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Local historian takes a fresh look at the Campbelltown story

Review: Pictorial History Campbelltown & District. By Jeff McGill. Sydney: Kingsclear Books, 2017. Pp. iv + 139. Illustrations, index, select bibliography, paper. 978-0-99444456-2-9.

Pictorial History Campbelltown and District sets out to break the stereotypes that have plagued Campbelltown for decades. Local author and photographer Jeff McGill illustrates in his new publication how the city is mulit-dimensional and has many facets to its character.

The book is a fresh look at a community through local eyes and shows the community’s vibrancy, enthusiasm and strength. It illustrates how the community has endured many challenges from the dreamtime to the present.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History McGill 2017 Cover

 

McGill’s use of images peels back the layers of meaning and reveals the heart of the city. Photographs demonstrate the dynamic nature of the community and how it has changed over time.

Historical photographs are a window into the past and provide a form of expression materially different from the written or oral record. Photographs are accessible and immediate to the viewer. They are unfiltered and provide a meaning to the setting of the subject.

Historical photographs show an immense amount of detail and are an archive of meaning about the past. Quite often the viewer feels that they are intruding on a private event or function.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[2] McGill Launch 2017
Author Jeff McGill signing copies of his book standing next to the publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books at the Glenalvon launch of Pictorial History Campbelltown & District on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

While photographic images capture a moment in time they also have deeper meanings. Just like the writer the photographer is trying to say something in their formatting, structure and composition of the image.  What is the message that the photographer is trying to the tell the viewer?

Sometimes the photograph poses a host of other questions. Why is the street not paved? Why is the women’s dress that long? Why are people wearing those funny clothes? Why are there cows in the paddock? Why are their no electricity poles?  These are all part of the composition of the photographs in this pictorial history.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[2] McGill 2017
Campbelltown Railway Station which opened in 1858. What is little understood is the  importance of the rail link to people living in the Illawarra until the opening of Wollongong Railway Station in 1887. There was a daily coach service running between the station and Wollongong which still persists today. (CAHS)

Jeff McGill provides a  perspective of the lived local experience of Campbelltonian and a journalist’s nose for a good story. McGill has published a number of local histories that show the hand of someone who understands the nuances of small communities.

After growing up in Campbelltown, going to school in the city McGill worked for the large metropolitan dailies. He then returned to Campbelltown so he could write stories about interesting people rather than those based on hard bitten sensationalist attitude to journalism in the big smoke.

It is this attitude that shone when the Macarthur Advertiser, under McGill’s editorship,  took out two national awards for the best local newspaper in Australia. He has been praised for being a passionate Campbelltonian and it shows in  Pictorial History Campbelltown & District.

The images that McGill has chosen for the book show the same characteristics that are part of successful journalism in the provincial press. Each image tells a story about local characters and identities and capture a snapshot of a time long past.  McGill’s deft eye for composition and impact as a photographer is clearly demonstrated in his layout work in the book.

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill 2017
A procession in Queen Street in 1910 was organised by the local Waratah and Wallaby Football Club.  (CAHS)
The images are drawn from a range of archives – Campbelltown City Library, the Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society, many private collections, individual photographers and the author. Many of these images are not accessible to the general public in any form and this publication breaks ground in this area.  The book is complemented by a select bibliography and index.

Some of the images  show important events which had repercussions on the national stage  like the election of the Whitlam government (p. 123),  and the First (pp. 54-61) and Second World Wars (pp. 81-87).

The Pictorial History Campbelltown & District provides a new perspective on the history of Campbelltown from earlier histories.  Carol Liston’s Campbelltown The Bicentennial History and William A Bayley’s History of Campbelltown New South Wales are narrative histories of the city and surrounding suburbs. Bayley’s history was published at the time of one of the greatest changes in the history of Campbelltown. In 1973 the state government the announcement of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan and the establishment of the Macarthur Growth Centre. Liston’s history was published during the nationalist frenzy linked to the Australian Bicentenary Celebrations of 1988.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[3] McGill Launch 2017
Author and photographer Jeff McGill showing off his latest publication at the Glenalvon launch on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

More that just a narrative Pictorial History Campbelltown & District is an entry point to the daily lives of those living in Campbelltown. The images are accompanied by a lively story about the characters and events from Campbelltown’s past.

The city has not always received a good press in the Sydney metropolitan dailies and this publication challenges these stereotypes. This collection of images provides a human side to the local story about real people with real lives who create a vibrant  community.

The Campbelltown community has many community organisations that are the basis of the city’s resilience and one of these is the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society which contributed a number of images to the book. The society also provided the venue for the book launch in the wonderful atmospherics provided by Campbelltown’s historic house Glenalvon.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch Hayes 2017
Past president of the Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society introducing proceedings at the Glenalvon launch of Pictorial History Campbelltown & District on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

The gathering was introduced by past president Kay Hayes, followed by publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books. Catherine outlined the history of her firm over  30 years of publishing. She said that Campbelltown pictorial history was one of the last pieces of the jigsaw of the Sydney area for her firm. She had been trying to complete her coverage of the metropolitan area for many years and this book was the first time that she has had an author take over the design work.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch Warne 2017
Publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books introducing author Jeff McGill’s Pictorial History Campbelltown & District at the Glenalvon launch on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

Jeff McGill then spoke about the gestation of the book, its development and fruition with the support of many people and organisations. Jeff outlined how there were lots of images that were considered for the book and a culling process narrowed down the selection. The chosen were those which told a story or provided the greatest meaning to the Campbelltown story.

McGill made the point that quite a number of the images came from family photograph albums that he had been given access to over many years. This was  the first time that they have been published. Jeff would visit local families be given afternoon tea and he would copy the images from the family album.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch 2017
Raconteur, author and photographer Jeff McGill on the launch of his Pictorial History Campbelltown & District at Glenalvon on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

Jeff McGill’s Pictorial History Campbelltown & District  provides a human side to the local story about real people with real lives who create a vibrant and wonderful community. The city has broken free of many of its stereotypes and ghosts, yet it still continues to face many challenges with a positive outlook to the future.

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Art · Attachment to place · Campbelltown · Campbelltown Art Centre · Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Entertainment · Heritage · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · myths · sense of place · Tourism

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

The CHN blogger was out and about at Campbelltown Arts Centre recently on a Friday night at the opening of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.

A packed Campbelltown Arts Centre was filled with keen supporters of the award. They walked around and viewed the art works that had survived the culling process and made it onto the walls and displays.

Campbelltown Arts Centre Fisher Ghost Art Award 2017
There was quite a crowd the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on Friday 4 November.

55 Years of History

2017 is the 55th year of the prize and the finalists had some pretty stiff competition.

There were a diverse range of works. The categories include Open, Contemporary, Traditional, Sculpture, Photography, Primary Students, Secondary Students, Surrealism, Macarthur award for a local artist, Aboriginal, Mentorship Macability award for a work by an artist with a disability.

The Award has a total prize pool of $38000 supported by a range of local sponsors.

Campbelltown Arts Centre is well regarded art institution in the Sydney area under the leadership of director Michael Dagostino.

Camden artist survives cull at the Award

One entrant at this year’s award was Camden artist Sandra Dodds. She survived the cull with her sculpture work Eclipse.

Camden artist Sandra Dodds with her entry Eclipse in the sculpture category of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on the opening night of Friday 4 November. (I Willis)

Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.

Campbelltown Arts CentreFishers GhostArt BrianStratton Shoalhaven Tapestry 2017
Brian Stratton and his watercolour ‘Shoalhaven Tapestry’ hung at the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award at Campbelltown Arts Centre (L Stratton)

Brian said about his painting:

‘One of my watercolour paintings of Crookhaven Heads on the south coast of NSW.  Over the past three decades I would have painted more than 200 paintings of the north face of this headland.  To me this work has more of a feeling of a tapestry, as opposed to a watercolour; hence its title.’

Award proceedings

The proceedings on the opening night got under way just after 6.00pm with the official announcements around 7.30pm. The announcement of the winners was introduced by a welcome to country by a local Dharawal elder.

The 2017 judges were curator Tess Allas, artist Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham and artist Ben Quilty.

The full list of prize winners in all categories can be found here.

Campbelltown 2017 FishGhstArt Awd Signage

The Fisher’s Ghost Festival

The art award is part of the Fisher’s Ghost Festival which is held in November each year and started in 1956. The festival is named after the local 19th century legend of Fisher’s ghost.

The festival website states that celebrations are held over 10 days (4-12 November). The major features of the festival are a street parade,  a fun run, a street fair, craft exhibition, foodie festival in Mawson Park, open days and a giant carnival with fireworks.

In 2017 the carnival was held on Bradbury Oval and was in full swing as the art award winners were announced at the art centre.

The street parade moves along Queen Street and has a variety of community, sporting and business groups with floats and novelties.

Each year the festival has a theme and in the past they have included  The Ghost with the Most, The Spirit of Campbelltown, the International Year of the Volunteers, the Centenary of Federation, the National Year of Reading and most recently, the 30th anniversary of the Campbelltown-Koshigaya Sister City relationship.

The Miss Festival Quest, which ran up until the early 90s, was adapted to form The Miss Princess Quest, which has now been running for more than two decades.

Campbelltown Art Centre forecourt on the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award (I Willis)

The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher

The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.

The story of Fred Fisher is one full of mystery, murder and mayhem. It really shows the dark gothic influences in Australian history around the former convict turned farmer who was murdered in Campbelltown. The Dictionary of Sydney website tells this story and the grizzly demise of Fred.

The ghost story of Fred Fisher is part of Australian gothic literature and the country’s colonial past.   These stories make a statement about the white Australian psyche and the monster within. The landscape is portrayed as a monster in the genry of  Australian gothic now and in the past when the early colonials viewed the bush as evil and threatening.

The National Library of Australia outlines the story of Fred Fisher and the songs, stories and legends that flow from it. They claim that it is the most forgotten ghost story in Australia..

The Fred Fisher ghost story is an apt ghost story to tell around the time of Halloween. Some even go looking for the Fred ghost today.

There are many who swear that there is a presence around the area of Fishers Ghost Creek in Campbelltown. Is this just a lot of rot or is there something to the story?

The story receives the official sanction of Campbelltown Council and its public library where it is told in all its detail.

The Campbelltown History Buff has many interesting stories about Fred and his ghost. One of the best is about the ghost post from the road bridge and the curse that is linked to it. Or maybe not.

The dark stories of colonial times about Aborigines and convicts fit neatly into  the Australian gothic genre, as does Fred Fisher, a former convict.

2017 Fishers Ghost Festival runs from 4 November to 12 November.

The festival website tells the story from the colonial days of Campbelltown and the festival is fitting to remember the ghostly and ghastly past.

The festival celebrates and embraces the Australian gothic.

 

 

Attachment to place · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · community identity · Edwardian · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · myths · sense of place · Victorian · Women's diaries · Women's Writing

Victorian librarian with attitude or a ghostly presence in the Camden Museum.

Victorian librarian with attitude or a ghostly presence in the Camden Museum.

Who is the ghostly presence in the archive room at the Camden Museum.? Is it the ghostly presence of some Victorian matron who used to roam the site? Is it the ghost of some former Camden librarian who has come back in a different life?

Camden Museum IMG_2560 haunting presence in research room (1) 2017 AMcIntosh
The ghostly figure of the lady in black in the archive room at the Camden Museum. Photographer Anne wondered as well when she took this image the other night recently after one of the meetings. (A McIntosh)

The lady in question displays a certain attitude towards the visitors that is a bit disconcerting. She looks over your shoulder while you are busy reading some newspaper from a bygone time.

The lady makes you feel guilty that you have not contacted your long lost aunt in months. Maybe she just touches your guilt complex.

The images of the lady were taken by museum volunteer Anne who has an eye for a moving photo or two after a society meeting recently. She has made the hairs stand up on the neck of quite a few people recently.

The Camden Museum is full of objects with lots of stories to tell. An object will speak to you if take the time and patient to unlock the story of its last owner.

Where did it come from? Who owned it? What is their story? What was the object used for? When was it used? Where was it used? Who used it?

What events surround the object? What is the story linked to those events? Who attended the events?

Camden Museum wwwIMG_2561coy-Vic-librarian (1)2017 AMcIntosh
Who is this lady? What is she doing here? What is her truth? What is she hiding? Check her out at the museum on your next visit. What do you think? This English lady was donated by Camden Local Pam Hartley. She will not reside permanently at the Camden Museum and may find a home at Lifeline. (A McIntosh)

Objects are full of stories. The stories are often hidden in plain view. You just need the patience to unlock the story.

What is the story of our lady? Where did she come from? Who is she? Why is she dressed this way? What does all this mean? What are the memories of people linked to her?

Recently I was told by a local person interested in local history that they only wanted the facts. Everything else is just fake news. What does that mean? What is a fact?

That question is simple enough.

Well is it?

Some will say the facts are in the newspaper. Well are they?

The newspaper is a second hand account of an event and the people who were at that event. The story is written by a journalist.

The journalist writes from their notes or their memories. How fixed are these details? Not as permanent as some would like.

So what are the facts? How accurate is the newspaper story.? Only as accurate as the writer remembers.

How accurate is the list of people at the event?  Only as accurate as the writer recalls. How accurate is the story of the event, what happened and in what order? Only as accurate as the writer remembers or as good as their notes. Does the writer have any biases? Yes. What are they? Lots and they affect how the journalist writes the story.

What did the writer leave out of the story? Was the newspaper story a full, accurate and fair account of the event? How do we know 100 years after the event? We do not know and the facts are not as fixed in concrete as some would think.

So the local person I spoke to who only wanted the facts really did not understand what they were dealing with. Their facts are not as fixed as they thought they were.

At any public event everyone who attends is a witness to the proceedings. If you talk to 10 people from the event the following day they will give you 10 different versions.

So what were the facts? The facts will be the things that everyone agrees on. Maybe.

Try it sometime at your next family get together. Ask different family members to recall the event. They will all have a different version.

So what is the truth? What are the facts? Are they all telling lies? Did they all forget what you remembered? Is your version the only correct version? Is your version the truth?

Are you the only one who can remembers the facts? Or is it that your version is just one version of the truth? Or is it that your version is just one version of the facts?

So is everyone telling lies? Is everyone just making it up? Does everyone just forget all the facts according to you?

Is everything else just fake news.

Camden Museum IMG_2562museum Vic librarian with attitude (1)2017 AMcIntosh
The lady in black is looking over your shoulder to make sure that your are reading the truth. Or are you? What is the truth? Who is she? What are you reading? Is it the truth? (A McIntosh)

So what is the truth? Not so easy to answer that one.

Everyone was there and they all witnessed the same thing.

Is everyone is telling the truth?

There are lots of versions of the truth. There are just lots of versions.

Everyone saw the event through different eyes. They all have a different story of the event.

All versions are correct. They are all correct. There is no wrong version. They are different interpretations of the same event.

But they all cannot be correct.  As my local history contact told me he only wanted the facts. Everything else is just fake news.

There are lots of truths. There are lots of different views of the world. There is no black or white answer. Only shades of grey.

People like life to be simple. People like things to be right or wrong.

Life is not like that. There are all sorts of nuances to things. There is no one truth. There are lots of truths.

The lady at the museum. Who is she? What is her story? What is her history? Lots of interesting questions. So what is the truth?

Come and find out for yourself.

Find some of the truths of the Camden area by visiting the Camden Museum.

Some of the answers might surprise you.

Anzac · Australia · Canada · First World War · myths

Anzackery and Vimyism, national military myths

I recently came across a post by Canadian blogger Andrea Eidinger in her Unwritten Histories  that mentioned the battle of Vimy Ridge from the First World War. The author was reviewing a recently published book The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Canadian historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift as part of CHA Reads 2017.

Book Vimy Trap Cover (Amazon)

Publicity from Amazon states that

The story of the bloody 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge is, according to many of today’s tellings, a heroic founding moment for Canada. This noble, birth-of-a-nation narrative is regularly applied to the Great War in general.

This heroic story has launched a mythical tale labelled as “Vimyism”.

I was reminded of Anzackery discussed by David Stephens in The Honest History Book (pp.120-133) that is described as excessively promoting the Anzac legend – the heroic nation-founding story which emerged from the 1915 Gallipoli landing by the Anzacs.

2017 Anzac Day Commemorations in Camden NSW (I Willis)

I felt that it was worthwhile to re-published Andrea Eidinger’s blog post in full here.

CHA Reads: Mary-Ellen Kelm on The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War

May 23, 2017 / Andrea Eidinger

What is CHA Reads? Find out here!

Mary-Ellen Kelm defending The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.

The Vimy memorial was on TV when Andrea Eidinger’s call for participants in #CHAreads went out on Twitter. Though the First World War is not my field, I have long been interested in how the past gets used to make or break community. So I signed up to participate in #CHAreads and to investigate the merits of The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift – a nominee for the CHA’s Sir John A. Macdonald prize. The Vimy Trap is a book that all Canadian historians, whatever their interests, should read.

The reason is simple. Historians care about history. We care about people in the past and we want to represent their experience faithfully. We care about how history is written and used. What McKay and Swift are arguing is that Vimyism – “a network of ideas and symbols that centre on how Canada’s Great War experience somehow represents the country’s supreme triumph [and]… marked the country’s birth,” has flattened the complex, contradictory and terrifying reality of the First World War into a simplistic, militaristic ‘big bang theory’ of Canadian history.(p. 9)

Article on Vimy Ridge from The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Wed 11 Apr 1917 Page 1 Trove NLA nla.news-article15706380.3

What is lost in the process is astounding and much of the Vimy Trap explores the horror and ambiguity of modernized warfare and Canadians’ varied reactions to it. McKay and Swift eschew black-and-white portrayals. Canadian soldiers were neither heroes or villains: they used poison gas, killed prisoners and were torn apart by artillery fire while marching with fixed bayonet wearing kilts. They came to view the war and to write about it in ironic, scathing terms. At home, disunity turned to violence as conscription split the nation. The War was hardly a unifying, glorifying force.

McKay and Swift give voice to a spectrum of Canadian reactions to the War. Early enthusiasm waned quickly. From Arthur Meighan to William Lyon Mackenzie King to Walter Allward, the sculptor of the Vimy Memorial, and Charlotte Susan Wood, Canada’s first Silver Cross Mother, all called upon Canadians to remember the War not a righteous cause but as reminder of war’s futility. They grieved their dead and honoured them but not the war that caused their deaths. Canadians dreamed of peace and their leaders sought it too but failed to remake the social order into one that would recoil from war.

A culture of martial nationalism remains. Late twentieth century popular and scholarly histories recognize the contradictions and the complexities but have concluded that, in war, nations are strengthened, dreams realized, heroes made. Historians are responsible for Vimyism. It is a trap because it reflects none of the nuance and little of the stark horror of modern warfare that soldiers and civilians experienced and that contemporary writers expressed. And this is why Canadian historians must read The Vimy Trap. McKay and Swift remind us all that we have not always glorified war and ask us, as historians, to consider our part in honouring, or ignoring, that past.

Mary-Ellen Kelm is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University specializing in settler colonial and medical histories of North America.

Re-published from Andrea Eidinger’s original blog post with permission

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Macarthur Park Camden NSW erected in 1922 by public subscription (I Willis)