Twenty year old Roy Fluke was studying to become an artist when he enlisted in WWII and served in New Guinea. His leg was amputated at the thigh due to a severe gunshot wound and he spent many months in rehabilitation hospitals. It was a sad reflection on the treatment of veterans that in 1948 he described the loss of his leg as an asset. He said that without a disability pension he would not be able to support himself and his wife on the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. At the time the couple were living on a  verandah measuring 10ft by  6ft. They were forced to   sleep in a single bed to make room for a wardrobe and chest of drawers. Fluke did many of  his paintings while sitting on the bed. To his credit he began to establish a reputation as an ‘up and coming’ artist. He had endured great adversity, so when a controversy arose about his painting of  the Spit Bridge in 1954 he viewed it  as just one more aggravation in the life of an artist.

Roy Fluke

Roy Fluke. Source – Getty Images


Construction of the current Spit Bridge across Sydney’s Middle Harbour was  commenced in 1952  and  not completed until 1958. which seems a very long time. It has a bascule lift span to allow tall masted yachts to pass under it.  This can be very frustrating if you are in a hurry and get held up trying to get from Mosman to Seaforth and beyond. 😨

However, there are positives to a lift span.   On one occasion it was raised in order to halt the vehicle of a hostage holding  bank robber.

But I digress.  During the construction Roy Fluke was inspired to create  an abstract painting of the emerging bridge, which he entered in the prestigious Mosman Art Prize.  Now Mosman  (my home for many years) was a fairly conservative  suburb and when Mr Fluke’s oil painting  was awarded first prize of fifty guineas the councillors were outraged.

Alderman Anstey was one of the strongest voices against the selection of the bridge painting as winner;

I think the council is getting its leg pulled in this contest, and it’s time the leg pulling stopped. The council started the contest  with  the idea of getting a high-class representative collection of original, contemporary works for a future Mosman Art Gallery. The results so far, with one or two exceptions, have been frightening. ……I don’t think I’m unintelligent or uncultured, and I’m not going to accept something as art just because it belongs to a cult enjoying temporary popularity.  (Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 1 1954)

The wonderful artist Lloyd Rees was guest adjudicator, and tried to explain his decision. He said he could have awarded the prize to one of  several attractive landscapes, but considered it his duty to select the most  significant picture. He said that in his opinion  Mr Fluke’s entry was one of the best abstract paintings ever done in Sydney and that it would have worth and value in the future.


Mosman Council last night decided by nine votes to three to ban abstract art entries from awards in future Mosman art prize contests. It adopted a motion that it was not acting in the best interests of the municipality or ratepayers in spending prize-money on encouraging ‘contemporary art’.   (Sydney Morning Herald Oct 13 1954)

Lloyd Rees was also vice-president of The Society of Artists and he was scathing in his response;

This ban will probably wreck the Mosman Council Art Prize as a serious competition. Any group that bans a serious and very important art movement which is recognized in every centre of culture in the world is reducing itself to a provincial level.  (Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 13 1954,)

The painting 'Bridge Construction' by Roy Fluke.

According to the aldermen the decision to ban such works was vindicated because when Fluke’s painting appeared in a gallery prior to the competition it was accidentally hung upside down.

The Daily Mirror’s art critic seemed to agree with Mr Anstey and his colleagues on the council;

The ‘moderns’ are having their fling in the eighth annual display of Mosman Art Prize entries at Mosman Town Hall, The general level of entries selected for hanging  by Lloyd Rees is incredibly low.

It seems safe to predict that neither aldermen nor ratepayers will be at all edified by the latest additions to Mosman Council’s art collection. 

Roy Fluke’s drab and posy abstract ‘Bridge Construction’ is reminiscent of the semi-obliterated pattern on a strip of threadbare carpet. Enid Cambridge’s dim and fussy sketch ‘Bush Creek’. conveys no other impression than that the artist has been wiping her brushes clean.‘ (Daily Mirror, Sep. 23 1954)

The Sydney Morning Herald suggested that Michael Kmit’s ‘Fellow Arist’  would have been a far worthier winner, but at least went to the trouble of discussing elements of Fluke’s  Spit Bridge interpretation.

‘The diagonal of the crane is excellently placed, and almost – but not quite- counterbalanced by the weight of the dark pillar. while the other crane , lost in tone against the background, fulfils no function. But let Roy Fluke beware of the uncompromising lines or the too even texture of his paint – both are capable of murder.

The painting 'Bridge Construction' by Roy Fluke.

Source – Mossman Art Gallery

I suspect Roy Fluke was feeling murderous himself, and he fired off a letter to the editor of the Herald;

Roy Fuke sent a letter of protest to The Sydney Morning Herald.


I’m not sure that the ban  on abstract art was actually enforced, but the next year’s winner was Hayward Veal, with a far  more traditional  style and subject;


Roy Fluke proved that winning the Mosman Art Prize in  1954 was no fluke (sorry, I couldn’t resist) when he won again in 1958.

Roy Fluke's winning entry in the 1958 Mosman Art Prize.

Source – Mosman Art Gallery.


The most recent winner of the prize, now worth  $50,000 was David Griggs (2023) for his confronting self-portrait, The Stitches and the Melanoma. What Alderman Anstey would have made of it we can only imagine.

Source – Mosman Art Gallery.




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