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Fall of Singapore and the Camden response

Camden response to the Fall of Singapore

The Fall of Singapore in February 1942 was a disastrous military defeat for the British Imperial forces and a defining point of the Second World War for Camden.

Camden Artist Greg Frawley’s ‘Ceasefire Moon’ (2015). Frawley says that in ‘Ceasefire Moon’ ‘I imagine a moment of peace under a Byzantine Moon where three wounded diggers face us, perhaps questioning what their sacrifice is all about and fearing future horrific battles they will face when they recover’.

Tensions in the district had been rising for weeks during late 1941.

At the beginning of December the Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbour, Royal Air Force facilities on the Malayan coast (7 December 1941) and other locations. Shortly after this the Japanese navy sank the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse (10 December 1941).

 Camden resident Donald Howard wrote that the town ‘like the rest of Australia knew that sooner or later we would be “for it”‘. (Howard, The Hub of Camden, p. 25.) Earlier in the year the Camden area had been declared a ‘vulnerable area’ (August) and the town had its first blackout test. 

Argyle Street Camden in 1938. The town centre changed very little over the next decade. This view of Argyle Street would have been a familiar memory for any local soldiers who went away for the war. On their return to Camden the town centre would have appeared very much like this 1938 image. (Scan Studios/Camden Images)

Singapore had been on the minds of Australia’s strategic thinkers since the end of the First World War. The Australian Government felt that the country’s greatest military threat came from Japan, and Australia joined forces with Britain in what became known as the Singapore Strategy. British naval facilities were strengthened at Singapore and a string of conservative Australian governments reduced spending on defence across the Interwar years.

 ‘A black month’

Historian Michael McKernan in his book All in! Australia during the second world war  has called  December 1941 a ‘black month for Australians’ and Prime Minister Curtin told the nation ‘We are at war’. (McKernan, All In!, pp. 96-97.)

Things were heating up and the Japanese Imperial Army landed forces on the Malayan peninsula on 8 December and started their land-based push towards Singapore.

The Camden News ran an editorial with the headline ‘Japan – According to Plan’. The News stated:

The feeling has been that war with the crafty and ambitious Japanese, rapidly rising to power, was bound to come sooner or later.  For years the ‘Yellow Peril’ has provided an incalculable element in all Australian political thinking. Put bluntly, the traditional ascendancy of the white race might well be at stake if Japan were enabled to gather strength from this war in anything like the same proportion as she took it from the last.’

(Camden News, 11 December 1941)

The Camden News Front Page 11 December 1941

The warning of a threat to European exceptionalism advanced by the Camden News was not new. The ascendancy of the white man was a long-held belief by Europeans across the world and the defeat of the British Empire troops in Singapore came at the hands of an Asian power came as a complete shock. According to many in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was Europeans’ duty—the “white man’s burden“—to bring civilisation to non-white peoples through beneficent imperialism. In Australia, this found expression in the White Australia policy.

We are getting worried!

There were signs that the Camden community were seriously worried by the progress of the war. The   Camden National Emergency Services jumped into action: there was an urgent call for wardens; civil defence meetings were held with training sessions; sand dumps were established in case of incendiary bombs; street lighting was reduced; sandbagging was increased at Camden Hospital; and police strictly enforced fuel regulations.

The Japanese advance down the Malay peninsula continued and units from the Australian 8th Infantry Division saw action in mid-January. By the end of month the Malaya campaign was going badly for the British forces.

The Camden News ran an editorial headed ‘The Jap is not a Super-man’:

‘The Japanese continue their rapid advance through the islands of the north until they are now within striking distance of the biggest island of all — our own homeland. That is cause for anxiety enough, but don’t let us help the enemy by crediting him with powers and capacities. he does net possess. The Jap, good fighter though he is, is not yet a superman.’

(Camden News, 29 January 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 29 January 1942

A profound shock

On 8 February 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army landed on Singapore island. Within a week the British forces had surrendered. The Fall of Singapore on 15 February to the Japanese forces was a profound shock to Australia and other parts of the British Empire.

Terry Stewart writes that Singapore

was the scene of the largest surrender of British-led forces ever recorded in history’The British considered Singapore as their ‘Gibraltar in the Far East’ and it was assumed to be just as impregnable’.

Terry Stewart, ‘The Fall of Singapore’. Historic UK. Online at https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryofBritain/The-Fall-of-Singapore/ viewed 1 February 2021.

Total War

The Camden News editorialised the defeat as Australia’s Total War— And Its Implications. The News warned that Australia was under direct threat of invasion:

Official pronouncements made last week, and again this week, should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the ‘battle of Australia’ has now definitely begun. We face total war — possibly on our own soil.  The events of the last week — one of the blackest weeks of the whole war — have shattered our complacency, and he is a foolish man indeed who still faces the immediate future with light-hearted abandon. We must rid ourselves of our comfortable beliefs that Australia is too far from Japan for successful invasion.

(Camden News, 19 February 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 19 February 1942

Camden’s civil defence authorities drew up plans for the town’s evacuation, and formed a scorched earth policy committee.  Helen Stewardson wrote to her brother, Harry, an airman in England, ‘I guess you hear the news the same as we do, it is rather disheartening, but we hope for the best’. (Vernon, ‘Letters to an Airmen’, Grist Mills, Dec. 1999, p. 56.)

Disaster

 The failure of the British Imperial Forces at Singapore was profound.   

Terry Stewart maintains that the arrogance of the British led to underestimate the ability of the Japanese forces. She writes:

In the 1930s and 1940s, the British forces stationed in Singapore epitomised the British military idea of officers and gentlemen. The atmosphere was very much one of colonial sociability.

Terry Stewart, ‘The Fall of Singapore’. Historic UK. Online at https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryofBritain/The-Fall-of-Singapore/ viewed 1 February 2021.

The Raffles Hotel is a colonial Victorian Singapore icon and is built on the former site of a beach house. The hotel was a favourite spot of British officers and their staff. 2017 (IWillis)

Oliver Steward writes that the British High Command left Singapore vulnerable, with a lack of equipment including tanks and aircraft, without proper kit to be worn by troops in a jungle environment. This situation was complicated by Churchill’s attitude who ordered Empire forcesunder the command of General Percival to “stand their ground to the last man standing”.

When the British commander Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered on 15 February 1942 more than 130,000 British Imperial troops were taken prisoner.

Captivity

The National Museum of Australia states that for Australia, the fall of Singapore was a disaster. More than 15,000 Australian soldiers were taken captive. Of these, more than 7000 would die as prisoners of war. Controversially, the commander of Australian forces on the island, Major General Gordon Bennett, escaped the island with two staff officers on the night of the surrender. (NMA)

One Camden soldier, Private Robert J Auld, served with the 2/20 Australian Infantry Battalion and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. In 1940 Auld enlisted and married Camden girl Phyllis Kerswell.   The 2/20th saw action in the Malayan peninsular campaign and withdrew under the Japanese advance in December 1941 and arrived in Singapore at the end of January 1942. Imprisoned in Changi after the surrender, Auld and others were transferred to Sandakan. Auld died in June 1945 aged 30. (Camden Remembers)

The imprisonment of Australian troops created the POW as the dominant stereotype for Australia during the Second World War. Craig Barrett writes in his PhD titled Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese that the POWs have become ‘an integral part of Anzac Day and the Anzac legend’.

Camden War Cemetery on Cawdor Road (I Willis, 2014)

Camden’s Macarthur Park Cenotaph and Memorial Gun Emplacement (I Willis)

Updated 1 February 2021. Originally posted 29 January 2021.

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The Bulls are loose on the paddock – football and Macarthur regionalism

Football and Macarthur regionalism

The Bulls are loose on the paddock. Actually, the Bulls have found the Cowpastures. These days called the Macarthur region.

We are talking about Macarthur FC, the newest entry into the A-League. For the uninitiated this is soccer.

A screenshot of the Macarthur FC website showing the logo, slogan, colours and supporting symbols of the new football club. (https://www.macarthurfc.com.au/)

Journalist Eric Kontos of the South West Voice nailed it when he wrote:

Macarthur FC is a brand-new franchise, born right here in the heart of our region a couple of years ago.

Whichever way you look it, it is the first time this region, both Macarthur and the entire outer South Western Sydney, have been represented by their own football team – of any code.

The Bulls recently defeated their opposition, the Western Sydney Wanderers, on their opening match of the new season and gave the locals something to support.

Sports journalist Janakan Seemampillai spoke with  Campbelltown local and  lecturer at Western Sydney University, Michelle Cull.  

Dr Cull said, ‘Only locals will understand how fantastic it is to have a team in Campbelltown. It’s a team for the Macarthur region being played in Macarthur.’

‘It feels good to have a team that is genuinely for our community,’ she said.

Macarthur FC and identity

Identity is how we define who we are in terms of culture, symbols, language, membership, race, behaviour and a host of other factors. These are the elements of tribal identification.

In terms of Macarthur FC, their supporters will identify themselves in terms of a song, a uniform, a logo, a mascot, a culture, their origin, and other factors.  They will all be part of the Macarthur FC supporters tribe.

The symbols that Macarthur FC have chosen are meant to build tribalism around the regional brand by the teams supporters.  

Club officials announced in 2019 that the club new colours, ochre, were ‘chosen to represent the diverse cultures of the area’.

The club’s press release stated:

Ochre is included to represent one of the traditional colours for the local Dharawal Aboriginal people on whose land the Macarthur region sits.

The logo includes a bull, which is demonstrative of the club’s physical power as well as a tilt to history when a runaway herd of cattle was discovered in the region in 1795.

The three stars of the Southern Cross symbolise football’s links with the grassroots football community, the National Premier League and the A-League.

Macarthur FC and regionalism

Macarthur FC has captured the notion of regionalism on Sydney’s urban fringe and the communities that are part of it.

A screenshot of the title slide for a powerpoint presentation at a councillor briefing to Campbelltown City Council on 1 October 2020 by Macarthur FC. The slide shows the colours, logo and other symbols. (https://www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au/files/assets/public/document-resources/councilcouncillors/businesspapers/2020/8-december/item-8.8-attachment-2-macarthur-fc-council-presentation-oct-2020.pdf)

The ochre colours of Macarthur FC are an acknowledgement that the Macarthur region is located on  Dharawal country that pre-dates European occupation by thousands of years. Dharawal country is located between the lands of the Eora to the north, the Dharug to the northwest, the Gundungurra to the southwest. Ochre was used for paintings, drawings and hand stencils on rock surfaces and in rock shelters and overhangs.

The Macarthur FC ‘bull’ logo encapsulated the early European history of the Cowpastures region and the wild cattle after which the area  was named in 1795 by Governor Hunter. Originally 2 bulls and 4 cows escaped from the Sydney settlement in mid-1788, five months after being landed. They were Cape cattle from what is now South Africa, and by 1805 the Cowpastures herd numbered over 3000. This is perhaps the origin of the club slogan ‘Run with the herd’.

The bulls and cows as presented at Perich Park in Oran Park that are a contemporary representation of the original wild cattle of the Cowpastures (I Willis, 2017)

The football club’s use of the Macarthur name comes from the early colonial identity John Macarthur. Macarthur organised the land grant in the Cowpastures in 1805 called Camden after he had been sent home to England in disgrace. This was the first act of European dispossession of Dharawal country in the process of settler colonialism.

Colonial identity John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

The use of the Macarthur name as a regional identity  first emerged in the 1940s and its  growth    has had a mixed history. The first local businesses to use Macarthur regional identity were the local press  in the 1950s.

The Macarthur FC has widened their vision of the Macarthur region beyond the generally accepted area of  Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly, to include the  Southern Highlands.

Macarthur FC and nationalism

The stars of the Southern Cross on the Macarthur FC logo link the club to Australian nationalism.  

Nationalism has been part of modern football from its beginnings in the United Kingdom in the 19th century.  The first two national teams to play each other in the 1870s were Scotland and England.

 Israeli scholar Ilan Tamir argues that since the foundation of the nation-state ‘political leaders have used sport as a means of promoting individual and national agendas’. Tamir maintains that the forces of globalisation and commercialisation of sport has weakened the influence of nationalism.

Macarthur FC supporters at Campbelltown Stadium on 3 January 2021 playing Central Coast Mariners showing the club colours and jerseys. (B Atkins)

The Southern Cross is a star constellation in the southern skies that have

guided travellers, intrigued astronomers and inspired poets and musicians. Its five stars have been used as a sign of rebellion and as a sometimes controversial symbol of national pride.

In the early 19th century the Southern Cross was adopted by the Anti-Transportation League as a symbol of resistance to the British colonial powers and their policy of transporting convicts. In 1854 it was flown at the Eureka Stockade

The Australian flag with the Southern Cross was first flown in 1901 and became Australia’s official flag in 1954.

Flags using the Southern Cross (Wikimedia)

The future

So what does all this mean for the future of Macarthur regionalism? 

Macarthur FC has adopted the name and symbols of Macarthur regionalism. There will be much written and spoken about Macarthur FC over coming years. Macarthur FC will be in the national and international media and this in turn will consolidate the notion of Macarthur regionalism at a national level.

It will be interesting to see how Macarthur regionalism evolves under the influence of professional sport with a national and international profile.

Macarthur Bulls playing the Central Coast Mariners at Campbelltown Stadium on 3 January 2021 (B Atkins)