“REMEMBER the pest controllers that had the jingle, ‘One flick and you’re gone’?" Dennis Leversha asked. "Well - have you ever wondered why there’s a pronounced dot above the i in the Flick sign?”
As part of the contract he was required to work for two years in industry before he could formally be given his qualification. He started work at Neon Electrics. Salesmen would come into the workshop with ideas for neon signs for business. He would take the rough sketches and create illustrations demonstrating what the sign would look like once it was finished.
And so there was an assignment to create the Flick sign. From concept drawing to refinement and then the design was approved and the sign manufactured. It was mounted on a huge white surface with everyone waiting in anticipation as the evening fell and the light was illuminated. You guessed it what hadn’t been envisaged in the illustrations was the effect the neon light had in creating a merging of the letters. Yes – Flick had become THE four-letter word. Hence the pronounced dot over the i. He assures me it was not him that did the final drawing but whoever it was, it was a good lesson.
Dennis had always loved art. He was always a good drawer but didn’t think that was where he would end up. He studied science – believe it or not with now local history buff Ray Addicoat as his teacher – and failed. As he says, “I was hopeless at science but s#*% I could draw a Bunsen burner with my eyes shut.” When he was accepted into RMIT to study art he needed a place to board and found it through a chance meeting with the musical director and the stage manager of the Australian Ballet Company. As he hitchhiked along Toorak Road at 1.30am (I didn’t ask what he was doing at that hour), they picked him up, got to chatting and that led him to being allowed back stage to do pen and ink drawings. It was there that he met the wardrobe lady who had a room for board in Kew. He would bicycle in from his lodgings to attend lessons as well as refine his pen and ink drawing techniques on the colourful cast and characters of the ballet. He did well until he spilt Indian ink all over a ballet dancer’s tutu.
His fascination for the finer arts continued when he left the Neon Electric Company to join the Princes Theatre as a painter of stage scenery. It was a wonderful time when he met the likes of June Bronhill, Frank Thring, Tex Morgan and even Marlene Dietrich. He worked with one of the last of his craft, Dres Hardingham, who back then was over 75 years of age. Dres had already developed scene painter’s knees. In those days both sides of the scene were well secured – but the rest was on a floating floor. As the scene painter got to the centre of the massive scenes which were 45 feet wide and 22 feet high the boards got more springy thereby putting a lot of pressure on the painter’s knees.
Following renovations at the club, the mural is no longer as prominent but you can find it if you look
Today, Dennis, too, suffers from dodgy knees – but frankly he is unsure if it goes back to this time – or perhaps when he started to pursue his passion of later life of painting vast murals. Never in favour of the restraints of scaffolding, he always just used a ladder to reach the heights of buildings. Occupational health and safety laws and perhaps a bit of common sense on Dennis’s behalf has seen him now restricted to 1.8m which means the loftier portions of murals need to be left untouched.
Whilst at the theatre he took on various functions such as stage hand and maintenance man. Sometimes he found himself up on the roof replacing slate tiles. He thought it was such a waste to throw the tiles away and so he bought a dentist drill and carved pendants out of the tiles and sold them. June Bronhill even ended up purchasing one.
After finishing his two years in industry, Dennis went to Teachers’ College and ended up with a teaching position at Preston East Technical School. Two wonderful things happened to him there. The first was that his boss turned out to be John Adam (multi-award winning artist and now a Phillip Island resident), and the second, and more importantly it was a time when he married his lovely wife Bev whom he had met three years earlier at RMIT.
They started looking for permanent teaching positions. They were prepared to go anywhere in the state except Mildura as they felt that was too far away from Melbourne. The only criteria were that there needed to be two positions in the same school or two positions in different schools within commuting distance. As it turned out they found two positions in Swan Hill and found on accepting that they comprised two-thirds of the art department. So from Swan Hill to Sale and finally to Wonthaggi in 1972 where they taught until 1991 – qualification-based training for Dennis included a stint at Dandenong TAFE and night pottery classes for Bev.
His first mural was for a shop in Mirboo North. The owner wanted to turn a house into a café and sought Dennis’ help. He wanted to have Dennis paint a scene which included a horse and dray with several logs. As the owner had a real live dray in the front garden Dennis suggested combining the real life with the painting and so it became – with the café being named The Bullock Dray Café. The mural is still there 20 years on. Dennis has now done an incredible 32 murals all over this and adjoining shires. He is delighted to say that none has been vandalised. That being said, at one stage somebody removed the logs from the dray in Mirboo North but when the word was put out that no questions would be asked if the logs were returned, they duly found their way back onto the dray.
Right now Dennis is heavily involved in the Bass Coast Historical Society as well as ArtSpace Wonthaggi. You will find his work, and Bev’s, at ArtSpace where he has different works every month. On September 8, ArtSpace is having its inaugural AGM from 3.30pm at the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre. He encourages everyone interested in art to turn up, regardless of whether they are a member or not. “We are in an enviable part of the world where art is an important part, so the more people who can shape the direction of ArtSpace, the more representative it is of our community.”
He shows no sign of quitting, despite the dodgy knees.