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.
The next prominent owner was Sydney banker and philanthropist Thomas Walker acquiring the property from Nichols sons in the 1840s. He commissioned Sydney architect Edmund Blacket to design a large two-storey Victorian mansion called Yaralla house. Walker died in 1886 and left the estate in trust to his only daughter Eadith.
Sydney architect Sir John Sulman was commissioned to extend the house to extend the house in the 1890s. He extended the second floor of the house and designed a number outbuildings including the dairy and stable buildings.
Yaralla House and the grounds are strikingly English-in-style and layout. The Arts and Crafts influenced Sulman buildings are set in idyllic setting of an English estate garden and park.
were sub-divided in 1908, 1912, and 1922, becoming estates of Federation and Californian bungalow homes built for soldiers after World War I.
Yaralla House was the ‘hub of Sydney society’ in the Interwar period, according to the Dictionary of Sydney. Eadith Walker who lived at the house during this period was a famous Sydney philanthopist and held many charity events on the property.
Yaralla House was a convalescent hospital after the Second World War and then fell into dis-repair. Much conservation work has been carried out in recent decades.
The property had many important visitors over the years from royalty to the vice-regal.
A ‘secret’ walking trail
The area has a ‘secret’ walking trail along the Sydney Harbour Foreshore. Well known to locals. Little known to outsiders. The walkway includes the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway from Rhodes Railway Station to Concord Hospital (800 metres). It is all part of the Concord Foreshore Trail. This walk is described this way on the City of Canada Bay walks website:
This historic and peaceful walk stretches from McIlwaine Park in the Rhodes to Majors Bay Reserve in Concord. The route encircles the mangrove-fringed Brays Bay, Yaralla Bay and Majors Bay on the Parramatta River and goes around the former Thomas Walker Hospital ( a heritage listed building), Concord Repatriation General Hospital and the historically significant Yaralla Estate (one of the oldest estates in Sydney dating back to the 1790’s).
Young visitors to the Camden Museum love the model of the HMS Sirius, in the ground floor display area. HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet in 1788 under its commanding officer Captain John Hunter. He was later promoted to NSW Governor and in 1795 he visited the local area in search of the wild cattle and named the area the Cow Pastures Plains.
One of the key roles of GLAM sector organisations is to allow their visitors to learn things, in both formal (aka classroom) and informal settings. For the visitor this can come in a vast array of experiences, contexts and situations.
The Macarthur region has a number of galleries, museums and libraries. They are mostly small organisations, some with paid staff, others volunteer-run.
Local council galleries and libraries have the advantage of paid staff. The Alan Baker Art Gallery is located in the Camden historic town house Macaria. At Campbelltown there is the innovative Campbelltown Arts Centre and its futuristic styling.
The local council libraries and their collections fulfil a number of roles and provide a range of services to their communities.
On a larger scale the state government-run historic Belgenny Farm is Australia’s oldest intact set of colonial farm buildings in the Cowpastures established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur. A number of other colonial properties are also available for inspection.
Doing more with less
Doing more with less is the mantra of volunteer-run organisations. They all have collections of objects, artefacts, archives, paintings, books and other things. Collections of knowledge.
Collections are generally static and a bit stiff. There is a distance between the visitor and the collection. Visitor immersion in these knowledge collections is generally through storytelling of one sort or another.
The more dynamic the immersion the more memorable the visitor experience. An immersive experience will be informative, exciting and enjoyable.
This is certainly the aim of school visits. Teachers aim to immerse their school students in these collections in a variety of ways through storytelling. Hopefully making the student visit educational, memorable and enjoyable.
The learning framework
Local schools connect with local stories through the New South Wales History K-10 Syllabus. A rather formal bureaucratic beast with complex concepts and contexts. Local schools vary in their approach to the units of work within the syllabus.
Mrs Pesic said, ‘The students visit was integral in engaging the students and directing them to an area of interest’.
The school teachers posed a number of Key Inquiry Questions throughout the unit of work. The museum visit, according to Mrs Pesic, was the final part of the unit that started with a broad study of Sydney and narrowed to Camden. The students then had a ‘project’ to complete back at school.
Mrs Pesic reported that the teachers felt that they ‘had achieved the outcomes that they had set for their museum visit’.
Another local school Stage 2 group recently visited the museum, the gallery and had a walk around the Camden town centre. They too addressed the same unit of work from the History Syllabus.
Storytelling – the past in the present
The integration of local studies and inquiry-based learning by school students calls for imagination and creativity. What results is an opportunity to tell the Camden story through a narrative that gives a perspective on the past in the present.
There have been generations of story tellers in the Cowpastures and Camden district since the Dreamtime. Young people can have meaningful engagement with these folk through local GLAM organisations, ‘that cannot always be obtained in the classroom’, says Mrs Pesic.
The cows and more. So what do they offer?
All this activity takes place in the former Cowpastures named by Governor Hunter in 1795. This country was formerly Benkennie of the Dharawal people. The Cowpastures is one of Australia’s most important colonial sites.
Under European dispossession the Cowpastures became part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate from which the family carved out the private township of Camden with streets named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
The Camden district (1840-1973) tells stories of hope and loss around farming and mining in the hamlets and villages across the region. New arrivals hoped for new beginnings in a settler society while the loss of the Burragorang Valley, the Camden Railway and a landscape aesthetic created sorrow for some.
The Macarthur region (1973 +) named after the famous family and the infamous Macarthur growth centre. The area is on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe and made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.
The more things change the more they stay the same
The Cowpastures and Camden districts, now the Macarthur region, are some of the fastest changing landscapes in Australia. There is a need by the community to understand how the past created the present and today’s urban growth.
There is a need for creative and innovative solutions and ways to deliver the Camden and Macarthur stories. These are only limited by our imagination.
An enthusiastic crowd gathered on a balmy evening in Camden’s John Street historic precinct anticipating the opening of a new art gallery. The twilight evening event provided just the right atmosphere for this once in a generation event for the town centre.
The event was the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection which is housed in the fully restored grand Gothic-inspired town residence of Henry Thompson (1860) called Macaria. Even today after 150 years Macaria is still an important architectural statement as part of Camden’s John Street colonial streetscape and historic precinct. The precinct includes the police barracks, the old school of arts building and temperance hall, the commercial bank building, the Tiffin cottage all topped off by the magnificent vista of St John’ Church rising above the town centre.
Alan Baker, the artist and a life story
Alan Baker was a true local identity and he, his wife Majorie and the family had a profound influence shaping the art scene in the Camden district in the second half of the 20th century. Alan Baker helped shape the lives of a host of Camden artists including Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Olive McAleer and Gary Baker. Baker also contributed to the broader art world through his vice-presidency of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.
Baker’s artwork and ‘the collection tells the story of life…and the journey of the artist’, according to his son Gary. The exhibition highlights the two identifiable periods in Alan’s artistic career. Divided by the tragic drowning death of Alan and Marjorie’s two sons in a Georges River boating accident in 1961.
Alan’s work after the tragedy has a more contemplative approach. The paintings have a ‘zen’ quality, according to Gary, and reflect the ‘stories of love, family, community, war, beauty, darkness and tragedy’.
The literal meaning of zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition. Applied to artwork it might mean that Alan Baker was inspired by the contemplative aesthetic of the house garden and bush surroundings at his home at The Oaks.
Gary Baker maintains that there is a ‘purity’ to Alan’s work and it was centred on Alan’s studio and the way the light played with it. Gary explains the process his father used to create his artworks:
My father’s studio was located under his house at Belimba Park. It had one south window and it was cool dark and silent. There was a large sandstone rock over which dripped water. The water seeped from underground and was all around where he sat to work. The light was pure without any other sources and then went to total darkness further into the room, which was rather like a cellar.
In the morning he would pick fresh flowers that he grew with my mother’s help. He would choose them from their extensive garden. Hundreds of camellias, roses, Japonica, peaches and all sorts blossom trees, annuals and perennials. He would arrange them with great care. Aware he only had time to paint them for the life of the flower. Sometimes one or two days.
The flowers would move to the light as the day passed. They were truly living. Some would fall to the table. They constantly changed. After arranging them he would cut a board that fitted the composition. Not being restricted to stock size he made his own frames.
During the process of painting, I felt he was in a state of meditation. He often with classical music playing. There was a rhythm to his work leading to this state of mind. His technical skill learned over decades enabled him to get to this heightened state.
He didn’t have to focus on the difficulties of drawing colour tone, instead used his intuition. Sitting in an upright position close to his board he would spend hours or days completing the painting until done. He never over painted and rarely moved away from his easels to view his work during the painting stage.
The flowers had a stability and calmness. They are asymmetric in design. The reflections on the glass table show a sort of purity calmness. The delicate flowers capture a purity or truthfulness. The flowers were almost textured, the way the paint is applied.
His brush strokes are simplified. Directly confident. Almost abstract. I see a likeness to Chinese ink painting techniques. The designs with the vase in the middle. Most art teachers say that it should not be done this way.
I see some of his paintings as being perfect! I see how they are living, not still. I see the air flow around them. Even viewing at different angles the texture of the paint changes the look of each painting. They are so complex and yet so simple. The brush strokes are very pronounced on board enhancing a textured feel. He did not use canvas.
Flowers themselves are universal symbols of remembrance love. I feel that he was chasing perfection in beauty. His paintings of flowers seem to speak to people with this. Many a man has said to me that they do not look like flower paintings. His are different. You can appreciate that! His floral work is from the heart not intellectual. I feel it’s spiritual.
Alan and Marjorie made The Oaks their home after the 1961 tragedy and maybe Baker was searching for the truth through the subject material he chose for his work. Certainly Alan’s still-life paintings absorbed a large of amount of his artistic effort and possibly account for Gary labelling his work as a form of ‘realism’.
Realism was an artistic movement that appeared in France in the mid-19th century when Realists rejected Romanticism and its exotic subject matters and emotional influences. Romanticism had dominated French art from the mid-18th century. Realism, as an art movement, sought to portray the truth and accuracy of daily life and growing in parallel with the new visual source of photography.
Alan Baker certainly does not pander to sentimentalism or heroic depiction of subjects as 19th century Romantic might have done. The Realists, as Alan’s work represents, rejected the sentimental and heroic and they the later tradition of the moderne. Alan was not a fan of modernist abstract and avant-garde styles of painting. Alan was a technician which was the basis of his commercial art commissions during the Interwar period for Tooths Hotels and others.
Gary goes on about his father’s artwork:
This is the other side of his work. When you walk back and see his work from a distance. It comes into focus. You see a realist painting, the simple brush strokes disappear. He was so well trained in the art skills of tone, drawing and colour. He found modern art to be “the refuse of the incompetent”.
Alan learnt his trade at the J.S. Watkins Art School where he studied drawing at 13 years of age. Watkins had set up his art school after returning to Australia after studying in Paris in 1898 above the Julian Ashton’s art school in King Street. By 1927 when Alan Baker was attending it had moved to 56 Margaret Street Sydney.
At the Watkins art school Alan was trained in tonal drawing in pencil charcoal, pen and washes and later oils, according to Gary’s biography of his father. The art school provided a competitive environment and Alan thrived in it. His mentors included Henry Hanke, Normand Baker (his brother ) and William Pidgen and Alan later became a teacher at the school.
In 1936 at 22 years of age Alan had a self-portrait accepted in the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Alan’s brother Normand won the Archibald prize in 1937 with his Self Portrait and the travelling scholarship in 1939. Between 1932 and 1972, according to Gary Baker, Alan entered the Archibald Prize with 35 separate paintings and made the finals 26 times. In 1969 he submitted a portrait of Camden surgeon Gordon Clowes which made the final selection that year.
The Alan Baker Art Collection is representative of the art genres that Alan practised his career. They are portraiture, still life, landscape, seascape, life drawing and life painting. These artistic genres have long history in Western art and Alan drew on these traditions.
The exhibitions has a number of examples of Baker’s commercial hotel posters, pencil drawings and portraits. Some were completed during his war service in New Guinea and the Pacific where he painted Papuans, fellow diggers and others. Alan enlisted in 1942 in the Australian Army with the rank of private and served in New Guinea. On discharge in 1945 he was with the 2 Australian Watercraft Workshop AEME (Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).
After the war he met Marjorie Whitchurch (formerly Kingsell) who had taken up art classes at the Watkins art school. Alan worked an instructor at the school after he was demobbed from the army. Marjorie fled Singapore in 1942 when the Japanese invaded the city, and in the process she lost her husband, who died on the Burma Railway, her home and her possessions.
After Alan dated Marjorie for a year they married in 1946. They lived in primitive accommodation at Moorebank with few facilities. Their first child was born in 1947. Alan’s career started to prosper and he had a painting of his wife Marjorie accepted in the 1953 Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was one of the finalists with his Artists Wife.
After the tragic loss of their sons Alan and Marjorie were suffering profound grief and moved to the isolation of The Oaks. Here they established a house and garden and Alan established studio in a bush setting. The garden might have provided some light in these dark days. Alan used many of the garden flowers for Still Life paintings. Some of these are in the exhibition. Baker maintained that
An artist must arrange his own composition by any means…the value of the shadow being thrown from one flower thrown from one flower to the other…I spend hours arranging till I am satisfied the result will be successful.
Alan was a fan of plein air painting, a tradition which goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century with the introduction of paints in tubes. Before this artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. This genre is illustrated by a number of landscape paintings in the exhibition, some of local area which capture Alan’s ‘commitment to the natural and man-made environment’. Baker’s landscapes reflect naturalism and the avoidance of stylisation.
Baker lived at The Oaks until his death in 1987 and across those years had a prolific output of work. The Australian Art Sales Digest lists 708 works by Baker across his lifetime, of which 77 are on display at the new gallery. Alan’s artwork is exhibited in numerous galleries and private collections and he held many shows across Australia,
Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak gave the keynote address at the gallery opening. She outlined the gestation of the project and those who supported it along the way. She was full of praise and said that she has been a strong supporter of the project.
Others who spoke at the opening included local Camden MLA Chris Patterson, Alan’s son Gary Baker and philanthropist Max Tegel. These speakers explained how the project required patience and perseverance and that the initial inspiration came from Gary Baker and Max Tegel.
The conservation and re-adaptation of the building was supervised by Sydney architect Ashley Dunn of firm Dunn and Hillan Architects. The original interior joinery has been highlighted with Australian red cedar architraves, skirtings and window frames. Wide original floor boards of Baltic Pine have been polished and provide a warm ambiance to the gallery rooms.
Dunn has designed bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th modernism style that works well with the gallery aesthetic. Dunn drew his inspiration from a number of sources and he has stated:
We wanted to ensure that the furniture was readily identifiable as a contemporary addition. I have always admired the work of artist and architect Max Bill who practiced in Switzerland during the mid 20th century and was educated at the Bauhaus. We are also inspired by the work of artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys and Gordon Matta-Clarke, all of whom worked during the later part of the mid 20th C.
Modern joinery is treated differently to highlight the contemporary phase in the life of the building and in the process creates a distinct separation from the joinery of the colonial period. Dunn has stated:
Our approach to the building was to use a consistent material for all new additions that was sympathetic to but different from the original fabric. We chose 40mm Blackbutt which is much blonder with a tighter grain than the reds and browns of the Australian Cedar and Baltic Pine. The new openings are framed in 40mm Blackbutt and the furniture has 40mm Blackbutt tops. The carcasses all have Blackbutt veneer and are edged in solid Blackbutt. The leather upholstery was chosen to mediate between the different browns and work with the floor colour.
After the official proceedings had finished the crowd of 180 milled around under the marques that lined the exterior front lawns of the gallery. Appetizers, canapes, hors d’oeuvres and other delicacies were served to the guests.
The town residence of Macaria is representative of the Picturesque Tudor Gothic style. It is brick town residence of the colonial Victorian period and originally had a shingle roof. For a house of its scale it is one of the best examples of the architectural style in Australia. Originally there were similarly designed cottage and stables around the house that were demolished long ago.
Natural and man-made things were attractive to look at – houses, gardens, open spaces…gazebos…-were seen as elements in a huge, three-dimensional picture which needed to be artfully composed by a designer possessed of finely tuned judgement.(p.90)
Macaria is representative of the some of the design characteristics of the Picturesque movement included ‘prettiness, quaintness and old-world charm’. Expatriate Englishmen in the colony of New South Wales, according to Apperly, were seeking the known similarities with home in England that provided a degree of comfort in the strange environment of the antipodes. Pattern books of these type of designs were published by JC Loudon (1833) and Calvert Vaux (1857).
In New South Wales one adaptation from Victorian English designs was the addition of a verandah as illustrated by Macaria. There are a number of other residences across Australia of a similar style. One can be found in Vaucluse where Sydney architect John Hilly designed Greycliffe House in Neilsen Park in 1852.
Macaria the history
The Macaria building can be treated as a historical document and primary source. The story of the building can be revealed by the diligent researcher. The layers of its history can be peeled back to reveal previous uses and stories of people who lived and worked within it.
Macaria was originally built by Sydney Congregationalist businessman Henry Thompson who came to Camden with his brother Samuel in the early 1840s. They established a general store and a steam flour mill. Thompson was part of a Sydney based retailing family which set up a chain of stores including Yass and Camden.
The land that Macaria was built on was originally purchased in 1846 by Sarah Tiffin who was a housekeeper for the Macarthur family of Camden Park. Henry Thompson purchased the land from the estate of Sarah Tiffin in 1854. Tiffin has constructed a small Georgian brick cottage on the site in the 1840s, now 39 John Street.
Henry Thompson, who had several school-age sons, became a patron of William Gordon’s Classical and Commercial Academy in 1857. Thompson built Gordon ‘a very handsome house of elegant design’ as a schoolhouse which was known as Macaria. In 1861 Gordon had moved his school to Macquarie Grove, which had been vacated by the Hassalls, where he took a seven year lease. The school closed before the end of the lease. (Atkinson, Camden: 188-189)
Macaria was a substantial town residence and was statement by Thompson to demonstrate his status and importance as a local businessman. Henry’s Thompson’s large family of sixteen children lived in Macaria until 1870. Henry died in 1871 after falling from his horse.
Macaria was a residence for the Milford family, after which the house was leased by Dr George Goode in 1875, an outspoken Irishman of ill-temper. GB Crabbe leased the house in 1886 and converted it to the Camden Grammar School for young boys. The school closed in 1894.
Dr FW West used the house as the surgery for his medical practice and a home for his family from 1901 to 1932, when Francis West died. A series of medical practitioners occupied the house: LB Heath (1932 1938); RE & JT Jefferis (1938-1955); GF Lumley (1955-1975)
Macaria was purchased by Camden Municipal Council from Dr Lumley, and the building was used as the Camden Library, and then the Camden mayor’s offices.
The restoration of Macaria is part of Council’s strategy to invest in the historical Camden Town Centre and create a landmark tourist attraction for residents and visitors to enjoy.
This creative vision was made a reality by Camden Council, which showed its support and commitment to the promotion of arts in the region, by investing in and restoring historical Macaria as Camden’s revitalised home of the arts the community.
So what does all this mean?
The opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Gallery is ground-breaking for the Camden Local Government Area.
It is the first time an important historic town residence has been conserved and re-adapted by Camden Council and opened to the public.
It is the first time a major art gallery in the Camden Local Government Area has been supported by public funds.
It is the first time that private philanthropic interests have donated an art collection to create a public art space and gallery.
It is the first time that a notable local identity has been acknowledged in a public space in this fashion.
It is, according to his son Gary Baker, one of the one of the few collections across the global art community that embraces ‘the complete life of the artist, their family and their place with the community’.
Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for both locals and new arrivals.
The suburb of Oran Park is on Sydney’s south-western urban fringe just east of the history and picturesque village of Cobbitty and the relatively new suburb Harrington Park is to the south.
Oran Park Raceway was a glorious thing
The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the south-western and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main grand prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners as well as changes in elevation around the track.
The main circuit was broken into two parts: the south circuit, which was the original track built in 1962 by the Singer Car Club and consisted of the main straight, pit lane garages and a constant radius 180 turn at the end.
The north circuit was added in 1973 and was an 800 metre figure-8. Apart from the main racing circuit there were a number of subsidiary activities and they have included a two dirt circuits, two four wheel training venues, a skid pan and a go-kart circuit.
The racing circuit has been used for a variety of motorsport including club motorkhanas, touring cars, sports sedans, production cars, open-wheelers, motocross and truck racing. In 2008 a number of organisations used the circuit for driver training including advanced driving, defensive driving, high performance and off-road driving.
The track hosted its first Australian Touring Car Championship in 1971, which was a battle between racing legends Bob Jane and Allan Moffat. The December 2008 V8 Supercar event was the 38th time a championship was held at the track. Sadly for some the track will go the way of other suburban raceways of the past. It turned into just be a passing memory when it closed in 2010.
The Daily Telegraph noted that a number of other Sydney tracks that have been silenced. They have included Amaroo Park, Warwick Farm, Mt Druitt, Sydney Showground, Liverpool and Westmead speedways. The public relations spokesman for Oran Park, Fred Tsioras, has said that there have been a few notable drivers who have raced at the circuit including Kevin Bartlett, Fred Gibson, Ian Luff, Alan Moffat, Peter Brock, Mark Weber and others.
Innovations that were introduced at the Oran Park Raceway included night racing, truck racing and NASCAR racing. Tsioras claims that the track was a crowd favourite because they could see the entire circuit.
In the early days the facilities at the circuit were pretty basic, and this included the control tower. The circuit was a glorified paddock and race organisers held mainly basic club events. The track surface was pretty rough and there was a make-do attitude amongst racing enthusiasts.
The control facilities in the early days at the track was very rudimentary. The first control tower used in 1962 by the members of the Singer Car Club, who established the track, was a double decker bus. Race officials and time keepers sat out in the open air under a canvas awning on the top of the bus at club race meetings.
A new control tower, built around 1980, was funded by the Rothmans tobacco company. The Rothmans company was a major sponsor of motor sports in Australia at the time. Tobacco sponsorship of motor sports was seen as an efficient marketing strategy to reach boys and young men.
Tobacco & cigarette advertisements were banned on TV and radio in September 1976. While other tobacco advertising was banned from all locally produced print media — this left only cinema, billboard and sponsorship advertising as the only forms of direct tobacco advertising was banned inv December 1989.
Motor sport projected an image of style, excitement, thrills and spills that drew men and boys to the sport. Motor sport has been symbolized by bravery, strength, competitiveness and masculinity. This imagery in still portrayed in motor sport like Formula One racing.
The influence for the design of the tower, according to Will Hagan, was the El Caballo Blanco Complex at Narellan, which opened in the 1979 and was a major tourist attraction. The control tower, like El Caballo Blanco, was constructed in a Spanish Mission architectural style (or Hollywood Spanish Mission) like the Paramount cinema in Elizabeth Street (1933) or Cooks Garage in Argyle Street (1935) Camden.
The Spanish Mission building style emerged during in the Inter-war period (1919-1939). It was characterised by terracotta roof tiles, a front loggia, rendering of brickwork and shaped parapets.
The Spanish Mission building style was inspired by the American west coast influences, and the relationship between the automobile, rampant consumerism and the romance promoted by the motion pictures from Hollywood.
The Spanish Mission building style, according to Ian Kirk and Megan Martin from their survey of interwar service stations, was popular with service stations in the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly in the Sydney area. In their survey they discovered more than 120 original service stations surviving in New South Wales from the interwar years.
Some examples of Interwar garages included the Broadway Garage and Service Station in Bellevue Hill, the former Seymour’s Service Station in Roseville, Malcolm Motors in King Street, Newtown and the Pyrmont Bridge Service Station in Pyrmont. Kirk and Martin have maintained that unlike the United States, early service stations in Australia were privately owned and did not have to be designed according to an oil company’s in-house style.
Motor sports became popular in the Interwar period and was associated with glamour and excitement of the cars of the period. The Interwar period (1918-1939) is an interesting period in the history of Australia. It was a time which contrasted the imperial loyalties of the British Empire with the rampant consumerism and industrialisation of American culture and influence.
The Interwar period was one in which country towns and the city were increasingly dominated by motor vehicles. It was a time when the fast and new, the exotic and sensual came to shape the style of a new age of modernism, and competed with the traditional and conservative, the old and slow, and changes to social and cultural traditions.
There were many brands of motor car competing for the attention of consumers, and the aspirations and desires of a new generation were wrapped up in youth, glamour, fantasy and fun.
This was reflected in the growth of elegant and glamorous car showrooms and the appearance of service stations and garages to serve the increasing number of motor car owners.
In Camden this period modernism generated Cooks Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Street not far away from the new slick and exciting movie palace, the Paramount Movie Theatre. In central Camden the Dunk commercial building at 58-60 Argyle Street was a shiny new car showroom displaying Chevrolet motor cars from the USA. Advertisement boasted that the cars were:
Beautiful new Chevrolet is completely new. New arresting beauty of style; new riding comfort and seating; …with more comfort.
The buyer had the choice of car models from commercial roadster to sports roader, tourer, coupe and sedan which sold for the value price of £345.
In New South Wales the number of motor vehicles increased from around 22,000 in 1920 to over 200,000 in 1938. There was an increasing interest in motor sports in the Sydney area by enthusiasts of all kinds.
Dreams and development on the raceway site
In 1983 the Oran Park Raceway track was owned by Bill Cleary, and he stated to the Macarthur Advertiser that his family had owned the property for 38 years. In 1976 he put together a proposal to create a sports and recreation centre for the area of the raceway. The proposal was raised again in 1981 and was to include a themed entertainment park, an equestrian centre, dude ranch, motel, health and fitness centre, model farm and cycling, hiking and bridle trials. But it all came to nothing.
The current track was purchased in the mid-1980s by Leppington Pastoral Company (owned by the Perich family) and in 2004 was rezoned for housing. It was estimated at the time that there would be 21,000 houses. Tony Perich stated in 2007 to the Sydney Morning Herald that he planned to build almost one-fifth of the 11,500 dwellings in Oran Park and Turner Road in a joint-venture with Landcom. A spokesman for Mr Perich’s company, Greenfields Development Corporation, stated that the first houses would be on the larger lots.
Oran Park 2008 planned housing development
In 2008 Oran Park is part of the South West Growth Centre area which is responsibility of the New South Wales Government’s Growth Centres Commission, which was eventually planned to accommodate 295,000 people by 2031. The Oran Park and Turner Road Development were expected in 2008 to house 33,000 people.
In an area east of the raceway it is planned that there will be the development of an aged care facility for elderly and retired citizens with work starting in 2011. The project will consist of independent living villas and apartments, assisted living units, a day care centre and a high and low care aged facility with a dementia unit.
In 2008 the raceway made way for 8000 homes to house 35,000 people complete with town centre, commercial precinct and entertainment facilities. It was planned to include primary schools, two high schools, a court, police station and a community centre. The suburb, Raceway Hill, was planned to have streets named after the old track.
The colonial history of Oran Park
In the colonial days of early New South Wales Oran Park was originally made up of two principal land grants, one of 2,000 acres, Harrington Park, granted to William Campbell in 1815 and another to George Molle in 1817, Netherbyes, of 1600 acres which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road. According to John Wrigley the name Oran Park appears on the pre-1827 map as part of Harrington Park, Campbell’s grant. Campbell arrived on the brig, Harrington, in 1803 as a master.
The New South Wales State Heritage Register states that the Oran Park portion was sub-divided from the Harrrington Park estate in 1829 and acquired by Henry William Johnston in 1852. The Oran Park estate is representative of the layout of a country manor estate with views afforded to and from the manor over the landscape and to the important access points of the estate. These were representative of the design philosophies of the time.
Oran Park House was located in a picturesque Arcadian pastoral scene by using the best of European farming practices and produced an English-style landscape of a park, pleasure grounds and gardens. The house was located in a ‘sublime landscape’ with the integration of aspect, orientation and design, drawing on influences of Scotsman JC Loudon, Englishman Capability Brown and Sydney nurseryman Thomas Shepherd.
Oran Park House
The two-storey Georgian-style house was built in c.1857 and is described as having a roof with of a simple colonial hipped form, windows with shutters, an added portico and a bridge to the two-storey original servants wing at the rear. There is detailed cedar joinery and panelling on the interior. The house is located on a knoll creating an imposing composition set amongst landscaped grounds with a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
According to the NSW State Heritage Register the house is an example of the Summit Model of homestead sited on a hilltop with the homestead complex. The present entrance to Oran Park is on an axis with the house’s southern façade, with a carriage loop with mature plantings in front of the house.
Oran Park house was acquired by Thomas Barker (of Maryland and Orielton) who sold it to Campbelltown grazier Edward Lomas Moore (of Badgally) in 1871. The property was leased by and then subsequently owned by Atwill George Kendrick who had a clearing sale on the site in 1900. The house had alterations possibly under the direction of Leslie Wilkinson (professor of architecture, University of Sydney) in the 1930s.
The Moore family sold the Oran Park House and land to B Robbins and a Mr Smith operated a golf course with trotting facilities. It was sold in 1945 for £28,000, and in 1963, 361 acres was purchased by ER Smith and J Hyland, farmers. The homestead and stables were sold in 1969 by John and Peggy Cole and purchased by the Dawson-Damers, members of the English aristocracy. The Dawson-Damers undertook restoration guided by architect Richard Mann. John ‘DD’ Dawson-Damer was an Old Etonian and car collector.
John Dawson-Damer was a prominent motor racing identity and was killed in an accident while driving his Lotus 63 at a race meeting at Goodwood, West Sussex in 2000. Dawson-Damer was the managing director of Austral Engineering Supplies Pty Ltd, and was involved with the International Automobile Federation and the Historic Sports Racing Car Association of New South Wales. Ashley Dawson-Damer, his wife and socialite, was a member of the council of governors of the Opera Australia Capital Fund and a board member of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation.
After her husband’s death she sold the house, with its historic gardens and 107 hectares of pasture, in 2006 for $19 million to Valad Property Group. The State Heritage Register describes the house and surrounding estate an outstanding example of mid-nineteenth century cultural landscape with a largely intact homestead complex and gardens set within an intact rural setting.
Oran Park House renamed Catherine Park House
Oran Park was renamed Catherine Park House in 2013 by the developers of the new housing release Harrington Estates Pty Ltd (Mac Chronicle 10 Oct 2013). The name changed was agreed by Camden Council and celebrated Catherine Molle, the wife of George Molle.
In 1815 Molle was allocated a grant of 550 acres which he called Catherine Fields after his wife Catherine Molle on the northern bank of South Creek opposite his grant of Netherbyres.
In 1816 George Molle was granted Netherbyres, of 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road on the south bank of South Creek. In 1817 he was granted Molles Maine of 1550 acres east of the Great South Road.
George Molle was baptized in Mains, Berwickshire, Scotland on the 6th March 1773. George joined the Scots Brigade (94th Regiment) as an ensign and served in Gibraltar, The Cape of Good Hope, India, Egypt and Spain. He was promoted to Colonel and served at Gibraltar before transferring as the Colonel of the 46th Regiment of Foot when ordered to serve in the Colony of New South Wales.
On the 20th March 1814 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Colony, second in command to Governor Macquarie.
George and his wife played an active part in the public life of the colony of New South Wales, patron of the Female Orphan School and a member of the committee for the Civilization, Care and Education of Aborigines.
In early 2018 the developer Greensfields and Landcom report in their newsletter that construction of the new Camden Council Library building is progressing well. A new off-dog leash area was under construction in the new release areas around the new high school. It is the second area developed in the land release.
The newsletter detailed the road construction for Dick Johnson Drive, one of the many roads named after motor racing greats. The street will connect with The Northern Road in 2019. Works area progressing on the latest release areas around Oran Park Public School and on earthworks associated with Peter Brock Drive. The school opened in 2014 with new staff and students adjacent to Oran Park Podium shopping centre. The shopping centre was opened by New South Wales Premier Mike Baird in late 2014 with 28 specialty shops.
New parkland was opened in a recent release area in 2018 and new traffic lights were operational at Peter Brock Drive and Central Avenue.
A new free monthly 20pp A4 newspaper, the Oran Park Gazette, has appeared in the suburb in 2015. It is published by the Flynnko Group based at Glenmore Park. The Gazette started with a circulation of 3500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads which are distributed across the Western Sydney region.
Camden Council transferred is administrative function to the new office building in 2016. An open day inviting resident to inspect the new facilities was a huge success.