Printer Friendly

Stories and things: the role of the local historical society, Campbelltown, Camden and the Oaks.

In 2007 David Everett, a local journalist, observed that the Camden Historical Society was a 'powerful' organisation with a 'proud history', and was 'amazed' that 120 local dignitaries had turned out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the society. (1) The position of the Camden Historical Society is far from unique and in many localities the local historical society has become one of the most important voluntary organisations in the community. Within the landscape of local history, these societies often occupy a privileged position of influence seemingly out of proportion to their size. How has this situation arisen? Why is there a preoccupation with local history?

According to Graeme Davison, local history links our aspirations for community to a sense of place, our fragile present to a seemingly more stable past, and has a strong claim on the contemporary imagination. (2) Davison suggests that in a world dominated by globalisation and transnational corporations, the intimate and the local have a potency related to family and neighbourhood, 'in a place [people] can somehow call their own'. (3) This is particularly important in small communities where memories, and the stories that are drawn from them, help build community identity through linkages with the past. Local stories possess universal truths about aspects of life in their communities, and together with memories and reminiscences weave a narrative around local identities, community celebrations, local folklore, families and friends, and the social networks they support. Central to this is the importance of local history in telling stories of place, and providing meaning and understanding to the stories of the landscape. By doing this, Vivienne Coleman claims, people 'can create a sense of relationship and meaning between place and its people'. (4) This can particularly apply to a loved local landscape that possesses strong emotional attachments for the local community.

Memory is an important element in the stories of place and according to Beverley Kingston the responsibility for 'keeping memory alive' falls to the local historian. (5) More often than not these local enthusiasts are part of the local historical society, which according to Daryl MacIntyre, (6) should preserve, document and tell these stories. That is, the historical society should become the custodian and gatekeeper of the past for its community.

This paper is concerned with how the historical societies at Campbelltown, Camden, and The Oaks in New South Wales contributed to community identity and place making through their promotion of local history. It will be argued that the success of each of these societies was an extension of the circumstances that led to their creation, and that through an officially sanctioned view of the past, public education and memorialisation they have evolved from their simple origins and, in the process, established local pioneer museums which have fulfilled a number of important community roles. As part of this examination the study will highlight the often understated, but important, role of the Royal Australian Historical Society in the practice of local history.

To date, scholarly interest in the origin, role and importance of local historical societies has been minimal, (7) although some attention has been given to the small local museums that many societies have sponsored over the years. There has been some work on the community role of small museums, their collections, their management and the role of prominent individuals, like E. W. Dunlop, who encouraged them. (8) The local museum sector is an important part of many small communities, and has attracted official recognition and support from all levels of government in Australia, (9) and arguably should receive greater attention from those in the academy.

At this point the author must declare an interest as an 'insider' who has taken an active interest in local history for many years, and is a member of one of the organisations which make up part of this study. (10) Although historical societies do many good things, the local history landscape is one that is characterised by conservatism and parochialism. One of the aims of this paper is to shine a light in some of the dark corners of local history and, in the process, present a useful analysis of an important community sector.

To understand the place of each society in this study it must be understood that each was the product of a small country town: the Campbelltown society was founded in 1947 when the town had a population of 3700; Camden in 1957 with a population of 5600; and The Oaks in 1979 when the town had a population of 1200. These were small closed rural communities that were socially conservative, Anglocentric and bound by class, gender expectations, intimacy, parochialism (localism) and rural ideology. The historical societies in each locality reflected this culture. So what prompted their foundation?

The foundation

Initially, the foundation of the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society, and to a lesser extent the societies at Camden and The Oaks, were part of a new wave of community and academic interest in Australian history and demographic shifts in Sydney following World War II. (11) This was due in no uncertain way to the groundbreaking role of the RAHS in the development of local history practice in New South Wales, (12) and each society in this study has followed the leadership of the RAHS on most matters related to local history.

One of the most influential instruments in the armoury of the RAHS has been its journal, which was first published in 1901. It has shown many keen amateurs, including those in Campbelltown, Camden and The Oaks, how to write local history in a coherent and lucid manner. The journal followed the English tradition of amateur scholars writing local stories about 'material and social progress', and regularly published articles on colonial New South Wales. Campbelltown was the first locality to have an article published in 1920, (13) while the first on Camden did not appear until 1928. This was followed by many others (14) including those on the Cowpastures and Cawdor (1928), Cobbitty (1928), John Macarthur (1929), Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures (1939).

The role of the journal was supported by other writers, such as William Hardy Wilson, an architect, who wrote The Cow Pasture Road (1920), in which he detailed the 'charming old homesteads' of the Camden and Campbelltown area. (15) In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. (16) While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the RAHS to write The Story of Camden. (17) Other broader community events, like the sesquicentenary, Campbelltown's centenary in 1920, the 1924 centenary of both St Peter's Church and the Hume and Hovell expedition, followed by the 1929 'Back to Campbelltown' festival (18) also helped the situation.

These events on their own were not sufficient to prompt local action to form the historical societies in this study. Ultimately it took the arrival of 'outsiders' to overcome the inertia and rural conservatism of 'locals', as in other country towns in New South Wales. (19) More often than not 'outsiders' have been the first to notice the loss of local icons, as noted by historian Gail Griffiths, who maintained it triggered 'a deep sense of insecurity'. (20) Or it might have been the depth of attachment to lost 'loved places', as observed by Graeme Davison. (21) Whatever the situation, 'outsiders' provided fresh eyes, new ideas, a worldly view and, more importantly, individuals who were prepared to take leadership roles in community affairs.

And so it was at Campbelltown, where the 'outsider' was the local doctor, Ivor Thomas. He was brought up in Maitland and educated at the University of Sydney. On graduation he bought a practice in the Grafton area, and during World War II moved to Killara, and then Campbelltown in 1944. He was a learned man with a passion for history, particularly military history, and an understanding of a country town. He witnessed the effect of the sesquicentenary and was well aware of the importance of the RAHS, which had memorialised the centenary of the Hume and Hovell expedition in 1924 at Appin.

At the time Aubrey Halloran, the RAHS president, had unveiled an obelisk and stated in a speech that Hume and Hovell were among those explorers who formed the vanguard of the tide of civilisation that had reached Australia's shores, and only through their pioneering work was the wealth of this land of ours won for the Empire. More importantly, Halloran maintained that 'every resident [of Australian towns and cities] should know and honour the names of those who were first to set foot on their sites'. (22) Thomas had much sympathy with these sentiments.

Thomas also witnessed the loss of much of Campbelltown's material fabric, and felt that eventually local stories would exist only 'in the memory and reminiscences of the older folk'. (23) In his view there should have been an historical society in Campbelltown, as there was at Maitland, Newcastle and Grafton (where he had had a practice) to preserve a link with the past. He subsequently organised a meeting of prominent male citizens at his house. Among those who attended were two of Campbelltown's pioneers who had connections with the 1824 Hume and Hovell expedition. (24) Thomas received the support he needed and made the new society 'his own'. Committee meetings were held at his home, he organised speakers from the RAHS, he did research, organised the society's first three journals, collected photographs and artefacts and remained president from 1947 to 1960. He was also an early advocate for the protection of much of Campbelltown's Georgian heritage, which still exists, but unfortunately also witnessed the loss of some. Although the society was only a relatively small affair under his leadership, its achievements were impressive, given the lack of appreciation of local history in Campbelltown at the time. Thomas's memory and his contribution to local history are celebrated each year in a memorial lecture conducted by the society. (25)

Meanwhile, in the Camden area (which included The Oaks) the construction of Warragamba Dam during the 1950s was the catalyst for the foundation of the Camden Historical Society, and later contributed to the establishment of The Oaks Historical Society. Warragamba Dam created a paradox for the local community. On the one hand it symbolised modernity and progress, which the community wanted, and yet on the other it marked a public loss of a much-loved and cherished local landscape; the Burragorang Valley (affectionately known as 'the Valley'). The flooding of 'the Valley' also contributed to the private loss felt by many people from the compulsory acquisition of their family farms by the authorities. One old timer recalls from the dam's lookout:
 Yes, this is a good lookout, mate,
 What memories it recalls ...
 For all those miles of water,
 Sure he doesn't care a damn;
 He sees the same old valley still,
 Through eyes now moist and dim--
 The lovely fertile valley
 That, for years, was home to him. (26)

Owen Pearce thought it was 'a paradise lost' (27) while for others the whole injustice of it still bums deep, (28) and as Peter Read has noted, for these people 'memories are ghosts that won't lie down'. (29) Some of those who were displaced moved into Camden (and The Oaks) and one of them, Owen Blattman, became president of the Camden Historical Society (1970-1990).

A second contributing factor to the foundation of the Camden Historical Society was the establishment of Camden High School in 1956. This provided a group of 'outsiders' who witnessed a community in mourning. They felt that an historical society could help preserve local stories and assist the community to come to terms with the loss of 'the Valley'. This is perhaps best illustrated by the juxtaposition of two contrasting stories on the front page of the Camden News in July 1957; one of creation and one of loss. One story reported the foundation of the historical society by the Camden High School Parents & Citizens Association, while next to it was a story headed 'Another Burragorang Valley Landmark To Go', which detailed the last Mass that was held at St Paulinos Catholic Church (1872) before its demolition. (30) The presence of the high school was quite important for the fledgling society as it provided three of the first four presidents, meetings were held at the school (for 42 years) and it provided early storage for artefacts that were to form the basis of a future museum collection.

'Outsiders' also took an important role in the foundation of The Oaks Historical Society. They witnessed the demolition of part of the built heritage in the village (the old Wollondilly Shire council chambers in Picton Road and the town clerk's house) and felt the bitter resentment that still simmered from the flooding of 'the Valley'. One of these 'outsiders' was Doris Woods whose husband, Kinnersley, was the retired principal of Molong Primary School. (31) She called a public meeting. Her publicity leaflet claimed that The Oaks was one of the earliest settlements in the country and appealed for help 'to give our pioneers a permanent place in Australian history, and [allow the community] to discover and preserve relics of our past'. (32) Woods' foresight is recognised each year by the members of the Burragorang Heritage Society (the families and descendants of those who lived in 'the Valley'), who hold their annual picnic and reunion at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre, the site of the custodians of their memories and relics.


The foundation of each of these societies has helped each community come to terms with its past and, in the process, has helped strengthen the making of place and the construction of community identity. Over time this process has been extended through public education and memorialisation.

Public education

For each society public education was about raising awareness of local history through story telling and a host of related activities. Over time these activities have become more sophisticated, and consequently have contributed to the growth of each society and the importance of its voice in its community. There have been many firsts in this area, from public lectures to the creation of websites, and while some have been more important than others they have not lost sight of the importance of promoting local history. The main activities, which mostly revolved around the themes of pioneers, progress and development, and their commencement dates are outlined in the following table.

The RAHS again led the way for many of these firsts; for example, in 1948 the Campbelltown society's first public lecture was presented by the president of the RAHS, G. Mackaness. The first journal of the society was copied, in layout and style, from the journal of the RAHS. The RAHS re-enforced its influence by publishing Philip Geeves's Local History in Australia (1966), which was concerned with preserving the pioneer history of a locality and stressed the themes of discovery, progress and development. Geeves advised local historians to concentrate on the pioneers of 'white settlement' and the pioneer institutions in country towns. (33) His ideas were enthusiastically received by local historical societies across New South Wales, including the three in this study, and were implemented in their publications, newsletters, journals and other activities.

Among the variety of activities conducted by each society has been the encouragement of local storytellers, for example R. E. ('Dick') Nixon (1919-2008) in Camden. These folk have told their tales at society meetings and community events and then had them retold in print and other media. Each local sage was the holder of local secrets and they have spun their stories around a view that they were located in the 'cradle of Australian history'. (34) For them this meant European settlement as part of British imperialism, as it has done in the broader context of Australian history. (35) Their storytelling revolved around male explorers, military and naval officers, the local gentry and other great men of the British Empire. As the next generation of storytellers has emerged, the interpretation of local history has matured and so have their stories. The new stories have come to encompass those elements of local history which, according to historian Don Garden, have been seen as 'undesirable', (36) and have included women, Aborigines, rural working class, domestic life and other facets of country town life.

The impact of public education programs and activities can be hard to measure in any meaningful way. Their effect can be ephemeral and they take time to make a mark in the public mind. However, if public perceptions of local history, attendances at public lectures, society membership numbers, sales of publications and hits on society websites are any indication, then the public education activities of each of these societies have been successful. This then leads to a second method used by these societies of raising public awareness about local history; memorialisation, also a form of public education.


Local history has been memorialised as the members of each society have paid homage to the area's pioneering heritage and, similar to other settler societies in the British Empire (New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada), set out to create an association between remembering and the celebration of progress. Their memorials and monuments are a concrete acknowledgement of the area's cultural legacy and, according to Joan Kerr, in the RAHS's survey of memorials and monuments in New South Wales, are a key to community identity. (37) Most of the monuments are located in public spaces and so represent official recognition of the values promoted by each society in local history. Memorials are something tangible that have stood the test of time and act as a metaphor for the rugged persona of the area's early European settlers and, like public education, are related to the themes of pioneers, progress and development.

In Camden the focus was on the erection of civic monuments, as the RAHS had done in the 1920s, as a form of 'civic beautification'. (38) Three of the four projects are located in central Camden outside the offices of Camden Council and recall the memory of 'the Valley', a landscape lost. The first monument, erected in 1962, involved society members helping Camden Rotary construct a stone mural at the southern entrance to the town (similar to the mural at Australia House in London). (39) The mural was a celebration of Camden's farming heritage, with the stone coming from St Paulinos Catholic Church in 'the Valley' (which was mentioned earlier). The second, a wagon wheel, was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through 'the Valley' to the Camden railhead. The third, a heavy horsedrawn farm wagon (1978) memorialised the farmer worker and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. The last monument, an 1899 water trough (1979), celebrated Camden's modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development. (40) The monuments also celebrate the ordinary, represented by the teamster and the independent farmer, in contrast to the elitist view of local history where gentry pioneers of the British Empire were celebrated in the 1930s in the works of Wilson, Sidman and Gibson.

In 1983 The Oaks Historical Society paid homage to the Anglo-Christian traditions of the western part of the Camden district by restoring a timber-slab church; St Matthew's Church of England (1837). Graeme Davison has argued that a church restoration commemorates the sacred history of the local area that provides a 'narrative of courage, self-sacrifice and preservation' of Christian history'. (41) The church, according to Davison, was a distinctive community symbol of 'continuity' that linked the past with the present. (42) St Matthew's is a monument that pays tribute to the humble origins of the convicts who built the church, the traditional methods of construction (using an adze) and the local timber that was used in the restoration, rather than an elitist view of the local history of the area that had predominated. This position was affirmed by 250 local people who attended the first service following the restoration (the church has seating capacity of only 35). (43) For locals at The Oaks, St Matthew's is a sacred place that links directly to social and familial networks of the area, and where, for Doreen Lyons, you go to see 'old friends'. (44) The restoration project took two years to complete and was a valuable experience in community building that served society members well during the 1987 construction of the heritage centre. (45)

More recently, in 2006, a project of the Campbelltown Historical Society came to fruition: a sculpture of Elizabeth Macquarie by Tom Bass. The total cost of the project was $75,000, with $25,000 coming from Campbelltown City Council. (46) Located in Mawson Park in central Campbelltown, this monument represents, first, the shift in the interpretation and practice of local history by these historical societies and how the meaning of the term 'pioneer' has widened to be inclusive of colonial women; and second, the changing gender roles of those involved in local history in the societies that are part of this study. In the 1940s and 1950s men dominated the executives of the Campbelltown and Camden historical societies, and the interpretation of the pioneer was 'male', as it was elsewhere in Australia. By 2001 when the Macquarie sculpture was first proposed, the executive of the Campbelltown Historical Society was dominated by women: president, vice-president, secretary, minutes secretary, social secretary and the society's patron. (47) As well, the monument was a direct link with the foundation of the society as the sculptor, Tom Bass, had been part of a project with Ivor Thomas (the founding president of the society).

As important as these monuments are, each society has created another type of memorial that has become particularly important in their communities; their local pioneer museums.

Local museums

An important part of the officially endorsed position of each society in this study are their local pioneer museums, which are also a type of memorialisation. Each museum celebrates the settler society and its farming pioneers, the social progress of the community and the development of the country town. Each local museum is located in a building owned by the local government authority and they each receive considerable local government assistance. These subsidies are an acknowledgement that each society relieves local government in their locality from the responsibility of providing a professional museum presence in the community. Again the guidance of the RAHS was critical. In 1968 the RAHS published E. W. Dunlop's excellent and practical guide for local museums. In it he maintained:
 History consists of more than the written word, and that there is a
 great deal of material evidence that needs to be collected and
 preserved in museums of local history. (48)

Both Campbelltown and Camden local museums were established shortly after this time, while each local museum represents the differing circumstances present in each locality.

Glenalvon Museum in Campbelltown is a house museum in a colonial mansion with attached stables and gardens, with an emphasis on social history and local farming. The house was originally purchased by the State Government in 1965 and the residence and stables were restored by the State Planning Authority (1970). The society was able to use the stables as a museum in 1970 and, by 1991, the society obtained the lease to the flat adjacent to the stables and converted it into a resource centre. Additional progress was made in 1994 when the society had a slab shed built to house farm machinery. (49) After much effort the society was able to move into Richmond Villa in 2001, a house museum adjacent to Glenalvon, (50) which had been purchased by Campbelltown City Council in 1973. In 2006, Glenalvon became vacant and the society successfully negotiated a lease with the council. (51)

The Camden Museum is located in the old council offices/school of arts/fire station complex (that also houses Camden Council Library and the Camden and District Family History Society) and is a fine example of re-adaptation (according to the Burra Charter). Originally the society established a small pioneer museum (52) in two small rooms at the rear of the old council chambers, provided rent free by Camden Council. With the help of Camden Rotary it was opened in 1970. (53) The museum grew and, in 1980, it expanded onto the second floor and was fitted out, again, with the assistance of Camden Rotary. In 1999 the society received state and local government grants to fund a two-storey extension to the building. In 2006 the whole complex was refurbished by Camden Council and it re-opened in 2007.


The Wollondilly Heritage Centre is a combination of a re-created historic village and museum complex in the setting of an 'historic park' which, according to J. B. Hirst, provides the visitor 'with a sense of the pioneers' achievement'. (54) The centre was proposed in 1979 after The Oaks Historical Society held positive talks with Wollondilly Shire Council (55) and the society had been offered a slab cottage. (56) The society successfully obtained a Federal Government grant in 1987 and constructed a purpose-built museum on a block that it leased from the council. It was opened in 1988 and since then the society has added four other buildings: a slab cottage, which was originally from Mt Hunter (1993), a machinery shed, an exhibition building (built with the support of 17 community sponsors and the State Government in 1997) and a meeting hall (1998).

Official endorsement for the local museums of these societies has not always been forthcoming, as one example illustrates. In 1954 Percy Payton gave the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Keighran's Mill to establish a museum. It was an old steam mill near Bow Bowing Creek, Hollylea Road, Leumeah. Unfortunately the gift occurred at a time when there was little community or local government support for the idea. Campbelltown Council was uninterested and Ivor Thomas (mentioned earlier) lacked the skills or resources to do anything effective with the gift. The council put pressure on the society to restore it, but fate intervened. The New South Wales Department of Main Roads wanted to widen the roadway. There was a demolition order and the stone was disposed of to the School of Military Engineering, (57) which used it to construct the Royal Australian Engineers Memorial Chapel at Steele Barracks, Moorebank. (58) The funds raised from the sale of the land were eventually used to finance a local museum in the Glenalvon stables.

Each society museum in this study makes a statement about the importance of local history in its locality from a number of perspectives (physical, social, cultural and political). They have each shaped and then celebrated the identity and sense of place of its community through a variety of roles related to public education. These roles are briefly discussed here.

First, each local museum is an important local social and cultural institution. Each presents the collective memory of its community to visitors, especially as it relates to the 'country town'. Some see these local museums as the site of traditional rural values and, as Nicole McLennan has noted, they are a way of 'asserting community pride and identity in the face of the unrelenting forces of modernisation'. (59) Richard Gillespie maintains that, among other things, museums have become a major focus of 'cultural affirmation' (60) especially in terms of local heritage. All of these museums are located on Sydney's urban fringe, where they represent an 'island of stability' in the face of Sydney's urbanisation and the threat that this poses to community identity. (61)

Second, each museum is a site for the preservation and promotion of the material aspects of local history. This is made up of two parts. Each museum has a collection of local artefacts and objects and is, in effect, a repository of local treasures that are part of local stories. The collecting and preserving of objects and artefacts, according to Jana Vytrhlik from the Powerhouse Museum, is one of the main responsibilities of local museums, (62) and was one of the founding aims of each historical society. Each museum is also a local archive of uncatalogued reminiscences, file notes, newspapers clippings, memorabilia, photographs, maps and other ephemera related to each locality. Some of these items are unique. The collections are the essence of the local history of each area and make an important contribution to the stories of place. Local museums and their archives are still, unfortunately, a largely untapped source for scholars of local studies and potentially provide a rich resource in the ongoing development of Australian history.

Third, each museum provides a material statement of its community's past and represents the community (values, traditions, icons, culture and symbolism) to itself. Each local museum is a statement of its community's identity, especially through the history of its country town. Donald Home appealed for local museums to show local distinctiveness, (63) and each museum in this study has effectively done this by illustrating its social and cultural history. They each provide a tangible answer to the question: 'What is our community?' The collections of material culture represent themes such as the pioneering past, economic development, social and cultural progress, and illustrate the community's link to the notion of the country town. These values are supported by romantic notions of a rural idyll and a lost past, especially in the face of the onslaught of Sydney's urban sprawl.

Fourth, each museum is a site of past memories, where personal and public remembering contributes to a sense of place. Sara Wills maintains that museums are important 'agents of public memory' (64) and can draw attention to the motives of loss, (65) especially as they relate to local heritage. Visitors can go to their local museum to remember and revisit their past which, according to Graeme Davison, provides a tangible, reassuring sense of reliability (66) in these times of uncertainty and constant change. More than this 'the past', according to Beverly Kingston, 'only has meaning when it is known, remembered, discussed and considered'. (67) Each museum contributes much to people's location of memories in the landscape and their emotional attachment to place. Each museum is a safe haven where the local community is able to explore ideas in a non-threatening environment. (68) A position affirmed by the comments in the visitors' books, where the museums have provided 'a wonderful experience', and the displays have brought back 'absolutely wonderful memories' for some and 'lovely memories' for others. (69)


Fifth, each museum is a centre of philanthropy and a site for the creation of social capital. They all provide a successful model for volunteering in their locality and are centres of active citizenship. Volunteers provide hundreds of hours of unpaid labour and thereby provide a source of voluntary taxation for government. (70) Each museum is a place where volunteers give their time and effort and contribute to the creation of social capital, which is characterised by trust, reciprocity, support networks and social norms; the social glue of a community. Each museum also contributes to the well-being and health of volunteers. Paul Whitely has conducted research and found that there is a link between helping others and having a good quality of life. (71) The voluntary status of each museum fulfils this role and creates links to other community organisations.

Sixth, each museum is an important site for the development of community partnerships. Their joint ventures have helped forge and strengthen the network of linkages within, and beyond, the local community and strengthen the importance of local history. Each museum has a host of partnerships with local community organisations and local businesses, and they are each affiliated with regional and state historical organisations; for example, the RAHS, the Southern Highlands and Illawarra Chapter of Museums Australia (NSW) Inc and the New South Wales Museums and Galleries Foundation. The Camden and Campbelltown societies have recently signed memorandums of understanding with their local councils over the ongoing management of their museums. To their credit each of the local societies has shown that with dynamic leadership and imagination their museums can work with large institutions; for example, the Powerhouse Museum, the Museum of Sydney, the University of Wollongong, the Dictionary of Sydney and the Historic Houses Trust.

Seventh, all the museums in this study are part of the heritage tourism industry and draw large numbers of visitors to their community. They act as both a tourist attraction and information office. Each museum allows visitors 'to experience places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present'. (72) In 1970 Denzil Macarthur Onslow predicted at the opening of the Camden museum that it would attract tourists, and he was right. (73) The Camden museum is in the centre of the town's heritage precinct and in 2007 the museum attracted more than 6000 visitors . (74) The Wollondilly Heritage Centre was the winner of a 2003 Western Sydney Industry Award for Tourism, while the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society provides displays and photographs, drawn from the museum collection, at Qondong, which is Campbelltown's Visitor Information Centre. (75) In this way each museum contributes to increased employment and the overall strength of the local economy.

Finally, each museum is a regional resource centre where the community can access local identities who act as the keeper of local stories, the custodian of material culture and the store of knowledge about the past. They are sites where actors in stories can play out their roles in public. Kevin Fewster of the Powerhouse Museum maintains that 'people regard museums as places of record'. (76) Visitors to these local museums consider they are an 'exciting and valuable resource'. (77) Each museum is a reference point for many in the community, especially schools groups, and each has an education program that encourages school visits. For example, The Oaks Historical Society organises a 'hands-on history program' for primary schools and provides a living museum experience through a number activities including a 'bush schoolroom'. In 2006, 1485 children visited the centre to participate in the schools program. (78) Each museum uses voluntary staff to provide a valuable learning experience for schools groups relevant to syllabus requirements, while coping with the associated issues of risk analysis protocols, child protection issues, bus parking and toilet facilities.

The community roles of each museum are also supported by: their collection policies and conservation practices; the themes represented by, and the quality of, their displays of objects and artefacts; and the significance, or otherwise, of their collections and archives. Any or all of these areas would make a useful study in the future and contribute to a better understanding of the local history landscape.


The foundation of each of these societies was based on a community need to preserve and protect, in some way, their identity and sense of place through the use of local history. They have successfully done this by adopting an officially sanctioned view of the past, public education and memorialisation, and as part of these processes each society has establish a local pioneer museum which fulfils a variety of community roles. While each society has had many successes they must continue to highlight the importance of their local history as the area is engulfed by Sydney's urban growth.



(1) David Everett, '50 Years of Camden Historical Society', Spring in Macarthur, Issue 8, no. 2, 2007, p. 8; 'Society strikes gold', District Reporter, 27 July 2007, p. 5.

(2) Graeme Davison, The Use and Abuse of Australian History, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2000, p. 197.

(3) Davison, 2000, p. 197.

(4) Vivienne Coleman, 'The Role of Local Government Museums, the essential rear-vision mirror for driving into the future', paper presented at the South-East Queensland Small Museum Conference, 19-20 August 2000, Cleveland, Qld. up/local.pdf, accessed 28 March 2007.

(5) Beverley Kingston, 'The Use and Function of Local History', in Locating Australia's Past, A Practical Guide to Writing Local History, ed., The Local History Co-ordination Project, Kensington, University of New South Wales Press, 1988, p. 8.

(6) Darryl McIntyre, 'History and Communities', Canberra Historical Journal, September 2002, p. 9.

(7) Some exceptions are the work of Darryl McIntyre, 'History and Communities', Canberra Historical Journal, September 2002, pp. 9-12; Ian Willis, 'Fifty Years of Local History, The Camden Historical Society, 1957-2007', Camden History, vol. 2, no. 4, September 2007, pp. 96-117.

(8) For an examination of local museums: Graeme Davison, The Use and Abuse of Australian History, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2000, especially chapter nine; Andrea Witcomb and Verena Mauldon, 'Local Museums and Cultural Policy: Reforming Local Museums', Culture and Policy, vol. 7, no. 1, 1996, pp. 75-84; Vivienne Coleman, 'The Role of Local Government Museums, the essential rear-vision mirror for driving into the future', paper presented at the South-East Queensland Small Museum Conference, 19-20 August 2000, Cleveland, Qld. Management manuals for local historical societies include The Local History Co-ordination Project, Locating Australia's Past, A Practical Guide to Writing Local History, Kensington, University of New South Wales Press, 1988; E. W. Dunlop, Local Historical Museums in Australia, Sydney, The Royal Australian Historical Society, 1968. For the role of key individuals like E. W. Dunlop see Nicole McLennan, 'Eric Dunlop and the Origins of Australia's Folk Museums,' reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, September 2006, pp. 130-151.

(9) In New South Wales there is Museums and Galleries NSW,, and in Queensland there is the Queensland Museums and Galleries Services Queensland,, while at a federal level there is the Collections Australia Network,, accessed 4 January 2008.

(10) I have been president of the Camden Historical Society, 2004-2008.

(11) Don Garden, 'Historical Societies', in The Oxford Companion to Australian History, eds. Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stewart MacIntyre, South Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 318; Susan McLean, 'Burdekin House: A Turning Point in Preservation History', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 93, part 1, June 2007, p. 73; Carol Liston, 'The Role of the Royal Australian Historical Society', address to Southern Highlands and Illawarra Museums Australia Chapter, 21 October 2006, Berrima.

(12) Helen Doyle, 'Royal Australian Historical Society', in The Oxford Companion to Australian History, eds. Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stuart MacIntyre, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 564.

(13) J. P. McGuane, 'Historic ground--Campbelltown: 1', vol. 6, pt. 3 (1920), J. P. McGuane, 'Historic ground--Campbelltown: 2', vol. 6, pt. 4 (1920), Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

(14) J. F. Campbell, 'Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures, and the Village of Cawdor', vol. 14, pt. 1 (1928); J. H. Watson, 'Heber Chapel, Cobbitty', vol. 14, pt. 6 (1928); Harold Norrie, 'John Macarthur', vol. 15, pt. 4 (1929); James Jervis, 'The Discovery and Settlement of Burragorang Valley', vol. 20, pt. 3 (1934); James Jervis, 'Camden and Cowpastures', vol. 21, pt. 4 (1935); James Jervis, 'Settlement of Narellan--with notes on the pioneers', vol. 22, pt. 5 (1936); R. Else Mitchell, 'The Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures', vol. 25, pt. 2 (1939), Journal of Royal Australian Historical Society.

(15) Rachel Roxburgh, 'Writing', in William Hardy Wilson, A 20th Century Colonial, ed. Caroline Simpson, Sydney, National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1980, p. 50.

(16) Martin was Camden's Clerk of Petty Sessions from 1852 to 1886. Sidman attempted to publish these columns in a single volume, with the addition of extracts from the Camden News. But unfortunately due to a dispute with Martin's family the work did not appear for another 50 years. J. B. Martin & G. V. Sidman, The Town of Camden, Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Municipality of Camden, Facsimile Edition, Camden, Camden Uniting Church, 1983 (1939).

(17) James Jervis, The Camden Story, A Modern Farming Community Closely Allied with the Earliest Australian History, Camden, Arthur G. Gibson, 1940. This documented Camden's material and social progress, and the trials and tribulations of Camden's early male gentry pioneers, such as John Macarthur of Camden Park.

(18) Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History, Campbelltown, Allen and Unwin, 1988, pp. 170-171.

(19) For an example the role of E. W. Dunlop in Armidale, see Nicole McLennan, 'Eric Dunlop and the Origins of Australia's Folk Museums', reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, September 2006, pp. 131-151.

(20) Gall Griffith, 'The Historical View from the Royal Australian Historical Society', in Locating Australia's Past, A Practical Guide to Writing Local History, ed. The Local History Coordination Project, Kensington, University of New South Wales Press, 1988, p. 13.

(21) Davison, 2000, p. 150.

(22) Quoted in Anne-Maree Whitaker, Appin, The Story of a Macquarie Town, Alexandria, Kingsclear Books, 2005, pp. 65-66.

(23) Ivor Thomas, 'The Society's Formation, Aims and Activities', Journal and Proceedings of the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 1948, p 15.

(24) Ivor Thomas, 'The Society's Formation, Aims and Activities', Reprint of the Journals and Proceedings of the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 1948, p. 15. G. B. Sutton had actually met Captain Hovell and F. J. Sedgewick was related to a member of the expedition.

(25) Macarthur Advertiser, 11 July 1997; Grit Mills, vol. 10, no. 3, July 1997.

(26) Claude N. Lee, 'An Old-Timer at Burragorang Look-out', in A Place to Remember, Burragorang Valley, 1957, Mittagong, Claude Lee, 1971, pp. 43-44.

(27) Owen W. Pearce, Rabbit Hot, Rabbit Cold, Chronicles of a Vanishing Australian Community, Canberra, Popinjay, 1991, p. 139.

(28) Back to Burragorang Day 2007, Wollondilly Heritage Centre, The Oaks, 15 April 2007.

(29) Peter Read, Returning to Nothing, The Meaning of Lost Places, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 200.

(30) Camden News, 25 July 1957.

(31) Ben Lyons, interview, The Oaks, 2 October 2007.

(32) The Oaks Historical Society Newsletter, no. 5, June 1989.

(33) Philip Geeves, Local History in Australia, A Guide for Beginners, 2nd edn, Sydney, The Royal Australian Historical Society, 1971, pp.13-27.

(34) Camden News, 18 July 1957.

(35) J. B. Hirst, 'The Pioneer Legend', in Intruders in the Bush, The Australian Quest for Identity, 2nd edn, ed. John Carroll, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 30.

(36) Garden, 1998, p. 318.

(37) Beryl Henderson (ed), Monuments and Memorials, A Tribute to their Worth, Sydney, Royal Australian Historical Society, 1988, p. xv.

(38) Graeme Davison, 'Monuments', in The Oxford Companion to Australian History, eds. Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stewart MacIntyre, South Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 436.

(39) Kate Darian-Smith, 'Up the Country, Histories and Communities', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 33, Special Issue, no. 118, 2002, p. 94.

(40) Peter Mylrea, 'Camden Historical Society, Its First Twenty-Five Years, 1957-1982', Camden History, vol. 1, no. 1, March 2001, p. 8; Dick Nixon, 'Teamster's Memorial, Yerranderie Silver Ore', Camden History, vol. 1, no. 1, March 2001, pp.11-14.

(41) Davison, 2000, p. 151.

(42) Davison, 2000, p. 154.

(43) Clippings, undated, St Matthew's Church of England Scrapbook, The Oaks Historical Society, 1985.

(44) Doreen Lyons, interview, The Oaks, 22 October 2007.

(45) Sonja den Hertog, St Matthew's Church of England, Old Oaks, 1838-1985, Its History and Restoration, The Oaks, The Oaks Historical Society, 1985. Ben Lyons, The Oaks, interview, 2 October 2007.

(46) 'Gleanings', Grist Mills, vol. 15, no. 2, July 2002, p. 68; 'Tom Bass and Elizabeth Macquarie', Grist Mills, vol. 14, no.I, June 2001, p.29.

(47) Grist Mills, vol. 14, no. 1, June 2001.

(48) E. W. Dunlop, Local Historical Museums in Australia, Sydney, Royal Australian Historical Society, 1968, p. 1.

(49) Official program of the Alex Goodsell Rural Exhibition Centre, 1995. The building work was carried out by Skillshare.

(50) The society had been involved with its restoration since 1978 (the property had been purchased by Campbelltown City Council in 1973) with extensive fundraising, working bees and grants from the Heritage Council of New South Wales and Campbelltown City Council. Verlie Fowler, 'Richmond Villa', Grist Mills, vol. 14, no. 2, August 2001, pp. 50-52.

(51) 'Sixty Years for Our Society', Grist Mills, vol. 20, July 2007, p. 11.

(52) John Lee (ed.), Rotary Club of Camden, Golden Jubilee Anniversary 50 Years 1947-1997, Camden, Camden Rotary Club, 1997, p. 21.

(53) Newsletter, Camden Historical Society, July 1970; Camden News, 25 June 1970.

(54) J. B. Hirst, 'The Pioneer Legend', in Intruders in the Bush, The Australian Quest for Identity, 2nd edn, John Carroll (ed.), Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 35.

(55) The Oaks Historical Society, Minutes, 3 September 1979.

(56) The Oaks Historical Society, Minutes, 3 December 1979.

(57) Alex Goodsell, interview, Campbelltown, 13 December 2008.

(58) Macarthur Chronicle, 8 August 2000.

(59) Nicole McLennan, 'Eric Dunlop and the Origins of Australia's Folk Museums', reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, September 2006, p. 144.

(60) Richard Gillespie, 'Making an Exhibition: One Gallery, One Thousand Objects, One Million Critics', Meanjin on Museums, vol. 60, no. 4, 2001, p. 112.

(61) Ian Willis, 'Yearning, Longing and the Remaking of Camden's Identity: the myths and reality of "a country town idyll"', paper presented at the Australian Historical Association Conference, 'Engaging Histories', University of New England, Armidale, 23-26 September 2007.

(62) Jana Vytrhlik, 'Schools and Museums: An overview of planning behind a successful education campaign', address to the Southern Highlands and Illawarra Chapter, Museums Australia (NSW) Inc, 18 February 2007, Huskisson.

(63) Quoted in Nicole McLennan, 'Eric Dunlop and the Origins of Australia's Folk Museums', reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, September 2006, p. 146.

(64) Sara Wills, 'Finding Room For Loss', Meanjin on Museums, vol. 60, no. 4, 2001, p. 77.

(65) Wills, 2001, pp. 75-77.

(66) Graeme Davison, 'Museums and the culture wars: in defence of civic pluralism', Open Museum Journal, August 2006.,asp, accessed 21 March 2007.

(67) Kingston, 1988, p. 8.

(68) Doreen Lyons, interview, The Oaks, 22 October 2007.

(69) 2007 Visitor's Book, Wollondilly Heritage Centre, The Oaks.

(70) For example, at the Camden Museum volunteers provided more than 2000 hours of service as museum guides in 2007.

(71) 'Volunteering "good for community"', BBC News, 19 September 2004. 1/hi/uk/3670670.stm, accessed 26 November 2007.

(72) National Trust for Historic Preservation, 'Heritage Tourism'. heritage_tourism/index.html, accessed 4 April 2007.

(73) Newsletter, Camden Historical Society, July 1970.

(74) Visitor Data Summaries, Camden Historical Society, 2007.

(75) Qondong is the former St Patrick's School (1840) and was restored by Campbelltown Catholic Club in the early 1990s.

(76) Peta Landman, 'Talks to Kevin Fewster, Director of the Powerhouse Museum', Meanjin on Museums, vol. 60, no. 4, 2001, p. 40.

(77) 2007 Visitor's Book, Wollondilly Heritage Centre, The Oaks.

(78) Primary School Education Program 2006-2007; Brochure, The Oaks Historical Society; The Oaks Newsletter, The Oaks Historical Society, Jan/Feb 2007.
Public education initiatives of each society
(with commencement dates)

 Campbelltown Camden The Oaks
Firsts and Airds Historical Historical
 Historical Society Inc Society
 Society Inc Inc

meetings 1947 1957 1979

Public 1948 1957 1979
lectures Dr G Mackaness, H Lowe, 'History J Riley, 'The
 RAHS, 'History of Camden Park' Oaks and
 Along the Track' Tallawadoura'

Excursions 1948 1958 1979,
 Appin Valley Yerranderie Kangaroo Valley

Publications 1981, Verlie 1979, JD 1980, D Woods'
 Fowler's Wrigley's A A Short History
 Colonial Days History of of The Oaks
 of Campbelltown Camden

Newsletters 2000+, The Kernel 1970, 1985-86, 1985+

Journal 1948-1950; 1982+, 2001+,
 Grist Mills Camden History

Tour guides 1948, King's 1958, Catholic
 School Historical

Radio 1978, Stella 1978, RE Nixon,
broadcasts Vernon, 2MCR 2MCR

Political 1947, Retention 1957, Camden 1983, Protection
advocacy of Georgian Council: of St Matthew's
 houses in Location of Church of
 Queen Street, Oxley's anchor. England

Affiliations 1947+, RAHS 1957+, RAHS 1979+, RAHS
 1982+, SHAICMA * 1982+, 1982+,

Websites 2006+ 1997, S&C 2002+
 Robinson 2006+

* Southern Highlands and Illawarra Chapter of Museums Australia

The societies

Campbelltown Museum

Campbelltown and Airds Glenalvon Museum
Historical Society Inc 8 Lithgow Street
PO Box 257 Campbelltown
Campbelltown NSW 2560 Open on 1st Tuesday & 3rd
Phone: (02) 4625 1822 Wednesday, 11 am-1 pm, and 1st & 2nd Saturdays


Camden Historical Society Inc Camden Museum
PO Box 566 40 John Street
Camden NSW 2570 Camden
Phone: (02) 4655 3400 Thursday-Sunday 11 am-4pm Entry free

The Oaks

The Oaks Historical Society Inc Wollondilly Heritage Centre
PO Box 16 43 Edward Street
The Oaks NSW 2570 The Oaks NSW 2570
Phone/fax: (02) 4657 1796 Weekends and public holidays 10 am-4pm
 Entry: $2, concessions available
COPYRIGHT 2009 Royal Australian Historical Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Willis, Ian
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Previous Article:Locating the new social history: transnational historiography and Australian local history.
Next Article:Mirage of the Inland Sea: the Bradfield Scheme.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters