In September 2019, I visited Camden Park House on the Saturday of their annual Open Weekend. This week I’m sharing several of the highlights of my visit, including what’s inside the house and outside in the gardens. If you’d like to know more about the history of the house and some tips on visiting the house, you can check out this post: Camden Park House. It’s such a lovely day trip, I hope that you will visit it in the future too! So without further ado, here are my highlights from the Camden Park House 2019 Open Weekend.
I have quite a few house highlights (though no photos since it is still a private residence). The first two are in the corridor off the entrance hall. The hallway is lined on either side with small rectangles of wood about 15 by 10 cm. All the pieces are a different type of wood found in Australia – how cool is that? Here, I also spotted certificates of entry into a variety of international exhibitions including in Paris and Melbourne. The Macarthurs exhibited wool, wine and even wooden furniture.
In the next room, the dining room, I enjoyed looking a portraits of some of the Macarthur family members. These included large portraits of William and James Macarthur as well as James’ daughter Elizabeth and a smaller one of John Macarthur. It’s so good to put faces to a place, especially a home. It makes an historic house visit so much more intimate if you can imagine the original inhabitants living there!
My next favourite thing was passing through a corridor lined with books. These books are old but there were new ones as well. And the shelves are chock full. If you’re a book lover like me you’ll enjoy perusing all the spines and noting the names of books and authors. My disclaimer is this; let everyone else go in before you or you’ll create a traffic jam!
The next two rooms included a sitting (or drawing) room and a library. I really loved the evidence of modern living in amongst old. You can see modern family photos displayed across beautiful dark wooden tables. If you look closely you might also spot a DVD of ‘The Crown’ and a flat screen TV neatly tucked behind an upholstered armchair. The old with a tasteful introduction of new shows that the family clearly intends to preserve the house and what makes it historically significant. I’m glad the house is here to stay; it is such an interesting piece of Australian colonial history.
Cellars and Outbuildings
So you need to mind your head and be okay with steep and slightly uneven steps to get down into the cellar, but it is not something I would miss out on! They are probably the most extensive cellars I’ve seen in an Australian historic house. In one of the alcoves it was amusing to find four or five washstands complete with ceramic jugs and basins. Where else do you put them I suppose! In another alcove is a pool table. Clearly this is a more modern edition, but how did they get it down there?! There is also evidence of horticulture and fruit preservation activities.
Now you can’t visit the second story of the house since it is still privately owned, but I wasn’t disappointed much by that since the servants quarters quite impressed me. You walk from the house proper onto a covered walkway with rooms off to the right. The first two rooms are connected internally and house the kitchen. If you keep walking along the corridor it opens out into a bricked area (weathered, red, and shaped in long rectangles) with white and wooden one storey buildings on either side. You will see the bread ovens and evidence of many more rooms for the servants to live and work in. You can’t go inside most of them – several seemed to be used as modern offices. But it was the atmosphere that makes this part of the house a highlight for me.
Camden Park House is surrounded by rolling hills, but the house itself is surrounded by maintained gardens for both pleasure and produce. These gardens were absolutely stunning the weekend I visited. There had been quite a bit of rain in the week leading up to it which made the grass and flowers vibrantly colourful. As I strolled around I caught sight of honey eating birds and bees.
The gardens also contain the remnants of orchid houses that were originally walled and roofed in glass. The houses that still retained their wooden roof structures were covered with bright purple wisteria flowers. Beautiful! You can also still see the exposed piping and the remains of the boilers that provided humidity to the orchid houses long ago. If you visit the house during another open weekend, make sure to chat to the garden volunteers about the variety of plants that James and William Macarthur grew.
After discovering the orchid houses, I ventured through to a working section of the gardens, much like a nursery. Which is exactly what it was; James and William grew plants from around the world to sell throughout Australia. Near here I also spotted a very old pine tree. Apparently it is from the Canary Islands and is dated to about 1841 if I remember correctly. So if you visit next year, make sure to check the little sign at the tree’s base and be sure to comment on this post! If you pass through this way, you will eventually find the stables which have been restored and contain a pop-up cafe. From here there is a lovely view of the hills.
I have been planning, in my head mostly, to visit Camden Park House for about 4 years now. So finally visiting it was a big deal. The house and gardens were beautiful and it was a very relaxing day out. The atmosphere honestly made me feel like I was at an English garden party with an obvious Australian twist. The air was quite warm for the beginning of spring (even for Australia!) and the house is quite unlike what you expect to see in Sydney. Even getting there, driving down one-way gravel driveways, was out of the ordinary! It was a wonderfully nostalgic and peaceful day out.