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A little church on the hill, St Mark’s Church Elderslie

A public outcry

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 in the 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.

This charming image taken by John Kooyman in 1998 shows the church and other buildings under the shade of the magnificent camphor laurel tree. (Camden Images)

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 had her ‘American organ brought 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)

Transcript on the back of the image (Camden Images)
St Mark’s Luker Street Elderslie Sunday School c1955. Bishop Wilston, Ruth Ferguson to R & believed Bishop Wilton, Mary Ferguson next to Ruth. Nancy Ferguson is on the right in a blue dress and white hat. Children, front row, from left Barbara Noble 3, Lesley Noble 6, John Bunce 8, Pat Higgs girl in front of the nameplate. Identification by Lorrie Noble (Dec 1998) Photo from transparency by Ina Cameron, 65 Harrington St, Elderslie, who came to Elderslie in 1946 and worshipped at St Mark’s.

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 important 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 meeting held on St Mark’s Day. (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 but depends at least partially upon the support of mission funds from the larger religious organisation that established it.

Church governance

St Marks was part of the Church of England Parish of Narellan along with St Paul’s Cobbitty and St Thomas’s Narellan.  Services at St Mark’s Church were conducted by the rector of Cobbitty’s St Paul’s, Rev Canon Allnutt. (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)

This image shows the parishioners in 1955, which was likely taken by Ina Cameron around the same time as the Sunday School image. While a poor image, the charm and character of the period are clearly shown. Most parishioners were women and likely members of the church women’s guild. Gloves, hats and Sunday best were essential fashion items when attending church in the 1950s. (Camden Images)

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 in the 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 ‘that is 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 to be used 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 for use 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.

The addition of a new building on St Mark’s church site in 1955 was much anticipated by parishioners who provided voluntary labour for the construction. Images supplied by Ina Cameron, a local Elderslie resident. (Camden Images)

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 had attended St Marks Church within days of death along with other parishioners. 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, there was a remembrance service at St Mark’s 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)

This is a sad image from 2011 of a church past its use-by date, all boarded up, unkempt and unloved. Yet it was still able to rouse the emotions of the Elderslie community to protect the cultural heritage of the building and the collective memories it possessed for them. The church building is up for sale. (IWillis)

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 building 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 removal of the camphor laurel tree adjacent to St Mark’s church in 2009 after approval by Camden Council. At the rear of the church, site are the kitchen and hall in the process of demolition (IWillis)

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.

This charming image shows the current usage of the former St Mark’s church in 2022 is now in private hands and used as a residence. The character and integrity of the former church building are still intact, with the belfry, entry porch, and church building with sash windows clearly shown here. The addition of a picket fence adds to the rustic nature of the original building. This image illustrates adaptive reuse that is outlined in the Burra Charter guidelines for heritage sites within Australia. (IWillis)
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Camden, a Macarthur family venture

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

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

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

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

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

A fine Gothic-style church

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

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

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

English-style gentry

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

Transport hub

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

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

Progress assured

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

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

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

First local council

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

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

Street names

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

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

John Street heritage precinct

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

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

Volunteerism

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

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

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

Coal mining

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

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

Urbanisation

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

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

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

Wave of nostalgia

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

Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

Posted 19 September 2022

Attachment to place · Belonging · Biography · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Family history · Farming · Gothic · Heritage · Historical Research · History · Landscape · Local History · Local Studies · Myths · Placemaking · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Victorian · Women's history · Women's Writing

A great yarn of the bush from colonial New South Wales

Preview

Jeff McGill, Rachel. Allen & Unwin 2022, Sydney. ISBN 9781760879983.

Tonight I had the privilege of attending the book launch for local author and raconteur Jeff McGill’s Rachel at Mary Sheil Centre, St Patrick’s College at Campbelltown.

McGill’s Rachel tells the story of Jeff’s great-great-grandmother from the Coonabarabran area of NSW. Rachel Inglis (Kennedy) was known as Rachel of the Warrumbungles.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel (A&U)

McGill’s Rachel had been brewing for about 40 years and it was only in the 2020 lockdown when Jeff’s freelance work dried up that he got mobile on writing the book.

A friend advised him to send a couple of chapters to two publishers. He sent the work to Allen and Unwin and a small publisher in Melbourne. Allen & Unwin got back to him in two days and wanted to know if he had more material, so he sent off chapters 3 & 4. The rest is history.

Jeff often visited Rachel Kennedy’s farm at Box Ridge and listened to local storytellers at Coonamble and Coonabarabran. He is the sort of writer who walks the ground and soaks up the ghosts of the past. He allowed the landscape to talk to him and embedded himself in the spirit of place.

Remarkable woman

Rachel Kennedy was quite a woman and the Mudgee Guardian and North West Reporter wrote an extensive obituary in 1930 on her death. It stated in part:

The late Mrs. Inglis was one who rarely gave a thought to herself, her one object in life being to help others. She was always to be found at the bedside of almost every sick person in the Warrumbungle district, and has been known to have ridden as far as 20 miles in the middle of the night to reach some sufferer, even when far from well herself. Considering that all her grand efforts were done in an age when motor cars were unknown, it stamps this fine old pioneer as one of the world’s best — a race that is fast vanishing from our midst. The deceased lady had reached the great age of 85 years. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)

Rachel’s obituary was also published in the Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (10 April 1930).

At the time of Rachel’s death, it was usual for the country press to publish any sort of obituary of a woman unless she was white and from an influential rural family. The country press was a very white-male institution.

The obituary published in the Mudgee press was an acknowledgement that Rachel was a true local identity and bush character well known in the area. A rare feat indeed. The bush was a male-dominated landscape where women remained in the shadows.

Rachel did not fit the stereotypical 19th-century woman. Yet, she did not seek recognition for her community work and never received it in any public fashion.

The local community understood Rachel’s contribution to their lives and when she was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Gulargambone Cemetery, it was

in the presence of one of the largest gatherings, ever seen at the cemetery. The Rev. G. Innes  Ritter, of Coonamble, performed the last sad rites at the graveside. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)

Family History

McGill’s Rachel represents the genealogical genre of family history as it should be written. The book shows how such a story can be approached and can generate an appeal to a wide audience. Others who have achieved this goal include Nick Brodie’s Kin, A Real People’s History of Our Nation, Graeme Davison’s Lost Relations, Fortunes of my Family in Australia’s Golden Age and Peter FitzSimons’s A Simpler Time.

Rachel Inglis’s (Kennedy) family and home at Box Ridge near Coonabarabran in NSW c.1890s (Jeff McGill)

It was very common for women from the rural under-class to disappear into the shadows of history without any acknowledgement of their existence. The lives of some of these women are probably best reflected in stories like Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife (1892), a piece of Australian Gothic fiction. Author Samantha Leersen writes:

‘The Drover’s Wife,’ and the fears felt by its protagonist, presents a fictitious account of the real concerns experienced by settler Australians.

‘The Drovers Wife’ by Russell Drysdale (1945) and the author Henry Lawson 1902 (1867-1922) (UoS)

Rachel’s story has many parallels with Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife.

Female Biography

McGill’s Rachel is another addition to the popular genre of female biography which has seen a number of publications about colonial women in recent times. These include Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, Elizabeth Rushen and Perry McIntyre’s Fair Game, Australia’s First Immigrant Women, Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza Power and Colonial Storytelling, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell’s Searching for Charlotte, The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author, Anne Philp’s Caroline’s Diary, A Woman’s World in Colonial Australia and others.

The cover notes for McGill’s Rachel state:

Rachel Kennedy stood out on a wild frontier dominated by men… her extraordinary and unputdownable pioneering story is told for the first time

‘Just a girl, but when it came to chasing wild horses nobody questioned Rachel Kennedy’s skill in a saddle. What raised the eyebrows was the type of saddle she used: a man’s.

Rachel Kennedy was a colonial folk hero.

She also built rare friendships with Aboriginal people, including a lifelong relationship with her ‘sister’ Mary Jane Cain.

Meticulously researched and written with compelling energy, this is a vivid and at times heartbreaking story of a pioneering woman who left a legacy that went well beyond her lifetime.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel 2022

Emerging from the shadows of history

The book is a ripping yarn about the colonial frontier and the role of women in early New South Wales. Another woman emerges from the shadows of history and we are allowed to understand their true contribution to the settler story of our nation.

Updated 2 June 2022. Originally posted 1 June 2022.

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Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.

(Facebook, 23 November 2015)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society.  In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).

The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal.  The first appeared in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

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

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.

Agriculture · Business · Camden · Camden Story · Campbelltown · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · Horticulture · Local Studies · Memory · Nepean River · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized

A century of horticulture for a local nursery

Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries

In 1883 the Double Bay outlet of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries at Camden was described in the Sydney press as a ‘well-ordered establishment…covering three acres…laid out in a most systematic manner’. (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883, page 3)

The Double Bay nursery was one part of the Ferguson horticultural enterprise, which started in the 1850s at Camden. Sales encouraged opening a  second nursery at Campbelltown, later moved to Double Bay. The 20th century brought more changes and eventually new owners.

Ferguson’s nursery and William Macarthur’s Camden Park nursery were part of a British imperial horticultural network that satisfied the Victorians’ insatiable demand for plants. The industry was driven by plant hunting expeditions and a Victorian fetish for orchids, ferns, palms and other new plants.

The burgeoning colonial nursery industry in the Cowpastures was an integral part of British imperialism and the settler-colonial project. The Enlightenment notions of progress and development were good for business and re-enforced the dispossession and displacement of Dharawal people from their country.

 Nurseryman Francis Ferguson

The Camden nursery was established in 1857 by Englishman Francis Ferguson on a 50-acre site fronting the Nepean River. Francis originally came out to New South Wales as an assisted immigrant in 1849 on the John Bright after working at Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire and other English estates. Initially, he worked for Sir Thomas Mitchell, laying out his estate at Parkhall (later Nepean Towers, St Mary’s Towers) at Douglas Park. (Morris and Britton 2000)

Historian Alan Atkinson describes Ferguson as ‘a man of education, some capital and mercurial habits’. (Atkinson, 1988)

Signage at the entry to Ferguson Lane the location of the former Ferguson’s Australian Nursery at Camden (I Willis 2021)

Ferguson was head gardener at Camden Park Estate for William Macarthur (later Sir William) from 1849-1856 and could be styled as a Macarthur protege. (Reeve 2017) The Camden Park website maintains that William Macarthur ran one of the most important nurseries in 19th century New South Wales. According to visiting English nurseryman John Gould (JG) Veitch Macarthur was well known in Europe. Veitch Nurseries were reportedly the largest family-run plant nurseries in 19th century Europe.

Ferguson remained indebted to the patronage of William Macarthur (Morris and Britton 2000) and his experience at Camden Park and acted on Macarthur’s behalf when he was not in Australia. (WCL 2021)

In 1864 a 25-year-old JG Veitch (Financial Times, 27 September 2014), led a plant hunting expedition to the ‘South Seas’ and delivered several Wardian cases to Australian colonial contacts. While in New South Wales, he visited William Macarthur’s Camden Park nursery and Fergusons Australian Nursery, which impressed him. For a time Ferguson acted as an agent for James Veitch and Sons nurseries. (Morris and Britton 2000; McMaugh 2005)

Fruit trees, camellias and roses

Francis Ferguson opened the Camden nursery sometime in 1857 (Nixon 1991; Little 1977; Farmer and Settler, 8 July 1937, 15 July 1937) and it became the centre of a growing horticultural enterprise that extended well beyond the area.

The Ferguson nursery was located on the left bank of the Nepean River at the Macquarie Grove river crossing on the northern boundary of Camden Park estate. The nursery site had an east-west alignment with a 600-metre river frontage along its northern boundary ending at Matahil Creek to the east, with the Ferguson homestead on the rise to the southwest.

The homestead had ‘a fine view’ of the Camden township to the northeast with the spire of St John’s Church and allowed a ‘glimpse of Camden Park house in the distance’ to the southeast. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

According to Alan Atkinson, the Australian Nursery specialised in ‘trees “peculiarly adapted to the requirements of Australia”, together will shrubs and native seeds’. (Atkinson, 1988)

 According to an 1880 Sydney press report, the nursery was about eight acres in extent with ‘a long avenue’ terminating at a ‘large gate’ below the house ‘making a very nice carriage drive’. There were ‘very well laid out walks’ throughout the nursery, surrounded by ‘gigantic pines, araucarias, and poplars’. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

Remnant Araucarias that were on the southwestern boundary of Fergusons Australian Nursery. They made up the grove of trees that lined the driveway entrance to the Macquarie House that was next door to the nursery. (I Willis, 2021)

Reports indicate that in 1879 Fergusons sold over 60,000 fruit trees and 5,000 camellias (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68). The nursery plant stock consisted of over 6000 camellias, 100,000 hawthorn seedlings. (Ferguson 1871)

From the outset, the Australian Nursery issued trade catalogues regularly, and one of the earliest was the 1861 Catalogue of Plants, Fruit Trees, Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.

In 1871 issued a series of five trade catalogues that listed plant stock for sale. The catalogues were:

  • New and Rare Plants
  • Hardy Trees, Shrubs and Conifers
  • Fruit Trees, with directions for forming the orchard.
  • Roses
  • Bulbs and Tubers. (Ferguson 1871)

The ‘Catalogue of New and Rare Plants’ listed over 950 individual plants and was a mixture of native plants from the Australian continent and exotics from worldwide. The catalogue listed a substantial selection of popular flowering plants, including roses, camellias, azaleas, pelargoniums and chrysanthemums, fuchsias, carnations, and dahlias. Utilitarian plants included ‘trees for avenues’ and ‘hawthorn for hedges’. Under the heading of ‘trees and shrubs’, details listed the plants’ ‘scientific name’,  ‘native country’, ‘height in feet’, and price. (Ferguson 1871)

Cover of Ferguson’s Trade Catalogue of New and Rare Plants for 1871 (NLA)

The Ferguson catalogue provided practical advice for the colonial gardener and a plant description. For example, ‘Araucaria Bidwilli – The Queensland Bunya Bunya, forming magnificent trees as single specimens’. Camellias were a favourite but hard to grow in the colonial climate, and details were provided on how to look after them. The hawthorn was a ‘favourite English Hedge Plant [and] thrives remarkably well in all parts of Australia, forming, undoubtedly, the best defensive hedge’. (Ferguson 1871)

Ferguson’s also offered advice on new and rare plants in the press. In 1876 the nursery published advice on the ‘rare’ Jacaranda mimosifolia described as ‘a singularly beautiful and rare flowering tree’. The report stated, ‘the Jacaranda mimosifolia is perfectly hardy in all but the very coldest districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria.’ (Australasian (Melb), 6 May 1876)

Ferguson’s sold extensively across the colonial garden market in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand, supported by 14 agents in locations ranging from Auckland to Wellington and Wanganui in New Zealand’s North Island and to Dunedin in the South Island. In Queensland, agents were listed at Warwick and Darling Downs, while those in New South Wales ranged from Bega to Mudgee and out to the Liverpool Plains. Ferguson claimed that there was an increasing demand for ‘Australian Timber Trees’ in Northern India, California, Southern Europe, and New Zealand. (Ferguson 1871)

Campbelltown Nursery

Condamine Street, Campbelltown

By the late 1860s, increasing demand and the distance from the Campbelltown railway station encouraged Ferguson to establish a nursery outlet at Campbelltown. (Ferguson 1871)

The Camden nursery was nine miles from Campbelltown Railway Station, and it took Mr H Ferguson in a buggy with a ‘fine stepper’ and an hour to get there. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

The firm opened the Campbelltown nursery in 1869 in Condamine Street, close to the convict-built water supply reservoir. (Reeve 2017)  It was stocked with 50,000 ‘well-grown healthy plants’ to supply growing demand from ‘up-country and adjacent Colonies’. (Ferguson 1871)

From 1874 the Campbelltown outlet was managed by Francis John (FJ) Ferguson, Francis’s son, who had returned from five years with English firm Veitch Nurseries at Chelsea and the firm now traded as Francis Ferguson and Son. (Reeve 2017)

Double Bay Nursery

Manning Road and New South Head Road, Double Bay

The business continued to prosper, and FJ Ferguson moved the Campbelltown outlet closer to Sydney. A site was chosen at Double Bay on a former market garden in 1876 and opened in 1878. (WCL 2021) (Reeve 2017)

The Double Bay Nursery site had ‘a large frontage’ on New South Head Road with ‘rich deep alluvial’ soil in a low lying area that drained into Double Bay. (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883)

By 1887 the nursery had two propagating glasshouses with impatiens and lasiandras, a bush house that accommodated a mixture of pot plants including camellias, bouvardias, magnolias, conifers and tree ferns. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

This is an engraving of Ferguson’s Nursery in Double Bay that appeared in the Sydney press in 1883 (Illustrated Sydney News published 14 April 1883, p. 17)

In 1885 the nursery opened a shopfront in Sydney’s Royal Arcade, which ran between George Street and Pitt Street and had been designed by Thomas Rowe in 1881. The nursery shop was successfully managed by Herbert Ferguson and specialised in plants, seeds and cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

The Ferguson’s also ran a small nursery near Ashfield railway station to supply the Royal Arcade shop with cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser 6 August 1887, page 278)

Ferguson Lane in the vicinity of the former entrance to the Ferguson Australian Nursery. The lane is lined with African Olive that is remnant vegetation with regrowth of an Araucaria emerging from the amongst the grove (I Willis, 2021)

The 20th century beckons

The beginning of the 20th century brought more changes for the Ferguson nursery business, and by the late 1960s, new owners.

References

Atkinson, Alan (1988). Camden, Farm and Village Live in Early New South Wales. OUP, Melbourne.

Ferguson, F. (1871). Catalogue of new and rare plants, hardy trees, shrubs, conifers &c. Camden NSW, Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries. (NLA)

Little, S. (1977), Correspondence to CHS 19 February, MSS, Camden Museum Archives

McMaugh, Judy (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales Nursery Industry. Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT, Sydney

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Nixon, RE (1991). Camden Rose Festival. Typescript, Camden Museum Archives.

Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.

WCL (2021). “Double Bay as a nineteenth-century centre of gardening and horticulture.” Woollahra Local History/Woollahra’s Historic Landscapes. Retrieved 10 December 2021, 2021, from https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahras-historic-landscapes/horticulture-in-double-bay.

Updated 6 January 2022; Originally posted 25 December 2021.

20th century · Agriculture · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden Regional Economic Taskforce · Camden Story · Camden Town Centre · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Festivals · Gardening · Heritage · History · Jacaranda · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Newspapers · Nursery · Placemaking · Storytelling · Streetscapes · Tourism · Uncategorized

Jacaranda fever hits Camden

2018 Camden Jacaranda Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first mention of jacarandas in Camden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first Jacaranda tree in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

Camden Jacaranda Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camden Flower Festivals

Flower festivals were not new to Camden.

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

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

The House and Garden website states,

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

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

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

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

Neil McMahon writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that

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

Oldest Jacaranda Tree living in Australia

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

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

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

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

Constructed on Sydney sandstone the garden website states:

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

Updated 15 August 2022. Originally posted 8 December 2021.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Farming · Frontier violence · Harrington Park · Heritage · History · Landscape · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorial · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban development · Urban growth · Wayfinding

Cowpastures artwork at Harrington Park Lake

Public art as wayfinding, placemaking, memorial and urban development

The story of the Cowpastures is represented in public art across the Macarthur region and one example is found along the Harrington Park Lake walkway.

 A pleasant stroll around the lakeside path will bring the walker to a wooded section and where there is an art installation with cows hiding under the trees.

The public artwork is a mixture of elements that combine wayfinding, placemaking, memorialisation and urban development in a new suburb.

The artwork installation called Cowpastures was created by artist Jane Cavanough of Artlandish Art and Design in 2001. The signage states ‘The cows represent the history of cattle grazing in this region, formerly known as “The Cowpastures”.

Artist Jane Cavanough

Artist Jane Cavanough writes that she ‘produces site-specific public art that is a union of both classic and contemporary design, interactive, low maintenance with long-lasting beauty. She states that her ‘strength is creating artworks that have a strong relationship to the site’. (Cavanough 2020)

Cavanough has achieved her aim with Cowpastures on the Lakeside walk where walkers have been able to engage with the artwork and ponder what the real cows might have looked like over 200 years ago. The artwork has weathered well over the last 20 years and still carries the story that was created by the artist.

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpastures public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<cows pic>

Public art.

The considerations in Cavanough’s Cowpastures parallels the aims of public art in the Northern Beaches LGA. Important considerations for the community and the council along the Northern Beaches Coast Walk were eight principles:

  • Respect and acknowledge Aboriginal cultural heritage
  • Celebrate and conserve significant natural and cultural values
  • Connect places and people along the coast
  • Foster artistic and cultural expression and encourage creative collaboration
  • Enrich places through high quality art and design
  • Interpret the history and significance of the coast
  • Value artistic and cultural diversity and be inclusive
  • Create a distinctive and recognisable Northern Beaches Coast Walk identity.(Council 2019)

It is useful to actually define what is public art. The Northern Beaches Council Public Art Policy provides some guidance and states:

Public Art refers to a range of artwork and art-based activities that interface with the public, including property in private ownership that has publicly accessible space and the public domain. Public Art can include sculpture, place-making elements, wall embellishments, art integrated into the design of buildings, artist-designed seating and fencing, paving work, lighting elements and other creative possibilities. Public Art can serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose.

The public domain means public places and/or open spaces that are situated within, vested in or managed by Council, including parks, beaches, bushland, outdoor recreation facilities, streets, laneways, pathways and foreshore promenades and public buildings, facilities or enclosed structures, owned and managed by Council which are physically accessible to the general public. (Council 2019)

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpasture’s public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

The storyboard

To assist Harrington Park Lakeside walkers engage with Cavanough’s Cowpastures artwork there is information signage that provides an interpretation of the installation. It states:

Cowpastures

In 1788 a herd of 4 long horn cattle and 2 bulls escaped from the Government Farm at Rosehill. [sic] They were found seven years later in 1795 as a herd of 40 in a rich expanse of grassland. Later that same year Governor Hunter surveyed this region and appropriately named it “Cowpastures”. Harrington Park with [sic] the Cowpastures region.

The pastoral industry in Camden began when Governor King granted John Macarthur 2000 acres, which became known as Camden. Further land grants were handed out across the region, including Harrington Park in 1815 to Captain William Douglas Campbell.

The Davies family purchased Harrington Park from the Campbells in 1833. The Rudd family owned the property from 1902/3 to 1944 when it was sold to the Fairfax family.

It operated as a dairy in the 1920s-1930s and then, in 1946, under the Fairfax family’s ownership, it was operated as a poll hereford [sic] stud, nursery and dairy.

Harrington Park-Taylor Woodrow-Fairfax

The storyboard has a supplementary map of Harrington Park property in the Cowpastures.

The storyboard beside Jane Cavanough’s Cowpatures on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<info board pic>

Hidden in the past

Cavanaugh’s Cowpastures tells the story of the site and reveals the layers of the past to the viewer. Yet there is more to the story hidden in the shadows. Some of these hidden stories are hinted at while others are still to be revealed. One example is the violence of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures as the settler society project unfolded and Europeans took up territory from the Indigenous Dharawal. (Karskens 2015)

At Harrington Park lakeside Cavanough has taken part in placemaking, wayfinding, memorialisation and urban development with her creation of Cowpastures.  She has engaged in telling the cultural heritage and contributed to the construction of place and community identity in a new suburb, directed visitors to discover the stories of Cowpastures from the past in an aesthetic landscape setting, and celebrated the history of the site and the Europeans who farmed the land.

References

Cavanough, J. (2020). ” About Jane Cavanough.” Jane Cavanough Artlandish Art and Design. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from http://janecavanough.com.au/about/.

Council, N. B. (2019). Public Art Policy. Sydney, Northern Beaches Council.

Karskens, G. (2015). Appin Massacre. Dictionary of Sydney. Sydney NSW, State Library of New South Wales & City of Sydney.

Aesthetics · Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Airfield · Camden Show · Churches · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cumberland Plain · Farming · Floods · Heritage · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur Park · Onslow Park · Place making · Railway · Sense of place · Storytelling · Tourism

Camden, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain

A country town on Sydney’s fringe

The cultural heritage of the local area makes the historic town of Camden, according to Sydney architect Hector Abrahams, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park Estate in the Cowpastures on the banks of the Nepean River.

Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

The township provides a glimpse of life from times gone past with the charm and character with its Victorian style built heritage and early 20th century cottages and commercial buildings.


The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

Camden Heritage Walk (Camden Council)

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the Sydney area. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

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

A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.

Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.

The 2019 Camden Show provided an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in a host of farming activities. The authentic sights, sounds and smells of the show ring and surrounds enlightened and entertained in a feast for the senses. (I Willis, 2019)

The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.

For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s (Camden Images)

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.

Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)

Updated 24 May 2021. Originally posted on Camden History Notes 18 December 2016. This post was originally published on Heritage Tourism as ‘Camden: the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain’ in 2010.

1920s · Architecture · Attachment to place · Camden Park House and Garden · Camden Story · Carpentry · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Craft · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Engineering Heritage · Farming · Heritage · History · Industrial Heritage · Lifestyle · Local History · Local Studies · Lost trades · Memory · Modernism · Pioneers · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Traditional Trades

Camden’s carpenters

A local traditional trade

Carpentry was an essential craft in all communities and has been practised for centuries. In the Camden area, the traditional trade of carpentry as it was practised had a variety of forms.  Traditional trades were part of the process of settler colonialism on the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures.

In pre-settlement times, the first form of bush carpentry was practised by the Aborigines. They stripped bark from trees and used it for shelters that kept them from the natural elements and made weapons.

At the time of European settlement, many on the frontier had no formal trades skills and learnt bush carpentry from watching the Aboriginal people or experimenting themselves. The bush carpenter was a practical make-do pioneer who innovated with naturally occurring products from their local environment. They practised sustainability in a period when it was a necessity for their very survival and relied on their ingenuity, adaptability and wit.

A rudimentary vernacular domestic style architecture typical of frontier settlement constructed from available local materials. The farmhouse Illustrated here is the home of V Kill and his family in the Burragorang Valley in 1917 with some intrepid bushwalkers. The cottage is slab construction with a dirt floor and no electricity. The cottage is surrounded by the vegetable garden which is carefully tended by the family. (Camden Images)

Some of the bush carpenter’s spirit and tradition arrived with the early European settlers and owed some of its origins to the English tradition of green woodworking. This traditional practice dates back to the Middle Ages and is linked with coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management.  The craftsmen led a solitary existence in the woods and made a host of items from unseasoned green timber, including furniture, tools, fencing, kitchenware and other things.

The bush carpenters were amongst the first in the Camden area to erect building structures. Like other rural areas of Australia, the Camden area’s landscape has been defined by the bush carpenter’s huts and sheds. One example was illustrated in Peter Mylrea’s Camden District (2002), the so-called Government Hut erected at the Cowpastures in 1804.

This view of the Government Hut in the Cowpastures at the Nepean River crossing illustrates the rudimentary form of construction on the colonial frontier in 1804. (State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1)

The early settlers who built these basic shelters did so without the manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution. Either through cost or just a make-do attitude, they built rudimentary vernacular buildings that lasted for decades. In later times settlers’ structures were improved with the introduction of galvanised iron after the 1820s.

There were many examples of huts and farm sheds being erected in other parts of the Camden district, remote from major centres, like the Burragorang Valley. Post-and-rail fencing and a host of other structures put a defining character on the rural landscape. There is still evidence of bush carpentry in and around Camden.

The former farm shed c1900-1910 apply renamed the barn is popular with weddings and other activities at the Camden Community Garden. This farm shed illustrates the rudimentary type of construction practiced as a form of bush carpentry in the local area. (I Willis, 2018)

The bush carpenter’s tool kit usually did not have specialised tools and would have included saws, axes, adze, chisels, augers, hammers, wedges, spade, and other items. Their kit was meant to cope with all the contingencies of the rural frontier that were typical of the remote parts of the Camden district.

The formal trade of carpentry and joinery has a long history going back centuries centred on the guilds. Guilds appeared in England in the Middle Ages, and according to the website London Lives 1690-1800, their purpose was to

 defend the interests of the trade, regulate the quality of workmanship and the training of new members, and provide support and welfare for their members.

https://www.londonlives.org/static/Guilds.jsp

In London, they were established by charter and regulated by the City authorities. Guilds in London had considerable political power and were one of the largest charitable institutions in the City. Carpenters were organised in the Carpenter’s Company, one of 12 powerful London guilds. Guilds were a mixture of apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen, with no women.

In the colony of New South Wales, carpenters were formally trained artisans have examples of their work in colonial mansions of the grand estates and the many local towns and villages across the Camden district. These artisans used milled timber and other manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution that were readily available and that their clients could afford.

Camden’s carpenters were a mixture of journeymen and master craftsmen, who had served their apprenticeship in Camden and elsewhere. John Wrigley’s Historic Buildings of Camden (1983) lists 38 carpenters/builders who worked in Camden between the 1840s and 1980s.

The pre-WW2 tradesmen used hand tools and traditional construction methods, which is evident in any of the town’s older buildings and cottages. Take particular notice when you walk around central Camden of the fine quality of artistry that has stood the test of time from some of these traditional tradesmen.

The hand tools used by the Camden carpenter changed little in centuries of development and refinement. The tool kit of the mid-1800s would have included hammers, chisels, planes, irons, clamps, saws, mallet, pincers, augers and a host of other tools. It would be very recognisable by a 21st-century tradesman. Master carpenter, Fred Lawton’s tool kit, is on display at the Camden museum (TDR 19/12/11)

A display of hand tools at the Camden Museum. This display illustrates the range of tools that made up the carpenter’s toolkit for his job. Shown here is a range of saws, hammers, augers, planes, adze, and other tools. (2021 KHolmquist)

Hand tools were utilitarian, and some had decorated handles and stocks, particularly those from Germany and British makers. By the early 19th century, many hand tools were being manufactured in centres like Sheffield, UK, and these would have appeared in the Camden area. Carpenters traditionally supplied their own tools and would mark on their hand tools to clearly identify them. Many of the hand tools became highly specialised, especially for use by cabinet-makers, joiners and wood-turning. 

The Camden carpenters listed in the 1904 New South Wales Post Office Directory were JP Bensley, John Franklin, Joseph Packenham and Thomas Thornton, while at Camden Park, there was Harry ‘Herb’ English.  According to Herb’s nephew Len English, Herb English was one of a number of generations of the English family who were carpenters in the early years of the 20th century in the Camden area. It was a family tradition for the sons to be apprenticed in the trade to their father and work at Camden Park.  This practice followed the training principles of English carpentry guilds under a system of patrimony.

Camden carpenter Herbert English working at Camden Park in the 1920s. This image illustrates the use of hand tools here showing the use of the chisel, mallet, handsaw and square. English is cutting a rebate with the chisel after marking the cut out with his square. He would have supplied his own tools and kept them sharpened at the end of the working day. (Camden Images)

Len English’s grandfather, William John English,e was apprenticed to his father, James, and worked at Camden Park between the 1890s and 1930s. William lived in Luker Street, Elderslie, where he built his house and had his workshop, where Len recalls playing as a lad. William’s son, Jack Edward English, was apprenticed to his father (William) in the family tradition, also worked at Camden Park and later in Camden and Elderslie during the 1930s and 1940s. During this period, Jack and his brother, Sidney, both worked with local Camden builders Mark Jenson and Mel Peat (TDR19/12/11).

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Camden Show Sponsors’ Night

A grand exhibit for a pandemic

This time of the year usually is show week in Camden when the festival rolls into town.

2021 is a bit different. Not normal at all. In the middle of a pandemic, there is no show for the second year in a row.

That has not stopped the Camden Show society from getting into action and the spirit of the event. 

Committee member Jason Sharpe provided a taste of the show with a colourful temporary display at the recent sponsors’ night.

I was lucky enough to attend the sponsors’ night as the guest of Ian Johnson, the principal at IJ Ag Services.

Better known as a horseman and a sometimes renowned bush-poet Jason Sharpe turned his hand to constructing a sample show display for the assembled guests.

Some of the local produce used in the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe for the 2021 sponsors’ event. At the rear of the display are some perpetual trophies used by some show categories. (I Willis)

Jason out-did himself and blew everyone away with his creativity. His artistic work with pumpkins, corn, hay, chooks, and other produce to be seen to be believed.

If you want to learn how to make a pumpkin look classy beside a handsome bale of hay surrounded by a chorus of chooks, have a chat with Jason.

Jason observed that ‘you cannot understand where you are going without knowing where you have come from’. He used this philosophy in his construction of the temporary display and his acknowledgement of the rich history of the Camden Show.

It was a real shame that it was only a temporary display. I am sure it would have appealed to lots of others in the absence of the 2021 show.

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Pumpkins, eggs, wool fleeces, hay bales and chooks in the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe for the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event (I Willis)

A sponsors’ night in the middle of a pandemic

The show committee regularly holds a sponsor’s event each year to say thank you for their support. Without the sponsor’s support, the show would be unlikely to happen.

The current sponsors are listed on the show society website.

Camden Show President Greg Wall with signage from 2019 Camden Show within Jason Sharpe’s temporary display for the 2021 sponsors’ night (I Willis)

Show president Greg Wall gave a stirring speech drawing from Eddie Jaku’s The Happiest Man on Earth. Jaku uses a quote attributed to French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner (1957) Albert Camus that Greg finds inspirational for life. Camus said:

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

President Wall said that sponsors followed Camus’s philosophy and walked beside the committee, and were friends of the Camden Show.

What is sponsorship, and why have it?

Larry Weil, from the website The Marketing Guy, defines sponsorship as:

  a form of affinity marketing that provides certain rights and benefits to the buyer or “sponsor”.   Sponsorship is particularly effective when the sponsor and the property have similar goals, values and vision. Properly activated, this affiliation casts a “halo” or conveys certain characteristics to the sponsor as a result of the strong recognition or fan base of the property.

Weil argues that sponsorship  

 provides business access, connections, hospitality, affinity, audience access, data, and helps to shape public perception in a way that can be hard to achieve using your own marketing and branding efforts alone. 

 Others argue that sponsorship uses the notion that

a brand (sponsor) and event (sponsoree) become linked in memory through the sponsorship, and as a result, thinking of the brand can trigger event-linked associations. 

A variety of items including ribbons, newspaper publicity and trophies indicating the breadth of awards used to acknowledge excellence at the show. All part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe at the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event. (I Willis)

Camden Show sponsorship

The NSW Government Office for Sport states that

It is good business practice to create a sponsorship policy within the organisation before you apply for sponsorship. 

The Camden Show committee following this principle on its webpage called ‘Why Be a Sponsor?‘ Here the committee maintains that show sponsorship offers:

opportunities available offer your brand an unparalleled opportunity to reach, connect and engage with an average of 45,000 people over two days at the show. This is in addition to the people we reach through our media campaigns across digital, radio, TV and print avenues.

The Camden Show committee argues that the show allows a sponsor to:

• Generate brand awareness • Showcase products and services • Connect with the community • Engage with consumers face-to-face • Generate immediate sales • Capture Data

Camden Show sponsorship is broken into seven levels ranging from supreme to green to allow large and small sponsors to support this marvellous community event.

A pumpkin that was part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe for the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ night (I Willis)

Huge community event

The Camden Show is one of the most significant community events in the Macarthur region and one of southwestern Sydney’s largest festivals. The last show in 2019 attracted nearly 45,000 people.

The show has made a considerable contribution to the construction of place and community identity in the local area. Along with other country festivals, the show integrates cultural identity, belonging, volunteering and paid employment.

The Camden Show is far from unique either in concept or history. The history of agricultural shows goes back to the early 19th century when they copied similar events in Europe. Historian Helen Doyle argues that the early shows were primarily ‘a means of promoting new agricultural technology and were used to teach farmers and display the latest farming innovations. Prizes were awarded, and one of the earliest contests were ploughing contests.

Framed portraits of past Camden Show presidents normally housed on display at the rear of the Camden Show office not generally accessible to the public. These portraits were part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe at the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event. These images acknowledge the rich history of the show. (I Willis)

 Geoff Raby’s Making Rural Australia details that Australia’s first agricultural show was in Hobart in 1822, organised by the Van Diemen’s Agricultural Society.  The same year several leading colonial ‘gentleman’ formed the Agricultural Society of New South Wales.

Kate Darian Smith argues that the Agricultural Society of New South Wales was formed

  with the aim of encouraging profitable cultivation techniques and livestock production suited to the local environmental and climatic conditions.  A key activity of the new Society was the organisation of an annual competitive display of animals and produce, thus providing agricultural education to the public and enabling its members to meet and conduct business. The first show was held at Parramatta in 1823 and included prizes for high performing servants as well as the ‘best’ rams, cheeses, and beer. 

The cover of Neville Clissold’s Camden Show 1886-2011 The People The Stories (2011) which outlines the history of the Camden Show from its origins in 1886 to 2011 anniversary show.

The original Camden Show in 1886 followed these traditions. The first show was organised by a committee formed in 1885 with the grand title of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society. The AH&I Society was a ‘gentlemen’s club’ made up of the local landed gentry headed by president JK Chisholm of Gledswood and a committee of other ‘local notables’.

The 1886 show held competitive farming displays for stock and produce with the best exhibits awarded prizes. The show had a section for the ‘colonial’ red and white wines reflecting the importance of the area to the foundation of the Australian wine industry. Camden women were encouraged to supervise their children’s efforts and entries in the domestic arts of sewing, cooking and artwork.

The 1886 Camden Show schedule that was part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe at the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event (I Willis)