Glimpses of Canberra

Westlake - stirling park, yarralumla act

The Gura Bung Dhaura Hills (stony ground Ngunawal) in the federal period of Canberra's history up until around the mid 1960s was known as Westlake.  Two of the hills, Camp and Kurrajong had a circular road put around sections of the highest parts of the hills and was named Capitol Centre by Walter Burley Griffin. Today this portion of the hills is Capital Hill and has the permanent Federal Parliament erected in and on it.  The nearby hills in the 1920s was home to around 700 people - the majority of construction workers living in three Commonwealth tent camps, Contractor John Howie's Settlement (25 cottages & single men's cubicles) and 51 portable timber cottages in The Gap  were employed on the construction of the Provisional Parliament House, the Hotel Canberra, Administrative buildings - East & West Block, infrastructure and the main intercepting sewer.  The camps were:

No 3 Sewer Camp in The Gap  1922-1925 [Section 22, Stirling Park Yarralumla]

No 1 Labourers Camp - on Camp Hill, Westlake 1923-1927

Old Tradesmen's Camp - Bl 3, Section 128 Stirling Park, Yarralumla 1924-Feb 1928

Below: Mud map of Westlake Cottage area in The Gap and part of Stirling Ridge on left.

 

Following are a number of short articles on the camps & settlements

 

Old Tradesmen's Camp - block 3, section 128 Stirling park yarralumla

 

 

 

THE OLD TRADESMEN’S CAMP, WESTLAKE 1923-February 1928

The Gura Bung Dhaura Hills [Ngunawal - stony ground[1]] were known in the 1920s as Westlake.  Portions of two of the hills – Camp and Kurrajong - of this small range were chosen by Walter Burley Griffin to be the centre of the Federal capital city.  He named the encircled area of the hills, Capitol Centre[2].  When the time came to replace the Provisional Parliament House built on Camp Hill, Capitol Centre was chosen for its site.

 

During the period between 1924 and 1927 when the Provisional Parliament House, Administrative buildings and the Hotel Canberra were built the nearby Westlake hills were chosen to house the men who worked on their construction. One of the single men’s camps accommodated the men working on the underground tunnel of the main intercepting sewer which passes under Stirling Ridge and the area of Howie’s Cottages on its way to from Western Creek to Commonwealth Avenue. [3]  

 

A Memorandum to the Transport Officer from the Federal Capital Commission dated 11 May 1925 noted the approximate population of Westlake: [4] 

·         51 Portable Cottages                                    250 [4 roomed timber cottages -10 more cottages built 1926]

·         Hostel Camp [Howie] single men                  50 [timber cubicles]

·         Contractor Howie’s 20 families                   80 [ 20 2 & 3 bedroom timber cottages]

·         Tradesmen’s Mess                                        110 [55 (?) tents with wooden sides]

·         No 3 Sewer Camp Labourers on top of Gap 100 [50 (?)tents in two rows]

·         No 1 Daniel’s Mess                                        150 [75 (?) tents]

Say: 700 [50 less than Molonglo]

 

THE WESTLAKE TRADESMEN’S CAMP

The area of Block 3, Section 128 Stirling Park opposite Lotus Bay is the site of Howie’s Settlement and the Old Tradesmen’s Camp. Perhaps because this area has to date survived development clear evidence of both remain.  Part of the Howie story was told in an earlier newsletter and it is the Old Tradesmen’s Camp that I focus on in this article. 

 

The site of the Tradesmen’s Camp was shown to me by Arthur Freeman who lived at 13 Howie’s Cottages and Ken Dinnerville who as a young lad lived with his father at the Tradesmen’s Camp.

 

There are several camp sites where evidence of building is clearly seen and the largest is that of the area of the Ablution Blocks.  To see the site one can walk along the old 19th century road that cuts across the hill opposite Lotus Bay.  The camp area can be found to the east of the modern walking path that joins Forster Crescent and Alexandrina Drive opposite the grounds of the Southern Cross Yacht Club [site of Briar Farm].

 

A stroll along this road will take you through Howie’s Cottages and after crossing the quagmire [very wet] the walker will enter the area of the Tradesmen’s Camp.  The power poles along the edge of the old road are new ones that replaced those put in situ for Westlake residents.  

 

The Tradesmen’s Camp was connected to water and electricity supply [Mess, Ablution buildings only].  Night soil  was collected and removed to the depot at Westridge.[5]

 

The quagmire marked the western end of the camp. It was next to this natural drainage system that the camp’s laundry, lavatories and bathing buildings were placed on the slope of the hill between the road and Forster Crescent.  Forster Crescent at the top of the park area cut across what I believe was the site of older buildings.  Nearby to it is one of the big holes around a metre and half or more across and a bit less than a metre deep.  Another is further down the hill near a big tree. These holes are found in other parts of Stirling Park on sites of camp buildings and work sites and I believe are part of drainage systems. 

 

A source of important information about the camps & settlements is the July 1927 Sanitation Report [6]  which provides descriptions of the Canberra settlements and camps.  The Tradesmen’s Camp that had a population at that time of 85 is described as follows:

 OLD TRADES CAMP, WESTLAKE

Being demolished and accommodation being provided at Capitol Hill.  [actual move was to No 4 Sewer Camp renamed Parkes Barrack] 44 tents raised on wooden sides, upper canvas portions not in good repair, floors of wood in sections, litter under some floors, bins provided but lids not used.  Mess Room and kitchen provided and run on co-operative lines instead of usual contracting caterer…

Recommendations

1.        Rake under huts where necessary and keep garbage receptacles covered.

2.        Kitchen – improve natural lighting if demolition delayed also rejoint kitchen benches.

3.        Sanitary blocks – drainage to long quagmire to be shortened and directed to shallow trenched patches – used alternatively.

4.        Earth closets – institute portable boxes with lids for pans in lieu of fixed uncovered seats if conveniences remain.

 

The reference in Point 3 is an important detail. It helped to confirm the site of the Ablution Blocks on Block 3 Section 128 in Stirling Park and explains the trenches, drainage channels etc on the hillside. 

 

 

During a drought  period the trenches and drainage systems were exposed.  Even a well worn path that stopped at the entrance to a now non-existent building became clear.  The exposure of the site permitted John Bruggeman, Karen Williams and myself to examine the area and document it.  The other building sites are still to be examined and documented.

 

Following the opening of the Federal Parliament in May 1927 moves were made to close the remaining Westlake camps. The Tradesmen’s camp was the last Westlake camp to close.  It was dismantled in February 1928.

 

 



[1] Mr Don Bell, Ngunawal elder

[2] Later renamed Capital Hill

[3] The scheme provides for a main out-fall sewer from the city boundary to Western Creek a distance of about 3 miles. It is oviform, 5ft 6in by 3ft 8in in size. From it a main intercepting sewer of the same size leads into the city to Commonwealth Avenue, a length of about 2 miles; and thence a southern main sewer 21 inches in diameter; and just under 2 miles in length extends to Eastlake; and a northern main sewer, 30 inches in diameter and about two miles in length, extends to the northern portion of the city under the Molonglo River. At the termination of the out-fall sewer at Western Creek, sewerage treatment works are under construction. Canberra and the Territory for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth, Canberra 1926 – FCC Report

[4] (NAA A6266.1G27/4505)

[5] Sanitation Report NAA A 6270/1 E2/28/1293 notes that between 20 Sept – 26 Dec 1927 Tradesmen’s Camp and No 1 Labourers Westlake had 252 services at a cost of £15/15/-

No 1 labourers camp, westlake

 

 

 

Above: 1927 Mildenhall photograph NLA - No 1 Camp bottom centre right.  The Old Tradesmen's Camp bottom left. Hotel Canberra mid left and Provisional Parliament House top right. 

NO 1 LABOURERS’ CAMP, WESTLAKE [May 1924-1927]

This Camp was also known as Daniel’s No 1 after the Mess Caterer, Herbert Daniel who looked after the men at Ainslie, Eastlake and Westlake. The site of the camp was on Camp Hill – now part of Capital Hill, Westlake.

 

Following the resumption of work after the First World War one of the major problems that confronted the men in charge of construction of the city of Canberra was labour or rather the lack of it.  The construction of the city of Canberra had to compete with the building booms in the major cities and many of those who could find work in the cities preferred to stay there.

 

How to solve the problem of providing a labour force for the unskilled jobs in the territory was partly solved by the RS&SAILA and the Commonwealth who were faced at war's end with a problem of high unemployment amongst ex-servicemen. Following discussions a decision was made to recruit 200 ex-servicemen from Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria and transport them to the territory to work. The Commonwealth paid their fares but expected the men to repay the costs over a period of their first three pays. These men became the first tenants of the No 1 Labourers Camp.

 

The Move to the FCT -Problems with accommodation. [1]

The man in charge of work details and accommodation was PT Owen. A document dated 11th April 1922 stated that:

50 men due to arrive in Canberra the following week to work with pick and shovel on road construction.

50 to arrive in about ten days and work in the Weetangera area

50 to work on excavations for the Hostel [Hotel Canberra]

50 to be absorbed on work on the sewer –

Total of 200 ex-servicemen.

 

Accommodation for the ex-servicemen

In answer to the RS&SILA question re the proposed accommodation for the men PT Owen answered that at that time there were two possible camps under consideration. One was with Hope's gang at Russell Reservoir and the other at Ainslie Channel [storm water].[2] No details about either of these camps have been found. However it is known that No 1 Labourers Camp was established at Eastlake [near the Power House] and this appears to be the main camp in the period 1922-1924. It was moved in 1924 to Westlake to be near the construction sites of Provisional Parliament House and administrative buildings of East and West Blocks. The final move was to Red Hill around August 1927 where the camp remained until sometime after 1928.

 

Complaints about accommodation

Provision for accommodation for the ex-servicemen was poorly organised. This prompted Sir Austin Chapman MP, to write a number of letters regarding the lack of planning and the conditions under which the men were expected to live. One letter written on 1st May 1922 noted that the men had not been supplied with blankets and that the 14ft x 12ft tents were too small for four men. He suggested that only three men be accommodated in each tent and the rent be reduced to from 9 pence to 6 pence [9 cents - 5 cents] per week.

The Department did supply Mess Buildings, Mess Tables, benches, kitchen, firewood and caterer.

 

The First Strike in the Territory - Men of No 1 and other workmen.

The arrival of the ex-servicemen also heralded the first strike in the Territory. A document in National Archives of Australia [A1/1 22/7034] dated 20th April 1922 mentions the proposal of the authorities to increase working hours and reduce wages.

 

The Argus dated 21st April 1922 reported the incident. The article in part reads:

A message from Queanbeyan tonight states that the sewer and roads workmen are on strike, although the brickyards and power houses are working there is a likelihood of cessation at any moment it is reported that 50 men who have just arrived will not work. A meeting of the builders' labourers union who are employed at Canberra will be held at Sydney tomorrow to decide what action shall be taken on the proposal to reduce wages and lengthen working hours...about 250 men affected.

About a quarter of the ex servicemen brought to the territory under the RS&SILA &Commonwealth scheme returned home.

The Eastlake No 1 Labourers Mess was vacated by 13th May, 1924[3] and moved to Westlake.

 

No 1 LABOURERS CAMP, WESTLAKE (circa 14th May 1924-circa August 1927)

Westlake -named by Walter Burley Griffin - was an area of land defined roughly by Mueller Street Yarralumla, Adelaide Avenue, State Circle, Commonwealth Avenue and Molonglo River. Stirling Park, Yarralumla is the only part of the former Westlake that has survived relatively untouched by development. Evidence is found, in Stirling Park, of human occupation by Ngunawal people and the construction era camps, settlement and cottages.

 

Westlake was the major accommodation centre for men working on the construction of Hotel Canberra [Contractor Howie], the Sewer, Provisional Parliament House and Administrative Buildings. In 1925 the population of the Westlake was 700. This was the second largest population concentration in the territory - Molonglo had 750.

 

Following the end of construction work in the area and the opening of Parliament in May 1927 the Westlake Camps were closed and moved on to new sites. Reference to No 1 at Westlake and the proposed move is found in the 27th July, 1927 Sanitation Report that in part reads: [Camp] To be demolished in a month - occupants then to wooden cubicles at Red Hill site. About 100, 12 foot x 10 foot tents of hessian and canvas. No surface collection of water with exception of water tap drainage to earth channels extending to creek (nearly dry). Sanitary blocks sewered; garbage bins covered...

 

No 1 Labourers Camp, Westlake  

Government owned tents constructed out of canvas were provided with timber floors. Some men brought their own tents that were made from canvas and/or hessian. Some residents added a tin fireplace to their abodes in an attempt to provide some comfort during the Canberra winters.

 

Timber buildings were placed on the perimeters of the block of tents. These buildings were moved to the site using steam driven traction engines. One building was rented to J Arbuckle who ran a general store and barbers shop. Other buildings included Mess Room [eastern end], Recreation Room, Ablution Blocks [cold water showers & tin baths], lavatories and laundry. Wood fired coppers were provided to heat water for baths and personal washing. Water was carried by bucket to baths and washing troughs.

 

Furthest from the tents were the lavatories, which up until the time the main intercepting sewer was ready for use [circa 1927] used a pan system. The pans were collected twice weekly and taken to the night soil dump at Westridge [Yarralumla]. Connection to the sewer probably occurred because the underground sewer tunnel constructed in the Westlake area between 1922 and May 1925 went under or close to the camp. One of three remaining heritage listed sewer vents is on nearby Stirling Ridge.

 

Because of the distance between lavatories and tents some concern was voiced by authorities that many men during the night did not make the walk to the lavatory and urinated close to their tents. The problem was solved by putting bales of hay relatively close to the tents for the use of men. These bails could be removed and replaced regularly.

The camp had two street lights and it is probable that the main service buildings were connected to electric light. Electricity was not connected to tents. Men used candles, or hurricane or kerosene lamps. Camp rules forbad the use of wax matches.

 

WASTE WATER DRAINAGE

The camp was connected to the water supply. Only one tap in the grounds was available for general use.

 

MESS & CATERERS

Each camp was provided with a caretaker and Mess Caterer. The men of the Old Tradesmen's Camp formed a co-operative and employed their own caterer. All the other camps in the territory including No 1 used a caterer provided by the authorities and in the case of No 1 it was Herbert Daniel. He left sometime in 1927 when his business was taken over by Bill Mitchell. Herbert Daniel in choosing to go with the men from Eastlake meant that he had to give up his small brick cottage opposite the Power House to move into 16 Westlake - a small unlined timber cottage-across the hill from the camp. The transfer meant the loss of a number of comforts that included leaving a home with enamel bath and chip heater for one with a tin bath and water heated in the copper.

 

Following the closure of No 1 at Westlake Bill Mitchell moved to White City Camp near Civic. Here he went broke because the majority of the men in the camp were unemployed because of the downturn in work following the opening of Parliament. They could not pay their bills of 26 shillings [$2.60] per week. Bill Mitchell continued to feed them without payment.

 

From menus found in National Archives of Australia and information from Cecily Hinchliffe [daughter of Mess Caterer Mrs Stanley] and Jean Oldfield [worked in Mrs Townsend's Mess Westridge] it is known that the food provided by the Mess Caterers was basic and plentiful. Breakfast and evening meals were cooked and those who wanted a cut lunch were provided with it. Cutting the bread for sandwiches was an onerous task and the fillings included cold meats [from the roasts], jams, and meat and fish pastes. Condiments were essential and numerous tomato sauce, vinegar, pickle and paste bottles along with broken beer bottles are common items found in the camp dumps.

 

CAMP LIFE - LEISURE ACTIVITIES

Life in the camps without families must have been difficult for many. Leisure activities included sport -football in winter and cricket in summer. Tennis was played all year round. Men of No 1 may have joined the Hostel Cricket Club founded by Howie's men in 1922. The local cricket pitch was on Block 1, Section 128. The open area was also used in the winter months for football. Incidentally, when John Butters took up his position as First Commissioner at the beginning of 1925 he banned competitive sport on Sundays. He also spoke out against allowing liquor to be sold in the territory.[4].  

 

Gambling, was, like the drinking of alcohol, banned in the camps. However both rules were ignored. The Gleaner [HLB Lasseter] in the March 1926 issue of The Canberra Community News for example, noted that two-up was one of the favourite activities at No 1 and Tradesmen's Camps.

 

Other activities of importance to the men included RS & SILA meetings and Smokoes. At these functions the men were able to reminisce. Some joined one of the Friendly Societies such as the Druids. They could also attend concerts and dances that were held in places such as the Howie's and Causeway Halls. At the latter venue boxing, gymnastics and the pictures [films -movies] were also held.

 

The Burns Club was founded in nearby Howie's Hostel Mess in 1924 and the Social Service Association that was designed to look after the welfare of the workers was formed the following year. As well as sporting activities the Association also provided limited library facilities. The Philharmonic Society founded in the mid twenties provided for those who enjoyed singing and the Canberra Band was also established.

 

Many of the men travelled to Queanbeyan after work on a Friday and or on a Saturday. Sundays - the pubs were closed. The territory had been officially dry since 1913 and the only way to legally buy alcohol was to travel to nearby Queanbeyan. The Gleaner [HLB Lasseter] in his article in The Canberra Community News 11th March 1926 noted that around 2000 pounds [$4,000] was spent by territory employees in Queanbeyan each week - much on the drop that cheers. [The average labourer's wage was between £3 and £5 - $6-$8 -per week.]

 

A great quantity of alcohol was also consumed in the camps. Sergeant Cook who was the second police sergeant in the Territory was quoted in The Argus 21st March 1938, in an article When Canberra Was Young and Wild, as saying that when a Bottle-Oh came to Canberra to collect the bottles in the camps he found them in neat stacks. He collected 170,000 dozen -that is 2,044,000 bottles. Each bottle earned him one-penny -the deposit on the bottle. He made a tidy sum. Today broken beer bottles dated between 1922 and 1927 are still found on the campsites.

 

DEATH ON THE HILLSIDE

Several men who lived at No 1 Camp died on the hillside opposite Lotus Bay. The Canberra Times 13th January 1927, contains a detailed account of a drinking bout that resulted in the accidental stabbing of John Miley and the charge of manslaughter against the man responsible. Mentioned in the article is George Sykes who later moved to 29 Westlake. One of the two Westlake plaques in Stirling Park is placed in his yard, which is near the corner of Empire Circuit and Forster Crescent, Yarralumla—opposite the Mexican Embassy. George Sykes and his brother Gay were the first owner Taxi drivers in the territory.

 

The death of William Joseph Ogilvie was reported in an October 1927 issue of the Times. He was 26 years of age and had left home some ten years earlier. Shortly before his death at No 1 he ran into his brother, James Egerton Ogilvie whom he had not seen for a decade. The cause of William's death and that of the man who shared the tent, was a fire that engulfed their tent within a short period of time making it impossible for the men to save them. Whether it was a fallen candle or a spark from the fire in the fireplace that caused the tragedy is not known. The article went on to say that only one tap was available for the men to use and that there was no telephone in the camp for a call for help to be made.

 

A year earlier Charles Bruce [also known as Charles Jackson] died at the camp of natural causes on 25th June 1926 aged 52 years. He was a builder's labourer and is buried in St John the Baptist churchyard. The burial expenses were paid by his mates.

THE MOVE TO RED HILL CAMP

The site of Red Hill Camp is in Latrobe Park Red Hill. Some of the men listed in this camp in the 1928 electoral roll also added the word -Westlake. It is possible that Red Hill was considered by some to be part of Westlake. A Memorandum in National Archives of Australia refers to the Westlake Camp and the proposed move. [A6266G27/2045] Part of it reads:

With reference to your memorandum No 27/6091t dated 1st June, relative to the accommodation of workmen employed by the Commission, I am directed to inform you that the statement of Messrs Kelly and O'Neill [AWU] in their letter to Mr Charton, MP, dated 7th April, that “as is usual with Government Departments the Home & Territories Department has clouded the issue" is considered to be without foundation.

 

As to the two camp localities particularised by Messrs Kelly and O'Neill, I am to say that complaints were made that there was insufficient laundry accommodation for the men accommodated at the No 1 Laborers' Camp, and that there were only two street lights provided there. A large number of men temporarily engaged during preparations for the Royal Visit were housed in this camp, and the conveniences mentioned, which were adequate for normal requirements, were certainly heavily taxed. However, a subsequent reduction in the number of workmen employed, resulting in a large number of men departing from the camp, has removed the cause for complaint. The Red Hill Camp was a temporary provision, and was established owing to the necessity, which arose for the removal of the camp in close proximity to Parliament House. It would appear that the men who moved their own tents to Red Hill did not do so under supervision. Further, some difficulty has been experienced in dealing with these men, who at the outset arranged their horse lines alongside their own camp lines, insisting that they desired their horses and horse feed to be quite near their tents. This camp, however, is being placed upon a proper basis.

 

The dimensions of the cubicles erected by the Commission have been checked. The internal measurements are 11ft 6 ins x 9ft 6 ins. The walls are 6ft 2ins high, and the ridging is 8ft x 8 ins high. The cost was £32/10/-, and added charges for maintenance, camp attendance, garbage removal, provision of dining and recreational facilities, lighting etc. are all included in the charge which is made for rental, which is considered to be reasonable.

It may be mentioned that the tent camps, which form the subject of the criticism are those in which tents and structures have been erected by the tenants…

 

Red Hill Camp closed around 1929. The cubicles were sold and the one in the backyard of Calthorpe House in Mugga Way may have come from this camp.

 

Who were the men of No. 1 and where did they go.

No comprehensive lists of the men who lived at No 1 Labourers Camp have been found. Some lists of the recruited ex-servicemen are available. Others names are found on the 1928 Electoral Roll. Others are found in magazines such as the Roman Catholic Angelus and Community News. The majority of men who lived in No 1 Labourers Camp remain anonymous.

The Gleaner [Lasseter] in one of his articles in the Canberra Community News wrote that Canberra's labourer’s came from many walks of life. Some were well educated men with university degrees—some came from the blue and white-collar class and others were men who were in the trenches when they should have been learning their trade. Many were men who found it difficult to settle down after the war. Some returned home -some went back to humping the bluey – and some stayed.

 

MEN OF No 1

The list for the first 25 men selected by RS&SILA 12.4.1922 follows: [Note the number of married men who left wife and families behind to come to FCT to work.]

 

Name Address S/M Remarks Work

JJ Shepherd 144 Ballair St Kensington 5 remounts lab

J Lee 32 Charles St Prahan M 7th Btn lab

ET Kinninmont 189 A’Beckett St, City M 60th pick & shov

ET Wallace Vict St Altona M 5th Btn pick & shov

A Moles 4185 Canterbury Rd Middle Ph M 6th pick & shovel

H Quinn Booths Home, Londsdale St City 5 miner

S McMillan 14 Edward St Elsternwick M 59th labourer

JP Kelt 19 Nimmo St Middle Park S 58th miner

LJ Coverdale 40 Caroline St Clifton Hill S 5th hand & drill

LJ Coverdale (crossed out)

E Powers 36 David St East Brunswick S 1st tunneling Co. miner

JH Flood 126 Napier St, S Melbourne 14th Btn labourer

A Waters 255 Victoria Parade EM M 1st Pioneers labourer

WH Haviell Gordon House, Little Bourke St City Widower, reinforcements labourer

AJ Wylie Arondale Rd, Chelsie M 7th Btn labourer

J Drayton 35 Milton St W Melb M 8th Btn labourer

J Drayton [crossed out]

C Bishop Gordon House, Little Bourke St City M 2nd Tunnel Co miner

W West 125 Queensberry Street N Melbourne M 5th Pioneer labourer

J O'Rourke 33 Stead St S Melbourne S 3rd Pioneer labourer

AJ Bannister Royal Standard House, Little Bourke St Melbourne M 60th labourer

HN Podger 147 Johnstone St Fitzroy M Navy pick & shovel

GL Podger 217 Young St Nth Fitzroy S 24th Btn labourer

J Armstrong 27 Creswick St Hawthorn M 21st Btn labourer

John Morley 71 Palmerston St Carlton M 24th Btn labourer

Below is a list of ex-servicemen brought to the territory under the scheme who left the territory.

 

 Name From Date/reason

C Andre Melbourne 10.8.22 voluntary

RJ Andre Melbourne 5.8.22 voluntary

G Bull Melbourne Cleared out

J Armstrong Melbourne 7.8.1922 voluntary

RF Melbourne Cleared out

J Carroll Melbourne 28.6.1922 voluntary

L Crook Melbourne 30.5.1922 voluntary

J Clancy Melbourne 5.6.1922 voluntary

W Flanagan Melbourne 11.7.1922 L7S

FJ Daveron Sydney 29.6.1922 voluntary

F Farrell Melbourne 22.5.1922 voluntary

Ferguson Sydney 8.6.1922 voluntary

J Groves Melbourne 24.7.1922 voluntary

WH Haviell Melbourne 22.5.1922 cleared out

EH Hennessy Melbourne 10.8.1922 voluntary

H Hines Melbourne 5.7.1922 incurable illness

H Jones Sydney 5.7.1922 voluntary

F Johnson Sydney 29.6.1922 voluntary

D Kelly Melbourne 25.7.1922 voluntary

J Lee Melbourne 5.8.1922 discharged

L McGrath Melbourne 25.7.1922 discharged

JC McGrogan Queanbeyan 7.11.1922 voluntary

R McCauley Queanbeyan 11.7.1922 voluntary

M O’Rourke, Queanbeyan 29.6.1922 voluntary

F North Bungendore 8.7.1922 voluntary   

FN Pickering Sydney 29.6.1922 voluntary

C Roberts Melbourne 5.8.1922 discharged

J Rooney Melbourne 11.5.1922 voluntary

RB Stowe Queanbeyan 25.7.1922 voluntary

EJ Wallis Melbourne 6.6.1922 voluntary

A Waters Melbourne 7.6.1922 voluntary

W West Melbourne 1.6.1922 voluntary

F Wilson Queanbeyan 10.7.1922 voluntary

F White Sydney 8.7.1922 discharged

JP Woods Bungendore 29.6.1922 voluntary

W Woods Bungendore 21.9.1922 voluntary

R Chisholm Melbourne 7.8.1922 voluntary

FN Pickering Sydney 29.6.1922 voluntary

C Roberts Melbourne 5.8.1922 discharged

J Rooney Melbourne 11.5.1922 voluntary

RB Stowe Queanbeyan 25.7.1922 voluntary

EJ Wallis Melbourne 6.6.1922 voluntary

A Waters Melbourne 7.6.1922 voluntary

W West Melbourne 1.6.1922 voluntary

F Wilson Queanbeyan 10.7.1922 voluntary

F White Sydney 8.7.1922 discharged

JP Woods Bungendore 29.6.1922 voluntary

W Woods Bungendore 21.9.1922 voluntary

R Chisholm Melbourne 7.8.1922 voluntary

The total number who departed were: 4029 left voluntarily, 3 cleared out, 6 discharged and 1 had an incurable disease

Complaints about accommodation

Provision for accommodation for the ex-servicemen was poorly organised. This prompted Sir Austin Chapman MP, to write a number of letters regarding the lack of planning and the conditions under which the men were expected to live. One letter written on 1st May 1922 noted that the men had not been supplied with blankets and that the 14ft x 12ft tents were too small for four men. He suggested that only three men be accommodated in each tent and the rent be reduced to from 9 pence to 6 pence [9 cents - 5 cents] per week  

 

1928 Electoral Roll -Red Hill Camp

ALLAN, Francis labourer

BARNES, Joseph labourer

BISSET, Ronald labourer

BLAKSTON, James lorry driver

BLAY, Thomas labourer

BRENNAN, John labourer

BROWN, William labourer

BULL, John labourer [Westlake]

BURGE, George electrician

BYRNE, Dennis labourer [Westlake]

CHRISTIE, John labourer

CRAN, Peter labourer

DALE, John labourer [Westlake]

FEBEY, John –

FITZPATRICK, John labourer

GALLIE, James pipe inspector

HASTINGS, William labourer

HENRY, George labourer [Westlake]

IRVING, Harold labourer [Westlake]

JAMES, Wilton gardener [Westridge]

JOHNSTONE, John labourer [Westlake]

LANE, Leslie labourer [Westlake]

LAVELL, William labourer

LOWE, Alan labourer

MARSHALL, Alan cook [Westlake]

MATHIESON, George labourer

MEARNS, John labourer

MUIR, Henry labourer

MURFET, Reginald labourer

NOWLAND, Reginald labourer

O'CONNOR, John labourer [Westlake]

O'SHEA, John labourer

PARKER, Robert labourer

POLA, John labourer [Eastlake]

PRESTON, Joseph labourer

ROBERTSON, William labourer [Westlake]

ROBINSON, George labourer

ROSS, Charles labourer

SMITH, George labourer

SMITH, John labourer

THORNTON, John labourer

THOROGOOD, Joseph camp caretaker

WATSON, George gardener



[1] [National Archives of Australia -File A199/1 FC1923/689]

 

[2] CDHS photograph shows tents near the Ainslie Post Office – site opposite Olem’s [former Hotel Ainslie] on the old Yass Road – corner of Limestone Avenue and …

[3] National Archives of Australia CP464/3/1 Bundle 1/B968

[4] The sale of alcohol in the Territory was banned from 1913 by the Minister in Charge at the time – King O’Malley.  When the public servants began to arrived in 1927 John Butters had a change of mind re the sale because they were a better class of people.  This led to a vote in 1928 – Liquor Ordinance Vote which resulted in a reversal of the 1913 ordinance.  However, sale had to be in cafes where people were served at tables by men – no barmaids allowed.

No 1 Labourers camp in canberra

HISTORY OF No 1 Labourers' Camp (1922-c1929) FCT

Eastlake, Westlake (includes Capital Hill) & Red Hill

 

No 1 Labourers Camp was also referred to in some documents as Daniel’s No 1.  Herbert Daniel was the camp’s Mess Caterer at Eastlake and Westlake. 

 

BACKGROUND -CONSTRUCTION OF CANBERRA 1910-1920

In 1909 survey work on the city commenced and by 1912 construction of the city’s infrastructure – water supply, power, brickworks, sewer – began.  Work on the city was interrupted by September 1916 when the impact of World War One was felt.   Caretakers were employed to mind empty buildings and work sites.

 

Following the end of the war in 1918 enthusiasm for continued construction of the Federal Capital waned.  Canberra was referred to as a Great White Elephant.  However, by 1920 the decision was made to continue construction work but on a limited scale.  Plans for grand buildings were scrapped and replaced with a scheme to build a Provisional Parliament House and sufficient buildings to enable the Federal parliament to move from Melbourne to Canberra.

 

Labour shortage in the Territory

The Federal Capital Advisory Committee (FCAC) was formed to take control of the project at the local level. A limited budget was not the only problem faced by the FCAC.  Labour, both skilled and unskilled was in short supply and men were in no rush to leave the building booms of Sydney and Melbourne to come to the territory where few facilities were provided.

 

How to solve the problem of providing a labour force for the unskilled jobs in the territory was partly solved by the RS&SILA and the Commonwealth who were faced at war’s end with a problem of high unemployment amongst ex-servicemen.  Following discussions a decision was made to recruit 200 ex-servicemen from Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria and transport them to the territory to work. The Commonwealth paid their fares but expected the men to repay the costs over a period of their first three pays. These men became the first tenants of the No 1 Labourers Camp. 

 

The Move to the FCT – Problems with accommodation. [1]

The man in charge of work details and accommodation was PT Owen.  A document dated 11th April, 1922 stated that:

·                             50 men due to arrive in Canberra the following week to work with pick and shovel on road construction. 

·                             50  to arrive in about ten days and work in the Weetangera area

·                             50 to work on excavations for the Hostel [Hotel Canberra]

·                             50 to be absorbed on work on the sewer –

 Total of 200 ex-servicemen.

 

Accommodation for the ex-servicemen

In answer to the RS&SILA question re the proposed accommodation for the men PT Owen answered that at that time there were two possible camps under consideration.  One was with Hope’s gang at Russell Reservoir and the other at Ainslie Channel (storm water).  No details about either of these camps have been found.  However it is known that No 1 Labourers Camp was established at Eastlake (near the Power House) and this appears to be the main camp in the period 1922-1924.  It was moved in 1924 to Westlake to be near the construction sites of Provisional Parliament House and administrative buildings of East and West Blocks.  The final move was to Red Hill around August 1927 where the camp remained until sometime after 1928.

 

Complaints about accommodation

Provision for accommodation for the ex-servicemen was poorly organised.  This prompted Sir Austin Chapman MP, to write a number of letters regarding the lack of planning and the conditions under which the men were expected to live.  One letter written on 1st May, 1922 noted that the men had not been supplied with blankets and that the 14ft x 12ft tents were too small for four men. He suggested that only three men be accommodated in each tent and the rent be reduced to from 9 pence to 6 pence [9 cents – 5 cents] per week. 

 

The Department did supply Mess Buildings, Mess Tables, benches, kitchen,  firewood and caterer. 

 

The First Strike in the Territory – Men of No 1 and other workmen.

The arrival of the ex-servicemen also heralded the first strike in the Territory.  A document in Australian Archives[2] dated 20th April 1922 mentions the proposal of the authorities to increase working hours and reduce wages.  The Argus dated 21st April, 1922 reported the incident.  The article in part reads:

 

A message from Queanbeyan tonight states that the sewer and roads workmen are on strike, although the brickyards and power houses are working there is a likelihood of cessation at any moment, it is reported that 50 men who have just arrived will not work.  A meeting of the builders' labourers union who are employed at Canberra will be held at Sydney tomorrow, to decide what action shall be taken on the proposal to reduce wages and lengthen working hours...about 250 men affected.

 

About a quarter of the ex servicemen brought to the territory under the RS&SILA & Commonwealth scheme returned home. 

 

The Eastlake No 1 Labourers Mess was vacated by 13th May, b1924[3] and moved to Westlake. 

 

No 1 LABOURERS CAMP, WESTLAKE (circa 14th May 1924-circa August 1927)

Westlake – named by Walter Burley Griffin - was an area of land defined roughly by Mueller Street Yarralumla, Adelaide Avenue, Capital Hill, Commonwealth Avenue and Molonglo River.  Stirling Park, Yarralumla is the only part of the former Westlake that has survived relatively untouched by development. Evidence is found in Stirling Park of human occupation by Ngunawal people and the construction era camps, settlement and cottages.

 

Westlake was the major accommodation centre for men working on the construction of Hotel Canberra (Contractor Howie), the Sewer, Provisional Parliament House and Administrative Buildings.  In 1925 the population of the Westlake was 700.  This was the second largest population concentration in the territory – Molonglo had 750.

 

Following the end of construction work in the area and the opening of Parliament in May 1927 the Westlake Camps were closed and moved on to new sites.  Reference to No 1 at Westlake and the proposed move is found in the 27th July, 1927 Sanitation Report that in part reads: [Camp] To be demolished in a month - occupants then to wooden cubicles at Red Hill site.  About 100 12 foot x 10 foot tents of hessian and canvas.  No surface collection of water with exception of water tap drainage to earth channels extending to creek, (nearly dry). Sanitary blocks sewered; garbage bins covered...

 

 

No 1 LABOURERS CAMP – THE SITE

Oral history of people who lived at Westlake in 1927 (Mrs D Maxwell, Arthur Freeman and Ken Dinnerville) placed No 1 Labourers Camp below Lord Casey’s red brick house (built early 1930s).  A photograph found in NLA showed that the site of the camp was on Camp Hill, which today is part of Capital Hill and in the period of the camp in the area known as Westlake.  This area was near Lord Casey’s but not in the area now known as Stirling Park, but part of Westlake.

 

Photographs of the camp show, that like the majority of camps the tents were arranged in tight rows with little space between them.  Many had rough fire places with chimneys constructed from corrugated iron.  Mess buildings were constructed from timber and moved to the site using steam driven traction engine.

 

Placed some distance from the tents were the lavatories.  In the case of No 1 Camp some if not all lavatories were connected to a septic system.  Some Australian Archives documents refer to a twice weekly pan collection at the Labourers Camp.  Whether this was for both camps (1927 & Capital Hill) is not known.  The night soil was taken to the night soil depot at Westridge (Yarralumla) where it was dumped. 

 

Because of the distance between lavatories and tents some concern was voiced by authorities that many men during the night did not make the walk to the lavatory and urinated close to their tents.  The problem was partly solved by putting bales of hay relatively close to the tents for the use of men.  These bails could be removed and replaced regularly. 

 

No 1 Camp had two street lights and it is probable that the main service buildings were connected to electric light.  Electricity was not connected to tents.  Men used candles, or hurricane or kerosene lamps.  Camp rules forbad the use of wax matches

 

WASTE WATER DRAINAGE

The camps were connected to the water supply. At the Capital Hill site only one tap in the grounds was available for general camp use.  Water was supplied to the Mess, Showers and laundries.  Waste water was drained into earth channels and directed to natural drains such as creeks and quagmire. 

 

Because the sites of both camps have been built upon there is no evidence of the camp use of the land.  However, drainage systems used in the nearby contemporary Tradesmen’s Camp are found on the hillside opposite Lotus Bay and it is probable that similar systems were used at No 1.

 

On the western side of the quagmire between Forster Crescent and an old road are the remains of Tradesmen’s Camp ablution, laundry & lavatory buildings and their drainage systems.  Descriptions of this area are found in the 27 July Sanitation Report in which the following recommendation was made:

 

Sanitary Blocks – drainage to long quagmire to be shortened and directed to shallow trenched patches, used alternatively.

 

From archival documents it is known that a new set of buildings were erected on this site in 1925 and evidence of these buildings are still clearly evident on the site.

 

That the buildings were well used is confirmed by the many paths that converge on and go around now nonexistent buildings.  One path stops abruptly at an entrance door.  At the point where the men stepped into and out of the building the ground is reinforced with a few stones.  Nearby to this particular building site is flat area of land that is connected to the old road below by a track.  There is sufficient room on the flattened land for a horse and dray to turn and back up to an earth platform.  I suspect that the nearby building was a lavatory block and the platform enabled men to load full pans on to the waiting dray without fear of accident.

 

Found on this site near the quagmire and other places on the hill are a number of circular and oval shaped holes that range from around one to two meters across. Each is dug to a depths of around one metre.  On the lower slope side of each hole are channels that direct water to natural drainage areas. Smaller rock lined holes connected by zig-zag channels have also been found near a building site – possible a Mess?  Some water flow areas have been reinforced with stones and bricks set into the ground.

 

Pipes – metal and concrete are used in a number of the drainage systems.  Some are found in the area near the quagmire.

 

MESS & CATERERS

Each camp was provided with a caretaker and Mess Caterer.  The men of the Old Tradesmen’s Camp formed a co-operative and employed their own caterer.  All the other camps in the territory including No 1 used a caterer provided by the authorities and in the case of No 1 it was Herbert Daniel.  He left sometime in 1927 when his business was taken over by Bill Mitchell. Herbert Daniel in choosing to go with the men from Eastlake meant that he had to give up his small brick cottage opposite the Power House to move into 25 Westlake - a small unlined timber cottage - across the hill from the camp.  The transfer meant the loss of a number of comforts that included leaving a home with enamel bath and chip heater for one with a tin bath and water heated in the copper.

 

Following the closure of No 1 at Westlake Bill Mitchell moved to White City Camp near Civic.  Here he went broke because the majority of the men in the camp were unemployed because of the downturn in work following the opening of Parliament.  They could not pay their bills of 26 shillings ($2.60) per week.  Bill Mitchell continued to feed them without payment. He later moved to Causeway Camp.

 

From menus found in Australian Archives and information from Cecily Hinchliffe (daughter of Mess Caterer Mrs Stanley) and Jean Oldfield  (worked in Mrs Townsend’s Mess Westridge) it is known that the food provided by the Mess Caterers was basic and plentiful.  Breakfast and evening meals were cooked and those who wanted a cut lunch were provided with it.  Cutting the bread for sandwiches was an onerous task and the fillings included cold meats (from the roasts), jams, and meat and fish pastes.  Condiments were essential and numerous tomato sauce, vinegar, pickle and paste bottles along with broken beer bottles are common items found in the camp dumps.

 

CAMP LIFE – LEISURE ACTIVITIES

Life in the camps without families must have been difficult for many.  Leisure activities included sport – football in winter and cricket in summer. Tennis was played all year round. Men of No 1 may have joined the Hostel Cricket Club founded by Howie’s men in 1922.  The local cricket pitch was on Block 1, Section 128.  The open area was also used in the winter months for football.  Incidentally, when John Butters took up his position as First Commissioner at the beginning of 1925 he banned competitive sport on Sundays.  He also spoke out against allowing liquor to be sold in the territory.

 

Gambling, was, like the drinking of alcohol, banned in the camps. However both rules were ignored.  The Gleaner (HLB Lasseter) in the March 1926 issue of The Canberra Community News for example, noted that two-up was one of the favourite activities at No 1 and Tradesmen’s Camps. 

 

Other activities of importance to the men included RS&SILA meetings and Smokoes.  At these functions the men were able to reminisce.  Some joined one of the Friendly Societies such as the Druids.  They could also attend concerts and dances that were held in places such as the Howie’s and Causeway Halls.  At the latter venue boxing, gymnastics and the pictures (films – movies) were also held. 

 

The Burns Club was founded in nearby Howie’s Hostel Mess in 1924 and the Social Service Association that was designed to look after the welfare of the workers was formed the following year.  As well as sporting activities the Association also provided limited library facilities.  The Philharmonic Society founded in the mid twenties provided for those who enjoyed singing and the Canberra Band was also established. 

 

Many of the men travelled to Queanbeyan after work on a Friday and or on a Saturday.  Sundays – the pubs were closed.   The territory had been officially dry since 1913 and the only way to legally buy alcohol was to travel to nearby Queanbeyan.  The Gleaner (HLB Lasseter) in his article in The Canberra Community News 11th March 1926 noted that around £2000 [$4000] was spent by territory employees in Queanbeyan each week – much on the drop that cheers.   (The average labourer’s wage was between £3 and £5 - $6-$8 – per week.)

 

Great quantities of alcohol were also consumed in the camps.  Sergeant Cook who was the second police sergeant in the Territory was quoted in The Argus 21st March 1938 in an article When Canberra Was Young and Wild as saying that when a Bottle-Oh came to Canberra to collect the bottles in the camps he found them in neat stacks.  He collected 170,000 dozen – that is 2,044,000 bottles.  Each bottle earnt him one penny – the deposit on the bottle.  He made a tidy sum.  Today broken beer bottles dated between 1922 and 1927 are still found on the camp sites. 

 

DEATH ON THE HILLSIDE

Several men who lived at No 1 Camp died on the hillside. The Canberra Times 13 January 1927 contains a detailed account of a drinking bout that resulted in the accidental stabbing of John Miley and the charge of manslaughter against the man responsible.  Mentioned in the article is George Sykes who later moved to 29 Westlake.  One of the two Westlake plaques in Stirling Park is placed in his yard which is near the corner of Empire Circuit and Forster Crescent Yarralumla – opposite the Mexican Embassy. George Sykes and his brother Gay were the first owner Taxi drivers in the territory.

 

The death of William Joseph Ogilvie was reported in an October 1927 issue of the Times.  He was 26 years of age and had left home some ten years earlier.  Shortly before his death at No 1 he ran into his brother, James Egerton Ogilvie whom he had not seen for a decade.  The cause of William’s death and that of the man who shared the tent, was a fire that engulfed their tent within a short period of time making it impossible for the men to save them.  Whether it was a fallen candle or a spark from the fire in the fire place that caused the tragedy is not known.  The article went on to say that only one tap was available for the men to use and that there was no telephone in the camp for a call for help to be made.

 

A year earlier Charles Bruce (also known as Charles Jackson) died at the camp of natural causes on 25th June 1926 aged 52 years.  He was a builder’s labourer and is buried in St John the Baptist churchyard.  The burial expenses were paid by his mates.

 

THE MOVE TO RED HILL CAMP

The site of Red Hill Camp is in Latrobe Park Red Hill.  Some of the men listed in this camp in the 1928 electoral roll also added the word – Westlake.  It is possible that Red Hill was considered by some to be part of Westlake.  A Memorandum in Australian Archives refers to the Westlake Camp and the proposed move. [4]    Part of it reads

 

With reference to your memorandum No 27/6091, dated 1st June, relative to the accommodation of workmen employed by the Commission, I am directed to inform you that the statement of Messrs Kelly and O’Neill [AWU] in their letter to Mr Charton, MP, dated 7th April, that, “as is usual with Government Departments the Home & Territories Department has clouded the issue” is considered to be without foundation…

 

As to the two camp localities particularised by Messrs Kelly and O’Neill, I am to say that complaints were made that there was insufficient laundry accommodation for the men accommodated at the No 1 Laborers’ Camp, and that there were only two street lights provided there.  A large number of men temporarily engaged during preparations for the Royal Visit were housed in this camp, and the conveniences mentioned, which were adequate for normal requirements, were certainly heavily taxed.  However, a subsequent reduction in the number of workmen employed, resulting in a large number of men departing from the camp, has removed the cause for complaint.  The Red Hill Camp was a temporary provision, and was established owing to the necessity which arose for the removal of the camp in close proximity to Parliament House.  It would appear that the men who moved their own tents to Red Hill did not do so under supervision.  Further, some difficulty has been experienced in dealing with these men, who at the outset arranged their horse lines alongside their own camp lines, insisting that they desired their horses and horse feed to be quite near their tents.  This camp, however, is being placed upon a proper basis.

 

The dimensions of the cubicles erected by the Commission have been checked.  The internal measurements are 11ft 6 ins x 9ft 6 ins.  The walls are 6ft 2ins high, and the ridging is 8ft x 8 ins high.  The cost was 32 pounds ten shillings, and added charges for maintenance, camp attendance, garbage removal, provision of dining and recreational facilities, lighting etc, are all included in the charge which is made for rental, which is considered to be reasonable.

 

It may be mentioned that the tent camps which form the subject of the criticism are those in which tents and structures have been erected by the tenants…

 

Red Hill Camp closed around 1929.  The cubicles were sold and the one in the backyard of Calthorpe House in Mugga Way may have come from this camp.

 

Who were the men of No1 and Where Did They Go.

No comprehensive lists of the men who lived at No 1 Labourers Camp have been found.  Some lists of the recruited ex-servicemen are available.  Others names are found on the 1928 Electoral Roll. Others are found in magazines such as the Roman Catholic Angelus and Community News. The majority of men who lived in No 1 Labourers Camp remain anonymous.

 

The Gleaner (Lasseter) in one of his articles in the Canberra Community News wrote that Canberra’s labourers came from many walks of life.  Some were well educated men with university degrees – some came from the blue and white collar class and others were men who were in the trenches when they should have been learning their trade.  Many were men who found it difficult to settle down after the war.

 

Some returned home –some went back to humping the bluey – and some stayed.

 



[1] Australian Archives - File A199/1 FC1923/689

 

[2] A1/1 22/7034

[3] National Australian Archives CP464/3/1 Bundle 1/B968

[4] NAA A6266 G27/2045

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