Some thought on how landscape in understood and idealised.
On Thursday, October 11, at 4:00pm – 6:00pm (Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Room 212, Macquarie University) the Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series will continue with two speakers, Dr Alicia Marchant (ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions: Europe 1100–1800, University of Western Australia) and Dr Emily O’Gorman (Department of Geography & Planning, Macquarie University).
Our theme for this seminar is the Authenticity of Landscape. Our speakers will be discussing the way that landscape is understood and idealised, as well as how particular configurations of and stages in the development of a landscape are held up as authentic, original, and desirable. The speakers will address these issues in the following papers.
Alicia Marchant, ‘John Hardyng’s Scotland: Landscape, Heritage and Authenticity in the Fifteenth Century’
In 1457, Northumbrian knight John Hardyng (d. c.1465) employed a cartographer to create a map of Scotland for inclusion in his recently completed…
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A 2010 meeting of Camden Council on Sydney’s southern outskirts voted five to four to demolish a simple 1890 Federation farm cottage known as Carinya at Harrington Park. The owner, Nepean Pastoral Company, wants to develop a 97-residential lot subdivision on the farm site.
The decision illustrates a wider malaise that has enveloped heritage in this state — a worrying trend that is seeing our past disappear.
Demolition of Carinya
Camden Council’s decision to approve Carinya’s demolition was based on reports written by heritage consultants, Urbis. Urbis stated that, while the cottage was intact and in reasonable condition, it was not of local significance. In their view Federation cottages, while rare in the Narellan area, are not rare in the Camden local government area (LGA). Secondly, Carinya has little associative value with the Cross and Paxton families who lived there.
Many people do agree with these conclusions. In the past Carinya has been overlooked in heritage surveys of the Camden LGA and had not been included on any local lists of historic houses. While not a reason for demolition, it is a contributing factor.
Jonathon Chancellor noted recently in a story on the fight to save the Tilba residence in Burwood Heights that many councils had “neglectful heritage lists” and included Camden.
Even more damming, ”heritage listing at the local level does not provide much protection at all”, wrote Graeme Aplin, from Macquarie University, in Australian Quarterly (May-June 2009).
”What we have witnessed over the last five years is the systematic dismantling of heritage protection,” stated Sylvia Hale, Greens spokeswoman on planning (”Heritage at risk”, National Trust Magazine, February-April 2010).
More than this the imminent loss of Carinya reflects wider problems in heritage affairs across New South Wales. There is a blatant disregard of the importance of simple cottages of historic value especially at a local level. They represent the lives of ordinary folk. Simple salt of the earth people who struggled to make a living from the soil.
The story of Carinya fits within the Australian Historic Themes identified by the Australian Government (Australian Heritage Commission 2001). These are common national standards for idenfication and conservation of heritage places. Yet this does not qualify Carinya for recognition of local significance.
Even examples of Australia’s important early colonial houses on Sydney’s urban fringe, which are of national significance, such as like Oran Park House and Maryland suffer from indecision and dithering by the authorities.
Conflict of interest in heritage
There is a real, or at least a perceived, conflict of interest for some by heritage consultants in the assessment process. Consultants are a gun for hire. There needs to be a separation of roles in the assessment process of historic houses. The judgment concerning the assessment of significance should be conducted by an independent third party. Heritage consultants should not be judge, jury and hangman. There is a need for due diligence.
The assessment process needs the expertise of professional historians to examine the appropriate historical evidence. There were no historians engaged in the assessment process of Carinya. Urbis has largely relied on a cursory examination of documents at the local library and museum.
Council planning and development officers are under incredible pressure to meet timely decisions for development applications. This particularly applies in the Camden LGA, which is a designated growth area for Sydney.
Council officers and their elected councilors rely on reports written by heritage consultants. Officers and councilors may have had little or no specific training assessing heritage significance, local or otherwise. They are not experts in history and heritage.
One of the casualties in the assessment process is the thorough and considered assessment of historic houses.
Loss of interest in heritage
The current political climate in NSW is not conducive to the protection of historic houses. Heritage is not a high priority. Crowded Sydney and a shortfall in housing stock are political priorities. For this read new estates on the urban fringe, like the approved Carinya farm subdivision.
The developers of Carinya farm housing estate are selling a dream that is just that, a dream. The new estates create a bland homogenised suburban streetscape with little charm or character.
The Carinya farm sub-division is part of Sydney’s urbanisation. An octopus that devours all in its path — including ethical standards, community identity, sense of place and apparently local heritage and history.
The destruction of simple charming 19th century cottages is unnecessary. There is a demand from house buyers who want to live in historic cottages. These buyers restore the cottages to their former glory.
What have we come to in the new century? We have certainly not come to appreciate our past, our inheritance.
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald online as Heritage: a dismal state of affairs 16 April 2010
In late August 1928 two Camden colonial families celebrated the marriage of Keith Whiteman to Alice Margaret (Marge) McIntosh. This was an important local wedding between two local families of some importance and social status. The McIntoshes conducted a very successful dairy operation on the family property of Denbigh at Cobbitty, while the Whiteman family were successful Camden retailers.
Both families had colonial origins. Members of the Whiteman family had immigrated to New South Wales in 1839 from Sussex to work on Camden Park Estate. While the McIntoshes had immigrated to New South Wales from the Inverness region of the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s.
The wedding ceremony was a relatively small country wedding of 60 guests given the social profile and economic position of both families. The wedding ceremony was held in the historic setting of St Pauls Anglican Church at Cobbitty. St Pauls was the centre of village of Cobbitty and an expression of its Englishness, which was typical of a number of villages across the Camden District. The church was originally built under the direction of Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall in 1842 and adjacent to his 1828 Heber Chapel.
The church was decorated with a simple floral arrangement of white flowers and asparagus fern, according to the press reports (CN 20 Sept 1928). The white flowers for the August wedding were likely to have been, according to Angela Wannet of Butterflies Florist in Camden, local calla lillies, oriental lillies, and carnations with trailing ivy. The floral displays in the church, while not elaborate, indicated that the families did not spare any expense on this important family celebration.
Bride and Groom
Cobbitty born 33 year old bride Marge McIntosh was the fourth child of Andrew and Ada McIntosh of the colonial property of Denbigh at Cobbitty. Denbigh is one of the oldest gentry properties on the Cowpastures and listed on the state heritage register. It was originally an 1812 land grant to Charles Hook, then by the Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall (1826-1886) followed by the McIntosh family. The family first leased the property in 1868 and then purchased it off the Hassall family in 1886. The State Heritage Inventory States that the house and property ‘retains a curtilage and setting of exceptional historic and aesthetic significance’.
Camden born 28 year old bridegroom Keith Whiteman was the second child of Fred and Edith Whiteman of Melrose at 69 John Street, Camden. Melrose was a significant Edwardian brick cottage on John Street Camden. The Whiteman family had significant business interests in Argyle Street Camden including a general store and newsagency. Keith and his brother Charles gained control of the general store 12 months after Keith’s wedding on the death of father Fred. The original Whiteman’s general opened in Oxley Street in 1877, and later moved to Argyle Street. It was according The Land Magazine ‘reminiscent of the traditional country department store’. (28 February 1991) and at the time of the report on the oldest family-owned department stores in Australia.
The fashionable bride
We are lucky to have a wonderful photograph of the bride Marge McIntosh in her wedding gown at Denbigh. It provide many clues to the importance of the wedding to both families and their no-nonsense approach to life. While not an extravagant wedding the bride’s outfit reflects that no expense was spared on the gown and floral decorations for the bouquet and the church decorations. The design of the outfits, as described in the press reports and in the photograph, reflect the influence of modernism and the fashions from Paris and London. This was a moderne wedding in the country between two individuals of some social status.
The fashions worn by the wedding party, according to the press reports of the day, were the height of modernism. The bride wore a classic 1920s design described as a ‘simple frock of ivory Mariette over crepe-de-chen’ of light weight silk crepe as a backing, which was quite expensive. The made-to-order gown was fitted and, according to one source, likely to be hand-made by a Sydney-based dressmaker. The Mariette style of wedding gown is still a popular choice in England for brides-to-be if wedding blogs are any indicator of trends. The bride’s gown was a fashionable length for 1928 with the hemline just below the knee.
The bride’s veil was white tulle, with a bouquet of pink and white carnations. The bride’s shoes have been described by one local source in the shoe industry as a hand-made white leather shoe, with a strap, and a three inch heel. They would have likely been hand-made by one of the four or five Sydney shoe firms of the day, some of which were located around Marrickville.
Marge McIntosh wore a headdress of a ‘clothe’ veil style, which was popular at the time. The veil was ‘white tulle mounted over pink, formed the train and held in place with a coronet of orange blossom and silver’. The elaborate wedding floral bouquet, according to press reports, were made up of white and pink carnations and according to Angela Wannet who viewed the brides wedding photo was complemented by lillies and fern.
The history of wedding robes as a part of the celebration of the wedding festivities dates back the ancient Chinese and Roman civilizations. The first recorded mention of the white wedding dress in European history is 1406 when the English Princess Philippa married Scandinavian King Eric. In the British Empire the Industrial Revolution and the marriage of Queen Victoria to her first cousin Prince Albert in 1840 changed all that. The fitted wedding dress with a voluminous full skirt became the rage after their wedding. The British population romanticized their relationship and young women rushed to copy their Queen. The beauty of the bride was enhanced with the rise of wedding photography and did much to popularise the white-wedding dress trend.
Our moderne bride at Cobbitty was attended by her sister Etta (Tottie) McIntosh in a frock of apricot georgette, and the bridegroom’s sister Muriel Whiteman who wore a blue georgette, with hats and bouquets toned with their frocks. Georgette is a sheer fabric with a good sheen that is difficult to work, and requires a good dressmaker. The fabric is difficult to cut out and sew, and according to one source is easy to snag. The dressmaker exhibited her skill and experience with her handcrafted sewing, if the wedding photo of the bride, Marge McIntosh, is anything to go by.
The groom had his brother Charles Whiteman act as best man, and an old school friend from Albury Mr T Hewish as groomsman.
The wedding guests retired to a reception at the McIntosh’s historic colonial property of Denbigh, where the bride and groom were honoured with the ‘usual toasts’ and many congratulatory telegrams. A master of ceremony would have stuck to a traditional wedding reception with introduction of the bride and groom, then toasts, with a response speech from the father of the bride, more toasts, responses by groom’s father, followed by the reading of telegrams. The McIntosh family household would have likely provided the catering for the wedding.
Amongst the wedding gifts was a rose bowl from the Camden Tennis Club and a silver entre dish from the staff at FC Whiteman & Sons. These gifts reflect the interests and importance of the bride and groom in these organisations. Tennis was a popular pastime in the Camden area in the 1920s and some Camden tennis players did well at a state level in competitions. The entre dish would have been a plain design reflecting the influence of 1920s modern styling, rather than the ornate design typical of Victorian silverware.
The bride’s going away outfit was ‘a smart model dress of navy blue and a small green hat’. This would likely have been a fitted design typical of the style typical of the period and the influence of modernism in fashions in London and Paris.
The bride and groom left for a motoring honeymoon spent touring after the wedding festivities. In the 1920s motor touring was just starting to gain popularity as cars became more common and roads improved. Coastal locations and mountain retreats with their crisp cool air at in August were popular touring destinations in the 1920s.
The wedding photograph of Marge McIntosh in her bridal gown, like historical photographs in general, is a snapshot in time. The image provides a level of meaning that contemporary written reports in the Camden press does not contain. The photograph provides subtle detail that can fill out the story in great detail to the inquisitive researcher.
While the wedding reports did not make the social pages of the Sydney press it does not understate the importance of this union at a local level in the Camden community. It would be interesting to speculate if there were similar weddings between other Camden families.
The visual and written reports of the wedding give a new insight into life in Camden in the 1920s and how the community was subject to external transnational influences from all corners of the globe. Many claim that country towns like Camden were closed communities and in many respects that is true. For these two Camden families, they were subject to the forces of international fashion as well as those of maintaining the social sensibilities of their community.
Press reports of wedding Camden News 20 September 1928
View wedding photographs on Camden Images Past and Present
For something a little bit different here is the history of the wedding dress on JSTOR
The CHN blogger has recently been out and about in the Far East and took in some of the historic treasures and heritage gems of Singapore
The origins of Singapore are based on British imperial interests with the East India Company in 1819 when British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles negotiated a treaty with the Johor Sultanate which allowed the British to found a trading port on the island.
Initially Singapore was administered from Bengal by the East India Company. Singapore gained its independence after the Second World War in the 1960s, initially as part of Malaysia 1963, then as the Republic of Singapore in 1965.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Early in his Singapore visit the CHN blogger took in a visit to Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is the first botanic garden to be recognised in this fashion. The 74 hectare gardens contain a remnant of rainforest that is listed as the country’s most valuable historic asset, along with a surrounding buffer zone.
The gardens have a rich past connected the commercialisation of nutmeg, cloves, gambier, pepper, and sago. One of the first buildings on the site was a parade ground and bandstand in 1860, with current bandstand built in 1930.
National Museum of Singapore
The National Museum of Singapore is the oldest museum in Singapore. Its history dates back to 1849, when it was started as a section of a library at Singapore Institution and called the Raffles Library and Museum. After re-furbishment it was re-opened in 2006.
National Gallery of Singapore
National Gallery Singapore occupies two national monuments: former Supreme Court (1937)and City Hall (1929). Restoration works on the Supreme Court’s tympanum commenced and opened in 2015.
Old Parliament Building
The parliament building was originally constructed in 1827 as a merchant’s home on the administrative side of the Singapore River and is the oldest surviving public building in Singapore. It served as the seat of the Legislative Assembly from 1955 and 1963 and was representative of the life and struggles of the people of Singapore on the road to their independence. From 1963 to 1965 Singapore was only a state assembly. After independence in 1965 the building was renamed Parliament House.
The Little India precinct
Singapore has a number of precincts based on their ethnic origins and Little India is one of these. The precinct is 13 hectares and has 900 colonial buildings and its main arterial street Serangoon Road is one of the earliest streets in Singapore. Indian immigrants started to live in the area from the 1820s.
Indian Heritage Centre
The Indian Heritage Centre (IHC), under the management of the National Heritage Board and with support from the Indian community, traces the history of the Indian and South Asian communities in the Southeast Asian region. The building was opened in 2015.
Little India Arcade
This is an arcade of a cluster of conserved neoclassical shopfronts built in 1913. The building is currently owned by the Hindu Endowments Board. The current building was re-opened in 1995 to preserve the spirit of commerce of the district’s early Indian traders. The building contains the five-foot-way typical of Malaya’s colonial era shophouses.
The Chinatown precinct
The street architecture of Chinatown’s buildings, the shophouses especially, combine different elements of baroque architecture and Victorian architecture and do not have a single classification. Chinese started living in the area from 1819. Trengganu Street, Pagoda Street and Temple Street are such examples of this architecture, as well as development in Upper Cross Street and the houses in Club Street. Boat Quay was once a slave market along the Singapore River, Boat Quay has the most mixed-style shophouses on the island.
Lau Pa Sat (Telok Ayer market)
The original Telok Ayer market was one of the oldest markets in Singapore and built on the original waterfront. Originall built in 1833 and was a prominent landmark on the Singapore waterfront. The market had to be moved from its original waterfront location and rebuilt in 1894, and a clock tower and a new cast-iron supporting structure. The most recent restoration and renovation occured in 2014.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
This 163-ha reserve includes Singapore’s highest hill, Bukit Timah Hill, which stands at 163 m and retains one of the few areas of primary rainforest in the country. Bukit Timah Forest Reserve was retained for the protection of its flora and fauna under the management of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The hotel opened in 1887, named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. The hotel started in the 1830s as a beach house and new hotel was built on the site in the 1890s. In 1987 the hotel was declared a national monument by the Singapore Government and has since become a five star hotel. The hotel has been the setting for a number of movies and has is a icon in popular culture.
On the hill overlooking the Camden town centre is a church building that represents the historic, moral and emotional heart of community. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the church represents the soul of the town, which was built below it on the Nepean River floodplain in the mid-19th century.
Metaphor for the order and stability
The church is a metaphor for the order and stability that it represented on the wilds of the colonial frontier. It was at the centre of the original proposal for the English-style village of Camden in the 1830s along with a court house and a gaol.
For the Macarthurs of Camden Park estate the church was the centre of their moral and spiritual conservatism. The church, as part of similar early 19th English estate villages, represented stability and order that the Macarthur required of the new community on their estate. More than this the church was a central part of the landscape vistas of the village from Camden Park House.
James Macarthur view of the world
The church, according to Alan Atkinson, was representative of James Macarthur religious view of the world where faith emanated from the ‘joint initiative of all classes’. Macarthur maintained that ‘collective and mutual dependence’ was an essential part of the ‘Christian spirit’ that would be a ‘symbol off for their reliance on each other’. [i]
The church cause was promoted by James and William Macarthur and appealed to neighbours and employees for a fund for the construction of the church. By 1835 the Macarthurs subscribed £500 of a total of £644 from estate workers and neighbours.
The building of the church coincided with Governor Bourke’s Church Act of 1836 which offered a subsidy for the building of churches in the colony of New South Wales. The Macarthur applied for a subsidy of £1000 of the total cost of £2500.[ii]
The church was constructed by with local bricks and timbers and was consecrated in 1849. Hector Abrahams states that St Johns church:
In its architectural innovation and picturesque placement in a controlled landscape, it is among the most important parish churches in Australia.[iii]
Camden religious precinct
The church and its grounds are located in a religious precinct that includes the rectory and stables (1859), church hall (1906), and a cemetery. While the church was originally proposed in a ‘classical’ style it was eventually constructed in the Gothic Revival style which became popular in Sydney at the time. Sydney architect Hector Abrahams maintains that St Johns ,was the first Gothic Revival church in the colony of New South Wales’ when finished in 1844.
Gothic revival looked back to the glory of the medieval period, in contrast to neo-classical styles which were popular at the time. To its supporters Gothic architecture was representative of true Christian values that were being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. Gothic architecture was aligned with the conservatism of the Macarthurs rather than the republicanism of the French and American revolutionary wars and neoclassicism. Its popularity was partly driven in the colony of New South Wales by the re-building of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834 which evoked a romantic age.
Over the subsequent decades St John’s church has become a representation of Camden’s Englishness. Probably the first reference to St John’s church and its Englishness was in the Anglican newspaper the Sydney Guardian when it stated
it’s graceful and really well proportioned spire presents a cheering object to the up country traveller, as it breaks the dull outline of bush hill carrying the mind back to scenes well remembered and deeply loved by all English hearted folk (Sydney Guardian quoted in Clive Lucas Stapleton & Partners, St. John’s Anglican Church Precinct Menangle Road, Camden Conservation Management Plan, 2004, Sydney, p.44)
In 1926 the church was in the forefront of the mind of Eldred Dyer who wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Camden was reminiscent of English parish church towns. He wrote that as he stepped out and walked around the town centre he lifted his:
eyes to the old church as it stands in beauty on its hill, and In a flash you are transported to some old English church town. In a moment, if you have understanding, you and in a flash you are transported to some old English church town.[iv]
To a travel writer for the Sydney Mail in 1926 the church was the dominant English-style landscape feature on a road trip through the area:.
the shapely and lofty steeple of its church raising itself above the copse of frees on the hilltop and giving the little township a quaintly European aspect.[v]
The church has become central to all representations of the Camden township from its inception, and what it means to be born and bred in the district. The church is the fundamental icon is the community’s sense of place and identity.
The church symbolism is central in tourism literature, business promotions, stories of the town, its history and a host of other representations of the district.
The church continues to dominate the town centre skyline and the minds and hearts of all Camden folk. Here hoping that this continues for another century.
[i] Atkinson, Alan. Camden / Alan Atkinson Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic 2008 http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html pp.30-32
[ii] Atkinson, Alan. Camden / Alan Atkinson Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic 2008 http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html pp.30-32
[iii] Hector Abrahams, Christian church architecture, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/christian_church_architecture, viewed 16 March 2017
[iv] Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 28 August 1926, page 9
[v] Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), Wednesday 11 August 1926, page 46
The CHN blogger was recently out and about and re-discovered a lovely urban space in central Goulburn on the New South Wales southern tablelands. Known as Belmore Park since the mid-19th century the park has a formal symmetrical layout. This is typical of many 19th century Victorian urban parks with paths crossing it on the diagonal for promenading and adding to the balance of the space. The park is abutted by lovingly conserved 19th century architecture and the Victorian designed railway station which all add to the ambience of the precinct in the town’s heritage centre.
The origin of urban parks has been traced to a number of sources. At its simplest is was an open space that became the village green or they were grassed fields and stadia in Greek cities, or they were an open area with a grove of sacred trees. By the medieval period they were open grassed areas within or adjacent to a village where the lord allowed the common villagers to graze their animals. Some were royal hunting parks that date from ancient days where the king walled off a section of forest to keep out poachers. From the 18th century French and British noblemen were aided by landscape designers like Capability Brown to design private parks and pleasure grounds. The Italians had their piazza, which was usually paved. In the UK the establishment of Birkenhead Park in 1843, Central Park in New York in the mid 1850s, Philadelphia’s urban park system in the 1860s and Sydney’s Governors’ Domain and Hyde Park all had an influence.
Belmore Park was Goulburn’s Market Square from the 1830s, and renamed Belmore Square in 1869 in honor of the visit of Lord and Lady Belmore on the opening of the railway at Goulburn, and a picket fence was built around the square. In the early twentieth century it was the site of a small zoo, perhaps reflecting the zoo in the Sydney Botanic Gardens or the Botanic Gardens in Hobart, which was part of the notion of creating a ‘pleasure ground’. Belmore Square was re-dedicated as the Belmore Botanic Gardens in 1899. During the 20th century the park became a landscape of monuments and memorials, similar to Hyde Park in Sydney, and other urban parks around Australia.
A landscape of monuments and memorials
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.
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.
To read more go to the website of the The Royal Botanic Gardens and read about the history and heritage of the gardens at the State Heritage Inventory. The Dictionary of Sydney has some interesting stories about the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain is one of the most popular spots for the Sydney Festival.
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