‘Making Camden History: local history and untold stories in a small community’. ISAA Review, Journal of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. Special Edition, Historiography. Volume 19, Number 1, 2023, pp. 23-38.
The history of telling the story of a small community has been interpreted in different ways at different times in the past by different historians.
This area of study is called the historiography.
I have recently published an article on the historiography of the small country town of Camden, NSW.
The Camden township is located 65 kilometres southwest of the Sydney CBD and, in recent years, has been absorbed by Sydney’s urban growth.
The main streets are a mix of Victorian, Edwardian and interwar architecture comprising commercial, government and domestic buildings.
The town site was originally the entry point into what became Governor King’s Cowpasture Reserve at the Nepean River crossing, part of the lands of the Dharawal people, which then called Benkennie.
Jill Wheeler argues that while local histories are embedded in a long storytelling tradition, new understandings inform our interpretation in a contemporary context.
The historiography of the history of a small country town demonstrates the shifting nature of storytelling and how different actors interpret the past.
This article seeks to examine some of what Wheeler calls ‘the other’ by looking beyond the conventional history of Camden as found in newspapers, journals, monuments, celebrations, commemorations and other places.
I have written an article about the making of the history of Camden NSW to illustrate and explore these issues.
The wonderful Victorian colonial building that was once the Whiteman’s General Store has had a new lease of life through the Burra Charter principle of adaptive reuse. There has been a continuous retail shopping presence on the same site for over 135 years.
While the building has also had new work and restoration, it is an excellent example of how a building can be adaptively re-used for commercial activities without destroying the integrity of the building’s historic character and charm.
Adaptive reuse maintains the historic character of the streetscape and the sense of place that is so important to community identity, resilience and sustainability.
Adaptive reuse is not new and has been going on for a long time. In Europe, hundreds of years old buildings continually go through the process of re-use century after century.
The Tower of London – a building with a fantastic history of adaptive re-use
The Tower of London has been re-used over the centuries since the White Tower was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a fortress and gateway to the city.
Over the centuries, the Tower of London complex has been a royal residence, military storehouse, prison, place of royal execution, parliament, treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, storage of crown jewels, royal armoury, regimental headquarters, and most recently a centre of tourism.
Adaptive re-use in Australia
In Australia, the adaptive reuse of historic buildings comes under the Burra Charter, which defines the principles and procedures for conserving Australian heritage places.
The Burra Charter has been adopted by heritage authorities across Australia – Heritage Council of NSW (2004).
Adaptive re-use is covered by Article 21 of the Burra Charter and states:
Article 21. Adaptation 21.1 Adaptation is acceptable only where the adaptation has minimal impact on the cultural significance of the place. 21.2 Adaptation should involve minimal change to significant fabric, achieved only after considering alternatives.
The explanatory notes say:
Adaptation may involve additions to the place, the introduction of new services, or a new use, or changes to safeguard the place. Adaptation of a place for a new use is often referred to as ‘adaptive re-use’ and should be consistent with Article 7.2.
In Irish planning, a conservation ensemble is known as an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). ACA status provides statutory protection to existing building stock and urban features, and applies strict design and materials standards to new developments. Protections prohibit works with negative impacts on the character of buildings, monuments, urban design features, open spaces and views.
Seasoned building materials are not even available in today’s world. Close-grained, first-growth lumber is naturally more robust and rich-looking than today’s timbers. Does vinyl siding have the sustainability of old brick?
The process of adaptive reuse is inherently green. The construction materials are already produced and transported onto the site.
Architecture is history. Architecture is memory.
[Craven, Jackie. “Adaptive Reuse – How to Give Old Buildings New Life.” ThoughtCo, May. 22, 2018, thoughtco.com/adaptive-reuse-repurposing-old-buildings-178242]
Whiteman commercial building
The Whiteman family conducted a general store in Argyle Street on the same site for over 100 years.
In 1878 CT (Charles Thomas) Whiteman, who operated a family business in Sydney, brought produce to Camden. He purchased a single-storey home at the corner of Argyle and Oxley Street and ran his store from the site. (SHI) In 1878 a fire destroyed the business.
CT Whiteman was a storekeeper in Goulburn and Newtown and later married local Camden girl Anne Bensley in 1872. Whiteman was a staunch Methodist and was an important public figure in Camden and served as the town’s first mayor from 1892 to 1894.
CT Whiteman moved to premises in Argyle Street in 1889, occupied by ironmonger J Burret. Whiteman modified the building for a shopfront conversion. (SHI) The store was later leased to the Woodhill family from 1903 to 1906.
From 1889 to 1940, the building was known as the Cumberland Stores. The store supplied groceries, drapery, men’s wear, boots and shoes, farm machinery, hardware, produce and stationery. (Gibson, 1940)
The original Argyle Street building was an early timber verandahed Victorian period store.
The building was a two-storey rendered masonry building with a hipped tile roof, projecting brick chimneys. The second storey had painted timber framed windows shaded by a steeply pitched tile roof awning supported on painted timber brackets. (SHI)
A two-storey addition was constructed in 1936, and the verandah posts were removed in 1939 when this policy was implemented by Camden Municipal Council.
Later shopfront modifications to the adjacent mid-20th century façade street-frontage included wide aluminium framed glazing and an awning to the ground level of the building. (SHI)
The Whiteman’s General Store sold various goods and became one of the longest-running retail businesses in Camden.
The Whiteman’s Store was trading as Argyle Living when it closed in 2006 under the control of Fred Whiteman. On the store’s closure, the Whiteman family had operated on the same site in Camden for 123 years.
On the closure of Argyle Living, the store sold homewares, clothing, furniture and a range of knickknacks and was the largest retail outlet in Camden with 1200 square metres of space.
Current usage of the Whiteman’s commercial building
After 2007 the building was converted, through adaptive reuse, to an arcade with several retail outlets and professional rooms on the ground floor, with a restaurant and other businesses upstairs.
The building has largely retained its integrity and historic character and delight in the town’s business centre.
The Whiteman commercial building adds to the mid-20th century streetscape that still broadly characterises the Camden town centre and attracts hordes of day-trippers.
You must be logged in to post a comment.