History of Blair Athol

If you had peered out to the west of Campbelltown from a high city centre window in mid-1995, you may have been forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of the country.

The rolling hills sprinkled with Morton Bay figs and tall bunya pines, Victorian homes and farm life, would make the perfect oil painting.

But not for long. Work has already started on filling these hills with houses, roads and all the things which make a new community. In fact, Blair Athol is being promoted as "Campbelltown's newest suburb".

Three historic homes(PDF, 279KB) - Blair Athol, Stone Cottage and The Kraal - will hold their ground, but the land below is to be a modern residential estate.

The irony is that Blair Athol was never intended to become a suburb in the first place. The site was actually set aside decades ago as prime industrial territory.

Blair Athol has a healthy dose of tartan in its background. After all, it was an emigrant Scot, John Kidd, who built the fine old home on the hill about 1879. He had named it after a small township in his native land.

John Kidd is probably better known to students of local history as the Honourable John Kidd, MLA, who for several terms between 1880 and 1904 was Campbelltown's Member of Parliament. As well as being a town baker, storekeeper and dairy farmer, Kidd was a high profile member of the Presbyterian congregation.

He was also a president of the town's agricultural society, one-time owner of the Campbelltown Herald, and a vocal lobbyist for bridges, roads and public buildings.

Some years after Federation in 1901, one of Kidd's daughters Mary, left for a holiday in South Africa. Here, she met and fell in love with a senior public servant - a Scot called William Harvey Brown. With Kidd's blessing, they were married in Australia in 1905, but returned to live in the South African port of Durban.

The Kraal, a historic home photographed in 1998

In 1908 they arrived back in Sydney and decided to live in Campbelltown. They made their home in a small wooden cottage slightly to the east of Blair Athol homestead, and named it The Kraal. This is the South African word for a group of huts or an enclosure for cattle and sheep. A workman's hut to the south was called the Stone cottage.

After the death of John Kidd in 1919, the Harvey-Browns moved into Blair Athol and The Kraal was let out to Thomas and Ida Boardman. These were heydays times, with the grand old home the scene of many a dance or party.

William Harvey-Brown died in 1928 and Mary in 1936. So following the tradition set in the past, the Boardmans moved out of their cottage and into the big house. Their 365-acre (146ha) farm, separated from town by the railway line, was used to fatten cattle and rear dairy heifers.

In 1945, Blair Athol and its surround were sold to the electrical engineering firm Crompton Parkinson. And on this land, close to the railway, it built the first major factory at Campbelltown in 1957.

Council was delighted, and made the entire section west of the line as industrial area.

But for years the bulk of the Blair Athol hilly land behind sat vacant, as factories were concentrated off Badgally and Blaxland Roads, and eventually other industrial zones at Minto and Ingleburn.

One major development that did arrive in 1977 was a $4.5 million Johnson and Johnson baby product factory. More than 300 people were employed and a grateful Council named the new road to the site in its honour - Johnson Road. But at the beginning of the 1990's, the Johnson and Johnson plant closed its doors, to centre its operations in Botany.

The surrounding industrial lots remain empty as well and this obvious lack of demand for factory sites - and a restructure of the Crompton Parkinson company - led to a request for rezoning of much of the land to "residential". In June 1992, the Council agreed to this rezoning, which in turn, opened the door for developers to plan homesites. The whole situation met the ire if the Chamber of Commerce and some aldermen who argued the land could still provide industrial employment in the future. But others insisted the site was ideal for suburbia, being close to transport and business.

Once approved, the new suburb was officially bounded by the Hume Highway, Narellan Road and the Franciscan Novitiate, Blaxland Road and Badgally Road.

Discussions with Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society highlighted the need for the Council to "maintain the natural ridgeline" of the Blair Athol site, "as well as the connection between three main homes in group".

It is planned that the hilltop will kept generally free of new homes and will be heavily landscaped. Meanwhile, the old homestead itself is being carefully restored by Mick Scrase and Lucas and Tait.

Some streets planned for the estate will be named in honour of the Blair Athol group of buildings(PDF, 279KB). A major circuit road will be The Kraal Drive, while other roads will be Blair Athol Drive and Stone Cottage Place.

But major theme chosen is historic buildings and sites in Campbelltown that have been demolished or destroyed.

This effort to preserve names that would otherwise be lost has earmarked: Keighran Mill. Mossberry, Pittman Steps, the Tannery, Scarr Cottage, Kuhn and the Ark. Even two of Campbelltown's most fondly remembered pubs (demolished in the 1980's) are proposed as street names - Lacks Hotel and The Royal Hotel.

A spur road along the electricity transmission easement adjoining the Franciscan Friary or the Poor Clare Nuns Monastery is to be called Maryfields Drive. This recalls the early farm property on the site which was owned by the Rudd family. The Rudd descendent, Miss Sarah Keane, donated Maryfields to the Franciscan order in the 1930's.

Council has decided to name yet-to-be-built street in this area of Blair Athol after saints. "This would be appropriate as the site adjoins land on which the Franciscans began the ceremony of Via Crucius in 1936, when 6000 people attended by special trains," the 1994 Council report suggested. This "Way of the Cross" pilgrimage was unique in Australia and has been repeated every year.

Some of the street names proposed are St Catherine, St Gabriel, St Jerome, St Maria, St Monica, St Paul, St Peter and St Simon.

"Campbelltown's Streets and Suburbs - How and why they got their names" written by Jeff McGill, Verlie Fowler and Keith Richardson, 1995, published by Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society.

Reproduced with permission of the authors.