2001: There is a wall – 3.6 metres high, 50 metres long and curved to form a complete circle. It began its life completely white, but at this stage the painting is nearing completion. Broad sweeps of an airbrush have provided the under-painting of shades of blue for sea and sky, and as the year progresses the two artists spend many hours with increasingly fine paintbrushes as they work on details in the painted scenes. At this advanced stage the ship’s riggings are being meticulously drafted and painted, and tiny figures have begun to appear in the busy Portsmouth harbour scene and on-board ships. The interior wall they were working on was the centrepiece to the Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama, a 360 degree panoramic painting depicting the story of how the Bounty mutineer
descendants came to settle on Norfolk Island. The original idea was the brainchild of Islander Marie Bailey, whose travels had taken her to see a Cyclorama in Quebec, painted in the 1800s. She felt it would be the perfect way to convey the Bounty story, and developed the idea with two local artists, Tracey Yager and Sue Draper – owners of Gallery Guava.
Tracey Yager is a born and bred Norfolk Islander, descended from the Bounty mutineers, and Sue Draper moved to Norfolk Island in the late 1990s. Together they established Gallery Guava in 1997 to show their own works and encourage other island artists to exhibit.
Marie, Tracey and Sue worked together to decide on how large the Cyclorama building and painting should be, and which scenes would best depict the story of Marie’s ancestor Fletcher Christian, leader of the infamous Mutiny on the Bounty.
Meticulous preparation and research for historical authenticity underpinned each of the scenes selected to tell the story, and in June 2000 the two artists were to begin the painting, a process which would ultimately take 16 months. Towards completion, artist Glenn Douran also brought her portrait-painting skills to the work, and local jazz musician Rick Robertson composed a beautiful soundtrack incorporating traditional island hymns and sound effects.
Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama was opened to the public in October 2002 to wide acclaim, and rapturous comments in the visitors book include, “Most amazing tourist attraction I’ve ever seen’”,”Gloriously painted” and “Moved to tears”. As well as a host of awards and accolades, in 2014 Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama was listed in the TripAdvisor Top 5 Landmark Attractions in all of Australia. For many repeat visitors and locals, the Cyclorama is a touchstone to the essence of the Norfolk story, a way into something more intangible underpinning a story of relocation, of a blending of cultures.
“People do feel very connected to it” says Tracey, “which is very gratifying both as an artist and as an islander. We feel very fortunate that people have a profound response to the work.”
The precedents for the Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama can be found in the rise of cycloramas in the 19thCentury, where they were a popular form of entertainment prior to the rise of cinema. Often painted on canvas and transportable, the 360 degree scenes might include vistas of cities, significant battles or religious stories. In their heyday hundreds were exhibited around the world, including some in Australian cities. They declined in popularity after 1900 but significant historic cycloramas still exist around the world. In recent times the cyclorama art-form has seen a renaissance, with up to 60 new and historic cycloramas on exhibition around the world in any given year.
The paint brushes have long since been put away for Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama. Twenty years on and the large circular chamber is now a world-class 360 degree celebration of the story of the Bounty mutineers, told with the perfect proportions of artistry, elegance and drama. It is also a testament to the vision, hard work and commitment of Marie, Tracey and Sue all those years ago.
Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama continues to invoke the same feelings of awe to its visitors as it did the first day it opened. There’s no doubt this passionate and respectful telling of the Bounty saga has unquestionably earned its reputation as an essential visitor experience.
For more information on Gallery Guava and Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama please visit:
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 05 Issue 02, 2022. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.