Early Canberra

The Camp - Accommodation

The tents in this camp numbered between 45 and 55. Each was 12 foot x 10 foot and was shared by two men. Some may have had a tin fireplace added. Contemporary photographs show that the tents were arranged in tight rows with little space between each. A number of photographs show in the background the tents of the Old Tradesman’s Camp. One taken in May 1927 of the temporary police camp has in the background a view of some of the tents and one of the camp’s timber building. Another published in the Christmas 1925 Canberra Illustrated shows the tents packed together in tight rows.

It is probable that a number of the men planted gardens. No photographs to date have been found of gardens at the Tradesmen’s Camp. However, contemporary photographs of the tents at No 1 Labourers Camp show a number of gardens including one with a brick border. A similar brick pattern has been found in the area of the Ablution blocks at the Tradesmen’s Camp. Nearby are white iris flowers and hyacinths that flower most years. An old strawberry patch is nearby.   [The following photographs top to bottom - Brick border Tradesmen's Camp Ablution area; No 1 Labourers Camp - brick edged garden border and two photographs showing the Tradesmen's Camp (today part of Block 3, Section 128 Stirling Park, Yarralumla.]



Above – photograph reproduced in Canberra Illustrated Christmas 1925 issue. Note the washing line strung between two tents. There may be a missing tent on that site.


Electricity and Water

The camp’s timber buildings were connected to electricity and water. At least one tap was provided in the grounds for use by the men. The power poles alongside the lower side of the old road that cuts across the hill follow the original line of power poles. They carried electricity to Howies and the Tradesmen’s Camp. The nearby farm cottages - Briar and Kaye’s Klensendorlffe farms - missed out.

Evidence of the lighting used by the men has been found in the dumps and on the site of the Sanitation buildings. At the latter a squashed metal section of kerosene lamp was discovered. EverReady batteries were found in dumps suggesting that some men used torches and from Canberra Times articles it is known that candles were also used. 

Timber buildings & the Mess


The timber buildings provided included mess, storage, recreation, laundry, lavatory and bathing blocks. All the timber buildings were hauled to the site by steam driver traction engines and were situated on the perimeter of the tent block.


The men of the Tradesmen’s Camp formed a co-operative - Building Trades Co-op Mess-and employed their own Caterer. Their elected secretary was A Britton. His correspondence regarding concerns of the men and requirements of the Mess can be found in National Archives of Australia.

The Mess Caterer employed by the Co-operative was Mrs Erikson. It is probable that she and her husband lived in a tent cottage until 1924 when a Westlake cottage in The Gap became available. The tent cottage was then rented by Arthur Freeman Snr and his family until they moved in 1927 into no. 13 Howie’s Cottages.


Above left is a photograph loaned by Arthur Freeman Jnr showing the hessian fence around their tent home. The tree in the background on the left still grows on the hill – see photograph on right.


Arthur Freeman

Arthur Freeman Jr told me that during the time of living in the tent the family had the use of two timber buildings - a kitchen and storage area. Evidence on the hillside suggests that the sites of these buildings may be to the west of the tent cottage.

The timber lavatory outhouse structure used by the family was placed on a concrete slab that is still in situ on the hillside. It is in the vicinity of a Howie’s cottages removed sometime before 1925 – and probably before 1924 when the family moved to the area. A photograph taken of two of the Freeman children show the lavatory in the background. 


Below left is Arthur Freeman in his scout’s uniform, 9 May 1927. The tree in the background on the left is still living in the park. It is on the mid distance in the contemporary photograph on the right.



The Mess, Storage & Recreation Buildings

The exact sites of these buildings are not known, but nearby to the location of Freeman’s tent is evidence on the ground of two building sites. One is above the old road. This building may be the one shown in the police camp photograph. Part of this site has a number of zig-zag channels linking a number of small holes – one of which is rock lined.

Another building site is further to the east just below Forster Crescent road and another on the lower side of the old road. 


The second site is further to the east again and just below Forster Crescent. 

Timber building on the lower side of the old road. On the lower side of the old road near a light pole and a big drain that joins the road is the site of one building. Earth has been cut away to allow the building to sit on a flattened area of land.



Site of Laundry, Lavatory & Bathing Buildings - Tradesmen's Camp

A rectangular area of land on the eastern side of the quagmire between Forster Crescent and an old road that cuts across the hillside shows clearly the sites of the buildings (laundry, lavatory, bathing) erected on the site and the drainage systems used to direct water to the quagmire.

There is evidence that two sets of buildings were erected here. A document found in National Archives of Australia dated October 1925 support this theory. This document showed the building plans for new bath/shower block and new lavatory area to be erected on the site.

I believe that Forster Crescent may cut through part of the land where the first set of buildings were erected. The second group of buildings commence about half way down the hill and differs to the first in that a shallow trench has been added to the drainage system. This trench is referred to in the July 1927 Sanitation Report.

Both sites use pipes set into the ground - metal on the upper site and concrete on the lower -to direct water away from buildings to quagmire via drains. Both areas use rock and brick lines to direct and slow down water on its way to the quagmire. In the upper area broken bricks - some with concrete adhering - predominate and in the lower section river rocks were used. Each section has a large circular hole around one and half metres by around a metre in depth. On the lower slope side of each hole a number of smaller channels have been dug to direct water to the quagmire and towards the road. Bricks have been used to line parts of the upper channels and stones on the lower.

Large rocks placed between buildings and quagmire have also been used as part of the drainage systems. Around each earth has been dug away and in the case of one a number of small river rocks have been placed on the upper side of the hole – probably to prevent erosion of the soil. The purpose of each may be to slow the water flow on the way to the quagmire. A similar arrangement is found on the eastern side of the camp just below Forster Crescent. Nearby is a honeysuckle growing. Another grows in the quagmire. This plant was often used near outdoor lavatories.

When I first saw these rocks I thought that they had been brought to the site but they mayhave been there?  These are very large heavy rocks. 




Lavatory Block

The Lavatory Block according to the October 1925 plan consisted of a urinal and four closets with pans. This plan indicated that a concrete slab was part of the design. Because no slabs have been found in the area of the Tradesmen’s Camp it is probable that timber floors were used. In the nearby quagmire a dump was found and in it were pieces of heavy-duty brown lino of the type used in office buildings. It may be that lino was used in this building?

The lavatories are referred to in documents as earth closets. The pans used in this had tobe emptied somewhere. There are three known methods of disposal at the time.

Pans emptied into holes. This method of disposal was used at Riverbourne (1925­1926 – opposite Harman) where holes were dug into the sand near the Molonglo River and the contents emptied. (Information from Hazel Hartley nee Williams who held the lantern for her father – the camp caretaker -who carried out the task.) It is unlikely that this method was used at Westlake because of the rocky nature of the land. It is possible, but unlikely, that the quagmire may have been used?

Contents collected and taken to the Night Soil Depot at Westridge. Proof that this method was used is found in National Archives of Australia in a section on the collection of night soil. Document in National Archives of Australia [A6270/1 E2/28/1293] refers to the collection of pans at the Tradesmen’s Camp and Contractor John Howies. One document dated for the period 20 September to 26 December 1927 notes that Tradesmen's Mess and No 1 Westlake had 252 services. The cost was 15 pounds, 15 shillings. The reference to No 1 Labourers Camp is confusing in that the 1927Sanitation Report states that the camp at that time was connected to the sewer. Another document that I read suggested that No 1 Camp was connected to a septic tank. It is possible that pans and connections to septic and main intercepting sewer was used at No 1?

In July 1928 a new sanitation motorized vehicle was put into use. However it is probable that the camp continued to be serviced by horse and dray. Further evidence of the latter method of collecting and replacing pans is found on the hillside nearby to the probable site of the 1925 lavatory block. A track links the old road to an area of flattened land sufficient size to allow a horse and dray to turn and back up to a cutaway earth ledge that would have made it easier to load the full pans on the back of the dray. A walking track links the loading area with the building site.

Below left is a photograph taken August 2003 from the Tradesmen's ablution area to the access road. On the right is a photograph that shows the bank at the end of the path and road. The horse and dray would have come up the road, turned and backed to this bank where the pans were loaded. In the background are buildings in Forster Crescent. 


There may have been more than one block of lavatories in the camp in the Tradesmen’s Camp. The number documented on the Ablution Block site would have been insufficient for the number of men living in the camp.

Another possible site for lavatories is on the lower side of the road near the quagmire. There is evidence of a building in this area and nearby second shallow trench around 3metres long by half a metre across.


Rubbish left behind when the Tradesmen left

When the men left they cleaned the site. However, a number of small dumps have been found that contain items such as broken beer bottles and crockery. Other items that still come to the surface include codds, saucepan, padlock, metal tent peg, crocks, bullet cases, nails, metal lids of tobacco tins and a Commonwealth teaspoon. Each of the old trees shows evidence of man’s use. Branches were cut for purposes such as firewood and one tree still has a metal cable around its trunk – probably left there by the sewer men on their way through the area.

One tree in the quagmire area has jammed in the fork of the tree a bicycle part and many trees have rubbish around their bases. 




Who were the men who lived at the Old Tradesmen's Camp?

Who were the men who lived at the Old Tradesmen’s Camp at Westlake and Parkes Barracks? No lists have been found. However the 1928 Electoral Roll lists the men (over 21 who were British or Australian citizens) living at Parkes Barracks. It is possible that most if not all were former residents of the Westlake Tradesmen’s Camp. Following is this list:

BULL, Frank haulage contractor

BRITTON, Albert clerk

CRUMP, George cook

EDWARDS, Albert engine driver

FOSTER, Charles caretaker

HAMPELL, Arthur boiler attendant

HENDERSON, James fencer

JACKSON, Victor labourer

LANE, Frank plumber

LOW, William labourer

McKEE, Michael labourer

McNEELY, Anthony labourer

McCORMACK, Thomas watchman

NORMAN, Bridget & Godfrey home duties & cook

O’REILLY, John contractor

PARSONS, Clarence labourer

PAYNE, Charles cleaner

PENTLAND, Colin driver

QUINN, James labourer

RANKIN, William machinist

RYAN, Michael labourer

SARGEANT, Robert labourer

SIMONS, William labourer

SIMPSON, Alexander labourer

SKINNER, Richard labourer

SMITH, James labourer

SMITH, Leslie labourer

STEWART, Edward carpenter

SWEENEY, David carpenter

TALBOT, Patrick labourer

TAYLOR, Robert painter

WALKER, William labourer

WALLACE, Alexander labourer

WILSON, James craneman


TRADESMEN’S CAMP (no address)

CARGILL, Peter labourer

DUGGAN, James lineman

GREEN, Edward gardener

Note the majority of men have the occupation of labourer. This suggests that some of the Tradesmen had already left and been replaced by labourers and/or the term labourer used as a convenient occupation. Harold Tuson who was one of the four men in charge of forestry work including plantings and other forestry work from 1926 put down his occupation as LABOURER. It is possible that many other workmen also did the same. 

Tradesmen who were moved from Parkes Barracks, 1929-letter of complaint

The Tradesmen who were moved from Parkes Barracks on 29 July 1929 wrote a letter of complaint to the Federal Capital Commission re the move to Causeway. The men who signed were: