‘I love romanticising our own city’: the Melbourne painting that’s become family lore

In our series on artwork in Australian homes, Ally Smith shows us the painting she was given first on a postcard – then on canvas

In 2017, Ally Smith’s mother wrote a birthday message to her daughter’s fiance. The note was penned on the back of a promotional postcard for an art exhibition that took place in 2009. “When I saw this birthday card, I was just so taken by the painting it featured,” Smith says.

It went straight on to the fridge, where it remains to this day.

Dog on Swan Street, an oil painting streetscape of Richmond station’s rail bridge in Melbourne, is the work of Cathy Drummond. Later, Smith learned Drummond was her mother’s old art school buddy.

postcard and photo
Smith’s love of the painting began when she saw it on a postcard on which her mother penned a birthday note to her husband. Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Not long after, Smith and her fiance booked their wedding venue – coincidently the very same gallery the card had come from.

It gave her mother an idea: she would get in touch with Drummond and buy a painting as a wedding present. “Mum thought it would be a really sentimental gift,” Smith says.

When she visited her old friend, Smith’s mother was astonished to find Dog on Swan Street hanging in Drummond’s home.

The artist was prepared to part with it and so the painting – and the story of its acquisition – became part of family lore.

Every time Smith sees the painting, she says, “it makes me feel like I live in a gallery”. “I love the idea of romanticising our own city. The detail is just so exquisite … and it’s just so quintessentially Melbourne.”

But the realistic qualities of the work aren’t to everyone’s taste.

“People comment on it all the time. It’s funny, some don’t like it. It’s quite polarising.”

Smith, a pharmacist turned interior decorator, is surprised by the reaction. “I think people tend to have a preference for the abstract these days,” she concedes.

Cathy Drummond painting
The real painting that now hangs above Smith’s couch. Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

It doesn’t change her affection for the work. “I will never part with it … It’s the most sentimental work I own and the talent on display is just so evident.

“It’s definitely going to be passed on to our son as an heirloom … He is already in love with the green car in the corner, being the vehicle-obsessed toddler he is.”


Doosie Morris

The GuardianTramp

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