From the Illustrated Sydney News: 6 May 1854 comes this image of a circus performance at Hanging Rock Diggings. Gold was discovered in Hanging Rock (SE of Tamworth in New South Wales) in late 1851. The touring circus was formed by horseman James Henry Ashton who appears in the Australian Dictionary of Biography under the entry for his sons whose dynasty went on to include exotic animals in their shows. The inclusion of exotic animals such as elephants and lions in circus is now banned across many (but not all) jurisdictions in Australia.
[James Henry Ashton] whose real name may have been Wild, was reputedly a clog-dancer and circus performer from Colchester, Essex, England, who had arrived in Australia in the 1840s. After success as a ‘bold and fearless’ equestrian at Radford’s Amphitheatre, Hobart Town, in 1848-49 and at Port Phillip, he performed at John Malcolm’s Amphitheatre, Sydney, in September 1851 and later at J. S. Noble’s Olympic Circus. His first wife Mary died aged 19 at Maitland in 1852, and next year at Hanging Rock, near Tamworth, he married Elizabeth Critchley. By May 1854 he had formed Ashton‘s Royal Olympic Circus and for the next thirty-five years he toured eastern Australia with his variously grandly titled circus.
This article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 March 1938 featured photographer Olive Cotton.
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.
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.
“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.
In April of 1939 Cotton and Dupain were married in Sydney.
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.
One of Australia’s early feminists, Rose Scott, was apparently inspired to the cause by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
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.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 16 September 1921 published an obituary of Mrs William Curnow (Matilda Susanna Curnow – nee Weiss). Read more of the obituary here. A letter of appreciation of her contribution to the establishment of the Women’s Literary Society was published in the same edition.
There is a mention of Matilda Curnow in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the post about her newspaper journalist and editor husband William Curnow.
MrsCurnow, with Maybanke Anderson and Louisa Macdonald, helped to establish free kindergartens and was a founder of the Women’s Literary Society and of the Women’s College, University of Sydney. Lady Poore in her Recollections of an Admiral’s Wife (London, 1915) described her as ‘a light-hearted and intelligent lady of eighty’—in 1909 she founded the Optimists’ Club of New South Wales with Lady Poore as president and Sir George Reid as patron. She died aged 92 on 15 September 1921.