Fickle Fame

Infamy, Notoriety, and the Underdog

Walsh Bay, on Gadigal land, is today a bustling, vibrant arts precinct. But on 26 June 1917, as the ship carrying the body of ‘The Maitland Wonder’, Les Darcy, docked in Sydney Harbour, the silence was loud enough to rival the busy wharves that groaned under the weight of wool for export.

Several days later, as Darcy’s coffin was transported to Central Railway Station to travel home to East Maitland, the thoughts of the crowd of more than two hundred thousand would have been palpable; mourning a future that could have, and should have, been.

In some ways, the meteoric rise, fall and comeback of Les Darcy is mirrored by the artist of Judo-House part 9 (birdland), Nigel Milsom. Born in 1975 at Albury, Milson studied visual arts in Newcastle and Fine Arts in Sydney. Following obtaining his Master of Fine Arts in 2002, Milsom achieved critical acclaim as an artist, most notably as the winner of the Archibald Prize in 2015.

Bold, complex and striking, Milsom fills the contemporary Australian art scene with both personal and political pieces that exude a sense of power, prestige, and stateliness. Featured in the Maitland Regional Art Gallery exhibition ‘Shadow Boxer’ in 2021, Judo-House part 9 (birdland) is a large scale work that takes the resentment, willpower and feelings of the working class, that struggle, or fight to live, and embodies it in one of the nation’s most iconic sporting heroes.

Visually powerful in monochrome, Milsom has captured the essence of Les Darcy on canvas, perhaps seeing something of himself in the legend – something many of us can relate to.