OPINION | ‘Invaders’ destroy our pretty landscape

Before the sprawl: The watercolour of Campbelltown, in 1860, by Henry Grant Lloyd. Note St Peter’s Church on the far right of the picture, near the train steaming past. The railway line had only opened a few years earlier.
Before the sprawl: The watercolour of Campbelltown, in 1860, by Henry Grant Lloyd. Note St Peter’s Church on the far right of the picture, near the train steaming past. The railway line had only opened a few years earlier.

This week I thought I’d show you this gentle watercolour of Campbelltown, painted in 1860 by a visiting artist, Henry Grant Lloyd.

It was recently discovered in the State Library of NSW archives by John White from our excellent Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society.

When I saw it last week I was thrilled. I was also a little sad, because all those open spaces – that have long helped define the local landscape – are vanishing.

Our Scenic Hills are constantly under threat, Campbelltown’s last two surviving patches of genuine farmland – Gilead and Menangle Park – have just been approved for squished-up housing estates, and the photo-chemical smog above us is often as clogged as our inadequate road systems.

Many of us fear that Macarthur hasn’t become part of Sydney, but a colony of Sydney.

(When I got my licence in 1984 I could drive from Campbelltown to Narellan in less than 10 minutes. The same trip recently took me 45 minutes. That’s not “progress”, I don't care what any developer/politician says.)

Camden is well on the way to joining Campbelltown in sprawl, and Wollondilly won’t be too far behind. But every time I raise the topic of traffic gridlock, or McMansions with roofs touching and no backyards, someone on Facebook moans: “Well, what do we expect, moron, we’re part of Sydney!”

Are we? Cities overseas, with many times Sydney’s population, don’t sprawl out as far as 70-80km. And, when exactly was the formal gold-plated invitation delivered for Macarthur to become part of Sydney?

When I was a kid, Campbelltown was not part of Sydney – it was even described as a “satellite” town, in its own orbit outside the city. In the 1970s to 1990s when suburbia exploded, Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly were still a distinct region – Macarthur – just like Hunter, or Illawarra.

Now we’re Sydney. There’s even a big sign telling us so, on the freeway.

But here’s the big question we should ask: are we part of Sydney, or merely a colony of Sydney?

The truth is, there was no gold-plated invitation issued to Macarthur because we were never actually invited to join Sydney, we were invaded by Sydney. Gradually, by a front line of sprawl.

Many will argue that Sydney’s endless growth can’t be helped. Perhaps. But what can be helped is the attitude that often goes with it. You know, the built-in sneer.

We’re just unimportant bogans, and how dare we question our colonial masters who know best – from pulling up the Camden rail line in 1963, to breaking the promise to save Hurlstone in 2017. The 1970s example still stands out: Hey, let’s dump five massive Housing Commission estates on Campbelltown, with no jobs, transport or services, and then make fun of Campbelltown for what we dumped on it.

This is what invaders do. They portray the original inhabitants as culturally inferior, needing to be civilised, then they plunder the place.

So, we’re Sydney’s dumping ground – the place to put endless McMansion estates, incinerators, proposed jails, curfew-free airports, smog – generally any crap Sydney doesn’t want, or hasn’t got room for. Our landscape isn’t worth saving when Sydney needs to expand into it.

It doesn't matter how rich our local history is, or how artistic, inventive and generous we are as a community. A colony is a colony, and all that matters is the invaders.

Hopefully Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly can stand united and preserve what little they can.