Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 38

Camden’s salvage campaign, 1939-45

Author: Ian Willis

{1} Salvage collection, now called recycling, was one of the many home front activities that was carried on during the Second World War in Australia and elsewhere. The aim of these collections was to gather up waste material from various sources for reuse towards the war effort. It was broken up into two categories, military and civilian. This article will confine itself to the civilian salvage collection in the rural community of Camden, New South Wales.

{2} The Camden salvage effort was only one of the many voluntary patriotic activities undertaken by the local community. It was based around two individuals: Irene Huthnance (1884-1966), a member of the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS), and Ben Young (b.1890), a local teacher. Young organised a short-lived scheme called the Camden District Scrap Iron Salvage Organisation, whereas Huthnance’s salvage efforts proved more successful and she was able to raise a substantial amount of money for a number of local charities.

{3} Camden’s salvage effort occurred within the administrative arrangements put in place by the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments. It is therefore useful to briefly outline these legal requirements.

Wartime Administrative Arrangements for Salvage

{4} Salvage was not new within New South Wales in the early stages of the war. Collections had been organised on behalf of hospitals, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society, the Red Cross, and other religious and charitable bodies.[1] The Sydney press, however, kept up a campaign to support salvage collection and published a number of articles between April and July 1940.[2] A Commonwealth-State conference was accordingly held, where it was decided that each State would implement waste collection schemes, particularly with regard to waste paper, waste rags and non-ferrous metals.[3] Under the administrative arrangement worked out between the Commonwealth and States, "each state was left to its own devices in working out a scheme." [4]

{5} In June 1940 the New South Wales government led by Premier Alexander Mair considered the appointment of a conservator of waste, to centralise the collection of such materials for "hospitals, patriotic and charitable organisations". This was to be sold, and profits distributed on a pro rata basis to beneficiaries. The Mair scheme intended maintaining the existing system of handling waste paper by selling directly to Australian Paper Manufacturers. It was also to be "supplemented by the voluntary co-operation of local government bodies, school children, war work movements and workers desiring to assist Australia’s war effort".[5]

{6} In July 1940, Reginald Weaver was appointed as New South Wales controller of salvage.[6] He wanted local controllers in each local government area, registration of volunteers, and the use of voluntary organisations to collect salvage. Profits were to be distributed on a pro rata basis to organisations in existing salvage schemes.[7] Weaver’s aim was for all funds from salvage to go to a central co-ordinating body, which would then distribute the money to national organisations like the Red Cross and the Australian Comforts Fund.[8]

{7} To achieve his goal, Weaver needed the co-operation of local councils,[9] which he wanted to establish local depots.[10] (In this respect, the New South Wales government had copied Great Britain and delegated salvage administration and many other wartime functions to local councils.[11]) Weaver’s attempt to centralise fundraising created suspicions and resistance among local organisations, however, and some councils[12] and country patriotic funds refused to co-operate with his scheme.[13]

{8} In June 1941 the newly-elected Labor government of William McKell ordered an inquiry into salvage administration by the New South Wales Public Service Board. As a result, the National Emergency (Salvage of Waste) Act 1941 (NSW) was enacted in November 1941.[14] The Act put salvage under the control of the Minister for National Emergency Services, Robert Heffron, and the new controller of salvage became the head of the Department of National Emergency Services.[15] It also gave councils the sole authority to collect waste "for patriotic purposes" [16] and distribute the proceeds among local organisations.[17]

{9} Also in June 1941, the R. G. Menzies’ Commonwealth government thought that there should be Federal co-ordination of the States’ salvage organisations. The Minister for Supply and Development appointed a co-ordinator of salvage,[18] whose duties were to maintain contact with State salvage organisations and other collection bodies, and ensure that salvage material went into areas associated with the war effort.[19]

{10} As part of total war, in July 1943 the Curtin Government established the Commonwealth Salvage Commission under the National Security (Salvage) Regulations. These regulations were broad and sweeping, and gave the Commonwealth control over all salvage efforts throughout the country, including New South Wales. The Commission[20] came under the jurisdiction of the Minister of State for Home Security, Hubert Lazzarini, who was appointed the chairman.[21]

{11} The Commission organised drives for materials in short supply, co-ordinated and directed control of voluntary organisations involved in salvage,[22] ensured that salvaged material was re-utilised to best advantage,[23] and took over the jurisdiction of the state controllers who were exclusively involved in civil salvage.[24] This meant that the states had been completely over-ridden. The Commission was modelled on British and American salvage operations[25] and aimed to increase Australia’s salvage recovery rate from 25 per cent to that comparable with the USA, Canada and Great Britain at around 70 per cent.[26]

{12} Lazzarini launched a national salvage campaign in a radio broadcast in September 1943 where he maintained that it was "every citizen’s duty to co-operate loyally", and develop "a salvage consciousness". In November 1943 a National Salvage Corps was created to “carry out salvage activities throughout Australia”, and from December 1943, the sale or purchase of waste paper without a licence was prohibited.

{13} Government orders required the registration of all groups that collected waste as units of the National Salvage Corps, and laid down rules for their conduct and establishment. As well, badges were to be issued to committee members and volunteers, licences were to be prominently displayed, rules for the conduct of meetings were to be drawn up and submitted to the commission, as were minutes of such meetings and audited accounts. Suggestions were given for the collection, cartage, sorting and storage of materials, as well as a list of licensed purchasers. By September 1944 the Salvage Commission had taken control of waste paper, rags, wool grease and scrap rubber.[27]

Argyle St
Argyle Street, Camden, in 1939
Camden Historical Society

The Camden and District Scrap Iron Salvage Organisation

{14} Ben Young’s salvage scheme started after the British defeat at Dunkirk in June 1940, which was the public awakening of most of Camden’s male voluntary war effort. Young was the teacher in-charge of a small school at Werombi, north-west of Camden. He was well respected by the community, a good organiser and a strong supporter of local patriotic activities.

{15} Initially, Young anticipated collecting scrap iron from local farms and "other local sources", transporting it to Camden railway station by lorries from Camden Municipal and Wollondilly Shire Councils, and selling it to Australian Iron & Steel Ltd at Port Kembla. He gained the support for his scheme from Essington Lewis, Director-General of Munitions, and Cecil H. Hosking, General-Manager of Australian Iron & Steel. Young called his scheme the Camden and District Scrap Iron Salvage Organisation.[28]

{16} By early August 1940, Young had recruited a number of voluntary collectors for his scheme, including Irene Huthnance in Camden.[29] She was the only woman involved in the district’s salvage effort. Each collector nominated the patriotic fund that they wanted to benefit from the sale of scrap iron in their locality - a version of geographic patriotism.

{17} Young received extensive coverage for his salvage effort in both local newspapers. George Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, maintained that Young received "whole-hearted" support from the local community. The News asked:

Can more be obtained? Who knows what can be done by an enthusiastic public? The people of the Camden district will be fully behind Mr Young in this effort. Every extra ton will help to swell their local patriotic funds still more.[30]

{18} Despite Young maintaining that his scheme was meant to be a "practical effort to assist" the national war effort, concerns were raised about the ultimate destination of the collected scrap metal.[31] At the time, R. W. D. Weaver, the New South Wales controller of salvage, had stated his opposition to the export of scrap metal to Japan,[32] and questions were asked in the New South Wales Parliament.[33] Young reported that he had been assured by the "authorities", that all scrap collected would "be used for Empire purposes", sold to "firms engaged by the Commonwealth Government in the manufacture of armaments and munitions", with the proceeds going "to local patriotic organisations". The “authorities” had told Young that scrap would be "exclusively used in Australia’s war effort, and [would] not be exported to either Japan or any other foreign country".[34]

{19} Contributions to Young’s August collection in Camden were patchy, but after further effort in October the sale of scrap realised 48/8/3. This was then divided between the Camden WVS and Camden District Hospital.[35]

{20} The geographic coverage of Young’s scheme included Camden Municipality, Wollondilly Shire and Nepean Shire, and the success of his scheme not only relied on his volunteers, but on the co-operation of these councils. The scheme was on shaky ground when Nepean Shire Council refused to co-operate with Young due to an existing salvage scheme in the shire.[36]

{21} Wollondilly Shire Council equivocated and then finally withdrew support for Young’s effort. The decision was reported on the front page of the Camden News, which declared in January 1941 that the Wollondilly Shire Council had decided “all scrap iron collected within the Shire is to be credited to the Controller of Salvage in Sydney.”[37]

{22} The events that prompted this decision, and the stream of correspondence that followed, began in November 1940. Young had organised a consignment of scrap metal that was sent from Camden Railway Station to Port Kembla. All the scrap metal came from the Macarthur estate of Camden Park, and was collected by lorry from Wollondilly Shire Council. There was a joint decision by the management of Camden Park and Young that the proceeds of the sale would be divided between “Menangle and Camden patriotic causes”.[38]

{23} After the November consignment had been forwarded to Australian Iron & Steel at Port Kembla, the general manager wrote to Young seeking clarification as to who should actually receive payment for this load. Young claimed that it should be credited to him, on behalf of the Camden and District Scrap Iron Salvage Organisation. On the other hand, Wollondilly Shire Council claimed that payment should be made out to Weaver, the state controller of salvage.[39] Young maintained his position in further correspondence to Australian Iron & Steel, which replied that the matter had been referred to Weaver. One of the problems with Young’s assertions, that his organisation should be the recipient of the funds, was that he had failed to register it under either Charitable Collections Act 1934 (NSW) or the Lord Mayor’s Patriotic and War Fund (LMPWF).

{24} The Wollondilly Shire Council, at its January meeting, considered a letter from Weaver seeking clarification about the pament. Asked whether it should go to Young or to the national effort in Sydney, councillors unanimously decided that the proceeds of all scrap collected should be credited to Weaver’s scheme. At the same meeting the shire engineer stated he understood that this had always been the Council’s position with respect to sale of scrap. Although the Council complimented Young for initiating the salvage scheme, it was noted by the President “that in Mr Young’s letter no mention was made for the disposal of the money raised in the sale of the salvage.”[40]

{25} Two weeks later, the Camden News published the first of three letters from Weaver to Young. Weaver said he understood that Young knew the Wollondilly Shire Council had only given "transport assistance" that was "incidental to its co-operation” with the Young scheme. He went on to state that his aim had been to centralise the marketing and distribution of salvage from his office, and further argued that any separate selling groups, like Young’s, would "adversely affect our organisation":

We are endeavouring largely to follow the principles adopted in connection with the National Campaign in Britain where salvage activity has been made the compulsory duty of local governing bodies. Here, however, we have adopted voluntary methods and we appeal to all citizens to assist the local governing authorities co-operating with us.

{26} Finally Weaver wanted to know if Young would support the New South Wales salvage campaign.[41] In essence, while Weaver thought that Young’s sentiments were wholly worthy, he did not agree with his methods. Weaver’s scheme had run into problems in Sydney with the theft of scrap metal and bogus private collectors using the names of charities.[42] Weaver wanted the centralisation of patriotic fundraising associated with the sale of waste materials, but lacked the legislative authority to enforce it. This situation was not changed until the enactment of the National Emergency (Salvage of Waste) Act 1941 (NSW).

{27} The Camden News reported, that in reply, Young requested that the proceeds of the November scrap iron consignment should be distributed between the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services, the Great Britain War Victims’ Relief Fund, the Camden Red Cross Society and the Menangle Patriotic organisation. The newspaper published Weaver’s reply, the second in the series, where he stated:

The position is somewhat complicated by the circumstances explained in your letter but I would be very seriously embarrassed by the necessity of making any specific redistribution of the proceeds of the scrap iron collections along the lines which have been suggested…

{28} Weaver maintained that Young’s request "would precipitate similar requests from elsewhere" and would jeopardise the national programme. He maintained that the distribution of monies from his fund to "the Red Cross and the Lord Mayor’s Patriotic and War Fund" avoided the difficulty of "local distribution…and our soldiers as a whole benefit equitably." Weaver finished his letter by stating that he looked forward to Young’s continued support, and hoped that, in all the circumstances, “the good people in your locality will appreciate these difficulties and be content with the simple methods of distribution adopted by my organisation as this is the only practical solution.”

{29} Young felt no sympathy either for Weaver’s difficulties or his attempts to centralise salvage fundraising. After publicly thanking, in the Camden News, those individuals who had assisted his salvage scheme, he then resigned.[43]

{30} Arthur Gibson, the owner of the Camden Advertiser, published an article with the headline "Mr Weaver’s Decision Proves Unpopular". It maintained that Weaver’s resignation had "dampened local enthusiasm in the collection of salvage", and that the local control of funds raised from the sale of scrap provided "a great incentive to the voluntary workers and resulted in much scrap-metal being gathered". The Advertiser continued:

Whether Mr Weaver’s argument is right or wrong matters little. The fact is that the scrap-metal flow from the Camden district to the steel works has ceased. It appears that if the State Controller of Salvage wants the local metal he will have to employ someone to organise the collection and we doubt if that would prove an economic proposition.

This newspaper claims that Mr Weaver should concede the point, as he has now neither the support of the local voluntary patriotic workers nor the scrap-metal.[44]

The article clearly explained how local parochialism could stifle the national war effort, and Gibson’s predictions were later to prove completely correct.

AWM 066460
The wartime salvage effort used many voluntary workers, such as these members of the National Defence League in Sydney shown sorting materials in May 1944.  AWM 066460

{31} More local support for Young came from Sibella Macarthur-Onslow, a senior member of the Macarthur dynasty. In a letter to the editor of the Camden News, she wrote:

Sir - In reading your papers before sending them overseas, I have specifically noted the articles and correspondence about scrap iron, and though it is good to see that the Shire is linked with the State scheme for salvage, to me it is most regrettable that in the linking, the very valuable services of Mr Young have been lost. This is a loss our country cannot afford, for, in these difficult and dangerous days, the co-operation of all worthy citizens is needed, and Mr Young, who, before Mr Weaver’s scheme was heard of, showed both initiative and energy in salvaging scrap iron, deserves our admiration and gratitude.

Can nothing be done to recover his sympathy, interest and services in this great work?[45]

Macarthur Onslow’s letter encapsulated the paradox of the situation. All parties involved in the affair supported the patriotic aims scrap collection, but the greater the level of interference by Weaver, the “outsider”, to increase the local collection of scrap metal, the lower the level of support from local interests in Camden for the same appeal.

{32} Weaver requested that Young reconsider his resignation, which he thought was an act of petulance. He accused him of "selfish parochialism" and not acknowledging the wider "national" aims of the salvage collection. While Weaver recognised that "nothing" could be done "without local co-operation", he felt "that public opinion in your locality may not be alive to the wider aspects of the salvage problem". Weaver was "greatly disappointed" that Young should resign with his "experience and knowledge of local affairs" and that he found it "necessary to relinquish the valuable work that…[he had]…so capably organised".[46] While Weaver acknowledged the problems surrounding parochialism and the petty provincialism that it caused, his claim that centralisation was more equitable for the national war effort fell on deaf ears in Camden.

{33} A letter from Young was read at the March meeting of Wollondilly Shire Council. The Council passed a motion of appreciation for Young’s effort, and regretted that he had withdrawn his support from the salvage scheme. The meeting tabled a letter from Weaver which encouraged the Council to organise the collection of scrap iron in Burragorang Valley.[47] In the end, the Council’s effort came to nothing.

{34} In an interview with the Camden News, Young stated that:

…any action on [my] part in the past was not to be the cause of disagreement. The national crisis is far too grave for any lack of unity in the country or among the people themselves.

Young stated that Wollondilly Shire Council had taken over the collection scrap metal, and he accepted the advice of his doctor to "avoid active work and unnecessary worry". He maintained his withdrawal from the salvage scheme was due to eye trouble, and not any ill feeling towards Weaver. In May 1941 the Camden News reported that the district had lost "the services of one of its loyal war workers".[48] Young had been admitted to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, facing compulsorily retirement from the New South Wales teaching service due to ill health.

{35} The end of the Young scheme was based on pride, ego and self-interest, combined with insensitivity and misunderstandings. The patriotic aims of salvage collection were not enough to overcome the deep-seated hostility created by the city/country within Camden's rural ideology. Weaver's approach to the affair may have been appropriate in an urban setting, where contractual obligations were the norm, but in a rural setting, where inter-personal relations were more important, he was perceived as an interfering “outsider”.

{36} The Young salvage scheme illustrated how the combination of parochialism, social factors and personalities completely stopped the collection of scrap iron. That is, provincialism stifled the national wartime objectives of one patriotic activity. The local community was proud of their independence and resourcefulness, and wanted all their funds raised from the sale of their salvage programmes to stay in the area. Young was seen as the local patriot who was doing “his bit” for the war effort. This was the essence of local patriotism and the editorial policies of the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser contributed to this process through localism.

{37} The closure of the Young scheme, and the lack of interest by men in Camden for salvage collection, created a vacuum which allowed Irene Huthnance to step in. She took control of the local salvage effort from early 1941 and continued in that role until the end of the war.

Irene Huthnance

{38} The epitome of the wartime volunteer in Camden, Huthnance was a Protestant member of Camden's middle class who was not in paid employment and was politically conservative. She had a strong commitment to community service, a strong sense of purpose, a dedication to duty, and was a “hard worker” for many wartime voluntary organisations. Apart from salvage, she volunteered for the Camden WVS and the Camden Red Cross, and organised a variety of patriotic carnivals, stalls and dances. By the end of the war, her name had become synonymous with the Camden salvage effort.[49]

{39} Huthnance’s first waste paper collection took place in September 1940 and established a number of precedents which she was able to repeat later on. The salvage she organised was transported free of charge to the Camden railway yard by Camden Municipal Council. The waste paper was purchased by Australian Paper Manufacturers at Botany, which also supplied the bags for packing free of charge and paid the freight. She organised two local receiving depots, one at the rear of the Camden News office, and the other at her house in Barsden Street.[50]

{40} During 1940 Huthnance sent two consignments of waste paper, and in 1941 she increased the number to seven. At the time her efforts were aimed at fundraising for WVS comforts parcels, which was in financial difficulty. She placed advertisements in the Camden Advertiser and adopted the slogan:

Don’t Waste Waste Paper,
Save It For Australia’s War Effort…And
Help Our Local District Boys!! [51]

{41} Her advertising was inspired by the Weaver campaign, which used the slogan "Don’t waste waste".[52] In 1942 she was able to send another seven consignments of paper, which were also the largest consignments of the war. As the emergency period passed, so did Huthnance’s enthusiasm. By 1943 the number of consignments had dropped to one, in 1944 just two, and one in 1945.[53]

{42} Huthnance received a considerable amount of publicity in the Camden News and Camden Advertiser. Both newspapers reported up coming salvage collections, the aims of the collections, suitable salvageable items, those who helped her, the results of individual collections (both in quantity and the amount of money raised from the sale of the salvage), and gave cumulative tallies of the funds raised. For instance, in September 1940 the profits of £2/14/8 from the collection were split between the WVS and Camden District Hospital. In April 1941 the Camden News reported that Huthnance’s last consignment of waste paper realised £5/4/0 and outlined the details of receipts of £59/18/6 for the previous six months, which had been distributed to:

Camden Women’s Voluntary Services: £39/1/0
Camden Red Cross: £10/0/0
Camden District Hospital: £10/17/6

{43} The Camden News encouraged the Camden community to increase its salvage effort “to help the war effort” by publishing articles on the use of waste paper, providing lists of suitable paper and cardboard products for recycling and illustrating how the sale of waste paper could assist local charities. The newspaper maintained that only five per cent of waste was being collected and then proceeded to inform the community that one ton of waste paper could be converted into 1,500 shell containers, 9,000 shell fuse components, 11,000 mine assemblies, 71,000 dust covers for aero-engines, 36,000 cut-out targets and 3,000 boxes of aero-cannon shells.[54]

{44} By the end of the war, Huthnance had become the largest individual fundraiser for the Camden WVS. In 1942 she raised a total of 76/17/9, which the WVS considered was “a tremendous amount of work” considering that she was also involved in “all other WVS activities”. The total for 1942 contrasts with £23/17/6 in 1941, £45/8/9 in 1943, £32 in 1944 and £29/10/0 in 1945. When the WVS was wound up in 1945, Huthnance had raised £224/2/4 from the sale of scrap paper and £37/1/1 by the sale of scrap-iron, which amounted to seven per cent of the total income of the WVS for the entire war. In the year ending May 1941 Huthnance’s donations from salvage were nine per cent of total income for the Camden WVS for the year. In 1942 this increased to twelve per cent of total income for the year, and in following years declined to five per cent, three per cent and three per cent in 1943, 1944 and 1945 respectively. Zoe Crookston, the president of the Camden WVS, felt that the organisation owed their “grateful thanks for her untiring work”.[55]

{45} Huthnance also organised the collection and sale of clean newspaper, rags, and scrap rubber, which was predominantly made up of old tyres. Her first consignment of waste rubber was organised in July 1942 after an appeal by the Commonwealth government, due to the shortage of imported rubber. This appeal was launched on radio and asked local councils to organise local collections. Camden Municipal Council offered "all assistance", and appointed Irene Huthnance as controller and organiser. According to John Beasley, the Commonwealth Minister for Supply, the Boy Scouts would carry out a house-to-house drive throughout the Commonwealth to collect scrap. He maintained that suitable scrap included "tyres, tubes, hot-water bags, bath caps, rubber hose, belting, bath mats, valves, washers, rings, and surgical tubes and gloves."[56]

{46} After organising the establishment of a rubber depot at Cleary Bros in Argyle Street, Huthnance maintained that early responses were “most encouraging”. When 280 old motor tyres were collected, the military authorities sent two trucks to collect them. Unfortunately, forty tyres were left behind, but the Camden News maintained that this was the start of the next consignment. In his report to Council, the town clerk, Ken Wilson, stated that he "regretted having to inform council" that "some person had stolen a number of the tyres" from Cleary’s Bros yard. He reported that a "motor lorry had been driven into the yard, backed alongside the heap and the person concerned had picked out twenty of the best, loaded them on to his vehicle and drove off." Despite this problem, the local community seemed pleased with their effort, and in early October, Mrs Huthnance organised a further consignment of 120 tyres.[57]

AWM 053306
Old tyres stored at the Army Salvage Unit Rubber Depot, Sydney, in July 1943.  AWM 053306

{47} Huthnance’s second scrap rubber collection was organised on behalf of Camden Municipal Council in early November, 1944. The Sydney Morning Herald announced the new drive and maintained that Australians were guilty of hoarding rubber and that there was ample "evidence that previous campaigns for the collection of scrap materials have by no means exhausted civilian stocks of unwanted rubber." The Council ran an advertisement in the Camden Advertiser and Huthnance stated that rubber would be picked up from garages and "country donors" were to "leave old tyres and tubes at the Council’s depot".[58]

{48} Not all salvage appeals referred to Huthnance met with success. The only appeal for aluminium was organised by Huthnance in January 1942. The Curtin Government requested local councils to organise an aluminium collection similar to that in Great Britain in 1940, which had been a great success. Camden Municipal Council decided “to handle the request on the same lines as waste paper - through Mrs Huthnance”. The Council ran advertisements for the appeal in the Camden Advertiser, and a reception centre for "old pots, pans and other domestic aluminium ware" was established at Mrs Huthnance’s house.[59] The appeal seems not to have enthused anyone and no aluminium was sent off.

{49} Huthnance would not tolerate any interference by “outsiders” in her voluntary collections. Her attitude was based on her experience as a collector for Young, and the eventual closure of that scheme. In February 1941, the Camden Advertiser published a warning "Stay Out, Mr Weaver":

We do hope that Mr Weaver, Controller of Salvage, does not "butt-in" on this work, otherwise the services of a splendid voluntary worker will be lost and the waste paper campaign will cease. Mrs Huthnance is very definite on this point. The proceeds of her labours must go to local patriotic and charitable efforts.[60]

{50} Huthnance’s salvage efforts were driven by patriotic parochialism, and she carried on her collection work in the complete confidence that she had strong support from the Camden News, the Camden Advertiser, Camden Municipal Council, Camden WVS and Camden Hospital. These organisations gave her a high degree of social authority within the town which, in turn, enhanced her kudos and social status. As early as February 1941 she had created a “public persona” for herself which effectively made her Camden’s salvage collector. Based on this position, she decided that she would collect salvage on her own terms or not at all.

{51} In April 1941, Huthnance confirmed her position as Camden’s collector of salvage and the Camden News stated:

The untiring efforts of Mrs J. B. Huthnance in collecting, packing and despatching waste paper to be turned into cash for local patriotic objects, has met with astonishing success. So much so that the organiser is now greatly encouraged to continue her efforts, and appeals to all to save as much waste as possible, especially rags and paper.

{52} In May 1941, appeals by Weaver "to arouse public interest" in salvage collection by increased publicity and establishing local salvage depots irritated the Council. The all-male Council was not impressed by these overtures because they felt that Huthnance had achieved "excellent results" for local salvage collections.[61] The support Huthnance received from the Council, and her overall success, indicated that she had acquired considerable social influence in the community.

{53} In early June 1941, after the collapse of the Young scheme, the Council received further correspondence from Weaver’s office, again asking it to co-operate in his salvage scheme. On the motion of Alderman R. A. C. Adams, the Council replied that it "was perfectly satisfied with the local organisation and the distribution of money received". The Council then referred the information "to the local organiser of the salvage scheme" – that is, Irene Huthnance. Therefore, at this point, despite any official declaration, the Council considered that Huthnance was effectively in-charge of Camden’s salvage collection. Huthnance confirmed this position publicly by mid June.[62] As far as the Council was concerned, this was the most favourable position. The salvage scheme was run at no cost to the Council, and the funds raised stayed in the town.

{54} The Council was informed of administrative changes to salvage collection in November 1941, with the introduction of the National Emergency (Salvage of Waste) Act 1941 (NSW). The legislation meant that Huthnance could no longer co-ordinate waste collection in the Camden area, and she was requested to forward her last consignment of salvage. In response the Camden News expressed its indignation at her removal, considering the “wonderful work” she had done in the past.[63]

{55} By December, under the new arrangements, the Council had taken over the local salvage scheme, and then duly re-appointed Irene Huthnance as the honorary organiser. The Council maintained that she had "capably managed this work in the past" and it was pleased that she had "graciously accepted the post"; proceeds of sales would be distributed as they had been in the past. Huthnance confirmed publicly that she was "now controller of the salvage on behalf of the Camden Municipal Council". In effect the local salvage campaign proceeded as it had done before, and she sent the first consignment of waste paper to Australian Paper Manufacturers under the new arrangements in December 1941.[64]

{56} In August 1942, the Council was not impressed by a request from the State government for an increased salvage effort. Stan Kelloway, Camden’s mayor, indignantly maintained that the "district was doing a great deal in this direction…[and if]…it [had] not been for been for Mrs Huthnance this district may have been as [s]lack [sic] as many other municipalities and shires". Subsequently, the controller of salvage wrote to the Council complimenting them on their excellent results, and noting that Camden’s collections were high in comparison with other places in the local area. Camden Municipality had supplied 1,275lbs of waste paper collected per month per 1,000 of the population, while Wingecarribee Shire collected 1000lbs, Campbelltown Municipality 675lbs, Nattai Shire 585lbs and Wollondilly Shire 135lbs. The Council moved a motion which congratulated Huthnance on her efforts, and the Camden Advertiser maintained that Huthnance’s "outstanding organising ability" was a "credit" to her. Huthnance was "particularly pleased" with the "success" of the Camden salvage effort,[65] but in reality, when Camden’s collections are compared to some other Australian country towns they were relatively minor.[66]

{57} From July 1943 Huthnance’s salvage effort came under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission. It took the new Commission, acting with the State Controller of Salvage, five months to implement its guidelines in the Camden area, and despite Lazzarini launching the campaign in September 1943, six months to organise the first appeal. In December the Salvage Commission wrote to the Council seeking the appointment of a committee to supervise local salvage collection. In response the aldermen decided to form themselves into a committee, with the mayor as chairman and Irene Huthnance as controller.[67] In May 1944 the Commission conducted a salvage campaign for old rags, and the Council referred the correspondence to Huthnance in her capacity as the salvage controller.[68]

{58} The creation of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission had no practical impact on the collection of salvage in the Camden area, and the re-appointment of Huthnance reflected her dominance and social authority. The Commission saw its role as direct control and co-ordination of the voluntary sector, which up to that point had largely been responsible for the success of the wartime salvage effort. War fatigue, disinterest and parochialism meant that none of the councils in the Camden area had any real enthusiasm for the Federal initiatives,[69] and may have accounted for the low amount of salvage collected between 1943 and 1945. The Commission did not fully understand the powerful forces that surrounded parochialism and the need to rally local support if a salvage campaign was to be successful.

{59} Camden Municipal Council had sufficient confidence in Huthnance to give her their continued to support in the face of changing government administrative arrangements. Huthnance’s altruism absolved the Council of any financial liability associated with the devolution of responsibility for salvage from the State and Commonwealth governments. It clearly suited the interests of the Council to retain Huthnance as the co-ordinator of the Camden salvage effort. Huthnance was a sound political appointment as she was a member of the WVS and the only person in the Camden area who was seriously interested in organising salvage collections.


{60} The general characteristics highlighted by Huthnance’s salvage effort were reflected in the wartime volunteering of other women in Camden’s female philanthropy. These included overcoming the social barriers based on class and gender that were created by Camden’s rural ideology, and hence her ability to cross class boundaries and enter Camden’s male space without challenging local patriarchy. In addition, she was able to develop a "parallel power structure" in the community which gave her a public persona, and considerable social authority and influence in the area. In contrast to Huthnance, Young had conducted his volunteering in Camden’s public arena, and sought public acclamation for his effort, like other males volunteering in Camden. Huthnance restricted her salvage effort to Camden Municipality, unlike Young, who attempted to deal with three local councils. Her salvage effort was more manageable in terms of size and geographic area, with a very strong support base, and she did not seek the support of well-known public figures. Huthnance’s voluntary effort, although not confined by it, was based in Camden’s private sphere, where kinship and inter-personal social networks were important. Her patriotic effort was sustained, quiet and understated, and this was the basis of her kudos and social authority.

{61} The general characteristics of Camden’s salvage effort reflected the wider successes and failures of male and female wartime voluntarism in the township. But it also showed that, while centralised decision-making by “outsiders” from Canberra and Sydney may have been an efficient means of directing the war effort, this was not always warmly welcomed at a local level. Local patriotism was subject to the vagaries of personalities, pragmatism, parochialism, the city/country divide that was part of Camden’s rural ideology, and a host of other factors. Though not the purpose of this article, it would be a useful exercise to assess the overall contribution of salvage to the general war effort and answer the question: Was it all worth the trouble? Analysis of Camden’s salvage effort provides a small part of the answer to this question, as well as contributing to the slowly emerging mosaic of war and local studies.

© Ian Willis

The author

Ian Willis is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Wollongong. The title of his work-in-progress is “The Women’s Voluntary Services: a local study of war and volunteering in Camden, 1939-1945”. He lives in Camden, New South Wales.


[1] New South Wales Parliamentary Debates (NSWPD), 2nd series, vol.166, p.1931, vol.165A, p.185.

[2] See Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 6, 16 and 29 April 1940, 22 May 1940, 18 and 29 June 1940, 1 July 1940, and other issues.

[3] NSWPD, vol.166, pp.2232, 2448.

[4] For instance, in Victoria a State Controller was appointed under the National Security Act (Vic) and in Queensland a scheme was organised on local government lines under the Second Hand Dealers Act (Qld).   NSWPD, vol.166, p.2232.

[5] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1940.

[6] Appointed on 1 July under the full title of Controller of Salvage for National Purposes, Weaver held the post in 1940-41.

[7] Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1940.

[8] NSWPD, vol.166, p.2242.

[9] Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1940.

[10] Camden News, 22 August 1940, 5 September 1940.

[11] Additional responsibilities given to local councils in New South Wales by the Commonwealth and State governments included national emergency services, war damage insurance, evacuation, civilian aid services, collection of salvage, emergency supplies of essential goods, and public works for the defence authorities. W. J. McKell, ’The State and the War Effort’, New South Wales Parliamentary Papers, 1943 (joint volume of papers presented to the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, vol.1), p.1298.

[12] In August 1940, the mayors of Petersham, Willoughby and Waverley had refused to co-operate with Weaver’s scheme. Sydney Morning Herald, 28 and 30 August 1940, 2 and 3 September 1940.

[13] Editorial, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1940.

[14] Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1941, clipping from Archives Authority of New South Wales (AANSW), National Emergency Services, File 41/66M/1762.

[15] This was Mr Treble. Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 1941.

[16] National Emergency (Salvage of Waste) Act 1941 (NSW), s.2(1).

[17] NSWPD, vol.166, p.2236.

[18] The minister, Senator McLeay, appointed A. M. Walker as controller.

[19] Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 1941.

[20] War Cabinet Minute No 2482, Agendum No.45/1942, noted in National Archives of Australia (NAA), Inter-Departmental Committee of Salvage, Agency Notes: CA 478, 19 November 1998 <>; NAA, Commonwealth Salvage Commission, Agency Notes: CA266, 19 November 1998 <>; NAA, Papers of the Chairman, Mr J. F. Foot, Series Notes: MP15/4, 19 November 1998 <>.

[21] NAA, Papers of P. L. Coleman, Member of the Committee, Series Notes: MP15/6, 19 November 1998. <>.

[22] Commonwealth Department of Information, Facts and figures, no.6, September 1944, p.36.

[23] Sydney Morning Herald, 13 August 1943.

[24] NAA, Commonwealth Salvage Commission, Agency Notes: CA266, 19 November 1998. <>.

[25] Camden News, 14 October 1943; Angus Calder, The People’s War, Britain 1939-1945 (London: Panther, 1969), p.172; Ronald Bailey, The Home Front: USA, in series World War II (Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1977), pp.84, 108.

[26] NAA, ACT, A3670/1, item 451/1942, cited in Dawn Peel, ’Salvaging community pride: Colac and the Commonwealth Salvage Commission’, Journal of the Australian War Memorial (JAWM), no.17, October 1990, p.8.

[27] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September 1943, 11 November 1943; Camden News, 14 October 1943; Peel, ’Salvaging community pride…’, JAWM, p.8; Facts and figures, no.6, p.36.

[28] Camden News, 11 and 18 July 1940, 22 August 1940, 5 September 1940, 16 January 1941.

[29] Camden News, 1 August 1940.

[30] Camden News, 8 August 1940.

[31] Camden News, 11 July 1940, 10 October 1940.

[32] Weaver, speaking to the 2nd Reading speech of the National Emergency (Salvage of Waste) Bill in the Legislative Assembly on 29 October 1941, stated: “I discovered that dealers were buying large quantities of scrap metal and exporting it to Japan. Thereafter I handled the control on behalf of the State, and refused to sell any of the scrap if I knew it was intended for the Japanese market.” NSWPD, vol.166, p.2239.

[33] NSWPD, vol.161, pp.200-201.

[34] Camden News, 1 and 22 August 1940.

[35] Camden Advertiser, 9 September 1940; Camden News, 5 September 1940, 24 October 1940, 21 November 1940.

[36] Camden News, 10 October 1940.

[37] Camden News, 16 January 1941.

[38] Camden News, 28 November 1940, 16 January 1941.

[39] Camden News, 16 January 1941.

[40] Camden News, 16 January 1941.

[41] Camden News, 30 January 1941.

[42] NSWPD, vol.166, pp.2241, 2235.

[43] Camden News, 30 January 1941.

[44] Camden Advertiser, 30 January 1941.

[45] Letter dated 12 February 1941, Camden News, 13 February 1941.

[46] Camden News, 20 February 1941.

[47] Camden News, 13 March 1941; Camden Advertiser, 20 March 1941.

[48] Camden News, 20 February 1941, 29 May 1941.

[49] Material drawn from I. C. Willis, The Women’s Voluntary Services: a local study of war and volunteering in Camden, 1939-1945, PhD work-in-progress, University of Wollongong; Camden Advertiser and Camden News (various issues of the period) give details of her voluntary activities.

[50] Camden Advertiser, 19 September 1940; Minutes, Camden Municipal Council, 23 September 1940.

[51] Camden Advertiser, 15 May 1941.

[52] NSWPD, vol.166, p.2234.

[53] Camden News, 24 December 1942, 13 July 1944, 2 November 1944; Camden Advertiser, 8 March 1945.

[54] Camden News, 17 October 1940, 3 and 17 April 1941, 12 March 1942; Camden Advertiser, 19 September 1940.

[55] Camden News, 16 July 1942, 10 August 1944, 20 December 1945.

[56] Camden Advertiser, 30 January 1941, 13 February 1941; Camden News, 13 February 1941, 1 May 1941, 21 August 1941, 2, 9, 16 and 23 July 1942; Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol .173, p.450; Camden Municipal Council, Minutes, 13 July 1942.

[57] Camden Advertiser, 30 July 1942; Camden News, 27 August 1942, 1 October 1942.

[58] Sydney Morning Herald, 4 December 1944; Camden Advertiser, 9 November 1944.

[59] Calder, The People’s War…, p.172; Camden News, 15 and 22 January 1942; Camden Municipal Council, Minutes, 12 January 1942; Camden Advertiser, 15 January 1942.

[60] Camden Advertiser, 13 February 1941.

[61] Camden News, 1 and 8 May 1941.

[62] Camden News, 1 August 1940, 5 and 12 June 1941; Camden Municipal Council, Minutes, 22 July 1940.

[63] Camden News, 9 October 1941, 13 and 27 November 1941.

[64] Camden News, 27 November 1941, 4 December 1941.

[65] Camden News, 13 August 1942, 1 October 1942, 18 March 1943; Camden Advertiser, 1 October 1942; Camden Municipal Council, Minutes, 28 September 1942.

[66] For instance, in Colac, Victoria, the Colac Waste Products Auxiliary had over 100 volunteers and in the first three years of the war raised over 3,000, while Shepparton raised 500 in a similar period. See Peel, ‘Salvaging Community Pride…’, JAWM, p.7.

[67] Camden Municipal Council, Minutes, 22 November 1943, 13 December 1943; Camden News, 30 December 1943.

[68] Camden News, 13, 20 and 27 January 1944, 18 May 1944; Camden Municipal Council, Minutes, 10 and 24 January 1944, 24 April 1944, 8 May 1944.

[69] According to Peel (‘Salvaging community pride…’, JAWM, pp.11-12), by January 1944 “only 22% of the municipalities in Australia had nominated a chairman or established a unit of the National Salvage Corps”, and the response to the Commission’s order ranged from “compliant” to “active resistance”.