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Camden realism and storytelling

A local school of art tells a story

Camden realism is a style of art that has appeared in the Macarthur region in recent decades and tells the story of the local area. It was recently on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, where the gallery mounted an exhibition displaying the works of Nola Tegel, Patricia Johnson and others.

Artist Marion Boddy-Evans describes a school of art as

a group of artists who follow the same style, share the same teachers, or have the same aims. They are typically linked to a single location.

Local artists Nola Tegel and Patricia Johnson follow a representational style of work pioneered in the local area from the 1970s by artist Alan Baker. Tegel and Johnson were some of Baker’s students who, joined by others, and have created an impressive and vital body of local artwork.

The followers of Camden realism conduct a form of storytelling through their representational style of artwork that documents the ever-changing landscape of the Macarthur region and its cultural heritage.

Campbelltown Arts Centre

Camden realism is regularly exhibited at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and the annual Camden Art Prize.

In 2020 Tegel was commissioned by the Campbelltown Arts Centre to

develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape.

Then & Now Catalogue

The Campbelltown Arts Centre mounted these works in an exhibition called ‘Then and Now‘, which ran from March to May 2021.

The Campbelltown Arts Centre was established in 2005 and boasts that it is a regional creative hub.  The gallery encourages local artists to take risks using various techniques from new to traditional, including Baker’s representational style of realism.

The Tegel commission

The brief for the Tegel commission stated that she

‘develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape’.

Storytelling is the essence of Tegel’s artwork, and the exhibition catalogue states her body of artwork has documented

‘the built environment and landscape of the Campbelltown CBD ahead of imminent growth and continuous change’.

Storytelling is an essential element of the creative process, and artist Courtney Jordon argues that:

Storytelling often comes naturally to artists. Sometimes the story starts on a single canvas or sheet of paper and doesn’t end until a gallery full of paintings, a suite of drawings, a set of illustrations, a series of comic strips or an entire graphic novel.
Certain subject matters compel an artist to revisit them again and again, building on a concept or pushing it in different directions. The narrative can be a visible part of the artwork in the form of a written story. But oftentimes, it acts as an invisible framework that guides an artist through the creative process.

Tegel is a storyteller and she has created a narrative that fulfilled the commission brief with empathy and vision. This was based on her understanding of the area’s sense of place and community identity as a growing community on Sydney’s urban fringe. The exhibition catalogue states that

Tegel’s accomplished documentation of Campbelltown captures the artists’ attachment to familiar outlooks and awe of the growing community.

‘Then and Now’, Exhibition catalogue

The catalogue cover of the Nola Tegel Exhibition Then & Now at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2021 (I Willis)

The essence of Tegel’s artwork is storytelling as she gives a visual palette to the aspirations and expectations of the local community of local’s and new arrivals by capturing the meaning and essence of place on the canvas.  

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition where hope and loss,  and dreams and memories are shaped and re-shaped by a shifting sea of urbanisation.  Tegel has produced a body of work that tells the story of  subtle nuances across the landscape that are only understood by those who have experienced them.  She reminds us all that the border between the rural and the urban fringe is a constantly shifting feast.

Campbelltown is a landscape of change as it has been since the area was proclaimed by Governor Macquarie in 1820. Initially, as a settler society dispossessing the Dharawal of their country, and in the 20th century, urban dwellers dispossessing Europeans of their bucolic countryside.

Tegel has witnessed these challenges through her interpretation of the area’s cultural landscapes in an evocative fashion, and in the process, captured Campbelltown’s sense of place.

Visitors at the Exhibition Then & Now for Macarthur artist Nola Tegel at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2021 (I Willis)

The notes in the exhibition catalogue argue that Tegel has drawn here artistic influences from various sources. Amongst these have been working with artist Barbara Romalis and being a foundational member of artist Alan Baker’s art classes at Camden.

Camden realism and Alan Baker

Baker created what might be called the Camden Realist School of art. He was a follower of the Realist tradition and shunned sentimentalism, modernist abstract and avant-garde styles.

Baker’s influence on Tegel is evident in the ‘Then and Now’ exhibition collection, where it is represented by her ability to capture Campbelltown’s sense of place without sentimentalism or abstraction.

In the 1970s Baker encouraged a realist style amongst students at his Camden Public School art classes, which included Nola Tegel,  Patricia Johnston, Olive McAleer, Rizwana Ahmad, and Shirley Rorke.

Baker encouraged a Plein Air painting style,  a tradition that

 goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century by introducing paints in tubes. Before this, artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. 

In Australia the school of Heidelberg School of artists regularly painted landscapes en plein air, and sought to depict daily life from the 1890s.

Tegel displayed her deft skills as a practitioner of this style in her 2019 Maitland Regional Art Gallery exhibition called ‘In the Light of the Day’. Her artworks were described as coming

 from a long standing tradition of painting en plein air, artwork created ‘in the moment’, painted and worked on in situ.  

mrag.org.au/whats-on/nola-tegel-in-the-light-of-the-day/(opens in a new tab)

In 2018 Tegel documented the historic colonial Victorian homestead Maryland at Bringelly     when she was privately commissioned ‘to create 60 paintings.’ These paintings have told the story of one of the Cowpastures most important colonial mansions and farms built between 1820 and 1850. (Then & Now Catalogue)

Patricia Johnston

Another member of the Camden Realist school is Camden-based artist Patricia Johnston.

Johnston is the ‘2021 Focus Artist’ at the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the ‘Friends Annual and Focus Exhibition’.

Another prodigy of Alan Baker and a fan of the plein air tradition Johnston says that Baker

Revealed the challenge of capturing changing light conditions in open-air painting. The immediacy of this technique and the ability to analyse complex visual scenes established a groundwork that has greatly influenced my painting. The environment became by studio.

Friends Annual & Focus Exhibition Catalogue 2021

A collage of paintings by artist Patricia Johnson on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre as the ‘2021 Focus Artist’ in the ‘Friends Annual and Focus Exhibition’. (I Willis)

Realism on display

Camden realism’s outstanding body of work is a collection of Alan Baker’s paintings, sketches, and other works at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria in John Street Camden. The gallery presents the Alan Baker Collection, which is

a colourful portrayal of an artist’s life in 21st Century Australia.

Alan Baker Art Gallery Flyer

The flyer for the ‘Face to Face’ Exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria Camden with artist Alan Baker’s self-portrait on the cover. The exhibition is running during 2021. (Alan Baker Art Gallery)

Camden realism is encouraged every year in the Camden Art Prize, which was established in 1975. The acquisitive art prize has a host of categories attracting a mix of artist styles, including traditional representational works.

Smaller exhibitions of Camden realism add to body of work. In 2019 local artists Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Bob Gurney, and Roger Percy mounted an exhibition at Camden Library called ‘Living Waters of Macarthur’. The body of artworks told a variety of stories of the local area in a visual form and captured the essence of place for viewers of local landscapes.

Art as storytelling

The body of work that has grown around Camden realism illustrates the ability of art to tell a story about place. The art style encourages a sense of emotional attachment to a locality by telling stories about the landscapes that surround the community.

Camden realism offers a visual interpretation of storytelling of Macarthur landscapes and the communities within it. This body of work documents the changes that have taken place across the local area from pre-European times to the present, illustrating that all these landscapes are transitional.

Perhaps leaving the last word to artist Courtney Jordon, who says:

Even if they are not aware of it, visual artists often develop some sort of narrative in their work..

Camden realism is a school of art that documents the local area in a different form of storytelling.

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Crazy Colourful Koalas on the Prowl

Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail

Prowling crazy colourful koalas are on the loose in the Australian Botanic Gardens in Mount Annan and other notable spots in Campbelltown.

The cute one-metre-high fibreglass sculptures, called Hello Koalas, are loose across the garden landscape. They are a sight to behold after being a  hit at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2019.

The artworks are part of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, jointly hosted by The Australian Botanic Garden (ABG), Mount Annan and Campbelltown City Council. Running from April 1 to April 30, the art installation is on loan from the Port Macquarie area.   

This is Wollemia The Vital Scientist by artist Lisa Burrell for the 2021 Hello Koala Sculpture Trail at The Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan. Wollemia will make sure that the Garden scientists are growing new Wollemi trees for the future. (I Willis)

Engaging public art installation

On a visit to the ABG this week, I watched how the sculptures touched the hearts of everyone who walked past them.

The Hello Koalas seemed to immediately grab the attention of everyone who walked past them, from the very young to the very young at heart. The koala characters appeared to melt the coldest heart with their bright colours and crazy artwork.

 There is an element of surprise to the sculptures, and there is an immediately identifiable joy in people’s reactions. Young and old pose for selfies and family pics with the koala characters.

Families sought out the elusive koala characters across the ABG after picking up the free trail map.  The kids were making sure that they found all of the 22 koalas in the garden.

The cover of the 2021 Hello Koala Sculpture Trail at The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. Inside the brochure was a map with all of the 16 Hello Koalas scattered across the garden with the location. (I Willis)

According to the trail map, families can be helped in the koala hunt by downloading the ‘Agents of Discovery’ by using the ABG QR code and then seeking out the koala characters.

A public art trail

The outdoor art installation trail is strategically placed across the garden landscape to ensure an exciting and wonderful experience of these ‘living sculptures’.

Each of the Hello Koalas has a name and is themed around culture, heritage and environmental issues. There is Captain Koala, Bushby, Flying Fire, Topiary and a host of others.

The trail map provides a host of information about the Hello Koalas location, their names, and the artist who created them.

The ABG art installation was ‘conceived and created in Port Macquarie by Arts and Health Australia’, which aims ‘to promote and develop the application of creativity and the arts for health and quality of life’.

This is Scoop the busy news reporter who spreads the word about the importance of looking after native animals. He is part of the Hello Koalas at the ABG Mount Annan 2021. Scoop is by artist Rebekah Brown. (I Willis)

Project director Margaret Meagher described the Hello Koalas as Wildlife Warriors and said, ‘The project aims to spread the message that we must care for our koalas and all native fauna and flora’.

Toads and Koalas

The individual Hello Koalas were designed and hand-painted by artists from Port Macquarie, Taree, Kempsey and Coffs Harbour. They are part of a larger public art installation [IW1] in the Port Macquarie area, where 77 Hello Koalas are located across the region. They recently featured in Port Macquarie’s  Summer 2021 Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, and later on, this year will be part of the  5th Annual Hello Koalas Festival between 25-26 September.

Director Margaret Meagher was inspired to create the Hello Koalas by an animal trail that was part of the 2010 Hull arts festival in England. The trail celebrated the life and times of local poet Philip Larkin and his poem Toads. Festival organisers created the Larkin with Toads sculpture trail. After initial scepticism, the toads have been a huge hit winning tourist awards, gaining national press coverage and increased local tourism.

The Port Macquarie Hello Koalas Public Sculpture Trail was launched in 2014 at the Emerald Downs Golf Course and has experienced continued success.

Public art engages people

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is just one type of public art.

Public art installations are a vital part of a vibrant community and add to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes

‘a sense of identity, belonging, attachment, welcoming and openness, and strengthen community identification to place. [It creates] a tangible sense of place and destination’.

Director Margaret Meagher argues that public art fosters cultural tourism and community cultural development.  

Public art is an opportunity to showcase artist talent differently and generate broader community interest. This type of art installation can ferment interest in issues and engage the media, the public and the creative sector. Public art appeals to the imagination of adults and children and can bring the community together.

Successful public art encourages public engagement with art and can create a sense of ownership within the community. There can be increased visitation increase tourism that brings money into the area. It can contribute to placemaking, shaping community identity and a sense of belonging.  

Not a balmy idea

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, at first glance, may be considered a balmy idea. In reality, it is a clever idea that on initial observations seems to have engaged people’s interest and imagination and created a unique art experience.

The ABG Hello Koalas brochure states:

Effectively, each Hello Koalas sculpture provides a blank canvas to convey evocative messages that celebrate the existence of native plants and animals and raise public awareness, across generations, of the importance of caring and preserving our natural world.

Royal Botanic Gardens chief executive Denise Ora is quoted as saying, ‘When we did this exhibition in Sydney in 2019, it was a huge success. There’s a really fun aspect and a real educational aspect’.

Camden Narellan Advertiser 7 April 2021

More public art in the Macarthur area

1. Camden Pioneer Mural, Camden

2. The Cowpastures Cows, Perich Park, Oran Park

3. Campbelltown Arts Centre

4. The Boys, Emerald Hills Shopping Centre

5.  Sculpture Park, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown.

6. Art Installation, Oran Park Library, Oran Park.

7. Forecourt, Narellan Library, Narellan

8. Food Plaza Forecourt, Narellan Town Centre.

Aesthetics · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · festivals · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · Jacaranda · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Macarthur Park · sense of place · Streetscapes · Trees · Urbanism

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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A lost Gothic fantasy

The Burragorang Valley

The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of the imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create powerful memories and nostalgia for many  people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger yet at the same time places of incredible beauty.

One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:

The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent  water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small  compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley  is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of  this beautiful area  – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.

Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years and this prompted to create a number of works of arts. She writes that it is a

 It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.

Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.

Art Burragorang Valley Robyn Collier 2019
Lake Burragorang behind Warragamba Dam still has some a hint of the Gothic elements of the pre-flooded valley of the 1950s (R Collier)

 

In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:

In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.

Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.

The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley

Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that

The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’

The American Gothic novel was characterized by murder, mystery, horror and hauntings.

Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals that were build across Europe between 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meaning to the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the powerful grandeur of these buildings.

Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.

It is these characteristics that can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breath-taking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.

The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folk over the years and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.

Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here one image that expresses some of these characteristic of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:

Burragorang V Wollondilly River SLV
The Burragorang Valley and the Wollondilly River (SLV)

 

The many visitors to the Valley were attracted by the Gothic elements within the landscape. One example from 1941:

Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers 1941
Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers standing in the Wollondilly River in 1941

 

It is these characteristics that made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many of the Europeans settlers built guesthouses and accommodation for visitors from Sydney and beyond.

The Oaks Historical Society has captured some of these stories in its recently published newsletter.

The Oaks Newsletter Cover 2019Sept
The story of the Burragorang Valley on the cover The Oaks Historical Society Newsletter September 2019

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A contested sacred site in the historic landscape of the Cowpastures

Place and St John’s Anglican Church

St John’s church is a contested site where there is competition around the ownership of the dominant narrative surrounding a former horse paddock. The paddock in question lies between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.

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

Church authorities want to sell the horse paddock to fund a new worship centre.

There has been a chorus of objection from some in the Camden community over the potential sale. Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.

camden st johns church paddock 1907 cipp
Camden Rectory & Horse Paddock 1907 with Menangle Road on right hand side of image (Des & Pru Fowles/Camden Images)

 

The principal actors (stakeholders) have taken up positions around the issue include: churchgoers, non-churchgoers (residents, outsiders, ex-Camdenites, neighbours), the parish, local government, state government, and the Macarthur family.

The former horse paddock looks like an unassuming vacant block of land in central Camden. So why has there been so much community angst about is possible sale?

camden st johns fjoss image 7 (5)
St Johns Anglican Church showing former horse paddock in front of the church (2018 C Cowell)

 

The simple answer is that the community ascribes representations of a church beyond the building being a place of worship. Yet this raises a paradox for the owners of these religious sites. Generally speaking different faiths put worship and the spiritual interests of their followers ahead of their property portfolio.

This paradox has created angst in some communities when the owners of religious buildings and sites want to sell them, for example, in Tasmania in 2018 or other examples discussed by Graeme Davison.

 

Unraveling a paradox

Historian Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History has highlighted the different representations that a communities have ascribed to local churches. They have included:

  • a symbol of the continuity and community rather than a relic of their faith;
  • a local shrine where the sense of family and local piety are given tangible form;
  • ‘a metaphor of the postmodern condition’;
  • a ‘kind of absent present, a site now unoccupied but irreplaceable and unable to be rebuilt;
  • a transcendence and spiritual continuity in a post-Christian society. (pp. 146-161)

So the question here is, are any of Davison’s representations applicable to Camden’s St Johns Church?

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018 (I Willis)

 

Cultural landscape

St John’s church is the centre of Camden’s cultural landscape, its cultural heritage and the narrative around the Camden story. I wrote in the Sydney Journal in 2008 that

 St John’s church is the basis of the town’s iconic imagery and rural mythology and remains the symbolic heart of Camden.

In 2012 I extended this and said that community icons, including St John’s, have

 have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place.

In this dispute the actors, as others have done,

have used history and  heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity.

The actors in the dispute want to preserve the landscape identity of the area  by preserving the church precinct including the horse paddock.

 

A world long gone

The church precinct is  a metaphor for a world long gone, an example of the past in the present. In Davison’s eyes ‘a symbol of continuity and community’.

St John’s Anglican Church is part of an English style landscape identity, that is, Camden’s Englishness. This is not new and was first recognised in 1828 by Englishman John Hawdon.

Hawdon saw a familiar landscape and called it a ‘little England’.  A type of English exceptionalism.

The colonial oligarchs had re-created an English-style landscape in the Cowpastures  that mirrored ‘home’ in England. The English took control of territory in a settler society.

The local Indigenous  Dharawal people were dispossessed and displaced by the English through the allocation of  land grants in the area.

The English subdued the frontier with violence as they did other part of the imperial world.

The Hawdon allegory was present when the town was established by the Macarthur family as a private venture on Camden Park Estate in 1840. The construction and foundation of St John’s church was part of the process of the building of the new town.

The first pictorial representation of this was  used in Andrew Garran’s 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia where there is

an enduring image within the socially constructed concept of Camden’s rurality has been the unparalleled vista of the Camden village from the Macarthur’s hilltop Georgian mansion.  (Image below) The romantic image portrayed an idyllic English pastoral scene of an ordered farming landscape, a hive of industrious activity in a tamed wilderness which stressed the scientific and the poetic.

camden park 1886 garran
Engraving showing vista of Camden village from Camden Park House. Aspect is north-east with Cawdor centre distance and St John’s church right hand distance.  (Andrew Garran’s 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia)

 

The hilltop location of the church was no accident.  St John’s church is ‘the moral heart’ of English-style ‘idyllic representations as the

 ‘citadel on the hill’ at the centre of the ‘village’. It acts as a metaphor for order, stability, conservatism and a continuity of values of Camden’s Anglophile past. The Nepean River floodplain keeps Sydney’s rural-urban fringe at bay by being the ‘moat around the village’ which occasionally was the site of a torrent of floodwater.

The hilltop location has spiritual significance with Biblical references to love, peace and righteousness.

 

A sense of place

St John’s church has had a central role in the construction of place and community identity in the town.

camden_johnst_chs0083
St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

 

The church and its hilltop location is an enduring colonial legacy and a representation of the power of the colonial gentry,  particularly the position of Camden Park Estate and the Macarthur family within the narrative of the Camden story.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park House and Garden in 1906 is the home of the Macarthur family. It is still occupied by the Macarthur family and open for inspection in spring every year. (Camden Images)

 

Many Camden folk feel a sense of belonging to the church expressed by  memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.

The community feel that the church belongs to them as much as it belongs to the churchgoers within the church community.

Belonging is central to placeness. It is home and a site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is an important source of stability.

An extension of this is the role of the church as a loved place  in terms laid out by Peter Read in his book, Returning to Nothing, The Meaning of Lost Places. As Veronica Strang writes, Read’s book:

makes it plain that the feelings engendered by the loss of place can be equated with those experienced in the loss of a close relative, friend or partner. This straightforward analogy helps to make visible the symbolic role of place in enabling human beings to confront issues of mortality.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

 

The church buildings and precinct are a shrine to a lost past and considered by many to be  sacred land. The sale of the former horse paddock has caused a degree community grief over the potential loss of sacred land.

St John’s church is an important architectural statement in the town centre and is one Australia’s earliest Gothic style churches.

 

So what does all this mean?

The place of St John’s church in the Camden community is a complex one. The story has many layers and means different things to different people, both churchgoers and non-churchgoers.

The church is a much loved place and the threatened loss of part of the church precinct generates feeling of grief and loss by many in community.

The legacy of the English landscape identity from the early 19th century and the establishment of the Cowpastures is very real and still has a strong presence in the community’s identity and sense of place. The English style Gothic church is a metaphor for the Hawdon’s ‘Little England’ allegory.

The Cowpastures was the fourth location of European settlement in Australia and the local area still has a strong Anglo-demographic profile. These contribute to re-enforce the iconic imagery projected by St John’s church combined with the story of a settler society and its legacy.

Check out this publication to read more about the Camden district.

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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Gardens: a special place

The many faceted aspects of gardens

Gardens are practical, places of beauty, peaceful, have a pleasing aesthetic and are popular with people. Gardens across the Macarthur region certainly fulfil these elements.

Author Robert Harrison maintains that

The gardens that have graced this mortal Eden of ours are the best evidence of humanity’s reason for being on Earth. History without gardens would be a wasteland.

Humans have long turned to gardens—both real and imaginary—for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them.

Harrison maintains that people wander through many types of gardens:

Real, mythical, historical, literary.

Camden Park House 2018 Flynns LForbes
The display of spring wisteria in the gardens at Camden Park House. The gardens are open in spring every year and are a magnificent display of vibrant colours. The gardens are part of the September Open Weekend at the property which provides one of the important intact colonial Victorian gardens in Australia. This image was taken by Lyn Forbes on the 2018 Open Weekend. (L Forbes, 2018)

 

Many say that gardens and connectedness to nature contribute to wellness

 

Wellness and wellbeing

Wellness is an area of growing public interest and is one the most popular sections of bookshops. A simple Google search of wellness reveals over 700 million search results.

The Wellness Institute says that wellness is:

a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.

Why is wellness important?

The University of California Davis Student Health and Counselling Services states that wellness is important because:

it is important for everyone to achieve optimal wellness in order to subdue stress, reduce the risk of illness and ensure positive interactions.

The UCD states that there are eight areas to wellness: emotional; environmental; financial; intellectual; occupational; physical; social; spiritual.

Gardening and horticultural therapy or ecotherapy contributes to wellness through physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

 

Studies have shown that being connected to nature is linked to well-being. Gardening is a connection with nature. Some see it as a form of biophilia.

Biophilia

The hypothesis of biophilia says that people are connected to nature. The degree that nature is part of a person’s identity is ‘nature connectedness’.

The term biophilia was introduced by Edward O Wilson in his 1984 book Biophilia where he defined it as ‘”the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.[3]

These ideas are not new and in ancient Greek mythology Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life and the personification of the Earth: the primal Mother Earth goddess.

In 1979 James Lovelock, in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth; his Gaia hypothesis which sees the Earth as a self-supporting organism.

Gardening has many of these elements and a direct connection to the earth.

 

A selection of gardens in the Macarthur region

Camden community garden

One active gardener maintains that this garden provides

therapy time, social interaction with other like-minded people and the satisfaction of growing your own produce. It is very peaceful down there and there is something about digging in the earth. It is fulfilling and a sense of joy seeing something grow from seed. There’s nothing like being able to pick and eat your own produce. The wide variety of colours of the flowers and vegetables in the garden builds mindfulness.

Camden Community Gardens[1]

 

Macarthur Park and garden

TripAdvisor

This is a park with varied places to wander through and enjoy, roses in abundance, opportunities for parties, weddings or friends, and 2 palm trees at one of the gates planted by Elizabeth Macarthur to add to the history!! Very pleasurable. (Val S, Camden)

 

A two minute stroll from the gorgeous township of Camden and you’ll find this little hidden gem. Beautifully maintained gardens in a tranquil setting make this spot just perfect for a short retreat from the rest of the world. no bustle, no shops no noise (except the occasional church bells), just peace and tranquility. (PThommo101, Camden)

 

I just loved the park with its wonderful rose garden and beautiful arbor. I was there to do a photo shoot and this park never fails to impress with its beautiful shadows and views (CamdenNSW)

Camden Mac Park
Camden’s Macarthur Park endowed to the residents of Camden by Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the early 20th century (I Willis, 2016)

 

The Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan

The Australian Plant Bank

TripAdvisor

A beautiful, restful place to take a Sunday stroll. Any time of the year there is always something on offer, but spring time is especially lovely. (Sue H, Sydney) 

It was wonderful to spend time here at the beginning of spring, (Matt H, Penang, Malaysia)

What a beautiful place for a picnic….the grounds are extensive and have an impressive display of Australian native plants….wattles, grevillea ,bottlebrush and eucalypts, to name but a few. (Lynpatch29, Sydney)

 I was very impressed it is beautiful (Camden NSW)

A tranquil space for a walk among native plants.  Your head is back in a good space. (Susie994, Canberra)

mt_annan_botanic_garden2
The Australian Botanic Gardens at Mount Annan showing a bed of paper daisies 2016 (ABG)

 

Sculpture Garden Western Sydney University Campbelltown

Maybe it is the walking around the picturesque landscape provided by the WSU grounds staff and gardeners. Maybe it is the landscape gardening and native vegetation set off by the water features. Maybe it is the quiet and solitude in the middle of a busy Campbelltown.

Whatever it is in the sculpture garden, whether provided by the permanent WSU sculpture collection or the exhibition works, the site has a positive serenity that is hard to escape. It certainly attracts the staff and students.

The exhibition makes up part of the programme linked to the WSU Art Collection.  Take yourself on a virtual tour of the WSU Art Collection.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures 2018
The sculpture garden in the grounds of Western Sydney University Campbelltown are one of the best kept secrets of the Macarthur region. It is great to see the display of public art and there a host of display pieces to hold the interest of any art nerd. (IWillis)

 

Camden Park House & Garden

 

Japanese Garden at Campbelltown Arts Centre

The Japanese Gardens are a special gift from Koshigaya, Campbelltown’s Sister City in Japan, and are located in the grounds of the Campbelltown Arts Centre.

The Campbelltown Japanese Gardens celebrate the sister city relationship between Campbelltown and Koshigaya. The gardens were presented to Campbelltown by the citizens of Koshigaya on 10 April, 1988.

The Gardens symbolise the beliefs and religion of both Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, and Zen Buddhism.

The Campbelltown Japanese Gardens feature a traditional waterfall, koi pond, timber bridge, stonework pathways, lush plantings and a 16th Century designed teahouse, hand crafted by Japanese craftsmen.

The aim of the garden is to obtain quiet solitude. The design represents elegant simplicity, lending itself to contemplation and heightened awareness. (Campbelltown Arts Centre)

Campbelltown Arts Centre Japanese Garden3 2018 CAC
The Japanese Garden at the Campbelltown Arts Centre. The garden illustrates the ‘peaceful surrounds and tranquility of the traditional Japanese plants, designs and craftsmanship’. (CAC)

 

Picton Botanical Gardens

Picton Botanic Garden 2017 Pinterest
The Picton Botanical Gardens 2017.  The gardens were established in 1986 and covers 4.1 ha and has 90% native Australian plantings. (Pinterest)

Tripadvisor

The gardens are beautiful. (TamJel, North Sydney)

Well presented, peaceful park just what the doctor ordered.. (Gasmi, Sydney)

Purely by chance, I saw a signpost for the Picton Botanical Gardens. I drove down Regreme Road and discovered a beautiful, peaceful space adjacent to the oval. (Jennifer C, Belconnen, ACT)

 

Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living

Mac Centres for Sust Living 2017 Mount Annan
The Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living garden ‘The Centre  is a not-for-profit, community-driven organisation supported by local Macarthur Councils and the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust. MCSL is primarily an educational facility and model for sustainable technology’ (2017 MCSL)

 

Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden

Camden RSL Memorial Rose Gdn 2017 CRSL
The Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden is the site of the annual Anzac Day Dawn Service in Camden. It attracts thousands of people each year and is a site of memory and commemoration. The extensive rose garden has a memorial obelisk located in front of a columbarium.  (CRSL, 2017)

 

Rotary Cowpasture Reserve Garden

Camden Cowpasture Reserve Spring Flowers 2018
The Camden Rotary Cowpasture Reserve garden in spring 2018. The reserve wall was opened and dedicated on 19 February 1995 by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair Governor NSW. The monument celebrates the Rotary Centenary and the service that Camden Rotary has provided to the community since 1947. (2018 I Willis)

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Sculptures by the Lakes

The CHN blogger was out and about recently at the 8th Western Sydney University Sculpture Award and Exhibition on the Campbelltown Campus. There area 23 artworks from all over the world.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures 2018[7]
Artist Denese Oates from Australia has created this work called Xerophyte Forest. It is a work in steel presenting the vision of the future. It illustrates peculiar plants living with very little water. This work is a ‘fantastical interpretation of plant form expressed in corten steel, used for its richly rusted colour which links it to the landscape’. Denese studied at the Alexander Mackie CAE. (I Willis, 2018)
 

The exhibition is in a wonderful setting placed around the lakes at the front of the Campbelltown WSU campus. The aesthetics of the sculpture landscape provided by the exhibition is simply stunning.

The exhibition literature states:

The exhibition showcases major works by significant Australian and international artists who have created sculptures especially for the site.

Looking at the sculpture garden created by the exhibition from the main roadway provides a pleasant enough vista. Once out of your car and on your feet walking the ground the vistas are marvellous.

The layout placement of the sculpture exhibition has been done with a creative flair that creates a landscape of the imagination. Simply it all works.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures 2018[4]
This work is called Environment IV and was created by artist Marcus Tatton. The wrok is ‘a space for reflection and play’. Marcus is described as a ‘public space sculptor who draws comment from where he lives’ in Tasmania. Tatton explores that interplay between the natural and man-made environments. This work represents ‘the tendrils’ of ‘our journey through time’ or how man has manipulated the earth. (I Willis, 2018)
 

The site suits the exhibition. Its expansive space giving the sculptors the opportunity to create an aesthetic that sets off their work.

Tour and walk guide Monica outlined the trials and tribulations of getting heavy equipment onto the site to set up the artworks was a feat in itself. To the viewers in our party they were certainly impressed by it all.

Tour guide Monica said that the staff and students have started using the grounds around the lakes since the exhibition and sculpture park were created.

 

Well being and public art

Public art has a positive effect on the community and people’s self-esteem, self-confidence and well being. An article in The Guardian examined the well-being effect of public art on communities and stated:

Alex Coulter, director of the arts advocacy organisation Arts & Health South West believes that: “Particularly when you look at smaller communities or communities within larger cities, [public art] can have a very powerful impact on people’s sense of identity and locality. 

Apparently it is the participatory side of getting community involvement that brings out the positive effects on people.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures 2018[3]
This is a 2012 work by sculptor Neil Laredo called Fence. The materials are old railway sleepers used to create an impressive work. This is part of the permanent collection of the Western Sydney University Campbelltown Campus. The work was donated to the WSU Art Collection via the Cultural Gift Program in 2012. (I Willis, 2018)
 

Maybe it is the walking around the picturesque landscape provided by the WSU grounds staff and gardeners. Maybe it is the landscape gardening and native vegetation set off by the water features. Maybe it is the quiet and solitude in the middle of a busy Campbelltown.

Whatever it is in the sculpture garden, whether provided by the permanent WSU sculpture collection or the exhibition works, the site has a positive serenity that is hard to escape. It certainly attracts the staff and students.

The exhibition makes up part of the programme linked to the WSU Art Collection.  Take yourself on a virtual tour of the WSU Art Collection.

Whatever it is, the WSU Sculpture Exhibition is well-worth a visit.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures 2018[2]
This is a piece by artist Michael Purdy called Gimme Shelter. The work uses radiata pine, wire, sandstone and found objects. This is a powerful work set by its location isolated at the edge of the lake. The sculpture ‘explores the individual’s loss of identity once they become part of the “refugee problem”. Purdy is a landscape architect who uses Sydney sandstone in his work around the city. (I Willis, 2018)
 

The Eighth Western Sydney University Sculpture Award and Exhibition runs between 4 May to 3 June 2018 at the Campbelltown Campus.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures & Grounds 2018[2]
The landscape of lakes at the Campbelltown campus of the Western Sydney University is an inspiring setting for this learned institution.. This is the setting for the annual sculpture exhibition that is mounted by the university and the three prizes awarded each year. The campus provides a picturesque setting for the sculpture park located in and around the lakes. (I Willis, 2018)

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A little bit of England celebrates 190 years at Cobbitty

The Anglican Church at Cobbitty recently held an open day for the community to  celebrate 190 years of the Anglican community in the village.  Those who attended could listen to local experts give talks on the history of the Anglican church in Cobbitty, the stain glass windows in St Pauls, and its fixtures, furnishings and artefacts.

Cobbitty Ch 190 Anniv 2017

 

The Anglican Church has been the heart and soul of the village since the Hassall’s established themselves in the Cowpastures district in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The church has taken a central part in place making and the development of community identity in the village.

Cobbitty Ch 190 Anniv Activites 2017

 

The presence of the church is the reason the village exists and is closely reminiscent of a pre-industrial English style rural village. The village even had its own blacksmith, who was an essential traditional trade in all rural villages. Working over their hearth with hammer and anvil making and crafting the tools of the farmers to making decorative work for the church graveyard.

The Hassall’s were the de-facto lords of the manor. The development of the village was their fiefdom. Long term local identity and font of knowledge of all things Cobbitty John Burge recalled in his talk on the ‘History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ that the Hassall family owned pretty much all of the farms up and down the Nepean River in the vicinity of Cobbitty.

The Reverend Thomas Hassall, the son of missionaries Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall who arrived in New South Wales in 1798, was appointed the minister of the Cowpastures district in 1827.

The Heber Chapel

The first chapel was built in the area by Thomas Hassall, called Heber Chapel and opened in 1827, with Thomas as rector. It was named after the Bishop Heber of the Calcutta Diocese, in which Cobbitty was located at the time.

Cobbitty Heber Chapel J Kooyman 1997 CIPP
This image is of Thomas Hassall’s 1827 Heber Chapel Cobbitty taken by John Kooyman in 1997 who was commissioned by Camden Library to document important heritage sites across the Camden District (CIPP)

 

Heber Chapel became the centre of  village life as its first school and church. The chapel was used as a school building during the week and religious purposes on the weekend. Schooling at the chapel continued until 1920.

The Heber Chapel was constructed of hand-made bricks with a shingle roof. It is a simple design perhaps reflected the rustic frontier nature of Cobbitty of the 1820s when Pomari Grove, the site of the church and chapel, was owned by Thomas Hassall.

Recent renovations and restoration was carried out in 1993.

St Paul’s Anglican Church

There was the  opening of St Paul’s Church in 1840, with consecration by Bishop William Broughton. The community supported the construction of a Rectory in 1870 and a church hall in 1886.

Cobbitty St Pauls 1890s CKerry 'EnglishChurch' PHM
This Charles Kerry image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbitty as an English-style pre-industriral village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

 

St Paul’s Anglican Church was consecrated in 1842, designed by Sydney architect John Bibb in a neo-Gothic style with simple lancet shaped windows, typical of the design. These windows originally had plain glass and over the decades were changed for stained-glass

The church was built with plain glass windows. Stained glass became popular again in the mid-19th century as part of the Gothic-revival movement in England and New South Wales. Stained glass was originally installed in medieval churches and cathedrals, and then fell out of popularity. (Dictionary of Sydney)

There are 10 memorial windows in St Pauls with the oldest dated to 1857 and made by English glass artist William Warrington. It was donated by the Perry family in memory of their daughter Carolyn.  There is one original window dating from 1842 with small panes of glass, in the style of the period.

Well-to-do members of the church community preferred to donate a window as a memorial rather than a wall plaque or other church object to commemorate their loved ones.

Cobbitty St Pauls Window 2011 JLumas
This image of one of the memorial stained glass windows in St Paul’s Anglican Church Cobbitty taken by J Lummis of Cobbitty and donated to the Dictionary of Sydney in 2011 (DoS)

 

The current presentation of the church is different from the 1840 St Pauls. Today’s church represents the many changes that have occurred over the years.  The changes in the building reflect changes in style, technology, tastes and support  as well as periods of neglect.

A presentation by John Burge on ‘The History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ illustrated the many lives of the church from periods of strong support by the local community to relative neglect. During the 1980s the graveyard became overgrown and graves hidden under bushes.  John’s images showed numbers of past symbolic trees, mainly cypress, that were planted grew into large trees. Sometimes these were planted  too close to the church building  endangered its safety and stability.  They were removed.

When you look at the church you see a slate roof and automatically assume that this was original. It  is not. The slate roof is a recent addition in 2014 and installed as part of the church restoration when work was done to roof trusses, barge boards, and guttering. The church originally had a shingle roof with a plastered interior vaulted ceiling. Now it has a slate roof with a maple timber lined interior ceiling. The walls are quarried sandstone from Denbigh.

Electricity was installed in 1938, after originally being lit by candles then kerosene lamps.

The pews and pulpit are unchanged and are Australian red cedar timber work.

Music is provided by an 1876 Davidson organ from Sydney, after music was originally provided by  violin then harmonium.

The Anglican story of Cobbitty continues to evolve around the Heber Chapel, St Pauls, the Rectory and church hall. The village continues to grow as does the life of the church community with a host of activities under the current church leadership.

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Richlands, an outpost of a colonial farming empire

A farming outpost of empire

Richlands Georgian style homestead built in the 1840s  on the 2016 open day (I Willis)

The Richlands estate, north of Goulburn in the NSW Southern Tablelands, was an important part of the Macarthur family pastoral empire for nearly 100 years.  The Richlands estate acted as an outstation about one days ride west of Camden Park estate. The property  reached its hiatus in the 1840s when its extent reached around 38,000 acres including the private village of Taralga.

James Macarthur managed the Richlands estate with his brother William Macarthur from Camden Park. (Belgenny Farm)

James and William Macarthur initially took up adjacent land grants of around 2000 acres between Taralga Creek and Burra Lake in 1822.  The area had been traversed by a party led by Charles Throsby in 1819 looking for an alternative route to Bathurst other than the arduous route across the Blue Mountains. Throsby and company journeyed from the Moss Vale area, crossing the Wollondilly River then the Cookbundoon Ranges near Tarlo, turning north are eventually arriving at Bathurst.

Opening up the Southern Tablelands

Reports of these areas encouraged pastoralists to take up land, one of the first was Hannibal Macarthur, John Macartur’s nephew, at Arthursleigh on the Wollondilly. In a speculative venture in 1822 James Macarthur and partners Lachlan MacAlister and John Hillas, overseer with William Macarthur, moved a mob of cattle over the Cookbundoons and left them in charge an assigned convict Thomas Taylor at Tarlo. Hillas and MacAlister also took up a grants adjacent to the Macarthur holdings.

On the death of John Macarthur in 1834 the Richlands estate passed to Edward Macarthur, a career British soldier, while managed by James and William Macarthur on his behalf.

Governed by absentee landlords

While the Richlands estate was governed by absentee landlords the real story is of those who formed the microcosm of society on the estate. They  included convicts, managers, tenant farmers, servants and the Burra Burra people, who were dispossessed and displaced from their country.

Fledgling settlement of Taralga

For the twenty years of the Richlands estate it was managed from the fledgling settlement of Taralga on the southern edge of the property. There was a central store and a number of skilled tradesmen,  convicts and their overseers were based in the village from the 1820s.

Taralga village main street 2000s. The initial management of the Richlands estate was conducted from the village in the 1820s until it was shifted to the new hilltop homestead built in the 1840s. The village is one of number of private towns that the Macarthur family established in colonial NSW. ULSC

Rural empire of 38,000 acres

James and William Macarthur acquired land by grant and purchase north and south of the hamlet of Taralga including 600 acres from Thomas Howe of Glenlee in the Cowpastures in 1837. The diary of Emily Macarthur’s, James’ wife, showed that William made six-monthly visits to Richlands from 1840. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Macarthur visited Richlands in 1851 after being posted to Sydney as deputy adjutant general.

Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), who inherited the Richlands estate on the death of his father John Macarthur in 1834. ( Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, c1858)

Strategic hilltop

Work began to move the management of the estate from the village to the hilltop overlooking Burra Lake and Guineacor to the east. Hilltop locations for homesteads were common throughout the Cowpastures and as they were of other Macarthur properties. This practice followed Laudon principles and provided a defendable strategic location on the estate.

Richlands Georgian style homestead on hilltop location built in the 1840s on 2016 open day (I Willis)

William Campbell was appointed superintendent in 1839 and work began on stone offices on the farm hilltop site, along with underground grain silos, convict accommodation and outbuildings. Work was completed by 1844 when Thomas and Martha Denning occupied the house forming a small quadrangle.  Denning was appointed overseer (farm manager).

Georgian-style residence

Work on a new on a Georgian-style residence began in 1845 for new English estate manager George Martyr, who took up the position after his arrival in the colony in 1848 after marrying Alicia in Sydney.

Martyr took an active interest in community affairs serving on Goulburn Council and supervising construction of the Catholic Church in the village. A qualified surveyor from Greenwich, Martyr surveyed the village of Taralga and the Macarthurs offered village lots for sale from 1847. George and Alicia raised six children on Richlands.

Richlands Georgian style homestead built for estate manager George Martr and his family in the 1840s on the 2016 open day (I Willis)

The property was eventually resumed by the New South Wales Government in 1908, broken up for closer settlement and sold in 30 smaller lots in 1910.

Notes

Peter Freeman Pty Ltd, Richlands-Taralga, Conservation Management Plan, Richlands Conservation Management Plan, 1997.

 

 

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Menangle ‘Little England’ says Duchess of York

‘This is like home, like England’, proclaimed the Duchess of York  in 1927 on her visit to Menangle. She and her husband the Duke of York visited Camden Park as part of their royal visit of Australia, which involved the opening of the provisional Parliament House in Canberra in May.[1]

 

The Duke and Duchess of York Sydney 1927 (NLA)
The Duke and Duchess of York Sydney 1927 (NLA)

 

The Duke and Duchess of York had left England of their royal tour  of dominions in January 1927 on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Renown, travelled through New Zealand in February and arrived in Australia in March. The Royals departed from Australia in late May after visiting all states. The Duke and Duchess later came to the thrown as George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.

 

At Menangle the Duke and Duchess were guests of Brigadier-General JW Macarthur Onslow and Mrs Enid Macarthur Onslow (of Gilbulla) for a weekend in April, in the absence of Sibella Macarthur Onslow who was in England at the time. The Royals travelled by railway from Sydney by steam train.

 

The royal entourage and the royal trains made quite an impact on a young  Fred Seers, a local Campbelltown milk boy. He witnessed the royal trains pass through the Dumaresq railway gates where he was joined by a small group of enthusiastic flag waving Campbelltown locals. He recalls gatekeeper Bill Flanagan felt the occasion called for some degree of formality and dressed up in white shirt and tie.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)

Fred vividly remembers the three ‘shiny black’ 36 class steam locomotives that ‘sparkled’ as they roared through the locked gates in a fog of steam and smoke. The first of three steam engines painted in royal blue gave a blast on its high pitched whistle as it approached adorned with two crossed Union Jacks on the front. This was followed by another steam engine pulling four carriages, presumably with the Duke and Duchess on board, then the third steam engine.[2]

 

The Duke and Duchess had left Sydney early and arrived at Menangle Railway Station around 1.00pm and were met by a crowd of 200 people. Mr Bell the Menangle stationmaster and his staff had spruced up the platform with flags and bunting and rolled out a red carpet for the visitors. [3]  The Duchess was presented with a bouquet of carnations and heather by ‘little Quinton Stanham’.[4]

 

The Royals stayed with the Macarthurs at Camden Park  house, one of Australia’s finest Georgian Regency country homesteads designed by John Verge and built in 1835. Verge’s design was based on Palladian principles in a central two storey central block constructed stuccoed sandstock brick on sandstone foundations.

 

On Saturday afternoon the Duke went horse riding across Camden Park Estate, one of the earliest colonial grants in Australia allocated to John Macarthur in 1805.  On ‘a whim’ the Duke and his riding companions decided to ride to the Camden Show, which was first held in 1886. The Duke created much excitement to the surprised show-goers by cantering onto the showground in front of the large crowd of around 7000 people and received a ‘tumultuous welcome’.[5] The riding party included Miss Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and her sister, Mrs Helen Stanham, who had recently arrived back from England for a few months, Brigadier-General JW and Brigadier-General GM, and their brother  Arthur Macarthur Onslow.[6]

The Duke and Duchess of York Opening Provisional Parliament House Canberra 1927 (NLA)
The Duke and Duchess of York Opening Provisional Parliament House Canberra 1927 (NLA)

On Sunday afternoon the royal couple  motored in a 1926 Rolls Royce to Gilbulla for  afternoon tea. [7]  Gilbulla, an example of a Federation Arts and Crafts mansion designed by Sydney architects Sulman and Power and built in 1899 by JW Macarthur Onslow. Gilbulla is a fine example of an Edwardian gentleman’s country residence for a family of power and distinction, while not out-doing the Georgian grandeur of Camden Park house itself.  Gilbulla housekeeper Mima Mahoney  served the Royals, who served the Royals afternoon tea, was the mother of local Campbelltown resident Basil Mahoney.[8]

 

The royal entourage arrived ‘a few minutes before 5 o’clock’ at Menangle and boarded their train, which  according to Fred Seers, had gone to Picton to fill up with water and coal, and turn around.[9] Before leaving the Duke and Duchess inspect a guard of honour of Camden Boy Scouts and Girl Guides under the direction of their leaders, RD Stuckey and Miss Senior.[10]

 

The Menangle visit of the Duke and Duchess of York was widely reported in the Australian press.  The themes of the stories revolved around the Englishness of the Menangle countryside and the Royals taking a well-earned rest from their hectic tour.

 

The Brisbane Courier ran a story under the headline, ‘Like Home, Beauty of Camden Park, Royal Party’s Quiet Weekend’.[11]  Readers were assured by the newspaper that the Royals had had a good time and stated:

The Duke and Duchess of York were both delighted with the loveliness of their week end at Camden Park… While the Duke went riding across country with the rain beating exhilaratingly in his face, and filled in a little spare time with a tennis racket on the soaked court at Gilbulla, the Duchess went driving with Miss Onslow in a sulky turnout. Both were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surrounding, the Duchess being enraptured by an unattended stroll through the grounds along the Nepean River, which flows through the whole length of Camden Park Estate on which are great coppices of gnarled old English trees.[12]

 

The Melbourne Argus reported that the Duke and Duchess had a ‘restful weekend’ at the ‘beautiful country estate of the Macarthur Onslow family’. The Duchess ‘walked unattended in the old gardens under English oaks and elms’.[13]

 

The Launceston Examiner in Tasmania ran a story with the heading ‘A Happy Week End, Royals Guest in Country’ and assured its readers that the Duke and Duchess enjoyed the English style countryside of Camden Park, Menangle and the Nepean River. The Examiner went on that the Royals walked ‘beneath these spreading boughs’ of ‘gnarled old English trees, with ‘the rain pattering overhead, and the river providing an obligato to Nature’s music’. [14]

 

There were similar reports in the newspaper across the country. In Queensland the Warwick Daily News ran the headline ‘Royal Couple Spend Quiet Weekend’ while the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin ran the story under a banner headline ‘Royal Visitors Quiet Weekend’.

 

The Hobart Mercery  ran a story under the heading ‘The Royal Tour Week-end in Country Free from Engagements, Delightful Time Spent’ and assured readers:

The Duke and Duchess were both delighted with the loveliness of their week-end at Camden-park and Menangle – a respite from official engagements that was so deliciously free that even the intermittent rain that fell did not disturb the enthusiasm of the Royal visitors.

In the west Perth’s West Australian reported that the Duke and Duchess ‘were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surroundings’ in a story titled ‘The Royal Visitors. Week-End In Country. Respite from Engagements.’[15]

 

The Camden News placed an article about the royal visit on the front page in the middle its story that reported on the 1927 Camden Show. Perhaps illustrating centrality of the royal drop-in to whole show event. On the other hand down at Picton the Picton Post placed the report of the royal visit on page two at the end of a story about the Camden Show. The snub was just a reflection of the  parochialism of both Camden and Picton and the long term rivalry between both communities. The accusation was that the Camden community thought that they were better than Picton. More to the point this snobbishness was more of reflection of the omnipotence of the Macarthurs of Camden Park in the whole district and the colonial history of New South Wales in general.[16]

 

The official records of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York are located in the National Archives in Canberra.

[1] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11

[2] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[3] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[4] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11

[5] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 3 April 1927, page 2. The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 1 April 1927, page 4.

[7] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22. The Camden News, 7 April 1927.

[8] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[9] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[10] The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1.

[11] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 4 April 1927, page 15

[12] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 4 April 1927, page 15

[13] Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Monday 4 April 1927, page 19

[14] Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 5

[15] Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 5. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 10. Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 7. West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 8.

[16] The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1. Picton Post (NSW : 1907 – 1954), Wednesday 6 April 1927, page 2.