The cultural heritage of the local area makes the historic town of Camden, according to Sydney architect Hector Abrahams, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).
The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park Estate in the Cowpastures on the banks of the Nepean River.
The township provides a glimpse of life from times gone past with the charm and character with its Victorian style built heritage and early 20th century cottages and commercial buildings.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.
Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the Sydney area. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.
A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.
The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.
The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.
The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.
The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.
For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.
There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.
There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.
Updated 24 May 2021. Originally posted on Camden History Notes 18 December 2016. This post was originally published on Heritage Tourism as ‘Camden: the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain’ in 2010.
In 2015 I posted an item called ‘Camden’s mysterious heritage list’. In it I complained about the travails of trying to navigate Camden Council’s website to find the Camden heritage inventory. I wrote:
Recently I needed to consult Camden’s heritage inventory list for a research project. I also consulted similar lists for Campbelltown and Wollondilly LGAs. They were easy to find. Camden’s list was mysteriously hiding somewhere. It had to exist. The council is obliged to put one together by the state government. But where was it? Do you know where Camden Council’s heritage inventory is to be found? I did not know. So off I went on a treasure hunt. The treasure was the heritage list.
I am very happy to report that many things have changed since 2015.
Committee member LJ Aulsebrook has written about the activities and role of the committee in Camden History, the journal of the Camden Historical Society.
The Camden Historical Society has an ex-officio position on the Heritage Advisory Committee and the president is the nominee of the society.
One of the outstanding activities of the committee was the 2019 Unlock Camden held during History Week run by the History Council of New South Wales. The Camden event was co-ordinated by LJ Aulesbrook.
The aim of the Heritage Advisory Committee are outlined in the Terms of Reference. The ToR states that the HAC aims :
To promote heritage and community education by: a) Generating a wider appreciation of heritage through public displays, seminars, participation in the annual National Trust Heritage festival & history week; b) Promoting and coordination of heritage open days; c) Generating a greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal heritage in Camden Local Government Area; d) Actively encouraging conservation and maintenance of heritage items and heritage conservation areas to owners and the general public; e) Investigating grant opportunities; f) Investigating opportunities for Council run awards/recognition in response to good heritage work; g) Developing a register of local heritage professionals and tradespeople; and h) Assisting in developing education packages for information, school education, and best heritage practices.
Heritage is something that we have inherited from the past. It informs us of our history as well as giving us a sense of cultural value and identity. Heritage places are those that we wish to treasure and pass on to future generations so that they too can understand the value and significance of past generations.
Heritage makes up an important part of the character of the Camden Local Government Area (LGA). Camden’s heritage comprises of a diverse range of items, places, and precincts of heritage significance. Items, places or precincts may include public buildings, private houses, housing estates, archaeological sites, industrial complexes, bridges, roads, churches, schools, parks and gardens, trees, memorials, lookouts, and natural areas. Heritage significance includes all the values that make that item, place or precinct special to past, present and future generation.
In addition Camden Council has set out for general environmental heritage conditions on its website here.
Camden Council has recently offered advice on for owners who want to restore their residential properties along heritage lines. The advice covers materials, colours, and finishes for Victorian, Edwardian and Mid-century residential architectural styles in the Camden Town Conservation area.
The Camden Town Centre conservation area was proclaimed by the state government in 2008 and is subject to a range of development conditions.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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)
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 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 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)
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)
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)
Tourists visit mural
Tourists would stop in front of the mural and have their picture taken as they travel along the Hume Highway.
These memories are a moving personal account of a childhood growing in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s.
This story from former Airds’ resident Fiona Woods acts a counterpoint to stories of despair and loss from these suburbs. In many ways, Airds was a suburb on the fringe of the world. Many residents were living on the edge and faced many challenges.
At the moment many Australian’s have felt a heightened sense of anxiety and need a little hope. Since the bushfires on Australia’s East Coast from September 2019 there are many grim stories.
The uncertainty and lack of control have continued into the Covid crisis, and many feel despair and at a loss. Fiona’s story provides a ray of sunshine in today’s shadows.
Fiona uses memory as a way of explaining the meaning of past events and peoples involvement in them. She has not created a meaningless collection of unrelated facts.
Fiona says, ‘Everyone has a story. It’s easy to think of our ancestors as names on a page or a black and white photograph of well-dressed, ‘serious people’.
‘But behind those images is a life that has been lived through both adversity and celebration. With love and pain and all that goes with being human. So many stories that have been untold’.
Fiona’s memories are about a suburb where some residents succeeded and others did not.
This is Fiona’s story and how hope can win through in the end.
Growing up in Airds
Growing up in a housing commission estate is not something that traditionally elicits feelings of pride and success. But for me, it does just that. I moved into Airds in 1977, when I was three years old.
My dad had suffered a traumatising work accident, one that would leave him with debilitating, lifelong injuries. My parents already had three small children and were expecting a fourth.
I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for them – Dad was in and out of the hospital, and Mum didn’t drive. Here was where their neighbours stepped in, and my earliest memories of the community began.
Back then, neighbours weren’t just people you waved to from the driveway. They were people you could count on, whether it be for food or childcare or even a simple chat over a cup of tea.
I grew up as part of a village, where a lady in my street took my sisters and me to our first gymnastics lessons. I developed friendships that have stood the test of time. I have even taught alongside my closest childhood friend, an experience that is something I treasure.
I laugh with my siblings that we can never shop with Mum in Campbelltown – she remembers everyone who lived remotely near us. But for her, it was the friendship she struck up with her new neighbour the day they both moved in that is the most special.
A friendship that has lasted for over 43 years. It still involves daily coffee catch-ups and phone calls.
I started Kindergarten at John Warby Public School, where I learned more than just academics. It was during this time that I experienced how the love of a teacher extends beyond the classroom.
I truly believe it was these experiences that led me to join the profession. I had so much to give back. I remember some of these teachers visiting our home to check in on our parents and even drive them to appointments.
They really took the home-school connection to a new level! I will be forever grateful for the investment they made in us and their belief that we would all succeed.
Living in Airds during the late 70s and early 80s was a time where friendships were built, and people stuck together. It was the freedom of riding bikes with friends until the street lights came on, building makeshift cubbies and performing concerts for the neighbours.
I can still remember the excitement of walking to the local shops with my sisters to buy a few groceries for Mum. The constant search for ‘bargains’ in the hope there would be twenty cents leftover to buy some mixed lollies.
To this day, I still can’t resist a markdown and resent paying full price for anything. Lollies aside, the mere act walking to the shops was an adventure. Teetering along with the giant concrete snake and pretending we were on a secret journey.
Our simple life ensured we had opportunities to use our imagination and explore the world around us, creating memories with our neighbours and friends.
But life wasn’t always easy. I remember eating dinner and seeing my parents eat toast because there wasn’t enough to go around.
By this stage, they were raising five children, including my youngest brother, who rarely slept for more than an hour each night. He became a case study for professors looking into hyperactivity disorders.
That was little comfort to my mum, who was also Dad’s primary carer, living on minimal sleep and a frugal budget. Yet she showed up every day, always reminding us about the power of education and instilling a true love of learning in us all.
What we lacked for in material possessions was made up by so much more. We learned to be resilient and grateful, and we learned to be kind. We continue to work hard in our chosen fields, always considering how we can help others.
One of the proudest moments for our parents was seeing all five children graduate from university. That and the ongoing pride they feel for their thirteen grandchildren, who love their Nan and Pop like no one else.
The roots that were planted back in those early days have been tended with such love and care.
Those trees continue to flourish, branching out into wonderful opportunities. I am forever grateful for the foundations my childhood was built upon.
And I proudly tell everyone about where it is I came from.
Daniel DraperFantastic story Eric Kontos, I am also a Proud Airds Boy moving their in 1977. My mother still lives in the same house. I always said growing up in Airds built character. We had a fantastic childhood and explored every part of the George’s River bushland. They where great days!
Frank WardWhat a great story and I have come across so many great similar accounts of growing up in Campbelltown and the estates.
Noting Fiona’s record that she and all her siblings got to go to University makes me particularly proud of the work my late sister Joan M Bielski AO AM who was a teacher but she devoted her life to the promotion of equal opportunity for women in education, politics and society. Her main work was to change the education system so that women got access as when she started at Uni only 25% of women got to Uni and then mainly in teaching now ove 56% of all graduates are women and more women are in political powerful positions This pandemic has been another example of the value of an educated female workforce as they have been on the frontline of this war on the virus so we can only hope that the government will give them equal pay instead of empty words that usually flow from the PM
Sam EganLove this, my family moved to airds in the late 70s, I started at John warby public, we moved when I was 7 or 8 to St Helens park, changed schools. 30+ years later after ending a long relationship i was set up on a date, who just so happened to be the boy who lived across the road from us at airds, who I used to walk to school with every day. His mom still lives in the same street. 15 years later and our own little boy we love going to visit, after all those years you realize how strong that little community is.
Leonie ChapmanWhat a fabulous article and account of the old days.
I grew up there from about 1978 and went to Briar Rd PS and then St Pats.
I have so many fond memories and close bonds that I made back then and still am lucky to have today
I have always been proud of my roots, especially the early beginnings of growing up in housing commission. You don’t need riches to be surrounded by love, hope and a desire to succeed.
I am honoured that my story was shared on the blog of local historian, Dr Ian Willis. I thought I’d share it with you all ❤
Tracey Seal WagstaffThank you for sharing this beautiful story Fiona Woods. I also grew up in Airds in the 70’s & 80’s I can honestly say that your story is just the same as many of us. Your words reflect the same community spirit of my upbringing in Airds where everyone had each others back. My mums house was like a halfway house everyone was welcome and the front door was always open to all. Those where the days. Riding in the streets, building jumps, having dance concerts, this was the way of life. We still have longtime friends from our neighbourhood that we still have contact with today after 40 years…
Wilfred J PinkGreat story and well deserved recognition Fi. Congratulations mate.
Linda HuntOh Fiona. This bought a tear to my eye. Beautiful words that ring so true. Life growing up in this neighbourhood is truly one to remember. Thank you. I’m happy I was able to read this on this day.
Patricia O’BrienAbsolutely gorgeous. What an outstanding view of the many children grew up in Airds. Two of my own children were brought up in Airds and also went to John Warby and they are both school teachers. So proud of how all my children grew up to be people who respect their families and friends.
Deborah LittlewoodOh Fiona, what an amazing story. Brings back so many wonderful memories with your beautiful family. I love so much that our friendship is as close as it was all those years ago. Us ‘Airds chicks’ certainly did ok for ourselves.
Deborah LittlewoodFiona Woods my favourite part of your story ❤️.
I always remember your mum did so much for everyone else and now you and your daughters are exactly the same. Always putting everyone else before yourselves.
Raylene NevilleNaw, that was beautiful x
I was a housing commission kid too! I remember that we had a blue fridge!
Jeff WilliamsPretty good writing for a teacher! 🙂 I love waiting for people bagging out housing commission and then letting it be known I grew up there!
Valeska SpratfordJeff Williams the classic old John Warby PS uniform. Little do people know that this low-socioeconomic school gave us free dental and some of the best memories of our lives. C’town represents. . . . .Airds 4Eva 😉
Cass BienBeautiful! I also grew up in Housing Commission, we had great neighbours too and I met my best friend at 8 yrs old, still besties today. So grateful for these times. xx Your story is lovely. 😊
Caf AirsGreat story showing what family, community and education can achieve.
Melissa SalterBeautiful words Fiona, it is a true depiction of many of us “Airds” kids of that era, great community and John Warby was definitely a major part of all of our success
Fiona WoodsJeffrey R Williams thanks Dad. And thanks for always believing in us and for never giving up on us, even when we made mistakes and stupid decisions in our lives.
We knew we could always count on you and Mum.
I can even laugh now about how you joked about karma when I cried to you about the horror of having 3 teenage girls 😂
Noleen SpencerGreat job , we also came from humble beginnings, not much money but plenty of love to go around , we appreciated every little blessing and was always taught it cost nothing to smile and to lend a helping hand. I’ve always said to my children , you don’t have to be the best , you just have to try your best .
Louise CounsellThat was moving. Your family was so rich in the things that mattered
Cathy HarleFiona, you had the very great privilege of growing up in a home full of love and values with your sisters and brothers, and each one of you have instilled those values in your own children – you can all be very proud of yourselves 💕
Harder Karen IanBeautiful and well written Fiona and as auntie Noleen said, we also come from a large family, one income earner, little money and a lot of bad health issues but there was also plenty of love and we always appreciated what little we had. I am so grateful for everything and for how all of our beautiful children turned out, I am I only very sad our dear mum and dad didn’t live long enough to see how all their beautiful grandchildren turned out. Your mum and dad did such a good job raising such a beautiful family and I can clearly see you are all doing the same with your own families. Much love 😘😘❤❤
Salome Mariner BorgI love this so much! 💙
So well articulated that I could just feel the love and could picture everything as if it were a movie..actually, why not turn it into a movie ☺️👌
Thanks for sharing xx
JoJo AxeWill always be thankful for our humble beginnings and everything our families have done for each other. That beautiful special friendship like no other that our Mum’s have, the joy and support they give to one another is amazing. Something to be very grateful for 😘
Amy LouThank you for sharing this. An inspiring story with some aspects that remind me of my own childhood. ❤️
Michelle HalloranLove your story Fiona. Thank you so much for sharing! Eplains why you are such an amazing teacher and person 🤗 We moved into a housing commission place at Ambarvale in 1981 when I was 6, the neighbours were awesome their too! So many great memories growing up there. Freedom to roam the neighbourhood on our bikes, visiting 5 or 6 friends on a Saturday, Mum and Dad having no idea where I was until I arrived home before dark! Sadly it’s a different world now.
Stephanie ComptonThat story is beautifully written. I can really feel your heat’s journey and the feel of family and community… which has helped make you the amazing woman and mother you are today! xoxo
The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.
Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.
The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.
These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.
Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.
What is the relevance of the Camden story?
The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.
The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.
Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.
What is the use of the Camden story?
The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:
the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.
History offers a different approach to a question.
Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.
The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.
Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.
Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?
The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.
A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.
Studley Park was located on the Hume Highway at Narellan. During the war period, its role as a as defence facility for the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) School was to conduct infantry training courses. The property was leased in October 1939 by the Department of Defence at £12/12/- per week although it had been first occupied in September.
A report for the defence authorities in 1940 gave a detailed description of the property including a valuation. According to the report the site fronted the Hume Highway, with the rear of the property on Lodges Road. The property consisted of an undulating country that was mostly cleared and grassed and was 193 acres. The soil was clay and land was suitable for grazing, fruit growing, and viticulture. It was felt to be an appropriate site for a country club and golf course or an agricultural school.
The site had been purchased by Archibald Gregory, a company director, in 1933, who had established a golf course. Gregory had converted the house into a high-class residence and the author of the report considered that it was unlikely that the property could be maintained in that state during its occupation by the Army. The report author considered it probable that the entire golf course would have to be reconstructed after occupation.
Land- 198 acres – £4,958; House – £6,592; Theatre – £465; Club House – £1,057; Barn – £370; Swimming Pool – £188; Golf Course – £4,625; Motion Picture Plant, Screen – £750; Rental Value – £25 per week; Improved Value – £20,000.
During the early occupation of the site by the army, Gregory continued to occupy the house, but by May 1940 his patience had worn thin. He complained to the authorities that the army had occupied the site from September 1939 without payment and had caused considerable disorganisation to his business and considerable damage to his property.
Gregory’s solicitors made representations that the government had published a report in the press in April that the army had decided to purchase the property. Since the publication of the report Gregory’s business had virtually stopped and had resulted in considerable losses.
In April 1940 approval was given for the purchase of the entire property at a cash price of £16,000, including all buildings, property, floor coverings and some furniture. 
August 1941 – Major Ironmonger, CO, Captain Peach, Adjutant;
29 November 1943 – 26 February 1944 – Major John Whitmore, Chief Instructor. Lt Max Cadogan, 17th Battalion, Instructor
The Eastern Command Training School conducted courses in tactical instruction on the Vickers machine gun and driving Matilda tanks.
Most of the instruction at the school, including artillery, was conducted by the Australian Instructional Corps. The instructors were warrant officers and the chief instuctor was Captain Peters, a Duntroon graduate. Other instructors included W/O Jim Turpie, W/O Johnston, W/O Chad (WW1 veteran).
Alan Bailey reports that he would occasionally take mail and quartermasters stores from Narellan Military Camp to Studley Park, usually by horse transport.
In their time off some of the troops would `flag down’ Pansy, and it was reported the driver would pick them up anywhere along the line on the way into Camden. The guard and the driver would wait a reasonable time for the return journey in Camden and they would be rewarded with a bottle of wine, `…the only drink available in take-away form at the time…’.
Exercises were carried out on the Nepean River with river crossings, there were day and night exercises around Menangle and Camden Park, bayonet training, anti-gas warfare, range practice with a rifle, Bren Gun, mortars, pistols, sub-machine, carbines, and hand grenades. There were infantry tactics, leadership, supporting arms applicable to the infantry. In 1941 there was also instruction Vickers Machine Gun, Aircraft Identification and protection from air attacks.
All soldiers who attended the courses spoke well of them and Bede Tongs reports that they helped in action as a member of the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion against the Japanese in 1942 New Guinea in the Wewak campaign. The accommodation was two to a tent.
During the war, the School provided married officers and well as single officer’s quarters.
Units Attending School
September 1939 – October 1939 – Sydney University Regiment
Early part of the war – 1 Field Brigade, RAA, and various other units: Artillery, Light Horse, Infantry, Signallers; 130 personnel;
August 1941 – 3rd Infantry Battalion, AMF, Course Series No 1, Infantry Training; 30 participants in each of 3 platoons – total 90 personnel;
The troops at the school had little if any contact with the local community. If they had any time off, such as an hour in the evening, then they tended to walk across the paddock to the Narellan Hotel. It is reported by Sir Roden Cutler, that at such time the Camden Police were understanding enough not to monitor the hotels opening hours too closely.
Cutler stated that Camden was a very quiet pleasant little town and in their off-duty time they frequented the Camden Inn milk bar, where the owner, his wife and their daughters always gave them a warm welcome. Bede Tongs reports that Camden shops and streets were full of friendly people.
After the war, the military use of the site continued and initially the AASC School was used by the Citizen Military Forces. In 1951 the School took the First Recruit Platoon of the newly formed Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. During the Vietnam War, the School was used as intelligence centre where troops were introduced to helicopter tactics. The site has also served as the base for Camden Troop of the 1/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Second Ordinance Platoon and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). 
The farmland surrounding the house was leased in 1945 to A Chapman of Kirkham for grazing his cattle. In 1949 a group of Camden residents approached the Department of the Army to secure all but 18 acres of Studley Park for use as a golf club, and eventually, in 1996 the Camden Golf Club purchased the site.
.Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February 1999, 29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club, 1998);
. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, May 1945, 1955.
.Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February 1999, 29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club, 1998);
The RANZ conference covered several themes related to national identities ranging across cultural, feminine, environmental, transnational and linguistic perspectives with a particular emphasis on memory, trauma and the image. Many of the papers would not have been out of place at the annual Australian Historical Association Conference.
The ‘Australian western’ and its display in the film was an interesting theme that appeared in several papers. There was a strong interest in Pacific Islander, Maori and Aboriginal literature, art and performance across a range of presentations.
I presented my paper ‘An Australian country girl goes to London’ about the travels of Shirley Dunk in 1954, followed by a lively discussion with some conference delegates. My presentation raised several questions about this type of counter-migration story and what were these young women were seeking in their lives through their journeys. Were they searching for a greater truth about the forces that drove their ancestors to Australia?
Polish migrants came to Australia after the Second World War seeking a utopia in a new land and sometimes it failed to materialise. Their own dark clouds created ghosts that have haunted later generations of their family. One delegate suggested to me that this was also an issue from some families in Poland.
A less than flattering critique of the Australia migration story emerged at the conference in the form of a special issue of Anglica. The journal editor argues that Australia’s image as a successful model of multiculturalism has been destroyed by increasing intolerance and nationalism. A rather ‘disturbing and ugly face’ of Australia has emerged in a ‘semi-mythical multicultural paradise’.
Dark history and the power of the past
Poland’s deep past and dark history manifested itself in unexpected ways during my visit. The overwhelming presence of the Second World War, particularly in Warsaw, was a new experience for me. It brought into sharp focus the contested nature of my subjectivity and the need for objectivity in this personal reflection. It is a conundrum that has exercised my mind here, as it has done for many other historians on other occasions.
The Second World War lays over Poland like a blanket and its presence is everywhere. The city of Warsaw is like a field of monuments and the city’s dark history is ever-present in the view of the visitor. The past haunts the present in ways that are hard to understand without walking the city streets. Yet paradoxically the city’s dark history is invisible in the mind of many tourists as they walk around the reconstructed old city.
The rebuilt city is a metaphor for the resilience of the Polish people and their ability to be able to redefine themselves in the face of adversity. Polish cultural identity that has been shaped by the war is fundamental to the construction of place in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere.
I should note that one conference delegate requested that I ‘be kind to the city’ in my reflections of Warsaw. I would suggest that the city needs to be kinder to itself.
For those in the English-speaking world, there are numerous silences in the stories of wartime Poland and its reconstruction. Some of these silences are the result of the hegemony around the ownership of the wartime narrative. The shape and conduct of 20th century German and Russian colonialism are not widely understood in Australia. There is a similar lack of understanding surrounding the role of European modernism and particularly Russian constructivism in the reconstruction of Polish cities.
The horrors of the past haunt the present
The consequences of 20th-century German colonialism are plain for all to see at Auschwitz and Birkenau with their industrial-scale slaughter. For this Australian, the ghosts of these Polish wartime memorials reminded me of the convict ruins at Norfolk Island and other sites.
Yet paradoxically the sacredness of Auschwitz and Birkenau are smothered by industrial-scale tourism that typifies many European tourist attractions. There is a feel of a theme park with the lengthy queues, crowded displays, and constant shoving. The memorial is loved to death.
Like travellers of old new experiences are one of the benefits of my journey to Poland. There are parallels with the story of young Australian women who travelled to London including new perspectives, new experiences, and new challenges. Like these young Australian women it has hopefully resulted in: greater empathy; greater understanding; and greater ability to cope with life’s challenges.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Camden the local non-going church community has resisted the sale by the Anglican Church of a horse paddock between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.
Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.
The purpose of this blog post is to try and unravel some of the broader issues underpinning community angst around the sale of church property. The post will look at the case study of the sale of churches in Tasmania and the resultant community anxiety.
The local church in place
The local church is an important part of a local community. It has a host of meanings for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.
The local church is a central part of the construction of place and people’s attachment to a cultural landscape and locality.
Place is about a sense of belonging and a sense of groundedness. It is expressed by cultural heritage, memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.
Belonging is central to placeness. It is home. A site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is an important source of stability in a time of chaos. Home is part of a community.
LM Miller from the University of Tasmania states that people are involved fundamentally with what constitutes place and places are involved fundamentally in the construction of persons. Place wraps around and envelopes a person. People are holders of place (Miller: 6-8)
There is a shared sense of belonging in a community where being understood is important and part of a beloved collection. A sense of belonging acts as an all encompassing set of beliefs and identity. . It enriches our identity and relationships and leads to acceptance and understanding.
A church is one of these communities.
When a person’s sense of place is threatened then their sense of self, identity, safety, stability, and security are challenged. Where there is a loss of a person’s sense of place and belonging to a place they go through a grieving process.
The closure, sale and de-consecration of the local church are a threat to a person’s sense of place.
Local churches are part of a community’s cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage consists of two parts. Firstly, tangible heritage which is made up, for example, buildings, art, objects and artefacts.
Secondly there is intangible cultural heritage which includes customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values. This can be extended to include traditional skills and technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts and storytelling.
Churchgoers and a sense of place
The link between local churches and a community’s sense of place has been explored by Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History. He says that churchgoers are often faced with unsustainable maintenance costs for a church. Eventually when churchgoers are forced to sell the property they:
‘often seemed less reluctant to give up their church than the rest of the community…and faced with the prospect of its loss, [the non-churchgoers] were often prepared to fight with surprising tenacity to save it.’ (Davision:149)
These churches have a strong emotional attachment for their communities. These churches are loved places for their community and Davison suggests:
It is in losing loved places, as well as loved persons, that we come to recognise the nature and depth of our attachment to our past. (Davison: 150)
Davison argues that churchgoers often have a loyalty to their local place well beyond their sense of faith in Christianity.
Sale of churches in Tasmania
These issues came to the fore in Tasmania in 2018 when there was public outrage around the sale of local churches in Tasmania.
The Hobart press ran a story with the headline ‘Emotions run high, communities vow to fight after Anglican Church votes to sell off 76 churches’. (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)
The Anglican Church in Tasmania was attempting to fund the ‘redress commitment’ to the victims of clerical abuse by selling church property.
In response Central Tasmanian Highlands churchgoer Ron Sonners said that ‘his ancestors [were] buried in the graveyard associated with St Peter’s Church at Hamilton’…and he ‘struggled with his emotions as he dealt with the fallout from his community church being listed for sale’. (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)
Tasmania Anglican Bishop Richard Condie says that most of opposition to the sale of churches
is primarily people in the broader community who oppose the sales, with the potential loss of heritage and family history, including access to graveyards, their main concern. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
There have been protest meetings and some effected parishes started fundraising campaigns to keep their churches. The Hobart Mercury reported that
The Parish of Holy Trinity Launceston, which wants to keep St Matthias’ Church at Windermere, has raised the funds, with the help of its local community, to meet its redress contribution. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
Cultural historian and churchgoer Dr Caroline Miley said that:
the churches are an important part of Australian history… It is unconscionable that such a massive number of buildings, artefacts and precincts should be lost to the National Estate in one fell swoop…These are buildings built and attended by convicts and their jailers. They were built on land donated by early state governors, notable pioneers and state politicians, with funds donated by these colonials and opened by the likes of Sir John Franklin…As well, she says, they contain the honour boards, memorials and graves of those who fought and died in conflicts from the 19th century onwards…Some are in the rare (in Australia) Georgian style or in idiosyncratic Tasmanian Carpenter Gothic. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
Amanda Ducker of the Hobart Mercury summarises of the whole fuss surrounding the sale of churches in Tasmania this way:
Condie’s use-it-or-lose-it approach clashes with the keep-it-at-all-costs mentality. But while some opponents of the bishop’s plan refuse to sell their church buildings, neither do they want to go to church regularly. They rather prefer just to gather on special occasions: baptisms, weddings, funerals and perhaps at Christmas and Easter if they are leaning towards piety. But the rest of the year? Well, a sleep-in, potter at home or cafe brunch of eggs benedict (but sans ministering) are pretty tempting on Sunday morning. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
Others Anglicans in Tasmania see the whole argument differently. Emeritus Professor and Anglican Peter Boyce AO see it as fight over the spiritual traditions linked to the low and high Anglican traditions in Tasmania. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
All these arguments are characteristic of how people, their traditions, their values, their past, their memories are all rooted in a location and in particular a building like a church.
Other dimensions to the argument
The dualism expressed in the sale of church land and buildings can be likened to the difference between sacred and secular. These two polar opposites are explored in popular culture in the form of music by Nick Cave and others on The Conversation.
Another perspective on this area was aired on ABC Radio Local Sydney in December 2018 by Dr David Newheiser. In the discussion he examined the differences between Christians and aethiests. He maintained that there are strong sentiments in the community around tradition and ritual in the community and if you lose a church you lose all of this.
The binary position of churchgoers and non-churchgoers can also be expressed in ethical terms as the difference between good and evil, or right and wrong, or moral and immoral, just and unjust and so on. This dichotomy has ancient roots dating back to pre-Biblical times across many cultures.
So what does all this mean?
Churches have an important role to play in the construction of place in communities. This role is played out in different ways for different actors in the story.
As far as the dichotomy presented here in the story of the sale of church property and land, there is really no conclusion that satisfies all stakeholders.
There is no right or wrong position to the opposing views between churchgoers and non-churchgoers. The differences remain an unresolved ethical dilemma.
An iconic Camden image of St Johns Anglican Church in the 1890s.