From Gaolhouse to Glasshouse

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Members of the Hastings Valley Fine Art Association have put their talents to work to create an exhibition celebrating the John Oxley Bicentenary. Entitled “From Gaolhouse to Glasshouse”, Bernice Daher, President and Diana Parkyn, Publicity Officer give us some insights into both the exhibition and some interesting historical snippets from the Hasting region’s 200 year history …

For those readers who may have missed previous interviews with your group, please give us a brief summary of the HVFAA’s history.

HVFAA has been growing steadily for the past 30 years. We now have over 200 members, many of whom have won awards for their work both locally and beyond. 

We provide a range of activities to support members’ needs, including weekly plein air painting led by an experienced artist, workshops featuring some of Australia’s best tutors in all mediums, life drawing groups and regular painting sessions held in Port Macquarie, Laurieton and Wauchope.  

We also operate a successful art gallery at Oxley Beach, with over 200 works on display, which are changed over every three months. The gallery is gaining popularity among local residents as well as tourists, with a wonderful range of high quality affordable art available.

What are the aims of HVFAA?

The aims of the association are to: provide opportunities for our members to display and sell work in a professional environment; to offer opportunities for our members to enhance skills and broaden their approach to art; and to promote art within the community.

The group’s current exhibition at the Glasshouse is entitled From Gaolhouse to Glasshouse, which celebrates the John Oxley Bicentenary … How did the idea evolve for your group to develop an exhibition for this commemoration?

For the past eight years the Glasshouse has supported HVFAA to exhibit work based on a theme. The Bicentenary provided us with the perfect basis for our current exhibition. 

The site of the Glasshouse featured prominently in the settlement of Port Macquarie, with the original gaol being located on the site. It seemed a good footing to launch the imagination of our members. 

When we sat down as a group to list all the resources and concepts that were available, we were amazed by the broad history of the region and by the resources available through local museums, historical societies and through the traditional owners of the lands, waters and seas.

Describe a couple of the artworks in the exhibition and how they each relate to Port Macquarie’s last 200 years of history.

There are 46 works exhibited, and they focus on a number of themes, including: the natural history of the region; the development of the region or stories of individuals and families. 

Jan Farrell has created a beautiful mixed media work that examines the use of bark – from a functional aspect among the Indigenous groups through to a more decorative function today.  

Bonnie Rissel has created a work based on Roto House using its history and her own personal memories as a child.  

Marilyn Davie has drawn on her own family history and the roles played by the Bain family within the Wauchope region. 

Karen Cornish has developed a portrait of a member of the Innes family, drawn from history and the individual journal of her subject.

Irene Gill has created a work that pays homage to the female convicts of the region. 

Graeme Cox’s work provides a reference to the machines that assisted in regional development.

How wide is the variety of mediums/techniques used in this exhibition?

We have a wide variety of styles, techniques and mediums adopted by our members. There are watercolours, drawings, gouche, acrylics and oils. Some works are realistic, while others are more subjective or abstract. Most have based their work on historical photos or references, while others have adopted a more creative approach.  

Stewart Hambrett has created a work based almost entirely on imagination and his feelings for the history of the region. The interpretation is left to the viewer. 

Susan Burrows’ drawings show detailed rendering of historical buildings, while Maria Nolan has used a semi-abstract style to highlight the wreck of the Ballina.

An exhibition of this kind obviously opens up an exploration of our local history.  Have you or any of the other artists uncovered some interesting facts about Port Macquarie’s past you can share with our readers?

An interesting story was highlighted by artist Jan Wilson: along the southern end of Bartletts Beach, one can view the remains of a reservoir. Prior to its construction, the natural spring water ran off the cliff, creating the “Fernery Shower”, well used by beach goers.

The reservoir was built 1944 – 45. Sand and grit from the beach was used to make the concrete dam, which held 181,400 litres of clear spring water. It was used to service the homestead, dairy, and produce farm belonging to the Bartlett family, the camping reserve above Bartletts Beach then known as “Little Beach”, and then on to the surf club pavilion, where it was available for public use.

By the early ’70s, piped water  was connected to the area, so Council requested that the dam be demolished. Reluctantly, explosives were put in place and the deed done. However, the structure didn’t succumb, except for a small hole in the base – which drained the water. The ruins that remain have become a local landmark and target for graffiti artists – a testament to the march of progress.

The HVFAA will also be offering drawing sessions at the Glasshouse. What will you aim to teach/share with participants?

The drawing sessions are free to the public and last two hours on a Sunday afternoon between 1 – 3pm. Drawing is such a fundamental function of good art, and the sessions will aim to provide basic skills covering composition, tonal study, expressive drawing and help with landscapes, animal studies and portraits.

Where can we find out more about the HVFAA?

Visit our gallery at 2 William Street (opposite Oxley Beach.) Visit our website: or contact us:

Thanks everyone. 

Interview: Jo Robinson.


From Gaolhouse to Glasshouse will be on display at the Glasshouse regional gallery until 8th July. Drawing sessions will be held every Sunday from 20th May – 1st July from 1 – 3pm. Sessions are free, but bookings are essential.

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