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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

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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.

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.

Adaptive Re-use · Aesthetics · Architecture · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Business · Camden · Camden Gasworks · Camden Story · Communications · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Electricity · Engineering Heritage · Gas · Gothic · Heritage · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Industrial Heritage · Infrastructure · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Myths · Place making · Public art · Sense of place · Service utilities · Storytelling · Streetscapes · Technology · Town planning · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism · Utilities · Water

Mundane objects tell an interesting story

Utility pit covers

What is under your feet and totally ignored? What do you walk over every day? What is essential in an emergency? What provides access to critical utilities? The answer lies under our feet. What is it? Give up yet?

The answer is the humble utility inspection cover.

Gas Cover Durham Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Utilities like electricity, water, gas, sewerage, communications and others are essential in any community. Camden has acquired the utilities as time has progressed over the past 150 years to the present. Argyle Street has several utilities buried beneath the street and footpaths. Their histories provide valuable insight into the town’s development and progress, particularly in the 20th century.

The arrival of electricity, gas, and water was part of Camden modernism and its influence. These utilities have transnational origins beyond the township and illustrate the linkages between the town and the wider world.

For example, the supply of clean drinking water in Camden was linked to an outbreak of scarlet fever in the later 19th century. Contagious diseases were a significant health concern in the 19th century and were an ever-present worry in daily life. Clean drinking water had a significant influence on the development of public health.

I was walking along Camden’s Argyle Street, and it struck me that utility inspection covers are a historical statement in their own right. They are an entry point for the utility service as they also provide an entry to the stories surrounding the utility’s delivery.

Even the different logos for utilities illustrate the changes in the history of a telco or electricity supplier. A cover might be a statement about a utility supplier that is now defunct. The utility cover is made of different materials – cast iron, concrete, and others.

These are all mysteries that are waiting to be solved for the curious mind. Or just for the bored and idle with nothing better to do.

What about the Gas Cover from Durham above?

Durham Gas Cover

This is an inspection cover for the gas pipes using a Durham fitting probably around 1912. The Durham drainage fitting is a cast-iron, threaded fitting used on drainage pipes; has a shoulder such as to present a smooth, continuous interior surface. (Free Dictionary)  The Durham patent system of screw-joint iron house drainage was manufactured by the Durham House Drainage Co. of York USA (1887).

The Durham cover is for the Camden gas supply, installed in 1912 by the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was built in Mitchell Street and made gas from coal. There were many gas street lights in Argyle Street which were turned on in early 1912. The Camden News reported in January 1912 that many private homes and businesses had been connected to the gas supply network and were fitted for gaslighting.

Mr Murray, the gasworks manager, reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit, and he anticipated total supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912) Throughout 1912 there was an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)

In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was sold to AGL in 1970. (Peter Mylrea, ‘Gas and Electricity in Camden’, Camden History March 2008.)

NRCC

What is this cover for the NRCC? Does it still exist?

NRCC Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

 

The NRCC does not exist anymore, and the logo stood for the Nepean River County Council. It was the electricity supplier for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton area from 1954 to 1979 when it was amalgamated with Prospect County Council. This, in turn, became Integral Energy. Integral Energy was formed by the New South Wales Government in 1995 from the amalgamation of Illawarra Electricity and Prospect Electricity with over 807,000 customers.

NRCC office open 1956 Picton SLNSW

The Campbelltown office of the NRCC was located in Queen Street next to the Commonwealth Bank and in 1960 shifted to Cordeaux Street. By 1986 a new advisory office was opened in Lithgow Street. The council opened a new shop front at Glenquarie Shopping Centre at Macquarie Fields. There were shopfronts in Camden, Picton and other locations.

Logo Design

In  October 1954, the NRCC approved a design for its official seal. Alderman P Brown suggested a logo competition, and many entries were received for the £25 prize. The winning design by artist Leone Rush of Lidcombe depicts electricity being extended to rural areas by a circular outline of “Nepean River County Council”.
(Camden News, Thursday 4 November 1954.)

NRCC Seal (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/)
Nepean River County Council Seal (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/)

Former NRCC employee Sharon Greene stated that ‘It was like a small family business where everyone was happy to be there.’ (Camden Advertiser, 25 May 2009)

Former office manager, Kay Kyle, said that things in the office in 1959 were pretty bare when she started as a junior clerk.

She said:

‘We had no cash registers or adding machines, we hand wrote receipts and added the figures in our head for daily takings. That was a good skill to have. Eventually we received an old adding machine from Picton, but one day it added incorrectly so I wouldn’t use it again.’  (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

Former linesman Joe Hanger recalls working for the NRCC. He said,

‘In 1954 we were transferred to Nepean River County Council. They wanted linesmen and I went on the line crew and eventually worked my way up and got a pole inspectors job going around creosoting the poles. Eventually I got my own crew, mainly pole dressing. There were 7-8 in the crew. I was then made a foreman in about 1978.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

Working in the outdoor crews could be dangerous, as Joe Hanger remembers.

‘In July 1974 I fell from a 40ft pole while doing work near The Oaks. We had to check out why a back feed to The Oaks was loosing voltage. We were looking for crook joints. The pole is still out there, near a bend just before the straight road into The Oaks. We had opened the air break switch behind us and the airbreak switch ahead, we forgot that the transformer was on the other side of the open point. I checked the pole and Neville Brown had gone along to the next pole to open the next section. I was standing on the low voltage cross arm and grabbed one of the wires and was struck by the electricity. Luckily my weight caused me to fall away. I ended up falling about 25 feet and just another pole lying on the ground. If I had the belt on it may have been a different matter. I had a broken leg, broken rib and a great big black eye. I was very lucky.’

(http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

There are a host of other stories and wonderful memories from former employees of NRCC @ http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html.

Friends of the Nepean River Country Council

Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them, join the Friends of NRCC. 

Friends of NRCC

The telco inspection lid

This inspection lid is for the telco, which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.

PMG Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

The telco had a rich history of communications in Australia, starting in 1810 with the first postal service. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Australia’s first postmaster Isaac Nicholls and the colonial government of New South Wales Government the first regular postal services, including rates of postage. The new Sydney General Post Office was opened in George Street in 1874.

The first telephone service was established in Melbourne in 1879.

At Federation, the new Commonwealth Postmaster-General’s Department assumed responsibility for telephone, telegraph and postal services. In the 1920s, the department took control of international short wave services and the Australian Broadcast Commission in the 1930s.

In 1975 the Postmaster-General Department was broken up, and the postal service moved to Australia Postal Commission (trading at Australia Post). Telecommunications became the responsibility of the Australian Telecommunications Commission trading at Telecom Australia. Telecom Australia was corporatised in 1989, renamed Telstra Australia in 1993, and partially privatised in 1999.

In 1992 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (est 1946) was merged with Telecom Australia.

Telstra Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden
Inspect Cover Telecom
Telecom Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

 MWS&DB

Service Valve cover for water MWS&DB Argyle St Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The MWS&DB was the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, today is known as Sydney Water. The organisation has gone through several name changes:

  • the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 1888 to 1892,
  • from 1892 to 1925 as the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage,
  • the MWS&BD from 1925 to 1987,
  • then the Water Board from1987 to1994, then finally as the
  • Sydney Water Corp Ltd (1995-1999) with Ltd dropped in 1999.

Deks G (Gas)

Deks Cover for gas in Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Deks was established in Australia by Mr George Cupit in 1947 and remained a family business until it became part of the Skellerup Group in 2003. Deks have a presence in 28 countries. They have supplied plumbing fittings, including flashings, fittings or flanges, for over 100 years. (http://www.deks.com.au/about/)

Malco W (Water)

Malco Cover for Water Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Malco Industries reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951 that the company incorporated three separate businesses involved in heavy industrial activities on its site at Marrickville. There were three divisions (1) Malleable Castings was founded in 1915 and was claimed to be one of Australia’s leading producers of iron castings. (2) EW Fittings was incorporated in 1925 and made cast iron pipe fittings for water, gas, steam and oil. (3) Link-Belt Co Pty set up in 1949 and industrial transmission equipment. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Friday 6 April 1951, page 6)

Romwood SV

Service Valve Romwood Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Havestock Cover

Havestock Cover Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Havestock is a business that has made pit lids since the 1980s. Havestock is now part of the global EJ Group and designs, manufactures and distributes man-hole covers, pit covers and other infrastructure access covers and grates. (http://www.hygrade.net.nz/product-category/by-brand/by-brand-havestock/) (http://www.homeimprovementpages.com.au/connect/havestock_pty_ltd/)

Updated 26 October 2021. Originally posted 21 October 2016.

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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

1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan · 1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · 20th century · Advertising · Business · Cafes · Camden · Camden Story · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Drive-In Movies · Entertainment · Families · Family history · Food · Heritage · History · Leisure · Local History · Local Studies · Lost Sydney · Memory · Modernism · Movies · Narellan · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Urban Planning · urban sprawl

Narellan ‘Gayline’ Drive-In Movie Theatre

 The Drive-In Movie Theatre in the Camden District

A notable part of Camden’s modernism that has disappeared is the Drive-In movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the famous attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s, located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale).

Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the baby boomers’ lifestyle. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The Drive-In movie theatre was a defining moment in the Camden District for a 20th-century culture based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.

Drive-in Movie Theatres

Robert Freestone writes that the Drive-In theatre arrived in New South Wales in 1956, and by the 1970s, there were 14 drive-ins in the Sydney area, including the Gayline. The Drive-In was a ‘signifier of modernity with its twin imperatives of consumption and comfort in the motor car’s private space.

The Drive-In reflected the US’s growing influence in the 1950s, the force of suburbanisation and the democracy of car ownership. The first Drive-In theatre in Australia was the Burwood Drive-In in Melbourne in 1954. The first Sydney Drive-In was the MGM Chullora Twin Drive-In which opened in 1956 by Premier Cahill. In the 1970s, there were more than 300 drive-ins across Australia.

In New South Wales, Drive-Ins came under the control of the Theatres and Public Halls Act 1908-1946 and were heavily regulated compared to Victoria under the Theatres and Films Commission. Freestone argues states New South Wales planning restrictions Drive-Ins could not be closer than 4 miles to each other, they had to be accessed by a side-road, away from airports, and positioned so as not to distract passing traffic.

During its heyday, the Drive-In was very popular. It was very democratic, where an FJ Holden could be parked next to a Mercedes Benz. The Drive-In was a relaxed, laid back way to see the movies. The whole family went to the movies, including the kids. Parents could have a night off and not have to clean up, dress up or hire a baby-sitter. Families took blankets, quilts, and pillows, and when the kids faded out, they slept on the car’s back seat. A young mother could walk around with her new baby without disturbing other patrons.

Narellan Gayline Drive-In with caravan next to the projection room. Ted Frazer would stop overnight in the caravan c1970s. (T Frazer)

The Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre

The Operators

Ted Frazer, the owner/operator of the Gayline Drive-In, was a picture showman. The Frazers had cinemas on the South Coast, at Scarborough and Lake Illawarra. At Scarborough, they operated the Gala Movie Theatre.  It was established in 1950 and had sessions on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights and Saturday matinee.  The family ran movies in the local progress hall at Lake Illawarra.

Terry Frazer said,’ ‘We were the only family-operated Drive-In. Greater Union or Hoyts ran all the others in the Sydney area’.

Terry Frazer considered that the business was successful over the years that it operated at Narellan. He said, ‘It was a family business, and my son did some projection work. The kids worked in the shop, as did our wives.

The high point of the Drive-In’s success was in the early 1970s. Terry’s brother Kevin Frazer and his wife Lorraine Frazer were in the business from the early 1970s. He says:

As a family business, we had separate jobs, and you did not interfere with others.

The Gayline showed a mixture of movies. When patrons rolled in, they put the hook-on-window-speaker and occasionally drove off with it still attached after the movie finished.

Some Drive-Ins closed down in the 1970s, yet the Gayline survived. When daylight saving was introduced moved to later starts. Like other Drive-Ins, during the 1980s, it dished up a diet of soft porn and horror movies to compete with videos and colour TV.  In 1975 colour TV had an effect, but a more significant impact was the introduction of video in 1983-84. It contributed to killing off the Drive-Ins. Terry thinks that apart from videos Random Breath Testing, which became law in NSW in 1985, also had an effect.

Terry Frazer said

Things went in cycles.  The writing was on the wall in the early 80s. We knew it was pointless to keep going full-time, and we only operated part-time, on Friday and Saturday nights. We had family working in the shop. We eventually closed in 1990. Land developers were making offers to Dad for the site.  Dad built a house in 1971. It was a cream brick Cosmopolitan home in Gayline Ave, and it is still there.

Signage from the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan (I Willis)

The foundation

Ted Frazer located the Drive-In at Narellan because it was to be within the ‘Three Cities Growth Area’ (1973) of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan (1968), and the land was a reasonable price.

The opening night was in November 1967, and the first movie was Lt Robin Crusoe USN [Walt Disney, 1966, Technicolor, starring Dick Van Dyke, Nancy Kwan]

Size

Terry Frazer recalls

We could fit in 575 cars. The surface was asphalt, and we were always patching it. It was part of the maintenance of the site. We had to have a licence for motion pictures.

Screen

The screen, according to Terry Frazer, was made from zinc anneal sheeting. Mr Frazer recalls

Rivetted together on a rear timber frame. All mounted on a steel frame made by a local engineering company. A crane hoisted it up. On either end, there were cables and shackles, with a platform with safety rails that you manually wind up with a handle up the front of the screen. You would use it to clean the screen or repaint it white. I painted the screen with a roller.

NTS speakers still mount the junction boxes Narellan Gayline Drive-in (I Willis)

Sound

The speakers had a volume control and a small speaker. The family brought in Radio Cinema Sound in the mid to late 1970s. The customers had a choice of old-style speaker or radio as not all cars had radios.  Terry Frazer would go around all the speakers on Fridays and check for sound quality. There were redback spiders under the concrete blocks that had the speaker post. Terry recalls:

Before the end of the show, he would remind patrons to put the speakers back on the post before leaving. Some would still drive off with them attached. The Drive-In had a PA system through the speaker system.

Sessions

Mr Frazer stated

Sessions started at 7.30 pm, except in daylight saving when it was 8.30pm. In busy periods we had double sessions – 7.30pm and midnight. Always two features. I always had the lighter movie on first and the feature on the second half. In the 1980s, we still had a double feature.

Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre on Narellan Road was behind the screen. It was a two lane road from Narellan to Campbelltown.  There are poultry farms in the background. c1970s (T Frazer)

Terry Frazer recalls:

For the midnight session there could be a queue down Morshead Road out onto Narellan Road waiting to get in. It was a horror movie session from 12.00am to 3.00am. On some popular Saturday nights, we may not be able to get all the cars in. At one stage in the 1970s, we considered having two sessions 7.00pm and 10.00pm. We would advertise sessions in the Sydney papers under the Greater Union adverts every night of the week. We would run adverts in the local papers each week.

Movies and Slides

The feature films could be a long movie, for example, Sound of Music, Great Escape. They had an intermission cut into the movie.

Terry Frazer remembers:

We changed the movie programme on Thursdays. We dealt with MGM, Paramount, 20th Century-Fox and Columbia. They were all around the city. You would go to each one to pick up the [film] print. Some of these amalgamated later on. Paramount and Fox were off Goulburn and Elizabeth Streets, Columbia at Rozelle. My father, Ted Frazer, would go in early to book the programme, and I would drop off the old programme.

You would hope it was a good print, otherwise, I would have to repair the film by doing joins. I used a brush and cement, and later we went to tape. You would make a perfect joint. You would join up the trailers and a short feature. You would hook them into the front of the spool to make less changeovers.

If a movie went well, it would run for 2-3 weeks if the print was not booked out anywhere else. There were usually a lot of prints, so if a movie went well, you could keep a print for another week.

For the big movies, the city cinemas got first release. We could get lessor movies as first release and run with other features.

Terry Frazer observed that

as an independent [screen] we got a reasonable go at it. For the lessor movies, we paid a certain figure. Top movies were worked on a percentage basis, 50:50, 60:40 [of takings]. Some companies would check the number of cars at the Drive-In by sending representatives out. One independent movie producer, Ably Mangles, came out to check the number of cars. He was on a percentage basis.

Independent movies were popular.  Glass slides were provided by David Koffel, the advertising agency, as a finished product.

Projection

Terry Frazer was the projectionist and recalled:.

The slide projector was a carbon arc slide projector. The movie projector was an English Kalee 35 mm projector. It had a carbon arc feed mirror for its light source. It had a manual feed.  You had to thread up each spool which would last 20 minutes. There were two movie projectors and one slide projector. You would load one up, ready for the next one to start. While the movie was running, you would go out to the rewind room and manually rewind the spool for the next night’s screening.

Promotion for Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre in the 1970s (The Crier)

Advertising

Terry Frazer remembers:

We had glass slides showing advertising during intermission and before the show. We would run 70 glass slides showing adverts for local businesses. Local business would buy advertising. The local representative of the advertising agency would go around local businesses. The advertising agency was David Koffel. There was good money from advertising to local businesses. Later the advertising agency changed to Val Morgan.

The Experience

The experience of the Drive-In is the strongest memory for regular moviegoers. People rarely talk about the movie they saw but can remember with great detail the whole experience of the Drive-In. 

Memories flood back for baby-boomers of the rainy night when they tried to watch the movie with the windscreen wipers going. Or the car windscreen was fogging up. Or the winter’s night when the fog rolled in from Narellan Creek. Or the relaxed ambience of a balmy moonlit summer’s night.

The smell of the food, the sound of the cars, the queues to get in, the walk for hotdogs and drinks. The night out with the girlfriend and the passionate night’s entertainment. Orr the night out as a youngster with the family dressed as you were in pyjamas and slippers.

The Gayline Drive-In was not only attractive to young families; it offered local teenagers freedom from the restrictions of home. Many local teenagers had access to cars and found the Drive-In an ideal place for a date and some canoodling and smooching. It was quite a coupe to get Dad’s car and show off to your mates or the girlfriend. The Drive-In was a place to see and be seen. It was a big deal. 

 One of the favourite lurks of teenagers was to fill the boot of the car with people so they did not have to pay. Once inside, they were let out. If you drove a station wagon, you reversed the car into the spot and lay in the back of the wagon, wrapped up in a blanket. Others would bring their deck-chairs, put them in the back of the ute, enjoy a drink and a smoke, and watch the movie.

The Shop

The Drive-In movies offered an experience, whether at the snack bar which sold banana fritters, hot dogs, battered savs, Chiko Rolls, popcorn, chips, choc-tops, ice-creams, Jaffas, Minties and Hoadley’s Violet Crumble. The Narellan Gayline Drive-In had a large screen, a projector booth, a children’s playground, and a large parking area.

Terry Frazer recalls:

Mum controlled the shop and kitchen. In the early 1970s, she had 7-8 working in the shop. Later on, there was only one permanent girl. In the 1970s, the restaurant had 8-10 tables. Mum would cook T-Bone steak with salad and other dishes. Originally Mum made steak and fish dinners for a few years. Then she went to hot dogs, hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, banana fritters and ice-cream, which was very popular fish and chips.

Steak sandwiches were popular, Chiko rolls later on. They were quick and easy. Mum would pre-prepare the hot dogs and hamburgers. She would make what she needed based on how many came in the gate. At the break, everyone (patrons) would rush down to the shop and queue up 6-7 deep and wanted quick service.

We had snacks, chocolates, and popcorn. The only ice-creams were choc-tops because the margins were bigger. Drinks were cordial and water in paper cups. There were good  margins. We were the last to change over to canned soft drinks. Most Drive-Ins did the same.

Customers could sit in the outside area and watch the movie from the building. A handful of patrons would walk in. Usually, local kids sit in front of the shop and watch the movie- all undercover.

The shop did fabulous business until the US takeaways arrived.  McDonalds and KFC [arrived in the mid to late 1970s in Campbelltown and] changed things. Customers would bring these takeaways or bring their own eats.

Mrs Alma Rootes

One of the regular workers in the shop and kitchen was Alma Rootes. She was a kitchen hand and shop assistant from 1967-1975 until she became pregnant with her fourth child.

Mrs Rootes recalls:

I worked in the kitchen and served at the counter. We did fish and chips, hamburgers, banana fritters and Pluto pups (a battered sav) and other things such as lollies.  People would come into the shop before the movie was screened to buy fish and chips. Fish and chips went really well. They would have their dinner. We would pre-prepared food for sale before the interval. It wasn’t easy; there would always be a rush at interval. I would work on hot food.

We made hundreds and hundreds of ice-creams. They had a  chocolate coating. You would scoop out the ice-cream out of a drum-type container. You would put a small scoop in the bottom of the cone and a bigger one on the top and dip in the warm chocolate. The chocolate was in a stainless steel bowl. Mrs Frazer always wanted to give value for money [referring to the two scoops]. We would do this before interval. The banana fritters were battered bananas, deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Mr Frazer would help on the counter in the shop with the lollies. There would be 2-3 working in the kitchen. On quiet nights Mrs Frazer would run things on her own. There was another lady. Her name was Lyn, I think. Kevin would come out and work in the shop if there was a rush. Sometimes the movie would start, and we would not be finished serving. The customers could see out of the shop to the screen. After the show, we would clean up.

Mrs Alma Roots was presented with a retirement gift from Frazer family. Alma worked at the Narellan Gayline Drive-In for many years (I Willis, 2008)

The shop had a glass front facing the screen with two doors for entry to the sales area. There was a counter at one end were lollies and ice-creams, in the middle was hot food. There was a door behind the counter to the kitchen. The kitchen had counters down either wall, with a deep fry at one end.

I have lived at Bringelly for around 50 years. I originally came from Lakemba. I was paid the wages of the day.  I enjoyed my time there. It was a good place to work. Driving home was not good. Sometimes there would be huge fogs. Alan (husband) would take the kids, and they would sometimes drive me home.

I thought I had better go when I got pregnant. Alan [Alma’s husband] said that Mrs Frazer was concerned she would slip in the kitchen or have an accident as Alma was so heavy (pregnant). Mrs Frazer was concerned about her insurance position. The Frazers gave me a silver teapot when I left in 1975 [photo].

Patrons

Terry Frazer remembers:

Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a top table truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs, and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell.

You would get guys on motorbikes. We had all sorts of patrons, stories that you could not print. We had a bucks party one night.

In the early 1970s, there were panel vans that were carpeted and done up. The young fellows would reverse into position and open the doors to watch the movie.

The Drive-In was a good night’s family entertainment. It was a full night’s entertainment for families. There was a kid’s playground. Mum and Dad could watch the movie. The regulars were young families who could not afford baby sitters. They would pile the kids in the car in their pyjamas and come to the Drive-In.

Terry Frazer recalls:

that they would always say, the Drive-In was one business that added to the population growth of the area. There was a lot of making out [and pashing] amongst the young couples who were regulars.

Patrons could get out of their cars and go for a walk. People wandered around.

Different uses

Frazer stated:

At Easter, there were church meetings. They constructed a huge stand in front of the screen. It went on for 3-4 years in the early 1970s [a trend copied from the USA]. It was a Drive-In church. The Frazers could not recall which church group.

There were car shows in the 1970s.

An independent movie was made at the Drive-In. They set up the rails and so they could move along to set a scene. Some scenes in the movie were shot at Thirlmere. A local, Lyle Leonard, had his car in it. They shot a number of scenes at the Drive-In. I cannot remember the name of the movie.

Inclement Weather

Frazer remembers:

In wet weather, we waited until it was really wet and would tell the patrons to come to the shop, and we would give them a pass for the following night.

We could get completely fogged out. The light beam could not penetrate the fog. We would close up and give a pass for the following night. It was worst in April and May.

People would come from a long way for a certain movie in really bad weather you would give them a refund.

Lyn Frazer recalled that if it was drizzling, patrons would rub half an onion onto the windscreen, and you could see.

 Narellan township

Narellan township in 1967 [when we set up] only had 6 shops. There was always a takeaway next door to the current cheesecake shop [on Camden Valley Way]. There was only a very small shopping centre.

<All that is left of the Narellan Gayline Drive-In a street sign. (I Willis, 2008)>

The End

The Gayline Drive-In eventually closed down, like many in the Sydney area, when residential development at Narellan Vale started to grow, and the land was more valuable as real estate.

Unfortunately, lifestyles have changed, and people prefer the comfort of suburban movie theatres at Campbelltown and shortly at Narellan. However, the tradition of outdoor movies and all their attractions for young families and teenagers are not dead in our area.

Outdoor movies have made a come back in the local area as they have in other parts of Sydney. There have been movies under the stars at venues like Mt Annan Botanic Gardens and Macarthur Park.

 

A story about the Narellan Gayline Drive-In that appeared in The Crier 20 May 1987 (The Crier, 20 May 1987)

Sources

Terry Frazer, Interview, Camden, 2008.  

Alma Rootes, Interview, Bringelly, 2010.

Reference

Robert Freestone, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Sydney Drive-In’, in Paul Hogben and Judith O’Callaghan, Leisure Space, The Transformation of Sydney 1945-1970, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2014.

Read more 

Read more about the Outdoor Movie Theatre and Drive-In Movie Theatres

Read more on Australian Drive-In Movie Theatres and @ Drive-ins Downunder 

Read about the Blacktown Skyline Drive-In – the last drive-in in the Sydney area and here

Read about the history of the Yatala Drive-In in Queensland

Read about drive-ins  2007_SMH_They’ve long been history; now drive-ins are historical

Read about the Lunar Drive-In in Victoria

Facebook Comments: Camden History Notes

Warwick Storey I remember going to that Drive-In with Hilarie. It was only 500m up the road for her place. (12 January 2016)

Richard Barnes Watched ghost busters there with my dad..(11 January 2016)

Dianne Vitali Watched many a movie over the years!! B (11 January 2016)

Ian Icey Campbell Use to. Go there in my Escort Panel van, lol. (11 January 2016)

Lauren Robinson I live on this Drive-In! (11 January 2016)

 Nell Raine Bruce  Such fun times we had there. Before we could drive we would walk and sit on the veranda of the cafeteria and watch the movie. The good old days, wish it was still there. (Facebook, 22 June 2015) 

Eric Treuer  I remember going there thinking that the drive-in was for gays. I was very young at the time. Lol  (Facebook, 22 June 2015) 

Gail Coppola  Had great times there. Listening to the movies and the cows lol  (Facebook, 22 June 2015)

Jan Carbis  Went there many times….great memories  (Facebook, 22 June 2015)

Barbara Brook Swainston I remember it well!  (Facebook, 22 June 2015)

Adam Rorke My lawyers have advised me to say nothing….. (22 June 2015)

Chris Addison What is it now houses kids used to love going there (22 June 2015) 

Justin Cryer I remember going out to here with the whole family hahaha wow (22 June 2015)

Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (22 June 2015)

Jan Carbis Went there many times….great memories (22 June 2015) 

Robert Rudd Movie news that’s for sure gots lots of oh doesn’t matter (22 June 2015) 

Dianne Bunbury We had one in Horsham when I was growing up in – 1960s era. (22 June 2015)

Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)

Kay Gale Great nite out was had many years ago wow (23 June 2015)

Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (23 June 2015)

Jacque Eyles The midnight horror nights! Loved it (23 June 2015)

Vicki Henkelman The Hillman Minx and pineapple fritters life were good !! I also had a speaker in the shed for years oops! (23 June 2015)

Meg Taylor Soooo many memories (23 June 2015)

Kim Girard Luved it great times (23 June 2015)

Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)

Kerry Perry Bring back the good times movie, chick, and food (24 June 2015)

Julie Cleary We would back the panel van in and watch in comfort… So fun! (24 June 2015)

Mick Faber Great memories at the Drive-In. 12 of us snuck in one night in the back of a mates milk van. More of a party than a movie night. (24 June 2015)

Kathleen Dickinson Holy geez I think I even remember where that used to be! Lol (23 June 2015

Mandy Ellis-Fletcher Those were the days… Camden / Narellan changed so much..(23 June 2015)

23 June 2015

Matthew Gissane We went down through Camden for a Sunday drive last … er … Sunday, and anyhow, we followed the Old Razorback Road up to Mt Hercules. A fabulous vista from up there. Didn’t see the Gayline though. 23 June at 22:39

Greg Black wasn’t aware of the Gayline,… I do like Camden and the surrounding areas, nice countryside (in the ’60s used to go there with m & d to watch the parachutin’…) 23 June at 23:39

Greg Black Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a tabletop truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell. 23 June at 23:46 

Gary Mcdonald You don’t see them any more  23 June at 14:18  

Sonya Buck Remember seeing American Werewolf in London here Julie Rolph  23 June at 15:58

Leanne Hall Remember getting in the boot to save money oh those were the days  23 June at 09:13 

Barbara Haddock Gann Lots of memories!!  23 June at 19:20

Ian Walton How many of you went there in the boot of a car, dusk till dawn R rated  23 June at 20:08

Sharon Dal Broi How many fitted in your boot Ian Walton 23 June at 20:09

Ian Walton maybe 2 but I never did that HAHA 23 June at 20:11

Sharon Dal Broi Only 2 23 June at 20:11

Ian Walton It was only a small car 23 June at 20:26

Keven Wilkins I remember that guy “movie news”(shit I’m old)lol  1 · 23 June at 22:02

Narelle Willcox We went to the skyline  23 June at 11:36

Graham Reeves went there nearly every weekend, got thrown out a few times as well  23 June at 05:01

Sonia Ellery 22 June at 20:37 This was a great Drive-In!

Vicky Wallbank omg that was a long time ago but I still remember it ..and used to visit there  1 · 22 June at 21:24

Kris Cummins Look them beautiful paddocks turned to shit 1 · 22 June at 20:06

Adrian Mainey Went there as a kid biff that’s a classic  1 · 22 June at 20:36

Nick Flatman Golden memories  Spent a number of trips in the boot  22 June at 20:50

Craig Biffin & back of a ute or wagon  1 · 22 June at 20:52

Nicolle Wilby Haha Nick I did too under blankets and stuff!  22 June at 21:40

Anthony Ayrz I remember it well,,,,, thought it was called Skyline….. full of houses now,,,,, can still pick put exactly where it was…. I was about 7 when my parents took us there a few times….. remember going to the Bankstown one with my parent’s friends in the boot…. and we got away with it!!!!  22 June at 21:28

Stephen Burke I did go there a few times. I did forget the name  23 June at 07:08

Anthony Cousins Good old days 1 · 22 June at 15:54

William John RussellThat was where I grew up as part of the old man’s original property 1 · 22 June at 20:15

Chris TownsendI remember it well. Drive-In great. Council sucked . ( Over the name )  22 June at 22:53

William John RussellThe reason it was named Gayline is that the owners lost their young daughter named Gay  1 · 23 June at 07:34

Eric Treuer I remember going there with my then-girlfriend and stopped in shock when I saw the name of the Drive-in. Lol.
I wish it was still there.

Bill Russell Reason it was called gayline is that they lost their daughter at an early age
Her name was Gay

 Toni Lyall Baume We had a mattress in the back of the station wagon with the kids in their jammies

 Kim Down We used to go almost every week with the family, then when we were old enough to get cars, we’d go with our mates

 Susan Vale I remember watching one of the Star Wars films there. I think it was a return of the Jedi.

 Robert Andersson Went there a hell of a lot. It was named after the owner’s daughter that passed away

 Bronwyn Herden They were the days …saw many movies there 😦

 Jody AndKathleen McLean We used to go was a great spot

 Matthew Frost Lisa Frost everything good was before our time.

 Rebecca Funnell Jill Funnell

 Sandy Devlin I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was 10yo 😲

 Alison Russell That brings back memories I used to live behind the Drive-In it looks like the photo is taken from our old house which sadly has just been sold and will be knocked down but what fun we had there as kids and all the sneaky ways we had to get into the Drive-In

15 September 2017  at 07:37

Colleen Dunk Moroney Often went in in the boot so we didn’t have to pay 😲😇 the guy in the white overalls was Neville, used to tap on your window and say “movie news”, giving away movie newspapers. always scared the crap out of me lol. I loved the Drive-In.

 Lauren Novella I remember sneaking in the boot just to save a few bucks!!!!! Lol. Who even watched the movies….. It was more like a mobile party…😆

 Sharon Land Memories remember Alison Russell when we had to go to the outdoor loo and if an R rated movie was on we were supervised outside my mum and dad lol

 Andrew Carter-Locke We used to get in the boot of my cousins XY falcon. Back in the day you always got a backup film before the feature. I remember “Posse”, being better than “Jaws”.

 Wayne McNamara Many mems….watching people drive off ….still connected….and the guy in the white overalls at the entrance…

 Scott Bradwell Cherie Bradwell pretty much every Sat night back in the day 🙂

 Shane Sutcliffe I can just remember it as a 9-year-old before it closed

 Wayne Brennan Wow this sent some flashbacks off lol

 Steve Gammage Remember it well, what u think Kerrie Gammage

 Lynne Lahiff Yes I can remember going to Narellan Drive-In with my children and I loved it every time!

John MacAllister I remember seeing Mary Poppins there back in the day MA Ran! Good times

 Peter Thomas A fantastic place. Deck chairs, a bucket of KFC & a cold esky on a hot summer night.

 Karenne Eccles Went there often in the 70s …. thanks for the memories Gayline x

 Lesley Cafarella this is where I met my husband Marc Cafarella 48 years ago …. nice memories…

 Liz Jeffs Went all the time

 Sharon Beacham Fernance one of the places you liked to go 😀

 Mike Attwood Brings back so many memories

 Karen Attwood Remember my big brother Mike Attwood took me and my sister, Nicky, to see The Sound of Music

 Dave Lutas Movie news!!!

 Christine McDermott Melinda Jolly – Remember it well !!

Like

Like Love  Haha Wow  Sad Angry

Vicki McGregor So many memories at the Gayline.

 Greg Mallitt Was a great place

 Nelly Strike So many memories, the house in Tobruk road was the best party house too, hey Joseph HartyLiane GorrieDeborah BrownNick RomalisNick DonatoDave LutasJoanne BowerLauren NovellaMoira HartyGenene RocheLaurie Brien

 Jane Walgers James

 Graham Mackie Nat Kershaw

 Cathie Patterson John Jones remember this

 John Jones Sure do

Facebook 20 June 2021

Janelle Whittaker

It was great being able to go there

Denise Charlton

We always went to that drive in with the kids, love it.🥰great memories.We always had the Banana Fritters. Yummo

Kerrie Gammage

Great fun there

Dean Winship

The houses were worth more than the movies

Maria Gray

Good old days

Steve Gammage

Great times

Janet Mcgilvray

Nothing but over crowded. Badly designed awful dog box housing estates there now grey and more grey yuck

Anne Watkins

When I was a kid, you could see the screen, looking over the paddocks, from the top of Doncaster Ave, Narellan. Just paddocks, what a memory.

Chris Terry

Great times 😃

Kim Girard

Loved going to the drive in

Kathy Anne Hunt

Great days they did the best Banana Fritters 🤪

Chris Terry

Kathy Anne Hunt omg I was so sick on them once

Kathy Anne Hunt

Chris Terry really 😔

Updated 20 June 2021, 26 March 2021. Originally posted 22 June 2015.

1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan · 1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · Architecture · Attachment to place · Campbelltown · Campbelltown Council · Campbelltown Modernism · Campbelltown Municipal Council · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Engineering Heritage · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · History · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Mid-century modernism · Modernism · Place making · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism

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.

1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan · 1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Business · Campbelltown · Campbelltown Council · Campbelltown Municipal Council · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Modernism · Place making · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism

A symbol of progress – mid-century modernism and a new administration building

 Campbelltown Council Administration Building

In 1964 the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News ran a banner headline on its front page, SYMBOL OF PROGRESS. The newspaper announced the opening of a new council administration building as part of a proposed civic centre precinct in the town centre.

The newspaper headline was a statement of faith in the confidence of Campbelltown and its planned declaration as a satellite city by the state government.

The eight-storey office building was the tallest structure in the town centre and was visible from all parts of the area. The top floors provided a ‘bird’s eye’ view over central Campbelltown and completely dominated its surroundings.

The Campbelltown Council office building is an outstanding example of a mid-century modernist high-rise office tower in the Macarthur region. Unfortunately the hopes and dreams of local decision makers who approved its construction were dashed in later decades.

Campbelltown Council offices 1967 CCL
View of Campbelltown Council administration building from Campbelltown Railway Station in 1967 showing its prominence in the town centre. (CCL)

 

A metaphor for a community on the move

The new administration building was a metaphor for Campbelltown’s growing confidence in the 1960s and the town’s future.

The building symbolised the hopes and dreams of planners and administrators and the immense changes that were to engulf Campbelltown over the following decades.

At the official opening on 28 November, 1964 Campbelltown Mayor TK Fraser felt that the town was on the verge of something special. He said,

At the threshold of the most dynamic period in the history of its area, Campbelltown Municipal Council, imbued with a strong sense of purpose and complete confidence in the future, has provided this imposing Administrative Building’.

The building, the first stage of a Civic Centre which will cater for the needs of a rapidly expanding community, stands as a practical demonstration of the confidence with which Council faces the future convinced that this area, steeped in history, at present of unsurpassed rural charm, will develop, in the near future, into a thriving Satellite City. (Official programme)

Campbelltown Council Chambers 1960s Geoff Eves
A view of the moderne Campbelltown Council administration building in the mid-1960s which was officially opened in 1964. This image was taken by local Campbelltown photographer Geoff Eves and shows the clean lines and minimalist style. (G Eves)

 

The administration building was developed under the guidelines of the County of Cumberland Scheme. It was part of an existing Campbelltown civic precinct that included the ambulance station and courthouse, and adjacent to the police station and railway station.

Alderman Percival, the vice-chair of the council Civic Centre committee, maintained that the building’s design catered for the anticipated administration by the council as a satellite city. The status of a satellite city was part of the proposed decentralisation by the County of Cumberland with Campbelltown’s projected population to grow to 200,000.  (Construction, 11 September 1963)

Planning for the new office building had begun in 1961 when the school of arts building provided inadequate to accommodate council staff. Initially housed in the old town hall council staff had moved out into the school of arts after the 1948 amalgamation with Ingleburn Municipal Council.

‘The move into the new 1964 building was not without criticism’, said Alderman Percival. He argued that the council’s progression with the project was a ‘considerable moment’ for the municipality.

He said, ‘It was a necessary demonstration of confidence in the municipality by Council’. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The architects agreed and said that the size, height and position of the building emphasised ‘the importance and dignity of Local Government function in the affairs of the city’. The two-storey atrium in the vestibule added greater emphasis to the building’s importance because of its aesthetic features including ‘sculptured central column, cascades and pool’. (Construction, 11 September 1963)

 

Campbelltown’s future assured says Deputy Premier at official opening

The New South Wales Minister for Local Government and Deputy Premier PD Hills officially opened the building on 28 November 1964.

Minister Hills re-assured the council that the state government was about to make Campbelltown a self-contained satellite city beyond the Green Belt of the Cumberland Plan.

Mr Hills said, ‘Campbelltown is a thriving urban centre set in rural surroundings, but so close to Sydney metropolis that it largely acts as a dormitory-area for a workforce which finds its employment in the metropolitan area’.

‘It will be necessary to create accommodation within or close to the County of Cumberland, but outside the Green Belt, for an additional 300,000 people every eight years’, he said.

‘This means that we must have beyond the Green Belt but within 30 to 50 of Sydney a series of satellites which will be self-contained in the local sense but yet regionally associated with the metropolis’.

The minister said, ‘In the selection of sites for such development, the Campbelltown area is an obvious choice’. (Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

Campbelltown Plaque Commemorating Opening Campbelltown Council Office 1964 H Neville 2020 lowres
Campbelltown Council Office Building foundation stone 29 February 1964 (H Neville 2020)

 

Storm clouds gather of the planning horizon

The decision by Campbelltown Municipal Council to build the new office accommodation was based on the direction and security provided by the state government’s County of Cumberland plan.

Unfortunately for the council, the New South Wales had abolished the County of Cumberland in December 1963 twelve months before the opening of the new building.

The state government had removed the security of the existing planning framework on which the council had initially been based its decision to proceed with the new building.

Yet the minister continued to re-assure Campbelltown Council of its position at the opening of the administration building in November 1964. (Campbelltown-Ingleburn New, 1 December 1964)

The New South Wales state government’s  State Planning Authority Act 1963. replaced the County of Cumberland with The State Planning Authority (SPA)  in December 1963. The SPA explicitly abandoned the Cumberland scheme’s green belt and satellite cities and devised a Sydney Region Outline Plan 1970–2000 A.D.

The state government proceeded with the development of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and then followed up with the  1973 New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown, Camden and Appin.

The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan 1973 prepared by The State Planning Authority of New South Wales as part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan.

The rosy future of Campbelltown spoken about by the minister and the mayor was not quite as secure as they might have presented it to the community.

Upbeat statements by the mayor and minister encapsulated the elements that eventually foreshadowed dark clouds gathering on the Campbelltown planning horizon.

In the end the storm clouds that gathered around the planning processes rained down on the Campbelltown area in the late 1970s and early 1980s, creating much angst for many in the community.

 

An important local icon

While the contested nature of the planning regime gave many in Campbelltown severe heartburn in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the city was left with an iconic mid-century moderne marvel.

Designed by Sydney architects Davey, Brindley and Vickery in an Internationalist style the office building is a rare intact example in the area of this type of architecture in the local area.

Campbelltown Council office 1966 CIPP
A view of Campbelltown Council administration building from Campbelltown Railway Station in 1966 (CCL)

The building retains much of its 1964 integrity with its clean lines and minimalist non-maintenance finish and functional design with the use of concrete, brick, glass and aluminium materials.

The office building is an essential marker of  mid-20th century Campbelltown and a statement of intent by a council that felt that the town had a secure future as a Sydney satellite city.

 

A moderne architectural gem

Sydney architects Davey, Brindley and Vickery stated that the ‘sharp vertical lines’ of eight-storey building had a steel-encased frame and was built on piles with reinforced concrete floors connected by two high-speed lifts.

The International modernist design style had steel, glass and mass-produced materials as the main characteristic. The rooms had the full expanse of the width of the building with its clean lines supported by dull and shiny surfaces. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

Campbelltown Council Admin Bldg Op Mtg Rm1982Sept16 Cover_0001
An image of the Campbelltown Council Administration Building from official programme given to dignataries at the opening in November 1964 (CMC)

 

A feature of the building was the entrance vestibule with a two-storey open atrium, which contained a floating stairway over an indoor garden. On the east side of the vestibule was a cast bronze multiplane historical mural by Bim Hilder mounted on a high exposed aggregate wall. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The north wall of the foyer was faced with black marble with contrasting white marble door jamb and scag-terrazzo floor. The architects noted that the two primary colours were black and white, which compared with the red cedar-lined ceiling under the mezzanine level. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The stairs to the first level were black scag-terrazzo with a black anodised aluminium balustrade with clear glass panels. On the first floor, the panelled cedar walls contrasted with contrasting black and white colouring. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The architects stated that the building was finished in non-maintenance materials. The exterior charcoal colouring of the building contrasts with a black anodised aluminium building. The sun-blades were heavy baked enamel with infill walls of dark brick. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The 1964 International modernist building created quite a precedent in the small country town of Campbelltown, where the local community leaders were confidently predicting  a bright future.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Local Studies Librarians at Campbelltown City Council Library for their assistance in the completion of this post.

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The mall hope forgot

The Airds Shopping Centre

Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:

A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.

Airds Shopping Centre redevelopment Macarthur Chroncile 2020Apr1

A sad story of decay and neglect

The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.

The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.

The decay at Airds is not unusual and is symbolic of larger trends in global retailing where shopping malls are in decline.

The current dismal state of affairs hides the fact that in the mid-20th century there was great hope and optimism by Campbelltown’s civic leaders for the area’s development and progress.

Airds Shopping Centre Frontage from Walkway underpass 2020 IW lowres
The front view of the Airds Shopping Centre framed by  the underpass at Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

Progress, development, and modernism

There grand plans for Campbelltown as a satellite city within the New South Wales state government’s County of Cumberland Plan.

Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and in 1968 the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of  Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.

Influenced by the British New Town movement the city was incorporated in the State Planning Authority of NSW’s 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan.  This later became the Macarthur Growth Centre administered by the Macarthur Development Board.

Airds Shopping Centre Front from footpath with grass 2020 IW lowres
The unkempt state of the surrounds at the Airds Shopping Centre in Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

Radburn – a ‘foreign country’

Airds was one of several ‘corridor’ suburbs of public housing that following the American Radburn principles.  The Airds shopping centre was built as part of the 1975 Housing Commission of New South Wales subdivision of ‘Kentlyn’ which was renamed Airds in 1976.

The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates that were developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.

The design concept originated from the town of Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.

Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with the front of the house facing a walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant that there was a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape consisting of rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.

Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb, where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighborhood life without the need for a car.

Airds Shopping Centre Interior Signage 2020 IW lowres
The interior walkway into the middle of the Airds Shopping Centre 2020 (I Willis)

Radburn watered down

The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.

The public housing estates did have extensive open space which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises and the Housing Commission built townhouses that were counter to the  Radburn concept.

The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.

The estates were populated with high numbers of single-parent families who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.

Airds Shopping Centre Interior2 2020 IW lowres
The interior space of the Airds Shopping Centre 2020 (I Willis)

Radburn failures

Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street; anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas; and the low socio-economic status of residents.

The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighborhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of areas of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. Some of these issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.

Airds Shopping Centre Frontage from Walkway 2020 IW lowres
Approaching the front of the Airds Shopping Centre from the underpass at Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

Memories of hope

In the 1970s I taught at Airds High School adjacent to the shopping mall and my memories are mixed. Young people who came from dysfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020) who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:

I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies.  Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.

Fiona tells the story of her sister who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.

Similarly I found Airds school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence that was generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’ and I said that this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.

Bogans galore and more

The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasting with the despair of the 1980s.

The shopping mall is a metaphor for the stereotypes that are bandied around over the geographical term ‘Western Sydney’ and the use of terms like ‘bogan’ and ‘westie’. Typified by Sydney’s latte line where city-based decision-makers dealt with suburbs west of the latte line as a foreign country. In 2013 Campbelltown journalist Jeff McGill took exception to ‘bogan’ characterisation of the Campbelltown area by the Sydney media.

Gabrielle Gwyther put it this way:

Derogatory labeling of residents of western Sydney was aided by the social problems and cheap aesthetic of large-scale, public housing estates developed in the 1950s at Seven Hills, followed by Green Valley and Mount Druitt in the 1960s, and the Radburn estates of Bonnyrigg, Villawood, Claymore, Minto, Airds and Macquarie Fields in the 1970s.

Airds Shopping Centre Gate Entry 2020 IW lowres
The side security gates at the Airds Shopping Centre Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

De-Radburnisation

These failures were acknowledged in 1995 with the state government’s public housing renewal projects and their de-Radburnisation through the Neighbourhood Improvement Program.

At Airds this is partly responsible for the re-development of the shopping centre as outlined in the Macarthur Chronicle.

Updated 17 April 2020; Originally posted 11 April 2020

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Reflections on the Camden story

What does the Camden story mean to you?

What is the importance of the Camden story?

What is the relevance of the Camden story?

These appear to be simple questions. But are they really?

I have posed these questions in response to the theme of History Week 2020 which asks the question History: What is it good for?

Narellan Studley Park House 2015 IW
Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

 

So, what is the Camden story?

What is the Camden story?

The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.

Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.

The latest version is the European story started with The Cowpastures in 1795.

The Camden story is about the Camden community.

The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.

These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.

Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District. This book covers an overview of the Camden story from the First Australians, the Cowpastures, gentry estates, the Camden township, Camden as a little England, the Interwar period, First and Second World Wars, voluntarism, mid-20th century modernism and the approach of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. (Kingsclear, 2015)

 

What is the relevance of the Camden story?

The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.

The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.

Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.

Camelot House formerly known at Kirkham, Camden NSW
Camelot House, originally known as Kirkham, was designed by Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt for James White. The house was built in 1888 on the site of colonial identity John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill. Folklore says that James White financed the house from the winnings of the 1877 Melbourne Cup by his horse Chester. Under White’s ownership, the property became a horse-racing stud and produced several notable horses. (Camden Images)

 

What is the use of the Camden story?

The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:

  • the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
  • the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
  • the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
  • the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.

Camden &amp; Laura Jane &amp; Debbie photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
Storyteller Laura Jane is ad-libbing for a short tourist promo for Tiffin Cottage. Camera operator Debbie is issuing instructions and generally supervising the production crew. (I Willis)
 

History offers a different approach to a question.

Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.

The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.

Aust Day 2018 Museum Open Frances&amp;Harry
Australia Day 2018. The Camden Museum was open and here are two enthusiastic supporters and volunteers for the museum. They are Frances and Harry Warner. These two larger than life Camden identities have spent their life devoted to the Camden community. They have lived and worked on Camden Park Estate for decades. (I Willis)

 

The historian is well equipped to unpack and peel back the layers of the Camden story.

The tools used by the historian to unravel the Camden story might include: historical significance; continuity and change; progress and decline; evidence; historical empathy; and I will add hope and loss.

An understanding of this process is all called historical consciousness and has been examined in Anna Clark’s Private Lives Public History.

I feel that the themes of History Week 2020 provide a convenient way to wrap up all of this.

The History Council of NSW has recast this in its  Value of History Statement and its component parts and they are: identity; engaged citizens; strong communities; economic development; critical skills, leadership, and legacy.

Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.

Camden Park House Country Road Photoshoot 2019
Country Road fashion shoot at Camden Park House. Have a peek at Camden Park House at the Country Road page and visit us on 21/22 Sept on our annual Open Weekend. (Camden Park House)

 

Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?

The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.

A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.

The Camden story can tell citizens about past examples of active citizenship and volunteerism within Camden’s democratic processes from the past. There are stories about our local leaders from the past who helped shape today’s community in many ways.

The Camden story tells stories about family and social networks that criss-cross the district and are the glue that holds the Camden community together in a time of crisis – social capital.

Active citizenship contributes to community identity, a sense of belonging and stories about others who have contributed to their area contribute to placemaking and strengthening community resilience.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)