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Hawaii arrives in Camden

Hawaiian music and hula dance craze

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)

Postcard of Hula Dancers in Honolulu, Hawaii in the 1930s (Ebay)

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)

Grossly indecent

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)

Poster for King Vidor’s ‘Birds of Paradise’ film (RKO/The Film Daily)

Dolores del Río in a dance scene from King Vidor’s ‘Bird of Paradise’ in 1932 screened at Campbelltown’s Macquarie Cinema (Wikimedia)

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)

Promotional material for the film ‘Hawaii Calls’ screened at Camden’s Paramount Movie Theatre in 1938 (RKO Radio Pictures 1938)


Camden News, 6 June 1938

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)

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)

Fisk Radiola Wireless Set advertised by James Pinkerton, Argyle Street, Camden (
, 22 December 1938)

 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)

References

Adria L. Imada (2004). Hawaiians on Tour: Hula Circuits through the American Empire. American Quarterly, 56(1), 111–149. doi:10.2307/40068217 

Appin · Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · British colonialism · Campbelltown Art Centre · Collective Memory · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Commemoration · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cowpastures Bicentennial · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · History · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorialisation · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Placemaking · Public art · Sculpture · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized

The memory of the Cowpastures: the Cowpastures Bicentennial and the Appin Massacre

Representations of the memory of the Cowpastures

The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.

The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.

John Hunter, Second Governor of New South Wales 1795-1800 and Royal Navy Officer (Wikimedia)

Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.

This is a portrait of Governor Phillip Gidley King, the third governor of the British colony of New South Wales from 1800-1806. He saw service in the British Navy with the rank of captain. (SLNSW)

Collective memories

 According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’,[1] and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.

The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.

Material culture

This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.

Case Studies

1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial

Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.

Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown,[2] local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’.  A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.

In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures.  Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation.[3]  The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book. 

The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement.[4]  The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.

A postcard produced in 1995 at the time of the Cowpastures Bicentennial of the Cowpastures Quilt produced by the Camden Quilters. (1995, Camden Museum)

Statue of Governor Hunter

In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release.   The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.  

According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.  

The statue of Governor Hunter in the suburb of Mount Annan. Land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons (1942-2018) in 1995 to construct the work. Officially opened by the Mayor of Camden, Councillor FH Brooking, on the 6th April 1995. (I Willis, 2022)

Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.[5] 

On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.

The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.[6]

Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre

Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.

European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children[7] on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.  

 

Governor Macquarie (SLNSW)

The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area.[8]  By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.[9] 

In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them.[10] The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:

The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.

The memorial and remembrance service have given the descendants of Indigenous people a voice in telling the Cowpastures story.

The plaque at the Cataract Dam picnic area. The memorial was placed at the picnic area in 2007, jointly organised by Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group and Wollondilly Shire Council, following the memorial service started in 2005 by the Reconciliation Group. (Monuments Australia, 2010)

In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.[11]

Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape

In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.[12]

The application was approved in December 2022.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.

Voices of Indigenous Australians

In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.[13]

Endnotes


[1] Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.

[2] Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.

[3] Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3

[4] Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2

[5] Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.

[6] Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture.  Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.

[7] Karskens, Grace, Appin massacre, Dictionary of Sydney, 2015, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre , viewed 09 Oct 2022

[8] Macarthur Chronicle, 12 April 2005.

[9] The District Reporter, 20 April 2009.

[10] Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.

[11] Tess Allas and David Garneau (Curators), With Secrecy and Despatch. Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, 9 April-13 June 2016, Campbelltown. Online at With Secrecy & Despatch | Campbelltown Arts Centre (c-a-c.com.au) Viewed 9 October 2022.

[12]Heritage NSW, Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape (Under Consideration), Heritage NSW, Sydney, 2022. Viewed 10/10/22. Online at

https://apps.environment.nsw.gov.au/dpcheritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5067855

[13] Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, Conflict in the Early Colony 1788-1817. Sydney, NewSouth, 2018.


Initially published in The Federation of Australian Historical Societies Newsletter, December 2022, No 54. Online at https://www.history.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/FAHS-Newsletter-No-54-2_page-0001.pdf titled The memory of the Cowpastures in monuments and memorials

1932 · Artefacts · Camden · Camden Museum · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Ephemera · Heritage · History · Interwar · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Place making · Political history · Propaganda · Sense of place · Starvation Debenture · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Political propaganda in 1932

The Starvation Debenture

I recently came across this political propaganda piece in the Camden Museum collection. It is a political flyer for the United Country Party from the 1932 New South Wales state election. The flyer was titled the ‘Starvation Debenture’.

It is reasonable to assume the flyer was circulating in the Camden area at the time for it to end up in the museum collection.

The front of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The “Starvation Debenture” features the hammer and sickle emblem in a circle at the centre top, and ONE LANG printed in squares in each corner, “Starvation Debenture” is printed across the top to foot blame for the Depression to the three caricatures, Premier Jack Lang, union leader Jock Garden, and an unidentified politician (possibly Theodore the Federal Treasurer who was at odds with Lang), are printed in circles beneath this, accompanied by a printed caption criticising the Lang government. (Camden Museum)

The certificate was issued against the wider background of the Great Depression, the White Australia Policy and the conflict between the rise of communism and fascism in Europe. These forces were played out in the 1932 state election and were just as relevant in Camden as anywhere else in the state.  

Stephen Thompson from the Powerhouse Museum has argued:

New political ideas were coming to Australia from migrants from Europe. These ideas included fascism and socialism. These ideas were embraced by some as solutions to the growing racial and economic problems facing the world after World War One. To conservatives it was a direct threat to Australia’s links to the past of protection and governance by Britain and British class structures.

 The Interwar period also saw the emergence of a number of organisations that influenced state politics:

  • the Old Guard – a secret fascist organisation formed as a counter-revolutionary group and opposed the Lang Government, originally established in 1917;
  • the New Guard – a fascist paramilitary organisation that split with the Old Guard was pro-monarchist, anti-bolshevik, and pro-imperialist;
  • the New State Movementthe Riverina and New England State movements.
The reverse of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The text on the reverse side consists of further criticisms, particularly regarding Lang’s loan ‘repudiation policy’, and urges support for the United Country Party: “Help United Country Party Candidates to Snip the Latch on Lang on June 11”. The United Country Party was the forerunner of the present National Party’.  (Camden Museum)

Reports of the flyer in the Sydney and country press

The Sydney press published a picture of the United Country Party flyer and there was an immediate demand for the leaflet. In the end, the United Country Party distributed over 200,000 flyers across the state. (SMH,4 June 1932)

The country press carried reports of the circulation of the flyer. The Wellington Times reported that the UCP flyers circulated around the town for the ‘amusement of the townspeople’. (Wellington Times, 9 June 1932)

At a political rally in Albury United Country Party supporters handing out flyers brawled with Langites who ‘did not like the leaflets’. (Sun, 8 June 1932) and the Melbourne press carried more reports (Argus, 6 June 1932).

United Country Party organisers were elated with the response to the flyers:

All over the country there has been a rush to secure the “starvation debentures” as souvenirs, and in many places they are pasted on the walls of hotels. (Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1932)

1932 State Election

Polling for the state election was held on Saturday 11 June 1932 for the single chamber of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. The opposing camps were Jack Lang’s Labor Party and Bertram Stevens’s United Australia Party and United Country Party coalition.  

The third Lang government had been dismissed by Governor Philip Game on 13 May 1932. The Governor requested the Opposition Leader, BSB Stevens, to form an interim government until the election.

The Stevens coalition won the election with an 11 per cent swing against the Lang government and ended up with a 42-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The Labor vote was diluted because the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party ran 43 endorsed candidates against the state division candidates. The ALP had split in 1931 and none of the Federal ALP candidates was elected. Both parties re-united in 1936.

Camden and the 1932 election

Camden and the surrounding villages were in the state electoral district of Wollondilly which also took in the Southern Highlands and Picton districts.

The endorsed candidates in Wollondilly were: United Australia Party was represented by Mark F Morton, MLA, John J Cleary represented the ALP (NSW) and Patrick W Kenna ALP (Federal). Morton was re-elected with a 71% primary vote.

MF Morton (NSW Parliament)

The Camden press reported the remarks of the acting premier BSB Stevens in a front-page editorial. It stated:

Above all, each and every one of them wishes to maintain Australia’s membership of the British Empire the greatest of all democracies — and to keep Australia free from the taint of communism and its tyrannous methods. Freedom-loving Australians, like Britons from whom they are descended, shall never be the slaves of such a demoralising, dishonest, and humiliating system. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

The Camden branch of the United Australia Party organised a public meeting addressed by MF Morton, the endorsed UAP candidate. The meeting was chaired by Mr EA Davies, and Mr Morton

  gave an interesting resume of the events leading to the dismissal of the Lang Government ; stressing the point that it had been the first Ministry of the Crown to incite disobedience to the law of the land. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

Mrs W Larkin and Miss Grace Moore moved a motion of thanks.

Enthusiastic rallies and vitriol

 The 1932 election campaign was typified by large gatherings on both sides of the political spectrum, with a number of public meetings in Camden.

 The acting premier, Bertrum Stevens, travelled over 1000 miles across the state in the days before the election. There was a particularly large rally at Peak Hill where over 5000 people gathered to listen to the acting premier and gave him a ‘thunderous reception’.

Jack Lang (NLA)

In the Sydney Domain, Jack Lang held a rally with over 200,000 people assembled to listen to the dismissed premier. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Another rally in the Domain organised by the Same Democracy League denounced Langism and one speaker that voting for Jack Lang was ‘voting for civil war and bloodshed’. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Attachment to place · Belonging · Biography · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Family history · Farming · Gothic · Heritage · Historical Research · History · Landscape · Local History · Local Studies · Myths · Placemaking · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Victorian · Women's history · Women's Writing

A great yarn of the bush from colonial New South Wales

Preview

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.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel (A&U)

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.

Remarkable woman

Rachel Kennedy was quite a woman and the Mudgee Guardian and North West Reporter wrote an extensive obituary in 1930 on her death. It stated in part:

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)

Rachel’s obituary was also published in the Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (10 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)

Family History

McGill’s Rachel represents the genealogical genre of family history as it should be written. The book shows how such a story can be approached and can generate an appeal to a wide audience. Others who have achieved this goal include Nick Brodie’s Kin, A Real People’s History of Our Nation, Graeme Davison’s Lost Relations, Fortunes of my Family in Australia’s Golden Age and Peter FitzSimons’s A Simpler Time.

Rachel Inglis’s (Kennedy) family and home at Box Ridge near Coonabarabran in NSW c.1890s (Jeff McGill)

It was very common for women from the rural under-class to disappear into the shadows of history without any acknowledgement of their existence. The lives of some of these women are probably best reflected in stories like Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife (1892), a piece of Australian Gothic fiction. Author Samantha Leersen writes:

‘The Drover’s Wife,’ and the fears felt by its protagonist, presents a fictitious account of the real concerns experienced by settler Australians.

‘The Drovers Wife’ by Russell Drysdale (1945) and the author Henry Lawson 1902 (1867-1922) (UoS)

Rachel’s story has many parallels with Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife.

Female Biography

McGill’s Rachel is another addition to the popular genre of female biography which has seen a number of publications about colonial women in recent times. These include Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, Elizabeth Rushen and Perry McIntyre’s Fair Game, Australia’s First Immigrant Women, Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza Power and Colonial Storytelling, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell’s Searching for Charlotte, The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author, Anne Philp’s Caroline’s Diary, A Woman’s World in Colonial Australia and others.

The cover notes for McGill’s Rachel state:

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.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel 2022

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.

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Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.

(Facebook, 23 November 2015)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society.  In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).

The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal.  The first appeared in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

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

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.

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The West Journal

A new lifestyle magazine

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

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

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

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

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

Minimalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural diversity and stereotypes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic Gabriele Gwyther has argued that Western Sydney is a

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

A rich history

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

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

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

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

Embracing growth and change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping it meets its aim.

Pick up your print copy or view it online

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Camden Show · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · History · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Miss Showgirl · Modernism · Myths · Pageant · Ruralism · Sense of place · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Volunteering · Volunteerism · Women's history

The enduring appeal of a rural pageant

Miss Showgirl

 Once again, country show societies are gearing up for the annual New South Wales Miss 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 Miss 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. It has seen off a variety of other pageants and successfully competes with several others. In these days of television celebrity fashion competitions, the Miss Showgirl competition is a bit of an anachronism.  Rather quaint, yet with an underlying strength that is endearing to supporters.

Miss Showgirl 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 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 RAS Miss Royal Easter Showgirl for 1978 in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The winner is an 18-year-old trainee nurse from Mungindi in rural New South Wales. (AWW 29 March 1978)

The values expressed in the Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl entrants prepared by 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins are a little bit 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 rural women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether they are university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunity.  

Showtime, the show ball and Miss Showgirl, are representative of notions of rurality. Miss 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 identify with the local area. According to Suzie Sherwood, a member of the 2004 Camden organising committee, 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 rural identity and its response to city-based decision making.

Miss Camden Showgirl for 2018 in the Australia Day Parade on the float for the Camden Show. (I Willis)

Rural New South Wales faces constant challenges, and Miss 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 in the social pages.  Miss Showgirl draws on rural traditions surrounding debutante balls, bachelor and spinsters balls and similar community gatherings that express a sense of place. The essence of localism.

Glamour and style are back, and Miss 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’ Miss Showgirls sashing 1st place in the dairy-cow-section recall days of the ‘Lady of the Manor’ and the English village fair. 

2011 Camden Show Girl and Camden’s first Sydney Royal Showgirl, Hilary Scott. (The District Reporter 3 October 2011)

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 have 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 that projects the contemporary vibrancy and complexities of Miss Showgirl.

Camden Showgirl Winners

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  2015 Kate Boardman 2016 Danielle Rodney 2017 Tess Madeley 2018 Corinne Fulford 2019 Nicole Sandrone 2020 Tiarna Scerri  

These women have come from diverse backgrounds and acted as a rural ambassador for the Camden Show.

The Land Sydney Royal Show Girl Competition for 2022 website states:

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.

https://www.camdenshow.com/members/itemlist/category/133-show-ball

Originally published as ‘Miss Showgirl, an enduring anachronism’ in The District Reporter 3 October 2011

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Camden’s carpenters

A local traditional trade

Carpentry was an essential craft in all communities and has been practised for centuries. In the Camden area, the traditional trade of carpentry as it was practised had a variety of forms.  Traditional trades were part of the process of settler colonialism on the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures.

In pre-settlement times, the first form of bush carpentry was practised by the Aborigines. They stripped bark from trees and used it for shelters that kept them from the natural elements and made weapons.

At the time of European settlement, many on the frontier had no formal trades skills and learnt bush carpentry from watching the Aboriginal people or experimenting themselves. The bush carpenter was a practical make-do pioneer who innovated with naturally occurring products from their local environment. They practised sustainability in a period when it was a necessity for their very survival and relied on their ingenuity, adaptability and wit.

A rudimentary vernacular domestic style architecture typical of frontier settlement constructed from available local materials. The farmhouse Illustrated here is the home of V Kill and his family in the Burragorang Valley in 1917 with some intrepid bushwalkers. The cottage is slab construction with a dirt floor and no electricity. The cottage is surrounded by the vegetable garden which is carefully tended by the family. (Camden Images)

Some of the bush carpenter’s spirit and tradition arrived with the early European settlers and owed some of its origins to the English tradition of green woodworking. This traditional practice dates back to the Middle Ages and is linked with coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management.  The craftsmen led a solitary existence in the woods and made a host of items from unseasoned green timber, including furniture, tools, fencing, kitchenware and other things.

The bush carpenters were amongst the first in the Camden area to erect building structures. Like other rural areas of Australia, the Camden area’s landscape has been defined by the bush carpenter’s huts and sheds. One example was illustrated in Peter Mylrea’s Camden District (2002), the so-called Government Hut erected at the Cowpastures in 1804.

This view of the Government Hut in the Cowpastures at the Nepean River crossing illustrates the rudimentary form of construction on the colonial frontier in 1804. (State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1)

The early settlers who built these basic shelters did so without the manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution. Either through cost or just a make-do attitude, they built rudimentary vernacular buildings that lasted for decades. In later times settlers’ structures were improved with the introduction of galvanised iron after the 1820s.

There were many examples of huts and farm sheds being erected in other parts of the Camden district, remote from major centres, like the Burragorang Valley. Post-and-rail fencing and a host of other structures put a defining character on the rural landscape. There is still evidence of bush carpentry in and around Camden.

The former farm shed c1900-1910 apply renamed the barn is popular with weddings and other activities at the Camden Community Garden. This farm shed illustrates the rudimentary type of construction practiced as a form of bush carpentry in the local area. (I Willis, 2018)

The bush carpenter’s tool kit usually did not have specialised tools and would have included saws, axes, adze, chisels, augers, hammers, wedges, spade, and other items. Their kit was meant to cope with all the contingencies of the rural frontier that were typical of the remote parts of the Camden district.

The formal trade of carpentry and joinery has a long history going back centuries centred on the guilds. Guilds appeared in England in the Middle Ages, and according to the website London Lives 1690-1800, their purpose was to

 defend the interests of the trade, regulate the quality of workmanship and the training of new members, and provide support and welfare for their members.

https://www.londonlives.org/static/Guilds.jsp

In London, they were established by charter and regulated by the City authorities. Guilds in London had considerable political power and were one of the largest charitable institutions in the City. Carpenters were organised in the Carpenter’s Company, one of 12 powerful London guilds. Guilds were a mixture of apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen, with no women.

In the colony of New South Wales, carpenters were formally trained artisans have examples of their work in colonial mansions of the grand estates and the many local towns and villages across the Camden district. These artisans used milled timber and other manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution that were readily available and that their clients could afford.

Camden’s carpenters were a mixture of journeymen and master craftsmen, who had served their apprenticeship in Camden and elsewhere. John Wrigley’s Historic Buildings of Camden (1983) lists 38 carpenters/builders who worked in Camden between the 1840s and 1980s.

The pre-WW2 tradesmen used hand tools and traditional construction methods, which is evident in any of the town’s older buildings and cottages. Take particular notice when you walk around central Camden of the fine quality of artistry that has stood the test of time from some of these traditional tradesmen.

The hand tools used by the Camden carpenter changed little in centuries of development and refinement. The tool kit of the mid-1800s would have included hammers, chisels, planes, irons, clamps, saws, mallet, pincers, augers and a host of other tools. It would be very recognisable by a 21st-century tradesman. Master carpenter, Fred Lawton’s tool kit, is on display at the Camden museum (TDR 19/12/11)

A display of hand tools at the Camden Museum. This display illustrates the range of tools that made up the carpenter’s toolkit for his job. Shown here is a range of saws, hammers, augers, planes, adze, and other tools. (2021 KHolmquist)

Hand tools were utilitarian, and some had decorated handles and stocks, particularly those from Germany and British makers. By the early 19th century, many hand tools were being manufactured in centres like Sheffield, UK, and these would have appeared in the Camden area. Carpenters traditionally supplied their own tools and would mark on their hand tools to clearly identify them. Many of the hand tools became highly specialised, especially for use by cabinet-makers, joiners and wood-turning. 

The Camden carpenters listed in the 1904 New South Wales Post Office Directory were JP Bensley, John Franklin, Joseph Packenham and Thomas Thornton, while at Camden Park, there was Harry ‘Herb’ English.  According to Herb’s nephew Len English, Herb English was one of a number of generations of the English family who were carpenters in the early years of the 20th century in the Camden area. It was a family tradition for the sons to be apprenticed in the trade to their father and work at Camden Park.  This practice followed the training principles of English carpentry guilds under a system of patrimony.

Camden carpenter Herbert English working at Camden Park in the 1920s. This image illustrates the use of hand tools here showing the use of the chisel, mallet, handsaw and square. English is cutting a rebate with the chisel after marking the cut out with his square. He would have supplied his own tools and kept them sharpened at the end of the working day. (Camden Images)

Len English’s grandfather, William John English,e was apprenticed to his father, James, and worked at Camden Park between the 1890s and 1930s. William lived in Luker Street, Elderslie, where he built his house and had his workshop, where Len recalls playing as a lad. William’s son, Jack Edward English, was apprenticed to his father (William) in the family tradition, also worked at Camden Park and later in Camden and Elderslie during the 1930s and 1940s. During this period, Jack and his brother, Sidney, both worked with local Camden builders Mark Jenson and Mel Peat (TDR19/12/11).

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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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The Camden News affronted by Sydney ‘flappers’ and the appearance of the modern girl.

Effrontery and the ‘flapper’

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 march of 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 modern family of Dr Francis West following the christening of Lydia West’s daughter in 1915. This photograph was taken in the backyard of Macaria where Dr West had his surgery and where the West family called home. (Camden Images Past and Present)

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.

Just like modern girls in Camden.

Country women wanted to be modern in the 1920s

 As early as 1907 in Australia the term ‘flapper’ was applied to a young fashionable 20 year-old women ‘in short skirts’ written about the Bulletin magazine.

Australian women were considered modern because they had the vote and they were represented in literature as a young and athletic stereotype  as opposed the colourless and uninspiring English girl.  

The flapper

The ‘flapper’ is one representation of young women from the 1920s that appeared all over the world, and Camden was not remote from these international forces.

American author F. Scott Fitzgerald is acknowledged as the creator of the flapper and published his Flappers and Philosophers in 1920. (History.comOther female equivalents were Japan’s  moga, Germany’s neue Frauen, France’s garçonnes, or China’s modeng xiaojie (摩登⼩姐).

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.

Young Camden women in Macarthur Park in 1919 in a ‘Welcome Home’ party for returning servicemen (Camden Images)

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 group photograph of the trainee teachers from Sydney Teachers College at Onslow Park adjacent to the Show Hall in 1924. These modern young women and men from Sydney started coming to Camden in 1921. (Camden Images Past and Present) This image was originally photographed by Roy Dowle of Camden on a glass plate negative. The Dowle collection of glass plate negatives is held by The Oaks Historical Society (Roy Dowle Collection, TOHS)

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.