Posts Tagged ‘George Street Sydney

05
Jun
20

Text: ‘Prospect/us, protect us: plague and resumption in fin de siècle Sydney’ on John Degotardi Jr.’s ‘The Plague Albums’, Sydney, 1900

June 2020

Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W. photographed by John Degotardi Jr. also known as The Plague Albums.

6 albums containing 379 photoprints

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '264. Professional Ratcatchers' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
264. Professional Ratcatchers
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Abstract

This text examines the photographs of John Degotardi Jr., photographer for the New South Wales Department of Public Works, who produced 6 photographic albums containing 379 photoprints of the plague in The Rocks, Sydney, 1900, also known as The Plague Albums.

It proposes alternate interpretations of the photographs, readings that both confirm the original purpose for their existence on the one hand, and subvert that purpose, and their formal legacy, on the other. In so doing we can begin to understand what an incredibly sophisticated photographer John Degotardi Jr. was, and how he deserves much more recognition than has been accorded him at present in the history of Australian photography.

 

Keywords

John Degotardi Jr., The Plague Albums, Sydney, Australia, bubonic plague, plague in Sydney, photography, art, urban landscape, the Prospect, prospectus, infection, rats, disease, plague, resumption, slum, community, The Rocks, Millers Point, Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Download Prospect/us, protect us (1.6Mb pdf)

 

 

Prospect/us, protect us: plague and resumption in fin de siècle Sydney

On John Degotardi Jr.’s The Plague Albums, Sydney, 1900

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During this time of pestilence, I came across several online articles about the outbreak of bubonic plague that occurred in Sydney in 1900 (in particular “Purging Pestilence – Plague!”1), the infection more virulent – don’t you love that word – in the harbour side slums around Darling Harbour, Millers Point and The Rocks but covering “the whole of the quarantine area, which stretched from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets thence south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway. The area east from George Street enclosed by Riley, Liverpool, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets; Gipps, Campbell and George Streets were also quarantined, as were certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly.”2

Under the supervision of architect and consulting engineer Mr George McCredie, who was appointed by the Government to take charge of all quarantine activities in the Sydney area, work began on March 23, 1900 to cleanse the infected areas, and through compulsory purchase, or resumption (Australian law: the action, on the part of the Crown or other authority, of reassuming possession of lands, rights, etc., previously granted to another), to demolish slum properties. The buildings selected for demolition because of the health risks they supposedly raised, were recorded by photography,3 through the auspices of John Degotardi Jr., photographer for the New South Wales Department of Public Works, who produced 6 photographic albums containing 379 photoprints of the plague in The Rocks, Sydney, 1900, also known as The Plague Albums.

Degotardi Jr.’s photographs, commissioned as result of the outbreak, “are largely of buildings requiring to be demolished, and include the interior and exterior of houses, stores, warehouses and wharves, and surrounding streets, lanes and yards, thus providing a fairly clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague.” They document property and living conditions before, during and after the outbreak of plague. “George McCredie noted in a letter to Sir William Lyne that ‘Where it was found necessary to pull down premises or destroy outbuildings photographs were taken of them before their demolition, and in order to prepare in case of future litigation, each inspector was instructed to take careful notes of any property that might be destroyed.'”4

Probably taken on a large format glass plate camera (although no details are given), the resultant album photographs, now scanned, are available at high resolution (600dpi) and 130Mb file size images on the New South Wales State Archives and Records website copyright free, in the public domain. While it is admirable to have these photographs online, the scans have been left in their original condition, as is an archives want, in order to protect the presumed integrity of the original artefact. In other words, over 100 years after the taking of the photograph, this is the current physical state of the object and this is how the images should be seen today. You can see a couple of iterations of the original scans below, replete with their sickly yellow hue, which does not allow the viewer to really appreciate the scene, the photograph as a complete composition, or the skill of the photographer when observing and capturing the urban terrain. This is not how these photographs would have appeared when originally produced and their deterioration is akin to a layer of yellowing varnish that obscures the colours and details of some Old Master painting, which has discoloured with age. Conservators do not leave this layer of yellow in place, they remove it. The same can be said of discoloured photographs.

In this case, I spent many hours restoring these photographs to their pristine condition, removing colour and dust spots, so that I may study the scene intimately, zooming into the image (because of their high quality) to observe everyday nuances of Sydney life in 1900. In so doing we can begin to understand what an incredibly sophisticated photographer John Degotardi Jr. was, and how he deserves much more recognition than has been accorded him at present in the history of Australian photography. Let us set the stage, then, for the taking of these photographs.

We note that for the photographer this was a job, working as he did for the New South Wales Department of Public Works. He was to document the quarantine area to provide a clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague, those photographs of interiors and exteriors, of buildings and boundaries (streets) – things that “exist to insure order and security and continuity and to give citizens a visible status”5 – also needed in case of future litigation (presumably by aggrieved landowners) after they were compulsorily purchased. Here we begin to understand that the aesthetic of urban landscape photography is always contextual and political. In his photographs Degotardi Jr. maps out the boundaries of his, the governments, and the camera’s authority – one’s position (and that of his all seeing, ambivalent ‘mechanical eye’), “not just a matter of where one stands, but that it is more comprehensively spatial, social and economic.”6

Often in these photographs (not necessarily in this posting, but more generally in the images found online), Degotardi Jr.’s camera occupies and draws on “the seventeenth century device of the ‘prospect’, an oblique landscape viewpoint located between ground and aerial perspectives… The viewpoint of the prospect hovers in mid air between the aerial image and the landscape view, oblique to the terrain it is depicting. It provides an order that would otherwise be illegible to the grounded eye.”7 In other words, Degotardi Jr. positions his camera to best bring order to the urban chaos, picturing through the ritual of taking photographs, a surveyed and regulated order (both economic and legislative) that determines the urban grid – in this case, of the quarantine areas / remediated areas, dis-ease areas / proposed redevelopment, business areas – in some of the oldest suburbs of Sydney. Following Goldswain’s commentary on the photographs of John Joseph Dwyer and his mapping of the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, we might concur that, “It is not unreasonable to suggest that Dwyer’s [Degotardi Jr.’s] camera is literally prospecting, combining both senses of the word, mapping the city and its suburbs to find an economic potential in its ordered state…”8

In his “views”, Degotardi Jr.’s camera often portrays people (in)congruously in doorways or on streets, used to document scale or to bare witness to their surroundings. People, mainly men, go about their work often demolishing buildings or cleaning rubbish in the streets, stopping as the photograph is taken, or deliberately posed by the photographer. In some images the photographer sets up a scene that has no logic at all. For example, the photograph of Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street (below) evidence a shoeless lad, a group of young men, a painter, and two firemen who hold a deflated fire hose which leads out of shot in one direction and terminates under the eves of a row of shops in the other direction, seemingly connected to nothing. Their surroundings are declamatory and, for today’s reader, insightful. In a building erected by P.R. Larkin in 1866, the row of shops includes a “Johnny All Sorts” – a business that bought and sold all sorts of things. To the right of the group are pasted billboards, much as today, two of which advertise a plague remedy and disinfectant soap (sound familiar in 2020?):

Avoid the
PLAGUE!
Purchase at Once!!
Prof. VON ELSEBERG’S
‘KALTHA’
Just Arrived

Notice to householders
BLACK DEATH
or Bubonic Plague
SANITOL
Disinfectant soap
3d Double tablets 3d

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In other photographs, men stand in doorways, hidden in the shadows (No. 20 Upton Street). Many are images of workers, homeowners, citizens and families who live a hand to mouth existence. The intimacy of these photographs portrays, betrays, the place where societies rejects are housed, the setting (the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place) of human lives; the “setting”, or settling, of human lives, as in the solidification of space and place, the environment of existence. As a group of photographs the series is an extraordinary social document of poverty and squalor, of the desperation of people just getting by.

To the photographer, and to the people and buildings he was photographing, the familiar serves as a point of departure. Firstly, Degotardi Jr. documents what was there – this diseased land, a landscape not only as a composition of spaces but also a composition of a web of boundaries. Secondly, he photographs to map out what was to be “resumed” through the Resumption Act 1900, the city “fathers” using the outbreak of bubonic plague as a convenient excuse to compulsorily purchase land in the loosely defined quarantine area, offering the residents compensation “estimated without reference to any alteration in the value of such land arising from any purchase or any appropriation or resumption for any purpose mentioned in this Act or the establishing of any public works on any land the subject of any such purchase, appropriation, or resumption.” These albums, then, become a prospectus, a prospect/us, an authentic record of the terms, the conditions and the contexts for the reformist attitude in the minds of these city fathers: not to protect us (the populace) but to prospect us, using land resumption as the tool to get rid of the old and bring in the new. The plan was to demolish the existing structures and rebuild to a grand design.

Factored into the design of the Resumption Plans was the need to keep Dawes Point free for the construction of a possible bridge across the harbour. “While public health was a convenient excuse for resumptions, the need for a harbour bridge may also have motivated the authorities.”9

“Plans were underway even at these early stages and a good 23 years before construction of the bridge commenced. Even at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was clear that there would need to be a widened thoroughfare to accommodate traffic entering and exiting the bridge, and many buildings would need to be sacrificed to achieve this. The bubonic plague outbreak offered the ideal opportunity to highlight the inadequacies in a lot of buildings, and the chance to condemn the area as slum, whose only chance of redemption was through mass demolition.”10

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But as an article by Gillian McNally in The Daily Telegraph insightfully observes, “
The reshaping of the city … provided a convenient “public health” excuse for resumption of private property. The NSW Government took back ownership of virtually the entire headland from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and demolished hundreds of slum houses and businesses in what are now prime real estate precincts such as George St, Sussex St, Kent St and Martin Place. There was little attempt to define a slum area and there was no recognition of the rights of tenants as resumptions took out a house here, a street there and great swathes of properties in some suburbs to improve crooked roads and thoroughfares.”11

If we define a landscape as an environment modified by the permanent presence of a group of people,12 then what these photographs do, in one sense, is document the death throes of the communities that created this urban landscape. As J.B. Jackson notes, “No group sets out to create a landscape, of course. What it sets out to do is to create a community, and the landscape as its visible manifestation is simply the by-product of people working and living, sometimes coming together, sometimes staying apart, but always recognising their interdependence.”13

But, as Denis Cosgrove observes, the concept of landscape (and thus of community) is always powerful and political.

“Landscape was a ‘way of seeing’ that was bourgeois, individualist and related to the exercise of power over space. The basic theory and technique of the landscape way of seeing was linear perspective … and is closely related by [Alberti] to social class and spatial hierarchy. It employs the same geometry as merchant trading and accounting, navigation, land survey, mapping and artillery. Perspective is first applied in the city and then to a country subjugated to urban control and viewed as landscape. … The visual power given by the landscape way of seeing complements the real power humans exert over land as property.”14

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The photographs in these albums, then, evidence the real power of the city fathers over land as property, their property and not that of the citizens or the communities that had grown up in these unregulated buildings and shantytowns. They, the city fathers, ordered these pictures into existence. The landscape thus portrayed, is “a way of seeing, a composition and structuring of the world so that it may be appropriated by a detached, individual spectator to whom an illusion of order and control is offered through the composition of space according to the certainties of geometry.”15 Residents, armed with lime, carbolic acid and sulfuric acid, were then enlisted to cleanse, disinfect and even burn and demolish their own houses in infected areas.16

But in another and far more important sense, what these photographs document are the lives of ordinary people, people who form a community of souls, for whom a sense of community was of vital, life giving importance. The photographs record their existence as traces and energies from the past that impinge on our consciousness in the present. Here are the ratcatchers, modest men with their traps and cages, bowties and pipes, all adorned bar one in the obligatory hat; here are two Chinese gentlemen surrounded by squalor and chopped wood, one sitting on a pile of rocks, both portrayed with a touching dignity; here in a rubble strewn Wexford street men resignedly sit on the ground or stare pensively at the camera, pondering we know not what, while on the other side of the street children stare inquisitively at the camera; and there smoke arises from amongst the demolished Exeter Place as labourers, persons doing unskilled manual work for wages, dance a ballet of destruction amongst the rubble. Children on a veranda, pails in a dirt back yard, chickens, and children, roaming free… and a rock tied on a piece of string guards the entrance to a door.

Pails and tins and rocks and wood and chickens and children and rats and butchers and dirt and sugar… and a rock tied on a piece of string, like the great pendulum of time, marking all their existences. And yet… and yet, what that most excellent photographer John Degotardi Jr. does (in this second sense), is not just to record as instructed, their quarantine, their dispossession – but through his photographs, he empathises with the people, with their community of existence. While his photographs are not sentimental about humankind, traces of humanity are ever-present in his pictures. Unlike the Parisian Eugène Atget, who established a beneficial “distance between man and his environment” here, Degotardi Jr. engages in a conversation with the people and the city. And in so doing, in so immersing himself in (t)his project, he lifts his photographs out of the ordinary, out of (t)his world.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn has so eloquently observed,

“Effortless activity happens at moments in dance and in sports at the highest levels of performance; when it does, it takes everybody’s breath away. But it also happens in every area of human activity, from painting to car repair to parenting. Years of practice and experience combine on some occasions, giving rise to a new capacity to let execution unfold beyond technique, beyond exertion, beyond thinking. Action then becomes a pure expression of art, of being, of letting go of all doing – a merging of mind and body in motion.”17

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It would seem to me that this is the great achievement of a Department of Public Works photographer who was hired to do a job: that he transcended his subject matter by letting execution unfold beyond technique, by immersing himself in the derivation of composition, perspective, light and form, place and context, feeling and emotion. So while these photographs in the obvious obey the command of the city fathers, of the planners, of patriarchy and the capital of industry, in the immersive and subversive they undermine the prospectus that first proposed them. Unable to protect the people, to protect us, from the demolition of community (to the benefit of commerce hidden under the “public health” excuse), John Degotardi Jr. leaves, through his photographs, a lasting legacy of lives that matter, not bureaucracy that doesn’t. He imagines streets and buildings and lives, pictured for eternity through the psychogeography of the city. And if we think of the long queues of unemployed in our current pandemic, here are also lives that matter – the lives of the dead and the destitute, each one a valuable, sentient, human being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 2,809

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Many thanks to the brains trust on the Lost Sydney Facebook web page for helping in my research in locating exact positions of some of the photographs and the location of the resumption maps online. Apologies if I have got anything incorrect. All photographs are in the public domain. More photographs can be found on the State Library of New South Wales website, New South Wales State Archives and Records website and the John Degotardi Flickr stream.

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous. “Purging Pestilence – Plague!” on the New South Wales State Archives and Records website [Online] Cited 25 May 2020
  2. NRS-12487 | Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney. Text from the State Archives of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 11/04/2020.
  3. Alan Davies. “Photography in Australia,” in Celebrating 100 years of the Mitchell Library. Sydney: State Library of NSW, 2000. p. 86.
  4. Footnote 1. NSW Parliamentary Debates, 1900, vol. CIII, p. 111 quoted in Max Kelly. Plague Sydney. Marrickville, NSW: Doak Press, 1981 in NRS-12487 | Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney. Text from the State Archives of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 11/04/2020.
  5. J.B. Jackson. Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 12.
  6. Philip Goldswain. “Surveying the Field, Picturing the Grid: John Joseph Dwyer’s Urban and Industrial Landscapes,” in Phillip Goldswain and William Taylor (eds.,). An Everyday Transience: The Urban Imaginary of Goldfields Photographer John Joseph Dwyer. UWA Publishing, 2010, p. 65-66.
  7. Ibid., p. 63.
  8. Ibid., p. 66.
  9. Anonymous. “Purging Pestilence – Plague!” on the State Archives of New South Wales website (archived) [Online] Cited 10 April 2020.
  10. Anonymous. “Bubonic Plague outbreak in Sydney in the 1900s helps Politicians to clear the way for transport progress & landmark,” on The Digger website 13th August 2016 [Online] Cited 10/40/2020.
  11. Gillian McNally. “Bubonic plague Sydney: How a city survived the black death in 1900,” in The Daily Telegraph September 3, 2015 [Online] Cited 16 May 2020.
  12. J.B. Jackson. Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 12.
  13. Ibid.,
  14. Abstract in Denis Cosgrove. “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1985, pp. 45-62.
  15. Ibid., p. 55.
  16. McNally, op.cit.,
  17. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hachette Books, 1994, p. 44.

 

 

 

The political landscape

“I am enumerating some of the simplest and most visible elements in what can be called the political landscape: the landscape which evolved partly out of experience, partly from design, to meet some of the needs of men and women in their political [ie. social] guise. The political elements I have in mind are such things as walls and boundaries and highways and monuments and public places; these have a definite role to play in the landscape. They exist to insure order and security and continuity and to give citizens a visible status. They serve to remind us of our rights and obligations and of our history.”

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J.B. Jackson. ‘Discovering the Vernacular Landscape’. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984, p. 12.

 

Boundaries

“The most basic political element in any landscape is the boundary. Politically speaking what matters first is the formation of a community of responsible citizens, a well-defined territory composed of small holdings and a number of public spaces; so the first step toward organizing space is the defining of that territory, after which we divide it for the individual members. Boundaries, therefore, unmistakable, permanent, inviolate boundaries, are essential.”

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J.B. Jackson. ‘Discovering the Vernacular Landscape’. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984, p. 13.

 

“If we return to the notion that photography is an extension of pre-existing pictorial conventions, then it could be argued that the common feature of all the preceding images is the photographer’s reliance on the ‘prospect’ as the compositional device. The viewpoint of the prospect hovers in mid air between the aerial image and the landscape view, oblique to the terrain it is depicting. It provides an order that would otherwise be illegible to the grounded eye. John Macarthur suggests that the difference between the grounded landscape views and the prospect was not simply that different kinds of views required different kinds of representations. For theorists of the picturesque, a prospect was kind of view that could not be a picture.16 Macarthur distinguishes between the prospect and the landscape view as the difference between the cadastral [(of a map or survey) showing the extent, value, and ownership of land, especially for taxation] and the pictorial. Geographer Denis Cosgrove argues that the prospect was first used to ‘denote a view outward, a looking forward in time as well as space’ and that by the end of the sixteenth century it carried the ‘sense of an extensive or commanding sight or view, a view of the landscape as affected by one’s position.’17. The inference is that ‘one’s position’ is not just a matter of where one stands, but that it is more comprehensively spatial, social and economic. Cosgrove’s analysis of the prospect suggests an economic imperative behind its use and he cites its importance in Tudor England, where in combination with the ‘Malicious craft’ of surveying, it reflected a command over developed and commercially run farming estates of Tudor enclosures and the new landowners of monastic estates.18 Cosgrove notes the emergence of the verb ‘to prospect’ in the nineteenth century as a result of the speculative activities of gold mining.19.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that Dwyer’s camera is literally prospecting, combining both senses of the word, mapping the city and its suburbs to find an economic potential in its ordered state… Dwyer produces what could be considered Cosgrove’s spatial, chronological and commercial narrative compressed into the frame of the photograph…”

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Philip Goldswain. “Surveying the Field, Picturing the Grid: John Joseph Dwyer’s Urban and Industrial Landscapes,” in Phillip Goldswain and William Taylor (eds.,). ‘An Everyday Transience: The Urban Imaginary of Goldfields Photographer John Joseph Dwyer’. UWA Publishing, 2010, p. 65-66.

16. J. Macarthur. ‘The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities’. Routledge, London, 2007, p. 190.
17. ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ as cited by D. Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the landscape Idea”, in ‘Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers’, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1985, p. 55.
18. Cosgrove, “Prospect,” p. 55.
19. Ibid., p. 61, note 64.

 

 

The Bubonic Plague hit Sydney in January 1900. Spreading from the waterfront, the rats carried the plague throughout the city. Within eight months 303 cases were reported and 103 people were dead.

When bubonic plague struck Sydney in 1900, George McCredie (1859-1903) was appointed by the Government to take charge of all quarantine activities in the Sydney area, beginning work on March 23, 1900. At the time of his appointment, McCredie was an architect and consulting engineer with offices in the Mutual Life of New York Building in Martin Place. McCredie’s appointment was much criticised in Parliament, though it was agreed later that his work was successful.

The infected areas, and buildings selected for demolition because of the health risks they supposedly raised, were recorded by photography. Most of the buildings demolished were considered slum buildings. John Degotardi Junior (1860-1937) worked at the NSW Government Printing Office and was photographer with the NSW Department of Public Works from 6 January 1897-1919.

 

John Degotardi Junior (Australian, 1860-1937)

MR. JOHN DEGOTARDI.

The death occurred yesterday at Lewisham private hospital of Mr John Degotardi formerly Government photographer. He was bom at Peacock’s Point Balmain on February 21 1860 and was a son of Mr John Degotardi one of the first professional photographers in New South Wales. Mr Degotardi, junior, was well known as an interstate oarsman. In recent years he was associated with Judge Backhouse as judge and starter at regattas. He has left a widow three sons (Messrs John, Albert, and Frederick) and three daughters Mrs. Delves, Mrs. Allen, of Nana Glen, and Mrs H R Brown.

Anonymous. “Mr. John Degotardi,” in The Sydney Morning Herald, Mon 15 Feb 1937 on the Trove website [Online] Cited 10/03/2020

A full biography of John Degotardi Jr.’s father can be found on the Design & Art Australia Online website.

Uncredited photographs by John Degotardi Jr. that appear in this posting can be found in “The Bubonic Plague,” By Lana in The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, Sat 7 Apr 1900, on the Trove website. Download the full text with the newspaper images (6.7Mb pdf)

Grateful thanks to Associate Professor James McArdle for this information.

 

Darling Harbour Wharves Resumption Act 1900 No 10

Mode of estimating compensation

The amount of compensation in respect of any land resumed, as mentioned in sections two and three of this Act, shall be estimated without reference to any alteration in the value of such land arising from any purchase or any appropriation or resumption for any purpose mentioned in this Act or the establishing of any public works on any land the subject of any such purchase, appropriation, or resumption.

Provided also that the amount of compensation in respect of any land so resumed shall be estimated without reference to any alteration in the value of such land arising from any proclamation declaring any place comprising such land to be a station for the performance of quarantine within the meaning of the Quarantine Act 1897, or arising from any things done in pursuance of any such proclamation.

 

 

Cover of from Vol. IV of 'Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.'

 

Cover of from Vol. IV of Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.
1900
66 silver gelatin photoprints
28 x 49 cm
6 albums containing 379 photoprints also known as The Plague Albums
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales 413017
Public domain

 

Index of from Vol. IV of 'Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.'

 

Index from Vol. IV of Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W. including number 264 Professional Ratcatchers (above)
1900
66 silver gelatin photoprints
28 x 49 cm
6 albums containing 379 photoprints also known as The Plague Albums
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales 413017
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Intersection of Margaret Street and Sussex Street looking south, with the Edinburgh Arms Hotel at the end of the first block on the left

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) NSW Department of Public Works photographer 'John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street (original scan)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Margaret Street and Sussex Street, Sydney

 

Intersection of Margaret Street and Sussex Street looking south, with the Edinburgh Arms Hotel at the end of the first block on the left

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street (details)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas     , Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '15. No. 27 Sussex Street, Barangaroo, Sydney' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
15. No. 27 Sussex Street, Barangaroo (rear of)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '16. No. 11 Margaret Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
16. No. 11 Margaret Street, Barangaroo
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Views 28 and 29 are diametrically opposite views of the same scene on Kent Street, Sydney

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) NSW Department of Public Works photographer '28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking south across Margaret St. Union Hotel at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld at 208 Kent Street and Imperial Manufacturing Co. at 210-212 Kent St.)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking south across Margaret St. Union Hotel at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld at 208 Kent Street and Imperial Manufacturing Co. at 210-212 Kent St.) (original scan)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '28. Cleansing the streets' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking north across Margaret St., Sydney to 202 & 204 Kent Street)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

This view is of St Phillip’s Anglican church in the distance, standing on Kent St. looking north across Margaret St., Sydney

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '28. Cleansing the streets' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking north across Margaret St., Sydney to 202 & 204 Kent Street) (detail)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '29. Cleansing the streets' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
29. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking south across Margaret St. Union Hotel at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld at 208 Kent Street and Imperial Manufacturing Co. at 210-212 Kent St.)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Views 28 and 29 are diametrically opposite views of the same scene on Kent Street, Sydney. Notice the angle of the fire appliance wheels in both photographs. The fire appliance is a 1891 Shand Mason Steamer. The Union Hotel is at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld is at 208 Kent Street and the Imperial Manufacturing Co. is at 210-212 Kent St.

 

Kent Street, Sydney map

 

Kent Street, Sydney map showing the position from which both of the above photographs were taken (in red), and the position of the Union Hotel on the corner of Kent Street and Margaret Street, with St Phillip’s Anglican church in the distance.

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney (details)
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

The details of Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street show a shoeless lad, a group of young men, a painter, and two firemen holding a firehouse… that leads nowhere. Behind, in a building erected by P.R. Larkin in 1866, is a row of shops which includes a “Johnny All Sorts” – a business that bought and sold all sorts of things. To the right of the group are pasted billboards, much as today, two of which advertise a plague remedy and disinfectant soap (sound familiar in 2020?):

Avoid the
PLAGUE!
Purchase at Once!!
Prof. VON ELSEBERG’S
‘KALTHA’
Just Arrived

Notice to householders
BLACK DEATH
or Bubonic Plague
SANITOL
Disinfectant soap
3d Double tablets 3d

 

 

“The Destruction of Rats,” in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Mon 24 Feb 1902 Page 8 from the Trove website mentioning the steamer Octopus (see below) and Sussex Street (above)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '70. [Octopus] Cleansing the Wharves' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
70. [Octopus] Cleansing the Wharves
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Housing and other buildings

The photos were taken by Mr. John Degotardi, Jr., photographer from the Department of Public Works and depict the state of the houses, ‘slum’ buildings and streets at the time of the outbreak – interior and exterior of houses, stores, warehouses and wharves, and lanes and yards – and the cleansing and disinfecting operations which followed.

The photos provide a fairly clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague.

 

Streetscapes

Quarantine areas were established. These stretched from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets then south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway. The area east from George Street enclosed by Riley, Liverpool, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets, Gipps, Campbell and George Streets were also quarantined, as were certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly.

 

Cleansing

Cleansing and disinfecting operations in the quarantine areas lasted from 24 March – 17 July and included the demolition of ‘slum’ buildings. Local residents were employed to undertake the cleansing, disinfecting, burning and demolition of the infected areas, including their own homes. Shovels, brooms, mattocks, hoses, buckets, and watering cans, were tools used to clear, clean, lime wash and disinfect. Not only buildings and dwellings were subjected to the cleansing operations but also wharves and docks were cleared of silt and sewerage.

Cleansing agents used during the cleansing operations included: solid disinfectant (chloride of lime); liquid disinfectant (carbolic water: miscible carbolic, 3/4 pint water, 1 gallon); sulphuric acid water (sulphuric acid, 1/2 pint water, 1 gallon); carbolic lime white (miscible carbolic 1/2 pint to the gallon).

Rat catchers were employed and the rats burned in a special rat incinerator. Over 44,000 rats were officially killed in the cleansing operations.

 

Sydney Harbour Trust

In 1901 the Sydney Harbour Trust resumed hundreds of properties in The Rocks and Millers Point. While public health was a convenient excuse for resumptions,1 the need for a harbour bridge may also have motivated the authorities. Green Bans in the 1970s on the redevelopment of The Rocks helped preserve this historic area which is now a major tourist attraction. The Rocks area has been under the control of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority since 1970 and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority since 1999.

Anonymous. “Purging Pestilence – Plague!” on the State Archives of New South Wales website (archived) [Online] Cited 10 April 2020

 

  1. The dawn of a new century combined with the Federation of the Australian states to form the Commonwealth of Australia brought a new sense of expectancy, hope and vision for the future to the towns, cites and rural areas of Australia. The outbreak of the Bubonic plague in The Rocks area of Sydney in 1900 was just the catalyst needed to engender a reformist attitude in the minds of the city fathers. Land resumption was the tool used by the city council to get rid of the old and bring in the new. Large sections of The Rocks and Surry Hills were razed and rebuilt. The commercial waterfront areas of Darling Harbour were resumed en masse and redeveloped to better handle the vast amount of goods now passing through the port of Sydney, the existing facilities having become totally inadequate.
    Anonymous. “The History of Sydney: Federation Sydney 1902-1917,” on the Visit Sydney Australia website [Online] Cited 10/04/2020
    See also Darling Harbour Resumption Maps, 1900-1902 on the NSW State Archives website (archived) [Online] Cited 10/04/2020

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '80. No. 50 Wexford Street (rear), Chinese bedroom' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
80. No. 50 Wexford Street (rear), Chinese bedroom
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Wexford Street crops up repeatedly in the Cleansing photos … it was roughly where Wentworth Avenue now is. The whole area was demolished in slum clearance schemes and rebuilt. (Thank you beachcomber australia for the information)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '82. Wexford Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
82. Wexford Street
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Wexford Street, before it was cleared for the construction of Wentworth Avenue.

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '95. Rear of No. 16 Exeter Place' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
95. Rear of No. 16 Exeter Place
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street (detail)
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '105. Exeter Place demolished' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
105. Exeter Place demolished
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '105. Exeter Place demolished' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '105. Exeter Place demolished' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
105. Exeter Place demolished (details)
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

NRS-12487 | Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney

These are photographs of quarantine areas in Sydney, following the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900. The photographs were commissioned as result of the outbreak. Mr. George McCredie was in charge of cleansing and disinfecting operations in the quarantine areas. He commenced work on 23 March 1900. He was one of 28 temporary sanitary inspectors appointed by the Board of Health in conjunction with the Department of Public Works which was made responsible for the cleansing operations.

George McCredie noted in a letter to Sir William Lyne that ‘Where it was found necessary to pull down premises or destroy outbuildings photographs were taken of them before their demolition, and in order to prepare in case of future litigation, each inspector was instructed to take careful notes of any property that might be destroyed.'(1)

The photographs were taken by Mr. John Degotardi, Jr., photographer from the Department of Public Works. The photographs are largely of buildings requiring to be demolished, and include the interior and exterior of houses, stores, warehouses and wharves, and surrounding streets, lanes and yards, thus providing a fairly clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague.

The views cover the whole of the quarantine area, which stretched from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets thence south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway. The area east from George Street enclosed by Riley, Liverpool, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets; Gipps, Campbell and George Streets were also quarantined, as were certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly.

They provide a visual report of the conditions in the area at the turn of the century. The bubonic plague was epidemic from 19 January to 9 August 1900. 303 people were stricken and 103 people died.

The President of the Board of Health and Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. John Ashburton Thompson, investigated the spread of the disease. In the 1890s it was recognised that there was a connection between rats and the plague. In 1900 the Department of Health believed the first defence against the disease was the extermination of rats. They employed 3000 men at the height of the epidemic to catch and kill rats.

The Government cleansed large areas of the city. Contacts with the disease were isolated, actual cases hospitalised and people living in the infected areas were inoculated. By carefully plotting reported cases on large scale maps the course of the plague was traced and it became evident that rats preceded outbreaks of the disease.

Each volume is labelled: ‘Views taken during cleansing operations, quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900, under supervision of Mr. George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.’ There is a numerical list of photographs [labelled as ‘index’] inside the front cover of each volume. The volumes are incomplete, volume VI lacking almost half the views listed in the ‘index’, the great majority of which are of the Manly area. Sundry pages are also missing from all but volume IV.

Text from the State Archives of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 11/04/2020

Endnote

(1) NSW Parliamentary Debates, 1900, vol. CIII, p.111 quoted in Max Kelly, Plague Sydney, Marrickville, NSW, Doak Press, 1981.

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '154. No. 1 Victoria Place' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
154. No. 1 Victoria Place
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '154. No. 1 Victoria Place' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
154. No. 1 Victoria Place (detail)
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '177. Nos. 1, 3, 5 Blackburn Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
177. Nos. 1, 3, 5 Blackburn Street
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Amazed to find that this terrace (1, 3, and 5 Blackburn Street) survived the slum clearance and road widening in this area of Surry Hills. The houses are STILL THERE albeit much altered. See Google Maps Street View – goo.gl/maps/nLFbY – (Thank you beachcomber australia for the information)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

“Smith’s Wharf” was on the western edge of Millers Point – we are looking south up Darling Harbour. The wharf was redeveloped shortly after and was then known as “Dalgety’s Wharf”. The amazing thing is that John Degotardi Jnr the photographer managed to make a routine photo of a barge clearing rubbish from a wharf into an interesting study in composition, perspectives, light and shapes. (Thank you beachcomber australia for the information)

I couldn’t have put it better about the photographer – he certainly knew his stuff!

 

Plan E of the Darling Harbour Resumptions

 

Plan E of the Darling Harbour Resumptions noting the position of Smith’s Wharf

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf (details)
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
211. No. 20 Upton Street
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
211. No. 20 Upton Street (details)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

La Peste (The Plague)

Albert Camus

What does plague mean for humanity – in his philosophy… we are all, unbeknownst to us, already living through a plague. That is, a widespread, silent invisible disease that may kill any of us at any time and destroy the lives we assumed were solid [death].

The actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, they are dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that we are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated, by a bacillus, an accident or the actions of our fellow humans. Our exposure to plague is at the heart of Camus’s view that our lives are fundamentally on the edge of what he termed ‘the absurd’.

For Camus, when it comes to dying, there is no progress in history, there is no escape from our frailty; being alive always was and will always remain an emergency, as one might put it, truly an inescapable ‘underlying condition’.

Plague or no plague, there is always – as it were – the plague, if what we mean by this is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless. 

Life is a hospice, never a hospital.

Camus writes: ‘Pestilence is so common, there have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared.’

In one of the most central lines of the book, Camus writes: ‘This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.’

In the words of one of his characters, Camus knew, as we do not, that ‘everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

Anonymous. “Camus and The Plague,” on the School of Life website [Online] Cited 16/05/2020

 

 

 

Albert Camus – The Plague

There is no more important book to understand our times than Albert Camus’s The Plague, a novel about a virus that spreads uncontrollably from animals to humans and ends up destroying half the population of a representative modern town. Camus speaks to us now not because he was a magical seer, but because he correctly sized up human nature. As he wrote: ‘Everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

841 George Street was on the site of the TAFE Marcus Clarke Building (1910).

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen)' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen) (detail)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '227. Newtown Garbage Tip and Punt, Blackwattle Bay' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
227. Newtown Garbage Tip and Punt, Blackwattle Bay
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '236. Johnstone's Lane' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
236. Johnstone’s Lane
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear)' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear) (detail)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '244. Sutton Forest Butchery, No. 761 George Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
244. Sutton Forest Butchery, No. 761 George Street
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

A Sydney butcher’s, 1900. Taken by Mr. John Degotardi, Jr., photographer from the Department of Public Works, the images depict the state of the houses and ‘slum’ buildings at the time of the outbreak and the cleansing and disinfecting operations which followed. Sutton Forest Butchery, No.761 George Street, Sydney Dated: c. 17/07/1900

 

 

Bubonic Plague outbreak in Sydney in the 1900s helps Politicians to clear the way for transport progress & landmark

By the end of August 1900, the outbreak had concluded, and whilst there was only a reported 103 deaths (significantly low when compared to mortality rates from other infectious diseases of the time), the effect that it had on the reputation of The Rocks and Millers Point, as well as its inhabitants, was damaging. The state resumption and its demolition programs left behind a series of questions regarding the motives behind the government’s orchestration of this movement.

The geographical structure of The Rocks, as well as Sydney’s unique historical beginnings as a penal colony credited the often rugged housing conditions. Eleven decades of unregulated building development, as well as uneven and irregular land surfaces meant that often housing was unstructured and haphazardly built. Dwellings sprouted from rocks and other buildings in an “oyster-like” fashion, and the practice of “land sweating” (the construction of multiple structures on one piece of land) was commonplace. The City of Sydney Improvement Act of 1879 highlighted these issues and encouraged demolition of any existing substandard housing.

This set the precedent for the destruction programs that were to follow after the bubonic plague outbreak.

 

Health Board Acts

On the afternoon of 20th January 1900, van-driver Arthur Payne, a resident of 10 Ferry Lane, The Rocks, became Sydney’s first reported victim of bubonic plague. This was somewhat unremarkably in itself, the arrival of the plague had been duly anticipated by authorities for months prior as it raced through Hong Kong and New Caledonia. What was notably, however, was the wave of public panic that the outbreak prompted, and how it was responsible for community disruption and mass demolition of one of Sydney’s oldest precincts, The Rocks and Millers Point. The outbreak bred panic and brought emphasised authoritative attention to the living conditions of the area, and much time and effort was devoted to surveying conditions and proposing subsequent remedies of improvement. State resumption of the precinct followed swiftly after the outbreak, coming into effect on 3rd May 1900, and forced quarantining of the site swiftly followed, with areas surrounding the wharves being sectioned off, and mass disinfection and demolition processes commencing soon thereafter.

Over the next decade, more than 3,800 properties were inspected, hundreds were pulled down, and hundreds of families and individuals were dispossessed.

 

Land Resumption

Another motivating factor for the resumption of the area was to lay the groundwork of the proposed bridge link between Sydney city and the North Shore. Plans were underway even at these early stages and a good 23 years before construction of the bridge commenced. Even at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was clear that there would need to be a widened thoroughfare to accommodate traffic entering and exiting the bridge, and many buildings would need to be sacrificed to achieve this. The bubonic plague outbreak offered the ideal opportunity to highlight the inadequacies in a lot of buildings, and the chance to condemn the area as slum, whose only chance of redemption was through mass demolition.

 

The middle class mentality and its effect on The Rocks inhabitants

From the 1860s to the early 1900s the middle and upper classes began deserting the area and relocating to the suburbs, divorcing themselves physically from the working and lower classes, who tended to remain in the city and close to the waterfront areas and their place of employment.

Naturally as a point of import and export, and a site that saw a high exchange of people, livestock and products on a global level, the harbour foreshore was more susceptible to the outbreak of disease.

When bubonic plague erupted along the waterfront precinct, the area became heavily associated with disease and unsanitary conditions, and consequently its inhabitants were assumed to be unwashed and living in a state of constant filth. This has helped to create an historical consensus that waterside housing and urban living conditions were universally appalling.

The middle and upper classes were able to dissociate themselves with the presence of the plague, given their geographical distance from the harbour foreshore and the point of outbreak.

The resulting effect was a longstanding assumption that The Rocks was in such dire state that there was no alternative option but for mass slum clearance. Whilst there is no doubt that many properties were definitely substandard, and many families lived in abject poverty and poor conditions, not all the buildings that were demolished were of such a shocking standard, and many were in fact still of a solid and serviceable condition.

Following the plague outbreak the NSW Government carried out cleansing and disinfecting operations on the waterfront, and quarantined the residential suburbs of The Rocks and Millers Point. Under the Darling Harbour Resumption Act 1900, the newly created Sydney Harbour Trust oversaw the compulsory resumption of wharves, houses, shops, laneways and pubs in these harbour-side suburbs. The plan was to demolish the existing structures and rebuild to a grand design. The need to keep Dawes Point free for the construction of a possible bridge across the harbour was factored into the design.

Between 1900 and 1910, wharfage was acquired and demolished, along with buildings associated with the Dawes Point Battery. The c. 1870 public bathhouse on the west of Dawes Point was demolished in c. 1910. Works by the Public Works Department and Sydney Harbour Trust, under the presidency of R R P Hickson, included Pier 1 on the bathhouse site (1910-14), Hickson Road and the widening of Lower Fort Street (1906-22), and the four Walsh Bay finger wharves (1912-21).

Works by the Housing Board in The Rocks were also part of the resumption and rebuilding program, and included the realignment of George and Cumberland Streets and the construction of an associated retaining wall between 1913 and 1916. A fountain and garden, and public toilet facilities completed the structure, built in 1916-20.

These works also anticipated the construction of the approaches for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Anonymous. “Bubonic Plague outbreak in Sydney in the 1900s helps Politicians to clear the way for transport progress & landmark,” on The Digger website 13th August 2016 [Online] Cited 10/40/2020

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '266. Rat Incinerator' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
266. Rat Incinerator
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '266. Rat Incinerator' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
266. Rat Incinerator (detail)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Lewis Hine. 'Powerhouse mechanic working on steam pump' 1920

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Powerhouse mechanic working on steam pump
1920
Gelatin silver print

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street (detail)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

115 Gloucester Street looking down towards 129 Gloucester Street

 

115 Gloucester Street looking down towards 129 Gloucester Street

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '289. From 207 Elizabeth Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
289. From 207 Elizabeth Street
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

St George’s Presbyterian church steeple, Castlereagh Street on the far right.

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '289. From 207 Elizabeth Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '289. From 207 Elizabeth Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
289. From 207 Elizabeth Street (detail)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear) (details)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

No. 7 West Street (on the left) looking up towards Oxford Street, Surry Hills

 

No. 7 West Street (on the left) looking up towards Oxford Street, Surry Hills

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
309. Rear of no. 12 Robinson Lane (details)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi jr pay card

 

9 – 7-11491 John Degotardi jr PWD card 001
NRS 12535 Staff record cards, c. 1890-1953 [Department of (Secretary of) Public Works]; [7/11491]

 

 

What strikes me about this card is the pay drop he took to become a photographer for Public Works and the fact that it took him 10 years to get back to where he was on the salary scale. A dedicated craftsman. (Thank you to ArchivesOutside for the information)

 

John Degotardi jr pay card

 

9 – 7-11491 John Degotardi jr PWD card 002
NRS 12535 Staff record cards, c. 1890-1953 [Department of (Secretary of) Public Works]; [7/11491]

 

James Cantlie. 'How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague' 1900

James Cantlie. 'How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague' 1900 p. 5

James Cantlie. 'How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague' 1900 p. 8

 

James Cantlie
How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague (Title page, p. 5, p. 8)
1900
Cassell and Company, Limited

 

 

New South Wales State Archives website

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08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
.

“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

.
This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-51)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8 cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0 cm (centre back) 38.9 cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0 cm (centre back) 38.0 cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Maisie
1938-39
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4 cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5 cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-40
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-37, 1938-39,1939-40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4 cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-37. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0 cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0 cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5 cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigor and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3 cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australia 1883–1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930-c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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