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Living history at a country festival

Camden’s European living history on show

An example of living history has been on display recently at the Camden Show, the annual celebration of the rural heritage of the Camden district.

The show is an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in the real smells, sounds and sights of a sample of the farm in rural Australia.

Camden Show collage 2019 IW
The 2019 Camden Show provided an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in a host of farming activities. The authentic sights, sounds and smells of the show ring and surrounds enlightened and entertained in a feast for the senses. (I Willis, 2019)

 

The show represents the authentic real life of country people. It is a performance bringing history to life by storytelling through a host of demonstrations, events and displays.

The show is historical representation of the past in the present  illustrating a host of aspects of rural heritage through experiential learning.

Living history reveals layers from the past

The show reveals itself in a multi-layered story of continuity and change on the edge of the Camden township. What was once a small isolated rural village at the Nepean River crossing and is now a thriving Sydney suburb on the city’s metropolitan fringe.

Competitive sections of the show have come and gone with changes in the farming economy. Livestock, produce, craft and cooking sections each tell a story of different aspect of rural life. What was once an integral part of the rural economy is now a craft activity and completely new sections have appeared over the decades.

Camden Show Sandra Dodds 2019 IW
Camden resident and artist Sandra D entered her creation in the Bush Cuppa Tray competition and won first prize. Her entry provided a feast for the sense with scones, cup of tea, a copy of the Bulletin magazine, a story of painting ‘en plein air’ in the 1890s, gum leaves. All this activity taking place on 21 December 1889 at Montrose in Victoria. (I Willis, 2019)

 

Where once rural artisans were part of the local economy their activities are now demonstrations of heritage and lost trades. Show patrons once used to arrive in a horse and cart today’s show-goers watch competitive driving of horse and sulkies in the show ring.

Camden Show Marily Willis 2019 IW
This excited first timer won second place for a group of zucchinis in the produce section of the 2019 Camden Show. Marilyn Judith W grew her entry on her plot at the Camden Community Garden where a number of other gardeners also entered their produce. Marilyn had an immersive experience at the show and volunteered her time at the community garden stall giving away seedlings to adults and children alike. (I Willis, 2019)

 

Sideshows and carnies continue show  traditions that have their origins in English village fairs and carnivals of the past and even a hint of the Roman Empire and their circuses.

The success of the show illustrates a yearning by those attending to experience and understand elements of the traditions of a rural festival in the face of urban growth and development.

History

The Camden Show is a rural festival that is part of the modern show movement that emerged from the Industrial Revolution.  The first series of agricultural shows in the early 19th century demonstrated modern British farming methods and technology.

The first agricultural shows in New South Wales were in the early 19th century and the first Camden Show in 1886. The 19th century agricultural show movement set out to  demonstrate the latest in British Empire know-how and innovation in farming.

The site of the show on the Nepean River floodplain is one of the first points of contact between European and Indigenous people and the cows that escaped from the Sydney settlement in 1788 former the Cowpasture Reserve in 1795. For living history it is material culture which grounds the audience in time and place.

Camden Show 2019 IW
All good farmers had a reliable truck to cart stock and hay to the market from the farm and to take trips into town. This one dates from the mid-20th century at Bringelly NSW on display at the Camden Show with a friendly passenger. (I Willis, 2019)
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The living history movement finds new supporters

Living History at Belgenny

The CHN blogger attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in  the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.

Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.

 Peter Watson and Howell Farm

Peter Watson presented an interesting and far ranging talk about Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey and its programs.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson Talk
A very informative talk by Mr Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA. Mr Watson was the guest of Belgenny Farm Trust Chairman Dr Cameron Archer. The talk was held on 2 May 2018 at the Belgenny Farm community hall with an attentive crowd of local folk. (I Willis)

 

Mr Watson said, ‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.

Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.

Mr Watson said,

‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm.

Mr Watson said,

‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’

Mr Watson says,

‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.

Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Living History Farm visitors become involved in activities.’

The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.

 

The Living History Movement

Historian Patrick McCarthy considers that living history is concerned with (1) ‘first person’ interpretation or role play (2) adopting authentic appearance (3) re-creating the original historic site of the event.

Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’. Living history museums ‘do not merely represent the past; they make historical ‘truth’ for the visitor’.  (pp. xii-xv)

According to Magelssen living history museums ‘produce history’ like textbooks, films or a lecture. Under the influence of post-modernism history ‘is on longer to be seen as the reconstruction of the past through scientific analysis’. Living history is a research tool. (pp. xii-xv)  There are various interpretations on the way this is constructed, configured and delivered amongst the theorists.

 

Origins of living history museum movement

One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA. It is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the USA and attracts 1.6 million visitors. Ford opened the Greenfield Village to the public in 1933 as the first outdoor living museum in the USA and has over 100 buildings moved to the site dating from the 1700s. Henry Ford said of his museum

I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…

 

Living history @ Belgenny

Belgenny Farm is an authentic collection of colonial farm buildings that were once part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The Belgenny Farm website states that its education program adopts the principles of the living history movement. It states:

Schools enjoy a diverse range of hands-on curriculum based programs including the new Creamery Interpretative Centre. The Creamery showcases the dairy industry over the last 200 years and is supported by a virtual tour and online resources.

And more to the point:

Belgenny Farm was established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1805 and contains the earliest collection of colonial farm buildings in Australia. The property is a major educational centre with direct links to Australia’s agricultural history.

 

Sydney Living Museums

Sydney Living Museums is part of the living history museum movement and manages 12 historic properties across NSW. The stated role of SLM is to:

enrich and revitalise people’s lives with Sydney’s living history, and to hand the precious places in our care and their collections on to future generations to enjoy.

Sydney Hyde Park Barracks WHS Wikimedia lowres
Sydney Living Museums’ Hyde Park Barracks in Macquarie Street Sydney. (Wikimedia)

 

Sydney Living Museums has a philosophy which aims to be part of the living history movement by being:

authentic; bold; collaborative; passionate; and a sociable host.

Originally known as the Historic Houses Trust (HHT) the first chairman  stated that the organisation wanted to present

our properties ‘in a lively and creative way’.

When the HHT changed its name in 2013 to Sydney Living Museums:

to refresh and unify our diverse range of properties and highlight our role and relevance for current and future generations.

 

Living history is storytelling

Living history is walking the ground of an historical event or place or building. Walking the ground shows the layers of meaning in history in a place or building.

Walking the ground is an authentic real  experience.

Participants absorb the past that is located in the present of a place or a site. The past is the present and the past determines the present. It shapes, meaning and interpretation. It is the lived experience of a place.

Living history allows participants to be able to read: the layers of history of an area; the layers of meaning in a landscape; or the layers of history in a building.

It is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.

Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real  and authentic.

Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present.

Experience some of these stories at the Camden Museum.

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)