Pranas “Frank” Repšys

Impressions of Airey's Inlet
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Idyllic Impressionist


Born in 1924, Pranas Repšys grew up during “independence times”, with a strong sense of pride in national culture and democratic values. His experience of childhood on a prosperous farm in the north east of Lithuania gave his creative talents expression in making and building with his uncle, and the occupation years taught him to improvise. The beauty of the forest, rivers and lakes which surrounded the family farm gave him a deep love of the natural world.
He developed his artistic talents during the four years which he spent in the displaced persons’ camp in Frieberg where he studied painting at the art school which older Lithuanian refugee artists and craftsmen had set up in the camp. Some of those refugees also migrated to Australia and remained his friends – some in Melbourne, most in Sydney.
While he was in Frieberg, he had the intention of pursuing a career in art. He claimed that he was refused sponsorship to Venezuela because he wrote in his visa application “artist” as his occupation.

A photo taken at the Mt Moriac work camp by his photographer friend, Viktor Pranckunas shows Pranas about to set out on a ‘plein air’ painting excursion. However his family responsibilities made him turn to accounting as a more reliable way of earning a living, so it was not until he moved to Lower Plenty, that he was able to indulge in artistic pursuits. There he met and was befriended by Lindsay Edward, head of painting at RMIT, David Newbury, head of art at Melbourne Teachers’ College and David Keys, owner of Art Spectrum.
Pranas quickly became involved with the the artistic community and the cultural life of the Eltham district. He learned pottery, and built himself a kiln and potting shed, as well as starting painting again. He also volunteered to be treasurer of Eltham Little Theatre. He didn’t resume painting seriously until he had separated from his wife and moved to StKilda.
Throughout all this time, he remained in contact with Viktor Simankevičius in Melbourne and Henry Šalkaukas in Sydney. While in StKilda, he renewed his acquaintance with the sculptor, Juozas Zikaras, and rejoined the Lithuanian Club in Melbourne. This enabled him to begin to connect with the Lithuanian artistic community in Melbourne.
He started painting again when he and his partner built a holiday house at Aireys Inlet, and he had left Ford Motor Coy and joined David Keys at Art Spectrum. From 1987 onwards through most of the 1990’s he joined David Newbury, David Keys and others on ‘plein air’ painting excursions on most weekends. While he continued painting until about 2013, the canvasses which he produced
with the 2 David’s are his best. It is interesting to compare his paintings with those of David Newbury of the same subject, particularly how each artist saw the colour green.
While at Aireys, he also dabbled in mosaics and using found objects – driftwood, shells, leaves and other ‘stuff’ – to create sculptures and wall decorations. He entered his works in local art shows on the Surfcoast and in Geelong, but didn’t enjoy great commercial success. Pranas’ works are held by his Estate.

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Frank’s Story


Frank was born in Lithuania in 1924 when the country was independent from Russia. He was born on a farm to a prosperous family in the village of Kaimyniai (Kaymeenay).
Sometime during his childhood, his father moved their immediate family, his mother, himself and his younger sister to the nearby town of Uzpaliai (Ooshparlay) in the northeast region of the country. There he did his primary schooling and became friends with the 3 sons of the Seibutis family. He went to High School in Utena, then Commercial College in Panavezys (Panavergees). (soft g). He enjoyed a very happy childhood. He loved helping his uncle around the farm and building things; he also loved roaming in the huge forest behind the farm, gathering blueberries and raspberries in spring and mushrooms in autumn and summers were spent swimming in the lake near the farm, and sailing with his pals on a nearby larger lake, also swimming in the river at Uzpaliai.
In 1939, the Soviet Union(Russia) occupied Lithuania under the terms of the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact. Frank was about 15 at the time. After a year, Hitler invaded Russia, so Germany occupied Lithuania from 1940 to the spring of 1944 when the German army
withdrew ahead of the Soviet reoccupation of the country. For a brief period, Frank joined the small, hastily assembled Lithuania army which tried to resist (uselessly) the Russian advance. At that point, Frank fled on foot through East Prussia and caught up with the retreating German army. From there he escaped south on an army goods train as far as Bratislava in Slovakia. He stayed there from Xmas, 1944 until the advancing Russian army began closing in. So he fled, again on foot, west through Austria as far as the
German border in the Alps.

From 1945 to early1949 he lived and studied art (painting mainly oils) in a Displaced Persons’ camp near Frieberg in the French Zone of occupied Germany.

In May 1949 he arrived in Melbourne as a refugee under Caldwell’s post-war migration scheme. His first job for the government was clearing the Geelong water supply channels with a horse drawn scoop. He lived in a camp at Mt Moriac. There is a wonderful photo of him at that camp in the photo show. Frank’s love affair with the Surfcoast and its hinterland started shortly after his arrival at Mt Moriac. He spent his first Xmas in Australia camping at Torquay with a friend. Shortly after he moved to Geelong to a job at Hume Pipes, then found work as a tally clerk with Elders Smith. His fascination with motor cycles began then but didn’t last. One wet evening after work, he collided with a taxi somewhere near the Carlton Hotel and ended up with a broken leg in Geelong Hospital in a ward where, on one side were elderly Australians and on the other, the accident victims whom the nurses dubbed “temporary Australians”!

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Moving to Victoria

Early Australian Life


At about this time, the wife whom he had left behind in Germany, joined him with his son Algis who was a toddler. So, with a family to support he studied first Leaving (Yr 11) English, then Accountancy by correspondence, and also worked in the evenings as an
usher at picture theatres, including at Anglesea. In 1953, a daughter, Danute, was born.

Frank’s study paid off as he rose to be Chief Accountant at Elders Smith. But around then he began suffering severe back pains to relieve which, his doctor advised moving to a drier, warmer climate. So he took a position in Cobram on the Murray, where he worked for 2 years as accountant for the Murray-Goulburn Co-op. However he missed the cooler climate of Geelong and took a job in the accounts dept. of the Ford Motor Coy where he worked for the next 20 years.

With the assistance of his good friend, Neil Davidson, he bought a block of land at Highton and I believe a builder named Šutis, father of my bridge partner, built the first house Frank owned, which still stands on the hill overlooking the shopping centre and on the hill on the other side stands a little Anglican Church where the children attended Sunday school, much to the disapproval of the local parish priest. Further up Roslyn Rd. the children went to Belmont Primary School. Life for the family was busy – a garden to be established and a tee-tree front fence to be erected. Frank and Algis cut the stakes themselves in the bush behind Anglesea. And happy holidays were spent at Fairhaven with the Davidsons.

Weekends in summer canoeing on the Barwon near the family home.
Meanwhile Frank’s career at Ford progressed. The Coy moved head office to Melbourne while Broadmeadows was being built. Frank commuted to work on The Geelong Flier for a couple years, then, in 1964, he and the family moved to Eltham to rent while Alistair Knox built for them at Lower Plenty Frank’s second house. Frank then extended the house in mud bricks which he and Algis made on site. The children, now teenagers continued their education at Eltham High where they met and established lifelong friendships, and a new chapter in their lives commenced.

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Bees, wine and cheese

An adventure into colour


MY LIFE WITH FRANK – by his partner, Alison Witcombe.

To me Frank Pranas Repsys was a remarkable man. Many of the tributes that I’ve received say that he was a lovely man. Vaya at the Store told me that he was a gentleman But, like all of us, he had his faults. On one occasion at Ford he was giving his staff a pep
talk and concluded by saying that if they didn’t lift their game, “I can become quite difficult” to which one of the staff quipped, “You already are!”
We met and fell in love in 1972. At the time Frank was setting up the Ford truck plant at Broadmeadows and I was the Daily organizer at my school. By 1974 we were living together in St Kilda and we have spent the past 40+ years, enjoying one another, sharingmany interests and passions, with Frank introducing me to the joys of camping in the bushand travelling around our beautiful countryside. We both love good food, good wine, the theatre, music, the arts and travelling both here and abroad – in the ’80’s in Italy and in France which we both love, then, when Lithuania gained its independence in 1990 we visited there . For Frank, this was marvellous. When I met him he never expected to see his homeland or family there again. In 1993, we were married in Lithuania and we returned in the Northern summer every 2nd year until 2008. During that time, we also visited Bavaria, Austria, Vietnam and New Caledonia. Within Australia we toured parts of South Australia, Tasmania, and parts of Queensland, Northern Territory and West Aust. in some cases camping, and others by train. Frank adored train travel. In recent times, we’ve been spending a part of late winter on our beloved Magnetic Island.
Frank was a doer, a man with many gifts which he used to help others. He had a passion for building which started in his youth on the family farm. In 1986 we bought land in Aireys and had a kit house built, which he tiled and painted, again with some help from Algis.
Then, over the time, he added rooms on the ground floor using, for the most part, recycled materials. His last project was a potting shed which he and Kaz built in the back yard here.

While he was a very practical man who could solve all sorts of design and construction problems, he also adored painting and the arts generally. In his 4 years as a D.P. in Freiburg, he studied painting at the Art school set up in the camp by former prominent
artists from Lithuania. He started painting seriously again in Lower Plenty, where he was befriended by artists, Lindsay Edward, David Newbury and David Keys. He also learned pottery and built his own potting shed. Once we began weekending at Aireys, he was out painting “en plein air” with the 2 Davids and others. He continued producing canvasses which he stretched and framed himself until 2018. At Aireys, he also enjoyed making mosaics from the boxes of bin end tiles which Danute salvaged from the Eltham store where she worked.
He was not one for organized team sport, but he loved hiking in the bush. He took the children to places like Wilson’s Prom, and here on the coast he loved going on Angair walks. He also loved canoeing and rowing on the Barwon. But best of all, he loved
fishing. In the early days in Geelong he and Victor Pranscunas used to fish Lake Connewarre for eels which they then smoked. We have even smoked fish here in our wood fired BBQ at Aireys. And he was quite successful at spearing flounder at Sandy Gully beach near our house. We never went on holidays here or abroad without packing some fishing gear and his collapsable rod. His other sporting interest was Petanque which we learned to play through Alliance Francaise.
He enjoyed growing vegetables, again a skill he learned on the family farm. One year when he was living at Highton, he and Neil Davidson decided to grow a commercial crop of cucumbers, and produced a bumper crop. but so did everyone else that season.
Not only did Frank love to eat good food, he loved cooking. I don’t think his kids liked his cabbage, but for me he made the best buckwheat pancakes, and, in my opinion he is the best BBQ chef I know. In the ’90’s we enjoyed a number of George Biron’s cooking classes at Sunnybrae, where Frank learned to make gravlax. He made his last lot only a fortnight ago. He was a dab hand at pickles too, especially pickled cucumbers and wild mushrooms which we used to gather in autumn in the pine forests out Bambra way. In 2000 he learned to make cheese at Lara and he taught his nephew in Lithuania, so Kestutis could make extra income for the farm. Sadly Frank couldn’t continue his efforts here because of the difficulty of obtaining raw unpasteurized milk. Another of Frank’s projects was beekeeping. His father had taught him how to look after the hives on the farm. In Australia, he had a beehive down by the river at Highton. He also set up a beehive in our backyard at Aireys with the help of Peter Morgan. That venture nearly
ended in disaster when he suffered multiple beestings, so the hive went, When I met Frank one of the first questions which he asked me was “Did I like red wine?” which I do. In the following years we spent many happy weekends with friends and holidays both here in Victoria and in South Australia visiting wineries to sample their products. He started bottling bulk wine in Lower Plenty and continued with me in the ’70’s and ’80’s. We attended a wine appreciation course run by Ian Hickenbotham, the great Australian wine making innovator. Frank subsequently learned winemaking with Ian, but Frank’s winemaking, like the beekeeping, ended badly. He was much more successful at distilling brandy and fruit schnapps, but that’s another story.

Completely dropping figurative and illustration, Vaičaitis immersed into the effects of coloured water crashing and interacting with each other. The local Lithuanian artists like Kubbos and Salkauskas were showing terrific works of abstraction and semi, and this may have been an influence on his new approach. The images were of a medium-size, on paper and were numerous. Action painting comes to mind with these mono-prints and washes, shapes balancing off on each other, Calderesque along with a Miró compostion, Abstract Expressionism in a smaller world, if the American Abstract Expressionists were New York in size, his was more village-sized. Fighting an urge to produce faces within the abstractions, he was more interested in a balance between a shape, its colour and its volume contrast.