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Sunday sport banned in Camden

The day sport was banned on Onslow Park

Camden has a fine tradition of sport dating back into the 19th century. But one day in 1925 Camden’s civic leaders banned Sunday sport at Onslow Park.

There was no public outcry. There were no protests in the street. It passed without a murmur.

So what prompted this momentous decision?

This view of Onslow Park shows a cricket match being played in background sometime in the 1930s. The two handsome fellows are members of the Whiteman family, one in cricket whites just having a break. (Camden Images)

A letter to Camden Municipal Council in early 1925 from  Rev CJ King, rector of St Johns Church, and Rev AH Johnstone, minister at the Camden Methodist Church, complained about a clash between religious services held on Onslow Park and a number of Sunday cricket matches. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)

The 1925 ban Sunday sport erupted after the Camden Mayor, GF Furner, granted permission for religious services on Sundays at Onslow Park. There had subsequently been a clash between local cricketers and religious services in January 1925 using the ground. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)

Originally Onslow Park had been made available to the Camden community by Sir William Macarthur and Mrs Elizabeth Onslow in 1882 from their pastoral property of Camden Park. The 10 acres had been put into a trust (a deed of gift) that allowed the area to be used by ‘inhabitants and visitors to the town and district as a pleasure ground and place of recreation’. The trustees were JK Chisholm, HP Reeves, E Simpson, and F Ferguson. (Camden News, 16 September 1897)

Recreation Grounds

William Theobald writes that recreation grounds date back to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians around 2000 BC. During Ancient Greek and Roman times these parks and open spaces were the privilege of the elites. In England the story of recreation grounds dates back to the 14th century when wasteland, or the local village common, reserved for grazing cows was made available for children’s play and ‘young people’ (men) after the days work.

London’s Royal Parks were opened to the public on Sundays with the first being Hyde Park in 1635. Urban recreation grounds were a Victorian innovation in response to the unhealthy aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the desire by Victorians to improve the physical and spiritual well-being of town dwellers. St James Park in London was the first public park opened in 1835.

Pleasure Ground

The concept of a public pleasure ground outlined in the Onslow Park 1882 Deed of Gift dates back to Ancient Romans and usually related to landscaped gardens. In England pleasure grounds were gardens opened for entertainment and recreation from the 18th century and often had concert halls, bandstands, zoos, amusement rides and menageries.  

These were the influences and traditions that encouraged the Macarthur family to dedicate Onslow Park to the Camden community in 1882. The family were always interested in improvements in the well-being of the local population.

This is a Roy Dowle image showing Onslow Park being used for the Camden Show in the early 1920s. (Roy Dowle, Camden Images)

The earliest references to Camden sport on Onslow Park date back to the mid-1890s with local football matches. There was  a press report of a lively rugby match between Camden and Campbelltown and consideration was given to the formation of the football club. (Camden News, 13 June 1895)

The Camden cricketers had the use of the grounds on a regular basis with the first reports in the Camden press to cricket being played on Onslow Oval in 1895. (Camden News, 1 August 1895)

Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)

The background story of the Sunday sporting bans had been complicated when the responsibility for Onslow Park had been transferred to the council from the Onslow Park Trust and the Camden AH&I Society in 1924 by an act of parliament. The New South Wales government specified in the Act that the ground was to be used for ‘public recreation’ (Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)).  The ground trust was represented by FA Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park, and the Camden AH&I Society by GM Macarthur Onslow, and TC Barker of Maryland.

The Sunday ban on sport lasted into World War Two and only changed after it was challenged by Camden barber Albert Baker when he established the Camden Soccer Club in 1943. He wanted to encourage Sunday sporting matches between the Camden civilian population and personnel at local defence establishments. These establishments included the RAAF Base at Camden Airfield, the Narellan Army Camp and the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park, Narellan.

This image of Onslow Park from the 1920s shows a foot race with members of the Boardman family. (V Boardman, Camden Images)

Even earlier war the Sunday sporting ban had remained in place after Rev AE Putland from the Camden Methodist Church had raised objections to Sunday cricket in 1941.(Camden News 13 March 1941) 

‘Too hot to handle’

Baker’s challenge to the sporting ban was discussed by Camden Municipal Council in mid-1943 when a rescission motion was placed on the council business papers.

The rescission motion was highly contentious and was considered ‘too hot to handle’ by council aldermen.

The proposed solution was a referendum.

The opposing camps divided on religious lines. The Methodists conducted the ‘No’ campaign and handed out literature in Argyle Street. The ‘Yes’ vote was supported by the soccer club, St John’s Church of England and their supporters. There were heated letters in the Camden News, and George Sidman, its owner and an active Methodist, remained impartial during the whole debate.

Eventually common-sense prevailed and the result was a resounding ‘Yes’, with 393 votes, to 197 ‘No’ votes, and as far as Sidman was concerned that was the end of the matter. The soccer competition between the military and the Camden community proved to be a complete success. (Camden News, 1 July 1943, 15 July 1943, 22 July 1943, 29 July 1943, 5 August 1943.)

Other communities with defence establishments did not have similar problems. For example at Temora RAAF airmen became involved in cricket and tennis, and Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) personnel played basketball, while in Albury the military joined local sporting competitions (Maslin, Wings Over Temora, p. 29; Pennay, On the Home Front, p. 32.).

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

Football and Macarthur regionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macarthur FC and identity

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

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

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

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

The club’s press release stated:

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

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

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

Macarthur FC and regionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonial identity John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

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

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

Macarthur FC and nationalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flags using the Southern Cross (Wikimedia)

The future

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

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

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

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