Attachment to place · Australia · Camden · Camden Airfield · England · Entertainment · Fashion · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Landscape aesthetics · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Modernism · Movies · myths · Theatre

Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

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. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables.  This did not go un-noticed in the film industry.

Camden Park Publicity

One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and race horse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an airplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.

Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was release in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based of Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directored by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which were painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.

The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulge the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.

Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson.  Many old time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and United States.

In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary  The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.

In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine were filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.

In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced a number of short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.

In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved  horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.

Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst  as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has a number of powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates.  The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.

The 55-room fairytale like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on air. In the end Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.

Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010.  Part of the show are power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.

Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park was used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.

Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for a number of movies, advertisements and fashion shoots  since the 1950s.   They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film written and directed by Liz Hughes which used  lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.

In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”.  In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce  a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to  the Macarthur and Sydney markets.

In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlook the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cup cakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room siting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.


In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman the reason the Camden area was used was because it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.


Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · British colonialism · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · England · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Melbourne · Monuments · myths · Place making · sense of place · Urban growth · Victorian

‘Remaking Cities’, a conference with a heady mix of urban delights

Melbourne’s RMIT University Centre for Urban Research and its bluestone campus proved a thought provoking site when it hosted the 14th Urban History Planning History Biennial Conference ‘Remaking Cities’ in 2018.


UHPH Conf 2018 Magistrates Court RMIT
A view of the Magistrate Court building at the UHPH Conference 2018 RMIT University at the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets Melbourne. The city watch-house, used for holding alleged offenders until they were officially remanded or released on bail, operated on the site next to the Magistrates’ Court from 1892.  (I Willis, 2018)


The eclectic mix of architecture at the RMIT La Trobe Street Campus ranged from venues that were located in magnificent Victorian colonial building used for the administration of justice to those that were examples of ultra-modern late 20th century style of architecture.

The venues were an inspiring setting for the discussion of the lofty ideas surrounding an array of urban issues. From the former Melbourne Magistrates’ Court (1842) and City Watch-house Russell Street (1892), Melbourne,  and the Francis Ormond Building which was formerly the Working Men’s College (1886) and the adjoining Supreme Court building (1890).


UHPH Conf 2018 Magistrates Court Room RMIT
A view of one of the court rooms at the Magistrates Court Building RMIT University where some of the conference sessions were held during the conference. These court rooms provided a dramatic backdrop to the host of papers presented by conference delegates across the three day conference. (I Willis, 2018)


The Storey Meeting Hall of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (1887) has been remade in modern form reliving its iconography as an important symbol of Melbourne’s social and political protest movement.

Morning and afternoon teas were taken in the alumni courtyard, which was previously the car park of the Russell Street Police Headquarters. The venue provided food for thought located next door to the Old Melbourne Gaol (1842).  If these bluestone walls could speak they would tell harrowing tales from the the colourful past of the site.


UHPH Conf 2018 Alumni Courtyard RMIT
A view of the Alumni Courtyard at RMIT University where the conference catering for morning and afternoon tea were held. The view of Melbourne city in the distance provides a contrast of urban development and growth for delegates. (I Willis, 2018)


The conference theme of ‘Remaking Cities’ was inspired by Melbourne as an exemplar of cities that are continually remade. Melbourne was a manufacturing centre, a site of land speculation and a place re-made on the land management practices of the Kulin nation.

The process of re-making Melbourne is underpinned by the processes of settler colonialism, speculation and taking of territory. These factors cast a long shadow of how a shared future might be achieved and the role of the planning processes within these processes.

Industrial growth and development are themes that have been central to the Australia’s nineteenth-century cities, including Melbourne, and their subsequent decline by the late 20th century. The post-manufacturing period provides a whole new set of challenges for cities like Melbourne as the financial, service and cultural sectors drive urban growth.


UHPH Conf 2018 Courtyard Francis Ormond Bldy RMIT
A view of the courtyard in the Francis Ormond Building at the RMIT University. The Francis Ormond Building is on the Register of the National Estate, classified by the National Trust, and designated a ‘notable building’ in the Melbourne City Council planning scheme.  (I Willis, 2018)


The three day conference provided a forum where keynote speakers and delegates struck a workable balance between the scholarly and the practitioner. The keynote speakers were: Kate Torney, CEO State Library of Victoria; Cathie Oats, Trove director of digital services; Jefa Greenaway, director of Greenaway Architects; Chris Gibson, Professor of Human Geography at UOW; Ben Shrader, author and historian from Wellington, NZ; John Masanauskas, City Editor of Herald Sun.

This was a heady mix that was matched by the mix of 72 presentations from scholars, practitioners and community members  across three separate streams. Delegates came from interstate and overseas (New Zealand) with a strong contingent of local Melbournites.


UHPH Conf 2018 330 Swanton St Bldg RMIT
A view of some of the post-modern artwork at 330 Swanston Street, RMIT University, Building 22. The campus has much to offer the enthusiast for this style of architecture in the university setting. (I Willis, 2018)


There were sessions ranging from: planning histories; postwar campus; heritage; land speculation; music; maps; housing; rivers and wetlands; parks and gardens; museums; governance; transport; commerce; streetscapes; quarries; urban agriculture and food systems; placemaking; to Indigenous planning and policy.

Camden historian and CHN blogger Ian Willis presented a paper called ‘Utopia or dystopia, a contested space on Sydney’s urban frontier’.

The conference organising committee put out a book of abstracts and will publish the conference proceedings later this year.


UHPH Conf 2018 Francis Ormond Bldg RMIT
A view of the Francis Ormond Building with the Pearson and Murphy’s Cafe in the foreground where patrons can take in the atmospherics offered by the Victorian style architecture while enjoying their coffee. The cafe was named after Charles Henry Pearson and William Emmett Murphy, who were key players in the original foundation of RMIT as the Working Men’s College back in 1887. (I Willis, 2018)


The conference reception and dinner were held at The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street. The bluestone walls are rich in meaning from the 133 hangings on the site and the execution in 1842 of two Palawa brought to Victoria from Van Dieman’s Land by GA Robinson: Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener.  


UHPH Conf 2018 Melbourne Gaol Signage
The entrance of The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street Melbourne. Daily tours of the museum are well worth the effort where the visitor can view the cells and take in the atmospherics and witness Ned Kelly’s gallows. (I Willis, 2018)


Delegates were invited to dine beneath the gallows that famously ended the life of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880. Kelly is certainly one of the icons of Australian history and has inspired poetry, song, film, art and literature. He has variously been called a bushranger, larrikin, bushman, underdog and arguably an anarchist. The venue was heavy with the atmospherics of its history and delegates could wander in and out of the cells where they could walk the ground from the past.


UHPH Conf 2018 Melbourne Gaol Dinner
The venue for the conference reception and dinner was The Old Melbourne Gaol. The venue reeks of atmosphere and for the ghoulish it is a ready site for investigating ghosts of the 133 who were hanged on the site from 1842. (I Willis, 2018)


The bluestone walls provided a ghoulish backdrop to the sounds of Melbourne trio The Orbweavers.

The conference organising committee are to be complemented on doing a grand job.

Attachment to place · Australia · Camden · Camden Museum · community identity · Cowpastures · Entertainment · Fashion · festivals · First World War · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · Holidays · Leisure · Local History · myths · Philanthropy · Place making · Red Cross · sense of place · Tourism · Volunteering · war

Australia’s National Day in Camden

The Camden Australia Day celebrations opened with the awards at the Camden Civic Centre where the winners of the Camden Citizen of the Year  were announced for 2018.  At a national level there has been a debate about the date and the day. What does it mean? When should it be celebrated? Should it be celebrated at all?


The day, the 26th January,  is the foundation of the military penal settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the anniversary of the coup d’etat against the Bligh colonial administration popularly known as the Rum Rebellion. By 1804, according to the National Australia Day Council,  the day was being referred to as Foundation Day or First Landing Day in the Sydney Gazette. On the 30th anniversary in 1818 Governor Macquarie declared a public holiday. In 1838 the 26th January was celebrated as the Jubilee of the British occupation of New South Wales and the 2nd year of the Sydney Regatta that was held on the day. The annual Sydney Anniversary Regattas started in 1837.


Sydney Anniversary Regatta 26thJan 1889 SLNSW
Sydney Anniversary Day Regatta yacht race held on the 26th January in 1889. The day was cause for great celebration for what had been achieved by the colony of Sydney. Many tried to forget the convict origins of the day. (SLNSW)


On the centenary of the First Fleet’s arrival at Sydney Cove in 1888 the day was known as Anniversary Day or Foundation Day and festivities were joined by Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New Zealand. In 1915 Australia Day was shifted to the 30th July to assist fundraising for the Red Cross and other patriotic funds after the commencement of the Gallipoli campaign.


Aust Day 1915 WW1 AWM
Australia Day 1915 was used for fundraising for patriotic funds following the opening of the Gallipoli campaign. In 1916 Australia Day was held on 28 July. Fundraising included street collections, stalls, sports days, concerts and a host of other events. In Camden the Red Cross raised over £600 over a three week period with a host of patriotic activities. (AWM)


It was not until the Australian Bicentennial that all states agreed to celebrate the 26th as Australia Day rather than as a long weekend. At the time Aboriginal Australians renamed Australia Day ‘Invasion Day’ and there has been debate about it ever since.


In 2018 the Camden town centre there was the annual street parade for the Australia Day celebrations with lots of keen participants. The town crier, Steve Wisby, led the enthusiastic crowd in a rendition of the national anthem and then a rejoinder of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, OOyy, OOyy, OOyy. The parade included historical groups, school groups, community groups, a number of local bands, and emergency services.


Aust Day 2018 73rdFootRe-enactment
Australia Day 2018 parade with 73rd Foot Regiment Re-enactment Group passing the enthusiastic crowd at the John Street corner (I Willis)


Aust Day 2018 CHS Ute
Australia Day 2018 parade in Argyle Street Camden here showing the FJ Holden Utility driven by society VP John Wrigley accompanied by Julie Wrigley. Car courtesy of Boardman family (I Willis)


Aust Day 2018 Camden Show Float Miss Showgirl
Australia Day Parade 2018 in Argyle Street here showing the float of the Camden Show Society with Miss Camden Showgirl 2018, Corinne Fulford, sitting atop the hay bails. The Camden Show is the largest festival in the local area attracting over 30,000 visitors to the town and the Camden Showground. (I Willis)


A large crowd lined Argyle Street to watch the parade organised by the Camden Lions Club and the many community groups and businesses that took part in it.


Aust Day 2018 Crowd John St
Australia Day Parade 2018 in Camden here showing the crowd milling about the John Street corner. John Street had a number of stalls and other entertainment. (I Willis)


Early in the day celebrations began with the  Camden Australia Day Citizen of the Year. The 2018 Camden Australia Day Citizen of the Year was David Funnell. David has been a local businessman for many years and he is a descendant from one of the original European colonial settler families in the Cowpastures area.  He was a councillor on Camden Council (1977-1980, 2004-2012) and a member of a number of community organisations.


The other Camden Australia Day Award winners were:
Community Group of the Year — Everyone Can Dance Charity and Camden Lioness
Community Event of the Year — The Macarthur Lions Australia Day Parade
Young Sportsperson of the Year — Amy and Natalie Sligar
Sportsperson of the Year — Maddison Lewis
Young Citizen of the Year — Lubna Sherieff.

These people are true local identities who all have stories to tell that become part of Camden’s sense of place and contribute to the the development of community identity.


The Camden Museum was open for Australia Day and by the end of the day hundreds of visitors had inspected the museum and its wonderful collection of local artefacts and memoriabilia.


Aust Day 2018 Museum Open Frances&Harry
Australia Day 2018. The Camden Museum was open and here are two enthusiastic supporters and volunteers for the museum. They are Frances and Harry Warner. These two larger than life Camden characters have spent their life devoted to the Camden community. They have lived and worked on Camden Park Estate for decades. (I Willis)


Camden Museum Aust Day 2018 [2]
The Camden Museum was very busy with hundreds of visitors on Australia Day 2018. Here some visitors are watching a video, while others are inspecting the displays. Visitors came from all age groups and enjoyed the museum collection. (I Willis)

The Camden Historical Society volunteer coordinator reports that there were 644 visitors to the museum on the day made up of adults and children. The visitors were looked after by  10 society volunteers who roamed around the museum making sure that the day went smoothly and did a sterling job answering their many questions.

Australia · British colonialism · Camden · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Governor Macquarie · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Settler colonialism

The Cowpastures, just like an English landscape


On Tuesday 3 October 2017 Dr Ian Willis presented a talk to Narellan Rotary Club at Harrington Park Country Club, Harrington Park, NSW. The title of the presentation was ‘The Cowpastures, just like an English landscape’.

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

Summary of the presentation

The early colonial European settlers in the Cowpastures were the key players in the story of creating  an English-style landscape along the Nepean River. The settlers took possession of the countryside from the Dharawal Aboriginal people and re-made it in their own vision of the world.

They constructed a cultural landscape made up of an idealised vision of what they had left behind in the ‘Old Country’. For the European settlers the new continent, and particularly the bush, had the elements of the Gothic with its grotesque and the demonic, and the English-style landscape aesthetic they created was one attempt to counter these forces.

Settlers used the aesthetic to assist the creation of a new story on an apparently blank slate and in the process dispossessed and displaced the Indigenous occupants. The new landscape was characterised by English placenames, English farming methods and English settlement patterns, with only cursory acknowledgement of Indigenous occupation.

The early settlers had such a profound impact on the countryside that their legacy is still clearly identifiable today even after 200 years.

Read more about this topic click here


Anzac · Australia · Canada · First World War · myths

Anzackery and Vimyism, national military myths

I recently came across a post by Canadian blogger Andrea Eidinger in her Unwritten Histories  that mentioned the battle of Vimy Ridge from the First World War. The author was reviewing a recently published book The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Canadian historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift as part of CHA Reads 2017.

Book Vimy Trap Cover (Amazon)

Publicity from Amazon states that

The story of the bloody 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge is, according to many of today’s tellings, a heroic founding moment for Canada. This noble, birth-of-a-nation narrative is regularly applied to the Great War in general.

This heroic story has launched a mythical tale labelled as “Vimyism”.

I was reminded of Anzackery discussed by David Stephens in The Honest History Book (pp.120-133) that is described as excessively promoting the Anzac legend – the heroic nation-founding story which emerged from the 1915 Gallipoli landing by the Anzacs.

2017 Anzac Day Commemorations in Camden NSW (I Willis)

I felt that it was worthwhile to re-published Andrea Eidinger’s blog post in full here.

CHA Reads: Mary-Ellen Kelm on The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War

May 23, 2017 / Andrea Eidinger

What is CHA Reads? Find out here!

Mary-Ellen Kelm defending The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.

The Vimy memorial was on TV when Andrea Eidinger’s call for participants in #CHAreads went out on Twitter. Though the First World War is not my field, I have long been interested in how the past gets used to make or break community. So I signed up to participate in #CHAreads and to investigate the merits of The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift – a nominee for the CHA’s Sir John A. Macdonald prize. The Vimy Trap is a book that all Canadian historians, whatever their interests, should read.

The reason is simple. Historians care about history. We care about people in the past and we want to represent their experience faithfully. We care about how history is written and used. What McKay and Swift are arguing is that Vimyism – “a network of ideas and symbols that centre on how Canada’s Great War experience somehow represents the country’s supreme triumph [and]… marked the country’s birth,” has flattened the complex, contradictory and terrifying reality of the First World War into a simplistic, militaristic ‘big bang theory’ of Canadian history.(p. 9)

Article on Vimy Ridge from The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Wed 11 Apr 1917 Page 1 Trove NLA

What is lost in the process is astounding and much of the Vimy Trap explores the horror and ambiguity of modernized warfare and Canadians’ varied reactions to it. McKay and Swift eschew black-and-white portrayals. Canadian soldiers were neither heroes or villains: they used poison gas, killed prisoners and were torn apart by artillery fire while marching with fixed bayonet wearing kilts. They came to view the war and to write about it in ironic, scathing terms. At home, disunity turned to violence as conscription split the nation. The War was hardly a unifying, glorifying force.

McKay and Swift give voice to a spectrum of Canadian reactions to the War. Early enthusiasm waned quickly. From Arthur Meighan to William Lyon Mackenzie King to Walter Allward, the sculptor of the Vimy Memorial, and Charlotte Susan Wood, Canada’s first Silver Cross Mother, all called upon Canadians to remember the War not a righteous cause but as reminder of war’s futility. They grieved their dead and honoured them but not the war that caused their deaths. Canadians dreamed of peace and their leaders sought it too but failed to remake the social order into one that would recoil from war.

A culture of martial nationalism remains. Late twentieth century popular and scholarly histories recognize the contradictions and the complexities but have concluded that, in war, nations are strengthened, dreams realized, heroes made. Historians are responsible for Vimyism. It is a trap because it reflects none of the nuance and little of the stark horror of modern warfare that soldiers and civilians experienced and that contemporary writers expressed. And this is why Canadian historians must read The Vimy Trap. McKay and Swift remind us all that we have not always glorified war and ask us, as historians, to consider our part in honouring, or ignoring, that past.

Mary-Ellen Kelm is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University specializing in settler colonial and medical histories of North America.

Re-published from Andrea Eidinger’s original blog post with permission

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Macarthur Park Camden NSW erected in 1922 by public subscription (I Willis)
Attachment to place · Australia · British colonialism · community identity · Edwardian · England · First World War · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Macarthur · Menangle · Modernism · Newspapers · Place making · Railway · Royal Tours · sense of place · Tourism · war

Menangle ‘Little England’ says Duchess of York

‘This is like home, like England’, proclaimed the Duchess of York  in 1927 on her visit to Menangle. She and her husband the Duke of York visited Camden Park as part of their royal visit of Australia, which involved the opening of the provisional Parliament House in Canberra in May.[1]


The Duke and Duchess of York Sydney 1927 (NLA)
The Duke and Duchess of York Sydney 1927 (NLA)


The Duke and Duchess of York had left England of their royal tour  of dominions in January 1927 on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Renown, travelled through New Zealand in February and arrived in Australia in March. The Royals departed from Australia in late May after visiting all states. The Duke and Duchess later came to the thrown as George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.


At Menangle the Duke and Duchess were guests of Brigadier-General JW Macarthur Onslow and Mrs Enid Macarthur Onslow (of Gilbulla) for a weekend in April, in the absence of Sibella Macarthur Onslow who was in England at the time. The Royals travelled by railway from Sydney by steam train.


The royal entourage and the royal trains made quite an impact on a young  Fred Seers, a local Campbelltown milk boy. He witnessed the royal trains pass through the Dumaresq railway gates where he was joined by a small group of enthusiastic flag waving Campbelltown locals. He recalls gatekeeper Bill Flanagan felt the occasion called for some degree of formality and dressed up in white shirt and tie.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)

Fred vividly remembers the three ‘shiny black’ 36 class steam locomotives that ‘sparkled’ as they roared through the locked gates in a fog of steam and smoke. The first of three steam engines painted in royal blue gave a blast on its high pitched whistle as it approached adorned with two crossed Union Jacks on the front. This was followed by another steam engine pulling four carriages, presumably with the Duke and Duchess on board, then the third steam engine.[2]


The Duke and Duchess had left Sydney early and arrived at Menangle Railway Station around 1.00pm and were met by a crowd of 200 people. Mr Bell the Menangle stationmaster and his staff had spruced up the platform with flags and bunting and rolled out a red carpet for the visitors. [3]  The Duchess was presented with a bouquet of carnations and heather by ‘little Quinton Stanham’.[4]


The Royals stayed with the Macarthurs at Camden Park  house, one of Australia’s finest Georgian Regency country homesteads designed by John Verge and built in 1835. Verge’s design was based on Palladian principles in a central two storey central block constructed stuccoed sandstock brick on sandstone foundations.


On Saturday afternoon the Duke went horse riding across Camden Park Estate, one of the earliest colonial grants in Australia allocated to John Macarthur in 1805.  On ‘a whim’ the Duke and his riding companions decided to ride to the Camden Show, which was first held in 1886. The Duke created much excitement to the surprised show-goers by cantering onto the showground in front of the large crowd of around 7000 people and received a ‘tumultuous welcome’.[5] The riding party included Miss Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and her sister, Mrs Helen Stanham, who had recently arrived back from England for a few months, Brigadier-General JW and Brigadier-General GM, and their brother  Arthur Macarthur Onslow.[6]

The Duke and Duchess of York Opening Provisional Parliament House Canberra 1927 (NLA)
The Duke and Duchess of York Opening Provisional Parliament House Canberra 1927 (NLA)

On Sunday afternoon the royal couple  motored in a 1926 Rolls Royce to Gilbulla for  afternoon tea. [7]  Gilbulla, an example of a Federation Arts and Crafts mansion designed by Sydney architects Sulman and Power and built in 1899 by JW Macarthur Onslow. Gilbulla is a fine example of an Edwardian gentleman’s country residence for a family of power and distinction, while not out-doing the Georgian grandeur of Camden Park house itself.  Gilbulla housekeeper Mima Mahoney  served the Royals, who served the Royals afternoon tea, was the mother of local Campbelltown resident Basil Mahoney.[8]


The royal entourage arrived ‘a few minutes before 5 o’clock’ at Menangle and boarded their train, which  according to Fred Seers, had gone to Picton to fill up with water and coal, and turn around.[9] Before leaving the Duke and Duchess inspect a guard of honour of Camden Boy Scouts and Girl Guides under the direction of their leaders, RD Stuckey and Miss Senior.[10]


The Menangle visit of the Duke and Duchess of York was widely reported in the Australian press.  The themes of the stories revolved around the Englishness of the Menangle countryside and the Royals taking a well-earned rest from their hectic tour.


The Brisbane Courier ran a story under the headline, ‘Like Home, Beauty of Camden Park, Royal Party’s Quiet Weekend’.[11]  Readers were assured by the newspaper that the Royals had had a good time and stated:

The Duke and Duchess of York were both delighted with the loveliness of their week end at Camden Park… While the Duke went riding across country with the rain beating exhilaratingly in his face, and filled in a little spare time with a tennis racket on the soaked court at Gilbulla, the Duchess went driving with Miss Onslow in a sulky turnout. Both were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surrounding, the Duchess being enraptured by an unattended stroll through the grounds along the Nepean River, which flows through the whole length of Camden Park Estate on which are great coppices of gnarled old English trees.[12]


The Melbourne Argus reported that the Duke and Duchess had a ‘restful weekend’ at the ‘beautiful country estate of the Macarthur Onslow family’. The Duchess ‘walked unattended in the old gardens under English oaks and elms’.[13]


The Launceston Examiner in Tasmania ran a story with the heading ‘A Happy Week End, Royals Guest in Country’ and assured its readers that the Duke and Duchess enjoyed the English style countryside of Camden Park, Menangle and the Nepean River. The Examiner went on that the Royals walked ‘beneath these spreading boughs’ of ‘gnarled old English trees, with ‘the rain pattering overhead, and the river providing an obligato to Nature’s music’. [14]


There were similar reports in the newspaper across the country. In Queensland the Warwick Daily News ran the headline ‘Royal Couple Spend Quiet Weekend’ while the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin ran the story under a banner headline ‘Royal Visitors Quiet Weekend’.


The Hobart Mercery  ran a story under the heading ‘The Royal Tour Week-end in Country Free from Engagements, Delightful Time Spent’ and assured readers:

The Duke and Duchess were both delighted with the loveliness of their week-end at Camden-park and Menangle – a respite from official engagements that was so deliciously free that even the intermittent rain that fell did not disturb the enthusiasm of the Royal visitors.

In the west Perth’s West Australian reported that the Duke and Duchess ‘were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surroundings’ in a story titled ‘The Royal Visitors. Week-End In Country. Respite from Engagements.’[15]


The Camden News placed an article about the royal visit on the front page in the middle its story that reported on the 1927 Camden Show. Perhaps illustrating centrality of the royal drop-in to whole show event. On the other hand down at Picton the Picton Post placed the report of the royal visit on page two at the end of a story about the Camden Show. The snub was just a reflection of the  parochialism of both Camden and Picton and the long term rivalry between both communities. The accusation was that the Camden community thought that they were better than Picton. More to the point this snobbishness was more of reflection of the omnipotence of the Macarthurs of Camden Park in the whole district and the colonial history of New South Wales in general.[16]


The official records of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York are located in the National Archives in Canberra.

[1] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11

[2] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[3] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[4] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11

[5] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 3 April 1927, page 2. The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 1 April 1927, page 4.

[7] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22. The Camden News, 7 April 1927.

[8] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[9] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[10] The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1.

[11] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 4 April 1927, page 15

[12] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 4 April 1927, page 15

[13] Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Monday 4 April 1927, page 19

[14] Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 5

[15] Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 5. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 10. Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 7. West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 8.

[16] The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1. Picton Post (NSW : 1907 – 1954), Wednesday 6 April 1927, page 2.

Anzac · Attachment to place · Australia · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Narellan · Narellan Military Camp · Second World War · sense of place · war

The army arrives at Narellan

Tented Narellan Military Camp 1941 (AB)
Tented Narellan Military Camp 1941 (AB)

An often forgotten piece of Narellan’s military heritage is the Narellan Military Camp. It lasted for around seven years during and after the Second World War. Thousands of troops passed through it on their way to somewhere else as the lives of these young men, and some young women, were changed forever.

The camp was part of the defence arrangements for the eastern part of Australia. There were many military camps in the Sydney area, as well as a range of defence installations for the navy and air force. There were several camps and training areas used by the military and Narellan was only one of them. Other included Ingleburn, Liverpool, Wallgrove, and elsewhere.

There were number of defence installations in the local area apart from Narellan Military Camp and the others included Camden Airfield which catered form RAAF and RAF squadrons, Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park at Narellan, the military at Camden Showground, The Oaks Airfield, Menangle Race Course used by the military then the RAAF and a range of subsidiary sites across the district that included emergency runways.

The Narellan Military Camp was used from about 1940 to 1946, with the main camp completed for occupation by April 1941. The camp was located on the corner of the Northern Road formerly Bringelly Road, Cobbitty Road and Oran Park Road now Dan Cleary Drive in an area that was known as Greens Corner. The camp site was given back to civilian use in October 1946.

The details of the properties resumed by the Department of the Army included:

  • 260 acres of HH Robbins of Oran Park (2200 acres) compensation for disturbance £2210 and rental value of 8/6 per acre pa;
  • 40 acres of Thomas Funnell (241½ acres), which included the provision of a dam and a quarry for a miniature rifle range, compensation for disturbance £360 and a rental value of 9/- per acre pa;
  • 80 acres of CS McIntosh (100 acres), part of No 2 Dairy Farm (246 acres), of McIntosh Bros of Denbigh, compensation for disturbance £800 and rental value 15/- per acre pa;
  • 77 acres of McIntosh Bros Ltd, part of No2 Dairy Farm (246 acres) of Denbigh (2598 3/4 acres) compensation for disturbance £870 and a rental value of 15/- per acre pa, as well as 24 acres for a sullage area for which no compensation was paid as there was continued grazing;
  • 100 acres of AD & EGH Swan (1764 acres) compensation for disturbance £1000 and a rental value of 10/- per acre pa, as well as a pipeline easement of £10pa.[i]
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)

Official documents describe the site as mainly gently undulating formerly timbered with gum, box some apple and ironbark but had all been improved for grazing and in some cases cleared for cultivation. The soil was of a red clayey nature overlying Wianamatta shales. The valuation report stated that the required area was about 557 acres plus a sullage area of 24 acres and easements over land occupied by the reservoirs, a quarry and pipelines. This effected 5 holdings including a property owned by the McIntosh Bros, Denbigh, (first class grazing land), which was a stud for breeding dairy cattle as well as a functioning dairy farm. [ii]

Leased area at Narellan Military Camp NAA
Leased area at Narellan Military Camp NAA

The camp was planned to accommodate around 3,500 troops under canvas, while it has been reported that for short periods it held many times this many troops. While built as a tented facility wooden huts were erected for administration, storage, messing and recreation purposes with ablution and latrine facilities.

The site was pegged out in November 1940, and was officially acquired in May 1941. The camp was built by Commonwealth Construction Corps and only took a short time. [iii] According to some reports the camp turned into the largest tented camp in Australia.

The NSW DMR supplied the gravel for the camp roads, the Camden Municipal Council supplied the electricity,[iv] and an horse drawn mower for keeping the grass down to reduce the risk of fire and provided drainage works.[v] Eventually there were three firing ranges built in and around the camp for basic “all arms” weapons training was conducted by units transiting through the Camp, comprising rifle and other side arm live firing practices and live grenade throwing.[vi]

According to Alan Bailey, who was attached to the Headquarters Unit as a transport driver, there was camp headquarters, cook houses, showers, latrines, quartermasters’ store, hospital buildings and the canteen. All the buildings were made of timber, with the exterior being stained cypress pine weatherboard. There was miniature rifle range near the water tower, on Harrington Park, (mounds are still visible today).[vii]

One former soldier described the camp as just `one big paddock’ while another had memories sitting in the rear lounge of the `Old Pub’ (the Narellan Hotel). According to him the land rose gradually in the west to finish in a small ridge with an old water tower on top and the camp the other side. [viii]

In 1942 it is reported that there was tented accommodation for troops on the southern side on Camden Road between Narellan and Kenny Hill, in the vicinity of Curran’s Hill.[ix]  Arthur Colman always recalls the mournful call of curlews night after night at the camp,[x] while Sir Eric Willis (former Premier of New South Wales) stated that for the few days he was at the Camp it was not a very exciting place. [xi]


[i].  AA:SP857/53 B534, Letter from Land Valuation Committee to DAD Hirings, Eastern Command, 14 October 1941

[ii].  Australian Archives (NSW): Dept of Army; SP857/53 B534, Correspondence relating to property matters of the Dept of Army – Narellan Camp Site, 1941-1946, Valuation Report, 3 October 1941

[iii].  AA:SP857/53 B534, Letter from Major Martin, AMF to the Secretary, Land Valuation Committee, 7 May 1941

[iv]  Camden News, 5 December 1940; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 January 1941, 24 February 1941, 12 May 1941

[v].  Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 22 September 1941; Camden News,2 October 1941

[vi] Oran Park Precinct: (Narellan Military Camp), Historical Review and Preliminary Investigations for Munitions Contamination, Milsearch/Growth Centres Commission UXO Study, 12 February 2007.

[vii]. Alan Bailey, Letter to ICW, 11 August 1988

[viii].  Peter Geoghegan, Interview, 14 January 1987; Ron Cox, Letter to ICW, 7 January 1987;

[ix].  Alan Bailey, Interview, 1 November 1992

[x]. Arthur Colman, Letter to ICW, 14 November 1986

[xi]. Sir Eric Willis, Phone Conversation, 4 January 1988