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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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Appin · Camden · Colonial Camden · Heritage · history · Local History · Transport

The Percival Wagon

One of the larger items in the collection of the Camden museum is an item that few of the current members are aware of or would know the history. It is the Percival wagon that was located next to Macaria for a number of decades, the former headquarters of Camden Council. In 2012 a group of schoolboys got the opportunity to pull it to bits and put it back together again, and now they have finished with it and the wagon is coming home.

Camden Percival Wagon_0003
The Camden Percival Wagon is probably a Bennett construction and was placed in the forecourt area next to Macaria by the Camden Historical Society in 1977. Where is stayed for a number of decades until 2012. (Camden Historical Society)

The Percival wagon is likely to have been built at the Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys which   started in 1858 and eventually closed down in 1958. The Western Plains Cultural Centre at Dubbo states:

Bennett coach and Wagon works were operated by brothers James and George T. Bennett. Their tabletop wagons became famous throughout Australia; they were capable of carrying from 10 to 20 tonnes, and were regarded as the best heavy transport wagons to be bought. They were used in both rural and urban areas.

The Bennett wagon works at St Marys employed around 25 men at the end of the 19th century, with its wagons selling for between £150 to £250. The wagons were usually painted green and red, or red and blue and some had nick names, like ‘The Maxina’ (in South Creek Park now), ‘King of the Road’, and ‘The Pioneer’.

st-marys-bennett-wagon-works-1910-penrithcitylibrary-e1499829672934.jpg
George T. Bennett’s Wagon Works, St Marys. The photograph, taken in 1910, shows George Bennett’s wheelwright and blacksmith’s workshop in Queen Street, St Marys which was built in about 1875. The business was on the western side of Queen Street, a short distance north of King Street. George’s brother James joined him in the business but after a disagreement, James built his own workshop closer to the highway. George closed his business in 1920. (Penrith City LIbrary)

 

The Penrith City Regional Library states the Bennett wagons were used by teamsters to haul silver from the Burragorang Valley. In 1904 there were 15 teams of horses and bullocks plying the road between Yerranderie and Camden railhead from the silver field which lasted from around 1900 to 1925. The silver ore was originally forwarded to Germany for smelting, and after the First World War it went to Port Pirie in South Australia and then Newcastle. The story of the teamsters who worked out the Burragorang is celebrated in a monument outside Macaria in John Street, which was installed in 1977 by the Camden Historical Society.

 

The historical society’s wagon was one of the last in the Macarthur area. It was around 70 years old when the society purchased  it from Sydney Percival of Appin in 1977 using a public  fundraising appeal organised by society president Owen Blattman and Dick Nixon for $200. Once the society secured the funds and purchased the wagon it was then  restored by retired Camden carpenter Ern Howlett and painted red and blue.

 

The original wagon owner of the society’s wagon was Sydney’s father Norm Percival who died in 1942 with the wagon passing to his son. Norm lived on the property called Northampton Dale which was part of William Broughton 1000 acre grant of Lachlan Vale.  John Percival purchased Northampton Dale when Broughton’s grant was subdivided 1856 and named it after his home in England. The Percival property was used for horse breeding, then beef cattle and later as a dairy farm. During the First World War the farm was a popular venue with local people for playing tennis. (Anne-Maree Whitaker, Appin, the story of a Macquarie Town)

Campbelltown Percival Wagon_0001

Typical of Bennett wagons the society’s Percival wagon was used to cart wheat at Junee in 1913 while around 1900 it had previously been used to cart chaff from Campbelltown Railway Station to the Cataract Dam construction site. The wagon was also used to cart coal in Wollongong and then around the Percival Appin farm of ‘Northampton Dale’ and the Appin district. The Percival wagon had been restored by the Percivals in 1905 and was fitted with new front wheels, and plied for business around with Appin area. The signage along the side of wagon was ‘EN Percival, Appin’.

 

The Percival wagon was placed adjacent to Macaria in John Street in 1977 and by 1992 was a little the worse for wear. A team of society members took to the task with gusto and contributed over 200 hours to the restoration, with Camden Council contributing $600 to the total cost of $1200.  Another decade passed and the weather and the elements again took their toll on the wagon. Repainting was needed in 2001.

Camden HS Teamsters Wagon
The Percival wagon in Argyle Street Camden driven by Mr Biffin before being located next to Macaria in John Street in 1977 (Camden Museum)

In 2012 the Dean of Students at Macarthur Anglican School Tim Cartwright suggested that the wagon become a restoration project for the school boys. Cartwright, who had retrained as a teacher, had been a master carpenter in Europe before coming to Australia. The wagon was taken out to the school later in that year and is currently still at the school. The wagon is about to return to the custody of the society.

Camden HS Wagon SoS Cover

Camden Museum, Teamsters’ Wagon, Statement of Significance, Item No 1995.423.

Read more about Bennett Wagons

http://www.stmarysstar.com.au/story/2590835/historic-wagons-coming-home/

http://www.penrithcitygazette.com.au/story/3331875/historic-wagons-roll-into-town/

Bella Vista Farm · Colonialism · Farming · Heritage · history · Local History · Macarthur

Bella Vista Farm, an early part of the Macarthur rural empire

The late Victorian house built Bella Vista by the Pearce family in the late 1800s UTP

Bella Vista Farm was part of the colonial farming empire of the Macarthur family of Elizabeth Farm which they called the Seven Hills Farm. The farm was on the overland route opened up between Rose Hill (Parramatta) and the Hawkesbury settlement around 1791 a road constructed between Toongabbie and Windsor by the NSW corps using convict labour. Intially the route was called the Hawkesbury Road and eventually the Old Windsor Road.

The farm is located on the lands between the clan areas of of the Toogagal Toongabbie and the Bidjigal of the Castle Hill area of the Darug people. Bella Vista is located on a hilltop and would have been a lookout site.

John Macarthur purchased the property in 1801 for £2000 with 1250 sheep from Major Joseph Foveaux. In 1799 John Foveaux and Charles Grimes, the Deputy Surveyor of Crown Lands,  were granted 980 acres in the Crestwood area, and within months Grimes sold his share of the grant to Foveaux a month later.

Combined with a further grant of 190 acres in 1799, and 600 acres in 1800 was called by Foveaux, Stock Farm. This made him the largest landholder in the colony of 2020 acres, together with his flock of 1027 sheep the largest stock-owner in the colony.

Major Joseph Foveaux the owner of Stock Farm which he sold to the Macarthur family (AP)

Foveaux sold his property,  which he called  ‘Stock Farm’, to the Macarthurs in 1801 after he was appointed Acting Lieutenant Governor on Norfold Island.

John Macarthur was absent from New South Wales from 1801 1805. Macarthur was always an argumentative character and had a disagreement with Colonel Paterson his commanding officer, fought a duel, and Paterson was wounded. Governor King had Macarthur arrested and sent for trial in England in 1801.

In John’s absence the family’s pastoral interests were managed by Elizabeth from her home at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta. She called Stock Farm her Seven Hills Farm and was ably assisted by her farm manager, or overseer, initially with Richard Fitzgerald, followed by William Joyce, John Hindle and Thomas Herbert.

Elizabeth Macarthur SLNSW

Under Elizabeth’s management the Macarthur’s flock of sheep increased from 2000 to 1801, to 3000 in 1803 and 5920 by 1805. A substantial number of this sheep flock was held at the Seven Hills Farm.

Sheep in pen at Bella Vista Farm Park 2016 IWillis

Elizabeth subsequently purchased land a neighboring property from Richard Fitzgerald. This purchase was made up of two part, one a 1799 160 acre to Richard Richardson, and a 270 acre grant to William Goodhall. Fitzgerald  sold his holding to Elizabeth and worked for the Macarthurs as a steward, manager and record keeper.

John was again absent from New South Wales between 1809 to 1817  over his part in the only coup d’etat  in Australian history, the  arrest of Governor Bligh in a tin pot take over called the Rum Rebellion.

John asked Elizabeth to negotiate to exchange the Seven Hills estate for land in the Cowpastures in 1809. There was a devastating drought between 1813 and 1815 and the sheep flock was moved elsewhere.

By 1821 the farm was known as Seven Hills Farm and covered 2270 acres. The Macarthurs exchanged the farm for Crown land in the Cowpastures. It was on the Seven Hills Farm that Elizabeth bred some of the earliest Spanish merino sheep.

Aerial view of Bella Vista Farm Park with house and outbuildings dating from the late Victorian period of the Pearce family. BVFP

Subsequent owners of Bella Vista and support groups

1821 James Robertson

1838 Isabella Acres

1842 William Pearce

1865 Edward Pearce, inherited from father

1912 Edward WCS Pearce, inherited from father

1933 leased by Edwards wife after Edward’s death

1950 North Sydney Brick and Tile Company

1952 house leased

1974 Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board for water storage

1979 Interim Heritage order

1980 Formation of the Elizabeth Macarthur Seven Hills Farm Assocation

1997 Permanent Heritage order

1997 Department of Planning, NSW Government

1997 Baulkham Hills Shire Council

2006 Formation of The Friends of Bella Vista Farm

From Gate of Bella Vista Farm Park 2016 BVFP

Significance

The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states that Bella Vista Farm is significant because of the:

Evidence of the documentary record, of the agricultural activities of the Macarthur family, managed by Elizabeth Macarthur from Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta (SHR item # 1), and locally by her stewards. These records indicate early experiments at grazing sheep by Grimes, Foveaux and the Macarthurs that failed due to insect plagues, low stock per acre ratios, droughts and the unsuitability of hoofed animals to Australian conditions. Indicating also the monopoly held by, and extensive grants given to certain officers, including John Macarthur.

The Farm is a rare example of an intact rural cultural landscape on the Cumberland Plain, continuously used for grazing since the 1790s. The Farm is one of the most intact and best examples on the Cumberland Plain of the summit model of homestead siting, where the house and plantings are sited high on a prominent hill in contrast with open fields around. The farm is an increasingly rare example, on the Cumberland Plain, of a rural property, where the evidence of the staged development of the homestead survives from slab cottage to villa.[1]

Bella Vista Farm market day open to the general public and used to raise funds for the management of the site with the Bunya Pines at the rear planted in the 1840s 2016 IWillis

Notes

[1] Office of Heritage and Environment, ‘Bella Vista’, NSW Government, Sydney. Online @ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5045705 Accessed 16 April 2017

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

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

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

One of those was Cec Smith.

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

Wonders of flight at Camden

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

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

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

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

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

Cec writes:

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

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

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

Cec writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything about the airfield was pretty basic in those days.

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

In Cec’s view the trees

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

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

Schooling in the bush

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

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

Getting an education in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cec feels that:

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

Getting a job

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Camden · Entertainment · Farming · Heritage · Leisure · Local History · Tourism

Showtime in Camden

The annual festival of farming returns the to the Camden Show ground at the end of March again. The show has been the most important country festival in the district for over 100 years. In the early days it was a celebration of agricultural modernism, by the inter-war period it had matured into a permanent part of the local landscape. The Second World War and the poor state of show finances saw the show disappear for the duration of the conflict. It is now strong than ever and not to be missed on Friday 20 March and Saturday 21 March 2015.

Camden Show Ring 1986 Camden Images

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Camden Show Histories

There have been two histories produced of the Camden Show. The first was on the centenary of the show in 1986 and written by local identity Dick Nixon from the Camden Historical Society.

Cover Dick Nixon’s Camden Show History produced on the its centenary in 1986. (IWillis)

The second history of the Camden Show was written by Neville Clissold on the 125 anniversary of the show in 2011.

Cover of the 125 anniversary edition of the Camden Show written by Neville Clissold. (IWillis)

Camden Show 1890s

The early years of the Camden Show were big community events when everyone came to town.

Panorama of the Camden Show in the 1890s. One of the biggest changes in the grandstand on the opposite side of the show ring that burnt down in the early 20th century. A new grandstand was built on the left hand side of the ring in this image. The current show pavilion is on opposite side of the show ring. St John’s church is centre rear on the hill and there is an absence of trees that now mark this same view from behind the current sports club.(Camden Images)

Guess who you meet at the show, the Premier in 2014

It is amazing who you bump into at the Camden Show. Historical society volunteers John Wrigley OAM, Bettie Small PHF and Len Channell, with Peter Hayward in the background, greeted Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, the Member for Camden, Mr Chris Patterson, MP, and Camden Mayor,  Clr Lara Symkowiak. The dignitaries just walked into the pavilion to look at the arts and crafts put in by competitors and who should they meet but the enthusiastic members of the historical society. The encounter didn’t phase society members one bit and they just took it all in their stride. Usually volunteers just meet friends they have not seen since last years show and this was a real surprise. The historical society has been fortunate to be able to have a stall in the show pavilion for many years. It has been located in amongst the cakes, flowers, sewing, knitting and other rural crafts.  The stall sells the latest publications, takes new memberships and renewals and answers lots of local history questions.

Camden Show with the Camden Historical Society stall amongst the arts and crafts displays. Special guests Mr OFarrell Premier NSW and Member for Camden Mr C Patterson and Mayor L Symkowiak. Camden Historical Society John Wrigley OAM, Bettie Small  and Len Channell, with Peter Hayward  CHS 2014

Mud and Slush in 2014

The 2014 Camden Show featured mud and storms as a special event. It rained on Friday afternoon with a thunderstorm that arrived around 4.00 pm from the south-west. It caught many people unawares and created a mud bath in many parts of the showground. It dumped about 15 mm in about an hour. On Saturday morning show officials were out and about puting down woodchip over the worst patches and straw on other patches. Patrons who wore boots were well prepared to walk around in the mud. On Saturday there was a steady rain from about 4.00 pm with a short storm that came in over the Burragorang Valley and Southern Highlands, and provided drizzle around right through the fireworks.

Camden Show in 2014 on Saturday morning after a heavy shower of rain on Friday afternoon. (I Willis, 2014)

2014 Camden Show

The 2014 Camden Show was the usual lively affair and this map of the showground illustrates the range of events and activities.

2014 Camden Show Map (Camden Show Society)
2014 Camden Show schedule of events flyer (Camden Show Society)
2014 Camden Show programme schedule of events flyer (Camden Show Society)

Show Merchandise 2013

This is the price list for show merchandise in 2013. Did you buy your tie?

Merchandise available for sale at the 2013 Camden Show (Camden Show Society)

Miss Camden Showgirl

The Miss Showgirl competition is in many ways an anachronism from the past. It has survived for over 45 years under the onslaught of feminism, post-modernism, globalization and urbanisation. A worthy feat indeed.

The competition is still popular and the local press are always strong supporters. Show time, the show ball and Miss Showgirl are representative of notions around Camden’s rurality. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2008 Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’. Camden people yearn for a past when the primary role of town was to service the surrounding farmers and their needs. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.

 Miss Camden Showgirl

1962 Helen Crace
1963 Helen Crace
1964 Sue Mason
1965 Barbara Duck
1966 Dawn Dowle
1967 Jenny Rock
1968 Heather Mills
1969 Michelle Chambers

1970 Joyce Boardman
1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham
1972 Kerri Webb
1973 Anne Fahey
1974 Sue Faber
1975 Janelle Hore
1976 Jenny Barnaby
1977 Patsy Anne Daley
1978 Julie Wallace
1979 Sandra Olieric

1980 Fiona Wilson
1981 Louise Longley
1982 Melissa Clowes
1983 Illa Eagles
1984 Leanne Reily
1985 Rebecca Py
1986 Jenny Rawlinson

1987 Jayne Manns

1988 Monique Mate
1989 Linda Drinnan
1990 Tai Green
1991 Toni Leeman
1992 Susan Lees
1993 Belinda Bettington
1994 Miffy Haynes
1995 Danielle Halfpenny
1996 Jenianne Garvin
1997 Michelle Dries

1998 Belinda Holyoake
1999 Lyndall Reeves
2000 Katie Rogers
2001 Kristy Stewart
2002 Margaret Roser
2003 Sally Watson
2004 Danielle Haack
2005 Arna Daley
2006 Victoria Travers
2007 Sarah Myers
2008 Fiona Boardman
2009 Lauren Elkins
2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic
2011 Hilary Scott

2012 April Browne

2013 Isabel Head

2014 Jacinda Webster

Read more about Miss Showgirl in Camden and elsewhere in NSW
Read more about nostalgia for Camden’s rural past

Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Edwardian · Heritage · history · Interwar · Place making · sense of place · Uncategorized

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

There is a crying need for a local Camden Residential Heritage Style Guide. Why do other Local Government Areas in Australia have a Residential Style Guide for their heritage housing styles but Camden does not.

Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district (I Willis)
Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district represented by sturdy timber cottages (I Willis)

Camden is one of Australia’s most historic localities and yet newcomers and locals have to guess what is an historically accurate guide to residential housing styles.

The new Camden Region Economic Taskforce (CRET) is an opportunity to promote the historic and heritage nature of the local area. The Taskforce promotional material states that Camden LGA has a ‘unique history’ and that the aim of the CRET is to maintain ‘Camden’s unique historic heritage and natural environment’.

This is an opportunity to the see if Camden Council is prepared to back its words with action. One easy way to do this would be to draw up a Residential Heritage Style Guide for the Local Government Area.

Camden heritage is a tourism drawcard to the local area. It creates jobs and business opportunities.

Carinya Cottage c1890 (Camden Historical Society)
Carinya Cottage c1890 was an example of a Federation Edwardian Farm Cottage at Narellan now demolished (Camden Historical Society)

The aim of the CRET is

  1. creation of jobs
  2. attraction of investment and
  3. creating the right environment  to support the growth of business and industry (both existing and future).

Houses are an integral part of our daily lives. We live in them and take them for granted. But they are more than this. A house is an historical statement of its time. As history changes so does the type of housing.

The CRET publicity states that the Camden LGA is a ‘rapidly growing area’ and is subject to change in the form of ‘rapid commercial and industrial development’ and there needs to be an understanding, according to the CRET, of ‘our unique heritage’.

 

There a number of housing styles that have been identified by architects in Australia since colonial times. The major periods of the styles are:
1. Pre-colonial period 30,000 BCE – 1788
2. Old Colonial Period 1788 – c. 1840
3. Victorian Period c. 1840 – c. 1890
4. Federation Period c. 1890 – c. 1915
5. Inter – War Period c. 1915 – c 1940
6. Post – War Period c. 1940 – c. 1960.
7. Late Twentieth Century c. 1960 – c. 2000
8. Twenty –First Century c. 2000 – present.
The Camden Local Government Area has residential buildings from most of these time periods.

 

Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)
Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)

The housing style of a particular location in the Camden or Narellan area gives the place a definite character and a certain charm. It is what makes a place special and gives it a sense of its own identity (Inter-war period along Menangle Road). The housing style will give the place its special qualities. The houses are a reflection of the times in which they were built.

 

The style is an indicator of the historical activities that have gone on in that area. It is a statement on changing tastes, lifestyles, social attitudes, cultural mores, and a host of other factors (Inter-war cottages in Elizabeth Street and the use of colour glass in lead-light windows or the appearance of garages for the new motor cars of the day).

Example of modern design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW (I Willis 2010)
Example of modern Ranch style design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW now demolished (I Willis 2010)

The housing style may be complemented by a garden and landscaping that reflected the tastes and lifestyles of the occupants of the building. Even gardens go through fashion trends (English style gardens or native gardens).

 

The housing style says a lot about the occupants. Whether they were landed gentry who owned one of the large estates in the area (Camden Park House, Brownlow Hill, Denbigh) or ordinary farmers who were making a living from a patch of ground (simple Federation weatherboard cottages like Yamba cottage in Narellan or the Duesbury family in Elizabeth Street or Hillview in Lodges Road).

Ben Linden Narellan J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)
The cottage known as Ben Linden at Narellan is an excellent example of the Edwardian period in the Camden Local Government Area (J Kooyman, 1997, Camden Images)

Camden has been remote from the urban influences that drove the high forms of these architectural styles. But local people adapted the style to suit their particular purpose (simple Federation brick or timber farm cottages like in the Struggletown complex or Barsden Street). Sometimes they created their own vernacular style that used local materials.

 

Some of these styles have more examples in the Camden area than others. This reflects the economic prosperity in the history of the area. The Inter-war period is one of these times. Between 1915 and 1940 the town grew based on the wealth generated by dairying and later coal. There are quite a number of inter-war buildings in Camden (Californian bungalows in Menangle Road and Murray Street). The post-war period of housing construction in Camden in Macquarie Avenue and along the Old Hume Highway was driven by the economic activities surrounding the mining of coal in the Burragorang Valley.

 

Each housing style illustrates cultural influences from Great Britain in the Victorian style or from the United States in the Inter-war period in the Californian Bungalow and the Ranch style in the post-war period.

Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows of the period (I Willis)
Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows (I Willis)

The local housing stock shows the skills and expertise of local builders, such as Harry Willis or Walter Furner who constructed many of the Inter-war housing stock. Ephraim Cross who supplied brick for some of the Federation style cottages in the area or James English in the 1940s or Ron McMIllan in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Each period represents the modern and progressive ideas of its time. Each housing style is a representation of the hopes and aspirations of those who built the houses. Just as Oran Park housing developments are representative of the late 21th century so Harrington Park and Mt Annan are representative of the late 20th century. They have been driven by the urban expansion of the Sydney area.

 

Within each of the major time periods there are a number of sub-divisions. There are around five major styles within the Inter-war period, such as the Californian bungalow (West coast USA influence) or the Art Deco (European influences). The post-war period has around six style divisions ranging from the austerity (which reflected the lack of availability of building materials and labour following WW2) to ranch style (which illustrated the post-war influences from West coast American and Californian housing styles).

Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)
Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 is an example of an Federation Edwardian farm cottage on Camden Valley Way at Narellan (Camden Images)

Camden needs a Residential Heritage Style Guide to consolidate all these factors and influences in the Local Government Area.

Why is it that other Local Government Areas around Australia can achieve this but Camden cannot?  What is the matter with out local government representatives? Examples from other parts of Australia include

  1. The New South Wales seaside community of Moruya has a wonderful document called the MORUYA RESIDENTIAL STYLE GUIDE.
  2. In South Australia the inner Adelaide City of Unley’ has a document called Appreciating Heritage and Character Dwellings Design Guide 1 .
  3. In Queensland the Toowoomba Region Council has a series of guides for heritage properties covering Victorian, Edwardian and Inter-war houses.

Camden Local Government Area has examples of housing stock that corresponds with each of these housing styles. What is wrong with Camden Council on this matter?

Read more on these matters on this blog:

  1. Edwardian Cottages in Camden
  2. Inter-war Camden
  3. Ben Linden at Narellan
  4. Urban planning in the Camden LGA

 

Catherine Fields · Entertainment · Heritage · history · Holidays · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Sydney · Tourism

El Caballo Blanco, A Forgotten Past

Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex.

The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena. .

 

El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields in 1980s (Camden Images)
El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields in 1980s (Camden Images)

 

The El Caballo Blanco complex at Catherine Fields, according to a souvenir brochure held at the Camden Museum, was based on a similar entertainment facility at the Wooroloo, near Perth, WA, which attracted over a quarter of a million visitors a year. It was established in 1974 by Ray Williams and had a 2000-seat outdoor arena. The horse show was based on a similar horse show (ferias) in Seville, Jerez de la Frontera and other Spanish cities.

The programme of events for the horse show at Catherine Fields began with a parade, followed by a pas de deux and then an insight into training of horses and riders in classical horsemanship. This was then followed by a demonstration of dressage, then a session ‘on the long rein’ where a riderless horse executed a number of steps and movements. There was a Vaqueros show (a quadrille) then carriage driving with the show ending with a grand finale. All the riders appeared in colourful Spanish style costumes.

The indoor arena was richly decorated in a lavishly rich style with blue velvet ceiling drapes and chandeliers. The complex also had associated stables and holding paddocks, within a Spanish-Moorish setting The stables had brass fittings and grilles, based on the design from stair cases at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

El Caballo Blanco Spanish Horse Show Catherine Fields 1980s (Camden Images)
El Caballo Blanco Spanish Horse Show Catherine Fields 1980s (Camden Images)

The horse show at Catherine Fields was supplement with an ancillary Australiana show which consisted mainly of sheep shearing and sheep dog trials, while a miniature horse show was introduced in the late 1980s. The also boasted a variety of rides (train, bus, racing cars, paddle boats, and ponies), a carriage museum, a small Australiana zoo, picnic facilities, water slides and swimming pool, souvenir shop, shooting gallery, restaurant, snack bar and coffee shop, and car parking.

Emmanuel Margolin, the owner in the 1989, claimed in promotional literature that the complex offered an ideal location for functions and was an ideal educational facility where children could learn about animals at the zoo, dressage, and botany in the gardens. At the time the entry charge was $10 for adults, children $5 and a family pass $25 (2A + 2C), with concession $5.

A promotional tourist brochure held by the Camden Museum claimed that it was Sydney’s premier all weather attraction. It was opened 7 days a week between 10.00am and 5.00pm.

By the mid-1990s the complex was struggling financially and in 1995 was put up for auction, but failed to reach the $5 million reserve price. The owners at the time, Emmanuel and Cecile Margolin, sold the 88 horses in July, according the Macarthur Chronicle. By this stage complex was only open on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.

At a subsequent auction in July 1997 the advertising claimed that it was a historical landmark site of 120 acres just 45 minutes from Sydney. That it was a unique tourist park with numerous attractions, luxury accommodation and a large highway frontage.

The last performance of the horse show at Catherine Fields was held in 1998.

Unfortunately by 2002 the good times had passed and the horses agisted on the site, according to the Camden and Wollondilly Advertiser, were part of a ‘forgotten herd’ of 29 horses that roamed the grounds of the complex. It was reported that they were looked after by a keen group of Camden riders.

Worse was to come when in 2003 a fire destroyed the former stable, kitchen and auditorium. The fire spread to the adjacent paddock and meant that the 25 horses that were still on the site had to be re-located. It was reported by Macarthur Chronicle, that Sharyn Sparks the owner of the horses was heart-broken. She said she had worked with the horses from 1985 and found that the complex was one of the best places in the world to work. She said that the staff loved the horses and the atmosphere of the shows.

Read more on Wikipedia and at ShhSydney which tells stories of abandoned amusement parks and at Anne’s Adventure when she explored the park through a hole in the fence in 2014, while there is more about the story with images at Deserted Places blog.