The CHN blogger was out and about at Campbelltown Arts Centre recently on a Friday night at the opening of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.
A packed Campbelltown Arts Centre was filled with keen supporters of the award. They walked around and viewed the art works that had survived the culling process and made it onto the walls and displays.
55 Years of History
2017 is the 55th year of the prize and the finalists had some pretty stiff competition.
There were a diverse range of works. The categories include Open, Contemporary, Traditional, Sculpture, Photography, Primary Students, Secondary Students, Surrealism, Macarthur award for a local artist, Aboriginal, Mentorship Macability award for a work by an artist with a disability.
The Award has a total prize pool of $38000 supported by a range of local sponsors.
Campbelltown Arts Centre is well regarded art institution in the Sydney area under the leadership of director Michael Dagostino.
Camden artist survives cull at the Award
One entrant at this year’s award was Camden artist Sandra Dodds. She survived the cull with her sculpture work Eclipse.
Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.
Brian said about his painting:
‘One of my watercolour paintings of Crookhaven Heads on the south coast of NSW. Over the past three decades I would have painted more than 200 paintings of the north face of this headland. To me this work has more of a feeling of a tapestry, as opposed to a watercolour; hence its title.’
The proceedings on the opening night got under way just after 6.00pm with the official announcements around 7.30pm. The announcement of the winners was introduced by a welcome to country by a local Dharawal elder.
The 2017 judges were curator Tess Allas, artist Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham and artist Ben Quilty.
In 2017 the carnival was held on Bradbury Oval and was in full swing as the art award winners were announced at the art centre.
The street parade moves along Queen Street and has a variety of community, sporting and business groups with floats and novelties.
Each year the festival has a theme and in the past they have included The Ghost with the Most, The Spirit of Campbelltown, the International Year of the Volunteers, the Centenary of Federation, the National Year of Reading and most recently, the 30th anniversary of the Campbelltown-Koshigaya Sister City relationship.
The Miss Festival Quest, which ran up until the early 90s, was adapted to form The Miss Princess Quest, which has now been running for more than two decades.
The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher
The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.
The ghost story of Fred Fisher is part of Australian gothic literature and the country’s colonial past. These stories make a statement about the white Australian psyche and the monster within. The landscape is portrayed as a monster in the genry of Australian gothic now and in the past when the early colonials viewed the bush as evil and threatening.
The National Library of Australia outlines the story of Fred Fisher and the songs, stories and legends that flow from it. They claim that it is the most forgotten ghost story in Australia..
This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper?
The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
Yet others, including those in our household, devour the local newspaper from cover to cover. More than this I clip the local newspapers each week. I compete with others in the household. By the time I get the newspaper there already a holes in it. There is certainly a future for local newspaper in this household.
The local in local newspapers
In the Oran Park Gazette Lisa Finn-Powell maintains that the community newspaper does have a future. She argues that it provides a way for members of the community to support each other by celebrating local events, anniversaries and traditions. Local newspapers make people feel good about their neighbourhood.
From the journalists point of view Finn-Powell maintains that their readers are in their face. Local journalists are ‘up close and personal’ with their readers. The local newspaper, according to Gazette editor Belinda Sanders, shares local stories with local people who all have a story to tell. (Oran Park Gazette, October 2017)
While the purpose of the Gazette’s story was to bolster local advertising editor Belinda Sanders has a point about the importance of local newspapers. Her self-interest is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Scholarly literature on newspapers supports her position.
Survival of the local
Media historian Rod Kirkpatrick maintains that community newspapers have survived because of their closeness to their community, their reflections of a community’s values, their contribution to its cohesion, their service to the progress and welfare of their local community.
A similar list has been compiled by regional historian Louise Prowse . She maintains that the local newspaper is central to the life of country towns by underpinning social capital, strengthening social relationships, reflecting the town’s values, valuing local history, having close links to the community, and providing a voice for the community.
Local newspapers, especially country newspapers, tells stories in a different way to the large metropolitan daily newspapers. The country newspaper editor reports in a narrative style and does not obsess about the inverted pyramid. They write feel good articles that are generally not sensationalist. The local newspaper is less likely to need to put a negative spin on a story. The editor goes for the known and comfortable and readers might be living around the corner or have personal knowledge of the people and events.
Camden Advertiser journalist Jeff McGill maintains that the local newspaper creates ‘the strong weave in our social fabric’. After working for the large metro daily he decided he did not like writing negative attack style stories all the time, so he went back to his roots and became a journalist in the local paper. There he could write stories with a positive spin for a readership who personally knew him.
Just as there are significant differences between the closed self-contained rural and regional communities and the large metropolitan areas. There are distinct differences in the practice of journalism between newspapers these two distinct economic, political, cultural, and social landscapes.
Jock Lauterer who wrote Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local says that community newspapers have three things in common:
a readership of less than 50,000,
an exclusive focus on stories with a local connection and
offices accessible to their readers.
So what is community journalism? There are handbooks and guides on community journalism. They provide sections on how to report local council meetings, writing an obituary, wedding or other local celebration. They provide advice about the peculiarities of dealing with local organisations and businesses and other everyday matters. Interestingly Kirkpatrick maintains that city-based journalism would do well to take heed of this style of writing.
Kirkpatrick maintains that journalists on community newspapers need to understand that the daily doings of the community that are of interest to readers. Local celebrations, traditions and events, for example, weddings, funerals, births, fetes, and anniversaries. Few if any of these stories ever make it to the large metro dailies.
The journalist is up-close-and-personal and need to ‘touch the pulse of the local community and fight its battles against’ outsiders. The journalist might find themselves embedded in a small community where they do not have the anonymity of their city-based journalist colleagues.
Journalists in this environment write stories with a degree of depth and understanding of the issue that are important to the local community. He maintains that the journalist has to engage the readership and have a conversation with them about the values that are important to the community.
The journalist needs to capture the ‘priorities, concerns and perspectives on different issues’ of the citizenry.
This is certainly what Lee Abrahams the owner/editor of the The District Reporter does on a weekly basis. She feels that her local newspaper ‘is different from other newspapers’. She aims to tell the ‘local people about their local area and their stories are part of that agenda’.
Abrahams has stated that she writes ‘good stories’ and leaves out the police and ambulance rounds as they often have a negative line.
Abrahams likes reporting the small and strong and raising public awareness, by informing and keeping public interest. In particular she attempts to cut through the spin from the state government and give the story a local angle. (Camden History, vol 3, no 1, 2011)
This type of difference that can be identified in the country press is not new and is typical of earlier times. One example was wartime.
A point of difference, the local press and war
This blogger has written about the country press in wartime and examined its crucial role in patriotic volunteering and fundraising, keeping up morale, supporting the war effort and a host of other issues.
I particularly looked at the role of the owner/editors of two local newspaper in a small country town during the Second World War and how these local identities used their influential role on their reportage in their newspapers.
I recently put up a conference proposal for a paper on how country newspapers reported during the First World War. The abstract for the proposal went in part as follows:
Country newspapers provide an archive record of the First World War that is identifiably different from the large metropolitan daily newspapers of the war period. The local newspaper has a number of differences that are related to their localness and parochialism, their relationship to their readership, their promotion of the community and their approach to the news of the war. The local newspaper recorded the subtleties of local patriotism and wartime voluntarism and fundraising, the personal in soldier’s letters, the progress of the war and a host of other issues.
Digital disruption – just the latest challenge
Will local newspapers survive in the age of digital disruption?
Rachel Matthews says in her article on the provincial media in Routledge Companion to British Media History writes that the demise of local newspaper has been predicted on numerous occasions. Matthews goes to outline six historical phases to the development of provincial newspapers over the last 300 years and are:
the local newspaper as opportunistic creation;
the characterization of the local newspaper as the fourth estate;
the impact of New Journalism;
the growth of chain control,
the move to computerised production and the advent of free newspapers;
the provincial press in the digital age.
She concludes that these challenges provide ‘far reaching implications’ for the British provincial press.
The Macarthur region is located on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe and is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia.
The local newspapers in the Macarthur region have changed in recent years as online sites suck up their advertising revenue. Where once our local edition of the Camden Narellan Advertiser might have run to 110 pages an issue they have shrunk to 60-70 pages.
Yet where there was once just one local edition of a newspaper there is now three in this ever growing area on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.
The Advertiser is now published in three separate editions as the Campbelltown, Camden Narellan and Wollondilly Advertiser. A similar thing has happened to the Macarthur Chronicle, a part of the News Ltd stable.
As the regional population has grown so new opportunities have opened up for local suburban newspapers to fill the gap in the market place. The Oran Park Gazette, and its stable mates across Western Sydney, have filled some of these gaps that have appeared in the new suburbs.
Media historian Rod Kirkpatrick points out that war has had lasting changes on the nature of the provincial press. He maintains that wars ‘have traditionally been a trigger for the emergence of newspaper or for significant change in their industry’. During the peace politics dominates, but during the conflict the war dominates the stories.
In country newspapers the war is on the front pages. While the First World War put cost pressures on the Australian press the voracious appetite at home for news of the war and sales of metro dailies soared during the conflict.
Newspapers shrunk and reportage of stories became terse and condensed. This contrasted with the convoluted narrative reporting style of the pre-war years.
The future in a digital age
So is there a future for the local paper in the digital age? I think so.
There is a craving for the authentic and personal to people can connect with their neighbourhood, even in the suburbs.
The internet is impersonal, the local newspaper is not. The local newspaper still has many challenges to meet especially around monetising advertising in the age of Google and Facebook.
With creativity and persistence the local newspaper will meet these challenges and be a part of the media landscape into the future. The local newspaper has changed in some communities to that it is an A4 newsletter newspaper.
The Oran Park Gazette, a free monthly A4 newsletter newspaper which boasts on its banner heading that it is ‘your community news’. It is published on the first week of each month and distributed to the new suburbs of Oran Park, Harrington Park, Gregory Hills and Harrington Grove. It started publication in November 2015 with a circulation of 3,500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads in the Flynnko Group.
The District Reporter is a free weekly tabloid of 16pp with a circulation of 17,000 across a footprint of 37,000 homes published by Wombaroo Publications in Camden. The newspaper started in 1997 in the Austral area by Lee Abrahams (editor) and Noel Lowry (sales). The masthead is blue and green to reflect the rural landscape of the sky and grass. They filled a gap left by the demise of the Camden Crier. The Reporter circulates in the Camden and Wollondilly Local Government Areas. (Camden History, vol 3, no 1)
The Menangle News is a free monthly newsletter newspaper of 4-6 pp. It is published in the Menangle village by husband and wife team Sue and Brian Peacock. It has a circulation of 218 and distributed throughout the village. It started life in 1980 as a duplicated news-sheet run off on a Gestetner copy machine. It only carries stories from the village which as a population of around 1200. It is truly local. (Camden History, vol 4, no 3)
This is a free tabloid that has been published twice since its launch in November 2016 in Camden. The Independent South-West is published by King Media Regional in Bowral, and is part of a stable of four mastheads. The 20pp tabloid is printed in colour on glossy paper. Editor Jane King states in Issue 1 that the paper will serve the local community and employ local people. The initial print run of 10,000 was distributed throughout the Camden LGA.
The Macarthur region is an area made of the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government areas and is a formal region with an arbitrary political boundary. Regions come in all shapes and sizes from formal regions with definite boundaries, to geographic regions based on landform types, to regions of the imagination with no real boundaries at all. They are a useful tool to examine communities, and despite falling out of favour with some, still have a place in the popular imagination and provide a useful analytical tool.
Origins of the Macarthur region
The first official use of the term Macarthur as a regional place-name was the proclamation of the new Federal seat of Macarthur in 1949 after the 1948 re-distribution and the Federal House of Representatives was increased from 75 to 122 members. The new seat of Macarthur was named after the colonial wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur of Camden Park, which according to a recent heritage report from TKD Architects ‘is the most important surviving early colonial estate in Australia and ranks amongst the most historic houses in Australia’. The original land grant to John Macarthur in 1805 took place on the Nepean River floodplain and eventually the familiy’s colonial estate of Camden Park covered parts of what is now the Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly LGAs.
Commercialisation of the Macarthur region
The use of the Macarthur place-name got a leg up in 1958 when local media baron Sydney Richardson felt that local regionalism provided a great business opportunity. There were enough unifying characteristics across the three country towns of Camden, Campbelltown and Picton, he thought, that justified launching a new regional newspaper using the Macarthur masthead. He re-named the Camden Advertiser, a free Camden weekly newspaper he took over from Ken Gibson in 1955, as the Macarthur Advertiser. Richardson had two competing newspapers – the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser – in the same Camden market place. He had previously purchased both the Camden News and Campbelltown News from the Sidman brothers in 1952. Richardson promoted the Macarthur Advertiser as a free regional newspaper and expanded its circulation to included Campbelltown and Picton. The newspaper had a broad regional compilation of news and advertisements from the three towns and he ‘forged and popularized a new regional name for Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly’.
In 1982 Richardson merged the Macarthur Advertiser with other local newspapers – Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, Camden News and Picton Post – which he had previously sold to Suburban Publications, a joint venture between John Fairfax and Sons and Australian Consolidated Press, in 1969.  Richardson’s new regional newspaper prospered and was a builder of community and identity by being a regional voice and notice board for the first time, and in the process strengthened people’s attachment to the concept of a regional identity.
Town planners and administrators strengthened the official support for the use of the Macarthur place-name in 1975 with the establishment of the Macarthur Development Board, with its head office in Campbelltown’s heritage precinct. Peter Kacirek, the chairman of the Sydney SW Sector Planning and Development Board, renamed it as the Macarthur Development Board, against much local opposition. Local residents felt that the legacy of Governor Lachlan Macquarie was affronted, by those who proclaimed the town in 1820.
The purpose of the Macarthur Development Board was to implement the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbelltown, Camden and Appin as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan. The New Cities Plan called for the development of the Macarthur growth centre, located away from the Campbelltown central business district in Queen Street. The aim of the Macarthur Development Board was to ‘plan, co-ordinated implement’ the New Cities Plan with power to compulsory acquisition of land. Town planner James Deane, from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, felt that the name Campbelltown should be completely abolished and replaced with the City of Macarthur. The New Cities Plan incorporated the colonial story of the Macarthur family and Camden Park and felt that the Macarthur legacy was essential to the identity of the new growth centre. The board stated in 1976 that ‘the area of Macarthur is steeped in rich tradition and much of the early history of New South Wales was recorded here. The aim of the Board it to link the historic past with an exciting and vigorous future and to plan for the enjoyment and benefit of all members of the community’. Unfortunately the Macarthur family felt otherwise and sold most of the pastoral property to housing developers in 1973 against a national outcry.
To the disappointment of many the Macarthur growth centre was a short lived town planner’s pipe-dream. The new regional centre was planned to have high-rise office blocks, conference facilities, sports stadiums, transport interchange and become a city within a city and to be located on Campbelltown Golf Course (1971), which was acquired against significant local opposition. There was some progress within the growth centre precinct with the construction of Macarthur Square (1979), Macarthur Railway Station (1985), the Macarthur Institute of Higher Education (1983) and the launch of a new Macarthur community radio station 2CT (1978) yet the new TAFE college (1981) and hospital (1977) both carried the place-name Campbelltown, not Macarthur. The Federal Whitlam government promised funding of $25 million in 1975, which was slashed in 1976 to $2 million dollars by the incoming Fraser Government but by 1978 all funding had dried up. Open hostilities broke out between Campbelltown City Council and Macarthur Development Board over the ‘regional centre’ in 1979 when the Wran state government approved the construction of Macarthur Square funded by State Super. The Macarthur Development Board continued to foster the regional centre over Campbelltown’s Queen Street precinct as the retail and community hub in 1980, and by 1984 the Board was $200 million in debt. Peter Kacirek was sacked and Ian Henry, former Campbelltown council planner, was appointed by the state government. In 1985 the regional centre was slashed by Wran Labor state government and the Board was stripped of planning power and restructured to Macarthur Development Corporation, which was a small promotion unit. Ian Henry stated that the Macarthur Development Board was ‘an over-expanded planner’s dream turned nightmare’ and in 1989 the MDC restructured and renamed Business Land Group, which was little more that a sales unit. The Macarthur growth centre road crash had been driven up onto the rocks of divisiveness by the state government’s push of large scale public housing into the Campbelltown area, the development of the ‘ugly Campbelltown’ stereotype and the moral panic that ensued.
With the failure of the Macarthur growth centre another official attempt at developing Macarthur regionalism occurred in 1986. The Hawke Federal Government played a role in development of Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs) through the Federal Government’s Office of Local Government and its Local Government Development Program. It came out of the Hawke government’s conviction that local authorities could make a positive contribution to the Commonwealth’s national economic reform strategy. The Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly LGAs came together in 1986 as MACROC, the Macarthur Regional Organisation of Councils with its headquarters in Campbelltown. MACROC’s charter states that its aim is to ‘promote a regional approach to issues’ and to develop ‘regional facilitation, planning and coordination’, to promote ‘a regional economic growth strategy’ and ‘provide a voice for regional issues’. MACROC has had mixed success, and while some accuse it of being a talkfest, its presence has supported Macarthur regionalism. MACROC spokesperson Christine Winning defends its role as in regional advocacy and states that has a achieved a number of outcomes of regional importance in the areas of job creation, economic growth, education, small business, local government, environment and tourism since its foundation.
Over the years Macarthur regionalism has had mixed support by the local business and community voluntary organizations. A survey of telephone listings of local businesses in 2011 indicated that only 156 business listings used the term Macarthur in their business name, for example, Macarthur Tavern, Macarthur Camera House and of these 61 businesses were located in Campbelltown, while the remainder were located in other local suburbs. On the other hand the traditional names of the country towns of Camden, Campbelltown and Picton were the preferred option for business names with 134 had Camden in their business name, while 140 used Campbelltown in their business name, for example, Camden Towing Services and Campbelltown Car Detailing. A search of the 2014 Wollondilly Business Directory reveals that 24 businesses have used the Picton place-name, while at a district level even the Telstra telephone listings were located in the 2013 Campbelltown Telephone Directory which included Camden and Picton.
Amongst local businesses there are some prominent and enthusiastic supporters of Macarthur regionalism as a coherent market place and branding that has a distinctive identity. Most notably In Macarthur lifestyle magazine publisher David Everett who has stated that his support for Macarthur regionalism for his business ‘seemed obvious and wasn’t really a decision’. Everett’s quarterly magazine started in 1999, has a print run of 20,000, is published in Campbelltown and is distributed throughout the three LGAs at points in Macarthur Square, Campbelltown, Camden, Narellan, Mt Annan, and Picton. Everett feels that Macarthur is a different geographic region to Sydney’s south west, ‘is culturally quite different’ and has ‘a sense of community’, which he maintains is ‘quite rare in the rest of Sydney’. He states that there is ‘a distinct region [which] feels like a region’ and the ‘name describes quite an organic community’ across all three LGAs. Amongst other local businesses that use the regional branding is the Macarthur Credit Union, which adopted the Macarthur name in 1978. The credit union wanted to extend its brand and grow its customer base and changed it name in 1978 from the Clutha Employees Credit Union, which was established in 1971, to the Macarthur Mutual Credit Union and extended membership to the local community. It then progressively established branches across the region starting with Picton in 1979, Camden 1979, Narellan 1990, Tahmoor 1994. It changed its name in 1994 to Macarthur Credit Union and started a mobile service at Oran Park.
Local media outlets are prominent supporters of Macarthur regionalism including Community radio station 2MCR, which started operations on the 1989 and promotes itself as “Heart of Macarthur”. It was the first radio station aimed at broadcasting to the Macarthur region, are staffed and operated entirely by volunteers and broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The local commercial radio state C91.3, which has been on air since 2001, uses a call sign 2MAC and the slogan ‘Macarthur First’. It has a limited broadcast area of the major centres of Campbelltown and Camden under Federal Government broadcast regulations and is owned by WIN Corporation. The local print media have been supporters of Macarthur regionalism for decades, although in recent years have responded to the resurgence of localism under the influence of globalization by re-establishing local editions of Macarthur regional newspaper titles (mentioned earlier).
The voluntary sector has had a role to play in promoting Macarthur regionalism through the establishment of the Macarthur Country Tourist Association in 1978. The association had the supported of Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Liverpool councils, although it collapsed in 1994 after Wollondilly Shire withdrew support. In 1996 after the collapse of the association, Camden Council set up the Camden Interim Tourist Committee and continued to operate independently from Oxley Cottage in Narellan. In 2008 Camden and Campbelltown LGAs started a joint tourism project as part of the Macarthur Tourism Action Plan which was marketed as Destination Macarthur, and was influenced by Tourism New South Wales’s Destination Development Program and the 2007 Griffith Local Government and Shires Association Tourism Conference which used the theme Tourism – An Investment.
The community voluntary sector has a mixed response for its support of Macarthur regionalism. An examination of the 2005 Camden Community Directory only has 53 voluntary organizations that used Macarthur in their title, out a total listing of 380 entries. One current regional organization is the Macarthur Community Forum, which is an inter-agency organization which was incorporated in 2000 and changed its name to Sector Connect in 2008. It covers the four local government areas of Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Wingecarribee and acts a peak organization for the not-for-profit sector across the LGAs. The organization operates Volunteering Macarthur and acts as an agency for other government related services including Macarthur Youth Services Network and MacUnity. Other regional voluntary organizations range from the Macarthur Rural Fire Service to regional sporting organizations including Macarthur District Soccer Football Association and Macarthur Basketball Association, while 2013 saw the birth of Quota International of Macarthur after the demise of the Camden Quota Club.
Conclusion and challenges
Macarthur regionalism in the communities of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton has had a mixed history with government, business and the voluntary sector. While business has identified Macarthur as a separate market place it is yet to be fully developed, and the voluntary sector is still very localised. The Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas do acknowledge the Macarthur story particularly in their tourism promotions, yet little elsewhere.
Macarthur regionalism has not been fully embraced by each of the former country towns of Camden, Campbelltown and Picton. They were all once small closed rural communities with their own sense of place. Each community had a natural distinctiveness that has contributed to their identity and parochialism that tends to work against regionalism.
The most important unifying theme between Campbelltown, Camden and Picton today is their peri-urban location, on the city’s rural-urban fringe. This location fosters Macarthur regionalism as Sydney’s urban growth threatens re-shape place in these communities.
 TKD Architects, Managing the Future of Camden Park, Menangle, New South Wales, Camden Park Preservation Committee, Camden, 2014.
 ‘Mr Syd Richardson board chairman’, Camden News, 26, 27 & 28 August 1969. Jeff McGill, ‘Local history caught by newspaper Webb’, Camden Advertiser 2 March 2005. ‘From Camden Advertiser to Macarthur Advertiser’, Wollondilly Advertiser 10 February 2010.
 James Deane, ‘Roles in Response to Change’, Royal Australian Planning Institute Journal, January 1974, vol 12 no 1, p.35.
 Macarthur Development Board, New Cities With History, Promotional brochure, Campbelltown, 1976.
 Ian Willis, ‘Townies, ex-urbanites and aesthetics: issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe’, AQ – Australian Quarterly, Vol 83, Issue 2, (Apr/June 2012).
 Jeff McGill, Campbelltown, A Modern History, 1960-1999, Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society, Campbelltown, 1999, p. 29.
 Neil Marshall, Brian Dollery, & Angus Witherby, ‘Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCS): The Emergence of Network Governance in Metropolitan and Rural Australia?’, Australasian Journal of Regional Studies, Vol 9, No. 2, 2003, pp. 169-188.
Camden News 16 August 1978. Betty Yewen, Interview, Camden, 9 April 2014. Betty was the former secretary of the association for a number of years. Pam Down, Macarthur Country Tourist Association, Correspondence, 26 November 1994.
 Camden Interim Tourist Committee, Minutes, 26 June 1996.
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.
Elizabeth Farm was the home of John and Elizabeth Macarthur and the centre of their mercantile and farming empire for over 35 years. The homestead is regarded as both the oldest and most historic building in Australia and is an important site in the development of the wool industry.
Elizabeth Farm was the site of political intrigue around Australia’s only coup d’etat and the personal struggles of John’s incredible mood swings suffering depression. The house is an important centre in the Camden story and many important decisions made here that effected the family’s holdings at Camden Park in the Cowpastures district.
The house was lucky not to be demolished and lay derelict on a number of occasions throughout its history. Once when architect William Swann family rescued it in 1904 and again the mid-20th century. Elizabeth Farm is currently a house museum opened in 1984 and owned by Sydney Living Museums, formerly the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.
Elizabeth Veale, who became the first lady of the colony of New South Wales, married the fractious John Macarthur, an ambitious officer on half-pay, in England in 1788 in the village of Bridgeule in Devonshire. Macarthur joined the 68th Regiment just before his marriage as an ensign and after the birth of his son transferred as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps.
The couple travelled to New South Wales in the Second Fleet on the Neptune, before transferring to the Scarborough arriving in 1790. John’s reputation and ill temper was a constant source of frustration, which Elizabeth bore with patience and forebearance.
In 1793 John Macarthur was granted 100 acres at Rosehill of some of the best land on the Parramatta River which he named after his wife. The family with three children moved to Elizabeth Farm in 1793. By 1794 the farm had expanded to 250 acres with 100 under crops, 20 acres of wheat, 80 acres of corn and potatoes. His livestock included horses, cows, goats, and pigs and with additional grants and purchases the farm expanded to over 500 acres.
Building Elizabeth Farm
The house was constructed in 1793 as a single level building of four rooms with adjoining kitchen and servants quarters built on a low ridge overlooking the Parramatta River. James Broadbent describes the house as a simple late 18th century English vernacular cottage, with a shingle hardwood roof. From this design evolved a characteristic form of colonial cottage. JM Freeland describes the house as a simple rectangle.
built of hand-made English-size bricks set in clay and shell-lime mortar. The steep pitched roof was formed of massive baulks of pit-sawn timber held together with wooden pegs, sheathed with cedar planks and covered with split swamp-oak shingles.
Sydney Living Museums states:
The cottage… resembled countless farmhouses seen in southern England. The balanced, symmetrical design of paired windows placed to either side of a central doorway was typical of the Georgian style then popular in England.
An extra bedroom was added along with a verandah. James Broadbent maintains that the addition of the verandah was influenced by Colonel Grose addition of a verandah on Government House which Grose had seen while serving during the American War of Independence.
John was exiled from the colony in 1809 for his part in the Rum Rebellion with Governor Bligh and during his absence Elizabeth ran the household and the families pastoral interests at Camden and Seven Hill from Elizabeth Farm. The house was possibly shaded from the north and east by verandahs. Elizabeth had little interest in redesigning the homestead.
Macarthur returned to NSW in 1817. The Macarthurs were successful selling wool in London and pressed for another grant at Camden. With good fortunes he sought building appropriate to his wealth and began home building and planning. Elizabeth Farm was remodelled. He added new stables, and a new cottage, Hambeldon, and building at Camden under the influence of Sydney architect Henry Kitchen.
From 1821 the house was remodelled under the supervision of stonemason and bricklayer John Norris from a Georgian house to a Regency style that better suited colonial taste. Elizabeth was turned out of the house in 1826 due to renovations when the dining room, drawing rooms and library bedroom were extended into the verandah area completed by 1827.
Macarthur’s depressed state of mind meant that his building frenzy subsided, he recovered by 1828 and put his time into the Australian Agricultural Company. In 1831 he was again planning building additions, mainly at Camden. In 1832 he was declared insane and confined to Elizabeth Farm. Macarthur’s insanity worsened and he was moved to Camden in 1833, where he died in 1834.
Elizabeth returned to Elizabeth Farm in 1833 and with the assistance of architect John Verge had it habitable with needed repairs. She did not make any further changes to the house.
Life at Elizabeth Farm
Elizabeth Farm was a mixture of town and country life. The house was about half-a-days travel by boat from Sydney and a short walk from Parramatta.
In 1794 the house was surrounded by a vineyard and garden of three acres, including fruit trees and vegetables. The fruit trees included almonds, apricots, pear and apple trees. There were between 30 and 40 staff at the farm – 13 as stockmen, gardeners or stable hands and female servants in the house.
Elizabeth had nine children, with seven surviving. Elizabeth learnt to play the piano in her first days in the colony. The Macarthurs were well-read with books, magazines and albums from England. She was part of the Sydney social set and was on cordial terms with the governor’s wives. James Broadbent reports that the house was elegantly fitted out with fine china and silver from England. Furnishings were never opulent and the house was never a centre of the colonies social life.
After Macarthur’s death the farm was managed by her sons, while Elizabeth and her daughters lived in comfortable style. In Elizabeth’s last years she visited her daughter Emmeline and husband Henry at Watson’s Bay.
After Elizabeth’s death in 1850, aged 83 years, Emmeline and Henry continued to live at Elizabeth Farm until 1854. Edward Macarthur inherited the house and leased it out. On his death in 1872 the house was inherited by his niece Elizabeth Macarthur, James’ daughter. The house standing on 1000 acres was sold in 1881 for £50,000.
The table at Elizabeth Farm
John Macarthur was an early riser, usually 4am and breakfast, served around 10.00am might have consisted of ham, boiled eggs, bread and butter, and perhaps mutton. The table would have been set symmetrically which was typical of Georgian order and decorum.
The family would probably have been waited on by the butler, a convict named James Butler, who arrived 1818 with convictions for forgery and started work at Elizabeth Farm in 1825. In the 1828 Census the household staff consisted of 13 staff: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, two grooms, a cook, four labourers, two maidservants and a footman – all convicts. The cook was Thomas Blake, two maidservants, Jane Mead and Margaret Shepherd, a footman, John Bono, an Indian. The staff were reported to have been well treated, and returned this with loyalty during times of difficulty with John’s incredible moods swings.
Garden at Elizabeth Farm
Scott Hill makes the observation that little remains of the original garden, while paintings and sketches of the period only give an idealised view of things. Conrad Martin’s works were completed after Elizabeth’s death and only give a glimpse of what was present in the garden.
There was an ‘extensive’ kitchen garden that was to the east of the house although some hoop pines survive. From Hill’s research an 1816 letter from Elizabeth states that the kitchen garden had 23 fruit trees, oranges, peaches, pomegranates, loquats, shaddock and guava.
Hill notes that the famous ‘waratah’ camelia at Camden Park was first planted at Elizabeth Farm in 1831 and later transplanted to their country property, where it still prospers. The garden also had roses, foxgloves, aloes, agaves, and bulbs. It is thought the garden had the first olive tree in the country which is described by Thomas Mitchell.
Elizabeth fostered a botanical interest in the next generation, particularly William, who managed a successful nursery at Camden Park for many years. She valued the local vegetation of the Parramatta River area and 1795 she wrote home to her friend Miss R Kingdon from Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta:
The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give it the appearance of a wilderness or shrubbery, commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune, filled with a variety of native plants, placed in a wild irregular manner.
On Elizabeth’s carriage trips out and about she noted that in spring:
The native shrubs are also in flower and the whole country gives a grateful perfume.
The HHT acquired the property in 1983 and opened it as a house museum in 1984. Before this the house fell into disrepair and was purchased in 1968 by the Elizabeth Farm Management Trust from the Swann family, who had previously lived in it, and when the house was placed on a list of historic buildings by the 1949 Cumberland County Council.
Management passed to the State Planning Authority, then the Heritage Council of New South Wales which continued restoration. The HHT was established in 1980, and rebranded as Sydney Living Museums in 2013, and is part of the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment within the state government.
The NSW State Heritage Inventory states that:
The Elizabeth Farm house is part of the oldest surviving construction in Australia and a rare survival of the earliest period of colonial architecture. The house is one of the most evocative houses relating to the earliest period of Australian European history and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing of colonial bungalows. The garden contains remnants of some of the earliest European plantings in Australia, including the European Olive. Older indigenous species include kurrajong and bunya bunya and hoop pines. 
 James Broadbent, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta, A History and a Guide. Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1984, pp. 5-11.
 Letter from Elizabeth to Miss Kingdon, September 1795, Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta in Sibella Macarthur Onslow, Some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1914. Online @ http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html Accessed 10 Feb 2017
On the hill overlooking the Camden town centre is a church building that represents the historic, moral and emotional heart of community. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the church represents the soul of the town, which was built below it on the Nepean River floodplain in the mid-19th century.
Metaphor for the order and stability
The church is a metaphor for the order and stability that it represented on the wilds of the colonial frontier. It was at the centre of the original proposal for the English-style village of Camden in the 1830s along with a court house and a gaol.
For the Macarthurs of Camden Park estate the church was the centre of their moral and spiritual conservatism. The church, as part of similar early 19th English estate villages, represented stability and order that the Macarthur required of the new community on their estate. More than this the church was a central part of the landscape vistas of the village from Camden Park House.
James Macarthur view of the world
The church, according to Alan Atkinson, was representative of James Macarthur religious view of the world where faith emanated from the ‘joint initiative of all classes’. Macarthur maintained that ‘collective and mutual dependence’ was an essential part of the ‘Christian spirit’ that would be a ‘symbol off for their reliance on each other’. [i]
The church cause was promoted by James and William Macarthur and appealed to neighbours and employees for a fund for the construction of the church. By 1835 the Macarthurs subscribed £500 of a total of £644 from estate workers and neighbours.
The building of the church coincided with Governor Bourke’s Church Act of 1836 which offered a subsidy for the building of churches in the colony of New South Wales. The Macarthur applied for a subsidy of £1000 of the total cost of £2500.[ii]
The church was constructed by with local bricks and timbers and was consecrated in 1849. Hector Abrahams states that St Johns church:
In its architectural innovation and picturesque placement in a controlled landscape, it is among the most important parish churches in Australia.[iii]
Camden religious precinct
The church and its grounds are located in a religious precinct that includes the rectory and stables (1859), church hall (1906), and a cemetery. While the church was originally proposed in a ‘classical’ style it was eventually constructed in the Gothic Revival style which became popular in Sydney at the time. Sydney architect Hector Abrahams maintains that St Johns ,was the first Gothic Revival church in the colony of New South Wales’ when finished in 1844.
Gothic revival looked back to the glory of the medieval period, in contrast to neo-classical styles which were popular at the time. To its supporters Gothic architecture was representative of true Christian values that were being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. Gothic architecture was aligned with the conservatism of the Macarthurs rather than the republicanism of the French and American revolutionary wars and neoclassicism. Its popularity was partly driven in the colony of New South Wales by the re-building of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834 which evoked a romantic age.
Over the subsequent decades St John’s church has become a representation of Camden’s Englishness. Probably the first reference to St John’s church and its Englishness was in the Anglican newspaper the Sydney Guardian when it stated
it’s graceful and really well proportioned spire presents a cheering object to the up country traveller, as it breaks the dull outline of bush hill carrying the mind back to scenes well remembered and deeply loved by all English hearted folk (Sydney Guardian quoted in Clive Lucas Stapleton & Partners, St. John’s Anglican Church Precinct Menangle Road, Camden Conservation Management Plan, 2004, Sydney, p.44)
In 1926 the church was in the forefront of the mind of Eldred Dyer who wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Camden was reminiscent of English parish church towns. He wrote that as he stepped out and walked around the town centre he lifted his:
eyes to the old church as it stands in beauty on its hill, and In a flash you are transported to some old English church town. In a moment, if you have understanding, you and in a flash you are transported to some old English church town.[iv]
To a travel writer for the Sydney Mail in 1926 the church was the dominant English-style landscape feature on a road trip through the area:.
the shapely and lofty steeple of its church raising itself above the copse of frees on the hilltop and giving the little township a quaintly European aspect.[v]
The church has become central to all representations of the Camden township from its inception, and what it means to be born and bred in the district. The church is the fundamental icon is the community’s sense of place and identity.
The church symbolism is central in tourism literature, business promotions, stories of the town, its history and a host of other representations of the district.
The church continues to dominate the town centre skyline and the minds and hearts of all Camden folk. Here hoping that this continues for another century.