Camden · Colonial Camden · Uncategorized

Camden dreamtime

Camden's John Street with St John's Church 1890s (Camden Images)
Camden’s John Street with St John’s Church 1890s (Camden Images)

Sydney’s urban expansion into the local area has challenged the community’s identity and threatened to suffocate Camden’s sense of place. In the face of this onslaught many in Camden yearn for a lost past when Sydney was further away, times were simpler, and life was slower. A type of rural arcadia, which I have called ‘a country town idyll’.

The ‘country town idyll’ is defined as an idealised version of a country town from an imagined past which uses history to construct imagery based on Camden’s heritage buildings and other material fabric.  At the heart of the idyll is the view that Camden should retain its iconic imagery of a picturesque country town with the church on the hill, surrounded by a rustic rural landscape made up of the landed estates of the colonial gentry.  The idyll has been created by its supporters in an attempt to isolate Camden, like an island, in the sea of urbanisation and development that has enveloped the town.

These are the values that the supporters of Camden’s ‘country town idyll’ have encouraged and then expressed in the language they used to describe it. They  talk about the  retention of Camden’s ‘country town atmosphere’, or retaining ‘Camden’s country charm’, or ‘country town character’. They describe the town as being ‘picturesque’, or having ‘charming cottages’. To them Camden is  ‘a working country town’, or is simply ‘my country town’.   These  elements are evocative of an emotional attachment to a place that existed in the past, when  Camden was a small quiet country town that relied on  farming for its existence.

The origins of the ‘country town idyll’ are to be found in the rural ethos that is  drawn from within the nineteenth century rural traditions brought from Great Britain, where there was a romantic view of the country, that had an ordered, stable, comfortable organic small community in harmony with the natural surroundings. Elements of this rural culture have been variously described as ‘countrymindedness’,  ‘rural ideology’,  ‘rural ethos’, ‘ruralism’, and a ‘rural idyll’. They have been a pre-occupation of many scholars, including contemporary writers, like the Australian poet Les Murray.

Within this tradition there  is an Arcadian notion of  a romantic view of rural life where there is  a distinction drawn between the metropolis and the village, commonly known as the  town/country divide. This was the essence of pre-war Camden (a town of around 2000) where rural culture  provided the stability  of a closed community which was suspicious of outsiders, especially those from the city, with life ordered by social rank, personal contacts and familial links. It was confined by conservatism, patriarchy and an Anglo-centric view of the world.

Read more

Advertisements