Colonialism · Elizabeth Farm · Macarthur · Parramatta · Settler colonialism

Elizabeth Farm, the foundation story of the Macarthur rural empire

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.

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

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 Macarthur SLNSW

Background

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.[1]

Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur 1785 SLNSW
Elizabeth Macarthur 1785 SLNSW

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.

Elizabeth Farm J Lycett 1825 SLNSW

 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.[2]  JM Freeland describes the house as a simple rectangle.

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[3]
Elizabeth Farm northern verandah 2016 IWillis
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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

Elizabeth Farm 2010 Australian Travel

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[8] and the house was never a centre of the colonies social life.

Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur 1845 SMOMacofCP1912
Elizabeth Macarthur 1845 SMO SomeRecords(1912)

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.[9]

Elizabeth Farm G Marler 1925 Private Collection

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.[10]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[2]
Elizabeth Farm Dining Room 2016 IWillis
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.[11]

Elizabeth Farm 1910 WH Broadhurst

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.[12]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[1]
Elizabeth Farm Garden 2016 IWillis
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.[13]

Parramatta ElizabethFarm CMartin 1859 Pencil SLNSW
Garden Sketch Elizabeth Farm by Conrad Martins 1859 in preparation for his painting of the house in pencil SLNSW

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.[14]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[4]
Elizabeth Farm Garden 2016 IWillis
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.[15]

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.[16]

Recent Ownership

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.

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[5]

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.

 

Significance

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. [17]

 

Notes

[1] James Broadbent, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta, A History and a Guide. Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1984, pp. 5-11.

[2] Broadbent, 18-22.

[3] JM Freeland, ‘Elizabeth Farm, New South Wales’, in Historic Homesteads of Australia Vol One, Australian Council of National Trusts Heritage Reprints 1985.

[4] Hill, ‘A Turbulent Past’.

[5] Broadbent, 18-19.

[6] Broadbent, 24-26

[7] Broadbent, 35.

[8] Broadbent, 38-39.

[9] Broadbent, 44-48

[10] Scott Hill, ‘At the Macarthurs’ table’, The Cook and the Curator (Blog), Sydney Living Museums, 10 January 2013. Online @ http://blogs.sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/cook/at-the-macarthurs-table/ Accessed 14 April 2017

[11] Scott Hill, ‘Mr Butler: The Macarthurs’ Butler’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/mr-butler-macarthurs-butler Accessed 14 April 2017.00

[12] Scott Hill, ‘Abundance & Curiosity At Elizabeth Farm’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums, 2014. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/abundance-curiosity-elizabeth-farm Accessed 14 April 2017.

[13] Letter from Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur to Eliza Kingdon, March 1816. State Library of NSW (SLNSW): ML A2908 in Scott Hill, ‘Abundance & Curiosity At Elizabeth Farm’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums, 2014. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/abundance-curiosity-elizabeth-farm Accessed 14 April 2017.

[14] Hill, ‘Abundance and Curiosity’.

[15] S. Macarthur Onslow, Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden (Syd, 1912) Online http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html Viewed 10 February 2017

[16] 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

[17] Office of Heritage and Environment, Elizabeth Farm, NSW Government, 2014. Online @ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5051394  Accessd 14 April 2017

Camden · Colonial Camden · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · sense of place · Uncategorized

The soul of a country town, St Johns Church, Camden

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.

St Johns Church Camden 2005 IWillis

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 Belgenny

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]

St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

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

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.

St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

Camden’s Englishness

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.

Vista of St Johns Church from the Nepean River Floodplain 1910 Postcard (Camden Images)

Church symbolism

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.

Notes

[i] Atkinson, Alan.  Camden / Alan Atkinson  Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic  2008  http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html  pp.30-32

[ii] Atkinson, Alan.  Camden / Alan Atkinson  Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic  2008  http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html  pp.30-32

[iii] Hector Abrahams, Christian church architecture, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/christian_church_architecture, viewed 16 March 2017

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 28 August 1926, page 9

[v] Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), Wednesday 11 August 1926, page 46

Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Edwardian · Heritage · history · Interwar · Place making · sense of place · Uncategorized

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

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.

Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district (I Willis)
Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district represented by sturdy timber cottages (I Willis)

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.

Carinya Cottage c1890 (Camden Historical Society)
Carinya Cottage c1890 was an example of a Federation Edwardian Farm Cottage at Narellan now demolished (Camden Historical Society)

The aim of the CRET is

  1. creation of jobs
  2. attraction of investment and
  3. 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.

 

Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)
Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)

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).

Example of modern design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW (I Willis 2010)
Example of modern Ranch style design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW now demolished (I Willis 2010)

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).

Ben Linden Narellan J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)
The cottage known as Ben Linden at Narellan is an excellent example of the Edwardian period in the Camden Local Government Area (J Kooyman, 1997, Camden Images)

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.

Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows of the period (I Willis)
Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows (I Willis)

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).

Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)
Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 is an example of an Federation Edwardian farm cottage on Camden Valley Way at Narellan (Camden Images)

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

  1. The New South Wales seaside community of Moruya has a wonderful document called the MORUYA RESIDENTIAL STYLE GUIDE.
  2. In South Australia the inner Adelaide City of Unley’ has a document called Appreciating Heritage and Character Dwellings Design Guide 1 .
  3. In Queensland the Toowoomba Region Council has a series of guides for heritage properties covering Victorian, Edwardian and Inter-war houses.

Camden Local Government Area has examples of housing stock that corresponds with each of these housing styles. What is wrong with Camden Council on this matter?

Read more on these matters on this blog:

  1. Edwardian Cottages in Camden
  2. Inter-war Camden
  3. Ben Linden at Narellan
  4. Urban planning in the Camden LGA

 

Attachment to place · history · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Sydney · Uncategorized

Sydney modernism, a recent awakening

It is pleasing to see that there has been recent interest in Sydney modernism from a number of prominent Sydney cultural institutions. The origins of modernism can be traced back to the 1880s, while Sydney modernism has be identified from the early years of the 20th century to the 1960s.

Sunbaker is a 1937 black-and-white photograph by Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain, depicting the head and shoulders of a man lying on a beach, taken from a low angle. (Wikimedia)
Sunbaker is a 1937 black-and-white photograph by Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain, depicting the head and shoulders of a man lying on a beach, taken from a low angle. (Wikimedia)

In 2008 the Powerhouse Museum organised an exhibition called ‘Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia’. The exhibition, for the first time, examined the impact of modernism on Australian culture from 1917 to 1967. The publicity for the exhibition maintained that:

Modernism sought to build a better future in the aftermath of World War I. An international movement, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the 20th century. It celebrated the romance of cities, the healthy body and the ideals of abstraction and functionalism in design.

In 2013 the Art Gallery of New South Wales organised a major exhibition devoted to Sydney modernist artist called ‘Sydney Moderns: Art for a New World’. The exhibition spanned the period from 1915 to 1940 and explored the relationship between modern Sydney life and the ‘cosmopolitan milieu’ of the time. The exhibition included the works of a host of Sydney artists including:

Margaret Preston, Roy de Maistre, Roland Wakelin, Grace Cossington Smith, Thea Proctor, Grace Crowley, Ralph Balson, Rah Fizelle, Frank and Margel Hinder, Margo and Gerald Lewers, Dorrit Black, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain and Harold Cazneaux, along with important works by Sydney’s lesser known ‘lost moderns’, such as Tempe Manning, Niel A Gren, Frank Weitzel and Fred Coventry.

The exhibition explored how modernism ‘defined a new cosmopolitan culture’ and re-shaped life in Sydney.

In 2014 There Was A Photographic Exhibition At The Delmar Gallery In The Sydney Suburb Of Ashfield Called ‘Soul Of A City: Modernism And Sydney Photography 1930 – 1950 Olive Cotton, Eo Hoppé, Max Dupain, David Moore, Harold Cazneaux’. The exhibition curator Catherine Benz maintains that 1930s Sydney forged a ‘modernist aesthetic inspired by internationalist movements’ with photographs that exuded ‘sensuality, confidence and optimism’.

In 2014 Sydney Living Museums organised an event at the 2014 Sydney Writers Festival called ‘Cultivating Australian Modernism’ where a panel discussed the history of the modernist garden. The panel included author Richard Aitken, Sydney Living Museums Assistant Director Ian Innes, and ABC RN’s Fenella Kernebone.

In 2015 Sue Williams wrote in the Domain supplement in The Sydney Morning Herald that modernist homes had become ‘all the rage’. She maintained that the interest was driven by the TV show Mad Men, post-war classic furniture and the appeal of retro-homewares. These homes were designed by Sydney architects Sydney Ancher, Harry Seidler, Bruce Rickard and Ian McKay, and used simple materials, simple lines and open planned living spaces.

A more recent event is currently showing at the Heide Museum of Modern Art Central Galleries in Bulleen Victoria. The exhibition called ‘O’keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism’ is jointly curated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe and will tour in NSW and Queensland later in 2017. The exhibition curators have brought together

for the first time the iconic art of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of America’s most significant painters of the twentieth century, alongside modernist masterpieces by pioneering Australian artists, Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith.

The exhibition explores the

similarities and distinctions in their art to bring new perspectives to light about modernism’s dispersal and reinvention as it developed beyond the metropolitan wellspring of Europe.

Modernism and its influence on place making in Sydney has yet to be fully explored by scholars in any meaningful way. It is essential to get a grip on modernism to fully understand its role in the construction of the city’s sense of place and identity.

Camden · Heritage · history · Local History · Narellan · Railway · Second World War · Transport · Uncategorized

The Camden Branch Railway Line

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The Camden Branch Line

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.

Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images

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

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
The Royal Australian Air Force Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941 with a training aircraft (NAA)

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.

Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images

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.

Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images

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.

This story was originally published as The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram  @ Heritage Tourism NSW

Trainworks Railway Museum, Thirlmere

Do you want to see the real deal for yourself? Go and inspect the one of the locomotives  on display at Trainworks Railway Museum, Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001.

Watch a DVD about the Camden Branch Line next time you call into the Camden Museum.

Read more on Wikipedia,

Watch a short DVD on the Camden Branch Line on British Pathe Films

Read more about the Camden Branch Line in

 

The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)  Rear cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History Camden & District
Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Camden · Carrington Hospital · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Farming · Floods · history · Local History · Place making · Railway

Camden: Sydney’s best preserved country town

Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)
Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)

The township of Camden on the banks of the Nepean River south-west of Sydney provides a glimpse of life from times gone past. The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park. The charm and character of the town comes from the many 19th century colonial buildings and early 20th century cottages.

Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images
Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images

The heritage of the local area makes Camden, according to some expert sources, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the country. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.

Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.

The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.

For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.

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

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.

Written by Ian Willis member of Professional Historians Association NSW.

Previously published on Heritage Tourism at Camden: The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW

Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Attachment to place · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history

Academic snobbery: local historians need more support

St James Anglican Church Menangle a Horbury Hunt design build 1876 (I Willis)
St James Anglican Church Menangle a Horbury Hunt design build 1876 (I Willis)

Ian Willis, University of Wollongong

Local history is one of the most popular forms of history in Australia. Yet there is a yawning gap between the enthusiastic amateur and the academic historian.

While some academic historians engage with local history, sadly there is an entrenched snobbery from the academy. From the other side, the enthusiastic amateur is too wound up with a parochial approach to local history and often doesn’t see the bigger picture.

If both sides can engage with each other, the result would be a better type of history practise and a greater contribution to the story of Australia.

Democratic history

Local history is one of the democratic forms of history practice, drawing on a variety of disciplines. These include community history, family history, genealogy and oral history. It also incorporates local aspects of cultural and social history. Done well, local history also engages in both national and transnational themes.

There is a host of local history societies and local museums across the country. But academic historians are rarely involved with them.

For the enthusiastic amateur of local history, the academic historian is in a different world. Academics are often at a city-based university. Their journals are remote, guarded by a peer-review process. And their conferences beyond the resources of the amateur.

This world is not readily entered by the amateur who, unlike professional historians who receive a regular salary, are volunteers with limited means.

Expert history

One of the key issues the divides these two groups revolves around the idea of authority. The university-trained historian has expertise based on the rigour and discipline of thought and word. The local history enthusiast often has only the lived experience of the past.

Keen amateurs have their own historical sensibilities and history mindedness. This often means they are interested solely in the affairs of their community. Sometimes they are the custodian of the stories of a place. That is, they are the keepers of the community’s sacred knowledge. The collective memory and cultural traditions of a local community.

As a collector of stories, the amateur practises a form of antiquarianism often concerned with lists of facts. Unfortunately this provides no commentary on the past or present, no argument, and no analysis of sources and assessment of methods.

Dealing with the past without interpretation and context is a source of continuing frustration for academics.

Arrogance and cynicism

Some academic historians think they are the only ones with the keys to the past. This is a form of professional arrogance. It creates a perception of aloofness.

This creates a cynical attitude amongst enthusiastic amateurs. Many feel that the academic historian is remote and distant. Amateurs therefore have little time or enthusiasm for academics.

Yet it need not be so.

The academic historian has so much to offer. Successful and meaningful engagement is possible.

The academic historian is the discipline expert. They therefore have a responsibility to provide leadership. They should inspire amateur historians to increase their standards of scholarship. This needs understanding, trust and encouragement from academics. Not paternalism.

Academic and amateur alike need a nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of both sides. Academic historians can act as mentors in the practice of local history. Enthusiast amateurs are keen to learn how to do it better, if given sympathy and understanding.

Even the crudest attempt by the local history enthusiast provides in their own way an archive which the thoughtful, patient and persistent academic can mine. And likewise even the densest writing by academics offers something to the amateur.

A recipe for success

Successful engagement between academic historians and the enthusiastic amateur is a win-win situation for both sides.

Some examples include the ever popular annual Penrith Local History Conference, community history projects such as the Dictionary of Sydney and the recent Crime, Cameras Action! local history conference at the University of Wollongong.

There are many good examples of local history as written by academic historians, including Atkinson’s Camden, Ferry’s Colonial Armidale and McQuilton’s Rural Australian and the Great War.

A number of academic historians give popular public lectures and seminars in Sydney at History House, the Mechanics Institute, the State Library, Powerhouse Museum and other venues.

Some historical societies are even able to bridge the gap. They provide a stimulating environment that interests academic historians.

Joint projects and activities can strengthen community connections and social cohesion. The social connections created by local history increase the meaning, purpose and satisfaction in people’s lives.

Local history can build community resilience and break down social exclusion especially in communities under pressure. Some are found on the edges of our large cities, while others in remote and regional Australia.

The practice of local history has a lot to gain from the successful interaction between academic and amateur historians.

The Conversation

Ian Willis, Honorary Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.