A Sense of Place: the artist Greg Hansell’s record of history now

 

a-sense-of-place

Invitation to A Sense of Place: the artist Greg Hansell’s record of history now, opening by Carol Roberts on Saturday, 15 October 2016, Margaret Whitlam Galleries, Female Orphan School, Western Sydney University (Parramatta Campus).

Usually, people who live in or near historic towns are well aware of the significance of place in relation to their connectivity and self-identity. They might not phrase their sense of place in formal terms, but nevertheless they know they belong and this is one aspect that jumps out at you repeatedly during conversations with artist Greg Hansell – his sense of place is ‘hard-wired’.[i]

He engages this sense of place and records history as he sees it, often depicting heritage buildings that ‘are second to midnight’ (that is, at risk of disappearing forever, either through development or lack of maintenance).[ii]

Brought up on his parents’ wheat and sheep properties near Goulburn and then Wagga Wagga, Greg Hansell considers he had a fairly unpretentious, very conservative, rural childhood. An award-winning artist, he is currently Fellow, Council member, teacher and Art School Director at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. He crushes rocks and clays to make his own pigments and, with no added binders, creates earth pastels with colour permanence of the highest rating. But his rural background is ‘hard-wired’[iii] and his methods of recording history relate to his country upbringing, his move to the Hawkesbury area and his subsequent career as an artist. His sense of place attachment and understanding of the environment surrounding place are evident in his paintings. His representations of history – his writing down of historic detail – reflect the intangible alongside the tangible heritage. His conceptual experience in relation to sense of place flows through his paintings and through his life and influences the way he delivers public history through his artwork.

I have run several historical tours based on Greg’s artistic representation of heritage sites in the Hawkesbury and we are collaborating on a book that will showcase the artist’s depictions of the Hawkesbury area. I have discovered that to hang around with Greg Hansell and visit the heritage sites depicted in his paintings encourages people to look for new perspectives and ways of interpreting place. That is what the artist aims to do.[iv] He reveals the ‘layers of life’ that revolve around a building where he ‘can exaggerate or highlight things in the architecture, such as the brick coursework and crookedness of the building…where the building has slumped over the years and become tired’.[v]

homage-to-bricklayers-various_a

There is a term, ‘liminality’, that means drawing or inviting the viewer in to a snapshot of the past and Hansell explains that in relation to the term liminality, he ‘almost takes the viewer by the hand’ and guides them through the paintings to discover objects from the past like upturned milk crates, old bits of cars, pieces of rusting iron or farm tools.[vi]

It has been said of Greg Hansell that, ‘as he lives and works in a place he loves and doing what he chooses, Hansell is really one of the lucky ones’.[vii] His footprints are well and truly in the Hawkesbury, but he also immerses himself in the work of other artists who have inspired him on his journey. His new exhibition is a three-part exhibition, showing works from his past, works from the present and works hanging in his house: in other words, works by people who have inspired him.

I will be opening the next exhibition, A Sense of Place: the artist Greg Hansell’s record of history now, on Saturday, 15 October in the Margaret Whitlam Galleries at the Female Orphan School, Building EZ, Western Sydney University (Parramatta Campus), off Victoria Road, Rydalmere, at 2.00pm. Parking is available at $8 per day. The exhibition will continue until 20 January 2017.

copyright Carol Roberts 2016

[Image, part of Hansell’s Homage to bricklayers various, earth pastel]

[i] Gary E. Holmes, James R. Patterson and Janice E. Stalling, ‘Sense of place: issues in counselling and development’, Journal of Humanistic Counselling, Education and Development, Fall, 2003, Vol. 42, Issue 2, p. 239, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.une.edu.au/docview/212448339?accountid=17227, accessed 29 September 2012; Greg Hansell, oral history interviews with Carol Roberts, 5 November 2008 and 18 February 2011.

[ii] Greg Hansell, pers com, 5 September 2012; Carol Roberts, ‘From the ground up: exploring the use of oral history in tourism’, She said: He said: Reading, Writing and Recording History, Journal No. 36, 2014, Oral History Association of Australia, pp. 23-30.

[iii] Hansell, 5 November 2008.

[iv] Jan Dungey, ‘Where arts, imagination and environment meet’, in Heritage Interpretation, Volume 1: The Natural and Built Environment, David L. Uzzell, ed, London, 1989, p. 241.

[v] Greg Hansell, pers com, 5 September 2012.

[vi] Greg Hansell, ‘Australian landscapes: techniques in pastel’, Australian Artist, Chatswood, New South Wales, undated, pp. 20-23.

[vii] Greg Hansell: Survey catalogue, 30 October – 6 December 2009, Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, Windsor, pp. 4-5.

The ubiquitous fibro house

A shortage of building materials after the end of World War II, combined with an acute post-war rental housing shortage, saw the increased use of one of the wonder products of the twentieth century: fibro.

44 court st circa 1960

My childhood home at 44 Court Street, Windsor, c1960. My mother Iris Cammack is in the driveway. The house now has a brick facade. Photo Bert Hornery (my uncle).

While building figures in Windsor revealed that from 1930 to 1936 seventy timber and fibro cottages were built for a cost of £23,419 (approximately £335 per house), by 1948 the cost of building a basic two-bedroom fibro house had increased to approximately £1,100. The same house with land could not be purchased for less than £1,600. By the end of 1958, Wunderlich had produced ‘a vertical grooved sheet…in tune with modern design…which brings real glamour to the most economical of building materials’. At the peak of the 1950s housing boom, one-third of new homes were owner-built and most were constructed of fibro with timber frames. Many had corrugated fibro or iron roofs, but terracotta roof tiles were gradually becoming more popular.

Building contractors and owner-builders found that it was easy to extend or renovate a fibro house and although considered a little bit ‘low class’, one big advantage of fibro was that it was fire-resistant. With fibro or timber strap work covering the joins, fibro was popular for houses, garages, sheds and shops and was painted with Kalsomine in pastel colours of cream, baby blue, green, pink or white. For many, the concept of freshly-painted white walls with red roof tiles represented an ‘overall effect of cleanliness’.

One drawback to living in a fibro house is that fibro does not insulate as well as brick and the rooms are freezing in winter. However, the fibro era was about cheap, modest, affordable housing and home ownership and to some, the fibro house ‘was stunning in its excellence…a complete house…in its own garden’.

Fibro house 2 Dec 2015 edit

My article published in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 2 December 2015.

Fibro became an expression of the Australian identity. Artist Reg Mombassa comments that fibro was ‘the wonder building material of the 1950s and 1960s…inexpensive, durable and ubiquitous’, while the author, Patrick White, writes that ‘at night the fibro homes reverberated’ with the noise and excitement of families.

The house at 44 Court Street, Windsor, built by local builder Arthur Mullinger in 1952 for Iris and Alf Cammack, epitomised for the owners the dream of a detached dwelling on one level on a large, quarter-acre block in the town. No 44 had red terracotta roof tiles, nine foot ceilings, a large lounge room with a brick fireplace, separate dining room and kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, laundry (with second toilet) and a rear verandah which was later converted into a third bedroom. The block of land allowed room for the building of a large garage by the owner, as well as poultry, fruit trees and extensive gardens. Fibro, for many post-war ‘baby-boomers’, is a reminder of the Australian suburban backyard associated with memories of growing up with space to dream, run and play.

copyright Carol Roberts

References:

Carol Roberts, ‘When fibro was norm’, Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 2 December 2015.

Pickett, Charles. The Fibro Frontier: a different history of Australian architecture, Powerhouse Publishing and Doubleday, Haymarket, Sydney, 1997.

‘New record, Windsor building figures, big 1936 increase’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 22 January 1937, National Library of Australia Trove Article 86044095, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 26 September 2015.

‘Fibro house’, Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, 31 August 1948, National Library of Australia Trove Article18083078, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 26 September 2015.

‘Fibro retains its lead’, Western Herald, Friday, 12 December 1958, National Library of Australia Trove Article 103993038, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 26 September 2015.

Family information from Carol Roberts (daughter of Iris and Alf Cammack), at cjr5711@bigpond.com.

Photograph of Iris Cammack in front of 44 Court Street, Windsor, c1960, courtesy of Carol Roberts (photograph by Bert Hornery).