The Cowpastures project is a community based collaborative research enterprise which is co-ordinated by UOW historian Dr Ian Willis.
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.
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.
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.
I have published some material and there are a number of blog posts related to the project.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The eclectic mix of architecture at the RMIT La Trobe Street Campus ranged from venues that were located in magnificent Victorian colonial building used for the administration of justice to those that were examples of ultra-modern late 20th century style of architecture.
The Storey Meeting Hall of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (1887) has been remade in modern form reliving its iconography as an important symbol of Melbourne’s social and political protest movement.
Morning and afternoon teas were taken in the alumni courtyard, which was previously the car park of the Russell Street Police Headquarters. The venue provided food for thought located next door to the Old Melbourne Gaol (1842). If these bluestone walls could speak they would tell harrowing tales from the the colourful past of the site.
The conference theme of ‘Remaking Cities’ was inspired by Melbourne as an exemplar of cities that are continually remade. Melbourne was a manufacturing centre, a site of land speculation and a place re-made on the land management practices of the Kulin nation.
The process of re-making Melbourne is underpinned by the processes of settler colonialism, speculation and taking of territory. These factors cast a long shadow of how a shared future might be achieved and the role of the planning processes within these processes.
Industrial growth and development are themes that have been central to the Australia’s nineteenth-century cities, including Melbourne, and their subsequent decline by the late 20th century. The post-manufacturing period provides a whole new set of challenges for cities like Melbourne as the financial, service and cultural sectors drive urban growth.
This was a heady mix that was matched by the mix of 72 presentations from scholars, practitioners and community members across three separate streams. Delegates came from interstate and overseas (New Zealand) with a strong contingent of local Melbournites.
There were sessions ranging from: planning histories; postwar campus; heritage; land speculation; music; maps; housing; rivers and wetlands; parks and gardens; museums; governance; transport; commerce; streetscapes; quarries; urban agriculture and food systems; placemaking; to Indigenous planning and policy.
Delegates were invited to dine beneath the gallows that famously ended the life of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880. Kelly is certainly one of the icons of Australian history and has inspired poetry, song, film, art and literature. He has variously been called a bushranger, larrikin, bushman, underdog and arguably an anarchist. The venue was heavy with the atmospherics of its history and delegates could wander in and out of the cells where they could walk the ground from the past.
The bluestone walls provided a ghoulish backdrop to the sounds of Melbourne trio The Orbweavers.
The conference organising committee are to be complemented on doing a grand job.
The CHN blogger was out and about at Campbelltown Arts Centre recently on a Friday night at the opening of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.
A packed Campbelltown Arts Centre was filled with keen supporters of the award. They walked around and viewed the art works that had survived the culling process and made it onto the walls and displays.
55 Years of History
2017 is the 55th year of the prize and the finalists had some pretty stiff competition.
There were a diverse range of works. The categories include Open, Contemporary, Traditional, Sculpture, Photography, Primary Students, Secondary Students, Surrealism, Macarthur award for a local artist, Aboriginal, Mentorship Macability award for a work by an artist with a disability.
The Award has a total prize pool of $38000 supported by a range of local sponsors.
Campbelltown Arts Centre is well regarded art institution in the Sydney area under the leadership of director Michael Dagostino.
Camden artist survives cull at the Award
One entrant at this year’s award was Camden artist Sandra Dodds. She survived the cull with her sculpture work Eclipse.
Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.
Brian said about his painting:
‘One of my watercolour paintings of Crookhaven Heads on the south coast of NSW. Over the past three decades I would have painted more than 200 paintings of the north face of this headland. To me this work has more of a feeling of a tapestry, as opposed to a watercolour; hence its title.’
The proceedings on the opening night got under way just after 6.00pm with the official announcements around 7.30pm. The announcement of the winners was introduced by a welcome to country by a local Dharawal elder.
The 2017 judges were curator Tess Allas, artist Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham and artist Ben Quilty.
In 2017 the carnival was held on Bradbury Oval and was in full swing as the art award winners were announced at the art centre.
The street parade moves along Queen Street and has a variety of community, sporting and business groups with floats and novelties.
Each year the festival has a theme and in the past they have included The Ghost with the Most, The Spirit of Campbelltown, the International Year of the Volunteers, the Centenary of Federation, the National Year of Reading and most recently, the 30th anniversary of the Campbelltown-Koshigaya Sister City relationship.
The Miss Festival Quest, which ran up until the early 90s, was adapted to form The Miss Princess Quest, which has now been running for more than two decades.
The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher
The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.
The ghost story of Fred Fisher is part of Australian gothic literature and the country’s colonial past. These stories make a statement about the white Australian psyche and the monster within. The landscape is portrayed as a monster in the genry of Australian gothic now and in the past when the early colonials viewed the bush as evil and threatening.
The National Library of Australia outlines the story of Fred Fisher and the songs, stories and legends that flow from it. They claim that it is the most forgotten ghost story in Australia..
The Richlands estate, north of Goulburn in the NSW Southern Tablelands, was an important part of the Macarthur family pastoral empire for nearly 100 years. The Richlands estate acted as an outstation about one days ride west of Camden Park estate. The property reached its hiatus in the 1840s when its extent reached around 38,000 acres including the private village of Taralga.
James and William Macarthur initially took up adjacent land grants of around 2000 acres between Taralga Creek and Burra Lake in 1822. The area had been traversed by a party led by Charles Throsby in 1819 looking for an alternative route to Bathurst other than the arduous route across the Blue Mountains. Throsby and company journeyed from the Moss Vale area, crossing the Wollondilly River then the Cookbundoon Ranges near Tarlo, turning north are eventually arriving at Bathurst.
Opening up the Southern Tablelands
Reports of these areas encouraged pastoralists to take up land, one of the first was Hannibal Macarthur, John Macartur’s nephew, at Arthursleigh on the Wollondilly. In a speculative venture in 1822 James Macarthur and partners Lachlan MacAlister and John Hillas, overseer with William Macarthur, moved a mob of cattle over the Cookbundoons and left them in charge an assigned convict Thomas Taylor at Tarlo. Hillas and MacAlister also took up a grants adjacent to the Macarthur holdings.
On the death of John Macarthur in 1834 the Richlands estate passed to Edward Macarthur, a career British soldier, while managed by James and William Macarthur on his behalf.
Governed by absentee landlords
While the Richlands estate was governed by absentee landlords the real story is of those who formed the microcosm of society on the estate. They included convicts, managers, tenant farmers, servants and the Burra Burra people, who were dispossessed and displaced from their country.
Fledgling settlement of Taralga
For the twenty years of the Richlands estate it was managed from the fledgling settlement of Taralga on the southern edge of the property. There was a central store and a number of skilled tradesmen, convicts and their overseers were based in the village from the 1820s.
Rural empire of 38,000 acres
James and William Macarthur acquired land by grant and purchase north and south of the hamlet of Taralga including 600 acres from Thomas Howe of Glenlee in the Cowpastures in 1837. The diary of Emily Macarthur’s, James’ wife, showed that William made six-monthly visits to Richlands from 1840. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Macarthur visited Richlands in 1851 after being posted to Sydney as deputy adjutant general.
Work began to move the management of the estate from the village to the hilltop overlooking Burra Lake and Guineacor to the east. Hilltop locations for homesteads were common throughout the Cowpastures and were of other Macarthur properties. It followed Laudon principles and provided a defendable strategic location on the estate.
William Campbell was appointed superintendent in 1839 and work began on stone offices on the farm hilltop site, along with underground grain silos, convict accommodation and outbuildings. Work was completed by 1844 when Thomas and Martha Denning occupied the house forming a small quadrangle. Denning was appointed overseer (farm manager).
Work on a new on a Georgian-style residence began in 1845 for new English estate manager George Martyr, who took up the position after his arrival in the colony in 1848 after marrying Alicia in Sydney.
Martyr took an active interest in community affairs serving on Goulburn Council and supervising construction of the Catholic Church in the village. A qualified surveyor from Greenwich Martyr surveyed the village of Taralga and the Macarthurs offered village lots for sale from 1847. George and Alicia raised six children on Richlands.
The property was eventually resumed by the New South Wales Government in 1908, broken up for closer settlement and sold in 30 smaller lots in 1910.
The story of European settlement in the Cowpastures is intimately connected to the story of the convicts and their masters. This story has not been told and there is little understanding of the role of the convicts in the Cowpastures district before 1840. Who were they? What did they do? Did they stay in the district?
Part of a global story
The convicts were a form of forced labour, with a global history that goes back to Roman times. Amongst those who were landed were human souls who were part of the dark story of banishment and exile. The story of convicts and banishment is an integral part of the European colonialism from the 16th century and the rise of labour camps. The story parallels that of slavery. Convicts came to New South Wales after the British lost the American colonies in the revolutionary wars in the 1780s.
Convicts in the Australian colonies
The convicts that ended up the in Cowpastures district were part of the 160,000 who were transported to the Australian colonies from England, Wales, Ireland and the British colonies. Convicts were usually employed in a number of ways by the colonial authorities: assignment; government work gangs; Tickets of Leave; Conditional Pardon; and an Absolute Pardon with complete freedom to do as they wished including returning to Britain.
Generally speaking most convict women could be classified as domestic servants, while male convicts had a host of skills with town trades dominating over rural workers. The literacy rates and skills of convicts were the same or better than the English and Irish working classes.
The Cowpastures district
The Cowpastures district was an ill-defined area that included Governor Hunter’s government reserve from 1795. The reserve covered an area that generally south of the Nepean River between Stonequarry Creek (Picton), The Oaks and Menangle to the east. By 1840 the Cowpastures district had become a general locality name that extended north of the Nepean River to include Narellan and Bringelly.
Stories of Convicts
The best short reference of the convicts in the Cowpastures is Ken Williams’ 1824 Cawdor Bench of Magistrates Population, Land and Stock Book (2011), where he lists the names and masters. Williams indicates that in the Cowpasture in 1824 there were 430 convicts and of them 15 were women, who were listed as domestic servants. Elizabeth Villy indicates that the stock books indicates 29 landholders, who were mostly absentee landlords.
The best account to date of the activities of the convicts in the Cowpastures is Elizabeth Villy’s The Old Razorback Road (2011). She states that in the 1820s in the last days of the Cowpastures Government Reserve there were around 550 convicts assigned to settlers including around 100 at Camden Park estate. These men were employed as shepherds and labourers, who were clearing land, and preparing ground for ploughing and growing pasture.
Convicts and civil works in the Cowpastures
The Great South Road was one of the major civil engineering projects in the Cowpastures district that employed convicts. A major bridge (Cowpasture Bridge) was constructed by convicts across the Nepean River mid-way between the river crossings at the Home Farm at Belgenny and the Hassalls at Macquarie Grove. Villy details how the bridge was built by a team of convicts between 1824 and 1826. The construction was supervised by convict Samuel Wainwright, a Cheshire carpenter, who arrived on the Neptune in 1818. Villy lists 24 convicts who worked on the bridge construction between 1827 and 1829.
The other major project was The Great South Road itself and in the Cowpastures section Villy estimates that around 400 men worked on the road. Her research indicates that they left no surviving records and many just ‘melted into society at the conclusion of their sentences’ (p.67). The ethnography of the convicts up to 1828 were mainly English, with smaller numbers of Welsh and Scots. From this time as more Irish were sent out the ratio English to Irish was around half and half. If the convicts misbehaved they were punished by whipping and the Cawdor Bench imposed punishments up to 50 lashes. Mostly they involved insolence, absconding, drunkenness and laziness. On the Camden-Stonequarry road section there were no portable stockades or vans. Villy provides interesting accounts of the activities of individual convicts, their punishments and the convict lifestyle of the road gangs. 
Convicts were part of the John Oxley’s Elderslie enterprise and when John Hawdon leased it in 1828 off Francis Irvine he was impressed the range of trades amongst the 30 ‘government men’ who worked on Elderslie. He was not deterred by dark Gothic notions of the penal settlement and expressed his frustration with the attitude of his countrymen in a letter home. Hawdon felt that the dark stories and fear about the colony were over-rated. He wrote:
‘I am aware of the feeling you all have at home about us having so many convicts around us. Your fears, I can assure you are most unfounded’.
Elderslie according to Alan Atkinson supported 9 convicts when Oxley sold the grant to Francis Irvine in 1827. At Macquarie Grove under Samual Hassall there were 30 convicts with 3 families of children.
Reverend Thomas Hassall who purchased Denbigh in 1826 on the death of Charles Hook had 20 convicts, according to his son James Hassall in his In Old Australia, Records and Reminiscences from 1794. The worked from six in the morning in summer and from eight in winter until sundown. The convicts were managed by a Scottish overseer and they carried out the farming activities on the property. The rations included tea, sugar, meat, flour or when which they ground for themselves on a small steel mill.
At the time of the 1828 Census at ‘Kirkham’, which had 54 people including 44 convicts. (SRNSW NRS 1273 1828 Census).
Birling’ was a 1000 acre granted to Robert Lowe in 1812. According to the 1814 muster, Robert Lowe employed seven assigned convicts which had increased to 21 by the 1822 muster, while by 1828 this had dropped to 12 convicts.(SRNSW)
The Cowpastures Convict and Settler Database
A number of members of the Camden Historical Society drew together a database of names of convicts and settlers in the Cowpastures in the early part of the 19th century in the 1990s. The data was drawn from a variety of sources including convict musters. On extracting the names of convicts the following information is now available for a number of gentry properties in the Cowpastures District prior to 1840 and include: Brownlow Hill – 44 convicts between 1823 and 1828. In 1823 there were 11 convicts assigned to Peter Murdoch who had the Glendaural grant, which later became part of Brownlow Hill; Denbigh – 8 convicts in 1828; Kirkham – 103 convicts between 1814 and 1830 with a mix of skill including ploughman, shepherds, millers, and general labourers; Macquarie Grove – 28 convicts in 1828 with skills including ploughman, wheelwright, labourer and house servants; Matavai (Cobbitty) – 14 convicts in 1828 who included blacksmith, sawyer, labourers and house servants; Wivenhoe – 6 convicts in 1828 who included a cooper and shoemaker. The database is located at the Camden Museum.
 Ken Williams, 1824 Cawdor Bench of Magistrates Population, Land and Stock Book, A Biographical Register of the Inhabitants residing in the Cowpastures, Picton & District Historical and Family History Society, Picton, 2011.
 Elizabeth Villy, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg, Dural, 2011. p. 35.
The history of the area is told in pictures and text. The images are another way to look into the past. They are a snapshot of a moment in time. They are full of meaning on a number of levels and provide a different perspective than just text. Pictorial histories satisfy a curiosity about local history and the way places and things change over time.
The book has the honour of a number of firsts. The book is the first time a complete of the local history of the Camden area has been attempted by any author. The book is the first time a collection of images like this has been put together on the local area.
The images are primarily taken from the collection of the Camden Museum which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. Other images are drawn from the Camden Library, The Oaks Historical Society, State Library of NSW, Royal Australian Historical Society, National Library, Australian Railway Historical Society and elsewhere. A host of people assisted with the publication and they are listed in the acknowledgements.
The book has been received well locally and has met a need and a thirst by the community for a collection and story of the past of this type. The publisher has had trouble keeping up with sales during the run-up to Christmas and there is still strong demand. Congratulations of been coming in from a variety of quarters. The author have been told stories of a number of people walking away from sales outlets with up to five copies of the book.
The text of the Camden story starts with the First Australians then moves on the Cowpastures, the establishment of local villages and gentry properties, particularly the Macarthurs and Camden Park. The description follows the founding of Camden from estate village to market town, and the dairy revolution of the 1890s then into the 20th century when the story was rudely interrupted by the First World War. Modernism catches up with district in the Interwar period which is book ended with the Second World War. In the post war era coal is king, and the country town is eventually over-run by Sydney’s urban growth. All the while there has been the constancy of the river and its moods, particularly regularly its flooding.
The books is available from a number of local outlets including the Camden Museum.The good folk at the Camden Museum will supply a copy by post $24.95 plus $7 handling and postage. Contact the Camden Historical Society: email@example.com or contact the publisher.