Anzac · Attachment to place · Australia · Camden · Community identity · Country Women's Association · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · CWA · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · History · Local History · Philanthropy · Place making · Red Cross · Second World War · Sense of place · Volunteering · Volunteerism · War · War at home · Women's Voluntary National Register

Camden CWA leads way in wartime

The Camden community was galvanised by the emergency created by the entry of Japan into the Pacific War on 7 December 1941 and the US declaration of war on 8 December.

Wardens and Air Raid Precautions

Stan Kelloway, Camden’s chief warden and mayor, called a public meeting which was held on Tuesday night at the town hall, 18 December 1941. He made an urgent appeal for wardens and volunteers for air raid precaution work in the town area.

CamNetMaking_AWM007671
Australian women making camouflage nets during the Second World War. These volunteering efforts greatly assisted the war effort. (AWM007671) cc

 

Camden women held a joint emergency meeting on the same night at the Camden CWA Rooms in Murray Street. The meeting was chaired by Rita Tucker, with Grace Moore, the secretary of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) acting as the meeting’s secretary.

 

The Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary was represented by its president, Emma Furner, and the CWA Younger Set by Mary Sparkes and Anita Rapley. Apologies were received from Zoe Crookston, Mary Davies, Albine Terry and Hilda Moore. Mary Davies was the treasurer of the Camden Red Cross and the vice-president of the Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Albine Terry, Camden WVS treasurer and Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary vice-president, and Hilda Moore, the secretary of the Camden Red Cross.

Camouflages Nets

There was much discussion at the meeting and a decision was taken to concentrate on making camouflage nets. The CWA and Women’s Voluntary Service, which were conducting separate camouflage netting meetings, decided to combine their separate netting efforts. The combined effort would be located at the CWA rooms on Monday and Tuesday nights, and Friday afternoons.

 

These arrangements were organised so that they did not conflict with existing service commitments, particularly the WVS and Red Cross sewing circles at the town hall. Camden volunteers were requested to bring ‘a hank of string for practice’. The Camden press maintained in December 1941 that ‘anyone who possibl[y] can is urged to take this opportunity of rendering national service in a time of crisis’. The meeting also asked volunteers to fill out forms for the Women’s Voluntary National Register and to cooperate with local wardens of the National Emergency Services.

National Emergency Services

The Camden press maintained in December that the ‘National Emergency Services can provide a job for practically every woman’, and forms for the Women’s Voluntary National Register were obtainable from Nancy Freestone, the assistant secretary of the WVS, at the town hall library.

 

The Women’s Voluntary National Register was established in New South Wales in early 1939. It was part of a federal government scheme to determine how many women would be able to provide ‘manpower’ and national service, if required, when the nation went to war.

 

The most efficient means of doing this was to tap into the pre-existing network of women’s clubs and organizations, and call upon their membership to provide the information. Clubs that affiliated with the register would collect the details of (eligible) volunteers from within their membership base and forward that information to the central register. Women would then be classified according to the type of work available, and the type of work they were suited to do.

 

Women, according to the Australian Women’s Register, who weren’t members of an organization could still volunteer through the state council headquarters, but clearly, ‘outsourcing’ much of the work to the organizations was a cost and time efficient method of operation.

An affair at the CWA

From December 1941 the manufacture of netting in Camden turned into a CWA affair. Reports on netting production from the Camden centre were sent to the state CWA Handicrafts Committee in Sydney, which co-ordinated the state netting effort for the CWA and received all the completed nets from the Camden centre.

 

The central CWA netting centre co-ordinated all organisational details, issued instructions to branches on the packing, despatched nets to Sydney and acted as a clearinghouse for the Army, which supplied all the twine and collected all the finished nets.

Countrywoman of NSW 1941 July CWA Sheepskin Vests
The Countrywoman in New South Wales for July 1941 which was a special handicraft issue with patterns and designs for making soldier comforts. The Countrywoman had lots of advice on wartime activities including instructions on making camouflage nets by local branches. Sheepskin vests were made for servicemen during the winter cold of Europe. (CWA)

 

The New South Wales CWA journal The Countrywoman in New South Wales reported that by January 1942 the handicraft committee was supplying 230 country branches and over 100 suburban circles with twine for making nets.

 

When compared to netting efforts in some other country towns Camden’s output was relatively small. Between February 1941 and February 1944 the Camden netting centre made 578 nets. Una Swan acted as netting secretary and roped all nets, while Mary Poole acted as demonstrator.

 

At Nowra netting centre, which was a joint effort between Nowra CWA and Red Cross, and made 1,320 nets in the 2½ years that their centre was operational from mid-1941 to December 1943. Camden netting centre was never able to sustain the same effort as Nowra.

 

To the end of 1942 the Nowra centre had made 875 nets, while Camden’s centre had manufactured 489 nets. While at the Quirindi CWA local women made 14 camouflage nets in one week in March 1942 and by the end of the war had sent away 565 nets. Most country towns had similar voluntary patriotic projects.

 

The Camden centre was kept abreast of statewide netting activity by the Countrywoman, which issued monthly tallies of nets supplied to the Sydney CWA depot by netting centres, as well as reporting other related, netting information.

Learn more

Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research

 

Active citizenship · Anzac · Attachment to place · Australia · Camden · Camden Story · Community identity · Country Women's Association · Craft · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · CWA · Gender · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Military history · Place making · Red Cross · Second World War · Sense of place · Storytelling · Volunteering · Volunteerism · War · War at home · Wartime · Women's history

CWA Camouflage Netting Volunteers

Stories of netting volunteers

A Camden netting volunteer, Elaine, remembered volunteering for duty at the Camden netting centre when she was 15 years old. She recalled that the netting effort was organised and supervised by Rita Tucker. She stated that she had left school and attended the centre on a weekly basis with a group of friends.

Elaine maintained that Camden men ‘were away and we were doing our bit’ for the war effort. She stated that Camden women ‘all had to do something to help our boys’ and they took up netting as part of their civic and patriotic duty. Elaine reported that, for her, netting was not hard work and she enjoyed going with her friends. She maintained that they worked ‘long hours’ and ‘didn’t really worry about it’.

CamNetMaking_AWM007671
Australian women making camouflage nets during the Second World War. These volunteering efforts greatly assisted the war effort. (AWM007671) 

Another net making volunteer, Ida, recalls that netting was ‘hard work’, but ‘she went with her friends, and it was her bit for the war effort’. She helped at a netting circle located above a shop in Campsie, attending on a Wednesday nights after work, but could not recall who organised it.

Ida maintains that at around eighteen years of age, ‘there was not much else to do’ and all the boys ‘were either too old or too young’. Another netter, Kerry worked during the day as a clerk and attended the Nowra netting centre after work at the age of eighteen. The Nowra centre was located above a shop in the main street and she considered that netting was her ‘patriotic duty’.

Another Nowra netter, Grace, lived at home on a dairy farm. In 1942, when she was seventeen years old, she went with a friend to the Nowra netting centre for ‘a couple of hours’ a week on a Tuesday afternoon. She would catch the train from Berry to Nowra, attend classes at Nowra Technical College, then attend netting where there would be between ’10-15 other women’.

Grace recalls that as the netters had ‘to be careful making [the] knots’, she found them ‘hard and difficult to make… as they had to be stable and couldn’t move’. In hindsight, she ‘didn’t think [that she] ever got very proficient at it’, but she still went along ‘to help the war effort, for company and a chat’. Rita, a volunteer at the Armidale Teacher’s College netting centre in 1941, maintained that ‘we were expected to do our bit for the war effort – it all helped’.

Netting Centres at Campbelltown and Narellan

The Camden CWA camouflage netting centre was assisted by sub-branches at Campbelltown and Narellan, which were established after the joint CWA-WVS meeting in December 1941. These sub-branches provided a small but steady stream of nets to add to the Camden effort. By February 1942 the Campbelltown News reported that the ‘sub-centres’ were providing ’24 nets a month’ to the ‘urgent’ appeals from the military authorities for nets.

In June 1942 Mrs Una Swan reported that thirty-four nets had been sent from Campbelltown, and Narellan was working well. By late 1942 ‘Campbelltown was [still] keeping our end up’ according to Mrs Swan, and in March 1943 supplied sixteen nets. The Narellan netting effort was under the leadership of Eliza Byrne, who was the wife of the local publican at Narellan, and president of the Narellan Red Cross.

Camden was the largest netting centre in the area, and the only CWA branch, and following directives from the CWA Handicrafts Committee, distributed netting twine to the smaller netting centres at Campbelltown, Narellan and Buxton.

Net making finishes

The enthusiasm in Camden for netting waned and in 1943 the output was ‘negligible’ according to Tucker, but Swan made ‘herself responsible to complete all unfinished nets by the end of the year’. The winding down of netting activity started in September 1943 and Dorothy Inglis of the State Handicrafts Committee advised branches ‘to complete all on hand as quickly as possible’.

Mrs Swan reported at the October CWA meeting that ‘no official word had been received to cease making nets’. In October, Francis Forde, the Minister for the Army announced the end of net making, which sent ‘shock waves’ throughout the CWA. The Camden netting centre eventually closed in February 1944, after operating for over two and half years, with Una Swan finishing the last of the nets.

With the cessation of netting the New South Wales CWA Handicrafts Committee looked for alternative ways to hold the netting groups together. The Army requested that the New South Wales CWA branches assist in the re-conditioning of Army clothing. In November 1943 the Camden CWA received a request from the Army at Liverpool and the women considered the request at their December meeting.

By the end of 1943 no arrangements for sewing had been made with the Liverpool Army Camp authorities, although the women expected to make a start early in 1944. Camden CWA president Rita Tucker felt that the ‘matter… must be discussed thoroughly at a branch meeting, when it will be seen if it is possible to rise to the occasion’.

In the end the Camden CWA did not proceed with the project. According to the New South Wales Women’s Voluntary Services reconditioning military clothing ‘did not attract the same enthusiasm’ as making camouflage nets.

By 1944 women who undertook wartime volunteering started looking ahead to the time after the war when their communities would need their time and effort.

Learn more

CWA and other women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research

Attachment to place · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History

Academic snobbery: local historians need more support

St James Anglican Church Menangle a Horbury Hunt design build 1876 (I Willis)
St James Anglican Church Menangle a Horbury Hunt design build 1876 (I Willis)

Ian Willis, University of Wollongong

Local history is one of the most popular forms of history in Australia. Yet there is a yawning gap between the enthusiastic amateur and the academic historian.

While some academic historians engage with local history, sadly there is an entrenched snobbery from the academy. From the other side, the enthusiastic amateur is too wound up with a parochial approach to local history and often doesn’t see the bigger picture.

If both sides can engage with each other, the result would be a better type of history practise and a greater contribution to the story of Australia.

Democratic history

Local history is one of the democratic forms of history practice, drawing on a variety of disciplines. These include community history, family history, genealogy and oral history. It also incorporates local aspects of cultural and social history. Done well, local history also engages in both national and transnational themes.

There is a host of local history societies and local museums across the country. But academic historians are rarely involved with them.

For the enthusiastic amateur of local history, the academic historian is in a different world. Academics are often at a city-based university. Their journals are remote, guarded by a peer-review process. And their conferences beyond the resources of the amateur.

This world is not readily entered by the amateur who, unlike professional historians who receive a regular salary, are volunteers with limited means.

Expert history

One of the key issues the divides these two groups revolves around the idea of authority. The university-trained historian has expertise based on the rigour and discipline of thought and word. The local history enthusiast often has only the lived experience of the past.

Keen amateurs have their own historical sensibilities and history mindedness. This often means they are interested solely in the affairs of their community. Sometimes they are the custodian of the stories of a place. That is, they are the keepers of the community’s sacred knowledge. The collective memory and cultural traditions of a local community.

As a collector of stories, the amateur practises a form of antiquarianism often concerned with lists of facts. Unfortunately this provides no commentary on the past or present, no argument, and no analysis of sources and assessment of methods.

Dealing with the past without interpretation and context is a source of continuing frustration for academics.

Arrogance and cynicism

Some academic historians think they are the only ones with the keys to the past. This is a form of professional arrogance. It creates a perception of aloofness.

This creates a cynical attitude amongst enthusiastic amateurs. Many feel that the academic historian is remote and distant. Amateurs therefore have little time or enthusiasm for academics.

Yet it need not be so.

The academic historian has so much to offer. Successful and meaningful engagement is possible.

The academic historian is the discipline expert. They therefore have a responsibility to provide leadership. They should inspire amateur historians to increase their standards of scholarship. This needs understanding, trust and encouragement from academics. Not paternalism.

Academic and amateur alike need a nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of both sides. Academic historians can act as mentors in the practice of local history. Enthusiast amateurs are keen to learn how to do it better, if given sympathy and understanding.

Even the crudest attempt by the local history enthusiast provides in their own way an archive which the thoughtful, patient and persistent academic can mine. And likewise even the densest writing by academics offers something to the amateur.

A recipe for success

Successful engagement between academic historians and the enthusiastic amateur is a win-win situation for both sides.

Some examples include the ever popular annual Penrith Local History Conference, community history projects such as the Dictionary of Sydney and the recent Crime, Cameras Action! local history conference at the University of Wollongong.

There are many good examples of local history as written by academic historians, including Atkinson’s Camden, Ferry’s Colonial Armidale and McQuilton’s Rural Australian and the Great War.

A number of academic historians give popular public lectures and seminars in Sydney at History House, the Mechanics Institute, the State Library, Powerhouse Museum and other venues.

Some historical societies are even able to bridge the gap. They provide a stimulating environment that interests academic historians.

Joint projects and activities can strengthen community connections and social cohesion. The social connections created by local history increase the meaning, purpose and satisfaction in people’s lives.

Local history can build community resilience and break down social exclusion especially in communities under pressure. Some are found on the edges of our large cities, while others in remote and regional Australia.

The practice of local history has a lot to gain from the successful interaction between academic and amateur historians.

The Conversation

Ian Willis, Honorary Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Uncategorized

The Camden decked carpark that will not die

Camden Advertiser 12 July 2006 p.1
Camden Advertiser 12 July 2006 p.1

Camden decked carpark proposal

Camden Council recently resolved to investigate and design a decked carpark in Oxley Street as part of the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy (2014).

This is not the first time that the council has considered a decked carpark. The first investigation of a decked carpark dates from 1996.  A later proposal in 2006 was eventually defeated. Over the decade a number of proposals were considered, meanwhile during this process the council developed over 360 additional car parking spaces in the town centre.

The following is an extract from an article that summarised the 2007 proposal:

Camden decked carpark proposal (2007)

The background to the 2006 carpark proposal can be found in the demographic shifts within the Local Government Area (LGA) caused by urbanisation. The importance of central Camden as the commercial hub of the LGA had gradually been eroded by population shifts to the north.

Camden traders faced increased competition from developments in the Narellan area, particularly the opening in 1995 of the Narellan Town Centre with 36 retail outlets and 1200 car parking spaces. Some Camden businesses felt that their viability was being threatened by these changes and approached Camden Council to provide a decked carpark in central Camden to attract shoppers.

In 1996 Camden’s deputy mayor, Eva Campbell, requested that council investigate a decked carpark at the site of an existing ground level parking area, between John and Murray Streets. This was one of three proposed sites in central Camden that were considered for a decked carpark over the next 10 years.

In the late 1990s at least one retail complex undertook a major re-development on the basis that the council would approve the construction of a decked carpark on the John/Murray Street site.

Apart from the John and Murray Streets site, the other two sites were also located at existing ground level carparks in central Camden, one in Larkin Place and the other between John and Hill Streets. The sites adjacent to John Street were on the elevated southern side of Argyle Street, while Larkin Place was located on the floodplain, on the northern side Argyle Street.

The major stakeholder was Camden Council. It was to be the owner, operator, financier, planner, and consent authority for the proposal. The council initially commissioned independent consultants to conduct a feasibility study (2002) and then approved the John/Murray Street site (2003), which was the site favoured by the Chamber of Commerce. The council needed loan funds beyond its budget and had to seek ministerial approval. The Department of Local Government demanded further community consultation in 2003 and a public exhibition period.

The results of the community survey indicated that local citizens felt the construction of a decked carpark was only a low to medium priority for council. Council elections were held in 2004, and the new council wanted further information and deliberation on the proposal. The sticking point was a comparison of the costings for Larkin Place and the John/Murray Street sites. The Larkin Place site yielded more carparking spaces at a lower cost per space, but the total cost for the John/Murray Street site was cheaper and it was still the favoured location of the Chamber of Commerce.

The council engaged a firm of architects to design the carpark in 2005 on the John/Murray Street site and held a stakeholders workshop shortly afterwards.

By mid-2005 public debate had intensified.and a number of parties expressed reservations about the proposal, supported by council’s heritage architects. In July council rejected the proposal. The Federal Member of Parliament entered the debate at this point and suggested an underground carpark.

Council wanted further consideration of the matter in late 2005 and approved the carpark in early 2006 on the John/Murray Street site.

The development of a decked carpark on the elevated southern sites compromised the vista of the St John’s Church from the Nepean River floodplain. The church was located on the hill behind the proposed John Street sites. This vista was part of the iconic imagery of Camden that has been an important part of the town’s cultural landscape and identity from colonial times.

The iconic nature of Camden’s sense of place was not contested by stakeholders. Although some stakeholders did feel that the final design of the decked carpark did compromise these values, including the council’s commissioned heritage architect. The architects felt that the proposal compromised the integrity of the ‘most intact country town on the Cumberland Plain’.

These opinions and others were carried by the Camden press including a diversity of letters from local residents. Public debate on the issue intensified in 2005 and the press reported the progress of the proposal with headlines, like: ‘Don’t dare do it?’, ‘Parking war not over yet’, ‘Fury over backflip’ and ‘Expensive “white elephant”’. The letter pages were scattered with colourful comment under headings like: ‘How to wreck the cultural landscape of Camden’, ‘Deceitful and devious on car park issue’ and ‘Car park cops a serve…or two’.

One issue that complicated the political process surrounding the progress of the proposal through council was the matter of councillor’s pecuniary interests. A number of councillors on the pre-2004 council and the 2006 council had business interests that were adjacent to one of the proposed sites. This raised the matter of a conflict of interest.

Councillors regularly excluded themselves from debate on the proposed carpark because of their declared interests, and one councillor felt she needed to justify her actions in the press. Despite this a complaint was made to the Department of Local Government about four counsellors and their perceived conflict of interest in mid-2006. All were cleared of any wrong doing, although one councillor appeared on the front page of the Camden Advertiser to explain his position.

The council made efforts to develop additional parking spaces and between 1999 and 2003 provided 367 extra parking spaces.

In addition 46 extra car parking spaces for shoppers were provided by ejecting council staff from a carpark adjacent to the council chambers. Where once council office staff had enjoyed free all day parking there was now a three hour time limit. One councillor suggested that it would not hurt council staff to walk an additional 100 metres to work.

More reading

Read the full article Ian Willis, Democracy in action in local government: Camden NSW (2007)

Read more here

Read about the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy here on the Camden Council website

Further research

A summary of the 2014 Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy process over recent months is being compiled by the author of Camden History Notes.  The summary will be posted on this blog at the end of January 2015 for comment by interested parties. These will then be used to draft a submission for a conference presentation on the issues in early 2015. It is hoped to publish a journal article at a later date.

Camden · Entertainment · Heritage · Local History · Theatre · Uncategorized

Camden Theatre Group

Camden Theatre Group Programme Quasiville 1960
Camden Theatre Group Programme Quasiville 1960

The Camden Theatre Group was one of a number of community organisations that existed in the Camden area in the post-war period. It mounted a host of productions over 20 years, mostly by non-professional members of the community.

The term community theatre refers to theatrical performance within and by the community. It can fit within the area of community arts which is wide and varied. Sometimes the community group works with professional actors and production teams. Community theatre helps build community development and community participation and engagement, which all contributed to the development of social capital.

Arts historian Katherine Knight reports that other active community theatre groups were the Castle Hill Players (1954) and the Henry Lawson Players (1969), both still active. In the local area the Campbelltown Theatre Group started in 1976 and is still very active.

The Camden Theatre Group was originally formed in Camden in 1953 and was extremely active from the beginning. In its first year the company staged three shows. It launched its first season 1954 with ‘Fresh Fields’, followed later in the year with ‘Gypsy Story’ and ‘Trial By Jury’. This was followed up in 1955 with ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ and ‘Maid of the Mountain’, with the highlight of 1956 ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’.

One of the early presidents was local novelist and dramatist Charles Inglis.

Productions were held in the AH&I Hall in Central Camden and in 1966 the company mounted Irving Berlin’s famous musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in October. The leading roles for Annie was played by Christine de Looze and Frank Butler by Frank Armstrong. Christine de Looze debuted for the theatre group in ‘The Drunkard’ in 1965, and followed this up in 1966 playing the part of ballet dancer Essie Sycamore in ‘You Can’t Take it with You’. Frank Armstrong was one of the most experienced members of the company and had experience with JC Williamsons for some years appearing in a variety of musicals including ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate’. In 1964 he entertained Camden audiences as Curly in ‘Oklahoma’.

In early 1968 the Camden press reported that Liz Kernohan was elected president at the AGM of the theatre group with co-patrons Dr RM Crookston, W Clifton, EC Britton, B Ferguson and W Sidman. The secretary was M Ferguson and B Clark, with vice-presidents C Manners and C Inglis, supported by general committee of eleven. It was reported that the group looked forward ‘to a full and rewarding programme with increased social activities and many opportunities for people who may be afraid of the footlights’.

Joyce Thorn recalled that Liz Kernohan was Bloody Mary in the company’s 1962 musical ‘South Pacific’ and says that she was ‘really spot on and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen’. Joyce remembers that ‘she had confidence that she could do it’. Joyce and two car loads of friends would regularly come into Camden for theatre group productions and felt that the ‘theatre group did quite well’.

In 1969 the committee under the direction of president Liz Kernohan stated the theatre group enjoyed bringing forward their production and appealed for audience support by telling their friends. Local supporters could become an associate member for one dollar that entitled the holder to preferential bookings and inclusion in theatre parties. Productions were moved to the Camden High School hall in John Street, Camden.

The company kept up a busy production schedule from its foundation and between 1953 and 1971 there were 29 separate productions, and from 1972 and to 1981 there were 21.

In early 1974 the Stables Theatre Group got under way when the Camden Theatre Group signed an eight year lease on The Stables at Camden Park Estate. The signatories were the president Liz Kernohan, secretary Richard Echin and Quentin Macarthur Stanham of Camden Park.

In 1975 the theatre group was re-structured as the Camden Theatre Group Co-operative Society Ltd. The aim of the re-structuring was the establishment of the Stables Theatre under the chairmanship of Camden Mayor Bruce Ferguson. The co-ordinator of the Stables Theatre Group was Jean Burton, and secretary Janice McDonnell. The co-operative’s board was made up of 14 representatives made up of eight directors from shareholders and six representatives from the organisations. Amongst board members were representatives from a number of community groups which were the Arts Society, Chamber of Commerce and Macarthur Apex. The chairman of the board was F Hibble from Tahmoor.

In 1980 the theatre group was suffering financial difficulties and had revival plans in place. The restoration of The Stables had put the company under financial pressure.

The last production mounted by the theatre group at The Stables was the three act ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ was put on in 1981 in the round. Diana Sharpe played Burra, Sally Hogan took the role of Pearl, Jeff Ballinger played Barney, ably supported by a number of other local identities.

Joyce Thorn, Interview with Ian Willis, Camden, 7 September 2014

Read more about community theatre at The Association of Community Theatre here

Read about Arts activism in Western Sydney with Katherine Knight @ Western Sydney Frontier and her excellent history of the Arts in Western Sydney Passion Purpose Meaning, Arts Activism in Western Sydney (2007)

Uncategorized

Shortage of Wartime CWA Volunteers at Camden

CamNetMaking_CWAMelb_AWM051634

The Camden CWA netting centre always relied on a small but dedicated band of volunteers, and Mrs Swan, the netting co-ordinator, always maintained that there was a constant need for volunteers. She often appealed for volunteers at the CWA meetings and in the Camden press. This shortage was made worse in August 1941 when some members of the Camden CWA felt that they were unable to attend the centre due to petrol rationing.

In January 1942 she asked for a roster, so that there could be someone working on netting each day. After requests for extra nets by the CWA State Handicrafts Committee, Mrs Swan maintained that more workers were needed to enable five nets per week to be sent in to Sydney. Subsequently, the Camden CWA placed an article in the Camden and Campbelltown press outlining the need for additional help.

By February 1942 Mrs Swan reported that at the Camden CWA netting centre there ‘quite a lot of helpers were coming along to the circle’ each week. Mrs Swan was given authority to acquire a board for roping the net, another stand and more hooks to increase the netting output. Mrs Tucker ensured that adequate netting twine was sent from Sydney, and a gauge for accurately setting the size of squares in the nets was donated to the Camden netting centre.

Problems posed by an inadequate number of volunteers persisted. In June 1942 the Camden press reported that there had been a decline in output in ‘the past few weeks’. In February 1942 Mrs Swan appealed for the effort to continue ‘because the demand for these nets is increasing’. Mrs Tucker stressed the ‘value of these nets to our troops’ and appealed for more volunteers to replace those who had left the district. She maintained in December 1942 in the Camden press:

May we, by our daily lives, so far preserves for us [sic], show ourselves worthy of their great sacrifice, and those who mourn will feel they have not died in vain.

Despite a statewide shortage of volunteers in 1943, the Camden press reported that ‘several workers’ were still making nets at the CWA rooms on Tuesday afternoons and Friday nights. Mrs Swan maintained that she ‘would like to have more netters’ as the New South Wales CWA constantly reported that the Army had shortages of nets.

Support from the diggers for netting
The CWA’s monthly journal, the Countrywoman gave examples of support for camouflage net making by others. For example Driver Graham White, 2nd Battery, Australian Medium Regiment, RAA AIF, Abroad, sent a letter in July 1942 which said:

I believe you people in Aussie are doing a good job, especially the netting job you are on, and mother, you can tell the people that they are worth more than their weight in gold, they are absolutely a God-send, but we really should have more of them. If the women of Australia only knew what they mean to us they would give up their pleasure and housework and go on making nets and more nets.

(The Countrywoman in New South Wales, 31 December 1941).

Another examples was a poem from L/Sgt R.A. Wickens, who was abroad, called ‘Just Camouflaging Nets’, which stated in part:

Now, my Mum looked at it this way
She’d tons of time for thought
And with us all so far away,
What price the memories brought
Though I’m Mum’s son, a Digger, too,
Now she’s no time to fret,
Just plays her role, God bless her soul,
a’Camouflaging nets.

It took hours to make a camouflage net
Una Swan never reported the time taken to complete a net by the volunteers at the Camden netting centre. Historian Bruce Pennay in his study of Albury reports that Mrs Burrows of the Albury CWA, who supervised netting, maintained that it took about fifty-two hours of work to complete one net.

Historian Michael McKernan quotes an estimate of eight hours needed to complete a net, a figure supplied by the women from the National Defence League (Women’s Auxiliary), who made around 265,000 nets in their 119 centres. Barbara Cullen, the NSW CWA president in 1953, remembered her family averaging one net a day, which took between twelve and fifteen hours. The Camden netting centre made both ‘large’ and ‘small’ nets, These would have been the 24ft x 24ft, and 14ft x 14ft nets respectively. and using a conservative estimate of fifteen hours to complete a net, this effort amounted to 8670 hours of effort. According the CWA’s The Countrywoman this effort was worth around £1127 to the Army.

The New South Wales executive of the CWA always made a point of regularly highlighting the value of CWA work by detailing netting activity to the military effort through the pages of the Countrywoman. In 1943 The Countrywoman estimated that the CWA netting effort had saved the Army £289,000 for the 148,000 nets (£1/19/- per net) that had been supplied by voluntary labour.

Wartime volunteering on the homefront was a form of voluntary taxation and was never fully acknowledged by Australian Governments in the First or Second World Wars.

 

Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden  @  UOW research

Image: CWA Women making camouflage nets in Melbourne during the Second World War (AWM 051634)

Active citizenship · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden Council · Camden Story · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · Historical thinking · History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Patriotism · Place making · Sense of place · Storytelling · Town planning · urban sprawl · Volunteering

Democracy, Place and Local Government

Local Politics

Local politics is a special beast and is particular, local, small fare and accessible. It is parish pump politics at its best.

Active citizenship is best located in local politics where it makes for more effective democracies and better government. It is the best locality for volunteering and voluntary organisations.

Local government is small scale, specific  and administrative in nature, and looks after parochial matters that matter at the micro-level, for example, pot-holes, dog-bites and long grass.

In 2014 this is the head office of Camden Council located in the former Victorian gentleman’s townhouse built by local businessman Henry Thompson.

Parochialism and localism are common characteristics of local government politics that can have positive and negative effects.

In this context parochialism refers to the over-emphasis on the particular at a local scale and prioritises the local to the exclusion of the wider community. Localism, which can re-enforce parochialism, is anti-centralist, and in rural areas looks back to the rustic traditions and values of the pre-industrial viliages, it shares many of the elements of rural ideology.

In Ian Willis’s article ‘Democracy in Place‘, he examines the role of parochialism and localism played out in the 2008 New South Wales local government elections in the Camden Local Government Area.

In another of his articles ‘Democracy in Action’ Willis undertakes an historical analysis of the influence of parochialism and the competing role of rural gentry and townsmen.

Willis maintains that there is a strong anti-party sentiment in local politics and that this related to parochialism. Resident action groups are perhaps an exception as they have successfully harnessed parochialism to foster their form of local activism.

Willis argues that parochialism can silence council candidates around controversial issues.

Local government politicians are known by people at a local level. Local politicians are often local identities who are well known to the community and are highly accessible to members of the local community.

Willis’s analysis of the various stakeholders in the local political process including the country press (civic journalism) and  community organisations (active citizenship) illustrates the important place of parochialism in these small closed communities.

Parochialism is often reflected in local patriotism, which is often the mark of success of a council politician, and national party affiliation or membership is seen with suspicion.

Many local councillors are small businessmen who are self-made, self-sufficient, independent, hard working and conservative.

Successful local councillors have local networks of power based on business connections, membership of local clubs, and family and interpersonal networks and hierarchies.

In the Camden community rurality and the area’s bucolic nature have been part of mantra of local politics for a number of decades.

This situation is typical of rural communities of Sydney’s metropolitan fringe that are under pressure from the city’s  urban growth.

Read more on these issues:

Ian Willis: Democracy in Action in Local Government, Camden, NSW

Ian Willis: Democracy in Place, Parochial Politics and the 2008 Local Government Elections

Camden Council

Updated 27 April 2021. Originally posted 17 March 2014.