Brushmen of the Bush

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The Brushmen of the Bush were five self-taught painters and sculptors from Broken Hill who, in the 1970s, decided to exhibit together. They were: Pro Hart, one of the most famous artists to come from Broken Hill; Jack Absolom who came to Broken Hill in the 1950s and was a ‘roo and dingo shooter and once heavyweight boxer; Hugh Schultz, a Kalgoorlie prospector and WWII infantry engineer, Eric Minchin, an accountant, and John Pickup, a broadcaster who was, then, running the Broken Hill ABC radio station.  

The Brushmen met in Broken Hill when Eric Minchin invited Schultz, Pickup and Absolom to collaborate, with the ultimate aim of holding a joint exhibition to raise money for charity. Pro Hart, who had by then already established an international career and been awarded an MBE, joined them not long after. 

Jack Absolom was working as an outback guide when he first started painting, inspired by watching Eric Minchin at work. Absolom was struck by the strong colours and vibrancy of Minchin’s work, which captures the big skies and sharp light of the Australian outback. Absolom was a natural and took to painting immediately he picked up a brush. 

John Pickup’s subjects and style have been described as ‘literary’ and his influences have ranged from Australian authors Patrick White and Peter Carey to the Spanish author Cervantes’ character, Don Quixote.  

Hugh Schultz, like Pro Hart, is called a naive artist, though his style is considered more gentle and detailed. Both painters were influenced by Sam Byrne, a Broken Hill painter and ex-miner who died in 1978, not long after the Brushmen’s first exhibition. 

That first joint exhibition was launched in Sydney in 1973 and was intended to be a one-off to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. The five Broken Hill painters were immediately noticed for their combined talent and vivid palettes, though there was also snobbery amongst the Sydney ‘art mafia’ as Pro Hart famously called them, and criticism of the raw vibrancy of the exhibition. A glowing review of that first show in Australian Women’s Weekly used the title ‘Brushmen of the Bush’ and it caught hold of the popular imagination. From then on, this was how the five came to be known. 

During the 1970s the Brushmen exhibited in London, Rome, New York and Los Angeles. They raised the profile of outback art, consolidated the Far West of NSW as a destination for artists, and Broken Hill as a thriving cultural centre. The city now has a diverse and multi-disciplined arts scene and is home to the oldest regional art gallery in Australia. 

Broken Hill City Council honoured the Brushmen and their contribution to the city by declaring 2006 The Year of the Brushmen of the Bush. That year a retrospective exhibition started touring New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, visiting 11 galleries between 2006 and 2009.  

Over the 20 years between 1973 and the death of Eric Minchin in 1994, the Brushmen of the Bush raised over one million, six-hundred thousand dollars for charity by exhibiting and selling their art . 

Hugh Schulz died in 2005. Pro Hart was given a State Funeral when he died in 2006. Jack Absalom died in 2019 and John Pickup died in 2023. 

"The art establishment really didn't want to know the Brushmen," John Pickup once said. "The Brushmen succeeded in spite of the art establishment." 

Audio transcript available.