Donald Stuart Leslie Friend (1915 – 1989) began art classes at the Royal Art Society in 1930 under Sydney Long, and then studied under Dattilo Rubbo between 1933 and 1935. He spent a year in London in 1936 at the Westminster School under Bernard Meninsky and Mark Gertler, then traveled to Nigeria, where he lived from 1937 until 1939. Returning to Sydney, Friend fell in with several artists, a writer and a sculptor, in what became known as the Merioola Group (later patronisingly referred to as the ‘Charm School’, by art critic Robert Hughes).
Friend enlisted with the Australian Military Forces on 29 June 1942, service no. NX96987. Assigned to the 2nd Australian Field Artillery Training Regiment, Friend was posted first to Sydney, but soon after Hume camp, Albury, New South Wales. In his diary of 16 September 1942, Friend wrote, ‘I suspect I’m not much of a solider; but I know bloody well I’m a lousy gunner’. Friend created pen and ink drawings of soldier life, which were published in 1943 by Sydney Ure Smith as Gunner’s Diary. This publication revealed Friend to be an eccentric artist of great talent who was also able to write with insight and humour about his military experience.
In March 1943 Friend was at ‘Seabrae’ in Redcliffe, Brisbane where he attended the Land Force Headquarters Military Intelligence and completed a course for Brigade and Unit Intelligence Officers. Failing the course, Friend then spent time with his regiment at Greta, near Maitland. From September to December 1943 Friend participated in anti-malarial drug trials at the 2/2 Australian General Hospital on the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland. He wrote in his diary for 23 October 1943, ‘Nowadays we are being given about 30 grains of quinine a day. The result is that my ears ring, my skin is rapidly going yellow and I feel jumpy and rather weak’.
At the start of 1944, Friend returned to Greta, going temporarily AWOL in April and seeking leave from the army on psychological grounds. Hospitalised at Concord with a self-confessed ‘nervous breakdown’, Friend sought transfer to another unit, and away from Greta. He was moved to the 31 Army Works Company in Chermside, Brisbane, where he was engaged in labour activities – a shift that significantly improved his sense of purpose within the army.
Throughout his military service, Friend was consistently producing paintings and drawings. Sydney Ure Smith provided examples to Louis McCubbin, who was an Art Advisor to the Australian War Memorial, which in conjunction with the Ministry of the Interior, managed the appointment of official war artists. Under public pressure from the Contemporary Art Society, and the Melbourne Herald and Sun newspapers to appoint a diversity of modern artists, the Ministry appointed Friend as an official war artist, commencing on 26 February 1945.
First in Sydney, Friend drew social activities on the home front, notably the raucous celebrations in Kings Cross of Victory in Europe Day. Assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force, Friend proceeded to Morotai, where he was attached to the 62 Works Wing. Friend made a small number of sketches before moving on Labuan in Borneo, where he was confronted with, and drew, the realities of war: Japanese prisoners of war; Japanese corpses; liberated Javanese slaves, and towns razed by bombardments.
Friend relocated to Balikpapan, and again witnessed and recorded the same kind of destruction, this time including rescued Australian prisoners of war, but also the activities of the Australians of the 7th Division. Friend planned to stay in the Pacific to record the surrender of the Japanese and the liberation of allied POWs, but these were cancelled when he had to return to Australia with a severe tropical rash on his hands. Returning to Sydney, he worked from his sketches to complete several paintings, until his appointment as an official war artist concluded in early 1946.
Following the war, Friend’s reputation as an artist grew, and he gained representation in leading commercial galleries in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney. Relocating to Bali, Indonesia in 1967, Friend hosted internationally acclaimed artists and musicians and formed relationships with administrators of Australian state and national galleries. In recent years, his relationships with underage children have been questioned, and it is now generally accepted that these relationships were inappropriate, and the actions of a paedophile. The Memorial deplores Friend’s now known paedophile behaviour, but acknowledges the value of his works in conveying a unique insight into the Australian experience of war.