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Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.

(Facebook, 23 November 2015)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society.  In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).

The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal.  The first appeared in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

Mount Annan suburban development which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.

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Macarthur Bridge

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most critical parts of the economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe.

The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood-free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded.

The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River floodplain upstream from the Camden township in New South Wales (IWillis 2015)

History and Description

The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.

The naming of the bridge coincided with establishing the Macarthur Growth Centre as part of the Askin Government’s 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan. These plans were supported by the Australian Government’s own Growth Centres program.

These were exciting plans that were never fully realized by the planners. The New Cities Plan turned into a developer’s dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plain. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan of 1973 was completed by the NSW State Planning Authority of the Askin Government.

The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Valley coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.

This development was considered important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Government’s support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation, which turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.

The Construction of the Macarthur Bridge (RMS 1973, 71/2 mins)

The high-level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields away from Camden’s main street, passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.

The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge had been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.

Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 (Postcard Camden Images)

In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question in parliament from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated

I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.

I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)

Specifications

The Macarthur Bridge is a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.

The Camden Bypass

The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.

The  Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.

Macarthur Bridge Approaches 2015 1Willis
The Macarthur Bridge northern approaches from the Camden Bypass  (1Willis, 2015)

Open to traffic and construction details  

The official plaque on the bridge states:

Macarthur Bridge.

The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.

RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads

AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads

GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief

FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)

Department of Main Roads, New South Wales

Open to traffic on 26 March 1973

Memories

Facebook 30 June 2021

Annette DingleI remember the day it opened, the school ( Camden south) walked to it . I lived in the street under it ( it was a dead end back then ) we use to play in the “tunnels “ under the bridge. You could only go so far before there was no air . Fun times

Read more

State Route 89 on Ozroads Website Click here

State Route 12 on Paul Rands Website Click here

Updated 4 March 2022, 30 June 2021. Originally posted 6 January 2020

1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan · 1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Business · Campbelltown · Campbelltown Council · Campbelltown Municipal Council · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Modernism · Place making · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism

A symbol of progress – mid-century modernism and a new administration building

 Campbelltown Council Administration Building

In 1964 the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News ran a banner headline on its front page, SYMBOL OF PROGRESS. The newspaper announced the opening of a new council administration building as part of a proposed civic centre precinct in the town centre.

The newspaper headline was a statement of faith in the confidence of Campbelltown and its planned declaration as a satellite city by the state government.

The eight-storey office building was the tallest structure in the town centre and was visible from all parts of the area. The top floors provided a ‘bird’s eye’ view over central Campbelltown and completely dominated its surroundings.

The Campbelltown Council office building is an outstanding example of a mid-century modernist high-rise office tower in the Macarthur region. Unfortunately the hopes and dreams of local decision makers who approved its construction were dashed in later decades.

Campbelltown Council offices 1967 CCL
View of Campbelltown Council administration building from Campbelltown Railway Station in 1967 showing its prominence in the town centre. (CCL)

 

A metaphor for a community on the move

The new administration building was a metaphor for Campbelltown’s growing confidence in the 1960s and the town’s future.

The building symbolised the hopes and dreams of planners and administrators and the immense changes that were to engulf Campbelltown over the following decades.

At the official opening on 28 November, 1964 Campbelltown Mayor TK Fraser felt that the town was on the verge of something special. He said,

At the threshold of the most dynamic period in the history of its area, Campbelltown Municipal Council, imbued with a strong sense of purpose and complete confidence in the future, has provided this imposing Administrative Building’.

The building, the first stage of a Civic Centre which will cater for the needs of a rapidly expanding community, stands as a practical demonstration of the confidence with which Council faces the future convinced that this area, steeped in history, at present of unsurpassed rural charm, will develop, in the near future, into a thriving Satellite City. (Official programme)

Campbelltown Council Chambers 1960s Geoff Eves
A view of the moderne Campbelltown Council administration building in the mid-1960s which was officially opened in 1964. This image was taken by local Campbelltown photographer Geoff Eves and shows the clean lines and minimalist style. (G Eves)

 

The administration building was developed under the guidelines of the County of Cumberland Scheme. It was part of an existing Campbelltown civic precinct that included the ambulance station and courthouse, and adjacent to the police station and railway station.

Alderman Percival, the vice-chair of the council Civic Centre committee, maintained that the building’s design catered for the anticipated administration by the council as a satellite city. The status of a satellite city was part of the proposed decentralisation by the County of Cumberland with Campbelltown’s projected population to grow to 200,000.  (Construction, 11 September 1963)

Planning for the new office building had begun in 1961 when the school of arts building provided inadequate to accommodate council staff. Initially housed in the old town hall council staff had moved out into the school of arts after the 1948 amalgamation with Ingleburn Municipal Council.

‘The move into the new 1964 building was not without criticism’, said Alderman Percival. He argued that the council’s progression with the project was a ‘considerable moment’ for the municipality.

He said, ‘It was a necessary demonstration of confidence in the municipality by Council’. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The architects agreed and said that the size, height and position of the building emphasised ‘the importance and dignity of Local Government function in the affairs of the city’. The two-storey atrium in the vestibule added greater emphasis to the building’s importance because of its aesthetic features including ‘sculptured central column, cascades and pool’. (Construction, 11 September 1963)

 

Campbelltown’s future assured says Deputy Premier at official opening

The New South Wales Minister for Local Government and Deputy Premier PD Hills officially opened the building on 28 November 1964.

Minister Hills re-assured the council that the state government was about to make Campbelltown a self-contained satellite city beyond the Green Belt of the Cumberland Plan.

Mr Hills said, ‘Campbelltown is a thriving urban centre set in rural surroundings, but so close to Sydney metropolis that it largely acts as a dormitory-area for a workforce which finds its employment in the metropolitan area’.

‘It will be necessary to create accommodation within or close to the County of Cumberland, but outside the Green Belt, for an additional 300,000 people every eight years’, he said.

‘This means that we must have beyond the Green Belt but within 30 to 50 of Sydney a series of satellites which will be self-contained in the local sense but yet regionally associated with the metropolis’.

The minister said, ‘In the selection of sites for such development, the Campbelltown area is an obvious choice’. (Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

Campbelltown Plaque Commemorating Opening Campbelltown Council Office 1964 H Neville 2020 lowres
Campbelltown Council Office Building foundation stone 29 February 1964 (H Neville 2020)

 

Storm clouds gather of the planning horizon

The decision by Campbelltown Municipal Council to build the new office accommodation was based on the direction and security provided by the state government’s County of Cumberland plan.

Unfortunately for the council, the New South Wales had abolished the County of Cumberland in December 1963 twelve months before the opening of the new building.

The state government had removed the security of the existing planning framework on which the council had initially been based its decision to proceed with the new building.

Yet the minister continued to re-assure Campbelltown Council of its position at the opening of the administration building in November 1964. (Campbelltown-Ingleburn New, 1 December 1964)

The New South Wales state government’s  State Planning Authority Act 1963. replaced the County of Cumberland with The State Planning Authority (SPA)  in December 1963. The SPA explicitly abandoned the Cumberland scheme’s green belt and satellite cities and devised a Sydney Region Outline Plan 1970–2000 A.D.

The state government proceeded with the development of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and then followed up with the  1973 New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown, Camden and Appin.

The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan 1973 prepared by The State Planning Authority of New South Wales as part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan.

The rosy future of Campbelltown spoken about by the minister and the mayor was not quite as secure as they might have presented it to the community.

Upbeat statements by the mayor and minister encapsulated the elements that eventually foreshadowed dark clouds gathering on the Campbelltown planning horizon.

In the end the storm clouds that gathered around the planning processes rained down on the Campbelltown area in the late 1970s and early 1980s, creating much angst for many in the community.

 

An important local icon

While the contested nature of the planning regime gave many in Campbelltown severe heartburn in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the city was left with an iconic mid-century moderne marvel.

Designed by Sydney architects Davey, Brindley and Vickery in an Internationalist style the office building is a rare intact example in the area of this type of architecture in the local area.

Campbelltown Council office 1966 CIPP
A view of Campbelltown Council administration building from Campbelltown Railway Station in 1966 (CCL)

The building retains much of its 1964 integrity with its clean lines and minimalist non-maintenance finish and functional design with the use of concrete, brick, glass and aluminium materials.

The office building is an essential marker of  mid-20th century Campbelltown and a statement of intent by a council that felt that the town had a secure future as a Sydney satellite city.

 

A moderne architectural gem

Sydney architects Davey, Brindley and Vickery stated that the ‘sharp vertical lines’ of eight-storey building had a steel-encased frame and was built on piles with reinforced concrete floors connected by two high-speed lifts.

The International modernist design style had steel, glass and mass-produced materials as the main characteristic. The rooms had the full expanse of the width of the building with its clean lines supported by dull and shiny surfaces. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

Campbelltown Council Admin Bldg Op Mtg Rm1982Sept16 Cover_0001
An image of the Campbelltown Council Administration Building from official programme given to dignataries at the opening in November 1964 (CMC)

 

A feature of the building was the entrance vestibule with a two-storey open atrium, which contained a floating stairway over an indoor garden. On the east side of the vestibule was a cast bronze multiplane historical mural by Bim Hilder mounted on a high exposed aggregate wall. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The north wall of the foyer was faced with black marble with contrasting white marble door jamb and scag-terrazzo floor. The architects noted that the two primary colours were black and white, which compared with the red cedar-lined ceiling under the mezzanine level. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The stairs to the first level were black scag-terrazzo with a black anodised aluminium balustrade with clear glass panels. On the first floor, the panelled cedar walls contrasted with contrasting black and white colouring. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The architects stated that the building was finished in non-maintenance materials. The exterior charcoal colouring of the building contrasts with a black anodised aluminium building. The sun-blades were heavy baked enamel with infill walls of dark brick. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)

The 1964 International modernist building created quite a precedent in the small country town of Campbelltown, where the local community leaders were confidently predicting  a bright future.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Local Studies Librarians at Campbelltown City Council Library for their assistance in the completion of this post.

1920s · Attachment to place · Australia · Belonging · Burragorang Valley · Camden · Colonial Camden · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dairying · Economy · Farming · First World War · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · House history · Landscape · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Modernism · Myths · Newspapers · Place making · Ruralism · Second World War · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Travel · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism · War · War at home · Women's history

The Camden district in 1939

The Camden District 1939

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

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

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

 

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

 

Origins of the Camden district

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

1973 New Cities Plan

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

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

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

Today the Camden district is part of the Macarthur region.

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

Aesthetics · Agricultural heritage · Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · Belgenny Farm · Business · Camden Park House and Garden · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dairying · Farming · Food · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Lost Sydney · Macarthur · Memory · Menangle · Modernism · Monuments · Myths · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Sydney · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism · USA · Utilities

Menangle Milking Marvel

The Rotolactor

One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known as the Rotolactor.

Truly a scientific wonder the Rotolactor captured the imagination of people at a time when scientific marvels instilled excitement in the general public.

In these days of post-modernism and fake news this excitement seems hard to understand.

Menangle Rotolactor Post Card 1950s
Menangle Rotolactor in the 1950s Postcard (Camden Images)

What was the Rotolactor?

The Rotolactor was an automated circular milking machine with a rotating platform introduced into the Camden Park operation in 1952 by Edward Macarthur Onslow from the USA.

Part of the process of agricultural modernism the Rotolactor was installed by the Macarthur family on their colonial property of Camden Park Estate to improve their dairying operations in the mid-20th century.

The idea of a rotating milking platform was American and first introduced in New Jersey in the mid-1920s.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model2 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolactor Model 2 model in 2018 (I Willis)

The 1940s manager of Camden Park Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Macarthur Onslow inspected an American Rotolactor while overseas on a business trip and returned to Australia full of enthusiasm to build one at Camden Park.

The Menangle Rotolactor was the first in Australia and only the third of its kind in the world.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model3 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolactor Model 3 display in 2018 (I Willis)

The rotating dairy had a capacity to milk of 1,000 cows twice a day. It held 50 cows a time and were fed at as they were milked. The platform rotated about every  12 minutes.

The Rotolactor was a huge tourist attraction for the Menangle village and provided a large number of local jobs.

In 1953 it was attracting 600 visitors on a weekend in with up to 2000 visitors a week at its peak. (The Land, 27 March 1953)

Town planning disruption

In 1968 town planning disrupted things. The Askin state government released the  Sydney Regional Outline Plan, followed by the 1973 the New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin Structure Plan, which later became the Macarthur Growth Centre in 1975.

The structure plan did recognise the importance of the Rotolactor and the cultural heritage of the Menangle village. (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales, 1973, p. 84)

These events combined with declining farming profits encouraged the Macarthur family to sell out of  Camden Park  including the Rotolactor and the private village of Menangle.

The Rotolactor continued operations until 1977 and then remained unused for several years. It was then purchased by Halfpenny dairy interests from Menangle who operated the facility until it finally closed in 1983. (Walsh 2016, pp.91-94)

Community festival celebrates the Rotolactor

In 2017 the Menangle Community Association organised a festival to celebrate the history of the Rotolactor. It was called the Menangle Milk-Shake Up and  was a huge success.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)

The Festival exceeded all their expectations of the organisers from the Menangle Community Association when it attracted over 5000  of people to the village from all over Australia. (Wollondilly Advertiser, 18 September 2017)

The Menangle Community Association Facebook page described it this way:

A true country event like in the old days. So many visitors came dressed up in their original 50s clothes, and all those wonderful well selected stall holders. It was pure joy.

Despite these sentiments the event just covered costs (Wollondilly Advertiser, 5 April 2018)

The festival’s success was a double-edged sword for the organisers from the Menangle Community Association.

Urban development

The festival’s success demonstrated to local development interests that Rotolactor nostalgia could be marketized and had considerable commercial potential.

The Menangle Community Association attempted to lift the memory of the Rotolator and use it as a weapon to protect the village from the forces of urban development  and neo-liberalism

The success of the festival was also used by Menangle land developers to further their interests.

Developer Halfpenny made numerous public statements supporting the restoration of the Rotolactor as a function centre and celebrating its past. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2017).

Menangle Rotolactor Paddock 2016 Karen
Menangle Rotolactor in a derelict condition in 2016 (Image by Karen)

The newspaper article announced that the owner of the site, local developer Ernest Dupre of Souwest Developments, has pledged to build a micro brewery, distillery, two restaurants, a farmers market, children’s farm, vegetable garden, and a hotel with 30 rooms.

In 2017  the state government planning panel approved the re-zoning of the site for 350 houses and a tourist precinct. Housing construction will be completed by Mirvac.

Mr Dupre stated that he wanted to turned the derelict Rotolactor into a function with the adjoining Creamery building as a brewery, which is next to the Menangle Railway Station.

He expected the development to cost $15 million and take two years. The plan also includes an outdoor concert theatre for 8000 people and a lemon grove.

Facebook comments 6 August 2021

Reply as Camden History Notes

  • Bev WatersonRemember it well. My parents would take us there quite regularly.

JD GoreyThanks Elizabeth Searle ! I’ll show him! He’ll be interested for sure!! 👍

 Elizabeth SearleJD Gorey, The pilot was asking about this during our trip to the farm. He may be interested in the article 👍Originally posted 19 July 2019. Updated 6 April 2021.

Updated 6 August 2021. Originally posted 19 July 2019.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden Show · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Crafts · Entertainment · Farming · Festivals · Food · Gardening · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Leisure · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Lost trades · Memory · Myths · Place making · Produce · Public art · Re-enactments · Ruralism · Sense of place · Tourism

Living history at a country festival

Camden’s European living history on show

An example of living history has been on display recently at the Camden Show, the annual celebration of the rural heritage of the Camden district.

The show is an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in the real smells, sounds and sights of a sample of the farm in rural Australia.

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

 

The show represents the authentic real life of country people. It is a performance bringing history to life by storytelling through a host of demonstrations, events and displays.

The show is historical representation of the past in the present  illustrating a host of aspects of rural heritage through experiential learning.

Living history reveals layers from the past

The show reveals itself in a multi-layered story of continuity and change on the edge of the Camden township. What was once a small isolated rural village at the Nepean River crossing and is now a thriving Sydney suburb on the city’s metropolitan fringe.

Competitive sections of the show have come and gone with changes in the farming economy. Livestock, produce, craft and cooking sections each tell a story of different aspect of rural life. What was once an integral part of the rural economy is now a craft activity and completely new sections have appeared over the decades.

Camden Show Sandra Dodds 2019 IW
Camden resident and artist Sandra D entered her creation in the Bush Cuppa Tray competition and won first prize. Her entry provided a feast for the sense with scones, cup of tea, a copy of the Bulletin magazine, a story of painting ‘en plein air’ in the 1890s, gum leaves. All this activity taking place on 21 December 1889 at Montrose in Victoria. (I Willis, 2019)

 

Where once rural artisans were part of the local economy their activities are now demonstrations of heritage and lost trades. Show patrons once used to arrive in a horse and cart today’s show-goers watch competitive driving of horse and sulkies in the show ring.

Camden Show Marily Willis 2019 IW
This excited first timer won second place for a group of zucchinis in the produce section of the 2019 Camden Show. Marilyn Judith W grew her entry on her plot at the Camden Community Garden where a number of other gardeners also entered their produce. Marilyn had an immersive experience at the show and volunteered her time at the community garden stall giving away seedlings to adults and children alike. (I Willis, 2019)

 

Sideshows and carnies continue show  traditions that have their origins in English village fairs and carnivals of the past and even a hint of the Roman Empire and their circuses.

The success of the show illustrates a yearning by those attending to experience and understand elements of the traditions of a rural festival in the face of urban growth and development.

History

The Camden Show is a rural festival that is part of the modern show movement that emerged from the Industrial Revolution.  The first series of agricultural shows in the early 19th century demonstrated modern British farming methods and technology.

The first agricultural shows in New South Wales were in the early 19th century and the first Camden Show in 1886. The 19th century agricultural show movement set out to  demonstrate the latest in British Empire know-how and innovation in farming.

The site of the show on the Nepean River floodplain is one of the first points of contact between European and Indigenous people and the cows that escaped from the Sydney settlement in 1788 former the Cowpasture Reserve in 1795. For living history it is material culture which grounds the audience in time and place.

Camden Show 2019 IW
All good farmers had a reliable truck to cart stock and hay to the market from the farm and to take trips into town. This one dates from the mid-20th century at Bringelly NSW on display at the Camden Show with a friendly passenger. (I Willis, 2019)

Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Camden Council · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Edwardian · Fashion · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · History · Local History · Narellan · Place making · Sense of place · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Town planning · Uncategorized · Urban growth · Urban Planning · Urbanism

The lost world of Carinya

A 2010 meeting of Camden Council on Sydney’s southern outskirts voted five to four to demolish a simple 1890 Federation farm cottage known as Carinya at Harrington Park. The owner, Nepean Pastoral Company, wants to develop a 97-residential lot subdivision on the farm site.

Carinya Cottage
Carinya Cottage c.1890 is a simple Edwardian brick farm cottage at Harrington Park demolished in 2010 (Camden Historical Society)

 

The decision illustrates a wider malaise that has enveloped heritage in this state — a worrying trend that is seeing our past disappear.

Demolition of Carinya

Camden Council’s decision to approve Carinya’s demolition was based on reports written by heritage consultants, Urbis. Urbis stated that, while the cottage was intact and in reasonable condition, it was not of local significance. In their view Federation cottages, while rare in the Narellan area, are not rare in the Camden local government area (LGA). Secondly, Carinya has little associative value with the Cross and Paxton families who lived there.

Many people do agree with these conclusions. In the past Carinya has been overlooked in heritage surveys of the Camden LGA and had not been included on any local lists of historic houses. While not a reason for demolition, it is a contributing factor.

Jonathon Chancellor noted recently in a story on the fight to save the Tilba residence in Burwood Heights that many councils had “neglectful heritage lists” and included Camden.

Even more damming, ”heritage listing at the local level does not provide much protection at all”, wrote Graeme Aplin, from Macquarie University, in Australian Quarterly (May-June 2009).

”What we have witnessed over the last five years is the systematic dismantling of heritage protection,” stated Sylvia Hale, Greens spokeswoman on planning (”Heritage at risk”, National Trust Magazine, February-April 2010).

More than this the imminent loss of Carinya reflects wider problems in heritage affairs across New South Wales. There is a blatant disregard of the importance of simple cottages of historic value especially at a local level. They represent the lives of ordinary folk. Simple salt of the earth people who struggled to make a living from the soil.

The story of Carinya fits within the Australian Historic Themes identified by the Australian Government (Australian Heritage Commission 2001). These are common national standards for idenfication and conservation of heritage places. Yet this does not qualify Carinya for recognition of local significance.

Even examples of Australia’s important early colonial houses on Sydney’s urban fringe, which are of national significance, such as like Oran Park House and Maryland suffer from indecision and dithering by the authorities.

Conflict of interest in heritage

There is a real, or at least a perceived, conflict of interest for some by heritage consultants in the assessment process. Consultants are a gun for hire. There needs to be a separation of roles in the assessment process of historic houses. The judgment concerning the assessment of significance should be conducted by an independent third party. Heritage consultants should not be judge, jury and hangman. There is a need for due diligence.

The assessment process needs the expertise of professional historians to examine the appropriate historical evidence. There were no historians engaged in the assessment process of Carinya. Urbis has largely relied on a cursory examination of documents at the local library and museum.

Carinya Cottage B&W
Carinya Cottage c.1890 is a simple Edwardian brick farm cottage at Harrington Park demolished in 2010 (Camden Historical Society)

 

Council planning and development officers are under incredible pressure to meet timely decisions for development applications. This particularly applies in the Camden LGA, which is a designated growth area for Sydney.

Council officers and their elected councilors rely on reports written by heritage consultants. Officers and councilors may have had little or no specific training assessing heritage significance, local or otherwise. They are not experts in history and heritage.

One of the casualties in the assessment process is the thorough and considered assessment of historic houses.

Loss of interest in heritage

The current political climate in NSW is not conducive to the protection of historic houses. Heritage is not a high priority. Crowded Sydney and a shortfall in housing stock are political priorities. For this read new estates on the urban fringe, like the approved Carinya farm subdivision.

The developers of Carinya farm housing estate are selling a dream that is just that, a dream. The new estates create a bland homogenised suburban streetscape with little charm or character.

The Carinya farm sub-division is part of Sydney’s urbanisation. An octopus that devours all in its path — including ethical standards, community identity, sense of place and apparently local heritage and history.

The destruction of simple charming 19th century cottages is unnecessary. There is a demand from house buyers who want to live in historic cottages. These buyers restore the cottages to their former glory.

What have we come to in the new century? We have certainly not come to appreciate our past, our inheritance.

Learn more

Heritage and urban planning

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald online as Heritage: a dismal state of affairs 16 April 2010

Attachment to place · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Narellan · Place making · Railway · Retailing · Sense of place · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism

Place making at Narellan NSW

Screenshot Narellan Town Centre Plaza and Extension 2016 (http://www.narellantowncentre.com.au/)
Screenshot Narellan Town Centre Plaza and Extension 2016
(http://www.narellantowncentre.com.au/)

Place making at Narellan NSW

There has been an attempt at place making in Narellan in the new extension of the local shopping mall, Narellan Town Centre.

The centre owner states on its website that:

New civic plazas and entertainment precincts including a fantastic indoor / outdoor restaurant and casual dining precinct where you will be able to sit down and relax with friends day and night.

Kylie Legge has defined a place as

A location, a personal relationship to an environment, or act as a re-presentation of the spirit of the land and our unspoken community with it. In its simplest terms place is a space that has a distinct character. At is most complex it embodies the essence of a location, its community, spiritual beliefs, stories, history and aspirations. The essence of place is its genius loci, its ‘place-ness’. [i]

Place according to Legge should deliver ‘character, identity or meaning’. Place should also have community participation and create economic revitalisation.[ii]

The centre owners and designers have attempted to create a space where local folk can have social encounters and exchange and meet other people. This type of space attempts to strengthen the local economy, inspire community by having the look and feel of a village market square. The space aims to be walkable and draw people into it.

Place making is community driven and for it to be meaningful individuals should be allowed the make their own interpretation of the space.

The plaza is an attempt at place making where a space allows people to make their own story. They can create meaning for themselves by interacting with family and friends. The plaza has attempted to create its own cultural and social identity. This has been achieved by including a water feature, street furniture and public art.

Stylised Elderslie Banksia and extracts from Narellan story 2016(http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/narellan)
Stylised Elderslie Banksia, extracts from Narellan story and Pansy the Camden train 2016 (http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/narellan)

One of the  pieces of public art if a stylized Elderslie banksia, an endangered species, of the local area. There are also quotes from the history of the Narellan story by local historian Dr Ian Willis on two separate panels. There are also dioramas of Pansy the Camden train that ran through the site of the shopping centre extension, as well as cows and open pastures motifs. All these are part of the character of the development of the Narellan story, with its rural past, icon train and Narellan Railway Station.

So far the planners seem to have achieved their aims with early usage by local families. There mothers and children interacting, with some taking souvenir photos for family memoirs. The surrounding food outlets were busy creating a buzzy feel to the site. Workmen fitting out surrounding commercial outlets sat in the sun having their lunch. The area also has a number of financial outlets that will draw more people to the space. The plaza so far seems to quite popular and achieved the aims of the designers.

Ian Willis next to text from Narellan story 2016 (http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/narellan)
Ian Willis next to text from Narellan story 2016 (http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/narellan)

[i] Kylie Legge, ‘The evolution of placemaking – what’s next?’, Newplanner, September 2015, pp4-5.

[ii] Kylie Legge, ‘The evolution of placemaking – what’s next?’, Newplanner, September 2015, pp4-5.

Camden · Community identity · Cowpastures · Elderslie · Farming · Heritage · Local History · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Sydney's rural-urban fringe

Elderslie, a suburb on Sydney’s fringe

Elderslie Autumn Scene Camden Valley Way 2014 (IWillis)
Elderslie Autumn Scene Camden Valley Way 2014 (IWillis)

Elderslie is a suburb of Camden, the traditional land of the Dharawal people.  It lies on the southern end of the Camden Municipality, 62 km southwest of Sydney, on the rural-urban fringe. It is bordered by the Nepean River to the west, Narellan Creek to the north, Camden By-Pass to the south, and Studley Park Golf Course to the east. The population at the 2001 census was 2,638.

Under Governor Macquarie’s stewardship, the area now known as Elderslie was the site of a number of smallholder land grants along the Nepean River, made between 1812 and 1815. There was also one large grant given to John Oxley, a member of the colonial gentry, in 1816. He called it ‘Elerslie’, although by 1828 he had changed it to ‘Elderslie’. Oxley’s grant was one of the five large estates in the Camden area that used convict labour.

Elderslie can lay claim to the first building in the Camden area. This was a small hut erected at the Nepean River crossing, after the 1803 visit of Governor King, for the government man who looked after the cattle in the Cowpastures.  It is reported that the hut was still in existence in 1822.

View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1
View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1

he village of Elderslie was planned along the Great Northern Road (now Camden Valley Way) with a subdivision and sites for a church, parsonage and market place. A post office was opened in 1839 – and closed in 1841, when it was moved to Camden. A number of village blocks were sold by auction in 1841, but three months after the Elderslie land sales the village was effectively overwhelmed by land sales across the river in Camden.

The first church in Elderslie was St Mark’s Anglican Church, built in 1902 of plain timber construction. The church is framed by a huge 150 year old camphor laurel tree, and has only ceased functioning in recent years.

Hilsyde is one of the more significant homes in the Elderslie area, and was built in 1888 by Walter Furner, a local builder. A number of important cottages were owned by the Bruchhauser family, who were viticulturalists and orchardists in the Elderslie area, as were the Fuchs, Thurns, and most recently the Carmagnolas.

Viticulture has been re-established at Camden Estate Vineyards on the deep alluvial soils of the Nepean floodplain. There were plantings of mixed varieties in 1975 by Norman Hanckel, and in the 1990s these had been converted completely to Chardonnay, which best suits the soil and climate of the area. Grapes for wine had previously been grown in this location by Martin Thurn, one of the six German vinedressers brought out by the Macarthurs of Camden Park in 1852. Table grapes were grown throughout the Elderslie area and sold in the Sydney markets. Vegetables were grown on the floodplain adjacent to Narellan Creek by Sun Chong Key, who was one of a number of Chinese market gardeners in the Camden area in the first half of the 20th century. Apart from farming, the floodplain and surrounding areas have been subject to extensive sand-mining for the Sydney building industry.

Elderslie was the first stop after Camden on the tramway that ran between Camden and Campbelltown, which began operations in 1882. The locomotive (affectionately known as Pansy) had 24 services each week-day, which were a mixture of passenger and goods services. Observant travellers to the area can still make out the earth works of the tramway on the northern side of Camden Valley Way along the floodplain. The tramway operated until 1963, when a number of branch lines in the Sydney area were shut. The tramway, which ran beside the Hume Highway between Elderslie and Camden, was often closed due to flooding.

Little Sandy with footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. This area on the Nepean River was always a popular swimming spot. Diving board in foreground. (Camden Images)
Little Sandy with footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. This area on the Nepean River was always a popular swimming spot. Diving board in foreground. (Camden Images)

Swimming became one of Elderslie earliest organized sporting activities, after the Nepean River was dammed in 1908 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 organized in 1909 and attracted over 1000 spectators, and this was the location of the Camden Swimming Club in the 1920s. There were two popular swimming holes at Kings Bush Reserve and Little Sandy, where the Australian Army built a footbridge during World War II (and there is still one in that location today). By the 1950s, increasing pollution of the river put pressure on authorities for a town swimming pool, which was eventually opened in Camden in 1964.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the growth of coal mining contributed to local population growth and demand for residential land releases on farmland adjacent to the floodplain.  This created a need for education facilities and led to establishment of Mawarra Primary School (1972) and Elderslie High School (1976). Elderslie was also identified as part of the growth area for Greater Sydney, initially as part of the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), then the Metropolitan Strategy (1988) and most recently in the Cities for the 21st Century plan (1995). Some of these land releases caused concerns over air quality issues and deteriorating water quality in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, and consequently they were deferred until 2005. In the most recent Elderslie land releases, developers have commodified the rural mythology and imagery of ‘the country town’ and associated rural vistas, with names like ‘Camden Acres’, ‘The Ridges’ and ‘Vantage Point’. These values have attracted ‘outsiders’ to the area in the hope of finding places where ‘the country still looks like the country’. Part of this imagery is found in Elderslie’s older residential streets, which are a picture in November when the Jacarandas provide a colourful show of purple and mauve.

One of Elderslie’s most notable resident was possibly the Australian poet and actor, Hugh McCrae (1876-1958). He lived in River Road in the 1930s and occasionally after that. He was a member of the Sydney Bohemian set, and a friend of Norman Lindsay and members of the Camden elite: for example, local surgeon Dr RM Crookston and his wife, Zoe. McCrae wrote about the local area in works like ‘October in Camden’, and ‘Camden Magpie’. He was awarded an OBE (1953) for services to Australian Literature. {link to ADB}

References

A useful summary of secondary sources on Elderslie can be found at http://www.camdenhistory.org.au and follow the links to Camden Bibliography

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

Mylrea, PJ, Camden District, A History to the 1840s, Camden: Camden Historical Society, 2002.

Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society.

Macarthur · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Uncategorized

Hope and Loss on Sydney’s urban fringe

Winners and losers on the urban fringe

Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005
Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is a site of winners and losers.

It is a landscape where dreams are fulfilled and memories lost. The hope and expectations of newcomers are met with the promises of land developers in master planned suburban utopias.

At the same time, locals grasp at lost memories as the rural countryside is covered in a sea of tiled roofs and concrete driveways.

Conflict over a dream

As Sydney’s rural-urban fringe moves across the countryside it becomes a contested site between locals and outsiders over their aspirations and dreams. The conflict revolves around displacement and dispossession.

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is similar to the urban frontier of large cities in Australia and other countries. It is a dynamic landscape that makes and re-makes familiar places.

More than this the rural-urban fringe is a zone of transition where invasion and succession are constant themes for locals and newcomers alike.

Searching for the security of a lost past

Fishers Ghost FestivalAs Sydney’s urban sprawl invades fringe communities locals yearn for a lost past and hope for some safe keeping of their memories. They use nostalgia as a fortress and immerse themselves in community rituals and traditions that are drawn for their past. They are drawn to ever popular festivals like the Camden Show and Campbelltown’s Fishers Ghost Festival which is celebration of the rural heritage of Sydney’s fringe.

Local communities respond by creating imaginary barriers to ward off the evils of Sydney’s urban growth that is about to run them over. One of the most important is the metaphorical moat created by the Hawkesbury-Nepean River floodplain around a number of the fringe communities of Camden, Richmond and Windsor.

Fringe communities use their rural heritage to ward off the tentacles of the Sydney octopus that are about the strangle them. In one example the Camden community has created an imaginary country town idyll. A cultural myth where rural traditions are supported by the church on the hill, the village green and the Englishness of the gentry’s colonial estates.

Hope and the creation of an illusion

Outsiders and ex-urbanites come to the new fringe suburbs looking for a new life in a semi-rural environment. As they escape the evils of their own suburbia they seek to immerse themselves in the rurality of the fringe. They want to retreat to an authentic past when times were simpler. It is a perception that land developers are eager to exploit.

Ex-urbanites are drawn to the urban frontier by developer promises of their own piece of utopia and the hope of a better lifestyle. They seek a place where “the country still looks like the country”. These seek what the local fringe communities already possess – open spaces and a rural countryside.

The imagination of new arrivals is set running by developer promises of suburban dreams in master-planned estates. They are drawn in by glossy brochures, pollie speak, media hype and in recent times subsidies on landscaping and other material benefits.

Manicured parks, picturesque vistas and restful water features add to the illusion of a paradise on the urban frontier. Developers commodify a dream in an idyllic semi-rural setting that new arrivals hope will protect their life-savings in a house and land package.

Destruction of the dream

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Oran Park Development 2010 (Camden Image/P Mylrea)

Dreams are also destroyed on Sydney’s urban frontier for many new comers. Once developers of master-planned estates have made their profit they withdraw. They no longer support the idyllic features that created the illusion of a suburban utopia.

The dreams of a generation of ex-urbanites have come crashing down in suburbs like Harrington Park and Mt Annan. The absence of developer rent-seeking has meant that their dreams have evaporated and gone to dust. Manicured parks have become overgrown. Restful water features have turned into dried up cesspools inhabited by vermin.

Paradoxically the invasion of ex-urbanites has displaced and dispossessed an earlier generation of diehard motor racing fans of their dreams. The destruction of the Oran Park Raceway created its own landscape of lost memories. Ironically new arrivals at Oran Park bask in the reflected glory of streets named after Australian motor racing legends and sculptures that pay tribute the long gone raceway.

The latest threat to the dreams of all fringe dwellers is the invasion of Sydney’s southwest urban frontier by the exploratory drilling of coal seam gas wells. Locals and new arrivals alike see their idyllic surroundings disappearing before their eyes. They are fearful for their semi-rural lifestyle.

So what of the dreams?

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe will continue to be a frontier where conflict is an ever present theme in the story of the place. Invasion, dispossession, opportunity and hope are all part of the ongoing story of this zone of constant change.

Read more @ Imaginings on Sydney’s Edge: Myth, Mourning and Memory in a Fringe Community (Sydney Journal)

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