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Menangle Milking Marvel

The Rotolactor

One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known as the Rotolactor.

Truly a scientific wonder the Rotolactor captured the imagination of people at a time when scientific marvels instilled excitement in the general public.

In these days of post-modernism and fake news this excitement seems hard to understand.

Menangle Rotolactor Post Card 1950s
Menangle Rotolactor in the 1950s Postcard (Camden Images)

What was the Rotolactor?

The Rotolactor was an automated circular milking machine with a rotating platform introduced into the Camden Park operation in 1952 by Edward Macarthur Onslow from the USA.

Part of the process of agricultural modernism the Rotolactor was installed by the Macarthur family on their colonial property of Camden Park Estate to improve their dairying operations in the mid-20th century.

The idea of a rotating milking platform was American and first introduced in New Jersey in the mid-1920s.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model2 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolactor Model 2 model in 2018 (I Willis)

The 1940s manager of Camden Park Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Macarthur Onslow inspected an American Rotolactor while overseas on a business trip and returned to Australia full of enthusiasm to build one at Camden Park.

The Menangle Rotolactor was the first in Australia and only the third of its kind in the world.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model3 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolactor Model 3 display in 2018 (I Willis)

The rotating dairy had a capacity to milk of 1,000 cows twice a day. It held 50 cows a time and were fed at as they were milked. The platform rotated about every  12 minutes.

The Rotolactor was a huge tourist attraction for the Menangle village and provided a large number of local jobs.

In 1953 it was attracting 600 visitors on a weekend in with up to 2000 visitors a week at its peak. (The Land, 27 March 1953)

Town planning disruption

In 1968 town planning disrupted things. The Askin state government released the  Sydney Regional Outline Plan, followed by the 1973 the New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin Structure Plan, which later became the Macarthur Growth Centre in 1975.

The structure plan did recognise the importance of the Rotolactor and the cultural heritage of the Menangle village. (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales, 1973, p. 84)

These events combined with declining farming profits encouraged the Macarthur family to sell out of  Camden Park  including the Rotolactor and the private village of Menangle.

The Rotolactor continued operations until 1977 and then remained unused for several years. It was then purchased by Halfpenny dairy interests from Menangle who operated the facility until it finally closed in 1983. (Walsh 2016, pp.91-94)

Community festival celebrates the Rotolactor

In 2017 the Menangle Community Association organised a festival to celebrate the history of the Rotolactor. It was called the Menangle Milk-Shake Up and  was a huge success.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)

The Festival exceeded all their expectations of the organisers from the Menangle Community Association when it attracted over 5000  of people to the village from all over Australia. (Wollondilly Advertiser, 18 September 2017)

The Menangle Community Association Facebook page described it this way:

A true country event like in the old days. So many visitors came dressed up in their original 50s clothes, and all those wonderful well selected stall holders. It was pure joy.

Despite these sentiments the event just covered costs (Wollondilly Advertiser, 5 April 2018)

The festival’s success was a double-edged sword for the organisers from the Menangle Community Association.

Urban development

The festival’s success demonstrated to local development interests that Rotolactor nostalgia could be marketized and had considerable commercial potential.

The Menangle Community Association attempted to lift the memory of the Rotolator and use it as a weapon to protect the village from the forces of urban development  and neo-liberalism

The success of the festival was also used by Menangle land developers to further their interests.

Developer Halfpenny made numerous public statements supporting the restoration of the Rotolactor as a function centre and celebrating its past. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2017).

Menangle Rotolactor Paddock 2016 Karen
Menangle Rotolactor in a derelict condition in 2016 (Image by Karen)

The newspaper article announced that the owner of the site, local developer Ernest Dupre of Souwest Developments, has pledged to build a micro brewery, distillery, two restaurants, a farmers market, children’s farm, vegetable garden, and a hotel with 30 rooms.

In 2017  the state government planning panel approved the re-zoning of the site for 350 houses and a tourist precinct. Housing construction will be completed by Mirvac.

Mr Dupre stated that he wanted to turned the derelict Rotolactor into a function with the adjoining Creamery building as a brewery, which is next to the Menangle Railway Station.

He expected the development to cost $15 million and take two years. The plan also includes an outdoor concert theatre for 8000 people and a lemon grove.

Originally posted 19 July 2019. Updated 6 April 2021.

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A little bit of England celebrates 190 years at Cobbitty

The Anglican Church at Cobbitty recently held an open day for the community to  celebrate 190 years of the Anglican community in the village.  Those who attended could listen to local experts give talks on the history of the Anglican church in Cobbitty, the stain glass windows in St Pauls, and its fixtures, furnishings and artefacts.

Cobbitty Ch 190 Anniv 2017

 

The Anglican Church has been the heart and soul of the village since the Hassall’s established themselves in the Cowpastures district in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The church has taken a central part in place making and the development of community identity in the village.

Cobbitty Ch 190 Anniv Activites 2017

 

The presence of the church is the reason the village exists and is closely reminiscent of a pre-industrial English style rural village. The village even had its own blacksmith, who was an essential traditional trade in all rural villages. Working over their hearth with hammer and anvil making and crafting the tools of the farmers to making decorative work for the church graveyard.

The Hassall’s were the de-facto lords of the manor. The development of the village was their fiefdom. Long term local identity and font of knowledge of all things Cobbitty John Burge recalled in his talk on the ‘History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ that the Hassall family owned pretty much all of the farms up and down the Nepean River in the vicinity of Cobbitty.

The Reverend Thomas Hassall, the son of missionaries Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall who arrived in New South Wales in 1798, was appointed the minister of the Cowpastures district in 1827.

The Heber Chapel

The first chapel was built in the area by Thomas Hassall, called Heber Chapel and opened in 1827, with Thomas as rector. It was named after the Bishop Heber of the Calcutta Diocese, in which Cobbitty was located at the time.

Cobbitty Heber Chapel J Kooyman 1997 CIPP
This image is of Thomas Hassall’s 1827 Heber Chapel Cobbitty taken by John Kooyman in 1997 who was commissioned by Camden Library to document important heritage sites across the Camden District (CIPP)

 

Heber Chapel became the centre of  village life as its first school and church. The chapel was used as a school building during the week and religious purposes on the weekend. Schooling at the chapel continued until 1920.

The Heber Chapel was constructed of hand-made bricks with a shingle roof. It is a simple design perhaps reflected the rustic frontier nature of Cobbitty of the 1820s when Pomari Grove, the site of the church and chapel, was owned by Thomas Hassall.

Recent renovations and restoration was carried out in 1993.

St Paul’s Anglican Church

There was the  opening of St Paul’s Church in 1840, with consecration by Bishop William Broughton. The community supported the construction of a Rectory in 1870 and a church hall in 1886.

Cobbitty St Pauls 1890s CKerry 'EnglishChurch' PHM
This Charles Kerry image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbitty as an English-style pre-industriral village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

 

St Paul’s Anglican Church was consecrated in 1842, designed by Sydney architect John Bibb in a neo-Gothic style with simple lancet shaped windows, typical of the design. These windows originally had plain glass and over the decades were changed for stained-glass

The church was built with plain glass windows. Stained glass became popular again in the mid-19th century as part of the Gothic-revival movement in England and New South Wales. Stained glass was originally installed in medieval churches and cathedrals, and then fell out of popularity. (Dictionary of Sydney)

There are 10 memorial windows in St Pauls with the oldest dated to 1857 and made by English glass artist William Warrington. It was donated by the Perry family in memory of their daughter Carolyn.  There is one original window dating from 1842 with small panes of glass, in the style of the period.

Well-to-do members of the church community preferred to donate a window as a memorial rather than a wall plaque or other church object to commemorate their loved ones.

Cobbitty St Pauls Window 2011 JLumas
This image of one of the memorial stained glass windows in St Paul’s Anglican Church Cobbitty taken by J Lummis of Cobbitty and donated to the Dictionary of Sydney in 2011 (DoS)

 

The current presentation of the church is different from the 1840 St Pauls. Today’s church represents the many changes that have occurred over the years.  The changes in the building reflect changes in style, technology, tastes and support  as well as periods of neglect.

A presentation by John Burge on ‘The History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ illustrated the many lives of the church from periods of strong support by the local community to relative neglect. During the 1980s the graveyard became overgrown and graves hidden under bushes.  John’s images showed numbers of past symbolic trees, mainly cypress, that were planted grew into large trees. Sometimes these were planted  too close to the church building  endangered its safety and stability.  They were removed.

When you look at the church you see a slate roof and automatically assume that this was original. It  is not. The slate roof is a recent addition in 2014 and installed as part of the church restoration when work was done to roof trusses, barge boards, and guttering. The church originally had a shingle roof with a plastered interior vaulted ceiling. Now it has a slate roof with a maple timber lined interior ceiling. The walls are quarried sandstone from Denbigh.

Electricity was installed in 1938, after originally being lit by candles then kerosene lamps.

The pews and pulpit are unchanged and are Australian red cedar timber work.

Music is provided by an 1876 Davidson organ from Sydney, after music was originally provided by  violin then harmonium.

The Anglican story of Cobbitty continues to evolve around the Heber Chapel, St Pauls, the Rectory and church hall. The village continues to grow as does the life of the church community with a host of activities under the current church leadership.