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A little church on the hill, St Mark’s Church Elderslie

A public outcry

In 2009 there was a public outcry when there was a proposal to relocate St Mark’s church and develop the site. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009) While the church building had remained unused for several years, the public protests posed a conundrum for local authorities. Why was there such an outcry over an empty building?

Small churches like St Marks are vital to small communities in the construction of place and development of community identity. Their potential loss threatens a community’s collective memory and sense of place.  The church tells the story of a small farming community that has disappeared through the mists of time.

The history of St Mark’s church is the history of Elderslie, and the church was a special place of community celebrations and commemorations along with family celebrations, traditions, and events. The church has been a gathering place, a sacred site.

This charming image taken by John Kooyman in 1998 shows the church and other buildings under the shade of the magnificent camphor laurel tree. (Camden Images)

An outdoor Sunday School proves popular

St Mark’s church’s origins go back to 1901 and the formation of an outdoor Sunday School by Elderslie resident Miss Elizabeth Carpenter, a disgruntled St John’s church parishioner. Elizabeth (b. 1863) was the eldest daughter of Elderslie orchardist Horatio Carpenter. According to Elderslie resident Len English, the Carpenter orchard of Fernside was just behind the church with a frontage on Macarthur Road.

According to Harold Lowe, St Mark’s churchwarden and treasurer, the story goes that 38-year-old Elizabeth Carpenter had a falling out with the rector of Camden’s St John’s Church, Rev Cecil John King. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

The Sunday School proved popular with local families, and ‘in the summer of 1902…[the Sunday School was] held under the shade of the great stone pines below Mrs Lydia Carpenter’s orchard’. Miss Elizabeth Carpenter had her ‘American organ brought down on a slide and led the singing’. During the autumn, with inclement weather, the classes were held in Fernside’s ‘old wine press room’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

 The Sunday School continued to be an essential part of the church’s activities, and in 1933 the Camden press reported that the children of St Mark’s Sunday School held their picnic in Mr Bruchhauser’s ‘top paddock’. Showers did not let up until after lunch, but nothing was ‘daunted’, and the picnic was set up by ‘teachers and helpers’ in the church. ‘A very happy afternoon was spent by all’ after the ground dried out with ‘games and races’. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)

Transcript on the back of the image (Camden Images)
St Mark’s Luker Street Elderslie Sunday School c1955. Bishop Wilston, Ruth Ferguson to R & believed Bishop Wilton, Mary Ferguson next to Ruth. Nancy Ferguson is on the right in a blue dress and white hat. Children, front row, from left Barbara Noble 3, Lesley Noble 6, John Bunce 8, Pat Higgs girl in front of the nameplate. Identification by Lorrie Noble (Dec 1998) Photo from transparency by Ina Cameron, 65 Harrington St, Elderslie, who came to Elderslie in 1946 and worshipped at St Mark’s.

A new church

Miss Carpenter led fundraising efforts, ably assisted by RA Cross, Mr Albury, and Mr Bellingham, early in 1902 (Camden News, 5 August 1954) and moves were made ‘for the purchase of a piece of land’ and construction of the church building. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

A small portion of Thomas Teasdale’s land was acquired by the Church of England and held in the name of the Bishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend William S Smith, and part of the Narellan Parish. (SOHI 2022)

These efforts resulted in the opening of a church building on the site, with the first service on 22 June 1902. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

A church building was constructed and has been described as

 a traditional vernacular form with a simple gable roof covered in shingles.  It is a good and representative example of a very modest mission church typical of those erected in small country towns in the late 19th and very early 20th Centuries. Built of weatherboard with a corrugated metal roof and a small belfry, it contained two rooms (the nave and a small vestry) plus a porch. The window openings are simple timber sashes with horizontally pivoting openings. Windows are glazed with translucent and opaque domestic glass from the early 20th Century/Inter-War period. (SOHI 2022)

A new Elderslie resident, Mr Fred Carpenter, constructed the first six ‘handsome and comfortable seats of polished Kauri’, and parishioners donated chairs, books, lamps, blinds, alms dish, matting, communion cloth, pulpit cushions and drape. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The church was dedicated by The Rt Rev Bishop AW Pain from Gippsland on St Mark’s Day in 1903, April 25. (Camden News, 5 August 1954)  Saint Mark’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Mark, is held on April 25 and commemorates Mark the Evangelist, also known as Saint Mark. Mark the Evangelist is an important character in early Christianity and is the ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark the Evangelist is considered the guardian of the earth and harvests and is celebrated in several countries.

According to the Camden press, churchwarden Harold Lowe suggested the church name some years after its consecration. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) According to Lowe, the new church was called St Marks at a meeting held on St Mark’s Day. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

Church of England authorities ‘licensed [the church] for divine service in 1913 and named [it] for St Mark’. (SOHI 2022)

By 1914 the church was known as the St Mark’s Mission Church. (Camden News, 13 August 1914) According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a mission church is not locally self-supporting but depends at least partially upon the support of mission funds from the larger religious organisation that established it.

Church governance

St Marks was part of the Church of England Parish of Narellan along with St Paul’s Cobbitty and St Thomas’s Narellan.  Services at St Mark’s Church were conducted by the rector of Cobbitty’s St Paul’s, Rev Canon Allnutt. (Cobbitty 1827-1927)

The first churchwardens were RA Cross, Thomas Albury and John Latty. By 1915 churchwardens were GM Gardner and T Albury, the minister’s warden was H Bellingham, and Miss Brain was the Sunday School teacher. (Camden News, 29 April 1915) Harold Lowe was the church auditor. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)

The church held its yearly vestry meeting, and the re-elected churchwardens for 1933 were T Albury, RA Cross and J Ross. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)

In 1940 the Narellan Parish Log reported that the rector decided to hold an evening service on the third Sunday of the month where he conducted a Lantern Picture Show. (Camden News, 7 November 1940)

This image shows the parishioners in 1955, which was likely taken by Ina Cameron around the same time as the Sunday School image. While a poor image, the charm and character of the period are clearly shown. Most parishioners were women and likely members of the church women’s guild. Gloves, hats and Sunday best were essential fashion items when attending church in the 1950s. (Camden Images)

First World War and Anzac Day

The First World War profoundly affected the church and the Elderslie community.

In 1915 a memorial service was held at St Mark’s for two Elderslie lads who ‘gave their lives for the Empire’ on the battlefield of the Great War and was held to an ‘overflowing’ congregation. They were Lance Corporal Eric Lyndon Lowe, Signaller, 18th Battalion and Bugler Milton Thornton. The local press reported that ‘beautiful wreaths’ were presented by Mrs Faithful Anderson of Camelot and one from the Cobbitty Rectory. Rev Canon Allnutt took the service, and his daughter, Alice, sang the ‘At Rest’ by Aylward during the offertory. An amount of £1/10/6d was collected for the Liverpool Camp Church Tent Fund. (Camden News, 28 October 1915)

The progress of the First World War and patriotic fundraising put pressure on the community and church parishioners. Yet despite ‘the many calls and patriotic funds’, church finances were pronounced ‘satisfactory’ at the annual 1916 vestry meeting. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)

St Mark’s Day coincided with Camden’s first Anzac Day in the Camden district in 1916. In 1919, the Anzac Day commemorative service at St Mark’s church ‘was crowded and especially attended by the families and friends of those who had met a soldier’s death’. (Camden News, 1 May 1919)

In 1934 Rev AF Pain celebrated the Festival of Saint Mark at the church, where parishioners presented ‘a bounteous supply of the fruits of the earth’ that was sent to Camden District Hospital. (Camden News, 15 February 1934) In 1937 there was a combined service for Anzac Day and the Festival of St Mark. (Camden News, 22 April 1937)

The services for Anzac Day commemoration and St Mark’s Day were split in the years after the Second World War. In 1952 the service with Holy Communion was held by Bishop EW Wilton from Cobbitty on Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 1952, at 9.30 am. The following Sunday, 27 April 1952, the church had the St Mark’s Festival Service. (Camden News, 24 April 1952)

Farewells and church anniversaries

The 10th anniversary of the church celebrations in 1912 was dampened by the departure of church founders Elizabeth Carpenter and her mother, Lydia.

According to rector Canon GH Allnutt, the Carpenter women had made an ‘immense contribution’ to the church’s foundation with service held once a month at Fernside while the church was being built. The rector presented Miss Carpenter with a gold watch for her efforts. She ‘was visibly affected’ as she thanked the assembly in ‘a simple words’ as the presentation had come as a ‘great surprise’. She said, ‘ she felt quite unworthy…as she had only tried to do her duty to the best of her ability’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

In 1939 the church lost its long-term organist when parishioner Olive Burford of Camden to Alan Tindall of Rockdale. As a token of thanks, the parishioners gave her a silver hot water jug. (Camden News, 17 August 1939)

In 1952 on the 50th anniversary of the church, attendances were reported as ‘encouraging’ in the Camden press. Bishop Wilton conducted the evening service and said there was a Sunday School and a congregation ‘that is growing in strength’. The organists were Miss L Cross and Mrs J Bradford. Churchwardens were CS McIntosh, H Rudd, N Hore and Mr Bradford. The supper was organised by parishioners: Mrs Childs, Mrs Teasdale, Miss Teasdale, Mrs Wrench, Mrs N Ferguson, Mrs C Dunk, Mrs R Dunk, Mrs Weiberle, Mrs Harris, and Mrs Wilton. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)

Improvement and additions

There were ‘improvements and additions’ to the church over the decades. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The churchwardens at St Thomas Narellan gave parishioners at St Mark’s the ‘old ‘John Oxley’ harmonium’ after they installed a new organ. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The church’s original shingle roof was replaced in 1912 with ‘short-sheet corrugated iron painted dark red-oxide’. The ceiling and floors were also replaced.  (SOHI 2022)

On the death of Canon Allnutt in 1919, Percy Butler was commissioned to construct a communion table in his memory. Local cabinet maker and carpenter Fred Carpenter had built additional seating, a prayer desk, a communion rail and a lecturn.   (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

A vestry was later added to the building that could act as a chancel when there was a need for additional seating. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild held the 1954 church fundraising fair with stalls selling ‘useful goods including handicrafts suitable for ‘Christmas presents’ at the home of Mrs C Dunk in Luker Street. The fair was opened by Mrs A Pain, the wife of the former rector St Paul’s Church of England, Cobbitty, who held services at St Mark’s church between 1919 and 1940. (Camden News, 4 November 1954)

The construction of Warragamba Dam was advantageous for the church community when the former Nattai Post Office/general store building was brought up from Burragorang Valley and placed at the church’s rear to be used as a hall. (The District Reporter, 2 February 2009). The Women’s Guild and the Elderslie community funded the relocation and fit-out of the hall for use as a kitchen. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; SOHI 2022))

In 1959 a meeting of churchwardens, the Women’s Guild and the rector resolved to create a special fund to finance the purchase of the land adjoining the existing church site. It was decided at the same meeting to repair the organ, which cost £24. (File Notes, Camden Museum archives) The kitchen was extended in 1961; in 1966, the Church of England purchased a small part of an adjoining property. (SOHI 2022) In 1968 a new hall was constructed on the site.

The addition of a new building on St Mark’s church site in 1955 was much anticipated by parishioners who provided voluntary labour for the construction. Images supplied by Ina Cameron, a local Elderslie resident. (Camden Images)

Funerals and remembrance services

Funerals and remembrance services were a time of community grieving and support, and the church had a central role in these events.  

The death of local parishioners was always a loss to the church. A St Mark’s parishioner and ‘keen’ church worker Mrs Ellen Cross recently died aged 66. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1930) A stalwart of the St Mark’s Sunday School Mrs FA Goodman died aged 60 years old. She had taken the Sunday School just days before admission to Camden District Hospital, where she died of pneumonia last Saturday, December 5. Mrs Goodman had ‘conducted’ the Sunday School from 1926 to her death. (Camden News, 10 December 1931)

St Mark’s churchwarden James Ross was killed by a motor car as he walked at night between the Cowpastures Bridge and the milk depot in 1938. (Camden News, 29 December 1938)

A remembrance service was held at St Mark’s on the death of Joyce Asimus, daughter of Mr and Mrs Roy Asimus, of ‘The Heights’ Elderslie who died after a recent operation. Joyce was reportedly a ‘friendly, energetic and affectionate soul held a high place in esteem and affection of the neighbourhood’. The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild was represented by Mrs Funnell Senr, Mrs Wilton, and Mrs Childs. (Camden News, 29 October 1953)

St Mark’s parishioner and Elderslie resident, 89-year-old Mr RA Cross of Macarthur Road Elderslie, died in 1954. Mr Cross had been a churchwarden since St Mark’s church foundation. The Camden press reported that Mr Cross had attended St Marks Church within days of death along with other parishioners. Mr Cross was a retired brickmaker and made bricks for famous local properties, including Camelot, Carrington Hospital, and Pomare at Cobbitty. His funeral was held at St Thomas’s church at Narellan, with the service taken by Bishop Wilton and buried in Narellan cemetery. A week later, there was a remembrance service at St Mark’s for this ‘faithful and regular worshipper’.(Camden News, 29 July 1854)

The funeral of Mrs Constance AM Ross of Elderslie, mother of Mrs Childs, was held at St Mark’s church in 1952. The Camden press reported that this was the first time a funeral service with the casket was held at the church in its 50-year history. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)

This is a sad image from 2011 of a church past its use-by date, all boarded up, unkempt and unloved. Yet it was still able to rouse the emotions of the Elderslie community to protect the cultural heritage of the building and the collective memories it possessed for them. The church building is up for sale. (IWillis)

Last service and the loss of a church

Over time, church parishioners died, old Elderslie families moved away, the church congregation grew smaller, and the parish could not financially support the church. Church authorities decided to ‘amalgamate St Mark’s with St Thomas‘s, Narellan, with the final service being held at St Mark’s being held on 21 October 2001. The church was then closed to sell the land’. (SOHI 2022)

 In Elderslie, as elsewhere, the threatened loss of a local church often triggers a passionate response from the local community. The local church, even if unused, is a repository of collective memories and a sacred site that possesses a sense of place and community identity.

In 2009 there was a community outcry over a proposal to subdivide the land surrounding St Mark’s church, relocate the church building, demolish the church hall, and cut down the camphor laurel on the Camden’s Register of Significant Trees. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009)

Passionate locals voiced their concerns, particularly about the state of the camphor laurel. Councillor Eva Campbell maintained that the church building was ‘the most significant building in Elderslie’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009) Later reports show that the camphor laurel tree was planted to celebrate the church’s consecration in 1903.

 In the end, Camden Council voted to cut down the tree and approved shifting the church across the existing site to allow the consolidation of three allotments into two. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009)

The Anglican Church deconsecrated St Marks in 2010. (SOHI 2022)

The removal of the camphor laurel tree adjacent to St Mark’s church in 2009 after approval by Camden Council. At the rear of the church, site are the kitchen and hall in the process of demolition (IWillis)

The church site and buildings were sold to the private owners in 2011 and converted to a private residence where the new owners became the guardians of the community’s collective memories.  

In 2022 a proposal by the private owners to extend the former church building generated public interest in maintaining the cultural heritage of the church’s history.

This charming image shows the current usage of the former St Mark’s church in 2022 is now in private hands and used as a residence. The character and integrity of the former church building are still intact, with the belfry, entry porch, and church building with sash windows clearly shown here. The addition of a picket fence adds to the rustic nature of the original building. This image illustrates adaptive reuse that is outlined in the Burra Charter guidelines for heritage sites within Australia. (IWillis)
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Camden, a Macarthur family venture

The private English-style estate village of James and William Macarthur

The establishment of Camden, New South Wales, the town in 1840, was a private venture of James and William Macarthur, sons of colonial patriarch John Macarthur, at the Nepean River crossing on the northern edge of the family’s pastoral property of Camden Park. The town’s site was enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River and has regularly flooded the surrounding farmland and lower parts of the town.

John Macarthur on the cover of Australia’s Heritage 1970. The original oil painting of John Macarthur is held in SLNSW (I Willis, 2022)

The site of Camden was within the 5000 acres granted to John Macarthur by the 2nd Earl Camden [3.2], the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in 1805, while Macarthur was in England on charges for duelling. Macarthur was a fractious quarrelsome self-promoter who arrived in NSW with his wife Elizabeth and family in 1790 as paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The Corps (sometimes called The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as a permanent regiment of the British Army to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps, which had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 to fortify the colony of NSW.

The town’s site, as part of the Macarthur grants, was located on some of the finest farming country in the colony in the government Cowpastures reserve on the colonial frontier. The grants were part of the dispossession of traditional lands of the Dharawal people by the British settler colonial project and inevitably led to conflict and violence. Macarthur claimed that the town’s establishment threatened the security of his landholdings at Camden Park and opposed it during his lifetime. On his death in 1834, his sons had a different worldview and moved to establish an English-style estate village dominated by a church.

A fine Gothic-style church

The ridge-top location of St John’s Church (1840) on the southern end of the town meant that it towered over the town centre and had a clear line of sight to the Macarthur family’s Georgian mansion at Camden Park 2.6 miles to the southwest. The fine English Gothic-style church was funded mainly by the Macarthur family and has been the basis of the town’s iconic imagery. There were a number of large gentry estates built on convict labour in the surrounding farmland, the largest being the Macarthur family’s Camden Park of over 28,000 acres.

St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

Many immigrant families came to the area under Governor Bourke’s 1835 plan and settled on the gentry estates as tenant farmers, some establishing businesses in Camden. The first land sales in the village occurred in 1841, which stifled the growth of the existing European settlements in the area. The population of Camden grew from 242 in 1846 to 458 in 1856, although the gentry’s estates still dominated the village. Camden Park, for example, had a population of 900 in 1850.

English-style gentry

The English-style gentry practised philanthropy in Camden to maintain its moral tone. Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, John Macarthur’s granddaughter, encouraged the maintenance of the proprieties of life, moral order and good works, as well as memorialising her family by donating a clock and bells to St John’s Church in 1897. She also marked the memory of her late husband, Captain Onslow, by providing a public park in 1882 named after her husband (Onslow Park), which is now the Camden showground.

Transport hub

Camden became the district’s transport hub at the centre of the road network, primarily set by the pattern of land grants from the 1820s. The earliest villages in the district predated Camden and then looked to Camden for cultural and economic leadership as the district’s major centre. The arrival of the Camden tramway in 1882 meant that silver ore west of the district (1871) was shipped through the Camden railhead to the Main Southern Railway from Sydney.  

The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

Progress assured

Combined with rail access to markets, the town’s prosperity was assured by a series of technical and institutional innovations that transformed the dairy industry in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the Macarthur family set up the Camden Vale Milk Company and built a milk processing plant at the eastern end of the main street adjacent to the rail line. Whole milk was railed to Sydney and bottled under its label until the mid-1920s. Milk was delivered daily to the factory by horse and cart until the 1940s from local dairy farms.

Camden Milk Depot, trading as Camden Vale Milk Coop Ltd located at the northern end of Argyle Street adjacent to Camden Railway Station. (Camden Images)

Camden’s progress saw the construction of a new bank (1878), the commencement of weekly stock sales (1883), the formation of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society and the first Camden Show (1886), a new post and telegraph office (1898), the foundation of two weekly newspapers (Camden Times, 1879, Camden News, 1880), a new cottage hospital (1898), the formation of a fire brigade (1900), the opening of a telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), town water (1899) and the replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932), and a sewerage scheme (1939). By 1933 the population of the town had grown to 2394.

First local council

The first attempt at local government in 1843 was unsuccessful. A meeting of local notables formed the municipality of Camden at a public meeting in 1883. Still, it was not until 1889 that the municipality was proclaimed, covering 7,000 acres and including Camden and the neighbouring village of Elderslie. Nine townsmen were elected aldermen at the first election that year, and the first meeting was held at the School of Arts. In 1993 the Camden Municipal Council eventually became the Council of Camden.

In 2014 this is the head office of Camden Council in the former Victorian gentleman’s townhouse built by Henry Thompson. (Camden Images)

Street names

Camden’s 1840 street grid is still intact today, with streets named after members of the Macarthur family – John Street, Elizabeth, Edward Street – and NSW colonial notables – Oxley Street, Broughton Street, Mitchell Street. The main highway between Sydney and Melbourne (the Hume Highway) passed along the main street (Argyle Street), until it was re-routed in 1976. The town’s business centre still has several Victorian and Art Deco shopfronts.   

Some charming Federation and Californian bungalows in the church ridge-top precinct were the homes of the Camden elite in the early 20th century. The precinct is the site of Macarthur Park (1905), which was dedicated to the townsfolk by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and contained the town’s World War One cenotaph (donated by the Macarthur family).  

John Street heritage precinct

John Street runs north-south downhill to the floodplain from the commanding position of St John’s church. Lower John Street is the location of the Italianate house Macaria (c1842), St Paul’s Catholic church and the government buildings associated with the Camden police barracks (1878) and courthouse (1857), and Camden Public School (1851). This area also contains the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in the town area, Bransby’s Cottage (1842). Lower John Street has the Camden Temperance Hall (1867), which later served as Camden Fire Station (1916–1993), and the School of Arts (1866), which served as the Camden Town Hall, while the rear of the building was occupied for a time by Camden Municipal Council.

Camden School of Arts located in John Street PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

Volunteerism

Community voluntary organisations have been part of Camden’s life from the town’s foundation. In the late 1800s, they were male-dominated, usually led by the landed gentry, and held informal political power through patronage. James Macarthur sponsored the Camden School of Arts (1865) and Agricultural, Horticultural & Industrial Society (1886), later called the Camden Show Society, while the non-conformists sponsored various lodges and the temperance movement. A small clique of well-off local women established several conservative women’s organisations after Federation. Their social position supported their husbands’ political activities, and the influence of the Macarthur family was felt in these organisations, for example, the Camden Red Cross and Country Women’s Association.

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)

Many men and women from Camden and the district saw military service in the Boer War and later World War One and Two when residents set up local branches of national patriotic funds and civil defence organisations. On the outskirts of the town, there were active defence establishments during World War II, including an airbase, army infantry, and training camps.

Coal mining

Economic prosperity from coal mining in the district’s western part challenged old hierarchies in the postwar years, replacing the old colonially-based rural hegemony. New community organisations like Rotary and later the Chamber of Commerce fostered business networks in the town. The Camden Historical Society (1957) promoted the town’s past and later opened a local museum (1970).

Camden Museum Library building in John Street Camden, where the Blue Plaque with being located, recognising the efforts of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles in both World War One and World War Two. (I Willis, 2008)

Urbanisation

The New South Wales state government decreed that the town would become part of a growth area in the form of ‘new cities’ under the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), modelled on the British Garden City concept. Increasing urbanisation threatened the town’s identity and the number of community members formed by the Camden Residents’ Action Group (1973).

Mount Annan suburban development, which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

In 2007 Camden was the administrative centre of the Camden Local Government Area, which had a population of over 51,000 (2006) and an area of 201 square kilometres.  The Camden LGA became part of the state government’s Sydney South West Growth Centre, planned to house 500,000 new residents, and is one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas.  

Wave of nostalgia

Increasing levels of Sydney’s urbanisation have continued, threatened the loss of rural landscapes around the town, and awakened a wave of nostalgia. The NSW state government created the Camden Town Conservation Area (2008) based on the mid-20th century country town that aimed at preserving the town’s integrity and material fabric.

Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

Posted 19 September 2022

Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Cawdor · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cowpastures Estates · Cowpastures Gentry · Cultural Heritage · Denbigh · Economy · Elderslie · England · Harrington Park · History · Kirkham · Landscape · Local Studies · Picton · Place making · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Urban growth

The Englishmen of the Cowpastures

A certain type of Englishman

These Englishmen were also known as the Cowpastures gentry, a pseudo-self-styled-English gentry.

All men – they lived on their estates when they were not involved with their business and political interests in Sydney and elsewhere in the British Empire.

By the late 1820s, this English-style gentry had created a landscape that reminded some of the English countrysides. This was particularly noted by another Englishman, John Hawdon.

There were other types of English folk in the Cowpastures and they included convicts, women, and some freemen.

EstateExtent (acres)Gentry  (principal)
Abbotsford (at Stonequarry, later Picton)400 (by 1840 7,000)George Harper (1821 by grant)
Birling Robert Lowe
Brownlow Hill (Glendaruel)2000 (by 1827 3500)Peter Murdock (1822 by grant) then Alexander McLeay (1827 by purchase)
Camden Park2000 (by 1820s 28,000)John Macarthur (1805 by grant, additions by grant and purchase)
Cubbady500Gregory Blaxland (1816 by grant)
Denbigh1100Charles Hook (1812 by grant) then Rev Thomas Hassall (1828 by purchase)
Elderslie (Ellerslie)850John Oxley (1816 by grant) then Francis Irvine (1827 by purchase) then John Hawdon (1828 by lease)
Gledswood (Buckingham)400Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilliam (1810 by grant) then James Chisholm (1816 by purchase)
Glenlee (Eskdale)3000William Howe (1818 by grant)
Harrington Park2000William Campbell (1816 by grant) then Murdock Campbell, nephew (1827 by inheritance)
Jarvisfield (at Stonequarry, later Picton)2000Henry Antill (by grant 1821)
Kenmore600John Purcell (1812 by grant)
Kirkham1000John Oxley (1815 by grant) then Elizabeth Dumaresq (1858 by purchase)
Macquarie Grove400Rowland Hassall (1812 by grant)
Matavai Farm200Jonathon Hassall (1815 by grant)
Maryland Thomas Barker
Narallaring Grange700William Hovell (1816 by grant) then Frances Mowatt (1830 by purchase)
Nonorrah John Dickson
Orielton1500Edward Lord (1815 by grant) then John Dickson (1822 by purchase)
Parkhall (at St Marys Towers)3810Thomas Mitchell (1834 by purchase)
Pomari Grove (Pomare)150Thomas Hassall (1815 by grant)
Raby3000Alexander Riley (1816 by grant)
Smeeton (Smeaton)550Charles Throsby (1811 by grant)
Stoke Farm500Rowland Hassall (1816 by grant)
Vanderville (at The Oaks)2000John Wild (1823 by grant)
Wivenhoe (Macquarie Gift)600Rev William Cowper (1812 by grant) then Charles Cowper, son (1834 by purchase)

This Charles Kerry Image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbity as an English-style pre-industrial village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

Private villages in the Cowpastures

VillageFounder (estate)Foundation (Source)
CobbittyThomas Hassall (Pomari)1828 – Heber Chapel (Mylrea: 28)
CamdenJames and William Macarthur (Camden Park)1840 (Atkinson: Camden)
ElderslieCharles Campbell (Elderslie)1840 – failed  (Mylrea:35)
Picton (Stonequarry in 1841 renamed Picton in 1845)Henry Antill   (Jarvisfield)1841  (https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/picton-nsw#:~:text=Origin%20of%20Name,at%20the%20Battle%20of%20Waterloo.)
WiltonThomas Mitchell (Parkhall)1842 – failed (https://www.towersretreat.org.au/history/park-hall-east-bargo-1841-1860)
The OaksMrs John Wild (Vanderville)1858 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oaks,_New_South_Wales)
MenangleJames and William Macarthur (Camden Park)1863 – arrival of railway (https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2014/02/16/menangle-camden-park-estate-village/)
   

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Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

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)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

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.

Camden Walking Brochure

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.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

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).

Wartime writing

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.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

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.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

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.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

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.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

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.

Mount Annan suburban development which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

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.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.

Advertising · Agriculture · Business · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · History · Horticulture · Local History · Place making · Retailing · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Trees · Uncategorized · Urban development · Urban growth

The post-war years for a local nursery

Ferguson’s Nursery at Hurstville, Mittagong and Sylvania

During the post-war years, Ferguson’s Nurseries continued to be located on Sydney’s urban fringe as the metropolitan area expanded into the rural surrounds.

Hurstville nursery prospered then closed, another opened on the urban fringe at Sylvania while a cold-climate nursery opened at Mittagong and the Camden nursery closed.

In the mid-1960s, the family had sold the business to new owners who continued to use the Ferguson nurseries as a trading name.

Significance

The importance of the colonial legacy of Francis Ferguson is emphasised in July McMaugh’s Living Horticulture. She only lists four New South Wales 19th colonial horticulturalists of significance, one of whom is Ferguson.

The Camden nursery site remains quite significant in the history of the Australian nursery industry. Morris and Britton maintain that the site is

A rare remnant of an important and influential colonial nursery from the late 1850s and includes a collection of 19th century plantings and is a landmark in the local area.  (Morris and Britton 2000)

Camden Nursery site

The Camden nursery on the Nepean River stopped operating in the immediate post-war years, and the nursery headquarters re-located to Hurstville.

In 1937 Camden Municipal Council rejected an offer from Ferguson’s nurseries of 100 rose bushes for planting out in Macarthur Park. The council did not want the nursery to take cuttings from the park’s rose bushes. (Camden News, 13 May 1937)

In the 1930s, the Camden press reported that Ferguson’s nurseries had purchased the property of W Moore between the Old Southern Road and the Hume Highway (Camden News, 11 April 1935). This was in the vicinity of Little Street. (Cole, CHS, 1989) This is likely the 1937 outlet fronting the Hume Highway in Camden and still operating in 1944. (Camden News, 18 February 1937, 17 February 1944)  

The Camden nursery outlet had stopped trading by 1946. The Camden press reported an application to connect to the electricity supply to RB Ferguson’s property at the ‘the Old Nursery’. (Camden News, 19 December 1946, 27 November 1947)

Hurstville Nursery

By the mid-1950s, the nursery was trading as F Ferguson & Son, headquartered at Hurstville with branches at Sylvania and Mittagong. (Sun Herald, 13 September 1953)

Operations for the Ferguson’s Nurseries were centralised at the Hurstville nursery in the post-war years, and the area around the nursery became known as Kingsgrove.

There was growth in the area following the opening of Kingsgrove Railway Station in 1931. Sydney’s residential development followed the development of suburban railway lines.

There was increased growth in the Hurstville area in the post-war years with increased housing in the area and rising land values.

The NSW Housing Commission built over 200 homes on what was called the Ferguson Nursery Estate at Kingsgrove. (St George Call (Kogarah) 21 September 1945)

The state government purchased the site of Ferguson’s nursery in 1958 and established Kingsgrove High School. (SRNSW)

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue, the nursery indicates that the business had a Kingsgrove address and had branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

1957 Plant Catalogue

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue of 54 pages, the nursery listed a Kingsgrove address and branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957). The catalogue listed plant stock for sale with advice for the gardener to achieve the best results.

Cover of Ferguson’s Nursery Trade Catalogue for 1957 trading as F Ferguson & Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

The catalogue listed for sale: fruit trees; Australian trees and shrubs; flowering plants including roses, camellias (51 varieties), azaleas, hibiscus; conifers; ornamental trees; palms and cycads (varieties from California, Canary Islands, Siam, South America, India, China and Japan).

Amongst the fruit trees, the catalogue listed apples, apricots, citrus (cumquats, oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit), nectarines, passionfruit, peaches, pears, plums (English, Japanese), prunes, quinces, as well as almonds and walnuts.

Roses were a speciality and included novelty roses for 1957, standard roses and others. The catalogue provided advice for gardeners to achieve the best results with roses, particularly care about planting and pruning. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Under Australian trees and shrubs, the catalogue stated:

Australia is endowed with of indigenous Trees and Shrubs that are entirely different and considered by many far superior to anything else in the world. Nothing is more useful for Parks, School Grounds, etc, that some of out Native Flora, and certainly nothing is more hardy or topical. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Fergusons offered a landscaping service to

assist and advise you in the correct formation and setting-out of Lawns, Drives, Shrubberies, also in the correct selection of suitable Shrubs, Roses, and all kinds of Flowering Plants, so that the ultimate results will be charming. (Ferguson Nursery 1957) (Ferguson 1957)

Sylvania Nursery

111 Port Hacking Road, Sylvania

Ferguson’s made a business decision post-war to follow Sydney’s urban fringe and establish a new nursery to the south of Hurstville in the Sutherland Shire at Sylvania.

Sutherland Shire was growing in the late mid-20th century. McDowells opened a department store at Caringbah in 1961, Miranda Fair Shopping Centre opened in 1964, the new Sutherland District Hospital opened in 1958, and the Sutherland Daily Leader was launched with its first edition on 29 June 1960. (Sutherland Shire Library)

The first mention of the Sylvania nursery in the Sydney press was in 1955 when Fergusons placed an advertisement for contractors to provide a quote to build a fibro cottage on the nursery site at 111 Port Hacking Road. (SMH, 1 October 1955)

The nursery opened for trading in 1961. A story in the Sutherland press about the history of the Ferguson nursery group. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 26 April 1961)

Nurseryman Rex Jurd conducted the management of the Sylvania nursery. (McMaugh 2005:252) (McMaugh 2005)

Nurseryman Jurd recalled that Francis Ferguson’s granddaughter, Nancy, and husband lived on the site. He said, ‘It seemed to Rex that they had little interest in the business’.

‘It was run down and he spent two years there fixing it up, and replacing all the plant material’, wrote Judy McMaugh.

The Sylvania nursery extended from Port Hacking Road to the waterfront on Gwawley Bay (now Sylvania Waters) (McMaugh 2005: 252-253). According to Jurd, the nursery was not clearly visible to on-coming traffic and was on the low side of the road and suffered from ‘few customers’.

Jurd, a fellow student with well-known Sydney nurseryman Valerie Swain at Ryde School of Horticulture, left Fergusons in 1959 and started working for Smart’s Nurseries at Gordon. (McMaugh 2005: 252-253)

The Sylvania nursery was sold to the Pike family in 1966 and it became part of Ferguson Garden Centre Pty Ltd. The new business retained the Ferguson name as part of the sale. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 16 May 1966)

The advice page for gardeners who purchased roses from Ferguson’s Nursery for their care and maintenance of roses. Trade catalogue for F Ferguson and Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

Mittagong Nursery

Hume Highway (then Old Hume Highway, then Ferguson Cres) Mittagong

Ferguson’s Nurseries developed a cold-climate nursery at Mittagong in 1939 and developed under the management of nurseryman Arthur Carroll.

According to nurseryman Bill Starke, Arthur Carroll ‘was equipped with a draught horse, a cross-cut saw, and an axe, and he basically cleared the property by hand’. (McMaugh 2005: 105)

Mr Carroll was away on active during the Second World War and returned in 1946 as manager of the nursery which traded as F Ferguson and Son. (Southern Mail, 10 May 1946)

An advertisement placed in the Southern Mail newspaper for F Ferguson & Son (Southern Mail, 17 May 1946)

Bruce Ferguson sold the Mittagong nursery to the Pike family in 1970. (McMaugh 2005:363)

This is the signage for Ferguson Cres (formerly the Hume Highway then Old Hume Highway) at the intersection with Bowral Road, Mittagong. The street was named after the old Ferguson Nursery which was located further north along what is now Ferguson Crescent. (I Willi,s 2022)

The former site of Ferguson’s Nursery on Ferguson Crescent (formerly Hume Highway, then Old Hume Highway) at Mittagong. This aerial view shows the remnants of the Hazelwood Garden Centre, which in 2022 is a housing development site called Ferguson Estate. (CRE 2021)

New ownership and the Ferguson name continues

Bruce Ferguson sold the Sylvania nursery in 1966. (Reeve 2017)  

The new owners were Jack Pike of Pikes Nurseries Rydalmere and Arch and Alan Newport of Newport Nurseries Winmalee (Springwood). (McMaugh 2005: 320) The new ownership arrangement was incorporated in 1966 as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Pty Ltd. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

The Pikes were innovative businessmen, and the Sydney press ran a story in 1967 that promoted the nursery as Sydney’s new ‘supergardenmarket’. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

In 1970 the business purchased the Baulkham Hills Garden Centre and re-named it Ferguson’s Baulkham Hills Garden Centre. By 1973 the Newports had sold out to the Pike family interests. (McMaugh 2005:320, 366)

In 1974 outlets opened at Narrabeen and Warringah Mall, and the Sydney CBD. (McMaugh2005:365-366)

By the 1980s, there were many centres across the Sydney metropolitan area, including Baulkham Hills, Sylvania, Bonnyrigg, Narrabeen, Guilford, Mittagong in the Southern Highlands,  in Victoria the Mornington Peninsular and on the far-north coast at Alstonville. (McMaugh 2005:366)

The  Baulkham Hills Centre traded as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Holdings Pty Ltd and was incorporated in 1981. The nursery had ceased trading in 2018 and the site was developed for residential units in 2019.

References

Ferguson, F. (1957). Ferguson’s Nursery Catalogue. Hurstville, F Ferguson & Sons.

McMaugh, J. (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales nursery industry. Sydney NSW, Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT.

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW : A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.

1920s · Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Business · Camden · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Heritage · Horticulture · Local History · Local Studies · Nepean River · Placemaking · Plant Nursery · Retailing · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · The Great South Road · Uncategorized · Urban growth · urban sprawl

A local nursery on Sydney’s urban fringe

The Ferguson nurseries and the urban fringe

The 20th-century story of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries is about their location within Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition that is constantly being shaped and re-shaped by the forces of urbanisation and a host of competing forces. (Willis 2014)

Plant nurseries arrive in the fringe, and competing forces eventually drive them from it after a time.

In this space, the Ferguson Australian Nurseries came and departed Sydney’s urban fringe as it moved with urban growth over the past 170 years. Shrewd business judgements ensured that the nurseries survived and thrived in this dynamic space and place.

Double Bay outlet

Ferguson’s nurseries arrived on Sydney’s fringe at Double Bay in the 1870s when Sydney was still a ‘walking city’. Horse trams, and later steam trams, started to appear in the city and travel out to Double Bay.

Double Bay was sparsely settled, and there was an array of colonial villas and mansions like Alexander Macleay’s colonial regency mansion Elizabeth Bay House (1839).

As Sydney grew in population, there were land sub-divisions from the 1840s. (Sheridan 2021) (SLNSW)

By the early 20th-century, land values had risen with increased residential development   (Sheridan 2021). The land was more valuable for housing than a nursery, so economic forces gathered for its relocation.

By this time, Annie Henrietta Ferguson ran the nursery following the death of her husband FJ Ferguson, aged 48 years, in 1899. Annie had married FJ Ferguson in 1875.

Annie managed the Double Bay outlet until 1902, closed it by 1905 and moved the nursery to Hurstville. (WCL 2021)

F Ferguson’ & Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1930 (SLM)

Developments

Annie’s daughter, Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie), born at Campbelltown in 1876, had married Alfred Denison (AD) Little at All Saints Woollahra in 1902. (WCL)

By 1903 Lizzie and AD Little had moved back to Camden from Double Bay with the birth of their son Sydney. AD Little was to play a leading role in the nursery’s management and became a partner in the business. (WCL 2021)

In 1902 the Sydney press reported a fire at the Camden Nursery that destroyed a packing shed full of equipment. The same report stated that AD Little was now one of the proprietors, the mayor of Camden (1904-1905) and a presiding magistrate. (Daily Telegraph, 15 August 1905)

The oldest nursery

The Camden News boasted in 1905 that Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries were the ‘oldest fruit nursery and garden in Australia’. (Camden News, 17 August 1905)

Hurstville nursery outlet

By 1904 the Double Bay nursery had been relocated to Hurstville on Stoney Creek Road. (Morris and Britton 2000)

The Hurstville area was a sparsely populated farming area with the first land subdivision in the 1880s. By the early 20th century, the urban fringe of Sydney had reached the site, and there were a series of residential land releases. (SLNSW)

The Camden press reported in 1913 that Ferguson’s nurseries were being run by AD & FB Little, and land had been leased at Elderslie, where 150,000 grafted apple trees had been planted out. (Camden News, 7 August 1913)

In 1915 the business was being managed by Fred Little. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

F Ferguson and Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1932 (SLM)

Nurseryman Eric Jurd recalls, ‘Fergusons grew open-ground stock at a site in Peakhurst’. Jurd believed that Ferguson’s had extensive land holdings in the Kingsgrove and Peakhurst. (McMaugh 2005: 251-253)

The Hurstville nursery site was purchased by the New South Wales Government to establish Kingsgrove High School on the corner of Kingsgrove Road and Stoney Creek Road in 1958. (SRNSW)

Continued expansion

The nursery continued to expand, and by 1915, a report in the Gosford press indicated that Fergusons were operating from four sites:

  • Hurstville – a 40-acre site which was a general nursery and despatching centre for sales
  • Camden – a 60-acre site mainly producing fruit trees
  • Gosford – a 40-acre site a nursery for grape vines and fruit trees
  • Ronkana (Ourimbah) – a 100-acre site under preparation. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In the early 1920s, there were extensive land releases in the Hurstville area, including the King’s Park Model Suburb of 600 lots adjacent to Ferguson’s Nursery on Stoney Creek Road. (St George Call (Kogarah) 22 September 1922) In 1926 the Simmons Estate next door to Ferguson’s Nursery was offered for sale. (St George Call (Kogarah) 5 February 1926)

By the interwar years, the Hurstville nursery site was a well-known landmark and often referred to by correspondents in the press. For example, a press report of Tooth’s Brewery purchase of a site at Bexley (Construction and Local Government Journal, 13 July 1927), and the NRMA used the nursery as a prominent and well-known landmark in their tourism promotion for road trips in and around the Sydney area. (Sun (Sydney) 18 November 1927).

The nursery business continued under the control of AD & FB Little until the 1930s, and they were followed by Arthur Bruce (AB) Ferguson (1889 -1949). (Little 1977)

Fruit trees and vines

Ferguson’s nurseries sold fruit trees and vines to new producers in the emerging horticulture areas throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Large quantities of grapevines had been supplied to the Yanco Irrigation Area in 1915. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In 1926 an article in the Leeton press mentioned that Fergusons Nurseries had fruit trees for sale. (Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW: 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 16 February 1926)

Agents for the nursery were often keen to promote that stock of fruit trees, vines and flowering plants were available for purchase, as indicated by a story in the Tumut press. (Tumut and Adelong Times, 28 May 1929)

Water supply

A reliable water supply is essential for horticulture and the nursery industry.

In 1922 an irrigation licence was issued to Alfred D (AD) Little, a partner for Ferguson & Sons, Australian Nursery, Camden, to pump up to 150 gallons per minute on the right bank [Elderslie]. (NSW Government Gazette, 11 August 1922)

The next generation

In 1927 FB Little died at Hurstville, and in 1933 AD Little died at Camden and is buried in St John’s Cemetery.

In 1932 the Australian Nursery site on the Nepean River, known as The Nursery or the Camden Nursery, part ownership passed to Stanley Nigel (SN) Ferguson. (Sanders 2008b) After World War II, SN Ferguson’s son, Bruce (1916 – 2008), inherited a half-share in The Nursery site. (Sanders 2008a)

In 1935 Ferguson’s nursery purchased land owned by Mr W Moore between the Old South Road and the Hume Highway. (Camden News, 11 April 1935)

Following this period, the Camden nursery moved to Broughton & Little Street  (Nixon 1989) at the rear of the Camden District Hospital until the business was sold in the mid-1960s. (Nixon 1991)

References

Little, S. F. (1977). Correspondence to CHS 17 February 1977. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archive.

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Nixon, R. E. (1989). File notes for correspondence to CHS from Helen R Dick 18 July 1989, Camden Museum Archives.

Nixon, R. E. (1991). The Rose Festival. Rose Festival File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sanders, G. J. (2008a). Distinguished in war and peace, Bruce Ferguson, Obituary 31 May. Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2008.

Sanders, G. J. (2008b). Eulogy for Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sheridan, P. (2021). Sydney Art Deco and Modernist Walks Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. Sydney, Bakelite and Peter Sheridan.

WCL (2021). “Double Bay as a nineteenth-century centre of gardening and horticulture.” Woollahra Local History/Woollahra’s Historic Landscapes. Retrieved 10 December 2021, 2021, from https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahras-historic-landscapes/horticulture-in-double-bay.

Willis, I. (2014). “Townies Exurbanites and Aesthetics: Issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.” AQ, Australian Quarterly(April-June 2012): 20-25.

Updated 9 January 2022. Originally posted 5 January 2022.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Farming · Frontier violence · Harrington Park · Heritage · History · Landscape · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorial · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban development · Urban growth · Wayfinding

Cowpastures artwork at Harrington Park Lake

Public art as wayfinding, placemaking, memorial and urban development

The story of the Cowpastures is represented in public art across the Macarthur region and one example is found along the Harrington Park Lake walkway.

 A pleasant stroll around the lakeside path will bring the walker to a wooded section and where there is an art installation with cows hiding under the trees.

The public artwork is a mixture of elements that combine wayfinding, placemaking, memorialisation and urban development in a new suburb.

The artwork installation called Cowpastures was created by artist Jane Cavanough of Artlandish Art and Design in 2001. The signage states ‘The cows represent the history of cattle grazing in this region, formerly known as “The Cowpastures”.

Artist Jane Cavanough

Artist Jane Cavanough writes that she ‘produces site-specific public art that is a union of both classic and contemporary design, interactive, low maintenance with long-lasting beauty. She states that her ‘strength is creating artworks that have a strong relationship to the site’. (Cavanough 2020)

Cavanough has achieved her aim with Cowpastures on the Lakeside walk where walkers have been able to engage with the artwork and ponder what the real cows might have looked like over 200 years ago. The artwork has weathered well over the last 20 years and still carries the story that was created by the artist.

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpastures public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<cows pic>

Public art.

The considerations in Cavanough’s Cowpastures parallels the aims of public art in the Northern Beaches LGA. Important considerations for the community and the council along the Northern Beaches Coast Walk were eight principles:

  • Respect and acknowledge Aboriginal cultural heritage
  • Celebrate and conserve significant natural and cultural values
  • Connect places and people along the coast
  • Foster artistic and cultural expression and encourage creative collaboration
  • Enrich places through high quality art and design
  • Interpret the history and significance of the coast
  • Value artistic and cultural diversity and be inclusive
  • Create a distinctive and recognisable Northern Beaches Coast Walk identity.(Council 2019)

It is useful to actually define what is public art. The Northern Beaches Council Public Art Policy provides some guidance and states:

Public Art refers to a range of artwork and art-based activities that interface with the public, including property in private ownership that has publicly accessible space and the public domain. Public Art can include sculpture, place-making elements, wall embellishments, art integrated into the design of buildings, artist-designed seating and fencing, paving work, lighting elements and other creative possibilities. Public Art can serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose.

The public domain means public places and/or open spaces that are situated within, vested in or managed by Council, including parks, beaches, bushland, outdoor recreation facilities, streets, laneways, pathways and foreshore promenades and public buildings, facilities or enclosed structures, owned and managed by Council which are physically accessible to the general public. (Council 2019)

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpasture’s public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

The storyboard

To assist Harrington Park Lakeside walkers engage with Cavanough’s Cowpastures artwork there is information signage that provides an interpretation of the installation. It states:

Cowpastures

In 1788 a herd of 4 long horn cattle and 2 bulls escaped from the Government Farm at Rosehill. [sic] They were found seven years later in 1795 as a herd of 40 in a rich expanse of grassland. Later that same year Governor Hunter surveyed this region and appropriately named it “Cowpastures”. Harrington Park with [sic] the Cowpastures region.

The pastoral industry in Camden began when Governor King granted John Macarthur 2000 acres, which became known as Camden. Further land grants were handed out across the region, including Harrington Park in 1815 to Captain William Douglas Campbell.

The Davies family purchased Harrington Park from the Campbells in 1833. The Rudd family owned the property from 1902/3 to 1944 when it was sold to the Fairfax family.

It operated as a dairy in the 1920s-1930s and then, in 1946, under the Fairfax family’s ownership, it was operated as a poll hereford [sic] stud, nursery and dairy.

Harrington Park-Taylor Woodrow-Fairfax

The storyboard has a supplementary map of Harrington Park property in the Cowpastures.

The storyboard beside Jane Cavanough’s Cowpatures on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<info board pic>

Hidden in the past

Cavanaugh’s Cowpastures tells the story of the site and reveals the layers of the past to the viewer. Yet there is more to the story hidden in the shadows. Some of these hidden stories are hinted at while others are still to be revealed. One example is the violence of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures as the settler society project unfolded and Europeans took up territory from the Indigenous Dharawal. (Karskens 2015)

At Harrington Park lakeside Cavanough has taken part in placemaking, wayfinding, memorialisation and urban development with her creation of Cowpastures.  She has engaged in telling the cultural heritage and contributed to the construction of place and community identity in a new suburb, directed visitors to discover the stories of Cowpastures from the past in an aesthetic landscape setting, and celebrated the history of the site and the Europeans who farmed the land.

References

Cavanough, J. (2020). ” About Jane Cavanough.” Jane Cavanough Artlandish Art and Design. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from http://janecavanough.com.au/about/.

Council, N. B. (2019). Public Art Policy. Sydney, Northern Beaches Council.

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

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Macarthur Bridge

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most critical parts of the economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe.

The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood-free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded.

The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River floodplain upstream from the Camden township in New South Wales (IWillis 2015)

History and Description

The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.

The naming of the bridge coincided with establishing the Macarthur Growth Centre as part of the Askin Government’s 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan. These plans were supported by the Australian Government’s own Growth Centres program.

These were exciting plans that were never fully realized by the planners. The New Cities Plan turned into a developer’s dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plain. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan of 1973 was completed by the NSW State Planning Authority of the Askin Government.

The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Valley coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.

This development was considered important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Government’s support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation, which turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.

The Construction of the Macarthur Bridge (RMS 1973, 71/2 mins)

The high-level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields away from Camden’s main street, passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.

The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge had been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.

Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 (Postcard Camden Images)

In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question in parliament from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated

I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.

I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)

Specifications

The Macarthur Bridge is a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.

The Camden Bypass

The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.

The  Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.

Macarthur Bridge Approaches 2015 1Willis
The Macarthur Bridge northern approaches from the Camden Bypass  (1Willis, 2015)

Open to traffic and construction details  

The official plaque on the bridge states:

Macarthur Bridge.

The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.

RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads

AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads

GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief

FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)

Department of Main Roads, New South Wales

Open to traffic on 26 March 1973

Memories

Facebook 30 June 2021

Annette DingleI remember the day it opened, the school ( Camden south) walked to it . I lived in the street under it ( it was a dead end back then ) we use to play in the “tunnels “ under the bridge. You could only go so far before there was no air . Fun times

Read more

State Route 89 on Ozroads Website Click here

State Route 12 on Paul Rands Website Click here

Updated 4 March 2022, 30 June 2021. Originally posted 6 January 2020

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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)

A related story about disposal of nightsoil and long drops in goldrush Melbourne in the mid-19th century can be found here.

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The anchor of confidence – a brutalist addition

Campbelltown City Council 1982 office extensions

On 18 September 1982 the Governor of New South Wales His Excellency Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC opened the new brutalist style office extensions for Campbelltown City Council.

Gosford architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates designed the office extensions and when combined with the 1964 building created one of the most important modernist building precincts in the Macarthur region.

Campbelltown Council Admin Building Open 1982Sept16 Cover lowres
The cover of the official programme at the opening of the new administration building in 1982. (CCC)

Unprecedented growth

Mayor Thomas stated at the official opening that the city had undergone ‘unprecedented’ growth and embraced ‘enormous changes’ since 1964. (Official programme)

The city’s population growth had grown from 24,000 (1963) to 43,000 (1974) and by 1980 was 120,000.

The council’s administration was ‘strained to the limit’, and there was a risk of fragmentation of council departments. To avoid this, the architects recommended a new single building to accommodate council staff.

The architects presented three sites for the council’s consideration: the existing civic centre site;  Camden Road opposite the Campbelltown Catholic Club; and the Macarthur Regional Growth Centre.

Campbelltown Council Admin Buildings 1964 &amp; 1982 Photographer John Nobley CCL 1983
The Campbelltown City Council administration buildings. On the left in the 1964 modernist tower and on the right in the 1982 brutalist extension. The image shows how the architects integrated the design of the 1982 extension on the civic centre site. This image was photographed from Campbelltown Railway Station by John  Nobley in 1983. (CCL Fairfax Collection)

 

Moral obligation

After considering the three options, the council felt that it had a ‘moral obligation’ to the existing Queen Street commercial precinct to remain at the civic centre site.

The new office building would act as an ‘anchor of confidence’, and the site would remain as the northern gateway to the commercial precinct. It would set a standard for future development in the area. (Official programme, 1982)

The council requested that the architects design a ‘four-storey administrative building’ of around  2000m2 with associated pedestrian plaza, landscaping and parking within the civic centre precinct.

In 1980 the civic centre precinct consisted of the 1966 single floor community hall, the 1971 single-storey library building, a single-story women’s rest centre, a service station, the former fire station and two-storey ambulance station. (Official programme, 1982)

For the completion of the project, the council needed to acquire the service station on the corner of Queen and Broughton Streets.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension9 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 brutalist administration building showing the architectural detail and exposed concrete exterior finish to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

Dominant form

The primary design constraint on the civic centre site was the 1964 office tower of 1400m2  containing the council chambers and the administration offices.   (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

The building completely dominated the precinct and was ‘considered as the major visual element in any design’ because of its height’. The architects described it as a “high rise” curtain wall construction with external sun shading’.  (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates felt that new building extension had to integrate with the 1964 office tower in a functional as well as aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension7 2020 IW (3) lowres
The architectural detail of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the exposed concrete finish to the exterior of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The spirit of the past

The architects stated that the design of the new building extensions and its ‘scale, proportion and detailing’ recognised ‘the legacy of the district’ :

‘The “colonial” pitched roof on the new extensions reflects the graceful simplicity of colonial architecture, and the simple proportions, “depth” façade detailing and pitched roof echo the features of “old” Campbelltown buildings’. (Official programme, 1982)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension12 2020 IW (2) lowres
A perspective of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building with the pedestrian plaza in front of the building. The roofline is visible on the top-level of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The building design inspired Mayor Thomas to draw on the past and ‘old Campbelltown’ as an inspiration for his address.

The new building was a metaphor for the area’s pioneering spirit.

The mayor stated that the new building illustrated how the spirit of the Campbelltown pioneers had not ‘suppressed the basic community character of Campbelltown’s early days’.

‘The spirit of the hardy pioneer bred of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today’, he said.

‘The City of Campbelltown has an ancient heritage in terms of the nation’s history, and this is being matched by a vital modern record of achievement’, said the mayor.

Mayor Thomas said

The wisdom and vision of another progressive Governor of this State, Lachlan Macquarie, almost 160 years ago, formed the nucleus of the closely-knit community which continues to grow in size and stature. The spirit of the hardy pioneer breed of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today. (Official programme)

 

 

Scale, proportion and detailing

The new office building was set at the rear of the civic centre site and kept a ‘lower profile to Queen Street, consistent with the general two-storey nature of the older buildings’.  This design provided ‘an intermediate scale’ to help its integration with the existing higher 1964 building.   (Official programme, 1982)

The building materials for the project ensured that the external finish blended ‘aesthetically with existing buildings and landscape and are architecturally pleasing’, and the ‘finishes are dignified, tastefully chosen and dignified’. (Official programme, 1982)

The proposed building used reinforced concrete as the main structural element, with ‘precast concrete with exposed aggregate finish’ to the exterior walls with anodised aluminium window frames.  The internal walls were concrete blockwork with cement rendering.

The new design ‘provide[d] a building of similar bulk possessing a horizontal fenestration opposed the vertical nature of the existing building’ to act as a ‘counterfoil’ to the 1964 office tower. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

At the end of the design phase, the architects believed that the proposed scheme was both ‘aesthetically and materially adequate’ and ‘integrated functionally and aesthetically’ with the civic auditorium. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension5 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the architectural detail and the exposed concrete exterior finish on the building. (I Willis, 2020)

Brutalist style

The monolithic presentation of the office building extension with a rigidly geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete was representative of brutalist-style architecture.

Brutalism grew out of the early 20th-century modernist movement that is sometimes linked with the dynamism and self-confidence of the 1960s. The characteristics of the style are straight lines, small windows, heavy-looking materials, and modular elements with visible structural elements and a monochromic colouring.

The brutalist-style appeared in the post-war years in the United Kingdom and drew inspiration from mid-century modernism. The style became representative of the new town movement and appeared in modernist UK cities like Milton Keynes. Brutalism was common in the Sydney area in the late 1960s and 1970s and an integral part of the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Plan 1973
Consequently, the Campbelltown area has several brutalist-style buildings including Airds High School (1974), Glenquarie Shopping Centre (1975), Campbelltown TAFE College (1981), Macarthur Square (1979), Campbelltown Hospital (1977), and Campbelltown Mall (1984).

 

Conclusions

The new 1982 office extension reflected how the winds of change from population growth had re-shaped the Campbelltown area since the construction of the 1964 modernist office tower.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension4 2020 IW (3) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 Administration building showing the exposed concrete exterior to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the local studies librarians at the Campbelltown City Library in the completion of this blog post.