Friday 5 April 2024

More Colourful Characters!

 I recently gave a talk to the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society on the second part of my Colourful Characters of Campbelltown presentation. I have chosen three characters for this post who you can read about below.

Characters. Campbelltown sure has had its fair share over the years. Enough for me to give a two- part presentation on them and I probably could have given at least one more. Every town has had them, but Campbelltown seemed to attract them more than most. They all live fondly in our hearts and memories and often bring a smile to our face when remembering them. Some made significant contributions to the town and some lead quieter lives.

Some had only bits that I can mention so I haven’t included them in the list. Like Arthur Luff of Allman Street that Eddie McBarron so wonderfully described in his valuable and entertaining Dumaresq Street book. Arthur, he described, walked with a limp and a stick, and characteristically sat on the verandah smoking incessantly his bent-stemmed pipe. The puffs were interspersed with mighty spits which carried from verandah to road. Another local told me about James Brooker who would drive his milk cart down steep Broughton Street to the Milk Depot near the railway line. He had no brakes so would attempt to slow it down by using the gutter at the side of the road. However, one day he was going too fast and rolled his cart over milk and all.

I have included 14 in my presentation today. Some I can talk a lot about…others not very much.

For some of those it is probably a stretch to call them characters- maybe they were more icons or in one case more of a curiosity- but their stories were worth telling so I have left them in there under the subject of characters. Frustratingly, I could not locate photographs of them all, so I have tried to include something associated with them. If anyone has photos of these characters or know who would have them, please let me know. Again, the characters will be presented alphabetically.

I have contemplated producing a short publication of some sort on todays and last year’s characters presentation. So, stay tuned for that.

Alf Cooper

Alf Cooper was born in 1916. He spent his boyhood years at Tamworth before coming to St Peters in 1926. The following year he came to work for George Chinnocks, who owned a store in the main street of Campbelltown- now one of the Georgian terraces. His mother said to him when he was 10 years old “How’d you like to go to Campbelltown? There’ll be horses and there is a shop, you’ll have lollies, you’ll have this, and you’ll have that”.

Alf sold newspapers for Chinnocks, rising very early in the morning to collect the newspapers for his billy cart from Campbelltown station at 3.30am. He then delivered them to the shop before delivering them on horseback to homes. This happened as Alf put it in “rain, hail or snow”.

When he was about 12 in 1929, Alf participated in a children’s party at the Town Hall. He stole the show dressed as Huckleberry Finn and sang a solo on stage that brought the house down. However, it was his attempt in the “boy who could laugh the heartiest” competition that he excelled. His “response excelled the greatest noise ever heard in Campbelltown, and so he won the prize” according to The Campbelltown News.

Alf Cooper used to do trackwork on the old racecourse at Leumeah in the 1930s. He would train racehorses that belonged to George Chinnocks. This course was known as Rudd’s Racecourse. Horses were Alf’s great passion.

I love the words that Alf used to describe people. He once said in an interview in his later years: “My old grandma- she was an old battleaxe. Old grandma would be in the kitchen and if they didn’t do something she would pick up anything and hit you. Another time he once said, “I was a bit of a wildie”. I love it when he described swimming as a child “When we came out of school we’d shout “Last to the Wattles is lousy. Across the public school we’d start undressing and by the time we ran down Sewer Lane we’d be naked (imagine kids doing that now). The Wattles was a bonzer spot, and I was a coot for diving.” Another time he said “Henderson the baker had two boys. One was named Glen. I used to knock around with Glen. We were good cobbers.”

Alf would ride bicycles, sometimes organising races. His mates were amazed that he only ever rode in bare feet- sometimes winning races this way.

Alf was a strong as an ox. He was employed to build the new Good Intent Hotel and a balcony was being built and concrete was needed for the upstairs balcony floor. Alf was used as the “horse”. He pulled the wheelbarrow filled with concrete up the plank while another bloke pushed. He demonstrated amazing strength.

Alf used to host casino nights in his barn on his farm.

Alf and his wife Eileen came to Leumeah in 1943. They remembered Leumeah when there were only dirt roads that turned to mud every time it rained.

I was lucky enough to meet Alf at Pembroke Lodge about 2 weeks before he died in 2010. Unfortunately, he was too sick to tell me much about his life but just meeting him was a wonderful experience.

Alf died in August 2010. He is missed by so many, especially the horses.

“Red Mick” Rixon


Frederick William Algernon was better known as Mick or Red Mick Rixon. He was born in 1897 at Campbelltown. He is pictured here with his wife Mary Selby at their wedding in 1920.

“Red Mick” was well known for his tracking abilities. He once tracked and located some lost girls in the Wedderburn area in 1926. They became lost while picking wildflowers.

He was quite a character. On one visit to the barber for a haircut Mick decided he didn’t want to wait. He untied the bag he was carrying and let out a snake. He quickly got rid of the queue!

At Wedderburn, Red Mick had quite a few acres, lots of dogs and native birds, including a lyre bird, and a very old bush timber style hut. Mick bred bloodhounds and harriers very successfully, he gained many prizes for his dogs at Bankstown and other shows, and he was very well known for the tracker dogs that he bred for the police. One of these champion dogs was named Heedless and the other Blutcher.

Mick won first prize in the Royal Easter Show around 1930 for top rooster. This prompted his brother John to ask Mick for a loan of the rooster for breeding purposes. After being asked by John, Mick’s reply was that it was too late as he had just eaten him!

Mick’s brother remembers one of his daughters being the subject of an article in the Truth newspaper in about 1958 entitled ‘This Miss Never Misses’. ‘Dutchie’ Rixon was charged with attempted murder in shooting some male. Apparently, Mick was interviewed and stated that it couldn’t have been attempted murder because if his daughter had meant the shot to kill then she would certainly have done so. Mick died at Liverpool in 1964 and is buried at St Peter’s Cemetery, Campbelltown.


Ernie Selems 

Cecil Ernest Selems, known as Ernie, was born in 1904, the son of Joseph Henry and Ellen Butchers. He married Lorna Smith in 1918. 

He enlisted in February 1916, serving as a WW1 soldier in France with the 45th Battalion. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in March 1917 and briefly was acting Corporal just prior to being seriously wounded in action in June 1917. He suffered a fractured skull and thigh injury and was hospitalised in England for several months. He returned to Australia at the end of 1917 and was discharged in Australia in February 1918

Ernie Selems had a hard life as a small dairy farmer on the Mount Annan ridge. The Selems family leased a dairy from Ted Sedgewick’s aunty on the edge of town on the Menangle Road. The farm was part of the remaining Church of England Glebe granted in 1823 and still owned by the church in the 1850s.

Ernie had to take his milk cans down a steep track then through the Claremont property to the Menangle Road (at the Glen Alpine roundabout). Twice a day he would take the milk into town at the Milk Depot and he would be at Lack’s Hotel at 10 in the morning. There are also references to it being parked most days opposite the Good Intent Hotel awaiting Ernie to drive it back home. After staggering out of the pub drunk, he would get back in the cart and the horse would lead him home. You would see the horse sauntering along. He is believed to have been the last local farmer to use a horse and cart to bring his milk to the Campbelltown Milk depot (to mid 1960s). It was a distinctive old white horse and cart. The milk depot building was burnt down in 1969.

In fact, Ernie never did the actual milking- this was done by his sister. All Ernie did was transport the milk in cans to the depot.

I couldn’t find a great lot else about Ernie, apart from that in 1954 he was charged and found guilty of failing to destroy rabbits on his property. I know he was also involved with the Campbelltown Show.

After Ernie died his house was cleaned out and a huge number of cheques were found- all not cashed! They went back many years.

Ernie died on 4 December 1987.


Written by Andrew Allen



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