The cultural heritage of the local area makes the historic town of Camden, according to Sydney architect Hector Abrahams, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).
The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park Estate in the Cowpastures on the banks of the Nepean River.
The township provides a glimpse of life from times gone past with the charm and character with its Victorian style built heritage and early 20th century cottages and commercial buildings.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.
Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the Sydney area. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.
A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.
The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.
The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.
The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.
The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.
For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.
There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.
There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.
Updated 24 May 2021. Originally posted on Camden History Notes 18 December 2016. This post was originally published on Heritage Tourism as ‘Camden: the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain’ in 2010.
The Fall of Singapore in February 1942 was a disastrous military defeat for the British Imperial forces and a defining point of the Second World War for Camden.
Tensions in the district had been rising for weeks during late 1941.
At the beginning of December the Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbour, Royal Air Force facilities on the Malayan coast (7 December 1941) and other locations. Shortly after this the Japanese navy sank the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse (10 December 1941).
Camden resident Donald Howard wrote that the town ‘like the rest of Australia knew that sooner or later we would be “for it”‘. (Howard, The Hub of Camden, p. 25.) Earlier in the year the Camden area had been declared a ‘vulnerable area’ (August) and the town had its first blackout test.
Singapore had been on the minds of Australia’s strategic thinkers since the end of the First World War. The Australian Government felt that the country’s greatest military threat came from Japan, and Australia joined forces with Britain in what became known as the Singapore Strategy. British naval facilities were strengthened at Singapore and a string of conservative Australian governments reduced spending on defence across the Interwar years.
‘A black month’
Historian Michael McKernan in his book All in! Australia during the second world war has called December 1941 a ‘black month for Australians’ and Prime Minister Curtin told the nation ‘We are at war’. (McKernan, All In!, pp. 96-97.)
Things were heating up and the Japanese Imperial Army landed forces on the Malayan peninsula on 8 December and started their land-based push towards Singapore.
TheCamden News ran an editorial with the headline ‘Japan – According to Plan’. The News stated:
‘The feeling has been that war with the crafty and ambitious Japanese, rapidly rising to power, was bound to come sooner or later. For years the ‘Yellow Peril’ has provided an incalculable element in all Australian political thinking. Put bluntly, the traditional ascendancy of the white race might well be at stake if Japan were enabled to gather strength from this war in anything like the same proportion as she took it from the last.’
The warning of a threat to European exceptionalism advanced by the Camden News was not new. The ascendancy of the white man was a long-held belief by Europeans across the world and the defeat of the British Empire troops in Singapore came at the hands of an Asian power came as a complete shock. According to many in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was Europeans’ duty—the “white man’s burden“—to bring civilisation to non-white peoples through beneficent imperialism. In Australia, this found expression in the White Australia policy.
We are getting worried!
There were signs that the Camden community were seriously worried by the progress of the war. The Camden National Emergency Services jumped into action: there was an urgent call for wardens; civil defence meetings were held with training sessions; sand dumps were established in case of incendiary bombs; street lighting was reduced; sandbagging was increased at Camden Hospital; and police strictly enforced fuel regulations.
The Japanese advance down the Malay peninsula continued and units from the Australian 8th Infantry Division saw action in mid-January. By the end of month the Malaya campaign was going badly for the British forces.
The Camden News ran an editorial headed ‘The Jap is not a Super-man’:
‘The Japanese continue their rapid advance through the islands of the north until they are now within striking distance of the biggest island of all — our own homeland. That is cause for anxiety enough, but don’t let us help the enemy by crediting him with powers and capacities. he does net possess. The Jap, good fighter though he is, is not yet a superman.’
On 8 February 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army landed on Singapore island. Within a week the British forces had surrendered. The Fall of Singapore on 15 February to the Japanese forces was a profound shock to Australia and other parts of the British Empire.
‘was the scene of the largest surrender of British-led forces ever recorded in history’. The British considered Singapore as their ‘Gibraltar in the Far East’ and it was assumed to be just as impregnable’.
The Camden News editorialised the defeat as Australia’s Total War— And Its Implications. The News warned that Australia was under direct threat of invasion:
Official pronouncements made last week, and again this week, should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the ‘battle of Australia’ has now definitely begun. We face total war — possibly on our own soil. The events of the last week — one of the blackest weeks of the whole war — have shattered our complacency, and he is a foolish man indeed who still faces the immediate future with light-hearted abandon.We must rid ourselves of our comfortable beliefs that Australia is too far from Japan for successful invasion.
Camden’s civil defence authorities drew up plans for the town’s evacuation, and formed a scorched earth policy committee. Helen Stewardson wrote to her brother, Harry, an airman in England, ‘I guess you hear the news the same as we do, it is rather disheartening, but we hope for the best’. (Vernon, ‘Letters to an Airmen’, Grist Mills, Dec. 1999, p. 56.)
The failure of the British Imperial Forces at Singapore was profound.
Terry Stewart maintains that the arrogance of the British led to underestimate the ability of the Japanese forces. She writes:
In the 1930s and 1940s, the British forces stationed in Singapore epitomised the British military idea of officers and gentlemen. The atmosphere was very much one of colonial sociability.
Oliver Steward writes that the British High Command left Singapore vulnerable, with a lack of equipment including tanks and aircraft, without proper kit to be worn by troops in a jungle environment. This situation was complicated by Churchill’s attitude who ordered Empire forcesunder the command of General Percival to “stand their ground to the last man standing”.
When the British commander Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered on 15 February 1942 more than 130,000 British Imperial troops were taken prisoner.
The National Museum of Australia states that for Australia, the fall of Singapore was a disaster. More than 15,000 Australian soldiers were taken captive. Of these, more than 7000 would die as prisoners of war. Controversially, the commander of Australian forces on the island, Major General Gordon Bennett, escaped the island with two staff officers on the night of the surrender. (NMA)
One Camden soldier, Private Robert J Auld, served with the 2/20 Australian Infantry Battalion and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. In 1940 Auld enlisted and married Camden girl Phyllis Kerswell. The 2/20th saw action in the Malayan peninsular campaign and withdrew under the Japanese advance in December 1941 and arrived in Singapore at the end of January 1942. Imprisoned in Changi after the surrender, Auld and others were transferred to Sandakan. Auld died in June 1945 aged 30. (Camden Remembers)
The imprisonment of Australian troops created the POW as the dominant stereotype for Australia during the Second World War. Craig Barrett writes in his PhD titled Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese that the POWs have become ‘an integral part of Anzac Day and the Anzac legend’.
Updated 1 February 2021. Originally posted 29 January 2021.
The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.
In a packed auditorium on 20 April 2017 University of Wollongong historian Dr Jen Roberts gave the inaugural public lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni. Robert’s presentation called ‘Men, myth and memory’ explored the meaning of Anzac and how it is part of Australian’s cultural identity. The attentive audience were a mix of ages and interest, including past military personnel.
One old gentleman in the audience stood up in question time announced to the audience that he felt that Dr Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture.
Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of Anzac and that there is far from just one truth. Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.
The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.
There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.
Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.
According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.
On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-round Aussie bloke.
The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.
Gunner Bruce Guppy
In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’.
Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Australian Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the New South Wales Returned and Services League of Australia he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.
Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995 wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:
So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.
For Guppy, Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.
While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.
The site and the myth
Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.
The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.
Pilgrims and memory
Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry.
Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with University of Wollongong students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (retired).
Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.
The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.
Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.
For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.
Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.
Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.
The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.
Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offering contradictions for some and realities for others.
The members of the Australian community are the ones will make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.
Updated on 16 April 2021. Updated on 27 April 2020 and re-posted as ‘Brand Anzac – meaning and myth’. Originally posted on 24 April 2017 as ‘Anzac Contradictions’
Studley Park was located on the Hume Highway at Narellan. During the war period, its role as a as defence facility for the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) School was to conduct infantry training courses. The property was leased in October 1939 by the Department of Defence at £12/12/- per week although it had been first occupied in September.
A report for the defence authorities in 1940 gave a detailed description of the property including a valuation. According to the report the site fronted the Hume Highway, with the rear of the property on Lodges Road. The property consisted of an undulating country that was mostly cleared and grassed and was 193 acres. The soil was clay and land was suitable for grazing, fruit growing, and viticulture. It was felt to be an appropriate site for a country club and golf course or an agricultural school.
The site had been purchased by Archibald Gregory, a company director, in 1933, who had established a golf course. Gregory had converted the house into a high-class residence and the author of the report considered that it was unlikely that the property could be maintained in that state during its occupation by the Army. The report author considered it probable that the entire golf course would have to be reconstructed after occupation.
Land- 198 acres – £4,958; House – £6,592; Theatre – £465; Club House – £1,057; Barn – £370; Swimming Pool – £188; Golf Course – £4,625; Motion Picture Plant, Screen – £750; Rental Value – £25 per week; Improved Value – £20,000.
During the early occupation of the site by the army, Gregory continued to occupy the house, but by May 1940 his patience had worn thin. He complained to the authorities that the army had occupied the site from September 1939 without payment and had caused considerable disorganisation to his business and considerable damage to his property.
Gregory’s solicitors made representations that the government had published a report in the press in April that the army had decided to purchase the property. Since the publication of the report Gregory’s business had virtually stopped and had resulted in considerable losses.
In April 1940 approval was given for the purchase of the entire property at a cash price of £16,000, including all buildings, property, floor coverings and some furniture. 
August 1941 – Major Ironmonger, CO, Captain Peach, Adjutant;
29 November 1943 – 26 February 1944 – Major John Whitmore, Chief Instructor. Lt Max Cadogan, 17th Battalion, Instructor
The Eastern Command Training School conducted courses in tactical instruction on the Vickers machine gun and driving Matilda tanks.
Most of the instruction at the school, including artillery, was conducted by the Australian Instructional Corps. The instructors were warrant officers and the chief instuctor was Captain Peters, a Duntroon graduate. Other instructors included W/O Jim Turpie, W/O Johnston, W/O Chad (WW1 veteran).
Alan Bailey reports that he would occasionally take mail and quartermasters stores from Narellan Military Camp to Studley Park, usually by horse transport.
In their time off some of the troops would `flag down’ Pansy, and it was reported the driver would pick them up anywhere along the line on the way into Camden. The guard and the driver would wait a reasonable time for the return journey in Camden and they would be rewarded with a bottle of wine, `…the only drink available in take-away form at the time…’.
Exercises were carried out on the Nepean River with river crossings, there were day and night exercises around Menangle and Camden Park, bayonet training, anti-gas warfare, range practice with a rifle, Bren Gun, mortars, pistols, sub-machine, carbines, and hand grenades. There were infantry tactics, leadership, supporting arms applicable to the infantry. In 1941 there was also instruction Vickers Machine Gun, Aircraft Identification and protection from air attacks.
All soldiers who attended the courses spoke well of them and Bede Tongs reports that they helped in action as a member of the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion against the Japanese in 1942 New Guinea in the Wewak campaign. The accommodation was two to a tent.
During the war, the School provided married officers and well as single officer’s quarters.
Units Attending School
September 1939 – October 1939 – Sydney University Regiment
Early part of the war – 1 Field Brigade, RAA, and various other units: Artillery, Light Horse, Infantry, Signallers; 130 personnel;
August 1941 – 3rd Infantry Battalion, AMF, Course Series No 1, Infantry Training; 30 participants in each of 3 platoons – total 90 personnel;
The troops at the school had little if any contact with the local community. If they had any time off, such as an hour in the evening, then they tended to walk across the paddock to the Narellan Hotel. It is reported by Sir Roden Cutler, that at such time the Camden Police were understanding enough not to monitor the hotels opening hours too closely.
Cutler stated that Camden was a very quiet pleasant little town and in their off-duty time they frequented the Camden Inn milk bar, where the owner, his wife and their daughters always gave them a warm welcome. Bede Tongs reports that Camden shops and streets were full of friendly people.
After the war, the military use of the site continued and initially the AASC School was used by the Citizen Military Forces. In 1951 the School took the First Recruit Platoon of the newly formed Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. During the Vietnam War, the School was used as intelligence centre where troops were introduced to helicopter tactics. The site has also served as the base for Camden Troop of the 1/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Second Ordinance Platoon and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). 
The farmland surrounding the house was leased in 1945 to A Chapman of Kirkham for grazing his cattle. In 1949 a group of Camden residents approached the Department of the Army to secure all but 18 acres of Studley Park for use as a golf club, and eventually, in 1996 the Camden Golf Club purchased the site.
.Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February 1999, 29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club, 1998);
. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, May 1945, 1955.
.Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February 1999, 29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club, 1998);
Ministering Angels, the Camden District Red Cross, 1914-1945.
Author Ian Willis
Publisher: Camden Historical Society
Ministering Angels ‘is an example of innovative and groundbreaking work in local history, and succeeds in demonstrating a new way of linking detailed local studies to larger themes in Australian history’. Dr Emma Grahame (Editor, Australian Feminism: A Companion, OUP, 1998. Editor, Dictionary of Sydneyhttp://www.dictionaryofsydney.org, 2007-2012)
Ministering Angels is a peer-review publication that tells the story of conservative country women doing their patriotic duty in an outpost of the British Empire. From 1914 Camden district women joined local Red Cross branches and their affiliates in the towns and villages around the colonial estate of the Macarthur family at Camden Park.
They sewed, knitted and cooked for God, King and Country throughout the First and Second World Wars, and during the years in-between. They ran stalls and raffles, and received considerable community support through cash donations from individuals and community organisations for Red Cross activities.
Using the themes of soldier and civilian welfare, patriotism, duty, sacrifice, motherhood, class and religion, the narrative explores how the placed-based nature of the Red Cross branch network provided an opportunity for the organisation to harness parochialism and localism for national patriotic purposes.
The work shows how a local study links the Camden district Red Cross with the broader issues within Australian history and debates involving local history, philanthropy, feminism, conservatism, religion and other areas, while at the same time illustrating the multi-layered nature of the issues that shape global, national and regional history that can impact rural volunteering.
The book delves into the story of how Camden’s Edwardian women, the Macarthur Onslows and others of their ilk, provided leadership at a local, state and national level and created ground-breaking opportunities that empowered women to exercise their agency by undertaking patriotic activities for the first time.
In their wake Camden women created the most important voluntary organisation in district history, a small part of the narrative of the Australian Red Cross, arguably the country’s most important not-for-profit organisation. Their stories were the essence of place, and the success of the district branches meant that over time homefront volunteering became synonymous with the Red Cross.
Ministering Angels is a local Red Cross study of volunteering in war and peace that provides a small window into the national and transnational perspectives of one of the world’s most important humanitarian organisations.
The RANZ conference covered several themes related to national identities ranging across cultural, feminine, environmental, transnational and linguistic perspectives with a particular emphasis on memory, trauma and the image. Many of the papers would not have been out of place at the annual Australian Historical Association Conference.
The ‘Australian western’ and its display in the film was an interesting theme that appeared in several papers. There was a strong interest in Pacific Islander, Maori and Aboriginal literature, art and performance across a range of presentations.
I presented my paper ‘An Australian country girl goes to London’ about the travels of Shirley Dunk in 1954, followed by a lively discussion with some conference delegates. My presentation raised several questions about this type of counter-migration story and what were these young women were seeking in their lives through their journeys. Were they searching for a greater truth about the forces that drove their ancestors to Australia?
Polish migrants came to Australia after the Second World War seeking a utopia in a new land and sometimes it failed to materialise. Their own dark clouds created ghosts that have haunted later generations of their family. One delegate suggested to me that this was also an issue from some families in Poland.
A less than flattering critique of the Australia migration story emerged at the conference in the form of a special issue of Anglica. The journal editor argues that Australia’s image as a successful model of multiculturalism has been destroyed by increasing intolerance and nationalism. A rather ‘disturbing and ugly face’ of Australia has emerged in a ‘semi-mythical multicultural paradise’.
Dark history and the power of the past
Poland’s deep past and dark history manifested itself in unexpected ways during my visit. The overwhelming presence of the Second World War, particularly in Warsaw, was a new experience for me. It brought into sharp focus the contested nature of my subjectivity and the need for objectivity in this personal reflection. It is a conundrum that has exercised my mind here, as it has done for many other historians on other occasions.
The Second World War lays over Poland like a blanket and its presence is everywhere. The city of Warsaw is like a field of monuments and the city’s dark history is ever-present in the view of the visitor. The past haunts the present in ways that are hard to understand without walking the city streets. Yet paradoxically the city’s dark history is invisible in the mind of many tourists as they walk around the reconstructed old city.
The rebuilt city is a metaphor for the resilience of the Polish people and their ability to be able to redefine themselves in the face of adversity. Polish cultural identity that has been shaped by the war is fundamental to the construction of place in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere.
I should note that one conference delegate requested that I ‘be kind to the city’ in my reflections of Warsaw. I would suggest that the city needs to be kinder to itself.
For those in the English-speaking world, there are numerous silences in the stories of wartime Poland and its reconstruction. Some of these silences are the result of the hegemony around the ownership of the wartime narrative. The shape and conduct of 20th century German and Russian colonialism are not widely understood in Australia. There is a similar lack of understanding surrounding the role of European modernism and particularly Russian constructivism in the reconstruction of Polish cities.
The horrors of the past haunt the present
The consequences of 20th-century German colonialism are plain for all to see at Auschwitz and Birkenau with their industrial-scale slaughter. For this Australian, the ghosts of these Polish wartime memorials reminded me of the convict ruins at Norfolk Island and other sites.
Yet paradoxically the sacredness of Auschwitz and Birkenau are smothered by industrial-scale tourism that typifies many European tourist attractions. There is a feel of a theme park with the lengthy queues, crowded displays, and constant shoving. The memorial is loved to death.
Like travellers of old new experiences are one of the benefits of my journey to Poland. There are parallels with the story of young Australian women who travelled to London including new perspectives, new experiences, and new challenges. Like these young Australian women it has hopefully resulted in: greater empathy; greater understanding; and greater ability to cope with life’s challenges.
The squadron moved from Melville Island in January 1944, then moved to Queensland and was equipped with Boomerangs.
The squadron moved to Menangle in August 1944, where it was disbanded on 18 September 1945. (RAAF Museum)
RAAF No 1 Squadron
Alan Hick, former Observer Air Gunner and Wireless/Telegraph Operator, aged 24 years of age recalls that he spent about six weeks at Menangle Airfield around December 1943 as part of No 1 Squadron.
Hick arrived at Menangle from East Sale on 29 December 1943 as part of the air crew. What followed was a training period consisting of anti-submarine patrols off the Australian east coast.
Alan Hick’s Flying Log Book details the type of operations of the squadron while at Menangle RAAF. There was training flights in airmanship, formation training, night flights, high level bombing, low level bombing, formation flying, fighter co-operation, and medium level bombing.
The squadron leader while at Menangle was DW Campbell.
Alan Hick recalls:
This was our war training period, it consisted of anti-submarine patrols which were practice to us but actually was fair dinkum as we used to patrol up and down the coast. High and low level bombing practise, fighter co-operation with a fighter squadron based at Bankstown. Formation flying, day and night, strip landings for possible emergencies, then as a ‘finale’ we did a squadron formation trip to Mildura. I remember 4 flights of 3 aircraft in each flight. Next day on the way back each aircraft of each flight had to take their turn in leading the flight. It was during a changeover that two planes touched and ended with both planes crashing and burning. Killing all air crew members plus our squadron photographer. This is something I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen a squadron break up so quickly as this one did. We were ordered home to Menangle as soon as possible before two more ended up the same way. As far as we (the crew) were concerned the remainder of our training was trouble free.
Hick states that the squadron number around 150 personnel. He recalls:
The advance part of 10 left 3 weeks before we get the camp ready and each plane took 10 people including a crew of 4 which would make approximately 150 at Menangle. We were equipped with the later mode Beauforts designed for local level flying ideal for out job of sea reconnaissance and convoy work.
According to Alan Hick the airfield had a number of issues for aircraft. He recalls:
The land strips was not very long so whenever possible we always took off in a southerly direction particularly if it was a hot day. To the north was a hill which was hard to clear when the air was hot and thin. If this happened we often had to turn slightly to the right to avoid hitting the hill. North or south take-offs depended on the wind and weather.
The layout and operation of the airfield used the existing facilities of the trotting club. He stated:
The grandstand for used for ‘bludging’ when didn’t have anything to do. The lower portion was used for offices and storage space for anything else that needed protection from the weather.
Meals were prepared in the quarters in Station Street in Menangle village. Alan recalls:
Our lunch was brought down to us from the living quarters where the cookhouse was situated in one of the six houses built for the purpose. These houses had to be dismantled at the end of the war as they were only temporary buildings with no lining on walls or ceilings. They had the appearance of a small country village from the air. The general store received quite a bit of patronage from the ‘boys’. We were transported by truck between the village and the airfield.
Alan Hick recalls that he met his wife while he was on training at Maryborough in Queensland in December 1941. While the squadron was at Menangle his wife lived at Buxton with their one year old son and Alan was at home most nights.
The squadron moved on from Menangle RAAF to Charleville in Queensland on 20 February 1944.
While the No 15 Squadron was stationed at Menangle there was an air accident and the air crew of Beaufort A9-550 were killed. The accident occurred on the Mount Gilead property on the Appin Road. The report stated that the plane crashed
‘9 miles SE [of the] Menangle Strip at 0410 hours’ after take-off due to a port engine failure.
The members of the air crew who were killed were pilot F/Sgt HD Johnson, and the members of the crew who were F/O RW Durant, F/O HD Wheller, F/Sgt BA Herscher, and AC1 WH Bray. (RAAF Historical: Preliminary Accident Report 1 April 1944)
RAAF No 24 Squadron
Former Flight Sergeant Allan Hope recalls the six weeks he spent at Menangle in September 1944 as part of No 24 Squadron which was equipped with Vultee Vengeance Dive Bombers.
The squadron had moved from Bankstown Airfield to Menangle.
The unit was put up in barracks in Station Street Menangle.
Allan Hope states:
The barracks were build as houses and merged with the existing residences as a form of camouflage. Once inside the resemblance ended. There were no ceilings or wall linings and any framing inside was just a load bearer for the roof.
The squadron took over the runway that had been built across the trotting track in the mid-war years. The runway was parallel to the railway line.
The [trotting] club premises at Menangle Park houses the orderly room, store room and signals office.
The unit had 150 personnel and the main purpose of locating at Menangle was ‘as a staging camp for the squadron’.
The unit did not see active service at Menangle Park as Allan Hope does ‘not recall any Vultee landing there as they were diverted to New Guinea’.
While at Menangle things were fairly quiet and leave was granted to most men. He recalls:
Most men had friends or relatives in Sydney suburbs. They took every opportunity to visit them on weekends and during the week. They arrived back at camp at night about 4.00am. Once a week we could pile into a truck and go to the pictures in Campbelltown’
Allan Hope states that there was little interaction with the ‘locals’, although ‘the general story on the corner would have been sorry to see us go’.
Hope left for New Guinea in September 1944 with a ‘small advance party taking off from the racecourse in a American DC3’.
RAAF No 15 Squadron
No 15 Squadron was equipped with Beauforts and formed at Camden on 27 January 1944 and was located at Camden Airfield until March 1945.
The unit operated in the anti-submarine and convoy escort role off the Australian East Coast.
Former wireless operator and gunner David Symons recalls the squadron was at Camden from February 1944, then at Menangle in March 1944, Camden again in April 1944 to March 1945.
The squadron eventually moved to Kingaroy where it was disbanded on 23 March 1946. (RAAF Museum)
Information drawn from correspondence with former RAAF personnel by author.
The Camden community was galvanised by the emergency created by the entry of Japan into the Pacific War on 7 December 1941 and the US declaration of war on 8 December.
Wardens and Air Raid Precautions
Stan Kelloway, Camden’s chief warden and mayor, called a public meeting which was held on Tuesday night at the town hall, 18 December 1941. He made an urgent appeal for wardens and volunteers for air raid precaution work in the town area.
Camden women held a joint emergency meeting on the same night at the Camden CWA Rooms in Murray Street. The meeting was chaired by Rita Tucker, with Grace Moore, the secretary of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) acting as the meeting’s secretary.
The Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary was represented by its president, Emma Furner, and the CWA Younger Set by Mary Sparkes and Anita Rapley. Apologies were received from Zoe Crookston, Mary Davies, Albine Terry and Hilda Moore. Mary Davies was the treasurer of the Camden Red Cross and the vice-president of the Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Albine Terry, Camden WVS treasurer and Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary vice-president, and Hilda Moore, the secretary of the Camden Red Cross.
There was much discussion at the meeting and a decision was taken to concentrate on making camouflage nets. The CWA and Women’s Voluntary Service, which were conducting separate camouflage netting meetings, decided to combine their separate netting efforts. The combined effort would be located at the CWA rooms on Monday and Tuesday nights, and Friday afternoons.
These arrangements were organised so that they did not conflict with existing service commitments, particularly the WVS and Red Cross sewing circles at the town hall. Camden volunteers were requested to bring ‘a hank of string for practice’. The Camden press maintained in December 1941 that ‘anyone who possibl[y] can is urged to take this opportunity of rendering national service in a time of crisis’. The meeting also asked volunteers to fill out forms for the Women’s Voluntary National Register and to cooperate with local wardens of the National Emergency Services.
National Emergency Services
The Camden press maintained in December that the ‘National Emergency Services can provide a job for practically every woman’, and forms for the Women’s Voluntary National Register were obtainable from Nancy Freestone, the assistant secretary of the WVS, at the town hall library.
The Women’s Voluntary National Register was established in New South Wales in early 1939. It was part of a federal government scheme to determine how many women would be able to provide ‘manpower’ and national service, if required, when the nation went to war.
The most efficient means of doing this was to tap into the pre-existing network of women’s clubs and organizations, and call upon their membership to provide the information. Clubs that affiliated with the register would collect the details of (eligible) volunteers from within their membership base and forward that information to the central register. Women would then be classified according to the type of work available, and the type of work they were suited to do.
Women, according to the Australian Women’s Register, who weren’t members of an organization could still volunteer through the state council headquarters, but clearly, ‘outsourcing’ much of the work to the organizations was a cost and time efficient method of operation.
An affair at the CWA
From December 1941 the manufacture of netting in Camden turned into a CWA affair. Reports on netting production from the Camden centre were sent to the state CWA Handicrafts Committee in Sydney, which co-ordinated the state netting effort for the CWA and received all the completed nets from the Camden centre.
The central CWA netting centre co-ordinated all organisational details, issued instructions to branches on the packing, despatched nets to Sydney and acted as a clearinghouse for the Army, which supplied all the twine and collected all the finished nets.
The New South Wales CWA journal The Countrywoman in New South Wales reported that by January 1942 the handicraft committee was supplying 230 country branches and over 100 suburban circles with twine for making nets.
When compared to netting efforts in some other country towns Camden’s output was relatively small. Between February 1941 and February 1944 the Camden netting centre made 578 nets. Una Swan acted as netting secretary and roped all nets, while Mary Poole acted as demonstrator.
At Nowra netting centre, which was a joint effort between Nowra CWA and Red Cross, and made 1,320 nets in the 2½ years that their centre was operational from mid-1941 to December 1943. Camden netting centre was never able to sustain the same effort as Nowra.
To the end of 1942 the Nowra centre had made 875 nets, while Camden’s centre had manufactured 489 nets. While at the Quirindi CWA local women made 14 camouflage nets in one week in March 1942 and by the end of the war had sent away 565 nets. Most country towns had similar voluntary patriotic projects.
The Camden centre was kept abreast of statewide netting activity by the Countrywoman, which issued monthly tallies of nets supplied to the Sydney CWA depot by netting centres, as well as reporting other related, netting information.
Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research
By 1918 the war had been dragging on into its fourth year. Soldier casualties were large and still growing. Patriotic fundraising was a major focus for those at home and the Australia Day fundraisers had been important since their establishment in 1915.
The first Australia Day was held in 1915 on the 30 July as a fundraising for the Gallipoli casualties as they returned to Australia. January 26 was known as ‘Anniversary Day’, ‘Foundation Day’ and ‘Regatta Day’. Australia Day was not fixed on January 26 until 1935 when there was agreement of all states and territories and the imminent approach of the 1938 Sesquicentennial celebrations.
Australia Day in 1918 in Camden
In early 1918 Camden Red Cross workers supported the national Australia Day appeal, which aimed ‘to relieve the sufferings of Australia’s men who are suffering that Australia shall be free’. (Camden News 18 April 1918) Camden mayor George Furner called a public meeting on 23 March at a not so well attended meeting of the Camden Red Cross sewing circle. An organising committee was formed of the Camden Red Cross and council officers. The fundraising activities were to include the sale of badges and buttons, a Red Cross drive, a public subscription, a prayer service, a lecture and a door-knock of the town area.
The Australian Day activities started with the united prayer service (2 April) held at the Forester’s Hall in Camden run by the Protestant clergy. It started at 11.30am with Rev. Canon Allnutt from St Paul’s church at Cobbitty, Rev CJ King from St John’s church in Camden and Rev GC Percival from the Camden Methodist Church. All businesses in Camden were shut for the duration of the service and there was ‘an attentive and earnest gathering both town and country’. (Camden News, 4 April 1918)
A public lecture was presented by Senior Chaplain Colonel James Green (8 April) held at the Foresters’ Hall on his experiences on the Somme battlefield in France. The Red Cross ‘drive’ started the same week (9 April) and resulted in the sale of Red Cross badges to the value of £54 with only 200 left to be sold before the market day (23 April).
A Red Cross market day was held on 30 April and the Camden press maintained that ‘with so many gallant sons in the battlefields; her women folk have since the very outbreak of war have nobly done their part of war work’. Flags and bunting were draped around the bank corner and were supplemented with Allies’ flags and lines of Union Jacks in the ‘finest’ local display and music was provided by the Camden District Band. The displays were opened by Enid Macarthur Onslow and in her words touched a ‘solemn’ note when she spoke of the ‘sacrifices mothers and women’ towards the war effort and the responsibilities of those who stayed at home. The whole event was a huge success and raised £225, which made a cumulative total of £643 in the appeal to that point.
The Camden Red Cross branch then conducted a raffle, with first prize being an Australian Flag autographed by Earl Kitchener. The Camden press maintained
that if you haven’t got a ticket in the Kitchener Flag yet you will have one by the end of May unless you hide from the Red Cross ladies in town. They want to sell a lot and they are not going to let you go until they have extracted a two shilling piece from you. (Camden News, 9 May 1918)
And the reporter was not exaggerating. The total effort of the Camden Red Cross for the Australia Day appeal came to £748, which also included donations from Sibella Macarthur Onslow of £100, Mrs WH Faithfull Anderson of £25 and £100 from the Camden Red Cross. (Camden News, April and May 1918) [In todays worth that is about $100,000 from a population of around 1700]
Australia Day at Menangle and Narellan
The Menangle Red Cross decided that ‘a big effort’ was needed and a garden fete (18 May) was organised by Helen Macarthur Onslow, Enid’s daughter, at her home Gilbulla. The fete was opened in front of a large crowd by the wife of the New South Wales Governor, Lady Margaret Davidson. The New South Wales governor, Sir Walter Davidson, presented two engraved watches to two local returned soldiers. The fete raised a total of £85 and the total Menangle Red Cross collections were well over £100.
The Narellan Red Cross put on a concert at the Narellan Parish Hall (27 April) and tickets were 2/- and 1/- and raised £51. Together the sale of Red Cross Drive Badges and donations the branch raised £80. Out at the Douglas Park Red Cross the branch ran a social and raised £22. (Camden News, April and May 1918)
Learn more about local Red Cross activities during the First World War.
A Camden netting volunteer, Elaine, remembered volunteering for duty at the Camden netting centre when she was 15 years old. She recalled that the netting effort was organised and supervised by Rita Tucker. She stated that she had left school and attended the centre on a weekly basis with a group of friends.
Elaine maintained that Camden men ‘were away and we were doing our bit’ for the war effort. She stated that Camden women ‘all had to do something to help our boys’ and they took up netting as part of their civic and patriotic duty. Elaine reported that, for her, netting was not hard work and she enjoyed going with her friends. She maintained that they worked ‘long hours’ and ‘didn’t really worry about it’.
Another net making volunteer, Ida, recalls that netting was ‘hard work’, but ‘she went with her friends, and it was her bit for the war effort’. She helped at a netting circle located above a shop in Campsie, attending on a Wednesday nights after work, but could not recall who organised it.
Ida maintains that at around eighteen years of age, ‘there was not much else to do’ and all the boys ‘were either too old or too young’. Another netter, Kerry worked during the day as a clerk and attended the Nowra netting centre after work at the age of eighteen. The Nowra centre was located above a shop in the main street and she considered that netting was her ‘patriotic duty’.
Another Nowra netter, Grace, lived at home on a dairy farm. In 1942, when she was seventeen years old, she went with a friend to the Nowra netting centre for ‘a couple of hours’ a week on a Tuesday afternoon. She would catch the train from Berry to Nowra, attend classes at Nowra Technical College, then attend netting where there would be between ’10-15 other women’.
Grace recalls that as the netters had ‘to be careful making [the] knots’, she found them ‘hard and difficult to make… as they had to be stable and couldn’t move’. In hindsight, she ‘didn’t think [that she] ever got very proficient at it’, but she still went along ‘to help the war effort, for company and a chat’. Rita, a volunteer at the Armidale Teacher’s College netting centre in 1941, maintained that ‘we were expected to do our bit for the war effort – it all helped’.
Netting Centres at Campbelltown and Narellan
The Camden CWA camouflage netting centre was assisted by sub-branches at Campbelltown and Narellan, which were established after the joint CWA-WVS meeting in December 1941. These sub-branches provided a small but steady stream of nets to add to the Camden effort. By February 1942 the Campbelltown News reported that the ‘sub-centres’ were providing ’24 nets a month’ to the ‘urgent’ appeals from the military authorities for nets.
In June 1942 Mrs Una Swan reported that thirty-four nets had been sent from Campbelltown, and Narellan was working well. By late 1942 ‘Campbelltown was [still] keeping our end up’ according to Mrs Swan, and in March 1943 supplied sixteen nets. The Narellan netting effort was under the leadership of Eliza Byrne, who was the wife of the local publican at Narellan, and president of the Narellan Red Cross.
Camden was the largest netting centre in the area, and the only CWA branch, and following directives from the CWA Handicrafts Committee, distributed netting twine to the smaller netting centres at Campbelltown, Narellan and Buxton.
Net making finishes
The enthusiasm in Camden for netting waned and in 1943 the output was ‘negligible’ according to Tucker, but Swan made ‘herself responsible to complete all unfinished nets by the end of the year’. The winding down of netting activity started in September 1943 and Dorothy Inglis of the State Handicrafts Committee advised branches ‘to complete all on hand as quickly as possible’.
Mrs Swan reported at the October CWA meeting that ‘no official word had been received to cease making nets’. In October, Francis Forde, the Minister for the Army announced the end of net making, which sent ‘shock waves’ throughout the CWA. The Camden netting centre eventually closed in February 1944, after operating for over two and half years, with Una Swan finishing the last of the nets.
With the cessation of netting the New South Wales CWA Handicrafts Committee looked for alternative ways to hold the netting groups together. The Army requested that the New South Wales CWA branches assist in the re-conditioning of Army clothing. In November 1943 the Camden CWA received a request from the Army at Liverpool and the women considered the request at their December meeting.
By the end of 1943 no arrangements for sewing had been made with the Liverpool Army Camp authorities, although the women expected to make a start early in 1944. Camden CWA president Rita Tucker felt that the ‘matter… must be discussed thoroughly at a branch meeting, when it will be seen if it is possible to rise to the occasion’.
In the end the Camden CWA did not proceed with the project. According to the New South Wales Women’s Voluntary Services reconditioning military clothing ‘did not attract the same enthusiasm’ as making camouflage nets.
By 1944 women who undertook wartime volunteering started looking ahead to the time after the war when their communities would need their time and effort.
CWA and other women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research