The 2023 Camden Show proves its resilience and came alive after the disasters of Covid and the 2022 floods when the show was postponed and cancelled.
Exhibitors and competitors
The arts and crafts pavilion is a good place to start, the must-see at all country shows. On display are the hidden talents of the local area.
A staple at all country shows are local farmers and producers who display their animals and produce. The cattle are always an interesting area to watch, and dairying has a rich history in the Camden area going back to the 1880s.
The produce exhibit is a snapshot of what can be grown and produced locally. Each of these products has been a vital part of the local farming scene over previous decades and in the present. For example, the apple industry was very important in The Oaks for most of the 20th century, and viticulture or growing grapes occurred across the Elderslie area for most of the last 100 years.
The flower exhibits are always popular with show visitors, and 2023 is no exception. The flowers have moved out of the main pavilion to a more compact area and the number of exhibitors is down on previous years.
Exhibitors are a mixture of keen amateurs and professional producers. All compete for the glory and fame that comes with first place. The cash prizes are really only pocket money, and it is the kudos that is the attraction.
The Show Ball and the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year
The winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year competition was announced on the front page of The District Reporter.
Camden Show promotional material
Much literature is produced at showtime; one of the most important is the show catalogue. The schedule lists all categories that competitors might want to enter with their animals, produce or crafts, the entry fees, the winning prizes and many other show time details.
Then there is the showground map which details all the exhibitors, events, show rings, entertainment, show bags, conveniences, parking and lots of other information.
One innovation this year has been the Agricultural Discovery Booklet for children. The booklet is full of puzzles, quizzes, colouring in, find-a-word, crosswords and other stuff. A great thing for the kids.
Information stalls and exhibitors
The 2023 Camden Show has many exhibitors, including commercial enterprises, the show guild members who provide rides and entertainment, government information services, community organisations and many others.
Exhibitors from the community
Community groups are regular exhibitors at the Camden Show, including the Country Women’s Association, Camden Historical Society, Camden Area Family History Society, Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Girl Guides, the Camden Show Society itself and many others.
Show promotional liftout
Promoting the show is always essential, and The District Reporter has had their show liftout for many years. The liftout is part of the only print edition of a newspaper that still circulates in the local area and has the show’s history and many stories about show personalities, events and exhibitors.
The role of social media has increased in recent years as a way to promote the show.
In late 2022 the Camden Show Society announced that Rubey Williams had been named the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year.
Ms Williams is the first Camden Show Young Woman of the Year after the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) changed the branding of the former Showgirl competition in 2019.
The competition had been rebranded earlier from the Miss Showgirl competition, which began in 1962. The name of the competition changed in 1979 by dropping ‘Miss’ from the title, indicating the competition moving with the times. (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019) And as Kate Darian-Smith has argued, changes in the competition have reflected changing representations of rural life and country towns, and the success of country shows (Darian-Smith, 2002, 17)
Yet there were supporters of the old name and the traditions it represented. In 2019 the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) showgirl committee spokesperson Peter Gooch said, ‘We don’t want to change the name.’
‘Why change what’s not broken? It’s tradition and means so much to the show.’ (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)
Dissatisfaction with Showgirl
Yet there was dissatisfaction with the marketing of the Showgirl concept.
Camden 2009 Showgirl Lauren Elkins, who came third in Sydney 2009, said there needed to be improved marketing for the competition at a grassroots level.
“The calibre of young women going to Sydney far exceeds what it was ten years ago,” she said.
“We need to look at how it is marketed and tell the stories of the girls of where they are and how they are developing.
“We are losing so many traditions; it would be a real shame to change the name, it’s tradition.” (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)
Ms Elkins, the 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins, certainly had an eye on tradition when she prepared the 2009 Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl. The guide stressed etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offered deportment lessons for entrants.
The Showgirl competition, formerly Miss Showgirl, has been an enduring anachronism and has withstood the assault of various forces and speaks well for its resilience.
While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunities.
These sentiments align with the feelings of Camden Show 2023 entrant Emily Perry who said she entered the competition because ‘she enjoys being involved in community activities, and wants to challenge herself and improve her own self-confidence’. (TDR, 21 October 2022)
Yet problems have persisted, and there have been concerns about the longevity of the competition.
Melanie Groves and Kemii Maguire have written, ‘ Nowadays, some view [the competition] as outdated pageantry from a bygone era at best, or the objectification of women at worst.’ (ABC News, 13 July 2019)
The popularity of the competition has waned in recent years, with only NSW and Queensland retaining the pageant. In Queensland, the entrants must be single, childless and under 28 years of age. (ABC News, 13 July 2019)
In Victoria, the competition stopped in 1995 after running for 38 years. (Darian-Smith, 2001)
RAS Young Woman of the Year
RAS Showgirl councillor Susan Wakefield has argued that changing the branding of the pageant to Young Woman of the Year has refreshed the program. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
‘The new title will continue to foster and encourage the fundamental building blocks of the competition through involvement in local shows and communities while also resonating better with younger generations’, said Ms Wakefield. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
2020 Cowra Showgirl Beatrice Patterson said her fellow showgirls supported the name change. Ms Patterson said that the RAS showgirl had received derogatory comments around ‘Miss Universe’ and beauty competition-related remarks earlier in the year. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)
Ms Patterson says that the Showgirl Competition is linked to the local show, yet others see Showgirl meaning ‘beauty’ and other negative connotations.
“I think this will be really good to get rid of that negative connotation.”
She hoped the name change would encourage more entrants. She said there were 15-20 entrants a few years ago, whereas in 2019, there were two or three.
She encouraged young women to enter the competition. ‘It’s a great program. You learn so much and develop as a person. You become more mindful of the world and agriculture’. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)
Ms Wakefield said that the professional development program within the competition encouraged young women to become community leaders. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
This was undoubtedly the Camden Show 2023 Young Women Rubey Williams situation. She said, ‘I want to become a bit of a role model in the community’. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
The District Reporter stated that Ms Williams had impressive agricultural credentials. She was the youngest ever Australian Alpaca Association Halter and Fleece Judge. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
She said she wanted to be a role model in the community and inspire young women to pursue careers in agriculture. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Ms Williams felt strongly about the show movement and was keen to give women a pivotal role in shaping the future of rural Australia. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Kate Darian-Smith has argued that a sense of community shown by entrants was the result of long-standing family connections to the town, the agricultural society and other community organisations. (Darian-Smith, 2001)
Ms Williams certainly felt that her role as the 2015 Camden Show Junior Rural Ambassador ‘gave her a good grounding of how the show worked. I have a lot of good memories of the Camden Show; it still has a country feel.’ (TDR, 4 November 2022)
The private English-style estate village of James and William Macarthur
The establishment of Camden, New South Wales, the town in 1840, was a private venture of James and William Macarthur, sons of colonial patriarch John Macarthur, at the Nepean River crossing on the northern edge of the family’s pastoral property of Camden Park. The town’s site was enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River and has regularly flooded the surrounding farmland and lower parts of the town.
The site of Camden was within the 5000 acres granted to John Macarthur by the 2nd Earl Camden [3.2], the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in 1805, while Macarthur was in England on charges for duelling. Macarthur was a fractious quarrelsome self-promoter who arrived in NSW with his wife Elizabeth and family in 1790 as paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The Corps (sometimes called The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as a permanent regiment of the British Army to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps, which had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 to fortify the colony of NSW.
The town’s site, as part of the Macarthur grants, was located on some of the finest farming country in the colony in the government Cowpastures reserve on the colonial frontier. The grants were part of the dispossession of traditional lands of the Dharawal people by the British settler colonial project and inevitably led to conflict and violence. Macarthur claimed that the town’s establishment threatened the security of his landholdings at Camden Park and opposed it during his lifetime. On his death in 1834, his sons had a different worldview and moved to establish an English-style estate village dominated by a church.
A fine Gothic-style church
The ridge-top location of St John’s Church (1840) on the southern end of the town meant that it towered over the town centre and had a clear line of sight to the Macarthur family’s Georgian mansion at Camden Park 2.6 miles to the southwest. The fine English Gothic-style church was funded mainly by the Macarthur family and has been the basis of the town’s iconic imagery. There were a number of large gentry estates built on convict labour in the surrounding farmland, the largest being the Macarthur family’s Camden Park of over 28,000 acres.
Many immigrant families came to the area under Governor Bourke’s 1835 plan and settled on the gentry estates as tenant farmers, some establishing businesses in Camden. The first land sales in the village occurred in 1841, which stifled the growth of the existing European settlements in the area. The population of Camden grew from 242 in 1846 to 458 in 1856, although the gentry’s estates still dominated the village. Camden Park, for example, had a population of 900 in 1850.
The English-style gentry practised philanthropy in Camden to maintain its moral tone. Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, John Macarthur’s granddaughter, encouraged the maintenance of the proprieties of life, moral order and good works, as well as memorialising her family by donating a clock and bells to St John’s Church in 1897. She also marked the memory of her late husband, Captain Onslow, by providing a public park in 1882 named after her husband (Onslow Park), which is now the Camden showground.
Camden became the district’s transport hub at the centre of the road network, primarily set by the pattern of land grants from the 1820s. The earliest villages in the district predated Camden and then looked to Camden for cultural and economic leadership as the district’s major centre. The arrival of the Camden tramway in 1882 meant that silver ore west of the district (1871) was shipped through the Camden railhead to the Main Southern Railway from Sydney.
Combined with rail access to markets, the town’s prosperity was assured by a series of technical and institutional innovations that transformed the dairy industry in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the Macarthur family set up the Camden Vale Milk Company and built a milk processing plant at the eastern end of the main street adjacent to the rail line. Whole milk was railed to Sydney and bottled under its label until the mid-1920s. Milk was delivered daily to the factory by horse and cart until the 1940s from local dairy farms.
Camden’s progress saw the construction of a new bank (1878), the commencement of weekly stock sales (1883), the formation of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society and the first Camden Show (1886), a new post and telegraph office (1898), the foundation of two weekly newspapers (Camden Times, 1879, Camden News, 1880), a new cottage hospital (1898), the formation of a fire brigade (1900), the opening of a telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), town water (1899) and the replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932), and a sewerage scheme (1939). By 1933 the population of the town had grown to 2394.
First local council
The first attempt at local government in 1843 was unsuccessful. A meeting of local notables formed the municipality of Camden at a public meeting in 1883. Still, it was not until 1889 that the municipality was proclaimed, covering 7,000 acres and including Camden and the neighbouring village of Elderslie. Nine townsmen were elected aldermen at the first election that year, and the first meeting was held at the School of Arts. In 1993 the Camden Municipal Council eventually became the Council of Camden.
Camden’s 1840 street grid is still intact today, with streets named after members of the Macarthur family – John Street, Elizabeth, Edward Street – and NSW colonial notables – Oxley Street, Broughton Street, Mitchell Street. The main highway between Sydney and Melbourne (the Hume Highway) passed along the main street (Argyle Street), until it was re-routed in 1976. The town’s business centre still has several Victorian and Art Deco shopfronts.
Some charming Federation and Californian bungalows in the church ridge-top precinct were the homes of the Camden elite in the early 20th century. The precinct is the site of Macarthur Park (1905), which was dedicated to the townsfolk by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and contained the town’s World War One cenotaph (donated by the Macarthur family).
John Street heritage precinct
John Street runs north-south downhill to the floodplain from the commanding position of St John’s church. Lower John Street is the location of the Italianate house Macaria (c1842), St Paul’s Catholic church and the government buildings associated with the Camden police barracks (1878) and courthouse (1857), and Camden Public School (1851). This area also contains the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in the town area, Bransby’s Cottage (1842). Lower John Street has the Camden Temperance Hall (1867), which later served as Camden Fire Station (1916–1993), and the School of Arts (1866), which served as the Camden Town Hall, while the rear of the building was occupied for a time by Camden Municipal Council.
Community voluntary organisations have been part of Camden’s life from the town’s foundation. In the late 1800s, they were male-dominated, usually led by the landed gentry, and held informal political power through patronage. James Macarthur sponsored the Camden School of Arts (1865) and Agricultural, Horticultural & Industrial Society (1886), later called the Camden Show Society, while the non-conformists sponsored various lodges and the temperance movement. A small clique of well-off local women established several conservative women’s organisations after Federation. Their social position supported their husbands’ political activities, and the influence of the Macarthur family was felt in these organisations, for example, the Camden Red Cross and Country Women’s Association.
Many men and women from Camden and the district saw military service in the Boer War and later World War One and Two when residents set up local branches of national patriotic funds and civil defence organisations. On the outskirts of the town, there were active defence establishments during World War II, including an airbase, army infantry, and training camps.
Economic prosperity from coal mining in the district’s western part challenged old hierarchies in the postwar years, replacing the old colonially-based rural hegemony. New community organisations like Rotary and later the Chamber of Commerce fostered business networks in the town. The Camden Historical Society (1957) promoted the town’s past and later opened a local museum (1970).
The New South Wales state government decreed that the town would become part of a growth area in the form of ‘new cities’ under the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), modelled on the British Garden City concept. Increasing urbanisation threatened the town’s identity and the number of community members formed by the Camden Residents’ Action Group (1973).
In 2007 Camden was the administrative centre of the Camden Local Government Area, which had a population of over 51,000 (2006) and an area of 201 square kilometres. The Camden LGA became part of the state government’s Sydney South West Growth Centre, planned to house 500,000 new residents, and is one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas.
Wave of nostalgia
Increasing levels of Sydney’s urbanisation have continued, threatened the loss of rural landscapes around the town, and awakened a wave of nostalgia. The NSW state government created the Camden Town Conservation Area (2008) based on the mid-20th century country town that aimed at preserving the town’s integrity and material fabric.
The Blue Plaques program aims to capture public interest and fascination in people, events and places that are important to the stories of NSW.
The Blue Plaques program celebrates NSW heritage by recognising noteworthy people and events from our state’s history.
The aim of the program is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhood and other parts of NSW and connect with people of the past, historical moments and rich stories that matter to communities and have shaped our state.
The program is inspired by the famous London Blue Plaques program run by English Heritage which originally started in 1866, and similar programs around the world.
“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”
The essence of the Blue Plaques program is the storytelling. A digital story will be linked to each plaque.
The Blue Plaques should tell stories that are interesting, fun, quirky along with more sombre stories that should be not be forgotten as part of our history.
What is the Camden Red Cross story?
What is being recognised?
Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles at the Camden School of Arts (later the Camden Town Hall now the Camden Library) – 1914-1918, 1940-1946.
What is the story?
The Camden Red Cross sewing circles were one of Camden women’s most important voluntary patriotic activities during World War One and World War Two. The sewing circles started at the Camden School of Arts in 1914, and due to lack of space, moved to the Foresters’ Hall in Argyle Street in 1918. At the outbreak of the Second World War, sewing circles reconvened in 1940 at the Camden Town Hall in John Street (the old School of Arts building – the same site as the First World War)
These sewing circles were workshops where Camden women volunteered and manufactured supplies for Australian military hospitals, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. They were held weekly on Tuesdays, which was sale day in the Camden district.
Sewing circles were ‘quasi-industrial production lines’ where Camden women implemented their domestics skills to aid the war at home. Camden women cut out, assembled, and sewed together hospital supplies, including flannel shirts, bed shirts, pyjamas, slippers, underpants, feather pillows, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. The workshops were lent a number of sewing machines in both wars.
The sewing circles also coordinated knitting and spinning for bed socks, stump socks, mufflers, balaclava caps, mittens, cholera belts (body binders) and other items. The women also made ‘hussifs’ or sewing kits for the soldiers. During the First World War, the sewing circles attracted between 80-100 women each week. The list of items was strikingly consistent for hospital supplies for both wars, with the only significant addition during the Second World War being the knitted pullovers and cardigans.
The production output of the Camden women was prodigious. Between 1914 and 1918, women from the Camden Red Cross sewing circle made over 20,300 articles tallied to over 40,000 volunteer hours. Between 1940 and 1946, during World War Two, women made over 25,000 articles, totalling over 45,000 voluntary hours.
The operation of the sewing circles was fully funded through the fundraising of Camden Red Cross and community donations. In 1917 alone, over 95% of branch fundraising was dedicated to these activities.
In World War One, other Red Cross sewing circles in the Camden district were located at The Oaks, Camden Park, Theresa Park, and Middle Burragorang. During World War Two, other centres across the local area included Bringelly-Rossmore, Menangle, Narellan, and The Oaks. Each group independently funded its activities.
These patriotic voluntary activities by Camden women were part of the war at home and have received little recognition at a local, state or national level. Wartime sewing and knitting have been kept in the shadows for too long. There needs to be a public acknowledgement of the patriotic effort of these women.
Where will the plaque be placed?
Camden School of Arts – later called the Camden Town Hall (1939-1945) and now the Camden Library.
What will the plaque say?
Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles – 1914-1918, and 1940-1946.
English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom
London’s blue plaques scheme, run by English Heritage, celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Founded in 1866, it has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world.
Reference for Camden Red Cross story
Ian Willis,Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2014.
In 1919 Mowbray Park, five kilometres west of Picton, was handed over to the Commonwealth Government to be converted to a convalescent home for invalided soldiers from the First World War. The home was called Waley after its philanthropic benefactors.
From 1915 the Red Cross established a network of hospitals and convalescent homes due to the shortcomings of the Australian military medical authorities.
By the end of the World War One hundreds of invalided soldiers were returning to Australia, and they passed through medical facilities managed by the Red Cross, and Waley was one of them.
Local Red Cross branches and state-wide campaigns organised by New South Wales Red Cross divisional headquarters in Sydney provided funding for these efforts. The Commonwealth Department of Repatriation paid a fee of six shillings a day for each patient to cover running expenses. (Stubbings, ‘Look what you started Henry!’ 1992. pp. 13-14.)
The Waley Convalescent Home was created when Englishman FG Waley and his wife Ethel presented Mowbray Park and 180 acres (73 ha), to the Commonwealth Government as a “permanent home for shell-shocked and permanently incapacitated sailors and soldiers”. (SMH, 4 March 1920) These days it is called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Waleys had originally purchased Mowbray Park (800 acres, 324 ha) in 1905 from WM Barker, who had had the main house built in 1884. (Mowbray Pk History). Mowbray Park had been the Waley family country retreat – a gentleman’s country estate.
FG Waley was an executive member of the New South Wales Red Cross in 1919 when the family donated the farm to the Commonwealth. Several wealthy landowners donated homes and buildings for Red Cross use as convalescent homes, a philanthropic practice adopted in the United Kingdom.
Waley was a farm hospital with about 60 acres under cultivation and the main house supplied with vegetables, eggs, milk and butter from the farms 21 cows and 26 pigs.
Most patients at Waley Hospital stayed at the home between one and three months, with some up to 8 months for those suffering from neurasthenia or hysteria. It was reported that “the quiet, regular life, under good discipline, with a regular work period each day, is the best way of endeavouring to the fit these men for occupation again”.
Activities were general farm work to return the men “to their own occupation”. Major-General GM Macarthur Onslow chaired the farm committee. (Annual Report 1923-24, ARCS (NSW), p. 19.)
Opening in 1920
The home was officially opened in March 1920. The Waley donation of the house was expressed in noble terms as an act of patriotic nationalism. The Sydney Morning Herald stated that
As the cars swung through the broad entrance gates and traversed the winding drivethrough an avenue of pines to the beautifully situated homestead one realised the noblesentiment which prompted the owners – Mr. and Mrs. F. G. Waley – to hand over to thenation this rich possession. In order that those men whose nerves had suffered from theshock of Year might be given an opportunity of recuperating their health. (SMH, 4 March 1920)
The opening ceremony attracted a list of Sydney notables and the Australian Governor Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson and Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson, the founder of the British Red Cross in Australia. His Excellency accepted the house and land on behalf of the country. The press report stated:
The Governor-General expressed pleasure at being present to transfer the property fromtheir host and hostess to the nation. “It is,” he added, a noble gift, and I am indeed gladto find myself under this Hospitable roof tree.” (SMH 4 March 1920)
The home received considerable support from local Red Cross volunteers who provided entertainment in concerts, picnics, and library services from its inception.
For example, in November 1919, the Camden Red Cross organised a basket picnic and an outing for the soldiers from Waley ‘on the banks of the [Nepean] river at the weir’ at Camden. Red Cross voluntary workers provided cakes, scones and afternoon teas for soldiers. (Camden News, 4 September 1919, 6 November 1919)
In March 1920, the Camden News reported that the Narellan Red Cross donated three bookcases with over 600 books to fill them (Camden News, 18 March 1920)
The Red Cross staffed convalescent hospitals with voluntary aids (VAs) from detachments in localities adjacent to the home. In the Camden district, Waley’s opening triggered the foundation of voluntary aid detachments at Camden and The Oaks.
There were three dedicated staff positions for voluntary aids (VAs) at the home drawn from Camden, Picton, The Oaks, Menangle and Narellan voluntary aid detachments (VAD).
During 1919 six VAs from The Oaks VAD volunteered at Waley Hospital, and by 1921 this had increased to 10, with a further 10 VAs from the Camden VAD, who included Mary McIntosh, Miss Hall and Miss Gardiner.
In 1920 Narellan VAs Eileen Cross and Cory Wheeler were volunteering at the home. The Camden VAs put in 117 days in 1921 and 116 days in 1922 at the hospital. In 1922 the VAs relieved the cook and the ‘Blue Aids’ for their days off.
By 1923 there were 13 VAs, with one VA from Narellan Red Cross, who collectively worked 65 days. (NSW RC Annual Reports 1918-19 to 1923-24; Minutes, Camden Red Cross, 1915-1924.)
By 1924 the number of voluntary aids had dropped to only a ‘few’ making monthly visits to the patients.
Disposal of home
Waley was closed by 1925 and sold off at auction. The home operated from March 1920 to April 1925. Under the Waley deed of gift funds from the sale of the home by the Commonwealth of Australia were distributed to Royal Naval House in Sydney, the Rawson Institute for Seamen and the Sydney Mission for Seamen. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 1925)
Groundbreaking medical care
Waley Convalescent Home was one of Red Cross medical activities that broke new ground in medical care and convalescence for ‘shell-shock’ now called PTSD.
By 1920 the New South Wales Red Cross managed 26 homes and rehabilitation centres, five field and camp hospitals, including Waley at Mowbray Park. (NSW RC AR) There were similar medical facilities in other states.
The Red Cross pioneered this area of clinical practice by providing a level of care and soldier welfare activities never seen before in Australia.
In 2002 the Sydney press commemorated the life and times of Camden identity Colin Clark, a successful pharmacist who served his community, church and family. (SMH 20 May 2002) Colin married Dorothy, and together, they shaped ‘a vision for their future’ in Camden.
My interest in the Clarks was partly prompted by a photograph of a bottle of liquid paraffin sent to me by local resident Nicole Comerford. Colin had dispensed the paraffin to Nicole’s grandmother, Sheila Murdoch of Orangeville.
Colin Clark ran a pharmacy in Argyle Street for over 35 years. He trained as a pharmacist at the Melbourne College of Pharmacy, and met Dorothy in Stroud. They married in 1933 at Malvern Hill Methodist Church (Clark, Fix Ears, p.72) before moving to Camden in 1934.
Dorothy was an accomplished musician and an artist. In the mid-1920s, she received a scholarship to the Sydney Art School (Julian Ashton Art School) (Clark, Fix Ears, p.71), which trained several notable Australian artists.
The Clarks planned to stay in Camden for seven years (Mylrea, Interview) and as things turned out, they stayed a lifetime. (Camden News, 6 August 1981) Their Methodist faith shaped their worldview and they how fitted into Camden’s rich social fabric and became part of the ‘backbone of the community’. (Camden News, 6 August 1981). They mixed with other Methodist families who amongst others included the Whitemans, the Sidmans and the Stuckeys.
Colin became a well-regarded businessman and Dorothy, a stay-at-home mother. They were respected in all strata of society and mixed with people ‘of so-called high and low estate’. (Clark, Eulogy)
John Kearns argues that John Wesley ‘was an active citizen, concerned with people’s physical, mental and economic welfare as well as their spiritual well-being and he did many good works’. As were the Clarks.
Community service – ‘the backbone of the community’
Colin and Dorothy were community-minded active citizens who constantly devoted their ‘energies to the gentle pursuit of shaping their community’s lifestyle and character’ through several local organisations. (Camden News, 6 August 1981)
Colin was president of the Camden Historical Society from 1968 to 1970 and was made a life member in 1994. He was a foundation member of the Camden Rotary Club and served the club for 33 years. He was a member of the Carrington Hospital Board from 1967 to 1981, made a trustee in 1975 (Camden News 6 August 1981) and to honour his service, the board room was named after him (Clark Eulogy). He was president of the Camden Central School P&C in the early 1950s, a member of the Camden Masonic Lodge and a board member of the Camden Uniting Church. (Clark, Eulogy).
Colin was an active sportsman and participated in tennis, cricket, golf and lawn bowls. He was a foundation member of the Camden Golf Club, an early committee member of the Camden Bowling Club and instrumental in the foundation of the Camden CWA Rooms building.
Dorothy – musician, artist and mother
Dorothy was a musician and an artist with an appreciation of the arts. She was an accomplished pianist, and in 1936 played the piano at a Methodist ladies ‘towel afternoon’ (Camden News, 6 August 1936). In 1942 she was the pianist for a concert for the troops at the Narellan Military Base (Camden News, 5 February 1942), and in 1952 she played the piano at a fashion parade fundraiser for the Camden Hospital Ladies Auxiliary (Camden News, 2 October 1952). Dorothy was the pianist for the first Camden Musical Society performance. (Camden News 6 August 1981)
Dorothy Clark was an active member of the Camden Red Cross, Camden District Hospital Auxiliary, and the Camden Country Women’s Association.
Camden Museum – ‘a vision for the future’
In the mid-1960s, Colin and Dorothy had a vision for a local history museum in Camden where a collection of objects and things could tell the local story. (Mylrea, Interview) The Clark’s view of the world would have seen a museum providing an educational experience based on authentic objects and stories taken from Camden’s cultural traditions and values, and the individuals who created them. (Willis, Stories and Things)
The Clark’s vision and enthusiasm encouraged support after initial scepticism. With the help of Camden Rotary Club Colin eventually secured the old council rooms at the rear of the Camden School of Arts and opened a museum in 1970. (Wrigley, Camden Museum)
John Wrigley writes
Colin Clark was the president of the Camden Historical Society at the founding of the Camden Museum in 1970. Colin became a member of the society in 1963 and president in 1968. He was the fourth president of the society. (Wrigley, 2021)
Colin recalled, ‘In the 1930s it was quite common to be called upon to dispense a prescription mixture. There were no prepared medicines and it took around 20 minutes to put a script together. There were very few cosmetic preparations.’ (The Crier, 14 November 1979)
Colin’s pharmacy was initially located in the Whiteman building at 90 Argyle Street when he purchased Niddries business. The pharmacy opened at 8.30am, with half-an-hour for lunch to 8.30pm. The local doctors always ran a night surgery and Colin would be dispensing mixtures for the patients. On Saturday he opened at 8.30am to 1.00pm, then back at 6.00pm to 8.30pm and then Sundays and after-hours calls. ‘It was a very hard life.’ (Mylrea, Interview)
Kearns, Adrian J. “Active Citizenship and Urban Governance.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 17, no. 1, 1992, pp. 20–34. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/622634. Accessed 4 Sept. 2021.
Mylrea, Peter 1994. Transcript of an Interview with CC, Camden, 12 November, 19 November, 10 December 1993, 19 January 1994, Camden Museum Archives.
Mylrea, Peter 2001. ‘Camden Historical Society, Its First 25 Years, 1957-1982’. Camden History, Vol 1, No 1, March 2001, p.11.
Mylrea, Peter 2001. ‘Glimpses of Camden, Interview with Colin Clark’. Camden History, Vol 1, no 2, September 2001, pp.24-28.
Urick, B. Y., & Meggs, E. V. (2019). Towards a Greater Professional Standing: Evolution of Pharmacy Practice and Education, 1920-2020. Pharmacy (Basel, Switzerland), 7(3), 98. https://doi.org/10.3390/pharmacy7030098
Sheila Murdoch was a rural woman who served her community and church and raised a family of five children. Her story, like a lot of other rural women, has remained in the shadows of history. She did not seek kudos and received little public acknowledgement of her role in the community.
Her story came to my attention through a picture of a medicine bottle from her granddaughter Nicole Comerford. Sheila had obtained a bottle of liquid paraffin from Camden pharmacist Colin Clark.
What is liquid paraffin?
According to The British Medical Journal, liquid paraffin was recommended as a treatment for constipation as a laxative, particularly with children. A Google search of the bottle’s image indicates it is probably around the middle of the 20th century.
The real story is not the bottle but an amazing woman who owned it.
Nicole tells us that Sheila lived on a dairy farm on Fallons Road Orangeville.
‘Grandma was born Sheila Rose Walsh and was one of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers in Upper Kangaroo River (Kangaroo Valley).’
The Walshes were ‘a musical family’, according to Nicole.
Sheila had an interview with Kayla Osborne from the Camden Advertiser in 2018 (6 July 2018). She said, ‘I learnt to play the piano when I was about eight or nine years old, firstly from my mother, and then an old school teacher started teaching me during the 1930s when teachers were quite scarce.’
‘I am also self-taught, but my family has always been a musical one when I was growing up.
Sheila told Kayla Osborne that she was fond of music from an early age and recalled, ‘my father and mother always used to sing together, with my father playing the fiddle by ear.’
‘Most of my brothers and sisters also played an instrument or sang.’ Sheila was part of a well-known local band in the Shoalhaven area called ‘Walsh’s Orchestra’.
Nicole writes, ‘Grandma played the piano, and they played all over the Shoalhaven District over many years, including during WW2. She met my grandfather, Leslie Murdoch, after joining their orchestra when he was stationed at Nowra during the war. Grandad was a mechanic for the RAAF at Nowra.’
The South Coast country press reported the regular ‘gigs’ played by the Walsh Orchestra in the Shoalhaven area between the mid-1930s and the Second World War. In 1936 they performed at the St Michael’s Convent School Hall in Nowra (Nowra Leader, Friday 26 June 1936) and the Roman Catholic Ball at the Kangaroo Valley School of Arts in 1938. The ball drew loyal church supporters from Burrawang, Gerringong, Nowra and Berry for the jubilee celebrations for the Kangaroo Valley Roman Catholic Church.
Sheila and Leslie married in March 1945 at Berry [Nicole] and moved to Orangeville in 1946 (Camden Advertiser, 6 July 2018) after he was discharged from the RAAF.
Nicole writes, ‘They had little money when they moved there, really the only money they had saved from playing for dances and what Grandma had in war bonds. They grew peas until they had enough money to start dairying, and over the years, they purchased all of the farm from other family members; it was named “Thornhill”. The farm has been in the family since the 1850s and was a dairy farm.
‘The farm was an active dairy farm until the 1970s. They sold half of the farm, and it’s now about 92 acres. The half they sold is now Murdoch Road, Orangeville. Grandad (Les) lived on the farm until he died in 2001, and Grandma (Sheila) lived there on her own (with lots of support from her family) until at age 101. My parents, Jim and Judith Murdoch, still live on the farm, and my Dad runs about 15 beef cattle.
In her history of Orangeville, Nell Weir writes that the Thornhill grant was allocated to Thomas Fallon in 1856, with the farm having frontage to Clay Waterholes Creek. Thomas married Eliza Waller of Mulgoa in 1840, and they had ten children. Thomas died in 1879 and is buried in The Oaks Catholic Cemetery. According to Weir, Les Murdoch is a descendant of Thomas and Eliza’s son Thomas. [Weir, pp.32-33]
Nicole writes, ‘Sheila and Les had six children with the first being a stillborn daughter who we think are buried at the Catholic Cemetery in Camden. There are no records for this birth; I am pretty sure Grandma had this baby at what is now Neidra Hill’s house at Narellan.’
The house in question is the Edwardian architectural gem called Ben Linden. The house was built in 1919 by George Blackmore. Neidra Hill writes in her history of the house that EJ (Elizabeth) Stuckey, a trained midwife, purchased the house in 1944 conducted a maternity hospital until 1948. The hospital was then run by her daughter, JT (Jean) Stuckey, until 1959. The building was converted to a private hospital run by ME (Mavis) Halkett until it closed in 1971. (Hill, 2008, pp.27-37)
Nicole recalls that ‘my grandparents were very active in the community’.
‘Sheila and Leslie played at dances and weddings all over the community for many years and were very well known. Grandma and Grandad played in The Oaks, Orangeville, Camden and down to Bargo. I think they played at Bargo on New Year’s Eve several times. They also played at Camden High School socials.’
‘When I shared news of Grandma’s death on the “You know you’re from Camden if…” Facebook page, lots of people commented that they remember them playing at their weddings.’
‘Grandma also played the organ, firstly at St Pauls Catholic Church in Camden and then at St Aloysius Catholic Church at The Oaks when the parish boundaries changed. Grandma was still playing on her 101st birthday at The Oaks.
Sheila played the piano for The Oaks Debutante Balls until she retired in 1998. The ball committee have written that Sheila played piano for practice and presentation sessions for 23 years and they remember her ‘sitting at the piano for so many hours in freezing cold conditions’. (The Committee, p14)
She said, ‘It was lovely to see the young “hopefuls’ turn up – the boys mostly in “Nikes” or “Ugg” Boots – to learn dancing. We always found the young people very polite and happy when they got into the swing of the dances.’ (The Committee, p.14)
Myra Cowell recalls on Facebook that she ‘remembers them well playing at the Cobbitty dances’
Nicole said, ‘Grandma was a member of The Oaks Catholic Woman’s League and held various roles over the years, including president.
The Catholic Women’s League in NSW can trace its origins back to 1913, when the Catholic Women’s Association was founded in Sydney. The league aims to promote ‘the spiritual, cultural, intellectual and social development of women and promotes the role of laywomen in the mission of the Catholic Church’.
Camden Bowling Club
Nicole recalls, ‘Both my grandparents were involved in the Camden Bowling Club, and Grandma was a foundation member of the Camden Women’s Bowling Club. She also played the piano at many events there over the years.’
Frank Farrugia writes in the history of the Camden Bowling Club that Les was president from 1967 to 1969 after joining the club in 1961. He served on the committee for over 15 years and worked for the club for over 25 years. To acknowledge his service, he was made a life member. The new No 3 Green at the club was dedicated to Les, and at its opening in 1986, John Fahey said that Les gave ‘himself to his church, his family, to sporting bodies and local government’. (Farrugia, p. 146) Les was a councillor for A Riding on Wollondilly Shire Council for four terms from 1974 to 1987. (History of WSC) Frank McKay praised ‘Les’s loyalty, objectivity and dedication’. (Farrugia, p.146)
‘For over 50, maybe even 60 years, Grandma volunteered at Carrington Aged-Care complex every Friday morning and in later years was part of a group called the “Melody Makers” who played there. She continued to play the piano there while she was resident and even did so in the week before she died. We always used to laugh the way she would talk about playing for “the oldies” when most of them would have been younger than her!’ writes Nicole.
On Sheila’s 100th birthday in 2018, Kayla Osborne wrote in the Camden Advertiser (6 July 2018) that Sheila and the Melody Makers played weekly at Carrington Aged-Care. Sheila said she started volunteering at Carrington Aged-Care and the aged care facility to give back to her community. She said, ‘I started with the Pink Ladies, who were some of Carrington’s very first volunteers.’
‘I love playing the piano at Carrington Aged-Care Complex now, and I consider playing for the residents there just pure enjoyment. I particularly enjoy the company – nobody objects no matter how bad we play.’
Carrington Volunteer Coordinator Belinda said, ‘I was privileged enough to see them play a few times. Sheila was absolutely phenomenal with her piano skills, Laurie accompanied on sax, Richard (also now passed) played the keyboard and the singer and guitarist, Kevin. (Email, 30 August 2021)
A Carrington source tells me that the Melody Makers was made up of Laurie Martin on saxophone and clarinet, George Sayers on violin, Kevin Harris on guitar, Dick Eldred on clarinet, pianist Sheila and in the early days in late 1990s John Foster on trombone. Most of these talented folk sadly are no longer with us.
Melody Maker guitarist and vocalist Kevin Harris said, ‘I joined the group in the late 1990s. Sheila was “God’s gift to music”. She played at Carrington for 60 years.’
‘The group played at Carrington Aged-Care every Friday around each of the different facilities – Grasmere Terrace, Nursing home, Paling Court and so on. We had over 2000 regular songs. We would never practice. [The group] played for two hours from 10-12, then everyone would go to lunch ,’ he said.
Kevin recalled, ‘My favourite memory was just playing for over 20 years. I have wonderful memories. Playing each week made friendships. Just a love of music and we shared that love with other people. [The members of Melody Makers] were great troopers and there was so much love between all of us and our families.’
‘[Melody Makers] did jobs outside [of Carrington]. Macarthur War Widows and Legacy War Widows at Legacy House in Campbelltown. We played for the Over 50s at the Catholic Club, and Christmas Parties and Mothers’ Day in and around Campbelltown and Appin,’ he said.
Kevin said, ‘ Most of the group had a musical background. Laurie military bands, George came from a family of entertainers, Jack played in World War Two and I played around the Campbelltown area from the 1960s including a 19-piece swing band based at Wayne’s Music Shop.’
Nicole writes that ‘Leslie died in 2001 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery at The Oaks. In September 2019, Sheila moved to Mary McKillop Hostel at Carrington Aged-Care Complex off the farm because of the increased level of care needed for her health.
Sheila became part of the Carrington family after she moved into aged-care.
Nicole said, ‘Grandma [Sheila] passed away at Mary McKillop on 29th May 2020.’
The surviving five children are Patricia, James (my Dad), Frances, Mary and Peter.’
Farrugia, F 2014, History of Camden Bowling Club, 75 Years, Camden Bowling Club, Camden.
Hill, N 2008, Ben Linden 1919-2008, A house with a story to tell, Typescript Camden Museum Archives, n.p.
The Oaks Debutante Ball Book Committee 2001, We Had a Ball, Twenty-five Debutante Balls in The Oaks 1973-1999, The Committee, The Oaks.
Weir, NR 1998, From Timberland to Smiling Fields, A History of Orangeville and Werombi, The Oaks Historical Society, The Oaks.
Wollondilly Shire Council 1988, A History of Local Government in the Wollondilly Shire 1895 to1988, Wollondilly Shire Council, Picton.
Once again, country show societies are gearing up for the annual New South Wales Showgirl competition. In 2008 500 young women entered the pageant at a local level representing 120 show societies, with the Sydney Royal Easter Show finals. The 2011 Camden Showgirl has attracted seven young local women – four of the seven are university students, two business owners and one business manager.
The competition has come a long way since its beginnings in 1962 which started as Miss Showgirl and changed in 1979 to the Showgirl competition. It has seen off a variety of other pageants and successfully competes with several others. In these days of television celebrity fashion competitions, the Showgirl competition is a bit of an anachronism. Rather quaint, yet with an underlying strength that is endearing to supporters.
The Showgirl competition is a complex mix of paradoxes and apparent contradictions, just like other aspects of rural life: it is very traditional while accommodating the aspirations of young women; it is staid yet has had an underlying strand of the commodification of young women as objects of display; it is conservative yet encourages sexualisation of young women through good times at balls and the like; it avoids the stereotypes of other beauty pageants, yet it promotes a version of a stereotypical young rural woman; it is part of the town and country divide yet brings the country to the city; and more.
The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when rural women were confined by home and family. The foundation sponsor was the racy tabloid, The Daily Mirror, which commodified womanhood images on page three. Later competition sponsors, The Daily Telegraph and then The Women’s Weekly, used different representations of womanhood, and today The Land newspaper takes a newsworthy approach to rural affairs.
The values expressed in the Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl entrants prepared by 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins are slightly old-fashioned. The guide stresses etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offers deportment lessons for entrants – An echo from the past.
While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants and provides personal development opportunities.
Showtime, the show ball and the Showgirl competition are representatives of notions of rurality. Camden Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’.
Organising committees select entrants who have a sense of belonging to and identifying with the local area. According to Suzie Sherwood, a 2004 Camden organising committee member, the winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community.
In a historical analysis by Kate Darian-Smith and Sara Wills (2001), they see the current response to Miss Showgirl as ‘an embodiment of meaningful and rural belonging’. Miss Showgirl entrants indeed embrace parochialism and the interests of local show societies as part of the competition. These forces have long shaped the rural identity and its response to city-based decision-making.
Rural New South Wales faces constant challenges, and the showgirl’s success is a rural showcase in the ‘big smoke’. The competition embraces the experience of showtime in Sydney when the country comes to town, and there are social engagements, cocktail parties and pictures on the social pages. The showgirl competition draws on rural traditions surrounding debutante balls, bachelor and spinster balls and similar community gatherings that express a sense of place. The essence of localism.
Glamour and style are back, and Showgirl has an element of ‘fashions on the field’. Young women have an opportunity to ‘frock up’. Something authentic. It harks back to the days of the country race meeting and the local polo match. The exclusivity that was once the rural gentry’s domain when deference and paternalism ruled the bush. Press photographs of ‘glammed up’ Showgirls sashing 1st place in the dairy cow section recall days of the ‘Lady of the Manor’ and the English village fair.
Miss Showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Understandably entrants passionately defend the competition.
None of these issues has been a problem for 2011 Camden Showgirl winner Hilary Scott, a 22-year-old horse-loving university student from The Oaks. She appeared on the front page of The District Reporter, all glammed up in the paddock, under the banner headline ‘Showgirl Hilary supports agriculture’. Hilary is a confident young rural woman who projects Miss Showgirl’s contemporary vibrancy and complexities.
Camden Showgirl Winners
Miss Showgirl 1962-1978, Camden Showgirl 1979-2020
1962 Helen Crace 1963 Helen Crace 1964 Sue Mason 1965 Barbara Duck 1966 Dawn Dowle 1967 Jenny Rock 1968 Heather Mills 1969 Michelle Chambers 1970 Joyce Boardman 1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham 1972 Kerri Webb 1973 Anne Fahey 1974 Sue Faber
1975 Janelle Hore 1976 Jenny Barnaby 1977 Patsy Anne Daley 1978 Julie Wallace 1979 Sandra Olieric 1980 Fiona Wilson 1981 Louise Longley 1982 Melissa Clowes 1983 Illa Eagles 1984 Leanne Reily 1985 Rebecca Py 1986 Jenny Rawlinson 1987 Jayne Manns
1988 Monique Mate 1989 Linda Drinnan 1990 Tai Green 1991 Toni Leeman 1992 Susan Lees 1993 Belinda Bettington 1994 Miffy Haynes 1995 Danielle Halfpenny 1996 Jenianne Garvin 1997 Michelle Dries 1998 Belinda Holyoake 1999 Lyndall Reeves 2000 Katie Rogers
2001 Kristy Stewart 2002 Margaret Roser 2003 Sally Watson 2004 Danielle Haack 2005 Arna Daley 2006 Victoria Travers 2007 Sarah Myers
2008 Fiona Boardman 2009 Lauren Elkins 2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic 2011 Hilary Scott 2012 April Browne 2013 Isabel Head 2014 Jacinda Webster
The Competition aims to find a young female Ambassador for rural NSW and the agricultural show movement.
The Showgirl Competition is definitely not a beauty pageant. Entrants must have a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, rural NSW. The Competition encourages the participation and awareness of issues faced by women in rural NSW.
In Camden the ideology of motherhood expressed itself in the foundation of the St John’s Mother’s Union in 1900 which saw that mothers were an integral part of women’s service role to the British Empire. (Ministering Angels, p19) and later the Red Cross in 1914 and Camden Country Women’s Association in 1930. (Ministering Angels, 21)
In the early 20th century the Red Cross was variously described as the ‘Greatest Mother in the World’, and the ‘Mother of all Nations’ (Ministering Angels, 6) The CWA were concerned with motherhood and infant mortality and of their main activities in the early 20th century was the foundation of baby health centres across the country.
Around the turn of the century a direct link was made between infant welfare, motherhood, patriotism and nationalism. Motherhood and mothering were expressed in terms of patriotism and a national priority. All driven by European exceptionalism, expressed in Australia as the White Australia policy. There was anxiety around falling birth rates, whiteness and the strength of the British Empire.
Motherhood as national building
Sociologist Karen Swift writes that from the around the middle of the 18th century the state became interested in motherhood where ‘the state’s interest in controlling and using female fertility for nation building and economic purposes’. Biological determinism stated that motherhood was a natural state for women and that is should be a national priority.
The ‘master narratives’ governing European motherhood in earlier centuries was that of nation building, especially in the colonies. The creation of new nations required a growing, healthy population, with women’s roles focused on producing and rearing soldiers and laborers. Once nation-building efforts became established, mothers were called upon to contribute to the development of a large and prosperous white middle class needed to perpetuate and grow capitalism. For this purpose, white mothers were needed to learn, teach, and demonstrate the moral authority the middle class required to dominate those below in the social, economic, and racial hierarchies.
The metaphor of the Red Cross as mother and guardian angel was extended in the post-war environment and incorporated a concern for mothers and infants. The terrible losses of the First World War, and declining birth rate made the welfare of mothers and infants a national defence priority. There were calls to repopulate the country (The Maitland Weekly Mercury, 30 November 1918.) and a developing national anxiety around motherhood. Some of Sydney’s conservative elite had expressed concern about the issue of infant welfare, and set up the Kindergarten Union and Free Kindergartens in the 1890s.
Support from the National Council of Women of NSW, of which Sibella Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park was a member, and others who were concerned about the welfare of mothers and infants led to the establishment of day nurseries, supervised playgrounds and other initiatives in inner Sydney in the early 1920s. There were high rates of infant mortality in inner Sydney and social conditions for single mothers with children were less than desirable. There had been the Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth Rate and the Mortality of Infants in New South Wales in 1904 and the Edwardian period was characterised by a nationalistic concern over the moral decline of the British race. (Ministering Angels, 65-66)
‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’
‘Perfect Motherhood is Perfect Patriotism’ according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in 1926. The article was a part of the publicity associated with a fundraising campaign for the Karitane-Sydney Mothercraft Centre at Coogee operated by the Australian Mothercraft Society. The society had been established in Australia in 1923 modelled on the Royal New Zealand Society for Health of Women and Children, commonly called the Plunket Society, established by New Zealand doctor Sir Truby King in 1907.
You should have a white Australia. But if you find the Eastern nations more moral more noble to make more sacrifices for the continuity of the race, you know the result must be the same as has been the case with the great civilisations of the past. Greece and Rome went down, not through any failure in the valour or courage of their young men, but because of the increase in luxury, the repugnance to rearing families, followed by decadence and sterility and eventually extinction. If the population of Australia do not do their duty to the race there cannot be any resistance to other races coming in and populating this fair land.
In 1920 the women of the Camden Red Cross were concerned about these issues and donated £14 to the Society for Welfare of Mothers and Babies. The society had been formed in 1918 in Sydney, aimed to teach mothercraft and eventually set up the Tresillian training school at Petersham in 1922.
Red Cross Baby Day became an important part of the district Red Cross child welfare agenda in the post-war years. The Red Cross coordinated the first Baby Week in 1920 in the first week of April and encouraged the formation of local committees.
The Baby Week was supported by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and had its origins in England with the National Baby Week Council in 1900. Its objects were to foster child welfare by decreasing infant mortality, to promoting the health of mothers, and to encouraging motherhood and maternal nursing(The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 27 February 1920) (Ministering Angels, 66).
The 1920 Red Cross Baby Day in Camden was held on 30 March and the Camden branch had two street stalls, while the Narellan Red Cross had an afternoon tea stall at the Bank of New South Wales. (Minutes, Camden Red Cross, 9 March 1920 )
The support continued in 1925 when the Camden Red Cross was assisted on the dip stalls by Miss Gardner from Camden Public School and her kindergarten class. The total raised by Camden was £23 and Narellan Red Cross raised £9. Camden News, 1 April 1920)
The funds were donated to the Camden District Cot at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. In 1925 Camden Red Cross members sought the assistance of the girls from Camden Superior Public School, with the girls helping out on one of the dip stalls. This practice continued until 1940. The Camden Red Cross branch made a regular donation and it generally varied between £20 and £50, with a peak in 1922 of £53. The overall average donation between 1921 and 1939 was £34, while during the Furner presidency the average donation was £37 and Macarthur Onslow’s presidency £32. The Camden Red Cross made a number of donations to nursery movement groups during the 1920s and they included: Nursery Association (1924, £10); Sydney Day Nurseries (1925, £10); Infant Home, Ashfield (1925, £7, and 1926, £10); and the Forest Lodge Day Nursery (1927, £6). (Ministering Angels, 66)
For over a century, the Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.
In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017, University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australia’s cultural identity. The attentive audience was a mix of ages and interests, including past military personnel.
One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time and announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture.
Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of Anzac and that there is far from just one truth. Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has grown into something bigger than itself.
The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood, and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.
The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.
Tensions and contradictions
The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.
The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product of industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some were the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.
There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.
Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.
According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stresses honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.
On the hand, the digger mythology’s unofficial story is about a man who is not a professional soldier, egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-around Aussie bloke.
The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.
Gunner Bruce Guppy
In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic fellow and stated, ‘life is what you make it’.
Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning, non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia, he never discussed his wartime service with his family until I married his daughter.
Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet he willingly participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and, in 1995, wrote a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:
So it surprised no one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved by his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.
For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.
While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural development of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.
The site and the myth
Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band, the Dropkick Murphys.
The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.
Pilgrims and memory
Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the modern pilgrimage industry.
Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).
Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They seek the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.
The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.
Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.
For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government on how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.
Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.
Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.
The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.
Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offer contradictions for some and realities for others.
The members of the Australian community are the ones who will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.
Updated on 23 April 2022, 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’
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