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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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Bottled milk and hygienic dairies: agricultural modernism

Bottled milk reduces contamination  

Contaminated milk being sold to consumers today is completely unthinkable, yet there was a time in Camden when it was not unusual at all.

Contaminated milk was such as issue that 1931 local milk supplier Camden Vale Milk Company Limited advertised the hygienic properties of its bottled milk.

Camden Vale Milk was produced by the dairies of Camden Park Estate. It was promoted  as ‘Free from Tubercule, Typhoid and Diphtheria Bacilli’. Camden Vale promised that its milk was ‘rich, clean’ and ‘safe’.  

The advertisement by Camden Vale Milk appeared in the 1931 booklet for Sydney Health Week and was used to promote the sale of bottled milk.

An advertisement promoting bottled milk placed by Camden Vale Milk Company Limited in the 1931 Health and Baby Welfare Booklet as part of Sydney Health Week. Health Week ran from 10 October 1931 to 23 October 1931 across New South Wales.

Sydney Health Week was launched in October 1921 with the aim of improving community health particularly the health of infants. Dr Purdy of the organising committee stated that infant mortality in Australia was twice the rate of Great Britain. Health Week was modelled on the Health Week of Great Britain  which started in 1912 by the Agenda Club and renewed after the war. The week was launched with the support of the NSW Labor Government and the Minister for Public Health and Motherhood, Mr G McGirr. (Tweed Daily, 27 October 1921)

The cover of the 1931 booklet published to promote Health and Baby Welfare Week. The booklet was produced by Executive of the Eleventh Annual Sydney Health Week. It had a circulation of 207,000 and was 128 pages.

Camden Vale Bottled Milk

Camden Park Dairies started selling bottled milk from 1926 under the Camden Vale Bottled Milk brand across the Sydney market. The growth of bottled milk contributed to better hygiene and stopped contamination.

The Macarthur family of Camden Park established the Camden Vale Milk Company Limited in 1920 to distribute whole liquid milk to the Sydney market. The company became a co-operative the following year with 131 shareholders and FA Macarthur Onslow was the managing director. Camden Park’s dairy processing assets, including the Menangle Milk factory, Redfern processing plant and delivery trucks, were transferred to Camden Vale in 1920.

The company opened a milk receiving depot at the corner of Edward and Argyle Streets in Camden in 1921. The Menangle factory sent milk to Redfern for pasteurisation and bottling. Bottled milk gave Camden Vale an edge in the Sydney market where there was fierce competition from over-supply and price-cutting.

Camden Vale Milk Company Limited Depot at the corner of Edward and Argyle Street Camden adjacent to the Camden-Campbelltown tramway. This 1923 view is the timber building that burnt down shortly after this image was taken and replaced with the current brick building. The railway allowed easy transportation of whole milk to the Sydney market. (Camden Images)

Adulterated milk

The Camden Vale Milk  advertising for Sydney Health Week might seem alarmist today. Yet a short history of the Sydney milk supply and issues of contamination and milk-borne disease illustrates that these type of concerns were far from alarmist. Indeed they were quite prudent.

So what were the issues with milk in 1931?

In the early 20th century tuberculosis, typhoid diphtheria and other diseases were a constant threat.

A quick search of Trove and the pages of the Camden News and Picton Post reveals the extent of notifiable disease within the Camden  community in the past. There were a host of outbreaks in the early 20th century and late 19th century reported by these newspapers. They included: scarlet fever (1914, 1927, 1948); measles (1914); cholera (1899, 1900, 1902, 1911, 1914); infantile paralysis or polio (1932, 1946); typhoid fever (1914, 1916, 1921); consumption or tuberculosis (1912, 1913, 1916); diphtheria (1896, 1898, 1907, 1922, 1948); and others.

Milk-borne disease

The threat of milk-borne diseases was a real threat in the 19th century.

Medical historian Milton Lewis has argued

Well before the advent of germ theory and modern epidemiology, milk was being named as the means by which typhoid, scarlet fever and diphtheria were sometimes spread.    The connection between infant mortality and cows’ milk had been noted early in the nineteenth century.

It was not until 1861 that Pasteur published his germ theory which proved that bacteria caused diseases.

 The first attempt in New South Wales to control the quality of milk from dairies in the Sydney area were laws to stop the adulteration of food in the 1870s. They were based on English laws. It was quite common for Sydney dairymen to adulterate pure milk with added water, justifying their claims that they could not make a profit without adding water. In 1875 there was an outcry from NSW Medical Gazette about the practice.

New South Wales authorities were prompted into action in 1886 when an outbreak of milk-borne typhoid in Sydney was traced to a well on a Leichhardt dairy. The dairy was contaminated by sewage from surrounding houses. There were further outbreaks linked to polluted dairies in St Leonards in 1887 and 1890, and another in the Randwick area in 1890.

Raw milk

The inspection of Sydney dairy herds from the 1890s led to a decline in the incidence of milk-borne tuberculosis and improved conditions at the dairies. The major risk arose from the sale of raw milk by city dairies.

The local ‘milko’ sold customers raw milk. It was sometimes poor quality and there was no guarantee it was free from contamination. The ‘milko’ poured milk into from a tank in his van into the customer’s jug.

By 1905 action by city health authorities led to significant improvements on city dairies and milk shops. Authorities had started to take action on the adulteration of milk with water and chemical preservatives. 

Pasteurisation

Pasteurisation of milk was an effective way of protecting consumers from the milk-borne disease. It involves heat treatment of milk then rapid cooling.

The Farmers’ and Dairymans’ Company started to pasteurise its milk supply in 1903 but contamination occurred in the supply chain. In 1905 the company along with the NSW Fresh Food and Ice Company advertised pasteurised milk in the Sydney press. (Farmers’ and Dairymen’s Milk Co. advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 January 1905; N.S.W. Fresh Food and Ice Co. advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January 1905, 9).

Commercial pasteurisations was first introduced in the USA in 1907 and spread quickly across American cities as it improved the keeping quality of milk. The first regulations were introduced in England in 1922.

Following the First World War the New South Wales Board of Trade maintained that child health could be improved by higher consumption of milk. The Board added that infant feeding on uncontaminated milk could be achieved by the use of dried milk.

The poor quality of fresh milk from Sydney suburban dairies in 1923 meant that baby health clinics recommended mothers feed their infants a combination of dried milk and fruit juice. The aim was to reduce infant mortality from gastro-enteritis.

Bottled milk and Camden Vale Milk Company Limited

Farmers had started selling bottled milk in 1925.  The first bottled milk was produced in Sydney in 1911 but the company was unable to survive the competition from established firm.  The first use of bottled milk in Sydney according to newspaper reports was in 1898 following its adoption and use in the Philadelphia in the USA.

A milk bottle produced by Camden Vale Milk Co Ltd (Belgenny Farm)

In 1929 Camden Vale merged with Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative Milk Company, established by South Coast dairy farmers in 1900, and Farmers’ and Dairymans’ Company. The company continued to use the Camden Vale brand and eventually in 1934 the Camden Vale Milk Co Ltd was wound up.

Herd testing at Camden Park Estate

The Camden Park management were industry leaders in the Sydney market. In 1924 were the first dairy herds in New South Wales to be certified TB free.

Camden Park Estate Model Dairy No 2 milking showing concrete floor and fitted out with equipment that is easy to clean in 1938 (Camden Images)

In 1926 the Camden Park opened its first ‘model’ dairy at Menangle to give Camden Vale bottled milk an edge in the competitive Sydney market. It represented the ‘best practice and high standards of hygiene’. This meant

 The brick dairy had a concrete floor with bails, fittings and equipment designed for ease of cleaning and optimum hygiene. 

(Belgenny Farm)

Milk was pasteurised at the Menangle and Camden factories, bottled and delivered to customers.

‘The Milk with the Golden Cap’ slogan or tagline was used in the promotional advertising for Camden Vale bottled milk. The milk was sold at a premium across the Sydney market.

The Macarthur family at Camden Park Estate followed the latest scientific methods in their dairy herds and regularly won prizes at the Camden Show and the Sydney Royal Easter Show.