In central Camden is an empty bank building of understated significance at the intersection of John and Argyle Streets. This building was the premises of Westpac, formerly the Bank of New South Wales, and was the second banking chamber on that site. Constructed in the 1930s by a prominent firm of local builders and designed by one of Sydney’s top award-winning architects. It is a building of much architectural merit, and few know its history.
First bank in Camden
The Bank of New South Wales was the first bank in Camden. The bank initially occupied 23 Argyle Street, a colonial-style brick building with corrugated iron gable and brick chimneys. This banking chamber opened in 1865. These premises were used by Wilkinson & Sons as a plumbing and tin smithing business. A funeral parlour currently occupies it. (Willis, 2015)
The oldest bank in Australia
The Bank of New South Wales is the oldest bank in Australia and was established in 1817 when Governor Macquarie signed its charter of incorporation. It was set up to provide some financial stability in Sydney’s military garrison but quickly became a South Pacific trading hub. The new bank financed local economic activity and financed overseas trade. The bank eventually merged with the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1982 and became the Westpac Banking Corporation. It is still one of the largest banks in Australia. (DoS)
When the Bank of New of Wales moved into Camden, it provided the newly emerging market-town with some financial stability. It financed the emerging trading activity for the town’s small business sector. In 1873 the original building had outlived its usefulness, and the bank moved west along Argyle Street to its current location at the corner of John and Argyle Streets.
Woolpack Inn (later Crofts Inn)
In 1873 the Bank of New South Wales purchased the former Woolpack Inn (later Crofts Inn) at 121 Argyle Street with its picturesque Victorian verandahs. Licensee Thomas Brennan had purchased the Woolpack site in 1852 and constructed the Victorian-style two-storey building with iron-lace work and outbuildings. Brennan sold the inn to Henry Denton, who sold it on to innkeeper Samuel Croft by 1863. (Willis, 2015)
The former hotel served the Bank of New South Wales well until the 1930s during the Interwar period when the economic prosperity of the district from the Burragorang coalfields encouraged the bank to build new premises to reflect its status in the town better. (Willis, 2015)
In 1936 Camden Municipal Council ordered the bank to remove the verandah posts on the Argyle Street frontage as part of the modernisation of the town centre. The council orders may have prompted the bank to consider updating its banking chamber on Argyle Street and demolishing the Victorian premises (Camden News, 15 October 1936).
121 Argyle Street
Architect-designed and locally built
The contract for the two-story banking chamber was awarded to Camden builder Harry Willis & Sons and designed by Sydney architects Peddle, Thorp & Walker. These architects were established in Sydney in 1889 and designed Science House, cnr Gloucester and Essex Sts, Sydney, which won the inaugural Sir John Sulman Medal in 1932. (PTW; SMH, 14 July 1936))
On the awarding of tenders, the old bank building was demolished. Temporary premises for the bank staff were found in one of WC Furner’s shops opposite the Empire Theatre. Here Mr J Stibbard, the bank manager, assured customers that they would find banking convenient during the building work. (Camden News, 11 June 1936)
Hand-made nails and a cellar
During the dismantling process, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that hand-made nails had been extensively used in the construction of the former hotel, made by ‘nailsmiths’ (SMH, 14 July 1936). The nailsmith in the 19th century was probably the local blacksmith, one of the most important trades in the local area.
Local timbers had been used extensively throughout the former hotel building and were reported to be in ‘an excellent state of preservation. A long-forgotten cellar was discovered under the bank floor, and ‘recalled the existence of an inn on [the] site during the coaching days’. (SMH, 14 July 1936)
Commodious banking chamber
In 1936 the Sydney Morning Herald stated the new building had a ‘commodious banking chamber and offices for the staff’. ‘Textured brick’ was used for ‘facing’ throughout the building ‘relieved by lighter-coloured treatment of the external woodwork. The bank entrance at the splayed angle at the intersection of the two streets will be treated with specially brick architraves and pediment surmounted by a synthetic sandstone ornamental shield.The interior was treated with polished maple woodwork throughout. The Georgian character design will be a colourful and artistic addition to this historic town’s architecture. (SMH, 14 July 1936)
The NSW Heritage Inventory states: ‘The 1936 two-storey glazed and rough brick building with double hung windows and tiled roof. Its detailing includes quoining and multipaned windows, typical characteristics of the Georgian Revival style.’ (HNSW)
Georgian Revival is an architectural style nostalgic for the colonial period in the USA and the early 19th century in the United Kingdom, sometimes called Neo-Georgian. The style has a proportionate symmetry and austere elegance, characterised by proportion and balance. Commonly there is brick construction with a gable or hip roof line and equal placement of windows, generally two storeys and rectangular.
The former Bank of New South Wales building is a high-quality contributor to Camden township’s substantial eclectic fabric and the overall cultural significance of the Camden Town Conservation Area. The building retains its historic integrity and is intact. (HNSW)
Westpac closed the Camden branch in 2020, and the building has remained vacant.
I was walking through the Narellan Library Elyard Street Plaza recently and noticed a Cowpastures Monument.
On investigation, I have found that the artwork was jointly commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club.
The artwork is called Cowpasture Story and was created by Blue Mountains artists and sculptors Philippa Johnson and Henryk Topolnicki from Art Is An Option. The artist’s website describes the artwork as ‘Sculptural Mobiles & Screen’.
Artist Philippa Johnson trained at the East Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney and describes herself as an installation artist, sculptor and painter. Sculptor and artist Henryk Topolnicki are described as ‘a sculptor, furniture maker and public artist who works principally in metals’.
The artwork is a series of leaves forming an arch over the path that leads to the front of the Narellan Library. The leaves have a variety of figures representing the settlement of the Cowpastures in early colonial New South Wales. There are depictions of the settler society with cows, settler housing and farms.
The artworks were part of the 2006 Narellan Library development that was designed by Sydney architect GSA, and built by Richard Crookes Construction with art consultants Guppy & Associates.
On the rear of the artwork panels, there are stories about the Cowpastures and the history of the Narellan Rotary Club.
The story is located on the back of one of the panels.
A Brief History of the Cowpastures and its importance to the Narellan/Camden Area
The history of the Cowpastures shows the importance to this area of the straying colonial cattle as their discovery led to the early surveying and settlement of the area by the Macarthurs and other colonial landholders. The Cowpastures was ‘discovered’ in 1795, just 7 years after the foundation of the colony.
The Narellan/Camden area was penetrated by white men as far back as 1795. The loss of the early colony’s cattle forms part of the history of New South Wales. These beasts that strayed from Farm Cover led to the discovery and settlement of the Narellan/Camden area. Seven years elapsed after the report of the loss of the cattle before rumours came to Sydney Cove’s settlement of the whereabouts of the missing stock. Governor Hunter dispatched a party under Henry Hacking to confirm or deny the reports of the rumoured cattle.
The results of this party’s investigation so impressed Governor Hunter that he determined to visit the locality to see the cattle and country for himself. With a small party he left Parramatta on the 18th November 1795. After travelling a few days they crossed the Nepean River at a spot where the Camden Cowpasture Bridge now stands and there came across this fine herd.
The name ‘Cowpastures’ by which the locality became known is due to Governor Hunter, for he marked it on a map drawn by himself and dated the 20th August 1796.
In 1802 explorer Barallier journeyed through the area noting the country the cattle had settled in and on the 7th November 1802 passed a swamp called ‘Manhangle’ by the aboriginals. It was this locality that John Macarthur selected land for his future home and for rearing sheep.
In December 1803 Governor King and Mrs King visited the Cowpastures and viewed the straying cattle. The governor instructed that the cattle were to be preserved after attempts were made to cull some of the wild bulls. To bring about the preservation of the cattle a hut was built at Elderslie near the ford of the Nepean River on the southern side. This was the first house in the district and was officially feferred [sic] to as ‘Cowpastures House’. Constables Warby and Jackson were installed there making this not only the first house, but the first police station in the Macarthur District.
Several of the colonial gentry took excursions to see the country so attractive to the cattle and this lead them to acquire property and settle in the area.
The track to the Cowpastures led from Prospect. On the 17th September 1805 James Meehan, under the instruction from the Governor, surveyed the track from Prospect to the Nepean Crossing and a rough road followed. This became the Cowpasture Road, some of which formed part of the old Hume Highway to Camden.
What is Rotary?
Brief History of the Rotary Club of Narellan Inc.
The Rotary Club of Narellan Inc in District 9750, was chartered on the 27th October 1992.
This enabled local business and professional leaders to join a worldwide service organisation to provide social, financial and physical support to the local and international community.
The Rotary Club of Narellan focuses on the Four Avenues of Service in Club, Community, Vocational and International Service and gained recognition within the community as an excellent service club. It has been involved in fundraising for charitable organisations, support of local youth in educational and development program, fostering high ethical standards in business and professions and supporting other charitable organisations.
In fundraising the club raised in excess of $1,000,000 for charities, medical research (in particular Rett Syndrome), international programs and local causes such as Lifeline, Kids of Macarthur Health Foundation and the Salvation Army.
Rotary International has been responsible for the eradication of Polio through a worldwide campaign to which the club has been a major contributor. The Rotary Foundation supports vocational visits between countries and scholars throughout the world, of which the club has regularly hosted.
The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.
(Facebook, 23 November 2015)
Tourist history of Camden
The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council. It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society. In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:
The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.
The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.
The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.
The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.
The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.
(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)
A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.
This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.
This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.
This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.
The Cowpastures frontier
From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries. While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).
Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]
Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).
Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.
Villages and beyond
The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).
The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.
Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald. These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period, made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.
Further reminiscences were Thomas Herbert (1909) in the Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).
The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.
These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.
An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.
This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.
The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him. In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).
The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.
There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).
The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal. The first appeared in 1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.
Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929. In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.
The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.
Memorials of loss
As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’. The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.
There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.
Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.
Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.
In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.
The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.
Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.
The rural-urban fringe and other threats
The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.
These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.
Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999 Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.
There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.
This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden. The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.
The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.
In 2018 the love of the Jacaranda in the Camden area extended to the launch of a new festival around the purple blossoms.
The idea first germinated in 2017 with the support of Argyle Street Business Collective. (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 8 August 2018)
In 2018 Camden Council threw its support behind Business Collective’s Jacaranda Festival. Council withdrew support for the annual Light Up Camden festival conducted by the Camden Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry.
The town’s Christmas celebrations were incorporated into the new Jacaranda Festival.
The current generation of Jacaranda trees and their flush of purple haze started with street plantings in the 1920s.
an erect, though umbrageous and handsome growing tree, 30ft. to 40ft high. Its foliage is, perhaps, the most beautiful of all exogenous trees.
It is soft, feathery, fern or frond like, and exquisitely elegant, while at the same time it is decidedly grand, both in its proportions, graceful arrangements, and symmetry.
It may be said of the species that even out of flower it has no equal amongst moderate-sized ornamental trees, while to give expression to the effect of its appearance when in fall bloom no words would suffice. It must be seen to be appreciated.
The blossoms are large, of a most striking and delightful blue, and produced in such profusion that, viewed from a little distance, the tree appears, as it were, a graceful and living cone of floral grandeur.
Though rare, as we have remarked, enough has been proved to warrant us in stating that the Jacaranda mimosifolia is perfectly hardy in all but the very coldest districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. (Australasian, 6 May 1876)
“On returning, they would unload at Kangaroo Point cliffs’ wharfs and the first curator of the gardens, Walter Hill, would row across the river and exchange seeds and plants with visiting sea captains.
“A visiting sea captain from South America gave Walter Hill the first jacaranda, which he planted at the rear of the city botanic gardens in 1864.”
Camden Jacaranda Festival
The 2018 Jacaranda Festival was the inaugural event under founder and Camden Hotel manager Andrew Valciukas. Mayor Symkowiak said the ‘festival cheer will remain a highlight and nothing has changed [from Light Up Camden]’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 21 August 2018)
The festival ran from 23-25 November and opened on Friday night with live music throughout the town centre, including hotels, shopfronts and the Alan Baker Art Gallery.
The Jacaranda Experience opened on Saturday afternoon and into the evening when the Christmas tree was lit followed by fireworks. There was a street market with stalls and outdoor dining along Argyle Street and a stage in John Street for ‘local school children, dance schools and local professional acts’.
Larkin Place featured a motocross demonstration and a display of ‘fabulous street metal’. Fireworks topped out the festivities on Saturday night. (What On Macarthur, leaflet, November 2018) (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 8 August 2018)
Camden Region Economic Taskforce director Debbie Roberts put together several short films with Camden personality and historian Laura Jane Aulsebrook. The Jacarandas are featured along with Camden Cottage, Show Pavilion, Camden Library Museum, Macaria and other historic sites.
CRET’s films appeared on Facebook in the week leading up to the festival. They were popular and prompted a bus group from Sydney’s northern suburbs to visit Camden for a walk led by LJ Aulesbrook.
Walks of the town’s Jacaranda-lined streets and historical sites were conducted on Sunday by members of the Camden Historical Society, including Laura Jane. The program of historic walking tours started at the Camden Museum. (The Jacaranda Walking Tour Map 2018)
Camden Flower Festivals
Flower festivals were not new to Camden.
In the late 1960s, the Camden Rose Festival committee organised an annual festival and street parade, topped out with the crowning of Miss Rose Festival Queen. The celebrations were initiated by Camden community worker JW Hill in aid of Camden District Hospital. (Camden Advertiser, 11 February 2009)
The beauty, resilience and fragrance of roses have made it a favourite of gardeners and flower-lovers, as well as a symbol of love, for centuries. Roses are romantic and voluptuous, with their petals painted in beautiful colours.
Camden’s Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries had an extensive catalogue of roses and sold them all over Australia and beyond.
Flower shows were not new in Camden, and the annual St John’s Church Flower Show was held each year starting in the 1890s and continuing for many decades.
our love of gardening, plants and soil can perhaps be attributed to the combination of the British heritage – reflected in a lot of garden design before modern trends and native practicality infiltrated our yards and apartments – and a climate that lends itself to spending time outdoors planting and pruning.
Oldest Jacaranda Tree living in Australia
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney has the current honour of having the largest living jacaranda tree in Australia. It is located near the Victoria Lodge, Mrs Macquarie Road, Sydney.
The Victoria Lodge was built in 1865 and attributed to Sydney’s colonial architect James Barnett. It was built as a residence for the garden ranger and to be a landscape feature.
Its tower was constructed in 1865 with pale-coloured sandstone, and the walls are sparrow-pick finished with a rock-faced finish at the base A new wing made of Sydney yellow block sandstone with a dressed and rubbed finish was added in 1897, providing a sitting room. The front facade has a projecting bay, with six multi-paned windows and stone mullions. Palisade fencing was constructed in 1900 along Mrs Macquaries Road, and included a gateway. A lean-to bathroom was added between 1913 and 1921, and many internal finishes are from the 1960s. The Lower Garden Precinct in which Victoria Lodge sits demonstrates qualities introduced by Governor Macquarie and developed by Charles Moore, Director of the Garden for 48 years from 1848.
Updated 15 August 2022. Originally posted 8 December 2021.
What is under your feet and totally ignored? What do you walk over every day? What is essential in an emergency? What provides access to critical utilities? The answer lies under our feet. What is it? Give up yet?
The answer is the humble utility inspection cover.
Utilities like electricity, water, gas, sewerage, communications and others are essential in any community. Camden has acquired the utilities as time has progressed over the past 150 years to the present. Argyle Street has several utilities buried beneath the street and footpaths. Their histories provide valuable insight into the town’s development and progress, particularly in the 20th century.
The arrival of electricity, gas, and water was part of Camden modernism and its influence. These utilities have transnational origins beyond the township and illustrate the linkages between the town and the wider world.
For example, the supply of clean drinking water in Camden was linked to an outbreak of scarlet fever in the later 19th century. Contagious diseases were a significant health concern in the 19th century and were an ever-present worry in daily life. Clean drinking water had a significant influence on the development of public health.
I was walking along Camden’s Argyle Street, and it struck me that utility inspection covers are a historical statement in their own right. They are an entry point for the utility service as they also provide an entry to the stories surrounding the utility’s delivery.
Even the different logos for utilities illustrate the changes in the history of a telco or electricity supplier. A cover might be a statement about a utility supplier that is now defunct. The utility cover is made of different materials – cast iron, concrete, and others.
These are all mysteries that are waiting to be solved for the curious mind. Or just for the bored and idle with nothing better to do.
What about the Gas Cover from Durham above?
Durham Gas Cover
This is an inspection cover for the gas pipes using a Durham fitting probably around 1912. The Durham drainage fitting is a cast-iron,threadedfittingused on drainagepipes;has a shouldersuch as to present a smooth,continuousinterior surface. (Free Dictionary) The Durham patent system of screw-joint iron house drainage was manufactured by the Durham House Drainage Co. of York USA (1887).
The Durham cover is for the Camden gas supply, installed in 1912 by the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was built in Mitchell Street and made gas from coal. There were many gas street lights in Argyle Street which were turned on in early 1912. The Camden News reported in January 1912 that many private homes and businesses had been connected to the gas supply network and were fitted for gaslighting.
Mr Murray, the gasworks manager, reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit, and he anticipated total supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912) Throughout 1912 there was an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)
In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was sold to AGL in 1970. (Peter Mylrea, ‘Gas and Electricity in Camden’, Camden History March 2008.)
What is this cover for the NRCC? Does it still exist?
The NRCC does not exist anymore, and the logo stood for the Nepean River County Council. It was the electricity supplier for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton area from 1954 to 1979 when it was amalgamated with Prospect County Council. This, in turn, became Integral Energy. Integral Energy was formed by the New South Wales Government in 1995 from the amalgamation of Illawarra Electricity and Prospect Electricity with over 807,000 customers.
The Campbelltown office of the NRCC was located in Queen Street next to the Commonwealth Bank and in 1960 shifted to Cordeaux Street. By 1986 a new advisory office was opened in Lithgow Street. The council opened a new shop front at Glenquarie Shopping Centre at Macquarie Fields. There were shopfronts in Camden, Picton and other locations.
In October 1954, the NRCC approved a design for its official seal. Alderman P Brown suggested a logo competition, and many entries were received for the £25 prize. The winning design by artist Leone Rush of Lidcombe depicts electricity being extended to rural areas by a circular outline of “Nepean River County Council”. (Camden News, Thursday 4 November 1954.)
Former NRCC employee Sharon Greene stated that ‘It was like a small family business where everyone was happy to be there.’ (Camden Advertiser, 25 May 2009)
Former office manager, Kay Kyle, said that things in the office in 1959 were pretty bare when she started as a junior clerk.
‘We had no cash registers or adding machines, we hand wrote receipts and added the figures in our head for daily takings. That was a good skill to have. Eventually we received an old adding machine from Picton, but one day it added incorrectly so I wouldn’t use it again.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)
Former linesman Joe Hanger recalls working for the NRCC. He said,
‘In 1954 we were transferred to Nepean River County Council. They wanted linesmen and I went on the line crew and eventually worked my way up and got a pole inspectors job going around creosoting the poles. Eventually I got my own crew, mainly pole dressing. There were 7-8 in the crew. I was then made a foreman in about 1978.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)
Working in the outdoor crews could be dangerous, as Joe Hanger remembers.
‘In July 1974 I fell from a 40ft pole while doing work near The Oaks. We had to check out why a back feed to The Oaks was loosing voltage. We were looking for crook joints. The pole is still out there, near a bend just before the straight road into The Oaks. We had opened the air break switch behind us and the airbreak switch ahead, we forgot that the transformer was on the other side of the open point. I checked the pole and Neville Brown had gone along to the next pole to open the next section. I was standing on the low voltage cross arm and grabbed one of the wires and was struck by the electricity. Luckily my weight caused me to fall away. I ended up falling about 25 feet and just another pole lying on the ground. If I had the belt on it may have been a different matter. I had a broken leg, broken rib and a great big black eye. I was very lucky.’
Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them, join the Friends of NRCC.
The telco inspection lid
This inspection lid is for the telco, which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.
The telco had a rich history of communications in Australia, starting in 1810 with the first postal service. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Australia’s first postmaster Isaac Nicholls and the colonial government of New South Wales Government the first regular postal services, including rates of postage. The new Sydney General Post Office was opened in George Street in 1874.
The first telephone service was established in Melbourne in 1879.
At Federation, the new Commonwealth Postmaster-General’s Department assumed responsibility for telephone, telegraph and postal services. In the 1920s, the department took control of international short wave services and the Australian Broadcast Commission in the 1930s.
In 1975 the Postmaster-General Department was broken up, and the postal service moved to Australia Postal Commission (trading at Australia Post). Telecommunications became the responsibility of the Australian Telecommunications Commission trading at Telecom Australia. Telecom Australia was corporatised in 1989, renamed Telstra Australia in 1993, and partially privatised in 1999.
In 1992 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (est 1946) was merged with Telecom Australia.
The MWS&DB was the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, today is known as Sydney Water. The organisation has gone through several name changes:
the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 1888 to 1892,
from 1892 to 1925 as the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage,
the MWS&BD from 1925 to 1987,
then the Water Board from1987 to1994, then finally as the
Sydney Water Corp Ltd (1995-1999) with Ltd dropped in 1999.
Deks G (Gas)
Deks was established in Australia by Mr George Cupit in 1947 and remained a family business until it became part of the Skellerup Group in 2003. Deks have a presence in 28 countries. They have supplied plumbing fittings, including flashings, fittings or flanges, for over 100 years. (http://www.deks.com.au/about/)
Malco W (Water)
Malco Industries reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951 that the company incorporated three separate businesses involved in heavy industrial activities on its site at Marrickville. There were three divisions (1) Malleable Castings was founded in 1915 and was claimed to be one of Australia’s leading producers of iron castings. (2) EW Fittings was incorporated in 1925 and made cast iron pipe fittings for water, gas, steam and oil. (3) Link-Belt Co Pty set up in 1949 and industrial transmission equipment. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Friday 6 April 1951, page 6)
Camden has quite a number of Edwardian cottages in the town area, on surrounding farms and in local district villages. They are typical of the early twentieth century landscape in the local district. These have been called the Camden Cottage.
The housing style was evidence of the new found confidence of the birth of a new nation that borrowed overseas trends and adopted them to suit local conditions. These style of houses were a statement of the individualism and the national character.
The name Edwardian is loosely attached to cottages and buildings erected during the reign of Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. This period covers the time after the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 when the six self-governing colonies combined under a new constitution. They kept their own legislatures and combined to form a new nation.
Examples of Edwardian style cottages, including in and around Camden, were an Australian version of English Edwardian houses. Houses were plainer in detail, some with lead lighting in the front windows. Australian architecture was a response to the landscape and climate and the building style tells us about the time and the people who built them, how they lived and other aspects of Camden’s cultural heritage.
The Edwardian style of housing also includes a broad range of styles including Queen Anne, Federation, Arts and Crafts and Early Bungalow. These styles often tend to be asymmetrical with a projecting from gable, can be highly decorated with detailed work to gables, windows and verandahs. Edwardian style cottages often fit between 1900 and 1920, although the style extends beyond this period influencing the Interwar style housing.
Edwardian Cottage Detailing
A number of Camden Edwardian style timber cottages have a projecting room at the front of the cottage with a decorated gable, adjacent to a front verandah, with a hipped roof line. This housing style is often characterised by a chimney that was a flue for a kitchen fuel stove and chip copper in an adjacent laundry. In some houses plaster cornices were common, sometimes there were ceiling roses, skirting and architraves. A number of been restored while unfortunately many others have been demolished.
Some Camden Edwardian homes had walls of red brickwork, sometimes with painted render in part. While there are many examples in the local area of timber houses with square-edged or bull-nosed weatherboards. Sunshades over windows supported by timber brackets are also common across the local area.
Doors in Edwardian style houses typically have three or four panels, with entry doors sometimes having an ornamentation. Common windows were double hung while later cottages may have had casement windows especially in the 1920s. Some cottages have return L-shaped verandahs, sometimes roofed with corrugated bull-nosed iron. Verandah post brackets had a variety of designs, with lattice work not uncommon feature. Verandahs featured timber fretwork rather than Victorian style cast ion lacework for ornamentation. Front fences may have had pickets, or just a wire fence in country areas.
Typical Edwardian colour schemes range from apricot walls, gables and barge boards, with white lattice panelling, red roofing and green coloured windows, steps, stumps, ant caps.
Edwardian Cottage Garden
Gardens were often more complex than Victorian examples. Amongst Edwardian gardens growing lawns became popular. Sometimes had a small tree in the front yard which could frame the house and might separate it from adjacent houses. Common trees included magnolia, elm, tulip tree or camellias, while shrubs and vines might have been agapanthus, agave, St John’s Wort, plumbago, standard roses, begonias, day lily, jasmine and sometimes maidenhair ferns.
Camden Edwardian Cottage
In the March 2014 edition of Camden History (Camden History Journal Volume 3 No 7 March 2014) Joy Riley recalls the Edwardian cottages in John Street. Joy Riley vividly remembers growing up as a child and calling one of these cottages her home. ‘I lived at 66 John Street for the first 40 years of my life before moving to Elderslie with my husband Bruce Riley. The two rooms of 66 John Street were built by the first John Peat, Camden builder, to come to Camden. In the 1960s I had some carpet put down in my bedroom, the floor boards were so hard, as they only used tacks in those days to hold carpet, the carpet just kept curling up.’ She says, ‘The back of the house was built by my grandfather, William Dunk. They lived next door at 64 John Street. He also built the Methodist Church at Orangeville or Werombi.
Yamba Cottage, Kirkham
Another Edwardian style house is Yamba cottage at Kirkham. It was built around 1920, fronts Camden Valley Way and has been a contested as a site of significant local heritage.
The building, a Federation style weatherboard cottage, became a touchstone and cause celebre around the preservation and conservation of local domestic architecture. This is a simple adaption of the earlier Victorian era houses for Fred Longley and his family who ran a small orchard on the site. The Yamba story is representative of smallholder farming in the Camden LGA, which has remained largely silent over the last century. Yamba speaks for the many small farmers across the LGA who have not had a voice and were an important part of farming history in the local area.
Ben Linden was constructed in 1919 by George Blackmore originally from North Sydney. George Blackmore, born in 1851 was married to Mary Ann and had seven children. George and his family lived in Ben Linden from 1921 to 1926. After this time he retired as a builder and eventually died in 1930.
Edwardian country cottages are not unique to the Camden area and can be found in many country towns across New South Wales and inter-state. Toowoomba has a host of these type of homes and published the local council publishes extensive guides explaining the style of housing and what is required for their sympathetic restoration in the online publication called The Toowoomba House. More elaborate Edwardian houses with extensive ornamentation can be found in Sydney suburbs like Strathfield, Burwood and Ashfield.
The Australian Edwardian house
For those interested in reading more there a number of good books on Australian Edwardian houses at your local library and there are a number of informative websites. Edwardian style houses have had a revival in recent decades and contemporary house can have some of their features. For example some are evident in housing estates at Harrington Park, Mt Annan and Elderslie.
Updated 17 May 2021. Originally posted 7 February 2015 at ‘Edwardian Cottages’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
A related story about disposal of nightsoil and long drops in goldrush Melbourne in the mid-19th century can be found here.
Take a stroll down any street in Australia and raise your eyes and the past will reveal itself before your very eyes.
You are wandering through living history. The past is all around you. Street names, street layout, the width of the street, the location of buildings and more.
The landscape of our cities and towns, and the countryside all owe their origins to the past.
The landscape will speak to you, but you must be prepared to listen.
Take time to let the landscape reveal itself. Just stand and soak up the past around you.
Cannot see it? Cannot feel it?
You need to look beyond the surface.
Like a painting will tell a story if you peel back the layers, so the landscape will do the same.
The landscape will speak to you. It will reveal itself.
Ask a question. Seek the answer.
The position of the tree. The type of street trees. Their size and species.
The bend in the road. The width of the street. The location of the street.
The position of the house. The colour of the house. The building materials.
Why is the street where it is? Why does it have that name?
Who walked along the street before you. Who grew up in the street? What were their childhood memories?
Ghosts of the past.
Some would say spirits of the past.
The past will speak to you if you let it in.
What was it like before there was a street?
The street is constantly changing. There are different people all the time. What clothes did people wear in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s?
You walk along the street and into a shop. When was it built? Who owned it? What did it sell? How was it set up?
Stand at the entrance door – unchanged in 50 years – image what it was like in the past.
Just like a movie flashback.
Who moved through the landscape 1000 years ago? What was there?
Let you imagination run wild.
Let the past wash over you. The past is all around you. Let it speak to you.
The brick wall that has been there for 100 years. Who built it? Where did they live? What did they eat? What else did they build? What was the weather? Was it a sunny day like today?
Walk around the corner and you come to a monumental wall at the entry to a town. Who put it there? What does it mean?
The past is hiding in plain sight. It is in front of us all the time.
Sometimes the past is lodged in our memories and sometimes it is locked up in a photograph.
Sometimes the memories flood back as a special event or family gathering or a casual conversation.
The past is layered. It was not static. It was constantly changing.
The past is not dead. It is alive and well all around us. You just need to take it in and ‘smell the roses’.
The stories of the past are like a gate into another world. Let your imagination run wild. Like a movie flash back – like a photograph from 100 years ago – or a greying newspaper under the lino or stuffed in a wall cavity.
Like revealing layers of paint on a wall. They are layers of the past. Layers of history. Each layer has a story to tell. A past to reveal. Someone put the paint on the wall. Who were they? What did they do? Where did they go?
The Layers of history are like a mask. You want to take off the mask to reveal the face. You want the real person to reveal themselves. Sometimes the mask stays on.
The mask hides a mystery. What is it? What does it tell us? The mast of the past will reveal all eventually, maybe, sometime?
Sometimes other words are used to express the layers of history – progress – hope – nostalgia – loss – change – continuity.
The past has brought us to the present. The past is embedded in the present.
Take a moment. Think about what is around you. Take in the past in front of you. Hiding in plain sight.
The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
Blooming jacarandas are regularly featured on the front page of local newspapers. (Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition), 5 November 2013)
Blooming jacarandas provide a purple carpet after a November shower and in 2006 caused an unholy fuss in the local press.
What is all the fuss about?
The Camden Chamber of Commerce proposed the removal and replacement of 33 jacaranda trees in Argyle Street with Manchurian pear trees in 2006. The chamber suggested that shopkeepers ‘take responsibility for their maintenance’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 24 October 2006)
The Argyle Street jacarandas, which were planted in 1927, were showing the effects of age, pollution, compaction and other problems.
The Camden mayor Chris Patterson and Deputy Mayor David Funnell wanted to know if the community supported their replacement. He posed the question in the press: Should Camden Council replace Argyle Street’s jacaranda trees?
The answer was loud and swift.
Mayor Patterson said, ‘People stopped me on the street, rang council and my mobile phone, to give me their views’.
‘The overwhelming response has been the jacarandas should stay but people want council to give them some more love and care’.
A flood of letters
The Camden press was ‘flooded with letters’ and 90% of ‘our internet poll’ wanted to trees to stay.
Letter writer M Goodwin felt the removal of the trees was ‘frivolous and unnecessary’, and Ian Turner did approve of their removal. Bob Lester had mixed views on the matter, Mrs B Thompson said the council should attend to their health and Kylie Lyons agreed. The sentiment of many was best summarised by L Jones of Cobbitty who said, ‘The jacaranda trees are stunning in full bloom and they should not be replaced’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 31 October 2006)
Camden resident Irene Simms started a petition and council commissioned a report on the state of the trees by arborist David Potts. Maryann Strickling felt that the trees were part of town’s cultural heritage and wrote, ‘The jacarandas in Argyle Street are integral to retaining the heritage of Camden’s landscape’ (Camden Advertiser, 7 November 2006).
The letters in the local press kept coming and a letter from Elizabeth Paparo was headed ‘Purple rain is a part of our history’ and felt ‘When the bloom of the Jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near!’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 14 November 2006)
The Potts report was presented to council in 2007 and stated that the trees were ‘expected to live long and healthy lives’. (Camden Advertiser, 15 August 2007)
The fuss over the trees has continued on and off and in 2018 the a number of local business people organised the Jacaranda Festival that has gained considerable attention in the media.
What is the appeal of jacarandas?
The appeal of the mauve coloured jacaranda was best summarised by the 1868 correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald.
This most beautiful flowering tree is a native of Brazil, and no garden of any pretensions can be said to be complete without a plant of it. The specimen in the Botanic garden is well worth a journey of 50 miles to see. Its beautiful rich lavender blossoms, and its light feathery foliage, render it the gem of the season. (SMH 5 December 1868)
The jacaranda first appeared in Sydney around the mid-1860s. The Guardian newspaper has provided a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1865
An account of the Prince of Wales’ birthday celebrations in the Sydney Morning Herald from 10 November 1865 describes admirers observing well-established trees: “Many enjoyed a stroll through the botanic gardens, which show the beneficial effects of the late rain; some of the most beautiful trees are now in luxuriant blossom, in particular the lilac flower of the Jacaranda mimosifolia is an object of much admiration.”
Sydney’s love of Jacaranda mimosifolia
Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia, the most common variety in Sydney,
was collected and returned to the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, in about 1818. One early source gives the credit to plant hunter Allan Cunningham, who was sent on from Rio de Janiero to NSW, where he would later serve, briefly, as colonial botanist.
Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the popular of the jacaranda in the Sydney area owes much to the success of landscape designer Michael Guilfoyle ‘solved the problem of propagation’. He gave a paper at the Horticultural Society in 1868 and outlined the lengths he went to solve the problems around growing the trees in Sydney. Guilfoyle’s Exotic Nursery at Double Bay supplied jacarandas to the ‘city’s most fashionable gardens’ and ‘many gardens in the Eastern Suburbs’. The trees became particularly popular by the Interwar period and were flourishing in harbourside gardens across Sydney.
One story credits November’s purple haze to the efforts of a hospital matron who sent each newborn home with a jacaranda seedling. A less romantic explanation lies in the fact the trees were a popular civic planting in the beautification programs of the early 20th century and interwar years, right up to the 1950s and 1960s.
the first jacaranda was planted in the city gardens in 1864 by Walter Hill. He says, ‘Plants grown from seeds [or] seedlings from this tree were later sent to Rockhampton and Maryborough Botanic Gardens (Queens Park).
Cultivation of the jacaranda is relatively easy in the climate of Eastern Australia. Wikipedia states
Jacaranda can be propagated from grafting, cuttings and seeds, though plants grown from seeds take a long time to bloom. Jacaranda grows in well-drained soil and tolerates drought and brief spells of frost and freeze.
This genus thrives in full sun and sandy soils, which explains their abundance in warmer climates. Mature plants can survive in colder climates down to −7 °C (19 °F); however, they may not bloom as profusely. Younger plants are more fragile and may not survive in colder climates when temperatures drop below freezing.
Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) species is native to Argentina and Bolivia but can survive and perform well in most temperate parts of Australia. Jacarandas are readily grown from freshly fallen seed and can be considered weedy in some areas.
Not so friendly
Yet a word of warning about the lovely and popular purple tree.
In Queensland the jacaranda can escape into the bush and become a weed. It out-competes local native plants and forms thickets below planted species.
Brisbane City Council has listed Jacaranda mimosifolia as one of the top 200 weeds in the city area. In Queensland it was considered naturalised in 1987 escaping domestic gardens.
The species Jacaranda mimosifolia is considered a weed in many part of New South Wales and is hard to eradicate once established in an area.
The future of the Jacaranda
University of Melbourne botanist Gregory Moore argues that the Jacaranda has a rosy bluey, or maybe indigo, or just purple future in urban Australia. Jacaranda mimosifolia is likely to do particularly under the influence of climate change as it gets ‘warmer and drier in place’. He just urges a little caution in rural areas where they have the potential to become ‘weedy’.
Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:
A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.
A sad story of decay and neglect
The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.
The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.
Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and in 1968 the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.
The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates that were developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.
The design concept originated from the town of Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.
Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with the front of the house facing a walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant that there was a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape consisting of rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.
Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb, where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighborhood life without the need for a car.
Radburn watered down
The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.
The public housing estates did have extensive open space which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises and the Housing Commission built townhouses that were counter to the Radburn concept.
The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.
The estates were populated with high numbers of single-parent families who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.
Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street; anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas; and the low socio-economic status of residents.
The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighborhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of areas of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. Some of these issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.
Memories of hope
In the 1970s I taught at Airds High School adjacent to the shopping mall and my memories are mixed. Young people who came from dysfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020) who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:
I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies. Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.
Fiona tells the story of her sister who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.
Similarly I found Airds school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence that was generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’ and I said that this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.
Bogans galore and more
The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasting with the despair of the 1980s.
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