Ministering Angels, the Camden District Red Cross, 1914-1945.
Author Ian Willis
Publisher: Camden Historical Society
Ministering Angels ‘is an example of innovative and groundbreaking work in local history, and succeeds in demonstrating a new way of linking detailed local studies to larger themes in Australian history’. Dr Emma Grahame (Editor, Australian Feminism: A Companion, OUP, 1998. Editor, Dictionary of Sydneyhttp://www.dictionaryofsydney.org, 2007-2012)
Ministering Angels is a peer-review publication that tells the story of conservative country women doing their patriotic duty in an outpost of the British Empire. From 1914 Camden district women joined local Red Cross branches and their affiliates in the towns and villages around the colonial estate of the Macarthur family at Camden Park.
They sewed, knitted and cooked for God, King and Country throughout the First and Second World Wars, and during the years in-between. They ran stalls and raffles, and received considerable community support through cash donations from individuals and community organisations for Red Cross activities.
Using the themes of soldier and civilian welfare, patriotism, duty, sacrifice, motherhood, class and religion, the narrative explores how the placed-based nature of the Red Cross branch network provided an opportunity for the organisation to harness parochialism and localism for national patriotic purposes.
The work shows how a local study links the Camden district Red Cross with the broader issues within Australian history and debates involving local history, philanthropy, feminism, conservatism, religion and other areas, while at the same time illustrating the multi-layered nature of the issues that shape global, national and regional history that can impact rural volunteering.
The book delves into the story of how Camden’s Edwardian women, the Macarthur Onslows and others of their ilk, provided leadership at a local, state and national level and created ground-breaking opportunities that empowered women to exercise their agency by undertaking patriotic activities for the first time.
In their wake Camden women created the most important voluntary organisation in district history, a small part of the narrative of the Australian Red Cross, arguably the country’s most important not-for-profit organisation. Their stories were the essence of place, and the success of the district branches meant that over time homefront volunteering became synonymous with the Red Cross.
Ministering Angels is a local Red Cross study of volunteering in war and peace that provides a small window into the national and transnational perspectives of one of the world’s most important humanitarian organisations.
A popular TV drama ‘A Place to Call Home’ on Channel 7 has been set in and around the Camden district. Amongst the characters is the fictional 1950s matriarch of the Bligh family, Elizabeth (Noni Hazlehurst). This figure has a number of striking parallels with Camden’s own 20th century female patrician figures.
Camden’s matriarchs, just like Elizabeth, were formidable figures in their own right and left their mark on the community. The fictional Elizabeth Bligh lives on the family estate Ash Park (Camelot, formerly Kirkham) in the country town of Inverness during the 1950s.
Frances Faithful Anderson
Kirkham’s own Elizabeth Bligh was Frances Faithful Anderson, who moved to the Camden area with her husband, William, in the 1890s. She renamed James White’s fairytale castle Kirkham, Camelot, in 1900 after being reminded of the opening verse of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. Frances (d. 1948) lived in the house, with her daughter Clarice, until her death. Both women were shy and retiring and stayed out public gaze in Camden, unlike the domineering fictional character of Elizabeth Bligh. The Anderson women were supporters of the Camden Red Cross, Women’s Voluntary Services, the Country Women’s Association, Camden District Hospital and the Camden Recreation Room during the Second World War (DR, 29/3/13). Clarice willed Camelot to the NSW National Trust, according to Jonathan Chancellor. The NSW Supreme Court rule in 1981 that her mother’s 1938 will took precedence. Frances wanted the house to become a convalescent home, but this clashed with zoning restrictions.
Camden’s Edwardian period was dominated by the figure of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park. She took control of Camden Park in 1882 when her husband Arthur died. Under her skilful management the family estate was clear of debt by 1890 and she subsequently re-organised the estate. She established the pastoral company Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, with her children as shareholders. Heritage consultant Chris Betteridge states that she organised the estates co-operative diary farms, built creameries at Camden and Menangle, orchards and a piggery. Elizabeth was a Victorian philanthropist, a Lady Bountiful figure, and according to Susanna De Vries was a strong supporter of a number of local community organisations including the fore-runner of the Camden Show Society, the Camden AH&I Society. She died on one of her many trips to England and has dropped out of Australian history.
Sibella Macarthur Onslow
Elizabeth’s daughter, Sibella, was a larger than life figure during Camden’s Inter-war period and was quite a formidable figure in her own right. She grew up at Camden Park and moved to Gilbulla in 1931, which had been the home of her sister-in-law, Enid Macarthur Onslow. Sibella never married and fulfilled the role of a powerful Camden patrician figure. She was a true female matriarch amongst her brothers who took public positions of power in the New South Wales business community. She was one of the most powerful female figures in New South Wales and her personal contact network included royalty, politicians and the wealthy elite of Sydney and London. Macarthur Onslow possessed strong conservative Christian values and was an active figure in the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese. She was a Victorian-style philanthropist and was president of the Camden Red Cross from 1927 until her death in 1943.
The power vacuum in Camden’s women’s affairs left by the death of Sibella Macarthur Onslow was filled by Rita Tucker of The Woodlands, at Theresa Park. She had a high community profile in 1950s Camden and was well remembered by those who dealt with her. She became president of the Camden Country Women’s Association in 1939 and held the position until her death in 1961. She was a journalist and part-time editor of the North West Courier at Narrabri before she moved to Camden with her husband Rupert in 1929. She was an active member of the Camden Liberal Party in the 1950s, holding a number of positions, and was New South Wales vice-president of the CWA between 1947 and 1951. She was an accomplished musician and played the organ at the Camden Presbyterian Church in the early 1940s.
A contemporary of Tucker was Zoe Crookston, the wife of Camden surgeon, Robert Crookston. A shy retiring type, she lived in grand Victorian mansion at the top of John Street and was the wartime president of the Women’s Voluntary Services. She was a Presbyterian, a liberal-conservative and an active committee member of the United Australia Party in the 1930s. According to her daughter Jacqueline, ‘her mother was a no-nonsense person who always liked to get on with the job at hand’. She was a foundation member of the Camden Red Cross and was actively involved until 1949. Other community organisations occupied her time including being on the committee of the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary from 1933 to 1945.
On a balmy late spring afternoon in central Camden a group of local people were conducting a photoshoot.
The late afternoon provided a deep even light that was ideal for the whole venture.
None were professional filmmakers. But that did not stop anyone.
The filming dodged pedestrians and was occasionally drowned out by local buses.
Historic John Street precinct
The project centred around the historic John Street precinct.
The film venture involved storytelling, great yarns, interesting characters, old buildings and lots of making do.
The location provided a rich collection of old buildings that speak about the past for those who want to listen. History enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the past in the present by walking the ground – the same streets as local identities and characters have done for decades.
This motley group wandered around a number of Camden’s old buildings – Laura Jane acted as storyteller for the 1-2 minutes historic grabs. LJ was full of passion in her completely ad lib performances. Ian listened for any gaffs – which were few and far between.
Debbie followed Laura Jane around with her handheld – tripod held – iphone camera. If she was lucky a bus didn’t drown LJ’s monologue. The roadies held all the bits and pieces – then reviewed the take and ably provided all sorts of advice – most it wisely ignored by the camera operator and storyteller.
The most challenging story was that of Henry Thompson’s Macaria from the 1870s, the ghosts and Henry’s 16 children. This is next door to the 1840s Sarah Tiffin’s cottage, one of the oldest buildings in the local area and one time lockup.
The Cawdor court house ended up in Camden in 1841 much to chagrin of Picton and Campbelltown which missed out. Next door is the 1878 police barracks which was always a site of plenty of action where miscreants were locked up in the cells to cool off.
The 1916 fire station which was really opened in 1917 was an improvement from the pig-sty in Hill Street. Next door is the modern library once the centre of learning and speeches in the town as the 1866 Camden School of Arts set up by James Macarthur.
Our storyteller and camera operator filmed a street walk outside the 1936 Bank of New South Wales building and its neighbor the 1937 banking chamber for the Rural Bank – interwar masterpieces.
The festival draws on a rich history of community festivals in the local area going back into the 1800s. The heritage of festivals is drawn from the English tradition of the village fair that came with the European settlers.
The origins of these festivals, according to Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s Old English Sports (2007), lies in ancient Saxon customs, particularly in Devonshire and Sussex, associated with ‘wassailing’ (carousing and health-drinking) to ensure the thriving of orchard trees (mainly apples) and exchanging presents.
On New Years Day village youths undertook indoor and outdoor sport to keep out the cold by ‘wholesome exercise and recreative games’. Sports included bat-and-ball, wrestling, skittles, blind-man’s-bluff, hunt the slipper, sword dancing and mumming (play acting).
In the financial year 2017–18 Australia generated $57.3 billion in direct tourism GDP representing growth of 7 percent over the previous year – three times the national GDP growth of 2.3%. Tourism also directly employed 646,000 Australians (1 in 19) making up 5.2% of Australia’s workforce.
In Australia and around the world, cultural tourism is growing. In 2015 NSW hosted over 11.4 million ‘cultural and heritage visitors’,1 both international and domestic, who spent an estimated $11.2 billion in the state, an increase of 15.4% on the previous year.
There are examples of this style in most of villages and hamlets across the local area and many isolated ones on local farms.
The name Edwardian is loosely attached to cottages and buildings erected during the reign of Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. This period covers the time after the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 when the six self-governing colonies combined under a new constitution. They kept their own legislatures and combined to form a new nation.
The housing style was evidence of the new found confidence of the birth of a new nation that borrowed overseas trends and adopted them to suit local conditions. These style of houses were a statement of the individualism and the national character.
The Edwardian style of housing also includes a broad range of styles including Queen Anne, Federation, Arts and Crafts and Early Bungalow. These styles often tend to be asymmetrical with a projecting from gable, can be highly decorated with detailed work to gables, windows and verandahs. Edwardian style cottages often fit between 1900 and 1920, although the style extends beyond this period influencing the Interwar style housing.
Typical Edwardian colour schemes range from apricot walls, gables and barge boards, with white lattice panelling, red roofing and green coloured windows, steps, stumps, ant caps.
A number of Camden Edwardian cottages have a projecting from room with a decorated gable. A number of been restored while others have been demolished.
Edwardian country cottages are not unique to the Camden area. Toowoomba has a host of these type of homes and published the local council publishes extensive guides explaining the style of housing and what is required for their sympathetic restoration in the online publication The Toowoomba House (2000).
Examples of Edwardian style cottages, including in and around Camden, were an Australian version of English Edwardian houses. Houses were plainer in detail, some with lead lighting in the front windows. Australian architecture was a response to the landscape and climate and the building style tells us about the time and the people who built them, how they lived and other aspects of Camden’s cultural heritage.
In the most March 2014 edition of Camden History Joy Riley recalls the Edwardian cottages in John Street. She stated:
‘I lived at 66 John Street for the first 40 years of my life before moving to Elderslie with my husband Bruce Riley. The two rooms of 66 John Street were built by the first John Peat, Camden builder, to come to Camden. In the 1960s I had some carpet put down in my bedroom, the floor boards were so hard, as they only used tacks in those days to hold carpet, the carpet just kept curling up.’ She says, ‘The back of the house was built by my grandfather, William Dunk. They lived next door at 64 John Street. He also built the Methodist Church at Orangeville or Werombi.
This housing style is often characterised by a chimney that was a flue for a kitchen fuel stove and chip copper in an adjacent laundry. In some houses plaster cornices were common, sometimes there were ceiling roses, skirting and architraves. A number of been restored while unfortunately many others have been demolished.
Some Camden Edwardian homes had walls of red brickwork, sometimes with painted render in part. While there are many examples in the local area of timber houses with square-edged or bull-nosed weatherboards. Sunshades over windows supported by timber brackets are also common across the local area.
The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of the imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create powerful memories and nostalgia for many people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger yet at the same time places of incredible beauty.
One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:
The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of this beautiful area – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.
Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years and this prompted to create a number of works of arts. She writes that it is a
It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.
Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.
In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:
In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.
Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.
The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.
The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley
Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that
The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’
Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals that were build across Europe between 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meaning to the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the powerful grandeur of these buildings.
Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.
It is these characteristics that can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breath-taking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.
The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folk over the years and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.
Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here one image that expresses some of these characteristic of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:
The many visitors to the Valley were attracted by the Gothic elements within the landscape. One example from 1941:
It is these characteristics that made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many of the Europeans settlers built guesthouses and accommodation for visitors from Sydney and beyond.
The CHN blogger was out and about in southern Queensland recently and investigated some of the local aspects of living history.
The CHN blogger was drawn to southern Queensland by the Australian Historical Association Conference held at Toowoomba in early July. The conference was stimulating and challenging and the hosts provided a great venue at the Empire Theatre complex.
The Toowoomba area provided a number of examples of living history starting with the Cobb & Co Museum complex. Apart from the displays there is training in traditional trades for the more than curious and there are a number of special days during the year. The blogger was there during the school holidays and there was a motza of stuff for the littlies to do – all hands on. The kids seemed to be having lots of fun, followed around their Mums and Dads. The coffee was not bad either.
The generous conference hosts organised some activities for conference goers. I tagged along on a town tour one evening led by the president of the local historical society – very informative. ‘Town by night’ was a great way to see the sights of the city centre from a new perspective.
One property that particularly took the fancy of this blogger was the Federation Queen Anne style Harris House. The cottages was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) in 2017. The 1912 Edwardian villa residence demonstrates the development of Toowoomba in the early 20th century and the place wealthy members of the local society within it.
The single storey red brick dwelling has a Marseilles tiled roof and wide verandahs with bay windows. The concrete ornamentation contrasts with the face red brick and the hipped-roof has decorative finials and ridge capping. The house is in a visually prominent position on a corner block and is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as ‘a grand, Federation-era suburban villa residence’. It is quite an asset to the area.
After the conference this nerdy blogger found himself at The Woolshed at Jondaryan. Originally built in 1859 the woolshed is one of the largest in Australia and today is an example of an extensive living history attraction. The European history of the woolshed illustrates the frontier story of the settler society of southern Queensland and the Darling Downs.
Thousands of young single Australian born women travelled to London and beyond from the mid-to-late 19th century. This pilgrimage, as historian Angela Woollacott has called it, was a life-changing journey for these women. They were both tourist and traveller and many worked their passage throughout their journey.
Their travels illustrate the links between metropole and the periphery, between the settler societies and the imperial centre that have been little explored by scholars of history. These young women were both insiders and outsiders, both colonials and part of the heritage of colonizers. The dichotomy of their position provides an interesting position as they explored the transnational relationship between Australia and the UK.
These women occupied a space between metropolitan centre of London and their shared British heritage and notions of England as ‘home’ yet at the same time they were outsiders in England and other parts of the British Empire that they visited in Colombo and Aden.
There has been some recent scholarship that explores the Australian diaspora in the United Kingdom around issues of imperialism, expatriation, globalisation, national identity and overseas citizenship.
In the 19th century colonial born women from well-off families went husband-hunting in England. By the early 20th century the list of women travelling to the United Kingdom started to include creative-types including actors, writers, artists, musicians, and singers. One of the most famous being Dame Nellie Melba.
In the mid-20th century following the Second World War young working women from modest backgrounds started to explore the world and head for London. There were a number of Camden women who undertook this journey during the 1950s that are the subject of a history project.
38th Australian Historical Association Conference 2019, Local Communities, Global Networks, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, 8-12 July 2019.
Title of Paper
Tourist or traveller: the journey of an Australian country girl to London in 1954.
In 1954 Shirley Dunk, a young country woman from the small community of Camden in New South Wales, exercised her agency and travelled to the United Kingdom with her best friend and work colleague, Beth Jackman. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other Camden women. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by Camden’s elite women in the late 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.
This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she and Beth experienced as they left Sydney for London by ship and their travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters when they acted as tourists in foreign lands.
The narrative will show that Shirley was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of local women who journeyed to London. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.
2nd Biennial International Conference on Redefining Australia and New Zealand, Changes, Innovations, Reversals, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland, 16-17 September 2019.
Title of Paper
An Australian country girl goes to London.
In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.
This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.
The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.