Argyle Street

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.

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.