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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.

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A funny little dunny draws controversy

Development proposal for 80 John Street and dunny demolition

In the backyard of an historic cottage at 80 John Street there is a funny little dunny that dates from the 1890s. In 2011 it created a great deal of fuss when there was a proposal for a two-storey commercial development at the rear of the cottage site and the demolition of the dunny for parking.

This is a view of the little 1890s outhouse in the backyard of 80 John Street with work going on around in 2021. This is the same outhouse that caused all the fuss in 2011 when a two-storey commercial building was proposed for this site. (I Willis, 2021)

A funny little dunny goes by a host of names

The funny little dunny is an example of a building that has gone by a host of names over the years. According to Margaret Simpson from the Powerhouse Museum they have variously been called a

Lav, privy, loo, thunderbox, WC, outhouse, toot, throne, restroom, powder room, washroom, john, kharsi, bog, comfort station, and even twinkle-palace, are just some of the euphemisms used for toilets. If you were in the military you’d be using the latrines, on a sailing ship going to the heads, but in country Australia it’d be the dunny.

(https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/07/18/present-and-past-family-life-toilets/)

A big fuss for a little dunny

The little outhouse created quite a storm and any development proposal in upper John Street below St John’s Church was destined to create some sort of controversy.  

The is a view of the row of Victorian Workman’s cottages in upper John Street (76-78 John Street) that are just below St John’s Church (I Willis, 2018)

Upper John Street has a row of historic Victorian workman’s cottages that the State Heritage Inventory’s Statement of Significance describes this way:

This line of simple, neat, and pleasing four cottages (74-80 John Street) along the eastern side of John Street, leading up to the view of St Johns Church spire, are representative of late nineteenth-century country town cottages. They are remarkably consistent in quality and form a good group.

(State Heritage Inventory Database No 1280026)

The cottage at No 80 where the loo is located is  described as a weatherboard cottage had a ‘corrugated iron hipped roof’ with a ‘brick chimney, timber-posted corrugated-iron bullnose verandah and four-pane double-hung windows with timber shutters’ enclosed by a front picket-fence.   

(State Heritage Inventory Database No 1280026)

This view of John Street is taken from the St John’s Church steeple in 1937 and shows the row of workman’s cottages on the right hand side of the street. (Camden Images)

The development drew community concern at a number levels: obstructed views from Broughton Street;  the bulk and height of the proposed new building; and  the demolition of the loo.

Objections abound

The Camden Historical Society lodged an objection with the consent authority, Camden Council, and then  published an article in the 2011 Winter Newsletter.

This was followed by a front-page story in the Macarthur Chronicle under the headline DE-THRONED, with a full-page picture of society member Robert Wheeler with the loo in the background.

This is the front-page story in the Macarthur Chronicle for 28 June 2011. Camden Historical Society member Robert Wheeler takes centre stage in the page with the loo from 80 John Street in the background. (I Willis)

The report stated that the loo was

One of the few in remaining buildings in the town area which were common before the town was connected to the sewer in 1938.

The Chronicle reported that ‘former Camden town planner Robert Wheeler [was] leading calls for the loo to be preserved due to its historic significance.

‘Mr Wheeler said the proposed building was not ‘sympathetic’ to the heritage of the surrounding area and the outdoor toilet should not be demolished’.

 (Macarthur Chronicle, 28 June 2011).

[Camden Historical Society] vice-president John Wrigley said,The society was concerned about the ‘block-like’ look to the new building and the demolition of the outside toilet’.   

The little dunny is special

The Macarthur Chronicle posed the question:

‘Is this Camden’s oldest toilet?’

 (Macarthur Chronicle, 28 June 2011).

The Development Conservation and Landscape Plan noted the special architectural feature of the outhouse. It had a ‘custom-rolled roof’ that ‘mayhave been by half a water tank’, unlike standard outhouse roofs which were ‘gables or skillion’.  

(Source: Stedinger Associated, 78-80 John St, Camden, Conservation Schedule of Works and Landscape Plan, Unpublished, 2011, Camden).

This is a typical country town outhouse that is no longer in use in Berry NSW. This outhouse has a gable roof which is more typical of those found in country towns across Australia. This particular example would have probably have housed a pan system toilet before the Berry sewerage system was connected to town properties. (I Willis, 2021)

The pan system

The Landscape Plan detailed how the ‘outhouse, which dated from the 1890s, was part of the Camden’s pan toilet system. Cottage residents who used the outhouse  walked along a narrow path leading from the loo to the cottage kitchen.

This is a pan toilet that was used in the mid-20th century and is similar to what was used in the John Street outhouse in the early 20th century. This example is at the Camden Museum and has a deodoriser in the toilet lid . (I Willis, 2021)

The toilet had a pan for ‘nightsoil’ which was collected by a Camden Council contractor. The contractor accessed the pan through a small opening in the rear wall of the outhouse, and replaced the full pan with an empty can.

The cottage outhouse was not built over a pit or ‘long drop’ for the excrement and urine like those built on local farms.  

(Source: Stedinger Associated, 78-80 John St, Camden, Conservation Schedule of Works and Landscape Plan, Unpublished, 2011, Camden).

A vivid description of the experience of using a pan system has been provided by Margaret Simpson from the Powerhouse Museum.

I grew up in a small New South Wales rural town before the sewer was connected. Ours was an outside toilet in the backyard. Underneath the seat plank was a removable sanitary pan (dunny can). About once a week the full pan was taken away and replaced with a clean empty one. This unfortunate task was the job of the sanitary carter (dunny man) with his horse and wagon and later a truck. Going to the dunny, especially in summer towards the end of the collection week, was a breath-holding, peg-on-nose experience.

Modern commercial toilet paper was not part of the pan system experience.  She says:

In Australia, newspapers were cut into sheets by the householder and held together with a piece of fencing wire or string and hung on a nail inside the dunny. Another source of paper were the thick department store catalogues like Anthony Horderns sent out to householders.

(https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/07/18/present-and-past-family-life-toilets/)

Controversy rages over the pan and the sewer

The pan system installed in the John Street outhouse was quite common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New South Wales.

In the late 19th century controversy raged over the benefits or lack of them between the pan system and water carriage systems. Flush toilets and water carriage of sewerage dates back to 2500BC.  

Sharon Beder argues in her article ‘Early Environmentalists and the Battle Against Sewers in Sydney’ that

Sewer gas was a big problem in the nineteenth century when knowledge of how to trap the gas and prevent its return back into homes and city streets was scarce and workmanship in sewer construction often cheap and shoddy.

Air pollution was a particularly damning accusation since it was believed that ‘miasmas’ were responsible for many of the life-threatening diseases around at that time.

 (https://documents.uow.edu.au/~/sharonb/sewage/history.html)
This is a simpler pan toilet used in the mid-20th century similar to what would have been used at John Street outhouse. A nightsoil pan is inserted below the toilet seat. This example is at the Camden Museum. (I Willis, 2021)

A 1914 advertisement for a contract to collect nightsoil (excrement) at Picton gives an idea of how nightsoil was disposed of in our local area. The contractor used a sanitary cart pulled by a horse to collect the pans from outhouses in the town area. The contractor was then expected to dispose of the nightsoil by dig trenches at the depot which was one mile from the town centre. At the time there were 270 pans in the Picton town area.

(Camden News, 2 April 1914).

The town finally connected to sewer

Before World War One Camden Municipal Council had considered the installation of a septic tank sewerage system for the town area. (Camden News, 24 August 1911)

In 1938 the council was given permission to proceed with a sewerage scheme for the town managed by Sydney Metropolitan, Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board and town sewerage scheme was completed in 1939. (Camden News, 29 June 1939)

This is an example of a nightsoil pan that was inserted below the toilet seat. The pan was collected by the nightsoil service contractor and a lid secured on top. This example is at the Camden Museum and is similar to the type of pan that would have been used in the John Street outhouse. (I Willis, 2021)
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Hard-bitten local newspaper identities

Macarthur regional newspaper history

The story of hard-bitten local newspaper identities and their publications has been told in a recent article published in British academic journal Media History. Local author and historian Ian Willis details the travails of local reporters, printers, owners, and others who made the news across the region for over 140 years.

These newspapers have told the story of the towns and villages across the Macarthur region and lives of people who have lived there – local weddings, births, deaths, marriages and other family events; men going to war and coming home; natural disasters, elections, and lots more. Some of these newspapers can be found on the National Library’s Trove Database and they include the Camden News and the Picton Post.

The digital revolution has drained these ‘local rags’ of their advertising, and crucified their profitability and their business models. Some still survive and struggle on like the Camden-Narellan Advertiser while other mastheads like the Camden Leader (1910-1912) have come and gone with no copies in existence. Some green shoots have emerged in recent times in print and online with the Oran Park Gazette and the South West Voice.

A selection of newspaper mastheads from the Macarthur region in 2018. (I Willis)

Article summary

The article tells the story of local newspapers in the three New South Wales market towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton that made up the Macarthur region. Each community had a series of local town-based newspaper mastheads from the 1880s, some lasting longer than others.  These local newspapers were run by hard-bitten owner-editors who were salt-of-the-earth people who had printer’s ink running in their veins. They survived on the smell-of-an-oily-rag and were assisted by family members who doubled as reporters, printer’s assistants, photographers, stringers and ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.

Amongst these colourful characters and local identities were: the gold-field printer and colonial-newspaper baron William Webb who owned a string of country newspapers; English journalist William Sidman who had his lead-type face confiscated in Paris for bullets during the Franco-Prussian war; and New Guinea war veteran and printer Syd Richardson, the first regional newspaper baron. 

These newspapers used local history to allow their readers to reflect on their past by storytelling and creating an understanding of their cultural heritage. The local press lionised pioneer settler stories, and the most important of these were the exploits and activities of the New South Wales Corps Officer Captain John Macarthur. The legacy of this process was to turn the historical figure of Macarthur into a local legend and national hero, and use these stories to contribute to the construction of place and a regional identity.

Article details

The article has the title Local Newspapers and a Regional Setting in New South Wales: Parochialism, mythmaking and identity and is part of a special edition of Media History called Provincial Newspapers: Lessons from History.

The special edition has been published by the Routledge stable of academic journals in the United Kingdom. Access to the full details of the article can be found here.

Local news is the heart and soul of small communities and is the essence of place and the stories that make it up.

A variety of local newspapers and other items that were all part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe at the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event. (I Willis)
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New exhibition at Alan Baker Art Gallery

FACE to FACE

Live Sittings

1936 – 1972

On a recent evening in Camden there was the launch of a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in the heritage listed building Macaria in John Street.

The exhibition, FACE to FACE: Live Sittings 1936 – 1972, celebrates Alan Baker’s achievement of entering the Archibald prize 26 times with 35 artworks between 1936 and 1972. Despite his persistence he never won a prize.

The cover of the FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936-1972 Exhibition programme at the Alan Baker Art Gallery held in Macaria, John Street, Camden. (ABAG)

The exhibition programme states that Alan Baker was studying at JS Watkins Art School alongside future Archibald winners Henry Hanke in 1934 with his Self Portrait, William Pidgeon who won in 1958, 1961 and 1968, and his brother Normand Baker in 1937 with his Self Portrait.

The programme provides a timeline of Baker’s paintings with images that illustrate his works.

The Sydney.com website states

  the exhibition will feature Baker’s first 1936 Archibald Prize entry painted at the age of 22, a self-portrait study painting by Normand Baker for his 1937 winning Archibald Prize entry, and Baker’s 1951 portrait of Australian Filmmaker Charles Chauvel (courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland).

The FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936-1972 exhibition runs from April to September 2021.

The feature wall in the entry of the Alan Baker Art Gallery in Macaria, John Street Camden for the FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936 -1972. The image was taken on the opening night of the exhibition on 17 April 2021. (I Willis)

The Archibald

The Archibald Prize is one of the pre-eminent portraiture prizes in Australia held yearly at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. First awarded in 1921 this prestigious art prize is a sought after award by artists generating publicity and public exposure. Traditionally portraitists were mostly restricted to public or private commissions.

The Art Gallery of NSW states that:

 The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.

The Archibald has never been far from controversy and turning points have been William Dobell’s prize-winning portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith in 1943 and in 1976, Brett Whiteley winning  painting Self portrait in the studio.

Macaria, the gallery building

The Alan Baker Gallery website outlines a short history of the Macaria building.

An exterior view of Macaria showing the Gothic influence in the roof line and window detail. The verandah was an addition to this style of building in the Australian colonies. (I Willis, 2018)

The website states:

Macaria was originally built in 1859-1860 as a school house by Henry Thompson, the building has since been used for many things; including a private home; the Camden Grammar School; the residence and rooms of doctors and dentists including popular local physician Dr Francis West. In 1965 Macaria was purchased by Camden Council and used as Camden Library and later, offices for the Mayor, Town Clark and staff.

Macaria is a fine example of an early Victorian Gentleman’s Townhouse. Designed and built in the Picturesque Gothic, Renaissance Revival style, Macaria features gabled windows, high chimneys, stone trims and a wooden porch. Sympathetically renovated and restored in 2017, the historical features including the oregon timber flooring, Australian cedar architraves and mahogany skirting boards have been retained.

https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/community/alan-baker-art-gallery-at-macaria/

FACE to FACE Exhibition at Alan Baker Art Gallery

 37 John Street, Macaria, Camden, NSW, 2570. Australia

(02) 4645 5191

alanbakerartgallery@camden.nsw.gov.au

http://www.alanbakerartgallery.com.au

Entry is free.

Macaria is a substantial Victorian gentleman’s townhouse and residence from the mid-Victorian period that was influenced by the Picturesque movement and Gothic styling. The building is now the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery. (I Willis, 2017)

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Crazy Colourful Koalas on the Prowl

Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail

Prowling crazy colourful koalas are on the loose in the Australian Botanic Gardens in Mount Annan and other notable spots in Campbelltown.

The cute one-metre-high fibreglass sculptures, called Hello Koalas, are loose across the garden landscape. They are a sight to behold after being a  hit at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2019.

The artworks are part of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, jointly hosted by The Australian Botanic Garden (ABG), Mount Annan and Campbelltown City Council. Running from April 1 to April 30, the art installation is on loan from the Port Macquarie area.   

This is Wollemia The Vital Scientist by artist Lisa Burrell for the 2021 Hello Koala Sculpture Trail at The Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan. Wollemia will make sure that the Garden scientists are growing new Wollemi trees for the future. (I Willis)

Engaging public art installation

On a visit to the ABG this week, I watched how the sculptures touched the hearts of everyone who walked past them.

The Hello Koalas seemed to immediately grab the attention of everyone who walked past them, from the very young to the very young at heart. The koala characters appeared to melt the coldest heart with their bright colours and crazy artwork.

 There is an element of surprise to the sculptures, and there is an immediately identifiable joy in people’s reactions. Young and old pose for selfies and family pics with the koala characters.

Families sought out the elusive koala characters across the ABG after picking up the free trail map.  The kids were making sure that they found all of the 22 koalas in the garden.

The cover of the 2021 Hello Koala Sculpture Trail at The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. Inside the brochure was a map with all of the 16 Hello Koalas scattered across the garden with the location. (I Willis)

According to the trail map, families can be helped in the koala hunt by downloading the ‘Agents of Discovery’ by using the ABG QR code and then seeking out the koala characters.

A public art trail

The outdoor art installation trail is strategically placed across the garden landscape to ensure an exciting and wonderful experience of these ‘living sculptures’.

Each of the Hello Koalas has a name and is themed around culture, heritage and environmental issues. There is Captain Koala, Bushby, Flying Fire, Topiary and a host of others.

The trail map provides a host of information about the Hello Koalas location, their names, and the artist who created them.

The ABG art installation was ‘conceived and created in Port Macquarie by Arts and Health Australia’, which aims ‘to promote and develop the application of creativity and the arts for health and quality of life’.

This is Scoop the busy news reporter who spreads the word about the importance of looking after native animals. He is part of the Hello Koalas at the ABG Mount Annan 2021. Scoop is by artist Rebekah Brown. (I Willis)

Project director Margaret Meagher described the Hello Koalas as Wildlife Warriors and said, ‘The project aims to spread the message that we must care for our koalas and all native fauna and flora’.

Toads and Koalas

The individual Hello Koalas were designed and hand-painted by artists from Port Macquarie, Taree, Kempsey and Coffs Harbour. They are part of a larger public art installation [IW1] in the Port Macquarie area, where 77 Hello Koalas are located across the region. They recently featured in Port Macquarie’s  Summer 2021 Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, and later on, this year will be part of the  5th Annual Hello Koalas Festival between 25-26 September.

Director Margaret Meagher was inspired to create the Hello Koalas by an animal trail that was part of the 2010 Hull arts festival in England. The trail celebrated the life and times of local poet Philip Larkin and his poem Toads. Festival organisers created the Larkin with Toads sculpture trail. After initial scepticism, the toads have been a huge hit winning tourist awards, gaining national press coverage and increased local tourism.

The Port Macquarie Hello Koalas Public Sculpture Trail was launched in 2014 at the Emerald Downs Golf Course and has experienced continued success.

Public art engages people

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is just one type of public art.

Public art installations are a vital part of a vibrant community and add to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes

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

Director Margaret Meagher argues that public art fosters cultural tourism and community cultural development.  

Public art is an opportunity to showcase artist talent differently and generate broader community interest. This type of art installation can ferment interest in issues and engage the media, the public and the creative sector. Public art appeals to the imagination of adults and children and can bring the community together.

Successful public art encourages public engagement with art and can create a sense of ownership within the community. There can be increased visitation increase tourism that brings money into the area. It can contribute to placemaking, shaping community identity and a sense of belonging.  

Not a balmy idea

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, at first glance, may be considered a balmy idea. In reality, it is a clever idea that on initial observations seems to have engaged people’s interest and imagination and created a unique art experience.

The ABG Hello Koalas brochure states:

Effectively, each Hello Koalas sculpture provides a blank canvas to convey evocative messages that celebrate the existence of native plants and animals and raise public awareness, across generations, of the importance of caring and preserving our natural world.

Royal Botanic Gardens chief executive Denise Ora is quoted as saying, ‘When we did this exhibition in Sydney in 2019, it was a huge success. There’s a really fun aspect and a real educational aspect’.

Camden Narellan Advertiser 7 April 2021

More public art in the Macarthur area

1. Camden Pioneer Mural, Camden

2. The Cowpastures Cows, Perich Park, Oran Park

3. Campbelltown Arts Centre

4. The Boys, Emerald Hills Shopping Centre

5.  Sculpture Park, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown.

6. Art Installation, Oran Park Library, Oran Park.

7. Forecourt, Narellan Library, Narellan

8. Food Plaza Forecourt, Narellan Town Centre.

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The enduring appeal of a rural pageant

Miss Showgirl

 Once again, country show societies are gearing up for the annual New South Wales Miss Showgirl competition. In 2008 500 young women entered the pageant at a local level representing 120 show societies, with the Sydney Royal Easter Show finals. The 2011 Camden Miss Showgirl has attracted seven young local women – four of the seven are university students, two business owners and one business manager.

The competition has come a long way since its beginnings in 1962. It has seen off a variety of other pageants and successfully competes with several others. In these days of television celebrity fashion competitions, the Miss Showgirl competition is a bit of an anachronism.  Rather quaint, yet with an underlying strength that is endearing to supporters.

Miss Showgirl is a complex mix of paradoxes and apparent contradictions, just like other aspects of rural life: it is very traditional while accommodating the aspirations of young women; it is staid yet has had an underlying strand of commodification of young women as objects of display; it is conservative yet encourages sexualisation of young women through good times at balls and the like; it avoids the stereotypes of other beauty pageants, yet it promotes a version of a stereotypical young rural woman;  it is part of the town and country divide yet brings the country to the city; and more.

The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when rural women were confined by home and family. The foundation sponsor was the racy tabloid, The Daily Mirror, which commodified womanhood images on page three. Later competition sponsors, The Daily Telegraph and then The Women’s Weekly, used different representations of womanhood, and today The Land newspaper takes a newsworthy approach to rural affairs.

The RAS Miss Royal Easter Showgirl for 1978 in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The winner is an 18-year-old trainee nurse from Mungindi in rural New South Wales. (AWW 29 March 1978)

The values expressed in the Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl entrants prepared by 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins are a little bit old fashioned. The guide stresses etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offers deportment lessons for entrants – An echo from the past.

While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and rural women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether they are university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunity.  

Showtime, the show ball and Miss Showgirl, are representative of notions of rurality. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.  People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it.   In 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’.  

Organising committees select entrants who have a sense of belonging to and identify with the local area. According to Suzie Sherwood, a member of the 2004 Camden organising committee, the winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community.. 

In a historical analysis by Kate Darian-Smith and Sara Wills (2001), they see the current response to Miss Showgirl as ‘an embodiment of meaningful and rural belonging’. Miss Showgirl entrants indeed embrace parochialism and the interests of local show societies as part of the competition. These forces have long shaped rural identity and its response to city-based decision making.

Miss Camden Showgirl for 2018 in the Australia Day Parade on the float for the Camden Show. (I Willis)

Rural New South Wales faces constant challenges, and Miss Showgirl’s success is a rural showcase in the ‘big smoke’. The competition embraces the experience of showtime in Sydney when the country comes to town, and there are social engagements, cocktail parties and pictures in the social pages.  Miss Showgirl draws on rural traditions surrounding debutante balls, bachelor and spinsters balls and similar community gatherings that express a sense of place. The essence of localism.

Glamour and style are back, and Miss Showgirl has an element of ‘fashions on the field’. Young women have an opportunity to ‘frock up’. Something authentic. It harks back to the days of the country race meeting and the local polo match. The exclusivity that was once the rural gentry’s domain when deference and paternalism ruled the bush. Press photographs of ‘glammed up’ Miss Showgirls sashing 1st place in the dairy-cow-section recall days of the ‘Lady of the Manor’ and the English village fair. 

2011 Camden Show Girl and Camden’s first Sydney Royal Showgirl, Hilary Scott. (The District Reporter 3 October 2011)

Miss Showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Understandably entrants passionately defend the competition.

None of these issues have been a problem for 2011 Camden Showgirl winner Hilary Scott, a 22-year-old horse-loving university student from The Oaks.  She appeared on the front page of The District Reporter, all glammed up in the paddock, under the banner headline ‘Showgirl Hilary supports agriculture’. Hilary is a confident young rural woman that projects the contemporary vibrancy and complexities of Miss Showgirl.

Camden Showgirl Winners

1962 Helen Crace 1963 Helen Crace 1964 Sue Mason 1965 Barbara Duck 1966 Dawn Dowle 1967 Jenny Rock 1968 Heather Mills 1969 Michelle Chambers 1970 Joyce Boardman 1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham 1972 Kerri Webb 1973 Anne Fahey 1974 Sue Faber  1975 Janelle Hore 1976 Jenny Barnaby 1977 Patsy Anne Daley 1978 Julie Wallace 1979 Sandra Olieric 1980 Fiona Wilson 1981 Louise Longley 1982 Melissa Clowes 1983 Illa Eagles 1984 Leanne Reily 1985 Rebecca Py 1986 Jenny Rawlinson 1987 Jayne Manns  1988 Monique Mate 1989 Linda Drinnan 1990 Tai Green 1991 Toni Leeman 1992 Susan Lees 1993 Belinda Bettington 1994 Miffy Haynes 1995 Danielle Halfpenny 1996 Jenianne Garvin 1997 Michelle Dries 1998 Belinda Holyoake 1999 Lyndall Reeves 2000 Katie Rogers  
2001 Kristy Stewart 2002 Margaret Roser 2003 Sally Watson 2004 Danielle Haack 2005 Arna Daley 2006 Victoria Travers 2007 Sarah Myers  2008 Fiona Boardman 2009 Lauren Elkins 2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic 2011 Hilary Scott 2012 April Browne 2013 Isabel Head 2014 Jacinda Webster  2015 Kate Boardman 2016 Danielle Rodney 2017 Tess Madeley 2018 Corinne Fulford 2019 Nicole Sandrone 2020 Tiarna Scerri  

These women have come from diverse backgrounds and acted as a rural ambassador for the Camden Show.

The Land Sydney Royal Show Girl Competition for 2022 website states:

The Competition aims to find a young female Ambassador for rural NSW and the agricultural show movement.

The Showgirl Competition is definitely not a beauty pageant. Entrants must have a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, rural NSW. The Competition encourages the participation and awareness of issues faced by women in rural NSW.

https://www.camdenshow.com/members/itemlist/category/133-show-ball

Originally published as ‘Miss Showgirl, an enduring anachronism’ in The District Reporter 3 October 2011

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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’s heritage inventory

Camden heritage mysteries solved

In 2015 I posted an item called ‘Camden’s mysterious heritage list’. In it I complained about the travails of trying to navigate Camden Council’s website to find the Camden heritage inventory. I wrote:

Recently I needed to consult Camden’s heritage inventory list for a research project. I also consulted similar lists for Campbelltown and Wollondilly LGAs. They were easy to find. Camden’s list was mysteriously hiding somewhere. It had to exist. The council is obliged to put one together by the state government. But where was it? Do you know where Camden Council’s heritage inventory is to be found? I did not know. So off I went on a treasure hunt. The treasure was the heritage list.

I am very happy to report that many things have changed since 2015.

Camden Council Heritage Advisory Committee

Today Camden Council has a Heritage Advisory Committee which has taken a lead in promoting heritage in a number of areas.

The committee held its first meeting in August 2018 and the minutes of all meetings are located on the committee website.

Committee member LJ Aulsebrook has written about the activities and role of the committee in Camden History, the journal of the Camden Historical Society.

The Camden Historical Society has an ex-officio position on the Heritage Advisory Committee and the president is the nominee of the society.

One of the outstanding activities of the committee was the 2019 Unlock Camden held during History Week run by the History Council of New South Wales. The Camden event was co-ordinated by LJ Aulesbrook.

Cover of 2019 Unlock Camden Flyer for the event (Camden Council)

The aim of the Heritage Advisory Committee are outlined in the Terms of Reference. The ToR states that the HAC aims :

To promote heritage and community education by:
a) Generating a wider appreciation of heritage through public displays,
seminars, participation in the annual National Trust Heritage festival &
history week;
b) Promoting and coordination of heritage open days;
c) Generating a greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal
heritage in Camden Local Government Area;
d) Actively encouraging conservation and maintenance of heritage items
and heritage conservation areas to owners and the general public;
e) Investigating grant opportunities;
f) Investigating opportunities for Council run awards/recognition in
response to good heritage work;
g) Developing a register of local heritage professionals and tradespeople;
and
h) Assisting in developing education packages for information, school
education, and best heritage practices.

https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/pdfs/Planning/Heritage-Advisory-Committee/18-181181-ADOPTED-Heritage-Advisory-Committee-Terms-of-Reference.pdf

What is Camden heritage?

Camden Council defines heritage as

Heritage is something that we have inherited from the past. It informs us of our history as well as giving us a sense of cultural value and identity. Heritage places are those that we wish to treasure and pass on to future generations so that they too can understand the value and significance of past generations.

Heritage makes up an important part of the character of the Camden Local Government Area (LGA). Camden’s heritage comprises of a diverse range of items, places, and precincts of heritage significance. Items, places or precincts may include public buildings, private houses, housing estates, archaeological sites, industrial complexes, bridges, roads, churches, schools, parks and gardens, trees, memorials, lookouts, and natural areas. Heritage significance includes all the values that make that item, place or precinct special to past, present and future generation.

https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/planning/heritage-conservation/

Camden Heritage Inventory

The Camden Heritage Inventory is found on an easily accessible file on the Camden Council webpage here.

The cover of the Camden Heritage Inventory PowerPoint file (2020)

There are links within the PPT to the New South Wales State Heritage Register, the NSW Department of Planning Portal and NSW primary spatial data.

The State Heritage Register has a complete listing of local items and those of state significance on the State Heritage Register.

List of 15 Camden properties of state significance on the New South Wales State Heritage Register in 2021 (NSW Government)

In addition Camden Council has set out for general environmental heritage conditions on its website here.

Camden Council has recently offered advice on for owners who want to restore their residential properties along heritage lines. The advice covers materials, colours, and finishes for Victorian, Edwardian and Mid-century residential architectural styles in the Camden Town Conservation area.

Camden Council heritage advice fact sheet for residential properties in Camden Town Centre Conservation Area. (2020, Camden Council)

The Camden Town Centre conservation area was proclaimed by the state government in 2008 and is subject to a range of development conditions.

This is a map for the Camden Town Centre Conservation Area that was proclaimed by the New South Wales government in 2008 (Camden Council)
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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)
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Motherhood and nation-building in the early 20th century

Infant mortality and the ideology of motherhood.

In Camden the ideology of motherhood expressed itself in the foundation of the St John’s Mother’s Union in 1900 which saw that mothers were an integral part of women’s service role to the British Empire. (Ministering Angels, p19) and later the Red Cross in 1914 and Camden Country Women’s Association in 1930. (Ministering Angels, 21

In the early 20th century the Red Cross was variously described as the ‘Greatest Mother in the World’, and the ‘Mother of all Nations’  (Ministering Angels, 6)  The CWA were concerned with motherhood and infant mortality and of their main activities in the early 20th century was the foundation of baby health centres across the country.

This First World War poster is a lithograph by American artist Foringer, A. E. (Alonzo Earl) and is titled ‘The greatest mother in the world’ (1917). The poster is showing a monumental Red cross nurse cradling a wounded soldier on a stretcher.

Around the turn of the century a direct link was made between infant welfare, motherhood, patriotism and nationalism. Motherhood and mothering were expressed in terms of patriotism and a national priority. All driven by European exceptionalism, expressed in Australia as the White Australia policy. There was anxiety around falling birth rates, whiteness and the strength of the British Empire.

The story of the Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945 is published by the Camden Historical Society. It tells the story of Red Cross branches at Camden, Menangle, The Oaks, Bringelly, Mount Hunter, Oakdale and the Burragorang Valley.

Motherhood as national building

Sociologist Karen Swift writes that from the around the middle of the 18th century the state became interested in motherhood where ‘the state’s interest in controlling and using female fertility for nation building and economic purposes’.  Biological determinism stated that motherhood was a natural state for women and that is should be a national priority.

Swift writes:

The ‘master narratives’ governing European motherhood in earlier centuries was that of nation building, especially in the colonies. The creation of new nations required a growing, healthy population, with women’s roles focused on producing and rearing soldiers and laborers. Once nation-building efforts became established, mothers were called upon to contribute to the development of a large and prosperous white middle class needed to perpetuate and grow capitalism. For this purpose, white mothers were needed to learn, teach, and demonstrate the moral authority the middle class required to dominate those below in the social, economic, and racial hierarchies. 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/motherhood#:~:text=Motherhood%20as%20Ideology&text=A%20well%2Dknown%20summary%20of,67).

Developing national anxiety around motherhood

The metaphor of the Red Cross as mother and guardian angel was extended in the post-war environment and incorporated a concern for mothers and infants. The terrible losses of the First World War, and declining birth rate made the welfare of mothers and infants a national defence priority. There were calls to repopulate the country (The Maitland Weekly Mercury, 30 November 1918.)   and a developing national anxiety around motherhood. Some of Sydney’s conservative elite had expressed concern about the issue of infant welfare, and set up the Kindergarten Union and Free Kindergartens in the 1890s.  

Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the library at Camden Park House in 1922. Sibella known affectionately ‘Sib’ was a philanthropist, church woman, pastoralist, a woman of independent means and intensely private. She was a member of influential conservative women’s organisations during the Edwardian and Interwar periods including Sydney’s influential Queen’s Club and National Council of Women and the imperial Victoria League. (Camden Images)

Support from the National Council of Women of NSW, of which Sibella Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park was a member, and others who were concerned about the welfare of mothers and infants led to the establishment of day nurseries, supervised playgrounds and other initiatives in inner Sydney in the early 1920s. There were high rates of infant mortality in inner Sydney and social conditions for single mothers with children were less than desirable. There had been the Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth Rate and the Mortality of Infants in New South Wales in 1904 and the Edwardian period was characterised by a nationalistic concern over the moral decline of the British race. (Ministering Angels, 65-66)

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’ according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in 1926. The article was a part of the publicity associated with a fundraising campaign for the Karitane-Sydney Mothercraft Centre at Coogee operated by the Australian Mothercraft Society. The society had been established in Australia in 1923 modelled on the Royal New Zealand Society for Health of Women and Children, commonly called the Plunket Society, established by New Zealand doctor Sir Truby King in 1907.

King  visited Australian in 1917 on a lecture tour and warned Australia:

You should have a white Australia. But if you find the Eastern nations more moral more noble to make more sacrifices for the continuity of the race, you know the result must be the same as has been the case with the great civilisations of the past. Greece and Rome went down, not through any failure in the valour or courage of their young men, but because of the increase in luxury, the repugnance to rearing families, followed by decadence and sterility and eventually extinction. If the population of Australia do not do their duty to the race there cannot be any resistance to other races coming in and populating this fair land.

(Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 11 February 1938)

Red Cross Baby Day in Camden

In 1920 the women of the Camden Red Cross were concerned about these issues and donated £14 to the Society for Welfare of Mothers and Babies. The society had been formed in 1918 in Sydney, aimed to teach mothercraft and eventually set up the Tresillian training school at Petersham in 1922.

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)

Red Cross Baby Day became an important part of the district Red Cross child welfare agenda in the post-war years. The Red Cross coordinated the first Baby Week in 1920 in the first week of April and encouraged the formation of local committees.

The Baby Week was supported by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and had its origins in England with the National Baby Week Council in 1900. Its objects were to foster child welfare by decreasing infant mortality, to promoting the health of mothers, and to encouraging motherhood and maternal nursing(The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 27 February 1920)  (Ministering Angels, 66).

The 1920 Red Cross Baby Day in Camden was held on 30 March and the Camden branch had two street stalls, while the Narellan Red Cross had an afternoon tea stall at the Bank of New South Wales.  (Minutes, Camden Red Cross, 9 March 1920 )  

Camden RHS Adeline West with baby Kathleen LHS Adeline’s sister Ethel Jones & baby Edwin 1908 (Camden Images)

The support continued in 1925 when the Camden Red Cross was assisted on the dip stalls by Miss Gardner from Camden Public School and her kindergarten class. The total raised by Camden was £23 and Narellan Red Cross raised £9. Camden News, 1 April 1920) 

The funds were donated to the Camden District Cot at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. In 1925 Camden Red Cross members sought the assistance of the girls from Camden Superior Public School, with the girls helping out on one of the dip stalls. This practice continued until 1940. The Camden Red Cross branch made a regular donation and it generally varied between £20 and £50, with a peak in 1922 of £53. The overall average donation between 1921 and 1939 was £34, while during the Furner presidency the average donation was £37 and Macarthur Onslow’s presidency £32. The Camden Red Cross made a number of donations to nursery movement groups during the 1920s and they included: Nursery Association (1924, £10); Sydney Day Nurseries (1925, £10); Infant Home, Ashfield (1925, £7, and 1926, £10); and the Forest Lodge Day Nursery (1927, £6). (Ministering Angels, 66)