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The patriotism of the wartime sock knitter

Fussing over socks

During the First World War, there was a considerable fuss over socks. Not just any ordinary socks but hand-knitted socks. Camden women hand-knitted hundreds of pairs of socks. So what was going on?

As it turns out there was a good reason for all the fuss.

Soldiers on the Western Front suffered in terrible conditions in the trenches. They were constantly wet and cold. In winter there were freezing temperatures.

First World War Freezing conditions soldier 1914-1918 NLS

Fungal feet

Under these conditions, there was a constant danger of the soldiers getting trench foot. Jenny Raynor at Sydney Living Museum writes that this was

a potentially debilitating fungal infection that thrived in the wet, cold and squalid conditions, and could lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated.

Soldiers wore stiff leather boots that were poorly insulated with two pairs of socks in freezing winter conditions to keep out the cold and wet.

Authorities recommended that troops change their socks twice a day to avoid trench feet. Reports from New Zealand maintained in 1915 that

a pair of socks lasted no more than two weeks when on active service.

So it was unsurprising that there was a constant shortage of socks.

Shortages from the start

Sock shortages commenced from the outbreak of war and illustrated how the progress of the war completely overwhelmed military authorities with their unrealistic expectations.

At the Liverpool Infantry Camp in November 1914 military authorities were advising that three pairs of woollen socks would be adequate for the duration of the campaign, while new recruits were advised by bring ‘strong boots’ and ‘knitted socks’ because the army could not supply them.

Military supply authorities never really got to grips with the problem of shortages throughout the war. Even the vast US military machine could not supply sufficient numbers of socks to their troops when the US government entered the war in 1917. The U.S. government Committee on Public Information sponsored the  ‘‘Knit Your Bit’’ campaign conducted by the American Red Cross.

Keep knitting

Knitting for the troops was not restricted to the American Red Cross.

Knitting was part of the homefront response to the outbreak of war across all British Empire countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

First World War Sock knitting Cudgewa 1916 SLNSW

Across the globe, millions of knitted items found their way to the trenches on the Western Front.

Socks were only one of a large list of items that women made for the war effort. Other knitted items included cholera belts, scarves, gloves and balaclavas, and this was supplemented by a considerable effort sewing hospital supplies.

Women volunteer to supply socks

Australian women volunteered to supply knitted from the start of the war. Unlike women in the United Kingdom, Australian women did not replace men in their civilian roles during the war.

In Australia, the push for knitted-socks, and other items, was co-ordinated by the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and other groups including the Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

First World War Sock knitting War Chest 1917 SLNSW

In Queensland, the Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, established the Queensland Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

Knitted socks were part of the soldier’s bag that Red Cross volunteers signed up to supply on the foundation of branches throughout New South Wales in August 1914. Red Cross knitters in Camden and across Australia supplied thousands of pairs of knitted socks to soldiers.

In Camden, the new Red Cross branch supplied ‘a large number of socks’ in the first weeks of the war’ including supplies to the Australian Light Horse regiment and the 4th Battalion of Infantry. By September 1915 Camden Red Cross workers had supplied 456 pairs of knitted socks to Red Cross headquarters in Sydney amongst a host of other hand-made items.

Annette, Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand Governor Lord Liverpool,

Lady Liverpool instigated ‘Sock Day’, when the women of New Zealand were encouraged to knit enough socks to provide every soldier with two new pairs (around 30,000 pairs in total).

The First World War was not the first time that women volunteers had supplied knitted socks to Australian troops in wartime. In 1900 Camden women supplied 120 pairs of knitted socks to Camden troops in South Africa in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. These were similar to the activities of British women.

Millions of socks

It has been estimated that Australian women knitted over 1.3 million pairs of socks for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund for the war effort.

Often with a small personal note inside the sock informing the digger who had knitted the garment along with a brief message. (The Conversation 11 August 2014)

Knitting patterns were distributed and cheap wool was made available to knitters.

First World War Cover Knitting Book Aust Comforts Fund Vic 1918 ARC
The cover of the sock knitting pattern book ‘Directions for Standard Socks for Our Men on Active Service’. It was issued by the Australian Comforts Fund in 1918 (ARC)

 

In 2012 volunteer knitter Janet Burningham from Wrap with Love found that it took about a day to knit each sock. She used a rare grey sock pattern and Paton’s 8-ply grey wool and needles. Socks were knitted in the round on double-pointed needles leaving no seams.

First World War Knitted Socks reproduction 2012 Fairfax

The iconic sock knitter

The solo woman sock knitter was one of the everlasting iconic images of the war at home in Australia.

The iconic image of The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by Grace Cossington Smith found at the  Art Gallery of NSW. The gallery states

The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist’s sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, ‘The sock knitter’ counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.

 

Art AGNSW The Sock Knitter Grace Cossington Smith 1915
‘The Sock Knitter’ painted by Grace Cossington Smith in 1915 (AGNSW)

 

Knitting mediating grief

The action of Camden women and others who became wartime sock knitters was an act of patriotism. They were supporting their boys using one of their traditional domestic arts.

Knitting, sewing, and other domestic arts were unpaid war work and a form of patriotism when women in Australia did not replace men at home in the First World War, unlike the United Kingdom. Historian Bruce Scates has written that women invested a large amount of ‘emotional energy’ in their knitting and sewing.

Women were the mediators of wartime grief and bereavement and knitting and sewing groups were women-only spaces where they could comfort each other and ease the loneliness.

Sock solution

Suzanne Fischer writes that the sock problem and trench foot still existed in the Second World War for American troops stationed in Alaska. She states:

Characteristically, Americans finally reduced their trench foot casualties by throwing more technology at the problem. Thee Shoepac system, introduced in 1944, combined a rubber foot and an impermeable outer leather layer with a felt liner to keep feet dry. These boots were also stylish, which increased their use.

 

Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 10 March 2020.

 

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Eastern Command Training School, 1939-1945, Studley Park, Narellan, NSW

astern Command Training School, 1939-1945

Studley Park, Narellan, NSW

 

Studley Park was located on the Hume Highway at Narellan. During the war period, its role as a  as defence facility for the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) School was to conduct infantry training courses.[1] The property was leased in October 1939 by the Department of Defence at £12/12/- per week although it had been first occupied in September.

Studley Park at Night spooky 2017 CNA
Spooky Studley Park House is claimed to be one of the most haunted locations in the Macarthur region. The TV series Home & Away on 3 & 4 October 2018 certainly added to those stories by using the house as a set location. (CN Advert)

 

A report[2] for the defence authorities in 1940 gave a detailed description of the property including a valuation. According to the report the site fronted the Hume Highway, with the rear of the property on Lodges Road. The property consisted of an undulating country that was mostly cleared and grassed and was 193 acres. The soil was clay and land was suitable for grazing, fruit growing, and viticulture. It was felt to be an appropriate site for a country club and golf course or an agricultural school.

The site had been purchased by Archibald Gregory, a company director, in 1933, who had established a golf course. Gregory had converted the house into a high-class residence and the author of the report considered that it was unlikely that the property could be maintained in that state during its occupation by the Army. The report author considered it probable that the entire golf course would have to be reconstructed after occupation.

Narellan Studley Park House 2015 IW
Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

 

Property Improvements[3]

Asset – Valuation

Land- 198 acres – £4,958; House – £6,592; Theatre – £465;  Club House – £1,057; Barn – £370; Swimming Pool – £188; Golf Course – £4,625; Motion Picture Plant, Screen – £750; Rental Value – £25 per week; Improved Value – £20,000.

 

Complaints

During the early occupation of the site by the army, Gregory continued to occupy the house, but by May 1940 his patience had worn thin. He complained to the authorities that the army had occupied the site from September 1939 without payment and had caused considerable disorganisation to his business and considerable damage to his property.

Gregory’s solicitors made representations that the government had published a report in the press in April that the army had decided to purchase the property. Since the publication of the report Gregory’s business had virtually stopped and had resulted in considerable losses.

In April 1940 approval was given for the purchase of the entire property at a cash price of £16,000, including all buildings, property, floor coverings and some furniture. [4]

 

List of property[5]

Golf House – 8 tables, chairs, mirrors, golf lockers, stove, counters, showcase, boiler;

Studley Park house – carpet, lino, wardrobes, tables, stove, bookcases, lounge suite, bedroom suite, tables, toilet stand, dresser, refrigerator, boiler;

Theatre – Theatre talking equipment with amplifiers and sound equipment

After the acquisition of the property by the Department of Defence additional buildings were moved to the site or constructed to house 280 staff and students.[6]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[4] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to the Studley Park house. (I Willis, 2015)

Officers and Other Ranks

18 July 1940 – Captain Costello[7];

August 1941 – Major Ironmonger, CO, Captain Peach, Adjutant[8];

29 November 1943 – 26 February 1944 – Major John Whitmore, Chief Instructor. Lt Max Cadogan, 17th Battalion, Instructor[9]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[2] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to Studley Park house (I Willis, 2015)

 School Operations

The Eastern Command Training School conducted courses in tactical instruction on the Vickers machine gun and driving Matilda tanks.[10]

Narellan ECTS Studley Park 1939 Hall& Co AWM
Narellan ECTS Studley Park 1939 Hall& Co AWM

 

Most of the instruction at the school, including artillery, was conducted by the Australian Instructional Corps. The instructors were warrant officers and the chief instuctor was Captain Peters, a Duntroon graduate. Other instructors included W/O Jim Turpie, W/O Johnston, W/O Chad (WW1 veteran).[11]

 

Alan Bailey reports that he would occasionally take mail and quartermasters stores from Narellan Military Camp to Studley Park, usually by horse transport.[12]

Narellan Studley Park House Aerial 2020 LJackson
This aerial view of Studley Park House Narellan in 2020 shows the context of its site location on the knoll of a hill. The WW2 army buildings are behind the main house and just in view. (L Jackson)

 

Pansy Locomotive

In their time off some of the troops would `flag down’  Pansy, and it was reported the driver would pick them up anywhere along the line on the way into Camden. The guard and the driver would wait a reasonable time for the return journey in Camden and they would be rewarded with a bottle of wine, `…the only drink available in take-away form at the time…’.[13]

Exercises

Exercises were carried out on the Nepean River with river crossings, there were day and night exercises around Menangle and Camden Park, bayonet training, anti-gas warfare, range practice with a rifle, Bren Gun, mortars, pistols, sub-machine, carbines, and hand grenades. There were infantry tactics, leadership, supporting arms applicable to the infantry. In 1941 there was also instruction Vickers Machine Gun, Aircraft Identification and protection from air attacks.

All soldiers who attended the courses spoke well of them and Bede Tongs reports that they helped in action as a member of the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion against the Japanese in 1942 New Guinea in the Wewak campaign. The accommodation was two to a tent.[14]

During the war, the School provided married officers and well as single officer’s quarters.[15]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[3] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to Studley Park house (I Willis, 2015)

Units Attending School

September 1939 – October 1939 – Sydney University Regiment[16]

Early part of the war – 1 Field Brigade, RAA, and various other units: Artillery, Light Horse, Infantry, Signallers;  130 personnel[17];

August 1941 –  3rd Infantry Battalion, AMF, Course Series No 1, Infantry Training; 30 participants in each of 3 platoons – total 90 personnel[18];

1941 – 100-150 personnel[19];

Little contact with townies

The troops at the school had little if any contact with the local community. If they had any time off, such as an hour in the evening, then they tended to walk across the paddock to the Narellan Hotel. It is reported by Sir Roden Cutler, that at such time the Camden Police were understanding enough not to monitor the hotels opening hours too closely.

Cutler stated that Camden was a very quiet pleasant little town  and in their off-duty time they frequented the Camden Inn milk bar, where the owner, his wife and their daughters always gave them a warm welcome.[20] Bede Tongs reports that Camden shops and streets were full of friendly people.[21]

Post-war use

After the war, the military use of the site continued and initially the AASC School was used by the Citizen Military Forces. In 1951 the School took the First Recruit Platoon of the newly formed Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. During the Vietnam War, the School was used as intelligence centre where troops were introduced to helicopter tactics. The site has also served as the base for Camden Troop of the 1/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Second Ordinance Platoon and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). [22]

The farmland surrounding the house was leased in 1945 to A Chapman of Kirkham for grazing his cattle.[23]  In 1949 a group of Camden residents approached the Department of the Army to secure all but 18 acres of Studley Park for use as a golf club, and eventually, in 1996 the Camden Golf Club purchased the site.[24]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[5] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to Studley Park house (I Willis, 2015)

Infantry Wing Syllabus Course

7 June 1941 – 9 July 1941

from the diary of BGD Tongs

Instruction commencing 0945 – Instruction finishing  2200

Tuesday, 8 July 1941

Demonstration of C & C and Practical; Judging distance; Military vocabulary and searching ground;  study of the ground; Demonstration and Observation by night;

Wednesday, 9 July 1941

Lewis Light Machine Gun; Scouts and Patrols; Penetration; Map Reading – Definitions, Conventional Signs, Reference System; Indication and Recognition of targets; Fieldcraft; Military Intelligence;

Narellan Eastern Command Training School Obstacle course Studley Park Narellan 1941 LK Stevenson AWM
Narellan Eastern Command Training School Obstacle course Studley Park Narellan 1941 LK Stevenson AWM

 

Thursday, 10 July 1941

Weapons and their characteristics; Map Reading – Contours and North Points, Direction; Lewis Light Machine Gun; Fieldcraft; Fieldcraft – Epediascope;

Friday, 11 July 1941

Lewis Light Machine Gun; Map Reading – Scales and Protractor, Compass and Intervisibility; Fire Control; Fieldcraft – Individual Stalk, Epediascope;

Saturday, 12 July 1941

Patrol Exercise

Monday, 14 July 1941

Fieldcraft; Bayonet; Rifle; Grenade; Anti-Gas Respirator and Fitting; Attack Rifle; Military Intelligence; Message Writing; Lewis Light Machine Gun; Map Reading – Setting Map and Finding, Own Position;

Tuesday, 15 July 1941

As for 14 July 1941 [25]

Narellan Eastern Command Training School Training class Studley Park 1940 Major EE Bundy SLV
Narellan Eastern Command Training School Training class Studley Park 1940 Major EE Bundy SLV

 

References

[1].AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, 17 May 1946

[2]. AA: SP857/PC681;  Memorandum from Valuer CH Jackson, 16 February 1940;

[3]. AA: SP857/PC681;  Memorandum from Valuer CH Jackson, 16 February 1940;

[4]. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Department of the Interior, Correspondence, 16 January 1940 – 7 June 1940;

[5]. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Department of the Interior, Correspondence, 16 January 1940 – 7 June 1940;

[6].Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet (Camden: Studley Park Golf Club, 1998)

[7].Camden News 18 July 1940

[8].BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986

[9].Max Cadogan, Letter to ICW, 18 February 1999

[10].Ray Herbert, ‘Army Spy Centre now a golf course’, District Reporter 5 August 1998

[11]. Sir Roden Cutler, Letter, 21 August 1987; BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986; George Carter, Letter, 7 November 1986;

[12]. Alan Bailey, Letter, 3 October 1988

[13]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986

[14]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986; George Carter, Letter, 7 November 1986;

[15].Ray Herbert, ‘Army Spy Centre now a golf course’, District Reporter 5 August 1998

[16]. Sir Roden Cutler, Letter, 21 August 1987

[17].Dr John Ratcliffe, Letter to ICW, 18 February 1999

[18]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986

[19]. George Carter, Letter, 7 November 1986

[20]. Sir Roden Cutler, Letter, 21 August 1987

[21]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 29 January 1987

[22].Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February  1999,  29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club,  1998);

[23]. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, May 1945, 1955.

[24].Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February  1999,  29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club,  1998);

[25]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 29 January 1987

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What is Camden’s heritage, does it really matter and what does it mean?

What is Camden’s heritage?

 

Journalist Jeff McGill wrote an oped in April 2017 in the Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser opening with the headline:

Camden heritage worth saving

McGill continued:

Such a pretty tree-lined streetscape, full of old-world charm. I’ve often stood at that green paddock next to the church, with its views across the valley…  locals are up in arms as online rumours swirl about moves by the church to sell the land…Right next to Camden’s most famous heritage landmark, an 1840s gem described by one government website as “a major edifice in the history of Australian architecture”.

In May 2017 the views of Wollondilly Councillor Banasik on heritage were reported in the Camden Narellan Advertiser by journalist Ashleigh Tullis with respect to greater urban development at Menangle.

Cr Banasik said this development opposed the shire’s ethos of rural living. The heritage of the area is amazing – there is Camden Park, Gilbulla, Menangle Store and the rotolactor site,” he said. This development just ain’t rural living.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park House and Garden in 1906 is the home of the Macarthur family. It is still occupied by the Macarthur family and open for inspection in Spring every year. (Camden Images)

 

Journalist Kayla Osborne reported  the views of town planning consultant Graham Pascoe on heritage and the Vella family’s new commercial horticulture venture at Elderslie in the Camden Narellan Advertiser in May.

Mr Pascoe said the heritage nature of the site and its proximity to Camden had been well-considered by the Vella family…the land was ideal for farm use…the land has been farmed in the past…We believe we will provide a model…farm at the entrance to the Camden town centre.

Camden Community Garden 2018 IWillis
Paths, plots and patches at the Camden Community Garden 2018 (I Willis)

 

The views on heritage expressed in these stories do not actually define heritage.

There is an assumption or a presumption that the reader understands the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these contexts.

So what was the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these articles?

To answer that question another must be asked: What is Camden’s heritage?

 

What is heritage?

 

The term heritage is not that straight forward. There are a range of definitions and interpretations. The term is not well understood and can raise more issues than it addresses. Jana Vytrhlik, Manager, Education and Visitor Services, Powerhouse Museum (Teaching Heritage, 2010) agrees and says:

I think that heritage is one of the least understood term[s], it’s like culture, it’s like art, it’s like tradition, people really don’t know exactly what it means. http://www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au/section09/vytrhlik.php

Camden Whitemans Building 2018 IWillis
The Camden Whiteman’s building shown here from the street frontage in Argyle Street. The building has undergone adaptive re-use in accordance with the Burra Charter (ICOMOS) and continues to be busy retail outlet as it has done since the Victorian days. This means that their has been a retail outlet continuously occupying this site for over 130 years. The current building usage continues to contributed the delight and charm of the Camden town centre that attracts thousands of tourist every year. (I Willis, 2018)

 

To start with it is a useful exercise to say what heritage is not. Heritage is not history. Historian David Lowenthal says that

Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth… Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error… Prejudiced pride in the past… is its essential aim. Heritage attests our identity and affirms our worth.

David Lowenthal “Fabricating Heritage”, History & Memory Volume 10, Number 1. <https://muse.jhu.edu/article/406606/pdf&gt;

 

What is history

 

The word ‘history’ comes from the Latin word ‘historia’, which means ‘inquiry’, or ‘knowledge gained by investigation’.

History tells the stories of the past about people, places and events. History is about what has changed and what has stayed the same. History provides the context for those people, places and events.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. (Camden Show)

 

History is about understanding, analysing and interpreting the past based on evidence. As new evidence is produced there is a re-examination and re-interpreting of the past.  History is about understanding the why about the past.

 

Meaning of heritage

The meaning of heritage is not fixed and historian Graeme Davison maintains that the history of the word heritage has changed over the decades.

Initially heritage referred to what was handed down from one generation to the next and could include property, traditions, celebrations, commemorations, myths and stories, and memories. These were linked to familial and kinship groups, particularly in traditional societies, through folkways and folklore.

In the 19th century the creation of the nation-state, capitalism and modernism led to the creation of national myths, national stories and national heritage.

Camden Narellan Advertiser HAC 2017June7 lowres
Camden-Narellan Advertiser 2 June 2017

 

ln the 1970s, the new usage was officially recognised. A UNESCO Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted the term ‘heritage’ as a shorthand for both the ‘built and natural remnants of the past’.

(in Davison, G. & McConville C. (eds) ‘A Heritage Handbook’, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards NSW,1991)

 

Graeme Davison defines heritage in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as

inherited customs, beliefs and institutions held in common by a nation or community’ and more recently has expanded to include ‘natural and ‘built’ landscapes, buildings and environments.

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195515039.001.0001/acref-9780195515039

 

In New South Wales heritage has a narrower legal definition under the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) as:

those places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects, and precincts, of state or local heritage significance.

http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ha197786/

 

Heritage can be categorized in a binary fashion: cultural heritage/natural heritage; tangible heritage/intangible heritage; my heritage/your heritage; my heritage/our heritage.

Cooks Garage 1936
Cooks Service Station and Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Streets Camden in the mid-1930s. This establishment was an expression of Camden’s Interwar modernism. (Camden Images)

What is significant about Camden’s heritage?

In 2016 the Camden Resident Action Group attempted to have the Camden town centre listed on the state heritage register. The group obtained statements of support which outlined the significance Camden’s heritage. Statements of support were from Dr Ian Willis (UOW), Associate Professor Grace Karskens (UNSW) and Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson.

Camden Town Centre Significance Ian Willis 2016
A statement of significance by Dr Ian Willis 2016.

 

Camden Town Centre Significance Alan Atkinson 2016
A statement of significance by Emeritis Professor Alan Atkinson 2016

 

Camden Town Centre Significance Grace Karskens 2016
A statement of significance from Associated Professor Grace Karskens 2016

 

 

Camden Whitemans Store 1978[1] CIPP
By 1978 Whiteman’s General Store had undergone a number of expansion and provided a range of goods from mens and boys wear to haberdashery and hay and grain for local farmers from the Hill Street entrance. The mid-20th century building extension is to the left of the image. Upstairs were a number of flats that were leased out to local folk. (Camden Images)
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Menangle RAAF Squadrons during the Second World War

Menangle Park Airfield Memories

RAAF No 83 Squadron

The squadron moved from Melville Island in January 1944, then moved to Queensland and was equipped with Boomerangs.

The squadron moved to Menangle in August 1944, where it was disbanded on 18 September 1945. (RAAF Museum)

Menangle1935 Aerial view 1935 NLA
This is an aerial view of the Camden Park Estate village of Menangle in 1935. It clearly shows the small nature of the private estate village with the general store at the intersection of the Menangle Road and Station Street. The main railway line to Melbourne is on the left hand side of the image. (NLA)

 

RAAF No 1 Squadron

Alan Hick, former Observer Air Gunner and Wireless/Telegraph Operator, aged 24 years of age recalls that he spent about six weeks at Menangle Airfield around December 1943 as part of No 1 Squadron.

Hick arrived at Menangle from East Sale on 29 December 1943 as part of the air crew. What followed was a training period consisting of anti-submarine patrols off the Australian east coast.

Alan Hick’s Flying Log Book details the type of operations of the squadron while at Menangle RAAF. There was training flights in airmanship, formation training, night flights, high level bombing, low level bombing, formation flying, fighter co-operation, and medium level bombing.

The squadron leader while at Menangle was DW Campbell.

Alan Hick recalls:

This was our war training period, it consisted of anti-submarine patrols which were practice to us but actually was fair dinkum as we used to patrol up and down the coast. High and low level bombing practise, fighter co-operation with a fighter squadron based at Bankstown. Formation flying, day and night, strip landings for possible emergencies, then as a ‘finale’ we did a squadron formation trip to Mildura. I remember 4 flights of 3 aircraft in each flight. Next day on the way back each aircraft of each flight had to take their turn in leading the flight. It was during a changeover that two planes touched and ended with both planes crashing and burning. Killing all air crew members plus our squadron photographer. This is something I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen a squadron break up so quickly as this one did. We were ordered home to Menangle as soon as possible before two more ended up the same way. As far as we (the crew) were concerned the remainder of our training was trouble free.

Hick states that the squadron number around 150 personnel. He recalls:

The advance part of 10 left 3 weeks before we get the camp ready and each plane took 10 people including a crew of 4 which would make approximately 150 at Menangle. We were equipped with the later mode Beauforts designed for local level flying ideal for out job of sea reconnaissance and convoy work.

According to Alan Hick the airfield had a number of issues for aircraft. He recalls:

The land strips was not very long so whenever possible we always took off in a southerly direction particularly if it was a hot day. To the north was a hill which was hard to clear when the air was hot and thin. If this happened we often had to turn slightly to the right to avoid hitting the hill. North or south take-offs depended on the wind and weather.

The layout and operation of the airfield used the existing facilities of the trotting club. He stated:

The grandstand for used for ‘bludging’ when didn’t have anything to do. The lower portion was used for offices and storage space for anything else that needed protection from the weather.

Menangle Airfield Sketch Map Alan Hicks 1987_0001
A sketch map drawn by Alan Hick of the Menangle RAAF airfield at Menangle Park in 1943. Hick was a Wireless Operator Air Gunner with an air crew in a Beaufort aircraft with No 1 Squadron RAAF. The squadron was stationed at Menangle Park in December 1943. (A Hick)

 

Meals were prepared in the quarters in Station Street in Menangle village. Alan recalls:

Our lunch was brought down to us from the living quarters where the cookhouse was situated in one of the six houses built for the purpose. These houses had to be dismantled at the end of the war as they were only temporary buildings with no lining on walls or ceilings. They had the appearance of a small country village from the air. The general store received quite a bit of patronage from the ‘boys’. We were transported by truck between the village and the airfield.

Alan Hick recalls that he met his wife while he was on training at Maryborough in Queensland in December 1941. While the squadron was at Menangle his wife lived at Buxton with their one year old son and Alan was at home most nights.

The squadron moved on from Menangle RAAF to Charleville in Queensland on 20 February 1944.

Air accident

While the No 15 Squadron was stationed at Menangle there was an air accident and the air crew of Beaufort A9-550 were killed. The accident occurred on the Mount Gilead property on the Appin Road. The report stated that the plane crashed

‘9 miles SE [of the] Menangle Strip at 0410 hours’  after take-off due to a port engine failure.

The members of the air crew who were killed were pilot F/Sgt HD Johnson, and the members of the crew who were F/O RW Durant, F/O HD Wheller, F/Sgt BA Herscher, and AC1 WH Bray. (RAAF Historical: Preliminary Accident Report 1 April 1944)

 

RAAF No 24 Squadron

Former Flight Sergeant Allan Hope recalls the six weeks he spent at Menangle in September 1944 as part of No 24 Squadron which was equipped with Vultee Vengeance Dive Bombers.

The squadron had moved from Bankstown Airfield to Menangle.

The unit was put up in barracks in Station Street Menangle.

Allan Hope states:

The barracks were build as houses and merged with the existing residences as a form of camouflage. Once inside the resemblance ended. There were no ceilings or wall linings and any framing inside was just a load bearer for the roof.

The squadron took over the runway that had been built across the trotting track in the mid-war years. The runway was parallel to the railway line.

Hope recalls:

The [trotting] club premises at Menangle Park houses the orderly room, store room and signals office.

The unit had 150 personnel and the main purpose of locating at Menangle was ‘as a staging camp for the squadron’.

The unit did not see active service at Menangle Park as Allan Hope does ‘not recall any Vultee landing there as they were diverted to New Guinea’.

While at Menangle things were fairly quiet and leave was granted to most men. He recalls:

Most men had friends or relatives in Sydney suburbs. They took every opportunity to visit them on weekends and during the week. They arrived back at camp at night about 4.00am. Once a week we could pile into a truck and go to the pictures in Campbelltown’

Allan Hope states that there was little interaction with the ‘locals’, although ‘the general story on the corner would have been sorry to see us go’.

Hope left for New Guinea in September 1944 with a ‘small advance party taking off from the racecourse in a American DC3’.

 

RAAF No 15 Squadron

No 15 Squadron was equipped with Beauforts and formed at Camden on 27 January 1944 and was located at Camden Airfield until March 1945.

The unit operated in the anti-submarine and convoy escort role off the Australian East Coast.

Former wireless operator and gunner David Symons recalls the squadron was at Camden from February 1944, then at Menangle in March 1944, Camden again in April 1944 to March 1945.

The squadron eventually moved to Kingaroy where it was disbanded on 23 March 1946. (RAAF Museum)

 

 Information drawn from correspondence with former RAAF personnel by author.
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History is nice, but…

What is the value of history?

A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 (A Bailey)

 

What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.

The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.”  They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.

I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.

  1. To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
  2. To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
  3. To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.

While the Value of History statement is written for an American audience it has just as much relevance in Australia.

Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914
A Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914 that was on loan at Camden Museum in 2015 (I Wills)

 

The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.

There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.

 Value of History statement

The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.

The US promoters of ‘Advancing the History Relevance Campaign’ maintain that the disparate nature of historical work means that there is the lack of a unified voice for the value of history.

Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s at Kirkham NSW (Camden Images)

 

Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.

History is consumed on a vast scale in Australia. The American Relevance of History project has much merit and would be very useful in Australia.

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The army in camp at Narellan in WW2

Once the army moved into Narellan Military Camp it commenced operation and became part of the wartime scene during WW2. Men were seen marching all over the district, there were mock raids and the men practiced firing small arms.  The camp is an important part of the story of Narellan during war as thousands of men, and some women, moved through the camp on their way to somewhere in the theatre that was the Second World War.

Narellan Military Camp 1940 CHS1229
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)

 

Militia Units

Universal trainees appeared at the camp in December 1941. They were part of the militia as tensions increased with Japans entry into the war in December 1941 and uncertainty increased. In October 1939 Prime Minister Menzies introduced compulsory military service for duty within Australia. Unmarried men 21 years in the year ending 30 June were called up for three months’ training with the militia. Menzies wanted the militia to maintain a strength of 75,000 to meet the demands of the 2nd AIF and withdrawal of men who were in reserved occupations. Menzies stated in November 1940:

there is, I believe, a growing recognition of the fact that military training for the defence of Australia should be a normal part of our civic life, and that if it is to be just and democratic, it should be made compulsory.[1]

Militia units were created and equipped and some were deployed to sensitive areas. According to Milsearch  in 1941  some units were deployed operationally to cover the likely Japanese landing beaches in the Newcastle – Sydney area. One unit established at the Camp at this time was the 2nd Australian Army Troops Company Royal Australian Engineers. This unit was almost solely involved in preparing route denial charges designed to frustrate enemy deployment inland following expected Japanese beach landings both north and south of Sydney. Narellan Camp also seems to have served as an assembly area at this time for units of the 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades.[2]

Tents in the bush Narellan Military  Camp 1942 A Bailey
Tents in the bush Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

 

Training Ranges

There were three ranges for training purposes that Milsearch has identified – a grenade range, a 600 yard range, and a 30 yard small arms range.

The grenade range was located on a small hill adjacent to the old Oran Park Raceway and now covered with houses. The range was used for training hand grenade throwing and was constructed in late 1940.

The 600 yard range has been variously described as Narellan Rifle Range, Cobbitty Range or the rifle range Cutt Hill Cobbitty. The range was located north-west of the camp and is described as ‘being three and a half miles west along Cobbitty Road from the junction with Bringelly Road, then north along dirt roads to the range’. There were fifteen targets at 600 yards for small arms training and the range was constructed in July 1942. There are indications, according to Milsearch,  that there was another 30 yard range on the site in 1941.

The 30 yard small arms range was located in a ‘disused quarry at the foot of water tanks on the right of the road from Camden to Narellan’.

Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

 

Training with a difference

In 1942, according to Arthur Colman, the  2/1st Light Tank Squadron attacked RAAF Camden Aerodrome in a night exercise, and it is reported that they frightened the wits out of some of the RAAF personnel by charging over them in their slits trenches. As well, there was similar exercise in daylight (they had the only 2 light tanks in NSW). In the 10 weeks this unit was at Narellan they had instruction in small arms, map reading, truck driving and maintenance. As well there were the long route marches over all sorts of terrain to keep the men physically fit. For instance exercises by `Shanks pony’ and truck to such places as Wallacia, Mittagong, Nowra and the Kangaroo Valley area.[3]

Jim McIntosh reports that the Army had exercises over the whole of his property of Denbigh but they would always ask could they come onto the farm. He remembers that the tanks always `tore up a lot of grass’ but they were pretty careful not to disturb cultivated areas. In addition he recalls the Camp had trenches in the hills on the northern and north-western side of the camp adjacent to Denbigh.[4]

At Cobbitty Fred Small  reported that the soldiers would frequently have marches through the village. A short march would be from the camp to Cobbitty Bridge over the Nepean River with groups of 40-50 troops. Larger groups of between 300-400 men would march through the village 2-3 times per day.[5]

Diary of a soldier

The diary of Andrew Heyward[6] of the 2/1 Independent Light Tank Regiment gives some of the character of activities at the camp.

Date Activity
31 December  1941 Arrived at Narellan from Tamworth by bus and train – last camp in tents along Narellan Road
4 January 1942 Route march through Camden
5 January 1942 Major-General Northcote told the unit was not going to Malaya – anticipated what was going to happen to Singapore
6 January 1942 – 22 miles route march to Menangle
8 January 1942 Left camp with full packs marched through Cobbitty, Camden ended up at The Oaks Public School
12 January 1942 0330 – Reveille – full packs marched towards Penrith and ended up at a large waterhole – Warragamba
16 January 1942 Full pack march to Stanwell Park – storm about 1800 – came back in trucks
21 January 1942 up 0430 – exercise with trucks at Wallacia
23 January 1942 Rifle range – Narellan
3 February 1942 Unit ground attack exercise on RAAF Camden drome- I went right around river bank to enter up through vegetable garden and buildings nearby
11 February 1942 Anzac Range – Moorebank
16 February 1942 4 days exercise to Moss Vale, Jervis Bay, Nowra, Kiama, Bulli, Picton, Bowral
20 Feb, 1942 Used first 10 Owen guns on Narellan range
26 Feb, 1942 Driving exercise to Valley Heights
2 Mar, 1942 4 day stint in Blitz wagons – Wallgrove, Penrith, Windsor, Richmond, Rossmore – did a night march through Campbelltown to Wedderburn then marched to Menangle and Blitzs back to camp – at Narellan we did lot of Morse vehicle maintenance, gunnery training in camp
16 Mar, 1942 Left Narellan camp for exercises on way to Singleton camp via Menangle, Richmond, Wilberforce

 

[1] http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs162.aspx

[2] Oran Park Precinct: (Narellan Military Camp), Historical Review and Preliminary Investigations for Munitions Contamination, Milsearch/Growth Centres Commission UXO Study, 12 February 2007.

[3].  Arthur Colman, Letter to ICW, 14 November 1986, 15 January 1987; Mort Maiden, Letter to ICW, 6 June 1987;

[4]. Jim McIntosh, Interview, 10 November 1987

[5]. Fred Small, Interview, 13 January 1987

[6]. Andy Heyward, Letter to ICW, 6 January 1987,  7 May 1987;

 

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
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Being a Historical Detective

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at the corner of Argyle and John Street Camden

Be a Historical Detective Conducting Historical Research

Overview

Steps involved in being a historical detective and conducting an investigation (historical research).

Like any good TV detective, you should proceed through several steps while conducting your investigation (historical research). You will then be able to solve the historical mystery. These steps are:

1. What is a historical detective?
2. What is historical research?
3. What has to be done in historical research?
4. Plan of action
5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?
6. Conduct background research.
7. Gather evidence.
8. Evaluate the evidence.
9. Analyse the evidence.
10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.
11. Present the evidence.
12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.
13. Conclusion.

These steps outline a journey ( a voyage of discovery) you can undertake while conducting a historical investigation.

These steps are only a guide and another detective (researchers) may take a different approach.

There are many paths to the ‘truth’ and ‘enlightenment’. Which one are you going to going to take?

Description of each stage of the historical investigation

1. What is a historical detective?

The proposition that I want you to imagine is that you are a detective and that you are going to go on a voyage of discovery.

To be a historical detective assumes that there is a historical mystery of some sort.

History is full of good mysteries.

What is a historical mystery? A historical mystery is a secret, hidden story or an inexplicable matter that happened in the past. For example, there have always been stories and mysteries about Grandad, Aunt Ethyl and cousin Gertrude.

Exercise:
Consider a historical mystery you might investigate.
What is your historical mystery?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

2. What is historical research?

You will solve your historical mystery by conducting an investigation (historical research) and discovering what is involved in unravelling the mystery’s secrets.

During your investigation, you will collect lots of information (eg, facts, statistics). This is the evidence. You will use the evidence to build a picture that will, hopefully, solve your mystery.

While undertaking your investigation you will be involved in finding out lots of stories.

Which story is the ‘truth’? Your version of the ‘truth’ may be different from someone else’s version of the ‘truth’.

3. What are you trying to find out?

Before you start your investigation you should know (at least have an idea about) the question you are trying to answer.

The starting point for your research will involve asking simple questions about the mystery:

• What is it (event)?
• When did it happen (time)?
• Where is it (location)?
• Who is involved (participants, suspects)?
• What are the circumstances (events)?

Then moving to more complex questions:

• Why did it happen (motivation)?
• How did it happen (modus operandi)?

Exercise:
What is the question you are trying to answer?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

4. Plan of action

Before you start your investigation you should draw up a plan of attack.

You should make a timeline with the steps involved in the investigation.

This is the modus operandi for your research.

This may involve questions like:

• Why am I undertaking this journey in the first place? (motivation)
• Where am I going to start?
• Where am I doing this research project?
• What resources do I need to undertake the research?
• How long will my journey of discovery take me (man-hours)?
• What am I going to do along the way?
• Where am I likely to finish up?

A well-planned investigation will help you from retracing your steps or leaving something out. Do not leave any stone unturned in your investigation.

Exercise:
Where are you going to start your research?
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

How long your investigation going to take?
………………………………………………………………………………………….

Once you have estimated the time needed to complete the research. You might find it useful to set several small goals or mileposts. You can tick off each milepost as you reach that particular point in your research.

Exercise:
What are your mileposts?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Once you have estimated how long the research will take and the steps involved, you need to ensure that you stick to your timetable as much as possible.

5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?

You will need to make a list of the resources that are required for your investigation.

These resources could include:
• Administration and office expenses
• Research expenses
• Travel expenses
• Research fees
• Computer hardware and software

6. Conduct background research.

Before you start your investigation you should find out has anyone else been there before you. If there has been previous research you need to know:

• What did they find out?
• Are you re-inventing the wheel?
• Are you actually doing something new?
• Are you simply re-hashing old material? If so you might be wasting your time and energy. Find another historical mystery to solve. There are lots around.

A good historical detective could examine the physical scene of the mystery and obtain the ‘lay of the land’. This could involve a field trip to a site or local study area. You could make observations of the scene (location) and record your observations. It helps you ‘get the feel’ of the investigation.

7. Gather evidence

You should gather the evidence in several forms:

• Written evidence from a variety of sources,(eg, libraries, museums, archives, organisational records, newspapers); or making a field trip and recording your observations (eg, memorials, cemeteries, artefacts, objects)

• Oral evidence by interviewing the participants.

• Pictorial evidence, eg, photographs, illustrations, ‘mud maps’.

8. Evaluate the evidence

This part of your research involves deciding:

(a) Firstly, the type of evidence that you have gathered to solve the mystery.

This will be either primary or secondary evidence (sources)

(i) Primary evidence (sources)

This is evidence drawn from the time of the mystery.

This can include:

Diaries
Letters
Posters
Official records – government records (eg: birth certificates, death certificates)
Newspapers Memoirs Personal records
Maps Sketches Paintings
Photographs Artefacts Objects
Site Anecdotes Ephemera
Songs Poems Cartoons
Advertisements Human remains – skeletons Oral testimony – interviews

(ii) Secondary evidence (sources)

This is evidence that is reconstructed by others about the mystery.

This can include:

• Books,
• TV programs,
• Reports.

(b) Secondly, evaluation involves the validation and verification of evidence.

(i) Validation is confirming the details of the evidence. Is it correct?

(ii) Verification will involve cross-checking evidence.

9. Analyse the evidence.

Now you have all the evidence, what are you going to do with it? You will have to:

Organise and arrange all of the evidence. To do this you will need to summarise the evidence. This could be achieved by:

• Completing a timeline (date order of events), a table, maps, lists, tables, mind maps, charts, storyboards.

• Completing a profile of suspects (participants) involved in the mystery.

• Reconstruct scenarios of the mystery and answer questions like:

  • Why were the participants involved, that is, what was their motivation?
  • Why did these events occur?
  • How did these things happen?

• Taking an empathetic approach to help gain an appreciation of what the situation was like in the past to assist in solving the mystery.

10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.

Every now and then you need to pause and re-assess your progress. You need to ask yourself several questions. These could include:

• Are you sticking to your timetable?
• Are you staying to your budget?
• Are you getting side-tracked?
• Are you running up to many dead-ends?

You may be forced to take a step back and make some critical judgements about the progress of your research. If you are not achieving your goals, why not?

Be flexible. Take advantage of the unexpected. Adjust to dead ends. Follow unanticipated leads.

11. Presentation of the research.

Once you completed your investigation (gathered all your evidence and you have organised it, verified its authenticity and validated it) you will have to present it.

The results of your investigation could be presented in several ways:

(a) Written:

• Reports
• Essays
• Poems
• Newspaper articles

(b) Audio-visual

• Charts
• Graphics
• TV documentary
• Film
• Drawings
• Photographs
• Poster

(c ) Oral

• Speech
• Play

Within each of these types of presentation, there are different alternatives. For example, you could consider presenting the written component of your research by using any number of different text types:

• Description – to describe a person, place, object or event.
• Recount – to retell past events, usually in date order.
• Explanation – tells how (process) and why (reason) something occurred.
• Exposition – present one side of an issue.
• Information Report – to present information in a general rather than a specific subject.
• Discussion – to give both sides of the issue (for/against).

12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.

When you have used material and ideas that are not your own you must acknowledge them. If you do not this it is theft and is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is the theft of another person’s ideas or intellectual property.

Acknowledgement of sources may involve using:

• Footnotes
• Endnotes
• Bibliography
• Reference List
• Further reading

An acknowledgement will involve using a referencing system of some type, for example:

• Oxford
• Cambridge
• Chicago
• Harvard
• MLA (Modern Language Association of America)

The referencing system you chose will depend on your audience and other considerations. Most publications will put their requirements in a style guide.

13. Conclusion.

Finally, at the end of your investigation (historical research): did you find out the ‘truth’?

References and further reading.

Anderson, Mark & Paul Ashton, Australian History and Citizenship, South Yarra: MacMillan Education, 2000.

Black, Jeremy and Donald M MacRaild Studying History, 2nd Edition, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.

Carr, EH, What is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican, 1964.

Clanchy, John and Brigid Ballard, Essay Writing For Students, A Guide for Arts and Social Science Students, Melbourne: Longman and Cheshire, 1981.

Coupe Sheena, Robert Coupe and Mary Andrew, Their Ghosts May Be Heard, Australia to 1900 2nd Edition, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1994.

Eschuys, Joe Guest and Phelan, Discovering Australian History/Eschuys, Guest, Phelan, South Melbourne: MacMillan, 1996.

Mabbett, IW, Writing History Essays, A Student’s Guide, Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

McCullagh, C Behan, The Truth of History, London: Routledge, 1998.

Warren, John, History and Historians, in series Access to History, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999.

Curthoys, Ann & John Docker, Is History Fiction? University of New South Wales: University of New South Wales Press, 2006.

 

Updated 21 April 2020

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Making Camden History

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the local area

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area.
There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful

(Facebook, 23 November 2015. https://www.facebook.com/Camden-History-Notes-1433284970226274/)

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for an historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation building story of a settler society.  In many ways it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also a silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography  is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings of there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840)

The earliest accounts of Camden village its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted a nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West  in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

 

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into a local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

 

The early 20th century also witnessed  a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

 

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s water colours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

 

The journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District.  The  first appeared and in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

 

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the RAHS to write The Story of Camden.

 

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the  newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley, after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

 

Secondly there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

 

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to  memorialise  farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the RAHS. The museum used  simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

 

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added to after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

 

Elsewhere in the district The Oaks Historical Society was formed up in 1979. It has contributed much material to the story telling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of the ‘Three Cities Plan’ as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

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These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the  decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

 

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy, and been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays  and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and  the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

 

There was also the influence of the  national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church  and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

 

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully published specialist local histories for a local audience.

 

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes  including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography