Just after ANZAC Day 2013, in a coffee shop in Perth, I met a remarkable man – another of our graduates whose life has taken an unpredictable path. Born and raised in what was then Ceylon, Rohan (then called Gamini) Warnesuriya could be described as a self-made man with so many talents that throughout his life it has been hard for him to choose between architecture, planning, business management and his first love, art.
Rohan’s arrival in Australia in 1958 was thanks to the celebrated Colombo Plan*. Coming to Australia was life changing in many ways, enabling him to explore interests both creative and philosophical. As a member of the celebrated ’43 group of artists from Ceylon, Rohan’s art was sought after by galleries and in 1959 he shared the prestigious Perth International Prize for Contemporary Art with noted artist Robert Juniper.
A talented student, Rohan was allowed by Professor Brian Lewis to complete his B. Arch. in less than the mandated 5 years, to return to fulfil his obligations to the Ceylonese Government, which, after he contributed designs for the Supreme Court, sent him to Leeds in the UK for further training. In the UK, he completed a post graduate diploma in Town Planning, and was awarded a United Nations Fellowship in Town and Country Planning across Europe, following which he returned to become Deputy Director of the Department of Planning.
His growing interest in Subud**, led him in 1970 to look for a change of pace, and led him back to Australia. On arrival in Perth, he was appointed Chief Planner of the Housing Commission of Western Australia, in which capacity he served for 20 years. He also planned the South Hedland new Town in the Pilbarra Region.
Following retirement in 1988, Rohan studied Japanese, continued to paint and exercise every day. Each year he has travelled the world to Subud Congresses and now that he is 85 and slowing down, he remembers fondly the many people at the University of Melbourne who helped a young immigrant find his feet and his centre. Among these he pays tribute to Ray Berg, Doug Alexander, Eric Westbrook (NGV Director), and Darcy Lear (fellow ABP student and Subud member). Above all, he cites the author and teacher JK Ewers, who led him to Subud and inspired his spiritual life.
* The Colombo Plan occupies a prominent place in the history of Australia's relations with Asia, where it is best remembered for sponsoring thousands of Asian students to study or train in Australian tertiary institutions, between 1949 and 1957 (DFAT)
** Rohan says that: Subud is an association of people who follow the Latihan Kejiwaan, an exercise of surrender to the divine force within each one of us.