Looking up - Sydney's history from a new angle


The Archibald Prize

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on July 23, 2014. [No comments]

JF Archibald between 1910-19. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales. A5823001 / P1/2150, Mitchell Library

JF Archibald between 1910-19. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales. A5823001 / P1/2150, Mitchell Library

This morning on 2SER our guest historian, Nicole Cama, joined Mitch Byatt to look at the history of the prestigious and often controversial award, the Archibald Prize.

The prize was founded by the eccentric journalist and publisher, Jules Francois Archibald. When he died in 1919 he left behind an estate then valued at £89,061, which was then an incredible amount of money.

In his will he stated that part of his money go toward an annual prize “…to be styled The Archibald Prize for the best portrait preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in arts letters science or politics painted by any artist resident in Australia during the 12 months preceding the date fixed…”

The Dictionary has an interesting article on the prize written by the former Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon. Capon notes that there are two elements to the clause in Archibald’s will that have ensured the success and longevity of the prize: the first, that the prize not be judged by curators, art historians, critics or other such professionals but by the members of the Board of Trustees, that is, ordinary men and women; and  that the portraits had to be painted in the 12 months leading up to the award. As a result, artists have always created works of their time, depicting contemporary subjects. In this sense, the Archibald has become a social and cultural snapshot of the time within each prize is awarded, reflecting contemporary values.

One particular year that stood out for its controversy was1943 when William Dobell won the prize for his portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith. The reason why it caused so much controversy was because it was widely described as a ‘caricature’ and the way that Dobell painted Smith’s body was a complete break with traditional notions of how human form is represented in art. In response to all the chatter, over 150,000 people ventured to see the work, that’s a lot of people flocking to the Art Gallery of NSW back in 1943! Litigation followed, initiated by fellow artists, however, over a year later the judge determined that no court of law was empowered to set aside the decision of those legally appointed to judge the prize.

In the end, in many respects, it’s as if the controversy this prize consistently elicits is the very reason why it is so successful. As Capon notes

“…it is the source of great debate, some wonderful controversies and above all an art exhibition that the public adores…for all the fun and widespread interest it generates, artists take it very seriously and the resources of passion, craft, imagination and talent that are invested in the hundreds of portraits submitted every year are testament to the current lively state of the art of portraiture in this country.”

What’s interesting is that Penelope Seidler, the subject of Fiona Lowry’s winning portrait this year, reportedly stood in front of her portrait and said “There’s no controversy.” It appears we’ve avoided the controversy this year, but the prize is certainly still alive. According to The Sydney Morning Herald’s article on this year’s prize, there were 884 entries and last year, 136,000 tickets were sold to the exhibition of the finalists, making it the gallery’s most-visited paid show.


THE ARCHIBALD PRIZE,  The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), January 31, 1925, p 11,  from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31277548, accessed  July 22, 2014

If you missed it, you can listen to Nicole’s segment with Mitch here. Don’t forget to tune in next week for more Sydney history courtesy of the Dictionary on 2SER Breakfast at 8:20am.


Advance Australia Fair

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on July 16, 2014. [No comments]

Invitation to Washington H Soul from The Highland Society of NSW to their Annual Highland Gathering on 2 January 1901. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, a920004/MLMSS 6197, Mitchell Library

Peter McCormick is little known in Sydney, although every Sydneysider knows his work. McCormick’s principal claim to fame is as author-composer of the national song ‘Advance Australia Fair’. The Dictionary has an article by Graeme Skinner on McCormick, who was a Scottish immigrant who arrived in Sydney in February 1855, aged about 20.

McCormick briefly trained as a teacher at Fort Street Model School in 1863 and was then appointed to a school in suburban St Marys. From 1867 he taught for ten years at the Presbyterian school, Woolloomooloo, and then followed that with a stint at the local public school, Dowling (Plunkett) Street Public School from 1878 until 1885.

McCormick’s real love was music. He became involved in amateur musical societies and served as precentor (music director) of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. He wrote a couple of patriotic songs: ‘Awake! Awake! Australia’ and ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

‘Advance Australia Fair’ was first sung at the St Andrew’s Day concert of the Sydney Highland Society on 30 November 1878. The Sydney Morning Herald described the music as ‘bold and stirring’ and the words as ‘decidedly patriotic’ – it was ‘likely to become a popular favourite’.

The first clear recognition of the song’s future place in Australia’s national consciousness came in Sydney on 1 January 1901, when it was sung (with a slightly modified text) by a choir of 10,000 voices at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in Centennial Park. By 1907 the New South Wales Premier was already describing the song, according to its publisher, as ‘our national anthem’.

Three years before he died in 1916, McCormick described the inspiration of the song. He had attended a concert where several national anthems were sung. He wrote that he:

“… felt very aggravated that there was not one note for Australia. On the way home in a bus, I concocted the first verse of my song, & when I got home I set it to music. I first wrote it in the Tonic Sol-fa Notation, then transcribed it into the Old Notation, & tried it over on an instrument next morning, & found it correct … It seemed to me to be like an inspiration, & I wrote the words & music with the greatest ease.”

McCormick was very proud of his song. WH Paling & Co Ltd published the music and four verses of text under McCormick’s pen-name ‘Amicus’ in 1879.  The National Library of Australia has an extraordinary sheet music collection and they have a great free app called Forte. You can download the app and see the original sheet music which has four verses with single voice and four part voice arrangements.

When McCormick died in 1916, his obituary observed that ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was ‘recognised as something in the nature of an Australian National Anthem’. A famous recording of the song was made in 1935 by Tenor Peter Dawson did much to enhance the song’s popularity.

Until 1952, a shortened version was used as the news theme on ABC radio. The federal Whitlam Labor government first proclaimed it the national anthem, replacing ‘God Save the Queen’, in 1974, and its status was finally confirmed by the Governor-General in 1984.

You can listen to the podcast of this morning’s segment with Lisa and Mitch on 2SER Breakfast here.



No ordinary woman

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on July 9, 2014. [No comments]

Petition from Maria Lock re: land grant 1831

Petition from Maria Lock re: land grant 1831. By Maria Lock. Contributed by State Records New South Wales, NRS 907 2/7908, page 1 of 3

As part of NAIDOC week, this morning on 2SER Breakfast Lisa spoke to Mitch about an extraordinary Aboriginal woman, Maria Lock, who lived in Western Sydney in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The daughter of an Aboriginal chief, Maria had an aptitude for learning European cultural mores. She achieved educational merit in European schooling and married a British convict, which was unusual to say the least (her convict husband was assigned to her – this was unique, unheard of!). Even more extraordinary is the fact that she became a landholder -  remarkable even for a European woman of the nineteenth century, let alone an Aboriginal woman in Sydney.

So who was Maria Lock? Jack Brook’s article in the Dictionary gives us a fascinating picture of this unusual woman. We know that Maria grew up at Richmond Bottoms on the eastern floodplains of the Deerubbin, later known as the Hawkesbury River, close to today’s town of Richmond. Her grasp of English and educational achievements suggest that she grew up around, and lived virtually all of her life with, white settlers.

Maria was probably born in 1808. Her father was known as Yellomundee (Yarramundi) and her grandfather was Gombeeree. She had an elder brother called Colebee. Unfortunately, Maria’s mother’s name is unknown.

In 1814 Maria attended the first gathering of Aboriginal tribes at Parramatta, along with her father. She met Governor Macquarie and was selected to be amongst the first students of what was called the Native Institute in Parramatta. She was tutored by William Shelley and his wife. Maria was a star pupil; competing against local white children, she took out the major education award in 1819.

When Maria was 16 she married the convict Robert Lock. She most likely met him when he was building the new Native Institute at Black Town. The ceremony took place in 1824 at St John’s church at Parramatta; it was the first officially sanctioned marriage between a young Aboriginal woman and a British convict. Robert Lock was assigned to his wife. This was not unusual for a convict but it was a first for an Aboriginal woman, and unusual for the penal administration.

Robert and Maria moved to Black town and lived beside the new Native Institute, before moving to the Reverend Robert Cartwright’s farm at Liverpool, beside Cabramatta Creek. At the time of her marriage, Maria was promised ‘a small Grant of Land and a Cow as a Marriage Portion’. She received the cow, but not the grant of land, so following the deaths of Colebee and Nurraginny she claimed the 30 acres (12 hectares) of land previously granted to them in the Blacktown area. Maria and Robert, along with their ten children, took up residence on the land grant.

Robert died on 23 August 1854 aged 53. He was buried at St Bartholomew’s Church in Prospect. Maria survived him by 24 years and, on her death, all her land passed to her nine surviving children.

We have to admire Maria Lock for her intelligence and resilience. Through her cultural adaptation she found a space for her family to thrive in Western Sydney. Today the numerous descendents of Maria and Robert Lock are unreservedly proud of their ancestry and Aboriginality. Many of them still reside in the City of Blacktown.


We’re hiring!

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on July 3, 2014. [No comments]

Italian migrant John Battista and family members working in his pizza business Kensington 1966

Italian migrant John Battista and family members working in his pizza business Kensington 1966. Contributed by National Archives of Australia A12111, 1/1966/16/21

The Dictionary of Sydney is looking for an Editorial Assistant, one day per week for a one year contract starting August 2014. Applications are due 25 July 2014.

We are looking for a highly organised, experienced editor with excellent research and computer skills. Knowledge of Australian history and experience working in a digital publishing environment is desirable.

For more information, please download the position description  (381 KB PDF).

Applications, and any questions regarding the position, should be addressed to:

Mr Kim Hanna
Executive Officer
Dictionary of Sydney


Major Government