These memories are a moving personal account of a childhood growing in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s.
This story from former Airds’ resident Fiona Woods acts a counterpoint to stories of despair and loss from these suburbs. In many ways, Airds was a suburb on the fringe of the world. Many residents were living on the edge and faced many challenges.
At the moment many Australian’s have felt a heightened sense of anxiety and need a little hope. Since the bushfires on Australia’s East Coast from September 2019 there are many grim stories.
The uncertainty and lack of control have continued into the Covid crisis, and many feel despair and at a loss. Fiona’s story provides a ray of sunshine in today’s shadows.
Fiona uses memory as a way of explaining the meaning of past events and peoples involvement in them. She has not created a meaningless collection of unrelated facts.
Fiona says, ‘Everyone has a story. It’s easy to think of our ancestors as names on a page or a black and white photograph of well-dressed, ‘serious people’.
‘But behind those images is a life that has been lived through both adversity and celebration. With love and pain and all that goes with being human. So many stories that have been untold’.
Fiona’s memories are about a suburb where some residents succeeded and others did not.
This is Fiona’s story and how hope can win through in the end.
Growing up in Airds
Growing up in a housing commission estate is not something that traditionally elicits feelings of pride and success. But for me, it does just that. I moved into Airds in 1977, when I was three years old.
My dad had suffered a traumatising work accident, one that would leave him with debilitating, lifelong injuries. My parents already had three small children and were expecting a fourth.
I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for them – Dad was in and out of the hospital, and Mum didn’t drive. Here was where their neighbours stepped in, and my earliest memories of the community began.
Back then, neighbours weren’t just people you waved to from the driveway. They were people you could count on, whether it be for food or childcare or even a simple chat over a cup of tea.
I grew up as part of a village, where a lady in my street took my sisters and me to our first gymnastics lessons. I developed friendships that have stood the test of time. I have even taught alongside my closest childhood friend, an experience that is something I treasure.
I laugh with my siblings that we can never shop with Mum in Campbelltown – she remembers everyone who lived remotely near us. But for her, it was the friendship she struck up with her new neighbour the day they both moved in that is the most special.
A friendship that has lasted for over 43 years. It still involves daily coffee catch-ups and phone calls.
I started Kindergarten at John Warby Public School, where I learned more than just academics. It was during this time that I experienced how the love of a teacher extends beyond the classroom.
I truly believe it was these experiences that led me to join the profession. I had so much to give back. I remember some of these teachers visiting our home to check in on our parents and even drive them to appointments.
They really took the home-school connection to a new level! I will be forever grateful for the investment they made in us and their belief that we would all succeed.
Living in Airds during the late 70s and early 80s was a time where friendships were built, and people stuck together. It was the freedom of riding bikes with friends until the street lights came on, building makeshift cubbies and performing concerts for the neighbours.
I can still remember the excitement of walking to the local shops with my sisters to buy a few groceries for Mum. The constant search for ‘bargains’ in the hope there would be twenty cents leftover to buy some mixed lollies.
To this day, I still can’t resist a markdown and resent paying full price for anything. Lollies aside, the mere act walking to the shops was an adventure. Teetering along with the giant concrete snake and pretending we were on a secret journey.
Our simple life ensured we had opportunities to use our imagination and explore the world around us, creating memories with our neighbours and friends.
But life wasn’t always easy. I remember eating dinner and seeing my parents eat toast because there wasn’t enough to go around.
By this stage, they were raising five children, including my youngest brother, who rarely slept for more than an hour each night. He became a case study for professors looking into hyperactivity disorders.
That was little comfort to my mum, who was also Dad’s primary carer, living on minimal sleep and a frugal budget. Yet she showed up every day, always reminding us about the power of education and instilling a true love of learning in us all.
What we lacked for in material possessions was made up by so much more. We learned to be resilient and grateful, and we learned to be kind. We continue to work hard in our chosen fields, always considering how we can help others.
One of the proudest moments for our parents was seeing all five children graduate from university. That and the ongoing pride they feel for their thirteen grandchildren, who love their Nan and Pop like no one else.
The roots that were planted back in those early days have been tended with such love and care.
Those trees continue to flourish, branching out into wonderful opportunities. I am forever grateful for the foundations my childhood was built upon.
And I proudly tell everyone about where it is I came from.
Daniel DraperFantastic story Eric Kontos, I am also a Proud Airds Boy moving their in 1977. My mother still lives in the same house. I always said growing up in Airds built character. We had a fantastic childhood and explored every part of the George’s River bushland. They where great days!
Frank WardWhat a great story and I have come across so many great similar accounts of growing up in Campbelltown and the estates.
Noting Fiona’s record that she and all her siblings got to go to University makes me particularly proud of the work my late sister Joan M Bielski AO AM who was a teacher but she devoted her life to the promotion of equal opportunity for women in education, politics and society. Her main work was to change the education system so that women got access as when she started at Uni only 25% of women got to Uni and then mainly in teaching now ove 56% of all graduates are women and more women are in political powerful positions This pandemic has been another example of the value of an educated female workforce as they have been on the frontline of this war on the virus so we can only hope that the government will give them equal pay instead of empty words that usually flow from the PM
Sam EganLove this, my family moved to airds in the late 70s, I started at John warby public, we moved when I was 7 or 8 to St Helens park, changed schools. 30+ years later after ending a long relationship i was set up on a date, who just so happened to be the boy who lived across the road from us at airds, who I used to walk to school with every day. His mom still lives in the same street. 15 years later and our own little boy we love going to visit, after all those years you realize how strong that little community is.
Leonie ChapmanWhat a fabulous article and account of the old days.
I grew up there from about 1978 and went to Briar Rd PS and then St Pats.
I have so many fond memories and close bonds that I made back then and still am lucky to have today
I have always been proud of my roots, especially the early beginnings of growing up in housing commission. You don’t need riches to be surrounded by love, hope and a desire to succeed.
I am honoured that my story was shared on the blog of local historian, Dr Ian Willis. I thought I’d share it with you all ❤
Tracey Seal WagstaffThank you for sharing this beautiful story Fiona Woods. I also grew up in Airds in the 70’s & 80’s I can honestly say that your story is just the same as many of us. Your words reflect the same community spirit of my upbringing in Airds where everyone had each others back. My mums house was like a halfway house everyone was welcome and the front door was always open to all. Those where the days. Riding in the streets, building jumps, having dance concerts, this was the way of life. We still have longtime friends from our neighbourhood that we still have contact with today after 40 years…
Wilfred J PinkGreat story and well deserved recognition Fi. Congratulations mate.
Linda HuntOh Fiona. This bought a tear to my eye. Beautiful words that ring so true. Life growing up in this neighbourhood is truly one to remember. Thank you. I’m happy I was able to read this on this day.
Patricia O’BrienAbsolutely gorgeous. What an outstanding view of the many children grew up in Airds. Two of my own children were brought up in Airds and also went to John Warby and they are both school teachers. So proud of how all my children grew up to be people who respect their families and friends.
Deborah LittlewoodOh Fiona, what an amazing story. Brings back so many wonderful memories with your beautiful family. I love so much that our friendship is as close as it was all those years ago. Us ‘Airds chicks’ certainly did ok for ourselves.
Deborah LittlewoodFiona Woods my favourite part of your story ❤️.
I always remember your mum did so much for everyone else and now you and your daughters are exactly the same. Always putting everyone else before yourselves.
Raylene NevilleNaw, that was beautiful x
I was a housing commission kid too! I remember that we had a blue fridge!
Jeff WilliamsPretty good writing for a teacher! 🙂 I love waiting for people bagging out housing commission and then letting it be known I grew up there!
Valeska SpratfordJeff Williams the classic old John Warby PS uniform. Little do people know that this low-socioeconomic school gave us free dental and some of the best memories of our lives. C’town represents. . . . .Airds 4Eva 😉
Cass BienBeautiful! I also grew up in Housing Commission, we had great neighbours too and I met my best friend at 8 yrs old, still besties today. So grateful for these times. xx Your story is lovely. 😊
Caf AirsGreat story showing what family, community and education can achieve.
Melissa SalterBeautiful words Fiona, it is a true depiction of many of us “Airds” kids of that era, great community and John Warby was definitely a major part of all of our success
Fiona WoodsJeffrey R Williams thanks Dad. And thanks for always believing in us and for never giving up on us, even when we made mistakes and stupid decisions in our lives.
We knew we could always count on you and Mum.
I can even laugh now about how you joked about karma when I cried to you about the horror of having 3 teenage girls 😂
Noleen SpencerGreat job , we also came from humble beginnings, not much money but plenty of love to go around , we appreciated every little blessing and was always taught it cost nothing to smile and to lend a helping hand. I’ve always said to my children , you don’t have to be the best , you just have to try your best .
Louise CounsellThat was moving. Your family was so rich in the things that mattered
Cathy HarleFiona, you had the very great privilege of growing up in a home full of love and values with your sisters and brothers, and each one of you have instilled those values in your own children – you can all be very proud of yourselves 💕
Harder Karen IanBeautiful and well written Fiona and as auntie Noleen said, we also come from a large family, one income earner, little money and a lot of bad health issues but there was also plenty of love and we always appreciated what little we had. I am so grateful for everything and for how all of our beautiful children turned out, I am I only very sad our dear mum and dad didn’t live long enough to see how all their beautiful grandchildren turned out. Your mum and dad did such a good job raising such a beautiful family and I can clearly see you are all doing the same with your own families. Much love 😘😘❤❤
Salome Mariner BorgI love this so much! 💙
So well articulated that I could just feel the love and could picture everything as if it were a movie..actually, why not turn it into a movie ☺️👌
Thanks for sharing xx
JoJo AxeWill always be thankful for our humble beginnings and everything our families have done for each other. That beautiful special friendship like no other that our Mum’s have, the joy and support they give to one another is amazing. Something to be very grateful for 😘
Amy LouThank you for sharing this. An inspiring story with some aspects that remind me of my own childhood. ❤️
Michelle HalloranLove your story Fiona. Thank you so much for sharing! Eplains why you are such an amazing teacher and person 🤗 We moved into a housing commission place at Ambarvale in 1981 when I was 6, the neighbours were awesome their too! So many great memories growing up there. Freedom to roam the neighbourhood on our bikes, visiting 5 or 6 friends on a Saturday, Mum and Dad having no idea where I was until I arrived home before dark! Sadly it’s a different world now.
Stephanie ComptonThat story is beautifully written. I can really feel your heat’s journey and the feel of family and community… which has helped make you the amazing woman and mother you are today! xoxo
The image attracted a host of likes and shares and comments like Phil Hall ‘What a delightful photo’ and Christine Mcmanus ‘It’s very charming’.
What is the appeal of the picture?
The picture has an aesthetic quality partly produced from the soft sepia tones of the image, and partly from the subject, which together gives the photograph a dreamy quality. The ethereal presence of the image is hard to describe in words and the camera is kind to the subjects, who are well-positioned in a nicely balanced frame.
The viewer of the picture is a time traveler into another world based on the New South Wales South Coast and is given a snapshot of a moment frozen in time. The observer has a glimpse of a world after the First World World in the present. For the viewer it as a form of nostalgia, where they create a romanticised version of the past accompanied by feelings that the present is not quite as good as an earlier period.
The world in the picture, a mixture of pleasure and for others despair, apparently moved at a slower pace, yet in its own way no less complex than the present. The picture speaks to those who choose to listen and tells a nuanced, multi-layered story about another time and place. It was 1919 in the coastal mining town of Wollongong.
The viewer is told a story about a setting that is full of meaning and emotional symbolism wrapped up in the post-First World Years. The picture grabs the viewers who pressed a Like on their Facebook pages. These social media participants found familiarity and comfort in the past that is an escape from the complicated present.
In response to today’s COVID-19 crisis, we are turning to old movies, letter writing and vintage fashion trends more than ever. Nostalgia is a defence mechanism against upheaval.
Escaping the Spanish flu pandemic?
The image is full of contrasts and unanswered questions. Why are the young couple in Wollongong? Why did they decide on Stuart Park for a photo-shoot? Are they escaping the outbreak of Spanish influenza at Randwick in January 1919? Does the NSW South Coast provide the safety of remoteness away from the evils of the pandemic in Sydney?
The female photographer is a city-girl and her male companion is a worldly reader of international news. They contrast with the semi-rural location in a coal mining area with its workman’s cottages and their dirt floors, and the hard-scrabble dairying represented by the post-and-rail fence in the distance.
The railway is a metaphor for the rest of a world outside Wollongong. The colliery railway is a link to the global transnational industrial complex of the British Empire at Wollongong Harbour where railway trucks disgorge their raw material. On the other hand, the female photographer’s stylish outfit provides an entry into a global fashion world of women’s magazines, movies and newspapers.
The elegantly dressed couple in their on-trend fashion contrast with the poverty of the working class mining villages of the Illawarra coast. Photographer Aileen is described by local historian Leone Flay as ‘dressed for town’, contrasts with the post-and-rail fence on the railway boundary projects the hard-graft of its construction in a landscape of marginal dairy farming.
The remnants of the Illawarra Rainforest that border the railway point to the environmental destruction brought by British imperial policy and its industrial machinery. This contrasts with a past where the Dharawal Indigenous people managed the lush coastal forests that once covered the area along the banks of the nearby Fairy Creek.
Peeling back the layers of past within the picture reveals several parts to the story: the photographer Aileen Ryan; the coastal location of Stuart Park; and the commercial world of the Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, and ecology of the Illawarra Rainforest.
Aileen Ryan, photographer
The young female photographer in the picture is Aileen Ryan, a 21-year old city-girl, who spent time in and around the Wollongong area in February and March 1919. Aileen was born in Waverley, Sydney, and was educated at St Clare’s Convent.
At 19 years of age, Aileen gained paid work when most women were restricted to domestic duties. She joined the New South Wales Public Service in 1917 as a typist and shorthand writer. As an independent young working woman, she was worldly-wise and expressed herself through her ability to fund her relatively-expensive hobby of photography. The young Aileen’s hand-held bellows camera hints her grasp of the latest technology.
In 1927 she marries FW Lynch at Clovelly and in 1942 during the Second World War she was seconded to the Directorate of Manpower. She was appointed superintendent of the New South Wales division of the Australian Women’s Land Army, which was disbanded in 1945. She died childless at Waverton in 1983.
Stuart Park, the location
The site of the photo-shoot was located on the colliery railway which skirted the southern boundary of Stuart Park. The park, which was declared in 1885 under the Public Parks Act 1884 (NSW), lies between the railway, Fairy Creek to the north and North Wollongong Beach to the east. The area was originally purchased from James Anderson and is an area of 22.27 hectares.
The park was named after colonial politician and Scotsman Sir Alexander Stuart who was the Member for Illawarra in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the time. The park was run by a trust until 1920 when control passed to the Municipality of Wollongong.
The popularity of Stuart Park, including many families from Camden, owed much to the presence near North Wollongong Beach, which was popular for swimming and surfing from the 1920s. The caravan park was unfortunately closed in 1964, but re-opened in 1966, due to public pressure. It eventually closed permanently in 1970. The park now has a sports oval, had a kiosk dating from the 1940s and was popular with day-trippers.
Illawarra Rainforest, the ecology
The site location of the photograph next to the railway was once completely covered by Illawarra Rainforest, remnants of which can be seen along the railway line.
The rainforest type is a rich ecological community characterised by bloodwoods, stinging trees, figs, flame trees, beech, cedar, and other species. The more complex rainforest communities were located along the creek boundaries and on the southern face of escarpment gorges protected the from the prevailing north-easterly winds.
the most complex (species rich) forest type in the Illawarra. A broad definition of this forest is a “Dense community of moisture loving trees, mainly evergreen, broadleaved species, usually with the trees arranged in several layers, and containing vines, epiphytes, buttressed stems, stranglers, and other Iifeforms” (Saur, 1973, p.l.).
The Illawarra Rainforest extended along the coastal and up into the escarpment from the northern parts of the Illawarra south to Kiama, the Shoalhaven River and west to Kangaroo Valley.
The primary threats to the rainforest ecology have been clearing for farming, mining, urban development, and related activities.
Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, a conduit to the globe
The Mount Pleasant Colliery was opened by Patrick Lahiff in 1861 and was very successful. Two years later the company built a horse tramway with two inclines down the escarpment from the mine to Wollongong Harbour. They eventually upgraded the tramway to steel railway in the 1880s and to convert to standard gauge.
The construction of the tramway raised the hackles of the locals and was only built after the state parliament passed the Mount Pleasant Tramroad Act 1862 (NSW). The mining company went bankrupt in 1934 and the mine was taken over by Broken Hill Pty Ltd in 1937 and renamed the Kiera Pleasant Tunnels.
I recently attended a seminar day at Picton showcasing the latest Thirlmere Lakes Research presented at The Thirlmere Lakes Third Annual Science Day held at the Picton Bowling Club.
There was a positive tone to the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project. The Thirlmere Lakes Research Program aims to shed light on changes in water levels in the lakes by better understanding the land and groundwater of the system.
This was the third day in a series of seminars and was attended by a range of stakeholders including the community, researchers, and state and local government.
A team of scientists from a variety of research institutions presented a variety of papers ranging across lake geology, geophysics, sedimentation, groundwater, surface flow, chemistry, water balance, and vegetation.
The day was an opportunity for academic researchers to collaborate with each other and stimulate further research. Researchers were drawn from University of New South Wales (UNSW), GeoQuEST Research Centre, the University of Wollongong (UOW), the Australian Government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Deakin University and the NSW Department Primary Industry and Environment and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services.
The research project was initiated by community activism started with the Rivers SOS group in 2010 and local concern about mining in the lakes area. Rivers SOS is an alliance of over 40 environmental and community groups concerned with the wrecking of rivers in New South Wales by mining operations.
The science day was very instructive from several perspectives including networking opportunities. Researchers tend to work in silos and conduct their work in isolation from other disciplines. The science day was an opportunity for researchers to interact with each other and generate new ideas from their work.
There was a positive tone around the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project. In the past, there are often tensions between stakeholders based on cynicism and lack of trust. There has been a mixed history of community consultations and engagement over policy decisions. In the past city-based decision-makers have shown little regard for the views of small communities. Their concerns have often been ignored.
The science days appear to have generated a significant level of trust between the community and the research team. There has been an open and transparent approach to the research project. Generally, science researchers do not like to present preliminary findings as they may differ significantly from the final results. This can prove problematic. The general community may not be fully aware of this process and can become suspicious and trust falls away.
The science day encouraged community engagement with positive comments from delegates, researchers and seminar day organisers. Before the commencement of the project, there was a high level of community cynicism about government responses to community concerns about the disappearance of the water in the lakes. The research project seems to have ameliorated many community concerns and lessened community cynicism towards decision-makers and the research process.
The second science day was held in June 2018 with five presentations showcasing preliminary findings from research partners. Feedback indicated that there was a strong interest in the early findings and the need for further community engagement – hence the 2020 day.
Announcement of Thirlmere Lakes Research project by the state government
In 2017 the Macarthur press announced the launch of the current Thirlmere Lakes Research project. The South West Voice reported
The research partners, University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Wollongong (UOW) and Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), will investigate the sensitivity of these wetland systems to external influences, such as the effects of mining activity and groundwater extraction, over the next four years. (South West Voice 20 October 2017)
The press reports detailed that the 2017 project was built on a 2014 monitoring program that has been continuously recording water levels in the 5 lakes.
The Voice stated that the areas of investigation for the 2017 project included
Geological mapping and geophysical surveys of the Thirlmere Lakes area (UNSW – Dr Wendy Timms);
Environmental isotopes investigations into periodic and recent water losses from Thirlmere Lakes (ANSTO – Dr Dioni Cendón);
Thirlmere Lakes: the geomorphology, sub-surface characteristics and long term perspectives on lake-filling and drying (UOW – Dr Tim Cohen);
Surface Water – Groundwater Interaction (UNSW – Dr Martin Andersen);
Developing an integrated water balance budget for Thirlmere Lakes to provide a detailed understanding of hydrological dynamics (UNSW – Associate Professor Will Glamore). (South West Voice 20 October 2017)
The Thirlmere Lakes National Park is 629 acres located in the Macarthur region and was proclaimed a national park in 1972. In 2000 the national park was inscribed as part of the UNESCOWorld Heritage-listedGreater Blue Mountains Area. The lakes have been a popular recreation spot with local families for many decades.
The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.
Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.
The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.
These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.
Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.
What is the relevance of the Camden story?
The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.
The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.
Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.
What is the use of the Camden story?
The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:
the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.
History offers a different approach to a question.
Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.
The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.
Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.
Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?
The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.
A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.
What if? What might have been? What could have been?
These are interesting questions when considering the big questions about the past.
This area of history writing involves speculation about the past and the way history is interpreted and understood. One young historian who has addressed these questions is Wollongong independent scholar Amy Penning. She has written a critique of counterfactual history. This is a controversial area of history theory and practice. Penning has written a lively discussion that analyses a contested area of historiography. In deciding whether to publish this essay I considered editing the text and decided against it. I feel that the essay is worth reproducing here in full.
The aim of publishing the essay on this site is to give the essay and its author a wider audience. I hope you enjoy reading this very interesting and worthwhile contribution to history theory and practice.
What if? What could have been? Counterfactual history
Counterfactual history is the historiographical method premised on hypothetical alternatives about outcomes of the past events and circumstances which actually occurred. Through questioning and speculating upon what could have happened, the past becomes reinvigorated. As counterfactual history allows for a deeper understanding of the reconstruction of history; as not simply a set of predetermined contingencies but rather an examination of the causation of events and the role of human agency. However, counterfactual claims without historical evidence are simply fantasying and are thus frivolous to historical study. Therefore, historians who employ a counterfactual paradigm have a scholarly responsibility to distinguish the conditions under which these ‘what if’ events are probable with accurate evidence to make these claims plausible and valid for the reconstruction of history.
A contested debate
As with all historiographical philosophies, counterfactual history has been subject to great debate, especially in recent years. Scottish historian Niall Ferguson a foremost proponent of counterfactual history deems virtual history as a necessity for understanding the past. He contends that through using empirical evidence, counterfactual analysis can enable a holistic and rigorous understanding of the past. Conversely, traditionalist historians, including academic Sir Richard J. Evans maintain that because counterfactuals are imaginative reconstructions, questioning the past using ‘what if’ scenarios are futile. He argues that personal speculation and curiosity is not history; that truth is truth and fact is a fact. Evans is right to insist on the primacy of facts in any historical inquiry – to do otherwise would render historical works fictitious. This does not, however, invalidate the potential merits of a counterfactual approach. By examining the conflicting views of Ferguson and Evans (among other historians) the contentions but also potential regarding counterfactual history is clearly illustrated.
Reconstruction of history
Counterfactual history has significant value in the reconstruction of history as it allows for a re-examination of causation, however many historians have interpreted this as a disregard of the past. It has thus been neglected among most academic historians across time and political ideologies ‘as having little epistemic value’. 
A definitive opponent to counterfactual history is E.H Carr (an English historian and opponent of empiricism) who in his famous book What is History? (1961) responded to Isaiah Berlin’s (British- Russian philosopher) criticism of those who do not give ‘priority to the role of the individual and accident’ , thus those who neglect counterfactual history, the role of human agency (humans action) and chance. E.H Carr responded to this by the dismissive phrase that ‘counterfactual’ history is a mere ‘parlour game’, a ‘red herring’. This was because for Carr, an investigation of causes and to suggest that something other than what did happen, might have occurred was a violation of the historical discipline. Strangely, ‘despite (Carr’s) denial of the value of counterfactual history in the book, it remains a landmark for understanding counterfactual history’.  As What is History ‘became the most influential text to examine the role of the historian…in the 1960s and is still widely read today’.  This is supported by the sheer amount of historians who use his definition of counterfactuals. 
The issue is that Carr’s definition of counterfactualism is not conclusive nor does it provide a true understanding of what counterfactual history is: a deeper look into causes, effects, and actors through questioning the past. It can be argued, therefore, that ‘for a long time, Carr’s criticisms made ‘what-if-history’ suspect for serious scholars’.  That is not to say, all historians of recent times disagree with counterfactual history as a result of Carr. However, his basic argument that reevaluating the past as more than predetermined contingencies poses a threat to the historical discipline, unfortunately, sums up the attitude of generations of historians on the subject.
The validity of the counterfactual inquiry
Further, many other influential historians have disregarded the validity of counterfactual inquiry in understanding history by dismissing it’s questioning into known historical events and causes as unhistorical practice. As counterfactual history ‘ambition to be consequential’ (aim to have important value in the historical discipline) is often misunderstood academic historians ‘(as a) distortion (of) scholarship‘. 
Therefore, questioning and reconstructing the past is threatening to some academic historians whose own study and understanding of history which have been cemented in traditional deterministic history (predestined nature of the past). Historian Marxist E. P. Thompson once famously called counterfactuals ‘Geschichtswissenschlopff, unhistorical garbage’. Furthermore, conservative philosopher and historian Michael Oakeshott ‘who rarely agreed with Thompson’ (Sustein, 2014) said that the ‘distinction between essential and incidental events does not belong to historical thought at all’. This reveals the ignorance and unwillingness of many historians to understand what counterfactual history is actually is; the assigning of the importance of events, understanding the significance of human actors and a deeper look at the causation of all which are important principles of historical study.
Further, this demonstrates that prominent and scholarly historians of varying ideologies and beliefs have labelled counterfactual history as a historical tool unworthy of study or use. The impact of this is significant on the study and use of counterfactualism in history, as Niall Ferguson reveals when he states ‘hostile views from such disparate figures’ could explain why counterfactual inquiry ‘has been provided by writers of fiction (rather than).. historians’. Therefore, revealing that academic historians who simply denounce counterfactual history as unhistorical fantasy, have failed to understand the definition of counterfactuals (as counterfactual principles do align with historical practice) and consequently have been unable to see counterfactualism’s value and use in history.
The contentions surrounding the worth of counterfactual inquiry in reconstructing history have been debated by the two leading historians Richard Evans and Niall Ferguson in recent years. Sir Richard Evans a widely renowned historian agrees with Thompson and Oakeshott, as he insists that counterfactual history is ‘speculation, not history.’ Evans laments that this fantasizing ‘threatens to overwhelm our perceptions of what really happened in the past, pushing aside our attempts to explain it.’ However what Evans neglects is Ferguson’s point, that counterfactual hypotheses are ‘only legitimate if one can show if what if your discussing is one that contemporaries seriously contemplated’ by showing evidence.’  Ferguson explains this through the example of ‘what would have happened in 1948 if the entire population of Paris had suddenly sprouted wings’ where he argues that this offers no historical insights, as this is not a realistic conjecture. Therefore, the basis for counterfactual arguments to be valid in reconstructing history must be provable plausibility through historical evidence.
Another counterfactual hypothesis which demonstrates the importance of historical evidence is provided by John Keegan a British military historian who contributed an essay to the military history journal about how Hitler could have won World War II ‘In 1941, Hitler controlled the world’s biggest tank fleet, and one of the biggest air fleets, and if he had decided to use them differently…he could have won’. Therefore, revealing how with factual evidence (the number of tank and fleets Hitler had), the counterfactual hypothesis can provide a greater understanding of the past; as through this inquiry, Keegan highlights the significance of the human actor in historical outcomes, particularly in military history. This is because ‘outcomes of battles were so often determined by the actions and decisions of a single leader’. Therefore, through providing historical evidence counterfactual claims are plausible and are useful as they provide a deeper understanding of the significance of causation and the role of human agency on historical outcomes.
Additionally, the predetermined nature of the past or determinism is a controversial issue for Evans and Ferguson when evaluating counterfactuals use and value in history. Ferguson sees counterfactual history as the ‘necessary antidote’ to the close-mindedness of historical determinism. In Ferguson’s words, ‘the past does not have a predetermined end. There is no author, divine, or otherwise only characters and a great deal too many of them’. Therefore, Ferguson reveals the non-deterministic and true complex contingency of the past as a result of human agency (human action and ability to alter history).
However, Evans contends that the very idea of determinism is too broad, as in terms of history moving towards an end ‘counterfactuals can only cast doubt on theories of history’ but can’t ‘undermine history as a whole because we don’t know where that trajectory will end’. Thus, he argues that since we already know the course of history, historical speculation on what might have occurred is pointless because it didn’t happen. However, Evans ignores that the unpredictable nature of human actors and that chance itself can both be significant factors in historical outcomes. Therefore, although ‘what if’ questioning will always remain hypothetical, chance and human agency do play a significant role in history. Consequently, study into alternative outcomes will always remain important and relevant for deepening the reconstruction of history.
Furthermore, throughout time counterfactuals have been used and will be continued to be used to reconstruct and understand history. This a result of the innate human desire to re-examine the past and to wonder ‘what if?’. In daily life, humans often speculate about what might have happened: ‘either grateful things worked out as they did or regretful that they did not occur differently’. As Niall Ferguson explains ‘(counterfactuals) is a vital part of how we learn’, because ‘decisions about the future are usually based on weighing up consequences of alternative courses of action’. As a consequence, of counterfactual questioning being innately human, historians throughout time have employed counterfactualism in their historical inquiry: sometimes unknowingly.
A further recent example is Robert Cowley, the editor of the military history quarterly who in 1998 used the counterfactual of ‘the fog on the East River on the night of Aug. 29, 1776, which permitted Washington to escape unnoticed by the British and save the Revolution from a Dunkirk. What if no fog?’.  Thus, as a consequence of counterfactual questioning being a part of human nature, it has been used and will be continued to be used throughout time, to better understand the complexity of the causation and events of the past. The innate human quality and use of counterfactuals in history further reinforced by historian and author Aviezer Tucker’s specialist in the philosophy of historiography and history. He reveals how to a certain extent, all historians use counterfactualism ‘when they assign cause, effects and the degree of importance to these causes’ because ‘The assignment of necessary causes assumes that had the cause not occurred, neither would the effects’. As all claims of causation, require the historian to give importance and necessity to events, people, and factors and their subsequent influence on the final outcome. As Jon Elster (Norwegian social and political theorist) explains historians ‘have been talking counterfactually all the time without knowing it’.
An interesting argument regarding the human quality of counterfactualism is put forward by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld a Professor of History, who uses examples of counterfactual history throughout time to reveal how ‘alternate history has consistently functioned as a means of using alternate pasts to expose the virtues and vices of the present.’  That is to say, the counterfactual questions asked throughout time reflect contemporary’s fears, attitudes and beliefs. Rosenfeld uses the example of American authors’ common use of the Nazis winning World War for to demonstrate this ‘For the first three decades of the postwar era most allo- historical (alternative) narratives.. depicted a Nazi wartime victory. This reflects the postwar history of the United States…(glorifying) the American decision to intervene in the war against, and ultimately defeat Nazi Germany’. Thus, (counterfactual history) ‘reflects its authors (current) hopes and fear.’  This reveals that counterfactual history is extremely useful to the historical discipline, as counterfactuals are inherently presentist. Therefore, counterfactual history gives insight into the evolution of historiography which makes it very useful to historians as documents of attitudes, values, perspectives and belief systems of individuals from that particular time.
Utilising the pre-existing conditions
Further, counterfactual claims can be valid through utilising the pre-existing conditions of the event developed over time. An example that demonstrates this, is the Greek’s defeat over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. The battle ended with a Greek victory, in which the swifter and far more numerous fleet of the Persian emperor Xerxes was destroyed. ‘However, this victory was dependent on a subtle manoeuvre by admiral Themistocles’.  A Persian win would have prevented the emerging Greek conceptions of freedom and the individual and thus ‘the great strengths of present-day Western culture is due to Themistocles September victory off Salamis’.  In approaching this ‘what if’ historical question one must neglect the ‘anything could follow anything’ mentality. As this kind of counterfactual narrative is based on speculation and is consequently problematic as to ‘extend counterfactual history speculation is to exhaust the connection between facts and realities’. 
A stronger counterfactual inquiry instead uses pre-existing conditions as it’s basis. ‘The Persians could not have been defeated in any other battle, Salamis was the Greeks only opportunity. Had Alexander not lived to build a Macedonian Empire, no one and nothing else could have replaced him. Consequently, the individualist culture that flowered in Greek city-states could not have emerged anywhere else.’ In this version, the counterfactual questioning is a historical inquiry into contingency as it is grounded in the pre-existing conditions of the ‘event developing over diverse conditions across large expanses of geographical and social territory’ . Thus, through the utilising existing circumstances and conditions, the counterfactual hypothesis can be valid in historical practice.
A deeper understanding of the reconstruction of history
In conclusion, a deeper understanding of the reconstruction of history can be achieved through speculation into the ‘what if’ questions of the past. The contentions and potential regarding counterfactual history are illustrated by examining the conflicting views of historians Ferguson (argues is necessary for holistic understanding) and Evans (argues it is imaginary and thus futile). Furthermore, influential historians such as E.H Carr dismissal of counterfactualism as unhistorical fantasy makes evident that counterfactual history’s definition has been skewed; as assigning importance to cause and effect are important historical practices. Through Evans and Ferguson’s arguments, it can be deduced that although counterfactuals claims will always be hypothetical in nature, they can be valid with historical evidence. These plausible counterfactual scenarios can then provide a deeper understanding of history. Historian John Keegan demonstrates through the counterfactual that ‘Hitler could have won World War II by acting differently’ the significance of human agency on historical outcomes. Moreover, counterfactual questioning and has been used by historians throughout time (e.g Thucydides, Livy, and Churchill) as it is inherently human. Consequently, counterfactual claims give insight into the memory and belief systems of individuals throughout time. Finally, through utilising existing circumstances and conditions counterfactual hypothesis can be valid historical practice. Therefore, counterfactual history has important value in the reconstruction of history, as questioning and rethinking the past reinvigorates and opens history; to not simply a set of predetermined contingencies but rather an examination of the causation of events and the role of human agency.
Amy Penning is an independent scholar based in Wollongong, NSW. She is interested in the philosophical nature of history.
Amy Penning can be contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org
 For example, Martin Bunzl a professor of philosophy article ‘Counterfactual History: A User’s Guide’, Richard Evans in his book Altered Pasts and Professor of history Peter J Beck in Presenting History: Past and Present all refer to and use Carr’s definition.
 Hekster. O., 2016, ‘The Size of History: Coincidence, Counterfactuality and Questions of Scale in History The Challenge of Chance Springer’, pp. 215-232, accessed 28 June 2019, Springer, Cham.
Personal and family stories that family historians and genealogists seek out provide a broader perspective on local histories and local studies of an area. They allow a person to take a look at themselves in the mirror from the past. Insights into our ancestors provide a greater understanding of ourselves in the present. The past informs the present through family and personal histories and places the present us into context.
Family and personal histories allow us to see and understand that we are greater than just ourselves. We are all part of a continuum from the past. The present is only a transitory phase until tomorrow arrives.
Looking at the past through personal and family histories gives a context to our present location on the timeline within our own family. Our own family story is located within the larger story of our community. Personal and family stories remind us daily of our roots and our ancestors.
We all have a past and it is good to be reminded of it occasionally. This is a job that is well done by thousands of enthusiastic family historians and genealogists and their creation of family trees and our connections to our ancestors.
We all need an appreciation of the stories from the past to understand how they affect and create the present. The past has shaped the present and the present will re-shape the future. Our ancestors created us and who we are, and we need to show them due respect. We, in turn, will create the future for our children and their offspring.
One local family were the Pattersons of Elderslie and one of their descendants, Maree Patterson, to seeking to fill out their story. She wants your assistance. Can you help?
The Patterson family of Elderslie
Maree Patterson has written:
I moved from Elderslie in 1999 to Brisbane and I have tried unsuccessfully to find some history on the family.
I am writing this story as I have been trying to research some of my family histories on my father’s side of the family and I feel sad that I never got to know a lot about his family.
My father, Laurence James Henry Patterson, was a well-known cricketer in the Camden district. He was an only child and he didn’t really talk much about his aunts, uncles, and cousins.
My grandfather passed away when I was young. Back then I was not into family history and I’ve hit a stumbling block. I’m now in need of some assistance.
I would really like to find out some history on the Patterson family as I have no idea who I am related to on that side of my family and I would like to pass any family history down.
At the moment I am seeking any help as the following is the only information that I have on the Patterson family.
H Patterson arrives in Elderslie
My great grandfather was Henry Patterson (b. 16 July 1862, Kyneton, Victoria – d. 11th July 1919, Camden, NSW). Henry arrived in Elderslie from Victoria in the 1880s with his wife Catherine (nee Darby) and they became pioneers in the Camden district.
Henry Patterson was a carpenter by trade and worked around the Camden area for various businesses. He and his wife, Catherine had 7 children, all of whom were born in Camden.
They were Ethel Adeline (b. 9 June 1886), Clarice Mabel (b. 14 May 1888), Isabella (b. 2nd June 1890), William Henry (b. 8 May 1892), Stanley Dudley (b. 5 October 1894), Ruby Lillian (b. 24 March 1899 and who passed away at 5 months of age) and Percy Colin (b. 13 January 1903). [Camden Pioneer Register 1800-1920, Camden Area Family History Society, 2001]
Henry’s wife dies
Henry sadly lost his wife Catherine in 1910 at only 47 years of age, which left him to raise 6 children.
Henry remarried in 1912 to Martha Osmond (nee Boxall) from Victoria.
Henry died on 11 July 1929 in Camden District Hospital after pneumonia set in following an operation. Martha, who was well known and respected throughout the district passed away on 18 May 1950 at the age of 86 years of age. She broke her leg and had become bedridden for some months.
Henry’s son goes to war
Henry and Catherine’s 5th child, Stanley Dudley Patterson, was a farmer in Elderslie. He enlisted in the 1/AIF on 18 July 1915 and was sent off to war on 2 November 1915. He was wounded and as his health continued to decline he was sent back to Australia in February 1917.
Voluntary Workers Association helps local digger
Upon Stanley Patterson’s return to Elderslie, a meeting was held by the Camden Branch of the Voluntary Workers’ Association.
They approved the building of a three-roomed weatherboard cottage with a wide verandah front and back to be built at 7 Purcell Street, Elderslie. He was married to Maud Alice Hazell.
Construction of VWA cottage
The land on which the cottage was to be built was donated by Dr. F.W. and Mrs. West. Once the cottage was completed Stanley secured a mortgage to repay the costs of building the cottage. I believe that the construction of this cottage started in either late February or late March 1918.
Carpentering work had been carried out by Messrs. H.S. Woodhouse, A. McGregor, E. Corvan, and H. Patterson. The painters were Messrs. F.K. Brent, J. Grono, A.S. Huthnance. E. Smith, Rex May and A. May under the supervision of Mr. P.W. May. The fencing in front of the allotment was erected by Mr. Watson assisted by Messrs. J. E. Veness, C. Cross, and J. Clissold. [Camden News]
Official handing over of VWA cottage
Stanley Patterson’s cottage in Elderslie, which was the first cottage built by the Voluntary Workers’ Association was officially opened by Mr. J.C. Hunt, M.L.A. on Saturday 15 June 1918.
The Camden News reported:
A procession consisting of the Camden Band, voluntary workers, and the general public, marched from the bank corner to the cottage, where a large number of people had gathered.
Mr. Hunt, who was well received, said he considered it a privilege and an honour to be invited to a ceremony of this kind, for when those who had fought for us needed help it was our duty to give that help, for they had fought for us needed help it was our duty to give that help, for they had sacrificed so much for us. Although Private Patterson had returned from active service, he had offered his life for us. Mr. Hunt congratulated Pte. Patterson on responding to the call of duty; soldiers did not look for praise, the knowledge of having done their duty to their country was all they required. He hoped that Pte. and Mrs. Patterson would live long to enjoy the comforts of the home provided for them by the people of Camden.
[Camden News, Thursday 20 June 1918, page 1]
Appeal for photographs of VWA cottage by CE Coleman
CE Coleman took a few photos of the VWA cottage handed over to Pte. Patterson. These included: one in the course of construction; the official opening; the gathering that had assembled on the day; and a photo of Pte. Patterson. To date, I have searched high and low for these photos but to no avail. The only photo of a cottage built by the Voluntary Workers’ Association is a cottage at 49 Broughton Street, Camden for returned soldier Pt. B. Chesham. [Camden Images Past and Present] [Camden News, Thursday, 20 June 1918, page 4]
VWA cottage is a model farm for other returning soldiers
The Camden News reported:
MODEL POULTRY FARM
Stanley Patterson settled down in his new cottage on 1¼ acres and was determined to make good and earn a livelihood and cultivated the land and planting a small apple and citrus orchard and a vineyard. It wasn’t long before he purchased an adjoining piece of land of another 1¼ acres and within a few more years added another block, giving him 3 ¾ acres.
By 1935, Stanley Patterson owned 14 acres in the vicinity of Elderslie. With his apple and citrus orchard and vineyard, Stanley went into poultry farming as well with particular attention given to the production of good and profitable fowls and he had over 1,000 birds, mainly White Leghorns and Australorps with an extra run of the finest standard Minorca.
In 1935, the progeny test of Stanley Patterson’s birds held a record of 250 eggs and over and the distinctive productivity of these is in the fact that he collects eggs in an off period equal to numbers in flush periods. The marketing value is therefore enhanced. The pens are well divided into different sections, the buildings being on the semi-intensive system each with its own separate run. The brooder house is fitted with the Buckeye principle brooders, also has run for young chicks. The incubator house is a separate identity fitted with a Buckeye incubator of 2,000 eggs capacity, hot air is distributed by means of an electric fan. Feed storage and preparation shed and packing room are conveniently attached and the model poultry farm is one that stands out only to the credit to the industrious owner, but to the district in which it is worked.
In 1935 day old chicks were sold for 3 Pounds per 100 or 50 for 32/-. Day old Pullets were sold for 7 Pounds per 100, eggs for hatching sold for 25/- per 100 and Custom hatching 8/- per tray of 96 eggs. [Camden News, Thursday 20th June 1935, page 6]
My grandfather WH Patterson
My grandfather was William Henry Patterson, the 4th child born to Henry and Catherine Patterson. He was a carpenter like his father and following his marriage to Ruby Muriel Kennedy in 1918, he purchased some acreage in River Road, Elderslie. He had a vineyard, flower beds, fruit trees and other crops on a small farm.
William built his own home at 34 River Road, Elderslie in the early 1920s with some assistance from another builder. The home was a double brick home with a tin roof and consisted of two bedrooms, a bathroom, lounge room, kitchen, laundry and a verandah around 3 sides.
Inside the home, there were a lot of decorative timber and William had also made some furniture for his new home. This home has since gone under some extensive renovations but the front of the home still remains the same today and recently sold for $1.9 million.
As a carpenter William worked locally in the Camden district and on several occasions worked at Camelot. Unfortunately, I have no other information on William.
Contemporary developments at 34 River Road, Elderslie.
Jane reports she is the current owner of 34 River Road Elderslie and has loved finding out about the history of the house. She purchased the house two years ago (2018) and is currently renovating the house interior.
I have been working with Nathan Caines from Fernleigh Drafting & Melanie Redman Designs for the interior, coming up with some beautiful concepts. The original exterior of the house will not be changed, but there will be some amazing changes out the back.
Percy Colin Patterson, the 7th child born to Henry and Catherine Patterson married Christina N Larkin in 1932. In the early 1920s, Percy was a porter at Menangle Railway Station for about 5 months before he was transferred to Sydney Station.
Maree’s search continues
Maree Patterson concludes her story by asking:
I am particularly interested in information on the Camden Branch of the Voluntary Workers’ Association which was formed in 1918.
The WVA built the first cottage at 7 Purcell Street, Elderslie for returned World War 1 soldier Pte. Stanley Dudley Patterson, who was my great uncle.
The house still stands today but has had some modifications and I lived in this cottage for a few years after I was born with my parents.
I am particularly interested in trying to obtain copies of these photos if they exist somewhere. Any assistance you can offer would be greatly appreciated or perhaps point me in the right direction to find these photos.
Caylie writes that she had no idea of what she and her husband David Jeffrey would find when they decided to renovate the worst house on the busiest terrace in Milton, a Brisbane suburb. She says that they had no idea of the treasures they would find ‘secreted inside the house’.
A curious online community of amateur sleuths began a relentless quest for answers. As more clues were revealed, the ghosts of Old Brisbane started to rise from the depths of people’s memories.
Bella Vista Farm was part of the colonial farming empire of the Macarthur family of Elizabeth Farm which they called the Seven Hills Farm. The farm was on the overland route opened up between Rose Hill (Parramatta) and the Hawkesbury settlement around 1791 a road constructed between Toongabbie and Windsor by the NSW corps using convict labour. Intially the route was called the Hawkesbury Road and eventually the Old Windsor Road.
The farm is located on the lands between the clan areas of of the Toogagal Toongabbie and the Bidjigal of the Castle Hill area of the Darug people. Bella Vista is located on a hilltop and would have been a lookout site.
John Macarthur purchased the property in 1801 for £2000 with 1250 sheep from Major Joseph Foveaux. In 1799 John Foveaux and Charles Grimes, the Deputy Surveyor of Crown Lands, were granted 980 acres in the Crestwood area, and within months Grimes sold his share of the grant to Foveaux a month later.
Combined with a further grant of 190 acres in 1799, and 600 acres in 1800 was called by Foveaux, Stock Farm. This made him the largest landholder in the colony of 2020 acres, together with his flock of 1027 sheep the largest stock-owner in the colony.
Foveaux sold his property, which he called ‘Stock Farm’, to the Macarthurs in 1801 after he was appointed Acting Lieutenant Governor on Norfold Island.
John Macarthur was absent from New South Wales from 1801 1805. Macarthur was always an argumentative character and had a disagreement with Colonel Paterson his commanding officer, fought a duel, and Paterson was wounded. Governor King had Macarthur arrested and sent for trial in England in 1801.
In John’s absence the family’s pastoral interests were managed by Elizabeth from her home at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta. She called Stock Farm her Seven Hills Farm and was ably assisted by her farm manager, or overseer, initially with Richard Fitzgerald, followed by William Joyce, John Hindle and Thomas Herbert.
Under Elizabeth’s management the Macarthur’s flock of sheep increased from 2000 to 1801, to 3000 in 1803 and 5920 by 1805. A substantial number of this sheep flock was held at the Seven Hills Farm.
Elizabeth subsequently purchased land a neighboring property from Richard Fitzgerald. This purchase was made up of two part, one a 1799 160 acre to Richard Richardson, and a 270 acre grant to William Goodhall. Fitzgerald sold his holding to Elizabeth and worked for the Macarthurs as a steward, manager and record keeper.
John was again absent from New South Wales between 1809 to 1817 over his part in the only coup d’etat in Australian history, the arrest of Governor Bligh in a tin pot take over called the Rum Rebellion.
John asked Elizabeth to negotiate to exchange the Seven Hills estate for land in the Cowpastures in 1809. There was a devastating drought between 1813 and 1815 and the sheep flock was moved elsewhere.
By 1821 the farm was known as Seven Hills Farm and covered 2270 acres. The Macarthurs exchanged the farm for Crown land in the Cowpastures. It was on the Seven Hills Farm that Elizabeth bred some of the earliest Spanish merino sheep.
Subsequent owners of Bella Vista and support groups
1821 James Robertson
1838 Isabella Acres
1842 William Pearce
1865 Edward Pearce, inherited from father
1912 Edward WCS Pearce, inherited from father
1933 leased by Edwards wife after Edward’s death
1950 North Sydney Brick and Tile Company
1952 house leased
1974 Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board for water storage
1979 Interim Heritage order
1980 Formation of the Elizabeth Macarthur Seven Hills Farm Assocation
1997 Permanent Heritage order
1997 Department of Planning, NSW Government
1997 Baulkham Hills Shire Council
2006 Formation of The Friends of Bella Vista Farm
The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states that Bella Vista Farm is significant because of the:
Evidence of the documentary record, of the agricultural activities of the Macarthur family, managed by Elizabeth Macarthur from Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta (SHR item # 1), and locally by her stewards. These records indicate early experiments at grazing sheep by Grimes, Foveaux and the Macarthurs that failed due to insect plagues, low stock per acre ratios, droughts and the unsuitability of hoofed animals to Australian conditions. Indicating also the monopoly held by, and extensive grants given to certain officers, including John Macarthur.
The Farm is a rare example of an intact rural cultural landscape on the Cumberland Plain, continuously used for grazing since the 1790s. The Farm is one of the most intact and best examples on the Cumberland Plain of the summit model of homestead siting, where the house and plantings are sited high on a prominent hill in contrast with open fields around. The farm is an increasingly rare example, on the Cumberland Plain, of a rural property, where the evidence of the staged development of the homestead survives from slab cottage to villa.
A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.
What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.
The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.” They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.
I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.
To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.
The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.
There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.
The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.
Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.
Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.
Be a Historical Detective Conducting Historical Research
Steps involved in being a historical detective and conducting an investigation (historical research).
Like any good TV detective, you should proceed through several steps while conducting your investigation (historical research). You will then be able to solve the historical mystery. These steps are:
1. What is a historical detective?
2. What is historical research?
3. What has to be done in historical research?
4. Plan of action
5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?
6. Conduct background research.
7. Gather evidence.
8. Evaluate the evidence.
9. Analyse the evidence.
10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.
11. Present the evidence.
12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.
These steps outline a journey ( a voyage of discovery) you can undertake while conducting a historical investigation.
These steps are only a guide and another detective (researchers) may take a different approach.
There are many paths to the ‘truth’ and ‘enlightenment’. Which one are you going to going to take?
Description of each stage of the historical investigation
1. What is a historical detective?
The proposition that I want you to imagine is that you are a detective and that you are going to go on a voyage of discovery.
To be a historical detective assumes that there is a historical mystery of some sort.
History is full of good mysteries.
What is a historical mystery? A historical mystery is a secret, hidden story or an inexplicable matter that happened in the past. For example, there have always been stories and mysteries about Grandad, Aunt Ethyl and cousin Gertrude.
Consider a historical mystery you might investigate.
What is your historical mystery?
2. What is historical research?
You will solve your historical mystery by conducting an investigation (historical research) and discovering what is involved in unravelling the mystery’s secrets.
During your investigation, you will collect lots of information (eg, facts, statistics). This is the evidence. You will use the evidence to build a picture that will, hopefully, solve your mystery.
While undertaking your investigation you will be involved in finding out lots of stories.
Which story is the ‘truth’? Your version of the ‘truth’ may be different from someone else’s version of the ‘truth’.
3. What are you trying to find out?
Before you start your investigation you should know (at least have an idea about) the question you are trying to answer.
The starting point for your research will involve asking simple questions about the mystery:
• What is it (event)?
• When did it happen (time)?
• Where is it (location)?
• Who is involved (participants, suspects)?
• What are the circumstances (events)?
Then moving to more complex questions:
• Why did it happen (motivation)?
• How did it happen (modus operandi)?
What is the question you are trying to answer?
4. Plan of action
Before you start your investigation you should draw up a plan of attack.
You should make a timeline with the steps involved in the investigation.
This is the modus operandi for your research.
This may involve questions like:
• Why am I undertaking this journey in the first place? (motivation)
• Where am I going to start?
• Where am I doing this research project?
• What resources do I need to undertake the research?
• How long will my journey of discovery take me (man-hours)?
• What am I going to do along the way?
• Where am I likely to finish up?
A well-planned investigation will help you from retracing your steps or leaving something out. Do not leave any stone unturned in your investigation.
Where are you going to start your research?
How long your investigation going to take?
Once you have estimated the time needed to complete the research. You might find it useful to set several small goals or mileposts. You can tick off each milepost as you reach that particular point in your research.
What are your mileposts?
Once you have estimated how long the research will take and the steps involved, you need to ensure that you stick to your timetable as much as possible.
5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?
You will need to make a list of the resources that are required for your investigation.
These resources could include:
• Administration and office expenses
• Research expenses
• Travel expenses
• Research fees
• Computer hardware and software
6. Conduct background research.
Before you start your investigation you should find out has anyone else been there before you. If there has been previous research you need to know:
• What did they find out?
• Are you re-inventing the wheel?
• Are you actually doing something new?
• Are you simply re-hashing old material? If so you might be wasting your time and energy. Find another historical mystery to solve. There are lots around.
A good historical detective could examine the physical scene of the mystery and obtain the ‘lay of the land’. This could involve a field trip to a site or local study area. You could make observations of the scene (location) and record your observations. It helps you ‘get the feel’ of the investigation.
7. Gather evidence
You should gather the evidence in several forms:
• Written evidence from a variety of sources,(eg, libraries, museums, archives, organisational records, newspapers); or making a field trip and recording your observations (eg, memorials, cemeteries, artefacts, objects)
(a) Firstly, the type of evidence that you have gathered to solve the mystery.
This will be either primary or secondary evidence (sources)
(i) Primary evidence (sources)
This is evidence drawn from the time of the mystery.
This can include:
Official records – government records (eg: birth certificates, death certificates)
Newspapers Memoirs Personal records
Maps Sketches Paintings
Photographs Artefacts Objects
Site Anecdotes Ephemera
Songs Poems Cartoons
Advertisements Human remains – skeletons Oral testimony – interviews
(ii) Secondary evidence (sources)
This is evidence that is reconstructed by others about the mystery.
This can include:
• TV programs,
(b) Secondly, evaluation involves the validation and verification of evidence.
(i) Validation is confirming the details of the evidence. Is it correct?
(ii) Verification will involve cross-checking evidence.
9. Analyse the evidence.
Now you have all the evidence, what are you going to do with it? You will have to:
Organise and arrange all of the evidence. To do this you will need to summarise the evidence. This could be achieved by:
• Completing a timeline (date order of events), a table, maps, lists, tables, mind maps, charts, storyboards.
• Completing a profile of suspects (participants) involved in the mystery.
• Reconstruct scenarios of the mystery and answer questions like:
Why were the participants involved, that is, what was their motivation?
Why did these events occur?
How did these things happen?
• Taking an empathetic approach to help gain an appreciation of what the situation was like in the past to assist in solving the mystery.
10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.
Every now and then you need to pause and re-assess your progress. You need to ask yourself several questions. These could include:
• Are you sticking to your timetable?
• Are you staying to your budget?
• Are you getting side-tracked?
• Are you running up to many dead-ends?
You may be forced to take a step back and make some critical judgements about the progress of your research. If you are not achieving your goals, why not?
Be flexible. Take advantage of the unexpected. Adjust to dead ends. Follow unanticipated leads.
11. Presentation of the research.
Once you completed your investigation (gathered all your evidence and you have organised it, verified its authenticity and validated it) you will have to present it.
The results of your investigation could be presented in several ways:
• Newspaper articles
• TV documentary
(c ) Oral
Within each of these types of presentation, there are different alternatives. For example, you could consider presenting the written component of your research by using any number of different text types:
• Description – to describe a person, place, object or event.
• Recount – to retell past events, usually in date order.
• Explanation – tells how (process) and why (reason) something occurred.
• Exposition – present one side of an issue.
• Information Report – to present information in a general rather than a specific subject.
• Discussion – to give both sides of the issue (for/against).
12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.
When you have used material and ideas that are not your own you must acknowledge them. If you do not this it is theft and is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is the theft of another person’s ideas or intellectual property.
Acknowledgement of sources may involve using:
• Reference List
• Further reading
An acknowledgement will involve using a referencing system of some type, for example:
• MLA (Modern Language Association of America)
The referencing system you chose will depend on your audience and other considerations. Most publications will put their requirements in a style guide.
Finally, at the end of your investigation (historical research): did you find out the ‘truth’?
References and further reading.
Anderson, Mark & Paul Ashton, Australian History and Citizenship, South Yarra: MacMillan Education, 2000.
Black, Jeremy and Donald M MacRaild Studying History, 2nd Edition, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.
Carr, EH, What is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican, 1964.
Clanchy, John and Brigid Ballard, Essay Writing For Students, A Guide for Arts and Social Science Students, Melbourne: Longman and Cheshire, 1981.
Coupe Sheena, Robert Coupe and Mary Andrew, Their Ghosts May Be Heard, Australia to 1900 2nd Edition, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1994.
Eschuys, Joe Guest and Phelan, Discovering Australian History/Eschuys, Guest, Phelan, South Melbourne: MacMillan, 1996.
Mabbett, IW, Writing History Essays, A Student’s Guide, Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
McCullagh, C Behan, The Truth of History, London: Routledge, 1998.
Warren, John, History and Historians, in series Access to History, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999.
Curthoys, Ann & John Docker, Is History Fiction? University of New South Wales: University of New South Wales Press, 2006.
In school textbooks for decades, at least up the 1960s, John Macarthur has been written about as the father of the Australian wool industry. Writers have maintained that his vision for New South Wales was for fine wool to become the staple industry of the state and the country.
On the anniversary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 the Commonwealth Government’s Postmaster-General’s Department issued a special commemorative series of postage stamps to celebrate the his centenary of his death and his role, according to the Sydney press, ‘for being responsible for the introduction of the merino breed of sheep into Australia, and the consequent establishment of Australia as the greatest wool-producing country in the world’.
In 1966 John Macarthur’s image and the merino ram appeared on the first Australian $2 note. More than this he is a character in Eleanor Dark’s semi-fictional Australian classic trilogy ‘The Timeless Land’ (1941). John Macarthur also features in American writer Naomi Novik’s fantasy novel Tongues of Serpents (2010). In 1949 the Federal electoral Division of Macarthur, taking in Camden, was named in honour of John and Elizabeth Macarthur.
In Camden the town celebrated the legacy of the John Macarthur in 1960 with the 4-day Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October). The festivities celebrated the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia.
While John Macarthur was important in the importation of Spanish merino sheep from South Africa and the early development of the Australian wool industry, he was not alone in this story. There are a host of other individuals in the story including his wife, Elizabeth, and other wool producers like Reverend Samuel Marsden and William Cox and folk like Governor Hunter, and Captains Waterhouse and Kent. Although for many, particularly in the early 20th century, John Macarthur single-handedly was responsible for the foundation of the wool industry at Camden Park.
The anniversary of the death of John Macarthur in 1934 was a time of reflection on his contribution to the story of farming in Australia. The country was looking for heroes and pioneer figures who conquered the colonial frontier and John Macarthur fitted the bill. The enormous wealth generated by the wool industry in the 1920s and 1930s contributed the feeding frenzy around the legend of John Macarthur.
Wool’s enormous wealth
The wool industry during the interwar period was of immense importance to Australia. By the mid-1920s the United Kingdom purchased about 50% of Australia’s total wool exports, and wool exports accounted for about three-quarters of all pastoral export income. By the late 1920s Australia’s 103 million sheep were 17% of the world’s sheep numbers and Australia produced half of the world’s merino wool. In the 1930s wool exports were 30% of the total value of the Australia’s exports. (ABS)
In 1934 the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate claimed under a headline ‘Australia supplies most of the World Wool’ with a sub-heading ‘John Macarthur’s Work’. It went on the John MacArthur (sic) ‘laid the foundation of the merino wool industry at Elizabeth Farm, at Rose Hill, near Sydney in 1796’. In a second article on ‘John Macarthur, Father of the Wool Industry’, the author wrote that ‘there were no band playing, no celebrations’ and ‘perhaps that is how he would have wished it. His great monument stands in the record wool return that has come to Australia this year; a record that has turned the tide of depression, a record that may yet come in the flood of prosperity fully restored’. The newspaper felt ‘it seems strange that a man who did so much to make the wealth of the country should be so little honoured’. The author felt that there had been ‘ a hundred years in silence – now a few stamps – how typical of the casual Australian’.
The Braidwood Review and District Advocate ran a headline ‘The Golden Fleece, Late John Macarthur’s Vision’. Parramatta’s Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate in 1934 felt confident is stating that ‘Australia lives on the sheep’s back’. RAHS historian James Jervis wrote an article for the Argus called ‘John Macarthur – An Appreciation’ and said his memory ‘to all good Australians’.
Various members of the rural press reported on an address given by James Walker the president of the NSW Graziers’ Association which traced the history of the wool industry in Australia and Dr Roland Wilson, the economist of the Commonwealth Statistician Department, who dealt with the importance of the wool industry to Australia and the legacy of John Macarthur.
Father of the colony
Earlier in 1931 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article written by WRS called ‘John Macarthur, the Father of the Colony’ claiming he came from ‘a warrior ancestry’ and should be remembered ‘in the respectful admirations of Australians from the beginning of the drama of civilisation here’.
Even from the early 20th century there was a recognition by some of the reality of Macarthur’s contribution. JHM Abbott acknowledged in The World’s News in Sydney in 1926 that Macarthur was the first to realise the potential of wool production in the colony and he backed his opinion with his financial resources. Abbott states that ‘it is often erroneously stated that Macarthur introduced sheep to Australia, but that is not the case’.
While John Macarthur’s role made an contribution to the foundation of the Australian wool industry today we have a nuanced understanding of the important contribution made by many people to the story and Camden’s role in that story.