BIRTH OF A COLONY

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

the man wait­ing with a big­ger axe will fin­ish the job. Nearby a boy pre­pares glasses and no doubt warm cham­pagne for a toast.

Not ev­ery­one was as san­guine about the fu­ture of the new colony at the time. There is an 1830 print by Wil­liam Heath ti­tled Flour­ish­ing state of the Swan River thing in which we see a poor fam­ily, ap­par­ently fam­ished on a lonely beach, near a humpy with a sign declar­ing it to be the Swan River Tav­ern.

Most early works, though, em­pha­sise the beauty and po­ten­tial of the new land. Many evoke the vast empty space and thus pos­si­bil­i­ties for devel­op­ment. Views of the city of Perth reg­u­larly look down from Mount El­iza to the curve of the bay and the rows of houses ap­pear­ing be­hind it. This is what we see, for ex­am­ple, in Ho­race Sam­son’s view of Perth from Mount El­iza (1852): the orig­i­nal water­colour has the bay ex­tend­ing far into the dis­tance; the litho­graph of the same year adds a fram­ing tree for the sake of a more sat­is­fac­tory com­po­si­tion.

There is a sim­i­lar view, a few years ear­lier, in Ge­orge Nash’s An ex­ten­sive view of Perth, West­ern Aus­tralia, with a group of na­tives in the fore­ground (1846), where the pres­ence of the Abo­rig­ines in the front of the pic­ture is con­trasted with the or­derly rows of mar­ket gar­dens and or­chards be­low and the city be­yond. The na­tives are be­mused spec­ta­tors of the rapid trans­for­ma­tion of their fa­mil­iar land­scape by the Bri­tish set­tlers.

A num­ber of works look more closely at the new gar­dens and farms. Henry Wil­ley Reve­ley has a de­tailed view of My house and gar­den in West­ern Aus­tralia (1833), in which his mod­est cottage stands next to its abun­dant kitchen gar­den; on the left is the first wa­ter mill built in the colony, an im­por­tant achieve­ment and ev­i­dently a source of pride to the artist-set­tler.

Spa­cious­ness is evoked in these works, but so is the in­creas­ing pros­per­ity of the nascent city. A num­ber of pic­tures show the rows of new houses that line the streets, no­tably a pair of hand-coloured prints by Charles Dirk Wit­tenoom, both pub­lished in 1839, only a decade after the foun­da­tion of the colony, one show­ing a street in Perth and the other one in Fre­man­tle.

The much larger water­colour study of the first scene hangs next to the prints, so once again we can com­pare what the artist saw with the slightly mod­i­fied ver­sion for the print. The things that most in­ter­est him, of course, are the wide street and the hand­some houses as well as the picket fences with their im­pli­ca­tions of or­derly life, re­spect of prop­erty and pri­vacy.

Many other early pic­tures of colo­nial ci­ties — prints of Syd­ney no­tably — pop­u­late their views with care­fully cho­sen fig­ures to sug­gest the com­fort, pros­per­ity and se­cu­rity of the new

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