I was wandering through Elyard Reserve at Narellan with my granddaughter and found a piece of public art hidden in plain sight.
The artwork is a bench covered in mosaic tiles and is all but forgotten in the corner of the park amongst the slides, swings and climbing equipment for the youngsters.
The mosaic was commissioned in 2009 as The Community Harmony Mosaic Project, funded by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
The artwork was a community collaboration between
Leppington Public School
Hope Christian School
Camden High School
Camden Youth Café.
And ceramic artists Selma Fida and Natalie Valiente.
According to a bio on Facebook, Selma Fida is a local artist who presented an immersive exhibition of realistic hand-made porcelain flowers at the Casula Powerhouse in 2019. The show was the result of the 2018 Casula Powerhouse Scholarship Prize. Selma states that the exhibition explored how flowers speak a universal language of care and empathy through celebrations, anniversaries, births, wars, sickness and death. (Facebook)
Natalie Valiente is a self-employed ceramic artist from Eagle Vale, NSW, who has exhibited at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Natalie’s recent collaboration with Susan Grant and Dharawal elders called Life Blood is on permanent display at the National Herbarium of NSW forecourt at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. According to a report in the National Indigenous Times, the artwork has the eucalyptus tree at its heart. A magnified gum leaf became the design which has been sandblasted onto the concrete forecourt. The artists drew their inspiration from being on Country and the grey gums, ironbark and forest red gums that covered the landscape. (NIT, 22 April 2022)
In 1963 the Sir John Sulman Medal was awarded to Sydney architect Philip Cox and Ian McKay for their design of the Presbyterian St Andrews Boys Home.
The significance of the buildings on the boys home site was best summarised by the firm Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions (AHMS) in a 2013 heritage study. They stated:
“The former St Andrew’s Home for Boys is a significant example of the Sydney School architectural style of the mid twentieth century, which was an influential style in its era and was practised by notable Australian architects. The former St Andrew’s Home for Boys was awarded the Sulman Medal (in 1963), the highest award for architecture available in NSW.
Sydney architect Philip Cox designed the home complex with Ian McKay in 1962. Cox is a renowned architect and St Andrews Boys Home was his first project. Author Tom Holland writes that this project was one of number of Cox’s projects that
“The career of Philip Cox spans an era that was the making of modern Australia,” writes Bingham-Hall.
“As the 1960s progressed Australia did wake up, slowly and cautiously, in what might be described as a very Australian way, without recrimination and rancour, without fervour or foment, and without any overt display of neediness or self-reflection,” he adds.
“This survey of the work of Philip Cox treats the post-1950s emergence of modern Australia as its framework, as its posts and beams, and for this most public of architects, it is obliged to demonstrate how his work reflects that narrative, an insofar as it is possible for architecture, the extent to which it symbolised the nature of a national awakening.” (Holland 2020)
“St. Andrews Boys Home was designed as a country retreat for adolescent boys committed to institutions for juvenile offenders. It was built on pastoral land at Leppington to the South of Sydney, and provides accommodation for a small number of boys in residential dormitories.
The plan of the Home is based on a linear pedestrian spine, linking all the buildings together with a colonade [sic]. Through this extendable quality further expansion is easily accommodated. Each occupant is allocated some personal space in the form of sleeping alcoves grouped together around small courtyards.
The original homestead, “Emerald Hill”, has been retained and restored as the Warden’s residence. The additive quality of the new buildings complement the existing buildings and recall the traditional outbuildings of vernacular settlements. Construction detailing is derived from local vernacular techniques. The building structure is post-and-beam, with exposed roff [sic] trusses and intill panels of brickwork. Rough sawn timber roof trusses and expressed jointing details are drawn from the simple bams [sic] and woolstores of the surrounding countryside. (McMahon 2013)
St Andrews Presbyterian Agricultural College Boys Home, Hume Highway, Leppington
At the top of the hill in the suburb of Emerald Hills in Leppington NSW is a small park called the Bell Tower Park with three bronze statues of small boys.
The park commemorates the memory of the St Andrews Boy Home (closed in 1986) that once existed on what is now the housing estate of Emerald Hills.
The park was opened in late 2019 and is a memorial to the memory of the boys who stayed at the home.
In an adjacent space is a representation of a bell tower that once existed on the site.
The park storyboards outline the history of the boys home with accompanying images of the buildings.
The storyboard in the park states:
Belltower Park and the structures and statues in it celebrate and commemorate the presence of the St Andrews Home for Boys that used to be located on this hilltop.
The Home was established by the Presbyterian Church (now Uniting Church) in 1961 and it closed in 1986. The buildings were designed by Philip Cox and Ian McKay and they were the recipient of the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963. The Home originally came with a bell tower, from which this Park is named.
More detail on the Home can be found in the Archival Record of the property by Macarthur Developments and lodged with Camden Council.
The St Andrew’s Home for Boys was originally operated by the Presbyterian Church at Manly, NSW. The home was transferred to a 400-acre farm property at Leppington, on the Hume Highway south of Liverpool.
In 1961 the Presbyterian Church commissioned a newly graduated architect from the University of Sydney to design the new boys home on the Emerald Hills property at Leppington. The architect was Philip Cox who collaborated with Ian McKay and set up the firm Philip Cox and Associates at North Sydney. The home was their first commission and for their efforts, they won the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963.(McMahon, 2013)
The Leppington home catered for twenty boys aged ten to fifteen years. Residents were generally referred following an appearance before the Children’s Court on a care and protection application or in respect of some offence.
Boys were admitted to the home following an assessment by a professional social worker. A feature of the program was its strong community links, with residents attending local schools and participating in community activities. Following the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977, the home came under the auspice of the Uniting Church. And together with Burnside Homes the institution was administered under the Burnside program. (Thinee and Bradford (1998) Online 2007)
McMahon, S. (2013). PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVAL RECORD, St Andrews Boys Home (Burnside) Leppington, 1050 Camden Valley Way Leppington, Lot A DP 420395. Sydney NSW, Inspire Urban Design & Planning Ply Ltd.
Thinee, K. and T. Bradford ((1998) Online 2007). Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their record. Sydney, NSW, New South Wales Department of Community Services
Updated 16 January 2022. Originally published 2 December 2021.
The information plaque, with the wrong date, has an explanation of the Cowpastures story by the artist and reads:
This mural commemorates the early history of our land and pristine waterways, from the Dreamtime beginnings, to the 1895 [sic] discovery of the escaped First Fleet wild cattle in this area. These cattle were later destroyed to make way for the pioneering of the district, the introduction of dairy and beef breeds that formed the basis of a wealthy agricultural industry. The spirit of our early setters lives on through the recording of visual history in this beautiful valley.
By Gifted/Talented History Students from Picton, Camden South, and Mawarra Schools.
M Armstrong, E Bristow, T Clipsham, H Eriksson, S Esposito, L Greco, M Gordon, L Harley, L Mulley, K Parker, P Reynolds, E Savage, C Wotton, N Young.
Bronze Sculptor Joan Brown 2012
Terry O’Toole reports that after representations to Wollondilly Shire Council, the date error on the plaque above was corrected in February 2022. A new plaque has been placed in position, replacing the old one in the photograph above. (Terry O’Toole. Facebook Messenger, 7 March 2022)
Sculptor Joan Brown
Sculptor Joan Brown is a fifth-generation member of a ‘local pioneer family’ growing up on her family property of Abbotsford at Picton. She was surrounded by ‘grazing and dairying properties in the valleys of the Razorback Range’.
Joan is ‘passionate about the preservation of the ethos and heritage of the local area’ and has developed an understanding of the local landscape. She has used local landscapes, historic sites and heritage buildings as subjects of her artworks. (Brown 2021)
Joan was part of the community that initiated the Picton Bicentennial Village Square, where the mural is located, and the restoration of St Mark’s Church and Pioneer Cemetery. (Brown 2021)
Joan has an ongoing passion for the ‘preservation and heritage of the local area’, including the ‘unique heritage village’ of Picton. (Brown 2021)
The Picton Cowpastures Memorial is one part of the public art scene of the Macarthur region. Other public art installations across the area include:
The Picton Cowpastures Memorial is a metaphor for the settler society and represents the past. The artwork depicts four-horned cows of the Cowpastures Wild Cattle grazing on the steep country around the Razorback Range.
The depiction of the Wild Cattle on Dharawal country hints at the arrival of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures, the fourth locality of European occupation in the New South Wales colony.(Willis 2018) The horned cattle represent the possession of territory by the Europeans and their settler-colonial project.
The landscape illustrated by the mural is devoid of vegetation, hinting at the environmental desolation caused by European occupation and the dispossession of the Dharawal people. The dead tree depicted in the mural landscape is a sad reminder of European exploitation of the natural resources of the Cowpastures and threats to Cumberland Plain Woodland and other ecological types across the Macarthur region.
The story the mural tells is full of meaning with many layers that can be peeled back to reveal many hidden corners in the narrative of the local area. The stark outline of a dead tree might be regarded as a metaphor for the frontier violence of the early colonial period and symbolic of the Appin Massacre, which took place in the Cowpastures in 1816. (Karskens 2015)
The federal Education Minister, Alan Tudge, has announced a major edit of the draft history curriculum by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as part of an effort to lift educational standards. “Ultimately, students should leave school with a love of country and a sense of optimism and hope that we live in the greatest country on Earth and that the future is bright,” he said.
But is that really the purpose and function of a history curriculum? Here’s a quick primer for the minister.
History is a way of thinking about and studying the past. Teaching students to memorise a list of important facts without understanding what they mean isn’t history; neither is teaching how Australian students should “feel” about the past without any contextual knowledge.
A sound history education gives students the skills to find evidence, analyse sources and present their own interpretations based on their research. It also gives them the confidence to distinguish uneducated opinion and polemic from well-informed historical analysis.
2. Not all historians agree.
Because history is based on interpretation as well as evidence, historians often disagree on “what happened”.
Interpretation is inherently subjective. History education should teach students how to deal with diverse and contrasting interpretations by historians, as well as over time. (For example, that could include a unit on the contrasting interpretations of Australian history by education ministers over the past 30 years.)
3. History is contested (see above).
You know how members of your family might disagree over what happened? (Like that Christmas lunch in 1974 when Grandpa stormed out before the pudding? Or the discovery of a horrible family secret?)
History is the same. Sometimes, disagreements over the past create significant political debate and even violent confrontations in or between communities. Such contest shows that history matters.
The heated nature of some historical debates doesn’t mean they should be avoided in school, however. Far from it. Teaching about history’s contestability helps students learn to navigate and assess different perspectives in a liberal democracy.
4. History teachers are trained professionals.
History teachers are trained in instruction, pedagogy and the skills of history. They teach because they want to make Australia a better place. Trust them.
5. Practising critical history doesn’t mean you “hate” Australia.
Critical analysis is a vital historical skill. It enables historians to interrogate historical evidence, allowing us to ask: what is this source? Where did it come from? Is it reliable? Who is the author? Does it tell the whole story?
Being “critical” doesn’t mean you’re negative — just that you’re curious and rigorous.
6. The current history curriculum draft does not diminish the legacy of Western civilisation.
The curriculum draft simply acknowledges that other knowledges and civilisations (e.g. Eastern and Indigenous) have worldviews and cultures worth knowing. It asks students to think about their own place in time and in the world, as well as asking them to think about what is unique about being Australian.
What’s more, studying history in its disciplinary form is testament to the ongoing influence of Western civilisation and liberalism in our education system. As well as including culturally diverse historical perspectives and approaches in recent years, historical practice also draws on a long tradition that includes the methods of 19th-century scientific historians, histories from the Enlightenment, and ancient Greek chronicles.
7. Historical views change over time.
Each generation asks its own questions of the past and interprets the past according to prevailing values of the day. Think about the relatively recent inclusion of the “Stolen Generations” in our curriculum, for example, or the acknowledgement of the women’s suffrage movement in the story of Australia’s democracy. While their presence reveals our contemporary historical priorities, such topics haven’t always been included in Australian histories.
Teaching students to understand changing historical approaches is an important part of a good history education.
Every generation of historians, from Thucydides to Geoffrey Blainey to Clare Wright, revises history. They even say so explicitly.
9. School students are not “blank slates”.
Filling them up with idealised images of Australia’s past won’t wash. It’s boring, as well as being bad history.
In fact, “Anzac” is such a successful topic to teach because it allows students to imagine their way into the past, to empathise and use their skills of critical analysis. Sources, such as diaries from the front line, war propaganda, letters from the home front and newsreel footage, are accessible and gripping documents of the past.
Students can see how this event changed the world as well as affecting their own families and communities. They can also see how Anzac has been remembered over time. Trust them.
10. The national benefit of history education comes from students learning to be active, questioning, thoughtful citizens.
Teaching that “we live in the greatest country on Earth” is not history. It’s jingoistic nationalism. Ironically, it’s also an approach more aligned with the standards for history education in the Chinese national curriculum than the histories being taught and discussed in Australian classrooms as we speak.
Sometimes history asks difficult questions and requires hard answers. That’s OK. It makes Australia better.
Prowling crazy colourful koalas are on the loose in the Australian Botanic Gardens in Mount Annan and other notable spots in Campbelltown.
The cute one-metre-high fibreglass sculptures, called Hello Koalas, are loose across the garden landscape. They are a sight to behold after being a hit at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2019.
The artworks are part of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, jointly hosted by The Australian Botanic Garden (ABG), Mount Annan and Campbelltown City Council. Running from April 1 to April 30, the art installation is on loan from the Port Macquarie area.
Engaging public art installation
On a visit to the ABG this week, I watched how the sculptures touched the hearts of everyone who walked past them.
The Hello Koalas seemed to immediately grab the attention of everyone who walked past them, from the very young to the very young at heart. The koala characters appeared to melt the coldest heart with their bright colours and crazy artwork.
There is an element of surprise to the sculptures, and there is an immediately identifiable joy in people’s reactions. Young and old pose for selfies and family pics with the koala characters.
Families sought out the elusive koala characters across the ABG after picking up the free trail map. The kids were making sure that they found all of the 22 koalas in the garden.
According to the trail map, families can be helped in the koala hunt by downloading the ‘Agents of Discovery’ by using the ABG QR code and then seeking out the koala characters.
A public art trail
The outdoor art installation trail is strategically placed across the garden landscape to ensure an exciting and wonderful experience of these ‘living sculptures’.
Each of the Hello Koalas has a name and is themed around culture, heritage and environmental issues. There is Captain Koala, Bushby, Flying Fire, Topiary and a host of others.
The trail map provides a host of information about the Hello Koalas location, their names, and the artist who created them.
The ABG art installation was ‘conceived and created in Port Macquarie by Arts and Health Australia’, which aims ‘to promote and develop the application of creativity and the arts for health and quality of life’.
Project director Margaret Meagher described the Hello Koalas as Wildlife Warriors and said, ‘The project aims to spread the message that we must care for our koalas and all native fauna and flora’.
Director Margaret Meagher was inspired to create the Hello Koalas by an animal trail that was part of the 2010 Hull arts festival in England. The trail celebrated the life and times of local poet Philip Larkin and his poem Toads. Festival organisers created the Larkin with Toads sculpture trail. After initial scepticism, the toads have been a huge hit winning tourist awards, gaining national press coverage and increased local tourism.
Public art is an opportunity to showcase artist talent differently and generate broader community interest. This type of art installation can ferment interest in issues and engage the media, the public and the creative sector. Public art appeals to the imagination of adults and children and can bring the community together.
Successful public art encourages public engagement with art and can create a sense of ownership within the community. There can be increased visitation increase tourism that brings money into the area. It can contribute to placemaking, shaping community identity and a sense of belonging.
Not a balmy idea
The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, at first glance, may be considered a balmy idea. In reality, it is a clever idea that on initial observations seems to have engaged people’s interest and imagination and created a unique art experience.
The ABG Hello Koalas brochure states:
Effectively, each Hello Koalas sculpture provides a blank canvas to convey evocative messages that celebrate the existence of native plants and animals and raise public awareness, across generations, of the importance of caring and preserving our natural world.
In 2015 I posted an item called ‘Camden’s mysterious heritage list’. In it I complained about the travails of trying to navigate Camden Council’s website to find the Camden heritage inventory. I wrote:
Recently I needed to consult Camden’s heritage inventory list for a research project. I also consulted similar lists for Campbelltown and Wollondilly LGAs. They were easy to find. Camden’s list was mysteriously hiding somewhere. It had to exist. The council is obliged to put one together by the state government. But where was it? Do you know where Camden Council’s heritage inventory is to be found? I did not know. So off I went on a treasure hunt. The treasure was the heritage list.
I am very happy to report that many things have changed since 2015.
Committee member LJ Aulsebrook has written about the activities and role of the committee in Camden History, the journal of the Camden Historical Society.
The Camden Historical Society has an ex-officio position on the Heritage Advisory Committee and the president is the nominee of the society.
One of the outstanding activities of the committee was the 2019 Unlock Camden held during History Week run by the History Council of New South Wales. The Camden event was co-ordinated by LJ Aulesbrook.
The aim of the Heritage Advisory Committee are outlined in the Terms of Reference. The ToR states that the HAC aims :
To promote heritage and community education by: a) Generating a wider appreciation of heritage through public displays, seminars, participation in the annual National Trust Heritage festival & history week; b) Promoting and coordination of heritage open days; c) Generating a greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal heritage in Camden Local Government Area; d) Actively encouraging conservation and maintenance of heritage items and heritage conservation areas to owners and the general public; e) Investigating grant opportunities; f) Investigating opportunities for Council run awards/recognition in response to good heritage work; g) Developing a register of local heritage professionals and tradespeople; and h) Assisting in developing education packages for information, school education, and best heritage practices.
Heritage is something that we have inherited from the past. It informs us of our history as well as giving us a sense of cultural value and identity. Heritage places are those that we wish to treasure and pass on to future generations so that they too can understand the value and significance of past generations.
Heritage makes up an important part of the character of the Camden Local Government Area (LGA). Camden’s heritage comprises of a diverse range of items, places, and precincts of heritage significance. Items, places or precincts may include public buildings, private houses, housing estates, archaeological sites, industrial complexes, bridges, roads, churches, schools, parks and gardens, trees, memorials, lookouts, and natural areas. Heritage significance includes all the values that make that item, place or precinct special to past, present and future generation.
In addition Camden Council has set out for general environmental heritage conditions on its website here.
Camden Council has recently offered advice on for owners who want to restore their residential properties along heritage lines. The advice covers materials, colours, and finishes for Victorian, Edwardian and Mid-century residential architectural styles in the Camden Town Conservation area.
The Camden Town Centre conservation area was proclaimed by the state government in 2008 and is subject to a range of development conditions.
Take a stroll down any street in Australia and raise your eyes and the past will reveal itself before your very eyes.
You are wandering through living history. The past is all around you. Street names, street layout, the width of the street, the location of buildings and more.
The landscape of our cities and towns, and the countryside all owe their origins to the past.
The landscape will speak to you, but you must be prepared to listen.
Take time to let the landscape reveal itself. Just stand and soak up the past around you.
Cannot see it? Cannot feel it?
You need to look beyond the surface.
Like a painting will tell a story if you peel back the layers, so the landscape will do the same.
The landscape will speak to you. It will reveal itself.
Ask a question. Seek the answer.
The position of the tree. The type of street trees. Their size and species.
The bend in the road. The width of the street. The location of the street.
The position of the house. The colour of the house. The building materials.
Why is the street where it is? Why does it have that name?
Who walked along the street before you. Who grew up in the street? What were their childhood memories?
Ghosts of the past.
Some would say spirits of the past.
The past will speak to you if you let it in.
What was it like before there was a street?
The street is constantly changing. There are different people all the time. What clothes did people wear in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s?
You walk along the street and into a shop. When was it built? Who owned it? What did it sell? How was it set up?
Stand at the entrance door – unchanged in 50 years – image what it was like in the past.
Just like a movie flashback.
Who moved through the landscape 1000 years ago? What was there?
Let you imagination run wild.
Let the past wash over you. The past is all around you. Let it speak to you.
The brick wall that has been there for 100 years. Who built it? Where did they live? What did they eat? What else did they build? What was the weather? Was it a sunny day like today?
Walk around the corner and you come to a monumental wall at the entry to a town. Who put it there? What does it mean?
The past is hiding in plain sight. It is in front of us all the time.
Sometimes the past is lodged in our memories and sometimes it is locked up in a photograph.
Sometimes the memories flood back as a special event or family gathering or a casual conversation.
The past is layered. It was not static. It was constantly changing.
The past is not dead. It is alive and well all around us. You just need to take it in and ‘smell the roses’.
The stories of the past are like a gate into another world. Let your imagination run wild. Like a movie flash back – like a photograph from 100 years ago – or a greying newspaper under the lino or stuffed in a wall cavity.
Like revealing layers of paint on a wall. They are layers of the past. Layers of history. Each layer has a story to tell. A past to reveal. Someone put the paint on the wall. Who were they? What did they do? Where did they go?
The Layers of history are like a mask. You want to take off the mask to reveal the face. You want the real person to reveal themselves. Sometimes the mask stays on.
The mask hides a mystery. What is it? What does it tell us? The mast of the past will reveal all eventually, maybe, sometime?
Sometimes other words are used to express the layers of history – progress – hope – nostalgia – loss – change – continuity.
The past has brought us to the present. The past is embedded in the present.
Take a moment. Think about what is around you. Take in the past in front of you. Hiding in plain sight.
The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
These memories are a moving personal account of a childhood growing in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s.
This story from former Airds’ resident Fiona Woods acts a counterpoint to stories of despair and loss from these suburbs. In many ways, Airds was a suburb on the fringe of the world. Many residents were living on the edge and faced many challenges.
At the moment many Australian’s have felt a heightened sense of anxiety and need a little hope. Since the bushfires on Australia’s East Coast from September 2019 there are many grim stories.
The uncertainty and lack of control have continued into the Covid crisis, and many feel despair and at a loss. Fiona’s story provides a ray of sunshine in today’s shadows.
Fiona uses memory as a way of explaining the meaning of past events and peoples involvement in them. She has not created a meaningless collection of unrelated facts.
Fiona says, ‘Everyone has a story. It’s easy to think of our ancestors as names on a page or a black and white photograph of well-dressed, ‘serious people’.
‘But behind those images is a life that has been lived through both adversity and celebration. With love and pain and all that goes with being human. So many stories that have been untold’.
Fiona’s memories are about a suburb where some residents succeeded and others did not.
This is Fiona’s story and how hope can win through in the end.
Growing up in Airds
Growing up in a housing commission estate is not something that traditionally elicits feelings of pride and success. But for me, it does just that. I moved into Airds in 1977, when I was three years old.
My dad had suffered a traumatising work accident, one that would leave him with debilitating, lifelong injuries. My parents already had three small children and were expecting a fourth.
I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for them – Dad was in and out of the hospital, and Mum didn’t drive. Here was where their neighbours stepped in, and my earliest memories of the community began.
Back then, neighbours weren’t just people you waved to from the driveway. They were people you could count on, whether it be for food or childcare or even a simple chat over a cup of tea.
I grew up as part of a village, where a lady in my street took my sisters and me to our first gymnastics lessons. I developed friendships that have stood the test of time. I have even taught alongside my closest childhood friend, an experience that is something I treasure.
I laugh with my siblings that we can never shop with Mum in Campbelltown – she remembers everyone who lived remotely near us. But for her, it was the friendship she struck up with her new neighbour the day they both moved in that is the most special.
A friendship that has lasted for over 43 years. It still involves daily coffee catch-ups and phone calls.
I started Kindergarten at John Warby Public School, where I learned more than just academics. It was during this time that I experienced how the love of a teacher extends beyond the classroom.
I truly believe it was these experiences that led me to join the profession. I had so much to give back. I remember some of these teachers visiting our home to check in on our parents and even drive them to appointments.
They really took the home-school connection to a new level! I will be forever grateful for the investment they made in us and their belief that we would all succeed.
Living in Airds during the late 70s and early 80s was a time where friendships were built, and people stuck together. It was the freedom of riding bikes with friends until the street lights came on, building makeshift cubbies and performing concerts for the neighbours.
I can still remember the excitement of walking to the local shops with my sisters to buy a few groceries for Mum. The constant search for ‘bargains’ in the hope there would be twenty cents leftover to buy some mixed lollies.
To this day, I still can’t resist a markdown and resent paying full price for anything. Lollies aside, the mere act walking to the shops was an adventure. Teetering along with the giant concrete snake and pretending we were on a secret journey.
Our simple life ensured we had opportunities to use our imagination and explore the world around us, creating memories with our neighbours and friends.
But life wasn’t always easy. I remember eating dinner and seeing my parents eat toast because there wasn’t enough to go around.
By this stage, they were raising five children, including my youngest brother, who rarely slept for more than an hour each night. He became a case study for professors looking into hyperactivity disorders.
That was little comfort to my mum, who was also Dad’s primary carer, living on minimal sleep and a frugal budget. Yet she showed up every day, always reminding us about the power of education and instilling a true love of learning in us all.
What we lacked for in material possessions was made up by so much more. We learned to be resilient and grateful, and we learned to be kind. We continue to work hard in our chosen fields, always considering how we can help others.
One of the proudest moments for our parents was seeing all five children graduate from university. That and the ongoing pride they feel for their thirteen grandchildren, who love their Nan and Pop like no one else.
The roots that were planted back in those early days have been tended with such love and care.
Those trees continue to flourish, branching out into wonderful opportunities. I am forever grateful for the foundations my childhood was built upon.
And I proudly tell everyone about where it is I came from.
Daniel DraperFantastic story Eric Kontos, I am also a Proud Airds Boy moving their in 1977. My mother still lives in the same house. I always said growing up in Airds built character. We had a fantastic childhood and explored every part of the George’s River bushland. They where great days!
Frank WardWhat a great story and I have come across so many great similar accounts of growing up in Campbelltown and the estates.
Noting Fiona’s record that she and all her siblings got to go to University makes me particularly proud of the work my late sister Joan M Bielski AO AM who was a teacher but she devoted her life to the promotion of equal opportunity for women in education, politics and society. Her main work was to change the education system so that women got access as when she started at Uni only 25% of women got to Uni and then mainly in teaching now ove 56% of all graduates are women and more women are in political powerful positions This pandemic has been another example of the value of an educated female workforce as they have been on the frontline of this war on the virus so we can only hope that the government will give them equal pay instead of empty words that usually flow from the PM
Sam EganLove this, my family moved to airds in the late 70s, I started at John warby public, we moved when I was 7 or 8 to St Helens park, changed schools. 30+ years later after ending a long relationship i was set up on a date, who just so happened to be the boy who lived across the road from us at airds, who I used to walk to school with every day. His mom still lives in the same street. 15 years later and our own little boy we love going to visit, after all those years you realize how strong that little community is.
Leonie ChapmanWhat a fabulous article and account of the old days.
I grew up there from about 1978 and went to Briar Rd PS and then St Pats.
I have so many fond memories and close bonds that I made back then and still am lucky to have today
I have always been proud of my roots, especially the early beginnings of growing up in housing commission. You don’t need riches to be surrounded by love, hope and a desire to succeed.
I am honoured that my story was shared on the blog of local historian, Dr Ian Willis. I thought I’d share it with you all ❤
Tracey Seal WagstaffThank you for sharing this beautiful story Fiona Woods. I also grew up in Airds in the 70’s & 80’s I can honestly say that your story is just the same as many of us. Your words reflect the same community spirit of my upbringing in Airds where everyone had each others back. My mums house was like a halfway house everyone was welcome and the front door was always open to all. Those where the days. Riding in the streets, building jumps, having dance concerts, this was the way of life. We still have longtime friends from our neighbourhood that we still have contact with today after 40 years…
Wilfred J PinkGreat story and well deserved recognition Fi. Congratulations mate.
Linda HuntOh Fiona. This bought a tear to my eye. Beautiful words that ring so true. Life growing up in this neighbourhood is truly one to remember. Thank you. I’m happy I was able to read this on this day.
Patricia O’BrienAbsolutely gorgeous. What an outstanding view of the many children grew up in Airds. Two of my own children were brought up in Airds and also went to John Warby and they are both school teachers. So proud of how all my children grew up to be people who respect their families and friends.
Deborah LittlewoodOh Fiona, what an amazing story. Brings back so many wonderful memories with your beautiful family. I love so much that our friendship is as close as it was all those years ago. Us ‘Airds chicks’ certainly did ok for ourselves.
Deborah LittlewoodFiona Woods my favourite part of your story ❤️.
I always remember your mum did so much for everyone else and now you and your daughters are exactly the same. Always putting everyone else before yourselves.
Raylene NevilleNaw, that was beautiful x
I was a housing commission kid too! I remember that we had a blue fridge!
Jeff WilliamsPretty good writing for a teacher! 🙂 I love waiting for people bagging out housing commission and then letting it be known I grew up there!
Valeska SpratfordJeff Williams the classic old John Warby PS uniform. Little do people know that this low-socioeconomic school gave us free dental and some of the best memories of our lives. C’town represents. . . . .Airds 4Eva 😉
Cass BienBeautiful! I also grew up in Housing Commission, we had great neighbours too and I met my best friend at 8 yrs old, still besties today. So grateful for these times. xx Your story is lovely. 😊
Caf AirsGreat story showing what family, community and education can achieve.
Melissa SalterBeautiful words Fiona, it is a true depiction of many of us “Airds” kids of that era, great community and John Warby was definitely a major part of all of our success
Fiona WoodsJeffrey R Williams thanks Dad. And thanks for always believing in us and for never giving up on us, even when we made mistakes and stupid decisions in our lives.
We knew we could always count on you and Mum.
I can even laugh now about how you joked about karma when I cried to you about the horror of having 3 teenage girls 😂
Noleen SpencerGreat job , we also came from humble beginnings, not much money but plenty of love to go around , we appreciated every little blessing and was always taught it cost nothing to smile and to lend a helping hand. I’ve always said to my children , you don’t have to be the best , you just have to try your best .
Louise CounsellThat was moving. Your family was so rich in the things that mattered
Cathy HarleFiona, you had the very great privilege of growing up in a home full of love and values with your sisters and brothers, and each one of you have instilled those values in your own children – you can all be very proud of yourselves 💕
Harder Karen IanBeautiful and well written Fiona and as auntie Noleen said, we also come from a large family, one income earner, little money and a lot of bad health issues but there was also plenty of love and we always appreciated what little we had. I am so grateful for everything and for how all of our beautiful children turned out, I am I only very sad our dear mum and dad didn’t live long enough to see how all their beautiful grandchildren turned out. Your mum and dad did such a good job raising such a beautiful family and I can clearly see you are all doing the same with your own families. Much love 😘😘❤❤
Salome Mariner BorgI love this so much! 💙
So well articulated that I could just feel the love and could picture everything as if it were a movie..actually, why not turn it into a movie ☺️👌
Thanks for sharing xx
JoJo AxeWill always be thankful for our humble beginnings and everything our families have done for each other. That beautiful special friendship like no other that our Mum’s have, the joy and support they give to one another is amazing. Something to be very grateful for 😘
Amy LouThank you for sharing this. An inspiring story with some aspects that remind me of my own childhood. ❤️
Michelle HalloranLove your story Fiona. Thank you so much for sharing! Eplains why you are such an amazing teacher and person 🤗 We moved into a housing commission place at Ambarvale in 1981 when I was 6, the neighbours were awesome their too! So many great memories growing up there. Freedom to roam the neighbourhood on our bikes, visiting 5 or 6 friends on a Saturday, Mum and Dad having no idea where I was until I arrived home before dark! Sadly it’s a different world now.
Stephanie ComptonThat story is beautifully written. I can really feel your heat’s journey and the feel of family and community… which has helped make you the amazing woman and mother you are today! xoxo
For over a century, the Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.
In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017, University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australia’s cultural identity. The attentive audience was a mix of ages and interests, including past military personnel.
One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time and announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture.
Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of Anzac and that there is far from just one truth. Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has grown into something bigger than itself.
The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood, and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.
The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.
Tensions and contradictions
The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.
The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product of industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some were the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.
There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.
Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.
According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stresses honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.
On the hand, the digger mythology’s unofficial story is about a man who is not a professional soldier, egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-around Aussie bloke.
The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.
Gunner Bruce Guppy
In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic fellow and stated, ‘life is what you make it’.
Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning, non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia, he never discussed his wartime service with his family until I married his daughter.
Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet he willingly participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and, in 1995, wrote a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:
So it surprised no one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved by his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.
For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.
While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural development of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.
The site and the myth
Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band, the Dropkick Murphys.
The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.
Pilgrims and memory
Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the modern pilgrimage industry.
Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).
Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They seek the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.
The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.
Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.
For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government on how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.
Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.
Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.
The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.
Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offer contradictions for some and realities for others.
The members of the Australian community are the ones who will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.
Updated on 23 April 2022, 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’
I was recently walking across the Nepean River floodplain past meadows of swaying waist-high grass on a local walkway that brought to mind the 1805 description of the Cowpastures by Governor King. Atkinson writes
The first Europeans looked about with pleasure at the luxuriant grass that covered both the flats and the low hills. The flats seemed best for cattle…the trees were sparse.
The trees were certainly sparse on my walk, yet the cattle in the adjacent paddock proved the fulfillment of the observations of the early Europeans.
The cattle I saw were polled hornless black cattle which were markedly different from the horned-South African cattle which made the Nepean River floodplain their home in 1788 after they escaped from Bennelong Point in Sydney Town. They became the wild cattle of the Cowpastures.
The beauty of the landscape hints at the management skills of the original inhabitants the area -the Dharawal – who understood this country well.
According to Peter Mylrea, the area of the town farm was purchased by colonial pioneer John Macarthur after the government Cowpasture Reserve was closed and sold off in 1825. It is easy to see why John Macarthur wanted this part of the country for his farming outpost of Camden Park, centred at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta.
Although this does not excuse European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country. Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley and John Macarthur were part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.
Today all this country is part of the Camden Town Farm, which includes the walkway.
Llewella Davies – a colourful local character
Llewella Davies was a larger than life colourful Camden character and a truly notable Camden identity. On her death in 2000 her estate bequeathed 55 acres of her family’s dairy farm fronting Exeter Street to the Camden Council. Llewella wanted the site was to be used as a functional model farm for educational purposes or passive recreational use.
The Davies dairy farm
The Davies family purchased their farm of 130 acres in 1908. They appeared not to have farmed the land and leased 20 acres on the corner of Exeter and Macquarie Grove Road to Camden Chinese market gardener Tong Hing and others for dairying.
Llewella was the youngest of two children to Evan and Mary Davies. She lived all her life in the family house called Nant Gwylan on Exeter Street, opposite the farm. Her father died in 1945, and Llewella inherited the house and farm on her mother’s death in 1960.
The house Nant Gwylan was surrounded by Camden High School which was established in 1956 on a sporting reserve. Llewella steadfastly refused to sell-out to the Department of Education for an extension to the high school despite being approached on several occasions.
Llewella, who never married, was born in 1901 and educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in Darlinghurst. The school educated young women in a progressive liberal curriculum that included the classics, scientific subjects as well as female accomplishments.
Llewella undertook paid work at the Camden News office for many years and volunteered for numerous community organisations including the Red Cross, and the Camden Historical Society. In 1981 she was awarded the Order of Australia medal (OAM) for community service.
The Camden Town Farm
In 2007 Camden Council appointed a Community Management Committee to examine the options for the farm site that Llewella Davies had gifted to the Camden community. The 2007 Camden Town Farm Masterplan outlined the vision for the farm:
The farm will be developed and maintained primarily for agricultural, tourism and educational purposes. It was to be operated and managed in a sustainable manner that retains its unique character and encourages and facilitates community access, participation and visitation.
The masterplan stated the farm was ‘ideally place to integrate itself with the broader township’ and the existing Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway that had been established in 2006.
It is against this background that the Camden Town Farm management committee moved forward with the development of a walkway in 2016.
Camden Mayor Theresa Fedeli opened the walkway on 17th August 2019 to an enthusiastic crowd of locals. The walkway is approximately 2.4 kilometres and it has been estimated that by January 2020 around 1000 people per week are using it.
The walkway is part of Camden’s Living History where visitors and locals can see, experience and understand what a farm looks like, what it smells like and its size and extent. Located on Sydney’s urban fringe it is a constant reminder of the Indigenous Dharawal people and the area’s farming heritage of grazing, cropping, and dairying
If the walker is patient and perceptive the path reveals the layers of the past, some of which have been silenced for many years.
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