Karl Duldig and his immediate family were lucky to be deported to Australia from Singapore in September 1940. Had they applied for entry, their chances of admission would have been slim. Had they still been in Singapore when the British surrendered in February 1942, their prospects would have been uncertain. Any harm that befell the 500 or so Jews who remained was random for the conquerors did not mimic their Axis partners by targeting Jews as Jews.[i] The Duldigs were also fortunate that the British had not sent them to China to which the Duldigs had applied for entry in 1939.[ii]

After a comfortable passage on the Queen Mary, 267 Singapore refugees, escorted by 42 troops, arrived at Sydney on 25 September 1940. Two days later, following a train trip, trucks deposited them 1000km to the south-west at an internment camp near Tatura, in central Victoria.

Being interned came as a shock. The group had been on parole in Singapore and expected to remain so in Australia. Within forty-eight hours of arriving at Tatura, they were petitioning a government which had no intention of breaching its restrictive immigration policy. Many Australians opposed immigration even from the British Isles, fearing the newcomers as competitors for the jobs that were still scarce after more than a decade of depression.[iii] Hence, although the Singapore arrivals were detained because they were enemy aliens, suspicions would dog them because they were foreign.

The Duldigs were again lucky to be sent to Tatura rather than to Hay where refugees from Britain were dumped on the barren stretch that Australians colloquially associate with hell. By contrast, the orchards around Tatura were blossoming in the Australian spring.[iv] If the corrugated-iron huts offered little protection against cold or heat, at least they had been divided into cabins, each with its own entrance. A photograph shows the Duldigs in front of their accommodation with a deck chair and line of his sculptures.

Duldig’s determination to keep fit led him into chopping wood for the kitchens. That work, in turn, drew him on to his first sculptures in Australia. Using an axe to carve one of the eucalyptus logs intended for the ovens, he produced a large mother and child from a fallen limb, which he erected inside his compound, and then sketched children playing ring-a-ring-a-roses around it. A subsequent intake chopped it up for firewood. He also carved an off-cut as a woman’s head (44cm.). The skull and neck were not entirely cut away from the log out of which they had been formed, while the base was rounded to suggest a shawl. Duldig’s response to the flow of his material initiated a sequence of wood carvings which would include several of the most significant achievements of his Australian decades. His earliest ceramic sculpture in Australia was a life-size woman’s head, possibly using Singapore clay and drawing on memories or sketches of an Asian face, as suggested by its almond eyes. Its white glaze could have been added when he worked at a porcelain factory in 1943. These works point to Duldig’s ingenuity in making-do which had begun in Singapore.

After the entry of Japan into the war created a manpower shortage, many male detainees were released to the army in April 1942, Duldig being drafted into the Eighth Australian Employment Company.[v] A photograph shows him in one of the uniforms that the Minister for Information described as looking as if they had been “cut with a knife and fork”.[vi]

With readier access to materials, Duldig made bronzes of three officers, which were included in a 1943 Melbourne show of Art by Australians in the Services. This trio exemplified Duldig’s precision as a portraitist, with exact delineations conveying the liveliness of individual temperament. He also produced several masks and heads in terracotta, some of which emphasised the slouch hat emblematic of the “digger”, as Australians call our soldiers. He also carved pumpkins and large potatoes which he cast in plaster. Almost two years to the day after Duldig’s arrival in Sydney, he received a medical discharge on 27 September 1942. He then worked for an outer Melbourne firm making porcelain insulators, and later with a lithographer.

Once Karl had joined the army, his wife and fellow artist Slawa, with their four-year old daughter Eva, was released from Tatura, moving to the bayside suburb of St Kilda, one of the few parts of the Melbourne to have blocks of apartments and a sizeable Jewish community. The family first rented a room in a boarding house with shared facilities before finding a flat in Acland Street. Ten minutes stroll away was Luna Park, Melbourne’s Prater. St Kilda was also an artists’ place with the leaders of a new generation of painters, the communist Noel Counihan, the mythopoeic Sidney Nolan and the expressionist Albert Tucker who did his wartime “Images of Modern Evil” in its streets under GI occupation.

Until the mid-1930s, the St Kilda Jews had been wealthy, Anglicised, Orthodox, resistant to political Zionism and fearful that the newcomers would embarrass them. The latter were also mostly from Germany or Austria, but they were Liberal and Zionist.[vii] Pre-war refugees found the scarcity of fine coffee, rich cakes and other delicacies almost as strange as the prohibition on the sale of alcohol after six o’clock.[viii] Yet, compared with the shortages in Europe, Melbourne remained a cornucopia.

Although anti-Semitism ran deeper and more broadly through Australia than Japan, Australians were more discriminating in their xenophobia. Suspicion of immigrants was one strand in what has been called Australia’s quarantine culture.[ix] Australian prejudices were not the result of a tyranny of distance, quite the reverse. The conquest of distance by air and radio had left Australians feeling more vulnerable to cultural contamination as well as to military invasion.  The Great European War had fortified the isolationist tendencies that had led to Federation in 1901, its White Australia Policy and defence preparedness. With 60,000 dead and as many again seriously wounded - rates as high as any of the combatants - most of the returning volunteers wanted to keep the corrupt world out of what their official historian called “The one country still to make”.[x]

In the 1920s, the Commonwealth government had used the Immigration Restriction Act to bar entry to immoral women and political leftists. Literary censorship was as severe on moral as on political grounds. Although newspapers padded out cable reports to convey world events,[xi] the root problem in Australian life was not ignorance of what was happening elsewhere so much as determination by the powers-that-be not to let the majority find out.

When the Duldigs had arrived in Australia, the prime minister was R. G. Menzies, a liberal of sorts and an Empire loyalist of the deepest dye. Less typically for a politician, he busied himself in the visual arts through his promotion of a Royal Australian Academy of Art in order to “set certain standards … of public taste by directing attention to good work”. Opening the 1937 Victorian Artists’ Society exhibition, he had declared: “Great art speaks a language which every intelligent person can understand, the people who call themselves modernists today talk a different language”.[xii] The metaphor that Menzies chose to protest about the incomprehensible visual coincided with the complaint by Anglophone Australians that the “Refujews” jabbered away to each other in their own tongues, plotting sabotage for all one could tell.

In response to Menzies, the modernists formed a Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne in July 1938.[xiii] In 1939, a Melbourne newspaper sponsored an Exhibition of Modern Art, from van Gogh and Gauguin to Dali and Picasso. The show included only a dozen sculptures among its 215 items.  If those tame three-dimensional pieces did not challenge the Melbourne sculptors, the controversy about Surrealism energised debate about all the arts.

More than a few Australians had welcomed the outbreak of war as an excuse to abandon the unequal struggle for culture. The Contemporary Art Society curtailed its activities while the decade-old Sculptors’ Society closed down. Another casualty was Art in Australia, a Sydney journal, which had begun in 1916. Not until 1963 would Australian artists again have a nation-wide publication through which to communicate with each other, or to promote their efforts to an interested public.

The Academy limped along till 1945 by which time Menzies was rebuilding his political fortunes by appealing to the middle-class as “The Forgotten People”, that section of the population, who “provides more than perhaps any other the intellectual life which marks us off from the beast”.[xiv] This beast was no mere figure of speech. It was the Bolshevik and the Jew, the savage, the neurotic and the decadent who wanted to smash tradition and decorum in every field. The leading Australian etcher, Sir Lionel Lindsay, wrote to the newspapers in 1940 that ... the Australian Public is perhaps yet unaware that modernism was organized in Paris by Jew dealers, whose first care was to corrupt criticism, originate propaganda … and undermine accepted standards so that there should be ample merchandise to handle.[xv]

Thus, the Duldigs had arrived in the middle of an art war.

The major exhibition for 1942 in Melbourne was of anti-fascist art, encouraged by the illegal Communist Party. Almost as a result of this effort at a common front, the artists found sufficient strength to split between Social Realists and Expressionists, the German kind being known in Melbourne through refugees and a Penguin special.

Duldig fitted into none of these trends. He was anti-fascist but not concerned with politics, least of all in its artistic dimensions. His modernism came from Central Europe, not the Schools of Paris.

Many European émigrés thought of their refuge as philistine, amusing each other with horror stories such as the one about the radio announcer who introduced a waltz by “Johann Sebastian Strauss”.[xvi] Certainly, Melbourne lacked the network of cultural institutions in European cities a quarter of its size. In 1946, the city’s only university appointed a professor of Fine Arts to teach history and theory. Victoria’s Gallery had begun to assemble a significant provincial collection under one of the country’s rare examples of private patronage. No major sculpture arrived until the 1959 purchase of Henry Moore’s “Draped Seated Women”, which provoked outrage for its modernity.

Despite this restricted life of the mind, Australian Philistinism needs to be defined with precision. Yes, the bulk of the populace were far more committed to sport than to the arts. No less a problem was that Australians were not indifferent to the arts. Their philistinism was as much in what they valued as in neglect.

A new h ome
As soon as the expanded German Reich had stripped émigré Jews of their nationality on 25 November 1941, the Duldigs became stateless, “nobody’s children”.[xvii] During 1944, they decided to seek naturalisation, which meant becoming British subjects, there being no Australian passports until 1949. After the usual formality of security checks, their naturalisation certificates were issued on 24 June 1946.[xviii] If 1946 was too soon for Karl and Slawa to feel that Australia was their spiritual home, they accepted that there was nowhere else to go. Their Polish birthplace was a satellite of the Soviet Union. Vienna was under four-power occupation. The State of Israel would not declare its existence until 1948. Even if they had wanted to leave, there were few berths. Moreover, the Duldigs knew from recent experience that nothing was forever.

From late in the war onwards, the Duldigs’ kitchenette was occupied by “hundreds of coffee sets, ramekins, ashtrays and decorative ware” waiting to be “turned, finished, decorated and glazed”. Karl’s treatment of Aboriginal designs was distinguished by his pursuit of originals in the Melbourne Museum, and his sgraffito retained their detailing within an eccentric symmetry which recalled classical Greek pots. Their search for materials was wide-ranging. Helen Bond reports that Karl dug his own clay at Wye River, a village on the Great Ocean Road, west of Melbourne, where his family holidayed from 1945 to 1952. They bought some prepared clays, but soon discovered an appropriate source for earthenware, at Camperfield. In the 1960s, for his terracotta sculptures, he turned to darker clays, and occasionally from local drainage works.[xix] This quest for suitable material brought him close to his new land, as he dug beneath its surface.

The Duldig family searched for a detached house with garden in which to expand their pottery business. Twice, local councils refused permission to install the kiln in a suburban block. One reason was the zoning of industry away from residential districts. The local authorities were also determined to stamp out back-yard factories, often sweatshops, and squeeze manufacturing out to the working-class, northern side of the Yarra. By 1951, the Duldigs won approval for a studio with the kiln in a shopping center where they worked until 1961. They owned a weatherboard house in Glen Iris before buying the brick home at Burke Road, East Malvern, that is now The Duldig Studio, a museum and gallery. Forty years before, that suburb’s residents had convinced themselves of the “Athenian elegance” of their villas. Their successors remained proud of its park lands and of its predominance of brick over weatherboard exteriors. [xx]

Why did the Duldigs feel the need to supplement their joint salaries from pottery after the early 1950s? The purchase of a family home with sufficient space to work was essential but had they given up the commercial ceramics before 1961, they each might have made more art when they were in their prime. In a longitudinal study of displaced persons in 1950s Victoria, the sociologist Jean Martin recognised that their pursuit of “money, status and security” was a conflicted drive. Income compensated for a loss of prestige yet supplied the possessions needed to attain the kind of status that native-born Australians accepted.[xxi]

Mental disturbance among displaced persons was common. The pressure to conform caused the sculptor Julius Kuhn to change his name to the English Kane and contributed to his suicide in 1962, aged 40. The depth of attachment to religion by émigré artists, such as Hans Knorr, was another way of coping with estrangement. By contrast, Karl Duldig drew sustenance from an adoring wife and adored daughter. He also protected himself by enjoying the company of his fellow exiles, From the opening of the Scheherazade Restaurant in Acland Street in 1958, Karl Duldig became an aficionado. The sketches he made of other regulars were shown there in 1988.[xxii] His spirit and physical energy further protected him from the depression often associated with the upheavals that he had been through. Yet those upsets made security a more attractive goal than it might have been had he been able to continue his career in Europe after 1938.

Art master  
Throughout Australia, the educational system was divided by social class and by religion. In Melbourne, the social line was drawn by a thin, beige river. Almost all of the city’s post-primary schools were on its southern side, hard by the posh districts of Toorak and the middle-class suburbs of Mentone and Malvern.

The headmaster of Mentone Grammar School, Jeffrey Thorold, appointed Karl Duldig as its art master, starting from first term in 1945. Wartime exigencies had pushed up Mentone’s enrollments but drawn away male staff, which improved employment prospects for a foreign-born Jew with thickly accented English.

Mentone Grammar had opened in 1920 as a distant relative of Melbourne Grammar, serving as a local preparatory school before its charges transferred to father’s alma mater. Not until 1948 did Mentone obtain the registration that would allow its students to take up government scholarships. A Mentone Old School Tie counted for little in the club land that dominated Melbourne business and professions.

Non-government schools were evaluated on their sporting victories as much as by their examination results. On this bias, Duldig was fortunate to be a tennis player. His other achievement, soccer, was not much played but his facility as a skier added to his appeal among the boys.

Duldig was also lucky to be an artist rather than a doctor, engineer or any calling for which certification was needed in order to practise. The professional associations in Australia required many immigrants with non-British qualifications to start their studies all over again. Because few Australians viewed art as practical, no formal qualification was demanded.[xxiii] Much the same applied to secondary teaching. Anglican schools such as Mentone Grammar sought masters with university degrees, preferably from Oxbridge, but did not insist on formal teacher training. In fact, Duldig’s years at the art institutions in Vienna were as many as those demanded for most professions in Australia.

That art had any place in Mentone’s curriculum was an achievement.[xxiv] Its youthful headmaster believed education outside the classroom to be as vital as formal instruction, sending his pupils to concerts, art galleries, libraries and films. The art-making facilities were no more rudimentary than those for other subjects. The Art Room was a portable hut, subject to secondment for any class in need of a roof over its head. Often as not, Duldig conducted his lessons en plein air. He fired his students’ pottery in his own kiln. In the words of the authorised school history:

Those who sketched, painted or modeled with increased confidence have not forgotten their pleasure or his powerful example. He encouraged them to make the School landscape and its features their own … For some, he opened up worlds they have never ceased to explore. [xxv]

In 1955, Duldig introduced sculpture as a practical subject for the three senior-form examinations, which the school by then had gained the authority to access internally. As Duldig’s own teacher had encouraged, he set the lads to work without models, carving directly into the materials. A newspaper photograph shows their subjects as recognisably figurative, not at all like the accompanying cartoon which joked about their being influenced by the bio-morphism of Henry Moore.[xxvi] The tone of the article, no less than the cartoon, indicated how any deviation from the norm was treated.

Where else might Duldig have taught? Victoria had no equivalent to Hochschulen devoted to the arts. Art departments in the Technical Colleges were oriented towards commercial design. The School attached to the National Gallery remained in every sense impoverished.[xxvii]

Sculpture as Cinderella  
Australia had no traditions or schools in sculpture, just isolated individuals. Of the 100 exhibitions in Melbourne during 1946 only three were devoted to sculpture. Matters improved the next year when the Victorian Artists’ Society held its first sculpture exhibition. In 1948, the sculptors reorganised themselves into the Victorian Sculptors’ Society, Duldig contributing to its first show in November 1949.

Although a secular Jew, Duldig had participated in Melbourne’s Catholic Centenary Art Exhibition in 1948. A Jew and a Jesuit combined with Anglo-Catholics in 1951 to sponsor the Blake Prize for Religious Art. Their aim was “to replace the cheap prints and the sentimental shams of mass-produced ‘sacred art’ that was frequently disfiguring” places of worship. The Blake gave no space to sculpture until 1961, years after the establishment of a prize for religious sculpture in 1955.[xxviii] Religious bodies proved a major source of commissions. At 1.86m., Duldig’s Brickyard Madonna (1964) in the tower of a Roman Catholic Church at Altona, in Melbourne’s west, was probably “the largest terracotta statue made in one piece in Australia”,[xxix] which had gone to the local brick works for firing.

Australia is not alone in making it harder for sculptors than for artists working in only two dimensions. The first Australian-born artist to gain membership of the Royal Academy and a knighthood, Sir Bertram McKennal (1863–1931), is all but forgotten. In 1989, when the Australian postal authorities commemorated the centenary of the most famous exhibition in the history of Australian art, four “impressionist” painters were honoured with reproductions of one of their works. Their sculptor colleague, who had shown more works than two of those painters, got no recognition.

As a sculptor in Australia, Duldig proved representative of the waves of refugees and displaced persons who came between the late 1930s and around 1960. In asking why Karl Duldig did this or that, an answer will be found in the responses of émigré artists as a group as often as in his personality or contingencies. By setting down patterns of émigré behaviour we can the better specify Duldig’s achievements.

Vincas Jomantis, Inge King, Hans Knorr and Andor Meszaros were four other sculptors who escaped from the insanity of civilisation over there to become active among the tiny world of professional sculptors in Australia. Each artist is peculiar, but each career overlapped in some way with Duldig’s: Knorr’s attachment to working in wood; Meszaros’s commemorative medallions were the financial equivalent to Duldig’s domestic pottery, as was King’s jewelry; Jomantis taught at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology while Duldig stayed at Mentone. Tina Wentcher had also arrived at Tatura in 1940 via Malaya and for some years made domestic-scale images of Asians.

Surveying “Migrant Artists in Australia” in 1955, Melbourne’s enduring newspaper critic, Alan McCulloch, began by noting that the émigrés had transformed the plastic arts in Australia. Whereas sculpture here before 1940 had been confined to the erection of effigies, it was now moving – slowly – towards a universal language. McCulloch puzzled over why Melbourne had become the gathering point of the immigrant sculptors  - was it because Melbourne had been “formerly notoriously lacking in public sculptures of quality”?[xxx]

A minority of the Sculptors’ Society pushed for a professional organisation to impress on architects and civic authorities the desirability of making sculpture into a public art. That faction succeeded in getting exhibitions for themselves, the major accomplishment being the “Six Sculptors” show at the National Gallery in 1959. That Duldig was never part of this cohort reveals the distance between his practice and the ambitions of the breakaways.

McCulloch’s article on immigrant sculptors relied on the 1955 Victorian Sculptors’ Society exhibition, after which he had referred to Duldig as “another artist of feeling”, but one who stayed within safer boundaries, expressing himself sometimes impressionistically, sometimes in an archaic style (‘The Prophet’), reminiscent of the work produced in the academies of Dusseldorf and Vienna.

He categorised Duldig as “an Austrian academician – but an academician of taste and discernment”.[xxxi] It is hard to know whether he intended the substantive or its qualification to be the more damning. McCulloch’s place as the taste-maker about town arose by virtue of his long tenure and broad sympathies. Yet he was opinionated.

Somewhat more sympathetically, a review of Duldig’s 1975 retrospective found him “most impressive when the figures have barely emerged from the stone or when it conforms, Maillol-fashion, to a generalised simplification of volume”.[xxxii] In his path-breaking account of The Development of Australian Sculpture, Graeme Sturgeon summed up Duldig’s influence as operating “through the example of his professionalism and his respect for his craft”.[xxxiii]

The niggardly tone of these comments was compounded by the paucity of press commentaries. The longest and warmest account of Duldig’s contribution was a review of the book on his sculpture that Slawa organised in 1966 when the academic art historian and newspaper critic Bernard Smith pointed to the traditional and Classical bent of his European works, adding that “Melbourne freed his style but brought a new uncertainty” in regard to media: “Sandstone suggested a sculpture of broad surfaces, gently unfolding … or a cubic treatment”.[xxxiv]

One reason for Smith’s approval was Duldig’s attachment to the human form as the basis for his art. In 1959, Smith had been the fulcrum for a group of Melbourne painters who exhibited under the title Antipodeans, and for whom Smith edited a Manifesto in “defence of the image”. Their target was abstraction which they characterised as “yet another attempt by puritan and iconoclast to reduce the living speech of art to the silence of decoration”. Their label “Antipodean” has left them with a reputation for upholding nationalism – even nativism – against the school of New York.[xxxv] Some did, but that was not their stated aim. Smith feared nationalism as proto-fascist. Like Duldig, the seven Antipodean painters did not pursue a photographic naturalism but sought to contribute myths relevant to their time and place.

Abstraction took a little longer to challenge the humanist, organic assumptions of three-dimensional work. In 1963, when sculptor Lenton Parr surveyed Australian sculpture since the war, he echoed the direction that their art had taken overseas by emphasising “formal invention”. Addicts of the allegorical had sought to keep up with the machine age, Parr alleged, through stylised gear wheels and radio waves before going nuclear in figures whose arms reached for the sun: “No matter how capably done, this is writing in a dead language”.[xxxvi] The next year, Robert Klippel returned to acclaim for balancing bits of junk. Welding took over from casting, before metal surfaces disappeared under coloured enamels.[xxxvii]

The new Victorian National Gallery opened in Melbourne in 1968 with a survey of the vogue for hard-edged acrylic painting and for sculptures in alloys and plastic. “The Field” show paid more than usual attention to sculptures – twenty-one out of the seventy-two exhibits – just at the time when the boundaries between the two- and three-dimensional were softening.[xxxviii] Duldig had to exhibit his innovations commercially a year later. 

A boost for sculptors came in 1961 when the Art Gallery at the regional centre of Mildura arranged prizes of £400 for a monumental piece and £100 for a mantel-size work.[xxxix] The director hoped to encourage architectural commissions, especially in Melbourne, where they had been fewer than in Sydney. Another £250 went on purchases. The entrants brought his gallery more than a moment of publicity. The population of around 12,000 promoted their town as the Sunshine Capital of Victoria, sited on Australia’s one major river, hence ideal for fishing and boating in its dry winter.[xl] To overcome the town’s remoteness, a local firm provided free transport for the 350 miles from Melbourne and twice that from Sydney. A local winery acted as sponsor.

The Victorian government had accepted a scheme to extend public galleries across the State with the proviso that each newcomer focus on one art form or medium. Opening in 1956, Mildura was allocated sculpture. The sculptors, in turn, accepted Mildura as another opportunity to promote their medium. The fifty-one entrants were thirty-one more than Duldig had said there were professionals in the country in 1955. He sent four pieces - “Composition I” and “Composition II”, both in stone at 26.4cm. and 24cm., respectively; a 36cm. terracotta “Prophet”, and “Magna Mater”, a 2.35m. red gum, priced at £525. The timber for “Magna Mater” came from a tree felled in the grounds of Mentone Grammar. Duldig missed out on  the public prize but Mrs Douglas Carnegie acquired “Magna Mater” for the collection that she kept on her family’s sheep station outside Holbrook (NSW). She also sent Duldig a load of logs, one of which became “Carving in Eucalypt” (1962), entering another of Victoria’s new regional galleries, the McCelland at Langwarrin.[xli]

Duldig exhibited at Mildura again in 1964 with four works including a bronze, “Eve”, and two terracottas, “Mother and Child” and “Pick a Back”. “The Knight”, at 50 cms, was grained oregon, with a knot-hole or two, yet planed smooth. Whereas most entries were priced under £400, Inge King asked £1050. Duldig’s highest price was £175. At the third Triennial in 1967, Duldig sent only one piece, “Draped figure” in eucalyptus at 240cm., for which he asked $2000 (in the new decimal currency), which might be read as “Not For Sale”, or an assertion of his value rather than a price tag.[xlii]

The fourth Triennial in 1970 was by invitation. With Christo wrapping Sydney Heads, there was no longer a place for Duldig. Indeed, from around the time the Mildura event had started, sculptors were shifting away from figuration. Duldig had also moved in that direction but the new taste-makers could not see past his reputation for figurative works and his fascination with terracotta, which to them seemed like craft. To Duldig, his medium was another homage to the Etruscan.

Old media as new
During the 1960s, Duldig continued to experiment with terracotta. At the technical level, he built up large figures or abstract forms by hand, without wire supports. These curvaceous structures served a double purpose. On the one side, they extended the ways in which he had long portrayed arms raised above his figurative pieces. On the other, they established an independent and individual line about the definition of space from every viewing angle. No matter how much the resultant forms grew to look like vines or tendrils, they never lost touch with the human or with the demands of enclosing volumes.

Of the 122 entries at the 1961 Mildura prize, only eleven had been cast in metal. This ratio indicated the expense and difficulty of moving to that state, and of finding foundries equipped to do the casting. Duldig was fortunate to work with Joe Lemmon and later with Peter Morley. Yet, some clay and plaster models were not cast until after his death, for instance, “Nefertiti” in 2002.

“Let the material talk to you”, Hanak had impressed on his Viennese students. From Singapore, Duldig began to feel the possibilities of clay; in Tatura, he encountered the demands of hardwood. Bernard Smith hoped that Duldig would concentrate on wood for he felt that Duldig’s most remarkable pieces were the ones

cut with an axe and tomahawk from red gum … [“Fragment” and “Magna Mater”] … Here Duldig seems to have stumbled upon one of the paths by which Australian sculpture might yet gain a certain independence and come into its kingdom.[xliii]

McCulloch also favoured new materials for new ends, and encouraged sculptors to take local raw materials as a point of inspiration.[xliv] Hans Knorr wanted to elevate “blackwood to the status of the oak in Britain”. The use of local timbers, he believed, “would make the sculptures more readily identifiable with our country”.[xlv] Duldig worked mostly in eucalyptus, considering driftwood, blackwood and oregon as difficult to carve though they too allowed great beauty.

The gum-tree school of Australian painting had once been its glory but that subject had settled into conventions too tiresome to recount. From the 1940s, an exchange of grotesqueries began. Surrealist trees looked metallic on canvasses by Russel Drysdale and Albert Tucker. Reflecting on these, and later on indigenous images, theologians argued that the artists’ struggle was no longer to represent what a gum tree looked like, but to explore what a gum tree meant, including what it could be made to convey. For a sculptor, those concerns were integral to the properties of the timber – what did its knots and curves allow a sculptor to express? Duldig’s attraction to rough surfaces in ceramics extended to wood so that its grains repeated the fabric of his terracotta madonnas. Going in the opposite direction, from the 1970s, his ceramics often appear to be latticed with petals or small leaves.

Ceramic statuary
The academic training that Duldig had received in Vienna had begun with students’ preparing their models in clay. That practice allowed for adjustments but these were constrained because the modeling was the first step before casting in plaster or bronze, or carving in wood or stone. In Singapore, remote from marble and from metal casting, he discovered that clay in the tropics would “remain workable for long periods”.[xlvi]

The Australian-born founder of the science of Pre-History, V. Gordon Childe, pointed out how the malleability of pottery-making had affected – perhaps effected - human creativity:

The constructive character of the potter’s craft reacted on human thought. Building up a pot was a supreme instance of creation by man. The lump of clay was perfectly plastic: man could mould it as he would. In making a tool or stone or bone he was always limited by the shape and size of the original material: he could only take bits away from it. No such limitations restrict the activity of the potter. She can form her lump as she wishes; she can go on adding to it without any doubts as to the solidity of the joins. In thinking of “creation”, the free activity of the potter in “making form where there was no form”, constantly recurs in man’s mind; the similes in the Bible taken from the potter’s craft illustrate the point.[xlvii]

The effect of this flexibility on Duldig’s sculpture is obvious in his large outdoor ceramic pieces, but it percolated to his use of other materials where surfaces seemed to retain the impress of his thumbs long after he had turned his last pots.

“The Prophet” (1953) is a 38cm terracotta where the skeletonised head is an exercise in spatial relationships. From the crown of the head flow the ringlets of an orthodox Jew, which also serve as side supports for the face. This re-exploration of the antique and the theatrical, that had been apparent in the 1921 marble mask, was only one of the scores of masks that Duldig made from the 1950s onwards. These small open skulls were at once memento mori and conjectures with space.

The mask as doppelganger haunted Australian art of the 1940s and 1950s as one more expression of estrangement. Sidney Nolan established his reputation from the mid-1940s with a series on the metal mask of Australia’s most notorious outlaw-cum-social rebel, Ned Kelly. Albert Tucker envisaged the national type as the antipodean head where metal, rock or hardwood took the place of flesh. Ruskin had lauded such blurring of animal, vegetable and mineral as the noble grotesque, which is how Duldig treated human arms and his branch-like abstractions. The juxtaposition of elements recurred in the contrast between his forms and their bases, which were often of a different material or colour, or askew.[xlviii]

Given the demands that school teaching and the pottery had made on Duldig’s time and energy, the surprise is that he produced any large-scale works before the 1960s. Yet the twenty members of the Victorian Sculptors’ Society recognised his achievements in 1956 when they voted him “Victorian Sculptor of the Year” for his terracotta “Moses”, later purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria, the first of his efforts to be selected for an Australian public collection. “Moses” stands 96 cms, with the tablets of the law above an elongated face from which a beard thrusts into his collar-bones. The figure rises upwards from squat legs through a tapering torso. The eyes are deep set, haunted. Again, the head is the most arresting element. Melbourne art scholar, Christopher Heathcote, later valued this “schematic figure, with its symmetrical pose, roughened surface and thick blocky legs” for its “forceful monumentality”.[xlix]

Which biblical moment are we seeing? Is Moses about to destroy the tablets, or is he holding them up so the people can learn? Duldig sought to convey the former. Despite the forward thrust of the right leg, his Moses betrays little of the “anger waxed hot” of the biblical incident where the profligacy of his people drove him to smash the Ten Commandments that Jehovah has just entrusted to him on Mt Sinai. [Exodus 32 (19)] Duldig’s figure is remote from the moment of restraint that Freud discerned in the seated version by Michelangelo who

… has added something new and more than human to the figure of Moses; so that the giant frame with its tremendous physical power becomes only a concrete expression of the highest mental achievement that is possible in a man, that of struggling successfully against an inward passion for the sake of a cause to which he has devoted himself.[l]

The power of Duldig’s “Moses” rests in the precarious balance between its upper and lower sections, as if it might crash onto the viewer.

Certain continuities ran from “The Dream” (1933) to “The Four Muses” (1957), to “Brickyard Madonna” (1964) and most especially to “Echo” (1972), yet they are also in “Kore” (1976). The elements most often repeated were the tapering female figure, the hands raised above the shoulders, and the fall of the drapery. More important is the persistence of a demeanour of feminine grace.

As Duldig approached his eightieth year, he revived favourite themes, such as caritas, and reworked both formal and narrative aspects of archaism. Age might not have wearied him but the plasticity of clay allowed him to work speedily in a medium which he had made his own specialty. Always fecund in moulding marquets, he now developed more small scale pieces through to a final state. Duldig had long developed a delight in children’s portrait busts. He entertained his young sitters by getting them to work in clay, thereby letting them express their innocent charms, a talent revealed in “Antony” (1970). The effort once demanded by working in hardwood, stone and marble, or required to achieve larger than life statements, was now lavished on his detailing of surfaces.

Public ceramics
Australia was the small house, wrote architectural critic Robin Boyd in 1952, deploring the result as “a material triumph but an aesthetic calamity”.[li] The worst aspects derived partly from a want of taste but also were the result of making-do with a jumble of the home-crafted and the mass-produced. Australia was a decade behind the US in the spread of affluence. The first wave of conspicuous consumption was driven by the revolution in plastics and the application of colour as a catalyst for commerce. Plastic was one of the few materials with which Duldig did not experiment, unlike his Viennese colleague and fellow refugee in Australia, Dr Arthur Fleischmann. On commission, Duldig produced ceramic reliefs, such as “Four Muses” (1957) for domestic walls.[lii]

In 1960, Duldig applied his mind and body to the largest of his polychromatic ceramic murals, “The Progress of Man”, on the front of 505 St Kilda Road, one of the blocks in glass and concrete thrust up in Melbourne from the late 1950s. The architect of 505, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Bernard Evans, was “very proud of the redevelopment of St Kilda Road as a way for extending office space”. That his plan demolished nineteenth-century residences along Melbourne’s principal boulevard disturbed him not at all because, as a poet put it, ‘Nothing shall be taller than Lord Mayor Evans, but insurance buildings”.[liii] The construction of 505 was managed by one of the many facets of Stanley Korman who was soon afterwards bankrupt and imprisoned for financial malfeasance.[liv]

The building at 505 was in two sections. The ground and first floors formed a platform on which another eleven storeys rested behind a a curtain of vertical louvres in gold aluminium to block out the western sun.[lv] The ground-floor face was a mix of glass and coloured sheeting. Set well back from the road, 505 was approached along a cement path beside ornamental fountains in a rectangular pond, behind which rested the main section of the Duldig mural, to the right of the entrance way.

In opposition to the principles of functionalist architecture, the Australian public, according to Robin Boyd, feared a bare wall. In 1960, he lambasted the besetting sin in the “Australian Ugliness” as “Featurism”, which he defined as “the subordination of the essential whole and the accentuation of selected separate features”. The result was “a nervous architectural chattering”.[lvi] Boyd would have chastised the tripartite look of 505 as “Featurist”.

Duldig’s art work was in two sections, both 6m. high, but with one 3.6m. wide, the other only 90cm. across. Both pieces consisted of irregularly shaped terracotta tiles. Firing a batch of tiles at a time, Duldig did not see the relief as a whole until they had been erected. Despite this fragmented method of making, his concept was universalising. In 1957, he had produced two bas-reliefs, “The Family” and “Adam and Eve”. He now developed a statement about human inventiveness. Moving from the lower right to the center top of “The Progress of Man”, he sought

to illustrate man’s creation and development: woman, the inspiration; man, the builder of the pyramids, the creator of the Gothic cathedrals and the engineer of the modern skyscraper. Overall the family symbolises unity, peace and progress.[lvii]

This brief statement reaffirmed Duldig’s usual depiction of gender in which his male figures were dominant and his Madonnas conveyed a nurturing form. By linking Egyptian, Mediaeval and corporate builders, he expressed a meta-religious outlook. The family brought the conception back to earth.

“The Progress of Man” gave Duldig his first opportunity to show Melbourne what he could do. This mural had the most claim he ever had on public attention for it was attached to “one of Melbourne’s landmarks”,[lviii] made the more prominent at night by floodlighting each louvre from behind to give a subdued glow.[lix]

The call to allocate a percentage of construction costs to art works should have guaranteed Duldig’s mural its share of enthusiasm, yet it received next-to-no discussion in the architectural periodicals. Early in 1961, the monthly newsletter of the Melbourne University Architecture School, Cross-Section, criticised the rush to blend sculpture with architecture during the previous three years, asserting that “Sculpture applied externally to buildings becomes meaningful only if it

(a) expresses a symbolism both self-evident and apposite to the building’s function or
(b) reinforces the architectural scheme by directing attention to (or diverting attention from) a specific architectural event, eg an entrance.
(c)But above all it must be a genuine work of art in its own right, however placed or misplaced.[lx]

Taking these three points in turn lets us reflect on why Duldig’s work was not welcomed.

“Progress” had no link to 505 as a block of multi-purpose offices. Had it been the headquarters of architects or builders its theme would have met this requirement.

b.         The position of the larger section drew the eye down to the doorway. However, Cross-Section complained that 505’s “vertical anodised aluminum louvres on the west wall seem to be constantly struggling for recognition against a colourful ‘mural’ on the ground floor. The last is indeed an unhappy choice”.[lxi]

A sculpture or relief might fail on the first two criteria, but still succeed as a free-standing work of art.

Anxious to put all his ideas into a single work, Duldig loaded its imagery.

Its narrative element of white figures were intended to be visible from the center of the boulevard, but drew attention away from the textured colours. The detailing of that background offered a more subtle statement about creativity, as became apparent from the smaller, figureless section. Boyd could have labeled the mural itself as “Featurist”.

The plastering over of “Progress” in 1991 by 505’s new owner provoked protests which led to an organisation to protect public art.[lxii] This outcry expressed a reversal in Australian attitudes towards conservation of the built environment. In 1960, the aim had been to send in Whelan the Wrecker. Only thirty years later, a 1960 mural could be regarded as heritage. “The Progress of Man” got more attention from its destruction than its creation because the definition of progress as growth for its own sake had been shaken by the environmentalist movement.

Duldig found another outlet in institutional commissions. For instance, in 1962, he became the foundation president of Ben Uri Society for the Arts (renamed the Bezalel Fellowship of Arts), established to foster interest in the arts among Melbourne Jewry. In that year, he completed a bronze relief for the Memorial in Carlton for the victims of Nazism. An inner suburb on Melbourne’s north, Carlton in the 1930s had been the hotbed of Zionism, hostile to the “Rolls Royce Congregation” south of the Yarra. By the early sixties, the area was being taken over by Italian cafes.

As with many in the Diaspora, Duldig had his concern for Israel refocused by the 1967 war. In 1968, he finalised his sculpture “Monument to Sportsmen and Women 1940-45” (“Dawn”), commissioned by Brith Hakoah 1909 (Vienna) and erected in Tel Aviv for the Maccabi World Union. McCulloch rated the memorial to be

competent but rather dull. It embodies the kind of sentimentalised symbolism found in Paul Manship’s bronze figures at the Rockefeller Centre, New York. The proportions are good, but as in the Manship figures, the lines and articulation are too flaccid.[lxiii]

Almost fifty years after Duldig had gone to Palestine to play soccer in 1922, he and Slawa went to Israel for the installation of “Dawn” during a world tour which took them to the USA and Mexico. Duldig’s participation in Melbourne’s Jewish life continued. In 1972, he provided a ceramic relief and stained glass windows for the Kadimah Cultural Centre, Elsternwick.

The years around 1960 would have appeared to Duldig as the fulfillment of his efforts to re-establish himself as a professional sculptor. In 1957, he installed a large relief in a private residence, followed by the “The Progress of Man” at 505 St Kilda Rd. He sent work to the inaugural Adelaide Festival of the Arts in 1960, to Mildura in 1961 and to a “New Influences” survey in Newcastle in 1961, thereby carrying his name beyond Melbourne. He gave up making domestic ceramic ware in 1961. The surge of major commissions after he retired from Mentone Grammar in 1967 demonstrated his powers in full.

Had he left his run too late?

In the late 1950s, Karl Duldig encountered his younger self when, after twenty years, the works that he had dispatched to Paris in 1938 were returned to him in Melbourne. The mature artist thought that his own face had come to resemble the 1921 mask that had attracted so much praise when a nineteen-year old student had carved it from Salzburg marble. Had its maker’s creative powers changed as much? Was the promise of those early pieces being fulfilled? This haunting was an experience not many artists would welcome, or from which few could emerge unchastened.

[i] Eze Nathan, The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830-1945, Herbilu, Singapore, 1986, chapters 12-14; David Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis & Jews: the Jewish refugee community of Shanghai, 1938-45, Yeshiva University Press, New York, 1976.
[ii] National Archives Australia (NAA) A435 1947/2231 contains his 1938 German passport and visas to Palestine, the Straits Settlements, Bolivia and China; NAA A367/1 C56800 includes applications for release from internment.
[iii] Hilary L. Rubenstein, The Jews in Australia: a thematic history 1788-1945, volume one, William Heinemann Australia, Port Melbourne, 1991, chapter 7; Paul R. Bartrop, “’Good Jews’ and ‘bad Jews’: Australian perceptions of Jewish migrants and refugees, 1919-1939”, W. D. Rubenstein (ed.), Jews in the sixth continent, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987, pp. 169-84; Suzanne D. Rutland, “Australian responses to Jewish refugee migration before and after World War II”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 31 (1), 1985, pp. 29-38.
[iv] Margaret Bevege, Behind barbed wire: internment in Australia during World War Two, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1993, p. 109; Joyce Hammond, Walls of wire: Tatura, Rushworth, Murchison, J. Hammond, Rushworth, 1990, p. 109; Hilde Knorr, Journey with a stranger, Collins Dove, Blackburn, 1986, pp. 48-51.
[v] Klaus Loewald, “The Eighth Australian Employment Company”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 31 (1), 1985, pp. 78-89; Salt, 6 (4), April 1943, pp. 36-39.
[vi] Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, H. of R., v. 170, 29 April 1942, p. 637.
[vii] Hilary Rubenstein, The Jews in Victoria, 1835-1985, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1986, pp. 177-78; Anne Longmire, St Kilda: the show goes on: the history of St. Kilda, Volume III, 1930-1983, Hudson Publishing, Hawthorn, 1989, pp. 94-149.
[viii] James Jupp, Arrivals and Departures, Cheshire-Lansdowne, Melbourne, 1966, p. 140.
[ix] John F. Williams, The Quarantined Culture, Australian Reactions to Modernism 1913-1939, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1995.
[x] Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass, The emergence of Modernist painting in Australia to 1944, APCOL, Sydney, 1979, chapter one.
[xi] W. Macmahon Ball (ed.), Press, radio and world affairs: Australia’s outlook, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1938.
[xii] Argus (Melb.), 28 April 1937, p. 9.
[xiii] Mary Eagle and Jan Minchin, The George Bell School, Deutscher Art, Melbourne, 1981.
[xiv] R. G. Menzies, The Forgotten People, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1943, p. 6.
[xv] Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1940, p. 7; Lionel Lindsay, Addled Art, Hollis and Carter, London, 1946 edition, chapter 2.
[xvi] Loewald, op. cit., p. 84.
[xvii] Paul R Bartrop, “Enemy Aliens or Stateless Persons? The Legal Status of Refugees from Germany in Wartime Australia“, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, X (4), 1988, pp. 270-80.
[xviii] Paul R. Bartrop, “Incompatible with security: Enemy Alien Internees from Singapore in Australia 1940-45”, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, 12 (1), November 1993, pp. 149-69; NAA A367/1 C56800.
[xix] Helen Bond, “The Duldig Ceramics”, The Duldig Ceramics, A Retrospective, Caulfield Arts Complex, Caulfield, p. 9. A contemporary ceramicist, Carl Cooper, found the “nice cream body” of Campbellfield clay “most sympathetic”, Clay Products Journal, February 1949, p. 7.

Duldig’s researches might have brought him into contact with another Tatura internee, Dr Leonhard Adam, a world authority then cataloguing the museum’s collection; in 1949, Penguin Books in Melbourne published an enlarged edition of  Adam’s Primitive Art (1940), which had inspired Cooper to confine “his decorative work entirely to aboriginal subjects”.

[xx] Lynne Strahan, Private and public memory: a history of the City of Malvern, Hargreen, North Melbourne, 1989, chapter 3.
[xxi] Jean I. Martin, Refugee Settlers, ANU Press, Canberra, 1965, pp. 17-25.
[xxii] Eva de Jong,  Scheherazade Restaurant, A. & M. Zeleznikow, St Kilda, 1992; Arnold Zable, Café Scherherazade, Text, Melbourne, 2001.
[xxiii] Egon Kunz, The Intruders: refugee doctors in Australia, ANU Press, Canberra, 1975.
[xxiv] Don Garden, The Melbourne Teacher Training Colleges, Heinemann Education Australia, Melbourne, 1982, pp. 167-74; Melbourne Grammar did not add pottery to its craft teaching until 1952,Clay Products Journal of Australia, January 1952, p. 13; C. E. Moorhouse, Challenge and response: Brian Hone and Melbourne Grammar School, 1951-1970, Melbourne Grammar School, South Yarra, 1989, p. 24.
[xxv] James Rundle, Against all odds: a history of Mentone Grammar School, 1920-1988, The School, Mentone, 1991, p. 198.
[xxvi] Herald (Melb.), 2 November 1955, p. 12, and 5 November 1955, p. 4.
[xxvii] Leonard B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861-1968, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 224-5 & 304ff.
[xxviii] Rosemary Crumlin, The Blake Prize for religious art: the first 25 years, a survey, Monash University Gallery, Clayton, 1975.
[xxix] Australian National Clay, 8 (3), January 1967, p. 23.
[xxx] Alan McCulloch, “Migrant Artists in Australia”, Meanjin, 14 (4), Summer 1955, pp. 511 & 514.
[xxxi] McCulloch, Meanjin, p. 514; Herald, 10 November 1953, p. 14.
[xxxii] Age, 24 April 1975, p. 2.
[xxxiii] Graeme Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture, 1788-1975, Thames & Hudson, London, 1978, p. 126; Ken Scarlett, Australian Sculptors, Nelson, West Melbourne, 1980.
[xxxiv] Age, 25 June 1966, p. 23.
[xxxv] Bernard Smith, “The Antipodean Manifesto”, The Antipodean Manifesto, OUP, Melbourne, 1976, pp. 165-67; Bernard Smith, “The Truth about the Antipodeans “, Praxis, 8, Autumn 1985, pp. 4-8.
[xxxvi] Lenton Parr, “Australian Sculpture since 1945”, Art and Australia, 1 (1), May 1963, pp. 20-25.
[xxxvii] Robert Hughes, “Robert Klippel”, Art and Australia, 2 (1 ), May1964, pp. 18-29; Graeme Sturgeon, Sculpture at Mildura: The Story of the Mildura Sculpture Triennial, 1961-1982, Mildura City Council, Mildura, 1985, p. 26; Gary Catalano, The Years of Hope, Australian Art and Criticism 1959-1968, OUP, Melbourne, 19781, chapter 12.
[xxxviii] The Field, NGV, Melbourne 1968; Humphrey McQueen, Suburbs of the Sacred, Penguin, Ringwood, 1988, pp. 184-196.
[xxxix] The Prize began as the Mildara Prize, named after the Mildara Winery. The title changed to Mildura in 1964. By 1967, the sponsor was the BP oil company. To reduce confusion, the event will be referred to in the text as the Mildura Prize.
[xl] Mildura: Australia’s beautiful desert city, Mildura and District Tourist Development Association, 1973;  Alice M. Lapthorne, Mildura calling, Mildura Gallery Society, .Mildura, 1965.
[xli] Mildara Sculpture Prize, Mildura Art Gallery, Mildura, 1961, p. 10.
[xlii] Mildura Catalogues, 1961, p. 29; 1964, p. 16; 1967, p. 14-15.
[xliii] Age, 25 June 1966, p. 23.
[xliv] Mildara Sculpture Prize, 1961, p. 17.
[xlv] Sculpture of Hans Knorr, Spectrum, Melbourne, 1976, unpaginated.
[xlvi] Quoted Karl Duldig, Survey Sculpture & Graphic Works, 1922-1982, Melbourne, Eva de Jong-Duldig, 1982, p. 15.
[xlvii] V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself, Thinker’s Library, London, 1941, p. 93.
[xlviii] John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, George Allen, London, 1904, p. 187; McQueen, op. cit., p. 187.
[xlix] Christopher Heathcote, “The European Intervention: Sculpture in Melbourne 1940-1960”, Roger Butler (ed.), The Europeans: émigré artists in Australia, 1930-1960, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p. 141.
[l] Sigmund Freud, Art and Literature, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985, p. 277.
[li] Robin Boyd, Australia’s Home, Penguin, Ringwood, 1968 edition, p. 8.
[lii] Australia Home Beautiful, March 1964, pp. 47-48. 
[liii] Foundations, 1 (7), 1960, p. 30; 1 (10), 1960, pp. 33-34; with apologies to Randolph Stow, ”The Utopia of Lord Mayor Howard”,  Bill Scott (ed.), The Penguin Book of Australian Humorous Verse, Penguin, Ringwood, 1984, p. 12; Judith R. Buckrich, Melbourne’s grand boulevard: the story of St Kilda Road, State Library of Victoria, Mebourne, 1996, pp. 128-37.
[liv] Trevor Sykes, Two centuries of panic: a history of corporate collapses in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1988, pp. 325-58. 
[lv] Property, March/May 1960, pp. 45-47; Architecture and Arts, April 1960, p. 38, shows the building before Duldig’s mural had been affixed.
[lvi] Robin Boyd, The Australian Ugliness, Penguin, Ringwood, 1968, pp. 23-24.
[lvii] Quoted Karl Duldig, Survey Sculpture & Graphic Works 1922-1982, Eva de Jong-Duldig, Melbourne, 1982, p. 28.
[lviii] Foundations, 1 (5), 1960, p. 61.
[lix] Australian Architecture Today, September 1960, p. 38.
[lx] Cross-Section, 101, March 1961, [p. 2].
[lxi] Cross-Section, 92, June 1960, [p. 3].
[lxii] Age, 23 July 1991, pp. 1 & 12.
[lxiii] Herald, 8 November 1967, p. 34.