Artist Ken Done tells his story in his new book, A Life Coloured In, including a chapter on the time he spent growing up in the Clarence Valley.
Artist Ken Done tells his story in his new book, A Life Coloured In, including a chapter on the time he spent growing up in the Clarence Valley.

Maclean, murder and Huck Finn - the story of Ken Done

NOT many people know that our much-loved artist Ken Done was accused of murder, nor that his father was too, but after a sneak peek at his long-awaited biography you learn this, and a lot more about his colourful childhood in Maclean, and how much the river town has defined him.

And despite it being 70 or so years since he called the Scottish Town in Australia home, his recollection of those five defining ones, spent there between 1945 and 50, still seem as fresh as they were when he was enjoying his "Huckleberry Finn" existence.

Ken recalled the kid he was accused of murdering, accidentally striking him with the cricket bat he was swinging wildly in an attempt to make contact with a fast ball. Instead he took out the wicket keeper, sending him to the ground, blood spurting from his head.

"I remember the kid, his name was Ross Hollands I think. I also lost the girl I liked to him over that. Patty Morrissey who is now Pat Farlow," Ken recalled like the alleged crime had happened yesterday.


Of course a lot has unfolded since Ken left Maclean, his book delving into his illustrious career which has taken his name and his colourful artworks have become household fixtures in Australian and abroad.

Maclean holds its own among Ken's chapters from his life, the river town having enough sway to have a whole chapter 'Huck Finn on the Clarence' devoted to it.

opera house
opera house

The former Clarence resident who has called Sydney home since leaving the Clarence said the place was still very important to him.

"I think where you spend your boyhood has a profound effect on your life and for me Maclean formed me forever.

"It was the freedom and climate, and the mates you have between the ages of five and 10. The laid back feeling of the small town beside the river is an absolutely wonderful place to grow up. It was the perfect place for a child."

Ken said he could probably also safely say the seed for his art career was also planted in Maclean.

"I was always painting and drawing at that age and sent in some drawings to the ABC of fishing boats going down the Clarence River. I got some gold stars which was a good reward at that early stage so I kept going."

Ken said he was lucky that his parents let him leave school at such a young age to pursue a career in the arts.

"I left as soon as I got my Intermediate Certificate (Year 10). So I went to art school at age 14 and a half so they really must have had faith in my ability."

Chinaman's Beach
Chinaman's Beach

And while it says on the press release for his autobiography that "Ken Done has an extraordinary place in the hearts of Australians," it could well have said that Maclean has an extraordinary place in Ken's heart.

"There's every chance I'll be back for a visit one day. I always love coming back to Maclean."

Ken Done: A Life Coloured In is published by ABC Books $32.99 and available at all good book stores.

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