Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.
Retailing in Camden took its lead from England. At the village level the market stall turned into the high street shop. All goods were kept behind the counter, customers were served by male shop assistants and goods were delivered to the customer’s home.
Shopping in Camden was a rather dull affair by all accounts. The methods of retailing in Camden had changed little from the 19th century.
Camden women fronted up to the counter and handed their list of needs to the male shop assistant who filled the order for her. There were several choices from those owned by the Whitemans, the Cliftons, the Furners and others.
The winds of change were about to descend on the Camden shopping experience. The old fashioned general stores were about to find out what real competition with a global presence meant in a small country town.
According to Ann Satterthwaite’s Going Shopping self-service was the industrialisation of retailing along with the chain store. These stores featured cash and carry, no delivery and shelving displaying pre-packaged goods. In the USA there were an array of stores from Niffy Jiffy, Help Selfy, Handy Andy to Clarence Saunders Piggly Wiggly stores in Memphis in 1916 which was a type of cafeteria retailing. Piggly Wiggly was allegedly the first self-serve outlet for groceries. Self-service retailing emerged after the American civil war in response to labour shortages. For others like Edison’s Samaritan Market it was an attempt to make shopping more efficient.
The first time that groceries were sold in Australia using self-service in occurred in Brisbane in 1923. The Brisbane Courier reported that the first exclusive cash and carry grocery store started in Brisbane under the name Brisbane Cash and Carry Store. The proprietor Mr CA Fraser had opened three stores by 1927. The press report maintained that
The system was practically a novelty in Brisbane, but some idea of what success can be obtained through an honest endeavour to give self-service to the public in a courteous and efficient manner can be gauged by [its success].
The news report suggests that lower costs were obtained by the customer paying in cash and thus eliminating store credit. The customer serving ‘herself and so eliminating the necessity of salesman effects further savings’. It was claimed that the three stores served over a half a million people each year and the stores were ‘a model of neatness, cleanliness and efficiency’.
The first cash and carry store that opened in Camden occurred in 1933 and was owned by Mr Joe B Roberts at 110 Argyle Street. The Camden News stated that Roberts had obtained the premises that had been previously occupied by Mr Green next door to Mr Fred Boardman’s butchery. The report stated that ‘the shop has been specially fitted for Mr Roberts, who [would] personally conduct the store’. By 1936 Mr Roberts store was adjacent to Mr Green’s Drapery store. His Christmas special was a free beach towel with five purchases from the advertisement in the Camden News.
A recent article on JStor on Sex and the supermarket by researchers Tracey Deutsch and Adam Mack claims that supermarkets were places where gender and sexuality collided for American women. Supermarkets were one of the mid-20th century most important suburban sites for the important weekly ritual of shopping for the modern family. The supermarket was both aspirational and practical. In a weekly ritual the modern housewife could get lost is a sea of idealised dreams created by marketing gurus around an overwhelming splash of colour, perfectly merchanised products and an endless supply of brands that promised to make life easier for modern housewife.
In the USA a parallel development occurred in the kitchen. There was the development of refrigerators, the gas stove and products started to be promoted in cans. As the US economy developed fewer women went into domestic service and wealthier middle class women started going shopping in these new supermarkets.
The design of the supermarket was based on making them feminised spaces based on the latest psychological theories. Sex appeal made its way into shopping. Supermarkets were brighter, more colourful, cleaner, and sexier than the dingy general stores. The new aesthetic meant that these spaces were made to titillate and fascinate women. Supermarkets were clean and efficient with modern fluorescent lighting and carefully selected colours.
One of the earliest feminist authors Betty Friedan wrote about how women were shackled through shopping to their domesticity in 1963 in her book The Feminine Mystique.
Supermarkets are sites where gender roles are re-enforced where women’s sexuality is ‘contained and re-directed’ to consumption.
In 1941 press reports from Los Angeles stated that the hype surrounding the opening of the latest supermarkets ranked with the opening of the latest blockbuster Hollywood movies. The Southern Californian housewife went on the hunt for the latest bargains. The supermarkets operated with huge carparks, large neon signs, with some staying open 24 hours 7 days a week. They traded under names like Bi-Best Market, Sel-Rite Market, The Stop-and-Save, Thriftmart, and Wundermart.
In the post-war years elf-service retailing gained momentum in the Sydney area. Kings Cross grocer Mr Jack Greathead was the owner of a small self-serve store, and in 1950 cut the price of his butter and triggered a price war. Chain stores joined the price war. Mr FC Burnard the grocery buyer for David Jones predicted after a visit to the USA that self-service and other retailing innovations would soon be implemented in Australia. He was particularly impressed with the use of trolley-carts and pre-packaged hosiery and frozen goods.
In Camden Woolworths came to town in 1963. Woolworths opened the first stand-alone self-service store with a modern design, that was clean and made shopping more efficient. With modern lighting, wide isles, bright colours and lots of appealing merchandise to choose from with nationally advertised well-known brands. Some of the brands were American re-enforcing the international and cosmopolitan nature of the new shopping experience.
The new Woolworths store at 166-172 Argyle Street Camden was light and airy compared to the local general stores up the road which appeared old-fashioned and stodgy in comparison. The new supermarket encouraged local women to experience the thrill and titillation of going shopping. Slick brand marketing created dreams in the minds of the shoppers. Shoppers were encouraged to immerse themselves in the dream. Shopping became sexy. Shopping stimulated the sense with bright colours, in-store music and excitement of the new experience. Shopping became exciting. Shopping was sensual as much as it was practical.
The Woolworths supermarket consolidated a number of lots in Argyle street that was occupied by W Ward the butcher, Monica Ray and Beaton and Wylie.
The CHN blogger was out and about at the 2017 Camden Council’s Volunteer Thank You Reception at the Camden Civic Centre.
This is an annual event put on the Camden Council and the mayor Lara Symkowiak. This years those attending volunteers were welcomed by the soulful tunes provided by saxophonist Will from Camden Council.
The event MC was Sarah from Camden Council, which also supplied eats and drinks a plenty for the assembled throngs of volunteers. A number of council staff and councilors attended the evening.
There were over 220 representatives from 53 voluntary groups present from Oran Park, Narellan, Camden, Gregory Hills, Cobbitty, Macarthur, Harrington Park and Catherine Fields.
Mayor Lara Symkowiak addressed the audience and said, ‘volunteers make a difference in the community and that the evening was a thank you by council’.
The mayor said, ‘It was an opportunity for volunteers to be served rather than serve’.
One volunteer thanked the mayor for the recognition and the evening. She replied, ‘It is better that the council put on a thank you evening rather than a ball which would only compete with balls by other organisations’.
Camden voluntary sector
The Camden community has a long history of volunteering. Voluntary organisations go back to the mid-19th century and one of the first was the Camden Farmers’ Club and General Improvement Society set up in 1857. It became the Camden School of Arts in 1858 which centred on the provision of a library and reading room.
Current community organisations in the Camden Local Government Area are listed in the Camden Community Directory which has a number of categories of organisations. They include: Accommodation and Housing; Animal Services; Community Facilities; Conservation and Environment; Education; Employment and Business; Equipment; Financial Support and Low Cost Goods and Services; Government; Health and Wellbeing; Information Services; Law and Justice; Sport and Leisure; Transport; and Volunteering.
Benefits of volunteering
Studies have shown that volunteering is good for a person’s well-being and health. It reduces risk of depression, provides a sense of purpose, provides mental and physical activity, reduces stress levels, provides the ‘happiness effect’, and provides opportunities for overseas travel.
Volunteering builds social capital by encouraging social interaction, social networks and networking opportunities between people and strengthen personal and emotional support, choice (sovereignty) and power. Volunteering builds community resilience and community cohesion and strengthens the local community.
In Australia according to the Queensland University of Technology there are around 600,000 voluntary organisations which made up over 3.5% of Australian GDP in 2012 with an annual growth rate of 6% per annum. The sector employed around 9% of the Australian workforce which total over 1 million people and it made up of the top 5 sectors which are social services, education and research, culture and recreation, health and environment. These organisations have nearly 3 million volunteers across the country.
The Voluntary Sector is usually comprised of organizations whose purpose is to benefit and enrich society, often without profit as a motive and with little or no government intervention.
Unlike the private sector where the generation and return of profit to its owners is emphasized, money raised or earned by an organization in the voluntary sector is usually invested back into the community or the organization itself.
One way to think of the voluntary sector is that its purpose is to create social wealth rather than material wealth.
Although the voluntary sector is separate from the public sector, many organizations are often tightly integrated with governments on all levels to support it in the delivery of programs and services.
Night finishes up
To say thank you to Camden volunteers the council gave those attending two small gifts, a succulent from Little Miss Succulent with funds going to Turning Point and a boiled Christmas cake from the Campbelltown Uniting Church.
Council provided entertainment for volunteers attending with music, a magician, an artist and a photo booth.
Music was supplied by Will on Saxophone on arrival, while Theo and Bel provided vocals and guitar on the main stage for enjoyment of all the attendees.
The evening ended with mayor drawing out the lucky door prize. The fellows from the Men’s Shed seemed to score most of the prizes but then again they had the largest group attending the evening.
A good evening was had by all.
So what is the take out of all this?
If you are thinking of volunteering for anything just do it.
Sometimes folk who want others to volunteer their valuable time really do not understand the needs of volunteers. They do not understand that volunteers time is valuable. Most people are happy to volunteer if they have a reason. Volunteers need to understand the reason they are volunteering. Ad-hoc volunteering is OK and often time is more valuable than money.
Volunteering is productive and good for you so get to it. What ever it is. What ever takes your fancy will all of the community.
The CHN was out and about in the local area as you do on a recent overcast day at the Camden Showground.
The occasion was the The Argyle Affair Christmas Market for 2017. The market attracts visitors far and wide. One pair who spoke to this blogger came from the New South Wales South Coast and were particularly taken with the local music talent.
‘We aim to provide a safe and confidential environment where we can offer assistance, providing welfare services such as emergency food relief, advocacy, document assistance, phone access, and computer availability with free Wi-Fi’.
Market goers were asked for a gold coin admission or hand in an item of food that went to Turning Point.
The Argyle Affair organisers are continuing a strong community tradition of local festivals going back well over a century where local folk came together to support worthy causes of one sort or another.
Camden Community festivals have come in a range of sizes, types and causes from small street stalls, to large events like the Camden Show. Other examples have been the week long celebrations for the 1960s Festival of the Golden Fleece and the annual Rose Festival.
The grandest local festival is the annual Camden Show which has been going for 131 years. It is a celebration of the town’s rural heritage and over 30,000 people cannot be wrong. The annual rural festival even has Miss Camden Showgirl, one of the few still remaining.
Some photographs from the Camden Images Past and Present came the attention of the CHN blogger from the early 1920s. One from 1922 and, a second, the Duesbury-Burford wedding from 1925.
The images speak of the forces modernism and the fashions of the Interwar period. They illustrate how even the small country town of Camden did not escape the global transnational fashion trends of 1920s.
In 1925 the Adelaide News reported on the wedding of 30 year old Frank Duesbury, the son of Lewis and Catherine Duesbury of Camden. Frank married 28 year old Ethel Burford who came from Semaphore near the Port Adelaide district located on the St Vincent Gulf coastline.
Frank was one of five children of Lewis and Catherine, the others being Esther, Ruebell, Jessie and Lewis. The family lived at 64 Harrington Street, Elderslie then by 1918 in Menangle Road Camden. The family later moved into Balmacarra at 35 Elizabeth Street. Lewis worked for CT Whiteman from 1893 after running general stores in Dungog, Kempsey and Sydney.
In June 1918 Frank volunteered for service during the First World War. At the time he was employed as an assessor with the Federal Taxation Department.
Frank and Ethel became engaged in 1922. Ethel embraced modernism and the fashions of the 1920s and all they represented to her. The image of her at her engagement says it all.
An engagement is a betrothal and in most cultures is period before the marriage ceremony where the couple get to know each other and is considered a trial marriage. The engagement ring in European cultures dates back to the Roman period and more recently influenced by marriage practices of the middle ages.
In the tradition of British culture, including Australia, the wedding is one of the big days of a woman’s life, the others being baptism and funerals. The wedding was a big day in Ethel’s life.
The wedding day, according Elizabeth Davies on her website A Brief History of the Wedding Dress in Britain, is one of the great public occasions when the people involved can fully appreciate the glory of their central role. She maintains that the bride has always tried to make the wedding a special day, a fairy tale come true for many.
In the British Empire royal weddings were very influential on fashion trends and in times gone past were of great political importance. The young princess had to uphold the national prestige and present herself as a symbol of the power and wealth of the nation.
One of the most important in the modern period was the marriage of Prince Albert to the reigning Queen Victoria in 1840. Both 18 years old and smitten with each other. The marriage was of immense political importance to Great Britain and its position in the world at the time. It was the first wedding of a reigning English queen in 300 years.
The Duesbury-Burford wedding in 1925 was of great importance to the families of those involved. The wedding was reported in the Adelaide News and took place in Sydney. The wedding took place at the Church of Christ Tabernacle at Enmore.
The bride, Ethel, was dressed in ‘a charming tube frock of crepe stella’ reflecting the fashions. The 1920 flapper style was reflected in the wedding styles at a time and was a revolution in women’s clothing. The hemlines rose and the wedding dresses followed suit. The corset had disappeared and the sense of freedom for women was a rebellion against the excesses of the First World War. Ethel’s wedding gown reflected all of these notions.
Ethel’s outfit was described this way by the News:
The court train was lined with georgette, and was handsomely embroidered with pearls and orange blossom. Her veil of cut tulle was held in place with a wreath of orange blossom, and she carried a shower bouquet of roses and sweet peas.
The orange blossom in the wreath was a symbol of fertility, and was also used in 1840 by Queen Victoria.
Edith’s gown of georgette would have been quite expensive particularly as it was embroidered with pearls. Goergette fabric has been described this way on Utsavpedia:
Georgette is a light-weight, crinkled and sheer fabric, displaying an overall bouncy look. A strong absorbent, Georgette is easy to dye and has dull-rough texture. Georgette is woven in highly twisted yarns of S & Z, in both warp and weft. Georgette is woven in two forms: Pure and Faux. Pure Georgette is woven out of Silk yarns, while the Faux Georgette is woven from Rayon and Polyester.
The wedding party was dressed in marocain fabric which is described on the Sartor All About Silk website this way:
Silk crepe marocain (heavy silk) is a luxurious heavy silk fabric with a nice drape. It is similar to heavy satin but in contrary to super smooth and lustrous satins it has a somewhat grainy surface and dull finish. Silk crepe marocain wears very well and is a favorite fabric for women blouses, shirts, summer dresses, skirts, scarves and of course luxury lingerie, tops, evening and bridalwear. It combines well with airy semi-transparent and dull georgettes.
The press report of the wedding in the News stated:
Miss Edith Burford (niece of the bride) was bridesmaid. She was frocked in powder blue marocain, with flared tunic edged with silver lace. A silver bandeau was worn round her head, and a bouquet of pink carnations was carried. Little Marjory Dumbrill, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Dumbrill, formerly of Semaphore, was train bearer. and looked pretty in pleated pale pink georgette trimmed with pale pink and blue rosebuds. A wreath of silver leaves was worn round her head. The bridegroom was supported by Mr. Stanley Taylor.
At the reception the bride’s sister-in law received her guests in a smart gown of navy marocain with Oriental trimmings. She carried a sheaf of autumn leaves and flowers. The bride travelled in a smart frock of penny brown jacquard marocain. with cloche hot to match. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Duesbury are residing at Gordon, New South Wales.
Gordon of the 1920s was an on the rural-urban fringe of Sydney and had a number of real estate subdivisions where young couple could buy a first home. The suburb was an expression of modernism. It was accessible to the city by the railway which had arrived in 1890 and encouraged the breaking up of local farms for housing. The Interwar period was a time of change and there was rapid housing growth.
Newly weds Frank and Ethel were an expression of modernism and they embraced it and all it stood for in their lifestyle and their family life.
Local historian and author Dr Ian Willis has had a proposal accepted for an article in Media History, an international media journal published in the UK.
The article outlines the history of local newspapers in the Macarthur region and covers the towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton.
Local newspapers were rationalised, corporatised and consolidated from the 1950s as Sydney’s urban growth moved into the region.
By the late 20th century changes in technology and innovations set in as the local newspapers were re-shaped by the growth and arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.
The article will show that is recent times digital disruption has taken a toll, but there are green shoots with new mastheads appearing in some of the new suburbs in the region.
Media History is an international academic journal published in the UK. Its website states that:
Media Historyis an interdisciplinary journal which welcomes contributions addressing media and society from the fifteenth century to the present. Its perspective is both historical and international. It explores all forms of serial publication in manuscript, print and electronic media and encourages work which crosses the boundaries of politics, culture and communications.
Abstract for journal article in Media History (UK)
Provincial and regional newspapers have been defined by parochialism and localism. They have pandered to local sensibilities and a need to serve their community. Some have argued that local newspapers are a subset of their cultural environment, a form of structural functionalism. For others regional newspapers play a part in placemaking and community identity. The stories they carry are critical to the memory making. They act as a mirror to the values and attitudes of the local community.
This article will test these propositions and others by an examination of a number of regional newspapers that have been published in the Macarthur region of New South Wales. The discussion will analyse the historical continuity and change in the landscape of the area’s regional press and the actors who were part of it.
Colonial newspapers appeared in the late 19th century in the three market towns within the region at Campbelltown, Camden and Picton. The local press reflected the nature of the settler society and mirrored the British provincial press in these small rural outposts of the British Empire. By the early-20th century the Campbelltown News, the Camden News and the Picton Post, were the face of these thriving communities. During the Interwar period this trio were joined by the Camden Advertiser.
The forces of war and depression influenced the regional press as it did local communities. Nostalgia, the doings of local politicians, and the tension between profit making and journalism have all played a part in this story, while the inverted pyramid arrived mid-century.
Corporatisation, consolidation and rationalisation re-shaped the regional press with the arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe in the 1950s. Competition from radio, new technology and innovations brought more changes and by the 21st century digital disruption was in full swing.
The owners of the Macarthur regional press were local identities and opinion leaders. Their editorial positions reflected their political allegiances. They encouraged patriotic loyalty in wartime and the war at home. Editor owners practiced a type of censorship and their silence around a number of social issues was deafening. Their publications re-enforced the status quo, and existing social divisions, cultural norms, while acting as a form of regional voice.
As technology and local demographics have changed so have the nature of Macarthur regional press. Where once black and white newspaper were sold for pennies there are now colourful free publications, and circulations which are still a guide to the sphere of influence of the local newspaper. While in recent times some of the highest rates urban growth in Australia have encouraged green shoots with the appearance of new mastheads in the form of newsletter newspapers.
In the Oran Park Gazette Lisa Finn-Powell maintains that the community newspaper does have a future. She argues that it provides a way for members of the community to support each other by celebrating local events, anniversaries and traditions. Local newspapers make people feel good about their neighbourhood.
…this post introduces PHA NSW and ACT member, Ian Willis’ blog, Camden History Notes. Camden is a town southwest of Sydney, situated on land belonging to the Dharawal (Tharawal) people.
Ian’s blog presents stories about the district’s people, its history, heritage and traditions. He draws on the memories and experiences of local families, local identities, community organisations and local institutions.
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
On Tuesday 3 October 2017 Dr Ian Willis presented a talk to Narellan Rotary Club at Harrington Park Country Club, Harrington Park, NSW. The title of the presentation was ‘The Cowpastures, just like an English landscape’.
Summary of the presentation
The early colonial European settlers in the Cowpastures were the key players in the story of creating an English-style landscape along the Nepean River. The settlers took possession of the countryside from the Dharawal Aboriginal people and re-made it in their own vision of the world.
They constructed a cultural landscape made up of an idealised vision of what they had left behind in the ‘Old Country’. For the European settlers the new continent, and particularly the bush, had the elements of the Gothic with its grotesque and the demonic, and the English-style landscape aesthetic they created was one attempt to counter these forces.
Settlers used the aesthetic to assist the creation of a new story on an apparently blank slate and in the process dispossessed and displaced the Indigenous occupants. The new landscape was characterised by English placenames, English farming methods and English settlement patterns, with only cursory acknowledgement of Indigenous occupation.
The early settlers had such a profound impact on the countryside that their legacy is still clearly identifiable today even after 200 years.