The next prominent owner was Sydney banker and philanthropist Thomas Walker acquiring the property from Nichols sons in the 1840s. He commissioned Sydney architect Edmund Blacket to design a large two-storey Victorian mansion called Yaralla house. Walker died in 1886 and left the estate in trust to his only daughter Eadith.
Sydney architect Sir John Sulman was commissioned to extend the house to extend the house in the 1890s. He extended the second floor of the house and designed a number outbuildings including the dairy and stable buildings.
Yaralla House and the grounds are strikingly English-in-style and layout. The Arts and Crafts influenced Sulman buildings are set in idyllic setting of an English estate garden and park.
were sub-divided in 1908, 1912, and 1922, becoming estates of Federation and Californian bungalow homes built for soldiers after World War I.
Yaralla House was the ‘hub of Sydney society’ in the Interwar period, according to the Dictionary of Sydney. Eadith Walker who lived at the house during this period was a famous Sydney philanthopist and held many charity events on the property.
Yaralla House was a convalescent hospital after the Second World War and then fell into dis-repair. Much conservation work has been carried out in recent decades.
The property had many important visitors over the years from royalty to the vice-regal.
A ‘secret’ walking trail
The area has a ‘secret’ walking trail along the Sydney Harbour Foreshore. Well known to locals. Little known to outsiders. The walkway includes the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway from Rhodes Railway Station to Concord Hospital (800 metres). It is all part of the Concord Foreshore Trail. This walk is described this way on the City of Canada Bay walks website:
This historic and peaceful walk stretches from McIlwaine Park in the Rhodes to Majors Bay Reserve in Concord. The route encircles the mangrove-fringed Brays Bay, Yaralla Bay and Majors Bay on the Parramatta River and goes around the former Thomas Walker Hospital ( a heritage listed building), Concord Repatriation General Hospital and the historically significant Yaralla Estate (one of the oldest estates in Sydney dating back to the 1790’s).
Young visitors to the Camden Museum love the model of the HMS Sirius, in the ground floor display area. HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet in 1788 under its commanding officer Captain John Hunter. He was later promoted to NSW Governor and in 1795 he visited the local area in search of the wild cattle and named the area the Cow Pastures Plains.
One of the key roles of GLAM sector organisations is to allow their visitors to learn things, in both formal (aka classroom) and informal settings. For the visitor this can come in a vast array of experiences, contexts and situations.
The Macarthur region has a number of galleries, museums and libraries. They are mostly small organisations, some with paid staff, others volunteer-run.
Local council galleries and libraries have the advantage of paid staff. The Alan Baker Art Gallery is located in the Camden historic town house Macaria. At Campbelltown there is the innovative Campbelltown Arts Centre and its futuristic styling.
The local council libraries and their collections fulfil a number of roles and provide a range of services to their communities.
On a larger scale the state government-run historic Belgenny Farm is Australia’s oldest intact set of colonial farm buildings in the Cowpastures established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur. A number of other colonial properties are also available for inspection.
Doing more with less
Doing more with less is the mantra of volunteer-run organisations. They all have collections of objects, artefacts, archives, paintings, books and other things. Collections of knowledge.
Collections are generally static and a bit stiff. There is a distance between the visitor and the collection. Visitor immersion in these knowledge collections is generally through storytelling of one sort or another.
The more dynamic the immersion the more memorable the visitor experience. An immersive experience will be informative, exciting and enjoyable.
This is certainly the aim of school visits. Teachers aim to immerse their school students in these collections in a variety of ways through storytelling. Hopefully making the student visit educational, memorable and enjoyable.
The learning framework
Local schools connect with local stories through the New South Wales History K-10 Syllabus. A rather formal bureaucratic beast with complex concepts and contexts. Local schools vary in their approach to the units of work within the syllabus.
Mrs Pesic said, ‘The students visit was integral in engaging the students and directing them to an area of interest’.
The school teachers posed a number of Key Inquiry Questions throughout the unit of work. The museum visit, according to Mrs Pesic, was the final part of the unit that started with a broad study of Sydney and narrowed to Camden. The students then had a ‘project’ to complete back at school.
Mrs Pesic reported that the teachers felt that they ‘had achieved the outcomes that they had set for their museum visit’.
Another local school Stage 2 group recently visited the museum, the gallery and had a walk around the Camden town centre. They too addressed the same unit of work from the History Syllabus.
Storytelling – the past in the present
The integration of local studies and inquiry-based learning by school students calls for imagination and creativity. What results is an opportunity to tell the Camden story through a narrative that gives a perspective on the past in the present.
There have been generations of story tellers in the Cowpastures and Camden district since the Dreamtime. Young people can have meaningful engagement with these folk through local GLAM organisations, ‘that cannot always be obtained in the classroom’, says Mrs Pesic.
The cows and more. So what do they offer?
All this activity takes place in the former Cowpastures named by Governor Hunter in 1795. This country was formerly Benkennie of the Dharawal people. The Cowpastures is one of Australia’s most important colonial sites.
Under European dispossession the Cowpastures became part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate from which the family carved out the private township of Camden with streets named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
The Camden district (1840-1973) tells stories of hope and loss around farming and mining in the hamlets and villages across the region. New arrivals hoped for new beginnings in a settler society while the loss of the Burragorang Valley, the Camden Railway and a landscape aesthetic created sorrow for some.
The Macarthur region (1973 +) named after the famous family and the infamous Macarthur growth centre. The area is on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe and made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.
The more things change the more they stay the same
The Cowpastures and Camden districts, now the Macarthur region, are some of the fastest changing landscapes in Australia. There is a need by the community to understand how the past created the present and today’s urban growth.
There is a need for creative and innovative solutions and ways to deliver the Camden and Macarthur stories. These are only limited by our imagination.
The Campbelltown Arts Centre hosted the opening of a whimsical exhibition curated by artist David Capra in April 2018.
Within the exhibition fantasies abound in a world of the imagination where the world is re-interpreted by indulgence.
The exhibition notes state there are:
A number of newly commissioned works in which artists have contemplated private and internal landscapes that have long influenced their practices…bold architectural additions… provide an immersive experience of constructed escapisms that are stongly familiar…
Influences include Hollywood Westerns movie sets and the Golden Age of Cinema. Combined with performance art by Renny Kodgers in a truck where there are ‘slow conversations’.
What has history got to do with an artists’ retreat you might ask? Quite a bit as it turns out. I was recently invited to address such a gathering at Varroville in New South Wales; it was quite an enlightening and stimulating occasion.
The three-day 2016 Artists’ Retreat was titled Hidden Harmony. It was facilitated by artist, musician and teacher John Charadia and held at the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre. The art workshops were led by artist and teacher Amanda McPaul-Browne.
John invited me after seeing my book, Pictorial History Camden & District (Kingsclear), in local retail outlets. He asked me to talk about the importance of history and heritage in the Macarthur Region.
My presentation to the gathered art students prompted early questions. The discussion quickly turned to the role of the historian as a storyteller.
While art and history have had a long connection, it is still instructive to see the cross-over between the historical writing process and teaching the art of drawing.
As budding artists were taught to build details of complex subjects by starting with simple pencil lines, so historians build stories on complex subjects by starting with simple types of evidence drawn from their research. Similarly the historian builds the story by ‘drawing’ the principal elements from the beginning.
A pencil drawing has fine detail, supported by lots of dark and light shading to highlight the finer points of the subject. The historian builds the layers of the story as does the artist, highlighting a piece of the subject here or there. Both student artists and historians must learn to be careful with their work.
The art students were given step-by-step guidelines on how to draw a complex subject. Their instructions stated:
A line drawing can be as complex as you like to make it, but sometimes, if carried too far, it loses the spirit of the subject.
And so it is when writing a story about the past. The art instructor could have been giving a lesson in storytelling. Use ‘tone’ and ‘light and shade with bold, positive lines’. ‘Try to get the correct contrast of dark and light as you work’.
On reflection it seems so obvious: both historians and artists see the layers of meaning that make up a complex picture. The context and perspective add shades of colour and movement to the subject. Budding students were encouraged to see these aspects of their art—part of the hidden harmony of the discipline of drawing based on stories.
Through the ages stories have been part of the human condition. Storytelling is a powerful medium for relating personal feelings, experiences and memories. Stories can have a healing effect, which helps individuals deal with trauma and grief.
I would encourage other historians to think laterally about the implications of our discipline. I have learnt much in recent months about the potential for stories about my local area to touch many hearts. It is thrilling to witness the effect that you work has on people in their daily lives. You touch their souls in ways that you would not even think about, including at an artist’s retreat.
An enthusiastic crowd gathered on a balmy evening in Camden’s John Street historic precinct anticipating the opening of a new art gallery. The twilight evening event provided just the right atmosphere for this once in a generation event for the town centre.
The event was the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection which is housed in the fully restored grand Gothic-inspired town residence of Henry Thompson (1860) called Macaria. Even today after 150 years Macaria is still an important architectural statement as part of Camden’s John Street colonial streetscape and historic precinct. The precinct includes the police barracks, the old school of arts building and temperance hall, the commercial bank building, the Tiffin cottage all topped off by the magnificent vista of St John’ Church rising above the town centre.
Alan Baker, the artist and a life story
Alan Baker was a true local identity and he, his wife Majorie and the family had a profound influence shaping the art scene in the Camden district in the second half of the 20th century. Alan Baker helped shape the lives of a host of Camden artists including Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Olive McAleer and Gary Baker. Baker also contributed to the broader art world through his vice-presidency of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.
Baker’s artwork and ‘the collection tells the story of life…and the journey of the artist’, according to his son Gary. The exhibition highlights the two identifiable periods in Alan’s artistic career. Divided by the tragic drowning death of Alan and Marjorie’s two sons in a Georges River boating accident in 1961.
Alan’s work after the tragedy has a more contemplative approach. The paintings have a ‘zen’ quality, according to Gary, and reflect the ‘stories of love, family, community, war, beauty, darkness and tragedy’.
The literal meaning of zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition. Applied to artwork it might mean that Alan Baker was inspired by the contemplative aesthetic of the house garden and bush surroundings at his home at The Oaks.
Gary Baker maintains that there is a ‘purity’ to Alan’s work and it was centred on Alan’s studio and the way the light played with it. Gary explains the process his father used to create his artworks:
My father’s studio was located under his house at Belimba Park. It had one south window and it was cool dark and silent. There was a large sandstone rock over which dripped water. The water seeped from underground and was all around where he sat to work. The light was pure without any other sources and then went to total darkness further into the room, which was rather like a cellar.
In the morning he would pick fresh flowers that he grew with my mother’s help. He would choose them from their extensive garden. Hundreds of camellias, roses, Japonica, peaches and all sorts blossom trees, annuals and perennials. He would arrange them with great care. Aware he only had time to paint them for the life of the flower. Sometimes one or two days.
The flowers would move to the light as the day passed. They were truly living. Some would fall to the table. They constantly changed. After arranging them he would cut a board that fitted the composition. Not being restricted to stock size he made his own frames.
During the process of painting, I felt he was in a state of meditation. He often with classical music playing. There was a rhythm to his work leading to this state of mind. His technical skill learned over decades enabled him to get to this heightened state.
He didn’t have to focus on the difficulties of drawing colour tone, instead used his intuition. Sitting in an upright position close to his board he would spend hours or days completing the painting until done. He never over painted and rarely moved away from his easels to view his work during the painting stage.
The flowers had a stability and calmness. They are asymmetric in design. The reflections on the glass table show a sort of purity calmness. The delicate flowers capture a purity or truthfulness. The flowers were almost textured, the way the paint is applied.
His brush strokes are simplified. Directly confident. Almost abstract. I see a likeness to Chinese ink painting techniques. The designs with the vase in the middle. Most art teachers say that it should not be done this way.
I see some of his paintings as being perfect! I see how they are living, not still. I see the air flow around them. Even viewing at different angles the texture of the paint changes the look of each painting. They are so complex and yet so simple. The brush strokes are very pronounced on board enhancing a textured feel. He did not use canvas.
Flowers themselves are universal symbols of remembrance love. I feel that he was chasing perfection in beauty. His paintings of flowers seem to speak to people with this. Many a man has said to me that they do not look like flower paintings. His are different. You can appreciate that! His floral work is from the heart not intellectual. I feel it’s spiritual.
Alan and Marjorie made The Oaks their home after the 1961 tragedy and maybe Baker was searching for the truth through the subject material he chose for his work. Certainly Alan’s still-life paintings absorbed a large of amount of his artistic effort and possibly account for Gary labelling his work as a form of ‘realism’.
Realism was an artistic movement that appeared in France in the mid-19th century when Realists rejected Romanticism and its exotic subject matters and emotional influences. Romanticism had dominated French art from the mid-18th century. Realism, as an art movement, sought to portray the truth and accuracy of daily life and growing in parallel with the new visual source of photography.
Alan Baker certainly does not pander to sentimentalism or heroic depiction of subjects as 19th century Romantic might have done. The Realists, as Alan’s work represents, rejected the sentimental and heroic and they the later tradition of the moderne. Alan was not a fan of modernist abstract and avant-garde styles of painting. Alan was a technician which was the basis of his commercial art commissions during the Interwar period for Tooths Hotels and others.
Gary goes on about his father’s artwork:
This is the other side of his work. When you walk back and see his work from a distance. It comes into focus. You see a realist painting, the simple brush strokes disappear. He was so well trained in the art skills of tone, drawing and colour. He found modern art to be “the refuse of the incompetent”.
Alan learnt his trade at the J.S. Watkins Art School where he studied drawing at 13 years of age. Watkins had set up his art school after returning to Australia after studying in Paris in 1898 above the Julian Ashton’s art school in King Street. By 1927 when Alan Baker was attending it had moved to 56 Margaret Street Sydney.
At the Watkins art school Alan was trained in tonal drawing in pencil charcoal, pen and washes and later oils, according to Gary’s biography of his father. The art school provided a competitive environment and Alan thrived in it. His mentors included Henry Hanke, Normand Baker (his brother ) and William Pidgen and Alan later became a teacher at the school.
In 1936 at 22 years of age Alan had a self-portrait accepted in the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Alan’s brother Normand won the Archibald prize in 1937 with his Self Portrait and the travelling scholarship in 1939. Between 1932 and 1972, according to Gary Baker, Alan entered the Archibald Prize with 35 separate paintings and made the finals 26 times. In 1969 he submitted a portrait of Camden surgeon Gordon Clowes which made the final selection that year.
The Alan Baker Art Collection is representative of the art genres that Alan practised his career. They are portraiture, still life, landscape, seascape, life drawing and life painting. These artistic genres have long history in Western art and Alan drew on these traditions.
The exhibitions has a number of examples of Baker’s commercial hotel posters, pencil drawings and portraits. Some were completed during his war service in New Guinea and the Pacific where he painted Papuans, fellow diggers and others. Alan enlisted in 1942 in the Australian Army with the rank of private and served in New Guinea. On discharge in 1945 he was with the 2 Australian Watercraft Workshop AEME (Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).
After the war he met Marjorie Whitchurch (formerly Kingsell) who had taken up art classes at the Watkins art school. Alan worked an instructor at the school after he was demobbed from the army. Marjorie fled Singapore in 1942 when the Japanese invaded the city, and in the process she lost her husband, who died on the Burma Railway, her home and her possessions.
After Alan dated Marjorie for a year they married in 1946. They lived in primitive accommodation at Moorebank with few facilities. Their first child was born in 1947. Alan’s career started to prosper and he had a painting of his wife Marjorie accepted in the 1953 Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was one of the finalists with his Artists Wife.
After the tragic loss of their sons Alan and Marjorie were suffering profound grief and moved to the isolation of The Oaks. Here they established a house and garden and Alan established studio in a bush setting. The garden might have provided some light in these dark days. Alan used many of the garden flowers for Still Life paintings. Some of these are in the exhibition. Baker maintained that
An artist must arrange his own composition by any means…the value of the shadow being thrown from one flower thrown from one flower to the other…I spend hours arranging till I am satisfied the result will be successful.
Alan was a fan of plein air painting, a tradition which goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century with the introduction of paints in tubes. Before this artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. This genre is illustrated by a number of landscape paintings in the exhibition, some of local area which capture Alan’s ‘commitment to the natural and man-made environment’. Baker’s landscapes reflect naturalism and the avoidance of stylisation.
Baker lived at The Oaks until his death in 1987 and across those years had a prolific output of work. The Australian Art Sales Digest lists 708 works by Baker across his lifetime, of which 77 are on display at the new gallery. Alan’s artwork is exhibited in numerous galleries and private collections and he held many shows across Australia,
Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak gave the keynote address at the gallery opening. She outlined the gestation of the project and those who supported it along the way. She was full of praise and said that she has been a strong supporter of the project.
Others who spoke at the opening included local Camden MLA Chris Patterson, Alan’s son Gary Baker and philanthropist Max Tegel. These speakers explained how the project required patience and perseverance and that the initial inspiration came from Gary Baker and Max Tegel.
The conservation and re-adaptation of the building was supervised by Sydney architect Ashley Dunn of firm Dunn and Hillan Architects. The original interior joinery has been highlighted with Australian red cedar architraves, skirtings and window frames. Wide original floor boards of Baltic Pine have been polished and provide a warm ambiance to the gallery rooms.
Dunn has designed bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th modernism style that works well with the gallery aesthetic. Dunn drew his inspiration from a number of sources and he has stated:
We wanted to ensure that the furniture was readily identifiable as a contemporary addition. I have always admired the work of artist and architect Max Bill who practiced in Switzerland during the mid 20th century and was educated at the Bauhaus. We are also inspired by the work of artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys and Gordon Matta-Clarke, all of whom worked during the later part of the mid 20th C.
Modern joinery is treated differently to highlight the contemporary phase in the life of the building and in the process creates a distinct separation from the joinery of the colonial period. Dunn has stated:
Our approach to the building was to use a consistent material for all new additions that was sympathetic to but different from the original fabric. We chose 40mm Blackbutt which is much blonder with a tighter grain than the reds and browns of the Australian Cedar and Baltic Pine. The new openings are framed in 40mm Blackbutt and the furniture has 40mm Blackbutt tops. The carcasses all have Blackbutt veneer and are edged in solid Blackbutt. The leather upholstery was chosen to mediate between the different browns and work with the floor colour.
After the official proceedings had finished the crowd of 180 milled around under the marques that lined the exterior front lawns of the gallery. Appetizers, canapes, hors d’oeuvres and other delicacies were served to the guests.
The town residence of Macaria is representative of the Picturesque Tudor Gothic style. It is brick town residence of the colonial Victorian period and originally had a shingle roof. For a house of its scale it is one of the best examples of the architectural style in Australia. Originally there were similarly designed cottage and stables around the house that were demolished long ago.
Natural and man-made things were attractive to look at – houses, gardens, open spaces…gazebos…-were seen as elements in a huge, three-dimensional picture which needed to be artfully composed by a designer possessed of finely tuned judgement.(p.90)
Macaria is representative of the some of the design characteristics of the Picturesque movement included ‘prettiness, quaintness and old-world charm’. Expatriate Englishmen in the colony of New South Wales, according to Apperly, were seeking the known similarities with home in England that provided a degree of comfort in the strange environment of the antipodes. Pattern books of these type of designs were published by JC Loudon (1833) and Calvert Vaux (1857).
In New South Wales one adaptation from Victorian English designs was the addition of a verandah as illustrated by Macaria. There are a number of other residences across Australia of a similar style. One can be found in Vaucluse where Sydney architect John Hilly designed Greycliffe House in Neilsen Park in 1852.
Macaria the history
The Macaria building can be treated as a historical document and primary source. The story of the building can be revealed by the diligent researcher. The layers of its history can be peeled back to reveal previous uses and stories of people who lived and worked within it.
Macaria was originally built by Sydney Congregationalist businessman Henry Thompson who came to Camden with his brother Samuel in the early 1840s. They established a general store and a steam flour mill. Thompson was part of a Sydney based retailing family which set up a chain of stores including Yass and Camden.
The land that Macaria was built on was originally purchased in 1846 by Sarah Tiffin who was a housekeeper for the Macarthur family of Camden Park. Henry Thompson purchased the land from the estate of Sarah Tiffin in 1854. Tiffin has constructed a small Georgian brick cottage on the site in the 1840s, now 39 John Street.
Henry Thompson, who had several school-age sons, became a patron of William Gordon’s Classical and Commercial Academy in 1857. Thompson built Gordon ‘a very handsome house of elegant design’ as a schoolhouse which was known as Macaria. In 1861 Gordon had moved his school to Macquarie Grove, which had been vacated by the Hassalls, where he took a seven year lease. The school closed before the end of the lease. (Atkinson, Camden: 188-189)
Macaria was a substantial town residence and was statement by Thompson to demonstrate his status and importance as a local businessman. Henry’s Thompson’s large family of sixteen children lived in Macaria until 1870. Henry died in 1871 after falling from his horse.
Macaria was a residence for the Milford family, after which the house was leased by Dr George Goode in 1875, an outspoken Irishman of ill-temper. GB Crabbe leased the house in 1886 and converted it to the Camden Grammar School for young boys. The school closed in 1894.
Dr FW West used the house as the surgery for his medical practice and a home for his family from 1901 to 1932, when Francis West died. A series of medical practitioners occupied the house: LB Heath (1932 1938); RE & JT Jefferis (1938-1955); GF Lumley (1955-1975)
Macaria was purchased by Camden Municipal Council from Dr Lumley, and the building was used as the Camden Library, and then the Camden mayor’s offices.
The restoration of Macaria is part of Council’s strategy to invest in the historical Camden Town Centre and create a landmark tourist attraction for residents and visitors to enjoy.
This creative vision was made a reality by Camden Council, which showed its support and commitment to the promotion of arts in the region, by investing in and restoring historical Macaria as Camden’s revitalised home of the arts the community.
So what does all this mean?
The opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Gallery is ground-breaking for the Camden Local Government Area.
It is the first time an important historic town residence has been conserved and re-adapted by Camden Council and opened to the public.
It is the first time a major art gallery in the Camden Local Government Area has been supported by public funds.
It is the first time that private philanthropic interests have donated an art collection to create a public art space and gallery.
It is the first time that a notable local identity has been acknowledged in a public space in this fashion.
It is, according to his son Gary Baker, one of the one of the few collections across the global art community that embraces ‘the complete life of the artist, their family and their place with the community’.
There is nothing quite like experiencing history in the field to gather a feel for a place. Walking the ground provides a perspective for historians that cannot be gained by staying in the archive. Such is my experience of Goulburn. The inland city Goulburn was one of the most important rural centres in 19th century New South Wales.
The world seems to have passed the town by with its eclectic collection of building style – Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar and post-war. Tucked around every corner there is a new surprise – Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals, the imposing railway station, a grand Victorian post-office and an imposing courthouse that would have certainly made a statement about law and order in 19th century Goulburn. Another world away from the present.
Hidden in plain sight in Auburn Street, Goulburn’s main street, amongst this imposing Victorian grandeur are a number of Interwar buildings. Modernism in the 20th century is represented by the CML building and the small office of the local newspaper. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post building at 199 Auburn Street Goulburn was built in 1935. The newspaper office reflected a confidence in the future of Goulburn. A statement about the town.
The Daniels family, who owned the Penny Post, were part of the country press barons who ruled their rural media empires with an iron fist. Families liked the Sommerlads of the New England, the Sidmans of the Macarthur region, the Shakespeare family of the mid-west, the Robinsons in the Hunter, the Parkers of the mid-west, the Musgraves of Wollongong, the Motts of Albury and a host of others.
The newspaper landscape in Goulburn
Goulburn was a vibrant colonial newspaper landscape reflecting a prosperous colonial pastoral economy. While the Goulburn had a literate population it was still a frontier town. Publishers were self-made men, editors as well. Colonial New South Wales was a rugged and robust publishing environment – a boom and bust cycle.
The first newspaper in the town was the Goulburn Herald in 1848. By the 1920s 21 separate newspaper mastheads had come and gone in Goulburn. The Interwar period appears to have been a prosperous time for the New South Wales country press. According to Rod Kirkpatrick’s Country Conscience, there were 238 titles published in 1920, which was only slightly reduced to 221 in 1930.
The first issue of the Penny Post in 1870 was produced under the cumbersome masthead of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post and Southern Counties General Advertiser as a short tabloid (11 x 14 inches) of 4pp. By 1930 the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was the last standing.
Goulburn society was driven by its religious zeal and the city even had 3 religious publications. They were: The Goulburn Banner (1848 – Presbyterian), the Monthly Paper (1893 – Church of England) and Our Cathedral Chimes (1920s – Roman Catholic).
A special edition celebrates the new office building
The December 1935 edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post that celebrated the opening of the new office building. The edition was 36pp with most of the editorial space taken over by recounting the history of the Goulburn township and area. At the time the Post was a daily, Monday to Friday, which incorporated The Goulburn Daily Herald with a cover price of one penny.
Architect LP Burns
The anniversary edition of the ran an article with headline ‘Inside A Modern Country Newspaper Office’. The Sydney architect LP Burns designed an office building which was described as a ‘fine, modern building’ of ‘distinction’ in a ‘modern’ style.
Burns also designed Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers at 17 Montague Street in 1934. It is described as one of the first buildings in Australia to use coloured polychrome terracotta in its façade which features a fine relief of birds, flowers, leaves and typical Art Deco sunbursts under the windows. The building was designed for wealthy pastoralist FG Leahy.
The front of Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers was Wunderlich terra cotta polychrome panels and the Building Magazine claimed that ‘Goulburn [had] never before seen a block of offices of such a lavish and commodious nature’. The building interior had Silky Oak panelling with Tasmanian Oak inlay, with chromium light fittings with frosted green glass. The builders were Armstrong and Stidwell.
The newspaper building design
The new building of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was an example of sleek Art-Deco styling. A stripped back minimalism of the realities of the commercial world – a no-nonsense, business-like, functional and matter of fact. Just like the owners and editors.
Art-deco styling was expression of modernism – sleek, fast, stripped back, not frilly like the Victorian frippery, not tizzy – reminiscent of the world of the railways, movies, motor cars, ocean liners, aeroplanes, consumerism, fashions, wireless. The influences coming down the Hume Highway to Goulburn. The building conveys a powerful statement about the Interwar period in Goulburn.
The Penny Post article on the newspaper office made special mention of the beacon with the lamp on top which made it different from other commercial buildings and with the shopfront Carrara glass. The journalist writing the story was keen to assure the readers that the Carrara glass front was ‘pleasing and harmonious’ and emphasised to the readers that using this type of glass could give a ‘creeping appearance of extravagance’.
Carrara glass was developed in the USA. It was a high-strength coloured glass and used globally in Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings. Carrara glass was usually white or blue-gray which resembled the high quality Carrara marble from Tuscany in Italy. The pigmented glass was an acceptable low-cost alternative building material.
The building frontage according to the 1935 press reports was marked by its ‘judicious display’ and ‘would attract attention in any of Sydney’s busiest streets’. The first floor of the building contained the newspaper’s editorial offices and a large strong room where the newspaper archives were kept. The report continued stating that the building was centrally heated by steam including the composing and machinery rooms. This would, it was maintained, be greatly appreciated by the newspapers employees.
The printing presses were at the rear of the building and the newsroom in the centre while the retail shopfront area dealt with advertisers and local folk buying the newspaper. There was a staff of over 20 journalists, compositors, printers, editors, clerical and retail support. These staff were witness to the daily life of the town as it passed through the doors of the newspaper office.
History in plain sight
Today the Goulburn Post building is evocative of a time when print media was king. Walking into the 1935 Penny Post office is like stepping back into the past. Into a world that has disappeared, best illustrated currently by the US movie The Post. The movie explores the buzz of the newsroom at the Washington Post and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers during the heyday of the Vietnam War. When print was king.
While the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was not a large metro daily it is easy to visualize the hive of activity in the newsroom and printing shop. The approaching print deadlines and the smoke-filled rooms amongst the evocative timber paneled rooms throughout the building.
The fabric of the building is still largely intact and retains its integrity, charm and character. The building reveals the layers of history to those who care to take a look. The building has escaped any major renovations and the building structure is as it was in 1935. If these walls could talk they would tell many great yarns of hard-bitten country press barons, editors and journos.
It is easy to image the smell of the printers’ ink; the whir of the printing presses; the buzz of the newsroom; the clacking of typewriters; and babble of conversations at the front desk with advertisers, stock and station agents, and wool merchants. The newspaper was the heartbeat of the town and the ink and newsprint flowed through arteries and veins of the community.
The current Goulburn Post, the offspring of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post, is still is located in the 1935 building. It is the hub for 10 mastheads within the Fairfax Media. Goulburn Post editor Ainsleigh Sheridan says that the newspaper is about creating community history. She would concur with the former president and publisher of the Washington Post, Phillip Graham, who is credited with saying that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history’ in 1997.
The Goulburn Post is a tri-weekly masthead and is just one of the Fairfax Media group that is produced in the building. The Post is co-ordinated in the Auburn Street office and then sent online to Canberra for printing. In the past printing was done on-site in the back of the Auburn Street building. The current building has issues with fire regulations that did not exist in 1935 and the upstairs area is not currently in use.
The CHN blogger was out and about at Campbelltown Arts Centre recently on a Friday night at the opening of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.
A packed Campbelltown Arts Centre was filled with keen supporters of the award. They walked around and viewed the art works that had survived the culling process and made it onto the walls and displays.
55 Years of History
2017 is the 55th year of the prize and the finalists had some pretty stiff competition.
There were a diverse range of works. The categories include Open, Contemporary, Traditional, Sculpture, Photography, Primary Students, Secondary Students, Surrealism, Macarthur award for a local artist, Aboriginal, Mentorship Macability award for a work by an artist with a disability.
The Award has a total prize pool of $38000 supported by a range of local sponsors.
Campbelltown Arts Centre is well regarded art institution in the Sydney area under the leadership of director Michael Dagostino.
Camden artist survives cull at the Award
One entrant at this year’s award was Camden artist Sandra Dodds. She survived the cull with her sculpture work Eclipse.
Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.
Brian said about his painting:
‘One of my watercolour paintings of Crookhaven Heads on the south coast of NSW. Over the past three decades I would have painted more than 200 paintings of the north face of this headland. To me this work has more of a feeling of a tapestry, as opposed to a watercolour; hence its title.’
The proceedings on the opening night got under way just after 6.00pm with the official announcements around 7.30pm. The announcement of the winners was introduced by a welcome to country by a local Dharawal elder.
The 2017 judges were curator Tess Allas, artist Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham and artist Ben Quilty.
In 2017 the carnival was held on Bradbury Oval and was in full swing as the art award winners were announced at the art centre.
The street parade moves along Queen Street and has a variety of community, sporting and business groups with floats and novelties.
Each year the festival has a theme and in the past they have included The Ghost with the Most, The Spirit of Campbelltown, the International Year of the Volunteers, the Centenary of Federation, the National Year of Reading and most recently, the 30th anniversary of the Campbelltown-Koshigaya Sister City relationship.
The Miss Festival Quest, which ran up until the early 90s, was adapted to form The Miss Princess Quest, which has now been running for more than two decades.
The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher
The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.
The ghost story of Fred Fisher is part of Australian gothic literature and the country’s colonial past. These stories make a statement about the white Australian psyche and the monster within. The landscape is portrayed as a monster in the genry of Australian gothic now and in the past when the early colonials viewed the bush as evil and threatening.
The National Library of Australia outlines the story of Fred Fisher and the songs, stories and legends that flow from it. They claim that it is the most forgotten ghost story in Australia..