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Bernard Hesling (1905–1987)

by Tim Lloyd

Adelaide artist, actor, illustrator, humorist and writer Walter Bernard Hesling, OAM, died on Saturday. He was 82. By his many own accounts, there was barely a dull moment in Bernard Hesling's life. After launching his career as a painter and actor in London in the 1920s he came to Australia in 1928, setting up as a window dresser, "because the nearest thing to theatre was window dressing''.

He lived in the bohemian and intellectual circles in Sydney before returning to England in the Depression, finally getting a job as an art director in the film industry.

Back in Sydney in 1938, he exhibited in art shows, and became a feature writer for The Sydney Morning Herald, as well as a cartoonist, illustrator and critic.

He used to tell the story of the time he spent six months on a Sydney newspaper as a cartoonist, doing nothing but collecting his weekly pay. One day he met an executive of the paper who said he liked Hesling's work, and wasn't it a pity he no longer worked for the firm. "But I do,'' replied Hesling. He was fired the next week.

Hesling distilled many of his more enjoyable experiences in books with titles such as The Dinkumization and Depommification of an Artful English Immigrant and I Left My Tears in the Fridge. While in Sydney he also worked with his own ABC television show, variously titled It Happened to Hesling and Leave it to Hesling.

In 1962 he decided to move to Adelaide in the wake of the second Adelaide Festival of Arts. In Adelaide he continued writing, and developed his widely recognised talent for vitreous enamel work.

He always liked to be in the public eye, and could be seen on stage into the 1970s, when he appeared in his own play, My Life with an Interval for Aspirin.

In his later years he lived at the Helping Hand Centre, continuing to use a room reserved for him at Greenhill Galleries, North Adelaide, as a studio.

He received an OAM for service to the arts in 1985.

Determined to be different to the last, there will be no funeral for him, and he has left his body to the University of Adelaide.

Greenhill Galleries will hold a wake for him at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tim Lloyd, 'Hesling, Bernard (1905–1987)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

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