Monday 28 October 2019

Camden Modernism

Camden Modernism
Different aspects of a country town

Camden Cafes and Milk Bars

Howlett's Cafe and Milk Bar, Camden, 1954 (Camden Images)

The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism, where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants.

The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars were at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion. The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of the daily life of the Interwar period.

Camden milk bars rarely just sold milkshakes, unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure their businesses paid their way, the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.

Cafes and Milk Bars

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

Read more about these and other cafes as well as a short history of milk bars in Australia.

Loss of Camden Modernism 

79 Macarthur Road, under demolition in 2015 

Loss of another part of Camden modernism.

Yet another ranch-style home in the local area has gone the way of some others. This one was recently damaged in a storm.

These houses were built in Camden when the Burragorang Valley coalfields generated considerable wealth for the local area.

The demolition of these houses is a loss of the modern Camden and the postwar cultural heritage of the local area.

This adds to the loss of other postwar houses along this part of Macarthur Road in Elderslie, including the Hennings House at 64 Macarthur Road in 2011 (see more on this blog post below)

Stuckey Bros Building

Camden News 24 April 1941

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


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

The building is an exciting and unusual example of a two-storey Interwar retail building. The use of decorative polychrome brickwork is unusual for Camden Township. It is an attractive example of a commercial building, and while the street-level shopfronts have been altered, it has kept the integrity of the remainder of the building intact.


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

The shop front is the public interface for retail premises and streetscapes. Stuckey Bros' original shopfront window glass had metal surrounds and a tiled entry (ingos/outgo or setback), making it three-dimensional and exciting. A style of shopfront that was common during the Edwardian period. The shopfront awning is still primarily as it was in 1940.

Stuckey Bros Building (I Willis 2012)

Every modern device

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

Horse and cart

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


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

Bakers galore

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

Who has been there?

Do you know what shops are now located in the Stuckey Bros building? Do you know all the retail outlets that have occupied the building since Stuckey Bros sold out in 1960?

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


Dunk House 

Camden Advertiser 14 August 1938

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

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

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

Dunk House, c.1937 (I Willis 2013)

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

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

For more information on Interwar Camden, click here.

Gayline Drive-In Movie Theatre

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

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

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

Read more about the Gayline Drive-in here

Shock horror - women show their legs and wear pants

Modernism and changes in fashion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camden general stores, like Whitemans and Cliftons, carried goods from all parts of the British Empire for the consumption of the local community. 

Modernism was a transnational force that embraced the Camden community.

Modernism in 1960s Elderslie NSW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The now demolished Henning's house in Macarthur Road (image) is an example of open planned ranch style. Other modernist designs are the blocks of flats in Purcell Street, with use of decorative wrought iron railings.
Wrought iron work, Elderslie NSW 1960s (I Willis)

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

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

Modernism and ranch-style housing in Elderslie

Several ranch-style houses are in the Elderslie area along Macarthur Road and River Road. Some are brick, while others are timber construction.

Ranch style housing
Ranch-style housing is a significant post-Second World War housing style. The housing style has been noted by architect Robert Irving as an Australian domestic architecture style. Parramatta City Council has recognised the housing style of heritage significance.

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

Elderslie Ranch-style Residence

64 Macarthur Road Elderslie

64 Macarthur Road Elderslie 2010 (IWillis)

The residence at 64 Macarthur Road was built in 1960 by Peter and Barbara Hennings in their early 20s. Mr Hennings recalls that the builder had a catalogue, and the house design was chosen among those. Mr Hennings has always been interested in design and was careful in selecting the plans for the house.

Ron McMillan and Sons of Camden

The house was a 3 bedroom double brick ranch-style residence with a separate bathroom and toilet. It has 10-foot ceilings, a stone fireplace and timber sash windows. There was a detached garage. The design was considered relatively ‘modern’ for its time, according to Mr Hennings. There are two pairs of ¼ inch-bevel glass doors in the lounge room and 2 single glass bevel doors.   

When the Hennings bought the 2 blocks, the site was covered in bracken ferns. On the garage end of the house, they filled the site and had a stone batter, which was completed after the house was built.

The residence was in a prominent position on Macarthur Road and one of the first houses to be constructed on the subdivision of the Bruchhauser farm in 1960. The wide frontage ranch-style house was set back on the double block in a high position, which is uncommon in Elderslie, although typical of this style elsewhere in Sydney (Parramatta Development Control Plan 2005).

The residence was built by a thriving local business family whose prosperity was built on the wealth generation of the coal mining industry in the local area. The coal industry was an important part of the Camden story, and Henning’s residence is part of it.

The Hennings sold the house in 1980 to Dr Charles McCalden, who had a medical practice in Hill Street, Camden. He moved away from Camden in the mid-1980s.  In recent years (1999-2009), the house was owned by school principals Joan and Frank Krzysik.

The ranch-style house has been identified elsewhere in the Sydney area as a building style of special character (Parramatta Development Control Plan 2005).  

64 Macarthur Road Elderslie 2010 (IWillis)

The residence's integrity was intact until it was demolished in 2011, including the front fence built in 1960 by the Hennings of ‘Chromatex’ bricks. Several mature trees on the site added to the aesthetic quality of the site.

Katherine Salant, 'The Ranch, An Architectural Archetype Forged on the Frontier', Washington Post, 30 December 2006
P & B Hennings, Camden, Interview, February 2010.

Demolition of 64 Macarthur Road, Elderslie

64 Macarthur Road Elderslie 2010 (IWillis)

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

64 Macarthur Road Elderslie 2011 (IWillis)

Demolished ranch-style houses in Elderslie
The Macarthur Road house was one of a number in the Elderslie area, and 2 have been demolished. One of the demolished ranch-style houses, Kalinda, was located off Lodges Road Elderslie and owned by the Whiteman family. The Whitemans owned a general store in Camden that operated for nearly a century. The house was a weatherboard cottage demolished in the late 1990s to make way for Sydney's urban development in the Elderslie area. The house was high on the ridge with a pleasant outlook facing west over the Narellan Creek floodplain. Visitors approached the house from Lodges Road by driving up to the top of the ridge along a narrow driveway.