Kirkham

by Ian Willis, 2013 Cite this

Kirkham

By Dr Ian Willis, 2013

Kirkham is a picturesque, semi-rural locality on Sydney's rural-urban fringe between the historic township of Camden, with its inter-war and colonial heritage and the bustling commercial centre of Narellan. The arrival of the rural-urban fringe at Kirkham in recent decades has created a contested site of tension and constant change, resulting in an ever-evolving landscape. Successive waves of occupants have created their own stories, heroes and icons through a reinterpretation of history and heritage. The most recent newcomers have taken ownership of Kirkham's identity, assisted by developer-created exclusivity and the locality's rural aesthetic.

Location

Kirkham is located at the southern end of the Camden Council local government area and was listed on the New South Wales Geographical Register as a suburb in 2003. To the southwest, it is bordered by the Nepean River, with Camden beyond the floodplain and Camden airfield on the northwest, where the boundary is defined by Macquarie Grove Road. On the northeast, the boundary fringes the new suburb of Harrington Park and to the east is Narellan with Elderslie to the south.

Physical landscape

The physical landscape of Kirkham is dominated by a bucolic scene provided by the valley of Narellan Creek which flows across a floodplain in a south-westerly direction into a pondage on the Nepean River formed by Camden Weir. Narellan Creek floodplain at Kirkham is two kilometres wide and is rimmed by low ridges to the northwest (adjacent to Camden airfield) and southeast (Elderslie/Narellan) that rise just on 30 metres.

The Narellan Creek flats are still relatively intact farmland and are subject to occasional flooding when the creek backs up from the Nepean River. The floodplain creates a pleasant vista towards Narellan from the historic Kirkham Stables and Camelot, with the centrepiece being a small weir on Narellan Creek below the stables building. This type of rural imagery is one of the reasons that urban city-dwellers have been attracted to the Camden LGA in recent years, as they look for places beyond suburbia where, on the metropolitan fringe, the'country still looks like the country'.

Colonial heritage

The original inhabitants of the area were the Dharawal people, who were displaced then dispossessed by European occupation of the area. The early European settlers created a cultural landscape similar in their minds to the land of their forefathers in England, where the ordered countryside of large estates had tamed the wilderness.

John Oxley (1784–1828) was granted 1,000 acres by Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson, which he had to surrender in 1810. [1] Governor Macquarie subsequently granted Oxley 600 acres, which was increased to 1,000 acres in 1815. The grant was named Kirkham after Oxley's birthplace, Kirkham Abbey in Yorkshire, and had frontages on the Great Southern Road and the Nepean River.

Oxley, who was made surveyor-general of New South Wales in October 1812, established Kirkham as his country seat. He was the first explorer to give a detailed description of inland Australia and published his records in London as Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales. [2] Oxley also had business interests in the colony that included the Bank of Australia and the Australian Agricultural Company and was appointed to the Legislative Council of New South Wales for a brief period from 1823 to 1825. Colonial philanthropic organisations took his interest and among these were the Bible Society, Female Orphan Institution and the Philosophical Society. Oxley also had land grants at Minto, Appin and the Bowral district. He died at Kirkham in 1828.

Oxley's Kirkham grant was part of a network of estates of the self-styled gentry that came to dominate the western Cumberland Plain by 1840. It was one of five local estates that used convict labour in the early colonial period, the others being Camden Park, Brownlow Hill, Elderslie and Macquarie Grove. In the early years, farming activities on Kirkham included cattle, wheat, lucerne and other crops and, by the 1830s, a steam flourmill had been built on the estate.

Smallholders are also part of the Kirkham story with the first small land grants fronting the Great Southern Road. During the time of Governor Macquarie, grants of 100 acres were given to Daniel McLucas, John Herbert and John Condron (1812).

Located on John Oxley's original Kirkham grant are two colonial gems that are still representative of the settler society landscape: Kirkham Stables, built for John Oxley, and James White's magnificent 'French-inspired fairytale castle' Kirkham (later Camelot). [3]

Kirkham Stables

The 1816 Colonial Georgian Kirkham Stables building is one of the oldest stable and farm buildings in Australia and a prominent landmark in the relatively intact rural landscape and farm setting at Kirkham. The stables are functionalist and rectangular in form with symmetrical elevations. While the stables building provides evidence of a continuity of farming dating from 1816 to the present, the State Heritage Inventory maintains that 'the Kirkham Precinct is significant as evidence of changing agricultural and pastoral practices during that period, and for its association with the development of specialist pastoral bloodstock breeding operations'. [4]

The stables were associated with horse breeding, initially by John Oxley, then his son John Norton Oxley until the 1870s, when it was sold to James White. White – a politician and long-term member of the Australian Jockey Club – established a stud farm for his race horses at Kirkham. He also bred horses at Segenhoe in the Upper Hunter and built the Newmarket Stables at Randwick. He did much to advance the racing industry in Australia and raised a number of prize-winning horses on the property. One of his most successful horses was Chester who won 19 of 29 starts, including the 1877 Victoria Racing Club's Derby-Melbourne Cup double. Chester was retired to stand at Kirkham Stud after a successful racing career and died in 1891.

Camelot

Directly opposite Oxley's Kirkham Stables, across Kirkham Lane, was the site of John Oxley's single storey Kirkham residence. This was demolished in 1882 and replaced by James White's magnificent house, Camelot, designed by John Horbury Hunt in 1888.

Memento magazine stated that Hunt's buildings 'have a dramatic presence because of their siting, asymmetrical balance and impressive brickwork and craftsmanship'. [5] Hunt designed a number of other distinctive country mansions for the White family including Booloominbah at Armidale (now the University of New England), Havilah at Mudgee and a shearing shed at Belltrees. [6] Other Hunt commissions included Fairwater at Double Bay for Francis Joseph and Rose Bay Convent. [7] Architect JM Freeland has maintained that Hunt was 'more an interpreter than an originator of design 'and was the equivalent of Walter Burley Griffin. He stated that Camelot represented 'a complexity without chaos, control without rigidity, variety without looseness and strength without heaviness'. [8]

Camelot, which was James White's country seat, is in the French Gothic style and is considered to be an important country house with its formal garden with flower beds, hedges and sweeping entry drive. The house roof line is complex, with numerous turrets, gables and multiple chimneys, while the house also has arched verandahs and projecting bays. The house is 450 square metres and has 59 rooms.

While originally built for James White, Camelot was sold to William Anderson in the 1890s. Anderson was elected to Camden Municipal Council but had to resign because of ill health in 1911. Following Anderson's death in 1912, Frances Anderson (d. 1948) and her daughter Clarice lived in the house. The women changed their name by deed poll to Faithfull Anderson in 1932, and Clarice occupied the house until her death in 1979. The women were Victorian-style philanthropists who supported various Camden's women's organisations including the Camden Red Cross, Women's Voluntary Services and the Country Women's Association. Typical of the local gentry, they paraded their social authority in and around Camden when they came into town on business. After Clarice's death there was a legal wrangle over the will and the New South Wales Supreme Court ordered the house be auctioned in 1983.

The property was purchased by John Neal and sold to Micheal Howarth in 1991. It was listed for mortgagee auction in 1997 following the appointment of a receiver to Ivymere Pty Ltd, a trustee company for businessman Howarth's family interests. [9] Brendan and Rachel Powers purchased the house in 2000 [10] and stated that, during their restoration, they would maintain 'the classic style of the building'. Even the new bricks used in the garden had 'been burnt to age them'. [11]

The privately owned Camelot has been the setting for television commercials, video clips and featured in Baz Luhrmann's historical romance Australia (2008), starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, set between 1939 and 1942. Most recently it has been used as a set for the Australian television series A Place to Call Home.

Transport routes – the Great South Road

The main road passing through Kirkham is the Camden Valley Way which was known as the Great South Road until 1928 when it was renamed the Hume Highway. At Kirkham, the Great South Road followed the route of Cowpasture Road, which opened up the district in the early colonial period. It began at Prospect and provided access for John Oxley's land grants of Kirkham and Ellerslie (Elderslie) and the neighbouring Edward Lord grant of Orielton. The route of the Hume Highway passed through Kirkham until 1973 when it was moved to the Camden Bypass then, in 1980, to its present location on the Southern Freeway. These changes removed the through traffic travelling to the Southern Tablelands, the Riverina and points beyond to Melbourne and have contributed to the added amenity of the locality.

The locomotive Pansy – the romance of steam

Other major transport infrastructure, that has now disappeared, is the Camden-Campbelltown railway. The route of the railway ran alongside the Great South Road through Kirkham between Camden and Narellan and was a prominent cultural feature on the landscape. Kirkham Railway Station, which was one of nine stations located on the railway, was located adjacent to Kirkham Lane on the Narellan Creek floodplain. The station operated from 1882 and 1963 and was the second station after leaving Camden. It had a short platform and a small weathershed of timber construction, with simple station signage. Passengers had to hail down the small locomotive, affectionately known as 'Pansy', as it pulled out of Elderslie station and steamed across the creek flats towards Kirkham station. The daily service through Kirkham in the 1940s included four goods services, three passenger and one mixed service on the'up' timetable.

Remnants of the railway embankments and drainage culverts are still identifiable on the Narellan Creek floodplain. One of the locomotives used on the Camden-Campbelltown line has been conserved and is now located at Trainworks in Thirlmere.

Yamba cottage – an issue of identity

Historic Yamba cottage fronts Camden Valley Way (formerly the Hume Highway) and has been a contested as a site of significant local heritage. The building, a Federation style weatherboard cottage, became a touchstone and cause celebre around the preservation and conservation of local domestic architecture.

The Yamba story is representative of smallholder farming in the Camden LGA, which has remained largely silent over the last century. While the gentry had the means and ability to tell their own story, Yamba speaks for the many small farmers across the LGA who have not had a voice. As the construction of place in the LGA is made and remade by Sydney's rural-urban fringe, there is a danger these stories will disappear.

Yamba is an Aboriginal word meaning 'a good place to camp' and is located on Herbert's Hill, a low ridge located on the south-eastern side of the Narellan Creek valley, and is the most prominent physical landmark in Kirkham. The hill is the site of the original 1812 Herbert land grant and is also known as Rheinbergers Hill and Longleys Hill. The naming of localities often reflects how successive occupants of a particular place attempt to take ownership of the identity of the landscape and construct their own version of a cultural landscape.

Yamba was originally subdivided from Kirkham estate in 1900 by Harry MacKellar, who had taken possession of Kirkham from the White family. Parcels of land were purchased by farmer Richard Bellingham, a descendant of George Bellingham, who had worked on Kirkham estate for the Oxley family. On Bellingham's death in 1902, the land was inherited by his son-in-law, James Wasson, and his daughter, Martha Wasson. Two parcels of land, of 32 acres and 18 acres, were purchased by Mary Simpson of Vermont near Camden, with the larger being bought by the Longley family in 1915 to create the farm Yamba, where they built the farm cottage.

Frederick Longley was a descendant of James Longley, a farmer from Badgery's Creek. The Longley family also had farming interests at Bringelly and Luddenham. Frederick married Catherine Martin in 1880 at Berrima, became a school teacher, and taught at Nundle from 1886 until 1890, then in Goulburn from 1894 until 1904, then eventually at Narellan from 1906 until 1915. Frederick gave up teaching, took up farming and established an orchard at Yamba from 1922. When Frederick died in 1923, his farming interests involved stone fruit, poultry, dairy farming, viticulture and orcharding at Yamba and a number of other locations.

His son, also Frederick, carried on the family's farming interests and took advantage of the rail and road links to the property. On his death in 1982, the property passed to Jack Longley. Frederick concentrated on stone fruit, melons, pumpkins and poultry while raising Friesian cattle which were entered in the Camden Show. During the 1950s, the Longleys ran a farm stall on the Hume Highway frontage of the property, selling peaches, nectarines and eggs.

In 2003, the property was purchased by Joseph Mourched. In 2006, he applied to rezone the surrounding farmland for 24 housing lots. The cottage, which had been left unoccupied, was subject to vandalism and in a poor state of repair. In 2007, the Camden Advertiser ran a front page story with the headline 'Heritage at Risk' with a photograph of the cottage with smashed windows and missing doors. [12] The notoriety of the cottage increased when a local resident's action group, WRARG, (Wilson Crescent Richardson Road Area Residents' Group) placed Yamba on the front cover of its Narellan Hidden Treasures, [13] at a time when the group was agitating for the conservation and preservation of the cottage.

The WRARG campaign around the cottage became a political statement on the poor state of protection afforded to some aspects of local heritage. It paralleled similar campaigns to conserve local domestic architecture including weatherboard cottages in Camden township and elsewhere in the district. These campaigns, while only partially successful, have gone a little way in lifting the visibility of these building types and explaining their historic and social significance in the Camden LGA.

In late 2008, Camden Council had a Conservation Management Plan drawn up for Yamba cottage. The owners were given permission to subdivide the property on condition that the sale proceeds were used to pay for restoration work to the residence. The cottage was put up for sale in 2011 with a protective curtilage and, in 2012, Camden Council approved a ten lot subdivision for the site. The cottage is currently occupied and privately owned.

Golf

The primary recreational activity represented in Kirkham has been golf, which was played at the rather exclusively named Kirkham Country Golf Club. The golf course had a picturesque setting and was located on the corner of Kirkham Lane and Macquarie Grove Road, part of Oxley's Kirkham grant.

The Country Golf Club's new course was opened in September 1938 by FH Greaves, the president of the New South Wales Golf Council, before a crowd of around 100 people. The whole venture had an air of exclusivity about it and appealed to the local gentry and Sydney golfers. The course, which was owned by WJ Hammond and managed by FD Kearney, was an 18 hole, par 71 course – 36 out and 35 home, with New Zealand bent greens and town water. The course had a 'wonderful outlook' over the picturesque Narellan Creek floodplain, with vistas of Camden and St John's church beyond the Nepean River. On the opening day, according to reports, 'the course was in perfect condition', with one green aptly named 'The Panorama'. [14]

Adjacent to the course was a new clubhouse that boasted locker rooms for men and women with hot and cold showers and septic sewerage, when many of the local towns and villages had nightsoil collections. Meals and light refreshments were available to golfers and visitors at the clubhouse. In 1940, the president of the golf club was Edward Macarthur-Onslow of Camden Park and the club captain was AHU Downes.

During the World War II, officers from the RAAF Central Flying School at Camden Airfield were given honorary membership of the Country Club and held occasional competitions with members from the Camden Golf Club, which was located at Studley Park, Narellan. In March 1941, Camden golfers took up an invitation to move to the Kirkham Country Club after the Army took over the Studley Park Golf Course for the Eastern Command Training School. Camden golfers eventually returned to a reconstructed golf course at Studley Park in 1950.

The Country Club gained notoriety in 1951 after the New South Wales Police Vice Squad raided the club for operating two illegal poker machines while there were about 300 people on the premises. The owner at the time, Frank Kearney, said that the profits from the machines had gone to the upkeep of the public golf course over the previous 13 years. This did not seem to count for much with the authorities and Kearney was fined for operating the machines. [15] The clubhouse was derelict by the 1990s and was demolished in 2004.

Housing development, landscape identity and a rural aesthetic

Sydney's rural-urban fringe eventually arrived at this scenic pastoral setting and set the process of urban development in motion. Real estate developments have been part of the commodification of Kirkham, attracting ex-city dwellers to the local area. Kirkham's rural aesthetic represents nostalgia for the past, based on notions of authenticity and moral uprightness associated with country life. The Kirkham land releases have been promoted as exclusive and are generally more expensive than other land releases in the neighbouring suburbs of Elderslie and Narellan.

The first subdivision of land occurred along Kirkham Lane opposite Camelot in 1999, with the Kirkham Meadows development. There were 84 blocks ranging from around ½ hectare to 42 hectares that were promoted as 'executive living'. This was followed by a further land release on the site of 15 lots adjacent to Camelot in 2009.

In 2001, there was a land release off Macquarie Grove Road called 'The Lanes'. It was advertised as an 'executive hamlet' of 55 lots, 'harmonising with the natural environment'. [16] It is typical of the master-planned estates that started to appear in and around the Camden LGA around this time. The Lanes development was meant to 'capture the semi-rural ambience of an English country lane'.

The Lanes was a subdivision where land ownership was based on community title. In this situation, the entire neighbourhood pays management fees to look after common infrastructure (roads, sewerage, water, gardens, security, tennis courts, pools and any other services) that are shared by residents. Community title has also been used in a number of other land releases in localities surrounding Kirkham.

Adjacent to The Lanes land development is John Oxley Reserve. In June 2012, Camden Historical Society member Robert Wheeler successfully organised with Camden Council for the erection of a sculpture of John Oxley to be located in the reserve. The sculpture is a metal cut-out silhouette to mark the bicentenary anniversary of Oxley being appointed as the colony's surveyor-general on 25 October 1812. [17] This is not the first memorialisation of the memory of John Oxley. In 1929, the British government sent out three anchors from Royal Navy vessels to serve as a memorial to John Oxley. One anchor was given to Camden Council, while the other two anchors were sent to Wellington and Harrington in New South Wales. Nothing occurred in Camden until the 1950s when the Camden Historical Society, founded in 1957, urged the council to put their anchor on public display. It was eventually located in a memorial on Kirkham Lane, just in front of Kirkham Stables adjacent to Chester's grave site. There are also numerous sites and facilities named after Oxley elsewhere in New South Wales.

The values and traditions represented in the identity and rural aesthetic of Kirkham have been taken up by developers in land releases and recreational facilities. At Cobbitty, land developers have called their recent real estate subdivision Kirkham Rise (2012) and, in 1979, a sporting field in adjacent Elderslie called Kirkham Park.

Local Kirkham residents have recently used the rural aesthetic of the Narellan Creek floodplain and gained a win in 2012 against Endeavour Energy in its planned electricity upgrade in the area. Under the original 2010 plan the electricity supplier planned to erect 19 metre high concrete towers across the floodplain for new power lines between Elderslie and Oran Park. After community consultations, including one resident seeking legal advice, the proposed route of the power lines was moved 600 metres away from residents homes to maintain the 'scenic corridors around iconic properties like Yamba and Orielton'. [18]

Conclusion

The rural locality of Kirkham and its bucolic setting is a contested site and a microcosm of the tensions that has developed on Sydney's rural-urban fringe in recent decades. Many newcomers are attracted by the rural aesthetic created by the Narellan Creek floodplain and the rural history and heritage drawn from the past. Newcomers are quick to defend their acquired country lifestyle when threatened by development, just as locals elsewhere in the Camden LGA have sought to protect their own patch of rural heritage.

The exclusive identity of Kirkham's landscape is not new and dates from colonial times. It was used by the colonial gentry as part of their country seats, by Sydney golfers and most recently, by ex-city dwellers. Kirkham is part of Sydney's rural-urban fringe, which has absorbed this picturesque locality and in the process re-made notions of place and the stories that are part of it.

References

Pam Browne and Marion Starr, Narellan Hidden Treasures, Wilson Crescent Richardson Road Area Resident's Group, Narellan, 2007

EW Dunlop, 'Oxley, John Joseph William Molesworth (1784–1828)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oxley-john-joseph-william-molesworth-2530/text3431, viewed 19 July 2012

JM Freeland, Architect Extraordinary: The Life and Work of John Horbury Hunt, 1838–1904, Cassell Australia, Melbourne, 1970

JM Freeland, 'Hunt, John Horbury (1838–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunt-john-horbury-3822/text6063,viewed 19 July 2012

Ray Herbert, Studley Park Camden Golf Club Ltd, Golden Jubilee 19502000, Camden Golf Club Ltd, Camden, 2000

Marion Landau, Yamba Cottage Site Conservation Management Plan, Graham Brooks & Associates, Sydney, 2008

James Jervis, 'The Story of Camden', The Camden Advertiser, Camden, 1940

'Camelot', State Heritage Register, New South Wales Government Office of Heritage and Environment, Sydney, http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=5045721, viewed 26 August 2012.

'Kirkham Stables and Precinct', State Heritage Register, New South Wales Government Office of Heritage and Environment, Sydney, http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=5045721, viewed 26 August 2012

Martha Rutledge, 'White, James (1828–1890), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-james-4837/text8073, viewed 19 July 2012

Notes

[1] John Oxley had obtained an order from the Colonial Office for a grant of 600 acres (243 hectares) near the Nepean River, but Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson granted him 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in 1810. Quoted in EW Dunlop, 'Oxley, John Joseph William Molesworth (1784–1828)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oxley-john-joseph-william-molesworth-2530/text3431 viewed 19 July 2012
[2] John Oxley, Journals of Two Expeditions Into the Interior of New South Wales, John Murray, London, 1820. Republished by University of Sydney Library, Sydney, 2002,http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/pubotbin/sup2pdfall?id=p00066, viewed 13 June 2013
[3] 'Give Mum A Fairytale Day', Macarthur Chronicle, 9 May 2000
[4] 'Kirkham Stables and Precinct', State Heritage Register, New South Wales Government Office of Heritage and Environment, Sydney, http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=5045721, viewed 26 August 2012
[5] 'Horbury Hunt, Radical Architecture on Display', Memento, no 27, September 2004, p 4
[6] 'Janet Hawley, 'The Houses That John Built', Good Weekend, 17 August 2002, pp 42–45
[7] 'Janet Hawley, 'The Houses That John Built', Good Weekend 17 August 2002, pp 42–45. 'Horbury Hunt, Radical Architecture on Display', Memento, no 27, September 2004, p 4
[8] JM Freeland, Architect Extraordinary: The Life and Work of John Horbury Hunt, 1838–1904, Cassell Australia, Melbourne, 1970 quoted in 'Janet Hawley, 'The Houses That John Built', Good Weekend, 17 August 2002, pp 42–45
[9] 'Camelot Up For Auction', The Crier, 5 November 1997
[10] Roderick Shaw, 'Camelot Beckons', Camden-Wollondilly Advertiser, 20 January 2000
[11] Amber de Nardi,'Camelot in Camden', Macarthur Advertiser, 4 April 2001
[12] Jackie Meyers, 'Heritage At Risk', The Camden Advertiser, 8 August 2007, p 1
[13] Pam Browne and Marion Starr, Narellan Hidden Treasures, Wilson Crescent Richardson Road Area Resident's Group, Narellan, 2007
[14] The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 September 1938
[15] The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1951
[16] 'Laneways Lead to Rural Living', Macarthur Chronicle, 20 November 2001
[17] Illiana Stillitano, 'Council Supports Oxley Art Work', Camden Narellan Advertiser, 20 June 2012
[18] Illiana Stillitano, 'Victory For People Power', Camden Narellan Advertiser, 18 January 2012
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