Camden realism is a style of art that has appeared in the Macarthur region in recent decades and tells the story of the local area. It was recently on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, where the gallery mounted an exhibition displaying the works of Nola Tegel, Patricia Johnson and others.
a group of artists who follow the same style, share the same teachers, or have the same aims. They are typically linked to a single location.
Local artists Nola Tegel and Patricia Johnson follow a representational style of work pioneered in the local area from the 1970s by artist Alan Baker. Tegel and Johnson were some of Baker’s students who, joined by others, and have created an impressive and vital body of local artwork.
The followers of Camden realism conduct a form of storytelling through their representational style of artwork that documents the ever-changing landscape of the Macarthur region and its cultural heritage.
Campbelltown Arts Centre
Camden realism is regularly exhibited at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and the annual Camden Art Prize.
In 2020 Tegel was commissioned by the Campbelltown Arts Centre to
develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape.
Then & Now Catalogue
The Campbelltown Arts Centre mounted these works in an exhibition called ‘Then and Now‘, which ran from March to May 2021.
The Campbelltown Arts Centre was established in 2005 and boasts that it is a regional creative hub. The gallery encourages local artists to take risks using various techniques from new to traditional, including Baker’s representational style of realism.
The Tegel commission
The brief for the Tegel commission stated that she
‘develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape’.
Storytelling is the essence of Tegel’s artwork, and the exhibition catalogue states her body of artwork has documented
‘the built environment and landscape of the Campbelltown CBD ahead of imminent growth and continuous change’.
Storytelling is an essential element of the creative process, and artist Courtney Jordon argues that:
Storytelling often comes naturally to artists. Sometimes the story starts on a single canvas or sheet of paper and doesn’t end until a gallery full of paintings, a suite of drawings, a set of illustrations, a series of comic strips or an entire graphic novel. Certain subject matters compel an artist to revisit them again and again, building on a concept or pushing it in different directions. The narrative can be a visible part of the artwork in the form of a written story. But oftentimes, it acts as an invisible framework that guides an artist through the creative process.
Tegel is a storyteller and she has created a narrative that fulfilled the commission brief with empathy and vision. This was based on her understanding of the area’s sense of place and community identity as a growing community on Sydney’s urban fringe. The exhibition catalogue states that
Tegel’s accomplished documentation of Campbelltown captures the artists’ attachment to familiar outlooks and awe of the growing community.
‘Then and Now’, Exhibition catalogue
The essence of Tegel’s artwork is storytelling as she gives a visual palette to the aspirations and expectations of the local community of local’s and new arrivals by capturing the meaning and essence of place on the canvas.
Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition where hope and loss, and dreams and memories are shaped and re-shaped by a shifting sea of urbanisation. Tegel has produced a body of work that tells the story of subtle nuances across the landscape that are only understood by those who have experienced them. She reminds us all that the border between the rural and the urban fringe is a constantly shifting feast.
Campbelltown is a landscape of change as it has been since the area was proclaimed by Governor Macquarie in 1820. Initially, as a settler society dispossessing the Dharawal of their country, and in the 20th century, urban dwellers dispossessing Europeans of their bucolic countryside.
Tegel has witnessed these challenges through her interpretation of the area’s cultural landscapes in an evocative fashion, and in the process, captured Campbelltown’s sense of place.
The notes in the exhibition catalogue argue that Tegel has drawn here artistic influences from various sources. Amongst these have been working with artist Barbara Romalis and being a foundational member of artist Alan Baker’s art classes at Camden.
Camden realism and Alan Baker
Baker created what might be called the Camden Realist School of art. He was a follower of the Realist tradition and shunned sentimentalism, modernist abstract and avant-garde styles.
Baker’s influence on Tegel is evident in the ‘Then and Now’ exhibition collection, where it is represented by her ability to capture Campbelltown’s sense of place without sentimentalism or abstraction.
In the 1970s Baker encouraged a realist style amongst students at his Camden Public School art classes, which included Nola Tegel, Patricia Johnston, Olive McAleer, Rizwana Ahmad, and Shirley Rorke.
Baker encouraged a Plein Air painting style, a tradition that
goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century by introducing paints in tubes. Before this, artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils.
In Australia the school of Heidelberg School of artists regularly painted landscapes en plein air, and sought to depict daily life from the 1890s.
Tegel displayed her deft skills as a practitioner of this style in her 2019 Maitland Regional Art Gallery exhibition called ‘In the Light of the Day’. Her artworks were described as coming
from a long standing tradition of painting en plein air, artwork created ‘in the moment’, painted and worked on in situ.
In 2018 Tegel documented the historic colonial Victorian homestead Maryland at Bringelly when she was privately commissioned ‘to create 60 paintings.’ These paintings have told the story of one of the Cowpastures most important colonial mansions and farms built between 1820 and 1850. (Then & Now Catalogue)
Another prodigy of Alan Baker and a fan of the plein air tradition Johnston says that Baker
Revealed the challenge of capturing changing light conditions in open-air painting. The immediacy of this technique and the ability to analyse complex visual scenes established a groundwork that has greatly influenced my painting. The environment became by studio.
Friends Annual & Focus Exhibition Catalogue 2021
Realism on display
Camden realism’s outstanding body of work is a collection of Alan Baker’s paintings, sketches, and other works at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria in John Street Camden. The gallery presents the Alan Baker Collection, which is
a colourful portrayal of an artist’s life in 21st Century Australia.
Alan Baker Art Gallery Flyer
Camden realism is encouraged every year in the Camden Art Prize, which was established in 1975. The acquisitive art prize has a host of categories attracting a mix of artist styles, including traditional representational works.
Smaller exhibitions of Camden realism add to body of work. In 2019 local artists Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Bob Gurney, and Roger Percy mounted an exhibition at Camden Library called ‘Living Waters of Macarthur’. The body of artworks told a variety of stories of the local area in a visual form and captured the essence of place for viewers of local landscapes.
Art as storytelling
The body of work that has grown around Camden realism illustrates the ability of art to tell a story about place. The art style encourages a sense of emotional attachment to a locality by telling stories about the landscapes that surround the community.
Camden realism offers a visual interpretation of storytelling of Macarthur landscapes and the communities within it. This body of work documents the changes that have taken place across the local area from pre-European times to the present, illustrating that all these landscapes are transitional.
On a recent evening in Camden there was the launch of a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in the heritage listed building Macaria in John Street.
The exhibition, FACE to FACE: Live Sittings 1936 – 1972, celebrates Alan Baker’s achievement of entering the Archibald prize 26 times with 35 artworks between 1936 and 1972. Despite his persistence he never won a prize.
The exhibition programme states that Alan Baker was studying at JS Watkins Art School alongside future Archibald winners Henry Hanke in 1934 with his Self Portrait, William Pidgeon who won in 1958, 1961 and 1968, and his brother Normand Baker in 1937 with his Self Portrait.
The programme provides a timeline of Baker’s paintings with images that illustrate his works.
the exhibition will feature Baker’s first 1936 Archibald Prize entry painted at the age of 22, a self-portrait study painting by Normand Baker for his 1937 winning Archibald Prize entry, and Baker’s 1951 portrait of Australian Filmmaker Charles Chauvel (courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland).
The Archibald Prize is one of the pre-eminent portraiture prizes in Australia held yearly at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. First awarded in 1921 this prestigious art prize is a sought after award by artists generating publicity and public exposure. Traditionally portraitists were mostly restricted to public or private commissions.
The Art Gallery of NSW states that:
The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.
The Alan Baker Gallery website outlines a short history of the Macaria building.
The website states:
Macaria was originally built in 1859-1860 as a school house by Henry Thompson, the building has since been used for many things; including a private home; the Camden Grammar School; the residence and rooms of doctors and dentists including popular local physician Dr Francis West. In 1965 Macaria was purchased by Camden Council and used as Camden Library and later, offices for the Mayor, Town Clark and staff.
One of the most important pieces of public art In the Macarthur region is the Camden Pioneer Mural. The mural is located on the corner of the Old Hume Highway and Menangle Road, adjacent to Camden Hospital. Thousands of people pass-by the mural and few know its story.
Public art is an important part of a vibrant community and adds to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes
‘a sense of identity, belonging, attachment, welcoming and openness, and strengthen community identification to place. [It creates] a tangible sense of place and destination’.
The pioneer mural does all these and more. The mural makes a public statement about Camden and the stories that created the community we all live in today.
reflect the social fabric of communities past and present – visual representations of their dreams and aspirations, social change, the cultural protests of an era, of emerging cultures and disappearing ones.
Public murals have recently gone through a revival in Australia and have turned into tourist attractions. Murals have become an important part of the urban landscape of many cities including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Launceston and other cities around the world. Mural art in the bush has been used to promote regional tourism with the development of the Australian Silo Art Trail.
The Camden pioneer mural is visual representation of the dreams and aspirations of its creators.
The mural was originally the idea of the town elders from the Camden Rotary Club. The club was formed in halcyon days of the post-war period (1947) when the club members were driven by a desire for community development and progress. Part of that vision was for a tourist attraction on the town’s Hume Highway approaches, combined with a wishing well that would benefit the hospital. (Clowes, 1970, 2012)
The next incarnation of the vision was a mural with a ram with a ‘golden fleece’ to ‘commemorate the development of the wool industry by the Macarthurs’. The credit for this idea has been given to foundation Rotary president Ern Britton, a local pharmacist. (Clowes 1970, 2012)
Club members were influenced by the mythology around the exploits of colonial identity and pastoralist John Macarthur of Camden Park and the centenary of his death in 1934. Macarthur was a convenient figure in the search for national pioneering heroes. The ‘golden fleece’ was a Greek legend about the adventures of a young man who returned with the prize, and the prize Macarthur possessed were merino sheep.
The scope of the mural project had now expanded and included a number of themes: the local Aboriginal tribe; local blackbirds – magpies; First Fleet arriving from England; merino sheep brought by the Macarthur family establishing Australia’s first wool industry; grapes for a wine making industry; dairy farming and fruit growing; and development of the coal industry. (Clowes, 2012)
Mansell created a concept drawing using these historic themes. (Clowes, 2012) The club accepted Mansell’s concept drawings and he was commissioned to complete the mural, creating the ceramic tiles and firing them at his studio. (Clowes, 2012)
The mural concept seems to have been an evolving feast, with Mansell refusing to supply the Rotary Club with his interpretation of his artwork. (Clowes, 1970)
The artist and the meaning of the mural
To understand the meaning what the artist intended with the design this researcher has had to go directly to Mansell’s own words at the 1962 dedication ceremony.
Mr Mansell said,
‘I was happy to execute the work for Camden and Australia. We are a great land, but we do not always remember the early pioneers. But when I commenced this work there came to me some influence and I think this was the influence of the pioneers.
Mr Mansell said,
‘The stone gardens at the base is the symbol of the hardships of the pioneers and the flowers set in the crannies denote their success.’
‘The line around the mural, represents the sea which surrounds Australia.
‘To the fore is Capt Cook’s ship Endeavour and the wheel in the symbol of advancement. The Coat-of-Arms of the Macarthur-Onslows, pioneered sheep, corn, wheat, etc are all depicted as are the sheep which were first brought to this colony and Camden by John Macarthur.
‘Aboriginals hunting kangaroos are all depicted and so on right through to the discovery of coal which has been to us the ‘flame of industry’. Incorporated in the central panel is the Camden Coat-of-Arms, and the Rotary insignia of the wheel highlights the panel on the left.
‘Colours from the earth have been used to produce the unusual colouring of the mural. (Camden News, 20 June 1962)
According to Monuments Australia the mural ‘commemorates the European pioneers of Camden’ and the Australian Museums and Galleries Online database described the three panels:
There is a decorative border of blue and yellow tiles creating a grape vine pattern. The border helps define the triptych. The three panels depict the early history of Camden. The large central panel shows a rural setting with sheep and a gum tree in the top section. Below is a sailing ship with the southern cross marked on the sky above. Beside is a cart wheel and a wheat farm. There are three crests included on this panel, the centre is the Camden coat of arms bearing the date 1795, on the proper right is a crest with a ram’s head and the date 1797, and on the proper left is a crest with a bunch of grapes and the date 1805. The proper right panel of the triptych, in the top section depicts an Aboriginal hunting scene. Below this is an image miner’s and sheafs of wheat. The proper left panel depicts an ornate crest in the in the top section with various rural industries shown below. (AMOL, 2001)
The mural has three panels is described as a ‘triptych’ constructed from glazed ceramic tiles (150mm square). The tiles were attached to wall of sandstone blocks supported by two side columns. The monument is 9.6 metres wide and 3 metres high and around 500mm deep. There is a paved area in front of the mural 3×12 metres, associated landscaping works and a wishing well. (AMOL, 2001; Clowes, 1970)
Tourists visit mural
Tourists would stop in front of the mural and have their picture taken as they travel along the Hume Highway.
The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.
In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017 University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australian’s cultural identity. The attentive audience were a mix of ages and interest, including past military personnel.
One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture.
Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of Anzac and that there is far from just one truth. Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.
The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.
There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.
Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.
According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.
On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-round Aussie bloke.
The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.
Gunner Bruce Guppy
In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’.
Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.
Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995 wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:
So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.
For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.
While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.
The site and the myth
Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.
The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.
Pilgrims and memory
Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry.
Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).
Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.
The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.
Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.
For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.
Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.
Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.
The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.
Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offering contradictions for some and realities for others.
The members of the Australian community are the ones will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.
Updated on 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’
Interwar Camden has a direct connection to a noted architect of Interwar Sydney and its architecture.
Aaron Bolot, a Crimean refugee, was raised in Brisbane and worked for a time with Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s. He designed the 1936 brick extensions on the front of the 1890s drill hall at the Camden showground.
At the time he worked for Sydney architect, EC Pitt, who supervised construction of the new showground grandstand in 1936 and agricultural hall extensions (Camden News, 19 September 1935).
Bolot’s work and that of many other Sydney’s architects is found in photographer Peter Sheridan’s Sydney Art Deco. Sheridan has created a stunning coffee table book highlighting Sydney’s under-recognised Art Deco architectural heritage. The breadth of this Interwar style covers commercial and residential buildings, cinemas and theatres, hotels, shops, war memorials, churches, swimming pools and other facets of design.
Bolot’s work at Camden was a simple version of the more complex architectural work that he was undertaking around the inner Sydney area, for example, The Dorchester in Macquarie Street Sydney (1936), The Ritz Theatre in Randwick (1937) the Ashdown in Elizabeth Bay (1938) and other theatres.
1936 Extension Camden Agricultural Hall
The brick extensions to the agricultural hall were part of general improvements to the showground and works were finished in time for the 1936 Jubilee Show. The report of the show stated:
The new brick building in front of the Agricultural Hall, erected in commemoration of the jubilee, proved a wonderful acquisition, and its beautiful external appearance was, only a few days before the show, added to ‘by the erection of a neat and appropriate brick and iron fence joining that building with the Memorial Gates, * and vastly, improving the main pedestrian entrance to the showground. The fitting of this new room withstands and fittings for the exhibition of ladies’ arts and crafts, was another outlay that added to the show’s attraction. (CN2April1936)
The hall extensions were specifically designed to a similar style as the Memorial Gates erected in 1933 in memory to GM Macarthur Onslow (d. 1931) and paid for by public subscription. It was reported that they would add ‘attractively to the Showground entrance’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extensions were 50 feet by 23 feet, after 5 feet was removed from the front of the former drill hall. A central doorway was to be a feature and there would be ‘main entrance porch leading direct to the big hall on the Onslow Park side of building’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extension cost £400 (CN19Mar1936) and was to be built to mark the 1936 Jubilee Show (50th anniversary). It was anticipated that the new exhibition space could be used for the
ladies’ arts and crafts section, such as needlework, cookery; be used for the secretary’s office prior to the show; a meeting place for committees; and in addition provide a modern and up to date supper room at all social functions. (CN19Sept1935).
The approval of the scheme was moved at the AH&I meeting by Dr RM Crookston and seconded by WAE Biffin and supported by FA Cowell. The motion was unanimously carried by the meeting. The committee agreed to seek finance from the NSW Department of Labour and Industry at 3% pa interest. (CN19Sept1935)
Moviemakers 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 filmmakers 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 unnoticed in the film industry.
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 racehorse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an aeroplane 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 released 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 on 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).
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 directed 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 was 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 the 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 divulges 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 the 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 was filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.
In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced several 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.
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 several 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 the 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 is 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 were 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 several 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 was 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.
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 overlooking 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 cupcakes. 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 sitting 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 that 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.
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 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.
In 2019 movie-making in the area continues with the 4th series of Doctor Doctor. Wikipedia states of the plotline:
Doctor Doctor (also known outside of Australasia as The Heart Guy) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016. It follows the story of Hugh Knight, a rising heart surgeon who is gifted, charming and infallible. He is a hedonist who, due to his sheer talent, believes he can live outside the rules.
Camden was used as one location along with the historic colonial property of Denbigh. Mediaweek stated in 2016 (Sept 9):
The regional setting for the series has proven to be a benefit for narrative and practical production reasons. While all of the hospital scenes were filmed in a hospital in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Rozelle, exterior shooting took place in Mudgee, with filming of Knight’s home was shot in Camden. In addition to $100,000 worth of support from the Regional Filming Fund, the regional setting delivers a unique authenticity to the series that it would otherwise lack.
Sometimes the local area is used a set for an advertising campaign by a fashion label or some other business. The owners of Camden Park House posted on Facebook in August 2019 that the house and garden were used as a set by the Country Road fashion brand.
While no specific details about plotlines or particular actors were given away, the spokesman said the production was filming on August 7 at the Narellan Jets Football Club and Grounds, Narellan Sports Hub.
The show is an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in the real smells, sounds and sights of a sample of the farm in rural Australia.
The show represents the authentic real life of country people. It is a performance bringing history to life by storytelling through a host of demonstrations, events and displays.
The show is historical representation of the past in the present illustrating a host of aspects of rural heritage through experiential learning.
Living history reveals layers from the past
The show reveals itself in a multi-layered story of continuity and change on the edge of the Camden township. What was once a small isolated rural village at the Nepean River crossing and is now a thriving Sydney suburb on the city’s metropolitan fringe.
Competitive sections of the show have come and gone with changes in the farming economy. Livestock, produce, craft and cooking sections each tell a story of different aspect of rural life. What was once an integral part of the rural economy is now a craft activity and completely new sections have appeared over the decades.
Where once rural artisans were part of the local economy their activities are now demonstrations of heritage and lost trades. Show patrons once used to arrive in a horse and cart today’s show-goers watch competitive driving of horse and sulkies in the show ring.
Sideshows and carnies continue show traditions that have their origins in English village fairs and carnivals of the past and even a hint of the Roman Empire and their circuses.
The success of the show illustrates a yearning by those attending to experience and understand elements of the traditions of a rural festival in the face of urban growth and development.
The Camden Show is a rural festival that is part of the modern show movement that emerged from the Industrial Revolution. The first series of agricultural shows in the early 19th century demonstrated modern British farming methods and technology.
The first agricultural shows in New South Wales were in the early 19th century and the first Camden Show in 1886. The 19th century agricultural show movement set out to demonstrate the latest in British Empire know-how and innovation in farming.
The site of the show on the Nepean River floodplain is one of the first points of contact between European and Indigenous people and the cows that escaped from the Sydney settlement in 1788 former the Cowpasture Reserve in 1795. For living history it is material culture which grounds the audience in time and place.
One active gardener maintains that this garden provides
therapy time, social interaction with other like-minded people and the satisfaction of growing your own produce. It is very peaceful down there and there is something about digging in the earth. It is fulfilling and a sense of joy seeing something grow from seed. There’s nothing like being able to pick and eat your own produce. The wide variety of colours of the flowers and vegetables in the garden builds mindfulness.
This is a park with varied places to wander through and enjoy, roses in abundance, opportunities for parties, weddings or friends, and 2 palm trees at one of the gates planted by Elizabeth Macarthur to add to the history!! Very pleasurable. (Val S, Camden)
A two minute stroll from the gorgeous township of Camden and you’ll find this little hidden gem. Beautifully maintained gardens in a tranquil setting make this spot just perfect for a short retreat from the rest of the world. no bustle, no shops no noise (except the occasional church bells), just peace and tranquility. (PThommo101, Camden)
I just loved the park with its wonderful rose garden and beautiful arbor. I was there to do a photo shoot and this park never fails to impress with its beautiful shadows and views (CamdenNSW)
A beautiful, restful place to take a Sunday stroll. Any time of the year there is always something on offer, but spring time is especially lovely. (Sue H, Sydney)
It was wonderful to spend time here at the beginning of spring, (Matt H, Penang, Malaysia)
What a beautiful place for a picnic….the grounds are extensive and have an impressive display of Australian native plants….wattles, grevillea ,bottlebrush and eucalypts, to name but a few. (Lynpatch29, Sydney)
I was very impressed it is beautiful (Camden NSW)
A tranquil space for a walk among native plants. Your head is back in a good space. (Susie994, Canberra)
Maybe it is the walking around the picturesque landscape provided by the WSU grounds staff and gardeners. Maybe it is the landscape gardening and native vegetation set off by the water features. Maybe it is the quiet and solitude in the middle of a busy Campbelltown.
Whatever it is in the sculpture garden, whether provided by the permanent WSU sculpture collection or the exhibition works, the site has a positive serenity that is hard to escape. It certainly attracts the staff and students.
The exhibition showcases major works by significant Australian and international artists who have created sculptures especially for the site.
Looking at the sculpture garden created by the exhibition from the main roadway provides a pleasant enough vista. Once out of your car and on your feet walking the ground the vistas are marvellous.
The layout placement of the sculpture exhibition has been done with a creative flair that creates a landscape of the imagination. Simply it all works.
The site suits the exhibition. Its expansive space giving the sculptors the opportunity to create an aesthetic that sets off their work.
Tour and walk guide Monica outlined the trials and tribulations of getting heavy equipment onto the site to set up the artworks was a feat in itself. To the viewers in our party they were certainly impressed by it all.
Tour guide Monica said that the staff and students have started using the grounds around the lakes since the exhibition and sculpture park were created.
Well being and public art
Public art has a positive effect on the community and people’s self-esteem, self-confidence and well being. An article in The Guardian examined the well-being effect of public art on communities and stated:
Alex Coulter, director of the arts advocacy organisation Arts & Health South West believes that: “Particularly when you look at smaller communities or communities within larger cities, [public art] can have a very powerful impact on people’s sense of identity and locality.
Apparently it is the participatory side of getting community involvement that brings out the positive effects on people.
Maybe it is the walking around the picturesque landscape provided by the WSU grounds staff and gardeners. Maybe it is the landscape gardening and native vegetation set off by the water features. Maybe it is the quiet and solitude in the middle of a busy Campbelltown.
Whatever it is in the sculpture garden, whether provided by the permanent WSU sculpture collection or the exhibition works, the site has a positive serenity that is hard to escape. It certainly attracts the staff and students.
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’.