COLUMN | Overcoming the odds

TOWARD 200: Tori Duckett with Wiritijiribin Dance Group, Mayor George Brticevic, Uncle Ivan, historian Kay Hayes, council GM Lindy Deitz and Aunty Glenda...and founder and namesake, Lachlan Macquarie and Elizabeth Campbell.
TOWARD 200: Tori Duckett with Wiritijiribin Dance Group, Mayor George Brticevic, Uncle Ivan, historian Kay Hayes, council GM Lindy Deitz and Aunty Glenda...and founder and namesake, Lachlan Macquarie and Elizabeth Campbell.

A BIG happy 200th birthday to Campbelltown!

OK, it's not technically till December 2020 - but this column winds up this month and, on Sunday, we did officially launch the coming year-long celebrations.

It was on December 1, 1820 that Governor Macquarie stood on the site of Mawson Park and founded a new dot on the map. "I named the township Campbell-Town in honour of Mrs Macquarie's maiden name," he penned, "and on my pronouncing this name aloud, all present gave three hearty cheers...".

At Sunday's launch, I think we were all glad to see the active and important Aboriginal presence - from local treasures Uncle Ivan and Aunty Glenda with their smoking ceremony and welcome to country, to the wonderful Wiritijibin dancers.

This is because the Dharawal people beat Macquarie in the settlement stakes by tens of thousands of years, and from 1809 their ancient lands were snatched away by white settlers, ending in the Appin Massacre of 1816.

Nasty stuff. Lest we forget.

But through that frontier horror, a humanity still shone through. From the deep friendship forged between the Dharawal and John Warby, to the fact it was Dharawal trackers that found Fred Fisher's buried corpse in 1826. (Namut Early Learning Centre is named after one of those trackers.) Even our famous Bull Cave - perhaps the oldest Aboriginal record of white settlement - finds itself linked to the name of our new local soccer team - the Macarthur Bulls.

On the colonial front, early Campbelltown evolved into a place apart.

Whereas nearby Camden felt more like an English village, where labourers in the fields tipped their caps to Mr Macarthur, the lord of the manor, as he rode by, and a grand Anglican church dominated the hilltop... but Campbelltown was different.

It was dominated by a patchwork of independent small farmers (many of them Irish ex-convicts), and was a bit more egalitarian in its mood, Catholic in its faith, and strident in its steps.

One of the largest landowners, Thomas Rose (Rosemeadow's namesake) arrived in chains and was unwelcome to dine with Macarthur - yet was a leading Campbelltonian of his day.

Thomas Rose won fame for his water conservation and built a dam to be used freely by hard-pressed neighbours. His community spirit was legendary and when his daughter died, in 1929, the press noted: "So beloved and respected was [her father], that when he drove to town people touched their hats to him." Perhaps that was a key cultural marker - if Campbelltonians tipped their hats, it was out of affection, not rank or social class.

In the past half century, Campbelltown has ridden an often-harsh roller coaster of change, and it is fashionable in some circles to make bogan jokes about us.

Fact is, Campbelltown was a close-knit country town that, during my childhood, was suddenly turned into a growth centre and betrayed by one state government after another that poured the people in, often in huge ghetto-like battler estates with no jobs or infrastructure, then sat back to have a laugh, as if it was all our own fault.

It wasn't. And most of Campbelltown was finished before compulsory developer contributions which provide many pools, parks and community facilities today.

The realisation that Campbelltown received the poor treatment (and broken promises) that it did, and not only survived, but thrived, and boasts such an inventive, artistic, kind-hearted and accepting community is a credit to its collective strength of character and resilience.

Celebrate with pride.