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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.

Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · England · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memorials · Memory · Modernism · Monuments · Myths · Newspapers · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Stereotypes · Streetscapes · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Urban growth · urban sprawl · Urbanism · War · Women's history

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.

1920s · Argyle Street · Cultural Heritage · Engineering Heritage · Heritage · Highways · History · Hume Highway · Infrastructure · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorials · Memory · Mileposts · Monuments · Place making · Public art · Re-enactments · Service utilities · Storytelling · Technology · The Great South Road · Tourism · Transport · Travel · Utilities · Wayfinding

Capturing the distance of the past

Camden Mileposts

On the Camden Town Centre edges, there are two white concrete posts with numbers and letters. What are they, and what do the letters mean?

These white concrete posts are mileposts from when the Hume Highway ran up the centre of Camden along Argyle Street. The letters indicate destinations, and the numbers are distance in miles. These items are part of Camden’s engineering heritage.

A concrete milepost on the southern end of the Camden Town Centre on the road verge of the former Hume Highway now the Old Hume Highway. (I Willis, 2021)

The letters: M is Mittagong, S is Sydney, L is Liverpool and C is Camden. The distance is a mile:  an imperial unit of measure from before the time of metric measurement. The mile here is a statute mile which is 5280 feet or 1.609 km, as opposed to a nautical mile used in air and sea transport and is different.

The English mile

Mileposts dated back to the Roman Empire and were placed alongside the Roman roads. Distances were measured from the city of Rome. The mile originated from the Roman mille passus, or “thousand paces,” which measured 5,000 Roman feet.

The first mileposts along English roads appeared in 1593 and were standardised in England under the reign of Elizabeth I. The English mile was a different length from the Scottish mile and the Irish mile.  These measures were not standardised in the British Commonwealth and the US until 1959. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1935. https://www.britannica.com/science/mile)

In the colony of New South Wales, the first sandstone milestones were located on the Parramatta, Liverpool and South Head Roads from 1816 on the instructions of Governor Macquarie. Milestones provided accurate reference marks along with the expanding public road system for travellers on coaches. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)

Macquarie Obelisk

In the colonial period, Governor Macquarie’s Obelisk of Distances was erected in 1818 as the official starting point for all distances in NSW. It was located in what was then the centre of Sydney and is now Macquarie Place. The monument was also ‘a symbolic peg’ as the furthest extent of the British Empire in the early 1800s.

Obelisk of Distances in Macquarie Place Sydney designed by Francis Greenway and built-in 1818 under the orders of Governor Macquarie c1926 (SLNSW)

The placement of milestones in colonial NSW set a precedent. They were placed along the left hand or southern side of the roadway with the destination facing Sydney. The posts were meant to be seen by travellers coming from either direction for the benefit of stagecoach drivers to measure their distance from Sydney. They also ensured that the driver was on the correct road as many were just bush tracks. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)

Concrete mileposts

The two concrete mileposts in Camden were part of the road improvements by the NSW Department of Main Roads in 1934.

The decision to implement a programme of mileposting followed the first annual conference of state road authorities in February 1934 held in Melbourne. The meeting decided to adopt uniform national procedures for mileposting and road warning signs for roadworks, among other matters. It was felt that uniformity of services would help interstate travellers. (DMR, 1934)

A concrete milepost on the northern entry to the Camden Town Centre on the roadside verge of the former Hume Highway that ran along Argyle Street Camden. (I Willis, 2021)

In 1934 the department allocated £134 to the program in the Sydney area. (DMR, 1934)

The DMR Main Roads magazine stated that

In the days before the advent of the motor vehicle, when travel by road was slow and was done on foot, on horseback, or in horse-drawn carriage, few things gave greater service, or were more eagerly looked for, than the mileposts. (DMR, 1934a)

According to the Department of Main Roads, mileposting before 1934 provided signs that gave direction and the distance of important towns. Mileposts had lost their importance to the traveller because the car speedometer gave ‘progressive mileage’ stated a departmental report. (DMR, 1934a)

Road maintenance

Mileposting in 1934 was implemented with one specific aim.

The purpose of the mileposts now is to provide a convenient system of reference marks along the road for the use of those whose responsibility is to maintain the roads in a proper state. (DMR, 1934a)

The stated purpose was for the milepost to be a reference point along the road to give a precise position for any roadwork that needed to be done. Information to travellers was only secondary. (DMR, 1934a)

Mileposting to 1934 had been haphazard, with much work generated at a  local level and many gaps. Road maintenance was a secondary consideration, with information for travellers paramount. Much work was ‘incomplete’. Groups of mileposts were only based around important towns, sometimes following main roads and sometimes not. (DMR, 1934a)

The 1934 mileposting project was partly triggered by the 1928 classification of all roads in NSW into state highways, trunk roads and ordinary roads.

The 1928 changes saw The Great Southern Road through Camden renamed the Hume Highway in 1928. The 1929 Razorback Deviation shifted the highway to the east away from the former Great South Road (now Cawdor Road). (DMR, 1934a)

Different types of mileposts were used in 1934 for different purposes.  Concrete posts were used in the Sydney area and country towns, like Camden, and elsewhere there were timber posts.

Specifications and drawings for mileposts as outlined in the Department of Main Roads journal Main Roads (May 1934) where the DMR mileposting project was detailed for all roads in NSW (Main Roads 1934a)

There was a strict protocol for the letters and numbers on the posts, with letters and numbers incised and painted black and distances measured from the post office, and sometimes not.  Posts were placed on the left-hand side of roadways leading from Sydney or the coast, as they were in colonial times.

Posts were located with a clear view from the roadway of 200 feet with specific instruction on distances from roadways and locations for cuttings and embankments. On bridges, the mileposts were be clamped to the handrails.

In mid-1934, the NRMA suggested the mileposts on the different highways should be painted in a variety of colours. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 20 June 1934) The suggestion was not taken up.

One supplier of the concrete mileposts was the Hume Pipe Coy (Aust) Ltd. (Main Roads, August 1938)

Wooden Mileposts

In the Camden area, the Camden Heritage Inventory states there were wooden mileposts along Cawdor Road, formerly The Great South Road. They pre-date the concrete mileposts.

Timber milepost c1927 on the road verge of The Great South Road now Cawdor Road. (2021 I Willis)

In a 2002 survey for the Heritage Inventory, the three Cawdor Road timber mileposts were intact.

The posts were local hardwood cut by a sawmill in Edward Street in the late 1920s and delivered to The Great South Road (Cawdor Road) site by Camden teamster Les Nixon. (NSWSHI)

In a recent search, I was only able to locate one intact timber milepost in a fairly poor condition.

This timber milepost c.1929-1934 is located on the former Hume Highway at South Camden now Remembrance Drive. This milepost is located on the 1929 Hume Highway Razorback deviation that moved the main road from the Great South Road now Cawdor Road. (I Willis, 2021)

This timber milepost c.1929-1934 is located on the former Hume Highway at South Camden now Remembrance Drive. This milepost is not on the Wollondilly Shire Council heritage inventory. The milepost is sited on the roadside verge adjacent to the Camden Valley Inn. (I Willis, 2021)

References

CROFTS, R. & CROFTS, S. 2013. Discovering Australia’s Historical Milemarkers and Boundary Stones, Sydney, Roberts and Sandra Crofts.

DMR 1934. Department of Main Roads Ninth Annual Report for the year ending 30th June 1934. Sydney: NSW Legislative Assembly.

DMR 1934a. The Mileposting on Main Roads. Main Roads, 5.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Farming · Frontier violence · Harrington Park · Heritage · History · Landscape · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorial · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban development · Urban growth · Wayfinding

Cowpastures artwork at Harrington Park Lake

Public art as wayfinding, placemaking, memorial and urban development

The story of the Cowpastures is represented in public art across the Macarthur region and one example is found along the Harrington Park Lake walkway.

 A pleasant stroll around the lakeside path will bring the walker to a wooded section and where there is an art installation with cows hiding under the trees.

The public artwork is a mixture of elements that combine wayfinding, placemaking, memorialisation and urban development in a new suburb.

The artwork installation called Cowpastures was created by artist Jane Cavanough of Artlandish Art and Design in 2001. The signage states ‘The cows represent the history of cattle grazing in this region, formerly known as “The Cowpastures”.

Artist Jane Cavanough

Artist Jane Cavanough writes that she ‘produces site-specific public art that is a union of both classic and contemporary design, interactive, low maintenance with long-lasting beauty. She states that her ‘strength is creating artworks that have a strong relationship to the site’. (Cavanough 2020)

Cavanough has achieved her aim with Cowpastures on the Lakeside walk where walkers have been able to engage with the artwork and ponder what the real cows might have looked like over 200 years ago. The artwork has weathered well over the last 20 years and still carries the story that was created by the artist.

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpastures public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<cows pic>

Public art.

The considerations in Cavanough’s Cowpastures parallels the aims of public art in the Northern Beaches LGA. Important considerations for the community and the council along the Northern Beaches Coast Walk were eight principles:

  • Respect and acknowledge Aboriginal cultural heritage
  • Celebrate and conserve significant natural and cultural values
  • Connect places and people along the coast
  • Foster artistic and cultural expression and encourage creative collaboration
  • Enrich places through high quality art and design
  • Interpret the history and significance of the coast
  • Value artistic and cultural diversity and be inclusive
  • Create a distinctive and recognisable Northern Beaches Coast Walk identity.(Council 2019)

It is useful to actually define what is public art. The Northern Beaches Council Public Art Policy provides some guidance and states:

Public Art refers to a range of artwork and art-based activities that interface with the public, including property in private ownership that has publicly accessible space and the public domain. Public Art can include sculpture, place-making elements, wall embellishments, art integrated into the design of buildings, artist-designed seating and fencing, paving work, lighting elements and other creative possibilities. Public Art can serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose.

The public domain means public places and/or open spaces that are situated within, vested in or managed by Council, including parks, beaches, bushland, outdoor recreation facilities, streets, laneways, pathways and foreshore promenades and public buildings, facilities or enclosed structures, owned and managed by Council which are physically accessible to the general public. (Council 2019)

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpasture’s public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

The storyboard

To assist Harrington Park Lakeside walkers engage with Cavanough’s Cowpastures artwork there is information signage that provides an interpretation of the installation. It states:

Cowpastures

In 1788 a herd of 4 long horn cattle and 2 bulls escaped from the Government Farm at Rosehill. [sic] They were found seven years later in 1795 as a herd of 40 in a rich expanse of grassland. Later that same year Governor Hunter surveyed this region and appropriately named it “Cowpastures”. Harrington Park with [sic] the Cowpastures region.

The pastoral industry in Camden began when Governor King granted John Macarthur 2000 acres, which became known as Camden. Further land grants were handed out across the region, including Harrington Park in 1815 to Captain William Douglas Campbell.

The Davies family purchased Harrington Park from the Campbells in 1833. The Rudd family owned the property from 1902/3 to 1944 when it was sold to the Fairfax family.

It operated as a dairy in the 1920s-1930s and then, in 1946, under the Fairfax family’s ownership, it was operated as a poll hereford [sic] stud, nursery and dairy.

Harrington Park-Taylor Woodrow-Fairfax

The storyboard has a supplementary map of Harrington Park property in the Cowpastures.

The storyboard beside Jane Cavanough’s Cowpatures on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<info board pic>

Hidden in the past

Cavanaugh’s Cowpastures tells the story of the site and reveals the layers of the past to the viewer. Yet there is more to the story hidden in the shadows. Some of these hidden stories are hinted at while others are still to be revealed. One example is the violence of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures as the settler society project unfolded and Europeans took up territory from the Indigenous Dharawal. (Karskens 2015)

At Harrington Park lakeside Cavanough has taken part in placemaking, wayfinding, memorialisation and urban development with her creation of Cowpastures.  She has engaged in telling the cultural heritage and contributed to the construction of place and community identity in a new suburb, directed visitors to discover the stories of Cowpastures from the past in an aesthetic landscape setting, and celebrated the history of the site and the Europeans who farmed the land.

References

Cavanough, J. (2020). ” About Jane Cavanough.” Jane Cavanough Artlandish Art and Design. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from http://janecavanough.com.au/about/.

Council, N. B. (2019). Public Art Policy. Sydney, Northern Beaches Council.

Karskens, G. (2015). Appin Massacre. Dictionary of Sydney. Sydney NSW, State Library of New South Wales & City of Sydney.

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Mundane objects tell an interesting story

Utility pit covers

What is under your feet and totally ignored? What do you walk over every day? What is essential in an emergency? What provides access to critical utilities? The answer lies under our feet. What is it? Give up yet?

The answer is the humble utility inspection cover.

Gas Cover Durham Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Utilities like electricity, water, gas, sewerage, communications and others are essential in any community. Camden has acquired the utilities as time has progressed over the past 150 years to the present. Argyle Street has several utilities buried beneath the street and footpaths. Their histories provide valuable insight into the town’s development and progress, particularly in the 20th century.

The arrival of electricity, gas, and water was part of Camden modernism and its influence. These utilities have transnational origins beyond the township and illustrate the linkages between the town and the wider world.

For example, the supply of clean drinking water in Camden was linked to an outbreak of scarlet fever in the later 19th century. Contagious diseases were a significant health concern in the 19th century and were an ever-present worry in daily life. Clean drinking water had a significant influence on the development of public health.

I was walking along Camden’s Argyle Street, and it struck me that utility inspection covers are a historical statement in their own right. They are an entry point for the utility service as they also provide an entry to the stories surrounding the utility’s delivery.

Even the different logos for utilities illustrate the changes in the history of a telco or electricity supplier. A cover might be a statement about a utility supplier that is now defunct. The utility cover is made of different materials – cast iron, concrete, and others.

These are all mysteries that are waiting to be solved for the curious mind. Or just for the bored and idle with nothing better to do.

What about the Gas Cover from Durham above?

Durham Gas Cover

This is an inspection cover for the gas pipes using a Durham fitting probably around 1912. The Durham drainage fitting is a cast-iron, threaded fitting used on drainage pipes; has a shoulder such as to present a smooth, continuous interior surface. (Free Dictionary)  The Durham patent system of screw-joint iron house drainage was manufactured by the Durham House Drainage Co. of York USA (1887).

The Durham cover is for the Camden gas supply, installed in 1912 by the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was built in Mitchell Street and made gas from coal. There were many gas street lights in Argyle Street which were turned on in early 1912. The Camden News reported in January 1912 that many private homes and businesses had been connected to the gas supply network and were fitted for gaslighting.

Mr Murray, the gasworks manager, reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit, and he anticipated total supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912) Throughout 1912 there was an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)

In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was sold to AGL in 1970. (Peter Mylrea, ‘Gas and Electricity in Camden’, Camden History March 2008.)

NRCC

What is this cover for the NRCC? Does it still exist?

NRCC Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

 

The NRCC does not exist anymore, and the logo stood for the Nepean River County Council. It was the electricity supplier for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton area from 1954 to 1979 when it was amalgamated with Prospect County Council. This, in turn, became Integral Energy. Integral Energy was formed by the New South Wales Government in 1995 from the amalgamation of Illawarra Electricity and Prospect Electricity with over 807,000 customers.

NRCC office open 1956 Picton SLNSW

The Campbelltown office of the NRCC was located in Queen Street next to the Commonwealth Bank and in 1960 shifted to Cordeaux Street. By 1986 a new advisory office was opened in Lithgow Street. The council opened a new shop front at Glenquarie Shopping Centre at Macquarie Fields. There were shopfronts in Camden, Picton and other locations.

Logo Design

In  October 1954, the NRCC approved a design for its official seal. Alderman P Brown suggested a logo competition, and many entries were received for the £25 prize. The winning design by artist Leone Rush of Lidcombe depicts electricity being extended to rural areas by a circular outline of “Nepean River County Council”.
(Camden News, Thursday 4 November 1954.)

NRCC Seal (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/)
Nepean River County Council Seal (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/)

Former NRCC employee Sharon Greene stated that ‘It was like a small family business where everyone was happy to be there.’ (Camden Advertiser, 25 May 2009)

Former office manager, Kay Kyle, said that things in the office in 1959 were pretty bare when she started as a junior clerk.

She said:

‘We had no cash registers or adding machines, we hand wrote receipts and added the figures in our head for daily takings. That was a good skill to have. Eventually we received an old adding machine from Picton, but one day it added incorrectly so I wouldn’t use it again.’  (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

Former linesman Joe Hanger recalls working for the NRCC. He said,

‘In 1954 we were transferred to Nepean River County Council. They wanted linesmen and I went on the line crew and eventually worked my way up and got a pole inspectors job going around creosoting the poles. Eventually I got my own crew, mainly pole dressing. There were 7-8 in the crew. I was then made a foreman in about 1978.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

Working in the outdoor crews could be dangerous, as Joe Hanger remembers.

‘In July 1974 I fell from a 40ft pole while doing work near The Oaks. We had to check out why a back feed to The Oaks was loosing voltage. We were looking for crook joints. The pole is still out there, near a bend just before the straight road into The Oaks. We had opened the air break switch behind us and the airbreak switch ahead, we forgot that the transformer was on the other side of the open point. I checked the pole and Neville Brown had gone along to the next pole to open the next section. I was standing on the low voltage cross arm and grabbed one of the wires and was struck by the electricity. Luckily my weight caused me to fall away. I ended up falling about 25 feet and just another pole lying on the ground. If I had the belt on it may have been a different matter. I had a broken leg, broken rib and a great big black eye. I was very lucky.’

(http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)

There are a host of other stories and wonderful memories from former employees of NRCC @ http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html.

Friends of the Nepean River Country Council

Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them, join the Friends of NRCC. 

Friends of NRCC

The telco inspection lid

This inspection lid is for the telco, which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.

PMG Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

The telco had a rich history of communications in Australia, starting in 1810 with the first postal service. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Australia’s first postmaster Isaac Nicholls and the colonial government of New South Wales Government the first regular postal services, including rates of postage. The new Sydney General Post Office was opened in George Street in 1874.

The first telephone service was established in Melbourne in 1879.

At Federation, the new Commonwealth Postmaster-General’s Department assumed responsibility for telephone, telegraph and postal services. In the 1920s, the department took control of international short wave services and the Australian Broadcast Commission in the 1930s.

In 1975 the Postmaster-General Department was broken up, and the postal service moved to Australia Postal Commission (trading at Australia Post). Telecommunications became the responsibility of the Australian Telecommunications Commission trading at Telecom Australia. Telecom Australia was corporatised in 1989, renamed Telstra Australia in 1993, and partially privatised in 1999.

In 1992 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (est 1946) was merged with Telecom Australia.

Telstra Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden
Inspect Cover Telecom
Telecom Inspection Cover 2016 Argyle St Camden (I Willis)

 MWS&DB

Service Valve cover for water MWS&DB Argyle St Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The MWS&DB was the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, today is known as Sydney Water. The organisation has gone through several name changes:

  • the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 1888 to 1892,
  • from 1892 to 1925 as the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage,
  • the MWS&BD from 1925 to 1987,
  • then the Water Board from1987 to1994, then finally as the
  • Sydney Water Corp Ltd (1995-1999) with Ltd dropped in 1999.

Deks G (Gas)

Deks Cover for gas in Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Deks was established in Australia by Mr George Cupit in 1947 and remained a family business until it became part of the Skellerup Group in 2003. Deks have a presence in 28 countries. They have supplied plumbing fittings, including flashings, fittings or flanges, for over 100 years. (http://www.deks.com.au/about/)

Malco W (Water)

Malco Cover for Water Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Malco Industries reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951 that the company incorporated three separate businesses involved in heavy industrial activities on its site at Marrickville. There were three divisions (1) Malleable Castings was founded in 1915 and was claimed to be one of Australia’s leading producers of iron castings. (2) EW Fittings was incorporated in 1925 and made cast iron pipe fittings for water, gas, steam and oil. (3) Link-Belt Co Pty set up in 1949 and industrial transmission equipment. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Friday 6 April 1951, page 6)

Romwood SV

Service Valve Romwood Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Havestock Cover

Havestock Cover Argyle Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

Havestock is a business that has made pit lids since the 1980s. Havestock is now part of the global EJ Group and designs, manufactures and distributes man-hole covers, pit covers and other infrastructure access covers and grates. (http://www.hygrade.net.nz/product-category/by-brand/by-brand-havestock/) (http://www.homeimprovementpages.com.au/connect/havestock_pty_ltd/)

Updated 26 October 2021. Originally posted 21 October 2016.

1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · Bridges · Camden · Camden Bridge · Camden Story · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cowpastures River · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Engineering Heritage · Floods · Frontier violence · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · History · Industrial Heritage · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorials · Monuments · Nepean River · Place making · Railway · Sense of place · Technology · Transport · Travel · Utilities

Four bridges and the Nepean River crossing

The Cowpasture bridge

Walking over the Cowpastures bridge, you have a vista of the tranquil water of the Nepean River impounded behind the Camden weir. The tranquillity belies the raging torrent that can cover the bridge at flood times.

Plaque located in the Rotary Cowpasture Reserve in Argyle Street Camden adjacent to the Cowpasture Bridge commemorating the opening of the reconstructed bridge after the 1975 flood (I Willis 2021)

On the western end of the bridge is a small park where a plaque celebrates the 1976 re-construction of the bridge. A flood had turned the timber bridge deck into a twisted mess twelve months earlier.

The plaque states:

Cowpasture Bridge

Originally opened in 1901 this bridge was extensively damaged by flood in June 1975.

Following repair it was re-opened by The Hon J JC Bruxner MLA, Minister for Transport and Highways, 9th April 1976.

Ald RB Ferguson, Mayor. Camden Municipal Council.

REA Rofe Esq. MLA, Member for State Electorate of Nepean.

AF Schmidt Esq., Commissioner for Main Roads, New South Wales.

Plaque, Argyle Street, Camden.

The twisted Cowpasture bridge timber deck after the 1975 flood closed access across the river for many months. (Camden Images)

Choke-point

The low-level Cowpasture bridge is a pinch point for the movement of goods and people across the river. Its closure at flood times has created a choke-point that disrupts daily life. Other low-level bridges in the local area at Menangle, Cobbitty, and Macquarie Grove Road have suffered the same problem.

The eastern approach to the Cowpastures Bridge on Camden Valley Way with signage for the Cowpasture Bridge in the early morning (I Willis, 2017)

The access issue was only solved with the opening of the high-level Macarthur Bridge in 1973. The bridge is an important example of Camden’s engineering heritage and was built as part of the local region’s NSW Askin Governments New Cities structure plan.

Economic importance of access

Access to the southern side of the Nepean River has been an issue since European settlement and the discovery of the Wild Cattle in 1795. Governor Hunter named the area the Cowpastures in 1796, and it became a restricted reserve from 1803 to stop cattle poaching.

The issue of access across the river was illustrated in 1810 when a party led by Governor Macquarie visited the area.   Macquarie wrote in his journal on 16 November 1810:

There being very little Water in the River at this time, we crossed it at the usual Ford in our Carriage with great ease and safety.

A bridge at last – ‘a paltry affair’

As the colonial frontier moved beyond the Cowpastures, there was increased traffic across the Nepean River, sometimes reported as the Cowpastures River. (SMH, 2 October 1861). The frontier conflicts between Europeans and Indigenous people calmed on the Cowpastures after the 1816 massacre. (Karskens, 2015) The process of settler colonialism and its insatiable appetite for territory increased traffic through the Cowpastures in the 1820s.

The river crossing required a more permanent solution to deal with the increased traffic movement along the Great South Road. The first Cowpasture bridge was built in 1826, then new bridges followed in 1861, 1900 and 1976. Each was trying to solve the same access problem (SMH, 2 October 1861).

This is a sketch of the 1826 Cowpasture Bridge attributed to Thomas Wore of Harrington Grove in 1842. St John’s Church is on the hill consecrated in 1849. Historic Sketch Discovered: Camden Village in 1842, The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, 10 June 1933, p.9 (illustrated is a previously unpublished sketch of an almost identical drawing to (Cowpastures) Bridge & Village of Camden.) http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1151602

A low-level bridge was first raised in 1823 when Surveyor-General John Oxley of Kirkham objected to a bridge at Bird’s Eye Corner river crossing (Menangle). The final decision was to build a crossing halfway between the Belgenny Crossing and Oxley’s Macquarie Grove. (Villy, 62-63)

Work began on the low-level Cowpasture bridge in 1824 and finished in 1826. Construction was supervised by convict Samuel Wainwright and built below the crown of the riverbank. There was no shortage of sceptics, and a band of local ‘gentlemen’ thought the bridge would collapse in the 1826 flood. (Villy, 62-63) They were wrong.  

A convict was stationed at the bridge as a caretaker to remove the bridge rails in flood. In 1827 a toll was introduced on the bridge, with the right-to-collect sold for £70. It was forbidden to cross the bridge on a Sunday, offenders were fined and cattle impounded. (Starr, 16-17)

Repairs were carried out on the bridge after floods in 1835 (Starr: 17) and in the 1840s ‘landowners, carriers and mail contractors’ complained. They were concerned that the bridge was submerged by floodwater ‘on every occasion’ and in a recent deluge ‘the Bridge was sixteen feet underwater and the neighbouring flats, a complete sea for miles’. (Starr: 17)

In a number of memoirs, the bridge was described as ‘a very a paltry affair’ (Starr: 23) and a ‘primitive structure’ (Sydney Mail, 5 February 1913). 

In 1852 a portion of the bridge washed away, and there were terrible floods in February and April 1860. There was a need to replace the ‘dilapidated’ bridge. (SMH, 2 October 1861)

The timber truss Camden Bridge across the Nepean River with Thompson’s Woollen Mill on the right of the image in 1861. (Camden Images)

Tenders were called in early-1860 for a new five-span timber truss bridge (NSW Government Gazette, 6 April 1860), and it was under construction by September. The construction tender was won by Campbelltown building contractors Cobb and Bocking (SMH, 21 September 1860; SMH 2 October 1861), who also built the low-level timber truss bridge at Menangle in 1855. (RMSHC, 2019; Liston, 85)

A grand affair

There was much fanfare at the new bridge opening on Monday, 30 September 1861, at 3 pm. There was conjecture about the crowd size. The Empire claimed a crowd of 50 people while the Sydney Morning Herald boasted there was 200 present. (Empire, 3 October 1861; SMH 2 October 1861).

Whatever the crowd, there were a host of speeches and Mrs Bleecke, the wife of Camden doctor Dr Bleecke, christened the new bridge the ‘Camden bridge’ by breaking a bottle of Camden wine on the timbers. Then, the crowd let out three loud hearty cheers (SMH 2 October 1861).

At the end of the official proceedings, the men, 40 in number, adjourned to the Camden Inn, owned by Mr Galvin, for a ‘first-rate’ sit-down lunch. The meal was accompanied by a host of speeches and much imbibement. There were many toasts starting with ‘The Queen’ and ‘Prince Albert’. The ladies were left ‘to amuse themselves as best they could until the evening’ (SMH 2 October 1861).

The festivities at lunch were followed in the evening by a ‘grand’ ball held at Mr Thompson’s woollen mill. The floor had been cleared on orders of Mr Thompson, and the space decorated with ‘evergreens’ and ‘flowers’ and brilliantly lit by kerosene lamps. (SMH 2 October 1861)

According to the Sydney press, the Camden populace had ‘seldom’ seen an event like it. One hundred thirty-four people attended the ball. Festivities on into the night with a ‘great profusion’ of food and dancing winding up at 4 am the following day. Locals declared they ‘had never spent a happier or pleasanter day’ (SMH 2 October 1861).

The railway to Camden

In 1882 when the railway line was built between Campbelltown and Camden, the track was laid across the timber bridge deck. This reduced the width of the roadway to 15 feet, and traffic had to stop when a train needed to cross the bridge.(Camden News, 27 June 1901)

According to the Camden press, passengers were regularly notified at Redfern Station (now known as Central Station) with a sign saying ‘traffic to Camden stopped at Camden bridge’ due to frequent flooding. The bridge’s timber deck was ‘well below the banks of the river’. (Camden News, 27 June 1901)

The existing 1860 timber truss bridge was constructed for light road traffic and continually posed problems for the railway. Only the lightest railway locomotives could use the bridge, and the heavy grades of the branch line at Kenny Hill meant that the train was restricted to a small number of cars. (Camden News, 27 June 1901).

In 1900 a new steel girder bridge was constructed to take the weight of two locomotives. The specifications for the bridge are:

  • five steel girder spans each of 45 feet on concrete piers;
  • 178 feet of timbers beam spans;
  • making a total length of 403 feet;
  • the bridge deck was seven feet higher than the 1860 timber truss bridge deck;
  • construction was supervised by the Bridge Branch of the NSW Public Works Department;
  • the bridge was built at a cost of £10,000;
  • construction used 126 tons of steel and 984 cubic yards of concrete. (Camden News, 27 June 1901)

An exciting boat ride

Flood time was an exciting time for rail passengers going to Camden. When the bridge closed, railway passengers got an exhilarating boat ride across the flooded Nepean River. The train would stop at Elderslie Railway Station, climbing aboard the railway rowing boat. Passengers would take their lives in their hands and be ferried across the flooded river by the boatman. The rowing boat was given the Camden Municipal Council in 1889 (Pictorial History Camden: 87)

This image shows the new 1900 Camden Bridge with concrete piers and steel girders which replaced the 1860 timber truss bridge. (SLNSW) The bridge was opened in June 1901 by the NSW Minister for Works the Hon EW O’Sullivan assisted by the Member for Camden, the Hon John Kidd, at a ceremony at Camden Railway Station. (CN, 20 June 1901) This was followed by an official lunch at the Camden School of Arts for around 70 guests who purchased tickets. (CN, 13 June 1901)

Flooded Cowpasture Bridge in 2022

This photograph shows the Cowpasture Bridge under floodwater on 3 March 2022 on the eastern approaches along Camden Valley Way. The height of the Nepean River at the Camden Weir just downstream from the Cowpasture Bridge reached a peak this morning (3/3/22) of 10.01 metres at 9.42am, and the river level was falling at the time this photograph was taken. The Bureau of Meteorology’s river heights are classified by the Bureau of Meteorology as: 6.8 metres is minor flooding; 8.30 metres is moderate; 13.00 metres is major flooding. The river level at the Camden Weir in the days leading up to this photograph ranged from 1.8 metres on 27/2/22 to 2.3 metres on 2/3/22. (I Willis 2022)

This image was taken at the intersection of Camden Valley Way and Macarthur Road on the northern end of the Cowpasture Bridge which was inundated by the Nepean River. The time was Tuesday 9 March 2022 at 9.00am when the height of the Nepean River at Camden Weir was 11.9 metres and classified as a major flood. (I Willis, 2022)

This image was taken at the corner of Camden Valley Way and Macarthur Road looking towards the Cowpasture Bridge on Thursday 7 April 2022 at around 9.00pm. The Nepean River rose to a maximum of 12.21 metres at the Camden Weir mid-evening. The river rose very quickly on Thursday and the Cowpasture Bridge was closed at 12.30pm on Thursday 7/4/22. The bridge was re-opened to traffic on Friday afternoon after the river had dropped below the level of the bridge decking. (I Willis, 2022)

References

Willis, I 2015, Pictorial History Camden & District, Kingsclear Books, Sydney.

Road and Maritime Authority 2018, The Old Hume Highway, History begins with a road, 2nd edn, eBook, viewed 18 October 2021, <https://roads-waterways.transport.nsw.gov.au/documents/about/environment/protecting-heritage/hume-highway-duplication/history-begins-with-a-road.pdf>.

Villy, E 2011, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg Publishing, Sydney.

Starr, M 2002, Murder, Mayhem and Misdemeanours, Early settlers at the Cowpasture River, New South Wales, 1810-1830, Australian Horizon, Sydney.

Liston, C 1988, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Roads and Maritime Services Heritage Committee 2019, The Timber Truss Bridge Book, eBook, viewed 21 October 2021, <https://roads-waterways.transport.nsw.gov.au/about/environment/protecting-heritage/timber-truss-bridge/index.html>.

Karskens, Grace 2015, ‘Appin massacre’, Dictionary of Sydney, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre, viewed 22 Oct 2021

Updated 9 April 2022, 3 March 2022, 19 November 2021; Originally posted as ‘Access Denied, flooding at the Cowpasture Bridge’ on 22 October 2021.

20th century · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Camden Story · Cultural Heritage · England · Families · Gender · Heritage · History · Leisure · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Sense of place · Storytelling · Tourism · Women's diaries · Women's history · Women's Writing

Local girls go to London

Local women travel the world

In the mid-20th century it was not unusual for local Camden women to travel overseas by ship. They were part of an exodus seeking adventure and new horizons. They wanted to see the world and they did.

The story of two of these young women, Shirley Dunk and her best friend Beth Jackman, has been told in a recently published article in Anglica by the University of Warsaw.

Clintons Motors Showroom with sales assistants Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman in 1953. The business sold electrical goods as well as motor cars, accessories and tyres. (S Rorke)

The article is titled: “My box of memories”: An Australian Country Girl Goes to London’.

The article abstract is:

In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, ex- ercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of her fore- fathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the 19th-century rural gentry. This research project will use a qualitative approach in an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complemented with supplementary interviews and stories of other travellers. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and travelled through the United Kingdom and Europe. The article will address questions posed by the journey for Shirley and her travelling companion, Beth, and how they dealt with these forces as tourists and travellers. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands. The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were other women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were often limited to domesticity.

Letters from home were always in demand by anyone who travelled overseas. They would bring news of home and what the latest gossip from the family. These letters were sent by Shirley Dunk to her family in Camden when she went to London in 1954. (I Willis)

To read the article about Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman click here

The article was originally presented at a conference at the University of Warsaw in 2019. To read about the conference click here.

The full citation of the article is:

Ian Willis 2021, “My box of memories”: An Australian Country Girl Goes to London. Anglica,  2021; 30 (1): 53-66. DOI: 10.7311/0860-5734.30.1.04 GICID: 01.3001.0015.3447 Online @ https://anglica-journal.com/resources/html/article/details?id=222778

Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman travelled to London in 1954 on the RMS Orcades. The ship passage was a time to make new friends and make useful contacts for their time in England. It was a time to relax and have a good time and see the sights of Aden, Colombo, Naples and other exotic spots. (S Dunk)
Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Business · Cultural Heritage · Cumberland Plain · Dharawal · Entertainment · House history · Lifestyle · Living History · Media · Media History · Photography · Retailing · Sense of place · Shopping · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Sydney · Uncategorized · Wollondilly Shire Council

The West Journal

A new lifestyle magazine

The local area has a new lifestyle magazine. I found my print copy of Edition 1 Volume 1 of The West Journal at Camden’s florist The Green Seed in Argyle Street, Camden.

The magazine is an interesting addition to the local media landscape. (Willis 2021)

The West Journal is a new lifestyle magazine and addition to the local media landscape (I Willis 2021)

Published by Camden based Olsen Palmer, the 262 page A5 (15cm x 21 cm) colour card cover magazine is a handsome addition to the Sydney lifestyle market. The magazine is published ‘seasonally’ – July, October, January, April. (TWJ:8; Media Kit)

The publisher of The West Journal boasts an estimated readership of 60,000, with social media impressions monthly average between 17,000-20,000. The magazine is distributed to ‘accommodation locations, hotels, pubs, clubs and sporting facilities, local and regional airports, and a host of hospitality locations’. (TWJ Media Kit)

Minimalism

The cover of the first edition has an unmissable orange cover, and the magazine is reflective of stripped back minimalist design principles.  The New Yorker magazine said of minimalism in a critique that it is

a mode of living that strips away protective barriers and heightens the miracle of human presence and the urgency, today, of what that miracle entails. (The New Yorker, February 3 2020)

As The New Yorker points out, the simplicity of minimalism hides the reality of a complex world. The simplicity of the cover design of  TWJ belies the complexity of publishing a magazine of this quality.

The publishers have been influenced by what Richard Rogers calls the notion of ‘Instagramism’  and image-driven platforms. TWJ states:

Our journal is made up of many beautiful images; we want our advertisers to emulate this. Minimise text, maximise imagery. (TWJ Media Kit)

Editor Boone states that this editorial policy leads to ‘simple and effective communications to our readers’. (TWJ Media Kit) 

This is an interesting image of the Nepean River Walkway at Elderslie and not one that is normally used to reflect the Camden area. It is a different interpretation of the cultural heritage of an area rich in Indigenous and European history. There are Dreaming stories of Dharawal People and the colonial stories of settlement from the time of the Cowpastures district from 1975 to the 1850s. (I Willis, 2021)

Cultural diversity and stereotypes

The magazine’s pitch is at a market in Western Sydney hungry for acknowledgement of its riches. Sydney’s West is a land of undiscovered treasures and unacknowledged riches of culture, travel and food.

Sydney’s West is a vast cosmopolitan landscape of a foodie’s heaven for those searching for suburban delicacies. This secret is out for city-based foodie tours who deliver their passengers to Westie foodie-hot-spots.

Sydney’s West has been undersold for years and dogged by unfair stereotypes. The West Journal states in its opening paragraph that

For too long, a generational stigma has tainted the perception of Western Sydney. (TWJ:1)

The stigma has persisted for more than one generation, and I have labelled it the #sydneyculturewar. (Willis, 2016) In recent months it has been fostered in the name of Covid.  

Campbelltown journalist and raconteur Jeff McGill wrote in 2013 ‘Careful what you call south west Sydney’. He examined the stereotypes and name-calling that existed in Sydney’s West and Southwest. Jenny said she had met contempt towards her by those in Sydney’s beachside and harbourside suburbs in a Facebook comment. She said that they think you are ‘slow-witted, lazy, anti-social’. 

The West Journal is a positive move to counter these attitudes and boasts that it

Wants to celebrate the cultural diversity, food and individuality found within Western Sydney and Regional NSW. (TWJ:1)

Academic Gabriele Gwyther has argued that Western Sydney is a

 region of great complexity: a patchwork of culture, language, ethnicity, personal histories, religion, income and status. (Gwyther 2008)

A rich history

More than this, I have argued that Sydney’s West has a rich history from the pre-colonial period to the present. (Willis 2018)

The magazine demonstrates the influence of the past on the present by presenting stylish images of the West’s cultural and natural heritage. The past shapes the present, and there is no escaping its clutches, whatever its colours.

The stories of the Dharawal, the Dharug and Gundungurra provide a rich tapestry of storytelling.  TWJ acknowledges the traditional custodians of each site in the magazine, for example, the Dharug People at Blacktown. (TWJ: 14)

The European story on the Hawkesbury and down to The Cowpastures adds another layer (Willis 2018; Karskens 2020) with a profile of  Camden Park House (CPH 2020), arguably one of the most important colonial properties still in the hands of the family built in the 1830s. (TWJ:226-229)

Embracing growth and change

The West Journal encompasses all of this and distribution across Sydney’s West from Hawkesbury Shire Council in the north, Wollondilly Shire Council in the south, west to Blue Mountains City Council, east to the Canterbury Bankstown.

Editor Deane Boone boasts that the magazine will ‘explore everything Western Sydney and Regional NSW has to offer’ extending to ‘West of West’ taking in Wagga Wagga to Armidale and Dubbo. (TWJ:4-5)

The New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian MP has endorsed The West Journal and commended the publishers on their efforts in promoting Sydney’s West (I Willis 2021)

These claims are endorsed by New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian MP.  She states ‘Western Sydney is an exciting region undergoing profound growth and change’, and her government ‘shares this enthusiasm for Sydney’s West as a wonderful place’. The premier ‘commends’ the publisher for their efforts. (TWJ:6)

Editor Boone has set a high standard with this issue. It is hoped that later volumes match it.  The magazine closes with the bold aim:

To embrace, inform and celebrate the amazing cultural diversity, experiences and offerings the West has to offer. (TWJ:263)

Here’s hoping it meets its aim.

Pick up your print copy or view it online

References

Boone, Dean (ed), 2021, The West Journal,  Edition 1, Volume 1. https://www.thewestjournal.com.au/, viewed September 17 2021

Camden Park House 2020, Home, Camden Park House, Menangle, NSW, 2568, <https://www.camdenparkhouse.com.au/>, viewed September 19 2021.

Gwyther, Gabrielle 2008. Western Sydney, Dictionary of Sydney, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/western_sydney, viewed September 17 2021

Karskens, Grace  2020,  People of the river : lost worlds of early Australia.  Allen & Unwin Crows Nest, NSW

Rogers, Richard 2021, ‘Visual media analysis for Instagram and other online platforms’. Big Data & Society. Vol 8 issue 1. https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517211022370

Willis, Ian  2018, ‘The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840’, Camden History Notes, weblog, April 27, <https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2018/04/27/the-cowpastures-region-1795-1840/>, viewed September 18 2021.

Willis, Ian 2016, ‘Westies, Bogans and Yobbos. What’s in a name?’ Camden History Notes, weblog, June 9,  https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2016/06/09/westies-bogans-and-yobbos-whats-in-a-name/  Viewed September 18 2021.

Willis, Ian 2021. Local Newspapers and a Regional Setting in New South Wales, Media History, 27:2, 197-209, DOI: 10.1080/13688804.2020.1833710

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

An amazing woman, Sheila Murdoch

Community worker, musician and mother.

Sheila Murdoch was a rural woman who served her community and church and raised a family of five children. Her story, like a lot of other rural women, has remained in the shadows of history. She did not seek kudos and received little public acknowledgement of her role in the community.

Sheila with her granddaughter Nicole (N Comerford, 2021)

Her story came to my attention through a picture of a medicine bottle from her granddaughter Nicole Comerford. Sheila had obtained a bottle of liquid paraffin from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark.

Liquid Paraffin medicine that Sheila Murdoch purchased from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark in Argyle Street. The bottle dates from the mid-20th century. This is the bottle that led to this story about Sheila. (N Comerford, 2021)

What is liquid paraffin?

According to The British Medical Journal, liquid paraffin was recommended as a treatment for constipation as a laxative, particularly with children. A Google search of the bottle’s image indicates it is probably around the middle of the 20th century.

The real story is not the bottle but an amazing woman who owned it.

Sheila

Nicole tells us that Sheila lived on a dairy farm on Fallons Road Orangeville.  

‘Grandma was born Sheila Rose Walsh and was one of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers in Upper Kangaroo River (Kangaroo Valley).’

Musical family

The Walshes were ‘a musical family’, according to Nicole.

Sheila had an interview with Kayla Osborne from the Camden Advertiser in 2018 (6 July 2018). She  said, ‘I learnt to play the piano when I was about eight or nine years old, firstly from my mother, and then an old school teacher started teaching me during the 1930s when teachers were quite scarce.’   

‘I am also self-taught, but my family has always been a musical one when I was growing up.

Sheila told Kayla Osborne that she was fond of music from an early age and recalled, ‘my father and mother always used to sing together, with my father playing the fiddle by ear.’

‘Most of my brothers and sisters also played an instrument or sang.’ Sheila was part of a well-known local band in the Shoalhaven area called ‘Walsh’s Orchestra’.

Sheila Murdoch played the piano from an early age. She regularly played at Carrington Aged-Care Complex with the Melody Makers. I was told by one member of the group that she could play any tune in any key. Now that is quite an achievement. (Camden Advertiser, 2018)

Nicole writes, ‘Grandma played the piano, and they played all over the Shoalhaven District over many years, including during WW2. She met my grandfather, Leslie Murdoch, after joining their orchestra  when he was stationed at Nowra during the war. Grandad was a mechanic for the RAAF at Nowra.’ 

Les was from the Newcastle area, born at Adamstown in 1922, and in 1941 enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. On discharge in 1946 he had the rank of corporal.

Les played the saxophone [Weir, p. 33]

The South Coast country press reported the regular ‘gigs’ played by the Walsh Orchestra in the Shoalhaven area between the mid-1930s and the Second World War.   In 1936 they performed at the St Michael’s Convent School Hall in Nowra (Nowra Leader, Friday 26 June 1936) and the Roman Catholic Ball at the Kangaroo Valley School of Arts in 1938. The ball drew loyal church supporters from Burrawang, Gerringong, Nowra and Berry for the jubilee celebrations for the Kangaroo Valley Roman Catholic Church.

Reports of the dance said that the stage was ‘tastefully decorated with streamers and clusters of balloons’ surrounded by a vase of chrysanthemums and maidenhair ferns’. The orchestra was under the baton of Jack Butler. (Shoalhaven News, 1 June 1938). The band played at the annual ball and euchre party of the Kangaroo Valley RSS&AILA in 1939 (Shoalhaven News, 13 September 1939) and the Gerringong Football Club’s dance and euchre party at Gerringong in 1944. (Kiama Independent, and Shoalhaven Advertiser, 17 June 1944).

Sheila and Leslie married in March 1945 at Berry [Nicole] and moved to Orangeville in 1946 (Camden Advertiser, 6 July 2018) after  he was discharged from the RAAF.

Sheila with her great-grandchildren at the farm (N Comerford, 2020)

Thornhill, Orangeville

Nicole writes, ‘They had little money when they moved there, really the only money they had saved from playing for dances and what Grandma had in war bonds. They grew peas until they had enough money to start dairying, and over the years, they purchased all of the farm from other family members; it was named “Thornhill”. The farm has been in the family since the 1850s and was a dairy farm.

‘The farm was an active dairy farm until the 1970s. They sold half of the farm, and it’s now about 92 acres. The half they sold is now Murdoch Road, Orangeville. Grandad (Les) lived on the farm until he died in 2001, and Grandma (Sheila) lived there on her own (with lots of support from her family) until at age 101. My parents, Jim and Judith Murdoch, still live on the farm, and my Dad runs about 15 beef cattle.

In her history of Orangeville, Nell Weir writes that the Thornhill grant was allocated to Thomas Fallon in 1856, with the farm having frontage to Clay Waterholes Creek. Thomas married Eliza Waller of Mulgoa in 1840, and they had ten children. Thomas died in 1879 and is buried in The Oaks Catholic Cemetery. According to Weir, Les Murdoch is a descendant of Thomas and Eliza’s son Thomas. [Weir, pp.32-33]

Sheila in the centre of the image with the rest of her family. All generations. (N Comerford, 2021)

Family

Nicole writes, ‘Sheila and Les had six children with the first being a stillborn daughter who we think are buried at the Catholic Cemetery in Camden. There are no records for this birth; I am pretty sure Grandma had this baby at what is now Neidra Hill’s house at Narellan.’

The house in question is the Edwardian architectural gem called Ben Linden. The house was built in 1919 by George Blackmore. Neidra Hill writes in her history of the house that EJ (Elizabeth) Stuckey, a trained midwife, purchased the house in 1944 conducted a maternity hospital until 1948. The hospital was then run by her daughter, JT (Jean) Stuckey, until 1959. The building was converted to a private hospital run by ME (Mavis) Halkett until it closed in 1971. (Hill, 2008, pp.27-37)

Community

Nicole recalls that ‘my grandparents were very active in the community’.  

‘Sheila and Leslie played at dances and weddings all over the community for many years and were very well known. Grandma and Grandad played in The Oaks, Orangeville, Camden and down to Bargo. I think they played at Bargo on New Year’s Eve several times. They also played at Camden High School socials.’

‘When I shared news of Grandma’s death on the “You know you’re from Camden if…” Facebook page, lots of people commented that they remember them playing at their weddings.’

‘Grandma also played the organ, firstly at St Pauls Catholic Church in Camden and then at St Aloysius Catholic Church at The Oaks when the parish boundaries changed. Grandma was still playing on her 101st birthday at The Oaks.

Sheila played the piano for The Oaks Debutante Balls until she retired in 1998. The ball committee have written that Sheila played piano for practice and presentation sessions for 23 years and they remember her ‘sitting at the piano for so many hours in freezing cold conditions’. (The Committee, p14)

She said, ‘It was lovely to see the young “hopefuls’ turn up – the boys mostly in “Nikes” or “Ugg” Boots – to learn dancing. We always found the young people very polite and happy when they got into the swing of the dances.’ (The Committee, p.14)

Myra Cowell recalls on Facebook that she ‘remembers them well playing at the Cobbitty dances’

Nicole said, ‘Grandma was a member of The Oaks Catholic Woman’s League and held various roles over the years, including president.

The Catholic Women’s League in NSW can trace its origins back to 1913, when the Catholic Women’s Association was founded in Sydney. The league aims to promote ‘the spiritual, cultural, intellectual and social development of women and promotes the role of laywomen in the mission of the Catholic Church’.

Camden Bowling Club

Nicole recalls, ‘Both my grandparents were involved in the Camden Bowling Club, and Grandma was a foundation member of the Camden Women’s Bowling Club. She also played the piano at many events there over the years.’ 

Frank Farrugia writes in the history of the Camden Bowling Club that Les was president from 1967 to 1969 after joining the club in 1961. He served on the committee for over 15 years and worked for the club for over 25 years. To acknowledge his service, he was made a life member. The new No 3 Green at the club was dedicated to Les, and at its opening in 1986, John Fahey said that Les gave ‘himself to his church, his family, to sporting bodies and local government’. (Farrugia, p. 146) Les was a councillor for A Riding on Wollondilly Shire Council for four terms from 1974 to 1987. (History of WSC) Frank McKay praised ‘Les’s loyalty, objectivity and dedication’. (Farrugia, p.146)

Les Murdoch (N Comerford)

Melody Makers

‘For over 50, maybe even 60 years, Grandma volunteered at Carrington Aged-Care complex every Friday morning and in later years was part of a group called the “Melody Makers” who played there. She continued to play the piano there while she was resident and even did so in the week before she died. We always used to laugh the way she would talk about playing for “the oldies” when most of them would have been younger than her!’ writes Nicole. 

The Melody Makers at Carrington Aged-Care in 2018 on Sheila’s 100th Birthday with Laurie on Sax, George on violin, and Kevin on guitar (Camden Advertiser, 2018)

On Sheila’s 100th birthday in 2018, Kayla Osborne wrote in the Camden Advertiser (6 July 2018) that Sheila and the Melody Makers played weekly at Carrington Aged-Care. Sheila said she started volunteering at Carrington Aged-Care and the aged care facility to give back to her community. She said, ‘I started with the Pink Ladies, who were some of Carrington’s very first volunteers.’

‘I love playing the piano at Carrington Aged-Care Complex now, and I consider playing for the residents there just pure enjoyment. I particularly enjoy the company – nobody objects no matter how bad we play.’

Carrington Volunteer Coordinator Belinda said, ‘I was privileged enough to see them play a few times. Sheila was absolutely phenomenal with her piano skills, Laurie accompanied on sax, Richard (also now passed) played the keyboard and the singer and guitarist, Kevin. (Email, 30 August 2021)

The Melody Makers here with Laurie on sax, Kevin on guitar and George on violin. Laurie had a fine career as military bandsman. (c.2017, Carrington Care)

A Carrington source tells me that the Melody Makers was made up of Laurie Martin on saxophone and clarinet, George Sayers on violin, Kevin Harris on guitar, Dick Eldred on clarinet, pianist Sheila and in the early days in late 1990s John Foster on trombone. Most of these talented folk sadly are no longer with us.

Melody Maker guitarist and vocalist Kevin Harris said, ‘I joined the group in the late 1990s. Sheila was “God’s gift to music”. She played at Carrington for 60 years.’

‘The group played at Carrington Aged-Care every Friday around each of the different facilities – Grasmere Terrace, Nursing home, Paling Court and so on. We had over 2000 regular songs. We would never practice. [The group] played for two hours from 10-12, then everyone would go to lunch ,’ he said.

Kevin recalled, ‘My favourite memory was just playing for over 20 years. I have wonderful memories. Playing each week made friendships. Just a love of music and we shared that love with other people. [The members of Melody Makers] were great troopers and there was so much love between all of us and our families.’

‘[Melody Makers] did jobs outside [of Carrington]. Macarthur War Widows and Legacy War Widows at Legacy House in Campbelltown. We played for the Over 50s at the Catholic Club, and Christmas Parties and Mothers’ Day in and around Campbelltown and Appin,’ he said.

Kevin said, ‘ Most of the group had a musical background. Laurie military bands, George came from a family of entertainers, Jack played in World War Two and I played around the Campbelltown area from the 1960s including a 19-piece swing band based at Wayne’s Music Shop.’

Carrington Aged-Care

Nicole writes that ‘Leslie died in 2001 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery at The Oaks. In September 2019, Sheila moved to Mary McKillop Hostel at Carrington Aged-Care Complex off the farm because of the increased level of care needed for her health.

Sheila became part of the Carrington family after she moved into aged-care.

Sheila Murdoch loved children and joined in activities at Carrington, Her she is participating with the ‘littlies’ in Carrington’s Intergenerational Playgroup March 2020 (Carrington Care, 2020)

Nicole said, ‘Grandma [Sheila] passed away at Mary McKillop on 29th May 2020.’

The surviving five children are Patricia, James (my Dad), Frances, Mary and Peter.’

References

Farrugia, F 2014, History of Camden Bowling Club, 75 Years, Camden Bowling Club, Camden.

Hill, N 2008, Ben Linden 1919-2008, A house with a story to tell, Typescript Camden Museum Archives, n.p.

The Oaks Debutante Ball Book Committee 2001, We Had a Ball, Twenty-five Debutante Balls in The Oaks 1973-1999, The Committee, The Oaks.

Weir, NR 1998, From Timberland to Smiling Fields, A History of Orangeville and Werombi, The Oaks Historical Society, The Oaks.

Wollondilly Shire Council 1988, A History of Local Government in the Wollondilly Shire 1895 to1988, Wollondilly Shire Council, Picton.

Adaptive Re-use · Anzac · Aviation · Camden Airfield · Cultural Heritage · Engineering Heritage · England · Heritage · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Military history · Nationalism · Patriotism · Place making · Second World War · Sense of place · Storytelling · Tourism · Transport · Uncategorized · War · War at home · Wartime

Camden Airfield and the Bellman Hangars

Camden Airfield has a number of historic hangars from the Second World War. They are called Bellman hangars.

They are a British designed transportable hangar that were erected at the airfield. Camden had six Bellman hangars by mid-1942.

A Bellman Hangar at Camden Airfield built in 1941 and used by the RAAF Central Flying School as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme to train aircrew for the European war campaign. These remaining hangars are part the unique aviation archaeology and heritage at the existing Camden Airfield. (I Willis, 2014)

According to John Dunn’s Comeng, A History of Commonwealth Engineering, vol 1 1921-1955 (2006), they were originally designed in 1936 by NS Bellman, a structural engineer with the British Directorate of Works (UK). The hangars were meant to meet the needs of the Royal Air Force (UK) and the Empire Air Training Scheme (UK).

Australia had very close links with United Kingdom at the time as part of the British Empire. The country relied heavily on the UK for its defence needs and Camden airfield played a small part in that story.

The RAAF Central Flying School that was set up at Camden Airfield in 1940 was part of the Empire Air Training Scheme and Bellman hangars were supplied by Waddington’s Pty Ltd. According to Daniel Leahy’s ‘Aerodromes of Democracy, The Archaeology of Empire Air Training Scheme flying schools during World War II’ the training course duration for pilots was 14 weeks, air observers 12 weeks, and air gunners 8 weeks. All courses instructions were conducted at Camden RAAF CFS while based at the airfield.

The tenders for the of the supply of the hangars, according to Dunn, were called in mid-1940 by the Australian Government’s Department of Supply and Development. Overall 283 Bellman hangars were supplied to a variety of sites across Australia and New Guinea. The final cost to the Commonwealth Government for the supply of the hangars was around £1,500 each.

Over 85 per cent of the Bellman hangars in Australia were supplied by Waddingtons (Clyde). Waddingtons got into financial trouble with the Bellman supply contract and under the wartime regulations the Commonwealth Government took a controlling interest in the firm. The government discovered that there were all sorts problems with supplying the hangars, although they were a ‘simple product’. The problems were eventually sorted out and the hangars were all supplied.

RAAF Training Squadron at Camden Airfield with one of the main aircraft used for training at the time a Tiger Moth in 1942. The control tower is shown to the left of the image and the Bellman hangars behind.  (LG Fromm)

Under wartime regulations Waddington’s was a protected industry and supplied a variety of wartime contracts in the engineering field. They included railway wagons, ocean-going lighters, ‘Igloo‘ hangars, pontoons, landing barges, and buses. Waddingtons was completely taken over by the Commonwealth Government in 1946 and renamed Commonwealth Engineering Co Ltd. Interestingly, in the 1920s the principals of Waddingtons ran a business called Smith and Waddington which made ‘custom’ car bodies for imported chassis of Rolls Royce, Hudson, Wolseley and Fiat in a factory on Parramatta Road, Camperdown.

The Bellman hangars were only ever meant to be temporary, and they were supposed to be capable of being erected and dismantled by unskilled labour with simple equipment. Dunn maintains that the Bellman hangars were 95 feet wide (1 feet = 0.304 metres), 122 feet long, 17 feet high, covered an area of 10,000 square feet (1 square foot = 0.092 square metres), consisted of 60 tons of steel, at an average cost of £3,365 (erected), had 80 major components and could accommodate 5 Barracuda aircraft.

Waddingtons supplied Bellman hangars to around 25 airfields and other locations in New South Wales (from Camden to Temora), 15 in Queensland (from Cairns to Kingaroy), 17 in Victoria (including Ascot Vale and Port Melbourne), 4 in South Australia (including Mallala and Mt Gambier), 8 in WA (from Canarvon to Kalgoorlie), 3 in Tasmania (including Western Junction), 1 in the ACT (Kingston), 3 in the Northern Territory (including Gorrie and Wynellie) and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

Initially Bellman hangars were designed in the United Kingdom with canvas panelled doors and canvas under the eaves, although steel-framed and clad doors were introduced after heavy snowfalls at Thornaby Airfield in the winter of 1937. The time taken to erect the UK hangar including levelling the ground, laying door tracks, erecting the steelwork and fitting the original oiled canvas Callender doors, was 500 man hours.

The British Ministry of Defence states that there are over 100 Bellman hangars still in existence in throughout the UK that were built around the Second World War in 2014. They were originally constructed by provide a fast, economical solution to a need for hangars. It is described as being a lightweight structure made from steel lattice frames, to form 14 bays giving an overall length of 53 metres and width of 29 metres.

The Airfields of Britain Conservation Conservation Trust states that Bellman hangars were only one type used in the United Kingdom during the war and between 1938 and 1940 over 400 were built for use. One of their disadvantages was their lack of roof height.

According to some reports there are 14 surviving Bellman hangars at RAAF Base Wagga, at least three at Point Cook (RAAF Williams), one at RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra Airport, four at HMAS Albatross, Nowra, a number at Auburn, Bankstown and Camden. For the enthusiast there is an interesting article on Bellman hangars on Wikepedia.

Updated 14 August 2021. Originally posted 15 July 2014.