forgotten women: Olive Cotton – photographer

This article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 March 1938 featured photographer Olive Cotton.

The Lady behind the lens

Young Sydney Artist Discusses A Hobby for Women.

SIX women are represented at the Sydney Photographic Society’s International Exhibition which opened in Sydney on Wednesday. Among them is Miss Olive Cotton, a local amateur photographer, who has twice exhibited at the London Salon. The pictures on this page are examples of Miss Cotton’s work. (Note: newsprint cannot do justice to these photographs. Please see below links to collections of Olive Cotton’s work).

In an interview yesterday, in which she discussed photography for women, Miss Cotton said that the woman’s viewpoint can be captured by the woman behind the camera. She believes that women are doing photographic work comparable with that of men.

“How many women,” she said, “say at one time or another that they are bored? Yet they could find endless enjoyment with a camera assisted by eyes that are not inartistic.  I consider that here is a field where women could do good work – work which has its reward in the production of a good picture.”

MISS COTTON is an attractive young woman with a penchant for art in several forms and a firm belief in women expressing themselves through an art medium. She was precipitated into photography at thirteen years of age when she found that an inclination towards graphic art was in her case handicapped by an apparent lack of talent with brush and pencil.

Olive Cotton image 1943 - Tweed Shire Council

Olive Cotton 1943 – via Tweed Shire Council

Her first camera was of a box type, but she now uses a more involved reflex camera; her first enlarging apparatus was made from a biscuit tin operated from an electric iron contact; and the laundry draped with rugs was her first dark room. Now she has at her disposal one of the best- equipped photographic dark rooms in Sydney.

The Right Spirit.

Women who potter about with a box camera photographing any landscape that appeals to them have the right spirit because they are   expressing themselves rather than merely making tourist bureau records of beauty spots, Miss Cotto said. Those who want to express themselves and have no talent for painting or drawing will find as I did that photography is an excellent medium. It is a universal art form comprehensible to everyone, within reach of all.

The names of women are appearing more and more in the photographic annuals of the world and some of the important Continental exhibitions have included the work of as many as a   dozen amateur women photographers.

I believe that photography will soon be used as a medium for design. It will provide a field for women who have mastered the technique of modern photography.

Some Advice.

“ONE thing that women who wish to become good photographers should remember”, Miss Cotton continued, “is that the camera can do more than merely record an unchanging picture of a subject. A landscape, for instance, is there for everyone to photograph – an apparently changeless combination of earth, and trees, and grass; but it can be photographed in a hundred different ways. The lighting, the relation of the various objects to the shape of the picture, and many other factors can be changed by the individual, and this is where discernment and personality come into the picture, as it were.

I noticed at the exhibition of English pictures in Sydney a few weeks ago that a series of landscapes by a well-known woman photographer was obviously the work of a woman. One, in particular, was a picture of snow with a pattern of shadows. The approach was essentially feminine. A man could never have seen that landscape as she did.”

In the Dark Room.

“EVEN the casual hobbyist,” Miss Cotton declared, should develop and print her own pictures. Otherwise, it would be an expensive hobby and in any case, the treatment during these processes can always make or mar a picture. To become efficient at developing, printing and enlarging, experience over a number of years and constant practice are needed to make the most of one’s opportunties.

One of the commonest and most serious mistakes made by the inexperienced photographer is the tendency to take a dozen pictures of an object in the hope that one will be good. I find it much more satisfactory and less expensive to take one carefully considered and planned picture.”

Miss Cotton believes that more women should employ the camera as a hobby.

The article includes a photograph of Olive Cotton by fellow photographer Max Dupain.

Olive Cotton m Max DupainIn April of 1939 Cotton and Dupain were married in Sydney.

From Design and Art Australia Online

They separated two years later and divorced in 1944. Cotton taught mathematics at Frensham School, Mittagong (NSW), in 1941. From 1942-45 she managed the Max Dupain studio while Dupain was on war service.

…. In the 1980s Cotton’s photographs once again began to receive serious attention. They were included in Gael Newton’s exhibition, ‘Silver and Grey’ (Art Gallery of New South Wales), in 1980 and in the 1981-82 touring exhibition ‘Australian Women Photographers 1890-1950’, organised by Barbara Hall and Jenni Mather. In 1983 Cotton was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to print photographs for the retrospective exhibition, ‘Olive Cotton Photographs 1924-1984’, which opened at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1985 and subsequently toured. Light Years , a film by Kathryn Millard on Olive Cotton’s life and work, was released in 1991. In the same year Teacup Ballet was issued on a stamp to mark the 150th anniversary of photography in Australia. Olive Cotton was awarded an Emeritus Fellowship from the Australia Council in 1993.

Olive Cotton features in Australian Stories on this Australian government site.  Works by Olive Cotton in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales can be found here.


faces in the street – Gilmore on Lawson

Mary Gilmore in Goulburn 1922

The Goulburn Evening Penny Post of 26 September 1922 reported a talk by poet Mary Gilmore at Goulburn High School. It was only a few weeks after the death of her friend Henry Lawson.

Last week, in an informal talk at the Goulburn High School, Mrs Mary Gilmore gave in outline an account of the late Henry Lawson, his work, his temperament, and some of his personal history, as well as an appreciation of his value as the outstanding figure in the history of Australian literature. Opening her remarks, Mrs. Gilmore said that, to begin with, she had known Henry Lawson ever since he was about twenty-one, that her mother and Henry’s mother, Louisa Lawson, had been friends, and that acquaintance ran through three generations of Lawson’s family. “It is not necessary,” said the speaker, “to refer to Lawson’s birthplace or to read or discuss his writings in the present talk, as all these things are given in the course of High School teaching. But something of the man, of his life as known to his friends, and of the causes which made him what he was are more necessary, and what I propose to give, for , indeed, much of this is still only passed mouth to mouth and will be lost if not collected or given now. When I first met Lawson he was a tall, thin, shy, sensitive lad, not yet done growing. In a photograph which I have of him this is shown very emphatically for the pictured Lawson has a definitely weak chin. Those who know the mature Lawson will remember that he had a big, deep, strong chin. He was like his mother in appearance; he was like her in temperament. Apart from his own mother, my mother and I were among the first to realise Lawson’s genius and his originality. He was without doubt the most original writer Australia has ever produced. His style was his own, his method was his own. From his mother he inherited much. He had her sense of drama, of humour, of the value of local colour, and the  essential point of any story. But his power of expression went beyond hers; and his capacity for a suggested under-current of feeling went beyond hers afar as genius goes beyond intellectual talent. When I first knew Louisa Lawson, social conditions were not what they are now, and it is difficult to realise what she, in her fight for women, was up against. But as an instance I might mention that at that time any woman seen in, or seen going into, a restaurant in Sydney could be arrested by the police. And just as his mother had much to do with the early shaping of conditions in Australia socially, so had her son, and I shall never forget when, nearly thirty-five years ago, in a strike of that day the young Lawson ran all the way from a mass meeting at the old Exhibition building to where I lived and burst in with the cry -‘They are going to fire on my countrymen.’ It was have served out ball cartridges and are going to fire on my countrymen. It was then that Colonel Price had given his infamous order: “Fire low and lay ’em out !’ When I had quietened Lawson down I sent him to his mother and asked for a message to be sent to Sir Henry Parkes. And I like to think that it was partly due to Henry Lawson that the infamy of that day was not carried out. His influence in the early days of the rise of our social democracy has seldom been told. But it is a fact that his ‘Faces in the Street’ and his ‘Army of the Rear’ ran like a flame throughout the young State. He wrote in the early ‘Worker’ (my paper), and throughout his work runs the note of the seer and the prophet of national democracy. His temperament was subject to moods, like his mother’s, and among his best friends was the late Minister for Education, Mr. T. D. Mutch. Our office was for twenty years a sort of home to Lawson, and till latterly there was always someone there who looked after him, and to whom he looked in time of trouble. Mr. Mutch, when Henry would have a depressed mood on him, would give up all his Saturday afternoon to the poet, returning for him on Sundays, and together they would tramp the bush of Gordon, Middle Harbour etc., silent for hours and hours at a stretch. But in those seemingly sombre hours germinated and grew much which later blossomed in the best of Lawson’s later work. When Mr. Mutch left our office to go into Parliament, his trust as regards Henry fell on Mr J Noonan, our accountant. But others were faithful friends to to poet and none more so than Mr George Robertson (Angus and Robertson’s), Mr Phil Harris (“Aussie” Magazine), and Mr . J. G. Lockley (of the Lockley Library).” Mrs Gilmore speaking of Lawson in London as well as in Australia gave tribute to his work, quoting in reference to the former place Mr. Pinker (the well-known English publishing agent), the editor of “Blackwood’s Magazine” and Mr. Garnet, the critic (afterwards Sir Richard Garnet) all of whom had stressed to her the unique value of Lawson’s work. Mrs Gilmore spoke for nearly an hour and then ended by reading a letter which Lawson’s sister, Mrs Gertrude Lawson O’Connor, had published to the children of Australia (in “The Women’s Budget”) in memory of her gifted brother.

Lawson’s handwritten story of his famous poem “Faces in the Street” is here courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.  It reveals how, at the age of 21, he “struck the keynote or the key line” for the poem on Petersham Station in Sydney on a cold wet night.

The thirteen stanza poem begins thus.

Faces in the Street

You can read it in full here at The Australian Poetry Library (HT to the following institutions that support this important cultural resource).

Australian Poetry Library

 


David Webster’s Tea Rooms

David Websters Tea Rooms in Brisbane 1900

David Webster’s Tea Rooms in Brisbane, 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

This image by an unidentified photographer was taken in 1900.  It illustrates the attention to detail and marketing skills of a man called David Webster, creator of Webster’s cakes and biscuits.  Originally a baker of bread, he introduced machinery to make his product and soon held a large share of the market in and around Brisbane.

Articles and advertising (it is sometimes hard to tell the difference) in Brisbane newspapers of the time showed Webster as the consummate networker. The company catered at many sporting and large social events including tea rooms at the races and community picnics.  Many organisations held their evening meetings in his tea rooms. In their early days, Webster and Company won government tenders to supply bread to public institutions.  David Webster had the odd skirmish or two in the industrial commission and the courts, and in 1898 was fined 2/6 an ounce for short-weighting his bread by 15 ounces after the original hearing was deferred when it was pointed out that he was a supplier of bread to the judge.  (Brisbane Courier – 4 October 1898).

bread case DW

The series of articles below gives an indication of the range of products and services the company provided.

The Brisbane Courier – 22 December 1900

DW - 1900 item part 1DW - 1900 item part 2

The Brisbane Courier – 6 December 1912

David Webster's Dainties - 1912

Cairns Post 28 October 1930

Webster's biscuits

The Courier Mail – 4 February 1936

The Webster family company also instigated the historic and much loved Shingle Inn recently resurrected in the newly renovated Brisbane City Hall.

Shingle Inn plans

On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, an article about Mr and Mrs David Webster appeared in the Courier Mail – 11 December 1936.  Six months later, David Webster died.

Mr and Mrs David Webster - golden anniversary

DW commenced business


The Rose Series of postcards

There’s not a lot to be found online about a photographer called George Rose and his impressive body of work within Australia and elsewhere.

I have selected a sample of the thousands of the Rose postcard series accessible online at the State Library of Victoria. These are out of copyright due to the uncertainty of the date they were taken.  Most are tagged c 1920-1954.  Here’s a link to photographs taken in Melbourne in the Olympic year of 1956 which are still in copyright and as such cannot be reproduced here.

Another source of these rich images is the work of Ron Blum who has collated George Rose’s work into two books and a CD.

At the foot of Deany’s Steps – Port Campbell   I think the emulsion damage adds to the charm of this one.

download (1)

St Kilda from the Pier

download (2)

Aerial View of Melbourne Cricket Ground

download (3)

The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell  The inset colour photo via Wikipedia shows the collapse of one of the stacks in 2005.

download (6)

120px-CrashedApostle2005

The State Library of Victoria holds over 7000 images (here) from the Rose Series. Other libraries have their own collections relevant to their state. Many of the photographs were taken by others after the deaths of George (in 1942) and Walter (George’s son and proprietor until he pre-deceased his father) in 1940.

The Argus – 21 January 1942

Obituary - George Rose


what ho, sport – life at Oxford University in 1894

It was certainly a man’s world (and an extremely elite one) at Oxford University as described by A D Godley in his book Aspects of Modern Oxford published in 1894 by Seeley & Co Ltd.

The plates in the book were produced by five artists.  They illustrate all aspects of a student’s life, in particular participation in a wide variety of sports including tennis, rowing, cricket and golf.  There was swimming too. The area called Parson’s Pleasure (see image 3 in this post) was a nude bathing area in the University Parks – men only, of course.  The selected images are by Lancelot  or Launcelot Speed, an illustrator of fiction and fairy tale books.  The picture of the rowers waiting for the coxswain begs for a caption competition!

For your interest, here’s a link to the history of women at Oxford (who were admitted as full students in 1920). It includes a list of some of the University’s more well-known graduates.

Lawn Tennis at Oxford - Launcelot Speed Waiting for the Cox - Launcelot Speed Parson's Pleasure - Launcelot Speed Cricket in the Parks - Launcelot Speed

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at http://www.gutenberg.org/license.


forgotten women: Rose Scott – feminist

One of Australia’s early feminists, Rose Scott, was apparently inspired to the cause by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

220px-Rose-Scott-1883-crop

Image of Rose Scott c 1883 per Wikipedia

The list of organisations she was actively involved in is long.  It includes The Prisoners’ Aid Association, the National Council of Women in New South Wales and the Women’s Political Education League. The well-connected Miss Scott was renowned for the salons she held in her home.  She was active in industrial issues and influential in shaping legislation to improve working conditions.  The Australian Dictionary of Biography entry, from which the following paragraph is extracted, mentions her opposition to Federation and the Olympic Games.

Rose Scott had strenuously opposed Federation and in 1900 wrote and spoke against Empire involvement in the South African War. Always a staunch opponent of competition and aggression, she became president of the Sydney branch of the Peace Society in 1908. As well as her involvement in post-suffrage feminist reform campaigns, including the Testator’s Family Maintenance and Guardianship of Infants (1916), Women’s Legal Status (1918) and First Offenders (Women) (1918) Acts, she took part in cultural activities and was a foundation member of the Women’s Club established in 1906 by Dr Mary Booth. She was president of the New South Wales Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Association from 1908 until 1911 when she clashed with its leading swimmer, Fanny Durack, over her competing at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games—she objected to the Olympics on pacifist grounds, also to women appearing in competitions when men were present.

Papers relating to her not insignificant contributions are held at the State Library of New South Wales.

In 1921, a few years before her death, Rose Scott gave an address to the Feminist Club in Sydney where they were honouring her with a luncheon.  She concluded with these words.

My time for active work has now drawn to a close. The advice I give to you who are now to carry on the work is: Avoid distinctions of class and creed, party politics, and squabbles with men. Such things limit one’s outlook and dim one’s vision. Learn to distinguish between the good and the evil in every reform, and remember woman’s cause is man’s. Never descend to personal abuse. Be sure of your facts, and remember that every cause demands patience and self-sacrifice. And, above all, be loyal to your sex.

Her obituary appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 April 1925.  She was 78 years old.

Rose Scott


forgotten women: Hazel de Berg – oral historian

The digitising of collections in our national and state libraries and museums is making much more than just photographs and objects more accessible.  The content of reels of tape, recorded decades ago, is also finding its way online.

The work of Hazel de Berg forms the basis of the oral history collection in the National Library of Australia.  Around 4 years after Mrs de Berg began using a tape recorder in her work with people with visual disablities, this article in the Canberra Times noted her prolific rate of recording the voices and work of Australian poets and the modest grant she received to continue collecting their readings and stories.


The Canberra Times – 17 October 1961 Hazel de Berg

A woman with an unusual hobby visited Canberra yesterday. She is Mrs. Hazel de Berg ….. a tape-recorder enthusiast from Sydney.  Mrs de Berg’s interest in tape-recording originated from her idea to present taped recitals at Blind Institutes in Sydney.  She was granted £100 from the Commonwealth Literary Fund after she presented some of her recordings at the Adelaide Festival last year.

Since then she has travelled Australia collecting recordings of Australian poets for the National Archives. She has recorded all living recognised Australian poets – 68 altogether – reading their own voice.  Dame Mary [Gilmore], Kenneth Slessor, [Dorothea] McKellar, Douglas Steward and Lady Hope are a few of the many she has recorded.

Last night Mrs. de Berg played some of her collection to the Canberra Fellowship of Australian writers and told them some of her experiences making the recordings. She does not interview people but records them talking about their work, interests and themselves.  The tape recordings are converted later into records and sent to the National Library archives.  Mrs de Berg will leave for Melbourne today to begin a series of recordings of Australian artists.  This afternoon she will speak to some in the Melbourne Art Gallery.  She hopes to follow that series by one on Australian authors and dramatists and another on Australian composers and musicians.

From the Australian Dictionary of Biography,

By the 1970s she was recognised as the pioneer of oral history in Australia, yet it was not a term that she favoured. She regarded herself not as an interviewer, but as a recorder of the voices, recollections and ideas of Australians of diverse ages, backgrounds and talents. She brought to this work great energy, enthusiasm, charm and perseverance, often managing to record individuals who were notoriously reticent or reclusive. Her practice of excluding her own voice from the tapes has been criticised, while the brevity of the earlier recordings limits their value. Taken as a whole, however, the de Berg tapes provide a unique record of the voices and memories of hundreds of Australians born between 1865 and 1956.

I’ve been listening to a few of the recordings.  They were not sophisticated by any means and this adds to their charm.  In the sessions with May Gibbs (then over 90 years old) you can hear traffic noise and bird sounds from her garden.  The recordings of people who knew Henry Lawson give some of the back story away. Dame Mary Gilmore (in her late nineties at the time of recording) is adamant that Henry used some of her own family’s stories to create his – The Drover’s Wife being a case in point.  Casually she drops in the odd gem – “He wanted to marry me of course”.

In 1960, Doris Fitton, actress and founder of the Independent Theatre, recorded her memories in a strong voice that was in no need of amplification from the stage.

May Gibbs (illustrator and creator of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie) had several starts for her sessions recorded in 1968, apologising for her hoarse voice brought on by fatigue.   “I could draw almost as soon as I could talk”.

There’s John O’Grady – author of “They’re a Weird Mob” using his pen name of Nino Culotta. Norman Lindsay, George Johnston, photographer David Moore and many many more.  Hazel de Berg interviewed many people shortly before their lives ended.  What might we have missed if she had not had such an enthusiasm for carting around a tape recorder and collecting their wisdom.

Postscript

11 June 2013

I was thrilled to receive this comment from Hazel de Berg’s daughter, Diana Ritch.  It gives some insight into the characteristics that Hazel applied to her work, none the least of which was the determination to achieve quality sound reproduction and to not accept no for an answer.  Thanks also to Diana for sharing more about the story of May Gibbs’ interview.

Diana Ritch has also contributed interviews to the National Library’s collection.  You’ll find them here.

Hazel de Berg was my mother and I was delighted to read your article. We, her family, are very proud of her, and my brother, sister and I grew up with her recordings as an important part of our lives. They are frequently used for radio and television programmes, and as research material for books and articles. It’s great that they are being made more accessible on line and will be enjoyed by many more people.
Mum didn’t put her voice on the recordings as she wanted the listener to feel that the person was speaking directly to them and they were not listening to an interview between two people. She went to a lot of trouble to get good quality sound on her recordings, using the best available equipment, and once even getting a group of road workers to stop drilling while she was doing a recording.

You mentioned the recording of May Gibbs. Doesn’t she have a strong voice! Not knowing Mum, she didn’t want to be interviewed, so Mum rang her every day for a month and eventually was asked “Hazel, why don’t you come over and bring your tape recorder?” When she arrived May Gibbs was in the garden and she wanted Mum to sit on a cushion on the steps and record her there, which she did. Hence the bird sounds.
I’m glad you enjoyed her work and appreciated the quality of material in the collection.

Best wishes
Diana Ritch