The Camden district can be hard to define and has changed over time. Dr Ian Willis conducted research in the mid-1990s to determine the extent of the Camden district at the outbreak of the Second World War. This was part of his post-graduate studies at the University of Wollongong on the effect of the Second World War in Camden.
The boundary of the Camden district could be: an arbitrary line on a map based on a political decision; a natural region; an idea in someone’s mind; the delivery round of a Camden business; the geographic circulation area of a Camden newspaper; the emotional attachment of a person to a general area called Camden; the catchment area of a special event in Camden; the membership of a Camden organisation; the social networks of people who live in the Camden area; or any combination of these.
From historical research I have conducted I have found the boundary of the Camden district to a moveable feast. By the 1930s it took in area of 1180 square kilometres and a population of around 5000. The result is on the attached map. It is a combination the factors outlined above.
Origins of the Camden district
The concept of the Camden district was set in motion by 1827 when the early pattern of the early land grants had determined the road network. This process was re-enforced by the arrival of the tramway in 1882, the road traffic along the Hume Highway going to Goulburn, and the movement of silver from Yerrandarie and coal from the Burragorang Valley to the Camden railhead. As a result the town became an important transport interchange and centre for economic activity for a district, which extended out to Burragorang Valley and Yerrandarie.
By the 1930s the growth of the town had attracted additional businesses and the town had become the centre for government services and community organisations. The town was a meeting place for local people and acted a stepping off point to the rest of the outside world.
The district’s population came together on Sale Day (still Tuesdays) to meet and do business. The livestock sales were the town’s busiest day of the week The annual Camden Show was (and still is) always a popular attraction and people came from a wide area to compete and exhibit their crafts, produce and livestock.
Daily life in the Camden district is recorded in the two local newspapers
District life was reported in detail in Camden’s two newspapers, the Camden News and the Camden Advertiser, which were widely circulated in the area. Camden businesses had customers from all over the local area. Some had regular delivery runs that reached to Burragorang Valley and beyond.
Since the 1930s many things have happened. The largest change has been the growth in population, and the town and district are now part of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Sydney. Despite this, the district still has a discernable identity in the minds of local people.
1973 New Cities Plan
The creation of the The new cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin : structure plan(1973) was one of the most profound changes to the Camden district. The New Cities proposal was part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan developed by the State Planning Authority of the Askin Liberal government and became a developers dream.
Current planners, bureaucrats, businesses and residents need to have an understanding of this local identity and build on the opportunities that it presents.
Today the Camden district is part of the Macarthur region.
Personal and family stories that family historians and genealogists seek out provide a broader perspective on local histories and local studies of an area. They allow a person to take a look at themselves in the mirror from the past. Insights into our ancestors provide a greater understanding out ourselves in the present. The past informs the present through family and personal histories and places the present us into context.
Family and personal histories allow us to see and understand that we are greater than just ourselves. We are all part of a continuum from the past. The present is only a transitory phase until tomorrow arrives.
Looking at the past through personal and family histories gives a context to our present location on the timeline within our own family. Our own family story is located within the larger story of our community. Personal and family stories reminds us daily of our roots and our ancestors.
We all have a past and it is good to be reminded of it occasionally. This is a job that is well done by thousands of enthusiastic family historians and genealogists and their creation of family trees and our connections to our ancestors.
We all need an appreciation of the stories from the past to understand how they effect and create the present. The past has shaped the present and the present will re-shape the future. Our ancestors created us and who we are, and we need to show them due respect. We in turn will create the future for our children and their offspring.
One local family were the Pattersons of Elderslie and one of their descendants, Maree Patterson, to seeking to fill out their story. She wants your assistance. Can you help?
The Patterson family of Elderslie
Maree Patterson has written:
I moved from Elderslie in 1999 to Brisbane and I have tried unsuccessfully to find some history on the family.
I am writing this story as I have been trying to research some of my family history on my father’s side of the family and I feel sad that I never got to know a lot about his family.
My father, Laurence James Henry Patterson, was a well-known cricketer in the Camden district. He was an only child and he didn’t really talk much about his aunts, uncles, and cousins.
My grandfather passed away when I was young. Back then I was not into family history and I’ve hit a stumbling block. I’m now in need of some assistance.
I would really like to find out some history on the Patterson family as I have no idea who I am related to on that side of my family and I would like to pass any family history down.
At the moment I am seeking any help as the following is the only information that I have on the Patterson family.
H Patterson arrives in Elderslie
My great grandfather was Henry Patterson (b. 16 July, 1862, Kyneton, Victoria – d. 11th July, 1919, Camden, NSW). Henry arrived in Elderslie from Victoria in the 1880’s with his wife Catherine (nee Darby) and they became pioneers in the Camden district.
Henry Patterson was a carpenter by trade and worked around the Camden area for various businesses. He and his wife, Catherine had 7 children, all of whom were born in Camden.
They were Ethel Adeline (b. 9 June, 1886), Clarice Mabel (b. 14 May, 1888), Isabella (b. 2nd June, 1890), William Henry (b. 8 May, 1892), Stanley Dudley (b. 5 October, 1894), Ruby Lillian (b. 24 March, 1899 and who passed away at 5 months of age) and Percy Colin (b. 13 January, 1903). [Camden Pioneer Register 1800-1920, Camden Area Family History Society, 2001]
Henry’s wife dies
Henry sadly lost his wife Catherine in 1910 at only 47 years of age, which left him to raise 6 children.
Henry remarried in 1912 to Martha Osmond (nee Boxall) from Victoria.
Henry died on 11 July, 1929 in Camden District Hospital after pneumonia set in following an operation. Martha, who was well known and respected throughout the district passed away on 18 May, 1950 at the age of 86 years of age. She broke her leg and had become bedridden for some months.
Henry’s son goes to war
Henry and Catherine’s 5th child, Stanley Dudley Patterson, was a farmer in Elderslie. He enlisted in the 1/AIF on 18 July, 1915 and was sent off to war on 2 November 1915. He was wounded and as his health continued to decline he was sent back to Australia in February, 1917.
Voluntary Workers Association helps local digger
Upon Stanley Patterson’s return to Elderslie, a meeting was held by the Camden Branch of the Voluntary Workers’ Association.
They approved the building of a three roomed weatherboard cottage with a wide verandah front and back to be built at 7 Purcell Street, Elderslie. He was married to Maud Alice Hazell.
Construction of VWA cottage
The land on which the cottage was to be built was donated by Dr. F.W. and Mrs. West. Once the cottage was completed Stanley secured a mortgage to repay the costs of building the cottage. I believe that construction of this cottage started in either late February or late March 1918.
Carpentering work had been carried out by Messrs. H.S. Woodhouse, A. McGregor, E. Corvan and H. Patterson. The painters were Messrs. F.K. Brent, J. Grono, A.S. Huthnance. E. Smith, Rex May and A. May under the supervision of Mr. P.W. May. The fencing in front of the allotment was erected by Mr. Watson assisted by Messrs. J. E. Veness, C. Cross and J. Clissold. [Camden News]
Official handing over of VWA cottage
Stanley Patterson’s cottage in Elderslie, which was the first cottage built by the Voluntary Workers’ Association was officially opened by Mr. J.C. Hunt, M.L.A. on Saturday 15 June 1918.
The Camden News reported:
A procession consisting of the Camden Band, voluntary workers and the general public, marched from the bank corner to the cottage, where a large number of people had gathered.
Mr. Hunt, who was well received, said he considered it a privilege and an honour to be invited to a ceremony of this kind, for when those who had fought for us needed help it was out duty to give that help, for they had fought for us needed help it was out duty to give that help, for they had sacrificed so much for us. Although Private Patterson had returned from active service, he had offered his life for us. Mr. Hunt congratulated Pte. Patterson on responding to the call of duty; soldiers did not look for praise, the knowledge of having done their duty to their country was all they required. He hoped that Pte. and Mrs. Patterson would live long to enjoy the comforts of the home provided for them by the people of Camden.
[Camden News, Thursday 20 June, 1918, page 1]
Appeal for photographs of VWA cottage by CE Coleman
CE Coleman took a few photos of the VWA cottage handed over to Pte. Patterson. These included: one in the course of construction; the official opening; the gathering that had assembled on the day; and a photo of Pte. Patterson. To date I have searched high and low for these photos but to no avail. The only photo of a cottage built by the Voluntary Workers’ Association is a cottage at 49 Broughton Street, Camden for returned soldier Pt. B. Chesham. [Camden Images Past and Present] [Camden News, Thursday, 20 June, 1918, page 4]
VWA cottage is a model farm for other returning soldiers
The Camden News reported:
MODEL POULTRY FARM
Stanley Patterson settled down in his new cottage on 1¼ acres and was determined to make good and earn a livelihood and cultivated the land and planting a small apple and citrus orchard and a vineyard. It wasn’t long before he purchased an adjoining piece of land of another 1¼ acres and within a few more years added another block, giving him 3 ¾ acres.
By 1935, Stanley Patterson owned 14 acres in the vicinity of Elderslie. With his apple and citrus orchard and vineyard, Stanley went into poultry farming as well with particular attention given to the production of good and profitable fowls and he had over 1,000 birds, mainly White Leghorns and Australorps with an extra run of the finest standard Minorca.
In 1935, the progeny test of Stanley Patterson’s birds held a record of 250 eggs and over and the distinctive productivity of these is in the fact that he collects eggs in off period equal to numbers in flush periods. The marketing value is therefore enhanced. The pens are well divided into different sections, the buildings being on the semi-intensive system each with its own separate run. The brooder house is fitted with the Buckeye principle brooders, also has runs for young chicks. The incubator house is a separate identity fitted with a Buckeye incubator of 2,000 eggs capacity, hot air being distributed by means of an electric fan. Feed storage and preparation shed and packing room are conveniently attached and the model poultry farm is one that stands out only to the credit to the industrious owner, but to the district in which it is worked.
In 1935 day old chicks were sold for 3 Pounds per 100 or 50 for 32/-. Day old Pullets were sold for 7 Pounds per 100, eggs for hatching sold for 25/- per 100 and Custom hatching 8/- per tray of 96 eggs. [Camden News, Thursday 20th June, 1935, page 6]
My grandfather WH Patterson
My grandfather was William Henry Patterson, the 4th child born to Henry and Catherine Patterson. He was a carpenter like his father and following his marriage to Ruby Muriel Kennedy in 1918, purchased some acreage in River Road, Elderslie. He had a vineyard, flower beds, fruit trees and other crops on a small farm.
William built his own home at 34 River Road, Elderslie in the early 1920’s with some assistance from another builder. The home was a double brick home with a tin roof and consisted of two bedrooms, bathroom, lounge room, kitchen, laundry and a verandah around 3 sides.
Inside the home there was a lot of decorative timber and William had also made some furniture for his new home. This home has since gone under some extensive renovations but the front of the home still remains the same today and recently sold for $1.9 million.
As a carpenter William worked locally in the Camden district and on several occasions worked at Camelot. Unfortunately I have no other information on William.
Contemporary developments at 34 River Road, Elderslie.
Jane reports she is the current owner of 34 River Road Elderslie and has loved finding out about the history of the house. She purchased the house two years ago (2018) and is currently renovating house interior.
I have been working with Nathan Caines from Fernleigh Drafting & Melanie Redman Designs for the interior, coming up with some beautiful concepts. The original exterior of the house will not be changed, but there will be some amazing changes out the back.
Percy Colin Patterson, the 7th child born to Henry and Catherine Patterson married Christina N Larkin in 1932. In the early 1920’s Percy was a porter at Menangle Railway Station for about 5 months before he was transferred to Sydney Station.
Maree’s search continues
Maree Patterson concludes her story by asking:
I am particularly interested on information of the Camden Branch of the Voluntary Workers’ Association which was formed in 1918.
The WVA built the first cottage at 7 Purcell Street, Elderslie for returned World War 1 soldier Pte. Stanley Dudley Patterson, who was my great uncle.
The house still stands today but has had some modifications and I lived in this cottage for a few years after I was born with my parents.
I am particularly interested in trying to obtain copies of these photos if they exist somewhere. Any assistance you can offer would be greatly appreciated or perhaps point me in the right direction to find these photos.
Caylie writes that she had no idea of what she and her husband David Jeffrey would find when they decided to renovate the worst house on the busiest terrace in Milton, a Brisbane suburb. She says that they had no idea of the treasures they would find ‘secreted inside the house’.
A curious online community of amateur sleuths began a relentless quest for answers. As more clues were revealed, the ghosts of Old Brisbane started to rise from the depths of people’s memories.
Flooding of the Nepean River on the Camden floodplain
What is the Camden ‘bathtub effect’?
Not sure. Well you are not on your own.
It is part of the flooding effect created by the landform that makes up the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river system has a unique floodplain system that creates particular problems for local residents and others along the river.
The natural characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly susceptible to significant flood risk. The combination of the large upstream catchments and narrow downstream sandstone gorges results in floodwaters backing up behind these natural ‘choke points’
The Hawkesbury-Nepean River system has four localised floodplains created by four ‘choke points’ along the river. Each of these ‘choke points’ are created by a local gorge along the river system – Bents Basin Gorge, Nepean Gorge, Castlereagh Gorge and the Sackville Gorge.
Each of these floodplains upstream from the gorges act like a ‘bath tub’ in a period of high rainfall, with floodwater flow choked off by the gorges. The gorge restricts the floodwater flow and river rises quickly behind it on the local floodplain.
Camden ‘bathtub effect’
The 2015 Nepean River Flood Plain Report and the flood maps clearly show how the Bents Basin Gorge acts as a ‘choke point’ creating a ‘bathtub’ along with Nepean River floodplain from the entrance of the gorge. The floodplain upstream from the gorge starts around Rossmore, then upstream to Cobbitty, then Camden and ends at Menangle.
While the Camden ‘bathtub effect’ is not as dramatic and dangerous as those created in the Penrith-Emu Plains area or the effect of the Sackville Gorge at Windsor and Richmond, it is real.
flows escaping from the Nepean River are known to inundate the low lying areas of Camden and certain sections within South Camden and Elderslie. Floodplain areas along many of the tributaries of the river (particularly Narellan Creek and Matahil Creek) are also known to be affected by backwater flooding from the Nepean River during flood events.
Floods are characterized by rapid river rises with flooding commencing as quickly as 6-12 hrs after the commencement of heavy rain if the catchment is already saturated. Under flood conditions, the Nepean River overflows its banks and commences to inundate the low lying floodplain around Camden during floods of 8.5m on the Cowpasture Bridge gauge. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)
Causes of flooding along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River on the Camden floodplain
The headwaters for the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment which drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean, with dams on each waterway.
The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction is around 1800km2
Floods have occurred in all months of the year. The highest recorded flood at Camden occurred in 1873, when a height of 16.5m was recorded on the Camden gauge (approximately a 200yr ARI). [Cowpasture Bridge, Camden]
Other major floods occurred in 1860 (14.1m), 1867 (14.0m), and 1898 (15.2m). In recent times, major floods have occurred in 1964 (14.1m) and 1978 (13.5m) with moderate to major flooding occurring in 1975 (12.8m) and 1988 (12.8m). (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)
This is a quote from a report of the 1898 flood event at Camden taken from the Camden News 17 February 1898.
Near midnight on Saturday rain began to fall, at first with moderation, towards day break gusts of wind sprang up from the South East bringing heavy rain, lowering the crops in its passage, even majestic trees were torn up by their roots and in sheltered paddocks the trees were denuded of large limbs.
Sunday all day the wind blew with hurricane force; early on Monday morning the storm somewhat abated in its velocity.
Even on Sunday midnight no apprehension of a flood was anticipated by the Camden townspeople the continuous rain and boisterous weather, however made the more Cautious anxious, and one tradesman took the precaution to look after his horses in near paddock when the danger of a flood was manifested to him, the Nepean River had suddenly risen and was flooding the flats.
A report in the Camden News of the 1911 Camden flood event:
The rain of Thursday, it may naturally be expected filled creeks, dams and watercourses to overflowing, but the climax came with a heavy storm between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when some four inches [100mm] of rain fell. This brought the local water down from the adjoining hills in torrents, the Main Southern Road and Carrington Road were then covered with some two feet of fast rushing water, and on Druitt Road the local flood was then absolutely impassable..
In the early hours the Nepean River rose rapidly, and before the arrival of the first train the bridge was impassable ; the water continued to rise till about 3.15 in the afternoon, it having then reached it highest point, covering the new embankment between the town and the bridge, running through the Chinese quarters on the one side, and just into the pavilion on the show ground on the other. From near Druitt Road to Beard’s Lane was one long stretch of water….
Sackville Gorge and the Windsor & Richmond ‘bathtub effect’
In 2012 Steve Opper, director of community safety with the State Emergency Service, says the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a unique shape that can lead to catastrophic flooding. He describes the effect of the Sackville Gorge
“The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is throttled down by a narrow gorge down near what’s called Sackville, which is just upstream of Wiseman’s Ferry,” he said.
“The result of that is that the water can flow into the top of the system very, very rapidly, can’t get out, and so you get very dramatic rises in the level of the river.
“So normal river level might be two metres; if you’re at the town of Windsor and in the most extreme thought possible, that could rise up to 26 metres, which is a number that’s quite hard to comprehend.”
‘The enormous body of water rushing down with relentless force on its way to the sea could not be easily described, nor its effects conceived. About the neighbourhood of Windsor, now that the waters are fast subsiding, the scene is most dreary, and the destruction caused becomes every day more apparent. The feeling of bitter anguish expressed not in words but in the blank look of utter despair would move the most hardened.
Flooding is normal part of the cycle of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system, as it is for any river basin.
The flooding severity can be made worse by the choking effect of the gorges along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley – the local ‘bathtub effect’.
Interwar Camden has a direct connection to a noted architect of Interwar Sydney and its architecture.
Aaron Bolot, a Crimean refugee, was raised in Brisbane and worked for a time with Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s. He designed the 1936 brick extensions on the front of the 1890s drill hall at the Camden showground.
At the time he worked for Sydney architect, EC Pitt, who supervised construction of the new showground grandstand in 1936 and agricultural hall extensions (Camden News, 19 September 1935).
Bolot’s work and that of many other Sydney’s architects is found in photographer Peter Sheridan’s Sydney Art Deco. Sheridan has created a stunning coffee table book highlighting Sydney’s under-recognised Art Deco architectural heritage. The breadth of this Interwar style covers commercial and residential buildings, cinemas and theatres, hotels, shops, war memorials, churches, swimming pools and other facets of design.
Bolot’s work at Camden was a simple version of the more complex architectural work that he was undertaking around the inner Sydney area, for example, The Dorchester in Macquarie Street Sydney (1936), The Ritz Theatre in Randwick (1937) the Ashdown in Elizabeth Bay (1938) and other theatres.
1936 Extension Camden Agricultural Hall
The brick extensions to the agricultural hall were part of general improvements to the showground and works were finished in time for the 1936 Jubilee Show. The report of the show stated:
The new brick building in front of the Agricultural Hall, erected in commemoration of the jubilee, proved a wonderful acquisition, and its beautiful external appearance was, only a few days before the show, added to ‘by the erection of a neat and appropriate brick and iron fence joining that building with the Memorial Gates, * and vastly, improving the main pedestrian entrance to the showground. The fitting of this new room withstands and fittings for the exhibition of ladies’ arts and crafts, was another outlay that added to the show’s attraction. (CN2April1936)
The hall extensions were specifically designed to a similar style as the Memorial Gates erected in 1933 in memory to GM Macarthur Onslow (d. 1931) and paid for by public subscription. It was reported that they would add ‘attractively to the Showground entrance’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extensions were 50 feet by 23 feet, after 5 feet was removed from the front of the former drill hall. A central doorway was to be a feature and there would be ‘main entrance porch leading direct to the big hall on the Onslow Park side of building’. (CN19Sept1935)
The hall extension cost £400 (CN19Mar1936) and was to be built to mark the 1936 Jubilee Show (50th anniversary). It was anticipated that the new exhibition space could be used for the
ladies’ arts and crafts section, such as needlework, cookery; be used for the secretary’s office prior to the show; a meeting place for committees; and in addition provide a modern and up to date supper room at all social functions. (CN19Sept1935).
The approval of the scheme was moved at the AH&I meeting by Dr RM Crookston and seconded by WAE Biffin and supported by FA Cowell. The motion was unanimously carried by the meeting. The committee agreed to seek finance from the NSW Department of Labour and Industry at 3% pa interest. (CN19Sept1935)
Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5
In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.
These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.
Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.
Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.
Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.
A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).
Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)
The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)
The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.
The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.
Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture. Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)
The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)
The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).
Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.
Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)
The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)
Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)
The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)
Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.
Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.
The CHN blogger was out and about in southern Queensland recently and investigated some of the local aspects of living history.
The CHN blogger was drawn to southern Queensland by the Australian Historical Association Conference held at Toowoomba in early July. The conference was stimulating and challenging and the hosts provided a great venue at the Empire Theatre complex.
The Toowoomba area provided a number of examples of living history starting with the Cobb & Co Museum complex. Apart from the displays there is training in traditional trades for the more than curious and there are a number of special days during the year. The blogger was there during the school holidays and there was a motza of stuff for the littlies to do – all hands on. The kids seemed to be having lots of fun, followed around their Mums and Dads. The coffee was not bad either.
The generous conference hosts organised some activities for conference goers. I tagged along on a town tour one evening led by the president of the local historical society – very informative. ‘Town by night’ was a great way to see the sights of the city centre from a new perspective.
One property that particularly took the fancy of this blogger was the Federation Queen Anne style Harris House. The cottages was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) in 2017. The 1912 Edwardian villa residence demonstrates the development of Toowoomba in the early 20th century and the place wealthy members of the local society within it.
The single storey red brick dwelling has a Marseilles tiled roof and wide verandahs with bay windows. The concrete ornamentation contrasts with the face red brick and the hipped-roof has decorative finials and ridge capping. The house is in a visually prominent position on a corner block and is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as ‘a grand, Federation-era suburban villa residence’. It is quite an asset to the area.
After the conference this nerdy blogger found himself at The Woolshed at Jondaryan. Originally built in 1859 the woolshed is one of the largest in Australia and today is an example of an extensive living history attraction. The European history of the woolshed illustrates the frontier story of the settler society of southern Queensland and the Darling Downs.
One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known at the Rotolactor.
The Rotolactor was truly a scientific wonder that captured the imagination of people at a time when scientific marvels instilled excitement in the general public.
In these days of post-modernism and fake news this excitement seems hard to understand.
What was the Rotolactor?
The Rotolactor was an automated circular milking machine with a rotating platform introduced into the Camden Park operation in 1952 by Edward Macarthur Onslow from the USA.
The Rotolactor was part of the process of agricultural modernism that the Macarthur family had implemented on their colonial property of Camden Park Estate to improve their dairying operations in the mid-20th century.
The idea of a rotating milking platform was American and first introduced in New Jersey in the mid-1920s.
The 1940s manager of Camden Park Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Macarthur Onslow inspected an American Rotolactor while overseas on a business trip and returned to Australia full of enthusiasm to build one at Camden Park.
The Menangle Rotolactor was the first in Australia and only the third of its kind in the world.
The rotating dairy had a capacity to milk of 1,000 cows twice a day. It held 50 cows a time and were fed at as they were milked. The platform rotated about every 12 minutes.
The Rotolactor was a huge tourist attraction for the Menangle village and provided a large number of local jobs.
In 1953 it was attracting 600 visitors on a weekend in with up to 2000 visitors a week at its peak. (The Land, 1953Mar27)
Town planning disruption
In 1968 town planning disrupted things. The Askin state government released the Sydney Regional Outline Plan, followed by the 1973 the New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin Structure Plan, which later became the Macarthur Growth Centre in 1975.
The structure plan did recognise the importance of the Rotolactor and the cultural heritage of the Menangle village. (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales, 1973, p. 84)
These events combined with declining farming profits encouraged the Macarthur family to sell out of Camden Park including the Rotolactor and the private village of Menangle.
The Rotolactor continued operations until 1977 and then remained unused for several years. It was then purchased by Halfpenny dairy interests from Menangle who operated the facility until it finally closed in 1983. (Walsh 2016, pp.91-94)
Community festival celebrates the Rotolactor
In 2017 the Menangle Community Association organised a festival to celebrate the history of the Rotolactor. It was called the Menangle Milk-Shake Up and was a huge success.
The Festival exceeded all their expectations of the organisers from the Menangle Community Association when it attracted over 5000 of people to the village from all over Australia. (Wollondilly Advertiser, 18 Sept 2017)
The Menangle Community Association Facebook page described it this way:
‘A true country event like in the old days. So many visitors came dressed up in their original 50s clothes, and all those wonderful well selected stall holders. It was pure joy.’
Despite these sentiments the event just covered costs (Wollondilly Advertiser 5 April 2018)
The festival’s success was a double-edged sword for the organisers from the Menangle Community Association.
The festival’s success demonstrated to local development interests that Rotolactor nostalgia could be marketized and had considerable commercial potential.
The Menangle Community Association attempted to lift the memory of the Rotolator and use it as a weapon to protect the village from the forces of urban development and neo-liberalism
The success of the festival was also used by Menangle land developers to further their interests.
Developer Halfpenny made numerous public statements supporting the restoration of the Rotolactor as a function centre and celebrating its past. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2017).
The newspaper article announced that the owner of the site, local developer Ernest Dupre of Souwest Developments, has pledged to build a micro brewery, distillery, two restaurants, a farmers market, children’s farm, vegetable garden, and a hotel with 30 rooms.
In 2017 the state government planning panel approved the re-zoning of the site for 350 houses and a tourist precinct. Housing construction will be completed by Mirvac.
Mr Dupre stated that he wanted to turned the derelict Rotolactor into a function with the adjoining Creamery building as a brewery, which is next to the Menangle Railway Station.
He expected the development to cost $15 million and take two years. The plan also includes an outdoor concert theatre for 8000 people and a lemon grove.