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Camden, a Macarthur family venture

The private English-style estate village of James and William Macarthur

The establishment of Camden, New South Wales, the town in 1840, was a private venture of James and William Macarthur, sons of colonial patriarch John Macarthur, at the Nepean River crossing on the northern edge of the family’s pastoral property of Camden Park. The town’s site was enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River and has regularly flooded the surrounding farmland and lower parts of the town.

John Macarthur on the cover of Australia’s Heritage 1970. The original oil painting of John Macarthur is held in SLNSW (I Willis, 2022)

The site of Camden was within the 5000 acres granted to John Macarthur by the 2nd Earl Camden [3.2], the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in 1805, while Macarthur was in England on charges for duelling. Macarthur was a fractious quarrelsome self-promoter who arrived in NSW with his wife Elizabeth and family in 1790 as paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The Corps (sometimes called The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as a permanent regiment of the British Army to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps, which had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 to fortify the colony of NSW.

The town’s site, as part of the Macarthur grants, was located on some of the finest farming country in the colony in the government Cowpastures reserve on the colonial frontier. The grants were part of the dispossession of traditional lands of the Dharawal people by the British settler colonial project and inevitably led to conflict and violence. Macarthur claimed that the town’s establishment threatened the security of his landholdings at Camden Park and opposed it during his lifetime. On his death in 1834, his sons had a different worldview and moved to establish an English-style estate village dominated by a church.

A fine Gothic-style church

The ridge-top location of St John’s Church (1840) on the southern end of the town meant that it towered over the town centre and had a clear line of sight to the Macarthur family’s Georgian mansion at Camden Park 2.6 miles to the southwest. The fine English Gothic-style church was funded mainly by the Macarthur family and has been the basis of the town’s iconic imagery. There were a number of large gentry estates built on convict labour in the surrounding farmland, the largest being the Macarthur family’s Camden Park of over 28,000 acres.

St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

Many immigrant families came to the area under Governor Bourke’s 1835 plan and settled on the gentry estates as tenant farmers, some establishing businesses in Camden. The first land sales in the village occurred in 1841, which stifled the growth of the existing European settlements in the area. The population of Camden grew from 242 in 1846 to 458 in 1856, although the gentry’s estates still dominated the village. Camden Park, for example, had a population of 900 in 1850.

English-style gentry

The English-style gentry practised philanthropy in Camden to maintain its moral tone. Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, John Macarthur’s granddaughter, encouraged the maintenance of the proprieties of life, moral order and good works, as well as memorialising her family by donating a clock and bells to St John’s Church in 1897. She also marked the memory of her late husband, Captain Onslow, by providing a public park in 1882 named after her husband (Onslow Park), which is now the Camden showground.

Transport hub

Camden became the district’s transport hub at the centre of the road network, primarily set by the pattern of land grants from the 1820s. The earliest villages in the district predated Camden and then looked to Camden for cultural and economic leadership as the district’s major centre. The arrival of the Camden tramway in 1882 meant that silver ore west of the district (1871) was shipped through the Camden railhead to the Main Southern Railway from Sydney.  

The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

Progress assured

Combined with rail access to markets, the town’s prosperity was assured by a series of technical and institutional innovations that transformed the dairy industry in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the Macarthur family set up the Camden Vale Milk Company and built a milk processing plant at the eastern end of the main street adjacent to the rail line. Whole milk was railed to Sydney and bottled under its label until the mid-1920s. Milk was delivered daily to the factory by horse and cart until the 1940s from local dairy farms.

Camden Milk Depot, trading as Camden Vale Milk Coop Ltd located at the northern end of Argyle Street adjacent to Camden Railway Station. (Camden Images)

Camden’s progress saw the construction of a new bank (1878), the commencement of weekly stock sales (1883), the formation of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society and the first Camden Show (1886), a new post and telegraph office (1898), the foundation of two weekly newspapers (Camden Times, 1879, Camden News, 1880), a new cottage hospital (1898), the formation of a fire brigade (1900), the opening of a telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), town water (1899) and the replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932), and a sewerage scheme (1939). By 1933 the population of the town had grown to 2394.

First local council

The first attempt at local government in 1843 was unsuccessful. A meeting of local notables formed the municipality of Camden at a public meeting in 1883. Still, it was not until 1889 that the municipality was proclaimed, covering 7,000 acres and including Camden and the neighbouring village of Elderslie. Nine townsmen were elected aldermen at the first election that year, and the first meeting was held at the School of Arts. In 1993 the Camden Municipal Council eventually became the Council of Camden.

In 2014 this is the head office of Camden Council in the former Victorian gentleman’s townhouse built by Henry Thompson. (Camden Images)

Street names

Camden’s 1840 street grid is still intact today, with streets named after members of the Macarthur family – John Street, Elizabeth, Edward Street – and NSW colonial notables – Oxley Street, Broughton Street, Mitchell Street. The main highway between Sydney and Melbourne (the Hume Highway) passed along the main street (Argyle Street), until it was re-routed in 1976. The town’s business centre still has several Victorian and Art Deco shopfronts.   

Some charming Federation and Californian bungalows in the church ridge-top precinct were the homes of the Camden elite in the early 20th century. The precinct is the site of Macarthur Park (1905), which was dedicated to the townsfolk by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and contained the town’s World War One cenotaph (donated by the Macarthur family).  

John Street heritage precinct

John Street runs north-south downhill to the floodplain from the commanding position of St John’s church. Lower John Street is the location of the Italianate house Macaria (c1842), St Paul’s Catholic church and the government buildings associated with the Camden police barracks (1878) and courthouse (1857), and Camden Public School (1851). This area also contains the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in the town area, Bransby’s Cottage (1842). Lower John Street has the Camden Temperance Hall (1867), which later served as Camden Fire Station (1916–1993), and the School of Arts (1866), which served as the Camden Town Hall, while the rear of the building was occupied for a time by Camden Municipal Council.

Camden School of Arts located in John Street PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

Volunteerism

Community voluntary organisations have been part of Camden’s life from the town’s foundation. In the late 1800s, they were male-dominated, usually led by the landed gentry, and held informal political power through patronage. James Macarthur sponsored the Camden School of Arts (1865) and Agricultural, Horticultural & Industrial Society (1886), later called the Camden Show Society, while the non-conformists sponsored various lodges and the temperance movement. A small clique of well-off local women established several conservative women’s organisations after Federation. Their social position supported their husbands’ political activities, and the influence of the Macarthur family was felt in these organisations, for example, the Camden Red Cross and Country Women’s Association.

The women of the Camden Red Cross at their weekly street stall in Argyle Street Camden in the 1920s. The women ran the stall for decades and raised thousands of pounds for local and national charities. (Camden Images)

Many men and women from Camden and the district saw military service in the Boer War and later World War One and Two when residents set up local branches of national patriotic funds and civil defence organisations. On the outskirts of the town, there were active defence establishments during World War II, including an airbase, army infantry, and training camps.

Coal mining

Economic prosperity from coal mining in the district’s western part challenged old hierarchies in the postwar years, replacing the old colonially-based rural hegemony. New community organisations like Rotary and later the Chamber of Commerce fostered business networks in the town. The Camden Historical Society (1957) promoted the town’s past and later opened a local museum (1970).

Camden Museum Library building in John Street Camden, where the Blue Plaque with being located, recognising the efforts of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles in both World War One and World War Two. (I Willis, 2008)

Urbanisation

The New South Wales state government decreed that the town would become part of a growth area in the form of ‘new cities’ under the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), modelled on the British Garden City concept. Increasing urbanisation threatened the town’s identity and the number of community members formed by the Camden Residents’ Action Group (1973).

Mount Annan suburban development, which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

In 2007 Camden was the administrative centre of the Camden Local Government Area, which had a population of over 51,000 (2006) and an area of 201 square kilometres.  The Camden LGA became part of the state government’s Sydney South West Growth Centre, planned to house 500,000 new residents, and is one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas.  

Wave of nostalgia

Increasing levels of Sydney’s urbanisation have continued, threatened the loss of rural landscapes around the town, and awakened a wave of nostalgia. The NSW state government created the Camden Town Conservation Area (2008) based on the mid-20th century country town that aimed at preserving the town’s integrity and material fabric.

Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

Posted 19 September 2022

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Jacaranda fever hits Camden

2018 Camden Jacaranda Festival

In 2018 the love of the Jacaranda in the Camden area extended to the launch of a new festival around the purple blossoms.

An example of Jacaranda mimosifolia outside Camden’s historic Victorian Commercial Bank building adds a layer of colour to its colonial facade. The banking chambers are in Argyle Street Camden. (I Willis, 2020)

The idea first germinated in 2017 with the support of Argyle Street Business Collective. (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 8 August 2018)

In 2018 Camden Council threw its support behind Business Collective’s Jacaranda Festival. Council withdrew support for the annual Light Up Camden festival conducted by the Camden Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry.

The town’s Christmas celebrations were incorporated into the new Jacaranda Festival.

The current generation of Jacaranda trees and their flush of purple haze started with street plantings in the 1920s.

Specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia with their purple display on the central island in Argyle Street, Camden. Jacarandas were first planted in Camden’s town centre in the 1920s and in recent years have suffered from traffic pollution and other problems. (I Willis, 2020)

The first mention of jacarandas in Camden

Going back further, the first mention of Jacarandas was from Camden’s Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries in 1876 in Melbourne’s Australasian newspaper.

Ferguson’s published advice on the ‘rare’ Jacaranda mimosifolia described as ‘a singularly beautiful and rare flowering tree’.

Ferguson’s described the Jacaranda mimosifolia specimen in the Sydney Botanic Gardens as

an erect, though umbrageous and handsome growing tree, 30ft. to 40ft high. Its foliage is, perhaps, the most beautiful of all exogenous trees.

It is soft, feathery, fern or frond like, and exquisitely elegant, while at the same time it is decidedly grand, both in its proportions, graceful arrangements, and symmetry.

It may be said of the species that even out of flower it has no equal amongst moderate-sized ornamental trees, while to give expression to the effect of its appearance when in fall bloom no words would suffice. It must be seen to be appreciated.

The blossoms are large, of a most striking and delightful blue, and produced in such profusion that, viewed from a little distance, the tree appears, as it were, a graceful and living cone of floral grandeur.

Though rare, as we have remarked, enough has been proved to warrant us in stating that the Jacaranda mimosifolia is perfectly hardy in all but the very coldest districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. (Australasian, 6 May 1876)

‘Under The Jacaranda’ was painted by Richard Godfrey Rivers in 1903 at the Queensland Art Gallery. The Jacaranda specimen was located in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. (Wikimedia)

The first Jacaranda tree in Australia

Ross McKinnon, a former curator of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, told Jessica Hinchliffe  for ABC News, that

 ‘the first jacaranda tree planted in Australia was in Brisbane’.

“In the 1850s Queensland was sending wheat and grain to South America,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca.

“On returning, they would unload at Kangaroo Point cliffs’ wharfs and the first curator of the gardens, Walter Hill, would row across the river and exchange seeds and plants with visiting sea captains.

“A visiting sea captain from South America gave Walter Hill the first jacaranda, which he planted at the rear of the city botanic gardens in 1864.”

Camden Jacaranda Festival

The 2018 Jacaranda Festival was the inaugural event under founder and Camden Hotel manager Andrew Valciukas. Mayor Symkowiak said the ‘festival cheer will remain a highlight and nothing has changed [from Light Up Camden]’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 21 August 2018)

The festival ran from 23-25 November and opened on Friday night with live music throughout the town centre, including hotels, shopfronts and the Alan Baker Art Gallery.

The Jacaranda Experience opened on Saturday afternoon and into the evening when the Christmas tree was lit followed by fireworks. There was a street market with stalls and outdoor dining along Argyle Street and a stage in John Street for ‘local school children, dance schools and local professional acts’.

Larkin Place featured a motocross demonstration and a display of ‘fabulous street metal’. Fireworks topped out the festivities on Saturday night. (What On Macarthur, leaflet, November 2018) (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 8 August 2018)

Camden Region Economic Taskforce director Debbie Roberts put together several short films with Camden personality and historian Laura Jane Aulsebrook. The Jacarandas are featured along with Camden Cottage, Show Pavilion, Camden Library Museum, Macaria and other historic sites.

CRET’s films appeared on Facebook in the week leading up to the festival. They were popular and prompted a bus group from Sydney’s northern suburbs to visit Camden for a walk led by LJ Aulesbrook.

The Jacaranda Walking Tour Map highlighted the best spots to view Jacarandas in the Camden Town Centre with spots of Instagram selfies. The walking tours pointed out Camden’s historic sites and the view across the town centre from Broughton Street. (CHS, 2018)

Walks of the town’s Jacaranda-lined streets and historical sites were conducted on Sunday by members of the Camden Historical Society, including Laura Jane. The program of historic walking tours started at the Camden Museum. (The Jacaranda Walking Tour Map 2018)  

Camden Flower Festivals

Flower festivals were not new to Camden.

In the late 1960s, the Camden Rose Festival committee organised an annual festival and street parade, topped out with the crowning of Miss Rose Festival Queen. The celebrations were initiated by Camden community worker JW Hill in aid of Camden District Hospital. (Camden Advertiser, 11 February 2009)

Newspaper photographs of The Rose Festival Queen. The caption states: ‘The Rose Festival Queen, Miss Marilyn Fuller (left) receives her crown from last year’s Queen, Miss Michele Chambers. On the right, Miss Fuller thanks those who worked so hard for her success. Seated are Miss Hospital, Beverley Thornton and Miss Apex, Ngaire Davies’. Camden News, 30 October 1968)

The House and Garden website states,

The beauty, resilience and fragrance of roses have made it a favourite of gardeners and flower-lovers, as well as a symbol of love, for centuries. Roses are romantic and voluptuous, with their petals painted in beautiful colours.

Camden’s Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries had an extensive catalogue of roses and sold them all over Australia and beyond.

The 1930 trade catalogue for Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries had its main propagation operations at Camden. Ferguson’s sold an extensive range of roses across Australia and beyond. (SLM/Ferguson’s Nurseries)

Flower shows were not new in Camden, and the annual St John’s Church Flower Show was held each year starting in the 1890s and continuing for many decades.

Neil McMahon writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that

our love of gardening, plants and soil can perhaps be attributed to the combination of the British heritage – reflected in a lot of garden design before modern trends and native practicality infiltrated our yards and apartments – and a climate that lends itself to spending time outdoors planting and pruning.

Oldest Jacaranda Tree living in Australia

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney has the current honour of having the largest living jacaranda tree in Australia. It is located near the Victoria Lodge, Mrs Macquarie Road, Sydney.

The story of the jacaranda tree near the Victora Lodge in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney (The Gardens, Spring 2022, Issue 134)

The Victoria Lodge was built in 1865 and attributed to Sydney’s colonial architect James Barnett. It was built as a residence for the garden ranger and to be a landscape feature.

Victoria Lodge is located adjacent to Mrs Macquarie Road in the northeast section of the Royal Botanic Garden. This view shows Farm Cove in the background. The image was probably taken in the mid-late 1800s. (RBG)

Constructed on Sydney sandstone the garden website states:

Its tower was constructed in 1865 with pale-coloured sandstone, and the walls are sparrow-pick finished with a rock-faced finish at the base A new wing made of Sydney yellow block sandstone with a dressed and rubbed finish was added in 1897, providing a sitting room.  The front facade has a projecting bay, with six multi-paned windows and stone mullions. Palisade fencing was constructed in 1900 along Mrs Macquaries Road, and included a gateway. A lean-to bathroom was added between 1913 and 1921, and many internal finishes are from the 1960s. The Lower Garden Precinct in which Victoria Lodge sits demonstrates qualities introduced by Governor Macquarie and developed by Charles Moore, Director of the Garden for 48 years from 1848.

Updated 15 August 2022. Originally posted 8 December 2021.

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Capturing the distance of the past

Camden Mileposts

On the Camden Town Centre edges, there are two white concrete posts with numbers and letters. What are they, and what do the letters mean?

These white concrete posts are mileposts from when the Hume Highway ran up the centre of Camden along Argyle Street. The letters indicate destinations, and the numbers are distance in miles. These items are part of Camden’s engineering heritage.

A concrete milepost on the southern end of the Camden Town Centre on the road verge of the former Hume Highway now the Old Hume Highway. (I Willis, 2021)

The letters: M is Mittagong, S is Sydney, L is Liverpool and C is Camden. The distance is a mile:  an imperial unit of measure from before the time of metric measurement. The mile here is a statute mile which is 5280 feet or 1.609 km, as opposed to a nautical mile used in air and sea transport and is different.

The English mile

Mileposts dated back to the Roman Empire and were placed alongside the Roman roads. Distances were measured from the city of Rome. The mile originated from the Roman mille passus, or “thousand paces,” which measured 5,000 Roman feet.

The first mileposts along English roads appeared in 1593 and were standardised in England under the reign of Elizabeth I. The English mile was a different length from the Scottish mile and the Irish mile.  These measures were not standardised in the British Commonwealth and the US until 1959. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1935. https://www.britannica.com/science/mile)

In the colony of New South Wales, the first sandstone milestones were located on the Parramatta, Liverpool and South Head Roads from 1816 on the instructions of Governor Macquarie. Milestones provided accurate reference marks along with the expanding public road system for travellers on coaches. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)

Macquarie Obelisk

In the colonial period, Governor Macquarie’s Obelisk of Distances was erected in 1818 as the official starting point for all distances in NSW. It was located in what was then the centre of Sydney and is now Macquarie Place. The monument was also ‘a symbolic peg’ as the furthest extent of the British Empire in the early 1800s.

Obelisk of Distances in Macquarie Place Sydney designed by Francis Greenway and built-in 1818 under the orders of Governor Macquarie c1926 (SLNSW)

The placement of milestones in colonial NSW set a precedent. They were placed along the left hand or southern side of the roadway with the destination facing Sydney. The posts were meant to be seen by travellers coming from either direction for the benefit of stagecoach drivers to measure their distance from Sydney. They also ensured that the driver was on the correct road as many were just bush tracks. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)

Concrete mileposts

The two concrete mileposts in Camden were part of the road improvements by the NSW Department of Main Roads in 1934.

The decision to implement a programme of mileposting followed the first annual conference of state road authorities in February 1934 held in Melbourne. The meeting decided to adopt uniform national procedures for mileposting and road warning signs for roadworks, among other matters. It was felt that uniformity of services would help interstate travellers. (DMR, 1934)

A concrete milepost on the northern entry to the Camden Town Centre on the roadside verge of the former Hume Highway that ran along Argyle Street Camden. (I Willis, 2021)

In 1934 the department allocated £134 to the program in the Sydney area. (DMR, 1934)

The DMR Main Roads magazine stated that

In the days before the advent of the motor vehicle, when travel by road was slow and was done on foot, on horseback, or in horse-drawn carriage, few things gave greater service, or were more eagerly looked for, than the mileposts. (DMR, 1934a)

According to the Department of Main Roads, mileposting before 1934 provided signs that gave direction and the distance of important towns. Mileposts had lost their importance to the traveller because the car speedometer gave ‘progressive mileage’ stated a departmental report. (DMR, 1934a)

Road maintenance

Mileposting in 1934 was implemented with one specific aim.

The purpose of the mileposts now is to provide a convenient system of reference marks along the road for the use of those whose responsibility is to maintain the roads in a proper state. (DMR, 1934a)

The stated purpose was for the milepost to be a reference point along the road to give a precise position for any roadwork that needed to be done. Information to travellers was only secondary. (DMR, 1934a)

Mileposting to 1934 had been haphazard, with much work generated at a  local level and many gaps. Road maintenance was a secondary consideration, with information for travellers paramount. Much work was ‘incomplete’. Groups of mileposts were only based around important towns, sometimes following main roads and sometimes not. (DMR, 1934a)

The 1934 mileposting project was partly triggered by the 1928 classification of all roads in NSW into state highways, trunk roads and ordinary roads.

The 1928 changes saw The Great Southern Road through Camden renamed the Hume Highway in 1928. The 1929 Razorback Deviation shifted the highway to the east away from the former Great South Road (now Cawdor Road). (DMR, 1934a)

Different types of mileposts were used in 1934 for different purposes.  Concrete posts were used in the Sydney area and country towns, like Camden, and elsewhere there were timber posts.

Specifications and drawings for mileposts as outlined in the Department of Main Roads journal Main Roads (May 1934) where the DMR mileposting project was detailed for all roads in NSW (Main Roads 1934a)

There was a strict protocol for the letters and numbers on the posts, with letters and numbers incised and painted black and distances measured from the post office, and sometimes not.  Posts were placed on the left-hand side of roadways leading from Sydney or the coast, as they were in colonial times.

Posts were located with a clear view from the roadway of 200 feet with specific instruction on distances from roadways and locations for cuttings and embankments. On bridges, the mileposts were be clamped to the handrails.

In mid-1934, the NRMA suggested the mileposts on the different highways should be painted in a variety of colours. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 20 June 1934) The suggestion was not taken up.

One supplier of the concrete mileposts was the Hume Pipe Coy (Aust) Ltd. (Main Roads, August 1938)

Wooden Mileposts

In the Camden area, the Camden Heritage Inventory states there were wooden mileposts along Cawdor Road, formerly The Great South Road. They pre-date the concrete mileposts.

Timber milepost c1927 on the road verge of The Great South Road now Cawdor Road. (2021 I Willis)

In a 2002 survey for the Heritage Inventory, the three Cawdor Road timber mileposts were intact.

The posts were local hardwood cut by a sawmill in Edward Street in the late 1920s and delivered to The Great South Road (Cawdor Road) site by Camden teamster Les Nixon. (NSWSHI)

In a recent search, I was only able to locate one intact timber milepost in a fairly poor condition.

This timber milepost c.1929-1934 is located on the former Hume Highway at South Camden now Remembrance Drive. This milepost is located on the 1929 Hume Highway Razorback deviation that moved the main road from the Great South Road now Cawdor Road. (I Willis, 2021)

This timber milepost c.1929-1934 is located on the former Hume Highway at South Camden now Remembrance Drive. This milepost is not on the Wollondilly Shire Council heritage inventory. The milepost is sited on the roadside verge adjacent to the Camden Valley Inn. (I Willis, 2021)

References

CROFTS, R. & CROFTS, S. 2013. Discovering Australia’s Historical Milemarkers and Boundary Stones, Sydney, Roberts and Sandra Crofts.

DMR 1934. Department of Main Roads Ninth Annual Report for the year ending 30th June 1934. Sydney: NSW Legislative Assembly.

DMR 1934a. The Mileposting on Main Roads. Main Roads, 5.

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Mundane objects tell an interesting story

Utility pit covers

What is under your feet and totally ignored? What do you walk over every day? What is essential in an emergency? What provides access to critical utilities? The answer lies under our feet. What is it? Give up yet?

The answer is the humble utility inspection cover.

Gas Cover Durham Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Utilities like electricity, water, gas, sewerage, communications and others are essential in any community. Camden has acquired the utilities as time has progressed over the past 150 years to the present. Argyle Street has several utilities buried beneath the street and footpaths. Their histories provide valuable insight into the town’s development and progress, particularly in the 20th century.

The arrival of electricity, gas, and water was part of Camden modernism and its influence. These utilities have transnational origins beyond the township and illustrate the linkages between the town and the wider world.

For example, the supply of clean drinking water in Camden was linked to an outbreak of scarlet fever in the later 19th century. Contagious diseases were a significant health concern in the 19th century and were an ever-present worry in daily life. Clean drinking water had a significant influence on the development of public health.

I was walking along Camden’s Argyle Street, and it struck me that utility inspection covers are a historical statement in their own right. They are an entry point for the utility service as they also provide an entry to the stories surrounding the utility’s delivery.

Even the different logos for utilities illustrate the changes in the history of a telco or electricity supplier. A cover might be a statement about a utility supplier that is now defunct. The utility cover is made of different materials – cast iron, concrete, and others.

These are all mysteries that are waiting to be solved for the curious mind. Or just for the bored and idle with nothing better to do.

What about the Gas Cover from Durham above?

Durham Gas Cover

This is an inspection cover for the gas pipes using a Durham fitting probably around 1912. The Durham drainage fitting is a cast-iron, threaded fitting used on drainage pipes; has a shoulder such as to present a smooth, continuous interior surface. (Free Dictionary)  The Durham patent system of screw-joint iron house drainage was manufactured by the Durham House Drainage Co. of York USA (1887).

The Durham cover is for the Camden gas supply, installed in 1912 by the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was built in Mitchell Street and made gas from coal. There were many gas street lights in Argyle Street which were turned on in early 1912. The Camden News reported in January 1912 that many private homes and businesses had been connected to the gas supply network and were fitted for gaslighting.

Mr Murray, the gasworks manager, reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit, and he anticipated total supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912) Throughout 1912 there was an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)

In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was sold to AGL in 1970. (Peter Mylrea, ‘Gas and Electricity in Camden’, Camden History March 2008.)

NRCC

What is this cover for the NRCC? Does it still exist?

NRCC Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

 

The NRCC does not exist anymore, and the logo stood for the Nepean River County Council. It was the electricity supplier for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton area from 1954 to 1979 when it was amalgamated with Prospect County Council. This, in turn, became Integral Energy. Integral Energy was formed by the New South Wales Government in 1995 from the amalgamation of Illawarra Electricity and Prospect Electricity with over 807,000 customers.

NRCC office open 1956 Picton SLNSW

The Campbelltown office of the NRCC was located in Queen Street next to the Commonwealth Bank and in 1960 shifted to Cordeaux Street. By 1986 a new advisory office was opened in Lithgow Street. The council opened a new shop front at Glenquarie Shopping Centre at Macquarie Fields. There were shopfronts in Camden, Picton and other locations.

Logo Design

In  October 1954, the NRCC approved a design for its official seal. Alderman P Brown suggested a logo competition, and many entries were received for the £25 prize. The winning design by artist Leone Rush of Lidcombe depicts electricity being extended to rural areas by a circular outline of “Nepean River County Council”.
(Camden News, Thursday 4 November 1954.)

NRCC Seal (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/)
Nepean River County Council Seal (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/)

Former NRCC employee Sharon Greene stated that ‘It was like a small family business where everyone was happy to be there.’ (Camden Advertiser, 25 May 2009)

Former office manager, Kay Kyle, said that things in the office in 1959 were pretty bare when she started as a junior clerk.

She said:

‘We had no cash registers or adding machines, we hand wrote receipts and added the figures in our head for daily takings. That was a good skill to have. Eventually we received an old adding machine from Picton, but one day it added incorrectly so I wouldn’t use it again.’  (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

Former linesman Joe Hanger recalls working for the NRCC. He said,

‘In 1954 we were transferred to Nepean River County Council. They wanted linesmen and I went on the line crew and eventually worked my way up and got a pole inspectors job going around creosoting the poles. Eventually I got my own crew, mainly pole dressing. There were 7-8 in the crew. I was then made a foreman in about 1978.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

Working in the outdoor crews could be dangerous, as Joe Hanger remembers.

‘In July 1974 I fell from a 40ft pole while doing work near The Oaks. We had to check out why a back feed to The Oaks was loosing voltage. We were looking for crook joints. The pole is still out there, near a bend just before the straight road into The Oaks. We had opened the air break switch behind us and the airbreak switch ahead, we forgot that the transformer was on the other side of the open point. I checked the pole and Neville Brown had gone along to the next pole to open the next section. I was standing on the low voltage cross arm and grabbed one of the wires and was struck by the electricity. Luckily my weight caused me to fall away. I ended up falling about 25 feet and just another pole lying on the ground. If I had the belt on it may have been a different matter. I had a broken leg, broken rib and a great big black eye. I was very lucky.’

(http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

There are a host of other stories and wonderful memories from former employees of NRCC @ http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html.

Friends of the Nepean River Country Council

Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them, join the Friends of NRCC. 

Friends of NRCC

The telco inspection lid

This inspection lid is for the telco, which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.

PMG Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

The telco had a rich history of communications in Australia, starting in 1810 with the first postal service. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Australia’s first postmaster Isaac Nicholls and the colonial government of New South Wales Government the first regular postal services, including rates of postage. The new Sydney General Post Office was opened in George Street in 1874.

The first telephone service was established in Melbourne in 1879.

At Federation, the new Commonwealth Postmaster-General’s Department assumed responsibility for telephone, telegraph and postal services. In the 1920s, the department took control of international short wave services and the Australian Broadcast Commission in the 1930s.

In 1975 the Postmaster-General Department was broken up, and the postal service moved to Australia Postal Commission (trading at Australia Post). Telecommunications became the responsibility of the Australian Telecommunications Commission trading at Telecom Australia. Telecom Australia was corporatised in 1989, renamed Telstra Australia in 1993, and partially privatised in 1999.

In 1992 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (est 1946) was merged with Telecom Australia.

Telstra Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden
Inspect Cover Telecom
Telecom Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

 MWS&DB

Service Valve cover for water MWS&DB Argyle St Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The MWS&DB was the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, today is known as Sydney Water. The organisation has gone through several name changes:

  • the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 1888 to 1892,
  • from 1892 to 1925 as the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage,
  • the MWS&BD from 1925 to 1987,
  • then the Water Board from1987 to1994, then finally as the
  • Sydney Water Corp Ltd (1995-1999) with Ltd dropped in 1999.

Deks G (Gas)

Deks Cover for gas in Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Deks was established in Australia by Mr George Cupit in 1947 and remained a family business until it became part of the Skellerup Group in 2003. Deks have a presence in 28 countries. They have supplied plumbing fittings, including flashings, fittings or flanges, for over 100 years. (http://www.deks.com.au/about/)

Malco W (Water)

Malco Cover for Water Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Malco Industries reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951 that the company incorporated three separate businesses involved in heavy industrial activities on its site at Marrickville. There were three divisions (1) Malleable Castings was founded in 1915 and was claimed to be one of Australia’s leading producers of iron castings. (2) EW Fittings was incorporated in 1925 and made cast iron pipe fittings for water, gas, steam and oil. (3) Link-Belt Co Pty set up in 1949 and industrial transmission equipment. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Friday 6 April 1951, page 6)

Romwood SV

Service Valve Romwood Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Havestock Cover

Havestock Cover Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Havestock is a business that has made pit lids since the 1980s. Havestock is now part of the global EJ Group and designs, manufactures and distributes man-hole covers, pit covers and other infrastructure access covers and grates. (http://www.hygrade.net.nz/product-category/by-brand/by-brand-havestock/) (http://www.homeimprovementpages.com.au/connect/havestock_pty_ltd/)

Updated 26 October 2021. Originally posted 21 October 2016.

Active citizenship · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Business · Camden · Camden Museum · Camden Story · Community identity · Country Women's Association · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Families · Family history · Genealogy · Heritage · Historical Research · History · Local History · Local Studies · Medical history · Memory · Place making · Sense of place · Shopping · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Volunteering · Volunteerism · Women's history

Local identities, Colin and Dorothy Clark

Active citizens with a vision for the future

In 2002 the Sydney press commemorated the life and times of Camden identity Colin Clark, a successful pharmacist who served his community, church and family. (SMH 20 May 2002) Colin married Dorothy, and together, they shaped ‘a vision for their future’ in Camden.

My interest in the Clarks was partly prompted by a photograph of a bottle of liquid paraffin sent to me by local resident Nicole Comerford. Colin had dispensed the paraffin to Nicole’s grandmother, Sheila Murdoch of Orangeville.

Liquid Paraffin medicine that Sheila Murdoch purchased from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark in Argyle Street. The bottle dates from the mid-20th century. (N Comerford, 2021)

Colin Clark ran a pharmacy in Argyle Street for over 35 years.  He trained as a pharmacist at the Melbourne College of Pharmacy,  and met Dorothy in Stroud. They married in 1933 at Malvern Hill Methodist Church (Clark, Fix Ears, p.72) before moving to Camden in 1934.

Dorothy was an accomplished musician and an artist. In the mid-1920s, she received a scholarship to the Sydney Art School  (Julian Ashton Art School) (Clark, Fix Ears, p.71), which trained several notable Australian artists.

The Clarks planned to stay in Camden for seven years (Mylrea, Interview) and as things turned out, they stayed a lifetime. (Camden News, 6 August 1981)  Their Methodist faith shaped their worldview and they how fitted into Camden’s rich social fabric and became part of the ‘backbone of the community’. (Camden News, 6 August 1981). They mixed with other Methodist families who amongst others included the Whitemans, the Sidmans and the Stuckeys.

Colin became a well-regarded businessman and Dorothy, a stay-at-home mother. They were respected in all strata of society and mixed with people ‘of so-called high and low estate’. (Clark, Eulogy) 

Colin Clark Camden (Camden Images)

John Kearns argues that John Wesley ‘was an active citizen, concerned with people’s physical, mental and economic welfare as well as their spiritual well-being and he did many good works’. As were the Clarks.

Community service – ‘the backbone of the community’

Colin and Dorothy were community-minded active citizens who constantly devoted their ‘energies to the gentle pursuit of shaping their community’s lifestyle and character’ through several local organisations. (Camden News, 6 August 1981)

Colin was president of the Camden Historical Society from 1968 to 1970 and was made a life member in 1994. He was a foundation member of the Camden Rotary Club and served the club for 33 years. He was a member of the Carrington Hospital Board from 1967 to 1981, made a trustee in 1975 (Camden News 6 August 1981) and to honour his service, the board room was named after him (Clark Eulogy). He was president of the Camden Central School P&C in the early 1950s, a member of the Camden Masonic Lodge and a board member of the Camden Uniting Church. (Clark, Eulogy).

Colin was an active sportsman and participated in tennis, cricket, golf and lawn bowls. He was a foundation member of the Camden Golf Club, an early committee member of the Camden Bowling Club and instrumental in the foundation of the Camden CWA Rooms building.

Dorothy – musician, artist and mother

Dorothy was a musician and an artist with an appreciation of the arts.  She was an accomplished pianist, and in 1936 played the piano at a Methodist ladies ‘towel afternoon’ (Camden News, 6 August 1936). In 1942 she was the pianist for a concert for the troops at the Narellan Military Base (Camden News, 5 February 1942), and in 1952 she played the piano at a fashion parade fundraiser for the Camden Hospital Ladies Auxiliary (Camden News, 2 October 1952). Dorothy was the pianist for the first Camden Musical Society performance. (Camden News 6 August 1981)  

Dorothy Clark was an active member of the Camden Red Cross, Camden District Hospital Auxiliary, and the Camden Country Women’s Association.

Colin Clark (RHS) with fellow Rotarians Geoff McAleer (LHS) and Noel Riordan (centre) in the early development of the Camden Museum in 1969. The Camden Museum opened in 1970. The objects in the picture are the Brunero spinning wheel for spinning wool with a penny farthing bicycle in front. (Camden Images)

Camden Museum – ‘a vision for the future’

In the mid-1960s, Colin and Dorothy had a vision for a local history museum in Camden where a collection of objects and things could tell the local story. (Mylrea, Interview)  The Clark’s view of the world would have seen a museum providing  an educational experience based on authentic objects and stories taken from Camden’s cultural traditions and values, and the individuals who created them. (Willis, Stories and Things)

 The Clark’s vision and enthusiasm encouraged support after initial scepticism. With the help of Camden Rotary Club Colin eventually secured the old council rooms at the rear of the Camden School of Arts and opened a museum in 1970. (Wrigley, Camden Museum)

John Wrigley writes

Colin Clark was the president of the Camden Historical Society at the founding of the Camden Museum in 1970. Colin became a member of the society in 1963 and president in 1968. He was the fourth president of the society. (Wrigley, 2021)

Colin Clark 2nd from left on the 25th Anniversary of the Camden Historical Society in 1995. These fellows were all past presidents of the society and they are L-R: RE Nixon, Colin, Owen Blattman, John Wrigley. They are standing outside the original entry of Camden Museum in the laneway between Camden Library and the Presbyterian Church (Camden Images)

The village apothecary

Colin’s career as a pharmacist fitted into the English tradition of the village apothecary dating back to the 13th century where he was a person who kept a stock of these commodities, and he sold from his shop or street stall

The Clark pharmacy was part of the move  by the early 20th century when the role of pharmacist had shifted to a more scientific approach. There was a move away from compounding towards premanufactured proprietary products and the traditional role of apothecary of the frontier and colonial period. 

Colin recalled, ‘In the 1930s it was quite common to be called upon to dispense a prescription mixture. There were no prepared medicines and it took around 20 minutes to put a script together. There were very few cosmetic preparations.’ (The Crier, 14 November 1979) 

The Clark Chemist shop (on the LHS of the image) was located in the Whiteman’s building in the late 1930s at 90 Argyle Street Camden (Camden Images)

Colin’s pharmacy was initially located in the Whiteman building at 90 Argyle Street when he purchased Niddries business. The pharmacy opened at 8.30am, with half-an-hour for lunch to 8.30pm. The local doctors always ran a night surgery and Colin would be dispensing mixtures for the patients. On Saturday he opened at 8.30am to 1.00pm, then back at 6.00pm to 8.30pm and then Sundays and after-hours calls. ‘It was a very hard life.’ (Mylrea, Interview)  

In the mid-1950s Colin moved the business west along Argyle Street to 108 Argyle Street into the former Greens Ladies Wear. (Mylrea, Interview) His pharmacy was part of what Jill Finch has argued was the advent of patent medicines and manufactured tablets which broadened the range of drugs, and by the 1960s pharmacists were primarily dispensing premanufactured capsules and tablets.

References

Clark, GM 2021, I want to fix ears, Inside the Cochlear Implant story, Iscast, Melbourne.

Clark, Graeme 2002. Eulogy for CC, Camden. 27 March, Camden Museum Archives.

Dwyer, P 1997, Pharmacy Practice Today: An Increased Exposure to Legal Liability, UNSW Law Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 724-759.

Finch, J 2017, Pharmacy – Cultural Artefact, Companion to Tasmanian History, viewed 05 September 2021, <http://www.utas.edu.au/tasmanian-companion/browse_r_concepts.htm>.

Kearns, Adrian J. “Active Citizenship and Urban Governance.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 17, no. 1, 1992, pp. 20–34. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/622634. Accessed 4 Sept. 2021.

Mylrea, Peter 1994. Transcript of an Interview with CC, Camden, 12 November, 19 November, 10 December 1993, 19 January 1994, Camden Museum Archives.

Mylrea, Peter 2001. ‘Camden Historical Society, Its First 25 Years, 1957-1982’. Camden History, Vol 1, No 1, March 2001, p.11.

Mylrea, Peter 2001. ‘Glimpses of Camden, Interview with Colin Clark’. Camden History, Vol 1, no 2, September 2001, pp.24-28.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries 2021, Origins, The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, viewed 05 September 2021, <https://www.apothecaries.org/history/origins/>.

Urick, B. Y., & Meggs, E. V. (2019). Towards a Greater Professional Standing: Evolution of Pharmacy Practice and Education, 1920-2020. Pharmacy (Basel, Switzerland), 7(3), 98. https://doi.org/10.3390/pharmacy7030098

Willis, I. 2009. ‘Stories and things: the role of the local historical society, Campbelltown, Camden and The Oaks’. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 95(1), 18–37. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/ielapa.200906492

Worthing, M 2015, Graeme Clark, The man who invented the bionic ear, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Wrigley, John 2020. ‘The Rise and Rise of the Camden Museum, Celebrating Fifty Years!’, Camden History, Vol 4, no 9, March 2020, p405.

Wrigley, John 2021, ‘Colin Clark’. Typescript, Camden Museum.

Anzac · Argyle Street · Bastille Day · Belonging · Camden Story · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Festivals · First World War · France · Frances Day · Heritage · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Media History · Military history · Nationalism · Newspapers · Pageant · Patriotism · Place making · Red Cross · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Volunteerism · War · War at home · Wartime · Women's history

Camden and its French Connections

French nationalism on show

Glory or death each morning brought –

Small matter which the chance.

Our General knew his soldiers fought

For Liberty and France!   

– Marcus Clarke  (Camden News, 20 July 1916)

During the First World War, the Camden News’s editorial policy expressed strong cultural connections with France, especially around Bastille Day. The News carried reports of patriotic celebrations around the French National Day, visits by French soldiers and the personal reminiscences of Paris by Camden identity and owner of the News, William Sidman.

The Franco-Prussian war

In September 1914, the Camden News published a series of six articles written by William Sidman. They documented his personal experiences of the chaotic events of Paris at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. (Camden News, 27 August, 3 Sept, 10 Sept 1914, 17 Sept, 24 Sept, 1 Oct 1914)  

Sidman had been sent to Paris in mid-1869 to ‘take charge ‘of The European News by the owners of Hull’s The Eastern Morning News, where he worked as a ‘junior reporter’. (CN, 27 August) The European News was large circulation bi-lingual, English-French, daily with a weekly edition. (CN, 3 Sept 1914)

In his memoirs, Sidman wrote about the chaos that broke out in Paris in mid-1870. There were large mobs of people roaming the streets after a national vote supporting the bellicose policies of Napoleon III towards Prussia. Sidman recalled that the ‘ends of streets were made impassable, omnibuses overturned’, resulting in ‘a political crisis’ with a ‘simmering discontent by the masses’. (CN, 10 Sept 1914)

The front page of the Camden News of 27 August 1914 with William Sidman’s memoirs of Paris and the Franco-Prussian war in columns 2 & 3 alongside cables from Europe about developments of the war front.

Sidman wrote that eventually, the French government declared war on Prussia. The situation in Paris deteriorated, foreign nationals were told to leave, and Sidman left for London (CN, 24 Sept 1914). He was later told by an English compositor who fled Paris that the lead-type of The European News had been ‘melted down for bullets’ during the Prussian siege of the city in late 1870. (CN, 1 October 1914)

Sidman felt guilty leaving France and recalled that he felt sorry for ‘all my French friends’ during the conflict. The following year, he returned to Paris and found that the old newspaper office had been re-built by French authorities after its destruction by Prussian forces. (CN, 1 October 1914)

William’s articles were published under  George Sidman’s editorship of the Camden News and were put on the front page. GV (George) Sidman was William’s son, took control of the Camden News in 1912, and continued William’s support for the French.

Bastille Day

Support for French patriotic causes was not unique to Camden. Historian Alexis Bergantz in his book French Connections, Australia’s Cosmopolitan Ambitions, writes that Bastille Day celebrations in Melbourne in 1915 were prevalent. He reports that ‘hundreds of women spilled onto the streets selling flowers and cockades and flags in the colours of France’ according to the Melbourne Argus. The Marseillaise was played and funds raised for the French Red Cross on 14 July. The day was topped out with a ‘great concert of French music’ at the Melbourne Town Hall. (Bergantz, p136)

Camden’s first celebration of Bastille Day and French nationalism occurred on Friday, 14 June 1916.  The Camden News published Marcus Clarke’s patriotic French poetry as the story’s lead item (see the beginning of this article) and then reported on a town hall meeting called by Camden Mayor GF Furner. Press reports stated that a ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd celebrated the ‘French National Day’ by listening to patriotic speeches from the mayor and Rev Hogan and ended with ‘three hearty cheers’ for France. (Camden News, 20 July 1916)

Camden Frances Day Procession for French Bastille Day 14 July 1917 (Roy Dowle, Camden Images)

In 1917 the Camden Red Cross organised a fancy dress procession and sports day for France’s Day on 14 July and raised £374. The aim of the appeal was to assist French widows and children after the defence of Verdun. France’s Day started with a ‘hearty’ fancy dress procession along the main street, ending up at the showground, led by the Camden District Band and the fire brigade.

The procession along Argyle Street was followed by a sports day where the Camden Red Cross conducted a ‘tea tent’. The whole event attracted an ‘enormous crowd of people’ and entry was 1/-. The ‘younger members’ of the Camden Red Cross organised a concert (9 July) and raised £23 with entertainment provided by the Guild of St Faith and the Camden District Band.  (Camden News, 5 July 1917, 12 July 1817, 19 July 1917.)

In Australia, the British Red Cross, including the Camden branch, conducted extensive fundraising for the French Red Cross and other French causes throughout the First World War. (BRC)

New Caledonian garrison visits Camden

These Red Cross activities were followed later in 1917 (Monday, 15 October) with a visit by a group of 20 French soldiers from the New Caledonia garrison. Sibella Macarthur Onslow hosted the soldiers in the ‘famous gardens’ at Camden Park after a planned visit to Gilbulla had been cancelled. The soldiers were part of a group of nearly 300 French troops welcomed in Sydney by the military, the Red Cross and Sydney’s French residents. They were entertained at a variety of functions around the city.

After their morning visit at Camden Park, the soldiers were driven into Camden, where they were entertained at a garden party on the lawn at the Commercial Bank in Camden’s main street. They took afternoon tea and were introduced to Camden’s mayor, WF Peters, his wife, over 25 members of the Camden Red Cross and other local identities by Sibella Macarthur Onslow. Several toasts and speeches were followed by rousing cheers of thanks, after which they boarded the train for Sydney.  (Sydney Morning Herald 15 October 1917; Camden News, 18 October 1917.)  

French soldiers from the New Caledonian garrison visit Camden and are entertained for lunch by women from the Camden Red Cross at the lawn at the Camden Commercial Bank building. (Camden Images)

Sidman and French nationalism

The country press is a store of knowledge around cultural heritage and powerful local political interests especially in wartime.

Sidman was an identity of some weight in the Macarthur family strong-hold of Camden and his newspaper was a powerful voice in the town and district. He well understood the impact of the provincial press after working on a number of local mastheads in the United Kingdom and his time in Paris. So what was he up to? What was he trying to achieve with his French memoirs of war?

I would argue that while Sidman’s memoirs were really just a recollection of events at the time, their publication had a very pointed political agenda in a New South Wales country town at the outbreak of the First World War.

Sidman whimsically opened his memoirs of Paris with these comments:

memory is our only friend and true in thought and as long as a man’s memory lasts it becomes a treasure of unknown intrinsic value’

(Camden News, 27 August 1914)

What was Sidman really trying to say in his memoirs? Who was he trying to influence?

Disappointingly George Sidman did not provide insight or editorial comment in the Camden News at the time of William’s memoirs of Paris to help answer my questions.

Part of the answer might be provided by William Sidman in 1898. He wrote of his despair at the cost of warfare, the loss of resources in the nations which took part in them and the threat to world stability. (Camden News, 9 June 1898)

Aesthetics · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Festivals · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · History · Jacaranda · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Macarthur Park · Sense of place · Streetscapes · Trees · Urbanism

Camden’s purple haze

A lavender haze – jacarandas in Camden

As you walk around Camden streets you will come across the current flush of purples, mauves, lilac and lavender along Argyle Street, Broughton Street, John Street, and in Macarthur Park.

Jacaranda tree in bloom in Argyle Street Camden outside colonial Commercial Bank building (I Willis, 2020)

People are entranced by the magic of the town’s ‘sea of lavender’ as Peter Butler from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens has described the lavender haze at the Sydney gardens.

Jacarandas cause excitement amongst locals (Macarthur Chronicle, 5 November 2013)

Blooming  jacarandas are regularly featured on  the front page of  local newspapers. (Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition), 5 November 2013)

Blooming jacarandas provide a purple carpet after a November shower and in 2006 caused an unholy fuss in the local press.

What is all the fuss about?

 The Camden Chamber of Commerce proposed the removal and replacement of 33 jacaranda trees in Argyle Street with Manchurian pear trees in 2006. The chamber suggested that shopkeepers ‘take responsibility for their maintenance’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 24  October 2006)

The Argyle Street jacarandas, which were planted in 1927, were showing the effects of age, pollution, compaction and other problems.

The Camden mayor Chris Patterson and Deputy Mayor David Funnell wanted to know if the community supported their replacement. He posed the question in the press: Should Camden Council replace Argyle Street’s jacaranda trees?

The answer was loud and swift.

Mayor Patterson said, ‘People stopped me on the street, rang council and my mobile phone, to give me their views’.

‘The overwhelming response has been the jacarandas should stay but people want council to give them some more love and care’.

Jacaranda blooms in Argyle Street in November (2019 I Willis)

A flood of letters

The Camden press was ‘flooded with letters’ and 90% of ‘our internet poll’ wanted to trees to stay.

Letter writer M Goodwin felt the removal of the trees was ‘frivolous and unnecessary’, and Ian Turner did approve of their removal. Bob Lester had mixed views on the matter, Mrs B Thompson said the council should attend to their health and Kylie Lyons agreed. The sentiment of many was best summarised by L Jones of Cobbitty who said, ‘The jacaranda trees are stunning in full bloom and they should not be replaced’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 31 October 2006)

Camden resident Irene Simms started a petition and council commissioned a report on the state of the trees by arborist David Potts. Maryann Strickling felt that the trees were part of town’s cultural heritage and wrote, ‘The jacarandas in Argyle Street are integral to retaining the heritage of Camden’s landscape’ (Camden Advertiser, 7 November 2006).

The letters in the local press kept coming and a letter from Elizabeth Paparo was headed ‘Purple rain is a part of our history’ and felt ‘When the bloom of the Jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near!’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 14 November 2006)

The Potts report was presented to council in 2007 and stated that the trees were ‘expected to live long and healthy lives’. (Camden Advertiser, 15 August 2007)

The fuss over the trees has continued on and off and in 2018 the a number of local business people organised the Jacaranda Festival that has gained considerable attention in the media.

What is the appeal of jacarandas?

The appeal of the mauve coloured jacaranda was best summarised by the 1868 correspondent for  the Sydney Morning Herald.

This most beautiful flowering tree is a native of Brazil, and no garden of any pretensions can be said to be complete without a plant of it. The specimen in the Botanic garden is well worth a journey of 50 miles to see. Its beautiful rich lavender blossoms, and its light feathery foliage, render it the gem of the season. (SMH 5 December 1868)

The jacaranda first appeared in Sydney around the mid-1860s. The Guardian newspaper has provided a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1865

An account of the Prince of Wales’ birthday celebrations in the Sydney Morning Herald from 10 November 1865 describes admirers observing well-established trees: “Many enjoyed a stroll through the botanic gardens, which show the beneficial effects of the late rain; some of the most beautiful trees are now in luxuriant blossom, in particular the lilac flower of the Jacaranda mimosifolia is an object of much admiration.”

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Macarthur Park (I Willis 2017)

Sydney’s love of Jacaranda mimosifolia

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia, the most common variety in Sydney,

was collected and returned to the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, in about 1818. One early source gives the credit to plant hunter Allan Cunningham, who was sent on from Rio de Janiero to NSW, where he would later serve, briefly, as colonial botanist.

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the popular of the jacaranda in the Sydney area owes much to the success of landscape designer Michael Guilfoyle ‘solved the problem of propagation’. He gave a paper at the Horticultural Society in 1868 and outlined the lengths he went to solve the problems around growing the trees in Sydney. Guilfoyle’s Exotic Nursery at Double Bay supplied jacarandas to the ‘city’s most fashionable gardens’ and ‘many gardens in the Eastern Suburbs’. The trees became particularly popular by the Interwar period and were flourishing in harbourside gardens across Sydney.

The hospital matron

Curator Helen Curran says that the tree’s popularity is partly explained by Sydney Living Museums

One story credits November’s purple haze to the efforts of a hospital matron who sent each newborn home with a jacaranda seedling. A less romantic explanation lies in the fact the trees were a popular civic planting in the beautification programs of the early 20th century and interwar years, right up to the 1950s and 1960s. 

There are a host of Sydney Living Museum properties that feature a purple and lilac haze in November and they include Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Farm and at Nowra, Meroogal.

Parts of Sydney attract considerable numbers of visitors when the local jacarandas are in bloom.

The Guardian claims that Australia’s love of the jacaranda was an unlikely affair. The ultimate expression of love for the jacaranda is in Grafton NSW and the annual Jacaranda Festival.  

Australia’s first jacarandas

The first jacarandas planted in Australia were grown in Brisbane. Dale Arvidsson from the Brisbane Botanic Garden’s states

the first jacaranda was planted in the city gardens in 1864 by Walter Hill. He says, ‘Plants grown from seeds [or] seedlings from this tree were later sent to Rockhampton and Maryborough Botanic Gardens (Queens Park).  

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Menangle Road Camden (I Willis 2017)

Cultivation

Cultivation of the jacaranda is relatively easy in the climate of Eastern Australia. Wikipedia states

Jacaranda can be propagated from grafting, cuttings and seeds, though plants grown from seeds take a long time to bloom. Jacaranda grows in well-drained soil and tolerates drought and brief spells of frost and freeze.

This genus thrives in full sun and sandy soils, which explains their abundance in warmer climates. Mature plants can survive in colder climates down to −7 °C (19 °F); however, they may not bloom as profusely. Younger plants are more fragile and may not survive in colder climates when temperatures drop below freezing.

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens states:

Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) species is native to Argentina and Bolivia but can survive and perform well in most temperate parts of Australia. Jacarandas are readily grown from freshly fallen seed and can be considered weedy in some areas.

Not so friendly

Yet a word of warning about the lovely and popular purple tree.

In Queensland the jacaranda can escape into the bush and become a weed. It out-competes local native plants and forms thickets below planted species.

Brisbane City Council has listed Jacaranda mimosifolia as one of the top 200 weeds in the city area. In Queensland it was considered naturalised in 1987 escaping domestic gardens.

The species Jacaranda mimosifolia  is considered a weed in many part of New South Wales and is hard to eradicate once established in an area.

The future of the Jacaranda

University of Melbourne botanist Gregory Moore argues that the Jacaranda has a rosy bluey, or maybe indigo, or just purple future in urban Australia. Jacaranda mimosifolia is likely to do particularly under the influence of climate change as it gets ‘warmer and drier in place’. He just urges a little caution in rural areas where they have the potential to become ‘weedy’.

Updated 2 December 2020