The Rise and Rise of the Camden Museum
By John Wrigley

Many people ask about how the Museum came to be, and so readers might be interested to learn something of the story of the museum.
The Museum is owned and operated by the Camden Historical Society and is located at 40 John Street, Camden, in a building owned by Camden Council as part of the Camden Library complex.

Camden Museum (2011)Camden Museum

The Camden Historical Society was formed by a small group of local enthusiasts in 1957. The Society started with the support of several teachers from Camden High School and began holding its regular monthly meetings in a classroom at the High School. The meetings were held there for forty-three years until 2000.
At first the Society had no collection of material or historic items but as the years progressed and the members became active in protecting the history of the area, documents, photographs and objects were collected and donated. The Camden High School kindly allowed one of its broom cupboards to be used initially to store such items and a number of Society members also kept things at their homes in storerooms and garages.
Through the 1960s there was a rising call for there to be a place where the Society could have a small museum for visitors to come and see the growing collection of items from Camden's past.

In the late 1960s, thanks to a group of forward thinking volunteers, a plan was made for a Museum. The Society's President, local pharmacist Colin Clark, was active in the Camden Rotary Club and worked with Alderman Bruce Ferguson to identify a room at the rear of the then Camden School of Arts (now the Camden Library) which Council could make available for such a use. The Council agreed and the Rotary Club adopted the establishment of the Camden Museum as its major project for 1969-70.
This was under the Presidency of Noel Riordan, with Geoff McAleer as its hard working Community Services Director, supported by the entire membership of the Club. Other stalwarts of the Historical Society at that time included Owen and Nan Blattman, Miss Llewella Davies and Miss Nancy Freestone, among others.

The new Museum was opened before a large assembled crowd on 20th June 1970 by Major General Sir Denzil Macarthur-Onslow as Patron of the Historical Society. As the new museum neared its opening the word went out that items were needed for the Museum. Many items that are in the collection were donated at that time, including some of the "treasures' of the Museum.
Camden artist and Rotary Club member Alan D. Baker donated a beautiful oil painting "Camden From the Grove" which has pride of place in the Museum reception area today.
Many families made donations of beautiful china, trophies, Edison phonographs, furniture, tools and household equipment.

In 1970 Mr Owen Blattman became President and with his wife Nan, began twenty years of dedicated commitment and leadership to the Society and Museum. Owen had grown up in the Burragorang Valley and along with many people in the Camden area had been required to move out of the Valley for the building and filling of the Warragamba Dam. He came from an agricultural background and worked for many years in the field for Southwell Engineering, particularly with agricultural equipment. He knew many people in the district and so was an effective gatherer of donations for the Museum. These were significant years for the Museum and many of the agricultural and domestic items came in at that time.

The result of this success was predictable and in 1980 the Museum, with Council support, was extended to include the upstairs chamber of the old School of Arts building. Again the Camden Rotary Club worked hard to bring this about, led by President Ian Clifton and directors Fred Skinner and Leon Young.

In the 1990s with the rising interest in Australian heritage the Museum continued to develop. The NSW Government Ministry for the Arts assisted museums to improve their level of professionalism and curating standards. The Society obtained a large capital works grant and tripled the size of the museum with a large contribution from Camden Council and help from local donors and service clubs.
Presidents John Wrigley and Peter Hayward worked with an enthusiastic committee to bring this development to completion in 1999. The voluntary contribution of Honorary Architect Richard Stringer was enormous and ensured a high standard for the project.

Camden Museum (2011)Camden Museum

The redevelopment of the Camden Library and the former Camden Fire Station took place in 2007. About $2.5 million was spent by Camden Council and the NSW State Library to create a beautifully integrated Library and Heritage Complex by joining the Library, Museum and Fire Station with an elegant and light-filled galleria.
The Museum now has much higher standard of fire-safety than previously, and also has a lift to give easy access to its upper floor for disabled visitors.
The Camden Area Family History Society now has a room adjacent to the Museum. The redevelopment of the Library has resulted in an excellent partnership and shared usage of the building. Cooperation between the Library, the Historical Society and the Family History Society is very productive.
The Galleria is able to be used for book launches and visiting speakers by all three groups.

John Wrigley