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A home for wayward boys

St Andrews Presbyterian Agricultural College Boys Home, Hume Highway, Leppington

At the top of the hill in the suburb of Emerald Hills in Leppington NSW is a small park called the Bell Tower Park with three bronze statues of small boys.

The park commemorates the memory of the St Andrews Boy Home (closed in 1986) that once existed on what is now the housing estate of Emerald Hills.

The park was opened in late 2019 and is a memorial to the memory of the boys who stayed at the home.

In an adjacent space is a representation of a bell tower that once existed on the site.

The park storyboards outline the history of the boys home with accompanying images of the buildings.

The storyboard in the park states:

Belltower Park and the structures and statues in it celebrate and commemorate the presence of the St Andrews Home for Boys that used to be located on this hilltop.

The Home was established by the Presbyterian Church (now Uniting Church) in 1961 and it closed in 1986. The buildings were designed by Philip Cox and Ian McKay and they were the recipient of the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963. The Home originally came with a bell tower, from which this Park is named.

More detail on the Home can be found in the Archival Record of the property by Macarthur Developments and lodged with Camden Council.

The St Andrew’s Home for Boys was originally operated by the Presbyterian Church at Manly, NSW. The home was transferred to a 400-acre farm property at Leppington, on the Hume Highway south of Liverpool.

In 1961 the Presbyterian Church commissioned a newly graduated architect from the University of Sydney to design the new boys home on the Emerald Hills property at Leppington. The architect was  Philip Cox who collaborated with Ian McKay and set up the firm Philip Cox and Associates at North Sydney.  The home was their first commission and for their efforts, they won the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963.(McMahon, 2013)

The Leppington home catered for twenty boys aged ten to fifteen years. Residents were generally referred following an appearance before the Children’s Court on a care and protection application or in respect of some offence.

Bell Tower Park has a replica belltower designed by Place Design Group and completed in 2018. The designers note on their website that the tower has a Spiel-Bau Bell Tower play unit. (I Willis 2021)

Boys were admitted to the home following an assessment by a professional social worker. A feature of the program was its strong community links, with residents attending local schools and participating in community activities. Following the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977, the home came under the auspice of the Uniting Church. And together with Burnside Homes the institution was administered under the Burnside program.    (Thinee and Bradford (1998)  Online 2007)

The St Andrews complex was controlled by the Burnside Presbyterian Homes for Children (1955) which was formerly the Burnside Presbyterian Orphan Homes which first made an appearance in 1912.  

Lost – a prize winning example of mid-century modernism  

The storyboard in Bell Tower Park states

The buildings were designed by Philip Cox and Ian McKay and they were the recipient of the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963. (Information board)

The Bell Tower Park storyboard has images of the 1963 Philip Cox designed buildings at St Andrews Boys Home (I Willis, 2021)

The significance of the buildings on the boys home site was best summarised by the firm Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions (AHMS) in a 2013 heritage study. They stated:

“The former St Andrew’s Home for Boys is a significant example of the Sydney School architectural style of the mid twentieth century, which was an influential style in its era and was practised by notable Australian architects. The former St Andrew’s Home for Boys was awarded the Sulman Medal (in 1963), the highest award for architecture available in NSW.  

Sydney architect Philip Cox designed the home complex with Ian McKay in 1962. Cox is a renowned architect and St Andrews Boys Home was his first project. Author Tom Holland writes that this project was one of number of Cox’s projects that

“The career of Philip Cox spans an era that was the making of modern Australia,” writes Bingham-Hall.

“As the 1960s progressed Australia did wake up, slowly and cautiously, in what might be described as a very Australian way, without recrimination and rancour, without fervour or foment, and without any overt display of neediness or self-reflection,” he adds.

“This survey of the work of Philip Cox treats the post-1950s emergence of modern Australia as its framework, as its posts and beams, and for this most public of architects, it is obliged to demonstrate how his work reflects that narrative, an insofar as it is possible for architecture, the extent to which it symbolised the nature of a national awakening.” (Holland 2020)

Bell Tower Park has three playful bronze sculptures of boys reminiscent of the young boys who were accommodated at St Andrews Boys Home. There are also a number of bronze sculptures of boys in the garden area of Emerald Hills Shopping Centre. (I Willis 2021)

Philip Cox described the home this way:

“St. Andrews Boys Home was designed as a country retreat for adolescent boys committed to institutions for juvenile offenders. It was built on pastoral land at Leppington to the South of Sydney, and provides accommodation for a small number of boys in residential dormitories.

The plan of the Home is based on a linear pedestrian spine, linking all the buildings together with a colonade [sic]. Through this extendable quality further expansion is easily accommodated. Each occupant is allocated some personal space in the form of sleeping alcoves grouped together around small courtyards.

The original homestead, “Emerald Hill”, has been retained and restored as the Warden’s residence. The additive quality of the new buildings complement the existing buildings and recall the traditional outbuildings of vernacular settlements. Construction detailing is derived from local vernacular techniques. The building structure is post-and-beam, with exposed roff [sic] trusses and intill panels of brickwork. Rough sawn timber roof trusses and expressed jointing details are drawn from the simple bams [sic] and woolstores of the surrounding countryside. (McMahon 2013)

Former entry to Emerald Hills Farm which operated on the former site of the St Andrews Boys Home before the farm site was developed for housing. (I Willis 2016)

References

Holland, T. (2020). “A career celebrated in Philip Cox: An Australian Architecture.” Australian Design Review. Retrieved 1 November 2021, from https://www.australiandesignreview.com/architecture/a-career-celebrated-in-philip-cox-an-australian-architecture/.

McMahon, S. (2013). PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVAL RECORD, St Andrews Boys Home (Burnside) Leppington, 1050 Camden Valley Way Leppington, Lot A DP 420395. Sydney NSW, Inspire Urban Design & Planning Ply Ltd.

Thinee, K. and T. Bradford ((1998)  Online 2007). Guide to Records,  A guide to help people separated from their families search for their record. Sydney, NSW, New South Wales Department of Community Services

Updated 3 December 2021. Originally published 2 December 2021.

Agricultural heritage · Art · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Education · Frontier violence · Heritage · History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Picton · Pioneers · Place making · Public art · Schools · Sculpture · Settler colonialism · Storytelling

Cowpastures Memorial, Picton

The first Cowpasture memorial in the Picton region

Located in the Picton Village Square is the first dedicated memorial in the Picton region to the Cowpastures by local sculptor Joan Brown and local school children.  (Council 2019)

The memorial has been placed inconspicuously at the front of the rotunda that is very easy to miss as you walk to the shops in Argyle Street from the Davison Lane carpark.

This is only one of three memorials celebrating the Cowpastures in the Macarthur region. The other is located at Perish Park at Oran Park and Harrington Park Lake Reserve.

The Cowpastures Memorial mural by Joan Brown and a number of school children located in the Picton Village Square (IW 2021)

Information plaque

The information plaque, with the wrong date, has an explanation of the Cowpastures story by the artist and reads:

Cowpastures Memorial

This mural commemorates the early history of our land and pristine waterways, from the Dreamtime beginnings, to the 1895 [sic] discovery of the escaped First Fleet wild cattle in this area. These cattle were later destroyed to make way for the pioneering of the district, the introduction of dairy and beef breeds that formed the basis of a wealthy agricultural industry. The spirit of our early setters lives on through the recording of visual history in this beautiful valley.

By Gifted/Talented History Students from Picton, Camden South, and Mawarra Schools.

M Armstrong, E Bristow, T Clipsham, H Eriksson, S Esposito, L Greco, M Gordon, L Harley, L Mulley, K Parker, P Reynolds, E Savage, C Wotton, N Young.

Bronze Sculptor Joan Brown 2012

Information plaque placed below the Cowpastures Memorial mural. Note: the date should be 1795. (IW 2021)

Sculptor Joan Brown

Sculptor Joan Brown is a fifth-generation member of a ‘local pioneer family’, according to her biography, growing up on her family property of Abbotsford at Picton. She was surrounded by ‘grazing and dairying properties in the valleys of the Razorback Range’.

Joan is ‘passionate about the preservation of the ethos and heritage of the local area’ and has developed an understanding of the local landscape  She has used local landscapes, historic sites and heritage buildings as subjects of her artworks. (Brown 2021)

Joan was part of the community that initiated the Picton Bicentennial Village Square, where the mural is located, and the restoration of St Mark’s Church and Pioneer Cemetery.   (Brown 2021)   

Joan has an ongoing passion for the ‘preservation and heritage of the local area’ including the ‘unique heritage village’ of Picton. (Brown 2021)

The Cowpastures Memorial mural is located at the front of the rotunda which is adjacent to Stonequarry Creek at the rear and Davison Lane carpark. Behind the rotunda is the St Marks Church cemetery. (I Willis, 2021)

Public art

The Picton Cowpastures Memorial is one part of the public art scene of the Macarthur region. Other public art installations across the area include:

1. the Camden Rotary Pioneer Mural created by mural artist WA Byram Mansell which depicts colonial New South Wales and the Cowpastures

2.  the sculpture park on the campus of Western Sydney University at Campbelltown.  

3. The statues of local boys celebrating the St Andrews Boys Home at Leppington are located in the gardens at Emerald Hills Shopping Centre and Belltower Park in Emerald Hills Boulevarde.

4. the Australian Botanic Gardens at Mount Annan

5. Art Installation, Oran Park Library, Oran Park.

7. Forecourt, Narellan Library, Narellan

8. Camden Valley Way Forecourt, Food Plaza, Narellan Town Centre.

9. The Cowpasture Cows, Perich Park, Oran Park

10. Campbelltown Arts Centre

11. The Cowpasture Cows, Harrington Park Lake, Harrington Park.

The Wedding Knot sculpture by Geoff Duggan at the Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan (I Willis 2021)

Public art is an important part of a vibrant community and adds to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes

‘a sense of identity, belonging, attachment, welcoming and openness, and strengthening community identification to place. [It creates] a tangible sense of place and destination’.

 The Cowpastures Memorial mural is a visual representation of the dreams and aspirations of its creator.

Principles of public art

Many local government areas have public art. In the Northern Beaches Council LGA the aims of public art on their coast walks are:

  • The need for art to be sympathetic to the natural setting and context.
  • A need and opportunity for Aboriginal heritage to be better integrated along the Coast Walk.
  • Art was not always seen as physical and permanent with a desire for temporary and activation based experiences that enhanced the Coast Walk.
  • Views and vistas are important and they should be preserved or enhanced.
  • Desire for the Coast Walk to be an educational experience.

Supporting these aims are eight key principles and they are:

  1. Respect and acknowledge Aboriginal cultural heritage
  2. Celebrate and conserve significant natural and cultural values
  3. Connect places and people along the coast
  4. Foster artistic and cultural expression and encourage creative collaboration
  5. Enrich places through high quality art and design
  6. Interpret the history and significance of the coast
  7. Value artistic and cultural diversity and be inclusive
  8. Create a distinctive and recognisable Northern Beaches Coast Walk identity.

From The Northern Beaches Coast Walk Public Art.

Cowpastures Mural

A metaphor full of meaning

The Picton Cowpastures Memorial is a metaphor for the settler society and a representation of the past. The artwork depicts four-horned cows of the Cowpastures Wild Cattle grazing on the steep country around the Razorback Range.

The depiction of the Wild Cattle on Dharawal country hints at the arrival of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures, the fourth locality of European occupation in the New South Wales colony.(Willis 2018) The horned cattle are a representation of the possession of territory by the Europeans and their settler-colonial project.

The landscape illustrated by the mural is devoid of vegetation hinting at the environmental desolation caused by European occupation and the dispossession of the Dharawal people. The dead tree depicted in the mural landscape is a sad reminder of European exploitation of the natural resources of the Cowpastures and threats to Cumberland Plain Woodland and other ecological types across the Macarthur region.

The story the mural tells is full of meaning with many layers that can be peeled back to reveal many hidden corners in the narrative of the local area. The stark outline of a dead tree might be regarded as a metaphor for the frontier violence of the early colonial period and symbolic of the Appin Massacre which took place in the Cowpastures in 1816. (Karskens 2015)

References

Brown, J. (2021). “Joan Brown Biography.” The Sculptors Society. Retrieved 2 November 2021, , from https://sculptorssociety.com/sculptors/joan-brown/.

Council, W. S. (2019). Historic Picton Walking Tour. Picton NSW, Wollondilly Shire Council.

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

Willis, I. (2018). “The Cowpastures Project.” Camden History Notes https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2018/03/16/the-cowpastures-project/.