Mosman's cultural heritage
Mosman is surrounded on three sides by the waters of Sydney Harbour and Middle Harbour, and features many beautiful bays and beaches punctuated by rugged headlands and sandstone cliffs. In this context it is hardly surprising that ‘the Harbour’ plays a significant role in the life of the local community. From swimming, sailing and scuba diving to sun baking and picnicking, the bays, beaches and bushlands of Mosman attract thousands of residents each week in search of recreation and leisure, and have done so for more than a century. They also provide artists, writers, poets, architects, photographers and musicians with inspiration for their creative expression.
“All my books have been written here (Mosman), within sight of the harbour, the headlands and the Pacific Ocean, within reach of close friends and writing colleagues.”
Joan Clarke, Writer (Mosman Impressions, pp 61)
“It (Mosman) has been my workplace, my place of recreation, and a place that has shaped my vision with its headlands pointing out to an infinite horizon.”
Laura Chislett, Musician (Mosman Impressions, pp 94)
Away from the Harbour, Mosman offers the local community a lively shopping and business precinct with stylish cafes and restaurants, and boutique shops catering to all desires, tastes and ages. The residents of Mosman are also well served by schools, sports fields, clubs and cultural facilities such as the Mosman Art Gallery & Cultural Centre and Mosman Library. The Library offers a range of cultural services and events including author visits, reading groups, reading programs, exhibitions and an extensive collection of local history resources. It also supports lifelong learning and has established links with local educational institutions. Likewise, the Mosman Art Gallery and Cultural Centre offers a diverse range of programs and activities from art and craft exhibitions and workshops to music concerts.
“Blink an eye and there is Mosman today, sophisticated, almost continental with its pavement cafes and speciality shops. And yet it retains that same village atmosphere and peace that Patrick Leahy and Jack Carroll promoted in the 1890s when they discovered Mosman’s ‘sea-girt bushland’ and set up a real estate office here.”
Ngaire Souter, Writer (Mosman Impressions, pp 94)
Mosman has a particularly rich cultural heritage when it comes to the visual arts. “The first artists of Mosman were members of the Cammeragal tribe who left their paintings on its rocky headlands” (Bohemians in the Bush: The Artists’ Camps of Mosman, Art Gallery of NSW, 1991. p.36). While these images have disappeared, a number of faded rock engravings still bear witness to the original, Aboriginal inhabitants of the area. Further information about this can be found in the draft of The Aboriginal Heritage Study in Mosman Library.
Since European settlement in the early 19th century, Mosman has attracted many of Australia’s most celebrated artists. In 1886 a small group of painters, including Julian Ashton and Henry Fullwood, established an ‘artists’ camp’ at Edwards Beach in Mosman. This camp was the first of many to be created in the area during the 1880s and 90s, providing artists with a reprieve from the pressures of city life, and for some, an alternative home during harsh economic times. In this idyllic environment, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts painted many of the masterpieces of Australian Impressionism while staying at Curlew Camp on the edge of Little Sirius Cove in Mosman.
As the demand for residential land in Sydney grew during the early 20th century, Mosman’s natural bushland gave way to urban development, and eventually the artists’ camps disappeared. However, many of these artists, such as Henry Fullwood and William Lister Lister, settled permanently in Mosman and continued to paint in the area. They were followed by a younger generation of artists who were also attracted to Mosman’s picturesque bays and beaches, and the remaining natural bush land that hugged their shores. Foremost amongst these was Margaret Preston who settled in Mosman in 1920 and remained for 40 years, creating vivid, graphic images of the local flora and landscape. Among the current generation of artists who are associated with Mosman, Ken Done is renowned for his bold and colourful images of local vistas and Sydney landmarks. Other distinguished, local artists include Nancy Borlase and Kerrie Lester.
Beyond the realm of visual arts, Mosman has been, and still is, home to many prominent writers, musician, actors, film makers, designers, craft practitioners and architects. Brief biographies for many of these individuals are provided in Mosman Council’s publication titled, Mosman Impressions (1990). In addition, there are a variety of community ‘arts and education’ groups in Mosman dedicated to specific activities such as music, dance, singing, photography, art, quilting, and history.
The collective spirit that drives these special interest groups is also the foundation for a wide range of community events in Mosman such as Shakespeare by the Sea, The Lovedale Long Lunch, Mosman Spring Festival, Mudgee Food & Wine Fair, The Mosman Address, Anzac Day Dawn Service, Australia China Cultural Exchange Project, the Balmoral Burn and Balmoral Swim for CARE, Carols by Candlelight, the Mosman Youth Literature Awards, and the Mini-Mosmarathon.
In terms of architecture, Mosman is widely recognised as a ‘Federation’ suburb, retaining many homes of the late 19th and early 20th century that have been lovingly restored or conserved. At the other end of the spectrum there are contemporary houses designed by some of Australia’s leading architects such as Glenn Murcutt.
While Mosman’s cultural identity is closely tied to the arts, Taronga Park Zoo occupies a very special place in the hearts of minds of local residents. It is not only home to a myriad indigenous and exotic animals, it boasts one of Mosman’s finest architectural novelties. The ‘Gate House’ to the Zoo is a ‘free style’ building, combining classical, art nouveau, and exotic elements, which transfer visitors into another world, on the other side.