WE ARE sitting in the light and airy Goat Island Gallery and admiring a polished carved piece of soap stone. Frank Shooneveldt tells us he was given it as a lump of rough cut stone by his brother around 30 years ago. He asked his brother why he was giving it to him, to which he replied, “Oh you’ll do something with it.”
It took Frank that long because a lot of things got in the way, such as work and transforming 23 acres of bush and paddock where Goat Island Gallery is situated into what it is today, and he needed the right motivation.
He likens the addiction of gamblers to the addiction of the Government to the revenues that it receives. Each Spring Carnival, our attention is fixed on betting on the horses. Street parties are held, we attend various Calcutta evenings on Melbourne Cup eve, we dust off our hats and shoes and pop into the local pub to put our name down for the sweep. But we’re not really gamblers, are we? According to the Government Statistician our flutters on the gee gees amount to close to $3 billion a year. Staggering though that number is, our love of the good old pokies is even higher – we spend $12 billion on those. In total Australians lose almost $24 billion a year on gambling, more money per capita than any other nation in the world.
No wonder Frank was disappointed that his work with such a strong message wasn’t hung in ArtSpace – and so he took it out on a lump of soap stone!
Frank was one when he came to Australia in 1951 with his parents, who were fleeing the deprivations of post-war Holland, the fear of advancing Communism and the store of unwanted memories that the country held for them. The family sold up everything to pay for their passage to Australia but were still thought of as refugees. Back then, as today, housing was scarce, but there were many families who welcomed refugees. They found such a family who didn’t have much – but did have a chook shed out the back of their place in Greensborough where the Schooneveldts could stay. It was a tight squeeze with Frank’s parents and four children, with one of the way – but they managed. In fact, Frank’s mum used to boast, “It may be a chook pen, but there are two levels.”
In 1952 Frank’s father saved enough to buy a quarter acre block of land in Greensborough. With no electric tools, and with little help, he built a four-bedroom house that stands to this day, albeit greatly extended. In 1958 they moved to Healesville, then very much a rural location, and later to Camberwell and still later to Cheltenham.
Frank has the usual childhood memories, but the most poignant was when he came home from school in November 1963 to find his mother ironing, and with tears coursing down her cheeks. She had just heard the news of JFK’s assassination and believed this would bring about another world war.
His parents believed very strongly in providing a good education for their children. In fact, there are five PhDs and two masters degrees in the family.
Frank studied both art and commerce and topped his final high school year classes in both. But he had to make a decision – as a career in art was not going to pay the bills, he chose a career in commerce.
Whilst gaining his qualifications he met his wife Mary in a share house in the 1970s. Three months later, after finding the other residents were cramping their style, Frank and Mary found a place for just the two of them. They say they are kindred spirits – even though Frank is more of the planner – and Mary more inclined to just let things happen.
Whilst Mary pursued a career in community education, Frank spent the next 25 years working ridiculously long hours in a high-pressure job (though long retired, he still wakes up at 4.30am by habit) in the construction industry before he decided to take a sabbatical and revert to his neglected passion of art. In 1995 he studied for a diploma in visual arts and started painting again.
In fact, not just painting, but drawing, enamelling, sculpting. You name it, he will put a hand to anything. He will take an idea, a thought, an inspiration from the environment – wherever his mood takes him. Whilst trying most things, he is not a fan of self-portraits, believing you may as well take a photograph.
Nine years ago Frank and his wife Mary decided to move out of Melbourne to the beautiful Bass Coast. They transformed the original house into a gallery and refurbished the new house. Mary is in charge of the garden, but Frank is equally proud of the fact that he is in the process of transforming a paddock into wetlands. Already a haven for wombats, swamp wallabies, micro bats and a huge variety of birds, the property has recently been supplemented by some blue tongue lizards dropped off by a local pest controller who found a lounge (don’t you just love the collective noun?) of lizards in a raid on a house in Venus Bay. Some might find the micro bats slightly off putting, but not when you realise they eat their own body weight in insects as they prowl the night skies, and so Goat Island Gallery is blissfully mozzie free.
But please be careful where you tread. Copperhead snakes and the occasional tiger snake are just as likely to be warming themselves in the sun. They don’t faze Frank or Mary … well, perhaps they were a little disconcerted when one tried to get up the steps into their home.
The Goat Island Gallery, 18 Boundary Rd, Wonthaggi, is open from 10am-4pm most weekends.