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Castle Hill
Art Society

Part One

Interviewee: Judy Adam, born 1941

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 24th Oct 2007

Transcription: Kevin Murray, Nov 2007

 

So tell me how you came to live in the Baulkham Hills Shire?

Actually we lived at Wentworthville and Dick worked over at Yenora in the Wool Stores, so that's why we moved into the area, which was really good. but then the children had a lot of bronchial problems so we moved out of the valley, because there's a lot of pollution down in that area... and we moved up here. So we came up here in 1972.

So this house in Castle Hill is the original house that you lived in?

Yes.

So tell me a little bit about what Castle Hill was like when you first moved here. What sort of communal spirit was there in the neighbourhood?

Wonderful, and it was more a village. And everybody knew everybody. It was very different to today. We used to go to a butcher - Shelton's - and only a couple of years ago I saw Ron Shelton and he said to me "Oh, isn't it wonderful to see an old face!" I said thank you very much... He said I apologise, but I do mean that I've known you for 30 years. And that was the type of person... everybody knew each other, and everyone helped each other. The lady up the road used to work with Riding for the Disabled and then in '76 I went out with her and joined in with Riding for the Disabled, as a charity. And thoroughly enjoyed that. And then in 1980 I started with Art.

Right, now before we get onto Art, tell me a bit about the cultural atmosphere that was here in Baulkham Hills. What was the cultural life of the citizens like in those early years?

It was very rural. There were still the orange orchards and orchards down in Showground Road. The Castle Hill Show played a very big part in Castle Hill. That was one of the highlights of the year. Everybody gathered to go and see an Agricultural Show.

Castle Hill Show 2007 with the Hills Centre in background
That has definitely changed now because of the culture. Oranges were delivered to your door, fresh from the trees once a week. They came from Kenthurst. It was $2 for a huge bag of these beautiful oranges. Everybody got together and enjoyed each other's company, and if anybody needed any help there was always someone who knew someone who could help you. It was really a great area.

Sounds almost ideal?

Well, yes, in many ways. The children enjoyed school and then they went into trades and everybody had friends, and they've still got their friends. So it means that there's obviously a good base, if you can still have your friends.

Was there any music played in the Shire? What was the music life like?

Yes, there was a lady called June Hauff who was in charge of the music, and June was wonderful. There was a lot of people getting together in small things, but she was very instrumental in keeping music in the area. And then we had the Hills Centre built. Mr Mullane was the President then. We had the Hills Centre for concerts. And that brought more entertainment into the Centre - and more accessible for the average person, which is very good.

Right, then. Let's get onto Art. Tell me about the Art scene in Baulkham Hills. What was it like when you came?

Well, I didn't know much about it to start with, but then I went to Beth Burgess and she said Please come along to class, which I did, and to the Art Society and I found there was some wonderful people who were really dedicated to Art. We had a very good committee who worked very very hard. Everybody was a volunteer - they still are today. And the membership started slowly in a little white cottage down behind the Post Office in Castle Street, and they could only rent that part of the time. And then we had to work hard to get rooms so we could have classes, because people wanted to learn how to paint. And now we have about 100 children a week, and we have adult classes in all media, plus we have two days a week where people can go and paint - Tuesday and Wednesday. And they just get together and bounce off each other and paint.

Now the Castle Hill Art Society has been going a lot longer than when you joined, of course.

Yes.

Can you tell me something about its early history? I know it's the time before you came, but what do you know of the history of the Art Society?

In 1967 Win Jensen and Marj Allnutt were the two main instigators... they got a few people together, including the Deputy Shire President, who was Councillor Caterson. He became Vice President - They got the President, Bernie Mullane, to become Patron. So they set up this little group, and the Orange Blossom Festival was formed in 1969, and they worked on getting the first Annual Art Awards in the Shire, so it was the Art Society that put all the work into it, and the Annual Art Awards are still going today, with great success. They're very popular, and the quality is getting better every year which is really wonderful.

Founding members of Castle Hill Art Society Marj Allnutt, left and Win Jensen

You came to the Shire in 1972 and joined the Art Society in 1980?

Yes.

Now, it doesn't seem to me that a community of people like farmers might be very interested in Art. Tell me what was the underlying interest from the people in having a bigger presence in Art in the Shire?

Actually a lot of people are interested. The lady who brought the oranges had an orchard out at Kenthurst, and she loves her art. Marj Allnutt was an Occupational Therapist and she was a great artist. Win Jensen when she was at home... people from all sorts of walks of life lived here and they just loved Art. They just liked seeing sculptures, paintings, and visiting the gallery, so they decided they'd bring it to the Shire.

Now, it's an entirely voluntary association, isn't it?

Yes.

So, tell me what do you need to make it work? Especially in those early days, what do you think were the ingredients that were necessary to make a successful Art Society?

Dedicated, enthusiastic people and younger people too... you do need youth. You've got to keep it so that people are coming in all the time. And that's why it's so important to have children learning. If they can get an interest and can keep painting and sculpture, pottery, whatever we're teaching. The young ones, as long as you build that enthusiasm and they carry on I think it will be a wonderful thing for the future.

So there must have been a great deal of enthusiasm in those early days, was there?

Oh yes. We still meet once a month - the first Wednesday of the month, and we have a demonstration from artists all over Sydney, sometimes from out of Sydney. The members learn quite a lot from that. They have plein air day still. We've got another one in the next couple of weeks out at the Showground there, and we have our trips - we're going to Bundeena in November for a little bus trip so that people can see and go to another area. It has always been that we had the social interaction as well as actually painting, and this is very important because people feel that even if they don't paint they can still appreciate art and be part of it.

Castle Hill Art Society members enjoying a plein air painting day at Excelsior (Bidjigal) Reserve

So what were your early activities at the Art Society after you joined? What sort of things were you involved with?

My first job actually was Tea Lady at the demonstrations. I used to get the tea for the supper. That was my first job, but I ended up as Secretary and then I became President and then I was Vice President for some time.

Tell me, how long was your term as President?

Five years.

Were you Vice President before you became President?

No, I was Secretary before I became President?

What did that involve you with, being Secretary?

Everything. I did all the entry forms for the Art Shows, organised them. Organised trips, with the help of the President of the day, but at one stage the President was living at Katoomba, so it was a phone call and I did the work down here. It was very enjoyable. I had great support from the family, so that didn't hurt it at all... it was a great help to me, because they had been behind me all the way and if I've ever needed help they have been there. If I wanted to do something they were very supportive. So it was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.

And the Secretary organises the outings as well, does she?

There was outings, and entry forms , and newsletters, the demonstrations in those days. Now we have it a little better organised... we have different people doing different things. We were a smaller committee back then, but now with 200 people we have a committee of 15, and that does help with everybody getting a little job.

So what were the hurdles in the beginning for the Art Society to get themselves established and functional, do you think?

A place of residence was the biggest hurdle because we had nowhere to actually have classes on a regular basis. So we needed that, so we went for 6 McMullen Avenue, which we shared with the pregnancy help for quite some time until they were moved out to Balcombe Heights Estate, and President Mullane said we could have the building at a very reasonable rent. So that was wonderful because we could just move everything there except for the demonstrations once a month, because we had too many people. Sometimes we could get up to 100 people and the cottage doesn't take that. So we had a hall in the Community Centre. The classes are there still today. But we also got too big for that so we now have another little cottage in the Showground, courtesy of the Agricultural Society which we're using... and that's getting used more and more.

Now did you play a particular role in getting that particular cottage at McMullen Avenue for the Art Society?

Yes. Win Jensen was working very hard at getting that, and when I became President I went down... I must admit I did annoy Councillor Mullane. I think he got to the stage where he thought if I don't do something about this I'm going to be inundated with a nuisance. But he was very good and I used to go and visit him a lot and we presented our case several times to Council and eventually we got the building.

Win Jensen's drawing of The White House, home of the Castle Hill Art Society
We have said we would share it with other people - the Tourist Information would have been good - but every time somebody's come along they decided they'd like to go elsewhere, so we're still working in the building and we do have a gallery in there as well. So even though it's partly used as a room every Sunday it's open to the public.

Is the Council leasing this to you?

Yes, we pay rent. So that's how the classes... we take money from the classes and then we have our membership, and when we have our shows, we take 25% from the sale of the paintings and all that goes back into the Society... all the money is ploughed back into rental, electricity bills, phone bills, and providing outings sometimes - we might help a little bit with that... just giving back to the people, the members.

Now, regarding that cottage in McMullen Avenue, who had owned that cottage before you were able to secure it for the Art Society?

The original owners were the McLeod family of the McLeod Flour Mills at Parramatta, and they left that for the community when they died, which was very good. The Council are the trustees of the building, for all the community.

Was it difficult to get the Council to make it available to the Art Society?

No, it was constant that we kept talking and presenting our case, but they could see that we were determined and we were in need of a building and there was nothing else that they found was suitable. So we ended up paying for the building.

Judy, what's the membership of the Art Society today?

200 members. We've been growing very rapidly. It's stabilised at the moment, but it's very popular and we loose a few and we get a few new ones. At the moment we're getting a few younger people, which is great.

When it started off, how many members would there have been?

I think the first meeting had 10. And they were mainly the committee, and then they just started getting members for that and by the 70's it had got up to about 40, and just kept growing.

So who were the people with the driving force in those very early days?

It was Win Jensen, Marj Allnutt, Bob Stenning, Fred Caterson and Mrs Hammond and Mrs Hawkins - I didn't know them - and Frank Ireland. Frank Ireland was very, very good. We didn't have any stands and nobody wanted to build stands and give them to us, so he got people, volunteers, bought the materials and built stands which we used for our shows - for the first Orange Blossom and for the Castle Hill Agricultural Society. Those stands were around for many, many years and in the 80's we got 50 new stands, which the Society paid $10,000 for, which was a lot of money back then, but we'd saved it, so we own 50 stands.

Ngaire Sales teaching children art at The White House

And this is for exhibition of paintings?

For exhibitions, yes.

Now, I'd like to know something about the activities that the Art Society is concerned with... I'll do them one by one if you like. The first is the children's classes. Tell me about those.

Children's classes - children range mainly from about 5 up to 16 - we use all mediums. Some teachers teach them to draw first. Some teach them colour, and they do a bit of pottery, they do glass painting. The range is very good  and as they get more into painting they diversify from pastels into mixed media and we encourage them to do oils. They start with still life, most of them, and we try and encourage them to actually paint from life, instead of going and just getting a photo. That doesn't always work if it's raining, so we do have pictures for the children. but the still life is the mainstay of when they're first learning to draw.

And you said there was a prize at the Orange Blossom Festival for the best children's art, is there?

We have the exhibition... we have 5 to 7, 8 to 10, 11 to 12 and 13 to 16, so there are four sections and they're sponsored by one of our members and her husband, BJ Framing, and they give a good prize for these children every year. And we usually get around 100 entries, and they're on display during the Orange Blossom Festival and the Annual Art Awards.

When are the children's classes held?

After school, Monday to Friday, and all Saturday. So it takes 3 or 4 teachers per day to keep the classes going because there's so many children. They're very, very popular up in this area.

Now the members also arrange for trips away, and one of your haunts was the Barrington Guest House. Tell me about those trips, and are there any memorable ones that you recall?

Many memorable ones. Short trips, mainly weekends, we went to places like Camden, Bowral, close areas. Barrington we went for a week... we went from Monday to Friday and stayed there. Most people drove but some went by train and the people from the guest house used to go and pick them up at Dungog, and then take them. Then we went painting on the Tuesday... they would take us out in their little bus and leave us at an area to paint. People could do what they liked, and there was a lot of entertainment. It was great cameraderie. At the time there was a kangaroo that was there, Rocky, who decided he was part of the family and one evening when we were in dinner we heard these great screams - one of the members went outside and Rocky had actually climbed into her bed and pulled the sheets up, and was lying there. They had to change the mattress and all because Pirette wasn't game to get into that bed! But you couldn't play a game of tennis without Rocky sitting in the middle of the tennis court. So you'd play tennis around Rocky. The wildlife there was beautiful. The scenery is absolutely wonderful. It's a great place.

Did that result in many memorable paintings?

Yes, there were some wonderful paintings. One year we asked artist Alan Fizzell if he would tutor, so instead of paying him, what we did was we paid for his accommodation and the week there, and he took three classes in that week, and taught, which was a great way of doing it. And every body thoroughly enjoyed it and it helped a lot of people who couldn't paint out of doors to learn how to get their parameters and use the scenery around them. So that was really very good.

Demonstration to Castle Hill Art Society members by John Perkins

When you get those teachers, what's the most valuable thing you ever pick up from those artists that come and accompany you and do demonstrations? What sort of things do the members pick up that is useful?

Depending on which medium they use, but it wouldn't matter whether they were oil or watercolour or mixed media, you can always pick up on tones and colours and composition and every teacher, no matter what they teach has something that you all learn. Depending on how much you concentrate, I should imagine, but it's always useful.

Now you also have done some trips to the National Gallery in Canberra and the National Portrait Gallery. Tell me about some of those.

When ther's a good exhibition, we usually take a big coach and we travel down for the day - leave early in the morning and get back late in the evening, and see as  much as we can of the galleries. The War Memorial is the most popular gallery down there. I'm afraid the National is not quite as popular. But it's just a way of educating and having people get together. And then we'd go sometimes to the NSW Gallery. These days we don't take a coach in - transport's a bit difficult in Sydney, so we say we are going, if you wish to be there we will meet you there. And everybody gets together then. Sometimes down to the Botanic Garden for the Botanic Art - they have exhibitions there, we go there. The S H Ervin Gallery is another place - actually one of our members had an exhibition there, Mavis Turner, not so long ago. It's always very interesting to find galleries. And then other than that we take coaches up to the Blue Mountains and we've been through there and visited all the different galleries we can get in one day, and come back the same day.

Sounds like a lot of fun for the members, is it, all those trips?

It is, they thoroughly enjoy it. And then there's also just the social side of the Art Society, whether we have a couple of dinners, lunches a year and everybody gets together and last year their Christmas Luncheon was out on the Macquarie Princess up Berowra Waters and they went on the ferry and back again for the day. Which also gives them extra areas to paint because you're seeing the landscape from a totally different aspect.

The day and evening classes for adults. Tell me about those. What happens there?

We have day classes - drawing, pastel, oil, mixed media and then we also have the evening class - mainly the oils or mixed media. Watercolour is not very good at night because our lighting... and most people don't paint watercolour at night unless you've got a really good daylight lamp, so it's mainly oil at night, and drawing.

Right, now how many people would go to those classes.

I'm not sure of the exact number at the moment, but I'd say probably 50 or 60 people over the week would go to the adult classes, and then the Tuesday there's 12 and Wednesday it fluctuates between 12, 14 sometimes, and they're the groups that just work together. And then we have the life drawing class once a month, and they get a model, and they can have about 10, 12 people because there's not much room for any more. And then we have portrait on another day. So it gives you a complete coverage really for actual painting.

You mentioned "plein air". Tell me what that really is.

It's painting outdoors, and one of our members, Evelyn Hill organises that and people get a little bus, or they get a car, depending on the area. next month they're going down to the Showground, so everybody can get there themselves, and you paint the scenery where you are. It's very good.

Castle Hill Art Societ members enjoying a plein air painting day at Wilberforce

What opportunities exist for the Art Society members to exhibit their work?

We have the Whitehouse Gallery, which we call Whitehouse, which is 6 McMullen Avenue. Upstairs we call the Whitehouse, and downstairs we call 10 Downing Street... We just haven't got Australia House yet. But they can exhibit there all year around. They have small exhibitions - the next one's at Knightsbridge Shopping Centre where they can exhibit small paintings. And then they can exhibit in the big exhibitions, like the Orange Blossom Festival, the Castle Hill Show. They're the main areas of exhibiting.

Are there any exhibitions held at the Castle Hill Library?

Not in the Library, no. We have had a couple of exhibitions down below...  there's an open gallery area in the Castle Grand, just near the Library, and we've had a couple of exhibitions down there. They're mainly to expose the Art Society, so people learn about it, more than selling points.

Right. Now you also put on a yearly exhibition of students' HSC art work...

That's the Australia Day, yes. That is down in the Council Chambers, and it's from students from around the area and the local schools. It's very interesting because the styles change from year to year depending on what's happening in the world... there's not just what's happening locally. There's an international flavour, you see, right throughout the work.

Go To Part Two

 

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