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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 & Laura Jane & 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&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)
Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Regional Economic Taskforce · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Edwardian · Heritage · History · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Modernism · Place making · Sense of place · Town planning · Urban Planning · Urbanism

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

There is a crying need for a local Camden Residential Heritage Style Guide. Why do other Local Government Areas in Australia have a Residential Style Guide for their heritage housing styles but Camden does not.

Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district (I Willis)
Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district represented by sturdy timber cottages (I Willis)

Camden is one of Australia’s most historic localities and yet newcomers and locals have to guess what is an historically accurate guide to residential housing styles.

The new Camden Region Economic Taskforce (CRET) is an opportunity to promote the historic and heritage nature of the local area. The Taskforce promotional material states that Camden LGA has a ‘unique history’ and that the aim of the CRET is to maintain ‘Camden’s unique historic heritage and natural environment’.

This is an opportunity to the see if Camden Council is prepared to back its words with action. One easy way to do this would be to draw up a Residential Heritage Style Guide for the Local Government Area.

Camden heritage is a tourism drawcard to the local area. It creates jobs and business opportunities.

Carinya Cottage c1890 (Camden Historical Society)
Carinya Cottage c1890 was an example of a Federation Edwardian Farm Cottage at Narellan now demolished (Camden Historical Society)

The aim of the CRET is

  1. creation of jobs
  2. attraction of investment and
  3. creating the right environment  to support the growth of business and industry (both existing and future).

Houses are an integral part of our daily lives. We live in them and take them for granted. But they are more than this. A house is an historical statement of its time. As history changes so does the type of housing.

The CRET publicity states that the Camden LGA is a ‘rapidly growing area’ and is subject to change in the form of ‘rapid commercial and industrial development’ and there needs to be an understanding, according to the CRET, of ‘our unique heritage’.

The final membership composition of the Camden Regional Economic Taskforce (CRET) was announced by Camden Mayor Symkowiak on 3 November 2017. The press release making the announcement states;

Anyone with enquiries about the taskforce can contact Council on 4654 7777 or email: CRET@Camden.nsw.gov.au.

 

There a number of housing styles that have been identified by architects in Australia since colonial times. The major periods of the styles are:
1. Pre-colonial period 30,000 BCE – 1788
2. Old Colonial Period 1788 – c. 1840
3. Victorian Period c. 1840 – c. 1890
4. Federation Period c. 1890 – c. 1915
5. Inter – War Period c. 1915 – c 1940
6. Post – War Period c. 1940 – c. 1960.
7. Late Twentieth Century c. 1960 – c. 2000
8. Twenty –First Century c. 2000 – present.
The Camden Local Government Area has residential buildings from most of these time periods.

 

Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)
Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)

The housing style of a particular location in the Camden or Narellan area gives the place a definite character and a certain charm. It is what makes a place special and gives it a sense of its own identity (Inter-war period along Menangle Road). The housing style will give the place its special qualities. The houses are a reflection of the times in which they were built.

 

The style is an indicator of the historical activities that have gone on in that area. It is a statement on changing tastes, lifestyles, social attitudes, cultural mores, and a host of other factors (Inter-war cottages in Elizabeth Street and the use of colour glass in lead-light windows or the appearance of garages for the new motor cars of the day).

Example of modern design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW (I Willis 2010)
Example of modern Ranch style design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW now demolished (I Willis 2010)

The housing style may be complemented by a garden and landscaping that reflected the tastes and lifestyles of the occupants of the building. Even gardens go through fashion trends (English style gardens or native gardens).

 

The housing style says a lot about the occupants. Whether they were landed gentry who owned one of the large estates in the area (Camden Park House, Brownlow Hill, Denbigh) or ordinary farmers who were making a living from a patch of ground (simple Federation weatherboard cottages like Yamba cottage in Narellan or the Duesbury family in Elizabeth Street or Hillview in Lodges Road).

Ben Linden Narellan J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)
The cottage known as Ben Linden at Narellan is an excellent example of the Edwardian period in the Camden Local Government Area (J Kooyman, 1997, Camden Images)

Camden has been remote from the urban influences that drove the high forms of these architectural styles. But local people adapted the style to suit their particular purpose (simple Federation brick or timber farm cottages like in the Struggletown complex or Barsden Street). Sometimes they created their own vernacular style that used local materials.

 

Some of these styles have more examples in the Camden area than others. This reflects the economic prosperity in the history of the area. The Inter-war period is one of these times. Between 1915 and 1940 the town grew based on the wealth generated by dairying and later coal. There are quite a number of inter-war buildings in Camden (Californian bungalows in Menangle Road and Murray Street). The post-war period of housing construction in Camden in Macquarie Avenue and along the Old Hume Highway was driven by the economic activities surrounding the mining of coal in the Burragorang Valley.

 

Each housing style illustrates cultural influences from Great Britain in the Victorian style or from the United States in the Inter-war period in the Californian Bungalow and the Ranch style in the post-war period.

Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows of the period (I Willis)
Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows (I Willis)

The local housing stock shows the skills and expertise of local builders, such as Harry Willis or Walter Furner who constructed many of the Inter-war housing stock. Ephraim Cross who supplied brick for some of the Federation style cottages in the area or James English in the 1940s or Ron McMIllan in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Each period represents the modern and progressive ideas of its time. Each housing style is a representation of the hopes and aspirations of those who built the houses. Just as Oran Park housing developments are representative of the late 21th century so Harrington Park and Mt Annan are representative of the late 20th century. They have been driven by the urban expansion of the Sydney area.

 

Within each of the major time periods there are a number of sub-divisions. There are around five major styles within the Inter-war period, such as the Californian bungalow (West coast USA influence) or the Art Deco (European influences). The post-war period has around six style divisions ranging from the austerity (which reflected the lack of availability of building materials and labour following WW2) to ranch style (which illustrated the post-war influences from West coast American and Californian housing styles).

Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)
Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 is an example of an Federation Edwardian farm cottage on Camden Valley Way at Narellan (Camden Images)

Camden needs a Residential Heritage Style Guide to consolidate all these factors and influences in the Local Government Area.

Why is it that other Local Government Areas around Australia can achieve this but Camden cannot?  What is the matter with out local government representatives? Examples from other parts of Australia include

  1. The New South Wales seaside community of Moruya has a wonderful document called the MORUYA RESIDENTIAL STYLE GUIDE.
  2. In South Australia the inner Adelaide City of Unley’ has a document called Appreciating Heritage and Character Dwellings Design Guide 1 .
  3. In Queensland the Toowoomba Region Council has a series of guides for heritage properties covering Victorian, Edwardian and Inter-war houses.
  4. In Western Australian the City of Subiaco has issued a document called Dwelling Style Indicator for bungalow architectural styles

Camden Local Government Area has examples of housing stock that corresponds with each of these housing styles. What is wrong with Camden Council on this matter?

Read more on these matters on this blog:

  1. Edwardian Cottages in Camden
  2. Inter-war Camden
  3. Ben Linden at Narellan
  4. Urban planning in the Camden LGA