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A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5

 

In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.

These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.

Tompson-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-Cover_lowres
Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson. ‘The  Cow-Pastures, Camden Park’ William McLeod. c1886.

 

Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.

Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.

Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.

A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).

Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)

Tompson Book Back Cover Camden sketch 1857-lowres
Back Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes Charles Tompson. Sketch of Camden, HG Lloyd, 1857 (SLNSW)

 

The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)

The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.

The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.

Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were  not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture.  Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)

TompsonCharles-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-lowres

 

The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)

The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).

Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.

Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)

The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)

Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)

The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)

Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.

Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.

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A lost Gothic fantasy

The Burragorang Valley

The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of the imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create powerful memories and nostalgia for many  people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger yet at the same time places of incredible beauty.

One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:

The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent  water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small  compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley  is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of  this beautiful area  – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.

Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years and this prompted to create a number of works of arts. She writes that it is a

 It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.

Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.

Art Burragorang Valley Robyn Collier 2019
Lake Burragorang behind Warragamba Dam still has some a hint of the Gothic elements of the pre-flooded valley of the 1950s (R Collier)

 

In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:

In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.

Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.

The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley

Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that

The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’

The American Gothic novel was characterized by murder, mystery, horror and hauntings.

Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals that were build across Europe between 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meaning to the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the powerful grandeur of these buildings.

Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.

It is these characteristics that can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breath-taking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.

The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folk over the years and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.

Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here one image that expresses some of these characteristic of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:

Burragorang V Wollondilly River SLV
The Burragorang Valley and the Wollondilly River (SLV)

 

The many visitors to the Valley were attracted by the Gothic elements within the landscape. One example from 1941:

Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers 1941
Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers standing in the Wollondilly River in 1941

 

It is these characteristics that made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many of the Europeans settlers built guesthouses and accommodation for visitors from Sydney and beyond.

The Oaks Historical Society has captured some of these stories in its recently published newsletter.

The Oaks Newsletter Cover 2019Sept
The story of the Burragorang Valley on the cover The Oaks Historical Society Newsletter September 2019
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Living history in southern Queensland

Out and about in southern Queensland

The CHN blogger was out and about in southern Queensland recently and investigated some of the local aspects of living history.

The CHN blogger was drawn to southern Queensland by the Australian Historical Association Conference held at Toowoomba in early July. The conference was stimulating and challenging and the hosts provided a great venue at the Empire Theatre complex.

Toowoomba

The Toowoomba area provided a number of  examples of living history starting with the Cobb & Co Museum complex. Apart from the displays there is training in traditional trades for the more than curious and there are a number of special days during the year. The blogger was there during the school holidays and there was a motza of stuff for the littlies to do – all hands on. The kids seemed to be having lots of fun, followed around their Mums and Dads. The coffee was not bad either.

Toowoomba Cobb&Co Museum Windmills 2019
These windmills are outside the Cobb & Co Museum in Toowoomba. The museum has one of the best collections of carriages and horse transport in the country. (IWillis 2019)

 

The generous conference hosts organised some activities for conference goers. I tagged along on a town tour one evening led by the president of the local historical society – very informative. ‘Town by night’ was a great way to see the sights of the city centre from a new perspective.

Toowoomb Empire Theatre 2019 IW
Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre is one of Australia’s best examples of an art-deco style theatre in a regional area. (IWillis 2019)

 

The Toowoomba Visitor Information Centre publishes a number of self-guided walking tours around historic precincts of the town area. This history nut would particularly recommend the Empire Theatre complex, the railway station, Masonic temple, court housepolice stationpost office precinct, and Harris House.

Harris House

One property that particularly took the fancy of this blogger was the Federation Queen Anne style Harris House. The cottages was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) in 2017. The 1912 Edwardian villa residence demonstrates the development of Toowoomba in the early 20th century and the place wealthy members of the local society within it.

Toowoomba Harris House 2109
Harris House is an Edwardian Queen-Anne style villa town residence that was owned by some of Toowoomba’s wealthy social elite. (I Willis, 2019)

 

The single storey red brick dwelling has a Marseilles tiled roof and wide verandahs with bay windows. The concrete ornamentation contrasts with the face red brick and the hipped-roof has decorative finials and ridge capping. The house is in a visually prominent position on a corner block and is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as ‘a grand, Federation-era suburban villa residence’. It is quite an asset to the area.

The Woolshed

After the conference this nerdy blogger found himself at The Woolshed at Jondaryan. Originally built in 1859 the woolshed is one of the largest in Australia and today is an example of an extensive living history attraction. The European history of the woolshed illustrates the frontier story of the settler society of southern Queensland and the Darling Downs.

Toowoomba Jondaryan Woolshed 2019
The Jondaryan Woolshed complex is a good example of an extensive living history attraction. The woolshed was one of the largest in Australia and was an important part of story of 1890s shearers strikes and the conflict with pastoralists. (I Willis 2019)
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Beulah and Sydney’s Urban Sprawl

Beulah is an historic farm property on Sydney south-west rural-urban fringe. Beulah has a frontage to Sydney’s notorious Appin Road and is an area of Sydney’s ever increasing urban sprawl. The property is caught in a pincer movement between two new land releases at Appin and Mount Gilead. These developments  threaten to strangle the life out of Beulah is a vast sea of homogenised suburbia by swallowing up local farmland.

 

beulah-cdfhs
Beulah Appin Road Campbelltown CDFHS

In 2015 NSW Planning Minister Stokes declared that Sydney’s  ‘urban sprawl is over’ with the land release for 35,000 new homes at Mount Gilead, Wilton and Menangle Park.  On the other hand planning Professor Peter Phibbs, from the University of Sydney, stated that the land release meant that there was ‘urban sprawl plus’. [1] Needless to say these sentiments are not new and were expressed in the Macarthur region in 1973, meanwhile urban sprawl continues.

Beulah

Beulah is a heritage gem and possesses stories about local identities and events that add to a sense of place and construction of a local identity. Beulah was purchased by the Sydney Living Museums in 2010 as part of its endangered houses fund project.

The Beulah estate is located on the eastern edge of the clay soils of the Cumberland Plain abutting the Sydney sandstone of the Georges River catchment.  The property contains an 1830s stone farm cottage with a number of out-buildings, a stone bridge and 60 hectares of critically endangered woodland.

Beulah’s sense of place is constructed around stories associated with the Campbelltown’s pioneering Hume family best known for Hamilton Hume and his overland journey to the Port Phillip area in 1824-1825 with William Hovell. Hamilton Hume was granted 300 acres at Appin for this work, which he named ‘Brookdale’, and in 1824 the Hume and Hovell expedition to Port Phillip left from this property on the Appin Road north of the village, near where the Hume and Hovell Monument now stands. The Hume Monument was erected in 1924 by the Royal Australian Historical Society to commemorate Hume’s 1824 expedition.

 

hume-mon-appin-rd-2016
Hume Monument Appin Road Appin 2016 (I Willis)

The earliest European occupation of the Beulah site, according to Megan Martin from Sydney Living Museums, were emancipated Irish convict Connor Bland who constructed the farm cottage around 1835-1836.

Boland put the property up for sale in 1836 and called it Summerhill. The Hume family purchased the property in 1846 and then leased it out. In 1884 the property was renamed Beulah and members of the Hume family lived there until 1936 when it was left to the RSPCA while Hume family associates were given  occupancy rights and  lived in the house until the 1960s.

According to the State Heritage Inventory

Ellen Hume and Beulah were featured in “The Australian Home Beautiful” in 1934 in an article by Nora Cooper, photographs by Harold Cazneaux and descriptions of Hume family furniture. The forest which Miss Hume treated as a private sanctuary The Hume Sanctuary received special attention. It was Ellen’s wish that her trees be left to the nation….

 

beulah-cottage-2016
Beulah Cottage 2016 (I Willis)

The Beulah estate was purchased by developers in the 1970s who anticipated land re-zoning  linked with the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbelltown, Appin and Camden. The state government released  the New Cities Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan. The plan was based on the utopian dream of British New Towns like Milton Keynes and plans for the development of Canberra.

Some of the new Campbelltown suburbs that appeared in the 1970s followed the Radburn model developed in the United States, which had houses facing a shared green space with no back fences. They turned out to be a disaster and the state government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars reversing these houses so they face the street in suburbs like Macquarie Fields, Minto and Ambarvale.

The original New Cities Plan turned into a developers dream and created the notion of ‘Ugly Campbelltown’ in the Sydney press by the end of the 1970s around public housing . Camden and Appin escaped the worst of the housing releases of the 1970s. Sydney’s urban sprawl reached the Camden LGA in the 1980s at Mount Annan and Currans Hill, while Appin has only seen extensive land releases in recent years.  The 1973 Macarthur Growth Centre failed to materialise in its planned form and in the process cannibalised Campbelltown’s main street and left it a shell of its former country town self.

 

Beulah Appin 2016 (I Willis)
Beulah Appin 2016 (I Willis)

In 1973 the State Planning Authority, according to the State Heritage Inventory, conducted a survey of significant 19th buildings in 1973 and identified Beulah and Humewood as significant. The National Trust of Australia (NSW) did a study on the property and classified it in 1980.

In 1983 Campbelltown City Council proposed an interim conservation order and a permanent conservation order was placed on the 19th century cottage in 1987. The owners were ordered to make repairs to the property in the early 2000s, and the in 2010 the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment acquired the property as part of the state government’s Biodiversity Offset program.

 

biobank-signage-beulah

The  State Heritage Inventory considers the estate to an important example of early conservation planning that resulted in the retention of an ‘entire cultural landscape’ containing a homestead group, stone bridge and garden layout.  Sydney Living Museums have undertaken considerable conservation and restoration work on the farmhouse and the stone bridge on the access road to the farm house.

 

beulah-convict-bridge-2016
Convict constructed bridge at Beulah Farm Estate 2016 (I Willis)

New land releases around Beulah

Beulah and its heritage curtilage is potentially threatened by Sydney’s urban sprawl with new land releases in 2013 at Appin to the south along the Appin Road, while to the north there is the Mount Gilead land release adjacent to Campbelltown’s southern suburbs. Both of these land releases are a repeat of the 1973 housing releases. They are low density horizontal developments that add to urban sprawl. They are problematic and fail to add to the existing identity of the area and take decades to develop their own sense of place.

 

mount-gilead-farmland-2016
Mount Gilead Farmland at Campbelltown 2016 (I Willis)

 

The urban sprawl that is encroaching on Beulah from the south is part of the NSW State Governments 2013 The  Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031.  A structure plan developed for the Appin area states that there will 18,300 housing lots release over a 25 year period from around 17,000 hectares. Walker Corporation stated that there is a strong demand for new housing releases in the Appin area and in 2013 26 lots were sold within 2 days of the June land release.[2] There low density houses were similar to in nature to the planned housing developments of 1973 that failed to eventuate.

 

appin-walker-dev-2016
Land Release Walker Corporation Appin 2015 (I Willis)

On the northern approaches to Beulah are the Mount Gilead land releases on a property formerly owned by Lady Dorothy Macarthur Onslow who died in 2013.  Mount Gilead is proposed to have  1700 housing lots from 210 hectares which Campbelltown City Council endorsed in 2012.[3] The property contains the historic tower-mill believed the last one in New South Wales along with a homestead, stone stable, and granary dating from the early 19th century.

Appin Road a deadly lifeline

The issue of urban sprawl is complicated by the inadequate road access. Beulah and the Appin and Mount Gilead land releases all front the Appin Road one of Sydney’s most dangerous stretches of road. A major unresolved issue in the area around Beulah and land releases at Appin and Mount Gilead is the upgrading of the Appin Road.

The Sydney Morning Herald stated in early 2016 that the Appin Road was Sydney’s deadliest road. Between 2015 and 2000 23 people were killed on the Appin Road with the latest fatality in January 2016. While the state government has plans for road improvements this will take a number of years meanwhile there is increased traffic generated by new land releases and general population growth of the Campbelltown area.

The Appin Road has always been an important access route between the Illawarra and the Campbelltown area. Before the  South Coast railway was extended to Wollongong in 1887 the Appin Road was used as the main access route  to the Main Southern Railway at Campbelltown, which opened in 1858. There was a daily coaching service running between Campbelltown Railway Station and Wollongong. There is still is daily coach service between Campbelltown and the Illawarra via Appin, although tese days it mainly caters to university students.

The poor state of the Appin Road is just one of the issues created by Sydney’s urban sprawl.   Other issues include fire risks, urban runoff and food security, public transport, waste, water supply, loss of prime farm land, community facilities, pollution, energy, social cohesion, and equity challenges. Beulah is part of story of the Sydney’s rural urban fringe which has been a landscape of hope and loss for new arrivals and local alike. It will be interesting to see the part this important heritage asset plays in this narrative and how the construction of sense will effect new residents surrounding it.

In 2019 Sydney historian Stephen Gapps has written about the defensive structures in buildings in the Appin area including Beulah. These buildings were part of the colonial frontier of New South Wales where there were violent clashes between Europeans and Indigenous people. There is evidence that rifle slits and gun loops were were of the colonial architecture at Beulah and the Vines near Appin.

Further reading

Alan Gilpin, An Inquiry pursuant to Section 41 of the Heritage Act 1977 into objections to the making of a permanent conservation order in respect of the buildings and site known as “Beulah”, Appin Road, Appin. Sydney : Office of the Commissioners of Inquiry for Environment and Planning, 1987.

Notes

[1] Melanie Kembrey, ‘Planning Minister Rob Stokes unveils plans to create three new communities south of Campbelltown’. The Sydney Morning Herald 22 September 2015. Online @ http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/planning-minister-rob-stokes-unveils-plans-to-create-three-new-communities-south-of-campbelltown-20150922-gjs8ev.html (accessed 28 November 2016)

[2] Walker Corporation, Submission to the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney 2031, An Appin Urban Release Area (Sydney: Walker Corporation, 2013), p22

[3] Kimberley Kaines, ‘Call for more details on Mt Gilead development’, Macarthur Chronicle, 19 February 2015.

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Making Camden History

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the local area

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area.
There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful

(Facebook, 23 November 2015. https://www.facebook.com/Camden-History-Notes-1433284970226274/)

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for an historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation building story of a settler society.  In many ways it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also a silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography  is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings of there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840)

The earliest accounts of Camden village its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted a nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West  in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

 

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into a local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

 

The early 20th century also witnessed  a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

 

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s water colours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

 

The journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District.  The  first appeared and in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

 

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the RAHS to write The Story of Camden.

 

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the  newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley, after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

 

Secondly there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

 

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to  memorialise  farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the RAHS. The museum used  simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

 

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added to after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

 

Elsewhere in the district The Oaks Historical Society was formed up in 1979. It has contributed much material to the story telling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of the ‘Three Cities Plan’ as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

MtAnnan2002CHS2005

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the  decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

 

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy, and been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays  and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and  the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

 

There was also the influence of the  national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church  and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

 

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully published specialist local histories for a local audience.

 

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes  including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography