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Brand Anzac – meaning and myth

Historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

University of Wollongong Public Lecture 

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. The contradictions that have 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 absolute sense.

Yet for one old gentleman at the inaugural lecture in the 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 compelling 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.

Shifts in meaning

The term Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations and the 1960s social movements. 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 currently serving military personnel, while others have chosen to take cheap potshots 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 mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

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

 

Tensions and contradictions

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.

The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product on industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.

There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.

Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was 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)

 

According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.

On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent 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.

Gunner Bruce Guppy

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’.

Bruce Guppy 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 for him. 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 purpose 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 claims 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.

The site and the myth

Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.

These comments contrasted with the opening address by an ex-military Alumni organiser. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF celebrated in military training in Australia today are: the withdrawal of troops at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba.

These views contrast with recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources that have shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield has 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.

Pilgrims and memory

Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims 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. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (recently retired).

Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.

The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.

Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.

For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
RAAF Camden and the Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941 (RAAF Historical)

 

Brand Anzac

Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.

 

Anzac mythology and memory tend 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. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time 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 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.

 

Updated 27 April 2020. Originally posted 24 April 2017 at ‘Anzac Contradictions’

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The Camden cottage

Camden Edwardian cottages

It is with interest that I see that a local Camden real estate agent has used the term ‘Camden cottage’ on a sale poster for 21 Hill Street.

This is the first time I have seen the term ‘Camden cottage’ used in a commercial space before and it is an interesting development. The sign actually state ‘Classic Camden Cottage’.

Camden 21 Hill St Front IWillis 2019 lowres
Camden 21 Hill Street. The first time that I have seen the use of the term the ‘Camden Cottage’ used in a commercial space in the local area. This is a simple Edwardian style cottage that was a typical building style of the early 20th century in local area. (I Willis)

 

Maybe this is a recognition for the first time of a building style that was quite common in the local area in the early 20th century.

Camden 21 Hill St Front WideView I Willis 2019 lowres
Camden 21 Hill Street. The use of the term ‘Camden cottage’ on the advertising sign is an important acknowledgement of this style of residential cottage in the local area. (I Willis)

 

The cottage is a simple timber Edwardian style cottage that can be found across the Macarthur region. It was a cut-back version of more sophisticated buildings styles that were evident in the wealthier suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. The typical Queenslander Federation cottage is a sophisticated version of the same style of house.

Queensland House style Wikimedia 2005 JBrew lowres2
Queenslander Housing Style with wide verandah. This is an elegant version of the Edwardian style of housing typical of the early 20th century in the Brisbane area. (Wikimedia, 2005, JBrew)

 

There are examples of this style in most of villages and hamlets across the local area and many isolated ones on local farms.

The name Edwardian is loosely attached to cottages and buildings erected during the reign of Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. This period covers the time after the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 when the six self-governing colonies combined under a new constitution. They kept their own legislatures and combined to form a new nation.

The housing style was evidence of the new found confidence of the birth of a new nation that borrowed overseas trends and adopted them to suit local conditions. These style of houses were a statement of the individualism and the national character.

The Edwardian style of housing also includes a broad range of styles including Queen Anne, Federation, Arts and Crafts and Early Bungalow. These styles often tend to be asymmetrical with a projecting from gable, can be highly decorated with detailed work to gables, windows and verandahs. Edwardian style cottages often fit between 1900 and 1920, although the style extends beyond this period influencing the Interwar style housing.

Typical Edwardian colour schemes range from apricot walls, gables and barge boards, with white lattice panelling, red roofing and green coloured windows, steps, stumps, ant caps.

A number of Camden Edwardian cottages have a projecting from room with a decorated gable. A number of been restored while others have been demolished.

Edwardian country cottages are not unique to the Camden area. Toowoomba has a host of these type of homes and published the local council publishes extensive guides explaining the style of housing and what is required for their sympathetic restoration in the online publication The Toowoomba House (2000).

Examples of Edwardian style cottages, including in and around Camden, were an Australian version of English Edwardian houses. Houses were plainer in detail, some with lead lighting in the front windows. Australian architecture was a response to the landscape and climate and the building style tells us about the time and the people who built them, how they lived and other aspects of Camden’s cultural heritage.

Camden Melrose 69 John St FCWhiteman CIPP
Camden, Melrose Cottage, 69 John Street. It was owned by FC Whiteman owner of the general store in the early 20th century. Now demolished. (Camden Images)

 

In the most March 2014 edition of Camden History Joy Riley recalls the Edwardian cottages in John Street. She stated:

‘I lived at 66 John Street for the first 40 years of my life before moving to Elderslie with my husband Bruce Riley. The two rooms of 66 John Street were built by the first John Peat, Camden builder, to come to Camden. In the 1960s I had some carpet put down in my bedroom, the floor boards were so hard, as they only used tacks in those days to hold carpet, the carpet just kept curling up.’ She says, ‘The back of the house was built by my grandfather, William Dunk. They lived next door at 64 John Street. He also built the Methodist Church at Orangeville or Werombi.

A number of Camden Edwardian style timber cottages have a projecting room at the front of the cottage with a decorated gable, adjacent to a front verandah, with a hipped roof line.

This housing style is often characterised by a chimney that was a flue for a kitchen fuel stove and chip copper in an adjacent laundry. In some houses plaster cornices were  common, sometimes there were ceiling roses, skirting and architraves. A number of been restored while unfortunately many others have been demolished.

Carinya Cottage
Carinya Cottage, Stewart Street, Narellan. c.1890. Since demolished. (Camden Historical Society)

 

Some Camden Edwardian homes had walls of red brickwork, sometimes with painted render in part. While there are many examples in the local area of timber houses with square-edged or bull-nosed weatherboards. Sunshades over windows supported by timber brackets are also common across the local area.

Ben Linden at Narellan is an outstanding example of the Edwardian cottages across the local area.

Ben Linden Narellan J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)
Ben Linden, 311 Camden Valley Way, (Old Hume Highway, Great South Road) Narellan J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)

 

Yamba at Kirkham is another fine example of this style.

Yamba cottage
Yamba Cottage, 181 Camden Valley Way, (Old Hume Highway/Great South Road) Kirkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)

 

Camden has quite a number of Edwardian cottages in the town area, on surrounding farms and in local district villages. They are typical of the early twentieth century landscape in the local district.

 

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A lost Gothic fantasy

The Burragorang Valley

The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of the imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create powerful memories and nostalgia for many  people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger yet at the same time places of incredible beauty.

One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:

The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent  water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small  compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley  is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of  this beautiful area  – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.

Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years and this prompted to create a number of works of arts. She writes that it is a

 It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.

Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.

Art Burragorang Valley Robyn Collier 2019
Lake Burragorang behind Warragamba Dam still has some a hint of the Gothic elements of the pre-flooded valley of the 1950s (R Collier)

 

In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:

In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.

Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.

The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley

Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that

The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’

The American Gothic novel was characterized by murder, mystery, horror and hauntings.

Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals that were build across Europe between 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meaning to the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the powerful grandeur of these buildings.

Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.

It is these characteristics that can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breath-taking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.

The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folk over the years and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.

Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here one image that expresses some of these characteristic of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:

Burragorang V Wollondilly River SLV
The Burragorang Valley and the Wollondilly River (SLV)

 

The many visitors to the Valley were attracted by the Gothic elements within the landscape. One example from 1941:

Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers 1941
Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers standing in the Wollondilly River in 1941

 

It is these characteristics that made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many of the Europeans settlers built guesthouses and accommodation for visitors from Sydney and beyond.

The Oaks Historical Society has captured some of these stories in its recently published newsletter.

The Oaks Newsletter Cover 2019Sept
The story of the Burragorang Valley on the cover The Oaks Historical Society Newsletter September 2019
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Going to London

Going to London

Thousands of young single Australian born women travelled to London and beyond from the mid-to-late 19th century.  This pilgrimage, as historian Angela Woollacott has called it, was a life-changing journey for these women. They were both tourist and traveller and many worked their passage throughout their journey.

Suters Archive Travel Diary5 2019 SSuters lowres
A typical trip diary kept by the young women who travelled to London in the 1950s as they explored the world. They were both tourist and travellers as they broke stereotypes and gender expectations in Australian and the UK. (S Suters)

 

Their travels illustrate the links between metropole and the periphery, between the settler societies and the imperial centre that have been little explored by scholars of history. These young women were both insiders and outsiders, both colonials and part of the heritage of colonizers. The dichotomy of their position provides an interesting position as they explored the transnational relationship between Australia and the UK.

These women occupied a space between metropolitan centre of London and their shared British heritage and notions of England as ‘home’ yet at the same time they were outsiders in England and other parts of the British Empire that they visited in Colombo and Aden.

There has been some recent scholarship that explores the Australian diaspora in the United Kingdom around issues of imperialism, expatriation, globalisation, national identity and overseas citizenship.

London Tower of London 2006 PPikous-Flckr
The Tower of London was a popular tourist attraction for young Australian born women who travelled to London and beyond. These women acted as both tourist and traveller in their journey of exploration.  (P Pikous, 2006)

 

In the 19th century colonial born women from well-off families went husband-hunting in England. By the early 20th century the list of women travelling to the United Kingdom started to include creative-types including actors, writers, artists, musicians, and singers. One of the most famous being Dame Nellie Melba.

In the mid-20th century following the Second World War young working women from modest backgrounds started to explore the world and head for London.  There were a number of Camden women who undertook this journey during the 1950s that are the subject of a history project.

Travelling to London

Dr Ian Willis explores the transnational journey undertaken by these in paper accepted at the 2019 Australian Historical Asssociation conference in Toowoomba and the 2019 Redefining Australia and New Zealand at the University of Warsaw.

38th Australian Historical Association Conference 2019, Local Communities, Global Networks, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, 8-12 July 2019.

Title of Paper

Tourist or traveller: the journey of an Australian country girl to London in 1954.

Abstract

In 1954 Shirley Dunk, a young country woman from the small community of Camden in New South Wales, exercised her agency and travelled to the United Kingdom with her best friend and work colleague, Beth Jackman. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other Camden women. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by Camden’s elite women in the late 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.

This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey.   Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she and Beth experienced as they left Sydney for London by ship and their travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters when they acted as tourists in foreign lands.

The narrative will show that Shirley was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of local women who journeyed to London. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

 

Camden Shirley Rorke Beth Jackman 1953 Clintons SRorke_adjusted
Two Camden women who headed for London in the mid-1950s were Shirley Dunk and her best friend Beth Jackman. This image  shows their workplace in the Clintons Motors Showroom at 16 Argyle Street, Camden where they both worked at sales assistants in 1953.   (S Rorke)

 

2nd Biennial International Conference on Redefining Australia and New Zealand, Changes, Innovations, Reversals, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland, 16-17 September 2019.

Title of Paper

An Australian country girl goes to London.

Abstract

In 1954 a young country woman from New South Wales, Shirley Dunk, exercised her agency and travelled to London. This was a journey to the home of their forefathers and copied the activities of other country women who made similar journeys. Some of the earliest of these journeys were undertaken by the wives and daughters of the rural gentry in the 19th century when they developed imperial networks that functioned on three levels – the local, the provincial and the metropole.

This research project will use a qualitative approach where there is an examination of Shirley’s journey archive complimented with supplementary interviews. The archive consisted of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera and was recently presented to me. It was a trove of resources which documented Shirley’s 12 months away from home and, during interviews, allowed her to vividly relive her memories of the journey.   Shirley nostalgically recalled the sense of adventure that she experienced as she left Sydney for London by ship and her travels throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The paper will attempt to address some of the questions posed by the journey and how she reconciled these forces as an actor on a transnational stage through her lived experience as a tourist and traveller. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters home that described their tales as tourists in foreign lands.

The narrative will show that Shirley, as an Australian country girl, was exposed to the cosmopolitan nature of the metropole, as were earlier generations of women. The paper will explore how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

 

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Living history on your doorstep

There is the opportunity to experience real living history on your own doorstep.

Living history is all around you. You just need to take a deep breath, pause for a moment and listen to the history around speak to you.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. You can still view this vista from the town’s fringe near the showground. (Camden Images)

 

Camden living history

In the town centre of Camden the buildings and the ambience of the historic precinct speak to you if you pause and listen.

They are all part of the Camden story.

The Camden living history reveals the intricacies of telling the Camden story.

The Camden town centre and its multi-layered history are evident in the many different building styles evident as you walk along the main street.

If walls could talk they would tell an interesting story that would immerse you in the past in the present. They would provide a gripping account of the characters that were central to the stories.

Camden CHS 231 Macaria c. 1890
The Camden Grammar School which was located in Macaria in the 1890s.  Macaria is open to the public and is the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery located at 37 John Street, Camden. (Camden Images)

Living history is storytelling

Living history allows participants to be able to read the layers of history of an area.

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

Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real and authentic.

Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present. Storytelling and stories at the essence of place.

 

The living history movement

Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’.   (pp. xii-xv)

One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA.  Henry Ford said of his museum

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

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018. You can visit the historic St John’s church and precinct in central Camden. The church was built in the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family. (I Willis)

 

The Camden story

The Camden story is the tale of the local area.

Camden storytellers peel back the layers of the history of the town and district and reveal the tales of local identities, larrikans, characters, rascals, ruffians and ratbags.

There are a number of layers to the Camden story and they are

  • Pre-European period of the Indigenous Dharawal people when they called the area Benkennie
  • The Cowpastures were named by Governor Hunter in 1795 and the establishment of the Cowpastures Government Reserve. Under European control the Indigenous Dharawal people dispossession and displacement of their country. The Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estatestarted with the 1805 grant to John Macarthur.
  • The Camden township was established as a private venture of the Macarthur family in 1840. The streets were named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
  • The English-style Camden town centrehas evolved and is represented by a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, EdwardianInter-war, Mid-20th century. The town was the hub of the Camden District between 1840 and 1970s
  • The Macarthur region (1970s +), named after the famous local Macarthur family, grew as part of   Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. It is made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.
Camden Show Bullock Team 2018 MWillis
The bullock team walking up John Street for the 2018 Camden Show. Bullock teams were once a common sight in the Camden area before the days of motorised transport. The teamster monument in John Street celebrates their role in the history of the district. Visit the Camden Show. (M Willis)

 

Immerse your imagination in the past at the Camden Museum through living history.

The Camden museum tells the Camden story through displays of artefacts, objects, memoriabilia and other ephemera by using a living history approach.

The displays tell a story of an earlier period and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the past in the present.

Map Camden District 1939[2]

Map of the Camden district in 1939 showing the extent of the area with Camden in the east. The silver mining centre of Yerranderie is in the west. (I Willis, 1996)

 

Walking the past through living history

Visitors to Camden can walk the streets of the town centre and imagine another time. A time past that can be recalled through living history.

A self-guided walking tour lets visitors explore the living history of the Camden town centre. There is a pdf brochure here. 

Check out Camden’s main street with its Victorian, Edwardian and interwar ambience and charm. See where the local met on sale day at the Camden saleyards or the annual country festival at the Camden show.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. The show is held each year in the Onslow Park precinct. (Camden Show)

 

The Heritage Tourism website boasts that Camden – The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW.

The mysteries of the cute little locomotive that used to run between Camden and  Campbelltown via Currans Hill, Narellan, Elderslie, Kirkham and Graham’s Hill are also explored in a post called  The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram.

Maybe you would like to revisit the farming glory days of the 1800s at one of Australia’s most important living history farms at Belgenny Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. Visitors are welcome.  (I Willis, 2018)
Architecture · Attachment to place · Dungog · Fashion · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Hotels · Interwar · Local History · Modernism · Place making · Royal Hotel Dungog

Modernism and the Art Deco Bush Pub

The Art Deco Pub is an iconic part of country town Australia and there are some that have survived intact despite the tendency to tear them down.

One of the these pubs is located at Dungog, the Royal Hotel.

 

Dungog Royal Hotel[1] 2017 IWillis
The Royal Hotel in Dowling Street Dungog was re-built in an Art Deco style in 1939 by Tooth & Co (I Willis, 2017)

Tucked away in the quiet backwaters of the Upper William’s River Valley Dungog is a sleepy little town with an interesting present and a more interesting past.

The Royal Hotel  is the fourth pub on the site and was rebuilt in an Art Deco style in 1939. This hotel has survived the waves of redevelopment that have struck the large urban areas. Luckily urban gentrification has not made it to this part of the world yet.

According to the Dungog Historical Society the first hotel on the site was a single storey timber construction in 1850 built by Alexander Donaldson. This was replaced by a two-storey rendered brick building in a Victorian Georgian style which had a shingle roof and a upper balcony. Initially known as the Durham hotel is was later called the Royal. This building was demolished in 1912 and rebuilt in a Federation style.

The pub is indicative of better times for the town when the dairy industry was in full bloom from the 1890s and city investors saw a future in these rural communities. The town had a small building boom in the 1930s with a number of fine homes built with a new Catholic Church and bank buildings. The construction of the Chichester Dam in the 1920s created a prosperous time for the town.

 

Dungog Royal Hotel[3] 2017 IWillis
The Royal Hotel in Dungog NSW was re-built by Tooth & Co Brewers in 1939 (I Willis, 2017)

The six o’clock swill and 6 o’clock closing drove the hotel design. It  is typified by an efficient delivery of beer to customers in the shortest possible time. The bar area is tiled and can be hosed out after closing for ease of cleaning.

Six o’clock closing laws encouraged an endemic culture of binge drinking that was only re-enforced by licencing restrictions that were not overturned in New South Wales until the 1960s.

These type of Australian hotels like the Royal differ markedly from their British ancestry which were cosy and family friendly.

The typical Australian hotel, like the Dungog Royal Hotel, is two storeys high with accommodation upstairs and a spacious bar area downstairs.

 

Dungog Royal Hotel[5] 2017 IWillis
The stairway to the upstairs accommodation in the Royal Hotel in Dungog NSW with much of its integrity still intact (2017, I Willis)

The Royal Hotel is an imposing structure at 80 Dowling Street, the town’s main commercial street and thoroughfare. The hotel  is typified by its clean efficient lines and utilitarian design with the paint-on-glass artwork and branding and advertising. These are an iconic part of the history of commercial design and artwork in Australia.

The Royal has typical rounded Art-Deco curved façade with added decorative elements. The classic influence of modernism. The hotel had a commercial kitchen and a flash dining room to serve the latest in moderne dishes to its country clients.

Tooth & Co purchased the Royal Hotel in 1921 and the company rebuilt in 1939 at a cost of £20,000.

Tooth & Co had a significant expansion programme in the Interwar period and purchased a number of breweries and hotels. In the Lower Hunter Valley it acquired the Maitland Brewing Company in 1913 and a Newcastle brewery in 1921.

Tooth’s hotels were tied to the brewery to sell only Tooths product. This anti-competitive practice was banned in the 1970s.

Tooth & Co used architects Copeman, Lemont and Keesing to design the hotel, which they also did with many hotels of this period particularly in the Sydney area. The hotel builders were Field and Roach.

 

Dungog Royal Hotel[4] 2017 IWillis
The exterior tiled frontage of the Royal Hotel in Dungog NSW displaying advertising of a type that would have typical of 1939 when the hotel was re-built by owners Tooth & Co (I Willis, 2017)

The Noel Butlin Archives at the Australian National University has a number of images and notes about the history of the Dungog Royal Hotel. The archives states:

On completion of rebuilding in 1939 the hotel was a two storeyed brick structure with a fully tiled ground floor exterior and an asbestos sheet roof. The architectural style is known as P. & O. Ship Style because of its similarities to ocean liner forms.

In 1939 the Saloon Bar was described as

View of stools in front of a curved linoleum-topped bar faced with rectangular tiles. The room has a linoleum floor, walls partially tiled with square tiles, wall fans and spherical lights hanging from the ceiling. On the counter beneath a shelf light is a cash register and there are advertisements attached to the shelves for Tolley’s Hospital Brandy and for Skee Whiskey.

The public bar area is described as

View of curved linoleum-topped bar faced with rectangular tiles and in the background, the door to the Parlour. The room has a linoleum floor, walls partially tiled with square tiles, a wall clock and spherical lights hanging from the ceiling. On the counter is a cash register and there are a number of advertisements on the walls, including a poster reproduction of a pub painting by R. Weuban.

 

Dungog Royal Hotel[2] 2017 IWillis
The exterior tiled facade of the Royal Hotel Dungog NSW and the streamline style of Art Deco design that was representative of the best of Interwar hotels in NSW (I Willis, 2017)

The Dungog Heritage Inventory describes the Royal Hotel as:

Modern Art Deco style hotel in light brick. Recessed balcony on upper level with high parapet above. Curved and decorative brickwork.

The heritage consultants maintaining that the building is a good example of its style and period.

 

Dungog Royal Hotel[2] Signage 2017 IWillis
Painted glass signage that is representative of the Royal Hotel in Dungog NSW in its heyday when it represented the best of Interwar modernism in hotel design and style (IWillis, 2017)

Read more

Grace Karskins, Dungog Shire Heritage Study, 1988.

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’.

cafes · Camden · Elderslie · First World War · Heritage · Interwar · Modernism · sense of place · Uncategorized

Camden modernism

Cooks Garage in Argyle Street Camden the route of the Hume Highway c.1936 (Camden Images)
Cooks Garage in Argyle Street Camden the route of the Hume Highway c.1936 (Camden Images)

Camden Modernism

One of the hidden parts of the history of Camden is the influence of modernism.   Few in the community know much about it at all. Yet it has an important influence on the town in a variety of ways from domestic and commercial architecture to host of other areas. Modernism is a vague term that describes a philosophical period from the mid-1800s to the mid-20th century

Camden was not isolated from global trends and cultural forces and the trends around modernism are part of this story. The forces of modernism shaped the world were influenced by industrial growth, the growth of cities and the First World War.  The Great War and the Russian Revolution challenged ideas from the past and the failure of the status quo. The senseless slaughter of the First World War challenged the moral authority of progress from the Enlightenment.

Many supporters of modernism in Camden and across the world rejected the certainties of the Enlightenment and the dogmas of religious belief. Modernism influenced art, music, architecture, social organisation, daily life and  the sciences.

Major events during this period included the development of the railway, the  The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the building of engineering structures like  the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) and the Eiffel Tower (1889), the innovation of the electric telegraph from 1837, the adoption of standard time by British railway companies from 1845 and the invention of photography.

Modern ideas in art also began to appear more frequently in commercials and logos, an early example of which, from 1919, is the famous London Underground logo designed by Edward Johnston. The skyscraper is the archetypal modernist building. There was the emergence of the Bauhaus School and Art Nouveaux. A more sinister reality was emerging on the Continent, in the form of Nazi art and Soviet agit-prop. Only Art Deco, a rather sleek design style aimed at architecture and applied art, expressed any confidence in the future.  There was the rise of fascism, the Great Depression and the march towards the Second World War.

The period of modernism includes the Victorian period, the Edwardian period and extends to include the interwar period of the 20th century. During the Edwardian period Camden was influenced by the dairy revolution, which saw  innovations in the dairy industry. While the economic development  and material prosperity of the interwar period was driven by  the emerging Burragorang Valley coal industry.

Fashion parade illustrating changes in modernism in Camden
Fashion parade illustrating changes in modernism in Camden

Modernism and changes in fashion

Shock horror – women show their legs and wear pants

Changes in fashion through modernity, including in Camden, were representative of changes and continuities in society. The changes were brought by the Industrial Revolution and the technology that it spawned and probably the greatest of these was the railway and in the 20th century, the motor car.

The railways were the greatest revolution of the early modern period and created mass movement of people, regular timetables and triggered the appearance of mass tourism. Steam ships hastened this and Camden folk regularly travelled to the metropolitan centre of the Empire in London.

The growth of industrial society and capitalism brought increased wealth and increased leisure time, entertainment and personal freedom. Mass culture clashed with high culture and the First World War brought the horrors of mechanised warfare.

Many new pastimes were brought by new inventions that included the bicycle, the movies, the motor car, the wireless, the telegraph, the aeroplane and the milk bar. The popularity of the bicycle gave women increased freedom of movement which was represented by the fashions they wore while cycling. There was the need for increased freedom of movement, a new social force had arrived.

Young folk in Camden went to the movies at the Star Empire Theatre and later the Paramount Cinema. They were exposed to the latest fashions in clothing, motor cars and all things American. Icons of early 20th century American culture including the movie stars  like Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple.

The inter-war period fashions saw women freed from the corset and there was the appearance of cosmetics and rayon, which replaced expensive silk. New industrial processes produced ready-to-wear. There were shorter hemlines and shock horror – women showed their legs and wore pants.

Consumerism was hastened by the Victorians and really gained momentum during the inter-war period. Social norms were challenged and new ideas created by new technologies drove many changes in the daily life of those living in the Camden district.

Camden general stores, like Whitemans and Cliftons, carried goods from all parts of the British Empire for the consumption of the local community. Modernism was a transnational force that embraced the Camden community.

Interwar Modernism in Camden

The interwar years were a period of transition and increasingly the motor car replaced the horse in town, and on the farm the horse was replaced by the tractor, all of which supported the growing number of garages in the town. The interwar landscape was characterised by personalised service, along with home and farm deliveries by both horse and cart and motor cars.

Despite the prosperity of the interwar period the town was still dominated by the colonial gentry and their estates. Apart from their convict labour in the early years, they established a system of class and social relations that ordered daily life in the town from its foundation until after the Second World War.  While the townsmen dominated the early period of local government, by Federation the landed gentry had usurped their power and had imposed their political mantra of conservatism on the area. The dominance of the Macarthur’s Camden Park over the local economy during the interwar period was characterised by the construction of the Camden Vale milk processing factory (1926) adjacent to the railway. It was an example of Camden’s industrial modernism. The company developed TB free milk and marketed it through the Camden Vale Milk Bar, a retail outlet on the Hume Highway (1939); complete with a drive-through.

For a country town of its size the town had modern facilities and was up-to-date with the latest technology. The town had two weekly newspapers, Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, there was opening of the telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932) and a sewerage system (1939), and by 1939 the population has increased to 2394. The town’s prosperity allowed the Presbyterians built a new church (1938), while a number of ‘locals’ built solid brick cottages that reflected their confidence in the town’s future.

Selected examples of interwar architecture

Dairy farming

  1. Camden Vale milk processing factory, 11 Argyle Street, Camden. Built in 1926 by the Camden Vale Milk Co, a subsidiary of Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd.
Camden Vale Milk Depot Argyle Street Camden 1926 Industrial modernism (Camden Images)
Camden Vale Milk Depot Argyle Street Camden 1926 Industrial modernism (Camden Images)
Camden Valley Inn, Camden, c.1938 (Camden Images)
Camden Valley Inn, Old Hume Highway, Camden, c.1938 (Camden Images)
  1. Camden Vale Inn, Remembrance Drive (Old Hume Highway), Camden (now Camden Valley Inn). Architect: Cyril Ruwald. Builder: Herb English. A milk bar on the Hume Highway built in 1939 by the Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd to market its Camden Vale milk from TB tested dairy herds on Camden Park. It was ‘designed in the Tudor style, with walls in attractively coloured brickwork suggesting a touch of modernity’. [ Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, Camden Vale Special Pasteurised Milk Production and Distribution, Camden, Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, c.1938.]

Motor industry

Cooks Garage in Argyle Street Camden the route of the Hume Highway c.1936 (Camden Images)
Cooks Garage in Argyle Street Camden the route of the Hume Highway c.1936 Interwar Spanish Mission Style (Camden Images)
  1. Cooks Garage, 31-33 Argyle Street, Camden. Built in 1935. Owned by WH Cook. It was built in the Spanish Mission style, and was characterised by terracotta roof tiles, a front loggia, rendering of brickwork and shaped parapets. Since demolished.
  2. Main Southern Garage, 20-28 Argyle Street, Camden. Built in the mid 1930s.
  3. Dunk House, 56-62 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden, in 1937. The building was a car showroom, shop complex and professional suites owned by EC Dunk.
  4. Clintons Motor Showroom, 16 Argyle Street, Camden. The car showroom was built in 1947 by Mark Jensen for Clinton Motors, the Holden dealership in Camden. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory it is a rare masonry Art Deco style building with large shopfront windows and wrap around awning.

Retail

  1. 102-104 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1939. Stuckey Bros, bakers and pastry cooks, occupied premises and fitted it out in 1940. According to the Camden News it was ‘fitted with every modern device’.

Banks

Bank of NSW, 1938, Argyle St, Camden the route of the Hume Highway (I Willis)
Bank of NSW, 1938, Argyle St, Camden the route of the Hume Highway (I Willis)
  1. Bank of New South Wales (Westpac), 121-123 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1936. The two storey building had a residence upstairs and a banking chamber downstairs. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory the building is Georgian Revival style.
  2. Rural Bank, 115-119Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1937. The two storey building had a residence upstairs with banking chamber downstairs. Art deco style. There is trachyte stonework on the facing of building.

Churches

  1. Presbyterian Church, 42 John Street, Camden. Built in 1938. Architect: George Gray, R.Vale. A brick church, which according to the Camden Heritage Inventory the buildings is Gothic Revival (Gothic Interwar) style.

Hotels

11.Camden Inn (Hotel), 105-107 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1933. Tudor style.

Agriculture

  1. Front, AH&I Hall , 191-195 Argyle Street, Camden. The brick front of the building was added to the weatherboard hall in 1936. The original hall was constructed in 1899 by George Furner for JW Macarthur Onslow as a drill hall for the Camden Mounted Rifles.

Cinema

  1. Paramount Theatre, 39 Elizabeth Street, Camden. Built in 1933. It was owned by DJ Kennedy who had interests in other suburban movie cinemas in the Sydney area. It was designed in the Spanish Mission style.

Residential

Elizabeth Street, Camden

  1. Cottage, 25 Elizabeth Street, Camden. Built in the 1930s by Mel Peat.
  2. Flats, 33 Elizabeth Street, Camden. Built in 1930.

Menangle Road, Camden

  1. Cottages, 1-3 Menangle Road, Camden. Built between 1924-1925 by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory a group of Californian Bungalows.
  2. Methodist Parsonage, 24 Menangle Road, Camden. Built in 1935.
  3. Cottage, 26 Menangle Road, Camden. Built by Mel Peat in 1931 for N Freestone.

Murray Street, Camden.

  1. Cottages, 24-28 Murray Street, Camden. Built by Mel Peat in 1937. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory a group of Californian Bungalows.

Hospital

  1. Extension, Camden Hospital, Menangle Road, Camden. Built by Mel Peat in 1939.

Aviation

  1. Bellman Hangers, Camden Airfield, Macquarie Grove Road, Camden. Built in 1941. The Federal Government acquired the airfield from Edward Macarthur Onslow in 1940 for a central flying school under the Empire Air Training Scheme. The hangers were erected by RAAF  as temporary accommodation for aircraft. They were designed by NS Bellman in 1936 (UK) as temporary buildings.
Howlett's Cafe and Milk Bar, Camden, 1954 (Camden Images)
Howlett’s Cafe and Milk Bar, Camden, 1954 (Camden Images)

 Camden Cafes and Milk Bars

The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars was at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion.  The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milk shakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.

These include Camden Cafe owned by the Sophios Bros, then the Cassimatis Bros in the 1930s. It became the Capital Cafe in 1935. There was the iconic Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar opened with a great fuss in 1939 on Camden Park estate by the Macarthur Onslow family.

Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

Stuckey Bros Building Camden, Bakers

Camden has an art-deco style inspired building at 102-104 Argyle Street. It is the 1940 Stuckey Bros Pastrycooks and Bakers building, built by Harry Willis and Sons. The bakery was operated by HH & LC Stuckey and a bakery had been on the site from before 1912, when the Stuckeys purchased the business from J Fleming.

The building front is yellow-cream brick called polychrome, meaning a brick with more than one colour.  The shop front above street level is finely detailed with curved bricks and bay-style window in the centre of the building. The roof is green tiles.

The building is an interesting and unusual example of a two-storey Interwar retail building. The use of decorative polychrome brickwork is unusual for Camden township. It is an attractive example of a commercial building, and while the street level shopfronts have been altered it has not compromised the intergrity of the remainder of the building.

Camden News 24 April 1941
Camden News 24 April 1941

Originally the shopfront was tiled with curved glass (bow windows) defining the shop entrance. There was a laneway on the western side (facing the shopfront the right-hand side) with access to the rear of the premises, which now has a retail business located on it. Many Camden Argyle Street laneways have been filled in and are now occupied by retail premises. How many can you pick?

The shopfront is the public interface for retail premises and streetscapes. Stuckey Bros  original shopfront window glass had metal surrounds and a tiled entry (ingos/outgo or setback) that made it three-dimensional and interesting. A style of shopfront that was common from the Edwardian period. The shopfront awning is still largely as it was in 1940.

According to the Camden News Stuckey Bros was fitted out with every ‘modern device’. The shop opened at 6.30am, and the first shop assistant arrived at 8.00am. The shop closed at 7.00pm and operated 6 days a week. The doughmakers came in at 11.00pm and the bakers used wood-fired ovens, which were fired up over the weekends as it took too long to heat them up when cold.

Stuckey Bros did home deliveries  with a horse and cart to Camden, Elderslie, Cobbitty and Brownlow Hill. The mailmen would take bread to The Oaks, Burragorang Valley, Yerranderie, Werombi, and Orangeville. The Stuckeys kept their horses in the Rectory paddock next to St John’s Church.

The Stuckeys were a staunch Methodist family and Beryl Stuckey played the organ at the Methodist Church, while Frank Stuckey was the superintendent of the Sunday School for over 20 years from the 1940s.

The site of the Stuckey Bros shop and bakery  had been used as a bakery from 1852 when William McEwan built a premises and in the 1890s Mrs McEwan helped her sons Geordy and Alf run the business.

Read more @ Frank Stuckey, Our Daily Bread, The Story of Stuckey Bros, Bakers and Pastrycooks of Camden NSW, 1912-1960. Camden, F Stuckey, 1987.

Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)
Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)

Dunk House, A Modern Car Showroom in Camden.

There is a building at 56-62 Argyle Street, Camden, which is an understated Art Deco style example of the Interwar period. It is Dunk House. Its integrity is still largely intact and it clearly shows the impact of the new found wealth in the town from the Burragorang coalfields.

Dunk House has intact art deco style motifs adjacent to the entry above the display window front. There is black tiling on the shopfront, and a brass surround of the large display window on the former car showroom. The showroom has intact timber flooring and the interior and shopfronts have little changed from the 1930s when the building was erected by its owners. The brass names plates are still attached to the shopfront where the tenant business would put their name plate.

The Dunk House was built by renowned Camden builder Harry Willis & Sons in 1937. The premises was a car showroom, shopping complex and professional suites owned by EC Dunk. Downstairs there were 3 shops, the largest being a car showroom for General Motors cars. Upstairs there were 8 ‘compartments’ or rooms or what we would not call professional suites, each fitted out with modern amenities which included water, wash basin and electric light.

The tenants in 1937 included the downstairs shopfront leased by L Lakin, grocer and Mr Boulous, mercer. Later they included JL Hogg, dentist and in the 1950s dentist Newton Tobrett. At the rear of the property there a series of sheds which operated at auction rooms run by the Dunks.

In 1938 EC Dunk was the Camden agent for General Motors Chevrolet cars.

Camden Advertiser 14 August 1938
Camden Advertiser 14 August 1938

For more information on Interwar Camden click here

Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan

One of the notable attractions in the local area in the 1950s-1990s was the drive in movie theatre, which was located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale). Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it defined the lifestyle of the baby boomers. It was as popular with teenagers as it was with young families. It was a defining moment for a 20th century culture that was based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.

Signage from the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan (I Willis)
Signage from the Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre at Narellan (I Willis)

The drive in at Narellan was owned and operated from 1967-1992  by EJ Frazer and operated as the Gayline Drive in Movie Theatre.

Modernism in 1960s Elderslie NSW

Wrought iron work, Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW 1960s (I Willis 2010)
Wrought iron work, Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW 1960s (I Willis 2010)

The lands releases in the Camden suburb of Elderslie in 1960s have produced a number of houses that have expressed mid-20th century modernism. The house designs were taken from the book of project homes of the day and were quite progressive.

Australian architects including Robin Boyd were expressing Australian modernism. These architects were commissioned by housing developers like Lend Lease to design their housing estates.  One such development was the Lend Lease Appletree Estate at Glen Waverley in Melbourne. Another Lend Lease land release and group of show homes were at their 1962 Kingsdene Estate in Carlingford,

The Elderslie homes were built by the miners who worked in the Burragorang Valley and they wanted new modern houses. They generated the wealth that funded the urban growth of the  Camden suburbs of Elderslie and South Camden.

Elderslie was one of the original land grants to John Oxley in 1816. The area has been dominated by farming, particularly orchards and vineyards.

Elderslie examples of 1960s modernism include houses in Luker Street characterised by low-pitched rooves, open planned but restrained design, with lots of natural light streaming in full length glass panels adjacent to natural timbers and stone. There are also ranch style houses in River Road with open planning and wide frontages to the street, some architect designed.

These houses are all located in and amongst Federations style farming houses of the Edwardian period. The Federation style houses were on large blocks of land that were sub-divided during the 1960s.

The now demolished Henning’s house in Macarthur Road (image) is an example of open planned ranch style. Other modernist designs are the blocks of flats in Purcell Street, with use of decorative wrought iron railings.

Sunset Avenue in Elderslie was a new land release with a mix of 1960s modern low-pitched roof open planned houses interspersed with New South Wales Housing Commission fibro construction homes.

Other land releases of the 1960s were the New South Wales Housing Commission 1960s fibro houses some of which are located in Burrawong Road and Somerset Street.

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

Ranch-style housing in Elderslie

There are a number of ranch style houses in the Elderslie area along Macarthur Road and River Road in particular. Some are brick, while others are timber construction.
Ranch-style housing is a significant post-Second World War housing style. The housing style has been noted by architect Robert Irving as an Australian domestic architecture style. Parramatta City Council has recognised the housing style of heritage significance.

American History of Ranch-Style Homes
The original house style came from California and the South-west of the USA, where architects in these areas designed the first suburban ranch-style houses in the 1920s and 1930s. They were simple one-storey houses built by ranchers who lived on the prairies and  in the Rocky Mountains. The American architects liked  the simple form that reflected the casual lifestyle  of these farming families. After the Second World War a number of home builders in California offered a streamlined, slimmed-down version. They were built on a concrete slab without a basement with pre-cut sections. The design allowed multi-function spaces, for example, living-dining room and eat-in-kitchen which reduced the number of walls inside the house. The design was one of the first to orient the kitchen/family area towards the backyard rather than facing the street. The design also placed  the bedrooms at the front of the house. The marketing of the ranch-style house tapped popular American fascination with the Old West. (Washington Post, 30 December 2006)

Katherine Salant, ‘The Ranch, An Architectural Archetype Forged on the Frontier’, Washington Post, 30 December 2006

Residence, 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie

64 Macarthur Road Elderslie c1960 (IWillis 2010)
64 Macarthur Road Elderslie c1960 (IWillis 2010)

Sunset Avenue in Elderslie was a new land release with a mix of 1960s modern low-pitched roof open planned houses interspersed with New South Wales Housing Commission fibro construction homes.

Other land releases of the 1960s were the New South Wales Housing Commission 1960s fibro houses some of which are located in Burrawong Road and Somerset Street.
The integrity of the residence was intact until it was demolished in 2011, including the front fence that was built in 1960 by the Hennings of ‘Chromatex’ bricks. There were a number of mature trees on the site that added to the aesthetic quality of the site.

In 2011 a ranch-style house in Macarthur Road Elderslie was unfortunately demolished to make way for a pre-school. Camden’s ranch-style houses are part of the town’s post-Second World War development and growth.

The Macarthur Road house was one of a number in the Elderslie area and two of these have been demolished. One of the demolished ranch-style houses, Kalinda, was located off Lodges Road Elderslie and owned by the Whiteman family. The Whitemans owned a general store in Camden that operated for nearly a century. The house was a weatherboard cottage and demolished in late 1990s to make way for Sydney’s urban development in the Elderslie area. The house was located high on the ridge with a pleasant outlook facing west over the Narellan Creek floodplain. Visitors approached the house from Lodges Road by driving up to the top of the ridge along a narrow driveway.

 

 

cafes · Camden · Heritage · Interwar · Local History · Narellan

Interwar Camden

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden showing the intersection of Argyle St (Hume Highway) and John St. View west along Argyle St, WH Anderson fountain in middle of intersection, c1930s (Camden Images)

The interwar period in Camden was a time of economic development and material progress. The prosperity of the period was driven by the local dairy industry and the emerging coal industry. The population of the town grew by over 35 per cent between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second, so that in 1939 the town was the centre of a district that covered 455 square miles (1180 square kilometres) and with a population of over 5000.

Camden was one of the most important commercial and administrative centres between Sydney and Goulburn. The town was the centre of the police district, it had the regional hospital, it was the largest population centre and it was a transport node of a district which spread from Campbelltown to the lower Blue Mountains.

Cooks Garage 1936
Cooks Garage, Argyle St, Camden the route of the Hume Highway through the town in the 1930s, 1936 (Camden Images)

 

Hume Highway

During the interwar period one of the most important economic arteries of the town was the Hume Highway (until 1928 the Great South Road). Most understood the value of the rail connection to Camden; most obviously because you heard it, smelt it and saw it. Yet few understand the significance of the Hume. The highway had ran up the town’s main street from colonial times, until 1973 when it was moved to the Camden Bypass, and then subsequently moved in 1980 to the freeway.

The highway and railway were the conduits that brought the international influences of modernism and consumerism to the town, and the goods and services that supported them. These forces influenced the development of the local motor industry , the establishment of the local cinemas and the development of the local airfield. All important economic, social and cultural forces for the time. ‘Locals’ travelled to the city for higher order retail goods, specialist services and entertainment, while the landed gentry escaped to the cosmopolitan centre of the British Empire; London. Conversely the Sydney elite came to experience the new gentlemanly pastime of flying at the Macquarie Grove Airfield.

Camden Valley Inn, Camden, c.1939 (Camden Images)
Camden Vale Inn & Milk Bar, Camden, c.1939 (Camden Images)

Camden Modernism

For a country town of its size the town had modern facilities and was up-to-date with the latest technology. The town had two weekly newspapers, Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, there was opening of the telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932) and a sewerage system (1939), and by 1939 the population has increased to 2394. The town’s prosperity allowed the Presbyterians built a new church (1938), while a number of ‘locals’ built solid brick cottages that reflected their confidence in the town’s future.

Despite the prosperity of the interwar period the town was still dominated by the colonial gentry and their estates. Apart from their convict labour in the early years, they established a system of class and social relations that ordered daily life in the town from its foundation until after the Second World War. While the townsmen dominated the early period of local government, by Federation the landed gentry had usurped their power and had imposed their political mantra of conservatism on the area. The dominance of the Macarthur’s Camden Park over the local economy during the interwar period was characterised by the construction of the Camden Vale milk processing factory (1926) adjacent to the railway. The company developed TB free milk and marketed it through the Camden Vale Milk Bar, a retail outlet on the Hume Highway (1939); complete with a drive-through.

The interwar years were a period of transition and increasingly the motor car replaced the horse in town, and on the farm the horse was replaced by the tractor, all of which supported the growing number of garages in the town. The interwar landscape was characterised by personalised service, along with home and farm deliveries by both horse and cart and motor cars.

Bank of NSW, 1938, Argyle St, Camden the route of the Hume Highway (I Willis)
Bank of New South Wales, 1938, Argyle St, Camden the route of the Hume Highway (I Willis)

Morphology of town centre

The layout and shape of interwar Camden has changed little from the 19th century and the town centre has a certain bucolic charm and character that is the basis of the community’s identity and sense of place. The strip shopping and mixed land use support the country feel that has become the basis of the modern ‘country town idyll’.

In recent years Camden has been targeted by the New South Wales government as one of the growth centre for the Sydney metropolitan area. It has become part of Sydney’s exurbanistion on the rural-urban fringe. City types move out of the city looking for places where ‘the country looks like the country’. This has only served to re-enforce the duality of the love/hate relationship the community had with Sydney and the city/country divide that has been part of the rural ideology of the area.

The ‘locals’ for their part have retreated to nostalgia in the form of an Arcadian view of the world through a ‘country town idyll’. The romance of the idyll is based on the iconic imagery of Camden as a picturesque English village, with the church on the hill, surrounded by rural vistas. The idyll has become a defence mechanism against the onslaught from Sydney’s urbanization and the interwar heritage that is part of the town’s iconic landscape.

Macquarie Grove Airfield 1930s Camden (Camden Images)
Macquarie Grove Airfield 1930s Camden (Camden Images)

Selected Examples of Interwar Architecture in Camden

1. Camden Vale milk processing factory, 11 Argyle Street, Camden. Built in 1926 by the Camden Vale Milk Co, a subsidiary of Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd.

2. Camden Vale Inn, Remembrance Drive (Old Hume Highway), Camden (now Camden Valley Inn). Architect: Cyril Ruwald. Builder: Herb English. A milk bar on the Hume Highway built in 1939 by the Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd to market its Camden Vale milk from TB tested dairy herds on Camden Park. It was ‘designed in the Tudor style, with walls in attractively coloured brickwork suggesting a touch of modernity’. [ Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, Camden Vale Special Pasteurised Milk Production and Distribution, Camden, Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, c.1939.]

3. Cooks Garage, 31-33 Argyle Street, Camden. Built in 1935. Owned by WH Cook. It was built in the Spanish Mission style, and was characterised by terracotta roof tiles, a front loggia, rendering of brickwork and shaped parapets. Since demolished.

4. Main Southern Garage, 20-28 Argyle Street, Camden. Built in the mid 1930s.

5. Dunk House, 56-62 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden, in 1937. The building was a car showroom, shop complex and professional suites owned by EC Dunk.

6. Clintons Motor Showroom, 16 Argyle Street, Camden. The car showroom was built in 1947 by Mark Jensen for Clinton Motors, the Holden dealership in Camden. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory it is a rare masonry Art Deco style building with large shopfront windows and wrap around awning.

7. 102-104 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1939. Stuckey Bros, bakers and pastry cooks, occupied premises and fitted it out in 1940. According to the Camden News it was ‘fitted with every modern device’.

8. Bank of New South Wales (Westpac), 121-123 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1936. The two storey building had a residence upstairs and a banking chamber downstairs. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory the building is Georgian Revival style.

Camden's Argyle St (Hume Highway) in 1938 with Rural Bank on left looking east (Camden Images)
Camden’s Argyle St (Hume Highway) in 1938 with Bank of New South Wales and Rural Bank on left looking east (Camden Images)

9. Rural Bank, 115-119Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1937. The two storey building had a residence upstairs with banking chamber downstairs. Art deco style. There is trachyte stonework on the facing of building.
Churches

10. Presbyterian Church, 42 John Street, Camden. Built in 1938. Architect: George Gray, R.Vale. A brick church, which according to the Camden Heritage Inventory the buildings is Gothic Revival (Gothic Interwar) style.
Hotels

11.Camden Inn (Hotel), 105-107 Argyle Street, Camden. Built by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden in 1933. Tudor style.
Agriculture

12. Front, AH&I Hall , 191-195 Argyle Street, Camden. The brick front of the building was added to the weatherboard hall in 1936. The original hall was constructed in 1899 by George Furner for JW Macarthur Onslow as a drill hall for the Camden Mounted Rifles.

13. Paramount Theatre, 39 Elizabeth Street, Camden. Built in 1933. It was owned by DJ Kennedy who had interests in other suburban movie cinemas in the Sydney area. It was designed in the Spanish Mission style.

14. Cottage, 25 Elizabeth Street, Camden. Built in the 1930s by Mel Peat.

15. Flats, 33 Elizabeth Street, Camden. Built in 1930.
Menangle Road, Camden

16. Cottages, 1-3 Menangle Road, Camden. Built between 1924-1925 by Harry Willis and Sons, Camden. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory a group of Californian Bungalows.

17. Methodist Parsonage, 24 Menangle Road, Camden. Built in 1935.

18. Cottage, 26 Menangle Road, Camden. Built by Mel Peat in 1931 for N Freestone.
Murray Street, Camden.

19. Cottages, 24-28 Murray Street, Camden. Built by Mel Peat in 1937. According to the Camden Heritage Inventory a group of Californian Bungalows.

20. Extension, Camden Hospital, Menangle Road, Camden. Built by Mel Peat in 1939.

Bellman Hangar at Camden Airfield 1941 (I Willis)
Bellman Hangar at Camden Airfield 1941 (I Willis)

21. Bellman Hangers, Camden Airfield, Macquarie Grove Road, Camden. Built in 1941. The Federal Government acquired the airfield from Edward Macarthur Onslow in 1940 for a central flying school under the Empire Air Training Scheme. The hangers were erected by RAAF as temporary accommodation for aircraft. They were designed by NS Bellman in 1936 (UK) as temporary buildings.

References

Archives, Camden Historical Society.
Tropman & Tropman, Camden Heritage Inventory, Camden, Camden Council, 2004.

Architecture · cafes · Camden · community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Entertainment · Food · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · history · Holidays · Interwar · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Memory · Modernism · Place making · Retailing · sense of place

Camden Cafes and Milk Bars

Howlett’s Cafe, Camden, 159 Argyle Street, 1954  (Camden Images)

The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars were at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion.  The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of the daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milkshakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.

The history of the milk bar

The milk bar, along with other aspects of Art Deco style of the Interwar period, is going through a nostalgia boom. Hurstville Museum curator Birgit Heilmann has written an article ‘Sydney has taken to milk’ with memories of the local residents on milk bars in the St George area. The museum recently hosted a touring exhibition ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café’, which was part of the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians National Project’ based at Macquarie University.

Before the fast-food phenomena exploded in Australia in the 1960s the Greek café was an important influence on Australian eating habits. The mixed grill was supplemented with sodas, milkshakes, hamburgers, ice-cream sundaes, milk chocolate and hard sugar lollies. The Australian Greek café was a transnational phenomenon whose origins are buried in the Greek café start-ups on the US east coast where Australian-Greek immigrants, who came from the US, learnt the trade as they came to terms with American modernism.

The first milk bar in Australia opened in 1932 in Martin Place in Sydney. It pioneered many of the aspects of the milk bar and was an instant hit. By the 1940s the milk bar had taken off and combined refined dining, ease of access, local cuisines, soda fountains and the first fast food. The milk bars were popularized in the 1930s with the introduction of the milk stirring machine and the malted milkshake maker, while before this the 1920s soda fountains were popular.

According to Macquarie University researchers, Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski milkshakes were originally a health food made with milk, fruit, cream, eggs, chocolate, malt and other ingredients. Ice-cream, milk fat and artificial flavours were popularised in the 1950s.  Milk bars and cafes were a combination of food and fantasy, and in country towns, they were a touch of exotica that often combined with the Hollywood movie palace. The Greek café, according to Joanne Back at the National Museum, was the centre of entertainment in country towns and the centre of life for the first date and the first kiss in the booth. Greek cafes according to Leonard Janiszewski transferred ideas from the USA and transformed them into a  combination of American style food trends with Australian cuisine. They were aimed at the whole family and acted to break down the social class barriers that were common in country towns. Greek cafes were often fitted out in the latest in Art Deco style design and furniture from Europe and USA (streamline Art Deco). Sometimes the temperance movement influence was instrumental in trying to get young people away from the hotels.

Advertisement Camden News28 June 1923
Advertisement Camden News28 June 1923

Camden Cafe, 95 Argyle Street, Camden

One of the longest surviving Camden sites which hosted a café is at 95 Argyle Street, Camden. The site is currently occupied the Café Crème Della Crème.  Up to 1920, the site was occupied by Jimmy Stuckey who ran a fruit shop and Stuckey Bros sold cakes, bread, there where their bakery was closed and before this Amy Stuckey ran a boot making business

The first dedicated café on the site was owned and run by the Greek Sophios Brothers and called the Camden Cafe. In 1922 the Les and Dave Sophios renovated the site to bring it up to the standard of ‘leading city restaurants’. (CN7/9/22). The brothers owned and operated a confectionery factory at Lithgow which made chocolates. The brothers also operated cafés in Sydney which they sold in 1925, and at Lithgow, which was called the Blue Bird Café. The Lithgow café operated at a ‘Sundae and Candy Shop’ and boasted ‘an American Soda Fountain’. (1930Freemans’ Journal) The 1925 Camden News claimed that the brothers operated ‘the finest Sundae Shop in the State’. (CN12/11/25)

In 1925 the Sophios brothers sold out to fellow Greeks the Cassimatis brothers.  Manual and S. James ‘Jim’ Cassimatis ran the café from 1925 to 1946 and in 1935 renamed the business the Capital Café. They rented the site off the Stuckeys until 1939. In 1927 the brothers advertised the business as the Camden Café and Refreshment Rooms and sold:   fruit and vegetables;  afternoon tea, coffee, chocolate with biscuits, cakes, sandwiches or toast; ‘meals til late’; fountain drinks and ice cream.  Between 1946 and 1950 Ina Cameron and her husband, Gordon ran the café while Cassimatis’s were in Greece.

Since 2008 the site has been occupied by Café Crème Della Crème a continental patisserie.

Advertisement Camden News 13 January 1927
Advertisement Camden News 13 January 1927

 Cameron’s Capital Café 1946-1950

Ina Cameron recalled (CHS Meeting 14/4/2008 and Camden Advertiser in 2010 and 2008):

In 1946 Ina and her new husband Gordon took over the Capital Café in partnership with her brother and sister in law. They spent 4 years there  and Ina says that it was a hard 4 years, although ‘I loved cooking’.

‘The day started at 6.00am cleaning up the long fridge and making sure that everything was OK for opening. We worked all day. All that had to be done every morning.  We had to get bread early and put in the fridge to cool it down so that we could slice it up and then put out on the table to make sandwiches.

‘On Monday we had fruit and vegetables from the Sydney market. I had to do a ‘fruit window’ and get rid of bad fruit. On Monday we made 5 gallons of fruit salad and sold a serve for 2/9.

‘Meals served a mixed grill, 2/9, steak and eggs, 2/6, sausage and eggs, 2/-. We had the best place for tea and coffee. The banana splits were very popular and it felt like we spent half our time making them. We did meals, scones, sandwiches – we did everything. Sausages came from Boardmans, and bread from Stuckeys.

‘The shop layout. There was a long window of ice-cream and one of milk. Along the top of the counter, there were little containers with flavouring for milkshakes. Seats in the café and closed in booths at the back.

‘The buses travelled between the Sydney to Melbourne on the Hume Highway [which ran along the main street] and they would stop in the morning and afternoon. Drivers had a uniform and pretty handsome as well.

‘The pictures were twice a week and we would finish up after midnight after the picture crowd had been and gone. Tuesday was Camden sale day and we provide sandwiches, along with late dinner and fruit salad. The girls who waited for us liked to be on that night [sale day] because they got good tips.

Advertisement Camden News 14 April 1938
Advertisement Camden News 14 April 1938

‘The Chinese market gardeners would bring their vegetable to us, whatever was in season. The Chinese market gardeners grew vegetables along the banks of the Nepean River. They give me a bag of fresh vegetables each time they travelled into town. I enjoyed chatting with the gypsy king who would drop into the store for a cup of tea whenever he was in town to visit the gypsies who lived at the bottom of Chellaston Street.

The 1948 Camden Social Survey stated that Cameron’s cafe [Capital Café] employed 4 girls and catered to the Pioneer Tourist Car. There are 4 Pioneer buses a day and a Fox tour once a fortnight. The buses usually contain 20 passengers plus the driver. The tours are on their way to Adelaide, Melbourne, Kosciusko and the Riverina Irrigation areas. The authors of the survey felt that  ‘the number of tourists does not tax restaurant facilities.’

 Camden Café 1938-1945

Len Hearne wrote in 2014 that Frank and Mary Hearne owned and operated the Camden Café at 91 Argyle Street, (now Camden Pharmacy). The café was a popular stop for servicemen from in the local area [from the Narellan Military Camp, RAAF personnel from the Camden Airfield and the NCOs stationed at Studley Park ECTS]. They came into Camden ‘by the truckload and inevitably they all made their way to the Camden Café for a decent meal. Frank and Mary got to know some of the servicemen before they were shipped out to the horrors of a distant war front. There was one US soldier who was a real loner. His name was Chuck and was based at Green’s Corner [Narellan Military Camp]. He had previously worked in a diner in Los Angeles and when on leave in Camden he would always want to hold out in the Camden Café. He left a box of his personal items with Frank and Mary and they tried to contact his home after the war without success.  The truckloads of young servicemen who came into Camden when on leave had just one thing on their mind – girls- and would end up missing their truck back to their base. They would often come to Frank and Mary asking them to phone a taxi.

Howlett's Cafe, Camden, 159 Argyle Street, 1954
Howlett’s Cafe, Camden, 159 Argyle Street, 1954 (Camden Images)

 Other memories of Camden Cafes

The 1948 Camden Social Survey stated the hospitality sector (cafes, hotels) were the most common form of employment in Camden and employed 74 women out of a total of 121 employed in the sector. It stated there were 5 cafes in Camden employing 20 people in addition to the 5 owners.

Donald Howard recalls in his memoir The Hub of Camden (2002) the cafes of the 1940s. ‘In the first summer [working at Whiteman’s General Store] I found myself consuming 6 milkshakes a week. In those days they were rich and creamy with natural fruit flavouring, but 6 a week meant that 20% of my gross income was being blown on my appetite. I took a drastic step and halved the intake. I was learning that to achieve a certain goal, some sacrifice was often needed. One more lesson for life!’.

Fred Gibson, who came to Camden in 1953, recalled there was the Paris Café on the corner of Argyle and Hill Street, Howletts Café is now a hamburger joint. He said that ‘milkshakes were what we drank when you under 20. You never thought of going to the pub. You often bought a soft drink – ginger beer  – sometimes put a scoop of ice cream in the drink.

In 1938 Pinkerton’s ran a café and they baked their own buns, pastries and cakes. In 1949 Burnell & Sons operated a milk bar at 122 Argyle Street, next to the Commonwealth Bank (recently the site of Gloria Jeans Cafe to 2014). They served McInven’s Ice Cream, iced drinks, fruit and vegetables and offered home deliveries from the milk bar.

Camden Valley Inn, Camden, 1997 (Camden Images)
Camden Valley Inn, Camden, 1997 (Camden Images)

 Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar

The most iconic Camden milk bar was the Camden Valley Inn Milk Bar which opened in 1939 by the Macarthur Onslows as part of the promotion of their Camden Vale brand of milk. It traded on the healthy qualities of milk at a time when they were promoted by milk authorities in New South Wales. It is one of the outstanding buildings of the Interwar period in the Camden area and was built in the mock-Tudor style that was popular at the time. It was fitted out with the latest milk bar equipment and was noted for having the first drive-through facility in the Camden area where patrons were served milkshakes while seated in their car.

John Wrigley stated in the District Reporter in 2005 that the inn was constructed to promote the sale of Camden Vale milk products which were produced by Camden Park Estate. It was located at the southern end of Camden on the Hume Highway and promotional material boasted: ‘delicious milk drinks of all kinds made from Camden Vale special milk will be served. Camden Vale milk and cream will also be for sale. A feature will be the delicious morning and afternoon teas’.

It was opened during Health Week in November 1939 and RH Nesbitt, the chairman of the NSW Milk Board officiated at the opening. He was given a gold fountain pen and paid tribute to the achievements of the Camden Park Estates Ltd. ‘Doctors Harvey Sutton and Petherbridge set the seal of approval of the British Medical Association upon the proceedings’. There were lots of speeches on the subject of the progress of the dairy industry, the modern hygienic methods of production and distribution with special mention of the ‘keen city demand for the special grade of fresh milk under the name of Camden Vale’. Amongst the guests were Major General James Macarthur Onslow, Dr Harvey Sutton, hygienist, eugenicist and educator and Portia Geach from the Housewives’ Progressive Association of NSW and others.

The inn was designed by architect Cyril Ruwald and the entrance door to the inn was under a porte-cochere in the form of a breezeway or drive-through.

Annette Macarthur Onslow stated it had the appearance of an old coaching stage. She stated in 2005 in the District Reporter that architect Cyril Ruwald was a friend of her parents, Edward and Winifred Macarthur Onslow. They spent much time examining photographs of English country inns and how to achieve the same ‘charming settled look’ in Camden.

Apparently, trade-in milk-shakes was brisk as the concept was relatively new to Australia as was the concept of a drive-through ‘where one could remain seated in a car and buy takeaway milkshakes in waxed cartons’.

Gladys Mead ran the milk bar. Annette Macarthur Onslow recalls: ‘To us children, it was a place of wonder with bottles of colourful essences and generous containers of creamy milk which, with a dollop of ice cream and quick whisk, could fill four glasses for 4d. Gladys was a wizard cook. Her Devonshire Teas with freshly baked scones, whipped cream and strawberry jam found plenty of customers.’

Paris Cafe Camden

Ruth Funnell Wotton on Facebook 28 May 2015) says

My Aunty & Uncle owed & ran the Paris Cafe on the corner of Argyle and Hill street Camden . I remember as a child sitting on the backstep of the shop and being treated with an ice cream cone … because my mother used to go and help with the busy times of day lunch time etc … Their name was Amos & Dorothy Dowle ….much later years the Sumners Annette Mark etc parents ran it I recall ?

 Read more about Australian cafes and milk bars

Read more about the exhibition: ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café @ the National Museum of Australian in Canberra Click here

and @ the Hurstville Museum and Gallery Click here

Read about the Macquarie University exhibition: ‘Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café Click here and Click here

Read Birgit Heilmann’s article ‘Sydney has taken to milk’  Click here

Listen to more in these podcasts on ABC about ‘Greek Cafes’ on Radio Bush Telegraph 5 August 2014 Click here and the ‘Olympia Milk Bar’ on Radio National on 26 March 2011 Click here

Read more on Sydney Greek milk bars @ Scratchings Sydney Click here and Neoskosmos ‘The Birth of  a Milk Bar’,  Click here and in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article ‘Milk Bars and Rock Music Living the American Dream in a Greek Cafe Click here

Leonard Janiszewski with the story of Australia’s Greek cafes and milk bars on ABC Local Radio  Conversations with Richard Fidler 2 May 2016 Listen Click here

ABC Radio states

When the first Milk Bar opened in Martin Place, Sydney, in 1932, people queued in their thousands for a taste of America. With its art deco design, and single, sweet product, the impact of Adams’ Black and White 4d. Milk Bar was far-reaching. As they spread across the country, to every town on the railway line, Greek-run milk bars and cafes became a focal point of community life: for celebrations, meetings, family meals and romance. For more than 30 years, historian Leonard Janiszewski and photographer Effy Alexakis have investigated and documented the history of Greek Australian culture. They discovered these cafes and milk bars were a kind of Trojan horse for the Americanisation of Australian culture, bringing in American refreshments, cinema, and music.

Further information on Leonard Janiszewski’s Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia  Click here

Updated 21 April 2020