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Camden’s purple haze

A lavender haze – jacarandas in Camden

As you walk around Camden streets you will come across the current flush of purples, mauves, lilac and lavender along Argyle Street, Broughton Street, John Street, and in Macarthur Park.

Jacaranda tree in bloom in Argyle Street Camden outside colonial Commercial Bank building (I Willis, 2020)

People are entranced by the magic of the town’s ‘sea of lavender’ as Peter Butler from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens has described the lavender haze at the Sydney gardens.

Jacarandas cause excitement amongst locals (Macarthur Chronicle, 5 November 2013)

Blooming  jacarandas are regularly featured on  the front page of  local newspapers. (Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition), 5 November 2013)

Blooming jacarandas provide a purple carpet after a November shower and in 2006 caused an unholy fuss in the local press.

What is all the fuss about?

 The Camden Chamber of Commerce proposed the removal and replacement of 33 jacaranda trees in Argyle Street with Manchurian pear trees in 2006. The chamber suggested that shopkeepers ‘take responsibility for their maintenance’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 24  October 2006)

The Argyle Street jacarandas, which were planted in 1927, were showing the effects of age, pollution, compaction and other problems.

The Camden mayor Chris Patterson and Deputy Mayor David Funnell wanted to know if the community supported their replacement. He posed the question in the press: Should Camden Council replace Argyle Street’s jacaranda trees?

The answer was loud and swift.

Mayor Patterson said, ‘People stopped me on the street, rang council and my mobile phone, to give me their views’.

‘The overwhelming response has been the jacarandas should stay but people want council to give them some more love and care’.

Jacaranda blooms in Argyle Street in November (2019 I Willis)

A flood of letters

The Camden press was ‘flooded with letters’ and 90% of ‘our internet poll’ wanted to trees to stay.

Letter writer M Goodwin felt the removal of the trees was ‘frivolous and unnecessary’, and Ian Turner did approve of their removal. Bob Lester had mixed views on the matter, Mrs B Thompson said the council should attend to their health and Kylie Lyons agreed. The sentiment of many was best summarised by L Jones of Cobbitty who said, ‘The jacaranda trees are stunning in full bloom and they should not be replaced’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 31 October 2006)

Camden resident Irene Simms started a petition and council commissioned a report on the state of the trees by arborist David Potts. Maryann Strickling felt that the trees were part of town’s cultural heritage and wrote, ‘The jacarandas in Argyle Street are integral to retaining the heritage of Camden’s landscape’ (Camden Advertiser, 7 November 2006).

The letters in the local press kept coming and a letter from Elizabeth Paparo was headed ‘Purple rain is a part of our history’ and felt ‘When the bloom of the Jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near!’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 14 November 2006)

The Potts report was presented to council in 2007 and stated that the trees were ‘expected to live long and healthy lives’. (Camden Advertiser, 15 August 2007)

The fuss over the trees has continued on and off and in 2018 the a number of local business people organised the Jacaranda Festival that has gained considerable attention in the media.

What is the appeal of jacarandas?

The appeal of the mauve coloured jacaranda was best summarised by the 1868 correspondent for  the Sydney Morning Herald.

This most beautiful flowering tree is a native of Brazil, and no garden of any pretensions can be said to be complete without a plant of it. The specimen in the Botanic garden is well worth a journey of 50 miles to see. Its beautiful rich lavender blossoms, and its light feathery foliage, render it the gem of the season. (SMH 5 December 1868)

The jacaranda first appeared in Sydney around the mid-1860s. The Guardian newspaper has provided a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1865

An account of the Prince of Wales’ birthday celebrations in the Sydney Morning Herald from 10 November 1865 describes admirers observing well-established trees: “Many enjoyed a stroll through the botanic gardens, which show the beneficial effects of the late rain; some of the most beautiful trees are now in luxuriant blossom, in particular the lilac flower of the Jacaranda mimosifolia is an object of much admiration.”

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Macarthur Park (I Willis 2017)

Sydney’s love of Jacaranda mimosifolia

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia, the most common variety in Sydney,

was collected and returned to the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, in about 1818. One early source gives the credit to plant hunter Allan Cunningham, who was sent on from Rio de Janiero to NSW, where he would later serve, briefly, as colonial botanist.

Sydney Living Museum curator Helen Curran writes that the popular of the jacaranda in the Sydney area owes much to the success of landscape designer Michael Guilfoyle ‘solved the problem of propagation’. He gave a paper at the Horticultural Society in 1868 and outlined the lengths he went to solve the problems around growing the trees in Sydney. Guilfoyle’s Exotic Nursery at Double Bay supplied jacarandas to the ‘city’s most fashionable gardens’ and ‘many gardens in the Eastern Suburbs’. The trees became particularly popular by the Interwar period and were flourishing in harbourside gardens across Sydney.

The hospital matron

Curator Helen Curran says that the tree’s popularity is partly explained by Sydney Living Museums

One story credits November’s purple haze to the efforts of a hospital matron who sent each newborn home with a jacaranda seedling. A less romantic explanation lies in the fact the trees were a popular civic planting in the beautification programs of the early 20th century and interwar years, right up to the 1950s and 1960s. 

There are a host of Sydney Living Museum properties that feature a purple and lilac haze in November and they include Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Farm and at Nowra, Meroogal.

Parts of Sydney attract considerable numbers of visitors when the local jacarandas are in bloom.

The Guardian claims that Australia’s love of the jacaranda was an unlikely affair. The ultimate expression of love for the jacaranda is in Grafton NSW and the annual Jacaranda Festival.  

Australia’s first jacarandas

The first jacarandas planted in Australia were grown in Brisbane. Dale Arvidsson from the Brisbane Botanic Garden’s states

the first jacaranda was planted in the city gardens in 1864 by Walter Hill. He says, ‘Plants grown from seeds [or] seedlings from this tree were later sent to Rockhampton and Maryborough Botanic Gardens (Queens Park).  

Jacaranda trees in bloom in Menangle Road Camden (I Willis 2017)

Cultivation

Cultivation of the jacaranda is relatively easy in the climate of Eastern Australia. Wikipedia states

Jacaranda can be propagated from grafting, cuttings and seeds, though plants grown from seeds take a long time to bloom. Jacaranda grows in well-drained soil and tolerates drought and brief spells of frost and freeze.

This genus thrives in full sun and sandy soils, which explains their abundance in warmer climates. Mature plants can survive in colder climates down to −7 °C (19 °F); however, they may not bloom as profusely. Younger plants are more fragile and may not survive in colder climates when temperatures drop below freezing.

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens states:

Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) species is native to Argentina and Bolivia but can survive and perform well in most temperate parts of Australia. Jacarandas are readily grown from freshly fallen seed and can be considered weedy in some areas.

Not so friendly

Yet a word of warning about the lovely and popular purple tree.

In Queensland the jacaranda can escape into the bush and become a weed. It out-competes local native plants and forms thickets below planted species.

Brisbane City Council has listed Jacaranda mimosifolia as one of the top 200 weeds in the city area. In Queensland it was considered naturalised in 1987 escaping domestic gardens.

The species Jacaranda mimosifolia  is considered a weed in many part of New South Wales and is hard to eradicate once established in an area.

The future of the Jacaranda

University of Melbourne botanist Gregory Moore argues that the Jacaranda has a rosy bluey, or maybe indigo, or just purple future in urban Australia. Jacaranda mimosifolia is likely to do particularly under the influence of climate change as it gets ‘warmer and drier in place’. He just urges a little caution in rural areas where they have the potential to become ‘weedy’.

Updated 2 December 2020

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The anchor of confidence – a brutalist addition

Campbelltown City Council 1982 office extensions

On 18 September 1982 the Governor of New South Wales His Excellency Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC opened the new brutalist style office extensions for Campbelltown City Council.

Gosford architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates designed the office extensions and when combined with the 1964 building created one of the most important modernist building precincts in the Macarthur region.

Campbelltown Council Admin Building Open 1982Sept16 Cover lowres
The cover of the official programme at the opening of the new administration building in 1982. (CCC)

Unprecedented growth

Mayor Thomas stated at the official opening that the city had undergone ‘unprecedented’ growth and embraced ‘enormous changes’ since 1964. (Official programme)

The city’s population growth had grown from 24,000 (1963) to 43,000 (1974) and by 1980 was 120,000.

The council’s administration was ‘strained to the limit’, and there was a risk of fragmentation of council departments. To avoid this, the architects recommended a new single building to accommodate council staff.

The architects presented three sites for the council’s consideration: the existing civic centre site;  Camden Road opposite the Campbelltown Catholic Club; and the Macarthur Regional Growth Centre.

Campbelltown Council Admin Buildings 1964 & 1982 Photographer John Nobley CCL 1983
The Campbelltown City Council administration buildings. On the left in the 1964 modernist tower and on the right in the 1982 brutalist extension. The image shows how the architects integrated the design of the 1982 extension on the civic centre site. This image was photographed from Campbelltown Railway Station by John  Nobley in 1983. (CCL Fairfax Collection)

 

Moral obligation

After considering the three options, the council felt that it had a ‘moral obligation’ to the existing Queen Street commercial precinct to remain at the civic centre site.

The new office building would act as an ‘anchor of confidence’, and the site would remain as the northern gateway to the commercial precinct. It would set a standard for future development in the area. (Official programme, 1982)

The council requested that the architects design a ‘four-storey administrative building’ of around  2000m2 with associated pedestrian plaza, landscaping and parking within the civic centre precinct.

In 1980 the civic centre precinct consisted of the 1966 single floor community hall, the 1971 single-storey library building, a single-story women’s rest centre, a service station, the former fire station and two-storey ambulance station. (Official programme, 1982)

For the completion of the project, the council needed to acquire the service station on the corner of Queen and Broughton Streets.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension9 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 brutalist administration building showing the architectural detail and exposed concrete exterior finish to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

Dominant form

The primary design constraint on the civic centre site was the 1964 office tower of 1400m2  containing the council chambers and the administration offices.   (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

The building completely dominated the precinct and was ‘considered as the major visual element in any design’ because of its height’. The architects described it as a “high rise” curtain wall construction with external sun shading’.  (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates felt that new building extension had to integrate with the 1964 office tower in a functional as well as aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension7 2020 IW (3) lowres
The architectural detail of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the exposed concrete finish to the exterior of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The spirit of the past

The architects stated that the design of the new building extensions and its ‘scale, proportion and detailing’ recognised ‘the legacy of the district’ :

‘The “colonial” pitched roof on the new extensions reflects the graceful simplicity of colonial architecture, and the simple proportions, “depth” façade detailing and pitched roof echo the features of “old” Campbelltown buildings’. (Official programme, 1982)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension12 2020 IW (2) lowres
A perspective of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building with the pedestrian plaza in front of the building. The roofline is visible on the top-level of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The building design inspired Mayor Thomas to draw on the past and ‘old Campbelltown’ as an inspiration for his address.

The new building was a metaphor for the area’s pioneering spirit.

The mayor stated that the new building illustrated how the spirit of the Campbelltown pioneers had not ‘suppressed the basic community character of Campbelltown’s early days’.

‘The spirit of the hardy pioneer bred of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today’, he said.

‘The City of Campbelltown has an ancient heritage in terms of the nation’s history, and this is being matched by a vital modern record of achievement’, said the mayor.

Mayor Thomas said

The wisdom and vision of another progressive Governor of this State, Lachlan Macquarie, almost 160 years ago, formed the nucleus of the closely-knit community which continues to grow in size and stature. The spirit of the hardy pioneer breed of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today. (Official programme)

 

 

Scale, proportion and detailing

The new office building was set at the rear of the civic centre site and kept a ‘lower profile to Queen Street, consistent with the general two-storey nature of the older buildings’.  This design provided ‘an intermediate scale’ to help its integration with the existing higher 1964 building.   (Official programme, 1982)

The building materials for the project ensured that the external finish blended ‘aesthetically with existing buildings and landscape and are architecturally pleasing’, and the ‘finishes are dignified, tastefully chosen and dignified’. (Official programme, 1982)

The proposed building used reinforced concrete as the main structural element, with ‘precast concrete with exposed aggregate finish’ to the exterior walls with anodised aluminium window frames.  The internal walls were concrete blockwork with cement rendering.

The new design ‘provide[d] a building of similar bulk possessing a horizontal fenestration opposed the vertical nature of the existing building’ to act as a ‘counterfoil’ to the 1964 office tower. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

At the end of the design phase, the architects believed that the proposed scheme was both ‘aesthetically and materially adequate’ and ‘integrated functionally and aesthetically’ with the civic auditorium. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension5 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the architectural detail and the exposed concrete exterior finish on the building. (I Willis, 2020)

Brutalist style

The monolithic presentation of the office building extension with a rigidly geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete was representative of brutalist-style architecture.

Brutalism grew out of the early 20th-century modernist movement that is sometimes linked with the dynamism and self-confidence of the 1960s. The characteristics of the style are straight lines, small windows, heavy-looking materials, and modular elements with visible structural elements and a monochromic colouring.

The brutalist-style appeared in the post-war years in the United Kingdom and drew inspiration from mid-century modernism. The style became representative of the new town movement and appeared in modernist UK cities like Milton Keynes. Brutalism was common in the Sydney area in the late 1960s and 1970s and an integral part of the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Plan 1973
Consequently, the Campbelltown area has several brutalist-style buildings including Airds High School (1974), Glenquarie Shopping Centre (1975), Campbelltown TAFE College (1981), Macarthur Square (1979), Campbelltown Hospital (1977), and Campbelltown Mall (1984).

 

Conclusions

The new 1982 office extension reflected how the winds of change from population growth had re-shaped the Campbelltown area since the construction of the 1964 modernist office tower.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension4 2020 IW (3) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 Administration building showing the exposed concrete exterior to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the local studies librarians at the Campbelltown City Library in the completion of this blog post.

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The mall hope forgot

The Airds Shopping Centre

Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:

A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.

Airds Shopping Centre redevelopment Macarthur Chroncile 2020Apr1

A sad story of decay and neglect

The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.

The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.

The decay at Airds is not unusual and is symbolic of larger trends in global retailing where shopping malls are in decline.

The current dismal state of affairs hides the fact that in the mid-20th century there was great hope and optimism by Campbelltown’s civic leaders for the area’s development and progress.

Airds Shopping Centre Frontage from Walkway underpass 2020 IW lowres
The front view of the Airds Shopping Centre framed by  the underpass at Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

Progress, development, and modernism

There grand plans for Campbelltown as a satellite city within the New South Wales state government’s County of Cumberland Plan.

Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and in 1968 the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of  Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.

Influenced by the British New Town movement the city was incorporated in the State Planning Authority of NSW’s 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan.  This later became the Macarthur Growth Centre administered by the Macarthur Development Board.

Airds Shopping Centre Front from footpath with grass 2020 IW lowres
The unkempt state of the surrounds at the Airds Shopping Centre in Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

Radburn – a ‘foreign country’

Airds was one of several ‘corridor’ suburbs of public housing that following the American Radburn principles.  The Airds shopping centre was built as part of the 1975 Housing Commission of New South Wales subdivision of ‘Kentlyn’ which was renamed Airds in 1976.

The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates that were developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.

The design concept originated from the town of Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.

Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with the front of the house facing a walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant that there was a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape consisting of rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.

Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb, where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighborhood life without the need for a car.

Airds Shopping Centre Interior Signage 2020 IW lowres
The interior walkway into the middle of the Airds Shopping Centre 2020 (I Willis)

Radburn watered down

The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.

The public housing estates did have extensive open space which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises and the Housing Commission built townhouses that were counter to the  Radburn concept.

The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.

The estates were populated with high numbers of single-parent families who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.

Airds Shopping Centre Interior2 2020 IW lowres
The interior space of the Airds Shopping Centre 2020 (I Willis)

Radburn failures

Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street; anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas; and the low socio-economic status of residents.

The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighborhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of areas of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. Some of these issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.

Airds Shopping Centre Frontage from Walkway 2020 IW lowres
Approaching the front of the Airds Shopping Centre from the underpass at Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

Memories of hope

In the 1970s I taught at Airds High School adjacent to the shopping mall and my memories are mixed. Young people who came from dysfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020) who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:

I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies.  Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.

Fiona tells the story of her sister who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.

Similarly I found Airds school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence that was generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’ and I said that this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.

Bogans galore and more

The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasting with the despair of the 1980s.

The shopping mall is a metaphor for the stereotypes that are bandied around over the geographical term ‘Western Sydney’ and the use of terms like ‘bogan’ and ‘westie’. Typified by Sydney’s latte line where city-based decision-makers dealt with suburbs west of the latte line as a foreign country. In 2013 Campbelltown journalist Jeff McGill took exception to ‘bogan’ characterisation of the Campbelltown area by the Sydney media.

Gabrielle Gwyther put it this way:

Derogatory labeling of residents of western Sydney was aided by the social problems and cheap aesthetic of large-scale, public housing estates developed in the 1950s at Seven Hills, followed by Green Valley and Mount Druitt in the 1960s, and the Radburn estates of Bonnyrigg, Villawood, Claymore, Minto, Airds and Macquarie Fields in the 1970s.

Airds Shopping Centre Gate Entry 2020 IW lowres
The side security gates at the Airds Shopping Centre Riverside Drive Airds 2020 (I Willis)

De-Radburnisation

These failures were acknowledged in 1995 with the state government’s public housing renewal projects and their de-Radburnisation through the Neighbourhood Improvement Program.

At Airds this is partly responsible for the re-development of the shopping centre as outlined in the Macarthur Chronicle.

Updated 17 April 2020; Originally posted 11 April 2020

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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

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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.

Originally posted 19 July 2019. Updated 6 April 2021.

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Newcastle modernism delights

Delights of Newcastle modernism

The CHN blogger has been out and about recently looking around the Civic Park precinct of  Newcastle in the Laman and Auckland Street quarters.

Newcastle is a city of contrasts starting out as a penal settlement in 1801 known as King’s Town  and now  a thriving port with one of the world’s largest coal loaders, located in one of the world’s busiest coal loading ports.

Yet hidden amongst former warehouses and port facilities are some architectural delights in the city centre. Just to prove that what is old is new again in Hunter Street, the city centre’s main roadway spine, that are trams again after an absence of over 60 years.

The city has escaped the high-rise buildings which are the way of Sydney and Melbourne so far because former coal mines undermine the city centre and have provided challenges for modern development.

The city of Newcastle has a number of buildings that are influenced by modernism, some from the interwar period while there others from the mid-20th century.

The CHN blogger’s eyes by capture by a number of  architectural gems starting with the War Memorial Cultural Centre which houses the city library, then NESCA House,  Northumberland House and the façade of the former Salvation Army Men’s Hostel building at the corner Auckland and Gibson Streets, all now part of the University of Newcastle.

 

War Memorial Cultural Centre

Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre Library 2018
The image shows the front of the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre opened in 1957 and  originally home to the city’s library, art gallery and conservatorium of music. The facade is influenced by post-war functionalism and is part of mid-20th century modernism. Designed by NEWMEC consortium of Newcastle architects and built by F Doran and Sons. The centre was part of the post-war vision for a civic square adjacent to the town hall precinct. A number of mature fig trees were removed in Laman Street in early 2000s to public protests. It is currently occupied by the Newcastle Public Library. (I Willis, 2018)

 

NESCA House

Newcastle Nesca House 2018
This is the front entrance of the 1939 Art Deco style NESCA House. The building was the head office of the Newcastle Electric Supply Council Authority which supplied electricity to the Newcastle town area. Designed by eminent Sydney architect Emil Sodersteen – who also designed the Australian War Memorial – and fellow architect John Crust. Sodersteen and Crust were influenced by the ‘new streamlined functionalism’ of European architects. The building was purchased by the University of Newcastle in 1992 and is now known as University House. (I Willis, 2018)

 

 

Northumberland House

Newcastle Northumberland House 2018
This images shows the front of Northumberland House in Auckland Street Newcastle. This is a classical-style entrance portico of a building that is part of architectural style of the mid-20th century modernism. Built in 1951 by prominent Newcastle building JC Davis & Sons and designed by F.G.D. Stone (Chief County Planner)/Rodd and Hay. The building was the head office for the 1948 town planning scheme for the Northumberland County Council modelled on British town planning principles. The building is now part of the University of Newcastle Watt Space Gallery. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Salvation Army Men’s Hostel Facade

Newcastle Conservatorium Rear Facade 2018
This image shows the rear facade of the building at the corner of Auckland and Gibson Street Newcastle. The building was the former Salvation Army Men’s Hostel or People’s Palace which opened in 1928 replacing Lucerna’s terraced gardens. Lucerna was a gentleman’s town residence for Thomas Cook, a wealthy Upper Hunter squatter of Turanville. This site is now the rear of the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of music building. (I Willis, 2018)

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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

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A field of dreams, the Camden district, 1840-1973

It is hard to imagine now but in days gone by the township of Camden was the centre of a large district. The Camden district   became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.

 

The Camden district was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. All joined together by a shared cultural identity and cultural heritage based on common traditions, commemorations, celebrations and rituals. These were re-enforced by personal contact and family kinship networks. The geographers would call this a functional region.

 

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 Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangle into the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. The southern boundary was the Razorback Ridge and in the north it faded out at Bringelly and Leppington.

 

The district grew to about 1200 square kilometre with a population of more than 5000 by the 1930s with farming and mining.  Farming started out with cereal cropping and sheep, which by the end of the 19th century had turned to dairying and mixed farming. Silver mining started in the late 1890s in the Burragorang Valley and coalmining from the 1930s.

 

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The district was centred on Camden and there were a number of villages including Cobbitty, Narellan, The Oaks, Oakdale, Yerranderie, Mt Hunter, Orangeville and Bringelly.  The region was made up of four local government areas – Camden Municipal Council, Wollondilly Shire Council, the southern end of Nepean Shire and the south-western edge of Campbelltown Municipality.

 

Cows and more

Before the Camden district was even an idea the area was the home for ancient Aboriginal culture based on dreamtime stories. The land of the Dharawal, Gundangara and the Dharug.

 

The Europeans turned up in their sailing ships. They brought new technologies, new ideas and new ways of doing things. The First Fleet cows did not think much of their new home in Sydney. They escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932

 

On the discovery of the cows an inquisitive Governor Hunter visited the area and called it the Cow Pasture Plains. The Europeans seized the territory, allocated land grants for themselves and displaced the Indigenous occupants.  They created a new land in their own vision of the world.  A countryside made up of large pseudo-English-style-estates, an English-style common called The Cowpasture Reserve and English government men to work it called convicts. The foundations of the Camden district were set.

 

A river

The Nepean River was at the centre of the Cowpastures and the gatekeeper for the wild cattle.  The Nepean River, which has Aboriginal name of Yandha, was named by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 in honour of Evan Nepean, a British politician.

 

The Nepean River rises in the ancient sandstone country west of the Illawarra Escarpment and Mittagong Range around Robertson. The shallow V-shaped valleys were ideal locations for the dams of the Upper Nepean Scheme that were built on the tributaries to the Nepean, the Cordeaux, Avon, and Cataract.

 

Nepean River Cowpastures

 

The rivers catchment drains in a northerly direction and cuts through deep gorges in the  Douglas Park area. It then emerges out of sandstone country and onto the floodplain around the village of Menangle. The river continues in a northerly direction downstream  to Camden then Cobbitty before re-entering sandstone gorge country around Bents Basin, west of Bringelly.

 

The river floodplain and the surrounding hills provided ideal conditions for the woodland of ironbarks, grey box, wattles and a groundcover of native grasses and herbs.  The woodland ecology loved the clays of Wianamatta shales that are generally away from the floodplain.

 

The ever changing mood of the river has shaped the local landscape.  People forget that the river could be an angry raging flooded torrent, set on a destructive course. Flooding shaped the settlement pattern in the eastern part of the district.

 

Camden Airfield 1943 Flood Macquarie Grove168 [2]
The RAAF Base Camden was located on the Nepean River floodplain. One of the hazards was flooding as shown here in 1943. The town of Camden is shown on the far side of the flooded river. (Camden Museum)
 

A village is born

The river ford at the Nepean River crossing provided the location of the new village of Camden established by the Macarthur brothers, James and William. They planned the settlement on their estate of Camden Park in the 1830s and sold the first township lots in 1840. The village became the transport node for the district and developed into the main commercial and financial centre in the area.

 

Camden St Johns Vista from Mac Pk 1910 Postcard Camden Images
Vista of St Johns Church from the Nepean River Floodplain 1910 Postcard (Camden Images)

 

Rural activity was concentrated on the new village of Camden. There were weekly livestock auctions, the annual agricultural show and the provision of a wide range of services. The town was the centre of law enforcement, health, education, communications and other services.

 

The community voluntary sector started under the direction of mentor James Macarthur. His family also determined the moral tone of the village by sponsoring local churches and endowing the villagers with parkland.

 

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

 

Manufacturing had a presence with a milk factory, a timber mill and a tweed mill in Edward Street that burnt down.   Bakers and general merchants had customers as far away as the  Burragorang Valley, Picton and Leppington and the town was the publishing centre for weekly newspapers.

 

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis

 

The Hume Highway, formerly the Great South Road, ran through the town from the 1920s and brought the outside forces of modernism, consumerism, motoring, movies and the new-fangled-flying machines at the airfield.  This re-enforced the centrality of the market town as the commercial capital of the district.

 

Burragorang Valley

In the western extremities of the district there were the rugged mountains that made up the picturesque Burragorang Valley. Its deep gorges carried the Coxes, Wollondilly and Warragamba Rivers.

 

Burragorang Valley Nattai Wollondilly River 1910 WHP
The majestic cliffs and Gothic beauty of the Burragorang Valley on the edges of the Wollondilly River in 1910 (WHP)

 

 

Access was always difficult from the time that the Europeans discovered its majestic beauty. The Jump Up at Nattai was infamous from the time of Macquarie’s visit in 1815.  The valley became an economic driver of the district supplying silver and coal that was hidden the dark recesses of the gorges. The Gothic landscape attracted tourists to sup the valley’s hypnotic beauty who stayed in one of the many guesthouses.

 

Burragorang V BVHouse 1920s TOHS
Guesthouses were very popular with tourists to the Burragorang Valley before the valley was flooded after the construction of Warragamba Dam. Here showing Burragorang Valley House in the 1920s (The Oaks Historical Society)

 

 

The outside world was linked to the valley through the Camden railhead and the daily Camden mail coach from the 1890s. Later replaced by a mail car and bus.

 

Romancing the landscape

The district landscape was romanticised over the decades by writers, artists, poets and others. The area’s Englishness  was first recognised in the 1820s.   The district was branded as a ‘Little England’ most famously during the 1927 visit of the Duchess of York when she compared the area to her home.

 

The valley was popular with writers. In the 1950s one old timer, an original Burragoranger, Claude N Lee wrote about the valley in ‘An Old-Timer at Burragorang Look-out’. He wrote:

Yes. this is a good lookout. mate,

What memories it recalls …

For all those miles of water.

Sure he doesn’t care a damn;

He sees the same old valley still,

Through eyes now moist and dim

The lovely fertile valley

That, for years, was home to him.

 

 

Camden John St (1)
St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

 

By the 1980s the Sydney urban octopus had started to strangle the country town and some yearned for the old days. They created a  country town idyll.  In 2007 local singer song-writer Jessie Fairweather penned  ‘Still My Country Home’. She wrote:

When I wake up,

I find myself at ease,

As I walk outside I hear the birds,

They’re singing in the trees.

Any then maybe

Just another day

But to me I can’t have it any other way,

Cause no matter when I roam

I know that Camden’s still my country home.

 

 

The end of a district and the birth of a region

The seeds of the destruction of the Camden district were laid as early as the 1940s with the decision to flood the valley with the construction of the Warragamba Dam. The Camden railhead was closed in the early 1960s and the Hume Highway moved out of the town centre in the early 1970s.

 

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

 

A new regionalism was born in the late 1940s with the creation of the  federal electorate of  Macarthur, then strengthened by a new regional weekly newspaper, The Macarthur Advertiser, in the 1950s.   The government sponsored and ill-fated Macarthur Growth Centre of the early 1970s aided regional growth and heralded the arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

 

Today Macarthur regionalism is entrenched with government and  business branding in a area defined as by the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.  The Camden district has become a distant memory with remnants dotting the landscape and reminding us of the past.

 

CoverBook[2]
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
 

Architecture · Art · Attachment to place · Communications · community identity · Entertainment · Fashion · Goulburn · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Local History · Local newspapers · Newspapers · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Victorian

Modernism and a country newspaper office

There is nothing quite like experiencing history in the field to gather a feel for a place. Walking the ground provides a perspective for historians that cannot be gained by staying in the archive. Such is my experience of Goulburn. The inland city Goulburn was one of the most important rural centres in 19th century New South Wales.

 

Goulburn Auburn St 2018[2] lowres
A street view of the central business of Goulburn in Auburn Street showing the Victorian grandeur of the Goulburn Post Office built 1880-1881 (I Willis, 2018)
 The world seems to have passed the town by with its eclectic collection of building style – Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar and post-war.    Tucked around every corner there is a new surprise – Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals, the imposing railway station, a grand Victorian post-office and an imposing courthouse that would have certainly made a statement about law and order in 19th century Goulburn.   Another world away from the present.

Goulburn Modernism

Hidden in plain sight in Auburn Street, Goulburn’s main street, amongst this imposing Victorian grandeur are a number of Interwar buildings.   Modernism in the 20th century is represented by the CML building and the small office of the local newspaper. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post building at 199 Auburn Street Goulburn was built in 1935.  The newspaper office reflected a confidence in the future of Goulburn. A statement about the town.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 lowres
The new 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post in Art-Deco styling showing the beacon with the lamp on top above the newspaper signage (I Willis, 2018)

The Daniels family, who owned the Penny Post, were part of the country press barons who ruled  their rural media empires with an iron fist. Families liked the Sommerlads of the New England, the Sidmans of the Macarthur region, the Shakespeare family of the mid-west, the Robinsons in the Hunter, the Parkers of the mid-west, the Musgraves of Wollongong, the Motts of Albury and a host of others.

The newspaper landscape in Goulburn

Goulburn was a vibrant colonial newspaper landscape reflecting a prosperous colonial pastoral economy. While the Goulburn had a literate population it was still a frontier town. Publishers were self-made men, editors as well.  Colonial New South Wales was a rugged and robust publishing environment  – a boom and bust cycle.

The first newspaper in the town was the Goulburn Herald in 1848. By the 1920s 21 separate newspaper mastheads had come and gone in Goulburn.  The Interwar period appears to have been a prosperous time for the New South Wales country press. According to Rod Kirkpatrick’s Country Conscience, there were 238 titles published in 1920, which was only slightly reduced to 221 in 1930.

 

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopfrontdoors lowres
The front entrance of the Art-Deco style 1935 newspaper building showing the chromium and Carrara glass of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post (I Willis, 2018)

The first issue of the Penny Post in 1870 was produced under the cumbersome masthead of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post and Southern Counties General Advertiser as a short tabloid (11 x 14 inches) of 4pp. By 1930 the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was the last standing.

Goulburn society was driven by its religious zeal and the city even had 3 religious publications. They  were: The Goulburn Banner (1848 – Presbyterian), the Monthly Paper (1893 – Church of England) and Our Cathedral Chimes (1920s – Roman Catholic).

A special edition celebrates the new office building

The December 1935 edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post that celebrated the opening of the new office building. The edition was 36pp with most of the editorial space taken over by recounting the history of the Goulburn township and area. At the time the Post was a daily, Monday to Friday, which incorporated The Goulburn Daily Herald with a cover price of one penny.

 

Goulburn Penny Post 1935 Dec128
A special edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post for 18 December 1935 celebrating the opening of the new Art-Deco style newspaper office. (NLA)

 

Staff photographs

Goulburn Evening Post Staff 1935 GEP[2]
Goulburn Evening Post Staff 1935 (GEP, 1935) (Image supplied by Paul Titheradge )
 

 

Goulburn Evening Post Staff 2016 Evening Post Staff Paul Titheradge
Goulburn Evening Post 1965 Staff Photo of Management, Editorial and Production Staff. Amongst the staff are Reg Martin, Mark Collier (Linotype Operators), Paul Titheradge (supplied image), Vern Daniel, Col Daniel. (GEP, 1965)

 

Architect LP Burns

The anniversary edition of the  ran an article with headline ‘Inside A Modern Country Newspaper Office’. The Sydney architect LP Burns designed an office building which was described as a ‘fine, modern building’  of ‘distinction’ in a ‘modern’ style.

Burns also designed Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers at 17 Montague Street in 1934. It is described  as one of the first buildings in Australia to use coloured polychrome terracotta in its façade which features a fine relief of birds, flowers, leaves and typical Art Deco sunbursts under the windows. The building was designed for wealthy pastoralist FG Leahy.

Goulburn Elmslea Chambers 17 Montague St des. LP Burns 1934
Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers at 17 Montague Street Goulburn designed by Sydney architect LP Burns in 1934 (Pinterest)

The front of Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers was Wunderlich terra cotta polychrome panels and the Building Magazine claimed that ‘Goulburn [had] never before seen a block of offices of such a lavish and commodious nature’. The building interior had Silky Oak panelling  with Tasmanian Oak inlay, with chromium light fittings with frosted green glass. The builders were Armstrong and Stidwell.

The newspaper building design

The new building of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was an example of sleek Art-Deco styling. A stripped back minimalism of the realities of the commercial world – a no-nonsense, business-like, functional and matter of fact. Just like the owners and editors.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopfront lowres
The shopfront of the 1935 newspaper office building for the Goulburn Evening Penny Post showing the Art-Deco styling of chromium and Carrara glass windows (I Willis, 2018)

Art-deco styling was expression of modernism – sleek, fast, stripped back, not frilly like the Victorian frippery, not tizzy – reminiscent of the world of the railways, movies, motor cars, ocean liners, aeroplanes, consumerism, fashions, wireless. The influences coming down the Hume Highway to Goulburn. The building conveys a powerful statement about the Interwar period in Goulburn.

The Penny Post article on the newspaper office made special mention of the beacon with the lamp on top which made it different from other commercial buildings and with the shopfront Carrara glass. The journalist writing the story was keen to assure the readers that the Carrara glass front was ‘pleasing and harmonious’ and emphasised to the readers that using this type of glass could give a ‘creeping appearance of extravagance’.

Carrara glass was developed in the USA. It was a high-strength coloured glass and used globally in Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings. Carrara glass was usually white or blue-gray which resembled the high quality Carrara marble from Tuscany in Italy. The pigmented glass was an acceptable low-cost alternative building material.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopinterior lowres[3]
The interior public foyer area of the 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post with timber paneling probably Silky Oak which was popular at the time (I Willis, 2018)
 The building frontage according to the 1935 press reports was marked by its ‘judicious display’ and ‘would attract attention in any of Sydney’s busiest streets’. The first floor of the building contained the newspaper’s editorial offices and a large strong room where the newspaper archives were kept. The report continued stating that the building was centrally heated by steam including the composing and machinery rooms. This would, it was maintained, be greatly appreciated by the newspapers employees.

The printing presses were at the rear of the building and the newsroom in the centre while the retail shopfront area dealt with advertisers and local folk buying the newspaper.   There was a staff of over 20 journalists, compositors, printers, editors, clerical and retail support. These staff were witness to the daily life of the town as it passed through the doors of the newspaper office.

History in plain sight

Today the Goulburn Post building is evocative of a time when print media was king. Walking into the 1935 Penny Post  office is like stepping back into the past. Into a world that has disappeared, best illustrated currently by the US movie The Post. The movie explores the buzz of the newsroom at the Washington Post and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers during the heyday of the Vietnam War. When print was king.

While the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was not a large metro daily it is easy to visualize the hive of activity in the newsroom and printing shop. The approaching print deadlines and the smoke-filled rooms amongst the evocative timber paneled rooms throughout the building.

 

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 shopinterior lowres
The interior public foyer area of the 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post showing the Art-Deco style light fittings and timber paneling which is throughout the building (I Willis, 2018)

The fabric of the building is still largely intact and retains its integrity, charm and character. The building reveals the layers of history to those who care to take a look. The building has escaped any major renovations and the building structure is as it was in 1935. If these walls could talk they would tell many great yarns of hard-bitten country press barons, editors and journos.

It is easy to image the smell of the printers’ ink; the whir of the printing presses; the buzz of the newsroom; the clacking of typewriters; and babble of conversations at the front desk with advertisers, stock and station agents, and wool merchants. The newspaper was the heartbeat of the town and the ink and newsprint flowed through arteries and veins of the community.

 

Goulburn Post newspaper Office 1935 plaque lowres
The 1993 commemorative plaque on the front of the 1935 newspaper office of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post opened by the local member of parliament. (I Willis, 2018)

Today’s newspaper

The current Goulburn Post, the offspring of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post, is still is located in the 1935 building. It is the hub for 10 mastheads within the Fairfax Media. Goulburn Post editor Ainsleigh Sheridan says that the newspaper is about creating community history. She would concur with the former president and publisher of the Washington Post, Phillip Graham, who is credited with saying that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history’ in 1997.

The Goulburn Post is a tri-weekly masthead and is just one of the Fairfax Media group that is produced in the building. The Post is co-ordinated in the Auburn Street office and then sent online to Canberra for printing. In the past printing was done on-site in the back of the Auburn Street building. The current building has issues with fire regulations that did not exist in 1935 and the upstairs area is not currently in use.

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‘Remaking Cities’, a conference with a heady mix of urban delights

Melbourne’s RMIT University Centre for Urban Research and its bluestone campus proved a thought provoking site when it hosted the 14th Urban History Planning History Biennial Conference ‘Remaking Cities’ in 2018.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Magistrates Court RMIT
A view of the Magistrate Court building at the UHPH Conference 2018 RMIT University at the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets Melbourne. The city watch-house, used for holding alleged offenders until they were officially remanded or released on bail, operated on the site next to the Magistrates’ Court from 1892.  (I Willis, 2018)

 

The eclectic mix of architecture at the RMIT La Trobe Street Campus ranged from venues that were located in magnificent Victorian colonial building used for the administration of justice to those that were examples of ultra-modern late 20th century style of architecture.

The venues were an inspiring setting for the discussion of the lofty ideas surrounding an array of urban issues. From the former Melbourne Magistrates’ Court (1842) and City Watch-house Russell Street (1892), Melbourne,  and the Francis Ormond Building which was formerly the Working Men’s College (1886) and the adjoining Supreme Court building (1890).

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Magistrates Court Room RMIT
A view of one of the court rooms at the Magistrates Court Building RMIT University where some of the conference sessions were held during the conference. These court rooms provided a dramatic backdrop to the host of papers presented by conference delegates across the three day conference. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The Storey Meeting Hall of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (1887) has been remade in modern form reliving its iconography as an important symbol of Melbourne’s social and political protest movement.

Morning and afternoon teas were taken in the alumni courtyard, which was previously the car park of the Russell Street Police Headquarters. The venue provided food for thought located next door to the Old Melbourne Gaol (1842).  If these bluestone walls could speak they would tell harrowing tales from the the colourful past of the site.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Alumni Courtyard RMIT
A view of the Alumni Courtyard at RMIT University where the conference catering for morning and afternoon tea were held. The view of Melbourne city in the distance provides a contrast of urban development and growth for delegates. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The conference theme of ‘Remaking Cities’ was inspired by Melbourne as an exemplar of cities that are continually remade. Melbourne was a manufacturing centre, a site of land speculation and a place re-made on the land management practices of the Kulin nation.

The process of re-making Melbourne is underpinned by the processes of settler colonialism, speculation and taking of territory. These factors cast a long shadow of how a shared future might be achieved and the role of the planning processes within these processes.

Industrial growth and development are themes that have been central to the Australia’s nineteenth-century cities, including Melbourne, and their subsequent decline by the late 20th century. The post-manufacturing period provides a whole new set of challenges for cities like Melbourne as the financial, service and cultural sectors drive urban growth.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Courtyard Francis Ormond Bldy RMIT
A view of the courtyard in the Francis Ormond Building at the RMIT University. The Francis Ormond Building is on the Register of the National Estate, classified by the National Trust, and designated a ‘notable building’ in the Melbourne City Council planning scheme.  (I Willis, 2018)

 

The three day conference provided a forum where keynote speakers and delegates struck a workable balance between the scholarly and the practitioner. The keynote speakers were: Kate Torney, CEO State Library of Victoria; Cathie Oats, Trove director of digital services; Jefa Greenaway, director of Greenaway Architects; Chris Gibson, Professor of Human Geography at UOW; Ben Shrader, author and historian from Wellington, NZ; John Masanauskas, City Editor of Herald Sun.

This was a heady mix that was matched by the mix of 72 presentations from scholars, practitioners and community members  across three separate streams. Delegates came from interstate and overseas (New Zealand) with a strong contingent of local Melbournites.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 330 Swanton St Bldg RMIT
A view of some of the post-modern artwork at 330 Swanston Street, RMIT University, Building 22. The campus has much to offer the enthusiast for this style of architecture in the university setting. (I Willis, 2018)

 

There were sessions ranging from: planning histories; postwar campus; heritage; land speculation; music; maps; housing; rivers and wetlands; parks and gardens; museums; governance; transport; commerce; streetscapes; quarries; urban agriculture and food systems; placemaking; to Indigenous planning and policy.

Camden historian and CHN blogger Ian Willis presented a paper called ‘Utopia or dystopia, a contested space on Sydney’s urban frontier’.

The conference organising committee put out a book of abstracts and will publish the conference proceedings later this year.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Francis Ormond Bldg RMIT
A view of the Francis Ormond Building with the Pearson and Murphy’s Cafe in the foreground where patrons can take in the atmospherics offered by the Victorian style architecture while enjoying their coffee. The cafe was named after Charles Henry Pearson and William Emmett Murphy, who were key players in the original foundation of RMIT as the Working Men’s College back in 1887. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The conference reception and dinner were held at The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street. The bluestone walls are rich in meaning from the 133 hangings on the site and the execution in 1842 of two Palawa brought to Victoria from Van Dieman’s Land by GA Robinson: Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener.  

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Melbourne Gaol Signage
The entrance of The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street Melbourne. Daily tours of the museum are well worth the effort where the visitor can view the cells and take in the atmospherics and witness Ned Kelly’s gallows. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Delegates were invited to dine beneath the gallows that famously ended the life of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880. Kelly is certainly one of the icons of Australian history and has inspired poetry, song, film, art and literature. He has variously been called a bushranger, larrikin, bushman, underdog and arguably an anarchist. The venue was heavy with the atmospherics of its history and delegates could wander in and out of the cells where they could walk the ground from the past.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Melbourne Gaol Dinner
The venue for the conference reception and dinner was The Old Melbourne Gaol. The venue reeks of atmosphere and for the ghoulish it is a ready site for investigating ghosts of the 133 who were hanged on the site from 1842. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The bluestone walls provided a ghoulish backdrop to the sounds of Melbourne trio The Orbweavers.

The conference organising committee are to be complemented on doing a grand job.