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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.

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Blue Plaque recognises Camden Red Cross sewing circle in wartime

Camden Red Cross sewing circles during the First and Second World Wars

The wartime efforts of Camden women have been recognised by the successful nomination for a New South Wales Blue Plaque with Heritage NSW.

The announcement appeared in the Sydney press with a list of 17 other successful nominations for a Blue Plaque across the state. They include notable people and events in their local area.

What is a Blue Plaque?

The Heritage NSW website states:

The Blue Plaques program aims to capture public interest and fascination in people, events and places that are important to the stories of NSW.

The Blue Plaques program celebrates NSW heritage by recognising noteworthy people and events from our state’s history.

The aim of the program is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhood and other parts of NSW and connect with people of the past, historical moments and rich stories that matter to communities and have shaped our state.

The program is inspired by the famous London Blue Plaques program run by English Heritage which originally started in 1866, and similar programs around the world.

“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”

The essence of the Blue Plaques program is the storytelling. A digital story will be linked to each plaque.

The Blue Plaques should tell stories that are interesting, fun, quirky along with more sombre stories that should be not be forgotten as part of our history.

What is the Camden Red Cross story?

What is being recognised?

Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles at the Camden School of Arts (later the Camden Town Hall now the Camden Library) – 1914-1918, 1940-1946.

The Sidman women volunteer their time and effort during the First World War for the Camden Red Cross. Patriotic fundraising supporting the war at home was a major activity and raised thousands of pounds. This type of effort was quite in all communities across Australia and the rest of the British Empire. (Camden Images and Camden Museum)

What is the story?

The Camden Red Cross sewing circles were one of Camden women’s most important voluntary patriotic activities during World War One and World War Two. The sewing circles started at the Camden School of Arts in 1914, and due to lack of space, moved to the Foresters’ Hall in Argyle Street in 1918. At the outbreak of the Second World War, sewing circles reconvened in 1940 at the Camden Town Hall in John Street (the old School of Arts building – the same site as the First World War)

These sewing circles were workshops where Camden women volunteered and manufactured supplies for Australian military hospitals, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. They were held weekly on Tuesdays, which was sale day in the Camden district.

Sewing circles were ‘quasi-industrial production lines’ where Camden women implemented their domestics skills to aid the war at home. Camden women cut out, assembled, and sewed together hospital supplies, including flannel shirts, bed shirts, pyjamas, slippers, underpants, feather pillows, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. The workshops were lent a number of sewing machines in both wars.

The sewing circles also coordinated knitting and spinning for bed socks, stump socks, mufflers, balaclava caps, mittens, cholera belts (body binders) and other items. The women also made ‘hussifs’ or sewing kits for the soldiers.  During the First World War, the sewing circles attracted between 80-100 women each week. The list of items was strikingly consistent for hospital supplies for both wars, with the only significant addition during the Second World War being the knitted pullovers and cardigans.

The production output of the Camden women was prodigious. Between 1914 and 1918, women from the Camden Red Cross sewing circle made over 20,300 articles tallied to over 40,000 volunteer hours.  Between 1940 and 1946, during World War Two, women made over 25,000 articles, totalling over 45,000 voluntary hours.

The operation of the sewing circles was fully funded through the fundraising of Camden Red Cross and community donations.  In 1917 alone, over 95% of branch fundraising was dedicated to these activities.

In World War One, other Red Cross sewing circles in the Camden district were located at The Oaks, Camden Park, Theresa Park, and Middle Burragorang. During World War Two, other centres across the local area included Bringelly-Rossmore, Menangle, Narellan, and The Oaks. Each group independently funded its activities.

These patriotic voluntary activities by Camden women were part of the war at home and have received little recognition at a local, state or national level. Wartime sewing and knitting have been kept in the shadows for too long. There needs to be a public acknowledgement of the patriotic effort of these women.

Where will the plaque be placed?

Camden School of Arts – later called the Camden Town Hall (1939-1945) and now the Camden Library.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

Camden Museum Library building in John Street Camden where the Blue Plaque will be located recognising the efforts of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles in both World War One and World War Two. (I Willis, 2008)

What will the plaque say?

Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles – 1914-1918, and 1940-1946.

English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom

The English Heritage website states:

London’s blue plaques scheme, run by English Heritage, celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Founded in 1866, it has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world.

Unveiling a Blue Plaque in the United Kingdom (English Heritage)

Reference for Camden Red Cross story

Ian Willis, Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2014.

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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.

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Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.

(Facebook, 23 November 2015)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society.  In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).

The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal.  The first appeared in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

Mount Annan suburban development which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.

Education · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · History

10 things every politician should know about history

Anna Clark, University of Technology Sydney

Anna Clark, Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Public History, University of Technology Sydney This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The federal Education Minister, Alan Tudge, has announced a major edit of the draft history curriculum by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as part of an effort to lift educational standards. “Ultimately, students should leave school with a love of country and a sense of optimism and hope that we live in the greatest country on Earth and that the future is bright,” he said.

But is that really the purpose and function of a history curriculum? Here’s a quick primer for the minister.


Read more: Proposed new curriculum acknowledges First Nations’ view of British ‘invasion’ and a multicultural Australia


1. “History” is not the same as “the past”.

History is a way of thinking about and studying the past. Teaching students to memorise a list of important facts without understanding what they mean isn’t history; neither is teaching how Australian students should “feel” about the past without any contextual knowledge.

A sound history education gives students the skills to find evidence, analyse sources and present their own interpretations based on their research. It also gives them the confidence to distinguish uneducated opinion and polemic from well-informed historical analysis.

2. Not all historians agree.

Because history is based on interpretation as well as evidence, historians often disagree on “what happened”.

Interpretation is inherently subjective. History education should teach students how to deal with diverse and contrasting interpretations by historians, as well as over time. (For example, that could include a unit on the contrasting interpretations of Australian history by education ministers over the past 30 years.)

3. History is contested (see above).

You know how members of your family might disagree over what happened? (Like that Christmas lunch in 1974 when Grandpa stormed out before the pudding? Or the discovery of a horrible family secret?)

History is the same. Sometimes, disagreements over the past create significant political debate and even violent confrontations in or between communities. Such contest shows that history matters.

The heated nature of some historical debates doesn’t mean they should be avoided in school, however. Far from it. Teaching about history’s contestability helps students learn to navigate and assess different perspectives in a liberal democracy.

4. History teachers are trained professionals.

History teachers are trained in instruction, pedagogy and the skills of history. They teach because they want to make Australia a better place. Trust them.

5. Practising critical history doesn’t mean you “hate” Australia.

Critical analysis is a vital historical skill. It enables historians to interrogate historical evidence, allowing us to ask: what is this source? Where did it come from? Is it reliable? Who is the author? Does it tell the whole story?

Being “critical” doesn’t mean you’re negative — just that you’re curious and rigorous.


Read more: Teaching a ‘hatred’ of Australia? No, minister, here’s why a democracy has critical curriculum content


6. The current history curriculum draft does not diminish the legacy of Western civilisation.

The curriculum draft simply acknowledges that other knowledges and civilisations (e.g. Eastern and Indigenous) have worldviews and cultures worth knowing. It asks students to think about their own place in time and in the world, as well as asking them to think about what is unique about being Australian.

What’s more, studying history in its disciplinary form is testament to the ongoing influence of Western civilisation and liberalism in our education system. As well as including culturally diverse historical perspectives and approaches in recent years, historical practice also draws on a long tradition that includes the methods of 19th-century scientific historians, histories from the Enlightenment, and ancient Greek chronicles.

7. Historical views change over time.

Each generation asks its own questions of the past and interprets the past according to prevailing values of the day. Think about the relatively recent inclusion of the “Stolen Generations” in our curriculum, for example, or the acknowledgement of the women’s suffrage movement in the story of Australia’s democracy. While their presence reveals our contemporary historical priorities, such topics haven’t always been included in Australian histories.

Teaching students to understand changing historical approaches is an important part of a good history education.

The significance of the women’s suffrage movement in the story of Australia’s democracy hasn’t always been acknowledged in history education. National Library of Australia

Read more: Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia, and other myths from old school text books


8. Historical revision is not a dirty word.

Every generation of historians, from Thucydides to Geoffrey Blainey to Clare Wright, revises history. They even say so explicitly.

9. School students are not “blank slates”.

Filling them up with idealised images of Australia’s past won’t wash. It’s boring, as well as being bad history.

In fact, “Anzac” is such a successful topic to teach because it allows students to imagine their way into the past, to empathise and use their skills of critical analysis. Sources, such as diaries from the front line, war propaganda, letters from the home front and newsreel footage, are accessible and gripping documents of the past.

Students can see how this event changed the world as well as affecting their own families and communities. They can also see how Anzac has been remembered over time. Trust them.

10. The national benefit of history education comes from students learning to be active, questioning, thoughtful citizens.

Teaching that “we live in the greatest country on Earth” is not history. It’s jingoistic nationalism. Ironically, it’s also an approach more aligned with the standards for history education in the Chinese national curriculum than the histories being taught and discussed in Australian classrooms as we speak.

Sometimes history asks difficult questions and requires hard answers. That’s OK. It makes Australia better.

Anna Clark, Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Public History, University of Technology Sydney This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Macarthur Bridge

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most critical parts of the economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe.

The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood-free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded.

The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River floodplain upstream from the Camden township in New South Wales (IWillis 2015)

History and Description

The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.

The naming of the bridge coincided with establishing the Macarthur Growth Centre as part of the Askin Government’s 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan. These plans were supported by the Australian Government’s own Growth Centres program.

These were exciting plans that were never fully realized by the planners. The New Cities Plan turned into a developer’s dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plain. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan of 1973 was completed by the NSW State Planning Authority of the Askin Government.

The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Valley coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.

This development was considered important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Government’s support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation, which turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.

The Construction of the Macarthur Bridge (RMS 1973, 71/2 mins)

The high-level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields away from Camden’s main street, passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.

The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge had been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.

Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 (Postcard Camden Images)

In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question in parliament from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated

I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.

I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)

Specifications

The Macarthur Bridge is a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.

The Camden Bypass

The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.

The  Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.

Macarthur Bridge Approaches 2015 1Willis
The Macarthur Bridge northern approaches from the Camden Bypass  (1Willis, 2015)

Open to traffic and construction details  

The official plaque on the bridge states:

Macarthur Bridge.

The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.

RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads

AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads

GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief

FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)

Department of Main Roads, New South Wales

Open to traffic on 26 March 1973

Memories

Facebook 30 June 2021

Annette DingleI remember the day it opened, the school ( Camden south) walked to it . I lived in the street under it ( it was a dead end back then ) we use to play in the “tunnels “ under the bridge. You could only go so far before there was no air . Fun times

Read more

State Route 89 on Ozroads Website Click here

State Route 12 on Paul Rands Website Click here

Updated 4 March 2022, 30 June 2021. Originally posted 6 January 2020

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A funny little dunny draws controversy

Development proposal for 80 John Street and dunny demolition

In the backyard of an historic cottage at 80 John Street there is a funny little dunny that dates from the 1890s. In 2011 it created a great deal of fuss when there was a proposal for a two-storey commercial development at the rear of the cottage site and the demolition of the dunny for parking.

This is a view of the little 1890s outhouse in the backyard of 80 John Street with work going on around in 2021. This is the same outhouse that caused all the fuss in 2011 when a two-storey commercial building was proposed for this site. (I Willis, 2021)

A funny little dunny goes by a host of names

The funny little dunny is an example of a building that has gone by a host of names over the years. According to Margaret Simpson from the Powerhouse Museum they have variously been called a

Lav, privy, loo, thunderbox, WC, outhouse, toot, throne, restroom, powder room, washroom, john, kharsi, bog, comfort station, and even twinkle-palace, are just some of the euphemisms used for toilets. If you were in the military you’d be using the latrines, on a sailing ship going to the heads, but in country Australia it’d be the dunny.

(https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/07/18/present-and-past-family-life-toilets/)

A big fuss for a little dunny

The little outhouse created quite a storm and any development proposal in upper John Street below St John’s Church was destined to create some sort of controversy.  

The is a view of the row of Victorian Workman’s cottages in upper John Street (76-78 John Street) that are just below St John’s Church (I Willis, 2018)

Upper John Street has a row of historic Victorian workman’s cottages that the State Heritage Inventory’s Statement of Significance describes this way:

This line of simple, neat, and pleasing four cottages (74-80 John Street) along the eastern side of John Street, leading up to the view of St Johns Church spire, are representative of late nineteenth-century country town cottages. They are remarkably consistent in quality and form a good group.

(State Heritage Inventory Database No 1280026)

The cottage at No 80 where the loo is located is  described as a weatherboard cottage had a ‘corrugated iron hipped roof’ with a ‘brick chimney, timber-posted corrugated-iron bullnose verandah and four-pane double-hung windows with timber shutters’ enclosed by a front picket-fence.   

(State Heritage Inventory Database No 1280026)

This view of John Street is taken from the St John’s Church steeple in 1937 and shows the row of workman’s cottages on the right hand side of the street. (Camden Images)

The development drew community concern at a number levels: obstructed views from Broughton Street;  the bulk and height of the proposed new building; and  the demolition of the loo.

Objections abound

The Camden Historical Society lodged an objection with the consent authority, Camden Council, and then  published an article in the 2011 Winter Newsletter.

This was followed by a front-page story in the Macarthur Chronicle under the headline DE-THRONED, with a full-page picture of society member Robert Wheeler with the loo in the background.

This is the front-page story in the Macarthur Chronicle for 28 June 2011. Camden Historical Society member Robert Wheeler takes centre stage in the page with the loo from 80 John Street in the background. (I Willis)

The report stated that the loo was

One of the few in remaining buildings in the town area which were common before the town was connected to the sewer in 1938.

The Chronicle reported that ‘former Camden town planner Robert Wheeler [was] leading calls for the loo to be preserved due to its historic significance.

‘Mr Wheeler said the proposed building was not ‘sympathetic’ to the heritage of the surrounding area and the outdoor toilet should not be demolished’.

 (Macarthur Chronicle, 28 June 2011).

[Camden Historical Society] vice-president John Wrigley said,The society was concerned about the ‘block-like’ look to the new building and the demolition of the outside toilet’.   

The little dunny is special

The Macarthur Chronicle posed the question:

‘Is this Camden’s oldest toilet?’

 (Macarthur Chronicle, 28 June 2011).

The Development Conservation and Landscape Plan noted the special architectural feature of the outhouse. It had a ‘custom-rolled roof’ that ‘mayhave been by half a water tank’, unlike standard outhouse roofs which were ‘gables or skillion’.  

(Source: Stedinger Associated, 78-80 John St, Camden, Conservation Schedule of Works and Landscape Plan, Unpublished, 2011, Camden).

This is a typical country town outhouse that is no longer in use in Berry NSW. This outhouse has a gable roof which is more typical of those found in country towns across Australia. This particular example would have probably have housed a pan system toilet before the Berry sewerage system was connected to town properties. (I Willis, 2021)

The pan system

The Landscape Plan detailed how the ‘outhouse, which dated from the 1890s, was part of the Camden’s pan toilet system. Cottage residents who used the outhouse  walked along a narrow path leading from the loo to the cottage kitchen.

This is a pan toilet that was used in the mid-20th century and is similar to what was used in the John Street outhouse in the early 20th century. This example is at the Camden Museum and has a deodoriser in the toilet lid . (I Willis, 2021)

The toilet had a pan for ‘nightsoil’ which was collected by a Camden Council contractor. The contractor accessed the pan through a small opening in the rear wall of the outhouse, and replaced the full pan with an empty can.

The cottage outhouse was not built over a pit or ‘long drop’ for the excrement and urine like those built on local farms.  

(Source: Stedinger Associated, 78-80 John St, Camden, Conservation Schedule of Works and Landscape Plan, Unpublished, 2011, Camden).

A vivid description of the experience of using a pan system has been provided by Margaret Simpson from the Powerhouse Museum.

I grew up in a small New South Wales rural town before the sewer was connected. Ours was an outside toilet in the backyard. Underneath the seat plank was a removable sanitary pan (dunny can). About once a week the full pan was taken away and replaced with a clean empty one. This unfortunate task was the job of the sanitary carter (dunny man) with his horse and wagon and later a truck. Going to the dunny, especially in summer towards the end of the collection week, was a breath-holding, peg-on-nose experience.

Modern commercial toilet paper was not part of the pan system experience.  She says:

In Australia, newspapers were cut into sheets by the householder and held together with a piece of fencing wire or string and hung on a nail inside the dunny. Another source of paper were the thick department store catalogues like Anthony Horderns sent out to householders.

(https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/07/18/present-and-past-family-life-toilets/)

Controversy rages over the pan and the sewer

The pan system installed in the John Street outhouse was quite common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New South Wales.

In the late 19th century controversy raged over the benefits or lack of them between the pan system and water carriage systems. Flush toilets and water carriage of sewerage dates back to 2500BC.  

Sharon Beder argues in her article ‘Early Environmentalists and the Battle Against Sewers in Sydney’ that

Sewer gas was a big problem in the nineteenth century when knowledge of how to trap the gas and prevent its return back into homes and city streets was scarce and workmanship in sewer construction often cheap and shoddy.

Air pollution was a particularly damning accusation since it was believed that ‘miasmas’ were responsible for many of the life-threatening diseases around at that time.

 (https://documents.uow.edu.au/~/sharonb/sewage/history.html)
This is a simpler pan toilet used in the mid-20th century similar to what would have been used at John Street outhouse. A nightsoil pan is inserted below the toilet seat. This example is at the Camden Museum. (I Willis, 2021)

A 1914 advertisement for a contract to collect nightsoil (excrement) at Picton gives an idea of how nightsoil was disposed of in our local area. The contractor used a sanitary cart pulled by a horse to collect the pans from outhouses in the town area. The contractor was then expected to dispose of the nightsoil by dig trenches at the depot which was one mile from the town centre. At the time there were 270 pans in the Picton town area.

(Camden News, 2 April 1914).

The town finally connected to sewer

Before World War One Camden Municipal Council had considered the installation of a septic tank sewerage system for the town area. (Camden News, 24 August 1911)

In 1938 the council was given permission to proceed with a sewerage scheme for the town managed by Sydney Metropolitan, Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board and town sewerage scheme was completed in 1939. (Camden News, 29 June 1939)

This is an example of a nightsoil pan that was inserted below the toilet seat. The pan was collected by the nightsoil service contractor and a lid secured on top. This example is at the Camden Museum and is similar to the type of pan that would have been used in the John Street outhouse. (I Willis, 2021)

A related story about disposal of nightsoil and long drops in goldrush Melbourne in the mid-19th century can be found here.

Attachment to place · Belonging · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Media History · Newspapers · Place making · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Hard-bitten local newspaper identities

Macarthur regional newspaper history

The story of hard-bitten local newspaper identities and their publications has been told in a recent article published in British academic journal Media History. Local author and historian Ian Willis details the travails of local reporters, printers, owners, and others who made the news across the region for over 140 years.

These newspapers have told the story of the towns and villages across the Macarthur region and lives of people who have lived there – local weddings, births, deaths, marriages and other family events; men going to war and coming home; natural disasters, elections, and lots more. Some of these newspapers can be found on the National Library’s Trove Database and they include the Camden News and the Picton Post.

The digital revolution has drained these ‘local rags’ of their advertising, and crucified their profitability and their business models. Some still survive and struggle on like the Camden-Narellan Advertiser while other mastheads like the Camden Leader (1910-1912) have come and gone with no copies in existence. Some green shoots have emerged in recent times in print and online with the Oran Park Gazette and the South West Voice.

A selection of newspaper mastheads from the Macarthur region in 2018. (I Willis)

Article summary

The article tells the story of local newspapers in the three New South Wales market towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton that made up the Macarthur region. Each community had a series of local town-based newspaper mastheads from the 1880s, some lasting longer than others.  These local newspapers were run by hard-bitten owner-editors who were salt-of-the-earth people who had printer’s ink running in their veins. They survived on the smell-of-an-oily-rag and were assisted by family members who doubled as reporters, printer’s assistants, photographers, stringers and ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.

Amongst these colourful characters and local identities were: the gold-field printer and colonial-newspaper baron William Webb who owned a string of country newspapers; English journalist William Sidman who had his lead-type face confiscated in Paris for bullets during the Franco-Prussian war; and New Guinea war veteran and printer Syd Richardson, the first regional newspaper baron. 

These newspapers used local history to allow their readers to reflect on their past by storytelling and creating an understanding of their cultural heritage. The local press lionised pioneer settler stories, and the most important of these were the exploits and activities of the New South Wales Corps Officer Captain John Macarthur. The legacy of this process was to turn the historical figure of Macarthur into a local legend and national hero, and use these stories to contribute to the construction of place and a regional identity.

Article details

The article has the title Local Newspapers and a Regional Setting in New South Wales: Parochialism, mythmaking and identity and is part of a special edition of Media History called Provincial Newspapers: Lessons from History.

The special edition has been published by the Routledge stable of academic journals in the United Kingdom. Access to the full details of the article can be found here.

Local news is the heart and soul of small communities and is the essence of place and the stories that make it up.

A variety of local newspapers and other items that were all part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe at the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event. (I Willis)
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Motherhood and nation-building in the early 20th century

Infant mortality and the ideology of motherhood.

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

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

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

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

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

Motherhood as national building

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

Swift writes:

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

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

Developing national anxiety around motherhood

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

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

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

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’

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

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

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

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

Red Cross Baby Day in Camden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall of Singapore and the Camden response

Camden response to the Fall of Singapore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ‘A black month’

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

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

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

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

(Camden News, 11 December 1941)

The Camden News Front Page 11 December 1941

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

We are getting worried!

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

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

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

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

(Camden News, 29 January 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 29 January 1942

A profound shock

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

Terry Stewart writes that Singapore

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

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

Total War

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

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

(Camden News, 19 February 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 19 February 1942

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

Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captivity

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

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

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

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

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

Updated 1 February 2021. Originally posted 29 January 2021.