Art · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Parks · Place making · Public art · Sculpture · Storytelling · Streetscapes · Uncategorized

Cowpastures Memorial at Narellan

Public art at Narellan Library Plaza

I was walking through the Narellan Library Elyard Street Plaza recently and noticed a Cowpastures Monument.

On investigation, I have found that the artwork was jointly commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club.

This image shows the sculpture by Johnson and Topolnicki called Cowpasture Story jointly commissioned by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club in 2006 as part of the development of Narellan Library. The project was supervised by Guppy & Associates. (I Willis, 2022)

The artwork is called Cowpasture Story and was created by Blue Mountains artists and sculptors Philippa Johnson and Henryk Topolnicki from Art Is An Option. The artist’s website describes the artwork as ‘Sculptural Mobiles & Screen’.

Artist Philippa Johnson trained at the East Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney and describes herself as an installation artist, sculptor and painter.  Sculptor and artist Henryk Topolnicki are described as ‘a sculptor, furniture maker and public artist who works principally in metals’. 

The artwork is a series of leaves forming an arch over the path that leads to the front of the Narellan Library. The leaves have a variety of figures representing the settlement of the Cowpastures in early colonial New South Wales. There are depictions of the settler society with cows, settler housing and farms.

The leaves and elements of the Cowpastures Story monument in the Narellan Library Pedestrian Plaza which was commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club (2022 I Willis)

The artworks were part of the 2006 Narellan Library development that was designed by Sydney architect GSA, and built by Richard Crookes Construction with art consultants Guppy & Associates.

On the rear of the artwork panels, there are stories about the Cowpastures and the history of the Narellan Rotary Club.

The transcript of the Cowpasture story is located on the back of one of the panels of the artwork. (2022, I Willis)

The story is located on the back of one of the panels.

The elements of the Cowpastures Story monument in the Narellan Library Pedestrian Plaza which was commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club (2022, I Willis)

A Brief History of the Cowpastures and its importance to the Narellan/Camden Area

Transcription

The history of the Cowpastures shows the importance to this area of the straying colonial cattle as their discovery led to the early surveying and settlement of the area by the Macarthurs and other colonial landholders. The Cowpastures was ‘discovered’ in 1795, just 7 years after the foundation of the colony.

The Narellan/Camden area was penetrated by white men as far back as 1795. The loss of the early colony’s cattle forms part of the history of New South Wales. These beasts that strayed from Farm Cover led to the discovery and settlement of the Narellan/Camden area. Seven years elapsed after the report of the loss of the cattle before rumours came to Sydney Cove’s settlement of the whereabouts of the missing stock. Governor Hunter dispatched a party under Henry Hacking to confirm or deny the reports of the rumoured cattle.

The results of this party’s investigation so impressed Governor Hunter that he determined to visit the locality to see the cattle and country for himself. With a small party he left Parramatta on the 18th November 1795. After travelling a few days they crossed the Nepean River at a spot where the Camden Cowpasture Bridge now stands and there came across this fine herd.

The name ‘Cowpastures’ by which the locality became known is due to Governor Hunter, for he marked it on a map drawn by himself and dated the 20th August 1796.

In 1802 explorer Barallier journeyed through the area noting the country the cattle had settled in and on the 7th November 1802 passed a swamp called ‘Manhangle’ by the aboriginals. It was this locality that John Macarthur selected land for his future home and for rearing sheep.

In December 1803 Governor King and Mrs King visited the Cowpastures and viewed the straying cattle. The governor instructed that the cattle were to be preserved after attempts were made to cull some of the wild bulls. To bring about the preservation of the cattle a hut was built at Elderslie near the ford of the Nepean River on the southern side. This was the first house in the district and was officially feferred [sic] to as ‘Cowpastures House’. Constables Warby and Jackson were installed there making this not only the first house, but the first police station in the Macarthur District.

Several of the colonial gentry took excursions to see the country so attractive to the cattle and this lead them to acquire property and settle in the area.

The track to the Cowpastures led from Prospect. On the 17th September 1805 James Meehan, under the instruction from the Governor, surveyed the track from Prospect to the Nepean Crossing and a rough road followed. This became the Cowpasture Road, some of which formed part of the old Hume Highway to Camden.

The transcript of the history of Narellan Rotary Club on the back of one of the artwork panels (2022, I Willis)

What is Rotary?

Brief History of the Rotary Club of Narellan Inc.

Transcription

The Rotary Club of Narellan Inc in District 9750, was chartered on the 27th October 1992.

This enabled local business and professional leaders to join a worldwide service organisation to provide social, financial and physical support to the local and international community.

The Rotary Club of Narellan focuses on the Four Avenues of Service in Club, Community, Vocational and International Service and gained recognition within the community as an excellent service club. It has been involved in fundraising for charitable organisations, support of local youth in educational and development program, fostering high ethical standards in business and professions and supporting other charitable organisations.

In fundraising the club raised in excess of $1,000,000 for charities, medical research (in particular Rett Syndrome), international programs and local causes such as Lifeline, Kids of Macarthur Health Foundation and the Salvation Army.

Rotary International has been responsible for the eradication of Polio through a worldwide campaign to which the club has been a major contributor. The Rotary Foundation supports vocational visits between countries and scholars throughout the world, of which the club has regularly hosted.

The elements of the public artwork the Cowpasture Story in the Narellan Library Pedestrian Plaza (2022 I Willis)

Updated 18 July 2022. First Posted 16 July 2022.

Bathtub effect · Floods · Grief · Hawkesbury-Nepean river · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Trauma

The rain comes tumbling down, again

Flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Valley

As heavy rain fell on my roof this morning, I pondered another forecast for heavy rain and possible flooding in the local area.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning that stated:

HEAVY RAINFALL For people in Metropolitan, Illawarra and parts of South Coast, Central Tablelands and Southern Tablelands Forecast Districts. (BOM, 2/7/22)

This brings back memories of early 2022 and the effect of local flooding. There is damage to property and people’s mental health.

Flood on Nepean River at Camden next to milk factory looking to Elderslie along Argyle Street in the early 20th century (CIPP)

People become worried about the unknown. So let’s help clear some of the fog.

What is unique about floods on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River?

 The ‘bathtub effect‘ of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Valley

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley has unique landform features that make flooding in the local area perilous.

The river in flood does not behave like other valleys with wide-open flood plains that allow flood water to spread out and slow down.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley has several pinch points constricting the flow and creating upstream localised flooding. This has been termed the ‘bathtub effect’ by engineering geologist Tom Hubble from the University of Sydney in 2021.

The 2019 H-N Valley Regional Flood Study describes the river valley this way:

 The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley consists of a sequence of floodplains interspersed with incised meanders in sandstone gorges. (ERM Mitchell McCotter, 1995).[p.6]  [ERM Mitchell McCotter, (1995). Proposed Warragamba Flood Mitigation Dam Environmental Impact Statement, Sydney Water, July 1995.]

The Geography Teachers Association has produced an excellent teaching resource about the river valley, and it states:

The unique geomorphic features of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly vulnerable to dangerous, fast-rising floods.

An aerial view of the Camden township in the 1974 flood event. The Nepean River is behind the town centre and flows from R-L. (SMH)

The NSW SES says:

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a long history of dangerous and damaging floods. Since records began in the 1790s, there have been over 130 moderate to major floods in the valley, including 6 major and 21 other serious floods since Warragamba Dam was completed in 1960.

So local people have a right to be worried when the BOM issues flood warnings,

Flood trauma is real.

Floods cause a considerable amount of anxiety in the local area.

The New South Wales Governments website Emotional and trauma support after flood states:

Natural disasters, cleaning up and recovery can take a toll on your mental and physical health. It’s vital people seek support and look after their own and their loved ones’ wellbeing. 

Flooding at the Cowpastures Bridge Camden in 2022 (I Willis)

The Black Dog Institute states that after flooding:

We anticipate that Australians living in areas affected by the current New South Wales and Queensland floods are likely to experience psychological distress. While some level of distress is a normal and understandable response to these events, we know from previous disasters that for many this may lead to more chronic mental health problems.

Royal Life Saving Australia says that there is grief and trauma after flooding. It maintains:

Looking after yourself during and following a flood event is an important part of the flood recovery process. If you have lost someone during a recent flooding event, or been rescued, it is especially important to check in with your support network and identify steps to help you get the additional support you may need. Everyone processes grief differently, and there is no one ‘right’ way to grieve, but we all need help in difficult times.

For the nerds

There is a lot of nerdy technical stuff around flooding in the river valley.

Technical details

There is an excellent study called the 2015 Nepean River Flood Study for technically minded people.

The study defines the Upper Nepean as the river upstream of the confluence of the Nepean River with the Warragamba River and is around 1800 square kilometres (p1).

For those who want to read a broader study about flooding across the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment, I suggest looking at a study called the 2019 Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Regional Flood Study.

A keen beekeeper and stalwart of the community garden, Steve rescues his hives from flooding in April 2022 (S Cooper)

One local sage, community gardener and flood watcher, Steve, commented on Facebook:

There has been some discussion about the possible rain event on its way [1/7/22]. Happy to report that all upstream dams are below capacity as per the Bureau of Meteorology. The [community] gardens are not affected till 8.5 metres, upstream inflows will be monitored and in the event of water reaching 8 metres livestock will be moved to higher ground within the garden where applicable or externally if required under the guidance of any relevant authorities. Note that the lagoon fills slowly from the river via the old creek line. However, if the river reaches 11 metres Macquarie Road floods over. Flooding has typically peaked in Camden 9 hours after Avon Dam Road peaked and 3 hours after Menangle. The last floods #3 peaked @ 20 metres at Avon Dam Road. The previous #2 at close to 17 metres. Note the last flood 12.2 metres in Camden occurred after all dams were also full.

This information comes from the BOM rain and river data site.

Steve was disappointed in his predictions about the size of the weather event affecting the New South Wales East Coast.

The rainfall at Robertson is a good indicator of what might happen in the Upper Nepean River river valley. Up to 9.00am today (3/7/22), Robertson had received 258mm of rainfall; at Menangle Bridge, there had been 185mm of rain. The Upper Nepean River valley is saturated and partly explains the behaviour of the Nepean River at Camden.

This view shows the Nepean River at Camden from the Elderslie side of the river on the right bank. This image was taken at 10.00am today (3/7/22), and the river was rising. By 3.00pm, the water had risen to the height of the telegraph pole. (2022, I Willis, 3/7/22)

Historic river heights at the Cowpasture Bridge, Camden.

The historical records of flood heights at the Cowpasture Bridge provide an interesting comparison of the present flood. The records are contained in the 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan.

Historic river heights at the Cowpastures Bridge (2016 Camden Local Flood Plan)

Updated 4 July 2022. First posted 2 July 2022.

Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · British colonialism · Camden · Camden Mayor · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Frank Brooking · Frontier violence · Heritage · History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Parks · Place making · Public art · Sculpture · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Urban development

Cowpastures memorial at Mount Annan

Governors Green Heritage Park, Mount Annan

Hidden out of the way in the back streets of Mount Annan is a memorial to Governor Hunter.

This memorial is located in the reserve called Governors Green in Baragil Mews, Mount Annan.

The view of the entrance off Baragil Mews to Governors Green Heritage Park at Mount Annan with the statue of Governor Hunter in the distance. The park is set in a bush reserve adjacent to residential housing. (2022 IW)

This is another hidden, and largely forgotten, memorial to the Cowpastures in the local area.

There is a bronze statue of Governor Hunter is at the centre of a circular colonnade with artworks celebrating the Cowpastures.

The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons (1942-2018) in 1995 to construct the work.

The view of the statue of Governor Hunter at you approach it from Baragil Mews. The statue is located at the centre of circular colonnade with other parts of the artwork. on the colonnade fencing. (IW 2022)

Governor Hunter and the Cow Pastures

The story of the Cowpastures begins in 1787 with the First Fleet and HMS Sirius which collected 4 cows and 2 bulls at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to New South Wales. After their arrival in the new colony, the stock escapes within 5 months of being landed and disappears.

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, crossing the Nepean River on 17 November 1795. They find good farming land covered with good pasture and lagoons with birds. After climbing a hill (Mt Taurus) they spotted the cattle and named the Cowpastures.

Governor  John Hunter marked area on maps ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in the region of Menangle and elsewhere on maps south of Nepean.  The breed was the Cape cattle from the First Fleet and the district was declared out of bounds to all by 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.

British colonialism and a settler society

Governor Hunter was part of the settler society project and the country’s dispossession of First Nations people. Hunter was a representative of British imperialism and how it implemented its policies on the colonial frontier of New South Wales.

The Cowpastures was a site of frontier violence and the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous land in the early 19th century.

Governor Hunter Statue

The statue of Governor Hunter in Governors Green reserve at Mount Annan. The statue was commissioned by land developer AV Jennings and Lithgow sculptor Antony Symons was engaged to complete the artwork in 1995. (2022, I Willis)

Plaques below the Governor Hunter statue

The plaque on the plinth at the base of Governor Hunter statue celebrating the opening of the reserve in 1995. (2022, I Willis)

Plaque inscription

Governor’s Green Heritage Park was presented to the people of Camden by AV Jennings and was officially opened by the Mayor of Camden Councillor FH Brooking on the 6th April 1995 in celebration of the centenary year of the discovery of the herd in 1795 at Cowpastures Camden.

Camden Mayor Frank Brooking

Frank Brooking served as Camden mayor from 1993 to 1997. Mr Brooking was a motor dealer whose business was located on the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets and sold Morris and Volkswagon brands. Frank was a community-minded person who volunteered for the Rural Fire Service, Camden Rotary Club, Camden Show Society, Camden Area Youth Service and other organisations. He died in 2013 aged 74.

Plaque Governor Hunter statue

A plaque highlighting the history of the decision of Governor Hunter in 1795 to the name the Cowpastures. The naming of the site was an act of dispossession of Dharawal country. Hunter was an agent of the British Colonial Office and its imperial interests in the settler society project of New South Wales. (2022, I Willis)

Plaque inscription

Governor John Hunter (1737-1821), Governor of New South Wales September 1795 – November 1799.

‘On the evening of my arrival…, I was directed to the place where the herd was feeding,… we ascended a hill, from which we observed an herd…feeding in a beautiful pasture in the valley I was now anxious to ascertain of what breed they were, whether natives… or the descendants of those we had so long lost, but in this attempt we were disappointed by being discovered and attached most furiously by a large and very fierce bull, which rendered it necessary for our own safety, to fire at him. Such as his violence and strength, that six balls were fired through, before any person dared approach him. I was now satisfied that they were the Cape of Good Hope breed…. offspring of these we had lost in 1788, at this time we counted sixty-one in number, young and old. They have chosen a beautiful part of the country to graze in…

Historical Records of Australia, Governor Hunter to the Duke of Portland, 21st December 1795.

AV Jennings.

Other elements of the artwork

Artwork by Antony Symons of a horned cow located on the collonaded surroundings of the Governor Hunter statue (2022, I Willis)

Artwork by Antony Symons of the Cowpastures on the colonnade surrounding the statue of Governor Hunter. The artwork is made up of a settlers slab hut, Cumberland Woodland, and a farmer’s cart. The cart carries the artists signature. (2022 I Willis)

Artist Antony Symons signature located at the bottom of the cart on the colonnade fencing. (I Willis, 2022)

A regal-looking Governor Hunter in full naval uniform. Hunter held the rank of Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy, and succeeded Arthur Phillip as the second Governor of New South Wales, serving from 1795 to 1800. The artwork was commissioned by land developer AV Jennings who engaged Lithgow sculptor Antony Symons. (I Willis, 2022)

1932 · Artefacts · Camden · Camden Museum · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Ephemera · Heritage · History · Interwar · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Place making · Political history · Propaganda · Sense of place · Starvation Debenture · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Political propaganda in 1932

The Starvation Debenture

I recently came across this political propaganda piece in the Camden Museum collection. It is a political flyer for the United Country Party from the 1932 New South Wales state election. The flyer was titled the ‘Starvation Debenture’.

It is reasonable to assume the flyer was circulating in the Camden area at the time for it to end up in the museum collection.

The front of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The “Starvation Debenture” features the hammer and sickle emblem in a circle at the centre top, and ONE LANG printed in squares in each corner, “Starvation Debenture” is printed across the top to foot blame for the Depression to the three caricatures, Premier Jack Lang, union leader Jock Garden, and an unidentified politician (possibly Theodore the Federal Treasurer who was at odds with Lang), are printed in circles beneath this, accompanied by a printed caption criticising the Lang government. (Camden Museum)

The certificate was issued against the wider background of the Great Depression, the White Australia Policy and the conflict between the rise of communism and fascism in Europe. These forces were played out in the 1932 state election and were just as relevant in Camden as anywhere else in the state.  

Stephen Thompson from the Powerhouse Museum has argued:

New political ideas were coming to Australia from migrants from Europe. These ideas included fascism and socialism. These ideas were embraced by some as solutions to the growing racial and economic problems facing the world after World War One. To conservatives it was a direct threat to Australia’s links to the past of protection and governance by Britain and British class structures.

 The Interwar period also saw the emergence of a number of organisations that influenced state politics:

  • the Old Guard – a secret fascist organisation formed as a counter-revolutionary group and opposed the Lang Government, originally established in 1917;
  • the New Guard – a fascist paramilitary organisation that split with the Old Guard was pro-monarchist, anti-bolshevik, and pro-imperialist;
  • the New State Movementthe Riverina and New England State movements.
The reverse of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The text on the reverse side consists of further criticisms, particularly regarding Lang’s loan ‘repudiation policy’, and urges support for the United Country Party: “Help United Country Party Candidates to Snip the Latch on Lang on June 11”. The United Country Party was the forerunner of the present National Party’.  (Camden Museum)

Reports of the flyer in the Sydney and country press

The Sydney press published a picture of the United Country Party flyer and there was an immediate demand for the leaflet. In the end, the United Country Party distributed over 200,000 flyers across the state. (SMH,4 June 1932)

The country press carried reports of the circulation of the flyer. The Wellington Times reported that the UCP flyers circulated around the town for the ‘amusement of the townspeople’. (Wellington Times, 9 June 1932)

At a political rally in Albury United Country Party supporters handing out flyers brawled with Langites who ‘did not like the leaflets’. (Sun, 8 June 1932) and the Melbourne press carried more reports (Argus, 6 June 1932).

United Country Party organisers were elated with the response to the flyers:

All over the country there has been a rush to secure the “starvation debentures” as souvenirs, and in many places they are pasted on the walls of hotels. (Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1932)

1932 State Election

Polling for the state election was held on Saturday 11 June 1932 for the single chamber of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. The opposing camps were Jack Lang’s Labor Party and Bertram Stevens’s United Australia Party and United Country Party coalition.  

The third Lang government had been dismissed by Governor Philip Game on 13 May 1932. The Governor requested the Opposition Leader, BSB Stevens, to form an interim government until the election.

The Stevens coalition won the election with an 11 per cent swing against the Lang government and ended up with a 42-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The Labor vote was diluted because the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party ran 43 endorsed candidates against the state division candidates. The ALP had split in 1931 and none of the Federal ALP candidates was elected. Both parties re-united in 1936.

Camden and the 1932 election

Camden and the surrounding villages were in the state electoral district of Wollondilly which also took in the Southern Highlands and Picton districts.

The endorsed candidates in Wollondilly were: United Australia Party was represented by Mark F Morton, MLA, John J Cleary represented the ALP (NSW) and Patrick W Kenna ALP (Federal). Morton was re-elected with a 71% primary vote.

MF Morton (NSW Parliament)

The Camden press reported the remarks of the acting premier BSB Stevens in a front-page editorial. It stated:

Above all, each and every one of them wishes to maintain Australia’s membership of the British Empire the greatest of all democracies — and to keep Australia free from the taint of communism and its tyrannous methods. Freedom-loving Australians, like Britons from whom they are descended, shall never be the slaves of such a demoralising, dishonest, and humiliating system. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

The Camden branch of the United Australia Party organised a public meeting addressed by MF Morton, the endorsed UAP candidate. The meeting was chaired by Mr EA Davies, and Mr Morton

  gave an interesting resume of the events leading to the dismissal of the Lang Government ; stressing the point that it had been the first Ministry of the Crown to incite disobedience to the law of the land. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

Mrs W Larkin and Miss Grace Moore moved a motion of thanks.

Enthusiastic rallies and vitriol

 The 1932 election campaign was typified by large gatherings on both sides of the political spectrum, with a number of public meetings in Camden.

 The acting premier, Bertrum Stevens, travelled over 1000 miles across the state in the days before the election. There was a particularly large rally at Peak Hill where over 5000 people gathered to listen to the acting premier and gave him a ‘thunderous reception’.

Jack Lang (NLA)

In the Sydney Domain, Jack Lang held a rally with over 200,000 people assembled to listen to the dismissed premier. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Another rally in the Domain organised by the Same Democracy League denounced Langism and one speaker that voting for Jack Lang was ‘voting for civil war and bloodshed’. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Attachment to place · Belonging · Biography · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Family history · Farming · Gothic · Heritage · Historical Research · History · Landscape · Local History · Local Studies · Myths · Placemaking · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized · Victorian · Women's history · Women's Writing

A great yarn of the bush from colonial New South Wales

Preview

Jeff McGill, Rachel. Allen & Unwin 2022, Sydney. ISBN 9781760879983.

Tonight I had the privilege of attending the book launch for local author and raconteur Jeff McGill’s Rachel at Mary Sheil Centre, St Patrick’s College at Campbelltown.

McGill’s Rachel tells the story of Jeff’s great-great-grandmother from the Coonabarabran area of NSW. Rachel Inglis (Kennedy) was known as Rachel of the Warrumbungles.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel (A&U)

McGill’s Rachel had been brewing for about 40 years and it was only in the 2020 lockdown when Jeff’s freelance work dried up that he got mobile on writing the book.

A friend advised him to send a couple of chapters to two publishers. He sent the work to Allen and Unwin and a small publisher in Melbourne. Allen & Unwin got back to him in two days and wanted to know if he had more material, so he sent off chapters 3 & 4. The rest is history.

Jeff often visited Rachel Kennedy’s farm at Box Ridge and listened to local storytellers at Coonamble and Coonabarabran. He is the sort of writer who walks the ground and soaks up the ghosts of the past. He allowed the landscape to talk to him and embedded himself in the spirit of place.

Remarkable woman

Rachel Kennedy was quite a woman and the Mudgee Guardian and North West Reporter wrote an extensive obituary in 1930 on her death. It stated in part:

The late Mrs. Inglis was one who rarely gave a thought to herself, her one object in life being to help others. She was always to be found at the bedside of almost every sick person in the Warrumbungle district, and has been known to have ridden as far as 20 miles in the middle of the night to reach some sufferer, even when far from well herself. Considering that all her grand efforts were done in an age when motor cars were unknown, it stamps this fine old pioneer as one of the world’s best — a race that is fast vanishing from our midst. The deceased lady had reached the great age of 85 years. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)

Rachel’s obituary was also published in the Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh (10 April 1930).

At the time of Rachel’s death, it was usual for the country press to publish any sort of obituary of a woman unless she was white and from an influential rural family. The country press was a very white-male institution.

The obituary published in the Mudgee press was an acknowledgement that Rachel was a true local identity and bush character well known in the area. A rare feat indeed. The bush was a male-dominated landscape where women remained in the shadows.

Rachel did not fit the stereotypical 19th-century woman. Yet, she did not seek recognition for her community work and never received it in any public fashion.

The local community understood Rachel’s contribution to their lives and when she was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Gulargambone Cemetery, it was

in the presence of one of the largest gatherings, ever seen at the cemetery. The Rev. G. Innes  Ritter, of Coonamble, performed the last sad rites at the graveside. (MG&NWR, 11 April 1930)

Family History

McGill’s Rachel represents the genealogical genre of family history as it should be written. The book shows how such a story can be approached and can generate an appeal to a wide audience. Others who have achieved this goal include Nick Brodie’s Kin, A Real People’s History of Our Nation, Graeme Davison’s Lost Relations, Fortunes of my Family in Australia’s Golden Age and Peter FitzSimons’s A Simpler Time.

Rachel Inglis’s (Kennedy) family and home at Box Ridge near Coonabarabran in NSW c.1890s (Jeff McGill)

It was very common for women from the rural under-class to disappear into the shadows of history without any acknowledgement of their existence. The lives of some of these women are probably best reflected in stories like Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife (1892), a piece of Australian Gothic fiction. Author Samantha Leersen writes:

‘The Drover’s Wife,’ and the fears felt by its protagonist, presents a fictitious account of the real concerns experienced by settler Australians.

‘The Drovers Wife’ by Russell Drysdale (1945) and the author Henry Lawson 1902 (1867-1922) (UoS)

Rachel’s story has many parallels with Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife.

Female Biography

McGill’s Rachel is another addition to the popular genre of female biography which has seen a number of publications about colonial women in recent times. These include Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, Elizabeth Rushen and Perry McIntyre’s Fair Game, Australia’s First Immigrant Women, Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza Power and Colonial Storytelling, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell’s Searching for Charlotte, The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author, Anne Philp’s Caroline’s Diary, A Woman’s World in Colonial Australia and others.

The cover notes for McGill’s Rachel state:

Rachel Kennedy stood out on a wild frontier dominated by men… her extraordinary and unputdownable pioneering story is told for the first time

‘Just a girl, but when it came to chasing wild horses nobody questioned Rachel Kennedy’s skill in a saddle. What raised the eyebrows was the type of saddle she used: a man’s.

Rachel Kennedy was a colonial folk hero.

She also built rare friendships with Aboriginal people, including a lifelong relationship with her ‘sister’ Mary Jane Cain.

Meticulously researched and written with compelling energy, this is a vivid and at times heartbreaking story of a pioneering woman who left a legacy that went well beyond her lifetime.

Cover Jeff McGill’s Rachel 2022

Emerging from the shadows of history

The book is a ripping yarn about the colonial frontier and the role of women in early New South Wales. Another woman emerges from the shadows of history and we are allowed to understand their true contribution to the settler story of our nation.

Updated 2 June 2022. Originally posted 1 June 2022.

Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Cawdor · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cowpastures Estates · Cowpastures Gentry · Cultural Heritage · Denbigh · Economy · Elderslie · England · Harrington Park · History · Kirkham · Landscape · Local Studies · Picton · Place making · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Urban growth

The Englishmen of the Cowpastures

A certain type of Englishman

These Englishmen were also known as the Cowpastures gentry, a pseudo-self-styled-English gentry.

All men – they lived on their estates when they were not involved with their business and political interests in Sydney and elsewhere in the British Empire.

By the late 1820s, this English-style gentry had created a landscape that reminded some of the English countrysides. This was particularly noted by another Englishman, John Hawdon.

There were other types of English folk in the Cowpastures and they included convicts, women, and some freemen.

EstateExtent (acres)Gentry  (principal)
Abbotsford (at Stonequarry, later Picton)400 (by 1840 7,000)George Harper (1821 by grant)
Birling Robert Lowe
Brownlow Hill (Glendaruel)2000 (by 1827 3500)Peter Murdock (1822 by grant) then Alexander McLeay (1827 by purchase)
Camden Park2000 (by 1820s 28,000)John Macarthur (1805 by grant, additions by grant and purchase)
Cubbady500Gregory Blaxland (1816 by grant)
Denbigh1100Charles Hook (1812 by grant) then Rev Thomas Hassall (1828 by purchase)
Elderslie (Ellerslie)850John Oxley (1816 by grant) then Francis Irvine (1827 by purchase) then John Hawdon (1828 by lease)
Gledswood (Buckingham)400Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilliam (1810 by grant) then James Chisholm (1816 by purchase)
Glenlee (Eskdale)3000William Howe (1818 by grant)
Harrington Park2000William Campbell (1816 by grant) then Murdock Campbell, nephew (1827 by inheritance)
Jarvisfield (at Stonequarry, later Picton)2000Henry Antill (by grant 1821)
Kenmore600John Purcell (1812 by grant)
Kirkham1000John Oxley (1815 by grant) then Elizabeth Dumaresq (1858 by purchase)
Macquarie Grove400Rowland Hassall (1812 by grant)
Matavai Farm200Jonathon Hassall (1815 by grant)
Maryland Thomas Barker
Narallaring Grange700William Hovell (1816 by grant) then Frances Mowatt (1830 by purchase)
Nonorrah John Dickson
Orielton1500Edward Lord (1815 by grant) then John Dickson (1822 by purchase)
Parkhall (at St Marys Towers)3810Thomas Mitchell (1834 by purchase)
Pomari Grove (Pomare)150Thomas Hassall (1815 by grant)
Raby3000Alexander Riley (1816 by grant)
Smeeton (Smeaton)550Charles Throsby (1811 by grant)
Stoke Farm500Rowland Hassall (1816 by grant)
Vanderville (at The Oaks)2000John Wild (1823 by grant)
Wivenhoe (Macquarie Gift)600Rev William Cowper (1812 by grant) then Charles Cowper, son (1834 by purchase)

This Charles Kerry Image of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Cobbitty is labelled ‘English Church Cobbitty’. The image is likely to be around the 1890s and re-enforces the notion of Cobbity as an English-style pre-industrial village in the Cowpastures (PHM)

Private villages in the Cowpastures

VillageFounder (estate)Foundation (Source)
CobbittyThomas Hassall (Pomari)1828 – Heber Chapel (Mylrea: 28)
CamdenJames and William Macarthur (Camden Park)1840 (Atkinson: Camden)
ElderslieCharles Campbell (Elderslie)1840 – failed  (Mylrea:35)
Picton (Stonequarry in 1841 renamed Picton in 1845)Henry Antill   (Jarvisfield)1841  (https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/picton-nsw#:~:text=Origin%20of%20Name,at%20the%20Battle%20of%20Waterloo.)
WiltonThomas Mitchell (Parkhall)1842 – failed (https://www.towersretreat.org.au/history/park-hall-east-bargo-1841-1860)
The OaksMrs John Wild (Vanderville)1858 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oaks,_New_South_Wales)
MenangleJames and William Macarthur (Camden Park)1863 – arrival of railway (https://camdenhistorynotes.com/2014/02/16/menangle-camden-park-estate-village/)
   

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Blue Plaque recognises Camden Red Cross sewing circle in wartime

Camden Red Cross sewing circles during the First and Second World Wars

The wartime efforts of Camden women have been recognised by the successful nomination for a New South Wales Blue Plaque with Heritage NSW.

The announcement appeared in the Sydney press with a list of 17 other successful nominations for a Blue Plaque across the state. They include notable people and events in their local area.

What is a Blue Plaque?

The Heritage NSW website states:

The Blue Plaques program aims to capture public interest and fascination in people, events and places that are important to the stories of NSW.

The Blue Plaques program celebrates NSW heritage by recognising noteworthy people and events from our state’s history.

The aim of the program is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhood and other parts of NSW and connect with people of the past, historical moments and rich stories that matter to communities and have shaped our state.

The program is inspired by the famous London Blue Plaques program run by English Heritage which originally started in 1866, and similar programs around the world.

“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”

The essence of the Blue Plaques program is the storytelling. A digital story will be linked to each plaque.

The Blue Plaques should tell stories that are interesting, fun, quirky along with more sombre stories that should be not be forgotten as part of our history.

What is the Camden Red Cross story?

What is being recognised?

Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles at the Camden School of Arts (later the Camden Town Hall now the Camden Library) – 1914-1918, 1940-1946.

The Sidman women volunteer their time and effort during the First World War for the Camden Red Cross. Patriotic fundraising supporting the war at home was a major activity and raised thousands of pounds. This type of effort was quite in all communities across Australia and the rest of the British Empire. (Camden Images and Camden Museum)

What is the story?

The Camden Red Cross sewing circles were one of Camden women’s most important voluntary patriotic activities during World War One and World War Two. The sewing circles started at the Camden School of Arts in 1914, and due to lack of space, moved to the Foresters’ Hall in Argyle Street in 1918. At the outbreak of the Second World War, sewing circles reconvened in 1940 at the Camden Town Hall in John Street (the old School of Arts building – the same site as the First World War)

These sewing circles were workshops where Camden women volunteered and manufactured supplies for Australian military hospitals, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. They were held weekly on Tuesdays, which was sale day in the Camden district.

Sewing circles were ‘quasi-industrial production lines’ where Camden women implemented their domestics skills to aid the war at home. Camden women cut out, assembled, and sewed together hospital supplies, including flannel shirts, bed shirts, pyjamas, slippers, underpants, feather pillows, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. The workshops were lent a number of sewing machines in both wars.

The sewing circles also coordinated knitting and spinning for bed socks, stump socks, mufflers, balaclava caps, mittens, cholera belts (body binders) and other items. The women also made ‘hussifs’ or sewing kits for the soldiers.  During the First World War, the sewing circles attracted between 80-100 women each week. The list of items was strikingly consistent for hospital supplies for both wars, with the only significant addition during the Second World War being the knitted pullovers and cardigans.

The production output of the Camden women was prodigious. Between 1914 and 1918, women from the Camden Red Cross sewing circle made over 20,300 articles tallied to over 40,000 volunteer hours.  Between 1940 and 1946, during World War Two, women made over 25,000 articles, totalling over 45,000 voluntary hours.

The operation of the sewing circles was fully funded through the fundraising of Camden Red Cross and community donations.  In 1917 alone, over 95% of branch fundraising was dedicated to these activities.

In World War One, other Red Cross sewing circles in the Camden district were located at The Oaks, Camden Park, Theresa Park, and Middle Burragorang. During World War Two, other centres across the local area included Bringelly-Rossmore, Menangle, Narellan, and The Oaks. Each group independently funded its activities.

These patriotic voluntary activities by Camden women were part of the war at home and have received little recognition at a local, state or national level. Wartime sewing and knitting have been kept in the shadows for too long. There needs to be a public acknowledgement of the patriotic effort of these women.

Where will the plaque be placed?

Camden School of Arts – later called the Camden Town Hall (1939-1945) and now the Camden Library.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

Camden Museum Library building in John Street Camden where the Blue Plaque will be located recognising the efforts of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles in both World War One and World War Two. (I Willis, 2008)

What will the plaque say?

Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles – 1914-1918, and 1940-1946.

English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom

The English Heritage website states:

London’s blue plaques scheme, run by English Heritage, celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Founded in 1866, it has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world.

Unveiling a Blue Plaque in the United Kingdom (English Heritage)

Reference for Camden Red Cross story

Ian Willis, Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2014.

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Narellan’s Built Heritage

The beginning

The name Narellan is used for the village, the district and the parish, and was probably derived from William Hovell’s 1816 grant of 700 acres (283 hectares) called Narralling. Most of the parish of Narellan was granted to settlers by Governor Macquarie between 1810 and 1818. 

In 1827 Robert Hoddle and John Oxley had surveyed the site of the village, which was set out in a rectilinear plan, and marked the site of a church, school and courthouse.

Narellan was one of four villages that pre-date the foundation of Camden in 1840 in the Cowpastures. The others were Cawdor, Cobbitty and Elderslie.

Narellan’s built heritage items

Former St Thomas Church Hall and schoolhouse

1A Wilson Crescent

Built in 1839 as a church by Thomas Hassall and served on weekdays as a schoolroom.

Former St Thomas Church

1A Wilson Crescent

Built in 1884 to a design by colonial architect Edmund Blacket (1879)

Former St Thomas Schoolhouse and Church 2022 K & P Lyons

Former Camden Country Milk Depot

259 Camden Valley Way

Built in the 1920s and owned by Mr Coleman. It was closed in 1931 when stricter health regulations around milk were introduced in NSW.

Former Camden Country Milk Mepot c1920s-(Nrln walk broch)

Former Tildsley butcher shop

269 Camden Valley Way

Built in 1937 and operated until the early 2000. The site has operated as Cake Biz since 2003.

Former Tildsley Butcher Shop and Cottage, 283 Camden Valley Way, Narellan ( 2022 CB)

Narellan Hotel

279-283 Camden Valley Way

The former Queen’s Arms Hotel opened in 1847, modified in 1937 and operated as Byrne’s Hotel. The current building underwent extensive renovations in 2003.

Narellan Hotel, 279-283 Camden Valley Way, Narellan (MacAdvert 2020)

Ben Linden

311 Camden Valley Way

Built in 1919 by George Blackmore as a residence for Anne Stuckey. Later a maternity hospital and in the 1960s a convalescent hospital.

Yamba Cottage 181 Camden Valley Way Narellan (Camden Images, 1980s)

Former Burton Arms Inn

332 Camden Valley Way

Built in c1830, the site has operated as a hotel, general store, auto electrical workshop, and most recently a real estate office.

Former Burton Arms Inn c1830 (I Willis, 2022)

Narellan Public School

Cnr Coghill Street & Camden Valley Way

Built in 1877 as a schoolhouse and resident. The school opened in 1875 after St Thomas Anglican school closed in 1874.

Narellan Public School buildings (Camden Images/John Kooyman 1997)

Narellan Cemetery

Richardson Road

Surveyed as a cemetery in 1827 by Robert Hoddle with the first burials in the 1840s.

Narellan Cemetery Richardson Road Narellan (ACI, 2010s)

Struggletown

Stewart Street, Narellan.

Struggletown cottages (1995 Macarthur Chronicle)

Sharman’s Slab Cottage

Stewart Street

Struggletown cottage (ST)

Yamba

81 Camden Valley Way

Yamba is an Edwardian timber cottage built in the early 20th century.

Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)

Studley Park

52 Lodges Road

Built in 1888-1889 as the last gentleman’s ‘country estate’ in the local area by Sydney businessman William Charles Payne. Designed by Sydney architects AL & G McCredie. Served as Camden Classical and Commercial School (1901-1919), country retreat for Twentieth Century Fox executive AA Gregory (1933-1939), Eastern Command Training School (Army) (1940-1945), Citizen Military Forces (Army Reserve) (1948-1951), Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (1951), Camden Golf Club (1951-present)

Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

Sources

Heritage walking tour of Narellan  (K & P Lyons, c2010)

Narellan, Dictionary of Sydney (2008)

Posted 17 April 2022

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We need new ways to tell stories of the past

We need new ways to tell local stories

I have just finished watching online a critical discussion on the practice of history held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

In these times of fake news, misleading information, and conspiracy theories. Whom do you trust? What is the truth? Social media is all-encompassing.

This photograph is of a voluntary aid at the Waley Convalescent Home for Soldiers at Mowbray Park in 1920 sitting at her desk perhaps writing a letter to a loved one in her time off. This is a wonderful story of service and sacrifice and how these women did wonderful service during and after the First World War. (NAA)
This photograph is of a voluntary aid at the Waley Convalescent Home for Soldiers at Mowbray Park in 1920 sitting at her desk perhaps writing a letter to a loved one in her time off. This is a wonderful story of service and sacrifice and how these women did wonderful service during and after the First World War. (NAA)

This discussion on the practice of history is a dose of hope when political interest groups seek to rewrite the past on their terms.

Maybe this discussion was not a complete cure, but it certainly seems like a ray of sunshine into the swamp of the abyss.

So what did I see?

I watched a panel of learned historians and museum directors discussing launching the Reframing History report by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). 

The promotional email I received boasted:  

This new initiative provides the field with a set of evidence-backed recommendations to communicate history more convincingly and to build a wider understanding of what inclusive history looks like and why it is important for all of us.

The discussion lived up to the hype.

I highly recommend this lively and challenging discussion to anyone involved in the practice of history. I do not think it matters whether you are from the academy, practise public history, or just like popular history. This discussion should interest you if you are concerned about the long term health of history as a discipline.

Panel Discussion Details

  • John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH, started the conversation by providing an overview of the project. 
  • That was followed by a discussion by Anthea Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan, Director of the National Museum of American History. 

Panellists included:

  • Martha S. Jones, author and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University
  • Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with Slavery Across America
  •  Jorge Zamanillo, director of HistoryMiami and incoming founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino

The panellists expand on the Reframing History Report and Toolkit by talking about their personal experiences of communicating about history and sharing their recommendations for how history organizations can create environments for positive and productive conversations.

You can view the discussion on the AASLH YouTube channel. AASLH YouTube channel.

 Watch on YouTube

Further reading

Be a historical detective.

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Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.

(Facebook, 23 November 2015)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society.  In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).

The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal.  The first appeared in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

Mount Annan suburban development which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.