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Floods and the Camden ‘bathtub effect’

Flooding of the Nepean River on the Camden floodplain

What is the Camden ‘bathtub effect’?

Not sure. Well you are not on your own.

It is part of the flooding effect created by the landform that makes up the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river system has a unique floodplain system that creates particular problems for local residents and others along the river.

The NSW Department of Primary Industry stated in 2014

The natural characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly susceptible to significant flood risk. The combination of the large upstream catchments and narrow downstream sandstone gorges results in floodwaters backing up behind these natural ‘choke points’

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River system has four localised floodplains created by four ‘choke points’ along the river.  Each of these ‘choke points’ are created by a local gorge along the river system – Bents Basin Gorge, Nepean Gorge, Castlereagh Gorge and the Sackville Gorge.

Camden Flood late 1800s Camden Railway Station CIPP lowres
This is a view of Camden Railway Station in Edward Street and some likely local identities assessing the situation. This flood event is occured in late 1800s with a view looking towards Narellan (Camden Images)

 

Each of these floodplains upstream from the gorges act like a ‘bath tub’ in a period of high rainfall, with floodwater flow choked off by the gorges.  The gorge restricts the floodwater flow and river rises quickly behind it on the local floodplain.

Camden ‘bathtub effect’

The 2015 Nepean River Flood Plain Report and the flood maps clearly show how the Bents Basin Gorge acts as a ‘choke point’ creating a ‘bathtub’ along with Nepean River floodplain from the entrance of the gorge. The floodplain upstream from the gorge starts around Rossmore, then upstream to Cobbitty, then Camden and ends at Menangle.

While the Camden ‘bathtub effect’ is not as dramatic and dangerous as those created in the Penrith-Emu Plains area or the effect of the Sackville Gorge at Windsor and Richmond, it is real.

The 2015 study says (pp1-2) that while floods are ‘rare’  they happen:

 flows escaping from the Nepean River are known to inundate the low lying areas of Camden and certain sections within South Camden and Elderslie. Floodplain areas along many of the tributaries of the river (particularly Narellan Creek and Matahil Creek) are also known to be affected by backwater flooding from the Nepean River during flood events.

Camden Flood 1974 SMH lowres
An aerial view of the Camden township in the 1974 flood event. The Nepean River is behind the town centre and flowing from R-L. (SMH)

 

Characteristic of local flooding

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says

Floods are characterized by rapid river rises with flooding commencing as quickly as 6-12 hrs after the commencement of heavy rain if the catchment is already saturated. Under flood conditions, the Nepean River overflows its banks and commences to inundate the low lying floodplain around Camden during floods of 8.5m on the Cowpasture Bridge gauge. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Camden Flood 1949 Peppertree Corner Cawdor Rd BYewen CIPP lowres
This is a view of Camden township from Peppertree Corner on Cawdor Road. Some inquisitive local children examining the waters flowing past them. This is the 1949 Camden flood event (B Yewen/Camden Images)

 

Causes of flooding along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River on the Camden floodplain

The headwaters for the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment which drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean, with dams on each waterway.

The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction is around 1800km2

The wettest conditions are usually created by low pressure systems, called east coast lows, that form up off the South Coast of New South Wales. The low pressure systems moves onshore and the orographic effect of the Illawarra Escarpment can produce heavy rainfall events.

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says

 Many localities in the catchment have received in excess of 175mm in a 24 hr period. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Largest local floods on the Camden floodplain

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says

Floods have occurred in all months of the year. The highest recorded flood at Camden occurred in 1873, when a height of 16.5m was recorded on the Camden gauge (approximately a 200yr ARI).  [Cowpasture Bridge, Camden]

Other major floods occurred in 1860 (14.1m), 1867 (14.0m), and 1898 (15.2m). In recent times, major floods have occurred in 1964 (14.1m) and 1978 (13.5m) with moderate to major flooding occurring in 1975 (12.8m) and 1988 (12.8m). (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Camden Airfield 1943 Flood Macquarie Grove168 [2]
The RAAF Base Camden was located on the Nepean River floodplain. One of the hazards was flooding as shown here in 1943. The town of Camden is shown on the far side of the flooded Nepean River. (Camden Museum)

This is a quote from a report of the 1898 flood event at Camden taken from the Camden News 17 February 1898.

Near midnight on Saturday rain began to fall, at first with moderation, towards day break gusts of wind sprang up from the South East bringing heavy rain, lowering the crops in its passage, even majestic trees were torn up by their roots and in sheltered paddocks the trees were denuded  of large limbs.

Sunday all day the wind blew with hurricane force; early on Monday morning the storm somewhat abated in its velocity.

Even on Sunday midnight no apprehension of a flood was anticipated by the Camden townspeople the continuous rain and boisterous weather, however made the more Cautious anxious, and one tradesman took the precaution to look after his horses in near paddock when the danger of a flood was manifested to him, the Nepean River had suddenly risen and was flooding the flats.

 

A report in the Camden News of the 1911 Camden flood event:

The rain of Thursday, it may naturally be expected filled creeks, dams and watercourses to overflowing, but the climax came with a heavy storm between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when some four inches [100mm] of rain fell. This brought the local water down from the adjoining hills in torrents, the Main Southern Road and Carrington Road were then covered with some two feet of fast rushing water, and on Druitt Road the local flood was then absolutely impassable..

In the early hours the Nepean River rose rapidly, and before the arrival of the first train the bridge was impassable ; the water continued to rise till about 3.15 in the afternoon, it having then reached it highest point, covering the new embankment between the town and the bridge, running through the Chinese quarters on the one side, and just into the pavilion on the show ground on the other. From near Druitt Road to Beard’s Lane was one long stretch of water….

Camden News, 19 January 1911

 

Sackville Gorge and the Windsor & Richmond ‘bathtub effect’

In 2012 Steve Opper, director of community safety with the State Emergency Service, says the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a unique shape that can lead to catastrophic flooding. He describes the effect of the Sackville Gorge

 “The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is throttled down by a narrow gorge down near what’s called Sackville, which is just upstream of Wiseman’s Ferry,” he said.

“The result of that is that the water can flow into the top of the system very, very rapidly, can’t get out, and so you get very dramatic rises in the level of the river.

“So normal river level might be two metres; if you’re at the town of Windsor and in the most extreme thought possible, that could rise up to 26 metres, which is a number that’s quite hard to comprehend.”

John Thomas Smith, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1867 stated after a flood event:

‘The enormous body of water rushing down with relentless force on its way to the sea could not be easily described, nor its effects conceived. About the neighbourhood of Windsor, now that the waters are fast subsiding, the scene is most dreary, and the destruction caused becomes every day more apparent. The feeling of bitter anguish expressed not in words but in the blank look of utter despair would move the most hardened.

Conclusion

Flooding is normal part of the cycle of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system, as it is for any river basin.

The flooding severity can be made worse by the choking effect of the gorges along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley – the local ‘bathtub effect’.

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Shooting the history breeze for local tourism

Storytelling and a Camden history film

On a balmy late spring afternoon in central Camden a group of local people were conducting a photoshoot.

The late afternoon provided a deep even light that was ideal for the whole venture.

None were professional filmmakers. But that did not stop anyone.

The filming dodged pedestrians and was occasionally drowned out by local buses.

Camden & Laura Jane & Debbie photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
Storyteller Laura Jane adlibing for a short tourist promo for Tiffin Cottage.  Camera operate Debbie is issuing instructions and generally supervising the rest of the crew. Tiffin Cottage was occupied by auctioneer Captain Larkin who conducted stock sales at the saleyards which were formerly in the Larkin Place carpark (I Willis)

Historic John Street precinct

The project centred around the historic John Street precinct.

The film venture involved storytelling, great yarns, interesting characters, old buildings and lots of making do.

The location provided a rich collection of old buildings that speak about the past for those who want to listen. History enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the past in the present by walking the  ground – the same streets as local identities and characters have done for decades.

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot police station History Videos CRET 2019[1]lowres
Camera operator Debbie filming LJ walking across the verandah of the former Camden Police Station. The station was centre of a large police district stretching from the Burragorang Valley to the Nepean River at Menangle and south to include Picton. It is currently vacant. (I Willis)

Filmmaker Rachel Perkins (2019) has stated

The past is always with us and it has created the present. The past is all around us within us all the time. The past lives with us in the present.

Storytelling touches something within us. It touches the soul.

Filmmakers and storytellers

The key storyteller was Laura Jane Aulsebrook, who has been described at Camden’s own Miss Honey (for the uninitiated from Matilda) and her happy ways. All dressed up in purple for the occasion.

The key camera operator, director and chief of production was Debbie Roberts,  (EO of CRET), ably assisted by her roadie husband Peter.

History material was provided from the Camden Heritage Walking Brochure and chief history boffin UOW historian Dr Ian Willis, ably assisted by his PA Marilyn.

This motley group wandered around a number of Camden’s old buildings – Laura Jane acted as storyteller for the 1-2 minutes historic grabs. LJ was full of passion in her completely ad lib performances. Ian listened for any gaffs – which were few and far between.

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot library History Videos CRET 2019 (2)[1] lowres
Roadie Peter is reviewing the position of the shoot and PA Marilyn is offering advice. The location is out the front of the former 1866 School of Arts now Camden Museum Library complex. The building is also the home of the Camden Museum, Camden Area Family History Society and a shop front for Camden Council (I Willis)

Debbie followed Laura Jane around with her handheld – tripod held – iphone camera. If she was lucky a bus didn’t drown LJ’s monologue. The roadies held all the bits and pieces – then reviewed the take and ably provided all sorts of advice – most it wisely ignored by the camera operator and storyteller.

The most challenging story was that of Henry Thompson’s Macaria from the 1870s, the ghosts and Henry’s 16 children. This is next door to the 1840s Sarah Tiffin’s cottage, one of the oldest buildings in the local area and one time lockup.

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot epicure store History Videos CRET 2019[1] lowres
The 1940s Tiffin Cottage is now the Epicure Store selling local produce and cheeses. The cottage was the home of Captain Larkin in the early 20th century. Larkin was an auctioneer at the saleyards which were located in Larkin Place until the late 1940s until they were moved to their current site. (I Willis)

The Cawdor court house ended up in Camden in 1841 much to chagrin of Picton and Campbelltown which missed out. Next door is the 1878 police barracks which was always a site of plenty of action where miscreants were locked up in the cells to cool off.

The 1916 fire station which was really opened in 1917 was an improvement from the pig-sty in Hill Street. Next door is the modern library once the centre of learning and speeches in the town as the 1866 Camden School of Arts set up by James Macarthur.

Our storyteller and camera operator filmed a street walk outside the 1936 Bank of New South Wales building and its neighbor the 1937 banking chamber for the Rural Bank – interwar masterpieces.

This was followed by a chit-chat about the long running Camden Show out the front of the lovely 1937 architect designed brick frontage to the 1890s Camden Rifles drill hall, now the show pavilion.

Camden festivals

This intrepid troupe were making short film clips as a promo for local tourist and a local spring festival – the Camden Jacaranda Festival.

The aim of the 2019 Camden Jacaranda Festival is to

The specific intention in designing and delivering the “Camden Jacaranda Festival” is to showcase both our fabulous town and the people that comprise the fabric of it.

Camden CBC Bank 2019 Jacarandas IW lowres
The Jacaranda Festival is held in late in November 2019 as a spring festival to celebrate the town and its community. This images is the 1878 Commercial Banking Company at the corner of John Street and Argyle Street Camden. The Jacaranda tree is in the front yard providing a colourful presentation with the Victorian banking chamber. (I Willis)

 

The Jacaranda festival is just one of many that have been held in the local area.

English village sports days

The festival draws on a rich history of community festivals in the local area going back into the 1800s. The heritage of festivals is drawn from the English tradition of the village fair that came with the European settlers.

The origins of these festivals, according to Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s Old English Sports (2007), lies in ancient Saxon customs, particularly in Devonshire and Sussex, associated with ‘wassailing’ (carousing and health-drinking) to ensure the thriving of orchard trees (mainly apples) and exchanging presents.

On New Years Day village youths undertook indoor and outdoor sport to keep out the cold by ‘wholesome exercise and recreative games’. Sports  included bat-and-ball, wrestling, skittles, blind-man’s-bluff, hunt the slipper, sword dancing and mumming (play acting).

Festivals, fetes and fairs encourage lots of visitors to the local area as tourists.

Tourism, cultural heritage and history

What is the connection between local history and tourism?

Quite a lot.

Tourism Australia says

In the financial year 2017–18 Australia generated $57.3 billion in direct tourism GDP representing growth of 7 percent over the previous year – three times the national GDP growth of 2.3%. Tourism also directly employed 646,000 Australians (1 in 19) making up 5.2% of Australia’s workforce.

More than this Arts New South Wales says

In Australia and around the world, cultural tourism is growing. In 2015 NSW hosted over 11.4 million ‘cultural and heritage visitors’,1 both international and domestic, who spent an estimated $11.2 billion in the state, an increase of 15.4% on the previous year.

The Australia Council says of arts tourism:

Arts tourist numbers grew by 47% between 2013 and 2017, a higher growth rate than for international tourist numbers overall (37%).

Camden & Laura Jane photoshoot show hall pavilion History Videos CRET 2019 (2)[1] lowres
Debbie and Laura Jane out the front of the 1936 brick extensions to the 1890s drill hall. Designed by Sydney architect Aaron Bolot the frontage is the same design as the adjacent commemorative gates. LJ was telling the story of the Camden Show which has been going for over 130 years. (I Willis)

Tourism can create jobs, drive economic growth and encourage local development.