The Camden Progress Association and a search for a utopia
|Nepean River at Camden at a spot called Little Sandy. (CIPP)
Whig history (or Whig historiography) is an approach to historiography that presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians emphasize the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms and scientific progress.
characterised by popular yearnings for the intimate world of early colonial beginnings for lost rural places. (Griffiths: p.197
In the 1930s the Camden community searched for the Englishness of their past, as they were in the 1840s and 1890s. Nostalgia re-appeared in Camden in the 1980s when increased urbanisation sent the Camden community in search of their own lost rural Arcadia.
Sydney’s urban expansion into the local area has challenged the community’s identity and threatened to suffocate Camden’s sense of place. In the face of this onslaught, many in Camden yearn for a lost past when Sydney was further away, times were simpler, and life was slower. A type of rural Arcadia, which I have called ‘a country town idyll’.
'A Country Town Idyll' at Camden
|Camden John Street with a view of St John Church in the 1890s. This view was taken by Charles Kerry (CIPP)
At the heart of the idyll is the view that Camden should retain its iconic imagery of a picturesque country town with the church on the hill, surrounded by a rustic rural landscape made up of the landed estates of the colonial gentry.
Its supporters created the idyll to isolate Camden, like an island, in the sea of urbanisation and development that has enveloped the town.
They talk about retaining Camden’s ‘country town atmosphere’, or retaining ‘Camden’s country charm’, or ‘country town character’. They describe the town as being ‘picturesque’, or having ‘charming cottages’.
Camden is a working country town’, or is simply ‘my country town’. These elements evoke an emotional attachment to a place that existed in the past when Camden was a small quiet country town that relied on farming for its existence.
|Argyle Street Camden 1938 (Camden Images)
The origins of the ‘country town idyll’ are to be found in the rural ethos that is drawn from within the nineteenth-century rural traditions brought from Great Britain, where there was a romantic view of the country, that had an ordered, stable, comfortable organic small community in harmony with the natural surroundings.
Elements of this rural culture have been variously described as 'countrymindedness', 'rural ideology', 'rural ethos', 'ruralism', and a 'rural idyll'. They have been a preoccupation of many scholars, including contemporary writers, like the Australian poet Les Murray.
Within this tradition, there is an Arcadian notion of a romantic view of rural life. There is a distinction drawn between the metropolis and the village, commonly known as the town/country divide.
This was the essence of pre-war Camden (a town of around 2000) where rural culture provided the stability of a closed community that was suspicious of outsiders, especially those from the city, with life ordered by social rank, personal contacts familial links. It was confined by conservatism, patriarchy and an Anglo-centric view of the world.