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Take a stroll through the past

Take a stroll down any street in Australia and raise your eyes and the past will reveal itself before your very eyes.

You are wandering through living history. The past is all around you. Street names, street layout, the width of the street, the location of buildings and more.

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

The landscape of our cities and towns, and the countryside all owe their origins to the past.

The landscape will speak to you, but you must be prepared to listen.

Take time to let the landscape reveal itself. Just stand and soak up the past around you.

Cannot see it? Cannot feel it?

You need to look beyond the surface.

Like a painting will tell a story if you peel back the layers, so the landscape will do the same.

The opening of the Mount Hunter Soldier’s War Memorial opposite the public school took place on Saturday 24 September 1921. The official unveiling ceremony was carried out by Brigadier-General GM Macarthur Onslow. Afternoon tea was provided by ‘the ladies’ at 1/- with all money going to the memorial fund. (Camden News, 15 September 1921, 22 September 1921. Image Roy Dowle Collection)

The landscape will speak to you. It will reveal itself. 

Ask a question. Seek the answer.

The position of the tree. The type of street trees. Their size and species.

The bend in the road. The width of the street. The location of the street.

The position of the house. The colour of the house. The building materials.

Why is the street where it is? Why does it have that name?

Who walked along the street before you. Who grew up in the street? What were their childhood memories?

Ghosts of the past.

Some would say spirits of the past.

An information sign at the beginning of the walkway explain the interesting aspects of the life of Miss Llewella Davies. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 IW)

The past will speak to you if you let it in.

What was it like before there was a street?

The street is constantly changing. There are different people all the time. What clothes did people wear in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s?

You walk along the street and into a shop. When was it built? Who owned it? What did it sell? How was it set up?

Stand at the entrance door – unchanged in 50 years – image what it was like in the past.

Just like a movie flashback.

Who moved through the landscape 1000 years ago? What was there?

Let you imagination run wild.

The walkway has a number of historic sites and relics from the Davies farm. Here are the Shoesmith Cattle yards.. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 IW)

Let the past wash over you. The past is all around you. Let it speak to you.

The brick wall that has been there for 100 years. Who built it? Where did they live? What did they eat? What else did they build? What was the weather? Was it a sunny day like today?

Walk around the corner and you come to a monumental wall at the entry to a town. Who put it there? What does it mean?

The past is hiding in plain sight. It is in front of us all the time.

Sometimes the past is lodged in our memories and sometimes it is locked up in a photograph.

Sometimes the memories flood back as a special event or family gathering or a casual conversation.

The past is layered. It was not static. It was constantly changing.

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

The past is not dead. It is alive and well all around us. You just need to take it in and ‘smell the roses’.

The stories of the past are like a gate into another world. Let your imagination run wild. Like a movie flash back – like a photograph from 100 years ago – or a greying newspaper under the lino  or stuffed in a wall cavity.

Like revealing layers of paint on a wall. They are layers of the past. Layers of history. Each layer has a story to tell. A past to reveal. Someone put the paint on the wall. Who were they? What did they do? Where did they go?

The Layers of history are like a mask. You want to take off the mask to reveal the face. You want the real person to reveal themselves. Sometimes the mask stays on.

The mask hides a mystery. What is it? What does it tell us? The mast of the past will reveal all eventually, maybe, sometime?

A couple relaxing on the Mount Pleasant Colliery railway at Stuart Park, North Wollongong in the early 1900’s (Royal Australian Historical Society) (Lost Wollongong Facebook page 3 July 2016) The Royal Australian Historical Society caption says: ‘Photographer Aileen Ryan Lynch taking a photograph of M. Carey at Stuart Park Wollongong 1919’ (J Scott)

Sometimes other words are used to express the layers of history – progress – hope – nostalgia – loss – change – continuity.

The past has brought us to the present. The past is embedded in the present.

Take a moment. Think about what is around you. Take in the past in front of you. Hiding in plain sight.

The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.

The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.

A glass plate negative from the Roy Dowle Collection at The Oaks Historical Society. (TOHS)
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Public art and a mural

Mural art and the Camden pioneer mural

Camden Pioneer Mural with the Camden Hospital wishing well, and associated landscaping and gardens. (I Willis, 2020)

 

One of the most important pieces of public art In the Macarthur region is the Camden Pioneer Mural. The mural is located on the corner of the Old Hume Highway and Menangle Road, adjacent to Camden Hospital. Thousands of people pass-by the mural and few know its story.

Public art is an important part of a vibrant community and adds 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’.

The pioneer mural does all these and more. The mural makes a public statement about Camden and the stories that created the community we all live in today.

Murals according to Stephen Yarrow of the Pocket Oz Sydney  

 reflect the social fabric of communities past and present – visual representations of their dreams and aspirations, social change, the cultural protests of an era, of emerging cultures and disappearing ones.

Public murals have recently gone through a revival in Australia and have turned into tourist attractions. Murals have become an important part of the urban landscape of many cities including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Launceston and other cities around the world. Mural art in the bush has been used to promote regional tourism with the development of the Australian Silo Art Trail.

The Camden pioneer mural is visual representation of the dreams and aspirations of its creators.

The creators

The mural was originally the idea of the town elders from the Camden Rotary Club.  The club was formed in halcyon days of the post-war period (1947) when the club members were driven by a desire for community development and progress.  Part of that vision was for a tourist attraction on the town’s Hume Highway approaches, combined with a wishing well that would benefit the hospital.  (Clowes, 1970, 2012)

Camden Pioneer Mural with the ceramic artwork completed by Byram Mansell in 1962 (I Willis, 2020)

 

The next incarnation of the vision was a mural with a ram with a ‘golden fleece’ to ‘commemorate the development of the wool industry by the Macarthurs’.  The credit for this idea has been given to foundation Rotary president Ern Britton, a local pharmacist. (Clowes 1970, 2012)   

Club members were influenced by the mythology around the exploits of colonial identity and pastoralist John Macarthur of Camden Park and the centenary of his death in 1934. Macarthur was a convenient figure in the search for national pioneering heroes. The ‘golden fleece’ was a Greek legend about the adventures of a young man who returned with the prize, and the prize Macarthur possessed were merino sheep.

The ‘golden fleece’ was seared into the national psyche by Tom Roberts painting The Golden Fleece (1894), the foundation of the petrol brand in 1913 and Arthur Streeton’s painting Land of the Golden Fleece (1926).  

The Camden mural project gained momentum after  the success of the 1960 Camden festival, ‘The Festival of the Golden Fleece’,  celebrating the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia.

By 1962 the project concept had evolved to a merino sheep and a coal mine, after the Rotary presidencies of Burragorang Valley coal-baron brothers Ern and Alan Clinton (1959-1961)  (Clowes, 2012)

The plaque on the mural wall commemorating the official opening in 1962 (I Willis, 2020)

 

The artist

Club secretary John Smailes moved the project along and found ceramic mural artist WA Byram Mansell. (Clowes, 2012)

Mansell was a well-known artist and designer, held exhibitions of his work in Australia and overseas and did commissioned mural works for businesses, local council and government departments. (ADB) He adopted what the Sydney Morning Herald art critic called a form realism that a synthesis of traditional European styles and ‘the symbolic ritual and philosophy of the Australian Aboriginal’. Mansell’s work was part of what has been called ‘Aboriginalia’ in the mid-20th century ‘which largely consisted of commodities made by nonindigenous artists, craftspeople and designers who appropriated from Aboriginal visual culture’.  (Fisher, 2014)

Mural themes

The scope of the mural project had now expanded and included a number of themes: the local Aboriginal tribe; local blackbirds – magpies; First Fleet arriving from England; merino sheep brought by the Macarthur family establishing Australia’s first wool industry; grapes for a wine making industry; dairy farming and fruit growing; and development of the coal industry. (Clowes, 2012)

Mansell created a concept drawing using these historic themes. (Clowes, 2012) The club accepted Mansell’s concept drawings and he was commissioned to complete the mural, creating the ceramic tiles and firing them at his studio. (Clowes, 2012)

The mural concept seems to have been an evolving feast, with Mansell refusing to supply the Rotary Club with his interpretation of his artwork. (Clowes, 1970)

The plaque with the inscription from the official programme of the opening in 1962. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The artist and the meaning of the mural

 To understand the meaning what the artist intended with the design this researcher has had to go directly to Mansell’s own words at the 1962 dedication ceremony.

 Mr Mansell said,

‘I was happy to execute the work for Camden and Australia. We are a great land, but we do not always remember the early pioneers. But when I commenced this work there came to me some influence and I think this was the influence of the pioneers.

Mr Mansell said,

‘The stone gardens at the base is the symbol of the hardships of the pioneers and the flowers set in the crannies denote their success.’

‘The line around the mural, represents the sea which surrounds Australia.

‘To the fore is Capt Cook’s ship Endeavour and the wheel in the symbol of advancement. The Coat-of-Arms of the Macarthur-Onslows, pioneered sheep, corn, wheat, etc are all depicted as are the sheep which were first brought to this colony and Camden by John Macarthur.

‘Aboriginals hunting kangaroos are all depicted and so on right through to the discovery of coal which has been to us the ‘flame of industry’. Incorporated in the central panel is the Camden Coat-of-Arms, and the Rotary insignia of the wheel highlights the panel on the left.

‘Colours from the earth have been used to produce the unusual colouring of the mural.  (Camden News, 20 June 1962)

Further interpretation

According to Monuments Australia the mural ‘commemorates  the European pioneers of Camden’ and the Australian Museums and Galleries Online database described the three panels:

There is a decorative border of blue and yellow tiles creating a grape vine pattern. The border helps define the triptych. The three panels depict the early history of Camden. The large central panel shows a rural setting with sheep and a gum tree in the top section. Below is a sailing ship with the southern cross marked on the sky above. Beside is a cart wheel and a wheat farm. There are three crests included on this panel, the centre is the Camden coat of arms bearing the date 1795, on the proper right is a crest with a ram’s head and the date 1797, and on the proper left is a crest with a bunch of grapes and the date 1805. The proper right panel of the triptych, in the top section depicts an Aboriginal hunting scene. Below this is an image miner’s and sheafs of wheat. The proper left panel depicts an ornate crest in the in the top section with various rural industries shown below. (AMOL, 2001)

Specifications

The mural has three panels is described as a ‘triptych’ constructed from glazed ceramic tiles (150mm square). The tiles were attached to wall of sandstone blocks supported by two side columns. The monument is 9.6 metres wide and 3 metres high and around 500mm deep. There is a paved area in front of the mural 3×12 metres, associated landscaping works and a wishing well. (AMOL, 2001; Clowes, 1970)

The official programme from the opening and dedication of the mural in 1962. (Camden Museum)

Tourists visit mural

Tourists would stop in front of the mural and have their picture taken as they travel along the Hume Highway.

The pioneer mural was a local tourist attraction and visitors stopped and had their picture taken in front of the artwork. Here Mary Tinlin, of Kurri Kurri, is standing in front of the mural and fountain. Mrs Tinlin is standing on the side of the Hume Highway that passed through Camden township. The prominent building at the rear on the right is the nurses quarters. Immediately behind the mural wall is Camden District Hospital before the construction of Hodge building in 1971. (George & Jeannie Tinlin, A Kodachrome slide, 1964))