The 20th-century story of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries is about their location within Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.
Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition that is constantly being shaped and re-shaped by the forces of urbanisation and a host of competing forces. (Willis 2014)
Plant nurseries arrive in the fringe, and competing forces eventually drive them from it after a time.
In this space, the Ferguson Australian Nurseries came and departed Sydney’s urban fringe as it moved with urban growth over the past 170 years. Shrewd business judgements ensured that the nurseries survived and thrived in this dynamic space and place.
Double Bay outlet
Ferguson’s nurseries arrived on Sydney’s fringe at Double Bay in the 1870s when Sydney was still a ‘walking city’. Horse trams, and later steam trams, started to appear in the city and travel out to Double Bay.
Double Bay was sparsely settled, and there was an array of colonial villas and mansions like Alexander Macleay’s colonial regency mansion Elizabeth Bay House (1839).
As Sydney grew in population, there were land sub-divisions from the 1840s. (Sheridan 2021) (SLNSW)
By the early 20th-century, land values had risen with increased residential development (Sheridan 2021). The land was more valuable for housing than a nursery, so economic forces gathered for its relocation.
By this time, Annie Henrietta Ferguson ran the nursery following the death of her husband FJ Ferguson, aged 48 years, in 1899. Annie had married FJ Ferguson in 1875.
Annie managed the Double Bay outlet until 1902, closed it by 1905 and moved the nursery to Hurstville. (WCL 2021)
Annie’s daughter, Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie), born at Campbelltown in 1876, had married Alfred Denison (AD) Littleat All Saints Woollahra in 1902. (WCL)
By 1903 Lizzie and AD Little had moved back to Camden from Double Bay with the birth of their son Sydney. AD Little was to play a leading role in the nursery’s management and became a partner in the business. (WCL 2021)
In 1902 the Sydney press reported a fire at the Camden Nursery that destroyed a packing shed full of equipment. The same report stated that AD Little was now one of the proprietors, the mayor of Camden (1904-1905) and a presiding magistrate. (Daily Telegraph, 15 August 1905)
The oldest nursery
The Camden News boasted in 1905 that Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries were the ‘oldest fruit nursery and garden in Australia’. (Camden News, 17 August 1905)
Hurstville nursery outlet
By 1904 the Double Bay nursery had been relocated to Hurstville on Stoney Creek Road. (Morris and Britton 2000)
The Hurstville area was a sparsely populated farming area with the first land subdivision in the 1880s. By the early 20th century, the urban fringe of Sydney had reached the site, and there were a series of residential land releases. (SLNSW)
The Camden press reported in 1913 that Ferguson’s nurseries were being run by AD & FB Little, and land had been leased at Elderslie, where 150,000 grafted apple trees had been planted out. (Camden News, 7 August 1913)
In 1915 the business was being managed by Fred Little. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)
Nurseryman Eric Jurd recalls, ‘Fergusons grew open-ground stock at a site in Peakhurst’. Jurd believed that Ferguson’s had extensive land holdings in the Kingsgrove and Peakhurst. (McMaugh 2005: 251-253)
The Hurstville nursery site was purchased by the New South Wales Government to establish Kingsgrove High School on the corner of Kingsgrove Road and Stoney Creek Road in 1958. (SRNSW)
The nursery continued to expand, and by 1915, a report in the Gosford press indicated that Fergusons were operating from four sites:
Hurstville – a 40-acre site which was a general nursery and despatching centre for sales
Camden – a 60-acre site mainly producing fruit trees
Gosford – a 40-acre site a nursery for grape vines and fruit trees
Ronkana (Ourimbah) – a 100-acre site under preparation. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)
In the early 1920s, there were extensive land releases in the Hurstville area, including the King’s Park Model Suburb of 600 lots adjacent to Ferguson’s Nursery on Stoney Creek Road. (St George Call (Kogarah) 22 September 1922) In 1926 the Simmons Estate next door to Ferguson’s Nursery was offered for sale. (St George Call (Kogarah) 5 February 1926)
By the interwar years, the Hurstville nursery site was a well-known landmark and often referred to by correspondents in the press. For example, a press report of Tooth’s Brewery purchase of a site at Bexley (Construction and Local Government Journal, 13 July 1927), and the NRMA used the nursery as a prominent and well-known landmark in their tourism promotion for road trips in and around the Sydney area. (Sun (Sydney) 18 November 1927).
The nursery business continued under the control of AD & FB Little until the 1930s, and they were followed by Arthur Bruce (AB) Ferguson (1889 -1949). (Little 1977)
Fruit trees and vines
Ferguson’s nurseries sold fruit trees and vines to new producers in the emerging horticulture areas throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Large quantities of grapevines had been supplied to the Yanco Irrigation Area in 1915. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)
In 1926 an article in the Leeton press mentioned that Fergusons Nurseries had fruit trees for sale. (Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW: 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 16 February 1926)
Agents for the nursery were often keen to promote that stock of fruit trees, vines and flowering plants were available for purchase, as indicated by a story in the Tumut press. (Tumut and Adelong Times, 28 May 1929)
A reliable water supply is essential for horticulture and the nursery industry.
In 1922 an irrigation licence was issued to Alfred D (AD) Little, a partner for Ferguson & Sons, Australian Nursery, Camden, to pump up to 150 gallons per minute on the right bank [Elderslie]. (NSW Government Gazette, 11 August 1922)
The next generation
In 1927 FB Little died at Hurstville, and in 1933 AD Little died at Camden and is buried in St John’s Cemetery.
In 1932 the Australian Nursery site on the Nepean River, known as The Nursery or the Camden Nursery, part ownership passed to Stanley Nigel (SN) Ferguson. (Sanders 2008b) After World War II, SN Ferguson’s son, Bruce (1916 – 2008), inherited a half-share in The Nursery site. (Sanders 2008a)
In 1935 Ferguson’s nursery purchased land owned by Mr W Moore between the Old South Road and the Hume Highway. (Camden News, 11 April 1935)
Following this period, the Camden nursery moved to Broughton & Little Street (Nixon 1989) at the rear of the Camden District Hospital until the business was sold in the mid-1960s. (Nixon 1991)
Little, S. F. (1977). Correspondence to CHS 17 February 1977. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archive.
Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre – 1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.
Nixon, R. E. (1989). File notes for correspondence to CHS from Helen R Dick 18 July 1989, Camden Museum Archives.
Nixon, R. E. (1991). The Rose Festival. Rose Festival File, Camden Museum Archives.
Sanders, G. J. (2008a). Distinguished in war and peace, Bruce Ferguson, Obituary 31 May. Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2008.
Sanders, G. J. (2008b). Eulogy for Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archives.
Sheridan, P. (2021). Sydney Art Deco and Modernist Walks Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. Sydney, Bakelite and Peter Sheridan.
What is under your feet and totally ignored? What do you walk over every day? What is essential in an emergency? What provides access to critical utilities? The answer lies under our feet. What is it? Give up yet?
The answer is the humble utility inspection cover.
Utilities like electricity, water, gas, sewerage, communications and others are essential in any community. Camden has acquired the utilities as time has progressed over the past 150 years to the present. Argyle Street has several utilities buried beneath the street and footpaths. Their histories provide valuable insight into the town’s development and progress, particularly in the 20th century.
The arrival of electricity, gas, and water was part of Camden modernism and its influence. These utilities have transnational origins beyond the township and illustrate the linkages between the town and the wider world.
For example, the supply of clean drinking water in Camden was linked to an outbreak of scarlet fever in the later 19th century. Contagious diseases were a significant health concern in the 19th century and were an ever-present worry in daily life. Clean drinking water had a significant influence on the development of public health.
I was walking along Camden’s Argyle Street, and it struck me that utility inspection covers are a historical statement in their own right. They are an entry point for the utility service as they also provide an entry to the stories surrounding the utility’s delivery.
Even the different logos for utilities illustrate the changes in the history of a telco or electricity supplier. A cover might be a statement about a utility supplier that is now defunct. The utility cover is made of different materials – cast iron, concrete, and others.
These are all mysteries that are waiting to be solved for the curious mind. Or just for the bored and idle with nothing better to do.
What about the Gas Cover from Durham above?
Durham Gas Cover
This is an inspection cover for the gas pipes using a Durham fitting probably around 1912. The Durham drainage fitting is a cast-iron,threadedfittingused on drainagepipes;has a shouldersuch as to present a smooth,continuousinterior surface. (Free Dictionary) The Durham patent system of screw-joint iron house drainage was manufactured by the Durham House Drainage Co. of York USA (1887).
The Durham cover is for the Camden gas supply, installed in 1912 by the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was built in Mitchell Street and made gas from coal. There were many gas street lights in Argyle Street which were turned on in early 1912. The Camden News reported in January 1912 that many private homes and businesses had been connected to the gas supply network and were fitted for gaslighting.
Mr Murray, the gasworks manager, reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit, and he anticipated total supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912) Throughout 1912 there was an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)
In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks was sold to AGL in 1970. (Peter Mylrea, ‘Gas and Electricity in Camden’, Camden History March 2008.)
What is this cover for the NRCC? Does it still exist?
The NRCC does not exist anymore, and the logo stood for the Nepean River County Council. It was the electricity supplier for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton area from 1954 to 1979 when it was amalgamated with Prospect County Council. This, in turn, became Integral Energy. Integral Energy was formed by the New South Wales Government in 1995 from the amalgamation of Illawarra Electricity and Prospect Electricity with over 807,000 customers.
The Campbelltown office of the NRCC was located in Queen Street next to the Commonwealth Bank and in 1960 shifted to Cordeaux Street. By 1986 a new advisory office was opened in Lithgow Street. The council opened a new shop front at Glenquarie Shopping Centre at Macquarie Fields. There were shopfronts in Camden, Picton and other locations.
In October 1954, the NRCC approved a design for its official seal. Alderman P Brown suggested a logo competition, and many entries were received for the £25 prize. The winning design by artist Leone Rush of Lidcombe depicts electricity being extended to rural areas by a circular outline of “Nepean River County Council”. (Camden News, Thursday 4 November 1954.)
Former NRCC employee Sharon Greene stated that ‘It was like a small family business where everyone was happy to be there.’ (Camden Advertiser, 25 May 2009)
Former office manager, Kay Kyle, said that things in the office in 1959 were pretty bare when she started as a junior clerk.
‘We had no cash registers or adding machines, we hand wrote receipts and added the figures in our head for daily takings. That was a good skill to have. Eventually we received an old adding machine from Picton, but one day it added incorrectly so I wouldn’t use it again.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)
Former linesman Joe Hanger recalls working for the NRCC. He said,
‘In 1954 we were transferred to Nepean River County Council. They wanted linesmen and I went on the line crew and eventually worked my way up and got a pole inspectors job going around creosoting the poles. Eventually I got my own crew, mainly pole dressing. There were 7-8 in the crew. I was then made a foreman in about 1978.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)
Working in the outdoor crews could be dangerous, as Joe Hanger remembers.
‘In July 1974 I fell from a 40ft pole while doing work near The Oaks. We had to check out why a back feed to The Oaks was loosing voltage. We were looking for crook joints. The pole is still out there, near a bend just before the straight road into The Oaks. We had opened the air break switch behind us and the airbreak switch ahead, we forgot that the transformer was on the other side of the open point. I checked the pole and Neville Brown had gone along to the next pole to open the next section. I was standing on the low voltage cross arm and grabbed one of the wires and was struck by the electricity. Luckily my weight caused me to fall away. I ended up falling about 25 feet and just another pole lying on the ground. If I had the belt on it may have been a different matter. I had a broken leg, broken rib and a great big black eye. I was very lucky.’
Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them, join the Friends of NRCC.
The telco inspection lid
This inspection lid is for the telco, which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.
The telco had a rich history of communications in Australia, starting in 1810 with the first postal service. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Australia’s first postmaster Isaac Nicholls and the colonial government of New South Wales Government the first regular postal services, including rates of postage. The new Sydney General Post Office was opened in George Street in 1874.
The first telephone service was established in Melbourne in 1879.
At Federation, the new Commonwealth Postmaster-General’s Department assumed responsibility for telephone, telegraph and postal services. In the 1920s, the department took control of international short wave services and the Australian Broadcast Commission in the 1930s.
In 1975 the Postmaster-General Department was broken up, and the postal service moved to Australia Postal Commission (trading at Australia Post). Telecommunications became the responsibility of the Australian Telecommunications Commission trading at Telecom Australia. Telecom Australia was corporatised in 1989, renamed Telstra Australia in 1993, and partially privatised in 1999.
In 1992 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (est 1946) was merged with Telecom Australia.
The MWS&DB was the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, today is known as Sydney Water. The organisation has gone through several name changes:
the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 1888 to 1892,
from 1892 to 1925 as the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage,
the MWS&BD from 1925 to 1987,
then the Water Board from1987 to1994, then finally as the
Sydney Water Corp Ltd (1995-1999) with Ltd dropped in 1999.
Deks G (Gas)
Deks was established in Australia by Mr George Cupit in 1947 and remained a family business until it became part of the Skellerup Group in 2003. Deks have a presence in 28 countries. They have supplied plumbing fittings, including flashings, fittings or flanges, for over 100 years. (http://www.deks.com.au/about/)
Malco W (Water)
Malco Industries reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951 that the company incorporated three separate businesses involved in heavy industrial activities on its site at Marrickville. There were three divisions (1) Malleable Castings was founded in 1915 and was claimed to be one of Australia’s leading producers of iron castings. (2) EW Fittings was incorporated in 1925 and made cast iron pipe fittings for water, gas, steam and oil. (3) Link-Belt Co Pty set up in 1949 and industrial transmission equipment. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Friday 6 April 1951, page 6)
The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most important pieces of economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe. The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded. The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.
History and Description
The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.
The naming of the bridge also co-incided with the establishment of the Macarthur Growth Centre at Campbelltown by the Askin Liberal Government in 1973 and support from the new Whitlam Federal Government for the Macarthur Growth Region. These were originally part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan from which the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbeltown, Camden and Appin appeared.
These were exciting plans that were developed at the time with the provision of extensive infrastructure across the new growth centre. Some of the infrastructure eventuated and many parts did not. The New Cities Plan turned into a developers dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plan. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.
The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.
This was particularly important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Governments support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang Coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation and the issue turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.
The high level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields away from Camden’s main street passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.
The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge has been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.
In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated
I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.
I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)
The Macarthur Bridge has a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.
The Camden Bypass
The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.
The Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.
Open to traffic and construction details
The official plaque on the bridge states:
The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.
RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads
AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads
GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief
FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)
Department of Main Roads, New South Wales
Open to traffic on 26 March 1973
Facebook 30 June 2021
Annette DingleI remember the day it opened, the school ( Camden south) walked to it . I lived in the street under it ( it was a dead end back then ) we use to play in the “tunnels “ under the bridge. You could only go so far before there was no air . Fun times
A notable part of Camden’s modernism that has disappeared is the Drive-In movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the famous attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s, located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale).
Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the baby boomers’ lifestyle. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The Drive-In movie theatre was a defining moment in the Camden District for a 20th-century culture based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.
Drive-in Movie Theatres
Robert Freestone writes that the Drive-In theatre arrived in New South Wales in 1956, and by the 1970s, there were 14 drive-ins in the Sydney area, including the Gayline. The Drive-In was a ‘signifier of modernity with its twin imperatives of consumption and comfort in the motor car’s private space.
The Drive-In reflected the US’s growing influence in the 1950s, the force of suburbanisation and the democracy of car ownership. The first Drive-In theatre in Australia was the Burwood Drive-In in Melbourne in 1954. The first Sydney Drive-In was the MGM Chullora Twin Drive-In which opened in 1956 by Premier Cahill. In the 1970s, there were more than 300 drive-ins across Australia.
In New South Wales, Drive-Ins came under the control of the Theatres and Public Halls Act 1908-1946 and were heavily regulated compared to Victoria under the Theatres and Films Commission. Freestone argues states New South Wales planning restrictions Drive-Ins could not be closer than 4 miles to each other, they had to be accessed by a side-road, away from airports, and positioned so as not to distract passing traffic.
During its heyday, the Drive-In was very popular. It was very democratic, where an FJ Holden could be parked next to a Mercedes Benz. The Drive-In was a relaxed, laid back way to see the movies. The whole family went to the movies, including the kids. Parents could have a night off and not have to clean up, dress up or hire a baby-sitter. Families took blankets, quilts, and pillows, and when the kids faded out, they slept on the car’s back seat. A young mother could walk around with her new baby without disturbing other patrons.
The Narellan Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre
Ted Frazer, the owner/operator of the Gayline Drive-In, was a picture showman. The Frazers had cinemas on the South Coast, at Scarborough and Lake Illawarra. At Scarborough, they operated the Gala Movie Theatre. It was established in 1950 and had sessions on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights and Saturday matinee. The family ran movies in the local progress hall at Lake Illawarra.
Terry Frazer said,’ ‘We were the only family-operated Drive-In. Greater Union or Hoyts ran all the others in the Sydney area’.
Terry Frazer considered that the business was successful over the years that it operated at Narellan. He said, ‘It was a family business, and my son did some projection work. The kids worked in the shop, as did our wives.
The high point of the Drive-In’s success was in the early 1970s. Terry’s brother Kevin Frazer and his wife Lorraine Frazer were in the business from the early 1970s. He says:
As a family business, we had separate jobs, and you did not interfere with others.
The Gayline showed a mixture of movies. When patrons rolled in, they put the hook-on-window-speaker and occasionally drove off with it still attached after the movie finished.
Some Drive-Ins closed down in the 1970s, yet the Gayline survived. When daylight saving was introduced moved to later starts. Like other Drive-Ins, during the 1980s, it dished up a diet of soft porn and horror movies to compete with videos and colour TV. In 1975 colour TV had an effect, but a more significant impact was the introduction of video in 1983-84. It contributed to killing off the Drive-Ins. Terry thinks that apart from videos Random Breath Testing, which became law in NSW in 1985, also had an effect.
Terry Frazer said
Things went in cycles. The writing was on the wall in the early 80s. We knew it was pointless to keep going full-time, and we only operated part-time, on Friday and Saturday nights. We had family working in the shop. We eventually closed in 1990. Land developers were making offers to Dad for the site. Dad built a house in 1971. It was a cream brick Cosmopolitan home in Gayline Ave, and it is still there.
Ted Frazer located the Drive-In at Narellan because it was to be within the ‘Three Cities Growth Area’ (1973) of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan (1968), and the land was a reasonable price.
The opening night was in November 1967, and the first movie was Lt Robin Crusoe USN [Walt Disney, 1966, Technicolor, starring Dick Van Dyke, Nancy Kwan]
Terry Frazer recalls
We could fit in 575 cars. The surface was asphalt, and we were always patching it. It was part of the maintenance of the site. We had to have a licence for motion pictures.
The screen, according to Terry Frazer, was made from zinc anneal sheeting. Mr Frazer recalls
Rivetted together on a rear timber frame. All mounted on a steel frame made by a local engineering company. A crane hoisted it up. On either end, there were cables and shackles, with a platform with safety rails that you manually wind up with a handle up the front of the screen. You would use it to clean the screen or repaint it white. I painted the screen with a roller.
The speakers had a volume control and a small speaker. The family brought in Radio Cinema Sound in the mid to late 1970s. The customers had a choice of old-style speaker or radio as not all cars had radios. Terry Frazer would go around all the speakers on Fridays and check for sound quality. There were redback spiders under the concrete blocks that had the speaker post. Terry recalls:
Before the end of the show, he would remind patrons to put the speakers back on the post before leaving. Some would still drive off with them attached. The Drive-In had a PA system through the speaker system.
Mr Frazer stated
Sessions started at 7.30 pm, except in daylight saving when it was 8.30pm. In busy periods we had double sessions – 7.30pm and midnight. Always two features. I always had the lighter movie on first and the feature on the second half. In the 1980s, we still had a double feature.
Terry Frazer recalls:
For the midnight session there could be a queue down Morshead Road out onto Narellan Road waiting to get in. It was a horror movie session from 12.00am to 3.00am. On some popular Saturday nights, we may not be able to get all the cars in. At one stage in the 1970s, we considered having two sessions 7.00pm and 10.00pm. We would advertise sessions in the Sydney papers under the Greater Union adverts every night of the week. We would run adverts in the local papers each week.
Movies and Slides
The feature films could be a long movie, for example, Sound of Music, Great Escape. They had an intermission cut into the movie.
Terry Frazer remembers:
We changed the movie programme on Thursdays. We dealt with MGM, Paramount, 20th Century-Fox and Columbia. They were all around the city. You would go to each one to pick up the [film] print. Some of these amalgamated later on. Paramount and Fox were off Goulburn and Elizabeth Streets, Columbia at Rozelle. My father, Ted Frazer, would go in early to book the programme, and I would drop off the old programme.
You would hope it was a good print, otherwise, I would have to repair the film by doing joins. I used a brush and cement, and later we went to tape. You would make a perfect joint. You would join up the trailers and a short feature. You would hook them into the front of the spool to make less changeovers.
If a movie went well, it would run for 2-3 weeks if the print was not booked out anywhere else. There were usually a lot of prints, so if a movie went well, you could keep a print for another week.
For the big movies, the city cinemas got first release. We could get lessor movies as first release and run with other features.
Terry Frazer observed that
as an independent [screen] we got a reasonable go at it. For the lessor movies, we paid a certain figure. Top movies were worked on a percentage basis, 50:50, 60:40 [of takings]. Some companies would check the number of cars at the Drive-In by sending representatives out. One independent movie producer, Ably Mangles, came out to check the number of cars. He was on a percentage basis.
Independent movies were popular. Glass slides were provided by David Koffel, the advertising agency, as a finished product.
Terry Frazer was the projectionist and recalled:.
The slide projector was a carbon arc slide projector. The movie projector was an English Kalee 35 mm projector. It had a carbon arc feed mirror for its light source. It had a manual feed. You had to thread up each spool which would last 20 minutes. There were two movie projectors and one slide projector. You would load one up, ready for the next one to start.While the movie was running, you would go out to the rewind room and manually rewind the spool for the next night’s screening.
Terry Frazer remembers:
We had glass slides showing advertising during intermission and before the show. We would run 70 glass slides showing adverts for local businesses. Local business would buy advertising. The local representative of the advertising agency would go around local businesses. The advertising agency was David Koffel. There was good money from advertising to local businesses. Later the advertising agency changed to Val Morgan.
The experience of the Drive-In is the strongest memory for regular moviegoers. People rarely talk about the movie they saw but can remember with great detail the whole experience of the Drive-In.
Memories flood back for baby-boomers of the rainy night when they tried to watch the movie with the windscreen wipers going. Or the car windscreen was fogging up. Or the winter’s night when the fog rolled in from Narellan Creek. Or the relaxed ambience of a balmy moonlit summer’s night.
The smell of the food, the sound of the cars, the queues to get in, the walk for hotdogs and drinks. The night out with the girlfriend and the passionate night’s entertainment. Orr the night out as a youngster with the family dressed as you were in pyjamas and slippers.
The Gayline Drive-In was not only attractive to young families; it offered local teenagers freedom from the restrictions of home. Many local teenagers had access to cars and found the Drive-In an ideal place for a date and some canoodling and smooching. It was quite a coupe to get Dad’s car and show off to your mates or the girlfriend. The Drive-In was a place to see and be seen. It was a big deal.
One of the favourite lurks of teenagers was to fill the boot of the car with people so they did not have to pay. Once inside, they were let out. If you drove a station wagon, you reversed the car into the spot and lay in the back of the wagon, wrapped up in a blanket. Others would bring their deck-chairs, put them in the back of the ute, enjoy a drink and a smoke, and watch the movie.
The Drive-In movies offered an experience, whether at the snack bar which sold banana fritters, hot dogs, battered savs, Chiko Rolls, popcorn, chips, choc-tops, ice-creams, Jaffas, Minties and Hoadley’s Violet Crumble. The Narellan Gayline Drive-In had a large screen, a projector booth, a children’s playground, and a large parking area.
Terry Frazer recalls:
Mum controlled the shop and kitchen. In the early 1970s, she had 7-8 working in the shop. Later on, there was only one permanent girl. In the 1970s, the restaurant had 8-10 tables. Mum would cook T-Bone steak with salad and other dishes. Originally Mum made steak and fish dinners for a few years. Then she went to hot dogs, hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, banana fritters and ice-cream, which was very popular fish and chips.
Steak sandwiches were popular, Chiko rolls later on. They were quick and easy. Mum would pre-prepare the hot dogs and hamburgers. She would make what she needed based on how many came in the gate. At the break, everyone (patrons) would rush down to the shop and queue up 6-7 deep and wanted quick service.
We had snacks, chocolates, and popcorn. The only ice-creams were choc-tops because the margins were bigger. Drinks were cordial and water in paper cups. There were good margins. We were the last to change over to canned soft drinks. Most Drive-Ins did the same.
Customers could sit in the outside area and watch the movie from the building. A handful of patrons would walk in. Usually, local kids sit in front of the shop and watch the movie- all undercover.
The shop did fabulous business until the US takeaways arrived. McDonalds and KFC [arrived in the mid to late 1970s in Campbelltown and] changed things. Customers would bring these takeaways or bring their own eats.
Mrs Alma Rootes
One of the regular workers in the shop and kitchen was Alma Rootes. She was a kitchen hand and shop assistant from 1967-1975 until she became pregnant with her fourth child.
Mrs Rootes recalls:
I worked in the kitchen and served at the counter. We did fish and chips, hamburgers, banana fritters and Pluto pups (a battered sav) and other things such as lollies. People would come into the shop before the movie was screened to buy fish and chips. Fish and chips went really well. They would have their dinner. We would pre-prepared food for sale before the interval. It wasn’t easy; there would always be a rush at interval. I would work on hot food.
We made hundreds and hundreds of ice-creams. They had a chocolate coating. You would scoop out the ice-cream out of a drum-type container. You would put a small scoop in the bottom of the cone and a bigger one on the top and dip in the warm chocolate. The chocolate was in a stainless steel bowl. Mrs Frazer always wanted to give value for money [referring to the two scoops]. We would do this before interval. The banana fritters were battered bananas, deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Mr Frazer would help on the counter in the shop with the lollies. There would be 2-3 working in the kitchen. On quiet nights Mrs Frazer would run things on her own. There was another lady. Her name was Lyn, I think. Kevin would come out and work in the shop if there was a rush. Sometimes the movie would start, and we would not be finished serving. The customers could see out of the shop to the screen. After the show, we would clean up.
The shop had a glass front facing the screen with two doors for entry to the sales area. There was a counter at one end were lollies and ice-creams, in the middle was hot food. There was a door behind the counter to the kitchen. The kitchen had counters down either wall, with a deep fry at one end.
I have lived at Bringelly for around 50 years. I originally came from Lakemba. I was paid the wages of the day. I enjoyed my time there. It was a good place to work. Driving home was not good. Sometimes there would be huge fogs. Alan (husband) would take the kids, and they would sometimes drive me home.
I thought I had better go when I got pregnant. Alan [Alma’s husband] said that Mrs Frazer was concerned she would slip in the kitchen or have an accident as Alma was so heavy (pregnant). Mrs Frazer was concerned about her insurance position. The Frazers gave me a silver teapot when I left in 1975 [photo].
Terry Frazer remembers:
Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a top table truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs, and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell.
You would get guys on motorbikes. We had all sorts of patrons, stories that you could not print. We had a bucks party one night.
In the early 1970s, there were panel vans that were carpeted and done up. The young fellows would reverse into position and open the doors to watch the movie.
The Drive-In was a good night’s family entertainment. It was a full night’s entertainment for families. There was a kid’s playground. Mum and Dad could watch the movie. The regulars were young families who could not afford baby sitters. They would pile the kids in the car in their pyjamas and come to the Drive-In.
Terry Frazer recalls:
that they would always say, the Drive-In was one business that added to the population growth of the area. There was a lot of making out [and pashing] amongst the young couples who were regulars.
Patrons could get out of their cars and go for a walk. People wandered around.
At Easter, there were church meetings. They constructed a huge stand in front of the screen. It went on for 3-4 years in the early 1970s [a trend copied from the USA]. It was a Drive-In church. The Frazers could not recall which church group.
There were car shows in the 1970s.
An independent movie was made at the Drive-In. They set up the rails and so they could move along to set a scene. Some scenes in the movie were shot at Thirlmere. A local, Lyle Leonard, had his car in it. They shot a number of scenes at the Drive-In. I cannot remember the name of the movie.
In wet weather, we waited until it was really wet and would tell the patrons to come to the shop, and we would give them a pass for the following night.
We could get completely fogged out. The light beam could not penetrate the fog. We would close up and give a pass for the following night. It was worst in April and May.
People would come from a long way for a certain movie in really bad weather you would give them a refund.
Lyn Frazer recalled that if it was drizzling, patrons would rub half an onion onto the windscreen, and you could see.
Narellan township in 1967 [when we set up] only had 6 shops. There was always a takeaway next door to the current cheesecake shop [on Camden Valley Way]. There was only a very small shopping centre.
<All that is left of the Narellan Gayline Drive-In a street sign. (I Willis, 2008)>
The Gayline Drive-In eventually closed down, like many in the Sydney area, when residential development at Narellan Vale started to grow, and the land was more valuable as real estate.
Unfortunately, lifestyles have changed, and people prefer the comfort of suburban movie theatres at Campbelltown and shortly at Narellan. However, the tradition of outdoor movies and all their attractions for young families and teenagers are not dead in our area.
Outdoor movies have made a come back in the local area as they have in other parts of Sydney. There have been movies under the stars at venues like Mt Annan Botanic Gardens and Macarthur Park.
Nell Raine Bruce Such fun times we had there. Before we could drive we would walk and sit on the veranda of the cafeteria and watch the movie. The good old days, wish it was still there. (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Eric Treuer I remember going there thinking that the drive-in was for gays. I was very young at the time. Lol (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Gail Coppola Had great times there. Listening to the movies and the cows lol (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Jan Carbis Went there many times….great memories (Facebook, 22 June 2015)
Adam Rorke My lawyers have advised me to say nothing….. (22 June 2015)
Chris Addison What is it now houses kids used to love going there (22 June 2015)
Justin Cryer I remember going out to here with the whole family hahaha wow (22 June 2015)
Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (22 June 2015)
Jan Carbis Went there many times….great memories (22 June 2015)
Robert Rudd Movie news that’s for sure gots lots of oh doesn’t matter (22 June 2015)
Dianne Bunbury We had one in Horsham when I was growing up in – 1960s era. (22 June 2015)
Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)
Kay Gale Great nite out was had many years ago wow (23 June 2015)
Graham Mackie Saw smokie and the bandit there as a kid (23 June 2015)
Jacque Eyles The midnight horror nights! Loved it (23 June 2015)
Vicki Henkelman The Hillman Minx and pineapple fritters life were good !! I also had a speaker in the shed for years oops! (23 June 2015)
Meg Taylor Soooo many memories (23 June 2015)
Kim Girard Luved it great times (23 June 2015)
Robert Waddell Watched Convoy with a few other families, as us kids played on the swings.ET was the last movie I saw there, it was great because families used to enjoy spending time together back then, El Caballo Blanco, Bullens Animal World, Paradise Gardens all family activities all closed now because of these so-called social networks, play stations, Xboxes, etc the family unit has broken down and it’s a very big shame.Have a BBQ with your neighbours take your kids on picnics enjoy the family time it’s over too quickly people life is too short by far!!. (23 June 2015)
Kerry Perry Bring back the good times movie, chick, and food (24 June 2015)
Julie Cleary We would back the panel van in and watch in comfort… So fun! (24 June 2015)
Mick Faber Great memories at the Drive-In. 12 of us snuck in one night in the back of a mates milk van. More of a party than a movie night. (24 June 2015)
Kathleen Dickinson Holy geez I think I even remember where that used to be! Lol (23 June 2015
Matthew Gissane We went down through Camden for a Sunday drive last … er … Sunday, and anyhow, we followed the Old Razorback Road up to Mt Hercules. A fabulous vista from up there. Didn’t see the Gayline though. 23 June at 22:39
Greg Black wasn’t aware of the Gayline,… I do like Camden and the surrounding areas, nice countryside (in the ’60s used to go there with m & d to watch the parachutin’…) 23 June at 23:39
Greg Black Some of the patrons would like to have a drink. Terry recalls a group of blokes in the late 1960s who came in a tabletop truck. They parked the truck and got out their folding chairs and had an 18-gallon keg. I think they finished the keg. It was hard to tell. 23 June at 23:46
Anthony Ayrz I remember it well,,,,, thought it was called Skyline….. full of houses now,,,,, can still pick put exactly where it was…. I was about 7 when my parents took us there a few times….. remember going to the Bankstown one with my parent’s friends in the boot…. and we got away with it!!!! 22 June at 21:28
Alison Russell That brings back memories I used to live behind the Drive-In it looks like the photo is taken from our old house which sadly has just been sold and will be knocked down but what fun we had there as kids and all the sneaky ways we had to get into the Drive-In
Colleen Dunk Moroney Often went in in the boot so we didn’t have to pay 😲😇 the guy in the white overalls was Neville, used to tap on your window and say “movie news”, giving away movie newspapers. always scared the crap out of me lol. I loved the Drive-In.
Lauren Novella I remember sneaking in the boot just to save a few bucks!!!!! Lol. Who even watched the movies….. It was more like a mobile party…😆
Sharon Land Memories remember Alison Russell when we had to go to the outdoor loo and if an R rated movie was on we were supervised outside my mum and dad lol
Andrew Carter-Locke We used to get in the boot of my cousins XY falcon. Back in the day you always got a backup film before the feature. I remember “Posse”, being better than “Jaws”.
Wayne McNamara Many mems….watching people drive off ….still connected….and the guy in the white overalls at the entrance…
On 18 September 1982 the Governor of New South Wales His Excellency Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC opened the new brutalist style office extensions for Campbelltown City Council.
Gosford architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates designed the office extensions and when combined with the 1964 building created one of the most important modernist building precincts in the Macarthur region.
Mayor Thomas stated at the official opening that the city had undergone ‘unprecedented’ growth and embraced ‘enormous changes’ since 1964. (Official programme)
The city’s population growth had grown from 24,000 (1963) to 43,000 (1974) and by 1980 was 120,000.
The council’s administration was ‘strained to the limit’, and there was a risk of fragmentation of council departments. To avoid this, the architects recommended a new single building to accommodate council staff.
The architects presented three sites for the council’s consideration: the existing civic centre site; Camden Road opposite the Campbelltown Catholic Club; and the Macarthur Regional Growth Centre.
After considering the three options, the council felt that it had a ‘moral obligation’ to the existing Queen Street commercial precinct to remain at the civic centre site.
The new office building would act as an ‘anchor of confidence’, and the site would remain as the northern gateway to the commercial precinct. It would set a standard for future development in the area. (Official programme, 1982)
The council requested that the architects design a ‘four-storey administrative building’ of around 2000m2 with associated pedestrian plaza, landscaping and parking within the civic centre precinct.
In 1980 the civic centre precinct consisted of the 1966 single floor community hall, the 1971 single-storey library building, a single-story women’s rest centre, a service station, the former fire station and two-storey ambulance station. (Official programme, 1982)
For the completion of the project, the council needed to acquire the service station on the corner of Queen and Broughton Streets.
The primary design constraint on the civic centre site was the 1964 office tower of 1400m2 containing the council chambers and the administration offices. (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
The building completely dominated the precinct and was ‘considered as the major visual element in any design’ because of its height’. The architects described it as a “high rise” curtain wall construction with external sun shading’. (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
Architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates felt that new building extension had to integrate with the 1964 office tower in a functional as well as aesthetically pleasing fashion.
The spirit of the past
The architects stated that the design of the new building extensions and its ‘scale, proportion and detailing’ recognised ‘the legacy of the district’ :
‘The “colonial” pitched roof on the new extensions reflects the graceful simplicity of colonial architecture, and the simple proportions, “depth” façade detailing and pitched roof echo the features of “old” Campbelltown buildings’. (Official programme, 1982)
The building design inspired Mayor Thomas to draw on the past and ‘old Campbelltown’ as an inspiration for his address.
The new building was a metaphor for the area’s pioneering spirit.
The mayor stated that the new building illustrated how the spirit of the Campbelltown pioneers had not ‘suppressed the basic community character of Campbelltown’s early days’.
‘The spirit of the hardy pioneer bred of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today’, he said.
‘The City of Campbelltown has an ancient heritage in terms of the nation’s history, and this is being matched by a vital modern record of achievement’, said the mayor.
Mayor Thomas said
The wisdom and vision of another progressive Governor of this State, Lachlan Macquarie, almost 160 years ago, formed the nucleus of the closely-knit community which continues to grow in size and stature. The spirit of the hardy pioneer breed of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today. (Official programme)
Scale, proportion and detailing
The new office building was set at the rear of the civic centre site and kept a ‘lower profile to Queen Street, consistent with the general two-storey nature of the older buildings’. This design provided ‘an intermediate scale’ to help its integration with the existing higher 1964 building. (Official programme, 1982)
The building materials for the project ensured that the external finish blended ‘aesthetically with existing buildings and landscape and are architecturally pleasing’, and the ‘finishes are dignified, tastefully chosen and dignified’. (Official programme, 1982)
The proposed building used reinforced concrete as the main structural element, with ‘precast concrete with exposed aggregate finish’ to the exterior walls with anodised aluminium window frames. The internal walls were concrete blockwork with cement rendering.
The new design ‘provide[d] a building of similar bulk possessing a horizontal fenestration opposed the vertical nature of the existing building’ to act as a ‘counterfoil’ to the 1964 office tower. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
At the end of the design phase, the architects believed that the proposed scheme was both ‘aesthetically and materially adequate’ and ‘integrated functionally and aesthetically’ with the civic auditorium. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
Brutalism grew out of the early 20th-century modernist movement that is sometimes linked with the dynamism and self-confidence of the 1960s. The characteristics of the style are straight lines, small windows, heavy-looking materials, and modular elements with visible structural elements and a monochromic colouring.
The brutalist-style appeared in the post-war years in the United Kingdom and drew inspiration from mid-century modernism. The style became representative of the new town movement and appeared in modernist UK cities like Milton Keynes. Brutalism was common in the Sydney area in the late 1960s and 1970s and an integral part of the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan.
Consequently, the Campbelltown area has several brutalist-style buildings including Airds High School (1974), Glenquarie Shopping Centre (1975), Campbelltown TAFE College (1981), Macarthur Square (1979), Campbelltown Hospital (1977), and Campbelltown Mall (1984).
The new 1982 office extension reflected how the winds of change from population growth had re-shaped the Campbelltown area since the construction of the 1964 modernist office tower.
The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the local studies librarians at the Campbelltown City Library in the completion of this blog post.
In 1964 the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News ran a banner headline on its front page, SYMBOL OF PROGRESS. The newspaper announced the opening of a new council administration building as part of a proposed civic centre precinct in the town centre.
The newspaper headline was a statement of faith in the confidence of Campbelltown and its planned declaration as a satellite city by the state government.
The eight-storey office building was the tallest structure in the town centre and was visible from all parts of the area. The top floors provided a ‘bird’s eye’ view over central Campbelltown and completely dominated its surroundings.
The Campbelltown Council office building is an outstanding example of a mid-century modernist high-rise office tower in the Macarthur region. Unfortunately the hopes and dreams of local decision makers who approved its construction were dashed in later decades.
A metaphor for a community on the move
The new administration building was a metaphor for Campbelltown’s growing confidence in the 1960s and the town’s future.
The building symbolised the hopes and dreams of planners and administrators and the immense changes that were to engulf Campbelltown over the following decades.
At the official opening on 28 November, 1964 Campbelltown Mayor TK Fraser felt that the town was on the verge of something special. He said,
At the threshold of the most dynamic period in the history of its area, Campbelltown Municipal Council, imbued with a strong sense of purpose and complete confidence in the future, has provided this imposing Administrative Building’.
The building, the first stage of a Civic Centre which will cater for the needs of a rapidly expanding community, stands as a practical demonstration of the confidence with which Council faces the future convinced that this area, steeped in history, at present of unsurpassed rural charm, will develop, in the near future, into a thriving Satellite City. (Official programme)
The administration building was developed under the guidelines of the County of Cumberland Scheme. It was part of an existing Campbelltown civic precinct that included the ambulance station and courthouse, and adjacent to the police station and railway station.
Alderman Percival, the vice-chair of the council Civic Centre committee, maintained that the building’s design catered for the anticipated administration by the council as a satellite city. The status of a satellite city was part of the proposed decentralisation by the County of Cumberland with Campbelltown’s projected population to grow to 200,000. (Construction, 11 September 1963)
Planning for the new office building had begun in 1961 when the school of arts building provided inadequate to accommodate council staff. Initially housed in the old town hall council staff had moved out into the school of arts after the 1948 amalgamation with Ingleburn Municipal Council.
‘The move into the new 1964 building was not without criticism’, said Alderman Percival. He argued that the council’s progression with the project was a ‘considerable moment’ for the municipality.
He said, ‘It was a necessary demonstration of confidence in the municipality by Council’. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
The architects agreed and said that the size, height and position of the building emphasised ‘the importance and dignity of Local Government function in the affairs of the city’. The two-storey atrium in the vestibule added greater emphasis to the building’s importance because of its aesthetic features including ‘sculptured central column, cascades and pool’. (Construction, 11 September 1963)
Campbelltown’s future assured says Deputy Premier at official opening
The New South Wales Minister for Local Government and Deputy Premier PD Hills officially opened the building on 28 November 1964.
Minister Hills re-assured the council that the state government was about to make Campbelltown a self-contained satellite city beyond the Green Belt of the Cumberland Plan.
Mr Hills said, ‘Campbelltown is a thriving urban centre set in rural surroundings, but so close to Sydney metropolis that it largely acts as a dormitory-area for a workforce which finds its employment in the metropolitan area’.
‘It will be necessary to create accommodation within or close to the County of Cumberland, but outside the Green Belt, for an additional 300,000 people every eight years’, he said.
‘This means that we must have beyond the Green Belt but within 30 to 50 of Sydney a series of satellites which will be self-contained in the local sense but yet regionally associated with the metropolis’.
The minister said, ‘In the selection of sites for such development, the Campbelltown area is an obvious choice’. (Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
Storm clouds gather of the planning horizon
The decision by Campbelltown Municipal Council to build the new office accommodation was based on the direction and security provided by the state government’s County of Cumberland plan.
Unfortunately for the council, the New South Wales had abolished the County of Cumberland in December 1963 twelve months before the opening of the new building.
The state government had removed the security of the existing planning framework on which the council had initially been based its decision to proceed with the new building.
Yet the minister continued to re-assure Campbelltown Council of its position at the opening of the administration building in November 1964. (Campbelltown-Ingleburn New, 1 December 1964)
The rosy future of Campbelltown spoken about by the minister and the mayor was not quite as secure as they might have presented it to the community.
Upbeat statements by the mayor and minister encapsulated the elements that eventually foreshadowed dark clouds gathering on the Campbelltown planning horizon.
In the end the storm clouds that gathered around the planning processes rained down on the Campbelltown area in the late 1970s and early 1980s, creating much angst for many in the community.
An important local icon
While the contested nature of the planning regime gave many in Campbelltown severe heartburn in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the city was left with an iconic mid-century moderne marvel.
Designed by Sydney architects Davey, Brindley and Vickery in an Internationalist style the office building is a rare intact example in the area of this type of architecture in the local area.
The building retains much of its 1964 integrity with its clean lines and minimalist non-maintenance finish and functional design with the use of concrete, brick, glass and aluminium materials.
The office building is an essential marker of mid-20th century Campbelltown and a statement of intent by a council that felt that the town had a secure future as a Sydney satellite city.
A moderne architectural gem
Sydney architects Davey, Brindley and Vickery stated that the ‘sharp vertical lines’ of eight-storey building had a steel-encased frame and was built on piles with reinforced concrete floors connected by two high-speed lifts.
The International modernist design style had steel, glass and mass-produced materials as the main characteristic. The rooms had the full expanse of the width of the building with its clean lines supported by dull and shiny surfaces. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
A feature of the building was the entrance vestibule with a two-storey open atrium, which contained a floating stairway over an indoor garden. On the east side of the vestibule was a cast bronze multiplane historical mural by Bim Hilder mounted on a high exposed aggregate wall. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
The north wall of the foyer was faced with black marble with contrasting white marble door jamb and scag-terrazzo floor. The architects noted that the two primary colours were black and white, which compared with the red cedar-lined ceiling under the mezzanine level. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
The stairs to the first level were black scag-terrazzo with a black anodised aluminium balustrade with clear glass panels. On the first floor, the panelled cedar walls contrasted with contrasting black and white colouring. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
The architects stated that the building was finished in non-maintenance materials. The exterior charcoal colouring of the building contrasts with a black anodised aluminium building. The sun-blades were heavy baked enamel with infill walls of dark brick. (Campbelltown Ingleburn News, 1 December 1964)
The 1964 International modernist building created quite a precedent in the small country town of Campbelltown, where the local community leaders were confidently predicting a bright future.
I would like to thank the Local Studies Librarians at Campbelltown City Council Library for their assistance in the completion of this post.
Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:
A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.
A sad story of decay and neglect
The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.
The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.
Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and in 1968 the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.
The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates that were developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.
The design concept originated from the town of Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.
Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with the front of the house facing a walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant that there was a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape consisting of rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.
Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb, where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighborhood life without the need for a car.
Radburn watered down
The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.
The public housing estates did have extensive open space which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises and the Housing Commission built townhouses that were counter to the Radburn concept.
The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.
The estates were populated with high numbers of single-parent families who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.
Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street; anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas; and the low socio-economic status of residents.
The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighborhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of areas of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. Some of these issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.
Memories of hope
In the 1970s I taught at Airds High School adjacent to the shopping mall and my memories are mixed. Young people who came from dysfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020) who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:
I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies. Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.
Fiona tells the story of her sister who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.
Similarly I found Airds school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence that was generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’ and I said that this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.
Bogans galore and more
The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasting with the despair of the 1980s.
The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.
Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.
The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.
These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.
Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.
What is the relevance of the Camden story?
The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.
The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.
Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.
What is the use of the Camden story?
The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:
the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.
History offers a different approach to a question.
Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.
The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.
Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.
Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?
The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.
A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.
The Camden district can be hard to define and has changed over time. Dr Ian Willis conducted research in the mid-1990s to determine the extent of the Camden district at the outbreak of the Second World War. This was part of his post-graduate studies at the University of Wollongong on the effect of the Second World War in Camden.
The boundary of the Camden district could be: an arbitrary line on a map based on a political decision; a natural region; an idea in someone’s mind; the delivery round of a Camden business; the geographic circulation area of a Camden newspaper; the emotional attachment of a person to a general area called Camden; the catchment area of a special event in Camden; the membership of a Camden organisation; the social networks of people who live in the Camden area; or any combination of these.
From historical research I have conducted I have found the boundary of the Camden district to a moveable feast. By the 1930s it took in an area of 1180 square kilometres and a population of around 5000. The result is on the attached map. It is a combination of the factors outlined above.
Origins of the Camden district
The concept of the Camden district was set in motion by 1827 when the early pattern of the early land grants had determined the road network. This process was re-enforced by the arrival of the tramway in 1882, the road traffic along the Hume Highway going to Goulburn, and the movement of silver from Yerrandarie and coal from the Burragorang Valley to the Camden railhead. As a result, the town became an important transport interchange and centre for economic activity for a district, which extended out to Burragorang Valley and Yerrandarie.
By the 1930s the growth of the town had attracted additional businesses and the town had become the centre for government services and community organisations. The town was a meeting place for local people and acted as a stepping off point to the rest of the outside world.
The district’s population came together on Sale Day (still Tuesdays) to meet and do business. The livestock sales were the town’s busiest day of the week The annual Camden Show was (and still is) always a popular attraction and people came from a wide area to compete and exhibit their crafts, produce and livestock.
Daily life in the Camden district is recorded in the two local newspapers
District life was reported in detail in Camden’s two newspapers, the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, which were widely circulated in the area. Camden businesses had customers from all over the local area. Some had regular delivery runs that reached to Burragorang Valley and beyond.
Since the 1930s many things have happened. The largest change has been the growth in population, and the town and district are now part of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Sydney. Despite this, the district still has a discernable identity in the minds of local people.
1973 New Cities Plan
The creation of The new cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin: structure plan(1973) was one of the most profound changes to the Camden district. The New Cities proposal was part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan developed by the State Planning Authority of the Askin Liberal government and became a developers’ dream.
Current planners, bureaucrats, businesses, and residents need to have an understanding of this local identity and build on the opportunities that it presents.
Today the Camden district is part of the Macarthur region.
One of the Camden area’s little known endangered plant species in Pimelea Spicata or in plain English Spiked Rice-flower. The little pretty flower is threatened by a proposed development of Studley Park house and its surroundings.
Proposed development of Studley Park house
Spiked Rice-flower is a low growing shrub that flowers occasionally. The small flowers are white tinged with pink. The plant usually does not grow to more than 30 cms in height.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service information sheet states that the plant is difficult to detect unless it is in flower. It flowers sporadically between May and January depending on rain.
Locality and distribution
The plant occurs in fragmented areas in urban fringe areas, including patches of remnant Cumberland Woodland in the Narellan area..
More specifically it is distributed in Cumberland Woodland in Western Sydney from Mt Annan and Narellan Vale, to Freeman’s Reach and Penrith, as well as Western Sydney Regional Park, Prospect Reservoir Catchment, Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan and the St Marys ADI site. It extends to the Illawarra where it is found in areas from Mt Warrigal to Gerroa and Minnamurra, mainly on coastal headlands and hilltops.
Threats to the plant include habitat modification and loss, weed invasion, dumping of rubbish, arson, fire hazard reduction, trampling and compaction from bikes, walkers and vehicles and exposure to herbicides.