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Going to London

Going to London

Thousands of young single Australian born women travelled to London and beyond from the mid-to-late 19th century.  This pilgrimage, as historian Angela Woollacott has called it, was a life-changing journey for these women. They were both tourist and traveller and many worked their passage throughout their journey.

Suters Archive Travel Diary5 2019 SSuters lowres
A typical trip diary kept by the young women who travelled to London in the 1950s as they explored the world. They were both tourist and travellers as they broke stereotypes and gender expectations in Australian and the UK. (S Suters)

 

Their travels illustrate the links between metropole and the periphery, between the settler societies and the imperial centre that have been little explored by scholars of history. These young women were both insiders and outsiders, both colonials and part of the heritage of colonizers. The dichotomy of their position provides an interesting position as they explored the transnational relationship between Australia and the UK.

These women occupied a space between metropolitan centre of London and their shared British heritage and notions of England as ‘home’ yet at the same time they were outsiders in England and other parts of the British Empire that they visited in Colombo and Aden.

There has been some recent scholarship that explores the Australian diaspora in the United Kingdom around issues of imperialism, expatriation, globalisation, national identity and overseas citizenship.

London Tower of London 2006 PPikous-Flckr
The Tower of London was a popular tourist attraction for young Australian born women who travelled to London and beyond. These women acted as both tourist and traveller in their journey of exploration.  (P Pikous, 2006)

 

In the 19th century colonial born women from well-off families went husband-hunting in England. By the early 20th century the list of women travelling to the United Kingdom started to include creative-types including actors, writers, artists, musicians, and singers. One of the most famous being Dame Nellie Melba.

In the mid-20th century following the Second World War young working women from modest backgrounds started to explore the world and head for London.  There were a number of Camden women who undertook this journey during the 1950s that are the subject of a history project.

Travelling to London

Dr Ian Willis explores the transnational journey undertaken by these in paper accepted at the 2019 Australian Historical Asssociation conference in Toowoomba and the 2019 Redefining Australia and New Zealand at the University of Warsaw.

38th Australian Historical Association Conference 2019, Local Communities, Global Networks, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, 8-12 July 2019.

Title of Paper

Tourist or traveller: the journey of an Australian country girl to London in 1954.

Abstract

In 1954 Shirley Dunk, a young country woman from the small community of Camden in New South Wales, exercised her agency and travelled to the United Kingdom with her best friend and work colleague, Beth Jackman. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other Camden women. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by Camden’s elite women in the late 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.

This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey.   Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she and Beth experienced as they left Sydney for London by ship and their travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters when they acted as tourists in foreign lands.

The narrative will show that Shirley was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of local women who journeyed to London. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

 

Camden Shirley Rorke Beth Jackman 1953 Clintons SRorke_adjusted
Two Camden women who headed for London in the mid-1950s were Shirley Dunk and her best friend Beth Jackman. This image  shows their workplace in the Clintons Motors Showroom at 16 Argyle Street, Camden where they both worked at sales assistants in 1953.   (S Rorke)

 

2nd Biennial International Conference on Redefining Australia and New Zealand, Changes, Innovations, Reversals, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland, 16-17 September 2019.

Title of Paper

An Australian country girl goes to London.

Abstract

In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.

This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey.   Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.

The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

 

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Living history at a country festival

Camden’s European living history on show

An example of living history has been on display recently at the Camden Show, the annual celebration of the rural heritage of the Camden district.

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.

Camden Show collage 2019 IW
The 2019 Camden Show provided an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in a host of farming activities. The authentic sights, sounds and smells of the show ring and surrounds enlightened and entertained in a feast for the senses. (I Willis, 2019)

 

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.

Camden Show Sandra Dodds 2019 IW
Camden resident and artist Sandra D entered her creation in the Bush Cuppa Tray competition and won first prize. Her entry provided a feast for the sense with scones, cup of tea, a copy of the Bulletin magazine, a story of painting ‘en plein air’ in the 1890s, gum leaves. All this activity taking place on 21 December 1889 at Montrose in Victoria. (I Willis, 2019)

 

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.

Camden Show Marily Willis 2019 IW
This excited first timer won second place for a group of zucchinis in the produce section of the 2019 Camden Show. Marilyn Judith W grew her entry on her plot at the Camden Community Garden where a number of other gardeners also entered their produce. Marilyn had an immersive experience at the show and volunteered her time at the community garden stall giving away seedlings to adults and children alike. (I Willis, 2019)

 

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.

History

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.

Camden Show 2019 IW
All good farmers had a reliable truck to cart stock and hay to the market from the farm and to take trips into town. This one dates from the mid-20th century at Bringelly NSW on display at the Camden Show with a friendly passenger. (I Willis, 2019)
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Motoring, modernism and a new car showroom.

A new era in Camden motoring

The beginning of a new phase of Camden’s motoring history created much excitement and anticipation in March 1948 with the opening of the new ultra-modern car showroom for Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street.

Camden Clintons Motor Dealers building collage 2019 IW
A collage of the former Clintons Motors car showroom. The style building is influenced by Art Deco streamline detail to the exterior. (I Willis, 2019)

 

The year 1948 was a landmark in Australian motoring history with the launch of first Australian made mass produced motor car – the FX Holden sedan – in November. The National Museum of Australia states that

The Holden transformed suburban Australia, boosted national pride and quickly become a national icon. The car was economical, sturdy and stylish and was immediately popular with the public.

Camden Clintons Motors New Holden on display CN1948Dec2
Clintons Motor promoted the new FX Holden motor car in 1948. The new car was highly anticipated by the Camden community. (Camden News, 2 December 1948)

 

Clinton Motors announced in September 1948 that it would sell the new Holden motor car (Camden News, 23 September 1948). The first Holden car was displayed in the new streamlined showroom in  December 1948 and sold for £675. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)

Camden Clinton Motors New Holden CN1948Dec16
The arrival of the new Holden as it was just called was highly anticipated by the Camden community. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)

 

The new showroom displays motoring modernism

The former Clintons Motor building was an iconic stylish Art Deco Interwar influenced building with its clean streamlined appearance drawn from  American and French influences.

Camden Shirley Rorke Beth Jackman 1953 Clintons SRorke_adjusted
Clintons Motors Showroom with sales assistants Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman in 1953. The business sold electrical goods as well as motor cars, accessories and tyres. (S Rorke)

 

The new showroom was described on the opening as ‘the most modern department store’ in Camden.

A blue and white building with modernistic streamlined front and wide plate glass fittings. Inside, behind imposing doors set between giant white pillars, are to be seen a range of colourful displays that glistened beneath batteries of flourescent lights. Big placards mounted on plastic coated display stands illustrate the advice which Goodyear gives motorists in obtaining tyres. Other plastic and glass tables hold an unexpectedly large variety of accessories for cars and trucks. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).

The new premises were constructed by Camden builder Jim Bracken on the former site of the Camden tweed mill which burnt down in 1899 and left a standing chimney for many years. During the Interwar period the site was used a horse paddock.

The new premises sold tyres, motor accessories and electrical goods including refrigerators. The showroom  ‘combined all the features that modern merchants in America have developed to improve their service to their customers’. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).

Holden FX 1948 Cover Sales brochure Wikimedia
The cover of the sales brochure for the new Holden motor car in 1948. The new FX Holden created a great deal of excitement throughout the community on its release. (Wikimedia)

 

Tourism and motoring modernism

The former Clintons Motors showroom is one of the first buildings that visitors encounter as they enter the town centre after crossing the Cowpastures Bridge and  the Nepean River floodplain on the former Hume Highway (now Camden Valley Way).

Camden Clinton Motors 1983 JWrigley CIPP

Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street Camden in 1983. The business was the Holden dealership for the Camden area. The premises opened in 1948. (Camden Images)

 

The former car showroom is just one of a number of Interwar buildings that visitors can find in the charming town centre. There is the former Bank of New South Wales (Westpac) building, the brick front of the show hall pavilion, the Dunk building car showroom, the former Rural Bank building, the former Stuckey Bakery building, the milk depot. Tucked around the corner is the former Paramount Movie palace and the Presbyterian church. Scattered in and around the town centre are a number of Californian bungalows which add to the atmospherics of the former country town.

 

The Clinton Group has a long history

The Clinton group  has a long history in the Macarthur region starting out a mobile theatre then moving into the Burragorang coalfields. In the 1930s they had a transport business moving coal from the valley to the Camden and Narellan railhead. The family formed Clinton Distributions which became an agent for General Motors Holden on 8 March 1945. Trading at Clinton Motors on the Hume Highway at Narellan the business sold Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Vauxhalls, Bedfords and Maple Leaf trucks. The family incorporated the business in 1946 (Clinton Motor Group) and moved into Camden in February, (Camden News, 21 February 1946) opening the new showroom in 1948. The business operated on this site until 1992 then moved to the former site of Frank Brooking car yard and motor dealership at the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets.

Camden Clintons Motors GMH Dealer CN1945Mar8
Clintons Motors opened for business at its Narellan Hume Highway site  in 1945. (Camden News, 8 March 1945)
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A 1950s country girl goes to London

Warsaw conference presentation

University of Wollongong historian Dr Ian Willis will present a paper at the University of Warsaw in September later this year. The conference is the 2nd Biennial International Conference on Redefining Australia and New Zealand Changes, Innovations, Reversals.

The paper will tell the story of Camden girl Shirley Dunk on her first visit to London with her travelling companion Beth. Both young women had the adventures of their lives and Shirley recalls the journey with great fondness and nostalgia. The journey was a life changing experience for both your women from an Australian country town.

The title of the presentation is An Australian country girl goes to London.

Abstract

In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.

This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey.   Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.

The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

Read more about Australian expatriates in London in the 1950s who were made up of artists, writers, actors and musicians.

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Notable women in Camden

International Women’s Day 2019

On International Women’s Day in 2019 it is worthwhile reflecting on some of Camden’s prominent women over the decades. Camden elite women were formidable figures and matriarchs in their own right and left their mark on the community.

Kirkham’s own  Frances Faithful Anderson, who moved to the Camden area with her husband, William, in the 1890s. She renamed James White’s fairytale castle Kirkham, Camelot, in 1900 after being reminded of the opening verse of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. Frances (d. 1948) lived in the house, with her daughter Clarice, until her death. Both women were shy and retiring and stayed out public gaze in Camden, unlike the domineering fictional character of Elizabeth Bligh. The Anderson women were supporters of the Camden Red Cross, Women’s Voluntary Services, the Country Women’s Association, Camden District Hospital and the Camden Recreation Room during the Second World War (The District Reporter, 29 March 2013). Clarice willed Camelot to the NSW National Trust, according to Jonathan Chancellor. The NSW Supreme Court rule in 1981 that her mother’s 1938 will took precedence. Frances  wanted the house to become a convalescent home, but this clashed with zoning restrictions.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow Portrait lowres
(Eliza) Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park NSW (L Abraham)

Camden’s Edwardian period was dominated by the figure of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park.  She took control of Camden Park in 1882 when her husband Arthur died. Under her skilful management the family estate was clear of debt by 1890 and she subsequently re-organised the estate. She established the pastoral company Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, with her children as shareholders.  Heritage consultant Chris Betteridge states that she organised the estates co-operative diary farms, built creameries at Camden and Menangle, orchards and a piggery. Elizabeth was a Victorian philanthropist, a Lady Bountiful figure, and according to Susanna De Vries was a strong supporter of a number of local community organisations including the fore-runner of the Camden Show Society, the Camden AH&I Society. She died on one of her many trips to England and has dropped out of Australian history.

 

rosa sibella macarthur onslow
Sibella Macarthur Onslow (CPH)

Elizabeth’s daughter, Sibella, was a larger than life figure during Camden’s Inter-war period and was quite a formidable figure in her own right. She grew up at Camden Park and moved to Gilbulla in 1931, which had been the home of her sister-in-law, Enid Macarthur Onslow. Sibella never married and fulfilled the role of a powerful Camden patrician figure. She was a true female matriarch amongst her brothers who took public positions of power in the New South Wales business community. She was one of the most powerful female figures in New South Wales and her personal contact network included royalty, politicians and the wealthy elite of Sydney and London. Macarthur Onslow possessed strong conservative Christian values and was an active figure in the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese.  She was a Victorian-style philanthropist and was president of the Camden Red Cross from 1927 until her death in 1943.

 

Rita_Tucker1
Wartime president of the Camden branch of the Country Women’s Association Mrs Rita Tucker. (J Tucker)

The power vacuum in Camden’s women’s affairs left by the death of Sibella Macarthur Onslow was filled by Rita Tucker of The Woodlands, at Theresa Park. She had a high community profile in 1950s Camden and was well remembered by those who dealt with her. She became president of the Camden Country Women’s Association in 1939 and held the position until her death in 1961. She was a journalist and part-time editor of the North West Courier at Narrabri before she moved to Camden with her husband Rupert in 1929. She was an active member of the Camden Liberal Party in the 1950s, holding a number of positions, and was New South Wales vice-president of the CWA between 1947 and 1951. She was an accomplished musician and played the organ at the Camden Presbyterian Church in the early 1940s.

 

1935_Murch Susan Crookston_Portrtait
This portrait is of Zoe Crookston’s daughter Miss Suzanne Crookston painted by Arthur Murch of Sydney in 1935 (AGNSW)

A contemporary of Tucker was Zoe Crookston, the wife of Camden surgeon, Robert Crookston. A shy retiring type, she lived in grand Victorian mansion at the top of John Street and was the wartime president of the Women’s Voluntary Services. She was a Presbyterian, a liberal-conservative and an active committee member of the United Australia Party in the 1930s. According to her daughter Jacqueline, ‘her mother was a no-nonsense person who always liked to get on with the job at hand’. She was a foundation member of the Camden Red Cross and was actively involved until 1949. Other community organisations occupied her time including being on the committee of the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary from 1933 to 1945. She was married to Camden medical practitioner Robert Crookston, and had two daughter Suzanne and Jaqueline.

A more recent woman of note was Elizabeth Kernohan.  Elizabeth (Liz) Kernohan was the first woman in Camden to be elected as an alderman on council (1973), to the hospital board (1974) and subsequently as deputy mayor (1974), mayor (1980) and finally as a member of parliament (1991). She was a popular local identity until her death in 2004.

Elizabeth Kernohan 1994 Camden Images
Elizabeth Kernohan 1994 (Camden Images)

Kernohan, like earlier Camden women (Sibella Macarthur Onslow and Rita Tucker), combined female agency and active citizenship, and developed a ‘parallel path’ for herself where she acquired considerable social, moral and political authority. She combined her conservatism with civic duty and an ethic of selfless service.

Kernohan’s political success was based on her aggressive use of localist politics in an area that was proud of its rural traditions and heritage.  She was plain speaking to the point where ‘What you see is what you get…(and) I call a spade a bloody shovel’. An approach that endeared her to the local community.

Kernohan was a fierce advocate of Camden’s rural identity in the face of the New Cities Plan (1973) which planned massive urban growth  on the metropolitan fringe.  She maintained in 1981 that Camden should become the ‘Double Bay of Sydney’s southwest’, an exclusivity that is still recognizable in the area’s identity and sense of place. This identity of difference drove her popularity and appealed to the ‘aspirationals’ who moved to the area from the ‘burbs’. The new arrivals were looking for a place where the ‘country still looked like the country’ and were ready converts to her cause.  Above all she proved that all politics is local, to the detriment of her career.

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Living history on your doorstep

There is the opportunity to experience real living history on your own doorstep.

Living history is all around you. You just need to take a deep breath, pause for a moment and listen to the history around speak to you.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. You can still view this vista from the town’s fringe near the showground. (Camden Images)

 

Camden living history

In the town centre of Camden the buildings and the ambience of the historic precinct speak to you if you pause and listen.

They are all part of the Camden story.

The Camden living history reveals the intricacies of telling the Camden story.

The Camden town centre and its multi-layered history are evident in the many different building styles evident as you walk along the main street.

If walls could talk they would tell an interesting story that would immerse you in the past in the present. They would provide a gripping account of the characters that were central to the stories.

Camden CHS 231 Macaria c. 1890
The Camden Grammar School which was located in Macaria in the 1890s.  Macaria is open to the public and is the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery located at 37 John Street, Camden. (Camden Images)

Living history is storytelling

Living history allows participants to be able to read the layers of history of an area.

Living history 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. Storytelling and stories at the essence of place.

 

The living history movement

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’.   (pp. xii-xv)

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.  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…

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018. You can visit the historic St John’s church and precinct in central Camden. The church was built in the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family. (I Willis)

 

The Camden story

The Camden story is the tale of the local area.

Camden storytellers peel back the layers of the history of the town and district and reveal the tales of local identities, larrikans, characters, rascals, ruffians and ratbags.

There are a number of layers to the Camden story and they are

  • Pre-European period of the Indigenous Dharawal people when they called the area Benkennie
  • The Cowpastures were named by Governor Hunter in 1795 and the establishment of the Cowpastures Government Reserve. Under European control the Indigenous Dharawal people dispossession and displacement of their country. The Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estatestarted with the 1805 grant to John Macarthur.
  • The Camden township was established as a private venture of the Macarthur family in 1840. The streets were named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
  • The English-style Camden town centrehas evolved and is represented by a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, EdwardianInter-war, Mid-20th century. The town was the hub of the Camden District between 1840 and 1970s
  • The Macarthur region (1970s +), named after the famous local Macarthur family, grew as part of   Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. It is made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.
Camden Show Bullock Team 2018 MWillis
The bullock team walking up John Street for the 2018 Camden Show. Bullock teams were once a common sight in the Camden area before the days of motorised transport. The teamster monument in John Street celebrates their role in the history of the district. Visit the Camden Show. (M Willis)

 

Immerse your imagination in the past at the Camden Museum through living history.

The Camden museum tells the Camden story through displays of artefacts, objects, memoriabilia and other ephemera by using a living history approach.

The displays tell a story of an earlier period and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the past in the present.

Map Camden District 1939[2]

Map of the Camden district in 1939 showing the extent of the area with Camden in the east. The silver mining centre of Yerranderie is in the west. (I Willis, 1996)

 

Walking the past through living history

Visitors to Camden can walk the streets of the town centre and imagine another time. A time past that can be recalled through living history.

A self-guided walking tour lets visitors explore the living history of the Camden town centre. There is a pdf brochure here. 

Check out Camden’s main street with its Victorian, Edwardian and interwar ambience and charm. See where the local met on sale day at the Camden saleyards or the annual country festival at the Camden show.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. The show is held each year in the Onslow Park precinct. (Camden Show)

 

The Heritage Tourism website boasts that Camden – The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW.

The mysteries of the cute little locomotive that used to run between Camden and  Campbelltown via Currans Hill, Narellan, Elderslie, Kirkham and Graham’s Hill are also explored in a post called  The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram.

Maybe you would like to revisit the farming glory days of the 1800s at one of Australia’s most important living history farms at Belgenny Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. Visitors are welcome.  (I Willis, 2018)
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A contested sacred site in the historic landscape of the Cowpastures

Place and St John’s Anglican Church

St John’s church is a contested site where there is competition around the ownership of the dominant narrative surrounding a former horse paddock. The paddock in question lies between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.

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

Church authorities want to sell the horse paddock to fund a new worship centre.

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.

camden st johns church paddock 1907 cipp
Camden Rectory & Horse Paddock 1907 with Menangle Road on right hand side of image (Des & Pru Fowles/Camden Images)

 

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?

camden st johns fjoss image 7 (5)
St Johns Anglican Church showing former horse paddock in front of the church (2018 C Cowell)

 

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.

 

Unraveling a paradox

Historian Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History has highlighted the different representations that a communities have ascribed to local churches. They have included:

  • a symbol of the continuity and community rather than a relic of their faith;
  • a local shrine where the sense of family and local piety are given tangible form;
  • ‘a metaphor of the postmodern condition’;
  • a ‘kind of absent present, a site now unoccupied but irreplaceable and unable to be rebuilt;
  • a transcendence and spiritual continuity in a post-Christian society. (pp. 146-161)

So the question here is, are any of Davison’s representations applicable to Camden’s St Johns Church?

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018 (I Willis)

 

Cultural landscape

St John’s church is the centre of Camden’s cultural landscape, its cultural heritage and the narrative around the Camden story. I wrote in the Sydney Journal in 2008 that

 St John’s church is the basis of the town’s iconic imagery and rural mythology and remains the symbolic heart of Camden.

In 2012 I extended this and said that community icons, including St John’s, have

 have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place.

In this dispute the actors, as others have done,

have used history and  heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity.

The actors in the dispute want to preserve the landscape identity of the area  by preserving the church precinct including the horse paddock.

 

A world long gone

The church precinct is  a metaphor for a world long gone, an example of the past in the present. In Davison’s eyes ‘a symbol of continuity and community’.

St John’s Anglican Church is part of an English style landscape identity, that is, Camden’s Englishness. This is not new and was first recognised in 1828 by Englishman John Hawdon.

Hawdon saw a familiar landscape and called it a ‘little England’.  A type of English exceptionalism.

The colonial oligarchs had re-created an English-style landscape in the Cowpastures  that mirrored ‘home’ in England. The English took control of territory in a settler society.

The local Indigenous  Dharawal people were dispossessed and displaced by the English through the allocation of  land grants in the area.

The English subdued the frontier with violence as they did other part of the imperial world.

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.

The first pictorial representation of this was  used in Andrew Garran’s 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia where there is

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.

camden park 1886 garran
Engraving showing vista of Camden village from Camden Park House. Aspect is north-east with Cawdor centre distance and St John’s church right hand distance.  (Andrew Garran’s 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia)

 

The hilltop location of the church was no accident.  St John’s church is ‘the moral heart’ of English-style ‘idyllic representations as the

 ‘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.

camden_johnst_chs0083
St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

 

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.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park House and Garden in 1906 is the home of the Macarthur family. It is still occupied by the Macarthur family and open for inspection in spring every year. (Camden Images)

 

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.

An extension of this is the role of the church as a loved place  in terms laid out by Peter Read in his book, Returning to Nothing, The Meaning of Lost Places. As Veronica Strang writes, Read’s book:

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.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

 

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.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)