AUSTRALIANA SOCIETY – TASMANIAN CHAPTER EVENT REPORT
The Australiana Society – Tasmanian Chapter held a successful event at Dowling House, the Launceston home of Mrs Caryl McQuestin, on Saturday 23 March 2019. The event, attended by 75 people, combined a cocktail party with series of short expert presentations that covered the wide-ranging permutations of Australiana, with a distinct northern Tasmanian flavour.
The program started with eminent architectural historian, Dr Eric Ratcliffe, providing a history of our venue Dowling House, which was constructed c. 1840. While the house has been attributed to the Bennell family of builders, no evidence has been found to support this. The house has built for newspaper publisher, Henry Dowling, the son of Baptist Minister, the Rev. Henry Dowling and brother of Robert Hawker Dowling, the first Australian artist to have a successful career in England. Dr Ratcliffe referred to an early view of the house by artist, Frederick Strange, which shows the original red brick façade, which was soon after rendered and enhanced by classical mouldings. Dowling House presents a highly intact element of the Launceston streetscape but Dr Ratcliffe detailed the restoration that has made it so – the subtraction of a later front veranda and the reinstatement of glazing bars after decades of plate glass windows.
Following further drinks and canapés, Tasmanian Chapter Chairman, Colin Thomas, spoke on scrimshaw. The core of Colin’s collection is on exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania but Colin still had choice items to show. Michael McWilliams then spoke, not on Thylacines or sheep, but on the Deloraine - Westbury region vernacular chair ascribed to the shadowy Jimmy Possum. Michael introduced us to chairs made from the same timbers and following the same construction by the Deloraine horse breeder, William Larcombe (1862-1920s). Thus the mythic became more tangible. Michael brought along a handsome Jimmy Possum chair from his parents’ collection.
Jeanette Gatenby spoke on an early agricultural trophy from her family collection opening a window onto an untrammelled aspect of Australian pastoral history – the provenance of our merino flocks. Mary Ramsay spoke on pioneer studio potter, Maude Poynter’s 1917 studio at Ratho Bothwell, and was followed by Glenda King who spoke warmly of Maude Poynter’s artistic formation, work and contribution to a broader studio pottery movement. Dennis Patten closed the talks with a presentation on the British-made transfer-printed ceramics commissioned by Tasmanian shipping lines. As Dennis explained, these were related to dining ware produced for hotels but are rarer owing to the transience of the vessels for which they were made. Hence part of his collection has been salvaged from shipwrecks.
Hospitality was the order of the afternoon and the Tasmanian Chapter would like to thank Caryl McQuestin for providing a beautiful house and courtyard garden setting with excellent wine and catering. Annabel Tyson coordinated first ‘northern’ event. It was, perhaps, a baptism of fire but a format that we would like to repeat. Thank you Annabel! The quality of the event was reflected in 15 new Australiana Society memberships.
Plate 1: L to R, Our host, Mrs Caryl McQuestin and Scott Carlin; Dowling House, 181 St John Street Launceston
Plate 2: L to R, Colin Thomas' talk on scrimshaw; Michael McWilliams with his parents' Jimmy Possum chair; Jeanette Gatenby and the early agricultural trophy
Plate 3: L to R, Glenda King with her biography of Maude Poynter; Dennis Patten's talk on shipping lines ceramics; A Dowling House chimney piece