BORDER musicians who performed alongside Rolf Harris years ago say they have been shocked to hear about his dark side.
Harris has been found guilty in London of 12 charges relating to the indecent assault of four girls.
Murray Conservatorium chief executive Stephen O’Connell performed with Harris in Sydney several times in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I just remember him being a wonderful entertainer and a generous, charming human being,” Mr O’Connell, a saxophonist, said.
“At the end of tours he’d give paintings to musicians.
“I was shocked when I first heard the allegations.
“It came as a complete bolt out of the blue.”
Harris has played several concerts on the Border, including headlining an Australia Day concert in front of thousands of people in 1988.
In an interview with The Border Mail to mark that performance at Wodonga’s Willow Park, Harris was asked what Australia meant to him.
“I think Australia is the best place in the world to have one’s childhood,” he said.
“The kids have the opportunity to do anything they really want to.”
He said children “quickly learn self-reliance”.
Singer-guitarist Rodney Vincent, who hosted the Wodonga event which also featured Barry Crocker, said he admired Harris as an entertainer but said his actions were “terrible”.
“I heard through mutual friends in the business about (the allegations) before it became public,” he said.
“I was very surprised at the time.
“Unfortunately you don’t know of people’s dark side sometimes.
“As a performer I admire him but what he did was very wrong.
“It was terrible that he took advantage of his notoriety.”
Mr Vincent also sang on the TV show In Melbourne Tonight, which previously hosted Harris.
“I didn’t hear of any scandals at the time,” he said.
“When the Jimmy Savile allegations came out, that’s when I heard a few rumours.
“(Harris) did a lot of great work promoting Australia, but behind the scenes he did the wrong thing.
“I don’t have much sympathy for him.”
By HOWARD JONES
“ROLF Harris always has a stirring time before going on stage.”
That’s what I wrote in March 1986 after meeting Harris in his dressing room at the Albury Entertainment Centre.
He was, of course, stirring pots of paint he’d use in an instant Australian bush painting, which he then raffled for a charity.
At the time he was supporting the National Institute of Dramatic Art, which helps young artists, and the Sports Medicine Foundation helping quadriplegics and paraplegics.
Having watched and admired Harris on TV since I was a teenager, I had looked forward to an interview that would surely be a career highlight.
I knew his wife, Alwen, came from a Welsh coastal town I had left myself only four years before, and Harris himself was born in Perth of Welsh parents.
We chatted about Wales and Welsh migrants doing well here, like his aunt, children’s author and illustrator Pixie O’Harris, Alwen and daughter Bindi, then 22, came with Harris to Albury in 1986.
I was surprised that, though affable and co-operative, he used the f-word frequently in conversation.
He was no different from the NSW premier and prime minister of the time, and no doubt many journalists, but did it, I wondered, mean there were two Rolf personalities — on and off the stage?
Little did I know...
Harris did promise to help with a book I was considering on Welsh Australians, though I haven’t got round to that yet.
He told me that after 25 years in show business and TV, he still liked live shows best.
And I reported: “The 800 in the audience, from kindergarten children to grandparents, loved him”.
“His songs, some sentimental, some weird (his description), were interspersed with jokes about Aussies, Jews, the Irish, the Scots and the stiff upper lip English, among who he now dwells.”
He used a grand piano to belt out a boogie woogie number and sang Don McLean’s Vincent about another artist who came to a troubled end.
How sad that, at 84, he’s headed for jail, destined to become the butt of jokes about jails and weird entertainers.
Already the man famous for his third leg has been labelled Jake the Pig.