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A Cowpastures memorial quilt

Camden Country Quilters Guild Cowpastures Heritage Quilt

Hanging on the wall in the Camden Library is a quilt, but no ordinary quilt. It is a hand-made quilt that had previously hung in the foyer of the Camden Civic Centre for many years. The quilt celebrated the Cowpastures Bicentenary (1995) and was made by members of the Camden Country Quilters Guild.

A panel in the Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt showing a map of the Cowpastures using an applique hanging in the Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

The Cowpastures Quilt is a fascinating historical document and artefact and tells an interesting story of the district.

The Cowpastures Review stated:

The Cowpastures Heritage Quilt, which is featured on the front page, is unique. It is a product of the Camden Country Quilters Guild. It was unveiled by His Excellency, The Governor of New South Wales, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair on the 19th of February 1995, as part of the opening of the Cowpastures Bicentennial. It was given by the Guild to the Camden Council, which has it displayed in the Camden Civic Centre.

Cover of Cowpastures Review displaying the Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt Issue Vol 1 1995. (I Willis)

The Cowpastures Bicentennial Committee created postcards and notepaper featuring the quilt that was sold at Gledswood Homestead and the Camden Library.

Postcard of Cowpastures Heritage Quilt 1995 (Camden Museum)

Quilts were practical items with social value

Quilts have sentimental or commemorative value and are examples of needlework skills and techniques, and the use of specific fabrics used in their designs.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London states on its website:

As a technique, quilting has been used for a diverse range of objects, from clothing to intricate objects such as pincushions. Along with patchwork, quilting is most often associated with its use for bedding.

Quilting first appeared in England in the 13th century, reached a peak in the 17th century and can be traced back to 3000BCE. The word quilt means a ‘bolster or cushion’.

According to the V&A museum, a quilt is usually a bedcover of two layers of fabric with padding or wadding in between held together by lines of stitching based on a pattern or design. Very fine decorative quilts often become family heirlooms and are passed down through generations. In a domestic situation, women made quilts to celebrate ‘life occasions’ like births and weddings.

The V&A states that quilts are often quite large and associated with social events where people share the sewing. In North America quilting was a popular craft amongst Dutch and English settlers and quilts were made as part of marriage dowry for a young woman.

Quilting is often associated with patchwork where the quilt was made of scraps of fabric or ‘extending the life of working clothing’.

Convict women and quilting – The Rajah Quilt

In the National Gallery of Australia is a quilt made in 1841 by convict women transported on the Rajah from Woolwich to Hobart. According to blogger Bernadette, a descendant of one of the women who made the quilt, it is one of the most important textiles in Australia and world history.

The Rajah Quilt (NGA)

The textile is called the Rajah Quilt and was organised as part of the scheme organised by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry’s British Ladies Society for promoting the reformation of female prisoners. The quilt is made up of over 2000 pieces of fabric and it has been described as

 a patchwork and appliquéd bed cover or coverlet. It is in pieced medallion or framed style: a popular design style for quilts in the British Isles in the mid 1800’s. There is a central field of white cotton decorated with appliquéd (in broderie perse) chintz birds and floral motifs. This central field is framed by 12 bands or strips of patchwork printed cotton. The quilt is finished at the outer edge by white cotton decorated with appliquéd daisies on three sides and inscription in cross stitch surrounded by floral chintz attached with broderie perse on the fourth…

On the Rajah’s arrival in Hobart, the quilt was presented to the governor’s wife Lady Jane Franklin by the 29 women who sewed it on the voyage to Van Dieman’s Land. Lady Franklin sent the quilt back to England to Elizabeth Fry and then it was lost. It was rediscovered in a Scottish attic and returned to Australia in 1989 and placed in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

The quilt’s story is one of hope at a time of despair and disempowerment from a group of women hidden in the shadows of history. A type of radical history.

Cowpastures Quilt tells a story

Quilts often told a story and in the V&A collection, there are a  number of significant quilts telling Biblical stories, scenes from world events and the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The Cowpasture Quilt tells the story of the Cowpastures on its Bicentenary. The story was represented in the different panels in the quilt created by the Guild members who were part of the project. The quilt’s construction was a community effort and each sewer has their name sewn into the quilt.

  

Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt hanging in Camden Library in John Street Camden (I Willis, 2022)

The significance of the individual panels in the quilt was explained by the Cowpastures Review and it stated:

The central pane – the discovery of the Hottentot cow. The left pane – The Aboriginal influence, mining, the map of the ‘Cow Pastures’, representing flora and fauna and the Stonequarry Bridge at Picton. The right panel – St John’s Church, John and Elizabeth Macarthur, Camden Park Estates, Belgenny Farm, Gledswood Homestead and merino sheep and vineyards. The bottom panel – John Street, Camden, including ‘Macaria’ and representations of horticulture venture in the area. Not visible in the photograph in the names of the ‘quilters’ and some surprise ‘first family’ names.

Title panel in Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt hanging in Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

Fashion quilting

According to the V&A quilting fell into decline in the early 20th century under the influence of modernism. It found a revival in the 1960s as part of the hippie culture and the art community and is firmly part of the art space.

Quiltmaking as art

Artist Isis Davis-Marks writes on the Artsy website that

Quilts’ inherent associations with warmth, nostalgia, and community make them particularly appealing now, in the midst of the pandemic and widespread division and inequity. Perhaps this fraught reality can account for, at least in part, why contemporary artists are drawn to quilting as a means to express themselves. The tactility of quilted fabric inevitability conjures domesticity, and every stitch—every precisely placed patchwork—brings us back to that feeling of the comfort and safety of home

Davis-Marks writes that contemporary American artists are engaging with the craft of quilting and building on the ‘enduring and complex history of quiltmaking’. In the US context quilting was practised by slaves, Indigenous Americans and other marginalised peoples as a form of expression and craftwork for the everyday.

An applique panel of the Cowpastures Quilt shows the Regency mansion on Camden Park still estate built in the 1830s. The panel uses figures to tell a narrative about the foundational story of Australia and the Camden district as part of a settler society. The Cowpasture Quilt is on display at Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

Davis-Marks writes that the ancient craft of quiltmaking has resonance for contemporary artists in the age of social media and illustrates a broader appeal of working with traditional mediums of textiles, ceramics, knitting and other crafts.

In a January 2020 article for Artsy, writer and curator Glenn Adamson reflected “At a time when our collective attention is dangerously adrift,” Adamson wrote, “trapped in the freefall of our social-media feeds and snared in a pit of fake facts, handwork provides a firm anchor. It cannot be spun. It gives us something to believe in.”

Artists are using quilts as a lens to look into the dark history of the past. Sometimes these are called ‘story quilts’ where they tell a story in a narrative and figures. Artist Faith Ringgold‘s work often explores notions of ‘community and ancestry’ and said that she bonded through the experience of jointly sewing quilts with her mother.

The Cowpastures Quilt is a ‘story quilt’ and tells the story of our past as part of a settler society and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. The quilt uses figures and narrative to examine the past through the lens of the women who constructed the quilt in 1995. More than this the Cowpasture quilt is a public statement and an affirmation of community through the collective efforts of local women who undertook the sewing project. The collaborative efforts of the Camden Quilters created a significant piece of public art and a narrative statement of who we are through the use of history.

A panel of the Cowpasture Quilt shows the Henry Kitchen cottage from 1819 still standing today as part of the Belgenny Farm complex which is one of the most important colonial farming complexes still intact in Australia on the former Camden Park estate of the Macarthur family. The quilt is on display at the Camden Library. (I Willis, 2022)

Updated 26 August 2022; originally posted 16 August 2022

1932 · Artefacts · Camden · Camden Museum · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Ephemera · Heritage · History · Interwar · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Place making · Political history · Propaganda · Sense of place · Starvation Debenture · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Political propaganda in 1932

The Starvation Debenture

I recently came across this political propaganda piece in the Camden Museum collection. It is a political flyer for the United Country Party from the 1932 New South Wales state election. The flyer was titled the ‘Starvation Debenture’.

It is reasonable to assume the flyer was circulating in the Camden area at the time for it to end up in the museum collection.

The front of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The “Starvation Debenture” features the hammer and sickle emblem in a circle at the centre top, and ONE LANG printed in squares in each corner, “Starvation Debenture” is printed across the top to foot blame for the Depression to the three caricatures, Premier Jack Lang, union leader Jock Garden, and an unidentified politician (possibly Theodore the Federal Treasurer who was at odds with Lang), are printed in circles beneath this, accompanied by a printed caption criticising the Lang government. (Camden Museum)

The certificate was issued against the wider background of the Great Depression, the White Australia Policy and the conflict between the rise of communism and fascism in Europe. These forces were played out in the 1932 state election and were just as relevant in Camden as anywhere else in the state.  

Stephen Thompson from the Powerhouse Museum has argued:

New political ideas were coming to Australia from migrants from Europe. These ideas included fascism and socialism. These ideas were embraced by some as solutions to the growing racial and economic problems facing the world after World War One. To conservatives it was a direct threat to Australia’s links to the past of protection and governance by Britain and British class structures.

 The Interwar period also saw the emergence of a number of organisations that influenced state politics:

  • the Old Guard – a secret fascist organisation formed as a counter-revolutionary group and opposed the Lang Government, originally established in 1917;
  • the New Guard – a fascist paramilitary organisation that split with the Old Guard was pro-monarchist, anti-bolshevik, and pro-imperialist;
  • the New State Movementthe Riverina and New England State movements.
The reverse of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The text on the reverse side consists of further criticisms, particularly regarding Lang’s loan ‘repudiation policy’, and urges support for the United Country Party: “Help United Country Party Candidates to Snip the Latch on Lang on June 11”. The United Country Party was the forerunner of the present National Party’.  (Camden Museum)

Reports of the flyer in the Sydney and country press

The Sydney press published a picture of the United Country Party flyer and there was an immediate demand for the leaflet. In the end, the United Country Party distributed over 200,000 flyers across the state. (SMH,4 June 1932)

The country press carried reports of the circulation of the flyer. The Wellington Times reported that the UCP flyers circulated around the town for the ‘amusement of the townspeople’. (Wellington Times, 9 June 1932)

At a political rally in Albury United Country Party supporters handing out flyers brawled with Langites who ‘did not like the leaflets’. (Sun, 8 June 1932) and the Melbourne press carried more reports (Argus, 6 June 1932).

United Country Party organisers were elated with the response to the flyers:

All over the country there has been a rush to secure the “starvation debentures” as souvenirs, and in many places they are pasted on the walls of hotels. (Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1932)

1932 State Election

Polling for the state election was held on Saturday 11 June 1932 for the single chamber of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. The opposing camps were Jack Lang’s Labor Party and Bertram Stevens’s United Australia Party and United Country Party coalition.  

The third Lang government had been dismissed by Governor Philip Game on 13 May 1932. The Governor requested the Opposition Leader, BSB Stevens, to form an interim government until the election.

The Stevens coalition won the election with an 11 per cent swing against the Lang government and ended up with a 42-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The Labor vote was diluted because the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party ran 43 endorsed candidates against the state division candidates. The ALP had split in 1931 and none of the Federal ALP candidates was elected. Both parties re-united in 1936.

Camden and the 1932 election

Camden and the surrounding villages were in the state electoral district of Wollondilly which also took in the Southern Highlands and Picton districts.

The endorsed candidates in Wollondilly were: United Australia Party was represented by Mark F Morton, MLA, John J Cleary represented the ALP (NSW) and Patrick W Kenna ALP (Federal). Morton was re-elected with a 71% primary vote.

MF Morton (NSW Parliament)

The Camden press reported the remarks of the acting premier BSB Stevens in a front-page editorial. It stated:

Above all, each and every one of them wishes to maintain Australia’s membership of the British Empire the greatest of all democracies — and to keep Australia free from the taint of communism and its tyrannous methods. Freedom-loving Australians, like Britons from whom they are descended, shall never be the slaves of such a demoralising, dishonest, and humiliating system. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

The Camden branch of the United Australia Party organised a public meeting addressed by MF Morton, the endorsed UAP candidate. The meeting was chaired by Mr EA Davies, and Mr Morton

  gave an interesting resume of the events leading to the dismissal of the Lang Government ; stressing the point that it had been the first Ministry of the Crown to incite disobedience to the law of the land. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

Mrs W Larkin and Miss Grace Moore moved a motion of thanks.

Enthusiastic rallies and vitriol

 The 1932 election campaign was typified by large gatherings on both sides of the political spectrum, with a number of public meetings in Camden.

 The acting premier, Bertrum Stevens, travelled over 1000 miles across the state in the days before the election. There was a particularly large rally at Peak Hill where over 5000 people gathered to listen to the acting premier and gave him a ‘thunderous reception’.

Jack Lang (NLA)

In the Sydney Domain, Jack Lang held a rally with over 200,000 people assembled to listen to the dismissed premier. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Another rally in the Domain organised by the Same Democracy League denounced Langism and one speaker that voting for Jack Lang was ‘voting for civil war and bloodshed’. (Argus, 6 June 1932)