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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
The CHN blogger has been out and about recently looking around the Civic Park precinct of Newcastle in the Laman and Auckland Street quarters.
Newcastle is a city of contrasts starting out as a penal settlement in 1801 known as King’s Town and now a thriving port with one of the world’s largest coal loaders, located in one of the world’s busiest coal loading ports.
Yet hidden amongst former warehouses and port facilities are some architectural delights in the city centre. Just to prove that what is old is new again in Hunter Street, the city centre’s main roadway spine, that are trams again after an absence of over 60 years.
The city has escaped the high-rise buildings which are the way of Sydney and Melbourne so far because former coal mines undermine the city centre and have provided challenges for modern development.
The city of Newcastle has a number of buildings that are influenced by modernism, some from the interwar period while there others from the mid-20th century.
Over 700 locals and visitors were present for the official opening of the Camden District Hospital nurses quarters or better known as the ‘nurses home’ by the NSW Minister of Health WF Sheehan in June 1962. Official proceedings at the opening were led hospital-chairman FJ Sedgewick who said that the board had been working towards the addition of the new building for many years. (Camden News 27 June 1962)
Construction on the building had begun in mid-1961, cost £92,000 and was located on farmland purchased by the hospital-board in 1949 opposite the hospital in Menangle Road on Windmill Hill. The three-story brick building had suspended concrete floors and was designed by architects Hobson and Boddington influenced by mid-20th century modernism and International Functionalism. Nurses accommodation was an improvement on wartime military barracks with 40 single rooms with separate bathrooms.
Lack of accommodation
Finally the hospital-board thought that a solution had been found to the lack of nurses accommodation at the hospital. Adequate accommodation for nurses had been an issue for hospital administrators from the hospital opening in 1902. Originally Camden nurses were provided with two bedrooms within the hospital building which had soon proved to be inadequate. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p. 17) Nurses were quartered within a hospital complex based on the presumption that this was necessary because of their 7-day 24-hour-shift roster that meant that they worked all hours. Added to this was the Nightingale philosophy that the respectability and morality of the nurses had to be protected at all costs. The all-male Camden hospital-board took their responsibility seriously and considered there was a moral imperative to protect the respectability of their young single female nurses.
The Nightingale system hinged on the employment of women of unblemished characters as nurses…In the forty years since nursing has been made a respectable profession for women in Australia it had also acquired most of the dedicated overtones (and a great many of the rules, regulations, restrictions and inhibitions) of a religious order.
The blog Nurses For Nurses has a post with memories from one nurse about live-in-quarters at Lidcombe Hospital in 1971.
the large number of nurses who had to ‘live-in’ in the Nurses’ Quarters buildings (guarded by the bull-dog determination of the Home Sister, constantly on the look-out for those evil ‘boyfriends’ and male doctors!). These nurses were predominantly vulnerable, aged from 16 upwards, far, far from home in many cases. They needed friends, security, safety, comfort, respect, and a sense of ‘school pride’.
The cloisters of Camden District Hospital
The nurses at Camden District Hospital lived in a cloistered environment within the hospital grounds in 1902 , as they had done at Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents and Incurable from 1890s, like a pseudo-religious order in their veils and capes. According to the NSW Health Minister Mr Sheehan,
‘The [new] building for the nurses I hope will be a home and comfort for them. It is consistent with the dignity of the service of the nurses in your community’. (Camden News 27 June 1962)
Duty and service were part of the ethos of nursing from the time of Florence Nightingale and Camden’s ministering angels met their workplace obligation.
There was comfort for the Camden community in the knowledge that the nurses’ quarters was on the road between the sacred heart of Camden at the St Johns Anglican Church and the Macarthur family’s pastoral empire at Camden Park Estate. The Macarthur family patriarchs had always been pre-occupied with the moral wellbeing of the town and the respectability of the nurses fitted this agenda. Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow was always mindful of the status of women and the moral dangers single nurses potentially faced in the town area. Mrs Onslow, her daughter Sibella and daughter-in-law Enid passed the hospital and the nurses quarters on their way to church and cast an observant eye over the complex to ensure all was well.
Lack of accommodation a constant problem from the beginning
Camden District Hospital was the major medical facility between Liverpool and Bowral and the Yerranderie silver field mines put pressure on the hospital. More patients meant a need for more staff. In 1907 a government grant allowed the hospital board to purchase a four-room cottage next to the hospital for £340 and converted it to nurses’ accommodation. (Camden News, 30 May 1907, 13 June 1907, 6 February 1908, 26 March 1908) Completed renovations in 1908 allowed the board to appoint a new probationary nurse, Miss Hattersley of Chatswood. (Camden News, 18 June 1908) The hospital’s status increased in 1915 when the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) approved the hospital as a registered training school. (Camden News, 28 January 1915) Continuing pressure on the nurses accommodation stopped the hospital-board from appointing a new probationary nurse in 1916. (Camden News, 6 July 1916) While things were looking up in 1924 when electricity was connected to the hospital. (Camden Crier, 6 April 1983)
The hospital continued to grow as the new mines in the Burragorang coalfields opened up and adequate on-site nurses’ accommodation remained a constant headache for the hospital administration. In 1928 the hospital board approved the construction of a handsome two-storey brick nurses’ quarters at a cost of £2950 on the site of the existing timber cottage. (Camden News, 12 July 1928; SMH, 20 July 1928) The building design was influenced by the Interwar functionalist style and was a proud addition to the town’s growing stock of Interwar architecture with its outdoor verandahs, tiled roof and formal hedged garden.
Temporary nurses accommodation was added in December 1947 as each nurse was now entitled to a separate bedroom under the new Nurses Award. The hospital-board purchased a surplus hut from Camden Airfield as war-related activities wound down and facilities were sold off by the defence authorities. The hut was formerly a British RAF workshop hut, measured 71 by 18 feet, cost £175 and was relocated next to the hospital free of charge by Cleary Bros. RAF transport squadrons had been located at Camden Airfield from 1944 and local girls swooned over the presence of these ‘blue uniformed flyers’ and even married some of them. Hut renovations were carried out to create eight bedrooms, two store cupboards and bathroom accommodation at a cost of £370. Furnishings cost £375 with expenses met by the NSW Hospital Commission and the new building was opened by local politician Jeff Bate MHR. (Picton Post, 22 December 1947. Camden News, 1 January 1948)
As the Burragorang coalfields ramped up so did the demands on the hospital and the nurses’ accommodation crisis persisted. The issue restricted the ability of hospital authorities to employ additional nursing staff (Camden News, 21 September 1950) and the opening of the hospital’s new maternity wing in 1951 did not help. (Camden News, 4 March 1954)
Continuing accommodation crisis
The new 1962 nurses quarters did not solve the accommodation issue as the hospital grew from 74 beds in 1963 to 156 in 1983 (Macarthur Advertiser, 1 March 1983) and patient facilities improved with the opening of the 4-storey Hodge wing in 1971 on the site of the 1928 nurses’ quarters. (Camden News, 3 March 1971)
The finish of hospital-based trained nurses
The last intake of hospital-based training for nurses took place at Camden Hospital in July 1984 and nurse education was transferred from hospitals to the colleges of advanced education in 1985. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p.58)
By this time nursing staff were living off-site and the moral imperative of protecting the respectability and dignity of local nurses in a cloistered environment was challenged by feminism and the increased professionalism of the nursing profession.
In recent years the ghostly corridors of 1962 nurses’ quarters have remained eerily empty reflecting a lot of good intentions that were never quite fulfilled. The buildings stands as a silent citadel to the past and acts as a metaphor to the changing nature of the nursing profession, the downgrading of Camden Hospital, the imminent expansion of Campbelltown Hospital and the appearance of new medical facilities at Gregory Hills.
Such a pretty tree-lined streetscape, full of old-world charm. I’ve often stood at that green paddock next to the church, with its views across the valley… locals are up in arms as online rumours swirl about moves by the church to sell the land…Right next to Camden’s most famous heritage landmark, an 1840s gem described by one government website as “a major edifice in the history of Australian architecture”.
Cr Banasik said this development opposed the shire’s ethos of rural living. The heritage of the area is amazing – there is Camden Park, Gilbulla, Menangle Store and the rotolactor site,” he said. This development just ain’t rural living.
Journalist Kayla Osborne reported the views of town planning consultant Graham Pascoe on heritage and the Vella family’s new commercial horticulture venture at Elderslie in the Camden Narellan Advertiser in May.
Mr Pascoe said the heritage nature of the site and its proximity to Camden had been well-considered by the Vella family…the land was ideal for farm use…the land has been farmed in the past…We believe we will provide a model…farm at the entrance to the Camden town centre.
The views on heritage expressed in these stories do not actually define heritage.
There is an assumption or a presumption that the reader understands the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these contexts.
So what was the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these articles?
To answer that question another must be asked: What is Camden’s heritage?
What is heritage?
The term heritage is not that straight forward. There are a range of definitions and interpretations. The term is not well understood and can raise more issues than it addresses. Jana Vytrhlik, Manager, Education and Visitor Services, Powerhouse Museum (Teaching Heritage, 2010) agrees and says:
To start with it is a useful exercise to say what heritage is not. Heritage is not history. Historian David Lowenthal says that
Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth… Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error… Prejudiced pride in the past… is its essential aim. Heritage attests our identity and affirms our worth.
The word ‘history’ comes from the Latin word ‘historia’, which means ‘inquiry’, or ‘knowledge gained by investigation’.
History tells the stories of the past about people, places and events. History is about what has changed and what has stayed the same. History provides the context for those people, places and events.
History is about understanding, analysing and interpreting the past based on evidence. As new evidence is produced there is a re-examination and re-interpreting of the past. History is about understanding the why about the past.
Meaning of heritage
The meaning of heritage is not fixed and historian Graeme Davison maintains that the history of the word heritage has changed over the decades.
Initially heritage referred to what was handed down from one generation to the next and could include property, traditions, celebrations, commemorations, myths and stories, and memories. These were linked to familial and kinship groups, particularly in traditional societies, through folkways and folklore.
In the 19th century the creation of the nation-state, capitalism and modernism led to the creation of national myths, national stories and national heritage.
ln the 1970s, the new usage was officially recognised. A UNESCO Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted the term ‘heritage’ as a shorthand for both the ‘built and natural remnants of the past’.
(in Davison, G. & McConville C. (eds) ‘A Heritage Handbook’, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards NSW,1991)
Heritage can be categorized in a binary fashion: cultural heritage/natural heritage; tangible heritage/intangible heritage; my heritage/your heritage; my heritage/our heritage.
What is significant about Camden’s heritage?
In 2016 the Camden Resident Action Group attempted to have the Camden town centre listed on the state heritage register. The group obtained statements of support which outlined the significance Camden’s heritage. Statements of support were from Dr Ian Willis (UOW), Associate Professor Grace Karskens (UNSW) and Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson.
The wonderful Victorian colonial building that was once the Whiteman’s General Store has had a new lease of life through the Burra Charter principle of adaptive re-use. There are has been a continuous retail shopping presence on the same site for over 135 years.
While the building has also had new work and restoration it is a good example of how a building can be adaptively re-used for commercial activities without destroying the integrity of the buildings historic character and charm.
Adaptive re-use maintains the historic character of the streetscape and the sense of place that is so important to community identity, resilience and sustainability.
Adaptive re-use is not new and has been going on for a long time. In Europe buildings that are hundreds of years old continual go through the process of re-use century after century.
The Tower of London – a building with an amazing history of adaptive re-use
The Tower of London has been re-used over the centuries since the White Tower was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a fortress and gateway to the city.
Over the centuries the Tower of London complex has been a royal residence, military storehouse, a prison, place of royal execution, parliament, treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, storage of crown jewels, royal armoury, regimental headquarters, and most recently a centre of tourism.
Adaptive re-use in Australia
In Australia adaptive re-use of historic buildings comes under the Burra Charter which defines the principles and procedures followed in the conservation in Australian heritage places.
The Burra Charter has been adopted by heritage authorities across Australia – Heritage Council of NSW (2004).
Adaptive re-use is covered by Article 21 of the Burra Charter and states:
Article 21. Adaptation 21.1 Adaptation is acceptable only where the adaptation has minimal impact on the cultural significance of the place. 21.2 Adaptation should involve minimal change to significant fabric, achieved only after considering alternatives.
The explanatory notes says:
Adaptation may involve additions to the place, the introduction of new services, or a new use, or changes to safeguard the place. Adaptation of a place for a new use is often referred to as ‘adaptive re-use’ and should be consistent with Article 7.2.
In Irish planning, a conservation ensemble is known as an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). ACA status provides statutory protection to existing building stock and urban features, and applies strict design and materials standards to new developments. Protections prohibit works with negative impacts on the character of buildings, monuments, urban design features, open spaces and views.
Seasoned building materials are not even available in today’s world. Close-grained, first-growth lumber is naturally stronger and more rich looking than today’s timbers. Does vinyl siding have the sustainability of old brick?
The process of adaptive reuse is inherently green. The construction materials are already produced and transported onto the site.
Architecture is history. Architecture is memory.
[Craven, Jackie. “Adaptive Reuse – How to Give Old Buildings New Life.” ThoughtCo, May. 22, 2018, thoughtco.com/adaptive-reuse-repurposing-old-buildings-178242]
Whiteman commercial building
The Whiteman family conducted a general store in Argyle Street on the same site for over 100 years.
In 1878 CT (Charles Thomas) Whiteman, who operated a family business in Sydney, brought produce to Camden. He purchased a single storey home at the corner of Argyle and Oxley Street and ran his store from the site. (SHI) In 1878 a fire destroyed the business.
CT Whiteman was previously a storekeeper in Goulburn and Newtown and later married local Camden girl Anne Bensley in 1872. Whiteman, was a staunch Methodist, and was an important public figure in Camden and served as the town’s first mayor from 1892 to 1894.
CT Whiteman moved to premises in Argyle Street in 1889 occupied by ironmonger J Burret. Whiteman modified the building for a shopfront conversion. (SHI) The store was later leased to the Woodhill family from 1903 to 1906.
From 1889 to 1940 the building was known as the Cumberland Stores. The store supplied groceries, drapery, men’s wear, boots and shoes, farm machinery, hardware, produce and stationery. (Gibson, 1940)
The original Argyle Street building was an early timber verandahed Victorian period store.
The building was a two-storey rendered masonry building with hipped tile roof, projecting brick chimneys. The second storey had painted timber framed windows which were shaded by a steeply pitched tile roof awning supported on painted timber brackets.(SHI)
A two-storey addition was constructed in 1936 and the verandah posts were removed in 1939 when this policy was implemented by Camden Municipal Council.
There were later shopfront modifications to the adjacent mid-20th century façade street-frontage which included wide aluminium framed glazing and awning to the ground level of the building. (SHI)
The Whiteman’s General Store sold a variety of goods and became one of the longest-running retail businesses in Camden.
The Whiteman’s Store was trading as Argyle Living when it closed in 2006 under the control of Fred Whiteman. On the store’s closure the Whiteman family had operated on the same site in Camden for 123 years.
On the closure of Argyle Living the store sold homewares, clothing, furniture and a range of knickknacks and was the largest retail outlet in Camden with 1200 square metres of space.
Current usage of the Whiteman’s commercial building
After 2007 the building was converted, through adaptive re-use, to an arcade with several retail outlets and professional rooms on the ground floor, with a restaurant and other businesses upstairs.
The building has largely retained its integrity, and its historic character and delight in the town’s business centre.
The Whiteman’s commercial building adds to the mid-20th century streetscape that still largely characterises the Camden town centre and attracts hordes of day-trippers to the area.