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Cultural and heritage tourism adds $6.4 million a year to the local economy  

Camden Museum and Alan Baker Art Gallery add over $1.7 million annually

New research shows that cultural and heritage tourism is worth around $6.4 million per year to the Camden LGA.

The story of the Camden-Campbelltown train, the locomotive affectionately known as Pansy, generates a considerable amount of nostalgia amongst day-trippers and other visitors to the Camden LGA. The railway engineering heritage still visible across the former train route includes this bridge, railway cuttings and other engineering works. This image shows the train approaching crossing the Nepean River railway bridge in 1910. (SLNSW)

This figure is drawn from data sourced from Destination NSW (2018), which states that the average daily spend of a day tripper was $140 per day. The proportion of day-trippers that constitute cultural and heritage visitors is 9% of all day-tripper visitors.

According to .idCommunity (2023) demographic resources, in 2020-2021, there were 509,000 day-trippers to the Camden LGA per year. Cultural and heritage visitors comprise around 45,000 day-trippers of the total number of day-tripper visitors annually. These day-trippers are worth $6.4 million to the Camden economy.

Within these figures, the volunteer-run Camden Museum is one of the most prominent destinations with around 6000 day-tripper visitors per year, worth around $840,000 to the local economy each year. The Alan Baker Art Gallery has about 6500 day-tripper visitors annually, worth around $910,000 to the local economy annually.

The Alan Baker Art Gallery is located in the former gentleman’s townhouse of Macaria, which is a valuable part of the built heritage of the Camden Heritage Conservation Area. This gallery and the building form part of the John Street heritage precinct, which includes the former police barracks, courthouse and Sarah Tiffan’s cottage and the former CBC Bank. (ABAG, 2023)

What is cultural and heritage tourism?

 Destination NSW (2019) defines cultural and heritage tourism as:

Ted Silberberg explains cultural and heritage tourism as ‘a tool of economic development that achieves economic growth through attracting visitors from outside a host community, who are motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical, artistic, scientific or lifestyle/heritage offerings of a community, region, group or institution’

Source: Cultural Tourism and Business Opportunities for Museums and Heritage sites, Tourism Management, Ted Silberberg, 1995.
St John’s Church and Cemetery is one of the most important cultural and heritage sites in the Camden LGA. Dating from the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family of Camden Park, the church dominates the town and the Nepean River floodplain from its ridge-top location. The church is visible from many points around the area. The vistas from Camden Park House and Garden are an integral part of the Cowpastures story and the gentry estates that dominated the area until the town was settled in the 1840s. The church is critical in the area’s sense of place and community identity. (I Willis, 2021)

How important is cultural and heritage tourism?

Destination NSW (2019) quotes research from Tourism Australia that

 ‘rich history and heritage’ was the 4th most important factor for the Domestic market when choosing a holiday destination, and 6th most important for the International market.  

Source: Consumer Demand Project, Tourism Australia, 2018

According to the National Trust of Australia (2018):

Globally, heritage tourism has become one of the largest and fastest growing tourism sectors, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimating that more than 50%[1] of tourists worldwide are now motivated by a desire to experience a country’s culture and heritage[2]

Of all international visitors to Australia in 2017, 43% participated in a cultural activity and 33.9% in a heritage activity. Cultural and heritage segments have grown at 7.5% and 11.2% respectively over the past four years.

Source: 1. Tourism Research Australia, IVS YE September 2017. 2. United Nations World Trade Organisation, 2016 Annual Report

Cultural and Heritage Tourism in Camden

The Camden township is a site rich in heritage and history and a visitor destination with huge potential.

The Camden LGA is an active participant in cultural and heritage tourism with a host of visitor attractions in the and is outlined in the Macarthur Visitors Guide (MVG 2020). The guide is complemented by the Camden Heritage Walking Tour guide (CHWT 2023), the Camden Scenic Drive (CSD 2020) and the Visit Camden Official Visitor Guide (CVIC 2022).

Camden Council is responsible for the most critical cultural and heritage tourism planning instrument. The Camden Heritage Conservation Area, Argyle Street, and John Street precincts are within it. (DCP 2019) The DCP (2019) outlines the conservation area’s character elements, objectives and controls.

Camden Council (2023) provides valuable information on its Heritage Planning webpage and lists all the local heritage items on the local and state heritage inventory (CC 2020).

Storytelling

Within cultural and heritage tourism, storytelling is an essential feature of the visitor experience.

Oliver Serrat (2008) defines storytelling as

The vivid description of ideas, beliefs, personal experiences, and life-lessons through stories or narratives that evoke powerful emotions and insights.

https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/27637/storytelling.pdf

The National Trust of Australia (2018) maintains that storytelling is a new global trend and

found that what encourages a visitor to a certain destination is its ability to engage in unforgettable and truly inspiring experiences that touch visitors in an emotional way and connects them with special places, people and cultures.

Source:  Tropical Tablelands Tourism, Hero Experiences Guidebook (2015)

Camden storyteller Ian Willis (2023a) has written extensively about the local history of the Camden area, with an outstanding example being the Camden History Notes blog. He has published many other articles and stories in newspapers, newsletters, journals and books (2023b).

The outstanding storytelling organisation in the Camden LGA is the Camden Historical Society (CHS 2023a). The society’s activities include the biannual journal Camden History (CHS 2023b), monthly public lectures, and numerous book publications. (CHS 2023c). The Camden Museum archives provide much raw material for local storytelling. (CHS 2023d)

The Camden Museum Library building is one of the many cultural and heritage tourism sites in the Camden LGA. The archives of the Camden Museum provide much of the raw material for Camden storytelling. The museum holds many artefacts that add to local stories and provide a rich experience for museum visitors. The Camden Library occupies the building in John Street Camden and has a rich collection of local interviews and stories on its website. The building is home to the Camden Area Family History Society and its archives. The Camden Museum Library building is part of the rich built heritage of the John Street precinct and is an example of adaptive reuse. (I Willis, 2008)

The Camden Area Family History Society (CAFHS 2023) is a crucial storytelling organisation which draws on raw material from extensive archives and keen volunteer members.

The Back Then feature of The District Reporter provides the most popular storytelling platforms. Here local storytellers include Ian Willis (2023c), John Wrigley, Julie Wrigley and others who tell interesting and exciting local stories about the past in each issue.

The Back Then section of The District Reporter 18 November 2022.

References

CAFHS 2023, Camden Area Family History Society. CAFHS. https://www.cafhs.org.au/

CC 2019, Camden Development Control Plan 2019. Camden Council. https://dcp.camden.nsw.gov.au/

CC 2020, Local and State Heritage Items listed under: State Environment Planning Policy (Sydney Regions Growth Centres)2006, & Camden Local Environment Plan 2010. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/pdfs/Planning/Heritage-Conservation/Heritage-Items-List-September-2020-v1.pdf

CC 2023, Heritage Planning. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/strategic-planning/heritage-planning/

CHS 2023a, Camden History. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/index.html

CHS 2023b, Camden History, the journal of the Camden Historical Society. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/chsjournal.html

CHS 2023c, Publications For Sale At The Camden Museum. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/Publications%20for%20Sale%20%2022.5.2018.pdf

CHS 2023d, Camden Museum Archive Catalogue by Category. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/LibraryJune2008.pdf

CHWT 2023, Camden Heritage Walking Tour. Pamphlet. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/Uploads/Camden-Heritage-Walking-Tour-2023.pdf

CSD 2020, Camden Scenic Drive. Pamphlet. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/Tourism/Camden-Scenic-Drive.pdf

DCP 2019, 2.16.4 Camden Heritage Conservation Area. Camden Council. https://dcp.camden.nsw.gov.au/general-land-use-controls/environmental-heritage/camden-heritage-conservation-area/

Destination NSW 2019, Cultural and Heritage Tourism in NSW, Year Ended December 2018. NSW Government, Sydney. https://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/cultural-and-heritage-tourism-to-nsw-snapshot-ye-de-2018.pdf

Ian Willis 2023a, Camden History Notes, Some Stories of Place. Camden History Notes. https://camdenhistorynotes.com/

Ian Willis 2023b, Ian Willis Historian. Author. https://ianwillis.wordpress.com/

Ian Willis 2023c, Newspaper Articles. Academia.com.  https://independent.academia.edu/IanWillis/Newspaper-Articles

idCommunity 2023, Camden Council area, Tourism visitor summary. Camden Council. https://economy.id.com.au/camden/tourism-visitor-summary

MVG 2020, Macarthur Visitors Guide, Camden & Campbelltown. Camden Council & Campbelltown City Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/Tourism/Macarthur-Visitors-Guide-2020.pdf

NTA 2018, Next Steps: Australian Heritage Tourism Directions Paper. National Trust, June. https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Australian-Heritage-Tourism-Directions-paper-.pdf

Olivier Serrat 2008, Storytelling. Knowledge Solutions. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/27637/storytelling.pdf

The District Reporter. https://www.tdr.com.au/

Tourism Research Australia 2020, Regional NSW Visitor Profile, Year Ending June 2019. Destination NSW. https://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/travel-to-regional-nsw-snapshot-jun-2019.pdf

CVIC 2022, Visit Camden Official Visitor Guide. Camden Visitor Information Centre, Elderslie.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Camden Art Group · Camden Story · Community identity · Community organisations · Community work · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · Hope and loss · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · localism · Place making · Public art · Sense of place · Storytelling · Volunteering · Volunteerism

‘Baker, The Artist, The Influencer’, the exhibition

A new gallery exhibition

If you are observant when walking around central Camden, new vibrant posters are publicising a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria in John Street Camden.

A poster to be found in a bus shelter in John Street Camden advertising the exhibition. This poster is of the artist Alan D Baker and provides a colourful addition to passengers using the local bus service. (I Willis, 2023)

The posters are in all sorts of locations.

One of the most interesting is the back wall of the Oxley Street carpark.

An exhibition poster for ‘Baker, The Artist, The Influencer’ located on the rear wall of the Oxley Street carpark. Illustrating that art is for everyone and is accessible to all. The subject of the poster is Alan Baker’s wife, Marjorie. (I Willis, 2023)

The new exhibition is ‘Baker, The Artist, The Influencer’ and runs until September 2023.

 The exhibition is the story of the Camden Art Group, which commenced sometime in 1972.

The art group started with local school teacher Ken Rorke. He was an art teacher at Camden Public School from 1961 to 1981.

As a keen artist, Ken asked artist Alan Baker to teach a Wednesday night class, which he refused, but he agreed to provide ‘advice and an expert hand’.

The experiences of the Wednesday night art group were quite varied and prompted some individuals to further their art careers.

An exhibition poster of ‘Baker The Artist The Influencer’ using one of his works ‘The Master’s Student’, which was completed at the Wednesday night Camden Art Group session in 1975. The poster is located in the laneway at the rear of the Oxley Street carpark and brightens up an otherwise drab masonry wall. (I Willis, 2023)

The exhibition catalogue states:

Camden Art Group was comprised of a mix of people from all walks of life. There were local business people, high school students, teachers, mothers, fathers, forestry workers – anyone with an interest in art was welcomed and found a place for themselves among the friendly group.

The art group, usually consisting of an attendance of about 20 artists, fostered the creative talents of many people who have gone on to bigger and better things.

Alan Baker’s role was to be ‘an inspiring and charismatic force for the class’. (Ahmad, et al, 2018)

Rizwana found it interesting to compare her training in South Asian training with Alan Baker’s Realist technique and style. (Ahmad, et al, 2018)

Some were encouraged to extend their professional interest in art after being discouraged early in life. (Ahmad, et al, 2018)

The displayed artworks at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria in John Street, Camden. These are some of the works from the Camden Art Group. (I Willis, 2023)

There were other benefits from the art group included lifelong friendships, opportunities for professional development, the development of a collegiate artistic atmosphere, mentoring of local artistic talent, the creation of a thriving arts community that encouraged creativity, and several participants’ lives that were changed by art. (Ahmad, et al, 2018)

Baker, mentor, artist, and local identity encouraged the art group members to experiment and use a range of styles and materials, and their work is displayed alongside Baker’s art in the exhibition.

The exhibition catalogue states:

Sleek sculptures in stone and wood, commemorative busts, traditional oil paintings, drawings, and expressive watercolours hand side by side. These works showcase the impressive body of work created by the Camden Art Group in the years of the group meetings and, continuing beyond Baker’s death, into the present day.

This artwork called ‘An Artists Life’ portrays the Camden Art Group busily at work in one of the classrooms at Camden Public School. Ken Rorke instigated the formation of the art group and invited Alan Baker to teach the class, which he refused to do. Instead, he offered to attend the group sessions and provide advice and an expert hand. He did this from 1972 until his death in 1987. Some of the participant artists of the group are listed, and their work is displayed in the exhibition. This work is located just inside the front door of the gallery. (I Willis 2023)

The Camden art group’s ground-breaking influence and its collegiate atmosphere is still evident today.

Exhibitions of artwork by Baker and others create an atmosphere that fosters creativity and innovation. Art can catalyse economic activity, leading to new businesses and job opportunities.

References

Gallery 2023, Baker, The Artist, The Influencer. Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria, Camden.

Ian Willis 2018, ‘Alan Baker, the artist’. Camden History, September, vol 4, no 6, pp242-247.

Rizwana Ahmad, Patricia Johnston, Olive McAleer, Shirley Rorke, Nola Tegel, and John Wrigley, 2018, ‘Alan Baker Art Classes’. Camden History, September, vol 4, no 6, 248-257.

Ian Willis, 2018, ‘Alan Baker Art Gallery opening, a brush of class’. Camden History Notes Blog, Camden, 5 March. Online at https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2018/03/05/alan-baker-art-gallery-macaria-opening/

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Red Flanders poppies, a field of memories

A flower honours the dead

The red Flanders poppy appeared in Camden in recent years when local identity Frances Warner was inspired to crochet them for Anzac Day in 2013. Frances was inspired by the efforts of two Melbourne women, Lyn Berry and Margaret Knight, who had organised the 5000 Poppies Project. They initiated the project to pay tribute to their fathers’ military service in World War Two, triggering a massive community outpouring of emotions, memories, and commemorations. Frances’ efforts were part of this response.

Wreaths with artificial poppies for the 2023 Anzac Day Ceremony in Camden from Camden Florist (CF 2023)

What is the significance of the red Flanders poppy?

The red Flanders poppies were among the first plants to spring up in the battlefields of northern France and Belgium after the war. Soldiers’ folklore said that the vivid red came from the blood of their fallen comrades.

The poppy symbolises many cultural mythologies, from remembrance to sacrifice, dreams, regeneration, and imagination. In Christianity, the red of the poppy symbolises the blood of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. The Roman poet Virgil used poppies as a metaphor to describe fallen warriors in his epic tale, the Aeneid, written around 25 BC. (https://www.uniguide.com/poppy-flower-meaning-symbolism)

The Anzac Portal website states that Canadian medic John McCrae recalled the red poppies on soldiers’ graves who died on the Western Front and wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Field’. He wrote the poem whilst serving in Ypres in 1915, and it was published in Punch magazine after being rejected by The Spectator. (https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/why-we-wear-poppies-on-remembrance-day)

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae (1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields

Red poppies growing in the fields at Flanders remind the community of the soldiers’ lives lost in battle during World War One on the Western Front. (2023, Narellan Town Centre)

In response to In Flanders Fields, American humanitarian and teacher Moina Michael was so moved by the poem that she pledged to ‘keep the faith’ and scribbled down on an envelope ‘We Shall Keep The Faith’ in 1918.

We Shall Keep the Faith

by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Moina Micheal used the poppy symbol to raise funds for US ex-servicemen returning from World War One and was known as ‘The Poppy Lady’.  (http://www.greatwar.co.uk/people/moina-belle-michael.htm)

Australia

In Australia, the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia (RSS&ILA) first sold poppies for Armistice Day in 1921. The League imported one million silk poppies made in French orphanages. The RSL continues to sell poppies on Remembrance Day to assist its welfare work. (https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/customs-and-ceremony/poppies)

People place a red poppy next to a soldier’s name on the AWM Roll of Honour ‘as a personal tribute’. This practice began in 1993 at the internment of the Unknown Australian Soldier. (https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/customs-and-ceremony/poppies)

This image shows poppies on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. (K Alchin, 2021)

United Kingdom

Poppies are used in remembrance all over the world. In the United Kingdom, the white poppy represents an international symbol of remembrance for all casualties of war, civilians and armed forces personnel, and peace.

Artificial poppies were first sold in the UK in 1921 to raise funds for ex-servicemen and their families for the Earl Haig Fund supplied by Anna Guérin in France, who had manufactured them to raise funds for war orphans. It proved so popular that the British Legion started a factory in 1922 staffed by disabled ex-servicemen to produce their own.

The Imperial War Museum website states:

Other charities sell poppies in different colours, each with their own meaning but all to commemorate the losses of war. White poppies, for example, symbolise peace without violence and purple poppies are worn to honour animals killed in conflict.

(https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/why-we-wear-poppies-on-remembrance-day)

 Melbourne’s 5000 Poppies Project

The 5000 Poppies Project started when Lyn Berry and Margaret Knight set out to crochet around 120 poppies to ‘plant’ at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in 2013 to honour their fathers’ memory. Wal Beasley (14/32nd Battalion – Australian Imperial Forces) and Stan Knight (Queen’s Own West Kent Regiment – British Army). (https://5000poppies.wordpress.com/about/)

 The 5000 Poppy Project has had art installations on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance (2017, 2019) and in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House (2017). The 5000 Poppies Project has gone international with an installation at London’s Chelsea Flower Show in 2016. (ttps://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/2016/articles/a-field-of-poppies-at-chelsea)

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance with the art installation of 5000 Poppies in 2017 (5000 Poppies)

The 5000 Poppies project has become an international tribute of respect and remembrance to those who have served in all wars, conflicts, peacekeeping operations, their families, and communities. (https://5000poppies.wordpress.com/about/ )

Frances Warner’s Red Poppy Project

Frances Warner has crocheted hundreds of red poppies, sold them for fundraising, and co-ordinated art installations with knitted poppies. All commemorating the memory of local men and women who have served our country in times of conflict and peace.

 Frances said that one red poppy takes around 45 minutes to crochet, and she estimates that she has knitted over 650. She has voluntarily contributed approximately 480 hours of her time, and she is not finished yet by a long way.

Frances says she is very ordinary yet has done an extraordinary job. Frances joins a long list of local women who have volunteered thousands of hours to honour the service of local men and women who have served in conflict and peacekeeping.

Knitted poppies made by Frances Warner (F Warner 2023)
Art · Artists · Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan · Belonging · Community identity · Cowpastures · Crafts · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Cumberland Plain · Cumberland Plain Woodland · Dharawal · Heritage · History · Indigenous Heritage · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memory · Place making · Public art · Sense of place · Storytelling · Trees · Uncategorized · Wayfinding

Life Blood, public art at the Australia Botanic Gardens

Artwork at the Herbarium

On the forecourt of the Herbarium at the Australian Botanic Garden is an artwork celebrating the heritage of Indigenous culture.

Artists Susan Grant, Natalie Valiente and Codie Leed Evans developed artwork installed in 2023 after the conceptualisation and design work. The images were sandblasted into the concrete on the Herbarium forecourt. The work was supported by the New South Wales Government.

The artwork Life Blood has been sandblasted into the concrete forecourt of the Herbarium at the Australian Botanic Gardens, Mount Annan, NSW (I Willis, 2023)

The artwork celebrates the Cumberland Plains Woodland that once covered the Cowpastures. The work directly connects science, the natural world, and the heritage of the local Indigenous peoples, the Dharawal, Darug, and Gundungurra.

The central concept and motif in the artwork is the eucalyptus tree, which becomes the Life Blood of the Indigenous peoples.

The artists were inspired by looking at a eucalyptus tree under a microscope and viewing the veins in the leaves.

In the work’s development stages, the artists held workshops and information sessions seeking input.

The site of the Australian Botanic Garden was a meeting place for the Indigenous peoples and was considered an appropriate location for the artwork.

Susan Grant writes:

We have a spiritual connection whenever we are in the botanical gardens, which  influences our design and artwork, connecting us back to the land.

Reference

Susan Grant and Natalie Valiente 2023, ‘Artwork ‘Life Blood’ at The Australian Botanic Gardens’. Camden History, the Journal of the Camden Historical Society, Vol. 5 no. 5, March, pp. 225-233.

Youtube: Life Blood

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The Camden Story: the historiography of the history of the country town of Camden NSW

Journal Article Review

‘Making Camden History: local history and untold stories in a small community’. ISAA Review, Journal of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. Special Edition, Historiography. Volume 19, Number 1, 2023, pp. 23-38.

The history of telling the story of a small community has been interpreted in different ways at different times in the past by different historians.

This area of study is called the historiography.

This is an aerial image of the country town of Camden in the 1940s with St John’s Church on the ridge overlooking the town and the Nepean River floodplain. The Macarthur family-funded church is the community’s soul and was constructed shortly after the private town was established by the Macarthur family at the river crossing into Camden Park Estate. (Camden Images)

I have recently published an article on the historiography of the small country town of Camden, NSW.

The Camden township is located 65 kilometres southwest of the Sydney CBD and, in recent years, has been absorbed by Sydney’s urban growth.

The main streets are a mix of Victorian, Edwardian and interwar architecture comprising commercial, government and domestic buildings.

The town site was originally the entry point into what became Governor King’s Cowpasture Reserve at the Nepean River crossing, part of the lands of the Dharawal people, which then called Benkennie.

Jill Wheeler argues that while local histories are embedded in a long storytelling tradition, new understandings inform our interpretation in a contemporary context.

The historiography of the history of a small country town demonstrates the shifting nature of storytelling and how different actors interpret the past.

This article seeks to examine some of what Wheeler calls ‘the other’ by looking beyond the conventional history of Camden as found in newspapers, journals, monuments, celebrations, commemorations and other places.

I have written an article about the making of the history of Camden NSW to illustrate and explore these issues.

Click here to learn more

This is the cover of my Pictorial History Camden & District, which tells the Camden story in words and pictures. The book is a brief account of the main events, characters and institutions that were part of the Camden township from its foundation to the present, as well as the Indigenous story in pre-European times and the foundation of the Cowpastures Reserve.
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Blue Plaque recognises Camden Red Cross sewing circle in wartime

Camden Red Cross sewing circles during the First and Second World Wars

The wartime efforts of Camden women have been officially recognised for the first time by the successful nomination for a New South Wales Blue Plaque with Heritage NSW. Camden Red Cross women volunteers thousands of hours of their time and skill to provide requisites for military hospitals for wounded Australian soldiers.

The announcement appeared in the Sydney press with 17 other successful nominations for a Blue Plaque across the state. They include notable people and events in their local area.

The Blue Plaque on the front of the former Camden Town Hall. The plaque celebrates and remembers the service of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles women who donated thousands of hours of their effort and skills to supply hospital requisites for the soldiers and military hospitals in the First and Second World Wars. (I Willis, 2023)

What is being recognised?

The Blue Plaque officially recognised for the first time the Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles at the Camden School of Arts (later the Camden Town Hall, now the Camden Library) – 1914-1918, 1940-1946. This is the only recognition of this type of Red Cross wartime activity anywhere in Australia.

The Sidman women volunteer their time and effort during the First World War for the Camden Red Cross. Patriotic fundraising supporting the war at home was significant, raising thousands of pounds. This type of effort was quite in all communities across Australia and the rest of the British Empire. (Camden Images and Camden Museum)

The story of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles

The Camden Red Cross sewing circles were one of Camden women’s most important voluntary patriotic activities during World War One and World War Two. The sewing circles started at the Camden School of Arts in 1914 and, due to lack of space, moved to the Foresters’ Hall on Argyle Street in 1918. At the outbreak of the Second World War, sewing circles reconvened in 1940 at the Camden Town Hall on John Street (the old School of Arts building – the same site as the First World War)

These sewing circles were workshops where Camden women volunteered and manufactured supplies for Australian military hospitals, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. They were held weekly on Tuesdays, sale days in the Camden district.

Sewing circles were ‘quasi-industrial production lines’ where Camden women implemented their domestic skills to aid the war at home. Camden women cut out, assembled, and sewed together hospital supplies, including flannel shirts, bed shirts, pyjamas, slippers, underpants, feather pillows, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. The workshops were lent several sewing machines in both wars.

The sewing circles also coordinated knitting and spinning for bed socks, stump socks, mufflers, balaclava caps, mittens, and cholera belts (body binders). The women also made ‘hussifs’ or sewing kits for the soldiers.  The sewing circles attracted 80-100 women weekly during the First World War. The list of items was strikingly consistent for hospital supplies for both wars, with the only significant addition during the Second World War being the knitted pullovers and cardigans.

The production output of the Camden women was prodigious. Between 1914 and 1918, Camden Red Cross sewing circle women made over 20,300 articles tallied to over 40,000 volunteer hours.  Between 1940 and 1946, during World War Two, women made over 25,000 articles, totalling over 45,000 voluntary hours.

The operation of the sewing circles was fully funded through the fundraising of Camden Red Cross and community donations.  In 1917 alone, over 95% of branch fundraising was dedicated to these activities.

In World War One, other Red Cross sewing circles in the Camden district were at The Oaks, Camden Park, Theresa Park, and Middle Burragorang. During World War Two, other centres across the local area included Bringelly-Rossmore, Menangle, Narellan, and The Oaks. Each group independently funded its activities.

These patriotic voluntary activities by Camden women were part of the war at home and have received little recognition at a local, state or national level. Wartime sewing and knitting have been kept in the shadows for too long. There needs to be a public acknowledgement of the patriotic effort of these women.

The placement of the plaque

The Blue Plaque was installed on the front of the Camden Library building in 2022 at 40 John Street Camden. This building was formerly the Camden Town Hall and the Camden School of Arts. The women of the Camden Red Cross used the town hall as the centre of their sewing effort in the First and Second World Wars to supply hospital requisites for soldiers and military hospitals. (I Willis, 2023)

The Blue Plaque was placed on the front of the former Camden School of Arts – later called the Camden Town Hall (1939-1945),then converted to offices in 1964 and now the Camden Library.

Camden School of Arts from 1866 to 1963 (PReeves/Camden Images)

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

Official recognition is long overdue

The official recognition of the wartime effort and skills of Camden women using their domestic arts and crafts in the patriotic service of Australia has taken over 75 years. This small acknowledgement of the wartime service of the Camden Red tells the story of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances and has been long overdue.

Acknowledgement by the Member for Camden Peter Sidgreaves MP

This is an article from the newsletter from Peter Sidgreaves MP Member for Camden, where he has given official acknowledgement of the wartime patriotic service of Camden Red Cross women (Newsletter November 2022, Issue 14)

What is a Blue Plaque?

The Heritage NSW website states:

The Blue Plaques program aims to capture public interest and fascination in people, events and places that are important to the stories of NSW.

The Blue Plaques program celebrates NSW heritage by recognising noteworthy people and events from our state’s history.

The aim of the program is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhood and other parts of NSW and connect with people of the past, historical moments and rich stories that matter to communities and have shaped our state.

The program is inspired by the famous London Blue Plaques program run by English Heritage which originally started in 1866, and similar programs around the world.

“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”

The essence of the Blue Plaques program is the storytelling. A digital story will be linked to each plaque.

The Blue Plaques should tell stories that are interesting, fun, quirky along with more sombre stories that should be not be forgotten as part of our history.

English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom

The New South Wales Blue Plaques were based on the English model, and the English Heritage website states:

London’s blue plaques scheme, run by English Heritage, celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Founded in 1866, it has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world.

Camden Red Cross Blue Plaque installation

Dr Ian Willis organised the paperwork through the office of the local Member for Camden Peter Sidgreaves MP, for the installation of the Blue Plaque. The competitive process meant only around 17 sites were chosen for plaques from around 70 applications across New South Wales for this round. The installation occurred on 14 October 2022. (I Willis, 2022)

Reference

Ian Willis, Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2014.

Updated 24 April 2023. Originally posted 18 April 2022.

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Narellan Community Mosaic Project: art in the park

Narellan Community Mosaic Project 2005

Walking from the Narellan Library carpark to Elyard Street along the paths next to the creek, you will pass one of Narellan’s public art installations – the Narellan Community Mosaic Project.

This image shows the extent of the Narellan Community Mosaic Project with its concentric rings of mosaic tiles creating a spectacle for the observer of the past and present in the Narellan area. (I Willis, 2023)

Public art installations in Narellan have received little attention and are hidden in plain sight. Other public art installations in the Narellan area include the Cowpastures Story, a mosaic bench, and a Goanna on the loose,

The Narellan Community Mosaic Project art installation is easy to miss as it blends in with the lawn and park landscape of Elyard Reserve. Maybe that was the intention of the artists. The work was commissioned by Camden Council through funding from the New South Wales Department of Planning.

The art installation uses mosaic tiles to represent the area’s past and present. The artwork adds to the character and placemaking of the Narellan Library Civic Space on Elyard Street, Narellan.

Mosaic Artwork

The installation is a series of concentric rings using storytelling to tell the Narellan story. The story starts at the centre with Indigenous Australians. As you move out from the centre, the artwork is a timeline through history, representing the present in the outer rings.

The centre of the artwork has stylised figures representing First Australian’s art, the oldest art on the continent, around a five-pointed star, possibly a metaphor for the Southern Cross from the southern skies. This section contains stylised stick figures representing activities from the past and present – a mother walking her dog, shopping, gardening, and mowing the grass, a BBQ, and more traditional Indigenous figures.  

The centre circle of the Narellan Community Mosaic project with a five-pointed star perhaps represents the stars of the Southern Cross, with its stylised figure reminiscent of the traditional art of the First Australians. (I Willis, 2023)

Moving outwards from the centre, there are representations of European settlement patterns crisscrossed by roadways. Here the ring is divided into different periods from the colonial settler society past to the present.

These inner rings are encircled by a further round of local places of significance in the Narellan area. They include Harrington Park House, Narellan Railway Station, Struggletown, Burton Arms Inn (1830), St Thomas Church (1861), St Thomas Chapel, Ben Linden and Bullock teams.

The outer circle shown here illustrates the historic sites of the Narellan area. The Harrington Park house is in the centre of the image, with the 20th-century house Ben Linden on the left and Bullock teams on the right of the centre. The inner circle represents European settlement from the time of a settler society to the 21st century. (I Willis, 2023)

The outer ring of mosaic tiles is divided into segments celebrating agriculture, cultural activities, flora and fauna, and a wayfinding activity. The edge of the artwork is tiled with details of local children who contributed to its creation and design.

In the outer area of the artwork are three metal benches supported by metaphorical books representing the site as a place of learning for the community. The seating is a popular spot for some to have their lunch break during their busy day, have a break and take in the bookish environment.

A local worker enjoying the ambience of the Narellan Community Mosaic Project in their lunch break, taking in the bookish atmosphere of the environment provided by the adjacent Narellan Library building. (I Willis, 2023)

Contributing artists

The contributing artists to the installation all have a strong track record and are well respected in their fields.

This mosaic tile gives credit to the artists involved in creating the art installation and the details of the commissioning authorities. (I Willis, 2023)

Project Co-ordination -Marla Guppy from Guppy & Associates

Marla’s biography on her website states:

Marla Guppy is a cultural planner and public art strategist. Over the last twenty years she has worked on a range of projects that explore social environments and identity. She has a particular interest in fostering creative involvement in the design of local environments and public buildings. She has considerable experience in working with specific communities of interest and has worked collaboratively with corporate and community organisations and creative industries.

Project artist – Cynthia Turner

Turner’s  biography on the Design & Art Australia website states that Cynthia started working on mosaics when Kids Activities Newtown asked her to work on a mosaic at the Enmore Swimming Pool after seeing a mosaic-covered seat in her garden.

This would turn out to be the start of a successful career as a public artist specialising in designing and making mosaic artworks for streetscapes, parks, community centres and schools. Turner’s artworks can be found in Sydney, Wollongong, Dubbo and Tasmania. Most are public artworks commissioned by local councils and can be seen in the form of public benches, mosaic walls and footpaths; they all feature mosaic surfaces. Turner has used a variety of materials in these mosaics, such as handmade tiles, broken ceramic tiles, sheeted glass tiles and cut stained glass.

Ceramic artist – Christine Yardley

Heritage artist – George Sayers

George Sayers worked as a commercial artist in Great Britain before he came to Australia in 1964. He works in most mediums: oil, watercolour, drawing, pastel and etching.

Sayers has taken an interest in the historic buildings and landscapes of the Cowpastures area and more contemporary scenes of the Camden area. He published Views of Camden and Surrounding Areas in 1996.

 Henryk Topolnicki  from Art is an Option

Working as a sculptor, Henryk created artworks based on his skills as an accomplished blacksmith, woodworker and welder.

The Art is an Option website states:

Private commissions and public artworks by Henryk have a distinctive level of delicate-often relating to natural forms such as insects or birds-requiring a very fine level of craftsmanship by the artist.

Art is an Option contributed to other artworks in the Narellan Library Civic Space in 2006 called the Cowpasture Story consisting of a  ‘Sculptural Mobiles & Screen’ and jointly commissioned by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club.

Narellan Community Mosaic Project shortly after its installation in 2006. (Art is an Option)

Updated on 2 May 2023. Originally posted on 17 April 2023.

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Camden Show 2023

The show comes alive after Covid and floods

The 2023 Camden Show proves its resilience and came alive after the disasters of Covid and the 2022 floods when the show was postponed and cancelled.

Camden Show office for 2023 in the 1936 addition to the 1890s agricultural hall. The show office staff were forced out of their former office space underneath the hall due to the 2022 floods. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors and competitors

The arts and crafts pavilion is a good place to start, the must-see at all country shows. On display are the hidden talents of the local area.

The talent of sugar artists is on display in the Arts and Crafts Pavillion. Some of these exhibits are true works of art. (I Willis, 2023)

A staple at all country shows are local farmers and producers who display their animals and produce. The cattle are always an interesting area to watch, and dairying has a rich history in the Camden area going back to the 1880s.

Dairying has been a staple farming activity in the Camden area for over 130 years. These dairy cattle show some of the local talent and why dairy farming has been so important in the local area for so long. (I Willis, 2023)

The produce exhibit is a snapshot of what can be grown and produced locally. Each of these products has been a vital part of the local farming scene over previous decades and in the present. For example, the apple industry was very important in The Oaks for most of the 20th century, and viticulture or growing grapes occurred across the Elderslie area for most of the last 100 years.

Apples, vegetables and other produce have been an important of the farming scene in the local area since the time of European settlement. An examination of Camden Show catalogues over the years shows the importance of these farming products for the local area. (I Willis, 2023)

The flower exhibits are always popular with show visitors, and 2023 is no exception. The flowers have moved out of the main pavilion to a more compact area and the number of exhibitors is down on previous years.

Flower exhibits at the 2023 Camden Show. This image shows the ever-popular dahlias. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors are a mixture of keen amateurs and professional producers. All compete for the glory and fame that comes with first place. The cash prizes are really only pocket money, and it is the kudos that is the attraction.

A happy exhibitor who won a first with red capsicum and a highly commended with her squash and eggplants. All produce was locally grown. (I Willis, 2023)

The Show Ball and the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year

An often overlooked part of the show is the show ball and the announcement of the winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year. The competition started in 1962 as the Camden Miss Showgirl and was rebranded in 1979 as the Showgirl competition. It is an excuse for the young, and not so young, folk of the area to get frocked up and enjoy themselves.

The promotional material for the annual show ball where the winner of the former Showgirl competition is announced for the following year. (CSS)

The winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year competition was announced on the front page of The District Reporter.

The cover of The District Reporter, 4 November 2022, where the winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year was announced. (TDR)

Camden Show promotional material

Much literature is produced at showtime; one of the most important is the show catalogue. The schedule lists all categories that competitors might want to enter with their animals, produce or crafts, the entry fees, the winning prizes and many other show time details.

The cover of the 2023 Camden Show catalogue and schedule (Camden Show Society)

Then there is the showground map which details all the exhibitors, events, show rings, entertainment, show bags, conveniences, parking and lots of other information.

The map of the 2023 Camden Show was produced by The District Reporter, and in comparison with maps of shows from earlier years, it is clear how the show has grown in size and moved into the surrounding Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park from the boundary of Onslow Park. This year the Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park is accommodating parking, horse events, the ute show, sheep, goats and alpacas, and sheep dog trials. (CSS)

One innovation this year has been the Agricultural Discovery Booklet for children. The booklet is full of puzzles, quizzes, colouring in, find-a-word, crosswords and other stuff. A great thing for the kids.

The cover of the Camden Show 2023 Agricultural Discovery Booklet (CSS)

Information stalls and exhibitors

The 2023 Camden Show has many exhibitors, including commercial enterprises, the show guild members who provide rides and entertainment, government information services, community organisations and many others.

The wonderful girls were found at the NSW Government Land Information Service exhibitor stall. These chooks were proudly standing guard over and host of information brochures and booklets and looking after the staff on duty. But these girls have their enemies and on the other side of the exhibitor stall in the corner were a number of them on display (I Willis, 2023)

Some of the enemies of the chooks look very menacing and dangerous at the NSW Government Land Information Services exhibitor stall. These feral animals are a nuisance and pest for farmers across rural New South Wales, with the fox starting to appear in the urban part of the Camden area. (I Willis, 2023)

Commercial exhibitors

The Sadek Motor Group exhibitor display shows the old and new motor cars. Displays by local motor dealers at the Camden Show has been a regular feature going back to the 1930s. This 1930s vehicle has attracted the attention of a showgoer dressed to drive away this historic specimen. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors from the community

Community groups are regular exhibitors at the Camden Show, including the Country Women’s Association, Camden Historical Society, Camden Area Family History Society, Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Girl Guides, the Camden Show Society itself and many others.

The NSW Country Women’s Association is a regular participant at country shows across the state providing tea, coffee and scones for hungry showgoers. Here the Camden CWA signage is showing the 2023 Camden Show-goer the way to refresh their day with tea and scones. The women also sold a variety of other articles to assist their fundraising. (I Willis, 2023)

Show promotional liftout

Promoting the show is always essential, and The District Reporter has had their show liftout for many years. The liftout is part of the only print edition of a newspaper that still circulates in the local area and has the show’s history and many stories about show personalities, events and exhibitors.

The cover of the 2023 Camden Show liftout from The District Reporter. This print media has traditionally been the primary way the Camden Show Society has promoted the show over the last 130 years. (TDR)

The role of social media has increased in recent years as a way to promote the show.

This handsome specimen of an animal was used to promote the show on Facebook and Instagram in the lead-up to the 2023 Camden Show. Social media is an integral part of promoting the Camden Show in recent years. (CSS)

The show ends after another year

The show rides have ended, and it is pack-up time at the end of the 2023 Camden Show. Show guild members gather their bits and pieces, pack their rides and travel to the next country show. They will be back next year. (I Willis, 2023)

Packing up includes collecting the rubbish bins.

The bins have been emptied and are awaiting collection at the show’s end. The rides have ended, and will not be back until next year. The showground is starting to return to normality after the two-day festival of fun, frolic, entertainment and serious judging of stock, crafts and produce. Onslow Park is returning to normal. (I Willis, 2023)

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Goanna on the loose, public art

Public art at Narellan

Climbing a pole tucked away in the corner of Elyard Reserve Narellan NSW is a wooden carving of a goanna climbing a pole.

The artwork is amongst mature trees, and the goanna could be imaged climbing one of the adjacent gum trees.

A wood carving of a goanna climbing a tree in Elyard Reserve at Narellan NSW. There is no artist accreditation. (I Willis, 2023)

There is no credit given to the artist.

Wood sculpture is one of the oldest art forms, going back centuries. It is a form of art common to all cultures because it is low cost, widespread and plasticity.  

The drawback to this artwork is that the weather, insects, and wood can degrade rapidly. For these reasons, bronze, marble and other types of stone are usually preferred by artists for monumental work.

Wood carving requires gouging tools, chisels and mallets and hammers. The types of wood carving can include chip carving and relief carving in hardwood or softwood.

The goanna has been climbing the pole at Elyard Place for many years. It is a relief work from hardwood, like the trees adjacent to the artwork. The weather has taken its toll on the work, with a large crack running through the centre of the pole.

The goanna has suffered at the hands of the weather, and there is a significant split the length of the artwork (I Willis, 2023)
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Young Woman trumps the Showgirl

Rebranding the Showgirl competition

In late 2022 the Camden Show Society announced that Rubey Williams had been named the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year.

Ms Williams is the first Camden Show Young Woman of the Year after the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) changed the branding of the former Showgirl competition in 2019.

The competition had been rebranded earlier from the Miss Showgirl competition, which began in 1962. The name of the competition changed in 1979 by dropping ‘Miss’ from the title, indicating the competition moving with the times. (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019) And as Kate Darian-Smith has argued, changes in the competition have reflected changing representations of rural life and country towns, and the success of country shows (Darian-Smith, 2002, 17)

Yet there were supporters of the old name and the traditions it represented. In 2019 the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) showgirl committee spokesperson Peter Gooch said, ‘We don’t want to change the name.’

‘Why change what’s not broken? It’s tradition and means so much to the show.’ (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)

Dissatisfaction with Showgirl

Yet there was dissatisfaction with the marketing of the Showgirl concept.

Camden 2009 Showgirl Lauren Elkins, who came third in Sydney 2009, said there needed to be improved marketing for the competition at a grassroots level.

“The calibre of young women going to Sydney far exceeds what it was ten years ago,” she said.

“We need to look at how it is marketed and tell the stories of the girls of where they are and how they are developing.

“We are losing so many traditions; it would be a real shame to change the name, it’s tradition.”  (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)

Ms Elkins, the 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins, certainly had an eye on tradition when she prepared the 2009 Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl. The guide stressed etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offered deportment lessons for entrants.  

Enduring anachronism

The Showgirl competition, formerly Miss Showgirl, has been an enduring anachronism and has withstood the assault of various forces and speaks well for its resilience.

I have maintained that

While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunities.  

These sentiments align with the feelings of Camden Show 2023 entrant Emily Perry who said she entered the competition because ‘she enjoys being involved in community activities, and wants to challenge herself and improve her own self-confidence’. (TDR, 21 October 2022)

Yet problems have persisted, and there have been concerns about the longevity of the competition.

Melanie Groves and Kemii Maguire have written, ‘ Nowadays, some view [the competition] as outdated pageantry from a bygone era at best, or the objectification of women at worst.’  (ABC News, 13 July 2019)

The popularity of the competition has waned in recent years, with only NSW and Queensland retaining the pageant. In Queensland, the entrants must be single, childless and under 28 years of age. (ABC News, 13 July 2019)

In Victoria, the competition stopped in 1995 after running for 38 years. (Darian-Smith, 2001)

RAS Young Woman of the Year

RAS Showgirl councillor Susan Wakefield has argued that changing the branding of the pageant to Young Woman of the Year has refreshed the program. (The Land, 19 October 2021)

‘The new title will continue to foster and encourage the fundamental building blocks of the competition through involvement in local shows and communities while also resonating better with younger generations’, said Ms Wakefield. (The Land, 19 October 2021)

2020 Cowra Showgirl Beatrice Patterson said her fellow showgirls supported the name change. Ms Patterson said that the RAS showgirl had received derogatory comments around ‘Miss Universe’ and beauty competition-related remarks earlier in the year. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)

Ms Patterson says that the Showgirl Competition is linked to the local show, yet others see Showgirl meaning ‘beauty’ and other negative connotations.

“I think this will be really good to get rid of that negative connotation.”

She hoped the name change would encourage more entrants. She said there were 15-20 entrants a few years ago, whereas in 2019, there were two or three.

She encouraged young women to enter the competition. ‘It’s a great program. You learn so much and develop as a person. You become more mindful of the world and agriculture’. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)

Ms Wakefield said that the professional development program within the competition encouraged young women to become community leaders. (The Land, 19 October 2021)

This was undoubtedly the Camden Show 2023 Young Women Rubey Williams situation. She said, ‘I want to become a bit of a role model in the community’. (TDR, 4 November 2022)

The District Reporter stated that Ms Williams had impressive agricultural credentials. She was the youngest ever Australian Alpaca Association Halter and Fleece Judge. (TDR, 4 November 2022)

She said she wanted to be a role model in the community and inspire young women to pursue careers in agriculture. (TDR, 4 November 2022)

Ms Williams felt strongly about the show movement and was keen to give women a pivotal role in shaping the future of rural Australia.  (TDR, 4 November 2022)

Kate Darian-Smith has argued that a sense of community shown by entrants was the result of long-standing family connections to the town, the agricultural society and other community organisations. (Darian-Smith, 2001)

Ms Williams certainly felt that her role as the 2015 Camden Show Junior Rural Ambassador ‘gave her a good grounding of how the show worked. I have a lot of good memories of the Camden Show; it still has a country feel.’ (TDR, 4 November 2022)