At South Camden, there was once a favourite restaurant and venue for local weddings and receptions. It was the White House Farm at 451 Hume Highway South Camden. The restaurant was demolished in the 1990s and replaced by a service station. The site of the White House Farm is the location of many fond memories of family and community celebrations and anniversaries.
Mid-20th century modernism
The White House Farm is a local example of mid-20th-century modernism influenced by a ranch style from West Coast America. It was timber construction, with a tile roof and shutters to the windows. Camden had a number of ranch-style houses which was a style of domestic architecture that was popular in Australia in the 1960s. A number have since been demolished, like the White House Farm. The ranch-style architecture is described for its long, close-to-the-ground profile, and wide open layout. The style fused modernist ideas with the wide open spaces of the American West to create an informal and casual approach. One characteristic of many ranch-style buildings was extensive landscaped grounds. The unpretentious nature of the style was particularly popular between the 1940s and 1970s. The style lost popularity with a return to more formal and traditional styles of architecture.
Located on the Hume Highway to capture the passing traffic the White House Farm was built in 1966 and run as a restaurant function centre by the owners, Mr and Mrs Henry Hart, until it sold in 1985 to Alfred and Jennifer Milan. The complex had a large commercial kitchen and could hold two wedding receptions at the same time. It had a seating capacity of 220 in two dining rooms, one of 75 and the other of 130.
In 1984 the restaurant advertised ‘Chicken in the Basket’ for $12.50. Patrons could have a ‘whole tender, spring chicken, old fashioned stuffing, baked to perfection. Served in a basket surrounded with special fries, crumbed onion rings and homemade corn and banana fritters’. This delicacy was accompanied by the ability of patrons to select their ‘sweets’ from a self-service area. Complimented with tea and coffee of choice. This ‘tradition’ was proudly introduced by the Hart family ‘in the 1950s’.
The restaurant traded five days a week from Tuesday to Saturday, lunches from 12 to 2.30pm, and dinner from 6pm. Sunday was reserved for private functions. There was the attraction of a half-price children’s menu. Bottles of wine averaging between $5-$6. The restaurant menu had a number of delicacies that are not very common these days. Entrees of prawn cocktail, fruit cocktail, and melon with ham, while the main dishes specialised in steaks and included carpetbag steak and steak diane. There were the poultry specials of chicken southern style and chicken in the basket (whole) and salads which included ham and chicken and cheese and pineapple. On Facebook, Susan Vale recalls as a child ‘I remember sleeping in the car parked in front while mum and dad enjoyed a rowdy dinner with friends. It was the place for a nice meal’.
Weddings were catered for with formal or informal reception rooms from two available menus at the exorbitant price of $13.00 and $14.50 per head. The grounds provided award-winning ‘beautiful garden style settings’ and the owners could organise music, photography and cars for the bride and groom. The motel was a two-minute walk away from a local motel, the Camden Country Club Motel (now also demolished). The wedding party could bring their own drinks and there was no time limit. In 1990 the Camden press claimed that ‘newlyweds are promised a relaxed and special day’. The garden had a ‘relaxed and friendly atmosphere’ and it was like having a ‘home garden wedding’. For those who wanted something a little different, the restaurant owners could organise a Scottish Piper ‘in full regalia’ or a ‘Sweep-a-gram’. The restaurant had its own DJ, master of ceremonies and musicians. The brides and grooms were promised ‘romantic weddings in a colonial home atmosphere’ catering for groups between 30 and 130 guests. One of those brides was Marie Larnach who recalls on Facebook that she had her ‘wedding reception there in 1973’. Similarly, Brenda Egan had her wedding there as well.
The owners lived in a two-bedroom flatette above the main building. The auction notice for February 1986 said that it was ideal as staff quarters. The notice boasted that the White House Farm was a local ‘landmark’. The restaurant was sold with an adjacent two-bedroom cottage.
The White House Farm had lots of parking space on a lot of 6872 m2 and was an ideal venue for local weddings and large family functions.
The Shell Company of Australia lodged a development application for a service station on the site in April 1992, which proposed the demolition of the White House Farm restaurant. Shell had been prompted to go ahead with the development on the basis that there would be increased local traffic from the Cawdor Resident Release, which never did proceed. The Camden press noted the development of the site was always a possibility after 1989 when Camden Council changed the zoning of land on the fringes of the township. (Camden Crier, 6 May 1992)
The Camden press reported that residents had campaigned for three months against the Shell proposal. There was an initial public meeting held near the site at Easter 1992 with 60 residents. This was followed by a public meeting at the Camden Downs Retirement Village in April attended by 115 residents. Deputy Town Planner Graham Pascoe outlined the legal responsibility of the council towards the proposal. Mr John Wrigley for the Camden Residents Action Group called for a show of hands for the no position, with resounding support. Alderman Geoff Corrigan supported the residents’ viewpoint and labelled the development proposal ‘architectural vandalism’ and claimed that the service station had ‘no heart or soul’. (Camden Crier, 6 May 1992)
Over 90 objections were sent to Camden Council from local residents along with a petition of over 200 signatures. Individual submissions against the service station proposal centred on
- Incompatibility of the development
- Loss of residential amenities
- Local landscape quality
- Social and economic effects
- Noise and traffic impact
- the adjoining residential area and adverse impact from proposed trading hours of 6am to 12 midnight. (Camden Crier, 5 August 1992)
The development proposal was raised at a Camden Council meeting in July 1992. Shell Company of Australia was represented by Mr Graham Rollingson of Martin, Morris and Jones real estate developers and spoke in favour of the development application. Several aldermen spoke against the proposal including Aldermen McMahon, Hart, Corrigan and Feld. The residents’ interests were represented by spokesman Phil Kosta. The meeting was conducted by Deputy Mayor Frank Booking in the absence of Mayor Theresa Testoni. The council rejected the proposal on the grounds that the development application was not in the public interest. (Camden Crier, 5 August 1992)
In 1993 the Shell Company of Australia won a Land and Environment Court case to allow the construction of a service station on the site, ensuring the demolition of the restaurant and function centre. The local press reported that local residents were appalled with the decision, and Camden Council had initially rejected the proposal after resident objections in July 1992. Shell appealed the decision in the Land and Environment Court in December 1992. Council deputy town planner Graham Pascoe expressed disappointment at the decision. (The Chronicle, 12 January 1993)
Today the site of the White House Farm is occupied by a service station.
Comments on Facebook:
I only know that my husband and I had our reception at the White House Farm on 15th September, 1973. It was a lovely place, little bridge out the front for photos etc. The meal was lovely. Not sure what else you need, but I hope this helps. Marie (Larnach) (18 Sept 2017)
Ian Willis: What was your grandparents last name?
CL: Harry and Sitska Hart they came over from Holland in about 1950. They had identical twin daughters Angela and my mum Charmaine and a son Henri.
Ian Willis: Did your grandparents build the restaurant?
CL: No they built the wedding reception dance floor room and the restaurant addition on north side of the original building also the commercial kitchen and the fish pond.
Fred Borg was also working there in my time & he also was our MC at our reception – Thankyou to Paul Charmaine , Tino & Mr Mrs Hart letting me be a part of Camden History
Liz Kalmar-Carroll is this where we were asked to leave cause we were too loud???
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Such a pity that the state government got involved in a local decision.
Updated 23 May 2023. Originally posted on 15 September 2017 as ‘A lost Camden mid-20th century icon, The White House Farm’.
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