Thomas Lawler was born in Bright in 1944 and began painting at Bright Higher Elementary School under the direction of teacher/artist Peter Burns.
After researching the evidence of what had been the worst race riots in Victoria’s history, Thomas Lawler decided to paint the events on screens large enough not to be ignored.
The screens are styled around the five elements of the Chinese world – METAL, EARTH, FIRE, WOOD, and WATER. It is also important to note that the screens represent an historical time sequence from the first screen to the last.
In 1857 there were over two thousand Chinese living and mining in the Buckland Valley. On July 4th the non Chinese miners decided to evict them from the valley, blaming them for the economic downturn on the goldfields. During the first 24hours most Chinese fled the valley, three dying in the process. This figure is often disputed as being too conservative. On July 5th Robert Burke arrived with a detachment of troops to quell the riot.
The Screens were originally part of The Buckland Riots Exhibition set up in the gallery in 1988 as part of Victoria’s Bicentennial Year celebrations. Following the very successful display which ran for 5 weeks an extraordinary meeting was held to consider a public appeal to purchase the screens.
A price was negotiated with the artist for the purchase and because of their immense size were hung in the Shire Offices until a mobile frame was built for them so that the screens could be viewed at ground level as originally intended.