The Richlands estate, north of Goulburn in the NSW Southern Tablelands, was an important part of the Macarthur family pastoral empire for nearly 100 years. The Richlands estate acted as an outstation about one days ride west of Camden Park estate. The property reached its hiatus in the 1840s when its extent reached around 38,000 acres including the private village of Taralga.
James and William Macarthur initially took up adjacent land grants of around 2000 acres between Taralga Creek and Burra Lake in 1822. The area had been traversed by a party led by Charles Throsby in 1819 looking for an alternative route to Bathurst other than the arduous route across the Blue Mountains. Throsby and company journeyed from the Moss Vale area, crossing the Wollondilly River then the Cookbundoon Ranges near Tarlo, turning north are eventually arriving at Bathurst.
Opening up the Southern Tablelands
Reports of these areas encouraged pastoralists to take up land, one of the first was Hannibal Macarthur, John Macartur’s nephew, at Arthursleigh on the Wollondilly. In a speculative venture in 1822 James Macarthur and partners Lachlan MacAlister and John Hillas, overseer with William Macarthur, moved a mob of cattle over the Cookbundoons and left them in charge an assigned convict Thomas Taylor at Tarlo. Hillas and MacAlister also took up a grants adjacent to the Macarthur holdings.
On the death of John Macarthur in 1834 the Richlands estate passed to Edward Macarthur, a career British soldier, while managed by James and William Macarthur on his behalf.
Governed by absentee landlords
While the Richlands estate was governed by absentee landlords the real story is of those who formed the microcosm of society on the estate. They included convicts, managers, tenant farmers, servants and the Burra Burra people, who were dispossessed and displaced from their country.
Fledgling settlement of Taralga
For the twenty years of the Richlands estate it was managed from the fledgling settlement of Taralga on the southern edge of the property. There was a central store and a number of skilled tradesmen, convicts and their overseers were based in the village from the 1820s.
Rural empire of 38,000 acres
James and William Macarthur acquired land by grant and purchase north and south of the hamlet of Taralga including 600 acres from Thomas Howe of Glenlee in the Cowpastures in 1837. The diary of Emily Macarthur’s, James’ wife, showed that William made six-monthly visits to Richlands from 1840. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Macarthur visited Richlands in 1851 after being posted to Sydney as deputy adjutant general.
Work began to move the management of the estate from the village to the hilltop overlooking Burra Lake and Guineacor to the east. Hilltop locations for homesteads were common throughout the Cowpastures and were of other Macarthur properties. It followed Laudon principles and provided a defendable strategic location on the estate.
William Campbell was appointed superintendent in 1839 and work began on stone offices on the farm hilltop site, along with underground grain silos, convict accommodation and outbuildings. Work was completed by 1844 when Thomas and Martha Denning occupied the house forming a small quadrangle. Denning was appointed overseer (farm manager).
Work on a new on a Georgian-style residence began in 1845 for new English estate manager George Martyr, who took up the position after his arrival in the colony in 1848 after marrying Alicia in Sydney.
Martyr took an active interest in community affairs serving on Goulburn Council and supervising construction of the Catholic Church in the village. A qualified surveyor from Greenwich Martyr surveyed the village of Taralga and the Macarthurs offered village lots for sale from 1847. George and Alicia raised six children on Richlands.
The property was eventually resumed by the New South Wales Government in 1908, broken up for closer settlement and sold in 30 smaller lots in 1910.
The township of Camden on the banks of the Nepean River south-west of Sydney provides a glimpse of life from times gone past. The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park. The charm and character of the town comes from the many 19th century colonial buildings and early 20th century cottages.
The heritage of the local area makes Camden, according to some expert sources, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.
Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the country. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.
A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.
The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.
The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.
Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.
The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.
The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.
For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.
There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.
There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.
Written by Ian Willis member of Professional Historians Association NSW.
‘This is like home, like England’, proclaimed the Duchess of York in 1927 on her visit to Menangle. She and her husband the Duke of York visited Camden Park as part of their royal visit of Australia, which involved the opening of the provisional Parliament House in Canberra in May.
The Duke and Duchess of York had left England of their royal tour of dominions in January 1927 on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Renown, travelled through New Zealand in February and arrived in Australia in March. The Royals departed from Australia in late May after visiting all states. The Duke and Duchess later came to the thrown as George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.
At Menangle the Duke and Duchess were guests of Brigadier-General JW Macarthur Onslow and Mrs Enid Macarthur Onslow (of Gilbulla) for a weekend in April, in the absence of Sibella Macarthur Onslow who was in England at the time. The Royals travelled by railway from Sydney by steam train.
The royal entourage and the royal trains made quite an impact on a young Fred Seers, a local Campbelltown milk boy. He witnessed the royal trains pass through the Dumaresq railway gates where he was joined by a small group of enthusiastic flag waving Campbelltown locals. He recalls gatekeeper Bill Flanagan felt the occasion called for some degree of formality and dressed up in white shirt and tie.
Fred vividly remembers the three ‘shiny black’ 36 class steam locomotives that ‘sparkled’ as they roared through the locked gates in a fog of steam and smoke. The first of three steam engines painted in royal blue gave a blast on its high pitched whistle as it approached adorned with two crossed Union Jacks on the front. This was followed by another steam engine pulling four carriages, presumably with the Duke and Duchess on board, then the third steam engine.
The Duke and Duchess had left Sydney early and arrived at Menangle Railway Station around 1.00pm and were met by a crowd of 200 people. Mr Bell the Menangle stationmaster and his staff had spruced up the platform with flags and bunting and rolled out a red carpet for the visitors.  The Duchess was presented with a bouquet of carnations and heather by ‘little Quinton Stanham’.
The Royals stayed with the Macarthurs at Camden Park house, one of Australia’s finest Georgian Regency country homesteads designed by John Verge and built in 1835. Verge’s design was based on Palladian principles in a central two storey central block constructed stuccoed sandstock brick on sandstone foundations.
On Saturday afternoon the Duke went horse riding across Camden Park Estate, one of the earliest colonial grants in Australia allocated to John Macarthur in 1805. On ‘a whim’ the Duke and his riding companions decided to ride to the Camden Show, which was first held in 1886. The Duke created much excitement to the surprised show-goers by cantering onto the showground in front of the large crowd of around 7000 people and received a ‘tumultuous welcome’. The riding party included Miss Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and her sister, Mrs Helen Stanham, who had recently arrived back from England for a few months, Brigadier-General JW and Brigadier-General GM, and their brother Arthur Macarthur Onslow.
On Sunday afternoon the royal couple motored in a 1926 Rolls Royce to Gilbulla for afternoon tea. Gilbulla, an example of a Federation Arts and Crafts mansion designed by Sydney architects Sulman and Power and built in 1899 by JW Macarthur Onslow. Gilbulla is a fine example of an Edwardian gentleman’s country residence for a family of power and distinction, while not out-doing the Georgian grandeur of Camden Park house itself. Gilbulla housekeeper Mima Mahoney served the Royals, who served the Royals afternoon tea, was the mother of local Campbelltown resident Basil Mahoney.
The royal entourage arrived ‘a few minutes before 5 o’clock’ at Menangle and boarded their train, which according to Fred Seers, had gone to Picton to fill up with water and coal, and turn around. Before leaving the Duke and Duchess inspect a guard of honour of Camden Boy Scouts and Girl Guides under the direction of their leaders, RD Stuckey and Miss Senior.
The Menangle visit of the Duke and Duchess of York was widely reported in the Australian press. The themes of the stories revolved around the Englishness of the Menangle countryside and the Royals taking a well-earned rest from their hectic tour.
The Brisbane Courier ran a story under the headline, ‘Like Home, Beauty of Camden Park, Royal Party’s Quiet Weekend’. Readers were assured by the newspaper that the Royals had had a good time and stated:
The Duke and Duchess of York were both delighted with the loveliness of their week end at Camden Park… While the Duke went riding across country with the rain beating exhilaratingly in his face, and filled in a little spare time with a tennis racket on the soaked court at Gilbulla, the Duchess went driving with Miss Onslow in a sulky turnout. Both were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surrounding, the Duchess being enraptured by an unattended stroll through the grounds along the Nepean River, which flows through the whole length of Camden Park Estate on which are great coppices of gnarled old English trees.
The Melbourne Argus reported that the Duke and Duchess had a ‘restful weekend’ at the ‘beautiful country estate of the Macarthur Onslow family’. The Duchess ‘walked unattended in the old gardens under English oaks and elms’.
The Launceston Examiner in Tasmania ran a story with the heading ‘A Happy Week End, Royals Guest in Country’ and assured its readers that the Duke and Duchess enjoyed the English style countryside of Camden Park, Menangle and the Nepean River. The Examiner went on that the Royals walked ‘beneath these spreading boughs’ of ‘gnarled old English trees, with ‘the rain pattering overhead, and the river providing an obligato to Nature’s music’. 
There were similar reports in the newspaper across the country. In Queensland the Warwick Daily News ran the headline ‘Royal Couple Spend Quiet Weekend’ while the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin ran the story under a banner headline ‘Royal Visitors Quiet Weekend’.
The Hobart Mercery ran a story under the heading ‘The Royal Tour Week-end in Country Free from Engagements, Delightful Time Spent’ and assured readers:
The Duke and Duchess were both delighted with the loveliness of their week-end at Camden-park and Menangle – a respite from official engagements that was so deliciously free that even the intermittent rain that fell did not disturb the enthusiasm of the Royal visitors.
In the west Perth’s West Australian reported that the Duke and Duchess ‘were delightfully surprised with the sylvan beauty of the surroundings’ in a story titled ‘The Royal Visitors. Week-End In Country. Respite from Engagements.’
The Camden News placed an article about the royal visit on the front page in the middle its story that reported on the 1927 Camden Show. Perhaps illustrating centrality of the royal drop-in to whole show event. On the other hand down at Picton the Picton Post placed the report of the royal visit on page two at the end of a story about the Camden Show. The snub was just a reflection of the parochialism of both Camden and Picton and the long term rivalry between both communities. The accusation was that the Camden community thought that they were better than Picton. More to the point this snobbishness was more of reflection of the omnipotence of the Macarthurs of Camden Park in the whole district and the colonial history of New South Wales in general.
Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations.
From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables. This did not go un-noticed in the film industry.
One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and race horse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an airplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.
Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was release in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based of Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).
The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directored by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which were painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.
The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulge the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.
Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson. Many old time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and United States.
In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.
In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine were filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.
In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced a number of short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.
In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.
The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.
Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has a number of powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates. The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.
The 55-room fairytale like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on air. In the end Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.
Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010. Part of the show are power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.
Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park was used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.
Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for a number of movies, advertisements and fashion shoots since the 1950s. They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film written and directed by Liz Hughes which used lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.
In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”. In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.
In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.
In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to the Macarthur and Sydney markets.
In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlook the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cup cakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room siting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.
In November 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824) and Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie visited the Cowpastures. On that occasion, the Governor met the Dharawal people and also Elizabeth Macarthur. Two hundred years later to the day, in 2010, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO Governor of New South Wales visited the same locality and met descendants of the Dharawal people and the Macarthur family.
More than 300 people were part of the crowd that witnessed Governor Professor Marie Bashir unveil a plaque at Baragil lagoon where Governor Macquarie’s party camped. (Macarthur Chronicle 23 November 2010)
Glenda Chalker told those assembled for the celebrations that the Dharawal people had an important role in establishing Camden Park. They formed close bonds with the Macarthur family and remained on the property until the 1970s. (The District Reporter 22 November 2010)
Governor Macquarie met Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur on Camden Park in what he called a ‘small miserable hut’ on Monday 19 November 1810. (see extract below)
Belgenny Farm used archaeologists to try and locate the location of Macquarie’s ‘small miserable hut’ that Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur lived in during her visits to Camden Park. The dig took place during May 2009 under the supervision of archaeologist Dr Ted Higginbotham. (Camden Advertiser, 13 May 2009)
The dig had a staff of 15 volunteers and four staff who carefully uncovered the footings. The dig uncovered the foundations of a typical 1820s two bedroom convict hut, and discovered a third room. Dr Higginbotham stated that the dig unfolded like a ‘detective story’. (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 24 November 2010)
In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie came out to do a tour of inspection of the Cowpastures. These are extracts from his diaries he kept on his journey. He left Sydney with his wife, who travelled in a carriage on Tuesday 6 November 1810.
Read for yourself in the words of the Governor Macquarie what he thought as he travelled over the Cowpastures over 200 years ago.
Extracts from the Diary of Governor Lachlan Macquarie 1810
Friday 16 November
we arrived at the Government Hut close to the East Bank of the Nepean River at Half past 9 o’clock, being a distance of 26 measured miles in three Hours and a half. — The Country through which we passed between Parramatta and the Nepean was generally an open Forest, a tolerable good Soil, and the Road pretty good. — There being very little Water in the River at this time, we crossed it at the usual Ford in our Carriage with great ease and safety;
We passed through Mr. McArthur’s first Farm, called by the natives “Benkennie”, and arrived at our Halting Place, called “Bundie”, at half past 1 o’clock in the afternoon, being six miles in a South West Direction from the Ford. –We came in the Carriage all the way, through a very fine rich Country and open Forest, and on the way to our Ground we met two or three small Parties of the Cow-Pastures Natives — the Chief of whom in this Part is named Koggie; who with his wife Nantz, and his friends Bootbarrie, Young Bundle, Billy, and their respective Wives, came to visit us immediately on our arrival at Bundie.
The Servants and Baggage did not reach the Ground till after 3 o’clock in the afternoon and immediately on their arrival our Tents were Pitched and our little Camp was formed on a beautiful Eminence near a Lagoon of fine fresh Water — the Tents fronting the South West — in a very fine open Forest within about 3 miles of the foot of Mount Taurus — and Four Mount Hunter; the latter being to the Northward, and the former to the Southward of us.
At 5 p.m. we sat down Eight at Table to a most comfortable Dinner; Mrs. M. tho’ so young a Campaigner having provided every requisite to make our Tour easy, pleasant, and happy — and we all feel much pleased with one-another — and with our present manner of Life. Being all a little tired, we went early to Bed this Night, after placing Fires around us, and a Watch to guard us from the Wild Cattle.
Saturday 17 November
We got up pretty early — and during the Night we heard the Wild Cattle Bellowing in the Woods. — Mr. Blaxland and Warlby went out early in the morning and shot a Wild Bull, which was brought in to Camp for the use of Servants and our other numerous attendants. —
In the course of this Day’s Excursion, which was through a beautiful rich Country consisting of Open Forest and Hills and Dales, we met with several numerous Herds of the Wild Cattle,
Sunday 18th November.—
Being rather a little fatigued after our Excursion of yesterday, we took a good long sleep and did not Breakfast till Nine o’clock this morning; and while we were at it, we were visited by Mrs. McArthur, who had come the Evening before to the Cow Pastures to look after her Farms and fine numerous Flocks of Sheep in this part of the Country. — As we asked Mrs. McArthur to dine with us today, she expressed a desire to ride about the Country with us during this day’s Excursion, which was of course readily assented to. — We accordingly set out on Horseback from Bundie at 11 o’clock to visit Mount Taurus and Mount Hunter, both of which are close in the vicinity of our little Camp; the former being about 4 miles S.W. of it, and the latter about 6 miles N. West of it. — We first ascended Mount Taurus, riding to the very top of it, from which we had a very fine extensive Prospect of the whole of circumjacent Country. — From Mount Taurus we proceeded by a long Ridge of Hills to Mount Hunter, and on the way thither met two or three Herds of the Wild Cattle, which allowed us to come very near them; and one of the Herds at first made directly at us but were scared away from us by the noise and shouting of our Guide and other Attendants. The view from the summit of Mount Hunter was also very fine and extensive; but I confess I was much disappointed with respect to the Height of both it and Mount Taurus, which hardly deserve to be called Mountains, and would only be classed as Hills in most other Country. — We returned home. by a different route from Mount Hunter, through a fine open Forest, to our Tents at Bundie, where we arrived about 2 o’clock; and after resting ourselves there a little while and taking some refreshment, we all set out to see Manangle a fine extensive Farm of 2000 acres belonging to Mr. Walter Davidson, situated on the Banks of the Nepean, and distant only about three miles from our Camp South East of it. — It is a beautiful situation and excellent rich Land for both Tillage and Pasture, with a fine large Lagoon in the Center of it, which is called Manangle, and is the native name of this Farm. — After looking at the River Nepean here and viewing the Farm, we returned to Camp again at 5 o’clock to Dinner, which we found ready for us
During this day’s Excursion we were-attended by some of the Natives, one of whom amused us very much by climbing up a high Tree to catch a Guanna, which he did in a very dextrous manner. In the course of our morning ride we were also much entertained with a Fight between some wild Bulls of two different Herds, which had accidentally met in consequence of being chased by some of our attendants.
Monday 19th November.—
Having seen all the Land in this Neighbourhood and also several different Herds (amounting in all perhaps to about 600 Head) of the Wild Cattle, I determined on breaking up our little Camp at Bundie this morning after Breakfast and recrossing the Nepean, after viewing the Land to the Northward of Mr. McArthur’s Farms on this same side of the River. —We all set out accordingly at half past 9 o’clock, having left our Baggage and Servants to follow us leisurely to the River. We called at Benkennie on Mrs. McArthur, with whom we sat for a little while in a small miserable Hut, and then pursued our way to the Ford, where we arrived at 11 o’clock; and having sent the Carriage across, we mounted our Horses to look at the Country in this Neighbourhood for a few miles to the Northward.
In school textbooks for decades, at least up the 1960s, John Macarthur has been written about as the father of the Australian wool industry. Writers have maintained that his vision for New South Wales was for fine wool to become the staple industry of the state and the country.
On the anniversary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 the Commonwealth Government’s Postmaster-General’s Department issued a special commemorative series of postage stamps to celebrate the his centenary of his death and his role, according to the Sydney press, ‘for being responsible for the introduction of the merino breed of sheep into Australia, and the consequent establishment of Australia as the greatest wool-producing country in the world’.
In 1966 John Macarthur’s image and the merino ram appeared on the first Australian $2 note. More than this he is a character in Eleanor Dark’s semi-fictional Australian classic trilogy ‘The Timeless Land’ (1941). John Macarthur also features in American writer Naomi Novik’s fantasy novel Tongues of Serpents (2010). In 1949 the Federal electoral Division of Macarthur, taking in Camden, was named in honour of John and Elizabeth Macarthur.
In Camden the town celebrated the legacy of the John Macarthur in 1960 with the 4-day Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October). The festivities celebrated the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia.
While John Macarthur was important in the importation of Spanish merino sheep from South Africa and the early development of the Australian wool industry, he was not alone in this story. There are a host of other individuals in the story including his wife, Elizabeth, and other wool producers like Reverend Samuel Marsden and William Cox and folk like Governor Hunter, and Captains Waterhouse and Kent. Although for many, particularly in the early 20th century, John Macarthur single-handedly was responsible for the foundation of the wool industry at Camden Park.
The anniversary of the death of John Macarthur in 1934 was a time of reflection on his contribution to the story of farming in Australia. The country was looking for heroes and pioneer figures who conquered the colonial frontier and John Macarthur fitted the bill. The enormous wealth generated by the wool industry in the 1920s and 1930s contributed the feeding frenzy around the legend of John Macarthur.
Wool’s enormous wealth
The wool industry during the interwar period was of immense importance to Australia. By the mid-1920s the United Kingdom purchased about 50% of Australia’s total wool exports, and wool exports accounted for about three-quarters of all pastoral export income. By the late 1920s Australia’s 103 million sheep were 17% of the world’s sheep numbers and Australia produced half of the world’s merino wool. In the 1930s wool exports were 30% of the total value of the Australia’s exports. (ABS)
In 1934 the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate claimed under a headline ‘Australia supplies most of the World Wool’ with a sub-heading ‘John Macarthur’s Work’. It went on the John MacArthur (sic) ‘laid the foundation of the merino wool industry at Elizabeth Farm, at Rose Hill, near Sydney in 1796’. In a second article on ‘John Macarthur, Father of the Wool Industry’, the author wrote that ‘there were no band playing, no celebrations’ and ‘perhaps that is how he would have wished it. His great monument stands in the record wool return that has come to Australia this year; a record that has turned the tide of depression, a record that may yet come in the flood of prosperity fully restored’. The newspaper felt ‘it seems strange that a man who did so much to make the wealth of the country should be so little honoured’. The author felt that there had been ‘ a hundred years in silence – now a few stamps – how typical of the casual Australian’.
The Braidwood Review and District Advocate ran a headline ‘The Golden Fleece, Late John Macarthur’s Vision’. Parramatta’s Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate in 1934 felt confident is stating that ‘Australia lives on the sheep’s back’. RAHS historian James Jervis wrote an article for the Argus called ‘John Macarthur – An Appreciation’ and said his memory ‘to all good Australians’.
Various members of the rural press reported on an address given by James Walker the president of the NSW Graziers’ Association which traced the history of the wool industry in Australia and Dr Roland Wilson, the economist of the Commonwealth Statistician Department, who dealt with the importance of the wool industry to Australia and the legacy of John Macarthur.
Father of the colony
Earlier in 1931 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article written by WRS called ‘John Macarthur, the Father of the Colony’ claiming he came from ‘a warrior ancestry’ and should be remembered ‘in the respectful admirations of Australians from the beginning of the drama of civilisation here’.
Even from the early 20th century there was a recognition by some of the reality of Macarthur’s contribution. JHM Abbott acknowledged in The World’s News in Sydney in 1926 that Macarthur was the first to realise the potential of wool production in the colony and he backed his opinion with his financial resources. Abbott states that ‘it is often erroneously stated that Macarthur introduced sheep to Australia, but that is not the case’.
While John Macarthur’s role made an contribution to the foundation of the Australian wool industry today we have a nuanced understanding of the important contribution made by many people to the story and Camden’s role in that story.
The village of Menangle is one of the Camden district’s examples of an English-style private estate village. It evolved as a closed estate village over the last 150 years within the limits of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park estate. The English-style aesthetics of the Camden Park countryside have only served to re-enforce the cultural mythology that has developed around the village and its hinterland.
The Menangle village parallels the ups and downs of the private estate villages of early 19th century England. Today these English villages have turned into the picture postcard rural village that tourists love to visit. Menangle still has the essence of its rural Englishness with the Anglican church on the hill, the common and general store. It even has the elements of rural decline in its midst typical of English villages, as it comes under pressure from city-based developers.
The story of the village is the story of Camden Park estate itself. Both are intimately tied up with each other. The village is sited on the Walter Davidson 1805 2000 acre land grant ‘Belmont’ near a crossing on the Nepean River. The Macarthur family worked the Belmont grant after Davidson left the colony in 1809. James and William Macarthur purchased Davidson’s grant of Belmont for £4000 acres in 1837.
The influence of the Macarthur squirocracy of James and William was consolidated after the railway arrived in 1863. The rail bridge was extended over the Nepean River and brought world markets to the village’s doorstep. The railway provided cheap and reliable transport to the Sydney market for the first time. It gave Camden Park estate overnight delivery of milk to the Sydney market, a shot in the arm for its dairy production. The railway hurried the growth of the village and increased its importance within the infrastructure of the Camden Park estate. Heritage consultant Graham Brooks (2009) reports that the estate headquarters was moved to the village after the arrival of the railway.
Camden Park estate provided land for a village school (opened in 1867), the Anglican and Catholic churches and assisted the construction of St James Anglican church. The foundation of St James Anglican Church was laid in 1876 and built to the design of architect John Horbury Hunt, while a lecturn was added in 1878. The bells were not installed in the church tower until 2005. The local Catholic community was served by the building of St Patrick’s Catholic Church built in 1895, to a design by RT Dennehy of Sydney, and a small school run by the Josephite nuns. For James and William Macarthur these institutions provided moral order and stability within the village and the village acted as a focal point of economic activity within the confines of Camden Park.
Industrialisation arrived in the village under the influence of the combination of the dairy revolution of the 1890s, the rail link and the re-organisation of the dairy activities of Camden Park estate by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow. The estate constructed a central creamery adjacent to the railway line where cream was separated and processed to supply the Sydney market. An article in Beautiful Sydney (1895-1896) commented on the modern facilities at the Menangle creamery with steam and water reticulated throughout the factory. It stated milk was supplied by over 1,000 Ayrshire and Jersey dairy cows daily across Camden Park worked on a share-farming system.
The dairying period was a time of prosperity for the village. There was the construction of the Arts and Crafts styled Gilbulla, designed by Sulman & Power and built by James W Macarthur Onslow in 1899. This was followed by the construction of the Menangle Store, also designed by Sulman & Power in a similar style in 1904.
There was additions to Central Creamery in 1920 and the Camden Park dairy herd was the only one tested for tuberculosis in 1924. By the late 1920s the Menangle factory was the receiving depot for a number of dairies in the area and whole milk was despatched by rail to Dairy Farmers Co-operative Milk Co in Sydney. The expanding workforce was supplied with housing within the village by Camden Park estate. The dominance of the estate within village was clearly evident even as late as 1950. The estate owned 23 of the 35 cottages within the village limits.
The modernization of milk production occurred in 1952 under the stewardship of Edward Macarthur Onslow. He was responsible for building the Rotolactor adjacent to the Creamery based on a design he saw in USA. Heritage consultant Chris Betteridge (2012) states that the Rotolactor was part of an integrated system of cattle breeding and feed, fodder production and manure collection. In its heyday during the 1960s it was a huge tourist attraction for the village and had up to 2000 visitors a week. It was operated with a staff of nine and could milk up to 300 cows an hour.
The sale of Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd in 1973 was the end of the period for Menangle as a closed estate village. It marked the surrender of the Macarthur family and the end of the economic, social and cultural dominance of Camden Park estate. The village was pushed out into the cold against the winds of change brought by Sydney’s urban growth.