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Formidable women from the past

Camden’s formidable women

A popular TV drama ‘A Place to Call Home’ on Channel 7 has been set in and around the  Camden district. Amongst the characters is the fictional 1950s matriarch of the Bligh family, Elizabeth (Noni Hazlehurst). This figure has a number of striking parallels with Camden’s own 20th century female patrician figures.

Camden’s matriarchs, just like Elizabeth, were formidable figures in their own right and left their mark on the community.  The fictional Elizabeth Bligh lives on the family estate Ash Park (Camelot, formerly Kirkham) in the country town of Inverness during the 1950s.

A Place to Call Home DVD
A Place to Call Home was a hit TV series produced in Australia that premiered in 2013. The series used the John Horbury Hunt designed Victorian mansion Camelot located at Kirkham on the edge of Camden as the location setting for the TV show. (Amazon)


Frances Faithful Anderson

Kirkham’s own Elizabeth Bligh was Frances Faithful Anderson, who moved to the Camden area with her husband, William, in the 1890s. She renamed James White’s fairytale castle Kirkham, Camelot, in 1900 after being reminded of the opening verse of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. Frances (d. 1948) lived in the house, with her daughter Clarice, until her death. Both women were shy and retiring and stayed out public gaze in Camden, unlike the domineering fictional character of Elizabeth Bligh. The Anderson women were supporters of the Camden Red Cross, Women’s Voluntary Services, the Country Women’s Association, Camden District Hospital and the Camden Recreation Room during the Second World War (DR, 29/3/13). Clarice willed Camelot to the NSW National Trust, according to Jonathan Chancellor. The NSW Supreme Court rule in 1981 that her mother’s 1938 will took precedence. Frances  wanted the house to become a convalescent home, but this clashed with zoning restrictions.

Camelot House formerly known at Kirkham, Camden NSW
Camelot house, originally known as Kirkham, was designed by Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt for James White. The house was built in 1888 on the site of colonial identity John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill. Folklore says that James White financed the house from the winnings of the 1877 Melbourne Cup by his horse Chester. Under White’s ownership the property became a horse-racing stud and produced a number of notable horses. (Camden Images)


Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow

Camden’s Edwardian period was dominated by the figure of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park.  She took control of Camden Park in 1882 when her husband Arthur died. Under her skilful management the family estate was clear of debt by 1890 and she subsequently re-organised the estate. She established the pastoral company Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, with her children as shareholders.  Heritage consultant Chris Betteridge states that she organised the estates co-operative diary farms, built creameries at Camden and Menangle, orchards and a piggery. Elizabeth was a Victorian philanthropist, a Lady Bountiful figure, and according to Susanna De Vries was a strong supporter of a number of local community organisations including the fore-runner of the Camden Show Society, the Camden AH&I Society. She died on one of her many trips to England and has dropped out of Australian history.

Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow lived at Camden Park house and garden.
This image of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow is from a portrait painting at Camden Park House. Elizabth was the daughter of James Macarthur. She married Captain Arthur Onslow in 1867 and had 8 children. (Camden Park)


Sibella Macarthur Onslow

Elizabeth’s daughter, Sibella, was a larger than life figure during Camden’s Inter-war period and was quite a formidable figure in her own right. She grew up at Camden Park and moved to Gilbulla in 1931, which had been the home of her sister-in-law, Enid Macarthur Onslow. Sibella never married and fulfilled the role of a powerful Camden patrician figure. She was a true female matriarch amongst her brothers who took public positions of power in the New South Wales business community. She was one of the most powerful female figures in New South Wales and her personal contact network included royalty, politicians and the wealthy elite of Sydney and London. Macarthur Onslow possessed strong conservative Christian values and was an active figure in the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese.  She was a Victorian-style philanthropist and was president of the Camden Red Cross from 1927 until her death in 1943.

enid macarthur onslow
Enid Macarthur Onslow (CPH)


Rita Tucker

The power vacuum in Camden’s women’s affairs left by the death of Sibella Macarthur Onslow was filled by Rita Tucker of The Woodlands, at Theresa Park. She had a high community profile in 1950s Camden and was well remembered by those who dealt with her. She became president of the Camden Country Women’s Association in 1939 and held the position until her death in 1961. She was a journalist and part-time editor of the North West Courier at Narrabri before she moved to Camden with her husband Rupert in 1929. She was an active member of the Camden Liberal Party in the 1950s, holding a number of positions, and was New South Wales vice-president of the CWA between 1947 and 1951. She was an accomplished musician and played the organ at the Camden Presbyterian Church in the early 1940s.

Rita Tucker, Camden NSW
Rita Tucker, Camden NSW (J Tucker)


Zoe Crookston

A contemporary of Tucker was Zoe Crookston, the wife of Camden surgeon, Robert Crookston. A shy retiring type, she lived in grand Victorian mansion at the top of John Street and was the wartime president of the Women’s Voluntary Services. She was a Presbyterian, a liberal-conservative and an active committee member of the United Australia Party in the 1930s. According to her daughter Jacqueline, ‘her mother was a no-nonsense person who always liked to get on with the job at hand’. She was a foundation member of the Camden Red Cross and was actively involved until 1949. Other community organisations occupied her time including being on the committee of the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary from 1933 to 1945.

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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.

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


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Camden CWA wartime president, Rita Tucker

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.

Wartime president of the Camden branch of the Country Women’s Association Mrs Rita Tucker. (J Tucker)

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.


Change Agents

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’.


The CWA’s The Countrywoman stated in 1942 that:

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.


Learn more

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


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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’.

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


Shortage of Wartime CWA Volunteers at Camden


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)


Community gets behind CWA net making during war

Llewella Davies CHS0614

During the Second World War the Camden Country Women’s Association were not the only community organisation to make camouflage nets in Camden.

In May 1941 the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services established a separate netting centre on the suggestion of Sibella Macarthur Onslow, to supply nets to the National Defence League. On one of the few occasions she attended a WVS meeting, Macarthur Onslow outlined a variety of war work that could be undertaken by the women and suggested forming a netting class. She had an immediate response from ten volunteers who were members of the Camden WVS, Camden CWA, the Camden Red Cross and the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary. The WVS volunteers were Kathleen Clifton, Annie Dickenson, Elsie Gibson, Eleanor Macdonald, Mrs Mackie, Leah McLeod, Harriet Outterside, Martha Poole, Alice Pope and Amy Porter. Typical of wartime volunteering and women of her social rank Macarthur Onslow left it to lower class women to undertake the tedious manual work involved in the dreary task of camouflage making nets.

The WVS camouflage netting class was also joined by two men, Fred Franklin (ironmonger, Camden) and Ted Smith (gardener, Narellan). In July they made two nets, 30ft x 14ft, which were delivered to the National Defence League in Sydney by Albine Terry, the WVS secretary. Each net for the NDL was destined for England, unlike nets made by the Camden CWA which for the Australian Army. Each net contained over 20,000 knots and was considered ‘excellent work’ by the League. By September 1941 ‘good progress’ by the netting volunteers instructed by Franklin meant that another fourteen nets had been sent, while another five were ready for despatch. Franklin was the principal instructor and was assisted by two other men, Ted Smith and Robert McIntosh, a dairyfarmer of Glenmore, as well as Llewella Davies. The nets had included 2 large and 2 small nets, as well 10 khaki nets. Franklin professed his willingness to continue giving instruction in ‘this important work’ and thanked all those who helped him. The contribution of the men to netting was short lived, and there is no other mention made of any Camden men assisting the netting effort at any other time during the war.

The first attempt at creating a joint CWA-WVS netting effort occurred in June 1941, when Rita Tucker addressed the WVS. Despite a directive reported in The Countrywoman in May 1941 from the state CWA discouraging joint netting activities by its branches, Tucker explained that the CWA had the necessary string supplied by the Army, and instructors who were prepared to conduct lessons ‘in this national work’ at the CWA rooms. While Tucker was a member of the WVS, the other women were not impressed enough to take up her offer. Not to be put off Tucker extended an invitation, on behalf of the CWA, to ‘all citizens’ of Camden who wished ‘to assist the War Effort’ by attending netting classes on Thursday nights and Friday afternoons in the CWA rooms in Broughton Street Camden.

Some Camden women including Mary Poole and Llewella Davies, volunteered for both the CWA and NDL netting efforts. Davies was a member of Camden’s elite and proved the exception that was the rule: that while most of the Camden elite did not volunteer for net making, she did. Davies (1901-2000), who never married and was tutored at home then went to Sydney Church of England Grammar School at Darlinghurst. She mixed freely with the Macarthur Onslows, Inglises, Downes, McIntoshes and other members of the Camden gentry. Davies was a ‘tireless’ volunteer who thought it was ‘good to work for the community’. She was a member of a number of women’s voluntary organisations in Camden, including the Red Cross, Camden Hospital Auxiliary, Camden Voluntary Aid Detachment, but not the CWA. In the post-war years she was a member of Meals on Wheels, assistant secretary of Camden AH&I Society, treasurer of Camden Garden Club, research officer of Camden Historical Society and secretary of Camden branch of United Australia Party. Davies took paid work as a clerk in the office of the Camden News which was located next door to the post office. Lewella played golf, and was a representative tennis player and member of the Camden Tennis Club. Davies was awarded an OAM in 1981 for community service, and was made Freeman of the Municipality of Camden in 1992, a life member of the Camden Historical Society in 1994 and given the key to Camden in 1999.
Llewella Davies was one of many local women who volunteered for wartime community service and her conservatism was driven by her family, her faith and her community.


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

Image: Llewella Davies in Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform 1942 (Camden Images)


Camden CWA Starts Wartime Net Making

Camouflage net making_UK_1941_EMDunbar_cc

The main wartime activity undertaken by the Camden CWA during the Second World War was making camouflage nets for the Australian Army.

Rita Tucker, Camden CWA president, established the CWA netting effort in 1941. Mrs Tucker felt that camouflage netting provided an opportunity for Camden women to express their patriotic citizenship and service commitment to support Australia’s military effort.

The art of camouflage net making was brought to Australia from Great Britain by William Dakin, who taught net making to a group of women in the Department of Zoology at the University of Sydney. The National Defence League, whose instructors taught members of the CWA and Women’s Voluntary Services, subsequently took it up in Sydney. The New South Wales CWA Handicraft Committee established a net making school in April 1941 at 26 Grosvenor Street, Sydney. During the April 1941 CWA Conference 300 delegates received net making instruction at the school. (SMH 6/5/41) In Great Britain the Women’s Voluntary Services garnished camouflage nets with coloured fabric, or scrim, on to a net background for the military authorities from 1940.

The Camden CWA followed the example set by New South Wales CWA and made netting its major wartime priority. The first confirmed netting activity in Camden was conducted by the CWA in May 1941, after the state CWA Handicrafts Committee requested branches to start netting and then issued detailed instructions in the Countrywoman. Rita Tucker had attended the state CWA conference in April and witnessed netting demonstrations by instructors from the National Defence League. She reported on the conference at the May meeting of the Camden CWA, and arranged classes and stands for net making in the CWA rooms at the following meeting. Timber for one netting stand was donated by Rupert Tucker, her husband, and made up by Percy Butler, a local carpenter. Alva George, a local builder, donated two completed stands and Wesley Clifton, a storekeeper, donated practice string.

In August, the Camden Advertiser reported that the CWA netting centre had completed a number of nets and more were being made by a number of female volunteers. Four brown camouflage nets were completed. An additional five nets were under completion. The members of the group were Mrs Davies, May Downes, Mary Evans, Martha Poole, Una Swan, Rita Tucker. These women were all members of the Camden CWA, Camden WVS, the Camden Red Cross and the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary.

Tucker was an enthusiastic supporter of the Camden CWA’s netting effort, and constantly encouraged local women to take up the activity. She maintained that the CWA netters were ‘very efficient’ and very ‘interested’ in what they did when they made the nets. She stated in the Camden press in November 1941 that: The importance [to] this branch of war work cannot be over-estimated. [Camouflage nets] are used so extensively by our troops overseas, and all we can make are urgently needed… We will remember in our prayers the mothers, wives and children of our soldiers who fight and give them our active interest, and sympathetic understanding.

On her own initiative Tucker learnt how to rope the nets. She brought them from CWA headquarters in Sydney to complete at Camden. This was significant, because up to November 1941, the state CWA Handicrafts Committee demanded that all roping of nets for the Camden CWA be conducted at the CWA netting centre at David Jones in Sydney. After November CWA the branches were allowed to do their own roping of camouflage nets. Mrs Tucker’s effort were important given the attitude of the state CWA and the activity at the Camden CWA netting centre was an important local wartime effort.

In November 1941 Mrs Tucker stated in the Camden press that she was gratified that the helpers at the CWA netting centre were making nets of ‘a very high standard’, and encouraged other members to join the netting group. Rita Tucker was encouraged by the chairman of the CWA Handicrafts Committee, Joan Coghlan, who stated in the CWA’s journal The Countrywoman in New South Wales that there was an ‘urgent’ need for nets by the military authorities because ‘they save lives!’

Mrs Tucker took it upon herself to introduce net making at Camden and felt that it was her wartime patriotic duty. She had the financial means to attend the Sydney CWA conference in April 1941 when other Camden women who did not. For women like Mrs Tucker their voluntary effort on the Camden homefront was part of their patriotic responsibility and part of the responsibility that came with their station in life. She would have felt her social status and conservatism demanded a certain level of social responsibility which included to service to her family, her church and her community.

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

Image Painting Camouflage Net Making EM Dunbar, UK, 1941. cc.