One of the larger items in the collection of the Camden museum is an item that few of the current members are aware of or would know the history. It is the Percival wagon that was located next to Macaria for a number of decades, the former headquarters of Camden Council. In 2012 a group of schoolboys got the opportunity to pull it to bits and put it back together again, and now they have finished with it and the wagon is coming home.
The Percival wagon is likely to have been built at the Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys which started in 1858 and eventually closed down in 1958. The Western Plains Cultural Centre at Dubbo states:
Bennett coach and Wagon works were operated by brothers James and George T. Bennett. Their tabletop wagons became famous throughout Australia; they were capable of carrying from 10 to 20 tonnes, and were regarded as the best heavy transport wagons to be bought. They were used in both rural and urban areas.
The Bennett wagon works at St Marys employed around 25 men at the end of the 19th century, with its wagons selling for between £150 to £250. The wagons were usually painted green and red, or red and blue and some had nick names, like ‘The Maxina’ (in South Creek Park now), ‘King of the Road’, and ‘The Pioneer’.
The Penrith City Regional Library states the Bennett wagons were used by teamsters to haul silver from the Burragorang Valley. In 1904 there were 15 teams of horses and bullocks plying the road between Yerranderie and Camden railhead from the silver field which lasted from around 1900 to 1925. The silver ore was originally forwarded to Germany for smelting, and after the First World War it went to Port Pirie in South Australia and then Newcastle. The story of the teamsters who worked out the Burragorang is celebrated in a monument outside Macaria in John Street, which was installed in 1977 by the Camden Historical Society.
The historical society’s wagon was one of the last in the Macarthur area. It was around 70 years old when the society purchased it from Sydney Percival of Appin in 1977 using a public fundraising appeal organised by society president Owen Blattman and Dick Nixon for $200. Once the society secured the funds and purchased the wagon it was then restored by retired Camden carpenter Ern Howlett and painted red and blue.
The original wagon owner of the society’s wagon was Sydney’s father Norm Percival who died in 1942 with the wagon passing to his son. Norm lived on the property called Northampton Dale which was part of William Broughton 1000 acre grant of Lachlan Vale. John Percival purchased Northampton Dale when Broughton’s grant was subdivided 1856 and named it after his home in England. The Percival property was used for horse breeding, then beef cattle and later as a dairy farm. During the First World War the farm was a popular venue with local people for playing tennis. (Anne-Maree Whitaker, Appin, the story of a Macquarie Town)
Typical of Bennett wagons the society’s Percival wagon was used to cart wheat at Junee in 1913 while around 1900 it had previously been used to cart chaff from Campbelltown Railway Station to the Cataract Dam construction site. The wagon was also used to cart coal in Wollongong and then around the Percival Appin farm of ‘Northampton Dale’ and the Appin district. The Percival wagon had been restored by the Percivals in 1905 and was fitted with new front wheels, and plied for business around with Appin area. The signage along the side of wagon was ‘EN Percival, Appin’.
The Percival wagon was placed adjacent to Macaria in John Street in 1977 and by 1992 was a little the worse for wear. A team of society members took to the task with gusto and contributed over 200 hours to the restoration, with Camden Council contributing $600 to the total cost of $1200. Another decade passed and the weather and the elements again took their toll on the wagon. Repainting was needed in 2001.
In 2012 the Dean of Students at Macarthur Anglican School Tim Cartwright suggested that the wagon become a restoration project for the school boys. Cartwright, who had retrained as a teacher, had been a master carpenter in Europe before coming to Australia. The wagon was taken out to the school later in that year and is currently still at the school. The wagon is about to return to the custody of the society.
Camden Museum, Teamsters’ Wagon, Statement of Significance, Item No 1995.423.
Bella Vista Farm was part of the colonial farming empire of the Macarthur family of Elizabeth Farm which they called the Seven Hills Farm. The farm was on the overland route opened up between Rose Hill (Parramatta) and the Hawkesbury settlement around 1791 a road constructed between Toongabbie and Windsor by the NSW corps using convict labour. Intially the route was called the Hawkesbury Road and eventually the Old Windsor Road.
The farm is located on the lands between the clan areas of of the Toogagal Toongabbie and the Bidjigal of the Castle Hill area of the Darug people. Bella Vista is located on a hilltop and would have been a lookout site.
John Macarthur purchased the property in 1801 for £2000 with 1250 sheep from Major Joseph Foveaux. In 1799 John Foveaux and Charles Grimes, the Deputy Surveyor of Crown Lands, were granted 980 acres in the Crestwood area, and within months Grimes sold his share of the grant to Foveaux a month later.
Combined with a further grant of 190 acres in 1799, and 600 acres in 1800 was called by Foveaux, Stock Farm. This made him the largest landholder in the colony of 2020 acres, together with his flock of 1027 sheep the largest stock-owner in the colony.
Foveaux sold his property, which he called ‘Stock Farm’, to the Macarthurs in 1801 after he was appointed Acting Lieutenant Governor on Norfold Island.
John Macarthur was absent from New South Wales from 1801 1805. Macarthur was always an argumentative character and had a disagreement with Colonel Paterson his commanding officer, fought a duel, and Paterson was wounded. Governor King had Macarthur arrested and sent for trial in England in 1801.
In John’s absence the family’s pastoral interests were managed by Elizabeth from her home at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta. She called Stock Farm her Seven Hills Farm and was ably assisted by her farm manager, or overseer, initially with Richard Fitzgerald, followed by William Joyce, John Hindle and Thomas Herbert.
Under Elizabeth’s management the Macarthur’s flock of sheep increased from 2000 to 1801, to 3000 in 1803 and 5920 by 1805. A substantial number of this sheep flock was held at the Seven Hills Farm.
Elizabeth subsequently purchased land a neighboring property from Richard Fitzgerald. This purchase was made up of two part, one a 1799 160 acre to Richard Richardson, and a 270 acre grant to William Goodhall. Fitzgerald sold his holding to Elizabeth and worked for the Macarthurs as a steward, manager and record keeper.
John was again absent from New South Wales between 1809 to 1817 over his part in the only coup d’etat in Australian history, the arrest of Governor Bligh in a tin pot take over called the Rum Rebellion.
John asked Elizabeth to negotiate to exchange the Seven Hills estate for land in the Cowpastures in 1809. There was a devastating drought between 1813 and 1815 and the sheep flock was moved elsewhere.
By 1821 the farm was known as Seven Hills Farm and covered 2270 acres. The Macarthurs exchanged the farm for Crown land in the Cowpastures. It was on the Seven Hills Farm that Elizabeth bred some of the earliest Spanish merino sheep.
Subsequent owners of Bella Vista and support groups
1821 James Robertson
1838 Isabella Acres
1842 William Pearce
1865 Edward Pearce, inherited from father
1912 Edward WCS Pearce, inherited from father
1933 leased by Edwards wife after Edward’s death
1950 North Sydney Brick and Tile Company
1952 house leased
1974 Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board for water storage
1979 Interim Heritage order
1980 Formation of the Elizabeth Macarthur Seven Hills Farm Assocation
1997 Permanent Heritage order
1997 Department of Planning, NSW Government
1997 Baulkham Hills Shire Council
2006 Formation of The Friends of Bella Vista Farm
The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states that Bella Vista Farm is significant because of the:
Evidence of the documentary record, of the agricultural activities of the Macarthur family, managed by Elizabeth Macarthur from Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta (SHR item # 1), and locally by her stewards. These records indicate early experiments at grazing sheep by Grimes, Foveaux and the Macarthurs that failed due to insect plagues, low stock per acre ratios, droughts and the unsuitability of hoofed animals to Australian conditions. Indicating also the monopoly held by, and extensive grants given to certain officers, including John Macarthur.
The Farm is a rare example of an intact rural cultural landscape on the Cumberland Plain, continuously used for grazing since the 1790s. The Farm is one of the most intact and best examples on the Cumberland Plain of the summit model of homestead siting, where the house and plantings are sited high on a prominent hill in contrast with open fields around. The farm is an increasingly rare example, on the Cumberland Plain, of a rural property, where the evidence of the staged development of the homestead survives from slab cottage to villa.
There are lots of exciting memories of Camden airfield in the 1930s by local folk, especially by little boys.
One of those was Cec Smith.
Wonders of flight at Camden
He recalls with great excitement the airfield and everything about it. He notes, ‘as the son of a farmer I was into anything that had an engine’.
Cec was a small boy whose family had only been in the district a short time. He was eleven years old.
The 1930s great adventure stories were ones of aviators and their aeroplanes.
Aviators were the heroes of the British Empire, like those that were written about like Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901) or EM Forster’s A Passage to India’ (1924). Or the real adventurers of the empire like TE Lawrence, of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame.
Camden airfield generated the stuff of boy’s own adventure books. Aviators and aeroplanes were the dreams of all small boys in Camden.
In 1936 it happened. Something different. A funny distant loaded, but relaxed, slow revving engine noise. But it was moving. Over that way. Couldn’t see anything. It was hidden by the house. When I got there, nothing. Even the sound was gone. Then within a few days that different distinctive noise again. Looking over to the northeast, could not see it. Then it appeared from my vantage point a mile or so away. It seemed to pop up out of the ground as it slowly emerged above the low ridge line running along this [Camden] side of the river.
Cec eventually found out who owned the aeroplane. It belonged to a local hero of the empire, or so it seemed to one small boy.
It was discovered that the plane belonged to Edward Macarthur Onslow, a local landholder. The plane was a DH.87A Hornet Moth (VH-UUW) and based on the property ‘Macquarie Grove’, where he lived. Older brother Denzil and younger brother Andrew were also qualified pilots. The brothers had taken the first steps toward developing a flying training and charter operation there, that pre-war was the Macquarie Grove Flying and Glider School Pty Ltd, and post-war became the Macquarie Grove Flying School Pty Ltd.
The flying school generated lots of excitement especially the air pageants.
Cec recalls that there were two air pageants put on there by the flying school in the late 1930s. The Macarthur Onslow brothers, along with local pilot/instructor Les Ray, who were the hands on staff of the school, and other pilots including Brian Monk (instructor from the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales) ‘all contributed to the success of what to us was a spectacular public event. This was all exciting stuff for myself and my school friends. It was a new dimension’.
Cec spent of a lot of school time dreaming of flying and notes that ‘much of the flying activities were visible from the school’.
He recalls that around 1937 he was intrigued to learn that there was parachute practice taking place on the airfield.
He recalls that a movie called ‘Gone to the Dogs’ had a flying scene made at the airfield where a greyhound was to be delivered by parachute to a racing track.
Cec assures me that the ‘dogs’ that he saw dropped by parachute were ‘dummies’.
Everything about the airfield was pretty basic in those days.
Cec, who gained his pilots licence after the war, recalls that the airfield was just ‘an open grazing paddock cleared of most trees and shrubbery but a fringe of trees remained on three sides of the field, adjacent to the river’.
In Cec’s view the trees
‘did not represent a hazard except in the event of a seriously misjudged approach… having regard to the operational requirements of the aircraft of the day. The surface was the usual farm type grasses sometimes grazed by cattle’.
Schooling in the bush
Cec attended the one-teacher school at Theresa Park Public School from 1933-1934 where he was in a composite class. The Department of Education at the time paid for the teacher and supplied books and equipment. It was quite common for parents to meet any extra costs.
Cec recalls that the school had 12 pupils and his first teacher was Mr White and later Mr Monday. Cec rode a horse to school bare-back ‘behind a neighbour’s son’, who owned the horse, despite his family owning a saddle. He maintains that the teachers had good control of the class and for their part the pupils were ‘attentive’, although there were occasions ‘when some of us were disruptive’. Theresa Park Public School eventually closed in 1958.
Getting an education in town
After Cec finished with Theresa Park he travelled into Camden Public School in late 1934. Cec says that on the whole he enjoyed school, although he was ‘only a mediocre pupil but could with some effort get into the top three’. Cec’s classes were quite small. He was good attender and received a book prize for not missing a day in two years.
Cec notes that the other pupils at the school came from a mixture of backgrounds, including 5-6 boys who came from the boy’s home. These boys he remembers came to school in bare feet and the lunches were ‘slices of stale bread spread with dripping, wrapped in newspaper and brought together collectively in a sugar bag’.
In 1940 Cec was a student in the secondary department when he finished his Intermediate Certificate. The results were published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1941. Cec gained ‘B’ grade passes in Geography, Mathematics II, Business Principles, Technical Drawing, Woodwork, Music, Agricultural Botany. Other local youth who finished with Cec were J Hayter, Elaine McEwan, John Porter, Frederick Strahey.
Cec recalls that the headmaster at that time was Neville Holder. Holder was the principal of the school between 1937 and 1940 and Cec found him to be a good teacher and felt that he did many ‘good deeds as a person and teacher’ while at the school. Camden Public School became a central school in 1944 and reverted to a public school in 1956 when Camden High School opened in John Street.
Cec sometimes had to wait at the milk depot at the end of Argyle Street, near the railway station, for a lift home after school. His father and brother would deliver the milk from the farm at the depot twice a day.
Cec feels that:
despite all the negatives of those days… we received a good basic education across a range of subjects all for free. All that we had to do was be there. In most cases transport only cost the price of a bicycle and the physical effort of riding it… and the cost of a few books, pens and pencils.
Getting a job
During these days Cec did temporary work at Camden Post Office for three weeks in 1938 when he was 14 years old, and in 1940 six weeks.
One of his jobs in 1940 was to cycle out to the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park each week to change over the public telephone coin tins. As Cec recalls they were officially called ‘coin receptacles’. He recalls that:
While I was there I had to make a test call back to the post office. The public phone at the airfield had not been installed at that stage of the war. The only mail contractor at the post office had the run which started at Camden, went out to Glenmore, The Oaks, Oakdale and Nattai River in the Burragorang Valley and then on to Yerrandarie Post Office.
Eventually Cec started work in Sydney in 1941 while his family continued dairying for the next 11 years.
The war eventually caught up with the family and Cec’s brother joined up in 1940 and ‘my turn came in 1943’. He recalls that ‘for our generation much happened in the relatively short period between 1940-1945’.
The annual festival of farming returns the to the Camden Show ground at the end of March again. The show has been the most important country festival in the district for over 100 years. In the early days it was a celebration of agricultural modernism, by the inter-war period it had matured into a permanent part of the local landscape. The Second World War and the poor state of show finances saw the show disappear for the duration of the conflict. It is now strong than ever and not to be missed on Friday 20 March and Saturday 21 March 2015.
There have been two histories produced of the Camden Show. The first was on the centenary of the show in 1986 and written by local identity Dick Nixon from the Camden Historical Society.
The second history of the Camden Show was written by Neville Clissold on the 125 anniversary of the show in 2011.
Camden Show 1890s
The early years of the Camden Show were big community events when everyone came to town.
Guess who you meet at the show, the Premier in 2014
It is amazing who you bump into at the Camden Show. Historical society volunteers John Wrigley OAM, Bettie Small PHF and Len Channell, with Peter Hayward in the background, greeted Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, the Member for Camden, Mr Chris Patterson, MP, and Camden Mayor, Clr Lara Symkowiak. The dignitaries just walked into the pavilion to look at the arts and crafts put in by competitors and who should they meet but the enthusiastic members of the historical society. The encounter didn’t phase society members one bit and they just took it all in their stride. Usually volunteers just meet friends they have not seen since last years show and this was a real surprise. The historical society has been fortunate to be able to have a stall in the show pavilion for many years. It has been located in amongst the cakes, flowers, sewing, knitting and other rural crafts. The stall sells the latest publications, takes new memberships and renewals and answers lots of local history questions.
Mud and Slush in 2014
The 2014 Camden Show featured mud and storms as a special event. It rained on Friday afternoon with a thunderstorm that arrived around 4.00 pm from the south-west. It caught many people unawares and created a mud bath in many parts of the showground. It dumped about 15 mm in about an hour. On Saturday morning show officials were out and about puting down woodchip over the worst patches and straw on other patches. Patrons who wore boots were well prepared to walk around in the mud. On Saturday there was a steady rain from about 4.00 pm with a short storm that came in over the Burragorang Valley and Southern Highlands, and provided drizzle around right through the fireworks.
2014 Camden Show
The 2014 Camden Show was the usual lively affair and this map of the showground illustrates the range of events and activities.
Show Merchandise 2013
This is the price list for show merchandise in 2013. Did you buy your tie?
Miss Camden Showgirl
The Miss Showgirl competition is in many ways an anachronism from the past. It has survived for over 45 years under the onslaught of feminism, post-modernism, globalization and urbanisation. A worthy feat indeed.
The competition is still popular and the local press are always strong supporters. Show time, the show ball and Miss Showgirl are representative of notions around Camden’s rurality. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2008 Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’. Camden people yearn for a past when the primary role of town was to service the surrounding farmers and their needs. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.
Miss Camden Showgirl
1962 Helen Crace
1963 Helen Crace
1964 Sue Mason
1965 Barbara Duck
1966 Dawn Dowle
1967 Jenny Rock
1968 Heather Mills
1969 Michelle Chambers
1970 Joyce Boardman
1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham
1972 Kerri Webb
1973 Anne Fahey
1974 Sue Faber
1975 Janelle Hore
1976 Jenny Barnaby
1977 Patsy Anne Daley
1978 Julie Wallace
1979 Sandra Olieric
1980 Fiona Wilson
1981 Louise Longley
1982 Melissa Clowes
1983 Illa Eagles
1984 Leanne Reily
1985 Rebecca Py
1986 Jenny Rawlinson
1987 Jayne Manns
1988 Monique Mate
1989 Linda Drinnan
1990 Tai Green
1991 Toni Leeman
1992 Susan Lees
1993 Belinda Bettington
1994 Miffy Haynes
1995 Danielle Halfpenny
1996 Jenianne Garvin
1997 Michelle Dries
1998 Belinda Holyoake
1999 Lyndall Reeves
2000 Katie Rogers
2001 Kristy Stewart
2002 Margaret Roser
2003 Sally Watson
2004 Danielle Haack
2005 Arna Daley
2006 Victoria Travers
2007 Sarah Myers
2008 Fiona Boardman
2009 Lauren Elkins
2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic
2011 Hilary Scott
There is a crying need for a local Camden Residential Heritage Style Guide. Why do other Local Government Areas in Australia have a Residential Style Guide for their heritage housing styles but Camden does not.
Camden is one of Australia’s most historic localities and yet newcomers and locals have to guess what is an historically accurate guide to residential housing styles.
The new Camden Region Economic Taskforce (CRET) is an opportunity to promote the historic and heritage nature of the local area. The Taskforce promotional material states that Camden LGA has a ‘unique history’ and that the aim of the CRET is to maintain ‘Camden’s unique historic heritage and natural environment’.
This is an opportunity to the see if Camden Council is prepared to back its words with action. One easy way to do this would be to draw up a Residential Heritage Style Guide for the Local Government Area.
Camden heritage is a tourism drawcard to the local area. It creates jobs and business opportunities.
creating the right environment to support the growth of business and industry (both existing and future).
Houses are an integral part of our daily lives. We live in them and take them for granted. But they are more than this. A house is an historical statement of its time. As history changes so does the type of housing.
The CRET publicity states that the Camden LGA is a ‘rapidly growing area’ and is subject to change in the form of ‘rapid commercial and industrial development’ and there needs to be an understanding, according to the CRET, of ‘our unique heritage’.
There a number of housing styles that have been identified by architects in Australia since colonial times. The major periods of the styles are:
1. Pre-colonial period 30,000 BCE – 1788
2. Old Colonial Period 1788 – c. 1840
3. Victorian Period c. 1840 – c. 1890
4. Federation Period c. 1890 – c. 1915
5. Inter – War Period c. 1915 – c 1940
6. Post – War Period c. 1940 – c. 1960.
7. Late Twentieth Century c. 1960 – c. 2000
8. Twenty –First Century c. 2000 – present.
The Camden Local Government Area has residential buildings from most of these time periods.
The housing style of a particular location in the Camden or Narellan area gives the place a definite character and a certain charm. It is what makes a place special and gives it a sense of its own identity (Inter-war period along Menangle Road). The housing style will give the place its special qualities. The houses are a reflection of the times in which they were built.
The style is an indicator of the historical activities that have gone on in that area. It is a statement on changing tastes, lifestyles, social attitudes, cultural mores, and a host of other factors (Inter-war cottages in Elizabeth Street and the use of colour glass in lead-light windows or the appearance of garages for the new motor cars of the day).
The housing style may be complemented by a garden and landscaping that reflected the tastes and lifestyles of the occupants of the building. Even gardens go through fashion trends (English style gardens or native gardens).
The housing style says a lot about the occupants. Whether they were landed gentry who owned one of the large estates in the area (Camden Park House, Brownlow Hill, Denbigh) or ordinary farmers who were making a living from a patch of ground (simple Federation weatherboard cottages like Yamba cottage in Narellan or the Duesbury family in Elizabeth Street or Hillview in Lodges Road).
Camden has been remote from the urban influences that drove the high forms of these architectural styles. But local people adapted the style to suit their particular purpose (simple Federation brick or timber farm cottages like in the Struggletown complex or Barsden Street). Sometimes they created their own vernacular style that used local materials.
Some of these styles have more examples in the Camden area than others. This reflects the economic prosperity in the history of the area. The Inter-war period is one of these times. Between 1915 and 1940 the town grew based on the wealth generated by dairying and later coal. There are quite a number of inter-war buildings in Camden (Californian bungalows in Menangle Road and Murray Street). The post-war period of housing construction in Camden in Macquarie Avenue and along the Old Hume Highway was driven by the economic activities surrounding the mining of coal in the Burragorang Valley.
Each housing style illustrates cultural influences from Great Britain in the Victorian style or from the United States in the Inter-war period in the Californian Bungalow and the Ranch style in the post-war period.
The local housing stock shows the skills and expertise of local builders, such as Harry Willis or Walter Furner who constructed many of the Inter-war housing stock. Ephraim Cross who supplied brick for some of the Federation style cottages in the area or James English in the 1940s or Ron McMIllan in the 1950s and 1960s.
Each period represents the modern and progressive ideas of its time. Each housing style is a representation of the hopes and aspirations of those who built the houses. Just as Oran Park housing developments are representative of the late 21th century so Harrington Park and Mt Annan are representative of the late 20th century. They have been driven by the urban expansion of the Sydney area.
Within each of the major time periods there are a number of sub-divisions. There are around five major styles within the Inter-war period, such as the Californian bungalow (West coast USA influence) or the Art Deco (European influences). The post-war period has around six style divisions ranging from the austerity (which reflected the lack of availability of building materials and labour following WW2) to ranch style (which illustrated the post-war influences from West coast American and Californian housing styles).
Camden needs a Residential Heritage Style Guide to consolidate all these factors and influences in the Local Government Area.
Why is it that other Local Government Areas around Australia can achieve this but Camden cannot? What is the matter with out local government representatives? Examples from other parts of Australia include
Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex.
The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena. .
The 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.
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, 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.
One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy.
It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell stories to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia.
Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialization 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.
Local railway stations
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. 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 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.
A host of daily passengers
Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses. Some of Camden’s better off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.
Wartime heroes in blue and khaki
The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service on the Main Southern Line. On the return journey the last passenger service from Campbelltown left at 9.44pm. During the Second World War the train 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.
Goods and passengers
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 into the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s the limitations of the line for caring freight were showing cracks.
From its enthusiastic opening the the branch line 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.
The end is nigh
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.
For current enthusiasts with a keen eye there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the standard 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.
What’s left to see?
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. 254-263).
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 music of the Camden branch line
The Camden Community Band has 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.