No room at the Inn – or how Lloyd Rees came to paint at Gerringong
The summer of 1939, artist Lloyd Rees, his wife Marjory, and son Alan, aged five, were holidaying in the Southern Highlands. They decided to move to the coast, as it was so hot, and drove down to Shellharbour (Marjorie at the wheel; Lloyd never drove). There was nowhere to stay, neither there, nor at Kiama, nor even further south, at Gerringong. They drove along the dusty track through the lantana bushes to Werri Beach, and still couldn't find accommodation. But Lloyd Rees had fallen in love with the landscape, and in subsequent years, the family returned to rent houses in Renfrew Road, and encouraged their relatives to come too.
Alan Rees, who has recently visited Gerringong with his wife Jan in connection with the Lloyd Rees Festival to be held later this year, remembers sleeping head to toe with his cousins on the verandah of Hillcrest, in Renfrew Road. In 1946, Lloyd's brother-in-law, Stan Pollard, bought land in Werri Street, and built Calympa; the following year, Lloyd and his sister-in-law Win bought land next door, and built Caloola. The two cottages remain in the family, almost in their original state, overlooking Werri lagoon and looking up to the Omega slopes and Saddleback, close to Lloyd Rees Reserve at the end of Pacific Street.
While other members of the family surfed, or fished, or lay around reading, or played practical jokes, Lloyd painted. There are stories of Alan and his cousins going across the lagoon in a canoe to collect his father, a large canvas hoisted as a sail to catch the nor-easterly breeze as they returned for lunch.
So from the early thirties through to the year of his death in 1988, Lloyd Rees visited Werri Beach regularly. It was a retreat from his busy life in Sydney, and a source of inspiration for hundreds of drawings, paintings and prints. Through his Werri Beach art works, you can see him attempting a variety of techniques, and trace his development as an artist, from a 'Meldrum tonalist' in his early years to a joyful painter of light and colour.
This photo of Lloyd (Left) was taken in the early 1950’s with Alan and Jan Rees (in their teens) with Lloyd ready to go off painting. Apparently he never wore shorts, so he must have been preparing to wade across the lagoon. In the background you can see the Gerringong headland, and nearby, the house Salt Ash, which sadly is no longer there.
If you visit any major art gallery in Australia, whether it be in Sydney, Canberra, Hobart or Perth you will come across paintings of the Gerringong hills. Lloyd Rees has in fact placed Gerringong on the map..