An enthusiastic crowd gathered on a balmy evening in Camden’s John Street historic precinct anticipating the opening of a new art gallery. The twilight evening event provided just the right atmosphere for this once in a generation event for the town centre.
The event was the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection which is housed in the fully restored grand Gothic-inspired town residence of Henry Thompson (1860) called Macaria. Even today after 150 years Macaria is still an important architectural statement as part of Camden’s John Street colonial streetscape and historic precinct. The precinct includes the police barracks, the old school of arts building and temperance hall, the commercial bank building, the Tiffin cottage all topped off by the magnificent vista of St John’ Church rising above the town centre.
Alan Baker, the artist and a life story
Alan Baker was a true local identity and he, his wife Majorie and the family had a profound influence shaping the art scene in the Camden district in the second half of the 20th century. Alan Baker helped shape the lives of a host of Camden artists including Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Olive McAleer and Gary Baker. Baker also contributed to the broader art world through his vice-presidency of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.
Baker’s artwork and ‘the collection tells the story of life…and the journey of the artist’, according to his son Gary. The exhibition highlights the two identifiable periods in Alan’s artistic career. Divided by the tragic drowning death of Alan and Marjorie’s two sons in a Georges River boating accident in 1961.
Alan’s work after the tragedy has a more contemplative approach. The paintings have a ‘zen’ quality, according to Gary, and reflect the ‘stories of love, family, community, war, beauty, darkness and tragedy’.
The literal meaning of zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition. Applied to artwork it might mean that Alan Baker was inspired by the contemplative aesthetic of the house garden and bush surroundings at his home at The Oaks.
Gary Baker maintains that there is a ‘purity’ to Alan’s work and it was centred on Alan’s studio and the way the light played with it. Gary explains the process his father used to create his artworks:
My father’s studio was located under his house at Belimba Park. It had one south window and it was cool dark and silent. There was a large sandstone rock over which dripped water. The water seeped from underground and was all around where he sat to work. The light was pure without any other sources and then went to total darkness further into the room, which was rather like a cellar.
In the morning he would pick fresh flowers that he grew with my mother’s help. He would choose them from their extensive garden. Hundreds of camellias, roses, Japonica, peaches and all sorts blossom trees, annuals and perennials. He would arrange them with great care. Aware he only had time to paint them for the life of the flower. Sometimes one or two days.
The flowers would move to the light as the day passed. They were truly living. Some would fall to the table. They constantly changed. After arranging them he would cut a board that fitted the composition. Not being restricted to stock size he made his own frames.
During the process of painting, I felt he was in a state of meditation. He often with classical music playing. There was a rhythm to his work leading to this state of mind. His technical skill learned over decades enabled him to get to this heightened state.
He didn’t have to focus on the difficulties of drawing colour tone, instead used his intuition. Sitting in an upright position close to his board he would spend hours or days completing the painting until done. He never over painted and rarely moved away from his easels to view his work during the painting stage.
The flowers had a stability and calmness. They are asymmetric in design. The reflections on the glass table show a sort of purity calmness. The delicate flowers capture a purity or truthfulness. The flowers were almost textured, the way the paint is applied.
His brush strokes are simplified. Directly confident. Almost abstract. I see a likeness to Chinese ink painting techniques. The designs with the vase in the middle. Most art teachers say that it should not be done this way.
I see some of his paintings as being perfect! I see how they are living, not still. I see the air flow around them. Even viewing at different angles the texture of the paint changes the look of each painting. They are so complex and yet so simple. The brush strokes are very pronounced on board enhancing a textured feel. He did not use canvas.
Flowers themselves are universal symbols of remembrance love. I feel that he was chasing perfection in beauty. His paintings of flowers seem to speak to people with this. Many a man has said to me that they do not look like flower paintings. His are different. You can appreciate that! His floral work is from the heart not intellectual. I feel it’s spiritual.
Alan and Marjorie made The Oaks their home after the 1961 tragedy and maybe Baker was searching for the truth through the subject material he chose for his work. Certainly Alan’s still-life paintings absorbed a large of amount of his artistic effort and possibly account for Gary labelling his work as a form of ‘realism’.
Realism was an artistic movement that appeared in France in the mid-19th century when Realists rejected Romanticism and its exotic subject matters and emotional influences. Romanticism had dominated French art from the mid-18th century. Realism, as an art movement, sought to portray the truth and accuracy of daily life and growing in parallel with the new visual source of photography.
Alan Baker certainly does not pander to sentimentalism or heroic depiction of subjects as 19th century Romantic might have done. The Realists, as Alan’s work represents, rejected the sentimental and heroic and they the later tradition of the moderne. Alan was not a fan of modernist abstract and avant-garde styles of painting. Alan was a technician which was the basis of his commercial art commissions during the Interwar period for Tooths Hotels and others.
Gary goes on about his father’s artwork:
This is the other side of his work. When you walk back and see his work from a distance. It comes into focus. You see a realist painting, the simple brush strokes disappear. He was so well trained in the art skills of tone, drawing and colour. He found modern art to be “the refuse of the incompetent”.
Alan learnt his trade at the J.S. Watkins Art School where he studied drawing at 13 years of age. Watkins had set up his art school after returning to Australia after studying in Paris in 1898 above the Julian Ashton’s art school in King Street. By 1927 when Alan Baker was attending it had moved to 56 Margaret Street Sydney.
At the Watkins art school Alan was trained in tonal drawing in pencil charcoal, pen and washes and later oils, according to Gary’s biography of his father. The art school provided a competitive environment and Alan thrived in it. His mentors included Henry Hanke, Normand Baker (his brother ) and William Pidgen and Alan later became a teacher at the school.
In 1936 at 22 years of age Alan had a self-portrait accepted in the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Alan’s brother Normand won the Archibald prize in 1937 with his Self Portrait and the travelling scholarship in 1939. Between 1932 and 1972, according to Gary Baker, Alan entered the Archibald Prize with 35 separate paintings and made the finals 26 times. In 1969 he submitted a portrait of Camden surgeon Gordon Clowes which made the final selection that year.
The Alan Baker Art Collection is representative of the art genres that Alan practised his career. They are portraiture, still life, landscape, seascape, life drawing and life painting. These artistic genres have long history in Western art and Alan drew on these traditions.
The exhibitions has a number of examples of Baker’s commercial hotel posters, pencil drawings and portraits. Some were completed during his war service in New Guinea and the Pacific where he painted Papuans, fellow diggers and others. Alan enlisted in 1942 in the Australian Army with the rank of private and served in New Guinea. On discharge in 1945 he was with the 2 Australian Watercraft Workshop AEME (Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).
After the war he met Marjorie Whitchurch (formerly Kingsell) who had taken up art classes at the Watkins art school. Alan worked an instructor at the school after he was demobbed from the army. Marjorie fled Singapore in 1942 when the Japanese invaded the city, and in the process she lost her husband, who died on the Burma Railway, her home and her possessions.
After Alan dated Marjorie for a year they married in 1946. They lived in primitive accommodation at Moorebank with few facilities. Their first child was born in 1947. Alan’s career started to prosper and he had a painting of his wife Marjorie accepted in the 1953 Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was one of the finalists with his Artists Wife.
After the tragic loss of their sons Alan and Marjorie were suffering profound grief and moved to the isolation of The Oaks. Here they established a house and garden and Alan established studio in a bush setting. The garden might have provided some light in these dark days. Alan used many of the garden flowers for Still Life paintings. Some of these are in the exhibition. Baker maintained that
An artist must arrange his own composition by any means…the value of the shadow being thrown from one flower thrown from one flower to the other…I spend hours arranging till I am satisfied the result will be successful.
Alan was a fan of plein air painting, a tradition which goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century with the introduction of paints in tubes. Before this artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. This genre is illustrated by a number of landscape paintings in the exhibition, some of local area which capture Alan’s ‘commitment to the natural and man-made environment’. Baker’s landscapes reflect naturalism and the avoidance of stylisation.
Baker lived at The Oaks until his death in 1987 and across those years had a prolific output of work. The Australian Art Sales Digest lists 708 works by Baker across his lifetime, of which 77 are on display at the new gallery. Alan’s artwork is exhibited in numerous galleries and private collections and he held many shows across Australia,
Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak gave the keynote address at the gallery opening. She outlined the gestation of the project and those who supported it along the way. She was full of praise and said that she has been a strong supporter of the project.
Others who spoke at the opening included local Camden MLA Chris Patterson, Alan’s son Gary Baker and philanthropist Max Tegel. These speakers explained how the project required patience and perseverance and that the initial inspiration came from Gary Baker and Max Tegel.
The conservation and re-adaptation of the building was supervised by Sydney architect Ashley Dunn of firm Dunn and Hillan Architects. The original interior joinery has been highlighted with Australian red cedar architraves, skirtings and window frames. Wide original floor boards of Baltic Pine have been polished and provide a warm ambiance to the gallery rooms.
Dunn has designed bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th modernism style that works well with the gallery aesthetic. Dunn drew his inspiration from a number of sources and he has stated:
We wanted to ensure that the furniture was readily identifiable as a contemporary addition. I have always admired the work of artist and architect Max Bill who practiced in Switzerland during the mid 20th century and was educated at the Bauhaus. We are also inspired by the work of artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys and Gordon Matta-Clarke, all of whom worked during the later part of the mid 20th C.
Modern joinery is treated differently to highlight the contemporary phase in the life of the building and in the process creates a distinct separation from the joinery of the colonial period. Dunn has stated:
Our approach to the building was to use a consistent material for all new additions that was sympathetic to but different from the original fabric. We chose 40mm Blackbutt which is much blonder with a tighter grain than the reds and browns of the Australian Cedar and Baltic Pine. The new openings are framed in 40mm Blackbutt and the furniture has 40mm Blackbutt tops. The carcasses all have Blackbutt veneer and are edged in solid Blackbutt. The leather upholstery was chosen to mediate between the different browns and work with the floor colour.
After the official proceedings had finished the crowd of 180 milled around under the marques that lined the exterior front lawns of the gallery. Appetizers, canapes, hors d’oeuvres and other delicacies were served to the guests.
The town residence of Macaria is representative of the Picturesque Tudor Gothic style. It is brick town residence of the colonial Victorian period and originally had a shingle roof. For a house of its scale it is one of the best examples of the architectural style in Australia. Originally there were similarly designed cottage and stables around the house that were demolished long ago.
Natural and man-made things were attractive to look at – houses, gardens, open spaces…gazebos…-were seen as elements in a huge, three-dimensional picture which needed to be artfully composed by a designer possessed of finely tuned judgement.(p.90)
Macaria is representative of the some of the design characteristics of the Picturesque movement included ‘prettiness, quaintness and old-world charm’. Expatriate Englishmen in the colony of New South Wales, according to Apperly, were seeking the known similarities with home in England that provided a degree of comfort in the strange environment of the antipodes. Pattern books of these type of designs were published by JC Loudon (1833) and Calvert Vaux (1857).
In New South Wales one adaptation from Victorian English designs was the addition of a verandah as illustrated by Macaria. There are a number of other residences across Australia of a similar style. One can be found in Vaucluse where Sydney architect John Hilly designed Greycliffe House in Neilsen Park in 1852.
Macaria the history
The Macaria building can be treated as a historical document and primary source. The story of the building can be revealed by the diligent researcher. The layers of its history can be peeled back to reveal previous uses and stories of people who lived and worked within it.
Macaria was originally built by Sydney Congregationalist businessman Henry Thompson who came to Camden with his brother Samuel in the early 1840s. They established a general store and a steam flour mill. Thompson was part of a Sydney based retailing family which set up a chain of stores including Yass and Camden.
The land that Macaria was built on was originally purchased in 1846 by Sarah Tiffin who was a housekeeper for the Macarthur family of Camden Park. Henry Thompson purchased the land from the estate of Sarah Tiffin in 1854. Tiffin has constructed a small Georgian brick cottage on the site in the 1840s, now 39 John Street.
Henry Thompson, who had several school-age sons, became a patron of William Gordon’s Classical and Commercial Academy in 1857. Thompson built Gordon ‘a very handsome house of elegant design’ as a schoolhouse which was known as Macaria. In 1861 Gordon had moved his school to Macquarie Grove, which had been vacated by the Hassalls, where he took a seven year lease. The school closed before the end of the lease. (Atkinson, Camden: 188-189)
Macaria was a substantial town residence and was statement by Thompson to demonstrate his status and importance as a local businessman. Henry’s Thompson’s large family of sixteen children lived in Macaria until 1870. Henry died in 1871 after falling from his horse.
Macaria was a residence for the Milford family, after which the house was leased by Dr George Goode in 1875, an outspoken Irishman of ill-temper. GB Crabbe leased the house in 1886 and converted it to the Camden Grammar School for young boys. The school closed in 1894.
Dr FW West used the house as the surgery for his medical practice and a home for his family from 1901 to 1932, when Francis West died. A series of medical practitioners occupied the house: LB Heath (1932 1938); RE & JT Jefferis (1938-1955); GF Lumley (1955-1975)
Macaria was purchased by Camden Municipal Council from Dr Lumley, and the building was used as the Camden Library, and then the Camden mayor’s offices.
The restoration of Macaria is part of Council’s strategy to invest in the historical Camden Town Centre and create a landmark tourist attraction for residents and visitors to enjoy.
This creative vision was made a reality by Camden Council, which showed its support and commitment to the promotion of arts in the region, by investing in and restoring historical Macaria as Camden’s revitalised home of the arts the community.
So what does all this mean?
The opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Gallery is ground-breaking for the Camden Local Government Area.
It is the first time an important historic town residence has been conserved and re-adapted by Camden Council and opened to the public.
It is the first time a major art gallery in the Camden Local Government Area has been supported by public funds.
It is the first time that private philanthropic interests have donated an art collection to create a public art space and gallery.
It is the first time that a notable local identity has been acknowledged in a public space in this fashion.
It is, according to his son Gary Baker, one of the one of the few collections across the global art community that embraces ‘the complete life of the artist, their family and their place with the community’.
The eclectic mix of architecture at the RMIT La Trobe Street Campus ranged from venues that were located in magnificent Victorian colonial building used for the administration of justice to those that were examples of ultra-modern late 20th century style of architecture.
The Storey Meeting Hall of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (1887) has been remade in modern form reliving its iconography as an important symbol of Melbourne’s social and political protest movement.
Morning and afternoon teas were taken in the alumni courtyard, which was previously the car park of the Russell Street Police Headquarters. The venue provided food for thought located next door to the Old Melbourne Gaol (1842). If these bluestone walls could speak they would tell harrowing tales from the the colourful past of the site.
The conference theme of ‘Remaking Cities’ was inspired by Melbourne as an exemplar of cities that are continually remade. Melbourne was a manufacturing centre, a site of land speculation and a place re-made on the land management practices of the Kulin nation.
The process of re-making Melbourne is underpinned by the processes of settler colonialism, speculation and taking of territory. These factors cast a long shadow of how a shared future might be achieved and the role of the planning processes within these processes.
Industrial growth and development are themes that have been central to the Australia’s nineteenth-century cities, including Melbourne, and their subsequent decline by the late 20th century. The post-manufacturing period provides a whole new set of challenges for cities like Melbourne as the financial, service and cultural sectors drive urban growth.
This was a heady mix that was matched by the mix of 72 presentations from scholars, practitioners and community members across three separate streams. Delegates came from interstate and overseas (New Zealand) with a strong contingent of local Melbournites.
There were sessions ranging from: planning histories; postwar campus; heritage; land speculation; music; maps; housing; rivers and wetlands; parks and gardens; museums; governance; transport; commerce; streetscapes; quarries; urban agriculture and food systems; placemaking; to Indigenous planning and policy.
Delegates were invited to dine beneath the gallows that famously ended the life of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880. Kelly is certainly one of the icons of Australian history and has inspired poetry, song, film, art and literature. He has variously been called a bushranger, larrikin, bushman, underdog and arguably an anarchist. The venue was heavy with the atmospherics of its history and delegates could wander in and out of the cells where they could walk the ground from the past.
The bluestone walls provided a ghoulish backdrop to the sounds of Melbourne trio The Orbweavers.
The conference organising committee are to be complemented on doing a grand job.
Some photographs from the Camden Images Past and Present came the attention of the CHN blogger from the early 1920s. One from 1922 and, a second, the Duesbury-Burford wedding from 1925.
The images speak of the forces modernism and the fashions of the Interwar period. They illustrate how even the small country town of Camden did not escape the global transnational fashion trends of 1920s.
In 1925 the Adelaide News reported on the wedding of 30 year old Frank Duesbury, the son of Lewis and Catherine Duesbury of Camden. Frank married 28 year old Ethel Burford who came from Semaphore near the Port Adelaide district located on the St Vincent Gulf coastline.
Frank was one of five children of Lewis and Catherine, the others being Esther, Ruebell, Jessie and Lewis. The family lived at 64 Harrington Street, Elderslie then by 1918 in Menangle Road Camden. The family later moved into Balmacarra at 35 Elizabeth Street. Lewis worked for CT Whiteman from 1893 after running general stores in Dungog, Kempsey and Sydney.
In June 1918 Frank volunteered for service during the First World War. At the time he was employed as an assessor with the Federal Taxation Department.
Frank and Ethel became engaged in 1922. Ethel embraced modernism and the fashions of the 1920s and all they represented to her. The image of her at her engagement says it all.
An engagement is a betrothal and in most cultures is period before the marriage ceremony where the couple get to know each other and is considered a trial marriage. The engagement ring in European cultures dates back to the Roman period and more recently influenced by marriage practices of the middle ages.
In the tradition of British culture, including Australia, the wedding is one of the big days of a woman’s life, the others being baptism and funerals. The wedding was a big day in Ethel’s life.
The wedding day, according Elizabeth Davies on her website A Brief History of the Wedding Dress in Britain, is one of the great public occasions when the people involved can fully appreciate the glory of their central role. She maintains that the bride has always tried to make the wedding a special day, a fairy tale come true for many.
In the British Empire royal weddings were very influential on fashion trends and in times gone past were of great political importance. The young princess had to uphold the national prestige and present herself as a symbol of the power and wealth of the nation.
One of the most important in the modern period was the marriage of Prince Albert to the reigning Queen Victoria in 1840. Both 18 years old and smitten with each other. The marriage was of immense political importance to Great Britain and its position in the world at the time. It was the first wedding of a reigning English queen in 300 years.
The Duesbury-Burford wedding in 1925 was of great importance to the families of those involved. The wedding was reported in the Adelaide News and took place in Sydney. The wedding took place at the Church of Christ Tabernacle at Enmore.
The bride, Ethel, was dressed in ‘a charming tube frock of crepe stella’ reflecting the fashions. The 1920 flapper style was reflected in the wedding styles at a time and was a revolution in women’s clothing. The hemlines rose and the wedding dresses followed suit. The corset had disappeared and the sense of freedom for women was a rebellion against the excesses of the First World War. Ethel’s wedding gown reflected all of these notions.
Ethel’s outfit was described this way by the News:
The court train was lined with georgette, and was handsomely embroidered with pearls and orange blossom. Her veil of cut tulle was held in place with a wreath of orange blossom, and she carried a shower bouquet of roses and sweet peas.
The orange blossom in the wreath was a symbol of fertility, and was also used in 1840 by Queen Victoria.
Edith’s gown of georgette would have been quite expensive particularly as it was embroidered with pearls. Goergette fabric has been described this way on Utsavpedia:
Georgette is a light-weight, crinkled and sheer fabric, displaying an overall bouncy look. A strong absorbent, Georgette is easy to dye and has dull-rough texture. Georgette is woven in highly twisted yarns of S & Z, in both warp and weft. Georgette is woven in two forms: Pure and Faux. Pure Georgette is woven out of Silk yarns, while the Faux Georgette is woven from Rayon and Polyester.
The wedding party was dressed in marocain fabric which is described on the Sartor All About Silk website this way:
Silk crepe marocain (heavy silk) is a luxurious heavy silk fabric with a nice drape. It is similar to heavy satin but in contrary to super smooth and lustrous satins it has a somewhat grainy surface and dull finish. Silk crepe marocain wears very well and is a favorite fabric for women blouses, shirts, summer dresses, skirts, scarves and of course luxury lingerie, tops, evening and bridalwear. It combines well with airy semi-transparent and dull georgettes.
The press report of the wedding in the News stated:
Miss Edith Burford (niece of the bride) was bridesmaid. She was frocked in powder blue marocain, with flared tunic edged with silver lace. A silver bandeau was worn round her head, and a bouquet of pink carnations was carried. Little Marjory Dumbrill, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Dumbrill, formerly of Semaphore, was train bearer. and looked pretty in pleated pale pink georgette trimmed with pale pink and blue rosebuds. A wreath of silver leaves was worn round her head. The bridegroom was supported by Mr. Stanley Taylor.
At the reception the bride’s sister-in law received her guests in a smart gown of navy marocain with Oriental trimmings. She carried a sheaf of autumn leaves and flowers. The bride travelled in a smart frock of penny brown jacquard marocain. with cloche hot to match. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Duesbury are residing at Gordon, New South Wales.
Gordon of the 1920s was an on the rural-urban fringe of Sydney and had a number of real estate subdivisions where young couple could buy a first home. The suburb was an expression of modernism. It was accessible to the city by the railway which had arrived in 1890 and encouraged the breaking up of local farms for housing. The Interwar period was a time of change and there was rapid housing growth.
Newly weds Frank and Ethel were an expression of modernism and they embraced it and all it stood for in their lifestyle and their family life.
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.
A major event on the social calendar of a number of picturesque villages in the Camden district were the annual New Year’s Day Sports Carnivals. They were part of the English traditions brought to the area by colonial immigrants, and in 1915 they were held in the villages of Cobbitty and The Oaks. Sports carnivals were wonderful community events that included all classes of villagers regardless of their station in life and during the First World War they held special appeal for patriotic fundraising.
These social and cultural traditions were not isolated to the Camden district and have been held in many other parts of Australia. They are still carried on today in some localities, for example, Glenlyon in Victoria (started in 1857) and Perlubic Beach in South Australia (started in 1914).
English village sports
The origins of these festivals, according to Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s Old English Sports (2007), lies in ancient Saxon customs, particularly in Devonshire and Sussex, associated with ‘wassailing’ (carousing and health-drinking) to ensure the thriving of orchard trees (mainly apples) and exchanging presents. On New Years Day village youths undertook indoor and outdoor sport to keep out the cold by ‘wholesome exercise and recreative games’. Sports included bat-and-ball, wrestling, skittles, blind-man’s-bluff, hunt the slipper, sword dancing and mumming (play acting).
Cobbitty Sports Day starts in 1866
The New Year Sports Day in the village of Cobbitty was a hallowed community event which started in 1866. The day included a variety of athletic and novelty events and finished with a gala concert in the evening. . It was one of the premier events on the social calendar, and local resident Donald Howard, maintains in his Cobbitty’s Finest Hour (2010), that spectators and participants came in their ‘droves from miles around’.
Prize purse for main event ‘Narellan and Cobbitty Handicap’
The Camden News reported that there was a ten event programme starting with the major event of the day the ‘Narellan and Cobbitty Handicap Footrace’ over 125 yards for male competitors. The running track, according to Donald Howard, was on the village green between the parish hall and St Paul’s Church. Entries had to be in by Boxing Day with an entry fee of 1/- and an acceptance fee of 1/6. There was fierce competition from the young men of the village for the handsome first prize of £5, which was twice the weekly wage for a rural labourer. Quite an amount for any villager, and first place attracted quite a bit of status and prestige for the winner. Even the second prize was a respectable 25/- and third prize 5/-.
Dress regulations for competitors in the ‘Handicap’ were strictly enforced with ‘trousers to the knee, or amateur trunks and singlets’ that had to be approved by two male members of the local gentry, Mr FWA Downes of Brownlow Hill and Mr TC Barker of Maryland. Race organizers conveniently started the programme of events after lunch for competitors, which allowed village revellers to recover from the New Year’s celebrations. The ‘Handicap’ was put in the hands of the starters at 2.00pm.
Nail driving for women
Village youth were not left out of the story and were able to get a feel for the main event by entering their own footraces, one for youths (14-18 years) and another for boys (under 14). Here they rehearsed the tactics that they might employ in main event when they were old enough.
Other events on the programme catered for those locals not able to qualify for the footraces, and included high jump, ‘stepping’, and ‘throwing at wickets’, while the village women were allowed to take part in ‘nail driving’.
Village elders held positions of importance as starters, judges and referees and supported their social status by donating appropriate cash prize for races. The Camden Brass Band was located in the ‘grounds’ and provided rousing patriotic tunes throughout the day. These tunes were enjoyed by the village ladies who entertained themselves during the day with tea in the parish hall.
Red Cross support
Village women sold their cooking, sewing, knitting and other ‘fancies’ at the sports day bazaar. The bazaar raised significant amounts of money for village causes, particularly the St Paul’s Church missions. The bazaar auxiliary was made up of village women who were good organizers, but never sort the limelight that was bestowed on the male race organizers. During the First World War the village women’s fundraising efforts, which were considerable, were directed to patriotic purposes, including the local branches of the Red Cross.
Evening Grand Concert
The sports day festivities were closed in the evening with the Grand Concert held in the parish hall. The concert started at 8.00pm and the front seats were sold for 2/- while those less financially able bought seats at the back of the hall for 1/-. Local personalities and school children performed a variety musical items for the entertainment of the assembly, and occasionally a ‘big name celebrity’ was hired from the city. Donald Howard sadly recalls that the last Cobbitty Sports Day was held in 1941, due to a combination of petrol rationing, material costs and a general pre-occupation by villagers with the war effort.
1915 The Oaks New Year Sports Day
Another district sports day was organized on New Year’s Day 1915 in the village of The Oaks. While not as prestigious as the sports day at Cobbitty, it did attract an enthusiastic crowd. It was organized by the Literary Institute and held in ‘Mr WS William’s paddock’, just outside the village. There was a 15 event programme starting with the premier event, ‘The Oaks Handicap’ over 130 yards. Prizes were awarded to the first 4 place-getters, with the winner receiving £2. The sports day was more inclusive of the wider village community than Cobbitty and included a tug-o-war, guessing competitions and a number of horse events. The horse events were a village specialty and the village even had its own race track. Refreshments were sold on the grounds by local women and the day was topped off by a night-time social which had ‘first class music’ from a local band.
1915 Mount Hunter Boxing Day Carnival
District sports day was not confined to The Oaks and Cobbitty. The village of Mount Hunter had earlier held a sports carnival on Boxing Day 1914, while the Camden Cycling Club was to hold a major gala day on Anniversary Day (Australia Day) 26 January 1915 at the Camden Showground, with a range of ‘bicycle, athletic and military events’.