Our Story

In the beginning

1st Leichhardt Registration Certificate

Swept up in the fervour of the global Scouting Movement, the 1st Leichhardt Troop of Boy Scouts was registered in August 1908. By the end of that year 1st City, 1st Cleveland Street School, 1st Glebe, 1st Hurstville, 1st Mosman, 1st Neutral Bay, 1st Petersham, 1st Redfern, 1st Woollahra and 1st Toongabbie had joined the new “League of Boy Scouts”.

In Victoria, it is believed at least one informal Troop was formed the previous year. This followed Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell’s successful trial camp in England in August 1907 and correspondence with an Australian boy by one of the camp attendees.

Baden-Powell’s six mega-selling Scouting for Boys instalments published from January 1908 were followed by an article on his growing youth movement in Sydney’s former Sunday Times newspaper on June 28, 1908.

Image Credit: State Library of NSW

This led to boys in Sydney flocking to form Scout Troops. The 1st Leichhardt’s Kangaroo Patrol was formed first in September 1908 and was led by 16-year-old Alec McMillan. He went on to achieve the Troop’s first Silver Wolf award – the highest award presented by the Chief Scout for service of the most exceptional nature. Originally awarded to boys (rather than leaders as it subsequently became), it was received for collecting various proficiency badges, the Kings Scout Award and performing a special act of service or gallantry. Activities in the Kangaroo Patrol, and the others that soon formed, were carried out initially in an old shed in James Street which was rented for two shillings and sixpence a week.

James St Club Room 1908
James Street Club Room, 1908

Several months later, 21-year-old James Xavier Coutts, a keen photographer who lived in Cromwell Street, Leichhardt, encountered some boys in what is now the suburb of Haberfield. He later wrote:

On a sunny afternoon during December 1908 whilst walking in Ramsey[‘s] Bush I came across a strange sight. A number of boys, half in some sort of uniforms, like cowboys, camped out in a brush hut of their own construction. Having a camera with me I lined them up and took snaps.

His conversations with the boys and their first Scoutmaster, A. J. Biddles, led to Coutts joining the 1st Leichhardt Scout Troop in April 1909.

Boy Scouts at Ramseys Bush 1908
Boy Scouts at Ramsey’s Bush, 1908. Image: J.X. Coutts

J. X. Coutts became leader of the Wallaroo Senior Patrol. By this time the troop had moved to a new clubroom in Norton Street rented for four shillings a week. In September 1909 the troop paraded past the Leichhardt Town Hall before marching to Leichhardt Park to celebrate the first anniversary of the Scout movement in the district. The official flyer of the event offered friends and family of the troop the opportunity of having their photographs taken professionally by Coutts.

Anniversary parade poster, 1909

A trek cart was built in 1909 for the boys to pull to the camps which were many miles away. It was able to be taken apart and easily stowed on steam trains. The diary kept by the 1st Leichhardt Troop and quoted in the Scouts Australia book, The Camp Coutts Story, compiled by Allan Songberg, quoted this excerpt:

The first trek ever held by Boy Scouts in NSW country was held by 1st Leichhardt in December 1909 from Campbelltown to Appin along top road, now Princes Highway, to Wollongong. 26 miles [42 kms] was trekked in one day.

When the introduction of compulsory cadet training by the Commonwealth Government nearly killed off the fledgling Scouting movement, a successful motion to carry on was made by Coutts in 1910 during his first public address at a special meeting of the administrators of the New South Wales Section of the League of Boy Scouts.

In 1911 Coutts became Scoutmaster on the resignation of Biddles. Within months he became the Senior Scoutmaster on account of his “splendid work done in connection with the Leichhardt Troop” which by then had already amassed 155 badges including two Silver Wolves, six King Scouts and 14 all Round Scout badges. The Troop moved to Renwick Lane, Leichhardt, where the rent was again two shillings and sixpence a week.

1st Leichhardt Renwick Lane off Norton St 1911
1st Leichhardt Scouts Club Room, Renwick Lane off Norton Street, 1911

During that year 1st Leichhardt held the first of what would be many hikes. One of them went from Como to Wollongong. About 30 boys took part, carrying their belongings on their backs in sugar bags.

Boy Scout with Sugar Bag
Boy Scout with sugar bag. Image: J.X. Coutts

Hike progress was charted by reporters sending press telegrams to their various organisations for publication the following day.

Coutts’ archive of photographs chronicling the activities of the troop over 30 years to 1938, formed a valuable historical record of early scouting life in Australia. Decades later, the compilation of records of both Coutts and the 1st Leichhardt Scout Group by Allan Songberg, former regional adviser, South Metropolitan Region, New South Wales, formed the basis of this history.

J. X. Coutts (centre) with older scouts

In May 1912 “BP”, Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the “Chief Scout” came to Australia for the first time and the Scout Bugle Band sounded the General Salute as he stepped from the train.

After inspecting the guard of honour of 120 hand-picked Boy Scouts with their staves and haversacks on their backs, “the Chief” transferred to the state carriage of the NSW Governor, Lord Chelmsford.

Card signed by Baden-Powell to new recruits. “You are now a Scout on your Honour at all times to do your best to carry out your Duty, and to do a good turn to somebody every day.”

A mounted Boy Scout patrol escort, formed the previous year at 1st Leichhardt by Les Andrews, led the procession along George Street to the Sydney Town Hall. There BP met 950 “Girl Aids”, the forerunners of the Girl Guides, 150 of whom had travelled from country areas.

Coutts formally met BP at the bush camp, held to showcase the natural scouting country surrounding Sydney, on a hill to the south of Cook’s River. It is now the suburb of Undercliffe.

A Boy Scouts’ Concert was held at the Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday May 16, 1912, before distinguished guests including the Chief Scoutmaster of New South Wales, Robert Clyde Packer, editor of the Sunday Times and later media proprietor.

Boy Scouts’ Concert program, Sydney Town Hall, 1912

The Boy Scouts’ Association Australian Section informed the League of Boy Scouts, New South Wales Section, by letter, that it had promoted Coutts to District Scoutmaster on September 12, 1912.

After BP’s visit, it was decided that Headquarters would follow English policy, organisation and rules.

At the 1912 district camp, an organisation known as the St George Boys Brigade was camped next to West Sydney District. Armed with rifles and bayonets of French Army pattern, the Boys Brigade attacked the scout camp. In the resultant skirmish, the Scouts captured 30 ‘prisoners’ who were detained under guard in a tent until the next morning. They were escorted to their Brigade Headquarters preceded by the Scout Bugle Band.

1st Leichhardt Trek-Cart
1st Leichhardt trek cart. Image: J.X. Courts

In January 1913 the Leichhardt and Annandale troops trekked 86 kilometres from Stanwell Park to Kiama. Stores and equipment were piled onto the trek cart built by the 1st Leichhardt Troop.

The Boys Scouts Association replaced the League of Boy Scouts in January 1914. In June that year the troop was funded by Misses Amy and Carrie Fairfax, philanthropic granddaughters of John Fairfax, who bought the Sydney Herald in 1841 which became the Sydney Morning Herald the following year. The spinster sisters formed a Parents and Supporters’ Committee. It was the first such committee in New South Wales. Alderman Lincoln, JP, was the first president. A building fund for a permanent headquarters was also started.

When the Boy Scouts Association, New South Wales Section, was incorporated in July 1914, the No 1 warrant was given to James X. Coutts as District Scoutmaster, West Sydney District. That appointment would extend to more than four decades of involvement with the West Sydney and Leichhardt Districts.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated in Sarajevo. This led to declarations of war in Europe including by Britain against Germany on August 4, 1914.

Image: J.X. Coutts

Enlistment by many adult leaders in the armed forces led to fears of uncertainty about the future of the Scout movement. However, they were unfounded. Many of the boys from the Troop were awarded a special War Service badge for their roles as cyclist messengers to military recruitment officers at Victoria Barracks in Paddington and the Red Cross.


Image: J.X. Coutts

In late 1914 and early 1915, as part of the first moves anywhere in Australia to include younger boys in the Scouting movement, Coutts was among district Scoutmasters who helped in the drive to form Wolf Cub packs.

He helped form the first Cub pack at Leichhardt in 1914. The first Cubmaster to be warranted in New South Wales was Mr W. Britton of the 1st Leichhardt pack. He took up his position in 1915 while trials with Cub packs of boys aged nine to 12 were carried out as separate Troops.

"1st & 2nd Leichhardt Troops. Boy Scouts 6-6-14"
“1st & 2nd Leichhardt Troops. Boy Scouts 6-6-14”. Image: J.X. Coutts

Wolf Cub packs performed star tests similar to the existing tenderfoot test and 2nd class badge. First aid and signalling tests were made easier than those for Scouts.

No 6 Patrol (Wolves) 1st Leichhardt Troop Aug 28, 1915. Image: J.X Coutts
“No 6 Patrol (Wolves) 1st Leichhardt Troop, Aug 28, 1915.” Image: J.X Coutts

The Fairfax sisters, Amy and Carrie, presented the Boy Scouts Association, New South Wales Section, with the Fairfax Challenge Banner, in memory of their father, Charles John Fairfax, while they continued to spend more time in England. Made of silk and gold, the banner depicted a Union Jack with the Boy Scout badge at its centre. Single patrols competed in January 1915, in ambulance, semaphore (a hand-held flag signalling system), knot tying, stave drill, Scout Law and uniform. A 1st Leichhardt patrol under Patrol Leader P. L. McDermott won the inaugural banner.

In July 1915 the second annual report of the Boy Scouts Association New South Wales Section, recorded 149 cubs in 16 packs with 21 each for troops in Annandale and Cessnock, 12 each in Bexley, Observatory Hill and Parramatta and in smaller groups down to three in West Kogarah.

On The South Coast Rd, Coledale, N.S.W. The Store at Coaldale South D'ST, N.S.W. Image: J.X. Coutts
“On The South Coast Rd, Coledale, N.S.W. The Store at Coaldale South D’ST, N.S.W.” Image: J.X. Coutts

In June 1916, after successful formations of Wolf Cub packs that were thought best to run in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, the NSW Boy Scouts Association’s Wolf Cub Section was officially founded.

The 1st Leichhardt “Wolf Patrol” that won the Troop Competition in 1915 thereafter came second in the West Sydney District Competition. It won in again 1916, and in September 1917 was runner-up when this photo, below, was taken.

"Wolf Patrol" 1st Leichhardt Scouts - Record formed 1914, Won Troop Competition 1915. Record in West Sydney District Compt 2nd 1915, 1st 1916, 1st Aug 1917, 2nd Sept 1917, Photo taken Sept 15, 1917. Image: J.X. Coutts
“Wolf Patrol” 1st Leichhardt Scouts – Record formed 1914, Won Troop Competition 1915. Record in West Sydney District Compt 2nd 1915, 1st 1916, 1st Aug 1917, 2nd Sept 1917, Photo taken Sept 15, 1917. Image: J.X. Coutts

Leichhardt Scouts during World War I

By mid-1915, as the eighth annual report of the Leichhardt Boy Scouts proudly noted: “No less than five Silver Wolf Scouts have at various periods been members of the Troop. The Silver Wolf is the highest award in the Boy Scouts Association and it is believed that the Leichhardt Troop hold the world’s record for having the greatest number…”

[Annand]ale Troop's [A]mbulance. Coutts Photo
1st Annandale Troop’s ambulance. Coutts Photo
During this second year of World War 1, scouts voluntarily assisted at functions, concerts and patriotic meetings in the Leichhardt district working various jobs and selling tickets particularly for the Red Cross, Australia Day and Allies Day funds for which they collected almost £100.

First aid practice. Image: J.X. Coutts
First aid practice. Image: J.X. Coutts

They practiced their skills.

Boy Scouts (at) Work Bridge-Building. 1st Annandale Troop. Photo Coutts, Leichhardt
“Boy Scouts (at) Work Bridge-Building. 1st Annandale Troop. Photo Coutts, Leichhardt”

More boys wanted to join. As well the West Leichhardt Troop based at Lilyfield closed, its members swelling the 1st Leichhardt Troop numbers to 68. In October 1915 the Troop moved again to a large club room on the corner of Palace and Queen Streets in Petersham.

Meanwhile, Leichhardt Council’s offer of a mere 15-year lease for a new Scout headquarters in Trendgold Park was stood over by the Leichhardt Scouts Parents and Supporters’ Committee because it was deemed too short if a permanent structure was to be erected. Efforts to save for a building elsewhere resulted in £54.5-3 by mid-year. This had been saved solely from local donations and a portion of the funds raised from the annual concert.

For the second year running in 1915, the 1st Leichhardt Troop won the Fairfax Challenge Banner for the most proficiency in ambulance, signalling, Scout Law, knotting, stretcher, patrol and staff drill.

Signalling. Image: J.X. Coutts

1st Leichhardt’s Wolf Patrol – one of the seven patrols and a Wolf Cub pack that comprised the Troop  – also won best all round patrol at the West Sydney District camp, narrowly beating a Patrol from 1st Petersham.

Troop membership rose again by 20 to 88 in the 1915/16 scout year to March 31, particularly as most of its leaders were serving at war. A permanent headquarters became a matter of urgency.

In addition to usual Scout training, extra classes were held in life saving, fire drill, signalling and first aid.

Life Saving Display, Como Oct 11, 1915. Image: J.X. Coutts
“Life Saving Display, Como Oct 11, 1915.” Image: J.X. Coutts

Roll of Honour

All the Leichhardt officers enlisted for active duty. Two were accepted initially, the Assistant Scoutmaster Charles Henderson and his nephew and Troop Leader “Halley” Henderson. Others enlisted later and all were included on the Roll of Honour of 40 past and present local troop members that Scoutmaster Coutts had had prepared for whenever the new hall was built. By 1916 former Troop members on it included those awarded the Military Cross, the Military Medal and Harry Dunne, killed in France in June 1916. Another Leichhardt Patrol Leader who distinguished himself, Lieutenant Foot, was visited in hospital by King George V. According to a report in the Albion Advertiser, as the King departed on August 11, 1916, he shook hands with Foot and said:

“‘Goodbye Lieutenant’. Young Foot corrected him, saying he was only a Sergeant. ‘No,’ said the King, ‘I have promoted you for valiant conduct’ and he did so.’”

Troop leader “Halley” Henderson was among the first to enlist in the army when war was declared and when he arrived at Gallipoli, according to the same newspaper story, “was the youngest solider on the peninsula, being only 16 years of age”. He returned to Australia wounded – deaf from a shrapnel wound to the head after only three months on the Turkish peninsula.


Leichhardt Scouts In Camp, Oct 1915. Image: J.X. Coutts
“Leichhardt Scouts In Camp, Oct 1915.” Image: J.X. Coutts

By 1916 it was common for camps and treks to be held each year. Later camps of a week or more were held several times a year as well as for shorter periods. Camps were set up at Miranda, the Cooks River, Como and Buffalo Creek at Gladesville.

Image: J.X. Coutts
Image: J.X. Coutts

Land near Coalcliff, a picturesque village sandwiched on steep ground between the Pacific Ocean and the sheer cliffs of the Illawarra escarpment, was also popular for treks and camps.

Leichhardt Xmas Camp, Coalcliff, 1915
“Leichhardt Xmas Camp, Coalcliff, 1915.” Image: J.X. Coutts

In the early days of scouting bushland was closer to the city and boundaries were quiet with few horses and carts (or cars) to clog roads. Almost from the outset of the Troop formation, it had been common for patrols to march in file from the Troop headquarters to the edge of Leichhardt Town and into the area known as Ramsay’s Bush, around Iron Cove Bay.

1st Leichhardt Troop Boy Scouts, May 7, 1915
“1st Leichhardt Troop Boy Scouts, May 7, 1915.” Image J.X. Coutts

Scouts were also present at church parades.


"Five Dock Church Parade Aug 29. 1915"
“Five Dock Church Parade Aug 29. 1915” Image: J.X. Coutts

They also paraded themselves. From the outset of Scouting in Leichhardt in the second half of 1908, part of the activities of the Scouts was to march, in file, from their meeting place to the edge of Leichhardt Town and, once in the open space near Iron Cove Bay, practice their activities. This was what intrigued not only the township, but the freelance photographer James Coutts. And as urban sprawl grew, the spaces like Ramsay’s Bush disappeared and became suburbs.

Trek Cart, image: J.X. Coutts
1st Leichhardt trek cart. Image: J.X. Coutts

A 12-day trek was held between Boxing Day 1916 and January 6, 1917, when 53 boys from the 1st Leichhardt, 1st Annandale and 1st Stanmore Troops trekked from Campbelltown to Coalcliff. Each paid 10 shillings for food for the 12 days.

Camping and bushwalking remained a major activity for the troop with every holiday weekend and Easter and Christmas a good reason for a camp. While Como, Coalcliff and Stanwell Park had been early favourites, as the years progressed, Waterfall (later Camp Coutts) and Campbelltown (later the Woolwash) soon became the camping spots of choice.

Court of Honour

The first Court of Honour was held in 1909 but lasted only a few months. It began again in 1911. All members of the Troop attended and made decisions on camps and parades but later all business was discussed and only Patrol Leaders, their Seconds and Scoutmasters attended. Patrol Leaders were usually aged about 18 in the era before Rovers was established in the 1920s. The Court of Honour was reorganised in 1915 with minutes of meetings kept in one book until 1929.

At the meeting held on August 16, 1915 at Renwick Lane, Leichhardt, Mr Coutts recited the latest numbers for patrol members:

Curlews – 8
Kangaroos – 7
Lions – 9
Wolves – 5
Rosella – 7
Stags – 10

At the September 6, 1915 meeting it was agreed that at the monthly patrol competition the following marks were to be awarded:

skirmishing – 200
Scout Law – 200
knot tying – 100
neatness of turnout – 100

As well, at the next camp, a display of signalling, cooking and hut building would be put on.

In January 1916, the Court of Honour minutes recorded that an offer for a new trek cart had been made by Stan Seaberg on the proviso that the Troop supply the necessary materials. It would cost roughly £3.10.0. District Scoutmaster Coutts was given the power to sell the old cart for no less than 10 shillings.

"Xmas Tree 1916 Camp At Coalcliff"
“Xmas Tree 1916 Camp At Coalcliff.” Image: J.X. Coutts

Both before and after the trek cart was upgraded, it was an indispensable part of troop equipment. It had a centre pole and a cross bar with ropes attached so eight scouts could pull it. In 1916 the cart was loaded with large bell tents and camp gear and pulled from Petersham to the Como camping ground (more than 30 kms). It was at least a 50-km trek for the boys pulling the trek cart from Campbelltown to Bulli. By the 1920s it was still used for local transport jobs and was a display item for years. It was easily taken apart for big obstacles and could be reassembled within minutes.

Court of Honour minutes for May 15, 1917, show it was decided to discuss at a later time whether a field telegraph and wireless sets should be made part of Troop work. Each member was to take his own provisions to a weekend bivouac at Buffalo Creek. Also included was this entry, (with no additional information): “A thrilling argument arose about the unsuitable items that were put on at the concert on the previous Friday.”

Minutes from August 14 gave an insight into non-attendance excuses at district meetings. The Wolf Patrol leader cited neuralgia and his second relayed that there was a sickness in the family. Both excuses were accepted. But 25 points taken off competition points was recorded for the Rosella Patrol Leader who was “late home from work” and “nil” excuse given from his Second. Similarly, the Curlews Patrol Leader’s “toothache” and the “no excuse” from his Second resulted in “25 points taken off competition”.

At the August 12, 1917 meeting, according to the Court of Honour minutes, the Parents and Supporters’ Committee was to be asked for camping equipment including seven lamps, nine tomahawks, nine billy cans and a roll of lashing.

A permanent HQ

In 1917 a block of land measuring 50 feet by 120 feet was bought for £162 on Balmain Road, Leichhardt, as a permanent site for the Troop headquarters.

Then dreadful news arrived. Scoutmaster Frank Charles was killed at the Front and the Troop went into mourning. In June 1917 his parents in Tasmania wrote asking where to send £5 from Frank’s funds to 1st Leichhardt in memory “of our beloved son”. His father, Ed John Charles, wrote to Coutts stating that Frank’s “fellow scouts would be interested to hear further particulars of the manner of his death”.

While it had taken “a long time to gather this information together” Mr Charles had learned that Frank had been killed instantly when struck in the head by machine gun fire while heading a section on patrol duty that was attempting to locate German trenches one night in preparation for the next day’s battle. Frank Charles had been buried on the field where he fell.

West Sydney District Camp, Oct 1917. 1st Leichhardt Troop Scouts in Camp, Como N.S.W.
“West Sydney District Camp, Oct 1917. 1st Leichhardt Troop Scouts in Camp, Como N.S.W.” Image: J.X. Coutts

In October 1917, 1st Leichhardt Troop Scouts attended the West Sydney District Camp.

The following year attendance by 64 boys for 10 days at the Xmas Camp at Coalcliff from December 1917 to January 1918 resulted in a food cost to each of 10 shillings and sixpence.

Some camps began and ended at country rail stations while for others, the trek cart was hauled from Leichhardt to places such as Holts Creek at Como, along the eastern side of the rail line, which was long ago filled in and by 1919 was closed to scout camping. Food costs for the Xmas Camp – at Campbelltown in 1920 – topped 11 shillings each.

1st Leichhardt Boy Scouts in camp, Xmas, 1917 at Coalcliff, N.S.W.
“1st Leichhardt Boy Scouts in camp Xmas 1917 at Coalcliff N.S.W.”           Image: J.X. Coutts

Until the early part of the 1920s all camp cooking was done over a central open fire using kerosene tins and large boiling pans. Food was distributed to messes of about eight boys. Meals included rolled oats of grains for breakfast, boiled eggs, stewed steak, stewed chops, stewed tomato sauce and sardines. Prunes and rice, dates, stewed or fresh fruit and thick slices of a tin loaf of bread with jam, honey or golden syrup was common for dessert.

Using sand to remove grease, washing up was always done in the river.

Camp routine was announced via bugle calls. These included Reveille (Get out of bed you lazy head), Assembly, Fall in A, Fall in B, Come to the Cookhouse Door Boys and Pick ’em up Hot Potatoes.

Come To The Cook House Door Boys, Smas Camp, 1917. Image j.X. Coutts
“Come To The Cook House Door Boys – Xmas Camp – 1917”. Image J.X. Coutts

At the Scoutmasters’ Conference of the NSW Section of the Boys Scouts Association held on Saturday January 26, 1918, the agenda included 19 items. Among them were several discussions and 11 papers on subjects including “Sex Hygiene for Boy Scouts”, “Senior Scouts and how to retain them” and “How to run a Camp”.

1st Leichhardt Scouts Club Room, 1918
“1st Leichhardt Scouts Club Room, 1918.” Image: J.X. Coutts


Under standing orders issued by the Boy Scouts Association NSW Section on January 1, 1919, a raft of regulations were issued relating to qualifications for membership, uniform and equipment, fees, parades, games, officers and stock and equipment.

1st Leichhardt Troop boys aged between 11 and 18 had to be taller than 4 feet 6 inches (137 centimetres) while Wolf Cub packs could not be shorter than 4 ft 2 in (127 cms) aged 9 to 11. Uniforms were forbidden to be worn unless at official parades and certainly not to school or in public lest they wear out and detract from the overall appearance of the Troop at parade.

"Presenting the Colours to the 1st Leichhardt Troop"
“Presenting the Colours to the 1st Leichhardt Troop.”  Image: J.X. Coutts

New recruits were charged threepence (threepenny bit or 3d) for membership and the first week and a penny (copper or 1d) thereafter while anyone above the rank of Troop Leader paid 3d a week.

Weekly parades (in uniform) were held on Saturday nights at 7.30pm at the club room where points were awarded for neatness. Unsatisfactory monthly attendance could result in being crossed off the Troop roll without a reasonable excuse.

“A Scout when on parade will salute PLs and all ranks above them when desiring to hold conversation with them,” according to the standing orders, with officers and Patrol Leaders returning the salute. Punishment for not saluting was at the discretion of the officers.

Friday evenings from 7.30–10pm were devoted to games, sports and special instruction classes with two officers on duty to limit damage and “control the games without them becoming riotous”. The Troop also received donated books for its library via its own librarian who thanked all donors and issued books to library members and saw that books remained in good condition.

In February 1919, one of the 1st Leichhardt Troop Scouts rescued another who “seemed to take a fit and sank” into the waters of the Leichhardt Canal during a swim to cool off after a game of cricket.

In accordance with the new regulations passed by the Central Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts Association, New South Wales Section, James Coutts, District Scoutmaster of the West Sydney District, wrote a frank report of his visits to Troops for the three months ending September 30, 1919. He had been accompanied by the District Secretary, Mr C. H. Charles.

While “very smart” at ambulance, Coutts wrote, the 16 scouts present during their inspection one Friday in August showed that 1st Petersham Troop’s signalling style was “bad” with uniforms pronounced only “fair”.

"Outside the Club Room @nd Annandale Troop Boy Scouts and Wolf Cubs Dec 192[2] J. Coutts Photo"
“Outside the Club Room 2nd Annandale Troop Boy Scouts and Wolf Cubs Dec 192[2] J. Coutts Photo”
A surprise visit to 1st Annandale, with its Scoutmaster away at a military camp, revealed that the 18 Scouts present, many new recruits and some not in uniform, were “fair” at ambulance while their few signallers were “not experts”.

The West Leichhardt Troop’s 14 members (with another two away sick and another unaccounted for) showed “a very fair knowledge” of Scout Craft on Tuesday September 1 with everyone “dressed smart” and “good” discipline. At “Mr Baker’s patriotic carnival” soon after, eight members of the Mounted Patrol were inspected and “could ride well, and had good horses”.

As well, the “recently formed” but short-lived Leichhardt Presbyterian Troop, formed at the local church, had eight members who all knew their tenderfoot test “and could say the Scout Law … and discipline could not be better”. Coutts and Charles stated that “it was indeed a pleasure to visit such a smart and well behaved Troop of Scouts. The Club Room is possibly one of the Best in Sydney”.

Ist Leichhardt was also inspected on the night of Mr Baker’s patriotic carnival and while in full uniform and “looking smart” had an attendance problem with only 24 of the 35 members in attendance – some of whom had come straight from the carnival “without having tea which at least shows they have some interest in the Movement”. A distinct “lack of interest” in the Scout Law” was the “weakest point” found with new members, which Scoutmasters, Coutts reported, intended to pay particular interest to during ensuing months.

On September 19, the 1st Balmain Troop was inspected at Buffalo Creek at Ryde. Nine scouts were present. “The scouts did not look very smart but some allowance should be made for a poorer Class of Boy which belong” to this Troop, noted Coutts.

Wood Chopping. Image: J.X. Coutts
Outdoor activities. Image: J.X. Coutts

During the inspection which occurred as the boys erected a tent, collected wood and began cooking, a six-foot long black snake was killed and skinned. And while seemingly “at home in the Bush” the boys “know nothing of Ambulance, signalling or any special branch of Scoutcraft and do not look at all smart”. Coutts reported as well: “It would not be practical to attempt to instruct the boys in any dry subject …”

On September 23 the 14 cubs and one officer of the Leichhardt Wolf Cubs were inspected. They “looked very smart and tidy in their uniform [and] while the Discipline could not be better they gave a display of Semaphore signalling which many troops would find it hard to beat”, Coutts wrote.

The inspection of the recently-formed two patrols of the 1st Stanmore Troop were making “good progress with all knowing the Semaphore alphabet”.

An overlapping cyclist patrol was praised for its seven weeks of duty at the Barracks every day. While not a separate body – all members belonging to a Troop in the district – it was intended at the time to form a Troop of bicyclists “similar to the Mounted [horse] Patrol”, according to Coutts’ report.

The annual census of the West Sydney District taken in September 1919 revealed nine troops and patrols, 142 scouts and nine officers – an increase, respectively, of five Troops, 36 Scouts and one officer on the previous year’s census.

The annual camp at Como from October 3-5 was attended by 104 officers and Scouts. Coutts made a mild protest at the need to forward a report each quarter, suggesting that it would be sufficient that he and Mr Charles inspect all the Troops every six months at most.

“We find that we cannot attend to our other duties and also devote one night a week to inspections. As it is we devote every night in the week to scout work and find something has to go if we are continually out of our own Troops.”

Influenza Epidemic

Influenza Campaign, Photo J. Coutts, 7 Cromwell, St, Leichhardt
“Influenza Campaign, Photo J. Coutts, 7 Cromwell, St, Leichhardt.” Image: J.X. Coutts

From around April 1919 hundreds of Sydneysiders died and thousands became ill with the flu in a worldwide pandemic. The NSW Board of Health started depots in every suburb. Members of the Leichhardt Troop worked from the depot at the local Town Hall after an official call for help under the Municipal Seal of the Influenza Administrative Committee of Leichhardt Council.

“Advice to Women”, a poster from the time exhorts them to wear masks and “avoid veils – a flapping veil is a fruitful source of contagion”.

“Inoculation is Protection” was also a bold warning on top and on each side of the poster. Tend to household chores near open windows for fresh air, get some sun in backyards or local parks, limit time in crowds and avoid trams by walking, urged Eleanor MacKinnon, the Red Cross representative on the Administrative Board – Influenza.

“Sunlight, Fresh Air (night and day) and Cleanliness are your best friends,” the poster warned.

Scouts recorded their daily errands delivering food and bedding, running messages, posting letters, visiting the chemist, greengrocer and butcher, washing bottles, peeling potatoes, and “washing up the tea things”.

SOS card from the time of the influenza epidemic

SOS cards were distributed to residents to put face up on window sills to attract attention from twice-daily patrols of local streets. The card was turned to the opposite side if only food was needed.

On Wednesday December 17, 1919, the Boy Scouts’ Association held a “Re-Union and Official Welcome Home” for returned soldiers at the Sargent’s Cafe in Market Street, Sydney. Over a cold collation of roast sirloin beef, roast lamb, corned beef, York ham and ox tongue with dressed salads of tomatoes and beetroot as well as mashed potatoes and green peas, toasts were made to the King, songs and a duet were performed to piano accompaniment.

Further speeches were made accompanied by preserved fruit and cream, rice custard, wine and fruit jellies, biscuits, cheese and plain salads. Schweppes aerated waters were served afterwards with tea and coffee.

Shakespeare was popular. The official booklet began with a quote from Hamlet: “Here’s to thy health.”

It concluded with a line from Midsummer Night’s Dream: “So good-night unto you all, give me your hand.”


Scout Fergie, from 1st Leichhardt’s Stag Patrol was awarded the Scout Bronze Cross for his rescue of the cricketer who had a fit while swimming in Leichhardt Bay the previous year – while “a shark was circling the man”. This was the highest gallantry honour for lifesaving in the Scouting movement. Scout Tickner, from Kangaroo Patrol, was awarded the Gilt Cross for retrieving a child in Leichhardt Bay.

Scoutmaster Coutts, who had risen from patrol leader to District Scoutmaster between 1909 and 1919, was awarded the Silver Wolf for services to Scouting while running six troops during the Great War. Another Leichhardt Scoutmaster, D. J. McDermott, was also awarded the Silver Wolf for all-round Scoutship.

A NSW Scout contingent of five leaders one Patrol Leader and two Scouts travelled to the First World Jamboree in Olympia, London, where Sir Robert Baden-Powell was proclaimed “Chief Scout of the World”.

One of the best natural campsites in all of New South Wales was found by accident in 1920 when Coutts and 25 Scouts passed through Waterfall, the last southern Sydney suburb before the Illawarra escarpment meets Wollongong. They followed a coal truck into a valley off the west side of the Princes Highway. It wasn’t far from what was then a large steam train watering, shunting and engine rotation centre. A whole band of Troops were organised to attend a camp at the new venue on the long weekend in October. Coutts, according to The Camp Coutts Story, took only one group picture, that of 1st Petersham, among 12 photos in total.

Among some ladies and gentlemen in fine dress who are pictured having ‘tea’ at a trench table [trenches dug for seating] on the ground are Miss Fairfax, of the Fairfax newspaper group. She arrived in her new chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce which had traversed the rough bush track to the new ‘find’. The campsite at that time, and more than a century later, has a defined 1st Leichhardt Group section and remains in demand for camping, activities and conferences all year round.

In November 1920, Leichhardt Town was adorned in posters for the “Monster Fancy Fair Market Day and Carnival” to raise money “in aid of Leichhardt Boy Scouts Hall”.

The “Jolliest Day Ever held in Leichhardt” with six large stalls of groceries, fancy goods, books, toys, clothing, food and special attractions helped raise money for the hall on the land in Balmain Road.

Image: J.X. Coutts

One regular hike was to Nowra from Moss Vale staying overnight at Fitzroy Falls, Kangaroo Valley and at the Cambewarra Mountain lookout.

Rover Scouts embarked on more adventurous hikes over Mount Solitary in the Blue Mountains and the picturesque Burragorang Valley (later flooded to make way for Warragamba Dam which opened in 1960). Several canoe trips down the Shoalhaven River from Tallong were also held.

On December 9, 1920, the 1st Leichhardt Boy Scouts Troop held its Christmas Concert featuring a grand camp scene at the Leichhardt Town Hall. Admission was one shilling and sixpence (1s 6d) with back seats a shilling each and children half price.


Cocoa, cordial and lollies were regularly sold by Scouts and responsibility for running the canteen was popular. For instance, the 1st Leichhardt Court of Honour decided at its last May meeting that the Lions Patrol would be in charge of canteen management for the next month, June 1921.

"West Sydney and St George District Annual Camp Oct 1921. 500 Scouts on Waterfall Station" Image J.X. Coutts
“West Sydney and St George District Annual Camp Oct 1921. 500 Scouts on Waterfall Station”. Image J.X. Coutts

After the success of the unofficial 1920 Waterfall camp the West Sydney troops were to attend another in 1921. An invitation was also sent to the St George District. Coutts took a photograph of 500 scouts on Waterfall Station from both districts on the October long weekend en route to what would eventually become Camp Coutts. The camp was a success with a massive parade. It was a venue that could last in perpetuity.

Mess table, Waterfall Camp, October 1921. Image J.X. Coutts

In September the first sod was turned on the land to create a hall 50 feet (15.2 metres) long and 30 feet (9.1 metres) wide. By November it was habitable, although not finished. Coutts had been on hand every day during building. By December 1921 the land and the building were estimated to be worth £1000.

Members of the troop erected the cub den and other rooms under the main hall by labouring and cleaning more than 6,000 bricks.

"1st Leichhardt Scouts Starting Their Club Room" Image J.X. Coutts
“1st Leichhardt Scouts starting their Club Room.” Image J.X. Coutts

In addition, according to the Court of Honour minutes of December 4 a new shield – to be called the Finley Shield – would be awarded to the Patrol scoring most points for competitions throughout 1922.

On December 13 the whole Troop assembled for the last time at the former club room in the lane off Palace Street, Petersham, where it had met since October 1915. It then marched with the band along Parramatta Road then into Balmain Road and up to the hall where the Court of Honour met for the first time in the new hall.

An extract from the Jubilee History of Leichhardt, dated December 1921, traces the Leichhardt Boy Scouts, “one of the first troops formed in New South Wales” when in August 1908 “the first patrol was formed under Patrol Leader A. McMillen [sic]” which held an initial meeting in James Street, before sheer numbers forced a move. Never having come lower than third in any Scout competition since then, the 1st Leichhardt Troop held the Fairfax Banner twice and won the banners in both Scout and Cub competitions in the 1920-21 West Sydney competition.

Since it was formed, the boys of 1st Leichhardt Troop helped to raise money for the voluntary workers, the Broughton Hall Car Fund and helped with relief work during the influenza epidemic for which they received “a hearty vote of thanks, under seal, from the Municipal Council”, according to the extract.


For a week from January 7, 1922, the first Australian Corroboree was held at the Sydney Showground. Coutts was the assistant camp commandant.

Image: J.X. Coutts
Image: J.X. Coutts

On Saturday, April 29, 1922, the new hall was officially opened by no less than the Governor-General, Lord Forster.

Rear of the two-storey hall. Image: J.X. Coutts

According to Court of Honour minutes for June 28, 1922, the Bugle Patrol was sadly lacking. A competition for buglers was suggested, as well as a similar competition for two side drums and the base drum.

Image: J.X. Coutts
Buglers and their drummer, date unknown. Image: J.X. Coutts

Buglers and drummers were always at meetings, parades and camps from 1912 and earlier. The tradition of a march around the local streets always attracted new recruits. James Coutts knew all the bugle calls and drum beats and encouraged the boys to learn.

The Christmas camp was held at Campbelltown.


Two officers and 21 Scouts and Rovers from the 1st Leichhardt Troop were part of the 126-member contingent from West Sydney District who joined 900 fellow NSW Scouts at the 1000-strong 2nd Australian Corroboree in Melbourne during January.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Cubs had grown in numbers fit for an official portrait in August (below).

"1st Leichhardt Wolf Cubs Aug 3 1923. Photo J. Coutts"
“1st Leichhardt Wolf Cubs Aug 3 1923. Photo J. Coutts”

Calamity struct around dusk on September 17 amid a violent windstorm that hit inner Sydney. A wind gust of 59 mph (95 kph) blew in the front doors of the new hall. The roof lifted, the walls were pushed out and most of the building collapsed. It was later demolished.

Scout hall destroyed by a willy-willy in September 1923. Image: J.X. Coutts.
Rear of the badly-damaged 1st Leichhardt scout hall prior to demolition. Image: J.X. Coutts

 A new building fund was started on the same night as the gale after a supporters’ committee meeting was called. The next day a deputation visited the Leichhardt Mayor, Alderman Lambert, after which a public meeting was held on October 6 and £67 was raised in an appeal. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, speeches were made at the meeting by Coutts, the chairman of the Executive Council of the Boy Scouts Association New South Wales Section, Kelso King, and other aldermen. The mayor told the meeting, also attended by a large group of residents, about the importance of the Scout Movement and its value to the Leichhardt district. Further subscriptions were encouraged and it was decided that the work would proceed immediately by contract.

A shed was erected in the backyard for scout meetings. Scouts entered brick cleaning competitions. It would later be used as the Sea Scouts’ meeting room.

By November 20 a new hall, bigger and better than the last, was in place – and remains to this day.

Curlew Patrol won the Finley Shield. In his records Coutts kept up with camps and treks to favourite campsites.


1st Leichhardt Troop 1924
1st Leichhardt Troop 1924. Image J.X. Coutts

Three 1st Leichhardt members attended the third Australian Corroboree in Adelaide.

It was around this time, according to Court of Honour records collated by Alan Songberg, that the ubiquitous sugar bag was fashioned into a backpack using two should straps. Until then sugar bags, or a sailor’s kit bag, had long been used to carry food and gear with a rope threaded around the top to close it. A rolled blanket was carried diagonally across the body from one shoulder.

War disposal stores sold solder’s packs for about two shillings. They soon became standard Scout equipment for camps. Old clothes worn at camps were also soon discarded in preference for a more uniform appearance.

Image: J.X. Coutts
Image: J.X. Coutts

For a time camp dress was fashioned from a sugar bag with holes for the head and arms and patrol decoration stitched on the front with frayed frills on the bottom. Both uncomfortable and too small for the bigger boys, these were replaced when specially-made camp dress became entrenched.

On Saturday May 10, the Governor-General, Lord Forster, re-opened the club room or Scout Hall. The supporters’ committee had to cater for more than 300 people.

"Lord Forster Opening of New Hall" Image J.X. Coutts
“Lord Forster Opening of New Hall” Image J.X. Coutts

The St George District Troops ended their stay at the annual camp at Waterfall when they found a site on Forbes Creek at Engadine for which a Crown lease was later obtained. This prompted Coutts to request his District Headquarters to apply for a Crown lease for the Waterfall campsite.

Kangaroo Patrol won the Finley Shield.


Patrol Leader S. Fox attended the 4th Australian Corroboree on behalf of the Troop.

On July 27, 1925, Coutts was appointed the first District Commissioner for the new District Association of West Sydney and took part in the first training camp for Scout Leaders.

Another October camp was held at Waterfall and by now the trek cart had had its day. Cars and trucks were now plentiful and provisions could be taken directly from the Balmain Road hall to the 1st Leichhardt Troop site at the camp.

Kangaroo Patrol again won the Finley Shield.


Patrol Lead S. Fox again represents the troop at the 5th Australian Corroboree in Hobart.

At the Court of Honour meeting on January 10, the new Assistant Scout Master, Eric Pitcher, discussed forming a theatrical company from troop members. Ten members of the court volunteered.

On May 25 Coutts suggested at a Court of Honour that the Rovers be formed in Sea Scouts. The first Patrol was duly formed the following month on the offer of a boat – a cutter from the naval ship The Petrel – presented by the chairman of the Boy Scouts Association New South Wales Section, Kelso King, who was soon to be knighted. That cutter could use its small mast and adopt a lug sail in a following wind, or could be rowed by six to eight men. Scraping, painting and maintenance took many hours and it was “hard work rowing”, according to Troop records.

For two and six (30 cents) a week, the cutter was moored in Leichhardt Bay [Long Cove] and despite running into debt the patrol continued on.

Kangaroo Patrol won the Finley Shield.

On December 31st 1st Leichhardt Troop hosted a reunion with about 50 “ancients” turning up and vowing, amid hearty laughter and tales of old camps and treks, to form an Old Scouts Club.

The trek cart was put away and stored at the hall until the 1970s. It was then that a new Group member, ignorant of its historical value, dumped it at the tip.


Patrol Leader Fox attended the 6th Australian Corroboree.

The Court of Honour allowed Scouts wanting their gardener’s badge to use a strip of land three feet wide which extended along one side fence.

E. J. Torr was the 1st Leichhardt Troop representative among the 100-strong contingent of Scouts selected to attend the official opening by the Duke of York (later King George VI) of the first Parliament House in Canberra on May 9, 1927. At the time Canberra had a population of just 6,000 with no street lighting or paving – except around Parliament House.

Oil on canvas painting, 1928, Parliament of Australia

For Scout Week 1927, James X. Coutts, S.W. Sydney District Commissioner, laid out A Few Facts About West Sydney District in a souvenir programme.

  • West Sydney is the oldest established District in NSW, formed in 1909
  • Early in its existence it was known as No 6 District consisting of three troops – 1st Leichhardt, 1st Annandale and 1st Leichhardt’s Wolf Cub pack – the first in Australia
  • 1st Leichhardt was also remembered for having perhaps the first Troop committee
  • James X. Coutts was District Scoutmaster for 12 years
  • the District Court of Honour has met continuously since 1910
  • After a few months of publication as The Wombat in 1915, the West Sydney Scout became the official publication of the District (no date given)
  • The District consisted of 36 troops with about 1500 memberships including about 60 Scouters
  • The District included four free-of-debt Troop halls with another two Troops owning land on which halls were intended to be built
  • District Headquarters at 3a Renwick Street, (Leichhardt) was the first established in the Sydney metropolitan area
  • 600 scouts attended the annual district camp at Waterfall (Camp Coutts).

The March 1927 edition of the West Sydney Scout recounted a few nuggets of history.

The 1st Leichhardt Rover Patrol was the first of its kind in the District and founded by assistant Scoutmaster Mackenzie on his return from the Imperial Jamboree in 1920. It comprised senior members of the Troop with Mackenzie as the Mate.

Numbers increased over the next few years until the Rovers consisted of many of the ex-members of the Troop. That is until they started to marry and “left Scouting under pressure as their wives did not approve of them displaying their knees”.

Before their “liquidation” around 1924 due to the “weakened numbers”, they did help build the Scout Hall and were active within the workings of the Troop. Their “den” was furnished and kitted out with both indoor amusements and sporting equipment. It took some years until the existing Scouts were old enough to become Rovers. By 1927 it was looking promising that the numbers would yet be enough to form a full-strength Rover Patrol once more.

1st Leichhardt Group Committee 1926
1st Leichhardt Parent Committee 1926

The Scout Hall was also the scene of “pleasing selections on the piano” and afternoon refreshments as Miss (Caroline) Charles Fairfax inspected the building and grounds while entertained by the 1st Leichhardt Parents’ Committee.

Miss Charles Fairfax February 1928. Image from the collections of the State Library of NSW
Miss Charles (Carrie) Fairfax February 1928. Image from the collections of the State Library of NSW


On July 28 the Court of Honour noted that the Troop was to travel to Frenchs Forest with Professor E. G. Jacobs who examines the Patrol naturalists books. Coutts was displeased about the practice of boys making ‘raspberries’ with their mouths – a practice that was to stop because it was “not a nice thing to do”. It was decided that raspberry blowers were to be brought before the Court of Honour.

This year the Rovers, who had gained more members and were led by Rover mate, Jack Pitcher, and 2nd Mate Eric Torr, wanted to partition off the front room of the hall.

Coutts bought a medicine ball and some singlestick (cudgels). He thought the Sea Scouts could learn the art of singlestick. He reported the two men would teach gymnastics and a class would start on July 21.

In records for 1928 the Troop’s prize list included Oxford Annuals, books including the Scouts of Seal Island, stamp albums, medals, pencils, compasses, diaries, torches and other books for boys.

The Finley Shield was won by the Rosella Patrol. In 1928 and 1929 the Troop won the boxing trophy.


Image: J.X. Coutts

On June 5, 1929, a Crown lease was finally granted for Waterfall Valley Camp, what would later be named “Camp Coutts” at Waterfall. This triggered plans for the building of a stone hut 16 feet by 16 feet with a fireplace. The scout leader for the project was Harry Mathews of the 1st Glebe Troop.

This year was also the 21st anniversary of the 1st Leichhardt Troop formation. The Court of Honour decided to hold a Scouts Own to commemorate the occasion as well as a banquet at which the feelings of the boys would be more “appropriately displayed”.

By now the Sea Scout Patrol had become a special Sea Scout section of the Troop. It was using the shed constructed at the rear of the hall – the temporary club room when the Scout Hall blew down – as its meeting room. The shed was set up along a ship’s lines with a bell, life-saving buoys, rigging and flags. A small muzzle-loading canon, a relic of the Troop’s early history, was used for firing rockets and bungers (fireworks).

Unknown camp including Sea Scouts. Image J.X. Coutts

The 14 Sea Scouts were regarded as an important section of the troop with trips up the Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour. Occasionally challenge races were made against the Navy League cadets. The Sea Scouts also inspected the HMAS Canberra one year.

But the big news of 1929 was the discovery of gold , on October 29, during the annual treasure hunt at Sirius Cove in Mosman. Scout John Spain, leader of 1st Leichhardt’s Lion Patrol.found £220 in gold coins.

Jack Spain with his Patrol at Campbelltown Camp, 1929



1913 gold sovereign

In December 1930, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the strange duty of the City Coroner, Mr May, who the following week had to decide the ownership of more than 200 sovereigns found buried in a pickle bottle in the Sirius Cove scrub.

More than 20 claims of ownership had been made to the police after Jack Spain’s discovery of the pickle bottle. These were gradually whittled down to six who had claimed the whole or part of the find. These included the Commonwealth and NSW Governments, a German immigrant, Herman Thiel, and “the finder of the money” John Spain, of Coleridge Street, Leichhardt.

It was thought to be the first case of its kind held in NSW. The British tradition of Coroners determining the ownership of treasure had been established historically in England when, if no owner could be found, it would pass to the King. And if the money had been interred during the war, the Crown would have some claim under the Treaty of Versailles.

According to a report in The Canberra Times of December 10, 1930, evidence was given at the first day of the inquest that Herman Thiel, a German who arrived in Australia as a child in 1877, had worked at Taronga Park as a zoo keeper for two years and eight months from 1913. He was paid in gold. Four days before the outbreak of war in 1914 he withdrew £150 in gold sovereigns from the Government Savings Bank in Mosman and, together with his pay for five months, buried it all in a bottle at Sirius Cove in August 1915.

Arthur Streeton’s famous painting of Sirius Cove, circa 1890

In 1924, he returned from Queensland dug up the bottle and withdrew half the sovereigns and reburied the gold some distance away from his original spot.

The following year when he returned, he could not find it. In 1929, he left Australia for Germany and learned, when he reached Southhampton, that his money had been found.

As later told by Baden-Powell himself in ‘Chief Yarns’ in the December 30, 1939, issue of The Scout, the World Chief Scout related that during World War I all Germans were kept under observation in case they were sending military news to compatriots. Herman Thiel had confided in Mr Charles Camp, the head keeper at Taronga Park [zoo] about burying his 215 gold sovereigns and 12 half sovereigns inside the bottle but not being able to find his markers when the scrub had grown and the landscape had changed before he left Australia early in 1929.

Camp also searched fruitlessly himself before Jack Spain’s discovery in October 1929 during the annual scout treasure hunt. He had followed the 1st Leichhardt Scoutmaster’s scraps of paper that represented amounts of money. When he found the bottle, the badly tarnished treasure find was reported to police after Spain and his fellow scouts travelled by ferry to the city, passing in front of the nearly-joined spans of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Charles Camp later made the claim for the gold on behalf of Theil.

Spans of the Sydney Harbour Bridge inch closer, 1930.

At the inquest, the Coroner was told that tribute should be paid to John Spain and his fellow Scouts for immediately taking the find to police and reporting it “true to the highest ideal of the scouts”.

At the October long weekend Waterfall camp, the NSW Governor, Sir Philip Game, paid a visit after the opening of the first bush hut, of what would become many camp buildings over the next 80 years.


“First Leichhardt Troop Scouts March Past Lord Baden-Powell Chief – Sydney 20-3-31”

On Sunday March 22, 1931, the blast of the kudu horn echoed around the Sydney Cricket Ground at the start of the thanksgiving service in honour of the visit to Australia of the World Chief Scout, Baron Baden-Powell of Gilwell and his wife, the chief guide of the Girl Guides Association, Lady (Olave) Baden-Powell.

It was threepence to attend. Honoured guests included the Governor of New South Wales and Chief Scout of the state, Air Vice-Marshall Sir Philip Game and his wife, the state president of the Girl Guides’ Association, Lady Game. Other honoured guests included the Archbishop of Sydney, consuls-general of foreign countries and presidents and vice presidents of Scout and Guide associations.

The service was preceded two days earlier by a march of 10,000 through Sydney and a rally of 15,000 in the Scouting Movement at Randwick. The 1st Leichhardt Troop’s William (Biddie) Morris was selected for special duties for the visit. Lord Baden-Powell autographed a sketch made by Biddie of a scout remembering to do his “good turn for the day”.

In a letter dated March 31, Coutts received formal thanks from the chairman of the Executive Committee of “The Boy Scouts Association, New South Wales Branch”, following the functions held in honour of the visit of Lord Baden-Powell and his wife. Coutts and the Rovers were thanked for their assistance as orderlies to Baden-Powell and their duty to boys from country districts who came to Sydney and camped at the Farmers and Graziers Building for Scout Week.

1st Leichhardt Troop was again first in boxing and the Finlay Shelf was won by the Yellow Robin Patrol.

The NSW Coroner ultimately found that the gold found at Sirius Cove two years earlier belonged to Herman Thiel. When the police handed him back his money, Theil paid John Spain £50.

Speedboat display after official opening celebrations of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on March 19, 1932. Credit under creative commons: National Library of Australia.


1st Leichhardt Group 1932
1st Leichhardt Group 1932

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was officially opened 1st Leichhardt had Scouts on duty. Taree Rovers came to Sydney for the celebrations and stayed at the hall.

The Bradfield Highway on March 19, 1932. Credit under creative commons: National Library of Australia

Kangaroo Patrol won the Finlay Shield.

With so many wins in boxing it was decided that Ist Leichhardt would not enter this year. The 1st Balmain Troop won.

A regular Saturday night dance was conducted by the Parents’ Committee to raise funds for maintenance of the hall as the Scouts and Cubs fee of one penny a week barely covered the cost of knotting rope. Older Scouts attended but it was the parents of friends who provided the main support. Corned beef sandwiches were a mainstay of the supper which was included in the 6p entry fee. The dances became part of the Leichhardt community activities during the years of The Depression.

Coutts attended the official opening of the 1st Drummoyne Group headquarters at 11 Dening Street, Drummoyne on October 29. (More than 80 years later there remains great co-operation and friendship between the two groups.)

Image: J.X. Coutts

The Wolf Cubs’ football team set a new record and a group portrait and their records were photographed by Coutts.

By this time the “The Hut” at Camp Coutts, and later to be known as “The Calaboose” was complete. Harry Mathews of the 1st Glebe Troop, laid most of the stone himself. From the weekend of the October 1930 Annual District Scout Camp everyone who came into the camp for a whole year carried a stone to the site. By October 1931 it was up to the roof which was supported by timber from the bush. Then a roof of wire, mesh, hessian and lime and cement mortar was placed on the bush pole supports.

Matthews Hut
The finished hut, later ‘The Calaboose’ and even later ‘The Mathews Hut’ with Harry Mathews outside in 1932. Image by J.X. Coutts with a large box camera and a glass negative, as recounted in The Camp Coutts Story.

The hut, which lasted for decades, was re-named “The Mathews Hut” in 1947. Meanwhile it had become a useable refuge, a camp headquarters and a shop over the years and was used so much it had an extension added. It was the repository of many stories as well, including this one, recounted in The Camp Coutts Story, by a Cub Leader from 1st Petersham:

We were having a great Cub Camp. Tea Saturday evening before dusk was complete when huge storm clouds rolled in, thunder and all. Having had an experience with washout I decided we should retreat to the ‘Calaboose’ for the night. Just as well [as] the rain ‘bucketed’ down. The sing song was great but the rest of the night a nightmare for the leaders. The cubs did not realise the problem for they were soon asleep. It was a mass of very smelly sox, very BO bodies and worse backside odours. But we were grateful, we were dry and snug, the whole 70 of us.



IV World Boy Scout Jamboree badge from 1933 GÖDÖLLŐ, Hungary. Considered very rare.

C. Turnbull represented the troop at the 4th World Scout Jamboree in Godollo, Hungary, along with 90 Australian scouts. The contingent arrived by ship via Colombo, Aden, Cairo, Napes, Rome and Venice. They were among 26,000 scouts from 46 countries who attended. As per the many international post-Jamboree tours that would follow, the contingent visited Vienna, Kandersteg, Switzeraland and Paris before spending three weeks as guests of English and Scottish Scouts.

1st Leichhardt Sea Scouts section football team. 1933. Image J.X. Scouts

During the 1930s park display nights became a feature of the West Sydney District to showcase. Ist Leichhardt took a major role in the exhibition of Scouting activities in Leichhardt Park which included signalling, first aid, bridge and tower building and stretcher drill among others. But events such as ‘The sinking of the Graf Spee’, by the Sea Scouts, a circus display of pyramids gymnastics and club swinging, and the constructions of a dinosaur with a flashing green eye and huge elephant were big attractions. The investing of a Scout was another impressive event. The investiture traced important historical initiator ceremonies including the ancient Druids, Athenian youth, American Indians, Knights of the Round Table, Aboriginals and finally the actual pledge made by a Scout as he joined the brotherhood of Scouting.

Memorable displays at one event held in Petersham Park used themes based on The Toymaker’s Dream and The Teddy Bears theme music.


Boxing, and for the first time, wrestling, were held at the Petersham Hall. 1st Leichhardt won. Early in the year a Rover den and committee room were added to the hall which cost £120.

For around two decades soccer had been popular with the Troop. Challenge games were arranged initially but when the District Scout competitions began, 1st Leichhardt entered teams including the Cubs. Annual visits and return games were played with the Granville Troop followed by Scouts going to each other’s homes for tea and returning for concerts and social programs at both scout halls. Local girls were the main attraction for both Troops.

West Sydney athletics and swimming carnivals were also popular. Weeks of training supported great rivalry between Troops. Jack Reynolds was a stand-out high jumper, who went on to win the state title. There were cycling events on the grass track at Leichhardt Oval, with one winner the local telegram boy. The Troop’s successful runners included Arthur (Nibbles) Morris, Bill Ashton, George Francis and the Reynolds brothers. A “slow bike” event was discontinued because many competitors could balance and remain on the one spot. For non-athletes, the Scout pace ‘race’ was won by the contestant who was closest to the mile post after walking and jogging for exactly 12 minutes – with no help from the sidelines.


Buckingham Palace letter announcing Jubilee Medal to J. X. Coutts

In a letter from Buckingham Palace, J. X. Coutts Esquire was awarded the Jubilee Medal – by command of His Majesty the King – in commemoration of their Majesties’ Silver Jubilee on May 6, 1935. Telegrams and letters, one from the Governor Alexander Hore-Ruthven, followed.

By this stage Scout meetings usually began with a uniform inspection, marking rolls and collecting the weekly fee. There might be a staff drill or Troop demonstration before Patrols went to their dens where the Patrol Leader and Second taught the tenderfoot and second class tasks such as knotting, compass signalling and first aid, memory training and Scout Law. The last half hour was spent on games in the hall. On another night, usually Friday nights, games were the main attraction and no uniforms were worn. Games included Kidney Squeezer (Limbo Rock), Cockfighting, circular swiping (jumping a rope swing from a central position) Snatch the Cap (Dog and Bone), corner bone, dodgeball (with a soft ball of old socks) and indoor football with light medicine balls. Table tennis was also popular at times.

Training for badges, especially the Ambulance badge and the Fireman’s badge usually required special classes and several visits to the local fire station. Brick partition walls in the hall basement helped some Scouts attain their Mason’s badge. Popular badges included the Bookbinder, Reserves, Campers, Pathfinders, ‘Cooks’ and Handymans – the latter from Scouts painting the hall front door and whitewashing the back wall.


Instructions for 1st Leichhardt Troop scarf specifications, 1936

Around this time the Boys Scouts Association New South Wales Branch approved of the brown ceserine scarf with one-quarter inch red and blue bans one-quarter inch apart and half an inch from the edge – which remains today.

A Scoutmaster was appointed to the Sea Scout section of the Troop.

Christmas Camp was held at Stanwell Park during which the Scouts performed a good turn in finding a man who had been missing for two days. He was carried on a stretcher made from bush wood by the Scouts to the main road where police, ambulance and a doctor had been called.

Coutts and four of the Scout members attempted a hike from Campbelltown cross country to Stanwell Park. Only Coutts managed to get through after what was described as “a hard trip”.

Troop records for this year include memories of camp fires which were usually built as big as possible with logs collected for hours beforehand. There were songs and acts and individual items presented by first-time performers who overcame nerves by the warmth of the fire. “Jimmy” Coutts had lots of good yarns about Fisher’s Ghost of Dirk Hartog’s adventures in the South Seas.

Good Old Jeff sheet music cover published 1900

Popular songs included:

Hurrah for the Leichhardt Scouts are we
Boys be prepared & the schoolboy scout
Old MacDonald had a farm
Once a man went to mow
Waltzing Matilda
The animals went into the ark one by one
Found a peanut
Till we meet again (scout’s version)
There was an old man came over the sea
Old black Joe (to the tune A frog he wood a-wooing go)
Good old Jeff
She sat by the window and player her guitar
Way down upon the Swannie River

District campfires at Waterfall [Camp Coutts] were also big attractions. Leichhardt Rovers at Camp Coutts decided one cave should be formed into a cave hut for a Rover den. An overhang near the HQ area was stoned up to make a comfortable, dry room with a fireplace for cooking outside. This saved on tent pitching and allowed more time for the traditional help Rovers gave generally around each camp. The cave was used for years, until vandals eventually wrecked it.


 In January Patrol Leader Turner attended the Adelaide Corroboree and returned with a small corroboree flag he presented to the Troop on his return.

While numbers in the Wolf Cubs had fallen, the Rovers meetings in January were well attended.

At the annual West Sydney District Camp at Waterfall this year 660 scouts attended with another 250 cubs in an associated Cub camp totalling more than 900. Rovers helped in the construction of the first permanent camp kitchen.

Saturday outings were detailed in Troop records from this year. “Don’t forget the OUT in ScOUTing” was a slogan. Every alternative Saturday – fine or wet – the troop traditionally held an outing or parade. They got there by tram or train. Until about 1922 Abbotsford and Earlwood were still “bush enough” to hold them. Afterwards Buffalo Creek, Boronia Park, Cheltenham and Yarra Bay, La Perouse became popular. The picturesque Sirius Cove at Mosman was always a highlight.

Activities at outings consisted usually of Scout tests like fire lighting and signalling. This was followed by a wide game like stalking the sentry, running dispatches or attacking the defence. Bush hockey or soccer was usually held in the afternoon. Special days were planned for stew cooking and billy boiling competitions as well as blackberry collection and ‘the watermelon day’.

“Boy Scouts in Ambush” Image: J.X. Coutts

Entries were sought for the 1938 Fairfax Challenge Flag Competition which was open to every district in metropolitan and country area in the state. It had evolved from the Fairfax Banner, first held in 1915 and open only to individual Patrols with competition in ambulance, semaphore, knot tying, stave drill, Scout Law and uniform. A new flag was presented in 1926 that converted the competition into a campcraft contest.

In 1935 the Union Jack portion of the flag was renewed and the competition converted into one for the whole Troop whose members which competed in a series of subjects that embraced all Troop activities in both the clubroom and in camp.

Below are the winners of the trophy since its inception to 1937.

1915 1st Leichhardt 1927 1st Woollahra-Paddington
1916 1st Leichhardt 1928 1st Mosman
1917 1st Summer Hill 1929 1st Chatswood
1918 1st Summer Hill 1930 1st Hurlstone Park
1919 1st Hurstville 1931 1st Woollahra-Paddington
1920 1st Hurstville 1932 2nd Summer Hill
1921 1st Dulwich Hill 1933 2nd Double Bay
1922 1st Dulwich Hill 1934 1st Port Jackson
1923 1st Dulwich Hill 1935 1st Mosman
1924 1st Dulwich Hill 1936 1st Cremorne
1925 1st Petersham 1937 1st Gordon
1926 1st Mosman


The Cub den was under repair with several Saturdays set aside for work. A “nice sum” had been put aside for a boat for the Sea Scouts who had had one outing so far and also danced the Sailor’s Horn Pipe at the District Association Annual Meeting. Eight members were expected to attend the jamboree at the end of the year together with 14 Scouts.

Scouts had outings to the zoo, to Bradfield where the Jamboree Camp was to be held and another to the fish ponds at Hornsby. Buglers and drummers practiced as usual but the instructor moved to Bankstown leaving the position vacant. The football team was leading the competition in August 1938.

Bridge building joined the impressive list of activities and skills of Scouting at the Annual West Sydney District Camp at Waterfall in October. The first kitchen on the site also came into operation. It was built against the side of a pole hut with a dirt floor but with shelves, benches and a stove – a far cry from the gleaming stainless steel and tiled kitchen of the next millennium.

Troop Committee, 1947

All the way through these years the parents of Scouts worked behind the scenes and carried the responsibility of financing costs for maintenance, insurance, electricity and major camping equipment for the Troop. The weekly one penny fee covered none of these. The Troop committee organised events including fetes, concerts, bazaars, dances and picture show lights via the generosity of the proprietor of the Marlborough Theatre. Committee members gave generously, including many hours of work, particularly for the building and rebuilding of the hall.

Included among outstanding bugle players like Bob Muir, Joey Hunter, George Giles and George Mason, was Fred Gunner, according to 1st Leichhardt Troop records. He played the reveille at 6am each day at the 2nd Australian Jamboree at Bradfield Park, Lindfield, held in December 1938 – January 1939.

And later

A member of 1st Petersham who cooked for the last cub camp held at Waterfall in 1945 kept the menu. It was March and food was still rationed (the war did not finally end for several months).

On Saturday March 3, 1945, a cut lunch was served followed by fruit for afternoon tea and mince meat, pumpkin, potatoes, bread and butter for tea. Dessert was banana custard and tea.

Sunday breakfast was porridge, bread and butter and jam and tea. Fruit for morning tea, then meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, bread and butter and jam for lunch with cake and tea.

Dinner was stew, carrots, parsnips etc, potatoes, bread and butter. Dessert was stewed apple and custard and supper was cocoa and biscuits.

For breakfast on Monday, March 5, 1945, it was porridge, bread and butter and jam and WLO (what’s left over).

In 1946 Coutts was appointed Commissioner of the newly-formed Leichhardt Scout District. Two years later he was awarded the Boy Scouts Long Service Decoration.

In October 1947 the Area Executive Council decided unanimously to name the Area’s Waterfall camp site “Camp Coutts”. This was in honour of District Commissioner James Coutts of Leichhardt District, the discoverer of the site, for his more than 38 years of service to Scouting almost from its inception. The sandstone hut was also named the Mathews Hut, after the late Harry Mathews of 1st Glebe who supervised its construction.

By 1948 Camp Coutts had three huts, a kitchen and cub shelter on its 80 acres of leased land which needed to be extended.

1st Leichhardt Boy Scouts at Camp Coutts, Waterfall, October 1950

Disaster struck in 1951 when Coutts was badly injured in an accident with a city-bound tram that collided with a truck. His right leg was severed and covered in dust and debris when his legs became trapped. Scores of Scouts donated blood which saved his life. Gangrene, however, set in on what remained of the amputed leg, and more of it had to be cut away to above the knee.

Coutts learned to walk on crutches and was brought to Camp Coutts in 1952 to inspect the new parade area with three flag poles, an ambulance hut, altered kitchen and a dining shelter – far removed from the bushland he stumbled upon more than three decades earlier. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg later and was able to walk with a stick.

By 1954 Camp Coutts had an enlarged Cub shelter and excavation was begun to extend the campfire circle to accommodate several hundred people. The stage built in 1938 was also enlarged.

To the year ending March 31, 1956, 4082 Scouting people had attended the camp – up from 3524 two years earlier.

Also in 1956 Coutts had deemed that camping competitions, which began around 1927, be banned. After his accident he’d noticed that by the early 1950s judging had become too serious – fanatical to the point that judges had become “obsessed”, according to Alan Songberg, with making up more impossible requirements.

Good Camping Certificate 1956-7
Good Camping Certificate 1956-7

White gloves had been used to judge whether utensils were clean and hairs had been picked up off the ground. An emotional Coutts put it to the Commissioners’ Conference ahead of the October Area Camp that Baden-Powell’s aim had been for the Scouting Movement to be enjoyable for all, not a select few. He successfully argued for a change from competition to what became Area Camping Standing Certificates which encouraged Patrols to always do better.

Bushfires swept through Camp Coutts twice in late 1957 as they would again decades later.

In February 1960, Department of Lands papers confirmed that Camp Coutts had one special lease to cover three previous leases over 81.6 hectares or 201 acres, 2 roods and 34 perches.

By 1962 the camp’s female accommodation hut, begun in 1956, was finally finished. Camp attendance that scout year was 6016 and by the end of 1963 was 7004.

J.X. Coutts (right, prosthetic leg not shown) and Frank Francis, 1st Leichhardt second troop Scoutmaster (left), at the almost complete Camp Coutts gateway at the October camp, 1963. Designed and built by 1st Petersham Rovers, the gateway was opened at the October camp 1964 and dedicated to 1st Petersham leader and State Rover Commissioner 1955–1978, Stan Bales.

A new stone-based gateway to Camp Coutts was finished in October 1964. This was nearly 20 years after the first wooden one for West Sydney District was repurposed from the 1939 Australian Jamboree in Sydney. The wooden gateway had been transported to Waterfall where it had remained until dry rot and white ants felled it by 1946. Camp attendance to the end of the 1964 scout year in March was 8811.

In September 1967, Coutts, now 80, suffered a stroke, but recovered for a while after convalescence at Rosedale Convalescent Hospital in Marrickville. For two years and five months Leichhardt cub leader Sheila Francis and committee member Evelyn Fortune shared the cooking, cleaning and shopping for JX who could only shuffle for short periods with one arm paralysed.

In January 1968 Coutts was appointed by Her Majesty, the Queen, as a member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – a coveted MBE.

He was District Commissioner of Leichhardt for more than two decades, until his death, following a coma after a second stroke, on July 20, 1969 at age 82.

His funeral at All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt, was carried out with full Scout honours and attended by many members of the Scouting Movement in full uniform.

In 1969–1970, attendance at Camp Coutts, including by Leichhardt Scouts, totalled 9,154 plus 40 staff. This was the peak attendance up to the end of the 20th century. After 70 years a toilet block was finished on the site in 1991. Three years later, after every conceivable lighting arrangement – including kerosene lamps and generators – town power was turned on. Electricity had arrived.

More than a century later Camp Coutts remains a popular Scout camp site.


While Scouting equipment and materials have changed dramatically since the early 20th century and continue to evolve with new technology, many traditions continue to this day.

Sea Scouts in camp, early 1900s

Scouts in camp at the National Jamboree, Norway, 2017

About this website

This history of the 1st Leichhardt Troop, later known as the 1st Leichhardt Group, would not have been possible without the keen photography and selfless devotion to Scouting of James Xavier Coutts, recognised with the King’s Jubilee Medal in 1935 and an MBE in 1968.

Between 2000 and 2004 Alan Songberg, a former Leichhardt Scout and leader decided to compile a history of J. X. Coutts’ dream of a permanent Scouting camp. Some of the records were contained in his book The Camp Coutts Story, Waterfall NSW: 90 years history of a scout camp published by Scouts Australia, NSW South Metropolitan Region.

Alan Songberg was the regional adviser for the South Metropolitan Region in the 1970s.

He described the Camp Coutts book as “a story of one man’s dream that became many people’s passion. That man, James Xavier Coutts proved one of his philosophies right, ‘everyone is important’. Baden Powell gave the aim. All that was needed was the people to carry out Baden-Powell’s dream. J. X. Coutts made Baden Powell’s aim work”.

Oct 1965: J.X. Coutts, Alan Songberg, Keith Cottome

The 1st Leichhardt Group Leader, Claudia Sloan, also dreamed of restoring the artefacts, photographs and documents that told the story of 1st Leichhardt Scouts. Patricia Del Favero, secretary of 1st Leichhardt Group Support Committee, built the website. Photographs and documents were scanned, digitally restored and originals conserved by Preservation Australia with the assistance of a $1000 grant from Newtown RSL sub branch. The Scout Archives NSW also helped locate missing pieces of the puzzle of our history.

Journalist Jennifer Cooke, whose son is a member of the 1st Leichhardt Group, wrote around the photographs to illustrate interesting facts about scouting life in Leichhardt and Sydney over more than a century. Key sources included the extensive historical records of the Scout Group from 1915 to 1938 and also the records of James X. Coutts from 1908 to 1938 (see links below), all collated by Allan Songberg.

19th August 2018

1st Leichhardt Archives

Record of camps and treks

Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 1
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 2
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 3
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 4
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 5
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 6
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 7
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 8
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 9
Excerpts from the Records of the Group from 1915 to 1930 Part 1
Excerpts from the Records of the Group from 1915 to 1930 Part 2
Excerpts from the Records of the Group from 1915 to 1930 Part 3 
Early Scouting in NSW, J.X. Coutts File Notes