DOB 8th December 1912 - Blayney NSW
DOD 28th September 2021 - Springwood NSW

Helen was born at Blayney NSW. From early childhood, pictures of Aboriginal people fascinated her. In the mid 1920's, Helen and her family moved to Springwood NSW, in the Blue Mountains, where she met Norman Lindsay. He encouraged her to paint and sought her to attend the East Sydney Technical College where some of her teachers were Douglas Dundas, Fred Leist and Roy Davies. Helen first visited the outback of NSW in 1948, then, year after year saw Helen visit all of the Northern Territory; parts of Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. Through her friendship with Michael Ellis and his wife Lizzie, a full-blood aboriginal of the NGAANATJARRA tribe, Helen has had the privilege of visiting special areas of Australia that very few white Australians have ever seen.

The natural affinity for central Australia, the deserts and its people is truly felt and is visible in all of Helen's works in the hardest medium of all to paint, watercolor. She is able to see and capture these wonderful people, dressed in a profusion of brightly colored western style clothing. Her paintings show the eternal dust and harshness of the area in the daytime, through to the happiness at night, where all the camp fire and dream time stories hold the mythologies and spiritualities of these ancient principles, especially in the eyes of the Elders.

In all parts of the central Australian universe, these people with their few possessions hold dear to their beliefs and traditions. This in turn features strongly in Helen's works in which she captures their wisdom, grace, simplicity, spontaneity and special culture. Despite her shyness, quiet charm and sensitivity, Helen Baldwin has an earthy humor and delights in reminiscing in her various journeys and their stories. She sees her art as a pictorial record of central Australia, its people and their ancestors who made the first footprints in this ancient land.

An outstanding feature of Helen's work is replicating some of her paintings into Petit Point (needlework). Her early works are a density of 1000 knots per square inch. Today, you can only buy canvas to 750 knots per square inch. Through this form, Helen has achieved a world first with scenes of historical elders, children and landscapes.

Her works hang around the world in many corporate and private collections, including the Duchess of Kent, Princess Alexandra, The Duchess of York, and former Presidents of the United States.


My father told me I was found on the 8th of December in Blayney (a town west of the Blue Mountains, hot in Summer and cold in winter) under a japonica shrub covered in red blossoms with the white snowflakes falling down. My mothers story was that the Doctor said here kiss your baby and the church bells were ringing. After twelve months in Blayney my parents moved to Gulgong and two years later my sister was born. Gulgong is an old mining town and there were mullock heaps every where like white ants nests, but have now disappeared. An old gold mine with a goat opposite the Public school which I attended – After rain people could be seen peering into the gutters and most had a junket bottle with specks of gold they had gathered. Always I wanted to draw or paint, my aunts autograph books were filled with grim looking fairies carrying a wand with a star on top and wearing a tiara. After Gulgong it was Mudgee High School. I hated my school years, I only wanted to paint. Two older girls and myself wandered all over Gulgong gathering wild flowers and climbing the hill behind the school.

My father was interested in all nature. He showed us how the trapdoor spider pulled his door shut when inside, how the birds nested and many other things. Maybe that accounts for my love of the bush and of the outback and my sisters great love of Botany. Then there was our mother who did the most beautiful tatting and crotchet and lots of other fine hand work.

After Mudgee it was Springwood in the Blue Mountains and we just about lived in the bush – the gulleys were beautiful and not much pollution. Sad to see houses where Lyre Birds courted and staghorns hung in the trees (and leeches!!).

When at Springwood I left school and worked with a commercial artist whose work was mostly film posters but he went to America. At that period of my life there were many dances in Springwood and everyone attended – we all sat around the hall well chaperoned by our mothers – Rose Lindsay always brought a party – she danced well and wore magnificent costumes.

Norman often came – he would enter the hall look around in his quick way and walk over and dance with me – I felt I was dancing with God – he was always interesting and kind and bought lucky dips – his enthusiasm for every little thing always amazed us all. Those lucky dips were as exciting as a treasure chest. We could barely wait for them and the contents, well, a cap, a squeaky blow out thing and a few sweets, maybe a card which predicted ones good fortune for the future.

Rose once came dressed as a gladiator, another time in Spanish costume with a black and red shawl slung across her magnificent shoulders and a comb in her hair. Fred Liest told me she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

Norman Lindsay suggested I go to the East Sydney Art School which I did. Went straight into the life classes but had to go to 2nd year design and modeling and the commercial art classes as it was essential for me to earn a living.

Douglas Dundas, Fred Liest and Roy Davies were instructing at that time – Raynor Hoff who died a few months after I began was making those large figures on the Hyde Park Memorial – 4th year I had a scholarship to college and was asked by Roy Davies, then the Principal, to set a course in fine Arts and commercial Arts for future Diplomas. However things were grim and I’m ashamed to say I had the opportunity to work for a commercial artist and took it and just left – that with many regrets.

Then came World War 2 and I married Eric Skarratt and architect whose family lived at Glenbrook, we had one son (John Skarratt) – but whenever I could I sketched or painted – was told I had a natural aptitude for both figure drawing and watercolor and to keep to it, I have. Rose and Norman Lindsay were kind and helpful. It was seeing Rose Lindsay doing some needle work for a screen that started me off with my needle point – as I very much love this country and all the wonderful things in it I saw no need to keep to traditional designs but to do some things that were Australian – the indigenous people and their way of life and the far away places they are so much part of.

My husband and I lived in a very small house known as Foo’s cottage for that is the name locals had chalked up on the front door.

It was the first store house in Glenbrook as the railway crossing was just in front of it. It was mighty dilapidated and had a bull-nosed iron verandah which one stepped off onto the street and an old Butcher shop on the corner – which we pulled down and for years and years nothing would grow because of the salt in the ground. Later we built behind this house as we had a garden and didn't want to part with one bed as we only had two silky oak trees on our block to begin with and we had planted so much. I had made figures in concrete a recipe on how to do it written out by Norman Lindsay and my husband had made a fountain use an old washing machine motor to work the reticulation. The little house was bursting at the seams. It was demolished with regret.

We took many trips out west along the western rivers – Barwon, Namoi and others. It was a great meeting place for the aboriginal people once – where the Rivers all come together to make the Darling also into Western Queensland where we had relations at Longreach – we visited the Paroo.

The black soil around Wilcannia fascinated me – the colors – superb grey green foliage; grey soil cracked from recent drought; the river with its creamy water flowing south; the banks showing marks of all the water levels and the river gums, grey with their dead branches blackened and as many roots showing below as there were branches above, all reflected clearly in the river.

It was in Wilcannia having a meal on our way to Broken Hill that I decided this was the color for my chair seats screen etc. and from then on I covered everything in our home (just about) that needed upholstery with needle point or gros point cols one never grows weary of.

For more information please visit the web site of HELEN BALDWIN

The following is from the
Issue 262
10th October 2019



At 106 years of age, Helen Baldwin is one of Australia’s most significant artists of her era, faithfully capturing the lifestyle of our Indigenous people and the Australian Outback.

Helen traveled extensively within the far west of Australia for more than 50 years, capturing beautiful and breathtaking images and stories of our First People.

Looking back over her career, Helen's achievements and exploits are in fact a pictorial and geographical journey into Australia's heartland.

Born in Blayney, NSW in 1912 and later residing in both Gulgong and Mudgee, Helen was fascinated by pictures of Aboriginal people.

This interest would become a life passion and Helen would subsequently create her stunning, powerful images of the Outback and the Aboriginal people, in both watercolor and Petit Point.

Helen has amazingly strong recollections from her early childhood, from hearing Dame Nellie Melba sing on the wireless (which had a large pink fluted trumpet out of the side), watching a bullock train traverse the town's main street and learning (and hating) the piano.

Helen's family moved to Springwood when she was school age and she remembers the Lower Blue Mountains town as a small village, with just a few shops and the Oriental Hotel.

Helen's family lived in a small weatherboard home and she would be schooled in Penrith, which was unfortunately not a fond memory.

Helen's life changed dramatically when commercial artist Wynne Davies asked her to work for him and she left school at 15, just before sitting for her exams.

Australian artist Norman Lindsay and his wife Rose were also close family friends and Helen fondly remembers artist Fred Leist describing Rose Lindsay as "the most beautiful thing you could lay your eyes on".

Norman Lindsay was also greatly impressed by Helen's natural artistic skill (stating Helen was better than her boss) and suggested she should attend the Art School at East Sydney Technical College.

Initially placed with second-year students and not settling in at all, a chance conversation with Norman Lindsay resulted in Helen being moved out of her group into the third-year Life Classes for Life Drawing, History of Costume, Stained Glass and Elementary Oil Painting, in addition to Commercial Art Classes.

After four years at Art School, Helen won a scholarship and began a course which would ultimately set the standard for future students wishing to do a Commercial and Fine Arts Course.

The students were trained to learn all of the body parts, muscles, bones and how the slightest movement of one affected the other.

Noted artists Douglas Dundas and Fred Leist were among her teachers, with Dundas teaching Life Form and Leist teaching the Painting Class.

Life at that time was tough in Australia and Helen remembers men walking up and down the Great Western Highway looking for work and queues outside the Post Office every week for the weekly food parcels.

The 'Great Depression' hit during Helen's fourth year at Tech and without the funds to cover her course, she would leave and take up a commercial artist position with “an Englishman named Wishart”.

The first two weeks were a disaster, with Helen making a mess of everything involving either a T-Square or a set square.

However, the opportunity to sketch faces during week three would change her work status immediately, with a rise in pay and now doing mostly figure work.

Suffering a bout with TB would stop Helen working for a short while but she recovered and moved into a flat with a female friend in Kings Cross, living there at the time (1942) the Japanese Mini Subs staged their raid in Sydney Harbour.

Helen had previously met husband­to-be Eric Skarrat on “The Fish” commuter train, traveling to and from the Blue Mountains and he would accompany Helen to all the local dances and regularly cycle to her place on weekends.

Seven Mile Beach was a popular picnic spot and Helen recalls walking along the base of the headland, almost knee deep in shell grit following a king tide, where "the ocean seemed to rise up out of it's bed and become angry”.

Eric and a couple of friends finished their Architectural Course at Tech and immediately went off to serve in WWII.

Helen remembers the men returning on their first leave, just flesh and bones with dark shadows under their eyes.

Eric proposed on one trip home and the couple were married in the Church of England, Springwood on 19th May, 1943 - a day in which 7 inches (17.8cm) of rain fell between 10am and 2.30pm.

Cars were bogged, the one taxi in Springwood struggled to cope with numbers of people attending the wedding and Helen was forced to run barefoot in her wedding gown across a small lake (which had been her front yard) just to get to the taxi.

Fittingly, at the end of the night, Eric and Helen were forced to travel from Sydney to Manly by tram, as no taxis or ferries were running due to the inclement weather.

Once home from the War, Eric and Helen moved into Glenbrook and a new life beckoned for Helen in the Outback.

Whilst now officially Helen Skarrat, she would continue to use her maiden name Baldwin for her art.

“Children of the Dreamtime” is a chronicle of Helen's time in Australia's heart, which is edited by Laura Murray with the photography of Helen's paintings and Petit Point work taken by her son John Skarrat.

The book begins with Helen's time in Wilcannia with husband Eric, journeying to the junction of the Barwon, Darling, Namoi and Paroo Rivers - once a great meeting place for Aboriginal people.

A friendship with Beryl and Dick Cowen led to frequent trips to Yuendumu, a large settlement on the edge of the Tanami Desert.

Searing heat, endless flies, brush fires and the lack of water would be trying but Helen described the soil as the most brilliant red I had ever seen and the country flat, with odd low hills and sparse vegetation.

The Cowens moved on to Beswick Station (near Katherine) and Helen recalls the Aboriginal people were quite different in stature to the “Central Australia people”.

Helen knew Susan Ellis from Glenbrook and after Susan had married Geoff Lawson and moved inland to Papunya (225kms north­west of Alice Springs), this region also became a regular pilgrimage for Helen's travels.

Helen was subsequently invited by Susan's brother Peter Ellis to visit him at Napperby, a cattle station of over 5,000 square km's in size and 225 km's slightly west of North from Alice Springs.

Michael Ellis (another of Susan's brothers) lived at Areyongo, in the MacDonnell Ranges, about 225km's south-west of Alice Springs.

Michael then moved to Mbunghara, consisting of a 2,600 square km cattle station and located yet again about 225km's from Alice Springs.

He later married Lizzie (Markilyi), a full-blood Aboriginal girl from Docker River, who would accompany Helen into many regions and places of Australia which were either off limits or otherwise inaccessible to most travelers.

Among other locations Helen frequently visited during her travels were Chambers Pillar, Docker River, Kintore and Maryvale, continuously capturing the beauty of the Aboriginal people, their craft and their lifestyle, along with the local landscapes.

“Children of the Dreamtime” is a book well worth reading to capture an even fuller outline of Helen's travels within the Australian Outback, as she recalls her travels, exploits and experiences in the heart of Australia in even greater detail.