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Local identities, Colin and Dorothy Clark

Active citizens with a vision for the future

In 2002 the Sydney press commemorated the life and times of Camden identity Colin Clark, a successful pharmacist who served his community, church and family. (SMH 20 May 2002) Colin married Dorothy, and together, they shaped ‘a vision for their future’ in Camden.

My interest in the Clarks was partly prompted by a photograph of a bottle of liquid paraffin sent to me by local resident Nicole Comerford. Colin had dispensed the paraffin to Nicole’s grandmother, Sheila Murdoch of Orangeville.

Liquid Paraffin medicine that Sheila Murdoch purchased from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark in Argyle Street. The bottle dates from the mid-20th century. (N Comerford, 2021)

Colin Clark ran a pharmacy in Argyle Street for over 35 years.  He trained as a pharmacist at the Melbourne College of Pharmacy,  and met Dorothy in Stroud. They married in 1933 at Malvern Hill Methodist Church (Clark, Fix Ears, p.72) before moving to Camden in 1934.

Dorothy was an accomplished musician and an artist. In the mid-1920s, she received a scholarship to the Sydney Art School  (Julian Ashton Art School) (Clark, Fix Ears, p.71), which trained several notable Australian artists.

The Clarks planned to stay in Camden for seven years (Mylrea, Interview) and as things turned out, they stayed a lifetime. (Camden News, 6 August 1981)  Their Methodist faith shaped their worldview and they how fitted into Camden’s rich social fabric and became part of the ‘backbone of the community’. (Camden News, 6 August 1981). They mixed with other Methodist families who amongst others included the Whitemans, the Sidmans and the Stuckeys.

Colin became a well-respected businessman and Dorothy, a stay-at-home mother. They were respected in all strata of society and mixed with people ‘of so-called high and low estate’. (Clark, Eulogy) 

Colin Clark Camden (Camden Images)

John Kearns argues that John Wesley ‘was an active citizen, concerned with people’s physical, mental and economic welfare as well as their spiritual well-being and he did many good works’. As were the Clarks.

Community service – ‘the backbone of the community’

Colin and Dorothy were community-minded active citizens who constantly devoted their ‘energies to the gentle pursuit of shaping their community’s lifestyle and character’ through several local organisations. (Camden News, 6 August 1981)

Colin was president of the Camden Historical Society from 1966 to 1970 and was made a life member in 1994. He was a foundation member of the Camden Rotary Club and served the club for 33 years. He was a member of the Carrington Hospital Board from 1967 to 1981, made a trustee in 1975 (Camden News 6 August 1981) and to honour his service, the board room was named after him (Clark Eulogy). He was president of the Camden Central School P&C in the early 1950s, a member of the Camden Masonic Lodge and a board member of the Camden Uniting Church. (Clark, Eulogy).

Colin was an active sportsman and participated in tennis, cricket, golf and lawn bowls. He was a foundation member of the Camden Golf Club, an early committee member of the Camden Bowling Club and instrumental in the foundation of the Camden CWA Rooms building.

Dorothy – musician, artist and mother

Dorothy was a musician and an artist with an appreciation of the arts.  She was an accomplished pianist, and in 1936 played the piano at a Methodist ladies ‘towel afternoon’ (Camden News, 6 August 1936). In 1942 she was the pianist for a concert for the troops at the Narellan Military Base (Camden News, 5 February 1942), and in 1952 she played the piano at a fashion parade fundraiser for the Camden Hospital Ladies Auxiliary (Camden News, 2 October 1952). Dorothy was the pianist for the first Camden Musical Society performance. (Camden News 6 August 1981)  

Dorothy was an active member of the Camden Red Cross, Camden District Hospital Auxiliary, and the Camden Country Women’s Association.

Colin Clark (RHS) with fellow Rotarians Geoff McAleer (LHS) and Noel Riordan (centre) in the early development of the Camden Museum in 1969. The Camden Museum opened in 1970. The objects in the picture are the Brunero spinning wheel for spinning wool with a penny farthing bicycle in front. (Camden Images)

Camden Museum – ‘a vision for the future’

In the mid-1960s, Colin and Dorothy had a vision for a local history museum in Camden where a collection of objects and things could tell the local story. (Mylrea, Interview)  The Clark’s view of the world would have seen a museum providing  an educational experience based on authentic objects and stories taken from Camden’s cultural traditions and values, and the individuals who created them. (Willis, Stories and Things)

 The Clark’s vision and enthusiasm encouraged support after initial scepticism. With the help of Camden Rotary Club Colin eventually secured the old council rooms at the rear of the Camden School of Arts and opened a museum in 1970. (Wrigley, Camden Museum)

Colin Clark 2nd from left on the 25th Anniversary of the Camden Historical Society in 1995. These fellows were all past presidents of the society and they are L-R: RE Nixon, Colin, Owen Blattman, John Wrigley. They are standing outside the original entry of Camden Museum in the laneway between Camden Library and the Presbyterian Church (Camden Images)

The village apothecary

Colin’s career as a pharmacist fitted into the English tradition of the village apothecary dating back to the 13th century where he was a person who kept a stock of these commodities, and he sold from his shop or street stall

The Clark pharmacy was part of the move  by the early 20th century when the role of pharmacist had shifted to a more scientific approach. There was a move away from compounding towards premanufactured proprietary products and the traditional role of apothecary of the frontier and colonial period. 

Colin recalled, ‘In the 1930s it was quite common to be called upon to dispense a prescription mixture. There were no prepared medicines and it took around 20 minutes to put a script together. There were very few cosmetic preparations.’ (The Crier, 14 November 1979) 

The Clark Chemist shop (on the LHS of the image) was located in the Whiteman’s building in the late 1930s at 90 Argyle Street Camden (Camden Images)

Colin’s pharmacy was initially located in the Whiteman building at 90 Argyle Street when he purchased Niddries business. The pharmacy opened at 8.30am, with half-an-hour for lunch to 8.30pm. The local doctors always ran a night surgery and Colin would be dispensing mixtures for the patients. On Saturday he opened at 8.30am to 1.00pm, then back at 6.00pm to 8.30pm and then Sundays and after-hours calls. ‘It was a very hard life.’ (Mylrea, Interview)  

In the mid-1950s Colin moved the business west along Argyle Street to 108 Argyle Street into the former Greens Ladies Wear. (Mylrea, Interview) His pharmacy was part of what Jill Finch has argued was the advent of patent medicines and manufactured tablets which broadened the range of drugs, and by the 1960s pharmacists were primarily dispensing premanufactured capsules and tablets.

References

Clark, GM 2021, I want to fix ears, Inside the Cochlear Implant story, Iscast, Melbourne.

Clark, Graeme 2002. Eulogy for CC, Camden. 27 March, Camden Museum Archives.

Dwyer, P 1997, Pharmacy Practice Today: An Increased Exposure to Legal Liability, UNSW Law Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 724-759.

Finch, J 2017, Pharmacy – Cultural Artefact, Companion to Tasmanian History, viewed 05 September 2021, <http://www.utas.edu.au/tasmanian-companion/browse_r_concepts.htm>.

Kearns, Adrian J. “Active Citizenship and Urban Governance.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 17, no. 1, 1992, pp. 20–34. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/622634. Accessed 4 Sept. 2021.

Mylrea, Peter 1994. Transcript of an Interview with CC, Camden, 12 November, 19 November, 10 December 1993, 19 January 1994, Camden Museum Archives.

Mylrea, Peter 2001. ‘Camden Historical Society, Its First 25 Years, 1957-1982’. Camden History, Vol 1, No 1, March 2001, p.11.

Mylrea, Peter 2001. ‘Glimpses of Camden, Interview with Colin Clark’. Camden History, Vol 1, no 2, September 2001, pp.24-28.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries 2021, Origins, The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, viewed 05 September 2021, <https://www.apothecaries.org/history/origins/>.

Urick, B. Y., & Meggs, E. V. (2019). Towards a Greater Professional Standing: Evolution of Pharmacy Practice and Education, 1920-2020. Pharmacy (Basel, Switzerland), 7(3), 98. https://doi.org/10.3390/pharmacy7030098

Willis, I. 2009. ‘Stories and things: the role of the local historical society, Campbelltown, Camden and The Oaks’. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 95(1), 18–37. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/ielapa.200906492

Worthing, M 2015, Graeme Clark, The man who invented the bionic ear, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Wrigley, John 2020. ‘The Rise and Rise of the Camden Museum, Celebrating Fifty Years!’, Camden History, Vol 4, no 9, March 2020, p405.

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An amazing woman, Sheila Murdoch

Community worker, musician and mother.

Sheila Murdoch was a rural woman who served her community and church and raised a family of five children. Her story, like a lot of other rural women, has remained in the shadows of history. She did not seek kudos and received little public acknowledgement of her role in the community.

Sheila with her granddaughter Nicole (N Comerford, 2021)

Her story came to my attention through a picture of a medicine bottle from her granddaughter Nicole Comerford. Sheila had obtained a bottle of liquid paraffin from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark.

Liquid Paraffin medicine that Sheila Murdoch purchased from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark in Argyle Street. The bottle dates from the mid-20th century. This is the bottle that led to this story about Sheila. (N Comerford, 2021)

What is liquid paraffin?

According to The British Medical Journal, liquid paraffin was recommended as a treatment for constipation as a laxative, particularly with children. A Google search of the bottle’s image indicates it is probably around the middle of the 20th century.

The real story is not the bottle but an amazing woman who owned it.

Sheila

Nicole tells us that Sheila lived on a dairy farm on Fallons Road Orangeville.  

‘Grandma was born Sheila Rose Walsh and was one of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers in Upper Kangaroo River (Kangaroo Valley).’

Musical family

The Walshes were ‘a musical family’, according to Nicole.

Sheila had an interview with Kayla Osborne from the Camden Advertiser in 2018 (6 July 2018). She  said, ‘I learnt to play the piano when I was about eight or nine years old, firstly from my mother, and then an old school teacher started teaching me during the 1930s when teachers were quite scarce.’   

‘I am also self-taught, but my family has always been a musical one when I was growing up.

Sheila told Kayla Osborne that she was fond of music from an early age and recalled, ‘my father and mother always used to sing together, with my father playing the fiddle by ear.’

‘Most of my brothers and sisters also played an instrument or sang.’ Sheila was part of a well-known local band in the Shoalhaven area called ‘Walsh’s Orchestra’.

Sheila Murdoch played the piano from an early age. She regularly played at Carrington Aged-Care Complex with the Melody Makers. I was told by one member of the group that she could play any tune in any key. Now that is quite an achievement. (Camden Advertiser, 2018)

Nicole writes, ‘Grandma played the piano, and they played all over the Shoalhaven District over many years, including during WW2. She met my grandfather, Leslie Murdoch, after joining their orchestra  when he was stationed at Nowra during the war. Grandad was a mechanic for the RAAF at Nowra.’ 

Les was from the Newcastle area, born at Adamstown in 1922, and in 1941 enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. On discharge in 1946 he had the rank of corporal.

Les played the saxophone [Weir, p. 33]

The South Coast country press reported the regular ‘gigs’ played by the Walsh Orchestra in the Shoalhaven area between the mid-1930s and the Second World War.   In 1936 they performed at the St Michael’s Convent School Hall in Nowra (Nowra Leader, Friday 26 June 1936) and the Roman Catholic Ball at the Kangaroo Valley School of Arts in 1938. The ball drew loyal church supporters from Burrawang, Gerringong, Nowra and Berry for the jubilee celebrations for the Kangaroo Valley Roman Catholic Church.

Reports of the dance said that the stage was ‘tastefully decorated with streamers and clusters of balloons’ surrounded by a vase of chrysanthemums and maidenhair ferns’. The orchestra was under the baton of Jack Butler. (Shoalhaven News, 1 June 1938). The band played at the annual ball and euchre party of the Kangaroo Valley RSS&AILA in 1939 (Shoalhaven News, 13 September 1939) and the Gerringong Football Club’s dance and euchre party at Gerringong in 1944. (Kiama Independent, and Shoalhaven Advertiser, 17 June 1944).

Sheila and Leslie married in March 1945 at Berry [Nicole] and moved to Orangeville in 1946 (Camden Advertiser, 6 July 2018) after  he was discharged from the RAAF.

Sheila with her great-grandchildren at the farm (N Comerford, 2020)

Thornhill, Orangeville

Nicole writes, ‘They had little money when they moved there, really the only money they had saved from playing for dances and what Grandma had in war bonds. They grew peas until they had enough money to start dairying, and over the years, they purchased all of the farm from other family members; it was named “Thornhill”. The farm has been in the family since the 1850s and was a dairy farm.

‘The farm was an active dairy farm until the 1970s. They sold half of the farm, and it’s now about 92 acres. The half they sold is now Murdoch Road, Orangeville. Grandad (Les) lived on the farm until he died in 2001, and Grandma (Sheila) lived there on her own (with lots of support from her family) until at age 101. My parents, Jim and Judith Murdoch, still live on the farm, and my Dad runs about 15 beef cattle.

In her history of Orangeville, Nell Weir writes that the Thornhill grant was allocated to Thomas Fallon in 1856, with the farm having frontage to Clay Waterholes Creek. Thomas married Eliza Waller of Mulgoa in 1840, and they had ten children. Thomas died in 1879 and is buried in The Oaks Catholic Cemetery. According to Weir, Les Murdoch is a descendant of Thomas and Eliza’s son Thomas. [Weir, pp.32-33]

Sheila in the centre of the image with the rest of her family. All generations. (N Comerford, 2021)

Family

Nicole writes, ‘Sheila and Les had six children with the first being a stillborn daughter who we think are buried at the Catholic Cemetery in Camden. There are no records for this birth; I am pretty sure Grandma had this baby at what is now Neidra Hill’s house at Narellan.’

The house in question is the Edwardian architectural gem called Ben Linden. The house was built in 1919 by George Blackmore. Neidra Hill writes in her history of the house that EJ (Elizabeth) Stuckey, a trained midwife, purchased the house in 1944 conducted a maternity hospital until 1948. The hospital was then run by her daughter, JT (Jean) Stuckey, until 1959. The building was converted to a private hospital run by ME (Mavis) Halkett until it closed in 1971. (Hill, 2008, pp.27-37)

Community

Nicole recalls that ‘my grandparents were very active in the community’.  

‘Sheila and Leslie played at dances and weddings all over the community for many years and were very well known. Grandma and Grandad played in The Oaks, Orangeville, Camden and down to Bargo. I think they played at Bargo on New Year’s Eve several times. They also played at Camden High School socials.’

‘When I shared news of Grandma’s death on the “You know you’re from Camden if…” Facebook page, lots of people commented that they remember them playing at their weddings.’

‘Grandma also played the organ, firstly at St Pauls Catholic Church in Camden and then at St Aloysius Catholic Church at The Oaks when the parish boundaries changed. Grandma was still playing on her 101st birthday at The Oaks.

Sheila played the piano for The Oaks Debutante Balls until she retired in 1998. The ball committee have written that Sheila played piano for practice and presentation sessions for 23 years and they remember her ‘sitting at the piano for so many hours in freezing cold conditions’. (The Committee, p14)

She said, ‘It was lovely to see the young “hopefuls’ turn up – the boys mostly in “Nikes” or “Ugg” Boots – to learn dancing. We always found the young people very polite and happy when they got into the swing of the dances.’ (The Committee, p.14)

Myra Cowell recalls on Facebook that she ‘remembers them well playing at the Cobbitty dances’

Nicole said, ‘Grandma was a member of The Oaks Catholic Woman’s League and held various roles over the years, including president.

The Catholic Women’s League in NSW can trace its origins back to 1913, when the Catholic Women’s Association was founded in Sydney. The league aims to promote ‘the spiritual, cultural, intellectual and social development of women and promotes the role of laywomen in the mission of the Catholic Church’.

Camden Bowling Club

Nicole recalls, ‘Both my grandparents were involved in the Camden Bowling Club, and Grandma was a foundation member of the Camden Women’s Bowling Club. She also played the piano at many events there over the years.’ 

Frank Farrugia writes in the history of the Camden Bowling Club that Les was president from 1967 to 1969 after joining the club in 1961. He served on the committee for over 15 years and worked for the club for over 25 years. To acknowledge his service, he was made a life member. The new No 3 Green at the club was dedicated to Les, and at its opening in 1986, John Fahey said that Les gave ‘himself to his church, his family, to sporting bodies and local government’. (Farrugia, p. 146) Les was a councillor for A Riding on Wollondilly Shire Council for four terms from 1974 to 1987. (History of WSC) Frank McKay praised ‘Les’s loyalty, objectivity and dedication’. (Farrugia, p.146)

Les Murdoch (N Comerford)

Melody Makers

‘For over 50, maybe even 60 years, Grandma volunteered at Carrington Aged-Care complex every Friday morning and in later years was part of a group called the “Melody Makers” who played there. She continued to play the piano there while she was resident and even did so in the week before she died. We always used to laugh the way she would talk about playing for “the oldies” when most of them would have been younger than her!’ writes Nicole. 

The Melody Makers at Carrington Aged-Care in 2018 on Sheila’s 100th Birthday with Laurie on Sax, George on violin, and Kevin on guitar (Camden Advertiser, 2018)

On Sheila’s 100th birthday in 2018, Kayla Osborne wrote in the Camden Advertiser (6 July 2018) that Sheila and the Melody Makers played weekly at Carrington Aged-Care. Sheila said she started volunteering at Carrington Aged-Care and the aged care facility to give back to her community. She said, ‘I started with the Pink Ladies, who were some of Carrington’s very first volunteers.’

‘I love playing the piano at Carrington Aged-Care Complex now, and I consider playing for the residents there just pure enjoyment. I particularly enjoy the company – nobody objects no matter how bad we play.’

Carrington Volunteer Coordinator Belinda said, ‘I was privileged enough to see them play a few times. Sheila was absolutely phenomenal with her piano skills, Laurie accompanied on sax, Richard (also now passed) played the keyboard and the singer and guitarist, Kevin. (Email, 30 August 2021)

The Melody Makers here with Laurie on sax, Kevin on guitar and George on violin. Laurie had a fine career as military bandsman. (c.2017, Carrington Care)

A Carrington source tells me that the Melody Makers was made up of Laurie Martin on saxophone and clarinet, George Sayers on violin, Kevin Harris on guitar, Dick Eldred on clarinet, pianist Sheila and in the early days in late 1990s John Foster on trombone. Most of these talented folk sadly are no longer with us.

Melody Maker guitarist and vocalist Kevin Harris said, ‘I joined the group in the late 1990s. Sheila was “God’s gift to music”. She played at Carrington for 60 years.’

‘The group played at Carrington Aged-Care every Friday around each of the different facilities – Grasmere Terrace, Nursing home, Paling Court and so on. We had over 2000 regular songs. We would never practice. [The group] played for two hours from 10-12, then everyone would go to lunch ,’ he said.

Kevin recalled, ‘My favourite memory was just playing for over 20 years. I have wonderful memories. Playing each week made friendships. Just a love of music and we shared that love with other people. [The members of Melody Makers] were great troopers and there was so much love between all of us and our families.’

‘[Melody Makers] did jobs outside [of Carrington]. Macarthur War Widows and Legacy War Widows at Legacy House in Campbelltown. We played for the Over 50s at the Catholic Club, and Christmas Parties and Mothers’ Day in and around Campbelltown and Appin,’ he said.

Kevin said, ‘ Most of the group had a musical background. Laurie military bands, George came from a family of entertainers, Jack played in World War Two and I played around the Campbelltown area from the 1960s including a 19-piece swing band based at Wayne’s Music Shop.’

Carrington Aged-Care

Nicole writes that ‘Leslie died in 2001 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery at The Oaks. In September 2019, Sheila moved to Mary McKillop Hostel at Carrington Aged-Care Complex off the farm because of the increased level of care needed for her health.

Sheila became part of the Carrington family after she moved into aged-care.

Sheila Murdoch loved children and joined in activities at Carrington, Her she is participating with the ‘littlies’ in Carrington’s Intergenerational Playgroup March 2020 (Carrington Care, 2020)

Nicole said, ‘Grandma [Sheila] passed away at Mary McKillop on 29th May 2020.’

The surviving five children are Patricia, James (my Dad), Frances, Mary and Peter.’

References

Farrugia, F 2014, History of Camden Bowling Club, 75 Years, Camden Bowling Club, Camden.

Hill, N 2008, Ben Linden 1919-2008, A house with a story to tell, Typescript Camden Museum Archives, n.p.

The Oaks Debutante Ball Book Committee 2001, We Had a Ball, Twenty-five Debutante Balls in The Oaks 1973-1999, The Committee, The Oaks.

Weir, NR 1998, From Timberland to Smiling Fields, A History of Orangeville and Werombi, The Oaks Historical Society, The Oaks.

Wollondilly Shire Council 1988, A History of Local Government in the Wollondilly Shire 1895 to1988, Wollondilly Shire Council, Picton.

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Narellan ‘Gayline’ Drive-In Movie Theatre

 The Drive-In Movie Theatre in the Camden District

A notable part of Camden’s modernism that has disappeared is the Drive-In movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the famous attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s, located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale).

Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the baby boomers’ lifestyle. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The Drive-In movie theatre was a defining moment in the Camden District for a 20th-century culture based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.

Drive-in Movie Theatres

Robert Freestone writes that the Drive-In theatre arrived in New South Wales in 1956, and by the 1970s, there were 14 drive-ins in the Sydney area, including the Gayline. The Drive-In was a ‘signifier of modernity with its twin imperatives of consumption and comfort in the motor car’s private space.

The Drive-In reflected the US’s growing influence in the 1950s, the force of suburbanisation and the democracy of car ownership. The first Drive-In theatre in Australia was the Burwood Drive-In in Melbourne in 1954. The first Sydney Drive-In was the MGM Chullora Twin Drive-In which opened in 1956 by Premier Cahill. In the 1970s, there were more than 300 drive-ins across Australia.

In New South Wales, Drive-Ins came under the control of the Theatres and Public Halls Act 1908-1946 and were heavily regulated compared to Victoria under the Theatres and Films Commission. Freestone argues states New South Wales planning restrictions Drive-Ins could not be closer than 4 miles to each other, they had to be accessed by a side-road, away from airports, and positioned so as not to distract passing traffic.

During its heyday, the Drive-In was very popular. It was very democratic, where an FJ Holden could be parked next to a Mercedes Benz. The Drive-In was a relaxed, laid back way to see the movies. The whole family went to the movies, including the kids. Parents could have a night off and not have to clean up, dress up or hire a baby-sitter. Families took blankets, quilts, and pillows, and when the kids faded out, they slept on the car’s back seat. A young mother could walk around with her new baby without disturbing other patrons.

Narellan Gayline Drive-In with caravan next to the projection room. Ted Frazer would stop overnight in the caravan c1970s. (T Frazer)

The Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre

The Operators

Ted Frazer, the owner/operator of the Gayline Drive-In, was a picture showman. The Frazers had cinemas on the South Coast, at Scarborough and Lake Illawarra. At Scarborough, they operated the Gala Movie Theatre.  It was established in 1950 and had sessions on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights and Saturday matinee.  The family ran movies in the local progress hall at Lake Illawarra.

Terry Frazer said,’ ‘We were the only family-operated Drive-In. Greater Union or Hoyts ran all the others in the Sydney area’.

Terry Frazer considered that the business was successful over the years that it operated at Narellan. He said, ‘It was a family business, and my son did some projection work. The kids worked in the shop, as did our wives.

The high point of the Drive-In’s success was in the early 1970s. Terry’s brother Kevin Frazer and his wife Lorraine Frazer were in the business from the early 1970s. He says:

As a family business, we had separate jobs, and you did not interfere with others.

The Gayline showed a mixture of movies. When patrons rolled in, they put the hook-on-window-speaker and occasionally drove off with it still attached after the movie finished.

Some Drive-Ins closed down in the 1970s, yet the Gayline survived. When daylight saving was introduced moved to later starts. Like other Drive-Ins, during the 1980s, it dished up a diet of soft porn and horror movies to compete with videos and colour TV.  In 1975 colour TV had an effect, but a more significant impact was the introduction of video in 1983-84. It contributed to killing off the Drive-Ins. Terry thinks that apart from videos Random Breath Testing, which became law in NSW in 1985, also had an effect.

Terry Frazer said

Things went in cycles.  The writing was on the wall in the early 80s. We knew it was pointless to keep going full-time, and we only operated part-time, on Friday and Saturday nights. We had family working in the shop. We eventually closed in 1990. Land developers were making offers to Dad for the site.  Dad built a house in 1971. It was a cream brick Cosmopolitan home in Gayline Ave, and it is still there.

Signage from the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan (I Willis)

The foundation

Ted Frazer located the Drive-In at Narellan because it was to be within the ‘Three Cities Growth Area’ (1973) of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan (1968), and the land was a reasonable price.

The opening night was in November 1967, and the first movie was Lt Robin Crusoe USN [Walt Disney, 1966, Technicolor, starring Dick Van Dyke, Nancy Kwan]

Size

Terry Frazer recalls

We could fit in 575 cars. The surface was asphalt, and we were always patching it. It was part of the maintenance of the site. We had to have a licence for motion pictures.

Screen

The screen, according to Terry Frazer, was made from zinc anneal sheeting. Mr Frazer recalls

Rivetted together on a rear timber frame. All mounted on a steel frame made by a local engineering company. A crane hoisted it up. On either end, there were cables and shackles, with a platform with safety rails that you manually wind up with a handle up the front of the screen. You would use it to clean the screen or repaint it white. I painted the screen with a roller.

NTS speakers still mount the junction boxes Narellan Gayline Drive-in (I Willis)

Sound

The speakers had a volume control and a small speaker. The family brought in Radio Cinema Sound in the mid to late 1970s. The customers had a choice of old-style speaker or radio as not all cars had radios.  Terry Frazer would go around all the speakers on Fridays and check for sound quality. There were redback spiders under the concrete blocks that had the speaker post. Terry recalls:

Before the end of the show, he would remind patrons to put the speakers back on the post before leaving. Some would still drive off with them attached. The Drive-In had a PA system through the speaker system.

Sessions

Mr Frazer stated

Sessions started at 7.30 pm, except in daylight saving when it was 8.30pm. In busy periods we had double sessions – 7.30pm and midnight. Always two features. I always had the lighter movie on first and the feature on the second half. In the 1980s, we still had a double feature.

Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre on Narellan Road was behind the screen. It was a two lane road from Narellan to Campbelltown.  There are poultry farms in the background. c1970s (T Frazer)

Terry Frazer recalls:

For the midnight session there could be a queue down Morshead Road out onto Narellan Road waiting to get in. It was a horror movie session from 12.00am to 3.00am. On some popular Saturday nights, we may not be able to get all the cars in. At one stage in the 1970s, we considered having two sessions 7.00pm and 10.00pm. We would advertise sessions in the Sydney papers under the Greater Union adverts every night of the week. We would run adverts in the local papers each week.

Movies and Slides

The feature films could be a long movie, for example, Sound of Music, Great Escape. They had an intermission cut into the movie.

Terry Frazer remembers:

We changed the movie programme on Thursdays. We dealt with MGM, Paramount, 20th Century-Fox and Columbia. They were all around the city. You would go to each one to pick up the [film] print. Some of these amalgamated later on. Paramount and Fox were off Goulburn and Elizabeth Streets, Columbia at Rozelle. My father, Ted Frazer, would go in early to book the programme, and I would drop off the old programme.

You would hope it was a good print, otherwise, I would have to repair the film by doing joins. I used a brush and cement, and later we went to tape. You would make a perfect joint. You would join up the trailers and a short feature. You would hook them into the front of the spool to make less changeovers.

If a movie went well, it would run for 2-3 weeks if the print was not booked out anywhere else. There were usually a lot of prints, so if a movie went well, you could keep a print for another week.

For the big movies, the city cinemas got first release. We could get lessor movies as first release and run with other features.

Terry Frazer observed that

as an independent [screen] we got a reasonable go at it. For the lessor movies, we paid a certain figure. Top movies were worked on a percentage basis, 50:50, 60:40 [of takings]. Some companies would check the number of cars at the Drive-In by sending representatives out. One independent movie producer, Ably Mangles, came out to check the number of cars. He was on a percentage basis.

Independent movies were popular.  Glass slides were provided by David Koffel, the advertising agency, as a finished product.

Projection

Terry Frazer was the projectionist and recalled:.

The slide projector was a carbon arc slide projector. The movie projector was an English Kalee 35 mm projector. It had a carbon arc feed mirror for its light source. It had a manual feed.  You had to thread up each spool which would last 20 minutes. There were two movie projectors and one slide projector. You would load one up, ready for the next one to start. While the movie was running, you would go out to the rewind room and manually rewind the spool for the next night’s screening.

Promotion for Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre in the 1970s (The Crier)

Advertising

Terry Frazer remembers:

We had glass slides showing advertising during intermission and before the show. We would run 70 glass slides showing adverts for local businesses. Local business would buy advertising. The local representative of the advertising agency would go around local businesses. The advertising agency was David Koffel. There was good money from advertising to local businesses. Later the advertising agency changed to Val Morgan.

The Experience

The experience of the Drive-In is the strongest memory for regular moviegoers. People rarely talk about the movie they saw but can remember with great detail the whole experience of the Drive-In. 

Memories flood back for baby-boomers of the rainy night when they tried to watch the movie with the windscreen wipers going. Or the car windscreen was fogging up. Or the winter’s night when the fog rolled in from Narellan Creek. Or the relaxed ambience of a balmy moonlit summer’s night.

The smell of the food, the sound of the cars, the queues to get in, the walk for hotdogs and drinks. The night out with the girlfriend and the passionate night’s entertainment. Orr the night out as a youngster with the family dressed as you were in pyjamas and slippers.

The Gayline Drive-In was not only attractive to young families; it offered local teenagers freedom from the restrictions of home. Many local teenagers had access to cars and found the Drive-In an ideal place for a date and some canoodling and smooching. It was quite a coupe to get Dad’s car and show off to your mates or the girlfriend. The Drive-In was a place to see and be seen. It was a big deal. 

 One of the favourite lurks of teenagers was to fill the boot of the car with people so they did not have to pay. Once inside, they were let out. If you drove a station wagon, you reversed the car into the spot and lay in the back of the wagon, wrapped up in a blanket. Others would bring their deck-chairs, put them in the back of the ute, enjoy a drink and a smoke, and watch the movie.

The Shop

The Drive-In movies offered an experience, whether at the snack bar which sold banana fritters, hot dogs, battered savs, Chiko Rolls, popcorn, chips, choc-tops, ice-creams, Jaffas, Minties and Hoadley’s Violet Crumble. The Narellan Gayline Drive-In had a large screen, a projector booth, a children’s playground, and a large parking area.

Terry Frazer recalls:

Mum controlled the shop and kitchen. In the early 1970s, she had 7-8 working in the shop. Later on, there was only one permanent girl. In the 1970s, the restaurant had 8-10 tables. Mum would cook T-Bone steak with salad and other dishes. Originally Mum made steak and fish dinners for a few years. Then she went to hot dogs, hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, banana fritters and ice-cream, which was very popular fish and chips.

Steak sandwiches were popular, Chiko rolls later on. They were quick and easy. Mum would pre-prepare the hot dogs and hamburgers. She would make what she needed based on how many came in the gate. At the break, everyone (patrons) would rush down to the shop and queue up 6-7 deep and wanted quick service.

We had snacks, chocolates, and popcorn. The only ice-creams were choc-tops because the margins were bigger. Drinks were cordial and water in paper cups. There were good  margins. We were the last to change over to canned soft drinks. Most Drive-Ins did the same.

Customers could sit in the outside area and watch the movie from the building. A handful of patrons would walk in. Usually, local kids sit in front of the shop and watch the movie- all undercover.

The shop did fabulous business until the US takeaways arrived.  McDonalds and KFC [arrived in the mid to late 1970s in Campbelltown and] changed things. Customers would bring these takeaways or bring their own eats.

Mrs Alma Rootes

One of the regular workers in the shop and kitchen was Alma Rootes. She was a kitchen hand and shop assistant from 1967-1975 until she became pregnant with her fourth child.

Mrs Rootes recalls:

I worked in the kitchen and served at the counter. We did fish and chips, hamburgers, banana fritters and Pluto pups (a battered sav) and other things such as lollies.  People would come into the shop before the movie was screened to buy fish and chips. Fish and chips went really well. They would have their dinner. We would pre-prepared food for sale before the interval. It wasn’t easy; there would always be a rush at interval. I would work on hot food.

We made hundreds and hundreds of ice-creams. They had a  chocolate coating. You would scoop out the ice-cream out of a drum-type container. You would put a small scoop in the bottom of the cone and a bigger one on the top and dip in the warm chocolate. The chocolate was in a stainless steel bowl. Mrs Frazer always wanted to give value for money [referring to the two scoops]. We would do this before interval. The banana fritters were battered bananas, deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Mr Frazer would help on the counter in the shop with the lollies. There would be 2-3 working in the kitchen. On quiet nights Mrs Frazer would run things on her own. There was another lady. Her name was Lyn, I think. Kevin would come out and work in the shop if there was a rush. Sometimes the movie would start, and we would not be finished serving. The customers could see out of the shop to the screen. After the show, we would clean up.

Mrs Alma Roots was presented with a retirement gift from Frazer family. Alma worked at the Narellan Gayline Drive-In for many years (I Willis, 2008)

The shop had a glass front facing the screen with two doors for entry to the sales area. There was a counter at one end were lollies and ice-creams, in the middle was hot food. There was a door behind the counter to the kitchen. The kitchen had counters down either wall, with a deep fry at one end.

I have lived at Bringelly for around 50 years. I originally came from Lakemba. I was paid the wages of the day.  I enjoyed my time there. It was a good place to work. Driving home was not good. Sometimes there would be huge fogs. Alan (husband) would take the kids, and they would sometimes drive me home.

I thought I had better go when I got pregnant. Alan [Alma’s husband] said that Mrs Frazer was concerned she would slip in the kitchen or have an accident as Alma was so heavy (pregnant). Mrs Frazer was concerned about her insurance position. The Frazers gave me a silver teapot when I left in 1975 [photo].

Patrons

Terry Frazer remembers:

Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a top table truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs, and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell.

You would get guys on motorbikes. We had all sorts of patrons, stories that you could not print. We had a bucks party one night.

In the early 1970s, there were panel vans that were carpeted and done up. The young fellows would reverse into position and open the doors to watch the movie.

The Drive-In was a good night’s family entertainment. It was a full night’s entertainment for families. There was a kid’s playground. Mum and Dad could watch the movie. The regulars were young families who could not afford baby sitters. They would pile the kids in the car in their pyjamas and come to the Drive-In.

Terry Frazer recalls:

that they would always say, the Drive-In was one business that added to the population growth of the area. There was a lot of making out [and pashing] amongst the young couples who were regulars.

Patrons could get out of their cars and go for a walk. People wandered around.

Different uses

Frazer stated:

At Easter, there were church meetings. They constructed a huge stand in front of the screen. It went on for 3-4 years in the early 1970s [a trend copied from the USA]. It was a Drive-In church. The Frazers could not recall which church group.

There were car shows in the 1970s.

An independent movie was made at the Drive-In. They set up the rails and so they could move along to set a scene. Some scenes in the movie were shot at Thirlmere. A local, Lyle Leonard, had his car in it. They shot a number of scenes at the Drive-In. I cannot remember the name of the movie.

Inclement Weather

Frazer remembers:

In wet weather, we waited until it was really wet and would tell the patrons to come to the shop, and we would give them a pass for the following night.

We could get completely fogged out. The light beam could not penetrate the fog. We would close up and give a pass for the following night. It was worst in April and May.

People would come from a long way for a certain movie in really bad weather you would give them a refund.

Lyn Frazer recalled that if it was drizzling, patrons would rub half an onion onto the windscreen, and you could see.

 Narellan township

Narellan township in 1967 [when we set up] only had 6 shops. There was always a takeaway next door to the current cheesecake shop [on Camden Valley Way]. There was only a very small shopping centre.

<All that is left of the Narellan Gayline Drive-In a street sign. (I Willis, 2008)>

The End

The Gayline Drive-In eventually closed down, like many in the Sydney area, when residential development at Narellan Vale started to grow, and the land was more valuable as real estate.

Unfortunately, lifestyles have changed, and people prefer the comfort of suburban movie theatres at Campbelltown and shortly at Narellan. However, the tradition of outdoor movies and all their attractions for young families and teenagers are not dead in our area.

Outdoor movies have made a come back in the local area as they have in other parts of Sydney. There have been movies under the stars at venues like Mt Annan Botanic Gardens and Macarthur Park.

 

A story about the Narellan Gayline Drive-In that appeared in The Crier 20 May 1987 (The Crier, 20 May 1987)

Sources

Terry Frazer, Interview, Camden, 2008.  

Alma Rootes, Interview, Bringelly, 2010.

Reference

Robert Freestone, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Sydney Drive-In’, in Paul Hogben and Judith O’Callaghan, Leisure Space, The Transformation of Sydney 1945-1970, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2014.

Read more 

Read more about the Outdoor Movie Theatre and Drive-In Movie Theatres

Read more on Australian Drive-In Movie Theatres and @ Drive-ins Downunder 

Read about the Blacktown Skyline Drive-In – the last drive-in in the Sydney area and here

Read about the history of the Yatala Drive-In in Queensland

Read about drive-ins  2007_SMH_They’ve long been history; now drive-ins are historical

Read about the Lunar Drive-In in Victoria

Facebook Comments: Camden History Notes

Warwick Storey I remember going to that Drive-In with Hilarie. It was only 500m up the road for her place. (12 January 2016)

Richard Barnes Watched ghost busters there with my dad..(11 January 2016)

Dianne Vitali Watched many a movie over the years!! B (11 January 2016)

Ian Icey Campbell Use to. Go there in my Escort Panel van, lol. (11 January 2016)

Lauren Robinson I live on this Drive-In! (11 January 2016)

 Nell Raine Bruce  Such fun times we had there. Before we could drive we would walk and sit on the veranda of the cafeteria and watch the movie. The good old days, wish it was still there. (Facebook, 22 June 2015) 

Eric Treuer  I remember going there thinking that the drive-in was for gays. I was very young at the time. Lol  (Facebook, 22 June 2015) 

Gail Coppola  Had great times there. Listening to the movies and the cows lol  (Facebook, 22 June 2015)

Jan Carbis  Went there many times….great memories  (Facebook, 22 June 2015)

Barbara Brook Swainston I remember it well!  (Facebook, 22 June 2015)

Adam Rorke My lawyers have advised me to say nothing….. (22 June 2015)

Chris Addison What is it now houses kids used to love going there (22 June 2015) 

Justin Cryer I remember going out to here with the whole family hahaha wow (22 June 2015)

Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (22 June 2015)

Jan Carbis Went there many times….great memories (22 June 2015) 

Robert Rudd Movie news that’s for sure gots lots of oh doesn’t matter (22 June 2015) 

Dianne Bunbury We had one in Horsham when I was growing up in – 1960s era. (22 June 2015)

Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)

Kay Gale Great nite out was had many years ago wow (23 June 2015)

Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (23 June 2015)

Jacque Eyles The midnight horror nights! Loved it (23 June 2015)

Vicki Henkelman The Hillman Minx and pineapple fritters life were good !! I also had a speaker in the shed for years oops! (23 June 2015)

Meg Taylor Soooo many memories (23 June 2015)

Kim Girard Luved it great times (23 June 2015)

Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)

Kerry Perry Bring back the good times movie, chick, and food (24 June 2015)

Julie Cleary We would back the panel van in and watch in comfort… So fun! (24 June 2015)

Mick Faber Great memories at the Drive-In. 12 of us snuck in one night in the back of a mates milk van. More of a party than a movie night. (24 June 2015)

Kathleen Dickinson Holy geez I think I even remember where that used to be! Lol (23 June 2015

Mandy Ellis-Fletcher Those were the days… Camden / Narellan changed so much..(23 June 2015)

23 June 2015

Matthew Gissane We went down through Camden for a Sunday drive last … er … Sunday, and anyhow, we followed the Old Razorback Road up to Mt Hercules. A fabulous vista from up there. Didn’t see the Gayline though. 23 June at 22:39

Greg Black wasn’t aware of the Gayline,… I do like Camden and the surrounding areas, nice countryside (in the ’60s used to go there with m & d to watch the parachutin’…) 23 June at 23:39

Greg Black Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a tabletop truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell. 23 June at 23:46 

Gary Mcdonald You don’t see them any more  23 June at 14:18  

Sonya Buck Remember seeing American Werewolf in London here Julie Rolph  23 June at 15:58

Leanne Hall Remember getting in the boot to save money oh those were the days  23 June at 09:13 

Barbara Haddock Gann Lots of memories!!  23 June at 19:20

Ian Walton How many of you went there in the boot of a car, dusk till dawn R rated  23 June at 20:08

Sharon Dal Broi How many fitted in your boot Ian Walton 23 June at 20:09

Ian Walton maybe 2 but I never did that HAHA 23 June at 20:11

Sharon Dal Broi Only 2 23 June at 20:11

Ian Walton It was only a small car 23 June at 20:26

Keven Wilkins I remember that guy “movie news”(shit I’m old)lol  1 · 23 June at 22:02

Narelle Willcox We went to the skyline  23 June at 11:36

Graham Reeves went there nearly every weekend, got thrown out a few times as well  23 June at 05:01

Sonia Ellery 22 June at 20:37 This was a great Drive-In!

Vicky Wallbank omg that was a long time ago but I still remember it ..and used to visit there  1 · 22 June at 21:24

Kris Cummins Look them beautiful paddocks turned to shit 1 · 22 June at 20:06

Adrian Mainey Went there as a kid biff that’s a classic  1 · 22 June at 20:36

Nick Flatman Golden memories  Spent a number of trips in the boot  22 June at 20:50

Craig Biffin & back of a ute or wagon  1 · 22 June at 20:52

Nicolle Wilby Haha Nick I did too under blankets and stuff!  22 June at 21:40

Anthony Ayrz I remember it well,,,,, thought it was called Skyline….. full of houses now,,,,, can still pick put exactly where it was…. I was about 7 when my parents took us there a few times….. remember going to the Bankstown one with my parent’s friends in the boot…. and we got away with it!!!!  22 June at 21:28

Stephen Burke I did go there a few times. I did forget the name  23 June at 07:08

Anthony Cousins Good old days 1 · 22 June at 15:54

William John RussellThat was where I grew up as part of the old man’s original property 1 · 22 June at 20:15

Chris TownsendI remember it well. Drive-In great. Council sucked . ( Over the name )  22 June at 22:53

William John RussellThe reason it was named Gayline is that the owners lost their young daughter named Gay  1 · 23 June at 07:34

Eric Treuer I remember going there with my then-girlfriend and stopped in shock when I saw the name of the Drive-in. Lol.
I wish it was still there.

Bill Russell Reason it was called gayline is that they lost their daughter at an early age
Her name was Gay

 Toni Lyall Baume We had a mattress in the back of the station wagon with the kids in their jammies

 Kim Down We used to go almost every week with the family, then when we were old enough to get cars, we’d go with our mates

 Susan Vale I remember watching one of the Star Wars films there. I think it was a return of the Jedi.

 Robert Andersson Went there a hell of a lot. It was named after the owner’s daughter that passed away

 Bronwyn Herden They were the days …saw many movies there 😦

 Jody AndKathleen McLean We used to go was a great spot

 Matthew Frost Lisa Frost everything good was before our time.

 Rebecca Funnell Jill Funnell

 Sandy Devlin I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was 10yo 😲

 Alison Russell That brings back memories I used to live behind the Drive-In it looks like the photo is taken from our old house which sadly has just been sold and will be knocked down but what fun we had there as kids and all the sneaky ways we had to get into the Drive-In

15 September 2017  at 07:37

Colleen Dunk Moroney Often went in in the boot so we didn’t have to pay 😲😇 the guy in the white overalls was Neville, used to tap on your window and say “movie news”, giving away movie newspapers. always scared the crap out of me lol. I loved the Drive-In.

 Lauren Novella I remember sneaking in the boot just to save a few bucks!!!!! Lol. Who even watched the movies….. It was more like a mobile party…😆

 Sharon Land Memories remember Alison Russell when we had to go to the outdoor loo and if an R rated movie was on we were supervised outside my mum and dad lol

 Andrew Carter-Locke We used to get in the boot of my cousins XY falcon. Back in the day you always got a backup film before the feature. I remember “Posse”, being better than “Jaws”.

 Wayne McNamara Many mems….watching people drive off ….still connected….and the guy in the white overalls at the entrance…

 Scott Bradwell Cherie Bradwell pretty much every Sat night back in the day 🙂

 Shane Sutcliffe I can just remember it as a 9-year-old before it closed

 Wayne Brennan Wow this sent some flashbacks off lol

 Steve Gammage Remember it well, what u think Kerrie Gammage

 Lynne Lahiff Yes I can remember going to Narellan Drive-In with my children and I loved it every time!

John MacAllister I remember seeing Mary Poppins there back in the day MA Ran! Good times

 Peter Thomas A fantastic place. Deck chairs, a bucket of KFC & a cold esky on a hot summer night.

 Karenne Eccles Went there often in the 70s …. thanks for the memories Gayline x

 Lesley Cafarella this is where I met my husband Marc Cafarella 48 years ago …. nice memories…

 Liz Jeffs Went all the time

 Sharon Beacham Fernance one of the places you liked to go 😀

 Mike Attwood Brings back so many memories

 Karen Attwood Remember my big brother Mike Attwood took me and my sister, Nicky, to see The Sound of Music

 Dave Lutas Movie news!!!

 Christine McDermott Melinda Jolly – Remember it well !!

Like

Like Love  Haha Wow  Sad Angry

Vicki McGregor So many memories at the Gayline.

 Greg Mallitt Was a great place

 Nelly Strike So many memories, the house in Tobruk road was the best party house too, hey Joseph HartyLiane GorrieDeborah BrownNick RomalisNick DonatoDave LutasJoanne BowerLauren NovellaMoira HartyGenene RocheLaurie Brien

 Jane Walgers James

 Graham Mackie Nat Kershaw

 Cathie Patterson John Jones remember this

 John Jones Sure do

Facebook 20 June 2021

Janelle Whittaker

It was great being able to go there

Denise Charlton

We always went to that drive in with the kids, love it.🥰great memories.We always had the Banana Fritters. Yummo

Kerrie Gammage

Great fun there

Dean Winship

The houses were worth more than the movies

Maria Gray

Good old days

Steve Gammage

Great times

Janet Mcgilvray

Nothing but over crowded. Badly designed awful dog box housing estates there now grey and more grey yuck

Anne Watkins

When I was a kid, you could see the screen, looking over the paddocks, from the top of Doncaster Ave, Narellan. Just paddocks, what a memory.

Chris Terry

Great times 😃

Kim Girard

Loved going to the drive in

Kathy Anne Hunt

Great days they did the best Banana Fritters 🤪

Chris Terry

Kathy Anne Hunt omg I was so sick on them once

Kathy Anne Hunt

Chris Terry really 😔

Updated 20 June 2021, 26 March 2021. Originally posted 22 June 2015.

1920s · 20th century · Babies · Camden · Camden Park House and Garden · Camden Story · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · CWA · Dr West · Edwardian · European Exceptionalism · Families · Family history · First World War · Gender · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · History · Infant Welfare · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Motherhood · Pioneers · Place making · Red Cross · Second World War · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Victorian · Volunteering · Volunteerism · War · War at home · Wartime · Women's history · Women's Writing

Motherhood and nation-building in the early 20th century

Infant mortality and the ideology of motherhood.

In Camden the ideology of motherhood expressed itself in the foundation of the St John’s Mother’s Union in 1900 which saw that mothers were an integral part of women’s service role to the British Empire. (Ministering Angels, p19) and later the Red Cross in 1914 and Camden Country Women’s Association in 1930. (Ministering Angels, 21

In the early 20th century the Red Cross was variously described as the ‘Greatest Mother in the World’, and the ‘Mother of all Nations’  (Ministering Angels, 6)  The CWA were concerned with motherhood and infant mortality and of their main activities in the early 20th century was the foundation of baby health centres across the country.

This First World War poster is a lithograph by American artist Foringer, A. E. (Alonzo Earl) and is titled ‘The greatest mother in the world’ (1917). The poster is showing a monumental Red cross nurse cradling a wounded soldier on a stretcher.

Around the turn of the century a direct link was made between infant welfare, motherhood, patriotism and nationalism. Motherhood and mothering were expressed in terms of patriotism and a national priority. All driven by European exceptionalism, expressed in Australia as the White Australia policy. There was anxiety around falling birth rates, whiteness and the strength of the British Empire.

The story of the Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945 is published by the Camden Historical Society. It tells the story of Red Cross branches at Camden, Menangle, The Oaks, Bringelly, Mount Hunter, Oakdale and the Burragorang Valley.

Motherhood as national building

Sociologist Karen Swift writes that from the around the middle of the 18th century the state became interested in motherhood where ‘the state’s interest in controlling and using female fertility for nation building and economic purposes’.  Biological determinism stated that motherhood was a natural state for women and that is should be a national priority.

Swift writes:

The ‘master narratives’ governing European motherhood in earlier centuries was that of nation building, especially in the colonies. The creation of new nations required a growing, healthy population, with women’s roles focused on producing and rearing soldiers and laborers. Once nation-building efforts became established, mothers were called upon to contribute to the development of a large and prosperous white middle class needed to perpetuate and grow capitalism. For this purpose, white mothers were needed to learn, teach, and demonstrate the moral authority the middle class required to dominate those below in the social, economic, and racial hierarchies. 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/motherhood#:~:text=Motherhood%20as%20Ideology&text=A%20well%2Dknown%20summary%20of,67).

Developing national anxiety around motherhood

The metaphor of the Red Cross as mother and guardian angel was extended in the post-war environment and incorporated a concern for mothers and infants. The terrible losses of the First World War, and declining birth rate made the welfare of mothers and infants a national defence priority. There were calls to repopulate the country (The Maitland Weekly Mercury, 30 November 1918.)   and a developing national anxiety around motherhood. Some of Sydney’s conservative elite had expressed concern about the issue of infant welfare, and set up the Kindergarten Union and Free Kindergartens in the 1890s.  

Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the library at Camden Park House in 1922. Sibella known affectionately ‘Sib’ was a philanthropist, church woman, pastoralist, a woman of independent means and intensely private. She was a member of influential conservative women’s organisations during the Edwardian and Interwar periods including Sydney’s influential Queen’s Club and National Council of Women and the imperial Victoria League. (Camden Images)

Support from the National Council of Women of NSW, of which Sibella Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park was a member, and others who were concerned about the welfare of mothers and infants led to the establishment of day nurseries, supervised playgrounds and other initiatives in inner Sydney in the early 1920s. There were high rates of infant mortality in inner Sydney and social conditions for single mothers with children were less than desirable. There had been the Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth Rate and the Mortality of Infants in New South Wales in 1904 and the Edwardian period was characterised by a nationalistic concern over the moral decline of the British race. (Ministering Angels, 65-66)

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’ according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in 1926. The article was a part of the publicity associated with a fundraising campaign for the Karitane-Sydney Mothercraft Centre at Coogee operated by the Australian Mothercraft Society. The society had been established in Australia in 1923 modelled on the Royal New Zealand Society for Health of Women and Children, commonly called the Plunket Society, established by New Zealand doctor Sir Truby King in 1907.

King  visited Australian in 1917 on a lecture tour and warned Australia:

You should have a white Australia. But if you find the Eastern nations more moral more noble to make more sacrifices for the continuity of the race, you know the result must be the same as has been the case with the great civilisations of the past. Greece and Rome went down, not through any failure in the valour or courage of their young men, but because of the increase in luxury, the repugnance to rearing families, followed by decadence and sterility and eventually extinction. If the population of Australia do not do their duty to the race there cannot be any resistance to other races coming in and populating this fair land.

(Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 11 February 1938)

Red Cross Baby Day in Camden

In 1920 the women of the Camden Red Cross were concerned about these issues and donated £14 to the Society for Welfare of Mothers and Babies. The society had been formed in 1918 in Sydney, aimed to teach mothercraft and eventually set up the Tresillian training school at Petersham in 1922.

The women of the Camden Red Cross at their weekly street stall in Argyle Street Camden in the 1920s. The women ran the stall for decades and raised thousands of pounds for local and national charities. (Camden Images)

Red Cross Baby Day became an important part of the district Red Cross child welfare agenda in the post-war years. The Red Cross coordinated the first Baby Week in 1920 in the first week of April and encouraged the formation of local committees.

The Baby Week was supported by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and had its origins in England with the National Baby Week Council in 1900. Its objects were to foster child welfare by decreasing infant mortality, to promoting the health of mothers, and to encouraging motherhood and maternal nursing(The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 27 February 1920)  (Ministering Angels, 66).

The 1920 Red Cross Baby Day in Camden was held on 30 March and the Camden branch had two street stalls, while the Narellan Red Cross had an afternoon tea stall at the Bank of New South Wales.  (Minutes, Camden Red Cross, 9 March 1920 )  

Camden RHS Adeline West with baby Kathleen LHS Adeline’s sister Ethel Jones & baby Edwin 1908 (Camden Images)

The support continued in 1925 when the Camden Red Cross was assisted on the dip stalls by Miss Gardner from Camden Public School and her kindergarten class. The total raised by Camden was £23 and Narellan Red Cross raised £9. Camden News, 1 April 1920) 

The funds were donated to the Camden District Cot at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. In 1925 Camden Red Cross members sought the assistance of the girls from Camden Superior Public School, with the girls helping out on one of the dip stalls. This practice continued until 1940. The Camden Red Cross branch made a regular donation and it generally varied between £20 and £50, with a peak in 1922 of £53. The overall average donation between 1921 and 1939 was £34, while during the Furner presidency the average donation was £37 and Macarthur Onslow’s presidency £32. The Camden Red Cross made a number of donations to nursery movement groups during the 1920s and they included: Nursery Association (1924, £10); Sydney Day Nurseries (1925, £10); Infant Home, Ashfield (1925, £7, and 1926, £10); and the Forest Lodge Day Nursery (1927, £6). (Ministering Angels, 66)

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Take a stroll through the past

Take a stroll down any street in Australia and raise your eyes and the past will reveal itself before your very eyes.

You are wandering through living history. The past is all around you. Street names, street layout, the width of the street, the location of buildings and more.

An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

The landscape of our cities and towns, and the countryside all owe their origins to the past.

The landscape will speak to you, but you must be prepared to listen.

Take time to let the landscape reveal itself. Just stand and soak up the past around you.

Cannot see it? Cannot feel it?

You need to look beyond the surface.

Like a painting will tell a story if you peel back the layers, so the landscape will do the same.

The opening of the Mount Hunter Soldier’s War Memorial opposite the public school took place on Saturday 24 September 1921. The official unveiling ceremony was carried out by Brigadier-General GM Macarthur Onslow. Afternoon tea was provided by ‘the ladies’ at 1/- with all money going to the memorial fund. (Camden News, 15 September 1921, 22 September 1921. Image Roy Dowle Collection)

The landscape will speak to you. It will reveal itself. 

Ask a question. Seek the answer.

The position of the tree. The type of street trees. Their size and species.

The bend in the road. The width of the street. The location of the street.

The position of the house. The colour of the house. The building materials.

Why is the street where it is? Why does it have that name?

Who walked along the street before you. Who grew up in the street? What were their childhood memories?

Ghosts of the past.

Some would say spirits of the past.

An information sign at the beginning of the walkway explain the interesting aspects of the life of Miss Llewella Davies. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 IW)

The past will speak to you if you let it in.

What was it like before there was a street?

The street is constantly changing. There are different people all the time. What clothes did people wear in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s?

You walk along the street and into a shop. When was it built? Who owned it? What did it sell? How was it set up?

Stand at the entrance door – unchanged in 50 years – image what it was like in the past.

Just like a movie flashback.

Who moved through the landscape 1000 years ago? What was there?

Let you imagination run wild.

The walkway has a number of historic sites and relics from the Davies farm. Here are the Shoesmith Cattle yards.. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 IW)

Let the past wash over you. The past is all around you. Let it speak to you.

The brick wall that has been there for 100 years. Who built it? Where did they live? What did they eat? What else did they build? What was the weather? Was it a sunny day like today?

Walk around the corner and you come to a monumental wall at the entry to a town. Who put it there? What does it mean?

The past is hiding in plain sight. It is in front of us all the time.

Sometimes the past is lodged in our memories and sometimes it is locked up in a photograph.

Sometimes the memories flood back as a special event or family gathering or a casual conversation.

The past is layered. It was not static. It was constantly changing.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

The past is not dead. It is alive and well all around us. You just need to take it in and ‘smell the roses’.

The stories of the past are like a gate into another world. Let your imagination run wild. Like a movie flash back – like a photograph from 100 years ago – or a greying newspaper under the lino  or stuffed in a wall cavity.

Like revealing layers of paint on a wall. They are layers of the past. Layers of history. Each layer has a story to tell. A past to reveal. Someone put the paint on the wall. Who were they? What did they do? Where did they go?

The Layers of history are like a mask. You want to take off the mask to reveal the face. You want the real person to reveal themselves. Sometimes the mask stays on.

The mask hides a mystery. What is it? What does it tell us? The mast of the past will reveal all eventually, maybe, sometime?

A couple relaxing on the Mount Pleasant Colliery railway at Stuart Park, North Wollongong in the early 1900’s (Royal Australian Historical Society) (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 1919’ (J Scott)

Sometimes other words are used to express the layers of history – progress – hope – nostalgia – loss – change – continuity.

The past has brought us to the present. The past is embedded in the present.

Take a moment. Think about what is around you. Take in the past in front of you. Hiding in plain sight.

The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.

The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.

A glass plate negative from the Roy Dowle Collection at The Oaks Historical Society. (TOHS)
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Fiona’s story

Memories of hope

These memories are a moving personal account of a childhood growing in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s.

This story from former Airds’ resident Fiona Woods acts a counterpoint to stories of despair and loss from these suburbs. In many ways, Airds was a suburb on the fringe of the world. Many residents were living on the edge and faced many challenges.

Airds Fiona Woods School sisters
Airds Fiona Woods School sisters (F Woods)

 

At the moment many Australian’s have felt a heightened sense of anxiety and need a little hope. Since the bushfires on Australia’s East Coast from September 2019 there are many grim stories.

The uncertainty and lack of control have continued into the Covid crisis, and many feel despair and at a loss.  Fiona’s story provides a ray of sunshine in today’s shadows.

Fiona uses memory as a way of explaining the meaning of past events and peoples involvement in them. She has not created a meaningless collection of unrelated facts.

There are linkages between memory and storytelling.  Each is full of meaning.

Fiona says, ‘Everyone has a story. It’s easy to think of our ancestors as names on a page or a black and white photograph of well-dressed, ‘serious people’.

‘But behind those images is a life that has been lived through both adversity and celebration. With love and pain and all that goes with being human. So many stories that have been untold’.

Fiona’s memories are about a suburb where some residents succeeded and others did not.

This is Fiona’s story and how hope can win through in the end.

Growing up in Airds

Fiona Woods

Growing up in a housing commission estate is not something that traditionally elicits feelings of pride and success. But for me, it does just that. I moved into Airds in 1977, when I was three years old.

My dad had suffered a traumatising work accident, one that would leave him with debilitating, lifelong injuries. My parents already had three small children and were expecting a fourth.

Airds Fiona Woods and brother
Fiona Woods and brother (F Woods)

 

I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for them – Dad was in and out of the hospital, and Mum didn’t drive. Here was where their neighbours stepped in, and my earliest memories of the community began.

Back then, neighbours weren’t just people you waved to from the driveway. They were people you could count on, whether it be for food or childcare or even a simple chat over a cup of tea.

I grew up as part of a village, where a lady in my street took my sisters and me to our first gymnastics lessons.  I developed friendships that have stood the test of time. I have even taught alongside my closest childhood friend, an experience that is something I treasure.

Airds Fiona Woods Kids Airds
Fiona Woods Kids Airds (F Woods)

 

I laugh with my siblings that we can never shop with Mum in Campbelltown – she remembers everyone who lived remotely near us. But for her, it was the friendship she struck up with her new neighbour the day they both moved in that is the most special.

A friendship that has lasted for over 43 years. It still involves daily coffee catch-ups and phone calls.

I started Kindergarten at John Warby Public School, where I learned more than just academics. It was during this time that I experienced how the love of a teacher extends beyond the classroom.

I truly believe it was these experiences that led me to join the profession. I had so much to give back. I remember some of these teachers visiting our home to check in on our parents and even drive them to appointments.

They really took the home-school connection to a new level! I will be forever grateful for the investment they made in us and their belief that we would all succeed.

Living in Airds during the late 70s and early 80s was a time where friendships were built, and people stuck together. It was the freedom of riding bikes with friends until the street lights came on, building makeshift cubbies and performing concerts for the neighbours.

I can still remember the excitement of walking to the local shops with my sisters to buy a few groceries for Mum. The constant search for ‘bargains’ in the hope there would be twenty cents leftover to buy some mixed lollies.

To this day, I still can’t resist a markdown and resent paying full price for anything. Lollies aside, the mere act walking to the shops was an adventure. Teetering along with the giant concrete snake and pretending we were on a secret journey.

Our simple life ensured we had opportunities to use our imagination and explore the world around us, creating memories with our neighbours and friends.

Airds Shopping Centre Interior3 2020 Aust247
Airds Shopping Centre 2020 (I Willis)

 

But life wasn’t always easy. I remember eating dinner and seeing my parents eat toast because there wasn’t enough to go around.

By this stage, they were raising five children, including my youngest brother, who rarely slept for more than an hour each night. He became a case study for professors looking into hyperactivity disorders.

That was little comfort to my mum, who was also Dad’s primary carer, living on minimal sleep and a frugal budget. Yet she showed up every day, always reminding us about the power of education and instilling a true love of learning in us all.

What we lacked for in material possessions was made up by so much more. We learned to be resilient and grateful, and we learned to be kind. We continue to work hard in our chosen fields, always considering how we can help others.

One of the proudest moments for our parents was seeing all five children graduate from university. That and the ongoing pride they feel for their thirteen grandchildren, who love their Nan and Pop like no one else.

Airds Fiona Woods Family pic
Airds Fiona Woods Family pic (F Woods)

 

The roots that were planted back in those early days have been tended with such love and care.

Those trees continue to flourish, branching out into wonderful opportunities. I am forever grateful for the foundations my childhood was built upon.

And I proudly tell everyone about where it is I came from.


Comments to re-publication of the post on South West Voice Facebook page  5 May 2020

  • Daniel Draper Fantastic story Eric Kontos, I am also a Proud Airds Boy moving their in 1977. My mother still lives in the same house. I always said growing up in Airds built character. We had a fantastic childhood and explored every part of the George’s River bushland. They where great days!
  • Frank Ward What a great story and I have come across so many great similar accounts of growing up in Campbelltown and the estates.
    Noting Fiona’s record that she and all her siblings got to go to University makes me particularly proud of the work my late sister Joan M Bielski AO AM who was a teacher but she devoted her life to the promotion of equal opportunity for women in education, politics and society. Her main work was to change the education system so that women got access as when she started at Uni only 25% of women got to Uni and then mainly in teaching now ove 56% of all graduates are women and more women are in political powerful positions This pandemic has been another example of the value of an educated female workforce as they have been on the frontline of this war on the virus so we can only hope that the government will give them equal pay instead of empty words that usually flow from the PM
  • Sam Egan Love this, my family moved to airds in the late 70s, I started at John warby public, we moved when I was 7 or 8 to St Helens park, changed schools. 30+ years later after ending a long relationship i was set up on a date, who just so happened to be the boy who lived across the road from us at airds, who I used to walk to school with every day. His mom still lives in the same street. 15 years later and our own little boy we love going to visit, after all those years you realize how strong that little community is.
    1 reply
  • Leonie Chapman What a fabulous article and account of the old days.
    I grew up there from about 1978 and went to Briar Rd PS and then St Pats.
    I have so many fond memories and close bonds that I made back then and still am lucky to have today

Comments on Fiona’s Facebook page

Fiona Woods  writes

30 April

I have always been proud of my roots, especially the early beginnings of growing up in housing commission. You don’t need riches to be surrounded by love, hope and a desire to succeed.

I am honoured that my story was shared on the blog of local historian, Dr Ian Willis. I thought I’d share it with you all 

Comments

Tracey Seal Wagstaff Thank you for sharing this beautiful story Fiona Woods. I also grew up in Airds in the 70’s & 80’s I can honestly say that your story is just the same as many of us. Your words reflect the same community spirit of my upbringing in Airds where everyone had each others back. My mums house was like a halfway house everyone was welcome and the front door was always open to all. Those where the days. Riding in the streets, building jumps, having dance concerts, this was the way of life. We still have longtime friends from our neighbourhood that we still have contact with today after 40 years…

Wilfred J Pink Great story and well deserved recognition Fi. Congratulations mate.

Linda Hunt Oh Fiona. This bought a tear to my eye. Beautiful words that ring so true. Life growing up in this neighbourhood is truly one to remember. Thank you. I’m happy I was able to read this on this day.
Congratulations. X

Jowen Hillyer How clever are you? Gorgeous words xx
Patricia O’Brien Absolutely gorgeous. What an outstanding view of the many children grew up in Airds. Two of my own children were brought up in Airds and also went to John Warby and they are both school teachers. So proud of how all my children grew up to be people who respect their families and friends.
Stephen Chomicz Inspiring
Jen Nay Beautiful story Fiona Woods
Jowen Hillyer Aww lovely. Great job xxx
Deborah Littlewood Oh Fiona, what an amazing story. Brings back so many wonderful memories with your beautiful family. I love so much that our friendship is as close as it was all those years ago. Us ‘Airds chicks’ certainly did ok for ourselves.
Deborah Littlewood Fiona Woods my favourite part of your story ❤️.
I always remember your mum did so much for everyone else and now you and your daughters are exactly the same. Always putting everyone else before yourselves.
Raylene Neville Naw, that was beautiful x
I was a housing commission kid too! I remember that we had a blue fridge!
Merrideth McGregor Beautifully written ❤️ love it x
Jeff Williams Pretty good writing for a teacher! 🙂 I love waiting for people bagging out housing commission and then letting it be known I grew up there!
Valeska Spratford Jeff Williams the classic old John Warby PS uniform. Little do people know that this low-socioeconomic school gave us free dental and some of the best memories of our lives. C’town represents. . . . .Airds 4Eva 😉
Judi Wood Wonderful story; thanks for sharing 🏆
Ann Hawkins Beautiful Fiona
Cass Bien Beautiful! I also grew up in Housing Commission, we had great neighbours too and I met my best friend at 8 yrs old, still besties today. So grateful for these times. xx Your story is lovely. 😊
Caf Airs Great story showing what family, community and education can achieve.
Melissa Salter Beautiful words Fiona, it is a true depiction of many of us “Airds” kids of that era, great community and John Warby was definitely a major part of all of our success
Jeffrey R Williams Well done. Mum and I are so proud 😤 of you. Love 😍 ya heaps.
Fiona Woods Jeffrey R Williams thanks Dad. And thanks for always believing in us and for never giving up on us, even when we made mistakes and stupid decisions in our lives.
We knew we could always count on you and Mum.
I can even laugh now about how you joked about karma when I cried to you about the horror of having 3 teenage girls 😂
Kim Pike Inspiring and great story 🏅👏
Noleen Spencer Great job , we also came from humble beginnings, not much money but plenty of love to go around , we appreciated every little blessing and was always taught it cost nothing to smile and to lend a helping hand. I’ve always said to my children , you don’t have to be the best , you just have to try your best .
Christine Quensell Loved reading your story Fiona. Thank you for sharing.
Shane Campbell Great story and great family …
Bec Brown This is wonderful Fi. Beautifully told and very inspiring. Love you my friend x
Kristy Sorouni Awesome. 👏
Very powerful and inspiring, love you xx
Cam Maber Beautiful story Fiona. Thankyou so much for sharing..♥️
Julie Douglas Love this, Fiona ❤️
Louise Counsell That was moving. Your family was so rich in the things that mattered
Cathy Harle Fiona, you had the very great privilege of growing up in a home full of love and values with your sisters and brothers, and each one of you have instilled those values in your own children – you can all be very proud of yourselves 💕
Harder Karen Ian Beautiful and well written Fiona and as auntie Noleen said, we also come from a large family, one income earner, little money and a lot of bad health issues but there was also plenty of love and we always appreciated what little we had. I am so grateful for everything and for how all of our beautiful children turned out, I am I only very sad our dear mum and dad didn’t live long enough to see how all their beautiful grandchildren turned out. Your mum and dad did such a good job raising such a beautiful family and I can clearly see you are all doing the same with your own families. Much love 😘😘
Salome Mariner Borg I love this so much! 💙
So well articulated that I could just feel the love and could picture everything as if it were a movie..actually, why not turn it into a movie ☺️👌
Thanks for sharing xx
JoJo Axe Will always be thankful for our humble beginnings and everything our families have done for each other. That beautiful special friendship like no other that our Mum’s have, the joy and support they give to one another is amazing. Something to be very grateful for 😘
Amy Lou Thank you for sharing this. An inspiring story with some aspects that remind me of my own childhood. ❤️
Michelle Halloran Love your story Fiona. Thank you so much for sharing! Eplains why you are such an amazing teacher and person 🤗 We moved into a housing commission place at Ambarvale in 1981 when I was 6, the neighbours were awesome their too! So many great memories growing up there. Freedom to roam the neighbourhood on our bikes, visiting 5 or 6 friends on a Saturday, Mum and Dad having no idea where I was until I arrived home before dark! Sadly it’s a different world now.
Stephanie Compton That story is beautifully written. I can really feel your heat’s journey and the feel of family and community… which has helped make you the amazing woman and mother you are today! xoxo
Fiona Maureen That was such a nice read. Good to get to know you more. ☺️
Yvette Underwood Torr That is wonderful. Your parents did an amazing job.

Originally posted 30 April 2020

Updated 19 June 2020
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Brand Anzac – meaning and myth

An historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.

Anzac Day Leaflet listing local services in the Federal electorate of Hume (AG)

In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017 University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australian’s cultural identity. The attentive audience were a mix of ages and interest, including past military personnel.

One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture. 

The camp administration block with A Bailey in the foreground at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942. The camp was operation between 1940 and 1944 (A Bailey).

Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of  Anzac and that there is far from just one truth.  Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.

The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.

Shifts in meaning

The term Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations and the 1960s social movements. Its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for currently serving military personnel, while others have chosen to take cheap potshots at those who question the orthodoxy.

The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

The tented lines at the Narellan Military Camp in 1941. Thousands of troops passed through the camp during its operation between 1940 and 1944 (A Bailey).

Tensions and contradictions

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.

The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product on industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.

There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.

Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription from the Camden community with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.

On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-round Aussie bloke.

The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.

Gunner Bruce Guppy

In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’.

Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.

Bruce Guppy and his unit, the 2/1st Australian Mountain Battery AIF, at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March. Guppy is in the front row fourth from the left (I Willis).

Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995  wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:

An Old Soldier Remembers

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

Bruce Guppy, Bruce’s Ballads by the Bard from Berry. Guppy/Willis, Berry, 1996.

So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.

For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.

A Red Cross poster used for patriotic fundraising purposes in 1918 during World War One. (Australian Red Cross).

While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.

The site and the myth

Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.

These comments contrasted with the opening address by an ex-military Alumni organiser. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF celebrated in military training in Australia today are: the withdrawal of troops at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba.

These views contrast with recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources that have shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield has used a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft. The trainee pilots then went on to serve with RAF and RAAF squadrons in Europe during World War 2  (1942 LG Fromm).

The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.

Pilgrims and memory

Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry.

Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).

Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.

The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.

Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.

For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
RAAF Camden and the Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941. Some of these young men went on to serve with RAF and RAAF squadrons in the European theatre during World War 2 (RAAF Historical).

Brand Anzac

Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.

Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.

Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offering contradictions for some and realities for others.

The members of the Australian community are the ones will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.

Updated on 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’

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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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Reflections on the Thirlmere Lakes Science Information Day

Thirlmere Lakes Research project

I recently attended a seminar day at Picton showcasing the latest Thirlmere Lakes Research presented at The Thirlmere Lakes Third Annual Science Day held at the Picton Bowling Club.

 

Thirlmere Lakes Science Day presentation 2020Feb28 lowres
Thirlmere Lakes Science Day introduction to delegates on 28 February 2020 at Picton Bowling Club, Picton. (I Willis)

 

There was a positive tone to the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project.  The Thirlmere Lakes Research Program aims to shed light on changes in water levels in the lakes by better understanding the land and groundwater of the system.

This was the third day in a series of seminars and was attended by a range of stakeholders including the community, researchers, and state and local government.

A team of scientists from a variety of research institutions presented a variety of papers ranging across lake geology, geophysics, sedimentation, groundwater, surface flow, chemistry, water balance, and vegetation.

Thirlmere Lakes Science Day presentation2 2020Feb28 lowres
Thirlmere Lakes Science Day Presentation on 28 February 2020 at Picton Bowling Club, Picton (I Willis)

 

The day was an opportunity for academic researchers to collaborate with each other and stimulate further research.  Researchers were drawn from University of New South Wales (UNSW), GeoQuEST Research Centre, the University of Wollongong (UOW), the Australian Government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Deakin University and the NSW Department Primary Industry and Environment and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services.

The research project was initiated by community activism started with the Rivers SOS group in 2010 and local concern about mining in the lakes area. Rivers SOS is an alliance of over 40 environmental and community groups concerned with the wrecking of rivers in New South Wales by mining operations.

The science day was very instructive from several perspectives including networking opportunities. Researchers tend to work in silos and conduct their work in isolation from other disciplines. The science day was an opportunity for researchers to interact with each other and generate new ideas from their work.

Thirlmere Lakes Science Day presentation3 Thanks you 2019Feb28 lowres
Thirlmere Lakes Science Day Presentation and thank you comments from researchers at Picton Bowling Club, Picton (I Willis)

 

There was a positive tone around the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project. In the past, there are often tensions between stakeholders based on cynicism and lack of trust. There has been a mixed history of community consultations and engagement over policy decisions. In the past city-based decision-makers have shown little regard for the views of small communities. Their concerns have often been ignored.

The science days appear to have generated a significant level of trust between the community and the research team. There has been an open and transparent approach to the research project. Generally, science researchers do not like to present preliminary findings as they may differ significantly from the final results. This can prove problematic. The general community may not be fully aware of this process and can become suspicious and trust falls away.

The science day encouraged community engagement with positive comments from delegates, researchers and seminar day organisers.  Before the commencement of the project, there was a high level of community cynicism about government responses to community concerns about the disappearance of the water in the lakes. The research project seems to have ameliorated many community concerns and lessened community cynicism towards decision-makers and the research process.

The second science day was held in June 2018 with five presentations showcasing preliminary findings from research partners. Feedback indicated that there was a strong interest in the early findings and the need for further community engagement – hence the 2020 day.

Thirlmere Lakes Science Day Aerial View 27Feb2020 2020Feb28 lowres
An aerial view of Thirlmere Lakes National Park 27 February 2020 after the recent rain event in February. This was part of a presentation during a break at the Thirlmere Lakes Science Day on 28 February 2020 at Picton Bowling Club Picton. (I Willis)

 

Announcement of Thirlmere Lakes Research project by the state government

In 2017 the Macarthur press announced the launch of the current Thirlmere Lakes Research project. The South West Voice reported

The research partners, University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Wollongong (UOW) and Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), will investigate the sensitivity of these wetland systems to external influences, such as the effects of mining activity and groundwater extraction, over the next four years. (South West Voice 20 October 2017)

Thirlmere Lakes Diarama Science Day 2020Feb28 Lowres
A diorama that was displayed at Thirlmere Lakes Science Day at Picton Bowling Club Picton on 28 February 2020 (I Willis)

 

The press reports detailed that the 2017 project was built on a 2014 monitoring program that has been continuously recording water levels in the 5 lakes.

The Voice stated that the areas of investigation for the 2017 project included

  • Geological mapping and geophysical surveys of the Thirlmere Lakes area (UNSW – Dr Wendy Timms);

  • Environmental isotopes investigations into periodic and recent water losses from Thirlmere Lakes (ANSTO – Dr Dioni Cendón);

  • Thirlmere Lakes: the geomorphology, sub-surface characteristics and long term perspectives on lake-filling and drying (UOW – Dr Tim Cohen);

  • Surface Water – Groundwater Interaction (UNSW – Dr Martin Andersen);

  • Developing an integrated water balance budget for Thirlmere Lakes to provide a detailed understanding of hydrological dynamics (UNSW – Associate Professor Will Glamore). (South West Voice 20 October 2017)

 

The Thirlmere Lakes Research website stated that the state government provided a significant budget for the 2017 project:

The former Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) committed $1.9 million over 4 years for the Thirlmere Lakes Research Program to help understand the fluctuating water levels in the lakes.

The 2012 inquiry and more

The website states that research on the Thirlmere Lakes began with a 2012 inquiry. This was prompted by community concerns about low water levels in Thirlmere Lakes and the potential impacts of coal mining and groundwater extraction. The 2012 research highlighted gaps in knowledge about the lakes. The inquiry published its findings in the Thirlmere Lakes Inquiry: Final Report of the Independent Committee. The NSW Chief Scientist reviewed the 2012 findings and water monitoring was started in 2013. Following this, a workshop was held in 2016 and its findings were published in The Mysterious Hydrology of Thirlmere Lakes.

Popular with locals

Thirlmere Lakes Families Picnic 1984 DHunt
Thirlmere Lakes with family picnics with children enjoying the lake and swimming in 1984 (D Hunt)

 

The Thirlmere Lakes National Park is 629 acres located in the Macarthur region and was proclaimed a national park in 1972. In 2000 the national park was inscribed as part of the  UNESCO World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains Area. The lakes have been a popular recreation spot with local families for many decades.

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Reflections on the Camden story

What does the Camden story mean to you?

What is the importance of the Camden story?

What is the relevance of the Camden story?

These appear to be simple questions. But are they really?

I have posed these questions in response to the theme of History Week 2020 which asks the question History: What is it good for?

Narellan Studley Park House 2015 IW
Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

 

So, what is the Camden story?

What is the Camden story?

The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.

Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.

The latest version is the European story started with The Cowpastures in 1795.

The Camden story is about the Camden community.

The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.

These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.

Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District. This book covers an overview of the Camden story from the First Australians, the Cowpastures, gentry estates, the Camden township, Camden as a little England, the Interwar period, First and Second World Wars, voluntarism, mid-20th century modernism and the approach of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. (Kingsclear, 2015)

 

What is the relevance of the Camden story?

The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.

The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.

Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.

Camelot House formerly known at Kirkham, Camden NSW
Camelot House, originally known as Kirkham, was designed by Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt for James White. The house was built in 1888 on the site of colonial identity John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill. Folklore says that James White financed the house from the winnings of the 1877 Melbourne Cup by his horse Chester. Under White’s ownership, the property became a horse-racing stud and produced several notable horses. (Camden Images)

 

What is the use of the Camden story?

The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:

  • the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
  • the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
  • the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
  • the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.

Camden &amp; Laura Jane &amp; Debbie photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
Storyteller Laura Jane is ad-libbing for a short tourist promo for Tiffin Cottage. Camera operator Debbie is issuing instructions and generally supervising the production crew. (I Willis)
 

History offers a different approach to a question.

Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.

The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.

Aust Day 2018 Museum Open Frances&amp;Harry
Australia Day 2018. The Camden Museum was open and here are two enthusiastic supporters and volunteers for the museum. They are Frances and Harry Warner. These two larger than life Camden identities have spent their life devoted to the Camden community. They have lived and worked on Camden Park Estate for decades. (I Willis)

 

The historian is well equipped to unpack and peel back the layers of the Camden story.

The tools used by the historian to unravel the Camden story might include: historical significance; continuity and change; progress and decline; evidence; historical empathy; and I will add hope and loss.

An understanding of this process is all called historical consciousness and has been examined in Anna Clark’s Private Lives Public History.

I feel that the themes of History Week 2020 provide a convenient way to wrap up all of this.

The History Council of NSW has recast this in its  Value of History Statement and its component parts and they are: identity; engaged citizens; strong communities; economic development; critical skills, leadership, and legacy.

Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.

Camden Park House Country Road Photoshoot 2019
Country Road fashion shoot at Camden Park House. Have a peek at Camden Park House at the Country Road page and visit us on 21/22 Sept on our annual Open Weekend. (Camden Park House)

 

Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?

The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.

A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.

The Camden story can tell citizens about past examples of active citizenship and volunteerism within Camden’s democratic processes from the past. There are stories about our local leaders from the past who helped shape today’s community in many ways.

The Camden story tells stories about family and social networks that criss-cross the district and are the glue that holds the Camden community together in a time of crisis – social capital.

Active citizenship contributes to community identity, a sense of belonging and stories about others who have contributed to their area contribute to placemaking and strengthening community resilience.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)