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Margaret Woodward Self-portrait as Sarah Wisse, transported

oil on canvas

206 x 154.5 cm

Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Photo: Mark Mohell

Sarah Wisse was 23 when she was transported to Australia, for the term of seven years, accused of stealing one-and-a-half cheeses and a small amount of clothing. She spent much of that time on Norfolk Island, married a lieutenant from the first or second fleet, and, as Margaret Woodward puts it, ‘led a productive life thereafter … ten children’.

Wisse was Woodward’s great-great-great-grandmother.

Says Woodward: ‘The painting, as well as making reference to the actual presence of the sea, food and security for Sarah through the images of the fish, also alludes to the notion of the miraculous draught of fishes: by being required to put a net out on the other side of life’s boat, success was achieved together with a new beginning. In the Biblical story 153 fishes were caught. I have simplified this to a symbolic 9 (1+5+3=9). It is to be hoped that for Sarah the new life was an acceptable one and to her liking … her cup of tea, one might say.

‘The hints of text are like graffiti and are excerpts from Sarah’s judgement seen between the barred background. She carries a bundle in her arms representing the items she was suspected of having stolen.’

Born in Sydney in 1938, Margaret Woodward studied at the National Art School then did a Graduate Diploma in Education at Sydney Teachers College before embarking on travel studies in Europe and Indonesia. She won the Wynne Prize in 1971, the Portia Geach Memorial Prize in 1983 and 1984, and the Kedumba Drawing Award in 1990.

This painting is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.