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.
a potentially debilitating fungal infection that thrived in the wet, cold and squalid conditions, and could lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated.
Soldiers wore stiff leather boots that were poorly insulated with two pairs of socks in freezing winter conditions to keep out the cold and wet.
Authorities recommended that troops change their socks twice a day to avoid trench feet. Reports from New Zealand maintained in 1915 that
a pair of socks lasted no more than two weeks when on active service.
So it was unsurprising that there was a constant shortage of socks.
Shortages from the start
Sock shortages commenced from the outbreak of war and illustrated how the progress of the war completely overwhelmed military authorities with their unrealistic expectations.
At the Liverpool Infantry Camp in November 1914 military authorities were advising that three pairs of woollen socks would be adequate for the duration of the campaign, while new recruits were advised by bring ‘strong boots’ and ‘knitted socks’ because the army could not supply them.
Knitting for the troops was not restricted to the American Red Cross.
Knitting was part of the homefront response to the outbreak of war across all British Empire countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Across the globe, millions of knitted items found their way to the trenches on the Western Front.
Socks were only one of a large list of items that women made for the war effort. Other knitted items included cholera belts, scarves, gloves and balaclavas, and this was supplemented by a considerable effort sewing hospital supplies.
Women volunteer to supply socks
Australian women volunteered to supply knitted from the start of the war. Unlike women in the United Kingdom, Australian women did not replace men in their civilian roles during the war.
In Australia, the push for knitted-socks, and other items, was co-ordinated by the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and other groups including the Soldiers’ Sock Fund.
In Queensland, the Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, established the Queensland Soldiers’ Sock Fund.
Knitted socks were part of the soldier’s bag that Red Cross volunteers signed up to supply on the foundation of branches throughout New South Wales in August 1914. Red Cross knitters in Camden and across Australia supplied thousands of pairs of knitted socks to soldiers.
In Camden, the new Red Cross branch supplied ‘a large number of socks’ in the first weeks of the war’ including supplies to the Australian Light Horse regiment and the 4th Battalion of Infantry. By September 1915 Camden Red Cross workers had supplied 456 pairs of knitted socks to Red Cross headquarters in Sydney amongst a host of other hand-made items.
Annette, Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand Governor Lord Liverpool,
Lady Liverpool instigated ‘Sock Day’, when the women of New Zealand were encouraged to knit enough socks to provide every soldier with two new pairs (around 30,000 pairs in total).
The First World War was not the first time that women volunteers had supplied knitted socks to Australian troops in wartime. In 1900 Camden women supplied 120 pairs of knitted socks to Camden troops in South Africa in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. These were similar to the activities of British women.
Millions of socks
It has been estimated that Australian women knitted over 1.3 million pairs of socks for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund for the war effort.
Often with a small personal note inside the sock informing the digger who had knitted the garment along with a brief message. (The Conversation 11 August 2014)
Knitting patterns were distributed and cheap wool was made available to knitters.
In 2012 volunteer knitter Janet Burningham from Wrap with Love found that it took about a day to knit each sock. She used a rare grey sock pattern and Paton’s 8-ply grey wool and needles. Socks were knitted in the round on double-pointed needles leaving no seams.
The iconic sock knitter
The solo woman sock knitter was one of the everlasting iconic images of the war at home in Australia.
The iconic image of The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by Grace Cossington Smith found at the Art Gallery of NSW. The gallery states
The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist’s sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, ‘The sock knitter’ counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.
Knitting mediating grief
The action of Camden women and others who became wartime sock knitters was an act of patriotism. They were supporting their boys using one of their traditional domestic arts.
Knitting, sewing, and other domestic arts were unpaid war work and a form of patriotism when women in Australia did not replace men at home in the First World War, unlike the United Kingdom. Historian Bruce Scates has written that women invested a large amount of ‘emotional energy’ in their knitting and sewing.
Women were the mediators of wartime grief and bereavement and knitting and sewing groups were women-only spaces where they could comfort each other and ease the loneliness.
Suzanne Fischer writes that the sock problem and trench foot still existed in the Second World War for American troops stationed in Alaska. She states:
Characteristically, Americans finally reduced their trench foot casualties by throwing more technology at the problem. Thee Shoepac system, introduced in 1944, combined a rubber foot and an impermeable outer leather layer with a felt liner to keep feet dry. These boots were also stylish, which increased their use.
Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 10 March 2020.
Camden artists forewarn with historic contrast of “war and peace” in exhibition.
Camden artists Greg Frawley and Roger Percy have an exhibition entitled “War and Peace” opening on the Thursday 7 June at Camden Library.
The two artists have very different styles of art, and both are hoping to send a message to the people of Camden with their use of imagery.
The inspiration for this collaborative exhibition took lots of thought and purpose.
Roger says of the exhibition,
I thought about the phrase ‘lest we forget’, and thought about what that could also apply to. We never think of now as being a time where things like war could happen, but if people who come look at the exhibition, older or young, and think ‘lest we forget to appreciate what we have. Greg and I have expressed the message through the medium.
“Greg has his war-influenced paintings and I have my various angles of our historic town. This gave us the idea of the contrast between war and peace” said Roger.
Both Greg and Roger have lived many years in the Camden area and have become passionate about the town.
“I’ve been painting Camden for about 20 years.” said Roger about what was different about this collection. “I started painting Camden from angles I had never done before… it was inspiring.”
Roger is the peace side of the exhibition, with use of watercolour and ink to create his landscapes of Camden.
“Roger’s work is very sensitive and reflective of a beautiful townscape – which is under threat.” said Greg about Roger’s work. “It is very timely… people have memories of historic Camden… we can only hope it doesn’t change.”
Roger has recently been appointed the position as the curator of the Alan Baker Art Gallery in Camden – a historic building that is now home to the posthumous collection of works by Baker, a local of Camden.
Roger said, “My works for this new exhibition started with a focus on the gallery, and it expanded to doing unique perspectives looking in to Camden.”
Greg said, “I lived here in the fifties as a kid, I would walk all over this place, back when the town wasn’t very big.”
“I love Camden, that’s why I came back to live here.”
Greg’s works are inspired by war and conflict from various perspectives beyond Camden, and is reflective of Australian history in combination with a mixture of artistic styles.
“I’m a bit of a split personality. I love my painting and I try and do it every day. And despite my commercial art, I try and fight with purpose with my work,” says Greg.
The painting above is called ‘Ceasefire Moon’. “I’ve taken it from the three wise monkeys – hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil,” Greg said.
Greg acknowledged the patriotism of the Australian war efforts. “There was a level of ignorance with the soldiers, they didn’t question anything they did.”
The content of my paintings is a mix of childhood memories and imagined scenarios – of representation and semi-abstraction. Unable to tap into the depth of the real experience of WW1 and not wanting to copy existing images I developed compositions which reflect my personal thoughts on the contradictions of war.
The exhibition has an official opening on the Thursday 7 June starting at 6pm. The exhibition will be on display in the Camden Library for all of June during the library opening hours.
The Campbelltown Arts Centre hosted the opening of a whimsical exhibition curated by artist David Capra in April 2018.
Within the exhibition fantasies abound in a world of the imagination where the world is re-interpreted by indulgence.
The exhibition notes state there are:
A number of newly commissioned works in which artists have contemplated private and internal landscapes that have long influenced their practices…bold architectural additions… provide an immersive experience of constructed escapisms that are stongly familiar…
Influences include Hollywood Westerns movie sets and the Golden Age of Cinema. Combined with performance art by Renny Kodgers in a truck where there are ‘slow conversations’.
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’.
There is nothing quite like experiencing history in the field to gather a feel for a place. Walking the ground provides a perspective for historians that cannot be gained by staying in the archive. Such is my experience of Goulburn. The inland city Goulburn was one of the most important rural centres in 19th century New South Wales.
The world seems to have passed the town by with its eclectic collection of building style – Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar and post-war. Tucked around every corner there is a new surprise – Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals, the imposing railway station, a grand Victorian post-office and an imposing courthouse that would have certainly made a statement about law and order in 19th century Goulburn. Another world away from the present.
Hidden in plain sight in Auburn Street, Goulburn’s main street, amongst this imposing Victorian grandeur are a number of Interwar buildings. Modernism in the 20th century is represented by the CML building and the small office of the local newspaper. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post building at 199 Auburn Street Goulburn was built in 1935. The newspaper office reflected a confidence in the future of Goulburn. A statement about the town.
The Daniels family, who owned the Penny Post, were part of the country press barons who ruled their rural media empires with an iron fist. Families liked the Sommerlads of the New England, the Sidmans of the Macarthur region, the Shakespeare family of the mid-west, the Robinsons in the Hunter, the Parkers of the mid-west, the Musgraves of Wollongong, the Motts of Albury and a host of others.
The newspaper landscape in Goulburn
Goulburn was a vibrant colonial newspaper landscape reflecting a prosperous colonial pastoral economy. While the Goulburn had a literate population it was still a frontier town. Publishers were self-made men, editors as well. Colonial New South Wales was a rugged and robust publishing environment – a boom and bust cycle.
The first newspaper in the town was the Goulburn Herald in 1848. By the 1920s 21 separate newspaper mastheads had come and gone in Goulburn. The Interwar period appears to have been a prosperous time for the New South Wales country press. According to Rod Kirkpatrick’s Country Conscience, there were 238 titles published in 1920, which was only slightly reduced to 221 in 1930.
The first issue of the Penny Post in 1870 was produced under the cumbersome masthead of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post and Southern Counties General Advertiser as a short tabloid (11 x 14 inches) of 4pp. By 1930 the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was the last standing.
Goulburn society was driven by its religious zeal and the city even had 3 religious publications. They were: The Goulburn Banner (1848 – Presbyterian), the Monthly Paper (1893 – Church of England) and Our Cathedral Chimes (1920s – Roman Catholic).
A special edition celebrates the new office building
The December 1935 edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post that celebrated the opening of the new office building. The edition was 36pp with most of the editorial space taken over by recounting the history of the Goulburn township and area. At the time the Post was a daily, Monday to Friday, which incorporated The Goulburn Daily Herald with a cover price of one penny.
Architect LP Burns
The anniversary edition of the ran an article with headline ‘Inside A Modern Country Newspaper Office’. The Sydney architect LP Burns designed an office building which was described as a ‘fine, modern building’ of ‘distinction’ in a ‘modern’ style.
Burns also designed Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers at 17 Montague Street in 1934. It is described as one of the first buildings in Australia to use coloured polychrome terracotta in its façade which features a fine relief of birds, flowers, leaves and typical Art Deco sunbursts under the windows. The building was designed for wealthy pastoralist FG Leahy.
The front of Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers was Wunderlich terra cotta polychrome panels and the Building Magazine claimed that ‘Goulburn [had] never before seen a block of offices of such a lavish and commodious nature’. The building interior had Silky Oak panelling with Tasmanian Oak inlay, with chromium light fittings with frosted green glass. The builders were Armstrong and Stidwell.
The newspaper building design
The new building of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was an example of sleek Art-Deco styling. A stripped back minimalism of the realities of the commercial world – a no-nonsense, business-like, functional and matter of fact. Just like the owners and editors.
Art-deco styling was expression of modernism – sleek, fast, stripped back, not frilly like the Victorian frippery, not tizzy – reminiscent of the world of the railways, movies, motor cars, ocean liners, aeroplanes, consumerism, fashions, wireless. The influences coming down the Hume Highway to Goulburn. The building conveys a powerful statement about the Interwar period in Goulburn.
The Penny Post article on the newspaper office made special mention of the beacon with the lamp on top which made it different from other commercial buildings and with the shopfront Carrara glass. The journalist writing the story was keen to assure the readers that the Carrara glass front was ‘pleasing and harmonious’ and emphasised to the readers that using this type of glass could give a ‘creeping appearance of extravagance’.
Carrara glass was developed in the USA. It was a high-strength coloured glass and used globally in Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings. Carrara glass was usually white or blue-gray which resembled the high quality Carrara marble from Tuscany in Italy. The pigmented glass was an acceptable low-cost alternative building material.
The building frontage according to the 1935 press reports was marked by its ‘judicious display’ and ‘would attract attention in any of Sydney’s busiest streets’. The first floor of the building contained the newspaper’s editorial offices and a large strong room where the newspaper archives were kept. The report continued stating that the building was centrally heated by steam including the composing and machinery rooms. This would, it was maintained, be greatly appreciated by the newspapers employees.
The printing presses were at the rear of the building and the newsroom in the centre while the retail shopfront area dealt with advertisers and local folk buying the newspaper. There was a staff of over 20 journalists, compositors, printers, editors, clerical and retail support. These staff were witness to the daily life of the town as it passed through the doors of the newspaper office.
History in plain sight
Today the Goulburn Post building is evocative of a time when print media was king. Walking into the 1935 Penny Post office is like stepping back into the past. Into a world that has disappeared, best illustrated currently by the US movie The Post. The movie explores the buzz of the newsroom at the Washington Post and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers during the heyday of the Vietnam War. When print was king.
While the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was not a large metro daily it is easy to visualize the hive of activity in the newsroom and printing shop. The approaching print deadlines and the smoke-filled rooms amongst the evocative timber paneled rooms throughout the building.
The fabric of the building is still largely intact and retains its integrity, charm and character. The building reveals the layers of history to those who care to take a look. The building has escaped any major renovations and the building structure is as it was in 1935. If these walls could talk they would tell many great yarns of hard-bitten country press barons, editors and journos.
It is easy to image the smell of the printers’ ink; the whir of the printing presses; the buzz of the newsroom; the clacking of typewriters; and babble of conversations at the front desk with advertisers, stock and station agents, and wool merchants. The newspaper was the heartbeat of the town and the ink and newsprint flowed through arteries and veins of the community.
The current Goulburn Post, the offspring of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post, is still is located in the 1935 building. It is the hub for 10 mastheads within the Fairfax Media. Goulburn Post editor Ainsleigh Sheridan says that the newspaper is about creating community history. She would concur with the former president and publisher of the Washington Post, Phillip Graham, who is credited with saying that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history’ in 1997.
The Goulburn Post is a tri-weekly masthead and is just one of the Fairfax Media group that is produced in the building. The Post is co-ordinated in the Auburn Street office and then sent online to Canberra for printing. In the past printing was done on-site in the back of the Auburn Street building. The current building has issues with fire regulations that did not exist in 1935 and the upstairs area is not currently in use.
This week I visited Goulburn and spoke to the editor of the Goulburn Post and how the tri-weekly masthead is surviving and doing well. Her office is the regional hub for around 10 different regional and local newspapers. The Post is part of the Fairfax Media group.
The appearance of the Nepean News is an interesting addition to the story of local newspapers in the Macarthur area. It is free fortnightly masthead stapled 32 pages of glossy colour in a tabloid format published on Thursdays. The edition at the Camden Produce Market was Issue 215 dated Thursday 7 December 2017.
The Nepean News is an independent published by the Western Sydney News Group which has a stable of three mastheads: Nepean News; Western News; and St Clair and Erskine Park News. The group of newspapers has a considerable footprint across Western Sydney.
The Nepean News is centred on Penrith and is distributed from Luddenham in the south, west to Emu Plains, east to Mt Druitt and north to Castlereagh. The footprint of the Western News is east of the Nepean News and stretches from Vineyard in the north, to Rouse Hill and Seven Hill in the east, in the south to Eastern Creek and in the west to St Marys. The third masthead has a smaller circulation and is centred on St Clair.
The Nepean News boasts that it ‘is not tossed onto your front lawn’. ‘Crisp’ free copies can be obtained from ‘local newsagents, service stations, libraries, council and shopping centres’. The newspaper is supported by a bright and lively website.
Nepean News editor Kerrie Davies states on the newspaper’s website that initially she launched the newspaper after being made redundant from another newspaper. That was eight years ago. She is in partnership with Bart Bassett, general manager, and sales manager, Korena Hale.
The Western News is free, was launched about two years ago and published fortnightly on a Friday of 16 pages. The latest edition is Issue 50 for 22 December 2017. The St Clair and Erskine Park News is a free monthly of 16 pages and the latest edition is Issue 28 for December 2017.
The format across all three mastheads is similar with a number of sections: local news; entertainment; history; and sport. Editorial content is shared as is advertising. Advertising is a mix of display full page to small quarter, half page and smaller, with a trades and services section.
The newspapers are community focused with a lively mix of local newsy stories and photos, an entertainment and a history page compiled by the local historical society and a strong presence of local sporting stories.
There are strong connections between the Camden LGA and Penrith going back decades. Many local families have relatives and friends in the Penrith area and some like taking in the shopping and other facilities.
The appearance of the Nepean News makes an interesting addition to the story of local newspapers in the Macarthur region. It will be even more interesting to see if makes another appearance. Keep your eyes open.
The CHN was out and about in the local area as you do on a recent overcast day at the Camden Showground.
The occasion was the The Argyle Affair Christmas Market for 2017. The market attracts visitors far and wide. One pair who spoke to this blogger came from the New South Wales South Coast and were particularly taken with the local music talent.
‘We aim to provide a safe and confidential environment where we can offer assistance, providing welfare services such as emergency food relief, advocacy, document assistance, phone access, and computer availability with free Wi-Fi’.
Market goers were asked for a gold coin admission or hand in an item of food that went to Turning Point.
The Argyle Affair organisers are continuing a strong community tradition of local festivals going back well over a century where local folk came together to support worthy causes of one sort or another.
Camden Community festivals have come in a range of sizes, types and causes from small street stalls, to large events like the Camden Show. Other examples have been the week long celebrations for the 1960s Festival of the Golden Fleece and the annual Rose Festival.
The grandest local festival is the annual Camden Show which has been going for 131 years. It is a celebration of the town’s rural heritage and over 30,000 people cannot be wrong. The annual rural festival even has Miss Camden Showgirl, one of the few still remaining.
Victorian librarian with attitude or a ghostly presence in the Camden Museum.
Who is the ghostly presence in the archive room at the Camden Museum.? Is it the ghostly presence of some Victorian matron who used to roam the site? Is it the ghost of some former Camden librarian who has come back in a different life?
The lady in question displays a certain attitude towards the visitors that is a bit disconcerting. She looks over your shoulder while you are busy reading some newspaper from a bygone time.
The lady makes you feel guilty that you have not contacted your long lost aunt in months. Maybe she just touches your guilt complex.
The images of the lady were taken by museum volunteer Anne who has an eye for a moving photo or two after a society meeting recently. She has made the hairs stand up on the neck of quite a few people recently.
The Camden Museum is full of objects with lots of stories to tell. An object will speak to you if take the time and patient to unlock the story of its last owner.
Where did it come from? Who owned it? What is their story? What was the object used for? When was it used? Where was it used? Who used it?
What events surround the object? What is the story linked to those events? Who attended the events?
Objects are full of stories. The stories are often hidden in plain view. You just need the patience to unlock the story.
What is the story of our lady? Where did she come from? Who is she? Why is she dressed this way? What does all this mean? What are the memories of people linked to her?
Recently I was told by a local person interested in local history that they only wanted the facts. Everything else is just fake news. What does that mean? What is a fact?
That question is simple enough.
Well is it?
Some will say the facts are in the newspaper. Well are they?
The newspaper is a second hand account of an event and the people who were at that event. The story is written by a journalist.
The journalist writes from their notes or their memories. How fixed are these details? Not as permanent as some would like.
So what are the facts? How accurate is the newspaper story.? Only as accurate as the writer remembers.
How accurate is the list of people at the event? Only as accurate as the writer recalls. How accurate is the story of the event, what happened and in what order? Only as accurate as the writer remembers or as good as their notes. Does the writer have any biases? Yes. What are they? Lots and they affect how the journalist writes the story.
What did the writer leave out of the story? Was the newspaper story a full, accurate and fair account of the event? How do we know 100 years after the event? We do not know and the facts are not as fixed in concrete as some would think.
So the local person I spoke to who only wanted the facts really did not understand what they were dealing with. Their facts are not as fixed as they thought they were.
At any public event everyone who attends is a witness to the proceedings. If you talk to 10 people from the event the following day they will give you 10 different versions.
So what were the facts? The facts will be the things that everyone agrees on. Maybe.
Try it sometime at your next family get together. Ask different family members to recall the event. They will all have a different version.
So what is the truth? What are the facts? Are they all telling lies? Did they all forget what you remembered? Is your version the only correct version? Is your version the truth?
Are you the only one who can remembers the facts? Or is it that your version is just one version of the truth? Or is it that your version is just one version of the facts?
So is everyone telling lies? Is everyone just making it up? Does everyone just forget all the facts according to you?
Is everything else just fake news.
So what is the truth? Not so easy to answer that one.
Everyone was there and they all witnessed the same thing.
Is everyone is telling the truth?
There are lots of versions of the truth. There are just lots of versions.
Everyone saw the event through different eyes. They all have a different story of the event.
All versions are correct. They are all correct. There is no wrong version. They are different interpretations of the same event.
But they all cannot be correct. As my local history contact told me he only wanted the facts. Everything else is just fake news.
There are lots of truths. There are lots of different views of the world. There is no black or white answer. Only shades of grey.
People like life to be simple. People like things to be right or wrong.
Life is not like that. There are all sorts of nuances to things. There is no one truth. There are lots of truths.
The lady at the museum. Who is she? What is her story? What is her history? Lots of interesting questions. So what is the truth?
Come and find out for yourself.
Find some of the truths of the Camden area by visiting the Camden Museum.
The Camden Theatre Group was one of a number of community organisations that existed in the Camden area in the post-war period. It mounted a host of productions over 20 years, mostly by non-professional members of the community.
The term community theatre refers to theatrical performance within and by the community. It can fit within the area of community arts which is wide and varied. Sometimes the community group works with professional actors and production teams. Community theatre helps build community development and community participation and engagement, which all contributed to the development of social capital.
Arts historian Katherine Knight reports that other active community theatre groups were the Castle Hill Players (1954) and the Henry Lawson Players (1969), both still active. In the local area the Campbelltown Theatre Group started in 1976 and is still very active.
The Camden Theatre Group was originally formed in Camden in 1953 and was extremely active from the beginning. In its first year the company staged three shows. It launched its first season 1954 with ‘Fresh Fields’, followed later in the year with ‘Gypsy Story’ and ‘Trial By Jury’. This was followed up in 1955 with ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ and ‘Maid of the Mountain’, with the highlight of 1956 ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’.
One of the early presidents was local novelist and dramatist Charles Inglis.
Productions were held in the AH&I Hall in Central Camden and in 1966 the company mounted Irving Berlin’s famous musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in October. The leading roles for Annie was played by Christine de Looze and Frank Butler by Frank Armstrong. Christine de Looze debuted for the theatre group in ‘The Drunkard’ in 1965, and followed this up in 1966 playing the part of ballet dancer Essie Sycamore in ‘You Can’t Take it with You’. Frank Armstrong was one of the most experienced members of the company and had experience with JC Williamsons for some years appearing in a variety of musicals including ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate’. In 1964 he entertained Camden audiences as Curly in ‘Oklahoma’.
In early 1968 the Camden press reported that Liz Kernohan was elected president at the AGM of the theatre group with co-patrons Dr RM Crookston, W Clifton, EC Britton, B Ferguson and W Sidman. The secretary was M Ferguson and B Clark, with vice-presidents C Manners and C Inglis, supported by general committee of eleven. It was reported that the group looked forward ‘to a full and rewarding programme with increased social activities and many opportunities for people who may be afraid of the footlights’.
Joyce Thorn recalled that Liz Kernohan was Bloody Mary in the company’s 1962 musical ‘South Pacific’ and says that she was ‘really spot on and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen’. Joyce remembers that ‘she had confidence that she could do it’. Joyce and two car loads of friends would regularly come into Camden for theatre group productions and felt that the ‘theatre group did quite well’.
In 1969 the committee under the direction of president Liz Kernohan stated the theatre group enjoyed bringing forward their production and appealed for audience support by telling their friends. Local supporters could become an associate member for one dollar that entitled the holder to preferential bookings and inclusion in theatre parties. Productions were moved to the Camden High School hall in John Street, Camden.
The company kept up a busy production schedule from its foundation and between 1953 and 1971 there were 29 separate productions, and from 1972 and to 1981 there were 21.
In early 1974 the Stables Theatre Group got under way when the Camden Theatre Group signed an eight year lease on The Stables at Camden Park Estate. The signatories were the president Liz Kernohan, secretary Richard Echin and Quentin Macarthur Stanham of Camden Park.
In 1975 the theatre group was re-structured as the Camden Theatre Group Co-operative Society Ltd. The aim of the re-structuring was the establishment of the Stables Theatre under the chairmanship of Camden Mayor Bruce Ferguson. The co-ordinator of the Stables Theatre Group was Jean Burton, and secretary Janice McDonnell. The co-operative’s board was made up of 14 representatives made up of eight directors from shareholders and six representatives from the organisations. Amongst board members were representatives from a number of community groups which were the Arts Society, Chamber of Commerce and Macarthur Apex. The chairman of the board was F Hibble from Tahmoor.
In 1980 the theatre group was suffering financial difficulties and had revival plans in place. The restoration of The Stables had put the company under financial pressure.
The last production mounted by the theatre group at The Stables was the three act ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ was put on in 1981 in the round. Diana Sharpe played Burra, Sally Hogan took the role of Pearl, Jeff Ballinger played Barney, ably supported by a number of other local identities.
Joyce Thorn, Interview with Ian Willis, Camden, 7 September 2014