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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.

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The West Journal

A new lifestyle magazine

The local area has a new lifestyle magazine. I found my print copy of Edition 1 Volume 1 of The West Journal at Camden’s florist The Green Seed in Argyle Street, Camden.

The magazine is an interesting addition to the local media landscape. (Willis 2021)

The West Journal is a new lifestyle magazine and addition to the local media landscape (I Willis 2021)

Published by Camden based Olsen Palmer, the 262 page A5 (15cm x 21 cm) colour card cover magazine is a handsome addition to the Sydney lifestyle market. The magazine is published ‘seasonally’ – July, October, January, April. (TWJ:8; Media Kit)

The publisher of The West Journal boasts an estimated readership of 60,000, with social media impressions monthly average between 17,000-20,000. The magazine is distributed to ‘accommodation locations, hotels, pubs, clubs and sporting facilities, local and regional airports, and a host of hospitality locations’. (TWJ Media Kit)

Minimalism

The cover of the first edition has an unmissable orange cover, and the magazine is reflective of stripped back minimalist design principles.  The New Yorker magazine said of minimalism in a critique that it is

a mode of living that strips away protective barriers and heightens the miracle of human presence and the urgency, today, of what that miracle entails. (The New Yorker, February 3 2020)

As The New Yorker points out, the simplicity of minimalism hides the reality of a complex world. The simplicity of the cover design of  TWJ belies the complexity of publishing a magazine of this quality.

The publishers have been influenced by what Richard Rogers calls the notion of ‘Instagramism’  and image-driven platforms. TWJ states:

Our journal is made up of many beautiful images; we want our advertisers to emulate this. Minimise text, maximise imagery. (TWJ Media Kit)

Editor Boone states that this editorial policy leads to ‘simple and effective communications to our readers’. (TWJ Media Kit) 

This is an interesting image of the Nepean River Walkway at Elderslie and not one that is normally used to reflect the Camden area. It is a different interpretation of the cultural heritage of an area rich in Indigenous and European history. There are Dreaming stories of Dharawal People and the colonial stories of settlement from the time of the Cowpastures district from 1975 to the 1850s. (I Willis, 2021)

Cultural diversity and stereotypes

The magazine’s pitch is at a market in Western Sydney hungry for acknowledgement of its riches. Sydney’s West is a land of undiscovered treasures and unacknowledged riches of culture, travel and food.

Sydney’s West is a vast cosmopolitan landscape of a foodie’s heaven for those searching for suburban delicacies. This secret is out for city-based foodie tours who deliver their passengers to Westie foodie-hot-spots.

Sydney’s West has been undersold for years and dogged by unfair stereotypes. The West Journal states in its opening paragraph that

For too long, a generational stigma has tainted the perception of Western Sydney. (TWJ:1)

The stigma has persisted for more than one generation, and I have labelled it the #sydneyculturewar. (Willis, 2016) In recent months it has been fostered in the name of Covid.  

Campbelltown journalist and raconteur Jeff McGill wrote in 2013 ‘Careful what you call south west Sydney’. He examined the stereotypes and name-calling that existed in Sydney’s West and Southwest. Jenny said she had met contempt towards her by those in Sydney’s beachside and harbourside suburbs in a Facebook comment. She said that they think you are ‘slow-witted, lazy, anti-social’. 

The West Journal is a positive move to counter these attitudes and boasts that it

Wants to celebrate the cultural diversity, food and individuality found within Western Sydney and Regional NSW. (TWJ:1)

Academic Gabriele Gwyther has argued that Western Sydney is a

 region of great complexity: a patchwork of culture, language, ethnicity, personal histories, religion, income and status. (Gwyther 2008)

A rich history

More than this, I have argued that Sydney’s West has a rich history from the pre-colonial period to the present. (Willis 2018)

The magazine demonstrates the influence of the past on the present by presenting stylish images of the West’s cultural and natural heritage. The past shapes the present, and there is no escaping its clutches, whatever its colours.

The stories of the Dharawal, the Dharug and Gundungurra provide a rich tapestry of storytelling.  TWJ acknowledges the traditional custodians of each site in the magazine, for example, the Dharug People at Blacktown. (TWJ: 14)

The European story on the Hawkesbury and down to The Cowpastures adds another layer (Willis 2018; Karskens 2020) with a profile of  Camden Park House (CPH 2020), arguably one of the most important colonial properties still in the hands of the family built in the 1830s. (TWJ:226-229)

Embracing growth and change

The West Journal encompasses all of this and distribution across Sydney’s West from Hawkesbury Shire Council in the north, Wollondilly Shire Council in the south, west to Blue Mountains City Council, east to the Canterbury Bankstown.

Editor Deane Boone boasts that the magazine will ‘explore everything Western Sydney and Regional NSW has to offer’ extending to ‘West of West’ taking in Wagga Wagga to Armidale and Dubbo. (TWJ:4-5)

The New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian MP has endorsed The West Journal and commended the publishers on their efforts in promoting Sydney’s West (I Willis 2021)

These claims are endorsed by New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian MP.  She states ‘Western Sydney is an exciting region undergoing profound growth and change’, and her government ‘shares this enthusiasm for Sydney’s West as a wonderful place’. The premier ‘commends’ the publisher for their efforts. (TWJ:6)

Editor Boone has set a high standard with this issue. It is hoped that later volumes match it.  The magazine closes with the bold aim:

To embrace, inform and celebrate the amazing cultural diversity, experiences and offerings the West has to offer. (TWJ:263)

Here’s hoping it meets its aim.

Pick up your print copy or view it online

References

Boone, Dean (ed), 2021, The West Journal,  Edition 1, Volume 1. https://www.thewestjournal.com.au/, viewed September 17 2021

Camden Park House 2020, Home, Camden Park House, Menangle, NSW, 2568, <https://www.camdenparkhouse.com.au/>, viewed September 19 2021.

Gwyther, Gabrielle 2008. Western Sydney, Dictionary of Sydney, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/western_sydney, viewed September 17 2021

Karskens, Grace  2020,  People of the river : lost worlds of early Australia.  Allen & Unwin Crows Nest, NSW

Rogers, Richard 2021, ‘Visual media analysis for Instagram and other online platforms’. Big Data & Society. Vol 8 issue 1. https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517211022370

Willis, Ian  2018, ‘The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840’, Camden History Notes, weblog, April 27, <https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2018/04/27/the-cowpastures-region-1795-1840/>, viewed September 18 2021.

Willis, Ian 2016, ‘Westies, Bogans and Yobbos. What’s in a name?’ Camden History Notes, weblog, June 9,  https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2016/06/09/westies-bogans-and-yobbos-whats-in-a-name/  Viewed September 18 2021.

Willis, Ian 2021. Local Newspapers and a Regional Setting in New South Wales, Media History, 27:2, 197-209, DOI: 10.1080/13688804.2020.1833710

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New exhibition at Alan Baker Art Gallery

FACE to FACE

Live Sittings

1936 – 1972

On a recent evening in Camden there was the launch of a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in the heritage listed building Macaria in John Street.

The exhibition, FACE to FACE: Live Sittings 1936 – 1972, celebrates Alan Baker’s achievement of entering the Archibald prize 26 times with 35 artworks between 1936 and 1972. Despite his persistence he never won a prize.

The cover of the FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936-1972 Exhibition programme at the Alan Baker Art Gallery held in Macaria, John Street, Camden. (ABAG)

The exhibition programme states that Alan Baker was studying at JS Watkins Art School alongside future Archibald winners Henry Hanke in 1934 with his Self Portrait, William Pidgeon who won in 1958, 1961 and 1968, and his brother Normand Baker in 1937 with his Self Portrait.

The programme provides a timeline of Baker’s paintings with images that illustrate his works.

The Sydney.com website states

  the exhibition will feature Baker’s first 1936 Archibald Prize entry painted at the age of 22, a self-portrait study painting by Normand Baker for his 1937 winning Archibald Prize entry, and Baker’s 1951 portrait of Australian Filmmaker Charles Chauvel (courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland).

The FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936-1972 exhibition runs from April to September 2021.

The feature wall in the entry of the Alan Baker Art Gallery in Macaria, John Street Camden for the FACE to FACE Live Sittings 1936 -1972. The image was taken on the opening night of the exhibition on 17 April 2021. (I Willis)

The Archibald

The Archibald Prize is one of the pre-eminent portraiture prizes in Australia held yearly at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. First awarded in 1921 this prestigious art prize is a sought after award by artists generating publicity and public exposure. Traditionally portraitists were mostly restricted to public or private commissions.

The Art Gallery of NSW states that:

 The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.

The Archibald has never been far from controversy and turning points have been William Dobell’s prize-winning portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith in 1943 and in 1976, Brett Whiteley winning  painting Self portrait in the studio.

Macaria, the gallery building

The Alan Baker Gallery website outlines a short history of the Macaria building.

An exterior view of Macaria showing the Gothic influence in the roof line and window detail. The verandah was an addition to this style of building in the Australian colonies. (I Willis, 2018)

The website states:

Macaria was originally built in 1859-1860 as a school house by Henry Thompson, the building has since been used for many things; including a private home; the Camden Grammar School; the residence and rooms of doctors and dentists including popular local physician Dr Francis West. In 1965 Macaria was purchased by Camden Council and used as Camden Library and later, offices for the Mayor, Town Clark and staff.

Macaria is a fine example of an early Victorian Gentleman’s Townhouse. Designed and built in the Picturesque Gothic, Renaissance Revival style, Macaria features gabled windows, high chimneys, stone trims and a wooden porch. Sympathetically renovated and restored in 2017, the historical features including the oregon timber flooring, Australian cedar architraves and mahogany skirting boards have been retained.

https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/community/alan-baker-art-gallery-at-macaria/

FACE to FACE Exhibition at Alan Baker Art Gallery

 37 John Street, Macaria, Camden, NSW, 2570. Australia

(02) 4645 5191

alanbakerartgallery@camden.nsw.gov.au

http://www.alanbakerartgallery.com.au

Entry is free.

Macaria is a substantial Victorian gentleman’s townhouse and residence from the mid-Victorian period that was influenced by the Picturesque movement and Gothic styling. The building is now the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery. (I Willis, 2017)

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Camden’s purple haze

A lavender haze – jacarandas in Camden

As you walk around Camden streets you will come across the current flush of purples, mauves, lilac and lavender along Argyle Street, Broughton Street, John Street, and in Macarthur Park.

Jacaranda tree in bloom in Argyle Street Camden outside colonial Commercial Bank building (I Willis, 2020)

People are entranced by the magic of the town’s ‘sea of lavender’ as Peter Butler from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens has described the lavender haze at the Sydney gardens.

Jacarandas cause excitement amongst locals (Macarthur Chronicle, 5 November 2013)

Blooming  jacarandas are regularly featured on  the front page of  local newspapers. (Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition), 5 November 2013)

Blooming jacarandas provide a purple carpet after a November shower and in 2006 caused an unholy fuss in the local press.

What is all the fuss about?

 The Camden Chamber of Commerce proposed the removal and replacement of 33 jacaranda trees in Argyle Street with Manchurian pear trees in 2006. The chamber suggested that shopkeepers ‘take responsibility for their maintenance’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 24  October 2006)

The Argyle Street jacarandas, which were planted in 1927, were showing the effects of age, pollution, compaction and other problems.

The Camden mayor Chris Patterson and Deputy Mayor David Funnell wanted to know if the community supported their replacement. He posed the question in the press: Should Camden Council replace Argyle Street’s jacaranda trees?

The answer was loud and swift.

Mayor Patterson said, ‘People stopped me on the street, rang council and my mobile phone, to give me their views’.

‘The overwhelming response has been the jacarandas should stay but people want council to give them some more love and care’.

Jacaranda blooms in Argyle Street in November (2019 I Willis)

A flood of letters

The Camden press was ‘flooded with letters’ and 90% of ‘our internet poll’ wanted to trees to stay.

Letter writer M Goodwin felt the removal of the trees was ‘frivolous and unnecessary’, and Ian Turner did approve of their removal. Bob Lester had mixed views on the matter, Mrs B Thompson said the council should attend to their health and Kylie Lyons agreed. The sentiment of many was best summarised by L Jones of Cobbitty who said, ‘The jacaranda trees are stunning in full bloom and they should not be replaced’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 31 October 2006)

Camden resident Irene Simms started a petition and council commissioned a report on the state of the trees by arborist David Potts. Maryann Strickling felt that the trees were part of town’s cultural heritage and wrote, ‘The jacarandas in Argyle Street are integral to retaining the heritage of Camden’s landscape’ (Camden Advertiser, 7 November 2006).

The letters in the local press kept coming and a letter from Elizabeth Paparo was headed ‘Purple rain is a part of our history’ and felt ‘When the bloom of the Jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near!’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 14 November 2006)

The Potts report was presented to council in 2007 and stated that the trees were ‘expected to live long and healthy lives’. (Camden Advertiser, 15 August 2007)

The fuss over the trees has continued on and off and in 2018 the a number of local business people organised the Jacaranda Festival that has gained considerable attention in the media.

What is the appeal of jacarandas?

The appeal of the mauve coloured jacaranda was best summarised by the 1868 correspondent for  the Sydney Morning Herald.

This most beautiful flowering tree is a native of Brazil, and no garden of any pretensions can be said to be complete without a plant of it. The specimen in the Botanic garden is well worth a journey of 50 miles to see. Its beautiful rich lavender blossoms, and its light feathery foliage, render it the gem of the season. (SMH 5 December 1868)

The jacaranda first appeared in Sydney around the mid-1860s. The Guardian newspaper has provided a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1865

An account of the Prince of Wales’ birthday celebrations in the Sydney Morning Herald from 10 November 1865 describes admirers observing well-established trees: “Many enjoyed a stroll through the botanic gardens, which show the beneficial effects of the late rain; some of the most beautiful trees are now in luxuriant blossom, in particular the lilac flower of the Jacaranda mimosifolia is an object of much admiration.”

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Macarthur Park (I Willis 2017)

Sydney’s love of Jacaranda mimosifolia

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia, the most common variety in Sydney,

was collected and returned to the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, in about 1818. One early source gives the credit to plant hunter Allan Cunningham, who was sent on from Rio de Janiero to NSW, where he would later serve, briefly, as colonial botanist.

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the popular of the jacaranda in the Sydney area owes much to the success of landscape designer Michael Guilfoyle ‘solved the problem of propagation’. He gave a paper at the Horticultural Society in 1868 and outlined the lengths he went to solve the problems around growing the trees in Sydney. Guilfoyle’s Exotic Nursery at Double Bay supplied jacarandas to the ‘city’s most fashionable gardens’ and ‘many gardens in the Eastern Suburbs’. The trees became particularly popular by the Interwar period and were flourishing in harbourside gardens across Sydney.

The hospital matron

Curator Helen Curran says that the tree’s popularity is partly explained by Sydney Living Museums

One story credits November’s purple haze to the efforts of a hospital matron who sent each newborn home with a jacaranda seedling. A less romantic explanation lies in the fact the trees were a popular civic planting in the beautification programs of the early 20th century and interwar years, right up to the 1950s and 1960s. 

There are a host of Sydney Living Museum properties that feature a purple and lilac haze in November and they include Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Farm and at Nowra, Meroogal.

Parts of Sydney attract considerable numbers of visitors when the local jacarandas are in bloom.

The Guardian claims that Australia’s love of the jacaranda was an unlikely affair. The ultimate expression of love for the jacaranda is in Grafton NSW and the annual Jacaranda Festival.  

Australia’s first jacarandas

The first jacarandas planted in Australia were grown in Brisbane. Dale Arvidsson from the Brisbane Botanic Garden’s states

the first jacaranda was planted in the city gardens in 1864 by Walter Hill. He says, ‘Plants grown from seeds [or] seedlings from this tree were later sent to Rockhampton and Maryborough Botanic Gardens (Queens Park).  

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Menangle Road Camden (I Willis 2017)

Cultivation

Cultivation of the jacaranda is relatively easy in the climate of Eastern Australia. Wikipedia states

Jacaranda can be propagated from grafting, cuttings and seeds, though plants grown from seeds take a long time to bloom. Jacaranda grows in well-drained soil and tolerates drought and brief spells of frost and freeze.

This genus thrives in full sun and sandy soils, which explains their abundance in warmer climates. Mature plants can survive in colder climates down to −7 °C (19 °F); however, they may not bloom as profusely. Younger plants are more fragile and may not survive in colder climates when temperatures drop below freezing.

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens states:

Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) species is native to Argentina and Bolivia but can survive and perform well in most temperate parts of Australia. Jacarandas are readily grown from freshly fallen seed and can be considered weedy in some areas.

Not so friendly

Yet a word of warning about the lovely and popular purple tree.

In Queensland the jacaranda can escape into the bush and become a weed. It out-competes local native plants and forms thickets below planted species.

Brisbane City Council has listed Jacaranda mimosifolia as one of the top 200 weeds in the city area. In Queensland it was considered naturalised in 1987 escaping domestic gardens.

The species Jacaranda mimosifolia  is considered a weed in many part of New South Wales and is hard to eradicate once established in an area.

The future of the Jacaranda

University of Melbourne botanist Gregory Moore argues that the Jacaranda has a rosy bluey, or maybe indigo, or just purple future in urban Australia. Jacaranda mimosifolia is likely to do particularly under the influence of climate change as it gets ‘warmer and drier in place’. He just urges a little caution in rural areas where they have the potential to become ‘weedy’.

Updated 2 December 2020

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Hope, heritage and a sense of place – an English village in the Cowpastures

Camden Heritage Conservation Area

In 2006 Camden Council designated the Camden town centre as a  Heritage Conservation Area, and later incorporated it in the  2010 Local Environment Plan. A heritage conservation zoning, according to Camden Council, is :

 an area that has historic significance… [and]… in which historical origins and relationships between the various elements create a sense of place that is worth keeping.

Map Camden Town Centre HCA LEP 2010 CRAG
Map of the Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area from 2010 Local Environment Plan. (Taken from 2016 Camden Residents Action Group Submission for State Listing)

 

Historic significance

Several writers have offered observations on Camden’s historical significance.

Historian Ken Cable argued in the 2004 Draft Heritage Report prepared by Sydney Architects Tropman and Tropman that: Camden town is a significant landmark in the LGA.  

In 2006 Sydney architect Hector Abrahams stated that Camden was ‘the best-preserved rural town in the entire Cumberland Plain’ (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Hector Abrahams -best preserved- Camden Advertiser 2006 Jun28
Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

 

Historian Alan Atkinson has argued that Camden is ‘a profoundly important place’, while historian Grace Karskins maintains that ‘Camden is an astonishingly intact survival of early colonial Australia’.  

 

Sense of place

In the early 20th century poets, artists and writers waxed lyrical that the town was like ‘a little England’.

Camden Council documents stress the importance of rural nature of the town for the community’s sense of place and community identity.

Camden Aerial 1940 CIPP
An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

 

This is quite a diverse range of views.

This blog post will look at the historical elements that have contributed to the town’s sense of place, and ultimately its historical significance.

While none of these elements is new, this is the first time they have been presented this way.

 

A private venture of Englishmen James and William Macarthur

The village was a private development of Englishmen James and William Macarthur on the family property of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had their private-venture village of Camden approved in 1835, the street plan drawn up (1836) and the first sale of land in 1841.  All within the limits of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had another private venture village at Taralga on Richlands and Menangle on Camden Park Estate.

Camden James Macarthur Belgenny
James Macarthur (Belgenny Farm)

Creation of a little English village

The notion of an English-style village on the family estate must have been an enticing possibility for the Macarthur brothers.

In the Camden village, James and William Macarthur named streets after themselves and their supporters. They include John Street, Macarthur Road, Elizabeth Street, Edward Street, Broughton Street, Exeter Street, Oxley Street, Mitchell Street. The Macarthur family and funded the construction of St John’s church on the hill and donated the surrounding curtilage.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The Macarthur brothers created vistas from the family’s Georgian hilltop Georgian mansion across the Cowpastures countryside to their Gothic-style village church.

The Englishness of the Camden village entranced many visitors and locals, including artists and writers. On a visit in 1927, the Duchess of York claimed that the area was ‘like England.’

 

Strategic river crossing into the Cowpastures

The village was strategically located at the Nepean River ford where the first Europeans crossed the river. By the 1820s the river crossing was the main entry point to Macarthur brothers’ Camden Park Estate, the largest gentry property in the area.

The situation of the village on the Great South Road re-enforced the Macarthur brothers economic and social authority over the countryside.

The river crossing was one of the two northern entry points to their realm of Camden Park Estate, the other being at the Menangle.  Menangle later became another private estate village.

The Macarthur village of Camden would secure the northern entry to the family’s Camden Park estate where the Great South Road entered their property. By 1826 the river ford was the site of the first toll bridge in the area.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP
Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

 

None of this was new as the river crossing had been the entry into the Cowpastures reserve declared by Governor King in 1803. The site was marked by the police hut in the government reserve at the end of the Cowpasture track from Prospect.

 

English place names, an act of dispossession

The Camden village was part of the British imperial practice of placing English names on the landscape. The name of the village is English as is the gentry estate within which it was located – Camden Park.

English place names were used in the area from 1796 when Governor Hunter names the site the Cow Pastures Plain. The Cowpastures was a common grazing land near a village.

Naming is a political act of possession, or dispossession, and is an active part of settler colonialism.

Camden Signage
The Camden sign on the entry to the town centre at Kirkham Reserve on Camden Valley Way formerly The Great South Road and Hume Highway. (I Willis)

 

The Cowpastures was a meeting ground in between the  Dharawal, the Dharug and the Gundungurra people. The area was variously known as ‘Baragil’ (Baragal)’ or Benkennie (dry land).

Indigenous names were generally suppressed by English placenames until recent decades.

Initially, the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures that escaped from the Sydney colony in 1788 occupied the meadows of the Nepean River floodplain.

The Cowpastures became a contested site on the colonial frontier.

 

Dispossession in the English meadows of the Cowpastures

The foundation of the Macarthur private village venture was part of the British colonial settler project.

The first Europeans were driven by Britain’s imperial ambitions and the settler-colonial project and could see the economic possibilities of the countryside.

Under the aims of the colonial settler project, as outlined by Patrick Wolfe and later LeFevre, the new Europeans sought to replace the original population of the colonised territory with a new group of settlers.

Hunter’s naming of the Cowpastures was the first act of expropriation. Further dispossession occurred with the government reserve, and later Governor Macquarie created the government village of Cawdor in the centre of the Cowpastures.

Art Governor Macquarie SLNSW
Governor Macquarie SLNSW

 

The Europeans seized territory by grant and purchase and imposed more English place names in the countryside, and created a landscape that mirrored the familiarity of England.

The colonial settlers brought Enlightenment notions of progress in their search for some kind of utopia.

 

Cowpasture patriarchs

The Macarthur private venture village was located in a landscape of self-style English gentry, and their estates interspersed with several small villages.

The gentry estates and their homestead and farm complex were English style village communities. One of the earliest was Denbigh (1818).

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

 

The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.

The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.

The Cowpasture colonial elite created a bunyip aristocracy and styled themselves on the English gentry.

On the left bank of the Nepean River were the gentry estates of Camden Park along with Brownlow Hill. On the right bank were the gentry properties of Macquarie Grove, Elderslie, Kirkham and Denbigh and several smallholders.

The ideal society for the colonial gentry included village communities. To foster their view of the world, the Europeans created the small village of Cobbitty around the Hassall family’s private Heber Chapel.

The village of Stonequarry was growing at the southern limits of the Cowpastures at the creek crossing on the Great South Road.  The village was located on the Antil’s Jarvisfield and later renamed Picton in the 1840s.

The picturesque Cowpastures countryside greeted the newly arrived Englishmen John Hawdon from County Durham. In 1828 Hawdon became the first person to put in writing that the Cowpastures area reminded him of the English countryside when he wrote a letter home.

 

The progress and development of the country town

The Enlightenment view of progress influenced the Macarthur’s vision for their Camden village. They sought to create an ideal village community of yeoman farmers and sponsored self-improvement community organisation including the School of Arts.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP
Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP

 

Within the Macarthur fiefdom, former estate workers became townsmen, took up civic duties and ran successful businesses.

The village of Camden prospered, became a thriving market town and the economic hub of a growing district.

The architectural styles of the town centre shine a light on the progress and development of the Macarthur village. The architectural forms include  Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar moderne, Mid-20th century modern, and Post-modern.

The town centre served a host of functions for the community that are indicated by the types of land use in a country town. These include commercial, government, open space, industrial, transport, residential, religious, agricultural, amongst others.

 

The country town idyll and the appearance of heritage

Since the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Appin, Campbelltown and Camden there has been increased interest in the cultural heritage of the town centre. This is the first appearance of the influence of post-modernism in the Camden story.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown Camden Airds 1973
John Wrigley conducted the first heritage study of the Camden town centre in 1985 for the Camden Historical Society.

Urban growth and the loss of rural countryside has encouraged a nostalgic desire for the past. This process had led to the evolution of the Camden, the country town idyll.

The heritage of the town centre is what the community values from the past that exists in the present. It is made up of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The town centre story can is a timeline with many side shoots or a tree with the main stem and many branches.

 

Camden time traveller and the town centre

The living history of the town centre is evident at every turn. At every corner. A visitor can be a time-traveller into the past. A view along the main street is a view into the past.

There are many locations in our local area where a person can be a time-traveller into the past. The traveller can be a participant in the area’s living history, ‘simply by being present’.

One of these sites is the commanding view from the hilltop at St John’s church. Here the traveller can view the Cowpasture countryside that nestles the Camden town centre within its grasp.

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

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A walk in the meadows of the past

Walkway at the Camden Town Farm

I was recently walking across the Nepean River floodplain past meadows of swaying waist-high grass on a local walkway that brought to mind the 1805 description of the Cowpastures by Governor King. Atkinson writes

The first Europeans looked about with pleasure at the luxuriant grass that covered both the flats and the low hills. The flats seemed best for cattle…the trees were sparse.

The trees were certainly sparse on my walk, yet the cattle in the adjacent paddock proved the fulfillment of the observations of the early Europeans.

Black cattle graze on the waist-high grass just as the wild cattle of the Cowpastures did over 200 years ago. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway 2020 (I Willis)

The cattle I saw were polled hornless black cattle which were markedly different from the horned-South African cattle which made the Nepean River floodplain their home in 1788 after they escaped from Bennelong Point in Sydney Town. They became the wild cattle of the Cowpastures.

The beauty of the landscape hints at the management skills of the original inhabitants the area -the Dharawal – who understood this country well.

This is the landscape that characterises the recently opened Miss Lewella Davies Memorial Walkway which weaves its way across the Nepean River flats on the western side of Camden’s township historic town centre.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Pond fog 2020 IW lowres
The aesthetics of the Nepean River floodplain caught the attention of the early Europeans in a landscape managed by the local Dharawal people for hundreds of years. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Pond (2020 I Willis)

Layers of meaning within the landscape

Walking the ground is an important way for a historian to empathise the subtleties of the landscape and the layers of meaning that are buried within it.

The walkway is located in the original Cowpastures named Governor Hunter in 1796, which was then declared a government reserve in 1803 by Governor King. Just like an English reserved King banned any unauthorised entry south of the Nepean River to stop poaching of the wild cattle. Just like the ‘keep out’ signs in the cattle paddocks today.

According to Peter Mylrea, the area of the town farm was purchased by colonial pioneer John Macarthur after the government Cowpasture Reserve was closed and sold off in 1825. It is easy to see why John Macarthur wanted this part of the country for his farming outpost of Camden Park, centred at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta.

Although this does not excuse European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country.  Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley and John Macarthur were part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.

Today all this country is part of the Camden Town Farm, which includes the walkway.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Nepean River Rest Stop 2020 IW lowres
A rest stop on the walkway adjacent to the Nepean River. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Nepean River (2020 IW)

Llewella Davies – a colourful local character

Llewella Davies was a larger than life colourful Camden character and a truly notable Camden identity. On her death in 2000 her estate bequeathed 55 acres of her family’s dairy farm fronting Exeter Street to the Camden Council. Llewella wanted the site was to be used as a functional model farm for educational purposes or passive recreational use.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Information Sign 2020 IW lowres
An information sign at the beginning of the walkway explains the interesting aspects of the life of Miss Llewella Davies. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

The Davies dairy farm

The Davies family purchased their farm of 130 acres in 1908. They appeared not to have farmed the land and leased 20 acres on the corner of Exeter and Macquarie Grove Road to Camden Chinese market gardener Tong Hing and others for dairying.

Llewella was the youngest of two children to Evan and Mary Davies. She lived all her life in the family house called Nant Gwylan on Exeter Street, opposite the farm. Her father died in 1945, and Llewella inherited the house and farm on her mother’s death in 1960.

The house Nant Gwylan was surrounded by Camden High School which was established in 1956 on a sporting reserve. Llewella steadfastly refused to sell-out to the Department of Education for an extension to the high school despite being approached on several occasions.

Llewella, who never married, was born in 1901 and educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in Darlinghurst. The school educated young women in a progressive liberal curriculum that included the classics, scientific subjects as well as female accomplishments.

Llewella undertook paid work at the Camden News office for many years and volunteered for numerous community organisations including the Red Cross, and the Camden Historical Society. In 1981 she was awarded the Order of Australia medal (OAM) for community service.

The Camden Town Farm

In 2007 Camden Council appointed a Community Management Committee to examine the options for the farm site that Llewella Davies had gifted to the Camden community. The 2007 Camden Town Farm Masterplan outlined the vision for the farm:

The farm will be developed and maintained primarily for agricultural, tourism and educational purposes. It was to be operated and managed in a sustainable manner that retains its unique character and encourages and facilitates community access, participation and visitation.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Shoesmith Yards 2020 IW lowres
The walkway has several historic sites and relics from the Davies farm. Here are the Shoesmith Cattle yards… Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

The masterplan stated the farm was ‘ideally place to integrate itself with the broader township’ and the existing Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway that had been established in 2006.

It is against this background that the Camden Town Farm management committee moved forward with the development of a walkway in 2016.

The Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway

The walkway was constructed jointly by Camden Council and the Town Farm Management Committee through the New South Wales Government’s Metropolitan Greenspace Program. The program is administered by the Office of Strategic Lands with funding for the program comes from the Sydney Region Development Fund and aims to improve the regional open space in Sydney and the Central Coast. It has been running since 1990.

Camden Mayor Theresa Fedeli opened the walkway on 17th August 2019 to an enthusiastic crowd of locals. The walkway is approximately 2.4 kilometres and it has been estimated that by January 2020 around 1000 people per week are using it.

Invite for Miss Llewella Davies Walkway 2019Aug17

The walkway is part of Camden’s Living History where visitors and locals can see, experience and understand what a farm looks like, what it smells like and its size and extent. Located on Sydney’s urban fringe it is a constant reminder of the Indigenous Dharawal people and the area’s farming heritage of grazing, cropping, and dairying

If the walker is patient and perceptive the path reveals the layers of the past, some of which have been silenced for many years.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Walkers 2020 IW lowres
Some enthusiastic walkers on the path getting in some exercise on the 2.4 km long track. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Highlights   (on map)

  1. Chinese wishing wells
  2. Seismic monitoring station
  3. Views of Nepean River
  4. Views to Macquarie House
  5. Shoesmith livestock yard.
  6. Heritage precinct
Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Seismic Instruments 2020 IW lowres
The seismic station is adjacent to the walkway path on the Nepean River floodplain. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

 Additional highlights

  1. Nepean River floodplain
  2. Dam
  3. Camden Community Garden
  4. Camden Fresh Produce Markets
  5. Worker’s cottage
  6. Onslow Park and Camden Showground
  7. Bicentennial Equestrian Park
  8. Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area
  9. Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway
Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Warning Do Not Sign 2020 IW lowres
There are information signs at the beginning and the end of the walkway. This one highlights the warnings and the things that walkers and visitors are not allowed to do. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

The value of the walkway

  1. Tourism
  2. Education
  3. Memorial
  4. Commemoration
  5. Fitness and wellbeing
  6. Ecological
  7. Sustainability
  8. Working farm
  9. Living history
  10. Community events and functions
  11. Commercial business – farmers markets
  12. Aesthetics and moral imperative
  13. Storytelling
  14. Community wellness
  15. Food security
Camden Town Farm Walkway Signage No Dogs2 2020 lowres

Australian Historic Themes

The Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway fits the Australian Historic Themes on several levels and the themes are:

  1. Tracing the natural evolution of Australia,
  2. Peopling Australia
  3. Developing local, regional and national economies
  4. Building settlements, towns, and cities
  5. Working
  6. Educating
  7. Governing
  8. Developing Australia’s cultural life
  9. Marking the phases of life

Updated on 17 April 2021; Originally posted on 14 April 2020

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Motoring, modernism and a new car showroom.

A new era in Camden motoring

The beginning of a new phase of Camden’s motoring history created much excitement and anticipation in March 1948 with the opening of the new ultra-modern car showroom for Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street.

Camden Clintons Motor Dealers building collage 2019 IW
A collage of the former Clintons Motors car showroom. The style building is influenced by Art Deco streamline detail to the exterior. (I Willis, 2019)

 

The year 1948 was a landmark in Australian motoring history with the launch of first Australian made mass produced motor car – the FX Holden sedan – in November. The National Museum of Australia states that

The Holden transformed suburban Australia, boosted national pride and quickly become a national icon. The car was economical, sturdy and stylish and was immediately popular with the public.

Camden Clintons Motors New Holden on display CN1948Dec2
Clintons Motor promoted the new FX Holden motor car in 1948. The new car was highly anticipated by the Camden community. (Camden News, 2 December 1948)

 

Clinton Motors announced in September 1948 that it would sell the new Holden motor car (Camden News, 23 September 1948). The first Holden car was displayed in the new streamlined showroom in  December 1948 and sold for £675. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)

Camden Clinton Motors New Holden CN1948Dec16
The arrival of the new Holden as it was just called was highly anticipated by the Camden community. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)

 

The new showroom displays motoring modernism

The former Clintons Motor building was an iconic stylish Art Deco Interwar influenced building with its clean streamlined appearance drawn from  American and French influences.

Camden Shirley Rorke Beth Jackman 1953 Clintons SRorke_adjusted
Clintons Motors Showroom with sales assistants Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman in 1953. The business sold electrical goods as well as motor cars, accessories and tyres. (S Rorke)

 

The new showroom was described on the opening as ‘the most modern department store’ in Camden.

A blue and white building with modernistic streamlined front and wide plate glass fittings. Inside, behind imposing doors set between giant white pillars, are to be seen a range of colourful displays that glistened beneath batteries of flourescent lights. Big placards mounted on plastic coated display stands illustrate the advice which Goodyear gives motorists in obtaining tyres. Other plastic and glass tables hold an unexpectedly large variety of accessories for cars and trucks. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).

The new premises were constructed by Camden builder Jim Bracken on the former site of the Camden tweed mill which burnt down in 1899 and left a standing chimney for many years. During the Interwar period the site was used a horse paddock.

The new premises sold tyres, motor accessories and electrical goods including refrigerators. The showroom  ‘combined all the features that modern merchants in America have developed to improve their service to their customers’. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).

Holden FX 1948 Cover Sales brochure Wikimedia
The cover of the sales brochure for the new Holden motor car in 1948. The new FX Holden created a great deal of excitement throughout the community on its release. (Wikimedia)

 

Tourism and motoring modernism

The former Clintons Motors showroom is one of the first buildings that visitors encounter as they enter the town centre after crossing the Cowpastures Bridge and  the Nepean River floodplain on the former Hume Highway (now Camden Valley Way).

Camden Clinton Motors 1983 JWrigley CIPP

Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street Camden in 1983. The business was the Holden dealership for the Camden area. The premises opened in 1948. (Camden Images)

 

The former car showroom is just one of a number of Interwar buildings that visitors can find in the charming town centre. There is the former Bank of New South Wales (Westpac) building, the brick front of the show hall pavilion, the Dunk building car showroom, the former Rural Bank building, the former Stuckey Bakery building, the milk depot. Tucked around the corner is the former Paramount Movie palace and the Presbyterian church. Scattered in and around the town centre are a number of Californian bungalows which add to the atmospherics of the former country town.

 

The Clinton Group has a long history

The Clinton group  has a long history in the Macarthur region starting out a mobile theatre then moving into the Burragorang coalfields. In the 1930s they had a transport business moving coal from the valley to the Camden and Narellan railhead. The family formed Clinton Distributions which became an agent for General Motors Holden on 8 March 1945. Trading at Clinton Motors on the Hume Highway at Narellan the business sold Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Vauxhalls, Bedfords and Maple Leaf trucks. The family incorporated the business in 1946 (Clinton Motor Group) and moved into Camden in February, (Camden News, 21 February 1946) opening the new showroom in 1948. The business operated on this site until 1992 then moved to the former site of Frank Brooking car yard and motor dealership at the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets.

Camden Clintons Motors GMH Dealer CN1945Mar8
Clintons Motors opened for business at its Narellan Hume Highway site  in 1945. (Camden News, 8 March 1945)

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Living history on your doorstep

There is the opportunity to experience real living history on your own doorstep.

Living history is all around you. You just need to take a deep breath, pause for a moment and listen to the history around speak to you.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. You can still view this vista from the town’s fringe near the showground. (Camden Images)

 

Camden living history

In the town centre of Camden the buildings and the ambience of the historic precinct speak to you if you pause and listen.

They are all part of the Camden story.

The Camden living history reveals the intricacies of telling the Camden story.

The Camden town centre and its multi-layered history are evident in the many different building styles evident as you walk along the main street.

If walls could talk they would tell an interesting story that would immerse you in the past in the present. They would provide a gripping account of the characters that were central to the stories.

Camden CHS 231 Macaria c. 1890
The Camden Grammar School which was located in Macaria in the 1890s.  Macaria is open to the public and is the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery located at 37 John Street, Camden. (Camden Images)

Living history is storytelling

Living history allows participants to be able to read the layers of history of an area.

Living history is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.

Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real and authentic.

Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present. Storytelling and stories at the essence of place.

 

The living history movement

Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’.   (pp. xii-xv)

One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA.  Henry Ford said of his museum

I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018. You can visit the historic St John’s church and precinct in central Camden. The church was built in the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family. (I Willis)

 

The Camden story

The Camden story is the tale of the local area.

Camden storytellers peel back the layers of the history of the town and district and reveal the tales of local identities, larrikans, characters, rascals, ruffians and ratbags.

There are a number of layers to the Camden story and they are

  • Pre-European period of the Indigenous Dharawal people when they called the area Benkennie
  • The Cowpastures were named by Governor Hunter in 1795 and the establishment of the Cowpastures Government Reserve. Under European control the Indigenous Dharawal people dispossession and displacement of their country. The Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estatestarted with the 1805 grant to John Macarthur.
  • The Camden township was established as a private venture of the Macarthur family in 1840. The streets were named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
  • The English-style Camden town centrehas evolved and is represented by a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, EdwardianInter-war, Mid-20th century. The town was the hub of the Camden District between 1840 and 1970s
  • The Macarthur region (1970s +), named after the famous local Macarthur family, grew as part of   Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. It is made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.

Camden Show Bullock Team 2018 MWillis
The bullock team walking up John Street for the 2018 Camden Show. Bullock teams were once a common sight in the Camden area before the days of motorised transport. The teamster monument in John Street celebrates their role in the history of the district. Visit the Camden Show. (M Willis)

 

Immerse your imagination in the past at the Camden Museum through living history.

The Camden museum tells the Camden story through displays of artefacts, objects, memoriabilia and other ephemera by using a living history approach.

The displays tell a story of an earlier period and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the past in the present.

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)

 

Walking the past through living history

Visitors to Camden can walk the streets of the town centre and imagine another time. A time past that can be recalled through living history.

A self-guided walking tour lets visitors explore the living history of the Camden town centre. There is a pdf brochure here. 

Check out Camden’s main street with its Victorian, Edwardian and interwar ambience and charm. See where the local met on sale day at the Camden saleyards or the annual country festival at the Camden show.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. The show is held each year in the Onslow Park precinct. (Camden Show)

 

The Heritage Tourism website boasts that Camden – The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW.

The mysteries of the cute little locomotive that used to run between Camden and  Campbelltown via Currans Hill, Narellan, Elderslie, Kirkham and Graham’s Hill are also explored in a post called  The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram.

Maybe you would like to revisit the farming glory days of the 1800s at one of Australia’s most important living history farms at Belgenny Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. Visitors are welcome.  (I Willis, 2018)

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Living History at Belgenny

The CHN blogger was out and about recently and attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in  the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. The farm community hall was the location of an informative talk by Mr Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.

 Peter Watson and Howell Living History Farm

Peter Watson presented an interesting and far ranging talk about Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey and its programs. He was responsible for setting up the Howell Living History Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson2 Talk
Mr Peter Watson giving an interesting and information talk in the community hall at the Home Farm at the Belgenny Farm Complex on the experience for visitors to the Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Mr Watson said, ‘He initially worked in the US Peace Corps in West Africa and gained an interest in the living history movement through teaching farming methods.’

‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.

Mr Watson said, ‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm. Politics is not good or evil but just develops systems that do good for people. New Jersey state government have purchased development rights per acre from land developers.’

Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.

The experience

Mr Watson said, ‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’

Mr Watson says, ‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson Talk
An interesting presentation was given by Peter Watson on 2 May 2018 at in the community hall at the Belgenny Farm complex outlining some of the activities and experiences for the visitor to the farm in New Jersey, USA. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Farm visitors become involved in activities.’

The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.

The living history movement is concerned with authenticity and Mr Watson said, ‘Living history is a reservoir of ideas in adaptive research using comparative farming methods between decades.

Mr Watson illustrated his talk with a number of slides of the farm and its activities. He stressed to the relieved audience that the farm activities used replica equipment, not historic artefacts.

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 blacksmithing
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. The farm attempts to provide an opportunity for the preservation of the traditional trades. Here blacksmithing is being demonstrated with a forge. (2018)

 

Howell Living History Farm offers a strong education program for schools.

‘This is a different experience for school groups and we do not want to do up all the old buildings. Different farm buildings show a comparative history  – 1790, 1800, 1850,’ Mr Watson said.

Stressing how the farm lives up the principles of the living history movement Mr Watson said, ‘The farm is a learning, education and entertainment facility using traditional farming methods that provide an authentic and ‘real’ experience. The farm seeks to preserve the traditional methods which have cultural value.’

 

Literature prepared for the Howell Living History Farm education program states that:

Howell Farm’s educational programs engage students in the real, season activities of a working farm where hands-on learning experiences provide the answers to essential questions posed by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Standards of Social Studies, Language Arts, Science and the Next Generation Science Standards. The farm’s classic, mixed crop and livestock operations accurately portray the era of pre-tractor systems, creating a unique and inspiring learning environment where history, technology, science converge…and where past and present meet.

 

‘The farm is a guided experience and there are interpreters for visitors. Story telling at the farm is done in the 1st-person.’

Farm activities

‘The farm has a cooking programme for the farm crops it grows, which is popular with organic producers and supporters of organic farm products. Crops grown using traditional methods include oats, corn and wheat.’

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 farm produce
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. This is  some of the produce sold in the Howell Farm shop to visitors. All produce sold in the farm shop is grown and processed on the farm. (2018)

 

‘The farm sells some its produce and it includes honey, corn meal, maple syrup, used horse shoes, wool, flour.

‘We sell surplus produce at a local market. Activities include apple peeling. There is a sewing guild every Tuesday and the women make costumes.’

‘The farm has an ice house which makes natural ice during winter. Mr Watson made the point that ice making in the US was a multi-million dollar industry in the 1900s.

 

The promotional information for the farm’s seasonal calendar program states:

Howell Farm’s calendar reflects the cycles of a fully functioning working farm in Pleasant Valley, New Jersey during the years 1890-1910. Programs enable visitors to see real farming operations up close, speak with farmers and interpreters, and in many instances lend a hand. Factors such as weather, soil conditions and animal needs can impact operations at any time, resulting in program changes that reflect realities faced by farmers then and now.

 

The farm has run a number of fundraising ventures and one of the more successful has been the maize.

Mr Watson said, ‘The farm maize crop has been cut into a dinosaur maze of four acres and used as a fundraiser, raising $35,000 which has been used for farm restoration work.’

‘The farm is a listed historic site with a number of restored buildings, which satisfy US heritage authorities to allow application for government grants,’ said Peter Watson.

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 activities
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. This view of the webpage shows some of the historic farm buildings that are typical of the New Jersey area around 1900. The farm aims to provide the visitor with an authentic farm experience that has now disappeared from the US countryside and farming landscape.  (2018)

 

‘Traditional farm fences in New Jersey were snake-rail fences which have been constructed using ‘hands-on’ public workshops.’

Mr Watson stressed, ‘The farm is an experience and we are sensitive about where food comes from. Animal rights are a problem and you have to be honest about farming practices.’

 

Learn more

Scott Magelssen, Living History Museums, Undoing History Through Performance. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Howell Living History Farm  70 Woodens Ln, Lambertville, NJ 08530, USA

The Howell Living History Farm, also known as the Joseph Phillips Farm, is a 130 acres farm that is a living open-air museum near Titusville, in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. Wikipedia   Area: 53 ha. Operated by the Mercer County Park Commission.

 

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CWA Camouflage Netting Volunteers

Stories of netting volunteers

A Camden netting volunteer, Elaine, remembered volunteering for duty at the Camden netting centre when she was 15 years old. She recalled that the netting effort was organised and supervised by Rita Tucker. She stated that she had left school and attended the centre on a weekly basis with a group of friends.

Elaine maintained that Camden men ‘were away and we were doing our bit’ for the war effort. She stated that Camden women ‘all had to do something to help our boys’ and they took up netting as part of their civic and patriotic duty. Elaine reported that, for her, netting was not hard work and she enjoyed going with her friends. She maintained that they worked ‘long hours’ and ‘didn’t really worry about it’.

CamNetMaking_AWM007671
Australian women making camouflage nets during the Second World War. These volunteering efforts greatly assisted the war effort. (AWM007671) 

Another net making volunteer, Ida, recalls that netting was ‘hard work’, but ‘she went with her friends, and it was her bit for the war effort’. She helped at a netting circle located above a shop in Campsie, attending on a Wednesday nights after work, but could not recall who organised it.

Ida maintains that at around eighteen years of age, ‘there was not much else to do’ and all the boys ‘were either too old or too young’. Another netter, Kerry worked during the day as a clerk and attended the Nowra netting centre after work at the age of eighteen. The Nowra centre was located above a shop in the main street and she considered that netting was her ‘patriotic duty’.

Another Nowra netter, Grace, lived at home on a dairy farm. In 1942, when she was seventeen years old, she went with a friend to the Nowra netting centre for ‘a couple of hours’ a week on a Tuesday afternoon. She would catch the train from Berry to Nowra, attend classes at Nowra Technical College, then attend netting where there would be between ’10-15 other women’.

Grace recalls that as the netters had ‘to be careful making [the] knots’, she found them ‘hard and difficult to make… as they had to be stable and couldn’t move’. In hindsight, she ‘didn’t think [that she] ever got very proficient at it’, but she still went along ‘to help the war effort, for company and a chat’. Rita, a volunteer at the Armidale Teacher’s College netting centre in 1941, maintained that ‘we were expected to do our bit for the war effort – it all helped’.

Netting Centres at Campbelltown and Narellan

The Camden CWA camouflage netting centre was assisted by sub-branches at Campbelltown and Narellan, which were established after the joint CWA-WVS meeting in December 1941. These sub-branches provided a small but steady stream of nets to add to the Camden effort. By February 1942 the Campbelltown News reported that the ‘sub-centres’ were providing ’24 nets a month’ to the ‘urgent’ appeals from the military authorities for nets.

In June 1942 Mrs Una Swan reported that thirty-four nets had been sent from Campbelltown, and Narellan was working well. By late 1942 ‘Campbelltown was [still] keeping our end up’ according to Mrs Swan, and in March 1943 supplied sixteen nets. The Narellan netting effort was under the leadership of Eliza Byrne, who was the wife of the local publican at Narellan, and president of the Narellan Red Cross.

Camden was the largest netting centre in the area, and the only CWA branch, and following directives from the CWA Handicrafts Committee, distributed netting twine to the smaller netting centres at Campbelltown, Narellan and Buxton.

Net making finishes

The enthusiasm in Camden for netting waned and in 1943 the output was ‘negligible’ according to Tucker, but Swan made ‘herself responsible to complete all unfinished nets by the end of the year’. The winding down of netting activity started in September 1943 and Dorothy Inglis of the State Handicrafts Committee advised branches ‘to complete all on hand as quickly as possible’.

Mrs Swan reported at the October CWA meeting that ‘no official word had been received to cease making nets’. In October, Francis Forde, the Minister for the Army announced the end of net making, which sent ‘shock waves’ throughout the CWA. The Camden netting centre eventually closed in February 1944, after operating for over two and half years, with Una Swan finishing the last of the nets.

With the cessation of netting the New South Wales CWA Handicrafts Committee looked for alternative ways to hold the netting groups together. The Army requested that the New South Wales CWA branches assist in the re-conditioning of Army clothing. In November 1943 the Camden CWA received a request from the Army at Liverpool and the women considered the request at their December meeting.

By the end of 1943 no arrangements for sewing had been made with the Liverpool Army Camp authorities, although the women expected to make a start early in 1944. Camden CWA president Rita Tucker felt that the ‘matter… must be discussed thoroughly at a branch meeting, when it will be seen if it is possible to rise to the occasion’.

In the end the Camden CWA did not proceed with the project. According to the New South Wales Women’s Voluntary Services reconditioning military clothing ‘did not attract the same enthusiasm’ as making camouflage nets.

By 1944 women who undertook wartime volunteering started looking ahead to the time after the war when their communities would need their time and effort.

Learn more

CWA and other women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research