1 December 2022

Life for a mother in today's military - the true picture

| Sally Hopman
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Portrait of woman

Anneke Jamieson’s portrait, The Promotion, the first painting to win both the Napier Art Prize and the prize’s People’s Choice Award. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Anneke Jamieson was taking a break from life in the military, enjoying a quiet time at a yoga retreat when an image for a painting suddenly came to her.

For the past 20 years she had served in the military, 10 of them as a mother.

“All of a sudden I got this image in my head,” she said. “So I roped in this friend of mine who was breastfeeding at the time. I told her I needed her for a painting I wanted to do but that no-one would ever see it.” Well, that turned out to be not quite true.

Anneke’s portrait of a mother, in full military kit, breastfeeding her baby, won the Australian War Memorial’s (AWM) 2022 Napier Waller Art Prize in June this year. Called The Promotion, the acrylic and oil work on canvas proved to be a clear winner, with the artist dedicating the work to “all the mothers who serve to their sacrifices and conflicted hearts and to the families who support them”.

“When I painted this piece I wanted military mothers, and working mothers in general, to see her and feel seen themselves,” she said.

“To allow themselves a moment to acknowledge all those conflicting feelings their professional success has on being present for the baby in their arms. To acknowledge, accept, forgive themelves and feel grateful.”

AWM Director Matt Anderson said the portrait inspired thousands of people to vote – not only from within the Defence community but also people generally interested in art.

READ ALSO Australian War Memorial brings first-hand history back to life

“We are honoured to provide this opportunity for those who have served, and those still serving, to share their stories through art,” he said.

“Through her portrait, Anneke has also shed new light on working mums, both within Defence and across the community. If it made people think, then she was already a winner.”

This week, The Promotion was also named People’s Choice Award winner for the Napier, the first time the same painting had won both titles, a first not lost on Anneke who said she hadn’t really regarded herself as a professional artist. It secured 2254 public votes from the more than 7000 cast – itself a record.

Originally from Sydney, Anneke spent more than 10 years in Canberra, reaching the rank of major. In her former life, her first career choice was civil engineering. “I was quite good at maths,” she said. “Then I heard the military would pay for my career so I went through the University of NSW military academy and then Duntroon.”

Anneke said much of the inspiration for her work came from within. She said she’d heard about the Napier prize, which is open to all serving and fomer members of the Australian Defence Force, but initially did not feel confident enough as an artist to enter.

Artist with painting

Artist and former army major Anneke Jamieson with her dual award-winning painting. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

“My sister-in-law kept telling me to enter. But it wasn’t until I was able to spend more time on my art last year after leaving the military that I felt I had the skill to do it, to reflect back on my career.

“I thought about it a lot. What I would paint, what sort of story I wanted to tell, what I found difficult about my time in the military.

“I had an idea in my mind of what I wanted it to look like,” she said. “I ended up using two pictures, one of a woman in a classic military pose, like the profile photos they do of us. And then I got my friend to pop on a jacket and sit at a right angle – then I superimposed the photos to get the exact image I wanted.

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“For me, it’s a map of the two new people you become. But I felt I could never give either world enough.

“I know it’s not just me … it’s for all the military mothers who have to spend so much time away from home. I felt I couldn’t commit to the military full-time, when I started on my mother journey, that’s when you start to feel divided.”

Anneke said her husband Scott and their three children aged 4, 7 and 10 “were incredibly proud” of her artistic achievements.

She has since been invited to paint a number of commissions, but can’t separate from the military entirely – she still volunteers in the Reserves.

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