CAMERON, Helen (1911- )

Helen Cameron with one of her paintings.
Helen Cameron explains one of her landscape paintings.
WDHS collection

Helen Cameron (nee Thurgate, born 1911) was one of eight children reared by a farming family in the Bomaderry area of southern NSW. Her passion was art, but the struggles the family experienced in the late 1920s and 1930s directed her to a regular income earning career. She attended Sydney Teachers College in 1929-39 and attended evening art classes under William Dobell at the East Sydney Technical College after she commenced her teaching career.

With her marriage to John Cameron in 1949 and the arrival of her daughter Kim, Helen broke with her teaching career for several years. She attended a full-time art course at East Sydney Technical College and joined the Workshop Art Centre in Willoughby at this time. She had a portrait shown in the Archibald Exhibition during this period. Helen returned to teaching in 1954. She taught at Northbridge Public School for 12 years and was promoted to Relieving Mistress of Infants for the Northern Metropolitan Region.

Helen was a gracious and positive person, who displayed a deep passion for the poor and oppressed. The plight of Australian Aborigines and the preservation of our natural environment were recurring themes in her art and her community work. Her art reflects her strong social conscious positions. She preferred the impressionistic style, but also painted in abstract forms based on reality, not figures of the imagination. Her mixed media ‘mood maps’ are popular with collectors.

Helen and John moved from Lavender Bay to a new home in Middle Cove in 1964 and following her retirement in 1971, Helen became a full-time artist. Following a visit to China in 1973, she painted landscapes and group scenes for her first exhibition held at the Gregory Gallery, Hornsby in 1975. An outcome was that the Chinese Embassy in Canberra invited her to return to China for a sketching tour and this led to a further exhibition of her Chinese scenes at the David Jones Art Gallery in 1977.

John Cameron built a gallery for Helen at their Middle Cove home in 1979 and all her subsequent exhibitions were held there. Her exhibition ‘The Great Barrier Reef’ held in 1979 was inspired by Patricia Clark’s book The Battle for the Great Barrier Reef and backed by site visits to the reef, discussions with scientists and long hours of research into the subject. Her fourth, fifth and sixth exhibitions were in support of the YWCA Building Fund and the House with No Steps. Her seventh exhibition was in aid of cancer research. Helen’s work is held in private collections in Australia, England and the United States.

Helen and John were both active members of the Labor Party and regularly hosted meetings of the Castlecrag branch at their home. Helen served as vice-president of this branch for several years and she delivered a detailed paper on the challenges facing Aborigines in the Australian Bicentennial era at the February 1988 meeting. She was an active member of the Friends of Willoughby Library and was a volunteer at the Dougherty Community Centre.

–Bob McKillop

Further Reading:

Esther Leslie, The development of Castle Cove and Middle Cove. Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1998, pp 122-127.