WHEN Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia after the 2015 Liberal leadership ballot on September 14, the general public had only a vague idea what they were in for.
With no election preceding his elevation to high office, artist Tal Fitzpatrick, a PhD candidate with the Centre for Cultural Partnerships in the Victorian College of the Arts, came up with the idea of conveying messages from ordinary Australians through a quilt adorned with 121 hand-stitched messages to Mr Turnbull that all begin with the words “PM Please…”
Her initial pledge was to present the quilt to the Prime Minister once he was properly elected, so Fitzpatrick, armed with a swatch of suiting material provided by a friend and ties brought by participants, carried out a public project in Dandenong where 23 individuals stitched their own messages and Fitzpatrick stitched the remaining 98.
It wasn’t all that easy, since the art of fine needlework is long gone from mainstream Australian society, so Fitzpatrick, the granddaughter of a famous embroiderer-quilter, Dawn Fitzpatrick, came up with a simple series of running stitches easily taught even to the males who joined in the exercise. After all, aside from sailors, most men are not known for their embroidery skills.
“It’s a really rustic kind of hand stitching that I taught people how to do,” she says. The participants were a variety of ages, mostly contacted through her social media network, including some “confident crafty women.”
The result was a superb effort, a kind of snapshot of issues facing the Australian public in 2015, with a quilted image of Mr Turnbull and his late, lamented Maltese terrier Mellie at the centre of the work.
The central issues of concern in 2015 were not all that different from present-day worries – domestic violence, asylum seekers, same-sex marriage and climate change, although the latter was dealt with in different ways, some writing letters about the Barrier Reef and others about plastic bags.
Two stitchers were candid enough to write “please resign,” and “please stay out of my business.” Fitzpatrick is pretty sure the latter was a reference to the meta data issue.
“Two days before the 2016 election,” Fitzpatrick says, “I approached Turnbull’s office offering the gift of the quilt… Two days after it was announced that he had been successful, his office contacted her to accept.”
But fate intervened and after it did the rounds in an exhibition, the office changed its mind suggesting “best you keep it”. As Fitzpatrick says, “gifting prime ministers is hard.”
Today Fitzpatrick visited the Australian visited the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House to hand the quilt over to Libby Stewart, senior historian at MoAD, “on behalf of the PM and the people who contributed to this project.
It looks like a serendipitous move. Not only is it obvious that gifts to prime ministers would remain under cover in Parliament house rarely to be sighted by anyone, but by not too much coincidence, MoAD has a quilt made by Tal’s grandmother, Dawn in its collection—“Prime Ministers at the Marble Bar,” which features a portrait of every PM from 1901 to 2007.
Further information about Fitzpatrick’s art and the quilt project can be found at talfitzpatrick.com