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Menangle Milking Marvel

Menangle mid-20th century milking marvel

One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known at the Rotolactor.

Menangle Rotolactor Post Card 1950s
Menangle Rotolactor in the 1950s Postcard (Camden Images)

 

The Rotolactor was truly a scientific wonder that captured the imagination of people at a time when scientific marvels instilled excitement in the general public.

In these days of post-modernism and fake news this excitement seems hard to understand.

What was the Rotolactor?

The Rotolactor was an automated circular milking machine with a rotating platform introduced into the Camden Park operation in 1952 by Edward Macarthur Onslow from the USA.

The Rotolactor was part of the process of agricultural modernism that the Macarthur family had implemented on their colonial property of Camden Park Estate to improve their dairying operations in the mid-20th century.

The idea of a rotating milking platform was American and first introduced in New Jersey in the mid-1920s.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model2 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolactor Model 2 model in 2018 (I Willis)

 

The 1940s manager of Camden Park Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Macarthur Onslow inspected an American Rotolactor while overseas on a business trip and returned to Australia full of enthusiasm to build one at Camden Park.

 

The Menangle Rotolactor was the first in Australia and only the third of its kind in the world.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model3 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model 3 display in 2018 (I Willis)

 

The rotating dairy had a capacity to milk of 1,000 cows twice a day. It held 50 cows a time and were fed at as they were milked. The platform rotated about every  12 minutes.

The Rotolactor was a huge tourist attraction for the Menangle village and provided a large number of local jobs.

In 1953 it was attracting 600 visitors on a weekend in with up to 2000 visitors a week at its peak. (The Land, 1953Mar27)

Town planning disruption

In 1968 town planning disrupted things. The Askin state government released the  Sydney Regional Outline Plan, followed by the 1973 the New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin Structure Plan, which later became the Macarthur Growth Centre in 1975.

The structure plan did recognise the importance of the Rotolactor and the cultural heritage of the Menangle village. (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales, 1973, p. 84)

These events combined with declining farming profits encouraged the Macarthur family to sell out of   Camden Park  including the Rotolactor and the private village of Menangle.

The Rotolactor continued operations until 1977 and then remained unused for several years. It was then purchased by Halfpenny dairy interests from Menangle who operated the facility until it finally closed in 1983. (Walsh 2016, pp.91-94)

Community festival celebrates the Rotolactor

In 2017 the Menangle Community Association organised a festival to celebrate the history of the Rotolactor. It was called the Menangle Milk-Shake Up and  was a huge success.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)

 

The Festival exceeded all their expectations of the organisers from the Menangle Community Association when it attracted over 5000  of people to the village from all over Australia. (Wollondilly Advertiser, 18 Sept 2017)

The Menangle Community Association Facebook page described it this way:

‘A true country event like in the old days. So many visitors came dressed up in their original 50s clothes, and all those wonderful well selected stall holders. It was pure joy.’

Despite these sentiments the event just covered costs (Wollondilly Advertiser 5 April 2018)

The festival’s success was a double-edged sword for the organisers from the Menangle Community Association.

Urban development

The festival’s success demonstrated to local development interests that Rotolactor nostalgia could be marketized and had considerable commercial potential.

The Menangle Community Association attempted to lift the memory of the Rotolator and use it as a weapon to protect the village from the forces of urban development  and neo-liberalism

The success of the festival was also used by Menangle land developers to further their interests.

Developer Halfpenny made numerous public statements supporting the restoration of the Rotolactor as a function centre and celebrating its past. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2017).

Menangle Rotolactor Paddock 2016 Karen
Menangle Rotolactor in a derelict condition in 2016 (Image by Karen)

 

The newspaper article announced that the owner of the site, local developer Ernest Dupre of Souwest Developments, has pledged to build a micro brewery, distillery, two restaurants, a farmers market, children’s farm, vegetable garden, and a hotel with 30 rooms.

In 2017  the state government planning panel approved the re-zoning of the site for 350 houses and a tourist precinct. Housing construction will be completed by Mirvac.

Mr Dupre stated that he wanted to turned the derelict Rotolactor into a function with the adjoining Creamery building as a brewery, which is next to the Menangle Railway Station.

He expected the development to cost $15 million and take two years. The plan also includes an outdoor concert theatre for 8000 people and a lemon grove.

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The living history movement finds new supporters

Living History at Belgenny

The CHN blogger attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in  the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.

Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.

 Peter Watson and Howell Farm

Peter Watson presented an interesting and far ranging talk about Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey and its programs.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson Talk
A very informative talk by Mr Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA. Mr Watson was the guest of Belgenny Farm Trust Chairman Dr Cameron Archer. The talk was held on 2 May 2018 at the Belgenny Farm community hall with an attentive crowd of local folk. (I Willis)

 

Mr Watson said, ‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.

Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.

Mr Watson said,

‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm.

Mr Watson said,

‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’

Mr Watson says,

‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.

Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Living History Farm visitors become involved in activities.’

The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.

 

The Living History Movement

Historian Patrick McCarthy considers that living history is concerned with (1) ‘first person’ interpretation or role play (2) adopting authentic appearance (3) re-creating the original historic site of the event.

Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’. Living history museums ‘do not merely represent the past; they make historical ‘truth’ for the visitor’.  (pp. xii-xv)

According to Magelssen living history museums ‘produce history’ like textbooks, films or a lecture. Under the influence of post-modernism history ‘is on longer to be seen as the reconstruction of the past through scientific analysis’. Living history is a research tool. (pp. xii-xv)  There are various interpretations on the way this is constructed, configured and delivered amongst the theorists.

 

Origins of living history museum movement

One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA. It is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the USA and attracts 1.6 million visitors. Ford opened the Greenfield Village to the public in 1933 as the first outdoor living museum in the USA and has over 100 buildings moved to the site dating from the 1700s. Henry Ford said of his museum

I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…

 

Living history @ Belgenny

Belgenny Farm is an authentic collection of colonial farm buildings that were once part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The Belgenny Farm website states that its education program adopts the principles of the living history movement. It states:

Schools enjoy a diverse range of hands-on curriculum based programs including the new Creamery Interpretative Centre. The Creamery showcases the dairy industry over the last 200 years and is supported by a virtual tour and online resources.

And more to the point:

Belgenny Farm was established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1805 and contains the earliest collection of colonial farm buildings in Australia. The property is a major educational centre with direct links to Australia’s agricultural history.

 

Sydney Living Museums

Sydney Living Museums is part of the living history museum movement and manages 12 historic properties across NSW. The stated role of SLM is to:

enrich and revitalise people’s lives with Sydney’s living history, and to hand the precious places in our care and their collections on to future generations to enjoy.

Sydney Hyde Park Barracks WHS Wikimedia lowres
Sydney Living Museums’ Hyde Park Barracks in Macquarie Street Sydney. (Wikimedia)

 

Sydney Living Museums has a philosophy which aims to be part of the living history movement by being:

authentic; bold; collaborative; passionate; and a sociable host.

Originally known as the Historic Houses Trust (HHT) the first chairman  stated that the organisation wanted to present

our properties ‘in a lively and creative way’.

When the HHT changed its name in 2013 to Sydney Living Museums:

to refresh and unify our diverse range of properties and highlight our role and relevance for current and future generations.

 

Living history is storytelling

Living history is walking the ground of an historical event or place or building. Walking the ground shows the layers of meaning in history in a place or building.

Walking the ground is an authentic real  experience.

Participants absorb the past that is located in the present of a place or a site. The past is the present and the past determines the present. It shapes, meaning and interpretation. It is the lived experience of a place.

Living history allows participants to be able to read: the layers of history of an area; the layers of meaning in a landscape; or the layers of history in a building.

It is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.

Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real  and authentic.

Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present.

Experience some of these stories at the Camden Museum.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit6 2018Apr
Story telling by a volunteer at the Camden Museum for a school visit by Macarthur Anglican School (MAS, 2018)
Attachment to place · community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Entertainment · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Living History · Local History · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Traditional Trades · USA

Living History at Belgenny

The CHN blogger was out and about recently and attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in  the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. The farm community hall was the location of an informative talk by Mr Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.

 Peter Watson and Howell Living History Farm

Peter Watson presented an interesting and far ranging talk about Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey and its programs. He was responsible for setting up the Howell Living History Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson2 Talk
Mr Peter Watson giving an interesting and information talk in the community hall at the Home Farm at the Belgenny Farm Complex on the experience for visitors to the Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Mr Watson said, ‘He initially worked in the US Peace Corps in West Africa and gained an interest in the living history movement through teaching farming methods.’

‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.

Mr Watson said, ‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm. Politics is not good or evil but just develops systems that do good for people. New Jersey state government have purchased development rights per acre from land developers.’

Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.

The experience

Mr Watson said, ‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’

Mr Watson says, ‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson Talk
An interesting presentation was given by Peter Watson on 2 May 2018 at in the community hall at the Belgenny Farm complex outlining some of the activities and experiences for the visitor to the farm in New Jersey, USA. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Farm visitors become involved in activities.’

The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.

The living history movement is concerned with authenticity and Mr Watson said, ‘Living history is a reservoir of ideas in adaptive research using comparative farming methods between decades.

Mr Watson illustrated his talk with a number of slides of the farm and its activities. He stressed to the relieved audience that the farm activities used replica equipment, not historic artefacts.

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 blacksmithing
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. The farm attempts to provide an opportunity for the preservation of the traditional trades. Here blacksmithing is being demonstrated with a forge. (2018)

 

Howell Living History Farm offers a strong education program for schools.

‘This is a different experience for school groups and we do not want to do up all the old buildings. Different farm buildings show a comparative history  – 1790, 1800, 1850,’ Mr Watson said.

Stressing how the farm lives up the principles of the living history movement Mr Watson said, ‘The farm is a learning, education and entertainment facility using traditional farming methods that provide an authentic and ‘real’ experience. The farm seeks to preserve the traditional methods which have cultural value.’

 

Literature prepared for the Howell Living History Farm education program states that:

Howell Farm’s educational programs engage students in the real, season activities of a working farm where hands-on learning experiences provide the answers to essential questions posed by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Standards of Social Studies, Language Arts, Science and the Next Generation Science Standards. The farm’s classic, mixed crop and livestock operations accurately portray the era of pre-tractor systems, creating a unique and inspiring learning environment where history, technology, science converge…and where past and present meet.

 

‘The farm is a guided experience and there are interpreters for visitors. Story telling at the farm is done in the 1st-person.’

Farm activities

‘The farm has a cooking programme for the farm crops it grows, which is popular with organic producers and supporters of organic farm products. Crops grown using traditional methods include oats, corn and wheat.’

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 farm produce
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. This is  some of the produce sold in the Howell Farm shop to visitors. All produce sold in the farm shop is grown and processed on the farm. (2018)

 

‘The farm sells some its produce and it includes honey, corn meal, maple syrup, used horse shoes, wool, flour.

‘We sell surplus produce at a local market. Activities include apple peeling. There is a sewing guild every Tuesday and the women make costumes.’

‘The farm has an ice house which makes natural ice during winter. Mr Watson made the point that ice making in the US was a multi-million dollar industry in the 1900s.

 

The promotional information for the farm’s seasonal calendar program states:

Howell Farm’s calendar reflects the cycles of a fully functioning working farm in Pleasant Valley, New Jersey during the years 1890-1910. Programs enable visitors to see real farming operations up close, speak with farmers and interpreters, and in many instances lend a hand. Factors such as weather, soil conditions and animal needs can impact operations at any time, resulting in program changes that reflect realities faced by farmers then and now.

 

The farm has run a number of fundraising ventures and one of the more successful has been the  maze.

Mr Watson said, ‘The farm maize crop has been cut into a dinosaur maze of four acres and used as a fundraiser, raising $35,000 which has been used for farm restoration work.’

‘The farm is a listed historic site with a number of restored buildings, which satisfy US heritage authorities to allow application for government grants,’ said Peter Watson.

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 activities
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. This view of the webpage shows some of the historic farm buildings that are typical of the New Jersey area around 1900. The farm aims to provide the visitor with an authentic farm experience that has now disappeared from the US countryside and farming landscape.  (2018)

 

‘Traditional farm fences in New Jersey were snake-rail fences which have been constructed using ‘hands-on’ public workshops.’

Mr Watson stressed, ‘The farm is an experience and we are sensitive about where food comes from. Animal rights are a problem and you have to be honest about farming practices.’

 

Learn more

Scott Magelssen, Living History Museums, Undoing History Through Performance. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Howell Living History Farm  70 Woodens Ln, Lambertville, NJ 08530, USA

The Howell Living History Farm, also known as the Joseph Phillips Farm, is a 130 acres farm that is a living open-air museum near Titusville, in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. Wikipedia   Area: 53 ha. Operated by the Mercer County Park Commission.