Photo Essay of Camden Anzac Day 2017
On the hill overlooking the Camden town centre is a church building that represents the historic, moral and emotional heart of community. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the church represents the soul of the town, which was built below it on the Nepean River floodplain in the mid-19th century.
The church is a metaphor for the order and stability that it represented on the wilds of the colonial frontier. It was at the centre of the original proposal for the English-style village of Camden in the 1830s along with a court house and a gaol.
For the Macarthurs of Camden Park estate the church was the centre of their moral and spiritual conservatism. The church, as part of similar early 19th English estate villages, represented stability and order that the Macarthur required of the new community on their estate. More than this the church was a central part of the landscape vistas of the village from Camden Park House.
The church, according to Alan Atkinson, was representative of James Macarthur religious view of the world where faith emanated from the ‘joint initiative of all classes’. Macarthur maintained that ‘collective and mutual dependence’ was an essential part of the ‘Christian spirit’ that would be a ‘symbol off for their reliance on each other’. [i]
The church cause was promoted by James and William Macarthur and appealed to neighbours and employees for a fund for the construction of the church. By 1835 the Macarthurs subscribed £500 of a total of £644 from estate workers and neighbours.
The building of the church coincided with Governor Bourke’s Church Act of 1836 which offered a subsidy for the building of churches in the colony of New South Wales. The Macarthur applied for a subsidy of £1000 of the total cost of £2500.[ii]
The church was constructed by with local bricks and timbers and was consecrated in 1849. Hector Abrahams states that St Johns church:
In its architectural innovation and picturesque placement in a controlled landscape, it is among the most important parish churches in Australia.[iii]
The church and its grounds are located in a religious precinct that includes the rectory and stables (1859), church hall (1906), and a cemetery. While the church was originally proposed in a ‘classical’ style it was eventually constructed in the Gothic Revival style which became popular in Sydney at the time. Sydney architect Hector Abrahams maintains that St Johns ,was the first Gothic Revival church in the colony of New South Wales’ when finished in 1844.
Gothic revival looked back to the glory of the medieval period, in contrast to neo-classical styles which were popular at the time. To its supporters Gothic architecture was representative of true Christian values that were being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. Gothic architecture was aligned with the conservatism of the Macarthurs rather than the republicanism of the French and American revolutionary wars and neoclassicism. Its popularity was partly driven in the colony of New South Wales by the re-building of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834 which evoked a romantic age.
Over the subsequent decades St John’s church has become a representation of Camden’s Englishness. Probably the first reference to St John’s church and its Englishness was in the Anglican newspaper the Sydney Guardian when it stated
it’s graceful and really well proportioned spire presents a cheering object to the up country traveller, as it breaks the dull outline of bush hill carrying the mind back to scenes well remembered and deeply loved by all English hearted folk (Sydney Guardian quoted in Clive Lucas Stapleton & Partners, St. John’s Anglican Church Precinct Menangle Road, Camden Conservation Management Plan, 2004, Sydney, p.44)
In 1926 the church was in the forefront of the mind of Eldred Dyer who wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Camden was reminiscent of English parish church towns. He wrote that as he stepped out and walked around the town centre he lifted his:
eyes to the old church as it stands in beauty on its hill, and In a flash you are transported to some old English church town. In a moment, if you have understanding, you and in a flash you are transported to some old English church town.[iv]
To a travel writer for the Sydney Mail in 1926 the church was the dominant English-style landscape feature on a road trip through the area:.
the shapely and lofty steeple of its church raising itself above the copse of frees on the hilltop and giving the little township a quaintly European aspect.[v]
The church has become central to all representations of the Camden township from its inception, and what it means to be born and bred in the district. The church is the fundamental icon is the community’s sense of place and identity.
The church symbolism is central in tourism literature, business promotions, stories of the town, its history and a host of other representations of the district.
The church continues to dominate the town centre skyline and the minds and hearts of all Camden folk. Here hoping that this continues for another century.
[i] Atkinson, Alan. Camden / Alan Atkinson Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic 2008 http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html pp.30-32
[ii] Atkinson, Alan. Camden / Alan Atkinson Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic 2008 http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html pp.30-32
[iii] Hector Abrahams, Christian church architecture, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/christian_church_architecture, viewed 16 March 2017
[iv] Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 28 August 1926, page 9
[v] Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), Wednesday 11 August 1926, page 46
Local history is one of the most popular forms of history in Australia. Yet there is a yawning gap between the enthusiastic amateur and the academic historian.
While some academic historians engage with local history, sadly there is an entrenched snobbery from the academy. From the other side, the enthusiastic amateur is too wound up with a parochial approach to local history and often doesn’t see the bigger picture.
If both sides can engage with each other, the result would be a better type of history practise and a greater contribution to the story of Australia.
Local history is one of the democratic forms of history practice, drawing on a variety of disciplines. These include community history, family history, genealogy and oral history. It also incorporates local aspects of cultural and social history. Done well, local history also engages in both national and transnational themes.
There is a host of local history societies and local museums across the country. But academic historians are rarely involved with them.
For the enthusiastic amateur of local history, the academic historian is in a different world. Academics are often at a city-based university. Their journals are remote, guarded by a peer-review process. And their conferences beyond the resources of the amateur.
This world is not readily entered by the amateur who, unlike professional historians who receive a regular salary, are volunteers with limited means.
One of the key issues the divides these two groups revolves around the idea of authority. The university-trained historian has expertise based on the rigour and discipline of thought and word. The local history enthusiast often has only the lived experience of the past.
Keen amateurs have their own historical sensibilities and history mindedness. This often means they are interested solely in the affairs of their community. Sometimes they are the custodian of the stories of a place. That is, they are the keepers of the community’s sacred knowledge. The collective memory and cultural traditions of a local community.
As a collector of stories, the amateur practises a form of antiquarianism often concerned with lists of facts. Unfortunately this provides no commentary on the past or present, no argument, and no analysis of sources and assessment of methods.
Dealing with the past without interpretation and context is a source of continuing frustration for academics.
Some academic historians think they are the only ones with the keys to the past. This is a form of professional arrogance. It creates a perception of aloofness.
This creates a cynical attitude amongst enthusiastic amateurs. Many feel that the academic historian is remote and distant. Amateurs therefore have little time or enthusiasm for academics.
Yet it need not be so.
The academic historian has so much to offer. Successful and meaningful engagement is possible.
The academic historian is the discipline expert. They therefore have a responsibility to provide leadership. They should inspire amateur historians to increase their standards of scholarship. This needs understanding, trust and encouragement from academics. Not paternalism.
Academic and amateur alike need a nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of both sides. Academic historians can act as mentors in the practice of local history. Enthusiast amateurs are keen to learn how to do it better, if given sympathy and understanding.
Even the crudest attempt by the local history enthusiast provides in their own way an archive which the thoughtful, patient and persistent academic can mine. And likewise even the densest writing by academics offers something to the amateur.
Successful engagement between academic historians and the enthusiastic amateur is a win-win situation for both sides.
Some examples include the ever popular annual Penrith Local History Conference, community history projects such as the Dictionary of Sydney and the recent Crime, Cameras Action! local history conference at the University of Wollongong.
There are many good examples of local history as written by academic historians, including Atkinson’s Camden, Ferry’s Colonial Armidale and McQuilton’s Rural Australian and the Great War.
Some historical societies are even able to bridge the gap. They provide a stimulating environment that interests academic historians.
Joint projects and activities can strengthen community connections and social cohesion. The social connections created by local history increase the meaning, purpose and satisfaction in people’s lives.
Local history can build community resilience and break down social exclusion especially in communities under pressure. Some are found on the edges of our large cities, while others in remote and regional Australia.
The practice of local history has a lot to gain from the successful interaction between academic and amateur historians.
Beulah is an historic farm property on Sydney south-west rural-urban fringe. Beulah has a frontage to Sydney’s notorious Appin Road and is an area of Sydney’s ever increasing urban sprawl. The property is caught in a pincer movement between two new land releases at Appin and Mount Gilead. These developments threaten to strangle the life out of Beulah is a vast sea of homogenised suburbia by swallowing up local farmland.
In 2015 NSW Planning Minister Stokes declared that Sydney’s ‘urban sprawl is over’ with the land release for 35,000 new homes at Mount Gilead, Wilton and Menangle Park. On the other hand planning Professor Peter Phibbs, from the University of Sydney, stated that the land release meant that there was ‘urban sprawl plus’.  Needless to say these sentiments are not new and were expressed in the Macarthur region in 1973, meanwhile urban sprawl continues.
Beulah is a heritage gem and possesses stories about local identities and events that add to a sense of place and construction of a local identity. Beulah was purchased by the Sydney Living Museums in 2010 as part of its endangered houses fund project.
The Beulah estate is located on the eastern edge of the clay soils of the Cumberland Plain abutting the Sydney sandstone of the Georges River catchment. The property contains an 1830s stone farm cottage with a number of out-buildings, a stone bridge and 60 hectares of critically endangered woodland. Beulah’s sense of place is constructed around stories associated with the Campbelltown’s pioneering Hume family best known for Hamilton Hume and his overland journey to the Port Phillip area in 1824-1825 with William Hovell. Hamilton Hume was granted 300 acres at Appin for this work, which he named ‘Brookdale’, and in 1824 the Hume and Hovell expedition to Port Phillip left from this property on the Appin Road north of the village, near where the Hume and Hovell Monument now stands. The Hume Monument was erected in 1924 by the Royal Australian Historical Society to commemorate Hume’s 1824 expedition.
The earliest European occupation of the Beulah site, according to Megan Martin from Sydney Living Museums, were emancipated Irish convict Connor Bland who constructed the farm cottage around 1835-1836. Boland put the property up for sale in 1836 and called it Summerhill. The Hume family purchased the property in 1846 and then leased it out. In 1884 the property was renamed Beulah and members of the Hume family lived there until 1936 when it was left to the RSPCA while Hume family associates were given occupancy rights and lived in the house until the 1960s.
According to the State Heritage Inventory
Ellen Hume and Beulah were featured in “The Australian Home Beautiful” in 1934 in an article by Nora Cooper, photographs by Harold Cazneaux and descriptions of Hume family furniture. The forest which Miss Hume treated as a private sanctuary The Hume Sanctuary received special attention. It was Ellen’s wish that her trees be left to the nation….
The Beulah estate was purchased by developers in the 1970s who anticipated land re-zoning linked with the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbelltown, Appin and Camden. The state government released the New Cities Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan. The plan was based on the utopian dream of British New Towns like Milton Keynes and plans for the development of Canberra. Some of the new Campbelltown suburbs that appeared in the 1970s followed the Radburn model developed in the United States, which had houses facing a shared green space with no back fences. They turned out to be a disaster and the state government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars reversing these houses so they face the street in suburbs like Macquarie Fields, Minto and Ambarvale.
The original New Cities Plan turned into a developers dream and created the notion of ‘Ugly Campbelltown’ in the Sydney press by the end of the 1970s around public housing . Camden and Appin escaped the worst of the housing releases of the 1970s. Sydney’s urban sprawl reached the Camden LGA in the 1980s at Mount Annan and Currans Hill, while Appin has only seen extensive land releases in recent years. The 1973 Macarthur Growth Centre failed to materialise in its planned form and in the process cannibalised Campbelltown’s main street and left it a shell of its former country town self.
In 1973 the State Planning Authority, according to the State Heritage Inventory, conducted a survey of significant 19th buildings in 1973 and identified Beulah and Humewood as significant. The National Trust of Australia (NSW) did a study on the property and classified it in 1980. In 1983 Campbelltown City Council proposed an interim conservation order and a permanent conservation order was placed on the 19th century cottage in 1987. The owners were ordered to make repairs to the property in the early 2000s, and the in 2010 the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment acquired the property as part of the state government’s Biodiversity Offset program.
The State Heritage Inventory considers the estate to an important example of early conservation planning that resulted in the retention of an ‘entire cultural landscape’ containing a homestead group, stone bridge and garden layout. Sydney Living Museums have undertaken considerable conservation and restoration work on the farmhouse and the stone bridge on the access road to the farm house.
Beulah and its heritage curtilage is potentially threatened by Sydney’s urban sprawl with new land releases in 2013 at Appin to the south along the Appin Road, while to the north there is the Mount Gilead land release adjacent to Campbelltown’s southern suburbs. Both of these land releases are a repeat of the 1973 housing releases. They are low density horizontal developments that add to urban sprawl. They are problematic and fail to add to the existing identity of the area and take decades to develop their own sense of place.
The urban sprawl that is encroaching on Beulah from the south is part of the NSW State Governments 2013 The Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031. A structure plan developed for the Appin area states that there will 18,300 housing lots release over a 25 year period from around 17,000 hectares. Walker Corporation stated that there is a strong demand for new housing releases in the Appin area and in 2013 26 lots were sold within 2 days of the June land release. There low density houses were similar to in nature to the planned housing developments of 1973 that failed to eventuate.
On the northern approaches to Beulah are the Mount Gilead land releases on a property formerly owned by Lady Dorothy Macarthur Onslow who died in 2013. Mount Gilead is proposed to have 1700 housing lots from 210 hectares which Campbelltown City Council endorsed in 2012. The property contains the historic tower-mill believed the last one in New South Wales along with a homestead, stone stable, and granary dating from the early 19th century.
The issue of urban sprawl is complicated by the inadequate road access. Beulah and the Appin and Mount Gilead land releases all front the Appin Road one of Sydney’s most dangerous stretches of road. A major unresolved issue in the area around Beulah and land releases at Appin and Mount Gilead is the upgrading of the Appin Road.
The Sydney Morning Herald stated in early 2016 that the Appin Road was Sydney’s deadliest road. Between 2015 and 2000 23 people were killed on the Appin Road with the latest fatality in January 2016. While the state government has plans for road improvements this will take a number of years meanwhile there is increased traffic generated by new land releases and general population growth of the Campbelltown area.
The Appin Road has always been an important access route between the Illawarra and the Campbelltown area. Before the South Coast railway was extended to Wollongong in 1887 the Appin Road was used as the main access route to the Main Southern Railway at Campbelltown, which opened in 1858. There was a daily coaching service running between Campbelltown Railway Station and Wollongong. There is still is daily coach service between Campbelltown and the Illawarra via Appin, although tese days it mainly caters to university students.
The poor state of the Appin Road is just one of the issues created by Sydney’s urban sprawl. Other issues include fire risks, urban runoff and food security, public transport, waste, water supply, loss of prime farm land, community facilities, pollution, energy, social cohesion, and equity challenges. Beulah is part of story of the Sydney’s rural urban fringe which has been a landscape of hope and loss for new arrivals and local alike. It will be interesting to see the part this important heritage asset plays in this narrative and how the construction of sense will effect new residents surrounding it.
Alan Gilpin, An Inquiry pursuant to Section 41 of the Heritage Act 1977 into objections to the making of a permanent conservation order in respect of the buildings and site known as “Beulah”, Appin Road, Appin. Sydney : Office of the Commissioners of Inquiry for Environment and Planning, 1987.
 Melanie Kembrey, ‘Planning Minister Rob Stokes unveils plans to create three new communities south of Campbelltown’. The Sydney Morning Herald 22 September 2015. Online @ http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/planning-minister-rob-stokes-unveils-plans-to-create-three-new-communities-south-of-campbelltown-20150922-gjs8ev.html (accessed 28 November 2016)
 Walker Corporation, Submission to the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney 2031, An Appin Urban Release Area (Sydney: Walker Corporation, 2013), p22
 Kimberley Kaines, ‘Call for more details on Mt Gilead development’, Macarthur Chronicle, 19 February 2015.
There has been an attempt at place making in Narellan in the new extension of the local shopping mall, Narellan Town Centre.
The centre owner states on its website that:
New civic plazas and entertainment precincts including a fantastic indoor / outdoor restaurant and casual dining precinct where you will be able to sit down and relax with friends day and night.
Kylie Legge has defined a place as
A location, a personal relationship to an environment, or act as a re-presentation of the spirit of the land and our unspoken community with it. In its simplest terms place is a space that has a distinct character. At is most complex it embodies the essence of a location, its community, spiritual beliefs, stories, history and aspirations. The essence of place is its genius loci, its ‘place-ness’. [i]
Place according to Legge should deliver ‘character, identity or meaning’. Place should also have community participation and create economic revitalisation.[ii]
The centre owners and designers have attempted to create a space where local folk can have social encounters and exchange and meet other people. This type of space attempts to strengthen the local economy, inspire community by having the look and feel of a village market square. The space aims to be walkable and draw people into it.
Place making is community driven and for it to be meaningful individuals should be allowed the make their own interpretation of the space.
The plaza is an attempt at place making where a space allows people to make their own story. They can create meaning for themselves by interacting with family and friends. The plaza has attempted to create its own cultural and social identity. This has been achieved by including a water feature, street furniture and public art.
One of the pieces of public art if a stylized Elderslie banksia, an endangered species, of the local area. There are also quotes from the history of the Narellan story by local historian Dr Ian Willis on two separate panels. There are also dioramas of Pansy the Camden train that ran through the site of the shopping centre extension, as well as cows and open pastures motifs. All these are part of the character of the development of the Narellan story, with its rural past, icon train and Narellan Railway Station.
So far the planners seem to have achieved their aims with early usage by local families. There mothers and children interacting, with some taking souvenir photos for family memoirs. The surrounding food outlets were busy creating a buzzy feel to the site. Workmen fitting out surrounding commercial outlets sat in the sun having their lunch. The area also has a number of financial outlets that will draw more people to the space. The plaza so far seems to quite popular and achieved the aims of the designers.
[i] Kylie Legge, ‘The evolution of placemaking – what’s next?’, Newplanner, September 2015, pp4-5.
[ii] Kylie Legge, ‘The evolution of placemaking – what’s next?’, Newplanner, September 2015, pp4-5.
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.
While the Value of History statement is written for an American audience it has just as much relevance in Australia.
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’.
The US promoters of ‘Advancing the History Relevance Campaign’ maintain that the disparate nature of historical work means that there is the lack of a unified voice for the value of history.
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.
History is consumed on a vast scale in Australia. The American Relevance of History project has much merit and would be very useful in Australia.