Thursday, 12 December 2013

Hope and loss on the urban fringe



Mount Annan new housing subdivision 2002 (Camden Images/P Mylrea)

Winners and losers on the urban fringe

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is a site of winners and losers.

It is a landscape where dreams are fulfilled and memories lost. The hope and expectations of newcomers are met with the promises of land developers in master planned suburban utopias.

At the same time, locals grasp at lost memories as the ruralcountryside is covered in a sea of tiled roofs and concrete driveways.



Conflict over a dream

As Sydney’s rural-urban fringe moves across the countryside it becomes a contested site between locals and outsiders over their aspirations and dreams. The conflict revolves around displacement and dispossession.

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is similar to the urban frontier of large cities in Australia and other countries. It is a dynamic landscape that makes and re-makes familiar places.

More than this the rural-urban fringe is a zone of transition where invasion and succession are constant themes for locals and newcomers alike. 

Searching for the security of a lost past

 As Sydney’s urban sprawl invades fringe communities locals yearn for a lost past and hope for some safe keeping of their memories. They use nostalgia as a fortress and immerse themselves in community rituals and traditions that are drawn for their past. They are drawn to ever popular festivals like the Camden Show and Campbelltown's Fishers Ghost Festival which is celebration of the rural heritage of Sydney’s fringe.

Richmond NSW (cc Flickr/D Whiteman)

Local communities respond by creating  imaginary barriers to ward off the evils of Sydney's urban growth that is about to run them over. One of the most important is the metaphorical moat created by the Hawkesbury-Nepean River floodplain  around a number of the fringe communities of Camden, Richmond and Windsor.

Fringe communities use their rural heritage to ward off the  tentacles of the Sydney octopus that are about the strangle them. In one example the Camden community has created an imaginary country town idyll. A cultural myth where rural traditions are supported by the church on the hill, the village green and the Englishness of the gentry's colonial estates. 

Hope and the creation of an illusion

Outsiders and ex-urbanites come to the new fringe suburbs looking for a new life in a semi-rural environment. As they escape the evils of their own suburbia they seek to immerse themselves in the rurality of the fringe. They want to retreat to an authentic past when times were simpler. It is a perception that land developers are eager to exploit.
 

Ex-urbanites are drawn to the urban frontier by developer promises of their own piece of utopia and the hope of a better lifestyle. They seek a place where "the country still lookslike the country". These seek what the local fringe communities already possess – open spaces and a rural countryside.

The imagination of new arrivals is set running by developer promises of suburban dreams in master-planned estates. They are drawn in by glossy brochures, pollie speak, media hype and in recent times subsidies on landscaping and other material benefits.

Manicured parks, picturesque vistas and  restful water features add to the illusion of a paradise on the urban frontier.  Developers commodify a  dream in an idyllic semi-rural setting that new arrivals hope will protect  their  life-savings in a house and land package.

Destruction of the dream

Oran Park housing development 2010 (Camden Images/P Mylrea)
Dreams are also destroyed on  Sydney’s urban frontier for  many new comers.  Once developers of master-planned estates have made their profit they withdraw. They no longer support the idyllic features that created the illusion of a suburban utopia.

The dreams of a generation of ex-urbanites have come  crashing down in suburbs like Harrington Park and Mt Annan. The absence of developer rent-seeking has meant that their dreams  have evaporated and gone to dust.   Manicured parks have become overgrown. Restful water features have turned into dried up cesspools inhabited by vermin.

Paradoxically the invasion of ex-urbanites has displaced and dispossessed an earlier generation of diehard motor racing  fans of their dreams. The destruction of the Oran Park Raceway created its own landscape of lost memories. Ironically new arrivals at Oran Park  bask in the reflected glory of streets named after Australian motor racing legends and sculptures that pay tribute the long gone raceway. 

The latest threat to the dreams of all fringe dwellers is the invasion of Sydney’s southwest urban frontier by the  exploratory drilling of coal seam gas wells. Locals and new arrivals alike see their idyllic surroundings disappearing before their eyes. They are fearful for their semi-rural lifestyle.

So what of the dreams?

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe will continue to be a frontier where conflict is an ever present theme in the story of the place. Invasion, dispossession, opportunity and hope are all part of the ongoing story of this zone of constant change. 


Read more @  Imaginings on Sydney’s Edge: Myth, Mourning and Memory in a Fringe Community  (Sydney Journal)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Camden dreamtime

Estate village of Camden 1890s view of St John's church (Camden Images)

 'A Country Town Idyll' at Camden

Sydney’s urban expansion into the local area has challenged the community’s identity and threatened to suffocate Camden’s sense of place. In the face of this onslaught many in Camden yearn for a lost past when Sydney was further away, times were simpler, and life was slower. A type of rural arcadia, which I have called  ‘a country town idyll’.  
 
The ‘country town idyll’ is defined as an idealised version of a country town from an imagined past which uses history to construct imagery based on Camden’s heritage buildings and other material fabric.  At the heart of the idyll is the view that Camden should retain its iconic imagery of a picturesque country town with the church on the hill, surrounded by a rustic rural landscape made up of the landed estates of the colonial gentry.  The idyll has been created by its supporters in an attempt to isolate Camden, like an island, in the sea of urbanisation and development that has enveloped the town.


Curran's Hill housing development in the 1990s (Camden Images)
These are the values that the supporters of Camden’s ‘country town idyll’ have encouraged and then expressed in the language they used to describe it. They  talk about the  retention of Camden’s ‘country town atmosphere’, or retaining ‘Camden’s country charm’, or ‘country town character’. They describe the town as being ‘picturesque’, or having ‘charming cottages’. To them Camden is  ‘a working country town’, or is simply ‘my country town’.   These  elements are evocative of an emotional attachment to a place that existed in the past, when  Camden was a small quiet country town that relied on  farming for its existence.



Argyle Street Camden 1938 (Camden Images)


The origins of the ‘country town idyll’ are to be found in the rural ethos that is  drawn from within the nineteenth century rural traditions brought from Great Britain, where there was a romantic view of the country, that had an ordered, stable, comfortable organic small community in harmony with the natural surroundings.   Elements of this rural culture have been variously described as 'countrymindedness', 'rural ideology',  'rural ethos', 'ruralism', and a 'rural idyll'.  They have been a pre-occupation of many scholars, including contemporary writers, like the Australian poet Les Murray. Within this tradition there  is an  Arcadian notion of  a romantic view of rural life where there is  a distinction  drawn between  the metropolis and the village, commonly known as the  town/country divide. This was the essence of pre-war Camden  (a town of around 2000) where rural culture  provided the stability  of a closed community which was suspicious of outsiders, especially those from the city, with life ordered by social rank, personal contacts and familial links. It was confined by conservatism, patriarchy and an Anglo-centric view of the world.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Science with the WOW factor

The Australian PlantBank at The Australian Botanic Gardens Mt Annan (I Willis)

 

The new Australian PlantBank at The Australian Botanic Gardens Mt Annan

The brand new shiny science facility that was recently opened at The Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan certainly has the wow factor a plenty. Lots of stainless steel, concrete and glass gives the new laboratory the smik slick look. The world class leader in the collection and preservation of Australian native flora provides an example of how science can be done in this country. With the combination of leading edge research, technical expertise and community engagement this facility is a model for other science infrastructure in Australia.

Exterior of PlantBank (I Willis)


The general public certainly gave the new building the wow seal of approval on the tours of the state of the art laboratories and seed bank. The public have the opportunity to take guided tours of the building. There are conference rooms, meetings rooms and educational facilities for kindergarten through high school and university to post-graduate and the general community.

John leading a group of visitors (I Willis)

On the recent open day tours were led by John Siemon, the enthusiastic project manager, his staff, and volunteers from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens. John's energy and passion for the facility provided a cut-through commentary of the role of the PlantBank, while not dumbing down the technical aspects of plant science. He provided a refreshing clarity to the science while engaging the members of the general public who peppered him with questions about the Wollemi Pine to agar.


The PlantBank building provides an architectural statement about the endangered Cumberland Woodland that surrounds the facility. The building is designed not only to protect the plant vaults, but to be fire resistant. It is a post-modern statement in concrete, stainless steel and glass. The striking lines of the building provide a symbosis with its environment and is an aesthetic extension of the woodland that surrounds it. The building emerges out of the woodland, like the majestic red gums around it, as you approach either on foot. The building makes a statement, an announcement, to the visitor that matches its confidence. The architects BVN Donovan Hill have, according to the website, used a
metaphor to communicate that broad conceptual idea that 'PlantBank is positioned globally as a symbol of the preservation of the natural cycle from the germination of seed to the propagation of forests'. It does so from the large scale siting strategy through to the selection of materials and detailing.
Diversity Wall located near the reception desk of PlantBank (I Willis)
This is supported by the warmth of the timber interior veneers of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) that contrast with the clinical efficiency of the glass and stainless steel.


The Macarthur region has certainly gained a magnificent addition to the gardens, which are the most visited tourist attraction in the area. Visitors with be able to take guided tours (at a cost) or self-guided tours when the PlantBank is open to the general public.

The PlantBank is a globally important facility in the Macarthur region and illustrates the global significance of Australian science. According the PlantBank website, the:
PlantBank incorporates modern world-class research laboratories, seed storage facilities, climate controlled glasshouse infrastructure and specialised teaching laboratories. The facilities at PlantBank complement those associated with the National Herbarium of New South Wales at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. PlantBank can accommodate 50 research staff, students and local and international collaborative researchers at any one time. The interactive educational space can host several hundred students and visitors simultaneously. PlantBank will become a leading institution for education in plant science, invigorating the visitor experience through interactions with research findings and scientists giving valuable information on the important role of plants in our lives.
Eerieness of the 'Blue Room' (I Willis)

 Visitors can take in the eerieness of the 'blue room' adjacent to the cryo-storage areas where some plants are stored at -196°C. These are next to the seed vault freezer where dried seeds are kept at
-20°C. Inspect the seedling that has grown from a 100 year old seed. Amazing considering the conditions it was kept in. At the Diversity Wall view the an example of the worlds largest seed pod from the Seychelles. What does it remind you of? 
When are you going to visit this exciting addition to Australia's cutting edge scientific facility at The Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan? 

 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Air Raid Shelter Sees Daylight

Air raid shelter trench showing concrete cap at Camden Airfield 2013 (I Willis)

  Air Raid Shelter Uncovered at Camden Airfield

A Second World War RAAF air raid shelter was recently uncovered at Camden Airfield. During the Second World War the shelter was located adjacent to the entry gate post to the airfield which was staffed by a sentry. 
The air raid trench was uncovered accidentally when a car parked on top of the concrete capping and fell into the trench. The airfield authorities then covered the trench, put warning tape and barricades around it. 
The airfield had a number of air raid shelters scattered across the grounds for airmen, ground staff and others. The airfield was controlled by the RAAF from 1940 to 1946, with RAF present from 1944 to 1946.
  
Air raid shelter trench showing concrete cap at Camden Airfield 2013 (I Willis)

 The dimensions of the uncovered air raid shelter trench were about 1.7 metres deep and about 800 mm wide. The trench was lined with hardwood timbers that were sleeper-like about 100mm x 250mm, about 1.8m long. They were secured by bolts at least 250mm long. The trench had a concrete cap about 100 thick.  The uncovered trench section was L-shaped about 2 metres x 2 metres with short extensions at right angles at either end.


Interior of air raid shelter trench with timber lining at Camden Airfield 2013 (I Willis)
The air raid shelter trench is an important remnant of the Second World War when the airfield was part of the air defence of the east coast of Australia.  The airfield has a number of intact Second World War infrastructure facilities including Bellman hangers, remnant positions for aircraft on the airfield perimeter, one accommodation hut, identifiable locations of other huts on the hillside and the parade ground,  as well as a  hanger from the Macquarie Grove Flying School in the 1930s.

The airfield is located north of the township of Camden on the Nepean River floodplain on a the eastern side of the river on a sweeping bend. It is located on what was formerly the pastoral property of Macquarie Grove, owned and managed by Edward Macarthur Onslow, who established the Macquarie Grove Flying School in the 1930s. The main runway runs north-east by south-west and is constrained by adjacent hills and the river.

The airfield is currently owned and operated by a consortium called Sydney Metro Airport, which also controls Bankstown Airfield. 


Read more @ Camden History Journal of the Camden Historical Society,  March 2013,  for the history of the Macquarie Grove Flying School written by Annette Macarthur Onslow.

Articles from Camden History on Camden Airfield in wartime include:
Ian Willis, Bellman Hangars, Camden Airfield, Vol 2,  p.361; 
Ian Willis,  'Central Flying School RAAF, Camden Airfield 1940-1945', Vol 2. p. 287;
Ian Willis, '32 Squadron RAAF, Camden Airfield, 1942-1944', Vol 2, p. 295;
Ian Willis, 'US Air Force and Camden Airfield', Vol 2, p. 293;



Ian Willis, Camden at war- Second World War 1939-1945 a brief overview, Vol 1, pp156-174.
A short history of the Sydney Morning Herald Flying Service at Camden Airfield  is contained in Victor Isaacs, How We Got the News, Newspaper Distribution in Australia and New Zealand, Australia Newspaper History Group, Andergrove, Qld, 2008.
And also Bert Watson's Camden Aero Club, A History, Camden, Camden Aero Club, 1992.
Details of Camden History @ http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/chsjournal.html
Camden History Available at the Camden Museum, John Street, Camden.  Contact secretary (at) camdenhistory.org.au  P: 02 4655 3200 (Thurs-Sun, 11-4)


 





Saturday, 5 October 2013

Tough times for Camden band

Camden District Band c1911 (Camden Images)

Camden Band strikes tough times


The Camden band was re-formed in 1911 as the Camden District Band after the closure of the Camden Town Brass Band in the late 1890s. The band was very active during the First World War playing at a host of wartime patriotic community events. The annual general meeting in 1920 outlined the perilous financial state of the band following the First World War. It was not the only Camden community organisation that suffered from a collapse of support after the war. The band needed to consolidate its position for the peacetime ahead during the Inter-war period. At the time the band was holding rehearsals in the auction rooms of William G Watson in Argyle Street, Camden.
  

Camden District Band AGM 1920

The annual meeting of the Camden District Band was held on Monday, February 9th. The balance sheet and auditor’s report for the first half of the year was read. The present officers and committee were asked to retain their respective positions for the ensuing six months. It was the wish of the members  to convey a vote of thanks to the business people of Camden and other who kindly contributed  to the band funds; also  to Mr WG  Watson for the use of his auction room and gas light for practices. Owing to the influenza epidemic the band is not in the financial position it might have been. If it had not been for the kindness of the Goulburn Band in lending some of their music, and the help of their bandmaster, Mr Frost, who has had to write a lot of manuscript for the use of the members, the Band would have had to continue with their old pieces alone. The hon. Secretary, Mr AE Doust, is his report, adds, ‘If any of our worthy citizens would care in help this cause by sending  along a donation, the Band would only be too pleased to accept. Seeing that the Band has been in existence for nine years this month, I think it is worthy a little financial sympathy’. The half-yearly balances sheet read as follows:
Receipts: Monthly subscriptions from business people and street collections £11/3/3½d, proceeds of social £4/14/7d; hire of instruments 13/9; balance in bank from last audit £9/13s – Total £26/4/7½d.
Expenditure: Bandmaster, salary from July 2, 1919 to Dec 31, 1919, £16/5s; Furner Bros key and torch wicks, 2s; NA Whiteman, candles and kerosene, 3/9d, music 10/5d, attendants’ pay  £2/12s; rent of hall, social £1/7/6p; tax on social tickets, 7/3d; C Butler, repairs, 3/3d; Yorks prop., instruments, 14s; Camden News 6s; bandmaster’s expenses 10s; money in hand £3/3/5½d – Total £26/4/7½d.
The accounts were audited by Mr AJ Doust.

Source: Camden News 12 February  1920

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The story of Grace, a wartime volunteer


First World War Poster for Australian Red Cross (Wikimedia)

The life and times of a wartime volunteer

Grace was the archetypical Women's Voluntary Services volunteer in Camden. She, like others women who joined the Camden WVS, was middle class, Protestant, conservative and British. Grace was similar to many women who volunteered for similar organisations at the outbreak of war in Britain, New South Wales and Camden. She was a hard worker for local causes and always had the best interests of the community at heart. She was not a radical and supported Camden's status quo.

Grace was typical of women her age in Camden and had grown up under the influence of the Macarthur women, firstly 'Mrs Onslow' and her daughter, 'Miss Onslow', as Grace referred to them.  Grace's mother, like other women her age, was a Victorian and had schooled her daughter in the Victorian notions of femininity and the 'ideals of service'. Grace's mother had been a member of the St Johns Mothers' Union that was established by 'Mrs Onslow', and a foundation member of the Camden Red Cross with 'Miss Onslow', 'Mrs Crookston' and her daughter. In her younger days Grace had been a member of Camden Girl Guides and the Junior Red Cross, both sponsored by 'Miss Onslow'. As Grace grew older, like many of her friends, she had become a member of the Camden Red Cross, of which 'Miss Onslow' was president.

Grace's belief system was typical of her class grouping in Camden and was anchored firmly in her British origins. She accepted the obligations and responsibilities of British citizenship and was a patriotic member of the British Empire. Her family and friends had close connections with Britain. They wrote to relatives and friends, who often sent British papers out for them to read. Grace and her friends often referred to Camden as a 'little England', and for them 'What was British was best!' These values guided her actions, and those of her friends, when they volunteered for the Camden WVS in 1939.

Grace's day to day life and her activities in the WVS were guided by Camden's rural ideology. When asked, she readily acknowledged it existence, but otherwise rarely spoke about it. She felt that it confounded 'outsiders' who did not understood it. There were many aspects to this ideology but its influence was all consuming and affected everything she did, including what she did as a volunteer for the WVS.

Grace, like most of the people she mixed with at the WVS, were proud and independent. She felt that this was partly  derived from Camden's rural culture, the influence of working the land and all the tribulations that were 'just part of rural life'.  Grace felt that for a significant part of the community working the land carried a special, almost religious, quality about it. She didn't understand why she felt this way, but did not seem to worry her. She understood the vagaries of rural life and the isolation and hardships that many rural women faced in the Camden area, particularly in the western parts of the region. But for her at least, the train from Camden gave her relative easy access to Sydney.

Grace was married with a family and felt, like other women from the WVS, that her main role in life was to nurture and care for them. Her husband and family came first, but she also felt an obligation to serve the community.  It was this experience she took with her to the WVS and guided her response to the war.

Grace had read in the women's pages of the Sydney Morning Herald about the British WVS, the activities of Lady Reading and the efforts of Ruby Board to establish branches of the WVS throughout New South Wales. It appeal to her and when a public meeting was called by 'Mrs Kelloway' she went along to hear all about it. Grace knew all the women who attended the meeting. They all came from a similar background, and shared similar values and upbringing.  The women were mainly from Camden's middle and upper classes. Grace admitted that class was one of the most important social factors in Camden's social life. Class ordered social events, inter-personal relationships, social networks and hierarchies and the town's social routine. It played a significant role in the activities of the WVS, and in one way or another all activities of the WVS were related to it.   

'Miss Onslow', according to Grace, had a profound influence on all things that affected Camden, including the foundation of the WVS. She provided the moral leadership for female philanthropy in Camden. She was a 'Lady Bountiful' figure in Camden and it was rare for any member of the community to escape her influence. She was the classic role model of a Victorian female philanthropist. 'Miss Onslow' and her mother had created a dynasty which had controlled female philanthropy from 1900. It started with the Camden branch of the New South Wales Patriotic Fund in the Boer War, and then the Camden Red Cross in the First World War. These two organisations provided Camden women, including Grace's mother, with valuable experience of war work. The social authority of Camden's women's groups was consolidated after the First World War by the foundation of the CWA and Hospital Auxiliary, both of which gave valuable experience in committee work to local women. Grace believed that in 1939 the WVS brought all this experience together and assisted in its success.  The sponsorship of the WVS by 'Miss Onslow' automatically gave it social acceptability, and then she encouraged middle class women, including Grace, to join it. 'Miss Onslow' seal of approval  ensured its success.

Grace motives for joining the WVS, like other women, were a combination of factors. Grace admitted that she copied the service commitment of 'Miss Onslow'. Grace felt that if 'Miss Onslow' thought it good enough to volunteer then she would do the same.  She had also been influenced by the ideals of Lady Reading that she had read about in the Sydney papers. She also felt that she was not going to be sidelined, like some Camden women were in the First World War. She joined the newly created Camden WVS was keen to be registered and take up training.

Grace also found the central doctrine within the WVS, its ideology of service, fitted all the values that she expressed towards philanthropy and volunteering. For her the WVS represented a little bit of Britain in Camden.  She found that her voluntary service for the WVS was an act of patriotic altruism that involved self-sacrifice and dedication to duty. It looked back to Victorian interpretation of femininity and its service obligations, and it agreed with her views of Christian charity drawn from her evangelical Protestantism, that had guided her mother's giving and volunteering. As a British citizen she saw the war as a just and righteous cause, and felt an obligation to help the Empire in way she could. For her, the WVS was a British organisation and volunteering for the it was just being patriotic. She thus willing gave her time freely to assist 'the boys' in the belief that she was 'just helping the war effort'.

Grace understood that she would get little recognition if she undertook sewing, cooking and knitting for the WVS, but she willing accepted this as the price for helping 'the boys'. Many of the women she worked with did the same, and willing volunteered their time and effort for no obvious reward other than personal satisfaction and fulfilment, such as 'Mrs Huthnance'. The women just wanted 'to do their bit for the war effort' and the work they did was just like 'what you did at home anyway'. 'We knew we were good at it', so Grace maintained, 'and people respected us for it'. She stated it 'was all for the war effort, it was just being patriotic'.

Grace volunteered to work on all WVS activities during the war, and some of those not organised 'by us'. She sewed comforts for the soldiers, collected money for the appeals, volunteered at fundraisers like fairs, carnivals and street stalls, and she worked on the nets at the CWA centre, when she had a chance. She saved paper for 'Mrs Huthnance', and felt the 'Mr Weaver' had not been fair to 'Mr Young'. She served teas at the soldiers' farewells and the Hospitality Centre, and subscribed to 'Mr Gibson's War-Time Plan' and sewed for the soldiers at Narellan. At the beginning of the war she registered like everyone else, went to the air raid lecture and ambulance driving course, but thought that they were really a waste of time, as there was never any opportunity to put anything into practice. She found the first aid and home nursing courses 'useful', 'at least you could use what you learnt'. Although overall, she was happiest sewing and knitting for 'the boys', because she knew they appreciated her efforts from the hundreds of 'thank you' letters they sent the WVS, and she was good at it.

Grace knew that the upper class women, like 'Mrs Crookston', would organise all WVS activities, because that is what they did before the war. She also understood that this meant that they would also take all the glory. Grace stated that the absence of people, like 'Mrs Crookston', from an activity, such as the sewing party to the Narellan camp, usually meant that it received little or no publicity, and the volunteers were rarely acknowledged publicly. The upper class in Camden controlled the press, the social networks and hierarchies and other forms of social interaction, and therefore it was quite natural that they would congratulate themselves on a job well done. One thing that she didn't like was how the upper classes demanded varying degrees of deference from those further down the social ladder. She said that this was enforced through social coercion, persuasion, social boycotts, intimidation or exclusion. Grace stated that the only thing during the war upset this social order was 'Miss Onslow's' death in 1943. Although not unexpected, it was still a great shock at the time and was the end of an era in Camden. Grace stated that it took ages to for some members of the upper class to get over it, especially those who knew her best, such as 'Mrs Crookston'.

Grace acknowledged that her membership of, and volunteering for, the WVS gave her a certain amount of kudos during the war from the rest of the Camden community. She said that the women of the WVS did not need to publicly advertise their activities in the town. 'Everyone in Camden knew who we were and what we did'. 'We did not want to make a big thing about it in the papers, like the men always did'. Grace maintained that the women just got on with the job at hand, while the men had to get their names in the paper all the time. She maintained that the women she worked with did not mind if the men received 'all the glory', for example at the soldier's farewells and organising the soldiers' recreation room. Grace maintained that the women knew how to get her own way without upsetting the men 'at home' or publicly challenging their position in the town. She felt women naturally possessed a significant amount of authority in their own private space, particularly within the family and the organisations that they had established for themselves, like the WVS. Grace maintained that the WVS was quite influential in Camden and the enthusiasm shown by the women was influential on other wartime efforts in the town, especially some of the men. 

Grace maintained that the men from the upper and middle class only became involved in matters that they thought were seen to be important in the life of the town. She admitted that men's organisations that were seen to be under the control of the women, such as the Men's WVS Auxiliary, just did not get any support. She found that the men were quite happy to help the WVS, like the RSSAILA, as long as they were independent of the women. The men were also quite willing to acknowledge the expertise of Camden women in the various type of war work that the WVS involved itself. Grace admitted quietly that on wartime matters related to soldier welfare, the social authority of the women of the WVS, the Red Cross, and the CWA was unassailable.

Grace said that 'Mrs Crookston' did a 'good job' running the WVS. For example, 'Mrs Crookston knew what she was doing' when she  organised the British Canteen Fund Appeal.  We all felt good about the canteen appeal because we were helping those 'at home'. We all had relatives and friends who were going through the bombings in England. Grace supported the listing of names and donations in the paper by 'Mrs Crookston', because it guaranteed that you got a good response.  People liked to see their names in the paper. She also felt that 'Mrs Crookston's' decision to use donors names and their contribution in the paper helped our cause. People knew everyone and expected a person to donate a lot of money if they were well off (fiscal patriotism). Grace felt that any business in town that did not to support an important wartime appeal would lose a lot of customers. In small communities everyone knew most things about everyone else. It was very hard to keep a secret. That is how small communities work. This helped maintain the status quo and added to the conservatism of these communities. As well 'Mrs Crookston' regularly put letters from the men in the paper if we were short of volunteers for anything and 'it always worked'. Grace admitted it was a form of moral coercion, although 'Mrs Tucker' did not use it with the CWA. 

'Mrs Crookston' never had any trouble working with the upper class men in Camden on committees, according to Grace. 'Mrs Crookston's' husband was the local doctor and she just had that 'air about her'. Grace stated that she knew them all anyway and mixed with them at social gathering and the like. 'I think she enjoyed it'. She was able to the get the support of the men on most things for the WVS, especially the 'First World War diggers'. Grace maintained that 'Mrs Crookston' was one of Camden's public figures, and that she had created a position of importance for herself within the Camden community through her philanthropic activities. 'Mrs Crookston' was able to speak out on behalf of Camden women and 'everyone always listened to her'.

Grace admitted that Camden's younger women wanted a bit more independence than she, and her friends, had been used to in their lifetime. Grace maintained that the young women just 'wanted to be modern', like the girls they saw at the movies on Saturday night. Grace stated that you 'just had to let them go', especially when they received invitations from the airmen at the aerodrome. The airmen were 'nice young men', 'they behaved themselves' and 'they made good husbands too'. She felt the Hospitality Centre was an opportunity too good to miss in this respect. She couldn't understand why 'Mrs Crookston' or 'Mr Sidman' did not run the Centre, but put it down to 'Miss Onslow's' death. She said 'they all took it really bad at the time'. She said that the Centre was run by 'outsiders', which was unusual, but they seemed to have the interests of the town at heart, and they did 'an all right job, which is all that really mattered in the long run'.

Grace, like other members of the WVS, was a passionate supporter of local causes and worked very hard on their behalf. She was proud to live in the Camden area, admitted that she could be a bit parochial and  had a real emotional attachment to the Camden area. Grace was always a bit suspicious of 'outsiders', especially those from the city. They gave the impression that they always thought they knew best. Although, she did admit that some were all right. Especially when they listened to local concerns and were sincere in their efforts to support local interests, such as those who ran the Hospitality Centre.  The Hospitality Centre committee had a few 'blow ins' as well, 'you know, bank managers and the like'. As already mentioned Grace felt that 'Mr Young'  got a 'raw deal' from 'Mr Weaver' in Sydney. 'Mr Young' was just trying to 'his bit for the war effort'. She agreed with others who said that they were 'not going to co-operate with the likes Weaver', who, she felt was only interested in taking from them 'what Camden locals thought was rightfully theirs'. In this situation the local community closed ranks behind 'Mr Young'. She felt the same way about the Lord Mayor's Patriotic and War Fund and the way it acted over soldier comforts and the WVS. Grace maintained that part of the success of the WVS rested on the fact that 'we always had a local focus on most things we did'. 'Mrs Crookston' understood the values and attitudes of the local community, and always tried to connect to it. For example, the British Canteen Fund Appeal connected directly to Camden's Britishness, and the soldier comforts of the WVS were going to 'our boys'.

Another part of rural life in Camden that Grace understood, but rarely spoke about, was religion.  She understood that it was not appropriate for her to mix socially with Camden's Catholic community, lest she was ostracised by other members of the WVS. She also knew that although the Methodists were only a small number of people in town, they held important positions, like 'Mr Kelloway', the mayor, or ran local businesses, like 'Mr Sidman' who owned the Camden News. His paper was a powerful voice for the conservative element in Camden and he was a strong supporter of the war. 'Mr Sidman' did not like alcohol and she agreed with his actions over the fuss in early 1943 with 'drunks' who turned up on the train one Sunday. He always printed lots of stories about the WVS. For example, the roster for the Hospitality Centre, the 'Honor Rolls', and our meeting dates and so on.  Grace thought that the publicity the WVS received in the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser helped the cause of the women. Both of Camden's paper gave a large amount of coverage to all WVS activities. They continually put the WVS and other female voluntary organisations in front of the local community which in turn increased 'our status and social authority'. She felt that this also helped the patriotic response of the community to the war.

Grace maintained that the progress of the war directly affected WVS activities. Up the end of 1941 the war was really only about what was going on in Europe and North Africa. Camden men were volunteering and going off to support the cause of the Empire. Grace stated that the events at Dunkirk gave us all a shock, and encouraged the men in Camden to start a number of voluntary activities. But once the kudos disappeared they lost interest. Nevertheless, 'we stepped in' and the WVS filled the gap. After the Japanese entered the war this changed things. The fall of Singapore frightened us, we had evacuation plans, blackouts and air raid practice. She stated the WVS responded to the crisis re-directing its  efforts away from Britain.  This mainly  involved supporting local servicemen on active service through soldier comforts, and volunteering for a number of activities conducted by other organisations in Camden.

Grace maintained that a considerable part of the success of the WVS was based on the co-operation between the women's organisations in Camden. As already noted, Grace was a member of the WVS and the Red Cross and the other women she worked with were members of the VAD, CWA and the Hospital Auxiliary. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing. The organisations did not double on any activities, for example, sewing was held on different days for different organisations. Some women volunteered for each organisation. Grace maintained that the level of co-operation between the WVS, the CWA and the Red Cross created a powerful force in Camden's wartime voluntarism. These organisations effectively controlled the majority wartime activities in Camden, including the exclusion of a significant proportion of Camden's Catholic population from most of these activities. There were some notable exceptions, for example Mrs Byrne from Narellan. She was the wife of a local businessman and therefore 'an important person'.

The level co-operation between the women's organisations, according to Grace, helped make the Camden WVS one the most successful WVS centres in New South Wales. This kind of co-operation was a natural part of Camden's female philanthropy. The women who joined these organisations knew each other through inter-personal and kinship networks, their membership of the  middle and upper classes and considerable amount of overlapping membership between these organisations, including the Camden WVS.  Grace stated that a small group of women, the female clique, held most of senior positions in these organisation. Up the 1943 it was led by 'Miss Onslow'. The clique controlled the social interaction between the WVS and the other women's groups. She stated that when the women's clique was combined with the men's equivalent, they became a de-facto patriotic committee. This combined group ran the town's response to the war, and in the process strengthened the hand of the WVS.

Grace was not all put off by the closure of the WVS. The war had ended and she saw no further need for it. The closure was not a momentous event and only received a small report in the local press.  After the WVS wound up in late 1945, its funds were transfered to a new organisation, the Camden District Patriotic Fund which operated from 1945 to 1949, which then became the Camden RSL Women's Auxiliary in 1959. Grace's comment on this was 'that every in Camden it connected to everything else'.

Grace admitted after the war that one of the principal legacies of the WVS, was laying the ground work for the post-war emergence of 'Mrs Tucker' as the leader of the female clique. 'Mrs Tucker' led the Camden CWA until her death in 1961 and became the natural successor to 'Miss Onslow'. 'Mrs Tucker'  was a foundation member of the WVS and was largely responsible for close relationship between it and CWA during the war. 'Mrs Tucker' always felt that there was a close connection between the WVS and the CWA. 'Mrs Tucker' stated that the origins of the CWA were derived from rural ideology, and was not all surprised that the WVS had a strong network of country centres, including Camden. Grace felt that the experience the women gained in the WVS helped the CWA to become the most important women's organisations in Camden after the war. At the same time, she noted, that the Red Cross declined in influence and members.    

Grace stated, that apart from the success of the WVS, the war also created other effects which indirectly influenced the activities and fundraising of the WVS. For example, the war increased the level of economic activity in the town, and while  not directly admitting that local businesses benefited from the war, Grace did agree that the presence of the military establishments in the area, and the large number of personnel who passed through them, meant that there was more money in the town.  Local businesses and farmers gained government contracts to supply the military bases with various type of goods and services. She did agree that a large number of jobs were created by the increased output of coal mining, and that this then flowed into other areas, such as transport.  
 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Camden's Inter-war Heritage 1919-1939


Royal Hotel demolished in 1973 (CHS/E Kernohan)

What is the significance of the interwar period in Camden's history? It is one of the hidden parts of the town's past between 1919 and 1939.  It is all around the local community yet few know much about it.  

Interwar Prosperity

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





Macaria  Dr West's Surgery during the Inter-war period (Camden Images)

Administration centre

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

Hume Highway

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


Cook's Garage, 1936 on Hume Highway Camden, the height of modernism (Camden Images) 

Consumerism and Modernism

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



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

Services

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


Bank of NSW b.1938 Hume Highway Camden (I Willis)

Gentry Estates and Dairying

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

The motor car

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



Argyle Street Camden, Hume Highway 1940 (Camden Images)


Bucolic charm

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



Camden Entrance Norther end of town Argyle Street (CC)

Rural-urban fringe

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

A country town idyll

The ‘locals’ for their part  have retreated to nostalgia in the form of an arcadian view of the world through a ‘country town idyll’.  The romance of the idyll is based on the iconic imagery of Camden as a picturesque English village, with the church on the hill, surrounded by rural vistas.  The idyll has become  a defence mechanism against the onslaught from Sydney’s urbanization and the interwar heritage that is part of the town’s iconic landscape.
St John's Church, John Street, 1890s, centre of the estate village of Camden and the moral heart of the town. During the inter-war period it was the centre of Camden's Englishness and basis of the romance that develops later around 'the country town idyll'. (Camden Images)