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Local girls goes to London

Local women travel the world

In the mid-20th century it was not unusual for local Camden women to travel overseas by ship. They were part of an exodus seeking adventure and new horizons. They wanted to see the world and they did.

The story of two of these young women, Shirley Dunk and her best friend Beth Jackman, has been told in a recently published article in Anglica by the University of Warsaw.

Clintons Motors Showroom with sales assistants Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman in 1953. The business sold electrical goods as well as motor cars, accessories and tyres. (S Rorke)

The article is titled: “My box of memories”: An Australian Country Girl Goes to London’.

The article abstract is:

In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, ex- ercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of her fore- fathers 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 19th-century rural gentry. This research project will use a qualitative approach in an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complemented with supplementary interviews and stories of other travellers. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and travelled through the United Kingdom and Europe. The article will address questions posed by the journey for Shirley and her travelling companion, Beth, and how they dealt with these forces as tourists and travellers. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and 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 other women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were often limited to domesticity.

Letters from home were always in demand by anyone who travelled overseas. They would bring news of home and what the latest gossip from the family. These letters were sent by Shirley Dunk to her family in Camden when she went to London in 1954. (I Willis)

To read the article about Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman click here

The article was originally presented at a conference at the University of Warsaw in 2019. To read about the conference click here.

The full citation of the article is:

Ian Willis 2021, “My box of memories”: An Australian Country Girl Goes to London. Anglica,  2021; 30 (1): 53-66. DOI: 10.7311/0860-5734.30.1.04 GICID: 01.3001.0015.3447 Online @ https://anglica-journal.com/resources/html/article/details?id=222778

Shirley Dunk and Beth Jackman travelled to London in 1954 on the RMS Orcades. The ship passage was a time to make new friends and make useful contacts for their time in England. It was a time to relax and have a good time and see the sights of Aden, Colombo, Naples and other exotic spots. (S Dunk)
1920s · Advertising · Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Belonging · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dress history · Fashion · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Interwar · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Modernism · Movies · Myths · Place making · Sense of place · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Women's history

The Camden News affronted by Sydney ‘flappers’ and the appearance of the modern girl.

Effrontery and the ‘flapper’

Flappers of the 1920s were young women known for their energetic freedom, embracing a lifestyle viewed by many at the time as outrageous, immoral or downright dangerous’, says the History.com website.

If you read the pages of the Camden News you might have agreed.

In 1920 the Camden News reported ‘flappers’ were ‘running wild’ on the streets of Sydney, or so it seemed to the casual reader.  The press report stated:

A straggling procession of boisterous, well dressed young fellows, with pipe or cigarette in hand, and headed by a number of bold looking females of the ‘flapper’ type, paraded George and Pitt streets on Thursday (last week). (Camden News, 25 November 1920)

The same event was reported in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and other Sydney newspapers with less colourful language. Apparently there had been a lunchtime march of office workers along George Street numbering around 3000, with ‘200 ladies’, supporting the basic wage case in Melbourne.

The news story that appeared in the Camden News had originally been run in the Crookwell Gazette.  (Crookwell Gazette, 17 November 1920) and then re-published by the News the following week. The News and the Gazette were the only New South Wales newspapers that that ran this particular account of the Sydney march, where female office workers were called ‘flappers’.

The modern family of Dr Francis West following the christening of Lydia West’s daughter in 1915. This photograph was taken in the backyard of Macaria where Dr West had his surgery and where the West family called home. (Camden Images Past and Present)

The correspondent for the Gazette and News was offended by the effrontery young female office workers being part of an industrial campaign march. In the years before 1920 there had been a number of controversial industrial campaigns taken across New South Wales taken by workers. The Camden News had opposed these actions.

The editorial position of the Camden News was that these young women should fit the conservative stereotype of women represented by the Mothers’ Union. Here women were socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, and the ideology of motherhood where mothering was seen as a national imperative. (Willis, Ministering Angels:20-21)

The modern girl

The Sydney ‘flappers’ were modern girls who participated in paid-work, dressed in the latest fashions, cut their hair short, watched the latest movies, bought the latest magazines and used the latest cosmetics.

Just like modern girls in Camden.

Country women wanted to be modern in the 1920s

 As early as 1907 in Australia the term ‘flapper’ was applied to a young fashionable 20 year-old women ‘in short skirts’ written about the Bulletin magazine.

Australian women were considered modern because they had the vote and they were represented in literature as a young and athletic stereotype  as opposed the colourless and uninspiring English girl.  

The flapper

The ‘flapper’ is one representation of young women from the 1920s that appeared all over the world, and Camden was not remote from these international forces.

American author F. Scott Fitzgerald is acknowledged as the creator of the flapper and published his Flappers and Philosophers in 1920. (History.comOther female equivalents were Japan’s  moga, Germany’s neue Frauen, France’s garçonnes, or China’s modeng xiaojie (摩登⼩姐).

The term flapper linked Camden to international trends concerned with fashion, consumerism, cosmetics, cinema – primarily visual media. 

The modern girl in Camden

The ‘modern girl’ in Camden appeared in the early 1920s and was shaped by fashion, movies, cosmetics and magazines.

These two photographs illustrate that young women in Camden were modern.

Young Camden women in Macarthur Park in 1919 in a ‘Welcome Home’ party for returning servicemen (Camden Images)

The young women in this 1919 pic have short hair sitting next local returned men from the war.

Another group of the young modern women appeared in Camden in 1920s. Trainee teachers shown in the photograph taken by local Camden photographer Roy Dowle. The group of 49 young single women from Sydney stayed at the Camden showground hall in 1921 along with 15 men. In following years hundreds of young female teachers stayed at the Camden showground and did their practical training at local schools.

The group photograph of the trainee teachers from Sydney Teachers College at Onslow Park adjacent to the Show Hall in 1924. These modern young women and men from Sydney started coming to Camden in 1921. (Camden Images Past and Present) This image was originally photographed by Roy Dowle of Camden on a glass plate negative. The Dowle collection of glass plate negatives is held by The Oaks Historical Society (Roy Dowle Collection, TOHS)

The flapper at the movies

The most common place to the find the ‘flapper’ in Camden was at the movies – the weekly picture show at the Forrester’s Hall in Camden main street. The world on the big screen. 

The movies were a visual medium, just like fashion, cosmetics, advertising, and magazines, that allowed Camden women to embrace the commodity culture on the Interwar period.

The Camden News used the language of latest fashions and styles when it reported these events or ran advertisements for the local picture show. 

One example was the advertisement for the ‘Selznick Masterpiece’ the ‘One Week of Love’ in 1923. The was first time that the term ‘flapper’ appeared in a Camden movie promotion and it was  announced it to the world this way:

‘Every man, woman, flapper, bride-to-be and eligible youth in Australia is crazy-to-see its stupendous wreck scene, thrilling aeroplane crash, strong dramatic appeal, lifting humour, intoxicating love scenes, bewildering beauty, lavishness, gripping suspense, heart-toughing pathos, which all combing to make it the biggest picture of the year’. (Camden News, 9 August 1923)

According to country press reports the movie was the ‘passion play of 1923’ and showed at PJ Fox’s Star Pictures located in the Foresters’ Hall, which had opened in 1914. Starring silent film beauty Elaine Hammerstein and female heart-throb Conway Tearle the movie had enjoyed ‘a sensational long-run season’ at Sydney’s Piccadilly Theatre. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 7 March 1923)

Foreign movies blew all sorts of ideas, trends and fashions into the Camden district including notions about flappers.

Young Camden women were influenced by images and trends generated by modernism at the pictures, in magazines, in advertising, in cosmetics, and in fashion.

While Camden could be a small closed community it was not isolated from the rest of the world.