Camelot-The Real “A Place to Call Home”

With the television drama series “A Place to Call Home” entering into its second season viewers are being treated to the latest clashes between Sarah Adams and the matriarch Elizabeth Bligh.

The fictional Bligh’s Ash Park is the real life building known as Camelot. Located on the outskirts of Camden it has many of its own stories to tell. The one that is filled with the greatest drama is that of its second and longest running residents, the Andersons, who occupied the property from 1890 to 1979.

Last year Ian Willis revealed the power play of the real life matriarchs in Camden that mirror much of the drama on the TV show. While the show focuses heavily on the stories of the two strong female leads, the story of the Andersons is far more heart wrenching. It’s a story filled with forbidden love, suicide and mourning, striking the fairy tale notes to which the architecture alludes. What makes the Anderson’s story so compelling is that this fairy tale drama was real.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright:  Camden Historical Society.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Originally known as Kirkham, the building was created in 1888 for Hon. James White, great-uncle of author Patrick White. It was designed by Canadian John Horbury Hunt, an architect known for his unique buildings, with Camelot considered one of his greatest. Although it has a fairy tale feel and a grandeur not associated with domesticity it has been described as a very ‘human house’.

The fairy tale proportions and aesthetics began to make real life impacts with the second owners. James White passed away from heart disease in July 1890. It was then purchased by William Hugh Anderson and his wife Frances Lillian Faithfull. In something of a reversal of the Cinderella story, William was the coachman of the Faithfull family of Springfield Estate in Goulburn. Frances was their daughter and greatly upset her family by marrying ‘below her status’. Despite attempts to appease the family they rejected him and refused to accept the marriage. The family did however provide a generous dowry, which would prove necessary to finance the purchase of Kirkham. It was the Anderson’s that renamed the estate Camelot, Frances being reminded of the Lord Alfred Tennyson poem “The Lady of Shalott”:

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.

“Who is this? And what is here?”
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;

Tragedy struck the Andersons in 1912 when William committed suicide. William was a considerable horseman and also community minded. He began to suffer from depression, declining mental health and alcoholism. The forerunners to his suicide are revealed by his retirement as town Alderman in 1903, with things getting gradually worse. His suicide was dramatic. He set the large hayshed behind the main house alight and then shot himself. The fire grew and every attempt made to extinguish it failed.

Despite the nature of his death, William was heralded in the local papers after his passing. Sharon Greene reveals that there were no negative words written about him at the time and that he was actually praised for his role as an Alderman and described as a “useful citizen who had won the esteem of the residents”.

Frances approached Camden Council in 1913 to erect a drinking fountain as a memorial to her husband. The memorial erected in memory of William was in the middle of the intersection of John and Argyle Streets Camden. It was eventually moved to Camden Showground and is now part of the  rose garden in Macarthur Park. Local stories reveal that this was not the only memorial for William. After his death, Frances maintained their bedroom in original condition as a shrine to William.

The W.H.Anderson Memorial in its original location at the intersection of John and Argyle Street, Camden

Frances Anderson and her daughter, Clarice Vivian, remained in the house.  The garden, as reported by Nora Cooper for ‘The Australian Home Beautiful’  in 1929, was a great horticultural feat. Cooper reports how Frances described the large variety of trees that she grew in the yard to create a rich variety of green. She knew the different varieties by heart and spoke of them with great pleasure.

They were not isolated from the town and were socially minded. During the depression, Frances commissioned work to be done on the property as a way of helping those who needed work. It was also around this time in 1932 that they changed their name from Anderson to Faithfull-Anderson, incorporating her maiden name.

When Frances passed away in 1948  her will requested that the property be used as a convalescence hospital. Clarice continued to reside in the property until 1979. Never marrying or having any children, Clarice Vivian was the last of the Faithfull-Anderson line. They are all buried together in Springfarm, Goulburn.

What remains of them is Camelot, and although “A Place  to Call Home” may be the more famous story, it is the tale of the Faithfull-Andersons that echoes through its rooms and corridors.

More stories of Camelot can be found in Camden Library and  Camden Images.

References:

From the Local Studies Collection on Camelot.

Cooper, Nora. (1929) “Camelot”-A house of dreams. The Australian Home Beautiful.

Greene, Sharon. (2013) The tale of Camelot. Back Then. District Reporter.

Willis, Ian. (2013) Camelot’s country matriarchs. Back Then. The District Reporter.

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