‘Making Camden History: local history and untold stories in a small community’. ISAA Review, Journal of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. Special Edition, Historiography. Volume 19, Number 1, 2023, pp. 23-38.
The history of telling the story of a small community has been interpreted in different ways at different times in the past by different historians.
This area of study is called the historiography.
I have recently published an article on the historiography of the small country town of Camden, NSW.
The Camden township is located 65 kilometres southwest of the Sydney CBD and, in recent years, has been absorbed by Sydney’s urban growth.
The main streets are a mix of Victorian, Edwardian and interwar architecture comprising commercial, government and domestic buildings.
The town site was originally the entry point into what became Governor King’s Cowpasture Reserve at the Nepean River crossing, part of the lands of the Dharawal people, which then called Benkennie.
Jill Wheeler argues that while local histories are embedded in a long storytelling tradition, new understandings inform our interpretation in a contemporary context.
The historiography of the history of a small country town demonstrates the shifting nature of storytelling and how different actors interpret the past.
This article seeks to examine some of what Wheeler calls ‘the other’ by looking beyond the conventional history of Camden as found in newspapers, journals, monuments, celebrations, commemorations and other places.
I have written an article about the making of the history of Camden NSW to illustrate and explore these issues.
The Camden district can be hard to define and has changed over time. Dr Ian Willis conducted research in the mid-1990s to determine the extent of the Camden district at the outbreak of the Second World War. This was part of his post-graduate studies at the University of Wollongong on the effect of the Second World War in Camden.
The boundary of the Camden district could be: an arbitrary line on a map based on a political decision; a natural region; an idea in someone’s mind; the delivery round of a Camden business; the geographic circulation area of a Camden newspaper; the emotional attachment of a person to a general area called Camden; the catchment area of a special event in Camden; the membership of a Camden organisation; the social networks of people who live in the Camden area; or any combination of these.
From historical research I have conducted I have found the boundary of the Camden district to a moveable feast. By the 1930s it took in an area of 1180 square kilometres and a population of around 5000. The result is on the attached map. It is a combination of the factors outlined above.
Origins of the Camden district
The concept of the Camden district was set in motion by 1827 when the early pattern of the early land grants had determined the road network. This process was re-enforced by the arrival of the tramway in 1882, the road traffic along the Hume Highway going to Goulburn, and the movement of silver from Yerrandarie and coal from the Burragorang Valley to the Camden railhead. As a result, the town became an important transport interchange and centre for economic activity for a district, which extended out to Burragorang Valley and Yerrandarie.
By the 1930s the growth of the town had attracted additional businesses and the town had become the centre for government services and community organisations. The town was a meeting place for local people and acted as a stepping off point to the rest of the outside world.
The district’s population came together on Sale Day (still Tuesdays) to meet and do business. The livestock sales were the town’s busiest day of the week The annual Camden Show was (and still is) always a popular attraction and people came from a wide area to compete and exhibit their crafts, produce and livestock.
Daily life in the Camden district is recorded in the two local newspapers
District life was reported in detail in Camden’s two newspapers, the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, which were widely circulated in the area. Camden businesses had customers from all over the local area. Some had regular delivery runs that reached to Burragorang Valley and beyond.
Since the 1930s many things have happened. The largest change has been the growth in population, and the town and district are now part of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Sydney. Despite this, the district still has a discernable identity in the minds of local people.
1973 New Cities Plan
The creation of The new cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin: structure plan(1973) was one of the most profound changes to the Camden district. The New Cities proposal was part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan developed by the State Planning Authority of the Askin Liberal government and became a developers’ dream.
Current planners, bureaucrats, businesses, and residents need to have an understanding of this local identity and build on the opportunities that it presents.
Today the Camden district is part of the Macarthur region.
Interwar Camden directly connects to a noted architect of Interwar Sydney and its architecture.
Aaron Bolot, a Crimean refugee, was raised in Brisbane and worked with Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s. He designed the 1936 brick extensions on the front of the 1890s drill hall at the Camden showground.
Bolot worked for Sydney architect EC Pitt, who supervised the construction of the new showground grandstand in 1936 and agricultural hall extensions (Camden News, 19 September 1935).
The work of Aaron Bolot and many other Sydney architects are found in photographer Peter Sheridan’s Sydney Art Deco. Sheridan has created a stunning coffee table book highlighting Sydney’s under-recognised Art Deco architectural heritage. The breadth of this Interwar style covers commercial and residential buildings, cinemas and theatres, hotels, shops, war memorials, churches, swimming pools and other facets of design.
Bolot’s work at Camden was a simple version of the more complex architectural work that he was undertaking around the inner Sydney area, for example, The Dorchester in Macquarie Street Sydney (1936), The Ritz Theatre in Randwick (1937), the Ashdown in Elizabeth Bay (1938) and other theatres.
The 1936 extensions to the agricultural hall
The brick extensions to the agricultural hall were part of general improvements to the showground, and works were finished in time for the 1936 jubilee show. The report of the show stated:
The new brick building in front of the Agricultural Hall, erected in commemoration of the jubilee, proved a wonderful acquisition, and its beautiful external appearance was, only a few days before the show, added to ‘by the erection of a neat and appropriate brick and iron fence joining that building with the Memorial Gates, * and vastly, improving the main pedestrian entrance to the showground. The fitting of this new room withstands and fittings for the exhibition of ladies’ arts and crafts, was another outlay that added to the show’s attraction. (CN, 2 April 1936)
The hall extensions were designed in a style similar to the memorial gates erected in 1933 in memory of GM Macarthur Onslow (d. 1931) and paid for by public subscription. It was reported that they would add ‘attractively to the Showground entrance’. (CN, 19 Sept 1935)
The hall extensions were 50 feet by 23 feet, after 5 feet were removed from the front of the former drill hall. A central doorway was to be a feature, and there would be a ‘main entrance porch leading direct to the big hall on the Onslow Park side of building’. (CN, 19 Sept 1935)
The hall extension cost £400 (CN19Mar1936) and was to be built to mark the 1936 Jubilee Show (50th anniversary). It was anticipated that the new exhibition space could be used for the
ladies’ arts and crafts section, such as needlework, cookery; be used for the secretary’s office prior to the show; a meeting place for committees; and in addition provide a modern and up to date supper room at all social functions. (CN, 19 Sept 1935).
The approval of the scheme was moved at the AH&I meeting by Dr RM Crookston, seconded by WAE Biffin, and supported by FA Cowell. The motion was unanimously carried out by the meeting. The committee agreed to seek finance from the NSW Department of Labour and Industry at 3% pa interest. (CN, 19 Sept 1935)
The CHN blogger was out and about in southern Queensland recently and investigated some of the local aspects of living history.
The CHN blogger was drawn to southern Queensland by the Australian Historical Association Conference held at Toowoomba in early July. The conference was stimulating and challenging and the hosts provided a great venue at the Empire Theatre complex.
The Toowoomba area provided a number of examples of living history starting with the Cobb & Co Museum complex. Apart from the displays there is training in traditional trades for the more than curious and there are a number of special days during the year. The blogger was there during the school holidays and there was a motza of stuff for the littlies to do – all hands on. The kids seemed to be having lots of fun, followed around their Mums and Dads. The coffee was not bad either.
The generous conference hosts organised some activities for conference goers. I tagged along on a town tour one evening led by the president of the local historical society – very informative. ‘Town by night’ was a great way to see the sights of the city centre from a new perspective.
One property that particularly took the fancy of this blogger was the Federation Queen Anne style Harris House. The cottages was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) in 2017. The 1912 Edwardian villa residence demonstrates the development of Toowoomba in the early 20th century and the place wealthy members of the local society within it.
The single storey red brick dwelling has a Marseilles tiled roof and wide verandahs with bay windows. The concrete ornamentation contrasts with the face red brick and the hipped-roof has decorative finials and ridge capping. The house is in a visually prominent position on a corner block and is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as ‘a grand, Federation-era suburban villa residence’. It is quite an asset to the area.
After the conference this nerdy blogger found himself at The Woolshed at Jondaryan. Originally built in 1859 the woolshed is one of the largest in Australia and today is an example of an extensive living history attraction. The European history of the woolshed illustrates the frontier story of the settler society of southern Queensland and the Darling Downs.
Moviemakers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations.
From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of filmmakers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables. This did not go unnoticed in the film industry.
One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and racehorse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an aeroplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.
Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was released in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based on Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).
The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directed by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which was painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive-In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.
The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with the co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison-gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulges the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.
Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year-old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson. Many old-time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and the United States.
In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.
In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine was filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.
In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced several short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.
In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill, a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently, Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.
The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.
Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has several powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates. The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.
The 55-room fairytale-like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on the air. In the end, Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.
Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010. Part of the show is power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.
Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park were used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.
Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for several movies, advertisements and fashion shoots since the 1950s. They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film was written and directed by Liz Hughes which used lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century, there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.
In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”. In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.
In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.
In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to the Macarthur and Sydney markets.
In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse-drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlooking the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cupcakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room sitting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.
In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene, the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman, the reason the Camden area was used was that it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern-day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.
In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘
The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.
The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.
Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.
In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero. The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.
Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;
Studley Park House, Camden
This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.
In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.
The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.
In 2019 movie-making in the area continues with the 4th series of Doctor Doctor. Wikipedia states of the plotline:
Doctor Doctor (also known outside of Australasia as The Heart Guy) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016. It follows the story of Hugh Knight, a rising heart surgeon who is gifted, charming and infallible. He is a hedonist who, due to his sheer talent, believes he can live outside the rules.
Camden was used as one location along with the historic colonial property of Denbigh. Mediaweek stated in 2016 (Sept 9):
The regional setting for the series has proven to be a benefit for narrative and practical production reasons. While all of the hospital scenes were filmed in a hospital in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Rozelle, exterior shooting took place in Mudgee, with filming of Knight’s home was shot in Camden. In addition to $100,000 worth of support from the Regional Filming Fund, the regional setting delivers a unique authenticity to the series that it would otherwise lack.
Sometimes the local area is used a set for an advertising campaign by a fashion label or some other business. The owners of Camden Park House posted on Facebook in August 2019 that the house and garden were used as a set by the Country Road fashion brand.
While no specific details about plotlines or particular actors were given away, the spokesman said the production was filming on August 7 at the Narellan Jets Football Club and Grounds, Narellan Sports Hub.
The show is an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in the real smells, sounds and sights of a sample of the farm in rural Australia.
The show represents the authentic real life of country people. It is a performance bringing history to life by storytelling through a host of demonstrations, events and displays.
The show is historical representation of the past in the present illustrating a host of aspects of rural heritage through experiential learning.
Living history reveals layers from the past
The show reveals itself in a multi-layered story of continuity and change on the edge of the Camden township. What was once a small isolated rural village at the Nepean River crossing and is now a thriving Sydney suburb on the city’s metropolitan fringe.
Competitive sections of the show have come and gone with changes in the farming economy. Livestock, produce, craft and cooking sections each tell a story of different aspect of rural life. What was once an integral part of the rural economy is now a craft activity and completely new sections have appeared over the decades.
Where once rural artisans were part of the local economy their activities are now demonstrations of heritage and lost trades. Show patrons once used to arrive in a horse and cart today’s show-goers watch competitive driving of horse and sulkies in the show ring.
Sideshows and carnies continue show traditions that have their origins in English village fairs and carnivals of the past and even a hint of the Roman Empire and their circuses.
The success of the show illustrates a yearning by those attending to experience and understand elements of the traditions of a rural festival in the face of urban growth and development.
The Camden Show is a rural festival that is part of the modern show movement that emerged from the Industrial Revolution. The first series of agricultural shows in the early 19th century demonstrated modern British farming methods and technology.
The first agricultural shows in New South Wales were in the early 19th century and the first Camden Show in 1886. The 19th century agricultural show movement set out to demonstrate the latest in British Empire know-how and innovation in farming.
The site of the show on the Nepean River floodplain is one of the first points of contact between European and Indigenous people and the cows that escaped from the Sydney settlement in 1788 former the Cowpasture Reserve in 1795. For living history it is material culture which grounds the audience in time and place.
The Camden Country Women’s Association, formed in 1930, played an important role in wartime Camden between 1939 and 1945. The branch undertook a number of roles under the direction of its wartime president Mrs MS (Rita) Tucker.
Mrs Tucker was a lifelong member of the CWA and its president from 1939 until her death in 1961. She was driven by community service as were most of the Camden women that worked for the homefront war effort.
Mrs Tucker was a foundation member of the Camden CWA. She was an active member of the Camden Presbyterian church and played the organ on Sundays. She was a member of the Camden female elite and moved in influential circles in Sydney. She was very determined, intelligent and forthright. She did not suffer fools and said so, which could rub people up the wrong way. She was outspoken and a straight talker.
Mrs Marguerita Tucker (nee Blair) was born in 1894 in Finley NSW and attended Goulburn Presbyterian College. Her parents were William and Flora Blair, and she was one of three children, brother Douglas and sister Doreen. Her family moved to Narrabri in 1910, where she later worked as a journalist and part-time editor for the North West Courier as well as supporting her family’s pastoral interests in the area.
Rita Blair married Rupert Tucker in 1915, whose family owned Merila, a wheat and sheep property, between Narrabri and Boggabri. Rita and Rupert had a daughter Joanna (1920) and a son John (1938), after losing their first child. They moved their family to the Camden area in 1929 and purchased Nelgowrie near Macquarie Grove. They later purchased The Woodlands at Theresa Park, made some additions to the house, then moved the family there in 1935.
Rita Tucker joined the Camden CWA on its foundation in 1930. She was a modern independent woman at a time where there was changing aspirations for rural women. Tucker was vice-president of the Nepean Group of the CWA in 1931, worked tirelessly for the organisation and was New South Wales CWA treasurer in 1937.
Agency of country women
Tucker took advantage of the groundbreaking role of the Camden Red Cross which had empowered Camden women within the strict social confines of the town’s closed social order. She exercised her agency as a Camden conservative and carved out a space within Camden’s female voluntary landscape.
Rita Tucker was part of the New South Wales CWA which was founded in 1922 by the conservative wives of the rural gentry. The foundation president was Mrs Grace Munro from the New England area of New South Wales and was in the same mould as Tucker. Mrs Munro proceeded to implement policies that were aimed at empowering rural women who were confined by isolation, marriage, poor education, rural poverty, poor services and a lack of mothercraft support in the bush.
Munro was born at Gragin near Warialda NSW and educated at Kambala in Sydney. She lost a child in 1911 while away from home attending to medical matters for another of her children in Sydney. She had gained valuable experience during the First World War in the country Red Cross. Helen Townsend’s Serving the Country, the history of the New South Wales CWA, has described Grace Munro as a formidable energetic women who was totally dedicated to the CWA. Tucker and Munro were active agents of change for country women.
The conservatism of the NSW CWA founders was reflected in the women who established the Camden CWA. These women put matters of family, church and community at the forefront of their voluntarism and implemented policies within the CWA that reflected these values. The CWA founders in Camden and at a state level supported the status quo where patriarchy and class ruled daily interactions in country towns.
During the Second World War the women of the New South Wales and Camden CWA saw their role as a support organisations as part of the Australian family on the homefront. Townsend’s history states that in 1939 member’s patriotism was stirred by the promise of ‘action, excitement, purpose and drama’.
A woman’s part in this heroic struggle is to inspire our men, to cheer and to comfort and to sustain them through good and evil report, until we shall reach the Pisgah’s heights of victory and guarantee to our children and our children’s children that they may pursue honourable lives as free men and women along the paths of peace in the years to come.
During the war years the most important wartime activity undertaken by the CWA in Camden and across the state was making camouflage nets for the army. In Camden making camouflage nets was based at the CWA’s Murray Street headquarters, while the branch regularly sent finished camouflage nets to Sydney from 1940.
Over 70 years later the Camden CWA is still serving the local community and is part of Australia’s most powerful women’s organisation.
Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research
Campbelltown and surrounding areas have lost much in the way of their local heritage. Does anyone care and more to the point does anyone notice?
Heritage is what the community considers of value at present and is worthy of handing on to the next generation. It is a moveable feast and changes over time. What is important to one section of the community is of no value to another. And so it is with different generations of the one community. Many regret the loss of building from the past yet there were others who did not miss any of these buildings. This story clearly illustrates this trend.
The loss of Campbelltown’s heritage is part of the story of the urban growth of the town and surrounding area. Starting with the 1948 Cumberland Plan then the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan of which 1973 New Cities Structure Plan was a part. These plans set a path for a growing community and generated hope for some and loss for others. Campbelltown like other communities has gone through loss and renewal, and some are only interested in the new. Yet the need and yearning for a clear view of the past is part of the human condition where people need to honor and respect their ancestors and what did and did not achieve.
Andrew Allen has started to detail the loss of Campbelltown heritage buildings that coincided with a period of incredible urban growth the Campbelltown LGA in his history blog The History Buff. This blog post details just some of the buildings that have been lost. There have been many others as well.
Lost Buildings of Campbelltown
Marlows Drapery Store, Campbelltown
Retailing in Campbelltown has changed over the decades. There has been a transition from the family store to the mega-malls of today. One family store was Marlow’s Drapery Store.
Andrew Allen writes:
The demolition one quiet Sunday morning in 1981 of an old curiosity shop divided Campbelltown. The shop was built in 1840 and was once owned by former mayor C.J. Marlow who used it as a drapery. It stood between Dredge’s Cottage and the old fire station and Town Hall Theatre.The last owner of the building was Gladys Taylor.
Bradbury Park House, Campbelltown
Andrew Allen writes:
In 1816 Governor Macquarie gave a grant of 140 acres to Joseph Phelps who sold it to William Bradbury the following year. Bradbury Park House was built on this land in 1822.The house was located about 140 metres opposite where the town hall is located in Queen Street. Unfortunately Bradbury Park House was demolished in 1954.
Leameah House, Leameah
Leumeah House at 2 Queen St, Campbelltown (cnr Queen Street and Campbelltown Road) was constructed in 1826. The house was owned by the Fowler family for many years and Eliza Fowler lived there in the 1880s after marrying Joseph Rudd. John Warby was given a 260 acre land grant in 1816 which he called Leumeah. His house was demolished in 1963, but his old stable and barn still exist. Part of the site is now known as Leumeah Stables also known as Warby’s Barn and Stable which were constructed around 1816.
Andrew Allen writes:
Just south of the original Woodbine homestead, and adjacent to the old Sydney Road (since renamed Hollylea Road) there once stood an imposing landmark, Keighran’s Mill. John Keighran purchased the site in 1844 and in 1855 built the mill on the banks of Bow Bowing Creek. Percy Payten was the last member of the Payten family to own the mill. In 1954 he offered the mill to the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society. The historical society also didn’t have enough funds at the time for its restoration. In 1962 the mill was dismantled and the stone was used in the building of the RAE Memorial Chapel at the School of Military Engineering at Moorebank, which opened in 1968.
Woodbine Homestead, Woodbine
While James Payten was living at Leppington Hall in 1873, he bought Woodbine – the remains of John Scarr’s early farmhouse – as a new family home.The homestead stood on Campbelltown Road (Sydney Road), just north of the bridge, which crosses the railway line.
James Payten and his wife, Sarah (nee) Rose, shared their home with her brother, Alfred Rose and his family. Rose died in 1951 and her aging Woodbine cottage was demolished in the 1960’s.
Ivy Cottage, 31 Allman St, Campbelltown
Some of the buildings that have been lost in Campbelltown have religious connections. One those is Ivy Cottage.
Andrew Allen writes:
Local storekeeper William Gilchrist purchased land in Allman Street and built Ivy Cottage on it for his brother, Rev. Hugh Gilchrist, a Presbyterian minister appointed in 1838 to take charge of Campbelltown and many other surrounding towns. The cottage became the Presbyterian Manse and served as such until about 1882. The cottage was demolished in the 1960s.
The Engadine, cnr Broughton & Lindsay Streets, Campbelltown
The Engadine was built in 1924 by Minto grazier Kelvin Cuthell and designed by local architect A.W.M. Mowle.
Mowle lived at the family farm of Mount Drummond at Minto. He enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps in 1915 with the rank of Lieutenant and returned in 1918. In the 1920s he lived in 44 Wentworth Road, Burwood. In 1926 he supervised renovations, additions and painting of a weatherboard cottage in Campbelltown and in 1929 supervised the construction of shop and residence (SMH).
Kelvin Cuthell married Daphne Woodhouse in 1924 and moved into The Engadine. Kelvin Cuthel died in 1930 and after Daphne died in 1945, her sister Iris moved into the house, remaining there until her death in the 1970s. The house was demolished in 2012.
Milton Park, Ingleburn
Built in 1882 by hotelier David Warby. By 1909 it was owned by Thomas Hilder, manager of the silver mines at Yerranderie in the Burragorang Valley. Later this century it fell into disrepair and the owner, Campbelltown Council, demolished it in 1992 after being unable to secure a financial offer for the building.
Rosslyn House, Badgally Road, Claymore
Marie Holmes writes that she believed the house to be built in the 1860s. Samuel Humphreys purchased two lots of land from William Fowler in 1882 which included the land and house. The house was in the hands of the Bursill family for much of the 20th century.
Andrew Allen writes:
In 1970 the property was sold to the State Planning Authority who in turn transferred it to the Housing Commission for the development of Claymore suburb. The house was left vacant, fell into disrepair and was damaged by fire in the mid 1970s. It was demolished in the late 1970s.
Silver Star Garage, Queen Street, Campbelltown
Charles Tripp operatted the Silver Star Garage on the corner of Queen and Dumaresq Streets, Campbelltown. The Tripp family operated a variety of businesses on the site. In the 1880s there was a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, hired horses and sulkies and operated a mail coach. After the First World War the business changed to sell and service motorbikes, and later serviced motor cars and sold petrol. In the 1920s he sold radios and broadcast radio programmes from the store. The garage was still operating commercially in the 1940s. The premises were demolished in 1966.
Hotels are an ancient institution offering hospitality for the traveller. They provided comfort and shelter, a place to do business, a place to create wealth, a meeting place and a place to rest. In the past they have provided warmth, safety and a good meal from the elements. Hotels in Campbelltown did all of this and their loss has been a tragedy to many from the local community. Some of the hotels that are no longer with us include these listed here.
Royal Hotel, Cnr Railway and Hurley Streets, Campbelltown
The Royal Hotel was originally known as the Cumberland Hotel in the 1880s and became the Royal Hotel in the 1890s. Between 1899 and 1905 the licencee was Thomas F Hogan. Between the 1920s and the 1970s the premises were owned by Tooth & Co. The Royal Hotel was demolished in 1986 and suffered the fate of many heritage icons in Campbelltown and elsewhere.
Andrew Allen writes
The hotel was demolished in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning July 6, 1986. Newspaper reports described how at 5.30am council workmen first set up safety barriers around the hotel. By 6am a massive Hitachi caterpillar-tracked back hoe commenced clawing the building down and by evening most of the remains had been removed from the site. Council needed to widen Hurley Street and unfortunately the Royal Hotel was in the way of this.
Lacks Hotel, Cnr Queen and Railway Streets, Campbelltown
Lacks Hotel was located on the corner of Queen and Railway Streets and over the years was part of the complete re-development of Railway Street.
Andrew Allen writes:
Built by Daniel Cooper in 1830 as the Forbes Hotel, in 1901 it was refurbished and renamed the Federal Hotel. The license was transferred to Herb Lack in 1929 and it became Lack’s Hotel. After Herb’s death in 1956, his son-in-law and daughter Guy and Tib Marsden took over. Lack’s Hotel was demolished in 1984. A modern commercial building including a modern tavern now take its place.
Jolly Miller Hotel, Queen Street, Campbelltown
Hotels continued to disappear from the Campbelltown town centre. The buildings might still exist but they changed to other uses for other purposes. One of those was the Jolly Miller Hotel.
Andrew Allen writes:
The Jolly Miller Hotel was built in the late 1840s at the southern end of Queen Street opposite Kendall’s Mill. The hotel was opened by George Fieldhouse who had followed his convict father to New South Wales in 1828. George’s two sons William and Edwin Hallett opened a general store next to the hotel in 1853. This building, which later became the offices for the Campbelltown and Ingleburn News, is still standing opposite McDonald’s restaurant in Queen Street.
Campbelltown continues to grow and renew. Some of that renewal is high quality and other parts of it will disappear with time and be completely forgotten. A clear view of the past is necessary to understand the present. It provides a perspective to life and the human condition. People have a yearning for their story to be told by those who come after them. They want to be remembered and want to leave a legacy. This blog post is part of the Campbelltown story and is attempting to tell Campbelltown’s past.
The 1880s police station was demolished in 1988 after ceasing operations in 1985 when it became too small for the growing Campbelltown population. The new police station was build on an adjacent site in Queen Street.
Andrew Allen writes:
The police station was built in typical late nineteenth century style for police stations. It had cast iron brackets decorating its ten verandah columns. To the north of the station were the cell blocks and stables. These cell blocks were linked to the courthouse in Queen Street by a tunnel. A police sergeant’s residence was situated next to the station until it was demolished in 1970.
New Book on Lost Campbelltown
The Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society has published a book of Lost Campbelltown (2018). The author of this great read is The History Buff blogger Andrew Allen who gives an excellent account of the built heritage that has been lost in the Campbelltown area. The book is 99 pages in full colour in an A4 format. The author outlines the stories of 61 buildings that have been demolished in the local area over the past 100 years. The buildings were a mixture of grand Victorians to humble slab and timber workman’s cottages. They range across the Europeans presence in Campbelltown and cover the Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar and Mid 20th Century periods. Modernism has much to answer for around their destruction along with the planning decisions linked the 1948 Cumberland Plan and the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and the Three Cities Structure Plan that went with it.
The book is available from Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society and Campbelltown Library.
The Showgirl (formerly Miss Showgirl) competition is, in many ways, an anachronism from the past. It has survived for over 45 years under the onslaught of feminism, postmodernism, globalization and urbanisation. A worthy feat indeed.
The competition is still popular and the local press is always a strong supporter. The 2010 Camden Showgirl competition attracted seven young women.
So what has been the continuing appeal of the competition? Probably the most important criteria have been that it has been faithful to its aims of promoting rural interests. The competition has always been associated with the significant rural festival, the country show, celebrating rural life.
Showtime, the show ball and Showgirl are representatives of notions around Camden’s rurality. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2008 Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’. Camden people yearned for a past when the primary role of the town was to service the surrounding farmers and their needs. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.
The winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community, according to Suzie Sherwood, a member of the organizing committee in 2004. She said, ‘the winner will have a strong connection with the community and be aware of rural issues’.
The organising committee seems successful at identifying entrants who have a sense of belonging to the local area. After winning the 2009 Camden showgirl competition, Adriana Mihajlovic said, ‘I will tell people that Camden is a beautiful rural country town with a wonderful community’. 2004 Miss Camden Showgirl Danielle Haack said, ‘Camden is a lovely country town and I am proud that I can be involved in promoting it to other districts’. The showgirl competition connects the country town to the city. The entrant acts as a publicity agent for the Camden Show, one of Australia’s largest regional shows.
The resilience of the showgirl competition can also be put down to its representation of the changes in rural life and rural women themselves. It is a mirror of the expectations and aspirations of young women. 2010 entrant Karina Ralstan said, ‘She sees it as an opportunity to raise issues concerning rural women’. 2004 Miss Camden Showgirl Danielle Haack felt the competition was an opportunity to raise rural issues, and all 2010 entrants were concerned about promoting the importance of agriculture.
Part of the success of the competition in Camden has been its ability to attract young women who want to make a living in the agricultural sector. University of Sydney veterinary science student Danielle Haack said she tried to ‘improve the quality of cattle’ and her studies will help her in animal genealogy and herd health. 2010 entrant Brooke Mulholland is an owner/manager of a Suffolk sheep stud.
The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when gender expectations stated that rural women were confined by home and family. Today’s young women want a career and travel. Something that the Miss Showgirl competitions have supplied. In 2004 the grand prize at the Royal Easter Show was a world trip for two, and Camden’s representative Danielle Haack certainly felt that ‘a world trip would be a lovely end-of-year treat for me once I finish my degree’.
The competition has allowed entrants to fully experience showtime in Sydney. The annual city visit can be a big deal for those who experience it. 2002 Miss Showgirl Margie Roser stated that staying in Sydney was one of her life’s best times. She said her time in Sydney was ‘full of social engagements, media coverage and cocktail parties’. The party element is not ignored at a local level, and the annual Camden show ball is an occasion to ‘frock up’. 2004 Camden Miss Showgirl Sally Watson said, ‘The ball was great fun’.
Over the years, showgirls have found that the competition has been good for making friends, personal development and new experiences. 2003 Camden Showgirl Sally Watson said, ‘the experience was rewarding. It is a wonderful chance to network and meet many other like-minded young women’.
Yet showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Some have seen it as daggy, while some have seen it as the commodification of women. The entrants defend the competition. Danielle Haack maintained that the contest ‘was anything but a beauty pageant. Some of my friends have asked me how the swimsuit category was going, but it’s nothing like that’.
The competition and the strong field of entrants are a testament to the ongoing popularity of the Camden Show and its representation of Camden’s rurality.
Updated 17 March 2023. Originally published 28 February 2014.
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