The story of hard-bitten local newspaper identities and their publications has been told in a recent article published in British academic journal Media History. Local author and historian Ian Willis details the travails of local reporters, printers, owners, and others who made the news across the region for over 140 years.
These newspapers have told the story of the towns and villages across the Macarthur region and lives of people who have lived there – local weddings, births, deaths, marriages and other family events; men going to war and coming home; natural disasters, elections, and lots more. Some of these newspapers can be found on the National Library’s Trove Database and they include the Camden News and thePicton Post.
The digital revolution has drained these ‘local rags’ of their advertising, and crucified their profitability and their business models. Some still survive and struggle on like the Camden-Narellan Advertiser while other mastheads like the Camden Leader (1910-1912) have come and gone with no copies in existence. Some green shoots have emerged in recent times in print and online with the Oran Park Gazette and the South West Voice.
The article tells the story of local newspapers in the three New South Wales market towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton that made up the Macarthur region. Each community had a series of local town-based newspaper mastheads from the 1880s, some lasting longer than others. These local newspapers were run by hard-bitten owner-editors who were salt-of-the-earth people who had printer’s ink running in their veins. They survived on the smell-of-an-oily-rag and were assisted by family members who doubled as reporters, printer’s assistants, photographers, stringers and ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.
Amongst these colourful characters and local identities were: the gold-field printer and colonial-newspaper baron William Webb who owned a string of country newspapers; English journalist William Sidman who had his lead-type face confiscated in Paris for bullets during the Franco-Prussian war; and New Guinea war veteran and printer Syd Richardson, the first regional newspaper baron.
These newspapers used local history to allow their readers to reflect on their past by storytelling and creating an understanding of their cultural heritage. The local press lionised pioneer settler stories, and the most important of these were the exploits and activities of the New South Wales Corps Officer Captain John Macarthur. The legacy of this process was to turn the historical figure of Macarthur into a local legend and national hero, and use these stories to contribute to the construction of place and a regional identity.
On a recent evening in Camden there was the launch of a new exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in the heritage listed building Macaria in John Street.
The exhibition, FACE to FACE: Live Sittings 1936 – 1972, celebrates Alan Baker’s achievement of entering the Archibald prize 26 times with 35 artworks between 1936 and 1972. Despite his persistence he never won a prize.
The exhibition programme states that Alan Baker was studying at JS Watkins Art School alongside future Archibald winners Henry Hanke in 1934 with his Self Portrait, William Pidgeon who won in 1958, 1961 and 1968, and his brother Normand Baker in 1937 with his Self Portrait.
The programme provides a timeline of Baker’s paintings with images that illustrate his works.
the exhibition will feature Baker’s first 1936 Archibald Prize entry painted at the age of 22, a self-portrait study painting by Normand Baker for his 1937 winning Archibald Prize entry, and Baker’s 1951 portrait of Australian Filmmaker Charles Chauvel (courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland).
The Archibald Prize is one of the pre-eminent portraiture prizes in Australia held yearly at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. First awarded in 1921 this prestigious art prize is a sought after award by artists generating publicity and public exposure. Traditionally portraitists were mostly restricted to public or private commissions.
The Art Gallery of NSW states that:
The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.
The Alan Baker Gallery website outlines a short history of the Macaria building.
The website states:
Macaria was originally built in 1859-1860 as a school house by Henry Thompson, the building has since been used for many things; including a private home; the Camden Grammar School; the residence and rooms of doctors and dentists including popular local physician Dr Francis West. In 1965 Macaria was purchased by Camden Council and used as Camden Library and later, offices for the Mayor, Town Clark and staff.
UOW historian Dr Ian Willis has recently published an article in Media History (UK) about the role of local newspapers in the creation of Macarthur regional identity and the mythology surrounding New South Wales colonial identity John Macarthur.
The three New South Wales market towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton made up the Macarthur region where several local town-based newspapers emerged in the 1880s. Local newspapers used local history to enable their readers to reflect on their past by storytelling and creating an understanding of their cultural heritage. The local press lionised the historical legacy of John Macarthur and contributed to the construction of a regional identity bearing his name through the creation of regional newspaper mastheads. The key actors in this narrative were newspaper owner-editors, their mastheads and the historical figure of Macarthur. This article uses a qualitative approach to chart the growth and changes of newspaper mastheads, their owner-editors and Macarthur mythmaking and regionalism.
The article explains the role of the local press in the creation of the Macarthur mythology and included local newspapers like the Camden News,Camden Advertiser, Macarthur Advertiser, Macarthur Chronicle, Picton Post, The District Reporter and the Campbelltown Herald.
Local newspaper editor-owners were an important part of this story and notable names included William Webb, William Sidman, George Sidman, Arthur Gibson, Syd Richardson, Jeff McGill, Lee Abrahams and Mandy Perin.
The Macarthur regional press had its own press barons most notably Syd Richardson and George Sidman who had significant influence and power across the Macarthur region.
Then there is the New South Wales colonial identity of John Macarthur who was a great self-publicist, opportunist, rogue and local land baron. Over the last 200 years his exploits have been exaggerated into a local mythology that has become part of Australian national identity.
John Macarthur has become a local legend, a regional identity, and his name has been applied to a regional name, electoral division and lots of local business and community organisations.
Photographs provide a rare glimpse of a particular second in time, which will never again be repeated. This is especially true for events that occurred before the development of television or digital technologies.
The photographic work of Roy Dowle is a collection of glass plates found their way to The Oaks Historical Society and have recently been digitized by the society.
Digitizing The Roy Dowle Photographic Collection
Trish Hill and Allen Seymour
Roy William Dowle was born in 1893, the first child to Charles and Madeline Dowle (nee Dominish) and his siblings were Frank (1896), Edgar (1898) and Leonard (1904). Charles Dowle purchased their “Collingwood” property in Quarry Road, at The Oaks around the time of Roy’s birth. It is presumed that Roy lived there until his marriage to Emily J Smith in 1915.
Roy & Emily’s home was in Camden at the top of Barsden Street. Roy was a photographer and the Camden News of March 26th, 1914 records that he received an award for photography in the amateur section at the Camden show.
In 1937 he supplied photographs of Camden to the Council for use by the railways in their passenger carriages. Roy worked for Whitemans, and in 1943 he was called on to make a presentation to Charles Whiteman when the latter retired. The Dowle’s also had a holiday home at Erowal Bay – St George’s Basin.
Roy died in 1955, but fortunately, a large number of his glass and film negatives survived. These were donated to the Wollondilly Heritage Centre in 2016 by Roy’s grand-daughter. An index book came with the collection, but unfortunately, a lot of the negatives were not in their original boxes, making identification of the people difficult. The photographs range in age from around 1910 to the 1940s.
The Wollondilly Heritage Centre was successful in obtaining a New South Wales Community Heritage grant in 2019 to digitize the collection which consists of 1100 glass plate negatives and a further 120 plastic film negatives.
There was considerable work in preparing the negatives for digitizing, as they all had to be cleaned and numbered. This was done by volunteers from the centre over several weeks, and they were then transported in batches to Digital Masters at Balgowlah for digitizing. Most were still in excellent condition, and the quality of the scanned images is superb.
Roy photographed a lot of people, with weddings, babies and young children being popular subjects. He also photographed local buildings and houses, views, animals, local events such as parades or sporting events.
Buildings photographed include St Johns church (inside also), Camden Hospital (even inside shots), Camden Inn, Plough & Harrow Hotel, Narellan Hotel, Oakdale wine shop, Maloney’s store, Narellan school, Mt Hunter school, Camden railway station, Camden Milk Depot, Mater Dei and others.
The unveiling of the Mt Hunter war memorial (pictured) was also covered by Roy, along with Mt Hunter School and some beautiful interior shots which show honour boards with photos of local soldiers.
Some really fascinating photos are of children in fancy dress, and two that stand out, are of the same girl dressed firstly as a wedding cake, and then as a lampshade!! A number of the houses have been identified as still being in Camden, and other more easily identified homes include “Edithville” in Mitchell street, the former Methodist parsonage in Menangle Road and Harrington Park house.
Among the groups photographed are St John’s Choir, returned servicemen, cricket teams, football teams, Masonic dinner, the Royal Forrester’s, staff and children from Macquarie House, visiting school teachers and Sunday school groups. One photograph of a group of three male cyclists picnicking may be one of the first selfies, as we believe the centre one is Roy himself, holding a string which runs to the camera. Soldiers were another popular subject, and there are also some women dressed as soldiers. Roy also copied photos. This was done by photographing it, and a lot of the soldier photos have been copied this way.
Some of the views are of Wollongong, Bulli, Burragorang, Douglas Park, Theresa Park, Chellaston Street and some great shots taken from St Johns steeple. There are also numerous flood scenes around Camden. Animals didn’t escape Roy’s camera, and there are shots of cattle, horses, poultry, dogs. Even a camel. Some other remarkable photos are of a shop window display featuring Persil washing powder. Some of these have been dated to 1910.
A lot of the film negatives show his holidays, with some taken at their holiday home, while others are taken whilst on a trip to the north, and scenes have been identified as Cessnock, Dungog, Taree, Kew & Paterson. There are some photos of Warragamba Dam in the very early stages before any concrete was poured, and a magnificent shot of the winding drums of the overhead cableway.
Several Roy’s photos have already appeared on the Back Page and in numerous publications on local history because his subjects were local and numerous copies of them have survived in private collections.
The scanned photos can be viewed either on a computer or in albums at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre & Museum, open on Saturdays, Sundays & public holidays.
Check out old photographs from the Roy Dowle Collection at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre Website Click here.
Flooding of the Nepean River on the Camden floodplain
What is the Camden ‘bathtub effect’?
Not sure – well you are not on your own.
The ‘bathtub effect’ is part of the flooding effect created by the landform that makes up the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river system has a unique floodplain system that creates particular problems for local residents and others along the river.
The natural characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly susceptible to significant flood risk. The combination of the large upstream catchments and narrow downstream sandstone gorges results in floodwaters backing up behind these natural ‘choke points’
The Hawkesbury-Nepean River system has four localised floodplains created by four ‘choke points’ along the river. Each of these ‘choke points’ are created by a local gorge along the river system – Bents Basin Gorge, Nepean Gorge, Castlereagh Gorge and the Sackville Gorge.
Each of the four localised floodplains upstream from the four gorges act like a ‘bath tub’ in a period of high rainfall, with floodwater flow choked off by the gorges. The gorge restricts the floodwater flow and river rises quickly behind the gorge at the end of the local floodplain.
Camden ‘bathtub effect’
The 2015 Nepean River Flood Plain Report and the flood maps clearly show how the Bents Basin Gorge acts as a ‘choke point’. The gorge creates a ‘bathtub’ upstream along with Nepean River floodplain from the entrance of the gorge. The floodplain upstream from the gorge starts around Rossmore, then continues upstream to Cobbitty, to Camden and ends at Menangle.
While the Camden ‘bathtub effect’ is not as dramatic and dangerous as those created in the Penrith-Emu Plains area or the effect of the Sackville Gorge at Windsor and Richmond – it is real.
flows escaping from the Nepean River are known to inundate the low lying areas of Camden and certain sections within South Camden and Elderslie. Floodplain areas along many of the tributaries of the river (particularly Narellan Creek and Matahil Creek) are also known to be affected by backwater flooding from the Nepean River during flood events.
Floods are characterized by rapid river rises with flooding commencing as quickly as 6-12 hrs after the commencement of heavy rain if the catchment is already saturated. Under flood conditions, the Nepean River overflows its banks and commences to inundate the low lying floodplain around Camden during floods of 8.5m on the Cowpasture Bridge gauge. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)
Causes of flooding along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River on the Camden floodplain
The headwaters of the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment. This geographic area drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean Rivers, with dams on each waterway.
The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction, below Warragamba Dam, is around 1800km2
Floods have occurred in all months of the year. The highest recorded flood at Camden occurred in 1873, when a height of 16.5m was recorded on the Camden gauge (approximately a 200yr ARI). [Cowpasture Bridge, Camden]
Other major floods occurred in 1860 (14.1m), 1867 (14.0m), and 1898 (15.2m). In recent times, major floods have occurred in 1964 (14.1m) and 1978 (13.5m) with moderate to major flooding occurring in 1975 (12.8m) and 1988 (12.8m). (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)
A report of the 1898 flood event at Camden taken from the Camden News 17 February 1898 gives an clarity of how quickly the river can rise in the local area:
Near midnight on Saturday rain began to fall, at first with moderation, towards day break gusts of wind sprang up from the South East bringing heavy rain, lowering the crops in its passage, even majestic trees were torn up by their roots and in sheltered paddocks the trees were denuded of large limbs.
Sunday all day the wind blew with hurricane force; early on Monday morning the storm somewhat abated in its velocity.
Even on Sunday midnight no apprehension of a flood was anticipated by the Camden townspeople the continuous rain and boisterous weather, however made the more Cautious anxious, and one tradesman took the precaution to look after his horses in near paddock when the danger of a flood was manifested to him, the Nepean River had suddenly risen and was flooding the flats.
A report in the Camden News of the 1911 Camden flood event provides further clarity around the behaviour of the river:
The rain of Thursday, it may naturally be expected filled creeks, dams and watercourses to overflowing, but the climax came with a heavy storm between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when some four inches [100mm] of rain fell. This brought the local water down from the adjoining hills in torrents, the Main Southern Road and Carrington Road were then covered with some two feet of fast rushing water, and on Druitt Road the local flood was then absolutely impassable..
In the early hours the Nepean River rose rapidly, and before the arrival of the first train the bridge was impassable ; the water continued to rise till about 3.15 in the afternoon, it having then reached it highest point, covering the new embankment between the town and the bridge, running through the Chinese quarters on the one side, and just into the pavilion on the show ground on the other. From near Druitt Road to Beard’s Lane was one long stretch of water….
“The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is throttled down by a narrow gorge down near what’s called Sackville, which is just upstream of Wiseman’s Ferry,” he said.
“The result of that is that the water can flow into the top of the system very, very rapidly, can’t get out, and so you get very dramatic rises in the level of the river.
“So normal river level might be two metres; if you’re at the town of Windsor and in the most extreme thought possible, that could rise up to 26 metres, which is a number that’s quite hard to comprehend.”
‘The enormous body of water rushing down with relentless force on its way to the sea could not be easily described, nor its effects conceived. About the neighbourhood of Windsor, now that the waters are fast subsiding, the scene is most dreary, and the destruction caused be -comes every day more apparent. The feeling of bitter anguish expressed not in words but in the blank look of utter despair would move the most hardened.
Flooding is normal part of the cycle of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system, as it is for any river basin in Australia.
The particular landform features of the Hawkesbury-Nepean with its four gorges along the river produces four localised floodplains that create a local ‘bathtub effect’ on the local floodplain.
This landform effect of the river gorges creates flooding severity in the local communities.
Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5
In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.
These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.
Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.
Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.
Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.
A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).
Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)
The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)
The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.
The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.
Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture. Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)
The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)
The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).
Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.
Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)
The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)
Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)
The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)
Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.
Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.
Another free bi-annual colour magazine has recently come to my attention called Smarter Macarthur. While it has been present for a few editions this newspaper nerd did not notice it, probably because it is a ‘business-to-business’ publication in the local media landscape.
The masthead is published by Smarter Media with a circulation of 5000 copies. It is letter-boxed to businesses across the region, dropped in professional premises and eateries, and distributed to advertisers and local networking groups.
Smarter Macarthur was originally published in 2014 and is produced with 200gsm Gloss Artboard cover and internal pages of 113gsm Gloss Artpaper, which gives the full colour magazine a quality feel and presentation. The publisher stays local by employing local photographers Brett Atkins and Nick Diomis.
The 52pp print edition for Winter/Spring 2019 is supported by an online presence. There is a Facebook page and a website , both appearing in 2014, with the website including a directory of advertisers.
Editor Lyndall Lee Arnold maintains that:
Our aim to produce quality content, to showcase local businesses within the area.
The print magazine carries news articles of local interest, stories of local businesses and advice pages on leadership, technology and health. The editorial approach of the magazine is to stress the local.
The editorial policy and the presence of the magazine strengthens regional identity and the construction of place by telling the stories of the local businesses and their owners.
This is a screenshot of the website established in 2014 for the Smarter Macarthur bi-annual glossy free colour magazine. (I Willis)
Being on the front cover of Smarter Macarthur along with our business story being featured inside the last issue has been so positive!
Macarthur businesses seem to want to support a new addition to the local media landscape.
On the Facebook page the editor maintains that she is looking to the future and the growth of the regional market place with the construction of the Western Sydney Airport, apply named Nancy Bird-Walton Airport, at Badgerys Creek.
The success of the publication will add to community sustainability by strengthening the local economy, job creation and economic growth.
It will be interesting to see if the Macarthur region’s competitive market place continues to support this masthead.
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.
It is not often that the historian can get a view into the past through the lens of the present in real time. I was able to this in Camden New South Wales recently at a photo shoot for the History Magazine for the Royal Australian Historical Society.
Photographer Jeff McGill and author Laura Jane were the participants in this activity. We all walked along Camden’s historic main thoroughfare, Argyle Street, which still echoes of the Victorian period. Our little group made quite a splash and drew a deal of attention from local women who swooned over the ‘gorgeous’ vintage dress worn by Laura Jane.
Mid-20th century enthusiast Laura Janes lives the lifestyle in dress, makeup and hairstyle and made the perfect foil for her History article on Sydney fashion, the David Jones store and their links to the fashion house of Dior. Laura Jane modelled her 1950s Dior style vintage dress in front of Camden’s storefronts that were reminiscent of the period. With matching handbag, gloves, hat, hairstyle, stiletto heels, and makeup she made a picture to behold captured by Campbelltown photographer Jeff.
Laura Jane encompasses the experience of the country woman going to town when Camden women would dress-up in their Sunday best to shop in Camden or catch the train to the city.
A city shopping expedition would entail catching the Pansy train at Camden Railway Station, then change steam trains at Campbelltown Railway Station, then another change at Liverpool Railway Station from steam train to the electric suburban service for Central Railway Station in Sydney. The suburban electric trains did not arrive at Campbelltown until 1968.
City outings for country women often happened around the time of the Royal Easter Show when the whole family would go to the city. The family would bring their prized horses and cattle to compete with other rural producers for the honour and glory of winning a sash. While the menfolk were busy with rural matters their women folk would be off to town to shop for the latest fashions for church and show balls or to fit out the family for the upcoming year.
Country women from further away might stay-over at swish city hotels like the up-market elegant Hotel Australia near Martin Place. These infrequent city outings were a treat and a break from the drudgery of domesticity and women would take the opportunity to combine a shopping trip with a visit to see a play or the Tivoli theatre.
The intrinsic nature of the city outings for country women were captured by the Sydney street photographers. They operated around the Martin Place, Circular Quay, Macquarie and Elizabeth Street precincts and are depicted in an current photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
The images of the Sydney street photographer captured of moment in time and their most prolific period was during the 1930s to the 1950s. The country woman would be captured on film as she and a friend wandered along a city street. They would be given a token and they could purchase a memento of their city visit in a postcard image that they could purchase at a processing booth in a city-arcade. The Sydney street photographer captured living history and has not completely disappeared from Sydney street.
Laura Jane, whose lifestyle encompasses the mid-20th century, in an expression of the living history movement in motion. The living history movement is a popular platform for experiencing the past and incorporates those who want to live the past in the present, aka Laura Jane, or relive it on a more occasional basis as re-enactors who relive the past for a moment. There are many examples of the latter at historic sites in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
The Camden photo shoot was an example how a moment in time can truly be part of living history where the photographer captures a glimpse of the past in the present. An example of how the present never really escapes the past.
A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.
What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.
The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.” They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.
I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.
To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.
The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.
There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.
The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.
Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.
Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.