Such a pretty tree-lined streetscape, full of old-world charm. I’ve often stood at that green paddock next to the church, with its views across the valley… locals are up in arms as online rumours swirl about moves by the church to sell the land…Right next to Camden’s most famous heritage landmark, an 1840s gem described by one government website as “a major edifice in the history of Australian architecture”.
Cr Banasik said this development opposed the shire’s ethos of rural living. The heritage of the area is amazing – there is Camden Park, Gilbulla, Menangle Store and the rotolactor site,” he said. This development just ain’t rural living.
Journalist Kayla Osborne reported the views of town planning consultant Graham Pascoe on heritage and the Vella family’s new commercial horticulture venture at Elderslie in the Camden Narellan Advertiser in May.
Mr Pascoe said the heritage nature of the site and its proximity to Camden had been well-considered by the Vella family…the land was ideal for farm use…the land has been farmed in the past…We believe we will provide a model…farm at the entrance to the Camden town centre.
The views on heritage expressed in these stories do not actually define heritage.
There is an assumption or a presumption that the reader understands the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these contexts.
So what was the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these articles?
To answer that question another must be asked: What is Camden’s heritage?
What is heritage?
The term heritage is not that straight forward. There are a range of definitions and interpretations. The term is not well understood and can raise more issues than it addresses. Jana Vytrhlik, Manager, Education and Visitor Services, Powerhouse Museum (Teaching Heritage, 2010) agrees and says:
To start with it is a useful exercise to say what heritage is not. Heritage is not history. Historian David Lowenthal says that
Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth… Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error… Prejudiced pride in the past… is its essential aim. Heritage attests our identity and affirms our worth.
The word ‘history’ comes from the Latin word ‘historia’, which means ‘inquiry’, or ‘knowledge gained by investigation’.
History tells the stories of the past about people, places and events. History is about what has changed and what has stayed the same. History provides the context for those people, places and events.
History is about understanding, analysing and interpreting the past based on evidence. As new evidence is produced there is a re-examination and re-interpreting of the past. History is about understanding the why about the past.
Meaning of heritage
The meaning of heritage is not fixed and historian Graeme Davison maintains that the history of the word heritage has changed over the decades.
Initially heritage referred to what was handed down from one generation to the next and could include property, traditions, celebrations, commemorations, myths and stories, and memories. These were linked to familial and kinship groups, particularly in traditional societies, through folkways and folklore.
In the 19th century the creation of the nation-state, capitalism and modernism led to the creation of national myths, national stories and national heritage.
ln the 1970s, the new usage was officially recognised. A UNESCO Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted the term ‘heritage’ as a shorthand for both the ‘built and natural remnants of the past’.
(in Davison, G. & McConville C. (eds) ‘A Heritage Handbook’, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards NSW,1991)
Heritage can be categorized in a binary fashion: cultural heritage/natural heritage; tangible heritage/intangible heritage; my heritage/your heritage; my heritage/our heritage.
What is significant about Camden’s heritage?
In 2016 the Camden Resident Action Group attempted to have the Camden town centre listed on the state heritage register. The group obtained statements of support which outlined the significance Camden’s heritage. Statements of support were from Dr Ian Willis (UOW), Associate Professor Grace Karskens (UNSW) and Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson.
Fresh air was the order of the day for patients at the newly opened Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents and Incurables at Camden in 1890. The hospital followed the latest methods in medical practice and building architecture from Victorian England based on the writings and approach advocated by Florence Nightingale.
Victorian England hospitals
By the late 19th century Victorian England had over 300 Convalescent hospital. They were one of a variety of specialist hospitals that appeared in Victorian England. They included consumptive hospitals, fever hospitals, ophthalmic hospitals, lying-in hospitals, venereal disease hospitals, orthopaedic hospitals, lunatic asylums, fistula infirmary, invalid asylums, as well as those catering for different groups of people for instance seamen’s hospitals, German hospital, children’s hospitals and others.
British historian Eli Anders states that in England convalescent homes were built as the seaside or in the countryside away from the dirty polluted cities. They were to be places of rest, nourishment and recuperation where there was plenty of fresh and healthy air. Medical practices dictated that fresh air and exercise were the order of the day.
Camden’s fresh country air
The location of Carrington fitted this model. It was located in the picturesque countryside with views over the Nepean River floodplain on a hill to catch lots of fresh country air. Camden was considered a healthy site away from the pollution and evils of industrial Sydney and the increased public health risks of the urban environment and issues with sanitation.
Carrington Hospital was the first major convalescent facility in New South Wales and followed design principles espoused by Florence Nightingale. Historian Eli Anders states that Nightingale wrote in her Notes on Nursing and Notes on Hospitals that she was an advocate for ventilation and proper site selection. She promoted the ‘healthfulness’ of convalescent hospitals in the countryside and on the edge of towns where they took advantage of fresh country air. Similar advantages could be achieved by a seaside location.
At the heart of this idea was miasma theory which stated that some diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or Black Death were cause by ‘bad air’. The theory stated that epidemics were due to a miasma started from rotting organic matter. The theory originated from the ancients in places like China, India and Europe and was only displaced by germ theory in the 1880s, which stated that germs caused diseases. Despite this popular culture retained a belief in ‘bad air’ and stated the urban areas had to clean up waste and get rid of bad odours. These ideas had encouraged Florence Nightingale’s activities in the Crimean War where she worked to make hospitals sanitary and fresh smelling. These ideas also had a major influence on Sydney and the outbreak of Black Death (bubonic plague) in 1900 after urban renewal process that followed in suburbs like The Rocks and Millers Point.
Convalescent homes were often built by philanthropists and charitable organisations. Carrington Hospital was built by Sydney philanthropist and businessman WH Paling (1825-1895), who immigrated with his family to Sydney in 1853. Paling ran a music business importing pianofortes and sheet music, and was an entertainment promotor and composer during the heyday of the gold rushes. His business success allowed him to pursue his political and philanthropic interests. Paling was an alderman on Petersham Municipal Council and mayor, a member of the Royal Society and a director the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Company. The Australian Dictionary of Biography states
His far-sighted preoccupation with questions of sanitation, health and hospital accommodation culminated in his presentation to the colony on 23 April 1888 of his 450-acre (182 ha) model farm Grasmere at Camden, valued at £20,000, to be used as a hospital for convalescents and incurables; he also donated £10,000 for the erection of suitable buildings. A public committee led by Sir Henry Parkes raised a further £15,000 for equipment and development at the Carrington Convalescent Hospital on the site.
The hospital site was purchased in 1881 from Camden Park by a syndicate of WH Paling, AH McCullock, Benjamin James Jnr and W Stimson containing 5100 acres. It was part of the North Cawdor Farms sale which also included a number of Camden Town blocks. The sale had a number of conditions and was not finalised until 1888. In the meantime Paling developed his Grasmere Estate farms. He established a Deed of Gift in 1888 with Lord Carrington was president of the hospital and chair of the general committees and himself as vice president.
The hospital was named after Lord Carrington, Governor of New South Wales (1885-1890), who served from on the centenary of the foundation of the colony.
Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival
The 89 bed hospital (49 male, 40 female) was designed by Sydney architect HC Kent and constructed by building contractor P Graham. The NSW State Heritage Inventory states:
It is representative of a late Victorian institutional building and is also representative of hospital building techniques (including setting) of the time. Main building of late Victorian eclectic style is brick on concrete foundations with cement dressings in the super structure and tower.
The main building is considered to be an excellent example of a Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival style. There were also additional buildings which included gardeners cottage, Masonic cottage, morgue, and Grassmere Cottage. There were extensive landscape gardens in a general Victorian layout with a carriage loop and flower bed.
In England convalescent facilities were very good and were better than home life conditions for many poor people. The idea with convalescent hospital were that the patients spent weeks recovering away from their home. Rich people who hired their own doctors to treat them during illness or convalescence. They paid to recuperate in a seaside health resort or travel to a spa centre. Convalescent homes were seen as superior to hospitals because they were different from dreary wards. Supporters advocated their calming and home-like qualities with libraries, games rooms and sitting rooms.
Ventilation and fresh air
The Illustrated Sydney News stated that the Carrington Hospital is located on a hill overlooking Camden to take advantage of ‘fresh air’ with ‘ventilation in the sleeping and living rooms’. The ventilation in the buildings was planned by Sir Alfred Roberts and based on Prince Alfred Hospital. The convalescence patients will be able to ‘sit outside and enjoy the lovely view and balmy health giving air’. The garden had ‘comfortable shady seats, where patients can wander about and rest at will, is of great importance, as also the verandahs where they can obtain exercise in wet weather, and the large sitting or day rooms’. There is the pleasant ‘park-like appearance’ of the countryside around Camden which ‘is very English in its character’. Patients will be able to recuperate for ‘two or three weeks’ rest and proper food that would mean so very much to them just at this stage…They are free to revel in the country scenes and sounds and rest awhile from the bustle of life’.
The Sydney press stated that the aims of the hospital
are, that persons recovering from acute illness may benefit by a short residence in the healthful climate of Camden, and a plentiful use of the farm products from the estate ; and further, that persons suffering from incurable diseases may have their lives prolonged and their sufferings alleviated by the above-named advantages. (Illust Syd News)
Lord Carrington lays foundation stone
The Governor of New South Wales Lord Carrington laid a foundation stone in February 1889 in front of a crowd of over 2000 people. A special train came from Redfern and was met at Camden Railway Station by well over 1000 people. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Gazette reported that Camden Station was ‘gaily decorated’ with a string of flags. Lord Carrington arrived by train from Moss Vale and he was met at the home by Sydney dignatories who were members of the management committee and trustees. The report noted that hot and cold running water would be laid on throughout the building.
Carrington Convalescent Hospital opened on 20 August 1890 and the first matron was Miss McGahey who resigned in 1891 to take a position as matron at Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. She was followed by Matron Kerr, then Matron Blanche Bricknell in 1897 who served until 1907.
The 1898 7th annual report in the Camden News stated that the hospital had treated 1153 in the previous 12 months with the annual cost of each bed being £35/8/9d. The meeting discussed the reluctance of patients to contribute the cost of their stay. During the year Sister Elenita Williams had been succeeded by Sister Edith Carpendale. Nurses Bertha Davidson and Eva Thomson had been succeeded by Nurses Lily BanfieId and Theresa Richardson. Mr JR Fairfax and Major JW Macarthur Onslow were elected the management committee by subscribers.
The 1900 annual report in the Camden News stated that the hospital had treated 1040 patients in the previous year with the average number of patients 75. The average patient stay was 28 days at a cost of £2/10/11d. The hospital shut its emergency section when the Camden Cottage Hospital opened during the year and Camden medical officers acted in an honorary capacity.
First major convalescent hospital
Carrington Hospital was the first major convalescent hospital in New South Wales and its surrounding buildings and gardens are list on the Camden Local Environment Plan Heritage Inventory (Item 118). Carrington Hospital is significance in that it is, along with Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, one of only two remaining functional purpose built late 19th century convalescent hospitals in New South Wales.
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.
On a frosty Saturday recently the CHN blogger attended the Cobbitty Markets. The carpark was covered with a light shade of white while the thermometer hovered around zero degrees.
The markets have been on Cobbitty Public School site for what seems likes for ever. The stalls are tucked around every conceivable corner. In the front yard. In the building courtyards. Every part of the school yard is filled with stallholders displaying their wares.
The markets have a tradition of attracting stallholders with their own genuine wares. Hand-made goods of all sorts. Not the bric-a-brac of the trash-and-treasure markets that you get around the place.
For the foodinistas. The school canteen will sell you an egg-and-bacon sandwich for $4 and an instant hot coffee for $2. Enough to satisfy any appetite. If you want to go gourmet then that is catered for as well. Great cappuccino if that is what you desire.
There is the ever popular plant stall attracting one of the largest crowds. Ever before the stallholder has set out all the plants for sale. Sales were hot in the cold. The stall sells tiny seedlings to not so-small seedlings. And even bigger plants.
There are the fruit and vegie stalls. Stalls selling honey and other organic goods. Cut flowers to make any room pretty.
Lots have artwork of various types. From painting to any type of creative work you can think of including authors flogging their books.
The knick-knack brigade are catered for with candles for the mood creator, and other smelly and feely-make-you-feel-better stuff. Lots to choose from. There is even pottery and lots of other traditional crafts.
Funds raised go to the Cobbitty community directed by the hard-working market committee in their purple shirts.
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.
There is a crying need for a local Camden Residential Heritage Style Guide. Why do other Local Government Areas in Australia have a Residential Style Guide for their heritage housing styles but Camden does not.
Camden is one of Australia’s most historic localities and yet newcomers and locals have to guess what is an historically accurate guide to residential housing styles.
The new Camden Region Economic Taskforce (CRET) is an opportunity to promote the historic and heritage nature of the local area. The Taskforce promotional material states that Camden LGA has a ‘unique history’ and that the aim of the CRET is to maintain ‘Camden’s unique historic heritage and natural environment’.
This is an opportunity to the see if Camden Council is prepared to back its words with action. One easy way to do this would be to draw up a Residential Heritage Style Guide for the Local Government Area.
Camden heritage is a tourism drawcard to the local area. It creates jobs and business opportunities.
creating the right environment to support the growth of business and industry (both existing and future).
Houses are an integral part of our daily lives. We live in them and take them for granted. But they are more than this. A house is an historical statement of its time. As history changes so does the type of housing.
The CRET publicity states that the Camden LGA is a ‘rapidly growing area’ and is subject to change in the form of ‘rapid commercial and industrial development’ and there needs to be an understanding, according to the CRET, of ‘our unique heritage’.
Anyone with enquiries about the taskforce can contact Council on 4654 7777 or email: CRET@Camden.nsw.gov.au.
There a number of housing styles that have been identified by architects in Australia since colonial times. The major periods of the styles are:
1. Pre-colonial period 30,000 BCE – 1788
2. Old Colonial Period 1788 – c. 1840
3. Victorian Period c. 1840 – c. 1890
4. Federation Period c. 1890 – c. 1915
5. Inter – War Period c. 1915 – c 1940
6. Post – War Period c. 1940 – c. 1960.
7. Late Twentieth Century c. 1960 – c. 2000
8. Twenty –First Century c. 2000 – present.
The Camden Local Government Area has residential buildings from most of these time periods.
The housing style of a particular location in the Camden or Narellan area gives the place a definite character and a certain charm. It is what makes a place special and gives it a sense of its own identity (Inter-war period along Menangle Road). The housing style will give the place its special qualities. The houses are a reflection of the times in which they were built.
The style is an indicator of the historical activities that have gone on in that area. It is a statement on changing tastes, lifestyles, social attitudes, cultural mores, and a host of other factors (Inter-war cottages in Elizabeth Street and the use of colour glass in lead-light windows or the appearance of garages for the new motor cars of the day).
The housing style may be complemented by a garden and landscaping that reflected the tastes and lifestyles of the occupants of the building. Even gardens go through fashion trends (English style gardens or native gardens).
The housing style says a lot about the occupants. Whether they were landed gentry who owned one of the large estates in the area (Camden Park House, Brownlow Hill, Denbigh) or ordinary farmers who were making a living from a patch of ground (simple Federation weatherboard cottages like Yamba cottage in Narellan or the Duesbury family in Elizabeth Street or Hillview in Lodges Road).
Camden has been remote from the urban influences that drove the high forms of these architectural styles. But local people adapted the style to suit their particular purpose (simple Federation brick or timber farm cottages like in the Struggletown complex or Barsden Street). Sometimes they created their own vernacular style that used local materials.
Some of these styles have more examples in the Camden area than others. This reflects the economic prosperity in the history of the area. The Inter-war period is one of these times. Between 1915 and 1940 the town grew based on the wealth generated by dairying and later coal. There are quite a number of inter-war buildings in Camden (Californian bungalows in Menangle Road and Murray Street). The post-war period of housing construction in Camden in Macquarie Avenue and along the Old Hume Highway was driven by the economic activities surrounding the mining of coal in the Burragorang Valley.
Each housing style illustrates cultural influences from Great Britain in the Victorian style or from the United States in the Inter-war period in the Californian Bungalow and the Ranch style in the post-war period.
The local housing stock shows the skills and expertise of local builders, such as Harry Willis or Walter Furner who constructed many of the Inter-war housing stock. Ephraim Cross who supplied brick for some of the Federation style cottages in the area or James English in the 1940s or Ron McMIllan in the 1950s and 1960s.
Each period represents the modern and progressive ideas of its time. Each housing style is a representation of the hopes and aspirations of those who built the houses. Just as Oran Park housing developments are representative of the late 21th century so Harrington Park and Mt Annan are representative of the late 20th century. They have been driven by the urban expansion of the Sydney area.
Within each of the major time periods there are a number of sub-divisions. There are around five major styles within the Inter-war period, such as the Californian bungalow (West coast USA influence) or the Art Deco (European influences). The post-war period has around six style divisions ranging from the austerity (which reflected the lack of availability of building materials and labour following WW2) to ranch style (which illustrated the post-war influences from West coast American and Californian housing styles).
Camden needs a Residential Heritage Style Guide to consolidate all these factors and influences in the Local Government Area.
Why is it that other Local Government Areas around Australia can achieve this but Camden cannot? What is the matter with out local government representatives? Examples from other parts of Australia include