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Menangle ‘Little England’ says Duchess of York

‘This is like home, like England’, proclaimed the Duchess of York  in 1927 on her visit to Menangle. She and her husband the Duke of York visited Camden Park as part of their royal visit of Australia, which involved the opening of the provisional Parliament House in Canberra in May.[1]

 

The Duke and Duchess of York Sydney 1927 (NLA)
The Duke and Duchess of York Sydney 1927 (NLA)

 

The Duke and Duchess of York had left England of their royal tour  of dominions in January 1927 on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Renown, travelled through New Zealand in February and arrived in Australia in March. The Royals departed from Australia in late May after visiting all states. The Duke and Duchess later came to the thrown as George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.

 

At Menangle the Duke and Duchess were guests of Brigadier-General JW Macarthur Onslow and Mrs Enid Macarthur Onslow (of Gilbulla) for a weekend in April, in the absence of Sibella Macarthur Onslow who was in England at the time. The Royals travelled by railway from Sydney by steam train.

 

The royal entourage and the royal trains made quite an impact on a young  Fred Seers, a local Campbelltown milk boy. He witnessed the royal trains pass through the Dumaresq railway gates where he was joined by a small group of enthusiastic flag waving Campbelltown locals. He recalls gatekeeper Bill Flanagan felt the occasion called for some degree of formality and dressed up in white shirt and tie.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)

Fred vividly remembers the three ‘shiny black’ 36 class steam locomotives that ‘sparkled’ as they roared through the locked gates in a fog of steam and smoke. The first of three steam engines painted in royal blue gave a blast on its high pitched whistle as it approached adorned with two crossed Union Jacks on the front. This was followed by another steam engine pulling four carriages, presumably with the Duke and Duchess on board, then the third steam engine.[2]

 

The Duke and Duchess had left Sydney early and arrived at Menangle Railway Station around 1.00pm and were met by a crowd of 200 people. Mr Bell the Menangle stationmaster and his staff had spruced up the platform with flags and bunting and rolled out a red carpet for the visitors. [3]  The Duchess was presented with a bouquet of carnations and heather by ‘little Quinton Stanham’.[4]

 

The Royals stayed with the Macarthurs at Camden Park  house, one of Australia’s finest Georgian Regency country homesteads designed by John Verge and built in 1835. Verge’s design was based on Palladian principles in a central two storey central block constructed stuccoed sandstock brick on sandstone foundations.

 

On Saturday afternoon the Duke went horse riding across Camden Park Estate, one of the earliest colonial grants in Australia allocated to John Macarthur in 1805.  On ‘a whim’ the Duke and his riding companions decided to ride to the Camden Show, which was first held in 1886. The Duke created much excitement to the surprised show-goers by cantering onto the showground in front of the large crowd of around 7000 people and received a ‘tumultuous welcome’.[5] The riding party included Miss Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and her sister, Mrs Helen Stanham, who had recently arrived back from England for a few months, Brigadier-General JW and Brigadier-General GM, and their brother  Arthur Macarthur Onslow.[6]

The Duke and Duchess of York Opening Provisional Parliament House Canberra 1927 (NLA)
The Duke and Duchess of York Opening Provisional Parliament House Canberra 1927 (NLA)

On Sunday afternoon the royal couple  motored in a 1926 Rolls Royce to Gilbulla for  afternoon tea. [7]  Gilbulla, an example of a Federation Arts and Crafts mansion designed by Sydney architects Sulman and Power and built in 1899 by JW Macarthur Onslow. Gilbulla is a fine example of an Edwardian gentleman’s country residence for a family of power and distinction, while not out-doing the Georgian grandeur of Camden Park house itself.  Gilbulla housekeeper Mima Mahoney  served the Royals, who served the Royals afternoon tea, was the mother of local Campbelltown resident Basil Mahoney.[8]

 

The royal entourage arrived ‘a few minutes before 5 o’clock’ at Menangle and boarded their train, which  according to Fred Seers, had gone to Picton to fill up with water and coal, and turn around.[9] Before leaving the Duke and Duchess inspect a guard of honour of Camden Boy Scouts and Girl Guides under the direction of their leaders, RD Stuckey and Miss Senior.[10]

 

The Menangle visit of the Duke and Duchess of York was widely reported in the Australian press.  The themes of the stories revolved around the Englishness of the Menangle countryside and the Royals taking a well-earned rest from their hectic tour.

 

The Brisbane Courier ran a story under the headline, ‘Like Home, Beauty of Camden Park, Royal Party’s Quiet Weekend’.[11]  Readers were assured by the newspaper that the Royals had had a good time and stated:

The Duke and Duchess of York were both delighted with the loveliness of their week end at Camden Park… While the Duke went riding across country with the rain beating exhilaratingly in his face, and filled in a little spare time with a tennis racket on the soaked court at Gilbulla, the Duchess went driving with Miss Onslow in a sulky turnout. Both were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surrounding, the Duchess being enraptured by an unattended stroll through the grounds along the Nepean River, which flows through the whole length of Camden Park Estate on which are great coppices of gnarled old English trees.[12]

 

The Melbourne Argus reported that the Duke and Duchess had a ‘restful weekend’ at the ‘beautiful country estate of the Macarthur Onslow family’. The Duchess ‘walked unattended in the old gardens under English oaks and elms’.[13]

 

The Launceston Examiner in Tasmania ran a story with the heading ‘A Happy Week End, Royals Guest in Country’ and assured its readers that the Duke and Duchess enjoyed the English style countryside of Camden Park, Menangle and the Nepean River. The Examiner went on that the Royals walked ‘beneath these spreading boughs’ of ‘gnarled old English trees, with ‘the rain pattering overhead, and the river providing an obligato to Nature’s music’. [14]

 

There were similar reports in the newspaper across the country. In Queensland the Warwick Daily News ran the headline ‘Royal Couple Spend Quiet Weekend’ while the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin ran the story under a banner headline ‘Royal Visitors Quiet Weekend’.

 

The Hobart Mercery  ran a story under the heading ‘The Royal Tour Week-end in Country Free from Engagements, Delightful Time Spent’ and assured readers:

The Duke and Duchess were both delighted with the loveliness of their week-end at Camden-park and Menangle – a respite from official engagements that was so deliciously free that even the intermittent rain that fell did not disturb the enthusiasm of the Royal visitors.

In the west Perth’s West Australian reported that the Duke and Duchess ‘were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surroundings’ in a story titled ‘The Royal Visitors. Week-End In Country. Respite from Engagements.’[15]

 

The Camden News placed an article about the royal visit on the front page in the middle its story that reported on the 1927 Camden Show. Perhaps illustrating centrality of the royal drop-in to whole show event. On the other hand down at Picton the Picton Post placed the report of the royal visit on page two at the end of a story about the Camden Show. The snub was just a reflection of the  parochialism of both Camden and Picton and the long term rivalry between both communities. The accusation was that the Camden community thought that they were better than Picton. More to the point this snobbishness was more of reflection of the omnipotence of the Macarthurs of Camden Park in the whole district and the colonial history of New South Wales in general.[16]

 

The official records of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York are located in the National Archives in Canberra.

[1] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11

[2] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[3] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[4] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11

[5] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 3 April 1927, page 2. The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 11. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 1 April 1927, page 4.

[7] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22. The Camden News, 7 April 1927.

[8] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[9] Fred Seers, ‘Passage of the Royal Train Through Campbelltown To Menangle 1927’, Grist Mills, February 1993, Vol 6, no 5. Pp21-22.

[10] The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1.

[11] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 4 April 1927, page 15

[12] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 4 April 1927, page 15

[13] Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Monday 4 April 1927, page 19

[14] Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 5

[15] Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 5. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 10. Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 7. West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1927, page 8.

[16] The Camden News, 7 April 1927, page 1. Picton Post (NSW : 1907 – 1954), Wednesday 6 April 1927, page 2.

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Pansy the Camden locomotive

 

Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images

One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden tram, affectionately known as ‘Pansy’. It has always had an enthusiastic bunch of supporters. They positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell Pansy stories to anyone who wants to listen.

Fans gloss over its short comings. All the stories are laced with a pinch of nostalgia and a touch of the romantic. It was a vital part of local life. So why does this old locomotive conjure up such a strident bunch of supporters?

Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialisation and the great days of Australian nationalism in the late Victorian and early 20th century. Great monstrous engines that hissed, spat and groaned. They were mighty machines that were living beings. They had a life and soul of their own. They were responsible for creating the wealth of the British Empire. And Pansy is part of that story.

Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images

The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963. The Camden tram was one of a number of standard gauge light rail lines in the Sydney area. The tank locomotive worked a mixed service that took freight and passengers.

The branch line was thirteen kilometres and had eight stations after leaving Campbelltown station, where it joined the Main Southern Railway. The stations were Maryfields, Kenny Hill, Curran’s Hill, Narellan, Graham’s Hill, Kirkham, Elderslie and finally arriving at Camden.

Most of the stations were no more than a short rudimentary wooden platform with a shelter shed that were unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and an associated goods handling facility. Pansy 1963 on its last run Pansy was a regular part of daily life for those who lived near the line. Locals in the Camden township would listen for the loco’s whistle and know that the morning papers had arrived from Sydney. Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

Some of Camden’s better off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.

The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service onthe Main Southern Line. On the return journey the last passenger service from Campbelltown left at 9.44pm. During the Second World War the tram provided transport for many servicemen (Army, RAAF) who were based at local military establishments. Airmen from Camden airfield would catch the train to Sydney for weekend leave, and would be joined by soldiers from Narellan military base and Studley Park Eastern Command Training School. Camden station and good yards were located adjacent to Edward Street, with a siding to the Camden Vale milk factory. Coal from the Burragorang Valley mines was loaded at Camden yard from 1937, although this was transferred to Narellan in 1941 and eventually the Main Southern Line at Glenlee in the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s the limitations of the narrow gauge line for caring freight were showing cracks.

From its enthusiastic opening the tram never really lived up to its predictions. The mixed goods and passenger service was of limited value. Its light gauge restricted the loads and the grade of the line, particularly over Kenny Hill, severely limited its capabilities. Even in 1939 there were already signs of the eventual demise of the branch line with more coal leaving the district by road than rail.

Its days were numbered and the writing was on the wall. Its death blow was delivered by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost cutting exercise and a drive from modernization of the railway system across the state. Diesel was the new god.

Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images

For current enthusiasts with a keen eye there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the narrow gauge line still visible in the area. As visitors leave the Camden township travelling north along Camden Valley Way (old Hume Highway) embankments, culverts and earthworks are still visible in the farm paddocks on the Nepean River floodplain.

You can make out the right of way as it crosses Kirkham Lane and heads towards Narellan before disappearing into a housing estate. For those with a sharp eye a cutting is still evident on the northern side of Narellan Road at Kenny Hill just as you take then entry ramp onto the freeway going to Sydney. It appears as a bench above the roadway and is evident for a short distance. (for details see Peter Mylrea, ‘Camden Campbelltown Railway’, Camden History March 2009, p. 254263).

A number of streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train and a number of other streets are named after past railway employees, for example, Paddy Miller. The Camden Community Band celebrates the legend of Pansy in their repertoire. They play a tune called The Camden Tram written by Buddy Williams a Camden resident of the 1960s.

Are you interested in seeing the real deal? Do you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself? Go and inspect the real Pansy: ‘the steam locomotive 2029 and a small composite multiclass 13/09/2015 The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram carriage’. They are on display at the New South Wales Transport Museum  Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001

The Camden Community Band has recently added the tune ‘The Camden Train’ to its repertoire. The lyrics tell an interesting story about Pansy, the locomotive. It was written by Camden local Buddy Williams about the time of the last run on of the train in 1963.