Place and Journey Recollections An Interview with Dr Duncan Steed

Photo - Dr Steed2
Dr Duncan Steed

When Dr Duncan Steed walked into GFL, I’d never seen anything like it; painting after painting followed him through the doors, all meticulously wrapped and catalogued, and each one with its own dossier of information that he had been maintaining and gathering over the many years that he’s been collecting.

How fascinating, I remember thinking, what a detailed and thoughtful collection, and as I sat down later to speak with Dr Steed it struck me that those characteristics were synonymous with the man himself.

Primarily a General Practitioner and Associate Professor, it soon became obvious to me that he was somewhat of a philanthropist with a keen sense of humanity and a deep-seated interest in the human condition. For Dr Steed, becoming involved in the essence of a place and people is an innate characteristic.

Before moving to Western Australia 25 years ago he moved from England to New Zealand where he spent 15 years. It was there that he immersed himself in the Maori culture, learning their language, holding workshops and teaching indigenous boys in prison.

Many years later he moved from Perth to rural WA, York, where similarly he became immersed in and dedicated to the community. Dr Sreed is widely recognised by the people of york for his commitment and contributions to the local practice and healthcare facilities.

His first purchase of Australian Aboriginal work was a 19th century collection of artefacts. He was in his 20’s and over the years has given them away to family and friends, “it’s odd that I seem to do that occasionally.”

When he begun collecting Australian art his advisor pointed him in the direction of aboriginal art for its freshness and cultural value. “I didn’t really think of investment when I first started looking at Australian art but everyone said, buy aboriginal art!”

“Once you get to that point you should start looking at it a bit carefully because you’re missing something if you don’t.”

From that point on his collection grew exponentially, as did his appreciation for aboriginal art and people. It was refressing to sit and talk with Dr Steed, a man of 70 years who has a verve and curiosity about him and a vitalising wonderment for the indigenous culture.

It was no surprise when he told me that during one of his trips to Kununurra he met with Freddy Timms and had a lengthy chat with the artist, only to be told later by the agent that it was the longest she’d ever seen Timms chat to anybody.

“I’m now at the age of 70 where you have to look at selling collections because you’ve just got to that age, but I’m very happy that I was talked into getting more involved in aboriginal art because I’ve enjoyed it greatly.”

Dr Steed’s main appreciation for his collection lies in the artwork’s ability to start a dialogue with its culture. “I’ve always had them all the way up and down the medical centres and I’ve noticed aboriginal women talking to their children about the art and I’ve certainly had non-aboriginal people from overseas looking at the artwork with great interest.”

“When I took some of mine down to GFL there were quite a few people in York who were quite upset that I’d taken them all down, because they liked it.”

He describes works from his collection fondly with words like beautiful, stunning and spiritual.

“I’ve learned to love them now and I’ll miss them all and that’s just from getting to know more about aboriginal art, it makes you feel more comfortable with them. It takes away some of their criticisms and makes you more open to them as friendly communication.”

Although Dr Steed is selling a large portion of his collection, he has no doubt that he will continue to selectively acquire works over time.

Olivia Gardner