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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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Local History · Macarthur · Newspapers · war

The local ‘rag’, the future of local newspapers

The future of local newspapers

This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper?

The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and  the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

Yet others, including those in our household, devour the local newspaper from cover to cover. More than this I clip the local newspapers each week. I compete with others in the household. By the time I get the newspaper there already a holes in it.  There is certainly a future for local newspaper in this household.

 

The local in local newspapers

In the Oran Park Gazette Lisa Finn-Powell maintains that the community newspaper does have a future. She argues that it provides a way for members of the community to support each other by celebrating local events, anniversaries and traditions. Local newspapers make people feel good about their neighbourhood.

From the journalists point of view Finn-Powell maintains that their readers are in their face. Local journalists are ‘up close and personal’ with their readers. The local newspaper, according to Gazette editor Belinda Sanders, shares local stories with local people who all have a story to tell.  (Oran Park Gazette, October 2017)

While the purpose of the Gazette’s story was to bolster local advertising editor Belinda Sanders has a point about the importance of local newspapers. Her self-interest is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Scholarly literature on newspapers supports her position.

Survival of the local

Media historian Rod Kirkpatrick maintains that community newspapers have survived because of their closeness  to their community,  their reflections of a community’s values, their contribution to its cohesion, their service to the progress and welfare of their local community.

A similar list has been compiled by regional historian Louise Prowse . She maintains that the local newspaper is central to the life of country towns by underpinning social capital, strengthening social relationships, reflecting the town’s values, valuing local history, having close links to the community, and providing a voice for the community.

Local newspapers, especially country newspapers,  tells stories in a different way to the large metropolitan daily newspapers. The country newspaper editor reports in a narrative style and does not obsess about the inverted pyramid. They write feel good articles that are generally not  sensationalist. The local newspaper is less likely to need to put a negative spin on a story. The editor goes for the known and comfortable and readers  might be living around the corner or have personal knowledge of the people and events.

Camden Advertiser journalist Jeff McGill maintains that the local newspaper creates ‘the strong weave in our social fabric’. After working for the large metro daily he decided he did not like writing negative attack style stories all the time, so he went back to his roots and became a journalist in the local paper. There he could write stories with a positive spin for a readership who personally knew him.

 

How different is different?

The essence of country newspapers, community newspapers, or provincial newspapers is the style of reporting practiced by journalists according to Rod Kirkpatrick in his examination of this issue.

Just as there are significant differences between the closed self-contained rural and regional communities  and the large metropolitan areas. There are distinct differences in the practice of journalism between newspapers these two distinct economic, political, cultural, and social landscapes.

Jock Lauterer who wrote Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local says that community newspapers have three things in common:

  1. a readership of less than 50,000,
  2. an exclusive focus on stories with a local connection and
  3. offices accessible to their readers.

 

Community journalism

So what is community journalism? There are handbooks and guides on community journalism. They  provide sections on how to report local council meetings, writing an obituary, wedding or other local celebration. They provide advice about the peculiarities of dealing with local organisations and businesses and other everyday matters. Interestingly Kirkpatrick maintains that city-based journalism would do well to take heed of this style of writing.

Kirkpatrick maintains that journalists on community newspapers need to understand that the daily doings of the community that are of interest to readers. Local celebrations, traditions and events, for example, weddings, funerals, births, fetes, and anniversaries. Few if any of these stories ever make it to the large metro dailies.

The journalist is up-close-and-personal and need to ‘touch the pulse of the local community and fight its battles against’ outsiders. The journalist might find themselves embedded in a small community where they do not have the anonymity of their city-based journalist colleagues.

Civic journalism

Journalist David Kurpius described community journalism as civic journalism. Central to this type of writing is an in-depth understanding of the community that makes up the newspaper readership.

Journalists in this environment write stories with a degree of depth and understanding of the issue that are important to the local community. He maintains that the journalist has to engage the readership and have a conversation with them about the values that are important to the community.

The journalist needs to capture the ‘priorities, concerns and perspectives on different issues’ of the citizenry.

This is certainly what Lee Abrahams the owner/editor of the The District Reporter does on a weekly basis. She feels that her local newspaper ‘is different from other newspapers’. She aims to tell the ‘local people about their local area and their stories are part of that agenda’.

Abrahams has stated that she writes ‘good stories’ and leaves out the police and ambulance rounds as they often have a negative line.

Abrahams likes reporting the small and strong and raising public awareness, by informing and keeping public interest. In particular she attempts to cut through the spin from the state government and give the story a local angle. (Camden History, vol 3, no 1, 2011)

This type of difference that can be identified in the country press is not new and is typical of earlier times. One example was  wartime.

A point of difference, the local press and war

This blogger has written about the country press in wartime and examined its crucial role in patriotic volunteering and fundraising, keeping up morale, supporting the war effort and a host of other issues.

I particularly looked at the role of the owner/editors of two local newspaper in a small country town during the Second World War and how these local identities used their influential role on their reportage in their newspapers.

I recently put up a conference proposal for a paper on how country newspapers reported during the First World War.  The abstract for the proposal went in part as follows:

 Country newspapers provide an archive record of the First World War that is identifiably different from the large metropolitan daily newspapers of the war period. The local newspaper has a number of differences that are related to their localness and parochialism, their relationship to their readership, their promotion of the community and their approach to the news of the war. The local newspaper recorded the subtleties of local patriotism and wartime voluntarism and fundraising, the personal in soldier’s letters, the progress of the war and a host of other issues.   

 

Digital disruption – just the latest challenge

Will local newspapers survive in the age of digital disruption?

Rachel Matthews says in her article on the provincial media in Routledge Companion to British Media History  writes that the demise of local newspaper has been predicted on numerous occasions. Matthews goes to outline six historical phases to the development of provincial newspapers over the last 300 years and are:

  1. the local newspaper as opportunistic creation;
  2. the characterization of the local newspaper as the fourth estate;
  3. the impact of New Journalism;
  4. the growth of chain control,
  5. the move to computerised production and the advent of free newspapers;
  6. the provincial press in the digital age.

She concludes that these challenges provide ‘far reaching implications’ for the British provincial press.

Local newspapers in the Macarthur region

I have written about the history of some of the mid-20th century newspapers in the Macarthur region on an earlier occasion. These country newspapers were some of the first to use the regional name of Macarthur for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton areas.

The Macarthur region is located on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe and is one of the  fastest growing regions in Australia.

The local newspapers in the Macarthur region have changed in recent years as online sites suck up their advertising revenue. Where once our local edition of the Camden Narellan Advertiser might have run to 110 pages an issue they have shrunk to 60-70 pages.

Yet where there was once just one local edition of a newspaper there is now three in this ever growing area on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

The Advertiser is now published in three separate editions as the Campbelltown, Camden Narellan and Wollondilly Advertiser. A similar thing has happened to the Macarthur Chronicle, a part of the News Ltd stable.

As the regional population has grown so new opportunities have opened up for local suburban newspapers to fill the gap in the market place. The Oran Park Gazette, and its stable mates across Western Sydney, have filled some of these gaps that have appeared in the new suburbs.

Another which has appeared in 2016 was the Independent South-West,  part of the King Media Regional group.

It is interesting to compare the  Camden Narellan Advertiser with the Illawarra edition from the same newspaper stable The Advertiser Lake Times. The Illawarra edition barely makes 50 pages. It has to compete with a provincial daily The Illawarra Mercury. Yet it continues to thrive.

 

Change at the local during wartime

Media historian Rod Kirkpatrick points out that war has had lasting changes on the nature of the provincial press.  He maintains that wars ‘have traditionally been a trigger for the emergence of newspaper or for significant change in their industry’. During the peace politics dominates, but during the conflict the war dominates the stories.

In country newspapers the war is on the front pages. While the First World War put cost pressures on the Australian press the voracious appetite at home for news of the war and sales of metro dailies soared during the conflict.

Newspapers shrunk and reportage of stories became terse and condensed. This contrasted with the convoluted narrative reporting style of the pre-war years.

The future in a digital age

So is there  a future for the local paper in the digital age? I think so.

There is a craving for the authentic and personal to people can connect with their neighbourhood, even in the suburbs.

The internet is impersonal, the local newspaper is not. The local newspaper still has many challenges to meet especially around monetising advertising in the age of Google and Facebook.

With creativity and persistence the local newspaper will meet these challenges and be a part of the media landscape into the future.  The local newspaper has changed in some communities to that it is an A4 newsletter newspaper.

 

Profile of the Oran Park Gazette

The Oran Park Gazette, a free monthly A4 newsletter newspaper which boasts on its banner heading that it is ‘your community news’. It is published on the first week of each month and distributed to the new suburbs of Oran Park, Harrington Park, Gregory Hills and Harrington Grove. It started publication in November 2015 with a circulation of 3,500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads  in the Flynnko Group.

 

Profile of The District Reporter

The District Reporter is a free weekly tabloid of 16pp with a circulation of 17,000 across a footprint of 37,000 homes published by Wombaroo Publications in Camden. The newspaper started in 1997 in the Austral area by Lee Abrahams (editor) and Noel Lowry (sales). The masthead is blue and green to reflect the rural landscape of the sky and grass. They filled a gap left by the demise of the Camden Crier. The Reporter circulates in the Camden and Wollondilly Local Government Areas. (Camden History, vol 3, no 1)

 

Profile of The Menangle News

The Menangle News is a free monthly newsletter newspaper of 4-6 pp. It is published in the Menangle village by husband and wife team Sue and Brian Peacock. It has a circulation of 218 and distributed throughout the village. It started life in 1980 as a duplicated news-sheet run off on a Gestetner copy machine. It only carries stories from the village which as a population of around 1200. It is truly local. (Camden History, vol 4, no 3)

 

Profile of the Independent South-West

This is a free tabloid that has been published twice since its launch in November 2016 in Camden. The Independent South-West is published by King Media Regional in Bowral, and is part of a stable of four mastheads. The 20pp tabloid is printed in colour on glossy paper. Editor Jane King states in Issue 1 that the paper will serve the local community and employ local people. The initial print run of 10,000 was distributed throughout the Camden LGA.

Read more

Free newspaper on the rise as traditional media declines in regional areas. ABC News 21 January 2016

 

Anzac · First World War · history · Interwar · Local History · Memorials · Modernism · Second World War · war

Anzac contradictions

Boer War Memorial in Belmore Park Goulburn 2017 (I Willis)

Public Lecture: UOW historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

 

Men, myth and memory | Dr Jen Roberts

UOW Alumni Knowledge Series | UOW | 20 April 2017

The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century and the contradictions that emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any definitive meaning.

 

Yet for one old gentlemen at the inaugural lecture in Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni Dr Jen Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture ‘Men, myth and memory’.  The Alumni audience was a mix of ages, and interests and included past military personnel.

The camp administration block  at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942 A Bailey

Robert’s powerful presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of  Anzac and that there is far from just one truth.  Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.

 

The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916. Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations, the 1960s social movements and its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning  to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for current serving military personnel, while others choose to take cheap pot shots at those who question the orthodoxy. The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac story it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

The tented lines at the  Narellan Military Camp in 1941 (AB)

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia  and is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country, especially in the first half of the 20th century. Yet within this narrative there are contradictions and tensions and one of those is related to modernism. The war that spawned Anzac was a product on industrial modernism, yet at the same time causing the catastrophic destruction. Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance are a product of Interwar modernism, particularly the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism with its anti-war sentiments, complicated by tensions created by other forms of global modernism particularly in Europe. Other contradictions range across issues related to gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, homophobia, and a host of other areas.

 

Roberts makes the point that the Anzac mythology and iconography points to Australian exceptionalism and then neatly outlined how this is not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

The tension within the meaning of Anzac, according to Roberts, is represented by the official state driven narrative stressing the honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity, while on the hand there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology. The digger is not a professional soldier, he is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – a good all-round Aussie bloke.

 

The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present. In 1941 an 18 year old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’. He was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided. A lifetime member of the RSL he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.

Bruce Guppy and his unit at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March (I Willis)

Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in BCOF in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995  wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:

 

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

 

So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial.  Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.

 

For Guppy Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The meaning of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.

Red Cross poster used for fundraising purposes in 1918 (ARCS)

While many lay claim ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.

 

Roberts examined the two aspects of the Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that many lay claim ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac and pondered the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogles song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys. This contrasted with the opening statement by an Alumni organiser, who was ex-military, that the  outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF which are celebrated in military training in Australia are: the withdrawl at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba. While recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources has shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield was used a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft  1942 LG Fromm

The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia, while  being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.  Roberts compared the small group who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry. Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with UOW students who took the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, with her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (recently retired).

 

Gallipoli pilgrimages have grown as popular interest in the First World War increased as family historians started searching for own digger-relative, hopefully finding the cache derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign.  The Howard Government promoted soft patriotism, and this was followed by later conservative governments which promoted official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac. The official involvement of government has increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire for the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site, to the point where the Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to do civil engineering roadworks at Gallipoli.

Brand Anzac, which Roberts dislikes, has been used to solidify national identity and spawned Anzacary and the commodification of the Anzac spirit, with souvenirs and other ephemera, as well as jingoism and Australian exceptionalism from the national to the local community level. Anzac mythology and memory tends to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD), and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide, and became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

 

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people, it is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac. Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and, while offering contradictions for some and realities for others, it is these members of the Australian community who  need to make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.