Wednesday 11 September 2013

Camden's Inter-war Heritage 1919-1939

Camden's Interwar Heritage 1919-1939

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.

Royal Hotel demolished in 1973 (CHS/E Kernohan)

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.

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.

The former Bank of New South Wales building at 121 Argyle Street Camden building in 1938 (I Willis 2009)

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 run up the town’s main street from colonial times, until 1973 when it was moved to the Camden Bypass, and then 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 local airfield development. These were 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 experienced the new gentlemanly pastime of flying at the Macquarie Grove Airfield.  

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


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 the 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 several ‘locals’ built solid brick cottages that reflected their confidence in the town’s future.

Macaria is one of the most important Victorian buildings in the Camden town centre in John Street. (2017, Fairfax)

 Gentry Estates and Dairying

The interwar period's prosperity did not upset the situation where the town still dominated by the colonial gentry and their estates. 
Apart from their convict labour in the early years, they established a class and social relations system 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 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 have 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’.   

The entrance to Camden at the northern end of town along Argyle Street (CC)

Rural-urban fringe

In recent years, Camden has been targeted by the New South Wales government as one of the Sydney metropolitan area's growth centres. 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 based on the city and country divide.

A country town idyll

For their part, the ‘locals’ have retreated to nostalgia in the form of an arcadian view of the world through a ‘country town idyll.  
The idyll's romance 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 its iconic landscape.

Many of the stories about the interwar period are told in this book the Pictorial History of Camden and District.

Updated 16 January 2021. Originally posted 12 September 2013.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Camden War Cemetery

The Camden War Cemetery

Camden war cemetery is located on Burragorang and Cawdor Roads' corner, three kilometres south of Camden Post Office. The cemetery is slightly above the Nepean River floodplain, with a northerly aspect at an elevation of 75 metres. 

Camden War Cemetery with a view towards Camden (I Willis)

The vista to the north provides a picturesque view across the floodplain and is dominated by the town with St John's Church's spire in the background. It is not hard to imagine the scene that met these servicemen when they arrived in Camden during wartime over 60 years ago. 

Thousands of servicemen passed through the Camden area between 1939 and 1946 at the various defence facilities. Major military establishments were the Narellan Military Camp on the Northern Road at Narellan, and the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park, Narellan. Many army units also undertook manoeuvres throughout the area, and there were temporary encampments in several other locations including Camden Showground, Smeaton Grange and Menangle Paceway. 

The principal RAAF establishment was located at Camden airfield, with secondary airfields at The Oaks and Menangle Paceway. As well, there were several emergency runways constructed throughout the local area. The RAF also had several squadrons based at Camden airfield between 1944 and 1946.   

When the visitor approaches the cemetery, they do so from the east. They advance along a paved walkway lined with low hedgerows. The walkway is dominated by a flag pole in the centre of the path. The visitor then walks through a gate into the cemetery proper, and they are immediately struck by the serenity of the site.  

The cemetery contains twenty-three servicemen stationed in the Camden area during the Second World War. These men fit within the Camden area's long military tradition when local men went off to the Boer War and later the First World War. The latter group names are listed on the memorial gates to Macarthur Park,  Menangle Rd, Camden.

View of Cemetery Entrance

The cemetery contains the graves of seventeen RAAF servicemen, four army personnel and two RAF servicemen. The headstones are lined up in an N-S configuration, with the graves facing E-W. The graves are surrounded by a border of oleanders and bottlebrush and dominated by a single majestic tea tree. The cemetery is well kept and has a pleasant outlook.

Camden War Cemetery view to the entrance gate (I Willis)

Servicemen's Details

Royal Australian Air Force

Five airmen were killed in Hudson A16-152, which was part of 32 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft crashed south-west of Camden on 26 January 1943 while on a cross-country training flight. The aircraft was based at Camden airfield.  The pilot and the four-man crew were killed.
 F/Sgt SK Scott  (402996), aged  25 years.
Navigator F/Sgt HBL Johns (407122), aged  27 years.
W/T  Operator Sgt BCJ Pearson  (402978), aged  25 years.
 Sgt GD Voyzey  (402930), aged 24 years.
 Sgt GT Lawson (412545),  30 years.
Sgt SW Smethurst (418014), aged 20 years, crashed his Kittyhawk A29-455 at The Oaks airfield on 30 September 1943 while on a training exercise strafing the airfield. This exercise was in conjunction with the 54th Australian Anti-Aircraft Regiment which erected gun positions adjacent to the airfield. The aircraft splurged at the bottom of a shallow dive and struck the ground.

Five airmen were killed on 18 November 1943 in Beaufort A9-350, part of 32 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft crashed on a night cross country exercise training exercise, while based at Camden airfield. The pilot and crew were killed.
F/Sgt RC Christie (410630), aged  23 years.
Navigator Sgt DR James (418721),  aged  20 years.
WOAG Sgt FN Fanning (419465), aged  20 years.
Sgt RA Sharples (419226), aged  23 years.
F/S HSJ Terrill (419426), a passenger from 73 Squadron, aged  20 years.

Corporal JP Kerrigan (62397) was an electrical mechanic and was killed in a car accident in Sydney on 11 December 1943, aged  29 years.

Five airmen were killed on 29 March 1944 in Beaufort A9-550, part of 15 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft was based at the Menangle Racetrack airfield. The aircraft crashed after take-off when the port engine failed.
F/Sgt HB Johnston (420024), aged 26 years.
2nd Pilot F/O RW Durrant (422555), aged 24 years.
Navigator F/O HD Wheller (426409), aged 21 years.
W/T Operator F/Sgt RAC Hoscher (412535), aged 23 years.
AC1 WH Bray  (141632), aged 22 years.

Camden War Cemetery (I Willis)

Royal Air Force

LAC A Mullen (RAF) 1526778 was involved in a fatal accident on the Camden airfield tarmac on 12 October 1945, aged 23 years.

WOFF FS Biggs  (RAF) 365157 from the Servicing Wing, RAF Station, Camden, was killed in a car accident in Sydney on 25 November 1945, aged 36 years.

Australian Army

Private Leonard Charles Walker (V235527) enlisted in the Australian Citizen's Military Forces at Ballarat, Victorian on 8 October 1941. He was born in Ballarat on 28 June 1923. He served in the
46th Australian Infantry Battalion, 29/46th Australian Infantry Battalion.  He died at Menangle on 18 July 1945 aged 22 years.

Warrant Officer Class Two John Gow Alcorn (NX148530) enlisted in the Australian Citizen's Military Forces at Sydney on 28 May 1934. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 19 January 1900.  He transferred to the 2/AIF on 26 February 1943. He served in the Sydney University Regiment,
110th Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 41st Australian Infantry Battalion,
41/2nd Australian Infantry Battalion. He died of illness 31 March 1944, aged 44 years.

Warrant Officer Class Two Harry George Grinstead (NX126686) enlisted in the Australian Militia Forces at Sydney on 17 February 1930. He was born in London on14 August 1910. He initially transferred to the Australian Citizen Military Forces on 17 February 1940, and then to the 2/AIF on 15 August 1942. He served in the 9th Australian Field Regiment. Grinstead died on 15 August 1944 due to injuries sustained in a railway accident, aged 34 years.

Craftsmen Elwyn Sidney Hoole (NX97717) enlisted in the 2/AIF on Paddington on 11 August 1942. He was born at Walcha,  New South Wales,  on 12 October 1908. He served in the 1st Australian Ordinance Workshops Company, 308th Australian Light Aid Detachment.  He died on 6 June 1944, aged 35 years.


Camden War Cemetery
Cnr Burragorang and Cawdor Roads
Camden. NSW 2570 


RAAF Historical Section, Department of Defence, Air Force Office, Canberra. Correspondence,
Accident Reports.
Central Army Records, Melbourne.  Correspondence.

Updated 9 January 2021. Originally posted 5 September 2013.

Sunday 1 September 2013

Cumberland Plain Woodland, Sydney's natural heritage

Cumberland Plain Woodland (cc Wikimedia)
What good is Cumberland Plain Woodland you might ask?

The early settlers in the Sydney Basin might not have understood the ecology of the Cumberland Woodland but they knew good farming country when they saw it. John Macarthur understood the potential of the good grazing country on the Nepean River floodplain.

The cows that escaped from the Sydney penal settlement found their nirvana in Cumberland Woodland managed by the Dharawal people in the Cowpastures.

Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow saw the importance of the Cumberland Woodland in 1905 when she insisted the mature specimens with the bounds of Macarthur Park be preserved when she gifted the park to Camden township.

It is clearly shown in the Appin district on Sydney's rural-urban fringe, where the Woodland comes up against the Sydney sandstone communities.

Just east of Appin the colonial settlements of the early 1800s stopped. Why? Sydney sandstone is terrible farmland. Better to use the clay soils of the Cumberland Woodland.

There are the clay soils of the Cumberland Woodland between Appin and Campbelltown and a host of land grants handed out to would-be yeoman farmers from about 1813.

These colonial land grants created a pseudo-European cultural landscape of smallholder farms on the colonial frontier. There was a conflict between the Dharawal and the Europeans that resulted in the Appin Massacre of 1816.

There are surviving remnant patches of Woodland at Beulah, a Hume family property, now owned by the Sydney Living Museum and at Noorumba Reserve at Rosemeadow.

One important stand that has had recovery work is at The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan.
Cumberland Woodland (ABG)

Cumberland Plain Woodland in Serious Trouble

Cumberland Woodland Mt Annan (cc Blogger/A Koskela)


The Cumberland Woodland is found on clay soils derived from Wianamatta Group geology of Sydney's Cumberland Plain. Where once it covered over 100,000 hectares it is a mere skerrick of its former glory.

Today Cumberland Woodland barely covers 6,000 hectares of Sydney's Cumberland Plain. That is less than 6 per cent of the original area.

The Woodland is indigenous to the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas and the catchments within them including the Nepean River and South Creek.

Critically Endangered

In New South Wales under the Threatened Species Conservation Act the Woodland proposed to be listed as critically endangered. The Woodland is highly fragmented across the Cumberland Plain.


The Woodland is under threat from clearing, fire and grazing associated with urban development, industry and farming. Invasive weed infestation is a major problem in remnant Woodland.

One common weed is African Olive which escaped from the gentry estates of the Camden district in the 1820s where it was introduced as a hedging plant and rootstock for olives.


Common Species

Grey Box, Forest Red Gum, Narrow-leafed Ironbark, Grey Ironbark, Narrow-leaved Stringybark, Spotted Gum and Black Wattle.

 Best Viewing

The best viewing in the local area is at The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan.

More reading

NPWS, Cumberland Plain Woodland Fact Sheet, Endangered Ecological Community Information,  2004.

Originally posted 1 September 2013. Updated 8 August 2020.