It is pleasing to see that there has been recent interest in Sydney modernism from a number of prominent Sydney cultural institutions. The origins of modernism can be traced back to the 1880s, while Sydney modernism has be identified from the early years of the 20th century to the 1960s.
In 2008 the Powerhouse Museum organised an exhibition called ‘Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia’. The exhibition, for the first time, examined the impact of modernism on Australian culture from 1917 to 1967. The publicity for the exhibition maintained that:
Modernism sought to build a better future in the aftermath of World War I. An international movement, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the 20th century. It celebrated the romance of cities, the healthy body and the ideals of abstraction and functionalism in design.
In 2013 the Art Gallery of New South Wales organised a major exhibition devoted to Sydney modernist artist called ‘Sydney Moderns: Art for a New World’. The exhibition spanned the period from 1915 to 1940 and explored the relationship between modern Sydney life and the ‘cosmopolitan milieu’ of the time. The exhibition included the works of a host of Sydney artists including:
Margaret Preston, Roy de Maistre, Roland Wakelin, Grace Cossington Smith, Thea Proctor, Grace Crowley, Ralph Balson, Rah Fizelle, Frank and Margel Hinder, Margo and Gerald Lewers, Dorrit Black, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain and Harold Cazneaux, along with important works by Sydney’s lesser known ‘lost moderns’, such as Tempe Manning, Niel A Gren, Frank Weitzel and Fred Coventry.
The exhibition explored how modernism ‘defined a new cosmopolitan culture’ and re-shaped life in Sydney.
In 2014 There Was A Photographic Exhibition At The Delmar Gallery In The Sydney Suburb Of Ashfield Called ‘Soul Of A City: Modernism And Sydney Photography 1930 – 1950 Olive Cotton, Eo Hoppé, Max Dupain, David Moore, Harold Cazneaux’. The exhibition curator Catherine Benz maintains that 1930s Sydney forged a ‘modernist aesthetic inspired by internationalist movements’ with photographs that exuded ‘sensuality, confidence and optimism’.
In 2014 Sydney Living Museums organised an event at the 2014 Sydney Writers Festival called ‘Cultivating Australian Modernism’ where a panel discussed the history of the modernist garden. The panel included author Richard Aitken, Sydney Living Museums Assistant Director Ian Innes, and ABC RN’s Fenella Kernebone.
In 2015 Sue Williams wrote in the Domain supplement in The Sydney Morning Herald that modernist homes had become ‘all the rage’. She maintained that the interest was driven by the TV show Mad Men, post-war classic furniture and the appeal of retro-homewares. These homes were designed by Sydney architects Sydney Ancher, Harry Seidler, Bruce Rickard and Ian McKay, and used simple materials, simple lines and open planned living spaces.
A more recent event is currently showing at the Heide Museum of Modern Art Central Galleries in Bulleen Victoria. The exhibition called ‘O’keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism’ is jointly curated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe and will tour in NSW and Queensland later in 2017. The exhibition curators have brought together
for the first time the iconic art of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of America’s most significant painters of the twentieth century, alongside modernist masterpieces by pioneering Australian artists, Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith.
The exhibition explores the
similarities and distinctions in their art to bring new perspectives to light about modernism’s dispersal and reinvention as it developed beyond the metropolitan wellspring of Europe.
Modernism and its influence on place making in Sydney has yet to be fully explored by scholars in any meaningful way. It is essential to get a grip on modernism to fully understand its role in the construction of the city’s sense of place and identity.
Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex.
The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena. .
The El Caballo Blanco complex at Catherine Fields, according to a souvenir brochure held at the Camden Museum, was based on a similar entertainment facility at the Wooroloo, near Perth, WA, which attracted over a quarter of a million visitors a year. It was established in 1974 by Ray Williams and had a 2000-seat outdoor arena. The horse show was based on a similar horse show (ferias) in Seville, Jerez de la Frontera and other Spanish cities.
The programme of events for the horse show at Catherine Fields began with a parade, followed by a pas de deux and then an insight into training of horses and riders in classical horsemanship. This was then followed by a demonstration of dressage, then a session ‘on the long rein’ where a riderless horse executed a number of steps and movements. There was a Vaqueros show (a quadrille) then carriage driving with the show ending with a grand finale. All the riders appeared in colourful Spanish style costumes.
The indoor arena was richly decorated in a lavishly rich style with blue velvet ceiling drapes and chandeliers. The complex also had associated stables and holding paddocks, within a Spanish-Moorish setting The stables had brass fittings and grilles, based on the design from stair cases at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
The horse show at Catherine Fields was supplement with an ancillary Australiana show which consisted mainly of sheep shearing and sheep dog trials, while a miniature horse show was introduced in the late 1980s. The also boasted a variety of rides (train, bus, racing cars, paddle boats, and ponies), a carriage museum, a small Australiana zoo, picnic facilities, water slides and swimming pool, souvenir shop, shooting gallery, restaurant, snack bar and coffee shop, and car parking.
Emmanuel Margolin, the owner in the 1989, claimed in promotional literature that the complex offered an ideal location for functions and was an ideal educational facility where children could learn about animals at the zoo, dressage, and botany in the gardens. At the time the entry charge was $10 for adults, children $5 and a family pass $25 (2A + 2C), with concession $5.
A promotional tourist brochure held by the Camden Museum claimed that it was Sydney’s premier all weather attraction. It was opened 7 days a week between 10.00am and 5.00pm.
By the mid-1990s the complex was struggling financially and in 1995 was put up for auction, but failed to reach the $5 million reserve price. The owners at the time, Emmanuel and Cecile Margolin, sold the 88 horses in July, according the Macarthur Chronicle. By this stage complex was only open on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.
At a subsequent auction in July 1997 the advertising claimed that it was a historical landmark site of 120 acres just 45 minutes from Sydney. That it was a unique tourist park with numerous attractions, luxury accommodation and a large highway frontage.
The last performance of the horse show at Catherine Fields was held in 1998.
Unfortunately by 2002 the good times had passed and the horses agisted on the site, according to the Camden and Wollondilly Advertiser, were part of a ‘forgotten herd’ of 29 horses that roamed the grounds of the complex. It was reported that they were looked after by a keen group of Camden riders.
Worse was to come when in 2003 a fire destroyed the former stable, kitchen and auditorium. The fire spread to the adjacent paddock and meant that the 25 horses that were still on the site had to be re-located. It was reported by Macarthur Chronicle, that Sharyn Sparks the owner of the horses was heart-broken. She said she had worked with the horses from 1985 and found that the complex was one of the best places in the world to work. She said that the staff loved the horses and the atmosphere of the shows.
The Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens are some of the most important open spaces and parkland in Australia’s urban places. The 29 hectares of gardens are surrounded by 51 hectares of parkland including the Sydney Domain. The gardens are traditionally divided into 4 sections the Middle Garden, the Upper Garden, the Lower Garden and the Garden Palace Grounds. They were officially recognised as a botanic gardens in 1816 and while it only became the ‘Royal’ in 1959. The site is one of the world’s oldest colonial botanic gardens and one of the most important botanical sites in the Southern Hemisphere (only Rio de Janeiro is older). The area attracts around 4 million visitors a year.
The Dictionary of Sydney states that the gardens reflects:
the changing styles of ‘public gardens’ – from the utilitarian beds that provided the necessities of life in the early years, to the emerging styles associated with new ideas about landscape gardening for visual effect, to the overwrought overkill of Victoriana, with statues, urns, terraces, ponds, plinths and obelisks at every turn, through to the contemporary acceptance of the validity of ‘native’ flora as a legitimate focus in a public garden.
The Botanic Gardens were the site of the first government farm in the colony of New South Wales in 1788 (Middle Garden) and called the Governor’s Farm in 1792. Governor Phillip ordered the cultivation of 20 acres in 1788 and the area was part of Governor Phillip’s private reserve. The original farm furrows are evident in the alignment of the longitudinal beds of shrubs. The Governor’s Domain was one of the first pleasure grounds in the colony established in 1792 by Governor Phillip.
There were some private land grants on the eastern side of Farm Cove (1800-1807) which were resumed under Governor Bligh when carriage roads were built around Bennelong Point and Farm Cove in 1807. The main botanic farm function was transferred to Rose Hill at this time under Governor King. The Royal Botanic Gardens Trust states that in 1810
The new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, terminate[d] leases and embarks on wall and fence building to re-establish the Domain as the Governor’s private parkland. His walls and rules [were] flouted.
The gardens link the oldest surviving group of Governor Macquarie period buildings in Australia along Macquarie Street (1810). There is also Governor Macquarie’s landscaping of the Domain with a gate and sandstone wall. The wall now separates the Lower and Middle Garden, was used to protect the garden from the harbour and built between 1812 and 1816. In Governor Macquarie’s time (1816) Mrs Macquarie Road was completed around the Domain to Mrs Macquarie Point.
The work of the gardens illustrates the associations with 18th century European scientific world of Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Hooker and others. The gardens are Australia’s oldest scientific institution (1816) for botany and horticulture. In 1821 Superintendent Charles Fraser, a botanist, was appointed to develop the gardens along scientific grounds for the first time. Fraser accompanied John Oxley on his inland journeys and brought back plant specimens.
In 1825 Governor Brisbane extended the garden west of Farm Cove for an experimental garden to acclimatise Australian plants for export and imported plants. Colonists were interested in ‘exotics’ and brought many of them with them and were added to the garden plant collection. In 1829 grape vines were planted that became important in the foundation of the Australian wine industry.
In 1831 Governor Bourke opened the roads and paths for general access despite conservative opposition.
By the 1850s military, sporting and ceremonial events became common in the Domain. The area was the home of first class cricket in New South Wales from 1857 to 1871 and the first interstate match was held in the Domain in 1851 when NSW defeats Victoria. There were the first swimming championships in 1846 and a gymnasium (public playground).
In 1837 construction commenced for the new government house in the northern section of the Domain. It was completed in 1845. The area was the site of the Australia’s first zoo, an aviary in 1860 which was expanded into a larger facility with a monkey house in 1880. Eventually the zoo was relocated to Moore Park in 1883.
The Domain and gardens were the site of the 1878 International Exhibition and the Garden Palace (1879) which burnt down is spectacular fire in 1882, was the first exhibition in Australia featuring arts and industrial displays. The Garden Palace was located between the Conservatorium of Music (formerly the Government House Stables) and Macquarie Street. The site is the highest point in the garden and was originally surrounded by a paling fence for grazing the governor’s stock. The Central Depot in the gardens were the kitchen gardens for government house (Bridge Street, then Macquarie Street) from 1813 to 1870 and still has a rare glasshouse.
The sandstone wall adjacent to the Opera House with stone steps and iron railing is the northern boundary of the garden. The cliff wall was built in 1880 enabled the extension of Macquarie Street and is known as the Tarpeian Way. It provides a dramatic backdrop to the Opera House forecourt and gets its name from the famous rock on Capitoline Hill in Rome where prisoners were hurled to the deaths in ancient times. What are now the Opera House iron gates, were originally the Governor’s private gates, and built in 1870.
The Lower Garden was reclaimed from Farm Cove between 1848 and 1879 when the seawall was constructed with stone from the old government house in Bridge Street. This work extended the garden’s pleasure grounds with curving pleasure walks and plantings.
In the Domain the Hospital Road gate lodge and gate were built around 1865 and the Victorian gate lodge house was built on the eastern side of the garden. The Victorian herbarium building was constructed in 1899 and adapted as the visitor centre in 1982.
The Domain was quite extensive at one stage and successive governments have taken bits of it for various cultural institutions – Art Gallery of New South Wales (1885+), the State Library of NSW (1910+), Government House (1836+), Opera House (1966+), and Conservatorium of Music (formerly Government House Stables, 1816 and CoM, 1916+) – and oil tanks for the Navy in WW2.
The Domain has been a site of decent by the Sydney populace and the Dictionary of Sydney states:
The Domain has also had an important history as a ‘soap box’ arena, like London’s Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. ‘Soapbox Sunday’ may well go back into the late nineteenth century: in 1878, Baptist pastor Allen is reported to have gone there to speak on Irish Home Rule, after a riot in nearby Hyde Park.
The Domain has been the site of free opera events as part of the Sydney Festival since 1982.
The gardens and domain have suffered under the influence of modernism. In the 1920s the site was dug up using a cut and cover construction method to build the City Loop of the underground railway on the western side of the Domain. In 1956 the City of Sydney took the western side of the Domain and constructed a car park with the loss of 47 rare trees. The influence of the car again played out with the construction of the Cahill Expressway between 1958 and the 1960s and resulted in the loss of the Fig Tree Avenue planted in 1847, and the division of the gardens and the domain areas.
In 1978 the administration of the gardens and Domain were transferred from the Department of Agriculture (from 1908) to the Premier’s Department. In 1980 the state government passed the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust Act to secure the extent of the grounds and administration of Centennial Park administration became autonomous. The Friends of the Botanic Garden were established in 1982.
Development of the gardens and Domain occurred in 1970 and 1971 with the construction of The Pyramid as a tropical glasshouse, two annexes were established in 1988 at Mount Annan (native plantings) and Mount Tomah (cool-climate plantings), and in 2016 in the Upper Garden the new Calyx replaced the demolished Pyramid as the tropical plant centre.