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A lost Gothic fantasy

The Burragorang Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

The Oaks Newsletter Cover 2019Sept
The story of the Burragorang Valley on the cover The Oaks Historical Society Newsletter September 2019
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The seaside holiday

The Seaside holiday for Camden families

Lighthouse Wollongong[1a]
Wollongong Lighthouse is located on the breakwater at Wollongong Harbour which has a popular spot called Brighton Beach.

Local folk from the Camden district have been going to Wollongong and the South Coast for beach holidays for generations. It is a time to relax, chill out, slow down, drop out, and generally escape the hum drum of daily existence of home and work.

The seaside holiday has been more than that. The development of the beach holiday owes much to the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s and the shorter working week and increased wages of ordinary workers. Australian’s copied the English Victorians and their interest in health and well-being and particularly cold-water bathing. The scourge of diseases like tuberculosis (or consumption as it was known) were constant threats to health and well-being of people. The inter-war period (1919-1939) saw the added influence of modernism, consumerism, movies and tourism on the mobility and spending patterns of people. All these contributed to the attraction of the beach.

Camden aquatic sports and swimming

Camden folk were influenced by all these social and cultural trends. Swimming had become popular before the First World War as Peter Mylrea found in his history of swimming (Camden History, March 2006). The Camden Aquatic Sports were held in the Nepean River in 1909 and the foundation of the Camden Swimming Club in the 1920s. But for young people the beach provided the lure of the exotic when compared to swimming in the Nepean River.

The beach attracted the attention of Camden families particularly during the Inter-war period. Local marriages were consummated with a honeymoon to Manly Beach for the weekend. Manly was accessible by steam train and ferry, and was far enough away to seem like another world for a newly wed farm labourer and his sweet-heart. The railway also provided easy access to Wollongong beaches, particularly localities like Kiama. The motor car provided mobility and the South Coast provided an escape to stay in a boarding house or camp.

Motoring

After the Second World War the boom in the motor car travel meant that Camden families could drive further for a beach holiday. One ever popular location was Kiama. Other beach localities started to draw the attention of Camden families, particularly Jervis Bay and St George’s Basin.

Wollongong Beach[1a]
Stuart Park is behind North Beach Wollongong which is lined with Norfolk Pines like many other beaches in New South Wales

Stuart Park Wollongong

Geoff McAleer reported that in his youth in the 1940s and 1950s on the annual Christmas holiday at the beach in Wollongong. The beach was Wollongong’s North Beach and the McAleers holidayed at Stuart Park Caravan Park. The McAleers were joined on the Christmas beach holidays by the Holyoakes, Dunks, Williams and the Cliftons. It was a popular location with Camden families because, according to Geoff, ‘it was close to Camden, only a 40 minute drive and it was good body surfing spot.’ There were no surf boards then according to Geoff. That would come in the 1960s. On occasions Geoff and his Dad, Hubert, would have a boys weekend away at Stuart Park. Geoff took his sweetheart, later to be his wife, Olive there for Christmas holidays with the family in 1949. The popularity of Stuart Park owed much to the presence near North Beach Wollongong. The beach was popular for swimming and surfing from the 1920s. Unfortunately for patrons the caravan park was closed in 1964 but under public pressure was re-opened in an adjacent location in 1966. It was eventually closed permanently in 1970. The park had a kiosk as well as a camping area and was popular with day-trippers for picnics.

Cheryl’s seaside holiday at Bulli Beach

Wollongong beach-side caravan parks have come under pressure to be closed and caravans evicted in recent decades. One spot where Camden families still have a beach caravan holiday is Bulli Beach camping reserve. Cheryl, who has a caravan at Bulli Beach, along with a number of other Camden families enjoy the escape it provides from ‘the rat race’. She says that a number families have had permanent vans at the park, which have been passed down between the generations. They all escape Camden on Christmas holidays and long weekends. It is a great spot for all sorts of recreation.

Steve’s holidays at Erowal Bay

Steve recalls as a child fond memories

Like our family holidays to Killarney, Erowal Bay on St Georges Basin in the 1950s. Before we had our own car Mum and Dad and six kids used to travel there in and on the back of Uncle Mel Peats work truck and stay in his house right on the water with its own jetty, boat house and row boat. Whitemans and Rickets were a couple of other Camden families I can remember who had houses there also. What great holidays they were. Might even be able to find a couple of photos.

John and Julie recall Gerroa holidays

John and Julie fondly remember seaside holidays at Gerroa on the South Coast.

In the late 1960s John and I went for holidays at Gerroa. We stayed at a simple beach cottage which had been built by hand in the 1950s by our parents’ friends. The cottage had no fridge, just an icebox, but it had great views of 7 Mile Beach and you could walk to the beach for a swim. The cottage has long gone and been replaced by a brick home.

For many years from the 1970s the painter Alan D Baker spent family holidays at Gerroa. We have a painting that Alan’s son, Gary Baker, did of Gerroa Point, which reminds us of holidays at Gerroa 40 years ago.

Where do you go to the beach?

Beach holidays have always been important for Camden district families. Do you have memories of holidays at Wollongong,  Kiama, Gerroa, Shoalhaven and the South Coast. Has your family had a beach holiday in the same spot for generations? When you go to the beach? What did you do? Where did you go? How did you fill in your time? What was your favourite spot?

Facebook Replies

Peter Hammond Camden 9 January 2016 For all my primary school days we had 2 or 3 weeks at Thirroul in January, the only dampener were the back to school sales.

Karen Burgess All along the coast. Fave spot. You can’t beat the beautiful Gerringong.  (30 January 2016)