Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:
A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.
A sad story of decay and neglect
The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.
The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.
Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and in 1968 the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.
The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates that were developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.
The design concept originated from the town of Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.
Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with the front of the house facing a walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant that there was a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape consisting of rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.
Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb, where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighborhood life without the need for a car.
Radburn watered down
The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.
The public housing estates did have extensive open space which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises and the Housing Commission built townhouses that were counter to the Radburn concept.
The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.
The estates were populated with high numbers of single-parent families who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.
Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street; anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas; and the low socio-economic status of residents.
The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighborhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of areas of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. Some of these issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.
Memories of hope
In the 1970s I taught at Airds High School adjacent to the shopping mall and my memories are mixed. Young people who came from disfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020) who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:
I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies. Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.
Fiona tells the story of her sister who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.
Similarly I found Airds school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence that was generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’ and I said that this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.
Bogans galore and more
The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasting with the despair of the 1980s.
Another free bi-annual colour magazine has recently come to my attention called Smarter Macarthur. While it has been present for a few editions this newspaper nerd did not notice it, probably because it is a ‘business-to-business’ publication in the local media landscape.
The masthead is published by Smarter Media with a circulation of 5000 copies. It is letter-boxed to businesses across the region, dropped in professional premises and eateries, and distributed to advertisers and local networking groups.
Smarter Macarthur was originally published in 2014 and is produced with 200gsm Gloss Artboard cover and internal pages of 113gsm Gloss Artpaper, which gives the full colour magazine a quality feel and presentation. The publisher stays local by employing local photographers Brett Atkins and Nick Diomis.
The 52pp print edition for Winter/Spring 2019 is supported by an online presence. There is a Facebook page and a website , both appearing in 2014, with the website including a directory of advertisers.
Editor Lyndall Lee Arnold maintains that:
Our aim to produce quality content, to showcase local businesses within the area.
The print magazine carries news articles of local interest, stories of local businesses and advice pages on leadership, technology and health. The editorial approach of the magazine is to stress the local.
The editorial policy and the presence of the magazine strengthens regional identity and the construction of place by telling the stories of the local businesses and their owners.
This is a screenshot of the website established in 2014 for the Smarter Macarthur bi-annual glossy free colour magazine. (I Willis)
Being on the front cover of Smarter Macarthur along with our business story being featured inside the last issue has been so positive!
Macarthur businesses seem to want to support a new addition to the local media landscape.
On the Facebook page the editor maintains that she is looking to the future and the growth of the regional market place with the construction of the Western Sydney Airport, apply named Nancy Bird-Walton Airport, at Badgerys Creek.
The success of the publication will add to community sustainability by strengthening the local economy, job creation and economic growth.
It will be interesting to see if the Macarthur region’s competitive market place continues to support this masthead.
The CHN blogger was out and about in southern Queensland recently and investigated some of the local aspects of living history.
The CHN blogger was drawn to southern Queensland by the Australian Historical Association Conference held at Toowoomba in early July. The conference was stimulating and challenging and the hosts provided a great venue at the Empire Theatre complex.
The Toowoomba area provided a number of examples of living history starting with the Cobb & Co Museum complex. Apart from the displays there is training in traditional trades for the more than curious and there are a number of special days during the year. The blogger was there during the school holidays and there was a motza of stuff for the littlies to do – all hands on. The kids seemed to be having lots of fun, followed around their Mums and Dads. The coffee was not bad either.
The generous conference hosts organised some activities for conference goers. I tagged along on a town tour one evening led by the president of the local historical society – very informative. ‘Town by night’ was a great way to see the sights of the city centre from a new perspective.
One property that particularly took the fancy of this blogger was the Federation Queen Anne style Harris House. The cottages was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) in 2017. The 1912 Edwardian villa residence demonstrates the development of Toowoomba in the early 20th century and the place wealthy members of the local society within it.
The single storey red brick dwelling has a Marseilles tiled roof and wide verandahs with bay windows. The concrete ornamentation contrasts with the face red brick and the hipped-roof has decorative finials and ridge capping. The house is in a visually prominent position on a corner block and is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as ‘a grand, Federation-era suburban villa residence’. It is quite an asset to the area.
After the conference this nerdy blogger found himself at The Woolshed at Jondaryan. Originally built in 1859 the woolshed is one of the largest in Australia and today is an example of an extensive living history attraction. The European history of the woolshed illustrates the frontier story of the settler society of southern Queensland and the Darling Downs.
The Camden story is an ongoing project that aims to tell the untold stories of the Camden, Cowpastures and Macarthur districts. There is the telling, the learning and the showing of the story.
The project is constantly evolving and changing direction. It is centred around the construction of place and the meaning of landscape. These are culturally derived concepts from both Indigenous and European experiences.
There are the natural ecologies that make up the environment as well as atmospheric and geological elements. The natural elements are just as important as the cultural.
Complexities of the Camden story
The Camden story has its own complexities. There is no one single dominant narrative. There are many voices in the story and each has a right to be heard.
There are many threads to the Camden story and when woven together make a coherent story with many voices. The weave of the cloth represents the warp and weft of the daily lives of the actors on the stage. Together they create a vibrant design that can capture the imagination of many and inspire others.
There are many actors in the constantly evolving narrative, each with their own agenda. The story is played on a stage that is located on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe, a dynamic movable frontier on the city’s edge. It is a constantly changing and evolving cultural landscape.
There are many layers to the Camden story each with its own particularities. As each layer is peeled back it reveals memories and meanings from the past that influence the present. Those who are interested can dive into the many layers and help unravel the entangled threads of the web and give some clarity to their meaning within the story.
The Camden story is a journey that is constantly evolving with many signposts along the way. There are a lot of fellow travellers who have their own stories. There are many pathways and laneways to go down, each with its own meaning and memories to the travellers who come along for the journey.
The Camden story has its own road map of sorts with signposts and markers of significant places along the journey for those who want to look. There are many opportunities for those who want embark on this journey and uncover many of the undiscovered mysteries of the Camden story.
It is in the interests of those who want to tell the story that they walk the ground in which the story is embedded. The landscape speaks to those who want to listen. The experience is enriching and fulfilling and shapes the telling of the story.
Some parts of the Camden story
The Camden story has many parts and some are listed below:
This is a short history of the town, which is situated on the floodplain of the Nepean River, on the traditional land of the Dharawal people in an area known as the Cowpastures. The Camden area’s distinctive landscape has moulded the community’s identity and sense of place. From the earliest days of European settlement class and social networks ordered daily life in the village with the local gentry at the top of the social hierarchy.
The Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangleinto the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. It was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. The district became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.
This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. It is an attempt to examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of the Camden community’s history.
Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations. From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers.
The Camden bibliography is an attempt to highlight some of the research that addresses the notion of Camden as a country town and the subsequent urbanisation of the local government area. The sources listed in the bibliography cover the geographic area of the Camden district.
The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement. The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.
The story of European settlement in the Cowpastures is intimately connected to the story of the convicts and their masters. This story has not been told and there is little understanding of the role of the convicts in the Cowpastures district before 1840. Who were they? What did they do? Did they stay in the district?
Kirkham is a picturesque, semi-rural locality on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe between the historic township of Camden, with its inter-war and colonial heritage and the bustling commercial centre of Narellan. The arrival of the rural-urban fringe at Kirkham in recent decades has created a contested site of tension and constant change, resulting in an ever-evolving landscape. This is an example of a short locality history within the local area published by the Dictionary of Sydney.
Early European settlers were the key actors in a place-making exercise that constructed an English-style landscape aesthetic on the colonial stage in the Cowpastures district of New South Wales. The aesthetic became part of the settler colonial project and the settlers’ aim of taking possession of territory involving the construction of a cultural ideal from familiar elements of home in the ‘Old Country’. The new continent, and particulaly the bush, had the elements of the Gothic with its grotesque and the demonic, and the landscape aesthetic was one attempt to counter these forces. Settlers used the aesthetic to assist the creation of a new narrative on an apparenty blank slate and in the process dispossessed and displaced the Indigenous occupants. The new colonial landscape was characterised by English place-names, English farming methods and English settlement patterns, with only cursory acknowledgement of Indigenous occupation.
The rural-urban fringe is a dynamic frontier, an ever expanding zone of transition on the edges of Australia’s major cities and regional centres. This paper examines the proposition that Sydney’s urban growth has pushed the city’s rural-urban fringe into the countryside and unleashed the contested nature of place-making in and around the
country town of Camden. It will be maintained that the dynamic forces that characterise the rural-urban frontier have resulted a collision between the desires and aspirations of ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and prompted a crisis in the identity of place. Community icons
and rituals have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place. The actors have used history and heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity, and has created a cultural myth based on a romantic notion of an idealised
country town drawn from the past, ‘a country town idyll’.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you live in the fringe urban communities of Campbelltown, Camden or Picton in the Macarthur district on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. In the past these communities have been fiercely parochial country towns with clearly identifiable differences based on history, heritage, traditions, mythology, rituals, demographics, local government and a host of other factors. With the encroachment of Sydney’s urban sprawl they have been wrapped up by the tentacles of the metropolitan octopus and faced challenges on a variety of fronts. The questions that this article raises concern Macarthur regionalism. Is it authentic? How representative is it of the former country towns that are now incorporated within it?
The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe. The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn. West of Wollongong the tributaries includng Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park. The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty. The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.
Camden is a country town whose history and development has been influenced by war. The town was part of Australia’s homefront war effort, and from the time of the Boer War the most important part of this for Camden was volunteering. The Second World War was no exception, and the most influential voluntary organisation that contributed to the town’s war effort was the Womens Voluntary Services [WVS]. The Camden WVS was part of a strong tradition of Victorian female philanthropy in the town, which attracted, and depended on, middle class women socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, a separatedness of spheres, patriarchy, the status quo, and by the inter-war period, modernity.
On 21 October 2004 the former Member for Camden, Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Kernohan, died after suffering a heart attack. She was sixty- five. Thousands of people lined Argyle Street in Camden to see the cortege and pay their last respects, I and compliments flowed from both sides of New South Wales politics. There were over 1850 column centimetres devoted to her death and subsequent funeral in the local press. Kernohan was a popular, larger than life figure in Camden. She held the seat of Camden for the Liberal party for over 11 years in an area that some have claimed is the key to the success of the Howard Government. How was Kernohan able to gain this type of support? This paper will try to address this question, although initially it is useful to give a brief overview of the electorate.
A notable part of Camden modernism that has disappeared is the drive-in movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the notable attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale). Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the lifestyle of the baby boomers. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The drive-in movie theatre was a defining moment in the district for a 20th century culture that was based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.
Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex. The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena.
The Camden Country Women’s Association made camouflage nets during the Second World War and was the largest netting centre in the area. The Camden CWA camouflage netting centre was assisted by sub-branches at Campbelltown and Narellan, which were established after the joint CWA-WVS meeting in December 1941.
One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy. It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell stories to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia. The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963.
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 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.
This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper? The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
The members of 32 Squadron arrived in Camden Airfield in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units. The squadron’s operational duties at Camden Airfield included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia.
Once the army moved into Narellan Military Camp it commenced operation and became part of the wartime scene during WW2. Men were seen marching all over the district, there were mock raids and the men practiced firing small arms. The camp is an important part of the story of Narellan during war as thousands of men, and some women, moved through the camp on their way to somewhere in the theatre that was the Second World War.
Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.
The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars was at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion. The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milk shakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.
The interwar period in Camden was a time of economic development and material progress. The prosperity of the period was driven by the local dairy industry and the emerging coal industry. During the interwar period one of the most important economic arteries of the town was the Hume Highway (until 1928 the Great South Road). For a country town of its size the town had modern facilities and was up-to-date with the latest technology. The interwar years were a period of transition and increasingly the motor car replaced the horse in town, and on the farm the horse was replaced by the tractor, all of which supported the growing number of garages in the town.
The beginning of a new phase of Camden’s motoring history created much excitement and anticipation in March 1948 with the opening of the new ultra-modern car showroom for Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street.
The year 1948 was a landmark in Australian motoring history with the launch of first Australian made mass produced motor car – the FX Holden sedan – in November. The National Museum of Australia states that
The Holden transformed suburban Australia, boosted national pride and quickly become a national icon. The car was economical, sturdy and stylish and was immediately popular with the public.
Clinton Motors announced in September 1948 that it would sell the new Holden motor car (Camden News, 23 September 1948). The first Holden car was displayed in the new streamlined showroom in December 1948 and sold for £675. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)
The new showroom displays motoring modernism
The former Clintons Motor building was an iconic stylish Art Deco Interwar influenced building with its clean streamlined appearance drawn from American and French influences.
A blue and white building with modernistic streamlined front and wide plate glass fittings. Inside, behind imposing doors set between giant white pillars, are to be seen a range of colourful displays that glistened beneath batteries of flourescent lights. Big placards mounted on plastic coated display stands illustrate the advice which Goodyear gives motorists in obtaining tyres. Other plastic and glass tables hold an unexpectedly large variety of accessories for cars and trucks. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).
The new premises were constructed by Camden builder Jim Bracken on the former site of the Camden tweed mill which burnt down in 1899 and left a standing chimney for many years. During the Interwar period the site was used a horse paddock.
The new premises sold tyres, motor accessories and electrical goods including refrigerators. The showroom ‘combined all the features that modern merchants in America have developed to improve their service to their customers’. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).
Tourism and motoring modernism
The former Clintons Motors showroom is one of the first buildings that visitors encounter as they enter the town centre after crossing the Cowpastures Bridge and the Nepean River floodplain on the former Hume Highway (now Camden Valley Way).
Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street Camden in 1983. The business was the Holden dealership for the Camden area. The premises opened in 1948. (Camden Images)
The former car showroom is just one of a number of Interwar buildings that visitors can find in the charming town centre. There is the former Bank of New South Wales (Westpac) building, the brick front of the show hall pavilion, the Dunk building car showroom, the former Rural Bank building, the former Stuckey Bakery building, the milk depot. Tucked around the corner is the former Paramount Movie palace and the Presbyterian church. Scattered in and around the town centre are a number of Californian bungalows which add to the atmospherics of the former country town.
The Clinton Group has a long history
The Clinton group has a long history in the Macarthur region starting out a mobile theatre then moving into the Burragorang coalfields. In the 1930s they had a transport business moving coal from the valley to the Camden and Narellan railhead. The family formed Clinton Distributions which became an agent for General Motors Holden on 8 March 1945. Trading at Clinton Motors on the Hume Highway at Narellan the business sold Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Vauxhalls, Bedfords and Maple Leaf trucks. The family incorporated the business in 1946 (Clinton Motor Group) and moved into Camden in February, (Camden News, 21 February 1946) opening the new showroom in 1948. The business operated on this site until 1992 then moved to the former site of Frank Brooking car yard and motor dealership at the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets.
The paper will tell the story of Camden girl Shirley Dunk on her first visit to London with her travelling companion Beth. Both young women had the adventures of their lives and Shirley recalls the journey with great fondness and nostalgia. The journey was a life changing experience for both your women from an Australian country town.
The title of the presentation is An Australian country girl goes to London.
In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.
This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.
The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.
Read more about Australian expatriates in London in the 1950s who were made up of artists, writers, actors and musicians.
It is not often that the historian can get a view into the past through the lens of the present in real time. I was able to this in Camden New South Wales recently at a photo shoot for the History Magazine for the Royal Australian Historical Society.
Photographer Jeff McGill and author Laura Jane were the participants in this activity. We all walked along Camden’s historic main thoroughfare, Argyle Street, which still echoes of the Victorian period. Our little group made quite a splash and drew a deal of attention from local women who swooned over the ‘gorgeous’ vintage dress worn by Laura Jane.
Mid-20th century enthusiast Laura Janes lives the lifestyle in dress, makeup and hairstyle and made the perfect foil for her History article on Sydney fashion, the David Jones store and their links to the fashion house of Dior. Laura Jane modelled her 1950s Dior style vintage dress in front of Camden’s storefronts that were reminiscent of the period. With matching handbag, gloves, hat, hairstyle, stiletto heels, and makeup she made a picture to behold captured by Campbelltown photographer Jeff.
Laura Jane encompasses the experience of the country woman going to town when Camden women would dress-up in their Sunday best to shop in Camden or catch the train to the city.
A city shopping expedition would entail catching the Pansy train at Camden Railway Station, then change steam trains at Campbelltown Railway Station, then another change at Liverpool Railway Station from steam train to the electric suburban service for Central Railway Station in Sydney. The suburban electric trains did not arrive at Campbelltown until 1968.
City outings for country women often happened around the time of the Royal Easter Show when the whole family would go to the city. The family would bring their prized horses and cattle to compete with other rural producers for the honour and glory of winning a sash. While the menfolk were busy with rural matters their women folk would be off to town to shop for the latest fashions for church and show balls or to fit out the family for the upcoming year.
Country women from further away might stay-over at swish city hotels like the up-market elegant Hotel Australia near Martin Place. These infrequent city outings were a treat and a break from the drudgery of domesticity and women would take the opportunity to combine a shopping trip with a visit to see a play or the Tivoli theatre.
The intrinsic nature of the city outings for country women were captured by the Sydney street photographers. They operated around the Martin Place, Circular Quay, Macquarie and Elizabeth Street precincts and are depicted in an current photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
The images of the Sydney street photographer captured of moment in time and their most prolific period was during the 1930s to the 1950s. The country woman would be captured on film as she and a friend wandered along a city street. They would be given a token and they could purchase a memento of their city visit in a postcard image that they could purchase at a processing booth in a city-arcade. The Sydney street photographer captured living history and has not completely disappeared from Sydney street.
Laura Jane, whose lifestyle encompasses the mid-20th century, in an expression of the living history movement in motion. The living history movement is a popular platform for experiencing the past and incorporates those who want to live the past in the present, aka Laura Jane, or relive it on a more occasional basis as re-enactors who relive the past for a moment. There are many examples of the latter at historic sites in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
The Camden photo shoot was an example how a moment in time can truly be part of living history where the photographer captures a glimpse of the past in the present. An example of how the present never really escapes the past.
Located in the upper reaches of the Williams River valley is the sleepy little town of Dungog nestled between the ridges that run through the town centre. A picturesque country setting.
The town is characterised by its wide streets, a legacy from the colonial days when it was necessary to be able to turn around a bullock wagon.
An interesting and colourful collection of Colonial, Edwardian and Interwar buildings dot the town centre that make the commercial precinct of the town.
The blacksmith was one of the key trades in Dungog as it was in most rural settlements in colonial Australia and in the homeland of rural England. Dungog’s 300 dairyfarmers certainly made use of the local smithy.
The motor car made an appearance in the early 20th century and the local blacksmiths turned their hand to car maintenance. The smithy repaired farmer’s wagons and ploughs then moved to look after motor cars.
Some blacksmith’s shops turned into the local garage with a petrol pump on the footpath and service workshop out the back. Dungog has a number of garages and one of these is the Ford dealership and NRMA representative at Davey and Olsen.
The Davey and Olsen garage is found at 160-168 Dowling Street Dungog and is part of the 19th century commercial precinct made up of traditional trades and services along Dowling Street.
The family business acquired the Ford dealership in 1925 and the garage grew to serve the growing number of car owners which was encouraged by the construction of the Chichester Dam (op. 1926).
As the number of dairy farmers in the area declined the pressures of development passed the town by and the local garages and other buildings in the town centre have retained many of their original features.
The morphology of the Dowling Street business precinct is similar to the town of the early 20th century. The streetscape has changed little in over 80 years.
The 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.
Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.
Retailing in Camden took its lead from England. At the village level the market stall turned into the high street shop. All goods were kept behind the counter, customers were served by male shop assistants and goods were delivered to the customer’s home.
Shopping in Camden was a rather dull affair by all accounts. The methods of retailing in Camden had changed little from the 19th century.
Camden women fronted up to the counter and handed their list of needs to the male shop assistant who filled the order for her. There were several choices from those owned by the Whitemans, the Cliftons, the Furners and others.
The winds of change were about to descend on the Camden shopping experience. The old fashioned general stores were about to find out what real competition with a global presence meant in a small country town.
According to Ann Satterthwaite’s Going Shopping self-service was the industrialisation of retailing along with the chain store. These stores featured cash and carry, no delivery and shelving displaying pre-packaged goods. In the USA there were an array of stores from Niffy Jiffy, Help Selfy, Handy Andy to Clarence Saunders Piggly Wiggly stores in Memphis in 1916 which was a type of cafeteria retailing. Piggly Wiggly was allegedly the first self-serve outlet for groceries. Self-service retailing emerged after the American civil war in response to labour shortages. For others like Edison’s Samaritan Market it was an attempt to make shopping more efficient.
The first time that groceries were sold in Australia using self-service in occurred in Brisbane in 1923. The Brisbane Courier reported that the first exclusive cash and carry grocery store started in Brisbane under the name Brisbane Cash and Carry Store. The proprietor Mr CA Fraser had opened three stores by 1927. The press report maintained that
The system was practically a novelty in Brisbane, but some idea of what success can be obtained through an honest endeavour to give self-service to the public in a courteous and efficient manner can be gauged by [its success].
The news report suggests that lower costs were obtained by the customer paying in cash and thus eliminating store credit. The customer serving ‘herself and so eliminating the necessity of salesman effects further savings’. It was claimed that the three stores served over a half a million people each year and the stores were ‘a model of neatness, cleanliness and efficiency’.
The first cash and carry store that opened in Camden occurred in 1933 and was owned by Mr Joe B Roberts at 110 Argyle Street. The Camden News stated that Roberts had obtained the premises that had been previously occupied by Mr Green next door to Mr Fred Boardman’s butchery. The report stated that ‘the shop has been specially fitted for Mr Roberts, who [would] personally conduct the store’. By 1936 Mr Roberts store was adjacent to Mr Green’s Drapery store. His Christmas special was a free beach towel with five purchases from the advertisement in the Camden News.
A recent article on JStor on Sex and the supermarket by researchers Tracey Deutsch and Adam Mack claims that supermarkets were places where gender and sexuality collided for American women. Supermarkets were one of the mid-20th century most important suburban sites for the important weekly ritual of shopping for the modern family. The supermarket was both aspirational and practical. In a weekly ritual the modern housewife could get lost is a sea of idealised dreams created by marketing gurus around an overwhelming splash of colour, perfectly merchanised products and an endless supply of brands that promised to make life easier for modern housewife.
In the USA a parallel development occurred in the kitchen. There was the development of refrigerators, the gas stove and products started to be promoted in cans. As the US economy developed fewer women went into domestic service and wealthier middle class women started going shopping in these new supermarkets.
The design of the supermarket was based on making them feminised spaces based on the latest psychological theories. Sex appeal made its way into shopping. Supermarkets were brighter, more colourful, cleaner, and sexier than the dingy general stores. The new aesthetic meant that these spaces were made to titillate and fascinate women. Supermarkets were clean and efficient with modern fluorescent lighting and carefully selected colours.
One of the earliest feminist authors Betty Friedan wrote about how women were shackled through shopping to their domesticity in 1963 in her book The Feminine Mystique.
Supermarkets are sites where gender roles are re-enforced where women’s sexuality is ‘contained and re-directed’ to consumption.
In 1941 press reports from Los Angeles stated that the hype surrounding the opening of the latest supermarkets ranked with the opening of the latest blockbuster Hollywood movies. The Southern Californian housewife went on the hunt for the latest bargains. The supermarkets operated with huge carparks, large neon signs, with some staying open 24 hours 7 days a week. They traded under names like Bi-Best Market, Sel-Rite Market, The Stop-and-Save, Thriftmart, and Wundermart.
In the post-war years elf-service retailing gained momentum in the Sydney area. Kings Cross grocer Mr Jack Greathead was the owner of a small self-serve store, and in 1950 cut the price of his butter and triggered a price war. Chain stores joined the price war. Mr FC Burnard the grocery buyer for David Jones predicted after a visit to the USA that self-service and other retailing innovations would soon be implemented in Australia. He was particularly impressed with the use of trolley-carts and pre-packaged hosiery and frozen goods.
In Camden Woolworths came to town in 1963. Woolworths opened the first stand-alone self-service store with a modern design, that was clean and made shopping more efficient. With modern lighting, wide isles, bright colours and lots of appealing merchandise to choose from with nationally advertised well-known brands. Some of the brands were American re-enforcing the international and cosmopolitan nature of the new shopping experience.
The new Woolworths store at 166-172 Argyle Street Camden was light and airy compared to the local general stores up the road which appeared old-fashioned and stodgy in comparison. The new supermarket encouraged local women to experience the thrill and titillation of going shopping. Slick brand marketing created dreams in the minds of the shoppers. Shoppers were encouraged to immerse themselves in the dream. Shopping became sexy. Shopping stimulated the sense with bright colours, in-store music and excitement of the new experience. Shopping became exciting. Shopping was sensual as much as it was practical.
The Woolworths supermarket consolidated a number of lots in Argyle street that was occupied by W Ward the butcher, Monica Ray and Beaton and Wylie.