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The Camden Story: the historiography of the history of the country town of Camden NSW

Journal Article Review

‘Making Camden History: local history and untold stories in a small community’. ISAA Review, Journal of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. Special Edition, Historiography. Volume 19, Number 1, 2023, pp. 23-38.

The history of telling the story of a small community has been interpreted in different ways at different times in the past by different historians.

This area of study is called the historiography.

This is an aerial image of the country town of Camden in the 1940s with St John’s Church on the ridge overlooking the town and the Nepean River floodplain. The Macarthur family-funded church is the community’s soul and was constructed shortly after the private town was established by the Macarthur family at the river crossing into Camden Park Estate. (Camden Images)

I have recently published an article on the historiography of the small country town of Camden, NSW.

The Camden township is located 65 kilometres southwest of the Sydney CBD and, in recent years, has been absorbed by Sydney’s urban growth.

The main streets are a mix of Victorian, Edwardian and interwar architecture comprising commercial, government and domestic buildings.

The town site was originally the entry point into what became Governor King’s Cowpasture Reserve at the Nepean River crossing, part of the lands of the Dharawal people, which then called Benkennie.

Jill Wheeler argues that while local histories are embedded in a long storytelling tradition, new understandings inform our interpretation in a contemporary context.

The historiography of the history of a small country town demonstrates the shifting nature of storytelling and how different actors interpret the past.

This article seeks to examine some of what Wheeler calls ‘the other’ by looking beyond the conventional history of Camden as found in newspapers, journals, monuments, celebrations, commemorations and other places.

I have written an article about the making of the history of Camden NSW to illustrate and explore these issues.

Click here to learn more

This is the cover of my Pictorial History Camden & District, which tells the Camden story in words and pictures. The book is a brief account of the main events, characters and institutions that were part of the Camden township from its foundation to the present, as well as the Indigenous story in pre-European times and the foundation of the Cowpastures Reserve.
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Camden Show 2023

The show comes alive after Covid and floods

The 2023 Camden Show proves its resilience and came alive after the disasters of Covid and the 2022 floods when the show was postponed and cancelled.

Camden Show office for 2023 in the 1936 addition to the 1890s agricultural hall. The show office staff were forced out of their former office space underneath the hall due to the 2022 floods. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors and competitors

The arts and crafts pavilion is a good place to start, the must-see at all country shows. On display are the hidden talents of the local area.

The talent of sugar artists is on display in the Arts and Crafts Pavillion. Some of these exhibits are true works of art. (I Willis, 2023)

A staple at all country shows are local farmers and producers who display their animals and produce. The cattle are always an interesting area to watch, and dairying has a rich history in the Camden area going back to the 1880s.

Dairying has been a staple farming activity in the Camden area for over 130 years. These dairy cattle show some of the local talent and why dairy farming has been so important in the local area for so long. (I Willis, 2023)

The produce exhibit is a snapshot of what can be grown and produced locally. Each of these products has been a vital part of the local farming scene over previous decades and in the present. For example, the apple industry was very important in The Oaks for most of the 20th century, and viticulture or growing grapes occurred across the Elderslie area for most of the last 100 years.

Apples, vegetables and other produce have been an important of the farming scene in the local area since the time of European settlement. An examination of Camden Show catalogues over the years shows the importance of these farming products for the local area. (I Willis, 2023)

The flower exhibits are always popular with show visitors, and 2023 is no exception. The flowers have moved out of the main pavilion to a more compact area and the number of exhibitors is down on previous years.

Flower exhibits at the 2023 Camden Show. This image shows the ever-popular dahlias. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors are a mixture of keen amateurs and professional producers. All compete for the glory and fame that comes with first place. The cash prizes are really only pocket money, and it is the kudos that is the attraction.

A happy exhibitor who won a first with red capsicum and a highly commended with her squash and eggplants. All produce was locally grown. (I Willis, 2023)

The Show Ball and the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year

An often overlooked part of the show is the show ball and the announcement of the winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year. The competition started in 1962 as the Camden Miss Showgirl and was rebranded in 1979 as the Showgirl competition. It is an excuse for the young, and not so young, folk of the area to get frocked up and enjoy themselves.

The promotional material for the annual show ball where the winner of the former Showgirl competition is announced for the following year. (CSS)

The winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year competition was announced on the front page of The District Reporter.

The cover of The District Reporter, 4 November 2022, where the winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year was announced. (TDR)

Camden Show promotional material

Much literature is produced at showtime; one of the most important is the show catalogue. The schedule lists all categories that competitors might want to enter with their animals, produce or crafts, the entry fees, the winning prizes and many other show time details.

The cover of the 2023 Camden Show catalogue and schedule (Camden Show Society)

Then there is the showground map which details all the exhibitors, events, show rings, entertainment, show bags, conveniences, parking and lots of other information.

The map of the 2023 Camden Show was produced by The District Reporter, and in comparison with maps of shows from earlier years, it is clear how the show has grown in size and moved into the surrounding Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park from the boundary of Onslow Park. This year the Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park is accommodating parking, horse events, the ute show, sheep, goats and alpacas, and sheep dog trials. (CSS)

One innovation this year has been the Agricultural Discovery Booklet for children. The booklet is full of puzzles, quizzes, colouring in, find-a-word, crosswords and other stuff. A great thing for the kids.

The cover of the Camden Show 2023 Agricultural Discovery Booklet (CSS)

Information stalls and exhibitors

The 2023 Camden Show has many exhibitors, including commercial enterprises, the show guild members who provide rides and entertainment, government information services, community organisations and many others.

The wonderful girls were found at the NSW Government Land Information Service exhibitor stall. These chooks were proudly standing guard over and host of information brochures and booklets and looking after the staff on duty. But these girls have their enemies and on the other side of the exhibitor stall in the corner were a number of them on display (I Willis, 2023)

Some of the enemies of the chooks look very menacing and dangerous at the NSW Government Land Information Services exhibitor stall. These feral animals are a nuisance and pest for farmers across rural New South Wales, with the fox starting to appear in the urban part of the Camden area. (I Willis, 2023)

Commercial exhibitors

The Sadek Motor Group exhibitor display shows the old and new motor cars. Displays by local motor dealers at the Camden Show has been a regular feature going back to the 1930s. This 1930s vehicle has attracted the attention of a showgoer dressed to drive away this historic specimen. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors from the community

Community groups are regular exhibitors at the Camden Show, including the Country Women’s Association, Camden Historical Society, Camden Area Family History Society, Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Girl Guides, the Camden Show Society itself and many others.

The NSW Country Women’s Association is a regular participant at country shows across the state providing tea, coffee and scones for hungry showgoers. Here the Camden CWA signage is showing the 2023 Camden Show-goer the way to refresh their day with tea and scones. The women also sold a variety of other articles to assist their fundraising. (I Willis, 2023)

Show promotional liftout

Promoting the show is always essential, and The District Reporter has had their show liftout for many years. The liftout is part of the only print edition of a newspaper that still circulates in the local area and has the show’s history and many stories about show personalities, events and exhibitors.

The cover of the 2023 Camden Show liftout from The District Reporter. This print media has traditionally been the primary way the Camden Show Society has promoted the show over the last 130 years. (TDR)

The role of social media has increased in recent years as a way to promote the show.

This handsome specimen of an animal was used to promote the show on Facebook and Instagram in the lead-up to the 2023 Camden Show. Social media is an integral part of promoting the Camden Show in recent years. (CSS)

The show ends after another year

The show rides have ended, and it is pack-up time at the end of the 2023 Camden Show. Show guild members gather their bits and pieces, pack their rides and travel to the next country show. They will be back next year. (I Willis, 2023)

Packing up includes collecting the rubbish bins.

The bins have been emptied and are awaiting collection at the show’s end. The rides have ended, and will not be back until next year. The showground is starting to return to normality after the two-day festival of fun, frolic, entertainment and serious judging of stock, crafts and produce. Onslow Park is returning to normal. (I Willis, 2023)

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The Cowpastures’ English-styled-gentry and their private villages

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 countryside. 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)400 (by 1840, 7,000)
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)400John Oxley (1816 by grant), then Francis Irvine (1827 by purchase), then John Hawdon (1828 by lease)
Glenlee (Eskdale)3000William Howe (1818 by grant)
Harrington Park2000Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilliam (1810 by grant), then James Chisholm (1816 by purchase)
Jarvisfield (at Stonequarry, later Picton)2000Henry Antill (by grant 1821)
Kenmore600John Purcell (1812 by grant)
Kirkham1000William Campbell (1816 by grant), then Murdock Campbell, nephew (1827 by inheritance)
Macquarie Grove400Rowland Hassall (1812 by grant)
Matavai Farm200Jonathon Hassall (1815 by grant)
Maryland Thomas Barker
Narallaring Grange700John Oxley (1815 by grant), then Elizabeth Dumaresq (1858 by purchase)
Nonorrah John Dickson
Orielton1500William Hovell (1816 by grant), then Frances Mowatt (1830 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)600Edward Lord (1815 by grant), then John Dickson (1822 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/)
   

Updated on 26 May 20223. Originally posted on 28 May 2022 as ‘The Englishmen of the Cowpastures’

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Ferguson’s Nursery, the post-war years

Ferguson’s Nursery at Hurstville, Mittagong and Sylvania

During the post-war years, Ferguson’s Nurseries continued to be located on Sydney’s urban fringe as the metropolitan area expanded into the rural surrounds.

Hurstville nursery prospered then closed, another opened on the urban fringe at Sylvania, a cold-climate nursery opened at Mittagong, and the Camden nursery closed.

In the mid-1960s, the family sold the business to new owners who continued to use the Ferguson nurseries as a trading name.

Significance

The importance of the colonial legacy of Francis Ferguson is emphasised in July McMaugh’s Living Horticulture. She only lists four New South Wales 19th colonial horticulturalists of significance, one of whom is Ferguson.

The Camden Nursery site remains quite significant in the history of the Australian nursery industry. Morris and Britton maintain that the site is

A rare remnant of an important and influential colonial nursery from the late 1850s and includes a collection of 19th century plantings and is a landmark in the local area.  (Morris and Britton 2000)

Camden Nursery site

The Camden Nursery on the Nepean River stopped operating in the immediate post-war years, and the nursery headquarters relocated to Hurstville.

In 1937 Camden Municipal Council rejected an offer from Ferguson’s nurseries of 100 rose bushes for planting in Macarthur Park. The council did not want the nursery to take cuttings from the park’s rose bushes. (Camden News, 13 May 1937)

In the 1930s, the Camden press reported that Ferguson’s nurseries had purchased the property of W Moore between the Old Southern Road and the Hume Highway (Camden News, 11 April 1935). This was in the vicinity of Little Street. (Cole, CHS, 1989) This is likely the 1937 outlet fronting the Hume Highway in Camden and still operating in 1944. (Camden News, 18 February 1937, 17 February 1944)  

The Camden Nursery outlet had stopped trading by 1946. The Camden press reported an application to connect the electricity supply to RB Ferguson’s property at the ‘the Old Nursery’. (Camden News, 19 December 1946, 27 November 1947)

Hurstville Nursery

By the mid-1950s, the nursery was trading as F Ferguson & Son, headquartered at Hurstville with branches at Sylvania and Mittagong. (Sun Herald, 13 September 1953)

Operations for Ferguson’s Nurseries were centralised at the Hurstville nursery in the post-war years, and the area around the nursery became known as Kingsgrove.

There was growth in the area following the opening of Kingsgrove Railway Station in 1931. Sydney’s residential development followed the development of suburban railway lines.

There was increased growth in the Hurstville area in the post-war years, with increased housing and rising land values.

The NSW Housing Commission built over 200 homes on the Ferguson Nursery Estate at Kingsgrove. (St George Call (Kogarah) 21 September 1945)

The state government purchased the site of Ferguson’s Nursery in 1958 and established Kingsgrove High School. (SRNSW)

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue, the nursery indicates that the business had a Kingsgrove address and had branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

1957 Plant Catalogue

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue of 54 pages, the nursery listed a Kingsgrove address and branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957). The catalogue listed plant stock for sale with advice for the gardener to achieve the best results.

Cover of Ferguson’s Nursery Trade Catalogue for 1957 trading as F Ferguson & Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

The catalogue listed for sale: fruit trees; Australian trees and shrubs; flowering plants including roses, camellias (51 varieties), azaleas, hibiscus; conifers; ornamental trees; palms and cycads (varieties from California, Canary Islands, Siam, South America, India, China and Japan).

Amongst the fruit trees, the catalogue listed apples, apricots, citrus (cumquats, oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit), nectarines, passionfruit, peaches, pears, plums (English, Japanese), prunes, quinces, as well as almonds and walnuts.

Roses were a speciality and included novelty roses for 1957, standard roses and others. The catalogue advised gardeners to achieve the best results with roses, particularly with planting and pruning. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Under Australian trees and shrubs, the catalogue stated:

Australia is endowed with of indigenous Trees and Shrubs that are entirely different and considered by many far superior to anything else in the world. Nothing is more useful for Parks, School Grounds, etc, that some of out Native Flora, and certainly nothing is more hardy or topical. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Fergusons offered a landscaping service to

assist and advise you in the correct formation and setting-out of Lawns, Drives, Shrubberies, also in the correct selection of suitable Shrubs, Roses, and all kinds of Flowering Plants, so that the ultimate results will be charming. (Ferguson Nursery 1957) (Ferguson 1957)

Sylvania Nursery

111 Port Hacking Road, Sylvania

In the post-war years, Fergusons Nurserys followed Sydney’s urban fringe and established a new nursery south of Hurstville in the Sutherland Shire at Sylvania.

Sutherland Shire was growing in the late mid-20th century. McDowells opened a department store at Caringbah in 1961, Miranda Fair Shopping Centre opened in 1964, the new Sutherland District Hospital opened in 1958, and the Sutherland Daily Leader was launched with its first edition on 29 June 1960. (Sutherland Shire Library)

The first mention of the Sylvania nursery in the Sydney press was in 1955 when Fergusons placed an advertisement for contractors to provide a quote to build a fibro cottage on the nursery site at 111 Port Hacking Road. (SMH, 1 October 1955)

The nursery opened for trading in 1961. A story in the Sutherland press about the history of the Ferguson Nursery group. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 26 April 1961)

Nurseryman Rex Jurd conducted the management of the Sylvania nursery. (McMaugh 2005:252) (McMaugh 2005)

Nurseryman Jurd recalled that Francis Ferguson’s granddaughter, Nancy, and her husband lived on the site. He said, ‘It seemed to Rex that they had little interest in the business’.

‘It was run down, and he spent two years there fixing it up and replacing all the plant material’, wrote Judy McMaugh.

The Sylvania Nursery extended from Port Hacking Road to the waterfront on Gwawley Bay (now Sylvania Waters) (McMaugh 2005: 252-253). According to Jurd, the nursery was not clearly visible to on-coming traffic and was on the low side of the road and suffered from ‘few customers’.

Jurd, a fellow student with well-known Sydney nurseryman Valerie Swain at Ryde School of Horticulture, left Fergusons in 1959 and started working for Smart’s Nurseries at Gordon. (McMaugh 2005: 252-253)

The Sylvania Nursery was sold to the Pike family in 1966 and became part of Ferguson Garden Centre Pty Ltd. The new business retained the Ferguson name as part of the sale. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 16 May 1966)

The advice page for gardeners who purchased roses from Ferguson’s Nursery for their care and maintenance of roses. Trade catalogue for F Ferguson and Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

Mittagong Nursery

Hume Highway (then Old Hume Highway, then Ferguson Cres) Mittagong

Ferguson’s Nurseries developed a cold-climate nursery at Mittagong in 1939 and developed under the management of nurseryman Arthur Carroll.

According to nurseryman Bill Starke, Arthur Carroll ‘was equipped with a draught horse, a cross-cut saw, and an axe, and basically cleared the property by hand’. (McMaugh 2005: 105)

Mr Carroll was away on active military service during the Second World War and returned in 1946 as manager of the nursery, which traded as F Ferguson and Son. (Southern Mail, 10 May 1946)

An advertisement placed in the Southern Mail newspaper for F Ferguson & Son (Southern Mail, 17 May 1946)

Bruce Ferguson sold the Mittagong nursery to the Pike family in 1970. (McMaugh 2005:363)

This is the signage for Ferguson Cres (formerly the Hume Highway, then Old Hume Highway) at the intersection with Bowral Road, Mittagong. The street was named after the old Ferguson Nursery, located further north along what is now Ferguson Crescent. (I Willis 2022)

The former site of Ferguson’s Nursery on Ferguson Crescent (formerly Hume Highway, then Old Hume Highway) at Mittagong. This aerial view shows the remnants of the Hazelwood Garden Centre, which in 2022, is a housing development site called Ferguson Estate. (CRE 2021)

New ownership and the Ferguson name continues

Bruce Ferguson sold the Sylvania Nursery in 1966. (Reeve 2017)  

Jack Pike of Pikes Nurseries Rydalmere and Arch and Alan Newport of Newport Nurseries Winmalee (Springwood) were new owners. (McMaugh 2005: 320) The new ownership arrangement was incorporated in 1966 as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Pty Ltd. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

The Pikes were innovative businessmen, and the Sydney press ran a story in 1967 that promoted the nursery as Sydney’s new ‘supergardenmarket’. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

In 1970 the business purchased the Baulkham Hills Garden Centre and re-named it Ferguson’s Baulkham Hills Garden Centre. By 1973 the Newports had sold out to the Pike family interests. (McMaugh 2005:320, 366)

In 1974 outlets opened at Narrabeen, Warringah Mall, and the Sydney CBD. (McMaugh2005:365-366)

By the 1980s, many centres across the Sydney metropolitan area, including Baulkham Hills, Sylvania, Bonnyrigg, Narrabeen, Guilford, Mittagong in the Southern Highlands,  in Victoria the Mornington Peninsular and on the far-north coast at Alstonville. (McMaugh 2005:366)

The  Baulkham Hills Centre traded as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Holdings Pty Ltd and was incorporated in 1981. The nursery ceased trading in 2018, and the site was developed for residential units in 2019.

References

Ferguson, F. (1957). Ferguson’s Nursery Catalogue. Hurstville, F Ferguson & Sons.

McMaugh, J. (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales nursery industry. Sydney NSW, Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT.

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre-1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.

Updated on 13 May 2023. Originally posted on 16 January 2022.

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Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries on the urban fringe

Ferguson nurseries depart the urban fringe

The 20th-century story of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries is about their location within Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition that is constantly being shaped and re-shaped by the forces of urbanisation and a host of competing forces. (Willis 2014)

Plant nurseries arrive in the fringe, and competing forces eventually drive them from it after a time.

In this space, the Ferguson Australian Nurseries came and departed Sydney’s urban fringe as it moved with urban growth over the past 170 years. Shrewd business judgements ensured that the nurseries survived and thrived in this dynamic space and place.

Double Bay outlet

Ferguson’s nurseries arrived on Sydney’s fringe at Double Bay in the 1870s when Sydney was still a ‘walking city’. Horse trams, and later steam trams, started to appear in the city and travel out to Double Bay.

Double Bay was sparsely settled, and there was an array of colonial villas and mansions like Alexander Macleay’s colonial regency mansion Elizabeth Bay House (1839).

As Sydney grew in population, there were land sub-divisions from the 1840s. (Sheridan 2021) (SLNSW)

By the early 20th century, land values had risen with increased residential development   (Sheridan 2021). The land was more valuable for housing than a nursery, so economic forces gathered for its relocation.

By this time, Annie Henrietta Ferguson ran the nursery following the death of her husband, FJ Ferguson, aged 48 years, in 1899. Annie married FJ Ferguson in 1875.

Annie managed the Double Bay outlet until 1902, closed it by 1905 and moved the nursery to Hurstville. (WCL 2021)

F Ferguson’ & Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1930 (SLM)

Developments

Annie’s daughter, Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie), born at Campbelltown in 1876, had married Alfred Denison (AD) Little at All Saints Woollahra in 1902. (WCL)

By 1903 Lizzie and AD Little had moved back to Camden from Double Bay with the birth of their son Sydney. AD Little was to play a leading role in the nursery’s management and became a partner in the business. (WCL 2021)

In 1902 the Sydney press reported a fire at the Camden Nursery that destroyed a packing shed full of equipment. The same report stated that AD Little was now one of the proprietors, the mayor of Camden (1904-1905) and a presiding magistrate. (Daily Telegraph, 15 August 1905)

The oldest nursery

The Camden News boasted in 1905 that Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries were the ‘oldest fruit nursery and garden in Australia’. (Camden News, 17 August 1905)

Hurstville nursery outlet

By 1904 the Double Bay Nursery had been relocated to Hurstville on Stoney Creek Road. (Morris and Britton 2000)

The Hurstville area was a sparsely populated farming area with the first land subdivision in the 1880s. By the early 20th century, the urban fringe of Sydney had reached the site, and there were a series of residential land releases. (SLNSW)

The Camden press reported in 1913 that Ferguson’s nurseries were being run by AD & FB Little, and land had been leased at Elderslie, where 150,000 grafted apple trees had been planted out. (Camden News, 7 August 1913)

In 1915 the business was managed by Fred Little. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

F Ferguson and Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1932 (SLM)

Nurseryman Eric Jurd recalls, ‘Fergusons grew open-ground stock at a site in Peakhurst’. Jurd believed that Ferguson’s had extensive land holdings in the Kingsgrove and Peakhurst. (McMaugh 2005: 251-253)

The New South Wales Government purchased the Hurstville nursery site to establish Kingsgrove High School on the corner of Kingsgrove Road and Stoney Creek Road in 1958. (SRNSW)

Continued expansion

The nursery continued to expand, and by 1915, a report in the Gosford press indicated that Fergusons were operating from four sites:

  • Hurstville – a 40-acre site which was a general nursery and despatching centre for sales
  • Camden – a 60-acre site mainly producing fruit trees
  • Gosford – a 40-acre site, a nursery for grape vines and fruit trees
  • Ronkana (Ourimbah) – a 100-acre site under preparation. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In the early 1920s, there were extensive land releases in the Hurstville area, including the King’s Park Model Suburb of 600 lots adjacent to Ferguson’s Nursery on Stoney Creek Road. (St George Call (Kogarah) 22 September 1922) In 1926 the Simmons Estate next door to Ferguson’s Nursery was offered for sale. (St George Call (Kogarah) 5 February 1926)

By the interwar years, the Hurstville nursery site was a well-known landmark often referred to in the press. For example, a press report of Tooth’s Brewery’s purchase of a site at Bexley (Construction and Local Government Journal, 13 July 1927), and the NRMA used the nursery as a prominent and well-known landmark in their tourism promotion for road trips in and around the Sydney area. (Sun (Sydney) 18 November 1927).

The nursery business continued under the control of AD & FB Little until the 1930s, and they were followed by Arthur Bruce (AB) Ferguson (1889 -1949). (Little 1977)

Fruit trees and vines

Ferguson’s nurseries sold fruit trees and vines to new producers in the emerging horticulture areas throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Large quantities of grapevines had been supplied to the Yanco Irrigation Area in 1915. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In 1926 an article in the Leeton press mentioned that Fergusons Nurseries had fruit trees for sale. (Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW: 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 16 February 1926)

As indicated by a story in the Tumut press, agents for the nursery were often keen to promote that stock of fruit trees, vines, and flowering plants were available for purchase. (Tumut and Adelong Times, 28 May 1929)

Water supply

A reliable water supply is essential for horticulture and the nursery industry.

In 1922 an irrigation licence was issued to Alfred D (AD) Little, a partner for Ferguson & Sons, Australian Nursery, Camden, to pump up to 150 gallons per minute on the right bank [Elderslie]. (NSW Government Gazette, 11 August 1922)

The next generation

In 1927 FB Little died at Hurstville, and in 1933 AD Little died at Camden and is buried in St John’s Cemetery.

In 1932 the Australian Nursery site on the Nepean River, known as The Nursery or the Camden Nursery, part ownership passed to Stanley Nigel (SN) Ferguson. (Sanders 2008b) After World War II, SN Ferguson’s son, Bruce (1916 – 2008), inherited a half-share in The Nursery site. (Sanders 2008a)

In 1935 Ferguson’s nursery purchased land owned by Mr W Moore between the Old South Road and the Hume Highway. (Camden News, 11 April 1935)

Following this period, the Camden nursery moved to Broughton & Little Street  (Nixon 1989) at the rear of the Camden District Hospital until the business was sold in the mid-1960s. (Nixon 1991)

References

Little, S. F. (1977). Correspondence to CHS 17 February 1977. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archive.

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre-1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Nixon, R. E. (1989). File notes for correspondence to CHS from Helen R Dick 18 July 1989, Camden Museum Archives.

Nixon, R. E. (1991). The Rose Festival. Rose Festival File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sanders, G. J. (2008a). Distinguished in war and peace, Bruce Ferguson, Obituary 31 May. Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2008.

Sanders, G. J. (2008b). Eulogy for Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sheridan, P. (2021). Sydney Art Deco and Modernist Walks Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. Sydney, Bakelite and Peter Sheridan.

WCL (2021). “Double Bay as a nineteenth-century centre of gardening and horticulture.” Woollahra Local History/Woollahra’s Historic Landscapes. Retrieved 10 December 2021, 2021, from https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahras-historic-landscapes/horticulture-in-double-bay.

Willis, I. (2014). “Townies Exurbanites and Aesthetics: Issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.” AQ, Australian Quarterly(April-June 2012): 20-25.

Updated 23 May 2023. Originally posted 5 January 2022.

Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Agriculture history · Business · Business History · Camden · Camden Story · Campbelltown · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Cultural plantings · Economy · England · Family history · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · Horticulture · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Nepean River · Nursery · Place making · Plant Nursery · Sense of place · Storytelling · Trees · Uncategorized · Urban growth · Urban history

Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries, a century of horticulture

A local nursery serves the world

In 1883 the Double Bay outlet of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries at Camden was described in the Sydney press as a ‘well-ordered establishment…covering three acres…laid out in a most systematic manner’. (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883, page 3)

The Double Bay nursery was part of the Ferguson horticultural enterprise, which started in the 1850s at Camden. Sales encouraged opening a  second nursery at Campbelltown later moved to Double Bay. The 20th century brought more changes and, eventually new owners.

Ferguson’s nursery and William Macarthur’s Camden Park nursery were part of a British imperial horticultural network that satisfied the Victorians’ insatiable demand for plants. The industry was driven by plant hunting expeditions and a Victorian fetish for orchids, ferns, palms and other new plants.

The burgeoning colonial nursery industry in the Cowpastures was integral to British imperialism and the settler-colonial project. The Enlightenment notions of progress and development were good for business and reinforced the dispossession and displacement of the Dharawal people from their country.

 Nurseryman Francis Ferguson

The Camden nursery was established in 1857 by Englishman Francis Ferguson on a 50-acre site fronting the Nepean River. Francis came out to New South Wales as an assisted immigrant in 1849 on the John Bright after working at Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire and other English estates. Initially, he worked for Sir Thomas Mitchell, laying out his estate at Parkhall (later Nepean Towers, St Mary’s Towers) at Douglas Park. (Morris and Britton 2000)

Historian Alan Atkinson describes Ferguson as ‘a man of education, some capital and mercurial habits’. (Atkinson, 1988)

Signage at the entry to Ferguson Lane, the location of the former Ferguson’s Australian Nursery at Camden (I Willis 2021)

Ferguson was head gardener at Camden Park Estate for William Macarthur (later Sir William) from 1849-1856 and could be styled as a Macarthur protege. (Reeve 2017) The Camden Park website maintains that William Macarthur ran one of the most important nurseries in 19th-century New South Wales. According to visiting English nurseryman John Gould (JG) Veitch, Macarthur was well known in Europe. Veitch Nurseries were reportedly the largest family-run plant nurseries in 19th-century Europe.

Ferguson remained indebted to the patronage of William Macarthur (Morris and Britton 2000) and his experience at Camden Park and acted on Macarthur’s behalf when he was not in Australia. (WCL 2021)

In 1864 a 25-year-old JG Veitch (Financial Times, 27 September 2014) led a plant hunting expedition to the ‘South Seas’ and delivered several Wardian cases to Australian colonial contacts. While in New South Wales, he visited William Macarthur’s Camden Park nursery and Fergusons Australian Nursery, which impressed him. For a time, Ferguson acted as an agent for James Veitch and Sons nurseries. (Morris and Britton 2000; McMaugh 2005)

Fruit trees, camellias and roses

Francis Ferguson opened the Camden nursery sometime in 1857 (Nixon 1991; Little 1977; Farmer and Settler, 8 July 1937, 15 July 1937), and it became the centre of a growing horticultural enterprise that extended well beyond the area.

The Ferguson nursery was located on the left bank of the Nepean River at the Macquarie Grove river-crossing on the northern boundary of Camden Park estate. The nursery site had an east-west alignment with a 600-metre river frontage along its northern boundary ending at Matahil Creek to the east, with the Ferguson homestead on the rise to the southwest.

The homestead had ‘a fine view’ of the Camden township to the northeast with the spire of St John’s Church and allowed a ‘glimpse of Camden Park house in the distance’ to the southeast. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

According to Alan Atkinson, the Australian Nursery specialised in ‘trees “peculiarly adapted to the requirements of Australia”, together will shrubs and native seeds’. (Atkinson, 1988)

 According to an 1880 Sydney press report, the nursery was about eight acres in extent with ‘a long avenue’ terminating at a ‘large gate’ below the house ‘making a very nice carriage drive’. There were ‘very well laid out walks’ throughout the nursery, surrounded by ‘gigantic pines, araucarias, and poplars’. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

Remnant Araucarias that were on the southwestern boundary of Fergusons Australian Nursery. They made up the grove of trees that lined the driveway entrance to the Macquarie House next door to the nursery. (I Willis, 2021)

Reports indicate that in 1879 Fergusons sold over 60,000 fruit trees and 5,000 camellias (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68). The nursery plant stock comprised over 6000 camellias and 100,000 hawthorn seedlings. (Ferguson 1871)

From the outset, the Australian Nursery issued trade catalogues regularly, and one of the earliest was the 1861 Catalogue of Plants, Fruit Trees, Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.

In 1871 issued, a series of five trade catalogues listed plant stock for sale. The catalogues were:

  • New and Rare Plants
  • Hardy Trees, Shrubs and Conifers
  • Fruit Trees, with directions for forming the orchard.
  • Roses
  • Bulbs and Tubers. (Ferguson 1871)

The ‘Catalogue of New and Rare Plants’ listed over 950 individual plants and was a mixture of native plants from the Australian continent and exotics from worldwide. The catalogue listed numerous popular flowering plants, including roses, camellias, azaleas, pelargoniums and chrysanthemums, fuchsias, carnations, and dahlias. Utilitarian plants included ‘trees for avenues’ and ‘hawthorn for hedges’. Under the heading of ‘trees and shrubs’, details listed the plants’ ‘scientific name’,  ‘native country’, ‘height in feet’, and price. (Ferguson 1871)

Cover of Ferguson’s Trade Catalogue of New and Rare Plants for 1871 (NLA)

The Ferguson catalogue provided practical advice for the colonial gardener and a plant description. For example, ‘Araucaria Bidwilli – The Queensland Bunya Bunya, forming magnificent trees as single specimens’. Camellias were a favourite but hard to grow in the colonial climate, and details on how to look after them were provided. The hawthorn was a ‘favourite English Hedge Plant [and] thrives remarkably well in all parts of Australia, forming, undoubtedly, the best defensive hedge’. (Ferguson 1871)

Ferguson’s also offered advice on new and rare plants in the press. In 1876 the nursery published advice on the ‘rare’ Jacaranda mimosifolia described as ‘a singularly beautiful and rare flowering tree’. The report stated, ‘the Jacaranda mimosifolia is perfectly hardy in all but the coldest districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria.’ (Australasian (Melb), 6 May 1876)

Ferguson’s sold extensively across the colonial garden market in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand, supported by 14 agents in locations ranging from Auckland to Wellington and Wanganui in New Zealand’s North Island and to Dunedin in the South Island. In Queensland, agents were listed at Warwick and Darling Downs, while those in New South Wales ranged from Bega to Mudgee and out to the Liverpool Plains. Ferguson claimed that there was an increasing demand for ‘Australian Timber Trees’ in Northern India, California, Southern Europe, and New Zealand. (Ferguson 1871)

Campbelltown Nursery

Condamine Street, Campbelltown

By the late 1860s, increasing demand and the distance from the Campbelltown railway station encouraged Ferguson to establish a nursery outlet at Campbelltown. (Ferguson 1871)

The Camden nursery was nine miles from Campbelltown Railway Station, and it took Mr H Ferguson in a buggy with a ‘fine stepper’ and an hour to get there. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 January 1880, page 68)

The firm opened the Campbelltown nursery in 1869 on Condamine Street, close to the convict-built water supply reservoir. (Reeve 2017)  It was stocked with 50,000 ‘well-grown healthy plants’ to supply growing demand from ‘up-country and adjacent Colonies’. (Ferguson 1871)

From 1874 the Campbelltown outlet was managed by Francis John (FJ) Ferguson, Francis’s son, who had returned from five years with English firm Veitch Nurseries at Chelsea, and the firm now traded as Francis Ferguson and Son. (Reeve 2017)

Double Bay Nursery

Manning Road and New South Head Road, Double Bay

The business continued to prosper, and FJ Ferguson moved the Campbelltown outlet closer to Sydney. A site was chosen at Double Bay on a former market garden in 1876 and opened in 1878. (WCL 2021) (Reeve 2017)

The Double Bay Nursery site had ‘a large frontage’ on New South Head Road with ‘rich deep alluvial’ soil in a low-lying area that drained into Double Bay. (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883)

By 1887 the nursery had two propagating glasshouses with impatiens and lasiandras, a bush house that accommodated a mixture of pot plants, including camellias, bouvardias, magnolias, conifers and tree ferns. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

This is an engraving of Ferguson’s Nursery in Double Bay that appeared in the Sydney press in 1883 (Illustrated Sydney News, 14 April 1883, p. 17)

In 1885 the nursery opened a shopfront in Sydney’s Royal Arcade, which ran between George Street and Pitt Street and had been designed by Thomas Rowe in 1881. Herbert Ferguson successfully managed the nursery shop and specialised in plants, seeds and cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

The Fergusons also ran a small nursery near Ashfield railway station to supply the Royal Arcade shop with cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

Ferguson Lane is near the former entrance to the Ferguson Australian Nursery. The lane is lined with African Olive, which is remnant vegetation with the regrowth of an Araucaria emerging from amongst the grove (I Willis, 2021)

The 20th-century beckons

The beginning of the 20th century brought more changes for the Ferguson nursery business and, by the late 1960s, new owners.

References

Atkinson, Alan (1988). Camden, Farm and Village Live in Early New South Wales. OUP, Melbourne.

Ferguson, F. (1871). Catalogue of new and rare plants, hardy trees, shrubs, conifers &c. Camden NSW, Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries. (NLA)

Little, S. (1977), Correspondence to CHS 19 February, MSS, Camden Museum Archives

McMaugh, Judy (2005). Living Horticulture, The lives of men and women in the New South Wales Nursery Industry. Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT, Sydney

Morris, C. and G. Britton (2000). Colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, NSW: A survey of selected pre-1860 cultural landscapes from Wollondilly to Hawkesbury LGAs. Sydney NSW, National Trust of Australia (NSW). 1 & 2.

Nixon, RE (1991). Camden Rose Festival. Typescript, Camden Museum Archives.

Reeve, T. M. (2017). “‘Rawson’, Condamine Street, Campbelltown, a private residence, formerly known as ‘Marlesford’.” Grist Mills 30(2): 25-32.

WCL (2021). “Double Bay as a nineteenth-century centre of gardening and horticulture.” Woollahra Local History/Woollahra’s Historic Landscapes. Retrieved 10 December 2021, 2021, from https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahras-historic-landscapes/horticulture-in-double-bay.

Updated on 13 May 2023; Originally posted 25 December 2021.

20th century · Agriculture · Argyle Street · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden Regional Economic Taskforce · Camden Story · Camden Town Centre · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Festivals · Gardening · Heritage · History · Jacaranda · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Newspapers · Nursery · Placemaking · Storytelling · Streetscapes · Tourism · Uncategorized

Jacaranda fever hits Camden

2018 Camden Jacaranda Festival

In 2018 the love of the Jacaranda in the Camden area extended to the launch of a new festival around the purple blossoms.

An example of Jacaranda mimosifolia outside Camden’s historic Victorian Commercial Bank building adds a layer of colour to its colonial facade. The banking chambers are in Argyle Street Camden. (I Willis, 2020)

The idea first germinated in 2017 with the support of Argyle Street Business Collective. (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 8 August 2018)

In 2018 Camden Council threw its support behind Business Collective’s Jacaranda Festival. Council withdrew support for the annual Light Up Camden festival conducted by the Camden Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry.

The town’s Christmas celebrations were incorporated into the new Jacaranda Festival.

The current generation of Jacaranda trees and their flush of purple haze started with street plantings in the 1920s.

Specimens of Jacaranda mimosifolia with their purple display on the central island in Argyle Street, Camden. Jacarandas were first planted in Camden’s town centre in the 1920s and in recent years have suffered from traffic pollution and other problems. (I Willis, 2020)

The first mention of jacarandas in Camden

Going back further, the first mention of Jacarandas was from Camden’s Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries in 1876 in Melbourne’s Australasian newspaper.

Ferguson’s published advice on the ‘rare’ Jacaranda mimosifolia described as ‘a singularly beautiful and rare flowering tree’.

Ferguson’s described the Jacaranda mimosifolia specimen in the Sydney Botanic Gardens as

an erect, though umbrageous and handsome growing tree, 30ft. to 40ft high. Its foliage is, perhaps, the most beautiful of all exogenous trees.

It is soft, feathery, fern or frond like, and exquisitely elegant, while at the same time it is decidedly grand, both in its proportions, graceful arrangements, and symmetry.

It may be said of the species that even out of flower it has no equal amongst moderate-sized ornamental trees, while to give expression to the effect of its appearance when in fall bloom no words would suffice. It must be seen to be appreciated.

The blossoms are large, of a most striking and delightful blue, and produced in such profusion that, viewed from a little distance, the tree appears, as it were, a graceful and living cone of floral grandeur.

Though rare, as we have remarked, enough has been proved to warrant us in stating that the Jacaranda mimosifolia is perfectly hardy in all but the very coldest districts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. (Australasian, 6 May 1876)

‘Under The Jacaranda’ was painted by Richard Godfrey Rivers in 1903 at the Queensland Art Gallery. The Jacaranda specimen was located in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. (Wikimedia)

The first Jacaranda tree in Australia

Ross McKinnon, a former curator of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, told Jessica Hinchliffe  for ABC News, that

 ‘the first jacaranda tree planted in Australia was in Brisbane’.

“In the 1850s Queensland was sending wheat and grain to South America,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca.

“On returning, they would unload at Kangaroo Point cliffs’ wharfs and the first curator of the gardens, Walter Hill, would row across the river and exchange seeds and plants with visiting sea captains.

“A visiting sea captain from South America gave Walter Hill the first jacaranda, which he planted at the rear of the city botanic gardens in 1864.”

Camden Jacaranda Festival

The 2018 Jacaranda Festival was the inaugural event under founder and Camden Hotel manager Andrew Valciukas. Mayor Symkowiak said the ‘festival cheer will remain a highlight and nothing has changed [from Light Up Camden]’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 21 August 2018)

The festival ran from 23-25 November and opened on Friday night with live music throughout the town centre, including hotels, shopfronts and the Alan Baker Art Gallery.

The Jacaranda Experience opened on Saturday afternoon and into the evening when the Christmas tree was lit followed by fireworks. There was a street market with stalls and outdoor dining along Argyle Street and a stage in John Street for ‘local school children, dance schools and local professional acts’.

Larkin Place featured a motocross demonstration and a display of ‘fabulous street metal’. Fireworks topped out the festivities on Saturday night. (What On Macarthur, leaflet, November 2018) (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 8 August 2018)

Camden Region Economic Taskforce director Debbie Roberts put together several short films with Camden personality and historian Laura Jane Aulsebrook. The Jacarandas are featured along with Camden Cottage, Show Pavilion, Camden Library Museum, Macaria and other historic sites.

CRET’s films appeared on Facebook in the week leading up to the festival. They were popular and prompted a bus group from Sydney’s northern suburbs to visit Camden for a walk led by LJ Aulesbrook.

The Jacaranda Walking Tour Map highlighted the best spots to view Jacarandas in the Camden Town Centre with spots of Instagram selfies. The walking tours pointed out Camden’s historic sites and the view across the town centre from Broughton Street. (CHS, 2018)

Walks of the town’s Jacaranda-lined streets and historical sites were conducted on Sunday by members of the Camden Historical Society, including Laura Jane. The program of historic walking tours started at the Camden Museum. (The Jacaranda Walking Tour Map 2018)  

Camden Flower Festivals

Flower festivals were not new to Camden.

In the late 1960s, the Camden Rose Festival committee organised an annual festival and street parade, topped out with the crowning of Miss Rose Festival Queen. The celebrations were initiated by Camden community worker JW Hill in aid of Camden District Hospital. (Camden Advertiser, 11 February 2009)

Newspaper photographs of The Rose Festival Queen. The caption states: ‘The Rose Festival Queen, Miss Marilyn Fuller (left) receives her crown from last year’s Queen, Miss Michele Chambers. On the right, Miss Fuller thanks those who worked so hard for her success. Seated are Miss Hospital, Beverley Thornton and Miss Apex, Ngaire Davies’. Camden News, 30 October 1968)

The House and Garden website states,

The beauty, resilience and fragrance of roses have made it a favourite of gardeners and flower-lovers, as well as a symbol of love, for centuries. Roses are romantic and voluptuous, with their petals painted in beautiful colours.

Camden’s Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries had an extensive catalogue of roses and sold them all over Australia and beyond.

The 1930 trade catalogue for Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries had its main propagation operations at Camden. Ferguson’s sold an extensive range of roses across Australia and beyond. (SLM/Ferguson’s Nurseries)

Flower shows were not new in Camden, and the annual St John’s Church Flower Show was held each year starting in the 1890s and continuing for many decades.

Neil McMahon writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that

our love of gardening, plants and soil can perhaps be attributed to the combination of the British heritage – reflected in a lot of garden design before modern trends and native practicality infiltrated our yards and apartments – and a climate that lends itself to spending time outdoors planting and pruning.

Oldest Jacaranda Tree living in Australia

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney has the current honour of having the largest living jacaranda tree in Australia. It is located near the Victoria Lodge, Mrs Macquarie Road, Sydney.

The story of the jacaranda tree near the Victora Lodge in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney (The Gardens, Spring 2022, Issue 134)

The Victoria Lodge was built in 1865 and attributed to Sydney’s colonial architect James Barnett. It was built as a residence for the garden ranger and to be a landscape feature.

Victoria Lodge is located adjacent to Mrs Macquarie Road in the northeast section of the Royal Botanic Garden. This view shows Farm Cove in the background. The image was probably taken in the mid-late 1800s. (RBG)

Constructed on Sydney sandstone the garden website states:

Its tower was constructed in 1865 with pale-coloured sandstone, and the walls are sparrow-pick finished with a rock-faced finish at the base A new wing made of Sydney yellow block sandstone with a dressed and rubbed finish was added in 1897, providing a sitting room.  The front facade has a projecting bay, with six multi-paned windows and stone mullions. Palisade fencing was constructed in 1900 along Mrs Macquaries Road, and included a gateway. A lean-to bathroom was added between 1913 and 1921, and many internal finishes are from the 1960s. The Lower Garden Precinct in which Victoria Lodge sits demonstrates qualities introduced by Governor Macquarie and developed by Charles Moore, Director of the Garden for 48 years from 1848.

Updated 15 August 2022. Originally posted 8 December 2021.

Agriculture · Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden Story · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · History · Landscape · Local History · Memorial · Memorials · Monuments · Oran Park · Parks · Place making · Placemaking · Public art · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Storytelling · Tourism

Cowpastures memorial, Oran Park

A celebration of a landscape of cows at Oran Park

As you wander around the administration-library-shopping precinct at Oran Park, there is a sense of anticipation that you are being watched. If you look around, several bronze bovine statues are guarding the site. They are a representation of the Cowpastures Wild Cattle of the 1790s.

The bronze herd of horned cattle consists of six adult beasts and one calf wandering in a line across the manicured parkland landscape. The bovine art connoisseur can engage with the animals and walk among them to immerse themselves in a recreated moment from the past – a form of living history.

The Cowpastures public art installation at Perich Park in Central Avenue at Oran Park (I Willis, 2017)

The bronze cattle dramatically contrasts with the striking contemporary architecture of the council building across the road. Opening in 2016, the cantilevered glass-boxed and concrete Camden Council administration building was designed by Sydney architects GroupGSA.

This bovine-style art installation is the second memorial to the Cowpastures, the fourth location of European settlement in the New South Wales colony. The artwork is found in Perich Park, named after the family that endowed the community with the open space.

The herd of bronze cows in Perich Park in Central Avenue at Oran Park (I Willis, 2017)

The story of the Cowpastures is told on the storyboard located adjacent to the artwork.  It states:

The Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures

There are several versions of this story. There seems to be a consensus that two bulls (one bull calf) and five cows were purchased at the Cape of Good Hope and landed at Sydney Cove with the First Fleet in January 1788. The cattle were black and the mature bull was of the Afikander [sic – Afrikander] breed.

Shortly after the arrival of the First Fleet the two bulls and five cows could not be found and it was not until seven years later in 1795 that a convict reported sighting a herd of cattle in the bush.

Governor Hunter dispatched Henry Hacking to report on the cattle. Hunter resolved to inspect them himself and in November 1795 with a party of mainly Naval officers he found a herd of sixty-one cattle near the Nepean River near what is now known as Menangle.

Governor Hunter named the area The Cowpastures Plains. He wrote ‘They have chosen a beautiful part of the country to graze in…and they may become…a very great advantage resource to this Colony’. They were rather wild and inferior but bred rapidly.

By 1801 the herd had increased naturally to an estimated five or six hundred head. In 1811 they were estimated to be in their thousands.

The bronze cattle here have been kindly donated to the Community by the Perich Family.

Information board for Cowpasture art installation at Perich Park in Central Avenue at Oran Park (I Willis, 2017)

The bronzed-bovines in Perich Park on Central Ave were installed in 2016 to coincide with the opening of the new council building.

The Perich Park art installation is preceded by an earlier artwork that depicted more bovines just up the street. The other animal sculptures were a set of concrete cows that were represented wandering around in a small reserve opposite the Oran Park development sales office in Peter Brock Drive.

The reserve is located between Peter Brock Drive and Moffat Street, and this batch-of-bovines were installed around 2010. The reserve and open space is not designated parkland, and signage indicates that it is destined for housing development.

A concrete cow in the reserve in Moffat Street Oran Park (I Willis, 2010)

A concrete cow in the reserve in Moffat Street at Oran Park (I Willis, 2010)

Placemaking

The use of public art is one approach to placemaking that is employed by urban planners and designers, architects, and others. The authorities responsible for creating the Oran Park community and the new suburbs within it have used public art for placemaking.

What is placemaking?

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being. 

In the United States, the National Endowment for the Arts states that creative placemaking.

integrates arts, culture, and design activities into efforts that strengthen communities. Creative placemaking requires partnership across sectors, deeply engages the community, involves artists, designers and culture bearers, and helps to advance local economic, physical, and/or social change, ultimately laying the groundwork for systems change.

Storytelling promotes the concept of place and the process of placemaking. One of those stories is the Cowpastures and the Wild Cattle history from the days of colonial New South Wales.

Understanding the past through storytelling contributes to the construction of community identity and builds resilience in new communities. The cultural heritage of an area is the traditions, ceremonies, stories, events and personalities of a place. There are also dark and hidden stories of the Cowpastures that need telling, such as the frontier violence of the Appin Massacre.

The Cowpasture art installation uses a living history approach to tell the story of the European occupation of the local area that is part of the history of colonialism and the settler society project in New South Wales.

Aesthetics · Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Airfield · Camden Show · Churches · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cumberland Plain · Farming · Floods · Heritage · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur Park · Onslow Park · Place making · Railway · Sense of place · Storytelling · Tourism

Camden, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain

A country town on Sydney’s fringe

The cultural heritage of the local area makes the historic town of Camden, according to Sydney architect Hector Abrahams, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park Estate in the Cowpastures on the banks of the Nepean River.

Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. (Camden Images)

The township provides a glimpse of life from times gone past with the charm and character with its Victorian style built heritage and early 20th century cottages and commercial buildings.


The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

Camden Heritage Walk (Camden Council)

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

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 Sydney area. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

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.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

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.

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

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 2019 Camden Show provided an immersive experience for participants and observers alike in a host of farming activities. The authentic sights, sounds and smells of the show ring and surrounds enlightened and entertained in a feast for the senses. (I Willis, 2019)

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.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

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.

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s (Camden Images)

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

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.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

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.

Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)

Updated 24 May 2021. Originally posted on Camden History Notes 18 December 2016. This post was originally published on Heritage Tourism as ‘Camden: the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain’ in 2010.

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The enduring appeal of a rural pageant

Camden Showgirl

 Once again, country show societies are gearing up for the annual New South Wales Showgirl competition. In 2008 500 young women entered the pageant at a local level representing 120 show societies, with the Sydney Royal Easter Show finals. The 2011 Camden Showgirl has attracted seven young local women – four of the seven are university students, two business owners and one business manager.

The competition has come a long way since its beginnings in 1962 which started as Miss Showgirl and changed in 1979 to the Showgirl competition. It has seen off a variety of other pageants and successfully competes with several others. In these days of television celebrity fashion competitions, the Showgirl competition is a bit of an anachronism.  Rather quaint, yet with an underlying strength that is endearing to supporters.

The Showgirl competition is a complex mix of paradoxes and apparent contradictions, just like other aspects of rural life: it is very traditional while accommodating the aspirations of young women; it is staid yet has had an underlying strand of the commodification of young women as objects of display; it is conservative yet encourages sexualisation of young women through good times at balls and the like; it avoids the stereotypes of other beauty pageants, yet it promotes a version of a stereotypical young rural woman;  it is part of the town and country divide yet brings the country to the city; and more.

The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when rural women were confined by home and family. The foundation sponsor was the racy tabloid, The Daily Mirror, which commodified womanhood images on page three. Later competition sponsors, The Daily Telegraph and then The Women’s Weekly, used different representations of womanhood, and today The Land newspaper takes a newsworthy approach to rural affairs.

The RAS Miss Royal Easter Showgirl for 1978 in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The winner is an 18-year-old trainee nurse from Mungindi in rural New South Wales. (AWW 29 March 1978)

The values expressed in the Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl entrants prepared by 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins are slightly old-fashioned. The guide stresses etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offers deportment lessons for entrants – An echo from the past.

While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants and provides personal development opportunities.  

Showtime, the show ball and the Showgirl competition are representatives of notions of rurality. Camden Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.  People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it.   In 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’.  

Organising committees select entrants who have a sense of belonging to and identifying with the local area. According to Suzie Sherwood, a 2004 Camden organising committee member, the winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community.

In a historical analysis by Kate Darian-Smith and Sara Wills (2001), they see the current response to Miss Showgirl as ‘an embodiment of meaningful and rural belonging’. Miss Showgirl entrants indeed embrace parochialism and the interests of local show societies as part of the competition. These forces have long shaped the rural identity and its response to city-based decision-making.

Miss Camden Showgirl for 2018 in the Australia Day Parade on the float for the Camden Show. (I Willis)

Rural New South Wales faces constant challenges, and the showgirl’s success is a rural showcase in the ‘big smoke’. The competition embraces the experience of showtime in Sydney when the country comes to town, and there are social engagements, cocktail parties and pictures on the social pages.  The showgirl competition draws on rural traditions surrounding debutante balls, bachelor and spinster balls and similar community gatherings that express a sense of place. The essence of localism.

Glamour and style are back, and Showgirl has an element of ‘fashions on the field’. Young women have an opportunity to ‘frock up’. Something authentic. It harks back to the days of the country race meeting and the local polo match. The exclusivity that was once the rural gentry’s domain when deference and paternalism ruled the bush. Press photographs of ‘glammed up’ Showgirls sashing 1st place in the dairy cow section recall days of the ‘Lady of the Manor’ and the English village fair. 

2011 Camden Show Girl and Camden’s first Sydney Royal Showgirl, Hilary Scott. (The District Reporter 3 October 2011)

Miss Showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Understandably entrants passionately defend the competition.

None of these issues has been a problem for 2011 Camden Showgirl winner Hilary Scott, a 22-year-old horse-loving university student from The Oaks.  She appeared on the front page of The District Reporter, all glammed up in the paddock, under the banner headline ‘Showgirl Hilary supports agriculture’. Hilary is a confident young rural woman who projects Miss Showgirl’s contemporary vibrancy and complexities.

Camden Showgirl Winners

Miss Showgirl 1962-1978, Camden Showgirl 1979-2020

1962 Helen Crace 1963 Helen Crace 1964 Sue Mason 1965 Barbara Duck 1966 Dawn Dowle 1967 Jenny Rock 1968 Heather Mills 1969 Michelle Chambers 1970 Joyce Boardman 1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham 1972 Kerri Webb 1973 Anne Fahey 1974 Sue Faber  1975 Janelle Hore 1976 Jenny Barnaby 1977 Patsy Anne Daley 1978 Julie Wallace 1979 Sandra Olieric 1980 Fiona Wilson 1981 Louise Longley 1982 Melissa Clowes 1983 Illa Eagles 1984 Leanne Reily 1985 Rebecca Py 1986 Jenny Rawlinson 1987 Jayne Manns  1988 Monique Mate 1989 Linda Drinnan 1990 Tai Green 1991 Toni Leeman 1992 Susan Lees 1993 Belinda Bettington 1994 Miffy Haynes 1995 Danielle Halfpenny 1996 Jenianne Garvin 1997 Michelle Dries 1998 Belinda Holyoake 1999 Lyndall Reeves 2000 Katie Rogers  
2001 Kristy Stewart 2002 Margaret Roser 2003 Sally Watson 2004 Danielle Haack 2005 Arna Daley 2006 Victoria Travers 2007 Sarah Myers  2008 Fiona Boardman 2009 Lauren Elkins 2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic 2011 Hilary Scott 2012 April Browne 2013 Isabel Head 2014 Jacinda Webster  2015 Kate Boardman 2016 Danielle Rodney 2017 Tess Madeley 2018 Corinne Fulford 2019 Nicole Sandrone 2020 Tiarna Scerri  

These women have come from diverse backgrounds and acted as a rural ambassador for the Camden Show.

The Land Sydney Royal Show Girl Competition for 2022 website states:

The Competition aims to find a young female Ambassador for rural NSW and the agricultural show movement.

The Showgirl Competition is definitely not a beauty pageant. Entrants must have a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, rural NSW. The Competition encourages the participation and awareness of issues faced by women in rural NSW.

https://www.camdenshow.com/members/itemlist/category/133-show-ball

Updated 17 March 2023. Originally posted 3 October 2011