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.


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.

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.


‘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.


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…?”


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.

Camden Pool

Nothing beats wading into a cool swimming pool on a hot summer day. The overflowing joy, the refreshing submersion, the heat gently rippling away. Now imagine waiting 18 years for that.

Swimming Carnival in Nepean River, 1910.

Swimming Carnival in Nepean River, 1910.

The idea of a pool in Camden was introduced by Albert Baker in 1946. A barber originally from Bondi, Baker understood the refreshing qualities of cool water in a hot Australian summer, and was particularly enthusiastic about safe swimming. After moving to the area he became a member of Council and proposed the pool at a meeting in November. He was a lone voice, with others at the meeting declaring that generations had swam in the Nepean River and saw no reason for that to change (Shaw, 1998).

People swimming in Nepean River at Little Sandy, 1950.

People swimming in Nepean River at Little Sandy, 1950.

Although discouraged by the disinterest, Baker did what he could to encourage safe swimming in the area. He devoted considerable time to The Camden District Amateur Swimming Club (CDASC). The most notable activity was a ‘learn-to-swim’ sessions organised by Baker with the NSW Amateur Swimming Association (NSW ASA) in the mid 1950s. The letters between Baker and the NSW ASA are stored in the local studies collection. Originally planned to occur over two weekends, the classes were extended due the the overwhelming interest from the community (“Learn to swim” classes extended, 1956).

Camden War Memorial Pool , 1995.

Camden War Memorial Pool , 1995.

More support for the pool came in 1949. A.G. Gibson, chairman of the CDASC in 1946 and editor of The Camden Advertiser, initiated fundraising for the pool, raising over £800. The estimate cost for the pool in 1949 was £13,850 (The Camden Advertiser, 1949).

An additional boost came in 1955 when there was talk of Campbelltown Council establishing a pool. Camden Mayor, Alderman Cruikshank, led a public meeting with the intention of dealing with the proposal of Camden pool. An industry representative gave figures for the cost, ranging from £4,700 to £12,400. Unlike nine years earlier, this time the proposal was met with unanimous support. The seed Baker sowed had germinated.

It would be another nine years before the pool was completed. On a Saturday afternoon in 1964, in front of a large crowd of eager citizens, Camden and District War Memorial Olympic Swimming Pool in Onslow Park was officially opened. The funds raised for the pool came to £16,500.

Now known as Camden War Memorial Pool, it has enjoyed great success and has undergone several developments, including a pergola installed in the 1990 to provide children with a shady spot in between dips (Shade for toddlers, 1990) and a full refurbishment between 2010 & 2011(Clough, 2011), including calls for it to be heated during the winter (Ward, 2010). Whatever changes and programs are run in the future, it is sure residents will enjoy the refreshing, invigorating hydration the pool provides for years to come.


Clough, D. (11.10.11). Swimmers warm to revamped pool. Macarthur Chronicle. 

n.a. (1.12.1949). Swimming pool for £13,850. The Camden Advertiser.

n.a. (20.12.1956). “Learn to swim” classes extended. Camden News.

n.a. (28.11.1990). Shade for toddlers. Camden Advertiser.

Shaw, R (9.12.1998). How tenacity built town’s public pool. Wollondilly Advertiser.

Ward, M. (2.2.2010). Swimmers turn up heat. Macarthur Chronicle.

Ghosts of Camden

Although Australia does not officially celebrate Halloween (you’d be forgiven for thinking it does considering the large amount of Halloween themed knick knacks in shops), it does provide a great opportunity to tell some creepy tales. And Camden, with its long history and numerous heritage buildings, is an ideal place to find them.

There have been reported ghost sightings and hauntings in numerous areas, from Menangle House, to the Picton Mushroom Tunnel, and even Camelot. But three buildings stand out the most as unsettling locations: Wivenhoe, Studley Park, and Macaria.

The former orphange, Wivenhoe.

The former orphanage, Wivenhoe.

A basic description of Wivenhoe and its history will already fill people with dread. Built in 1837, the property was the site of an orphanage from 1910 until 1957. Next to an Insane Asylum, an old orphanage gets a solid 10 on the creepometer. But despite this setting, a search for paranormal accounts turns up little. Specific details of sightings are hard to find, and the ghost tour, “The Guts and Ghost Tour”, seems to rely heavily on the reputation that the place is haunted rather than regular sightings or unusual activity. That being said, a mother and daughter took some surprising snaps after they wandered away from the tour.

Studley Park when it was known as Camden Narellan Grammar School.

Studley Park when it was known as Camden Narellan Grammar School.

If Wivenhoe is the perfect setting then Studley Park has the perfect history of tragedy. Originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889, the site has witnessed the death of two children. In 1909 a 14 year old drowned on the property’s dam and 40 years later the son of then owner Arthur Gregory died from appendicitis. Studley Park is perhaps the most famous haunted house in the area, with it being featured in the 2001 paranormal reality show Scream Test, where one contestant was so unsettled they had to leave the competition. But locals have experienced activities as well. In 2010 while undergoing renovations, the contractors made a disturbing discovery of a hangman’s noose dangling from the steeple roof. Others have reported unexplained lights, and seeing a lady standing in a window. A ghost hunter duo also took a picture of a ghostly young boy when spending the night in the basement.

'Macaria', with creeper-covered walls in the early 1900s.

Macaria, with creeper-covered walls in the early 1900s.

Studley Park may have the fame, but Macaria, with its rustic gothic gables and long list of sightings, is the local favourite. It too, has a history of tragedy and intrigue. The land that Macaria was built on was originally purchased in 1846 by Sarah Tiffin (nee Milford) who was a maid and then Housekeeper at Camden Park for the Macarthurs. Unfortunately, Sarah’s marriage became strained, her health declined, and she passed away in 1854 leaving the property in her estate. Macaria itself was later constructed for Henry Thompson, who ran the flour mill in Camden. He did not survive to live in the house. There was a labour shortage in Camden because of the discovery of gold in Victoria and so it took nearly 16 years to build. When it was nearly complete in 1871, Thompson died from a freak accident, when a horse unexpectedly bucked and kicked him in the head.  It briefly became a school, before the West family, consisting of Dr Francis West, his wife Adeline (nee Jones) and their three children Kathleen Hope, Richard Francis Kirby, and Lydia Patricia, moved in. The family left the house under sad circumstances, when Dr West died suddenly at the age of 58 in 1932. The house shifted between a private residence and several public roles, from a dental surgery, to Library and the surgery of Dr Lumley, and finally the administration building for Camden Council. The goings-on at the building involve chairs being placed on desks, lights randomly going on, ceilings falling on dental patients, doctors being attacked while going to sleep, objects being moved, invisible objects blocking passages, and usual odours like toast and cigar smoke. So well known are the ghosts of Macaria that they have been named and given personalities. Sarah, believed to be that of Sarah Tiffin, is peaceful and friendly, happy to reside in the property, although having a dislike of children. The other is Bill, although no known resident has been attributed to this ghost. Unlike Sarah, Bill is more mischievous and aggressive, believed to be the cause of most of the paranormal harm experienced in the property.


Denford, M. (1994-1995) Macaria. Camden and Wollondilly Way.

Powell, M. (10.03.2000) Macaria’s century old residents. Back Then. The District Reporter.

Richardson, L. (11-12.12.2010) A spook in the house. Sydney Morning Herald.

Stillitano, I. (5.3.2008) Go for ghosts, guts, and ghouls. Camden Advertiser.

Stillitano, I. (6.1.2010) Workers spooked by dangling noose. Camden Advertiser.

Wrigley, J. (6.12.2013) A youngster’s memory of ‘Macaria’. Back Then. The District Reporter.

Camden Home Front: Social Life

The Great War, although oceans away in Europe, impacted Australia. Not only were there the changes to everyday life and the obvious change that saw many young men enlist and go overseas for the duration of the War, but the social preoccupations of those at home changed as well. As Sue Johnston reported, the absorption of the war meant that all aspects of life, including social, economic, and political, were focused towards the war.

Australian society’s enthusiasm for the war was generated through heavily patriotic schooling developed to encourage a sense of loyalty for Britain and the Empire (McLean, 1995). Johnston confirms that learning history “was mostly the history of Britain and her Empire”, and Ian Willis provides a detailed description of the process of education that resulted in support for the war effort (Willis, 1994). But, despite this, it was at times difficult to encourage support for the war.

As a result, many activities to support the war effort revolved around social events. Musical events were organised to raise money for support of the troops. One of these reported in The Camden News reveals that proceeds from a concert at The Oaks School of Arts went to the Patriotic Fund (Willis, 2007). The entertainment was provided by men, women, and school children from the area. These were by no means dreary affairs for a sombre war effort, but were long, celebratory events, starting at 8pm and continuing with dancing until the early hours of the following morning.

French troops being entertained in Camden. Held in garden behind CBC Bank (now NAB)

French troops being entertained in Camden. Held in garden behind CBC Bank (now NAB).

Other social events included hosting visits to the area by servicemen. A 1917 visit of French troops to Camden was recorded in a series of photographs, with a lunch held  behind what is now the National Bank of Australia. This was also a large social event with many people from the area participating (Willis, 2013).

Christmas in particular was very different during the war. As Johnston remembers, the absence of family members who had gone overseas to fight created a “more subdued atmosphere.” As the war continued and casualty lists grew the reason for celebration became less clear, with Christmas too having “a shadow of war weariness” (Johnston, 1984).

A possibly a Peace Procession after World War I, 1919.

Possibly a Peace Procession after World War I, 1919.

Joy returned with the largest celebration that came on 11 November, 1918, when the armistice was declared. “City streets were jammed with enthusiastic crowds and celebrations continued late into the night” (Johnston, 1984). The war was over, and the celebrations that came were glimpses of the joy and enthusiasm originally expressed towards the prospect of war, with peace processions occurring in Camden in the years following the war.

As a way of commemorating the terrible years of the war and the sacrifices of many Australians, Anzac Day celebrations became a tradition following the war. Willis tells us that the celebration of Anzac Day as a national holiday was not whole heartily supported by all individuals, as many felt that it should be a private, sacred observance (1994). When the day was commemorated, McArthur recalls that these were the ‘less pleasant celebrations’ during the decade following the war, with men re-fighting the war, women weeping over a lost relative, and all round little celebration (1981).

The Great War was over, but it left great changes in the world, great changes in society and great changes in the people.


Johnston, Sue. (1984). Australia will be there : growing up in the First World War. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.

Maclean, Pam. (1995). War and Australian Society. Australia’s War: 1914-18. St Leonards, N.S.W : Allen & Unwin.

McArthur,Kathleen. (1981). Bread and dripping days: an Australian growing up in the ’20’s. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.

Willis, Ian. (1994). Patriotism and Education in New South Wales. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. June 1994. Vol. 80.

Willis, Ian. (2007). Camden’s Rich Musical Heritage. The District Reporter.

Willis, Ian. (2013). French Troops welcomed in Camden. The District Reporter.

Camden Home Front: Everyday Life

World War One, the Great War, was given its name because it engulfed so many countries in direct conflict. This not only resulted in conflict and death on a scale not yet seen in the modern world, but it also resulted in a great redirecting of resources, with the results being felt in the lives of individuals at home. It was a total war, with everyone from the front lines to the home front being affected. The term home front refers broadly to the domestic, economic, social and political history of the countries involved in World War One.

Soldiers marching in a procession along Argyle Street with band playing.

Soldiers marching in a procession along Argyle Street with band playing, 1916.

Understanding life during the war is difficult to grasp for many people today because life and Australian society was so different even before the war. The Australian population was only 5 million, with most being of English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh descent. Sue Johnston records that, “in 1910, with the outbreak of the First World War four years in the future, life for most Australians was slower, more isolated and simpler.” (Johnston, 1984). Although the occasional car could be seen in the street, most transportation in Camden was either with the Pansy tram or with horse drawn carriages.


Wagon transporting

Food was for sustenance with the foodie culture as we know it today unimaginable. Kathleen McArthur tells us that even in the 1920s, “stew was a stew and into it went anything lying around the kitchen or the kitchen garden or the ice-chest.” (McArthur, 1981). Breakfast dishes as simple as porridge required a great deal more diligence than tearing open a bag and adding milk. The oat flakes needing to be soaked overnight before being added to water and boiled in a saucepan the following morning.

Street stall with group of Camden ladies to raise funds for troops overseas, 1917.

Street stall with group of Camden ladies to raise funds for troops overseas, 1917.

Perhaps the most notable change was the combined focus the war gave people on the home front. The focus on the war is perhaps best illustrated by The Camden News, a weekly newspaper that was distributed in Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly, which began every issue during the war with a section called “The War Cables”. The segment provided residents with news of movements and offensives that had occurred the previous week. But this was not simply a preoccupation of the press. J0hnston recalls that children were “absorbed by the war: the parades, the songs, the uniforms, the battles, the heroes, the casualties.”  (Johnston, 1984). She recalls the enthusiasm with which even school girls such as herself were involved in the war. Eagerly knitting socks for soldiers or insisting that money ordinarily set aside for prizes be sent to the Patriotic Fund. People from Camden held market stalls to raise funds, and soldiers parades down the main streets were a common although infrequent sight.

The next instalment will talk about social changes that occurred as a result of the war.


Johnston, Sue. (1984). Australia will be there : growing up in the First World War. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.

McArthur,Kathleen. (1981). Bread and dripping days: an Australian growing up in the ’20’s. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.

n.a. (n.d.) Australia During World War I: The Home Front. Department of Veteran Affairs.

The Camden Advertiser 1939 to 1945; Camden News, 1914 to 1918. [Sydney] W&F Pascoe 2012.

From Kirkham to Camelot and “A Place to Call Home”

A few weeks ago we told the story of the Faithful-Andersons, the second and longest residents of the property known as Camelot. The property is best known today as the fictional Ash Park, the home of  matriarch Elizabeth Bligh in the hit television series A Place to call home. In our post on the Faithful-Andersons, we highlighted the fairy-tale like story that befell Frances, William and Clarice Vivian. But the story of the property extends beyond that.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The land on which the property exists was part of the land given to the explorer and surveyor John Oxley in 1818. It was named Kirkham Estate, and the only part of his residence that still stands are the white stone stables. When Oxley passed away in 1828, the property was acquired by Oxley’s former business partner Captain John Coghill.

The white stone stables believed to have been constructed for John Oxley in 1816

The white stone stables believed to have been constructed for John Oxley in 1816

The person who transformed the property was the Hon. James White. A member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and later the Legislative Council, White had a penchant for horse breeding and racing. His equestrian interests provided him sizable winnings in 1877 when Chester, one of the 19th Century’s most successful thoroughbred racehorses and leading sires, won both the Victoria Derby and the Melbourne Cup. This provided White with the resources to purchase the property.

The finances not only allowed White to purchase the land but to employ one of the truly extraordinary architects of the day. The building was designed by John Horbury Hunt. Hunt was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1838. He began training as an architect in 1856 in Boston. Around the outbreak of the American Civil War, Hunt decided to travel to India, landing in Sydney in 1863. He was convinced to stay by James Barnet, the acting colonial architect, and started working for Edmund Blacket, the colony’s leading architect. Within seven years he made such an impact upon the practice that he became the chief assistant, and his ideas so influenced the practice that these seven years became known as Blacket’s ‘queer period’, due to the striking quality of the buildings. In 1869 Hunt started his own practice.

Befitting his bold architectural style, Hunt was a noted eccentric. He was prone to outburst of temper, was incredibly energetic and was often in public and private feuds. His skill meant that he often attracted wealthy clients who wanted quality with no worry about cost, and allowed the bold architect to create extraordinary buildings. Two of these were in the Macarthur region. The most well known is Camelot, but Hunt also designed St James’ Anglican Church located in Menangle.

St James Anglican Church, Menangle.

St James Anglican Church, Menangle.

It took five years to build Camelot and according to a folktale, saw one builder serve his entire apprenticeship on the building (Legend lives On, 1991).  The building was finished in 1888. White was destined to enjoy his dream home for only two years, passing away in 1890. His widow remained in the property until 1897 when she too passed away. In 1901 it was purchased by the Andersons.

Although White’s finances and Hunt’s ambition created the property, it was the Andersons, later the Faithful-Andersons, that gave the property its humanity, with a love that defied the class structures of colonial Australia and the tragic suicide of William. It was also Frances Anderson who, upon seeing the property, renamed it Camelot. After William’s suicide in 1912 and Frances’ death in 1948, their daughter, Clarice Vivian, never marrying or having children, remained in the property until her passing in 1979.

Tales of the property began to grow. An undated news report exists in the Local Studies Collection that reveals that tales had spread through Western Sydney of the location being haunted. The report indicates that 7 youths had come from Fairfield wanting to see the supposedly haunted Camelot (7 Ghost-hunters spirited off– to court). When this occurred is difficult to determine. However, it would have been after Frances’ death, the report referring to the owner of the property as the ‘elderly spinster Miss Faithful Anderson’ no doubt referring to Clarice Vivian.

After will disputes and one withdrawn settlement that lasted over 6 years, the property was purchased by Michael Hawthrone for $2 million. A New Zealand born businessman, Hawthrone sold the property in 1991 (Chancellor, 1991).

In 1999 the property was purchased by Brendan Powers as a wedding gift to his wife, Rachel (Stillitano, 2009). It was the under the Power’s patronage that the property began its new life of fame. It was first used in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, where the house, with its pastoral setting, was used as the location of  Nicole Kidman’s house in England at the beginning of the film. It has since become far more recognizable through Channel Seven’s A Place to call home.

Although the house is best known for its brushes with fame, this unique and striking property has gained fame in its own right. It is heritage listed and has received coverage in several publications from In Macarthur- Your Home Annual to Highlife. The Powers have made strong attempts to keep the property original, with antique Victorian furniture throughout. The kitchen is of particular note, being one of the few Victorian kitchens still in original condition in Sydney (McIntosh, The family that saved Camelot).

From horse race winnings, to love and tragedy, to ghosts, the tales from Camelot are as unique and striking as the building itself. But the current story, the story of admiration, dedication and restoration undertaken by the Powers is one that will ensure its longevity and guarantee that the stories continue for many decades to come.


Chancellor, Jonathan. (25.5.1991). Title Deeds. Sydney Morning Herlad.

n.a. (29.5.1991). Legend lives on. Macarhtur Advertiser.

n.a. (n.d.) 7 Ghost-hunters spirited off–to court.

Stillitano, Iliana. (7.10.2009). Stylish soiree set to welcome race trophy.  Camden Advertiser.

McIntosh, Deborah. (n.d.) The family that saved Camelot. Highlife.