Camden Cowpastures Bicentennary Celebrations

Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932
Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932

In 1995 the Camden community held a 12 month programme of events to celebrate the bicentennial of the naming of the Cow Pastures by Governor Hunter in 1795 and discovery of 61 head of wild cattle. The discovery of the cattle herd was an important event in the life of the fledgling colony as it proved that non-indigenous cattle could survive in New South Wales and that the Cow Pastures could be an important farming area.

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, cross 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 were the Cape cattle from the First Fleet and the district was declared out of bounds to all and by 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.

Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute

The origins of the bicentennial project started after the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute occupied what was formerly Camden Park. In 1990 the NSW Department of Agriculture commissioned a set of paintings of Camden Park by Greg Turner sponsored by Japanese textile manufacturer Toyobo of Osaka, which were published as a book with text written by Denis Gregory in 1992. The exhibition toured the state, received extensive publicity and was displayed at Parliament House in Sydney and at the Camden Civic Centre.

Bicentennial project

The bicentennial project was driven by the formation of the Cowpastures Bicentennial Planning Committee formed in 1992 by Camden Council under the direction of Camden mayor Theresa Testoni.  It was envisaged that a series of events would be held during Heritage Week (March) in 1995.

Cowpastures Bicentennial

During the following months plans for the bicentennial project grew and  in January 1994 the committee engaged a professional event organiser to lead the project. The Governor of New South Wales agreed to be patron. The committee had representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council, Camden Municipal Council, and a host of community organisations including Camden Chamber of Commerce, Camden Historical Society, Macarthur Lions Club, Belgenny Farm, Camden Quilters, and Camden Show Society.

Activities and Entertainments

According to the 1995 calendar of events there were over 85 separate activities and many were quite successful.  Individual events took place in locations as diverse as Camden, Bargo, Catherine Fields, Warragamba Dam, Mount Annan, Campbelltown and The Oaks. The project office was located in Campbelltown with a full-time executive director, office manager and office assistant.

The year started off celebrations on Australia Day and then ramped up in February with a ball and the crowning of Miss Cowpastures for 1995 Elizabeth Hodge. The NSW Governor opened the Rediscover Cowpastures project, the opening of the Cowpastures Heritage Pathways and launching  the Cowpastures Heritage Cycling Classic between Colo Vale and Camden. The Camden Country Quilter’s Guild launched the Bicenntennial Heritage Quilt wall hanging at their quilt show (August), the inaugural Cowpastures Bush Music and Cultural Festival was held in September and AGVIEW took place in October.

Re-enactment at Mount Taurus 

In November there  was a re-enactment of the naming of the Cowpastures and sighting the cattle at Mount Taurus. There were representatives from the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Camden Park Education Centre, Belgenny Farm Trust, Camden Historical Society and others including 200 primary school children from Campbelltown North, The Oaks and Camden. They all climbed Mount Taurus and laid a plaque.

The year was  topped out with an awards night in December.

A measure of success or not

While the aims of the bicentennial project were worthwhile  it had little lasting impact on the Australian imagination. The story of the escape of the cattle from the colony was known to many Australians as part of the tribulations of the early settlement of Sydney town.

The term Cowpasture reflected the place-name usage in England to describe the common grazing land near a village. The Dharawal called the place ‘Baragil’, or ‘Baragal’ and the area has only vague geographic boundaries. To the northwards the Cowpastures was ill-defined (beyond Narellan) and to the south its limit was Stonequarry Creek.

The Cowpastures as a regional identity was problematic and a search of the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales reveals one entry for the Nepean River.

The Cowpastures Bicentennial project was an interesting community festival with mixed results, although it did give prominence to the Cowpastures for a period.

Read more

Read more about Governor Hunter and the Cow Pastures in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1932 here

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