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

 Campbelltown Council Administration Building

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

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

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

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

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

 

A metaphor for a community on the move

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Campbelltown’s future assured says Deputy Premier at official opening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Storm clouds gather of the planning horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An important local icon

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

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

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

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

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

 

A moderne architectural gem

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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Hope, heritage and a sense of place – an English village in the Cowpastures

Camden Heritage Conservation Area

In 2006 Camden Council designated the Camden town centre as a  Heritage Conservation Area, and later incorporated it in the  2010 Local Environment Plan. A heritage conservation zoning, according to Camden Council, is :

 an area that has historic significance… [and]… in which historical origins and relationships between the various elements create a sense of place that is worth keeping.

Map Camden Town Centre HCA LEP 2010 CRAG
Map of the Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area from 2010 Local Environment Plan. (Taken from 2016 Camden Residents Action Group Submission for State Listing)

 

Historic significance

Several writers have offered observations on Camden’s historical significance.

Historian Ken Cable argued in the 2004 Draft Heritage Report prepared by Sydney Architects Tropman and Tropman that: Camden town is a significant landmark in the LGA.  

In 2006 Sydney architect Hector Abrahams stated that Camden was ‘the best-preserved rural town in the entire Cumberland Plain’ (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Hector Abrahams -best preserved- Camden Advertiser 2006 Jun28
Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

 

Historian Alan Atkinson has argued that Camden is ‘a profoundly important place’, while historian Grace Karskins maintains that ‘Camden is an astonishingly intact survival of early colonial Australia’.  

 

Sense of place

In the early 20th century poets, artists and writers waxed lyrical that the town was like ‘a little England’.

Camden Council documents stress the importance of rural nature of the town for the community’s sense of place and community identity.

Camden Aerial 1940 CIPP
An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

 

This is quite a diverse range of views.

This blog post will look at the historical elements that have contributed to the town’s sense of place, and ultimately its historical significance.

While none of these elements is new, this is the first time they have been presented this way.

 

A private venture of Englishmen James and William Macarthur

The village was a private development of Englishmen James and William Macarthur on the family property of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had their private-venture village of Camden approved in 1835, the street plan drawn up (1836) and the first sale of land in 1841.  All within the limits of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had another private venture village at Taralga on Richlands and Menangle on Camden Park Estate.

Camden James Macarthur Belgenny
James Macarthur (Belgenny Farm)

Creation of a little English village

The notion of an English-style village on the family estate must have been an enticing possibility for the Macarthur brothers.

In the Camden village, James and William Macarthur named streets after themselves and their supporters. They include John Street, Macarthur Road, Elizabeth Street, Edward Street, Broughton Street, Exeter Street, Oxley Street, Mitchell Street. The Macarthur family and funded the construction of St John’s church on the hill and donated the surrounding curtilage.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The Macarthur brothers created vistas from the family’s Georgian hilltop Georgian mansion across the Cowpastures countryside to their Gothic-style village church.

The Englishness of the Camden village entranced many visitors and locals, including artists and writers. On a visit in 1927, the Duchess of York claimed that the area was ‘like England.’

 

Strategic river crossing into the Cowpastures

The village was strategically located at the Nepean River ford where the first Europeans crossed the river. By the 1820s the river crossing was the main entry point to Macarthur brothers’ Camden Park Estate, the largest gentry property in the area.

The situation of the village on the Great South Road re-enforced the Macarthur brothers economic and social authority over the countryside.

The river crossing was one of the two northern entry points to their realm of Camden Park Estate, the other being at the Menangle.  Menangle later became another private estate village.

The Macarthur village of Camden would secure the northern entry to the family’s Camden Park estate where the Great South Road entered their property. By 1826 the river ford was the site of the first toll bridge in the area.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP
Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

 

None of this was new as the river crossing had been the entry into the Cowpastures reserve declared by Governor King in 1803. The site was marked by the police hut in the government reserve at the end of the Cowpasture track from Prospect.

 

English place names, an act of dispossession

The Camden village was part of the British imperial practice of placing English names on the landscape. The name of the village is English as is the gentry estate within which it was located – Camden Park.

English place names were used in the area from 1796 when Governor Hunter names the site the Cow Pastures Plain. The Cowpastures was a common grazing land near a village.

Naming is a political act of possession, or dispossession, and is an active part of settler colonialism.

Camden Signage
The Camden sign on the entry to the town centre at Kirkham Reserve on Camden Valley Way formerly The Great South Road and Hume Highway. (I Willis)

 

The Cowpastures was a meeting ground in between the  Dharawal, the Dharug and the Gundungurra people. The area was variously known as ‘Baragil’ (Baragal)’ or Benkennie (dry land).

Indigenous names were generally suppressed by English placenames until recent decades.

Initially, the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures that escaped from the Sydney colony in 1788 occupied the meadows of the Nepean River floodplain.

The Cowpastures became a contested site on the colonial frontier.

 

Dispossession in the English meadows of the Cowpastures

The foundation of the Macarthur private village venture was part of the British colonial settler project.

The first Europeans were driven by Britain’s imperial ambitions and the settler-colonial project and could see the economic possibilities of the countryside.

Under the aims of the colonial settler project, as outlined by Patrick Wolfe and later LeFevre, the new Europeans sought to replace the original population of the colonised territory with a new group of settlers.

Hunter’s naming of the Cowpastures was the first act of expropriation. Further dispossession occurred with the government reserve, and later Governor Macquarie created the government village of Cawdor in the centre of the Cowpastures.

Art Governor Macquarie SLNSW
Governor Macquarie SLNSW

 

The Europeans seized territory by grant and purchase and imposed more English place names in the countryside, and created a landscape that mirrored the familiarity of England.

The colonial settlers brought Enlightenment notions of progress in their search for some kind of utopia.

 

Cowpasture patriarchs

The Macarthur private venture village was located in a landscape of self-style English gentry, and their estates interspersed with several small villages.

The gentry estates and their homestead and farm complex were English style village communities. One of the earliest was Denbigh (1818).

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

 

The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.

The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.

The Cowpasture colonial elite created a bunyip aristocracy and styled themselves on the English gentry.

On the left bank of the Nepean River were the gentry estates of Camden Park along with Brownlow Hill. On the right bank were the gentry properties of Macquarie Grove, Elderslie, Kirkham and Denbigh and several smallholders.

The ideal society for the colonial gentry included village communities. To foster their view of the world, the Europeans created the small village of Cobbitty around the Hassall family’s private Heber Chapel.

The village of Stonequarry was growing at the southern limits of the Cowpastures at the creek crossing on the Great South Road.  The village was located on the Antil’s Jarvisfield and later renamed Picton in the 1840s.

The picturesque Cowpastures countryside greeted the newly arrived Englishmen John Hawdon from County Durham. In 1828 Hawdon became the first person to put in writing that the Cowpastures area reminded him of the English countryside when he wrote a letter home.

 

The progress and development of the country town

The Enlightenment view of progress influenced the Macarthur’s vision for their Camden village. They sought to create an ideal village community of yeoman farmers and sponsored self-improvement community organisation including the School of Arts.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP
Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP

 

Within the Macarthur fiefdom, former estate workers became townsmen, took up civic duties and ran successful businesses.

The village of Camden prospered, became a thriving market town and the economic hub of a growing district.

The architectural styles of the town centre shine a light on the progress and development of the Macarthur village. The architectural forms include  Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar moderne, Mid-20th century modern, and Post-modern.

The town centre served a host of functions for the community that are indicated by the types of land use in a country town. These include commercial, government, open space, industrial, transport, residential, religious, agricultural, amongst others.

 

The country town idyll and the appearance of heritage

Since the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Appin, Campbelltown and Camden there has been increased interest in the cultural heritage of the town centre. This is the first appearance of the influence of post-modernism in the Camden story.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown Camden Airds 1973
John Wrigley conducted the first heritage study of the Camden town centre in 1985 for the Camden Historical Society.

Urban growth and the loss of rural countryside has encouraged a nostalgic desire for the past. This process had led to the evolution of the Camden, the country town idyll.

The heritage of the town centre is what the community values from the past that exists in the present. It is made up of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The town centre story can is a timeline with many side shoots or a tree with the main stem and many branches.

 

Camden time traveller and the town centre

The living history of the town centre is evident at every turn. At every corner. A visitor can be a time-traveller into the past. A view along the main street is a view into the past.

There are many locations in our local area where a person can be a time-traveller into the past. The traveller can be a participant in the area’s living history, ‘simply by being present’.

One of these sites is the commanding view from the hilltop at St John’s church. Here the traveller can view the Cowpasture countryside that nestles the Camden town centre within its grasp.

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

Memories of hope

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.

Airds Fiona Woods School sisters
Airds Fiona Woods School sisters (F Woods)

 

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.

There are linkages between memory and storytelling.  Each is full of meaning.

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

Fiona Woods

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.

Airds Fiona Woods and brother
Fiona Woods and brother (F Woods)

 

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.

Airds Fiona Woods Kids Airds
Fiona Woods Kids Airds (F Woods)

 

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.

Airds Shopping Centre Interior3 2020 Aust247
Airds Shopping Centre 2020 (I Willis)

 

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.

Airds Fiona Woods Family pic
Airds Fiona Woods Family pic (F Woods)

 

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.


Comments to re-publication of the post on South West Voice Facebook page  5 May 2020

  • Daniel Draper Fantastic 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 Ward What 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 Egan Love 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.
    1 reply
  • Leonie Chapman What 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

Comments on Fiona’s Facebook page

Fiona Woods  writes

30 April

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 

Comments

Tracey Seal Wagstaff Thank 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 Pink Great story and well deserved recognition Fi. Congratulations mate.

Linda Hunt Oh 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.
Congratulations. X

Jowen Hillyer How clever are you? Gorgeous words xx
Patricia O’Brien Absolutely 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.
Stephen Chomicz Inspiring
Jen Nay Beautiful story Fiona Woods
Jowen Hillyer Aww lovely. Great job xxx
Deborah Littlewood Oh 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 Littlewood Fiona 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 Neville Naw, that was beautiful x
I was a housing commission kid too! I remember that we had a blue fridge!
Merrideth McGregor Beautifully written ❤️ love it x
Jeff Williams Pretty 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 Spratford Jeff 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 😉
Judi Wood Wonderful story; thanks for sharing 🏆
Ann Hawkins Beautiful Fiona
Cass Bien Beautiful! 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 Airs Great story showing what family, community and education can achieve.
Melissa Salter Beautiful 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
Jeffrey R Williams Well done. Mum and I are so proud 😤 of you. Love 😍 ya heaps.
Fiona Woods Jeffrey 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 😂
Kim Pike Inspiring and great story 🏅👏
Noleen Spencer Great 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 .
Christine Quensell Loved reading your story Fiona. Thank you for sharing.
Shane Campbell Great story and great family …
Bec Brown This is wonderful Fi. Beautifully told and very inspiring. Love you my friend x
Kristy Sorouni Awesome. 👏
Very powerful and inspiring, love you xx
Cam Maber Beautiful story Fiona. Thankyou so much for sharing..♥️
Julie Douglas Love this, Fiona ❤️
Louise Counsell That was moving. Your family was so rich in the things that mattered
Cathy Harle Fiona, 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 Ian Beautiful 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 Borg I 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 Axe Will 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 Lou Thank you for sharing this. An inspiring story with some aspects that remind me of my own childhood. ❤️
Michelle Halloran Love 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 Compton That 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
Fiona Maureen That was such a nice read. Good to get to know you more. ☺️
Yvette Underwood Torr That is wonderful. Your parents did an amazing job.

Originally posted 30 April 2020

Updated 19 June 2020
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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 (IW)

 

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 (IW)

 

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 (IW)

 

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 (IW)

 

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 (IW)

 

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 disfunctional 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 (IW)

 

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