By Tom Harvey
1 Jul 2012
In the Dandenong Ranges, in the eastern suburbs of the Victorian capital, Melbourne, in the cool wet forests surrounding the village named Mount Dandenong, is the crowning glory of one of Australia's least known but most interesting artists, William Ricketts. Although never formally trained as a potter or sculptor, William Ricketts built a wonderland of his own sculptural works through which he communicates a deep reverence for the Australian landscape and its Indigenous people and their unique spirituality.
Born in Richmond, Victoria, in 1898, Ricketts settled permanently at Mount Dandenong in 1934, and began the work that would be his greatest legacy – William Ricketts' Sanctuary – the same year. Ricketts' deep affinity with the Aboriginal people and his attitudes about conservation were out of step with society at the time, which was deeply divided along racial lines and had an underlying push towards progress and 'taming' the great south land. His understanding of Aboriginal society, spirituality and cosmology was not based merely on reading and stereotypes – Ricketts made frequent trips to the Pitjantjatjarra nation in Central Australia between 1949 and 1960 and this informed his work. In 1970, Ricketts went to India, where he spent two years at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, an influence that is evident in some of his works.
Today, the Sanctuary is owned and operated by Parks Victoria, and is open to visitors for a small fee. Although Ricketts passed away in 1993, his dream and vision are still evident in his creations, and represent one man's attempts to find a place as a white colonial male with the ancient traditions of a rich and vibrant culture in a mysterious and utterly foreign environment.