Community Art: the Growth of the Victor Harbor Creative Community - Part One

Hi Everyone - Community art and art groups is a topic which interests us very much here on the AnArt4Life blog. Julie has presented many posts examining art communities - from those established by the French Impressionists and Post Impressionists to more recently when she looked at Australian female artists and whether or not they had working or personal relationships with each other given they were living in the same area in the same era.
Today South Australian artist and member of the AnArt4Life team Rowdy Wylie is going to lead the presentation of the history of the development of the Victor Harbor Creative Artistic Community on the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia which is one of the oldest and most active visual arts communities in Australia.
The Victor Harbor Regional Gallery 2022 South Australian Living Arts (SALA) Opening (Photo: Gallery Member)

According to the research1 conducted for this post the growth of a town centred art community in Victor Harbor in South Australia commenced formally in about 1921 (though it is acknowledged that indigenous artists existed in the area for thousands of years before, and European artists from the early days of European settlement).

The article below shows that in 1921 a picture gallery was established in Victor Harbor initiated by the executive of the Victor Harbor Day. 2

Victor Harbor Day was established in 1919 at the end of WWI and it is our understanding that the purpose was to raise money through various entertainment and fair like activities, to be given to the men and the families of those who served in the Great War. This is the same year that the sub-branch of the Victor Harbor RSL was established - an organisation that Rowdy has great contact with especially through the donation of his ANZAC and Remembrance Day paintings.

Article from The Victor Harbor Times and Encounter Bay and Lower Murray Pilot Friday 30 Sep 1921 (Accessed through

On the 19 Nov 1949 the newspaper The Mail (Adelaide) reported an exciting addition to the art scene in Victor Harbor. To quote a little from the article which is shown below:

A Queensland art connoisseur, Mr. W. H. Adams, said today he intended to make Victor Harbor a 'Mecca for art lovers' from all over Australia.Early this year, Mr. Adams bought Lady Sowden's house "Castlemaine", which was recognised as one of the show places of Victor Harbor.

Mr. Adams brought with him his valuable collection of more than 700 Australian paintings...Recently he bought the old Customs House in Victor Harbor...'I wanted a place where the public could appreciate the beauties of my collection...Mr. Adams said his reason for wishing to start an art gallery of Australian paintings was because of a promise he made years ago to artists whom he had known — that he would perpetuate their work in a gallery, so the Australian public could learn to appreciate the best of Australian art.

Mr. Adams said his gallery would contain pictures of every famous Australian artist from the paintings of Australia's first recognised artist, Conrad Martens, who painted more than 100 years ago, to modern painters such as Albert Namatjira. He has paintings by Louis Buvelot...John Mather, Walter Withers, and J.J. Hilder, the last named a watercolor artist Known to Australian artists as the 'tone poet'. His most noted painting is a picture by Sir Arthur Streeton of a red gum tree...3

Article from the Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), Saturday 19 November 1949, page 10 (Accessed through

The Gallery of Australian Art opened on 24 Mar 1950 at the old Customs House with 180 pictures by well-known Australian artists. Included was George Lawrence's 1949 Wynne Prize winner, 'Two Rivers', and five Dobells. It was the first time 'Two Rivers' had been exhibited in South Australia.3 Regrettably we have not been able to locate an image of this painting to show you.

The gallery (owned by Mr W. Hickson Adams) was named the Flinders Gallery after the English explorer Matthew Flinders who discovered the area along with French explorer Nicholas Baudin - the history of which we described in yesterday's post Community Art: Brief History of "Port Victor" now Victor Harbor, South Australia. A painting of Matthew Flinders...taken from a sketch of the explorer made in his ship, added an appropriate touch.3.

Old Customs house Victor Harbor South Australia (Photo: John "Rowdy" Wylie)

The Custom’s House built in 1866 is now part of the Victor Harbour Museum ...

Victor Harbor Museum and Customs House (Photo: John "Rowdy" Wylie)

Next door is the Encounter Coast Discovery Centre ... introducing visitors to the history and development of the south coast. The Discovery Centre has 3 galleries forming a timeline from pre-white settlement, through whaling and settlement, the establishment of Port Victor and the river trade and finally the onset of tourism in the 20th Century with the railways.4

The museum contains displays about Aboriginal pre-European lifestyle; early exploration; whaling; European settlers; establishment as a major export port; river trade; and the coming of trains setting Victor Harbor up as a significant tourist destination.4

The Customs House built in the 1860s has rooms set up with displays of early 1900s items. Visitors can enjoy the beautifully maintained gardens and even view Victor Harbor’s first public toilet from the mid 1800s.4

The public toilet is worth showing as it is a beautiful building inspite of its origin as the first public toilet in what was then called Port Victor!

First Public Toilet in Port Victor, South Australia (Photo: John "Rowdy" Wylie)

A week after the opening of his gallery Mr. Hickson Adams on 31 Mar 1950 addressed a public meeting in the Victor Harbor Institute on the aims of the Victor Harbor Art Society he had recently established.5

A choral group also joined up the Victor Harbor Art Society but in December of 1950 it reformed as the South Coast Choral and Arts Society (SCCAS). 5

It would appear that 1950 was a significant year in the developing art community of Victor Harbor.

Article from the Victor Harbor Times 22 Dec 1950 (Accessed through

Mr Adams sadly died (aged 56 years) in September 1951 but his obituary records that: Mr Adams was instrumental in forming the South Coast Choral Society, of which body he was first president. It was he who brought Mr Frank Roberts from Mount Gambier to be the Society's first musical director. The deceased was also president of the Victor Harbour Arts Society. His magnificent collection of Australian art at Flinders Gallery, Victor Harbor, has been admired by hundreds of local people and visitors, and has been regarded as one of the show places of the town.5 Note that an article in the Victor Harbor Times (22 Dec 1950) states that a Mr. Holder was the inaugural president when the society first formed.5

And so the South Coast Choral and Arts Society (SCCAS) became the only arts society in Victor Harbor at this time producing in 1956 its first full-scale musical performance - the The Pirates of Penzance.6

But for this post we are interested in the Art Group which was run by Mrs C.A. Stephens, a teacher at the Victor Harbor High School. From our research we understand that Mrs Stephens and her art students worked in conjunction with the choir to create the backdrops for the stage productions. It was reported in 1959 that the Group had 16 members. They had painted the set for 'The Shop at Sly Corner,' and some members had attended a make-up rehearsal of the same play. The lessons had been spent in learning something of landscape, perspective, light and shade, colour combinations, and one lesson outside, while another was spent painting a picture involving Australian flora. Mr. Burfield congratulated the newly formed Art Group on the excellent work they were doing and the keen spirit which they showed towards the Society as a whole.5

Mrs Stephens also conducted weekly art classes for students and held an annual Art Exhibition in Victor Harbor.5

The South Coast Choral and Arts Society (SCCAS) remains a vibrant part of life in Victor Harbor to this day. Throughout its history, SCCAS has launched various sub-groups that focus on one specific facet of art and culture. This includes the Drama Group, Art Group, Opera Group, Discussion Group, and the longest running, the Choral Group.6 You can read the full story of the SCCAS by clicking here.

Let us not forget the role individuals such as teachers like Mrs Stephens play in establishing and maintaining a creative community. We are reminded of the role played by the remarkable May Harding (1908- 1971) in Broken Hill, New South Wales who was instrumental in establishing Broken Hill as the home of Australian outback art. May was involved all her life in teaching art, being engaged in a great variety of artistic activities to satisfy her own enormous creative talent and also known for helping those in need.

Let us reflect on those who teach others how to be more creative and to enrich their lives through these ventures. We highly recommend you read our past post on May Harding by following the bookmark link below.

May Harding: the Woman who helped make Broken Hill the Art Capital of Outback Australia
A remarkable woman from Broken Hill, New South Wales, May Harding (1908-1971) taught the likes of Sam Byrne, Pro Hart, Eric Minchin - the latter two being members of the reknowned “Brushmen of the Bush”. Image: May Harding against her painting of Broken Hill. Image:

As Editor in Charge of the AnArt4Life blog I am extremely interested in and passionate about Community. Some of us are born into communities, others choose to join a community or, in fact communities, and others create communities. I want to mention the importance of social media communities (such as has been formed by the presence of the AnArt4Life blog on the internet) as they are significant in joining people with shared interests and beliefs together. Thank you for being part of our on-line art community where we share our love of all things art.

Anne Newman

Tomorrow we will continue the story of the growth of an arts community in the beautiful coastal village of Victor Harbor in South Australia

1. Research notes collected by John "Rowdy" Wylie including from the booklet produced by The Ocean Street Art Society Inc.n.d.; Founding Member Conversation with renowned Artist Alfred Engel; Current Member Conversations with Margaret McEntee, Wendy Jennings, Annette Vandenberg,Yvonne Mc Glone & Anne Blanchard; Kate Shierlaw… VHRG venue – “Old Bakery Building” information; William Henry Smith - Baker of “Port Victor” Publication; The “Victor Harbor Art Society” web site.
2. Victor Harbor Art Gallery article in The Victor Harbor Times and Encounter Bay and Lower Murray Pilot Friday 30 Sep 1921
3. Articles from the Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954): 19 November 1949 and 25 Mar 1950 (Accessed through
5. Articles from the Victor Harbor Times: 10 Mar 1950, 22 Dec 1950, 14 Sep 1951, 16 Oct 1959, 8 Sep 1961, 2 Dec 1999

The Victor Harbor Regional Gallery Members Co-op acknowledges the Ramindjeri & Ngarrindjeri people as Traditional Custodians of the land and oceans where we live and create works of art.