‘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.
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.
The ranch-style Henning House was set back high on the ridge in Elderslie across two building allotments and a good example of mid-century modernism.
Fronting Macarthur Road, the prominent position provided an appropriate site for the handsome residence of the Camden business family Peter and Barbara Hennings.
The house’s integrity remained intact until its demolition in 2011 to make way for a preschool.
Built in 1960, the Hennings House was one of the first residences of several houses on the Bruchhauser farm subdivision along Macarthur Road. (Hennings 2010)
The Hennings House was one of several ranch-style residences in Elderslie.
Ranch style housing
Architect Robert Irving has noted the housing style as an Australian domestic architecture. Parramatta City Council has recognised the housing style of heritage significance.
The ranch-style house is an example of mid-century modernism.
The original house style came from California and the South-west of the USA, where architects in these areas designed the first suburban ranch-style houses in the 1920s and 1930s. They were simple one-storey houses built by ranchers who lived on the prairies and in the Rocky Mountains.
The American architects liked the simple form that reflected the casual lifestyle of these farming families. After the Second World War, several home builders in California offered a streamlined, slimmed-down version. They were built on a concrete slab without a basement with pre-cut sections.
The design allowed multi-function spaces, for example, living-dining rooms and eat-in-kitchen, which reduced the number of walls inside the house. The design was one of the first to orient the kitchen/family area towards the backyard rather than facing the street.
The design also placed the bedrooms at the front of the house. The marketing of the ranch-style house tapped popular American fascination with the Old West. (Washington Post, 30 December 2006)
The Hennings House
Bracken ferns covered the site when the Hennings bought the two blocks and then filled the site to provide the house with an elevated position with a stone batter to the garage end of the house.
The wide frontage ranch-style house was set back on the double block in a high position, which is uncommon in Elderslie, although typical of this style elsewhere in Sydney (Parramatta Development Control Plan 2005).
Peter Hennings has always been interested in design and was careful in selecting the plans for the house. The couple were in their early 20s when they built the house.
The builder, Ron McMillan and Sons of Camden, had a catalogue, and the Hennings chose the house design from amongst those.
According to Peter Hennings, the design of the house was considered relatively modern. (Hennings 2010)
The house was an open-planned three-bedroom double-brick ranch-style residence. The house had 10-foot ceilings, a stone fireplace, timber sash windows and a separate bathroom and toilet.
There was a detached garage completed after the house was built.
The lounge room had two pairs of ¼ inch-bevel glass doors and two single glass bevel doors.
The site’s street frontage had a 1960 front fence of Chromatex bricks, and several mature trees added to the site’s aesthetic quality. (Hennings 2010)
The Hennings sold the house in 1980 to Dr Charles McCalden, who had a medical practice in Hill Street, Camden. He moved away from Camden in the mid-1980s.
In recent years (1999-2009), the house was owned by school principals Joan and Frank Krzysik.
Kalinda, a Whiteman house
The state government’s 2000 Elderslie Urban Release Area plan resulted in the demolition of Kalinda, another ranch-style house. The timber-constructed home was located off Lodges Road Elderslie and owned by Andrew Whiteman.
The Whiteman House Kalinda was high on the ridge with a pleasant outlook facing west over the Narellan Creek floodplain. Visitors approached the house from Lodges Road by driving up to the ridge’s top along a narrow driveway. The Whiteman family owned a general store in Camden that operated for nearly a century.
The same ridge was the site of Tarn House, a ranch-style house owned by surgeon Dr Gordon Clowes on Irvine Street, off Lodges Road.
Other Elderslie mid-century homes
The 1960s Elderslie land releases produced some houses that were an expression of mid-century modernism. The house designs were usually taken from a book of project homes of the day, for example, Lend Lease, and were quite progressive. Some of these homes were built by the miners who worked in the Burragorang coalfields.
Houses in Luker Street are characterised by low-pitched rooves, open planned but restrained design, with lots of natural light streaming in full-length glass panels adjacent to natural timbers and stone. There are also ranch-style houses on River Road with open planning and wide frontages to the street, which some architects designed.
Two blocks of flats on Purcell Street use decorative wrought iron railings. Sunset Avenue in Elderslie is a mix of 1960s modern low-pitched roof open-planned houses interspersed with New South Wales Housing Commission fibro construction homes.
The New South Wales Housing Commission built fibro houses in Elderslie, some located on Burrawong Crescent. Architects, including Robin Boyd, were expressing Australian modernism elsewhere in Australia. Housing developers like Lend Lease commissioned these architects to design their housing estates. One such development was the Lend-Lease Appletree Estate at Glen Waverley in Melbourne. Another Lend Lease land release and show homes were at their 1962 Kingsdene Estate in Carlingford.
Demolition of The Hennings House
The demolition of The Henning House took place in 2011 in preparation for the preschool construction.
I lodged an objection to the demolition of The Henning House in 2010 Camden Council, which approved the DA for the preschool on the site.
The objection to the demolition was the first time there had been any formal recognition of the heritage value of a post-World War Two domestic architecture style in the Camden LGA.
Peter Hennings said he would have been happy for the house to be preserved. (Macarthur Chronicle, 23 March 2010)
Peter & Barbara Hennings, 2010, Camden, Interview, February.
In the 1890s, Camden Municipal Council started beautifying the town area by planting various trees, including peppercorns. These cultural plantings defined the local urban landscape for decades, yet only a handful remain today.
In Australian Garden History magazine, John Dwyer writes that the pepper tree (Schinus ariera, syn. Schinus molle) or peppercorn tree has been popular nationwide for over 150 years. Originally from the Americas from Mexico to Peru it was first introduced into Australia in the mid-19th century. Country towns across inland New South Wales were supplied with specimens from the 1860s from the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. (Dwyer, 2023)
Cowpastures colonial gardens
The pepper tree was one of several exotic and hardy ornamental trees that fascinated the colonial Victorians in Camden. Pepper trees could be found in the fine gardens of the Cowpastures gentry estates.
Cowpastures gardens were shaped by various English garden trends and landscape gardeners, arguably the most important being JC Loudon and his gardenesque movement. (Landarc 1993).
Ferguson’s Nursery listed pepper trees for sale in the 1890s and oriental planes, pinus insignus, azaleas, and camellias. (Camden News, 12 March 1896)
Town beautification interested Camden’s civic fathers in the late 19th century, and pepper trees made an excellent street tree. (Landarc 1993)
With a ‘graceful habit’ pepper trees have an attractive gnarled trunk, grow to about 9-15 metres, with semi-weeping branches and leaves, and have decorative sprays of tiny rose peppery pink berries which are toxic. (Dwyer, 2023)
Street plantings started in the Camden town area in the mid-1890s, including pepper trees (Camden News, 26 August 1897) and in 1899, the council allocated £10 towards tree planting in Murray Street. (Camden News, 26 June 1899)
In 1898 council alderman HP Reeves donated 60 pepper trees to be planted in Elizabeth and Mitchell Streets. Alderman Downers donated a further 150 assorted trees. The council paid for heavy-duty tree guards at 4/5½d each to protect the trees from roaming stock in the town area. (Camden News, 18 May 1939)
The new Camden Cottage Hospital board decided to beautify the hospital grounds by removing the native trees and planting ornamental exotics, including pepper trees and pines. (Camden News, 28 June 1906, 18 August 1910)
Pepper trees were included in advice from the NSW Director of Forests on shelter and the beautification of farm homesteads. Shade trees provided ‘a picturesque air’ and beautified an area, and directions were provided on tree types, planting, care and maintenance. (Picton Post, 23 August 1911)
Beetles stripped pepper trees of foliage in the town at the end of the First World War, and the Camden press provided advice on how to deal with the infestation. Apparently, by taking a long pole to the tree in the early morning, the beetles would fall to the ground and be devoured by the chooks. (Camden News, 18 December 1919)
Problems and removal of pepper trees
By the 1920s, pepper trees were becoming a problem, with intrusive roots entering the unformed gutters on the roadsides in the town area. Other people objected to their presence. Dr West was granted permission by the council to replace a pepper tree at the front of Macaria in John Street with a hitching post. (Camden News, 23 February 1922)
The following year the council parks committee decided that pepper trees were starting to pose a problem in the town area. The committee recommended the removal of pepper trees in John Street in front of Mr Pike’s residence, outside the stables of the Commercial Bank, the entrance of Dr West’s premises Macaria, one tree outside the Police Barracks, the removal of two trees in Murray Street and other sites in the town area. The council decided only to remove trees that had caused property damage. Aldermen were concerned that the council would be inundated with requests to remove all pepper trees in the town area. (Camden News, 23 March 1922)
Requests to the council to remove pepper trees came from landholders, the Mains Road authority, and the police. Trees were a traffic hazard along Argyle Street between Edward Street and the Cowpastures bridge, causing property damage in Mitchell Street, Menangle Street, John Street and other locations. (Camden News, 4 May 1939, 27 July 1939)
Trimming of the pepper tree hedges continually preoccupied the hospital board (Camden News, 20 June 1912). By the 1930s, the trees were causing problems, prompting their removal from the hospital grounds. (Camden News, 17 April 1930)
Dwyer states that there are often remnant specimens of pepper trees of cultural plantings on abandoned farms, railways and other sites across Australia. (Dwyer, 2023) In the Camden town area, there are remnant stands of pepper trees with some handsome individual specimens, while there have been newer plantings at the civic centre.
Greg Frawley writes:
I went to school at St Paul in the mid-50s and there were several mature pepper trees in front of the original classroom building. With a square of timber seating underneath each pepper tree the strong scent kept flies and insects away when we were eating our Vegemite sandwiches.
I think that is the real reason they were so popular in the early years. Planted near homes – particularly back doors to keep flies away. We planted one in Narellan 46 years ago for this purpose. Although it never grew very big, it gave off a wonderful scent.
Email 21 April 2023
Francis Warner writes:
Love these trees. Our first house at Camden Park was Stables Cottage. Had a carport and outdoor picnic area under a peppercorn. The fragrance was soothing, and the seeds looked so pretty.
Email 29 April 2023
John Dwyer 2023, ‘Schinus molle var. areira, Peppertree, Peruvian peppertree, peppercorn tree’. Australian Garden History, vol. 34, no. 4, April, pp22-25
The former Foresters’ Hall occupies one of the most prominent sites in the Camden Town Centre at 147 Argyle Street on the corner of Oxley Street and Argyle Street. On its opening in 1908, the hall was considered the best in New South Wales by the Order of Royal Foresters.
The Royal Foresters were a friendly society at a time long before governments provided welfare benefits, and workers who became sick or injured had bleak prospects. British immigrants brought the idea of friendly societies with them and created branches of large English societies in Australia. Workers who joined friendly societies and paid a fortnightly contribution were provided health and sickness benefits for themselves and their families.
The Morning Glory No 504 of the Order of Royal Foresters was formed in Camden in 1874. The Order of Royal Foresters was a friendly society that originated in England in 1834 and offered members savings plans, health and sickness insurance, and gave sponsorships and grants to community organisations. In 1921 the Camden Royal Foresters merged with the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows. (Mylrea, 2008; Camden News, 14 December 1922)
Purchase of the building site
The Royal Foresters purchased the hall site, with frontages on Argyle Street and Oxley Street, in 1907 for £483. (Mylrea, 2008) The purchase of the hall site was guaranteed by three Royal Foresters’ trustees, HJ Huntley, Stephen Kelloway, and WF Peters. Huntley and Kelloway were part of the Camden Methodist community, who exercised a degree of power and influence well beyond their numbers in the local area.
WF Peters ran a local business as an undertaker, timber merchant and stonemason at 42 Argyle Street as WF Peters & Son, a brickyard at 24 Edward Street, and a branch of the business at Auburn. (SMH, 25 June 1928) He was briefly mayor in 1917, alderman for several years, captain of the Camden town fire brigade, committeeman with the AH&I Society and Camden District Hospital board member. (Camden News, 28 June 1928; Wrigley, 1990) Stephen Kelloway was a local dairy farmer, and HJ Huntley was a local painting contractor who served a term on Camden Municipal Council. (Camden News, 14 December 1922)
An impressive building
The hall was an impressive addition to Camden’s built heritage and cost a substantial amount of money. The hall was designed by local builder WC Furner and constructed by WF Peter. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
WC Furner, Methodist, was a larger-than-life figure and carried on a business as a timber merchant, ironmonger, and hardware outlet. (CN, 9 March 1939) He served as mayor from 1896 to 1899 and as an alderman on Camden Municipal Council from 1892 to 1905. He was a local magistrate, justice-of-the-peace and coroner (1890-1917), vice-president of the Camden AH&I Society, and president of Camden Hospital Board from 1911 to 1913. His building firm constructed some of Camden’s most notable landmarks, including CBC Bank, police barracks, Dr Crookston’s house, and Hilsyde at Elderslie. (Wrigley, 1983; Wrigley, 1990)
The best in News South Wales
The Camden News described the hall as a ‘magnificent and substantial building’, and a male-only banquet for over 100 was held for the official opening on Wednesday, 27 May 1908, with the Foresters in their regalia adding a ‘becoming tone’. (Camden News, 4 June 1908) The women were relegated to cooking with catering provided by Mrs WH McDonald and the hall ‘tastefully decorated’ by Mrs Woodhill and Mrs Coleman. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
Speeches followed, and SCR (Sub Chief Ranger) Brother H Hedger officially declared the hall open and stated it l ‘was the best building in connection with their Order in the State’. He went on that ‘nothing had been stinted to make this building up to date’ and emphatically stated that the hall was ‘the finest friendly society’s hall in NSW’. He said that the hall ‘was admirably located for the convenience of Shire and other councils’ for community use. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
Brother Hedger spoke of the work of Royal Foresters. He boasted that no other friendly society in New South Wales did more to alleviate ‘distress’ and paid out over £1,100 yearly for ‘medical fees and expenses’ for members. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
There was much applause, and the reply was taken by Camden’s Brother E O’Farrell, 80 years old, who was a foundation member of the Court in Camden in 1874. Toasts to the King and others followed.
In the evening, the festivities continued with a social where over 250 people danced to Beverley’s band with a line-up of piano, cornet, and violin. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
The building design
The Camden Heritage Inventory describes the building as a ‘two-storey adapted Federation brick building (of Federation style origins) with parapet roof. Double hung windows with timber shutters.’(Camden Heritage Inventory)
The upstairs part of the building had a supper room described as ‘a perfect room for socials and meetings, well fitted with two fireplaces, windows, and doors leading onto a large balcony commanding a splendid view of the town.’ (CN, 4 June 1908)
There was an ‘admiral stage and dressing rooms’ all lit by acetylene gas, as town gas had yet to be installed in the Camden town area. Plumber W Wilkinson of Camden constructed the acetylene plant. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
In 1908 acetylene light was considered a modern and cost-effective way to light public spaces. The Kalgoorlie Miner reported that Coolgardie Municipal Council had installed the acetylene system to light the council offices and town hall. The press story made a cost comparison with electric lighting and reported favourably on the running costs of acetylene. The Coolgardie town hall supplied ‘soft light’ with 74 lights and was well suited to theatrical performances where light could be turned off and ‘instantaneously lit again’. (Kalgoorlie Miner, 5 June 1909)
Over the decades, the hall has had a variety of occupants and has been repurposed several times.
There were retail premises on the hall’s Argyle Street from 1908.
The building frontage was modified in 1914 when the building served as a movie palace that celebrated the arrival of modernism in the town. The Camden Star Pictures operated by Pinkerton & Fox (Fuchs) ran a movie theatre from 1914 to 1921. Pinkerton sold out in 1921 to PJ Fox for £2150 and renamed it Empire Pictures (1921-1933). (Mylrea, 2007; Mylrea, 2008)
In 1936 Camden Municipal Council ordered the removal of verandah posts and the balcony from the Empire Theatre. (Camden News, 15 October 1936) From 1938 the Empire Sports Club ran a billiard saloon on the upper-level access by the stairs in Oxley Street. (Mylrea, 2008)
During WW2, soldier support services ran the ACF-YMCA Hospitality Centre in the building from 1944 to 1946 and purchased the equipment from the Sports Club. Lots of Camden’s women, young and old, volunteered to entertain the troops from the Narellan Military Camp. (Willis, 2004)
In the post-war years, the Sydney-based firm Fostars Shoe Factory Pty Ltd occupied the auditorium as part of post-war reconstruction from 1947 to 1958. (The District Reporter, 1 May 2020)
In the following years, the building was primarily used as commercial premises. In 1960 the building was sold to Downes Stores (Camden) Pty Ltd for £10,000, then in 1985, the premises was purchased by B Rixon for £420,000. He operated Southern Radio and Piano Agency, known as Southern Radio (trading as Retravision) from 1985 to 2007. Most recently, the building has been occupied by Treasures on Argyle charity shop (2008-present). (Mylrea, 2008)
PJ Mylrea, 2007, ‘The Birth, Growth and Demise of Picture Theatres in Camden’. Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, March 2007, Vol 2, No 3, pp. 52-59.
PJ Mylrea, 2008, ‘The Centenary of the Royal Foresters’ Hall’. Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2008, Vol 2, No 6, pp.204-213.
John Wrigley, 1990, Camden Characters. Camden Historical Society, Camden.
John Wrigley, 1983, Historic Buildings of Camden. Camden Historical Society, Camden.
Ian Willis, 2004, The women’s voluntary services, a study of war and volunteering in Camden, 1939-1945, PhD thesis, School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/168
Updated 12 February 2023. Originally posted 11 February 2023.
In central Camden is an empty bank building of understated significance at the intersection of John and Argyle Streets. This building was the premises of Westpac, formerly the Bank of New South Wales, and was the second banking chamber on that site. Constructed in the 1930s by a prominent firm of local builders and designed by one of Sydney’s top award-winning architects. It is a building of much architectural merit, and few know its history.
First bank in Camden
The Bank of New South Wales was the first bank in Camden. The bank initially occupied 23 Argyle Street, a colonial-style brick building with corrugated iron gable and brick chimneys. This banking chamber opened in 1865. These premises were used by Wilkinson & Sons as a plumbing and tin smithing business. A funeral parlour currently occupies it. (Willis, 2015)
The oldest bank in Australia
The Bank of New South Wales is the oldest bank in Australia and was established in 1817 when Governor Macquarie signed its charter of incorporation. It was set up to provide some financial stability in Sydney’s military garrison but quickly became a South Pacific trading hub. The new bank financed local economic activity and financed overseas trade. The bank eventually merged with the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1982 and became the Westpac Banking Corporation. It is still one of the largest banks in Australia. (DoS)
When the Bank of New of Wales moved into Camden, it provided the newly emerging market-town with some financial stability. It financed the emerging trading activity for the town’s small business sector. In 1873 the original building had outlived its usefulness, and the bank moved west along Argyle Street to its current location at the corner of John and Argyle Streets.
Woolpack Inn (later Crofts Inn)
In 1873 the Bank of New South Wales purchased the former Woolpack Inn (later Crofts Inn) at 121 Argyle Street with its picturesque Victorian verandahs. Licensee Thomas Brennan had purchased the Woolpack site in 1852 and constructed the Victorian-style two-storey building with iron-lace work and outbuildings. Brennan sold the inn to Henry Denton, who sold it on to innkeeper Samuel Croft by 1863. (Willis, 2015)
The former hotel served the Bank of New South Wales well until the 1930s during the Interwar period when the economic prosperity of the district from the Burragorang coalfields encouraged the bank to build new premises to reflect its status in the town better. (Willis, 2015)
In 1936 Camden Municipal Council ordered the bank to remove the verandah posts on the Argyle Street frontage as part of the modernisation of the town centre. The council orders may have prompted the bank to consider updating its banking chamber on Argyle Street and demolishing the Victorian premises (Camden News, 15 October 1936).
121 Argyle Street
Architect-designed and locally built
The contract for the two-story banking chamber was awarded to Camden builder Harry Willis & Sons and designed by Sydney architects Peddle, Thorp & Walker. These architects were established in Sydney in 1889 and designed Science House, cnr Gloucester and Essex Sts, Sydney, which won the inaugural Sir John Sulman Medal in 1932. (PTW; SMH, 14 July 1936))
On the awarding of tenders, the old bank building was demolished. Temporary premises for the bank staff were found in one of WC Furner’s shops opposite the Empire Theatre. Here Mr J Stibbard, the bank manager, assured customers that they would find banking convenient during the building work. (Camden News, 11 June 1936)
Hand-made nails and a cellar
During the dismantling process, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that hand-made nails had been extensively used in the construction of the former hotel, made by ‘nailsmiths’ (SMH, 14 July 1936). The nailsmith in the 19th century was probably the local blacksmith, one of the most important trades in the local area.
Local timbers had been used extensively throughout the former hotel building and were reported to be in ‘an excellent state of preservation. A long-forgotten cellar was discovered under the bank floor, and ‘recalled the existence of an inn on [the] site during the coaching days’. (SMH, 14 July 1936)
Commodious banking chamber
In 1936 the Sydney Morning Herald stated the new building had a ‘commodious banking chamber and offices for the staff’. ‘Textured brick’ was used for ‘facing’ throughout the building ‘relieved by lighter-coloured treatment of the external woodwork. The bank entrance at the splayed angle at the intersection of the two streets will be treated with specially brick architraves and pediment surmounted by a synthetic sandstone ornamental shield.The interior was treated with polished maple woodwork throughout. The Georgian character design will be a colourful and artistic addition to this historic town’s architecture. (SMH, 14 July 1936)
The NSW Heritage Inventory states: ‘The 1936 two-storey glazed and rough brick building with double hung windows and tiled roof. Its detailing includes quoining and multipaned windows, typical characteristics of the Georgian Revival style.’ (HNSW)
Georgian Revival is an architectural style nostalgic for the colonial period in the USA and the early 19th century in the United Kingdom, sometimes called Neo-Georgian. The style has a proportionate symmetry and austere elegance, characterised by proportion and balance. Commonly there is brick construction with a gable or hip roof line and equal placement of windows, generally two storeys and rectangular.
The former Bank of New South Wales building is a high-quality contributor to Camden township’s substantial eclectic fabric and the overall cultural significance of the Camden Town Conservation Area. The building retains its historic integrity and is intact. (HNSW)
Westpac closed the Camden branch in 2020, and the building has remained vacant.
The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.
The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.
Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.
According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’, and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.
The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.
This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.
1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial
Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.
Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown, local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’. A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.
In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures. Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation. The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book.
The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement. The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.
Statue of Governor Hunter
In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release. The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.
According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.
Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.
On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.
The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.
Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre
Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.
European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.
The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area. By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.
In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them. The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:
The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.
In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.
Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape
In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.
In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.
Voices of Indigenous Australians
In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.
 Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.
 Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.
 Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture. Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.
In 2009 there was a public outcry when there was a proposal to relocate St Mark’s church and develop the site. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009) While the church building had remained unused for several years, the public protests posed a conundrum for local authorities. Why was there such an outcry over an empty building?
Small churches like St Marks are vital to small communities and their construction of place and development of community identity. Their potential loss threatens a community’s collective memory and sense of place. The church tells the story of a small farming community that has disappeared through the mists of time.
The history of St Mark’s church is the history of Elderslie, and the church was a special place of community celebrations and commemorations along with family celebrations, traditions, and events. The church has been a gathering place, a sacred site.
An outdoor Sunday School proves popular.
St Mark’s church’s origins go back to 1901 and the formation of an outdoor Sunday School by Elderslie resident Miss Elizabeth Carpenter, a disgruntled St John’s church parishioner. Elizabeth (b. 1863) was the eldest daughter of Elderslie orchardist Horatio Carpenter. According to Elderslie resident Len English, the Carpenter orchard of Fernside was just behind the church with a frontage on Macarthur Road.
According to Harold Lowe, St Mark’s churchwarden and treasurer, the story goes that 38-year-old Elizabeth Carpenter had a falling out with the rector of Camden’s St John’s Church, Rev Cecil John King. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
The Sunday School proved popular with local families, and ‘in the summer of 1902…[the Sunday School was] held under the shade of the great stone pines below Mrs Lydia Carpenter’s orchard’. Miss Elizabeth Carpenter brought her ‘American organ down on a slide and led the singing’. During the autumn, with inclement weather, the classes were held in Fernside’s ‘old wine press room’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The Sunday School continued to be an essential part of the church’s activities, and in 1933 the Camden press reported that the children of St Mark’s Sunday School held their picnic in Mr Bruchhauser’s ‘top paddock’. Showers did not let up until after lunch, but nothing was ‘daunted’, and the picnic was set up by ‘teachers and helpers in the church. ‘A very happy afternoon was spent by all’ after the ground dried out with ‘games and races’. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)
A new church
Miss Carpenter led fundraising efforts, ably assisted by RA Cross, Mr Albury, and Mr Bellingham, early in 1902 (Camden News, 5 August 1954), and moves were made ‘for the purchase of a piece of land’ and construction of the church building. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
A small portion of Thomas Teasdale’s land was acquired by the Church of England and held in the name of the Bishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend William S Smith, and part of the Narellan Parish. (SOHI 2022)
These efforts resulted in the opening of a church building on the site, with the first service on 22 June 1902. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
A church building was constructed and has been described as
a traditional vernacular form with a simple gable roof covered in shingles. It is a good and representative example of a very modest mission church typical of those erected in small country towns in the late 19th and very early 20th Centuries. Built of weatherboard with a corrugated metal roof and a small belfry, it contained two rooms (the nave and a small vestry) plus a porch. The window openings are simple timber sashes with horizontally pivoting openings. Windows are glazed with translucent and opaque domestic glass from the early 20th Century/Inter-War period. (SOHI 2022)
A new Elderslie resident, Mr Fred Carpenter, constructed the first six ‘handsome and comfortable seats of polished Kauri’, and parishioners donated chairs, books, lamps, blinds, alms dish, matting, communion cloth, pulpit cushions and drape. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The church was dedicated by The Rt Rev Bishop AW Pain from Gippsland on St Mark’s Day in 1903, April 25. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) Saint Mark’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Mark, is held on April 25 and commemorates Mark the Evangelist, also known as Saint Mark. Mark the Evangelist is an essential character in early Christianity and is the ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark the Evangelist is considered the guardian of the earth and harvests and is celebrated in several countries.
According to the Camden press, churchwarden Harold Lowe suggested the church name some years after its consecration. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) According to Lowe, the new church was called St Marks at a St Mark’s Day meeting. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
Church of England authorities ‘licensed [the church] for divine service in 1913 and named [it] for St Mark’. (SOHI 2022)
By 1914 the church was known as the St Mark’s Mission Church. (Camden News, 13 August 1914) According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a mission church is not locally self-supporting. Still, it depends partially upon the support of mission funds from the more prominent religious organisation that established it.
St Marks was part of the Church of England Parish of Narellan, St Paul’s Cobbitty and St Thomas’s Narellan. The rector of Cobbitty’s St Paul’s, Rev Canon Allnutt, conducted services at St Mark’s Church. (Cobbitty 1827-1927)
The first churchwardens were RA Cross, Thomas Albury and John Latty. By 1915 churchwardens were GM Gardner and T Albury, the minister’s warden was H Bellingham, and Miss Brain was the Sunday School teacher. (Camden News, 29 April 1915) Harold Lowe was the church auditor. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)
The church held its yearly vestry meeting, and the re-elected churchwardens for 1933 were T Albury, RA Cross and J Ross. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)
In 1940 the Narellan Parish Log reported that the rector decided to hold an evening service on the third Sunday of the month where he conducted a Lantern Picture Show. (Camden News, 7 November 1940)
First World War and Anzac Day
The First World War profoundly affected the church and the Elderslie community.
In 1915 a memorial service was held at St Mark’s for two Elderslie lads who ‘gave their lives for the Empire’ on the battlefield of the Great War and was held to an ‘overflowing’ congregation. They were Lance Corporal Eric Lyndon Lowe, Signaller, 18th Battalion and Bugler Milton Thornton. The local press reported that ‘beautiful wreaths’ were presented by Mrs Faithful Anderson of Camelot and one from the Cobbitty Rectory. Rev Canon Allnutt took the service, and his daughter, Alice, sang the ‘At Rest’ by Aylward during the offertory. An amount of £1/10/6d was collected for the Liverpool Camp Church Tent Fund. (Camden News, 28 October 1915)
The progress of the First World War and patriotic fundraising put pressure on the community and church parishioners. Yet despite ‘the many calls and patriotic funds’, church finances were pronounced ‘satisfactory’ at the annual 1916 vestry meeting. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)
St Mark’s Day coincided with Camden’s first Anzac Day in the Camden district in 1916. In 1919, the Anzac Day commemorative service at St Mark’s church ‘was crowded and especially attended by the families and friends of those who had met a soldier’s death’. (Camden News, 1 May 1919)
In 1934 Rev AF Pain celebrated the Festival of Saint Mark at the church, where parishioners presented ‘a bounteous supply of the fruits of the earth’ that was sent to Camden District Hospital. (Camden News, 15 February 1934) In 1937 there was a combined service for Anzac Day and the Festival of St Mark. (Camden News, 22 April 1937)
The services for Anzac Day commemoration and St Mark’s Day were split years after the Second World War. In 1952 the service with Holy Communion was held by Bishop EW Wilton from Cobbitty on Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 1952, at 9.30 am. The following Sunday, 27 April 1952, the church had the St Mark’s Festival Service. (Camden News, 24 April 1952)
Farewells and church anniversaries
The 10th anniversary of the church celebrations in 1912 was dampened by the departure of church founders Elizabeth Carpenter and her mother, Lydia.
According to rector Canon GH Allnutt, the Carpenter women had made an ‘immense contribution’ to the church’s foundation with service held once a month at Fernside while the church was being built. The rector presented Miss Carpenter with a gold watch for her efforts. She ‘was visibly affected’ as she thanked the assembly in ‘a simple words’ as the presentation had come as a ‘great surprise’. She said, ‘ she felt quite unworthy…as she had only tried to do her duty to the best of her ability’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
In 1939 the church lost its long-term organist when parishioner Olive Burford of Camden to Alan Tindall of Rockdale. As a token of thanks, the parishioners gave her a silver hot water jug. (Camden News, 17 August 1939)
In 1952 on the 50th anniversary of the church, attendances were reported as ‘encouraging’ in the Camden press. Bishop Wilton conducted the evening service and said there was a Sunday School and a congregation ‘growing in strength’. The organists were Miss L Cross and Mrs J Bradford. Churchwardens were CS McIntosh, H Rudd, N Hore and Mr Bradford. The supper was organised by parishioners: Mrs Childs, Mrs Teasdale, Miss Teasdale, Mrs Wrench, Mrs N Ferguson, Mrs C Dunk, Mrs R Dunk, Mrs Weiberle, Mrs Harris, and Mrs Wilton. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)
Improvement and additions
There were ‘improvements and additions’ to the church over the decades. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The churchwardens at St Thomas Narellan gave parishioners at St Mark’s the ‘old ‘John Oxley’ harmonium’ after they installed a new organ. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The church’s original shingle roof was replaced in 1912 with ‘short-sheet corrugated iron painted dark red oxide’. The ceiling and floors were also replaced. (SOHI 2022)
On the death of Canon Allnutt in 1919, Percy Butler was commissioned to construct a communion table in his memory. Local cabinet maker and carpenter Fred Carpenter had built additional seating, a prayer desk, a communion rail and a lecturn. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
A vestry was later added to the building that could act as a chancel when there was a need for additional seating. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild held the 1954 church fundraising fair with stalls selling ‘useful goods, including handicrafts suitable for ‘Christmas presents’ at the home of Mrs C Dunk in Luker Street. The fair was opened by Mrs A Pain, the wife of the former rector St Paul’s Church of England, Cobbitty, who held services at St Mark’s church between 1919 and 1940. (Camden News, 4 November 1954)
The construction of Warragamba Dam was advantageous for the church community when the former Nattai Post Office/general store building was brought up from Burragorang Valley and placed at the church’s rear as a hall. (The District Reporter, 2 February 2009). The Women’s Guild and the Elderslie community funded the relocation and fit-out of the hall as a kitchen. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; SOHI 2022))
In 1959 a meeting of churchwardens, the Women’s Guild and the rector resolved to create a special fund to finance the purchase of the land adjoining the existing church site. It was decided at the same meeting to repair the organ, which cost £24. (File Notes, Camden Museum archives) The kitchen was extended in 1961; in 1966, the Church of England purchased a small part of an adjoining property. (SOHI 2022) In 1968 a new hall was constructed on the site.
Funerals and remembrance services
Funerals and remembrance services were a time of community grieving and support, and the church had a central role in these events.
The death of local parishioners was always a loss to the church. A St Mark’s parishioner and ‘keen’ church worker Mrs Ellen Cross recently died aged 66. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1930) A stalwart of the St Mark’s Sunday School, Mrs FA Goodman died aged 60 years old. She had taken the Sunday School just days before admission to Camden District Hospital, where she died of pneumonia last Saturday, December 5. Mrs Goodman had ‘conducted’ the Sunday School from 1926 to her death. (Camden News, 10 December 1931)
St Mark’s churchwarden James Ross was killed by a motor car as he walked at night between the Cowpastures Bridge and the milk depot in 1938. (Camden News, 29 December 1938)
A remembrance service was held at St Mark’s on the death of Joyce Asimus, daughter of Mr and Mrs Roy Asimus, of ‘The Heights’ Elderslie, who died after a recent operation. Joyce was reportedly a ‘friendly, energetic and affectionate soul held a high place in esteem and affection of the neighbourhood’. The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild was represented by Mrs Funnell Senr, Mrs Wilton, and Mrs Childs. (Camden News, 29 October 1953)
St Mark’s parishioner and Elderslie resident, 89-year-old Mr RA Cross of Macarthur Road Elderslie, died in 1954. Mr Cross had been a churchwarden since St Mark’s church foundation. The Camden press reported that Mr Cross and other parishioners attended St Marks Church within days of his death. Mr Cross was a retired brickmaker and made bricks for famous local properties, including Camelot, Carrington Hospital, and Pomare at Cobbitty. His funeral was held at St Thomas’s church at Narellan, with the service taken by Bishop Wilton and buried in Narellan cemetery. A week later, a remembrance service at St Mark’s was for this ‘faithful and regular worshipper’.(Camden News, 29 July 1854)
The funeral of Mrs Constance AM Ross of Elderslie, mother of Mrs Childs, was held at St Mark’s church in 1952. The Camden press reported that this was the first time a funeral service with the casket was held at the church in its 50-year history. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)
Last service and the loss of a church
Over time, church parishioners died, old Elderslie families moved away, the church congregation grew smaller, and the parish could not financially support the church. Church authorities decided to ‘amalgamate St Mark’s with St Thomas‘s, Narellan, with the final service being held at St Mark’s being held on 21 October 2001. The church was then closed to sell the land’. (SOHI 2022)
In Elderslie, as elsewhere, the threatened loss of a local church often triggers a passionate response from the local community. The local church, even if unused, is a repository of collective memories and a sacred site that possesses a sense of place and community identity.
In 2009 there was a community outcry over a proposal to subdivide the land surrounding St Mark’s church, relocate the church building, demolish the church hall, and cut down the camphor laurel on the Camden’s Register of Significant Trees. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009)
Passionate locals voiced their concerns, particularly about the state of the camphor laurel. Councillor Eva Campbell maintained that the church was ‘the most significant building in Elderslie’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009) Later reports show that the camphor laurel tree was planted to celebrate the church’s consecration in 1903.
In the end, Camden Council voted to cut down the tree and approved shifting the church across the existing site to allow the consolidation of three allotments into two. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009)
The Anglican Church deconsecrated St Marks in 2010. (SOHI 2022)
The church site and buildings were sold to the private owners in 2011 and converted to a private residence where the new owners became the guardians of the community’s collective memories.
In 2022 a proposal by the private owners to extend the former church building generated public interest in maintaining the cultural heritage of the church’s history.
Updated on 28 April 2023. Originally posted on 25 November 2022.
Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:
A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.
A story of decay and neglect
The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.
The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town-planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.
The decay at Airds is not unusual and symbolic of more significant trends in global retail where shopping malls are declining.
The current dismal state of affairs hides the issue that in the mid-20th century, Campbelltown’s civic leaders had great hope and optimism for the area’s development and progress.
Progress, development, and Modernism
There were grand plans for Campbelltown as a satellite city within the New South Wales state government’s County of Cumberland Plan.
Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and, in 1968, the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of the Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.
Airds was one of several ‘corridor’ public housing suburbs following the American Radburn principles. The Airds shopping centre was built as part of the 1975 Housing Commission of New South Wales subdivision of ‘Kentlyn’, renamed Airds in 1976.
The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.
The design concept originated from Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.
Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with a front-facing walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape with rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.
Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighbourhood life without needing a car.
Radburn watered down
The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.
The public housing estates did have extensive open space, which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises, and the Housing Commission built townhouses, that were counter to the Radburn concept.
The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission, with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.
The estates were populated with single-parent families, who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.
Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure, and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street, anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas, and the low socio-economic status of residents.
The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighbourhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. These issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.
Memories of hope
In the 1970s, I taught at Airds High School, adjacent to the shopping mall, and my memories are mixed. Young people, who came from dysfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020), who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:
I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies. Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.
Fiona tells the story of her sister, who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.
Similarly, I found Airds’ school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious, and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’, and this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.
Bogans galore and more
The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasted with the despair of the 1980s.
Recently the Camden Museum posted an intriguing photograph taken at the Camden Showground on the Camden Museum Facebook page. It showed a large group of young men and women identified as trainee teachers from Sydney Teachers College.
Camden resident Peter Hammond asked on the Camden Museum Facebook page: Any idea why they were in Camden?
A mystery photograph
The photograph is a bit of a mystery.
The photograph was contributed to the Camden Museum by John Donaldson and was taken in May 1924. The photograph shows 48 women, 34 men, and 2 children.
The photograph reveals more. You can see the spire of St. Johns Church in the background and the absence of the 1938 brick front on the show hall. There are no brick and iron gates on the showground. The brick building at the corner of Argyle and Murray is yet to be built.
Photographs can tell so much about the past. They are an excellent resource, and this image provides much information about this mystery.
So I set off on a journey to solve the mystery of the question about the photograph.
A quick search of the Camden News on Trove revealed that in May 1924, a camp of trainee teachers stayed at the Camden Agricultural Hall in Onslow Park. The report in the Camden News revealed more information.
There are 109 students and some ten lecturers and authorities gathering, from the University Teachers’ College. The students are obtaining practical knowledge by attending the different schools in the district, and much good should be the result. Those in charge are to be complimented on the excellent arrangements at the camp. (Camden News 15 May 1924)
More to the story
So was this a one-off, or is there more to the story?
Further digging reveals that the first camp was in 1921; there were two camps per year, one in May and the second around August. There were between 70 and 100 trainee teachers at each camp, and they attended several local schools during their stay. The camps seem to have been for about three weeks each. There appeared to be lots of interaction between locals and visitors with sporting events, dances, lectures, and other activities.
The first camp in May 1921 seems to have been a big deal for the town and the AH&I Society. Following the First World War, the finances of the AH&I Society were in a parlous state, and the hall hire was a welcome boost to finances.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
Camden was first graced with the presence of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed budding young teachers in 1921 when 64 of them settled in for a week at the show hall. The Camden camp provided them an opportunity to practice their teaching theory and practice of the New South Wales New Syllabus that they learned in the classroom at Sydney Teacher’s College. The 1921 trainees were all single and were made up of 49 women and 15 men, and four weeks after the Camden camp was to be placed in schools. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
The Sydney Teachers College trainees were allocated to schools across the local region. The list included: Camden Campbelltown, Campbelltown South, Cawdor, Cobbitty, Glenfield, Ingleburn, Minto, Mount Hunter, Narellan and The Oaks. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
The teaching practice visits were organised on a group basis, and the transport was either by train or bus. By the end of their training course, the students had had at least three weeks of practice teaching in teaching at rural schools. (Sydney Mail, 8 June 1921)
A world first for Camden
In 1920 the STC students had been based at Glenbrook, and the experiment’s success encouraged the college to extend it to Camden. According to the Sydney press, the venture was a first in Australia for teacher training, and it was believed at the time to be a world first for such a camp. During the week in Camden, the New South Wales Director of Education, Peter Board and the chief inspector, HD McLelland, visited the camp. (Sydney Mail, 8 June 1921)
A party of 89
In 1921 the party of 89, comprised of students, lecturers, and their families, had arrived by train at Camden the previous Saturday afternoon. The group put up the show hall with conversion to a dormitory and construction of cubicles to accommodate the mixed sexes. The show pavilion was converted into a kitchen and dining area from 6am to 9am and then again after 4pm. The Camden press reports stated that at these times, ‘the showground was a scene of great activity’. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
The STA trainees had some time for recreation, and in the evenings singing and games were organised between 7pm and 8pm by the music lecturer Miss Atkins and the education lecturer Miss Wyse. Games and singing were held at the St Johns Parish Hall, and sometimes, the students organised tennis games. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
Do you have any mysterious photographs that tell a great story about our local area?
Updated 3 June 2023; originally posted 3 April 2020 as ‘The trainee teacher mystery of 1924?’
Over 700 locals and visitors were present for the official opening of the Camden District Hospital nurse’s quarters, better known as the ‘nurses home’ by the NSW Minister of Health WF Sheehan in June 1962. Official proceedings at the opening were led by hospital chairman FJ Sedgewick, who said the board had been working towards adding the new building for many years. (Camden News 27 June 1962)
Construction on the building had begun in mid-1961, cost £92,000 and was located on farmland purchased by the hospital board in 1949 opposite the hospital in Menangle Road on Windmill Hill. The three-story brick building had suspended concrete floors and was designed by architects Hobson and Boddington, influenced by mid-20th-century modernism and International Functionalism. Nurses’ accommodation was an improvement on wartime military barracks with 40 single rooms with separate bathrooms.
Lack of accommodation
Finally, the hospital board thought a solution had been found to the hospital’s lack of nurses’ accommodation. Adequate accommodation for nurses had been an issue for hospital administrators from the hospital opening in 1902. Originally Camden nurses were provided two bedrooms within the hospital building, which soon proved inadequate. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p. 17) Nurses were quartered within a hospital complex based on the presumption that this was necessary because their 7-day 24-hour-shift roster meant they worked all hours. Added to this was Nightingale’s philosophy that the respectability and morality of the nurses had to be protected at all costs. The all-male Camden Hospital board took their responsibility seriously and considered there was a moral imperative to protect the respectability of their young single female nurses.
The Nightingale system hinged on the employment of women of unblemished characters as nurses…In the forty years since nursing has been made a respectable profession for women in Australia it had also acquired most of the dedicated overtones (and a great many of the rules, regulations, restrictions and inhibitions) of a religious order.
The blog Nurses For Nurses posts memories from one nurse about live-in-quarters at Lidcombe Hospital in 1971.
the large number of nurses who had to ‘live-in’ in the Nurses’ Quarters buildings (guarded by the bull-dog determination of the Home Sister, constantly on the look-out for those evil ‘boyfriends’ and male doctors!). These nurses were predominantly vulnerable, aged from 16 upwards, far, far from home in many cases. They needed friends, security, safety, comfort, respect, and a sense of ‘school pride’.
The cloisters of Camden District Hospital
The nurses at Camden District Hospital lived in a cloistered environment within the hospital grounds in 1902, as they had done at Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents and Incurable from the 1890s, like a pseudo-religious order in their veils and capes. According to the NSW Health Minister, Mr Sheehan,
‘The [new] building for the nurses I hope will be a home and comfort for them. It is consistent with the dignity of the service of the nurses in your community’. (Camden News 27 June 1962)
Duty and service were part of the ethos of nursing from the time of Florence Nightingale, and Camden’s ministering angels met their workplace obligation.
There was comfort for the Camden community in the knowledge that the nurses’ quarters were on the road between the sacred heart of Camden at the St Johns Anglican Church and the Macarthur family’s pastoral empire at Camden Park Estate. The Macarthur family patriarchs had always been preoccupied with the town’s moral well-being, and the nurses’ respectability fitted this agenda. Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow was always mindful of the status of women and the moral dangers single nurses potentially faced in the town area. Mrs Onslow, her daughter Sibella and daughter-in-law Enid passed the hospital and the nurses’ quarters on their way to church and cast an observant eye over the complex to ensure all was well.
Lack of accommodation was a constant problem
Camden District Hospital was the primary medical facility between Liverpool and Bowral, and the Yerranderie silver field mines put pressure on the hospital. More patients meant a need for more staff. In 1907 a government grant allowed the hospital board to purchase a four-room cottage next to the hospital for £340 and convert it to nurses’ accommodation. (Camden News, 30 May 1907, 13 June 1907, 6 February 1908, 26 March 1908) Completed renovations in 1908 allowed the board to appoint a new probationary nurse, Miss Hattersley of Chatswood. (Camden News, 18 June 1908) The hospital’s status increased in 1915 when the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) approved the hospital as a registered training school. (Camden News, 28 January 1915) Continuing pressure on the nurses’ accommodation stopped the hospital board from appointing a new probationary nurse in 1916. (Camden News, 6 July 1916) While things were looking up in 1924 when electricity was connected to the hospital. (Camden Crier, 6 April 1983)
The hospital continued to grow as the new mines in the Burragorang coalfields opened up, and adequate on-site nurses’ accommodation remained a constant headache for the hospital administration. In 1928 the hospital board approved the construction of a handsome two-storey brick nurses’ quarters for £2950 on the site of the existing timber cottage. (Camden News, 12 July 1928; SMH, 20 July 1928) The building design was influenced by the Interwar functionalist style. It was a proud addition to the town’s growing stock of Interwar architecture with its outdoor verandahs, tiled roof and formal hedged garden.
Temporary nurses’ accommodation was added in December 1947 as each nurse was now entitled to a separate bedroom under the new Nurses Award. The hospital board purchased a surplus hut from Camden Airfield as war-related activities wound down, and the defence authorities sold the facilities. The hut was formerly a British RAF workshop hut, measured 71 by 18 feet, cost £175 and was relocated next to the hospital free of charge by Cleary Bros. RAF transport squadrons had been located at Camden Airfield from 1944, and local girls swooned over the presence of these ‘blue uniformed flyers’ and even married some of them. Hut renovations were carried out to create eight bedrooms, two store cupboards and bathroom accommodation for £370. Furnishings cost £375, with expenses met by the NSW Hospital Commission and the new building was opened by local politician Jeff Bate MHR. (Picton Post, 22 December 1947. Camden News, 1 January 1948)
As the Burragorang coalfields ramped up, so did the demands on the hospital, and the nurses’ accommodation crisis persisted. The issue restricted the ability of hospital authorities to employ additional nursing staff (Camden News, 21 September 1950), and the opening of the hospital’s new maternity wing in 1951 did not help. (Camden News, 4 March 1954)
Continuing accommodation crisis
The new 1962 nurses’ quarters did not solve the accommodation issue as the hospital grew from 74 beds in 1963 to 156 in 1983 (Macarthur Advertiser, 1 March 1983), and patient facilities improved with the opening of the 4-storey Hodge wing in 1971 on the site of the 1928 nurses’ quarters. (Camden News, 3 March 1971)
The finish of hospital-based trained nurses
The last intake of hospital-based training for nurses took place at Camden Hospital in July 1984, and nurse education was transferred from hospitals to the colleges of advanced education in 1985. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p.58)
By this time, nursing staff were living off-site and the moral imperative of protecting the respectability and dignity of local nurses in a cloistered environment was challenged by feminism and the increased professionalism of the nursing profession.
In recent years the ghostly corridors of 1962 nurses’ quarters have remained eerily empty, reflecting a lot of good intentions that were never quite fulfilled. The buildings stand as a silent citadel to the past and act as a metaphor for the changing nature of the nursing profession, the downgrading of Camden Hospital, the imminent expansion of Campbelltown Hospital and the appearance of new medical facilities at Gregory Hills.
Updated 10 May 2023. Originally posted on 7 November 2018.
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