The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most important pieces of economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe. The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded. The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.
History and Description
The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.
The naming of the bridge also co-incided with the establishment of the Macarthur Growth Centre at Campbelltown by the Askin Liberal Government in 1973 and support from the new Whitlam Federal Government for the Macarthur Growth Region. These were originally part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan from which the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbeltown, Camden and Appin appeared.
These were exciting plans that were developed at the time with the provision of extensive infrastructure across the new growth centre. Some of the infrastructure eventuated and many parts did not. The New Cities Plan turned into a developers dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plan. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.
The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.
This was particularly important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Governments support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang Coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation and the issue turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.
The high level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields away from Camden’s main street passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.
The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge has been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.
In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated
I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.
I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)
The Macarthur Bridge has a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.
The Camden Bypass
The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.
The Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.
Open to traffic and construction details
The official plaque on the bridge states:
The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.
Flooding on 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 floodplain 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 catchment for the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment which drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean, with dams on each waterway.
The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction is around 1800km2
The wettest conditions are usually created by low pressure systems, called east coast lows, that form up of the South Coast of New South Wales. The low pressure systems moves onshore and the orographic effect of the Illawarra Escarpment can produce heavy rainfall events.
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 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.
The Camden town centre and its multi-layered history are evident in the many different building styles evident as you walk along the main street.
If walls could talk they would tell an interesting story that would immerse you in the past in the present. They would provide a gripping account of the characters that were central to the stories.
Living history is storytelling
Living history allows participants to be able to read the layers of history of an area.
Living history is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.
Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real and authentic.
Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present. Storytelling and stories at the essence of place.
The living history movement
Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’. (pp. xii-xv)
One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA. Henry Ford said of his museum
I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…
Camden storytellers peel back the layers of the history of the town and district and reveal the tales of local identities, larrikans, characters, rascals, ruffians and ratbags.
There are a number of layers to the Camden story and they are
Pre-European period of the Indigenous Dharawal people when they called the area Benkennie
The Cowpastures were named by Governor Hunter in 1795 and the establishment of the Cowpastures Government Reserve. Under European control the Indigenous Dharawal people dispossession and displacement of their country. The Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estatestarted with the 1805 grant to John Macarthur.
The Camden township was established as a private venture of the Macarthur family in 1840. The streets were named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
The Macarthur region (1970s +), named after the famous local Macarthur family, grew as part of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. It is made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.
Immerse your imagination in the past at the Camden Museum through living history.
The Camden museum tells the Camden story through displays of artefacts, objects, memoriabilia and other ephemera by using a living history approach.
The displays tell a story of an earlier period and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the past in the present.
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)
Walking the past through living history
Visitors to Camden can walk the streets of the town centre and imagine another time. A time past that can be recalled through living history.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A Weather-boarded House for the accommodation of the Subordinate Overseers and Stockmen.
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.
A Tanning House and Tan Yard for Tanning the Hides of the Wild Bulls for the use of Government.
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
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
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)
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)
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.
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.
The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe.
The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn.
West of Wollongong the tributaries includng Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park.
The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty.
The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.
The Nepean River is economically important to the Sydney Basin and is used for mining, irrigation, recreation and other activities. It is ecologically significant to the area and has a number of rare and endangered species of plants.
The river has an important meaning in terms of its intangible cultural heritage to the local landscape. The river and its surroundings had special meaning to the Indigenous Dharawal people of the Cowpastures area.
The river defines the landscape and the construction of place in the localities along the river including Menangle, Camden, and Cobbitty.
One locality of special significance is Little Sandy at Camden.
Little Sandy on the Nepean River at Camden has been a popular spot with local Europeans for many decades for swimming, picnicking, boating and fishing. It is rich in the memories of local folk played out their childhoods, experienced the pangs of youth and enjoyed time with their families.
Little Sandy has been an important part of Camden cultural heritage for generations. It is a locality with a strong sense of place and identity with people’s memories.
The site has layers of meaning that can be peeled back and reveal a landscape of diverse dimensions. Its story has meaning across the generations.
The site and the pondage was created on the Nepean River with the construction of the Camden Weir in 1907. It is a culturally created landscape.
Today thousands of local residents enjoy the same rituals at Little Sandy on their jaunts along the Nepean River bike path with the friends and family.
In the early 20th century Little Sandy was a favourite swimming spot. In the 1920s the Camden Swimming Club built galvanised iron dressing sheds painted green in an area now known at Kings Bush Reserve.
Swimming became one of Elderslie’s earliest organised sporting activities, after the Nepean River was dammed in 1907 with the construction of the Camden Weir.
Water backed up behind the weir for four kilometres through the Elderslie area, and provided relatively deep water suitable for swimming.
The Camden Aquatic Sports carnival was organised in 1909 and attracted over 1000 spectators, and was the location of the Camden Swimming Club in the 1920s.
The area was divided into Big Sandy, which was a deep hole, near Kings Bush Reserve. About 100 metres upstream was Little Sandy where the water was shallower. Learn to swim classes where held for a short time and Boy Scouts would go swimming there, according to Milton Ray.
Len English says
“In the 1950s the area was used for swimming by pupils from Camden Public School’, ‘The girls went with the female teachers to Little Sandy, while the male teachers and boys went downstream to Camden Weir.’
Olive McAleer says
‘Little Sandy was a popular spot for family picnics between the 1920s and 1940s’.
The river stopped being a swimming spot when it was condemned because of pollution by medical authorities in the early 1960s. It was replaced by Camden Memorial Swimming Pool in 1964. (P Mylrea, ‘Swimming in the Nepean River at Camden’, Camden History, March 2006)
In 1943 military authorities from the Narellan Military Camp were anxious to undertake a practical training exercise for engineers. In September they sought the view of Camden Municipal Council on erecting a footbridge and the council immediately agreed with the proposal.
The council covered the cost of some of the timber so that the bridge remained the property of council. The Australian Military Forces Engineers supplied the labour, supervision, transport vehicles and operators for the transport of stores and construction material.
The site at the bottom Chellaston Street connected two reserves on either side of the Nepean River. One on the Chellaston Street side and the other at River Road Elderslie.
In late September 1943 40 troops started building a wooden footbridge 120 feet long and 4 feet wide. Construction took around four weeks and was finished by 28 October.
Observers commented on a
‘fine piece of workmanship…that would be much appreciated’ by the local community.
(Camden News, 16 September 1943, 23 September 1943, 28 October 1943).
Nepean River 1900
This image of the Nepean River is taken in the vicinity of the Camden Weir. It gives an indication of the degraded state of the river around 1900. There is evidence of sedimentation and streambank erosion caused by hard-hoofed animals trampling river banks.
These issues were typical of Australia’s inland waterways in the late 19th century after extensive clearing of the catchments for forestry, farming and other activities.
Sue Rosen quotes from James Atkinson’s 1826 An Account of the State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales in her book on the environmental history of the Nepean River.
Atkinson states that even by the mid-1820s the river banks were undermined and collapsing into the stream. There were deposits of sand in the river channel and clearing practices had caused increased run-off, accelerated the degradation of the river channel and increased obstruction in the river bed. All evident in the 1900 photograph of the river channel at Camden.
Atkinson felt that the original European settlers had failed to ‘improve’ the land for farming and that its farming potential had been compromised. The settlers had in Atkinson’s terms failed to fulfil the original objectives of opening up the land and favoured, according to Rosen, ‘the cultivation of a landscape reminiscent of British romantic pastoral scenes’.
The earliest reports of the Nepean River date from 1795. David Collins wrote about his impression after a wet spring in his An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798). These impressions have been quoted in Alan Atkinson’s Camden where it states there were
large ponds, covered with ducks and the black swan, the margins of which were fringed with shrubs of the most delightful tints.
After a dry spell the river at Menangle was reported by George Caley in his ‘Report of a Journey to the Cowpastures’ (1804, ML) to be ‘reduced to a small compass’ and the water having ‘the foul appearance of a pond in a farmyard’.
Sue Rosen Losing Ground An Environmental History of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment, Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1995.
Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales, Melbourne, OUP, 1988.
Camden Weir 1907
The Camden Weir pondage created an aesthetic water feature that runs through the Camden township and took in the Little Sandy. The aesthetic has moral, experiential, spiritual and well-being aspects to it.
The Camden Weir was constructed by New South Wales Public Works Department after the completion of the Cataract Dam from 1907.
The compensation weir was one of number constructed along the Nepean River to safeguard the ‘riparian rights’ of landowners affected by the interruption of flow to the river, according to John Wrigley.
A riparian right is the ability to take water from the river. The water supply dams of the Upper Nepean Scheme reduced the flow of the tributaries of the Nepean River, and the weirs were to ‘compensate’ for the loss of water flow.
The other weirs near Camden were at Menangle, Bergins, Thurns, Camden Sharpes and Cobbitty. The weirs were eventually transferred to the management to the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board as part of the Sydney Water Supply systerm.
Learn more @ John Wrigley,’ Nepean River Weirs’, The District Reporter 3 August 2001
Water has a calming effect on the mind and takes the mind to a quiet, tranquil and peaceful place.
Some say it has the ability to dim our internal chatter and calm some people.
Water provides a degree of serenity and the purifying effect it can have on the soul. Water can have a soothing meditative effect on some people.
People need to re-charge and re-vitalise in the tranquility of the environment provided by the tranquility and serenity of the pool provided by the weir.
For others, a visually pleasant water feature can also be a source of healing and relaxing in a man-mad environment.
Those that went swimming at Little Sandy had an experiential relationship the water. Water is used to nourish and replenish man after exertion.
Swimming carnivals were a time of community celebration and strengthening community resilience.
The pondage at Little Sandy also has a scientific value for the marine ecosystem it supports. It supports a range of life from eels, to perch, birds, reptiles and other life.
The Little Sandy pondage creates a pleasant water feature that circles the township. The beauty of the scene with the trees along the water’s edge framing the quiet of the pond.
People doing simple tasks like fishing, picnicking, walking and re-engaging with nature on the water’s edge. The surface of the water is a mirror that reflects the images of the trees and bushes on the water’s edge.
At dawn on a cold frosty morning the vapours of steam rise of the water’s surface as the walkers feet crackle under the frozen grass on the water’s edge. There is a splash as a kingfisher dives into the water after a fish, that breaks the silence of the space.
The world disappears momentarily as you sit on the water’s edge taking in the serine quiet surroundings of the pond.
A new footbridge
The Little Sandy footbridge was officially opened on 4 May 2014 with another community event.
The weather gods were kind, and while there was a cool breeze and an overcast start the sun came out and the crowd turned up with families of mums and dads and the kids.
Camden Council organised a family fun day in Chellaston Reserve where there were stalls, a free train ride along the bike track and information stands.
The day opened at 11.00am and wound up in the afternoon at 3.00pm. Camden Rotary provided a sausage sizzle which sold out early in the day.
An information stand was provided by Camden Historical Society which was staffed by volunteers John and Julie Wrigley, Bob Lester and Rene Rem, while others turned up later.
This was another community event that has been typical of the popularity of the site for the Camden community.
The new pre-cast concrete 43 metre footbridge at Little Sandy on the Nepean River was completed in April 2014. Camden Council let contracts for the completion of a new footbridge in September 2013.
The new structure replaced a wooden footbridge that was damaged in the a flood in 2012. The new footbridge was jointly funded by council and the state government.
The finished footbridge is part of the Nepean River cycleway that joins Camden with Elderslie, South Camden and Narellan. Local resident Kevin Browne stated in 2012 (Camden Narellan Advertiser 31 July) that:
the bridge was part of the unique attraction of living in a rural area [and] the availability of serene, natural beauty.
After the 2012 damage to the footbridge and its closure local residents started to campaign for its replacement.
This culminated in a community meeting in the mayor’s office in August 2013 when 19 local residents attended an information session with the mayor, the Member for Camden, and the council’s general manager and engineering staff.
The original footbridge was constructed in 1943 as a military training exercise by the AMF Engineering Corps stationed at Narellan Military Camp.
Camden Council agreed to fund the cost of the materials while the engineers provided the labour (40 men), supervision and vehicles. The original footbridge was 120 feet long and 4 feet wide.
Learn more @ The District Reporter 17 August 2012.
King’s Bush is the reserve adjacent the river’s edge at Little Sandy and is named after Cecil J King, the rector of St John’s Church between 1893 and 1927.
According to John Wrigley, King kept his horse in the paddock next to the river and swam at the same spot in the river.
Reverend King was a keen sports fan and played for the Camden Cricket Club and was the teams wicket keeper for a number of years. In 1927 he was the patron of the Camden Golf Club and president of the Union and St John’s tennis club.
King was ordained at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1887 by the Bishop Barry of the Sydney Archdiocese. (Camden Advertiser 2 June 1949)
Learn more @ John Wrigley, Place Names on the Camden Area, Camden, CHS, 2005.
Chellaston Street ends at the Nepean River in Chellaston Reserve in the vicinity of Little Sandy. Chellaston was a single storey brick residence at 38 Menangle Road built by Camden builder John Peat and used as his family home.
Chellaston Street was part of land releases on the south side of the township in the 1920s. There were a number of land releases in the area during the Inter-war period including Victory Ave and Gilbulla Ave that run off Menangle Road.
Learn more @ John Wrigley, Place Names on the Camden Area, Camden, CHS, 2005.