Ray Walker; President, Australian Journalists’ Club, Syd.: Wep’s 1958 Archibald Prize winner

Mr Ray Walker; William Pidgeon, 1958 Archibald Portrait Prize winner. (Photo: AGNSW)

WARNING: if somebody offers to sell you this painting today, do not be tempted. However much you might like it (and your view was shared by the Archibald prize judges in 1958), you should decline politely and call the police, because it was stolen from Sydney’s Journalists’ Club on Saturday. Bill Pidgeon’s portrait of journalist Ray Walker had been hanging in the club for almost 40 years. A more recent Pidgeon portrait of another club president, Bill Perry, was also stolen. The paintings went missing between 2.30 and 5 pm, club president Jim North said yesterday. Both were hanging in the dining room, which was unattended but unlocked because it contains the club’s only female toilets. “The painting is probably worth around $10,000 but it is priceless to the Journalists’ Club,” North said. He said it was either a “brazen theft” or a “stupid prank”. Pidgeon, who also won the 1961 and 1969 [sic – 1968] Archibald prizes, was a newspaper cartoonist who signed his works “WEP”. He died in 1981.

Ref: Gossip, Stay In Touch, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Aug 1996

Paintings Recovered

Police have recovered two paintings stolen from a Sydney club after a thief with a guilty conscience dumped them outside the home of an artists’s widow.

The paintings, one of them the 1958 Archibald Prize winner by artists William E. Pidgeon, were stolen from the Journalists’ Club in Surrey Hills.

A spokesperson said the paintings said the paintings of past club presidents were valued at about $15,000 each.

Police said a man telephoned the painter’s widow, Dorothy Pidgeon, in Northwood and said that his friend had stolen the paintings and wanted to return them.

Twenty minutes later, Lane Cove police received a phone call from a man saying the paintings could be found outside Mrs Pidgeon’s house.

Bill Pidgeon painted seven past-Presidents of the Journalists’ Club for a total fee of 700 guineas.

Ref: The Village Observer, Sep 1996, p3

We reported yesterday that two paintings by the Archibald prize winner Bill Pidgeon had been stolen from the Sydney Journalists’ Club on Saturday. Now they have been found. Dorothy Pidgeon, the widow of the painter, said yesterday that a man had phoned her at home late on Sunday. “The caller said he knew who had stolen the paintings and he now had them and wanted to give them back because he could not live with his conscience.” she said. Then Lane Cove police received a call from a man saying the paintings could be found outside Mrs Pidgeon’s home in Northwood. A police mouthpiece said the paintings were found unharmed and they would be fingerprinted before being returned to the Journalists’ Club.

Ref: Gossip, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Aug 1996

RAY WALKER, subject of one of the two W.E. Pidgeon paintings stolen (then returned) from The Journalists’ Club in Chalmers Street, city, was a legendary chief sub-editor of The Daily Telegraph in the days when Frank Packer owned it. Ray had been a dashing rugby centre three-quarter for Queensland, but put on a kilo or two in later years. When WEP was painting him for the club’s gallery of presidents, he found he could get him to relax only by positioning a schooner of beer at his right hand.

Ref: “COLUMN 8”, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Aug 1996, p1

Sequel: When the guilty thief called Dorothy, he advised her he was going to leave the paintings at her letterbox near the front gate. Dorothy advised him that she did not want this and told him to leave them in the shed down the road at Northwood wharf. When the Journalists’ Club folded a year later in 1997, the portrait of Ray Walker was once again mis-appropriated and has never been recovered. It remains stolen and hopefully it will eventually be returned to the Estate of William Edwin Pidgeon, along with several other Pidgeon portraits, which also went missing.

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7 Replies to “Ray Walker; President, Australian Journalists’ Club, Syd.: Wep’s 1958 Archibald Prize winner”

  1. Hi there. Ray Walker was my grandfather. He died a few years before I was born so I never got to meet him. The only image I have seen of him is the William Pidgeon painting however I was excited to see that you have posted an actual photograph of him. Could you tell me how I could get a copy of the photograph?

  2. Shaun, The photo is the only one I have. Dad must have taken it during one of Ray’s sittings. I have an old email for you but not sure it is current. Just email me privately and I will send you a copy.
    – Peter

  3. My apologies! I had forgotten that I’d posted here and so never returned to see if you had replied. I appreciate your reply. I couldn’t find an email address to email you privately but the email address that I have provided to post this is my current address and you’ll be able to reach me there. Again my apologies for not replying much earlier

  4. Hello Peter,
    Thank you for the photograph of Ray Walker. Ray is a cousin of my mother-in-law. Her memory is fading but she remembers her cousins well. Norman, Ray’s brother was a casualty on the “Centaur” which was attacked and sunk during WW2. Ray got Mum her first job in newspapers on the Brisbane “Telegraph” in the 1940’s. I see in the comment above that Shaun does not have any photographs of his grandfather. We have some childhood ones which I will message to your webpage. I am not able to upload them here. Mum is enjoying discussions of the past and our branch of the family, like you hope that your father’s portrait of Ray will emerge and we can all enjoy and appreciate it.

    1. Barbera thank you so much for your comment. If it is at all possible I would love to be able to get in touch with you at some point. I am trying to put together a biography on my grandfather and any information about him would be invaluable, not to mention connecting with distant relatives!

  5. The painting of former President Kenneth Slessor also went missing. As a Chatswood based journalist and President of the Kenneth Slessor Park Committee which successfully convinced Willoughby Council to name a park after him (next to Chatswood Toyota- their used car yard was expanded by knocking down the Slessor family home). I tried to find the painting. It was NOT at the Amateur Sportsman’s Club (now closed) in Hunter Street. That was the was the body with which the Journalist’s Club merged. I rang former Committee man/President Tony Curtis but he was unaware of its location. I had planned to facilitate the painting being given to the Willoughby Council Library as Kenneth lived his early and later years on the Pacific Highway,Chatswood. I believed the Library, frequented by Kenneth, would be a suitable place for it to be housed. This sentiment was supported by another former Chatswood poet, Les Murray, who told me of wonderful Sunday night dinners and poetry readings at the Slessor home in the 1960s..

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