On International Women’s Day in 2019 it is worthwhile reflecting on some of Camden’s prominent women over the decades. Camden elite women were formidable figures and matriarchs in their own right and left their mark on the community.
Kirkham’s own Frances Faithful Anderson, who moved to the Camden area with her husband, William, in the 1890s. She renamed James White’s fairytale castle Kirkham, Camelot, in 1900 after being reminded of the opening verse of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. Frances (d. 1948) lived in the house, with her daughter Clarice, until her death. Both women were shy and retiring and stayed out public gaze in Camden, unlike the domineering fictional character of Elizabeth Bligh. The Anderson women were supporters of the Camden Red Cross, Women’s Voluntary Services, the Country Women’s Association, Camden District Hospital and the Camden Recreation Room during the Second World War (The District Reporter, 29 March 2013). Clarice willed Camelot to the NSW National Trust, according to Jonathan Chancellor. The NSW Supreme Court rule in 1981 that her mother’s 1938 will took precedence. Frances wanted the house to become a convalescent home, but this clashed with zoning restrictions.
Camden’s Edwardian period was dominated by the figure of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park. She took control of Camden Park in 1882 when her husband Arthur died. Under her skilful management the family estate was clear of debt by 1890 and she subsequently re-organised the estate. She established the pastoral company Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, with her children as shareholders. Heritage consultant Chris Betteridge states that she organised the estates co-operative diary farms, built creameries at Camden and Menangle, orchards and a piggery. Elizabeth was a Victorian philanthropist, a Lady Bountiful figure, and according to Susanna De Vries was a strong supporter of a number of local community organisations including the fore-runner of the Camden Show Society, the Camden AH&I Society. She died on one of her many trips to England and has dropped out of Australian history.
Elizabeth’s daughter, Sibella, was a larger than life figure during Camden’s Inter-war period and was quite a formidable figure in her own right. She grew up at Camden Park and moved to Gilbulla in 1931, which had been the home of her sister-in-law, Enid Macarthur Onslow. Sibella never married and fulfilled the role of a powerful Camden patrician figure. She was a true female matriarch amongst her brothers who took public positions of power in the New South Wales business community. She was one of the most powerful female figures in New South Wales and her personal contact network included royalty, politicians and the wealthy elite of Sydney and London. Macarthur Onslow possessed strong conservative Christian values and was an active figure in the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese. She was a Victorian-style philanthropist and was president of the Camden Red Cross from 1927 until her death in 1943.
The power vacuum in Camden’s women’s affairs left by the death of Sibella Macarthur Onslow was filled by Rita Tucker of The Woodlands, at Theresa Park. She had a high community profile in 1950s Camden and was well remembered by those who dealt with her. She became president of the Camden Country Women’s Association in 1939 and held the position until her death in 1961. She was a journalist and part-time editor of the North West Courier at Narrabri before she moved to Camden with her husband Rupert in 1929. She was an active member of the Camden Liberal Party in the 1950s, holding a number of positions, and was New South Wales vice-president of the CWA between 1947 and 1951. She was an accomplished musician and played the organ at the Camden Presbyterian Church in the early 1940s.
A contemporary of Tucker was Zoe Crookston, the wife of Camden surgeon, Robert Crookston. A shy retiring type, she lived in grand Victorian mansion at the top of John Street and was the wartime president of the Women’s Voluntary Services. She was a Presbyterian, a liberal-conservative and an active committee member of the United Australia Party in the 1930s. According to her daughter Jacqueline, ‘her mother was a no-nonsense person who always liked to get on with the job at hand’. She was a foundation member of the Camden Red Cross and was actively involved until 1949. Other community organisations occupied her time including being on the committee of the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary from 1933 to 1945. She was married to Camden medical practitioner Robert Crookston, and had two daughter Suzanne and Jaqueline.
A more recent woman of note was Elizabeth Kernohan. Elizabeth (Liz) Kernohan was the first woman in Camden to be elected as an alderman on council (1973), to the hospital board (1974) and subsequently as deputy mayor (1974), mayor (1980) and finally as a member of parliament (1991). She was a popular local identity until her death in 2004.
Kernohan, like earlier Camden women (Sibella Macarthur Onslow and Rita Tucker), combined female agency and active citizenship, and developed a ‘parallel path’ for herself where she acquired considerable social, moral and political authority. She combined her conservatism with civic duty and an ethic of selfless service.
Kernohan’s political success was based on her aggressive use of localist politics in an area that was proud of its rural traditions and heritage. She was plain speaking to the point where ‘What you see is what you get…(and) I call a spade a bloody shovel’. An approach that endeared her to the local community.
Kernohan was a fierce advocate of Camden’s rural identity in the face of the New Cities Plan (1973) which planned massive urban growth on the metropolitan fringe. She maintained in 1981 that Camden should become the ‘Double Bay of Sydney’s southwest’, an exclusivity that is still recognizable in the area’s identity and sense of place. This identity of difference drove her popularity and appealed to the ‘aspirationals’ who moved to the area from the ‘burbs’. The new arrivals were looking for a place where the ‘country still looked like the country’ and were ready converts to her cause. Above all she proved that all politics is local, to the detriment of her career.
The Camden Museum hosted celebrity author Michelle Scott Tucker recently at a local book launch. The event attracted an enthusiastic audience of 50 members and guests to an engrossing talk from Tucker, the author of Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World.
Michelle delivered an eloquent and gripping lesson on Elizabeth Macarthur to an audience sitting on the edge of their seats. Tucker spoke for 40 minutes without notes and then handled a number of penetrating questions. Earlier in the day she had been interviewed on ABC Sydney Local Radio by James Valentine in wide ranging conversation about Macarthur that clearly impressed him. Tucker is an impressive media performer telling an engrossing story about her hidden subject of Elizabeth.
After the Museum talk there was a long line of those who had purchased books to have them signed by the author. The most excited person in room was Camden Historical Society secretary Lee Stratton who drove into Surry Hills to pick up Michelle and then returned her to the city after the launch. Lee is a devoted fan and was not phased at all by her providing this generous effort.
Michelle Scott Tucker writes in an engaging and open style that is easily accessible by anyone interested in colonial Australia, women’s biography or just a great yarn. She takes a fresh look at an old story from a woman’s perspective, from the other side.
In the early 19th century the world was divided into the women’s private sphere and the public world inhabited by men. Michelle Scott Tucker takes a look from the domestic private world of women. It is a form of radical history.
Michelle’s analogy of her approach to the story is looking at the stitching on the back of tapestry, and inspecting the intricate nature of the threads. This gives you an insight into how the whole work is kept together from the hidden and dark shadows of the work. Without the stitching the work would fall apart, and so it was the Macarthur family enterprises in colonial New South Wales. Tucker draws the stitches together to create a story showing the colour and movement of colonial New South Wales.
Elizabeth Macarthur, the farmer’s daughter from Devon, married a cantankerous irascible army officer called John Macarthur when she was pregnant with her first child. Tucker draws an parallel with another Georgian story that of the women in the romantic novelPride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. She makes the point that Elizabeth Macarthur, and husband John, were Georgian figures while her family were Victorians.
Tucker tells how Elizabeth Macarthur, heavily pregnant and with a small child at her side, endured probably the worst journey out from England of any convict transport on the Second Fleet in the Scarborough. She nursed her husband back from illness that he suffered at the Cape and lost a child on the voyage out which was buried at sea. She suffered the social ignominy of sharing a cabin space with convict women well below her station in life.
Macarthur was not on her own and many colonial women endured the sea voyage from England with few comforts. Their diaries detail the trials and tribulations throughout the early years of the colony. One such figure in the Camden story was Caroline Husband who fell on hard times and fled their Hampstead Hill house near London with debt collectors in pursuit. She married pastoralist Henry Thomas and eventually lives at Wivenhoe, and her descendants grew up at Brownlow Hill.
The ever practical Elizabeth managed and developed the family business empire in colonial New South Wales while her husband was dealing with military charges in England. She entertained governors, politicians, businessmen, officers, while managing a large domestic staff, farm workers and convicts on their extensive landholdings. The role and influence of Elizabeth Macarthur as part of the story of settler colonialism in Australia and has been understated along with many other women of her time.
Tucker makes the point in an article for Inside Story that the story of Elizabeth Macarthur is not unique and that other colonial women made a significant contribution on their own. There was Esther Abrahams who ran Annandale, and Harriet King who raised a family and ran a property west of Parramatta. In Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) a retail empire was developed by former convict Maria Lord, while Eliza Forlonge ran a pastoral empire.
Camden Park was an out-station in the Macarthur family empire and Elizabeth Macarthur never lived there. The mansion house was the home of her sons, William and James. Elizabeth lived at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta all her life and died at their holiday home at Watsons Bay in her 80s.
Unlike many of her colonial contemporaries who viewed the Australian landscape as a Gothic world Elizabeth had a more sympathetic eye. She drew comparisons with England and in her letters home she stated that her around her home at Parramatta, she wrote:
The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give to it the appearance of a wilderness, or shrubbery commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune’.
Under Elizabeth’s gaze the colonial outpost of Sydney grew from a military garrison to a bustling colonial port in the South Pacific. Macarthur supported her husband, John, throughout his ordeals and never returned to England, despite having the means to do so. Her female descendants regularly traveled between Camden Park, Sydney and London and elsewhere, and benefited from the transnational networks that she and her family established in the early 19th century.
Elizabeth Macarthur is an important character in the Camden story and there are other Macarthur women in her family who played similar roles such as Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, Sibella Macarthur Onslow and Enid Macarthur Onslow. All intelligent, strong and successful women. They were not alone in the Camden story and others that could be mentioned include Rita Tucker, Zoe Crookston, Clarice Faithful, amongst others.
This week I visited Goulburn and spoke to the editor of the Goulburn Post and how the tri-weekly masthead is surviving and doing well. Her office is the regional hub for around 10 different regional and local newspapers. The Post is part of the Fairfax Media group.
The appearance of the Nepean News is an interesting addition to the story of local newspapers in the Macarthur area. It is free fortnightly masthead stapled 32 pages of glossy colour in a tabloid format published on Thursdays. The edition at the Camden Produce Market was Issue 215 dated Thursday 7 December 2017.
The Nepean News is an independent published by the Western Sydney News Group which has a stable of three mastheads: Nepean News; Western News; and St Clair and Erskine Park News. The group of newspapers has a considerable footprint across Western Sydney.
The Nepean News is centred on Penrith and is distributed from Luddenham in the south, west to Emu Plains, east to Mt Druitt and north to Castlereagh. The footprint of the Western News is east of the Nepean News and stretches from Vineyard in the north, to Rouse Hill and Seven Hill in the east, in the south to Eastern Creek and in the west to St Marys. The third masthead has a smaller circulation and is centred on St Clair.
The Nepean News boasts that it ‘is not tossed onto your front lawn’. ‘Crisp’ free copies can be obtained from ‘local newsagents, service stations, libraries, council and shopping centres’. The newspaper is supported by a bright and lively website.
Nepean News editor Kerrie Davies states on the newspaper’s website that initially she launched the newspaper after being made redundant from another newspaper. That was eight years ago. She is in partnership with Bart Bassett, general manager, and sales manager, Korena Hale.
The Western News is free, was launched about two years ago and published fortnightly on a Friday of 16 pages. The latest edition is Issue 50 for 22 December 2017. The St Clair and Erskine Park News is a free monthly of 16 pages and the latest edition is Issue 28 for December 2017.
The format across all three mastheads is similar with a number of sections: local news; entertainment; history; and sport. Editorial content is shared as is advertising. Advertising is a mix of display full page to small quarter, half page and smaller, with a trades and services section.
The newspapers are community focused with a lively mix of local newsy stories and photos, an entertainment and a history page compiled by the local historical society and a strong presence of local sporting stories.
There are strong connections between the Camden LGA and Penrith going back decades. Many local families have relatives and friends in the Penrith area and some like taking in the shopping and other facilities.
The appearance of the Nepean News makes an interesting addition to the story of local newspapers in the Macarthur region. It will be even more interesting to see if makes another appearance. Keep your eyes open.
Elizabeth Farm was the home of John and Elizabeth Macarthur and the centre of their mercantile and farming empire for over 35 years. The homestead is regarded as both the oldest and most historic building in Australia and is an important site in the development of the wool industry.
Elizabeth Farm was the site of political intrigue around Australia’s only coup d’etat and the personal struggles of John’s incredible mood swings suffering depression. The house is an important centre in the Camden story and many important decisions made here that effected the family’s holdings at Camden Park in the Cowpastures district.
The house was lucky not to be demolished and lay derelict on a number of occasions throughout its history. Once when architect William Swann family rescued it in 1904 and again the mid-20th century. Elizabeth Farm is currently a house museum opened in 1984 and owned by Sydney Living Museums, formerly the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.
Elizabeth Veale, who became the first lady of the colony of New South Wales, married the fractious John Macarthur, an ambitious officer on half-pay, in England in 1788 in the village of Bridgeule in Devonshire. Macarthur joined the 68th Regiment just before his marriage as an ensign and after the birth of his son transferred as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps.
The couple travelled to New South Wales in the Second Fleet on the Neptune, before transferring to the Scarborough arriving in 1790. John’s reputation and ill temper was a constant source of frustration, which Elizabeth bore with patience and forebearance.
In 1793 John Macarthur was granted 100 acres at Rosehill of some of the best land on the Parramatta River which he named after his wife. The family with three children moved to Elizabeth Farm in 1793. By 1794 the farm had expanded to 250 acres with 100 under crops, 20 acres of wheat, 80 acres of corn and potatoes. His livestock included horses, cows, goats, and pigs and with additional grants and purchases the farm expanded to over 500 acres.
Building Elizabeth Farm
The house was constructed in 1793 as a single level building of four rooms with adjoining kitchen and servants quarters built on a low ridge overlooking the Parramatta River. James Broadbent describes the house as a simple late 18th century English vernacular cottage, with a shingle hardwood roof. From this design evolved a characteristic form of colonial cottage. JM Freeland describes the house as a simple rectangle.
built of hand-made English-size bricks set in clay and shell-lime mortar. The steep pitched roof was formed of massive baulks of pit-sawn timber held together with wooden pegs, sheathed with cedar planks and covered with split swamp-oak shingles.
Sydney Living Museums states:
The cottage… resembled countless farmhouses seen in southern England. The balanced, symmetrical design of paired windows placed to either side of a central doorway was typical of the Georgian style then popular in England.
An extra bedroom was added along with a verandah. James Broadbent maintains that the addition of the verandah was influenced by Colonel Grose addition of a verandah on Government House which Grose had seen while serving during the American War of Independence.
John was exiled from the colony in 1809 for his part in the Rum Rebellion with Governor Bligh and during his absence Elizabeth ran the household and the families pastoral interests at Camden and Seven Hill from Elizabeth Farm. The house was possibly shaded from the north and east by verandahs. Elizabeth had little interest in redesigning the homestead.
Macarthur returned to NSW in 1817. The Macarthurs were successful selling wool in London and pressed for another grant at Camden. With good fortunes he sought building appropriate to his wealth and began home building and planning. Elizabeth Farm was remodelled. He added new stables, and a new cottage, Hambeldon, and building at Camden under the influence of Sydney architect Henry Kitchen.
From 1821 the house was remodelled under the supervision of stonemason and bricklayer John Norris from a Georgian house to a Regency style that better suited colonial taste. Elizabeth was turned out of the house in 1826 due to renovations when the dining room, drawing rooms and library bedroom were extended into the verandah area completed by 1827.
Macarthur’s depressed state of mind meant that his building frenzy subsided, he recovered by 1828 and put his time into the Australian Agricultural Company. In 1831 he was again planning building additions, mainly at Camden. In 1832 he was declared insane and confined to Elizabeth Farm. Macarthur’s insanity worsened and he was moved to Camden in 1833, where he died in 1834.
Elizabeth returned to Elizabeth Farm in 1833 and with the assistance of architect John Verge had it habitable with needed repairs. She did not make any further changes to the house.
Life at Elizabeth Farm
Elizabeth Farm was a mixture of town and country life. The house was about half-a-days travel by boat from Sydney and a short walk from Parramatta.
In 1794 the house was surrounded by a vineyard and garden of three acres, including fruit trees and vegetables. The fruit trees included almonds, apricots, pear and apple trees. There were between 30 and 40 staff at the farm – 13 as stockmen, gardeners or stable hands and female servants in the house.
Elizabeth had nine children, with seven surviving. Elizabeth learnt to play the piano in her first days in the colony. The Macarthurs were well-read with books, magazines and albums from England. She was part of the Sydney social set and was on cordial terms with the governor’s wives. James Broadbent reports that the house was elegantly fitted out with fine china and silver from England. Furnishings were never opulent and the house was never a centre of the colonies social life.
After Macarthur’s death the farm was managed by her sons, while Elizabeth and her daughters lived in comfortable style. In Elizabeth’s last years she visited her daughter Emmeline and husband Henry at Watson’s Bay.
After Elizabeth’s death in 1850, aged 83 years, Emmeline and Henry continued to live at Elizabeth Farm until 1854. Edward Macarthur inherited the house and leased it out. On his death in 1872 the house was inherited by his niece Elizabeth Macarthur, James’ daughter. The house standing on 1000 acres was sold in 1881 for £50,000.
The table at Elizabeth Farm
John Macarthur was an early riser, usually 4am and breakfast, served around 10.00am might have consisted of ham, boiled eggs, bread and butter, and perhaps mutton. The table would have been set symmetrically which was typical of Georgian order and decorum.
The family would probably have been waited on by the butler, a convict named James Butler, who arrived 1818 with convictions for forgery and started work at Elizabeth Farm in 1825. In the 1828 Census the household staff consisted of 13 staff: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, two grooms, a cook, four labourers, two maidservants and a footman – all convicts. The cook was Thomas Blake, two maidservants, Jane Mead and Margaret Shepherd, a footman, John Bono, an Indian. The staff were reported to have been well treated, and returned this with loyalty during times of difficulty with John’s incredible moods swings.
Garden at Elizabeth Farm
Scott Hill makes the observation that little remains of the original garden, while paintings and sketches of the period only give an idealised view of things. Conrad Martin’s works were completed after Elizabeth’s death and only give a glimpse of what was present in the garden.
There was an ‘extensive’ kitchen garden that was to the east of the house although some hoop pines survive. From Hill’s research an 1816 letter from Elizabeth states that the kitchen garden had 23 fruit trees, oranges, peaches, pomegranates, loquats, shaddock and guava.
Hill notes that the famous ‘waratah’ camelia at Camden Park was first planted at Elizabeth Farm in 1831 and later transplanted to their country property, where it still prospers. The garden also had roses, foxgloves, aloes, agaves, and bulbs. It is thought the garden had the first olive tree in the country which is described by Thomas Mitchell.
Elizabeth fostered a botanical interest in the next generation, particularly William, who managed a successful nursery at Camden Park for many years. She valued the local vegetation of the Parramatta River area and 1795 she wrote home to her friend Miss R Kingdon from Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta:
The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give it the appearance of a wilderness or shrubbery, commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune, filled with a variety of native plants, placed in a wild irregular manner.
On Elizabeth’s carriage trips out and about she noted that in spring:
The native shrubs are also in flower and the whole country gives a grateful perfume.
The HHT acquired the property in 1983 and opened it as a house museum in 1984. Before this the house fell into disrepair and was purchased in 1968 by the Elizabeth Farm Management Trust from the Swann family, who had previously lived in it, and when the house was placed on a list of historic buildings by the 1949 Cumberland County Council.
Management passed to the State Planning Authority, then the Heritage Council of New South Wales which continued restoration. The HHT was established in 1980, and rebranded as Sydney Living Museums in 2013, and is part of the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment within the state government.
The NSW State Heritage Inventory states that:
The Elizabeth Farm house is part of the oldest surviving construction in Australia and a rare survival of the earliest period of colonial architecture. The house is one of the most evocative houses relating to the earliest period of Australian European history and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing of colonial bungalows. The garden contains remnants of some of the earliest European plantings in Australia, including the European Olive. Older indigenous species include kurrajong and bunya bunya and hoop pines. 
 James Broadbent, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta, A History and a Guide. Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1984, pp. 5-11.
 Letter from Elizabeth to Miss Kingdon, September 1795, Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta in Sibella Macarthur Onslow, Some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1914. Online @ http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html Accessed 10 Feb 2017