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Camden Airfield and No 32 Squadron RAAF

32 Squadron RAAF, Camden Airfield, 1942-1944

Camden has hosted 32 Squadron RAAF since the time of the Second World War. The members of the squadron have developed a special relationship with the local community that has been marked by tragedy and celebrations. This is their story.

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

Formation

The members of  32 Squadron arrived in Camden in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units.1  Large scale air attacks on Rabaul in January 1942 had resulted in the virtual elimination of the 24 Squadron,  and this was followed by the invasion of New Britain by the Japanese forces (23 January 1942). The war was not going particularly well for the Allied Forces. There was the loss of Singapore (15 February), the commencement of an air campaign against Darwin, the country’s major northern port city (19 February) and the Japanese invasion of Timor (20-23 February).2

These events led to the formation of  32 Squadron. It  was drawn from the survivors of 24 Squadron, who had reformed at Port Moresby with a flight of Hudson bombers. Two more flights of Hudsons, one from 6 Squadron, Richmond (New South Wales) and 23 Squadron, Archerfield (Queensland) were flown in to add to the strength. At this point the squadron had a strength of 12 Hudsons and crews and 124 maintenance staff.3   The duties of the squadron included bombing and reconnaissance against Japanese bases at Rabaul and Gasmata bases, landings at Lae and Salamaua, the Gona-Buna and Milne Bay campaigns, the Coral Sea battle, as well as anti-submarine and convoy patrols and supply drops to ground forces. During the eight months of combat operations the squadron flew over 400 missions lost 10 aircraft, with 54 killed in action.4    Lyle Abraham claims that  32 Squadron was the  only Australian squadron to be formed ‘in the field’.5

Tour of Duty in New Guinea

After their tour of duty in New Guinea the squadron was initially posted to Pokolbin, New South Wales, but were then moved to Camden in late 1942.6  DK Saxelby, an electrician from the Camden base maintenance group, recalled on their  arrival that the squadron were

 ‘a much battered battered band of men.  Their clothes were the worst for wear having literally rotted off their backs from the humid climate and replacements destroyed by the enemy. Their footwear was falling to pieces’.7

 

On their arrival the squadron was equipped with 4 Lockheed Hudsons and 6 Avro Ansons under the command of DW Kingwell. The  Hudsons were a 5-crew medium bomber. They were the main Australian bomber in New Guinea until 1943. The aircraft were considered slow with a top speed of 246mph. They were a ‘relatively easy’ target for Japanese gunners and Zero fighters, but they were the only aircraft available at the time.8

 

Commanding Officers 32 Squadron RAAF

 

Date

Name

21 February  1942 W/C DW Kingwell
4 February  1943 W/C JF Lush
10 May 1943 W/C PA Parker
30 August 1943 W/C IH Smith
9 December  1943 S/L CA Loneragan (Temporary)
30 May 1944 S/L OF Barton
28 August 1944 W/C R Homes
28 February 1945 W/C DW Campbell
29 August 1945 F/L LG Brown

Source: WA Paull, 60th Anniverary 32 Squadron

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

Operational Duties at Camden Airfield

The squadron’s operational duties at Camden included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia. The squadron did night patrols covering the east coast of Australia from Bundaberg to Mallacootta, Queensland. The Bristol Beauforts, which the squadron was using from March 1943, were fitted with radar and was a ‘very closely guarded at the time’. There were also detached flights at Coffs Harbour and Bundaberg.9   PJ Squires recalls that during his time at Camden between May and December 1943 the role of the squadron was anti-submarine protection for coastal convoys using depth charges.  Air cover was given from Bega to Bundaberg by moving aircraft.10   Harry Simpson recalls that his Beaufort crew undertook anti-submarine  patrols at night  using radar protecting convoys sailing off the east coast. The crew escorted convoys off the east coast.   His crew also took part in general training  including ‘fighter cooperative attacks’ and high and low level bombing practice.11   The crews were constantly flying between Camden, Mascot, Bundaberg, Coffs Harbour, Amberly, Richmond, Williamtown, Evan’s Head and  Moruya12  as well as Nabiac, Southport, Hervey Bay, Archerfield, Tocumwal and Canberra.13

The log book of John Murphy shows that on 26 February 1943 the squadron did anti-submarine patrol while convoying the Queen Mary, the Acquatania and the Ile de France.14  Another member of the squadron recalled that the squadron did convoy duty for the Queen Elizabeth  when it brought he 6th Division back from Africa.15    Leo Reid recalls one mission undertaken by his crew that took place on 16 May 1943 (two nights after the Centaur hospital ship was sunk off Brisbane) when their  Beaufort made contact with a submarine five miles off Coffs Harbour. The plane dropped 6 bombs on and around the submarine. They were credited with a ‘D’ assessment (damaged and possibly unable to reach base). The Beaufort was crewed by pilot F/S G Liddell, Navigator F Westphalen, WAGs E Shipley & L Reid.16  Jock Sharpe’s Beaufort crew was: F/O Harry Kemp, F/S Peter Bowers, F/S Colin Sinclair, F/O JM (Jock) Sharpe (WAG).17   Harry Simpson’s Beaufort crew was: F/L WJ (Bill) Hoddinott, Pilot, F/O Peter King, Navigator, F/O HB (Bill) Simpson, Gunnery Leader, Wireless and Radar Operator, F/O CJ (Chuck) Owens, Wireless Airgunner, Tail Gunner.18

While a part of B Flight at Coffs Harbour,  Bill Paull  recalls that the crew of a Beaufort, pilotted by F/L Harrison, while on night patrol disabled a Japanese submarine with depth charges. The crew returned to Coffs Harbour and asked for a 250lb anti-submarine bomb to sink the disabled submarine. They tried to skip the bomb into the submarine as they did in the Bay of Biscay. On inspection of the area the next morning they found the submarine had disappeared but there was an oil slick 1/2 mile wide and 3 miles long and the crew was credited with a possible sinking.19

Training Exercises

Alan Wailes recalls training exercise with military units. One exercise with a searchlight company involved flying over Port Kembla at around 5000 feet so that the searchlight crews could practice homing in on an approaching aircraft. ‘We went back and forth for almost 2 hours with the searchlight beams tracking all over the sky but nowhere near us’. In the end the crew had to turn on their landing lights so that the searchlights could find them. Another exercise involved flying over Dover Heights and giving the ack-ack units some practice. ‘We spent 3 hours flying in from all directions to really keep these chaps on their toes’. Wailes claims that after a pre-dawn patrol ‘there was nothing more relaxing than to be coming in right over Sydney Harbour just on sunrise and to be able to take in the scenic wonders’.20

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

Re-equipment

By the end of May 1943 the squadron was re-equipped with  a total of seven Beaufort.21    PJ Squires recalls that eventually the squadron had 12 aircraft. The Beauforts were used for night cover using radar, while day cover was given by Avro Ansons.22     Lindsay Fromm notes that he wrote in his diary that an Airacobra landed at Camden in April 1943, and in May the CO (Lush) took the Boomerang out for a flight. A Spitfire squadron arrived at Camden in May 1943 and later in the month flew to out Darwin.23   By late 1943 Jock Sharpe recalls there were 24 Beaufort aircraft on the base.24

Accommodation at Camden Airfield

While stationed at Camden the squadron’s accommodation consisted of  eight huts that were located on the rise on the eastern side of the current carpark, which was then the parade ground. There was also an operations rooms in the same area of the airfield. At the same time the Macarhur Onslow family, who lived in Hassall Cottage, had their small plane in a hanger located slightly north of the Bellman hangars.  The squadron’s officer’s mess was in Macquarie Grove house, while the sergeant’s mess was located in a building on the rise east of the officer’s mess.  The airfield tower was located west of the Bellman hangars on the grass verge adjacent to the taxi-ing areas.25  The huts were standard arrangements for RAAF personnel. The officers had individual rooms and the ranks were accommodated ‘barrack style’. There was a small hospital staffed by several male orderlies. Jock Sharpe does not recall any female personnel on the base during his posting at the airfield in 1943.26   Not everyone lived on the base, particularly the married men, and Leo Reid recalls that he and his wife lived in a flat in John opposite Dr Crookston’ house.27 (Letter, Reid, 30/12/86) Harry Simpson recalls  that after his marriage to wife Marjorie that lived off the station when he was not flying. They lived in flat supplied by Matron Berry of Camden Hospital and then for many months with Mrs Dickenson, who lived at 10 Chellaston Street. His wife, Marjorie, worked with Yvonne Dickenson at the local dentist, Campbell Graham.28

Free Time and Recreation

Recreation provided a release from the constant stress of operations. Shortly after their arrival in Camden the squadron held a dinner in the big hanger and entertainment was provided by Chips Rafferty and a magician. Everyone enjoyed themselves and ‘a lot of beer was drunk’.  In late in 1942 a number of the squadron assembled a Gypsy Minor, (FROMM, PHOTOGRAPH) while the Christmas dinner was held in camp. The officers and sergeants waited on the lower ranks and ‘helped us drink our Christmas cheer’.29   The men usually went to Sydney when they were given leave traivelling by train and staying at Air Force House in Sydney. Allan Diprose recalls that he went with other airmen to local dances and he attended the Presbyterian Church and the local Masonic Lodge.30   PJ Squires maintains that 70% of the squadron’s time was away from Camden consquently the men had little or no interaction with the local community. Any leave they were given they spent in Sydney.31   DK Saxelby recalls that he was given the duty of looking after the base switchboard at night. He slept beside the board and took messages that came in at night. He remembers that ‘this was good’ because in quiet periods he was to have a chat the girls at the telephone exchange in Camden.32  Harry Simpson recalls that he and his wife spent most of Harry’s leave in Sydney and on one occasion spent several weeks with Mrs King at Thirroul.33   Alan Wailes recalls that while he was at Camden he flew a Tiger Moth aircraft and had ‘an enjoyable time skithering around the sky’. (he was a WAG). They played golf, which according to Wailes, was ‘ a great way to relax as the course bordered the bushland countryside of the Macarthur-Onslow sheep property’. He took part in ‘organised clay pigeon shooting which, apart from being a sporting outing, enabled us gunners to keep our eye in with moving targets. Then when we felt a need to vary the Base menu we would venture into Camden town to enjoy a good steak followed by a dessert of honeydew melon, which they thought were green ‘rockies’.34

Many members of the squadron made friends with local people during the war years.35   Lyle Abraham claimed that Camden people  ‘were so warm and friendly that we felt like being back at home’.36 Most airmen who corresponded with the author do  not recall  a great level of interaction with the local community. Alan Wailes maintains that this was not really the fault of the aircrews. Most airmen had little contact with local  residents because of the varying flying times that most crews had to put up with, especially when undertaking night patrols.37

Flood at Camden 

The weather always played an influential role in the conduct of operations. On 20 May 1943 the airfield was flooded and cut-off from the town for a week and no-one could get in or out of the camp.38  Reid remembered that their Beaufort became  bogged after leaving the runway when taxi-ing to the hangers.39   Photographs of the flooded airfield show floodwater stretching from the bottom of Exeter Street across the river to the lower part of the airfield adjacent to the fuel dumps. The flood water also came up to the sentry boxes on the gravel entrance road to the airfield, which the constant rain had made almost impassible. (PHOTO, CHS)  Bill Paul remembers the 1943 flood and how their way along Kirkham Lane to the station at Elderslie. They had to put their clothes over their heads and hold onto the fence wire to get to the station.40

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

The ‘peaceful and beautiful surroundings  of the cowpasture country [sic]’ contrasted with the ‘grim’ days of aerial combat in New Guinea, and while at Camden a member of the squadron recalled  that

it took a long time flying in the near serenity of Camden to diminish or erase in the squadron’s memory the desparation and frustration of those grim eight months in New Guinea – if ever they will be erased.41

But the tranquility ‘of this lovely area’  of rural countryside surrounding the town could be deceptive, and flying out of Camden airfield was not without its own risks.42   Three crews were lost in accidents while on operations at Camden and ten of the airmen were buried in the Camden war cemetery.

Loss of Aircraft

The first accident occurred on 3 November 1942 and resulted in the loss of all five crew.  Two Hudsons had been despatched from Camden airfield to investigate a report of a Japanese submarine 480 km east of Sydney around 5pm. At the time there were atrocious weather conditions and the pilot of one aircraft abandoned the mission after a short search and landed safely at Mascot. The pilot of the second  Hudson became disoriented and crossed the coastline near Port Kembla. It was sighted by personnel on duty at the Windang searchlight battery. They estimated the height of the aircraft at 250-300 metres. The aircraft proceeded across the Lake, and was spotted again, this time by the searchlight battery at Koonawarra Bay. The aircraft flew on and then crashed in to Bong Bong Mountain west of Dapto around 9.15pm. A number of local residents in the area heard the plane pass overhead and then heard the explosion of the crash. Local residents reached the crash site aroung midnight and found no survivors.43  Lindsay Fromm recalled that duty personnel from Camden left the base the following day and arrived early the next morning to Dapto and made their way to the crash sight after a long climb through through the rainforest. The bodies were removed that afternoon. The wings of the aircraft were slide down the mountain to be taken away by truck. ‘The rest of the place was piled on the four bombs and the army detonated them after notifying the wide area’. The loss of the crew was a ‘sad event’ for the squadron.44   An inquest was held in Wollongong four weeks later. The squadron’s commanding officer suggested at the inquest that in the bad weather the pilot may have become lost and confused Lake Illawarra with Botany Bay and hence not realised that he was headed toward the Illawarra Enscarpment at a low altitude.45

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

The second accident occurred on 26 January 1943 at Camden airfield.  It involved the crash of a Hudson and the loss of all five crew members. The accident report stated that the aircraft crashed shortly after take off in wooded country south-west of Camden around the middle of the day. The aircraft was apparently in ‘an inverted position when it struck the ground’. The third accident occurred on 17 November 1943 with the crash of a Beaufort the death of all five crew members. The aircraft had crashed into the side of Saddleback Mountain, west of Kiama, around midnight while on a night cross-country training exercise.46

Other minor incidents also kept ground crews busy. A Hudson overshot the runway on 8 January 1943 hitting the bank and collapsing the undercarriage, another crashed on take off and was moved into the hangar by the Rescue and Salvage Unit, while another crashed into a gutter and was taken away by road. On 13 May 1943 a Beaufort crashed on take-off and hit a number of stumps on the hill at the end of the runway. The plane was a complete write-off, but the crew were able to walk away with minor scratches  after getting out through a hole torn in the fuselage.47

Anxious Night Patrols 

Alan Wailes remembers some anxious moments on a night patrol off the coast in bad weather. ‘We were making our way back to the coast at the conclusion of a patrol when we ran into an extremely heavy sea fog – perhaps we would be through it in a short while. I was on wireless/radar watch at the time and ‘glued’ myself to the radar screen hoping for a landfall recording at any time – the screen was blank, was it working alright? (In those early days the equipment was barely adequate and with limited range.) My thought momentarily wanded to a week or so earlier when one of our aircraft returning under similar circumstances, slammed into the coastal mountain range at Foxground near Gerrigong. Military secrecy  at the time kept the public unaware of the crash until a timber cutter stumbled on the wreck days later. I was one of the pall bearers at the funeral of the crew of four’. Wailes laconically recalls  that there was ‘a strange thing about many mainland bases we used (including Camden) there always seemed to be a cemetery just over the fence at the end of the runway’. He stated that ‘we didn’t really need a reminder of our ‘precarious occupation’.48

On another occasion their aircraft had a hydraulic failure. Their undercarriage would not come down, the wing flaps would not operate and there were no wheel brakes. After circling Camden airfield for an hour and trying a number of attempts to lower the undercarriage the pilot successfully put the aircraft on the runway, just clearing the fence and cruising to a stop at the end of the runway.49

In January 1944 Harry Simpson recalls that the squadron was relocated to Menangle Park,  where they were involved in extensive training,  before moving to Gould Airfield in the Northern Territory in February.50    By May   the remainder of the squadron was transferred to Lowood, Queensland  where the squadron was eventually disbanded in November 1945.51

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

Squadron Reunions at Camden

In the postwar period many airmen from the squadron got together for regular reunions, with a number were held in Camden. Postwar reunions have had an important social and theraputic event for members of the squadron. They would  rekindled the camaraderie and ‘strong bonds forged by ordeal and comradeship’ between the men that made up the squadron.52

The reunions allowed the men to relive the glory days of the war. They also provided a theraputic role in that the veterans understood each other and did not have to explain or justify themselves to others. The war played a pivotal role in the lives of these airmen and its played an important focus for their memories which are played in their reunions. The reunsion allows the veterans to relive their unique experiences amongst who were there. They relived times and events in their lives that they often have not even spoken about to their families. Stephen Garton has maintained in The Cost of War  that

 the traditional war narrative of men is one of self-realisation. War represented the attainment of an ideal of manliness – in physical action, bravery, self-control, courage, and, more importantly for many, male comradeship.’53

According to Garten this ideal was fostered at school, in sport and in the boy scouts and as the homefront was constructed as ‘a feminised space’   the reunion allowed the airmen to relive their warrior days. Many veterans found that return to civilian life created feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction, where they missed the ‘vibrancy of war’. They felt that those on the homefront did not ‘comprehend the enormity of their experiences’  and they craved the company of their former colleagues.54  The reunion provided this experience and rekindled bonds. For the airmen  of the 32 Squadron their annual get together and five yearly reunions fulfilled these requirements.55  Keith Nelson felt that there was always ‘a lot to talk about’.56

The squadron held their 45th anniversary reunion  in Camden in May 1987. Their program included a welcome by the Mayor, Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, on the Saturday, followed by a tour of Camden Airfield, a tour of the Camden Museum of Aviation at Narellan and a visit to Gledswood. On the Sunday there was a remembrance address at the Camden Cenotaph and an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. The organisers of the reunion stated that the Sunday program had been arranged as a special ‘thank you’ to Camden townsfolk.57

Around 70 squadron members and their families attended the 50th anniversary in Camden in February 1992. This was the largest and most successful reunion held in Camden.  Reunion organiser Colin Butterworth stated that the celebrations commenced on the Friday with a civic reception followed by the reunion dinner. On Saturday the veterans marched along Argyle Street and took part in a flag-raising ceremony at the John Street intersection, with a fly-over by the RAAF Roulettes. Mayor Theresa Testoni granted the squadron membership of the muncipality and presented the squadron with a citation. Led by the Campbelltown-Camden band playing ‘The 32 Squadron March’ the party moved onto the Camden RSL Bowling Club for the squadron luncheon. Celebrations on Sunday commenced with an address at the Camden Cenotaph with a fly-over by four Hawker Siddley aircraft from the new No.32 Squadron (based at Sale, Victoria) and a tree planting. This was followed by an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church.  An editorial in the Camden Crier maintained that the squadron’s choice of Camden for its reunion was a ‘high compliment’.  Colin Butterworth felt that members of squadron regarded themselves at the unofficial ‘City of Camden’ Squadron because of the close affiliation between the townsfolk and the squadron.

The squadron held its 55th anniversary in Camden in 1997 and was attended by 20 members. On the Sunday a remembrance ceremony was held at the Camden cenotaph in Macarthur Park. In 2002 the 60th anniversary of the squadron was remembered with a tree planting ceremony in Macarthur Park.58  It was the last anniversary to be held in Camden.

References

1 ’32 Squadron’, Online at   here, Accessed on 28 October 2005.
2 Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, St Leonards: Allen & Unwin,1998, pp. 199, 202-207.
3 Camden Crier, 13 May 1987.
4 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987; Camden Crier  12 February 1992; Camden-Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002.
5 LJ Abraham, Correspondence, 22 June 1999
6 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
7 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999
8 Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Evan Morris, Robin Prior & John Connor, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 297.
9 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986; J Sharpe, Corresponence, 23 June 1999.
10 PJ Squires, Corresponence, 23 September 1999.
11 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
12 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
13 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 21 March 2002.
14 J Murphy, Correspondence, 30 September 1992.
15 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
16 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
17 J Sharpe, Correspondece, 23 June 1999.
18 HB Simpson, Correspondece,  20 July 1999.
19 W Paull, Correspondece, 20 September 1999.
20 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002.
21 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 26 February 1992; F Ellem, Correspondence, 14 November 1986; LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
22 PJ Squires, Correspondence,  23 September 1999.
23 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
24 J Sharpe, 23 June 1999.
25 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
26 J Sharpe, Correspondence, 23 June 1999.
27 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
28 HB Simpson, 20 July 1999.
29 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
30 AR Diprose, Correspondence,  21 June 1999.
31 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
32 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999.
33 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20July 1999.
34 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
35 Camden Crier 12 February 1992.
36 Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
37AF Wailes, Correspondence, 26 Septembe 1999.
38 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
39 L Reid, 30 December 1986.
40 WA Paull, Correspondence, 20 September 1999
41 Camden Crier  13 May 1987
42 Camden Crier  13 May 1987, 12 February 1992
43 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
44 LG Fromm, 10 August 1999
45 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
46 RAAF Historical, Canberra.
47 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
48 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
49 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
50 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 23 July 1999
51 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
52 Camden Crier  13 May 1987
53 Stephen Garton, The Cost of War, Australians Return, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20
54 Ibid
55 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
56 Macarthur Chronicle 18 February 1992
57 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
58 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 19 February 1992, 26 February 1992, 19 February 1997; Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
First published in Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2009
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Attachment to place · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · community identity · Edwardian · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · myths · sense of place · Victorian · Women's diaries · Women's Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That question is simple enough.

Well is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is everything else just fake news.

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

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

Everyone was there and they all witnessed the same thing.

Is everyone is telling the truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come and find out for yourself.

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

Some of the answers might surprise you.

Architecture · Cobbitty · Colonialism · community identity · Cowpastures · Heritage · history · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · sense of place · St Paul's Church Cobbitty · Victorian

A little bit of England celebrates 190 years at Cobbitty

The Anglican Church at Cobbitty recently held an open day for the community to  celebrate 190 years of the Anglican community in the village.  Those who attended could listen to local experts give talks on the history of the Anglican church in Cobbitty, the stain glass windows in St Pauls, and its fixtures, furnishings and artefacts.

Cobbitty Ch 190 Anniv 2017

The Anglican Church has been the heart and soul of the village since the Hassall’s established themselves in the Cowpastures district in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The church has taken a central part in place making and the development of community identity in the village.

Cobbitty Ch 190 Anniv Activites 2017

The presence of the church is the reason the village exists and is closely reminiscent of a pre-industrial English style rural village. The village even had its own blacksmith, who was an essential traditional trade in all rural villages. Working over their hearth with hammer and anvil making and crafting the tools of the farmers to making decorative work for the church graveyard.

The Hassall’s were the de-facto lords of the manor. The development of the village was their fiefdom. Long term local identity and font of knowledge of all things Cobbitty John Burge recalled in his talk on the ‘History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ that the Hassall family owned pretty much all of the farms up and down the Nepean River in the vicinity of Cobbitty.

The Reverend Thomas Hassall, the son of missionaries Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall who arrived in New South Wales in 1798, was appointed the minister of the Cowpastures district in 1827.

The Heber Chapel

The first chapel was built in the area by Thomas Hassall, called Heber Chapel and opened in 1827, with Thomas as rector. It was named after the Bishop Heber of the Calcutta Diocese, in which Cobbitty was located at the time.

Cobbitty Heber Chapel J Kooyman 1997 CIPP
This image is of Thomas Hassall’s 1827 Heber Chapel Cobbitty taken by John Kooyman in 1997 who was commissioned by Camden Library to document important heritage sites across the Camden District (CIPP)

Heber Chapel became the centre of  village life as its first school and church. The chapel was used as a school building during the week and religious purposes on the weekend. Schooling at the chapel continued until 1920.

The Heber Chapel was constructed of hand-made bricks with a shingle roof. It is a simple design perhaps reflected the rustic frontier nature of Cobbitty of the 1820s when Pomari Grove, the site of the church and chapel, was owned by Thomas Hassall.

Recent renovations and restoration was carried out in 1993.

St Paul’s Anglican Church

There was the  opening of St Paul’s Church in 1840, with consecration by Bishop William Broughton. The community supported the construction of a Rectory in 1870 and a church hall in 1886.

Cobbitty St Pauls 1890s CKerry 'EnglishChurch' PHM
This Charles Kerry image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbitty as an English-style pre-industriral village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

St Paul’s Anglican Church was consecrated in 1842, designed by Sydney architect John Bibb in a neo-Gothic style with simple lancet shaped windows, typical of the design. These windows originally had plain glass and over the decades were changed for stained-glass

The church was built with plain glass windows. Stained glass became popular again in the mid-19th century as part of the Gothic-revival movement in England and New South Wales. Stained glass was originally installed in medieval churches and cathedrals, and then fell out of popularity. (Dictionary of Sydney)

There are 10 memorial windows in St Pauls with the oldest dated to 1857 and made by English glass artist William Warrington. It was donated by the Perry family in memory of their daughter Carolyn.  There is one original window dating from 1842 with small panes of glass, in the style of the period.

Well-to-do members of the church community preferred to donate a window as a memorial rather than a wall plaque or other church object to commemorate their loved ones.

Cobbitty St Pauls Window 2011 JLumas
This image of one of the memorial stained glass windows in St Paul’s Anglican Church Cobbitty taken by J Lomas of Camden and donated to the Dictionary of Sydney in 2011 (DoS)

The current presentation of the church is different from the 1840 St Pauls. Today’s church represents the many changes that have occurred over the years.  The changes in the building reflect changes in style, technology, tastes and support  as well as periods of neglect.

A presentation by John Burge on ‘The History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ illustrated the many lives of the church from periods of strong support by the local community to relative neglect. During the 1980s the graveyard became overgrown and graves hidden under bushes.  John’s images showed numbers of past symbolic trees, mainly cypress, that were planted grew into large trees. Sometimes these were planted  too close to the church building  endangered its safety and stability.  They were removed.

When you look at the church you see a slate roof and automatically assume that this was original. It  is not. The slate roof is a recent addition in 2014 and installed as part of the church restoration when work was done to roof trusses, bargeboards, and guttering. The church originally had a shingle roof with a plastered interior vaulted ceiling. Now it has a slate roof with a maple timber lined interior ceiling. The walls are quarried sandstone from Denbigh.

Electricity was installed in 1938, after originally being lit by candles then kerosene lamps.

The pews and pulpit are unchanged and are Australian red cedar timberwork.

Music is provided by an 1876 Davidson organ from Sydney, after music was originally provided by  violin then harmonium.

The Anglican story of Cobbitty continues to evolve around the Heber Chapel, St Pauls, the Rectory and church hall. The village continues to grow as does the life of the church community with a host of activities under the current church leadership.

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

Manage

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
Cobbitty · festivals · Macarthur · sense of place · Tourism

Out and about at Cobbitty Markets

On a frosty Saturday recently the CHN blogger attended the Cobbitty Markets. The carpark was covered with a light shade of white while the thermometer hovered around zero degrees.


The markets have been on Cobbitty Public School site for what seems likes for ever. The stalls are tucked around every conceivable corner. In the front yard. In the building courtyards. Every part of the school yard is filled with stallholders displaying their wares.

The markets have a tradition of attracting stallholders with their own genuine wares. Hand-made goods of all sorts. Not the bric-a-brac of the trash-and-treasure markets that you get around the place.

For the foodinistas. The school canteen will sell you an egg-and-bacon sandwich for $4 and an instant hot coffee for $2. Enough to satisfy any appetite. If you want to go gourmet then that is catered for as well. Great cappuccino if that is what you desire.

The frost covered car park at sun-up at the Cobbitty Markets looking out across the Nepean River floodplain (I Willis)

There is the ever popular plant stall attracting one of the largest crowds. Ever before the stallholder has set out all the plants for sale. Sales were hot in the cold. The stall sells tiny seedlings to not so-small seedlings. And even bigger plants.

The crowd at the ever popular plant stall at Cobbitty Markets (I Willis)

There are the fruit and vegie stalls. Stalls selling honey and other organic goods. Cut flowers to make any room pretty.

Lots have artwork of various types. From painting to any type of creative work you can think of including authors flogging their books.

The knick-knack brigade are catered for with candles for the mood creator, and other smelly and feely-make-you-feel-better stuff. Lots to choose from. There is even pottery and lots of other traditional crafts.

Funds raised go to the Cobbitty community directed by the hard-working market committee in their purple shirts.

To learn more go the Cobbitty Village Market website

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

Macarthur regional identity

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

 

Macarthur Signage

 

Origins of the Macarthur region

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

 

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

 

 

Commercialisation of the Macarthur region

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

Elizabeth Macarthur SLNSW

 

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

 

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

 

Peter Kacirek ealry 1970s Macarthur Development Board

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Logo of the Macarthur Regional Organisation of Councils

 

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

Macarthur Advertiser 1958

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

In Macarthur Cover Autumn 2013

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

 

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

 

Macarthur Regional Tourism Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

 

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

 

Conclusion and challenges

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Elderslie Autumn Scene Camden Valley Way 2014 (IWillis)

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Airfield · Camden Public School · Heritage · history · Interwar · Local History · Place making · sense of place

Bare feet and the adventures of flight, memories of growing up in 1930s Camden

There are lots of exciting memories of Camden airfield in the 1930s by local folk, especially by little boys.

One of those was Cec Smith.

Argyle Street in Central Camden in the early 1930s at the intersection with John Street with the fountain in the centre of the intersection, the CBC Bank on the corner and the local bus outside the Bank of New South Wales before the current bank building was built in 1938. This view is likely to from the verandah at the Whiteman’s building. (Camden Images)

Wonders of flight at Camden

He recalls with great excitement the airfield and everything about it. He notes, ‘as the son of a farmer I was into anything that had an engine’.

Cec was a small boy whose family had only been in the district a short time. He was eleven years old.

The 1930s great adventure stories were ones of aviators and their aeroplanes.

Aviators were the heroes of the British Empire, like those that were  written about like Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901) or EM Forster’s A Passage to India’ (1924). Or the real adventurers of the empire like TE Lawrence, of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame.

Camden airfield generated the stuff of boy’s own adventure books. Aviators and aeroplanes were the dreams of  all small boys in Camden.

Cec writes:

In 1936 it happened. Something different. A funny distant loaded, but relaxed, slow revving engine noise. But it was moving. Over that way. Couldn’t  see anything. It was hidden by the house. When I got there, nothing. Even the sound was gone. Then within a few days that different distinctive noise again. Looking over to the northeast, could not see it. Then it appeared from my vantage point a mile or so away. It seemed to pop up out of the ground as it slowly emerged above the low ridge line running along this [Camden] side of the river.

Cec eventually found out who owned the aeroplane. It belonged to a local hero of the empire, or so it seemed to one small boy.

Macquarie Grove Flying School was established by Edward Macarthur Onslow on his property Macquarie Gove in 1937. Macarthur Onslow purchased his first aircraft in 1935 and kept it in an ‘old tin shed’ on the property. This view shows a number of aircraft outside the hangar built for the flying school by Macarthur Onslow in the late 1930s. (Camden Images)

Cec writes:

 It was discovered that the plane belonged to Edward Macarthur Onslow, a local landholder. The plane was a DH.87A Hornet Moth (VH-UUW) and based on the property ‘Macquarie Grove’, where he lived. Older brother Denzil and younger brother Andrew were also qualified pilots. The brothers had taken the first steps toward developing a flying training and charter operation there, that pre-war was the Macquarie Grove Flying  and Glider School Pty Ltd,  and post-war became the Macquarie Grove Flying School Pty Ltd.

The flying school generated lots of excitement especially the air pageants.

Cec recalls that there were two air pageants put on there by the flying school in the late 1930s. The Macarthur Onslow brothers, along with local pilot/instructor Les Ray, who were the hands on staff of the school, and other pilots including Brian Monk (instructor from the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales) ‘all contributed to the success of what to us was a spectacular public event. This was all exciting stuff for myself and my school friends. It was a new dimension’.

Cec spent of a lot of school time dreaming of flying and notes that ‘much of the flying activities were visible from the school’.

Tiger Moth at Camden Airfield in the 1941 with the control tower in the background and showing the Bellman hangers that were built during the Second World War as temporary accommodation for military aircraft (Camden Images)

He recalls that around 1937 he was intrigued to learn that there was parachute practice taking place on the airfield.

He recalls that a movie called ‘Gone to the Dogs’ had a flying scene made at the airfield where a greyhound was to be delivered by parachute to a racing track.

Cec assures me that  the ‘dogs’ that he saw dropped by parachute were ‘dummies’.

Everything about the airfield was pretty basic in those days.

Cec, who gained his pilots licence after the war, recalls that the airfield was just ‘an open grazing paddock cleared of most trees and shrubbery but a fringe of trees remained on three sides of the field, adjacent to the river’.

In Cec’s view the trees

‘did not represent a hazard except in the event of a seriously misjudged approach… having regard to the operational requirements of the aircraft of the day. The surface was the usual farm type grasses sometimes grazed by cattle’.

An aerial view of Camden Airfield during the 1943 showing the airmen’s huts along the edge of the Nepean River with the Belman hangers. The dispersal areas for aircraft are clearly shown at the top of the image. (Camden Images)

Schooling in the bush

Cec  attended the one-teacher school at Theresa Park Public School from 1933-1934 where he was in a composite class. The Department of Education at the time paid for the teacher and supplied books and equipment. It was quite common for parents to meet any extra costs.

Cec recalls that the school had 12 pupils and his first teacher was Mr White and later Mr Monday. Cec rode a horse to school bare-back ‘behind a neighbour’s son’, who owned the horse, despite his family owning a saddle. He maintains that the teachers had good control of the class and for their part the pupils were ‘attentive’, although there were occasions ‘when some of us were disruptive’. Theresa Park Public School eventually closed in 1958.

Getting an education in town

After Cec finished with Theresa Park he travelled into Camden Public School in late 1934. Cec says that on the whole he enjoyed school, although he was ‘only a mediocre pupil but could with some effort get into the top three’. Cec’s classes were quite small. He was good attender and received a book prize for not missing a day in two years.

Camden Public School in 1933. The children are doing a maypole dance and PT where precision was paramount. Camden Public School was a Superior Public School until 1931 when the title was abandoned. The school continued to offer the Intermediate Examination Certificate and became a Central School in 1944. This image supplied by Ruth Brown (Camden Images)

Cec notes that the other pupils at the school came from a mixture of backgrounds, including 5-6 boys who came from the boy’s home. These boys he remembers came to school in bare feet and the lunches were ‘slices of stale bread spread with dripping, wrapped in newspaper and brought together collectively in a sugar bag’.

In 1940 Cec was a student in the secondary department when he finished his Intermediate Certificate. The results were published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1941. Cec gained ‘B’ grade passes in Geography, Mathematics II, Business Principles, Technical Drawing, Woodwork, Music, Agricultural Botany. Other local youth who finished with Cec were J Hayter, Elaine McEwan, John Porter, Frederick Strahey.

Cec recalls that the headmaster at that time was Neville Holder. Holder was the principal of the school between 1937 and 1940 and Cec found him to be a good teacher and felt that he did many ‘good deeds as a person and teacher’ while at the school. Camden Public School became a central school in 1944 and reverted to a public school in 1956 when Camden High School opened in John Street.

Cec sometimes had to wait at the milk depot at the end of Argyle Street, near the railway station, for a lift home after school. His father and brother would deliver the milk from the farm at the depot twice a day.

Cec feels that:

despite all the negatives of those days…  we received a good basic education across a range of subjects all for free. All that we had to do was be there. In most cases transport only cost the price of a bicycle and the physical effort of riding it… and the cost of a few books, pens and pencils.

Getting a job

During these days Cec did temporary work at Camden Post Office for three weeks in 1938 when he was 14 years old, and in 1940 six weeks.

Camden Post Office built in 1898 in Late Victorian style with later additions in 1910 in Federation Free style designed by NSW Government Architect Walter Vernon. (2008, P Mylrea)

One of his jobs in 1940 was to cycle out to the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park each week to change over the public telephone coin tins. As Cec recalls they were officially called ‘coin receptacles’.  He recalls that:

 While I was there I had to make a test call back to the post office. The public phone at the airfield had not been installed at that stage of the war.  The only mail contractor at the post office had the run which started at Camden, went out to Glenmore, The Oaks, Oakdale and Nattai River in the Burragorang Valley and then on to Yerrandarie Post Office.

 

Eventually Cec started work in Sydney in 1941 while his family continued dairying for the next 11 years.

The war eventually caught up with the family and Cec’s brother joined up in 1940 and ‘my turn came in 1943’. He recalls that ‘for our generation much happened in the relatively short period between 1940-1945’.