On 18 September 1982 the Governor of New South Wales His Excellency Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC opened the new brutalist style office extensions for Campbelltown City Council.
Gosford architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates designed the office extensions and when combined with the 1964 building created one of the most important modernist building precincts in the Macarthur region.
Mayor Thomas stated at the official opening that the city had undergone ‘unprecedented’ growth and embraced ‘enormous changes’ since 1964. (Official programme)
The city’s population growth had grown from 24,000 (1963) to 43,000 (1974) and by 1980 was 120,000.
The council’s administration was ‘strained to the limit’, and there was a risk of fragmentation of council departments. To avoid this, the architects recommended a new single building to accommodate council staff.
The architects presented three sites for the council’s consideration: the existing civic centre site; Camden Road opposite the Campbelltown Catholic Club; and the Macarthur Regional Growth Centre.
After considering the three options, the council felt that it had a ‘moral obligation’ to the existing Queen Street commercial precinct to remain at the civic centre site.
The new office building would act as an ‘anchor of confidence’, and the site would remain as the northern gateway to the commercial precinct. It would set a standard for future development in the area. (Official programme, 1982)
The council requested that the architects design a ‘four-storey administrative building’ of around 2000m2 with associated pedestrian plaza, landscaping and parking within the civic centre precinct.
In 1980 the civic centre precinct consisted of the 1966 single floor community hall, the 1971 single-storey library building, a single-story women’s rest centre, a service station, the former fire station and two-storey ambulance station. (Official programme, 1982)
For the completion of the project, the council needed to acquire the service station on the corner of Queen and Broughton Streets.
The primary design constraint on the civic centre site was the 1964 office tower of 1400m2 containing the council chambers and the administration offices. (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
The building completely dominated the precinct and was ‘considered as the major visual element in any design’ because of its height’. The architects described it as a “high rise” curtain wall construction with external sun shading’. (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
Architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates felt that new building extension had to integrate with the 1964 office tower in a functional as well as aesthetically pleasing fashion.
The spirit of the past
The architects stated that the design of the new building extensions and its ‘scale, proportion and detailing’ recognised ‘the legacy of the district’ :
‘The “colonial” pitched roof on the new extensions reflects the graceful simplicity of colonial architecture, and the simple proportions, “depth” façade detailing and pitched roof echo the features of “old” Campbelltown buildings’. (Official programme, 1982)
The building design inspired Mayor Thomas to draw on the past and ‘old Campbelltown’ as an inspiration for his address.
The new building was a metaphor for the area’s pioneering spirit.
The mayor stated that the new building illustrated how the spirit of the Campbelltown pioneers had not ‘suppressed the basic community character of Campbelltown’s early days’.
‘The spirit of the hardy pioneer bred of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today’, he said.
‘The City of Campbelltown has an ancient heritage in terms of the nation’s history, and this is being matched by a vital modern record of achievement’, said the mayor.
Mayor Thomas said
The wisdom and vision of another progressive Governor of this State, Lachlan Macquarie, almost 160 years ago, formed the nucleus of the closely-knit community which continues to grow in size and stature. The spirit of the hardy pioneer breed of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today. (Official programme)
Scale, proportion and detailing
The new office building was set at the rear of the civic centre site and kept a ‘lower profile to Queen Street, consistent with the general two-storey nature of the older buildings’. This design provided ‘an intermediate scale’ to help its integration with the existing higher 1964 building. (Official programme, 1982)
The building materials for the project ensured that the external finish blended ‘aesthetically with existing buildings and landscape and are architecturally pleasing’, and the ‘finishes are dignified, tastefully chosen and dignified’. (Official programme, 1982)
The proposed building used reinforced concrete as the main structural element, with ‘precast concrete with exposed aggregate finish’ to the exterior walls with anodised aluminium window frames. The internal walls were concrete blockwork with cement rendering.
The new design ‘provide[d] a building of similar bulk possessing a horizontal fenestration opposed the vertical nature of the existing building’ to act as a ‘counterfoil’ to the 1964 office tower. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
At the end of the design phase, the architects believed that the proposed scheme was both ‘aesthetically and materially adequate’ and ‘integrated functionally and aesthetically’ with the civic auditorium. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)
Brutalism grew out of the early 20th-century modernist movement that is sometimes linked with the dynamism and self-confidence of the 1960s. The characteristics of the style are straight lines, small windows, heavy-looking materials, and modular elements with visible structural elements and a monochromic colouring.
The brutalist-style appeared in the post-war years in the United Kingdom and drew inspiration from mid-century modernism. The style became representative of the new town movement and appeared in modernist UK cities like Milton Keynes. Brutalism was common in the Sydney area in the late 1960s and 1970s and an integral part of the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan.
Consequently, the Campbelltown area has several brutalist-style buildings including Airds High School (1974), Glenquarie Shopping Centre (1975), Campbelltown TAFE College (1981), Macarthur Square (1979), Campbelltown Hospital (1977), and Campbelltown Mall (1984).
The new 1982 office extension reflected how the winds of change from population growth had re-shaped the Campbelltown area since the construction of the 1964 modernist office tower.
The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the local studies librarians at the Campbelltown City Library in the completion of this blog post.
Recently I came across an article about the future of the Airds shopping mall in the Macarthur Chronicle headed ‘Dilapidated centre set to be transformed’. It stated:
A wrecking ball could be swinging towards a dilapidated shopping village. The grand plans propose to demolish Airds Village shopping centre, on Riverside Drive, and replace it with a $21 million centre.
A sad story of decay and neglect
The imminent demolition of the decaying and neglected Airds shopping mall is a sad indictment of the dreams of many and the ultimate demise of the 1970s Macarthur Growth Centre.
The shopping mall is an example of urban decay in the middle of our local suburbia. It is a failure of modernism and the town planning utopia of city-based decision-makers.
Local confidence saw the construction of the 1964 modernist council chambers and in 1968 the declaration of city status, electrification of the railway and the announcement of Sydney Region Outline Plan by the state government.
The Radburn principles were applied to five public housing estates that were developed by the Housing Commission of New South Wales in the Campbelltown area between 1972 and 1989. The other four estates were Macquarie Fields, Claymore, Minto and Ambervale.
The design concept originated from the town of Radburn in New Jersey in 1928 and reflected the optimism of American modernism around the motor car and consumerism.
Houses were developed ‘back-to-front’ with the front of the house facing a walkway or green open space and the back door facing the street. This meant that there was a separation of pedestrians and cars, with a large communal open area centred on the walkways between the rows of houses. This resulted in a streetscape consisting of rows of high blank fences enclosing backyards.
Travis Collins from the University of New South Wales argues that the Radburn principles were initially designed for aspirational upper-middle-class areas and their desire for a garden suburb, where pedestrian walkways and common areas linked across the estate. These areas were expected to be the centre of neighborhood life without the need for a car.
Radburn watered down
The suburb of Airds, and other Campbelltown public housing estates, started off with grand plans that evaporated over time due to: changes of government; cost-cutting; abolition of government instrumentalities; and neglect. This resulted in a ‘watered down’ Radburn vision.
The public housing estates did have extensive open space which was true to Radburn principles. Yet there were compromises and the Housing Commission built townhouses that were counter to the Radburn concept.
The tracts of open space became wastelands of neglect and vandalism that were poorly provisioned and maintained by the Housing Commission with a lack of privacy and security. The back lanes and streets were isolated, lacked security and resident surveillance and were sites characterised by dumped rubbish and graffiti.
The estates were populated with high numbers of single-parent families who suffered from high levels of social exclusion, unemployment, and low incomes.
Collins argues that the Radburn principles were a failure and contributing factors included: poor surveillance of the street by residents because of high rear fences fronting the street; anti-social behaviour along the walkways and open space areas; and the low socio-economic status of residents.
The failure of the Radburn scheme was finally recognised by the authorities in the early 2000s. They acknowledged that: the design was unsuitable for concentrated public housing estates; they created confusing neighborhoods with unsafe walkways, poor car access, and poor surveillance of areas of open space; the poorly constructed housing stock became run down and dilapidated; the housing stock was infested with termites. Some of these issues were reflected in Airds and the shopping mall from the mid-1970s.
Memories of hope
In the 1970s I taught at Airds High School adjacent to the shopping mall and my memories are mixed. Young people who came from dysfunctional backgrounds, yet their resilience allowed them to rise above it, grow and mature into sensible young adults. This process is supported by the life experience of former Airds resident Fiona Woods (Facebook, April 2020) who grew up in Airds in the 1970s and 1980s. She says:
I have the best memories of Airds, especially that shopping centre. Riding our bikes to buy lollies. Growing up in Airds in the 70s was very communal. I loved it. I arrived at Airds in 1977 when I was 3 and lived there until 1984. I went to John Warby [Public School]. There was such a strong sense of community. My mum met her best friend when they moved into their new houses in Airds. They have been friends for over 40 years and still speak daily.
Fiona tells the story of her sister who taught at Airds High School in the 1990s. She found the teaching experience challenging, as I did 20 years earlier, yet the youngsters were confident, grounded and without airs and graces.
Similarly I found Airds school children had a refreshing unsophisticated innocence that was generated by difficult circumstances. They were unpretentious and you quickly knew where you stood with them teaching in a classroom that was always full of unconfined energy. You always had classroom ‘war stories’ and I said that this is where I did my ‘missionary work’.
Bogans galore and more
The Airds shopping mall is a metaphor for what happened to Campbelltown between the 1970s and the present. It represents the collision of modernism and neoliberalism in place. The optimism of the 1960s contrasting with the despair of the 1980s.
The Camden story is an ongoing project that aims to tell the untold stories of the Camden, Cowpastures and Macarthur districts. There is the telling, the learning and the showing of the story.
The project is constantly evolving and changing direction. It is centred around the construction of place and the meaning of landscape. These are culturally derived concepts from both Indigenous and European experiences.
There are the natural ecologies that make up the environment as well as atmospheric and geological elements. The natural elements are just as important as the cultural.
Complexities of the Camden story
The Camden story has its own complexities. There is no one single dominant narrative. There are many voices in the story and each has a right to be heard.
There are many threads to the Camden story and when woven together make a coherent story with many voices. The weave of the cloth represents the warp and weft of the daily lives of the actors on the stage. Together they create a vibrant design that can capture the imagination of many and inspire others.
There are many actors in the constantly evolving narrative, each with their own agenda. The story is played on a stage that is located on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe, a dynamic movable frontier on the city’s edge. It is a constantly changing and evolving cultural landscape.
There are many layers to the Camden story each with its own particularities. As each layer is peeled back it reveals memories and meanings from the past that influence the present. Those who are interested can dive into the many layers and help unravel the entangled threads of the web and give some clarity to their meaning within the story.
The Camden story is a journey that is constantly evolving with many signposts along the way. There are a lot of fellow travellers who have their own stories. There are many pathways and laneways to go down, each with its own meaning and memories to the travellers who come along for the journey.
The Camden story has its own road map of sorts with signposts and markers of significant places along the journey for those who want to look. There are many opportunities for those who want embark on this journey and uncover many of the undiscovered mysteries of the Camden story.
It is in the interests of those who want to tell the story that they walk the ground in which the story is embedded. The landscape speaks to those who want to listen. The experience is enriching and fulfilling and shapes the telling of the story.
Some parts of the Camden story
The Camden story has many parts and some are listed below:
This is a short history of the town, which is situated on the floodplain of the Nepean River, on the traditional land of the Dharawal people in an area known as the Cowpastures. The Camden area’s distinctive landscape has moulded the community’s identity and sense of place. From the earliest days of European settlement class and social networks ordered daily life in the village with the local gentry at the top of the social hierarchy.
The Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangleinto the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. It was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. The district became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.
This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. It is an attempt to examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of the Camden community’s history.
Movie makers 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 film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers.
The Camden bibliography is an attempt to highlight some of the research that addresses the notion of Camden as a country town and the subsequent urbanisation of the local government area. The sources listed in the bibliography cover the geographic area of the Camden district.
The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement. The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.
The story of European settlement in the Cowpastures is intimately connected to the story of the convicts and their masters. This story has not been told and there is little understanding of the role of the convicts in the Cowpastures district before 1840. Who were they? What did they do? Did they stay in the district?
Kirkham is a picturesque, semi-rural locality on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe between the historic township of Camden, with its inter-war and colonial heritage and the bustling commercial centre of Narellan. The arrival of the rural-urban fringe at Kirkham in recent decades has created a contested site of tension and constant change, resulting in an ever-evolving landscape. This is an example of a short locality history within the local area published by the Dictionary of Sydney.
Early European settlers were the key actors in a place-making exercise that constructed an English-style landscape aesthetic on the colonial stage in the Cowpastures district of New South Wales. The aesthetic became part of the settler colonial project and the settlers’ aim of taking possession of territory involving the construction of a cultural ideal from familiar elements of home in the ‘Old Country’. The new continent, and particulaly the bush, had the elements of the Gothic with its grotesque and the demonic, and the landscape aesthetic was one attempt to counter these forces. Settlers used the aesthetic to assist the creation of a new narrative on an apparenty blank slate and in the process dispossessed and displaced the Indigenous occupants. The new colonial landscape was characterised by English place-names, English farming methods and English settlement patterns, with only cursory acknowledgement of Indigenous occupation.
The rural-urban fringe is a dynamic frontier, an ever expanding zone of transition on the edges of Australia’s major cities and regional centres. This paper examines the proposition that Sydney’s urban growth has pushed the city’s rural-urban fringe into the countryside and unleashed the contested nature of place-making in and around the
country town of Camden. It will be maintained that the dynamic forces that characterise the rural-urban frontier have resulted a collision between the desires and aspirations of ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and prompted a crisis in the identity of place. Community icons
and rituals have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place. The actors have used history and heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity, and has created a cultural myth based on a romantic notion of an idealised
country town drawn from the past, ‘a country town idyll’.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you live in the fringe urban communities of Campbelltown, Camden or Picton in the Macarthur district on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. In the past these communities have been fiercely parochial country towns with clearly identifiable differences based on history, heritage, traditions, mythology, rituals, demographics, local government and a host of other factors. With the encroachment of Sydney’s urban sprawl they have been wrapped up by the tentacles of the metropolitan octopus and faced challenges on a variety of fronts. The questions that this article raises concern Macarthur regionalism. Is it authentic? How representative is it of the former country towns that are now incorporated within it?
The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe. The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn. West of Wollongong the tributaries includng Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park. The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty. The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.
Camden is a country town whose history and development has been influenced by war. The town was part of Australia’s homefront war effort, and from the time of the Boer War the most important part of this for Camden was volunteering. The Second World War was no exception, and the most influential voluntary organisation that contributed to the town’s war effort was the Womens Voluntary Services [WVS]. The Camden WVS was part of a strong tradition of Victorian female philanthropy in the town, which attracted, and depended on, middle class women socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, a separatedness of spheres, patriarchy, the status quo, and by the inter-war period, modernity.
On 21 October 2004 the former Member for Camden, Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Kernohan, died after suffering a heart attack. She was sixty- five. Thousands of people lined Argyle Street in Camden to see the cortege and pay their last respects, I and compliments flowed from both sides of New South Wales politics. There were over 1850 column centimetres devoted to her death and subsequent funeral in the local press. Kernohan was a popular, larger than life figure in Camden. She held the seat of Camden for the Liberal party for over 11 years in an area that some have claimed is the key to the success of the Howard Government. How was Kernohan able to gain this type of support? This paper will try to address this question, although initially it is useful to give a brief overview of the electorate.
A notable part of Camden modernism that has disappeared is the drive-in movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the notable attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale). Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the lifestyle of the baby boomers. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The drive-in movie theatre was a defining moment in the district for a 20th century culture that was based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.
Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex. The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena.
The Camden Country Women’s Association made camouflage nets during the Second World War and was the largest netting centre in the area. 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.
One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy. It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell stories to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia. The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963.
Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for both locals and new arrivals. The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the south-western and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main grand prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners as well as changes in elevation around the track.
This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper? The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
The members of 32 Squadron arrived in Camden Airfield in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units. The squadron’s operational duties at Camden Airfield included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia.
Once the army moved into Narellan Military Camp it commenced operation and became part of the wartime scene during WW2. Men were seen marching all over the district, there were mock raids and the men practiced firing small arms. The camp is an important part of the story of Narellan during war as thousands of men, and some women, moved through the camp on their way to somewhere in the theatre that was the Second World War.
Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.
The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars was at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion. The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milk shakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.
The interwar period in Camden was a time of economic development and material progress. The prosperity of the period was driven by the local dairy industry and the emerging coal industry. During the interwar period one of the most important economic arteries of the town was the Hume Highway (until 1928 the Great South Road). For a country town of its size the town had modern facilities and was up-to-date with the latest technology. The interwar years were a period of transition and increasingly the motor car replaced the horse in town, and on the farm the horse was replaced by the tractor, all of which supported the growing number of garages in the town.
The beginning of a new phase of Camden’s motoring history created much excitement and anticipation in March 1948 with the opening of the new ultra-modern car showroom for Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street.
The year 1948 was a landmark in Australian motoring history with the launch of first Australian made mass produced motor car – the FX Holden sedan – in November. The National Museum of Australia states that
The Holden transformed suburban Australia, boosted national pride and quickly become a national icon. The car was economical, sturdy and stylish and was immediately popular with the public.
Clinton Motors announced in September 1948 that it would sell the new Holden motor car (Camden News, 23 September 1948). The first Holden car was displayed in the new streamlined showroom in December 1948 and sold for £675. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)
The new showroom displays motoring modernism
The former Clintons Motor building was an iconic stylish Art Deco Interwar influenced building with its clean streamlined appearance drawn from American and French influences.
A blue and white building with modernistic streamlined front and wide plate glass fittings. Inside, behind imposing doors set between giant white pillars, are to be seen a range of colourful displays that glistened beneath batteries of flourescent lights. Big placards mounted on plastic coated display stands illustrate the advice which Goodyear gives motorists in obtaining tyres. Other plastic and glass tables hold an unexpectedly large variety of accessories for cars and trucks. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).
The new premises were constructed by Camden builder Jim Bracken on the former site of the Camden tweed mill which burnt down in 1899 and left a standing chimney for many years. During the Interwar period the site was used a horse paddock.
The new premises sold tyres, motor accessories and electrical goods including refrigerators. The showroom ‘combined all the features that modern merchants in America have developed to improve their service to their customers’. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).
Tourism and motoring modernism
The former Clintons Motors showroom is one of the first buildings that visitors encounter as they enter the town centre after crossing the Cowpastures Bridge and the Nepean River floodplain on the former Hume Highway (now Camden Valley Way).
Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street Camden in 1983. The business was the Holden dealership for the Camden area. The premises opened in 1948. (Camden Images)
The former car showroom is just one of a number of Interwar buildings that visitors can find in the charming town centre. There is the former Bank of New South Wales (Westpac) building, the brick front of the show hall pavilion, the Dunk building car showroom, the former Rural Bank building, the former Stuckey Bakery building, the milk depot. Tucked around the corner is the former Paramount Movie palace and the Presbyterian church. Scattered in and around the town centre are a number of Californian bungalows which add to the atmospherics of the former country town.
The Clinton Group has a long history
The Clinton group has a long history in the Macarthur region starting out a mobile theatre then moving into the Burragorang coalfields. In the 1930s they had a transport business moving coal from the valley to the Camden and Narellan railhead. The family formed Clinton Distributions which became an agent for General Motors Holden on 8 March 1945. Trading at Clinton Motors on the Hume Highway at Narellan the business sold Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Vauxhalls, Bedfords and Maple Leaf trucks. The family incorporated the business in 1946 (Clinton Motor Group) and moved into Camden in February, (Camden News, 21 February 1946) opening the new showroom in 1948. The business operated on this site until 1992 then moved to the former site of Frank Brooking car yard and motor dealership at the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets.
The paper will tell the story of Camden girl Shirley Dunk on her first visit to London with her travelling companion Beth. Both young women had the adventures of their lives and Shirley recalls the journey with great fondness and nostalgia. The journey was a life changing experience for both your women from an Australian country town.
The title of the presentation is An Australian country girl goes to London.
In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.
This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.
The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.
Read more about Australian expatriates in London in the 1950s who were made up of artists, writers, actors and musicians.
Modernism was a transnational force that embraced the Camden community.
The lands releases in the Camden suburb of Elderslie in 1960s have produced a number of houses that have expressed mid-20th century modernism. The house designs were taken from the book of project homes of the day and were quite progressive.
Australian architects including Robin Boyd were expressing Australian modernism. These architects were commissioned by housing developers like Lend Lease to design their housing estates. One such development was the Lend Lease Appletree Estate at Glen Waverley in Melbourne. Another Lend Lease land release and group of show homes were at their 1962 Kingsdene Estate in Carlingford,
The Elderslie homes were built by the miners who worked in the Burragorang Valley and they wanted new modern houses. They generated the wealth that funded the urban growth of the Camden suburbs of Elderslie and South Camden.
Elderslie was one of the original land grants to John Oxley in 1816. The area has been dominated by farming, particularly orchards and vineyards.
Elderslie examples of 1960s modernism include houses in Luker Street characterised by low-pitched rooves, open planned but restrained design, with lots of natural light streaming in full length glass panels adjacent to natural timbers and stone. There are also ranch style houses in River Road with open planning and wide frontages to the street, some architect designed.
These houses are all located in and amongst Federations style farming houses of the Edwardian period. The Federation style houses were on large blocks of land that were sub-divided during the 1960s.
The now demolished Henning’s house in Macarthur Road (image) is an example of open planned ranch style. Other modernist designs are the blocks of flats in Purcell Street, with use of decorative wrought iron railings.
Sunset Avenue in Elderslie was a new land release with a mix of 1960s modern low-pitched roof open planned houses interspersed with New South Wales Housing Commission fibro construction homes.
Other land releases of the 1960s were the New South Wales Housing Commission 1960s fibro houses some of which are located in Burrawong Road and Somerset Street.
The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars were at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion. The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of the daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milkshakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.
The history of the milk bar
The milk bar, along with other aspects of Art Deco style of the Interwar period, is going through a nostalgia boom. Hurstville Museum curator Birgit Heilmann has written an article ‘Sydney has taken to milk’ with memories of the local residents on milk bars in the St George area. The museum recently hosted a touring exhibition ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café’, which was part of the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians National Project’ based at Macquarie University.
Before the fast-food phenomena exploded in Australia in the 1960s the Greek café was an important influence on Australian eating habits. The mixed grill was supplemented with sodas, milkshakes, hamburgers, ice-cream sundaes, milk chocolate and hard sugar lollies. The Australian Greek café was a transnational phenomenon whose origins are buried in the Greek café start-ups on the US east coast where Australian-Greek immigrants, who came from the US, learnt the trade as they came to terms with American modernism.
The first milk bar in Australia opened in 1932 in Martin Place in Sydney. It pioneered many of the aspects of the milk bar and was an instant hit. By the 1940s the milk bar had taken off and combined refined dining, ease of access, local cuisines, soda fountains and the first fast food. The milk bars were popularized in the 1930s with the introduction of the milk stirring machine and the malted milkshake maker, while before this the 1920s soda fountains were popular.
According to Macquarie University researchers, Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski milkshakes were originally a health food made with milk, fruit, cream, eggs, chocolate, malt and other ingredients. Ice-cream, milk fat and artificial flavours were popularised in the 1950s. Milk bars and cafes were a combination of food and fantasy, and in country towns, they were a touch of exotica that often combined with the Hollywood movie palace. The Greek café, according to Joanne Back at the National Museum, was the centre of entertainment in country towns and the centre of life for the first date and the first kiss in the booth. Greek cafes according to Leonard Janiszewski transferred ideas from the USA and transformed them into a combination of American style food trends with Australian cuisine. They were aimed at the whole family and acted to break down the social class barriers that were common in country towns. Greek cafes were often fitted out in the latest in Art Deco style design and furniture from Europe and USA (streamline Art Deco). Sometimes the temperance movement influence was instrumental in trying to get young people away from the hotels.
Camden Cafe, 95 Argyle Street, Camden
One of the longest surviving Camden sites which hosted a café is at 95 Argyle Street, Camden. The site is currently occupied the Café Crème Della Crème. Up to 1920, the site was occupied by Jimmy Stuckey who ran a fruit shop and Stuckey Bros sold cakes, bread, there where their bakery was closed and before this Amy Stuckey ran a boot making business
The first dedicated café on the site was owned and run by the Greek Sophios Brothers and called the Camden Cafe. In 1922 the Les and Dave Sophios renovated the site to bring it up to the standard of ‘leading city restaurants’. (CN7/9/22). The brothers owned and operated a confectionery factory at Lithgow which made chocolates. The brothers also operated cafés in Sydney which they sold in 1925, and at Lithgow, which was called the Blue Bird Café. The Lithgow café operated at a ‘Sundae and Candy Shop’ and boasted ‘an American Soda Fountain’. (1930Freemans’ Journal) The 1925 Camden News claimed that the brothers operated ‘the finest Sundae Shop in the State’. (CN12/11/25)
In 1925 the Sophios brothers sold out to fellow Greeks the Cassimatis brothers. Manual and S. James ‘Jim’ Cassimatis ran the café from 1925 to 1946 and in 1935 renamed the business the Capital Café. They rented the site off the Stuckeys until 1939. In 1927 the brothers advertised the business as the Camden Café and Refreshment Rooms and sold: fruit and vegetables; afternoon tea, coffee, chocolate with biscuits, cakes, sandwiches or toast; ‘meals til late’; fountain drinks and ice cream. Between 1946 and 1950 Ina Cameron and her husband, Gordon ran the café while Cassimatis’s were in Greece.
Since 2008 the site has been occupied by Café Crème Della Crème a continental patisserie.
Cameron’s Capital Café 1946-1950
Ina Cameron recalled (CHS Meeting 14/4/2008 and Camden Advertiser in 2010 and 2008):
In 1946 Ina and her new husband Gordon took over the Capital Café in partnership with her brother and sister in law. They spent 4 years there and Ina says that it was a hard 4 years, although ‘I loved cooking’.
‘The day started at 6.00am cleaning up the long fridge and making sure that everything was OK for opening. We worked all day. All that had to be done every morning. We had to get bread early and put in the fridge to cool it down so that we could slice it up and then put out on the table to make sandwiches.
‘On Monday we had fruit and vegetables from the Sydney market. I had to do a ‘fruit window’ and get rid of bad fruit. On Monday we made 5 gallons of fruit salad and sold a serve for 2/9.
‘Meals served a mixed grill, 2/9, steak and eggs, 2/6, sausage and eggs, 2/-. We had the best place for tea and coffee. The banana splits were very popular and it felt like we spent half our time making them. We did meals, scones, sandwiches – we did everything. Sausages came from Boardmans, and bread from Stuckeys.
‘The shop layout. There was a long window of ice-cream and one of milk. Along the top of the counter, there were little containers with flavouring for milkshakes. Seats in the café and closed in booths at the back.
‘The buses travelled between the Sydney to Melbourne on the Hume Highway [which ran along the main street] and they would stop in the morning and afternoon. Drivers had a uniform and pretty handsome as well.
‘The pictures were twice a week and we would finish up after midnight after the picture crowd had been and gone. Tuesday was Camden sale day and we provide sandwiches, along with late dinner and fruit salad. The girls who waited for us liked to be on that night [sale day] because they got good tips.
‘The Chinese market gardeners would bring their vegetable to us, whatever was in season. The Chinese market gardeners grew vegetables along the banks of the Nepean River. They give me a bag of fresh vegetables each time they travelled into town. I enjoyed chatting with the gypsy king who would drop into the store for a cup of tea whenever he was in town to visit the gypsies who lived at the bottom of Chellaston Street.
The 1948 Camden Social Survey stated that Cameron’s cafe [Capital Café] employed 4 girls and catered to the Pioneer Tourist Car. There are 4 Pioneer buses a day and a Fox tour once a fortnight. The buses usually contain 20 passengers plus the driver. The tours are on their way to Adelaide, Melbourne, Kosciusko and the Riverina Irrigation areas. The authors of the survey felt that ‘the number of tourists does not tax restaurant facilities.’
Camden Café 1938-1945
Len Hearne wrote in 2014 that Frank and Mary Hearne owned and operated the Camden Café at 91 Argyle Street, (now Camden Pharmacy). The café was a popular stop for servicemen from in the local area [from the Narellan Military Camp, RAAF personnel from the Camden Airfield and the NCOs stationed at Studley Park ECTS]. They came into Camden ‘by the truckload and inevitably they all made their way to the Camden Café for a decent meal. Frank and Mary got to know some of the servicemen before they were shipped out to the horrors of a distant war front. There was one US soldier who was a real loner. His name was Chuck and was based at Green’s Corner [Narellan Military Camp]. He had previously worked in a diner in Los Angeles and when on leave in Camden he would always want to hold out in the Camden Café. He left a box of his personal items with Frank and Mary and they tried to contact his home after the war without success. The truckloads of young servicemen who came into Camden when on leave had just one thing on their mind – girls- and would end up missing their truck back to their base. They would often come to Frank and Mary asking them to phone a taxi.
Other memories of Camden Cafes
The 1948 Camden Social Survey stated the hospitality sector (cafes, hotels) were the most common form of employment in Camden and employed 74 women out of a total of 121 employed in the sector. It stated there were 5 cafes in Camden employing 20 people in addition to the 5 owners.
Donald Howard recalls in his memoir The Hub of Camden (2002) the cafes of the 1940s. ‘In the first summer [working at Whiteman’s General Store] I found myself consuming 6 milkshakes a week. In those days they were rich and creamy with natural fruit flavouring, but 6 a week meant that 20% of my gross income was being blown on my appetite. I took a drastic step and halved the intake. I was learning that to achieve a certain goal, some sacrifice was often needed. One more lesson for life!’.
Fred Gibson, who came to Camden in 1953, recalled there was the Paris Café on the corner of Argyle and Hill Street, Howletts Café is now a hamburger joint. He said that ‘milkshakes were what we drank when you under 20. You never thought of going to the pub. You often bought a soft drink – ginger beer – sometimes put a scoop of ice cream in the drink.
In 1938 Pinkerton’s ran a café and they baked their own buns, pastries and cakes. In 1949 Burnell & Sons operated a milk bar at 122 Argyle Street, next to the Commonwealth Bank (recently the site of Gloria Jeans Cafe to 2014). They served McInven’s Ice Cream, iced drinks, fruit and vegetables and offered home deliveries from the milk bar.
Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar
The most iconic Camden milk bar was the Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar which opened in 1939 by the Macarthur Onslows as part of the promotion of their Camden Vale brand of milk. It traded on the healthy qualities of milk at a time when they were promoted by milk authorities in New South Wales. It is one of the outstanding buildings of the Interwar period in the Camden area and was built in the mock-Tudor style that was popular at the time. It was fitted out with the latest milk bar equipment and was noted for having the first drive-through facility in the Camden area where patrons were served milkshakes while seated in their car.
John Wrigley stated in the District Reporter in 2005 that the inn was constructed to promote the sale of Camden Vale milk products which were produced by Camden Park Estate. It was located at the southern end of Camden on the Hume Highway and promotional material boasted: ‘delicious milk drinks of all kinds made from Camden Vale special milk will be served. Camden Vale milk and cream will also be for sale. A feature will be the delicious morning and afternoon teas’.
It was opened during Health Week in November 1939 and RH Nesbitt, the chairman of the NSW Milk Board officiated at the opening. He was given a gold fountain pen and paid tribute to the achievements of the Camden Park Estates Ltd. ‘Doctors Harvey Sutton and Petherbridge set the seal of approval of the British Medical Association upon the proceedings’. There were lots of speeches on the subject of the progress of the dairy industry, the modern hygienic methods of production and distribution with special mention of the ‘keen city demand for the special grade of fresh milk under the name of Camden Vale’. Amongst the guests were Major General James Macarthur Onslow, Dr Harvey Sutton, hygienist, eugenicist and educator and Portia Geach from the Housewives’ Progressive Association of NSW and others.
The inn was designed by architect Cyril Ruwald and the entrance door to the inn was under a porte-cochere in the form of a breezeway or drive-through.
Annette Macarthur Onslow stated it had the appearance of an old coaching stage. She stated in 2005 in the District Reporter that architect Cyril Ruwald was a friend of her parents, Edward and Winifred Macarthur Onslow. They spent much time examining photographs of English country inns and how to achieve the same ‘charming settled look’ in Camden.
Apparently, trade-in milk-shakes was brisk as the concept was relatively new to Australia as was the concept of a drive-through ‘where one could remain seated in a car and buy takeaway milkshakes in waxed cartons’.
Gladys Mead ran the milk bar. Annette Macarthur Onslow recalls: ‘To us children, it was a place of wonder with bottles of colourful essences and generous containers of creamy milk which, with a dollop of ice cream and quick whisk, could fill four glasses for 4d. Gladys was a wizard cook. Her Devonshire Teas with freshly baked scones, whipped cream and strawberry jam found plenty of customers.’
Paris Cafe Camden
Ruth Funnell Wotton on Facebook 28 May 2015) says
My Aunty & Uncle owed & ran the Paris Cafe on the corner of Argyle and Hill street Camden . I remember as a child sitting on the backstep of the shop and being treated with an ice cream cone … because my mother used to go and help with the busy times of day lunch time etc … Their name was Amos & Dorothy Dowle ….much later years the Sumners Annette Mark etc parents ran it I recall ?
Read more about Australian cafes and milk bars
Read more about the exhibition: ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café @ the National Museum of Australian in Canberra Click here
and @ the Hurstville Museum and Gallery Click here
Read about the Macquarie University exhibition: ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café Click here and Click here
Read Birgit Heilmann’s article ‘Sydney has taken to milk’ Click here
Listen to more in these podcasts on ABC about ‘Greek Cafes’ on Radio Bush Telegraph 5 August 2014 Click here and the ‘Olympia Milk Bar’ on Radio National on 26 March 2011 Click here
Read more on Sydney Greek milk bars @ Scratchings Sydney Click here and Neoskosmos ‘The Birth of a Milk Bar’, Click here and in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article ‘Milk Bars and Rock Music Living the American Dream in a Greek Cafe Click here
When the first Milk Bar opened in Martin Place, Sydney, in 1932, people queued in their thousands for a taste of America. With its art deco design, and single, sweet product, the impact of Adams’ Black and White 4d. Milk Bar was far-reaching. As they spread across the country, to every town on the railway line, Greek-run milk bars and cafes became a focal point of community life: for celebrations, meetings, family meals and romance. For more than 30 years, historian Leonard Janiszewski and photographer Effy Alexakis have investigated and documented the history of Greek Australian culture. They discovered these cafes and milk bars were a kind of Trojan horse for the Americanisation of Australian culture, bringing in American refreshments, cinema, and music.
Further information on Leonard Janiszewski’s Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of AustraliaClick here
The humble fibro cottage of the 1950s and 1960s in Camden is an important part of the town’s 20th century history. The fibro house is representative of the baby-boomer era, when drive-ins, Holdens, Chiko rolls, black & white TV, rock & roll, vinyl LPs were the norm. Fibro is evocative of long summer holidays by the beach, with adolescent love, boogie boards, zinc cream and paddle pops.
Fibro was invented in Austria by Ludwig Hatschek in 1900, and within three years was imported to Australia. Fibro was made in Australia by 1916 and was only one of a few countries to use it for housing. Fibro was made and distributed in Australian primarily by Wunderlich and James Hardie. Fibro was cheap and easy to use, and it was modern.
In the 1950s as the Burragorang coal fields expanded the town suffered a housing shortage and fibro cottages provided one solution. A number of fibro cottages were built by the New South Wales Housing Commission. These housing types were recognized for features including hot-water systems, running water to the kitchen, and bathroom and power-points throughout the house.
Camden’s simple fibro cottages provided affordable accommodation for the working man and his family. Local farms have a host of fibro houses as they were a cheap to build, and fibro was an effective building material that in some cases replaced iron cladding.
Many Camden families have nostalgic memories of their summer holidays spent at a fibro beach shack getaway on the South Coast. They were loved for their low maintenance and were easy to repair.
Charles Pickett’s The Fibro Frontier (1997) describes the 1950s fibro home style as austerity modernism. Pickett states that fibro houses combined economy, ease of construction and buyer engagement. Fibro was a mass-produced manufactured building material that made housing construction cheaper. Fibro offered the working family the chance to become a home owner through a cost-effective form of modern domestic architecture. Camden’s fibro houses had proud owners who kept well maintained front gardens and mowed the grass with their Victa mowers around the Hills hoist in the backyard.
The Powerhouse Museum and Sydney Living Museum have Wunderlich fibro catalogues that provide a valuable record of this style of architecture. Home owners and builders were offered lots of advice on the advantages of fibro in magazines like Australian Homemaker, Australian Home Beautiful and Australian House and Garden. Barry Humphries, the son of a builder, has stated that fibro houses were a little ‘declasse’ and sometimes they were not ‘nice’ homes, although some in the 1950s described them ‘as modern as tomorrow’. One characteristic of Camden fibro cottages is the rounded corners and walls, with its streamlined and modern lines, which were first manufactured in 1937.
Fibro was also used in commercial architecture in Camden and has been used in a number of retail and commercial properties in central Camden. Pickett maintains that the peak of fibro’s acceptance was the 1960s, and from there its popularity declined and it was replaced by other building materials, for example brick-veneer construction. Unfortunately fibro has poor insulation qualities and these cottages were cold in winter and hot in summer, and today there are the health risks of asbestos.
Fibro clad houses represent an important period in Camden’s historical development, and there are examples listed in Camden’s local heritage list. Interestingly filmmakers and artists have adopted the fibro house to signify as a form of ‘retro-dagginess’ and a re-evaluation of suburbia, according to Pickett. Compressed fibre board has been making a comeback in recent years as a successful building material.