Jane Bennett - Sydney's exemplary
Artist of the "Industrial Revelation"
and Breakfast Point.
This webpage contains newspaper articles and other notes on the work of Sydney artist Jane Bennett
who has been painting the fast-disappearing industrial sights/sites of Sydney, especially in their
final hours - thereby adding significantly to our record/remembrance of them.
The old industrial sites must go. Many or most have already been replaced, sometimes by significant
amounts of parklands or open spaces (as around the Olympics site, Homebush Bay) and at other times
by a luxury lifestyle vision of "NEW SUBURBIA" - for which Rosecorp's Breakfast Point redevelopment
of the once mighty Mortlake Gasworks is well known as a prime example.
The fall of another "industrial cathedral" (old gas plant at Mortlake) - painted by Jane as demolition began.
[ it is a rare instance indeed, when any former gasworks structure is allowed to remain standing. And that is deplorable, in my mind."
- Dr Allen W. Hatheway (one of the world's foremost experts knowledgeable about old gasworks). ]
The present writer, John Byrnes, came upon the work of Jane Bennett because he collects or looks for various information pertaining to the Parramatta River (e.g. the past of the river, how it formed, any surviving signs of higher sealevel along the river, traces of the aboriginal people, the inter-relationships between chemical works along the river whereby the wastes or byproducts of one became feedstock of another, and so on).
Please contact the writer at email@example.com if you have any questions or can supply any information on these topics.
STATEMENTS BY THE ARTIST
Jane Bennett - "In 1985 I began to paint and draw Sydney’s industrial heritage sites. I am not the only one to have become concerned at the astounding rate of Sydney’s development in the past two decades, and I became both fascinated and repelled by the scenes of destruction. I seem to have an uncanny instinct for selecting subjects that are about to vanish & experienced great frustration at painting to an unknown but inevitable time limit as whole suburbs were demolished as fast as I could paint them. Ironically part of the attraction of such places is their poignant impermanence. I sought to paint the landscape forever poised at the moment of transition – at the first bite of the bulldozer – at the point of maximum contrast between past & future`...... This series of works is not merely a record of visual appearances, but a narrative sequence of the dismantling of relics of the Industrial Revolution – an industrial 'momento mori'. The paintings express the eternal conflict between hope for the future & regret for the loss of the past." ( See the artist's fuller statement HERE. ).
ARTICLES ABOUT JANE IN THE PRESS
Introducing Jane - by Bianca Lipai. This is a piece written in advance of the exhibition at Breakfast Point in the Community Hall. The formal opening/dedication of the Community Hall at Breakfast Point may perhaps be the best time to pin down as the "turning point" between the past and the present for the new settlement of Breakfast Point - comprising an official opening of the Community Hall, a vital part of the Rosecorp "New Suburbia" vision - to foster sense of community. This had His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales in attendance. The Prince planted a Bunya pine at the event, on 4 March 2005, which tree now carries a living symbolism of this point in time for as long as it may live. (Alternatively the day when the first new settler of Breakfast Point moved into their home, an earlier point in time could be selected as turning point but that day is not known, and did not receive any fan fare.)
"Soon it will be impossible for the residents of the recently christened suburb of Breakfast Point to imagine this chapter of Australia's history."
- Jane Bennett, 2005. (Solo Exhibition "Breakfast Point", March 7-15, at the Community Hall. )
The exhibition at Breakfast Point Community Hall, 7-13 March 2005.
In the year before her major exhibition at the Community Hall in Breakfast Point, Jane was also asked to display her
artwork of the AGL site at the City of Canada Bay Library (Fivedock) as part of History Week activities.
(Source: District News, 9 September 2004 - article "Casting Light on Local History".)
And the year before that, Jane won the 2003 Inaugurla City of Canada Bay Art Prize.
( Source: "City Scapes to Nudes" by Tara Commerford, District News, 26 August 2003)
About the same exhibition at Summer Hill in 2003, by Mary Powis in North Shore Times, 1 August 2003, page 10
Talk at Rocks Discovery Museum, November 2009 -
ARTIST JANE BENNETT RE THE MORTLAKE GAS WORKS BEING DEMOLISHED TO CREATE THE NEW SUBURB BREAKFAST POINT
Here are notes made by Jane when painting the scene at the time of the demolition of the CWG retort house:
16 Kamilaroy Road
West Pymble 2073
Tel: (02)9498 6757
Mob: 0437 371 058
Blogs: Industrial Revelation Painting Barangaroo
Painting on site was an endurance test - the distance from where I could park my car to where I wanted to paint was over a kilometre & I had to cart my equipment (folding table & chair, french box easel, trolley luggage with brushes, painting medium, water & lunch) in at least 2, more often 3 trips back & forth. It was especially dangerous after wet weather as there were many holes & channels full of water. The drainage was poor and the surrounding soil was boggy & treacherous. There were many half hidden wires and bits of twisted metal sticking out of the bog, often forcing me to backtrack to find a less dangerous path.
The C.W.G. building had been neatly sliced in half and behind it was a magnificent 40 metre chasm, which had been dug to remove the coal tar residue. The sandstone chasm looked like the Grand Canyon, and there were many other channels dug into the rock. Against it the C.W.G. Building loomed overhead. I had to write myself a 'post it note' to attach to my easel to remind me not to walk backwards to admire my painting!
The C.W.G. building had a resident pair of peregrine falcons, which soon got used to me as Artist in Residence as I would keep still for long periods of time.There were a couple of temporary lakes in front of the ruins, and they attracted enough waterfowl to make Attenborough sick with envy.
Coal tar still bubbled out of the ground in stray patches. One of the most spectacular tomato plants that I had ever seen was growing wild from a pool of pure unadulterated coal tar - it had a stem thicker than my wrist and over 40 of the largest, ripest tomatoes bursting out of their skins! However, I noticed that nothing ate the fruit or the leaves - no pests, no rats, no birds.
The whole site stank of coal tar, especially just after a storm. On a hot day I could feel waves of it rising from the drying rock. It didn't bother me - I have sensitive skin & for many years had to use soap, shampoo & skin products made from coal tar to combat allergies.
The derelict buildings looked spectacular against their backdrop of glorious golden sandstone. The sun made the sandstone appear to glow, especially just before a storm. Often it would start raining in the surrounding suburbs, but the sandstone escarpment seemed to still be bathed in sunshine- the sandstone seemed almost to repel the rain.
One of the major attractions of the C.W.G. building was the mad network of bright red bollards propping up the few remaining walls. There had been so many tunnels dug around under & through it that I knew that there was little possibility of architectural restoration, which sadly proved to be correct. There was a small box attached to its southern wall which was supposed to record the 'stress' or something to which the building was subjected. It had a beacon on top, & I was supposed to evacuate the premises immediately & run away screaming if it started flashing in case the much-abused building decided to give up the ghost & fall on me. The peregrines used to set the beacon off all the time to kill time while they were waiting for an unwary small bird or mouse. After several dozen false alarms, I wrapped a jumper over it, & the peregrines retreated, sulking. I knew that the developers had made up their mind to demolish it, regardless.
I was lucky enough to witness its demolition [the ink drawing at the top of this webpage is of the start of the process - JGB].
The developers laughed at me for drawing it rather than taking photos. However back then, digital cameras were not as tough, reliable or as easy to use as they are now, and their brand new & horribly expensive digital camera didn't work at all. I completed about 8 detailed ink drawings on the day, one of which I later had the pleasure of selling to them.
Breakfast Point village green and community hall (Novermber 2010)
The community hall, also termed the "eucemical hall" by Mr Bob Rose in his initial vision, 2002. (Photo: Jim Bar, Sydney resident)
His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales on 4 March 2005, planting the commemorative Bunya Pine tree outside the Community Hall to mark its completion. An exhibition of about 30 paintings of the A.G.L. site, mostly of the C.W.G. building, by Jane Bennett, was inside the hall.
The founders, Bob and Margaret Rose, 2005 - on creating community (Autumn 2005 newsletter):
"In the hectic world we live in, we often forget how important tradition is in keeping us connected on a deeper level. Traditions promote strength and purpose as well as a keen sense of unity. Songs and stories help pass traditional messages on from generation to generation and help create strong communities. Strong communities promote a sense of trust and a sense of belonging, particularly for children. A great development like Breakfast Point requires a true community with a strong sense of place and long term appeal and value".
Community hall (left), village green, and country club (right).
Breakfast Point Country Club, and a pagoda at left.
Ghost of the Mortlake gas works. Today almost nobody remembers the Mortlake gas works and for writing this webpage the above fuzzy photo of the carbonising plant back in the 1950s was the only photo of it that at first could be readily found. (Photo: AGL)
The gas works began at Mortlake in or about 1884 when the gas company (Australian Gas Light Company) purchased 32 ha of land at 'Mortlake'. Gas production was underway there by 1886. The Mortlake works of the Australian Gas Light Company (AGL) opened for business on 23 May 1886. AGL's earlier gasworks at Darling Harbour had opened in 1837. Their new works were modelled on the Beckton Works in East London, and AGL's engineer, Thomas Bush had previously been employed at Beckton.
The Mortlake AGL site largely cleared and stripped. The buildings A (Powerhouse), B (Blacksmiths) and C (Plumbers) - see below - are visible. Also seen still standing is the retort house shell which Jane Bennett painted. This view is apparently at/near the end of the rehabilitation, which was a four year job ending in 2002.
End of rehab was in 2002. In 1998 Thiess Services was contracted to remediate the former AGL Gasworks site at Mortlake. Valued at $47 million, this was the largest gasworks remediation ever undertaken in Australia. The project involved excavation and containment of more than 1.2 million cubic metres of tar-contaminated soils and bedrock, importation and placement of 600,000 cubic metres of clean soils, thermal desorption of 25,000 tonnes of tar wastes, demolition of numerous gasworks structures, and and off-site disposal of hazardous tar sludges at so far unknown places. The Mortlake remediation included treatment of the:
• Tar and tarry sludges present in the large former dam at the site, as wall as in the regular tar pits and pipes.
• Purifier beds containing spent oxide (the most problematic component of "gas works fill").
• Sandstone walls and sandstone bedrock stained with cyanide, tar, hydrocarbons and "acid sulphate conditions".
http://www.thiess-services.com.au/?PageID=38 ; and http://www.app.com.au%2Faus%2Fpdf%2Findustrial%2FAGL%2520MORTLAKE%2520GASWORKS%2520REHABILITATION.pdf
Site cleared, leaving a few buildings = A, B, C shown below. And "D" is the new "village green". The jetty at Kendall Bay side is prominent, however this was later removed. (It is seen to be present in a 2006 street directory (and also on a plan used re the Dulux site development ) on the other side of Kendall Bay in 2007). The Waterways Authority ( fide Department of Planning http://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/asp/pdf/bp_response_to_councils_submissions.pdf )
refused to allow the jetty to be modified to a wharf and Rosecorp removed it.
View of the three prominent old buildings from the river - A (Powerhouse), B (Blacksmith's Shop), C (Plumbers Workshop), 2005.
Two sides of old gasworks building "A", the Powehouse, close to the river (as shown in aerial view above).
Painting of the Powerhouse by Jane Bennett - AGL34 Reflections of heritage Building 2003 oil on canvas 46 x 61cm PRIVATE COLLECTION-SYDNEY
Former gasworks building "B", Blacksmith's Shop (as shown in aerial view above), 123 Peninsula Drive.
The above building ("B") with it characteristic twin wings can be seen in this ca. 1910 view. (Photo: M.A. Broadhurst; Mitchell Library).
At this time it can be seen that coal was lifted to high wharf and railed towards the retort house at right (later replaced by conveyor belts).
Another remnant old building. Building "C", seen just right of centre (and located as shown in aerial view above).
Building "C" in Google Earth 'Street view", former workshops or known as "Plumbers' Workshop". The light coloured
scar on the end of the building is the result of part demolition as seen by comparison with the below image.
Building known as "Plumbers workshop" Retention of the building was confirmed in 2010 (Perica & Associates, 2010).
It's likely adaptive reuse will be as communal facilities for the Seniors. Painting by Jane Bennett (2001).
View in 2006, along with the Blacksmith's Shop. (Photo: Pamela Hubert)
Building "C", Plumbers Building, in Google Earth
The No. 1 Retort House in about 1910. (Photo: M.A. Broadhurst; Mitchell Library)
"Industrial cathedral, Mortlake" ( Ruin of the CWG retort building)
Painting by Jane Bennett (currently artist in residence at Barangaroo, 2010). "I paint the damaged, derelict, doomed and disappeared. Since the early 1980's I have specialised in painting industrial and maritime heritage of Sydney. Almost everything that I have painted has either been demolished or changed beyond all recognition. My paintings show the cycle of abandonment, decay, destruction and renewal ... The mood has changed forever, and only my works remain as testament to the passing of an era."
( http://janebennettartist.blogspot.com/p/about-me.html )
Mortlake / Breakfast Point -
Breakfast Point - http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5737284/breakfast-point.htm
Near Mortlake -
Cabarita, Cape Cabarita (Harmony Point), Exile/Canada Bays - http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5737284/parra-r-lux-housing.htm
Hatheway, Allen W., 2008, Internet Website on Former Manufactured Gas Plants - www.Hatheway.net