Campbelltown historian retires from active duty

HE'S famous around Campbelltown for digging out something no one knew existed, whether a photograph or plans of a building or just a pioneer's name.

End of an era: Alex Goodsell in the Alex Goodsell Rural Exhibition Centre in Campbelltown. Picture: Simon Bennett

End of an era: Alex Goodsell in the Alex Goodsell Rural Exhibition Centre in Campbelltown. Picture: Simon Bennett

But Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society will have to do without Alex Goodsell's encyclopeadic knowledge.

Well, at least officially.

He has stepped down from his formal duties with the society to concentrate on writing down what he knows.

Mr Goodsell attended his first CAHS meeting in 1956 — and the rest, as they say, is history.

That history was honoured at a special morning tea on Saturday.

Committee member John White said the event was to show how grateful the society was for all Mr Goodsell has done.

"We wanted him to know how much we appreciate what he has done for the past what-seems-like 200 years," he said.

Mr Goodsell got involved in the society after being told, as a young science teacher at newly-founded Campbelltown High School, that he should know more about culture and history.

He was appointed secretary and then became president, in 1960, after the death of society founder, Dr Ivor Thomas.

And he remained in the job for the next 40 years.

Mr Goodsell was born in Manly but has spent 80 years in Campbelltown.

"I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," he said.

"The biggest difference over the years is the sheer population," Mr Goodsell said.

"Campbelltown had a population of about 4500 in the 1950s but with the vast number of people here now, the biggest change is the traffic.

"You have to know where you are going before you leave the house now, because of the amount of traffic on the road."

He said the highlight of being part of the historical society was the change in public attitude towards the historic environment.

"People now accept historic buildings and are prepared to look after them because they know it's an important tourist attraction and they are of local interest to everyone," he said.

"People didn't always want to preserve our history, now they realise the history is an important part of the town."

He believes the society is invaluable to Campbelltown as it gives a focus to the beginnings of the area.

"If you ignore your history you do so at your own peril," he said.

Mr Goodsell has been in hospital five times in the past year, but said he would still be an active member of the society.

The "ag shed" out the back of Glenalvon House is named the Alex Goodsell Rural Exhibition Centre with a display of all things farming to commemorate the area's farming past.

Tribute to Alex Goodsell from Campbelltown historian Stella Vernon

Alex, it is an honour and a privilege to bring you this tribute.

It comes from us all with heartfelt thanks for your long and sustained time as president and committee member of the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society.

A brief listing of the positions you have held, helps to give us an idea of what you have done for the society, but the true picture is much wider than that.

From the time you became secretary in 1956 just a short time after joining to your elevation to the presidency on Dr Thomas’ death in 1960 to your stepping back from that position to the committee 40 years later in 2000 and to your resignation from that role just recently you have have thought only of how you could help the society.

It has not been easy. Dr Thomas’ death left a vacuum – membership was down to just over 20 – attendance was down to a few members - but you persevered.

As my daughter Margaret says, in a note she sent me:

‘‘Alex was a science teacher, who has also had a strong interest in history. He therefore has been able to draw information from a wide range of sources whenever he has been discussing or researching topics or promoting projectsand Campbelltown is certainly the richer for the projects he has promoted.’’

After you became president the many items of historical value the good doctor had collected, including his research files and photographs, found a home in your garage. His books, still housed in the doctor’s bookcase, were looked after in the first instance by Jim Munro.

But gradually the collection of agricultural items became too much, and it was Bruce McDonald who helped you out by finding temporary space at the council store at the back of the town hall.

But the society was without a home, and the Goodsell house became its base. You visited the Mitchell Library on behalf of the society. You continued to answer research enquiries, you took folk on tours of the district, you continued your education, you took a course in town and country planning, where you were influenced by Professor Denis Winston, who introduced you to the history of architecture and an appreciation of heritage.

Interest at that time was in development; and for many people in the community, history took second place.

You became involved in many of the controversies in those years. The demolition of Keighran’s Mill and the establishment of the Moore-Oxley Street bypass were disappointments.

The saving of the Queen Street Houses, Richmond Villa and Glenalvon were major achievements.

And it was the saving of Glenalvon that brought the society to its eventual home.

While the front of the house was leased, the stables and later the original cottage, were let to the society for use as a museum. But that did not make your role any easier.

You undertook tours of the museum with two or three groups of school-children per month. It meant opening up each time the museum was opened and then there were working bees           and regular open days — all of which you attended.

And you attracted people — people with sometimes unusual and particular talents; Jim Munro,  Sid Percival, Ed McBarron, Lorraine Voss, Verlie Fowler, Marie Holmes, to name a few people who brought  their own love of history to the society, and who added to the society’s varying interests and whom you helped in every way possible.

And it was the partnership between yourself and that remarkable man Ron Moore, which left us a legacy of videos of the district, and which enabled us to build the Alex Goodsell Resource Centre, which we could not now do without.

And before you resigned as president you introduced Daved Milton to the society.  David with help from you was to become the liaison between Campbelltown City Council and Tom Bass for the completion of the beautiful sculpture of Elizabeth Campbell,  which now graces Mawson Park and is admired by everyone. 

I have touched only briefly so far  on what has been your greatest help to the society — that is our photograph collection. These include photographs taken by PC Marlow, Dr Ivor  Thomas and Tom Swann. Add those of Verlie Fowler, Marie Holmes, Hugh Bairnsfather and of Alex Goodsell himself over his 60 years in the society and there is a considerable collection.

My daughter Margaret said:

‘‘Due to my own interest in taking a lot of photographs, I cherish this humorous item told to me once by Alex. From the 1950s and 60s onwards, he would go and photograph a building in Campbelltown if he heard it was about to be demolished. Sometimes he made it just in time, and would take a photograph of something in the morning only to have it come down in the afternoon. For awhile, he told me, people would call out jokingly, ‘‘Watch out! Alex has a camera in his hand — keep out of his way. Don't let him photograph your house!’’

Of course, the other side of this story is the rich heritage of archival material he has given Campbelltown. What an achievement!

For it is not only the taking of the photograph which means so much — it is the knowledge that you bring to the whole collection. Ask Alex about any photograph in the collection and he may not answer directly, but sooner or later he will have an answer. ‘‘That is the corner of Bursill’s store which was the place where Fred Fisher’s house stood’’, or  ‘‘That is a picture of Warby’s barn, not stables. They have been labelled wrongly’’.

Those photographs have been an invaluable resource to the society, and  to the community — they have shown in many instances what the town was like, what it could have been.

They epitomise the contribution you have made in so many ways to the life of the society and to its members.

I cannot thank you enough for the legacy you have given us and I hope you and Marie and the family will receive many years of pleasure from our gift to you, as we have from your having been amongst us.

Have you benefited from Alex Goodsell's local knowledge? Comment below. 


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