Aesthetics · Camden · Colonial Camden · Cowpastures · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures

The early colonists of the Sydney area viewed the landscape from several different perspectives, according to historian Grace Karskins in her book The Colony a History of Early Sydney (2009). This also applied to the Cowpastures.

Nepean River Cowpastures

Landscapes have a variety of meanings

The term landscape has a variety of meanings.

The two most common are when landscape refers to all the visible features of an area of land; usually referring to the rural features and the aesthetic appeal of neat paddocks and fields. The other meaning is one applied in an artistic sense and is its pictorial representation of an area of countryside, usually in a painting.

There can be different types of landscapes, for example, cultural landscapes and physical landscapes.

Landscapes has different meanings in different scholarly disciplines, for example,

  1. art (English landscapes of Turner and Constable),
  2. photography (American Ansel Adams),
  3. literature (the idealised pastoral scene or bucolic in art, music and literature, for example, English poet Milton, William Wordsworth; an early form is the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories; William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye was published in 1770, the idea of the picturesque began to influence artists and viewers and British romanticism),
  4. architecture (the term landscape architecture was invented by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828 and was first used as a professional title by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1863), and
  5. gardening (Italian influences of an arcadia – The English garden (and later French landscape garden) presented an idealised view of nature.- The work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton and in the Cowpastures, JC Laudon).

These views of landscapes are culturally derived and depend on the viewer’s interpretation, which is the essence of landscape and its contribution to the sense of place.

View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1

Seven principles

Karskins (Karskins:242)  has presented seven principles of interpretation that she maintains were used by the early colonists of Sydney towards to new environment they took possession of the land in 1788.

All of Karskin’s seven principles are evident in the diaries and accounts of the Cowpastures by a host of Europeans who travelled through the area. They are:

  1. Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
  2. Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon
  3. Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
  4. Political and philosophical – evils of the governors and transportation were the true corruptors of the countryside
  5. Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers
  6. ‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside
  7. Emotional response – how the European viscerally  experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing – and its expression in words and pictures

How these were used in reports and diaries often depended on the written work’s audience in England or France. Often the accounts were used to promote a book and sometimes a set of paintings or sketches.

Sometimes there were just personal comments in a diary, or reports were the basis of a book published in England on the person’s return home from Sydney.

The reports of the Cowpastures in the colonial period by a host of naval officers, military personnel and surveyors have elements of all these views of the landscape.


Anyone interested in exploring some of the aspects of these types of interpretation sees other posts on this blog that mention:

1. the Cowpastures declaration  in  1795

2 the journeys of Governor Lachlan Macquarie  in 1810, 1815, or 1820

3. the views of immigrant John Hawdon in 1828

Read some of the stories in the Pictorial History of Camden and District (2015)

Read more @

Towns, urbanites and aesthetics

Yearning Longing and the Remaking of Camden’s Identity

Updated 7 September 2022. Originally posted 14 January 2016.