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Camden, a Macarthur family venture

The private English-style estate village of James and William Macarthur

The establishment of Camden, New South Wales, the town in 1840, was a private venture of James and William Macarthur, sons of colonial patriarch John Macarthur, at the Nepean River crossing on the northern edge of the family’s pastoral property of Camden Park. The town’s site was enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River and has regularly flooded the surrounding farmland and lower parts of the town.

John Macarthur on the cover of Australia’s Heritage 1970. The original oil painting of John Macarthur is held in SLNSW (I Willis, 2022)

The site of Camden was within the 5000 acres granted to John Macarthur by the 2nd Earl Camden [3.2], the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in 1805, while Macarthur was in England on charges for duelling. Macarthur was a fractious quarrelsome self-promoter who arrived in NSW with his wife Elizabeth and family in 1790 as paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The Corps (sometimes called The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as a permanent regiment of the British Army to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps, which had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 to fortify the colony of NSW.

The town’s site, as part of the Macarthur grants, was located on some of the finest farming country in the colony in the government Cowpastures reserve on the colonial frontier. The grants were part of the dispossession of traditional lands of the Dharawal people by the British settler colonial project and inevitably led to conflict and violence. Macarthur claimed that the town’s establishment threatened the security of his landholdings at Camden Park and opposed it during his lifetime. On his death in 1834, his sons had a different worldview and moved to establish an English-style estate village dominated by a church.

A fine Gothic-style church

The ridge-top location of St John’s Church (1840) on the southern end of the town meant that it towered over the town centre and had a clear line of sight to the Macarthur family’s Georgian mansion at Camden Park 2.6 miles to the southwest. The fine English Gothic-style church was funded mainly by the Macarthur family and has been the basis of the town’s iconic imagery. There were a number of large gentry estates built on convict labour in the surrounding farmland, the largest being the Macarthur family’s Camden Park of over 28,000 acres.

St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

Many immigrant families came to the area under Governor Bourke’s 1835 plan and settled on the gentry estates as tenant farmers, some establishing businesses in Camden. The first land sales in the village occurred in 1841, which stifled the growth of the existing European settlements in the area. The population of Camden grew from 242 in 1846 to 458 in 1856, although the gentry’s estates still dominated the village. Camden Park, for example, had a population of 900 in 1850.

English-style gentry

The English-style gentry practised philanthropy in Camden to maintain its moral tone. Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, John Macarthur’s granddaughter, encouraged the maintenance of the proprieties of life, moral order and good works, as well as memorialising her family by donating a clock and bells to St John’s Church in 1897. She also marked the memory of her late husband, Captain Onslow, by providing a public park in 1882 named after her husband (Onslow Park), which is now the Camden showground.

Transport hub

Camden became the district’s transport hub at the centre of the road network, primarily set by the pattern of land grants from the 1820s. The earliest villages in the district predated Camden and then looked to Camden for cultural and economic leadership as the district’s major centre. The arrival of the Camden tramway in 1882 meant that silver ore west of the district (1871) was shipped through the Camden railhead to the Main Southern Railway from Sydney.  

The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

Progress assured

Combined with rail access to markets, the town’s prosperity was assured by a series of technical and institutional innovations that transformed the dairy industry in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the Macarthur family set up the Camden Vale Milk Company and built a milk processing plant at the eastern end of the main street adjacent to the rail line. Whole milk was railed to Sydney and bottled under its label until the mid-1920s. Milk was delivered daily to the factory by horse and cart until the 1940s from local dairy farms.

Camden Milk Depot, trading as Camden Vale Milk Coop Ltd located at the northern end of Argyle Street adjacent to Camden Railway Station. (Camden Images)

Camden’s progress saw the construction of a new bank (1878), the commencement of weekly stock sales (1883), the formation of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society and the first Camden Show (1886), a new post and telegraph office (1898), the foundation of two weekly newspapers (Camden Times, 1879, Camden News, 1880), a new cottage hospital (1898), the formation of a fire brigade (1900), the opening of a telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), town water (1899) and the replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932), and a sewerage scheme (1939). By 1933 the population of the town had grown to 2394.

First local council

The first attempt at local government in 1843 was unsuccessful. A meeting of local notables formed the municipality of Camden at a public meeting in 1883. Still, it was not until 1889 that the municipality was proclaimed, covering 7,000 acres and including Camden and the neighbouring village of Elderslie. Nine townsmen were elected aldermen at the first election that year, and the first meeting was held at the School of Arts. In 1993 the Camden Municipal Council eventually became the Council of Camden.

In 2014 this is the head office of Camden Council in the former Victorian gentleman’s townhouse built by Henry Thompson. (Camden Images)

Street names

Camden’s 1840 street grid is still intact today, with streets named after members of the Macarthur family – John Street, Elizabeth, Edward Street – and NSW colonial notables – Oxley Street, Broughton Street, Mitchell Street. The main highway between Sydney and Melbourne (the Hume Highway) passed along the main street (Argyle Street), until it was re-routed in 1976. The town’s business centre still has several Victorian and Art Deco shopfronts.   

Some charming Federation and Californian bungalows in the church ridge-top precinct were the homes of the Camden elite in the early 20th century. The precinct is the site of Macarthur Park (1905), which was dedicated to the townsfolk by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and contained the town’s World War One cenotaph (donated by the Macarthur family).  

John Street heritage precinct

John Street runs north-south downhill to the floodplain from the commanding position of St John’s church. Lower John Street is the location of the Italianate house Macaria (c1842), St Paul’s Catholic church and the government buildings associated with the Camden police barracks (1878) and courthouse (1857), and Camden Public School (1851). This area also contains the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in the town area, Bransby’s Cottage (1842). Lower John Street has the Camden Temperance Hall (1867), which later served as Camden Fire Station (1916–1993), and the School of Arts (1866), which served as the Camden Town Hall, while the rear of the building was occupied for a time by Camden Municipal Council.

Camden School of Arts located in John Street PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

Volunteerism

Community voluntary organisations have been part of Camden’s life from the town’s foundation. In the late 1800s, they were male-dominated, usually led by the landed gentry, and held informal political power through patronage. James Macarthur sponsored the Camden School of Arts (1865) and Agricultural, Horticultural & Industrial Society (1886), later called the Camden Show Society, while the non-conformists sponsored various lodges and the temperance movement. A small clique of well-off local women established several conservative women’s organisations after Federation. Their social position supported their husbands’ political activities, and the influence of the Macarthur family was felt in these organisations, for example, the Camden Red Cross and Country Women’s Association.

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

Many men and women from Camden and the district saw military service in the Boer War and later World War One and Two when residents set up local branches of national patriotic funds and civil defence organisations. On the outskirts of the town, there were active defence establishments during World War II, including an airbase, army infantry, and training camps.

Coal mining

Economic prosperity from coal mining in the district’s western part challenged old hierarchies in the postwar years, replacing the old colonially-based rural hegemony. New community organisations like Rotary and later the Chamber of Commerce fostered business networks in the town. The Camden Historical Society (1957) promoted the town’s past and later opened a local museum (1970).

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

Urbanisation

The New South Wales state government decreed that the town would become part of a growth area in the form of ‘new cities’ under the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), modelled on the British Garden City concept. Increasing urbanisation threatened the town’s identity and the number of community members formed by the Camden Residents’ Action Group (1973).

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

In 2007 Camden was the administrative centre of the Camden Local Government Area, which had a population of over 51,000 (2006) and an area of 201 square kilometres.  The Camden LGA became part of the state government’s Sydney South West Growth Centre, planned to house 500,000 new residents, and is one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas.  

Wave of nostalgia

Increasing levels of Sydney’s urbanisation have continued, threatened the loss of rural landscapes around the town, and awakened a wave of nostalgia. The NSW state government created the Camden Town Conservation Area (2008) based on the mid-20th century country town that aimed at preserving the town’s integrity and material fabric.

Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

Posted 19 September 2022

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Blue Plaque recognises Camden Red Cross sewing circle in wartime

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

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

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

What is a Blue Plaque?

The Heritage NSW website states:

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

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

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

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

“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”

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

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

What is the Camden Red Cross story?

What is being recognised?

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

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

What is the story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will the plaque be placed?

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

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

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

What will the plaque say?

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

English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom

The English Heritage website states:

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

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

Reference for Camden Red Cross story

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

Adaptive Re-use · Architecture · Built heritag · Business · Churches · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Eastern Command Training School, Narellan, NSW · Heritage · History · History of a house · House history · Local History · Local Studies · Military history · Narellan · Place making · Placemaking · Schools · Second World War · Sense of place · Storytelling · Village

Narellan’s Built Heritage

The beginning

The name Narellan is used for the village, the district and the parish, and was probably derived from William Hovell’s 1816 grant of 700 acres (283 hectares) called Narralling. Most of the parish of Narellan was granted to settlers by Governor Macquarie between 1810 and 1818. 

In 1827 Robert Hoddle and John Oxley had surveyed the site of the village, which was set out in a rectilinear plan, and marked the site of a church, school and courthouse.

Narellan was one of four villages that pre-date the foundation of Camden in 1840 in the Cowpastures. The others were Cawdor, Cobbitty and Elderslie.

Narellan’s built heritage items

Former St Thomas Church Hall and schoolhouse

1A Wilson Crescent

Built in 1839 as a church by Thomas Hassall and served on weekdays as a schoolroom.

Former St Thomas Church

1A Wilson Crescent

Built in 1884 to a design by colonial architect Edmund Blacket (1879)

Former St Thomas Schoolhouse and Church 2022 K & P Lyons

Former Camden Country Milk Depot

259 Camden Valley Way

Built in the 1920s and owned by Mr Coleman. It was closed in 1931 when stricter health regulations around milk were introduced in NSW.

Former Camden Country Milk Mepot c1920s-(Nrln walk broch)

Former Tildsley butcher shop

269 Camden Valley Way

Built in 1937 and operated until the early 2000. The site has operated as Cake Biz since 2003.

Former Tildsley Butcher Shop and Cottage, 283 Camden Valley Way, Narellan ( 2022 CB)

Narellan Hotel

279-283 Camden Valley Way

The former Queen’s Arms Hotel opened in 1847, modified in 1937 and operated as Byrne’s Hotel. The current building underwent extensive renovations in 2003.

Narellan Hotel, 279-283 Camden Valley Way, Narellan (MacAdvert 2020)

Ben Linden

311 Camden Valley Way

Built in 1919 by George Blackmore as a residence for Anne Stuckey. Later a maternity hospital and in the 1960s a convalescent hospital.

Yamba Cottage 181 Camden Valley Way Narellan (Camden Images, 1980s)

Former Burton Arms Inn

332 Camden Valley Way

Built in c1830, the site has operated as a hotel, general store, auto electrical workshop, and most recently a real estate office.

Former Burton Arms Inn c1830 (I Willis, 2022)

Narellan Public School

Cnr Coghill Street & Camden Valley Way

Built in 1877 as a schoolhouse and resident. The school opened in 1875 after St Thomas Anglican school closed in 1874.

Narellan Public School buildings (Camden Images/John Kooyman 1997)

Narellan Cemetery

Richardson Road

Surveyed as a cemetery in 1827 by Robert Hoddle with the first burials in the 1840s.

Narellan Cemetery Richardson Road Narellan (ACI, 2010s)

Struggletown

Stewart Street, Narellan.

Struggletown cottages (1995 Macarthur Chronicle)

Sharman’s Slab Cottage

Stewart Street

Struggletown cottage (ST)

Yamba

81 Camden Valley Way

Yamba is an Edwardian timber cottage built in the early 20th century.

Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)

Studley Park

52 Lodges Road

Built in 1888-1889 as the last gentleman’s ‘country estate’ in the local area by Sydney businessman William Charles Payne. Designed by Sydney architects AL & G McCredie. Served as Camden Classical and Commercial School (1901-1919), country retreat for Twentieth Century Fox executive AA Gregory (1933-1939), Eastern Command Training School (Army) (1940-1945), Citizen Military Forces (Army Reserve) (1948-1951), Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (1951), Camden Golf Club (1951-present)

Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

Sources

Heritage walking tour of Narellan  (K & P Lyons, c2010)

Narellan, Dictionary of Sydney (2008)

Posted 17 April 2022

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.

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Sunday sport banned in Camden

The day sport was banned on Onslow Park

Camden has a fine tradition of sport dating back into the 19th century. But one day in 1925 Camden’s civic leaders banned Sunday sport at Onslow Park.

There was no public outcry. There were no protests in the street. It passed without a murmur.

So what prompted this momentous decision?

This view of Onslow Park shows a cricket match being played in background sometime in the 1930s. The two handsome fellows are members of the Whiteman family, one in cricket whites just having a break. (Camden Images)

A letter to Camden Municipal Council in early 1925 from  Rev CJ King, rector of St Johns Church, and Rev AH Johnstone, minister at the Camden Methodist Church, complained about a clash between religious services held on Onslow Park and a number of Sunday cricket matches. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)

The 1925 ban Sunday sport erupted after the Camden Mayor, GF Furner, granted permission for religious services on Sundays at Onslow Park. There had subsequently been a clash between local cricketers and religious services in January 1925 using the ground. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)

Originally Onslow Park had been made available to the Camden community by Sir William Macarthur and Mrs Elizabeth Onslow in 1882 from their pastoral property of Camden Park. The 10 acres had been put into a trust (a deed of gift) that allowed the area to be used by ‘inhabitants and visitors to the town and district as a pleasure ground and place of recreation’. The trustees were JK Chisholm, HP Reeves, E Simpson, and F Ferguson. (Camden News, 16 September 1897)

Recreation Grounds

William Theobald writes that recreation grounds date back to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians around 2000 BC. During Ancient Greek and Roman times these parks and open spaces were the privilege of the elites. In England the story of recreation grounds dates back to the 14th century when wasteland, or the local village common, reserved for grazing cows was made available for children’s play and ‘young people’ (men) after the days work.

London’s Royal Parks were opened to the public on Sundays with the first being Hyde Park in 1635. Urban recreation grounds were a Victorian innovation in response to the unhealthy aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the desire by Victorians to improve the physical and spiritual well-being of town dwellers. St James Park in London was the first public park opened in 1835.

Pleasure Ground

The concept of a public pleasure ground outlined in the Onslow Park 1882 Deed of Gift dates back to Ancient Romans and usually related to landscaped gardens. In England pleasure grounds were gardens opened for entertainment and recreation from the 18th century and often had concert halls, bandstands, zoos, amusement rides and menageries.  

These were the influences and traditions that encouraged the Macarthur family to dedicate Onslow Park to the Camden community in 1882. The family were always interested in improvements in the well-being of the local population.

This is a Roy Dowle image showing Onslow Park being used for the Camden Show in the early 1920s. (Roy Dowle, Camden Images)

The earliest references to Camden sport on Onslow Park date back to the mid-1890s with local football matches. There was  a press report of a lively rugby match between Camden and Campbelltown and consideration was given to the formation of the football club. (Camden News, 13 June 1895)

The Camden cricketers had the use of the grounds on a regular basis with the first reports in the Camden press to cricket being played on Onslow Oval in 1895. (Camden News, 1 August 1895)

Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)

The background story of the Sunday sporting bans had been complicated when the responsibility for Onslow Park had been transferred to the council from the Onslow Park Trust and the Camden AH&I Society in 1924 by an act of parliament. The New South Wales government specified in the Act that the ground was to be used for ‘public recreation’ (Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)).  The ground trust was represented by FA Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park, and the Camden AH&I Society by GM Macarthur Onslow, and TC Barker of Maryland.

The Sunday ban on sport lasted into World War Two and only changed after it was challenged by Camden barber Albert Baker when he established the Camden Soccer Club in 1943. He wanted to encourage Sunday sporting matches between the Camden civilian population and personnel at local defence establishments. These establishments included the RAAF Base at Camden Airfield, the Narellan Army Camp and the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park, Narellan.

This image of Onslow Park from the 1920s shows a foot race with members of the Boardman family. (V Boardman, Camden Images)

Even earlier war the Sunday sporting ban had remained in place after Rev AE Putland from the Camden Methodist Church had raised objections to Sunday cricket in 1941.(Camden News 13 March 1941) 

‘Too hot to handle’

Baker’s challenge to the sporting ban was discussed by Camden Municipal Council in mid-1943 when a rescission motion was placed on the council business papers.

The rescission motion was highly contentious and was considered ‘too hot to handle’ by council aldermen.

The proposed solution was a referendum.

The opposing camps divided on religious lines. The Methodists conducted the ‘No’ campaign and handed out literature in Argyle Street. The ‘Yes’ vote was supported by the soccer club, St John’s Church of England and their supporters. There were heated letters in the Camden News, and George Sidman, its owner and an active Methodist, remained impartial during the whole debate.

Eventually common-sense prevailed and the result was a resounding ‘Yes’, with 393 votes, to 197 ‘No’ votes, and as far as Sidman was concerned that was the end of the matter. The soccer competition between the military and the Camden community proved to be a complete success. (Camden News, 1 July 1943, 15 July 1943, 22 July 1943, 29 July 1943, 5 August 1943.)

Other communities with defence establishments did not have similar problems. For example at Temora RAAF airmen became involved in cricket and tennis, and Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) personnel played basketball, while in Albury the military joined local sporting competitions (Maslin, Wings Over Temora, p. 29; Pennay, On the Home Front, p. 32.).

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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.

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Motherhood and nation-building in the early 20th century

Infant mortality and the ideology of motherhood.

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

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

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

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

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

Motherhood as national building

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

Swift writes:

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

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

Developing national anxiety around motherhood

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

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

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

‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’

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

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

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

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

Red Cross Baby Day in Camden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall of Singapore and the Camden response

Camden response to the Fall of Singapore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ‘A black month’

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

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

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

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

(Camden News, 11 December 1941)

The Camden News Front Page 11 December 1941

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

We are getting worried!

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

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

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

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

(Camden News, 29 January 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 29 January 1942

A profound shock

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

Terry Stewart writes that Singapore

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

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

Total War

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

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

(Camden News, 19 February 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 19 February 1942

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

Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captivity

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

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

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

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

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

Updated 1 February 2021. Originally posted 29 January 2021.

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Brand Anzac – meaning and myth

A historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

For over a century, the Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.

Anzac Day Leaflet listing local services in the Federal electorate of Hume (AG)

In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017, University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australia’s cultural identity. The attentive audience was a mix of ages and interests, including past military personnel.

One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time and announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture. 

The camp administration block with A Bailey in the foreground at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942. The camp was in operation between 1940 and 1944 (A Bailey).

Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of  Anzac and that there is far from just one truth.  Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has grown into something bigger than itself.

The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood, and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.

Shifts in meaning

The term Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations and the 1960s social movements. Its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for currently serving military personnel, while others have chosen to take cheap potshots at those who question the orthodoxy.

The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

The tented lines at the Narellan Military Camp in 1941. Thousands of troops passed through the camp during its operation between 1940 and 1944 (A Bailey).

Tensions and contradictions

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.

The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product of industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some were the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.

There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.

Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.

The WW1 Memorial Gate at Macarthur Park was erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription from the Camden community, with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stresses honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.

On the hand, the digger mythology’s unofficial story is about a man who is not a professional soldier, egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-around Aussie bloke.

The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.

Gunner Bruce Guppy

In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic fellow and stated, ‘life is what you make it’.

Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning, non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia, he never discussed his wartime service with his family until I married his daughter.

Bruce Guppy and his unit, the 2/1st Australian Mountain Battery AIF, at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March. Guppy is in the front row, fourth from the left (I Willis).

Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet he willingly participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and, in 1995, wrote a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:

An Old Soldier Remembers

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

Bruce Guppy, Bruce’s Ballads by the Bard from Berry. Guppy/Willis, Berry, 1996.

So it surprised no one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved by his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.

For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.

A Red Cross poster was used for patriotic fundraising purposes in 1918 during World War One. (Australian Red Cross).

While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural development of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.

The site and the myth

Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band, the Dropkick Murphys.

These comments contrasted with the opening address by an ex-military Alumni organiser. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF celebrated in military training in Australia today are: the withdrawal of troops at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba.

These views contrast with recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources that have shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield has used as a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft. The trainee pilots then served with RAF and RAAF squadrons in Europe during World War 2  (1942 LG Fromm).

The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.

Pilgrims and memory

Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the modern pilgrimage industry.

Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).

Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They seek the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.

The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.

Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.

For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government on how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
RAAF Camden and the Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941. Some of these young men served with RAF and RAAF squadrons in the European theatre during World War 2 (RAAF Historical).

Brand Anzac

Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.

Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.

Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offer contradictions for some and realities for others.

The members of the Australian community are the ones who will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.

One version of the story of the commemoration of the meaning of Anzac is the recently completed mural sponsored by the Camden RSL Club called ‘Operation Digger March’located at 23 Cawdor Road Camden. The full story of the mural can be found in Camden History journal March 2022 v5 n3. (I Willis, 2022)

The Camden RSL War Memorial at 23 Cawdor Road Camden is the site of the annual dawn service in the Camden township (I Willis 2022)

Updated on 23 April 2022, 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’

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The patriotism of the wartime sock knitter

Fussing over socks

During the First World War, there was a considerable fuss over socks. Not just any ordinary socks but hand-knitted socks. Camden women hand-knitted hundreds of pairs of socks. So what was going on?

As it turns out there was a good reason for all the fuss.

Soldiers on the Western Front suffered in terrible conditions in the trenches. They were constantly wet and cold. In winter there were freezing temperatures.

First World War Freezing conditions soldier 1914-1918 NLS

Fungal feet

Under these conditions, there was a constant danger of the soldiers getting trench foot. Jenny Raynor at Sydney Living Museum writes that this was

a potentially debilitating fungal infection that thrived in the wet, cold and squalid conditions, and could lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated.

Soldiers wore stiff leather boots that were poorly insulated with two pairs of socks in freezing winter conditions to keep out the cold and wet.

Authorities recommended that troops change their socks twice a day to avoid trench feet. Reports from New Zealand maintained in 1915 that

a pair of socks lasted no more than two weeks when on active service.

So it was unsurprising that there was a constant shortage of socks.

Shortages from the start

Sock shortages commenced from the outbreak of war and illustrated how the progress of the war completely overwhelmed military authorities with their unrealistic expectations.

At the Liverpool Infantry Camp in November 1914 military authorities were advising that three pairs of woollen socks would be adequate for the duration of the campaign, while new recruits were advised by bring ‘strong boots’ and ‘knitted socks’ because the army could not supply them.

Military supply authorities never really got to grips with the problem of shortages throughout the war. Even the vast US military machine could not supply sufficient numbers of socks to their troops when the US government entered the war in 1917. The U.S. government Committee on Public Information sponsored the  ‘‘Knit Your Bit’’ campaign conducted by the American Red Cross.

Keep knitting

Knitting for the troops was not restricted to the American Red Cross.

Knitting was part of the homefront response to the outbreak of war across all British Empire countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

First World War Sock knitting Cudgewa 1916 SLNSW

Across the globe, millions of knitted items found their way to the trenches on the Western Front.

Socks were only one of a large list of items that women made for the war effort. Other knitted items included cholera belts, scarves, gloves and balaclavas, and this was supplemented by a considerable effort sewing hospital supplies.

Women volunteer to supply socks

Australian women volunteered to supply knitted from the start of the war. Unlike women in the United Kingdom, Australian women did not replace men in their civilian roles during the war.

In Australia, the push for knitted-socks, and other items, was co-ordinated by the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and other groups including the Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

First World War Sock knitting War Chest 1917 SLNSW

In Queensland, the Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, established the Queensland Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

Knitted socks were part of the soldier’s bag that Red Cross volunteers signed up to supply on the foundation of branches throughout New South Wales in August 1914. Red Cross knitters in Camden and across Australia supplied thousands of pairs of knitted socks to soldiers.

In Camden, the new Red Cross branch supplied ‘a large number of socks’ in the first weeks of the war’ including supplies to the Australian Light Horse regiment and the 4th Battalion of Infantry. By September 1915 Camden Red Cross workers had supplied 456 pairs of knitted socks to Red Cross headquarters in Sydney amongst a host of other hand-made items.

Annette, Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand Governor Lord Liverpool,

Lady Liverpool instigated ‘Sock Day’, when the women of New Zealand were encouraged to knit enough socks to provide every soldier with two new pairs (around 30,000 pairs in total).

The First World War was not the first time that women volunteers had supplied knitted socks to Australian troops in wartime. In 1900 Camden women supplied 120 pairs of knitted socks to Camden troops in South Africa in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. These were similar to the activities of British women.

Millions of socks

It has been estimated that Australian women knitted over 1.3 million pairs of socks for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund for the war effort.

Often with a small personal note inside the sock informing the digger who had knitted the garment along with a brief message. (The Conversation 11 August 2014)

Knitting patterns were distributed and cheap wool was made available to knitters.

First World War Cover Knitting Book Aust Comforts Fund Vic 1918 ARC
The cover of the sock knitting pattern book ‘Directions for Standard Socks for Our Men on Active Service’. It was issued by the Australian Comforts Fund in 1918 (ARC)

 

In 2012 volunteer knitter Janet Burningham from Wrap with Love found that it took about a day to knit each sock. She used a rare grey sock pattern and Paton’s 8-ply grey wool and needles. Socks were knitted in the round on double-pointed needles leaving no seams.

First World War Knitted Socks reproduction 2012 Fairfax

The iconic sock knitter

The solo woman sock knitter was one of the everlasting iconic images of the war at home in Australia.

The iconic image of The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by Grace Cossington Smith found at the  Art Gallery of NSW. The gallery states

The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist’s sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, ‘The sock knitter’ counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.

 

Art AGNSW The Sock Knitter Grace Cossington Smith 1915
‘The Sock Knitter’ painted by Grace Cossington Smith in 1915 (AGNSW)

 

Knitting mediating grief

The action of Camden women and others who became wartime sock knitters was an act of patriotism. They were supporting their boys using one of their traditional domestic arts.

Knitting, sewing, and other domestic arts were unpaid war work and a form of patriotism when women in Australia did not replace men at home in the First World War, unlike the United Kingdom. Historian Bruce Scates has written that women invested a large amount of ‘emotional energy’ in their knitting and sewing.

Women were the mediators of wartime grief and bereavement and knitting and sewing groups were women-only spaces where they could comfort each other and ease the loneliness.

Sock solution

Suzanne Fischer writes that the sock problem and trench foot still existed in the Second World War for American troops stationed in Alaska. She states:

Characteristically, Americans finally reduced their trench foot casualties by throwing more technology at the problem. Thee Shoepac system, introduced in 1944, combined a rubber foot and an impermeable outer leather layer with a felt liner to keep feet dry. These boots were also stylish, which increased their use.

 

Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 10 March 2020.