Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures

Nepean River Cowpastures

The early colonists of the Sydney area viewed the landscape from a number of different perspectives according to historian Grace Karskins in her book The Colony a History of Early Sydney (2009) . This also applied to the Cowpastures.

Landscape has a variety of meanings. The two most common are when landscape refers to all the visible features of an area of land; usually referring to the rural features and its aesthetic appeal of neat paddocks and fields. The other meaning is one applied in an artistic sense and is its pictorial representation of an area of countryside usually in a painting.

There can be different types of landscape, for example, cultural landscapes and physical landscape. Landscape has different meanings in different scholarly disciplines, for example, art (English landscapes of Turner and Constanble), photography (American Ansel Adams) literature (the idealised pastoral scene or bucolic in art, music and literature for example  English poet Milton, William Wordsworth; an early form is the Aboriginal dreamtime stories; William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye was published in 1770, the idea of the picturesque began to influence artists and viewers and British romanticism), architecture (The term landscape architecture was invented by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828 and was first used as a professional title by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1863) , and gardening (Italian influences of an arcadia – The English garden (and later French landscape garden) presented an idealized view of nature.- The work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton and in the Cowpastures, JC Laudon)  These views of landscape are culturally derived and depend of the interpretation of the viewer, which is the essence of landscape and its contribution to the sense of place.

View-of-the-Government-Hut-at-Cowpastures

View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1

Karskins (Karskins:242)  has presented seven principles of interpretation that she maintains were used by the early colonists of Sydney towards to new environment they took possession of the land in 1788. All are evident in the diaries and accounted of the Cowpastures by a host of Europeans who travelled through the area. They are:

  1. Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
  2. Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon
  3. Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
  4. Political and philosophical – evils of the governors and transportation were the true corruptors of the countryside
  5. Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers
  6. ‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside
  7. Emotional response – how the Europeans visor ally  experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing, – and its expression in words and pictures

How these were used in reports and diaries depended often on the audience in England or France for the written work. Often the reports were used to promote a book and sometimes a set of paintings or sketches. Sometimes there were just personal comments in a diary, or reports were the basis of a book to published in England on the persons return home from Sydney.

The reports of the Cowpastures in the colonial period by a host of naval officers, military personal and surveyors have elements of the all these views of the landscape.

Anyone interested in exploring some of the aspects of these types of interpretation see other posts on this blog that mention:

1. the Cowpastures declaration  in  1795

2 the journeys of Governor Lachlan Macquarie  in 1810 , 1815, or 1820

3. the views of immigrant John Hawdon in 1828

Read some of the stories in the Pictorial History of Camden and District (2015)

Read more @

Towns, urbanites and aesthetics

Yearning Longing and the Remaking of Camden’s Identity

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One thought on “Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures

  1. Pingback: On the edge, settler colonialism on the Cumberland Plain | Camden History Notes

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