Produce fanciers can indulge the pleasure at the weekly produce markets in Camden and talk to local growers. While you are there you can wander next door and view the volunteer’s garden plots at the community garden.
Both the produce market and community garden are part of the larger town farm complex. The town farm was gifted to Camden Council by Miss Llewella Davies in 1999 on her death at 98 years of age.
The town farm was formerly a dairy farm and has an extensive frontage to the Nepean River. The area is part of the Nepean River floodplain and has rich fertile soils. From time to time the river shows its anger and the whole are is subject to flooding.
A masterplan was developed Camden Council for the town farm in 2007 outlining future directions for the farm.
The stall holders are producers from within the Sydney Basin growing or producing their own products for sale.
The markets are managed by Macarthur Growers Pty Ltd and operate from 7.00am to 12 noon.
The markets have been operating for a number of years. The produce market website states:
Camden Fresh Produce Market evolved from a MACROC (Macarthur Region of Councils) initiative called “Macarthur Agri Tourism Project” which was funded by GROW a NSW government initiative to promote sustainable agriculture in the Macarthur Region. The first market was held in Lower John Street on 3rd of November 2001.
Next door is the Camden Community Garden.
Camden Community Garden
The Camden Community Garden is set on the idyllic Nepean River floodplain within the Camden Town Farm, formerly a dairy farm of the Davies family.
The Camden Council website states about the garden:
Camden Community Garden is a place for gardeners to meet and exchange ideas, bringing together gardeners across a range of ages, abilities and a diverse cultural background.
Volunteers lease plots and grow their own produce for personal consumption.
Each volunteer tends their own plot and is responsible for it. There are around 50 active gardeners.
The community garden is managed by a voluntary committee of members who meet monthly.
There are regular working bees for general maintenance on the 3rd Sunday of each month.
Visitors are welcome to attend if they would like to find out more information.
Yellow gold flows from Flow Beehive for the first time
Yellow golden honey from the Camden Community Garden flows for the first time at the garden when Steve and Justin crack open the Flow Beehive. The bees took 3 years to adopt their new home and 3 months to fill it with honey. Cracking one row yielded over 3 kgs of genuine Camden yellow gold.
Cover photograph: Stall produce at the Camden Produce Market (I Willis, 2018)
Local historian Dr Ian Willis wrote a review of a new regional masthead that appeared in the Camden Local Government Area in 2016. The review appeared in the Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 90, December, 2016, p.11.
Launch of a new regional newspaper The Independent South-West
From Ian Willis at Camden: This week a new masthead appeared in the Camden Local Government Area called The Independent South-West published by King Media Regional based in Bowral NSW. It was launched at Camden’s annual Light Up Festival. Editor Jane King and other staff handed out copies of the free monthly to families and friends who had come to see Santa, watch the fireworks and see the Christmas lights on the town’s Christmas tree.
The 20pp tabloid is printed in colour on glossy paper and is sure to give the other three free Camden weeklies, the Macarthur Chronicle, Camden Narellan Advertiser and The District Reporter, a run for their money. King states in Issue 1 that it ‘is an exciting new title…family owned and managed business’. She states that the paper will serve the local community and employ local people.
The first issue certainly lives up to these promises by reporting the proceedings of the Moss Vale Local Court. Two matters dealt with involved Camden identities. Local court matters are now heard in Moss Vale since the closure of Camden and Picton court houses. The robust reporting of local court proceedings has largely disappeared from the other three Camden weeklies.
A feature page, ‘Ark’ Up, is written by journalist Juliet Arkwright who in another life was a councillor on Wollondilly Shire Council. This edition profiles the Acting President of the Camden Chamber of Commerce Maryann Strickling. The chamber states ‘we look forward to working with a truly independent newspaper’.
The first edition also has copy provided by the local federal member, a photo feature of a fashion launch at Campbelltown, and content shared from the newspaper’s stablemate LatteLife Wingecarribee, which claims to be the ‘Heartbeat of the Southern Highlands’.
King Media also publishes City Circular which, according to Miranda Ward at Mumbrella, replaced a void left by the closure of News Corps mX in 2015 and is distributed at railway stations. The first newspaper published by King Media group was the masthead LatteLife Sydney which started life in the Eastern Suburbs in 2010. King Media then expanded to publishing The Southern Highlands edition in 2014.
The Independent’s print run of 10,000 will be distributed across localities from Cawdor to Leppington through local retailers, surgeries, real estate officers and other outlets. The print run is modest by comparison to its competitors in the Camden LGA and the publisher’s promises seem ambitious. King Media will support the print edition by managing a Facebook page.
The conservative reporting of local matters by The Independent’s three Camden competitors certainly leaves a niche in the market place if controversies surrounding Camden Council continue as they have done in recent months. King has promised to ‘hold the Council to task’ and take it up to other local papers. If she sticks to her promises The Independent South-West will fit in well with Camden’s fierce parochialism and localism.
The Cowpastures project is a community based collaborative research enterprise which is co-ordinated by UOW historian Dr Ian Willis.
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.
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.
The British aimed to 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.
Learn more about the Cowpastures from these blog posts and other resources:
This blog post is a review of Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr) (2019). Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) for the first time.
This blog post examine community concerns around the sale of glebe land attached to St John’s Anglican Church in Camden and highlights community sensitivities to sale of church sites. This church was largely funded by the Macarthur family and has since its foundation in 1847 has received considerable endowments from the family.
The country comes to the city, or the city’s fringe, at least when the 2018 Camden Show comes alive.
The Camden Show is on again in 2018, and this year makes 132 years. The two-day event attracts around 30,000 visitors to the sleepy community of Camden on the Nepean River in what were the Cowpastures.
The country festival has all the events you expect of a large regional show, from horses to pumpkins to cakes to produce.
A more traditional sideshow alley exists for the Mums, Dads, and kids with the Dagwood Dogs and show bag row.
For those searching for the country flavour, that is the drovers camp, milking display, pig-racing and ever-popular rodeo.
There are all the commercial stands you get at any country show, from the local tractor dealer to rainwater tanks and stock agents.
Not to be left out are all the community groups, from the scout’s rope construction to the CWA’s scones and cream.
The local politicians want to shake your hands and get your vote.
There is a ute competition and dog championships with the general show exhibitions.
The show spills into the general town area with a shop window display and 2018 Camden Showgirl.
A crowd gathered in the main street for the bullock team, just like the old days when teamsters came up from the Burragorang Valley to Camden Railway Station.
The rodeo and bull rides are all promoted with the slogan ‘Still a Country Show’.
Historian Dr Ian Willis is presenting a conference paper on the role local newspapers of the Picton, Camden and Campbelltown area during the First World War. He will show how these small provincial newspapers acted as an archive for the stories from the First World War on the homefront. Community wartime activities will be placed in the context of the international setting of the war.
Small rural communities are an often overlooked part of the wartime landscape of the First World War at home. Local newspapers, or community newspapers, recorded ‘the doings’ of their communities in inordinate detail. Their reportage extended from the local to the provincial and the international by owner/editors who were local identities.
Country newspapers provide an archive record of the First World War that is identifiably different from the large metropolitan daily newspapers of the war period. The local newspaper has a number of differences that are related to their localness and parochialism, their relationship to their readership, their promotion of the community and their approach to the news of the war.
The local newspaper recorded the subtleties of local patriotism and wartime voluntarism and fundraising, the personal in soldier’s letters, the progress of the war and a host of other issues. For the astute researcher country newspapers provide glimpses into wartime issues around gender, class, sectarianism, and other aspects of rural life. All coloured by local sensibilities and personalities. The local newspaper was a mirror to its community and central to the construction of place making and community identity in small towns, villages and hamlets.
These characteristics are not unique to rural Australia and are shared by rural and regional newspapers of other English speaking countries. Recent developments in archival research like Trove provide invaluable access to these resources across Australia. Country newspapers provide a different story of the war at home from an often forgotten sector of society.
The local newspapers that will be used as a case study for this conference paper include:
The Camden News
The Picton Post
The Campbelltown Herald
Local and provincial newspapers are an understudied area of the First World War and this conference paper will address this gap in the historical literature.
Learn moreabout local newspapers in the Macarthur region and elsewhere:
Mummel is a rural locality about 20 kilometres northwest of Goulburn NSW on the eastern side of the Wollondilly River. Mummel is part of the story of the settler society in colonial New South Wales on the Goulburn Plains in the early 1820s.
The story of the local Indigenous people has a similar tone to other areas of colonial European settlement. Jim Smith in notes
In Goulburn NSW, the plains and Wollondilly River provided native game and fish for a number of the traditional aboriginal peoples including: Mulwaree, Tarlo, Burra Burra, Wollondilly, Wiradjuri, Gundungurra, Dharrook, Tharawal, Lachlan, Pajong, Parramarragoo, Cookmal and Gnunawal. The Goulburn region was known as a meeting place for all these groups, it wasn’t inhabited by just one group of people.
Great epidemics of disease largely wiped out the indigenous population in the 19th century and sadly, few of the original inhabitants remained by the turn of the 20th.
Records dating back to the 1830s indicate the river flats at Bungonia Road, on the outskirts of Goulburn city, was once the corroboree site of the Gandangara, who were virtually wiped out by an influenza epidemic in 1846-47.
Mummel was granted to Cowpastures oligarch John Dickson of Sussex Street in Sydney who also held the grant of Nonorrah on The Northern Road at Bringelly. Dickson owned a number of properties in the County of Cumberland which were part of the Cowpastures district and they were: Netherbyres, Orielton, Moorfield and Eastwood. Together together formed a line from Bringelly Road in the north to beyond Cobbitty Road in the south. At the 1828 Census Dickson listed his properties at 17,000 acres in the Counties of Cumberland and Argyle of which 15,000 was cleared and 150 acres under cultivation. On these properties he had 3000 cattle and 2000 sheep. Dickson also held 800 acres in Mummel Parish called Evandale.
While in Sydney he met miller and industrialist Thomas Barker who was one of the trustees of John Dickson’s estate. Dickson left New South Wales in 1834 and later died in London in 1843.
Barker asked Waugh to go to Mummel in the County of Argyle where he took charge of the harvest of 150 acres (61 ha) of hay and 350 acres (142 ha) of wheat. He told his parents, ‘and here I am at present furnishing stores of fifty men, keeping accounts, &c.’ (Waugh, 1838)
Waugh reported that he stayed briefly at Orielton in late 1834 before moving to Mummel in February 1835:
I go for good and all to Mummel, Goulburn Plains, Argyleshire…for the first year,– I am to get £40 and board and washing. The farm is 6,000 acres and has about 4,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle on it. There is another overseer from Ayrshire, with a good salary, – he has been twelve years here. He has, besides, a farm of his own, which he manages with an overseer. (Waugh, 1838)
Sale of Sheep
In 1836 around 5000 sheep were offered for sale by auction from Mummel. The advertisement stated that the flock had been bred with Saxon merinos from WE Riley of Raby, Hannibal Macarthur in the Cowpastures and stock from R Jones. WE Riley, pastoralist and sketcher, was a son of the pioneer pastoralist Alexander Riley of Raby who had come to New South Wales as a free settler in 1804. The Riley Saxon merinos won gold medals awarded by the NSW Agricultural Society between 1827 and 1830.
Hannibal Macarthur lived at The Vineyard at Parramatta, and had extensive landholdings. He was the uncle of famous NSW colonial John Macarthur of Camden Park.
In 1841 the John Dickson held 4185 acres in the Mummel area on the northern side of the Wollondilly River.
In 1854 there was a sub-division in the Mummel estate, which was surveyed by the firm Roberts and Haege Surveyors. Lots were advertised in the Goulburn Herald 11 March 1854. [Roberts & Haege. (1854). Plan of the Mummel Estate near Goulburn [cartographic material] / Roberts & Haege Surveyors. SLNSW]
Parish of Mummel, County of Argyle, NSW. 1932
Mummel Provisional School
In 1868 a provisional school was opened at Mummel, which meant that there were between 15 and 15 pupils attending the school.
Visitors were encouraged to discover Goulburn’s Living History as part of the ‘Our Living History’ festival in Goulburn NSW. Held between 9 March and 12 March 2018 the Celebrate Goulburn Group co-ordinated the event. Organisers were encouraging residents and visitors to celebrate and enjoy the city’s heritage. The event was sponsored by the New South Wales Government through the Heritage Near Me Project.
This blogger joined the visitors and was out and about at two participants in the festival and took in a Georgian house museum and garden and an a museum highlighting the steam technology at a local pumping station.
Visitors were encouraged to embrace the theme of ‘Unearthing Riversdale’ at the homestead at 2 Twynam Drive Goulburn.
The homestead is owned by the National Trust of NSW and the website states:
Built in the late 1830s as a coaching inn, Riversdale later became home to the district surveyor, Edward Twynam and his family. Edward was appointed Chief Surveyor of NSW during the 1890s and his family occupied Riversdale for almost 100 years prior to its purchase by the National Trust.
The building is a Georgian style and now interpreted as a farm homestead.
Riversdale was variously known from 1840 as the Victoria Hotel, the Victoria Inn and the Prince Albert Inn. The building was located on the main road of the ‘Goulburn Plains’ and the site had been occupied by Matthew Healy with built a slab hut public house in the 1820s. Healy also built the kitchen and stable. Healy sold out to Anne and John Richards who ran an Inn.
The site of the town was moved to its current location and the Inn became unviable and the building became a boarding school and then a small farm. The building was called Riversdale in the 1860s by John Fulljames.
The Twynam family took up residence in 1872, and the family occupied the residence until the National Trust purchased the property in 1967.
The National Trust rejuvenated the house garden in 1967 in the Gertrude Jekyll style with plantings of herbaceous borders and silver and grey foliage plants. Many 19th century plantings were added and included bearded iris, bulbs, peonies, aquilegia, delphiniums, lilies, lavender and old style roses.
Much of the garden was established by the Twynam family in 1872. There are historic trees in the garden with plantings from 1820s and of particular interest is the avenue of English elms at the rear of the courtyard from the 1840s. The elms were planted by the inn owner Anne Richards, who also planted the medlar on the eastern lawn.
An interesting piece of steam driven technology is the waterworks pumphouse on the Wollondilly River.
The waterworks pumphouse was built between 1883 and 1885 by Harbours and Rivers Board of the NSW Public Works Department on the Wollondilly River at Rocky Point. The supervising engineer and designer of the works for the pumphouse and Marsden Weir was EO Moriarty.
Before the pumphouse was constructed Goulburn residents collected water in tanks or wells, or purchased water from a water carter.
The board installed a 1893 120 HP Appleby Bros steam engine to drive the water pumps. The Appleby beam engine is a typical compound condensing steam engine based on an Arthur Woolf design and 1804 patent. The pumphouse and steam engine was operational in 1886. The engine was driven by two Lancashire/Gallaway boilers in the boiler house.
The pumphouse was designed the New South Wales colonial architects and built in a Victorian Georgian style. It is built of brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern. The Waterworks states
It is known as a beam engine because of the large overhead rocking beam that transmits motion from the pistons to the cranks.
Waterworks beam steam engines, according to Bruce Macdonald (manager, 1974), were not common in Australia with the Goulburn engine only one of ten in Australia, all in New South Wales. The others were located in Sydney, Newcastle, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Bathurst. The Goulburn steam engine, according to the Australian Institution of Engineers, is the only intact example in Australia.
A northern annex to the pumphouse building was built in 1897 to house a secondary steam pump, with additions in the late 1920s. The southern annex was built in 1918 to house the first electric pumps which operated in tandem with the steam pumps until 1932.
The complex was managed by Goulburn City Council from 1887 to 1922. The facility supplied water to the town until 1977 when the waterworks closed.
The waterworks is a rare example in Australia of a complete steam powered municipal water supply left in its original location. The facility is of national scientific and technical significance.
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’.
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