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Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large  country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations.

From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables.  This did not go un-noticed in the film industry.

Camden Park Publicity

One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and race horse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an airplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.

Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was release in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based of Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directored by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which were painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.

The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulge the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.

Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson.  Many old time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and United States.

In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary  The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.

In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine were filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.

In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced a number of short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.

In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved  horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.

Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst  as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has a number of powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates.  The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.

The 55-room fairytale like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on air. In the end Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.

Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010.  Part of the show are power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.

Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park was used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.

Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for a number of movies, advertisements and fashion shoots  since the 1950s.   They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film written and directed by Liz Hughes which used  lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.

In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”.  In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce  a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to  the Macarthur and Sydney markets.

In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlook the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cup cakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room siting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.

 

In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman the reason the Camden area was used was because it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.

 

 

In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘

The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.

The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.

Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 has been used as a film set in 2018 for the TV series Doctor Doctor (I Willis)

 

In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and  a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero.  The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.

Studley Park at Night spooky 2017 CNA
Spooky Studley Park House is claimed to be one of the most haunted locations in the Macarthur region. The TV series Home & Away on 3 & 4 October 2018 certainly added to those stories by using the house as a set location. (CN Advert)

Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;

Studley Park House, Camden 

This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.

In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.

The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.

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The local church as a centre of place

A centre of place

In Camden the local non-going church community has resisted the sale by the Anglican Church of a horse paddock between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.

Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

 

The purpose of this blog post is to try and unravel some of the broader issues underpinning community angst around the sale of church property. The post will look at the case study of the sale of churches in Tasmania and the resultant community anxiety.

The local church in place

The local church is an important part of a local community. It has a host of meanings for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.

The local church is a central part of the construction of place and people’s attachment to a cultural landscape and locality.

Place is about a sense of belonging and a sense of groundedness. It is expressed by cultural heritage, memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.

Belonging is central to placeness. It is home. A site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is  an important source of stability in a time of chaos. Home is part of a community.

LM Miller from the University of Tasmania states that people are involved fundamentally with what constitutes place and places are involved fundamentally in the construction of persons. Place wraps around and envelopes a person. People are holders of place (Miller: 6-8)

There is a shared sense of belonging in a community where being understood is important and part of a beloved collection. A sense of belonging acts as an all encompassing set of beliefs and identity. . It enriches our identity and relationships and leads to acceptance and understanding.

A church is one of these communities.

Cobbitty St Pauls 1890s CKerry 'EnglishChurch' PHM
This Charles Kerry Image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbity as an English-style pre-industriral village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

 

When a person’s sense of place is threatened then their sense of self, identity, safety, stability, and security are challenged. Where there is a loss of a person’s sense of place and belonging to a place they go through a grieving process.

The closure, sale and de-consecration of the local church are a threat to a person’s sense of place.

Local churches are part of a community’s cultural heritage.

Local churches are part of a community’s cultural heritage.

Cultural heritage consists of two parts. Firstly, tangible heritage which is made up, for example, buildings, art, objects and artefacts.

Secondly there is intangible cultural heritage which includes customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values.  This can be extended to include traditional skills and technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts and storytelling.

 

Churchgoers and a sense of place

The link between local churches and a community’s sense of place  has been explored  by Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History. He says that churchgoers are often faced with unsustainable maintenance costs for a church. Eventually when churchgoers are forced to sell the property they:

often seemed less reluctant to give up their church than the rest of the community…and faced with the prospect of its loss, [the non-churchgoers] were often prepared to fight with surprising tenacity to save it.’ (Davision:149)

Enmore Church of Christ Tabernacle
The Enmore Church of Christ Tabernacle in the early 20th century where Frank and Ethel were married in 1925. (Jubilee Pictorial History of the Church of Christ)

 

These churches have a strong emotional attachment for their communities. These churches are loved places for their community and Davison suggests:

It is in losing loved places, as well as loved persons, that we come to recognise the nature and depth of our attachment to our past. (Davison: 150)

Davison argues that churchgoers often have a loyalty to their local place well beyond their sense of faith in Christianity.

Sale of churches in Tasmania

These issues came to the fore in Tasmania in 2018 when there was  public outrage around the sale of local churches in Tasmania.

The Hobart press ran a story with the headline ‘Emotions run high, communities vow to fight after Anglican Church votes to sell off 76 churches’. (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)

tasmania st john's anglican church-ross-tasmania wikimedia lowres
St John’s Anglican Church Ross Tasmania (Wikimedia 2017)

The Anglican Church in Tasmania was attempting to fund the ‘redress commitment’ to the victims of clerical abuse by selling church property.

In response Central Tasmanian Highlands churchgoer Ron Sonners said that  ‘his ancestors [were] buried in the graveyard associated with St Peter’s Church at Hamilton’…and he ‘struggled with his emotions as he dealt with the fallout from his community church being listed for sale’.  (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)

Tasmania Anglican Bishop Richard Condie says that most of opposition to the sale of churches

 is primarily people in the broader community who oppose the sales, with the potential loss of heritage and family history, including access to graveyards, their main concern. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

There have been protest meetings and some effected parishes started fundraising campaigns to keep their churches.  The Hobart Mercury reported that

The Parish of Holy Trinity Launceston, which wants to keep St Matthias’ Church at Windermere, has raised the funds, with the help of its local community, to meet its redress contribution. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

Cultural historian and churchgoer Dr Caroline Miley said that:

the churches are an important part of Australian history… It is unconscionable that such a massive number of buildings, artefacts and precincts should be lost to the National Estate in one fell swoop…These are buildings built and attended by convicts and their jailers. They were built on land donated by early state governors, notable pioneers and state politicians, with funds donated by these colonials and opened by the likes of Sir John Franklin…As well, she says, they contain the honour boards, memorials and graves of those who fought and died in conflicts from the 19th century onwards…Some are in the rare (in Australia) Georgian style or in idiosyncratic Tasmanian Carpenter Gothic. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

Amanda Ducker of the Hobart Mercury summarises of the whole fuss surrounding the sale of churches in Tasmania this way:

Condie’s use-it-or-lose-it approach clashes with the keep-it-at-all-costs mentality. But while some opponents of the bishop’s plan refuse to sell their church buildings, neither do they want to go to church regularly. They rather prefer just to gather on special occasions: baptisms, weddings, funerals and perhaps at Christmas and Easter if they are leaning towards piety. But the rest of the year? Well, a sleep-in, potter at home or cafe brunch of eggs benedict (but sans ministering) are pretty tempting on Sunday morning. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

Others Anglicans in Tasmania see the whole argument differently. Emeritus Professor and Anglican Peter Boyce AO see it as fight over the spiritual traditions linked to the low and high Anglican traditions in Tasmania.   (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

All these arguments are characteristic of how people, their traditions, their values, their past, their memories are all rooted in a location and in particular a building like a church.

 

Other dimensions to the argument

The dualism expressed in the sale of church land and buildings can be likened to the difference between sacred and secular. These two polar opposites are explored in popular culture in the form of music by Nick Cave and others on The Conversation.

Another perspective on this area was aired on ABC Radio Local Sydney in December 2018 by Dr David Newheiser. In the discussion he examined  the differences between Christians and aethiests.  He maintained that there are strong sentiments in the community around tradition and ritual in the community and if you lose a church you lose all of this.

The binary position of churchgoers and non-churchgoers can also be expressed in ethical terms as the difference between good and evil, or right and wrong, or moral and immoral, just and unjust and so on. This dichotomy has ancient roots dating back to pre-Biblical times across many cultures.

So what does all this mean?

Churches have an important role to play in the construction of place in communities. This role is played out in different ways for different actors in the story.

As far as the dichotomy presented here in the story of the sale of church property and land, there is really no conclusion that satisfies all stakeholders.

There is no right or wrong position to the opposing views between churchgoers and non-churchgoers. The differences remain an unresolved ethical dilemma.

An iconic Camden image of St Johns Anglican Church in the 1890s.

Cover Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)

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What is Camden’s heritage, does it really matter and what does it mean?

What is Camden’s heritage?

 

Journalist Jeff McGill wrote an oped in April 2017 in the Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser opening with the headline:

Camden heritage worth saving

McGill continued:

Such a pretty tree-lined streetscape, full of old-world charm. I’ve often stood at that green paddock next to the church, with its views across the valley…  locals are up in arms as online rumours swirl about moves by the church to sell the land…Right next to Camden’s most famous heritage landmark, an 1840s gem described by one government website as “a major edifice in the history of Australian architecture”.

In May 2017 the views of Wollondilly Councillor Banasik on heritage were reported in the Camden Narellan Advertiser by journalist Ashleigh Tullis with respect to greater urban development at Menangle.

Cr Banasik said this development opposed the shire’s ethos of rural living. The heritage of the area is amazing – there is Camden Park, Gilbulla, Menangle Store and the rotolactor site,” he said. This development just ain’t rural living.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park House and Garden in 1906 is the home of the Macarthur family. It is still occupied by the Macarthur family and open for inspection in Spring every year. (Camden Images)

 

Journalist Kayla Osborne reported  the views of town planning consultant Graham Pascoe on heritage and the Vella family’s new commercial horticulture venture at Elderslie in the Camden Narellan Advertiser in May.

Mr Pascoe said the heritage nature of the site and its proximity to Camden had been well-considered by the Vella family…the land was ideal for farm use…the land has been farmed in the past…We believe we will provide a model…farm at the entrance to the Camden town centre.

Camden Community Garden 2018 IWillis
Paths, plots and patches at the Camden Community Garden 2018 (I Willis)

 

The views on heritage expressed in these stories do not actually define heritage.

There is an assumption or a presumption that the reader understands the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these contexts.

So what was the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these articles?

To answer that question another must be asked: What is Camden’s heritage?

 

What is heritage?

 

The term heritage is not that straight forward. There are a range of definitions and interpretations. The term is not well understood and can raise more issues than it addresses. Jana Vytrhlik, Manager, Education and Visitor Services, Powerhouse Museum (Teaching Heritage, 2010) agrees and says:

I think that heritage is one of the least understood term[s], it’s like culture, it’s like art, it’s like tradition, people really don’t know exactly what it means. http://www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au/section09/vytrhlik.php

Camden Whitemans Building 2018 IWillis
The Camden Whiteman’s building shown here from the street frontage in Argyle Street. The building has undergone adaptive re-use in accordance with the Burra Charter (ICOMOS) and continues to be busy retail outlet as it has done since the Victorian days. This means that their has been a retail outlet continuously occupying this site for over 130 years. The current building usage continues to contributed the delight and charm of the Camden town centre that attracts thousands of tourist every year. (I Willis, 2018)

 

To start with it is a useful exercise to say what heritage is not. Heritage is not history. Historian David Lowenthal says that

Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth… Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error… Prejudiced pride in the past… is its essential aim. Heritage attests our identity and affirms our worth.

David Lowenthal “Fabricating Heritage”, History & Memory Volume 10, Number 1. <https://muse.jhu.edu/article/406606/pdf&gt;

 

What is history

 

The word ‘history’ comes from the Latin word ‘historia’, which means ‘inquiry’, or ‘knowledge gained by investigation’.

History tells the stories of the past about people, places and events. History is about what has changed and what has stayed the same. History provides the context for those people, places and events.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. (Camden Show)

 

History is about understanding, analysing and interpreting the past based on evidence. As new evidence is produced there is a re-examination and re-interpreting of the past.  History is about understanding the why about the past.

 

Meaning of heritage

The meaning of heritage is not fixed and historian Graeme Davison maintains that the history of the word heritage has changed over the decades.

Initially heritage referred to what was handed down from one generation to the next and could include property, traditions, celebrations, commemorations, myths and stories, and memories. These were linked to familial and kinship groups, particularly in traditional societies, through folkways and folklore.

In the 19th century the creation of the nation-state, capitalism and modernism led to the creation of national myths, national stories and national heritage.

Camden Narellan Advertiser HAC 2017June7 lowres
Camden-Narellan Advertiser 2 June 2017

 

ln the 1970s, the new usage was officially recognised. A UNESCO Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted the term ‘heritage’ as a shorthand for both the ‘built and natural remnants of the past’.

(in Davison, G. & McConville C. (eds) ‘A Heritage Handbook’, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards NSW,1991)

 

Graeme Davison defines heritage in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as

inherited customs, beliefs and institutions held in common by a nation or community’ and more recently has expanded to include ‘natural and ‘built’ landscapes, buildings and environments.

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195515039.001.0001/acref-9780195515039

 

In New South Wales heritage has a narrower legal definition under the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) as:

those places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects, and precincts, of state or local heritage significance.

http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ha197786/

 

Heritage can be categorized in a binary fashion: cultural heritage/natural heritage; tangible heritage/intangible heritage; my heritage/your heritage; my heritage/our heritage.

Cooks Garage 1936
Cooks Service Station and Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Streets Camden in the mid-1930s. This establishment was an expression of Camden’s Interwar modernism. (Camden Images)

What is significant about Camden’s heritage?

In 2016 the Camden Resident Action Group attempted to have the Camden town centre listed on the state heritage register. The group obtained statements of support which outlined the significance Camden’s heritage. Statements of support were from Dr Ian Willis (UOW), Associate Professor Grace Karskens (UNSW) and Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson.

Camden Town Centre Significance Ian Willis 2016
A statement of significance by Dr Ian Willis 2016.

 

Camden Town Centre Significance Alan Atkinson 2016
A statement of significance by Emeritis Professor Alan Atkinson 2016

 

Camden Town Centre Significance Grace Karskens 2016
A statement of significance from Associated Professor Grace Karskens 2016

 

 

Camden Whitemans Store 1978[1] CIPP
By 1978 Whiteman’s General Store had undergone a number of expansion and provided a range of goods from mens and boys wear to haberdashery and hay and grain for local farmers from the Hill Street entrance. The mid-20th century building extension is to the left of the image. Upstairs were a number of flats that were leased out to local folk. (Camden Images)
British colonialism · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cultural Heritage · Elizabeth Farm · Farming · Georgian · Gothic · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Macarthur · myths · Place making · Settler colonialism · Victorian

Celebrity author at Camden Museum

 

The Camden Museum hosted celebrity author Michelle Scott Tucker recently at a local book launch. The event attracted an enthusiastic audience of 50 members and guests to an engrossing talk from Tucker, the author of Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World.

Camden Museum MSTucker talking BookLaunch 2018Jun13
Michelle Scott Tucker spoke about her new book Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World at the Camden Museum. She had the large audience sitting on the edge of their seats as she told the story of Elizabeth and her life in colonial New South Wales. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (I Willis, 2018)

 

Michelle delivered an eloquent and gripping lesson on Elizabeth Macarthur to an audience sitting on the edge of their seats. Tucker spoke for 40 minutes without notes and then handled a number of penetrating questions. Earlier in the day she had been interviewed on ABC Sydney Local Radio by James Valentine in wide ranging conversation about Macarthur that clearly impressed him. Tucker is an impressive media performer telling an engrossing story about her hidden subject of Elizabeth.

 

After the Museum talk there was a long line of those who had purchased books to have them signed by the author.  The most excited person in room was Camden Historical Society secretary Lee Stratton who drove into Surry Hills to pick up Michelle and then returned her to the city after the launch. Lee is a devoted fan and was not phased at all by her providing this generous effort.

Camden Museum MichelleScottTucker BookSigning 2018Jun13
Michelle Scott Tucker signing a copy of her new work Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World at the Camden Museum. There was a long queue for book signing from the large audience of members and friends on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (I Willis, 2018)

 

Michelle Scott Tucker writes in an engaging and open style that is easily accessible by anyone interested in colonial Australia, women’s biography or just a great yarn. She takes a fresh look at an old story from a woman’s perspective, from the other side.

 

In the early 19th century the world was divided into the women’s private sphere and the public world inhabited by men.  Michelle Scott Tucker takes a look from the domestic private world of women. It is a form of radical history.

Book Elizabeth Macarthur 2018 Cover TextPub
The cover of Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. The book was launched in Camden at the Camden Museum to a large and enthusiatic crowd of readers on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (Text Publishing)

 

Michelle’s analogy of her approach to the story is looking at the stitching on the back of tapestry, and inspecting the intricate nature of the threads. This gives you an insight into how the whole work is kept together from the hidden and dark shadows of the work. Without the stitching the work would fall apart, and so it was the Macarthur family enterprises in colonial New South Wales. Tucker draws the stitches together to create a story showing the colour and movement of colonial New South Wales.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur, the farmer’s daughter from Devon, married a cantankerous irascible army officer called John Macarthur when she was pregnant with her first child. Tucker draws an parallel with another Georgian story that of the women in the romantic novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. She makes the point that Elizabeth Macarthur, and husband John, were Georgian figures while her family were Victorians.

 

Tucker tells how Elizabeth Macarthur, heavily pregnant and with a small child at her side,  endured probably the worst journey out from England of any convict transport on the Second Fleet in the Scarborough. She nursed her husband back from illness that he suffered at the Cape and lost a child on the voyage out which was buried at sea. She suffered the social ignominy of sharing a cabin space with convict women well below her station in life.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch President Ian Willis with Michelle 2018Jun13 Lee Statton
The president of the Camden Historical Society Dr Ian Willis with Michelle Scott Tucker at the Camden launch of her new book Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (Lee Stratton)

 

Macarthur was not on her own and many colonial women endured the sea voyage from England with few comforts. Their diaries detail the trials and tribulations throughout the early years of the colony. One such figure in the Camden story was Caroline Husband who fell on hard times and fled their Hampstead Hill house near London with debt collectors in pursuit. She married pastoralist Henry Thomas and eventually lives at Wivenhoe, and her descendants grew up at Brownlow Hill.

 

The ever practical Elizabeth managed and developed the family business empire in colonial New South Wales while her husband was dealing with military charges in England. She entertained governors, politicians, businessmen, officers, while managing a large domestic staff, farm workers and convicts on their extensive landholdings. The role and influence of Elizabeth Macarthur as part of the story of settler colonialism in Australia and has been understated along with many other women of her time.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch Harry Warner Michelle and Frances Warner 2018Jun13 Lee Statton
Camden identities Frances and Harry Warner with author Michelle Scott Tucker at the Camden launch of Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. Frances and Harry have lived most of their lives at Camden Park and have been involved in a host of community activities over many years. Frances organised a small card gift for Michelle from Camden Park. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018. (Lee Stratton)

 

Tucker makes the point in an article for Inside Story that the story of Elizabeth Macarthur is not unique and that other colonial women made a significant contribution on their own. There was Esther Abrahams who ran Annandale, and Harriet King who raised a family and ran a property west of Parramatta. In Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) a retail empire was developed by former convict Maria Lord, while Eliza Forlonge ran a pastoral empire.

 

Camden Park was an out-station in the Macarthur family empire and Elizabeth Macarthur never lived there. The mansion house was the home of her sons, William and James. Elizabeth lived at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta all her life and died at their holiday home at Watsons Bay in her 80s.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch John Michelle and Edwina 2018Jun13 Lee Stratton
The owners of Camden Park House John and Edwina Macarthur Stanham with author Michelle Scott Tucker. The event was the Camden launch of Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World held at Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018. (Lee Stratton)

 

Unlike many of her colonial contemporaries who viewed the Australian landscape as a Gothic world Elizabeth had a more sympathetic eye. She drew comparisons with England and in her letters home she stated that her around her home at Parramatta, she wrote:

The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give to it the appearance of a wilderness, or shrubbery commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune’.

Many of her contemporaries contributed to the English-style landscape aesthetic that was identified as early as 1828 by John Hawdon when he arrived in the Cowpastures. The Englishness of the Camden township is still evident and has shaped the landscape since the arrival of the Europeans.

 

Under Elizabeth’s gaze the colonial outpost of Sydney grew from a military garrison to a bustling colonial port in the South Pacific. Macarthur supported her husband, John, throughout his ordeals and never returned to England, despite having the means to do so. Her female descendants regularly traveled between Camden Park, Sydney and London and elsewhere, and benefited from the transnational networks that she and her family established in the early 19th century.

camden-library museum
The venue for the Camden launch of Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World on Wednesday 13 June 2018. Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden  (I Willis, 2016)

 

Elizabeth Macarthur is an important character in the Camden story and there are other Macarthur women in her family who played similar roles such as Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, Sibella Macarthur Onslow and Enid Macarthur Onslow. All intelligent, strong and successful women. They were not alone in the Camden story and others that could be mentioned include Rita Tucker, Zoe Crookston, Clarice Faithful, amongst others.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur produced a family that founded the township of Camden, and created a pastoral and business empire that still endures today. She is celebrated in our local area with the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Elizabeth Macarthur High School and roads and streets named after her and her family.

 

As Michelle Scott Tucker states of Elizabeth Macarthur, she  ‘played a crucial role in Australia’s colonial history. Hers is not a household name — but it ought to be’. Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World certainly goes a long way in this direction.

The book by Michelle Scott Tucker Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World is available at the Camden Museum.

Architecture · Attachment to place · Camden · camden council · community identity · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Memorials · Monuments · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · Victorian

Address to Camden Council supporting a motion for a heritage protection sub-committee

In October 2016 historian and author Dr Ian Willis addressed a Council Council general meeting. He spoke in support of a motion proposed by Councillor Cagney for the formation of a heritage protection sub-committee.

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

 

Dr Willis stated:

Camden Council Public Address

25 October 2016

ORDINARY COUNCIL  ORD11

NOTICE OF MOTION

SUBJECT: NOTICE OF MOTION – HERITAGE PROTECTION SUB-COMMITTEE

FROM: Cr Cagney

TRIM #: 16/300825

I would like to thank the councillors for the opportunity to address the meeting this evening.

I would like to speak in support of the motion put by Councillor Cagney.

I think that a section 355 sub-committee on Heritage Protection is long over due in the Camden Local Government Area.

A panel of councillors, experts and community members could give sound and constructive advice to Camden Council on local issues of substance related to local heritage.

This could contribute to the Council’s knowledge of heritage matters within the community.

The proposed Heritage Protection sub-committee could allow stakeholders a platform to voice their concerns around any proposed development that effected any issues concerning heritage in the Local Government Area.

The proposed Heritage Protection sub-committee could seek the view of external experts on contentious heritage matters within the Local Government Area.

The proposed sub-committee could provide considered advice to Council on matters of heritage concern to the community.

Perhaps provide more light that heat on matters of community concern.  Such advice might lower the noise levels around proposed development around heritage issues that have arisen in recent months.

In 2010 I wrote an article that appeared in Fairfax Media which I called ‘Heritage, a dismal state of affairs’. It was in response to an article by journalist Jonathan Chancellor about the neglected state of Camden’s heritage lists.

In the article I quoted Sylvia Hales view expressed in the National Trust Magazine that in New South Wales there had been ‘the systematic dismantling of heritage protection’ over the past five years.

I also quoted the view of Macquarie University geographer Graeme Alpin who wrote in Australian Quarterly that ‘heritage listing at the local level does not provide much protection at all’’.

I expressed the view at the time that there needed to be a ‘ thorough and considered assessment of historic houses’. And that

The current political climate in NSW is not conducive to the protection of historic houses. Heritage is not a high priority.

Six years later I have not changed my view.

The proposed sub-committee could give greater prominence to the Camden Heritage Inventory, similar to Campbelltown Council and Wollondilly Council.

In 2015 I wrote a post on my blog that I called ‘Camden Mysterious Heritage List’ in frustration after spending a great deal of time and effort trying to find the heritage inventory on the Council’s website. It is still difficult to find.

In conclusion, the proposed Heritage Protection sub-committee would be a valuable source of advice for council and provide a platform for the community to express their view around heritage issues.

 

Camden Council approves formation of a Heritage Advisory Committee

Camden Narellan Advertiser HAC 2017June7 lowres
Camden-Narellan Advertiser 2 June 2017, p.16.

 

 

Macarthur Chronicle HAC 2017May11
Macarthur Chronicle Camden Wollondilly Edition, 16 May 2017, p18.
Attachment to place · British colonialism · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cowpastures · Elderslie · England · Farming · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Victorian

The Cowpastures Project

The Cowpastures project is a community based collaborative research enterprise which is co-ordinated by UOW historian Dr Ian Willis.

 

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

 

It is a long term venture which aims to reveal the intricacies of the Cowpastures district from 1795 to 1850.

The Dharawal people occupied the area for centuries.

 

Sydney1790_Aborgines in Port Jackson
Sydney 1790 Aborigines in Port Jackson (SLNSW)

 

The district was part of the Australian colonial settler society project driven by British colonialism.

There was the creation of the government reserve for the wild cattle between 1795 and 1823. After this period the Cowpastures became a regional locality that was in common usage well into the 19th century.

 

1824-view-of-cowpastures-joseph-lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett (SLNSW)

 

The British aimed the create an English-style landscape from their arrival in the area from 1790s. The earliest written acknowledgement of this by Englishman John Hawdon in 1828.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of the Cowpastures government reserve (SMH 13 August 1932)

 

I have published some material and there are a number of blog posts related to the project.

Learn more 

Camden Cowpastures Bicentenary Celebrations  (Blog)

‘Just like England’, a colonial settler landscape  (Peer-reviewed article)

Cowpastures and Beyond: Conference 2016  (Camden Area Family History Society)

Convicts in the Cowpastures (B;pg)

Governor Macquarie in the Cowpastures 1810 (Blog)

Governor Macquarie returns to the Cowpastures 1820 (Blog)

Mummel and a Cowpastures Patriarch (Blog)

The Cowpastures, just like a English landscape (Presentation)

The Cowpasture, just like an English landscape (Slideshare)

Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures (Blog)

John Hawdon of Elderslie (Blog)

John Hawdon of Elderslie English Origins (Blog)

The Cowpastures at the Campbelltown Arts Centre (2017) (Exhibition)

The Came by Boat Exhibition Campbelltown Arts Centre (Exhibition Review, 2017)

John Macarthur the legend (Blog)

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

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

An enthusiastic crowd gathered on a balmy evening in Camden’s John Street historic precinct anticipating the opening of a new art gallery.  The twilight evening event provided just the right atmosphere for this once in a generation event for the town centre.

 

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

 

The event was the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection which is housed in the fully restored grand Gothic-inspired town residence of  Henry Thompson (1860) called Macaria. Even today after 150 years Macaria is still an important architectural statement as part of Camden’s  John Street colonial streetscape and historic precinct. The precinct includes the police barracks, the old school of arts building and temperance hall, the commercial bank building, the Tiffin cottage all topped off by the magnificent vista of St John’ Church rising above the town centre.

Camden Macaria Opening Invitation 2018Feb28

Alan Baker, the artist and a life story

Alan Baker was a true local identity and he, his wife Majorie and the family had a profound influence shaping the art scene in the Camden district in the second half of the 20th century. Alan Baker helped shape the lives of a host of Camden artists including Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Olive McAleer and Gary Baker. Baker also contributed to the broader art world through his vice-presidency of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.

 

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

 

Baker’s artwork and ‘the collection tells the story of life…and the journey of the artist’, according to his son Gary. The exhibition highlights the two identifiable periods in Alan’s artistic career. Divided by the tragic drowning death of Alan and Marjorie’s two sons in a Georges River boating accident in 1961.

 

Alan’s work after the tragedy has a more contemplative approach. The paintings have a ‘zen’ quality, according to Gary, and reflect the ‘stories of love, family, community, war, beauty, darkness and tragedy’.

 

The literal meaning of zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition. Applied to artwork it might mean that Alan Baker was inspired by the contemplative aesthetic of the house garden and bush surroundings at his home at The Oaks.

 

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

 

Gary Baker maintains that there is a ‘purity’ to Alan’s work and it was centred on Alan’s studio and the way the light played with it. Gary explains the process his father used to create his artworks:

My father’s studio was located under his house at Belimba Park. It had one south window and it was cool dark and silent. There was a large sandstone rock over which dripped water. The water seeped from underground and was all around where he sat to work. The light was pure without any other sources and then went to total darkness further into the room, which was rather like a cellar.

In the morning he would pick fresh flowers that he grew with my mother’s help. He would choose them  from their extensive garden. Hundreds of camellias, roses, Japonica, peaches and all sorts blossom trees, annuals and perennials. He would arrange them with great care. Aware he only had time to paint them for the life of the flower. Sometimes one  or two days.

The flowers would move to the light as the day passed. They were truly living. Some would fall to the table. They constantly changed. After arranging them he would cut a board that fitted the composition. Not being restricted to stock size he made his own frames.

During the process of painting, I felt he was in a state of meditation. He often with classical music playing. There was a rhythm to his work leading to this state of mind. His technical skill learned over decades enabled him to get to this heightened state.

He didn’t have to focus on the difficulties of drawing colour tone, instead used his intuition. Sitting in an upright position close to his board he would spend hours or days completing the painting until done. He never over painted and rarely moved away from his easels to view his work during the painting stage.

The flowers had a stability and calmness. They are asymmetric in design. The reflections on the glass table show a sort of purity calmness. The delicate flowers capture a purity or truthfulness. The flowers  were almost textured, the way the paint is applied.

His brush strokes are simplified. Directly confident. Almost abstract.  I see a likeness to Chinese ink painting techniques. The designs with the vase in the middle. Most art teachers say that it should not be done this way.

I see some of his paintings as being perfect!  I see how they are living, not still. I see the air flow around them. Even viewing at different angles the texture of the paint changes the look of each painting. They are so complex and yet so simple. The brush strokes are very pronounced on board enhancing a textured feel. He did not use canvas.

Flowers themselves are universal symbols of remembrance love. I feel that he was chasing perfection in beauty. His paintings of flowers seem to speak to people with this. Many a man has said to me that they do not look like flower paintings. His are different. You can appreciate that! His floral work is from the heart not intellectual.  I feel it’s spiritual.

 

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

 

Alan and Marjorie made The Oaks their home after the 1961 tragedy and maybe Baker was searching for the truth through the subject material he chose for his work. Certainly Alan’s still-life paintings absorbed a large of amount of his artistic effort and possibly account for Gary labelling his work as a form of ‘realism’.

 

Realism was an artistic movement that appeared in France in the mid-19th century when Realists rejected Romanticism and its exotic subject matters and emotional influences. Romanticism had dominated French art from the mid-18th century. Realism, as an art movement, sought to portray the truth and accuracy of daily life and growing in parallel with the new visual source of photography.

 

Alan Baker certainly does not pander to sentimentalism or heroic depiction of subjects as 19th century Romantic might have done.  The Realists, as Alan’s work represents, rejected the sentimental and heroic and they the later tradition of the moderne.   Alan was not a fan of modernist abstract and avant-garde styles of painting. Alan was a technician which was the basis of his commercial art commissions during the Interwar period for Tooths Hotels and others.

 

Gary goes on about his father’s artwork:

This is the other side of his work. When you walk back and see his work from a distance. It comes into focus. You  see a realist painting, the simple brush strokes disappear. He was so well trained in the art skills of tone, drawing and colour. He found modern art to be “the refuse of the incompetent”.

 

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

 

Alan learnt his trade at the J.S. Watkins Art School where he studied drawing at 13 years of age.  Watkins had set up his art school after returning to Australia after studying in Paris in 1898 above the Julian Ashton’s art school in King Street. By 1927 when Alan Baker was attending it had moved to 56 Margaret Street Sydney.

 

At the Watkins art school Alan was trained in tonal drawing in pencil charcoal, pen and washes and later oils, according to Gary’s biography of his father.  The art school provided a competitive environment and Alan thrived in it. His mentors included Henry Hanke, Normand Baker (his brother ) and William Pidgen and Alan later became a teacher at the school.

 

In 1936 at 22 years of age Alan had a self-portrait accepted in the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Alan’s brother Normand won the Archibald prize in 1937 with his Self Portrait and the travelling scholarship in 1939. Between 1932 and 1972, according to Gary Baker, Alan entered the Archibald Prize with 35 separate paintings and made the finals 26 times. In 1969 he submitted a portrait of Camden surgeon Gordon Clowes which made the final selection that year.

 

Art genres

The Alan Baker Art Collection is representative of the art genres that Alan practised his  career. They are portraiture, still life, landscape, seascape, life drawing and life painting. These artistic genres have long history in Western art and Alan drew on these traditions.

 

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

The exhibitions has a number of  examples of Baker’s commercial hotel posters, pencil drawings and portraits. Some were completed during his war service in New Guinea and the Pacific where he painted Papuans, fellow diggers and others.  Alan enlisted in 1942 in the Australian Army with the rank of private and served in New Guinea. On  discharge in 1945 he was with the 2 Australian Watercraft Workshop AEME (Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).

 

After the war he met Marjorie Whitchurch (formerly Kingsell) who had taken up art classes at the Watkins art school. Alan worked an instructor at the school after he was demobbed from the army. Marjorie fled Singapore in 1942 when the Japanese invaded the city, and in the process she lost her husband, who died on the Burma Railway, her home and her possessions.

 

After Alan dated Marjorie for a year they married in 1946. They lived in primitive accommodation at Moorebank with few facilities. Their first child was born in 1947. Alan’s career started to prosper and he had a painting of his wife Marjorie accepted in the 1953 Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales  and was one of the finalists with his Artists Wife.

 

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

 

After the tragic loss of their sons Alan and Marjorie were suffering profound grief and moved to the isolation of The Oaks. Here they established a house and garden and Alan established studio in a bush setting. The garden might have provided some light in these dark days. Alan used many of the garden flowers for Still Life paintings. Some of these are in the exhibition.  Baker maintained that

An artist must arrange his own composition by any means…the value   of the shadow being thrown from one flower thrown from one flower to the other…I spend hours arranging till I am satisfied the result will be successful.

 

Alan was a fan of plein air painting, a tradition which goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century with the introduction of paints in tubes. Before this artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. This genre is illustrated by a number of landscape paintings in the exhibition, some of local area which capture Alan’s ‘commitment to the natural and man-made environment’. Baker’s landscapes reflect naturalism and the avoidance of stylisation.

 

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

 

Baker lived at The Oaks until his death in 1987 and across those years had a prolific output of work. The Australian Art Sales Digest lists 708 works by Baker across his lifetime, of which 77 are on display at the new gallery. Alan’s artwork is exhibited in numerous galleries and private collections  and he held many shows across Australia,

 

Gallery opening

Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak gave the keynote address at the gallery opening. She outlined the gestation of the project and those who supported it along the way. She was full of praise and said that she has been a strong supporter of the project.

 

Others who spoke at the opening included local Camden MLA Chris Patterson, Alan’s son Gary Baker and philanthropist Max Tegel. These speakers explained how the project required patience and perseverance and that the initial inspiration came from Gary Baker and Max Tegel.

 

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

 

The conservation and re-adaptation of the building was supervised by Sydney architect Ashley Dunn of firm Dunn and Hillan Architects. The original interior joinery has been highlighted with Australian red cedar architraves, skirtings and window frames. Wide original floor boards of Baltic Pine have been polished and provide a warm ambiance to the gallery rooms.

 

Dunn has designed bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th modernism style that works well with the gallery aesthetic.  Dunn drew his inspiration from a number of sources and he has stated:

We wanted to ensure that the furniture was readily identifiable as a contemporary addition.  I have always admired the work of artist and architect Max Bill who practiced in Switzerland during the mid 20th century and was educated at the Bauhaus. We are also inspired by the work of artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys and Gordon Matta-Clarke, all of whom worked during the later part of the mid 20th C.

 

Modern joinery is treated differently to highlight the contemporary phase in the life of the building and in the process creates a distinct separation from the joinery of the colonial period. Dunn has stated:

Our approach to the building was to use a consistent material for all new additions that was sympathetic to but different from the original fabric. We chose 40mm Blackbutt which is much blonder with a tighter grain than the reds and browns of the Australian Cedar and Baltic Pine. The new openings are framed in 40mm Blackbutt and the furniture has 40mm Blackbutt tops. The carcasses all have Blackbutt veneer and are edged in solid Blackbutt. The leather upholstery was chosen to mediate between the different browns and work with the floor colour.

 

 

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

 

After the official proceedings had finished the crowd of 180 milled around under the marques that lined the exterior front lawns of the gallery. Appetizers, canapes, hors d’oeuvres and other delicacies were served to the guests.

 

Macaria, the building

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

 

 

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

 

The town residence of Macaria is representative of the Picturesque Tudor Gothic style. It is brick town residence of the colonial Victorian period and originally had a shingle roof.  For a house of its scale it is one of the best examples of the architectural style in Australia. Originally there were similarly designed cottage and stables around the house that were demolished long ago.

 

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

Natural and man-made things were attractive to look at – houses, gardens, open spaces…gazebos…-were seen as elements in a huge, three-dimensional picture which needed to be artfully composed by a designer possessed of finely tuned judgement.(p.90)

 

Macaria is representative of the some of the design characteristics of the Picturesque movement included ‘prettiness, quaintness and old-world charm’. Expatriate Englishmen in the colony of New South Wales, according to Apperly, were seeking the known similarities with home in England that provided a degree of comfort in the strange environment of the antipodes. Pattern books of these type of designs were published by JC Loudon (1833) and Calvert Vaux (1857).

 

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

 

In New South Wales one adaptation from Victorian English designs was the addition of a verandah as illustrated by Macaria. There are a number of other residences across Australia of a similar style. One can be found in Vaucluse where Sydney architect John Hilly designed Greycliffe House in Neilsen Park in 1852.

 

Macaria the history

The Macaria building can be treated as a historical document and primary source. The story of the building can be revealed by the diligent researcher. The layers of its history can be peeled back to reveal previous uses and stories of people who lived and worked within it.

 

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

 

Macaria was originally built by Sydney Congregationalist businessman Henry Thompson who came to Camden with his brother Samuel in the early 1840s. They established a general store and a steam flour mill. Thompson was part of a Sydney based retailing family which set up a chain of stores including Yass and Camden.

 

The land that Macaria was built on was originally purchased in 1846 by Sarah Tiffin   who was a housekeeper for the Macarthur family of Camden Park. Henry Thompson purchased the land from the estate of Sarah Tiffin in 1854. Tiffin has constructed a small Georgian brick cottage on the site in the 1840s, now 39 John Street.

 

Henry Thompson, who had several school-age sons, became a patron of William Gordon’s Classical and Commercial Academy in 1857. Thompson built Gordon ‘a very handsome house of elegant design’ as a schoolhouse which was known as Macaria.  In 1861 Gordon had moved his school to Macquarie Grove, which had been vacated by the Hassalls, where he took a seven year lease. The school closed before the end of the lease. (Atkinson, Camden: 188-189) 

 

Macaria was a substantial town residence and was statement by Thompson to demonstrate his status and importance as a local businessman. Henry’s Thompson’s large family of sixteen children lived in Macaria until 1870. Henry died in 1871 after falling from his horse.

 

Macaria was a residence for the Milford family, after which the  house was leased by Dr George Goode in 1875, an outspoken Irishman of ill-temper. GB Crabbe leased the house in 1886 and converted it to the Camden Grammar School for young boys. The school closed in 1894.

 

Dr FW West used the house as the surgery for his medical practice and a home for his family from 1901 to 1932, when Francis West died. A series of medical practitioners occupied the house: LB Heath (1932 1938);  RE & JT Jefferis (1938-1955); GF Lumley (1955-1975)

Macaria was purchased by Camden Municipal Council from Dr Lumley, and the building was used as the Camden Library, and then the Camden mayor’s offices.

 

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

 

The Camden Council website states that

The restoration of Macaria is part of Council’s strategy to invest in the historical Camden Town Centre and create a landmark tourist attraction for residents and visitors to enjoy.

This creative vision was made a reality by Camden Council, which showed its support and commitment to the promotion of arts in the region, by investing in and restoring historical Macaria as Camden’s revitalised home of the arts the community.

 

So what does all this mean?

The opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Gallery is ground-breaking  for the Camden Local Government Area.

  • It is the first time an important historic town residence has been conserved and re-adapted by Camden Council and opened to the public.
  • It is the first time a major art gallery in the Camden Local Government Area has been supported by public funds.
  • It is the first time that private philanthropic interests have donated an art collection to create a public art space and gallery.
  • It is the first time that a notable local identity has been acknowledged in a public space in this fashion.
  • It is, according to his son Gary Baker, one of the one of the few collections across the global art community that embraces ‘the complete life of the artist, their family and their place with the community’.
  • The new art gallery has the potential to help drive local economic growth