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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 · British colonialism · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Farming · Goulburn · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Victorian

Mummel and a Cowpastures Oligarch

Mummel is a rural locality about 20 kilometres northwest of Goulburn NSW on the eastern side of the Wollondilly River. Mummel is part of the story of the settler society in colonial New South Wales on the Goulburn Plains in the early 1820s.

The story of the local Indigenous people has a similar tone to other areas of colonial European settlement. Jim Smith in notes

In Goulburn NSW, the plains and Wollondilly River provided native game and fish for a number of the traditional aboriginal peoples including: Mulwaree, Tarlo, Burra Burra, Wollondilly, Wiradjuri, Gundungurra, Dharrook, Tharawal, Lachlan, Pajong, Parramarragoo, Cookmal and Gnunawal. The Goulburn region was known as a meeting place for all these groups, it wasn’t inhabited by just one group of people.

Great epidemics of disease largely wiped out the indigenous population in the 19th century and sadly, few of the original inhabitants remained by the turn of the 20th.

Records dating back to the 1830s indicate the river flats at Bungonia Road, on the outskirts of Goulburn city, was once the corroboree site of the Gandangara, who were virtually wiped out by an influenza epidemic in 1846-47.

 

John Dickson

Mummel was granted to Cowpastures oligarch John Dickson of Sussex Street in Sydney who also held the grant of Nonorrah on The Northern Road at Bringelly. Dickson owned a number of properties in the County of Cumberland which were part of the Cowpastures district and they were: Netherbyres, Orielton, Moorfield and Eastwood. Together together formed a line from Bringelly Road in the north to beyond Cobbitty Road in the south. At the 1828 Census Dickson listed his properties at 17,000 acres in the Counties of Cumberland and Argyle of which 15,000 was cleared and 150 acres under cultivation. On these properties he had 3000 cattle and 2000 sheep. Dickson also held 800 acres in Mummel Parish called Evandale.

 

Mummel Range Rd Goulburn 2018 IWillis[4]
Mummel Range Rd Goulburn (2018 I Willis)

DL Waugh

In 1834 a young Scot David Lindsay Waugh came to New South Wales, met Thomas Barker,  and wrote home  his family and friends about his experiences. Extracts from these letters, published in the 1830s to encourage enterprising hardworking immigrants to come to New South Wales. Waugh experiences in the colony were published in 1838 as David Waugh’s Three years’ practical experience of a settler in New South Wales: being extracts from letters to his friends in Edinburgh from 1834-1837, [John Johnstone, Edinburgh, 1838]

While in Sydney he met miller and industrialist Thomas Barker who was one of the trustees of John Dickson’s estate. Dickson left New South Wales in 1834 and later died in London in 1843.

Barker asked Waugh to go to Mummel in the County of Argyle where he took charge of the harvest of 150 acres (61 ha) of hay and 350 acres (142 ha) of wheat. He told his parents, ‘and here I am at present furnishing stores of fifty men, keeping accounts, &c.’ (Waugh, 1838)

Waugh reported that he stayed briefly at Orielton in late 1834 before moving to Mummel in February 1835:

I go for good and all to Mummel, Goulburn Plains, Argyleshire…for the first year,– I am to get £40 and board and washing. The farm is 6,000 acres and has about 4,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle on it. There is another overseer from Ayrshire, with a good salary, – he has been twelve years here. He has, besides, a farm of his own, which he manages with an overseer. (Waugh, 1838)

 

Mummel Range Rd Goulburn 2018 IWillis[2]
Mummel Range Rd Goulburn (2018 IWillis)

Sale of Sheep

In 1836 around 5000 sheep were offered for sale by auction from Mummel. The advertisement stated that the flock had been bred with Saxon merinos from WE Riley of Raby, Hannibal Macarthur in the Cowpastures and stock from R Jones.  WE Riley, pastoralist and sketcher, was a son of the pioneer pastoralist Alexander Riley of Raby who had come to New South Wales as a free settler in 1804. The Riley Saxon merinos won gold medals awarded by the NSW Agricultural Society between 1827 and 1830.

 

Hannibal Macarthur lived at The Vineyard at Parramatta, and had extensive landholdings. He was the uncle of famous NSW colonial John Macarthur of Camden Park.

 

Mummel Sheep Sale 5000 Australian 1836Aug5
Sheep Sale from the Mummel area for 5000 livestock Australian 5 August 1836 (NLA)

 

In 1841 the John Dickson held 4185 acres in the Mummel area on the northern side of the Wollondilly River.

 

Mummel 1841

Map Mummel WollondillyRiver 1841 SARNSW
Map of Survey of the Wollondilly River in 1841 NSW Surveyor General Sketch Books near Mummel on northern side of river (SARNSW)

 

In 1854 there was a sub-division in the Mummel estate, which was surveyed by the firm Roberts and Haege Surveyors. Lots were advertised in the Goulburn Herald 11 March 1854.  [Roberts & Haege. (1854). Plan of the Mummel Estate near Goulburn [cartographic material] / Roberts & Haege Surveyors. SLNSW]

 

Parish of Mummel, County of Argyle, NSW. 1932

Mummel Parish Map_nla.obj-233306698-2
1932 Parish Map of Mummel NSW Department of Lands (NLA)

 

Mummel Provisional School

In 1868 a provisional school was opened at Mummel, which meant that there were between 15 and 15 pupils attending the school.

 

Mummel Catholic Cemetery

The Goulburn Mulwaree Local Environment Plan Heritage Inventory lists the Mummel Catholic Cemetery on an ‘exposed hilltop’ across the road from a former church.

Architecture · Attachment to place · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Local History · Local newspapers · Newspapers · Oran Park · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism

New horizons open up for the new community of Oran Park and the finishing line for the former Oran Park Raceway

Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for both locals and new arrivals.

The suburb of Oran Park is on Sydney’s south-western urban fringe just east of the history and picturesque village of Cobbitty and the relatively new suburb Harrington Park is to the south.

Oran Park DSC_oranparktown

Oran Park Raceway was a glorious thing

The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the south-western and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main grand prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners as well as changes in elevation around the track.

The main circuit was broken into two parts: the south circuit, which was the original track  built in 1962 by the Singer Car Club and consisted of the main straight, pit lane garages and a constant radius 180 turn at the end.

The north circuit was added in 1973  and  was an 800 metre figure-8.  Apart from the main racing circuit there were a number of subsidiary activities and they have included a two dirt circuits, two four wheel training venues, a skid pan and a go-kart circuit.

Oran Park Raceway 1997 CIPP
Oran Park Raceway was a popular motor sport venue in the Sydney area. This image is from 1997 showing open-wheelers racing at the circuit. (Camden Images)

The racing circuit has been used for a variety of motorsport including club motorkhanas, touring cars, sports sedans, production cars, open-wheelers, motocross and truck racing. In 2008 a number of organisations used the circuit for driver training including advanced driving, defensive driving, high performance and off-road driving.

The track hosted its first Australian Touring Car Championship in 1971, which was a battle between racing legends Bob Jane and Allan Moffat. The December 2008 V8 Supercar event was the 38th time a championship was held at the track. Sadly for some the track will go the way of other suburban raceways of the past. It turned into just be a passing memory when it closed in 2010.

The Daily Telegraph noted that a number of other Sydney tracks that have been silenced. They have included Amaroo Park, Warwick Farm, Mt Druitt, Sydney Showground, Liverpool and Westmead speedways. The public relations spokesman for Oran Park, Fred Tsioras, has said that there have been a few notable drivers who have raced at the circuit including Kevin Bartlett, Fred Gibson, Ian Luff, Alan Moffat, Peter Brock, Mark Weber and others.

Innovations that were introduced at the Oran Park Raceway included night racing, truck racing and NASCAR racing. Tsioras claims that the track was a crowd favourite because they could see the entire circuit.

Oran Park Raceway Control Tower

An integral part of the Oran Park Raceway was the control tower. It had the offices for the Clerk of the Course, timekeepers, VIP suite, the press box and general administration.

Oran Park Raceway 1997 CIPP
Control Tower Oran Park Raceway 1997 (Camden Historical Society)

In the early days the facilities at the circuit were pretty basic, and this included the control tower. The circuit was a glorified paddock and race organisers held mainly basic club events. The track surface was pretty rough and there was a make-do attitude amongst racing enthusiasts.

The control facilities in the early days at the track was very rudimentary. The first control tower used in 1962 by the members of the Singer Car Club, who established the track, was a double decker bus. Race officials and time keepers sat out in the open air under a canvas awning on the top of the bus at club race meetings.

A new control tower, built around 1980, was funded by the Rothmans tobacco company. The Rothmans company was a major sponsor of motor sports in Australia at the time. Tobacco sponsorship of motor sports was seen as an efficient marketing strategy to reach boys and young men.

Tobacco & cigarette advertisements were banned on TV and radio in September 1976. While other tobacco advertising was banned from all locally produced print media — this left only cinema, billboard and sponsorship  advertising as the only forms of direct tobacco advertising was banned inv December 1989.

Motor sport projected an image of style, excitement, thrills and spills that drew men and boys to the sport. Motor sport has been symbolized by bravery, strength, competitiveness and masculinity. This imagery in still portrayed in motor sport like Formula One racing.

The influence for the design of the tower, according to Will Hagan, was the El Caballo Blanco Complex at Narellan, which opened in the 1979 and was a major tourist attraction. The control tower, like El Caballo Blanco, was constructed in a Spanish Mission architectural style (or Hollywood Spanish Mission) like the Paramount cinema in Elizabeth Street (1933) or Cooks Garage in Argyle Street (1935) Camden.

Cooks Garage 1936
Cooks Service Station and Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Streets Camden in the mid-1930s. This establishment was an expression of Camden’s Interwar modernism. (Camden Images)

The Spanish Mission building style emerged during in the Inter-war period (1919-1939). It was characterised by terracotta roof tiles, a front loggia, rendering of brickwork and shaped parapets.

The Spanish Mission building style was inspired by the American west coast influences, and the relationship between the automobile, rampant consumerism and the romance  promoted by the motion pictures from Hollywood.

The Spanish Mission building style, according to Ian Kirk and Megan Martin from their survey of interwar service stations, was popular with service stations in the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly in the Sydney area. In their survey they discovered more than 120 original service stations surviving in New South Wales from the interwar years.

Some examples of Interwar garages included the Broadway Garage and Service Station in Bellevue Hill, the former Seymour’s Service Station in Roseville, Malcolm Motors in King Street, Newtown and the Pyrmont Bridge Service Station in Pyrmont. Kirk and Martin have maintained that unlike the United States, early service stations in Australia were privately owned and did not have to be designed according to an oil company’s in-house style.

Motor sports became popular in the Interwar period and was associated with glamour and excitement of the cars of the period. The Interwar period (1918-1939) is an interesting period in the history of Australia. It was a time which contrasted the imperial loyalties of the British Empire with the rampant consumerism and industrialisation of American culture and influence.

The Interwar period was one in which country towns and the city were increasingly dominated by motor vehicles. It was a time when the fast and new, the exotic and sensual came to shape the style of a new age of modernism, and competed with the traditional and conservative, the old and slow, and changes to social and cultural traditions.

There were many brands of motor car competing for the attention of consumers, and the aspirations and desires of a new generation were wrapped up in youth, glamour, fantasy and fun.

This was reflected in the growth of elegant and glamorous car showrooms and the appearance of service stations and garages to serve the increasing number of motor car owners.

In Camden this period modernism generated Cooks Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Street not far away from the new slick and exciting movie palace, the Paramount Movie Theatre. In central Camden the Dunk commercial building at 58-60 Argyle Street was a shiny new car showroom displaying Chevrolet motor cars from the USA. Advertisement boasted that the cars were:

Beautiful new Chevrolet is completely new. New arresting beauty of style; new riding comfort and seating; …with more comfort.

The buyer had the choice of car models from commercial roadster to sports roader, tourer, coupe and sedan which sold for the value price of £345.

In New South Wales the number of motor vehicles increased from around 22,000 in 1920 to over 200,000 in 1938.  There was an increasing interest in motor sports in the Sydney area by enthusiasts of all kinds.

 Dreams and development on the raceway site

In 1983 the Oran Park Raceway track was owned by Bill Cleary, and he stated to the Macarthur Advertiser that his family had owned the property for 38 years.  In 1976 he put together a proposal to create a sports and recreation centre for the area of the raceway. The proposal was raised again in 1981 and was to include a themed entertainment park, an equestrian centre, dude ranch, motel, health and fitness centre, model farm and cycling, hiking and bridle trials. But it all came to nothing.

Oran Park Raceway 2008 PMylrea CIPP
An aerial view of the former Oran Park Raceway in 2008 showing the track and its surrounds. Now all covered by housing. (P Mylrea/Camden Images)

The current track was purchased in the mid-1980s by Leppington Pastoral Company (owned by the Perich family) and in 2004 was rezoned for housing.  It was estimated at the time that there would be 21,000 houses. Tony Perich stated in 2007 to the Sydney Morning Herald that he planned to build almost one-fifth of the 11,500 dwellings in Oran Park and Turner Road in a joint-venture with Landcom. A spokesman for Mr Perich’s company, Greenfields Development Corporation, stated that the first houses would be on the larger lots.

Oran Park 2008 planned housing development

In 2008 Oran Park is part of the  South West Growth Centre area which is responsibility of the New South Wales Government’s Growth Centres Commission, which was eventually planned to accommodate 295,000 people by 2031. The Oran Park and Turner Road Development were expected in 2008 to house 33,000 people.

In an area east of the raceway it is planned that there will be the development of an aged care facility for elderly and retired citizens with work starting in 2011. The project will consist of independent living villas and apartments, assisted living units, a day care centre and a high and low care aged facility with a dementia unit.

Oran Park DSC_opdisplayhomes
Oran Park display homes near the town centre in 2012. (OPTC)

In 2008 the raceway made way for 8000 homes to house 35,000 people complete with town centre, commercial precinct and entertainment facilities. It was planned to include primary schools, two high schools, a court, police station and a community centre. The suburb, Raceway Hill, was planned to have streets named after the old track.

The colonial history of Oran Park

In the colonial days of early New South Wales Oran Park was originally  made up of two principal land grants, one of 2,000 acres, Harrington Park,  granted to William Campbell in 1815 and another to George Molle in 1817, Netherbyes, of 1600 acres which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road. According to John Wrigley the name Oran Park appears on the pre-1827 map as part of Harrington Park,  Campbell’s grant. Campbell arrived on the brig, Harrington, in 1803 as a master.

The New South Wales State Heritage Register states that the Oran Park portion was sub-divided from the Harrrington Park estate in 1829 and acquired by Henry William Johnston in 1852.  The Oran Park estate is representative of the layout of a country manor estate with views afforded to and from the manor over the landscape and to the important access points of the estate. These were representative of the design philosophies of the time.

Oran Park House CHS 3090 early 20thc donor JHiggs gddhtr FLMoore
The image clearly shows the hilltop locality of Oran Park House typical of gentry estate houses across the Cowpastures. This landscape drew on the influence of the philosophy of Scot JC Loudon and Englishman Capability Brown (early 20thc, Camden Images)

Oran Park House was located in  a picturesque Arcadian pastoral scene by using the best of European farming practices and produced an English-style landscape of a park, pleasure grounds and gardens. The house was located in a ‘sublime landscape’ with the integration of aspect, orientation and design, drawing on influences of Scotsman JC Loudon, Englishman Capability Brown and Sydney nurseryman Thomas Shepherd.

Oran Park House

The two-storey Georgian-style house was built in c.1857 and is described as having a roof with of a simple colonial hipped form, windows with shutters, an added portico and a bridge to the two-storey original servants wing at the rear. There is detailed cedar joinery and panelling on the interior. The house is located on a knoll creating an imposing composition set amongst landscaped grounds with a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

ORan Park House CL0218
Oran Park House in 1995 in a photograph taken by John Kooyman (Camden Images)

According to the NSW State Heritage Register the house is an example of the Summit Model of homestead sited on a hilltop with the homestead complex.  The present entrance to Oran Park is on an axis with the house’s southern façade, with a carriage loop with mature plantings in front of the house.

Oran Park house was acquired by Thomas  Barker (of Maryland and Orielton) who sold it to Campbelltown grazier Edward Lomas Moore (of Badgally) in 1871. The property was leased by and then subsequently owned by Atwill George Kendrick who had a clearing sale on the site in 1900. The house had alterations possibly under the direction of Leslie Wilkinson (professor of architecture, University of Sydney) in the 1930s.

The Moore family sold the Oran Park House and land to B Robbins and a Mr Smith operated a golf course with trotting facilities. It was sold in 1945 for £28,000, and in 1963, 361 acres was purchased by ER Smith and J Hyland, farmers. The homestead and stables were sold in 1969 by John and Peggy Cole and purchased by the Dawson-Damers, members of the English aristocracy. The Dawson-Damers undertook restoration guided by architect Richard Mann. John ‘DD’ Dawson-Damer was an Old Etonian and car collector.

John Dawson-Damer was a prominent motor racing identity and was killed in an accident while driving his Lotus 63 at a race meeting at Goodwood, West Sussex in 2000. Dawson-Damer was the managing director of Austral Engineering Supplies Pty Ltd, and was involved with the International Automobile Federation and the Historic Sports Racing Car Association of New South Wales. Ashley Dawson-Damer, his wife and socialite, was a member of the council of governors of the Opera Australia Capital Fund and a board member of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation.

After her husband’s death she sold the house, with its historic gardens and 107 hectares of pasture, in 2006 for $19 million to Valad Property Group.  The State Heritage Register describes the house and surrounding estate an outstanding example of mid-nineteenth century cultural landscape with a largely intact homestead complex and gardens set within an intact rural setting.

Oran Park House renamed Catherine Park House

Oran Park was renamed Catherine Park House in 2013 by the developers of the new housing release Harrington Estates Pty Ltd (Mac Chronicle 10 Oct 2013). The name changed was agreed by Camden Council and celebrated Catherine Molle, the wife of George Molle.

In 1815 Molle was allocated a grant of 550 acres which he called Catherine Fields after his wife Catherine Molle on the northern bank of South Creek opposite his grant of Netherbyres.

In 1816 George Molle  was granted Netherbyres, of 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) which ran between South Creek and the Northern Road on the south bank of South Creek. In 1817 he was granted Molles Maine of 1550 acres east of the Great South Road.

George Molle was baptized in Mains, Berwickshire, Scotland on the 6th March 1773. George joined the Scots Brigade (94th Regiment) as an ensign and served in Gibraltar, The Cape of  Good Hope, India, Egypt and Spain. He was promoted to Colonel and served at Gibraltar before transferring as the Colonel of the 46th Regiment of Foot when ordered to serve in the Colony of New South Wales.

On the 20th March 1814 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Colony, second in command to Governor Macquarie.

George and his wife played an active part in the public life of the colony of New South Wales, patron of the Female Orphan School and a member of the committee for the Civilization, Care and Education of Aborigines.

The suburb of Catherine Park was planned in 2013 to contain 3100 with 9500 residents. (Mac Chronicle 15 Oct 2013)

Oran Park in recent times

In early 2018 the developer Greensfields and Landcom report in their newsletter that construction of  the new Camden Council Library building is progressing well. A new off-dog leash area was under construction in the new release areas around the new high school. It is the second area developed in the land release.

Oran Park Public School 2014 [2] (OPPS)
Oran Park Public School at the opening in 2014 (OPPS)
The newsletter detailed the road construction for Dick Johnson Drive, one of the many roads named after motor racing greats. The street will connect with The Northern Road in 2019. Works area progressing on the latest release areas around Oran Park Public School and on earthworks associated with Peter Brock Drive. The school opened in 2014 with new staff and students adjacent to Oran Park Podium shopping centre.  The shopping centre was opened by New South Wales Premier Mike Baird in late 2014 with 28 specialty shops.

OranParkTownCentre
Oran Park Town Centre which has been used as the land sales office since the first land release in 2013 (OPTC)

New parkland was opened in a recent release area in 2018  and new traffic lights were operational at Peter Brock Drive and Central Avenue.

A new free monthly 20pp A4 newspaper, the Oran Park Gazette,  has appeared in the suburb in 2015. It is published by the Flynnko Group based at Glenmore Park. The Gazette started with a circulation of 3500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads which are distributed across the Western Sydney region.

Camden Council transferred is administrative function to the new office building in 2016. An open day inviting resident to inspect the new facilities was a huge success.

The Macarthur Chronicle has developed a time lapse to illustrate some of the changes at Oran Park.
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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)