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

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

History revisited - memories of artists' camps

As part of their on-going fund raising, the New England Regional Art Museum has been running an “Adopt and Artwork” program. In simple terms, you adopt an artwork, and pay for the conservation costs.

It’s not cheap, although you can donate smaller amounts. Conservation work is expensive, but its part of the price we pay to maintain those things that we love about our city.

That was a view a friend took. He gulped, and then adopted Arthur Streeton's "Sydney from the Artist's Camp", a classic Australian painting.

I am obviously a history nut. I wouldn’t be sitting here year after year writing this column, trying to interest you in the history of Armidale and the North, if I were not. However, the history of the things that you see around you in Armidale, the things that we take for granted, can lead you into worlds that you might not expect, worlds with their own excitement totally disconnected with the routines of our daily life.

Arthur Streeton returned to Sydney on 19 April 1920. Art collector Howard Hinton met him on arrival, taking him to lunch at the Café Francis. On 22 April, Hinton visited Streeton in his rooms at Dalley Street which he was sharing with painter Benjamin Edwin Minns (1863-1937).

Minns is a Northerner. Born at Dungog, he grew up in Inverell where he had his first lessons in painting and drawing.

Hinton recorded his visit to see Streeton in his notes: “bought one of his panels showing Cremorne Point and the city from Sirius Cove – an easterly breeze is blowing over the blue water – fine strength – full charm in his blue water contrasted with the gold of distant shores and bronze gum trees.”

This is, I think, the painting Paul adopted, an Australian classic.

The painting is significant for another reason as well. Sirius Cove is the location of one of those artists’ camps that dotted the shores around the Sydney suburb now called Mosman.

Howard Hinton was born in England in 1867. It seems almost certain that when or soon after he arrived in Sydney in 1892, Hinton went to live with artist friends in a camp on the edge of Balmoral Beach.

Today as Sydney café society gathers at Balmoral for their morning breakfast overlooking the water, it is hard to imagine what it looked like then, a beach camp in bush near the water’s edge.

Mind you, camp is a relative concept. C B Newling, a friend of Hinton’s and the first principal of the Armidale Teachers’ College, described the camp in this way.

Several strong tents with wooden floors provided sleeping accommodation. A central marquee with a piano, table etc provided a dining and living room. Nearby were a kitchen and shower room, while canvas deck chairs dotted the grounds. An ex-navy rating acted as cook, caretaker, housekeeper and gardener.

That’s what I call camping!
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 25 March 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.

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