One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known at the Rotolactor.
The Rotolactor was truly a scientific wonder that captured the imagination of people at a time when scientific marvels instilled excitement in the general public.
In these days of post-modernism and fake news this excitement seems hard to understand.
What was the Rotolactor?
The Rotolactor was an automated circular milking machine with a rotating platform introduced into the Camden Park operation in 1952 by Edward Macarthur Onslow from the USA.
The Rotolactor was part of the process of agricultural modernism that the Macarthur family had implemented on their colonial property of Camden Park Estate to improve their dairying operations in the mid-20th century.
The idea of a rotating milking platform was American and first introduced in New Jersey in the mid-1920s.
The 1940s manager of Camden Park Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Macarthur Onslow inspected an American Rotolactor while overseas on a business trip and returned to Australia full of enthusiasm to build one at Camden Park.
The Menangle Rotolactor was the first in Australia and only the third of its kind in the world.
The rotating dairy had a capacity to milk of 1,000 cows twice a day. It held 50 cows a time and were fed at as they were milked. The platform rotated about every 12 minutes.
The Rotolactor was a huge tourist attraction for the Menangle village and provided a large number of local jobs.
In 1953 it was attracting 600 visitors on a weekend in with up to 2000 visitors a week at its peak. (The Land, 1953Mar27)
Town planning disruption
In 1968 town planning disrupted things. The Askin state government released the Sydney Regional Outline Plan, followed by the 1973 the New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin Structure Plan, which later became the Macarthur Growth Centre in 1975.
The structure plan did recognise the importance of the Rotolactor and the cultural heritage of the Menangle village. (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales, 1973, p. 84)
These events combined with declining farming profits encouraged the Macarthur family to sell out of Camden Park including the Rotolactor and the private village of Menangle.
The Rotolactor continued operations until 1977 and then remained unused for several years. It was then purchased by Halfpenny dairy interests from Menangle who operated the facility until it finally closed in 1983. (Walsh 2016, pp.91-94)
Community festival celebrates the Rotolactor
In 2017 the Menangle Community Association organised a festival to celebrate the history of the Rotolactor. It was called the Menangle Milk-Shake Up and was a huge success.
The Festival exceeded all their expectations of the organisers from the Menangle Community Association when it attracted over 5000 of people to the village from all over Australia. (Wollondilly Advertiser, 18 Sept 2017)
The Menangle Community Association Facebook page described it this way:
‘A true country event like in the old days. So many visitors came dressed up in their original 50s clothes, and all those wonderful well selected stall holders. It was pure joy.’
Despite these sentiments the event just covered costs (Wollondilly Advertiser 5 April 2018)
The festival’s success was a double-edged sword for the organisers from the Menangle Community Association.
The festival’s success demonstrated to local development interests that Rotolactor nostalgia could be marketized and had considerable commercial potential.
The Menangle Community Association attempted to lift the memory of the Rotolator and use it as a weapon to protect the village from the forces of urban development and neo-liberalism
The success of the festival was also used by Menangle land developers to further their interests.
Developer Halfpenny made numerous public statements supporting the restoration of the Rotolactor as a function centre and celebrating its past. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2017).
The newspaper article announced that the owner of the site, local developer Ernest Dupre of Souwest Developments, has pledged to build a micro brewery, distillery, two restaurants, a farmers market, children’s farm, vegetable garden, and a hotel with 30 rooms.
In 2017 the state government planning panel approved the re-zoning of the site for 350 houses and a tourist precinct. Housing construction will be completed by Mirvac.
Mr Dupre stated that he wanted to turned the derelict Rotolactor into a function with the adjoining Creamery building as a brewery, which is next to the Menangle Railway Station.
He expected the development to cost $15 million and take two years. The plan also includes an outdoor concert theatre for 8000 people and a lemon grove.
The show is an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in the real smells, sounds and sights of a sample of the farm in rural Australia.
The show represents the authentic real life of country people. It is a performance bringing history to life by storytelling through a host of demonstrations, events and displays.
The show is historical representation of the past in the present illustrating a host of aspects of rural heritage through experiential learning.
Living history reveals layers from the past
The show reveals itself in a multi-layered story of continuity and change on the edge of the Camden township. What was once a small isolated rural village at the Nepean River crossing and is now a thriving Sydney suburb on the city’s metropolitan fringe.
Competitive sections of the show have come and gone with changes in the farming economy. Livestock, produce, craft and cooking sections each tell a story of different aspect of rural life. What was once an integral part of the rural economy is now a craft activity and completely new sections have appeared over the decades.
Where once rural artisans were part of the local economy their activities are now demonstrations of heritage and lost trades. Show patrons once used to arrive in a horse and cart today’s show-goers watch competitive driving of horse and sulkies in the show ring.
Sideshows and carnies continue show traditions that have their origins in English village fairs and carnivals of the past and even a hint of the Roman Empire and their circuses.
The success of the show illustrates a yearning by those attending to experience and understand elements of the traditions of a rural festival in the face of urban growth and development.
The Camden Show is a rural festival that is part of the modern show movement that emerged from the Industrial Revolution. The first series of agricultural shows in the early 19th century demonstrated modern British farming methods and technology.
The first agricultural shows in New South Wales were in the early 19th century and the first Camden Show in 1886. The 19th century agricultural show movement set out to demonstrate the latest in British Empire know-how and innovation in farming.
The site of the show on the Nepean River floodplain is one of the first points of contact between European and Indigenous people and the cows that escaped from the Sydney settlement in 1788 former the Cowpasture Reserve in 1795. For living history it is material culture which grounds the audience in time and place.
The CHN blogger attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.
Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.
Mr Watson said, ‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.
Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.
Mr Watson said,
‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm.
Mr Watson said,
‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’
Mr Watson says,
‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.
Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Living History Farm visitors become involved in activities.’
The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.
The Living History Movement
Historian Patrick McCarthy considers that living history is concerned with (1) ‘first person’ interpretation or role play (2) adopting authentic appearance (3) re-creating the original historic site of the event.
Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’. Living history museums ‘do not merely represent the past; they make historical ‘truth’ for the visitor’. (pp. xii-xv)
According to Magelssen living history museums ‘produce history’ like textbooks, films or a lecture. Under the influence of post-modernism history ‘is on longer to be seen as the reconstruction of the past through scientific analysis’. Living history is a research tool. (pp. xii-xv) There are various interpretations on the way this is constructed, configured and delivered amongst the theorists.
Origins of living history museum movement
One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA. It is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the USA and attracts 1.6 million visitors. Ford opened the Greenfield Village to the public in 1933 as the first outdoor living museum in the USA and has over 100 buildings moved to the site dating from the 1700s. Henry Ford said of his museum
I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…
Living history @ Belgenny
Belgenny Farm is an authentic collection of colonial farm buildings that were once part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.
The Belgenny Farm website states that its education program adopts the principles of the living history movement. It states:
Schools enjoy a diverse range of hands-on curriculum based programs including the new Creamery Interpretative Centre. The Creamery showcases the dairy industry over the last 200 years and is supported by a virtual tour and online resources.
And more to the point:
Belgenny Farmwas established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1805 and contains the earliest collection of colonial farm buildings in Australia. The property is a major educational centre with direct links to Australia’s agricultural history.
Sydney Living Museums
Sydney Living Museums is part of the living history museum movement and manages 12 historic properties across NSW. The stated role of SLM is to:
enrich and revitalise people’s lives with Sydney’s living history, and to hand the precious places in our care and their collections on to future generations to enjoy.
to refresh and unify our diverse range of properties and highlight our role and relevance for current and future generations.
Living history is storytelling
Living history is walking the ground of an historical event or place or building. Walking the ground shows the layers of meaning in history in a place or building.
Walking the ground is an authentic real experience.
Participants absorb the past that is located in the present of a place or a site. The past is the present and the past determines the present. It shapes, meaning and interpretation. It is the lived experience of a place.
Living history allows participants to be able to read: the layers of history of an area; the layers of meaning in a landscape; or the layers of history in a building.
It is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.
Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real and authentic.
Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present.
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.
At South Camden there was once a favourite restaurant and venue for local weddings and receptions. It was the White House Farm at 451 Hume Highway South Camden. The restaurant was demolished in the 1990s and replaced by a service station. The site of the White House Farm is the location of many fond memories for family and community celebrations and anniversaries.
Mid-20th century modernism
The White House Farm is a local example of mid-20th century modernism influenced by a ranch-style from the West Coast America. It was timber construction, a tile roof and shutters to the windows. Camden had a number of ranch-style houses that was a style of domestic architecture that was popular in Australia in the 1960s. A number have since been demolished, like the White House Farm. The ranch-style architecture is described for its long, close-to-the-ground profile, and wide open layout. The style fused modernist ideas with the wide open spaces of the American west to create an informal and casual approach. One characteristic of many ranch-style buildings were extensive landscape grounds. The unpretentious nature of the style was particularly popular between the 1940s and 1970s. The style lost popularity with a return to more formal and traditional styles of architecture.
Located on the Hume Highway to capture the passing traffic the White House Farm was built in 1966 and run as a restaurant function centre by the owners, Mr and Mrs Henry Hart, until they it sold in 1985 to Alfred and Jennifer Milan. The complex had a large commercial kitchen and could hold two wedding receptions at the same time. It had a seating capacity of 220 in two dining rooms, one of 75 and the other of 130.
In 1984 the restaurant advertised ‘Chicken in the Basket’ for $12.50. Patrons could have a ‘whole tender, spring chicken, old fashioned stuffing, baked to perfection. Served in a basket surrounded with special fries, crumbed onion rings and homemade corn and banana fritters’. This delicacy was accompanied by the ability of patrons to select their ‘sweets’ from a self service area. Complimented with tea and coffee of choice. This ‘tradition’ was proudly introduced by Hart family ‘in the 1950s’.
The restaurant traded five-days a week from Tuesday to Saturday, lunches from 12 to 2.30pm, and dinner from 6pm. Sunday was reserved for private functions. There was the attraction of a half-price children’s menu. Bottles of wine averaging between $5-$6. The restaurant menu had a number of delicacies that are not very common these days. Entrees of prawn cocktail, fruit cocktail, and melon with ham, while the main dishes specialised in steaks and included carpet bag steak and steak diane. There were the poultry specials of chicken southern style and chicken in the basket (whole) and salads which included ham and chicken and cheese and pineapple. On Facebook Susan Vale recalls as a child ‘I remember sleeping in the car parked in front while mum and dad enjoyed a rowdy dinner with friends. It was the place for a nice meal’.
Weddings were catered for with formal or informal reception rooms from two available menus at the exorbitant price of $13.00 and $14.50 per head. The grounds provided award winning ‘beautiful garden style settings’ and the owners could organise music, photographer and cars for the bride and groom. The motel was a two minute walk away a local motel, the Camden Country Club Motel (now also demolished). The wedding party could bring their own drinks and there was no time limit. In 1990 the Camden press claimed that ‘newlyweds are promised a relaxed and special day’. The garden had a ‘relaxed and friendly atmosphere’ and it was like have a ‘home garden wedding’. For those who wanted something a little different the restaurant owners could organise a Scottish Piper ‘in full regalia’ or a ‘Sweep-a-gram’. The restaurant had their own DJ, master of ceremonies and musicians. The brides and grooms were promised ‘romantic weddings in a colonial home atmosphere’ catering for groups between 30 and 130 guests. One of those brides was Marie Larnach who recalls on Facebook that she had her ‘wedding reception there in 1973’. Similarly Brenda Egan had her wedding there as well.
The owners lived in a two-bedroom flatette above the main building. The auction notice for February 1986 said that it was ideal as staff quarters. The notice boasted that the White House Farm was a local ‘landmark’. The restaurant was sold with an adjacent two-bedroom cottage.
The White House Farm had lots of parking space on a lot of 6872 m2 and was an ideal venue for local weddings and large family functions.
The Shell Company of Australia lodged a development application for a service station on the site in April 1992, which proposed the demolition of the White House Farm restaurant. Shell had been prompted to go ahead with the development on the basis that there would be increased local traffic from the Cawdor Resident Release, which never did proceed. The Camden press noted the development of the site was always a possibility after 1989 when Camden Council changed the zoning of land on the fringes of the township. (Camden Crier, 6 May 1992)
The Camden press reported that residents had campaigned for three months against the Shell proposal. There was an initial public meeting held near the site at Easter 1992 with 60 residents. This was followed by a public meeting at the Camden Downs Retirement Village in April attended by 115 residents. Deputy Town Planner Graham Pascoe outlined the legal responsibility of council towards the proposal. Mr John Wrigley for the Camden Residents Action Group called for a show of hands for the no position, with resounding support. Alderman Geoff Corrigan supported the residents’ viewpoint and labelled the development proposal ‘architectural vandalism’ and claimed that the service station had ‘no heart or soul’. (Camden Crier, 6 May 1992)
Over 90 objections were sent to Camden Council from local residents along with a petition of over 200 signatures. Individual submissions against the service station proposal centred on
Incompatibility of the development
Loss of residential amenity
Local of landscape quality
Social and economic effect
Noise and traffic impace
the adjoining residential area and adverse impact from proposed trading hours of 6am to 12midnight. (Camden Crier, 5 August 1992)
The development proposal was raised at a Camden Council meeting in July 1992. Shell Company of Australia was represented by Mr Graham Rollingson of Martin, Morris and Jones real estate developers and spoke in favour of the development application. Several alderman spoke against the proposal including Aldermen McMahon, Hart, Corrigan and Feld. The residents’ interests were represented by spokesman Phil Kosta. The meeting was conducted by Deputy Mayor Frank Booking in the absence of Mayor Theresa Testoni. The council rejected the proposal on the grounds that the development application was not in the public interest. (Camden Crier, 5 August 1992)
In 1993 the Shell Company of Australia won a Land and Environment Court case to allow the construction of a service station on the site, ensuring the demolition of the restaurant and function centre. The local press reported that local residents were appalled with the decision, and Camden Council had initially rejected the proposal after resident objections in July 1992. Shell appealed the decision in the Land and Environment Court in December 1992. Council deputy town planner Graham Pascoe expressed disappointment at the decision. (The Chronicle, 12 January 1993)
Today the site of the White House Farm is occupied by a service station.
I only know that my husband and I had our reception at the White House Farm on 15th September, 1973. It was a lovely place, little bridge out the front for photos etc. The meal was lovely. Not sure what else you need, but I hope this helps. Marie (Larnach) (18 Sept 2017)
Charlene LindsayMy grand parents bought the place in 1965/66. I was around 2 years old. My mum, dad, aunty Angela and uncle Tino run the restaurant between them for over 25+ years. The original building had the living area upstairs. The original kitchen of the restaurant was where the bar area in later years was situated. Before the Sydney/Melbourne freeway was completed greyhound buses used to stop by for lunches. The party room was built by my dad and uncle Tino. The kitchen addition at the rearvof building was built years later with the final extension to the a rea built in the 1970’s. We could have a wedding of 150 odd people in the party room a wedding of 80 or so in the dinning room extension and the restaurant of another 50 odd people going all at once. Seriously busy. Most popular table was ‘lovers corner’. Back in its heyday drivers like Peter Brock Alan Moffitt Colin Bond would dine there after racing at Oran Park. My grand parents also lived in the next to the White House Farm. That house was previously owned by an old lady by name of Mrs May. She used to sell her fruit n veg by the side of road Hume Highway. I miss those days 😊. After my aunty Angela died my grand father didnt have his heart in it anymore – pardon the pun! Later my uncle Tino and his second wife Nelly bought out the rest of the family.
CL: Harry and Sitska Hart they came over from Holland in about 1950. They had identical twin daughters Angela and my mum Charmaine and a son Henri.
Ian Willis: Did your grandparents build the restaurant?
CL: No they built the wedding reception dance floor room and the restaurant addition on north side of the original building also the commercial kitchen and the fish pond.
Katrina WoodsI had the privilege of being neighbors of Charlene Lindsayparents Paul & Charmaine – I worked in the local store at Douglas Park & one day Paul asked me if wanted to work at The White House Farm ? In about 1979 ? I took up his offer – had many enjoyable Saturday & Friday nights – worked the weddings in the restaurant also kitchen – i was blessed to have had my engagement & wedding at this venue .
Fred Borg was also working there in my time & he also was our MC at our reception – Thankyou to Paul Charmaine , Tino & Mr Mrs Hart letting me be a part of Camden History
The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars were at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion. The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of the daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milkshakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.
The history of the milk bar
The milk bar, along with other aspects of Art Deco style of the Interwar period, is going through a nostalgia boom. Hurstville Museum curator Birgit Heilmann has written an article ‘Sydney has taken to milk’ with memories of the local residents on milk bars in the St George area. The museum recently hosted a touring exhibition ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café’, which was part of the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians National Project’ based at Macquarie University.
Before the fast-food phenomena exploded in Australia in the 1960s the Greek café was an important influence on Australian eating habits. The mixed grill was supplemented with sodas, milkshakes, hamburgers, ice-cream sundaes, milk chocolate and hard sugar lollies. The Australian Greek café was a transnational phenomenon whose origins are buried in the Greek café start-ups on the US east coast where Australian-Greek immigrants, who came from the US, learnt the trade as they came to terms with American modernism.
The first milk bar in Australia opened in 1932 in Martin Place in Sydney. It pioneered many of the aspects of the milk bar and was an instant hit. By the 1940s the milk bar had taken off and combined refined dining, ease of access, local cuisines, soda fountains and the first fast food. The milk bars were popularized in the 1930s with the introduction of the milk stirring machine and the malted milkshake maker, while before this the 1920s soda fountains were popular.
According to Macquarie University researchers, Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski milkshakes were originally a health food made with milk, fruit, cream, eggs, chocolate, malt and other ingredients. Ice-cream, milk fat and artificial flavours were popularised in the 1950s. Milk bars and cafes were a combination of food and fantasy, and in country towns, they were a touch of exotica that often combined with the Hollywood movie palace. The Greek café, according to Joanne Back at the National Museum, was the centre of entertainment in country towns and the centre of life for the first date and the first kiss in the booth. Greek cafes according to Leonard Janiszewski transferred ideas from the USA and transformed them into a combination of American style food trends with Australian cuisine. They were aimed at the whole family and acted to break down the social class barriers that were common in country towns. Greek cafes were often fitted out in the latest in Art Deco style design and furniture from Europe and USA (streamline Art Deco). Sometimes the temperance movement influence was instrumental in trying to get young people away from the hotels.
Camden Cafe, 95 Argyle Street, Camden
One of the longest surviving Camden sites which hosted a café is at 95 Argyle Street, Camden. The site is currently occupied the Café Crème Della Crème. Up to 1920, the site was occupied by Jimmy Stuckey who ran a fruit shop and Stuckey Bros sold cakes, bread, there where their bakery was closed and before this Amy Stuckey ran a boot making business
The first dedicated café on the site was owned and run by the Greek Sophios Brothers and called the Camden Cafe. In 1922 the Les and Dave Sophios renovated the site to bring it up to the standard of ‘leading city restaurants’. (CN7/9/22). The brothers owned and operated a confectionery factory at Lithgow which made chocolates. The brothers also operated cafés in Sydney which they sold in 1925, and at Lithgow, which was called the Blue Bird Café. The Lithgow café operated at a ‘Sundae and Candy Shop’ and boasted ‘an American Soda Fountain’. (1930Freemans’ Journal) The 1925 Camden News claimed that the brothers operated ‘the finest Sundae Shop in the State’. (CN12/11/25)
In 1925 the Sophios brothers sold out to fellow Greeks the Cassimatis brothers. Manual and S. James ‘Jim’ Cassimatis ran the café from 1925 to 1946 and in 1935 renamed the business the Capital Café. They rented the site off the Stuckeys until 1939. In 1927 the brothers advertised the business as the Camden Café and Refreshment Rooms and sold: fruit and vegetables; afternoon tea, coffee, chocolate with biscuits, cakes, sandwiches or toast; ‘meals til late’; fountain drinks and ice cream. Between 1946 and 1950 Ina Cameron and her husband, Gordon ran the café while Cassimatis’s were in Greece.
Since 2008 the site has been occupied by Café Crème Della Crème a continental patisserie.
Cameron’s Capital Café 1946-1950
Ina Cameron recalled (CHS Meeting 14/4/2008 and Camden Advertiser in 2010 and 2008):
In 1946 Ina and her new husband Gordon took over the Capital Café in partnership with her brother and sister in law. They spent 4 years there and Ina says that it was a hard 4 years, although ‘I loved cooking’.
‘The day started at 6.00am cleaning up the long fridge and making sure that everything was OK for opening. We worked all day. All that had to be done every morning. We had to get bread early and put in the fridge to cool it down so that we could slice it up and then put out on the table to make sandwiches.
‘On Monday we had fruit and vegetables from the Sydney market. I had to do a ‘fruit window’ and get rid of bad fruit. On Monday we made 5 gallons of fruit salad and sold a serve for 2/9.
‘Meals served a mixed grill, 2/9, steak and eggs, 2/6, sausage and eggs, 2/-. We had the best place for tea and coffee. The banana splits were very popular and it felt like we spent half our time making them. We did meals, scones, sandwiches – we did everything. Sausages came from Boardmans, and bread from Stuckeys.
‘The shop layout. There was a long window of ice-cream and one of milk. Along the top of the counter, there were little containers with flavouring for milkshakes. Seats in the café and closed in booths at the back.
‘The buses travelled between the Sydney to Melbourne on the Hume Highway [which ran along the main street] and they would stop in the morning and afternoon. Drivers had a uniform and pretty handsome as well.
‘The pictures were twice a week and we would finish up after midnight after the picture crowd had been and gone. Tuesday was Camden sale day and we provide sandwiches, along with late dinner and fruit salad. The girls who waited for us liked to be on that night [sale day] because they got good tips.
‘The Chinese market gardeners would bring their vegetable to us, whatever was in season. The Chinese market gardeners grew vegetables along the banks of the Nepean River. They give me a bag of fresh vegetables each time they travelled into town. I enjoyed chatting with the gypsy king who would drop into the store for a cup of tea whenever he was in town to visit the gypsies who lived at the bottom of Chellaston Street.
The 1948 Camden Social Survey stated that Cameron’s cafe [Capital Café] employed 4 girls and catered to the Pioneer Tourist Car. There are 4 Pioneer buses a day and a Fox tour once a fortnight. The buses usually contain 20 passengers plus the driver. The tours are on their way to Adelaide, Melbourne, Kosciusko and the Riverina Irrigation areas. The authors of the survey felt that ‘the number of tourists does not tax restaurant facilities.’
Camden Café 1938-1945
Len Hearne wrote in 2014 that Frank and Mary Hearne owned and operated the Camden Café at 91 Argyle Street, (now Camden Pharmacy). The café was a popular stop for servicemen from in the local area [from the Narellan Military Camp, RAAF personnel from the Camden Airfield and the NCOs stationed at Studley Park ECTS]. They came into Camden ‘by the truckload and inevitably they all made their way to the Camden Café for a decent meal. Frank and Mary got to know some of the servicemen before they were shipped out to the horrors of a distant war front. There was one US soldier who was a real loner. His name was Chuck and was based at Green’s Corner [Narellan Military Camp]. He had previously worked in a diner in Los Angeles and when on leave in Camden he would always want to hold out in the Camden Café. He left a box of his personal items with Frank and Mary and they tried to contact his home after the war without success. The truckloads of young servicemen who came into Camden when on leave had just one thing on their mind – girls- and would end up missing their truck back to their base. They would often come to Frank and Mary asking them to phone a taxi.
Other memories of Camden Cafes
The 1948 Camden Social Survey stated the hospitality sector (cafes, hotels) were the most common form of employment in Camden and employed 74 women out of a total of 121 employed in the sector. It stated there were 5 cafes in Camden employing 20 people in addition to the 5 owners.
Donald Howard recalls in his memoir The Hub of Camden (2002) the cafes of the 1940s. ‘In the first summer [working at Whiteman’s General Store] I found myself consuming 6 milkshakes a week. In those days they were rich and creamy with natural fruit flavouring, but 6 a week meant that 20% of my gross income was being blown on my appetite. I took a drastic step and halved the intake. I was learning that to achieve a certain goal, some sacrifice was often needed. One more lesson for life!’.
Fred Gibson, who came to Camden in 1953, recalled there was the Paris Café on the corner of Argyle and Hill Street, Howletts Café is now a hamburger joint. He said that ‘milkshakes were what we drank when you under 20. You never thought of going to the pub. You often bought a soft drink – ginger beer – sometimes put a scoop of ice cream in the drink.
In 1938 Pinkerton’s ran a café and they baked their own buns, pastries and cakes. In 1949 Burnell & Sons operated a milk bar at 122 Argyle Street, next to the Commonwealth Bank (recently the site of Gloria Jeans Cafe to 2014). They served McInven’s Ice Cream, iced drinks, fruit and vegetables and offered home deliveries from the milk bar.
Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar
The most iconic Camden milk bar was the Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar which opened in 1939 by the Macarthur Onslows as part of the promotion of their Camden Vale brand of milk. It traded on the healthy qualities of milk at a time when they were promoted by milk authorities in New South Wales. It is one of the outstanding buildings of the Interwar period in the Camden area and was built in the mock-Tudor style that was popular at the time. It was fitted out with the latest milk bar equipment and was noted for having the first drive-through facility in the Camden area where patrons were served milkshakes while seated in their car.
John Wrigley stated in the District Reporter in 2005 that the inn was constructed to promote the sale of Camden Vale milk products which were produced by Camden Park Estate. It was located at the southern end of Camden on the Hume Highway and promotional material boasted: ‘delicious milk drinks of all kinds made from Camden Vale special milk will be served. Camden Vale milk and cream will also be for sale. A feature will be the delicious morning and afternoon teas’.
It was opened during Health Week in November 1939 and RH Nesbitt, the chairman of the NSW Milk Board officiated at the opening. He was given a gold fountain pen and paid tribute to the achievements of the Camden Park Estates Ltd. ‘Doctors Harvey Sutton and Petherbridge set the seal of approval of the British Medical Association upon the proceedings’. There were lots of speeches on the subject of the progress of the dairy industry, the modern hygienic methods of production and distribution with special mention of the ‘keen city demand for the special grade of fresh milk under the name of Camden Vale’. Amongst the guests were Major General James Macarthur Onslow, Dr Harvey Sutton, hygienist, eugenicist and educator and Portia Geach from the Housewives’ Progressive Association of NSW and others.
The inn was designed by architect Cyril Ruwald and the entrance door to the inn was under a porte-cochere in the form of a breezeway or drive-through.
Annette Macarthur Onslow stated it had the appearance of an old coaching stage. She stated in 2005 in the District Reporter that architect Cyril Ruwald was a friend of her parents, Edward and Winifred Macarthur Onslow. They spent much time examining photographs of English country inns and how to achieve the same ‘charming settled look’ in Camden.
Apparently, trade-in milk-shakes was brisk as the concept was relatively new to Australia as was the concept of a drive-through ‘where one could remain seated in a car and buy takeaway milkshakes in waxed cartons’.
Gladys Mead ran the milk bar. Annette Macarthur Onslow recalls: ‘To us children, it was a place of wonder with bottles of colourful essences and generous containers of creamy milk which, with a dollop of ice cream and quick whisk, could fill four glasses for 4d. Gladys was a wizard cook. Her Devonshire Teas with freshly baked scones, whipped cream and strawberry jam found plenty of customers.’
Paris Cafe Camden
Ruth Funnell Wotton on Facebook 28 May 2015) says
My Aunty & Uncle owed & ran the Paris Cafe on the corner of Argyle and Hill street Camden . I remember as a child sitting on the backstep of the shop and being treated with an ice cream cone … because my mother used to go and help with the busy times of day lunch time etc … Their name was Amos & Dorothy Dowle ….much later years the Sumners Annette Mark etc parents ran it I recall ?
Read more about Australian cafes and milk bars
Read more about the exhibition: ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café @ the National Museum of Australian in Canberra Click here
and @ the Hurstville Museum and Gallery Click here
Read about the Macquarie University exhibition: ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café Click here and Click here
Read Birgit Heilmann’s article ‘Sydney has taken to milk’ Click here
Listen to more in these podcasts on ABC about ‘Greek Cafes’ on Radio Bush Telegraph 5 August 2014 Click here and the ‘Olympia Milk Bar’ on Radio National on 26 March 2011 Click here
Read more on Sydney Greek milk bars @ Scratchings Sydney Click here and Neoskosmos ‘The Birth of a Milk Bar’, Click here and in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article ‘Milk Bars and Rock Music Living the American Dream in a Greek Cafe Click here
When the first Milk Bar opened in Martin Place, Sydney, in 1932, people queued in their thousands for a taste of America. With its art deco design, and single, sweet product, the impact of Adams’ Black and White 4d. Milk Bar was far-reaching. As they spread across the country, to every town on the railway line, Greek-run milk bars and cafes became a focal point of community life: for celebrations, meetings, family meals and romance. For more than 30 years, historian Leonard Janiszewski and photographer Effy Alexakis have investigated and documented the history of Greek Australian culture. They discovered these cafes and milk bars were a kind of Trojan horse for the Americanisation of Australian culture, bringing in American refreshments, cinema, and music.
Further information on Leonard Janiszewski’s Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of AustraliaClick here