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Gordon Syron

1941

Gordon Syron is a Worimi/Biripi painter, educator and activist who has been at the forefront of urban contemporary Aboriginal art. Born at Nabiac on the mid north coast of NSW, Syon was the eleventh of sixteen children and grew up on the family’s dairy farm in Minimbah.

After gaining his Intermediate Certificate in 1959, Syron studied Technical Drawing at Ultimo Technical College, Sydney. He then went on to become an apprentice electrician at the Railway Institute. Other early jobs included working as a lifesaver at Soldiers Beach Budgewoi, a truck driver and a PMG linesman. He also pursued his passion for amateur boxing which resulted in him winning several NSW Golden Gloves awards.

In the 1970s Syron was convicted for murdering his uncle’s adopted son over the inheritance of the family farm. While serving a life sentence at Bathurst Gaol Syron taught himself to paint with some pointers from a prisoner in jail for forgery. It was during this time that Syron painted his famous painting ‘Judgment By His Peers’ (1978), in which a white defendant faces an all-black jury and courtroom inspired by the judge during his court case refusing Syron’s defense counsel’s request for an Aboriginal jurist on the grounds that his client was not black enough to be considered Aboriginal.

Syron was released after serving 10 years and between 1982 and 1986, he helped set up Eora Centre, an Indigenous visual and performing arts school in Redfern where he worked as the Visual Arts head teacher. After leaving Eora, Syron worked for two years (1987-1988) as a lecturer in Fine Arts for the Aboriginal Education Unit at the University of Sydney.

He was the president of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in the late 90s. From 1997 to 2007 his gallery, Black Fella's Dreaming supported and encouraged new, young and struggling artists. The extent of Syron's work was seen in two retrospectives, the first in 1998 and again in 2004 at the Australian Museum, Sydney. In 2000 he was the artist-in-residence for the Australian Humanist Society, Sydney. In 2004 two of Gordon’s paintings were chosen to be displayed at the Athens’s Olympics and then toured to Beijing to be displayed at the 2008 Olympics. Also in 2004 Syron married photographer and long term partner and agent Elaine Pelot before the cameras of the SBS funded documentary ‘Our Bush Wedding.’