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Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large  country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations.

From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables.  This did not go un-noticed in the film industry.

Camden Park Publicity

One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and race horse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an airplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.

Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was release in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based of Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directored by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which were painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.

The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulge the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.

Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson.  Many old time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and United States.

In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary  The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.

In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine were filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.

In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced a number of short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.

In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved  horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.

Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst  as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has a number of powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates.  The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.

The 55-room fairytale like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on air. In the end Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.

Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010.  Part of the show are power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.

Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park was used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.

Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for a number of movies, advertisements and fashion shoots  since the 1950s.   They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film written and directed by Liz Hughes which used  lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.

In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”.  In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce  a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to  the Macarthur and Sydney markets.

In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlook the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cup cakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room siting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.

 

In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman the reason the Camden area was used was because it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.

 

 

In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘

The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.

The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.

Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 has been used as a film set in 2018 for the TV series Doctor Doctor (I Willis)

 

In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and  a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero.  The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.

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)

Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;

Studley Park House, Camden 

This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.

In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.

The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.

 

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

In 2019 movie-making in area continues with the 4th series of Doctor Doctor. Wikipedia states of the plot line:

Doctor Doctor (also known outside of Australasia as The Heart Guy[1]) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016.[2] It follows the story of Hugh Knight, a rising heart surgeon who is gifted, charming and infallible. He is a hedonist who, due to his sheer talent, believes he can live outside the rules.

Camden was used as one location along with the historic colonial property of Denbigh. Mediaweek stated in 2016 (Sept 9):

The regional setting for the series has proven to be a benefit for narrative and practical production reasons. While all of the hospital scenes were filmed in a hospital in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Rozelle, exterior shooting took place in Mudgee, with filming of Knight’s home was shot in Camden. In addition to $100,000 worth of support from the Regional Filming Fund, the regional setting delivers a unique authenticity to the series that it would otherwise lack.

 

Sometimes the local area is used a set for an advertising campaign by a fashion label or some other business. The owners of Camden Park House posted on Facebook in August 2019 that the house and garden were used as a set by the Country Road fashion brand.

Camden Park House Country Road Photoshoot 2019
Country Road fashion shoot at Camden Park House. Have a peek at Camden Park House at the Country Road page and visit us on 21/22 Sept on our annual Open Weekend. (Camden Park House)

 

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Anzac contradictions

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

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

 

Men, myth and memory | Dr Jen Roberts

UOW Alumni Knowledge Series | UOW | 20 April 2017

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Anzac · Attachment to place · Camden Airfield · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · history · Local History · Menangle · Menangle RAAF Airfield · Mount Gilead · Place making · Second World War · sense of place · war · War at home

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

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

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

One of those was Cec Smith.

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

Wonders of flight at Camden

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

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

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

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

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

Cec writes:

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

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

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

Cec writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything about the airfield was pretty basic in those days.

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

In Cec’s view the trees

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

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

Schooling in the bush

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

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

Getting an education in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cec feels that:

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

Getting a job

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Camden · Heritage · history · Local History · Narellan · Railway · Second World War · Transport · Uncategorized

The Camden Branch Railway Line

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The Camden Branch Line

One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy.
It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell stories to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia.

Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialization and the great days of Australian nationalism in the late Victorian and early 20th century. Great monstrous engines that hissed, spat and groaned. They were mighty machines that were living beings. They had a life and soul of their own. They were responsible for creating the wealth of the British Empire. And Pansy is part of that story.

Local railway stations

The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963. The Camden tram was one of a number of standard gauge light rail lines in the Sydney area. The tank locomotive worked a mixed service that took freight and passengers. The branch line was thirteen kilometres and had eight stations after leaving Campbelltown station, where it joined the Main Southern Railway. The stations were Maryfields, Kenny Hill, Curran’s Hill, Narellan, Graham’s Hill, Kirkham, Elderslie and finally arriving at Camden.

Most of the stations were no more than a short rudimentary wooden platform with a shelter shed that were unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and an associated goods handling facility. Pansy was a regular part of daily life for those who lived near the line. Locals in the Camden township would listen for the loco’s whistle and know that the morning papers had arrived from Sydney.

Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images

A host of daily passengers

Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses. Some of Camden’s better off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.

Wartime heroes in blue and khaki

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
The Royal Australian Air Force Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941 with a training aircraft (NAA)

The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service on the Main Southern Line. On the return journey the last passenger service from Campbelltown left at 9.44pm. During the Second World War the train provided transport for many servicemen (Army, RAAF) who were based at local military establishments. Airmen from Camden airfield would catch the train to Sydney for weekend leave, and would be joined by soldiers from Narellan military base and Studley Park Eastern Command Training School.

Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images

Goods and passengers

Camden station and good yards were located adjacent to Edward Street, with a siding to the Camden Vale milk factory. Coal from the Burragorang Valley mines was loaded at Camden yard from 1937, although this was transferred to Narellan in 1941 and eventually the Main Southern Line at Glenlee into the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s the limitations of the line for caring freight were showing cracks.

From its enthusiastic opening the the branch line never really lived up to its predictions. The mixed goods and passenger service was of limited value. Its light gauge restricted the loads and the grade of the line, particularly over Kenny Hill, severely limited its capabilities. Even in 1939 there were already signs of the eventual demise of the branch line with more coal leaving the district by road than rail.

Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images

The end is nigh

Its days were numbered and the writing was on the wall. Its death blow was delivered by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost cutting exercise and a drive from modernization of the railway system across the state. Diesel was the new god.

For current enthusiasts with a keen eye there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the standard gauge line still visible in the area. As visitors leave the Camden township travelling north along Camden Valley Way (old Hume Highway) embankments, culverts and earthworks are still visible in the farm paddocks on the Nepean River floodplain.

What’s left to see?

You can make out the right of way as it crosses Kirkham Lane and heads towards Narellan before disappearing into a housing estate. For those with a sharp eye a cutting is still evident on the northern side of Narellan Road at Kenny Hill just as you take then entry ramp onto the freeway going to Sydney. It appears as a bench above the roadway and is evident for a short distance. (for details see Peter Mylrea, ‘Camden-Campbelltown Railway’, Camden History March 2009, p. 254-263).

A number of streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train and a number of other streets are named after past railway employees, for example, Paddy Miller.

The music of the Camden branch line

The Camden Community Band has added the tune ‘The Camden Train’ to its repertoire. The lyrics tell an interesting story about Pansy, the locomotive. It was written by Camden local Buddy Williams about the time of the last run on of the train in 1963.

This story was originally published as The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram  @ Heritage Tourism NSW

Trainworks Railway Museum, Thirlmere

Do you want to see the real deal for yourself? Go and inspect the one of the locomotives  on display at Trainworks Railway Museum, Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001.

Watch a DVD about the Camden Branch Line next time you call into the Camden Museum.

Read more on Wikipedia,

Watch a short DVD on the Camden Branch Line on British Pathe Films

Read more about the Camden Branch Line in

 

The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)  Rear cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History Camden & District
Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Camden · Carrington Hospital · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Farming · Floods · history · Local History · Place making · Railway

Camden: Sydney’s best preserved country town

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

The township of Camden on the banks of the Nepean River south-west of Sydney provides a glimpse of life from times gone past. The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park. The charm and character of the town comes from the many 19th century colonial buildings and early 20th century cottages.

Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images
Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images

The heritage of the local area makes Camden, according to some expert sources, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the country. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

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

A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.

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 corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.

Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.

The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.

For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.

Written by Ian Willis member of Professional Historians Association NSW.

Previously published on Heritage Tourism at Camden: The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW

Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Second World War · Uncategorized

The Yanks at Camden Airfield in 1942

What is little known in Camden is the interest the US Air Force took in Camden Airfield in November 1942 and again in February 1944. On both occasions the 5th US Air Force completed secret reports, now declassified and held by the National Archives of Australia, on the readiness of Camden Airfield to accommodate US aircraft and personnel.

The US 5th Air Force, part of the US Army Air Force, provided the aerial spearhead for General Douglas MacArthur’s island hopping campaign in 1942 and 1943. It provided an air umbrella for MacArthur and was an integral part of the successful campaign to retake New Guinea, the Philippines and eventually Okinawa. The US 5th Air Force, was originally part of the Far East Air Force which was largely destroyed in the December 1941 when Japanese forces attacked the Philippines, hours after attacking Pearl Harbour. The unit retreated to Australia’s Top End in December 1941 (Darwin), re-designated as the US 5th Air Force and headquarter in Brisbane for a time (September 1942).

The initial Camden Airfield report was conducted by the US Army Services of Supply and the 5th Air Force in 1942 when the unit was based in Brisbane. The reports summarised the readiness of the airfield to accommodate aircraft and personnel.

In 1942 the Camden airfield was only considered a minor installation, with a limited capacity and a number of aircraft hazards. The airfield’s main runway was 5,400 feet long and 150 wide while the remainder of the field was grass, had natural drainage and became boggy in the wet.

The airfield was located in a basin surrounded by hills up to one mile away, with the hills ranging in height from 100 feet to 200 feet in height. The field was equipped to only handle occasional night landings with ‘obstruction’ warning lighting on the hangars, camp buildings and the St John’s church spire, which was 450 feet high.

There was 7 Bellman hangars and one smaller hangar, and the only maintenance provisions were for Lockheed Hudson aircraft. There were two underground fuel tanks of 10,000 gallons, one of 18,000 gallons and one of 13,000 gallons.

Communications at the airfield were limited to one telephone line and a telegraph line linked to headquarters in Sydney. The airfield was manned from 0600 hours to 2000 hours with no prior notice needed to call up the airfield. The airfield contact was by telegraph with a call sign of VNCD. The field had no weather station and had to rely on information from Richmond. The climatic conditions noted that the field was subject to daily fogs in July, up to 10 days per year.

Airfield access by an all weather road to Camden and a bridge over the Nepean River, at Macquarie Grove, at the entrance to the airfield ‘capable of carrying heavy loads’.

The 1942 report concluded that there were provisions for eleven dispersal bays in the northern part of the field and five bays at southern end. The field was considered suitable for fighters, and with upgrade suitable for heavier aircraft. At the time of the 1942 assessment the field was occupied by one General Reconnaissance Flying Boat Squadron.

The 1942 report concluded that there was sufficient accommodation for 1000 service personnel in the Camden area with 800 men garrisoned at the airfield, with another 200 men to be accommodated in Camden’s ‘modern hotels’.

If the US Air Force had decided to occupy Camden airfield under National Security Regulations the Americans had the right to do anything they felt was ‘necessary in relation to the airfield for military purposes’.

Over the next two years wartime conditions prompted activity at Camden airfield. By 1944 the field had undergone major improvements and after a re-assessment by the American authorities it was classified as a major airfield.

Improvements included extensions to the E-W runway beyond the airfield boundary, although it was noted that were still deficient with no anti-aircraft defensive installations.

The airfield had an improved ability to service a variety of aircraft, while doing only minor repairs, and there has been flood lighting of the St John’s spire. The field have become equipped with a sick quarters with 15 beds, the runways had become all weather with gravel taxiways and the base had a 24 hour weather service. The improvements amounted to $184,000.

After having completed the two reports, the 5th US Air Force was never based at Camden Airfield. Given the impact of American forces elsewhere in Australia Camden probably had a lucky escape not hosting ‘the Yanks’.

The presence of over 1000 American servicemen at the airfield would have changed Camden from a sleepy little rural village into a garrison town. While many Camden locals would have welcomed the American presence, particularly local businesses, there would have been significant negative effects, given what happened in other localities such as Brisbane and Townsville.

As the war played out the Camden community had very cordial relations with RAAF and RAF personnel stationed at the airfield between 1940 and 1946, mainly because the town was not overwhelmed by large number of troops. There were dances, afternoon tea parties, invitations to local homes, dates with local girls and lots of other interactions with the defence personnel including a number of marriages to local girls.

If the Yanks had come to town it would have been an unforgettable experience.