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Motherhood and nation-building in the early 20th century

Infant mortality and the ideology of motherhood.

In Camden the ideology of motherhood expressed itself in the foundation of the St John’s Mother’s Union in 1900 which saw that mothers were an integral part of women’s service role to the British Empire. (Ministering Angels, p19) and later the Red Cross in 1914 and Camden Country Women’s Association in 1930. (Ministering Angels, 21

In the early 20th century the Red Cross was variously described as the ‘Greatest Mother in the World’, and the ‘Mother of all Nations’  (Ministering Angels, 6)  The CWA were concerned with motherhood and infant mortality and of their main activities in the early 20th century was the foundation of baby health centres across the country.

This First World War poster is a lithograph by American artist Foringer, A. E. (Alonzo Earl) and is titled ‘The greatest mother in the world’ (1917). The poster is showing a monumental Red cross nurse cradling a wounded soldier on a stretcher.

Around the turn of the century a direct link was made between infant welfare, motherhood, patriotism and nationalism. Motherhood and mothering were expressed in terms of patriotism and a national priority. All driven by European exceptionalism, expressed in Australia as the White Australia policy. There was anxiety around falling birth rates, whiteness and the strength of the British Empire.

The story of the Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945 is published by the Camden Historical Society. It tells the story of Red Cross branches at Camden, Menangle, The Oaks, Bringelly, Mount Hunter, Oakdale and the Burragorang Valley.

Motherhood as national building

Sociologist Karen Swift writes that from the around the middle of the 18th century the state became interested in motherhood where ‘the state’s interest in controlling and using female fertility for nation building and economic purposes’.  Biological determinism stated that motherhood was a natural state for women and that is should be a national priority.

Swift writes:

The ‘master narratives’ governing European motherhood in earlier centuries was that of nation building, especially in the colonies. The creation of new nations required a growing, healthy population, with women’s roles focused on producing and rearing soldiers and laborers. Once nation-building efforts became established, mothers were called upon to contribute to the development of a large and prosperous white middle class needed to perpetuate and grow capitalism. For this purpose, white mothers were needed to learn, teach, and demonstrate the moral authority the middle class required to dominate those below in the social, economic, and racial hierarchies. 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/motherhood#:~:text=Motherhood%20as%20Ideology&text=A%20well%2Dknown%20summary%20of,67).

Developing national anxiety around motherhood

The metaphor of the Red Cross as mother and guardian angel was extended in the post-war environment and incorporated a concern for mothers and infants. The terrible losses of the First World War, and declining birth rate made the welfare of mothers and infants a national defence priority. There were calls to repopulate the country (The Maitland Weekly Mercury, 30 November 1918.)   and a developing national anxiety around motherhood. Some of Sydney’s conservative elite had expressed concern about the issue of infant welfare, and set up the Kindergarten Union and Free Kindergartens in the 1890s.  

Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the library at Camden Park House in 1922. Sibella known affectionately ‘Sib’ was a philanthropist, church woman, pastoralist, a woman of independent means and intensely private. She was a member of influential conservative women’s organisations during the Edwardian and Interwar periods including Sydney’s influential Queen’s Club and National Council of Women and the imperial Victoria League. (Camden Images)

Support from the National Council of Women of NSW, of which Sibella Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park was a member, and others who were concerned about the welfare of mothers and infants led to the establishment of day nurseries, supervised playgrounds and other initiatives in inner Sydney in the early 1920s. There were high rates of infant mortality in inner Sydney and social conditions for single mothers with children were less than desirable. There had been the Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth Rate and the Mortality of Infants in New South Wales in 1904 and the Edwardian period was characterised by a nationalistic concern over the moral decline of the British race. (Ministering Angels, 65-66)

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’ according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in 1926. The article was a part of the publicity associated with a fundraising campaign for the Karitane-Sydney Mothercraft Centre at Coogee operated by the Australian Mothercraft Society. The society had been established in Australia in 1923 modelled on the Royal New Zealand Society for Health of Women and Children, commonly called the Plunket Society, established by New Zealand doctor Sir Truby King in 1907.

King  visited Australian in 1917 on a lecture tour and warned Australia:

You should have a white Australia. But if you find the Eastern nations more moral more noble to make more sacrifices for the continuity of the race, you know the result must be the same as has been the case with the great civilisations of the past. Greece and Rome went down, not through any failure in the valour or courage of their young men, but because of the increase in luxury, the repugnance to rearing families, followed by decadence and sterility and eventually extinction. If the population of Australia do not do their duty to the race there cannot be any resistance to other races coming in and populating this fair land.

(Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 11 February 1938)

Red Cross Baby Day in Camden

In 1920 the women of the Camden Red Cross were concerned about these issues and donated £14 to the Society for Welfare of Mothers and Babies. The society had been formed in 1918 in Sydney, aimed to teach mothercraft and eventually set up the Tresillian training school at Petersham in 1922.

The women of the Camden Red Cross at their weekly street stall in Argyle Street Camden in the 1920s. The women ran the stall for decades and raised thousands of pounds for local and national charities. (Camden Images)

Red Cross Baby Day became an important part of the district Red Cross child welfare agenda in the post-war years. The Red Cross coordinated the first Baby Week in 1920 in the first week of April and encouraged the formation of local committees.

The Baby Week was supported by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and had its origins in England with the National Baby Week Council in 1900. Its objects were to foster child welfare by decreasing infant mortality, to promoting the health of mothers, and to encouraging motherhood and maternal nursing(The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 27 February 1920)  (Ministering Angels, 66).

The 1920 Red Cross Baby Day in Camden was held on 30 March and the Camden branch had two street stalls, while the Narellan Red Cross had an afternoon tea stall at the Bank of New South Wales.  (Minutes, Camden Red Cross, 9 March 1920 )  

Camden RHS Adeline West with baby Kathleen LHS Adeline’s sister Ethel Jones & baby Edwin 1908 (Camden Images)

The support continued in 1925 when the Camden Red Cross was assisted on the dip stalls by Miss Gardner from Camden Public School and her kindergarten class. The total raised by Camden was £23 and Narellan Red Cross raised £9. Camden News, 1 April 1920) 

The funds were donated to the Camden District Cot at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. In 1925 Camden Red Cross members sought the assistance of the girls from Camden Superior Public School, with the girls helping out on one of the dip stalls. This practice continued until 1940. The Camden Red Cross branch made a regular donation and it generally varied between £20 and £50, with a peak in 1922 of £53. The overall average donation between 1921 and 1939 was £34, while during the Furner presidency the average donation was £37 and Macarthur Onslow’s presidency £32. The Camden Red Cross made a number of donations to nursery movement groups during the 1920s and they included: Nursery Association (1924, £10); Sydney Day Nurseries (1925, £10); Infant Home, Ashfield (1925, £7, and 1926, £10); and the Forest Lodge Day Nursery (1927, £6). (Ministering Angels, 66)

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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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The historic Bennett wagon

One of the larger items in the collection of the Camden museum is an item that few of the current members are aware of or would know the history. It is the Percival wagon that was located next to Macaria for a number of decades, the former headquarters of Camden Council.

In 2012 a group of schoolboys got the opportunity to pull it to bits and put it back together again. They did a lot of work but were unable to finish the project. The wagon has been fully restored and conserved and is now located at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre in a new blacksmith’s display.

Camden Percival Wagon_0003
The historic Camden (Percival) wagon is probably a Bennett construction and was placed in the forecourt area next to Macaria by the Camden Historical Society in 1977. Where is stayed for a number of decades until 2012. (Camden Historical Society)

 

Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys

The Percival wagon is likely to have been built at the Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys which   started in 1858 and eventually closed down in 1958. The Western Plains Cultural Centre at Dubbo states:

Bennett coach and Wagon works were operated by brothers James and George T. Bennett. Their tabletop wagons became famous throughout Australia; they were capable of carrying from 10 to 20 tonnes, and were regarded as the best heavy transport wagons to be bought. They were used in both rural and urban areas.

The Bennett wagon works at St Marys employed around 25 men at the end of the 19th century, with its wagons selling for between £150 to £250. The wagons were usually painted green and red, or red and blue and some had nick names, like ‘The Maxina’ (in South Creek Park now), ‘King of the Road’, and ‘The Pioneer’.

st-marys-bennett-wagon-works-1910-penrithcitylibrary-e1499829672934.jpg
George T. Bennett’s Wagon Works, St Marys. The photograph, taken in 1910, shows George Bennett’s wheelwright and blacksmith’s workshop in Queen Street, St Marys which was built in about 1875. The business was on the western side of Queen Street, a short distance north of King Street. George’s brother James joined him in the business but after a disagreement, James built his own workshop closer to the highway. George closed his business in 1920. (Penrith City LIbrary)

 

The Penrith City Regional Library states the Bennett wagons were used by teamsters to haul silver from the Burragorang Valley. In 1904 there were 15 teams of horses and bullocks plying the road between Yerranderie and Camden railhead from the silver field which lasted from around 1900 to 1925.

The silver ore was originally forwarded to Germany for smelting, and after the First World War it went to Port Pirie in South Australia and then Newcastle. The story of the teamsters who worked out the Burragorang is celebrated in a monument outside Macaria in John Street, which was installed in 1977 by the Camden Historical Society.

 

Wagon finds a home at Camden

The historical society’s wagon was one of the last in the Macarthur area. It was around 70 years old when the society purchased it from Sydney Percival of Appin in 1977 using a public fundraising appeal organised by society president Owen Blattman and Dick Nixon for $200. Once the society secured the funds and purchased the wagon it was then restored by retired Camden carpenter Ern Howlett and painted red and blue.

Deidre Percival D’Arcy says:

 My father, Norman Dyson Percival, owned the wagon and the property Northampton Dale. He first offered the wagon to Campbellltown & Airds Historical Society where Norman”s brother, Sydney Rawson Percival, was a member. He assisted in the move to Camden Historical Society. 

Northampton Dale

The original owner of the society’s wagon was Sydney’s father Norm Percival who died in 1942 with the wagon passing to his son. Norm lived on the property called Northampton Dale which was part of William Broughton 1000 acre grant of Lachlan Vale.

John Percival purchased Northampton Dale when Broughton’s grant was subdivided 1856 and named it after his home in England. The Percival property was used for horse breeding, then beef cattle and later as a dairy farm. During the First World War the farm was a popular venue with local people for playing tennis. (Anne-Maree Whitaker, Appin, the story of a Macquarie Town)

Campbelltown Percival Wagon_0001

 

Typical of Bennett wagons the society’s Percival wagon was used to cart wheat at Junee in 1913 while around 1900 it had previously been used to cart chaff from Campbelltown Railway Station to the Cataract Dam construction site.

Wagon at Appin

The wagon was also used to cart coal in Wollongong and then around the Percival Appin farm of ‘Northampton Dale’ and the Appin district. The Percival wagon had been restored by the Percivals in 1905 and was fitted with new front wheels, and plied for business around with Appin area. The signage along the side of wagon was ‘EN Percival, Appin’.

The Percival wagon was placed adjacent to Macaria in John Street in 1977 and by 1992 was a little the worse for wear. A team of society members took to the task with gusto and contributed over 200 hours to the restoration, with Camden Council contributing $600 to the total cost of $1200.

Another decade passed and the weather and the elements again took their toll on the wagon. Repainting was needed in 2001.

Camden HS Teamsters Wagon
The Percival wagon in Argyle Street Camden driven by Mr Biffin before being located next to Macaria in John Street in 1977 (Camden Museum)

 

Restoration by Macarthur Anglican School students

In 2012 the Dean of Students at Macarthur Anglican School Tim Cartwright suggested that the wagon become a restoration project for the school boys. Cartwright, who had retrained as a teacher, had been a master carpenter in Europe before coming to Australia. The wagon was taken out to the school later in that year and the students completed some work on it.

Tim Cartwright stated in 2018

When the School took possession of the Wagon, the entire sub structure was affected by white-ant and dry rot. This became evident when the front wheels folded under themselves unable to steer or take their own weight.

A small team of enthusiastic Year 7 and Year 9 boys with no practical carpentry experience gathered every Friday afternoon and sometimes through School holidays, with the intention of renovating and replacing all parts of the Wagon to bring it to a point where it could be used rather than just as a display.

Over the four year period the boys learnt essential Carpentry skills often producing work that demanded great attention to detail and a skill level that would be demanding even for modern practice.

The boys included Adam Ebeling, Jack Jansen, Richard Cartwright, Henry Cartwright
Tom Oliver, Daniel Pearce.

The boys took great pride in their work and were always concerned to replicate original parts instead of compromising on easier or more convenient solutions. This project has been rich in learning in many aspects and I am thrilled to have led the boys on this pathway of preserving our local heritage and introducing them to skills they will be able to revisit in years to come.

Restoration and conservation by The Oaks Historical Society

The latest restoration of the wagon has been completed by volunteers at The Oaks Historical Society.

The Oaks Cover Newsletter 2019 Wagon Restoration

 

Camden HS Wagon SoS Cover
Camden Museum, Teamsters’ Wagon, Statement of Significance, Item No 1995.423.

 

 

Read more about Bennett Wagons

http://www.stmarysstar.com.au/story/2590835/historic-wagons-coming-home/

http://www.penrithcitygazette.com.au/story/3331875/historic-wagons-roll-into-town/

Originally posted 7 December 2017. Updated 24 July 2020

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History is nice, but…

What is the value of history?

A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.

Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 (A Bailey)

 

What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.

The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.”  They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.

I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.

  1. To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
  2. To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
  3. To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.

While the Value of History statement is written for an American audience it has just as much relevance in Australia.

Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914
A Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914 that was on loan at Camden Museum in 2015 (I Wills)

 

The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.

There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.

 Value of History statement

The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.

The US promoters of ‘Advancing the History Relevance Campaign’ maintain that the disparate nature of historical work means that there is the lack of a unified voice for the value of history.

Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s at Kirkham NSW (Camden Images)

 

Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.

History is consumed on a vast scale in Australia. The American Relevance of History project has much merit and would be very useful in Australia.

Aesthetics · Attachment to place · British colonialism · Camden · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Entertainment · Floods · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Landscape aesthetics · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Memory · Menangle · Myths · Nepean River · Place making · Ruralism · Second World War · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · War · War at home · Water

Nepean River, more than a water view

The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe.

Nepean River near Cobbitty 1900 (Camden Images)
Nepean River near Cobbitty 1900 (Camden Images)

 

The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn.

West of Wollongong the tributaries including Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park.

The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past  Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty.

The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.

The Nepean River is economically important to the Sydney Basin and is used for mining, irrigation, recreation and other activities. It is ecologically significant to the area and has several rare and endangered species of plants.

Cultural importance

The river has an important meaning in terms of its intangible cultural heritage to the local landscape. The river and its surroundings had special meaning to the Indigenous Dharawal people of the Cowpastures area.

The river defines the landscape and the construction of place in the localities along the river including Menangle, Camden, and Cobbitty.

One locality of special significance is Little Sandy at Camden.

Little Sandy

Little Sandy on the Nepean River at Camden has been a popular spot with local Europeans for many decades for swimming, picnicking, boating and fishing. It is rich in the memories of local folk played out their childhoods, experienced the pangs of youth and enjoyed time with their families.

Little Sandy has been an important part of Camden cultural heritage for generations. It is a locality with a strong sense of place and identity with people’s memories.

The site has layers of meaning that can be peeled back and reveal a landscape of diverse dimensions. Its story has meaning across the generations.

The site and the pondage were created on the Nepean River with the construction of the Camden Weir in 1907. It is a culturally created landscape.

Today thousands of local residents enjoy the same rituals at Little Sandy on their jaunts along the Nepean River bike path with the friends and family.

Little Sandy with footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. Diving board in foreground. (Camden Images)
Little Sandy with a footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. Diving board in the foreground. (Camden Images)

 

Swimming carnivals

Nepean River swimming carnival 1917 Little Sandy (Camden Images)
Nepean River swimming carnival 1917 Little Sandy (Camden Images)

 

In the early 20th century Little Sandy was a favourite swimming spot. In the 1920s the Camden Swimming Club built galvanised iron dressing sheds painted green in an area now known at Kings Bush Reserve.

Swimming became one of Elderslie’s earliest organised sporting activities after the Nepean River was dammed in 1907 with the construction of the Camden Weir.

Water backed up behind the weir for four kilometres through the Elderslie area and provided relatively deep water suitable for swimming.

The Camden Aquatic Sports carnival was organised in 1909 and attracted over 1000 spectators and was the location of the Camden Swimming Club in the 1920s.

The area was divided into Big Sandy, which was a deep hole, near Kings Bush Reserve. About 100 metres upstream was Little Sandy where the water was shallower. Learn to swim classes were held for a short time and Boy Scouts would go swimming there, according to Milton Ray.

Len English says

“In the 1950s the area was used for swimming by pupils from Camden Public School’,  ‘The girls went with the female teachers to Little Sandy, while the male teachers and boys went downstream to Camden Weir.’

Olive McAleer says

‘Little Sandy was a popular spot for family picnics between the 1920s and 1940s’.

The river stopped being a swimming spot when it was condemned because of pollution by medical authorities in the early 1960s. It was replaced by Camden Memorial Swimming Pool in 1964. (P Mylrea, ‘Swimming in the Nepean River at Camden’, Camden History, March 2006)

Learn more @ Ian Willis, ‘Elderslie’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008

 

Footbridge built 1943

Little Sandy footbridge over Nepean River at Camden in 1943 (Camden Images)
Little Sandy footbridge over Nepean River at Camden in 1943 (Camden Images)

 

In  1943 military authorities from the Narellan Military Camp were anxious to undertake a practical training exercise for engineers. In September they sought the view of Camden Municipal Council on erecting a footbridge and the council immediately agreed with the proposal.

The council covered the cost of some of the timber so that the bridge remained the property of the council. The  Australian Military Forces Engineers supplied the labour, supervision, transport vehicles and operators for the transport of stores and construction material.

The site at the bottom Chellaston Street connected two reserves on either side of the Nepean River. One on the Chellaston Street side and the other at River Road Elderslie.

In late September 1943, 40 troops started building a wooden footbridge 120 feet long and 4 feet wide. Construction took around four weeks and was finished by 28 October.

Observers commented on a

‘fine piece of workmanship…that would be much appreciated’ by the local community.

(Camden News, 16 September 1943, 23 September 1943, 28 October 1943).

Nepean River 1900

Nepean River near Cowpasture Bridge 1900
Nepean River below Cowpasture Bridge 1900 (Camden Images/CA Poole)

 

This image of the Nepean River is taken in the vicinity of the Camden Weir. It gives an indication of the degraded state of the river around 1900. There is evidence of sedimentation and streambank erosion caused by hard-hoofed animals trampling river banks.

These issues were typical of Australia’s inland waterways in the late 19th century after extensive clearing of the catchments for forestry, farming and other activities.

Sue Rosen quotes from James Atkinson’s 1826  An Account of the State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales in her book on the environmental history of the Nepean River

Atkinson states that even by the mid-1820s the river banks were undermined and collapsing into the stream. There were deposits of sand in the river channel and clearing practices had caused increased run-off,  accelerated the degradation of the river channel and increased obstruction in the river bed. All evident in the 1900  photograph of the river channel at Camden.

Atkinson felt that the original European settlers had failed to ‘improve’ the land for farming and that its farming potential had been compromised. The settlers had in Atkinson’s terms failed to fulfil the original objectives of opening up the land and favoured, according to Rosen, ‘the cultivation of a landscape reminiscent of British romantic pastoral scenes’.

The earliest reports of the Nepean River date from 1795. David Collins wrote about his impression after a wet spring in his An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798). These impressions have been quoted in Alan Atkinson’s Camden where it states there were

large ponds, covered with ducks and the black swan, the margins of which were fringed with shrubs of the most delightful tints.

After a dry spell, the river at Menangle was reported by George Caley in his ‘Report of a Journey to the Cowpastures’ (1804, ML) to be ‘reduced to a small compass’ and the water having ‘the foul appearance of a pond in a farmyard’.

Learn more  

Sue Rosen Losing Ground An Environmental History of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment, Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1995.

Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales, Melbourne, OUP, 1988.

 Camden Weir 1907

Camden Weir 1917
The picturesque scene at the Camden Weir on the Nepean River c.1917 (Camden Images)

 

The Camden Weir pondage created an aesthetic water feature that runs through the Camden township and took in the Little Sandy. The aesthetic has moral, experiential, spiritual and well-being aspects to it.

The Camden Weir was constructed by New South Wales Public Works Department after the completion of the Cataract Dam from 1907.

The compensation weir was one of number constructed along the Nepean River to safeguard the ‘riparian rights’ of landowners affected by the interruption of flow to the river, according to John Wrigley.

A riparian right is the ability to take water from the river. The water supply dams of the Upper Nepean  Scheme reduced the flow of the tributaries of the Nepean River, and the weirs were to ‘compensate’ for the loss of water flow.

The other weirs near Camden were at Menangle, Begins, Thurns, Camden Sharpes and Cobbitty. The weirs were eventually transferred to the management to the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board as part of the Sydney Water Supply system.

Learn more @ John Wrigley,’ Nepean River Weirs’, The District Reporter 3 August 2001

 

Water has a calming effect on the mind and takes the mind to a quiet, tranquil and peaceful place.

Some say it can dim our internal chatter and calm some people.

Water provides a degree of serenity and the purifying effect it can have on the soul. Water can have a soothing meditative effect on some people.

People need to re-charge and re-vitalise in the tranquillity of the environment provided by the tranquillity and serenity of the pool provided by the weir.

For others, a visually pleasant water feature can also be a source of healing and relaxing in a man-mad environment.

Those that went swimming at Little Sandy had an experiential relationship with the water. Water is used to nourish and replenish man after exertion.

Swimming carnivals were a time of community celebration and strengthening community resilience.

The pondage at Little Sandy also has a scientific value for the marine ecosystem it supports. It supports a range of life from eels, to perch, birds, reptiles and other life.

The Little Sandy pondage creates a pleasant water feature that circles the township. The beauty of the scene with the trees along the water’s edge framing the quiet of the pond.

People doing simple tasks like fishing, picnicking, walking and re-engaging with nature on the water’s edge.    The surface of the water is a mirror that reflects the images of the trees and bushes on the water’s edge.

At dawn on a cold frosty morning, steam rise of the water’s surface as the walkers’ feet crackle under the frozen grass on the water’s edge.  There is a splash as a kingfisher dives into the water after a fish, that breaks the silence of the space.

The world disappears momentarily as you sit on the water’s edge taking in the serene quiet surroundings of the pond.

A new footbridge

Little Sandy Footbridge after completion of work 2014 (I Willis)
Little Sandy Footbridge after completion of work 2014 (I Willis)

 

The Little Sandy footbridge was officially opened on 4 May 2014 with another community event.

The weather gods were kind, and while there was a cool breeze and an overcast start the sun came out and the crowd turned up with families of mums and dads and the kids.

Camden Council organised a family fun day in Chellaston Reserve where there were stalls, a free train ride along the bike track and information stands.

The day opened at 11.00am and wound up in the afternoon at 3.00pm. Camden Rotary provided a sausage sizzle which sold out early in the day.

An information stand was provided by Camden Historical Society which was staffed by volunteers John and Julie Wrigley, Bob Lester and Rene Rem, while others turned up later.

This was another community event that has been typical of the popularity of the site for the Camden community.

 Pre-cast concrete

The new pre-cast concrete 43-metre footbridge at Little Sandy on the Nepean River was completed in April 2014. Camden Council let contracts for the completion of a new footbridge in September 2013.

The new structure replaced a wooden footbridge that was damaged in a flood in 2012. The new footbridge was jointly funded by the council and the state government.

The finished footbridge is part of the Nepean River cycleway that joins Camden with Elderslie, South Camden and Narellan. Local resident Kevin Browne stated in  2012 (Camden Narellan Advertiser 31 July) that:

the bridge was part of the unique attraction of living in a rural area [and] the availability of serene, natural beauty.

After the 2012 damage to the footbridge and its closure, local residents started to campaign for its replacement.

This culminated in a community meeting in the mayor’s office in August 2013 when 19 local residents attended an information session with the mayor, the Member for Camden,  and the council’s general manager and engineering staff.

The original footbridge was constructed in 1943 as a military training exercise by the AMF Engineering Corps stationed at Narellan Military Camp.

Camden Council agreed to fund the cost of the materials while the engineers provided the labour (40 men), supervision and vehicles. The original footbridge was 120 feet long and 4 feet wide.

Learn more @ The District Reporter 17 August 2012.

 

Kings Bush

King’s Bush is the reserve adjacent the river’s edge at Little Sandy and is named after Cecil J King, the rector of St John’s Church between 1893 and 1927.

According to John Wrigley, King kept his horse in the paddock next to the river and swam at the same spot in the river.

Reverend King was a keen sports fan and played for the Camden Cricket Club and was the team’s wicketkeeper for several years. In 1927 he was the patron of the Camden Golf Club and president of the Union and St John’s tennis club.

King was ordained at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1887 by the Bishop Barry of the Sydney Archdiocese. (Camden Advertiser 2 June 1949)

Learn more  @ John Wrigley, Place Names on the Camden Area, Camden, CHS, 2005.

 

Chellaston Street

Chellaston Street ends at the Nepean River in Chellaston Reserve in the vicinity of Little Sandy. Chellaston was a single storey brick residence at 38 Menangle Road built by Camden builder John Peat and used as his family home.

Chellaston Street was part of land releases on the south side of the township in the 1920s. There were several land releases in the area during the Inter-war period including Victory Ave and Gilbulla Ave that run off Menangle Road.

Learn more  @ John Wrigley, Place Names on the Camden Area, Camden, CHS, 2005.

 

Learn more

Many people have fond memories of Little Sandy at Camden
The Nepean River at Little Sandy is part of the Cumberland Woodland 
Not far from Little Sandy there are stands of the rare Elderslie Banksia Scrub
Read about the Camden White Gum which can be found on the banks of the Nepean River at Little Sandy