Over 700 locals and visitors were present for the official opening of the Camden District Hospital nurses quarters or better known as the ‘nurses home’ by the NSW Minister of Health WF Sheehan in June 1962. Official proceedings at the opening were led hospital-chairman FJ Sedgewick who said that the board had been working towards the addition of the new building for many years. (Camden News 27 June 1962)
Construction on the building had begun in mid-1961, cost £92,000 and was located on farmland purchased by the hospital-board in 1949 opposite the hospital in Menangle Road on Windmill Hill. The three-story brick building had suspended concrete floors and was designed by architects Hobson and Boddington influenced by mid-20th century modernism and International Functionalism. Nurses accommodation was an improvement on wartime military barracks with 40 single rooms with separate bathrooms.
Lack of accommodation
Finally the hospital-board thought that a solution had been found to the lack of nurses accommodation at the hospital. Adequate accommodation for nurses had been an issue for hospital administrators from the hospital opening in 1902. Originally Camden nurses were provided with two bedrooms within the hospital building which had soon proved to be inadequate. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p. 17) Nurses were quartered within a hospital complex based on the presumption that this was necessary because of their 7-day 24-hour-shift roster that meant that they worked all hours. Added to this was the Nightingale philosophy that the respectability and morality of the nurses had to be protected at all costs. The all-male Camden hospital-board took their responsibility seriously and considered there was a moral imperative to protect the respectability of their young single female nurses.
The Nightingale system hinged on the employment of women of unblemished characters as nurses…In the forty years since nursing has been made a respectable profession for women in Australia it had also acquired most of the dedicated overtones (and a great many of the rules, regulations, restrictions and inhibitions) of a religious order.
The blog Nurses For Nurses has a post with memories from one nurse about live-in-quarters at Lidcombe Hospital in 1971.
the large number of nurses who had to ‘live-in’ in the Nurses’ Quarters buildings (guarded by the bull-dog determination of the Home Sister, constantly on the look-out for those evil ‘boyfriends’ and male doctors!). These nurses were predominantly vulnerable, aged from 16 upwards, far, far from home in many cases. They needed friends, security, safety, comfort, respect, and a sense of ‘school pride’.
The cloisters of Camden District Hospital
The nurses at Camden District Hospital lived in a cloistered environment within the hospital grounds in 1902 , as they had done at Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents and Incurable from 1890s, like a pseudo-religious order in their veils and capes. According to the NSW Health Minister Mr Sheehan,
‘The [new] building for the nurses I hope will be a home and comfort for them. It is consistent with the dignity of the service of the nurses in your community’. (Camden News 27 June 1962)
Duty and service were part of the ethos of nursing from the time of Florence Nightingale and Camden’s ministering angels met their workplace obligation.
There was comfort for the Camden community in the knowledge that the nurses’ quarters was on the road between the sacred heart of Camden at the St Johns Anglican Church and the Macarthur family’s pastoral empire at Camden Park Estate. The Macarthur family patriarchs had always been pre-occupied with the moral wellbeing of the town and the respectability of the nurses fitted this agenda. Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow was always mindful of the status of women and the moral dangers single nurses potentially faced in the town area. Mrs Onslow, her daughter Sibella and daughter-in-law Enid passed the hospital and the nurses quarters on their way to church and cast an observant eye over the complex to ensure all was well.
Lack of accommodation a constant problem from the beginning
Camden District Hospital was the major medical facility between Liverpool and Bowral and the Yerranderie silver field mines put pressure on the hospital. More patients meant a need for more staff. In 1907 a government grant allowed the hospital board to purchase a four-room cottage next to the hospital for £340 and converted it to nurses’ accommodation. (Camden News, 30 May 1907, 13 June 1907, 6 February 1908, 26 March 1908) Completed renovations in 1908 allowed the board to appoint a new probationary nurse, Miss Hattersley of Chatswood. (Camden News, 18 June 1908) The hospital’s status increased in 1915 when the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) approved the hospital as a registered training school. (Camden News, 28 January 1915) Continuing pressure on the nurses accommodation stopped the hospital-board from appointing a new probationary nurse in 1916. (Camden News, 6 July 1916) While things were looking up in 1924 when electricity was connected to the hospital. (Camden Crier, 6 April 1983)
The hospital continued to grow as the new mines in the Burragorang coalfields opened up and adequate on-site nurses’ accommodation remained a constant headache for the hospital administration. In 1928 the hospital board approved the construction of a handsome two-storey brick nurses’ quarters at a cost of £2950 on the site of the existing timber cottage. (Camden News, 12 July 1928; SMH, 20 July 1928) The building design was influenced by the Interwar functionalist style and was a proud addition to the town’s growing stock of Interwar architecture with its outdoor verandahs, tiled roof and formal hedged garden.
Temporary nurses accommodation was added in December 1947 as each nurse was now entitled to a separate bedroom under the new Nurses Award. The hospital-board purchased a surplus hut from Camden Airfield as war-related activities wound down and facilities were sold off by the defence authorities. The hut was formerly a British RAF workshop hut, measured 71 by 18 feet, cost £175 and was relocated next to the hospital free of charge by Cleary Bros. RAF transport squadrons had been located at Camden Airfield from 1944 and local girls swooned over the presence of these ‘blue uniformed flyers’ and even married some of them. Hut renovations were carried out to create eight bedrooms, two store cupboards and bathroom accommodation at a cost of £370. Furnishings cost £375 with expenses met by the NSW Hospital Commission and the new building was opened by local politician Jeff Bate MHR. (Picton Post, 22 December 1947. Camden News, 1 January 1948)
As the Burragorang coalfields ramped up so did the demands on the hospital and the nurses’ accommodation crisis persisted. The issue restricted the ability of hospital authorities to employ additional nursing staff (Camden News, 21 September 1950) and the opening of the hospital’s new maternity wing in 1951 did not help. (Camden News, 4 March 1954)
Continuing accommodation crisis
The new 1962 nurses quarters did not solve the accommodation issue as the hospital grew from 74 beds in 1963 to 156 in 1983 (Macarthur Advertiser, 1 March 1983) and patient facilities improved with the opening of the 4-storey Hodge wing in 1971 on the site of the 1928 nurses’ quarters. (Camden News, 3 March 1971)
The finish of hospital-based trained nurses
The last intake of hospital-based training for nurses took place at Camden Hospital in July 1984 and nurse education was transferred from hospitals to the colleges of advanced education in 1985. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p.58)
By this time nursing staff were living off-site and the moral imperative of protecting the respectability and dignity of local nurses in a cloistered environment was challenged by feminism and the increased professionalism of the nursing profession.
In recent years the ghostly corridors of 1962 nurses’ quarters have remained eerily empty reflecting a lot of good intentions that were never quite fulfilled. The buildings stands as a silent citadel to the past and acts as a metaphor to the changing nature of the nursing profession, the downgrading of Camden Hospital, the imminent expansion of Campbelltown Hospital and the appearance of new medical facilities at Gregory Hills.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘
The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.
The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.
Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.
In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero. The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.
Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;
Studley Park House, Camden
This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.
In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.
The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.
Camden has hosted 32 Squadron RAAF since the time of the Second World War. The members of the squadron have developed a special relationship with the local community that has been marked by tragedy and celebrations. This is their story.
The members of 32 Squadron arrived in Camden in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units.1 Large scale air attacks on Rabaul in January 1942 had resulted in the virtual elimination of the 24 Squadron, and this was followed by the invasion of New Britain by the Japanese forces (23 January 1942). The war was not going particularly well for the Allied Forces. There was the loss of Singapore (15 February), the commencement of an air campaign against Darwin, the country’s major northern port city (19 February) and the Japanese invasion of Timor (20-23 February).2
These events led to the formation of 32 Squadron. It was drawn from the survivors of 24 Squadron, who had reformed at Port Moresby with a flight of Hudson bombers. Two more flights of Hudsons, one from 6 Squadron, Richmond (New South Wales) and 23 Squadron, Archerfield (Queensland) were flown in to add to the strength. At this point the squadron had a strength of 12 Hudsons and crews and 124 maintenance staff.3 The duties of the squadron included bombing and reconnaissance against Japanese bases at Rabaul and Gasmata bases, landings at Lae and Salamaua, the Gona-Buna and Milne Bay campaigns, the Coral Sea battle, as well as anti-submarine and convoy patrols and supply drops to ground forces. During the eight months of combat operations the squadron flew over 400 missions lost 10 aircraft, with 54 killed in action.4 Lyle Abraham claims that 32 Squadron was the only Australian squadron to be formed ‘in the field’.5
Tour of Duty in New Guinea
After their tour of duty in New Guinea the squadron was initially posted to Pokolbin, New South Wales, but were then moved to Camden in late 1942.6 DK Saxelby, an electrician from the Camden base maintenance group, recalled on their arrival that the squadron were
‘a much battered battered band of men. Their clothes were the worst for wear having literally rotted off their backs from the humid climate and replacements destroyed by the enemy. Their footwear was falling to pieces’.7
On their arrival the squadron was equipped with 4 Lockheed Hudsons and 6 Avro Ansons under the command of DW Kingwell. The Hudsons were a 5-crew medium bomber. They were the main Australian bomber in New Guinea until 1943. The aircraft were considered slow with a top speed of 246mph. They were a ‘relatively easy’ target for Japanese gunners and Zero fighters, but they were the only aircraft available at the time.8
Commanding Officers 32 Squadron RAAF
21 February 1942
W/C DW Kingwell
4 February 1943
W/C JF Lush
10 May 1943
W/C PA Parker
30 August 1943
W/C IH Smith
9 December 1943
S/L CA Loneragan (Temporary)
30 May 1944
S/L OF Barton
28 August 1944
W/C R Homes
28 February 1945
W/C DW Campbell
29 August 1945
F/L LG Brown
Source: WA Paull, 60th Anniverary 32 Squadron
Operational Duties at Camden Airfield
The squadron’s operational duties at Camden included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia. The squadron did night patrols covering the east coast of Australia from Bundaberg to Mallacootta, Queensland. The Bristol Beauforts, which the squadron was using from March 1943, were fitted with radar and was a ‘very closely guarded at the time’. There were also detached flights at Coffs Harbour and Bundaberg.9 PJ Squires recalls that during his time at Camden between May and December 1943 the role of the squadron was anti-submarine protection for coastal convoys using depth charges. Air cover was given from Bega to Bundaberg by moving aircraft.10 Harry Simpson recalls that his Beaufort crew undertook anti-submarine patrols at night using radar protecting convoys sailing off the east coast. The crew escorted convoys off the east coast. His crew also took part in general training including ‘fighter cooperative attacks’ and high and low level bombing practice.11 The crews were constantly flying between Camden, Mascot, Bundaberg, Coffs Harbour, Amberly, Richmond, Williamtown, Evan’s Head and Moruya12 as well as Nabiac, Southport, Hervey Bay, Archerfield, Tocumwal and Canberra.13
The log book of John Murphy shows that on 26 February 1943 the squadron did anti-submarine patrol while convoying the Queen Mary, the Acquatania and the Ile de France.14 Another member of the squadron recalled that the squadron did convoy duty for the Queen Elizabeth when it brought he 6th Division back from Africa.15 Leo Reid recalls one mission undertaken by his crew that took place on 16 May 1943 (two nights after the Centaur hospital ship was sunk off Brisbane) when their Beaufort made contact with a submarine five miles off Coffs Harbour. The plane dropped 6 bombs on and around the submarine. They were credited with a ‘D’ assessment (damaged and possibly unable to reach base). The Beaufort was crewed by pilot F/S G Liddell, Navigator F Westphalen, WAGs E Shipley & L Reid.16 Jock Sharpe’s Beaufort crew was: F/O Harry Kemp, F/S Peter Bowers, F/S Colin Sinclair, F/O JM (Jock) Sharpe (WAG).17 Harry Simpson’s Beaufort crew was: F/L WJ (Bill) Hoddinott, Pilot, F/O Peter King, Navigator, F/O HB (Bill) Simpson, Gunnery Leader, Wireless and Radar Operator, F/O CJ (Chuck) Owens, Wireless Airgunner, Tail Gunner.18
While a part of B Flight at Coffs Harbour, Bill Paull recalls that the crew of a Beaufort, pilotted by F/L Harrison, while on night patrol disabled a Japanese submarine with depth charges. The crew returned to Coffs Harbour and asked for a 250lb anti-submarine bomb to sink the disabled submarine. They tried to skip the bomb into the submarine as they did in the Bay of Biscay. On inspection of the area the next morning they found the submarine had disappeared but there was an oil slick 1/2 mile wide and 3 miles long and the crew was credited with a possible sinking.19
Alan Wailes recalls training exercise with military units. One exercise with a searchlight company involved flying over Port Kembla at around 5000 feet so that the searchlight crews could practice homing in on an approaching aircraft. ‘We went back and forth for almost 2 hours with the searchlight beams tracking all over the sky but nowhere near us’. In the end the crew had to turn on their landing lights so that the searchlights could find them. Another exercise involved flying over Dover Heights and giving the ack-ack units some practice. ‘We spent 3 hours flying in from all directions to really keep these chaps on their toes’. Wailes claims that after a pre-dawn patrol ‘there was nothing more relaxing than to be coming in right over Sydney Harbour just on sunrise and to be able to take in the scenic wonders’.20
By the end of May 1943 the squadron was re-equipped with a total of seven Beaufort.21 PJ Squires recalls that eventually the squadron had 12 aircraft. The Beauforts were used for night cover using radar, while day cover was given by Avro Ansons.22 Lindsay Fromm notes that he wrote in his diary that an Airacobra landed at Camden in April 1943, and in May the CO (Lush) took the Boomerang out for a flight. A Spitfire squadron arrived at Camden in May 1943 and later in the month flew to out Darwin.23 By late 1943 Jock Sharpe recalls there were 24 Beaufort aircraft on the base.24
Accommodation at Camden Airfield
While stationed at Camden the squadron’s accommodation consisted of eight huts that were located on the rise on the eastern side of the current carpark, which was then the parade ground. There was also an operations rooms in the same area of the airfield. At the same time the Macarhur Onslow family, who lived in Hassall Cottage, had their small plane in a hanger located slightly north of the Bellman hangars. The squadron’s officer’s mess was in Macquarie Grove house, while the sergeant’s mess was located in a building on the rise east of the officer’s mess. The airfield tower was located west of the Bellman hangars on the grass verge adjacent to the taxi-ing areas.25 The huts were standard arrangements for RAAF personnel. The officers had individual rooms and the ranks were accommodated ‘barrack style’. There was a small hospital staffed by several male orderlies. Jock Sharpe does not recall any female personnel on the base during his posting at the airfield in 1943.26 Not everyone lived on the base, particularly the married men, and Leo Reid recalls that he and his wife lived in a flat in John opposite Dr Crookston’ house.27 (Letter, Reid, 30/12/86) Harry Simpson recalls that after his marriage to wife Marjorie that lived off the station when he was not flying. They lived in flat supplied by Matron Berry of Camden Hospital and then for many months with Mrs Dickenson, who lived at 10 Chellaston Street. His wife, Marjorie, worked with Yvonne Dickenson at the local dentist, Campbell Graham.28
Free Time and Recreation
Recreation provided a release from the constant stress of operations. Shortly after their arrival in Camden the squadron held a dinner in the big hanger and entertainment was provided by Chips Rafferty and a magician. Everyone enjoyed themselves and ‘a lot of beer was drunk’. In late in 1942 a number of the squadron assembled a Gypsy Minor, (FROMM, PHOTOGRAPH) while the Christmas dinner was held in camp. The officers and sergeants waited on the lower ranks and ‘helped us drink our Christmas cheer’.29 The men usually went to Sydney when they were given leave traivelling by train and staying at Air Force House in Sydney. Allan Diprose recalls that he went with other airmen to local dances and he attended the Presbyterian Church and the local Masonic Lodge.30 PJ Squires maintains that 70% of the squadron’s time was away from Camden consquently the men had little or no interaction with the local community. Any leave they were given they spent in Sydney.31 DK Saxelby recalls that he was given the duty of looking after the base switchboard at night. He slept beside the board and took messages that came in at night. He remembers that ‘this was good’ because in quiet periods he was to have a chat the girls at the telephone exchange in Camden.32 Harry Simpson recalls that he and his wife spent most of Harry’s leave in Sydney and on one occasion spent several weeks with Mrs King at Thirroul.33 Alan Wailes recalls that while he was at Camden he flew a Tiger Moth aircraft and had ‘an enjoyable time skithering around the sky’. (he was a WAG). They played golf, which according to Wailes, was ‘ a great way to relax as the course bordered the bushland countryside of the Macarthur-Onslow sheep property’. He took part in ‘organised clay pigeon shooting which, apart from being a sporting outing, enabled us gunners to keep our eye in with moving targets. Then when we felt a need to vary the Base menu we would venture into Camden town to enjoy a good steak followed by a dessert of honeydew melon, which they thought were green ‘rockies’.34
Many members of the squadron made friends with local people during the war years.35 Lyle Abraham claimed that Camden people ‘were so warm and friendly that we felt like being back at home’.36 Most airmen who corresponded with the author do not recall a great level of interaction with the local community. Alan Wailes maintains that this was not really the fault of the aircrews. Most airmen had little contact with local residents because of the varying flying times that most crews had to put up with, especially when undertaking night patrols.37
Flood at Camden
The weather always played an influential role in the conduct of operations. On 20 May 1943 the airfield was flooded and cut-off from the town for a week and no-one could get in or out of the camp.38 Reid remembered that their Beaufort became bogged after leaving the runway when taxi-ing to the hangers.39 Photographs of the flooded airfield show floodwater stretching from the bottom of Exeter Street across the river to the lower part of the airfield adjacent to the fuel dumps. The flood water also came up to the sentry boxes on the gravel entrance road to the airfield, which the constant rain had made almost impassible. (PHOTO, CHS) Bill Paul remembers the 1943 flood and how their way along Kirkham Lane to the station at Elderslie. They had to put their clothes over their heads and hold onto the fence wire to get to the station.40
The ‘peaceful and beautiful surroundings of the cowpasture country [sic]’ contrasted with the ‘grim’ days of aerial combat in New Guinea, and while at Camden a member of the squadron recalled that
it took a long time flying in the near serenity of Camden to diminish or erase in the squadron’s memory the desparation and frustration of those grim eight months in New Guinea – if ever they will be erased.41
But the tranquility ‘of this lovely area’ of rural countryside surrounding the town could be deceptive, and flying out of Camden airfield was not without its own risks.42 Three crews were lost in accidents while on operations at Camden and ten of the airmen were buried in the Camden war cemetery.
Loss of Aircraft
The first accident occurred on 3 November 1942 and resulted in the loss of all five crew. Two Hudsons had been despatched from Camden airfield to investigate a report of a Japanese submarine 480 km east of Sydney around 5pm. At the time there were atrocious weather conditions and the pilot of one aircraft abandoned the mission after a short search and landed safely at Mascot. The pilot of the second Hudson became disoriented and crossed the coastline near Port Kembla. It was sighted by personnel on duty at the Windang searchlight battery. They estimated the height of the aircraft at 250-300 metres. The aircraft proceeded across the Lake, and was spotted again, this time by the searchlight battery at Koonawarra Bay. The aircraft flew on and then crashed in to Bong Bong Mountain west of Dapto around 9.15pm. A number of local residents in the area heard the plane pass overhead and then heard the explosion of the crash. Local residents reached the crash site aroung midnight and found no survivors.43 Lindsay Fromm recalled that duty personnel from Camden left the base the following day and arrived early the next morning to Dapto and made their way to the crash sight after a long climb through through the rainforest. The bodies were removed that afternoon. The wings of the aircraft were slide down the mountain to be taken away by truck. ‘The rest of the place was piled on the four bombs and the army detonated them after notifying the wide area’. The loss of the crew was a ‘sad event’ for the squadron.44 An inquest was held in Wollongong four weeks later. The squadron’s commanding officer suggested at the inquest that in the bad weather the pilot may have become lost and confused Lake Illawarra with Botany Bay and hence not realised that he was headed toward the Illawarra Enscarpment at a low altitude.45
The second accident occurred on 26 January 1943 at Camden airfield. It involved the crash of a Hudson and the loss of all five crew members. The accident report stated that the aircraft crashed shortly after take off in wooded country south-west of Camden around the middle of the day. The aircraft was apparently in ‘an inverted position when it struck the ground’. The third accident occurred on 17 November 1943 with the crash of a Beaufort the death of all five crew members. The aircraft had crashed into the side of Saddleback Mountain, west of Kiama, around midnight while on a night cross-country training exercise.46
Other minor incidents also kept ground crews busy. A Hudson overshot the runway on 8 January 1943 hitting the bank and collapsing the undercarriage, another crashed on take off and was moved into the hangar by the Rescue and Salvage Unit, while another crashed into a gutter and was taken away by road. On 13 May 1943 a Beaufort crashed on take-off and hit a number of stumps on the hill at the end of the runway. The plane was a complete write-off, but the crew were able to walk away with minor scratches after getting out through a hole torn in the fuselage.47
Anxious Night Patrols
Alan Wailes remembers some anxious moments on a night patrol off the coast in bad weather. ‘We were making our way back to the coast at the conclusion of a patrol when we ran into an extremely heavy sea fog – perhaps we would be through it in a short while. I was on wireless/radar watch at the time and ‘glued’ myself to the radar screen hoping for a landfall recording at any time – the screen was blank, was it working alright? (In those early days the equipment was barely adequate and with limited range.) My thought momentarily wanded to a week or so earlier when one of our aircraft returning under similar circumstances, slammed into the coastal mountain range at Foxground near Gerrigong. Military secrecy at the time kept the public unaware of the crash until a timber cutter stumbled on the wreck days later. I was one of the pall bearers at the funeral of the crew of four’. Wailes laconically recalls that there was ‘a strange thing about many mainland bases we used (including Camden) there always seemed to be a cemetery just over the fence at the end of the runway’. He stated that ‘we didn’t really need a reminder of our ‘precarious occupation’.48
On another occasion their aircraft had a hydraulic failure. Their undercarriage would not come down, the wing flaps would not operate and there were no wheel brakes. After circling Camden airfield for an hour and trying a number of attempts to lower the undercarriage the pilot successfully put the aircraft on the runway, just clearing the fence and cruising to a stop at the end of the runway.49
In January 1944 Harry Simpson recalls that the squadron was relocated to Menangle Park, where they were involved in extensive training, before moving to Gould Airfield in the Northern Territory in February.50 By May the remainder of the squadron was transferred to Lowood, Queensland where the squadron was eventually disbanded in November 1945.51
Squadron Reunions at Camden
In the postwar period many airmen from the squadron got together for regular reunions, with a number were held in Camden. Postwar reunions have had an important social and theraputic event for members of the squadron. They would rekindled the camaraderie and ‘strong bonds forged by ordeal and comradeship’ between the men that made up the squadron.52
The reunions allowed the men to relive the glory days of the war. They also provided a theraputic role in that the veterans understood each other and did not have to explain or justify themselves to others. The war played a pivotal role in the lives of these airmen and its played an important focus for their memories which are played in their reunions. The reunsion allows the veterans to relive their unique experiences amongst who were there. They relived times and events in their lives that they often have not even spoken about to their families. Stephen Garton has maintained in The Cost of War that
the traditional war narrative of men is one of self-realisation. War represented the attainment of an ideal of manliness – in physical action, bravery, self-control, courage, and, more importantly for many, male comradeship.’53
According to Garten this ideal was fostered at school, in sport and in the boy scouts and as the homefront was constructed as ‘a feminised space’ the reunion allowed the airmen to relive their warrior days. Many veterans found that return to civilian life created feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction, where they missed the ‘vibrancy of war’. They felt that those on the homefront did not ‘comprehend the enormity of their experiences’ and they craved the company of their former colleagues.54 The reunion provided this experience and rekindled bonds. For the airmen of the 32 Squadron their annual get together and five yearly reunions fulfilled these requirements.55 Keith Nelson felt that there was always ‘a lot to talk about’.56
The squadron held their 45th anniversary reunion in Camden in May 1987. Their program included a welcome by the Mayor, Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, on the Saturday, followed by a tour of Camden Airfield, a tour of the Camden Museum of Aviation at Narellan and a visit to Gledswood. On the Sunday there was a remembrance address at the Camden Cenotaph and an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. The organisers of the reunion stated that the Sunday program had been arranged as a special ‘thank you’ to Camden townsfolk.57
Around 70 squadron members and their families attended the 50th anniversary in Camden in February 1992. This was the largest and most successful reunion held in Camden. Reunion organiser Colin Butterworth stated that the celebrations commenced on the Friday with a civic reception followed by the reunion dinner. On Saturday the veterans marched along Argyle Street and took part in a flag-raising ceremony at the John Street intersection, with a fly-over by the RAAF Roulettes. Mayor Theresa Testoni granted the squadron membership of the muncipality and presented the squadron with a citation. Led by the Campbelltown-Camden band playing ‘The 32 Squadron March’ the party moved onto the Camden RSL Bowling Club for the squadron luncheon. Celebrations on Sunday commenced with an address at the Camden Cenotaph with a fly-over by four Hawker Siddley aircraft from the new No.32 Squadron (based at Sale, Victoria) and a tree planting. This was followed by an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. An editorial in the Camden Crier maintained that the squadron’s choice of Camden for its reunion was a ‘high compliment’. Colin Butterworth felt that members of squadron regarded themselves at the unofficial ‘City of Camden’ Squadron because of the close affiliation between the townsfolk and the squadron.
The squadron held its 55th anniversary in Camden in 1997 and was attended by 20 members. On the Sunday a remembrance ceremony was held at the Camden cenotaph in Macarthur Park. In 2002 the 60th anniversary of the squadron was remembered with a tree planting ceremony in Macarthur Park.58 It was the last anniversary to be held in Camden.
1 ’32 Squadron’, Online at here, Accessed on 28 October 2005.
2 Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, St Leonards: Allen & Unwin,1998, pp. 199, 202-207.
3 Camden Crier, 13 May 1987.
4 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987; Camden Crier 12 February 1992; Camden-Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002.
5 LJ Abraham, Correspondence, 22 June 1999
6 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
7 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999
8 Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Evan Morris, Robin Prior & John Connor, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 297.
9 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986; J Sharpe, Corresponence, 23 June 1999.
10 PJ Squires, Corresponence, 23 September 1999.
11 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
12 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
13 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 21 March 2002.
14 J Murphy, Correspondence, 30 September 1992.
15 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
16 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
17 J Sharpe, Correspondece, 23 June 1999.
18 HB Simpson, Correspondece, 20 July 1999.
19 W Paull, Correspondece, 20 September 1999.
20 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002.
21 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 26 February 1992; F Ellem, Correspondence, 14 November 1986; LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
22 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
23 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
24 J Sharpe, 23 June 1999.
25 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
26 J Sharpe, Correspondence, 23 June 1999.
27 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
28 HB Simpson, 20 July 1999.
29 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
30 AR Diprose, Correspondence, 21 June 1999.
31 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
32 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999.
33 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20July 1999.
34 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
35 Camden Crier 12 February 1992.
36 Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
37AF Wailes, Correspondence, 26 Septembe 1999.
38 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
39 L Reid, 30 December 1986.
40 WA Paull, Correspondence, 20 September 1999
41 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
42 Camden Crier 13 May 1987, 12 February 1992
43 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
44 LG Fromm, 10 August 1999
45 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
46 RAAF Historical, Canberra.
47 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
48 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
49 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
50 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 23 July 1999
51 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
52 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
53 Stephen Garton, The Cost of War, Australians Return, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20
55 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
56 Macarthur Chronicle 18 February 1992
57 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
58 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 19 February 1992, 26 February 1992, 19 February 1997; Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
First published in Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2009
There are lots of exciting memories of Camden airfield in the 1930s by local folk, especially by little boys.
One of those was Cec Smith.
Wonders of flight at Camden
He recalls with great excitement the airfield and everything about it. He notes, ‘as the son of a farmer I was into anything that had an engine’.
Cec was a small boy whose family had only been in the district a short time. He was eleven years old.
The 1930s great adventure stories were ones of aviators and their aeroplanes.
Aviators were the heroes of the British Empire, like those that were written about like Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901) or EM Forster’s A Passage to India’ (1924). Or the real adventurers of the empire like TE Lawrence, of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame.
Camden airfield generated the stuff of boy’s own adventure books. Aviators and aeroplanes were the dreams of all small boys in Camden.
In 1936 it happened. Something different. A funny distant loaded, but relaxed, slow revving engine noise. But it was moving. Over that way. Couldn’t see anything. It was hidden by the house. When I got there, nothing. Even the sound was gone. Then within a few days that different distinctive noise again. Looking over to the northeast, could not see it. Then it appeared from my vantage point a mile or so away. It seemed to pop up out of the ground as it slowly emerged above the low ridge line running along this [Camden] side of the river.
Cec eventually found out who owned the aeroplane. It belonged to a local hero of the empire, or so it seemed to one small boy.
It was discovered that the plane belonged to Edward Macarthur Onslow, a local landholder. The plane was a DH.87A Hornet Moth (VH-UUW) and based on the property ‘Macquarie Grove’, where he lived. Older brother Denzil and younger brother Andrew were also qualified pilots. The brothers had taken the first steps toward developing a flying training and charter operation there, that pre-war was the Macquarie Grove Flying and Glider School Pty Ltd, and post-war became the Macquarie Grove Flying School Pty Ltd.
The flying school generated lots of excitement especially the air pageants.
Cec recalls that there were two air pageants put on there by the flying school in the late 1930s. The Macarthur Onslow brothers, along with local pilot/instructor Les Ray, who were the hands on staff of the school, and other pilots including Brian Monk (instructor from the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales) ‘all contributed to the success of what to us was a spectacular public event. This was all exciting stuff for myself and my school friends. It was a new dimension’.
Cec spent of a lot of school time dreaming of flying and notes that ‘much of the flying activities were visible from the school’.
He recalls that around 1937 he was intrigued to learn that there was parachute practice taking place on the airfield.
He recalls that a movie called ‘Gone to the Dogs’ had a flying scene made at the airfield where a greyhound was to be delivered by parachute to a racing track.
Cec assures me that the ‘dogs’ that he saw dropped by parachute were ‘dummies’.
Everything about the airfield was pretty basic in those days.
Cec, who gained his pilots licence after the war, recalls that the airfield was just ‘an open grazing paddock cleared of most trees and shrubbery but a fringe of trees remained on three sides of the field, adjacent to the river’.
In Cec’s view the trees
‘did not represent a hazard except in the event of a seriously misjudged approach… having regard to the operational requirements of the aircraft of the day. The surface was the usual farm type grasses sometimes grazed by cattle’.
Schooling in the bush
Cec attended the one-teacher school at Theresa Park Public School from 1933-1934 where he was in a composite class. The Department of Education at the time paid for the teacher and supplied books and equipment. It was quite common for parents to meet any extra costs.
Cec recalls that the school had 12 pupils and his first teacher was Mr White and later Mr Monday. Cec rode a horse to school bare-back ‘behind a neighbour’s son’, who owned the horse, despite his family owning a saddle. He maintains that the teachers had good control of the class and for their part the pupils were ‘attentive’, although there were occasions ‘when some of us were disruptive’. Theresa Park Public School eventually closed in 1958.
Getting an education in town
After Cec finished with Theresa Park he travelled into Camden Public School in late 1934. Cec says that on the whole he enjoyed school, although he was ‘only a mediocre pupil but could with some effort get into the top three’. Cec’s classes were quite small. He was good attender and received a book prize for not missing a day in two years.
Cec notes that the other pupils at the school came from a mixture of backgrounds, including 5-6 boys who came from the boy’s home. These boys he remembers came to school in bare feet and the lunches were ‘slices of stale bread spread with dripping, wrapped in newspaper and brought together collectively in a sugar bag’.
In 1940 Cec was a student in the secondary department when he finished his Intermediate Certificate. The results were published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1941. Cec gained ‘B’ grade passes in Geography, Mathematics II, Business Principles, Technical Drawing, Woodwork, Music, Agricultural Botany. Other local youth who finished with Cec were J Hayter, Elaine McEwan, John Porter, Frederick Strahey.
Cec recalls that the headmaster at that time was Neville Holder. Holder was the principal of the school between 1937 and 1940 and Cec found him to be a good teacher and felt that he did many ‘good deeds as a person and teacher’ while at the school. Camden Public School became a central school in 1944 and reverted to a public school in 1956 when Camden High School opened in John Street.
Cec sometimes had to wait at the milk depot at the end of Argyle Street, near the railway station, for a lift home after school. His father and brother would deliver the milk from the farm at the depot twice a day.
Cec feels that:
despite all the negatives of those days… we received a good basic education across a range of subjects all for free. All that we had to do was be there. In most cases transport only cost the price of a bicycle and the physical effort of riding it… and the cost of a few books, pens and pencils.
Getting a job
During these days Cec did temporary work at Camden Post Office for three weeks in 1938 when he was 14 years old, and in 1940 six weeks.
One of his jobs in 1940 was to cycle out to the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park each week to change over the public telephone coin tins. As Cec recalls they were officially called ‘coin receptacles’. He recalls that:
While I was there I had to make a test call back to the post office. The public phone at the airfield had not been installed at that stage of the war. The only mail contractor at the post office had the run which started at Camden, went out to Glenmore, The Oaks, Oakdale and Nattai River in the Burragorang Valley and then on to Yerrandarie Post Office.
Eventually Cec started work in Sydney in 1941 while his family continued dairying for the next 11 years.
The war eventually caught up with the family and Cec’s brother joined up in 1940 and ‘my turn came in 1943’. He recalls that ‘for our generation much happened in the relatively short period between 1940-1945’.
The Camden Bibliography is an attempt to highlight some of the research that addresses the notion of Camden as a country town and the subsequent urbanisation of the Local Government Area. The sources listed in the bibliography cover the geographic area of the Camden district as defined by this author in his thesis, War and Community: The Red Cross in Camden, 1939-1945 (pp. 22-24) and the current Camden LGA. This area includes a number of villages to the west of Camden and the Burragorang Valley, which are all integral to the town’s history and any interpretations drawn from it.
For the purposes of this bibliography Camden is a country town undergoing change on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. It was founded in 1840 and its wealth and material progress were built on farming (dairying, mixed farming and orchards) and mining (silver and coal). Camden’s characteristic landscape is defined by the Nepean floodplain and the hinterland has been a mixture of large estates, owned by the gentry, and smallholders. The townscape reflects the dairy town of the early 20th century, with a population that was dominated by social rank and rural conservatism. In recent years Sydney’s urban growth has engulfed the local area and challenged the very identity of the country town, the community’s sense of place and the notion of a rural landscape.
The bibliography is meant to be a starting point for any researcher looking at the local area. It is an overview of sources related to Camden and is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all references. There are the well known sources written by academics and published by large publishing houses, as well as non-academic works by keen amateurs, many of which are self-published reminiscences. While the amateur works lack the finesse of the professional author they do provide a wealth of personal anecdotes and recollections that fill in many of the finer details of country life.
Studies of communities on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe or peri-urban areas are not common and none have examined Camden or other small communities and their relationship the rural-urban interface. These communities face increasing levels of urbanisation and the threatened loss of their rurality, identity and sense of place. These sources may assist the researcher come to grips with a variety of cultural myths, icons and traditions within these communities and how urbanisations has led to a re-making of place on the urban fringe.
The bibliography makes no attempt to cover the vast array of manuscript sources that are located in a diversity of archives, both government and private. These include local archives (eg, ephemera, reminiscences), State Records of New South Wales (eg, National Emergency Services correspondence files of the war period), National Archives of Australia (eg, wartime records of Camden’s military installations), Mitchell Library (eg, Macarthur Papers) and a host of others. Most of these sources are uncatalogued. This bibliography does not include the lists of personal papers or many newspaper articles that have been written about Camden, nor does it include artefacts, objects, works of art, photographs and other elements which are held in various locations that make up Camden’s material culture and fabric (eg, Camden Museum). Researchers on Camden will come across obscure references to the local area in many places, and as interesting as they might be they are too extensive to list individually here.
This bibliography is only a beginning and the author would appreciate being made aware of any significant omissions so that they can be included in the bibliography.
Newspapers and Journals.
Theses and other studies
Newspapers and Journals
Camden Advertiser, Camden, 1936-1957
Camden Advertiser, Camden, 2005+
Camden Calling, Journal of the Camden Area Family History Society.
Camden Crier, Camden.
Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society
Camden News, Camden, 1895-1982
Camden Wollondilly Advertiser, Camden.
Campbelltown News, Campbelltown.
District Reporter, Camden, 1998+
Grist Mills, Journal of the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society Inc.
In Macarthur, Campbelltown.
Macarthur Advertiser, Campbelltown.
Macarthur Chronicle, Campbelltown.
Newsletter, Camden Historical Society
Alexander, Pacita and Elizabeth Perkins, A Love Affair with Australian Literature, The Story of Tom Inglis Moore, Ginninderra Press, Canberra, 2004.
Ardler, Gloria, The Wander of it All, Burraga Aboriginal History and Writing Group Inc, Darlinghurst, 1991.
Armstrong, Isabel and Geoff, John Armstrong Colonial Schoolmaster, Sydney and Cobbitty, From Original Diaries – 1839 to 1857, Sunbird Publications, Killabakh, NSW, 1997.
Ashley-Riddle, Josie, History of ‘Gledswood’, 2nd Edition, Josie Ashley-Riddle, Narellan, 1987.
Atkinson, Alan, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1988.
Australian Council of National Trusts, Historic Homesteads, Australian Council of National Trusts, Canberra City, 1982.
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Mitchell, R. Else, ‘The Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 25, pt. 2. (1939).
Norrie, Harold, ‘John Macarthur’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 15, pt. 4, (1929).
Pacchiarotta, Samantha, ‘Currans Hill’, Dictionary of Sydney (2010). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/currans_hill
Perry, TM, ‘The Spread of Rural Settlement in NSW, 1788-1826’, Historical Studies, May 1955, Vol. 6, Issue 24, pp. 377-395.
Pettigrew, J., ‘The Oaks Parish via Camden’, Church of England Historical Society (Diocese of Sydney) Journal, September 1974, Vol. 19, Issue 3, pp. 67-70.
Robbins, SR., ‘On the Trail of the Wild Cattle. Camden Methodism’, Journal and Proceedings of the Australasian Methodist Historical Society, 1923, Vol. 1, Issue 2, pp. 24-32.
Robbins, SR., ‘On the Trail of the Wild Cattle’, Journal and Proceedings Australasian Methodist Historical Society, June 1933, Vol. 1, Part 2, pp. 25-34.
Robinson, Christine, ‘Cobbitty’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/cobbitty.
Robinson, Steve, ‘Bickley Vale’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/bickley_vale.
Robinson, Steve, ‘Camden West’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/camden_west.
Robinson, Steve, ‘Ellis Lane’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/ellis_lane
Robinson, Steve, ‘Grasmere’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/grasmere.
‘St John’s Church, Camden’, Church of England Historical Society (Diocese of Sydney) Journal, June 1962, Vol. 7, Issue 2, pp. 263-264.
‘St Marks Church Elderslie’, Church of England Historical Society (Diocese of Sydney) Journal, March 1967, Vol. 12, Issue 1, p. 28.
‘St Pauls Cobbitty’, Church of England Historical Society (Diocese of Sydney) Journal, April 1956, Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 27.
Thompson, Jack and John Perkins, ‘The Wild Cowpastures revisited’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol 77, pt 4 (April 1992).
Wallace, Ian, ‘Campbelltown to Camden’, in Byways of Steam 9,On the Railways of New South Wales, (eds) Ian Dunn and Ray Love, Eveleigh Press, Matraville, 1995.
Watson, JH, ‘Heber Chapel, Cobbity’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 14, pt.6, (1928).
Weatherburn, A K, ‘The exploration and surveys of James Meehan between the Cowpastures, Wingecarribee River, Goulburn Plains, Shoalhaven River and Jervis Bay 1805, 1818 and 1819’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol 64, pt 3 (December 1978).
Willis, IC, ‘Active Citizens and Loyal Patriots: The Role of the Two Local Newspapers on the Australian Homefront, 1939-1945’, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin, 24, 1, 2000, pp. 81-92.
Willis, Ian, ‘Camden’s Salvage Campaign, 1939-1945’, Journal of the Australian War Memorial, No. 38, April 2003. Online. http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j38/index.htm [Accessed 5 August 2004]
Willis, Ian, ‘Wartime Volunteering in Camden’, History Australia, Journal of the Australian Historical Association, Vol. 2, No. 1, December 2004. DOI: 10:2104/HA40009. Online. http://publications.epress.monash.edu/doi/abs/10.2104/ha040009 [Accessed July 2007]
Willis, Ian, ‘The Member for Camden: Dr Elizabeth Kernohan’, AQ Journal of Contemporary Analysis, Vol. 77, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 2005, pp.21-25.
Willis, Ian, ‘Camden At War’, AQ Australian Quarterly, Vol. 78, Issue 1, January- February 2006, pp. 23-28.
Willis, Ian, ‘The Gentry and the Village, Camden, NSW, 1800-1939’, AQ Australian Quarterly, Vol. 78, Issue 4, July-August 2006, pp.19-24.
Willis, Ian, ‘Democracy in Action in Local Government: Camden, NSW’, AQ Australian Quarterly, Vol. 79, Issue 2, March-April 2007, pp17-26.
Willis, Ian, ‘Camden, The Best Preserved Country Town on the Cumberland Plain’, HeritageTourism, 2007. Online at http://www.heritagetourism.com.au/camden-the-best-preserved-country-town-on-the-cumberland-plain-nsw/ .
Willis, Ian, ‘Fifty Years of Local History, The Camden Historical Society, 1957-2007’, An Address to the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Camden Historical Society, 12 July 2007, AQ Australian Quarterly, November- December 2007, pp. 11-16.
Willis, Ian, ‘Camden’, Sydney Journal, 1(1) March 2008. Online. http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/ojs/index.php/sydney_journal
Willis, Ian, ‘Camden’, AQ Australian Quarterly, May-June 2008, pp. 15-18.
Willis, Ian, ‘A Night Out – Memories of the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre’, Phanfare, No. 229: March-April 2008, pp. 18-19. Online http://www.phansw.org.au/restrict/PhanfareMarApril2008.pdf
Willis, Ian, ‘Lost Interwar Motoring Heritage’, AQ Australian Quarterly, July-August 2008, pp. 12-15.
Willis, Ian, ‘Democracy in Place: Parochial Politics and the 2008 Local Government Elections’, AQ, Australian Quarterly, Vol 80, Issue 6, November-December 2008, pp. 4-9.
Willis, Ian, ‘Stories and Things: The role of the local historical society, Campbelltown, Camden and The Oaks’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 95, Pt. 1, June 2009, pp.18-37.
Willis, Ian, ‘Camden: The Interwar Heritage of a Country Town’, Spirit of Progress¸Vol. 10, No. 3, 2009, pp. 13-15.
Willis, Ian, ‘Whither Heritage, The Experience of the Outdoor Movie Theatre’, AQ, Australian Quarterly, Vol. 81, Issue 6, Nov- Dec 2009, pp.35-39.
Willis, Ian ‘Camden’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/camden.
Willis, Ian, ‘Elderslie’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/elderslie
Willis, Ian, ‘Mount Annan’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/mount_annan
Willis, Ian, ‘Narellan’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/narellan
Willis, Ian, ‘Narellan Vale’, Dictionary of Sydney (2008). Online at http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/narellan_vale
Willis, Ian, ‘Heritage: a dismal state of affairs’, Sydney Morning Herald Online, 16 April 2010. Online at http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/heritage-a-dismal-state-of-affairs-20100416-sjiy.html .
Willis, Ian, ‘The Glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram’, Heritage Tourism, Online, 9 August 2010. Online at http://www.heritagetourism.com.au/the-glory-of-steam-pansy-the-camden-tram/
Winney, I and R Fookes, ‘Goodbye Camden Tram’, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, April 1963, Vol. 14, Issue 306, pp. 53-60.
Theses and other studies
Brown, JW and GJ Bush, ‘The History and Development of the Burragorang Valley, Referring Particularly to Coal Mining’, Address to Camden Historical Society, Camden, March 1973.
Department of Social Studies, University of Sydney, Camden, A Social Survey, Camden Rotary Club/Camden Community Centre Committee, Camden, 1948.
De Ferranti, LZ, The Legacy of Camden Park. B.Arch. Thesis, University of Sydney, 1979.
Dodds, Sandra, Survey of Camden Sculptures and Monuments, Camden Historical Society, Camden, 1999.
Dodds, Sandra, Representations of History in Museums, MA(Museum Studies) Thesis, University of Sydney, 2004.
Don Fox Planning, Camden Structure Plan Report (Draft), Camden Council, Camden, 1999.
Environment, Planning and Building Services Division, Draft Camden Rural Lands Study, Council of Camden, Camden, 1998.
Gwyther, Gabrielle, Paradise Planned, Community Formation and the Master Planned Estate, PhD, University of Western Sydney, 2004. Online. http://library.uws.edu.au/adt-NUWS/public/adt-NUWS20051214.111331/index.html.
Jack, LE, History of Education in Camden and District, A Study of the Origins and Development of Primary Education to 1880 and Selected Aspects of Later Growth of Primary, Secondary and Adult Education, M.Ed. Thesis, University of Sydney, 1966.
JRC Planning Services, Environmental Heritage, Macarthur Regional Environmental Study, Working Paper 3, Department of Environment and Planning, Sydney, 1986.
Landarc, Draft Significant Tree and Vegetated Landscape Study, Camden Municipal Council, Camden, 1993.
Mason, Milton Lewis, Carinya, The Social-Class System of an Australian Community. PhD Thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1960.
Mitchell McCotter Willing, Camden Area Flood Prone Land Study, 2nd Edition, Mine Subsidence Board, Sydney, 1993.
Proudfoot, Helen, Campbelltown, Camden, Appin, Survey and Report on Nineteenth Century Buildings and Sites, Volume IV, Section Four: Hume Highway to Camden, Bringelly, Cobbitty, Section Five: Narellan, Elderslie, Camden, State Planning Authority of New South Wales, Sydney, 1973.
Rosen, Sue, Hawkesbury-Nepean Historic Environmental Changes Study, Water Resources Program Hawkesbury-Nepean Strategy, Water Board, Sydney, 1992.
Sankey, Robyn, Camden and the Coal Industry: A Study of the Development of the Coal Industry in the Burragorang Valley and its Impact on Camden and the District in the Post-War Period, MA Thesis, University of Sydney, 1984.
State Planning Authority of New South Wales, The New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin, State Planning Authority of New South Wales, Sydney, 1973.
Stubbs, Judith, Camden New City, A Community Profile, Camden Municipal Council, 1985.
Tropman and Tropman, Draft Heritage Report, Camden Council, Camden, 2004.
Watson, Clare, Conservation of Public Access to and Interpretation of Belgenny Farm, Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Camden, New South Wales, Report, New South Wales Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, 1991.
Wrigley, Camden Interim Heritage Study, Camden Historical Society, Camden, 1985.
Willis, Ian, War and Community: The Red Cross in Camden, 1939-1945, MA(Hons) Thesis, University of Wollongong, 1996.
Willis, Ian, The Women’s Voluntary Services, A Study of War and Volunteering in Camden, 1939-1945, PhD Thesis, University of Wollongong, 2004. Online. http://www.library.uow.edu.au/adt-NWU/public/adt-NWU20041025.152142/index.html [Accessed July 2007]
A Pictorial History of Camden and the Camden District, DVD, Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2006.
A Valley Lost – Leaving the Burragorang, Radio Programme, ABC Radio National, Broadcast 26 November 2006. Podcast online at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/stories/2006/1790948.htm
A Valley Lost – Building Warragamba, Radio Programme, ABC Radio National, Broadcast 3 December 2006. Podcast online at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/stories/2006/1792399.htm
Camden Headstone 1800-2006, CD, Camden Area Family History Society, 2007.
Camden Images, Online Photographic Database, Camden Historical Society & Camden Council Library Services, 2010. Online at http://www.library.camden.nsw.gov.au/camdenimages/scripts/home.asp
Camden Line, DVD, Rowlingstock Productions, Parramatta, 1989.
Camden Slide Show, DVD, Camden Photo Centre, Camden. 2007
Camden Slide Show 2nd Edition, DVD, Camden Photo Centre, 2009.
Dangerous Ground, TV programme, Four Corners, ABCTV, Broadcast 10 March 2008. Vodcast online at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2008/s2181743.htm. Programme transcript online at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2008/s2185494.htm
Harrington Park, Make It Yours, DVD, Harrington Park Realty, Harrington Park, 2006.
Macarthur, DVD, Editricks/Camden Council/Campbelltown City Council, Campbelltown, 2007.
Macarthur, DVD, Camden Council/Campbelltown City Council/Overland TV, Camden, 2010.
Make It in Macarthur, DVD, MACROC, Campbelltown, 2006.
Oran Park Raceway, 46 Fabulous Years, DVD, Chevron, Sydney, 2008.
‘Still My Country Home’, Song, Jessie Fairweather, Camden , 2007. Backing track for Camden Slide Show.
‘The Camden Train’, Song, Buddy Williams, Camden, 1963.
The Coal Carters, DVD, Garry and Anita Martin, Oakdale, 2005.
The Spirit of Macarthur, DVD, Editricks/Campbelltown City Council/Ron Moore, Campbelltown, 2006.
Valley of Wealth, A Burragorang Coal Pictorial, DVD, Anita Martin, Oakdale, 2005.
The author of this blog has written extensively about the Camden district and for a detailed list of publications click here
Camden Airfield RAAF Central Flying School 1940-1942
Australia’s entry into the Second World War created a demand for trained pilots. In July 1940 the Commonwealth Government acquired 468 acres of land on the Nepean River floodplain at Macquarie Grove `for defence purposes’ for an airfield.1 The site had been inspected in January 1940 for the RAAF by Wing-commander EC Bates (RAF).2 He had found it eminently suitable for the establishment of a flying training school. The Air Board had taken control of the airfield in April with the initial expectation for the airfield to house 150 men and 50 aircraft.3 According to reports the airfield had an ideal location with a long runway (1100 feet), clear approaches, room for expansion and existing hangars.4 The site had the advantage of a good surface, reasonable weather throughout the year, and quiet rural surroundings.
Purpose of School
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Minister for Air, Mr JV Fairbairn had appointed Squadron-leader EC Bates as the commanding officer of the new Central Flying School and Flight-lieutenant GS Coleman as the Chief Flying Instructor. The purpose of the school was to train RAAF instructors.5 The Commonwealth Government also set up training schools at Bradfield Park in Sydney and at Narromine around the same time.6
According to the Sydney Morning Herald the full establishment of the school consisted of headquarters, a flying squadron of four flights and equipment, accounting and workshop sections, that would ultimately consist of 385 men. There was to be a permanent staff of 28 flying instructors. The regular intake of potential instructors when the school is in full swing would be 55, compromising 25 civil pilots and 30 service pilots. There would also be link trainer’s instructors course.7 One of the first training courses at the flying school involved 13 British Royal Air Force officers who arrived for training for an instructors conversion course in June 1940.
The purpose of the school was flying training and administrative duties for selected officers and airmen of the RAAF so that could be flying instructors at RAAF Service Flying Training Schools throughout the country. The programmes conducted included training pilots in courses that lasted 16 weeks, air observers courses of 12 weeks, wireless operator’s courses of 16 weeks, and air gunners courses of four weeks.8 There were four Flights – A,B,C,D. The commanding officer of C Flight was Flight-lieutenant LN Ford. He commanded 35 officers, NCO’s and other airmen. Flights A,B and D had similar numbers. The aircraft used for training included Avro-Ansons, Airspeed Oxford, Tiger Moths and Wirraways while the Avro-Cadets were seen as `ideal’ for flying.
Movement from Point Cook Victoria
The flying school shifted from Point Cook to Camden in March, 1940 using aircraft, motor transport section vehicles and private cars. `C’ Flight was the first to move and due to temporary lack of accommodation a number of airmen were put up for a two weeks at Podesta’s Hotel in Camden. The move from Point Cook to Camden involved 48 Avro-Ansons and 2 Wirraways. The personnel included Wing Commander EC Bates (RAF), Squadron-leader GS Coleman, seven Flight-lieutenants, 23 flying-officers, ten pilot-officers, 132 airmen.9 By December 1941 the personnel at the school included staff 45 officers, 422 airmen, with 48 officers and 81 airmen in various training courses. Bates was commanding officer from 18 May 1940 to 11 May 1941 and was replaced by Wing-commander DJ Eayrs (RAF).
The staff of the flying school consisted of RAAF instructors, as well as former commercial airline pilots and private instructors. For example, GS Coleman, was the chief flying instructor at the Royal Aero Club and the Kingsford Smith Air Service Co at Mascot before the war.
While the Department for Air had control of the airfield they lengthened the runway to 1000 feet, built huts for officers and the airmen, completed new hangers to house training aircraft, erected a control tower, Macquarie Grove house had been converted into the officers’ mess, a hospital was added and there had been the completion of a parade ground, roads and lawns. The Central Flying School was described by on aviation correspondent as ‘the nerve centre’ of the Empire Training Scheme in Australia.
Movie Shoot The Power and the Glory
In 1940 Camden airfield was the location for the film The Power and the Glory and some CFS personnel played at important part. The black and white film was directed and produced by Noel Monkman was made by Argosy Films. The cast included heart-throb Peter Finch, with Lou Vernon, Eric Bush and Katrin Rosselle. The plot was one where a Czech scientist accidentally discovers a new poison gas and he escapes to Australia rather than give the secret to the Nazis. In Australia he goes to work for the government, but is plagued by spies desperate to obtain the formula. Camden airmen were involved in a scene where there was enemy infiltration on the coast near Bulli, with the sighting of an enemy submarine. Five Avro-Anson aircraft from Camden airfield were directed to seek-and-bomb the submarine. Wirraway aircraft acted as fighters and the `pilots’ were the `good looking’ airmen who worked in the mess. During the filming a grassfire was accidentally started on the western side of the airfield along the Nepean River and was the cause of much confusion among the film crew. The base fire unit contained the fire and it eventually burnt itself out. The `bombing’ effect was achieved by digging a deep hole in the ground between the landing wheels of the Avro-Anson and a few bales of straw were placed at the bottom of the hole. The bombs were released and fell into the hole with the camera down at ground level to give the proper effect. All the personnel from the flying school were shown a special screening of the film at the Paramount Theatre so they could see themselves. There was much amusement from the crowd to see how effective faking can be in the movie business.10
In August 1940 the airfield and flying school was inspected by the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Wakehurst.11
Visit for Americans
In the last few weeks that the flying school operated at the airfield they were privileged by a short visit from a squadron of American Bell P-40 Aircobras. The first aircraft arrived at the end of March 1942 and by the 2nd April there 11 aircraft and 117 personnel. The number of American airmen peaked the following week when there was a total of 25 aircraft. Their stay was short lived and they soon departed, with all personnel leaving by the 15 April 1942.12
In 1942 the flying school the hospital had a dentist, RM Kavanaugh,13 as well the welfare of the base was looked after by the Rev. AA Adams, a Presbyterian minister.14
Security was always an issue. There was a guard post on the entry road to the airfield, although airmen who had been in Sydney had no trouble getting onto the base late on a Sunday night. There was a ban on the taking of photos in the vicinity of the airfield and in March 1941 someone was reportedly taking pictures around Macquarie Grove. The police investigated the matter and found that it was the `well known’ press photographer Mr SHE Young of Fairfield.15
Access to the town for most airmen was restricted in March 1942 when there was heavy rain and the Macquarie Grove bridge covered by 2½ feet of water.16
The Town of Camden
The town welcomed the airmen from the beginning and Camden was always seen as RAAF leave town. Soldiers from the Narellan Army Camp were always discouraged from coming into the town. In 1941 a contingent airmen from the flying school was present at the Anzac Day ceremony.17 Some officers lived in Camden, for example, Squadron Leader Ford lived in Elizabeth Street in the house next door to the station master.18
Time Off and Leave
Relaxation was always considered important by military authorities and the servicemen at the airfield were no exception. In 1940 the RAAF personnel at the school were made honorary members of the Kirkham Country Golf Club.19 On 9 January 1941 the RAAF A cricket team gained outright win over Campbelltown and was in second place behind Narellan in the Camden District Association first-grade competition. By 16 January 1940 the RAAF team were on top of district cricket.20 According to Claude Whitfield (1941-42) airmen who were wearing `cricket creams’ could leave the airfield without a leave pass, while other without passes could not leave.21
In January 1941 the Central Flying School Swimming Club used the swimming pool at the Nepean Picnic Reserve for training for the inter-station carnival at North Sydney Olympic Pool. In October 1941 the swimming club asked the council to clean out the swimming pool at River Reserve in Chellaston Street.22 An athletics sports meeting was held on Onslow Park on 16 April 194123 and the CFS Rugby Football and Recreation Club were using Onslow Park.24 The rugby union joined the local competition later that year, but despite local goodwill the Council objected to the RAAF playing football on Sundays at Onslow Park. After protests from the airmen the Council amended its regulations so that games could proceed.25 This was not the only time this occurred in Camden during the war.
Tea and Scones
In 1940 and 1941 correspondents recall with fondness Mrs FA (Sylvia) Macarthur-Onslow who lived in the old house next to Hassall Cottage. She gave tea and scones to airmen on a Friday, nights as well they would play cards, read a book, play bingo and singing around the piano. She was a `lovely old lady’ who provided some family touches to home sick young airmen. Only about ten to fifteen officers and airmen were selected at a time to visit the house. Local women from the district churches and CWA auxiliary also attended these functions. These evenings were organised by Squadron-leader Fred Huxley and were eagerly awaited by the airmen. CR Portch remembers that Mrs Macarthur-Onslow had a particularly large great dane that moved among the airmen as they had their sing-a-long.26
Soldiers’ Recreation Room in Camden
The Camden AH&I Society opened a ‘Soldier’s Recreation Room’ in the supper room in the hall at the showground in June 1940 for the airmen and soldiers based in the area. It was strongly supported by Dr Robert Crookston and George Sidman, a Methodist and owner of the Camden News. It was staffed by women from the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services, under the presidency of Crookston’s wife, Zoe. It had mixed patronage and could not compete with the local hotels. It was out of the way and was largely set up as an alcohol free venue for local airmen and soldiers. This might have suited the morality of some local townsfolk but not the more pragmatic men on active service at the military bases in the area. These military establishments included the airfield, the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park and Narellan Military Camp. The Room was closed in March 1942 when the 11th Casualty Clearing Station, a mobile hospital unit, requisitioned the hall.
Move in 1942
The whole flying school was transferred in mid April 1942. One corporal, four cooks and six officers departed on 17 April 1942, while 13 officers and 216 airmen left by rail and 11 officers and 19 airmen departed by road. The aircraft moved consisted of 14 CAC trainers, nine Wirraways, 18 Avro Trainers, and eight Oxfords.27
1 Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No.134; National Trust of Australia (NSW), Listing Card, 19 January 1987
2 CR Portch, Letters to ICW, 17 November 1986, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987
3 Camden News, 11 November 1940.
4 Camden News, 4 April 1940
5 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11.
6 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11.
7 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11
8 Camden News, 4 April, 1940
9 Movement Order No 2, Movement Order No 1, Central Flying School, Point Cook, 14 May 1940; Nominal Roll of Staff, CFS,Camden, 1 June 1940;
10 CR Portch, Letter to ICW, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987
11 Wakehurst visited the airfield on 13 August 1940.
12 Operations Record Book, CFS, Camden.
13 Register of Dentists, NSW Government Gazette 1942, p.619
14 Register of Ministers of Religion, NSW Government Gazette 1942, p200
15 Camden Advertiser, 6 March 1941
16 Operations Record Book, CFS, Camden, May, 1940 to April, 1942
17 Camden News, 3 April 1941
18 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988
19 Camden News, 6 June, 1940
20 Camden Advertiser, 9 January, 1941; 16 January, 1941
21 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988
22 Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 January 1941, Camden Advertiser, 23 January 1941; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 October 1941, 24 November 1941;
23 Camden News, 3 April 1941
24 Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 28 April 1941
25 Camden Advertiser, 5 June 1941; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 23 June 1941, 14June 1941;
26 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988; CR Portch, Letters to ICW, 17 November 1986, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987;
27 Movement Orders
Image RAAF Central Flying School Camden 1941 (RAAF CFS)