Macarthur · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Uncategorized

Hope and Loss on Sydney’s urban fringe

Winners and losers on the urban fringe

Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005
Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is a site of winners and losers.

It is a landscape where dreams are fulfilled and memories lost. The hope and expectations of newcomers are met with the promises of land developers in master planned suburban utopias.

At the same time, locals grasp at lost memories as the rural countryside is covered in a sea of tiled roofs and concrete driveways.

Conflict over a dream

As Sydney’s rural-urban fringe moves across the countryside it becomes a contested site between locals and outsiders over their aspirations and dreams. The conflict revolves around displacement and dispossession.

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is similar to the urban frontier of large cities in Australia and other countries. It is a dynamic landscape that makes and re-makes familiar places.

More than this the rural-urban fringe is a zone of transition where invasion and succession are constant themes for locals and newcomers alike.

Searching for the security of a lost past

Fishers Ghost FestivalAs Sydney’s urban sprawl invades fringe communities locals yearn for a lost past and hope for some safe keeping of their memories. They use nostalgia as a fortress and immerse themselves in community rituals and traditions that are drawn for their past. They are drawn to ever popular festivals like the Camden Show and Campbelltown’s Fishers Ghost Festival which is celebration of the rural heritage of Sydney’s fringe.

Local communities respond by creating imaginary barriers to ward off the evils of Sydney’s urban growth that is about to run them over. One of the most important is the metaphorical moat created by the Hawkesbury-Nepean River floodplain around a number of the fringe communities of Camden, Richmond and Windsor.

Fringe communities use their rural heritage to ward off the tentacles of the Sydney octopus that are about the strangle them. In one example the Camden community has created an imaginary country town idyll. A cultural myth where rural traditions are supported by the church on the hill, the village green and the Englishness of the gentry’s colonial estates.

Hope and the creation of an illusion

Outsiders and ex-urbanites come to the new fringe suburbs looking for a new life in a semi-rural environment. As they escape the evils of their own suburbia they seek to immerse themselves in the rurality of the fringe. They want to retreat to an authentic past when times were simpler. It is a perception that land developers are eager to exploit.

Ex-urbanites are drawn to the urban frontier by developer promises of their own piece of utopia and the hope of a better lifestyle. They seek a place where “the country still looks like the country”. These seek what the local fringe communities already possess – open spaces and a rural countryside.

The imagination of new arrivals is set running by developer promises of suburban dreams in master-planned estates. They are drawn in by glossy brochures, pollie speak, media hype and in recent times subsidies on landscaping and other material benefits.

Manicured parks, picturesque vistas and restful water features add to the illusion of a paradise on the urban frontier. Developers commodify a dream in an idyllic semi-rural setting that new arrivals hope will protect their life-savings in a house and land package.

Destruction of the dream

Oran Park Development 2010 (Camden Image/P Mylrea)

Dreams are also destroyed on Sydney’s urban frontier for many new comers. Once developers of master-planned estates have made their profit they withdraw. They no longer support the idyllic features that created the illusion of a suburban utopia.

The dreams of a generation of ex-urbanites have come crashing down in suburbs like Harrington Park and Mt Annan. The absence of developer rent-seeking has meant that their dreams have evaporated and gone to dust. Manicured parks have become overgrown. Restful water features have turned into dried up cesspools inhabited by vermin.

Paradoxically the invasion of ex-urbanites has displaced and dispossessed an earlier generation of diehard motor racing fans of their dreams. The destruction of the Oran Park Raceway created its own landscape of lost memories. Ironically new arrivals at Oran Park bask in the reflected glory of streets named after Australian motor racing legends and sculptures that pay tribute the long gone raceway.

The latest threat to the dreams of all fringe dwellers is the invasion of Sydney’s southwest urban frontier by the exploratory drilling of coal seam gas wells. Locals and new arrivals alike see their idyllic surroundings disappearing before their eyes. They are fearful for their semi-rural lifestyle.

So what of the dreams?

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe will continue to be a frontier where conflict is an ever present theme in the story of the place. Invasion, dispossession, opportunity and hope are all part of the ongoing story of this zone of constant change.

Read more @ Imaginings on Sydney’s Edge: Myth, Mourning and Memory in a Fringe Community (Sydney Journal)

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Macarthur · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Uncategorized

Development of Sydney’s urban fringe

Sydney’s urban sprawl invades the Macarthur region again

Sydney’s urban growth is about to invade the Macarthur region yet again. This is a re-run of the planning disasters in Campbelltown of the late 1970s. These planning decisions were originally part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and the 1973 Three Cities Plan for Campbelltown, Camden, Appin. These plans were grossly over-optimistic at the time and only made an appearance in the Camden LGA in the 1980s at Mount Annan and Currans Hill. Tracts of land were sold off for housing in 1973 including part of Camden Park Estate, while historic buildings in Camden were demolished – Royal Hotel.

The areas that are part of the current proposal are: Appin & West Appin, Wilton Junction, South Campbelltown, Menangle Park, Mount Gilead and Menangle areas.

Read more @ Massive boost to housing supply for Greater Sydney with biggest release of land in 10 years (ABC News)

and more  @  Greater Macarthur Land Release Investigation (NSW Department of Planning and Environment)

Inspect the map for the proposed land releases @ Map

Read about land release at Menangle Park here  (Urban Growth NSW)

Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005
Mount Annan, NSW, a new suburb on Sydney’s urban fringe, 2002 (CHS2005/P.Mylrea)

Sydney’s metropolitan fringe is a theatre for the creation and loss of collective memories, cultural myths and community grieving around cultural icons, traditions and rituals. European settlement took the dreaming of the Aborigines and then had its own dreaming removed by an invasion from the east in the form of Sydney’s urban growth. The re-making of place in and around the fringe community of Camden illustrates the destruction and re-construction of cultural landscapes. Locals dream of retaining the aesthetics of an inter-war country town and in doing so have created an illusion of a historical myth of a ‘country town idyll’. In the new suburbs of Oran Park, Mt Annan and Harrington Park urbanites have invaded the area drawn by developer spin, which promised to fulfil hopes and dreams and never really lives up to the hype. Unfulfilled expectations mean that Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is a zone of transition where waves of invasion and succession have created perceptions of reality and all that is left is imaginings.

Read more at the Sydney Journal

Read more about the suburbs on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe at the Dictionary of Sydney

Read more about the country town idyll at Camden NSW

First World War · Second World War · Uncategorized

Angels and the Red Cross

In late August 1914 the Sydney newspaper the Sunday Times (30 August) described Red Cross volunteers as the ‘Angels of Mercy’, and Red Cross volunteers would ‘Stretch forth your hands to Save!’ Red Cross nurses, according to the report, had the touch of Christ, were willing to stand ready to ‘succor and tend the men laid low in the country’s service’.

In July 1914 Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the wife of the Governor General and founder of the national Red Cross, at a Double Bay Ambulance Class held in a St Mark’s school room at Darling Point in July 1914, referred to Red Cross volunteers as ‘ministering angels’. This was an allusion to a Biblical passage,(New International Version Bible) Hebrews 1:14

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

In this context it could be interpreted as meaning that Red Cross workers are sent forward to provide aid or assistance to others in need with a strong moral overtone.

1918 Poster Image RC
1918 Red Cross poster HD Souter

The Red Cross ‘Help’ poster was drawn by artist Scottish-born David Henry Souter, who settled in New South Wales in 1887 where he worked as a journalist and illustrator for books and magazines, including the Bulletin, and was one of the first artists to start designing Australian posters. The aim of the poster was to inspire Australian women to support the war effort. [1] The poster features a nurse in a stylised Red Cross uniform standing with her arms outstretched, as if appealing for help, in front of a red cross. In the background is a ship, an ambulance and a field hospital displaying the Red Cross emblem.

The Red Cross as a metaphorical mother is present in Red Cross literature from as early as December 1914.[2]

This issue has been examined by Canadian historian Sarah Glassford in her work on mothering and the Red Cross. She has looked the use by AE Foringer and the 1918 poster used by the American Red Cross entitled ‘The Greatest Mother in the World’. She analyses in her account how the poster uses ‘two potent images of Christian iconography: The Virgin and the Child’. She argues that the use of the mothering metaphor and ‘care work sick and wounded citizen-soldiers in terms of mothering…bestowed that work with symbolic and moral power’.[3]


Red Cross volunteers and other Edwardian women saw social action as an alignment of patriotism, duty, class, gender, Christianity and motherhood. After 1914 the Red Cross leadership at all levels of the organisation wrapped these characteristics together and promoted the society to volunteers and the community as the soldier’s metaphorical ‘mother’ and guardian angel on the battlefield. The Red Cross was identified in posters and other publicity as ‘Red Cross, Mother of all Nations’, and as the ‘Greatest Mother in the World’. [4] Kate Egan, the organiser of the packing department of the New South Wales Red Cross, maintained that the Red Cross was ‘stretching forth her hand to all in need…[s]he’s warming thousands, feeding thousands, healing thousands from her store, the greatest mother in the world’. In 1919 the Brisbane Courier ran an article in Red Cross week under the heading ‘The Mother of Soldiers’ and stated that the Red Cross was ‘the great mother who stretches forth her hands to all in need, warming thousands, feeding thousands, healing thousands from her store’. A ‘Soldier’s Mother’ wrote in 1918 that the ‘Red Cross is the greatest mother in the world, stretching forth her hands to all in need’. A Sydney Morning Herald correspondent referred to the Red Cross as ‘the great soldier’s mother’. On Red Cross Button Day in 1918 the three designs for sale for 1/- were ‘The Greatest Mother in the World’ , ‘The Soldiers’ Friend’ and an image of ‘a Red Cross nurse with an outstretched hand’.[5] Mary McAnene, who was a nurse at No 3 Australian General Hospital at Lemnos and matron of Camden District Hospital before joining up, maintained that

It would be a sorry day for the boys when they get their knock if it were not for the Red Cross; the military authorities are like a father to the lads, but the Red Cross is like their mother.[6]

The Red Cross as mother and guardian angel was an extension of the notion around the ideology of motherhood which was an integral part of women’s service role in the British Empire, according to historian Anna Davin. The ideology of motherhood stated that women had the duty and destiny to be the ‘mothers of the race’. Child-rearing was a national duty, and good motherhood was an essential component in the (eugenist’s) ideology of racial health and purity. The family was the basic institution of society and women’s domestic role remained supreme. By the inter-war period pre-occupation with the family and motherhood had turned these traits into a national priority for the British race. Imperial motherhood was promoted as a scientific necessity and a patriotic duty.[7] There were concerns over the decay of the home and family life expressed by a number of British women’s groups, especially those associated with evangelical Christianity, including the Mothers’ Union (MU), the National Council of Women, and later the Women’s Institutes, the Country Women’s Association (CWA) and Red Cross. These voluntary organisations provided a training ground for middle class women and allowed them to gain a ‘public persona’ while upholding the ‘values of both middle-class femininity and bourgeois respectability’.[8]

So to sum up, while the imagery of motherhood was romantic and sentimental the Red Cross organisation during the First World War was able to effectively to use this iconography to encourage strong community support for their activities. By the end of the war the Red Cross owned the homefront war effort across the state. For many women and the community in general helping the war effort meant helping the Red Cross and for them the Red Cross worker was the soldier’s guardian angel.

[1] See more at:

[2] The NSW Red Cross Record, December 1914, p.19

[3] Sarah Glassford, “The Greatest Mother in the World”, Carework and the Discourse of Mothering in the Canadian Red Cross Society during the First World War’. Journal of the Association for Research of Mothering, Volume 10, Number 1, p.220

[4] National Library of Australia, War Posters, Lithographs, 1918.

[5] The Camden News, 19 September 1918; The Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1918; The Blue Mountain Echo, 19 July 1918; The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 1919; The Mail (Adelaide), 7 September 1918.

[6] The Camden News, 27 June 1918.

[7]. Anna Davin, ‘Imperialism and Motherhood’. History Workshop, 1978, Volume 5, Issue 1, p. 13.

[8]. Clare Wright, ‘Of Public Houses and Private Lives, Female Hotelkeepers as Domestic Entrepreneurs’. Australian Historical Studies, Volume 32, Issue 116, April 2001, p. 69.

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