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A hidden Sydney gem: Yaralla Estate

The CHN blogger was out and about recently and visited one of Sydney’s hidden gems that very few people seem to know about. It is the spendid and historic Yaralla Estate at Concord NSW.

Concord Yarralla Estate Front Paddock (2018)
The entrance paddocks of the Yaralla Estate which is a highly significant example of a large nineteenth estate in the Sydney area. It is a rare example because it incorporates an entire 1790s land grant within its boundaries (I Willis, 2018)

 

The Yaralla estate has a colourful history and the site has been occupied by some famous Australians.

Concord Yarralla Estate Woodbine 1833 (2018)
Woodbine Cottage. This is the oldest building on the Yaralla Estate dating from before 1833 and built by the family of Isaac Nichols shortly after his death. It is a timber cottage and has been modified since its completion. (I Willis, 2018)

 

One of the first was former convict Isaac Nichols, Australia’s the first postmaster (1809).

Concord Yaralla Estate 2018 Driveway
Yaralla Estate Driveway approaching Yaralla House. Described by the State Heritage Inventory as ‘composed of brush box (with the occasional eucalypt exception) and runs from the entrance gates between grassed west and east paddocks (until recently containing horses) leading to the inner set of estate gates and fencing containing the homestead, dairy complex, stables and parkland garden’. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

Thomas left a bequest of 100,000 pounds from his will for the construction of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital in the western portion of the Yaralla estate.

Concord Yarralla Estate House 1850s (2018)
Thomas Walker’s Yaralla House. Edmund Blacket designed stage 1 in 1857 with additions by John Sulman 1893-1899. The house was converted to a hospital in 1940 as the Dame Eadith Walker Convalescent Hospital. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

Concord Yarralla Estate Stables2 (2018)
The Arts and Crafts inspired stables were designed by John Sulman between 1893 and 1899. The complex was originally used as a coach house and stables and later as garages, office and storage space. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

Concord Yarralla Estate Dairy 1917 (2018) CCBHS
The dairy, a U-shaped building inspired by Arts and Crafts design were part of the John Sulman estate works. This image taken in 1917 shows the predominantly Jersey dairy herd which at one stage had 1200 cows and produced 300 gallons per day. (CCBHS)

 

The Dictionary of Sydney states that the top part of the estate

were sub-divided in 1908, 1912, and 1922, becoming estates of Federation and Californian bungalow homes built for soldiers after World War I.

Concord Yarralla Estate Subdivision 1908 (2018) CCBHS
The Walker Estate at Concord. The subdivision was sold at public auction on 21 November 1908. The streets included Gracemere, Beronia, Waratah and Alva Streets. The sale was organised by Auctioneers Raine & Horne at their Pitt Street offices. Over 125 blocks were offered for sale. (CCBHS)

 

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.

Concord Yarralla Estate Boronia2 (2018)
Boronia Cottage. This was the residence for the dairy manager and was next to the dairy complex. It is a single storey cottage with a hipped and gable roof inspired by Arts and Crafts design. It was part of the John Sulman estates works. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Dame Eadith Walker (CBE, 1918, DBE, 1928) never married and left a large estate when she died in 1937. The  estate finally came under the Walker Trust Act 1939.

Concord Yarralla Estate Stables Courtyard2 (2018)
The courtyard of the English-style stables and coach house complex. Designed by John Sulman influenced by Arts and Crafts styling. The central courtyard has a ‘rich assortment of decorative elements such as towers, lanterns, a clock and dormer windows’, according to one source. It has living quarters and a horse enclosure. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

Concord Yarralla Estate 2018 Stonework
The balustrade separates the top and lower terraces adjacent to Yaralla House with views of Sydney Harbour. The top terrace was a crochet lawn, while tennis courts occupied the lower terrace. The balustrade is ‘symmetical marble and freestone with formal central stairway’, according to a source. Today’s foreshore walkway is in the far distance. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The property had many important visitors over the years from royalty to the vice-regal.

Concord Yarralla Estate Squash Court (2018)
The squash court built by Eadith Walker for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1920. It is regarded as substantially intact and is an important surviving recreational element on the property. It has elements of Arts and Craft influence similar to estate works by John Sulman. It is reputed to be the first squash court built in Australia (I Willis, 2018)

 

 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).

These are all part of the Sydney Coastal Walks.

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The Cowpastures, GLAM and schools

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.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit7 Sirius 2018Apr
School visit by Macarthur Anglican Students viewing the HMS Sirius model 2018 (MAS)

 

The story of the Cowpastures is one of the many told in the displays at the volunteer-run Camden Museum and the Wollondilly Heritage Centre, all part of the Macarthur region’s GLAM sector.

So what is the GLAM sector? For the uninitiated it is Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. The acronym GLAM appeared at the 2003 annual conference of the Australian Society of Archivists.

Organisations that make up the GLAM sector are cultural institutions which have access to knowledge as their main purpose and care for collections of any kind.

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.

 

The local GLAM scene

There is the volunteer-run Camden Museum a social history museum. While out at The Oaks is the pioneer village setting of the Wollondilly Heritage Centre and at Campbelltown the Glenalvon house museum.

camden-library museum
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

 

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.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit6 2018Apr
Story telling by a volunteer at the Camden Museum for a school visit by Macarthur Anglican School (MAS, 2018)

 

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.

 

NSW History K-10 Syllabus

Topics

Early Stage 1      Personal and Family Historians

Stage 1                The Past in the Present.

Stage 2                 Australian History: Community and Remembrance. First Contacts.

Stage 3                 Australian History: Colonial and National.

Stage 4                 World History: Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

Stage 5                 Global History: The Modern World and Australia.

 

Field trip

One of the types of engagement recommended by the History Syllabus are field trips through site studies. These can come in all shapes and sizes.

One type of field trip can include taking in local museums and galleries.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit2 2018Apr
School visit by Macarthur Anglican School students outside the Camden Library being told story by a museum volunteer (MAS, 2018)

 

One approach

Stage 2 History -Topic: From Colonisation to Now

Mrs Kathryn Pesic from Macarthur Anglican School visited the Camden Museum with her Year 4 students.

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 approach

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.

Camden Macaria Gallery MawarraPS Visit 2018April11 lowres
A school visit to the Alan Baker Art Gallery being told a story by the gallery curator (ABAG, 2018)

 

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.

Camden John St (1)
St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

 

The English-style Camden town centre has evolved and illustrates a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, Edwardian, Inter-war, Mid-20th century Modernism.

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.

Map Camden District[1]
The extent of the Camden District in 1939 showing the township of Camden in the eastern part of the district (I Willis, 1996)

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.

Camden Aerial View 1990s CIPP
The AEH Group is using images like this to promote their development at Camden Central. This images was taken in the early 1990s by PMylrea and shows the town with Argyle Street to the right of the image. St John’s Anglican Church is in the left of the image. The old Camden High site is to right of the town centre. This image clearly shows how the town centre is surrounded by the Nepean River floodplain. (CIPP)

 

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.

 

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Aesthetics · Art · Campbelltown Art Centre · community identity · festivals · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Sydney · Tourism

Sheer Fantasy Experience

Campbelltown Arts Centre continues its growing reputation for innovative, exciting and challenging art.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Door&Curtain
Sheer Fantasy Experience is an innovating and challenging art exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre 2018 (I Willis)

 

The Campbelltown Arts Centre hosted the opening of a whimsical exhibition curated by artist David Capra in April 2018.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Curator
Curator David Capra at the launch of his exhibition Sheer Fantasy at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

Within the exhibition fantasies abound in a world of the imagination where the world is re-interpreted by indulgence.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Wall
Launch of the Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

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…

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Truck
Launch of the Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

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’.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Crowd
The crowd at the launch of Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

An interesting and challenging display.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr UFO
Launch of the Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

The Sheer Fantasy Exhibition runs from 14 April to 3 June at the Campbelltown Arts Centre.

Art · Campbelltown · community identity · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Place making · sense of place

History in Hidden Harmony

Ian Willis visits an artists’ retreat…

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.

Leonardo da Vinci_s earliest known drawing, the Arno Valley (1473), Uffizi fragment
Leonardo da Vinci’s earliest known drawing, the Arno Valley (1473), Uffizi (fragment)

 

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.

This blog was originally posted on PHA (NSW & ACT)

Architecture · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial Camden · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Victorian

A brush of class, the opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Collection

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.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Gallery Alan Baker 2018
Macaria is a substantial town residence from the mid-Victorian period that was influenced by the Picturesque movement and Gothic styling.  (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

Camden Macaria Opening Invitation 2018Feb28

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.

 

Camden Macaria Opening Catalogue 2018
The catalogue for the Alan Baker Art Collection currently in display at Macaria in John Street Camden NSW (2018)

 

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.

 

Macaria alan baker-in-studio
Alan Baker in his studio completing a floral art work (Gary Baker)

 

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.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Gallery Alan Baker Portrait 2018
A self-portrait by Alan Baker at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in Macaria John Street Camden (I Willis, 2018)

 

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”.

 

Camden Macaria Op Max Tegal in front of Alan Baker flowers 2018 LStratton
Camden businessman and philanthropist Max Tegel who was one of those who mentored the gallery project from its inception. Mr Tegel gifted a substantial number of paintings to the gallery. (L Stratton, 2018)

 

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.

 

Art genres

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.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 Mayor Symkowiak[2]
Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak addressing invited guests at the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection in Macaria John Street Camden (I Willis, 2018)

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.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 Gallery Interior&Vase
An interior view of the Alan Baker Art Collection in Macaria. Alan Baker used flower arrangements like this vase display as inspiration for his Still Life. The room has bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th century modernism style designed by architect Ashley Dunn. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

 

Camden Macaria Gary Baker next to his father's portrait 2018 LStratton
Gary Baker, son of Alan Baker, standing next to a self-portrait painted by Alan Baker in Macaria (L Stratton, 2018)

 

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,

 

Gallery opening

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.

 

Macaria AlanBaker 2018 Gallery Interior & Seat
This is an interior view of a gallery space in Macaria of the Alan Baker Art Collection. The image shows the Baltic Pine timber polished floor restored under the supervision of architect Ashley Dunn. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

 

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 Entertainment Area
An exterior view of the entertainment area at the opening of Macaria showing the timber windows and brick construction of the town residence. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

 

Macaria, the building

Macaria is a building that is an historical artefact in its own right. The building tells its own story and illustrates that the built environment can be used as a primary source document. Buildings are a ‘constructed landscape of architectural heritage’.

 

 

Camden CHS 231 Macaria c. 1890
The Camden Grammar School which was located in Macaria in the 1890s. (Camden Images)

 

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.

 

Macaria has been identified by architects Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds in their A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present (A&R, 1989) (p.92). These architects identify as part of the Victorian Rustic Gothic which emerged from the 18th century Picturesque movement from Europe. Supporters of the movement felt that:

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).

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 exterior
An exterior view of Macaria showing the Gothic influence in the roof line and window detail. The verandah was an addition to this style of building in the Australian colonies. (I Willis, 2018)

 

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.

 

Camden CHS 1642, Macaria early 1900's
An exterior view of Macaria in the early 1900s during the occupancy of Dr Francis W West. He ran his medical practice at this address and his family lived in the house. (Camden Images)

 

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.

 

Camden Macaria CHS1571
An exterior view of Macaria in the 1980s during the occupancy of Camden Council. During the 1970s the Camden Council Library Service occupied the building. (Camden Images)

 

The Camden Council website states that

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’.
  • The new art gallery has the potential to help drive local economic growth

 

 

Architecture · Art · Attachment to place · Communications · community identity · Entertainment · Fashion · Goulburn · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Local History · Local newspapers · Newspapers · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Victorian

Modernism and a country newspaper office

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.

 

Goulburn Auburn St 2018[2] lowres
A street view of the central business of Goulburn in Auburn Street showing the Victorian grandeur of the Goulburn Post Office built 1880-1881 (I Willis, 2018)
 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.

Goulburn Modernism

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.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 lowres
The new 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post in Art-Deco styling showing the beacon with the lamp on top above the newspaper signage (I Willis, 2018)

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.

 

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopfrontdoors lowres
The front entrance of the Art-Deco style 1935 newspaper building showing the chromium and Carrara glass of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post (I Willis, 2018)

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.

 

Goulburn Penny Post 1935 Dec128
A special edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post for 18 December 1935 celebrating the opening of the new Art-Deco style newspaper office. (NLA)

 

Staff photographs

Goulburn Evening Post Staff 1935 GEP[2]
Goulburn Evening Post Staff 1935 (GEP, 1935) (Image supplied by Paul Titheradge )

 

Goulburn Evening Post Staff 2016 Evening Post Staff Paul Titheradge
Goulburn Evening Post 1965 Staff Photo of Management, Editorial and Production Staff. Amongst the staff are Reg Martin, Mark Collier (Linotype Operators), Paul Titheradge (supplied image), Vern Daniel, Col Daniel. (GEP, 1965)

 

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.

Goulburn Elmslea Chambers 17 Montague St des. LP Burns 1934
Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers at 17 Montague Street Goulburn designed by Sydney architect LP Burns in 1934 (Pinterest)

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.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopfront lowres
The shopfront of the 1935 newspaper office building for the Goulburn Evening Penny Post showing the Art-Deco styling of chromium and Carrara glass windows (I Willis, 2018)

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.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopinterior lowres[3]
The interior public foyer area of the 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post with timber paneling probably Silky Oak which was popular at the time (I Willis, 2018)
 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.

 

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopinterior lowres
The interior public foyer area of the 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post showing the Art-Deco style light fittings and timber paneling which is throughout the building (I Willis, 2018)

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.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 plaque lowres
The 1993 commemorative plaque on the front of the 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post opened by the local member of parliament. (I Willis, 2018)

Today’s newspaper

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.

Art · Attachment to place · Campbelltown · Campbelltown Art Centre · Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Entertainment · Heritage · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · myths · sense of place · Tourism

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

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.

Campbelltown Arts Centre Fisher Ghost Art Award 2017
There was quite a crowd the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on Friday 4 November.

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.

Camden artist Sandra Dodds with her entry Eclipse in the sculpture category of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on the opening night of Friday 4 November. (I Willis)

Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.

Campbelltown Arts CentreFishers GhostArt BrianStratton Shoalhaven Tapestry 2017
Brian Stratton and his watercolour ‘Shoalhaven Tapestry’ hung at the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award at Campbelltown Arts Centre (L Stratton)

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.’

Award proceedings

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.

The full list of prize winners in all categories can be found here.

Campbelltown 2017 FishGhstArt Awd Signage

The Fisher’s Ghost Festival

The art award is part of the Fisher’s Ghost Festival which is held in November each year and started in 1956. The festival is named after the local 19th century legend of Fisher’s ghost.

The festival website states that celebrations are held over 10 days (4-12 November). The major features of the festival are a street parade,  a fun run, a street fair, craft exhibition, foodie festival in Mawson Park, open days and a giant carnival with fireworks.

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.

Campbelltown Art Centre forecourt on the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award (I Willis)

The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher

The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.

The story of Fred Fisher is one full of mystery, murder and mayhem. It really shows the dark gothic influences in Australian history around the former convict turned farmer who was murdered in Campbelltown. The Dictionary of Sydney website tells this story and the grizzly demise of Fred.

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..

The Fred Fisher ghost story is an apt ghost story to tell around the time of Halloween. Some even go looking for the Fred ghost today.

There are many who swear that there is a presence around the area of Fishers Ghost Creek in Campbelltown. Is this just a lot of rot or is there something to the story?

The story receives the official sanction of Campbelltown Council and its public library where it is told in all its detail.

The Campbelltown History Buff has many interesting stories about Fred and his ghost. One of the best is about the ghost post from the road bridge and the curse that is linked to it. Or maybe not.

The dark stories of colonial times about Aborigines and convicts fit neatly into  the Australian gothic genre, as does Fred Fisher, a former convict.

2017 Fishers Ghost Festival runs from 4 November to 12 November.

The festival website tells the story from the colonial days of Campbelltown and the festival is fitting to remember the ghostly and ghastly past.

The festival celebrates and embraces the Australian gothic.