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How the mysteries of a pretty picture from yesteryear allows you to peel back the layers of the past

As I was scanning through my Facebook Newsfeed this morning I came across a pretty little picture that jumped out at me.

The image had been posted on the Lost Wollongong and Yesterday Stories Facebook page and also appeared on its Instagram and Tumbler social media.

The image attracted a host of likes and shares and comments like Phil HallWhat a delightful photo’ and Christine Mcmanus ‘It’s very charming’.

What is the appeal of the picture?

The picture has an aesthetic quality partly produced from the soft sepia tones of the image, and partly from the subject, which together gives the photograph a dreamy quality.  The ethereal presence of the image is hard to describe in words and the camera is kind to the subjects, who are well-positioned in a nicely balanced frame.

Wollongong WCL Couple on Mount Pleasant Railway early 20th century near Stuart Park
A couple relaxing on the Mount Pleasant Colliery railway at Stuart Park, North Wollongong in the early 1900s (Lost Wollongong Facebook page, 3 July 2016) The Royal Australian Historical Society caption says: ‘Photographer Aileen Ryan Lynch taking a photograph of M. Carey at Stuart Park Wollongong, March 1919’ (J Scott/RAHS)

The viewer of the picture is a time traveler into another world based on the New South Wales South Coast and is given a snapshot of a moment frozen in time. The observer has a glimpse of a world after the First World World in the present. For the viewer it as a form of nostalgia, where they create a romanticised version of the past accompanied by feelings that the present is not quite as good as an earlier period.

The world in the picture, a mixture of pleasure and for others despair, apparently moved at a slower pace, yet in its own way no less complex than the present. The picture speaks to those who choose to listen and tells a nuanced, multi-layered story about another time and place. It was 1919 in the coastal mining town of Wollongong.

The viewer is told a story about a setting that is full of meaning and emotional symbolism wrapped up in the post-First World Years. The picture grabs the viewers who pressed a Like on their Facebook pages. These social media participants found familiarity and comfort in the past that is an escape from the complicated present.

The picture provides an entry to a world that was apparently more authentic than the present.  As Harriet Richards from the University of Melbourne writes:

In response to today’s COVID-19 crisis, we are turning to old movies, letter writing and vintage fashion trends more than ever. Nostalgia is a defence mechanism against upheaval.

Escaping the Spanish flu pandemic?

The image is full of contrasts and unanswered questions. Why are the young couple in Wollongong? Why did they decide on Stuart Park for a photo-shoot? Are they escaping the outbreak of Spanish influenza at Randwick in January 1919? Does the NSW South Coast provide the safety of remoteness away from the evils of the pandemic in Sydney?

The female photographer is a city-girl and her male companion is a worldly reader of international news. They contrast with the semi-rural location in a coal mining area with its workman’s cottages and their dirt floors, and the hard-scrabble dairying represented by the post-and-rail fence in the distance.

The railway is a metaphor for the rest of a world outside Wollongong. The colliery railway is a link to the global transnational industrial complex of the British Empire at Wollongong Harbour where railway trucks disgorge their raw material.  On the other hand, the female photographer’s stylish outfit provides an entry into a global fashion world of women’s magazines, movies and newspapers.

The elegantly dressed couple in their on-trend fashion contrast with the poverty of the working class mining villages of the Illawarra coast. Photographer Aileen is described by local historian Leone Flay as ‘dressed for town’, contrasts with the post-and-rail fence on the railway boundary projects the hard-graft of its construction in a landscape of marginal dairy farming.

The remnants of the Illawarra Rainforest that border the railway point to the environmental destruction brought by British imperial policy and its industrial machinery. This contrasts with a past where the Dharawal Indigenous people managed the lush coastal forests that once covered the area along the banks of the nearby Fairy Creek.

Peeling back the layers of past within the picture reveals several parts to the story:  the photographer Aileen Ryan; the coastal location of Stuart Park; and the commercial world of the Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, and ecology of the Illawarra Rainforest.

 

Aileen Ryan, photographer

The young female photographer in the picture is Aileen Ryan, a 21-year old city-girl, who spent time in and around the Wollongong area in February and March 1919. Aileen was born in Waverley, Sydney, and was educated at St Clare’s Convent.

At 19 years of age, Aileen gained paid work when most women were restricted to domestic duties. She joined the New South Wales Public Service in 1917 as a typist and shorthand writer. As an independent young working woman, she was worldly-wise and expressed herself through her ability to fund her relatively-expensive hobby of photography. The young Aileen’s hand-held bellows camera hints her grasp of the latest technology.

In 1927 she marries FW Lynch at Clovelly and in 1942 during the Second World War she was seconded to the Directorate of Manpower. She was appointed superintendent of the New South Wales division of the Australian Women’s Land Army, which was disbanded in 1945. She died childless at Waverton in 1983.

Stuart Park, the location

The site of the photo-shoot was located on the colliery railway which skirted the southern boundary of Stuart Park. The park, which was declared in 1885 under the Public Parks Act 1884 (NSW), lies between the railway, Fairy Creek to the north and  North Wollongong Beach to the east. The area was originally purchased from James Anderson and is an area of 22.27 hectares.

The park was named after colonial politician and Scotsman Sir Alexander Stuart who was the Member for Illawarra in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the time. The park was run by a trust until 1920 when control passed to the Municipality of Wollongong.

The popularity of Stuart Park, including many families from Camden, owed much to the presence near North Wollongong Beach, which was popular for swimming and surfing from the 1920s. The caravan park was unfortunately closed in 1964, but re-opened in 1966, due to public pressure. It eventually closed permanently in 1970. The park now has a sports oval, had a kiosk dating from the 1940s and was popular with day-trippers.

 

Illawarra Rainforest, the ecology

The site location of the photograph next to the railway was once completely covered by Illawarra Rainforest, remnants of which can be seen along the railway line.

The rainforest type is a rich ecological community characterised by bloodwoods, stinging trees, figs, flame trees, beech, cedar, and other species. The more complex rainforest communities were located along the creek boundaries and on the southern face of escarpment gorges protected the from the prevailing north-easterly winds.

J Bywater from University of Wollongong describes the rainforest community as:

the most complex (species rich) forest type in the Illawarra. A broad definition of this forest is a “Dense community of moisture loving trees, mainly evergreen, broadleaved species, usually with the trees arranged in several layers, and containing vines, epiphytes, buttressed stems, stranglers, and other Iifeforms” (Saur, 1973, p.l.).

Wollongong Illawarra Rainforest Sublime Point Walking Track Bulli 2000 NCubbin
Illawarra Rainforest on the Sublime Point Walking Track below Bulli Tops lookout 2000 (N Cubbin)

 

The Illawarra Rainforest extended along the coastal and up into the escarpment from the northern parts of the Illawarra south to Kiama, the Shoalhaven River and west to Kangaroo Valley.

The primary threats to the rainforest ecology have been clearing for farming, mining, urban development, and related activities.

 

Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway, a conduit to the globe

The Mount Pleasant Colliery was opened by Patrick Lahiff in 1861 and was very successful. Two years later the company built a horse tramway with two inclines down the escarpment from the mine to Wollongong Harbour. They eventually upgraded the tramway to steel railway in the 1880s and to convert to standard gauge.

Wollongong Mount Kiera Mine Incline 1880 (WCL & IHS)
The Mount Pleasant Colliery Inclines were similar to the adjacent Mount Kiera Mine Incline of 1880 shown in this image (WCL & IHS)  The picture shows the remnant rainforest that was part of the ecology of the Illawarra escarpment.

 

The construction of the tramway raised the hackles of the locals and was only built after the state parliament passed the Mount Pleasant Tramroad Act 1862 (NSW).  The mining company went bankrupt in 1934 and the mine was taken over by Broken Hill Pty Ltd in 1937 and renamed the Kiera Pleasant Tunnels.

Wollongong Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway Workshop 1904 IHT
The locomotive shed at Mt Pleasant Colliery, 1904. Note the engine on the right, built-in Sydney that year. (Courtesy of JLN Southern Collection & Illawarra Heritage Trail)

 

The coal mine eventually closed in 1955.

Wollongong Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway Belmore Basin 1900s WCL&IHS
Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway near Brighton Beach approaching Belmore Basin in Wollongong NSW 1900s (WCL & IHS) Mount Kiera is shown in the background behind the mining town of Wollongong.

 

The tramway was closed in 1954.

Wollongong Mount Pleasant Colliery Railway below cliff line 1900s WCL&IHS lowres

 

In 2017 the Mount Pleasant Tramway walk was upgraded and the seawall rebuilt and renamed the Blue Mile Tramway Pathway.

Wollongong Mural Wollongong Harbour Blue Mile Walk 2020 ICW (2) lowres
A mural illustrating the history of the Blue Mile Tramway walk showing the village of Wollongong, coal handling port facilities at Belmore Basin and Brighton Beach adjacent to it with Wollongong Lighthouse on the harbour breakwater. The Mount Pleasant Tramway is clearly seen going off to the north along the coastline. (I Willis 2020)

 

The Blue Mile Pathway and other attractions of the Wollongong coast have proved popular with Camden families. They have been going to Wollongong and the South Coast for beach holidays for generations.

Updated 17 April 2020,  originally posted on 1 April 2020.

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John Hawdon of Elderslie in a settler society

Englishman John Hawdon

John Hawdon
John Hawdon

In 1929 Mrs Madeline Buck the grand-daughter of an Elderslie pioneer James Hawdon published a series of his letters written in 1828 to friends in England. Hawdon had lived in the Elderslie area for five years from 1828.

Hawdon’s letters surfaced in England in 1929 amongst old family papers and have many interesting insights into life in the early days of the colony.

At Elderslie, Hawdon leased the Elderslie estate and supported four convicts, his wife Margaret and baby son. Alan Atkinson maintains that ‘Hawdon apparently tried to keep up an English tone, with the slave-driving Botany Bay element at a minimum. He was a good master and even admired his convicts’. He did not take any convicts for punishment at the Cawdor Bench between 1825 and 1830. (Atkinson, p20)

Hawdon was concerned about freight costs between Sydney and the Cowpastures and according to Atkinson ‘could make a good profit only because his carriers were his own convicts, who cost him next to nothing. The journey to market and back took a week’ using a bullock team. Hawdon grew hay for the Sydney market which was used to fatten cattle for market, and by the 1830s hay was more important than grain for the property owners in the Cowpastures. Hawdon’s convicts took the hay to the Sydney market and sold it for 6s8½d a hundredweight in 1832. He also grew a small amount of tobacco, which according to Atkinson, was ‘very profitable’ for those who knew how to grow it.

Hawdon wrote to England of the Elderslie estate convicts that

‘he had a good many of what he almost always calls “Government men,” and said he always had great satisfaction from them.’

He continued that

‘I allow my men to have as much new milk as they can use. I feed them well, and work ttipm well, by which means I have very little trouble managing them.” (SMH, 26 Oct 1929)

Hawdon was one of many colonists who moved into southern New South Wales after living in the Cowpastures for a period. He was one of the colonists who were at the frontier of the settler society where clashes between Europeans and Aborigines were more common than not.
In 1879 a journalist for the Australian Town and Country Journal described Hawdon as

‘I am only doing justice to a good old colonist, and but expressing the general opinion by stating that Mr. Hawdon is about one of the finest representatives of the true British gentleman in the colony. Honour, hospitality, and generosity are the’ characteristics which have marked his long life’ of usefulness in working and opening out with a few other pioneers this rapidly peopling district.’

‘The gentleman whose portrait we present to our readers this week is one of our oldest colonists, and the record of his career is a typical one of the prosperity that in this country attends upon energy and perseverance.’

In his obituary in 1881 the writer maintained that:

‘With his we believe, passes away that last of the brave men who did so much, to open-up the-pastoral interest of Australia and to give her the name of the finest grazing country in the world.’

At Elderslie, he ran dairying and cheese making and later his property at Bodalla. He contracted to supply provisions to the road gangs making the Great South Road.

Hawdon wrote about his journey out to New South Wales and writing on October 26, 1828, he stated

“Our passage was tedious, but not unpleasant.In the cabin we carried ten people, and in the steerage I believe there were about 32. My cabin was a very comfortable one on deck. We carried on board eight dogs, about 40 sheep, pigs, and poultry In abundance, a cow, a goat with two kids, and a famous noise, I assure you, they made!”

He wrote in his diary

On the arrival of the small family In Sydney, he found the expenses about double what they would be in London, so “I thought it advisable to take a station, till I could get my affairs arranged, and our grant of land fixed upon.” Then follows what would surprise even a hustling American. He rode up to Camden on the 16th September (three days after landing), took Mr. Harrington’s place, Elderslie, rode back to Sydney on the 17th, and within a week they were established In their new home and working away as though they were old settlers.

He wrote further

“The Governor has been pleased at two dinner parties to express his sentiments of approbation on me, saying I had begun like one who is determined to do well, for I had not been eight days in the Colony before I had my ploughs going.”

Hawdon describes Elderslie as being

“a very good and very cheap place, 38 miles from Sydney, consisting of about 1700 acres of land, all fenced and divided Into paddocks, 400 acres being cleared and stumped. The cultivated land is capital, better than any I have seen in any part of the world. It is on the Nepean River. For about three or four miles the river parts Mr MacArthur’s land and mine. His house is on the opposite side of the river to mine. We have an excellent house and garden, and the conveniences of stables, arns, etc., are equal to almost any in England.”

Mrs Buck stated

‘The little railway siding of Elderslie shows the locality in which this old homestead once stood. I understand that the foundations and an underground room of the homestead remain, and that a cottage has been built upon the site, with the materials from the old house.’

Hawdon wrote of the social life at Elderslie and Mrs Buck stated that the social life on the Cowpastures a hundred years ago was not as dull as one might think.

“This is the very country for a young man,” he writes “Take the people as a body, they are pleasant, hospitable, and uncommonly gay. Where we live (about 40 miles from Sydney). It is as populous a neighbourhood as any country place in England. We have a great many neighbours. This part is thought to be the most respectable part of the country and we have been called upon by the gentry. Altogether it is very pleasant. This country has more the appearance of England than any foreign country. They are all English people, have English customs, and everything when I look around is almost the same as at home. Our sitting-room has the same furniture, the same servants wait on us that we have been accustomed to see, and even the climate is much like very fine weather in England. We see quite as much company as we like. A visitor here thinks very little of staying two or three days, which is very agreeable. The gentlemen are all well-bred men; indeed, a great many of the larger settlers have been officers either in the army or navy. We ore a long way from a church. I believe our church is eight or 10 miles off (Cobbitty), but we have not yet been there, as our gig has not come from Sydney. But I make a point of reading the church service and a sermon to my people, who all appear, clean and well dressed, on Sunday forenoons.”

Hawdon’s views on Aborigines in the Elderslie area:

‘As for the natives, they are a most peaceable set of beings, They come to beg sugar and tobacco, of which they are fond. They sometimes come to borrow a gun, and I find powder and shot they give me half of what they kill. They are strictly honest and have excellent memories, for if they see a person once they never fail to remember him again, though many years have elapsed. But they are excessively idle.’

Hawdon was extremely energetic and

‘While still holding Elderslie he took a place called Burra Burn (in Northumberland), or 6500 acres, from Archdeacon Scott for seven years. He says that though it was taken for seven years it was rent free.’

 

John Hawdon, Biography

John Hawdon
John Hawdon

 

John Hawdon, who was born June 29, 1801, Wakefield, Durham and came out to New South Wales in 1828 on the Caroline with his wife and two children. His wife was Margaret Katherine Hawdon (born Potts) and married her in 1827. One child John was born in 1827 and conceived out of wedlock and the second Gilbert was born at sea on the journey to New South Wales. There were two more children while they lived at Elderslie and their 5th child Ernest was born at Narellan. John Hawdon died June 12, 1881, at Moruya, New South Wales, Australia.

Mrs Buck reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Hawdon’s youngest daughter, Mrs Annie Wilson, was still living at Mt Colah north of Sydney in 1929. Hawdon had seven sons.

Hawdon took up a grant of 2560 acres at Kiora in the Moruya area in 1831 and later formed a cattle station at Howlong near Albury. He marketed cattle in Melbourne and sold some of the first cattle in Adelaide from New South Wales. He encouraged his brother Joseph to emigrate and together they took up squatting interest in Victoria and south-western New South Wales, contracted the overland mail run between Yass and Melbourne.

Hawdon was one of the young squatters who founded one of Melbourne’s oldest organisations, the old Melbourne Club, a private social club, in 1838. The club is considered an enduring symbol of Australia’s British heritage and was founded by 23 British ‘gentlemen’. The club is located in a London-style clubhouse designed by Leonard Terry in 1858.
Hawdon owned the station of Kiora, Bergalia, Bodalla, Howlong, and one at Mildura, in New South Wales; and similar properties at Mt. Greenock and Dandenong Creek, in Victoria, besides several smaller places.

Further reading

Image and Text:
Australian Town and Country Journal 18 Jan 1879 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/70934477
Letters
The Sydney Morning Herald 26 October 1929 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16596386
The Sydney Morning Herald 2 November 1929 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16598472
The Sydney Morning Herald 9 November 1929 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16600463
Obituary
The Sydney Morning Herald 16 June 1881 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13488341

Updated 21 April 2020

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The seaside holiday

The Seaside holiday for Camden families

Lighthouse Wollongong[1a]
Wollongong Lighthouse is located on the breakwater at Wollongong Harbour which has a popular spot called Brighton Beach.

Local folk from the Camden district have been going to Wollongong and the South Coast for beach holidays for generations. It is a time to relax, chill out, slow down, drop out, and generally escape the hum drum of daily existence of home and work.

The seaside holiday has been more than that. The development of the beach holiday owes much to the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s and the shorter working week and increased wages of ordinary workers. Australian’s copied the English Victorians and their interest in health and well-being and particularly cold-water bathing. The scourge of diseases like tuberculosis (or consumption as it was known) were constant threats to health and well-being of people. The inter-war period (1919-1939) saw the added influence of modernism, consumerism, movies and tourism on the mobility and spending patterns of people. All these contributed to the attraction of the beach.

Camden aquatic sports and swimming

Camden folk were influenced by all these social and cultural trends. Swimming had become popular before the First World War as Peter Mylrea found in his history of swimming (Camden History, March 2006). The Camden Aquatic Sports were held in the Nepean River in 1909 and the foundation of the Camden Swimming Club in the 1920s. But for young people the beach provided the lure of the exotic when compared to swimming in the Nepean River.

The beach attracted the attention of Camden families particularly during the Inter-war period. Local marriages were consummated with a honeymoon to Manly Beach for the weekend. Manly was accessible by steam train and ferry, and was far enough away to seem like another world for a newly wed farm labourer and his sweet-heart. The railway also provided easy access to Wollongong beaches, particularly localities like Kiama. The motor car provided mobility and the South Coast provided an escape to stay in a boarding house or camp.

Motoring

After the Second World War the boom in the motor car travel meant that Camden families could drive further for a beach holiday. One ever popular location was Kiama. Other beach localities started to draw the attention of Camden families, particularly Jervis Bay and St George’s Basin.

Wollongong Beach[1a]
Stuart Park is behind North Beach Wollongong which is lined with Norfolk Pines like many other beaches in New South Wales

Stuart Park Wollongong

Geoff McAleer reported that in his youth in the 1940s and 1950s on the annual Christmas holiday at the beach in Wollongong. The beach was Wollongong’s North Beach and the McAleers holidayed at Stuart Park Caravan Park. The McAleers were joined on the Christmas beach holidays by the Holyoakes, Dunks, Williams and the Cliftons. It was a popular location with Camden families because, according to Geoff, ‘it was close to Camden, only a 40 minute drive and it was good body surfing spot.’ There were no surf boards then according to Geoff. That would come in the 1960s. On occasions Geoff and his Dad, Hubert, would have a boys weekend away at Stuart Park. Geoff took his sweetheart, later to be his wife, Olive there for Christmas holidays with the family in 1949. The popularity of Stuart Park owed much to the presence near North Beach Wollongong. The beach was popular for swimming and surfing from the 1920s. Unfortunately for patrons the caravan park was closed in 1964 but under public pressure was re-opened in an adjacent location in 1966. It was eventually closed permanently in 1970. The park had a kiosk as well as a camping area and was popular with day-trippers for picnics.

Cheryl’s seaside holiday at Bulli Beach

Wollongong beach-side caravan parks have come under pressure to be closed and caravans evicted in recent decades. One spot where Camden families still have a beach caravan holiday is Bulli Beach camping reserve. Cheryl, who has a caravan at Bulli Beach, along with a number of other Camden families enjoy the escape it provides from ‘the rat race’. She says that a number families have had permanent vans at the park, which have been passed down between the generations. They all escape Camden on Christmas holidays and long weekends. It is a great spot for all sorts of recreation.

Steve’s holidays at Erowal Bay

Steve recalls as a child fond memories

Like our family holidays to Killarney, Erowal Bay on St Georges Basin in the 1950s. Before we had our own car Mum and Dad and six kids used to travel there in and on the back of Uncle Mel Peats work truck and stay in his house right on the water with its own jetty, boat house and row boat. Whitemans and Rickets were a couple of other Camden families I can remember who had houses there also. What great holidays they were. Might even be able to find a couple of photos.

John and Julie recall Gerroa holidays

John and Julie fondly remember seaside holidays at Gerroa on the South Coast.

In the late 1960s John and I went for holidays at Gerroa. We stayed at a simple beach cottage which had been built by hand in the 1950s by our parents’ friends. The cottage had no fridge, just an icebox, but it had great views of 7 Mile Beach and you could walk to the beach for a swim. The cottage has long gone and been replaced by a brick home.

For many years from the 1970s the painter Alan D Baker spent family holidays at Gerroa. We have a painting that Alan’s son, Gary Baker, did of Gerroa Point, which reminds us of holidays at Gerroa 40 years ago.

Where do you go to the beach?

Beach holidays have always been important for Camden district families. Do you have memories of holidays at Wollongong,  Kiama, Gerroa, Shoalhaven and the South Coast. Has your family had a beach holiday in the same spot for generations? When you go to the beach? What did you do? Where did you go? How did you fill in your time? What was your favourite spot?

Facebook Replies

Peter Hammond Camden 9 January 2016 For all my primary school days we had 2 or 3 weeks at Thirroul in January, the only dampener were the back to school sales.

Karen Burgess All along the coast. Fave spot. You can’t beat the beautiful Gerringong.  (30 January 2016)