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Camden Airfield and the Bellman Hangars

Camden Airfield has a number of historic hangars from the Second World War. They are called Bellman hangars.

They are a British designed transportable hangar that were erected at the airfield. Camden had six Bellman hangars by mid-1942.

A Bellman Hangar at Camden Airfield built in 1941 and used by the RAAF Central Flying School as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme to train aircrew for the European war campaign. These remaining hangars are part the unique aviation archaeology and heritage at the existing Camden Airfield. (I Willis, 2014)

According to John Dunn’s Comeng, A History of Commonwealth Engineering, vol 1 1921-1955 (2006), they were originally designed in 1936 by NS Bellman, a structural engineer with the British Directorate of Works (UK). The hangars were meant to meet the needs of the Royal Air Force (UK) and the Empire Air Training Scheme (UK).

Australia had very close links with United Kingdom at the time as part of the British Empire. The country relied heavily on the UK for its defence needs and Camden airfield played a small part in that story.

The RAAF Central Flying School that was set up at Camden Airfield in 1940 was part of the Empire Air Training Scheme and Bellman hangars were supplied by Waddington’s Pty Ltd. According to Daniel Leahy’s ‘Aerodromes of Democracy, The Archaeology of Empire Air Training Scheme flying schools during World War II’ the training course duration for pilots was 14 weeks, air observers 12 weeks, and air gunners 8 weeks. All courses instructions were conducted at Camden RAAF CFS while based at the airfield.

The tenders for the of the supply of the hangars, according to Dunn, were called in mid-1940 by the Australian Government’s Department of Supply and Development. Overall 283 Bellman hangars were supplied to a variety of sites across Australia and New Guinea. The final cost to the Commonwealth Government for the supply of the hangars was around £1,500 each.

Over 85 per cent of the Bellman hangars in Australia were supplied by Waddingtons (Clyde). Waddingtons got into financial trouble with the Bellman supply contract and under the wartime regulations the Commonwealth Government took a controlling interest in the firm. The government discovered that there were all sorts problems with supplying the hangars, although they were a ‘simple product’. The problems were eventually sorted out and the hangars were all supplied.

RAAF Training Squadron at Camden Airfield with one of the main aircraft used for training at the time a Tiger Moth in 1942. The control tower is shown to the left of the image and the Bellman hangars behind.  (LG Fromm)

Under wartime regulations Waddington’s was a protected industry and supplied a variety of wartime contracts in the engineering field. They included railway wagons, ocean-going lighters, ‘Igloo‘ hangars, pontoons, landing barges, and buses. Waddingtons was completely taken over by the Commonwealth Government in 1946 and renamed Commonwealth Engineering Co Ltd. Interestingly, in the 1920s the principals of Waddingtons ran a business called Smith and Waddington which made ‘custom’ car bodies for imported chassis of Rolls Royce, Hudson, Wolseley and Fiat in a factory on Parramatta Road, Camperdown.

The Bellman hangars were only ever meant to be temporary, and they were supposed to be capable of being erected and dismantled by unskilled labour with simple equipment. Dunn maintains that the Bellman hangars were 95 feet wide (1 feet = 0.304 metres), 122 feet long, 17 feet high, covered an area of 10,000 square feet (1 square foot = 0.092 square metres), consisted of 60 tons of steel, at an average cost of £3,365 (erected), had 80 major components and could accommodate 5 Barracuda aircraft.

Waddingtons supplied Bellman hangars to around 25 airfields and other locations in New South Wales (from Camden to Temora), 15 in Queensland (from Cairns to Kingaroy), 17 in Victoria (including Ascot Vale and Port Melbourne), 4 in South Australia (including Mallala and Mt Gambier), 8 in WA (from Canarvon to Kalgoorlie), 3 in Tasmania (including Western Junction), 1 in the ACT (Kingston), 3 in the Northern Territory (including Gorrie and Wynellie) and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

Initially Bellman hangars were designed in the United Kingdom with canvas panelled doors and canvas under the eaves, although steel-framed and clad doors were introduced after heavy snowfalls at Thornaby Airfield in the winter of 1937. The time taken to erect the UK hangar including levelling the ground, laying door tracks, erecting the steelwork and fitting the original oiled canvas Callender doors, was 500 man hours.

The British Ministry of Defence states that there are over 100 Bellman hangars still in existence in throughout the UK that were built around the Second World War in 2014. They were originally constructed by provide a fast, economical solution to a need for hangars. It is described as being a lightweight structure made from steel lattice frames, to form 14 bays giving an overall length of 53 metres and width of 29 metres.

The Airfields of Britain Conservation Conservation Trust states that Bellman hangars were only one type used in the United Kingdom during the war and between 1938 and 1940 over 400 were built for use. One of their disadvantages was their lack of roof height.

According to some reports there are 14 surviving Bellman hangars at RAAF Base Wagga, at least three at Point Cook (RAAF Williams), one at RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra Airport, four at HMAS Albatross, Nowra, a number at Auburn, Bankstown and Camden. For the enthusiast there is an interesting article on Bellman hangars on Wikepedia.

Updated 14 August 2021. Originally posted 15 July 2014.

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Camden’s carpenters

A local traditional trade

Carpentry was an essential craft in all communities and has been practised for centuries. In the Camden area, the traditional trade of carpentry as it was practised had a variety of forms.  Traditional trades were part of the process of settler colonialism on the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures.

In pre-settlement times, the first form of bush carpentry was practised by the Aborigines. They stripped bark from trees and used it for shelters that kept them from the natural elements and made weapons.

At the time of European settlement, many on the frontier had no formal trades skills and learnt bush carpentry from watching the Aboriginal people or experimenting themselves. The bush carpenter was a practical make-do pioneer who innovated with naturally occurring products from their local environment. They practised sustainability in a period when it was a necessity for their very survival and relied on their ingenuity, adaptability and wit.

A rudimentary vernacular domestic style architecture typical of frontier settlement constructed from available local materials. The farmhouse Illustrated here is the home of V Kill and his family in the Burragorang Valley in 1917 with some intrepid bushwalkers. The cottage is slab construction with a dirt floor and no electricity. The cottage is surrounded by the vegetable garden which is carefully tended by the family. (Camden Images)

Some of the bush carpenter’s spirit and tradition arrived with the early European settlers and owed some of its origins to the English tradition of green woodworking. This traditional practice dates back to the Middle Ages and is linked with coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management.  The craftsmen led a solitary existence in the woods and made a host of items from unseasoned green timber, including furniture, tools, fencing, kitchenware and other things.

The bush carpenters were amongst the first in the Camden area to erect building structures. Like other rural areas of Australia, the Camden area’s landscape has been defined by the bush carpenter’s huts and sheds. One example was illustrated in Peter Mylrea’s Camden District (2002), the so-called Government Hut erected at the Cowpastures in 1804.

This view of the Government Hut in the Cowpastures at the Nepean River crossing illustrates the rudimentary form of construction on the colonial frontier in 1804. (State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1)

The early settlers who built these basic shelters did so without the manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution. Either through cost or just a make-do attitude, they built rudimentary vernacular buildings that lasted for decades. In later times settlers’ structures were improved with the introduction of galvanised iron after the 1820s.

There were many examples of huts and farm sheds being erected in other parts of the Camden district, remote from major centres, like the Burragorang Valley. Post-and-rail fencing and a host of other structures put a defining character on the rural landscape. There is still evidence of bush carpentry in and around Camden.

The former farm shed c1900-1910 apply renamed the barn is popular with weddings and other activities at the Camden Community Garden. This farm shed illustrates the rudimentary type of construction practiced as a form of bush carpentry in the local area. (I Willis, 2018)

The bush carpenter’s tool kit usually did not have specialised tools and would have included saws, axes, adze, chisels, augers, hammers, wedges, spade, and other items. Their kit was meant to cope with all the contingencies of the rural frontier that were typical of the remote parts of the Camden district.

The formal trade of carpentry and joinery has a long history going back centuries centred on the guilds. Guilds appeared in England in the Middle Ages, and according to the website London Lives 1690-1800, their purpose was to

 defend the interests of the trade, regulate the quality of workmanship and the training of new members, and provide support and welfare for their members.

https://www.londonlives.org/static/Guilds.jsp

In London, they were established by charter and regulated by the City authorities. Guilds in London had considerable political power and were one of the largest charitable institutions in the City. Carpenters were organised in the Carpenter’s Company, one of 12 powerful London guilds. Guilds were a mixture of apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen, with no women.

In the colony of New South Wales, carpenters were formally trained artisans have examples of their work in colonial mansions of the grand estates and the many local towns and villages across the Camden district. These artisans used milled timber and other manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution that were readily available and that their clients could afford.

Camden’s carpenters were a mixture of journeymen and master craftsmen, who had served their apprenticeship in Camden and elsewhere. John Wrigley’s Historic Buildings of Camden (1983) lists 38 carpenters/builders who worked in Camden between the 1840s and 1980s.

The pre-WW2 tradesmen used hand tools and traditional construction methods, which is evident in any of the town’s older buildings and cottages. Take particular notice when you walk around central Camden of the fine quality of artistry that has stood the test of time from some of these traditional tradesmen.

The hand tools used by the Camden carpenter changed little in centuries of development and refinement. The tool kit of the mid-1800s would have included hammers, chisels, planes, irons, clamps, saws, mallet, pincers, augers and a host of other tools. It would be very recognisable by a 21st-century tradesman. Master carpenter, Fred Lawton’s tool kit, is on display at the Camden museum (TDR 19/12/11)

A display of hand tools at the Camden Museum. This display illustrates the range of tools that made up the carpenter’s toolkit for his job. Shown here is a range of saws, hammers, augers, planes, adze, and other tools. (2021 KHolmquist)

Hand tools were utilitarian, and some had decorated handles and stocks, particularly those from Germany and British makers. By the early 19th century, many hand tools were being manufactured in centres like Sheffield, UK, and these would have appeared in the Camden area. Carpenters traditionally supplied their own tools and would mark on their hand tools to clearly identify them. Many of the hand tools became highly specialised, especially for use by cabinet-makers, joiners and wood-turning. 

The Camden carpenters listed in the 1904 New South Wales Post Office Directory were JP Bensley, John Franklin, Joseph Packenham and Thomas Thornton, while at Camden Park, there was Harry ‘Herb’ English.  According to Herb’s nephew Len English, Herb English was one of a number of generations of the English family who were carpenters in the early years of the 20th century in the Camden area. It was a family tradition for the sons to be apprenticed in the trade to their father and work at Camden Park.  This practice followed the training principles of English carpentry guilds under a system of patrimony.

Camden carpenter Herbert English working at Camden Park in the 1920s. This image illustrates the use of hand tools here showing the use of the chisel, mallet, handsaw and square. English is cutting a rebate with the chisel after marking the cut out with his square. He would have supplied his own tools and kept them sharpened at the end of the working day. (Camden Images)

Len English’s grandfather, William John English,e was apprenticed to his father, James, and worked at Camden Park between the 1890s and 1930s. William lived in Luker Street, Elderslie, where he built his house and had his workshop, where Len recalls playing as a lad. William’s son, Jack Edward English, was apprenticed to his father (William) in the family tradition, also worked at Camden Park and later in Camden and Elderslie during the 1930s and 1940s. During this period, Jack and his brother, Sidney, both worked with local Camden builders Mark Jenson and Mel Peat (TDR19/12/11).

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The anchor of confidence – a brutalist addition

Campbelltown City Council 1982 office extensions

On 18 September 1982 the Governor of New South Wales His Excellency Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC opened the new brutalist style office extensions for Campbelltown City Council.

Gosford architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates designed the office extensions and when combined with the 1964 building created one of the most important modernist building precincts in the Macarthur region.

Campbelltown Council Admin Building Open 1982Sept16 Cover lowres
The cover of the official programme at the opening of the new administration building in 1982. (CCC)

Unprecedented growth

Mayor Thomas stated at the official opening that the city had undergone ‘unprecedented’ growth and embraced ‘enormous changes’ since 1964. (Official programme)

The city’s population growth had grown from 24,000 (1963) to 43,000 (1974) and by 1980 was 120,000.

The council’s administration was ‘strained to the limit’, and there was a risk of fragmentation of council departments. To avoid this, the architects recommended a new single building to accommodate council staff.

The architects presented three sites for the council’s consideration: the existing civic centre site;  Camden Road opposite the Campbelltown Catholic Club; and the Macarthur Regional Growth Centre.

Campbelltown Council Admin Buildings 1964 & 1982 Photographer John Nobley CCL 1983
The Campbelltown City Council administration buildings. On the left in the 1964 modernist tower and on the right in the 1982 brutalist extension. The image shows how the architects integrated the design of the 1982 extension on the civic centre site. This image was photographed from Campbelltown Railway Station by John  Nobley in 1983. (CCL Fairfax Collection)

 

Moral obligation

After considering the three options, the council felt that it had a ‘moral obligation’ to the existing Queen Street commercial precinct to remain at the civic centre site.

The new office building would act as an ‘anchor of confidence’, and the site would remain as the northern gateway to the commercial precinct. It would set a standard for future development in the area. (Official programme, 1982)

The council requested that the architects design a ‘four-storey administrative building’ of around  2000m2 with associated pedestrian plaza, landscaping and parking within the civic centre precinct.

In 1980 the civic centre precinct consisted of the 1966 single floor community hall, the 1971 single-storey library building, a single-story women’s rest centre, a service station, the former fire station and two-storey ambulance station. (Official programme, 1982)

For the completion of the project, the council needed to acquire the service station on the corner of Queen and Broughton Streets.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension9 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 brutalist administration building showing the architectural detail and exposed concrete exterior finish to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

Dominant form

The primary design constraint on the civic centre site was the 1964 office tower of 1400m2  containing the council chambers and the administration offices.   (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

The building completely dominated the precinct and was ‘considered as the major visual element in any design’ because of its height’. The architects described it as a “high rise” curtain wall construction with external sun shading’.  (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates felt that new building extension had to integrate with the 1964 office tower in a functional as well as aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension7 2020 IW (3) lowres
The architectural detail of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the exposed concrete finish to the exterior of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The spirit of the past

The architects stated that the design of the new building extensions and its ‘scale, proportion and detailing’ recognised ‘the legacy of the district’ :

‘The “colonial” pitched roof on the new extensions reflects the graceful simplicity of colonial architecture, and the simple proportions, “depth” façade detailing and pitched roof echo the features of “old” Campbelltown buildings’. (Official programme, 1982)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension12 2020 IW (2) lowres
A perspective of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building with the pedestrian plaza in front of the building. The roofline is visible on the top-level of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The building design inspired Mayor Thomas to draw on the past and ‘old Campbelltown’ as an inspiration for his address.

The new building was a metaphor for the area’s pioneering spirit.

The mayor stated that the new building illustrated how the spirit of the Campbelltown pioneers had not ‘suppressed the basic community character of Campbelltown’s early days’.

‘The spirit of the hardy pioneer bred of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today’, he said.

‘The City of Campbelltown has an ancient heritage in terms of the nation’s history, and this is being matched by a vital modern record of achievement’, said the mayor.

Mayor Thomas said

The wisdom and vision of another progressive Governor of this State, Lachlan Macquarie, almost 160 years ago, formed the nucleus of the closely-knit community which continues to grow in size and stature. The spirit of the hardy pioneer breed of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today. (Official programme)

 

 

Scale, proportion and detailing

The new office building was set at the rear of the civic centre site and kept a ‘lower profile to Queen Street, consistent with the general two-storey nature of the older buildings’.  This design provided ‘an intermediate scale’ to help its integration with the existing higher 1964 building.   (Official programme, 1982)

The building materials for the project ensured that the external finish blended ‘aesthetically with existing buildings and landscape and are architecturally pleasing’, and the ‘finishes are dignified, tastefully chosen and dignified’. (Official programme, 1982)

The proposed building used reinforced concrete as the main structural element, with ‘precast concrete with exposed aggregate finish’ to the exterior walls with anodised aluminium window frames.  The internal walls were concrete blockwork with cement rendering.

The new design ‘provide[d] a building of similar bulk possessing a horizontal fenestration opposed the vertical nature of the existing building’ to act as a ‘counterfoil’ to the 1964 office tower. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

At the end of the design phase, the architects believed that the proposed scheme was both ‘aesthetically and materially adequate’ and ‘integrated functionally and aesthetically’ with the civic auditorium. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension5 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the architectural detail and the exposed concrete exterior finish on the building. (I Willis, 2020)

Brutalist style

The monolithic presentation of the office building extension with a rigidly geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete was representative of brutalist-style architecture.

Brutalism grew out of the early 20th-century modernist movement that is sometimes linked with the dynamism and self-confidence of the 1960s. The characteristics of the style are straight lines, small windows, heavy-looking materials, and modular elements with visible structural elements and a monochromic colouring.

The brutalist-style appeared in the post-war years in the United Kingdom and drew inspiration from mid-century modernism. The style became representative of the new town movement and appeared in modernist UK cities like Milton Keynes. Brutalism was common in the Sydney area in the late 1960s and 1970s and an integral part of the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Plan 1973
Consequently, the Campbelltown area has several brutalist-style buildings including Airds High School (1974), Glenquarie Shopping Centre (1975), Campbelltown TAFE College (1981), Macarthur Square (1979), Campbelltown Hospital (1977), and Campbelltown Mall (1984).

 

Conclusions

The new 1982 office extension reflected how the winds of change from population growth had re-shaped the Campbelltown area since the construction of the 1964 modernist office tower.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension4 2020 IW (3) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 Administration building showing the exposed concrete exterior to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

 

Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the local studies librarians at the Campbelltown City Library in the completion of this blog post.

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The mysteries of a photograph

How the layers of the past can be peeled back to reveal the mysteries from yesteryear

As I was scanning through my Facebook Newsfeed this morning I came across a pretty little picture that jumped out at me.

The image had been posted on the Lost Wollongong and Yesterday Stories Facebook page and also appeared on its Instagram and Tumbler social media.

The image attracted a host of likes and shares and comments like Phil HallWhat a delightful photo’ and Christine Mcmanus ‘It’s very charming’.

What is the appeal of the picture?

The picture has an aesthetic quality partly produced from the soft sepia tones of the image, and partly from the subject, which together gives the photograph a dreamy quality. 

The ethereal presence of the image is hard to describe in words and the camera is kind to the subjects, who are well-positioned in a nicely balanced frame.

Wollongong WCL Couple on Mount Pleasant Railway early 20th century near Stuart Park
A couple relaxing on the Mount Pleasant Colliery railway at Stuart Park, North Wollongong in the early 1900s (Lost Wollongong Facebook page, 3 July 2016) The Royal Australian Historical Society caption says: ‘Photographer Aileen Ryan Lynch taking a photograph of M. Carey at Stuart Park Wollongong, March 1919’ (J Scott/RAHS)

The viewer of the picture is a time traveler into another world based on the New South Wales South Coast and is given a snapshot of a moment frozen in time. The observer has a glimpse of a world after the First World World in the present. For the viewer it as a form of nostalgia, where they create a romanticised version of the past accompanied by feelings that the present is not quite as good as an earlier period.

The world in the picture, a mixture of pleasure and for others despair, apparently moved at a slower pace, yet in its own way no less complex than the present. The picture speaks to those who choose to listen and tells a nuanced, multi-layered story about another time and place. It was 1919 in the coastal mining town of Wollongong.

The viewer is told a story about a setting that is full of meaning and emotional symbolism wrapped up in the post-First World Years. The picture grabs the viewers who pressed a Like on their Facebook pages. These social media participants found familiarity and comfort in the past that is an escape from the complicated present.

The picture provides an entry to a world that was apparently more authentic than the present.  As Harriet Richards from the University of Melbourne writes:

In response to today’s COVID-19 crisis, we are turning to old movies, letter writing and vintage fashion trends more than ever. Nostalgia is a defence mechanism against upheaval.

 

Escaping the Spanish flu pandemic?

The image is full of contrasts and unanswered questions. Why are the young couple in Wollongong? Why did they decide on Stuart Park for a photo-shoot? Are they escaping the outbreak of Spanish influenza at Randwick in January 1919? Does the NSW South Coast provide the safety of remoteness away from the evils of the pandemic in Sydney?

The female photographer is a city-girl and her male companion is a worldly reader of international news. They contrast with the semi-rural location in a coal mining area with its workman’s cottages and their dirt floors, and the hard-scrabble dairying represented by the post-and-rail fence in the distance.

The railway is a metaphor for the rest of a world outside Wollongong. The colliery railway is a link to the global transnational industrial complex of the British Empire at Wollongong Harbour where railway trucks disgorge their raw material.  On the other hand, the female photographer’s stylish outfit provides an entry into a global fashion world of women’s magazines, movies and newspapers.

The elegantly dressed couple in their on-trend fashion contrast with the poverty of the working class mining villages of the Illawarra coast. Photographer Aileen is described by local historian Leone Flay as ‘dressed for town’, contrasts with the post-and-rail fence on the railway boundary projects the hard-graft of its construction in a landscape of marginal dairy farming.

The remnants of the Illawarra Rainforest that border the railway point to the environmental destruction brought by British imperial policy and its industrial machinery. This contrasts with a past where the Dharawal Indigenous people managed the lush coastal forests that once covered the area along the banks of the nearby Fairy Creek.

Peeling back the layers of past within the picture reveals several parts to the story:  the photographer Aileen Ryan; the coastal location of Stuart Park; and the commercial world of the Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, and ecology of the Illawarra Rainforest.

Aileen Ryan, photographer

The young female photographer in the picture is Aileen Ryan, a 21-year old city-girl, who spent time in and around the Wollongong area in February and March 1919. Aileen was born in Waverley, Sydney, and was educated at St Clare’s Convent.

At 19 years of age, Aileen gained paid work when most women were restricted to domestic duties. She joined the New South Wales Public Service in 1917 as a typist and shorthand writer. As an independent young working woman, she was worldly-wise and expressed herself through her ability to fund her relatively-expensive hobby of photography. The young Aileen’s hand-held bellows camera hints her grasp of the latest technology.

In 1927 she marries FW Lynch at Clovelly and in 1942 during the Second World War she was seconded to the Directorate of Manpower. She was appointed superintendent of the New South Wales division of the Australian Women’s Land Army, which was disbanded in 1945. She died childless at Waverton in 1983.

Stuart Park, the location

The site of the photo-shoot was located on the colliery railway which skirted the southern boundary of Stuart Park. The park, which was declared in 1885 under the Public Parks Act 1884 (NSW), lies between the railway, Fairy Creek to the north and  North Wollongong Beach to the east. The area was originally purchased from James Anderson and is an area of 22.27 hectares.

The park was named after colonial politician and Scotsman Sir Alexander Stuart who was the Member for Illawarra in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the time. The park was run by a trust until 1920 when control passed to the Municipality of Wollongong.

The popularity of Stuart Park, including many families from Camden, owed much to the presence near North Wollongong Beach, which was popular for swimming and surfing from the 1920s. The caravan park was unfortunately closed in 1964, but re-opened in 1966, due to public pressure. It eventually closed permanently in 1970. The park now has a sports oval, had a kiosk dating from the 1940s and was popular with day-trippers.

Illawarra Rainforest, the ecology

The site location of the photograph next to the railway was once completely covered by Illawarra Rainforest, remnants of which can be seen along the railway line.

The rainforest type is a rich ecological community characterised by bloodwoods, stinging trees, figs, flame trees, beech, cedar, and other species. The more complex rainforest communities were located along the creek boundaries and on the southern face of escarpment gorges protected the from the prevailing north-easterly winds.

J Bywater from University of Wollongong describes the rainforest community as:

the most complex (species rich) forest type in the Illawarra. A broad definition of this forest is a “Dense community of moisture loving trees, mainly evergreen, broadleaved species, usually with the trees arranged in several layers, and containing vines, epiphytes, buttressed stems, stranglers, and other Iifeforms” (Saur, 1973, p.l.).

Wollongong Illawarra Rainforest Sublime Point Walking Track Bulli 2000 NCubbin
Illawarra Rainforest on the Sublime Point Walking Track below Bulli Tops lookout 2000 (N Cubbin)

The Illawarra Rainforest extended along the coastal and up into the escarpment from the northern parts of the Illawarra south to Kiama, the Shoalhaven River and west to Kangaroo Valley.

The primary threats to the rainforest ecology have been clearing for farming, mining, urban development, and related activities.

Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, a transnational conduit to the globe

The Mount Pleasant Colliery was opened by Patrick Lahiff in 1861 and was very successful. Two years later the company built a horse tramway with two inclines down the escarpment from the mine to Wollongong Harbour. They eventually upgraded the tramway to steel railway in the 1880s and to convert to standard gauge.

Wollongong Mount Kiera Mine Incline 1880 (WCL & IHS)
The Mount Pleasant Colliery Inclines were similar to the adjacent Mount Kiera Mine Incline of 1880 shown in this image (WCL & IHS)  The picture shows the remnant rainforest that was part of the ecology of the Illawarra escarpment.

The construction of the tramway raised the hackles of the locals and was only built after the state parliament passed the Mount Pleasant Tramroad Act 1862 (NSW).  The mining company went bankrupt in 1934 and the mine was taken over by Broken Hill Pty Ltd in 1937 and renamed the Kiera Pleasant Tunnels.

Wollongong Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway Workshop 1904 IHT
The locomotive shed at Mt Pleasant Colliery, 1904. Note the engine on the right, built-in Sydney that year. (Courtesy of JLN Southern Collection & Illawarra Heritage Trail)

The coal mine eventually closed in 1955.

Wollongong Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway Belmore Basin 1900s WCL&IHS
Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway near Brighton Beach approaching Belmore Basin in Wollongong NSW 1900s (WCL & IHS) Mount Kiera is shown in the background behind the mining town of Wollongong.

The tramway was closed in 1954.

Wollongong Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway below cliff line 1900s WCL&IHS lowres

In 2017 the Mount Pleasant Tramway walk was upgraded and the seawall rebuilt and renamed the Blue Mile Tramway Pathway.

Wollongong Mural Wollongong Harbour Blue Mile Walk 2020 ICW (2) lowres
A mural illustrating the history of the Blue Mile Tramway walk showing the village of Wollongong, coal handling port facilities at Belmore Basin and Brighton Beach adjacent to it with Wollongong Lighthouse on the harbour breakwater. The Mount Pleasant Tramway is clearly seen going off to the north along the coastline. (I Willis 2020)

The Blue Mile Pathway and other attractions of the Wollongong coast have proved popular with Camden families. They have been going to Wollongong and the South Coast for beach holidays for generations.

Updated 11 May 2021, 17 April 2020,  originally posted on 1 April 2020.

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The historic Bennett wagon

One of the larger items in the collection of the Camden museum is an item that few of the current members are aware of or would know the history. It is the Percival wagon that was located next to Macaria for a number of decades, the former headquarters of Camden Council.

In 2012 a group of schoolboys got the opportunity to pull it to bits and put it back together again. They did a lot of work but were unable to finish the project. The wagon has been fully restored and conserved and is now located at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre in a new blacksmith’s display.

Camden Percival Wagon_0003
The historic Camden (Percival) wagon is probably a Bennett construction and was placed in the forecourt area next to Macaria by the Camden Historical Society in 1977. Where is stayed for a number of decades until 2012. (Camden Historical Society)

 

Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys

The Percival wagon is likely to have been built at the Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys which   started in 1858 and eventually closed down in 1958. The Western Plains Cultural Centre at Dubbo states:

Bennett coach and Wagon works were operated by brothers James and George T. Bennett. Their tabletop wagons became famous throughout Australia; they were capable of carrying from 10 to 20 tonnes, and were regarded as the best heavy transport wagons to be bought. They were used in both rural and urban areas.

The Bennett wagon works at St Marys employed around 25 men at the end of the 19th century, with its wagons selling for between £150 to £250. The wagons were usually painted green and red, or red and blue and some had nick names, like ‘The Maxina’ (in South Creek Park now), ‘King of the Road’, and ‘The Pioneer’.

st-marys-bennett-wagon-works-1910-penrithcitylibrary-e1499829672934.jpg
George T. Bennett’s Wagon Works, St Marys. The photograph, taken in 1910, shows George Bennett’s wheelwright and blacksmith’s workshop in Queen Street, St Marys which was built in about 1875. The business was on the western side of Queen Street, a short distance north of King Street. George’s brother James joined him in the business but after a disagreement, James built his own workshop closer to the highway. George closed his business in 1920. (Penrith City LIbrary)

 

The Penrith City Regional Library states the Bennett wagons were used by teamsters to haul silver from the Burragorang Valley. In 1904 there were 15 teams of horses and bullocks plying the road between Yerranderie and Camden railhead from the silver field which lasted from around 1900 to 1925.

The silver ore was originally forwarded to Germany for smelting, and after the First World War it went to Port Pirie in South Australia and then Newcastle. The story of the teamsters who worked out the Burragorang is celebrated in a monument outside Macaria in John Street, which was installed in 1977 by the Camden Historical Society.

 

Wagon finds a home at Camden

The historical society’s wagon was one of the last in the Macarthur area. It was around 70 years old when the society purchased it from Sydney Percival of Appin in 1977 using a public fundraising appeal organised by society president Owen Blattman and Dick Nixon for $200. Once the society secured the funds and purchased the wagon it was then restored by retired Camden carpenter Ern Howlett and painted red and blue.

Deidre Percival D’Arcy says:

 My father, Norman Dyson Percival, owned the wagon and the property Northampton Dale. He first offered the wagon to Campbellltown & Airds Historical Society where Norman”s brother, Sydney Rawson Percival, was a member. He assisted in the move to Camden Historical Society. 

Northampton Dale

The original owner of the society’s wagon was Sydney’s father Norm Percival who died in 1942 with the wagon passing to his son. Norm lived on the property called Northampton Dale which was part of William Broughton 1000 acre grant of Lachlan Vale.

John Percival purchased Northampton Dale when Broughton’s grant was subdivided 1856 and named it after his home in England. The Percival property was used for horse breeding, then beef cattle and later as a dairy farm. During the First World War the farm was a popular venue with local people for playing tennis. (Anne-Maree Whitaker, Appin, the story of a Macquarie Town)

Campbelltown Percival Wagon_0001

 

Typical of Bennett wagons the society’s Percival wagon was used to cart wheat at Junee in 1913 while around 1900 it had previously been used to cart chaff from Campbelltown Railway Station to the Cataract Dam construction site.

Wagon at Appin

The wagon was also used to cart coal in Wollongong and then around the Percival Appin farm of ‘Northampton Dale’ and the Appin district. The Percival wagon had been restored by the Percivals in 1905 and was fitted with new front wheels, and plied for business around with Appin area. The signage along the side of wagon was ‘EN Percival, Appin’.

The Percival wagon was placed adjacent to Macaria in John Street in 1977 and by 1992 was a little the worse for wear. A team of society members took to the task with gusto and contributed over 200 hours to the restoration, with Camden Council contributing $600 to the total cost of $1200.

Another decade passed and the weather and the elements again took their toll on the wagon. Repainting was needed in 2001.

Camden HS Teamsters Wagon
The Percival wagon in Argyle Street Camden driven by Mr Biffin before being located next to Macaria in John Street in 1977 (Camden Museum)

 

Restoration by Macarthur Anglican School students

In 2012 the Dean of Students at Macarthur Anglican School Tim Cartwright suggested that the wagon become a restoration project for the school boys. Cartwright, who had retrained as a teacher, had been a master carpenter in Europe before coming to Australia. The wagon was taken out to the school later in that year and the students completed some work on it.

Tim Cartwright stated in 2018

When the School took possession of the Wagon, the entire sub structure was affected by white-ant and dry rot. This became evident when the front wheels folded under themselves unable to steer or take their own weight.

A small team of enthusiastic Year 7 and Year 9 boys with no practical carpentry experience gathered every Friday afternoon and sometimes through School holidays, with the intention of renovating and replacing all parts of the Wagon to bring it to a point where it could be used rather than just as a display.

Over the four year period the boys learnt essential Carpentry skills often producing work that demanded great attention to detail and a skill level that would be demanding even for modern practice.

The boys included Adam Ebeling, Jack Jansen, Richard Cartwright, Henry Cartwright
Tom Oliver, Daniel Pearce.

The boys took great pride in their work and were always concerned to replicate original parts instead of compromising on easier or more convenient solutions. This project has been rich in learning in many aspects and I am thrilled to have led the boys on this pathway of preserving our local heritage and introducing them to skills they will be able to revisit in years to come.

Restoration and conservation by The Oaks Historical Society

The latest restoration of the wagon has been completed by volunteers at The Oaks Historical Society.

The Oaks Cover Newsletter 2019 Wagon Restoration

 

Camden HS Wagon SoS Cover
Camden Museum, Teamsters’ Wagon, Statement of Significance, Item No 1995.423.

 

 

Read more about Bennett Wagons

http://www.stmarysstar.com.au/story/2590835/historic-wagons-coming-home/

http://www.penrithcitygazette.com.au/story/3331875/historic-wagons-roll-into-town/

Originally posted 7 December 2017. Updated 24 July 2020