The beginning of a new phase of Camden’s motoring history created much excitement and anticipation in March 1948 with the opening of the new ultra-modern car showroom for Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street.
The year 1948 was a landmark in Australian motoring history with the launch of first Australian made mass produced motor car – the FX Holden sedan – in November. The National Museum of Australia states that
The Holden transformed suburban Australia, boosted national pride and quickly become a national icon. The car was economical, sturdy and stylish and was immediately popular with the public.
Clinton Motors announced in September 1948 that it would sell the new Holden motor car (Camden News, 23 September 1948). The first Holden car was displayed in the new streamlined showroom in December 1948 and sold for £675. (Camden News, 16 December 1948)
The new showroom displays motoring modernism
The former Clintons Motor building was an iconic stylish Art Deco Interwar influenced building with its clean streamlined appearance drawn from American and French influences.
A blue and white building with modernistic streamlined front and wide plate glass fittings. Inside, behind imposing doors set between giant white pillars, are to be seen a range of colourful displays that glistened beneath batteries of flourescent lights. Big placards mounted on plastic coated display stands illustrate the advice which Goodyear gives motorists in obtaining tyres. Other plastic and glass tables hold an unexpectedly large variety of accessories for cars and trucks. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).
The new premises were constructed by Camden builder Jim Bracken on the former site of the Camden tweed mill which burnt down in 1899 and left a standing chimney for many years. During the Interwar period the site was used a horse paddock.
The new premises sold tyres, motor accessories and electrical goods including refrigerators. The showroom ‘combined all the features that modern merchants in America have developed to improve their service to their customers’. (Camden News, 18 March 1948).
Tourism and motoring modernism
The former Clintons Motors showroom is one of the first buildings that visitors encounter as they enter the town centre after crossing the Cowpastures Bridge and the Nepean River floodplain on the former Hume Highway (now Camden Valley Way).
Clintons Motors at 16 Argyle Street Camden in 1983. The business was the Holden dealership for the Camden area. The premises opened in 1948. (Camden Images)
The former car showroom is just one of a number of Interwar buildings that visitors can find in the charming town centre. There is the former Bank of New South Wales (Westpac) building, the brick front of the show hall pavilion, the Dunk building car showroom, the former Rural Bank building, the former Stuckey Bakery building, the milk depot. Tucked around the corner is the former Paramount Movie palace and the Presbyterian church. Scattered in and around the town centre are a number of Californian bungalows which add to the atmospherics of the former country town.
The Clinton Group has a long history
The Clinton group has a long history in the Macarthur region starting out a mobile theatre then moving into the Burragorang coalfields. In the 1930s they had a transport business moving coal from the valley to the Camden and Narellan railhead. The family formed Clinton Distributions which became an agent for General Motors Holden on 8 March 1945. Trading at Clinton Motors on the Hume Highway at Narellan the business sold Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Vauxhalls, Bedfords and Maple Leaf trucks. The family incorporated the business in 1946 (Clinton Motor Group) and moved into Camden in February, (Camden News, 21 February 1946) opening the new showroom in 1948. The business operated on this site until 1992 then moved to the former site of Frank Brooking car yard and motor dealership at the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets.
The paper will tell the story of Camden girl Shirley Dunk on her first visit to London with her travelling companion Beth. Both young women had the adventures of their lives and Shirley recalls the journey with great fondness and nostalgia. The journey was a life changing experience for both your women from an Australian country town.
The title of the presentation is An Australian country girl goes to London.
In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.
This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey. Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.
The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.
Read more about Australian expatriates in London in the 1950s who were made up of artists, writers, actors and musicians.
It is not often that the historian can get a view into the past through the lens of the present in real time. I was able to this in Camden New South Wales recently at a photo shoot for the History Magazine for the Royal Australian Historical Society.
Photographer Jeff McGill and author Laura Jane were the participants in this activity. We all walked along Camden’s historic main thoroughfare, Argyle Street, which still echoes of the Victorian period. Our little group made quite a splash and drew a deal of attention from local women who swooned over the ‘gorgeous’ vintage dress worn by Laura Jane.
Mid-20th century enthusiast Laura Janes lives the lifestyle in dress, makeup and hairstyle and made the perfect foil for her History article on Sydney fashion, the David Jones store and their links to the fashion house of Dior. Laura Jane modelled her 1950s Dior style vintage dress in front of Camden’s storefronts that were reminiscent of the period. With matching handbag, gloves, hat, hairstyle, stiletto heels, and makeup she made a picture to behold captured by Campbelltown photographer Jeff.
Laura Jane encompasses the experience of the country woman going to town when Camden women would dress-up in their Sunday best to shop in Camden or catch the train to the city.
A city shopping expedition would entail catching the Pansy train at Camden Railway Station, then change steam trains at Campbelltown Railway Station, then another change at Liverpool Railway Station from steam train to the electric suburban service for Central Railway Station in Sydney. The suburban electric trains did not arrive at Campbelltown until 1968.
City outings for country women often happened around the time of the Royal Easter Show when the whole family would go to the city. The family would bring their prized horses and cattle to compete with other rural producers for the honour and glory of winning a sash. While the menfolk were busy with rural matters their women folk would be off to town to shop for the latest fashions for church and show balls or to fit out the family for the upcoming year.
Country women from further away might stay-over at swish city hotels like the up-market elegant Hotel Australia near Martin Place. These infrequent city outings were a treat and a break from the drudgery of domesticity and women would take the opportunity to combine a shopping trip with a visit to see a play or the Tivoli theatre.
The intrinsic nature of the city outings for country women were captured by the Sydney street photographers. They operated around the Martin Place, Circular Quay, Macquarie and Elizabeth Street precincts and are depicted in an current photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
The images of the Sydney street photographer captured of moment in time and their most prolific period was during the 1930s to the 1950s. The country woman would be captured on film as she and a friend wandered along a city street. They would be given a token and they could purchase a memento of their city visit in a postcard image that they could purchase at a processing booth in a city-arcade. The Sydney street photographer captured living history and has not completely disappeared from Sydney street.
Laura Jane, whose lifestyle encompasses the mid-20th century, in an expression of the living history movement in motion. The living history movement is a popular platform for experiencing the past and incorporates those who want to live the past in the present, aka Laura Jane, or relive it on a more occasional basis as re-enactors who relive the past for a moment. There are many examples of the latter at historic sites in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
The Camden photo shoot was an example how a moment in time can truly be part of living history where the photographer captures a glimpse of the past in the present. An example of how the present never really escapes the past.
Located in the upper reaches of the Williams River valley is the sleepy little town of Dungog nestled between the ridges that run through the town centre. A picturesque country setting.
The town is characterised by its wide streets, a legacy from the colonial days when it was necessary to be able to turn around a bullock wagon.
An interesting and colourful collection of Colonial, Edwardian and Interwar buildings dot the town centre that make the commercial precinct of the town.
The blacksmith was one of the key trades in Dungog as it was in most rural settlements in colonial Australia and in the homeland of rural England. Dungog’s 300 dairyfarmers certainly made use of the local smithy.
The motor car made an appearance in the early 20th century and the local blacksmiths turned their hand to car maintenance. The smithy repaired farmer’s wagons and ploughs then moved to look after motor cars.
Some blacksmith’s shops turned into the local garage with a petrol pump on the footpath and service workshop out the back. Dungog has a number of garages and one of these is the Ford dealership and NRMA representative at Davey and Olsen.
The Davey and Olsen garage is found at 160-168 Dowling Street Dungog and is part of the 19th century commercial precinct made up of traditional trades and services along Dowling Street.
The family business acquired the Ford dealership in 1925 and the garage grew to serve the growing number of car owners which was encouraged by the construction of the Chichester Dam (op. 1926).
As the number of dairy farmers in the area declined the pressures of development passed the town by and the local garages and other buildings in the town centre have retained many of their original features.
The morphology of the Dowling Street business precinct is similar to the town of the early 20th century. The streetscape has changed little in over 80 years.
The wonderful Victorian colonial building that was once the Whiteman’s General Store has had a new lease of life through the Burra Charter principle of adaptive re-use. There are has been a continuous retail shopping presence on the same site for over 135 years.
While the building has also had new work and restoration it is a good example of how a building can be adaptively re-used for commercial activities without destroying the integrity of the buildings historic character and charm.
Adaptive re-use maintains the historic character of the streetscape and the sense of place that is so important to community identity, resilience and sustainability.
Adaptive re-use is not new and has been going on for a long time. In Europe buildings that are hundreds of years old continual go through the process of re-use century after century.
The Tower of London – a building with an amazing history of adaptive re-use
The Tower of London has been re-used over the centuries since the White Tower was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a fortress and gateway to the city.
Over the centuries the Tower of London complex has been a royal residence, military storehouse, a prison, place of royal execution, parliament, treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, storage of crown jewels, royal armoury, regimental headquarters, and most recently a centre of tourism.
Adaptive re-use in Australia
In Australia adaptive re-use of historic buildings comes under the Burra Charter which defines the principles and procedures followed in the conservation in Australian heritage places.
The Burra Charter has been adopted by heritage authorities across Australia – Heritage Council of NSW (2004).
Adaptive re-use is covered by Article 21 of the Burra Charter and states:
Article 21. Adaptation 21.1 Adaptation is acceptable only where the adaptation has minimal impact on the cultural significance of the place. 21.2 Adaptation should involve minimal change to significant fabric, achieved only after considering alternatives.
The explanatory notes says:
Adaptation may involve additions to the place, the introduction of new services, or a new use, or changes to safeguard the place. Adaptation of a place for a new use is often referred to as ‘adaptive re-use’ and should be consistent with Article 7.2.
In Irish planning, a conservation ensemble is known as an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). ACA status provides statutory protection to existing building stock and urban features, and applies strict design and materials standards to new developments. Protections prohibit works with negative impacts on the character of buildings, monuments, urban design features, open spaces and views.
Seasoned building materials are not even available in today’s world. Close-grained, first-growth lumber is naturally stronger and more rich looking than today’s timbers. Does vinyl siding have the sustainability of old brick?
The process of adaptive reuse is inherently green. The construction materials are already produced and transported onto the site.
Architecture is history. Architecture is memory.
[Craven, Jackie. “Adaptive Reuse – How to Give Old Buildings New Life.” ThoughtCo, May. 22, 2018, thoughtco.com/adaptive-reuse-repurposing-old-buildings-178242]
Whiteman commercial building
The Whiteman family conducted a general store in Argyle Street on the same site for over 100 years.
In 1878 CT (Charles Thomas) Whiteman, who operated a family business in Sydney, brought produce to Camden. He purchased a single storey home at the corner of Argyle and Oxley Street and ran his store from the site. (SHI) In 1878 a fire destroyed the business.
CT Whiteman was previously a storekeeper in Goulburn and Newtown and later married local Camden girl Anne Bensley in 1872. Whiteman, was a staunch Methodist, and was an important public figure in Camden and served as the town’s first mayor from 1892 to 1894.
CT Whiteman moved to premises in Argyle Street in 1889 occupied by ironmonger J Burret. Whiteman modified the building for a shopfront conversion. (SHI) The store was later leased to the Woodhill family from 1903 to 1906.
From 1889 to 1940 the building was known as the Cumberland Stores. The store supplied groceries, drapery, men’s wear, boots and shoes, farm machinery, hardware, produce and stationery. (Gibson, 1940)
The original Argyle Street building was an early timber verandahed Victorian period store.
The building was a two-storey rendered masonry building with hipped tile roof, projecting brick chimneys. The second storey had painted timber framed windows which were shaded by a steeply pitched tile roof awning supported on painted timber brackets.(SHI)
A two-storey addition was constructed in 1936 and the verandah posts were removed in 1939 when this policy was implemented by Camden Municipal Council.
There were later shopfront modifications to the adjacent mid-20th century façade street-frontage which included wide aluminium framed glazing and awning to the ground level of the building. (SHI)
The Whiteman’s General Store sold a variety of goods and became one of the longest-running retail businesses in Camden.
The Whiteman’s Store was trading as Argyle Living when it closed in 2006 under the control of Fred Whiteman. On the store’s closure the Whiteman family had operated on the same site in Camden for 123 years.
On the closure of Argyle Living the store sold homewares, clothing, furniture and a range of knickknacks and was the largest retail outlet in Camden with 1200 square metres of space.
Current usage of the Whiteman’s commercial building
After 2007 the building was converted, through adaptive re-use, to an arcade with several retail outlets and professional rooms on the ground floor, with a restaurant and other businesses upstairs.
The building has largely retained its integrity, and its historic character and delight in the town’s business centre.
The Whiteman’s commercial building adds to the mid-20th century streetscape that still largely characterises the Camden town centre and attracts hordes of day-trippers to the area.
Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.
Retailing in Camden took its lead from England. At the village level the market stall turned into the high street shop. All goods were kept behind the counter, customers were served by male shop assistants and goods were delivered to the customer’s home.
Shopping in Camden was a rather dull affair by all accounts. The methods of retailing in Camden had changed little from the 19th century.
Camden women fronted up to the counter and handed their list of needs to the male shop assistant who filled the order for her. There were several choices from those owned by the Whitemans, the Cliftons, the Furners and others.
The winds of change were about to descend on the Camden shopping experience. The old fashioned general stores were about to find out what real competition with a global presence meant in a small country town.
According to Ann Satterthwaite’s Going Shopping self-service was the industrialisation of retailing along with the chain store. These stores featured cash and carry, no delivery and shelving displaying pre-packaged goods. In the USA there were an array of stores from Niffy Jiffy, Help Selfy, Handy Andy to Clarence Saunders Piggly Wiggly stores in Memphis in 1916 which was a type of cafeteria retailing. Piggly Wiggly was allegedly the first self-serve outlet for groceries. Self-service retailing emerged after the American civil war in response to labour shortages. For others like Edison’s Samaritan Market it was an attempt to make shopping more efficient.
The first time that groceries were sold in Australia using self-service in occurred in Brisbane in 1923. The Brisbane Courier reported that the first exclusive cash and carry grocery store started in Brisbane under the name Brisbane Cash and Carry Store. The proprietor Mr CA Fraser had opened three stores by 1927. The press report maintained that
The system was practically a novelty in Brisbane, but some idea of what success can be obtained through an honest endeavour to give self-service to the public in a courteous and efficient manner can be gauged by [its success].
The news report suggests that lower costs were obtained by the customer paying in cash and thus eliminating store credit. The customer serving ‘herself and so eliminating the necessity of salesman effects further savings’. It was claimed that the three stores served over a half a million people each year and the stores were ‘a model of neatness, cleanliness and efficiency’.
The first cash and carry store that opened in Camden occurred in 1933 and was owned by Mr Joe B Roberts at 110 Argyle Street. The Camden News stated that Roberts had obtained the premises that had been previously occupied by Mr Green next door to Mr Fred Boardman’s butchery. The report stated that ‘the shop has been specially fitted for Mr Roberts, who [would] personally conduct the store’. By 1936 Mr Roberts store was adjacent to Mr Green’s Drapery store. His Christmas special was a free beach towel with five purchases from the advertisement in the Camden News.
A recent article on JStor on Sex and the supermarket by researchers Tracey Deutsch and Adam Mack claims that supermarkets were places where gender and sexuality collided for American women. Supermarkets were one of the mid-20th century most important suburban sites for the important weekly ritual of shopping for the modern family. The supermarket was both aspirational and practical. In a weekly ritual the modern housewife could get lost is a sea of idealised dreams created by marketing gurus around an overwhelming splash of colour, perfectly merchanised products and an endless supply of brands that promised to make life easier for modern housewife.
In the USA a parallel development occurred in the kitchen. There was the development of refrigerators, the gas stove and products started to be promoted in cans. As the US economy developed fewer women went into domestic service and wealthier middle class women started going shopping in these new supermarkets.
The design of the supermarket was based on making them feminised spaces based on the latest psychological theories. Sex appeal made its way into shopping. Supermarkets were brighter, more colourful, cleaner, and sexier than the dingy general stores. The new aesthetic meant that these spaces were made to titillate and fascinate women. Supermarkets were clean and efficient with modern fluorescent lighting and carefully selected colours.
One of the earliest feminist authors Betty Friedan wrote about how women were shackled through shopping to their domesticity in 1963 in her book The Feminine Mystique.
Supermarkets are sites where gender roles are re-enforced where women’s sexuality is ‘contained and re-directed’ to consumption.
In 1941 press reports from Los Angeles stated that the hype surrounding the opening of the latest supermarkets ranked with the opening of the latest blockbuster Hollywood movies. The Southern Californian housewife went on the hunt for the latest bargains. The supermarkets operated with huge carparks, large neon signs, with some staying open 24 hours 7 days a week. They traded under names like Bi-Best Market, Sel-Rite Market, The Stop-and-Save, Thriftmart, and Wundermart.
In the post-war years elf-service retailing gained momentum in the Sydney area. Kings Cross grocer Mr Jack Greathead was the owner of a small self-serve store, and in 1950 cut the price of his butter and triggered a price war. Chain stores joined the price war. Mr FC Burnard the grocery buyer for David Jones predicted after a visit to the USA that self-service and other retailing innovations would soon be implemented in Australia. He was particularly impressed with the use of trolley-carts and pre-packaged hosiery and frozen goods.
In Camden Woolworths came to town in 1963. Woolworths opened the first stand-alone self-service store with a modern design, that was clean and made shopping more efficient. With modern lighting, wide isles, bright colours and lots of appealing merchandise to choose from with nationally advertised well-known brands. Some of the brands were American re-enforcing the international and cosmopolitan nature of the new shopping experience.
The new Woolworths store at 166-172 Argyle Street Camden was light and airy compared to the local general stores up the road which appeared old-fashioned and stodgy in comparison. The new supermarket encouraged local women to experience the thrill and titillation of going shopping. Slick brand marketing created dreams in the minds of the shoppers. Shoppers were encouraged to immerse themselves in the dream. Shopping became sexy. Shopping stimulated the sense with bright colours, in-store music and excitement of the new experience. Shopping became exciting. Shopping was sensual as much as it was practical.
The Woolworths supermarket consolidated a number of lots in Argyle street that was occupied by W Ward the butcher, Monica Ray and Beaton and Wylie.
The CHN was out and about in the local area as you do on a recent overcast day at the Camden Showground.
The occasion was the The Argyle Affair Christmas Market for 2017. The market attracts visitors far and wide. One pair who spoke to this blogger came from the New South Wales South Coast and were particularly taken with the local music talent.
‘We aim to provide a safe and confidential environment where we can offer assistance, providing welfare services such as emergency food relief, advocacy, document assistance, phone access, and computer availability with free Wi-Fi’.
Market goers were asked for a gold coin admission or hand in an item of food that went to Turning Point.
The Argyle Affair organisers are continuing a strong community tradition of local festivals going back well over a century where local folk came together to support worthy causes of one sort or another.
Camden Community festivals have come in a range of sizes, types and causes from small street stalls, to large events like the Camden Show. Other examples have been the week long celebrations for the 1960s Festival of the Golden Fleece and the annual Rose Festival.
The grandest local festival is the annual Camden Show which has been going for 131 years. It is a celebration of the town’s rural heritage and over 30,000 people cannot be wrong. The annual rural festival even has Miss Camden Showgirl, one of the few still remaining.