Maleny artist Peter Hudson with his portrait of singer Paul Kelly in the National Portrait Gallery Canberra.
Maleny artist Peter Hudson with his portrait of singer Paul Kelly in the National Portrait Gallery Canberra. Contributed

From a little piece of music a big, important portrait grows

AN Australian song changed Peter Hudson's life forever.

So it was only fitting he used his artistic skills to pay tribute to one of the men who wrote it.

When the Maleny artist heard Paul Kelly's hit From Little Things Big Things Grow, something inside him "clicked".

It sparked a passion for researching the famous 1960s Aboriginal stockmen's strike in the Northern Territory led by Vincent Lingiari.

Just as Mr Lingiari inspired Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody to write the iconic song, the singer in turn inspired Mr Hudson.

Several years ago he used his artistic skills to immortalise the man who inspired his treks to remote central Australia.

Now the towering portrait of Paul Kelly hangs on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra as part of a major exhibition.

The Paul Kelly and The Portraits exhibition, which opened last week, is a collection of photographs, paintings and videos on the music legend.

The piece is the 2009 Sunshine Coast Art Prize winner's third to be displayed at the national gallery and now belongs to a private collector.

"When I first heard the song, From Little Things Big Things Grow, I was so intrigued and inspired to start researching the Wave Hill Walk-off," Mr Hudson said.

"I became so engrossed and inspired that I took a trip to central Australia in 1998 to two Aboriginal communities and from there just started going back regularly to paint and help set up an art centre.

"On my way back from my first trip I started thinking about how I could really make a comment through my work and I tracked down Paul Kelly and the song's co-writer Kev Carmody and an author I really admired ... and I painted a portrait of the three of them.

"It now hangs in Parliament House in Brisbane.

"Paul was so obliging. He just said he would do whatever he could for the cause."

Mr Hudson and Paul Kelly kept in touch over the years, which ultimately led to the painting now hanging in the National Gallery.

And what did the singer think of the work?

"Paul doesn't say much, but he did say that I captured his mother's eyes when I showed him, which is just wonderful," Mr Hudson said.

Mr Hudson will head to Sydney later this year to exhibit pieces from his visits to central Australia while Paul Kelly will be on the Sunshine Coast in the flesh at the end of July, performing at the Lake Kawana Community Centre.