Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An annotated walking tour of Campbelltown

Campbelltown is situated on land traditionally owned by the Dharawal people.  I would like to acknowledge this as we commence our exploration of the area. 
There are a number of excellent resources available for people who want to understand more about the Dharawal culture, traditions and knowledge:
1. Dharawal seasons and climate cycles by Francis Bodkin and L Robertson. Available in the gift shop of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and the Australian Botanic Garden Mt Annan. This is a beautiful and fascinating book about the climate and seasonal cycles, cultural information and stories. Beautifully illustrated. 
2. Dharawal by Les Bursill and Mary Jacobs available from the author.
The Dharawal version of Advance Australia Fair makes a nice beginning for us.

Modern Campbelltown is a diverse community on the very outskirts of Sydney's south west.  It is well located with easy access (that is, pleasant uncongested driving routes)  to the Blue Mountains, Canberra, Southern Highlands and the coast. The local community includes members who are rich and poor with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds represented. As such it is as good a place as any to have a look at modern Australian life (and with easier parking than most).
The Visit Macarthur website provides a self guided heritage walking tour. This article is intended to supplement the information provided about the heritage properties to give the visitor a run down on the other things you will see as you go along.

The heritage walk commences at the Campbelltown visitor information centre which is run out of Quandong Cottage which dates from 1840.  Next door is Campbelltown Catholic Club aka "the Catho". The Catho is a  community club. Pretty much every community has one or more community clubs where members are provided with more or less in the way of services.  Even some of the tiniest outback communities have one. The Catho is a particularly successful one, but there are bigger ones around. Inside most clubs you will find the ubiquitous "gaming room" and usually some good value eating and drinking and lounges for congregating in to talk or watch large screens. I am told that once upon a time clubs offered interesting activities and games for members. As you will see on the website of this and other clubs, these days the activities offered to members seem to predominantly involve a varied array of gambling opportunities. It is definitely worthwhile stepping foot in a club at some time during your trip.. if you want to be able to say you've really "seen" Australia you should aim to return home able to do a comparison of the differences between a leagues club and a rissole (see below). 

The walking tour now guides you up Queen St. The Millhouse suffered a fire a while ago and has since been standing abandoned. As a heritage building the cost of restoration is high. It is hoped that someone rescues the shell before it is beyond help. It is also hoped that whoever decides to spend that sort of money might be planning to do something really worthwhile with the site.
What they don't mention in the walking tour brochure is the handy and sympathetic presence of all the essential multi-national fast food chains here in the heart of the heritage precinct.  I think we can score that up as a fail, but if you want to indulge in some "international" local culture this might be a convenient moment to do so. Now, I know that this suggestion may seem a little strange, but there are quite a lot of differences in the multinational fast food chains between countries. We have variously been shocked and delighted by our forays into KFC whilst travelling for example..
11. The coaching house, Bursill's Shop and the Railway Hotel are located along an attractive and speed limited shared traffic zone.  Opposite is the entrance to Campbelltown Mall. This is a fairly typical small shopping centre development. Much like many another sprinkled across the country. 
You may have heard of that icon of Australian life and comedy - the bogan.  It is only a matter of time if you spend long enough in Sydney, that someone will tell you some sort of joke about Campbelltown Mall and an alleged population of bogans therein.  This is a dead give away that the person so mirthfully entertained is very ill informed, and more than likely they are a snob. Such people should be ostracised immediately or treated to steely gazes and requests for explanation. Campbelltown Mall is not your best opportunity for bogan spotting at all. Your best bet is Queen St on a week day during business hours, peaking on every second Thursday. Of course bogans are not the only people you will be mingling with. You will find in Campbelltown's main street a broad array of people and backgrounds reflective of the diversity of the community at large. This is Campbelltown's greatest strength. It is one of the things that make it a nice place to live. Lower than average per capita snob ratios; you can duck down the shops in your trackies if you're feeling lazy or you're in the middle of cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn and run out of something. Noone will look twice at you. On the other hand if you feel like making an effort and putting on a nice outfit you can do so ... and again.. noone will look twice at you. Live and let live. That's the idea. Just mind your own business and live your life.

As you move on down Queen Street to the Old Post Office, look about you, there are all sorts of nooks and crannies leading to shops of various sorts. Across the road from the Old Post Office is an arcade next a medical centre. This leads to what I strongly suspect is the best and most successful pet shop in NSW.  That too has been there for decades. It doesn't carry the wide array of fascinating creatures that a pet store in the US might have, we have very restrictive laws about pet ownership. However if you want to check out an Aussie pet store this may well be your best opportunity. 
Pass along by the chemists. David Wilson Chemist is another local icon. Been there for decades. The owner also owns Glenlee olives or so I'm told. You can buy their olive oil in the chemist if you really want to. 
Queen Street intersects with Dumeresq St. Waiting at the lights to cross is your best opportunity for observing the people around you. I mean what else are you going to do when you're just standing there. It's less conspicious than eyeballing people as you stand in the street.  If you're going people watching in an area that's not a dedicated people watching place, you need to be discreet. This isn't Bondi. At Bondi people go there because they want you to stare at them. It's not like that in Ctown (pronounced See-town).. but no doubt you have deduced that from the discussion about minding your own business....  
Aside from the people watching opportunity provided at the lights, there's a few things worth mentioning here. Looking down towards the railway line on the right hand side of the road is the barber shop. Excellent barber shop it is too. Been there for decades.  They open early on Saturdays to deal with the weekend rush of men and boys lining up for a no nonsense haircut. 
If you look to the right you will see some of Ctown's growing range of ethnic grocery and food stores that are adding considerably to the interest and variety of life for the local community. My daughter specifically recommends the various drinks available at Pho Real. Milk teas and avocado shakes she reports that all their drinks are excellent value and very good. Pho Real is a noodle house, but they have bowed to pressure and will prepare everyone's favourites - crispy chicken with tomato rice, or rice vermicelli with spring rolls too.
On the upper level of the premise that houses the chemist is the head office of Marsdens Law Group. Marsden's are also a bit of a local icon established by the late and fairly flamboyant John Marsden a tireless campaigner for the local community and a proud local.
Oops the lights will have changed by now, surely.
A considerable effort has been made to beautify the main street and attract people back after the impact of the shopping centre developments like Ctown Mall and Mac Square (that is Macarthur Square, a very large shopping centre not too far away) lead to the traditional heart of the community having something of a near fatal coronary. This has been fairly successful but Camden it aint. 
19. Glenalvon is a special heritage property in Lithgow Street just off the main part of Queen Street. You will read about it in the heritage tour guide. Equally important for a cultural tourist in this area is the Rissole, ie the local RSL (Returned Services League) club. From the corner of Lithgow St and Carberry Lane outside Glenalvon you can look at the present and past locations of the RSL. Started in a shed in 1957, the RSL grew to a large site in Lithgow Street (converting the shed to into a scout hall) before being again redeveloped into an even bigger site in Carberry Lane. The RSL runs the annual ANZAC day Dawn Service in nearby Mawson Park on 25 April each year.  It makes sense to head from Glenalvon via Carberry Lane and the RSL to Mawson Park which is next in the heritage walking tour.
You will notice little discernable difference between a rissole, a club like the Catho, and the various other clubs, prominent among which are the leagues clubs run by or affiliated with the various rugby league teams.  There is however one very important difference. Every evening in an RSL club there is a moment when the remembrance for fallen ritual is conducted. There may be some variation club to club, but typically they make an announcement telling everyone to be upstanding (ie stand up) then they recite the Ode and play reveille, then you go back to what you were doing. 
20-22. Also adjacent to Mawson Park is the Campbelltown City Bowling Club. This is a good example of the more traditional style of community club. There used to be a club like this in most communities, but they're harder to find than they used to be.
Cross Browne Street and pretty soon you will come to Kings Charcoal Chicken (110 Queen Street). Just an ordinary take away you might think.  Not so fast. This place is pretty much a license to print money. It is a local icon and it is not unusual at all to find queues out the door. Peak periods being Thursday and Friday night.  It's a family run business. Most of the family have tertiary degrees in areas like law, but they found that it was more lucrative and lifestyle friendly to work in the family business. They are universally acknowledged as the best chicken and chips outlet in the district.. check out their awards which are on display in the shop.
Opposite King's is the Campbelltown City Council Chambers. Also discretely located on the site behind the bush shelter is the local senior citizens club.
If you haven't already, now would be a good time to cross the road, so back track if you need to, and cross at Mawson Park and walk down past the modern section of the court house. You can have a quick squizz (ie look) at the railway station if you really must. Of course if you have come out to explore Campbelltown by train, appreciating the heritage station buildings is no problem.
For those who have driven, as you head back down Queen St to get back to your vehicle you will pass Stockade Pies. This is a very good pie shop.
A little further along is the Spotlight plaza. For those who like quilting and patchwork Sew Many Stitches is a comprehensively stocked store buried down in there opposite spotlight. When last I looked they had a very very good range of Australian pattern fabrics.
Back on your route you will arrive at Milgate arcade. Particularly in the morning your arrival here may be heralded by a lovely wafting aroma of fresh breads. If you wander down the lane there is Yasmin Lebanese Bakery. Follow the links and read the reviews. They say it better than I could... but they seem to keep strange hours. The latest review is about a year old, but they are still there and still getting good word of mouth.
Yasmin's is on the edge of one of the local car parks. Around the car park there are a number of extra asian grocers. 
The best way back to Quandong is to retrace your steps and continue back along Queen Street in the shade. 
And there you have Campbelltown City centre. A cross section of Australian life.

Some contextual trivia:
Rainfall annual averages in the different areas of Sydney.
Parramatta - 959.5 mm (averaged over 46 years)
Observatory Hill (ie The Rocks, Sydney) - 1213.1 mm (averaged over 153 years)
Campbelltown - 829.1 (averaged over 25 years)
Camden - 764.0 (averaged over 37 years)

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