The Christmas Observer: A Triumph of Australian art [12 December 1906]

[Editor: A review of the Christmas edition of The Observer. The section regarding literature, “The Literary Contents”, includes some interesting comments on the future of Australian literature. Published in The Register, 12 December 1906.]

The Christmas Observer.

A Triumph of Australian art.

To be published to-morrow.

A journal which has been a distinct pioneer in the direction of improving the taste of the South Australian public in pictorial art is The Observer. Its gallery of art photographs presented every year at Christmas time has earned quite a worldwide reputation for the paper, and is eagerly looked forward to by the people in general and lovers of the beautiful in particular.

The present issue is placed before the public with the confident intimation that it is the best that has been produced from this office, and it needs little more than a cursory glance to prove the correctness of the statement. The photographs speak for themselves. Every one is a work of art which might be framed and cherished as a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.

Mr. J. Kauffmann, who had the advantage of a Continental training, has long since been recognised as one of the foremost photographers in Australia, and his pictures combined with artistic work in each stage of the reproduction have led to the highly successful result achieved. There is a subtle charm about the supplement which mere words cannot express, and one of the most gratifying features of the publication is that it is produced entirely in Adelaide, and is the work of the staff employed by The Observer.

The pictures for the latest Christmas issue are printed in Rembrandt brown, and this suggests that the front work might pass as the reproduction of an old master. The beauty of Mr. Kauffmann’s studies is that they are so far removed from ordinary photographs with hard and sharp black-and-white contrasts that they might easily be mistaken for counterfeits of notable works of art.

The frontispiece is an old woman standing at the gate of a dilapidated cottage somewhere in the neighbourhood of Baker’s Flat, an ancient village adjacent to Kapunda, of which more anon. The old pioneer is leaning on the partly opened wooden gate, which is supported on heavy iron hinges. The circle of fencing wire denotes the primitive fastener. The low, rough stonewall and the wattle and dab hut, with its quaint little windows and the roof overgrown with grass and moss, are characteristic of a condition of things which has passed away, except in a few isolated cases. The broad, stout figure, and the head encircled in a hand kerchief, harmonize with the other surroundings. There are a depth of softness and an evenness of tone in the picture which is quietly captivating. In fact, there is not a discord or a distracting element in the study.

— Gumtrees and Horses. —

The next page is devoted to two views which are typical of the country. Gumtrees and horses are the predominant features — they are, as it happens, grey horses, and to please the poet Ogilvie, fair women are wanted to complete the picture, but these must be supplied by the imagination.

The first is a fine, healthy, robust scene at Mount Crawford, a spot which has long been famous for its merino sheep. The picture is entitled “Logrolling,” and four fine upstanding staunch horses are drawing on a lorry made for the purpose a huge gum log, the remains of one of the giant eucalypti which flourish on the broad expanse of fertile flat shown in the photograph. There is movement in the horses, the composition is good, and there are nice light and shade in the picture.

The second photograph is entitled “Backwater on the Murray,” and it is a typical billabong. There are a wealth of green gums which might stand for the good years, and a fair sprinkling of lean long lank dead trees, which might typify the years of drought. Three grey horses have come down to the water to drink. One, with its back to the camera, is having a bountiful refresher; but the other horses, with ears pricked, are watching the intruder. One who knows such places can imagine crested pigeons settling on the dry stumps and hear ringnecks and rock pebblers fly by uttering their raucous notes. This is a true pictures of a billabong on Australia’s great waterway. Both these views are by Mr. C. H. Scott.

— The Village. Watervale. —

Any one who has enjoyed that delightful drive from Saddleworth to Clare has happy memories of Watervale, which nestles in an amphitheatre of encircling hills, and Mr. Kauffmann’s photograph of the old time village is as faithful as it is artistic. Even the rough posts supporting the barb-wire, instead of being distracting, give a grace of line to the picture. Here, again, the composition is excellent, and the soft, sympathetic tone of the photograph perfect. A feature of the scene are the Scotch thistles, which make a very strong foreground. Over the hill the vines flourish.

The old portion of the vineyard at Spring Vale, the show place of Watervale, was planted by Capt. Hughes nearly half a century ago. So the quaint and picturesque little village has quite a history of its own, not forgetting the Stanley Grammar School, so ably presided over for many years by Mr. J. S. St. Carlyon Cole.

— “The Ring.” —

This is a full-page figure study showing a young girl in profile contemplating with loving intensity a ring on her engagement finger. The figure is naturally, gracefully, and beautifully posed, and the mould of the face and hands and the light clinging clothes are admirably reproduced, while the background, atmospheric in treatment, throws the subject into most artistic relief.

“The Ring” was recently exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society’s exhibition, London, together with one of Mr. Kauffmann’s landscapes.

Referring to the work, one of the leading photographic journals remarked: — “‘The Ring,’ by Mr. J. Kauffmann, Adelaide — This is the single figure in profile of a lady who contemplates a ring on her finger. The beauty of the sitter in pose and features secures the success of this.”

Another journal referred to the picture as follows: — “There will be few who are not charmed with the head and pose of the lady in ‘The Ring.’ by Mr. Kauffmann.”

Still another paper said: — “‘The Ring’ is a distinctly satisfactory performance, restrained, in effect and decorative in form.”

— “Early Spring.” —

This is sure to be one of the most admired of all the pictures; it is a photograph of trees and bountiful growth in the park lands at early spring, with the spires and tower of St. Peter’s Cathedral in the middle distance. A superb atmospheric effect has been secured by Mr. Kauffmann, which is further enhanced by the strong foreground. This is a photograph which prows on one, and is worthy of such commendation as can be fairly applied to very few pictures.

— Scene in the Botanic Park. —

“Burning Autumn Leaves” was taken under the pines in the Botanic Park, and Mr. Kauffmann has secured his picture at the psychological moment. The big wheelbarrow has been brought alongside the fire, which is throwing up a great volume of smoke, and the labourer is in the act of feeding the flames with more dry leaves. There is an evenness and subtlety of tone in this exquisite landscape, in which simple labour catches some of the dignity and the beautiful atmosphere so thoroughly characteristic of Millet’s masterpieces.

— “The Pet of the Family.” —

This happy and inviting study will appeal to many. A fine strong youth full of health and vigour most naturally posed in front of an old-time cottage is nursing a pretty little fox terrier puppy, and from appearances is showing it every possible care and tenderness. The picture is well named. The interest is skilfully sustained by a concentration ot light and shade round the figure of the boy.

— Baker’s Flat — A Romance. —

Half a page is devoted to Mr. Kauffmann’s photographs of Baker’s Flat, an old time village adjacent to the town of Kapunda, which was settled about the time of the commencement of the working of the Kapunda Mine.

The men on the mine consisted in the main of Cornish miners, who toiled underground, and a large proportion of Irishmen, who worked in the smelters and engaged in various other occupations in connection with the mine. The Cornish miners lived principally on allotments within the township bounds, while the Irishmen settled on the place known as Baker’s Flat, and without possessing any title to the land, they built themselves huts as shown in the photographs.

There they lived in peace and comfort for many years. As a matter of fact, some of them are residing there to-day. With the closing of the Kapunda Mine many of the huts became untenanted, and some of them have fallen into ruins.

Others again are still occupied by descendants, or in some instances by wives of the original occupiers, as shown in the frontispiece, which is wonderfully typical. The people, as a matter of fact, began to believe that the properties were their own, although they held no title to the land in any shape or form, and had simply squatted there, built themselves huts, consisting mostly of wattle and dab, and had continued to reside there ever since.

A portion of the land belonged to residents in England, and steps were taken at one time to obtain possession of it. The major part of the land is of very little use for any other purpose than that for which it has been used for so many years, as the water from the mine impregnated with copper was pumped up in hundreds of thousands of gallons, and ran all over it into the River Light, thus preventing anything in the shape of vegetation. On the other side of the River Light, which runs through Baker’s Flat, a little grass occasionally grew, and this ground was used by the old residents for the purpose of keeping a cow or a goat, and rearing a few geese.

However, the land belonged to people in England, and a part of it was sold by auction, the late Mr. James White and others becoming the purchasers. It seemed a pity to disturb the poor old folk, because the land was really of not much use, and the early settlers determined to resist any attempt to take possession of the property which they had occupied for so many years, and which they considered their own. However, to test the matter, the late Mr. James White sent his nephew down to Baker’s Flat with a flock of sheep. The old women turned out with broomsticks and similar weapons of warfare, and gave the intruders the option of either taking the sheep away or going head first into the Light. They chose the former course, and the sheep were accordingly turned off the property, and Mr. White and those with him were escorted to the boundary of the section by the old people.

Since then no attempt has been made to interfere with them so far as land on the Kapunda side of the Light is concerned, but the other portion has been sold — and the old-time residents came to the conclusion that it was better not to offer any further resistance there.

— Other Features. —

There is a delightful page of landscapes and seascapes, taken principally at Port Adelaide, and on the banks of the Torrens Lake by Mr. Kauffmann. Among them is “Woods in Sunshine,” a scene on the Torrens, a photograph which in conjunction with “The Ring” was awarded first prize (a beautiful silver plaque) at a recent competition in London opened to the world outside of Europe.

There is a capital half-page picture entitled “On the Sturt near Marion,” a highly commendable bit of photographic work by Mr. W. S. Smith, who also contributes an excellent page of views taken in and around that picturesque old settlement of Marion and Edwardstown.

St. Mary’s Church on the South road, an old-time residence at Edwardstown, and the picturesque house on Jordan Park, now called Sydney Park, are included. Mr. Seth Ferry says the last-mentioned house was built as a blind over an excavation where an illicit still was run. “The Master” had the underground department cemented, and used as rooms for the jockeys. He himself often retreated there from the heat in the summer time.

— The Literary Contents. —

The literary portion of the Christmas number is, as usual, interesting and various tales by well-known English writers, such as Rita, John Strange Winter, Edith Ayrton Zangwill, and Mabel Quiller-Couch being included. But the salient point is the strong Australian section, seven out of 15 short stories provided by Australian writers, four of them South Australians.

Much has been written concerning the future of Australian literature, and diverse views expressed; but one thing seems certain — that only when the manufacture of the traditional local colour, necessary in fiction made for export is abandoned, and authors write sincerely of life as they find it, each “Drawing the thing as he sees it,” as Kipling says — without heeding the prejudices of English publishers or public, can any really typical development be hoped for.

Only when Australian books are written for Australian readers will a distinctive literature be evolved. In this movement the weekly press must be mainly instrumental, including as it does features more in the line of magazine literature than ordinary newspaper work.

It has been a tradition of The Observer to encourage local writers, and at the same time to insist on a high standard, and the present number bears witness to the soundless of this policy. What trend Australian work will finally take time alone will show.

There is a hint of the quality that distinguishes Mary Wilkers Freeman’s earlier work in “The Lesser Love,” by Sydney Partridge. This is a dainty little tale of home life, in which between the routine of daily tasks there lurks an undertone of that sadness that is the heritage of the too sensitive soul.

Work of quite a different style is to be found in “A Flutter for a Fortune,” a tale of the Thursday Island pearl fisheries, by Arthur A. D. Bayldon — a thrilling story of fortune seeking, in which a Japanese diver and a mysterious bed of priceless pearlshell play their parts. The mingled monotony and expectancy of pearling is described, and the weird visions of the underworld seen by the diver. There is a thrill right through.

Although the scene of “Nettoyage a Sec” is laid in Paris, the author of that humorous little sketch is Australian. A phase of Australian life — the not too happy existence of a country trooper — forms the subject of “Concerning Richard Spavin, Escapee,” by J. A. Raws.

A most pathetic little tale connected with a famous picture recently sold in Australia is touchingly told in “Granny’s Pilgrimage,” by Cyril Vaill. “The Treasure Box,” by Mrs. J. S. Weston, is a well-written narrative, in which there is some very pleasant character drawing. In “The Worker,” by Alice Grant Rodman, we have a little love story with an Australian background.

Among the Engish stories “Little Mother Christmas” is a characteristic piece of writing by Edith Ayrton Zangwill; “Christmas Among Thieves,” by Robert H. Sherard, gives a distinctly new aspect of the festive season; “Shooting a Ghost,” by G. W. Skene, deals with a rather serious practical joke.

Other interesting items are “Cupid in a Motor,” by Mabel Quiller-Couch; “And Then What Happened,” by John Strange Winter, “The Professor’s Night Out,” by Frances Gribble, “The Making of Percy Barrett,” by C. G. Compton, and “The Crank,” by Rita. Some quaint and graceful verses entitled “The Ideal,” by W. G. H., are worth attention.

A seasonable flavour pervades the rest of the contents. The Bookshelf column has a special guessing competition, besides other items of festive kind. Altogether The Observer Christmas number for 1906 is well worth buying.

The Register (Adelaide, SA), Wednesday 12 December 1906, page 7

Editor’s notes:
nettoyage a sec = (French) dry cleaning

[Editor: Corrected “rock peblers” to “rock pebblers”; “Nelloyage” to “Nettoyage”; “gussing” to “guessing”.]

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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