Category Archives: Margaret Preston

The Springs – Margaret Preston’s Berowra Home

Harold Cazneaux, Distant view of Margaret Preston's house at Berowra, 1936

Harold Cazneaux, Distant view of Margaret Preston’s house at Berowra, 1936

William and Margaret Preston moved to Berowra in 1932, and it is believed that the artist was recovering from surgery performed in 1929 as a result of breast cancer. The anticipation of the retreat into the bush coupled with the first ownership of property by the Preston’s would have provided Margaret with a great sense of comfort during that difficult period.

Arthur Rickard throughout the previous decade had been promoting the health benefits of Berowra in the Sydney Morning Herald. Many people like the Preston’s became aware of seeking an exodus from city life as beneficial to health and well being, in Preston’s case a time for reflection and contemplation.

We witness a striking development in the architectural style of Preston’s house as compared with that of the Federation style of such homes as ‘Sunbeam’. Preston’s house was extremely modern, based on the California Bungalow with a low-pitched roof, it’s architectural structure was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. The Preston’s made additions to the existing structure – it is believed that Margaret used the concept based on “design for living” principles when the additions and refurbishments were undertaken. Effectively, Preston created flow between the outdoor and indoor living spaces as she was known to often work on the verandah which overlooked the gardens and bush land area. Life and art merging within the everyday – one of the many inspirations of Berowra.


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Margaret Preston Comes To Berowra

Cover of Rickards brochure advertising Berowra

In 1932, William and Margaret Preston, both in their fifties, purchased their first property, which happened to be a 10-acre allotment in Berowra. Margaret Preston was leaving the artistic milieu she had become so involved in since her return from Europe in 1925. So, why such a radical change in environment? We believe, through oral account sources, the artist was recovering from breast cancer surgery she endured in 1929. And throughout this period, Berowra was being promoted as the ideal place to stay for respite and healing, due to its high altitude. With its quiet bushland surroundings, natural rock pools, vistas over the sunset and high mountain air, Berowra would certainly provide the Prestons with a much needed period of solace. As researchers, we have often pondered the question of how did the Prestons come to know and purchase the property in Berowra.

The realtor Arthur Rickard had been promoting the health benefits of Berowra during the previous decade in the Sydney Morning Herald. Perhaps, the advertisement was convincing enough to allow the Prestons to envisage a bush retreat as beneficial. For Margaret Preston the possibilities may have been just what she needed during this difficult period in her life, as it would mean a time for quiet and contemplative recovery, whilst also allowing her an intense period to study native plants in their natural environment. We now know, this period had a profound effect on Margaret Preston’s practice as an artist in producing some of her finest work, largely due to her encounters with Berowra.

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Preston’s Banksia

A local banksia

Artists often require complex and rarefied ‘zones’ or spaces to enact the creative process. At Berowra during the 1930s Margaret Preston, surrounded by a spectacular bushland setting on the Preston’s 11 acre property, found those spaces. By all accounts Margaret would visit, often spending hours at the site of a very old Banksia tree. Here Margaret found the ‘space’ in the presence of this majestic Banksia which lived in a remote part of the Preston’s property, spending hours in quiet contemplation. In fact, in some of Margaret’s most influential woodblock prints of this period, the Banksia tree is depicted as a spiritual presence, lifting and branching upwards against the darkness of a twilight sky. The print titled ‘Banksia Tree’ in relief, produced in 1939, the last year of her stay in Berowra, still remains an awe-inspiring work.


Detail of a banksia tree – an original that once grew
on Prestons property

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Preston’s Garden

Pines similar to those which lined the entrance to the Preston driveway

As the autumn season comes to an end, thinking about the possibilities of the winter garden can be exhilarating. When the famous Australian artist Margaret Preston resided at Berowra in the 1930s she had created one of the most spectacular prize-winning gardens in this area. It is often true that a garden reflects the personality of the maker. Preston, for sure, was gifted with the proverbial green thumb.

In dreamlike and fleeting moments, I have contemplated the idea of recreating my own version of a Preston garden – brilliant, shimmering and vibrant – quickly the idea dissipates, the work being insurmountable.

During their time in Berowra, Bill and Margaret Preston loved to host weekend parties graced with the presence of the Sydney literati. Their guests would make the long trek from the city to the far-off rural village of Berowra.  The turfed driveway flanked by the verdant growth of the native cypress tree made an impressive entrance before reaching the Californian bungalow style home – modern living had reached Berowra.  The wide borders on either side of the driveway contained an array of native bushes ranging from the Australian torch plant, native plum, and the pink and red variety of bottlebrush to the more architectural form of the blue eucalyptus.

The Preston’s often worked side by side in the creation of a unique and vibrant display combining natives with a cottage style garden which flourished by their nurturing devotion.

The photograph shows the two remaining cypress trees standing tall which once formed the entrance of the Preston’s driveway. The trees have now become the living presence reminders of what was the showpiece home and garden in Berowra.

Rhonda Davis

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Blue Pool, Berowra and Margaret Preston

The drive from Berowra to the northern beaches on a hot summer’s day, parched by the heat sitting in traffic congestion, is not my idea of fun. But, did you know Berowra once had its own swimming pools frequented by the locals.

In 2004, I came across an entry about a woodblock print created by Margaret Preston called “Blue Pool, Berowra”, 1933. This work has always intrigued me and in many ways remains a mystery, as the original print has never been sighted.  Berowra once had many wells, massive waterfalls and natural rock pools situated at the nearby creeks. Remnants can still be found today, as you encounter along Warrina Street – Devlins Creek.

Devlins Creek

Bill Foster’s memory of 1930s Berowra tells this story which also provides some likely clues to the location of Preston’s “Blue Pool” in the following recollection:

“The Warrina St Oval was once a natural spring, which contained a big well. It was known as Devlins Creek. Huge rock clearances nestled the rock pools to give a lovely swimmer. There was always water running through with an entrance bridge, you could cross that creek on the bush track that leads further down the valley.”

I wonder if that’s the bridge we know the Preston’s built on their property nearby.

Myra Payne, Mrs Preston’s maid once stated that the Blue Pool had been filled in with sand! Is this the area that now forms Warrina Oval? Does anyone know of a Blue Pool in the Berowra region?

Is This Margaret Prestons 'Blue Pool'

Have you ever seen this painting/sketch that once hung on the walls of Margaret Preston’s Berowra home in the 1930s. We are very keen to hear from you and any clues you may have to offer us in finding out more about the Blue Pool, Berowra.


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