History of St Helens Park

What do Australia's first saint, our most famous opera singer, and the author of "We of the Never Never" have in common? Mary McKillop, Dame Nellie Melba and Mrs Aeneas Gunn can all be found in St Helens Park. Not the long-dead ladies themselves of course, but the streets named in their honour.

In fact, many of the roadways in this southern Campbelltown suburb recall Australia's most famous early female identities.

The suburb itself was named, of course, after the imposing Gothic mansion of St Helens Park(PDF, 198KB), which can be seen from Appin Road.

Another early farm in the area was Denfield(PDF, 249KB), reputed to have been built in 1837 by John Farley - supposedly the first man to have first seen the ghost of Fred Fisher. Denfield still stands in the southern portion of the suburb.

But one of the earliest land grantees to settle in the area was Samuel Larken, who called his farm Ambarvale. (Although this grant stood on the modern location of St Helens Park, the name was actually given to a neighbouring suburb.)

The Larken property was later amalgamated with nearby Egypt Farm and other grants, and by 1886 had been acquired as a single holding by George Charles Westgarth.

Westgarth, a Sydney solicitor, had been in search of a country residence - and he didn't mean a slab hut. His elaborately-gabled mansion was built with Minto-quarried stone, in 1887. It was based on a design by George Mansfield, was also the architect of old Campbelltown Public School and the Queen Street building now occupied by the Macarthur Advertiser.

Subsequently the property passed into many hands, and by the 1940s it was known to many locals as "Blowfly Farm", because it was used as a fly spray testing laboratory, until it was bought in 1949 and restored by Cyril and Mary Brookes.

By April 1970, it comprised 123 acres (49ha), bounded by Appin and Woodland Roads and the Georges River, and was run as a grazing property.

Woodland Road, presumedly named after the thick bushland which once lined the roadside and the banks of nearby Spring Creek, has been in existence for more than a century.

Most other old roads can be found closer to the river, where free selectors settled on small farming blocks in the 1880s and 1890s. Probably the best known of these families were the Scattergoods, who still live in the area, and are honoured by the new Scattergood Reserve.

How, why and when the old bushroads got their names is a bit vague.

Rangers Road may have been an access way for an early ranger, while Lynwood Road and Derwin Road are most likely property or family names.

Well into the 1970s, the area remained farms and bushland. If anyone ever wanted to give a name to the area, it was usually Campbelltown South, Wedderburn, or simply "the back o' Bradbury".

But all this changed in 1975 when suburban development for the area was first mooted, and Council pondered what it would call the new suburb. The prominent landmark built by George Westgarth provided the answer. In 1976, St Helens Park was officially approved.

But its not as though anyone suddenly rushed into create suburbia. The cows continued to graze happily for years, and when Woodland Road Public School opened in February 1980, it was still surrounded by trees and paddocks.

Two months later, the CI News detailed plans for hundreds of new homesites near the school - an estate that was marketed as Woodland Park.

But the new streets needed names, and in October 1980, Council approved a "theme" of Australian Marsupials.

This provided names such as Parma (a species of wallaby thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the Great Dividing Range) and the Quokka of Rottnest Island.

Some other creatures were the red-necked Pademelon of the east-coast rainforests, the long-tailed Bilby, Larapinta marsupial mouse, the Tammar wallaby, the Mongon ringtail possum, the Cuscus possum, and the Merrin, also known as the bridled-nailtail wallaby.

What had once been the old road to Wedderburn was named after the Karrabul wallaby.

Growth of this "marsupial" area has continued well into the 1990s, with latest roads noting the Potoroo rat kangaroo and the Boongary tree kangaroo.

But the paddocks around the old St Helens Park house remained empty until 1988, when the property was sold. By March 1990 the first blocks had been placed on the market.

Once again, street names had to be found. Ten years earlier, Council had decided on a "Solar System" theme, creating titles such as Jupiter Place, Orion Avenue and Sagittarius Street.

But by the time the first roads were laid, this theme had been changed to "Great Australian Women".

Those honoured in the first stages of development included artist Adelaide Ironside, opera singers Dame Nellie Melba and Marie Collier, the first woman Labor MP, Mary Holman, actress and singer Gladys Moncrieff, the nurse who devoted her life to polio treatment, Elizabeth Kenny, novelist and playwright, Ellen Cusack, colonial entrepreneur, Margaret Catchpole and early actress, May Robson.

Nancy Walton, an aviator, was originally listed, but it was pointed out she was probably best known as Nancy Bird. To solve the query, an aging Mrs Walton was contacted by the Council and indicated her preference for "Bird".

In 1991-92, development began at the south of the estate past Denfield, and the great women continued to be honoured, including:

Mother Mary McKillop and Mrs Aeneas Gunn, theatrical producer Doris Fitton, the first woman to sit in Parliament, Edith Cowan, actresses Louise Carbasse and Madge Elliot, doctor Roberta Jull, Red Cross Society founder, Eleanor McKinnon, and Alice Moss, a social worker.

Catherine Spence and Marjorie Barnard were novelists, Emma Withnell, a pioneer of the north-west, and Marian Harwood a social reformist.

Annette Kellerman and "Fanny" Durack were champion swimmers, Rosa Fiveash a botanical artist, Ida Mann, an opthamologist, Kate Ardill Brice, a gynaecologist, and Bella Lavender, a feminist and teacher.

Minard Crommelin was an early conservationist, Ruby Davy a musician, Marie Cardinni, a singer and actress, Barbary Baynton, a writer Constance Dewey, a psychologist, Lucy Osburn, the first trained nurse in Australia, and Sarah and Ann Andrews, proprietors.

In July 1991, Council wanted to add Aboriginal women to the list. Hence Whorlong Street, after Queen Nellie Whorlong, Briggs Place, after Koori nurse and midwife, Louisa Briggs, and Alyan Place, after Alyandabu, who lived in Darwin and worked in fettlers camps on the old north Australian Railway.

St Helens Park Public School opened in 1995. And despite the ongoing development, the suburb is set to contain large sections of bushland reserve.

Woodland Road Baseball Complex was established on the site of the old rubbish tip in 1976. Another former tip has also been converted into a popular sports ground - this time for soccer - at Lynwood Park, named after the road it faces.

"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.