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’.
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.