The Great Homeric Feast and The President’s At Home

The Homeric Feast, 1990. Picture Credit: Dr Rhyl Hinwood AM

The Homeric Feast, 1990. Picture Credit: Dr Rhyl Hinwood AM

Being sculptors with an interest in the Classics, my husband Rob and I joined The Friends of Antiquity when it was established in 1988. Rob was one of the early Presidents. We offered the Sculpture Court at our home in Kenmore Hills as a venue for an event to raise funds towards the $100,000 capital for a Travelling Scholarship in honour and memory of its first Patron, Mrs Betty Fletcher.

When the day of the event, known as “The Homeric Feast”, came, it was a glorious summer day and we festooned the gatehouse entrance with huge branches from an olive tree that Steve Papas had pruned from his own garden.

We were pleased to welcome one hundred and ten guests, including members of the Churchill Fellows Association and the Society of Sculptors, as well as Friends of Antiquity and other UQ Alumni.

Quite spontaneously, most of them had worn white, sandals, and lots of gold jewellery. As the guests pushed through the dense olive branches into our front courtyard, they were presented with wreaths of olive and bay leaves, and proceeded through to the sculpture court where I had about ten tonnes of huge Helidon freestone blocks awaiting a carving commission.

In 1990, I had produced an exhibition of thirty bronze sculptures for the Lyric Theatre foyer of QPAC in celebration of the Thirty Year Anniversary of the foundation of Queensland Ballet. Among the half life-size figurative bronze sculptures was one entitled “Image Classique”; we donated an edition of this bronze to be raffled in aid of the Betty Fletcher Travelling Scholarship. The winner was to be announced the day of the Homeric Feast. We put the bronze on display with a backdrop of one hundred metres of white cheesecloth that draped from the overhead gantry and swayed gently in the air. The soft movement of these long, white cloths conjured up the atmosphere of tall columns in an ancient Greek temple.

We have often recalled Rob’s welcome speech when he remarked that academic titles were really easy to achieve: he had begun his Presidency addressed as Mr Rob Hinwood Esquire, then Dr Hinwood, and then more recently Professor Hinwood. Ever quick to reply, Professor Bob Milns then thanked Vice Chancellor Hinwood for his hospitality!

To the sounds of Greek music, we enjoyed a very Greek luncheon washed down with lots of Greek wine, and capped off by some authentic sweets made by a Greek Cypriot friend who regularly provided them for the Greek Club.

Entertainment came from a Churchill Fellow we knew. She arrived in a hand-painted long, blue silk dress, and donned the gold painted wreath trailing down to the ground that my mother had made especially for her. She climbed to the top of the highest stack of very large stones and proceeded to take on the persona of a modern Oracle of Delphi. In her Scottish accent, she enthralled the audience with some tales from the Iliad and everyone was so fascinated that you could have heard a pin drop.

Owen Fletcher, pictured at The Homeric Feast, 1990. Photo credit: Dr Rhyl Hinwood AM

Owen Fletcher, pictured at The Homeric Feast, 1990. Photo credit: Dr Rhyl Hinwood AM

One memorable photograph of the crowd of guests shows Owen Fletcher smiling approvingly.

The following year, to further aid with the fundraising and to appease the Roman scholars among us, we held a “President’s at Home” in our sculpture court. Again, we decked the entrance with large olive branches and festooned the sculpture court with trails of huge bunches of purple crepe paper grapes that my mother had enjoyed making for us, as well as several spinnaker cloth sails stitched together from a sailmaker’s offcuts.

A local chef took over my spacious kitchen and produced large trays of antipasto, pasta, and salads that were served by willing committee members, while thirsty guests slowly drained gallons of red wine from the huge green glass bottle buried among trails of real grape vine in a barrow full of ice.

Bob Milns welcomed everyone and added his wonderful humour to the gathering, and from the staircase outside, three glamorous young ladies wearing big hats and dressed in golden costumes entertained us with Italian songs and modern jazz. Looking back at the photos we took on the day, everything in the garden was so green and lush and I recall a brief, but heavy shower of rain that drove the whole crowd inside, along with the entertainers who had to move to a makeshift stage, the kitchen bench top overlooking the living room.

The first Scholarship was awarded in 1992 (see note, below)

I subsequently created a relief bronze portrait of Betty Fletcher, mounted on Helidon freestone for The Friends of Antiquity and displayed near the entry to the Antiquities Museum. A second edition of the bronze was cast for the Chapel at Somerville House, where she was first educated.

Dr Rhyl Hinwood AM, University Sculptor, Brisbane.

Note: The Betty Fletcher Memorial Travelling Scholarship is awarded annually to a meritorious student who is enrolled in a course offered by the School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics for travel purposes in Greece, Italy, Asia Minor or any other place that was part of the civilisations of Rome or Ancient Greece, for a period of not less than four weeks.

For more information on some of the work by the University of Queensland Sculptor, Dr Rhyl Hinwood AM, view the online database,  or the visit the University Great Court. In addition, Carving a History: a Guide to the Great Court was published in November 2016 (a major update to the earlier A Guide to the Great Court, which was published in 1979 with funding from Alumni Friends).