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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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Camden · Cobbitty · Farming · festivals · Heritage · Local History · Modernism · Retailing · Uncategorized · Weddings

Camden Colonial Families Celebrate a Moderne Wedding at Cobbitty

In late August 1928 two Camden colonial families celebrated the marriage of Keith Whiteman to Alice Margaret (Marge) McIntosh. This was an important local wedding between two local families of some importance and social status. The McIntoshes conducted a very successful dairy operation on the family property of Denbigh at Cobbitty, while the Whiteman family were successful Camden retailers.

Wedding 1928 McIntosh Alice McIntosh Denbigh CIPP lowres
Marge McIntosh in her bridal gown photographed in the garden of her home at Denbigh Cobbitty for her wedding on 25 August 1928. The style in strongly influenced by the moderne from London and Paris (Camden Images Past and Present)

Both families had colonial origins. Members of the Whiteman family had immigrated to New South Wales in 1839 from Sussex to work on Camden Park Estate. While the McIntoshes had immigrated to New South Wales from the Inverness region of the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s.

Wedding Ceremony

The wedding ceremony was a relatively small country wedding of 60 guests given the social profile and economic position of both families. The wedding ceremony was held in the historic setting of St Pauls Anglican Church at Cobbitty. St Pauls was the centre of village of Cobbitty and an expression of its Englishness, which was typical of a number of villages across the Camden District. The church was originally built under the direction of Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall in 1842 and adjacent to his 1828 Heber Chapel.

St Pauls Cobbitty 1910 CHS0669
Cobbity’s St Paul’s Anglican Church 1910 (Camden Images)

The church was decorated with a simple floral arrangement of white flowers and asparagus fern, according to the press reports (CN 20 Sept 1928). The white flowers for the  August wedding were likely to have been, according to Angela Wannet of Butterflies Florist in Camden, local calla lillies, oriental lillies, and carnations with trailing ivy. The floral displays in the church, while not elaborate,  indicated that the families did not spare any expense on this important family celebration.

Bride and Groom

Cobbitty born 33 year old bride Marge McIntosh was the fourth child of Andrew and Ada McIntosh of the colonial property of Denbigh at Cobbitty. Denbigh is one of the oldest gentry properties on the Cowpastures and listed on the state heritage register. It was originally an 1812 land grant to Charles Hook, then by the Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall (1826-1886) followed by the McIntosh family. The family first leased the property in 1868 and then purchased it off the Hassall family in 1886. The State Heritage Inventory States that the house and property ‘retains a curtilage and setting of exceptional historic and aesthetic significance’.

Camden Melrose 69 John St FCWhiteman CIPP
Melrose at 69 John Street Camden was a substantial Edwardian home of the Whiteman family. Demolished in the late 1970s. (Camden Images Past and Present)

Camden born 28 year old bridegroom Keith Whiteman was the second child of Fred and Edith Whiteman of Melrose at 69 John Street, Camden. Melrose was a significant Edwardian brick cottage on John Street Camden. The Whiteman family had significant business interests in Argyle Street Camden including a general store and  newsagency.  Keith and his brother Charles gained control of the general store 12 months after Keith’s wedding on the death of father Fred. The original Whiteman’s general  opened in Oxley Street in 1877, and later moved to Argyle Street. It was  according The Land Magazine ‘reminiscent of the traditional country department store’. (28 February 1991) and at the time of the report on the oldest family-owned department stores in Australia.

The fashionable bride

We are lucky to have a wonderful photograph of the bride Marge McIntosh in her wedding gown at Denbigh. It provide many clues to the importance of the wedding to both families and their no-nonsense approach to life. While not an extravagant wedding the bride’s outfit reflects that no expense was spared on the gown and floral decorations for the bouquet and the church decorations. The design of the outfits, as described in the press reports and in the photograph, reflect the influence of modernism and the fashions from Paris and London. This was a moderne wedding in the country between two individuals of some social status.

 

The fashions worn by the wedding party, according to the press reports of the day, were the height of modernism. The bride wore a classic 1920s design described as a ‘simple frock of ivory Mariette over crepe-de-chen’  of light weight silk crepe as a backing, which was quite expensive. The made-to-order gown was fitted and, according to one source, likely to be hand-made by a Sydney-based dressmaker. The Mariette style of wedding gown is still a popular choice in England for brides-to-be if wedding blogs are any indicator of trends. The bride’s gown was a fashionable length for 1928 with the hemline just below the knee.

 

The bride’s veil was white tulle, with a bouquet of pink and white carnations. The bride’s shoes have been described by one local source in the shoe industry as a hand-made white leather shoe, with a strap, and a three inch heel. They would have likely been hand-made by one of the four or five Sydney shoe firms of the day, some of which were located around Marrickville.

Cobbitty St Pauls Church Interior 1928 Wedding Marg McIntosh&Keith Whiteman CIPP
Interior of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty with floral decorations for the wedding of Marge McIntosh and Keith Whiteman on 25 August 1928 (Camden Images Past and Present)

Marge McIntosh wore a headdress of a ‘clothe’ veil style, which was popular at the time. The veil was ‘white tulle mounted over pink, formed the train and held in place with a coronet of orange blossom and silver’. The elaborate wedding floral bouquet, according to press reports, were made up of white and pink carnations and according to Angela Wannet who viewed the brides wedding photo was complemented by lillies and fern.

The history of wedding robes as a part of the celebration of the wedding festivities dates back the ancient Chinese and Roman civilizations. The first recorded mention of the white wedding dress in European history is 1406 when the English Princess Philippa married Scandinavian King Eric. In the British Empire the Industrial Revolution and the marriage of Queen Victoria to her first cousin Prince Albert in 1840  changed all that.  The fitted wedding dress with a voluminous full skirt became the rage after their wedding. The British population romanticized their relationship and young women rushed to copy their Queen. The beauty of the bride was enhanced with the rise of wedding photography and did much to popularise the white-wedding dress trend.

Bridal Party

Our moderne bride at Cobbitty was attended by her sister Etta (Tottie) McIntosh in a frock of apricot georgette, and the bridegroom’s sister Muriel Whiteman who wore a blue georgette, with hats and bouquets toned with their frocks. Georgette is a sheer fabric with a good sheen that is difficult to work, and requires a good dressmaker. The fabric is difficult to cut out and sew, and according to one source is easy to snag. The dressmaker exhibited her skill and experience with her handcrafted sewing, if the wedding photo of the bride, Marge McIntosh, is anything to go by.

The groom had his brother Charles Whiteman act as best man, and an old school friend from Albury Mr T Hewish as groomsman.

The reception

The wedding guests retired to a reception at the McIntosh’s historic colonial property of Denbigh, where the bride and groom were honoured with the ‘usual toasts’ and many congratulatory telegrams. A master of ceremony would have stuck to a traditional wedding reception with introduction of the bride and groom, then toasts, with a response speech from the father of the bride, more toasts, responses by groom’s father, followed by the reading of telegrams. The McIntosh family household would have likely provided the catering for the wedding.

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh homestead has extensive gardens and is still owned by the McIntosh family at Cobbitty (Open Day 2015 IWillis)

Wedding gifts

Amongst the wedding gifts was a rose bowl from the Camden Tennis Club and a silver entre dish from the staff at FC Whiteman & Sons. These gifts reflect the interests and importance of the bride and groom in these organisations. Tennis was a popular pastime in the Camden area in the 1920s and some Camden tennis players did well at a state level in competitions. The entre dish would have been a plain design reflecting the influence of 1920s modern styling, rather than the ornate design typical of Victorian silverware.

Honeymoon

The bride’s going away outfit was ‘a smart model dress of navy blue and a small green hat’. This would likely have been a fitted design typical of the style typical of the period and the influence of modernism in fashions in London and Paris.

The bride and groom left for a motoring honeymoon spent touring after the wedding festivities. In the 1920s motor touring was just starting to gain popularity as cars became more common and roads improved. Coastal locations  and mountain retreats  with their crisp cool air at in August were popular touring destinations in the 1920s.

Camden Whitemans General Store 86-100 Argyle St. 1900s. CIPP
FC Whiteman & Sons General Store, 60-100 Argyle Street Camden, around 1900s was one of the oldest continuously family owned department stories in Australia (Camden Images Past and Present)

Historical images

The wedding photograph of Marge McIntosh in her bridal gown, like historical photographs in general, is a snapshot in time. The image provides a level of meaning that contemporary written reports in the Camden press does not contain. The photograph provides subtle detail that can fill out the story in great detail to the inquisitive researcher.

While the wedding reports did not make the social pages of the Sydney press it does not understate the importance of this union at a local level in the Camden community. It would be interesting to speculate if there were similar weddings between other Camden families.

The visual and written reports of the wedding give a new insight into life in Camden in the 1920s and how the community was subject to external transnational influences from all corners of the globe. Many claim that country towns like Camden were closed communities and in many respects that is true. For these two Camden families, they were subject to the forces of international fashion as well as those of maintaining the social sensibilities of their community.

Read more

Press reports of wedding  Camden News 20 September 1928 

View wedding photographs on Camden Images Past and Present

For something a little bit different here is the history of the wedding dress on JSTOR

Attachment to place · cafes · Camden · Entertainment · Food · Heritage · history · Local History · Modernism · Place making · Restaurant · sense of place

A lost Camden mid-20th century icon, the White House Farm

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.

Camden White House Farm Chroncle19Feb1986_0001
White House Farm Restaurant and Reception Centre Camden about to go auction in 1986 (Camden Museum)

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.

Restaurant menu

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’.

White House Farm Menu 1984_lowres
Flyer for White House Farm Restaurant Camden in 1984 (Camden Museum)

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

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.

Camden White House Farm Wedding 1980s_0001
Wedding at White House Farm Reception Centre Camden in the 1980s (Camden Museum)

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.

 

Development proposal

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)

 

Resident opposition

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)

Camden White House Farm Garden3 1990 MacAdv
White House Farm Camden with view from front Garden in 1990 (Camden Museum)

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)

Council decision

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)

 

Court decision

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)

White House Farm MacAdvert6June1990
This promotion for the White House Farm Wedding Reception Centre in Camden was part of a newspaper wedding special in 1990 (Camden Museum)

Today the site of the White House Farm is occupied by a service station.

Comments on Facebook:

Marie Lanarch:

Marie Larnach Had our wedding reception there in 1973.

Manage

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 Lindsay

Charlene Lindsay My 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.
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1

 · 15 September at 19:28

Ian Willis: What was your grandparents last name?

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 Woods I 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
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3

 · 15 September at 22:41

Susan Vale 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.
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2

 · 15 September at 06:44

Sheila Caris Our wedding reception was there on the 8th of February 1975 – must have been one of the hottest days of the year & no air conditioning!
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 · Reply · Message · 15 September at 22:23

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Chris Robinson
Chris Robinson We had our wedding reception here in 1990. Very happy memories. The owners and staff were wonderful.
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 · Reply · Message · 15 September at 17:13

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Julie Coulter
Julie Coulter What a flashback! We were married in the gardens 1982 and the had our wedding reception here!
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 · 16 September at 08:56

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Sue Kalmar- Grono
Sue Kalmar- Grono Anne Kalmar-Poli
Liz Kalmar-Carroll is this where we were asked to leave cause we were too loud???
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 · 15 September at 13:47

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3 Replies
Annie Austin
Annie Austin Our wedding in 71 it was the place at that time.Beautiful.
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4

 · 15 September at 17:50

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1 Reply
Marie Larnach
Jeanne Skinner
Jeanne Skinner Hahaha wow flashback alright 😊
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 · Reply · Message · 16 September at 09:06

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Ryan Punch
Ryan Punch Did that burn down or am I thinking of something else?
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 · Reply · Message · 14 September at 20:50

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Sean Couley
Sean Couley Can’t believe it made way for a petrol station.
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 · Reply · Message · 15 September at 21:58

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Tracey Kennedy
Tracey Kennedy We had our wedding reception there 23rd March 1985.
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1

 · 15 September at 20:43

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1 Reply
Christie Williams
Christie Williams Can’t believe they knocked it down and put servo there
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1

 · 16 September at 08:02

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Phyllis Moloney
Phyllis Moloney I had all our work xmas parties there
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1

 · 15 September at 21:04

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Chris Terry
Chris Terry Had our wedding reception 1976
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1

 · 15 September at 18:36

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Julie Ralphs
Julie Ralphs Wow, that was another lifetime ago. Had my wedding reception there in May 1988. Charming venue.
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 · Reply · Message · 17 hrs

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Megan Murdoch
Megan Murdoch My parents held my Christening there in 1965!!
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 · Reply · Message · 15 September at 19:08

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Michelle Maree
Michelle Maree Where is White House Farm?
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 · Reply · Message · 16 September at 13:18

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Sharon Stewart
Sharon Stewart Very interesting history read Char, the good old days are in our hearts
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 · Reply · Message · 16 September at 14:47

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Brenda Egan
Brenda Egan Had my wedding reception at the White Hours Farm
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 · Reply · See response · 14 September at 21:25

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Denise Taranto
Denise Taranto Sandy Evans….was this your venue?
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 · Reply · Message · 16 September at 10:29

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Sueanne Gray
Sueanne Gray Yes Cheryl Gray and Malcom 💞
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 · Reply · Message · 15 September at 22:37

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Jennifer Hazlewood
Jennifer Hazlewood Another memory for you Alison Donohoe
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 · Reply · Message · 15 September at 13:25

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Louise Skinner
Louise Skinner Yep had our wedding reception there in 1979.
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1

 · 16 September at 09:24

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Kate Solomons
Kate Solomons Had a great 21st birthday there in 87
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1

 · 15 September at 21:23

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Cindy Cox
Cindy Cox We had our wedding reception there in 1987
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1

 · 15 September at 21:07

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Jane Mary Darling
Jane Mary Darling We stayed there on our wedding night. !
Craige Cole Anna & I had our wedding reception at White House Farm on a windy October evening. It was a fantastic venue and the best party I have ever been to.
Such a pity that the state government got involved in a local decision.
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 · 16 September at 05:20

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Grant Herne
Grant Herne Guess what I proposed to ann rather nervously on a sat night a long time ago at white house farm
Communications · Heritage · history · Local History · Modernism · Place making · Railway · Transport · Utilities

Revealing Newcastle modernism at Civic Railway Station

Modernism is partially revealed in the architectural style of railway buildings and other infrastructure across Australia. The now closed Civic Railway Station on the Hamilton-Newcastle branch line is just one example of how this happens in the regional city of Newcastle.

 

The retail concession and frootbridge at Civic Railway Station on the now closed Newcastle-Hamilton branch railway line. The ghostly deserted station and walkway now provides access to the Newcastle Museum and the Newcastle harbour precinct. (I Willis)

 

Modernism is a form architecture which emerged in the first half of the 20th century and became dominant after World War II. It was based upon new technologies of construction, particularly the use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete; and upon a rejection of the traditional neoclassical architecture and Beaux-Arts styles that were popular in the 19th century. (Wikipedia)

According to the New South Wales Heritage Inventory Civic Railway Station is:

The station building is the first Interwar Functionalist railway building in NSW to employ domestic architectural features, demonstrating the NSW Railways experimentation with new styles during the Interwar period. The footbridge is unique as the only known example of this structure constructed on brickpiers. The signal box is unique as the smallest elevated box constructed on the NSW rail system.

 

The Civic Railway Station and surrounding buildings were built in 1935 in the Interwar Functionalist style using dichromatic and polychromatic brickwork as a simple decorative effect.

The railway station is located between Wickham and Newcastle railway stations.

 

The new Civic Railway Station in 1935 built in Interwar Functionalist style. The new station was located on the site of the previous Honeysuckle station which was built to access the river port of Newcastle and the growing agricultural centre of Maitland. (SARNSW)

 

History

Originally the station was part of the railway line built between ‘East Maitland’  railway station and ‘Newcastle’.

The line was originally built in 1857-1858 as a link between the government town of East Maitland and the river port at Newcastle.

The Newcastle station was re-named Honeysuckle and Honeysuckle Point near the river port and has a number of locations.

The large goods yards east of ‘Newcastle’ railway station was constructed in 1858.

The site of Civic Railway Station is significant as it was the former 1857 site of the Newcastle (Honeysuckle) terminus of the Great Northern Railway Line.

Electrification of the Gosford-Newcastle line occurred in 1984, after the Sydney-Gosford section in 1960.

Civic Railway Station was closed in 2014 by the Baird Liberal Government when the line between Hamilton and Newcastle was finally closed after much community dissent.

The now deserted ghostly platforms of Civic Railway Station on the Newcastle branch line built in 1935 to serve the thriving river port of Newcastle. Build in a Interwar functionalist style and station is largely intact and still retains much of its integrity from the 1930s. (I Willis)

 

Significance

According to the New South Wales Heritage Inventory:

The Civic Railway Station site is historically significant as the location of the Newcastle terminus station on the Great Northern Railway line (1857), one of the first railway lines in Australia. The station building represents the first attempt to adapt domestic architectural styles for railway purposes. The station buildings and footbridge, are good examples of Inter-War Railway Domestic style in regional NSW.

 

The seating and signage at the now deserted platform of the closed Civic Railway Station on the Newcastle branch line. Originally the line was built in the 1850s to serve the thriving farming area of Maitland and the new river port of Newcastle. The station is still largely intact and retains much of its 1930s integrity. (I Willis)

 

Civic Railway Station is largely intact and retains much of its original integrity from 1935, along with the signal box, platform shelter, footbridge and forecourt.

Anzac · First World War · history · Interwar · Local History · Memorials · Modernism · Second World War · war

Anzac contradictions

Boer War Memorial in Belmore Park Goulburn 2017 (I Willis)

Public Lecture: UOW historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

 

Men, myth and memory | Dr Jen Roberts

UOW Alumni Knowledge Series | UOW | 20 April 2017

The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century and the contradictions that emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any definitive meaning.

 

Yet for one old gentlemen at the inaugural lecture in Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni Dr Jen Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture ‘Men, myth and memory’.  The Alumni audience was a mix of ages, and interests and included past military personnel.

The camp administration block  at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942 A Bailey

Robert’s powerful presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of  Anzac and that there is far from just one truth.  Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.

 

The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916. Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations, the 1960s social movements and its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning  to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for current serving military personnel, while others choose to take cheap pot shots at those who question the orthodoxy. The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac story it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

The tented lines at the  Narellan Military Camp in 1941 (AB)

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia  and is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country, especially in the first half of the 20th century. Yet within this narrative there are contradictions and tensions and one of those is related to modernism. The war that spawned Anzac was a product on industrial modernism, yet at the same time causing the catastrophic destruction. Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance are a product of Interwar modernism, particularly the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism with its anti-war sentiments, complicated by tensions created by other forms of global modernism particularly in Europe. Other contradictions range across issues related to gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, homophobia, and a host of other areas.

 

Roberts makes the point that the Anzac mythology and iconography points to Australian exceptionalism and then neatly outlined how this is not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

The tension within the meaning of Anzac, according to Roberts, is represented by the official state driven narrative stressing the honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity, while on the hand there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology. The digger is not a professional soldier, he is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – a good all-round Aussie bloke.

 

The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present. In 1941 an 18 year old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’. He was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided. A lifetime member of the RSL he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.

Bruce Guppy and his unit at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March (I Willis)

Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in BCOF in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995  wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:

 

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

 

So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial.  Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.

 

For Guppy Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The meaning of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.

Red Cross poster used for fundraising purposes in 1918 (ARCS)

While many lay claim ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.

 

Roberts examined the two aspects of the Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that many lay claim ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac and pondered the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogles song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys. This contrasted with the opening statement by an Alumni organiser, who was ex-military, that the  outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF which are celebrated in military training in Australia are: the withdrawl at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba. While recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources has shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield was used a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft  1942 LG Fromm

The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia, while  being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.  Roberts compared the small group who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry. Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with UOW students who took the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, with her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (recently retired).

 

Gallipoli pilgrimages have grown as popular interest in the First World War increased as family historians started searching for own digger-relative, hopefully finding the cache derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign.  The Howard Government promoted soft patriotism, and this was followed by later conservative governments which promoted official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac. The official involvement of government has increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire for the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site, to the point where the Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to do civil engineering roadworks at Gallipoli.

Brand Anzac, which Roberts dislikes, has been used to solidify national identity and spawned Anzacary and the commodification of the Anzac spirit, with souvenirs and other ephemera, as well as jingoism and Australian exceptionalism from the national to the local community level. Anzac mythology and memory tends to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD), and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide, and became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

 

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people, it is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac. Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and, while offering contradictions for some and realities for others, it is these members of the Australian community who  need to make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.

Attachment to place · history · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Sydney · Uncategorized

Sydney modernism, a recent awakening

It is pleasing to see that there has been recent interest in Sydney modernism from a number of prominent Sydney cultural institutions. The origins of modernism can be traced back to the 1880s, while Sydney modernism has be identified from the early years of the 20th century to the 1960s.

Sunbaker is a 1937 black-and-white photograph by Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain, depicting the head and shoulders of a man lying on a beach, taken from a low angle. (Wikimedia)
Sunbaker is a 1937 black-and-white photograph by Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain, depicting the head and shoulders of a man lying on a beach, taken from a low angle. (Wikimedia)

In 2008 the Powerhouse Museum organised an exhibition called ‘Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia’. The exhibition, for the first time, examined the impact of modernism on Australian culture from 1917 to 1967. The publicity for the exhibition maintained that:

Modernism sought to build a better future in the aftermath of World War I. An international movement, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the 20th century. It celebrated the romance of cities, the healthy body and the ideals of abstraction and functionalism in design.

In 2013 the Art Gallery of New South Wales organised a major exhibition devoted to Sydney modernist artist called ‘Sydney Moderns: Art for a New World’. The exhibition spanned the period from 1915 to 1940 and explored the relationship between modern Sydney life and the ‘cosmopolitan milieu’ of the time. The exhibition included the works of a host of Sydney artists including:

Margaret Preston, Roy de Maistre, Roland Wakelin, Grace Cossington Smith, Thea Proctor, Grace Crowley, Ralph Balson, Rah Fizelle, Frank and Margel Hinder, Margo and Gerald Lewers, Dorrit Black, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain and Harold Cazneaux, along with important works by Sydney’s lesser known ‘lost moderns’, such as Tempe Manning, Niel A Gren, Frank Weitzel and Fred Coventry.

The exhibition explored how modernism ‘defined a new cosmopolitan culture’ and re-shaped life in Sydney.

In 2014 There Was A Photographic Exhibition At The Delmar Gallery In The Sydney Suburb Of Ashfield Called ‘Soul Of A City: Modernism And Sydney Photography 1930 – 1950 Olive Cotton, Eo Hoppé, Max Dupain, David Moore, Harold Cazneaux’. The exhibition curator Catherine Benz maintains that 1930s Sydney forged a ‘modernist aesthetic inspired by internationalist movements’ with photographs that exuded ‘sensuality, confidence and optimism’.

In 2014 Sydney Living Museums organised an event at the 2014 Sydney Writers Festival called ‘Cultivating Australian Modernism’ where a panel discussed the history of the modernist garden. The panel included author Richard Aitken, Sydney Living Museums Assistant Director Ian Innes, and ABC RN’s Fenella Kernebone.

In 2015 Sue Williams wrote in the Domain supplement in The Sydney Morning Herald that modernist homes had become ‘all the rage’. She maintained that the interest was driven by the TV show Mad Men, post-war classic furniture and the appeal of retro-homewares. These homes were designed by Sydney architects Sydney Ancher, Harry Seidler, Bruce Rickard and Ian McKay, and used simple materials, simple lines and open planned living spaces.

A more recent event is currently showing at the Heide Museum of Modern Art Central Galleries in Bulleen Victoria. The exhibition called ‘O’keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism’ is jointly curated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe and will tour in NSW and Queensland later in 2017. The exhibition curators have brought together

for the first time the iconic art of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of America’s most significant painters of the twentieth century, alongside modernist masterpieces by pioneering Australian artists, Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith.

The exhibition explores the

similarities and distinctions in their art to bring new perspectives to light about modernism’s dispersal and reinvention as it developed beyond the metropolitan wellspring of Europe.

Modernism and its influence on place making in Sydney has yet to be fully explored by scholars in any meaningful way. It is essential to get a grip on modernism to fully understand its role in the construction of the city’s sense of place and identity.

Colonialism · Entertainment · Farming · Governor Macquarie · history · Leisure · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Sydney · Uncategorized

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens

The Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens are some of the most important open spaces and parkland in Australia’s urban places. The 29 hectares of gardens are surrounded by 51 hectares of parkland including the Sydney Domain. The gardens are traditionally divided into 4 sections the Middle Garden, the Upper Garden, the Lower Garden and the Garden Palace Grounds. They were officially recognised as a botanic gardens in 1816 and while it only became the ‘Royal’ in 1959. The site is one of the world’s oldest colonial botanic gardens and one of the most important botanical sites in the Southern Hemisphere (only Rio de Janeiro is older). The area attracts around 4 million visitors a year.

Sydney Botanic Gardens 1934 Sam Hood SLNSW
Sydney Botanic Gardens 1934 Sam Hood SLNSW

The Dictionary of Sydney states that the gardens reflects:

the changing styles of ‘public gardens’ – from the utilitarian beds that provided the necessities of life in the early years, to the emerging styles associated with new ideas about landscape gardening for visual effect, to the overwrought overkill of Victoriana, with statues, urns, terraces, ponds, plinths and obelisks at every turn, through to the contemporary acceptance of the validity of ‘native’ flora as a legitimate focus in a public garden.

The Botanic Gardens were the site of the first government farm in the colony of New South Wales in 1788 (Middle Garden) and called the Governor’s Farm in 1792. Governor Phillip ordered the cultivation of 20 acres in 1788 and the area was part of Governor Phillip’s private reserve. The original farm furrows are evident in the alignment of the longitudinal beds of shrubs. The Governor’s Domain was one of the first pleasure grounds in the colony established in 1792 by Governor Phillip.

Governor Phillips Private Reserve (Domain) 1816 C Cartwright SLNSW
Governor Phillips Private Reserve (Domain) 1816 C Cartwright SLNSW

There were some private land grants on the eastern side of Farm Cove (1800-1807) which were resumed under Governor Bligh when carriage roads were built around Bennelong Point and Farm Cove in 1807. The main botanic farm function was transferred to Rose Hill at this time under Governor King. The Royal Botanic Gardens Trust states that in 1810

The new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, terminate[d] leases and embarks on wall and fence building to re-establish the Domain as the Governor’s private parkland. His walls and rules [were] flouted.

The gardens link the oldest surviving group of Governor Macquarie period buildings in Australia along Macquarie Street (1810). There is also Governor Macquarie’s landscaping of the Domain with a gate and sandstone wall. The wall now separates the Lower and Middle Garden, was used to protect the garden from the harbour and built between 1812 and 1816. In Governor Macquarie’s time (1816) Mrs Macquarie Road was completed around the Domain to Mrs Macquarie Point.

The work of the gardens illustrates the associations with 18th century European scientific world of Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Hooker and others. The gardens are Australia’s oldest scientific institution (1816) for botany and horticulture. In 1821 Superintendent Charles Fraser, a botanist, was appointed to develop the gardens along scientific grounds for the first time. Fraser accompanied John Oxley on his inland journeys and brought back plant specimens.

In 1825 Governor Brisbane extended the garden west of Farm Cove for an experimental garden to acclimatise Australian plants for export and imported plants. Colonists were interested in ‘exotics’ and brought many of them with them and were added to the garden plant collection. In 1829 grape vines were planted that became important in the foundation of the Australian wine industry.

In 1831 Governor Bourke opened the roads and paths for general access despite conservative opposition.

 

Path through Sydney Botanic Gardens 2015 IWillis
Path through Sydney Botanic Gardens 2015 IWillis

By the 1850s military, sporting and ceremonial events became common in the Domain. The area was the home of first class cricket in New South Wales from 1857 to 1871 and the first interstate match was held in the Domain in 1851 when NSW defeats Victoria. There were the first swimming championships in 1846 and a gymnasium (public playground).

All England Cricket Match Freeman Bros 1862 SLNSW
All England Cricket Match Freeman Bros 1862 SLNSW

In 1837 construction commenced for the new government house in the northern section of the Domain. It was completed in 1845. The area was the site of the Australia’s first zoo, an aviary in 1860 which was expanded into a larger facility with a monkey house in 1880. Eventually the zoo was relocated to Moore Park in 1883.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music (former Government House Stables c1816) 2015 IWillis
Sydney Conservatorium of Music (former Government House Stables c1816) 2015 IWillis

The Domain and gardens were the site of the 1878 International Exhibition and the Garden Palace (1879) which burnt down is spectacular fire in 1882, was the first exhibition in Australia featuring arts and industrial displays. The Garden Palace was located between the Conservatorium of Music (formerly the Government House Stables) and Macquarie Street. The site is the highest point in the garden and was originally surrounded by a paling fence for grazing the governor’s stock. The Central Depot in the gardens were the kitchen gardens for government house (Bridge Street, then Macquarie Street) from 1813 to 1870 and still has a rare glasshouse.

Tarpeian Way Sydney Botanic Garden 2015 IWillis
Tarpeian Way Sydney Botanic Garden 2015 IWillis

The sandstone wall adjacent to the Opera House with stone steps and iron railing is the northern boundary of the garden. The cliff wall was built in 1880 enabled the extension of Macquarie Street and is known as the Tarpeian Way. It provides a dramatic backdrop to the Opera House forecourt and gets its name from the famous rock on Capitoline Hill in Rome where prisoners were hurled to the deaths in ancient times. What are now the Opera House iron gates, were originally the Governor’s private gates, and built in 1870.

The Lower Garden was reclaimed from Farm Cove between 1848 and 1879 when the seawall was constructed with stone from the old government house in Bridge Street. This work extended the garden’s pleasure grounds with curving pleasure walks and plantings.

Port Jackson and view of Botatical Garden 1803 JW Lancashire SLNSW
Port Jackson and view of Botatical Garden 1803 JW Lancashire SLNSW

In the Domain the Hospital Road gate lodge and gate were built around 1865 and the Victorian gate lodge house was built on the eastern side of the garden. The Victorian herbarium building was constructed in 1899 and adapted as the visitor centre in 1982.

The Domain was quite extensive at one stage and successive governments have taken bits of it for various cultural institutions – Art Gallery of New South Wales (1885+), the State Library of NSW (1910+), Government House (1836+), Opera House (1966+), and Conservatorium of Music (formerly Government House Stables, 1816 and CoM, 1916+) – and oil tanks for the Navy in WW2.

The Domain has been a site of decent by the Sydney populace and the Dictionary of Sydney states:

The Domain has also had an important history as a ‘soap box’ arena, like London’s Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. ‘Soapbox Sunday’ may well go back into the late nineteenth century: in 1878, Baptist pastor Allen is reported to have gone there to speak on Irish Home Rule, after a riot in nearby Hyde Park.
The Domain has been the site of free opera events as part of the Sydney Festival since 1982.

The gardens and domain have suffered under the influence of modernism. In the 1920s the site was dug up using a cut and cover construction method to build the City Loop of the underground railway on the western side of the Domain. In 1956 the City of Sydney took the western side of the Domain and constructed a car park with the loss of 47 rare trees. The influence of the car again played out with the construction of the Cahill Expressway between 1958 and the 1960s and resulted in the loss of the Fig Tree Avenue planted in 1847, and the division of the gardens and the domain areas.

In 1978 the administration of the gardens and Domain were transferred from the Department of Agriculture (from 1908) to the Premier’s Department. In 1980 the state government passed the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust Act to secure the extent of the grounds and administration of Centennial Park administration became autonomous. The Friends of the Botanic Garden were established in 1982.

The Calyx Signage 2016 IWillis
The Calyx Signage 2016 IWillis

Development of the gardens and Domain occurred in 1970 and 1971 with the construction of The Pyramid as a tropical glasshouse, two annexes were established in 1988 at Mount Annan (native plantings) and Mount Tomah (cool-climate plantings), and in 2016 in the Upper Garden the new Calyx replaced the demolished Pyramid as the tropical plant centre.

The Calyx 2016 IWillis
The Calyx 2016 IWillis

To read more go to the website of the The Royal Botanic Gardens and read about the history and heritage of the gardens at the State Heritage Inventory. The Dictionary of Sydney has some interesting stories about the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain is one of the most popular spots for the Sydney Festival.