The show is an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in the real smells, sounds and sights of a sample of the farm in rural Australia.
The show represents the authentic real life of country people. It is a performance bringing history to life by storytelling through a host of demonstrations, events and displays.
The show is historical representation of the past in the present illustrating a host of aspects of rural heritage through experiential learning.
Living history reveals layers from the past
The show reveals itself in a multi-layered story of continuity and change on the edge of the Camden township. What was once a small isolated rural village at the Nepean River crossing and is now a thriving Sydney suburb on the city’s metropolitan fringe.
Competitive sections of the show have come and gone with changes in the farming economy. Livestock, produce, craft and cooking sections each tell a story of different aspect of rural life. What was once an integral part of the rural economy is now a craft activity and completely new sections have appeared over the decades.
Where once rural artisans were part of the local economy their activities are now demonstrations of heritage and lost trades. Show patrons once used to arrive in a horse and cart today’s show-goers watch competitive driving of horse and sulkies in the show ring.
Sideshows and carnies continue show traditions that have their origins in English village fairs and carnivals of the past and even a hint of the Roman Empire and their circuses.
The success of the show illustrates a yearning by those attending to experience and understand elements of the traditions of a rural festival in the face of urban growth and development.
The Camden Show is a rural festival that is part of the modern show movement that emerged from the Industrial Revolution. The first series of agricultural shows in the early 19th century demonstrated modern British farming methods and technology.
The first agricultural shows in New South Wales were in the early 19th century and the first Camden Show in 1886. The 19th century agricultural show movement set out to demonstrate the latest in British Empire know-how and innovation in farming.
The site of the show on the Nepean River floodplain is one of the first points of contact between European and Indigenous people and the cows that escaped from the Sydney settlement in 1788 former the Cowpasture Reserve in 1795. For living history it is material culture which grounds the audience in time and place.
There has been a chorus of objection from some in the Camden community over the potential sale. Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.
The principal actors (stakeholders) have taken up positions around the issue include: churchgoers, non-churchgoers (residents, outsiders, ex-Camdenites, neighbours), the parish, local government, state government, and the Macarthur family.
The former horse paddock looks like an unassuming vacant block of land in central Camden. So why has there been so much community angst about is possible sale?
The simple answer is that the community ascribes representations of a church beyond the building being a place of worship. Yet this raises a paradox for the owners of these religious sites. Generally speaking different faiths put worship and the spiritual interests of their followers ahead of their property portfolio.
This paradox has created angst in some communities when the owners of religious buildings and sites want to sell them, for example, in Tasmania in 2018 or other examples discussed by Graeme Davison.
The Hawdon allegory was present when the town was established by the Macarthur family as a private venture on Camden Park Estate in 1840. The construction and foundation of St John’s church was part of the process of the building of the new town.
an enduring image within the socially constructed concept of Camden’s rurality has been the unparalleled vista of the Camden village from the Macarthur’s hilltop Georgian mansion. (Image below) The romantic image portrayed an idyllic English pastoral scene of an ordered farming landscape, a hive of industrious activity in a tamed wilderness which stressed the scientific and the poetic.
‘citadel on the hill’ at the centre of the ‘village’. It acts as a metaphor for order, stability, conservatism and a continuity of values of Camden’s Anglophile past. The Nepean River floodplain keeps Sydney’s rural-urban fringe at bay by being the ‘moat around the village’ which occasionally was the site of a torrent of floodwater.
The hilltop location has spiritual significance with Biblical references to love, peace and righteousness.
A sense of place
St John’s church has had a central role in the construction of place and community identity in the town.
The church and its hilltop location is an enduring colonial legacy and a representation of the power of the colonial gentry, particularly the position of Camden Park Estate and the Macarthur family within the narrative of the Camden story.
Many Camden folk feel a sense of belonging to the church expressed by memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.
The community feel that the church belongs to them as much as it belongs to the churchgoers within the church community.
Belonging is central to placeness. It is home and a site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is an important source of stability.
makes it plain that the feelings engendered by the loss of place can be equated with those experienced in the loss of a close relative, friend or partner. This straightforward analogy helps to make visible the symbolic role of place in enabling human beings to confront issues of mortality.
The church buildings and precinct are a shrine to a lost past and considered by many to be sacred land. The sale of the former horse paddock has caused a degree community grief over the potential loss of sacred land.
St John’s church is an important architectural statement in the town centre and is one Australia’s earliest Gothic style churches.
So what does all this mean?
The place of St John’s church in the Camden community is a complex one. The story has many layers and means different things to different people, both churchgoers and non-churchgoers.
The church is a much loved place and the threatened loss of part of the church precinct generates feeling of grief and loss by many in community.
The legacy of the English landscape identity from the early 19th century and the establishment of the Cowpastures is very real and still has a strong presence in the community’s identity and sense of place. The English style Gothic church is a metaphor for the Hawdon’s ‘Little England’ allegory.
The Cowpastures was the fourth location of European settlement in Australia and the local area still has a strong Anglo-demographic profile. These contribute to re-enforce the iconic imagery projected by St John’s church combined with the story of a settler society and its legacy.
Check out this publication to read more about the Camden district.
It is not often that the historian can get a view into the past through the lens of the present in real time. I was able to this in Camden New South Wales recently at a photo shoot for the History Magazine for the Royal Australian Historical Society.
Photographer Jeff McGill and author Laura Jane were the participants in this activity. We all walked along Camden’s historic main thoroughfare, Argyle Street, which still echoes of the Victorian period. Our little group made quite a splash and drew a deal of attention from local women who swooned over the ‘gorgeous’ vintage dress worn by Laura Jane.
Mid-20th century enthusiast Laura Janes lives the lifestyle in dress, makeup and hairstyle and made the perfect foil for her History article on Sydney fashion, the David Jones store and their links to the fashion house of Dior. Laura Jane modelled her 1950s Dior style vintage dress in front of Camden’s storefronts that were reminiscent of the period. With matching handbag, gloves, hat, hairstyle, stiletto heels, and makeup she made a picture to behold captured by Campbelltown photographer Jeff.
Laura Jane encompasses the experience of the country woman going to town when Camden women would dress-up in their Sunday best to shop in Camden or catch the train to the city.
A city shopping expedition would entail catching the Pansy train at Camden Railway Station, then change steam trains at Campbelltown Railway Station, then another change at Liverpool Railway Station from steam train to the electric suburban service for Central Railway Station in Sydney. The suburban electric trains did not arrive at Campbelltown until 1968.
City outings for country women often happened around the time of the Royal Easter Show when the whole family would go to the city. The family would bring their prized horses and cattle to compete with other rural producers for the honour and glory of winning a sash. While the menfolk were busy with rural matters their women folk would be off to town to shop for the latest fashions for church and show balls or to fit out the family for the upcoming year.
Country women from further away might stay-over at swish city hotels like the up-market elegant Hotel Australia near Martin Place. These infrequent city outings were a treat and a break from the drudgery of domesticity and women would take the opportunity to combine a shopping trip with a visit to see a play or the Tivoli theatre.
The intrinsic nature of the city outings for country women were captured by the Sydney street photographers. They operated around the Martin Place, Circular Quay, Macquarie and Elizabeth Street precincts and are depicted in an current photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
The images of the Sydney street photographer captured of moment in time and their most prolific period was during the 1930s to the 1950s. The country woman would be captured on film as she and a friend wandered along a city street. They would be given a token and they could purchase a memento of their city visit in a postcard image that they could purchase at a processing booth in a city-arcade. The Sydney street photographer captured living history and has not completely disappeared from Sydney street.
Laura Jane, whose lifestyle encompasses the mid-20th century, in an expression of the living history movement in motion. The living history movement is a popular platform for experiencing the past and incorporates those who want to live the past in the present, aka Laura Jane, or relive it on a more occasional basis as re-enactors who relive the past for a moment. There are many examples of the latter at historic sites in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
The Camden photo shoot was an example how a moment in time can truly be part of living history where the photographer captures a glimpse of the past in the present. An example of how the present never really escapes the past.
Located in the upper reaches of the Williams River valley is the sleepy little town of Dungog nestled between the ridges that run through the town centre. A picturesque country setting.
The town is characterised by its wide streets, a legacy from the colonial days when it was necessary to be able to turn around a bullock wagon.
An interesting and colourful collection of Colonial, Edwardian and Interwar buildings dot the town centre that make the commercial precinct of the town.
The blacksmith was one of the key trades in Dungog as it was in most rural settlements in colonial Australia and in the homeland of rural England. Dungog’s 300 dairyfarmers certainly made use of the local smithy.
The motor car made an appearance in the early 20th century and the local blacksmiths turned their hand to car maintenance. The smithy repaired farmer’s wagons and ploughs then moved to look after motor cars.
Some blacksmith’s shops turned into the local garage with a petrol pump on the footpath and service workshop out the back. Dungog has a number of garages and one of these is the Ford dealership and NRMA representative at Davey and Olsen.
The Davey and Olsen garage is found at 160-168 Dowling Street Dungog and is part of the 19th century commercial precinct made up of traditional trades and services along Dowling Street.
The family business acquired the Ford dealership in 1925 and the garage grew to serve the growing number of car owners which was encouraged by the construction of the Chichester Dam (op. 1926).
As the number of dairy farmers in the area declined the pressures of development passed the town by and the local garages and other buildings in the town centre have retained many of their original features.
The morphology of the Dowling Street business precinct is similar to the town of the early 20th century. The streetscape has changed little in over 80 years.
Spring was a time of celebration and ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection and regrowth. Camden celebrated its ‘re-birth’ with a week-long spring festival held in the late 1960s in late October with a spring flower festival full of community events.
Spring, the season of re-birth, was celebrated in Sydney with the Waratah Festival which ran from 1956 to 1973. Originally festivals in Melbourne and Sydney were sparked by the thousands of people who flocked to see the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 1954. The optimism of the post-war years was initially celebrated in Melbourne with it Moomba Festival from March 1955 and then the following years by Sydney’s Waratah Festival in October.
The 1960s were a period of prosperity and optimism in the Camden district. One expression of local optimism and perhaps the inspiration for the Rose Festival may have been the new rose gardens in Macarthur Park which were planned and laid out in 1964, and planted out with 80 roses the following year.
Founder of the Camden Rose Festival
The founder of the Camden Rose Festival was insurance salesman JW Hill as fundraiser for Camden District Hospital. Hill was a keen volunteer and a member of a number of community organisations including Lions, RSL, Masons, scouting movement and an enthusiastic bowler, golfer and swimmer. (Camden Advertiser, 11 February 2009)
Hill led the organisation of the 1968 Rose Festival celebrations and involved the whole community. Festivities opened with a street parade along Argyle Street and were a highlight of the week. Festival publicity boasted that the parade would ‘feature decorated floats, vintage motor vehicles, commercial displays and costumed marchers’. (Camden News, 23 October 1968)
1968 street parade
‘Several thousand people’ lined Argyle Street and watched the procession of floats in the street parade which boasted a strong local line-up starting with ‘school children and members of the Air Training Corps, Scouts and Guides’ supported by five bands. (Camden News, 30 October 1968)
Officials including the mayor, Alderman Ferguson, and local member of parliament, Max Dunbier MLA, supervised the parade from their vantage point near the post office. Parade floats included the Camden Historical Society which ‘entered a buggy and a team of horsemen in period costume’, Fossey’s store staff ‘featured girls in different national costumes’ while the fellows from Camden Apex Club provided a ‘humorous comment on National Dental Week’. The Camden Theatre Group float provided publicity for their up-coming show ‘The Pyjama Game’. (Camden News, 30 October 1968)
Parade proceedings were briefly interrupted for a short time when ‘a motley crowd of roughnecks’ called the ‘Kelly Gang’ rode into town on their horses. The gang provided ‘hilarious’ entertainment when tried to hold-up the CBC Bank, but instead decided to kidnap a bank officer, Bob Green, and transported him and his ‘charlady’ to the Camden Showground. (Camden News, 30 October 1968)
The western side of Argyle Street (the Hume Highway) was closed off and there were a series of entertainers: at 11:00 there was the Issues; followed at 12.00 by young dancers from the Camden Ballroom and Latin American Dancing Academy.
A wheelbarrow derby started at 1.00pm and finished at the bowling club with hotel sponsored-teams in racing colours expecting stiff competition. The winning Crown Hotel team was made up of local identities Charlie Mulley and Eric McGrath.
The day was topped with a traditional village-style sports day at Camden showground with tug-o-war where the Apex team over-powered the local police. There were foot races for local men with rolling-pin throwing for ‘ladies’ and a ‘diaper derby for toddlers’. The winner of the ‘beard-growing contest was Don Rolfe who won an electric razor. These activities were supported by a pet-zoo and model aeroplane display. (Camden News, 23 October 1968)
Festival art exhibition
Local artist and school-teacher Ken Rorke organised the festival art exhibition, which attracted over 500 entries. The success of the art prize was a fore-runner of what would eventually be the Camden Art Prize which started in 1972 after the last Rose Festival was held in 1971. There were sections for adults and children (infants, primary and secondary) supplemented with handicrafts. (Camden News, 23 October 1968)
The 1968 Rose Festival Queen Marilyn Fuller was crowned by 1967 Queen Michele Chambers at the showground festivities after the parade. Other festival queen entrants were Miss Hospital Beverley Thornton and Miss Apex Ngaire Davies. (Camden News, 30 October 1968.
Festivities in 1968 peaked with the masked ball held at the AH&I Hall on Saturday night 2 November 1968 which started at 8.00pm. Tickets were $3.75 with proceeds going to ‘local charities’. This was the second ball organised by the festival committee, president J Hill, secretary H Kitching and treasurer UH Parsons.
The CHN blogger attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.
Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.
Mr Watson said, ‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.
Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.
Mr Watson said,
‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm.
Mr Watson said,
‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’
Mr Watson says,
‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.
Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Living History Farm visitors become involved in activities.’
The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.
The Living History Movement
Historian Patrick McCarthy considers that living history is concerned with (1) ‘first person’ interpretation or role play (2) adopting authentic appearance (3) re-creating the original historic site of the event.
Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’. Living history museums ‘do not merely represent the past; they make historical ‘truth’ for the visitor’. (pp. xii-xv)
According to Magelssen living history museums ‘produce history’ like textbooks, films or a lecture. Under the influence of post-modernism history ‘is on longer to be seen as the reconstruction of the past through scientific analysis’. Living history is a research tool. (pp. xii-xv) There are various interpretations on the way this is constructed, configured and delivered amongst the theorists.
Origins of living history museum movement
One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA. It is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the USA and attracts 1.6 million visitors. Ford opened the Greenfield Village to the public in 1933 as the first outdoor living museum in the USA and has over 100 buildings moved to the site dating from the 1700s. Henry Ford said of his museum
I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…
Living history @ Belgenny
Belgenny Farm is an authentic collection of colonial farm buildings that were once part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.
The Belgenny Farm website states that its education program adopts the principles of the living history movement. It states:
Schools enjoy a diverse range of hands-on curriculum based programs including the new Creamery Interpretative Centre. The Creamery showcases the dairy industry over the last 200 years and is supported by a virtual tour and online resources.
And more to the point:
Belgenny Farmwas established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1805 and contains the earliest collection of colonial farm buildings in Australia. The property is a major educational centre with direct links to Australia’s agricultural history.
Sydney Living Museums
Sydney Living Museums is part of the living history museum movement and manages 12 historic properties across NSW. The stated role of SLM is to:
enrich and revitalise people’s lives with Sydney’s living history, and to hand the precious places in our care and their collections on to future generations to enjoy.
to refresh and unify our diverse range of properties and highlight our role and relevance for current and future generations.
Living history is storytelling
Living history is walking the ground of an historical event or place or building. Walking the ground shows the layers of meaning in history in a place or building.
Walking the ground is an authentic real experience.
Participants absorb the past that is located in the present of a place or a site. The past is the present and the past determines the present. It shapes, meaning and interpretation. It is the lived experience of a place.
Living history allows participants to be able to read: the layers of history of an area; the layers of meaning in a landscape; or the layers of history in a building.
It is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.
Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real and authentic.
Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present.
While I was visiting a historical contact at Menangle I was shown a framed photograph of a winning display in the district exhibition at the 1937 Camden Show. The photograph was bordered by the prize winning ribbon from the Camden AH&I Society awarded to the Menangle Agriculture Bureau. The photograph peaked my interest as I was not familiar with the local agricultural bureaux. A search in the archive files at the Camden Historical Society including those the Camden Show Society yielded light on the matter either.
So what happened at the 1937 Camden Show.
The Menangle Agricultural Bureau took out a first prize at the 1937 Camden Show in the district exhibit. The bureau had entered its agricultural display of fruit, vegetables and other produce. The Camden News reported the display was constructed with over 3000 apples. The Menangle Agricultural Bureau won against stiff competition from the Mount Hunter Agricultural Bureau. The only other competitor in that category.
So what is an agricultural bureau? When did they appear in the Camden district?
Agricultural bureaus were established in New South Wales in 1910 as an initiative of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, according to the State Archives and Records of NSW.
The aims of the agricultural bureaux were to ‘connect with young rural people’. They were ‘to deliver lectures and demonstrations and special instructions to farmers, and to promote fellowship and social networks within rural communities’.
The bureaux appear to be one of a number of organisations that were part of an organised youth movement within the British Empire set up during the Edwardian period.
The State Archives maintains that the stated aims of the agricultural bureau movement fitted the general imperial youth movement of the time. In NSW ‘the main functions of the Bureau were to promote rural and adult education, to organise co-operative group effort to improve facilities, to train people in citizenship, leadership, and community responsibility’.
There was an anxiety amongst the ruling elites of the British Empire about the state of youth and there was a concerted campaign to inculcate the values of thrift, diligence and obedience. During the Edwardian period the youth movement spawned a number of youth organisations including Boy Scouts, Boys Brigade, Girl Guides, and a host of others. These organisations have been seen by some historians like Michael Childs Labour’s Apprentices as agents of patriotism, obedience and social passivity.
The agricultural bureaux were a farmer-controlled self-governing body which could received extension services from the NSW Department of Agriculture. They were apolitical and non-sectarian.
The state government kept firm control of the new organisation through the NSW Department of Agriculture initially provided lectures through the Department’s District Inspectors of Dairying and Agriculture. The state government went further and provided a subsidy to the bureaux members at the rate of 10/- per pound. In addition council members were reimbursed their expenses for attending meetings.
The activities of the early agricultural bureaus on the Camden district seem to indicate that the bureaus were less of a youth organisation and more of an adult farming group and included activities for the entire family.
One of the earliest agricultural bureaus to be established in the Camden area was at Orangeville around 1913.
The Camden News reported in April that members of the bureau were keen to gain all the scientific knowledge to develop their orchards. They had tried explosives in their orchards as a means of improving ‘sub-soiling’, initially under the trees and then next to the trees. The results of the experiment would not be known, it was reported, until the trees started to bare fruit.
In October 1913 the Orangeville Agriculture Bureau organised a picnic. Mr J Halliday organised the festivities for the ‘ladies and children’. There were 70 children present and prizes were organised for a number races and a competition amongst the ladies organised by Mr RH Taylor. The proceedings were livened up by Mr Joseph Dunbar on the gramophone. A tug-of-war was organised between the single and married men. Councillor CG Moore captained the married men and Mr AL Bennett ‘led the bachelors’. The married men won. Both men were candidates in the upcoming Nepean Shire elections. A short political address was given by Mr WG Watson, which was followed by games until sunset. Mr Taylor, the vice-chairman, thanked everyone for coming and stressed the advantages of becoming a member of the bureau.
A women’s extension service was organised within the body. The bureaus organised farmer training courses, while the women’s extension service organised domestic training courses. The agricultural bureaus were affiliated with a range of other rural organisations including the Bush Nursing Associations, The Rural Youth Organisation and a number of farming organisations.
The local agricultural bureaux disappeared after the Second World War, while the organisation carried on at a state level into the 1970s.