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Camden realism and storytelling

A local school of art tells a story

Camden realism is a style of art that has appeared in the Macarthur region in recent decades and tells the story of the local area. It was recently on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, where the gallery mounted an exhibition displaying the works of Nola Tegel, Patricia Johnson and others.

Artist Marion Boddy-Evans describes a school of art as

a group of artists who follow the same style, share the same teachers, or have the same aims. They are typically linked to a single location.

Local artists Nola Tegel and Patricia Johnson follow a representational style of work pioneered in the local area from the 1970s by artist Alan Baker. Tegel and Johnson were some of Baker’s students who, joined by others, and have created an impressive and vital body of local artwork.

The followers of Camden realism conduct a form of storytelling through their representational style of artwork that documents the ever-changing landscape of the Macarthur region and its cultural heritage.

Campbelltown Arts Centre

Camden realism is regularly exhibited at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and the annual Camden Art Prize.

In 2020 Tegel was commissioned by the Campbelltown Arts Centre to

develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape.

Then & Now Catalogue

The Campbelltown Arts Centre mounted these works in an exhibition called ‘Then and Now‘, which ran from March to May 2021.

The Campbelltown Arts Centre was established in 2005 and boasts that it is a regional creative hub.  The gallery encourages local artists to take risks using various techniques from new to traditional, including Baker’s representational style of realism.

The Tegel commission

The brief for the Tegel commission stated that she

‘develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape’.

Storytelling is the essence of Tegel’s artwork, and the exhibition catalogue states her body of artwork has documented

‘the built environment and landscape of the Campbelltown CBD ahead of imminent growth and continuous change’.

Storytelling is an essential element of the creative process, and artist Courtney Jordon argues that:

Storytelling often comes naturally to artists. Sometimes the story starts on a single canvas or sheet of paper and doesn’t end until a gallery full of paintings, a suite of drawings, a set of illustrations, a series of comic strips or an entire graphic novel.
Certain subject matters compel an artist to revisit them again and again, building on a concept or pushing it in different directions. The narrative can be a visible part of the artwork in the form of a written story. But oftentimes, it acts as an invisible framework that guides an artist through the creative process.

Tegel is a storyteller and she has created a narrative that fulfilled the commission brief with empathy and vision. This was based on her understanding of the area’s sense of place and community identity as a growing community on Sydney’s urban fringe. The exhibition catalogue states that

Tegel’s accomplished documentation of Campbelltown captures the artists’ attachment to familiar outlooks and awe of the growing community.

‘Then and Now’, Exhibition catalogue

The catalogue cover of the Nola Tegel Exhibition Then & Now at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2021 (I Willis)

The essence of Tegel’s artwork is storytelling as she gives a visual palette to the aspirations and expectations of the local community of local’s and new arrivals by capturing the meaning and essence of place on the canvas.  

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition where hope and loss,  and dreams and memories are shaped and re-shaped by a shifting sea of urbanisation.  Tegel has produced a body of work that tells the story of  subtle nuances across the landscape that are only understood by those who have experienced them.  She reminds us all that the border between the rural and the urban fringe is a constantly shifting feast.

Campbelltown is a landscape of change as it has been since the area was proclaimed by Governor Macquarie in 1820. Initially, as a settler society dispossessing the Dharawal of their country, and in the 20th century, urban dwellers dispossessing Europeans of their bucolic countryside.

Tegel has witnessed these challenges through her interpretation of the area’s cultural landscapes in an evocative fashion, and in the process, captured Campbelltown’s sense of place.

Visitors at the Exhibition Then & Now for Macarthur artist Nola Tegel at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2021 (I Willis)

The notes in the exhibition catalogue argue that Tegel has drawn here artistic influences from various sources. Amongst these have been working with artist Barbara Romalis and being a foundational member of artist Alan Baker’s art classes at Camden.

Camden realism and Alan Baker

Baker created what might be called the Camden Realist School of art. He was a follower of the Realist tradition and shunned sentimentalism, modernist abstract and avant-garde styles.

Baker’s influence on Tegel is evident in the ‘Then and Now’ exhibition collection, where it is represented by her ability to capture Campbelltown’s sense of place without sentimentalism or abstraction.

In the 1970s Baker encouraged a realist style amongst students at his Camden Public School art classes, which included Nola Tegel,  Patricia Johnston, Olive McAleer, Rizwana Ahmad, and Shirley Rorke.

Baker encouraged a Plein Air painting style,  a tradition that

 goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century by introducing paints in tubes. Before this, artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. 

In Australia the school of Heidelberg School of artists regularly painted landscapes en plein air, and sought to depict daily life from the 1890s.

Tegel displayed her deft skills as a practitioner of this style in her 2019 Maitland Regional Art Gallery exhibition called ‘In the Light of the Day’. Her artworks were described as coming

 from a long standing tradition of painting en plein air, artwork created ‘in the moment’, painted and worked on in situ.  

mrag.org.au/whats-on/nola-tegel-in-the-light-of-the-day/(opens in a new tab)

In 2018 Tegel documented the historic colonial Victorian homestead Maryland at Bringelly     when she was privately commissioned ‘to create 60 paintings.’ These paintings have told the story of one of the Cowpastures most important colonial mansions and farms built between 1820 and 1850. (Then & Now Catalogue)

Patricia Johnston

Another member of the Camden Realist school is Camden-based artist Patricia Johnston.

Johnston is the ‘2021 Focus Artist’ at the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the ‘Friends Annual and Focus Exhibition’.

Another prodigy of Alan Baker and a fan of the plein air tradition Johnston says that Baker

Revealed the challenge of capturing changing light conditions in open-air painting. The immediacy of this technique and the ability to analyse complex visual scenes established a groundwork that has greatly influenced my painting. The environment became by studio.

Friends Annual & Focus Exhibition Catalogue 2021

A collage of paintings by artist Patricia Johnson on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre as the ‘2021 Focus Artist’ in the ‘Friends Annual and Focus Exhibition’. (I Willis)

Realism on display

Camden realism’s outstanding body of work is a collection of Alan Baker’s paintings, sketches, and other works at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria in John Street Camden. The gallery presents the Alan Baker Collection, which is

a colourful portrayal of an artist’s life in 21st Century Australia.

Alan Baker Art Gallery Flyer

The flyer for the ‘Face to Face’ Exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria Camden with artist Alan Baker’s self-portrait on the cover. The exhibition is running during 2021. (Alan Baker Art Gallery)

Camden realism is encouraged every year in the Camden Art Prize, which was established in 1975. The acquisitive art prize has a host of categories attracting a mix of artist styles, including traditional representational works.

Smaller exhibitions of Camden realism add to body of work. In 2019 local artists Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Bob Gurney, and Roger Percy mounted an exhibition at Camden Library called ‘Living Waters of Macarthur’. The body of artworks told a variety of stories of the local area in a visual form and captured the essence of place for viewers of local landscapes.

Art as storytelling

The body of work that has grown around Camden realism illustrates the ability of art to tell a story about place. The art style encourages a sense of emotional attachment to a locality by telling stories about the landscapes that surround the community.

Camden realism offers a visual interpretation of storytelling of Macarthur landscapes and the communities within it. This body of work documents the changes that have taken place across the local area from pre-European times to the present, illustrating that all these landscapes are transitional.

Perhaps leaving the last word to artist Courtney Jordon, who says:

Even if they are not aware of it, visual artists often develop some sort of narrative in their work..

Camden realism is a school of art that documents the local area in a different form of storytelling.

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New exhibition at Alan Baker Art Gallery

FACE to FACE

Live Sittings

1936 – 1972

On a recent evening in Camden there was the launch of a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in the heritage listed building Macaria in John Street.

The exhibition, FACE to FACE: Live Sittings 1936 – 1972, celebrates Alan Baker’s achievement of entering the Archibald prize 26 times with 35 artworks between 1936 and 1972. Despite his persistence he never won a prize.

The cover of the FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936-1972 Exhibition programme at the Alan Baker Art Gallery held in Macaria, John Street, Camden. (ABAG)

The exhibition programme states that Alan Baker was studying at JS Watkins Art School alongside future Archibald winners Henry Hanke in 1934 with his Self Portrait, William Pidgeon who won in 1958, 1961 and 1968, and his brother Normand Baker in 1937 with his Self Portrait.

The programme provides a timeline of Baker’s paintings with images that illustrate his works.

The Sydney.com website states

  the exhibition will feature Baker’s first 1936 Archibald Prize entry painted at the age of 22, a self-portrait study painting by Normand Baker for his 1937 winning Archibald Prize entry, and Baker’s 1951 portrait of Australian Filmmaker Charles Chauvel (courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland).

The FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936-1972 exhibition runs from April to September 2021.

The feature wall in the entry of the Alan Baker Art Gallery in Macaria, John Street Camden for the FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936 -1972. The image was taken on the opening night of the exhibition on 17 April 2021. (I Willis)

The Archibald

The Archibald Prize is one of the pre-eminent portraiture prizes in Australia held yearly at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. First awarded in 1921 this prestigious art prize is a sought after award by artists generating publicity and public exposure. Traditionally portraitists were mostly restricted to public or private commissions.

The Art Gallery of NSW states that:

 The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.

The Archibald has never been far from controversy and turning points have been William Dobell’s prize-winning portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith in 1943 and in 1976, Brett Whiteley winning  painting Self portrait in the studio.

Macaria, the gallery building

The Alan Baker Gallery website outlines a short history of the Macaria building.

An exterior view of Macaria showing the Gothic influence in the roof line and window detail. The verandah was an addition to this style of building in the Australian colonies. (I Willis, 2018)

The website states:

Macaria was originally built in 1859-1860 as a school house by Henry Thompson, the building has since been used for many things; including a private home; the Camden Grammar School; the residence and rooms of doctors and dentists including popular local physician Dr Francis West. In 1965 Macaria was purchased by Camden Council and used as Camden Library and later, offices for the Mayor, Town Clark and staff.

Macaria is a fine example of an early Victorian Gentleman’s Townhouse. Designed and built in the Picturesque Gothic, Renaissance Revival style, Macaria features gabled windows, high chimneys, stone trims and a wooden porch. Sympathetically renovated and restored in 2017, the historical features including the oregon timber flooring, Australian cedar architraves and mahogany skirting boards have been retained.

https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/community/alan-baker-art-gallery-at-macaria/

FACE to FACE Exhibition at Alan Baker Art Gallery

 37 John Street, Macaria, Camden, NSW, 2570. Australia

(02) 4645 5191

alanbakerartgallery@camden.nsw.gov.au

http://www.alanbakerartgallery.com.au

Entry is free.

Macaria is a substantial Victorian gentleman’s townhouse and residence from the mid-Victorian period that was influenced by the Picturesque movement and Gothic styling. The building is now the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery. (I Willis, 2017)

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Crazy Colourful Koalas on the Prowl

Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail

Prowling crazy colourful koalas are on the loose in the Australian Botanic Gardens in Mount Annan and other notable spots in Campbelltown.

The cute one-metre-high fibreglass sculptures, called Hello Koalas, are loose across the garden landscape. They are a sight to behold after being a  hit at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2019.

The artworks are part of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, jointly hosted by The Australian Botanic Garden (ABG), Mount Annan and Campbelltown City Council. Running from April 1 to April 30, the art installation is on loan from the Port Macquarie area.   

This is Wollemia The Vital Scientist by artist Lisa Burrell for the 2021 Hello Koala Sculpture Trail at The Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan. Wollemia will make sure that the Garden scientists are growing new Wollemi trees for the future. (I Willis)

Engaging public art installation

On a visit to the ABG this week, I watched how the sculptures touched the hearts of everyone who walked past them.

The Hello Koalas seemed to immediately grab the attention of everyone who walked past them, from the very young to the very young at heart. The koala characters appeared to melt the coldest heart with their bright colours and crazy artwork.

 There is an element of surprise to the sculptures, and there is an immediately identifiable joy in people’s reactions. Young and old pose for selfies and family pics with the koala characters.

Families sought out the elusive koala characters across the ABG after picking up the free trail map.  The kids were making sure that they found all of the 22 koalas in the garden.

The cover of the 2021 Hello Koala Sculpture Trail at The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. Inside the brochure was a map with all of the 16 Hello Koalas scattered across the garden with the location. (I Willis)

According to the trail map, families can be helped in the koala hunt by downloading the ‘Agents of Discovery’ by using the ABG QR code and then seeking out the koala characters.

A public art trail

The outdoor art installation trail is strategically placed across the garden landscape to ensure an exciting and wonderful experience of these ‘living sculptures’.

Each of the Hello Koalas has a name and is themed around culture, heritage and environmental issues. There is Captain Koala, Bushby, Flying Fire, Topiary and a host of others.

The trail map provides a host of information about the Hello Koalas location, their names, and the artist who created them.

The ABG art installation was ‘conceived and created in Port Macquarie by Arts and Health Australia’, which aims ‘to promote and develop the application of creativity and the arts for health and quality of life’.

This is Scoop the busy news reporter who spreads the word about the importance of looking after native animals. He is part of the Hello Koalas at the ABG Mount Annan 2021. Scoop is by artist Rebekah Brown. (I Willis)

Project director Margaret Meagher described the Hello Koalas as Wildlife Warriors and said, ‘The project aims to spread the message that we must care for our koalas and all native fauna and flora’.

Toads and Koalas

The individual Hello Koalas were designed and hand-painted by artists from Port Macquarie, Taree, Kempsey and Coffs Harbour. They are part of a larger public art installation [IW1] in the Port Macquarie area, where 77 Hello Koalas are located across the region. They recently featured in Port Macquarie’s  Summer 2021 Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, and later on, this year will be part of the  5th Annual Hello Koalas Festival between 25-26 September.

Director Margaret Meagher was inspired to create the Hello Koalas by an animal trail that was part of the 2010 Hull arts festival in England. The trail celebrated the life and times of local poet Philip Larkin and his poem Toads. Festival organisers created the Larkin with Toads sculpture trail. After initial scepticism, the toads have been a huge hit winning tourist awards, gaining national press coverage and increased local tourism.

The Port Macquarie Hello Koalas Public Sculpture Trail was launched in 2014 at the Emerald Downs Golf Course and has experienced continued success.

Public art engages people

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is just one type of public art.

Public art installations are a vital part of a vibrant community and add to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes

‘a sense of identity, belonging, attachment, welcoming and openness, and strengthen community identification to place. [It creates] a tangible sense of place and destination’.

Director Margaret Meagher argues that public art fosters cultural tourism and community cultural development.  

Public art is an opportunity to showcase artist talent differently and generate broader community interest. This type of art installation can ferment interest in issues and engage the media, the public and the creative sector. Public art appeals to the imagination of adults and children and can bring the community together.

Successful public art encourages public engagement with art and can create a sense of ownership within the community. There can be increased visitation increase tourism that brings money into the area. It can contribute to placemaking, shaping community identity and a sense of belonging.  

Not a balmy idea

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, at first glance, may be considered a balmy idea. In reality, it is a clever idea that on initial observations seems to have engaged people’s interest and imagination and created a unique art experience.

The ABG Hello Koalas brochure states:

Effectively, each Hello Koalas sculpture provides a blank canvas to convey evocative messages that celebrate the existence of native plants and animals and raise public awareness, across generations, of the importance of caring and preserving our natural world.

Royal Botanic Gardens chief executive Denise Ora is quoted as saying, ‘When we did this exhibition in Sydney in 2019, it was a huge success. There’s a really fun aspect and a real educational aspect’.

Camden Narellan Advertiser 7 April 2021

More public art in the Macarthur area

1. Camden Pioneer Mural, Camden

2. The Cowpastures Cows, Perich Park, Oran Park

3. Campbelltown Arts Centre

4. The Boys, Emerald Hills Shopping Centre

5.  Sculpture Park, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown.

6. Art Installation, Oran Park Library, Oran Park.

7. Forecourt, Narellan Library, Narellan

8. Food Plaza Forecourt, Narellan Town Centre.

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Take a stroll through the past

Take a stroll down any street in Australia and raise your eyes and the past will reveal itself before your very eyes.

You are wandering through living history. The past is all around you. Street names, street layout, the width of the street, the location of buildings and more.

An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

The landscape of our cities and towns, and the countryside all owe their origins to the past.

The landscape will speak to you, but you must be prepared to listen.

Take time to let the landscape reveal itself. Just stand and soak up the past around you.

Cannot see it? Cannot feel it?

You need to look beyond the surface.

Like a painting will tell a story if you peel back the layers, so the landscape will do the same.

The opening of the Mount Hunter Soldier’s War Memorial opposite the public school took place on Saturday 24 September 1921. The official unveiling ceremony was carried out by Brigadier-General GM Macarthur Onslow. Afternoon tea was provided by ‘the ladies’ at 1/- with all money going to the memorial fund. (Camden News, 15 September 1921, 22 September 1921. Image Roy Dowle Collection)

The landscape will speak to you. It will reveal itself. 

Ask a question. Seek the answer.

The position of the tree. The type of street trees. Their size and species.

The bend in the road. The width of the street. The location of the street.

The position of the house. The colour of the house. The building materials.

Why is the street where it is? Why does it have that name?

Who walked along the street before you. Who grew up in the street? What were their childhood memories?

Ghosts of the past.

Some would say spirits of the past.

An information sign at the beginning of the walkway explain the interesting aspects of the life of Miss Llewella Davies. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 IW)

The past will speak to you if you let it in.

What was it like before there was a street?

The street is constantly changing. There are different people all the time. What clothes did people wear in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s?

You walk along the street and into a shop. When was it built? Who owned it? What did it sell? How was it set up?

Stand at the entrance door – unchanged in 50 years – image what it was like in the past.

Just like a movie flashback.

Who moved through the landscape 1000 years ago? What was there?

Let you imagination run wild.

The walkway has a number of historic sites and relics from the Davies farm. Here are the Shoesmith Cattle yards.. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 IW)

Let the past wash over you. The past is all around you. Let it speak to you.

The brick wall that has been there for 100 years. Who built it? Where did they live? What did they eat? What else did they build? What was the weather? Was it a sunny day like today?

Walk around the corner and you come to a monumental wall at the entry to a town. Who put it there? What does it mean?

The past is hiding in plain sight. It is in front of us all the time.

Sometimes the past is lodged in our memories and sometimes it is locked up in a photograph.

Sometimes the memories flood back as a special event or family gathering or a casual conversation.

The past is layered. It was not static. It was constantly changing.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

The past is not dead. It is alive and well all around us. You just need to take it in and ‘smell the roses’.

The stories of the past are like a gate into another world. Let your imagination run wild. Like a movie flash back – like a photograph from 100 years ago – or a greying newspaper under the lino  or stuffed in a wall cavity.

Like revealing layers of paint on a wall. They are layers of the past. Layers of history. Each layer has a story to tell. A past to reveal. Someone put the paint on the wall. Who were they? What did they do? Where did they go?

The Layers of history are like a mask. You want to take off the mask to reveal the face. You want the real person to reveal themselves. Sometimes the mask stays on.

The mask hides a mystery. What is it? What does it tell us? The mast of the past will reveal all eventually, maybe, sometime?

A couple relaxing on the Mount Pleasant Colliery railway at Stuart Park, North Wollongong in the early 1900’s (Royal Australian Historical Society) (Lost Wollongong Facebook page 3 July 2016) The Royal Australian Historical Society caption says: ‘Photographer Aileen Ryan Lynch taking a photograph of M. Carey at Stuart Park Wollongong 1919’ (J Scott)

Sometimes other words are used to express the layers of history – progress – hope – nostalgia – loss – change – continuity.

The past has brought us to the present. The past is embedded in the present.

Take a moment. Think about what is around you. Take in the past in front of you. Hiding in plain sight.

The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.

The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.

A glass plate negative from the Roy Dowle Collection at The Oaks Historical Society. (TOHS)
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Public art and a mural

Mural art and the Camden pioneer mural

Camden Pioneer Mural with the Camden Hospital wishing well, and associated landscaping and gardens. (I Willis, 2020)

 

One of the most important pieces of public art In the Macarthur region is the Camden Pioneer Mural. The mural is located on the corner of the Old Hume Highway and Menangle Road, adjacent to Camden Hospital. Thousands of people pass-by the mural and few know its story.

Public art is an important part of a vibrant community and adds to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes

‘a sense of identity, belonging, attachment, welcoming and openness, and strengthen community identification to place. [It creates] a tangible sense of place and destination’.

The pioneer mural does all these and more. The mural makes a public statement about Camden and the stories that created the community we all live in today.

Murals according to Stephen Yarrow of the Pocket Oz Sydney  

 reflect the social fabric of communities past and present – visual representations of their dreams and aspirations, social change, the cultural protests of an era, of emerging cultures and disappearing ones.

Public murals have recently gone through a revival in Australia and have turned into tourist attractions. Murals have become an important part of the urban landscape of many cities including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Launceston and other cities around the world. Mural art in the bush has been used to promote regional tourism with the development of the Australian Silo Art Trail.

The Camden pioneer mural is visual representation of the dreams and aspirations of its creators.

The creators

The mural was originally the idea of the town elders from the Camden Rotary Club.  The club was formed in halcyon days of the post-war period (1947) when the club members were driven by a desire for community development and progress.  Part of that vision was for a tourist attraction on the town’s Hume Highway approaches, combined with a wishing well that would benefit the hospital.  (Clowes, 1970, 2012)

Camden Pioneer Mural with the ceramic artwork completed by Byram Mansell in 1962 (I Willis, 2020)

 

The next incarnation of the vision was a mural with a ram with a ‘golden fleece’ to ‘commemorate the development of the wool industry by the Macarthurs’.  The credit for this idea has been given to foundation Rotary president Ern Britton, a local pharmacist. (Clowes 1970, 2012)   

Club members were influenced by the mythology around the exploits of colonial identity and pastoralist John Macarthur of Camden Park and the centenary of his death in 1934. Macarthur was a convenient figure in the search for national pioneering heroes. The ‘golden fleece’ was a Greek legend about the adventures of a young man who returned with the prize, and the prize Macarthur possessed were merino sheep.

The ‘golden fleece’ was seared into the national psyche by Tom Roberts painting The Golden Fleece (1894), the foundation of the petrol brand in 1913 and Arthur Streeton’s painting Land of the Golden Fleece (1926).  

The Camden mural project gained momentum after  the success of the 1960 Camden festival, ‘The Festival of the Golden Fleece’,  celebrating the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia.

By 1962 the project concept had evolved to a merino sheep and a coal mine, after the Rotary presidencies of Burragorang Valley coal-baron brothers Ern and Alan Clinton (1959-1961)  (Clowes, 2012)

The plaque on the mural wall commemorating the official opening in 1962 (I Willis, 2020)

 

The artist

Club secretary John Smailes moved the project along and found ceramic mural artist WA Byram Mansell. (Clowes, 2012)

Mansell was a well-known artist and designer, held exhibitions of his work in Australia and overseas and did commissioned mural works for businesses, local council and government departments. (ADB) He adopted what the Sydney Morning Herald art critic called a form realism that a synthesis of traditional European styles and ‘the symbolic ritual and philosophy of the Australian Aboriginal’. Mansell’s work was part of what has been called ‘Aboriginalia’ in the mid-20th century ‘which largely consisted of commodities made by nonindigenous artists, craftspeople and designers who appropriated from Aboriginal visual culture’.  (Fisher, 2014)

Mural themes

The scope of the mural project had now expanded and included a number of themes: the local Aboriginal tribe; local blackbirds – magpies; First Fleet arriving from England; merino sheep brought by the Macarthur family establishing Australia’s first wool industry; grapes for a wine making industry; dairy farming and fruit growing; and development of the coal industry. (Clowes, 2012)

Mansell created a concept drawing using these historic themes. (Clowes, 2012) The club accepted Mansell’s concept drawings and he was commissioned to complete the mural, creating the ceramic tiles and firing them at his studio. (Clowes, 2012)

The mural concept seems to have been an evolving feast, with Mansell refusing to supply the Rotary Club with his interpretation of his artwork. (Clowes, 1970)

The plaque with the inscription from the official programme of the opening in 1962. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The artist and the meaning of the mural

 To understand the meaning what the artist intended with the design this researcher has had to go directly to Mansell’s own words at the 1962 dedication ceremony.

 Mr Mansell said,

‘I was happy to execute the work for Camden and Australia. We are a great land, but we do not always remember the early pioneers. But when I commenced this work there came to me some influence and I think this was the influence of the pioneers.

Mr Mansell said,

‘The stone gardens at the base is the symbol of the hardships of the pioneers and the flowers set in the crannies denote their success.’

‘The line around the mural, represents the sea which surrounds Australia.

‘To the fore is Capt Cook’s ship Endeavour and the wheel in the symbol of advancement. The Coat-of-Arms of the Macarthur-Onslows, pioneered sheep, corn, wheat, etc are all depicted as are the sheep which were first brought to this colony and Camden by John Macarthur.

‘Aboriginals hunting kangaroos are all depicted and so on right through to the discovery of coal which has been to us the ‘flame of industry’. Incorporated in the central panel is the Camden Coat-of-Arms, and the Rotary insignia of the wheel highlights the panel on the left.

‘Colours from the earth have been used to produce the unusual colouring of the mural.  (Camden News, 20 June 1962)

Further interpretation

According to Monuments Australia the mural ‘commemorates  the European pioneers of Camden’ and the Australian Museums and Galleries Online database described the three panels:

There is a decorative border of blue and yellow tiles creating a grape vine pattern. The border helps define the triptych. The three panels depict the early history of Camden. The large central panel shows a rural setting with sheep and a gum tree in the top section. Below is a sailing ship with the southern cross marked on the sky above. Beside is a cart wheel and a wheat farm. There are three crests included on this panel, the centre is the Camden coat of arms bearing the date 1795, on the proper right is a crest with a ram’s head and the date 1797, and on the proper left is a crest with a bunch of grapes and the date 1805. The proper right panel of the triptych, in the top section depicts an Aboriginal hunting scene. Below this is an image miner’s and sheafs of wheat. The proper left panel depicts an ornate crest in the in the top section with various rural industries shown below. (AMOL, 2001)

Specifications

The mural has three panels is described as a ‘triptych’ constructed from glazed ceramic tiles (150mm square). The tiles were attached to wall of sandstone blocks supported by two side columns. The monument is 9.6 metres wide and 3 metres high and around 500mm deep. There is a paved area in front of the mural 3×12 metres, associated landscaping works and a wishing well. (AMOL, 2001; Clowes, 1970)

The official programme from the opening and dedication of the mural in 1962. (Camden Museum)

Tourists visit mural

Tourists would stop in front of the mural and have their picture taken as they travel along the Hume Highway.

The pioneer mural was a local tourist attraction and visitors stopped and had their picture taken in front of the artwork. Here Mary Tinlin, of Kurri Kurri, is standing in front of the mural and fountain. Mrs Tinlin is standing on the side of the Hume Highway that passed through Camden township. The prominent building at the rear on the right is the nurses quarters. Immediately behind the mural wall is Camden District Hospital before the construction of Hodge building in 1971. (George & Jeannie Tinlin, A Kodachrome slide, 1964))
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Brand Anzac – meaning and myth

An historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.

Anzac Day Leaflet listing local services in the Federal electorate of Hume (AG)

In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017 University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australian’s cultural identity. The attentive audience were a mix of ages and interest, including past military personnel.

One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture. 

The camp administration block with A Bailey in the foreground at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942. The camp was operation between 1940 and 1944 (A Bailey).

Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of  Anzac and that there is far from just one truth.  Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.

The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.

Shifts in meaning

The term Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations and the 1960s social movements. Its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for currently serving military personnel, while others have chosen to take cheap potshots at those who question the orthodoxy.

The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

The tented lines at the Narellan Military Camp in 1941. Thousands of troops passed through the camp during its operation between 1940 and 1944 (A Bailey).

Tensions and contradictions

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.

The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product on industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.

There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.

Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription from the Camden community with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.

On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-round Aussie bloke.

The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.

Gunner Bruce Guppy

In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’.

Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.

Bruce Guppy and his unit, the 2/1st Australian Mountain Battery AIF, at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March. Guppy is in the front row fourth from the left (I Willis).

Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995  wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:

An Old Soldier Remembers

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

Bruce Guppy, Bruce’s Ballads by the Bard from Berry. Guppy/Willis, Berry, 1996.

So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.

For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.

A Red Cross poster used for patriotic fundraising purposes in 1918 during World War One. (Australian Red Cross).

While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.

The site and the myth

Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.

These comments contrasted with the opening address by an ex-military Alumni organiser. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF celebrated in military training in Australia today are: the withdrawal of troops at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba.

These views contrast with recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources that have shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield has used a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft. The trainee pilots then went on to serve with RAF and RAAF squadrons in Europe during World War 2  (1942 LG Fromm).

The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.

Pilgrims and memory

Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry.

Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).

Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.

The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.

Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.

For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
RAAF Camden and the Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941. Some of these young men went on to serve with RAF and RAAF squadrons in the European theatre during World War 2 (RAAF Historical).

Brand Anzac

Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.

Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.

Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offering contradictions for some and realities for others.

The members of the Australian community are the ones will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.

Updated on 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’

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The patriotism of the wartime sock knitter

Fussing over socks

During the First World War, there was a considerable fuss over socks. Not just any ordinary socks but hand-knitted socks. Camden women hand-knitted hundreds of pairs of socks. So what was going on?

As it turns out there was a good reason for all the fuss.

Soldiers on the Western Front suffered in terrible conditions in the trenches. They were constantly wet and cold. In winter there were freezing temperatures.

First World War Freezing conditions soldier 1914-1918 NLS

Fungal feet

Under these conditions, there was a constant danger of the soldiers getting trench foot. Jenny Raynor at Sydney Living Museum writes that this was

a potentially debilitating fungal infection that thrived in the wet, cold and squalid conditions, and could lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated.

Soldiers wore stiff leather boots that were poorly insulated with two pairs of socks in freezing winter conditions to keep out the cold and wet.

Authorities recommended that troops change their socks twice a day to avoid trench feet. Reports from New Zealand maintained in 1915 that

a pair of socks lasted no more than two weeks when on active service.

So it was unsurprising that there was a constant shortage of socks.

Shortages from the start

Sock shortages commenced from the outbreak of war and illustrated how the progress of the war completely overwhelmed military authorities with their unrealistic expectations.

At the Liverpool Infantry Camp in November 1914 military authorities were advising that three pairs of woollen socks would be adequate for the duration of the campaign, while new recruits were advised by bring ‘strong boots’ and ‘knitted socks’ because the army could not supply them.

Military supply authorities never really got to grips with the problem of shortages throughout the war. Even the vast US military machine could not supply sufficient numbers of socks to their troops when the US government entered the war in 1917. The U.S. government Committee on Public Information sponsored the  ‘‘Knit Your Bit’’ campaign conducted by the American Red Cross.

Keep knitting

Knitting for the troops was not restricted to the American Red Cross.

Knitting was part of the homefront response to the outbreak of war across all British Empire countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

First World War Sock knitting Cudgewa 1916 SLNSW

Across the globe, millions of knitted items found their way to the trenches on the Western Front.

Socks were only one of a large list of items that women made for the war effort. Other knitted items included cholera belts, scarves, gloves and balaclavas, and this was supplemented by a considerable effort sewing hospital supplies.

Women volunteer to supply socks

Australian women volunteered to supply knitted from the start of the war. Unlike women in the United Kingdom, Australian women did not replace men in their civilian roles during the war.

In Australia, the push for knitted-socks, and other items, was co-ordinated by the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and other groups including the Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

First World War Sock knitting War Chest 1917 SLNSW

In Queensland, the Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, established the Queensland Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

Knitted socks were part of the soldier’s bag that Red Cross volunteers signed up to supply on the foundation of branches throughout New South Wales in August 1914. Red Cross knitters in Camden and across Australia supplied thousands of pairs of knitted socks to soldiers.

In Camden, the new Red Cross branch supplied ‘a large number of socks’ in the first weeks of the war’ including supplies to the Australian Light Horse regiment and the 4th Battalion of Infantry. By September 1915 Camden Red Cross workers had supplied 456 pairs of knitted socks to Red Cross headquarters in Sydney amongst a host of other hand-made items.

Annette, Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand Governor Lord Liverpool,

Lady Liverpool instigated ‘Sock Day’, when the women of New Zealand were encouraged to knit enough socks to provide every soldier with two new pairs (around 30,000 pairs in total).

The First World War was not the first time that women volunteers had supplied knitted socks to Australian troops in wartime. In 1900 Camden women supplied 120 pairs of knitted socks to Camden troops in South Africa in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. These were similar to the activities of British women.

Millions of socks

It has been estimated that Australian women knitted over 1.3 million pairs of socks for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund for the war effort.

Often with a small personal note inside the sock informing the digger who had knitted the garment along with a brief message. (The Conversation 11 August 2014)

Knitting patterns were distributed and cheap wool was made available to knitters.

First World War Cover Knitting Book Aust Comforts Fund Vic 1918 ARC
The cover of the sock knitting pattern book ‘Directions for Standard Socks for Our Men on Active Service’. It was issued by the Australian Comforts Fund in 1918 (ARC)

 

In 2012 volunteer knitter Janet Burningham from Wrap with Love found that it took about a day to knit each sock. She used a rare grey sock pattern and Paton’s 8-ply grey wool and needles. Socks were knitted in the round on double-pointed needles leaving no seams.

First World War Knitted Socks reproduction 2012 Fairfax

The iconic sock knitter

The solo woman sock knitter was one of the everlasting iconic images of the war at home in Australia.

The iconic image of The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by Grace Cossington Smith found at the  Art Gallery of NSW. The gallery states

The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist’s sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, ‘The sock knitter’ counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.

 

Art AGNSW The Sock Knitter Grace Cossington Smith 1915
‘The Sock Knitter’ painted by Grace Cossington Smith in 1915 (AGNSW)

 

Knitting mediating grief

The action of Camden women and others who became wartime sock knitters was an act of patriotism. They were supporting their boys using one of their traditional domestic arts.

Knitting, sewing, and other domestic arts were unpaid war work and a form of patriotism when women in Australia did not replace men at home in the First World War, unlike the United Kingdom. Historian Bruce Scates has written that women invested a large amount of ‘emotional energy’ in their knitting and sewing.

Women were the mediators of wartime grief and bereavement and knitting and sewing groups were women-only spaces where they could comfort each other and ease the loneliness.

Sock solution

Suzanne Fischer writes that the sock problem and trench foot still existed in the Second World War for American troops stationed in Alaska. She states:

Characteristically, Americans finally reduced their trench foot casualties by throwing more technology at the problem. Thee Shoepac system, introduced in 1944, combined a rubber foot and an impermeable outer leather layer with a felt liner to keep feet dry. These boots were also stylish, which increased their use.

 

Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 10 March 2020.

 

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A Sydney architect with a Camden connection

Interwar Camden

Interwar Camden has a direct connection to a noted architect of Interwar Sydney and its architecture.

Aaron Bolot, a Crimean refugee, was raised in Brisbane and worked for a time with Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s. He designed the 1936 brick extensions on the front of the 1890s drill hall at the Camden showground.

Camden Agricultural Hall 1936 Extensions IW2019 lowres
The 1936 extension to the Camden Agricultural Hall was designed to the same style as 1933 Memorial Gates adjacent to the building works. (I Willis, 2019)

 

At the time he worked for Sydney architect, EC Pitt, who supervised construction of the new showground grandstand in 1936 and agricultural hall extensions (Camden News, 19 September 1935).

Bolot’s work and that of many other Sydney’s architects is found in photographer Peter Sheridan’s Sydney Art Deco. Sheridan has created a stunning coffee table book highlighting Sydney’s  under-recognised Art Deco architectural heritage. The breadth of this Interwar style covers commercial and residential buildings, cinemas and theatres, hotels, shops, war memorials, churches, swimming pools and other facets of design.

Peter Sheridan Sydney Art Deco Cover lowres

 

Sheridan argues that Aaron Bolot was an important Sydney architect during the Interwar period specialising in theatres and apartment buildings.

Bolot’s work at Camden was a simple version of the more complex architectural work that he was undertaking around the inner Sydney area, for example, The Dorchester in Macquarie Street Sydney (1936), The Ritz Theatre in Randwick (1937) the Ashdown in Elizabeth Bay (1938) and other theatres.

Peter Sheridan Sydney Art Deco ABolotRitzRandwick lowres

1936 Extension Camden Agricultural Hall

 

The brick extensions to the agricultural hall were part of general improvements to the showground and works were finished in time for the 1936 Jubilee Show. The report of the show stated:

The new brick building in front of the Agricultural Hall, erected in commemoration of the jubilee, proved a wonderful acquisition, and its beautiful external appearance was, only a few days before the show, added to ‘by the erection of a neat and appropriate brick and iron fence joining that building with the Memorial Gates, * and vastly, improving the main pedestrian entrance to the showground. The fitting of this new room withstands and fittings for the exhibition of ladies’ arts and crafts, was another outlay that added to the show’s attraction. (CN2April1936)

The hall extensions were specifically designed to a similar style as the Memorial Gates erected in 1933 in memory to GM Macarthur Onslow (d. 1931) and paid for by public subscription. It was reported that they would add ‘attractively to the Showground entrance’. (CN19Sept1935)

Camden Agricultural Hall 1990 JKooyman CIPP
Camden Agricultural Hall and Memorial Gates 1990 JKooyman (Camden Images)

 

The hall extensions were 50 feet by 23 feet, after 5 feet was removed from the front of the former drill hall. A central doorway was to be a feature and there would be ‘main entrance porch leading direct to the big hall on the Onslow Park side of building’. (CN19Sept1935)

The hall extension cost £400 (CN19Mar1936) and was to be built to mark the 1936 Jubilee Show (50th anniversary). It was anticipated that the new exhibition space could be used for the

 ladies’ arts and crafts section, such as needlework, cookery; be used for the secretary’s office prior to the show; a meeting place for committees; and in addition provide a modern and up to date supper room at all social functions. (CN19Sept1935).

The approval of the scheme was moved at the AH&I meeting by Dr RM Crookston and seconded by WAE Biffin and supported by FA Cowell. The motion was unanimously carried by the meeting. The committee agreed to seek finance from the NSW Department of Labour and Industry at 3% pa interest. (CN19Sept1935)

Camden’s Interwar Heritage

The 1930s in the small country town of  Camden had a building boom in Argyle Street and central Camden. The Interwar period witnessed construction of  a number of new commercial and residential buildings driven by the booming Burragorang Valley coalfields. The period was characterised by modernism and other Interwar building styles. The list of buildings from the 1930s includes:

1930, Flats, 33 Elizabeth Street, Camden.

c.1930,  Cottage, 25 Elizabeth Street, Camden.

1933, Paramount Theatre, 39 Elizabeth Street, Camden.

Paramount Movie Theatre Camden c1933 CIPP
Paramount Movie Theatre, Elizabeth Street, Camden built in 1933. (Camden Images)

 

1933, Camden Inn (Hotel), 105-107 Argyle Street, Camden.

1935, Cooks Garage, 31-33 Argyle Street, Camden

c.1935, Main Southern Garage, 20-28 Argyle Street, Camden

1935, Methodist Parsonage, 24 Menangle Road, Camden.

1936, Front, AH&I Hall , 191-195 Argyle Street, Camden

1937, Dunk House, 56-62 Argyle Street, Camden

Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)
Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)

 

1937, Bank of New South Wales (Westpac), 121-123 Argyle Street, Camden.

1937, Rural Bank, 115-119 Argyle Street, Camden.

1937, Cottages, 24-28 Murray Street, Camden.

1939, Stuckey Bros Bakery, 102-104 Argyle Street, Camden

Stuckey Bros Building (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

 

1939, Camden Vale Inn, Remembrance Drive (Old Hume Highway), Camden.

1939, Extension, Camden Hospital, Menangle Road, Camden.

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A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5

 

In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.

These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.

Tompson-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-Cover_lowres
Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson. ‘The  Cow-Pastures, Camden Park’ William McLeod. c1886.

 

Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.

Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.

Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.

A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).

Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)

Tompson Book Back Cover Camden sketch 1857-lowres
Back Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes Charles Tompson. Sketch of Camden, HG Lloyd, 1857 (SLNSW)

 

The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)

The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.

The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.

Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were  not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture.  Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)

TompsonCharles-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-lowres

 

The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)

The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).

Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.

Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)

The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)

Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)

The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)

Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.

Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.

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The Camden story, an evolving project

The Camden story

The Camden story is an ongoing project that aims to tell the untold stories of the Camden, Cowpastures and Macarthur districts. There is the telling, the learning and the showing of the story.

The project is constantly evolving and changing direction. It is centred around the construction of place and the meaning of landscape. These are culturally derived concepts from both Indigenous and European experiences.

Camden Aerial 1940 CIPP
An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

 

There are the natural ecologies that make up the environment as well as atmospheric and geological elements. The natural elements are just as important as the cultural.

Complexities of the Camden story

The Camden story has its own complexities. There is no one single dominant narrative. There are many voices in the story and each has a right to be heard.

There are many threads to the Camden story and when woven together make a coherent story with many voices. The weave of the cloth represents the warp and weft of the daily lives of the actors on the stage. Together they create a vibrant design that can capture the imagination of many and inspire others.

There are many actors in the constantly evolving narrative, each with their own agenda. The story is played on a stage that is located on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe, a dynamic movable frontier on the city’s edge. It is a constantly changing and evolving cultural landscape.

There are many layers to the Camden story each with its own particularities. As each layer is peeled back it reveals memories and meanings from the past that influence the present. Those who are interested can dive into the many layers and help unravel the entangled threads of the web and give some clarity to their meaning within the story.

The Camden story is a journey that is constantly evolving with many signposts along the way. There are a lot of fellow travellers who have their own stories. There are many pathways and laneways to go down, each with its own meaning and memories to the travellers who come along for the journey.

The Camden story has its own road map of sorts with signposts and markers of significant places along the journey for those who want to look. There are many opportunities for those who want embark on this journey and uncover many of the undiscovered mysteries of the Camden story.

It is in the interests of those who want to tell the story that they walk the ground in which the story is embedded. The landscape speaks to those who want to listen. The experience is enriching and fulfilling and shapes the telling of the story.

Some parts of the Camden story

The Camden story has many parts and some are listed below:

Camden, the town

This is a short history of the town, which is situated on the floodplain of the Nepean River, on the traditional land of the Dharawal people in an area known as the Cowpastures. The Camden area’s distinctive landscape has moulded the community’s identity and sense of place. From the earliest days of European settlement class and social networks ordered daily life in the village with the local gentry at the top of the social hierarchy.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

 

A field of dreams, the Camden district, 1840-1973

The Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangleinto the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. It was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. The district  became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.

Making Camden History, a brief historiography of the local area

This short historiography  is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. It is an attempt to  examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of the Camden community’s history.

Movie making Camden style

Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large  country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations. From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers.

Smilie Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

 

Camden Bibliography a biography of a country town

The Camden bibliography is an attempt to highlight some of the research that addresses the notion of Camden as a country town and the subsequent urbanisation of the local government area. The sources listed in the bibliography cover the geographic area of the Camden district.

The Cowpastures Project

This is a summary of the blog posts from Camden History Notes on the Cowpastures.

The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840

The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement. The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It  grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.

On-the-Cowpasture-Road-Chrisr-Bunburys
On the Cowpasture Road / Chrisr: Bunbury’s. from Views of Sydney and Surrounding District by Edward Mason, ca. 1821-1823; 1892. State Library of NSW PXC 459

 

Convicts in the Cowpastures

The story of European settlement in the Cowpastures is intimately connected to the story of the convicts and their masters. This story has not been told and there is little understanding of the role of the convicts in the Cowpastures district before 1840.  Who were they? What did they do? Did they stay in the district?

Kirkham, a locality history

Kirkham is a picturesque, semi-rural locality on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe between the historic township of Camden, with its inter-war and colonial heritage and the bustling commercial centre of Narellan. The arrival of the rural-urban fringe at Kirkham in recent decades has created a contested site of tension and constant change, resulting in an ever-evolving landscape. This is an example of a short locality history within the local area published by the Dictionary of Sydney.

Camelot
Camelot House (formerly known as Kirkham) located in the Kirkham area in the early 1900s (Camden Images)

 

‘Just like England’, a colonial settler landscape

Early European settlers were the key actors in a place-making exercise that constructed an English-style landscape aesthetic on the colonial stage in the Cowpastures district of New South Wales. The aesthetic became part of the settler colonial project and the settlers’ aim of taking possession of territory involving the construction of a cultural ideal from familiar elements of home in the ‘Old Country’. The new continent, and particulaly the bush, had the elements of the Gothic with its grotesque and the demonic, and the landscape aesthetic was one attempt to counter these forces. Settlers used the aesthetic to assist the creation of a new narrative on an apparenty blank slate and in the process dispossessed and displaced the Indigenous occupants. The new colonial landscape was characterised by English place-names, English farming methods and English settlement patterns, with only cursory acknowledgement of Indigenous occupation.

Townies, ex-urbanites and aesthetics: issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe

The rural-urban fringe is a dynamic frontier, an ever expanding zone of transition on the edges of Australia’s major cities and regional centres. This paper examines the proposition that Sydney’s urban growth has pushed the city’s rural-urban fringe into the countryside and unleashed the contested nature of place-making in and around the
country town of Camden. It will be maintained that the dynamic forces that characterise the rural-urban frontier have resulted a collision between the desires and aspirations of ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and prompted a crisis in the identity of place. Community icons
and rituals have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place. The actors have used history and heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity, and has created a cultural myth based on a romantic notion of an idealised
country town drawn from the past, ‘a country town idyll’.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

 

Westies, Bogans and Yobbos. What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you live in the fringe urban communities of Campbelltown, Camden or Picton in the Macarthur district on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. In the past these communities have been fiercely parochial country towns with clearly identifiable differences based on history, heritage, traditions, mythology, rituals, demographics, local government and a host of other factors. With the encroachment of Sydney’s urban sprawl they have been wrapped up by the tentacles of the metropolitan octopus and faced challenges on a variety of fronts. The questions that this article raises concern Macarthur regionalism. Is it authentic? How representative is it of the former country towns that are now incorporated within it?

Nepean River more than a water view

The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe. The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn. West of Wollongong the tributaries includng Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park. The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past  Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty. The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia  and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.

Nepean RiverCHS0137
The Nepean River in the early 1900s just below the Cowpasture Bridge during a dry spell. Postcard. (Camden Images)

 

The Women’s Voluntary Services, A Study of War and Volunteering in Camden,  1939-1945

Camden is a country town whose history and development has been influenced by war. The town was part of Australia’s homefront war effort, and from the time of the Boer War the most important part of this for Camden was volunteering. The Second World War was no exception, and the most influential voluntary organisation that contributed to the town’s war effort was the Womens Voluntary Services [WVS].  The Camden WVS was part of a strong tradition of Victorian female philanthropy in the town, which attracted, and depended on, middle class women socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, a separatedness of spheres, patriarchy, the status quo, and by the inter-war period, modernity.

The Member for Camden, Dr Elizabeth Kernohan

On 21 October 2004 the former Member for Camden, Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Kernohan, died after suffering a heart attack. She was sixty- five. Thousands of people lined Argyle Street in Camden to see the cortege and pay their last respects, I and compliments flowed from both sides of New South Wales politics. There were over 1850 column centimetres devoted to her death and subsequent funeral in the local press. Kernohan was a popular, larger than life figure in Camden. She held the seat of Camden for the Liberal party for over 11 years in an area that some have claimed is the key to the success of the Howard Government. How was Kernohan able to gain this type of support? This paper will try to address this question, although initially it is useful to give a brief overview of the electorate.

Narellan ‘Gayline’ Drive-In Movie Theatre

A notable part of Camden modernism that has disappeared is the drive-in movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the notable attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale). Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the lifestyle of the baby boomers. Always popular with teenagers and  young families. The drive-in movie theatre was a defining moment in the district for a 20th century culture that was based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.

Signage from the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan (I Willis)
Signage from the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan (I Willis)

 

El Caballo Blanco, A Forgotten Past

Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex. The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena.

CWA Camouflage Netting Volunteers

The Camden Country Women’s Association made camouflage nets during the Second World War and was the largest netting centre in the area.  The Camden CWA camouflage netting centre was assisted by sub-branches at Campbelltown and Narellan, which were established after the joint CWA-WVS meeting in December 1941.

The Camden Branch Railway Line

One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy. It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell stories to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia.  The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963.

Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy at Narellan in the early 20th century (L Manny Camden Images)

 

New horizons open up for the new community of Oran Park and the finishing line for the former Oran Park Raceway

Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for both locals and new arrivals.  The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the south-western and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main grand prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners as well as changes in elevation around the track.

The local ‘rag’, the future of local newspapers

This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper?  The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and  the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

32 Squadron RAAF, Camden Airfield, 1942-1944

The members of  32 Squadron arrived in Camden Airfield in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units. The squadron’s operational duties at Camden Airfield included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia.

The army in camp at Narellan in WW2

Once the army moved into Narellan Military Camp it commenced operation and became part of the wartime scene during WW2. Men were seen marching all over the district, there were mock raids and the men practiced firing small arms.  The camp is an important part of the story of Narellan during war as thousands of men, and some women, moved through the camp on their way to somewhere in the theatre that was the Second World War.

Narellan Army Camp 1940s CIPP
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)

 

Modernism and consumerism, supermarkets come to Camden

Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.

Camden Cafes and Milk Bars

The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars was at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion.  The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milk shakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.

Interwar Camden

The interwar period in Camden was a time of economic development and material progress. The prosperity of the period was driven by the local dairy industry and the emerging coal industry.  During the interwar period one of the most important economic arteries of the town was the Hume Highway (until 1928 the Great South Road). For a country town of its size the town had modern facilities and was up-to-date with the latest technology. The interwar years were a period of transition and increasingly the motor car replaced the horse in town, and on the farm the horse was replaced by the tractor, all of which supported the growing number of garages in the town.

Camden AH&I Hall 1997 JKooyman Camden Images
Camden AH&I Hall  brick frontage was added in 1936 to celebrate  the Jubilee Show and designed by Sydney architect A Bolot (1997 Photographer JKooyman, Camden Images)