Bio note # 14 ‘Brother of the brush’

During his time in Sydney, Bert joined the Mosman Artist camp on weekends forging friendships with Australia’s future art elite including Streeton, Roberts, Longstaff and McCubbin and referred to his membership of the group, as being a ‘a brother of the brush’. His association with the camp is buried in one of his Music and Dramatic columns in the Bendigo Advertiser on Wednesday September 19, 1900.

Tom Roberts, The camp, Sirius Cove, 1899. Currently in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Arthur Streeton at work at Curlew camp. State Library of NSW

Bert’s Music & Dramatic Column in the Bendigo Advertiser – (the quality of the Trove piece is ok but I have transcribed it to make the description easier to read) More on the intriguing and scandalising Professor Marshall Hall in another blog!

Bert continues ……..’Professor Marshall-Hall may have been indiscreet in publishing the poems that have brought about him much trouble. At the same time many people have formed an erroneous opinion of the much-abused musician by following the course of the controversy in the Melbourne dailies. I don’t know anything about the Professor’s poetry; I only want to tell my readers something about the man as I have had the pleasure of knowing him. On Sydney Harbor, at that beautiful little bay called Mossman’s, there is an artist’s camp. Every ‘brother of the brush’ in Victoria and New South Wales, more or less, knows of Reub Brasch’s camp, that dear, delightful Bohemian spot, where every member of the craft receives a glorious welcome. Many tender memories crowd upon me as I remember the jolly days I have spent at the camp. Memories-of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, John Longstaff, Fred M’Cubbin, and Marshall-Hall. After a hard day’s work in the city, what a pleasure it was to catch the Mossman’s Bay boat at the Circular Quay, and to get away from the madding crowd. On the little golden headland across the harbor’s indescribable blue, we used to loaf, paint, and talk. The camp was maintained by monthly subscriptions from all the “boys” who used it, and we kept a man-cook and boy on the spot all the year round. There were two large tents, and the kitchen was in a hollowed out and massive old rock. At night we used to sit round a camp fire and tell yarns. How beautiful the environment. Across the black water we could see the dancing lights of Circular Quay, and occasionally the huge Manly boats passed through the darkness like some great angry monsters. Sometimes on a bright moonlit night dozens of rowing boats would be out, and across the water would come to us shouts of merry laughter, and perhaps the sound of a rollicking chorus, accompanied by an accordion. Oystering parties would land on the rocks beneath us, and for hours we would hear the chip, chip of the knives knocking the shell fish from the rocks, where they abounded.

Sketched map of Curlew Camp and surrounds, undated. Source: Mosman Library Local Studies
Curlew Camp 1890 carving.

The below description of the Artist’s camp is lifted from a Dutch travel site that combines art with travel…. quite an interesting site if you are interested in both…

‘This is the site of the original Curlew Camp. The camp was established by Reuben Brasch; a clothing manufacturer who moved to Sydney from Melbourne in 1875. Brasch’s store was located on a city corner on Oxford Street opposite Hyde Park and soon became known as ‘Brasch’s corner’. Reuben and his family would frequent this place for holidays, rowing across from Parsley Bay, Vaucluse, eventually establishing a permanent camp here. Reuben became known as the ‘father’ of the camp and this title was then passed down to his sons as he aged.

During the camp’s operation, original features included the large canvas tents that the artists resided in. Other features of the site included the dining hut, a billiards tent, and well-kept gardens. With these features accompanying this incredible outlook, it is no wonder they chose the ‘tent-dwelling’ life over that of the bourgoise.

Although many of the original features are no longer standing, there are still markers of this significant artists’ camp including the coral tree which was planted by Arthur Streeton during the 1890s to mark the location of the camp. Visitors commonly utilised the tram or the ferry to Mosman Wharf at the headland between Mosman Bay and Little Sirius Cove. To then come across to Curlew Camp, they needed to walk east over and down to the adequately named ‘Cooee Point’, located directly across the cove to the camp. At this point, visitors were required to ‘cooee’ across the water to notify members of the camp they required a boat ride across. This is where the coral tree marker had its use. Cooee across the water and see if anyone cooee’s back!

Rodney.Cherry Collection of Photographs
R.Cherry Collection. Playing cricket at Whiting Beach near Curlew. CREDIT:LOCAL STUDIES COLLECTION, MOSMAN COUNCIL

Postscript – After 1900 most of the artists moved on and the camp became popular with those interested in outdoor life and water sports. In 1912 the camp closed for good, with Taronga Park Zoo soon after moving to the ridge above the site.

Reuben Brasch, Oxford St, Darlinghurst c1914 Three-storey highly ornate sandstone building with decorative parapet, in the centre of which is the inscription ‘From Maker to Wearer’ and ‘Established 1881’.

And yes, among many other things, the Brasch family descendents did establish the Brash’s store, where you bought your first vinyl record.

Bert’s donation of an Arthur Streeton painting, titled Manly Beach to the Bendigo Art Gallery in 1900 will be dealt with in a later blog post.

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