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Hope, heritage and a sense of place – an English village in the Cowpastures

Camden Heritage Conservation Area

In 2006 Camden Council designated the Camden town centre as a  Heritage Conservation Area, and later incorporated it in the  2010 Local Environment Plan. A heritage conservation zoning, according to Camden Council, is :

 an area that has historic significance… [and]… in which historical origins and relationships between the various elements create a sense of place that is worth keeping.

Map Camden Town Centre HCA LEP 2010 CRAG
Map of the Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area from 2010 Local Environment Plan. (Taken from 2016 Camden Residents Action Group Submission for State Listing)

 

Historic significance

Several writers have offered observations on Camden’s historical significance.

Historian Ken Cable argued in the 2004 Draft Heritage Report prepared by Sydney Architects Tropman and Tropman that: Camden town is a significant landmark in the LGA.  

In 2006 Sydney architect Hector Abrahams stated that Camden was ‘the best-preserved rural town in the entire Cumberland Plain’ (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Hector Abrahams -best preserved- Camden Advertiser 2006 Jun28
Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

 

Historian Alan Atkinson has argued that Camden is ‘a profoundly important place’, while historian Grace Karskins maintains that ‘Camden is an astonishingly intact survival of early colonial Australia’.  

 

Sense of place

In the early 20th century poets, artists and writers waxed lyrical that the town was like ‘a little England’.

Camden Council documents stress the importance of rural nature of the town for the community’s sense of place and community identity.

Camden Aerial 1940 CIPP
An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

 

This is quite a diverse range of views.

This blog post will look at the historical elements that have contributed to the town’s sense of place, and ultimately its historical significance.

While none of these elements is new, this is the first time they have been presented this way.

 

A private venture of Englishmen James and William Macarthur

The village was a private development of Englishmen James and William Macarthur on the family property of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had their private-venture village of Camden approved in 1835, the street plan drawn up (1836) and the first sale of land in 1841.  All within the limits of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had another private venture village at Taralga on Richlands and Menangle on Camden Park Estate.

Camden James Macarthur Belgenny
James Macarthur (Belgenny Farm)

Creation of a little English village

The notion of an English-style village on the family estate must have been an enticing possibility for the Macarthur brothers.

In the Camden village, James and William Macarthur named streets after themselves and their supporters. They include John Street, Macarthur Road, Elizabeth Street, Edward Street, Broughton Street, Exeter Street, Oxley Street, Mitchell Street. The Macarthur family and funded the construction of St John’s church on the hill and donated the surrounding curtilage.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The Macarthur brothers created vistas from the family’s Georgian hilltop Georgian mansion across the Cowpastures countryside to their Gothic-style village church.

The Englishness of the Camden village entranced many visitors and locals, including artists and writers. On a visit in 1927, the Duchess of York claimed that the area was ‘like England.’

 

Strategic river crossing into the Cowpastures

The village was strategically located at the Nepean River ford where the first Europeans crossed the river. By the 1820s the river crossing was the main entry point to Macarthur brothers’ Camden Park Estate, the largest gentry property in the area.

The situation of the village on the Great South Road re-enforced the Macarthur brothers economic and social authority over the countryside.

The river crossing was one of the two northern entry points to their realm of Camden Park Estate, the other being at the Menangle.  Menangle later became another private estate village.

The Macarthur village of Camden would secure the northern entry to the family’s Camden Park estate where the Great South Road entered their property. By 1826 the river ford was the site of the first toll bridge in the area.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP
Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

 

None of this was new as the river crossing had been the entry into the Cowpastures reserve declared by Governor King in 1803. The site was marked by the police hut in the government reserve at the end of the Cowpasture track from Prospect.

 

English place names, an act of dispossession

The Camden village was part of the British imperial practice of placing English names on the landscape. The name of the village is English as is the gentry estate within which it was located – Camden Park.

English place names were used in the area from 1796 when Governor Hunter names the site the Cow Pastures Plain. The Cowpastures was a common grazing land near a village.

Naming is a political act of possession, or dispossession, and is an active part of settler colonialism.

Camden Signage
The Camden sign on the entry to the town centre at Kirkham Reserve on Camden Valley Way formerly The Great South Road and Hume Highway. (I Willis)

 

The Cowpastures was a meeting ground in between the  Dharawal, the Dharug and the Gundungurra people. The area was variously known as ‘Baragil’ (Baragal)’ or Benkennie (dry land).

Indigenous names were generally suppressed by English placenames until recent decades.

Initially, the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures that escaped from the Sydney colony in 1788 occupied the meadows of the Nepean River floodplain.

The Cowpastures became a contested site on the colonial frontier.

 

Dispossession in the English meadows of the Cowpastures

The foundation of the Macarthur private village venture was part of the British colonial settler project.

The first Europeans were driven by Britain’s imperial ambitions and the settler-colonial project and could see the economic possibilities of the countryside.

Under the aims of the colonial settler project, as outlined by Patrick Wolfe and later LeFevre, the new Europeans sought to replace the original population of the colonised territory with a new group of settlers.

Hunter’s naming of the Cowpastures was the first act of expropriation. Further dispossession occurred with the government reserve, and later Governor Macquarie created the government village of Cawdor in the centre of the Cowpastures.

Art Governor Macquarie SLNSW
Governor Macquarie SLNSW

 

The Europeans seized territory by grant and purchase and imposed more English place names in the countryside, and created a landscape that mirrored the familiarity of England.

The colonial settlers brought Enlightenment notions of progress in their search for some kind of utopia.

 

Cowpasture patriarchs

The Macarthur private venture village was located in a landscape of self-style English gentry, and their estates interspersed with several small villages.

The gentry estates and their homestead and farm complex were English style village communities. One of the earliest was Denbigh (1818).

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

 

The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.

The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.

The Cowpasture colonial elite created a bunyip aristocracy and styled themselves on the English gentry.

On the left bank of the Nepean River were the gentry estates of Camden Park along with Brownlow Hill. On the right bank were the gentry properties of Macquarie Grove, Elderslie, Kirkham and Denbigh and several smallholders.

The ideal society for the colonial gentry included village communities. To foster their view of the world, the Europeans created the small village of Cobbitty around the Hassall family’s private Heber Chapel.

The village of Stonequarry was growing at the southern limits of the Cowpastures at the creek crossing on the Great South Road.  The village was located on the Antil’s Jarvisfield and later renamed Picton in the 1840s.

The picturesque Cowpastures countryside greeted the newly arrived Englishmen John Hawdon from County Durham. In 1828 Hawdon became the first person to put in writing that the Cowpastures area reminded him of the English countryside when he wrote a letter home.

 

The progress and development of the country town

The Enlightenment view of progress influenced the Macarthur’s vision for their Camden village. They sought to create an ideal village community of yeoman farmers and sponsored self-improvement community organisation including the School of Arts.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP
Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP

 

Within the Macarthur fiefdom, former estate workers became townsmen, took up civic duties and ran successful businesses.

The village of Camden prospered, became a thriving market town and the economic hub of a growing district.

The architectural styles of the town centre shine a light on the progress and development of the Macarthur village. The architectural forms include  Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar moderne, Mid-20th century modern, and Post-modern.

The town centre served a host of functions for the community that are indicated by the types of land use in a country town. These include commercial, government, open space, industrial, transport, residential, religious, agricultural, amongst others.

 

The country town idyll and the appearance of heritage

Since the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Appin, Campbelltown and Camden there has been increased interest in the cultural heritage of the town centre. This is the first appearance of the influence of post-modernism in the Camden story.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown Camden Airds 1973
John Wrigley conducted the first heritage study of the Camden town centre in 1985 for the Camden Historical Society.

Urban growth and the loss of rural countryside has encouraged a nostalgic desire for the past. This process had led to the evolution of the Camden, the country town idyll.

The heritage of the town centre is what the community values from the past that exists in the present. It is made up of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The town centre story can is a timeline with many side shoots or a tree with the main stem and many branches.

 

Camden time traveller and the town centre

The living history of the town centre is evident at every turn. At every corner. A visitor can be a time-traveller into the past. A view along the main street is a view into the past.

There are many locations in our local area where a person can be a time-traveller into the past. The traveller can be a participant in the area’s living history, ‘simply by being present’.

One of these sites is the commanding view from the hilltop at St John’s church. Here the traveller can view the Cowpasture countryside that nestles the Camden town centre within its grasp.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
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The Camden district in 1939

The Camden District 1939

The Camden district can be hard to define and has changed over time. Dr Ian Willis conducted research in the mid-1990s to determine the extent of the Camden district at the outbreak of the Second World War. This was part of his post-graduate studies at the University of Wollongong on the effect of the Second World War in Camden.

Map Camden District 1939[2]
Map of the Camden district in 1939 showing the extent of the area with Camden in the east. The silver mining centre of Yerranderie is in the west. (I Willis, 1996)

The boundary of the Camden district could be: an arbitrary line on a map based on a political decision; a natural region; an idea in someone’s mind; the delivery round of a Camden business; the geographic circulation area of a Camden newspaper; the emotional attachment of a person to a general area called Camden; the catchment area of a special event in Camden; the membership of a Camden organisation; the social networks of people who live in the Camden area; or any combination of these.

 

From historical research I have conducted I have found the boundary of the Camden district to a moveable feast. By the 1930s it took in an area of 1180 square kilometres and a population of around 5000. The result is on the attached map. It is a combination of the factors outlined above.

 

Origins of the Camden district

The concept of the Camden district was set in motion by 1827 when the early pattern of the early land grants had determined the road network. This process was re-enforced by the arrival of the tramway in 1882, the road traffic along the Hume Highway going to Goulburn, and the movement of silver from Yerrandarie and coal from the Burragorang Valley to the Camden railhead. As a result, the town became an important transport interchange and centre for economic activity for a district, which extended out to Burragorang Valley and Yerrandarie.

 

By the 1930s the growth of the town had attracted additional businesses and the town had become the centre for government services and community organisations. The town was a meeting place for local people and acted as a stepping off point to the rest of the outside world.

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

 

The district’s population came together on Sale Day (still Tuesdays) to meet and do business. The livestock sales were the town’s busiest day of the week  The annual Camden Show was (and still is) always a popular attraction and people came from a wide area to compete and exhibit their crafts, produce and livestock.

 

Daily life in the Camden district is recorded in the two local newspapers

District life was reported in detail in Camden’s two newspapers, the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, which were widely circulated in the area. Camden businesses had customers from all over the local area. Some had regular delivery runs that reached to Burragorang Valley and beyond.

 

Since the 1930s many things have happened. The largest change has been the growth in population, and the town and district are now part of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Sydney. Despite this, the district still has a discernable identity in the minds of local people.

1973 New Cities Plan

The creation of The new cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin: structure plan (1973) was one of the most profound changes to the Camden district. The New Cities proposal was part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan developed by the State Planning Authority of the Askin Liberal government and became a developers’ dream.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Plan 1973

Current planners, bureaucrats, businesses, and residents need to have an understanding of this local identity and build on the opportunities that it presents.

Today the Camden district is part of the Macarthur region.

Macarthur regional tourist guide
Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils
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Macarthur Bridge

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most important pieces of economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe. The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded. The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River floodplain upstream from the Camden township in New South Wales (IWillis 2015)

 

History and Description

The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.

The naming of the bridge also co-incided with the establishment of the Macarthur Growth Centre at Campbelltown  by the Askin Liberal Government in 1973 and support from the new Whitlam Federal Government for the Macarthur Growth Region. These were originally part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan from which the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbeltown, Camden and Appin appeared.

These were exciting plans that were developed at the time with the provision of extensive infrastructure across the new growth centre. Some of the infrastructure eventuated and many parts did not. The New Cities Plan turned into a developers dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plan. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Structure Plan 1973 completed by the NSW State Planning Authority of the Askin Government.

The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.

This was particularly important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Governments support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang Coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation and the issue turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.

The high level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields  away from Camden’s main street passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.

The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge has been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.

Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 (Postcard Camden Images)

 

In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated

I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.

I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)

Specifications

The Macarthur Bridge has a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.

The Camden Bypass

The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.

The  Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.

Macarthur Bridge Approaches 2015 1Willis
The Macarthur Bridge northern approaches from the Camden Bypass  (1Willis, 2015)

 

Open to traffic and construction details  

The official plaque on the bridge states:

Macarthur Bridge.

The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.

RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads

AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads

GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief

FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)

Department of Main Roads, New South Wales

Open to traffic on 26 March 1973

Read more

State Route 89 on Ozroads Website Click here

State Route 12 on Paul Rands Website Click here

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Pansy the Camden locomotive

 

The Camden train

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.

Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images
The Camden train affectionately known as Pansy crossing the Hume Highway at Narellan headed to Campbelltown with the circulating warning sign on the left. This view is looking south towards Camden.  (L Manny/Camden Images)

 

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.

Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images
The Camden train  affectionately known as Pansy, here showing a small tank locomotive in the late 1950s. (L Manny/Camden Images)

 

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.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
The Camden train affectionately known as Pansy crossing the Nepean River Bridge headed into  Camden in 1900. Elderslie is shown in the rear of the image.  (Postcard/Camden Images)

 

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.

Timetable

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.

Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images
The Camden train locomotive coming into Campbelltown railway station in the late 1950s (L Manny/Camden Images)

 

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.

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Floods and the Camden ‘bathtub effect’

Flooding of the Nepean River on the Camden floodplain

What is the Camden ‘bathtub effect’?

Not sure. Well you are not on your own.

It is part of the flooding effect created by the landform that makes up the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river system has a unique floodplain system that creates particular problems for local residents and others along the river.

The NSW Department of Primary Industry stated in 2014

The natural characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly susceptible to significant flood risk. The combination of the large upstream catchments and narrow downstream sandstone gorges results in floodwaters backing up behind these natural ‘choke points’

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River system has four localised floodplains created by four ‘choke points’ along the river.  Each of these ‘choke points’ are created by a local gorge along the river system – Bents Basin Gorge, Nepean Gorge, Castlereagh Gorge and the Sackville Gorge.

Camden Flood late 1800s Camden Railway Station CIPP lowres
This is a view of Camden Railway Station in Edward Street and some likely local identities assessing the situation. This flood event is occured in late 1800s with a view looking towards Narellan (Camden Images)

 

Each of these floodplains upstream from the gorges act like a ‘bath tub’ in a period of high rainfall, with floodwater flow choked off by the gorges.  The gorge restricts the floodwater flow and river rises quickly behind it on the local floodplain.

Camden ‘bathtub effect’

The 2015 Nepean River Flood Plain Report and the flood maps clearly show how the Bents Basin Gorge acts as a ‘choke point’ creating a ‘bathtub’ along with Nepean River floodplain from the entrance of the gorge. The floodplain upstream from the gorge starts around Rossmore, then upstream to Cobbitty, then Camden and ends at Menangle.

While the Camden ‘bathtub effect’ is not as dramatic and dangerous as those created in the Penrith-Emu Plains area or the effect of the Sackville Gorge at Windsor and Richmond, it is real.

The 2015 study says (pp1-2) that while floods are ‘rare’  they happen:

 flows escaping from the Nepean River are known to inundate the low lying areas of Camden and certain sections within South Camden and Elderslie. Floodplain areas along many of the tributaries of the river (particularly Narellan Creek and Matahil Creek) are also known to be affected by backwater flooding from the Nepean River during flood events.

Camden Flood 1974 SMH lowres
An aerial view of the Camden township in the 1974 flood event. The Nepean River is behind the town centre and flowing from R-L. (SMH)

 

Characteristic of local flooding

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says

Floods are characterized by rapid river rises with flooding commencing as quickly as 6-12 hrs after the commencement of heavy rain if the catchment is already saturated. Under flood conditions, the Nepean River overflows its banks and commences to inundate the low lying floodplain around Camden during floods of 8.5m on the Cowpasture Bridge gauge. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Camden Flood 1949 Peppertree Corner Cawdor Rd BYewen CIPP lowres
This is a view of Camden township from Peppertree Corner on Cawdor Road. Some inquisitive local children examining the waters flowing past them. This is the 1949 Camden flood event (B Yewen/Camden Images)

 

Causes of flooding along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River on the Camden floodplain

The headwaters for the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment which drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean, with dams on each waterway.

The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction is around 1800km2

The wettest conditions are usually created by low pressure systems, called east coast lows, that form up off the South Coast of New South Wales. The low pressure systems moves onshore and the orographic effect of the Illawarra Escarpment can produce heavy rainfall events.

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says

 Many localities in the catchment have received in excess of 175mm in a 24 hr period. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Largest local floods on the Camden floodplain

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says

Floods have occurred in all months of the year. The highest recorded flood at Camden occurred in 1873, when a height of 16.5m was recorded on the Camden gauge (approximately a 200yr ARI).  [Cowpasture Bridge, Camden]

Other major floods occurred in 1860 (14.1m), 1867 (14.0m), and 1898 (15.2m). In recent times, major floods have occurred in 1964 (14.1m) and 1978 (13.5m) with moderate to major flooding occurring in 1975 (12.8m) and 1988 (12.8m). (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Camden Airfield 1943 Flood Macquarie Grove168 [2]
The RAAF Base Camden was located on the Nepean River floodplain. One of the hazards was flooding as shown here in 1943. The town of Camden is shown on the far side of the flooded Nepean River. (Camden Museum)

This is a quote from a report of the 1898 flood event at Camden taken from the Camden News 17 February 1898.

Near midnight on Saturday rain began to fall, at first with moderation, towards day break gusts of wind sprang up from the South East bringing heavy rain, lowering the crops in its passage, even majestic trees were torn up by their roots and in sheltered paddocks the trees were denuded  of large limbs.

Sunday all day the wind blew with hurricane force; early on Monday morning the storm somewhat abated in its velocity.

Even on Sunday midnight no apprehension of a flood was anticipated by the Camden townspeople the continuous rain and boisterous weather, however made the more Cautious anxious, and one tradesman took the precaution to look after his horses in near paddock when the danger of a flood was manifested to him, the Nepean River had suddenly risen and was flooding the flats.

 

A report in the Camden News of the 1911 Camden flood event:

The rain of Thursday, it may naturally be expected filled creeks, dams and watercourses to overflowing, but the climax came with a heavy storm between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when some four inches [100mm] of rain fell. This brought the local water down from the adjoining hills in torrents, the Main Southern Road and Carrington Road were then covered with some two feet of fast rushing water, and on Druitt Road the local flood was then absolutely impassable..

In the early hours the Nepean River rose rapidly, and before the arrival of the first train the bridge was impassable ; the water continued to rise till about 3.15 in the afternoon, it having then reached it highest point, covering the new embankment between the town and the bridge, running through the Chinese quarters on the one side, and just into the pavilion on the show ground on the other. From near Druitt Road to Beard’s Lane was one long stretch of water….

Camden News, 19 January 1911

 

Sackville Gorge and the Windsor & Richmond ‘bathtub effect’

In 2012 Steve Opper, director of community safety with the State Emergency Service, says the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a unique shape that can lead to catastrophic flooding. He describes the effect of the Sackville Gorge

 “The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is throttled down by a narrow gorge down near what’s called Sackville, which is just upstream of Wiseman’s Ferry,” he said.

“The result of that is that the water can flow into the top of the system very, very rapidly, can’t get out, and so you get very dramatic rises in the level of the river.

“So normal river level might be two metres; if you’re at the town of Windsor and in the most extreme thought possible, that could rise up to 26 metres, which is a number that’s quite hard to comprehend.”

John Thomas Smith, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1867 stated after a flood event:

‘The enormous body of water rushing down with relentless force on its way to the sea could not be easily described, nor its effects conceived. About the neighbourhood of Windsor, now that the waters are fast subsiding, the scene is most dreary, and the destruction caused becomes every day more apparent. The feeling of bitter anguish expressed not in words but in the blank look of utter despair would move the most hardened.

Conclusion

Flooding is normal part of the cycle of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system, as it is for any river basin.

The flooding severity can be made worse by the choking effect of the gorges along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley – the local ‘bathtub effect’.

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Shooting the history breeze for local tourism

Storytelling and a Camden history film

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.

Camden & Laura Jane & Debbie photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
Storyteller Laura Jane adlibing for a short tourist promo for Tiffin Cottage.  Camera operate Debbie is issuing instructions and generally supervising the rest of the crew. Tiffin Cottage was occupied by auctioneer Captain Larkin who conducted stock sales at the saleyards which were formerly in the Larkin Place carpark (I Willis)

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.

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot police station History Videos CRET 2019[1]lowres
Camera operator Debbie filming LJ walking across the verandah of the former Camden Police Station. The station was centre of a large police district stretching from the Burragorang Valley to the Nepean River at Menangle and south to include Picton. It is currently vacant. (I Willis)

Filmmaker Rachel Perkins (2019) has stated

The past is always with us and it has created the present. The past is all around us within us all the time. The past lives with us in the present.

Storytelling touches something within us. It touches the soul.

Filmmakers and storytellers

The key storyteller was Laura Jane Aulsebrook, who has been described at Camden’s own Miss Honey (for the uninitiated from Matilda) and her happy ways. All dressed up in purple for the occasion.

The key camera operator, director and chief of production was Debbie Roberts,  (EO of CRET), ably assisted by her roadie husband Peter.

History material was provided from the Camden Heritage Walking Brochure and chief history boffin UOW historian Dr Ian Willis, ably assisted by his PA Marilyn.

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.

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot library History Videos CRET 2019 (2)[1] lowres
Roadie Peter is reviewing the position of the shoot and PA Marilyn is offering advice. The location is out the front of the former 1866 School of Arts now Camden Museum Library complex. The building is also the home of the Camden Museum, Camden Area Family History Society and a shop front for Camden Council (I Willis)

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.

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
The 1940s Tiffin Cottage is now the Epicure Store selling local produce and cheeses. The cottage was the home of Captain Larkin in the early 20th century. Larkin was an auctioneer at the saleyards which were located in Larkin Place until the late 1940s until they were moved to their current site. (I Willis)

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.

This was followed by a chit-chat about the long running Camden Show out the front of the lovely 1937 architect designed brick frontage to the 1890s Camden Rifles drill hall, now the show pavilion.

Camden festivals

This intrepid troupe were making short film clips as a promo for local tourist and a local spring festival – the Camden Jacaranda Festival.

The aim of the 2019 Camden Jacaranda Festival is to

The specific intention in designing and delivering the “Camden Jacaranda Festival” is to showcase both our fabulous town and the people that comprise the fabric of it.

Camden CBC Bank 2019 Jacarandas IW lowres
The Jacaranda Festival is held in late in November 2019 as a spring festival to celebrate the town and its community. This images is the 1878 Commercial Banking Company at the corner of John Street and Argyle Street Camden. The Jacaranda tree is in the front yard providing a colourful presentation with the Victorian banking chamber. (I Willis)

 

The Jacaranda festival is just one of many that have been held in the local area.

English village sports days

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).

Festivals, fetes and fairs encourage lots of visitors to the local area as tourists.

Tourism, cultural heritage and history

What is the connection between local history and tourism?

Quite a lot.

Tourism Australia says

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.

More than this Arts New South Wales says

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.

The Australia Council says of arts tourism:

Arts tourist numbers grew by 47% between 2013 and 2017, a higher growth rate than for international tourist numbers overall (37%).

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot show hall pavilion History Videos CRET 2019 (2)[1] lowres
Debbie and Laura Jane out the front of the 1936 brick extensions to the 1890s drill hall. Designed by Sydney architect Aaron Bolot the frontage is the same design as the adjacent commemorative gates. LJ was telling the story of the Camden Show which has been going for over 130 years. (I Willis)

Tourism can create jobs, drive economic growth and encourage local development.

 

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A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5

 

In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.

These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.

Tompson-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-Cover_lowres
Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson. ‘The  Cow-Pastures, Camden Park’ William McLeod. c1886.

 

Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.

Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.

Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.

A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).

Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)

Tompson Book Back Cover Camden sketch 1857-lowres
Back Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes Charles Tompson. Sketch of Camden, HG Lloyd, 1857 (SLNSW)

 

The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)

The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.

The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.

Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were  not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture.  Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)

TompsonCharles-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-lowres

 

The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)

The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).

Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.

Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)

The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)

Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)

The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)

Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.

Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.

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Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

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.

Camden Park Publicity

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).

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

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.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

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.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

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.

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 has been used as a film set in 2018 for the TV series Doctor Doctor (I Willis)

 

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 at Night spooky 2017 CNA
Spooky Studley Park House is claimed to be one of the most haunted locations in the Macarthur region. The TV series Home & Away on 3 & 4 October 2018 certainly added to those stories by using the house as a set location. (CN Advert)

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.

 

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

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[1]) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016.[2] 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.

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

 

In late 2019 the local press reported that streaming service Stan’s drama The Common was partially filmed in Camden. The spokesperson for Stan said

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 2020 the movie release of Peter Rabbit 2 highlights part of our local area. Press reports state that the production team were impressed with the local area for Peter Rabbit and they came back for the sequel. Visual effects supervisor Will Reichelt said that the Macarthur region resembled an ‘English country vista’.

Wollondilly Advertiser 2020Mar13 Movie Peter Rabbit 2
Onset: Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne (picture here filming a different scene) were on set in Brownlow Hill for the production of Peter Rabbit 2. Picture: Sony Pictures Australia/Wollondilly Advertiser 2020Mar13

 

Updated 21 April 2020

 

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A 1950s country girl goes to London

Warsaw conference presentation

University of Wollongong historian Dr Ian Willis will present a paper at the University of Warsaw in September later this year. The conference is the 2nd Biennial International Conference on Redefining Australia and New Zealand Changes, Innovations, Reversals.

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.

Abstract

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.

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A contested sacred site in the historic landscape of the Cowpastures

Place and St John’s Anglican Church

St John’s church is a contested site where there is competition around the ownership of the dominant narrative surrounding a former horse paddock. The paddock in question lies between St John’s Anglican Church and the former Rectory, all part of the St John’s Church precinct.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

Church authorities want to sell the horse paddock to fund a new worship centre.

There has been a chorus of objection from some in the Camden community over the potential sale. Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.

camden st johns church paddock 1907 cipp
Camden Rectory & Horse Paddock 1907 with Menangle Road on right hand side of image (Des & Pru Fowles/Camden Images)

 

The principal actors (stakeholders) have taken up positions around the issue include: churchgoers, non-churchgoers (residents, outsiders, ex-Camdenites, neighbours), the parish, local government, state government, and the Macarthur family.

The former horse paddock looks like an unassuming vacant block of land in central Camden. So why has there been so much community angst about is possible sale?

camden st johns fjoss image 7 (5)
St Johns Anglican Church showing former horse paddock in front of the church (2018 C Cowell)

 

The simple answer is that the community ascribes representations of a church beyond the building being a place of worship. Yet this raises a paradox for the owners of these religious sites. Generally speaking different faiths put worship and the spiritual interests of their followers ahead of their property portfolio.

This paradox has created angst in some communities when the owners of religious buildings and sites want to sell them, for example, in Tasmania in 2018 or other examples discussed by Graeme Davison.

 

Unraveling a paradox

Historian Graeme Davison in his book The Use and Abuse of Australian History has highlighted the different representations that a communities have ascribed to local churches. They have included:

  • a symbol of the continuity and community rather than a relic of their faith;
  • a local shrine where the sense of family and local piety are given tangible form;
  • ‘a metaphor of the postmodern condition’;
  • a ‘kind of absent present, a site now unoccupied but irreplaceable and unable to be rebuilt;
  • a transcendence and spiritual continuity in a post-Christian society. (pp. 146-161)

So the question here is, are any of Davison’s representations applicable to Camden’s St Johns Church?

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018 (I Willis)

 

Cultural landscape

St John’s church is the centre of Camden’s cultural landscape, its cultural heritage and the narrative around the Camden story. I wrote in the Sydney Journal in 2008 that

 St John’s church is the basis of the town’s iconic imagery and rural mythology and remains the symbolic heart of Camden.

In 2012 I extended this and said that community icons, including St John’s, have

 have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place.

In this dispute the actors, as others have done,

have used history and  heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity.

The actors in the dispute want to preserve the landscape identity of the area  by preserving the church precinct including the horse paddock.

 

A world long gone

The church precinct is  a metaphor for a world long gone, an example of the past in the present. In Davison’s eyes ‘a symbol of continuity and community’.

St John’s Anglican Church is part of an English style landscape identity, that is, Camden’s Englishness. This is not new and was first recognised in 1828 by Englishman John Hawdon.

Hawdon saw a familiar landscape and called it a ‘little England’.  A type of English exceptionalism.

The colonial oligarchs had re-created an English-style landscape in the Cowpastures  that mirrored ‘home’ in England. The English took control of territory in a settler society.

The local Indigenous  Dharawal people were dispossessed and displaced by the English through the allocation of  land grants in the area.

The English subdued the frontier with violence as they did other part of the imperial world.

The Hawdon allegory was present when the town was established by the Macarthur family as a private venture on Camden Park Estate in 1840. The construction and foundation of St John’s church was part of the process of the building of the new town.

The first pictorial representation of this was  used in Andrew Garran’s 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia where there is

an enduring image within the socially constructed concept of Camden’s rurality has been the unparalleled vista of the Camden village from the Macarthur’s hilltop Georgian mansion.  (Image below) The romantic image portrayed an idyllic English pastoral scene of an ordered farming landscape, a hive of industrious activity in a tamed wilderness which stressed the scientific and the poetic.

camden park 1886 garran
Engraving showing vista of Camden village from Camden Park House. Aspect is north-east with Cawdor centre distance and St John’s church right hand distance.  (Andrew Garran’s 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia)

 

The hilltop location of the church was no accident.  St John’s church is ‘the moral heart’ of English-style ‘idyllic representations as the

 ‘citadel on the hill’ at the centre of the ‘village’. It acts as a metaphor for order, stability, conservatism and a continuity of values of Camden’s Anglophile past. The Nepean River floodplain keeps Sydney’s rural-urban fringe at bay by being the ‘moat around the village’ which occasionally was the site of a torrent of floodwater.

The hilltop location has spiritual significance with Biblical references to love, peace and righteousness.

 

A sense of place

St John’s church has had a central role in the construction of place and community identity in the town.

camden_johnst_chs0083
St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

 

The church and its hilltop location is an enduring colonial legacy and a representation of the power of the colonial gentry,  particularly the position of Camden Park Estate and the Macarthur family within the narrative of the Camden story.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park House and Garden in 1906 is the home of the Macarthur family. It is still occupied by the Macarthur family and open for inspection in spring every year. (Camden Images)

 

Many Camden folk feel a sense of belonging to the church expressed by  memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.

The community feel that the church belongs to them as much as it belongs to the churchgoers within the church community.

Belonging is central to placeness. It is home and a site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is an important source of stability.

An extension of this is the role of the church as a loved place  in terms laid out by Peter Read in his book, Returning to Nothing, The Meaning of Lost Places. As Veronica Strang writes, Read’s book:

makes it plain that the feelings engendered by the loss of place can be equated with those experienced in the loss of a close relative, friend or partner. This straightforward analogy helps to make visible the symbolic role of place in enabling human beings to confront issues of mortality.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

 

The church buildings and precinct are a shrine to a lost past and considered by many to be  sacred land. The sale of the former horse paddock has caused a degree community grief over the potential loss of sacred land.

St John’s church is an important architectural statement in the town centre and is one Australia’s earliest Gothic style churches.

 

So what does all this mean?

The place of St John’s church in the Camden community is a complex one. The story has many layers and means different things to different people, both churchgoers and non-churchgoers.

The church is a much loved place and the threatened loss of part of the church precinct generates feeling of grief and loss by many in community.

The legacy of the English landscape identity from the early 19th century and the establishment of the Cowpastures is very real and still has a strong presence in the community’s identity and sense of place. The English style Gothic church is a metaphor for the Hawdon’s ‘Little England’ allegory.

The Cowpastures was the fourth location of European settlement in Australia and the local area still has a strong Anglo-demographic profile. These contribute to re-enforce the iconic imagery projected by St John’s church combined with the story of a settler society and its legacy.

Check out this publication to read more about the Camden district.

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