One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known at the Rotolactor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
As the old Camden High School disappears under a cloud of dust and rubble a new precinct called Camden Central will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the past.
The original Camden High School was moved off its in John Street site due to concerns around contamination from the old Camden gasworks.
A disaster in the making
A New South Wales Government Fact Sheet stated in 2013 that an investigation of the old Camden High School site in 1995 found piping from the gasworks and identified contaminated waste the following year. The school had been located on this particular patch of ground from 1970 to 2001 after being purchased earlier by the state government.
In July 2013 ABCTV reported that there were three cases of cancer in former students attending Camden High School. A follow-up report included further details of former students and a teacher with cancers or tumours. There have a number of other media stories.
Over 60 former gasworks sites have been identified in NSW. The gasworks produced ‘town gas’ for heating, lighting and cooking. Most ceased operating in the early- to mid- 1900s and the last of the known gasworks was decommissioned in 1985. They were often also close to the centre of the city, to minimise the size of the network of pipes used for gas distribution. The soil and groundwater at these former gasworks sites are invariably contaminated by materials produced during the gas-making process even though operations ceased many years ago.
The operation of gasworks has left a legacy of soil and groundwater contamination, in some cases extending to adjoining sites. The major contaminants include tars, oils, hydrocarbon sludges, spent oxide wastes, and ash. While many of these materials were recycled or reused, it was common for some to be buried on or near the gasworks site (for instance in underground tar wells, liquor wells, pipes and purifier beds) and not removed when the gasworks were decommissioned.
Some of these contaminants are carcinogenic to humans and toxic to aquatic ecosystems and so may pose a risk to human health and the environment if significant exposure were to occur. As a result, many former gasworks sites require remediation before they can be put to other uses.
The Camden Gas Company
The former Camden gasworks started in private ownership as the Camden Gas Company in 1911. In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the gasworks and started operating the facility. The gasworks closed in 1965 according the fact sheet from the state government.
The Department of Education purchased land next to the gasworks for a school in 1934. Enrolments at the Camden Central School had grown beyond its site capacity in the early 1950s. The state government built a new high school and it opened in 1956 at 2 John Street, adjacent to the still then operating gasworks.
Finding the making of a disaster
In 1970 the state government built a library and science laboratory block on former gasworks land it purchased from Camden Municipal Council.
The Department of Education then purchased additional land off AGL which had acquired the site from Camden Municipal Council.
When the Department of Education started preliminary investigations in 1995 for new building works at the school workers uncovered pits and pipes from the old gasworks.
During 1996 as additional demountable classrooms were being installed in the school grounds strong odours were detected from disturbed soil on the site. The contaminated area was sealed off and further examinations were conducted by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority.
These concerns about the John Street site contamination led to the action by state government to look for a new location for the school.
Other factors that contributed to the state government’s decision to move Camden High School were the predicted growth of the school population to twice 1996 enrolments and the school’s flood-prone site.
Together these factors prompted the state government to build a new school away from the John Street site. The new Camden High opened at Cawdor Road in 2001.
The makings of a rebirth from the womb
The John Street site was sold in 2007 to a development firm, the AEH Group, which proposed decontaminating the soil and building apartments.
AEH Group and has secured approval from Camden Council to develop the site into a mixed-use facility focused on seniors living. Camden Central Lifestyle Estate (Camden Central) will be located right in the heart of historic Camden and will revitalise a site that has been unused for more than 15 years.
Situated in the heart of the historic township, Camden Central Lifestyle Estate is soon to commence construction. AEH Group is sensitive to Camden’s proud heritage, its beauty and its unique town atmosphere. Camden Central Lifestyle Estate will enhance the site with a new vitality and energy and deliver more housing and economic benefits to the Camden community.
A bucolic paradise
The AEH Group is offering the first stage for sale with 54 apartments. The Camden Central website boasts about the towns history and heritage and the town’s special character. The ‘tranquillity of the landscape’ is evident to AEH copywriters who have maintained that the town ‘retains a peaceful rural feel’.
Modernism is partially revealed in the architectural style of railway buildings and other infrastructure across Australia. The now closed Civic Railway Station on the Hamilton-Newcastle branch line is just one example of how this happens in the regional city of Newcastle.
Modernism is a form architecture which emerged in the first half of the 20th century and became dominant after World War II. It was based upon new technologies of construction, particularly the use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete; and upon a rejection of the traditional neoclassical architecture and Beaux-Arts styles that were popular in the 19th century. (Wikipedia)
The station building is the first Interwar Functionalist railway building in NSW to employ domestic architectural features, demonstrating the NSW Railways experimentation with new styles during the Interwar period. The footbridge is unique as the only known example of this structure constructed on brickpiers. The signal box is unique as the smallest elevated box constructed on the NSW rail system.
The Civic Railway Station and surrounding buildings were built in 1935 in the Interwar Functionalist style using dichromatic and polychromatic brickwork as a simple decorative effect.
The railway station is located between Wickham and Newcastle railway stations.
Originally the station was part of the railway line built between ‘East Maitland’ railway station and ‘Newcastle’.
The line was originally built in 1857-1858 as a link between the government town of East Maitland and the river port at Newcastle.
The Newcastle station was re-named Honeysuckle and Honeysuckle Point near the river port and has a number of locations.
The large goods yards east of ‘Newcastle’ railway station was constructed in 1858.
The site of Civic Railway Station is significant as it was the former 1857 site of the Newcastle (Honeysuckle) terminus of the Great Northern Railway Line.
Electrification of the Gosford-Newcastle line occurred in 1984, after the Sydney-Gosford section in 1960.
Civic Railway Station was closed in 2014 by the Baird Liberal Government when the line between Hamilton and Newcastle was finally closed after much community dissent.
The Civic Railway Station site is historically significant as the location of the Newcastle terminus station on the Great Northern Railway line (1857), one of the first railway lines in Australia. The station building represents the first attempt to adapt domestic architectural styles for railway purposes. The station buildings and footbridge, are good examples of Inter-War Railway Domestic style in regional NSW.
Civic Railway Station is largely intact and retains much of its original integrity from 1935, along with the signal box, platform shelter, footbridge and forecourt.
What is under your feet and totally ignored? What do you walk over everyday? What is essential in an emergency? What provides access to essential utilities? The answer lies under our feet. What is it? Give up yet?
The answer is the humble utility inspection cover.
Utilities like electricity, water, gas, sewerage, communications and others are essential in any community. Camden has acquired the utilities as time has progressed over the past 150 years to the present. Argyle Street has a number of utilities buried beneath the street and footpaths. Their histories provide a valuable insight into the town’s development and progress, particularly in the 20th century.
The arrival of electricity, gas and water were part of Camden modernism and its influence on the town. Each of these utilities has transnational origins well beyond the township and illustrate the linkages between the town and wider world.
For example the supply of clean drinking water in Camden was linked to an outbreak of scarlet fever in the later 19th century. Contagious diseases were a major health concern in the 19th century and were an ever present worry in daily life. Clean drinking water had an important influence on the development of public health.
I was walking along Camden’s Argyle Street and it struck me that utility inspection covers are a historical statement in their own right. They are an entry point for the utility service as they also provide an entry to the stories that surround the delivery of the utility.
Even the different logos for utilities illustrate the changes in the history of a telco or electricity supplier. A cover might be a statement about a utility supplier that is now defunct. The utility cover are made of different material – cast iron, concrete, and others.
These are all mysteries that are waiting to be solved for the curious mind. Or just for the bored and idle with nothing better to do.
What about the Gas Cover from Durham above?
Durham Gas Cover
This is an inspection cover for the gas pipes using a Durham fitting probably around 1912. The Durham drainage fitting is a cast-iron,threadedfitting,used on drainagepipes;has a shouldersuch as to present a smooth,continuousinterior surface. (Free Dictionary) The Durham patent system of screw-joint iron house-drainage manufactured by the Durham House Drainage Co. of York USA (1887).
The Durham cover is for the Camden gas supply which was installed in 1912 by the Camden Gas Company.The gasworks was built in Mitchell Street and made gas from coal. There were a number of gas street lights in Argyle Street which were turned on in early 1912. The Camden News reported in January 1912 that many private homes and businesses had been connected to the gas supply network and were fitted for gas lighting.
Mr Murray the gasworks manager reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit and he anticipated full supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912) Throughout 1912 there an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)
In 1946 Camden Municipal Council purchased the Camden Gas Company. The gasworks were sold to AGL in 1970. (Peter Mylrea, ‘Gas and Electricity in Camden’, Camden History March 2008.)
What is this cover for the NRCC. Does it still exist?
The simple answer is no. The NRCC does not exist anymore. The NRCC was the Nepean River County Council. It was the electricity supplier for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton area from 1954 to 1979 when it was amalgamated with Prospect County Council. This in turn became Integral Energy. Integral Energy was formed by the New South Wales Government in 1995 from the amalgamation of Illawarra Electricity and Prospect Electricity with over 807,000 customers.
The Campbelltown office of the NRCC was located in Queen Street next to the Commonwealth Bank and in 1960 shifted to Cordeaux Street. By 1986 a new advisory office was opened in Lithgow Street. The council opened a new shop front at Glenquarie Shopping Centre at Macquarie Fields. There were shopfronts in Camden, Picton and other locations.
In October 1954 the NRCC approved a design for its official seal. Alderman P Brown suggested a logo competition and a large number of entries were received for the £25 prize. The winning design by artist Leone Rush of Lidcombe depicts electricity being extended to rural areas by a circular outline of the words ” Nepean River County Council”.
(Camden News, Thursday 4 November 1954.)
Former NRCC employee Sharon Greene stated that, ‘It was like a small family business where everyone was happy to be there’. (Camden Advertiser, 25 May 2009)
Former office manager, Kay Kyle, said that things in the office in 1959 were pretty basic when she started in the office as a junior clerk.
‘We had no cash registers or adding machines, we hand wrote receipts and added the figures in our head for daily takings. That was a good skill to have. Eventually we received an old adding machine from Picton, but one day it added incorrectly so I wouldn’t use it again.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)
Former linesman Joe Hanger recalls working for the NRCC. He said,
‘In 1954 we were transferred to Nepean River County Council. They wanted linesmen and I went on the line crew and eventually worked my way up and got a pole inspectors job going around creosoting the poles. Eventually I got my own crew, mainly pole dressing. There were 7-8 in the crew. I was then made a foreman in about 1978.’ (http://www.nepeanrivercountycouncil.com.au/nrccstories.html)
Working in the outdoor crews could be dangerous as Joe Hanger recalls.
‘In July 1974 I fell from a 40ft pole while doing work near The Oaks. We had to check out why a back feed to The Oaks was loosing voltage. We were looking for crook joints. The pole is still out there, near a bend just before the straight road into The Oaks. We had opened the air break switch behind us and the airbreak switch ahead, we forgot that the transformer was on the other side of the open point. I checked the pole and Neville Brown had gone along to the next pole to open the next section. I was standing on the low voltage cross arm and grabbed one of the wires and was struck by the electricity. Luckily my weight caused me to fall away. I ended up falling about 25 feet and just another pole lying on the ground. If I had the belt on it may have been a different matter. I had a broken leg, broken rib and a great big black eye. I was very lucky.’
Past organisations like the Nepean River County Council have staunch supporters. If you are one of them join the Friends of NRCC.
The telco inspection lid
This inspection lid is for the telco which was the Postmaster-General Department of the Australian Government.
The telco had a rich history related to communications in Australia starting in 1810 with the provision of the first postal service. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Australia’s first postmaster Isaac Nicholls and the colonial government of New South Wales Government the first regular postal services including rates of postage. The new Sydney General Post Office was opened in George Street in 1874.
The first telephone service was established in Melbourne in 1879.
On Federation in 1901 the new Commonwealth Government took control of all colonial postal services. The Commonwealth Minister responsible for the Postmaster-General’s Department looked after telephone, telegraph and postal services across Australia. The Postmaster-General Department was responsible for international short wave services in the 1920s and the Australian Broadcast Commission in the 1930s.
The Postmaster-General Department was broken up in 1975 with the postal service moving to Australia Postal Commission (trading at Australia Post), and telecommunications became the responsibility of Australian Telecommunications Commission trading at Telecom Australia. Telecom Australia was corporatised in 1989, renamed Telstra Australia in 1993, and partially privatised in 1999.
In 1992 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (est 1946) was merged with the Telecom Australia.
The MWS&DB is the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, today known as Sydney Water. Originally the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 1888 to 1892. The MWS&BD operated under that name from 1925 to 1987, and before that it was known as Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage between 1892 and 1925. After 1987 it was known as the Water Board (1987-1994), then it became Sydney Water Corp Ltd (1995-1999) with Ltd dropped in 1999.
Deks G (Gas)
Deks was established in Australia by Mr George Cupit in 1947 and remained a family business until it became part of the Skellerup Group in 2003. Deks have a presence in 28 countries. They supply plumbing fittings including flashings, fittings or flanges for over 100 years. (http://www.deks.com.au/about/)
Malco W (Water)
Malco Industries reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951 that the company incorporated three separate businesses involved in heavy industrial activities on its site at Marrickville. There were three divisions (1) Malleable Castings founded in 1915 and was claimed to be one of Australia’s leading producers of iron castings. (2) EW Fittings incorporated in 1925 and made cast iron pipe fittings for water, gas, steam and oil. (3) Link Belt Co Pty set up in 1949 and industrlal transmission equipment. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 6 April 1951, page 6)