Camden and district

14 Jun

Two interesting items have come my way in the past few days.

The first is in the Autumn/Winter 2008 Dissent, an Australian magazine edited from Canberra by Kenneth Davidson and Lesley Vick.

Julian C.H. Lee compares the Cronulla riots and the way they were reported and used as a backdrop to the protests in Camden against the building of an Islamic school with the 1969 race riots in Malaysia which have been used as a threat to justify maintenance of the privileged status of Malays in Malaysia.

Lee, who comes from Malaysia, admits there are very significant differences in scale and background, but nonetheless does make some useful remarks about the iconic status each event has assumed in its context. He also introduced me to the idea of “discursive deracialisation” by which what may in fact be xenophobia or racism — I prefer xenophobia in the Islamophobia context — is “neutered” by reframing the debate under other heads, such as traffic management. As Martha Augoustinos notes:

During the past 20 years, there has been a burgeoning literature on racial discourse in Western liberal democracies that has been informed by several disciplines. This literature has analysed linguistic and discursive patterns of everyday talk and formal institutional talk that can be found in parliamentary debates, political speeches, and the media. One of the most pervasive features of contemporary race discourse is the denial of prejudice. Increasing social taboos against openly expressing racist sentiments has led to the development of discursive strategies that present negative views of out-groups as reasonable and justified while at the same time protecting the speaker from charges of racism and prejudice. This research has demonstrated the flexible and ambivalent nature of contemporary race discourse.

While this has clearly been shown during much of the debate about Camden and the Islamic school question, one should not jump to the conclusion that is the total truth.

That brings me to today’s Weekend Australian and an article by Ashleigh Wilson:

Change poisons Camden’s old ‘oasis’

THIS used to be dairy country, back when Edgar Downs was a boy. There were 100 or so working farms; only about 10 are left. The rest have been broken up, subdivided into small properties – maybe hobby farms with a horse or two. Or they have moved west.

Downs, 52, looks around the valley his family has called home for generations and wonders how strong the winds of change will blow through Camden, on Sydney’s southwestern fringe.

The locals won’t hang around if the rural character of the region keeps disappearing.

“This is the last little oasis,” Downs says.

Across the valley, he can just make out the Oran Park-Turner Road precinct, a new suburb that will add up to 35,000 people to the area in the next 10 years.

Down the hill, is Lot 1 DP 579345 – the piece of land that was at the middle of an international controversy sparked by allegations of racism.

This is where the Quranic Society wants to build an Islamic school to cater for 1200 students. After a residents’ campaign exposed intolerance on the fringes of the community, Camden Council last month unanimously rejected the proposal.

Kate McCulloch, who became the face of the push against the school, was described as the next Pauline Hanson, although she denies any interest in entering politics as the One Nation founder did so spectacularly 12 years ago.

The Mayor, Chris Patterson, insists the council’s decision was based on “planning” grounds, nothing else; Muslim leaders suspect other forces were at work, as small groups of residents celebrated their victory with incendiary rhetoric.

“Town under siege” and “Honour at stake” were two of the front-page headlines in local papers as the world accused Camden of racism.

But the debate revealed deeper concerns. The walls are closing in on Camden, and anxiety about the inevitability of change is growing like never before.

McCulloch describes herself as “one of the happiest people in Camden”.

“They say I hate Muslims, but I don’t,” she says. “I’m the opposite. I want everyone to live in peace … I can’t stand what’s happening to Muslim women.”

The 45-year-old is wrong to claim she speaks for all of Camden. While other parts of Australia have already felt the growing pains of change, Camden represents a faultline between theold and the new, between thenation’s historic character andeverything that change represents.

Demographer Bernard Salt says: “Camden sits like a demographic island, beyond the fray of an advancing city.

“It’s almost like here was a reprieve, a sanctuary, from the southwest urban sprawl.”

Salt says it has happened elsewhere: the Dandenongs in Victoria, Beenleigh and Caboolture in Queensland, Gawler in South Australia and Sunbury in Western Australia. Most of those communities have already been consumed by neighbouring cities.

Camden can’t hold out for long. It prides itself as a quiet rural town – the “birthplace of the nation’s wealth”, thanks to its wool and dairy history. There’s a two-storey building limit, and the wide streets offer a charming, old-fashioned flavour.

But all that is starting to change. “Camden is losing that country air,” says Lionel Stein, a volunteer at the museum.

“If we knew 36 years ago what we know now, we probably wouldn’t have moved here.”…

The article goes on to cite some viewpoints that are undeniably xenophobic. However, let’s all pause and reflect for a moment.

I haven’t been to Camden for quite a while, but I did know the area, in the widest sense, rather well at one time. It is the Cowpastures of early European settlement. My own family’s connection to Picton, in the south of the Cowpastures or Macarthur districts, goes back over 150 years. There would be family connections right across these districts. I remember Picton, Camden and Campbelltown as distinctly rural communities which I first visited sixty years ago, a decade before young Edgar Downs was born, and into much more recent times. Camden in particular was an extraordinarily pretty place. So the tradition and the nostalgia I can relate to, and I do feel concern at the fact that Sydney’s urban sprawl has removed further and further our sources of fresh milk, vegetables and fruit, and even wine. This was a pioneering wine growing region too.


So don’t decide that concepts like “redneck” and “bigot” are totally appropriate. Even so, I cringe at much that has emerged in Camden in recent days, just as, being born and bred in The Shire, I was horrified by the events of Cronulla 2005.

It so happens too that The Rabbit is now very much part of the area in question and seems to find his sense of home there. It would be interesting to have his comments on this post; Thomas is not personally  in the area, being rather closer to the city, but many of his friends come from “further out” it seems, so perhaps they too have their views on what I have said today.

So this is Post #119 tagged “Islam”, just as I said I would refrain for a while; but then Islam isn’t my main focus here.

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6 responses to “Camden and district

  1. marcellous

    June 14, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Just to show we are all connected: Edgar Downs’ mother is (I think: this is clouded by mists of time) some sort of cousin of my paternal grandmother (it may be the link is some old acquaintance rather than actual kinship). We had lunch at their place, Brownlow Hill, near Cobbity, on 31 October 1971. I remember being very impressed that they had their own tennis court which, thanks to the introduction of daylight saving on that day (which is how I fix the date), we were able to play until 7 pm. After, we gave Edgar, or possibly his brother, a lift back to Kings where (naturally) he was a boarder.

  2. ninglun

    June 14, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Just to show we are all connected: I can recall once on a drive through Cobbity my father pointing out the Anglican Church and asserting that one of his ancestors had been married there, though my research suggests it isn’t any that I have been able to prove.

  3. arthurvandelay

    June 14, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    OT: There is no “Sunbury” in Western Australia, AFAIK.

  4. ninglun

    June 14, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Could the writer have meant “Bunbury”? Would that be relevant as a comparison? Or is there some other place not far from Perth that would be roughly parallel to Camden?

  5. ninglun

    June 14, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I note this in Wikipedia: “Australian comedian Wil Anderson called Bunbury the ‘most Aussie town in Australia’ after he was asked if he would like egg in his kebab at a local restaurant.” 🙂

  6. ninglun

    June 15, 2008 at 11:43 am

    The Rabbit dropped by this morning but has no comment at this stage.

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