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Reflections on the Camden story

What does the Camden story mean to you?

What is the importance of the Camden story?

What is the relevance of the Camden story?

These appear to be simple questions. But are they really?

I have posed these questions in response to the theme of History Week 2020 which asks the question History: What is it good for?

Narellan Studley Park House 2015 IW
Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

 

So, what is the Camden story?

What is the Camden story?

The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.

Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.

The latest version is the European story started with The Cowpastures in 1795.

The Camden story is about the Camden community.

The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.

These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.

Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District. This book covers an overview of the Camden story from the First Australians, the Cowpastures, gentry estates, the Camden township, Camden as a little England, the Interwar period, First and Second World Wars, voluntarism, mid-20th century modernism and the approach of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. (Kingsclear, 2015)

 

What is the relevance of the Camden story?

The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.

The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.

Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.

Camelot House formerly known at Kirkham, Camden NSW
Camelot House, originally known as Kirkham, was designed by Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt for James White. The house was built in 1888 on the site of colonial identity John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill. Folklore says that James White financed the house from the winnings of the 1877 Melbourne Cup by his horse Chester. Under White’s ownership, the property became a horse-racing stud and produced several notable horses. (Camden Images)

 

What is the use of the Camden story?

The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:

  • the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
  • the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
  • the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
  • the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.
Camden & Laura Jane & Debbie photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
Storyteller Laura Jane is ad-libbing for a short tourist promo for Tiffin Cottage. Camera operator Debbie is issuing instructions and generally supervising the production crew. (I Willis)

History offers a different approach to a question.

Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.

The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.

Aust Day 2018 Museum Open Frances&Harry
Australia Day 2018. The Camden Museum was open and here are two enthusiastic supporters and volunteers for the museum. They are Frances and Harry Warner. These two larger than life Camden identities have spent their life devoted to the Camden community. They have lived and worked on Camden Park Estate for decades. (I Willis)

 

The historian is well equipped to unpack and peel back the layers of the Camden story.

The tools used by the historian to unravel the Camden story might include: historical significance; continuity and change; progress and decline; evidence; historical empathy; and I will add hope and loss.

An understanding of this process is all called historical consciousness and has been examined in Anna Clark’s Private Lives Public History.

I feel that the themes of History Week 2020 provide a convenient way to wrap up all of this.

The History Council of NSW has recast this in its  Value of History Statement and its component parts and they are: identity; engaged citizens; strong communities; economic development; critical skills, leadership, and legacy.

Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.

Camden Park House Country Road Photoshoot 2019
Country Road fashion shoot at Camden Park House. Have a peek at Camden Park House at the Country Road page and visit us on 21/22 Sept on our annual Open Weekend. (Camden Park House)

 

Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?

The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.

A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.

The Camden story can tell citizens about past examples of active citizenship and volunteerism within Camden’s democratic processes from the past. There are stories about our local leaders from the past who helped shape today’s community in many ways.

The Camden story tells stories about family and social networks that criss-cross the district and are the glue that holds the Camden community together in a time of crisis – social capital.

Active citizenship contributes to community identity, a sense of belonging and stories about others who have contributed to their area contribute to placemaking and strengthening community resilience.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)
Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · British colonialism · Camden · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Cowpastures · Edwardian · England · Farming · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Macarthur · Modernism · Monuments · NSW History K-10 Syllabus · Place making · Ruralism · Schools · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Tourism · Urbanism · Victorian

The Cowpastures, GLAM and schools

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.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit7 Sirius 2018Apr
School visit by Macarthur Anglican Students viewing the HMS Sirius model 2018 (MAS)

 

The story of the Cowpastures is one of the many told in the displays at the volunteer-run Camden Museum and the Wollondilly Heritage Centre, all part of the Macarthur region’s GLAM sector.

So what is the GLAM sector? For the uninitiated it is Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. The acronym GLAM appeared at the 2003 annual conference of the Australian Society of Archivists.

Organisations that make up the GLAM sector are cultural institutions which have access to knowledge as their main purpose and care for collections of any kind.

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.

 

The local GLAM scene

There is the volunteer-run Camden Museum a social history museum. While out at The Oaks is the pioneer village setting of the Wollondilly Heritage Centre and at Campbelltown the Glenalvon house museum.

camden-library museum
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

 

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.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit6 2018Apr
Story telling by a volunteer at the Camden Museum for a school visit by Macarthur Anglican School (MAS, 2018)

 

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.

 

NSW History K-10 Syllabus

Topics

Early Stage 1      Personal and Family Historians

Stage 1                The Past in the Present.

Stage 2                 Australian History: Community and Remembrance. First Contacts.

Stage 3                 Australian History: Colonial and National.

Stage 4                 World History: Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

Stage 5                 Global History: The Modern World and Australia.

 

Field trip

One of the types of engagement recommended by the History Syllabus are field trips through site studies. These can come in all shapes and sizes.

One type of field trip can include taking in local museums and galleries.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit2 2018Apr
School visit by Macarthur Anglican School students outside the Camden Library being told story by a museum volunteer (MAS, 2018)

 

One approach

Stage 2 History -Topic: From Colonisation to Now

Mrs Kathryn Pesic from Macarthur Anglican School visited the Camden Museum with her Year 4 students.

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 approach

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.

Camden Macaria Gallery MawarraPS Visit 2018April11 lowres
A school visit to the Alan Baker Art Gallery being told a story by the gallery curator (ABAG, 2018)

 

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.

Camden John St (1)
St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

 

The English-style Camden town centre has evolved and illustrates a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, Edwardian, Inter-war, Mid-20th century Modernism.

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.

Map Camden District[1]
The extent of the Camden District in 1939 showing the township of Camden in the eastern part of the district (I Willis, 1996)

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.

Camden Aerial View 1990s CIPP
The AEH Group is using images like this to promote their development at Camden Central. This images was taken in the early 1990s by PMylrea and shows the town with Argyle Street to the right of the image. St John’s Anglican Church is in the left of the image. The old Camden High site is to right of the town centre. This image clearly shows how the town centre is surrounded by the Nepean River floodplain. (CIPP)

 

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.

 

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