Archive for the ‘Scrutineer’ Category

Emily Gordon

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Words: Michael Sharp

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius

Emily Gordon felt isolated growing up as an only child in the suburbs of Oakland on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

“We lived up on the hill, so we were a bit removed from the feeling of being in a city, and I always felt a bit disconnected and remote, even though Oakland is a city of 400,000 people. It was a quiet upbringing.”

Today she and her family live in a terrace house in The Rocks, an historic area in inner city Sydney that bustles continuously with residents and tourists.

“This was my childhood desire – to get off the hill and be amongst people, to be in the city.”

Emily in Oakland

Gordon performed well academically at school and was interested in art from a very young age. 

“When I was little, I wanted to be either an artist or an astronaut,” she recalls. “I was always doing after school art programs, weekend classes, summer camps, summer courses. In the way a lot of kids did sport, I did art.”

Her parents had an appreciation for the Arts, however they worked corporate desk jobs. “But Oakland is a creative and diverse community, so there were lots of good opportunities and options. Also, my friends’ parents tended to be creative people – artists, photographers, illustrators – so being in those homes was a way to engage in creativity.”

Gordon studied art at high school, and took courses on weekends and during holidays, but when it came time to select a university course she didn’t choose art.

“Basically, I chickened out,” she says honestly. “I told myself that I wouldn’t fit in, but I think it was really because I was convinced I didn’t have anything people would be interested in seeing. I thought art school was to prepare you to go straight into a museum and I didn’t think I had what it takes.”

Gordon decided to study History at Cornell University in New York State, with a focus on East Asia. Cornell offered its students the opportunity to spend a semester studying at the University of Sydney and Gordon decided to grasp that opportunity by the forelock.

The course was “fabulous” and one night she met a nice young man at a Sydney bar.

“Spoiler alert, he is now my husband,” Gordon says with a smile.

Emily in Australia

After graduating from Cornell, Gordon decided to emigrate to Australia which means “I’ve spent essentially my entire adult life here”.

How difficult was it to make this major, life-changing choice?

“I make big decisions easily and little decisions with a large amount of angst,” she responds with admirable self-awareness.

Feeling a bit adrift in her new country, Gordon enrolled in a marketing degree at Macquarie University because she thought it would help her find employment. She completed that degree in 2008 and discovered the Global Financial Crisis meant there were very few marketing jobs available. For the next few years she worked in real estate.

Gordon hadn’t practised her art much since leaving high school “because I was in University survival and fun mode” however she now started enrolling in community art classes. After Gordon’s second child was born, her mother encouraged her to get back into painting and offered to babysit while Emily did some more art courses.

Her confidence grew “and I came to the realisation that I could create and sell my art for a similar monetary outcome as working part-time in the roles that were available to me.

“I remember reading an issue of Country Style magazine and seeing these fantastic artists who were creating good work that had tremendous appeal and they were selling their work for money as a small business. That was their job. I thought: ‘How fantastic would that be?’ It was a light bulb moment – that you could be a working artist if you are making art that people connect with.

“So I made another big decision – I decided I was going to be an artist.”

Emily the artist

Gordon and her husband own a property at Gunning, a small town that lies between Goulburn and Yass in The Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, and she began painting landscapes in the area. She remembers looking at one of these works and being satisfied that “it had its own little voice”. This gave her the confidence to apply to a local winery that was seeking artists to exhibit there.

Her submission to the winery was accepted and the series of about a dozen landscapes sold well.

“The thing I was most proud of was that I sold some to collectors who were not friends or family or associates,” she recalls fondly. “They were local people who had seen my work on Instagram, came to the show and bought some paintings.” 

As it happens, one of those collectors knew Amber Creswell Bell, Director of Emerging Art for the Michael Reid galleries, and recommended that Creswell Bell have a look at Gordon’s work. Creswell Bell followed this recommendation “and that changed everything”.

While Creswell Bell admired Gordon’s landscapes, she asked her to focus on her more recent cityscapes and the subsequent 2019 exhibition “was a great experience and very successful”.

Emily in the city

Gordon moved to The Rocks in inner city Sydney in 2018 “and that’s when I started to look at this environment as subject matter. I have an interest in painting my personal narrative – painting where I find myself, painting the things I see in my daily life. I didn’t paint the city until I lived in the city. I find moments around me that are visually captivating – this vista, this corner, this alley. About 50% of the time it’s me going about my business and something catches my eye and the other 50% I go exploring to see if I can find something interesting, the seed of an idea. I’m looking for moments of light and of rhythm.”

Gordon always carries her smartphone with her to capture these moments.

“Over time I develop a library and I refer back to those images to think whether there is a painting there. Sometimes I take a photo and I know it’s going to be a painting. But other times I think there is something interesting there but I’m not sure what it is, so I save it and circle back later. For some of my paintings I might have taken the photo three or four years ago and I’ve looked at them many times until finally I say to myself: ‘I know how I can do this. I know what this composition needs, I know what the colour and the light needs to be to translate that moment into an artwork.’”

Most importantly, “there needs to be an engagement between a photo and what ends up on the board”.

While Gordon is inspired by the real scenes that surround her, whether cityscape or landscape, the key components of her work are less tangible.

“The things I am looking for in the composition are rhythm and light. If I’m happy with the rhythm and I’m happy with the light, then everything else falls into place.

“My current practice, and this does shift over time, is to begin with a loose sketch followed by a more composed sketch, just to spend some more time in that world, understanding the composition, understanding the proportions and making decisions about how to make it work as an artwork. Then I start work on the board with an underpainting, which is like a drawing in yellow ochre paint – and that’s where the real building happens, where decisions are made about what is in, what is out and what needs adjustment.

“The underpainting is critical for decision-making and once that’s down, it’s almost like a jigsaw. For example I don’t paint a blue sky and then a cloud on top. If there’s a cloud, I will paint the cloud and then the blue will go around it, or vice versa.”

Gordon has achieved significant success since she committed to being an artist six years ago, including selection as a finalist in the 2021 National Emerging Art Prize and selling out her past four shows at Michael Reid Northern Beaches and Michael Reid Southern Highlands. 

She is grateful to those who have guided and supported her and knows she still has much to achieve.

“You are always growing. I have a process but not a fixed approach. For every painting, I ask what does this painting need, what is special here and how can I bring that out visually,” she says with softly spoken intensity. “Giving each work its own approach opens up new ideas and gives me more options as I build my practice.”

Gordon’s latest exhibition is titled Higher Ground and, as always, it is important to her that the series works as a coherent narrative.

“The title refers to me revisiting places and memories in The Rocks, an area where I’ve been working pretty intensively for the past five years, trying to see familiar topics from a new perspective and also discovering new vistas that I hadn’t previously appreciated.”

Higher Ground opens at Michael Reid Southern Highlands on 2 May and runs until 2 June.

Steve Hogwood

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Words: Michael Sharp

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius

Nine-year-old Steve Hogwood was riding his bike home from school in the Suffolk village of Barking one afternoon when he noticed smoke billowing from a building.

“I could also hear these clanging noises,” Steve recalls. “Curiosity got the better of me and I discovered it was the local blacksmith.”

The blacksmith, named Cliff, was “a gruff old guy and I was immediately told to piss off! But I kept stopping off there on my way home, promising to stay out of the way if I could watch. I gradually ingratiated myself with him as he realised I was genuine and he let me do jobs like filling up the slop bucket with water, moving tools and pulling the bellows.

“My mother hated it because I would come home covered in dust and soot, but she let me go because she could see how much I enjoyed it.

“I became fascinated with metalwork. I was just mesmerised by it.”

Steve was born near Aberystwyth in Wales while his parents were on their way home to London from a holiday in the Welsh seaside town of Temby. His father was English, but his maternal grandmother was a proud Welsh woman who wouldn’t speak English to her son-in-law because he was a Saxon outsider. Steve’s mother would have to translate all conversations between her mother and husband from Gaelic to English and vice versa. 

“My grandmother was absolutely delighted that I was born in Wales, not the UK,” he laughs.

Growing up in and around London, Steve had a love of art from an early age. He was influenced by his first art teacher, the aptly named John Constable, the local vicar who was also a painter as well as the genes on his mother’s side of the family.

“They were descended from Romany Gypsies and my uncle Larry, who worked in the Railways all his life, was a wonderful painter. He loved painting steam trains, which is actually very difficult.”

Steve studied Art for his A-levels and aspired to being an artist, much to the horror of his father who had a background in the Navy and then pharmaceuticals businesses. In 1968 Steve’s father decided the family should emigrate to South Africa and, while the teenage Steve hated the four years he spent there, it provided the opportunity for him to complete a Degree in Fine Arts.

The Hogwood family then emigrated to Australia, spending their first year in the newly opened Endeavour Migrant Hostel in Coogee.

“I got my first job as an ‘ink monkey’ at Southdown Press, which was located down the end of Bathurst Street [in central Sydney]. That taught me a lot about colour and also the production side of the artistic process. However I soon realised I didn’t want to be in printing – I wanted to be on the creative side.”

He managed to find a job as a junior art director at Modern Magazines and began working his way up the art direction ranks, including at Consolidated Press.

In 1974, newly married, Steve moved to The Blue Mountains where he met a local blacksmith named Wyndham Parsons who was “a real character”. They struck up a friendship and Parsons allowed Steve to work with him to develop his amateur blacksmithing skills when the young man had time.

Art direction in publishing led Steve to the advertising industry, where he worked for three decades. This included a senior role at George Patterson where he was involved in numerous major campaigns, including the Sydney Olympics. After George Patterson he ran his own agency and then a consultancy. Through advertising, Steve met and worked with numerous talented people in Australia’s small film industry, including Peter Weir and Chris Noonan. While his official role might be Art Director, Steve’s interest in blacksmithing meant he became involved in making props for both advertisements and film.

In between work contracts, Hogwood would also travel to Parkes to spend time with John Parker, a sixth generation blacksmith, wheelwright and coach builder whom Hogwood met while visiting the Elvis Festival for work.

And so while Hogwood built a successful professional career, he simultaneously pursued his passion for blacksmithing in what today might be called a side hustle.

“It allowed me to foster my love for ironwork and I loved it.”

1910 Ironworks

For the past 20 years, Steve has further developed his blacksmithing skills – and it is now his sole focus. Why did he name the business 1910 Ironworks?

“1910 is the point in history when the modern industrial way of life that we know started,” he explains. “It was the end of the Edwardian period and the end of the age of innocence. It was also the end of the artisan as such. It is when modern life started.”

More than 110 years later, old artisan skills survive in small pockets like Steve’s workshop in The Southern Highlands village of Wildes Meadow. His shed is overflowing with rusted tools collected over the decades as well as objects awaiting repair and restoration while enormous bellows, an assortment of anvils and cogs, cuts of metal, wooden carriage wheels, wringers and a range of other metal machines are distributed around the yard.

The company’s motto is: Forging the future while restoring the past.

Steve uses an open coal forge two or three times a week, despite the modern alternative of a gas forge. While a gas forge is very efficient and cleaner, a coal forge has important advantages.

“Blacksmiths today use a coal forge not just because they want to preserve traditional skills, but many say that a coal forge is hotter and more responsive. Also, because a coal forge is open, you can lay steel across it and move the steel around. A gas forge is a bit like a box and more constrained. A coal forge is also better for forge welding, where you take two pieces of white hot steel and join them together by hammering. That is very hard to do with a gas forge.”

A few years ago, 1910 Ironworks experienced a significant increase in demand.

“During COVID, blacksmithing went ballistic with people wanting things like gates and balustrades made. It was very busy and I had two guys working with me full time. After COVID, that work went back to places like China because it is so much cheaper.”

Thankfully, the reduction in that kind of blacksmithing work has been almost replaced by increased demand for restoration and sculptural work.

“In recent years I have been restoring a lot of vintage stoves because they require a real understanding of metalwork and there are a lot of little bits and pieces that need to be made by hand.”

Who wants an old stove restored instead of buying a new one with a vintage look?

“It might be a family heirloom and the family wants to restore it for posterity and to the standard when grandma had it. Or someone has bought the stove at an auction and wants to restore it to use as part of an outside kitchen or barbecue as a feature. And then there are younger people who have bought an old house and discovered an old stove in the kitchen or lounge room. They are interested in the historical significance of the stove and decide to have it restored.”

Most of Steve’s work results from word of mouth and the restoration of a vintage stove can lead to other fascinating challenges.

“I was in Nyngan restoring a magnificent old stove in the pub and a woman asked me about some figures made of spelter [a zinc-lead alloy that ages to resemble bronze]. The figures had been found in a local garden and she wanted to know if they were worth restoring. She sent me some photos, I did some research and discovered they were made by a well-known nineteenth century French artist named Auguste Poitevin. One figure was made in about 1840 and the other in about 1860. I told her they are definitely worth restoring.”

Other current restoration projects include a 1926 Tip Dray, which was pulled by large horses around Goulburn to cart heavy loads such as crushed rock for roads, a 19th century coffee mill and a 16th century Spanish sea chest.

Steve is grateful for the mentoring provided by the blacksmiths who have guided him over the decades, from Cliff in Barking to John Parker in Parkes and Wyndham Parsons in The Blue Mountains. More recently in The Southern Highlands, he spent valuable time with Josef Balog, a seventh generation blacksmith of Polish heritage whose sons founded the Artemis winery in Mittagong, before Josef died in 2017.

Steve is now 70 years old and keen to pass on his skills. He offers one-on-one blacksmithing classes but laments that many students only want to make objects like knives. 

“They are not interested in general blacksmithing or decorative work or how to make a beautiful, rolled hinge for a church. Unfortunately, those skills are dying – which is a real shame because I think there are applications for those skills in the modern world. 

“General blacksmithing is definitely dying, because there are cheaper options. It’s a horrible thing to say, but it is what it is.

“The saving grace looks to be restoration work and the artistic, sculptural side of things. I hope that continues. I love my work and I think it’s important for future generations.”

Julz Beresford

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Words: Michael Sharp

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius

Being outdoors and in nature has always been at the heart of Julz Beresford’s existence, from her early years roaming around the family farm to today’s tinny trips on The Hawkesbury River and solo hikes in The Snowy Mountains.

“I love going to different locations and landscapes,” she says. “I’m happy outside and totally inspired by nature. I head out with my paints and I don’t have any pre-fixed ideas – it’s more about how the day evolves, the light, the weather, the seasons. I make gouache studies and when I come back to my studio I use them as a reminder of what it was like when I was out there.

“I’m interested in not just painting what I see – I want to paint how I feel in the landscape too.”

Beresford enjoyed a happy childhood on a property in rural New South Wales.

“I was a really busy kid who lived outside and loved riding bikes, climbing, playing with our horses and chickens, always creating and making things.”

The property was only a few hours’ drive from The Snowy Mountains and her family would go camping there in summer while in winter they would ski at Mount Selwyn. So began a lifelong love of this landscape with its meadows, mountain rivers and snow gums.

When she was seven years old, her family moved to Sydney. 

“My parents became really keen boaties. We’d hire yachts and go sailing, so I experienced the Hawkesbury from a very young age. I just loved being out on the water. It was how I was brought up and it was part of who I was.”

It was on these cherished sailing trips that she first learned to draw and paint.

“Mum liked being creative. She would take drawing stuff with us and I’d draw with her using charcoal.”

A seed had been planted and Beresford studied Art at school, including 3 Unit Art for her Higher School Certificate (HSC). She was inspired by the local bushland, walking and jogging through the Ku-ring-Gai Chase National Park whenever she could.

“There had been bad bushfires north of Sydney, so I collected charcoal and used it to draw with in my major work. I was pretty dedicated in Year 12. I used to paint at lunchtimes, which the Art Department thought was quite unusual. But I just loved it.”

After finishing high school “I wanted to do what I loved and I Ioved painting. It’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to go to COFA [College of Fine Arts] and fortunately I got in.”

She specialised in painting, drawing and printmaking and was inspired by tutors such as Idris Murphy. It was a wonderful three years but she laughs and admits: “I was partying far too much and just passed in the end.”

I’m in London still

After graduating from COFA, Beresford travelled overseas with friends. She bought a one way ticket “because I knew I’d be there a long time”. After six months of travelling she ran out of money and found a job in the ski fields of France before crossing The Channel to London, ready for a new challenge.

“A girl I studied with at COFA was working as a photographer’s assistant. She said: ‘Julz, I’ve found this great career for you – food styling.’ I said: “What’s that?” 

Her friend gave her a brief description and Beresford decided it was a great idea.

“I visited the local library and went through food magazines. I made a list of all the best food stylists that were busy and in the good magazines. I found their phone numbers and just rang them.”

This old fashioned cold-calling soon produced results.

“I was really lucky,” she says. “I worked with some of the best food stylists in London, giving me a great foundation in the industry.”

Busy in her new career, her art was placed on the back burner. She would draw or paint occasionally in her bedroom “but nothing consistent, which you need to do to get better”.

Creativity calls

Beresford returned to Australia after eight years abroad and set up her career as a freelance food stylist. As time passed, however, it became increasingly apparent that this career wasn’t creative enough for her any longer. She decided to limit her work as a food stylist and paint as often as she could in her garage.

She summoned the courage to post some of her paintings on Instagram and these images attracted the interest of Amber Creswell Bell, Director Emerging Art for the Michael Reid galleries.

“Amber kindly offered me the opportunity to exhibit in a group show and that led to an invitation to participate in A Painted Landscape, a group exhibition at the Michael Reid Berlin gallery in late 2020.”

She participated in two more shows the following year at the new Michael Reid Northern Beaches gallery before being invited to hold her first solo show, in March 2022, at Michael Reid Northern Beaches. This was followed by solo exhibitions at Michael Reid Southern Highlands in November 2022 and Michael Reid’s Sydney headquarters in January 2024. All three of these solo shows sold out.

On the water

Beresford’s Sydney home is about 10 minutes from Cottage Point, a secluded Sydney suburb of just 50 homes that is less than an hour’s drive north of Sydney. It sits serenely at the junction of Cowan and Coal & Candle Creeks and is surrounded by the beautiful bushland of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This is Beresford’s favoured base for exploring the Hawkesbury River and, as a regular customer, she is welcomed warmly by the staff at Cottage Point Kiosk and Boat Hire.

She usually books a tinny for two or three hours “but I often lose track of time and am out there for longer and have to apologise. There is something very peaceful and restful about being on the water. You are on your own, miles from anywhere. There is no mobile phone reception and you can really tune into nature. It’s like a release for me, being on the water. I feel alive, I feel amazing.”

Asked if she has any favourite spots, she replies: “I love being in a little bay with a hill in the distance. And I love the shadowy side of the Hawkesbury. There is always a sunny side and a shadowy side and I stick to the shadowy side. I like its moodiness and the depths of colours you can find. I’m really interested in colour and every time I go out it’s different because of the light, the time of day, the season, whether it’s rained the day before. I want to find the uniqueness of that day.”

In the studio

With her gouache field studies around her, Beresford gets to work.

“I am quite expressive in the way I paint. I’m very physical. It’s a fast, back and forward, back and forward, on the painting, off the painting, joyful and intense time. And I paint wet on wet, alla prima. It’s all about the moment, trying to convey the energy of the place and, I suppose, my relationship with it.

“I always scratch and draw in the composition, putting in the darker tones and building up. I use a brush for most of the early stages – I put on and take off, put on and take off – and I love keeping those brush marks visible in the painting.”

Beresford’s use of a palette knife “goes back to my food styling days of icing cakes and getting the cream perfect. I love the yummy ooziness of the oil paint and I use a medium to thin them out a bit and give them that luscious, velvety feel.”

Not everything will go to plan but Beresford revels in the problem solving aspects of her craft: “That bit’s not right, fix it; and that bit’s not right, fix that – it’s constant.”

Even during this brief visit, her passion for painting is evident.

“I am really focused when I’m in the studio,” she admits. “I literally fall into a trance. I have to set an alarm because otherwise I forget to pick up the kids from school.”

As Time Drifts on a River’s Path

Beresford’s latest exhibition, titled As Time Drifts on a River’s Path, features paintings from the two regions she has had a close relationship with since her childhood and with which she still has a deep connection: The Snowy Mountains and The Hawkesbury River.

“I tend not to paint the Hawkesbury all year because I yearn to improve my trade and I believe to get better I need to shift gear to a different landscape. It’s important for me to jump around a little bit. It keeps me alive and makes me really think about what I am trying to achieve.”

And what is she trying to achieve?

“I am always questioning myself, asking if I am expressing the feeling of the place when I paint. I want to capture the moments when I was on the water or the magic of the mountains. I want to remember the way I held the paintbrush while I was out there ‘plein air’ because it felt right. Each painting has its own story.”

Pieces of paper attached to her studio walls have handwritten notes reminding her to “express the purpose of place”, “celebrate the paint” and “lose yourself in the moment of expression”.

Remarkably, Beresford has only been painting full time for three years. She has built a strong following and is looking forward to the future with her characteristic calm yet energetic determination.

“I’m totally addicted. I can’t get enough of it. I know the only way I’m going to get better is to keep practising, to keep working every day. It’s who I am now.” 

 

As Time Drifts on a River’s Path will be showing at Michael Reid Southern Highlands from 22 February until 24 March.

Snake Creek Cattle Company

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Words: Michael Sharp.

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius.

On a warm Spring morning, industry legend Phil Webb is conducting a clinic in horsemanship under a bright blue Southern Highlands sky. Behind the arena, a mob of young black cows is grazing contentedly in a grassy paddock. In the afternoon the mob will be moved on horseback by the clinic class, implementing the mustering skills they have been refining during the day. Meanwhile, on the other side of the paddock, locals and tourists are enjoying coffee, scones with jam and cream, fruit crumble pies, bacon and egg rolls, sausage rolls and meat pies at the farm gate café. 

It’s just another busy day for Hugh, Alice and their team at Snake Creek Cattle Company in Werai, a small community located between Moss Vale and the village of Exeter.

“You couldn’t script it,” says Alice. “It has been an evolution, but there aren’t too many surprises to us about where the business is today.”

Snake Creek Cattle Company

Hugh and Alice breed their cattle in The Southern Highlands.

“We produce well marbled F1 Wagyu, which means Wagyu bulls over Angus cows. The calves are then taken to Mandurama [between Cowra and Bathurst] which is very good finishing country and they are pasture-raised and finished. They go through the abattoir in Cowra and are then brought back to the on-farm butchery here in Werai where we make all our steaks, hamburger patties, sausages and gourmet pies. We pride ourself on producing pasture to plate beef with no added hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients.”

Hugh is a large man, and he wears a large hat, however he recognises that size isn’t everything.

“Our objective is not to grow something big, because big is not always best. People today are super-interested in where their food comes from, the whole supply chain, and they really appreciate quality. Because we are small we can maintain a high quality approach to everything we do and offer it at a reasonable price. Importantly, because we are a farm-direct-to-customer business, our customers can visit us and see exactly where their produce comes from. When they come in, we know who they are, what they want and we can look after them. It sounds a bit old school but it still works.”

The large, glass door fridge in the farm gate café offers an enticing range of Snake Creek beef cuts including Scotch Fillet, Sirloin, T-bone, Ribs and Brisket as well as sausages and mince. And then there are the home-made pies: Wagyu beef, beef ale and mushroom, Moroccan beef tagine, Massaman beef with cashews as well as vegetarian options such as mushroom and leek.

Most of their customers are Southern Highlands locals while they also supply steaks, burger patties and pies to two Sydney pubs owned by Hugh and Alice – the Imperial Hotel, Paddington and the newly renovated Resch House in the Sydney CBD – as well as the Royal Hotel Mandurama, known colloquially as The Mando Pub.

Horsemanship

Snake Creek’s ethical approach to its beef business extends to only using horses, and not loud machines such as motorcycles or helicopters, to move their herds.

“We do all of our mustering on horseback, the old school way, because we believe in quieter livestock practices.”

Hugh and Alice are keen to ensure these traditional skills survive and Snake Creek offers a range of on-site, educational horsemanship clinics and programs.

“We bring trainers in, mostly western-style cow horse sports including cutting and reining, and we limit each program to about a dozen participants. Again, big isn’t best, so we keep the group at about that number.”

The clinics are conducted in the Ranch Arena, which is 60 metres by 40 metres and has covered stands on two sides. “Fence sitters” are welcome to come along, watch, listen and learn.

Most of those attending the clinics stay on the Werai property, camping or taking advantage of the rustic accommodation. They enjoy dinner under the stars which features a fireside feast with produce supplied from the farm.

“It’s not just about horsemanship, it’s the country hospitality as well,” says Hugh.

The horsemanship clinics are part of a broader focus on the Southern Highlands equine industry for Hugh and Alice.

“It passes under the radar a bit, but there are a lot of fantastic operators and we are keen to foster and support it wherever we can.”

Education and community

Hugh and Alice’s support for education and training extends beyond the equine industry. 

“We recognise that it’s really important to keep pathways into employment and to help local people get training and get good jobs in the area if they want to stay here – because there is certainly no shortage of work,” says Alice.

“This includes our agri-entrepeneurship program which involves more mature schoolkids coming to stay with us for a few days. They get to see the agricultural side of the business, including our direct-to-customer programs, and the hospitality side, including sales and marketing. It’s been really successful and we’ve had great responses from the schools involved.”

Hugh and Alice also allow community groups to take advantage of infrastructure on the property, particularly The Saddler’s Shed, which is “unofficially the Werai Town Hall”.

“It’s an easy place for local groups to have their gatherings. A mothers’ group meets here, we’ve had photography groups and artists in residence and the local pipe band didn’t have anywhere to go so they come and practise here – and the cattle love the bagpipes!

“The local community are the ones who truly support us and it’s part of who we are.”

When Hugh met Alice

Hugh grew up around Bungendore and then the Central West of New South Wales “but like a lot of country kids I couldn’t wait to get away from the bush and I travelled overseas for quite a few years. When I came back to Australia I set up a business which involved taking over any pub that no one else wanted to run. That ended up being quite a lot of pubs because the industry was facing a lot of challenges. We didn’t have a lot of experience but we had a lot of energy. Over time we expanded into other hospitality businesses and then further broadened our skill set to provide consultancy services to museums, childcare centres and any business that needed a turnaround.

“We transitioned from RM Williams boots into pinstripe suits.”

It was a successful business but also a very busy one. One day, Hugh realised he had come full circle.

“From a young man who couldn’t wait to get away from the bush, I realised all I really wanted to be was a cowboy. So Alice and I started working our way back down to The Southern Highlands, where Alice’s family had a property.”

Alice grew up in Jersey in the Channel Islands, however she has had a life-long connection with Australia: “My mother [a descendant of the Resch brewing family] was born in Sydney, my grandfather was born in Wilcannia, my grandmother was born in Casino and my great grandmother was born in Toongabbie. I have had an Australian passport and been an Australian citizen all my life.”

Hugh and Alice met in a boardroom 25 years ago when Hugh was brought in to resolve “a spot of bother. We got on pretty well and ended up making a life together.”

“We’ve run projects together pretty much since that day,” says Alice.

Drought, bushfires and COVID

The Werai Tea House, a local institution run by a husband and wife for many years, operated from the property next door to Hugh and Alice. When the husband died about a decade ago, Hugh and Alice acquired the property and continued to run the business with its edible garden and nursery. They expanded the offering, including farm tours and accommodation, and changed the name to Farm Club.

“We were early adopters in that agritourism space and it was very popular,” says Hugh.

But then, like so many others, they were hit hard by the drought of 2018. 

“It was very tough and we had to fight hard to maintain our herd. There was no groundwater and at one stage we were trucking in hay from Western Australia.” 

They struggled through the drought – and then the bushfires came through. 

“The property backs on to National Park and the fires came belting out of there and burnt about 200 acres,” recalls Hugh. “It was an exhausting and difficult time. We had to evacuate horses and all our guests and, thankfully, we didn’t lose any livestock.”

“It was life-changingly frightening,” says Alice.

Just as they were contemplating reopening for business, “COVID rolled in over the top of us”. 

It took over a year to put all the various moving parts that make up Snake Creek Cattle Company back in place and the farm gate café finally reopened in April this year.

Hugh and Alice clearly enjoy the challenge and relish the hard work required to build an agribusiness – integrating beef production, horsemanship, hospitality and education – that will make a meaningful, long-term contribution to the Southern Highlands community. 

“If we can offer something that is ethical, sustainable, high quality and affordable then that is great for our locals.”

 

For more information visit www.snakecreekcattlecompany.com

 

Ben Waters

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Words: Michael Sharp.

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius.

When Ben Waters was growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, surfing helped him deal with his adolescent emotions.

“I found a sense of freedom in the ocean,” he recalls. “Getting smashed by the waves was a way of dealing with testosterone. I liked the unpredictability and the fact I couldn’t control things. I would get totally humbled and put in my place.”

Today, still living and surfing on the Northern Beaches, Waters has discovered that painting provides a similar outlet and peace of mind.

“When I come back from my walks around the headlands, I drive my family nuts trying to explain the way I’m feeling. So I paint, because it’s the only way to get it out of my system.”

The Waters family home was in Newport and Ben went to primary school and then high school in nearby Avalon.

“I was always aware of nature, checking the surf each morning as I rode my bike to school. My days were determined by tide and swell and wind.”

He and his sister Missy, who is three years older, spent a lot of time at the beach.

“Our parents said we had to swim seven laps of Avalon pool before we were allowed to have a foam surfboard. On the day my sister was doing her swim, she was 10 and I was 7, I just jumped in and swam seven laps. I so desperately wanted to get a board and be out in the waves.” 

Ben’s father, Terry, was a highly skilled signwriter who had his studio in the garage and worked with leading designers and artists including Gordon Andrews and Ken Done. This had a significant influence on young Ben.

“He had paint, he had charcoal, he had chalk – it was all there. As a young kid, it looked to me like Dad was painting on the wall, so one day I did a drawing on the wall in the house. My mum was so cranky, but Dad was like: ‘He’s expressing himself!’”

In his primary school days, Ben was a huge fan of Star Wars and he would make back drops for his Star Wars figures out of leftover materials found in the garage and discarded polysterene packaging. Still today “I drive my family crazy unless I’m making something. Even when I was a full time teacher, I was making handsurfers and little boats out of building material offcuts.”

His mother, Tanya, was also creative, making the family’s clothes as well as picture frames, which she sold for some additional income. His maternal grandparents also had a significant influence as he was growing up.

“They lived in The Rocks and we would visit them every second weekend. So, unlike a lot of my friends in the ‘insular peninsula’, I had a sense of the city. We would wander around the back streets of The Rocks and, as I got older, we would go to art galleries. I didn’t tell any of my mates about this, but it was definitely a calling card of me knowing there was a space outside of here that I really loved.”

Waters “did what he needed to get by” at high school, but he loved studying art and remembers having wonderful art teachers.

“Our school was pretty much right on the beach at Avalon. My favourite day was doing art at lunch time and then after school I’d run to my mate’s house, which was across the road from the school, we’d have a surf and then I’d ride my bike home to Newport.”

When he finished high school, “I wanted to study Fine Arts, but I put the wrong course code on the form and got accepted into Art Education at the College of Fine Arts. I thought, oh well, I’ll just do that. I still did art courses, but we studied education and psychology and I really enjoyed that side of things. I stuck with it and did four years of Art Education.”

After graduation, instead of going straight into teaching he accepted a job with Atelier Paints.

“They were starting up a process of going to art schools, art colleges and art societies and demonstrating the materials they made. I travelled all over NSW, and to Queensland and Victoria, and technique-wise it was a great education for me because I’d missed that training at art school.”

He worked for Atelier for 18 months and then travelled overseas for a year before returning to start work as a teacher. He has taught at Stella Maris College, Manly in various capacities for the past 25 years

While teaching is “incredibly fulfilling”, Waters soon realised “there was something missing, and that was the ability to make stuff”. So he started doing some creative jobs after hours, including producing black and white line drawings of houses in Mosman for property sale advertisements.

He also began working for a surf company.

“I met a guy called Jim Mitchell at Whale Beach. He was an artist working for Mambo and we got on really well, with our shared loved of surfing and drawing. He established a company called The Critical Slide Society and I was involved for about seven years. 

“My favourite memories of this time are drawing with my kids as they were growing up. I used to play a game with Dad when I was young. I was totally into Star Wars so he would draw a rocket and stick it on the fridge. I would draw another rocket blowing his rocket up and we would go back and forth for a week or so and at the end we would have a drawing of a full inter-galactic battle.

“With my kids, I would do a drawing and then they would come in and just draw all over it, with no sense that it had taken me two hours to do. For me it was the purest form of happiness, because I was doing something and the kids were involved and it was like we were in a flow state. There was no talking, we were just drawing together.”

Ben’s wife Natalie was literally the girl next door. That is, she moved to Newport to stay with a friend, who was Ben’s neighbour. She is also a trained teacher and it was her decision to apply for a two year placement on Lord Howe Island in 2017 and 2018 that would have a huge impact on her husband.

“We’d been there for a family holiday and fell in love with the place,” Ben explains. “I’d always struggled to devote enough time to produce a full body of work and Nat saw Lord Howe as an opportunity to get some great teaching experience for her, give the kids a wonderful experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have and give me some time to develop a body of work that I could do something with – and that’s literally what happened.

“It was the sliding door moment of my life.”

After making the mistake of doing too many part-time jobs in the first few months – as a bike mechanic, tree lopper and laying out the local newspaper – Waters settled on one job while grasping the invaluable opportunity to observe, draw and paint. 

“I spent time with the kids before and after school and then in the middle of the day I had time to paint and go on long walks and immerse myself in nature. From that point, I really connected back to when I was a little kid. That feeling I used to get out in the surf, I got that same feeling on these bush tracks, realising that nature is awe-inspiring and it does wonderful, healing things to your mind. It calms you, it slows down your pulse rate, it allows you to open up to different thoughts – and it’s intoxicating.”

Before Lord Howe Island, Waters had not exhibited much of his work. He sold a few paintings while he was there and this gave him some confidence that others might be interested in what he was doing. His wife’s support through this time was invaluable. 

“Nat always says: ‘I knew that you had this in you, you just had to realise you had it in you.’” 

Waters was in his mid-40s when the family were living on Lord Howe Island. Is this when he realised he wanted to be an artist?

“I was always scared of the word ‘artist’ because I thought it sounded too wanky,” he replies honestly. “It was more that I thought I couldn’t come back to Avalon and not do this. I didn’t want it to be just a little blip in my life. The reason we had gone to Lord Howe was because we felt a bit comfortable and we wanted to challenge ourselves. So it was more about challenging myself.”

On his return to the mainland, Waters joined the Pittwater Artists Trail and connected with Sydney Road Gallery. He met “a lot of like-minded people” and, because the gallery is run as a collective, learned about the logistics of how an art gallery works. 

He also caught the eye of Amber Creswell Bell, who invited him to be part of a couple of group shows before he was offered a solo show with Michael Reid Northern Beaches (titled A Place to Breathe) in May 2021 and again in May 2022 (Quiet Moments). The sell-out success of both these exhibitions led to a solo show at Michael Reid Sydney in January 2023 (Shared Places) – and all the paintings from that show also sold.

The title of Waters’ new exhibition is Come Walk With Me. 

“When you go out on your own with a sketch book and pencil and no agenda, you find out all sorts of stuff about yourself. In many ways for landscape painters, the landscapes they paint are portraits of themselves.

“When we returned from Lord Howe Island, I went on long walks around the Palm Beach headlands trying to get some sense of what it meant to be back and wondering how we would replant ourselves. I realised that is what I want to paint – I want to paint the way it makes me feel. Once I decided that, I steered away from painting a particular scene and my works have morphed into capturing some essence of this area but also some essence of myself. That might be memories of walking with my kids or I’ve had something tough going on and I need healing in some way – that is what I’m chasing.”

Waters looks forward to seeing how his audience responds to his work.

“I want to share my paintings with other people even though that can be incredibly confronting. As artists, we spend so much time producing our work in solitude, I want to see what it does when it goes out into the world. It’s like I’ve started a conversation.”

 

If you would like to join the conversation with Ben Waters, Come Walk With Me is showing at Michael Reid Northern Beaches from 20 September with the artist attending the opening event from 2-4pm on Saturday 23 September.

The Reid Brothers

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Words: Michael Sharp.

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius.

When Stuart Reid was at boarding school in Sydney studying for his Higher School Certificate, he asked the headmaster for permission to go to an interview for an apprenticeship with a furniture maker. The request was declined.

“You’re better than that, Reid,” Dr Paterson told him. “Knox boys don’t do trades.”

Fortunately, Stuart’s father intervened, he went to the interview and his career as a cabinet maker commenced.

The Reid brothers grew up very happily on a sheep and wheat property in Cootamundra. Their father, John, had been a builder in Sydney but became disillusioned with the proliferation of project homes and decided to move to the Riverina region in the mid-1960s with his wife, Marie, and try his hand at farming.

Stuart was 3½ and Cameron was six months old when the family moved to the country “so our whole upbringing was on a farm”. They went to a primary school in Eurongilly that was run by a husband and wife teaching team and boasted about 30 students.

While Cameron always wanted to be a farmer, Stuart was born with a love of woodwork.

“As early as primary school, I’d drag Dad’s tools out and make something,” Stuart recalls. “It was usually pretty bad, but I just loved it. I got a natural pleasure from working with wood. No one really encouraged me, but no one discouraged me.”

The brothers started at Cootamundra High School, but when it seemed likely that Stuart wasn’t destined for a life on the land, he was sent to board at Knox Grammar School in Sydney. He did very well at woodwork, but that subject wasn’t available for study beyond Year 10.

“By that stage I’d decided I was going to be a cabinet maker. I did some work experience with some builders, but I hated it because there was no precision. Dad encouraged me to do some work experience with some furniture making firms and I thought: ‘Yes, this is it.’”

After high school, Stuart spent four years doing his apprenticeship and then, like so many Australians, he went to the UK for a working holiday.

“I needed to earn money and the first job I got was as a cabinet maker with Peter Hall & Son in the Lake District. They made only bespoke pieces and it was an epiphany for me. The English, with their respect for crafts and centuries of tradition, did things so much better than we did. In Australia we were very good at making furniture at a production level, but the English were so superior at making beautiful, bespoke, hand-made furniture. And that’s also where I fell in love with oak.”

Stuart returned to Australia and, as luck would have it, he met a young woman named Sue from the Lake District who was on a working holiday in Sydney. He followed her back to London, where he found work with another firm of cabinet makers, and the next year he and Sue were married.

Cameron, meanwhile, had followed Stuart into the world of wood.

“Mum and Dad always said that before we could be farmers, we had to do something else first, so we were a bit more worldly. I went to visit Cam in the boarding house at Knox just before his HSC. He knew the rules about doing something else before farming and I said I could get him a job where I was working. That made it easy for him and he decided to do it. He thought he’d do a trade for four years and then be a farmer. It turned out that Cam is a much better furniture maker than me.”

When the Reid brothers were younger, they would visit relatives in The Southern Highlands around Christmas time.

“It was hot and dusty on the farm in December, but it wasn’t that hot in the Highlands and it was still reasonably green. Dad used to say that when he and Mum sold the farm they would move here – and they did, in the late 1980s.”

Soon after their wedding, Stuart told his wife Sue that he wanted to have a go at starting his own business, based in the big shed his father had built in Bundanoon. It was only decades later, not long before he died, that John Reid admitted to his son that he had built such a large shed because he hoped his sons might use it.

“We were so naïve,” Stuart says. “We started a business in a shed in a Bundanoon paddock, intending to make the best furniture you could get. And it was 1992, so we were in a recession. But we put our Reid Brothers shingle up and gave it a go. We are both perfectionists and we were determined from the beginning to be the best. We want our furniture to be functional art – to do its job but to be as lovely to look at as the paintings on the wall above it.”

This striving for excellence was inherited from their father.

“As a farmer, Dad had a reputation for producing very high quality lamb and wool. He thought if you are going to do something, you have to make sure it’s really good. And Cam and I can’t do something that’s just ‘good enough’.”

Their first customers were “sympathetic family and friends who gave us little jobs like wall units and TV cabinets”. Their reputation slowly spread by word of mouth, but it took five years to become consistently busy so that they could justify employing a third person. Reid Brothers today still only has seven employees, including the two brothers, and they have no desire to grow larger.

“Labour is expensive and skilled labour is very limited, so most joinery firms have become computerised. That means you have to dumb down the designs and we don’t want to do that. We are not in any way businessmen, we’re still tradesmen, and we are not at all savvy about how to promote ourselves apart from doing a job well and being honest.”

For their first 25 years, most of their clients were based in Sydney. But since 2018 they have been able to be more selective and almost all their customers are now based in The Southern Highlands.

Stuart and Cameron are pleasantly surprised there is still demand for their custom-designed, hand-made, premium quality furniture. In fact, their pipeline has never been stronger.

“I think it’s because we’re getting old. When we started, in our late 20s, we weren’t that confident and we were asking people to invest a significant amount of money in furniture when we could only show them the drawings. Now we are more confident – and I’ve got wrinkles and I’m bald.”

Stuart is 60 and Cameron is 57, so succession planning is front of mind. They both have three children, but all six are pursuing other careers – in law, nursing, teaching, geology, physiotherapy and farming – and have no interest in carrying on the family business.

“They think this is a mad way to make a living,” Stuart laughs.

They say they are in a “purple patch” with their current team of skilled workers at Reid Brothers, several of whom have been with them since they were apprentices, but while they all love their career in the workshop “none of them wants to run the show”.

Stuart and Cameron recently attended a Lost Trades Fair which focused on lost and rare trades and crafts.

“We went because we discovered that cabinet makers were on the list – and that’s very sad.”

 

To read more about Reid Brothers (who are not related to Michael Reid in any way) visit reidbrothersfurniture.com.au

Elizabeth Beaumont

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Words: Michael Sharp.

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius.

In late February 2022, when Elizabeth Beaumont was raising her one year old toddler while pregnant with her second daughter, when she was working as a psychologist while also completing her Masters degree in Psychology, the Director of Emerging Art for Michael Reid galleries, Amber Creswell Bell, called her to ask if she would like to put on a solo show in May, just two months away, at the new Michael Reid Southern Highlands gallery in Berrima.

“I said ‘yes’ straight away because I know you don’t get that kind of an opportunity very often,” Beaumont recalls. “I remember calling my mum and she said: ‘You’re nuts!’”

That exhibition, Everlasting, which celebrated the winter flowering of wattles and everlasting daisies and embraced “the repetition and the noise that characterises this woodland landscape” sold out in less than a week. 

Beaumont now lives in The Southern Tablelands but she grew up in The Southern Highlands after her parents moved there from Sydney when she was two years old. 

“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “My parents spent decades transforming a large paddock into a beautiful garden and I grew up with plants and birds and space.”

She is softly spoken and not very comfortable talking about herself. 

Art and creativity have been a constant in her life. “When I was five years old, I sold my first art work on the main street of Bowral for five cents. A friend and I were selling our drawings outside a shop that her mum worked in. I’ve always drawn and painted and I’ve always loved making things. At primary school we had a pottery studio, and I loved that, and I went to art classes where I made miniature shops, and also fruit and other objects to go in them, out of ceramics.” 

Beaumont studied art at high school and her art teacher entered one of her paintings in a competition when she was in Year 11. She came runner up “and that painting is now hanging on a wall at Frensham”.

Despite her love of art, and her clear talent, when she finished school Beaumont studied Law at the Australian National University. 

“I wanted to study art, but I didn’t really understand that you could be an artist.” 

She worked as a criminal lawyer for five years, first in Melbourne and then in Brisbane and Darwin, and her employers included the Director of Public Prosecutions, Legal Aid and Aboriginal legal services.

During these years of studying and lawyering, Beaumont continued to draw and paint at night and on weekends. When she moved to Brisbane, she had a two month break from work and the house she was living in had a spare room. This allowed her “to paint a lot more and begin to create what could be close to a body of work”.

In January 2018, Beaumont and her partner Mal went on a multi-day hike through the Western Arthurs Traverse in Tasmania’s Southwest National Park. The adventure and the magnificent scenery inspired her to produce a large painting of one of the park’s glacial lakes. It was titled Descending into Lake Oberon.

“I submitted it to an art prize in Tasmania and was amazed when it was selected,” Beaumont recalls. “I actually got Highly Commended, which was quite a shock.”

With characteristic self-effacing modesty, Beaumont doesn’t mention that the competition was the Glover Prize for paintings of Tasmanian landscape, one of Australia’s most significant awards for landscape painting and open to artists from anywhere in the world.

Her Glover Prize experience, which included meeting some very encouraging people, gave her greater confidence and motivation.

“I found myself in an environment with other artists and I could see that this was a thing. I didn’t go to art school, and I don’t have many friends who are artists, so it’s a world that I’m still learning about.”

In late 2019 Beaumont moved back to Canberra. “I was turning 30 and I had set myself the challenge of having a show on my own. It was in my sister’s Pilates studio [Scout Pilates in the inner Sydney suburb of St Peters] which is like a warehouse space.”

The exhibition was titled Painted Desert and consisted of about 20 drawings and paintings produced after a visit to that spectacular region in the far north of South Australia. 

“The night before the opening I was thinking what a terrible idea it was and that no one will want to buy anything,” she recalls. “I had a bit of a freak out and was convinced I should pull the show. But I didn’t – and they all sold.”

COVID and its lockdowns had its benefits for Beaumont because she didn’t have to travel for work or study. She continued to paint and sell some works online and she was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Tony White Memorial Art Prize for “a young, emerging Australian artist” (part of Kangaroo Valley’s “Arts in the Valley” festival). 

Beaumont’s first daughter was born in December 2020 and while there was little time for art in the first six months after the arrival of Olearia (the proper name for the plant commonly known as daisy bush), she decided to enter the inaugural National Emerging Art Prize in 2021. NEAP had been established by its founders “to provide a highly visible national platform to identify, promote and support the most promising emerging visual and ceramic artists in Australia”.

Although Beaumont was not selected as a finalist for the NEAP in 2021, the Director of Emerging Art for Michael Reid galleries, Amber Creswell Bell, invited her to participate in a group show titled ACB Selects. As we have learned, that led to an invitation for a solo show at Michael Reid Southern Highlands in May 2022.

“As the curator of the NEAP, I have the great pleasure of reviewing each and every submission before they go to the selection panel for judging,” says Creswell Bell. “During this process, invariably some artists really capture my attention – and quite often not the judges. I will take note of those artists and later pull those that I think are worthy of attention into an online show called ‘ACB Selects’, of which Elle was one. I was so convinced of Elle’s ability as a painter that I very quickly also offered her a solo show at our Southern Highlands gallery.

“Elle has a fabulously sophisticated sense of mark making. She knows exactly when to hold back, not overwork a painting. Her compositions and sense of colour are just beautiful and she is able to work at a variety of scales, which is harder than it looks. I couldn’t love her work more!”

Until now, Beaumont’s work has explored the plants and landscapes that have been part of her life.

“I tend to focus on painting the environment around me at the time. When I was in Brisbane I was painting a lot of coastal heathland, in Darwin there was a lot of desert painting, when I returned to Canberra the bushfires had a major influence and now here in Carwoola it’s a very different landscape.”  

However Beaumont’s second solo exhibition at Michael Reid Southern Highlands, which opens on 27 July 2023, is titled: I Came Looking for Birds and I Found Them.

“I’ve been trying to paint birds for a long time,” Beaumont explains, “but I’ve found I can’t force a bird into my painting, it just doesn’t work. 

“Then a couple of months ago I cleaned a large window and the next day a Scarlet Robin flew straight into the window and died. It’s such a beautiful, black and orange bird – and it just popped into my painting. I’ve now created an environment to allow other birds from around here to come through into my paintings. There are so many and they have a rhythm – they come at different times of the day and different times of the year. That’s what the show is about.”

Beaumont, whose achievements across a range of disciplines are extraordinary, started studying psychology at the University of New England two years after she completed her law degree. She recently completed a Masters of Psychology through Macquarie University and works three days a week as a psychologist in a Canberra hospital. She considers herself “a painter with a part time job”. 

This Renaissance Woman is only in her early 30s but worries about how little time she has left in her life to produce all the paintings she wants to create and, being unjustifiably critical of herself, she wants to produce a lot more good paintings.

“When Olearia was born I put ‘artist’ as my occupation on the birth certificate,” she says. “I’m going to hold myself to that.”

The Charlotte Project

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Words: Michael Sharp. Photography: Ashley Mackevicius, with additional images by Augustin Chauvet.

Charlotte Atkinson was the author of Australia’s first children’s book, which became a bestseller upon its publication in 1841. She was also an accomplished artist and a pioneer for women’s legal rights, successfully fighting a long battle for the right to raise and educate her own children in a case that is still cited in Australian courts today. 

Yet her identity as the author of A Mother’s Offering to Her Children was not discovered until 1981 and until 2022 she lay buried anonymously beneath a gravestone in All Saint’s Anglican Church, Sutton Forest that bore only the name of her first husband.

In November 2021 a group of women gathered in The Southern Highlands for a writing retreat titled “True Life Stories”. The retreat leaders were Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell, the great-great-great-great-granddaughters of Charlotte Atkinson and the authors of Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author.

The retreat was the catalyst for the formation of Wingecarribee Women Writers which has joined a global movement that celebrates women’s voices and stories. Their first initiative is The Charlotte Project, a public fundraising appeal to raise $80,000 to erect a bronze statue of Charlotte Atkinson in Berrima’s Market Place Park.

Lynn Watson, Chair of Wingecaribee Women Writers, hadn’t heard of Charlotte before she attended the writers’ retreat just over 18 months ago.

“Charlotte did some mighty things and she was so courageous – her story just appealed to me on so many levels,” Lynn says. “I have five daughters and I’ve always been interested in women having a voice. I have also always been conscious that a lot of women’s stories, and women’s contributions, have been lost or discarded. 

“When we visited Charlotte’s grave and saw her name wasn’t on it, we raised some money to get a new plaque. But we realised more should be done to shine a light on her story. We said: let’s go for a bronze statue.

“A year later and we are well on our way to reaching our target. We are overwhelmed at how generous people have been.”

According to Professor Clare Wright, convenor of A Monument of One’s Own, less than 4% of Australia’s statues represent historical female figures. (Mary Poppins is honoured with a statue in nearby Bowral, but she was probably fictional). There are more statues of animals in Australia than of real women.

The patron of Wingecarribee Women Writers is Paula McLean, a philanthropist and former Deputy Chair of The Stella Prize, a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing.

“We have a history of failing to recognise the achievements of women and we need to redress this,” Paula says. “The Charlotte Project is very much aligned to the work that I did as Deputy Chair of The Stella Prize. Both of these projects are to celebrate the voices, the stories of women. Public monuments are a very important part of recognising the achievements of people all over the country and we need to recognise the achievements of Charlotte Atkinson. A statue of her will be a wonderful gift to The Southern Highlands community.”

Bowral-based sculptor Julie Haseler Reily volunteered her time to design and make the sculpture. Julie graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art, has a Diploma of Visual Arts from TAFE Queensland and has studied at the National Art School, the Ceramics Centre at TAFE Hornsby, and Gaya Ceramics in Ubud, Indonesia.

“This is a great honour for me,” Julie says. “I wanted to breathe life into Charlotte’s story, because she was such an extraordinary woman. A theme in some of my work is “the heroic feminine” and I was intrigued with Charlotte the woman and Charlotte the heroic mother figure. I feel I now know Charlotte very well, having spent so many private hours alone in my studio with her. 

“I hope she will be an ornament for Georgian Berrima and a portal to history, providing a fuller understanding of that time and place along with her personal story of courage, resilience, daring and triumph against the odds.”

So who was Charlotte Atkinson?

She was born Charlotte Waring in London in 1796 and emigrated to Australia aboard the Cumberland in 1826 after being employed as a governess by Maria and Hannibal Macarthur. On the voyage she met James Atkinson, an author and agriculturist who was returning to his Australian properties after writing An Account of the State of Agriculture & Grazing in New South Wales.

Charlotte and James were married a year later and settled at Oldbury in Sutton Forest, a property named after James’ father’s estate in Kent. Charlotte and James had four children between 1828 and 1834 and they were a very happy and formidable couple in Berrima District. But then James died suddenly in 1834, aged just 39, after “a painful and lingering illness”.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes that James’ death “left his widow to manage a large holding, run far-flung outstations, control convict labour in a district beset by bushranging gangs and care for her children”.

On 3 March 1836 Charlotte married George Barton, who was the superintendent at Oldbury. The marriage changed her legal position from being custodian of Oldbury to being merely the lessor’s wife. Barton proved to be a drunkard, violent and mentally disturbed and in 1839 Charlotte left him and took her children to an outstation at Budgong, south-west of Kangaroo Valley. A year later she moved to Sydney and applied for legal protection from Barton. Atkinson v Barton became a long-running legal battle that challenged the patriarchy and made her a pioneer of women’s rights in Australia.

Charlotte was now not receiving any money from the Atkinson estate, so in 1841 she wrote A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, which became the first children’s book to be published in Australia. The author was “A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales” and it was written as a collection of instructional stories from a mother to her four children. It featured Australian flora and fauna, Australian landscapes and the lives of First Nations people – and this was the key to its immediate and widespread popularity. A first edition sold recently for $70,000.

Charlotte returned to Oldbury in 1846 and died there in 1867. Her determination to educate her children was most notably rewarded by the achievements of her daughter Louisa – the first Australian-born female novelist, journalist and botanist. 

The sculpture of Charlotte is currently being cast at the renowned Crawford’s Casting foundry in Sydney and Wingecaribee Women Writers hope it will be unveiled before the end of the 2023 calendar year.

Charlotte will be seen reclining on the ground, holding out a copy of her famous book to four sandstone block seats that both represent her four children and allow visitors to engage with the sculpture.

“Thousands of school children stop off at Berrima’s Market Place Park each year for a break on their journey,” Lynn Watson notes. “Besides having a run around and a swing, they will see a statue of this colonial woman in this colonial village. We hope that teachers will explain who she is and it might spark interest in Charlotte and the significant contribution that so many women have made to our history.”

For more information, and to make a donation to The Charlotte Project, visit www.womenwriters.org

Buddhism in Bundanoon

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Words: Michael Sharp. Photography: Ashley Mackevicius, with additional images by Augustin Chauvet.

Charlotte Atkinson was the author of Australia’s first children’s book, which became a bestseller upon its publication in 1841. She was also an accomplished artist and a pioneer for women’s legal rights, successfully fighting a long battle for the right to raise and educate her own children in a case that is still cited in Australian courts today. 

Yet her identity as the author of A Mother’s Offering to Her Children was not discovered until 1981 and until 2022 she lay buried anonymously beneath a gravestone in All Saint’s Anglican Church, Sutton Forest that bore only the name of her first husband.

In November 2021 a group of women gathered in The Southern Highlands for a writing retreat titled “True Life Stories”. The retreat leaders were Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell, the great-great-great-great-granddaughters of Charlotte Atkinson and the authors of Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author.

The retreat was the catalyst for the formation of Wingecarribee Women Writers which has joined a global movement that celebrates women’s voices and stories. Their first initiative is The Charlotte Project, a public fundraising appeal to raise $80,000 to erect a bronze statue of Charlotte Atkinson in Berrima’s Market Place Park.

Lynn Watson, Chair of Wingecaribee Women Writers, hadn’t heard of Charlotte before she attended the writers’ retreat just over 18 months ago.

“Charlotte did some mighty things and she was so courageous – her story just appealed to me on so many levels,” Lynn says. “I have five daughters and I’ve always been interested in women having a voice. I have also always been conscious that a lot of women’s stories, and women’s contributions, have been lost or discarded. 

“When we visited Charlotte’s grave and saw her name wasn’t on it, we raised some money to get a new plaque. But we realised more should be done to shine a light on her story. We said: let’s go for a bronze statue.

“A year later and we are well on our way to reaching our target. We are overwhelmed at how generous people have been.”

According to Professor Clare Wright, convenor of A Monument of One’s Own, less than 4% of Australia’s statues represent historical female figures. (Mary Poppins is honoured with a statue in nearby Bowral, but she was probably fictional). There are more statues of animals in Australia than of real women.

The patron of Wingecarribee Women Writers is Paula McLean, a philanthropist and former Deputy Chair of The Stella Prize, a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing.

“We have a history of failing to recognise the achievements of women and we need to redress this,” Paula says. “The Charlotte Project is very much aligned to the work that I did as Deputy Chair of The Stella Prize. Both of these projects are to celebrate the voices, the stories of women. Public monuments are a very important part of recognising the achievements of people all over the country and we need to recognise the achievements of Charlotte Atkinson. A statue of her will be a wonderful gift to The Southern Highlands community.”

Bowral-based sculptor Julie Haseler Reily volunteered her time to design and make the sculpture. Julie graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art, has a Diploma of Visual Arts from TAFE Queensland and has studied at the National Art School, the Ceramics Centre at TAFE Hornsby, and Gaya Ceramics in Ubud, Indonesia.

“This is a great honour for me,” Julie says. “I wanted to breathe life into Charlotte’s story, because she was such an extraordinary woman. A theme in some of my work is “the heroic feminine” and I was intrigued with Charlotte the woman and Charlotte the heroic mother figure. I feel I now know Charlotte very well, having spent so many private hours alone in my studio with her. 

“I hope she will be an ornament for Georgian Berrima and a portal to history, providing a fuller understanding of that time and place along with her personal story of courage, resilience, daring and triumph against the odds.”

So who was Charlotte Atkinson?

She was born Charlotte Waring in London in 1796 and emigrated to Australia aboard the Cumberland in 1826 after being employed as a governess by Maria and Hannibal Macarthur. On the voyage she met James Atkinson, an author and agriculturist who was returning to his Australian properties after writing An Account of the State of Agriculture & Grazing in New South Wales.

Charlotte and James were married a year later and settled at Oldbury in Sutton Forest, a property named after James’ father’s estate in Kent. Charlotte and James had four children between 1828 and 1834 and they were a very happy and formidable couple in Berrima District. But then James died suddenly in 1834, aged just 39, after “a painful and lingering illness”.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes that James’ death “left his widow to manage a large holding, run far-flung outstations, control convict labour in a district beset by bushranging gangs and care for her children”.

On 3 March 1836 Charlotte married George Barton, who was the superintendent at Oldbury. The marriage changed her legal position from being custodian of Oldbury to being merely the lessor’s wife. Barton proved to be a drunkard, violent and mentally disturbed and in 1839 Charlotte left him and took her children to an outstation at Budgong, south-west of Kangaroo Valley. A year later she moved to Sydney and applied for legal protection from Barton. Atkinson v Barton became a long-running legal battle that challenged the patriarchy and made her a pioneer of women’s rights in Australia.

Charlotte was now not receiving any money from the Atkinson estate, so in 1841 she wrote A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, which became the first children’s book to be published in Australia. The author was “A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales” and it was written as a collection of instructional stories from a mother to her four children. It featured Australian flora and fauna, Australian landscapes and the lives of First Nations people – and this was the key to its immediate and widespread popularity. A first edition sold recently for $70,000.

Charlotte returned to Oldbury in 1846 and died there in 1867. Her determination to educate her children was most notably rewarded by the achievements of her daughter Louisa – the first Australian-born female novelist, journalist and botanist. 

The sculpture of Charlotte is currently being cast at the renowned Crawford’s Casting foundry in Sydney and Wingecaribee Women Writers hope it will be unveiled before the end of the 2023 calendar year.

Charlotte will be seen reclining on the ground, holding out a copy of her famous book to four sandstone block seats that both represent her four children and allow visitors to engage with the sculpture.

“Thousands of school children stop off at Berrima’s Market Place Park each year for a break on their journey,” Lynn Watson notes. “Besides having a run around and a swing, they will see a statue of this colonial woman in this colonial village. We hope that teachers will explain who she is and it might spark interest in Charlotte and the significant contribution that so many women have made to our history.”

For more information, and to make a donation to The Charlotte Project, visit www.womenwriters.org

Sunnataram Forest Monastery was devastated by the bushfires of January 2020 with 75% of the property destroyed. If it weren’t for the extraordinary efforts of the fire services, including water bombing from helicopters, they would have lost everything.

The monastery offers weekend meditation retreats that are booked out many months in advance. The experience includes “Pali chanting with English translation, Mindfulness with breathing (Anapanasati), Loving-kindness (Metta) meditation and Vipassana meditation”.

The waiting list for the retreats has become longer since 2020 because about half the accommodation huts were burnt to the ground in the 2020 bushfires. A major short term aim of the monastery is to raise money for replacement accommodation so they are ready to build as soon as they receive Council approval.

One of the messages articulated consistently during this Sunday’s Dhamma is that we can meditate by concentrating completely while doing everyday tasks such as eating, drinking, cleaning the kitchen or car or, like Kim McSweeney, flower-arranging. 

“I try to simplify and make it practical and to the point,” Phra Mana says about Buddhism. “We cannot separate spiritual life and worldly life. There has to be balance.”

 

For further information visit sunnataram.org and please note that visitors must register in advance for each Sunday’s Dhamma talk and meditation so that the volunteer cooks can be prepared.

Honey Thief

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Words: Michael Sharp. Photography: Ashley Mackevicius, with additional images by Augustin Chauvet.

Charlotte Atkinson was the author of Australia’s first children’s book, which became a bestseller upon its publication in 1841. She was also an accomplished artist and a pioneer for women’s legal rights, successfully fighting a long battle for the right to raise and educate her own children in a case that is still cited in Australian courts today. 

Yet her identity as the author of A Mother’s Offering to Her Children was not discovered until 1981 and until 2022 she lay buried anonymously beneath a gravestone in All Saint’s Anglican Church, Sutton Forest that bore only the name of her first husband.

In November 2021 a group of women gathered in The Southern Highlands for a writing retreat titled “True Life Stories”. The retreat leaders were Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell, the great-great-great-great-granddaughters of Charlotte Atkinson and the authors of Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author.

The retreat was the catalyst for the formation of Wingecarribee Women Writers which has joined a global movement that celebrates women’s voices and stories. Their first initiative is The Charlotte Project, a public fundraising appeal to raise $80,000 to erect a bronze statue of Charlotte Atkinson in Berrima’s Market Place Park.

Lynn Watson, Chair of Wingecaribee Women Writers, hadn’t heard of Charlotte before she attended the writers’ retreat just over 18 months ago.

“Charlotte did some mighty things and she was so courageous – her story just appealed to me on so many levels,” Lynn says. “I have five daughters and I’ve always been interested in women having a voice. I have also always been conscious that a lot of women’s stories, and women’s contributions, have been lost or discarded. 

“When we visited Charlotte’s grave and saw her name wasn’t on it, we raised some money to get a new plaque. But we realised more should be done to shine a light on her story. We said: let’s go for a bronze statue.

“A year later and we are well on our way to reaching our target. We are overwhelmed at how generous people have been.”

According to Professor Clare Wright, convenor of A Monument of One’s Own, less than 4% of Australia’s statues represent historical female figures. (Mary Poppins is honoured with a statue in nearby Bowral, but she was probably fictional). There are more statues of animals in Australia than of real women.

The patron of Wingecarribee Women Writers is Paula McLean, a philanthropist and former Deputy Chair of The Stella Prize, a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing.

“We have a history of failing to recognise the achievements of women and we need to redress this,” Paula says. “The Charlotte Project is very much aligned to the work that I did as Deputy Chair of The Stella Prize. Both of these projects are to celebrate the voices, the stories of women. Public monuments are a very important part of recognising the achievements of people all over the country and we need to recognise the achievements of Charlotte Atkinson. A statue of her will be a wonderful gift to The Southern Highlands community.”

Bowral-based sculptor Julie Haseler Reily volunteered her time to design and make the sculpture. Julie graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art, has a Diploma of Visual Arts from TAFE Queensland and has studied at the National Art School, the Ceramics Centre at TAFE Hornsby, and Gaya Ceramics in Ubud, Indonesia.

“This is a great honour for me,” Julie says. “I wanted to breathe life into Charlotte’s story, because she was such an extraordinary woman. A theme in some of my work is “the heroic feminine” and I was intrigued with Charlotte the woman and Charlotte the heroic mother figure. I feel I now know Charlotte very well, having spent so many private hours alone in my studio with her. 

“I hope she will be an ornament for Georgian Berrima and a portal to history, providing a fuller understanding of that time and place along with her personal story of courage, resilience, daring and triumph against the odds.”

So who was Charlotte Atkinson?

She was born Charlotte Waring in London in 1796 and emigrated to Australia aboard the Cumberland in 1826 after being employed as a governess by Maria and Hannibal Macarthur. On the voyage she met James Atkinson, an author and agriculturist who was returning to his Australian properties after writing An Account of the State of Agriculture & Grazing in New South Wales.

Charlotte and James were married a year later and settled at Oldbury in Sutton Forest, a property named after James’ father’s estate in Kent. Charlotte and James had four children between 1828 and 1834 and they were a very happy and formidable couple in Berrima District. But then James died suddenly in 1834, aged just 39, after “a painful and lingering illness”.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes that James’ death “left his widow to manage a large holding, run far-flung outstations, control convict labour in a district beset by bushranging gangs and care for her children”.

On 3 March 1836 Charlotte married George Barton, who was the superintendent at Oldbury. The marriage changed her legal position from being custodian of Oldbury to being merely the lessor’s wife. Barton proved to be a drunkard, violent and mentally disturbed and in 1839 Charlotte left him and took her children to an outstation at Budgong, south-west of Kangaroo Valley. A year later she moved to Sydney and applied for legal protection from Barton. Atkinson v Barton became a long-running legal battle that challenged the patriarchy and made her a pioneer of women’s rights in Australia.

Charlotte was now not receiving any money from the Atkinson estate, so in 1841 she wrote A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, which became the first children’s book to be published in Australia. The author was “A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales” and it was written as a collection of instructional stories from a mother to her four children. It featured Australian flora and fauna, Australian landscapes and the lives of First Nations people – and this was the key to its immediate and widespread popularity. A first edition sold recently for $70,000.

Charlotte returned to Oldbury in 1846 and died there in 1867. Her determination to educate her children was most notably rewarded by the achievements of her daughter Louisa – the first Australian-born female novelist, journalist and botanist. 

The sculpture of Charlotte is currently being cast at the renowned Crawford’s Casting foundry in Sydney and Wingecaribee Women Writers hope it will be unveiled before the end of the 2023 calendar year.

Charlotte will be seen reclining on the ground, holding out a copy of her famous book to four sandstone block seats that both represent her four children and allow visitors to engage with the sculpture.

“Thousands of school children stop off at Berrima’s Market Place Park each year for a break on their journey,” Lynn Watson notes. “Besides having a run around and a swing, they will see a statue of this colonial woman in this colonial village. We hope that teachers will explain who she is and it might spark interest in Charlotte and the significant contribution that so many women have made to our history.”

For more information, and to make a donation to The Charlotte Project, visit www.womenwriters.org

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