The World According to Renee

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Research Weekend to Camden, NSW

Camden Park House Camden NSW

In case you’ve missed what I’ve been up to, here’s a quick recap. Basically, I’m writing historical fiction based on my family history in Camden, New South Wales.

This past weekend, Camden Park House had its annual open day. Just one weekend annually, this historic house is open to the public. And I had to see it for myself.

Although my ancestors worked at the Park and appear as characters in my story, they are not the main characters and they did not even live nor work at the Park at the time my novel is set. That’s the beauty of historical fiction: there’s a certain level of creative licence one is afforded. Neither my fictional family nor my actual family would not have seen nor stepped foot inside this homestead. Probably.

I began my trip by flying to Sydney from Brisbane. (Yep, I am certainly committed!) From Sydney, my cousin and I drove to Camden to begin researching. The first stop was Camden Cemetery at Cawdor, where I knew my first Australian ancestors were buried.

Gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden

What you see here are the gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden, who were the first Bugdens to step foot in this new colony. They were born in England, and were brought out by James Macarthur to work at the new Camden Park Estate. Thomas became a lessee of his own farm (I even found a photocopy of the original lease agreement!) and died in 1898. I must take a moment to thank the volunteers at Camden Museum, and Camden Historical & Genealogical Society for giving me so much of their time and resources as well as answering all of my questions. Special shout out to Robyn for answering questions about what life was really like for my characters back in 1909.

The visit to Camden Cemetery and Historical Society took up most of Friday, so on Saturday we headed back to visit Camden House for their open day. The home is still inhabited by descendents of John Macarthur (seventh generation, if I’m not mistaken) and is still a working dairy farm. It was quite overwhelming to stand in front of this homestead and imagine my characters interacting with actual people who once lived there. Some scenes of my novel take place within the walls of the homestead, so I was keen to see the layout of the house. Turns out, I was very wrong! It was a self-guided tour through the house, but there were volunteers in every room to talk a little about the history of the room and answer any questions we had. I talked to several of them about my project, and was met with enthusiasm, interest and well wishes for its completion.

I wasn’t so interested in the gardens, although they have won several awards. The gardens were (and still are) used to grow exotic and unusual plants. One example is the Bunya Pine, which was brought to the Park by William Macarthur to cultivate and sell to people around Sydney. (Shout out to Euan, one of the horticultural volunteers, for this information.)

What I was interested in was the layout of the Park. Obviously several thousand acres have been sold since the original land was granted to John Macarthur, however I was able to ask about the cottages of the original workers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get too close to those cottages as they are inhabited by current workers and aren’t the original cottages anyway. Still, it was interesting to see where the cottages would have stood; it gives me a good idea about distances for my characters to wander around the Park.

At the open day, I was lucky enough to meet author Michelle Scott Tucker, who wrote a biography called Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World. It was reading this biography that inspired me to write my novel. She was signing books, however I’d bought my copy on Kindle and asked for a photo instead.

Me (Renee) meeting author Michelle Scott Tucker at Camden Park

I told her about my novel and how her book had inspired me. She was so gracious in wishing me well and even said she would like to read my manuscript when it was completed!

Over the weekend, I took close to 200 photos, mostly of Camden Park House. This opportunity is one I am so grateful for; not many authors get the chance to actually look through an iconic historical location featuring in their novel.

So what next?

I now have no excuses not to finish this novel! I’ve just hit 50,000 words. I’m not sure where or how this particular story ends; I definitely have enough information to complete it and write several sequels if I wanted to. My original idea was to move my fictional family to Queensland, however I think I might keep them in Camden, at least for this novel. Let’s see what happens.

I will say this though: there is definitely a lot of writing in my future. I’m just getting started.

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September 25, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What am I up to?

I’ve been sharing little hints on social media about what I’m doing at the moment, but this post is letting the cat out of the bag, I suppose. I’m excited about this project and it all seems to be coming together, which is also very exciting!

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a fictionalised version of the Bugden family history. Thomas Bugden was the first Buggo in Australia, brought out by James and William Macarthur to work as an agricultural labourer on the Macarthur farm in Camden, NSW. When the brothers died, the land was passed to Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, who turned the Park into dairy farms.

I read a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John, who pioneered the Merino industry in Australia from Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta. While reading that biography, I discovered synchronicities with my life in Queensland. Little threads of the tapestry, if you will. Things like, Elizabeth Macarthur, daughter of Elizabeth and John, was briefly engaged to John Oxley, who was the first white person to explore the Redcliffe Peninsula. I thought it interesting that my Australian history started on Macarthur land and here was a connection to where I am now. Finding this part fascinating, I toyed with the idea of writing a fictional family who move from Camden to Queensland.

My local libraries run a lot of free seminars about a range of topics; one I attended was by Kali Napier, author of Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. She spoke about writing historical fiction and the research required, plus making fact and fiction blending seamlessly together. Inspired, I went to the library and started looking at the early history of this area, finding a range of interesting facts and tales. It was decided: my fictional family would move from Camden to Queensland.

In another exciting synchronicity, my fictional family are dairyers on the Camden Park Estates, and the land on which I actually live used to be a dairy farm. It’s a no-brainer to have them move from Camden to this actual land my house now resides!

This is what I’m writing at the moment. It’s a slow process right now because I’m using my daughter’s two daycare days a week to write, plus there’s a lot of research and distractions going on; I’m also busily looking through the library’s records of local cemeteries, which is so interesting!

I also have some paid work. Content writing, blogging, editing, proofreading and the like. Today I attended another of the library’s free seminars on freelance journalism. While I’ve never considered myself a journalist, I can see the possibilities. I just need some discipline and better time management skills!

As for my novel, here’s a brief synopsis for those interested:

The Richmond family are dairyers on Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow’s dairy farm in Camden, NSW. When (something exciting and yet to be decided) happens, they’re forced to pack up their lives, choosing to move north into the unfamiliar state of Queensland. There, they find work on another dairy farm, where new and strange adventures await.

And as for my family, the fictional Richmond family work with the real-life Bugdens, but the Bugdens are not the main characters. Mainly because none of them moved to Queensland and I want to explore the social and cultural differences between the states while paying homage to my own life’s tapestry.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment