Thursday 24 November 2016

"Switching On" Campbelltown

It’s hard to believe that Campbelltown has had electricity for less than 100 years, imagining a life without electricity today seems almost unthinkable but it wasn’t until the citizens of Campbelltown complained that their town was dark and its streets neglected that Campbelltown Council starting looking into providing electricity. Council held a referendum among ratepayers in January 1921 to gauge support for electric lighting, with 80 votes in favour and 65 against, the decision to go ahead was not a unanimous one.

The Mayor of Campbelltown, Charles Hannaford, strongly promoted electricity as the key to Campbelltown’s future development and prosperity and investigated purchasing electricity from the railways or from Port Kembla, but it was decided that Council would build its own generating plant borrowing £10,000 from the State Superannuation Board in 1923.

The plant was manufactured by the Fairbanks-Morse Company, one of the then largest manufacturing firms in the USA. It was reported in the Campbelltown News in January 1924 as being “the first of its particular type in New South Wales to produce energy on the alternating current system and fed by crude oil.”
Power Station, Cordeaux Street, Campbelltown
(Photo courtesy Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society)  
Opened by the Mayoress, Mrs C.N. Hannaford on the evening of 23 January 1924, a crowd of 1000 people congregated outside the power house with the Campbelltown Boy Scouts forming a Guard of Honour as Mrs Hannaford “amidst deafening cheers took the contacting lever with a firm hand, and instantly Campbelltown was officially electrically lighted.”
Locals gathered to look at the illumination of hotels and shops in Queen Street and the Mayors home, whilst others like mentioned in the Rita Brunero blog post, ”left the switches turned on and when they returned home found their house lit up like a Christmas Tree”
Campbelltown News 18 January 1924
Electricity was initially supplied for lighting purposes between the hours of 6pm and midnight daily, extended to an all-night supply by 1 March then, to meet the growing demand for current in the day time the 24 hour service was commenced on 1 May 1924 and has been continued since.
The two diesel-powered generators had less than one hour’s blackout in four years but were soon obsolete and in 1929 Campbelltown was connected to the railway electricity system and a substation was erected in Cordeaux Street. The old powerhouse was demolished in 1931.
Embarking on a marketing campaign, Campbelltown Council encouraged residents to "make electricity you servant" with the electrical engineer, Norman Tuck, advising on the use of electric stoves, bath heaters, clothes washers and vacuum cleaners. By the early 1950s Campbelltown was still a rural town and although electricity had been available before the war, economic depression and a reticence to replace trusted old with modern had slowed the introduction of electrical appliances. After the war Council revived its campaign to sell electrical appliances. In 1958 Campbelltown Council relinquished control of the electricity supply to the Nepean River County Council which had formed in 1954.
Written by Samantha Stevenson
Pamphlet File Campbelltown Library
Campbelltown : the bicentennial history / by Carol Liston.

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