Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: Wep travels behind Iron Curtain on cultural exchange

Orbit Travel Service, Sydney Australia - preferential passenger

In 1956, acclaimed Australian artist, William Edwin Pidgeon (WEP) was issued with a visa for travel behind the “Iron Curtain” to Romania as part of a cultural exchange program.  This series of posts includes extracts from letters he sent back home to his wife, Dorothy and son, Graham, describing his adventures and depicting the places, people and life as he witnessed them. Included with posts will be some of the photos he took and art work inspired from his trip. Earlier that year Wep had been diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes, a secret closely guarded for years to come for the potential impact it could have upon his ability to obtain painting commissions. Within his Romanian papers is a handwritten note; “My eyes are troubling me very much.”

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Invitation to Wep from the Romanian Institute for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries to visit Romania; 17 July 1956

Wep’s travel arrangements came to the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) with a consequence that he was monitored by ASIO for the next three years. Two other Australians were also invited; actor, Peter O’Shaugnessey and author, Frank Hardy.

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Wep left Sydney on September 22, 1956 with stopovers in Darwin, Singapore, Rome, Venice, Munich, and Vienna. He arrived in Budapest, Hungary on October 2nd, travelling to Bucharest in Romania the next day. He spent two weeks in Romania, returning to Vienna on October 18. Five days later a cloud fell over Hungary when widespread revolt erupted against the Soviet backed government leading to its fall from power. On November 4, the Soviets invaded, crushing the revolt, and by November 10, all resistance had ceased.

From Vienna, Wep traveled to Paris where he planned to stay with his old friend and journalist, Roley Pullen. It was here that he met Roley’s assistant, another fellow Australian, Margaret Murray, with whom he formed a lifetime friendship. He remained in Paris for for just over two weeks, then a similar amount of time in London, finally arriving back home in Sydney on December 2, 1956.

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