The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create potent memories and nostalgia for many people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger, yet at the same time, places of incredible beauty.
One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:
The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of this beautiful area – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.
Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years, prompting them to create several works of art. She writes that it is a
It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.
Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.
In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:
In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.
Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.
The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.
The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley
Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things, from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that.
The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’
Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals built across Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meanings in the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the mighty grandeur of these buildings.
Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.
These characteristics can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breathtaking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.
The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folks over the years, and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.
Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here is one image that expresses some of these characteristics of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:
The Gothic elements within the landscape attracted many visitors to the Valley. One example from 1941:
These characteristics made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many European settlers built guesthouses for visitors from Sydney and beyond.
Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for locals and new arrivals.
The suburb of Oran Park is on Sydney’s southwestern urban fringe just east of the history, and picturesque village of Cobbitty, and the relatively new suburb of Harrington Park is to the south.
Oran Park Raceway was a glorious thing
The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the southwestern and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main Grand Prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners and elevation changes around the track.
The primary circuit was broken into two parts: the south circuit, the original track built in 1962 by the Singer Car Club and consisted of the main straight, pit lane garages and a constant radius of 180-degree turns at the end.
The north circuit was added in 1973 and was an 800-metre figure-8. Apart from the primary racing circuit, there were several subsidiary activities, and they included two dirt circuits, two four-wheel training venues, a skid pan, and a go-kart circuit.
The racing circuit has been used for various motorsport, including club motorkhanas, touring cars, sports sedans, production cars, open-wheelers, motocross and truck racing. In 2008 several organisations used the circuit for driver training, including advanced driving, defensive driving, high performance, and off-road driving.
The track hosted its first Australian Touring Car Championship in 1971, a battle between racing legends Bob Jane and Allan Moffat. The December 2008 V8 Supercar event was the 38th time a championship was held at the track. Sadly for some, the track will go the way of other suburban raceways of the past. It turned into just a passing memory when it closed in 2010.
The Daily Telegraph noted that several other Sydney tracks that have been silenced. They have included Amaroo Park, Warwick Farm, Mt Druitt, Sydney Showground, Liverpool and Westmead speedways. The public relations spokesman for Oran Park, Fred Tsioras, has said that a few notable drivers have raced at the circuit including Kevin Bartlett, Fred Gibson, Ian Luff, Alan Moffat, Peter Brock, Mark Weber, and others.
Innovations introduced at the Oran Park Raceway included night, truck, and NASCAR racing. Tsioras claims the track was a crowd favourite because they could see the entire circuit.
In the early days, the facilities at the circuit were pretty basic, including the control tower. The circuit was a glorified paddock, and race organisers held mainly basic club events. The track surface was pretty rough, and there was a make-do attitude among racing enthusiasts.
The control facilities in the early days at the track were very rudimentary. The first control tower used in 1962 by the members of the Singer Car Club, who established the track, was a double-decker bus. Race officials and timekeepers sat in the open air under a canvas awning on the top of the bus at club race meetings.
The Rothmans tobacco company funded a new control tower, built around 1980. The Rothmans company was a major sponsor of motorsports in Australia then. Tobacco sponsorship of motorsports was seen as an efficient marketing strategy to reach boys and young men.
Tobacco & cigarette advertisements were banned on TV and radio in September 1976. While other tobacco advertising was banned from all locally produced print media — this left the only cinema, billboard and sponsorship advertising as the only forms of direct tobacco advertising banned in December 1989.
Motorsport projected an image of style, excitement, thrills and spills that drew men and boys to the sport. Motorsport has been symbolized by bravery, strength, competitiveness, and masculinity. This imagery is still portrayed in motorsport like Formula One racing.
According to Will Hagan, the influence of the tower’s design was the El Caballo Blanco Complex at Narellan, which opened in 1979 and was a major tourist attraction. The control tower, like El Caballo Blanco, was constructed in a Spanish Mission architectural style (or Hollywood Spanish Mission) like the Paramount cinema in Elizabeth Street (1933) or Cooks Garage in Argyle Street (1935) Camden.
The Spanish Mission building style emerged during the Inter-war period (1919-1939). It was characterised by terracotta roof tiles, front loggia, rendering of brickwork and shaped parapets.
The Spanish Mission building style was inspired by the American west coast influences and the relationship between the automobile, rampant consumerism and the romance promoted by the motion pictures from Hollywood.
According to Ian Kirk and Megan Martin from their survey of interwar service stations, the Spanish Mission building style was popular with service stations in the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly in the Sydney area. Their survey discovered more than 120 original service stations surviving in New South Wales from the interwar years.
Some examples of Interwar garages included the Broadway Garage and Service Station in Bellevue Hill, the former Seymour’s Service Station in Roseville, Malcolm Motors in King Street, Newtown and the Pyrmont Bridge Service Station in Pyrmont. Kirk and Martin have maintained that, unlike the United States, early service stations in Australia were privately owned and did not have to be designed according to an oil company’s in-house style.
Motorsports became popular in the Interwar period and were associated with the glamour and excitement of the cars. The interwar period (1918-1939) is interesting in the history of Australia. It was a time that contrasted the imperial loyalties of the British Empire with the rampant consumerism and industrialisation of American culture and influence.
The interwar period was one in which country towns and the city were increasingly dominated by motor vehicles. It was a time when the fast and new, the exotic and sensual came to shape the style of a new age of modernism and competed with the traditional and conservative, the old and slow, and changes to social and cultural traditions.
There were many motor car brands competing for consumers’ attention, and the aspirations and desires of a new generation were wrapped up in youth, glamour, fantasy, and fun.
This was reflected in the growth of elegant and glamorous car showrooms and the appearance of service stations and garages to serve the increasing number of motor car owners.
In Camden, this period of modernism generated Cooks Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Street, not far from the new slick and exciting movie palace, the Paramount Movie Theatre. In central Camden, the Dunk commercial building at 58-60 Argyle Street was a shiny new car showroom displaying Chevrolet motor cars from the USA. Advertisement boasted that the cars were:
Beautiful new Chevrolet is completely new. New arresting beauty of style; new riding comfort and seating; …with more comfort.
The buyer had the choice of car models from commercial roadster to sports roader, tourer, coupe and sedan, which sold for the value price of £345.
In New South Wales, motor vehicles increased from 22,000 in 1920 to over 200,000 in 1938. There was an increasing interest in motorsports in Sydney by enthusiasts of all kinds.
Dreams and development on the raceway site
In 1983 the Oran Park Raceway track was owned by Bill Cleary, and he stated to the Macarthur Advertiser that his family had owned the property for 38 years. In 1976 he put together a proposal to create a sports and recreation centre for the raceway area. The proposal was raised again in 1981 and included a themed entertainment park, an equestrian centre, a dude ranch, a motel, a health and fitness centre, a model farm and cycling, hiking and bridle trails. But it all came to nothing.
The current track was purchased in the mid-1980s by Leppington Pastoral Company (owned by the Perich family) and in 2004, was rezoned for housing. It was estimated at the time that there would be 21,000 houses. Tony Perich stated in 2007 to the Sydney Morning Herald that he planned to build almost one-fifth of the 11,500 dwellings in Oran Park and Turner Road in a joint venture with Landcom. Mr Perich’s company spokesman, Greenfields Development Corporation, stated that the first houses would be on the larger lots.
Oran Park 2008 planned housing development
In 2008 Oran Park is part of the South West Growth Centre area, which is the responsibility of the New South Wales Government’s Growth Centres Commission, which was eventually planned to accommodate 295,000 people by 2031. The Oran Park and Turner Road Development were expected in 2008 to house 33,000 people.
In an area east of the raceway, it is planned that an aged care facility will be developed for elderly and retired citizens with work starting in 2011. The project will consist of independent living villas and apartments, assisted living units, a daycare centre and a high and low-care aged facility with a dementia unit.
In 2008 the raceway made way for 8000 homes to house 35,000 people, complete with the town centre, commercial precinct, and entertainment facilities. It was planned to include primary schools, two high schools, a court, a police station, and a community centre. The suburb, Raceway Hill, was planned to have streets named after the old track.
The colonial history of Oran Park
In the colonial days of early New South Wales, Oran Park was initially made up of two principal land grants, one of 2,000 acres, Harrington Park, granted to William Campbell in 1815 and another to George Molle in 1817, Netherbyes, of 1600 acres which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road. According to John Wrigley, the name Oran Park appears on the pre-1827 map as part of Harrington Park, Campbell’s grant. Campbell arrived on the brig Harrington, in 1803 as a master.
The New South Wales State Heritage Register states that the Oran Park portion was subdivided from the Harrington Park estate in 1829 and acquired by Henry William Johnston in 1852. The Oran Park estate is representative of the layout of a country manor estate, with views afforded to and from the manor over the landscape and to the critical access points of the estate. These were representative of the design philosophies of the time.
Oran Park House was located in a picturesque Arcadian pastoral scene by using the best of European farming practices and produced an English-style landscape of a park, pleasure grounds and gardens. The house was located in a ‘sublime landscape’ with the integration of aspect, orientation, and design, drawing on influences of Scotsman JC Loudon, Englishman Capability Brown and Sydney nurseryman Thomas Shepherd.
Oran Park House
The two-story Georgian-style house was built in c.1857 and is described as having a roof with a simple colonial hipped form, windows with shutters, an added portico and a bridge to the two-story original servant’s wing at the rear. There are detailed cedar joinery and panelling on the interior. The house is located on a knoll creating an imposing composition set amongst landscaped grounds with a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
According to the NSW State Heritage Register, the house is an example of the Summit Model of a homestead sited on a hilltop with the homestead complex. The entrance to Oran Park is on an axis with the house’s southern façade, with a carriage loop with mature plantings in front of the house.
Oran Park house was acquired by Thomas Barker (of Maryland and Orielton), who sold it to Campbelltown grazier Edward Lomas Moore (of Badgally) in 1871. The property was leased and subsequently owned by Atwill George Kendrick, who had a clearing sale on the site in 1900. The house had alterations, possibly under the direction of Leslie Wilkinson (professor of architecture, University of Sydney) in the 1930s.
The Moore family sold the Oran Park House, and land to B Robbins and Mr Smith operated a golf course with trotting facilities. It was sold in 1945 for £28,000; in 1963, 361 acres were purchased by ER Smith and J Hyland, farmers. The homestead and stables were sold in 1969 by John and Peggy Cole and purchased by the Dawson-Damers, members of the English aristocracy. The Dawson-Damers undertook restoration guided by architect Richard Mann. John ‘DD’ Dawson-Damer was an Old Etonian and car collector.
John Dawson-Damer was a prominent motor racing identity and was killed in an accident while driving his Lotus 63 at a race meeting at Goodwood, West Sussex, in 2000. Dawson-Damer was the managing director of Austral Engineering Supplies Pty Ltd and was involved with the International Automobile Federation and the Historic Sports Racing Car Association of New South Wales. Ashley Dawson-Damer, his wife and socialite, was a member of the council of governors of the Opera Australia Capital Fund and a board member of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation.
After her husband’s death, she sold the house, with its historic gardens and 107 hectares of pasture, in 2006 for $19 million to Valad Property Group. The State Heritage Register describes the house and surrounding estate as an outstanding example of the mid-nineteenth-century cultural landscape with a largely intact homestead complex and gardens within an intact rural setting.
Oran Park House was renamed Catherine Park House
Oran Park was renamed Catherine Park House in 2013 by the developers of the new housing release Harrington Estates Pty Ltd (Mac Chronicle 10 Oct 2013). The name change was agreed upon by Camden Council and celebrated Catherine Molle, the wife of George Molle.
In 1815 Molle was allocated a grant of 550 acres which he called Catherine Fields after his wife Catherine Molle, on the northern bank of South Creek opposite his grant of Netherbyres.
In 1816 George Molle was granted Netherbyres, of 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road on the south bank of South Creek. In 1817 he was granted Molles, Maine, 1550 acres east of the Great South Road.
George Molle was baptized in Mains, Berwickshire, Scotland, on 6 March 1773. George joined the Scots Brigade (94th Regiment) as an ensign and served in Gibraltar, The Cape of Good Hope, India, Egypt and Spain. He was promoted to Colonel and served at Gibraltar before transferring as the Colonel of the 46th Regiment of Foot when ordered to serve in the Colony of New South Wales.
On 20 March 1814, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony, second in command to Governor Macquarie.
George and his wife played an active part in the public life of the colony of New South Wales, patron of the Female Orphan School and a member of the committee for the Civilization, Care and Education of Aborigines.
In early 2018 the developer Greenfields and Landcom reported in their newsletter that construction of the new Camden Council Library building is progressing well. A new off-leash dog area was under construction in the new release areas around the new high school. It is the second area developed in the land release.
The newsletter detailed the road construction for Dick Johnson Drive, one of the many roads named after motor-racing greats. The street will connect with The Northern Road in 2019. Works are progressing on the latest release areas around Oran Park Public School and on earthworks associated with Peter Brock Drive. The school opened in 2014 with new staff and students adjacent to Oran Park Podium shopping centre. The shopping centre was opened by New South Wales Premier Mike Baird in late 2014 with 28 speciality shops.
New parkland was opened in a recent release area in 2018, and new traffic lights were operational at Peter Brock Drive and Central Avenue.
A new free monthly 20pp A4 newspaper, the Oran Park Gazette, appeared in the suburb in 2015. It is published by the Flynnko Group based at Glenmore Park. The Gazette started with a circulation of 3500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads distributed across the Western Sydney region.
Camden Council transferred an administrative function to the new office building in 2016. An open day inviting residents to inspect the new facilities was a huge success.
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