20th century · Adaptive Re-use · Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Burra Charter · Camden Story · Church History · Churches · Collective Memory · Commemoration · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Elderslie · Families · Family history · Farming · First World War · Genealogy · Heritage · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · St Mark's Church Elderslie · Urban development · Urban growth · Urbanism · Village · Wartime

A little church on the hill, St Mark’s Church Elderslie

A public outcry

In 2009 there was a public outcry when there was a proposal to relocate St Mark’s church and develop the site. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009) While the church building had remained unused for several years, the public protests posed a conundrum for local authorities. Why was there such an outcry over an empty building?

Small churches like St Marks are vital to small communities in the construction of place and development of community identity. Their potential loss threatens a community’s collective memory and sense of place.  The church tells the story of a small farming community that has disappeared through the mists of time.

The history of St Mark’s church is the history of Elderslie, and the church was a special place of community celebrations and commemorations along with family celebrations, traditions, and events. The church has been a gathering place, a sacred site.

This charming image taken by John Kooyman in 1998 shows the church and other buildings under the shade of the magnificent camphor laurel tree. (Camden Images)

An outdoor Sunday School proves popular

St Mark’s church’s origins go back to 1901 and the formation of an outdoor Sunday School by Elderslie resident Miss Elizabeth Carpenter, a disgruntled St John’s church parishioner. Elizabeth (b. 1863) was the eldest daughter of Elderslie orchardist Horatio Carpenter. According to Elderslie resident Len English, the Carpenter orchard of Fernside was just behind the church with a frontage on Macarthur Road.

According to Harold Lowe, St Mark’s churchwarden and treasurer, the story goes that 38-year-old Elizabeth Carpenter had a falling out with the rector of Camden’s St John’s Church, Rev Cecil John King. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

The Sunday School proved popular with local families, and ‘in the summer of 1902…[the Sunday School was] held under the shade of the great stone pines below Mrs Lydia Carpenter’s orchard’. Miss Elizabeth Carpenter had her ‘American organ brought down on a slide and led the singing’. During the autumn, with inclement weather, the classes were held in Fernside’s ‘old wine press room’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

 The Sunday School continued to be an essential part of the church’s activities, and in 1933 the Camden press reported that the children of St Mark’s Sunday School held their picnic in Mr Bruchhauser’s ‘top paddock’. Showers did not let up until after lunch, but nothing was ‘daunted’, and the picnic was set up by ‘teachers and helpers’ in the church. ‘A very happy afternoon was spent by all’ after the ground dried out with ‘games and races’. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)

Transcript on the back of the image (Camden Images)
St Mark’s Luker Street Elderslie Sunday School c1955. Bishop Wilston, Ruth Ferguson to R & believed Bishop Wilton, Mary Ferguson next to Ruth. Nancy Ferguson is on the right in a blue dress and white hat. Children, front row, from left Barbara Noble 3, Lesley Noble 6, John Bunce 8, Pat Higgs girl in front of the nameplate. Identification by Lorrie Noble (Dec 1998) Photo from transparency by Ina Cameron, 65 Harrington St, Elderslie, who came to Elderslie in 1946 and worshipped at St Mark’s.

A new church

Miss Carpenter led fundraising efforts, ably assisted by RA Cross, Mr Albury, and Mr Bellingham, early in 1902 (Camden News, 5 August 1954) and moves were made ‘for the purchase of a piece of land’ and construction of the church building. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

A small portion of Thomas Teasdale’s land was acquired by the Church of England and held in the name of the Bishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend William S Smith, and part of the Narellan Parish. (SOHI 2022)

These efforts resulted in the opening of a church building on the site, with the first service on 22 June 1902. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

A church building was constructed and has been described as

 a traditional vernacular form with a simple gable roof covered in shingles.  It is a good and representative example of a very modest mission church typical of those erected in small country towns in the late 19th and very early 20th Centuries. Built of weatherboard with a corrugated metal roof and a small belfry, it contained two rooms (the nave and a small vestry) plus a porch. The window openings are simple timber sashes with horizontally pivoting openings. Windows are glazed with translucent and opaque domestic glass from the early 20th Century/Inter-War period. (SOHI 2022)

A new Elderslie resident, Mr Fred Carpenter, constructed the first six ‘handsome and comfortable seats of polished Kauri’, and parishioners donated chairs, books, lamps, blinds, alms dish, matting, communion cloth, pulpit cushions and drape. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The church was dedicated by The Rt Rev Bishop AW Pain from Gippsland on St Mark’s Day in 1903, April 25. (Camden News, 5 August 1954)  Saint Mark’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Mark, is held on April 25 and commemorates Mark the Evangelist, also known as Saint Mark. Mark the Evangelist is an important character in early Christianity and is the ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark the Evangelist is considered the guardian of the earth and harvests and is celebrated in several countries.

According to the Camden press, churchwarden Harold Lowe suggested the church name some years after its consecration. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) According to Lowe, the new church was called St Marks at a meeting held on St Mark’s Day. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

Church of England authorities ‘licensed [the church] for divine service in 1913 and named [it] for St Mark’. (SOHI 2022)

By 1914 the church was known as the St Mark’s Mission Church. (Camden News, 13 August 1914) According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a mission church is not locally self-supporting but depends at least partially upon the support of mission funds from the larger religious organisation that established it.

Church governance

St Marks was part of the Church of England Parish of Narellan along with St Paul’s Cobbitty and St Thomas’s Narellan.  Services at St Mark’s Church were conducted by the rector of Cobbitty’s St Paul’s, Rev Canon Allnutt. (Cobbitty 1827-1927)

The first churchwardens were RA Cross, Thomas Albury and John Latty. By 1915 churchwardens were GM Gardner and T Albury, the minister’s warden was H Bellingham, and Miss Brain was the Sunday School teacher. (Camden News, 29 April 1915) Harold Lowe was the church auditor. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)

The church held its yearly vestry meeting, and the re-elected churchwardens for 1933 were T Albury, RA Cross and J Ross. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)

In 1940 the Narellan Parish Log reported that the rector decided to hold an evening service on the third Sunday of the month where he conducted a Lantern Picture Show. (Camden News, 7 November 1940)

This image shows the parishioners in 1955, which was likely taken by Ina Cameron around the same time as the Sunday School image. While a poor image, the charm and character of the period are clearly shown. Most parishioners were women and likely members of the church women’s guild. Gloves, hats and Sunday best were essential fashion items when attending church in the 1950s. (Camden Images)

First World War and Anzac Day

The First World War profoundly affected the church and the Elderslie community.

In 1915 a memorial service was held at St Mark’s for two Elderslie lads who ‘gave their lives for the Empire’ on the battlefield of the Great War and was held to an ‘overflowing’ congregation. They were Lance Corporal Eric Lyndon Lowe, Signaller, 18th Battalion and Bugler Milton Thornton. The local press reported that ‘beautiful wreaths’ were presented by Mrs Faithful Anderson of Camelot and one from the Cobbitty Rectory. Rev Canon Allnutt took the service, and his daughter, Alice, sang the ‘At Rest’ by Aylward during the offertory. An amount of £1/10/6d was collected for the Liverpool Camp Church Tent Fund. (Camden News, 28 October 1915)

The progress of the First World War and patriotic fundraising put pressure on the community and church parishioners. Yet despite ‘the many calls and patriotic funds’, church finances were pronounced ‘satisfactory’ at the annual 1916 vestry meeting. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)

St Mark’s Day coincided with Camden’s first Anzac Day in the Camden district in 1916. In 1919, the Anzac Day commemorative service at St Mark’s church ‘was crowded and especially attended by the families and friends of those who had met a soldier’s death’. (Camden News, 1 May 1919)

In 1934 Rev AF Pain celebrated the Festival of Saint Mark at the church, where parishioners presented ‘a bounteous supply of the fruits of the earth’ that was sent to Camden District Hospital. (Camden News, 15 February 1934) In 1937 there was a combined service for Anzac Day and the Festival of St Mark. (Camden News, 22 April 1937)

The services for Anzac Day commemoration and St Mark’s Day were split in the years after the Second World War. In 1952 the service with Holy Communion was held by Bishop EW Wilton from Cobbitty on Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 1952, at 9.30 am. The following Sunday, 27 April 1952, the church had the St Mark’s Festival Service. (Camden News, 24 April 1952)

Farewells and church anniversaries

The 10th anniversary of the church celebrations in 1912 was dampened by the departure of church founders Elizabeth Carpenter and her mother, Lydia.

According to rector Canon GH Allnutt, the Carpenter women had made an ‘immense contribution’ to the church’s foundation with service held once a month at Fernside while the church was being built. The rector presented Miss Carpenter with a gold watch for her efforts. She ‘was visibly affected’ as she thanked the assembly in ‘a simple words’ as the presentation had come as a ‘great surprise’. She said, ‘ she felt quite unworthy…as she had only tried to do her duty to the best of her ability’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

In 1939 the church lost its long-term organist when parishioner Olive Burford of Camden to Alan Tindall of Rockdale. As a token of thanks, the parishioners gave her a silver hot water jug. (Camden News, 17 August 1939)

In 1952 on the 50th anniversary of the church, attendances were reported as ‘encouraging’ in the Camden press. Bishop Wilton conducted the evening service and said there was a Sunday School and a congregation ‘that is growing in strength’. The organists were Miss L Cross and Mrs J Bradford. Churchwardens were CS McIntosh, H Rudd, N Hore and Mr Bradford. The supper was organised by parishioners: Mrs Childs, Mrs Teasdale, Miss Teasdale, Mrs Wrench, Mrs N Ferguson, Mrs C Dunk, Mrs R Dunk, Mrs Weiberle, Mrs Harris, and Mrs Wilton. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)

Improvement and additions

There were ‘improvements and additions’ to the church over the decades. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The churchwardens at St Thomas Narellan gave parishioners at St Mark’s the ‘old ‘John Oxley’ harmonium’ after they installed a new organ. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)

The church’s original shingle roof was replaced in 1912 with ‘short-sheet corrugated iron painted dark red-oxide’. The ceiling and floors were also replaced.  (SOHI 2022)

On the death of Canon Allnutt in 1919, Percy Butler was commissioned to construct a communion table in his memory. Local cabinet maker and carpenter Fred Carpenter had built additional seating, a prayer desk, a communion rail and a lecturn.   (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

A vestry was later added to the building that could act as a chancel when there was a need for additional seating. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)

The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild held the 1954 church fundraising fair with stalls selling ‘useful goods including handicrafts suitable for ‘Christmas presents’ at the home of Mrs C Dunk in Luker Street. The fair was opened by Mrs A Pain, the wife of the former rector St Paul’s Church of England, Cobbitty, who held services at St Mark’s church between 1919 and 1940. (Camden News, 4 November 1954)

The construction of Warragamba Dam was advantageous for the church community when the former Nattai Post Office/general store building was brought up from Burragorang Valley and placed at the church’s rear to be used as a hall. (The District Reporter, 2 February 2009). The Women’s Guild and the Elderslie community funded the relocation and fit-out of the hall for use as a kitchen. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; SOHI 2022))

In 1959 a meeting of churchwardens, the Women’s Guild and the rector resolved to create a special fund to finance the purchase of the land adjoining the existing church site. It was decided at the same meeting to repair the organ, which cost £24. (File Notes, Camden Museum archives) The kitchen was extended in 1961; in 1966, the Church of England purchased a small part of an adjoining property. (SOHI 2022) In 1968 a new hall was constructed on the site.

The addition of a new building on St Mark’s church site in 1955 was much anticipated by parishioners who provided voluntary labour for the construction. Images supplied by Ina Cameron, a local Elderslie resident. (Camden Images)

Funerals and remembrance services

Funerals and remembrance services were a time of community grieving and support, and the church had a central role in these events.  

The death of local parishioners was always a loss to the church. A St Mark’s parishioner and ‘keen’ church worker Mrs Ellen Cross recently died aged 66. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1930) A stalwart of the St Mark’s Sunday School Mrs FA Goodman died aged 60 years old. She had taken the Sunday School just days before admission to Camden District Hospital, where she died of pneumonia last Saturday, December 5. Mrs Goodman had ‘conducted’ the Sunday School from 1926 to her death. (Camden News, 10 December 1931)

St Mark’s churchwarden James Ross was killed by a motor car as he walked at night between the Cowpastures Bridge and the milk depot in 1938. (Camden News, 29 December 1938)

A remembrance service was held at St Mark’s on the death of Joyce Asimus, daughter of Mr and Mrs Roy Asimus, of ‘The Heights’ Elderslie who died after a recent operation. Joyce was reportedly a ‘friendly, energetic and affectionate soul held a high place in esteem and affection of the neighbourhood’. The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild was represented by Mrs Funnell Senr, Mrs Wilton, and Mrs Childs. (Camden News, 29 October 1953)

St Mark’s parishioner and Elderslie resident, 89-year-old Mr RA Cross of Macarthur Road Elderslie, died in 1954. Mr Cross had been a churchwarden since St Mark’s church foundation. The Camden press reported that Mr Cross had attended St Marks Church within days of death along with other parishioners. Mr Cross was a retired brickmaker and made bricks for famous local properties, including Camelot, Carrington Hospital, and Pomare at Cobbitty. His funeral was held at St Thomas’s church at Narellan, with the service taken by Bishop Wilton and buried in Narellan cemetery. A week later, there was a remembrance service at St Mark’s for this ‘faithful and regular worshipper’.(Camden News, 29 July 1854)

The funeral of Mrs Constance AM Ross of Elderslie, mother of Mrs Childs, was held at St Mark’s church in 1952. The Camden press reported that this was the first time a funeral service with the casket was held at the church in its 50-year history. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)

This is a sad image from 2011 of a church past its use-by date, all boarded up, unkempt and unloved. Yet it was still able to rouse the emotions of the Elderslie community to protect the cultural heritage of the building and the collective memories it possessed for them. The church building is up for sale. (IWillis)

Last service and the loss of a church

Over time, church parishioners died, old Elderslie families moved away, the church congregation grew smaller, and the parish could not financially support the church. Church authorities decided to ‘amalgamate St Mark’s with St Thomas‘s, Narellan, with the final service being held at St Mark’s being held on 21 October 2001. The church was then closed to sell the land’. (SOHI 2022)

 In Elderslie, as elsewhere, the threatened loss of a local church often triggers a passionate response from the local community. The local church, even if unused, is a repository of collective memories and a sacred site that possesses a sense of place and community identity.

In 2009 there was a community outcry over a proposal to subdivide the land surrounding St Mark’s church, relocate the church building, demolish the church hall, and cut down the camphor laurel on the Camden’s Register of Significant Trees. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009)

Passionate locals voiced their concerns, particularly about the state of the camphor laurel. Councillor Eva Campbell maintained that the church building was ‘the most significant building in Elderslie’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009) Later reports show that the camphor laurel tree was planted to celebrate the church’s consecration in 1903.

 In the end, Camden Council voted to cut down the tree and approved shifting the church across the existing site to allow the consolidation of three allotments into two. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009)

The Anglican Church deconsecrated St Marks in 2010. (SOHI 2022)

The removal of the camphor laurel tree adjacent to St Mark’s church in 2009 after approval by Camden Council. At the rear of the church, site are the kitchen and hall in the process of demolition (IWillis)

The church site and buildings were sold to the private owners in 2011 and converted to a private residence where the new owners became the guardians of the community’s collective memories.  

In 2022 a proposal by the private owners to extend the former church building generated public interest in maintaining the cultural heritage of the church’s history.

This charming image shows the current usage of the former St Mark’s church in 2022 is now in private hands and used as a residence. The character and integrity of the former church building are still intact, with the belfry, entry porch, and church building with sash windows clearly shown here. The addition of a picket fence adds to the rustic nature of the original building. This image illustrates adaptive reuse that is outlined in the Burra Charter guidelines for heritage sites within Australia. (IWillis)
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The memory of the Cowpastures in monuments, memorials and murals.

A landscape of memorials and memories of the Cowpastures.

Many memorials, monuments, historic sites, and other public facilities commemorate, celebrate and just generally remind us about the landscape of the Cowpastures.

In recent decades there has been a nostalgia turn around recovering the memory of the Cowpastures landscape. This is cast in terms of the pioneers and the legacy of the European settlement.

An applique panel on the Cowpastures Heritage Quilt shows Belgenny Farm, which was part of Camden Park Estate. The quilt is hanging on display at the Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

Memorials and monuments can be controversial in some quarters, especially in the eyes of those interested in Australia’s dark history.

Apart from monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures landscape, the most ubiquitous form of memorialisation across the Macarthur region are war memorials. Most Macarthur regional communities possess a monument of some kind, dating to the early 20th century commemorating the memory of those killed in action in the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.   

The heyday of building monuments in Australia was in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when the new and emerging nation searched for national heroes. These heroes were overwhelmingly blokes – pale males.

Some of the most significant memorials to the Cowpastures landscape are historical sites, the built environment, and cultural heritage. Many of these are scattered across the Cowpastures region dating from the time of European settlement.

Most of the monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures in the local area date from the mid-20th century. Several have been commissioned by developers trying to cast their housing developments in nostalgia for the colonial past. Only one of these memorials was commissioned by women.

The monuments and memorials can be considered part of the public art of the local area and have contributed to the construction of place and community identity.

The memories evoked by the monuments, memorials, murals, historical sites, celebrations, and other items mean different things to different people.

The Cowpastures Landscape

So what exactly has been referred to by the Cowpastures landscape? In this discussion, there are these interpretations:

  1. The Cowpastures colonial frontier 1795-1820
  2. The Cowpastures government reserve 1803-1820s
  3. The Cowpastures region 1795 – 1840
  4. The landscape of the Cowpastures gentry 1805 -1840
  5. The English-style landscape of the Cowpastures 1795-1840
  6. Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures 1795-1840

A set of principles for viewing The Cowpastures landscape

The Cowpastures landscape and seven principles of interpretation:

  • Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
  • Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon.
  • Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
  • The political and philosophical – evils were the true corruptors of the countryside.
  • Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers.
  • ‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside.
  • Emotional response – how the European viscerally experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing – and its expression in words and pictures. (after Karskins 2009, The Colony)

Examples of memory evocation for The Cowpastures

Monuments and memorials

  1. The Cowpastures Heritage Quilt was commissioned by the Camden Quilters Guild commemorating the Cowpastures Bicentenary in 1995.

2. A public artwork called Cowpastures Story in the forecourt of Narellan Library was commissioned by Narellan Rotary Club.

3. A statue of Governor Hunter was commissioned by a land developer at Mount Annan.

Statue of Governor Hunter in the Governors Green Reserve at Mount Annan (I Willis)

4. A collection of bronze cows in the Cowpastures Wild Cattle of the 1790s was commissioned by a land developer at Oran Park.

5. At Harrington Park Lakeside, public artworks memorialise the Cowpastures commissioned by a land developer.

6. At Picton, the Cowpastures mural is completed by a local sculptor and local school children.

The Cowpastures Memorial Bronze mural at Picton (I Willis, 2021)

7. Camden Rotary Pioneer Mural was commissioned by Camden Rotary Club in the mid-20th century and is located adjacent to Camden District Hospital.

Camden Pioneer Mural was commissioned by Camden Rotary Club in the mid-20th century adjacent to Camden Hospital on the Old Hume Highway (I Willis)

8. A different type of memorial is the Cowpasture Bridge at the entry to Camden, spanning the Nepean River.

Information plaque for the 1976 opening of the Cowpasture Bridge located adjacent to the bridge in Argyle Street, Camden (I Willis, 2022)

9. Memorial to the Appin Massacre at Cataract Dam.

10. The Hume and Hovell Monument on the Appin Road celebrates the departure of the Hume and Hovell expedition to Port Phillip Bay in 1824.

11. Parks and reserves, e.g., Rotary Cowpasture Reserve, opened in 1995 By Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair
Governor of NSW, celebrating 100 years of Rotary.

The Camden Rotary Cowpasture Reserve was opened on 19 February 1995 by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, Governor of New South Wales. The reserve is located at Lat: -34.053751 and Long: 150.701171. and the address is 10 Argyle Street, Camden. The reserve is on an original land grant within the boundaries of Camden Park Estate from the early 19th century, which was part of the Macarthur family’s colonial pastoral empire. Camden Park Estate was a central part of the Cowpastures district. (I Willis)

Cultural Heritage

1. Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrations occurred in 1995 and were a loose arrangement of community events.

Postcard of the Cowpastures Heritage Quilt commissioned and sewed by Camden Quilter’s Guild members in 1955. The quilt is currently on display at Camden Library. (Camden Museum)

2. An art exhibition at the Campbelltown Art Centre in 2016 called With Secrecy and Dispatch commemorates the Appin Massacre’s bicentenary.

3. The Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, which is the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, is being considered for listing on the State Heritage Register.

4. Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations Annual Fair and Conference in 2016, called Cowpastures and Beyond, was held in Camden with exciting speakers and attended by various delegates.

Cowpastures and Beyond Conference held in Camden in 2016 (CAFHS)

5. An art exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre called ‘They Came by Boat‘ in 2017 highlighted many aspects of the landscape of the Cowpastures and its story.

6. Paintings by various artists, e.g., ‘View in the Cowpasture district 1840-46’  by Robert Marsh Westmacott.

7. Campbelltown-born architect William Hardy Wilson wrote The Cow Pasture Road in 1920, a whimsical fictional account of the sights and sounds along the road from Prospect to the Cow Pastures.

A fictional account of The Cow Pasture Road written by William Hardy Wilson in 1920 with pencil drawings and watercolours. (I Willis, 2022)

8. Macarthur ‘Bulls’ FC is a football team founded in 2021 named after the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures and has a training facility established at Cawdor in the centre of the former 1803 Cowpasture government reserve.

Historic sites

1. The Cowpasture Road was the original access route to the colonial Cowpastures Reserve in the early 19th century, starting at Prospect and ending at the Nepean River crossing.

2. The historic site at Belgenny Farm is one of Australia’s earliest European farming complexes in the Cowpastures. The farm was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate and is an example of living history.

3. Camden Park House and Garden is the site of John Macarthur’s historic Regency mansion and was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.

A Conrad Martins 1843 watercolour, ‘Camden Park House, Home of John Macarthur (1767-1834)’ (SLNSW)

4. Other colonial properties across the Cowpastures region (in private hands)

Updated 23 October 2022. Originally posted 22 August 2022.

Attachment to place · Belonging · Biography · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Family history · Farming · Gothic · Heritage · Historical Research · History · Landscape · Local History · Local Studies · Myths · Placemaking · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Victorian · Women's history · Women's Writing

A great yarn of the bush from colonial New South Wales

Preview

Jeff McGill, Rachel. Allen & Unwin 2022, Sydney. ISBN 9781760879983.

Tonight I had the privilege of attending the book launch for local author and raconteur Jeff McGill’s Rachel at Mary Sheil Centre, St Patrick’s College at Campbelltown.

McGill’s Rachel tells the story of Jeff’s great-great-grandmother from the Coonabarabran area of NSW. Rachel Inglis (Kennedy) was known as Rachel of the Warrumbungles.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel (A&U)

McGill’s Rachel had been brewing for about 40 years and it was only in the 2020 lockdown when Jeff’s freelance work dried up that he got mobile on writing the book.

A friend advised him to send a couple of chapters to two publishers. He sent the work to Allen and Unwin and a small publisher in Melbourne. Allen & Unwin got back to him in two days and wanted to know if he had more material, so he sent off chapters 3 & 4. The rest is history.

Jeff often visited Rachel Kennedy’s farm at Box Ridge and listened to local storytellers at Coonamble and Coonabarabran. He is the sort of writer who walks the ground and soaks up the ghosts of the past. He allowed the landscape to talk to him and embedded himself in the spirit of place.

Remarkable woman

Rachel Kennedy was quite a woman and the Mudgee Guardian and North West Reporter wrote an extensive obituary in 1930 on her death. It stated in part:

The late Mrs. Inglis was one who rarely gave a thought to herself, her one object in life being to help others. She was always to be found at the bedside of almost every sick person in the Warrumbungle district, and has been known to have ridden as far as 20 miles in the middle of the night to reach some sufferer, even when far from well herself. Considering that all her grand efforts were done in an age when motor cars were unknown, it stamps this fine old pioneer as one of the world’s best — a race that is fast vanishing from our midst. The deceased lady had reached the great age of 85 years. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)

Rachel’s obituary was also published in the Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (10 April 1930).

At the time of Rachel’s death, it was usual for the country press to publish any sort of obituary of a woman unless she was white and from an influential rural family. The country press was a very white-male institution.

The obituary published in the Mudgee press was an acknowledgement that Rachel was a true local identity and bush character well known in the area. A rare feat indeed. The bush was a male-dominated landscape where women remained in the shadows.

Rachel did not fit the stereotypical 19th-century woman. Yet, she did not seek recognition for her community work and never received it in any public fashion.

The local community understood Rachel’s contribution to their lives and when she was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Gulargambone Cemetery, it was

in the presence of one of the largest gatherings, ever seen at the cemetery. The Rev. G. Innes  Ritter, of Coonamble, performed the last sad rites at the graveside. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)

Family History

McGill’s Rachel represents the genealogical genre of family history as it should be written. The book shows how such a story can be approached and can generate an appeal to a wide audience. Others who have achieved this goal include Nick Brodie’s Kin, A Real People’s History of Our Nation, Graeme Davison’s Lost Relations, Fortunes of my Family in Australia’s Golden Age and Peter FitzSimons’s A Simpler Time.

Rachel Inglis’s (Kennedy) family and home at Box Ridge near Coonabarabran in NSW c.1890s (Jeff McGill)

It was very common for women from the rural under-class to disappear into the shadows of history without any acknowledgement of their existence. The lives of some of these women are probably best reflected in stories like Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife (1892), a piece of Australian Gothic fiction. Author Samantha Leersen writes:

‘The Drover’s Wife,’ and the fears felt by its protagonist, presents a fictitious account of the real concerns experienced by settler Australians.

‘The Drovers Wife’ by Russell Drysdale (1945) and the author Henry Lawson 1902 (1867-1922) (UoS)

Rachel’s story has many parallels with Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife.

Female Biography

McGill’s Rachel is another addition to the popular genre of female biography which has seen a number of publications about colonial women in recent times. These include Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, Elizabeth Rushen and Perry McIntyre’s Fair Game, Australia’s First Immigrant Women, Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza Power and Colonial Storytelling, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell’s Searching for Charlotte, The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author, Anne Philp’s Caroline’s Diary, A Woman’s World in Colonial Australia and others.

The cover notes for McGill’s Rachel state:

Rachel Kennedy stood out on a wild frontier dominated by men… her extraordinary and unputdownable pioneering story is told for the first time

‘Just a girl, but when it came to chasing wild horses nobody questioned Rachel Kennedy’s skill in a saddle. What raised the eyebrows was the type of saddle she used: a man’s.

Rachel Kennedy was a colonial folk hero.

She also built rare friendships with Aboriginal people, including a lifelong relationship with her ‘sister’ Mary Jane Cain.

Meticulously researched and written with compelling energy, this is a vivid and at times heartbreaking story of a pioneering woman who left a legacy that went well beyond her lifetime.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel 2022

Emerging from the shadows of history

The book is a ripping yarn about the colonial frontier and the role of women in early New South Wales. Another woman emerges from the shadows of history and we are allowed to understand their true contribution to the settler story of our nation.

Updated 2 June 2022. Originally posted 1 June 2022.

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We need new ways to tell stories of the past

We need new ways to tell local stories

I have just finished watching online a critical discussion on the practice of history held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

In these times of fake news, misleading information, and conspiracy theories. Whom do you trust? What is the truth? Social media is all-encompassing.

This photograph is of a voluntary aid at the Waley Convalescent Home for Soldiers at Mowbray Park in 1920 sitting at her desk perhaps writing a letter to a loved one in her time off. This is a wonderful story of service and sacrifice and how these women did wonderful service during and after the First World War. (NAA)
This photograph is of a voluntary aid at the Waley Convalescent Home for Soldiers at Mowbray Park in 1920 sitting at her desk perhaps writing a letter to a loved one in her time off. This is a wonderful story of service and sacrifice and how these women did wonderful service during and after the First World War. (NAA)

This discussion on the practice of history is a dose of hope when political interest groups seek to rewrite the past on their terms.

Maybe this discussion was not a complete cure, but it certainly seems like a ray of sunshine into the swamp of the abyss.

So what did I see?

I watched a panel of learned historians and museum directors discussing launching the Reframing History report by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). 

The promotional email I received boasted:  

This new initiative provides the field with a set of evidence-backed recommendations to communicate history more convincingly and to build a wider understanding of what inclusive history looks like and why it is important for all of us.

The discussion lived up to the hype.

I highly recommend this lively and challenging discussion to anyone involved in the practice of history. I do not think it matters whether you are from the academy, practise public history, or just like popular history. This discussion should interest you if you are concerned about the long term health of history as a discipline.

Panel Discussion Details

  • John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH, started the conversation by providing an overview of the project. 
  • That was followed by a discussion by Anthea Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan, Director of the National Museum of American History. 

Panellists included:

  • Martha S. Jones, author and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University
  • Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with Slavery Across America
  •  Jorge Zamanillo, director of HistoryMiami and incoming founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino

The panellists expand on the Reframing History Report and Toolkit by talking about their personal experiences of communicating about history and sharing their recommendations for how history organizations can create environments for positive and productive conversations.

You can view the discussion on the AASLH YouTube channel. AASLH YouTube channel.

 Watch on YouTube

Further reading

Be a historical detective.

Advertising · Agriculture · Business · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · History · Horticulture · Local History · Place making · Retailing · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Trees · Uncategorized · Urban development · Urban growth

The post-war years for a local nursery

Ferguson’s Nursery at Hurstville, Mittagong and Sylvania

During the post-war years, Ferguson’s Nurseries continued to be located on Sydney’s urban fringe as the metropolitan area expanded into the rural surrounds.

Hurstville nursery prospered then closed, another opened on the urban fringe at Sylvania while a cold-climate nursery opened at Mittagong and the Camden nursery closed.

In the mid-1960s, the family had sold the business to new owners who continued to use the Ferguson nurseries as a trading name.

Significance

The importance of the colonial legacy of Francis Ferguson is emphasised in July McMaugh’s Living Horticulture. She only lists four New South Wales 19th colonial horticulturalists of significance, one of whom is Ferguson.

The Camden nursery site remains quite significant in the history of the Australian nursery industry. Morris and Britton maintain that the site is

A rare remnant of an important and influential colonial nursery from the late 1850s and includes a collection of 19th century plantings and is a landmark in the local area.  (Morris and Britton 2000)

Camden Nursery site

The Camden nursery on the Nepean River stopped operating in the immediate post-war years, and the nursery headquarters re-located to Hurstville.

In 1937 Camden Municipal Council rejected an offer from Ferguson’s nurseries of 100 rose bushes for planting out in Macarthur Park. The council did not want the nursery to take cuttings from the park’s rose bushes. (Camden News, 13 May 1937)

In the 1930s, the Camden press reported that Ferguson’s nurseries had purchased the property of W Moore between the Old Southern Road and the Hume Highway (Camden News, 11 April 1935). This was in the vicinity of Little Street. (Cole, CHS, 1989) This is likely the 1937 outlet fronting the Hume Highway in Camden and still operating in 1944. (Camden News, 18 February 1937, 17 February 1944)  

The Camden nursery outlet had stopped trading by 1946. The Camden press reported an application to connect to the electricity supply to RB Ferguson’s property at the ‘the Old Nursery’. (Camden News, 19 December 1946, 27 November 1947)

Hurstville Nursery

By the mid-1950s, the nursery was trading as F Ferguson & Son, headquartered at Hurstville with branches at Sylvania and Mittagong. (Sun Herald, 13 September 1953)

Operations for the Ferguson’s Nurseries were centralised at the Hurstville nursery in the post-war years, and the area around the nursery became known as Kingsgrove.

There was growth in the area following the opening of Kingsgrove Railway Station in 1931. Sydney’s residential development followed the development of suburban railway lines.

There was increased growth in the Hurstville area in the post-war years with increased housing in the area and rising land values.

The NSW Housing Commission built over 200 homes on what was called the Ferguson Nursery Estate at Kingsgrove. (St George Call (Kogarah) 21 September 1945)

The state government purchased the site of Ferguson’s nursery in 1958 and established Kingsgrove High School. (SRNSW)

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue, the nursery indicates that the business had a Kingsgrove address and had branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

1957 Plant Catalogue

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue of 54 pages, the nursery listed a Kingsgrove address and branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957). The catalogue listed plant stock for sale with advice for the gardener to achieve the best results.

Cover of Ferguson’s Nursery Trade Catalogue for 1957 trading as F Ferguson & Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

The catalogue listed for sale: fruit trees; Australian trees and shrubs; flowering plants including roses, camellias (51 varieties), azaleas, hibiscus; conifers; ornamental trees; palms and cycads (varieties from California, Canary Islands, Siam, South America, India, China and Japan).

Amongst the fruit trees, the catalogue listed apples, apricots, citrus (cumquats, oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit), nectarines, passionfruit, peaches, pears, plums (English, Japanese), prunes, quinces, as well as almonds and walnuts.

Roses were a speciality and included novelty roses for 1957, standard roses and others. The catalogue provided advice for gardeners to achieve the best results with roses, particularly care about planting and pruning. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Under Australian trees and shrubs, the catalogue stated:

Australia is endowed with of indigenous Trees and Shrubs that are entirely different and considered by many far superior to anything else in the world. Nothing is more useful for Parks, School Grounds, etc, that some of out Native Flora, and certainly nothing is more hardy or topical. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Fergusons offered a landscaping service to

assist and advise you in the correct formation and setting-out of Lawns, Drives, Shrubberies, also in the correct selection of suitable Shrubs, Roses, and all kinds of Flowering Plants, so that the ultimate results will be charming. (Ferguson Nursery 1957) (Ferguson 1957)

Sylvania Nursery

111 Port Hacking Road, Sylvania

Ferguson’s made a business decision post-war to follow Sydney’s urban fringe and establish a new nursery to the south of Hurstville in the Sutherland Shire at Sylvania.

Sutherland Shire was growing in the late mid-20th century. McDowells opened a department store at Caringbah in 1961, Miranda Fair Shopping Centre opened in 1964, the new Sutherland District Hospital opened in 1958, and the Sutherland Daily Leader was launched with its first edition on 29 June 1960. (Sutherland Shire Library)

The first mention of the Sylvania nursery in the Sydney press was in 1955 when Fergusons placed an advertisement for contractors to provide a quote to build a fibro cottage on the nursery site at 111 Port Hacking Road. (SMH, 1 October 1955)

The nursery opened for trading in 1961. A story in the Sutherland press about the history of the Ferguson nursery group. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 26 April 1961)

Nurseryman Rex Jurd conducted the management of the Sylvania nursery. (McMaugh 2005:252) (McMaugh 2005)

Nurseryman Jurd recalled that Francis Ferguson’s granddaughter, Nancy, and husband lived on the site. He said, ‘It seemed to Rex that they had little interest in the business’.

‘It was run down and he spent two years there fixing it up, and replacing all the plant material’, wrote Judy McMaugh.

The Sylvania nursery extended from Port Hacking Road to the waterfront on Gwawley Bay (now Sylvania Waters) (McMaugh 2005: 252-253). According to Jurd, the nursery was not clearly visible to on-coming traffic and was on the low side of the road and suffered from ‘few customers’.

Jurd, a fellow student with well-known Sydney nurseryman Valerie Swain at Ryde School of Horticulture, left Fergusons in 1959 and started working for Smart’s Nurseries at Gordon. (McMaugh 2005: 252-253)

The Sylvania nursery was sold to the Pike family in 1966 and it became part of Ferguson Garden Centre Pty Ltd. The new business retained the Ferguson name as part of the sale. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 16 May 1966)

The advice page for gardeners who purchased roses from Ferguson’s Nursery for their care and maintenance of roses. Trade catalogue for F Ferguson and Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

Mittagong Nursery

Hume Highway (then Old Hume Highway, then Ferguson Cres) Mittagong

Ferguson’s Nurseries developed a cold-climate nursery at Mittagong in 1939 and developed under the management of nurseryman Arthur Carroll.

According to nurseryman Bill Starke, Arthur Carroll ‘was equipped with a draught horse, a cross-cut saw, and an axe, and he basically cleared the property by hand’. (McMaugh 2005: 105)

Mr Carroll was away on active during the Second World War and returned in 1946 as manager of the nursery which traded as F Ferguson and Son. (Southern Mail, 10 May 1946)

An advertisement placed in the Southern Mail newspaper for F Ferguson & Son (Southern Mail, 17 May 1946)

Bruce Ferguson sold the Mittagong nursery to the Pike family in 1970. (McMaugh 2005:363)

This is the signage for Ferguson Cres (formerly the Hume Highway then Old Hume Highway) at the intersection with Bowral Road, Mittagong. The street was named after the old Ferguson Nursery which was located further north along what is now Ferguson Crescent. (I Willi,s 2022)

The former site of Ferguson’s Nursery on Ferguson Crescent (formerly Hume Highway, then Old Hume Highway) at Mittagong. This aerial view shows the remnants of the Hazelwood Garden Centre, which in 2022 is a housing development site called Ferguson Estate. (CRE 2021)

New ownership and the Ferguson name continues

Bruce Ferguson sold the Sylvania nursery in 1966. (Reeve 2017)  

The new owners were Jack Pike of Pikes Nurseries Rydalmere and Arch and Alan Newport of Newport Nurseries Winmalee (Springwood). (McMaugh 2005: 320) The new ownership arrangement was incorporated in 1966 as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Pty Ltd. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

The Pikes were innovative businessmen, and the Sydney press ran a story in 1967 that promoted the nursery as Sydney’s new ‘supergardenmarket’. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

In 1970 the business purchased the Baulkham Hills Garden Centre and re-named it Ferguson’s Baulkham Hills Garden Centre. By 1973 the Newports had sold out to the Pike family interests. (McMaugh 2005:320, 366)

In 1974 outlets opened at Narrabeen and Warringah Mall, and the Sydney CBD. (McMaugh2005:365-366)

By the 1980s, there were many centres across the Sydney metropolitan area, including Baulkham Hills, Sylvania, Bonnyrigg, Narrabeen, Guilford, Mittagong in the Southern Highlands,  in Victoria the Mornington Peninsular and on the far-north coast at Alstonville. (McMaugh 2005:366)

The  Baulkham Hills Centre traded as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Holdings Pty Ltd and was incorporated in 1981. The nursery had ceased trading in 2018 and the site was developed for residential units in 2019.

References

Ferguson, F. (1957). Ferguson’s Nursery Catalogue. Hurstville, F Ferguson & Sons.

McMaugh, J. (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales nursery industry. Sydney NSW, Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT.

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW : A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.

1920s · Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Business · Camden · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Heritage · Horticulture · Local History · Local Studies · Nepean River · Placemaking · Plant Nursery · Retailing · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · The Great South Road · Uncategorized · Urban growth · urban sprawl

A local nursery on Sydney’s urban fringe

The Ferguson nurseries and the urban fringe

The 20th-century story of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries is about their location within Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition that is constantly being shaped and re-shaped by the forces of urbanisation and a host of competing forces. (Willis 2014)

Plant nurseries arrive in the fringe, and competing forces eventually drive them from it after a time.

In this space, the Ferguson Australian Nurseries came and departed Sydney’s urban fringe as it moved with urban growth over the past 170 years. Shrewd business judgements ensured that the nurseries survived and thrived in this dynamic space and place.

Double Bay outlet

Ferguson’s nurseries arrived on Sydney’s fringe at Double Bay in the 1870s when Sydney was still a ‘walking city’. Horse trams, and later steam trams, started to appear in the city and travel out to Double Bay.

Double Bay was sparsely settled, and there was an array of colonial villas and mansions like Alexander Macleay’s colonial regency mansion Elizabeth Bay House (1839).

As Sydney grew in population, there were land sub-divisions from the 1840s. (Sheridan 2021) (SLNSW)

By the early 20th-century, land values had risen with increased residential development   (Sheridan 2021). The land was more valuable for housing than a nursery, so economic forces gathered for its relocation.

By this time, Annie Henrietta Ferguson ran the nursery following the death of her husband FJ Ferguson, aged 48 years, in 1899. Annie had married FJ Ferguson in 1875.

Annie managed the Double Bay outlet until 1902, closed it by 1905 and moved the nursery to Hurstville. (WCL 2021)

F Ferguson’ & Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1930 (SLM)

Developments

Annie’s daughter, Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie), born at Campbelltown in 1876, had married Alfred Denison (AD) Little at All Saints Woollahra in 1902. (WCL)

By 1903 Lizzie and AD Little had moved back to Camden from Double Bay with the birth of their son Sydney. AD Little was to play a leading role in the nursery’s management and became a partner in the business. (WCL 2021)

In 1902 the Sydney press reported a fire at the Camden Nursery that destroyed a packing shed full of equipment. The same report stated that AD Little was now one of the proprietors, the mayor of Camden (1904-1905) and a presiding magistrate. (Daily Telegraph, 15 August 1905)

The oldest nursery

The Camden News boasted in 1905 that Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries were the ‘oldest fruit nursery and garden in Australia’. (Camden News, 17 August 1905)

Hurstville nursery outlet

By 1904 the Double Bay nursery had been relocated to Hurstville on Stoney Creek Road. (Morris and Britton 2000)

The Hurstville area was a sparsely populated farming area with the first land subdivision in the 1880s. By the early 20th century, the urban fringe of Sydney had reached the site, and there were a series of residential land releases. (SLNSW)

The Camden press reported in 1913 that Ferguson’s nurseries were being run by AD & FB Little, and land had been leased at Elderslie, where 150,000 grafted apple trees had been planted out. (Camden News, 7 August 1913)

In 1915 the business was being managed by Fred Little. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

F Ferguson and Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1932 (SLM)

Nurseryman Eric Jurd recalls, ‘Fergusons grew open-ground stock at a site in Peakhurst’. Jurd believed that Ferguson’s had extensive land holdings in the Kingsgrove and Peakhurst. (McMaugh 2005: 251-253)

The Hurstville nursery site was purchased by the New South Wales Government to establish Kingsgrove High School on the corner of Kingsgrove Road and Stoney Creek Road in 1958. (SRNSW)

Continued expansion

The nursery continued to expand, and by 1915, a report in the Gosford press indicated that Fergusons were operating from four sites:

  • Hurstville – a 40-acre site which was a general nursery and despatching centre for sales
  • Camden – a 60-acre site mainly producing fruit trees
  • Gosford – a 40-acre site a nursery for grape vines and fruit trees
  • Ronkana (Ourimbah) – a 100-acre site under preparation. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In the early 1920s, there were extensive land releases in the Hurstville area, including the King’s Park Model Suburb of 600 lots adjacent to Ferguson’s Nursery on Stoney Creek Road. (St George Call (Kogarah) 22 September 1922) In 1926 the Simmons Estate next door to Ferguson’s Nursery was offered for sale. (St George Call (Kogarah) 5 February 1926)

By the interwar years, the Hurstville nursery site was a well-known landmark and often referred to by correspondents in the press. For example, a press report of Tooth’s Brewery purchase of a site at Bexley (Construction and Local Government Journal, 13 July 1927), and the NRMA used the nursery as a prominent and well-known landmark in their tourism promotion for road trips in and around the Sydney area. (Sun (Sydney) 18 November 1927).

The nursery business continued under the control of AD & FB Little until the 1930s, and they were followed by Arthur Bruce (AB) Ferguson (1889 -1949). (Little 1977)

Fruit trees and vines

Ferguson’s nurseries sold fruit trees and vines to new producers in the emerging horticulture areas throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Large quantities of grapevines had been supplied to the Yanco Irrigation Area in 1915. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In 1926 an article in the Leeton press mentioned that Fergusons Nurseries had fruit trees for sale. (Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW: 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 16 February 1926)

Agents for the nursery were often keen to promote that stock of fruit trees, vines and flowering plants were available for purchase, as indicated by a story in the Tumut press. (Tumut and Adelong Times, 28 May 1929)

Water supply

A reliable water supply is essential for horticulture and the nursery industry.

In 1922 an irrigation licence was issued to Alfred D (AD) Little, a partner for Ferguson & Sons, Australian Nursery, Camden, to pump up to 150 gallons per minute on the right bank [Elderslie]. (NSW Government Gazette, 11 August 1922)

The next generation

In 1927 FB Little died at Hurstville, and in 1933 AD Little died at Camden and is buried in St John’s Cemetery.

In 1932 the Australian Nursery site on the Nepean River, known as The Nursery or the Camden Nursery, part ownership passed to Stanley Nigel (SN) Ferguson. (Sanders 2008b) After World War II, SN Ferguson’s son, Bruce (1916 – 2008), inherited a half-share in The Nursery site. (Sanders 2008a)

In 1935 Ferguson’s nursery purchased land owned by Mr W Moore between the Old South Road and the Hume Highway. (Camden News, 11 April 1935)

Following this period, the Camden nursery moved to Broughton & Little Street  (Nixon 1989) at the rear of the Camden District Hospital until the business was sold in the mid-1960s. (Nixon 1991)

References

Little, S. F. (1977). Correspondence to CHS 17 February 1977. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archive.

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Nixon, R. E. (1989). File notes for correspondence to CHS from Helen R Dick 18 July 1989, Camden Museum Archives.

Nixon, R. E. (1991). The Rose Festival. Rose Festival File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sanders, G. J. (2008a). Distinguished in war and peace, Bruce Ferguson, Obituary 31 May. Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2008.

Sanders, G. J. (2008b). Eulogy for Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sheridan, P. (2021). Sydney Art Deco and Modernist Walks Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. Sydney, Bakelite and Peter Sheridan.

WCL (2021). “Double Bay as a nineteenth-century centre of gardening and horticulture.” Woollahra Local History/Woollahra’s Historic Landscapes. Retrieved 10 December 2021, 2021, from https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahras-historic-landscapes/horticulture-in-double-bay.

Willis, I. (2014). “Townies Exurbanites and Aesthetics: Issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.” AQ, Australian Quarterly(April-June 2012): 20-25.

Updated 9 January 2022. Originally posted 5 January 2022.

Agriculture · Business · Camden · Camden Story · Campbelltown · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · Horticulture · Local Studies · Memory · Nepean River · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized

A century of horticulture for a local nursery

Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries

In 1883 the Double Bay outlet of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries at Camden was described in the Sydney press as a ‘well-ordered establishment…covering three acres…laid out in a most systematic manner’. (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883, page 3)

The Double Bay nursery was one part of the Ferguson horticultural enterprise, which started in the 1850s at Camden. Sales encouraged opening a  second nursery at Campbelltown, later moved to Double Bay. The 20th century brought more changes and eventually new owners.

Ferguson’s nursery and William Macarthur’s Camden Park nursery were part of a British imperial horticultural network that satisfied the Victorians’ insatiable demand for plants. The industry was driven by plant hunting expeditions and a Victorian fetish for orchids, ferns, palms and other new plants.

The burgeoning colonial nursery industry in the Cowpastures was an integral part of British imperialism and the settler-colonial project. The Enlightenment notions of progress and development were good for business and re-enforced the dispossession and displacement of Dharawal people from their country.

 Nurseryman Francis Ferguson

The Camden nursery was established in 1857 by Englishman Francis Ferguson on a 50-acre site fronting the Nepean River. Francis originally came out to New South Wales as an assisted immigrant in 1849 on the John Bright after working at Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire and other English estates. Initially, he worked for Sir Thomas Mitchell, laying out his estate at Parkhall (later Nepean Towers, St Mary’s Towers) at Douglas Park. (Morris and Britton 2000)

Historian Alan Atkinson describes Ferguson as ‘a man of education, some capital and mercurial habits’. (Atkinson, 1988)

Signage at the entry to Ferguson Lane the location of the former Ferguson’s Australian Nursery at Camden (I Willis 2021)

Ferguson was head gardener at Camden Park Estate for William Macarthur (later Sir William) from 1849-1856 and could be styled as a Macarthur protege. (Reeve 2017) The Camden Park website maintains that William Macarthur ran one of the most important nurseries in 19th century New South Wales. According to visiting English nurseryman John Gould (JG) Veitch Macarthur was well known in Europe. Veitch Nurseries were reportedly the largest family-run plant nurseries in 19th century Europe.

Ferguson remained indebted to the patronage of William Macarthur (Morris and Britton 2000) and his experience at Camden Park and acted on Macarthur’s behalf when he was not in Australia. (WCL 2021)

In 1864 a 25-year-old JG Veitch (Financial Times, 27 September 2014), led a plant hunting expedition to the ‘South Seas’ and delivered several Wardian cases to Australian colonial contacts. While in New South Wales, he visited William Macarthur’s Camden Park nursery and Fergusons Australian Nursery, which impressed him. For a time Ferguson acted as an agent for James Veitch and Sons nurseries. (Morris and Britton 2000; McMaugh 2005)

Fruit trees, camellias and roses

Francis Ferguson opened the Camden nursery sometime in 1857 (Nixon 1991; Little 1977; Farmer and Settler, 8 July 1937, 15 July 1937) and it became the centre of a growing horticultural enterprise that extended well beyond the area.

The Ferguson nursery was located on the left bank of the Nepean River at the Macquarie Grove river crossing on the northern boundary of Camden Park estate. The nursery site had an east-west alignment with a 600-metre river frontage along its northern boundary ending at Matahil Creek to the east, with the Ferguson homestead on the rise to the southwest.

The homestead had ‘a fine view’ of the Camden township to the northeast with the spire of St John’s Church and allowed a ‘glimpse of Camden Park house in the distance’ to the southeast. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

According to Alan Atkinson, the Australian Nursery specialised in ‘trees “peculiarly adapted to the requirements of Australia”, together will shrubs and native seeds’. (Atkinson, 1988)

 According to an 1880 Sydney press report, the nursery was about eight acres in extent with ‘a long avenue’ terminating at a ‘large gate’ below the house ‘making a very nice carriage drive’. There were ‘very well laid out walks’ throughout the nursery, surrounded by ‘gigantic pines, araucarias, and poplars’. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

Remnant Araucarias that were on the southwestern boundary of Fergusons Australian Nursery. They made up the grove of trees that lined the driveway entrance to the Macquarie House that was next door to the nursery. (I Willis, 2021)

Reports indicate that in 1879 Fergusons sold over 60,000 fruit trees and 5,000 camellias (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68). The nursery plant stock consisted of over 6000 camellias, 100,000 hawthorn seedlings. (Ferguson 1871)

From the outset, the Australian Nursery issued trade catalogues regularly, and one of the earliest was the 1861 Catalogue of Plants, Fruit Trees, Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.

In 1871 issued a series of five trade catalogues that listed plant stock for sale. The catalogues were:

  • New and Rare Plants
  • Hardy Trees, Shrubs and Conifers
  • Fruit Trees, with directions for forming the orchard.
  • Roses
  • Bulbs and Tubers. (Ferguson 1871)

The ‘Catalogue of New and Rare Plants’ listed over 950 individual plants and was a mixture of native plants from the Australian continent and exotics from worldwide. The catalogue listed a substantial selection of popular flowering plants, including roses, camellias, azaleas, pelargoniums and chrysanthemums, fuchsias, carnations, and dahlias. Utilitarian plants included ‘trees for avenues’ and ‘hawthorn for hedges’. Under the heading of ‘trees and shrubs’, details listed the plants’ ‘scientific name’,  ‘native country’, ‘height in feet’, and price. (Ferguson 1871)

Cover of Ferguson’s Trade Catalogue of New and Rare Plants for 1871 (NLA)

The Ferguson catalogue provided practical advice for the colonial gardener and a plant description. For example, ‘Araucaria Bidwilli – The Queensland Bunya Bunya, forming magnificent trees as single specimens’. Camellias were a favourite but hard to grow in the colonial climate, and details were provided on how to look after them. The hawthorn was a ‘favourite English Hedge Plant [and] thrives remarkably well in all parts of Australia, forming, undoubtedly, the best defensive hedge’. (Ferguson 1871)

Ferguson’s also offered advice on new and rare plants in the press. In 1876 the nursery published advice on the ‘rare’ Jacaranda mimosifolia described as ‘a singularly beautiful and rare flowering tree’. The report stated, ‘the Jacaranda mimosifolia is perfectly hardy in all but the very coldest districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria.’ (Australasian (Melb), 6 May 1876)

Ferguson’s sold extensively across the colonial garden market in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand, supported by 14 agents in locations ranging from Auckland to Wellington and Wanganui in New Zealand’s North Island and to Dunedin in the South Island. In Queensland, agents were listed at Warwick and Darling Downs, while those in New South Wales ranged from Bega to Mudgee and out to the Liverpool Plains. Ferguson claimed that there was an increasing demand for ‘Australian Timber Trees’ in Northern India, California, Southern Europe, and New Zealand. (Ferguson 1871)

Campbelltown Nursery

Condamine Street, Campbelltown

By the late 1860s, increasing demand and the distance from the Campbelltown railway station encouraged Ferguson to establish a nursery outlet at Campbelltown. (Ferguson 1871)

The Camden nursery was nine miles from Campbelltown Railway Station, and it took Mr H Ferguson in a buggy with a ‘fine stepper’ and an hour to get there. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

The firm opened the Campbelltown nursery in 1869 in Condamine Street, close to the convict-built water supply reservoir. (Reeve 2017)  It was stocked with 50,000 ‘well-grown healthy plants’ to supply growing demand from ‘up-country and adjacent Colonies’. (Ferguson 1871)

From 1874 the Campbelltown outlet was managed by Francis John (FJ) Ferguson, Francis’s son, who had returned from five years with English firm Veitch Nurseries at Chelsea and the firm now traded as Francis Ferguson and Son. (Reeve 2017)

Double Bay Nursery

Manning Road and New South Head Road, Double Bay

The business continued to prosper, and FJ Ferguson moved the Campbelltown outlet closer to Sydney. A site was chosen at Double Bay on a former market garden in 1876 and opened in 1878. (WCL 2021) (Reeve 2017)

The Double Bay Nursery site had ‘a large frontage’ on New South Head Road with ‘rich deep alluvial’ soil in a low lying area that drained into Double Bay. (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883)

By 1887 the nursery had two propagating glasshouses with impatiens and lasiandras, a bush house that accommodated a mixture of pot plants including camellias, bouvardias, magnolias, conifers and tree ferns. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

This is an engraving of Ferguson’s Nursery in Double Bay that appeared in the Sydney press in 1883 (Illustrated Sydney News published 14 April 1883, p. 17)

In 1885 the nursery opened a shopfront in Sydney’s Royal Arcade, which ran between George Street and Pitt Street and had been designed by Thomas Rowe in 1881. The nursery shop was successfully managed by Herbert Ferguson and specialised in plants, seeds and cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

The Ferguson’s also ran a small nursery near Ashfield railway station to supply the Royal Arcade shop with cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser 6 August 1887, page 278)

Ferguson Lane in the vicinity of the former entrance to the Ferguson Australian Nursery. The lane is lined with African Olive that is remnant vegetation with regrowth of an Araucaria emerging from the amongst the grove (I Willis, 2021)

The 20th century beckons

The beginning of the 20th century brought more changes for the Ferguson nursery business, and by the late 1960s, new owners.

References

Atkinson, Alan (1988). Camden, Farm and Village Live in Early New South Wales. OUP, Melbourne.

Ferguson, F. (1871). Catalogue of new and rare plants, hardy trees, shrubs, conifers &c. Camden NSW, Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries. (NLA)

Little, S. (1977), Correspondence to CHS 19 February, MSS, Camden Museum Archives

McMaugh, Judy (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales Nursery Industry. Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT, Sydney

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Nixon, RE (1991). Camden Rose Festival. Typescript, Camden Museum Archives.

Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.

WCL (2021). “Double Bay as a nineteenth-century centre of gardening and horticulture.” Woollahra Local History/Woollahra’s Historic Landscapes. Retrieved 10 December 2021, 2021, from https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahras-historic-landscapes/horticulture-in-double-bay.

Updated 6 January 2022; Originally posted 25 December 2021.

Active citizenship · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Business · Camden · Camden Museum · Camden Story · Community identity · Country Women's Association · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Families · Family history · Genealogy · Heritage · Historical Research · History · Local History · Local Studies · Medical history · Memory · Place making · Sense of place · Shopping · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Volunteering · Volunteerism · Women's history

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-regarded 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 1968 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 Clark 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)

John Wrigley writes

Colin Clark was the president of the Camden Historical Society at the founding of the Camden Museum in 1970. Colin became a member of the society in 1963 and president in 1968. He was the fourth president of the society. (Wrigley, 2021)

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.

Wrigley, John 2021, ‘Colin Clark’. Typescript, Camden Museum.

Camden Bowling Club · Carrington Aged-Care Complex · Catholic Women's League · Community identity · Community work · Cultural Heritage · Entertainment · Family history · Genealogy · Heritage · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Motherhood · Music · Music history · Orangeville · Place making · Radical history · Roman Catholic Church · Second World War · Sense of place · Storytelling · The Oaks · Volunteering · Volunteerism · Wartime · Weddings · Wollondilly Shire Council · Women's history

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.