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Camden Airfield and No 32 Squadron RAAF

32 Squadron RAAF, Camden Airfield, 1942-1944

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.

Camden Airfield Tiger Mother 1942 LG Fromm
RAAF Training Squadron at Camden Airfield with one of the main aircraft used for training at the time a Tiger Moth in 1942. The control tower is shown to the left of the image and the Bellman hangars behind.  (LG Fromm)

Formation

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

 

Date

Name

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

Camden Airfield 1940s WW2[1]
Aerial view of the RAAF Base Camden at Camden Airfield during the  Second World War. The runways are shown on the Nepean River floodplain with the base buildings at the bottom of the image. (NAA)

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

Training Exercises

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

Camden Airfield Hut No 72
The base accommodation at the RAAF Base Camden was quite rudimentary as this image of Camden Airfield Hut No 72 shows. The timber building was unlined and was reportedly very cold on a frosty morning in winter. Heating was provided by a single wood chip stove for the hut. This is the sole surviving RAAF Base building still on Camden Airfield. (I Willis)

Re-equipment

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

Camden Airfield 1943 Flood Macquarie Grove168 [2]
The RAAF Base Camden was located on the Nepean River floodplain. One of the hazards was flooding as shown here in 1943. The town of Camden is shown on the far side of the flooded river. (Camden Museum)

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

Camden Airfield Lockheed_A-29_Hudson_USAAF_in_flight_c1941
This aircraft is similar to the Lockheed Hudsons flown by 32 Squadron in 1942 out of RAAF Base Camden at Camden Airfield. This aircraft a Lockheed-A-29 Hudson USAAF in flight c1941 (Wikimedia)

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

Camden Airfield 1940
The aerial view of the RAAF Base Camden shows the base buildings and runway. The view was taken in 1940 when RAAF Training Squadrons occupied the based and changed little throughout the rest of the war. (NAA)

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.

References

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
54 Ibid
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
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Attachment to place · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · community identity · Edwardian · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · myths · sense of place · Victorian · Women's diaries · Women's Writing

Victorian librarian with attitude or a ghostly presence in the Camden Museum.

Victorian librarian with attitude or a ghostly presence in the Camden Museum.

Who is the ghostly presence in the archive room at the Camden Museum.? Is it the ghostly presence of some Victorian matron who used to roam the site? Is it the ghost of some former Camden librarian who has come back in a different life?

Camden Museum IMG_2560 haunting presence in research room (1) 2017 AMcIntosh
The ghostly figure of the lady in black in the archive room at the Camden Museum. Photographer Anne wondered as well when she took this image the other night recently after one of the meetings. (A McIntosh)

The lady in question displays a certain attitude towards the visitors that is a bit disconcerting. She looks over your shoulder while you are busy reading some newspaper from a bygone time.

The lady makes you feel guilty that you have not contacted your long lost aunt in months. Maybe she just touches your guilt complex.

The images of the lady were taken by museum volunteer Anne who has an eye for a moving photo or two after a society meeting recently. She has made the hairs stand up on the neck of quite a few people recently.

The Camden Museum is full of objects with lots of stories to tell. An object will speak to you if take the time and patient to unlock the story of its last owner.

Where did it come from? Who owned it? What is their story? What was the object used for? When was it used? Where was it used? Who used it?

What events surround the object? What is the story linked to those events? Who attended the events?

Camden Museum wwwIMG_2561coy-Vic-librarian (1)2017 AMcIntosh
Who is this lady? What is she doing here? What is her truth? What is she hiding? Check her out at the museum on your next visit. What do you think? This English lady was donated by Camden Local Pam Hartley. She will not reside permanently at the Camden Museum and may find a home at Lifeline. (A McIntosh)

Objects are full of stories. The stories are often hidden in plain view. You just need the patience to unlock the story.

What is the story of our lady? Where did she come from? Who is she? Why is she dressed this way? What does all this mean? What are the memories of people linked to her?

Recently I was told by a local person interested in local history that they only wanted the facts. Everything else is just fake news. What does that mean? What is a fact?

That question is simple enough.

Well is it?

Some will say the facts are in the newspaper. Well are they?

The newspaper is a second hand account of an event and the people who were at that event. The story is written by a journalist.

The journalist writes from their notes or their memories. How fixed are these details? Not as permanent as some would like.

So what are the facts? How accurate is the newspaper story.? Only as accurate as the writer remembers.

How accurate is the list of people at the event?  Only as accurate as the writer recalls. How accurate is the story of the event, what happened and in what order? Only as accurate as the writer remembers or as good as their notes. Does the writer have any biases? Yes. What are they? Lots and they affect how the journalist writes the story.

What did the writer leave out of the story? Was the newspaper story a full, accurate and fair account of the event? How do we know 100 years after the event? We do not know and the facts are not as fixed in concrete as some would think.

So the local person I spoke to who only wanted the facts really did not understand what they were dealing with. Their facts are not as fixed as they thought they were.

At any public event everyone who attends is a witness to the proceedings. If you talk to 10 people from the event the following day they will give you 10 different versions.

So what were the facts? The facts will be the things that everyone agrees on. Maybe.

Try it sometime at your next family get together. Ask different family members to recall the event. They will all have a different version.

So what is the truth? What are the facts? Are they all telling lies? Did they all forget what you remembered? Is your version the only correct version? Is your version the truth?

Are you the only one who can remembers the facts? Or is it that your version is just one version of the truth? Or is it that your version is just one version of the facts?

So is everyone telling lies? Is everyone just making it up? Does everyone just forget all the facts according to you?

Is everything else just fake news.

Camden Museum IMG_2562museum Vic librarian with attitude (1)2017 AMcIntosh
The lady in black is looking over your shoulder to make sure that your are reading the truth. Or are you? What is the truth? Who is she? What are you reading? Is it the truth? (A McIntosh)

So what is the truth? Not so easy to answer that one.

Everyone was there and they all witnessed the same thing.

Is everyone is telling the truth?

There are lots of versions of the truth. There are just lots of versions.

Everyone saw the event through different eyes. They all have a different story of the event.

All versions are correct. They are all correct. There is no wrong version. They are different interpretations of the same event.

But they all cannot be correct.  As my local history contact told me he only wanted the facts. Everything else is just fake news.

There are lots of truths. There are lots of different views of the world. There is no black or white answer. Only shades of grey.

People like life to be simple. People like things to be right or wrong.

Life is not like that. There are all sorts of nuances to things. There is no one truth. There are lots of truths.

The lady at the museum. Who is she? What is her story? What is her history? Lots of interesting questions. So what is the truth?

Come and find out for yourself.

Find some of the truths of the Camden area by visiting the Camden Museum.

Some of the answers might surprise you.

Convalescent hospital · Edwardian · First World War · Historical consciousness · history · Interwar · Local History · Medical history · Red Cross · Second World War

Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord NSW

Out at Concord, located in Sydney’s inner west, is the magnificent building of the former Thomas Walker Memorial Hospital for Convalescents, that is now the school Rivendell. It was recently open for inspection by the City of Canada Bay Heritage Society.

Imposing entrance at the main building of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord facing the Parramatta River 2017 Open Day(I Willis)

The heritage society organises regular open days to continually raise public awareness of this heritage icon.

The Heritage Council of NSW states:

The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital is situated in the Municipality of Concord on the Parramatta River bounded by Brays Bay and Yaralla Bay. It is a large complex on a large park-like riverside estate, with extensive and prominent landscape plantings, making it a landmark along the river.

Opened in 1893 patients were taken from Circular Quay to the Watergate at the front of the complex on the Parramatta River. The landing stage was a pontoon that went up and down with the tide. A bridge connected the pontoon to the Watergate.

 

Watergate at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

The convalescent hospital was constructed from a bequest of 100,000 pounds from the will of businessman and politician Thomas Walker who died in 1886. Walker was a philanthropist, member of the legislative council and director of the Bank of New South Wales.

The executors of Walker’s will announced a design competition in 1888 for a convalescent hospital. Architect John Kirkpatrick won the design competition although criticized for being overly expensive.

In 1889 architectural commission was given to Sydney architects Sulman and Power. The building cost 150,000 pounds with additional funds coming from other family members and supporters.

Between 1943 and 1946 the hospital was managed by the Red Cross with control then passing to Perpetual Trustees.

The hospital complex

The main hospital building is Queen Anne Federation style  with a four-storey clock tower at the centre. There is classical ornamentation. On either side of the main building are two wings containing cloisters.

The hospital complex is based on a pavilion basis, with each pavilion to retain its functional integrity with the central block for administration and service blocks either side. There are 8 buildings in the complex.

 

Impressive entry vestibule in the main building at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

The main building is two storey with a three storey tower over the main entrance, an impressive vestibule, and an entertainment hall for 300 people. There is sandstone detail throughout inside and out.

The Sulman buildings have elaborately shaped exposed rafter ends, Marseilles pattern terracotta roof tiles and crafted brickwork.

 

Covered walkway from main building at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

The History of Sydney website states:

The building’s symmetrical design originally divided it into male and female sides. It includes two enclosed courtyards, a concert hall and a recreation hall which is supposed to be highly decorated. It is of the first known buildings to make use of “cavity walls” for insulation and protection against Sydney’s hot climate.

 

Complex roof line showing Marseilles pattern terracotta roof tiles of main building Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

Significance of hospital complex

The NSW heritage inventory states:

The hospital is important because it reflects Florence Nightingale’s influence on 19th century convalescent hospital design principles and their adoption into Australian architecture.

The Estate is a rare surviving late 19th century major institution of a private architect’s design in Australia and is John Sulman’s finest work in this country.

The grounds of the hospital are of national heritage signficance as an intact example of Victorian/Edwardian institutional gardens which have maintained an institution throughout their whole existence.

Some of the crowd in the reception entertainment hall at Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

Look out for the next visitor open day in mid 2018 (July) run by the Canada Bay Heritage Society as well as the associated house of Yaralla at Concord in April and October.

Learn more 

Canada Bay Heritage Society

Camden · Campbelltown · Colonialism · community identity · Historical consciousness · history · Local History · Macarthur · Newspapers · Picton · Place making · sense of place

Macarthur regional identity

The Macarthur region is an area made of the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government areas and is a formal region with an arbitrary political boundary. Regions come in all shapes and sizes from formal regions with definite boundaries, to geographic regions based on    landform types, to regions of the imagination with no real boundaries at all. They are a useful tool to examine communities, and despite falling out of favour with some, still have a place in the popular imagination and provide a useful analytical tool.

 

Macarthur Signage

 

Origins of the Macarthur region

The first official use of the term Macarthur as a regional place-name was  the proclamation of the new  Federal seat of Macarthur in 1949 after the 1948 re-distribution and the Federal House of Representatives was increased from 75 to 122 members. The new seat of Macarthur was named after the colonial wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur of Camden Park, which according to a recent heritage report from TKD Architects ‘is the most important surviving early colonial estate in Australia and ranks amongst the most historic houses in Australia’.[1] The original land grant to John Macarthur in 1805 took place on the Nepean River floodplain and eventually the familiy’s colonial estate of Camden Park covered parts of what is now the Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly LGAs.

 

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

 

 

Commercialisation of the Macarthur region

 The use of the Macarthur place-name got a leg up in 1958 when local media baron Sydney Richardson felt that local regionalism provided a great business opportunity. There were enough unifying characteristics across the three country towns of Camden, Campbelltown and Picton, he  thought, that justified launching  a new regional newspaper using the Macarthur masthead. He re-named  the Camden Advertiser, a free Camden weekly newspaper he took over  from Ken Gibson in 1955, as the Macarthur Advertiser. Richardson had two competing newspapers – the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser – in the same Camden market place. He had previously purchased both the Camden News and Campbelltown News from the Sidman brothers in 1952.   Richardson promoted the Macarthur Advertiser as a free regional newspaper and expanded its circulation to included Campbelltown and Picton. The newspaper had  a broad regional compilation of news and advertisements from the three towns  and he ‘forged and popularized a new regional name for Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly’.

Elizabeth Macarthur SLNSW

 

In 1982 Richardson merged the Macarthur Advertiser with other local newspapers – Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, Camden News and Picton Post – which he had previously sold to Suburban Publications, a joint venture between John Fairfax and Sons and Australian Consolidated Press, in 1969. [2]  Richardson’s  new regional newspaper prospered and was a  builder of community and  identity by being a regional voice and notice board for the first time, and in the process strengthened people’s attachment to the concept of a regional identity.

 

Town planners and administrators strengthened the official support for the use of the Macarthur place-name in 1975 with the establishment of the Macarthur Development Board, with its head office in Campbelltown’s heritage precinct. Peter Kacirek, the chairman of the  Sydney SW Sector Planning and Development Board, renamed it as the Macarthur Development Board, against much local opposition. Local residents felt that the legacy of Governor Lachlan Macquarie was affronted, by those who proclaimed the town in 1820.

 

Peter Kacirek ealry 1970s Macarthur Development Board

 

The purpose of the Macarthur Development Board was to implement the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbelltown, Camden and Appin as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan. The New Cities Plan called for the development of the Macarthur growth centre, located away from the Campbelltown central business district in Queen Street. The aim of the Macarthur Development Board was to  ‘plan, co-ordinated implement’ the New Cities Plan with power to compulsory acquisition of land.  Town planner James Deane, from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, felt that the name Campbelltown should be completely abolished and replaced with the City of Macarthur.[3] The New Cities Plan incorporated the colonial story of the Macarthur family and Camden Park and felt that the Macarthur legacy was essential to the identity of the new growth centre. The board stated in 1976 that ‘the area of Macarthur is steeped in rich tradition and much of the early history of New South Wales was recorded here. The aim of the Board it to link the historic past with an exciting and vigorous future and to plan for the enjoyment and benefit of all members of the community’.[4] Unfortunately the Macarthur family felt otherwise and sold most of the pastoral property to housing developers in 1973 against a national outcry.[5]

 

Macarthur Square Shopping Centre in 1980s (Mac Dev Board)

 

To the disappointment of many the Macarthur growth centre was a short lived town planner’s pipe-dream. The new   regional centre was planned to have high-rise office blocks, conference facilities, sports stadiums, transport interchange and become a city within a city and to be located on Campbelltown Golf Course (1971), which was acquired  against significant local opposition. There was some progress within the growth centre precinct with the construction of Macarthur Square  (1979), Macarthur Railway Station (1985), the Macarthur Institute of Higher Education (1983) and the launch of a new Macarthur community radio station 2CT (1978) yet the new TAFE college (1981) and hospital (1977) both carried the place-name Campbelltown, not Macarthur. The Federal Whitlam government promised funding of $25 million in 1975, which was slashed in 1976 to $2 million dollars by the incoming Fraser Government but by 1978 all funding had dried up. Open hostilities broke out between  Campbelltown City Council and Macarthur Development Board over the ‘regional centre’ in 1979 when the Wran state government approved the construction of Macarthur Square funded by State Super. The Macarthur Development Board continued to foster the regional centre over Campbelltown’s Queen Street precinct as the retail and community hub in 1980, and by 1984 the Board was $200 million in debt. Peter Kacirek was sacked and Ian Henry, former Campbelltown council planner, was  appointed by the state government. In  1985 the regional centre was slashed by Wran Labor state government   and the  Board was stripped of planning power and restructured to Macarthur Development Corporation, which was  a small promotion unit.  Ian Henry stated that the Macarthur Development Board was ‘an over-expanded planner’s dream turned nightmare’ and in  1989 the MDC restructured and renamed Business Land Group, which was little more that a sales unit.[6]  The Macarthur growth centre road crash had been driven up onto the rocks of divisiveness by the state government’s push of large scale public housing into the Campbelltown area,  the development of the ‘ugly Campbelltown’ stereotype and the moral panic that ensued.

 

A book titled Colonial Buidlings Macarthur Growth Centre Campbelltown, Camden and Appin published in 1977 by the Macarthur Development Board. Images by prominent Australian photographer Max Dupain

 

With the failure of the Macarthur growth centre another official attempt at developing Macarthur regionalism occurred in 1986. The Hawke Federal Government played a role in development of Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs) through the Federal Government’s Office of Local Government and its Local Government Development Program. It came out of the Hawke government’s conviction that local authorities could make a positive contribution to the Commonwealth’s national economic reform strategy.[7]  The Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly LGAs came together in 1986 as MACROC, the Macarthur Regional Organisation of Councils with its headquarters in Campbelltown. MACROC’s charter states that its aim is to ‘promote a regional approach to issues’ and to develop ‘regional facilitation, planning and coordination’, to promote ‘a regional economic growth strategy’ and ‘provide a voice for regional issues’.[8]  MACROC has had mixed success, and while some accuse it of being a talkfest, its presence has supported Macarthur regionalism. MACROC spokesperson Christine Winning defends its role as in regional advocacy  and states that has a achieved a number of outcomes of regional importance in the areas of job creation, economic growth, education, small business, local government, environment and tourism since its foundation.[9]

Logo of the Macarthur Regional Organisation of Councils

 

Over the years Macarthur regionalism has had mixed support by the local business and community voluntary organizations. A survey of telephone listings of local businesses in 2011 indicated that only 156 business listings used the term Macarthur in their business name, for example, Macarthur Tavern, Macarthur Camera House and of these 61 businesses were located in Campbelltown, while the remainder were located in other local suburbs. On the other hand  the traditional names of the country towns of Camden, Campbelltown and Picton were the preferred option for business names with 134 had Camden in their business name, while 140 used Campbelltown in their business name, for example, Camden Towing Services and Campbelltown Car Detailing. A search of the 2014 Wollondilly Business Directory reveals that  24 businesses have used the Picton place-name, while  at a district level even the Telstra telephone  listings were located in  the  2013 Campbelltown Telephone Directory which included Camden and Picton.

Macarthur Advertiser 1958

Amongst local businesses there are some prominent and enthusiastic supporters of Macarthur regionalism as a coherent market place and branding that has a distinctive identity. Most notably In Macarthur lifestyle magazine publisher David Everett who has stated that his support for Macarthur regionalism for his business ‘seemed obvious and wasn’t really a decision’. Everett’s quarterly magazine started in 1999, has a print run of 20,000, is published in Campbelltown and is distributed throughout the three LGAs at points in Macarthur Square, Campbelltown, Camden, Narellan, Mt Annan, and Picton. Everett feels that Macarthur is a different geographic region to Sydney’s south west, ‘is culturally quite different’ and has ‘a sense of community’, which he maintains is ‘quite rare in the rest of Sydney’. He states that there is ‘a distinct region [which] feels like a region’ and the ‘name describes quite an organic community’ across all three LGAs.[10]  Amongst other local businesses that use the regional branding is the  Macarthur Credit Union, which adopted the Macarthur name in 1978.  The credit union wanted to extend its brand and grow its customer base and changed it name in 1978 from the Clutha Employees Credit Union, which was established in 1971,  to the Macarthur Mutual Credit Union and extended membership to the local community. It then progressively established branches across the region starting with Picton in 1979, Camden 1979, Narellan 1990, Tahmoor 1994. It changed its name in 1994 to Macarthur Credit Union and started a mobile service at Oran Park.[11]

In Macarthur Cover Autumn 2013

Local media outlets are prominent supporters of Macarthur regionalism including Community radio station 2MCR, which started operations on the 1989 and promotes itself as   “Heart of Macarthur”. It was the first radio station aimed at broadcasting to the Macarthur region, are staffed and operated entirely by volunteers and broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.[12] The local commercial radio state C91.3, which has been on air since 2001,  uses a call sign 2MAC  and the slogan ‘Macarthur First’. It has a limited broadcast area of the major centres of Campbelltown and Camden under Federal Government broadcast regulations and is owned by WIN Corporation.    The local print media have been supporters of Macarthur regionalism for decades, although in recent years have  responded to the resurgence of localism under the influence of globalization by re-establishing local editions of Macarthur regional newspaper titles (mentioned earlier).

 

The voluntary sector has had a role to play in promoting Macarthur regionalism through the establishment of the Macarthur Country Tourist Association in 1978. The association had the supported of Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Liverpool councils, although it collapsed in 1994 after Wollondilly Shire withdrew support.[13] In 1996 after the collapse of the association, Camden Council set up the Camden Interim Tourist Committee and continued to operate independently from Oxley Cottage in Narellan.[14] In 2008 Camden and Campbelltown LGAs started a joint tourism project as part of the Macarthur Tourism Action Plan which was marketed as Destination Macarthur, and was influenced by Tourism New South Wales’s Destination Development Program and the 2007 Griffith Local Government and Shires Association Tourism Conference which used the theme Tourism – An Investment.

 

Macarthur Regional Tourism Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

 

The community voluntary sector has a mixed response for its support of Macarthur regionalism. An examination of the 2005 Camden Community Directory only has 53 voluntary organizations that used  Macarthur in their title, out a total listing of 380 entries. One current regional organization is the Macarthur Community Forum, which is an inter-agency organization which was incorporated in 2000 and changed its name to Sector Connect in 2008. It covers the four local government areas of Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Wingecarribee and acts a peak organization for the not-for-profit sector across the LGAs. The organization operates Volunteering Macarthur and acts as an agency for other government related services including Macarthur Youth Services Network and MacUnity.   Other regional voluntary organizations range from the Macarthur Rural Fire Service to regional sporting organizations including Macarthur District Soccer Football Association and Macarthur Basketball Association, while 2013 saw the birth of Quota International of Macarthur after the demise of the Camden Quota Club.

 

Conclusion and challenges

Macarthur regionalism in the communities of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton has had a mixed history with government, business and the voluntary sector. While business has identified Macarthur as a separate market place it is yet to be fully developed, and the voluntary sector is still very localised. The Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas do acknowledge the Macarthur story particularly in their tourism promotions, yet little elsewhere.

Camden Park House around 1900 occupied by the Macarthur Onslow family, Work began on the house in 1831 to a design by the architect John Verge and was finished about 1835. Verge’s design for the house was based on the Palladian principle of a central two storied block flanked by symmetrical pavilions; the pavilion to the north west extended into an enclosed courtyard. (Camden Images)

 

Macarthur regionalism has not been fully embraced by each of the former country towns of Camden, Campbelltown and Picton. They were all once small closed rural communities with their own sense of place. Each community had a natural distinctiveness that has contributed to their identity and parochialism that tends to work against regionalism.

 

The most important unifying theme between Campbelltown, Camden and Picton today is their peri-urban location, on the city’s rural-urban fringe. This location fosters Macarthur regionalism as Sydney’s urban growth threatens re-shape place in these communities.

 

Elderslie Autumn Scene Camden Valley Way 2014 (IWillis)

Notes

[1] TKD Architects, Managing the Future of Camden Park, Menangle, New South Wales, Camden Park Preservation Committee, Camden, 2014.

[2] ‘Mr Syd Richardson board chairman’, Camden News, 26, 27 & 28 August 1969. Jeff McGill, ‘Local history caught by newspaper Webb’, Camden Advertiser 2 March 2005. ‘From Camden Advertiser to Macarthur Advertiser’, Wollondilly Advertiser 10 February 2010.

[3] James Deane, ‘Roles in Response to Change’, Royal Australian Planning Institute Journal, January 1974, vol 12 no 1, p.35.

[4] Macarthur Development Board, New Cities With History, Promotional brochure, Campbelltown, 1976.

[5] Ian Willis, ‘Townies, ex-urbanites and aesthetics: issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe’, AQ – Australian Quarterly, Vol 83, Issue 2, (Apr/June 2012).

[6] Jeff McGill, Campbelltown, A Modern History, 1960-1999, Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society, Campbelltown, 1999, p. 29.

[7] Neil Marshall, Brian Dollery, & Angus Witherby, ‘Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCS): The Emergence of Network Governance in Metropolitan and Rural Australia?’, Australasian Journal of Regional Studies, Vol 9, No. 2, 2003, pp. 169-188.

[8] MACROC Annual Report 2011-2012, MACROC, 2012. Online @ http://www.macroc.nsw.gov.au accessed 27 May 2013.

[9] Christine Winning, Executive Officer, MACROC, email, 4 April 2014.

[10] In Macarthur Magazine. Online @ http://www.inmacarthurguide.com.au/. Accessed 30 March 2014. David Everett, Publisher In Macarthur Magazine, Email communication, 31 March 2014.

[11] The Macarthur Credit Union. Online @ http://www.themaccu.com.au/ . Accessed 30 March 2014

[12] Macarthur Community Radio. Online @ http://www.2mcr.org.au/ . Accessed 31 March 2014

[13] Camden News 16 August 1978. Betty Yewen, Interview, Camden, 9 April 2014. Betty was the former secretary of the association for a number of years. Pam Down, Macarthur Country Tourist Association, Correspondence, 26 November 1994.

[14] Camden Interim Tourist Committee, Minutes, 26 June 1996.

Anzac · Camden · community identity · First World War · Historical consciousness · history · Memorials · Monuments · Second World War

Camden Reflects on Anzac Day 2017

Photo Essay of Camden Anzac Day 2017

IMG_7272[1]
Camden Anzac Day 2017 with sign of knitted poppies made by local folk (I Willis)
Camden Anzac Day 2017 window shopfront display in Argyle Street Camden (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Camden Bicentennial Park with wreaths (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 wall of poppies at Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden in Cawdor Road (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden in Cawdor Road (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Macarthur Park Camden erected in 1922 by public subscription (I Willis)
Camden · Colonial Camden · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · sense of place · Uncategorized

The soul of a country town, St Johns Church, Camden

On the hill overlooking the Camden town centre is a church building that represents the historic, moral and emotional heart of community. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the church represents the soul of the town, which was built below it on the Nepean River floodplain in the mid-19th century.

St Johns Church Camden 2005 IWillis

Metaphor for the order and stability

The church is a metaphor for the order and stability that it represented on the wilds of the colonial frontier. It was at the centre of the original proposal for the English-style village of Camden in the 1830s along with a court house and a gaol.

 

For the Macarthurs of Camden Park estate the church was the centre of their moral and spiritual conservatism. The church, as part of similar early 19th English estate villages, represented stability and order that the Macarthur required of the new community on their estate. More than this the church was a central part of the landscape vistas of the village from Camden Park House.

James Macarthur Belgenny

James Macarthur view of the world

The church, according to Alan Atkinson, was representative of James Macarthur religious view of the world where faith emanated from the ‘joint initiative of all classes’. Macarthur maintained that ‘collective and mutual dependence’ was an essential part of the ‘Christian spirit’ that would  be a ‘symbol off for their reliance on each other’. [i]

 

The church cause was promoted by James and William Macarthur and appealed to neighbours and employees for a fund for the construction of the church. By 1835 the Macarthurs subscribed £500 of a total of £644 from estate workers and neighbours.

 

The building of the church coincided with Governor Bourke’s  Church Act of 1836 which offered a subsidy for the building of churches in the colony of New South Wales. The Macarthur applied for a subsidy of £1000 of the total cost of £2500.[ii]

St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The church was constructed by with local bricks and timbers and was consecrated in 1849. Hector Abrahams states that St Johns church:

In its architectural innovation and picturesque placement in a controlled landscape, it is among the most important parish churches in Australia.[iii]

Camden religious precinct

The church and its grounds are located in a religious precinct that includes the rectory and stables (1859), church hall (1906), and a cemetery. While the church was originally proposed in a ‘classical’ style it was eventually constructed in the Gothic Revival style which became popular in Sydney at the time. Sydney architect Hector Abrahams maintains that St Johns ,was the first Gothic Revival church in the colony of New South Wales’ when finished in 1844.

Gothic revival

Gothic revival looked back to the glory of the medieval period, in contrast to neo-classical styles which were popular at the time. To its supporters Gothic architecture was representative of true Christian values that were being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. Gothic architecture was aligned with the conservatism of the Macarthurs rather than the republicanism of the French and American revolutionary wars and neoclassicism. Its popularity was partly driven in the colony of New South Wales by the re-building of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834 which evoked a romantic age.

St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

Camden’s Englishness

Over the subsequent decades St John’s church has become a representation of Camden’s Englishness. Probably the first reference to St John’s church and its Englishness was in the Anglican newspaper the Sydney Guardian when it stated

it’s graceful and really well proportioned spire presents a cheering object to the up country traveller, as it breaks the dull outline of bush hill carrying the mind back to scenes well remembered and deeply loved by all English hearted folk (Sydney Guardian quoted in Clive Lucas Stapleton & Partners, St. John’s Anglican Church Precinct Menangle Road, Camden Conservation Management Plan, 2004, Sydney, p.44)

In 1926 the church was in the forefront of the mind of Eldred Dyer who wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Camden was reminiscent of English parish church towns. He wrote that as he stepped out and walked around the town centre he lifted his:

 eyes to the old church as it stands in beauty on its hill, and In a flash you are transported to some old English church town. In a moment, if you have understanding, you and in a flash you are transported to some old English church town.[iv]

To a travel writer for the  Sydney Mail in 1926 the church was the dominant English-style landscape feature on a road trip through the area:.

the shapely and lofty steeple of its church raising itself above the copse of frees on the hilltop and giving the little township a quaintly European aspect.[v]

 

The church has become central to all representations of the Camden township from its inception, and what it means to be born and bred in the district. The church is the fundamental icon is the community’s sense of place and identity.

Vista of St Johns Church from the Nepean River Floodplain 1910 Postcard (Camden Images)

Church symbolism

The church symbolism is central in tourism literature, business promotions, stories of the town, its history and a host of other representations of the district.

The church continues to dominate the town centre skyline and the minds and hearts of all Camden folk. Here hoping that this continues for another century.

Notes

[i] Atkinson, Alan.  Camden / Alan Atkinson  Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic  2008  http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html  pp.30-32

[ii] Atkinson, Alan.  Camden / Alan Atkinson  Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic  2008  http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html  pp.30-32

[iii] Hector Abrahams, Christian church architecture, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/christian_church_architecture, viewed 16 March 2017

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 28 August 1926, page 9

[v] Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), Wednesday 11 August 1926, page 46

Attachment to place · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history

Academic snobbery: local historians need more support

St James Anglican Church Menangle a Horbury Hunt design build 1876 (I Willis)
St James Anglican Church Menangle a Horbury Hunt design build 1876 (I Willis)

Ian Willis, University of Wollongong

Local history is one of the most popular forms of history in Australia. Yet there is a yawning gap between the enthusiastic amateur and the academic historian.

While some academic historians engage with local history, sadly there is an entrenched snobbery from the academy. From the other side, the enthusiastic amateur is too wound up with a parochial approach to local history and often doesn’t see the bigger picture.

If both sides can engage with each other, the result would be a better type of history practise and a greater contribution to the story of Australia.

Democratic history

Local history is one of the democratic forms of history practice, drawing on a variety of disciplines. These include community history, family history, genealogy and oral history. It also incorporates local aspects of cultural and social history. Done well, local history also engages in both national and transnational themes.

There is a host of local history societies and local museums across the country. But academic historians are rarely involved with them.

For the enthusiastic amateur of local history, the academic historian is in a different world. Academics are often at a city-based university. Their journals are remote, guarded by a peer-review process. And their conferences beyond the resources of the amateur.

This world is not readily entered by the amateur who, unlike professional historians who receive a regular salary, are volunteers with limited means.

Expert history

One of the key issues the divides these two groups revolves around the idea of authority. The university-trained historian has expertise based on the rigour and discipline of thought and word. The local history enthusiast often has only the lived experience of the past.

Keen amateurs have their own historical sensibilities and history mindedness. This often means they are interested solely in the affairs of their community. Sometimes they are the custodian of the stories of a place. That is, they are the keepers of the community’s sacred knowledge. The collective memory and cultural traditions of a local community.

As a collector of stories, the amateur practises a form of antiquarianism often concerned with lists of facts. Unfortunately this provides no commentary on the past or present, no argument, and no analysis of sources and assessment of methods.

Dealing with the past without interpretation and context is a source of continuing frustration for academics.

Arrogance and cynicism

Some academic historians think they are the only ones with the keys to the past. This is a form of professional arrogance. It creates a perception of aloofness.

This creates a cynical attitude amongst enthusiastic amateurs. Many feel that the academic historian is remote and distant. Amateurs therefore have little time or enthusiasm for academics.

Yet it need not be so.

The academic historian has so much to offer. Successful and meaningful engagement is possible.

The academic historian is the discipline expert. They therefore have a responsibility to provide leadership. They should inspire amateur historians to increase their standards of scholarship. This needs understanding, trust and encouragement from academics. Not paternalism.

Academic and amateur alike need a nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of both sides. Academic historians can act as mentors in the practice of local history. Enthusiast amateurs are keen to learn how to do it better, if given sympathy and understanding.

Even the crudest attempt by the local history enthusiast provides in their own way an archive which the thoughtful, patient and persistent academic can mine. And likewise even the densest writing by academics offers something to the amateur.

A recipe for success

Successful engagement between academic historians and the enthusiastic amateur is a win-win situation for both sides.

Some examples include the ever popular annual Penrith Local History Conference, community history projects such as the Dictionary of Sydney and the recent Crime, Cameras Action! local history conference at the University of Wollongong.

There are many good examples of local history as written by academic historians, including Atkinson’s Camden, Ferry’s Colonial Armidale and McQuilton’s Rural Australian and the Great War.

A number of academic historians give popular public lectures and seminars in Sydney at History House, the Mechanics Institute, the State Library, Powerhouse Museum and other venues.

Some historical societies are even able to bridge the gap. They provide a stimulating environment that interests academic historians.

Joint projects and activities can strengthen community connections and social cohesion. The social connections created by local history increase the meaning, purpose and satisfaction in people’s lives.

Local history can build community resilience and break down social exclusion especially in communities under pressure. Some are found on the edges of our large cities, while others in remote and regional Australia.

The practice of local history has a lot to gain from the successful interaction between academic and amateur historians.

The Conversation

Ian Willis, Honorary Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.