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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.
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.
One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden tram, affectionately known as ‘Pansy’. It has always had an enthusiastic bunch of supporters. They positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell Pansy stories to anyone who wants to listen.
Fans gloss over its short comings. All the stories are laced with a pinch of nostalgia and a touch of the romantic. It was a vital part of local life. So why does this old locomotive conjure up such a strident bunch of supporters?
Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialisation and the great days of Australian nationalism in the late Victorian and early 20th century. Great monstrous engines that hissed, spat and groaned. They were mighty machines that were living beings. They had a life and soul of their own. They were responsible for creating the wealth of the British Empire. And Pansy is part of that story.
The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963. The Camden tram was one of a number of standard gauge light rail lines in the Sydney area. The tank locomotive worked a mixed service that took freight and passengers.
Local railway stations
The branch line was thirteen kilometres and had eight stations after leaving Campbelltown station, where it joined the Main Southern Railway. The stations were Maryfields, Kenny Hill, Curran’s Hill, Narellan, Graham’s Hill, Kirkham, Elderslie and finally arriving at Camden.
Most of the stations were no more than a short rudimentary wooden platform with a shelter shed that were unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and an associated goods handling facility. Pansy 1963 on its last run Pansy was a regular part of daily life for those who lived near the line. Locals in the Camden township would listen for the loco’s whistle and know that the morning papers had arrived from Sydney. Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses.
Some of Camden’s better off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.
The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service onthe Main Southern Line. On the return journey the last passenger service from Campbelltown left at 9.44pm. During the Second World War the tram provided transport for many servicemen (Army, RAAF) who were based at local military establishments.
Airmen from Camden airfield would catch the train to Sydney for weekend leave, and would be joined by soldiers from Narellan military base and Studley Park Eastern Command Training School. Camden station and good yards were located adjacent to Edward Street, with a siding to the Camden Vale milk factory. Coal from the Burragorang Valley mines was loaded at Camden yard from 1937, although this was transferred to Narellan in 1941 and eventually the Main Southern Line at Glenlee in the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s the limitations of the narrow gauge line for caring freight were showing cracks.
The writing was on the wall for a while
From its enthusiastic opening the tram never really lived up to its predictions. The mixed goods and passenger service was of limited value. Its light gauge restricted the loads and the grade of the line, particularly over Kenny Hill, severely limited its capabilities. Even in 1939 there were already signs of the eventual demise of the branch line with more coal leaving the district by road than rail.
Its days were numbered and the writing was on the wall. Its death blow was delivered by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost cutting exercise and a drive from modernization of the railway system across the state. Diesel was the new god.
Railway heritage and archaeology
For current enthusiasts with a keen eye there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the narrow gauge line still visible in the area. As visitors leave the Camden township travelling north along Camden Valley Way (old Hume Highway) embankments, culverts and earthworks are still visible in the farm paddocks on the Nepean River floodplain.
You can make out the right of way as it crosses Kirkham Lane and heads towards Narellan before disappearing into a housing estate. For those with a sharp eye a cutting is still evident on the northern side of Narellan Road at Kenny Hill just as you take then entry ramp onto the freeway going to Sydney. It appears as a bench above the roadway and is evident for a short distance. (for details see Peter Mylrea, ‘Camden Campbelltown Railway’, Camden History March 2009, p. 254263).
A number of streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train and a number of other streets are named after past railway employees, for example, Paddy Miller. The Camden Community Band celebrates the legend of Pansy in their repertoire. They play a tune called The Camden Tram written by Buddy Williams a Camden resident of the 1960s.
Visit the real thing
Are you interested in seeing the real deal? Do you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself? Go and inspect the real Pansy: ‘the steam locomotive 2029 and a small composite multi-class 13/09/2015 The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram carriage’. They are on display at the New South Wales Transport Museum and Trainworks, Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001
The Camden Community Band added the tune ‘The Camden Train’ to its repertoire. The lyrics tell an interesting story about Pansy, the locomotive. It was written by Camden local Buddy Williams about the time of the last run on of the train in 1963.
On a balmy late spring afternoon in central Camden a group of local people were conducting a photoshoot.
The late afternoon provided a deep even light that was ideal for the whole venture.
None were professional filmmakers. But that did not stop anyone.
The filming dodged pedestrians and was occasionally drowned out by local buses.
Historic John Street precinct
The project centred around the historic John Street precinct.
The film venture involved storytelling, great yarns, interesting characters, old buildings and lots of making do.
The location provided a rich collection of old buildings that speak about the past for those who want to listen. History enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the past in the present by walking the ground – the same streets as local identities and characters have done for decades.
This motley group wandered around a number of Camden’s old buildings – Laura Jane acted as storyteller for the 1-2 minutes historic grabs. LJ was full of passion in her completely ad lib performances. Ian listened for any gaffs – which were few and far between.
Debbie followed Laura Jane around with her handheld – tripod held – iphone camera. If she was lucky a bus didn’t drown LJ’s monologue. The roadies held all the bits and pieces – then reviewed the take and ably provided all sorts of advice – most it wisely ignored by the camera operator and storyteller.
The most challenging story was that of Henry Thompson’s Macaria from the 1870s, the ghosts and Henry’s 16 children. This is next door to the 1840s Sarah Tiffin’s cottage, one of the oldest buildings in the local area and one time lockup.
The Cawdor court house ended up in Camden in 1841 much to chagrin of Picton and Campbelltown which missed out. Next door is the 1878 police barracks which was always a site of plenty of action where miscreants were locked up in the cells to cool off.
The 1916 fire station which was really opened in 1917 was an improvement from the pig-sty in Hill Street. Next door is the modern library once the centre of learning and speeches in the town as the 1866 Camden School of Arts set up by James Macarthur.
Our storyteller and camera operator filmed a street walk outside the 1936 Bank of New South Wales building and its neighbor the 1937 banking chamber for the Rural Bank – interwar masterpieces.
The festival draws on a rich history of community festivals in the local area going back into the 1800s. The heritage of festivals is drawn from the English tradition of the village fair that came with the European settlers.
The origins of these festivals, according to Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s Old English Sports (2007), lies in ancient Saxon customs, particularly in Devonshire and Sussex, associated with ‘wassailing’ (carousing and health-drinking) to ensure the thriving of orchard trees (mainly apples) and exchanging presents.
On New Years Day village youths undertook indoor and outdoor sport to keep out the cold by ‘wholesome exercise and recreative games’. Sports included bat-and-ball, wrestling, skittles, blind-man’s-bluff, hunt the slipper, sword dancing and mumming (play acting).
In the financial year 2017–18 Australia generated $57.3 billion in direct tourism GDP representing growth of 7 percent over the previous year – three times the national GDP growth of 2.3%. Tourism also directly employed 646,000 Australians (1 in 19) making up 5.2% of Australia’s workforce.
In Australia and around the world, cultural tourism is growing. In 2015 NSW hosted over 11.4 million ‘cultural and heritage visitors’,1 both international and domestic, who spent an estimated $11.2 billion in the state, an increase of 15.4% on the previous year.
There are examples of this style in most of villages and hamlets across the local area and many isolated ones on local farms.
The name Edwardian is loosely attached to cottages and buildings erected during the reign of Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. This period covers the time after the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 when the six self-governing colonies combined under a new constitution. They kept their own legislatures and combined to form a new nation.
The housing style was evidence of the new found confidence of the birth of a new nation that borrowed overseas trends and adopted them to suit local conditions. These style of houses were a statement of the individualism and the national character.
The Edwardian style of housing also includes a broad range of styles including Queen Anne, Federation, Arts and Crafts and Early Bungalow. These styles often tend to be asymmetrical with a projecting from gable, can be highly decorated with detailed work to gables, windows and verandahs. Edwardian style cottages often fit between 1900 and 1920, although the style extends beyond this period influencing the Interwar style housing.
Typical Edwardian colour schemes range from apricot walls, gables and barge boards, with white lattice panelling, red roofing and green coloured windows, steps, stumps, ant caps.
A number of Camden Edwardian cottages have a projecting from room with a decorated gable. A number of been restored while others have been demolished.
Edwardian country cottages are not unique to the Camden area. Toowoomba has a host of these type of homes and published the local council publishes extensive guides explaining the style of housing and what is required for their sympathetic restoration in the online publication The Toowoomba House (2000).
Examples of Edwardian style cottages, including in and around Camden, were an Australian version of English Edwardian houses. Houses were plainer in detail, some with lead lighting in the front windows. Australian architecture was a response to the landscape and climate and the building style tells us about the time and the people who built them, how they lived and other aspects of Camden’s cultural heritage.
In the most March 2014 edition of Camden History Joy Riley recalls the Edwardian cottages in John Street. She stated:
‘I lived at 66 John Street for the first 40 years of my life before moving to Elderslie with my husband Bruce Riley. The two rooms of 66 John Street were built by the first John Peat, Camden builder, to come to Camden. In the 1960s I had some carpet put down in my bedroom, the floor boards were so hard, as they only used tacks in those days to hold carpet, the carpet just kept curling up.’ She says, ‘The back of the house was built by my grandfather, William Dunk. They lived next door at 64 John Street. He also built the Methodist Church at Orangeville or Werombi.
This housing style is often characterised by a chimney that was a flue for a kitchen fuel stove and chip copper in an adjacent laundry. In some houses plaster cornices were common, sometimes there were ceiling roses, skirting and architraves. A number of been restored while unfortunately many others have been demolished.
Some Camden Edwardian homes had walls of red brickwork, sometimes with painted render in part. While there are many examples in the local area of timber houses with square-edged or bull-nosed weatherboards. Sunshades over windows supported by timber brackets are also common across the local area.
Interwar Camden has a direct connection to a noted architect of Interwar Sydney and its architecture.
Aaron Bolot, a Crimean refugee, was raised in Brisbane and worked for a time with Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s. He designed the 1936 brick extensions on the front of the 1890s drill hall at the Camden showground.
At the time he worked for Sydney architect, EC Pitt, who supervised construction of the new showground grandstand in 1936 and agricultural hall extensions (Camden News, 19 September 1935).
Bolot’s work and that of many other Sydney’s architects is found in photographer Peter Sheridan’s Sydney Art Deco. Sheridan has created a stunning coffee table book highlighting Sydney’s under-recognised Art Deco architectural heritage. The breadth of this Interwar style covers commercial and residential buildings, cinemas and theatres, hotels, shops, war memorials, churches, swimming pools and other facets of design.
Bolot’s work at Camden was a simple version of the more complex architectural work that he was undertaking around the inner Sydney area, for example, The Dorchester in Macquarie Street Sydney (1936), The Ritz Theatre in Randwick (1937) the Ashdown in Elizabeth Bay (1938) and other theatres.
1936 Extension Camden Agricultural Hall
The brick extensions to the agricultural hall were part of general improvements to the showground and works were finished in time for the 1936 Jubilee Show. The report of the show stated:
The new brick building in front of the Agricultural Hall, erected in commemoration of the jubilee, proved a wonderful acquisition, and its beautiful external appearance was, only a few days before the show, added to ‘by the erection of a neat and appropriate brick and iron fence joining that building with the Memorial Gates, * and vastly, improving the main pedestrian entrance to the showground. The fitting of this new room withstands and fittings for the exhibition of ladies’ arts and crafts, was another outlay that added to the show’s attraction. (CN2April1936)
The hall extensions were specifically designed to a similar style as the Memorial Gates erected in 1933 in memory to GM Macarthur Onslow (d. 1931) and paid for by public subscription. It was reported that they would add ‘attractively to the Showground entrance’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extensions were 50 feet by 23 feet, after 5 feet was removed from the front of the former drill hall. A central doorway was to be a feature and there would be ‘main entrance porch leading direct to the big hall on the Onslow Park side of building’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extension cost £400 (CN19Mar1936) and was to be built to mark the 1936 Jubilee Show (50th anniversary). It was anticipated that the new exhibition space could be used for the
ladies’ arts and crafts section, such as needlework, cookery; be used for the secretary’s office prior to the show; a meeting place for committees; and in addition provide a modern and up to date supper room at all social functions. (CN19Sept1935).
The approval of the scheme was moved at the AH&I meeting by Dr RM Crookston and seconded by WAE Biffin and supported by FA Cowell. The motion was unanimously carried by the meeting. The committee agreed to seek finance from the NSW Department of Labour and Industry at 3% pa interest. (CN19Sept1935)
The RANZ conference covered several themes related to national identities ranging across cultural, feminine, environmental, transnational and linguistic perspectives with a particular emphasis on memory, trauma and the image. Many of the papers would not have been out of place at the annual Australian Historical Association Conference.
The ‘Australian western’ and its display in the film was an interesting theme that appeared in several papers. There was a strong interest in Pacific Islander, Maori and Aboriginal literature, art and performance across a range of presentations.
I presented my paper ‘An Australian country girl goes to London’ about the travels of Shirley Dunk in 1954, followed by a lively discussion with some conference delegates. My presentation raised several questions about this type of counter-migration story and what were these young women were seeking in their lives through their journeys. Were they searching for a greater truth about the forces that drove their ancestors to Australia?
Polish migrants came to Australia after the Second World War seeking a utopia in a new land and sometimes it failed to materialise. Their own dark clouds created ghosts that have haunted later generations of their family. One delegate suggested to me that this was also an issue from some families in Poland.
A less than flattering critique of the Australia migration story emerged at the conference in the form of a special issue of Anglica. The journal editor argues that Australia’s image as a successful model of multiculturalism has been destroyed by increasing intolerance and nationalism. A rather ‘disturbing and ugly face’ of Australia has emerged in a ‘semi-mythical multicultural paradise’.
Dark history and the power of the past
Poland’s deep past and dark history manifested itself in unexpected ways during my visit. The overwhelming presence of the Second World War, particularly in Warsaw, was a new experience for me. It brought into sharp focus the contested nature of my subjectivity and the need for objectivity in this personal reflection. It is a conundrum that has exercised my mind here, as it has done for many other historians on other occasions.
The Second World War lays over Poland like a blanket and its presence is everywhere. The city of Warsaw is like a field of monuments and the city’s dark history is ever-present in the view of the visitor. The past haunts the present in ways that are hard to understand without walking the city streets. Yet paradoxically the city’s dark history is invisible in the mind of many tourists as they walk around the reconstructed old city.
The rebuilt city is a metaphor for the resilience of the Polish people and their ability to be able to redefine themselves in the face of adversity. Polish cultural identity that has been shaped by the war is fundamental to the construction of place in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere.
I should note that one conference delegate requested that I ‘be kind to the city’ in my reflections of Warsaw. I would suggest that the city needs to be kinder to itself.
For those in the English-speaking world, there are numerous silences in the stories of wartime Poland and its reconstruction. Some of these silences are the result of the hegemony around the ownership of the wartime narrative. The shape and conduct of 20th century German and Russian colonialism are not widely understood in Australia. There is a similar lack of understanding surrounding the role of European modernism and particularly Russian constructivism in the reconstruction of Polish cities.
The horrors of the past haunt the present
The consequences of 20th-century German colonialism are plain for all to see at Auschwitz and Birkenau with their industrial-scale slaughter. For this Australian, the ghosts of these Polish wartime memorials reminded me of the convict ruins at Norfolk Island and other sites.
Yet paradoxically the sacredness of Auschwitz and Birkenau are smothered by industrial-scale tourism that typifies many European tourist attractions. There is a feel of a theme park with the lengthy queues, crowded displays, and constant shoving. The memorial is loved to death.
Like travellers of old new experiences are one of the benefits of my journey to Poland. There are parallels with the story of young Australian women who travelled to London including new perspectives, new experiences, and new challenges. Like these young Australian women it has hopefully resulted in: greater empathy; greater understanding; and greater ability to cope with life’s challenges.
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.
Moviemakers 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 filmmakers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables. This did not go unnoticed in the film industry.
One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and racehorse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an aeroplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.
Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was released in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based on Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).
The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directed by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which was painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive-In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.
The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with the co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison-gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulges the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.
Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year-old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson. Many old-time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and the United States.
In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.
In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine was filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.
In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced several short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.
In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill, a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently, Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.
The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.
Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has several powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates. The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.
The 55-room fairytale-like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on the air. In the end, Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.
Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010. Part of the show is power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.
Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park were used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.
Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for several movies, advertisements and fashion shoots since the 1950s. They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film was written and directed by Liz Hughes which used lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century, there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.
In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”. In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.
In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.
In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to the Macarthur and Sydney markets.
In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse-drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlooking the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cupcakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room sitting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.
In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene, the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman, the reason the Camden area was used was that it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern-day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.
In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘
The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.
The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.
Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.
In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero. The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.
Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;
Studley Park House, Camden
This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.
In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.
The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.
In 2019 movie-making in the area continues with the 4th series of Doctor Doctor. Wikipedia states of the plotline:
Doctor Doctor (also known outside of Australasia as The Heart Guy) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016. It follows the story of Hugh Knight, a rising heart surgeon who is gifted, charming and infallible. He is a hedonist who, due to his sheer talent, believes he can live outside the rules.
Camden was used as one location along with the historic colonial property of Denbigh. Mediaweek stated in 2016 (Sept 9):
The regional setting for the series has proven to be a benefit for narrative and practical production reasons. While all of the hospital scenes were filmed in a hospital in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Rozelle, exterior shooting took place in Mudgee, with filming of Knight’s home was shot in Camden. In addition to $100,000 worth of support from the Regional Filming Fund, the regional setting delivers a unique authenticity to the series that it would otherwise lack.
Sometimes the local area is used a set for an advertising campaign by a fashion label or some other business. The owners of Camden Park House posted on Facebook in August 2019 that the house and garden were used as a set by the Country Road fashion brand.
While no specific details about plotlines or particular actors were given away, the spokesman said the production was filming on August 7 at the Narellan Jets Football Club and Grounds, Narellan Sports Hub.
In Camden the local non-going church community has resisted the sale by the Anglican Church of a horse paddock between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.
Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.
The purpose of this blog post is to try and unravel some of the broader issues underpinning community angst around the sale of church property. The post will look at the case study of the sale of churches in Tasmania and the resultant community anxiety.
The local church in place
The local church is an important part of a local community. It has a host of meanings for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.
The local church is a central part of the construction of place and people’s attachment to a cultural landscape and locality.
Place is about a sense of belonging and a sense of groundedness. It is expressed by cultural heritage, memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.
Belonging is central to placeness. It is home. A site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is an important source of stability in a time of chaos. Home is part of a community.
LM Miller from the University of Tasmania states that people are involved fundamentally with what constitutes place and places are involved fundamentally in the construction of persons. Place wraps around and envelopes a person. People are holders of place (Miller: 6-8)
There is a shared sense of belonging in a community where being understood is important and part of a beloved collection. A sense of belonging acts as an all encompassing set of beliefs and identity. . It enriches our identity and relationships and leads to acceptance and understanding.
A church is one of these communities.
When a person’s sense of place is threatened then their sense of self, identity, safety, stability, and security are challenged. Where there is a loss of a person’s sense of place and belonging to a place they go through a grieving process.
The closure, sale and de-consecration of the local church are a threat to a person’s sense of place.
Local churches are part of a community’s cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage consists of two parts. Firstly, tangible heritage which is made up, for example, buildings, art, objects and artefacts.
Secondly there is intangible cultural heritage which includes customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values. This can be extended to include traditional skills and technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts and storytelling.
Churchgoers and a sense of place
The link between local churches and a community’s sense of place has been explored by Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History. He says that churchgoers are often faced with unsustainable maintenance costs for a church. Eventually when churchgoers are forced to sell the property they:
‘often seemed less reluctant to give up their church than the rest of the community…and faced with the prospect of its loss, [the non-churchgoers] were often prepared to fight with surprising tenacity to save it.’ (Davision:149)
These churches have a strong emotional attachment for their communities. These churches are loved places for their community and Davison suggests:
It is in losing loved places, as well as loved persons, that we come to recognise the nature and depth of our attachment to our past. (Davison: 150)
Davison argues that churchgoers often have a loyalty to their local place well beyond their sense of faith in Christianity.
Sale of churches in Tasmania
These issues came to the fore in Tasmania in 2018 when there was public outrage around the sale of local churches in Tasmania.
The Hobart press ran a story with the headline ‘Emotions run high, communities vow to fight after Anglican Church votes to sell off 76 churches’. (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)
The Anglican Church in Tasmania was attempting to fund the ‘redress commitment’ to the victims of clerical abuse by selling church property.
In response Central Tasmanian Highlands churchgoer Ron Sonners said that ‘his ancestors [were] buried in the graveyard associated with St Peter’s Church at Hamilton’…and he ‘struggled with his emotions as he dealt with the fallout from his community church being listed for sale’. (Sunday Tasmanian, 3 June 2018)
Tasmania Anglican Bishop Richard Condie says that most of opposition to the sale of churches
is primarily people in the broader community who oppose the sales, with the potential loss of heritage and family history, including access to graveyards, their main concern. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
There have been protest meetings and some effected parishes started fundraising campaigns to keep their churches. The Hobart Mercury reported that
The Parish of Holy Trinity Launceston, which wants to keep St Matthias’ Church at Windermere, has raised the funds, with the help of its local community, to meet its redress contribution. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
Cultural historian and churchgoer Dr Caroline Miley said that:
the churches are an important part of Australian history… It is unconscionable that such a massive number of buildings, artefacts and precincts should be lost to the National Estate in one fell swoop…These are buildings built and attended by convicts and their jailers. They were built on land donated by early state governors, notable pioneers and state politicians, with funds donated by these colonials and opened by the likes of Sir John Franklin…As well, she says, they contain the honour boards, memorials and graves of those who fought and died in conflicts from the 19th century onwards…Some are in the rare (in Australia) Georgian style or in idiosyncratic Tasmanian Carpenter Gothic. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
Amanda Ducker of the Hobart Mercury summarises of the whole fuss surrounding the sale of churches in Tasmania this way:
Condie’s use-it-or-lose-it approach clashes with the keep-it-at-all-costs mentality. But while some opponents of the bishop’s plan refuse to sell their church buildings, neither do they want to go to church regularly. They rather prefer just to gather on special occasions: baptisms, weddings, funerals and perhaps at Christmas and Easter if they are leaning towards piety. But the rest of the year? Well, a sleep-in, potter at home or cafe brunch of eggs benedict (but sans ministering) are pretty tempting on Sunday morning. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
Others Anglicans in Tasmania see the whole argument differently. Emeritus Professor and Anglican Peter Boyce AO see it as fight over the spiritual traditions linked to the low and high Anglican traditions in Tasmania. (The Mercury, 15 September 2018)
All these arguments are characteristic of how people, their traditions, their values, their past, their memories are all rooted in a location and in particular a building like a church.
Other dimensions to the argument
The dualism expressed in the sale of church land and buildings can be likened to the difference between sacred and secular. These two polar opposites are explored in popular culture in the form of music by Nick Cave and others on The Conversation.
Another perspective on this area was aired on ABC Radio Local Sydney in December 2018 by Dr David Newheiser. In the discussion he examined the differences between Christians and aethiests. He maintained that there are strong sentiments in the community around tradition and ritual in the community and if you lose a church you lose all of this.
The binary position of churchgoers and non-churchgoers can also be expressed in ethical terms as the difference between good and evil, or right and wrong, or moral and immoral, just and unjust and so on. This dichotomy has ancient roots dating back to pre-Biblical times across many cultures.
So what does all this mean?
Churches have an important role to play in the construction of place in communities. This role is played out in different ways for different actors in the story.
As far as the dichotomy presented here in the story of the sale of church property and land, there is really no conclusion that satisfies all stakeholders.
There is no right or wrong position to the opposing views between churchgoers and non-churchgoers. The differences remain an unresolved ethical dilemma.
An iconic Camden image of St Johns Anglican Church in the 1890s.