In late 2022 the Camden Show Society announced that Rubey Williams had been named the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year.
Ms Williams is the first Camden Show Young Woman of the Year after the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) changed the branding of the former Showgirl competition in 2019.
The competition had been rebranded earlier from the Miss Showgirl competition, which began in 1962. The name of the competition changed in 1979 by dropping ‘Miss’ from the title, indicating the competition moving with the times. (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019) And as Kate Darian-Smith has argued, changes in the competition have reflected changing representations of rural life and country towns, and the success of country shows (Darian-Smith, 2002, 17)
Yet there were supporters of the old name and the traditions it represented. In 2019 the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) showgirl committee spokesperson Peter Gooch said, ‘We don’t want to change the name.’
‘Why change what’s not broken? It’s tradition and means so much to the show.’ (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)
Dissatisfaction with Showgirl
Yet there was dissatisfaction with the marketing of the Showgirl concept.
Camden 2009 Showgirl Lauren Elkins, who came third in Sydney 2009, said there needed to be improved marketing for the competition at a grassroots level.
“The calibre of young women going to Sydney far exceeds what it was ten years ago,” she said.
“We need to look at how it is marketed and tell the stories of the girls of where they are and how they are developing.
“We are losing so many traditions; it would be a real shame to change the name, it’s tradition.” (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)
Ms Elkins, the 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins, certainly had an eye on tradition when she prepared the 2009 Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl. The guide stressed etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offered deportment lessons for entrants.
The Showgirl competition, formerly Miss Showgirl, has been an enduring anachronism and has withstood the assault of various forces and speaks well for its resilience.
While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunities.
These sentiments align with the feelings of Camden Show 2023 entrant Emily Perry who said she entered the competition because ‘she enjoys being involved in community activities, and wants to challenge herself and improve her own self-confidence’. (TDR, 21 October 2022)
Yet problems have persisted, and there have been concerns about the longevity of the competition.
Melanie Groves and Kemii Maguire have written, ‘ Nowadays, some view [the competition] as outdated pageantry from a bygone era at best, or the objectification of women at worst.’ (ABC News, 13 July 2019)
The popularity of the competition has waned in recent years, with only NSW and Queensland retaining the pageant. In Queensland, the entrants must be single, childless and under 28 years of age. (ABC News, 13 July 2019)
In Victoria, the competition stopped in 1995 after running for 38 years. (Darian-Smith, 2001)
RAS Young Woman of the Year
RAS Showgirl councillor Susan Wakefield has argued that changing the branding of the pageant to Young Woman of the Year has refreshed the program. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
‘The new title will continue to foster and encourage the fundamental building blocks of the competition through involvement in local shows and communities while also resonating better with younger generations’, said Ms Wakefield. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
2020 Cowra Showgirl Beatrice Patterson said her fellow showgirls supported the name change. Ms Patterson said that the RAS showgirl had received derogatory comments around ‘Miss Universe’ and beauty competition-related remarks earlier in the year. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)
Ms Patterson says that the Showgirl Competition is linked to the local show, yet others see Showgirl meaning ‘beauty’ and other negative connotations.
“I think this will be really good to get rid of that negative connotation.”
She hoped the name change would encourage more entrants. She said there were 15-20 entrants a few years ago, whereas in 2019, there were two or three.
She encouraged young women to enter the competition. ‘It’s a great program. You learn so much and develop as a person. You become more mindful of the world and agriculture’. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)
Ms Wakefield said that the professional development program within the competition encouraged young women to become community leaders. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
This was undoubtedly the Camden Show 2023 Young Women Rubey Williams situation. She said, ‘I want to become a bit of a role model in the community’. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
The District Reporter stated that Ms Williams had impressive agricultural credentials. She was the youngest ever Australian Alpaca Association Halter and Fleece Judge. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
She said she wanted to be a role model in the community and inspire young women to pursue careers in agriculture. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Ms Williams felt strongly about the show movement and was keen to give women a pivotal role in shaping the future of rural Australia. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Kate Darian-Smith has argued that a sense of community shown by entrants was the result of long-standing family connections to the town, the agricultural society and other community organisations. (Darian-Smith, 2001)
Ms Williams certainly felt that her role as the 2015 Camden Show Junior Rural Ambassador ‘gave her a good grounding of how the show worked. I have a lot of good memories of the Camden Show; it still has a country feel.’ (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Hawaiian music and dance arrived in Camden after sweeping the rest of the country on the stage, at the movies and broadcast across the radio waves. The craze of the 1920s and 1930s was centred on hula dancing and the steel guitar.
The first mention of Hawaiian culture in Camden occurred in 1925 when a young Daphne Butt dressed as a Hawaiian hula dancer at the 1925 Fancy Dress Costume Ball for the Camden District Hospital. She was the only example of Hawaiian culture in a sea of fairies, princesses, dolls, butterflies, American sailors, jazz musicians, and princes. (Camden News, 20 August 1925)
The dark history of Hawaiian music and dance
Daphne Butt’s naïve interest in hula dancing hides a dark past with links to transnational capitalism and colonialism. In pre-contact Hawaii, the hula was a strict religious practice of telling epic stories, past glories, and great chiefs within a framework of fertility rights expressed through poetry and body movements. Newly arrived Christian missionaries in the 1820s condemned the hula for its sexual and spiritual overtones. Restrictions on Hawaiian culture in 1859 effectively banned public performances, and the hula was driven underground. (Imada, 2004, Hawaiians on tour)
Moralistic attitudes towards Hawaiian culture were also evident in the Australian press. Sydney’s Evening News reported on ‘hula hula’ dancing at the San Francisco Midwinter Fair in 1894. The reporter wrote:
‘the Hawaiian hula-hula dance. I think it would paralyse the average Australian playgoer, not merely to see this grossly indecent, immoral, and suggestive performance, but the class of people standing around looking at it.’
(Evening News, 4 April 1894)
Even in 1924, Lester Way wrote in The Bulletin that Hawaiian hula ‘dances were like the frolics of happy children who had learned with candor naïve and unshamed the lesson of sex’. (The Bulletin, 31 January 1924)
Racial stereotypes at the movies
By the 1920s and 1930s, American business interests recognised the tourism potential of Hawaiian culture, and Hollywood produced films depicting Hawaiian music and hula dancing that screened at Camden, Campbelltown and Picton.
Commodified Hawaiian women became the new ‘hula girls’, used to promote Hawaiian plantation sugar and pineapples. They were also marketed in print, on stage, and in film, appearing in bikini tops, grass skirts, flowers in their hair sensuously hips swaying to the tones of the steel guitar. (Imada, 2004, Hawaiians on tour)
The first appearance of Hawaii on local movie screens occurred in 1926 when ‘The Hawaiian Melody Makers’ promised ‘a twilight in Hawaii’ at the Royal Pictures in the Picton Town Hall. (Picton Post, 1 September 1926) The Lopez Hawaiian Melody Makers, a nine-piece ensemble with steel guitars, had toured Australia in 1925 and played at Broken Hill Crystal Theatre. (Barrier Miner, 1 May 1925)
Film promotions from American film studios published in the Camden News relied on racial stereotypes and the language of primitivism. The film promoters for Cosmopolitan Productions ‘White Shadows in the South Seas’ promised ‘native instruments and customs, alluring dancing girls and feasting give intimate and colourful scenes of native life’. ‘White Shadows’ was an adventure romance loosely based on a book by Frederick O’Brien and screened at Sydney’s State Movie Theatre in 1929. The silent film ‘White Shadows’ was innovative and had synchronised ‘dialogue, sound, song and music’ where the soundtrack matched the film. The first synchronised musical soundtrack was the film Don Juan in 1926. (Camden News, 14 March 1929, 28 March 1929)
At Campbelltown’s Macquarie Cinema in 1933, the RKO-Radio Pictures ‘Bird of Paradise’, filmed in the ‘authentic background’ of the Hawaiian Islands, showed the ‘breathtaking’ beauty of the islands. The film, a romantic adventure drama, depicted the love of the hero and ‘white man’, Johnny Baker, with the ‘primitive, trusting Luana’ who ‘hopelessly sacrifices’ her love in a ‘sublime’ setting. The Hawaiian hula was described as ‘the barbaric beauties of the primitive Hawaiian mating dance were caught in all their splendour’. (Campbelltown News, 27 October 1933) Wikipedia states that the director King Vidor presented ‘this “tragic” romance as a clash between modern “civilisation” and a sexual idyll enjoyed by Rousseauian-like Noble savages’. In the early 1930s, Hollywood produced several films that connected former Pacific colonies with widespread interest in “exotic” tropical locations. (Wikipedia)
In the late 1930s, film promoters used less paternalistic language in advertising. The 1938 Camden’s Paramount Movie Theatre screened RKO Radio Pictures ‘Hawaii Calls’, and the advertising stated that the story of an ‘island paradise [that] rings with song’ and full of ‘adventure, beauty, novelty, song and entertainment’. (Camden News, 16 June 1938) The following year, Paramount screened MGM’s ‘Honolulu’, a movie that promised to ‘call you’ to Hawaii with ‘the sweat heart of musical hits!’ ‘It’s star-packed, song-filled, laugh-jammed . . . .the romantic colossus of spectacle . .with hundreds of hip-swinging hula honeys!’ (Camden News, 6 July 1939)
Hula dancing direct from the Tivoli circuit
Camden was part of the country circuit for Hawaiian musicians. In 1935 local promoter Charles New announced in the Camden News that The Royal Hawaiians, ‘direct from the Tivoli circuit’, would appear at the Camden Agricultural Hall on a Tuesday night. Patrons were promised the ‘greatest instrumentalists in Australia’ who were ably supported by comedians the Richie Brothers and ‘All Star Vaudeville’ of acrobats and dancers. Front seat prices cost 1/6, with others 1/-. (Camden News, 31 October 1935)
The Royal Hawaiians toured Australia appearing at Geelong’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1922 and 1929 at Hobart’s Theatre Royal. The company had an ‘extensive repertoire’ of Hawaiian music on steel guitar, ukuleles, and banjos. The show included ‘native songs and dances’ provided by Honolulu’s ‘premier hula hula dancer’, the ‘graceful Lilloukalani’. (The Mercury, 19 February 1929)
Author Jackie Coyle has stated that Hawaiian musicians toured on the Tivoli circuit in Australia from the 1920s. (ABC News, 23 January 2023). Hula hula dancing first appeared on Australian stages in the 1890s in Melbourne (The Argus, 6 August 1892), and Hawaiian sheet music, wax cylinders and 78rpm records were sold across the country. (ABC News, 23 January 2023)
Hawaiian music filled the Camden airwaves
Camden radio listeners who owned a Fisk Radiola wireless set from James Pinkerton’s store in Argyle Street could tune into the tones of Hawaiian music from the Sydney Hawaiian Club Band. The band had a spot-on Sydney radio 2GB every Sunday at 10.00 am and on 2GZ at 5.45 pm. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 17 February 1938) The popular radio show ‘Hawaii Calls’ was broadcast from the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach to a global audience from 1925. (Imada, 2004, Hawaiians on tour)
In 1938 Camden residents could purchase a Radiola wireless set from James Pinkerton at 59-61 Argyle Street, where he ran a tailor shop. Prices for the latest Fisk Radiola started at 13 guineas, a princely sum in 1938 when the average weekly wage for a factory worker was just under £5. Built by ‘master craftsmen’ and allowed Camden listeners to tune into global short-wave broadcasts with ‘better tone and performance’. (Camden News, 22 December 1938)
In country NSW, the Hawaiian Club band broadcasts on Goulburn radio 2GN on Friday nights at 8.00 pm. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 17 February 1938) For those who wanted to immerse themselves in Hawaiian completely, the Sydney Hawaiian Club toured country NSW, offering tuition on the steel guitar with weekly lessons costing 2/6 in Goulburn. The Hawaiian club Goulburn representative in 1938 was E Scarpas in Clifford Street. Steel guitars could be purchased for 30/1, with a 5/- deposit, or with weekly repayments of 2/-. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 17 February 1938)
Adria L. Imada (2004). Hawaiians on Tour: Hula Circuits through the American Empire. American Quarterly, 56(1), 111–149. doi:10.2307/40068217
Jeff McGill, Rachel. Allen & Unwin 2022, Sydney. ISBN 9781760879983.
Tonight I had the privilege of attending the book launch for local author and raconteur Jeff McGill’s Rachel at Mary Sheil Centre, St Patrick’s College at Campbelltown.
McGill’s Rachel tells the story of Jeff’s great-great-grandmother from the Coonabarabran area of NSW. Rachel Inglis (Kennedy) was known as Rachel of the Warrumbungles.
McGill’s Rachel had been brewing for about 40 years and it was only in the 2020 lockdown when Jeff’s freelance work dried up that he got mobile on writing the book.
A friend advised him to send a couple of chapters to two publishers. He sent the work to Allen and Unwin and a small publisher in Melbourne. Allen & Unwin got back to him in two days and wanted to know if he had more material, so he sent off chapters 3 & 4. The rest is history.
Jeff often visited Rachel Kennedy’s farm at Box Ridge and listened to local storytellers at Coonamble and Coonabarabran. He is the sort of writer who walks the ground and soaks up the ghosts of the past. He allowed the landscape to talk to him and embedded himself in the spirit of place.
The late Mrs. Inglis was one who rarely gave a thought to herself, her one object in life being to help others. She was always to be found at the bedside of almost every sick person in the Warrumbungle district, and has been known to have ridden as far as 20 miles in the middle of the night to reach some sufferer, even when far from well herself. Considering that all her grand efforts were done in an age when motor cars were unknown, it stamps this fine old pioneer as one of the world’s best — a race that is fast vanishing from our midst. The deceased lady had reached the great age of 85 years. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)
At the time of Rachel’s death, it was usual for the country press to publish any sort of obituary of a woman unless she was white and from an influential rural family. The country press was a very white-male institution.
The obituary published in the Mudgee press was an acknowledgement that Rachel was a true local identity and bush character well known in the area. A rare feat indeed. The bush was a male-dominated landscape where women remained in the shadows.
Rachel did not fit the stereotypical 19th-century woman. Yet, she did not seek recognition for her community work and never received it in any public fashion.
The local community understood Rachel’s contribution to their lives and when she was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Gulargambone Cemetery, it was
in the presence of one of the largest gatherings, ever seen at the cemetery. The Rev. G. Innes Ritter, of Coonamble, performed the last sad rites at the graveside. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)
Rachel Kennedy stood out on a wild frontier dominated by men… her extraordinary and unputdownable pioneering story is told for the first time
‘Just a girl, but when it came to chasing wild horses nobody questioned Rachel Kennedy’s skill in a saddle. What raised the eyebrows was the type of saddle she used: a man’s.
Rachel Kennedy was a colonial folk hero.
She also built rare friendships with Aboriginal people, including a lifelong relationship with her ‘sister’ Mary Jane Cain.
Meticulously researched and written with compelling energy, this is a vivid and at times heartbreaking story of a pioneering woman who left a legacy that went well beyond her lifetime.
Emerging from the shadows of history
The book is a ripping yarn about the colonial frontier and the role of women in early New South Wales. Another woman emerges from the shadows of history and we are allowed to understand their true contribution to the settler story of our nation.
Updated 2 June 2022. Originally posted 1 June 2022.
The Blue Plaques program aims to capture public interest and fascination in people, events and places that are important to the stories of NSW.
The Blue Plaques program celebrates NSW heritage by recognising noteworthy people and events from our state’s history.
The aim of the program is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhood and other parts of NSW and connect with people of the past, historical moments and rich stories that matter to communities and have shaped our state.
The program is inspired by the famous London Blue Plaques program run by English Heritage which originally started in 1866, and similar programs around the world.
“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”
The essence of the Blue Plaques program is the storytelling. A digital story will be linked to each plaque.
The Blue Plaques should tell stories that are interesting, fun, quirky along with more sombre stories that should be not be forgotten as part of our history.
What is the Camden Red Cross story?
What is being recognised?
Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles at the Camden School of Arts (later the Camden Town Hall now the Camden Library) – 1914-1918, 1940-1946.
What is the story?
The Camden Red Cross sewing circles were one of Camden women’s most important voluntary patriotic activities during World War One and World War Two. The sewing circles started at the Camden School of Arts in 1914, and due to lack of space, moved to the Foresters’ Hall in Argyle Street in 1918. At the outbreak of the Second World War, sewing circles reconvened in 1940 at the Camden Town Hall in John Street (the old School of Arts building – the same site as the First World War)
These sewing circles were workshops where Camden women volunteered and manufactured supplies for Australian military hospitals, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. They were held weekly on Tuesdays, which was sale day in the Camden district.
Sewing circles were ‘quasi-industrial production lines’ where Camden women implemented their domestics skills to aid the war at home. Camden women cut out, assembled, and sewed together hospital supplies, including flannel shirts, bed shirts, pyjamas, slippers, underpants, feather pillows, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. The workshops were lent a number of sewing machines in both wars.
The sewing circles also coordinated knitting and spinning for bed socks, stump socks, mufflers, balaclava caps, mittens, cholera belts (body binders) and other items. The women also made ‘hussifs’ or sewing kits for the soldiers. During the First World War, the sewing circles attracted between 80-100 women each week. The list of items was strikingly consistent for hospital supplies for both wars, with the only significant addition during the Second World War being the knitted pullovers and cardigans.
The production output of the Camden women was prodigious. Between 1914 and 1918, women from the Camden Red Cross sewing circle made over 20,300 articles tallied to over 40,000 volunteer hours. Between 1940 and 1946, during World War Two, women made over 25,000 articles, totalling over 45,000 voluntary hours.
The operation of the sewing circles was fully funded through the fundraising of Camden Red Cross and community donations. In 1917 alone, over 95% of branch fundraising was dedicated to these activities.
In World War One, other Red Cross sewing circles in the Camden district were located at The Oaks, Camden Park, Theresa Park, and Middle Burragorang. During World War Two, other centres across the local area included Bringelly-Rossmore, Menangle, Narellan, and The Oaks. Each group independently funded its activities.
These patriotic voluntary activities by Camden women were part of the war at home and have received little recognition at a local, state or national level. Wartime sewing and knitting have been kept in the shadows for too long. There needs to be a public acknowledgement of the patriotic effort of these women.
Where will the plaque be placed?
Camden School of Arts – later called the Camden Town Hall (1939-1945) and now the Camden Library.
What will the plaque say?
Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles – 1914-1918, and 1940-1946.
English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom
London’s blue plaques scheme, run by English Heritage, celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Founded in 1866, it has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world.
Reference for Camden Red Cross story
Ian Willis,Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2014.
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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,threadedfittingused on drainagepipes;has a shouldersuch as to present a smooth,continuousinterior 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.)
What is this cover for the NRCC? Does it still exist?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
‘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.’
Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them, join the Friends of NRCC.
The telco inspection lid
This inspection lid is for the telco, which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.
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.
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 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 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)
Once again, country show societies are gearing up for the annual New South Wales Showgirl competition. In 2008 500 young women entered the pageant at a local level representing 120 show societies, with the Sydney Royal Easter Show finals. The 2011 Camden Showgirl has attracted seven young local women – four of the seven are university students, two business owners and one business manager.
The competition has come a long way since its beginnings in 1962 which started as Miss Showgirl and changed in 1979 to the Showgirl competition. It has seen off a variety of other pageants and successfully competes with several others. In these days of television celebrity fashion competitions, the Showgirl competition is a bit of an anachronism. Rather quaint, yet with an underlying strength that is endearing to supporters.
The Showgirl competition is a complex mix of paradoxes and apparent contradictions, just like other aspects of rural life: it is very traditional while accommodating the aspirations of young women; it is staid yet has had an underlying strand of the commodification of young women as objects of display; it is conservative yet encourages sexualisation of young women through good times at balls and the like; it avoids the stereotypes of other beauty pageants, yet it promotes a version of a stereotypical young rural woman; it is part of the town and country divide yet brings the country to the city; and more.
The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when rural women were confined by home and family. The foundation sponsor was the racy tabloid, The Daily Mirror, which commodified womanhood images on page three. Later competition sponsors, The Daily Telegraph and then The Women’s Weekly, used different representations of womanhood, and today The Land newspaper takes a newsworthy approach to rural affairs.
The values expressed in the Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl entrants prepared by 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins are slightly old-fashioned. The guide stresses etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offers deportment lessons for entrants – An echo from the past.
While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants and provides personal development opportunities.
Showtime, the show ball and the Showgirl competition are representatives of notions of rurality. Camden Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’.
Organising committees select entrants who have a sense of belonging to and identifying with the local area. According to Suzie Sherwood, a 2004 Camden organising committee member, the winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community.
In a historical analysis by Kate Darian-Smith and Sara Wills (2001), they see the current response to Miss Showgirl as ‘an embodiment of meaningful and rural belonging’. Miss Showgirl entrants indeed embrace parochialism and the interests of local show societies as part of the competition. These forces have long shaped the rural identity and its response to city-based decision-making.
Rural New South Wales faces constant challenges, and the showgirl’s success is a rural showcase in the ‘big smoke’. The competition embraces the experience of showtime in Sydney when the country comes to town, and there are social engagements, cocktail parties and pictures on the social pages. The showgirl competition draws on rural traditions surrounding debutante balls, bachelor and spinster balls and similar community gatherings that express a sense of place. The essence of localism.
Glamour and style are back, and Showgirl has an element of ‘fashions on the field’. Young women have an opportunity to ‘frock up’. Something authentic. It harks back to the days of the country race meeting and the local polo match. The exclusivity that was once the rural gentry’s domain when deference and paternalism ruled the bush. Press photographs of ‘glammed up’ Showgirls sashing 1st place in the dairy cow section recall days of the ‘Lady of the Manor’ and the English village fair.
Miss Showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Understandably entrants passionately defend the competition.
None of these issues has been a problem for 2011 Camden Showgirl winner Hilary Scott, a 22-year-old horse-loving university student from The Oaks. She appeared on the front page of The District Reporter, all glammed up in the paddock, under the banner headline ‘Showgirl Hilary supports agriculture’. Hilary is a confident young rural woman who projects Miss Showgirl’s contemporary vibrancy and complexities.
Camden Showgirl Winners
Miss Showgirl 1962-1978, Camden Showgirl 1979-2020
1962 Helen Crace 1963 Helen Crace 1964 Sue Mason 1965 Barbara Duck 1966 Dawn Dowle 1967 Jenny Rock 1968 Heather Mills 1969 Michelle Chambers 1970 Joyce Boardman 1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham 1972 Kerri Webb 1973 Anne Fahey 1974 Sue Faber
1975 Janelle Hore 1976 Jenny Barnaby 1977 Patsy Anne Daley 1978 Julie Wallace 1979 Sandra Olieric 1980 Fiona Wilson 1981 Louise Longley 1982 Melissa Clowes 1983 Illa Eagles 1984 Leanne Reily 1985 Rebecca Py 1986 Jenny Rawlinson 1987 Jayne Manns
1988 Monique Mate 1989 Linda Drinnan 1990 Tai Green 1991 Toni Leeman 1992 Susan Lees 1993 Belinda Bettington 1994 Miffy Haynes 1995 Danielle Halfpenny 1996 Jenianne Garvin 1997 Michelle Dries 1998 Belinda Holyoake 1999 Lyndall Reeves 2000 Katie Rogers
2001 Kristy Stewart 2002 Margaret Roser 2003 Sally Watson 2004 Danielle Haack 2005 Arna Daley 2006 Victoria Travers 2007 Sarah Myers
2008 Fiona Boardman 2009 Lauren Elkins 2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic 2011 Hilary Scott 2012 April Browne 2013 Isabel Head 2014 Jacinda Webster
The Competition aims to find a young female Ambassador for rural NSW and the agricultural show movement.
The Showgirl Competition is definitely not a beauty pageant. Entrants must have a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, rural NSW. The Competition encourages the participation and awareness of issues faced by women in rural NSW.
Dr Cull said, ‘Only locals will understand how fantastic it is to have a team in Campbelltown. It’s a team for the Macarthur region being played in Macarthur.’
‘It feels good to have a team that is genuinely for our community,’ she said.
Macarthur FC and identity
Identity is how we define who we are in terms of culture, symbols, language, membership, race, behaviour and other factors. These are the elements of tribal identification.
In terms of Macarthur FC, their supporters will identify themselves in terms of a song, a uniform, a logo, a mascot, a culture, origin, and other factors. They will all be part of the Macarthur FC supporters tribe.
Macarthur FC’s symbols have been chosen by the team’s supporters to build tribalism around the regional brand.
Club officials announced in 2019 that the club’s new colours, ochre, were ‘chosen to represent the area’s diverse cultures.
Macarthur FC has captured the notion of regionalism on Sydney’s urban fringe and the communities that are part of it.
The ochre colours of Macarthur FC acknowledge that the Macarthur region is located in Dharawal country that pre-dates European occupation by thousands of years. Dharawal country is situated between the lands of the Eora to the north, the Dharug to the northwest, and the Gundungurra to the southwest. Ochre was used for paintings, drawings and hand stencils on rock surfaces and in rock shelters and overhangs.
The Macarthur FC ‘bull’ logo encapsulated the early European history of the Cowpastures region and the wild cattle, after which the area was named in 1795 by Governor Hunter. Originally 2 bulls and 4 cows escaped from the Sydney settlement in mid-1788, five months after being landed. They were Cape cattle from South Africa, and by 1805 the Cowpastures herd numbered over 3000. This is perhaps the origin of the club slogan, ‘Run with the herd’.
The football club’s use of the Macarthur name comes from the early colonial identity of John Macarthur. Macarthur organised the land grant in the Cowpastures in 1805 called Camden after he had been sent home to England in disgrace. This was the first act of European dispossession of Dharawal country in the process of settler colonialism.
The use of the Macarthur name as a regional identity first emerged in the 1940s, and its growth has had a varied history. The first local businesses to use Macarthur’s regional identity were the local press in the 1950s.
The stars of the Southern Cross on the Macarthur FC logo link the club to Australian nationalism.
Nationalism was part of modern football from its beginnings in the United Kingdom in the 19th century. Scotland and England were the first two national teams to play each other in the 1870s.
Israeli scholar Ilan Tamir argues that since the foundation of the nation-state, ‘political leaders have used sport to promote individual and national agendas’. Tamir maintains that the forces of globalisation and the commercialisation of sport have weakened the influence of nationalism.
guided travellers, intrigued astronomers and inspired poets and musicians. Its five stars have been used as a sign of rebellion and as a sometimes controversial symbol of national pride.
In the early 19th century, the Anti-Transportation League adopted the Southern Cross as a symbol of resistance to the British colonial powers and their policy of transporting convicts. In 1854 it was flown at the Eureka Stockade.
The Australian flag with the Southern Cross was first flown in 1901 and became Australia’s official flag in 1954.
So what does all this mean for the future of Macarthur regionalism?
Macarthur FC has adopted the name and symbols of Macarthur regionalism. Much will be written and spoken about Macarthur FC over the coming years. Macarthur FC will be in the national and international media, which will consolidate the notion of Macarthur regionalism at a national level.
It will be interesting to see how Macarthur regionalism evolves under the influence of professional sports with a national and international profile.
Updated 23 October 2022; Originally posted 9 January 2021.
‘Flappers of the 1920s were young women known for their energetic freedom, embracing a lifestyle viewed by many at the time as outrageous, immoral or downright dangerous’, says the History.com website.
If you read the pages of the Camden News you might have agreed.
In 1920 the Camden News reported ‘flappers’ were ‘running wild’ on the streets of Sydney, or so it seemed to the casual reader. The press report stated:
A straggling procession of boisterous, well dressed young fellows, with pipe or cigarette in hand, and headed by a number of bold looking females of the ‘flapper’ type, paraded George and Pitt streets on Thursday (last week). (Camden News, 25 November 1920)
The same event was reported in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and other Sydney newspapers with less colourful language. Apparently there had been a lunchtime marchof office workers along George Street numbering around 3000, with ‘200 ladies’, supporting the basic wage case in Melbourne.
The news story that appeared in the Camden News had originally been run in the Crookwell Gazette. (Crookwell Gazette, 17 November 1920) and then re-published by the News the following week. The News and the Gazette were the only New South Wales newspapers that that ran this particular account of the Sydney march, where female office workers were called ‘flappers’.
The correspondent for the Gazette and News was offended by the effrontery young female office workers being part of an industrial campaign march. In the years before 1920 there had been a number of controversial industrial campaigns taken across New South Wales taken by workers. The Camden News had opposed these actions.
The editorial position of the Camden News was that these young women should fit the conservative stereotype of women represented by the Mothers’ Union. Here women were socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, and the ideology of motherhood where mothering was seen as a national imperative. (Willis, Ministering Angels:20-21)
The modern girl
The Sydney ‘flappers’ were modern girls who participated in paid-work, dressed in the latest fashions, cut their hair short, watched the latest movies, bought the latest magazines and used the latest cosmetics.
The term flapper linked Camden to international trends concerned with fashion, consumerism, cosmetics, cinema – primarily visual media.
The modern girl in Camden
The ‘modern girl’ in Camden appeared in the early 1920s and was shaped by fashion, movies, cosmetics and magazines.
These two photographs illustrate that young women in Camden were modern.
The young women in this 1919 pic have short hair sitting next local returned men from the war.
Another group of the young modern women appeared in Camden in 1920s. Trainee teachers shown in the photograph taken by local Camden photographer Roy Dowle. The group of 49 young single women from Sydney stayed at the Camden showground hall in 1921 along with 15 men. In following years hundreds of young female teachers stayed at the Camden showground and did their practical training at local schools.
The flapper at the movies
The most common place to the find the ‘flapper’ in Camden was at the movies – the weekly picture show at the Forrester’s Hall in Camden main street. The world on the big screen.
The movies were a visual medium, just like fashion, cosmetics, advertising, and magazines, that allowed Camden women to embrace the commodity culture on the Interwar period.
The Camden News used the language of latest fashions and styles when it reported these events or ran advertisements for the local picture show.
One example was the advertisement for the ‘Selznick Masterpiece’ the ‘One Week of Love’ in 1923. The was first time that the term ‘flapper’ appeared in a Camden movie promotion and it was announced it to the world this way:
‘Every man, woman, flapper, bride-to-be and eligible youth in Australia is crazy-to-see its stupendous wreck scene, thrilling aeroplane crash, strong dramatic appeal, lifting humour, intoxicating love scenes, bewildering beauty, lavishness, gripping suspense, heart-toughing pathos, which all combing to make it the biggest picture of the year’. (Camden News, 9 August 1923)
According to country press reports the movie was the ‘passion play of 1923’ and showed at PJ Fox’s Star Pictures located in the Foresters’ Hall, which had opened in 1914. Starring silent film beauty Elaine Hammerstein and female heart-throb Conway Tearle the movie had enjoyed ‘a sensational long-run season’ at Sydney’s Piccadilly Theatre. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 7 March 1923)
Foreign movies blew all sorts of ideas, trends and fashions into the Camden district including notions about flappers.
Young Camden women were influenced by images and trends generated by modernism at the pictures, in magazines, in advertising, in cosmetics, and in fashion.
While Camden could be a small closed community it was not isolated from the rest of the world.
Take a stroll down any street in Australia and raise your eyes and the past will reveal itself before your very eyes.
You are wandering through living history. The past is all around you. Street names, street layout, the width of the street, the location of buildings and more.
The landscape of our cities and towns, and the countryside all owe their origins to the past.
The landscape will speak to you, but you must be prepared to listen.
Take time to let the landscape reveal itself. Just stand and soak up the past around you.
Cannot see it? Cannot feel it?
You need to look beyond the surface.
Like a painting will tell a story if you peel back the layers, so the landscape will do the same.
The landscape will speak to you. It will reveal itself.
Ask a question. Seek the answer.
The position of the tree. The type of street trees. Their size and species.
The bend in the road. The width of the street. The location of the street.
The position of the house. The colour of the house. The building materials.
Why is the street where it is? Why does it have that name?
Who walked along the street before you. Who grew up in the street? What were their childhood memories?
Ghosts of the past.
Some would say spirits of the past.
The past will speak to you if you let it in.
What was it like before there was a street?
The street is constantly changing. There are different people all the time. What clothes did people wear in the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s?
You walk along the street and into a shop. When was it built? Who owned it? What did it sell? How was it set up?
Stand at the entrance door – unchanged in 50 years – image what it was like in the past.
Just like a movie flashback.
Who moved through the landscape 1000 years ago? What was there?
Let you imagination run wild.
Let the past wash over you. The past is all around you. Let it speak to you.
The brick wall that has been there for 100 years. Who built it? Where did they live? What did they eat? What else did they build? What was the weather? Was it a sunny day like today?
Walk around the corner and you come to a monumental wall at the entry to a town. Who put it there? What does it mean?
The past is hiding in plain sight. It is in front of us all the time.
Sometimes the past is lodged in our memories and sometimes it is locked up in a photograph.
Sometimes the memories flood back as a special event or family gathering or a casual conversation.
The past is layered. It was not static. It was constantly changing.
The past is not dead. It is alive and well all around us. You just need to take it in and ‘smell the roses’.
The stories of the past are like a gate into another world. Let your imagination run wild. Like a movie flash back – like a photograph from 100 years ago – or a greying newspaper under the lino or stuffed in a wall cavity.
Like revealing layers of paint on a wall. They are layers of the past. Layers of history. Each layer has a story to tell. A past to reveal. Someone put the paint on the wall. Who were they? What did they do? Where did they go?
The Layers of history are like a mask. You want to take off the mask to reveal the face. You want the real person to reveal themselves. Sometimes the mask stays on.
The mask hides a mystery. What is it? What does it tell us? The mast of the past will reveal all eventually, maybe, sometime?
Sometimes other words are used to express the layers of history – progress – hope – nostalgia – loss – change – continuity.
The past has brought us to the present. The past is embedded in the present.
Take a moment. Think about what is around you. Take in the past in front of you. Hiding in plain sight.
The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
The past is all around us and has created the present. The present would not exist without the past. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
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