Tuesday, January 15, 2008

From Cronulla to Camden: A Proud History

From Cronulla to Camden: A Proud History

Camden has a proud history. Many may not know that in 1825 John Macarthur and his wife Elizabeth were the first to be granted some acreage in the area and it soon prospered as a small cattle-rearing town. By 1828 90% of the town was inhabited by convicts. It also had a very proud Aboriginal history but sadly many were killed in an attempt to pacify the “natives”. During the drought of 1814 two Gundungurra families were murdered and in 1816 fourteen Tharawal and Gundungurra men, women and children were massacred in Appin.

Today, the town has found itself in a conflict of a different kind. The proposed Islamic school has caused many to come out and protest vehemently and others have been so bold enough as to threaten violence.

I decided to take a look for myself and visit this historic town. As I drove down the country road and across the Nepean river my expectations were far exceeded. There were many historical building still standing, the Council building still in its original structure. The town is full of character, no fewer than four churches; St Paul’s, St Andrew’s, St Johns and Camden Uniting Church. One just as grandiose as each other although none could compare to the majesty of St John’s on Menangle road, high on the hill overlooking the valley. I also noticed that there were two Asian restaurants; the Kum Hor and Fan Thai.

There is no doubt that the people of Camden have a great history and have preserved much of their heritage. Local writer Marjory Prior writes in her memoirs;
For Camden so rich in history cannot deny progress, but retain or teach history equally. Hold onto your wealth of pride, never allow the future to swallow up meanings. Your past will always be your future.

Progress. In 1816 many Aboriginals were killed in the name of progress. Today, the demands of modernity have seen many changes, probably unimaginable to many of the elderly folk. In 1921 there were 80 Chinese migrants from a population of 2000. With progress comes change. Australia’s migrants have helped build this nation into a wealthy and prosperous land and today we all share in that prosperity. The changing face of Australia is what makes this nation unique and one of the few places on Earth that can boast a harmonious and cohesive society, with no less than 120 different nationalities. But in 2005 we got a taste for what tensions and feelings simmer below the surface. Cronulla is not unlike Camden. It’s one of Sydney’s oldest settlements and holds an important place in our nations history. Once again, unfounded community fears about Lebanese and Muslims led to some of the ugliest racist and violent scenes in years. It shocked the nation and the world. Only a few minutes by road brings us to the point where Captain Cook landed and so changed the course of history for the inhabitants of this land and for the millions who were to follow in his steps.

There are also many schools in the Camden area, four of them Christian schools. The building proposal for an Islamic school in nearby Cawdor may attract some Muslims into the area. There are already many Muslims living in Campbelltown, Leppington and close by. Ironically, so many who fear a change to the cultural landscape do not realize just how Muslims can enrich the society, just as the Germans, Maltese and Chinese had done.

In 2003 the building proposal of a prayer centre in Annangrove sparked similar protests which included pigs heads being thrown on the property. However, three years after the opening of the prayer centre, none of the fears that were expressed were warranted and today the locals speak proudly of the centre and all are welcome.

If this school is to go ahead then we must assume that the intentions of the school is to create a place to seek knowledge, educate the children and imbue them with values of goodness, honesty, integrity, mateship and respect for others. This can only be seen as a positive for the area. Muslim Australians have chosen Camden of all places, not Lakemba, not Bankstown or Liverpool. They are breaking out of their comfort zones and embracing something new and willing to meet the proud iconic citizens of Camden.

It must be said that the people behind the school proposal went about this whole matter the wrong way, if they had established contact with the local Aboriginal Land Council and sought their permission to build a school and then gradually built a rapport with local church and community groups, then maybe we would have had less of a commotion. This is a free country yes, but there is a thing called respect. We as human beings must begin behaving as human beings and place reality into perspective. We owe a great deal to God for blessing us with a great nation and we must show that appreciation by respecting the people who have lived here for so long. Without integrity and genuine sincerity we are empty shells of humanity.

Before I left this picturesque village I made one last call to the town museum. As I entered, I noticed a bust of Camden’s favourite lady, Dr Liz Kernohan who became the first female mayor of Camden in 1980 and the first female Liberal MP in 1991. A bronze bust commemorates her dedication to community work and stands at the entrance. Below the bust in typed print it writes “made by Elderslie artist Rizwana Ahmed”. I found it extremely ironic.

In 2008 Camden will be celebrating 170 years of German migration to Camden with a massive reunion party. How wonderful it would be that if in 100 years we celebrate the establishment of an Islamic school in Camden and its great citizens that blossomed from its halls of education.

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