Camden has a fine tradition of sport dating back into the 19th century. But one day in 1925 Camden’s civic leaders banned Sunday sport at Onslow Park.
There was no public outcry. There were no protests in the street. It passed without a murmur.
So what prompted this momentous decision?
A letter to Camden Municipal Council in early 1925 from Rev CJ King, rector of St Johns Church, and Rev AH Johnstone, minister at the Camden Methodist Church, complained about a clash between religious services held on Onslow Park and a number of Sunday cricket matches. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)
The 1925 ban Sunday sport erupted after the Camden Mayor, GF Furner, granted permission for religious services on Sundays at Onslow Park. There had subsequently been a clash between local cricketers and religious services in January 1925 using the ground. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)
Originally Onslow Park had been made available to the Camden community by Sir William Macarthur and Mrs Elizabeth Onslow in 1882 from their pastoral property of Camden Park. The 10 acres had been put into a trust (a deed of gift) that allowed the area to be used by ‘inhabitants and visitors to the town and district as a pleasure ground and place of recreation’. The trustees were JK Chisholm, HP Reeves, E Simpson, and F Ferguson. (Camden News, 16 September 1897)
William Theobald writes that recreation grounds date back to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians around 2000 BC. During Ancient Greek and Roman times these parks and open spaces were the privilege of the elites. In England the story of recreation grounds dates back to the 14th century when wasteland, or the local village common, reserved for grazing cows was made available for children’s play and ‘young people’ (men) after the days work.
London’s Royal Parks were opened to the public on Sundays with the first being Hyde Park in 1635. Urban recreation grounds were a Victorian innovation in response to the unhealthy aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the desire by Victorians to improve the physical and spiritual well-being of town dwellers. St James Park in London was the first public park opened in 1835.
The concept of a public pleasure ground outlined in the Onslow Park 1882 Deed of Gift dates back to Ancient Romans and usually related to landscaped gardens. In England pleasure grounds were gardens opened for entertainment and recreation from the 18th century and often had concert halls, bandstands, zoos, amusement rides and menageries.
These were the influences and traditions that encouraged the Macarthur family to dedicate Onslow Park to the Camden community in 1882. The family were always interested in improvements in the well-being of the local population.
The earliest references to Camden sport on Onslow Park date back to the mid-1890s with local football matches. There was a press report of a lively rugby match between Camden and Campbelltown and consideration was given to the formation of the football club. (Camden News, 13 June 1895)
The Camden cricketers had the use of the grounds on a regular basis with the first reports in the Camden press to cricket being played on Onslow Oval in 1895. (Camden News, 1 August 1895)
Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)
The background story of the Sunday sporting bans had been complicated when the responsibility for Onslow Park had been transferred to the council from the Onslow Park Trust and the Camden AH&I Society in 1924 by an act of parliament. The New South Wales government specified in the Act that the ground was to be used for ‘public recreation’ (Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)). The ground trust was represented by FA Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park, and the Camden AH&I Society by GM Macarthur Onslow, and TC Barker of Maryland.
Even earlier war the Sunday sporting ban had remained in place after Rev AE Putland from the Camden Methodist Church had raised objections to Sunday cricket in 1941.(Camden News 13 March 1941)
‘Too hot to handle’
Baker’s challenge to the sporting ban was discussed by Camden Municipal Council in mid-1943 when a rescission motion was placed on the council business papers.
The rescission motion was highly contentious and was considered ‘too hot to handle’ by council aldermen.
The proposed solution was a referendum.
The opposing camps divided on religious lines. The Methodists conducted the ‘No’ campaign and handed out literature in Argyle Street. The ‘Yes’ vote was supported by the soccer club, St John’s Church of England and their supporters. There were heated letters in the Camden News, and George Sidman, its owner and an active Methodist, remained impartial during the whole debate.
Eventually common-sense prevailed and the result was a resounding ‘Yes’, with 393 votes, to 197 ‘No’ votes, and as far as Sidman was concerned that was the end of the matter. The soccer competition between the military and the Camden community proved to be a complete success. (Camden News, 1 July 1943, 15 July 1943, 22 July 1943, 29 July 1943, 5 August 1943.)
Other communities with defence establishments did not have similar problems. For example at Temora RAAF airmen became involved in cricket and tennis, and Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) personnel played basketball, while in Albury the military joined local sporting competitions (Maslin, Wings Over Temora, p. 29; Pennay, On the Home Front, p. 32.).
A notable part of Camden’s modernism that has disappeared is the Drive-In movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the famous attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s, located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale).
Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the baby boomers’ lifestyle. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The Drive-In movie theatre was a defining moment in the Camden District for a 20th-century culture based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.
Drive-in Movie Theatres
Robert Freestone writes that the Drive-In theatre arrived in New South Wales in 1956, and by the 1970s, there were 14 drive-ins in the Sydney area, including the Gayline. The Drive-In was a ‘signifier of modernity with its twin imperatives of consumption and comfort in the motor car’s private space.
The Drive-In reflected the US’s growing influence in the 1950s, the force of suburbanisation and the democracy of car ownership. The first Drive-In theatre in Australia was the Burwood Drive-In in Melbourne in 1954. The first Sydney Drive-In was the MGM Chullora Twin Drive-In which opened in 1956 by Premier Cahill. In the 1970s, there were more than 300 drive-ins across Australia.
In New South Wales, Drive-Ins came under the control of the Theatres and Public Halls Act 1908-1946 and were heavily regulated compared to Victoria under the Theatres and Films Commission. Freestone argues states New South Wales planning restrictions Drive-Ins could not be closer than 4 miles to each other, they had to be accessed by a side-road, away from airports, and positioned so as not to distract passing traffic.
During its heyday, the Drive-In was very popular. It was very democratic, where an FJ Holden could be parked next to a Mercedes Benz. The Drive-In was a relaxed, laid back way to see the movies. The whole family went to the movies, including the kids. Parents could have a night off and not have to clean up, dress up or hire a baby-sitter. Families took blankets, quilts, and pillows, and when the kids faded out, they slept on the car’s back seat. A young mother could walk around with her new baby without disturbing other patrons.
The Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre
Ted Frazer, the owner/operator of the Gayline Drive-In, was a picture showman. The Frazers had cinemas on the South Coast, at Scarborough and Lake Illawarra. At Scarborough, they operated the Gala Movie Theatre. It was established in 1950 and had sessions on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights and Saturday matinee. The family ran movies in the local progress hall at Lake Illawarra.
Terry Frazer said,’ ‘We were the only family-operated Drive-In. Greater Union or Hoyts ran all the others in the Sydney area’.
Terry Frazer considered that the business was successful over the years that it operated at Narellan. He said, ‘It was a family business, and my son did some projection work. The kids worked in the shop, as did our wives.
The high point of the Drive-In’s success was in the early 1970s. Terry’s brother Kevin Frazer and his wife Lorraine Frazer were in the business from the early 1970s. He says:
As a family business, we had separate jobs, and you did not interfere with others.
The Gayline showed a mixture of movies. When patrons rolled in, they put the hook-on-window-speaker and occasionally drove off with it still attached after the movie finished.
Some Drive-Ins closed down in the 1970s, yet the Gayline survived. When daylight saving was introduced moved to later starts. Like other Drive-Ins, during the 1980s, it dished up a diet of soft porn and horror movies to compete with videos and colour TV. In 1975 colour TV had an effect, but a more significant impact was the introduction of video in 1983-84. It contributed to killing off the Drive-Ins. Terry thinks that apart from videos Random Breath Testing, which became law in NSW in 1985, also had an effect.
Terry Frazer said
Things went in cycles. The writing was on the wall in the early 80s. We knew it was pointless to keep going full-time, and we only operated part-time, on Friday and Saturday nights. We had family working in the shop. We eventually closed in 1990. Land developers were making offers to Dad for the site. Dad built a house in 1971. It was a cream brick Cosmopolitan home in Gayline Ave, and it is still there.
Ted Frazer located the Drive-In at Narellan because it was to be within the ‘Three Cities Growth Area’ (1973) of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan (1968), and the land was a reasonable price.
The opening night was in November 1967, and the first movie was Lt Robin Crusoe USN [Walt Disney, 1966, Technicolor, starring Dick Van Dyke, Nancy Kwan]
Terry Frazer recalls
We could fit in 575 cars. The surface was asphalt, and we were always patching it. It was part of the maintenance of the site. We had to have a licence for motion pictures.
The screen, according to Terry Frazer, was made from zinc anneal sheeting. Mr Frazer recalls
Rivetted together on a rear timber frame. All mounted on a steel frame made by a local engineering company. A crane hoisted it up. On either end, there were cables and shackles, with a platform with safety rails that you manually wind up with a handle up the front of the screen. You would use it to clean the screen or repaint it white. I painted the screen with a roller.
The speakers had a volume control and a small speaker. The family brought in Radio Cinema Sound in the mid to late 1970s. The customers had a choice of old-style speaker or radio as not all cars had radios. Terry Frazer would go around all the speakers on Fridays and check for sound quality. There were redback spiders under the concrete blocks that had the speaker post. Terry recalls:
Before the end of the show, he would remind patrons to put the speakers back on the post before leaving. Some would still drive off with them attached. The Drive-In had a PA system through the speaker system.
Mr Frazer stated
Sessions started at 7.30 pm, except in daylight saving when it was 8.30pm. In busy periods we had double sessions – 7.30pm and midnight. Always two features. I always had the lighter movie on first and the feature on the second half. In the 1980s, we still had a double feature.
Terry Frazer recalls:
For the midnight session there could be a queue down Morshead Road out onto Narellan Road waiting to get in. It was a horror movie session from 12.00am to 3.00am. On some popular Saturday nights, we may not be able to get all the cars in. At one stage in the 1970s, we considered having two sessions 7.00pm and 10.00pm. We would advertise sessions in the Sydney papers under the Greater Union adverts every night of the week. We would run adverts in the local papers each week.
Movies and Slides
The feature films could be a long movie, for example, Sound of Music, Great Escape. They had an intermission cut into the movie.
Terry Frazer remembers:
We changed the movie programme on Thursdays. We dealt with MGM, Paramount, 20th Century-Fox and Columbia. They were all around the city. You would go to each one to pick up the [film] print. Some of these amalgamated later on. Paramount and Fox were off Goulburn and Elizabeth Streets, Columbia at Rozelle. My father, Ted Frazer, would go in early to book the programme, and I would drop off the old programme.
You would hope it was a good print, otherwise, I would have to repair the film by doing joins. I used a brush and cement, and later we went to tape. You would make a perfect joint. You would join up the trailers and a short feature. You would hook them into the front of the spool to make less changeovers.
If a movie went well, it would run for 2-3 weeks if the print was not booked out anywhere else. There were usually a lot of prints, so if a movie went well, you could keep a print for another week.
For the big movies, the city cinemas got first release. We could get lessor movies as first release and run with other features.
Terry Frazer observed that
as an independent [screen] we got a reasonable go at it. For the lessor movies, we paid a certain figure. Top movies were worked on a percentage basis, 50:50, 60:40 [of takings]. Some companies would check the number of cars at the Drive-In by sending representatives out. One independent movie producer, Ably Mangles, came out to check the number of cars. He was on a percentage basis.
Independent movies were popular. Glass slides were provided by David Koffel, the advertising agency, as a finished product.
Terry Frazer was the projectionist and recalled:.
The slide projector was a carbon arc slide projector. The movie projector was an English Kalee 35 mm projector. It had a carbon arc feed mirror for its light source. It had a manual feed. You had to thread up each spool which would last 20 minutes. There were two movie projectors and one slide projector. You would load one up, ready for the next one to start.While the movie was running, you would go out to the rewind room and manually rewind the spool for the next night’s screening.
Terry Frazer remembers:
We had glass slides showing advertising during intermission and before the show. We would run 70 glass slides showing adverts for local businesses. Local business would buy advertising. The local representative of the advertising agency would go around local businesses. The advertising agency was David Koffel. There was good money from advertising to local businesses. Later the advertising agency changed to Val Morgan.
The experience of the Drive-In is the strongest memory for regular moviegoers. People rarely talk about the movie they saw but can remember with great detail the whole experience of the Drive-In.
Memories flood back for baby-boomers of the rainy night when they tried to watch the movie with the windscreen wipers going. Or the car windscreen was fogging up. Or the winter’s night when the fog rolled in from Narellan Creek. Or the relaxed ambience of a balmy moonlit summer’s night.
The smell of the food, the sound of the cars, the queues to get in, the walk for hotdogs and drinks. The night out with the girlfriend and the passionate night’s entertainment. Orr the night out as a youngster with the family dressed as you were in pyjamas and slippers.
The Gayline Drive-In was not only attractive to young families; it offered local teenagers freedom from the restrictions of home. Many local teenagers had access to cars and found the Drive-In an ideal place for a date and some canoodling and smooching. It was quite a coupe to get Dad’s car and show off to your mates or the girlfriend. The Drive-In was a place to see and be seen. It was a big deal.
One of the favourite lurks of teenagers was to fill the boot of the car with people so they did not have to pay. Once inside, they were let out. If you drove a station wagon, you reversed the car into the spot and lay in the back of the wagon, wrapped up in a blanket. Others would bring their deck-chairs, put them in the back of the ute, enjoy a drink and a smoke, and watch the movie.
The Drive-In movies offered an experience, whether at the snack bar which sold banana fritters, hot dogs, battered savs, Chiko Rolls, popcorn, chips, choc-tops, ice-creams, Jaffas, Minties and Hoadley’s Violet Crumble. The Narellan Gayline Drive-In had a large screen, a projector booth, a children’s playground, and a large parking area.
Terry Frazer recalls:
Mum controlled the shop and kitchen. In the early 1970s, she had 7-8 working in the shop. Later on, there was only one permanent girl. In the 1970s, the restaurant had 8-10 tables. Mum would cook T-Bone steak with salad and other dishes. Originally Mum made steak and fish dinners for a few years. Then she went to hot dogs, hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, banana fritters and ice-cream, which was very popular fish and chips.
Steak sandwiches were popular, Chiko rolls later on. They were quick and easy. Mum would pre-prepare the hot dogs and hamburgers. She would make what she needed based on how many came in the gate. At the break, everyone (patrons) would rush down to the shop and queue up 6-7 deep and wanted quick service.
We had snacks, chocolates, and popcorn. The only ice-creams were choc-tops because the margins were bigger. Drinks were cordial and water in paper cups. There were good margins. We were the last to change over to canned soft drinks. Most Drive-Ins did the same.
Customers could sit in the outside area and watch the movie from the building. A handful of patrons would walk in. Usually, local kids sit in front of the shop and watch the movie- all undercover.
The shop did fabulous business until the US takeaways arrived. McDonalds and KFC [arrived in the mid to late 1970s in Campbelltown and] changed things. Customers would bring these takeaways or bring their own eats.
Mrs Alma Rootes
One of the regular workers in the shop and kitchen was Alma Rootes. She was a kitchen hand and shop assistant from 1967-1975 until she became pregnant with her fourth child.
Mrs Rootes recalls:
I worked in the kitchen and served at the counter. We did fish and chips, hamburgers, banana fritters and Pluto pups (a battered sav) and other things such as lollies. People would come into the shop before the movie was screened to buy fish and chips. Fish and chips went really well. They would have their dinner. We would pre-prepared food for sale before the interval. It wasn’t easy; there would always be a rush at interval. I would work on hot food.
We made hundreds and hundreds of ice-creams. They had a chocolate coating. You would scoop out the ice-cream out of a drum-type container. You would put a small scoop in the bottom of the cone and a bigger one on the top and dip in the warm chocolate. The chocolate was in a stainless steel bowl. Mrs Frazer always wanted to give value for money [referring to the two scoops]. We would do this before interval. The banana fritters were battered bananas, deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Mr Frazer would help on the counter in the shop with the lollies. There would be 2-3 working in the kitchen. On quiet nights Mrs Frazer would run things on her own. There was another lady. Her name was Lyn, I think. Kevin would come out and work in the shop if there was a rush. Sometimes the movie would start, and we would not be finished serving. The customers could see out of the shop to the screen. After the show, we would clean up.
The shop had a glass front facing the screen with two doors for entry to the sales area. There was a counter at one end were lollies and ice-creams, in the middle was hot food. There was a door behind the counter to the kitchen. The kitchen had counters down either wall, with a deep fry at one end.
I have lived at Bringelly for around 50 years. I originally came from Lakemba. I was paid the wages of the day. I enjoyed my time there. It was a good place to work. Driving home was not good. Sometimes there would be huge fogs. Alan (husband) would take the kids, and they would sometimes drive me home.
I thought I had better go when I got pregnant. Alan [Alma’s husband] said that Mrs Frazer was concerned she would slip in the kitchen or have an accident as Alma was so heavy (pregnant). Mrs Frazer was concerned about her insurance position. The Frazers gave me a silver teapot when I left in 1975 [photo].
Terry Frazer remembers:
Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a top table truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs, and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell.
You would get guys on motorbikes. We had all sorts of patrons, stories that you could not print. We had a bucks party one night.
In the early 1970s, there were panel vans that were carpeted and done up. The young fellows would reverse into position and open the doors to watch the movie.
The Drive-In was a good night’s family entertainment. It was a full night’s entertainment for families. There was a kid’s playground. Mum and Dad could watch the movie. The regulars were young families who could not afford baby sitters. They would pile the kids in the car in their pyjamas and come to the Drive-In.
Terry Frazer recalls:
that they would always say, the Drive-In was one business that added to the population growth of the area. There was a lot of making out [and pashing] amongst the young couples who were regulars.
Patrons could get out of their cars and go for a walk. People wandered around.
At Easter, there were church meetings. They constructed a huge stand in front of the screen. It went on for 3-4 years in the early 1970s [a trend copied from the USA]. It was a Drive-In church. The Frazers could not recall which church group.
There were car shows in the 1970s.
An independent movie was made at the Drive-In. They set up the rails and so they could move along to set a scene. Some scenes in the movie were shot at Thirlmere. A local, Lyle Leonard, had his car in it. They shot a number of scenes at the Drive-In. I cannot remember the name of the movie.
In wet weather, we waited until it was really wet and would tell the patrons to come to the shop, and we would give them a pass for the following night.
We could get completely fogged out. The light beam could not penetrate the fog. We would close up and give a pass for the following night. It was worst in April and May.
People would come from a long way for a certain movie in really bad weather you would give them a refund.
Lyn Frazer recalled that if it was drizzling, patrons would rub half an onion onto the windscreen, and you could see.
Narellan township in 1967 [when we set up] only had 6 shops. There was always a takeaway next door to the current cheesecake shop [on Camden Valley Way]. There was only a very small shopping centre.
<All that is left of the Narellan Gayline Drive-In a street sign. (I Willis, 2008)>
The Gayline Drive-In eventually closed down, like many in the Sydney area, when residential development at Narellan Vale started to grow, and the land was more valuable as real estate.
Unfortunately, lifestyles have changed, and people prefer the comfort of suburban movie theatres at Campbelltown and shortly at Narellan. However, the tradition of outdoor movies and all their attractions for young families and teenagers are not dead in our area.
Outdoor movies have made a come back in the local area as they have in other parts of Sydney. There have been movies under the stars at venues like Mt Annan Botanic Gardens and Macarthur Park.
Nell Raine Bruce Such fun times we had there. Before we could drive we would walk and sit on the veranda of the cafeteria and watch the movie. The good old days, wish it was still there. (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Eric Treuer I remember going there thinking that the drive-in was for gays. I was very young at the time. Lol (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Gail Coppola Had great times there. Listening to the movies and the cows lol (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Jan Carbis Went there many times….great memories (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Adam Rorke My lawyers have advised me to say nothing….. (22 June 2015)
Chris Addison What is it now houses kids used to love going there (22 June 2015)
Justin Cryer I remember going out to here with the whole family hahaha wow (22 June 2015)
Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (22 June 2015)
Jan Carbis Went there many times….great memories (22 June 2015)
Robert Rudd Movie news that’s for sure gots lots of oh doesn’t matter (22 June 2015)
Dianne Bunbury We had one in Horsham when I was growing up in – 1960s era. (22 June 2015)
Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)
Kay Gale Great nite out was had many years ago wow (23 June 2015)
Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (23 June 2015)
Jacque Eyles The midnight horror nights! Loved it (23 June 2015)
Vicki Henkelman The Hillman Minx and pineapple fritters life were good !! I also had a speaker in the shed for years oops! (23 June 2015)
Meg Taylor Soooo many memories (23 June 2015)
Kim Girard Luved it great times (23 June 2015)
Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)
Kerry Perry Bring back the good times movie, chick, and food (24 June 2015)
Julie Cleary We would back the panel van in and watch in comfort… So fun! (24 June 2015)
Mick Faber Great memories at the Drive-In. 12 of us snuck in one night in the back of a mates milk van. More of a party than a movie night. (24 June 2015)
Kathleen Dickinson Holy geez I think I even remember where that used to be! Lol (23 June 2015
Matthew Gissane We went down through Camden for a Sunday drive last … er … Sunday, and anyhow, we followed the Old Razorback Road up to Mt Hercules. A fabulous vista from up there. Didn’t see the Gayline though. 23 June at 22:39
Greg Black wasn’t aware of the Gayline,… I do like Camden and the surrounding areas, nice countryside (in the ’60s used to go there with m & d to watch the parachutin’…) 23 June at 23:39
Greg Black Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a tabletop truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell. 23 June at 23:46
Anthony Ayrz I remember it well,,,,, thought it was called Skyline….. full of houses now,,,,, can still pick put exactly where it was…. I was about 7 when my parents took us there a few times….. remember going to the Bankstown one with my parent’s friends in the boot…. and we got away with it!!!! 22 June at 21:28
Alison Russell That brings back memories I used to live behind the Drive-In it looks like the photo is taken from our old house which sadly has just been sold and will be knocked down but what fun we had there as kids and all the sneaky ways we had to get into the Drive-In
Colleen Dunk Moroney Often went in in the boot so we didn’t have to pay 😲😇 the guy in the white overalls was Neville, used to tap on your window and say “movie news”, giving away movie newspapers. always scared the crap out of me lol. I loved the Drive-In.
Lauren Novella I remember sneaking in the boot just to save a few bucks!!!!! Lol. Who even watched the movies….. It was more like a mobile party…😆
Sharon Land Memories remember Alison Russell when we had to go to the outdoor loo and if an R rated movie was on we were supervised outside my mum and dad lol
Andrew Carter-Locke We used to get in the boot of my cousins XY falcon. Back in the day you always got a backup film before the feature. I remember “Posse”, being better than “Jaws”.
Wayne McNamara Many mems….watching people drive off ….still connected….and the guy in the white overalls at the entrance…
On a recent evening in Camden there was the launch of a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in the heritage listed building Macaria in John Street.
The exhibition, FACE to FACE: Live Sittings 1936 – 1972, celebrates Alan Baker’s achievement of entering the Archibald prize 26 times with 35 artworks between 1936 and 1972. Despite his persistence he never won a prize.
The exhibition programme states that Alan Baker was studying at JS Watkins Art School alongside future Archibald winners Henry Hanke in 1934 with his Self Portrait, William Pidgeon who won in 1958, 1961 and 1968, and his brother Normand Baker in 1937 with his Self Portrait.
The programme provides a timeline of Baker’s paintings with images that illustrate his works.
the exhibition will feature Baker’s first 1936 Archibald Prize entry painted at the age of 22, a self-portrait study painting by Normand Baker for his 1937 winning Archibald Prize entry, and Baker’s 1951 portrait of Australian Filmmaker Charles Chauvel (courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland).
The Archibald Prize is one of the pre-eminent portraiture prizes in Australia held yearly at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. First awarded in 1921 this prestigious art prize is a sought after award by artists generating publicity and public exposure. Traditionally portraitists were mostly restricted to public or private commissions.
The Art Gallery of NSW states that:
The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.
The Alan Baker Gallery website outlines a short history of the Macaria building.
The website states:
Macaria was originally built in 1859-1860 as a school house by Henry Thompson, the building has since been used for many things; including a private home; the Camden Grammar School; the residence and rooms of doctors and dentists including popular local physician Dr Francis West. In 1965 Macaria was purchased by Camden Council and used as Camden Library and later, offices for the Mayor, Town Clark and staff.
Prowling crazy colourful koalas are on the loose in the Australian Botanic Gardens in Mount Annan and other notable spots in Campbelltown.
The cute one-metre-high fibreglass sculptures, called Hello Koalas, are loose across the garden landscape. They are a sight to behold after being a hit at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2019.
The artworks are part of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, jointly hosted by The Australian Botanic Garden (ABG), Mount Annan and Campbelltown City Council. Running from April 1 to April 30, the art installation is on loan from the Port Macquarie area.
Engaging public art installation
On a visit to the ABG this week, I watched how the sculptures touched the hearts of everyone who walked past them.
The Hello Koalas seemed to immediately grab the attention of everyone who walked past them, from the very young to the very young at heart. The koala characters appeared to melt the coldest heart with their bright colours and crazy artwork.
There is an element of surprise to the sculptures, and there is an immediately identifiable joy in people’s reactions. Young and old pose for selfies and family pics with the koala characters.
Families sought out the elusive koala characters across the ABG after picking up the free trail map. The kids were making sure that they found all of the 22 koalas in the garden.
According to the trail map, families can be helped in the koala hunt by downloading the ‘Agents of Discovery’ by using the ABG QR code and then seeking out the koala characters.
A public art trail
The outdoor art installation trail is strategically placed across the garden landscape to ensure an exciting and wonderful experience of these ‘living sculptures’.
Each of the Hello Koalas has a name and is themed around culture, heritage and environmental issues. There is Captain Koala, Bushby, Flying Fire, Topiary and a host of others.
The trail map provides a host of information about the Hello Koalas location, their names, and the artist who created them.
The ABG art installation was ‘conceived and created in Port Macquarie by Arts and Health Australia’, which aims ‘to promote and develop the application of creativity and the arts for health and quality of life’.
Project director Margaret Meagher described the Hello Koalas as Wildlife Warriors and said, ‘The project aims to spread the message that we must care for our koalas and all native fauna and flora’.
Director Margaret Meagher was inspired to create the Hello Koalas by an animal trail that was part of the 2010 Hull arts festival in England. The trail celebrated the life and times of local poet Philip Larkin and his poem Toads. Festival organisers created the Larkin with Toads sculpture trail. After initial scepticism, the toads have been a huge hit winning tourist awards, gaining national press coverage and increased local tourism.
Public art is an opportunity to showcase artist talent differently and generate broader community interest. This type of art installation can ferment interest in issues and engage the media, the public and the creative sector. Public art appeals to the imagination of adults and children and can bring the community together.
Successful public art encourages public engagement with art and can create a sense of ownership within the community. There can be increased visitation increase tourism that brings money into the area. It can contribute to placemaking, shaping community identity and a sense of belonging.
Not a balmy idea
The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, at first glance, may be considered a balmy idea. In reality, it is a clever idea that on initial observations seems to have engaged people’s interest and imagination and created a unique art experience.
The ABG Hello Koalas brochure states:
Effectively, each Hello Koalas sculpture provides a blank canvas to convey evocative messages that celebrate the existence of native plants and animals and raise public awareness, across generations, of the importance of caring and preserving our natural world.
I was recently walking across the Nepean River floodplain past meadows of swaying waist-high grass on a local walkway that brought to mind the 1805 description of the Cowpastures by Governor King. Atkinson writes
The first Europeans looked about with pleasure at the luxuriant grass that covered both the flats and the low hills. The flats seemed best for cattle…the trees were sparse.
The trees were certainly sparse on my walk, yet the cattle in the adjacent paddock proved the fulfillment of the observations of the early Europeans.
The cattle I saw were polled hornless black cattle which were markedly different from the horned-South African cattle which made the Nepean River floodplain their home in 1788 after they escaped from Bennelong Point in Sydney Town. They became the wild cattle of the Cowpastures.
The beauty of the landscape hints at the management skills of the original inhabitants the area -the Dharawal – who understood this country well.
According to Peter Mylrea, the area of the town farm was purchased by colonial pioneer John Macarthur after the government Cowpasture Reserve was closed and sold off in 1825. It is easy to see why John Macarthur wanted this part of the country for his farming outpost of Camden Park, centred at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta.
Although this does not excuse European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country. Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley and John Macarthur were part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.
Today all this country is part of the Camden Town Farm, which includes the walkway.
Llewella Davies – a colourful local character
Llewella Davies was a larger than life colourful Camden character and a truly notable Camden identity. On her death in 2000 her estate bequeathed 55 acres of her family’s dairy farm fronting Exeter Street to the Camden Council. Llewella wanted the site was to be used as a functional model farm for educational purposes or passive recreational use.
The Davies dairy farm
The Davies family purchased their farm of 130 acres in 1908. They appeared not to have farmed the land and leased 20 acres on the corner of Exeter and Macquarie Grove Road to Camden Chinese market gardener Tong Hing and others for dairying.
Llewella was the youngest of two children to Evan and Mary Davies. She lived all her life in the family house called Nant Gwylan on Exeter Street, opposite the farm. Her father died in 1945, and Llewella inherited the house and farm on her mother’s death in 1960.
The house Nant Gwylan was surrounded by Camden High School which was established in 1956 on a sporting reserve. Llewella steadfastly refused to sell-out to the Department of Education for an extension to the high school despite being approached on several occasions.
Llewella, who never married, was born in 1901 and educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in Darlinghurst. The school educated young women in a progressive liberal curriculum that included the classics, scientific subjects as well as female accomplishments.
Llewella undertook paid work at the Camden News office for many years and volunteered for numerous community organisations including the Red Cross, and the Camden Historical Society. In 1981 she was awarded the Order of Australia medal (OAM) for community service.
The Camden Town Farm
In 2007 Camden Council appointed a Community Management Committee to examine the options for the farm site that Llewella Davies had gifted to the Camden community. The 2007 Camden Town Farm Masterplan outlined the vision for the farm:
The farm will be developed and maintained primarily for agricultural, tourism and educational purposes. It was to be operated and managed in a sustainable manner that retains its unique character and encourages and facilitates community access, participation and visitation.
The masterplan stated the farm was ‘ideally place to integrate itself with the broader township’ and the existing Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway that had been established in 2006.
It is against this background that the Camden Town Farm management committee moved forward with the development of a walkway in 2016.
Camden Mayor Theresa Fedeli opened the walkway on 17th August 2019 to an enthusiastic crowd of locals. The walkway is approximately 2.4 kilometres and it has been estimated that by January 2020 around 1000 people per week are using it.
The walkway is part of Camden’s Living History where visitors and locals can see, experience and understand what a farm looks like, what it smells like and its size and extent. Located on Sydney’s urban fringe it is a constant reminder of the Indigenous Dharawal people and the area’s farming heritage of grazing, cropping, and dairying
If the walker is patient and perceptive the path reveals the layers of the past, some of which have been silenced for many years.
The image attracted a host of likes and shares and comments like Phil Hall ‘What a delightful photo’ and Christine Mcmanus ‘It’s very charming’.
What is the appeal of the picture?
The picture has an aesthetic quality partly produced from the soft sepia tones of the image, and partly from the subject, which together gives the photograph a dreamy quality.
The ethereal presence of the image is hard to describe in words and the camera is kind to the subjects, who are well-positioned in a nicely balanced frame.
The viewer of the picture is a time traveler into another world based on the New South Wales South Coast and is given a snapshot of a moment frozen in time. The observer has a glimpse of a world after the First World World in the present. For the viewer it as a form of nostalgia, where they create a romanticised version of the past accompanied by feelings that the present is not quite as good as an earlier period.
The world in the picture, a mixture of pleasure and for others despair, apparently moved at a slower pace, yet in its own way no less complex than the present. The picture speaks to those who choose to listen and tells a nuanced, multi-layered story about another time and place. It was 1919 in the coastal mining town of Wollongong.
The viewer is told a story about a setting that is full of meaning and emotional symbolism wrapped up in the post-First World Years. The picture grabs the viewers who pressed a Like on their Facebook pages. These social media participants found familiarity and comfort in the past that is an escape from the complicated present.
In response to today’s COVID-19 crisis, we are turning to old movies, letter writing and vintage fashion trends more than ever. Nostalgia is a defence mechanism against upheaval.
Escaping the Spanish flu pandemic?
The image is full of contrasts and unanswered questions. Why are the young couple in Wollongong? Why did they decide on Stuart Park for a photo-shoot? Are they escaping the outbreak of Spanish influenza at Randwick in January 1919? Does the NSW South Coast provide the safety of remoteness away from the evils of the pandemic in Sydney?
The female photographer is a city-girl and her male companion is a worldly reader of international news. They contrast with the semi-rural location in a coal mining area with its workman’s cottages and their dirt floors, and the hard-scrabble dairying represented by the post-and-rail fence in the distance.
The railway is a metaphor for the rest of a world outside Wollongong. The colliery railway is a link to the global transnational industrial complex of the British Empire at Wollongong Harbour where railway trucks disgorge their raw material. On the other hand, the female photographer’s stylish outfit provides an entry into a global fashion world of women’s magazines, movies and newspapers.
The elegantly dressed couple in their on-trend fashion contrast with the poverty of the working class mining villages of the Illawarra coast. Photographer Aileen is described by local historian Leone Flay as ‘dressed for town’, contrasts with the post-and-rail fence on the railway boundary projects the hard-graft of its construction in a landscape of marginal dairy farming.
The remnants of the Illawarra Rainforest that border the railway point to the environmental destruction brought by British imperial policy and its industrial machinery. This contrasts with a past where the Dharawal Indigenous people managed the lush coastal forests that once covered the area along the banks of the nearby Fairy Creek.
Peeling back the layers of past within the picture reveals several parts to the story: the photographer Aileen Ryan; the coastal location of Stuart Park; and the commercial world of the Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, and ecology of the Illawarra Rainforest.
Aileen Ryan, photographer
The young female photographer in the picture is Aileen Ryan, a 21-year old city-girl, who spent time in and around the Wollongong area in February and March 1919. Aileen was born in Waverley, Sydney, and was educated at St Clare’s Convent.
At 19 years of age, Aileen gained paid work when most women were restricted to domestic duties. She joined the New South Wales Public Service in 1917 as a typist and shorthand writer. As an independent young working woman, she was worldly-wise and expressed herself through her ability to fund her relatively-expensive hobby of photography. The young Aileen’s hand-held bellows camera hints her grasp of the latest technology.
In 1927 she marries FW Lynch at Clovelly and in 1942 during the Second World War she was seconded to the Directorate of Manpower. She was appointed superintendent of the New South Wales division of the Australian Women’s Land Army, which was disbanded in 1945. She died childless at Waverton in 1983.
Stuart Park, the location
The site of the photo-shoot was located on the colliery railway which skirted the southern boundary of Stuart Park. The park, which was declared in 1885 under the Public Parks Act 1884 (NSW), lies between the railway, Fairy Creek to the north and North Wollongong Beach to the east. The area was originally purchased from James Anderson and is an area of 22.27 hectares.
The park was named after colonial politician and Scotsman Sir Alexander Stuart who was the Member for Illawarra in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the time. The park was run by a trust until 1920 when control passed to the Municipality of Wollongong.
The popularity of Stuart Park, including many families from Camden, owed much to the presence near North Wollongong Beach, which was popular for swimming and surfing from the 1920s. The caravan park was unfortunately closed in 1964, but re-opened in 1966, due to public pressure. It eventually closed permanently in 1970. The park now has a sports oval, had a kiosk dating from the 1940s and was popular with day-trippers.
Illawarra Rainforest, the ecology
The site location of the photograph next to the railway was once completely covered by Illawarra Rainforest, remnants of which can be seen along the railway line.
The rainforest type is a rich ecological community characterised by bloodwoods, stinging trees, figs, flame trees, beech, cedar, and other species. The more complex rainforest communities were located along the creek boundaries and on the southern face of escarpment gorges protected the from the prevailing north-easterly winds.
the most complex (species rich) forest type in the Illawarra. A broad definition of this forest is a “Dense community of moisture loving trees, mainly evergreen, broadleaved species, usually with the trees arranged in several layers, and containing vines, epiphytes, buttressed stems, stranglers, and other Iifeforms” (Saur, 1973, p.l.).
The Illawarra Rainforest extended along the coastal and up into the escarpment from the northern parts of the Illawarra south to Kiama, the Shoalhaven River and west to Kangaroo Valley.
The primary threats to the rainforest ecology have been clearing for farming, mining, urban development, and related activities.
Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, a transnational conduit to the globe
The Mount Pleasant Colliery was opened by Patrick Lahiff in 1861 and was very successful. Two years later the company built a horse tramway with two inclines down the escarpment from the mine to Wollongong Harbour. They eventually upgraded the tramway to steel railway in the 1880s and to convert to standard gauge.
The construction of the tramway raised the hackles of the locals and was only built after the state parliament passed the Mount Pleasant Tramroad Act 1862 (NSW). The mining company went bankrupt in 1934 and the mine was taken over by Broken Hill Pty Ltd in 1937 and renamed the Kiera Pleasant Tunnels.
I recently attended a seminar day at Picton showcasing the latest Thirlmere Lakes Research presented at The Thirlmere Lakes Third Annual Science Day held at the Picton Bowling Club.
There was a positive tone to the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project. The Thirlmere Lakes Research Program aims to shed light on changes in water levels in the lakes by better understanding the land and groundwater of the system.
This was the third day in a series of seminars and was attended by a range of stakeholders including the community, researchers, and state and local government.
A team of scientists from a variety of research institutions presented a variety of papers ranging across lake geology, geophysics, sedimentation, groundwater, surface flow, chemistry, water balance, and vegetation.
The day was an opportunity for academic researchers to collaborate with each other and stimulate further research. Researchers were drawn from University of New South Wales (UNSW), GeoQuEST Research Centre, the University of Wollongong (UOW), the Australian Government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Deakin University and the NSW Department Primary Industry and Environment and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services.
The research project was initiated by community activism started with the Rivers SOS group in 2010 and local concern about mining in the lakes area. Rivers SOS is an alliance of over 40 environmental and community groups concerned with the wrecking of rivers in New South Wales by mining operations.
The science day was very instructive from several perspectives including networking opportunities. Researchers tend to work in silos and conduct their work in isolation from other disciplines. The science day was an opportunity for researchers to interact with each other and generate new ideas from their work.
There was a positive tone around the day where stakeholders were supportive of the goals of the research project. In the past, there are often tensions between stakeholders based on cynicism and lack of trust. There has been a mixed history of community consultations and engagement over policy decisions. In the past city-based decision-makers have shown little regard for the views of small communities. Their concerns have often been ignored.
The science days appear to have generated a significant level of trust between the community and the research team. There has been an open and transparent approach to the research project. Generally, science researchers do not like to present preliminary findings as they may differ significantly from the final results. This can prove problematic. The general community may not be fully aware of this process and can become suspicious and trust falls away.
The science day encouraged community engagement with positive comments from delegates, researchers and seminar day organisers. Before the commencement of the project, there was a high level of community cynicism about government responses to community concerns about the disappearance of the water in the lakes. The research project seems to have ameliorated many community concerns and lessened community cynicism towards decision-makers and the research process.
The second science day was held in June 2018 with five presentations showcasing preliminary findings from research partners. Feedback indicated that there was a strong interest in the early findings and the need for further community engagement – hence the 2020 day.
Announcement of Thirlmere Lakes Research project by the state government
In 2017 the Macarthur press announced the launch of the current Thirlmere Lakes Research project. The South West Voice reported
The research partners, University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Wollongong (UOW) and Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), will investigate the sensitivity of these wetland systems to external influences, such as the effects of mining activity and groundwater extraction, over the next four years. (South West Voice 20 October 2017)
The press reports detailed that the 2017 project was built on a 2014 monitoring program that has been continuously recording water levels in the 5 lakes.
The Voice stated that the areas of investigation for the 2017 project included
Geological mapping and geophysical surveys of the Thirlmere Lakes area (UNSW – Dr Wendy Timms);
Environmental isotopes investigations into periodic and recent water losses from Thirlmere Lakes (ANSTO – Dr Dioni Cendón);
Thirlmere Lakes: the geomorphology, sub-surface characteristics and long term perspectives on lake-filling and drying (UOW – Dr Tim Cohen);
Surface Water – Groundwater Interaction (UNSW – Dr Martin Andersen);
Developing an integrated water balance budget for Thirlmere Lakes to provide a detailed understanding of hydrological dynamics (UNSW – Associate Professor Will Glamore). (South West Voice 20 October 2017)
The Thirlmere Lakes National Park is 629 acres located in the Macarthur region and was proclaimed a national park in 1972. In 2000 the national park was inscribed as part of the UNESCOWorld Heritage-listedGreater Blue Mountains Area. The lakes have been a popular recreation spot with local families for many decades.
Recently Rene at the Camden Museum posted an intriguing photograph taken at the Camden Showground on the Camden Museum Facebook page. It showed a large group of young men and women who were identified as trainee teachers from Sydney Teachers College.
Camden resident Peter Hammond asked on the Camden Museum Facebook page: Any idea why they were in Camden?
So what is the mystery?
The photograph is a bit of a mystery.
The photograph was contributed to the Camden Museum by John Donaldson and was taken in May 1924. The photograph shows 48 women, 34 men, and 2 children.
The photograph reveals more. You can see the spire of St Johns Church in the background and the absence of the 1938 brick front on the show hall. There are no brick and iron gates on the showground. The brick building at the corner of Argyle and Murray is yet to be built.
Photographs can tell so much about the past. They are a wonderful resource and this image provides much information about this mystery.
So I set off on a journey to solve the mystery of the question about the photograph.
A quick search of the Camden News on Trove revealed that in May 1924 there was indeed a camp of trainee teachers who stayed at the Camden Agricultural Hall in Onslow Park. The report in the Camden News revealed more information.
There are 109 students and some ten lecturers and authorities gathering, from the University Teachers’ College. The students are obtaining practical knowledge by attending the different schools in the district, and much good should be the result. Those in charge are to be complimented on the excellent arrangements at the camp. (Camden News 15 May 1924)
More to the story
So was this a one-off or is there more to the story?
Further digging reveals that the first camp was in 1921, there were two camps per year one in May and the second around August. There were between 70 and 100 trainee teachers at each camp and they attended several local schools during their stay. The camps seem to have been for about three weeks each. There appears to have lots of interaction between locals and visitors with sporting events, dances, lectures, and lots of other activities.
The first camp in May 1921 seems to have been a big deal not only for the town but also for the AH&I Society. Following the First World War, the finances of the AH&I Society were in a parlous state and the hall hire was a welcome boost to finances.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
Camden was first graced with the presence of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed budding young teachers in 1921 when 64 of them settled in for a week at the show hall. The Camden camp provided for them an opportunity to practice their teaching theory and practice of the New South Wales New Syllabus that they learned in the classroom at Sydney Teacher’s College. The 1921 trainees were all single and were made up of 49 women and 15 men and four weeks after the Camden camp were to be placed in schools. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
The Sydney Teachers College trainees were allocated to schools across the local region and the list included: Camden Campbelltown, Campbelltown South, Cawdor, Cobbitty, Glenfield, Ingleburn, Minto, Mount Hunter, Narellan and The Oaks. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
The teaching practice visits were organised on a group basis and transport was either by train or bus. By end of their training course, the students had had at least three weeks of practice teaching in teaching at rural schools. (Sydney Mail, 8 June 1921)
In 1920 the STC students had been based at Glenbrook and the success of the experiment encouraged the college to extend it to Camden. The venture, according to the Sydney press, was a first in Australia for teacher training and it was believed at the time to be a world-first for such a camp. During the week in Camden, the camp was visited by the New South Wales Director of Education Peter Board and the chief inspector HD McLelland. (Sydney Mail, 8 June 1921)
A party of 89
In 1921 the party of 89, made up of students and lecturers and their families, had arrived by train at Camden the previous Saturday afternoon. The group was put up the show hall with conversion to a dormitory and the construction of cubicles to accommodate the mixed sexes. The show pavilion was converted to a kitchen and dining area from 6am to 9am, and then again after 4pm. The Camden press reports stated that at these times ‘the showground was a scene of great activity’. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
The STA trainees had some time for recreation and in the evenings singing and games were organised between 7pm and 8pm by the music lecturer Miss Atkins, and the education lecturer Miss Wyse. Games and singing were held at the St Johns Parish Hall and sometimes the students’ organised tennis games. (Camden News, 12 May 1921)
Do you have any mysterious photographs that tell a great story about our local area?
Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 3 April 2020.
One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden tram, affectionately known as ‘Pansy’. It has always had an enthusiastic bunch of supporters. They positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell Pansy stories to anyone who wants to listen.
Fans gloss over its short comings. All the stories are laced with a pinch of nostalgia and a touch of the romantic. It was a vital part of local life. So why does this old locomotive conjure up such a strident bunch of supporters?
Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialisation and the great days of Australian nationalism in the late Victorian and early 20th century. Great monstrous engines that hissed, spat and groaned. They were mighty machines that were living beings. They had a life and soul of their own. They were responsible for creating the wealth of the British Empire. And Pansy is part of that story.
The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963. The Camden tram was one of a number of standard gauge light rail lines in the Sydney area. The tank locomotive worked a mixed service that took freight and passengers.
Local railway stations
The branch line was thirteen kilometres and had eight stations after leaving Campbelltown station, where it joined the Main Southern Railway. The stations were Maryfields, Kenny Hill, Curran’s Hill, Narellan, Graham’s Hill, Kirkham, Elderslie and finally arriving at Camden.
Most of the stations were no more than a short rudimentary wooden platform with a shelter shed that were unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and an associated goods handling facility. Pansy 1963 on its last run Pansy was a regular part of daily life for those who lived near the line. Locals in the Camden township would listen for the loco’s whistle and know that the morning papers had arrived from Sydney. Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses.
Some of Camden’s better off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.
The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service onthe Main Southern Line. On the return journey the last passenger service from Campbelltown left at 9.44pm. During the Second World War the tram provided transport for many servicemen (Army, RAAF) who were based at local military establishments.
Airmen from Camden airfield would catch the train to Sydney for weekend leave, and would be joined by soldiers from Narellan military base and Studley Park Eastern Command Training School. Camden station and good yards were located adjacent to Edward Street, with a siding to the Camden Vale milk factory. Coal from the Burragorang Valley mines was loaded at Camden yard from 1937, although this was transferred to Narellan in 1941 and eventually the Main Southern Line at Glenlee in the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s the limitations of the narrow gauge line for caring freight were showing cracks.
The writing was on the wall for a while
From its enthusiastic opening the tram never really lived up to its predictions. The mixed goods and passenger service was of limited value. Its light gauge restricted the loads and the grade of the line, particularly over Kenny Hill, severely limited its capabilities. Even in 1939 there were already signs of the eventual demise of the branch line with more coal leaving the district by road than rail.
Its days were numbered and the writing was on the wall. Its death blow was delivered by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost cutting exercise and a drive from modernization of the railway system across the state. Diesel was the new god.
Railway heritage and archaeology
For current enthusiasts with a keen eye there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the narrow gauge line still visible in the area. As visitors leave the Camden township travelling north along Camden Valley Way (old Hume Highway) embankments, culverts and earthworks are still visible in the farm paddocks on the Nepean River floodplain.
You can make out the right of way as it crosses Kirkham Lane and heads towards Narellan before disappearing into a housing estate. For those with a sharp eye a cutting is still evident on the northern side of Narellan Road at Kenny Hill just as you take then entry ramp onto the freeway going to Sydney. It appears as a bench above the roadway and is evident for a short distance. (for details see Peter Mylrea, ‘Camden Campbelltown Railway’, Camden History March 2009, p. 254263).
A number of streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train and a number of other streets are named after past railway employees, for example, Paddy Miller. The Camden Community Band celebrates the legend of Pansy in their repertoire. They play a tune called The Camden Tram written by Buddy Williams a Camden resident of the 1960s.
Visit the real thing
Are you interested in seeing the real deal? Do you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself? Go and inspect the real Pansy: ‘the steam locomotive 2029 and a small composite multi-class 13/09/2015 The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram carriage’. They are on display at the New South Wales Transport Museum and Trainworks, Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001
The Camden Community Band added the tune ‘The Camden Train’ to its repertoire. The lyrics tell an interesting story about Pansy, the locomotive. It was written by Camden local Buddy Williams about the time of the last run on of the train in 1963.
Interwar Camden has a direct connection to a noted architect of Interwar Sydney and its architecture.
Aaron Bolot, a Crimean refugee, was raised in Brisbane and worked for a time with Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s. He designed the 1936 brick extensions on the front of the 1890s drill hall at the Camden showground.
At the time he worked for Sydney architect, EC Pitt, who supervised construction of the new showground grandstand in 1936 and agricultural hall extensions (Camden News, 19 September 1935).
Bolot’s work and that of many other Sydney’s architects is found in photographer Peter Sheridan’s Sydney Art Deco. Sheridan has created a stunning coffee table book highlighting Sydney’s under-recognised Art Deco architectural heritage. The breadth of this Interwar style covers commercial and residential buildings, cinemas and theatres, hotels, shops, war memorials, churches, swimming pools and other facets of design.
Bolot’s work at Camden was a simple version of the more complex architectural work that he was undertaking around the inner Sydney area, for example, The Dorchester in Macquarie Street Sydney (1936), The Ritz Theatre in Randwick (1937) the Ashdown in Elizabeth Bay (1938) and other theatres.
1936 Extension Camden Agricultural Hall
The brick extensions to the agricultural hall were part of general improvements to the showground and works were finished in time for the 1936 Jubilee Show. The report of the show stated:
The new brick building in front of the Agricultural Hall, erected in commemoration of the jubilee, proved a wonderful acquisition, and its beautiful external appearance was, only a few days before the show, added to ‘by the erection of a neat and appropriate brick and iron fence joining that building with the Memorial Gates, * and vastly, improving the main pedestrian entrance to the showground. The fitting of this new room withstands and fittings for the exhibition of ladies’ arts and crafts, was another outlay that added to the show’s attraction. (CN2April1936)
The hall extensions were specifically designed to a similar style as the Memorial Gates erected in 1933 in memory to GM Macarthur Onslow (d. 1931) and paid for by public subscription. It was reported that they would add ‘attractively to the Showground entrance’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extensions were 50 feet by 23 feet, after 5 feet was removed from the front of the former drill hall. A central doorway was to be a feature and there would be ‘main entrance porch leading direct to the big hall on the Onslow Park side of building’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extension cost £400 (CN19Mar1936) and was to be built to mark the 1936 Jubilee Show (50th anniversary). It was anticipated that the new exhibition space could be used for the
ladies’ arts and crafts section, such as needlework, cookery; be used for the secretary’s office prior to the show; a meeting place for committees; and in addition provide a modern and up to date supper room at all social functions. (CN19Sept1935).
The approval of the scheme was moved at the AH&I meeting by Dr RM Crookston and seconded by WAE Biffin and supported by FA Cowell. The motion was unanimously carried by the meeting. The committee agreed to seek finance from the NSW Department of Labour and Industry at 3% pa interest. (CN19Sept1935)