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Camden, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain

A country town on Sydney’s fringe

The cultural heritage of the local area makes the historic town of Camden, according to Sydney architect Hector Abrahams, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park Estate in the Cowpastures on the banks of the Nepean River.

Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

The township provides a glimpse of life from times gone past with the charm and character with its Victorian style built heritage and early 20th century cottages and commercial buildings.


The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

Camden Heritage Walk (Camden Council)

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the Sydney area. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.

Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.

The 2019 Camden Show provided an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in a host of farming activities. The authentic sights, sounds and smells of the show ring and surrounds enlightened and entertained in a feast for the senses. (I Willis, 2019)

The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.

For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s (Camden Images)

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.

Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)

Updated 24 May 2021. Originally posted on Camden History Notes 18 December 2016. This post was originally published on Heritage Tourism as ‘Camden: the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain’ in 2010.

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The Camden district in 1939

The Camden District 1939

The Camden district can be hard to define and has changed over time. Dr Ian Willis conducted research in the mid-1990s to determine the extent of the Camden district at the outbreak of the Second World War. This was part of his post-graduate studies at the University of Wollongong on the effect of the Second World War in Camden.

Map Camden District 1939[2]
Map of the Camden district in 1939 showing the extent of the area with Camden in the east. The silver mining centre of Yerranderie is in the west. (I Willis, 1996)
 

The boundary of the Camden district could be: an arbitrary line on a map based on a political decision; a natural region; an idea in someone’s mind; the delivery round of a Camden business; the geographic circulation area of a Camden newspaper; the emotional attachment of a person to a general area called Camden; the catchment area of a special event in Camden; the membership of a Camden organisation; the social networks of people who live in the Camden area; or any combination of these.

 

From historical research I have conducted I have found the boundary of the Camden district to a moveable feast. By the 1930s it took in an area of 1180 square kilometres and a population of around 5000. The result is on the attached map. It is a combination of the factors outlined above.

 

Origins of the Camden district

The concept of the Camden district was set in motion by 1827 when the early pattern of the early land grants had determined the road network. This process was re-enforced by the arrival of the tramway in 1882, the road traffic along the Hume Highway going to Goulburn, and the movement of silver from Yerrandarie and coal from the Burragorang Valley to the Camden railhead. As a result, the town became an important transport interchange and centre for economic activity for a district, which extended out to Burragorang Valley and Yerrandarie.

 

By the 1930s the growth of the town had attracted additional businesses and the town had become the centre for government services and community organisations. The town was a meeting place for local people and acted as a stepping off point to the rest of the outside world.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)

 

The district’s population came together on Sale Day (still Tuesdays) to meet and do business. The livestock sales were the town’s busiest day of the week  The annual Camden Show was (and still is) always a popular attraction and people came from a wide area to compete and exhibit their crafts, produce and livestock.

 

Daily life in the Camden district is recorded in the two local newspapers

District life was reported in detail in Camden’s two newspapers, the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, which were widely circulated in the area. Camden businesses had customers from all over the local area. Some had regular delivery runs that reached to Burragorang Valley and beyond.

 

Since the 1930s many things have happened. The largest change has been the growth in population, and the town and district are now part of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Sydney. Despite this, the district still has a discernable identity in the minds of local people.

1973 New Cities Plan

The creation of The new cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin: structure plan (1973) was one of the most profound changes to the Camden district. The New Cities proposal was part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan developed by the State Planning Authority of the Askin Liberal government and became a developers’ dream.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Plan 1973
 

Current planners, bureaucrats, businesses, and residents need to have an understanding of this local identity and build on the opportunities that it presents.

Today the Camden district is part of the Macarthur region.

Macarthur regional tourist guide
Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

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

 

Camden · Colonial Camden · Cowpastures · Uncategorized

175th Anniversary of Camden’s foundation, 1840-2015

A Photographic Essay 

View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1
The township was established near the Government Hut that was as the accommodation used by the constables who were employed to guard the entrance of Cowpastures Reserve for the wild cattle in 1804 near the ford across the Nepean River. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1

 

Carinya Cottage c.1890 (Camden Historical Society)
Carinya Cottage c.1890 is typical of brick Edwardian cottages across the district that was closely associated with the Paxton and Cross family. The cottage was unfortunately demolished in 2010 to make way for a new housing estate. (Camden Historical Society)

 

Little Sandy with footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. Diving board in foreground. (Camden Images)
Little Sandy footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950 with a diving board in foreground. The location was a popular spot for swimming and other water activities. In the 1920s and 1930s this part of the river was the location of the Camden Swimming Club. The footbridge was constructed during the Second World War as a training exercise for troops from the Narellan Military Camp. (Camden Images)

 

The Nepean River has shaped the Camden’s sense of place and the image shows Nepean River below the Cowpasture Bridge in 1900 in the vicinity of the ford mentioned by Governor Macquarie. The low state of the river indicates the effect of the Federation drought (mid 1890s-1902) on the local area. (Camden Images/CA Poole)

 

 

Camden's Argyle St (Hume Highway) in 1938 with Rural Bank on left looking east (Camden Images)
Camden’s Argyle Street (the Hume Highway) in 1938 with the Rural Bank and Bank of New South Wales on the left. The setback and height of the buildings in Argyle has not changed in 70 years. The key buildings are still identifiable from the same location at the John Street round-about. (Camden Images)

 

The Georgian Revival style Bank of New South Wales building was constructed in 1936 at 121-123 Argyle St, Camden. The bank manager and his family lived on the upper level in a self-contained flat. (I Willis)

 

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden in the early 1930s with the Woolpack Inn on the corner of John and Argyle Streets and the Commercial Banking Co building is on the opposite side of John Street. (Camden Images)

 

An Edwardian weatherboard cottage at 64 John Street Camden is typical of domestic architecture of the town and surrounding district in the early 20th century. At this time John Street was still unpaved, while guttering was constructed on block stone. ( J Riley)

 

 

Located on the Hume Highway the Tudor style Camden Valley Inn was built in 1938 as a milk bar to sell the Gold Top Camden Vale milk brand from Camden Park. Designed by architect Cyral Ruwald and constructed by builder Herb English. (Camden Images)

 

Cafes were a popular stop on the Hume Highway in central Camden serving milk shakes, hamburgers and mixed grills. Howlett’s Cafe was located at 159 Argyle Street show in this 1954 image. (Camden Images)

 

During the Second World War a number of airmen were killed in flying accidents in squadrons that statioed at RAAF Base at Camden Airfield. They are buried at Camden War Cemetery on a rise on Cawdor Road. (I Willis)

Camden Airfield was the location of the RAAF Central Flying School at the beginning of the Second World War training pilots and air crew for the Empire Training Scheme.

 

Coal mining added wealth in the post-war years and quite a few fibro cottages were constructed at Elderslie to provide accommodation for mine workers. They are an identifiable part of Camden modernism. (I Willis)

Local identity Llewella Davies was a member of the Camden Voluntary Aid Detachment, the paramilitary auxiliary of the Red Cross, that was part of the Second World War homefront war effort. (CHS0614)

camden_003
St John’s Church has been the moral heart of Camden’s sense of place since the church was constructed during the 1840s. It is located at the top of John Street which was unsealed in this image from the 1890s. (Camden Images)

 

The Hume Highway brought all aspects of modernism to the town from Sydney including motoring and consumerism at the Spanish Mission style Cooks Garage at the corner of Elizabeth and Argyle Street Camden in 1936 (Camden Images)

Source: Camden Images

Uncategorized

The Camden decked carpark that will not die

Camden Advertiser 12 July 2006 p.1
Camden Advertiser 12 July 2006 p.1

Camden decked carpark proposal

Camden Council recently resolved to investigate and design a decked carpark in Oxley Street as part of the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy (2014).

This is not the first time that the council has considered a decked carpark. The first investigation of a decked carpark dates from 1996.  A later proposal in 2006 was eventually defeated. Over the decade a number of proposals were considered, meanwhile during this process the council developed over 360 additional car parking spaces in the town centre.

The following is an extract from an article that summarised the 2007 proposal:

Camden decked carpark proposal (2007)

The background to the 2006 carpark proposal can be found in the demographic shifts within the Local Government Area (LGA) caused by urbanisation. The importance of central Camden as the commercial hub of the LGA had gradually been eroded by population shifts to the north.

Camden traders faced increased competition from developments in the Narellan area, particularly the opening in 1995 of the Narellan Town Centre with 36 retail outlets and 1200 car parking spaces. Some Camden businesses felt that their viability was being threatened by these changes and approached Camden Council to provide a decked carpark in central Camden to attract shoppers.

In 1996 Camden’s deputy mayor, Eva Campbell, requested that council investigate a decked carpark at the site of an existing ground level parking area, between John and Murray Streets. This was one of three proposed sites in central Camden that were considered for a decked carpark over the next 10 years.

In the late 1990s at least one retail complex undertook a major re-development on the basis that the council would approve the construction of a decked carpark on the John/Murray Street site.

Apart from the John and Murray Streets site, the other two sites were also located at existing ground level carparks in central Camden, one in Larkin Place and the other between John and Hill Streets. The sites adjacent to John Street were on the elevated southern side of Argyle Street, while Larkin Place was located on the floodplain, on the northern side Argyle Street.

The major stakeholder was Camden Council. It was to be the owner, operator, financier, planner, and consent authority for the proposal. The council initially commissioned independent consultants to conduct a feasibility study (2002) and then approved the John/Murray Street site (2003), which was the site favoured by the Chamber of Commerce. The council needed loan funds beyond its budget and had to seek ministerial approval. The Department of Local Government demanded further community consultation in 2003 and a public exhibition period.

The results of the community survey indicated that local citizens felt the construction of a decked carpark was only a low to medium priority for council. Council elections were held in 2004, and the new council wanted further information and deliberation on the proposal. The sticking point was a comparison of the costings for Larkin Place and the John/Murray Street sites. The Larkin Place site yielded more carparking spaces at a lower cost per space, but the total cost for the John/Murray Street site was cheaper and it was still the favoured location of the Chamber of Commerce.

The council engaged a firm of architects to design the carpark in 2005 on the John/Murray Street site and held a stakeholders workshop shortly afterwards.

By mid-2005 public debate had intensified.and a number of parties expressed reservations about the proposal, supported by council’s heritage architects. In July council rejected the proposal. The Federal Member of Parliament entered the debate at this point and suggested an underground carpark.

Council wanted further consideration of the matter in late 2005 and approved the carpark in early 2006 on the John/Murray Street site.

The development of a decked carpark on the elevated southern sites compromised the vista of the St John’s Church from the Nepean River floodplain. The church was located on the hill behind the proposed John Street sites. This vista was part of the iconic imagery of Camden that has been an important part of the town’s cultural landscape and identity from colonial times.

The iconic nature of Camden’s sense of place was not contested by stakeholders. Although some stakeholders did feel that the final design of the decked carpark did compromise these values, including the council’s commissioned heritage architect. The architects felt that the proposal compromised the integrity of the ‘most intact country town on the Cumberland Plain’.

These opinions and others were carried by the Camden press including a diversity of letters from local residents. Public debate on the issue intensified in 2005 and the press reported the progress of the proposal with headlines, like: ‘Don’t dare do it?’, ‘Parking war not over yet’, ‘Fury over backflip’ and ‘Expensive “white elephant”’. The letter pages were scattered with colourful comment under headings like: ‘How to wreck the cultural landscape of Camden’, ‘Deceitful and devious on car park issue’ and ‘Car park cops a serve…or two’.

One issue that complicated the political process surrounding the progress of the proposal through council was the matter of councillor’s pecuniary interests. A number of councillors on the pre-2004 council and the 2006 council had business interests that were adjacent to one of the proposed sites. This raised the matter of a conflict of interest.

Councillors regularly excluded themselves from debate on the proposed carpark because of their declared interests, and one councillor felt she needed to justify her actions in the press. Despite this a complaint was made to the Department of Local Government about four counsellors and their perceived conflict of interest in mid-2006. All were cleared of any wrong doing, although one councillor appeared on the front page of the Camden Advertiser to explain his position.

The council made efforts to develop additional parking spaces and between 1999 and 2003 provided 367 extra parking spaces.

In addition 46 extra car parking spaces for shoppers were provided by ejecting council staff from a carpark adjacent to the council chambers. Where once council office staff had enjoyed free all day parking there was now a three hour time limit. One councillor suggested that it would not hurt council staff to walk an additional 100 metres to work.

More reading

Read the full article Ian Willis, Democracy in action in local government: Camden NSW (2007)

Read more here

Read about the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy here on the Camden Council website

Further research

A summary of the 2014 Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy process over recent months is being compiled by the author of Camden History Notes.  The summary will be posted on this blog at the end of January 2015 for comment by interested parties. These will then be used to draft a submission for a conference presentation on the issues in early 2015. It is hoped to publish a journal article at a later date.

Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Camden Show · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Farming · Fashion · Festivals · Heritage · History · Leisure · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Lost trades · Macarthur · Miss Showgirl · Modernism · Pageant · Place making · Retailing · Ruralism · Sense of place · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Tourism · Volunteering · Volunteerism · Women's history

Miss Showgirl, an enduring anachronism

A rural pageant

The Miss Showgirl competition is in many ways an anachronism from the past. It has survived for over 45 years under the onslaught of feminism, postmodernism, globalization and urbanisation. A worthy feat indeed.

The competition is still popular and the local press are always strong supporters. The 2010 Miss Camden Showgirl competition attracted seven young women.

Camden Show Signage 2018
The Camden Show attracts over 40,000 people to the two day festival in the country town of Camden. (I Willis)

So what has been the continuing appeal of the competition? Probably the most important criteria have been that it has been true to its aims of promoting rural interests. The competition has always been associated with the major rural festival, the country show, a celebration of rural life.

Showtime, the show ball and Miss Showgirl are representative of notions around Camden’s rurality. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2008 Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’. Camden people yearn for a past when the primary role of the town was to service the surrounding farmers and their needs. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.

The winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community according to Suzie Sherwood, a member of the organizing committee in 2004. She said that ‘the winner will have a strong connection with the community and be aware of rural issues’.

The organising committee seems to be successful at identifying entrants who have a sense of belonging to the local area. After winning the 2009 Camden showgirl competition, Adriana Mihajlovic said, ‘I will tell people that Camden is a beautiful rural country town with a wonderful community’. 2004 Miss Camden Showgirl Danielle Haack said, ‘Camden is a lovely country town and I am proud that I can be involved in promoting it to other districts’. The showgirl competition connects the country town to the city. The entrant acts as a publicity agent for the Camden Show, which is one of the largest regional shows in Australia.

The resilience of the showgirl competition can also be put down to its representation of the changes in rural life and rural women themselves. It is a mirror to the expectations and aspirations of young women. 2010 entrant Karina Ralstan said, ‘She sees it as an opportunity to raise issues concerning rural women’. 2004 Miss Camden Showgirl Danielle Haack felt the competition was an opportunity to raise rural issues and all 2010 entrants were concerned about promoting the importance of agriculture.

Part of the success of the competition in Camden has been its ability to attract young women who want to make a living in the agricultural sector. University of Sydney veterinary science student Danielle Haack said she wanted to ‘improve the quality of cattle’ and her studies will help her in animal genealogy and herd health. 2010 entrant Brooke Mulholland is an owner/manager of a Suffolk sheep stud.

The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when gender expectations stated that rural women were confined by home and family. Today’s young women want a career and travel. Something that the Miss Showgirl competitions have supplied. In 2004 the grand prize at the Royal Easter Show was a world trip for two, and Camden’s representative Danielle Haack certainly felt that ‘a world trip would be a lovely end-of-year treat for me once I finish my degree’.

Miss Camden Showgirl for 2018 in the Australia Day Parade on the float for the Camden Show. (I Willis)

The competition has given entrants the opportunity to fully experience showtime in Sydney. The annual city visit can be a big deal for those who experience it. 2002 Miss Showgirl Margie Roser stated that staying in Sydney ‘was one of the best times of her life’. She said that her time in Sydney was ‘full of social engagements, media coverage and cocktail parties’. At a local level, the party element is not ignored and the annual Camden show ball is an occasion to ‘frock up’. 2004 Camden Miss Showgirl Sally Watson said, ‘The ball in itself was great fun’.

Over the years showgirls have found that the competition has been good for making friends, personal development and new experiences. 2003 Camden Showgirl Sally Watson said, ‘the experience was rewarding. It is a wonderful chance to network and meet many other like-minded young women’.

Yet showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Some have seen it as daggy, while some have seen it as the commodification of women. The entrants defend the competition. Danielle Haack maintained that the contest ‘was anything but a beauty pageant. Some of my friends have asked me how the swimsuit category was going, but it’s nothing like that’.

The competition and the strong field of entrants is a testament to the ongoing popularity of the Camden Show and its representation of Camden’s rurality.

Originally published 28 February 2014. Updated 6 April 2021.

Camden · Colonial Camden · Uncategorized

Camden dreamtime

Camden's John Street with St John's Church 1890s (Camden Images)
Camden’s John Street with St John’s Church 1890s (Camden Images)

Sydney’s urban expansion into the local area has challenged the community’s identity and threatened to suffocate Camden’s sense of place. In the face of this onslaught many in Camden yearn for a lost past when Sydney was further away, times were simpler, and life was slower. A type of rural arcadia, which I have called ‘a country town idyll’.

The ‘country town idyll’ is defined as an idealised version of a country town from an imagined past which uses history to construct imagery based on Camden’s heritage buildings and other material fabric.  At the heart of the idyll is the view that Camden should retain its iconic imagery of a picturesque country town with the church on the hill, surrounded by a rustic rural landscape made up of the landed estates of the colonial gentry.  The idyll has been created by its supporters in an attempt to isolate Camden, like an island, in the sea of urbanisation and development that has enveloped the town.

These are the values that the supporters of Camden’s ‘country town idyll’ have encouraged and then expressed in the language they used to describe it. They  talk about the  retention of Camden’s ‘country town atmosphere’, or retaining ‘Camden’s country charm’, or ‘country town character’. They describe the town as being ‘picturesque’, or having ‘charming cottages’. To them Camden is  ‘a working country town’, or is simply ‘my country town’.   These  elements are evocative of an emotional attachment to a place that existed in the past, when  Camden was a small quiet country town that relied on  farming for its existence.

The origins of the ‘country town idyll’ are to be found in the rural ethos that is  drawn from within the nineteenth century rural traditions brought from Great Britain, where there was a romantic view of the country, that had an ordered, stable, comfortable organic small community in harmony with the natural surroundings. Elements of this rural culture have been variously described as ‘countrymindedness’,  ‘rural ideology’,  ‘rural ethos’, ‘ruralism’, and a ‘rural idyll’. They have been a pre-occupation of many scholars, including contemporary writers, like the Australian poet Les Murray.

Within this tradition there  is an Arcadian notion of  a romantic view of rural life where there is  a distinction drawn between the metropolis and the village, commonly known as the  town/country divide. This was the essence of pre-war Camden (a town of around 2000) where rural culture  provided the stability  of a closed community which was suspicious of outsiders, especially those from the city, with life ordered by social rank, personal contacts and familial links. It was confined by conservatism, patriarchy and an Anglo-centric view of the world.

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