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The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840

The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement. The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It  grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.

 Regionalism in the Cowpastures

The geographers call this type of area a functional region. A functional region is based on horizontal linkages within a particular area that are to an extent self-contained.  The region was relatively self-cohesive when compared with linkages between regions.  The key concept is self-containment with respect to the activities of those within the particular area.

 

A useful way into a regional study like the Cowpastures is an environmental history, which is a multi-disciplinary approach. This would cover the physical and cultural landscapes. The boundaries of the Cowpastures region were both culturally derived and natural, where the landforms restricted and constrained European activity. The story of the Cowpastures regions has many layers of history that can be peeled back to unravel its bits and pieces.

 

The story of the wild cows and more, a cultural landscape

The story of the Cowpastures begins with the wild cows.  The First Fleet leaves England in 1787  and HMS Sirius which collected 4 cows and 2 bulls  at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to New South Wales. They were Cape cattle.

 

The cattle did not think much of their new home and after their arrival they took off within 5 months of being landed and disappeared. The cattle  escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain.  The cattle occupied and seized the territory of the Indigenous people who were wary of these horned beasts.

 

Before the Cowpastures district was even an idea the area was the home for ancient Aboriginal culture based on Dreamtime stories.  The land of the Dharawal,  Gundangara and the Dharug.

After European occupation the Dharawal people became known as the Cowpastures tribe by 1805.

Map Aboriginal Groups Sydney 2005 Belgenny Farm lowres
Map showing Aboriginal Groups of the Sydney area including the Dharawal of the Cowpastures (2005, Belgenny Farm)

 

In 1795 the story of the cattle is told to a convict hunter by an Aboriginal, who then tells an officer and informs Governor Hunter. Hunter sends Henry Hacking, an old seaman, to check out the story. After confirmation Governor John Hunter and Captain Waterhouse, George Bass and David Collins head off from Parramatta, cross the Nepean River on 17 November 1795.   After climbing a hill (Mt Taurus) they spotted the cattle and named the area the Cowpastures. Governor John Hunter marked area on maps ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in the region of Menangle  and elsewhere on maps south of Nepean.  By 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.

Cowpastures cattle here Grafton 1875 SARNSW
Cattle similar to the horned wild cattle of the Cowpastures at Grafton in 1875 (State Archives and Records NSW)

 

The Europeans seized the territory occupied by the wild cattle,  allocated land grants for themselves and displaced the Indigenous occupants.  On their occupation they created a new land in their own vision of the world.  A countryside made up of large pseudo-English-style-estates, an English-style common called The Cowpasture Reserve and  government men to work it called convicts.  The route that Governor Hunter took became the track to the area became known as the Cowpastures Road, starting at Prospect Hill and progressing to the crossing of the Nepean River.

1824-view-of-cowpastures-joseph-lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett (SLNSW)

 

In 1803 Governor King issued a proclamation in July 1803 banning any unauthorised entry south of the Nepean River to stop poaching of the wild cattle. (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 10 July 1803 page 1) Governor King ordered that a constable be placed at the Cowpasture crossing of the Nepean River and that a small hut be built to house them. (Historic Records NSW Vol 5, pp. 719-720)  The government reserve for the wild cattle was strengthened under the Macquarie administration.

Government Cowpastures Reserve

Bigge Report 1822-1823

The government reserve was never really defined and was just a vague area occupied by the Wild Cattle.  The 1823 Bigge report described the Cowpastures this way:

The county of Camden contains the extensive tracts known by the name of the Cow Pasture, which which five of the cattle that were landed from His Majesty’s ship Sirius, soon after the first arrival of Governor Phillip, had strayed from their place of confinement. They were discovered in these tracts in the year 1795 by a convict, and appear to have been attracted to the spot, and to have continued there, from the superior quality of the herbage. Since that period their numbers have greatly increased: and they have latterly occupied the hilly ranges by which the Cow Pastures are backed on the south, and have been found in the deeper ravines of the hills of Nattai, and on the banks of the Bargo River. It does not appear, however, that they have penetrated beyond the Blue Mountains, or the barren tract that is called the Bargo Brush. The Cow Pastures extend northwards from the river Bargo to the junction of the river Warragumba and the Nepean. To the west they are bounded by some of the branches of the latter river and the hills of Nattai. They contain by computation about sixty thousand acres; and the soil, through varying in fertility, but always deepening  and improving on the banks and margin of the Nepean, consists of  a light sandy loam, resting upon a substratum of clay.

(JT Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of NSW, 1823, Vol 3)

Public Buildings 1822 Bigge Report

At the centre of the government reserve

AT “CAWDOR”.

  1. A Brick Built House for the residence and accommodation of the Superintendant and principal Overseer of Government Stock in the Cow Pastures, reserving two rooms for the occasional accommodation of the Governor, with Kitchen and other necessary Out Offices, together with a good Kitchen Garden, well enclosed.
  2. A Weather-boarded House for the accommodation of the Subordinate Overseers and Stockmen.
  3. Four large paddock of 100 acres each enclosed with a strong Fence for the grazing of the Tame Cattle and Taming of the Wild Cattle, and cleared of the standing and dead Timber.
  4. A Tanning House and Tan Yard for Tanning the Hides of the Wild Bulls for the use of Government.
  5. Several other Paddocks and Stock-Yards enclosed for the Government Horses, Homed Cattle, and Sheep, grazing in other parts of the Government Grounds in the Cow Pastures. N.B.—Cawdor is the principal Run or Grazing Ground for the Government Horned Cattle and Sheep in the Cow Pastures on the western side of the Nepean River, consisting of about Fifteen thousand acresof land, and ought never to be alienated as long as it may be deemed expedient and advisable for the Government to possess and maintain Herds and Flocks.

(JT Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of NSW, 1822, Vol 1)

 

End of Government Reserve

A regional identity had emerged by the time the government reserve was dissolved in the early 1820s and the land sold off.  The usage of the identity of the Cowpastures extended into the second half of the 19th century.

 

Extent of the Cowpastures region by the 1840s

The extent and boundaries of the Cowpastures by the 1840s were:

  • North – Bringelly Road – taking in the upper South Creek Catchment – west to Bents Basin and Warragamba River
  • East – Wilton Road north through Appin – ridge dividing Nepean and Georges River catchments – generally the Appin Road – following ridge line north dividing Bow Bowing Creek and South Creek.
  • South – Stonequarry Creek catchment – bordering Bargo Brush – line following Wilton Road in east – through Thirlmere – ridge line between Stonequarry Creek and Bargo River – west to Burragorang Valley
  • West – Burragorang Valley

 

Cowpastures Map 1840
The extent of the Cowpastures region in the 1840s (I Willis, 2018)

 

Usage of the Cowpastures name as a regional identity

The graph below is the usage of the locality name Cowpastures in newspapers listed on the National Library of Australia Trove Database in 2017 using QueryPic.

Graph of  usage of the name of Cowpastures

Cowpasture_QueryPic_Trove_Graph
Graph of the usage of the local names of Cowpastures in newspaper articles on the National Library of Australia Trove Database between 1795 and 1950 using QueryPic (I Willis, 2017)

The usage of the Cowpastures regional identity persisted into the late 19th century as these following newspaper extracts illustrated.

 

In 1836 Glendiver Estate at The Oaks was advertised for sale with the given address as The Cowpastures. The sale notice boasted that the estate was one of the finest dairy farms in the colony of New South Wales with ‘the finest soil’ and ‘abundance of water’. It was claimed that the owner could run ‘double the stock’ of any other part of the colony because of the ‘beautiful district’. The estate for sale came to 2390 acres. The estate had 70 acres under wheat the property suited a ‘wealthy grazier, horse or cattle-dealer’. (Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Friday 5 August 1836, page 4 (4))

 

In 1838 the estate of Narellan in the Cowpastures was advertised for sale on behalf of Francis Mowatt consisting of a desirable homestead and 800 acres of ‘rich productive’ land.  The property was fenced with 12 miles of fencing and watered by Narellan Creek. The property fronted the Cowpastures Road for ¾ of a mile. The ‘commodious and comfortable’ cottage has ‘out-offices’, ‘excellent stables in good repair’. The garden has extensive fruit trees and ‘grapery’. The sale also include household furniture, harnesses, saddlery, and ten horses. (Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 3 February 1838, page 3)

 

Cowpasture Estates of 1840

In 1840 MD Hunter released the Cowpasture Estates on former properties owned by Sydney businessman John Dickson in the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser for auction by The Australian Auction Company.  The properties offered were Orielton, Nonorrah, Moorfield, Eastwood and Netherbyres with a total of 7000 acres. The properties were offered in lots ranging from 300 to 30 acres. The sale notice stated that Orielton had a ‘substantial Stone Barn, Threshing Mill and Offices’, Nonorrah boasted a ‘spacious and elegant Cottage with Gardens, Stables and Offices’. (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW : 1838 – 1841), Friday 5 June 1840, page 4 (4))

 

The northern extremity of the Cowpasture Estates was the Bringelly Road.  (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, 16 July 1840)

Map Bringelly Cowpasture Estate Map 1847 Land of MD Hunter NLA
Map of the Cowpasture Estates at Bringelly on the land MD Hunter in 1847. ( National Library of Australia)

 

In 1843 the Sydney Morning Herald announced the presence of Charles Cowper in the Cowpasture district. Mr Cowper arrived at Mr James Chisholm’s  Gledswood and joined a procession of horses followed by carriages and gigs of around 150 men and women. Mr Cowper took a seat in Mr Hassall’s carriage. The procession headed for by Mr Hovel of Macquarie Grove. with Mr John Wild of Picton bringing up the rear of the carriages. The procession then moved  to Mr Chisholm’s house on his property Wivenhoe.  (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Tuesday 11 July 1843, page 2)

 

In 1843 auctioneer Mr Stubbs announced the sale of the household effects, stock and farming implements for the insolvent estate of GCP Living of Raby in the Cowpastures. The stock included heifers, bullocks, calves, dairy cows, steers totalling 165 beasts and five horses. The farm equipment included dairy utensils, and transport equipment including carts, drays and wagons. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 6 November 1843, page 4 (3))

 

In 1843 Mr Beck advertised the sale of furniture of the late Mr SR Swaine of Narellan of the Cowpastures. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 15 December 1843, page 3)

 

The Camden District Council meeting in 1845 reported on the state of repair of the bridge across the Cowpasture River. (Weekly Register of Politics, Facts and General Literature (Sydney, NSW : 1843 – 1845), Saturday 14 June 1845)

 

In 1847 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the population growth of the Cowpastures district which nearly reached 3000 people. The press reports described the schools in the villages of Narellan, Cobbitty and Camden, with the reporter visiting The Razorback and the properties of Raby, Gledswood and Harrington Park. The beauty of other properties mentioned in the story included Orielton, Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Thursday 23 September 1847, page 2)

 

In 1870 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported a claim for compensation on the colonial government by a shepherd Hugh McGuire for services for supervising a team of men in the Cowpastures district. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 April 1870, page 10 (4))

 

In 1870 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a flood in Camden which was located in the Cowpasture district. There was a heavy downpour with a violent gale continued through the Wednesday night on the 26 April. The lowlands presented ‘uniform sheet of flood water’ and were just below the ‘tow great floods of 1860’. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1870, page 7)

 

In 1877 the Sydney Morning Herald one letter writer that as  late 1870s the Nepean River was still known as the Cowpastures River.  (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 24 March 1877, page 8)

 

In 1878 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the state of the town of Campbelltown and the surrounding area which was adjacent to the ‘fertile flats and alluvials’ of the Cowpastures. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 16 March 1878, page 20)

 

The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the state of the wheat growing in the colony in 1882. The story stated that wheat for bread making used to be grown in the ‘Camden, the Cowpastures, Hawkesbury, Hunter, etc’. In these area hay production had replaced former wheat growing. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 September 1882, page 20)

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

The end of Cowpastures region and a village is born

The beginning of the end of the Cowpastures region was the development of the Camden village  from 1840 by the Macarthur family on their estate of Camden Park   The Camden district eventually replaced the Cowpastures regional identity.

 

Revival of the Cowpastures during the Interwar period

The Sesqui-centenary of the colonial settlement of New South Wales sparked a revival of the story of the Cowpastures during the early 1930s.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of Cowpastures (SMH 13 August 1932)

  

There was also the revival of national pioneering heroes that it was felt provide a sound basis of the story of a new nation and one of those was John Macarthur of the Cowpastures. He was the ultimate Cowpastures Oligarch. He had many colleagues who also fitted this description.

640px-Macarthur_stamp_sheep_1934 (1)
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp (Australia Post)

Learn more

The Cowpastures Project

 

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
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The Cowpastures, GLAM and schools

Young visitors to the Camden Museum love the model of the HMS Sirius, in the ground floor display area. HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet in 1788 under its commanding officer Captain John Hunter. He was later promoted to NSW Governor and in 1795 he visited the local area in search of the wild cattle and named the area the Cow Pastures Plains.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit7 Sirius 2018Apr
School visit by Macarthur Anglican Students viewing the HMS Sirius model 2018 (MAS)

 

The story of the Cowpastures is one of the many told in the displays at the volunteer-run Camden Museum and the Wollondilly Heritage Centre, all part of the Macarthur region’s GLAM sector.

So what is the GLAM sector? For the uninitiated it is Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. The acronym GLAM appeared at the 2003 annual conference of the Australian Society of Archivists.

Organisations that make up the GLAM sector are cultural institutions which have access to knowledge as their main purpose and care for collections of any kind.

One of the key roles of GLAM sector organisations is to allow their visitors to learn things, in both formal (aka classroom) and informal settings. For the visitor this can come in a vast array of experiences, contexts and situations.

The Macarthur region has a number of galleries, museums and libraries. They are mostly small organisations, some with paid staff, others volunteer-run.

 

The local GLAM scene

There is the volunteer-run Camden Museum a social history museum. While out at The Oaks is the pioneer village setting of the Wollondilly Heritage Centre and at Campbelltown the Glenalvon house museum.

camden-library museum
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

 

Local council galleries and libraries have the advantage of paid staff. The Alan Baker Art Gallery is located in the Camden historic town house Macaria. At Campbelltown there is the innovative Campbelltown Arts Centre and its futuristic styling.

The local council libraries and their collections fulfil a number of roles and provide a range of services to their communities.

On a larger scale the state government-run historic Belgenny Farm is Australia’s oldest intact set of colonial farm buildings in the Cowpastures established by John and Elizabeth Macarthur.  A number of other colonial properties are also available for inspection.

 

Doing more with less

Doing more with less is the mantra of volunteer-run organisations. They all have collections of objects, artefacts, archives, paintings, books and other things. Collections of knowledge.

Collections are generally static and a bit stiff. There is a distance between the visitor and the collection. Visitor immersion in these knowledge collections is generally through storytelling of one sort or another.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit6 2018Apr
Story telling by a volunteer at the Camden Museum for a school visit by Macarthur Anglican School (MAS, 2018)

 

The more dynamic the immersion the more memorable the visitor experience. An immersive experience will be informative, exciting and enjoyable.

This is certainly the aim of school visits. Teachers aim to immerse their school students in these collections in a variety of ways through storytelling. Hopefully making the student visit educational, memorable and enjoyable.

 

The learning framework

Local schools connect with local stories through the New South Wales History K-10 Syllabus. A rather formal bureaucratic beast with complex concepts and contexts. Local schools vary in their approach to the units of work within the syllabus.

 

NSW History K-10 Syllabus

Topics

Early Stage 1      Personal and Family Historians

Stage 1                The Past in the Present.

Stage 2                 Australian History: Community and Remembrance. First Contacts.

Stage 3                 Australian History: Colonial and National.

Stage 4                 World History: Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

Stage 5                 Global History: The Modern World and Australia.

 

Field trip

One of the types of engagement recommended by the History Syllabus are field trips through site studies. These can come in all shapes and sizes.

One type of field trip can include taking in local museums and galleries.

Camden Museum Macarthur Anglican School Visit2 2018Apr
School visit by Macarthur Anglican School students outside the Camden Library being told story by a museum volunteer (MAS, 2018)

 

One approach

Stage 2 History -Topic: From Colonisation to Now

Mrs Kathryn Pesic from Macarthur Anglican School visited the Camden Museum with her Year 4 students.

Mrs Pesic said, ‘The students visit was integral in engaging the students and directing them to an area of interest’.

The school teachers posed a number of Key Inquiry Questions throughout the unit of work.  The museum visit, according to Mrs Pesic, was the final part of the unit that started with a broad study of Sydney and narrowed to Camden. The students then had a ‘project’ to complete back at school.

Mrs Pesic reported that the teachers felt that they ‘had achieved the outcomes that they had set for their museum visit’.

 

 

Another approach

Another local school Stage 2 group recently visited the museum, the gallery and had a walk around the Camden town centre. They too addressed the same unit of work from the History Syllabus.

Camden Macaria Gallery MawarraPS Visit 2018April11 lowres
A school visit to the Alan Baker Art Gallery being told a story by the gallery curator (ABAG, 2018)

 

Storytelling – the past in the present

The integration of local studies and inquiry-based learning by school students calls for imagination and creativity. What results is an opportunity to tell the Camden story through a narrative that gives a perspective on the past in the present.

There have been generations of story tellers in the Cowpastures and Camden district since the Dreamtime. Young people can have meaningful engagement with these folk through local GLAM organisations, ‘that cannot always be obtained in the classroom’, says Mrs Pesic.

 

The cows and more. So what do they offer?

All this activity takes place in the former Cowpastures named by Governor Hunter in 1795. This country was formerly Benkennie of the Dharawal people. The Cowpastures is one of Australia’s most important colonial sites.

Under European dispossession the Cowpastures became part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate from which the family carved out the private township of Camden with streets named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.

Camden John St (1)
St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

 

The English-style Camden town centre has evolved and illustrates a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, Edwardian, Inter-war, Mid-20th century Modernism.

The Camden district (1840-1973) tells stories of hope and loss around farming and mining in the hamlets and villages across the region. New arrivals hoped for new beginnings in a settler society while the loss of the Burragorang Valley, the Camden Railway and a landscape aesthetic created sorrow for some.

Map Camden District[1]
The extent of the Camden District in 1939 showing the township of Camden in the eastern part of the district (I Willis, 1996)

The Macarthur region (1973 +) named after the famous family and the infamous Macarthur growth centre. The area is on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe and made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.

 

The more things change the more they stay the same

The Cowpastures and Camden districts, now the Macarthur region, are some of the fastest changing landscapes in Australia. There is a need by the community to understand how the past created the present and today’s urban growth.

Camden Aerial View 1990s CIPP
The AEH Group is using images like this to promote their development at Camden Central. This images was taken in the early 1990s by PMylrea and shows the town with Argyle Street to the right of the image. St John’s Anglican Church is in the left of the image. The old Camden High site is to right of the town centre. This image clearly shows how the town centre is surrounded by the Nepean River floodplain. (CIPP)

 

There is a need for creative and innovative solutions and ways to deliver the Camden and Macarthur stories. These are only limited by our imagination.

 

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Entertainment · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · history · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Tourism · Trust

GLAM, trusted sources and the local museum

In these days of fake news and social media hype people have lost trust in many public institutions. Social media is king and the prominence of news can be driven by clicks and algorithms.

 

Trust is difficult concept to define and measure. It is a fragile belief that people and institutions can be relied upon to be ethical and responsible. Trust is critical in the effective functioning of a democracy.

 

It is more important than ever that there are sources that are trustworthy and produce credible evidence-based information, particularly around scientific and cultural issues.

 

Dr. David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC states in reference to recent controversies:

More and more, the trustworthiness of information is based on the perceived trustworthiness of the source. Libraries and museums are considered honest purveyors of information and places for conversation on issues of local and national significance. Today’s museums are dynamic learning hubs, using the power of art and artifacts to engage, teach and inspire. Museums touch lives and transform the way people see the world and each other.

One group of trusted institutions are museums, galleries and libraries, and within these are local community and folk museums, pioneer villages and house museums. They are genuinely authentic.

camden-library museum
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden. The Camden Museum is a volunteer-run local social history museum that tells the story of the Cowpastures and Camden Districts. It has a significant collection of local artefacts and objects, archives and image collection. (I Willis, 2016)

 

 The landscape of local museums is one of the characteristics of rural and regional Australia. These local museums are managed and conducted by a host of local community organisations.  According to the National Museum of Australia there are over 1,000 local and provincial museums across Australia.

 

Local museums tell local truths and are trusted sources of local stories and histories.  Local museums are stores of memory that are built on nostalgia and contribute to well-being of the community. They are sites of volunteerism and strengthening of community. They promote local tourism, local employment, skill enhancement and training opportunities for local people.

Aust Day 2018 Museum Open Frances&Harry
Two local sages on Australia Day 2018 at the Camden Museum. Frances and Harry are two larger than life local characters who are well known local identities. They have spent their life devoted to their community. They have a vast trove of local stories and knowledge that they willing share with others. (I Willis)

 

Centred on local history local museums are not fake. They are are honest and straightforward. What you see is what you get.

 

 The local museum tells local stories about local identities and local events, and are driven by local patriotism, parochialism and localism. They celebrate local traditions, myths and commemorations.

 

The local museum can vary from world class to cringingly kitsch, from antiquarian and to professional.  Individuals create them from ‘mad ambition’ and shear enthusiasm.

 

For all their foibles they can build trust within a community. The local museum can help to build resilience through strengthening community identity and a sense of place. Local museums are a trusted local institutions, contribute to a dynamic democracy and active citizenship.

 

This post was originally published on the ISAA blog.

Attachment to place · British colonialism · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cowpastures · Elderslie · England · Farming · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Victorian

The Cowpastures Project

The Cowpastures project is a community based collaborative research enterprise which is co-ordinated by UOW historian Dr Ian Willis.

 

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

 

It is a long term venture which aims to reveal the intricacies of the Cowpastures district from 1795 to 1850.

The Dharawal people occupied the area for centuries.

 

Sydney1790_Aborgines in Port Jackson
Sydney 1790 Aborigines in Port Jackson (SLNSW)

 

The district was part of the Australian colonial settler society project driven by British colonialism.

There was the creation of the government reserve for the wild cattle between 1795 and 1823. After this period the Cowpastures became a regional locality that was in common usage well into the 19th century.

 

1824-view-of-cowpastures-joseph-lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett (SLNSW)

 

The British aimed the create an English-style landscape from their arrival in the area from 1790s. The earliest written acknowledgement of this by Englishman John Hawdon in 1828.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of the Cowpastures government reserve (SMH 13 August 1932)

 

I have published some material and there are a number of blog posts related to the project.

Learn more 

Camden Cowpastures Bicentenary Celebrations  (Blog)

‘Just like England’, a colonial settler landscape  (Peer-reviewed article)

Cowpastures and Beyond: Conference 2016  (Camden Area Family History Society)

Convicts in the Cowpastures (B;pg)

Governor Macquarie in the Cowpastures 1810 (Blog)

Governor Macquarie returns to the Cowpastures 1820 (Blog)

Mummel and a Cowpastures Patriarch (Blog)

The Cowpastures, just like a English landscape (Presentation)

The Cowpasture, just like an English landscape (Slideshare)

Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures (Blog)

John Hawdon of Elderslie (Blog)

John Hawdon of Elderslie English Origins (Blog)

The Cowpastures at the Campbelltown Arts Centre (2017) (Exhibition)

The Came by Boat Exhibition Campbelltown Arts Centre (Exhibition Review, 2017)

John Macarthur the legend (Blog)

Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Show · Colonial Camden · community identity · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · Local History · myths · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Transport · Volunteering

A country festival on a city’s urban fringe

The country comes to the city or the city’s fringe at least.

 

Camden Show 2018 Flowers
The flower exhibits in the Arts and Crafts section of the 2018 Camden Show. The exhibit was located in the 1890s Camden Show Pavilion and is an ever popular part of the annual event. (I Willis)

 

The Camden Show is on again and this year makes 132 years. The two day event attracts around 30,000 visitors to the sleepy community of Camden on the Nepean River in what was the Cowpastures.

Camden Show 2018 Aerial BAtkin low res
An aerial view of the 2018 Camden Show showing the historic Camden town centre at the top of the image. Onslow Park, Camden Showground, was gifted to the Camden community by the Macarthur family of Camden Park in the early 20th century. (B Atkins)

 

The country festival has all the events that you expect of a large regional show from horses to pumpkins to cakes to produce.

 

Camden Show 2018 Produce
2018 Camden Show Produce display (I Willis)

 

There are the more traditional side show alley for the Mums and Dads and kids with the Dagwood Dogs and show bag row.

For those in search of the country flavour that is the drovers camp, milking display, pig-racing and ever popular rodeo.

Camden Show 2018 Rodeo BAtkins lowres
The rodeo is an ever popular event at the 2018 Camden Show. Full of action and colour on Friday night. The cowboys proved that they were just as tough as the bulls. A great night. (B Atkins)

 

There are all the commercial stands that you get at any country show from the local tractor dealer to rain water tanks and stock agents.

Not to be left out there are all the community groups from the scout’s rope construction to the CWA’s scones and cream.

 

Camden Show 2018 CWA
2018 Camden Show CWA Stall (I Willis)

 

The local politicians want to shake your hands and get your vote.

In conjunction with the general show exhibitions there is a ute competition and dog championships.

The show spills over into the general town area with a shop window display and Miss Camden Showgirls 2018.

 

Camden Show 2018 Daryl Sidman Corrine Fulford IWillis
Two top local identities at the 2018 Camden Show. Daryl Sidman a show steward for many years and a local businessman and Corrine Fulford Miss Camden Showgirl 2018. The both posed for this photo in the entry of the 1890s Show Pavilion. (I Willis)

 

A crowd gathered in the main street for the bullock team, just like the old days when the teamsters used to come up from the Burragorang Valley to Camden Railway Station.

 

Camden Show Bullock Team 2018 MWillis
The bullock team walking up John Street for the 2018 Camden Show. Bullock teams were once a common sight in the Camden area before the days of motorised transport. The teamster monument in John Street celebrates their role in the history of the district. (M Willis)

There is the rodeo and bull rides all promoted with the slogan ‘Still a Country Show’.

 

Learn more about the Camden Show

History of the Camden Show

The 2010 Camden Show

Miss Camden Showgirl and enduring anachronism 

Miss Camden Showgirl 2010 Competition

Architecture · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial Camden · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Victorian

A brush of class, the opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Collection

An enthusiastic crowd gathered on a balmy evening in Camden’s John Street historic precinct anticipating the opening of a new art gallery.  The twilight evening event provided just the right atmosphere for this once in a generation event for the town centre.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Gallery Alan Baker 2018
Macaria is a substantial town residence from the mid-Victorian period that was influenced by the Picturesque movement and Gothic styling.  (I Willis, 2018)

 

The event was the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection which is housed in the fully restored grand Gothic-inspired town residence of  Henry Thompson (1860) called Macaria. Even today after 150 years Macaria is still an important architectural statement as part of Camden’s  John Street colonial streetscape and historic precinct. The precinct includes the police barracks, the old school of arts building and temperance hall, the commercial bank building, the Tiffin cottage all topped off by the magnificent vista of St John’ Church rising above the town centre.

Camden Macaria Opening Invitation 2018Feb28

Alan Baker, the artist and a life story

Alan Baker was a true local identity and he, his wife Majorie and the family had a profound influence shaping the art scene in the Camden district in the second half of the 20th century. Alan Baker helped shape the lives of a host of Camden artists including Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Olive McAleer and Gary Baker. Baker also contributed to the broader art world through his vice-presidency of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.

 

Camden Macaria Opening Catalogue 2018
The catalogue for the Alan Baker Art Collection currently in display at Macaria in John Street Camden NSW (2018)

 

Baker’s artwork and ‘the collection tells the story of life…and the journey of the artist’, according to his son Gary. The exhibition highlights the two identifiable periods in Alan’s artistic career. Divided by the tragic drowning death of Alan and Marjorie’s two sons in a Georges River boating accident in 1961.

 

Alan’s work after the tragedy has a more contemplative approach. The paintings have a ‘zen’ quality, according to Gary, and reflect the ‘stories of love, family, community, war, beauty, darkness and tragedy’.

 

The literal meaning of zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition. Applied to artwork it might mean that Alan Baker was inspired by the contemplative aesthetic of the house garden and bush surroundings at his home at The Oaks.

 

Macaria alan baker-in-studio
Alan Baker in his studio completing a floral art work (Gary Baker)

 

Gary Baker maintains that there is a ‘purity’ to Alan’s work and it was centred on Alan’s studio and the way the light played with it. Gary explains the process his father used to create his artworks:

My father’s studio was located under his house at Belimba Park. It had one south window and it was cool dark and silent. There was a large sandstone rock over which dripped water. The water seeped from underground and was all around where he sat to work. The light was pure without any other sources and then went to total darkness further into the room, which was rather like a cellar.

In the morning he would pick fresh flowers that he grew with my mother’s help. He would choose them  from their extensive garden. Hundreds of camellias, roses, Japonica, peaches and all sorts blossom trees, annuals and perennials. He would arrange them with great care. Aware he only had time to paint them for the life of the flower. Sometimes one  or two days.

The flowers would move to the light as the day passed. They were truly living. Some would fall to the table. They constantly changed. After arranging them he would cut a board that fitted the composition. Not being restricted to stock size he made his own frames.

During the process of painting, I felt he was in a state of meditation. He often with classical music playing. There was a rhythm to his work leading to this state of mind. His technical skill learned over decades enabled him to get to this heightened state.

He didn’t have to focus on the difficulties of drawing colour tone, instead used his intuition. Sitting in an upright position close to his board he would spend hours or days completing the painting until done. He never over painted and rarely moved away from his easels to view his work during the painting stage.

The flowers had a stability and calmness. They are asymmetric in design. The reflections on the glass table show a sort of purity calmness. The delicate flowers capture a purity or truthfulness. The flowers  were almost textured, the way the paint is applied.

His brush strokes are simplified. Directly confident. Almost abstract.  I see a likeness to Chinese ink painting techniques. The designs with the vase in the middle. Most art teachers say that it should not be done this way.

I see some of his paintings as being perfect!  I see how they are living, not still. I see the air flow around them. Even viewing at different angles the texture of the paint changes the look of each painting. They are so complex and yet so simple. The brush strokes are very pronounced on board enhancing a textured feel. He did not use canvas.

Flowers themselves are universal symbols of remembrance love. I feel that he was chasing perfection in beauty. His paintings of flowers seem to speak to people with this. Many a man has said to me that they do not look like flower paintings. His are different. You can appreciate that! His floral work is from the heart not intellectual.  I feel it’s spiritual.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Gallery Alan Baker Portrait 2018
A self-portrait by Alan Baker at the Alan Baker Art Gallery in Macaria John Street Camden (I Willis, 2018)

 

Alan and Marjorie made The Oaks their home after the 1961 tragedy and maybe Baker was searching for the truth through the subject material he chose for his work. Certainly Alan’s still-life paintings absorbed a large of amount of his artistic effort and possibly account for Gary labelling his work as a form of ‘realism’.

 

Realism was an artistic movement that appeared in France in the mid-19th century when Realists rejected Romanticism and its exotic subject matters and emotional influences. Romanticism had dominated French art from the mid-18th century. Realism, as an art movement, sought to portray the truth and accuracy of daily life and growing in parallel with the new visual source of photography.

 

Alan Baker certainly does not pander to sentimentalism or heroic depiction of subjects as 19th century Romantic might have done.  The Realists, as Alan’s work represents, rejected the sentimental and heroic and they the later tradition of the moderne.   Alan was not a fan of modernist abstract and avant-garde styles of painting. Alan was a technician which was the basis of his commercial art commissions during the Interwar period for Tooths Hotels and others.

 

Gary goes on about his father’s artwork:

This is the other side of his work. When you walk back and see his work from a distance. It comes into focus. You  see a realist painting, the simple brush strokes disappear. He was so well trained in the art skills of tone, drawing and colour. He found modern art to be “the refuse of the incompetent”.

 

Camden Macaria Op Max Tegal in front of Alan Baker flowers 2018 LStratton
Camden businessman and philanthropist Max Tegel who was one of those who mentored the gallery project from its inception. Mr Tegel gifted a substantial number of paintings to the gallery. (L Stratton, 2018)

 

Alan learnt his trade at the J.S. Watkins Art School where he studied drawing at 13 years of age.  Watkins had set up his art school after returning to Australia after studying in Paris in 1898 above the Julian Ashton’s art school in King Street. By 1927 when Alan Baker was attending it had moved to 56 Margaret Street Sydney.

 

At the Watkins art school Alan was trained in tonal drawing in pencil charcoal, pen and washes and later oils, according to Gary’s biography of his father.  The art school provided a competitive environment and Alan thrived in it. His mentors included Henry Hanke, Normand Baker (his brother ) and William Pidgen and Alan later became a teacher at the school.

 

In 1936 at 22 years of age Alan had a self-portrait accepted in the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Alan’s brother Normand won the Archibald prize in 1937 with his Self Portrait and the travelling scholarship in 1939. Between 1932 and 1972, according to Gary Baker, Alan entered the Archibald Prize with 35 separate paintings and made the finals 26 times. In 1969 he submitted a portrait of Camden surgeon Gordon Clowes which made the final selection that year.

 

Art genres

The Alan Baker Art Collection is representative of the art genres that Alan practised his  career. They are portraiture, still life, landscape, seascape, life drawing and life painting. These artistic genres have long history in Western art and Alan drew on these traditions.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 Mayor Symkowiak[2]
Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak addressing invited guests at the opening of the Alan Baker Art Collection in Macaria John Street Camden (I Willis, 2018)

The exhibitions has a number of  examples of Baker’s commercial hotel posters, pencil drawings and portraits. Some were completed during his war service in New Guinea and the Pacific where he painted Papuans, fellow diggers and others.  Alan enlisted in 1942 in the Australian Army with the rank of private and served in New Guinea. On  discharge in 1945 he was with the 2 Australian Watercraft Workshop AEME (Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).

 

After the war he met Marjorie Whitchurch (formerly Kingsell) who had taken up art classes at the Watkins art school. Alan worked an instructor at the school after he was demobbed from the army. Marjorie fled Singapore in 1942 when the Japanese invaded the city, and in the process she lost her husband, who died on the Burma Railway, her home and her possessions.

 

After Alan dated Marjorie for a year they married in 1946. They lived in primitive accommodation at Moorebank with few facilities. Their first child was born in 1947. Alan’s career started to prosper and he had a painting of his wife Marjorie accepted in the 1953 Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales  and was one of the finalists with his Artists Wife.

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 Gallery Interior&Vase
An interior view of the Alan Baker Art Collection in Macaria. Alan Baker used flower arrangements like this vase display as inspiration for his Still Life. The room has bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th century modernism style designed by architect Ashley Dunn. (I Willis, 2018)

 

After the tragic loss of their sons Alan and Marjorie were suffering profound grief and moved to the isolation of The Oaks. Here they established a house and garden and Alan established studio in a bush setting. The garden might have provided some light in these dark days. Alan used many of the garden flowers for Still Life paintings. Some of these are in the exhibition.  Baker maintained that

An artist must arrange his own composition by any means…the value   of the shadow being thrown from one flower thrown from one flower to the other…I spend hours arranging till I am satisfied the result will be successful.

 

Alan was a fan of plein air painting, a tradition which goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century with the introduction of paints in tubes. Before this artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. This genre is illustrated by a number of landscape paintings in the exhibition, some of local area which capture Alan’s ‘commitment to the natural and man-made environment’. Baker’s landscapes reflect naturalism and the avoidance of stylisation.

 

Camden Macaria Gary Baker next to his father's portrait 2018 LStratton
Gary Baker, son of Alan Baker, standing next to a self-portrait painted by Alan Baker in Macaria (L Stratton, 2018)

 

Baker lived at The Oaks until his death in 1987 and across those years had a prolific output of work. The Australian Art Sales Digest lists 708 works by Baker across his lifetime, of which 77 are on display at the new gallery. Alan’s artwork is exhibited in numerous galleries and private collections  and he held many shows across Australia,

 

Gallery opening

Camden Mayor Lara Symkowiak gave the keynote address at the gallery opening. She outlined the gestation of the project and those who supported it along the way. She was full of praise and said that she has been a strong supporter of the project.

 

Others who spoke at the opening included local Camden MLA Chris Patterson, Alan’s son Gary Baker and philanthropist Max Tegel. These speakers explained how the project required patience and perseverance and that the initial inspiration came from Gary Baker and Max Tegel.

 

Macaria AlanBaker 2018 Gallery Interior & Seat
This is an interior view of a gallery space in Macaria of the Alan Baker Art Collection. The image shows the Baltic Pine timber polished floor restored under the supervision of architect Ashley Dunn. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The conservation and re-adaptation of the building was supervised by Sydney architect Ashley Dunn of firm Dunn and Hillan Architects. The original interior joinery has been highlighted with Australian red cedar architraves, skirtings and window frames. Wide original floor boards of Baltic Pine have been polished and provide a warm ambiance to the gallery rooms.

 

Dunn has designed bespoke gallery furniture in a mid-20th modernism style that works well with the gallery aesthetic.  Dunn drew his inspiration from a number of sources and he has stated:

We wanted to ensure that the furniture was readily identifiable as a contemporary addition.  I have always admired the work of artist and architect Max Bill who practiced in Switzerland during the mid 20th century and was educated at the Bauhaus. We are also inspired by the work of artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys and Gordon Matta-Clarke, all of whom worked during the later part of the mid 20th C.

 

Modern joinery is treated differently to highlight the contemporary phase in the life of the building and in the process creates a distinct separation from the joinery of the colonial period. Dunn has stated:

Our approach to the building was to use a consistent material for all new additions that was sympathetic to but different from the original fabric. We chose 40mm Blackbutt which is much blonder with a tighter grain than the reds and browns of the Australian Cedar and Baltic Pine. The new openings are framed in 40mm Blackbutt and the furniture has 40mm Blackbutt tops. The carcasses all have Blackbutt veneer and are edged in solid Blackbutt. The leather upholstery was chosen to mediate between the different browns and work with the floor colour.

 

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 Entertainment Area
An exterior view of the entertainment area at the opening of Macaria showing the timber windows and brick construction of the town residence. (I Willis, 2018)

 

After the official proceedings had finished the crowd of 180 milled around under the marques that lined the exterior front lawns of the gallery. Appetizers, canapes, hors d’oeuvres and other delicacies were served to the guests.

 

Macaria, the building

Macaria is a building that is an historical artefact in its own right. The building tells its own story and illustrates that the built environment can be used as a primary source document. Buildings are a ‘constructed landscape of architectural heritage’.

 

 

Camden CHS 231 Macaria c. 1890
The Camden Grammar School which was located in Macaria in the 1890s. (Camden Images)

 

The town residence of Macaria is representative of the Picturesque Tudor Gothic style. It is brick town residence of the colonial Victorian period and originally had a shingle roof.  For a house of its scale it is one of the best examples of the architectural style in Australia. Originally there were similarly designed cottage and stables around the house that were demolished long ago.

 

Macaria has been identified by architects Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds in their A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present (A&R, 1989) (p.92). These architects identify as part of the Victorian Rustic Gothic which emerged from the 18th century Picturesque movement from Europe. Supporters of the movement felt that:

Natural and man-made things were attractive to look at – houses, gardens, open spaces…gazebos…-were seen as elements in a huge, three-dimensional picture which needed to be artfully composed by a designer possessed of finely tuned judgement.(p.90)

 

Macaria is representative of the some of the design characteristics of the Picturesque movement included ‘prettiness, quaintness and old-world charm’. Expatriate Englishmen in the colony of New South Wales, according to Apperly, were seeking the known similarities with home in England that provided a degree of comfort in the strange environment of the antipodes. Pattern books of these type of designs were published by JC Loudon (1833) and Calvert Vaux (1857).

 

Macaria AlanBaker Opening 2018 exterior
An exterior view of Macaria showing the Gothic influence in the roof line and window detail. The verandah was an addition to this style of building in the Australian colonies. (I Willis, 2018)

 

In New South Wales one adaptation from Victorian English designs was the addition of a verandah as illustrated by Macaria. There are a number of other residences across Australia of a similar style. One can be found in Vaucluse where Sydney architect John Hilly designed Greycliffe House in Neilsen Park in 1852.

 

Macaria the history

The Macaria building can be treated as a historical document and primary source. The story of the building can be revealed by the diligent researcher. The layers of its history can be peeled back to reveal previous uses and stories of people who lived and worked within it.

 

Camden CHS 1642, Macaria early 1900's
An exterior view of Macaria in the early 1900s during the occupancy of Dr Francis W West. He ran his medical practice at this address and his family lived in the house. (Camden Images)

 

Macaria was originally built by Sydney Congregationalist businessman Henry Thompson who came to Camden with his brother Samuel in the early 1840s. They established a general store and a steam flour mill. Thompson was part of a Sydney based retailing family which set up a chain of stores including Yass and Camden.

 

The land that Macaria was built on was originally purchased in 1846 by Sarah Tiffin   who was a housekeeper for the Macarthur family of Camden Park. Henry Thompson purchased the land from the estate of Sarah Tiffin in 1854. Tiffin has constructed a small Georgian brick cottage on the site in the 1840s, now 39 John Street.

 

Henry Thompson, who had several school-age sons, became a patron of William Gordon’s Classical and Commercial Academy in 1857. Thompson built Gordon ‘a very handsome house of elegant design’ as a schoolhouse which was known as Macaria.  In 1861 Gordon had moved his school to Macquarie Grove, which had been vacated by the Hassalls, where he took a seven year lease. The school closed before the end of the lease. (Atkinson, Camden: 188-189) 

 

Macaria was a substantial town residence and was statement by Thompson to demonstrate his status and importance as a local businessman. Henry’s Thompson’s large family of sixteen children lived in Macaria until 1870. Henry died in 1871 after falling from his horse.

 

Macaria was a residence for the Milford family, after which the  house was leased by Dr George Goode in 1875, an outspoken Irishman of ill-temper. GB Crabbe leased the house in 1886 and converted it to the Camden Grammar School for young boys. The school closed in 1894.

 

Dr FW West used the house as the surgery for his medical practice and a home for his family from 1901 to 1932, when Francis West died. A series of medical practitioners occupied the house: LB Heath (1932 1938);  RE & JT Jefferis (1938-1955); GF Lumley (1955-1975)

Macaria was purchased by Camden Municipal Council from Dr Lumley, and the building was used as the Camden Library, and then the Camden mayor’s offices.

 

Camden Macaria CHS1571
An exterior view of Macaria in the 1980s during the occupancy of Camden Council. During the 1970s the Camden Council Library Service occupied the building. (Camden Images)

 

The Camden Council website states that

The restoration of Macaria is part of Council’s strategy to invest in the historical Camden Town Centre and create a landmark tourist attraction for residents and visitors to enjoy.

This creative vision was made a reality by Camden Council, which showed its support and commitment to the promotion of arts in the region, by investing in and restoring historical Macaria as Camden’s revitalised home of the arts the community.

 

So what does all this mean?

The opening of Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Gallery is ground-breaking  for the Camden Local Government Area.

  • It is the first time an important historic town residence has been conserved and re-adapted by Camden Council and opened to the public.
  • It is the first time a major art gallery in the Camden Local Government Area has been supported by public funds.
  • It is the first time that private philanthropic interests have donated an art collection to create a public art space and gallery.
  • It is the first time that a notable local identity has been acknowledged in a public space in this fashion.
  • It is, according to his son Gary Baker, one of the one of the few collections across the global art community that embraces ‘the complete life of the artist, their family and their place with the community’.
  • The new art gallery has the potential to help drive local economic growth

 

 

British colonialism · Camden · Cawdor · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cowpastures · England · Farming · Floods · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Macarthur · Menangle · myths · Parks · Place making · Royal Tours · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Tourism · Transport · Volunteering

A field of dreams, the Camden district, 1840-1973

It is hard to imagine now but in days gone by the township of Camden was the centre of a large district. The Camden district   became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.

 

The Camden district was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. All joined together by a shared cultural identity and cultural heritage based on common traditions, commemorations, celebrations and rituals. These were re-enforced by personal contact and family kinship networks. The geographers would call this a functional region.

 

Map Camden District 1939[2]
Map of the Camden district in 1939 showing the extent of the area with Camden in the east. The silver mining centre of Yerranderie is in the west. (I Willis, 1996)

The Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangle into the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. The southern boundary was the Razorback Ridge and in the north it faded out at Bringelly and Leppington.

 

The district grew to about 1200 square kilometre with a population of more than 5000 by the 1930s with farming and mining.  Farming started out with cereal cropping and sheep, which by the end of the 19th century had turned to dairying and mixed farming. Silver mining started in the late 1890s in the Burragorang Valley and coalmining from the 1930s.

 

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The district was centred on Camden and there were a number of villages including Cobbitty, Narellan, The Oaks, Oakdale, Yerranderie, Mt Hunter, Orangeville and Bringelly.  The region was made up of four local government areas – Camden Municipal Council, Wollondilly Shire Council, the southern end of Nepean Shire and the south-western edge of Campbelltown Municipality.

 

Cows and more

Before the Camden district was even an idea the area was the home for ancient Aboriginal culture based on dreamtime stories. The land of the Dharawal, Gundangara and the Dharug.

 

The Europeans turned up in their sailing ships. They brought new technologies, new ideas and new ways of doing things. The First Fleet cows did not think much of their new home in Sydney. They escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932

 

On the discovery of the cows an inquisitive Governor Hunter visited the area and called it the Cow Pasture Plains. The Europeans seized the territory, allocated land grants for themselves and displaced the Indigenous occupants.  They created a new land in their own vision of the world.  A countryside made up of large pseudo-English-style-estates, an English-style common called The Cowpasture Reserve and English government men to work it called convicts. The foundations of the Camden district were set.

 

A river

The Nepean River was at the centre of the Cowpastures and the gatekeeper for the wild cattle.  The Nepean River, which has Aboriginal name of Yandha, was named by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 in honour of Evan Nepean, a British politician.

 

The Nepean River rises in the ancient sandstone country west of the Illawarra Escarpment and Mittagong Range around Robertson. The shallow V-shaped valleys were ideal locations for the dams of the Upper Nepean Scheme that were built on the tributaries to the Nepean, the Cordeaux, Avon, and Cataract.

 

Nepean River Cowpastures

 

The rivers catchment drains in a northerly direction and cuts through deep gorges in the  Douglas Park area. It then emerges out of sandstone country and onto the floodplain around the village of Menangle. The river continues in a northerly direction downstream  to Camden then Cobbitty before re-entering sandstone gorge country around Bents Basin, west of Bringelly.

 

The river floodplain and the surrounding hills provided ideal conditions for the woodland of ironbarks, grey box, wattles and a groundcover of native grasses and herbs.  The woodland ecology loved the clays of Wianamatta shales that are generally away from the floodplain.

 

The ever changing mood of the river has shaped the local landscape.  People forget that the river could be an angry raging flooded torrent, set on a destructive course. Flooding shaped the settlement pattern in the eastern part of the district.

 

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 river. (Camden Museum)

A village is born

The river ford at the Nepean River crossing provided the location of the new village of Camden established by the Macarthur brothers, James and William. They planned the settlement on their estate of Camden Park in the 1830s and sold the first township lots in 1840. The village became the transport node for the district and developed into the main commercial and financial centre in the area.

 

Camden St Johns Vista from Mac Pk 1910 Postcard Camden Images
Vista of St Johns Church from the Nepean River Floodplain 1910 Postcard (Camden Images)

 

Rural activity was concentrated on the new village of Camden. There were weekly livestock auctions, the annual agricultural show and the provision of a wide range of services. The town was the centre of law enforcement, health, education, communications and other services.

 

The community voluntary sector started under the direction of mentor James Macarthur. His family also determined the moral tone of the village by sponsoring local churches and endowing the villagers with parkland.

 

Camden Mac Park
Camden’s Macarthur Park endowed to the residents of Camden by Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the early 20th century (I Willis, 2016)

 

Manufacturing had a presence with a milk factory, a timber mill and a tweed mill in Edward Street that burnt down.   Bakers and general merchants had customers as far away as the  Burragorang Valley, Picton and Leppington and the town was the publishing centre for weekly newspapers.

 

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis

 

The Hume Highway, formerly the Great South Road, ran through the town from the 1920s and brought the outside forces of modernism, consumerism, motoring, movies and the new-fangled-flying machines at the airfield.  This re-enforced the centrality of the market town as the commercial capital of the district.

 

Burragorang Valley

In the western extremities of the district there were the rugged mountains that made up the picturesque Burragorang Valley. Its deep gorges carried the Coxes, Wollondilly and Warragamba Rivers.

 

Burragorang Valley Nattai Wollondilly River 1910 WHP
The majestic cliffs and Gothic beauty of the Burragorang Valley on the edges of the Wollondilly River in 1910 (WHP)

 

 

Access was always difficult from the time that the Europeans discovered its majestic beauty. The Jump Up at Nattai was infamous from the time of Macquarie’s visit in 1815.  The valley became an economic driver of the district supplying silver and coal that was hidden the dark recesses of the gorges. The Gothic landscape attracted tourists to sup the valley’s hypnotic beauty who stayed in one of the many guesthouses.

 

Burragorang V BVHouse 1920s TOHS
Guesthouses were very popular with tourists to the Burragorang Valley before the valley was flooded after the construction of Warragamba Dam. Here showing Burragorang Valley House in the 1920s (The Oaks Historical Society)

 

 

The outside world was linked to the valley through the Camden railhead and the daily Camden mail coach from the 1890s. Later replaced by a mail car and bus.

 

Romancing the landscape

The district landscape was romanticised over the decades by writers, artists, poets and others. The area’s Englishness  was first recognised in the 1820s.   The district was branded as a ‘Little England’ most famously during the 1927 visit of the Duchess of York when she compared the area to her home.

 

The valley was popular with writers. In the 1950s one old timer, an original Burragoranger, Claude N Lee wrote about the valley in ‘An Old-Timer at Burragorang Look-out’. He wrote:

Yes. this is a good lookout. mate,

What memories it recalls …

For all those miles of water.

Sure he doesn’t care a damn;

He sees the same old valley still,

Through eyes now moist and dim

The lovely fertile valley

That, for years, was home to him.

 

 

Camden John St (1)
St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

 

By the 1980s the Sydney urban octopus had started to strangle the country town and some yearned for the old days. They created a  country town idyll.  In 2007 local singer song-writer Jessie Fairweather penned  ‘Still My Country Home’. She wrote:

When I wake up,

I find myself at ease,

As I walk outside I hear the birds,

They’re singing in the trees.

Any then maybe

Just another day

But to me I can’t have it any other way,

Cause no matter when I roam

I know that Camden’s still my country home.

 

 

The end of a district and the birth of a region

The seeds of the destruction of the Camden district were laid as early as the 1940s with the decision to flood the valley with the construction of the Warragamba Dam. The Camden railhead was closed in the early 1960s and the Hume Highway moved out of the town centre in the early 1970s.

 

Macarthur regional tourist guide
Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

 

A new regionalism was born in the late 1940s with the creation of the  federal electorate of  Macarthur, then strengthened by a new regional weekly newspaper, The Macarthur Advertiser, in the 1950s.   The government sponsored and ill-fated Macarthur Growth Centre of the early 1970s aided regional growth and heralded the arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

 

Today Macarthur regionalism is entrenched with government and  business branding in a area defined as by the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.  The Camden district has become a distant memory with remnants dotting the landscape and reminding us of the past.

 

CoverBook[2]
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)