Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

History Revisited - a celebrated life for Gardner

Oban cemetery, November 1973. Around 100 people gathered to see the unveiling of a headstone for William Gardner, the pioneer chronicler of Northern Tablelands’ life.

By then, many historians had drawn from Gardner’s manuscript chronicles. Recognising his importance, the Armidale and District Historical Society raised a fund to pay for the headstone on Gardner’s previously unmarked grave.

I suspect that we don’t sufficiently recognise the importance of the work done by the Society over the years since its formation. This is a simple example of its enduring legacy. I draw on its work all the time.  

Back at Oban, Lionel Gilbert gave a short talk on Gardner’s life and achievements. The headstone was then unveiled by Oban owner Mr J Bennett, after which the multitude adjourned for lunch.

But who, in all this, was William Gardner?

William Gardner (1802-1860) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. In April 1838 he sailed from Leith in Scotland arriving in Sydney five months later.

We know little of Gardner’s life in the thirty six years before he sailed for Sydney. He was clearly an educated man and may have spent some time in the US, for in 1848 he published a pamphlet on the possibility of growing of cotton in NSW.

Gardner was aware of conditions on the frontier. The copy of the Sydney Gazette that carried news of his arrival also carried editorial on the Myall Creek massacre. Despite this, he soon moved north.

After working in a store at Maitland, Gardner moved to the newly-opened New England plateau about 1842, becoming a tutor at the late Henry Dumaresq's Saumarez station near Armidale.

A keen horseman, Gardner travelled widely over the district, and compiled the first detailed map of the northern districts of New South Wales, published in September 1844 in Baker's Australian County Atlas. This reveals competent draughtsmanship and painstaking attention to such details as roads, tracks and station properties.

From 1853 Gardner was employed as tutor at Moredun (October 1853–September 1854), Rockvale (October 1854–September 1855), Mount Mitchell, and at Andrew Coventry's Oban station (1858-60).

Gardner did not marry. The reasons are unclear.

There were not many available single women at this period, and he seems to have enjoyed his single life. Instead, he devoted himself to wide and varied cultural interests. These included sketching and later photography as well as writing. A sound judge of horses, he advised Gideon Lang in 1857 on the selection of horses for the Indian army.
Gardner's later writings were not published, but were kept in large manuscript notebooks. I made them for my own amusement, he wrote. They are a treasure trove of information about the early years of New England, including sketches and drawings of old homesteads and natural features.

Gardner died on 10 September 1860 and was buried at Oban in a then unmarked grave.

We know from descriptions and reminiscences that he was highly respected and greatly missed, including by those he taught. Not a bad legacy, I think.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 September 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

History Revisited - Armidale plays a big role in Proctor's life

GLAMOROUS EVENT: Thea Proctor's interest in decorative work strengthened by her participation in annual The Chelsea Arts Club Ball.

Artist Thea Proctor was 23 or just 24 when she arrived in London 1903. It was an exciting time.

In addition to her close relationship with George Lambert, she mixed with the other Australian expatriate artists including Charles Condor, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, artists whose paintings can be found in the New England Regional Art Museum.

Proctor became preoccupied with line, colour and form, concentrating on drawing and water colour painting. Here she was influenced by Condor’s fan designs, Japanese prints and the drawings of the French neo-classical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Her interest in decorative work was also highlighted by the Chelsea Arts Club balls with their elaborate costumes and through exposure to the Ballets Russes.

Founded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1909, the Paris based Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century. Diaghilev consciously tried to promote artistic collaborations among leading young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers. As part of this, he commissioned works from composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, artists such as, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and designer Coco Chanel.

The impact on Thea seems to have been considerable. .After seeing the Ballets Russes in 1911, she exclaimed “it would be difficult to imagine anything more beautiful and inspiring”.

Thea’s art works, her decorative fans and drawings, were well received. However, I am left wondering at the extent to which this focus was gender connected. We know from other writing including the biographies of Australia artist Stella Bowen as well as that of Dora Carrington that decoration was seen as a more acceptable female role.

Thea returned to Australia in 1912, but finding the market unresponsive she moved back to England late in 1914, achieving more critical success. Then, with many other expatriate artists including George Lambert, she returned to Australia following the war.

In Sydney she became active in the Society of Artists and in 1925 held a joint exhibition in Sydney and Melbourne with Margaret Preston. Both artists included brightly coloured wood cuts in scarlet frames. While Proctor’s work was comparatively conservative, it was seen as ‘dangerously modern’ in Australian terms.

The next year, she joined with Lambert and others to found the Contemporary Group to promote young avante garde artists.

While Proctor’s work achieved considerable critical and indeed popular success, she needed to supplement her income through teaching art and writing.

Always elegantly dressed and considered an arbiter of taste, Thea wrote on fashion, flower arranging, colours for cars and interior decoration. In the 1920s she organized artists' balls; in 1932 she designed the fashionably modern Lacquer Room restaurant for Department store Farmer & Co; and in the 1940s produced theatre décor.

Thea continued to paint throughout her life and to play an active role in encouraging young artists. Unmarried, she died at Potts Point on 29 July 1966. It had been a long and interesting life from her birth in Armidale and those early years at NEGS.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 September 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

History Revisited - Thea Proctor: from NEGS to the art world of Edwardian London

SCHOOL GROUNDS: Renowned artist Thea Proctor lived in Armidale for a brief period before returning to study at the New England Girls School. Proctor would go on to study art in the vibrant world of Edwardian London.
For most, to be born or educated in Armidale is to leave the city. Their journeys have taken them all over the world and into every aspect of life.

Artist Alethea Mary (Thea) Proctor was born in Armidale on 2 October 1879, the oldest child of William Consett Proctor and his Queensland born wife Kathleen Janet Louisa, née Roberts.

Thea’s father had come to Armidale as a solicitor. He became involved in local government and was Mayor of the City in 1877. In December 1880, he was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as Member for New England, a position he was to hold until January 1887.

Some time after his election, the family moved to Sydney, living comfortably at Hunters  Hill. Then in 1889, Thea was sent back to Armidale to board at NEGS. Her parents’ marriage had become troubled. They separated in 1892, divorcing in 1897. On 24 August 1903 William Proctor again married. His new wife was Julia Cusack. They would have one son and three daughters.

It is not clear what contact Thea retained with her father or, later, with her half brothers and sisters. Following the separation, she went to live at Bowral with her maternal grandparents. They encouraged her interest in art. artistic pursuits. In 1894, while attending Lynthorpe Ladies' College, Thea won a prize at the Bowral Amateur Art Society's exhibition. Because of this connection, Bowral claims Thea as its own.

In 1896, Thea enrolled at Julian Ashton's art school. The school emphasized drawing and the latest decorative ideas in composition.

This was an exciting time in Australian art. Thea became fully absorbed in a world in which art and personal relations were closely interlinked. Her fellow students included Elioth Gruner, George Lambert and Sydney Long. She became briefly engaged to Long in 1899, but it was with Lambert she formed the closest relationship.

In 1899, she worked with with Lambert, Long, and others on the short-lived Australian Magazine.. Then in 1903, Thea followed the now established art trail to London where she studied at St John's Wood Art Schools and with Lambert. She was described at this time as 'beautiful, tall, dark-haired, languorous and dignified'.

Years later, she retained this beauty. “Miss Proctor received us in something between a tea gown and a peignoir”, Barry Humphries would write. :”She was tall and still very beautiful, with her long hair caught back in a bun. One recognised without difficulty the striking young woman who appears in more than one of George Lambert’s most celebrated paintings.”

The exact relationship between Proctor and Lambert remains uncertain. She posed for him and frequented his household. She found him intellectually stimulating, became 'doggedly devoted' to him, establishing a life long friendship. It was clearly a friendship that had multiple levels.

It may seem a long way from Armidale and the NEGS dormitories of the 1880s to the vibrant intellectual life of London and Paris at the start of the twentieth century, but that (in a way) is the Armidale story. Our tentacles reach across time and space in often unseen ways.

I will complete Thea’s story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 September 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

History Revisited - Aboriginal nurse Emma Jane Callaghan: the lady who became an institution

HOME SWEET HOME: Emma Jane Callaghan was born at the La Perouse Aboriginal Reserve in 1884. This photo shows a a group at La Perouse from the 1890s. Emma would go on to build a career in nursing and in promoting Aboriginal health.
Emma Jane Callaghan (1884-1979) was a remarkable woman whose life was recorded by Shay Ann Kelly.

Born at the La Perouse Aboriginal Reserve in Sydney on 28 February 1884,
she was the younger twin of William Foot and Kathleen Sims. William was a fisherman, while Kathleen was a member of the Dharawal tribe.

Emma injured her head when she was four. She was looked after by Retta Dixon who would found the Aborigines' Inland Mission of Australia, establishing a relationship that would shape Emma’s life.

Although she had left school after third grade, Emma wanted to be a nurse. About 1903 Dixon took her to visit the Dunggutti (Dainggatti) people at the Nulla Nulla Aborigines' Reserve near Bellbrook in the Upper Macleay Valley.

Emma decided that she had a mission to help her people. Two years later she returned to Bellbrook. There she held religious services in the open air under trees or in the small tin church on the reserve, learning to play the organ. She also helped older Aboriginal women when they assisted in childbirth, earning their trust and respect.

Emma registered Aboriginal births. regularly searching the camps and humpies for sick people, crossing flooded creeks and riding through the bush to tend her patients: At the time, Aboriginal people were not admitted to Kempsey hospital and would not be until an annexe was built in the 1930s.. She also buried the dead with the police as witnesses.

At Bellbrook, Emma met and fell in love with a young Dunggutti labourer, Athol Callaghan. They married on 20 September 1909 at the Nulla Nulla Reserve. Athol was 22, three years younger than Emma. They would have eleven children.

Apart from her other skills, Emma was a competent needlewoman. She made her own hats and clothes as well as clothes for the community including wedding dresses and ball gowns. She also extended her knowledge of the local language, translating Bible stories into Dunggutti.

Athol developed tuberculosis. Around 1928, the family moved to Armidale to be closer to medical facilities. There Emma displayed again that energy that was such a trade mark feature.

Emma herself became highly respected and encountered no personal prejudice. However, that was not universally true for Armidale’s Aboriginal community who were living in appalling conditions on the fringes of the town.

Emma again practiced as midwife to her people, nursing them without charge She lobbied the mayor and the Anglican bishop until her family obtained a house.. This became an impromptu hospital and doctor’s surgery, with Dr Ellen Kent Hughes regularly visiting to see patients.

After seven years in Armidale, the family returned to La Perouse at Athol’s request. There Emma bought a block of land near the mission and built a timber and fibro house to plans provided by her friend Kent Hughes.

At La Perouse, Emma was just as active as she had been in the North. By the time she died in 1979, she had become an institution, “The Lady”. In recognition, the State government preserved her home in 1985.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 August 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.