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The Story of Graeme Stevenson OAM: Eulogy

As many of you from around the world were not able to attend Graeme’s memorial, we thought we’d share with you the beautiful Eulogy that was read.

The condensed and otherwise summarized recount of Graeme’s Story – 1958-2022

As told by sister, loved one and eye witness, Lisa Stevenson

On behalf of the Stevenson family, Grae’s partner Jo, and his brother John, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for being here today so we can share Graeme’s life story.

What a life!!! Trying to condense 63 years of adventurer, explorer, creative mind and philanthropist into a respectable time length for a service has been… well, impossible. So bear with me. There is no way I can relive every aspect of his life in such a short time. As one of his oncology nurses said to him many times “You should’ve written a book! You have so many stories to tell.” That is why his friends and loved ones are gathered, so we can share our stories, fill in the gaps, laugh, cry, relive the memories and honour the legacy that is Graeme Stevenson.

Graeme was born on June 29th, 1958 at Wagga Wagga base Hospital to Brian and Margaret Stevenson. They had no idea their little bundle of joy would be such a formidable force to deal with. From the moment he could walk, they had their hands full. His curiosity to understand things had them visiting the hospital on several occasions. When asked why he put his hand under the lawn mower that was running he said: ‘I wanted to see how it worked’.

His first introduction to paint was to swallow it!!!

On another occasion my parents found him on the roof of the house. He’d climbed a nearby ladder and was yelling out: ‘Look at me… I can fly like superman!’.

In 1961, I arrived to complete our family of four. The fact my parents had another child at all is, in itself, a miracle.

Our neighbour, Anne, had a budgie named Tweetie, which lived out the back of her house. One day the bird vanished. This budgie was to be replaced 5 times, each bird still being called Tweetie. Years later, in their twenties, Grae said to Anne:

“Remember how you had those budgies named Tweetie?” “Yes,” she said. “Why?”

“Well they didn’t escape. I jumped the fence and let them out because I couldn’t stand to see the birds in a cage.”

At just 5 years old, his passion for nature and wildlife was already emerging.

Whilst still in Wagga, Grae had a pet lamb and duck. One Christmas Grae asked dad: “Where’s my lamb?”

“You’re eating it!” Dad replied.

Not long after… “Where’s my duck?”

“You’re eating it.”

My family went to visit friends on a farm. Their dog had recently had puppies. They asked Grae if he would like to take a puppy home. “Oh no,” he said. “Dad will make me eat it.”

Grae started his first year of school at Turvey Park, Wagga Wagga. His ability to draw and create was now becoming evident. He completed his first drawing for mum and dad, which you will see here, at the age of 5. Based on the story Brer Rabbit.

In 1964, we moved to Canberra.

Mum bought Grae his first art book on how to sketch when he was 9. Grae loved that book. Mum hadn’t realized, but the book was in two sections. Half was how to sketch animals, but the other half, which you turned over and opened from the back, was how to sketch nude women. Mum had bought him his first playboy book… Which he proceeded to share with a class full of catholic school boys, much to the horror of brother Mark. Let it be known that while Mum was horrified, and feared the devil had gotten into him, Dad was full of compliments for how well he’d captured those nude curves.

We both attended Forrest Primary School. Grae continued to be the wild child. He was moved from the public school system to a boys catholic school, Marist Brother’s College, after the police had to rescue him from the back of the school bus. No, not inside the bus. He was riding on the back, holding on to the spare tyre, which is where they were situated on the old buses. He hadn’t even reached double digits in his age and he was still the little terror.

Whilst at Marist Brother’s, he formed a bond with Brother Mark, who continued to follow his career until his own passing. That was the tenacity about Grae. Once he formed a friendship or bond with someone, it continued for life. An acknowledgement to Grae, and his life’s work, is hanging in the hall of fame at the college.

Grae met his life long brother and friend, John Tilden, at 15. They worked together at David McKay’s hardware store. They learnt Kung Fu and were trained by Bruce Lee’s cousin.

At 16, Grae was teaching art classes at the local community centre. John was his model. Now, John hasn’t explained if it was a clothed or naked gig, so I guess we could leave it to the imagination?

In 1974, the family relocated to Pottsville. The Stevensons and the Elringtons had made a sea change move from the big city to a remote location, where they invested in a caravan Park called The Coaster Caravan Park.

In those days that was a long car journey from Canberra to the coast, with several stops. Naturally, it wasn’t a normal car ride. Grae had his pet Kestrel, Lady, which traveled with us in the car. He held the bird on his gloved hand for the entire journey with a cloth rag on his lap for her to poop on. At the caravan park he added to his collection of birds with Tamagine, a goshawk, and Sam, a wedge-tailed eagle.

Grae attended Tweed River High for his final two senior years. He formed many close friendships through those school years, and his friends are here today to share their stories later. Ian, our MC, being one. Like Marist Brother’s College, he is represented in the Hall of Fame at Tweed River High.

Still living in Pottsville, Grae drove us to school one day in mum’s little Ford Cortina. On the way, he saw a dead wallaby on the road. Already a dedicated patron of the art of taxidermy, he stopped and put it in the boot of the car, telling me it’d be a great animal to stuff. After the long, hot day at school, I raced to the car for my ride home. I opened the door to a smell that knocked me backwards and scarred my nostrils for life. All I managed to say to him was “catching the bus” as I slammed the door and ran as quickly as I could from the stench. How he drove home with the smell was beyond me. Not sure mum’s car was ever the same.

A year later, we moved to Banora Point. Grae donated two of the birds to David Fleay Wildlife Park, as he couldn’t keep all three in suburbia. Sam, the eagle, moved with us to the suburbs. Later, he too would be homed at David Fleay’s park where Grae could still visit him.

As his sibling, my life was never dull. Not many sisters get to stand on a school oval with a gloved hand, holding meat, and watch a wedge-tailed eagle fly towards them to land on their hand.

Following school, Grae attended M’Bah TAFE, where he studied carpentry. He was to meet the first love of his life, Janet, on the bus trip to TAFE. She was 17. He was 19. They dated for two years then separated in 1979.

In 1980, Grae moved to Sydney to join the NSW ambulance. Again he was to meet lifelong friends, such as Geoff Senior, who is here with us today. They knew each other for 42 years. In Geoff’s words: “He was a fine paramedic, using his skills and attributes of intelligence, personability, compassion and sense of humour. He saved many lives working calmly under pressure and was highly respected by all, including the Specialist Paramedics.”

Geoff recalled one of many stories about his time with Grae, and I’d like to share this one…

“We were driving to Surfers Paradise one night in Graeme’s white Pajero when we passed two people hitchhiking. Graeme said “that’s Jimmy Barnes” and pulled over 20 metres up the road. I said “bullshit.” He said, “No, it’s Jimmy.” Again I said “bullshit.” Grae said “I’ll bet you.”

It was Jimmy, who instantly took a liking to us. Jimmy was so cool, but his minder was a dick. The minder complained about Grae’s taste in music, laughing at the Otis Redding cassette, which was on the back seat. Jimmy promptly said that “Otis was one of his early influences”. Then the guy complained about the fox fur on the dash as being cruel, displaying it that way. Jimmy then said, “The foxes are a pest on his farm and kill native animals.” Jimmy invited us to his next gig backstage, where Graeme presented him with a lithograph.

In 1983, Graeme held his first Art Exhibition in Sydney, which was sponsored by the NSW ambulance and opened by Dianna Fischer. Following this, he resigned from the ambulance and moved back to the Gold Coast to pursue his art career.

In 1984, he shouted me a trip to Europe with him, where he was promoting his artwork to galleries. We traveled throughout Europe, then on to England. I returned home from England and he went on to the States to continue to promote his work. He returned home to the GC and in 1986 was reunited with Janet after 10 years. They married and had their beautiful son Taylor in 1989. Taylor was the apple of his eye. He was so proud of his boy and loved him so much.

In 1988, he was commissioned to paint every image for The Atlas of the Parrots of the World. The book was published in New York, USA. Printed in six languages and distributed in 120 countries. He painted over 170 paintings for that book, and David Galloway’s Gallery, on the GC, exhibited those works.

*1990- Grae took his family, Janet and Taylor (then 16months old) on a trip to Africa, India, Europe and England. My parents, David Galloway, his wife, and Grae’s mate David from the ambulance, joined them for the Africa/India Leg of the journey. Dave called me last week and recalled the story of how he and Grae were almost killed by a hippo and a lion on that trip.

The boys had gone on a boat trip with a guide to one of the lakes. The lake was so large you couldn’t see the edges. He said it was like in a movie. A canoe with them sitting single file, being propelled along by a small motor. Bubbles started to surface on the right side of the boat. The boys were excited, and a baby hippo’s head appeared. It was then they noticed the guide frantically trying to start the engine. They didn’t know why. They were just in awe of the hippo. They asked him, “What’s the matter?” He was in a panic, desperate to get the motor running. To the left of the boat, the mother hippo surfaced. Unknowingly, the guide had put the canoe between the baby hippo and its mother.

That’s the moment the boys realized they were in trouble. Dave said all you could hear was two grown men screaming as the mother hippo tried four times to capsize the canoe, and the guide frantically continuing to maneuver the canoe away from her. They managed to stay in and get away, but during the panic a part of the prop had been broken. Thankfully, the guide had another piece with him so it could be fixed, but they had to move to waist deep water, get out of the canoe to sort the prop, and stay vigilant as they were now in croc infested waters.

Really, it’s a miracle Grae made it to 63.

In early 1993, Grae moved to the States to sell his art and establish himself. This was where he met lifelong friends Tom, Steve, Ward and John. He was in a bar called Portofino’s in Santa Rosa, having a drink with a mate. His mate said ‘see that guy over there? (He meant Tom) He’s worth squillions’.

Grae, being Grae, went over and introduced himself. He chatted with Tom and found out where he worked. The next day, Grae went to Tom’s work to show him his artwork. Tom said ‘that’s very nice’ and, basically, see you later. One of Grae’s sayings was, ‘No today, doesn’t mean no tomorrow’. So he persevered.

Eventually Tom said… “How will I get rid of you? I’m going to buy one of your paintings.” Tom bought the painting and they became best friends/brothers after that. Tom was Grae’s mentor. Grae had so much admiration for him as a person and a businessman. Yet Tom will tell you that Graeme also had as much meaning for him as Tom did for Grae. Over the years, Tom continued to invest in Graeme’s artwork and help him throughout his career.

Grae asked him one day: “How can I ever repay you?”

Tom said: “When you get the opportunity, do it for someone else.”

CIYL was a tribute to that. Tom agreed that CIYL was right, but he never realized how many people’s lives Graeme would change around the world. Not only did he pay it forward, he paid it with interest.

When Tom learned of his passing he wrote this letter.

Here today with family and friends, we  grieve a passing. A loss.

Graeme Stevenson. Son. Brother. Father. Partner. Friend.

We share that grief, and offer our deepest condolences to all who loved him.

We miss him. The questing, well-read mind. The ready smile, the twinkling eye, the goofy faces. The good times and camaraderie. His playful sense of humor and the honest laugh that often left him, and us, in tears. His devotion and support, his thoughtful counsel. The gregarious nature that admitted no strangers, only friends he hadn’t met.

And of course, the jaunty cut of his jib: the sartorial splendor of his signature outback style of hat, sunglasses, goatee, and cowboy boots. He cut quite a dashing figure, did our Grae, especially astride a Harley. 

But with our missing there is gratitude, for it is a rare privilege to have been a part of an extraordinary life. A life worth celebrating.

Graeme lived passionately, loved, passionately. With his whole heart and mind. 

His family first, always, and more than words can say. All the branches of the Stevenson tree that grew from Brian and Margaret’s love. Lisa, and her Luke and Tanita; sons Madison, Taylor, and Harrison and their children, Graeme’s grandchildren. 

Jo, whom he cherished deeply and felt so lucky to have met. Johnny, whom he loved like a brother. 

And his friends. So many friends. 

And he loved the adventure of travel. He roamed the world to drink it in: its creatures, its lands and seas. People of every background and culture.

In these, his sacred places, he sought and found wonder and awe and joy. 

And these he brought to his painting. His life’s calling. His soul. It was a passion he shared with Jo, an amazing artist in her own right. 

His belief in the transformative power of art drove him to share with the world a feast, in vibrant color, from shimmering to dazzling, of life’s beauty. Put some Colour in Your Life, he urged, and, together with Sophia, Natascha, and the rest of the dedicated Colour In Your Life team, taught the world how, through more than 300 interviews with artists around the world. In the process he touched countless more lives from every walk of life, creating legions of grateful fans. Lifting people through art was Graeme’s dream, and he brought it to life. And, as I’m sure all of you know, 285 full-length episodes of Colour In Your Life will be going to the Moon as part of the Lunar Codex in November, 2023. 

Imagine that. Simply incredible. The sky wasn’t the limit after all. 

The impact that Graeme had will always be a part of us. In our hearts and in a trove of joyful, laughing memories, he 

leaves a lasting legacy. 

And so, dear Grammie, on behalf of all of your many, many American friends, in Santa Rosa, in Kenwood, and Petaluma, in Redwood City and Palo Alto, and Los Gatos, California; in Salem, Oregon and in Lake Stevens, Washington; in Billings, Montana; and in Peterborough, New Hampshire: Thank you for all you gave us. We will always remember you, with love, and with a smile.

Finally, I offer a quote from the gonzo American journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. You may have heard it. I think it fits Graeme pretty well. 

Thompson wrote, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

<pause>

Well done, mate. 

Well done, Margaret and Brian. 

Well done.

At the end of 1993, Grae came home from the States in the summer to see his family for Christmas. That’s when he met the second love of his life, Shelly. In Shelly’s words: ‘It was a wild, fun and very social beginning, and we loved being together’.

Shelly had been planning a trip to the States, so she changed her itinerary and Grae picked her up in San Francisco. They lived together, traveled together, and saw many parts of the world, but their wild, crazy romance ended in March 1995. They remained in contact ever since.

Grae lived in the States until 2003. He then returned home to Australia. During his ten years in the States he traveled all over the country, even buying a Winnebago to live in and move around so he could continue to promote his work. He held many exhibitions and appeared on US TV shows. He had so many adventures that recalling them all is near impossible. Getting his pilot’s license, parachuting with his mates, abalone diving, traveling to Alaska to photograph and film animals in the wild, flying under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with Dad and Tom (Tom at the controls), deep sea fishing with mates… the stories are endless. He loved life, and he lived it to the max.

[2000-2010] – In 2000, Grae met his first born son, Madison. Madison was 13 years old, born in 1987. Due to unfortunate circumstances, they hadn’t had a relationship until this time, but this was to change. Initially they spoke every few months, but as Madison got older and became interested in art, diving, and aquariums, they connected more. From the age of 25, Madison and Grae’s relationship began to flourish, and by the time he was in his thirties, he’d become a valued member of the Stevenson tribe.

In 2005, The Escape Fine Art Gallery opened, and it was soon after this that Bob Stainlay met Graeme. His work was so impressive he was invited to display it in the Escape Gallery, which he did for 3 weeks through Feb and March of 2006. This was well received, so he held a solo exhibition at the gallery in May of 2006, opened by Doug Anthony. It was titled ‘The presence of God in Nature’, and featured over 30 of his artworks. Graeme went on to paint his signature masterpiece, ‘The Truth’, at the gallery. This piece is 1.8 metres high and 4.9 metres long, depicting the timeline of human existence from creation to space travel.

In 2009, Grae had a book published about his life’s work to date, titled ‘Graeme Stevenson Journey’. It was also in 2009 that Grae was to meet the third love of his life. This is not to say he didn’t know many, many other women in his life, but the three ladies mentioned in his story are the ones that captured his heart in their own way.

Artist Regina Dolan, best friend to Jo Frederiks, insisted she meet Graeme, and so they drove from Mount Tamborine to John’s place, meeting for the first time in August, 2009. Graeme had a lot of admiration for Jo and her philosophies about animals and their treatment. He admired that she never wavered in her feelings about what we do to our fellow creatures. He helped her establish herself in the art world enormously, with two exhibitions resulting in international acclaim. He encouraged her to follow her passion, which changed her life.

2009 – During this time, a friend of Sophia’s, who had known Graeme for 10 years, introduced them. Sophia had just started her business in filmmaking. They were at the pub, and Graeme was invited to join them. Soph’s first impression? “Oh dear, who is this scruffy fellow?” He was slightly inebriated, unshaven, and had on a grotty T-Shirt that was covered in paint. The usual.

Graeme, being Graeme, did redeem himself. They began talking, and Sophia realized he was rather intelligent, had some interesting stories, and was not just a hobo!! He had his book that had just been published, and over the next 3-4 hours, Sophia read the whole thing. Grae told her she was the only person who had taken the time to read the whole book, and they connected.

In 2011, CIYL was born…

Grae was staying at  John’s home when he announced one morning: “I’ve got it! I’ve got the concept, and it’s called ‘Put Some Colour In Your Life’.”

A month later, he enrolled himself at Murwillumbah Tafe to do a film production course. He bought his own camera and began filming himself teaching artwork. On completion of the course, the students were to present a 30 second film to graduate. Graeme presented a 30 minute show; the first episode of CIYL. Dad and my son, Luke, helped him film the graduation piece, and a local musician created the sound track. My daughter, Tanita, helped him establish and maintain his website, and began the process with him that was to evolve into CIYL.

Following his epiphany, he went and spoke with Bob Stainlay. He shared his concept of using video to promote art. Bob thought the idea sounded good, so he sponsored the first six artists to be filmed, assisted with the production, and was part of many more adventures with Graeme both in Australia and overseas. Annette, Bob’s wife, was his makeup artist in the early days.

CIYL was in its early stages of development when Sophia offered to help him. Grae was initially filming episodes himself, but after Sophia sent him a documentary she’d done on Robert Pope about science and nanotechnology, he called her. It was a Wednesday in May, 2011. After watching only 3 mins of a 15 min documentary, Grae asked her to start work with him on Friday. So began a relationship that was beyond friendship.

Grae told me Sophia was like another sister, he felt that close to her. Together they filmed over 300 artists from around the world, including locals Ernie Dingo and Ken Done. They traveled extensively around Australia, New Zealand, the UK and America, until October 2020 when COVID came. That stopped them traveling but didn’t stop the drive to keep the show going.

CIYL would not have been the success it is without the contributions of Sophia, Mealie, Jenny, Tanita, Natascha, Jo and Frankie. It would be remiss of me not to mention these amazing women and give thanks on behalf of Graeme.

OAM – In 2017, Graeme received the Order of Australia medal. In the Australian honours system, the Order of Australia confers the highest recognition for outstanding achievement and service. Graeme received his OAM for his contributions and outstanding service to the arts.

One of his proudest achievements, besides his children, was the selection of Put Some CIYL by Samuel Peralta to be a part of the Lunar Codex mission to the moon, happening in 2023. He would say “I’m going to the moon Lise. I hope to be here to see that but not sure I will.”

Just over two years ago, Graeme was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder that saw his body slowing down. His mind kept active, but his body struggled. He never stopped fighting though. Always wanting to achieve that one thing more. He said to me once, “Lise I’m not ready to go, there is still so much to learn”. He said to Luke one day, “I wish I could put my brain/head on a robot so I can keep learning, for there is still so much to know”.

Grae possessed an incredible generosity of spirit. Whether it was teaching his artistic ways or encouraging creation and creativity, Grae always had time to give to those who needed it. From raising money for AIDs and cancer research, to donating the proceeds of his artwork for the victims of 911, Tweed Palliative Care, and wildlife preservation, Graeme always gave of himself and his art.

He was a family orientated man. He loved his mum and dad. He always considered my children, Luke and Tanita, as his own. He would tell people he had four children, Taylor, Madison, Luke and Tanita. He was so very proud of them all.  His children were with him when he passed.

Family to him was not just blood relatives. It was all of you here today, those overseas or in other countries. It was everyone that meant something to him.

He loved people. He loved to share a good yarn, laugh, debate knowledge, tell stories, teach people and leave them feeling like they were important. He strived to learn and seek as much information as he could. As a friend told me “Graeme’s charisma entered the room five minutes before he did.” Once you experienced that charisma, you never wanted him to leave your life.

In closing I would like to share some of his own words…

What really is the purpose of art?

I have always simply just tried to portray the experiences of my life and paint, draw and create ideas that I felt would evoke an emotion in another human being, and of course be a portal that my mind could wander freely through. My art has enabled me to live very comfortably in my head and taught me to see the world very differently from many others. To think so far outside the box that you wonder what’s on the other side of the universe. What’s past the last star and the last galaxy?

[Pause] You don’t have to go to war to be courageous. I think the bravest people that have ever existed are the people that lead their lives with conviction and passion and do what they do in silence and isolation. These are people we should look to for guidance. These are people that will teach us compassion and love.

Graeme sent mum a text message in 2022, late one night. He wrote:

Just wanted to say goodnight mamma. Not sure who will go first, you or me.

But in saying that my journey through life with my mum and dad has been so wonderful and the reason I feel people love me the way they do is because of the way you taught me how to love in the first place.

It circulates around like a giant galaxy, every star shining like the love we have had for people on our journey through life. None of this really disappears.

A lot of that love and the life that the universe has within it continues to expand.

WE are just part of that experience.

Love you,

Grae

I’d like to leave you with some final words from Grae himself…

Remember folks… Put Some Colour In Your Life…


There are at least three ways you can help keep Graeme’s legacy alive

  1. Be a part of the Colour in your Life artist archive by applying to be on the show

2. Enrol in his recently released online course Reach More with Video

3. Simply make a donation

Help us keep his legacy and vision alive.

2 Comments

  1. Wendy Manzo on June 27, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    Beautiful ❤️

  2. Nola Jones on June 28, 2022 at 10:20 am

    What a wonderful journey Graham! My sincere condolences to your family and extended family. We will all miss you. I have watched every episode from the beginning and have learnt so much, that I have taken on board, in my personal Art journey.
    Nola Jones, Moyhu, Victoria, Au.

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