Author: camdenlocalstudies

History of Narellan

Narellan has a long history of over 200 years of white settlement starting before that of Camden. In the 1810s there were numerous land grants in the area by Governor Macquarie. Of particular significance was the grant to William Hovell in 1816, who named it “Narelling”, after which the town would be called. However, it was only in 1827  after much indecision from authorities that the township was established. John Macarthur of Camden Park was having similar disputes with the town of Camden, but his disputes would only be resolved after his death in 1834. Although starting development much earlier, by the time of Macarthur’s death, the Narellan “village had been laid out, but (was) not yet inhabited” (Marsh).

The Queen's Arms Hotel. One of the first public houses built in the 1840s. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Queen’s Arms Hotel. One of the first public houses built in the 1840s. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Narellan was located on the Great South Road (now Camden Valley Way and Razorback Rd) and saw success as a trading area for those passing through what was an arterial road between Sydney and Melbourne. Numerous inns and sly grog shops (unlicensed hotels) opened near, but not in, the township, and these proved quite successful, the nearest competition being 21km away in Liverpool (Mylrea, 2008). As the area grew and became established many of these were refashioned into licensed establishments.

St Thomas Church.On of the churches built during the 1800s development of the Narellan area. Copright: Camden Historical Society.

St Thomas Church. On of the churches built during the 1800s development of the Narellan area. Copyright  Camden Historical Society.

It was in the 1840s that the town started growing, with houses built that eventually connected the townships of Camden and Narellan. A school was also established in 1839. It was overseen by Rev. Robert Forrest, and was used for church services on Sunday by Thomas Hassell of Denbigh. Land of the town was gradually sold off. An advertisement from May 1843 of 11 allotments only started seeing sales in December of that year (Mylrea, 2008). Numerous sites were established, including churches, schools, a cemetery as well as hotels and inns (Marsh).

Narellan Railway Station. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Narellan Railway Station. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Residential land gradually sold over the next few decades and into the 1900s. But after the intial development of the 1840s through 1870s, sales slowed again. When the railway line went through in 1882 Narellan station was built on the Pansy Tram line, that connected the many suburbs and townships of the Camden area.

Narellan Town Centre, before much of the development and growth that has occurred during the 2000s. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Narellan Town Centre, before much of the development and growth that has occurred during the 2000s. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

In recent years the growth and development has been extensive, with Narellan becoming a centre for much retail and leisure activity in the area, including Narellan Town Centre shopping precinct, food outlets, a cinema and library. With the many new suburbs rising and developing, it is always worth remembering that many of these places have been here for a long time.

References:

Marsh, B. (N.D.). The Centenary of St Thomas. Anglican Church In Australia.

Mylrea, P.J. (2008). The Village of Narellan. The District Reporter.

Mylrea, P.J. (2011). Narellan–Two Centuries of Growth. The District Reporter.

Mad and Bad: Bushrangers in Camden

Australia is famous for bushrangers, with the likes of Ned Kelly actively in the communal consciousness as either civil hero or vicious criminal. But Camden has many of its own tales of bushrangers.

Burragorang was a very popular area for bushrangers and cattle thieves to store their booty. “Among its gorges and ravines” we are told, “could be hidden whole herds of cattle, which could remain undiscovered for months” (Sidman, 1995). But bushrangers provided a great deal more peril than simply stealing cattle. There are many accounts of people being robbed along the road, and even houses, with the likes of ‘Denbigh’ erecting iron-bars across the windows to prevent bushrangers from entering the property (Sidman, 1995). The Great South Road (also known as Old Razorback Road) was a popular spot for bushranger ambushes, the difficult to traverse route leaving many travellers weary and vulnerable.

The site of much bushranger activity. Road over Razorback Range. Earlier called Great South Road.

The site of much bushranger activity. Road over Razorback Range. Earlier called Great South Road. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

A mail coach running from Wollongong to Campbelltown seemed immune, according to an 1866 Sydney Mail report, until it was struck twice in a fortnight that year (Whitaker, 2005). What is interesting about the report is not the mention of the hold up, but that the coach was unique in being unaffected by the activity until that time. Bushranger activity was a common occurrence and a regular concern of many people in the area.

Morgan the bushranger, by Samuel Calvert 1828-1913. [Melbourne? : s.n., 1864] 1 print : wood engraving ; 14.8 x 10.8 cm. National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9900666.

Morgan the bushranger, by Samuel Calvert 1828-1913. [Melbourne? : s.n., 1864] 1 print : wood engraving ; 14.8 x 10.8 cm. National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9900666.

Two of the most famous from the area were ‘Mad’ Dan Morgan and Jack Donahue. Morgan (born William John Owen) earned his moniker due to often violent mood swings (Bruce, 2003). Most likely the son of a prostitute and with little education, in addition to his thieving he committed numerous murders, his victims including magistrates and several police officers and volunteers of a posse sent to arrest him. After he was ambushed and killed by the posse he was propped up and photographed. Such was the extent of disgust he inspired in lawmen that police mutilated his body, removing his beard as a souvenir and cutting off his head for study in Melbourne, during this time when phrenology still held sway.

Donohoe [i.e. Donahoe] / [attributed to Sir Thomas Mitchell]. State Library of New South Wales, a928129.

Donohoe [i.e. Donahoe] / [attributed to Sir Thomas Mitchell]. State Library of New South Wales, a928129.

A more famous Bushranger in the area was Jack Donahue. An Irishman subjected to transportation, Donahue quickly escaped his jailers and began his life as a bushranger (Bruce, 2003). He was caught earlier on and sentenced to death, but once again escaped, leaving his two fellow convicts to be hanged. He was described as a snappy dresser and incredibly successful. He was, according to sources, regarded as something of a hero, standing up to corrupt officials, which has become a common trope in many bushranger narratives. However, he was not universally loved, with many people volunteering to search for Donahue when the government offered a reward of £100 (a large amount of money back then) for his capture. In 1830 a trooper shot and killed Donahue after authorities surrounded him in Bringelly. He gained considerable fame, with two ballads, “Bold Jack Donahue” and “The Wild Colonial Boy”, being composed in his honour.

The debate about bushrangers as hero or foe will likely continue for a very long time, but the impact they had on Australian society and communities such as Camden cannot be denied.

References:

Bruce, J., & Wade, J. (2003). Bushrangers: heroes, victims or villains. East Roseville, N.S.W. : Simon & Schuster : Kangaroo Press.

Sidman, G.V. (1995). The Town of Camden. Camden, N.S.W : Camden Public Library.

Whitaker, A.  (2005). Appin: The story of Macquarie Town. Alexandria, N.S.W. : Kingsclear Books.

Denbigh

Denbigh is something of an unsung landmark. Where Camden Park is linked with the history of Australian agriculture, and Camelot is the current star of A Place to Call Home, Denbigh has had a very intimate relationship with Camden’s history and is considered “one of the finest early colonial farmhouses in Australia, with important historical associations and an evocative atmosphere.”

Part of the Cobbity land grant between 1812 and 1819, Denbigh was allotted to Charles Hook. He, like all the grantees, had to clear and cultivate the land within 5 years. Between 1812 and 1819 Hook had between 3 and 9 convicts working the land. This was not necessarily an easy period with the 1814-1816 Cowpasture War in full effect and the land being well within the battlefields. But by 1819 Hook started building some form of residence, living first in Sydney and then in Macquarie Grove with Samuel Hassall, finally moving onto the property in 1820. The first buildings were defensive “siege-style” structures due to the Cowpasture Wars, but later he began constructing the main bungalow that still stands on the property. Like Camden Park House, it was based on a Georogian style, but ‘Denbigh’ was set lower with a simplified version of this English style, which suited it well to the Australian climate.

The front section was built by Charles Hook before 1826 and the two storey section by Thomas Hassall after he purchased Denbigh about 1826. Since renovated. Mrs Lesley McIntosh ( owner) standing on verandah. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The main bungalow. The front section was built by Charles Hook before 1826 and the two storey section by Thomas Hassall after he purchased Denbigh about 1826. Since renovated. Mrs Lesley McIntosh (owner) standing on verandah. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The property began to see considerable success and become self-sufficient. Livestock  increased with the notable addition of sheep, 400 of the 1,100 aces was cleared, and 60 acres was dedicated to growing the famous Camden wheat. Hook passed away in 1826, and the property was sold to Thomas Hassell the following year.

Hassell came from a family of churchmen, and his move to the area was due to his appointment as chaplain in the Cowpastures. Although already owning land in the area, ‘Denbigh’ offered many advancements over these other properties, both in agricultural terms and in its suitability as a parsonage. While Hook lived on the property only with his wife, never having children, and a handful of convicts, Hassell and his wife Anne had a growing family and undertook works to develop the property. These increased works called for more hands on the property, and Denbigh expanded from a self-sufficient farm to a scattered village, having everything from a blacksmith and carpenter to a shoemaker and schoolmaster.

From northern side showing the Hassall additions and the nineteenth century garden. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

From the northern side showing the Hassall additions and the nineteenth century garden. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Hassell was considered a generous and benevolent landowner by many who came to work for him. Testament to this is that some would continue working on the property even after gaining their tickets of leave, some for as long as fifty years. The prosperity came to an end in the 1840s, largely due to factors within the colony as a whole. The end of transportation and the economic depression resulted in Thomas reducing his holdings, selling some of his properties and leasing considerable amounts of ‘Denbigh’. A further hit to the property came in the 1860s, when rust brought an end to the Camden wheat industry.

In 1868 Thomas Hassell passed away, and his wife Anne found a suitable lessee in Charles McIntosh, who would own the property eighteen years later, when Anne Hassell passed away in 1886. The McIntoshes continue to farm the land to the present day. The first generation with Charles saw the property develop from crop based agriculture to a greater reliance on livestock, in particular dairy cattle and breeding draught horses. It was a leading dairy farm for much of the 20th century, and also witnessed the mechanization of agriculture in Australia.

Jim at 2-3 years of age in a yard with cows at Denbigh, 1925. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Jim  McIntosh at 2-3 years of age in a yard with cows at Denbigh, 1925. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Denbigh is a unique property in the Camden Area, still maintaining many of its period features. Like the more famous Camden Park, it witnessed the changes and developments of the area. And with the current residents actively undertaking steps to conserve the property it remains a perfect, “intact example of a continuously functioning early farm complex.”

Camden: the gateway to Utopia?

Many Camden residents and visitors will testify to the beauty of the area. Its lush pasture land, the beautiful summer sun, the changing autumn leaves. But even the most enthusiastic will not venture to say it is the gateway to Utopia. But so thought a handful in the early Sydney colony. In 1798 an expedition was undertaken by a ragtag group from Sydney deep into the surrounding ranges.

The expedition had a unique objective. Many convicts in the penal colony, desperate for freedom, created two myths about what lay beyond the bounds of the Sydney colony. The first and more plausible was that they could find a passage through to China. Although technically possible, the passage is not exclusively on land as they believed, and the supposed length of the journey, 150 miles, was optimistic at best (it is closer to 5000 miles). The second and more fanciful was the belief that beyond the bounds of the colony lived a free white indigenous settlement, where they would be emancipated and where life was easy. It was imagined as the land of Cockaigne, a place of luxury and plenty.

John Hunter (1737-1821), by William Mineard Bennett, c1812 National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2272205

John Hunter (1737-1821), by William Mineard Bennett, c1812
National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2272205

The expedition of 1798 was commissioned by Governor John Hunter as an “expedition of anti-discovery” (Levell, 2008, p.62), specifically to disprove and dispel the myths from persisting. He was not attempting to discover other new parts of Australia, although he kept up that pretense with his superiors, particularly in retrospect (Levell, 2008, p.71).

As striking as the tales are, the real world source is just as fascinating. Those who spread these tales were convicts within the Sydney colony, sick of the hard labour they endured and willing to make the journey into either of these safe havens. Many convicts had died after escaping or, if lucky, managed to find their way back. Dead convicts meant a reduced labour force, but more troubling for Governor Hunter, and Governor Philip before him, was the unrest stirred by the rumours.

Koala, London : Wyman & Sons, 188-?. National Library of Australia, an-9939719-1-v.

Koala, London : Wyman & Sons, 188-?. National Library of Australia, an-9939719-1-v.

Appropriately enough, the man selected to lead the expedition was himself an early settlement convict. John Wilson was convicted of stealing nine yards of velveret in England in 1785 and sentenced to seven years in Australia. He arrived aboard the ship Alexander with the First Fleet. After serving his term he became a “vagabond”, preferring to live “among the natives in the vicinity of the [Hawkesbury] River, to earning the wages of honest industry for settlers”, according to David Collins, deputy judge advocate and lieutenant-governor of the early colony. He did however develop a great knowledge of the Australian bush, and despite his “unsavoury” lifestyle choices, was often called on to partake in expeditions, that is, when they could locate him.

Within a short time most had already turned back, deciding that it was preferable to stay in the relative comfort of the colony than endure the often hostile Australian landscape. The three who continued, only one of which was a convict, faced incredible hardships including starvation numerous times. The only one who remained “well and hearty” was Wilson, with the rest collapsing as soon as they arrived home.

Lyre Birds by Neville Cayley, 1854-1903. National Library of Australia, an14534402-v.

Lyre Birds by Neville Cayley, 1854-1903. National Library of Australia, an14534402-v.

Although farcical in conception, the expedition did provide some unique finds. The one that generated the most excitement at the time was  the discovery of a supposed salt deposit that would have removed the need of costly imports into the colony. However, on a second expedition by Wilson, it was determined that the quality of the salt was unsuitable (Levell, 2008, p.70). There was also the first sighting by white people of a koala near Bargo, and the first sighting of a Lyrebird, which was described as a pheasant and resulted in the naming of the area Pheasants Nest. There was also the first recording of a Wombat, with Wilson pointing out the dung to one of his travel companions, although the creature was not actually seen on this expedition.

Although providing for some discoveries on this unique expedition, the main objective of dispelling the escape myths was short lived, with many convicts still attempting to flee the colony. Versions and variations of this paradise myth continued well into the 1820s and 30s, with even the likes of Charles Sturt believing that there was an inland sea in the heart of the Australian continent.

References:

Cambage, R.H. ‘Exploration Beyond the Upper Nepean in 1798’. Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 6, part 1, 1920, pp 1-36.

Levell, D. (2008). Tour to Hell: Convict Australia’s Great Escape Myths. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press.

Australian Dictionary of Biography Online.

Drought and Deluge

Agricultural areas such as Camden have a mixed relationship with rain. It provides much needed relief and vitality to crops and livestock through the hot Australian summers, but, as with any good thing, too much is disastrous.

Thompson's Mill inundated by the flood of 1898. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Thompson’s Mill inundated by the flood of 1898. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Hazardous during the storms, the floods have inflicted damage on many notable Camden businesses. Thompson’s Mill, once the centre of Camden’s wheat industry, was heavily inundated by the 1898 flood. Thompson’s was by no means the only one that suffered damage, with many businesses and public buildings in the town, like the Crown Hotel, hit by the flood waters. It has also caused its fair share of havoc with travel in the area, most notably damaging Cowpasture Bridge on numerous occasions.

The Drill Hall and Crown Hotel inundated by the 1898 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Drill Hall and Crown Hotel inundated by the 1898 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

One unique record in the Local Studies collection are extracts from the Camden News and Sydney Morning Herald from 1873 and 1898 covering news of the floods during that time. Although prone to exaggeration (it often describes the winds as “hurricanes”) it does provide an interesting and detailed record of the floods that hit. It details crop and stock losses and damage to various residential properties while describing the series of events of the storm and flooding.

Homes in Edward Street at the mercy of the 1964 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Homes in Edward Street at the mercy of the 1964 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Although causing damage and difficulty for the residents of Camden, there is a certain affection towards the flooding rains. One of the most notable parts of Camden is actually called the Flood Plain. Located only a few blocks from Argyle Street and the centre of the town of Camden, it is regularly submerged by the overflow of the Nepean River. Despite being a regular site of flooding, the section of land has been home to many agricultural enterprises, including the Davies’ family dairy farm.

The Camden Flood plain. From Oxley Street on site of Camden Public School. Showing flood water over Showgrounds. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Camden Flood Plain. From Oxley Street on site of Camden Public School. Showing flood water over Showgrounds. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Despite the strong association with flooding, drought often had similarly devastating effects. It was a drought that changed Camden’s primary industry from wool to wheat in the 1840s. The early part of the 21st century saw farmers experience a severe drought. It reached its peak in 2002, which also saw the price of cattle feed at its highest. It would continue for several more years, placing the local industry under severe strain. Tony Biffin, a local farmer, saw production drop 50 percent (Abrahams, 2006).

The wine industry has an especially mixed relationship with rain and flooding. The 2008 downpour that saw the end of the long drought caused havoc for local wine producers. Camden viticulturist Bruno Carmagnola lost around $150,000 worth of wine grapes due to the timing of the rain (Abrahams, 2008). Had it arrived a few weeks later it would have saved the crop, but instead it caused a fungus to develop, devastating the harvest. Other producers such as Eddie Galea who grows salads and brassicas, experienced a decline of the crop, although the filling of the dams ensured hope for the following year.

Not just a topic for small talk, the weather has been an integral part of life and prosperity throughout Camden’s history.

References:

Abrahams, L. (20/10/2006). “Drought hits hard”. The District Reporter.

Abrahams, L. (22/02/2008). “The good and bad of a deluge”. The District Reporter.

n.a. (n.d.) The Greatest Floods, 1873-1898: News Extracts from the Sydney Morning Herald & Camden News.

Hazards of Travel

Traffic jams and accidents are the plague of the modern commuter. But travel was not necessarily safer in bygone times. Existing as a rural town for much of its existence, Camden has been plagued by many hazardous routes and methods of travel.

A Butler four-horse coach on a road in Burragorang Valley. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

A Butler four-horse coach on a road in Burragorang Valley. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Great South Road over Razorback was one of the most treacherous. Although formally completed in 1835, those who used the road would argue that it was never finished (Villy, 2011). Many people, from William Macarthur to John Macquarie Antill, complained about the roads constant disrepair, and undertook many efforts to get it fixed. The difficulties were so great and the fatalities so numerous that the gruesome history of the road is recorded in Elizabeth Villy’s The Old Razorback Road. Of the fatalities, Villy reports of one woman who was killed after her carriage overturned after hitting a rut in the road surface. Her 12 year old son and the baby she was holding survived, but there was no doubt that the accident was caused by the bad state of the road.

Stranded passangers near Elderslie

Stranded passengers near Elderslie. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Travelling by rail is often a much safer option, but clear passage is not guaranteed. With flooding common in Camden, the Pansy Tram line, the train that went from Campbelltown to Camden, quite frequently became flooded. The floods sometimes left passengers stranded near the playing fields at Elderslie where they had to be rescued by boat.

Cowpasture Bridge damaged in 1975 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Cowpasture Bridge damaged in 1975 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Another transport structure that was subject to flooding was Cowpasture Bridge. Built in 1826, it replaced numerous fords that were used to cross the Nepean River between Camden and Liverpool. As with the Great South Road, the road leading to the bridge was constantly mentioned as being in disrepair. But the flooding made it impossible to cross, with the actual bridge covered in water (at one time it was sixteen feet underwater). The surrounding area would be inundated, delaying mail and other vital supplies (Starr, 2007). Repairs were undertaken in 1852, with a new bridge constructed in 1861 after one section was washed away. In 1975 there was a severe flood, which extensively damaged the bridge, requiring another rebuild.

From Edward street corner looking uphill. Unpaved. 1920s cars. Telephone? pole, gaslight street lamp, railway line in bottom right corner. Perhaps taken from upper floor of Milk Depot. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

From Edward street corner looking uphill. Unpaved, 1920s cars, telephone pole, gaslight street lamp, railway line in bottom right corner. Perhaps taken from upper floor of Milk Depot. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Even Argyle Street in the centre of town has been subjected to many traffic issues. For a long time the main road between Sydney and Melbourne, numerous accidents occurred along the stretch of road, particularly around the sharp right turn at Murray Street. Wrigley tells of many who became victims of the corner, including a lady who’s accelerator became jammed, sending her straight into a building entrance (2001). This was only one of many accidents, and safety on Argyle Street remains a concern for many in the area.

It may not help alleviate the traffic fury of today or stop the traffic jams during peak hour, but knowing the travel hazards of the past may help put it all into perspective and remind us that difficulty journeys are as old as travel itself.

References:

Starr, M. (12.01.2007). A Governor and flash floods on Cowpasture Bridge. Back Then. The District Reporter.

Villy, E. (2011). The Old Razorback Road: Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930. (Kenthurst, N.S.W. : Rosenberg Publishing).

Wrigley, J. (9/11/2001). A step down Argyle Street of old. Back Then. The District Reporter.

Nant Gwylan and Camden Town Farm

Llewella Davies gave a great deal to the community during her near century of life in the area. From charitable works with organisations such as the Red Cross or Meals on Wheels, to sharing and creating yarns of the old town, Miss Camden, as she was affectionately known, contributed much to the community. But her most lasting contribution, and the one with which most current residents have a connection, is her bequeathing of her family’s 55 hectare dairy farm to Camden Council.

Miss Davies' dairy farm, winter 1994. Exeter Street to left, Macquarie Grove Road in foreground. Looking west. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Miss Davies’ dairy farm, winter 1994. Exeter Street to left, Macquarie Grove Road in foreground. Looking west. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Davies property was divided into two sections. The more intimate is the brick federation style house that was the Davies family home. The Davies called it Nant Gwylan, Welsh for seagull brook (nant=brook or stream and gwylan=seagull). Built in the 1910’s it would remain the Davies family home until Llewella’s passing in 2000.

CHS0840

‘Nant Gwylan’ the home of the Davies family built in the early 1910. Photograph from 1920s. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Its gardens were extensive, and according to the Council Property Report (2002), the garden was of “greater significance than the house”, although it did mention that both were in their original form. Llewella Davies spent a great deal of time in the garden well into her senior years, always accompanied by her dog Tess. The house’s intimacy was retained, remaining in private hands while the rest of her estate, the Davies dairy farm, was bequeathed to Camden Council.

Llewella Davies In her garden, with her faithful dog Tess, at nanat Gwylan. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Llewella Davies In her garden, with her faithful dog Tess, at Nant Gwylan. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Evan Davies, Llewella’s father, started the dairy farm on the 55 hectare  property on Exeter Street opposite the house. It is located just on the outskirts of the town leading to the Nepean River, entirely within the famous Camden Flood Plains. According to the Council Property Report (2007), the land is representative of both Camden’s dairy heritage, and also of Camden’s heritage character as a town immediately surrounded by agricultural land. Some of the structures that existed on the farm were in poor condition when bequeathed, but have since gained a kind of rejuvenation.

Some of the old buildings of the Davies dairy farm, now forming part of Camden Town Farm. Copyright: Camden Council.

Some of the old buildings of the Davies dairy farm, now forming part of Camden Town Farm. Copyright: Camden Council.

As Camden Town Farm the property has gained new life within the community. Centred around gardening, the Town Farm facilitates the activities of Camden Community Garden, a hub for community learning through social inclusion and interaction. It comes alive every Saturday with the Fresh produce markets, showcasing the top quality produce from the Town Farm and local producers.

Community groups and individuals growing their own produce in allotments at the community farm. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

Community groups and individuals growing their own produce in allotments at the community farm. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

Of the many buildings and farms in Camden, Nant Gwylan and the Davies dairy farm are perhaps the most representative. They may not feature the grand architecture of Macaria or Camelot, or boast the agricultural innovation of Camden Park Estate, but as a symbol of the town, of what it was and what it is becoming, through its transformation from working dairy farm to community hub, it represents the best of Camden past and present.

A Night at the Picture Show

The centre of nightlife in many country towns in the early twentieth century was the local cinema or picture show. Two such establishments serviced Camden and surrounding areas during the first half of last century.

The first was a converted hall placed prominently on Argyle Street. Number 147 was originally built in 1908 for The Ancient Order of Foresters Lodge, a fraternal organisation, but in June 1914 it became the Camden Star Pictures. Around 1930 the site became the Empire Movie Picture Theatre, although it was only the name that changed (Mylrea, 2007).

Old Foresters Hall at 147 Argyle Street. Entrance to Empire Theatre at the centre with shops either side. Camden News Printing Works office to right. 1920. Copyright Camden Historical Society.

Old Foresters Hall at 147 Argyle Street. Entrance to Empire Theatre at the centre with shops either side. Camden News Printing Works office to right. 1920. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

During its time as the Star, the prime novelty was the length of a feature. Promoting both the film and the technology, films were advertised as “seven lighting reels long”, or others as being “8,000 feet long!” (Wrigley, 2004).

After the name change to the Empire, the new feature was ‘Talkies’, the move from the silent cinema to something more akin to the contemporary experience. However, the advertisements reveal the novelty of the experience, proudly claiming that features were “All Music—All Sound—All Dialogue” (Wrigley, 2004).

The Empire closed in May 1933, after a severe fire swept the building. The cause was not determined, but the cinema never reopened (Mylrea, 2007). It has since become well known in town as the site of the Retravision store and now Treasures on Argyle.

The purpose built Paramount Cinema on Elizabeth Street. 1933. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The purpose built Paramount Cinema on Elizabeth Street. 1933. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The other cinema was the Paramount, which opened in February 1933. Where the Star and Empire were retrofitted as cinemas, the Paramount was purpose built. It brought with it the glitz of Hollywood, featuring a grand frontage, palm trees, ornate plaster interior, and velvet red curtains (Wrigley, 2004).

There was also a change in what drew people to the cinema. Gone were the technological gimmicks and in were the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This was the time of Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, William Powell, the Marx Brothers, and John Wayne. Bob Thrower, a resident in the north of the area, remembers seeing two pictures, Desperate Journey and Captain Bligh, with the most notable memory being that they both starred Errol Flynn (Thrower, 2004).

Paramount Cinema advertisement, prominently featuring  stars like Clarke Gable. c.1933. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

Paramount Cinema advertisement, prominently featuring stars like Clark Gable. c.1933. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

The Paramount would continue to operate until 1961, when, due to the growing and costly appeal of television, cinema in general, but particularly small local picture theatres, began to experience declining business. The premise would become a tyre service centre, remaining so to this day.

The duty of providing the area with its cinematic needs would be covered by United Cinemas in the Narellan Town Centre, which opened in 2008. But Camden’s connection with Hollywood continued, with it gaining starring roles in many films during the twenty-first century, from Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, Seven’s A Place to Call Home, and most recently Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut Unbroken.

References:

Mylrea, P. (2007). The birth, growth and demise of local picture theatres. Back then. The District Reporter.

Thrower, B. (2014). Interview by Jo Oliver. Camden Council Library Service, Camden.

Wrigley, J. (2004). Meet me at the flicks in Camden and bring the Jaffas. Back then. The District Reporter.

Whiteman’s Department Store

“Do you remember when…?” The beginning of so many conversations about Whiteman’s Department Store. It was the site that created many memories for many people in Camden, and with the many changes occurring it is a treasure trove of the old town.

Whiteman's on Argyle Street, 1923.

Whiteman’s on Argyle Street, 1923. Copyright: Camden Historical Society

Do you remember when Whiteman’s opened? Perhaps the most iconic Camden business, it was started by two brothers, George Spencer and Charles Thomas Whiteman in 1878 as a farm produce store. It would pass through four Whiteman generations and employ many Camden residents. Whiteman’s quickly became the heart of the town.  The stores originality and longevity added to it being not only the “centre of Camden’s business activity” but also as “a meeting place where friendships were made and sustained” (Wrigley, 2007).

The original Whiteman family. Charles Thomas Whiteman seated middle row right.

The original Whiteman family. Charles Thomas Whiteman seated middle row, far right. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Do you remember when the staff at Whiteman’s were a “happy family”? Andrew Whiteman recalls how his family took pride in the long association with staff, who would work there for many years. Pauline Hamer, one of the many long time employees, remembers Mr. Whiteman, whose hallmark was with fairness and concern for his staff (Walker, 2007). It was a common feature for longtime staff to teach and nurture the new additions with patience and care. Joy Faulkner recalls, on her first day in 1958, that although leaving home with plenty of time, she found herself waiting at the wrong door. Once finally let in, Keith Whiteman remarked with a friendly smile, “you are late”(Walker, 2007).

Last days. Whiteman's closing down in 2000.

Last days. Whiteman’s closing down in 2000. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Do you remember when Whiteman’s closed? In 2000, after 122 years in operation, Whiteman’s closed its doors for the last time. Judy Whiteman recalls in an oral history interview that it was a big shock to her, and a shock to everyone in Camden. “It’s always been Whiteman’s”, she recalls with a distinct fondness. Although the store closed, the arcade is still affectionately called Whiteman’s Arcade. During the 2007 renovations, the street level had many original features restored and images of the old facade added on tiles as a tribute to the buildings heritage. With all the development happening in Camden, and with new business ventures and stores coming every year, who knows what will be followed by those nostalgic words, “do you remember when…?”

References:

Whiteman, J. (2009). Oral history interview with Penny Sexton.

Walker, G. (2007) Memories of Whiteman’s. Thirlmere, N.S.W.: C. Davies.

Wrigley, J. (13.07.2007) Memories of Whiteman’s department store.

Camden Park: Home of Australian Agriculture

If Camden is the “Birthplace of Australian Agriculture” then Camden Park Estate, the 4,046 hectare estate of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, was its home. And the centrepiece is one of Australia’s oldest colonial homes.

The central two storey section of the palladian style.

The central two storey section of the Palladian style.

Designed in 1831 by architect John Verge, Camden Park House follows the Palladian principles popular in England at the time. This featured a middle double storey, with two single storey wings. The strict proportions of the exterior are contrasted on the inside, where the rooms are informally laid out. Although having a European design, the house has proved itself quite adept at coping with the Australian climate. The only major change to occur has been the addition of a second storey on the north west wing in 1880.

Early architectural drawings revealing the pallidan proportions.

Early architectural drawings revealing the Palladian proportions. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

As with Camelot and Macaria, the person who commissioned the house would not enjoy residence in the building, it being completed in 1835, the year after John Macathur passed away. During construction the Macarthurs resided in Belgenny Cottage, another notable building of Camden’s past that would go on to house many of its own stories.

Camden Park House with single storey wings

Camden Park House with pavilions on either side of the central double storey. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

After John Macathur’s passing, Elizabeth lived at Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta, while James and William Macarthur stayed on the estate, continuing its agricultural enterprises and establishing the impressive gardens. The first task was selectively removing the eucalyptus woodland in which the house was set, providing views of Camden village, Mt Annan, and Mt Gilead. It also gave the house an “Arcadian setting”.

Label used on wine production from Camden Park Estate

Label used on wine production from Camden Park Estate

This was only the clearing of the canvas. From their travels in Europe they brought back various seedlings, cuttings, and vines. What started with vegetables, fruit, and ornamental tress in 1824 would lead, in combination with the skills in viticulture they learned overseas, to Australia’s first large scale commercial vineyard. For William this was only the beginning of the estates horticultural potential, and he would establish a rich, diverse garden, equally as famed as the house.

Rotolactor and cattle yards on Camden Park Estate at Menangle

Rotolactor and cattle yards on Camden Park Estate at Menangle. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The next 200 years saw many changes to the estate. Moving through the three Ws of Camden’s agricultural development it would eventually become the home of some of Camden’s famous dairy cows. This was thanks to the efforts by Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow in the 1890s. A further development came in the 1950s with the Rotolactor, a large automatic milking building. Its round, glazed design added a modernist contrast to the classical geometry of the original house, while testifying to its pioneering agricultural heritage.

The glazed walls and discs of the Rotolactor.

The glazed walls and discs of the Rotolactor. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The bulk of the estate moved into third party ownership in the 1970s, but the house that formed the grand centre piece of the estate still accommodates the descendants of John and Elizabeth Macarthur. John and Edwina Macarthur-Stanham, the current residents, regularly open the house to the public, and actively undertake steps to ensure the lasting heritage of the building, the original home of Australian agriculture.