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A portrait of Mike Smith

Jo Bertini, 8 February 2013

PETER STANLEY: As you’ll have gathered, Mike has developed a habit of approaching the desert not just as a scientist, not just to produce those publications over there, but he sought to work with creative artists. We are privileged to have with us today two of the visual artists, the painters, that Mike has worked with. The first of those is Jo Bertini, the painter of this magnificent portrait to my left. Jo will give us a portrait of Mike Smith.

JO BERTINI: I’m here today because Mike is my very dear friend and because he’s a fellow desert tragic, like the rest of us, and he’s asked me to do a portrait. As most of you would probably suspect, artists aren’t very good at doing what’s expected of them. In particular, I’m actually really bad at doing what I’m told. I’ve done what any artist does in this kind of situation, I’ve ignored Mike completely and I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do.

Mike, I’m actually going to give you three portraits. The first portrait is this one that I’ve painted. I don’t really need to tell you about that because it’s right here, so you can see it and you can read it for yourself.

The second one is a collaboration. It’s a work made by all your friends. It’s a particularly Australian portrait as we’ve expressed our love for you in a typically Aussie way. And that is, we’re going to knock you down, we’re going to pull you down to our level and sabotage your life’s work. [laughter] What better way to tell you how much we love you.

Everyone here may think that Mike’s life’s passion has been archaeology and deserts. Well, Mike’s family and his friends know a lot better than that. Mike’s done this extraordinary book called The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts but there’ve been a few mistakes. One of the reasons why the book couldn’t be here is we’ve had to make a few changes, because unfortunately the publisher Cambridge University Press made a few errors, particularly in the cover. I don’t know if you’ve seen this. This is the cover of Mike’s book. I was going to put an image up but I’m very unorganised, so this is the cover of Mike’s book. I think Peter Eve, who took this beautiful photograph, is here today. But there was a spelling error and it’s actually - June and I decided that we’d step in. This has actually all been under June’s instigation, Mike, so don’t shoot me. I’m just the messenger. You need to have a talk to that woman over there.

This beautiful photograph by Peter Eve, unfortunately at the last minute when we checked, the spelling was wrong. What can you do? So we’ve had to redo it. Luckily, we have a copy of the new book here today and, as you can see, they had left out an ‘s’ in the desert. Mike’s life work has been desserts, and I don’t think people have fully comprehended the passion that this man has for desserts. [laughter]

We’ve had the book reprinted. We’ve taken all the fluff out of it, all that stuff that no one can understand, and we’ve had some offers from Channel 10. I think this fits in more to the demographic that you’re looking at for your publication. Master Chef will be calling you any moment now.

It’s not just me and June, but there are lots of contributions in here from people that you thought were your dear friends. Dick Kimber and his lovely wife Meg have contributed a wonderful recipe. There are a couple of illustrations in here for you. The best way that we thought as a collaboration we could give you a portrait of yourself was through portraits of your friends, and food of course. We’ve sabotaged your book. The other one is not being published any more. We’ve trashed that. The wonderful foreword has been written very lovingly by the director of your Museum who has also contributed his dessert, because we all know a lot about desserts – it is not just you, Mike. [laughter]

John Wilkinson has contributed and Andrew Harper has contributed. There will be people in here I’m sure you’ll recognise and that others don’t recognise. June will have copies of the book so you can have a look at it. We’ve only got a limited supply at this stage, but it’s going to be huge. [laughter] So long as we all know, this is the second portrait of Dr Smith and desserts.

The third portrait was actually a work made by a very dear friend of ours, a wonderful artist and filmmaker extraordinaire, Louise Salter. She and Nigel send you all their love from LA, and they’re very sorry they can’t be here today. She wanted to give you this portrait that she made of you. The reason everyone is here today is that - it’s got nothing to do with deserts and desserts - we love you so much.

Date published: 14 March 2013