One of the earliest works in the UTS Art Collection is this watercolour by May Marsden titled View from Ball’s Head.

Marsden, one of the Sydney Teachers’ College’s lecturers in the first half of the 20th century, was an enthusiastic advocate for the visual arts. Her students and colleagues included artists James Gleeson and Rah Fizelle, and  Bernard Smith, who later became the Director of the Power Institute and author of several seminal books on Australian art.

View from Ball’s Head is signed but not dated, but is estimated to be from around 1925, a time of great promise for Sydney. Construction of the Harbour Bridge was only just starting and the Coal Loader built at Ball’s Head a few years earlier represented the latest in efficiency for its purpose and was symbolic of the then industrial port of Sydney.

Rather than a scene from nature, Marsden has chosen to depict the loader, complete with piles of coal to be piled onto bunkered ships – a uncompromisingly industrial subject.

Although the nearby Berry Island was secured as a Nature Reserve in the 1920s, the Coal Loader site at Ball’s Head remained in use for coal and fuel storage up until the 1990s, its original natural features razed in the process. In recent years however, the site has undergone a major transformation: the heritage buildings have been converted into a Sustainability Centre by the local council with a community garden, public space for recreation, and an education centre for learning about conservation and the environment.

 

Janet Ollevou
Assistant Curator (Collection)

 

 

This article originally appeared in U Magazine, October 2012

May Marsden