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The living history movement finds new supporters

Living History at Belgenny

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

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

 Peter Watson and Howell Farm

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

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

 

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

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

Mr Watson said,

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

Mr Watson said,

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

Mr Watson says,

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

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

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

 

The Living History Movement

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

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

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

 

Origins of living history museum movement

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

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

 

Living history @ Belgenny

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

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

 

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

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

And more to the point:

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

 

Sydney Living Museums

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

our properties ‘in a lively and creative way’.

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

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

 

Living history is storytelling

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

Walking the ground is an authentic real  experience.

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

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

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

Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real  and authentic.

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

Experience some of these stories at the Camden Museum.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit6 2018Apr
Story telling by a volunteer at the Camden Museum for a school visit by Macarthur Anglican School (MAS, 2018)
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Greens Motorcade Museum Park Leppington, a lost Sydney icon

One of the icons of the southwestern Sydney fringe that has long disappeared was the car museum and picnic ground know as Greens Motorcade Museum Park at Leppington on the Old Hume Highway.

booklet-greens-motorcade-museum-cover
Cover of booklet produced by Ian Willis A Selection of a Collection, Greens Motorcade Museum (1981) that told the story of cars in the museum collection (I Willis)

 

The car museum opened in 1974 and had a collection of cars under cover in a museum hall. Museum volunteer Ray Sanderson recalls that the manager was David Short. He

was George Green’s right-hand man of his large collection, not just at the museum but storage sheds about the country. Not far from the museum was an old chook farm shed (commercial size) [that] housed more unrestored vehicles.

On the car museum site there was a re-creation of a early 20th century village with The Oaks Tea Rooms, the old Beecroft Fire Station, a garage complete with hand pumped petrol, and train ride which was a former cane train from Queensland. Rides were also provided by a 1927 Dennis Fire Engine and a 1912 English Star.

 

The Beecroft Cheltenham History Group states that the fire station was carefully shifted piece by piece from its original site to the museum park. They state:

In 1975 changes in equipment and the expanding number of personnel meant that the oldest fire station building was carefully taken down and reconstructed at Leppington in Green’s Motorcade Museum Park.

greens-motorcade-mus-flyer2-rsanderson
Greens Motorcade Museum Leppington Flyer 1970s (R Sanderson)

 

The museum collection was owned by woolbroker George Green who lived at Castlecrag in Sydney and was a member of a number car clubs in the Sydney area. George Green was a keen collector of Rolls Royce motor vehicles and foundation member of the Rolls Royce Owners Club of Australia in 1956. He was also a member of Veteran Car Club of Australia (1954) and The Vintage Sports Car Club of Australia (1944), which holds the annual George Green Rally in his honour.

gmm-tearoomfireengine-rsanderson
Greens Motorcade Museum with 1927 Dennis Fire Engine and behind them are The Oaks Tea Room and the old Beecroft Fire Station 1970s (R Sanderson)

 

George Green owned the museum in partnership with car dealer and collector Frank Illich. The manager of the museum was David Short of Camden from its foundation to its closure in 1982 when George Green died and the collection was auctioned off on site.

On the old Hume Highway the visitor and their family were met by the steam traction engine that was originally used to drive the timber cutting machinery  at the Woods Timber Mill at Narooma on the New South Wales South Coast. It was presented to the museum by Mrs Woods.

gmm-traction-engine-rsanderson
Former Narooma Woods Timber Mill steam traction engine which met visitors on the Old Hume Highway on the driveway that went up to the museum front gate (R Sanderson)

 

There was also a large picnic area which hosted many community events, car club days, children’s Christmas parties, corporate functions, and other events.

booklet-greens-motorcade-museum-bw-p3
Page from the booklet produced by Ian Willis A Selection of a Collection Greens Motocade showing the interior of the museum hall 1981 (I Willis)

 

The Vintage Vehicle Car Club of Australia held its foundation family day event at the picnic ground at Greens Motocade Museum on 21 August 1977.

 

vvcca-greens-motocade-21091977
First family day outing of the Veteran Vehicle Club of Australia 21 August 1977 (VVCA)
vvca-at-greens-motocade-museum-21081977
VVCA Family Day at Greens Motorcade Museum showing the extensive picnic grounds at the rear of the museum 21 August 1977 (VVCA)

 

The museum occasionally supplied its ‘old cars’ for film shoots, commercials and corporate events all over Sydney. At one time the museum management organised shopping centre car displays across Sydney, with a display at Birkenhead Point Shopping Centre after it opened in 1981.

One car in the collection was a Leyland P76 which was an Australian icon.

Another icon in the museum collection was a 1922 Stanley Steamer Car. The Powerhouse Museum states:

In about 1958 the car was purchased by George Green who from the mid 1950s collected some 100 vintage and veteran cars which he displayed at Green’s Motorcade Museum at Leppington, NSW, from 1974. In 1971 Green swapped the Stanley for a 1904 Vauxhall which belonged to Allan F. Higgisson of 22 Banner Street, O’Connor, ACT. Higgisson was keen to work on the Stanley, while Green wanted to restore a veteran car he could enter in the annual London to Brighton car rally. It was an unwritten agreement that should Higgisson tire of restoring the Stanley it would be returned to Green.

 

The National Museum of Australia’s has a 1913 Delaunay-Belleville Tourer which was part of the Greens Motorcade Museum Collection. Read story of the 1913 Delauney- Belleville Tourer at the National Museum of Australia and here. As well in the NMA Collection Database here

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El Caballo Blanco, A Forgotten Past

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. .

 

El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields in 1980s (Camden Images)
El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields in 1980s (Camden Images)

 

The El Caballo Blanco complex at Catherine Fields, according to a souvenir brochure held at the Camden Museum, was based on a similar entertainment facility at the Wooroloo, near Perth, WA, which attracted over a quarter of a million visitors a year. It was established in 1974 by Ray Williams and had a 2000-seat outdoor arena. The horse show was based on a similar horse show (ferias) in Seville, Jerez de la Frontera and other Spanish cities.

The programme of events for the horse show at Catherine Fields began with a parade, followed by a pas de deux and then an insight into training of horses and riders in classical horsemanship. This was then followed by a demonstration of dressage, then a session ‘on the long rein’ where a riderless horse executed a number of steps and movements. There was a Vaqueros show (a quadrille) then carriage driving with the show ending with a grand finale. All the riders appeared in colourful Spanish style costumes.

The indoor arena was richly decorated in a lavishly rich style with blue velvet ceiling drapes and chandeliers. The complex also had associated stables and holding paddocks, within a Spanish-Moorish setting The stables had brass fittings and grilles, based on the design from stair cases at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

El Caballo Blanco Spanish Horse Show Catherine Fields 1980s (Camden Images)
El Caballo Blanco Spanish Horse Show Catherine Fields 1980s (Camden Images)

 

The horse show at Catherine Fields was supplement with an ancillary Australiana show which consisted mainly of sheep shearing and sheep dog trials, while a miniature horse show was introduced in the late 1980s. The also boasted a variety of rides (train, bus, racing cars, paddle boats, and ponies), a carriage museum, a small Australiana zoo, picnic facilities, water slides and swimming pool, souvenir shop, shooting gallery, restaurant, snack bar and coffee shop, and car parking.

Emmanuel Margolin, the owner in the 1989, claimed in promotional literature that the complex offered an ideal location for functions and was an ideal educational facility where children could learn about animals at the zoo, dressage, and botany in the gardens. At the time the entry charge was $10 for adults, children $5 and a family pass $25 (2A + 2C), with concession $5.

A promotional tourist brochure held by the Camden Museum claimed that it was Sydney’s premier all weather attraction. It was opened 7 days a week between 10.00am and 5.00pm.

By the mid-1990s the complex was struggling financially and in 1995 was put up for auction, but failed to reach the $5 million reserve price. The owners at the time, Emmanuel and Cecile Margolin, sold the 88 horses in July, according the Macarthur Chronicle. By this stage complex was only open on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.

At a subsequent auction in July 1997 the advertising claimed that it was a historical landmark site of 120 acres just 45 minutes from Sydney. That it was a unique tourist park with numerous attractions, luxury accommodation and a large highway frontage.

The last performance of the horse show at Catherine Fields was held in 1998.

Unfortunately by 2002 the good times had passed and the horses agisted on the site, and according to the Camden and Wollondilly Advertiser, were part of a ‘forgotten herd’ of 29 horses that roamed the grounds of the complex. It was reported that they were looked after by a keen group of Camden riders.

Worse was to come when in 2003 a fire destroyed the former stable, kitchen and auditorium. The fire spread to the adjacent paddock and meant that the 25 horses that were still on the site had to be re-located. It was reported by Macarthur Chronicle, that Sharyn Sparks the owner of the horses was heart-broken. She said she had worked with the horses from 1985 and found that the complex was one of the best places in the world to work. She said that the staff loved the horses and the atmosphere of the shows.

Read more on Wikipedia and at ShhSydney which tells stories of abandoned amusement parks and at Anne’s Adventure when she explored the park through a hole in the fence in 2014, while there is more about the story with images at Deserted Places blog.

In 2016 the Daily Mail (Australia) ran a story about the sorry state of the former theme park. It reported that is had finally closed in 1999 and

its empty performance halls, go-kart tracks and water slides were overtaken by unruly grass and wildlife.

Gia Cattiva visited the deserted site and stated:

I have these special memories of visiting there in the 80s when I was a little kid – my grandma took me there.

It was a bittersweet experience. I feel really lucky to have experienced the park as a little kid and get to see the performances.

In 2018 Channel 9 News Sydney ran an item on the news highlighting how housing development is about to overrun the former theme park site. It features archival footage and what the site looks like before the new houses and street put in.

Former horse rider Sharyn Sparks states that working at the theme park was

like being on a movie set every day.