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The local church as a centre of place

A centre of place

In Camden the local non-going church community has resisted the sale by the Anglican Church of a horse paddock between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.

Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.

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

 

The purpose of this blog post is to try and unravel some of the broader issues underpinning community angst around the sale of church property. The post will look at the case study of the sale of churches in Tasmania and the resultant community anxiety.

The local church in place

The local church is an important part of a local community. It has a host of meanings for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.

The local church is a central part of the construction of place and people’s attachment to a cultural landscape and locality.

Place is about a sense of belonging and a sense of groundedness. It is expressed by cultural heritage, memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.

Belonging is central to placeness. It is home. A site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is  an important source of stability in a time of chaos. Home is part of a community.

LM Miller from the University of Tasmania states that people are involved fundamentally with what constitutes place and places are involved fundamentally in the construction of persons. Place wraps around and envelopes a person. People are holders of place (Miller: 6-8)

There is a shared sense of belonging in a community where being understood is important and part of a beloved collection. A sense of belonging acts as an all encompassing set of beliefs and identity. . It enriches our identity and relationships and leads to acceptance and understanding.

A church is one of these communities.

Cobbitty St Pauls 1890s CKerry 'EnglishChurch' PHM
This Charles Kerry Image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbity as an English-style pre-industriral village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

 

When a person’s sense of place is threatened then their sense of self, identity, safety, stability, and security are challenged. Where there is a loss of a person’s sense of place and belonging to a place they go through a grieving process.

The closure, sale and de-consecration of the local church are a threat to a person’s sense of place.

Local churches are part of a community’s cultural heritage.

Local churches are part of a community’s cultural heritage.

Cultural heritage consists of two parts. Firstly, tangible heritage which is made up, for example, buildings, art, objects and artefacts.

Secondly there is intangible cultural heritage which includes customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values.  This can be extended to include traditional skills and technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts and storytelling.

 

Churchgoers and a sense of place

The link between local churches and a community’s sense of place  has been explored  by Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History. He says that churchgoers are often faced with unsustainable maintenance costs for a church. Eventually when churchgoers are forced to sell the property they:

often seemed less reluctant to give up their church than the rest of the community…and faced with the prospect of its loss, [the non-churchgoers] were often prepared to fight with surprising tenacity to save it.’ (Davision:149)

Enmore Church of Christ Tabernacle
The Enmore Church of Christ Tabernacle in the early 20th century where Frank and Ethel were married in 1925. (Jubilee Pictorial History of the Church of Christ)

 

These churches have a strong emotional attachment for their communities. These churches are loved places for their community and Davison suggests:

It is in losing loved places, as well as loved persons, that we come to recognise the nature and depth of our attachment to our past. (Davison: 150)

Davison argues that churchgoers often have a loyalty to their local place well beyond their sense of faith in Christianity.

Sale of churches in Tasmania

These issues came to the fore in Tasmania in 2018 when there was  public outrage around the sale of local churches in Tasmania.

The Hobart press ran a story with the headline ‘Emotions run high, communities vow to fight after Anglican Church votes to sell off 76 churches’. (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)

tasmania st john's anglican church-ross-tasmania wikimedia lowres
St John’s Anglican Church Ross Tasmania (Wikimedia 2017)

The Anglican Church in Tasmania was attempting to fund the ‘redress commitment’ to the victims of clerical abuse by selling church property.

In response Central Tasmanian Highlands churchgoer Ron Sonners said that  ‘his ancestors [were] buried in the graveyard associated with St Peter’s Church at Hamilton’…and he ‘struggled with his emotions as he dealt with the fallout from his community church being listed for sale’.  (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)

Tasmania Anglican Bishop Richard Condie says that most of opposition to the sale of churches

 is primarily people in the broader community who oppose the sales, with the potential loss of heritage and family history, including access to graveyards, their main concern. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

There have been protest meetings and some effected parishes started fundraising campaigns to keep their churches.  The Hobart Mercury reported that

The Parish of Holy Trinity Launceston, which wants to keep St Matthias’ Church at Windermere, has raised the funds, with the help of its local community, to meet its redress contribution. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

Cultural historian and churchgoer Dr Caroline Miley said that:

the churches are an important part of Australian history… It is unconscionable that such a massive number of buildings, artefacts and precincts should be lost to the National Estate in one fell swoop…These are buildings built and attended by convicts and their jailers. They were built on land donated by early state governors, notable pioneers and state politicians, with funds donated by these colonials and opened by the likes of Sir John Franklin…As well, she says, they contain the honour boards, memorials and graves of those who fought and died in conflicts from the 19th century onwards…Some are in the rare (in Australia) Georgian style or in idiosyncratic Tasmanian Carpenter Gothic. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

Amanda Ducker of the Hobart Mercury summarises of the whole fuss surrounding the sale of churches in Tasmania this way:

Condie’s use-it-or-lose-it approach clashes with the keep-it-at-all-costs mentality. But while some opponents of the bishop’s plan refuse to sell their church buildings, neither do they want to go to church regularly. They rather prefer just to gather on special occasions: baptisms, weddings, funerals and perhaps at Christmas and Easter if they are leaning towards piety. But the rest of the year? Well, a sleep-in, potter at home or cafe brunch of eggs benedict (but sans ministering) are pretty tempting on Sunday morning. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

Others Anglicans in Tasmania see the whole argument differently. Emeritus Professor and Anglican Peter Boyce AO see it as fight over the spiritual traditions linked to the low and high Anglican traditions in Tasmania.   (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)

All these arguments are characteristic of how people, their traditions, their values, their past, their memories are all rooted in a location and in particular a building like a church.

 

Other dimensions to the argument

The dualism expressed in the sale of church land and buildings can be likened to the difference between sacred and secular. These two polar opposites are explored in popular culture in the form of music by Nick Cave and others on The Conversation.

Another perspective on this area was aired on ABC Radio Local Sydney in December 2018 by Dr David Newheiser. In the discussion he examined  the differences between Christians and aethiests.  He maintained that there are strong sentiments in the community around tradition and ritual in the community and if you lose a church you lose all of this.

The binary position of churchgoers and non-churchgoers can also be expressed in ethical terms as the difference between good and evil, or right and wrong, or moral and immoral, just and unjust and so on. This dichotomy has ancient roots dating back to pre-Biblical times across many cultures.

So what does all this mean?

Churches have an important role to play in the construction of place in communities. This role is played out in different ways for different actors in the story.

As far as the dichotomy presented here in the story of the sale of church property and land, there is really no conclusion that satisfies all stakeholders.

There is no right or wrong position to the opposing views between churchgoers and non-churchgoers. The differences remain an unresolved ethical dilemma.

An iconic Camden image of St Johns Anglican Church in the 1890s.

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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A hidden Sydney gem: Yaralla Estate

The CHN blogger was out and about recently and visited one of Sydney’s hidden gems that very few people seem to know about. It is the spendid and historic Yaralla Estate at Concord NSW.

Concord Yarralla Estate Front Paddock (2018)
The entrance paddocks of the Yaralla Estate which is a highly significant example of a large nineteenth estate in the Sydney area. It is a rare example because it incorporates an entire 1790s land grant within its boundaries (I Willis, 2018)

 

The Yaralla estate has a colourful history and the site has been occupied by some famous Australians.

Concord Yarralla Estate Woodbine 1833 (2018)
Woodbine Cottage. This is the oldest building on the Yaralla Estate dating from before 1833 and built by the family of Isaac Nichols shortly after his death. It is a timber cottage and has been modified since its completion. (I Willis, 2018)

 

One of the first was former convict Isaac Nichols, Australia’s the first postmaster (1809).

Concord Yaralla Estate 2018 Driveway
Yaralla Estate Driveway approaching Yaralla House. Described by the State Heritage Inventory as ‘composed of brush box (with the occasional eucalypt exception) and runs from the entrance gates between grassed west and east paddocks (until recently containing horses) leading to the inner set of estate gates and fencing containing the homestead, dairy complex, stables and parkland garden’. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The next prominent owner was Sydney banker and philanthropist Thomas Walker acquiring the property from Nichols sons in the 1840s. He commissioned Sydney architect Edmund Blacket to design a large two-storey Victorian mansion called Yaralla house. Walker died in 1886 and left the estate in trust to his only daughter Eadith.

Thomas left a bequest of 100,000 pounds from his will for the construction of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital in the western portion of the Yaralla estate.

Concord Yarralla Estate House 1850s (2018)
Thomas Walker’s Yaralla House. Edmund Blacket designed stage 1 in 1857 with additions by John Sulman 1893-1899. The house was converted to a hospital in 1940 as the Dame Eadith Walker Convalescent Hospital. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Sydney architect Sir John Sulman  was commissioned to extend the house to extend the house in the 1890s. He extended the second floor of the house and designed a number outbuildings including the dairy and stable buildings.

Concord Yarralla Estate Stables2 (2018)
The Arts and Crafts inspired stables were designed by John Sulman between 1893 and 1899. The complex was originally used as a coach house and stables and later as garages, office and storage space. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Yaralla House and the grounds are strikingly English-in-style and layout. The Arts and Crafts influenced Sulman buildings are set in idyllic setting of an English estate garden and park.

Concord Yarralla Estate Dairy 1917 (2018) CCBHS
The dairy, a U-shaped building inspired by Arts and Crafts design were part of the John Sulman estate works. This image taken in 1917 shows the predominantly Jersey dairy herd which at one stage had 1200 cows and produced 300 gallons per day. (CCBHS)

 

The Dictionary of Sydney states that the top part of the estate

were sub-divided in 1908, 1912, and 1922, becoming estates of Federation and Californian bungalow homes built for soldiers after World War I.

Concord Yarralla Estate Subdivision 1908 (2018) CCBHS
The Walker Estate at Concord. The subdivision was sold at public auction on 21 November 1908. The streets included Gracemere, Beronia, Waratah and Alva Streets. The sale was organised by Auctioneers Raine & Horne at their Pitt Street offices. Over 125 blocks were offered for sale. (CCBHS)

 

Yaralla House was the ‘hub of Sydney society’ in the Interwar period, according to the Dictionary of Sydney.  Eadith Walker who lived at the house during this period was a  famous Sydney philanthopist and held many charity events on the property.

Concord Yarralla Estate Boronia2 (2018)
Boronia Cottage. This was the residence for the dairy manager and was next to the dairy complex. It is a single storey cottage with a hipped and gable roof inspired by Arts and Crafts design. It was part of the John Sulman estates works. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Dame Eadith Walker (CBE, 1918, DBE, 1928) never married and left a large estate when she died in 1937. The  estate finally came under the Walker Trust Act 1939.

Concord Yarralla Estate Stables Courtyard2 (2018)
The courtyard of the English-style stables and coach house complex. Designed by John Sulman influenced by Arts and Crafts styling. The central courtyard has a ‘rich assortment of decorative elements such as towers, lanterns, a clock and dormer windows’, according to one source. It has living quarters and a horse enclosure. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Yaralla House was a convalescent hospital after the Second World War and then fell into dis-repair. Much conservation work has been carried out in recent decades.

Concord Yarralla Estate 2018 Stonework
The balustrade separates the top and lower terraces adjacent to Yaralla House with views of Sydney Harbour. The top terrace was a crochet lawn, while tennis courts occupied the lower terrace. The balustrade is ‘symmetical marble and freestone with formal central stairway’, according to a source. Today’s foreshore walkway is in the far distance. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The property had many important visitors over the years from royalty to the vice-regal.

Concord Yarralla Estate Squash Court (2018)
The squash court built by Eadith Walker for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1920. It is regarded as substantially intact and is an important surviving recreational element on the property. It has elements of Arts and Craft influence similar to estate works by John Sulman. It is reputed to be the first squash court built in Australia (I Willis, 2018)

 

 A ‘secret’ walking trail

The area has a ‘secret’ walking trail along the Sydney Harbour Foreshore. Well known to locals. Little known to outsiders. The walkway includes the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway from Rhodes Railway Station to Concord Hospital (800 metres). It is all part of the Concord Foreshore Trail. This walk is described this way on the City of Canada Bay walks website:

This historic and peaceful walk stretches from McIlwaine Park in the Rhodes to Majors Bay Reserve in Concord. The route encircles the mangrove-fringed Brays Bay, Yaralla Bay and Majors Bay on the Parramatta River and goes around the former Thomas Walker Hospital ( a heritage listed building), Concord Repatriation General Hospital and the historically significant Yaralla Estate (one of the oldest estates in Sydney dating back to the 1790’s).

These are all part of the Sydney Coastal Walks.

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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.