know that you detox then you come back to Sydney and use'.  He said, `Look, Janice, one day I will get it, one day I will come back into recovery if I keep trying'. It was incredibly emotional. We were both crying, we had our arms around each other and he was frantic.''

Whiteley despised his addiction, yet at the same time embraced it in regards to the creation of his art. He knew it was killing him, and therefore sought to escape from it, whilst also believing that it was integral to his artistic ability. He made use of Narcotics Anonymous and its recovery program, with his then partner Janice a long-time member of the organisation. He also attempted self-detoxification. During this process an individual can suffer insomnia, restlessness, muscle aches and spasms, runny nose, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea and depression. These symptoms can be extremely debilitating, though not usually life threatening. It is the overdose of drugs such as heroin or methadone that can prove fatal - when they become so potent in the body that they shut down vital organs, including the brain and the heart. This can occur shortly after the drug or drugs are taken, as is the case with heroin, or during the withdrawal phase, which is more common following a build up of methadone in the body. 

According to hotel manager Bosecki, Whiteley was found in bed beneath his blankets pulled up to his chin and lying slightly on his left side, suggesting that he passed away whilst asleep, rather than that he collapsed suddenly from the effects of an overdose. However one newspaper report also stated that he was found semi-naked, slumped across the bed, suggesting a sudden collapse. Michael Saker talks about him being found in a foetal position, suggestive of dying perhaps whilst suffering the agony of pain and sickness. The precise time of his death is also unclear. Bosecki noted that Whiteley, after arriving on Thursday afternoon, went for a swim on the Friday. He also saw him on the Saturday. Simon Purves recalled talking to Whiteley by phone on the Sunday, though whether the artist called his dealer or vice versa is not known. When a rather frantic Janice Spencer was put through to his room the following day (Monday) at 4.15pm and there was no answer, Bosecki was spurred on to make that initial check of room 4 before going to bed around 8. It was then that he and his father-in-law found Whiteley dead.

The spectre of death had hung over the artist for an extensive period. He had been using heroin on a regular basis since 1973 and felt its dire consequences with the death of colleagues and friends, including the singer Janis Joplin who he had had intimate contact with whilst resident at the Chelsea Hotel in New York during the late 1960s. Previous to this and throughout his life he had been a heavy drinker and smoker. He had also used marijuana, hashish and LSD during the Sixties and beyond, though his preference was always towards alcohol. The fear of overdose from heroin was ever present from the mid' Seventies, and his body was increasingly ravaged by almost two decades of use. He had noticably aged over the two years prior to his death at Thirroul - an obvious sign of both long-term drug use and the ever-deteriorating state of his health. Whilst he ate well and exercised whilst with Janice Spencer during the late 1980s, drinking, smoking and drug use tended to lessen the effects of such a regime. The Hilton and Blundell book suggests that at the time of his death there was also a psychologically vulnerability: He was noticeably depressed due to the vexatious divorce proceedings with his former wife Wendy. In a 1991 letter referring to a possible donation of one of his works to a local university, he pointed out how it had been dragging on for more than 3 years and had locked up his artworks in the process, therefore he could not, at that point, consider the request. The ill effects of the divorce were commented upon at the time by his lawyer Carol Freeman. Whiteley and his former wife had separated in 1987 and divorced in 1989, however there remained a lot of tension between the two over the division of the estate, alongside demands for monetary payment and gifting of artworks. What caused the artist most angst, however, was the request for ownership of some of the most significant paintings and drawings which he had hoped to keep together to form the basis of a public collection and personal legacy. He was also considering donations to relevant institutions. The Hopkirk book is quite emphatic in regards to the artist's depressed state of mind during the period leading up to his death. Frannie refers at length to the devastating role played by the divorce proceedings and the claims on Brett's most precious works, including the multi-panelled Alchemy. All of these elements would have exacerbated an already weakened physical and mental state. Just prior to his leaving for Thirroul on the Thursday afternoon, a number of observers noted how agitated he was, in a way that was not normal for the often hyperactive artist. This extended period of agitation and stress would have a detrimental effect on a heart and constitution weakened by both environmental and genetic factors.

 Janice Spencer and Brett Whiteley. Photograph: Michael Halsbond.


When Brett Whiteley left Sydney for the Thirroul Beach Motel on Thursday, 11 June 1992, he was, according to some accounts, ambivalent about his relationship with then girlfriend Janice Spencer. Amongst other things he feared fatherhood with his young lover and at the time was not willing to make a commitment regarding marriage. Spencer noted that they were keeping a low profile in regards to their relationship pending finalisation of the divorce proceedings. By this time (1992) she had already been through two abortions with Whiteley, and as long as he continued to use heroin she was concerned for her own welfare. Spencer, a reformed addict, was an important element in Whiteley's efforts to get off the dope, and an inspiration to him at the time. He was clean for a number of years at the end of the 1980s whilst they were a couple, but fell into his old habits as the new decade approached. Whilst they were returning from an extended visit to Paris between June and July 1989, they made a 3 day stopover in Calcutta and it was here that Whiteley, after an almost 2 year break, once again succumbed to his heroin addiction. Spencer had experience in assisting addicts quit their habits, and found herself in the difficult situation of applying what she knew to her lover. The artist's increasing depression and anxiety following the commencement of divorce proceedings during 1989 made the following years difficult for both. By the time Whiteley left Sydney for Thirroul on that fateful day Spencer was very much aware of the precarious situation. Her concern for his welfare was real and considered. She had expected him to return to Sydney on the Sunday, and when he didn't she became worried. On Monday at 4.15pm motel manager Bosecki forwarded her call to room number 4. When there was no answer Spencer raised her concerns with the manager, who eventually decided to investigate further. He found Whiteley's body in his bed around 8.20pm that evening, but did not call Spencer back to let her know, instead contacting the police. Spencer, like the rest of the world, was only made aware of Whiteley's death the following morning (Tuesday) when told by Frannie Hopkirk who heard it on the radio. She was of course devastated and noted that at the time of Hopkirk's call she felt Brett's presence, as though he was drowning. Then his spirit was gone

Janice Spencer, Friday, 19 June 1992, immediately following Brett Whiteley's death (Source: Newspix)

Based on a reading of the various histories, autobiographies and newspaper reports of the time, two of the "Whiteley Women" - specifically his former wife Wendy and daughter Arkie - immediately south to secure the artist's estate. They found no room in their grieving for his former girlfriend, and this was in many ways understandable given their extreme emotion at the time, and a real sense of loss. His daughter had taken a special dislike to Spencer from the time that the couple first got together, whilst his former wife was likewise no friend of Brett's new flame. His sister Frannie was ambivalent, though his mother liked her. Disinterested parties noted Spencer's warmth and caring personality, whilst others saw her vulnerability, alongside an obvious love for the problematic artist. As a result, she bore the loss of this love largely alone and on through to the time of her own early death. When the issue of Whiteley's will arose, and there was talk of Janice writing a book about her time with Brett, she was apparently offered works of art and payments by the Estate not to ever speak or write about him. As a result she felt generally ostracised from events such as the funeral and subsequent retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was co-curated by hisWendy . Authors Blundell and Hilton suggested that Wendy and Arkie wanted to erase Spencer from the history books. One consequence of this was that some of the precise details surrounding Brett's death, and the period leading up to it, were compromised and an important period in his life was in many ways subject to censorship and a resultant distortion.

Janice Spencer died from a drug overdose in August 2000, brought on, it is said, by the loss of her lover and the subsequent trauma of the settlement of his will. She had suffered with addiction from the age of 15, and despite extensive periods of abstinence, including the 13 years prior to Whiteley's death, she found herself again trapped in its web at the end of the decade following his death. Whiteley's daughter and former wife were successful in cutting Janice out of any substantial entitlements, though Brett's final official will allocated her a small proportion of his estate. His daughter and her then boyfriend gave evidence in court that a new will (never found) had been produced in 1991, and this was somewhat surprisingly accepted by the presiding judge. Janice had retained for her defence the future Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, however in this instance he was a dismal failure, unable to ensure enforcement of the official signed and dated will. Janice eventually received from the estate in 1995 Brett's 1989 painting of her, entitled Sunday Afternoon, Surry Hills, though she was forced to sell it shortly thereafter to cover legal costs. 

 Brett Whiteley, Sunday Afternoon, Surry Hills, 1989. Oil on canvas, signed and dated lower centre, signed with artist's monogram lower right, signed, dated and inscribed with title on the reverse, 160 x 213 cm. Copyright: Brett Whiteley Estate.

According to Frannie's account in the 2004 ABC Australian Story episode on Whiteley's first wife, Brett never really loved Janice, and the former wife remained the love of his life, despite their divorce. In fact, during 1992 Brett and Wendy traveled to Port Douglas in Queensland together and there was a partial reconciliation, with Wendy subsequently suggesting that there was a possibility the relationship would recommence. Spencer's unpublished manuscript, entitled Tangled Up in Blue: My Years with Brett Whiteley, alongside accounts by her family and friends of their intimate relationship, presented a different view. The truth was probably somewhere in between, with both parties correct as a result of the artist saying different things to different people. Perhaps he sought to "keep the peace" during an extremely traumatic period following on his separation from Wendy, all the while working towards finding true happiness with and within himself. In 1991, during an ABC radio interview with Andrew Olle, Whiteley spoke of the problems with his heroin addiction, and also of his "wobbly" relationship with his "girlfriend" Janice. Spencer had been lover, friend, model, counsellor and muse - yes, a replacement for the role his first wife had taken since they first met in the late 1950s, but her own unique person nevertheless. Janice had meaningfully kept a low profile during the divorce proceedings in order not to exacerbate Brett's issues with Wendy, ever hopeful that as things settled they could enjoy a more stable relationship and continue to work on his heroin addiction. During 1988-9, prior to the divorce issues, the couple had experienced a healthy and fruitful period free from drugs, however the stresses ultimately saw a return to usage by Whiteley and a fracturing of their relationship, especially when the artist rejected marriage or children with Janice. Obviously more detail on this period and an account of the final years of his life is to be found in the unpublished memoir by Spencer. During the 1993 legal battle over the will she was cited as his de facto partner. Reinforcing this fact is a recently unearthed note by Whiteley pointing to the importance of the relationship. the note - concerning an exhibition of his works held in Melbourne during March 1990 - states: "This exhibition is dedicated to Janice" and also takes a swipe at Sydney art critic John McDonald.

The exhibition of  'Recent paintings, drawings, photographs, ceramics and wood carvings from Byron Bay, Marrakesh, Japan, San Gimignano-Tuscany' was held at the Australian Galleries in Melbourne and came shortly after Whiteley returned to using heroin during the Christmas - New Year period of 1989-90. The relationship suffered as a result. Janice Spencer remains an important part of the story of Brett Whiteley during his final years and untimely death at Thirroul in 1992. A lengthy obituary notice subsequently appeared in the Brisbane Sunday Mail of 8 October 2000, paying due respect to her life and association with the artist.

Suicide, accident or death wish?

Frannie Hopkirk suggested that her brother wanted to die in 1992, but did not commit suicide - an understandable sentiment from a member of the family. No one up to this point in time has suggested that Brett Whiteley committed suicide, though many reported that prior to his death the subject of death frequently featured in his conversation. His sister's comment is the one that most closely addresses the issue. A similar statement was made by Gabrielle Drake when speaking of the death of her younger brother, the musician Nick Drake, in 1974 from a drug overdose. On that occasion Drake was found by his parents the next morning slumped across his bed - indicative of the suddenness of his death. It is interesting to note in the Daily Telegraph Mirror report of Whiteley's death by Steve Gee, that "staff found him dead, slumped across his bed...." Other reports said he was found under the sheets as though sleeping. Frannie felt that Brett went to Thirroul to "use [heroin] in peace and get away from everybody", including friends and lovers, past and present. A visit by Brett and Janice to Frannie's property Millthorpe was planned for the following month - July 1992 - and the artist was keen to be clean for it. Frannie felt his visit to Thirroul in June was to prepare for the upcoming visit:

Coming to me put a certain amount of pressure on him. He felt he owed it to me to be straight - to vindicate my belief in him. Thirroul was a private scene, somewhere he went alone, somewhere he could use, chill out, escape the women, detox quietly by himself, drink or stare at the wall without anyone hassling him. I knew he was planning to go to Thirroul and I knew why he was going there - to detox before he came back to Millthorpe with Janice.

The account of Brett's final years by his sister casts an interesting and invariably complex light upon his state of mind during that final visit to Thirroul. Whilst on one hand his will to live was perhaps at a low point, on the other hand his future was as bright as ever, with a major retrospective exhibition by the Art Gallery of New South Wales planned and divorce settlement proceedings running their course. Many people - including the artist - looked forward to Whiteley taking the place of Lloyd Rees as the senior statesman of Australian art as he moved out of middle age and escaped his drug addiction. But this was not to be. Whiteley was so keen to get off heroin that he put himself through a detoxification process that ultimately killed him. Journalist Janet Hawley (1993), writing of Whiteley's death following an extensive interview with him during 1989, and subsequent friendship, noted from her personal experience:

....sometimes I'd see him hideously sick, then he'd head off on what he termed "a geographical" - go to sister Frannie's place at Bathurst or to a motel on the South Coast, often Thirroul, and detox cold turkey. He'd vomit, sweat, retch, get cramps, hallucinate for four or five days, take pain-killers, whiskey and sleeping pills to get through it, then drive back to town looking reborn.

Of course one day he did not return, and Hawley remembered, with some sadness:

One morning, a close friend rang to tell me Brett had been found dead, alone in a motel room at Thirroul. Tim Storrier, who Brett fondly used to call "Stotsie", had driven down to identify the body. I'd done that South Coast trip to Thirroul with Jeffrey Smart a few months earlier; it's a region close to many artists' hearts. We'd driven down to see Lloyd Ree's holiday cottage at Werri Beach; the hillside Rees painted in The Road to Berry (which Whiteley had also painted in a tribute to Rees), and the Thirroul headlands which Whiteley often used in paintings...

And so it was that Whiteley was gone, suddenly, at a relatively young age and with no opportunity for family, friends or lovers to say goodbye. Shocking and tragic though his death was, it was also foreseeable and ultimately avoidable. Whiteley lived a wild, crazy life and unfortunately did not survive to see out his twilight years in peace. The memories and artworks remained. Some of those relating to Thirroul are discussed below.

Wyewurk 1975

The award winning South Coast after the Rain 1984 was not the first manifestation of Brett Whiteley's encounter with the the New South Wales South Coast, or Thirroul for that matter. His family had taken holidays at Ulladulla on the far south coast when Brett was a young boy, and he also painted there during his teenage years, around 1958. John Ellicott, in a 2009 article for the Illawarra Mercury, discusses Whiteley's South Coast connections at length, and includes comments from his first wife, who had a long family association with Coledale, the second town north of Thirroul after Austinmer. The most significant occurrence in regards to central Illawarra and the northern suburbs of Wollongong was in 1975 when, in league with fellow Sydney artist Garry Shead, Whiteley visited the house Wyewurk by the sea cliff at south Thirroul. Both artists subsequently collaborated on a two-panel painting around the theme of D.H. Lawrence's visit there in 1922 - a subject Shead would refine and replicate successfully in the years following Whiteley's death.

Lawrence, Wyewurk and Thirroul, diptych by Brett Whiteley (left and right) and Garry Shead (left), 1975. Oil and mixed media on canvas. Collection: University of Western Australia.

The genesis of the work, and its launch, is outlined in Robert Darroch's book D.H. Lawrence in Australia. An extract is reproduced below, beginning with a recollection by Garry Shead as to why he and Whiteley went to Thirroul:

"Brett suggested one day that we try to soak up the Lawrence ambience there," Garry recalled. "Brett particularly empathised with Lawrence and his stormy relationship in 'Wyewurk' with Frieda. There was more than a hint of this in the picture." The two artists wanted to paint from the veranda of "Wyewurk", so Whiteley, with his two silky terriers in train, approached the door of the bungalow, aware that the occupant at that time, a dentist, did not welcome visitors. "As we were talking to the owner, who was very gruff, one of Brett's dogs ran inside the house. Suddenly we had an excuse to go inside to find the dog," Shead remembered. As they tried to coax the dog out of the house, the pair caught a glimpse of the jarrah table where Lawrence partly wrote Kangaroo, before they retreated. Next they approached the owner of the house next door, who allowed them to set up their easels on her veranda, and began work. "Brett had cheated a little. He'd already half done his work before coming down, and then he painted on my side of the canvas," Shead said. Both halves of the diptych depict a stormy scene, with angry waves lashing the shore. Shead's half shows "Wyewurk" teetering on its cliff above a raging sea. The colours are deep purples and blues, contrasting with the olive green of the foliage. Whiteley's trademark white-wisps wash into Shead's scene. Brett's half echoes the same deep blues, purple and green, but his painting basically depicts a ramp disappearing into the angry ocean - "a ramp leading to oblivion", as Brett described it to Shead. Lawrence's face floats in the foreground. Having completed the diptych, the two artists decided to invite Australia's leading author, Patrick White, to its unveiling at a Sydney gallery. Brett, who knew White well (and later painted what White regarded as the best portrait of him), was aware of White's obsession with Lawrence, who was, in White's opinion, one of the three great writers of the 20th century. (When I used to go riding in Centennial Park in the early mornings, I would often see White, standing beside the horse track with his two little dogs. I did not know at that time that he always took a volume of Lawrence, perhaps Kangaroo, in his breast pocket when he went for his walks. In 1939 White had made a personal pilgrimage to Taos, to pay homage to Lawrence. Dorothy Brett took him to meet Frieda, whom he found "witty and amusing".) White's reaction to the diptych at its gallery "premiere" was not what they had expected. "Brett [Whiteley]was a person given to the dramatic, so he made something of an event of the unveiling - or rather the unlocking - of the diptych," Shead recalled."The work consisted of a book-like construction, in imitation of the traditional religious diptyches of medieval times. As White and the rest of the opening-night audience gathered before the closed diptych, Brett unlocked it and swung open its leaves, to reveal the full work in all its magnificence."I think Brett was a trifle disappointed with White's reaction to this ceremony. It may have been White's aversion to public displays of emotion, but he did not go overboard about the work, though in fact it was dedicated to him." 

Ellicott (2009) also retells the Wyewurk story, including an interview with Shead in which he points out that at the time (mid 1970s) Whiteley attempted to buy the old 1911 Clifton School of Arts building for a studio, but was knocked back by the elderly owners. According to Whiteley's biographer Sandra McGrath, writing in 1992 shortly after the artist's death and published in an edition which was immediately withdrawn due to objections from Whiteley's daughter and former wife (McGrath 1992): 

Whiteley loved Thirroul because D.H. Lawrence had lived there in the winter of 1922 ... Whiteley was always fascinated by the places where great artists had either worked or lived. He made pilgrimages during his travels to the places where artists had stayed, or were born, or had done some special thing. It was as if he was trying to live through them for a minute of time. Thirroul was the only place like this in Australia.  

South Coast after the Rain 1984

Following his visit to Thirroul in the mid 1970s with Shead, a decade passed before Whiteley once again featured the area in a publically exhibited abstract landscape. In this instance it comprised a view looking south from Kennedy's Hill at Austinmer, the town next to, and north of, Thirroul. Sandon Point and and Wollongong lighthouse are seen in the distance. The work in oil and collage, titled South Coast after the Rain, went on to win the $10,000 Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1984. The blue tones of the earlier Lawrence-themed work were replaced by a distinctive red and creamy brown palette reminiscent of his landscapes and abstractions from the late 1950s and early 1960s before he moved into figuration. Featuring local miners cottages and tiled roofs, the work is ínterspersed with the deep green of local vegetation and playing fields, and bordered by the white sands of Illawarra's coastal beaches. The towering escarpment was nowhere to be seen and was not something that seemed to have attracted the interest of Whiteley in this instance. Instead he preferred to turn towards the ocean and near shore environment.

December 14, 1984: Sydney, NSW. Artist Brett Whiteley poses next to his painting titled 'The South Coast After Rain' which won the 1984 Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Source: Newspix).

South Coast after the Rain is little known amongst the Illawarra community. It appears to have entered a private collection shortly after exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1984, though it was illustrated in the catalogue accompanying the Whitleley retrospective held there in 1995. When a blurred image of the work was posted on Facebook in October 2013 a number of residents of the Thirroul area and Illawarra were surprised by both its existence and content. One long-time resident emphatically proclaimed "He nailed it!", in recognition of the rich red roofs and deep green of the vegetation about the town. Another thought it attempted to copy D.H. Lawrence's description of Sydney Harbour, with the red roofed houses around it looking like a 'burgeoning infection'. This work is in many ways un-Whiteley, for it does not display evidence of a surreal abstraction, either in regards to landscape or the human form, with the latter totally absent. The deep blue of the sea - so typical of Whiteley's Sydney-based coastal landscapes - is replaced by the muted grey of the rain and grey-clouded sky, with three elongated rain drops at top centre all that remains of the downpour. The large area of seemingly blank space - sea, sky, foreground road - and the sweeping lines of the coastal headland and traffic-filled street are, however, typical of the artist's work. Whiteley's first wife, in the 2009 interview with John Ellicott, mentions that Brett only painted one picture directly related to Thirroul, and suggest that the location of South Coast after the Rain was further down the coast. There is also the reference by Janet Hawley to Whiteley using the headlands around Thirroul in his work, perhaps without any direct attribution.  

Brett Whiteley in his Raper Street studio, Sydney, painting a work which features the Thirroul landscape, looking south towards Bulli and Sandon Point, circa 1986. Source: Brett Whiteley Estate.

Thirroul 1988 

On 16 December 1988 Brett Whiteley completed a tryptych whose subject was south Thirroul beach and the journey there. Now part of the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, this large work features in the left portion the black and white of a tarred road; in the middle is the green, manicured lawn of the promenade and water pump house on the south side of Thirroul beach public baths; and the right section is of a body diving into the breaking waves, crashing onto the white sand

 Brett Whiteley, Thirroul, tryptych, 1988. Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales. Copyright Brett Whiteley Estate.

The painting is a travelogue - the black tarmac of the trip south to Thirroul from Sydney and the beachside car park; the green of the land and the rich blues of the ocean - light in the distance, dark near shore, ominously rising to engulf the swimmer in the white spray of the right panel. Of further interest is the inscription on the top left of the first panel, which reads as follows:

Occasionally one wakes at 4am. with the urge
to drive south in the dark
and feel the dawn peel back ...
to stop at the deserted beach
and swim into the chill of anonymity 
with no obligence to anyone or anything 

These words reflect Whiteley's earlier quoted remarks on the regular need for thoughtful seclusion and engagement with nature. Thirroul and the south coast was an escape, and Whiteley embraced the isolation and opportunity to be at one with the ocean, as offered by Thirroul. The chill of the water and of anonymity refreshed and invigorated him, perhaps lifting his drug-induced haze, if only temporarily, and proving yet again the importance of 'geographical's to the artist. Unfortunately the positive physical and psychological effects were negated over time by the ravages of heroin addiction.

 Brett Whiteley and Martin Sharp at the opening of the Peter Kingston exhibition, Sydney, February 1992.

Death and Thirroul

Brett Whiteley's talent was recognised by many in the community, including fellow artists who were also aware of his fiery temperament and debilitating drug addiction. In memorium of his passing at Thirroul, Sydney artist and long-time friend Martin Sharp produced a limited edition etched print in blue ink, featuring a starry-headed male figure looking towards a Vincent van Gogh "starry, starry, night" sky and floating off into space and the eternity of death.

Martin Sharp, Thirroul, etching in blue ink on paper, 1993, edition of 50.

Van Gough was an artist that both Sharp and Whiteley idolised and featured in their work over an extensive period. One known copy of this poignant etching is inscribed to Brett's mother Beryl, as follows: 

Thirroul / Dear Beryl, for your dear boy, / love Marty / M Sharp.

 Brett Whiteley and Martin Sharp at Wirian, Sydney. Photograph: William Yang.

According to Julie Clarke, a long-time friend of Sharp's, this image is based on The Little Prince novella by French aristocrat Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, originally published in 1941. It was a favourite theme of the artist and also obviously of relevance to his relationship with Whiteley. The Thirroul etching is a variant of Sharp's earlier poster We are them .... They are us ....Moratorium! from 1969, in which we see a similar floating Little Prince facing the skull of death.

Martin Sharp, We are them ... They are us ... Moratorium!, lithograph on paper, 1969. From a photograph taken at the Yellow House exhibition in 1971 by Rennie Ellis.

The Little Prince figure can be seen in even earlier works by Sharp, such as the famous cover of OZ magazine, London, number 15, from September 1968. Sharp himself was known as the Little Prince of the Sydney art scene, a role he variously and often dramatically shared with Whiteley. Whiteley's transcendence into a Van Gogh "starry starry night" upon death is similarly reflected - as it was in Sharp's presentation of him as the Little Prince - in the work of Tasmanian artist Harry Kent. His University of Tasmania thesis focused, in part, on Whiteley and culminated in the the completion of a triptych which sees the artist's death at Thirroul in the context of a Peter Pan cameleon-like life and attachment to Sydney Harbour. Kent's work is heavily influenced by Sharp's etching, both in regards to floating figures and sky, by Whiteley's paintings of Sydney Harbour, and by Vincet Van Gogh's night sky.

Harry Kent, Brett Whitely departs Thirroul / Peter Pan over Lavender Bay / Brett Whitely illuminates our firmament, oil on canvas, 120 x 270 cm. Source: Taschime [blog].

Brett Whiteley will forever be linked to Thirroul. He walked its streets and roamed along its sandy beaches. He brought fish and chips and heroin there. He swam there, drew and painted there. As he said to the landlord of the Beach Motel in an off-hand conversation prior to his death, "It really is beautiful down here."  Whiteley found peace at Thirroul, both in life and (according to his sister) in death.


It has been said that the Thirroul landscape - the escarpment, beach and headlands - feature in many of Brett Whiteley's works, however whilst this may be true, it is not often specifically identified as such. As such, there are only 3 specific works by him that can be attributed to the location.

Portrait of D.H. Lawrence 1975
Oil, collage and mixed media.
Two panels, each 102 x 81cm. Right panel and part of left panel painted by Brett Whiteley; left panel by Garry Shead.
Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 1979. Illustrated McGrath pp.132-3 (colour).Collection: University of Western Australia.

South Coast after the Rain 1984
Oil and collage on canvas
137 x 122 cm
Signed upper left in black ink 'Brett Whiteley' and lower left in black ink 'The South Coast, June 1984.' Private Collection, Melbourne. Illustrated Pearce et al., plate 104 (colour). Exhibited Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1984. Awarded Wynne Prize.

Thirroul 1988
Tryptych, oil and collage on canvas
Inscription top left. Signed lower right 'B. Whiteley 16/12/1988'. Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales.


[The following are newspapers reports and other items relating to the death of Brett Whiteley and also his relationship with Janice Spencer.]

#1 - Glenn Humphries, Glenn, Hidden Secrets, Illawarra Mercury, 22 August 2009.

When: June 15, 1992 / Where: Thirroul Beach Motel / What: Death of famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley

Regarded as one of the finest artists Australia has ever produced, Whiteley achieved the unusual feat of winning the prestigious Archibald, Wynne and Sulman art prizes in the same year - 1978. A prolific artist, he created a range of works including self-portraits, a series on English murderer John Christie and an 18-panelled work, Alchemy. A portion of that work appeared on the cover of the Dire Straits album of the same name. A fascination with DH Lawrence's novel, Kangaroo - written in Thirroul - drew Whiteley to the northern Wollongong suburb. In his later years he would become a regular visitor to the area, seeking the beauty and solitude of the coastal suburb. But a much darker fascination - with drugs and alcohol - would ultimately lead to his death. Whiteley had a much publicised problem with heroin which, despite several attempts to kick the habit, would have a drastic effect on his artistic output. He had admitted using other drugs and alcohol to expand his consciousness and believed they helped his work. "There are certain areas of my imagination that can be deliciously opened up with alcohol," he once said. "I was petrified that I would not be able to reach those areas."

Manager of the Thirroul Beach Motel, Alex Boceski, said that Whiteley had visited the motel regularly for the last three years before his death. Normally he would paint there but Boceski said he had not done so in the last 12 months. "He hardly ever seemed to leave the room every time he visited recently," Boceski said in 1992. "Every time he came he was alone. He never had any visitors ... never".

It was Boceski who found Whiteley's body in bed at about 8.30pm on Monday, June 15, after being concerned about not seeing the artist for a few days. On his bedside table was a near empty bottle of whiskey, syringes, tablets and white powder. Investigations revealed that Whiteley had died of heart failure - the result of a pulmonary embolism - and had a mixture of drugs and alcohol in his system. The cocktail of drugs and alcohol put Whiteley into a very deep sleep where his blood pressure fell dramatically, causing the embolism. Police said they could not be sure if Whiteley knew what he was doing at the time. "He may have taken those same amounts before and lived through it," a police spokesman said. "This time he could have mistakenly taken more thinking he was under the safety limit but his calculations could have been fatally incorrect."


#2 - Jennie Curtin, What Whiteley willed: told three ways, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1993.

The three women in Brett Whiteley's life came together yesterday - to battle over the artist's will in the NSW Supreme Court. In a crowded courtroom - standing room only for latecomers - Arkie Whiteley, 28, took the witness stand to swear that her father had told her she would be "very wealthy" when he died. Miss Janice Spencer, Whiteley's girlfriend, also took her oath and said Whiteley had promised that "if anything happens to me you will be taken care of". Mrs Wendy Whiteley, the artist's former wife, looked on from the front row of the public gallery. The dispute between Whiteley's women revolves around a missing will which it is claimed revoked his previous will and was hidden in his Surry Hills studio. According to Arkie, her father - who died last June - decided to change his will in 1991. She said that after years of battling through the Family Court in his prolonged divorce from Wendy, he was sick of "bloody lawyers" and decided to write the document himself and tape it under the fourth drawer of a kitchen cabinet in his studio. However, when Whiteley died the alleged will could not be found. Arkie's former boyfriend, Mr Christopher Kuhn, said the only traces were remnants of the tape he and Brett used to secrete it. 

The 1991 will allegedly left money to his mother, Beryl, and sister, Mrs Wendy Hopkirk; bequeathed paintings to his old school, Scots College, Bathurst, and to Miss Spencer; set aside funds for a scholarship for young artists; and left the rest of his estate "in its entirety" to Arkie. The 1989 will, by contrast, stipulated that his studio at 2 Raper Street, Surry Hills, be set up as a museum, and directed that the rest of his estate be divided into 20 shares. Twelve were earmarked for Arkie, three for Mrs Hopkirk, three for Mrs Beryl Whiteley and two for Miss Spencer. Arkie claimed yesterday that the museum was a "divorce device" which Whiteley set up to stop his former wife from getting his paintings. She said it was the idea of his divorce solicitor, Miss Carol Foreman. By Easter 1990, when he visited her in London, her father told her the museum would not go ahead, Arkie said. 

Whiteley's one-time accountant, Mr Anthony Clune, said the artist told him in November 1991 that he had "changed his will again". When Mr Clune suggested at their meeting that a lawyer should look at the document, Whiteley responded vigorously: "I hate solicitors. They are always ripping you off."
Mrs Hopkirk said there was competition between Arkie and Janice. When she saw him on her farm near Orange two months before his death, "he was exhausted, he was lonely, he was besieged by the ... relationships with the women in his life". Miss Spencer, who joined Whiteley on the farm to celebrate his birthday, said Brett told her then that Arkie and Wendy were "very hostile" to her. "They really hate you ... and I have to deal with that hostility." He allegedly promised her: "If anything happens to me, you will be taken care of." Miss Spencer said she had a key to Whiteley's Surry Hills studio, as Mr Kuhn did. Justice Powell asked if she had ever seen an envelope stuck under the drawer in the kitchen. No, she had not. "I take it you didn't take the document?" - "That's correct. I did not."

Mrs Beryl Whiteley heard after her son died that there were stories about another will which Mr Kuhn was involved with. But to her "it seemed like the pair of them together on a drunken night out".
The hearing continues today.


#3 Jennie Curtin, Whiteley took will, court told, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 1993.

The only possible explanation for the disappearance of Brett Whiteley's last will was that the artist himself took it, the Supreme Court was told yesterday. Mr Malcolm Turnbull, who is representing Miss Janice Spencer, Whiteley's former girlfriend, conceded that Whiteley had hand-written a will in April 1991 and taped it underneath a drawer in his Surry Hills studio. Only Whiteley and Mr Christopher Kuhn, the ex-boyfriend of Whiteley's daughter, Arkie, knew where it was, Mr Turnbull said. The only "reasonable conclusion" was that Whiteley removed it. 

Whiteley died of a methadone overdose in a South Coast motel in June last year at the age of 53. The 1991 document he wrote revoked his 1989 testament, the last will in existence. Mr Turnbull said the critical issue for Justice Powell to decide was whether the 1991 will was destroyed. Mr Philip Hallen, for Arkie Whiteley, said there had been no motive for destruction of the document and no evidence that Whiteley did so. Arkie Whiteley is challenging the validity of the 1989 will, which left Whiteley's studio as a museum and split the rest of the estate into 20 shares, 12 of which went to her.
Justice Powell will hand down his decision this afternoon.

#4 - Bryce Hallett, Obituary - Janice Spencer: Whiteley's last love, 1959-2000, Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, 29 August 2000.

In the last five years of Brett Whiteley's helter-skelter life, his friend and lover Janice Spencer was often at his side. She was the model who inspired his art and the anchor who helped stall his drift towards death. Now, in a tragic sequel, Spencer has died of what is believed to have been an accidental heroin overdose. She was 41. Born in Brisbane, Janice Ellen Spencer was educated at All Hallows' Catholic School. She was passionate about art and worked briefly as a model. For a time she did production and make-up design in film and television, and was a talented fabric designer. Family and friends described her as warm-hearted, practical, nomadic and gentle. "She also had a wild side - she could be amazing in the things she did," said Philippa Drynan, a close friend of 10 years. No sooner had Spencer entered the supercharged orbit of Brett Whiteley than her life changed. She became entwined in the painter's loud, intoxicating celebrity life and, for a short time became one herself.

Their passion in '88 and '89 burnt bright. Years later, however, she would be remembered as the guarded, outcast figure in the battle that raged over Whiteley's will. Spencer met Whiteley at a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous in 1988. She was 28. He was 48. Both were trying desperately to beat their addiction to heroin, to find clarity amid paranoia and distortion. They swore off the drug. For two years, mainly owing to Janice's support, Brett stayed clean. Even Whiteley's family, who had been sceptical of the affair, remarked on the clarity and purpose she had reintroduced to the artist's compulsive life. Whiteley's sister Frannie Hopkirk, in her biography, Brett (Knopf, 1996), described her first meeting with Spencer: ''She looked like a leggy pony and he was gazing up at her with an expression of naughty pleasure. He was patently pleased with his date..." Spencer - nicknamed Spencil by Whiteley - made him feel young; it was often remarked how much she resembled his former wife and muse, Wendy Whiteley.

Not long into their relationship, Spencer and Brett - a nomad himself - travelled the world, sharing adventures in the United States, Japan and France. Soon they both looked a picture of health - she enjoying the fashions and trappings which Brett's wealth and fame bestowed; he working hard at drawing and painting, and at getting fit. Although their relationship became less intense after two or three years, the couple remained close. "No-one would know about how hard and traumatic it was for Janice when Brett started using again," a friend said. "She had to contend with him going in and out of clinics and the fear of not knowing where he was ... "

Whiteley died of a drug overdose in a Thirroul motel in 1992 and it made headlines throughout the world. A vital part of Spencer's world, and the identity she had forged, went with him. The self-destructiveness, which she had warned him about and seen in herself, kept her off heroin for the better part of 13 years so that her death stunned family and friends. She had been cheerful and strong and optimistic about the future, having recently bought a flat in Brisbane and begun a dog pampering business with a friend. The calmness of her later life contrasted with the immediate turbulence when Whiteley had gone. "I feel sad that Brett's wishes have not been carried out," she said in January 1995 after loosing the battle to share his fortune, estimated to be worth $8 million at the time. The artist had included Spencer in a will but it was successfully challenged by his daughter, Arkie. Spencer received one painting, a large erotic portrait Brett had painted of her in 1989 entitled Sunday Afternoon, Surrey Hills

To make ends meet, she auctioned it five years ago. It sold for $279,000 and was bought by the commercial art dealer Stuart Purves. After the court case, Spencer moved to Byron Bay where she designed fabrics and devoted a couple of years to writing about her five years with Whiteley. The book was to have included several letters he wrote to her in the year before he died, but it was never published. In 1995, when the Art Gallery of New South Wales produced the Whiteley Retrospective touring exhibition curated by Barry Pearce and Wendy Whiteley, Spencer had been cast adrift. Her friend Philippa Drynan believed the art world had "closed ranks'' on her. On the eve of the exhibition, Janice told the Sydney Morning Herald that she was "surprised and disappointed because I haven't been asked in any way to participate in the retrospective, apart from the acknowledgment in the cataIogue ..." With her particular independent streak, individuality and gentle demeanour, Spencer was more than a casual footnote to Brett Whiteley's life. She is survived by her mother and two brothers


#5 - David Bentley, Brett Whiteley's lover: 'A pigeon thrown among wolves', Sunday Mail, Brisbane, 8 October, 2000; The Age, Melbourne, 15 October 2000.
When a drug overdose claimed the life of Brett Whiteley's former lover, Janice Spencer, it ended a tragic tale of jealousy, bitterness and heartbreak. David Bentley reports.

In the aftermath of artist Brett Whiteley's death in 1992, the Whiteley clan tried to erase Janice Spencer from the record - allegedly offering valuable art in exchange for her never speaking or writing about Whiteley again. Despite an acrimonious and protracted divorce settlement, ex-wife Wendy assumed the role of grieving widow: Elizabeth Taylor to Brett's Richard Burton. In Wendy's scheme of things, Janice - Spencil as Brett called her - scarcely counted.
"Wendy had been Brett's great love and goddess from age 16; model, muse, wife, mother of their actress daughter Arkie, trusted critic and friend,'' wrote Janet Hawley in the Sydney Morning Herald shortly after Whiteley's death from a heroin overdose in 1992. "Their intense relationship had never ended, and they, and close friends, never discounted a great love reunion.''

It would become the official line, and although cynics referred to Wendy's putative love reunion as a "posthumous reconciliation'', many leading lights in the art community turned their backs on Janice. Even artist Tim Storrier, whom Janice met through Brett and whom she called a friend, found that his car was too full to give her a lift to Brett's funeral (although he sat with her at the service). At art openings, once effusive acquaintances would nod perfunctorily. One prominent art dealer, a regular visitor to Brett's studio during the Spencer era, made an overnight conversion to the Wendy camp. Four years after her separation from Brett, Wendy's vision of a love supreme could still seduce headlines. Yet it was Janice's frantic phone calls to the Beach Motel in Thirroul, south of Sydney, that prompted manager Alex Boceski to check on the curiously silent occupant of room four. In the event, Janice did not learn of Brett's death from Boceski but from Brett's sister Franny Hopkirk, who heard it on the news - at which moment, Janice recalled, she experienced a drowning sensation, as if she was receiving a last desperate message from Brett.

Uncannily reminiscent in appearance of a young Wendy, Janice was 27 and a student of special-effects make-up when her flatmate, drummer Hamish Stuart, introduced her to Brett at a neighbourhood store in Surry Hills in inner Sydney. Two months later, their paths again crossed at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, where Janice, a reformed heroin addict who had stayed clean for seven years, worked with recovering addicts. (Brett asked her to counsel Wendy, who was also trying to quit heroin, but Wendy wasn't interested.) A year passed. They continued to see each other at NA meetings. Brett invited her to his favourite sushi restaurant. By degrees, she became his mistress and model, infuriating the ex-wife whose place she had taken. In their book about Whiteley, An Unauthorised Life (Macmillan), Margot Hilton and Graeme Blundell conjectured that Brett moved in on Janice because, as a member of NA and a former user, she "understood the Higher Power''.
"To Brett she was deep and still . . . like a lake. He found it hard to understand how she had stayed straight for so long. Some called her the Recovery Queen of NA,'' they wrote. Under Janice's influence, Brett quit heroin for two years and produced some of his best work (both the Birds series and his Paris show derive from that era). Janice, meanwhile, basked in the pleasures of reflected celebrity: Beautiful clothes, exotic travel and meetings with rock stars, including David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. There were trips to Los Angeles and New York, where Brett revisited the Chelsea Hotel where he lived with Wendy and Arkie during the late-1960s, and to Japan, where Brett viewed the erotic show said to have inspired his portrait of Janice: Sunday Afternoon in Surry Hills. In mid-1989, they flew to London to visit Arkie (who refused to meet Janice), then to Paris, where Brett painted street scenes while Janice visited galleries - a joyful time that turned to disaster in Calcutta when, during a three-day stopover, Brett resumed his heroin habit.

The demons had taken hold yet again. For the rest of his life, Janice would nurse him through a familiar cycle of heroin binges followed by guilt-fuelled "detox'' sessions, where he would take whiskey, methadone and pills to sustain him through the sickness of withdrawal. The ferocity of his marriage break-up took Brett to the emotional edge. Janice maintained that Brett's dependency was exacerbated by the stress of property wrangles with Wendy. At one point, six men with crowbars forced their way into his studio, photographing everything. Janice, who had been keeping a low profile while Brett worked out his property settlement, retreated even further after his death - refusing to take part in the media frenzy. In a rare interview, she told The Australian newspaper's Deborah Bogle of Brett's tortured last months:
 "At times he would be quite buoyant and at others he would just spend four or five days in bed with a stack of videos. It seemed he would just get stuck in his mind trying to resolve the issues. He continued detoxing, he continued going to (NA) meetings, but there was this pressure on him of, I believe, the unresolved legal proceedings and the sense of him wishing to regain control of his life.''

She recalled their final conversation before he left for his fatal sojourn in Thirroul: "I said, `Why are you doing this to yourself again? You know it's pointless, you know that you detox then you come back to Sydney and use'.
"He said, `Look, Janice, one day I will get it, one day I will come back into recovery if I keep trying'. It was incredibly emotional. We were both crying, we had our arms around each other and he was frantic.''

When news of Brett's death emerged, the locks at his Surry Hills studio, to which Janice had a key, were immediately changed. According to one account, her clothes and effects were tossed into the street. Her favourite black hat turned up in a nearby dumpster. Janice would later describe this time as one of "disenfranchised bereavement''. The Whiteley women - Wendy and Arkie, at least - were painting her out of the Brett Whiteley picture, making sure she would be shunned by the Sydney art scene. Yet she had done as much as anyone to keep Brett on the straight and narrow. Brett's mother Beryl had warmed to her and his older sister Franny was impressed by her devotion during one of his failed detox attempts at her cottage in Millthorpe, near Orange in central-west New South Wales. With Brett's 53rd birthday only days away, Janice had flown in to offer moral support during his recuperation, only to find him in crisis mode, demanding whiskey after weathering the worst of his withdrawal symptoms. 
"For several hours I sat silently (and guiltily) as Janice expertly talked him down, soothed and persuaded him, convinced and cajoled,'' Franny recalled in her 1996 book Brett (Random House). "He raved, he sobbed, he threatened her; he said he was flying back to Sydney in the morning. He abused her, felt sorry for himself, raged incessantly against Wendy, what she had done to him and was still doing to him, until finally he wore himself out. I witnessed a side of Janice I had never known before - I had seen her will, her skill in a difficult situation, her knowledge of addiction; her naked love for Brett. I also saw the unshakeable resolve of one who has freed themselves from addiction. It was an amazing performance from which I learned a great deal.''

During his last years, Brett had obsessed over ways to prevent Wendy gaining possession of his "irrevocables'', a collection of 80 paintings that he intended as a kind of visual autobiography. In the property settlement, Brett had first choice of 40 works. Of the rest, Wendy could choose art to the value of $2.6 million, including 20 paintings. But in his confusion, Brett forgot to list his prized 12-panel LSD-inspired piece, Alchemy, and it went to Wendy. He had been distraught over the dismantling of his collection. His death only heightened the squabbling. Arkie contested the will that her father signed on May 1989 on the grounds that he had written two further wills, both of which had gone missing. Under the terms of his 1989 will, Whiteley's studio was to have become a museum. The rest of the estate was split into 20 shares, 12 of which went to Arkie, three to the artist's mother Beryl, three to Franny and two to Janice. The two informal handwritten 1991 wills made no mention of a museum and left the bulk of the estate to Arkie. The museum, Arkie said, was merely a "divorce device'' to prevent Wendy getting his paintings. Arkie persuaded the court that the missing will, which had been taped to a kitchen drawer, was the real will - entitling her to all but one of the paintings Wendy failed to win in her divorce settlement. The remaining picture, Sunday Afternoon in Surry Hills, went to Janice, who did not receive it until July 1995, when she was forced to sell it in order to recoup legal costs.

"I was like a pigeon thrown among wolves,'' Janice would later say to journalist Susan Chenery. An old friend flew from the Gold Coast to lend moral support in the courtroom, but she was no match for Arkie's entourage. By the Hilton-Blundell account, "the court was brimful with Whiteley women supporters, lawyers and assistants who were all intent on giving His Honour (Justice Powell) good feedback.

"There was much tittering and tee-heeing at His Honour's jokes and evident appreciation of the well-turned phrases he used against those standing before him, particularly (Janice's lawyer) Malcolm
Turnbull.'' Janice lost - but, in losing, she became hot property. Entrepreneur Harry M. Miller tried to sign her. The Whiteleys countered with an offer of $300,000 in works of art on the proviso that she refrain from talking to the media or writing books. She turned down both offers. Instead she engaged a new lawyer and brought an action for provision against the Whiteley estate seeking only those paintings in which Brett had used her as his model. Five years later, Janice settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. She moved to Byron Bay, then back to Sydney, where she found solace with a new soulmate, leggy ex-model Tracey McFarlane.

"Tracey and Janice were the Absolutely Fabulous twins,'' Janice's brother Greg Spencer said. "They'd be in front of their bungalow overlooking Botany Bay, more or less in their night attire, wearing the biggest sunglasses, drinking champagne and orange juice. Everybody knew them. They were superstars in suburbia. They'd set up a dog-grooming business, Woof Inc. They had clients like Sonia
McMahon - so it wasn't just scrubbing dogs, it was a scene. Tracey would go off every morning to do the dog bit and Janice would stay home. She started a school to teach English to Chinese students at home and she was also writing a book. I think the students were more in love with Janice than with the actual teaching. Tracey always maintained that they never learned anything - they just came to look at Janice.''

It is unclear when Janice succumbed to heroin. "We never saw Janice when she had problems,'' Greg said. "She compartmentalised her life. All we ever knew was the happy, enthusiastic, optimistic, gentle Janice who very much wanted to be around her family. When she was alive, she brought everyone else alive. She was just so true, so honest and so open that you couldn't just help but be dragged along with it. Brett enjoyed that. We all enjoyed that. The whole room lit up when she was with you.''

Childhood photographs of her reveal a sensitive, shy, pretty girl. Born in Brisbane but raised on the Gold Coast, she coped poorly with the rigours of discipline in the upmarket schools she attended. Drugs entered her life early. At age 15, she was experimenting with pills. At 18, she was dabbling in heroin. At 20, she entered a rehabilitation clinic - emerging as a shining example of rehabilitation. Her parents had divorced when she was four. She did not see her father for seven years after that. Later, during her early bouts with heroin, he booked her into a Sydney clinic. Like Brett, he died aged 53.

"There were absolutely no half-measures when Janice organised something,'' Greg said. "For family celebrations, our mother's birthday for example, she'd hire an entire restaurant and invite as many people as possible. She absolutely lived in the moment. Last Mother's Day we must have had four mothers sitting around the table - and she had a card and present for every one of those mothers.''

Janice recently returned to Brisbane to be close to her mother and brothers, her nieces and nephews - the only family she knew. She had bought a unit in the inner-Brisbane suburb of Teneriffe, booked into a rehabilitation program at Royal Brisbane Hospital and was optimistic about starting anew. "She had a dark side, but also a good side,'' Greg said. "When she had black days, she didn't see anybody. When she had not-so-black days, she'd be in contact.''

When she died on August 17, at age 41, she was staying at a sponsor's house in New Farm, in inner Brisbane, after going into a rehabilitation program. Her sponsor went out to get some groceries and came back about 8pm to find Janice dead in bed. Her Brisbane funeral - unlike her appearance in court - was well attended by friends and well-wishers from both the art world and the drug culture which claimed so much of her time, and ultimately her life.
"Janice knew the problems that people have when using drugs,'' Greg said. "She knew it inside out. She helped so many people get across the line. The sad thing was that she couldn't help herself - and we miss her terribly.''



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Michael Organ
19 May 2017