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).
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.
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’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.
A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.
The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.
The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.
The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.
The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.
For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.
There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.
There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.
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.
Photographs provide a rare glimpse of a particular second in time, which will never again be repeated. This is especially true for events that occurred before the development of television or digital technologies.
The photographic work of Roy Dowle is a collection of glass plates found their way to The Oaks Historical Society and have recently been digitized by the society.
Digitizing The Roy Dowle Photographic Collection
Trish Hill and Allen Seymour
Roy William Dowle was born in 1893, the first child to Charles and Madeline Dowle (nee Dominish) and his siblings were Frank (1896), Edgar (1898) and Leonard (1904). Charles Dowle purchased their “Collingwood” property in Quarry Road, at The Oaks around the time of Roy’s birth. It is presumed that Roy lived there until his marriage to Emily J Smith in 1915.
Roy & Emily’s home was in Camden at the top of Barsden Street. Roy was a photographer and the Camden News of March 26th, 1914 records that he received an award for photography in the amateur section at the Camden show.
In 1937 he supplied photographs of Camden to the Council for use by the railways in their passenger carriages. Roy worked for Whitemans, and in 1943 he was called on to make a presentation to Charles Whiteman when the latter retired. The Dowle’s also had a holiday home at Erowal Bay – St George’s Basin.
Roy died in 1955, but fortunately, a large number of his glass and film negatives survived. These were donated to the Wollondilly Heritage Centre in 2016 by Roy’s grand-daughter. An index book came with the collection, but unfortunately, a lot of the negatives were not in their original boxes, making identification of the people difficult. The photographs range in age from around 1910 to the 1940s.
The Wollondilly Heritage Centre was successful in obtaining a New South Wales Community Heritage grant in 2019 to digitize the collection which consists of 1100 glass plate negatives and a further 120 plastic film negatives.
There was considerable work in preparing the negatives for digitizing, as they all had to be cleaned and numbered. This was done by volunteers from the centre over several weeks, and they were then transported in batches to Digital Masters at Balgowlah for digitizing. Most were still in excellent condition, and the quality of the scanned images is superb.
Roy photographed a lot of people, with weddings, babies and young children being popular subjects. He also photographed local buildings and houses, views, animals, local events such as parades or sporting events.
Buildings photographed include St Johns church (inside also), Camden Hospital (even inside shots), Camden Inn, Plough & Harrow Hotel, Narellan Hotel, Oakdale wine shop, Maloney’s store, Narellan school, Mt Hunter school, Camden railway station, Camden Milk Depot, Mater Dei and others.
The unveiling of the Mt Hunter war memorial (pictured) was also covered by Roy, along with Mt Hunter School and some beautiful interior shots which show honour boards with photos of local soldiers.
Some really fascinating photos are of children in fancy dress, and two that stand out, are of the same girl dressed firstly as a wedding cake, and then as a lampshade!! A number of the houses have been identified as still being in Camden, and other more easily identified homes include “Edithville” in Mitchell street, the former Methodist parsonage in Menangle Road and Harrington Park house.
Among the groups photographed are St John’s Choir, returned servicemen, cricket teams, football teams, Masonic dinner, the Royal Forrester’s, staff and children from Macquarie House, visiting school teachers and Sunday school groups. One photograph of a group of three male cyclists picnicking may be one of the first selfies, as we believe the centre one is Roy himself, holding a string which runs to the camera. Soldiers were another popular subject, and there are also some women dressed as soldiers. Roy also copied photos. This was done by photographing it, and a lot of the soldier photos have been copied this way.
Some of the views are of Wollongong, Bulli, Burragorang, Douglas Park, Theresa Park, Chellaston Street and some great shots taken from St Johns steeple. There are also numerous flood scenes around Camden. Animals didn’t escape Roy’s camera, and there are shots of cattle, horses, poultry, dogs. Even a camel. Some other remarkable photos are of a shop window display featuring Persil washing powder. Some of these have been dated to 1910.
A lot of the film negatives show his holidays, with some taken at their holiday home, while others are taken whilst on a trip to the north, and scenes have been identified as Cessnock, Dungog, Taree, Kew & Paterson. There are some photos of Warragamba Dam in the very early stages before any concrete was poured, and a magnificent shot of the winding drums of the overhead cableway.
Several Roy’s photos have already appeared on the Back Page and in numerous publications on local history because his subjects were local and numerous copies of them have survived in private collections.
The scanned photos can be viewed either on a computer or in albums at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre & Museum, open on Saturdays, Sundays & public holidays.
Check out old photographs from the Roy Dowle Collection at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre Website Click here.
In the Camden village, James and William Macarthur named streets after themselves and their supporters. They include John Street, Macarthur Road, Elizabeth Street, Edward Street, Broughton Street, Exeter Street, Oxley Street, Mitchell Street. The Macarthur family and funded the construction of St John’s church on the hill and donated the surrounding curtilage.
The village was strategically located at the Nepean River ford where the first Europeans crossed the river. By the 1820s the river crossing was the main entry point to Macarthur brothers’ Camden Park Estate, the largest gentry property in the area.
The situation of the village on the Great South Road re-enforced the Macarthur brothers economic and social authority over the countryside.
The river crossing was one of the two northern entry points to their realm of Camden Park Estate, the other being at the Menangle. Menangle later became another private estate village.
The Macarthur village of Camden would secure the northern entry to the family’s Camden Park estate where the Great South Road entered their property. By 1826 the river ford was the site of the first toll bridge in the area.
None of this was new as the river crossing had been the entry into the Cowpastures reserve declared by Governor King in 1803. The site was marked by the police hut in the government reserve at the end of the Cowpasture track from Prospect.
English place names, an act of dispossession
The Camden village was part of the British imperial practice of placing English names on the landscape. The name of the village is English as is the gentry estate within which it was located – Camden Park.
English place names were used in the area from 1796 when Governor Hunter names the site the Cow Pastures Plain. The Cowpastures was a common grazing land near a village.
Under the aims of the colonial settler project, as outlined by Patrick Wolfe and later LeFevre, the new Europeans sought to replace the original population of the colonised territory with a new group of settlers.
Hunter’s naming of the Cowpastures was the first act of expropriation. Further dispossession occurred with the government reserve, and later Governor Macquarie created the government village of Cawdor in the centre of the Cowpastures.
The Europeans seized territory by grant and purchase and imposed more English place names in the countryside, and created a landscape that mirrored the familiarity of England.
The colonial settlers brought Enlightenment notions of progress in their search for some kind of utopia.
The Macarthur private venture village was located in a landscape of self-style English gentry, and their estates interspersed with several small villages.
The gentry estates and their homestead and farm complex were English style village communities. One of the earliest was Denbigh (1818).
The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.
The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.
On the left bank of the Nepean River were the gentry estates of Camden Park along with Brownlow Hill. On the right bank were the gentry properties of Macquarie Grove, Elderslie, Kirkham and Denbigh and several smallholders.
The village of Stonequarry was growing at the southern limits of the Cowpastures at the creek crossing on the Great South Road. The village was located on the Antil’s Jarvisfield and later renamed Picton in the 1840s.
The picturesque Cowpastures countryside greeted the newly arrived Englishmen John Hawdon from County Durham. In 1828 Hawdon became the first person to put in writing that the Cowpastures area reminded him of the English countryside when he wrote a letter home.
The progress and development of the country town
The Enlightenment view of progress influenced the Macarthur’s vision for their Camden village. They sought to create an ideal village community of yeoman farmers and sponsored self-improvement community organisation including the School of Arts.
The architectural styles of the town centre shine a light on the progress and development of the Macarthur village. The architectural forms include Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar moderne, Mid-20th century modern, and Post-modern.
The town centre served a host of functions for the community that are indicated by the types of land use in a country town. These include commercial, government, open space, industrial, transport, residential, religious, agricultural, amongst others.
The country town idyll and the appearance of heritage
Urban growth and the loss of rural countryside has encouraged a nostalgic desire for the past. This process had led to the evolution of the Camden, the country town idyll.
The heritage of the town centre is what the community values from the past that exists in the present. It is made up of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The town centre story can is a timeline with many side shoots or a tree with the main stem and many branches.
Camden time traveller and the town centre
The living history of the town centre is evident at every turn. At every corner. A visitor can be a time-traveller into the past. A view along the main street is a view into the past.
There are many locations in our local area where a person can be a time-traveller into the past. The traveller can be a participant in the area’s living history, ‘simply by being present’.
Flooding of the Nepean River on the Camden floodplain
What is the Camden ‘bathtub effect’?
Not sure – well you are not on your own.
The ‘bathtub effect’ is part of the flooding effect created by the landform that makes up the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river system has a unique floodplain system that creates particular problems for local residents and others along the river.
The natural characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly susceptible to significant flood risk. The combination of the large upstream catchments and narrow downstream sandstone gorges results in floodwaters backing up behind these natural ‘choke points’
The Hawkesbury-Nepean River system has four localised floodplains created by four choke points along the river. Each of these ‘choke points’ is created by a local gorge along with the river system – Bents Basin Gorge, Nepean Gorge, Castlereagh Gorge and the Sackville Gorge.
Each of the four localised floodplains upstream from the four gorges acts like a ‘bath tub’ in a period of high rainfall, with floodwater flow choked off by the gorges. The gorge restricts the floodwater flow and the river rises quickly behind the gorge at the end of the local floodplain.
Camden’s ‘bathtub effect’
The 2015 Nepean River Flood Plain Report and the flood maps clearly show how the Bents Basin Gorge acts as a ‘choke point’. The gorge creates a ‘bathtub’ upstream along with the Nepean River floodplain from the entrance of the gorge. The floodplain upstream from the gorge starts around Rossmore, then continues upstream to Cobbitty, to Camden and ends at Menangle.
While the Camden ‘bathtub effect’ is not as dramatic and dangerous as those created in the Penrith-Emu Plains area or the effect of the Sackville Gorge at Windsor and Richmond – it is real.
flows escaping from the Nepean River are known to inundate the low lying areas of Camden and certain sections within South Camden and Elderslie. Floodplain areas along many of the tributaries of the river (particularly Narellan Creek and Matahil Creek) are also known to be affected by backwater flooding from the Nepean River during flood events.
Floods are characterized by rapid river rises with flooding commencing as quickly as 6-12 hrs after the commencement of heavy rain if the catchment is already saturated. Under flood conditions, the Nepean River overflows its banks and commences to inundate the low lying floodplain around Camden during floods of 8.5m on the Cowpasture Bridge gauge. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)
Causes of flooding along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River on the Camden floodplain
The headwaters of the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment. This geographic area drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean Rivers, with dams on each waterway.
The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction, below Warragamba Dam, is around 1800km2
The wettest conditions are usually created by low-pressure systems, called east coast lows, that form up off the South Coast of New South Wales. The low-pressure systems moving onshore and the Illawarra Escarpment’s orographic effect can produce heavy rainfall events.
Floods have occurred in all months of the year. The highest recorded flood at Camden occurred in 1873, when a height of 16.5m was recorded on the Camden gauge (approximately a 200yr ARI). [Cowpasture Bridge, Camden]
Other major floods occurred in 1860 (14.1m), 1867 (14.0m), and 1898 (15.2m). In recent times, major floods have occurred in 1964 (14.1m) and 1978 (13.5m) with moderate to major flooding occurring in 1975 (12.8m) and 1988 (12.8m). (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)
A report of the 1898 flood event at Camden taken from the Camden News 17 February 1898 gives clarity of how quickly the river can rise in the local area:
Near midnight on Saturday rain began to fall, at first with moderation, towards day break gusts of wind sprang up from the South East bringing heavy rain, lowering the crops in its passage, even majestic trees were torn up by their roots and in sheltered paddocks the trees were denuded of large limbs.
Sunday all day the wind blew with hurricane force; early on Monday morning the storm somewhat abated in its velocity.
Even on Sunday midnight no apprehension of a flood was anticipated by the Camden townspeople the continuous rain and boisterous weather, however made the more Cautious anxious, and one tradesman took the precaution to look after his horses in near paddock when the danger of a flood was manifested to him, the Nepean River had suddenly risen and was flooding the flats.
A report in the Camden News of the 1911 Camden flood event provides further clarity around the behaviour of the river:
The rain of Thursday, it may naturally be expected filled creeks, dams and watercourses to overflowing, but the climax came with a heavy storm between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when some four inches [100mm] of rain fell. This brought the local water down from the adjoining hills in torrents, the Main Southern Road and Carrington Road were then covered with some two feet of fast rushing water, and on Druitt Road the local flood was then absolutely impassable..
In the early hours the Nepean River rose rapidly, and before the arrival of the first train the bridge was impassable ; the water continued to rise till about 3.15 in the afternoon, it having then reached it highest point, covering the new embankment between the town and the bridge, running through the Chinese quarters on the one side, and just into the pavilion on the show ground on the other. From near Druitt Road to Beard’s Lane was one long stretch of water….
“The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is throttled down by a narrow gorge down near what’s called Sackville, which is just upstream of Wiseman’s Ferry,” he said.
“The result of that is that the water can flow into the top of the system very, very rapidly, can’t get out, and so you get very dramatic rises in the level of the river.
“So normal river level might be two metres; if you’re at the town of Windsor and in the most extreme thought possible, that could rise up to 26 metres, which is a number that’s quite hard to comprehend.”
‘The enormous body of water rushing down with relentless force on its way to the sea could not be easily described, nor its effects conceived. About the neighbourhood of Windsor, now that the waters are fast subsiding, the scene is most dreary, and the destruction caused be -comes every day more apparent. The feeling of bitter anguish expressed not in words but in the blank look of utter despair would move the most hardened.
Flooding is a normal part of the cycle of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system, as it is for any river basin in Australia.
The particular landform features of the Hawkesbury-Nepean with its four gorges along the river produce four localised floodplains that create a local ‘bathtub effect’ on the local floodplain.
This landform effect of the river gorges creates flooding severity in the local communities.
Updated 4 July 2022. First posted 29 November 2019.
It is hard to imagine now but in days gone by the township of Camden was the centre of a large district. The Camden district became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.
The district grew to about 1200 square kilometre with a population of more than 5000 by the 1930s with farming and mining. Farming started out with cereal cropping and sheep, which by the end of the 19th century had turned to dairying and mixed farming. Silver mining started in the late 1890s in the Burragorang Valley and coalmining from the 1930s.
The district was centred on Camden and there were a number of villages including Cobbitty, Narellan, The Oaks, Oakdale, Yerranderie, Mt Hunter, Orangeville and Bringelly. The region was made up of four local government areas – Camden Municipal Council, Wollondilly Shire Council, the southern end of Nepean Shire and the south-western edge of Campbelltown Municipality.
Cows and more
Before the Camden district was even an idea the area was the home for ancient Aboriginal culture based on dreamtime stories. The land of the Dharawal, Gundangara and the Dharug.
The Europeans turned up in their sailing ships. They brought new technologies, new ideas and new ways of doing things. The First Fleet cows did not think much of their new home in Sydney. They escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain.
The Nepean River was at the centre of the Cowpastures and the gatekeeper for the wild cattle. The Nepean River, which has Aboriginal name of Yandha, was named by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 in honour of Evan Nepean, a British politician.
The Nepean River rises in the ancient sandstone country west of the Illawarra Escarpment and Mittagong Range around Robertson. The shallow V-shaped valleys were ideal locations for the dams of the Upper Nepean Scheme that were built on the tributaries to the Nepean, the Cordeaux, Avon, and Cataract.
The rivers catchment drains in a northerly direction and cuts through deep gorges in the Douglas Park area. It then emerges out of sandstone country and onto the floodplain around the village of Menangle. The river continues in a northerly direction downstream to Camden then Cobbitty before re-entering sandstone gorge country around Bents Basin, west of Bringelly.
The river floodplain and the surrounding hills provided ideal conditions for the woodland of ironbarks, grey box, wattles and a groundcover of native grasses and herbs. The woodland ecology loved the clays of Wianamatta shales that are generally away from the floodplain.
The ever changing mood of the river has shaped the local landscape. People forget that the river could be an angry raging flooded torrent, set on a destructive course. Flooding shaped the settlement pattern in the eastern part of the district.
A village is born
The river ford at the Nepean River crossing provided the location of the new village of Camden established by the Macarthur brothers, James and William. They planned the settlement on their estate of Camden Park in the 1830s and sold the first township lots in 1840. The village became the transport node for the district and developed into the main commercial and financial centre in the area.
Rural activity was concentrated on the new village of Camden. There were weekly livestock auctions, the annual agricultural show and the provision of a wide range of services. The town was the centre of law enforcement, health, education, communications and other services.
The community voluntary sector started under the direction of mentor James Macarthur. His family also determined the moral tone of the village by sponsoring local churches and endowing the villagers with parkland.
Manufacturing had a presence with a milk factory, a timber mill and a tweed mill in Edward Street that burnt down. Bakers and general merchants had customers as far away as the Burragorang Valley, Picton and Leppington and the town was the publishing centre for weekly newspapers.
The Hume Highway, formerly the Great South Road, ran through the town from the 1920s and brought the outside forces of modernism, consumerism, motoring, movies and the new-fangled-flying machines at the airfield. This re-enforced the centrality of the market town as the commercial capital of the district.
In the western extremities of the district there were the rugged mountains that made up the picturesque Burragorang Valley. Its deep gorges carried the Coxes, Wollondilly and Warragamba Rivers.
Access was always difficult from the time that the Europeans discovered its majestic beauty. The Jump Up at Nattai was infamous from the time of Macquarie’s visit in 1815. The valley became an economic driver of the district supplying silver and coal that was hidden the dark recesses of the gorges. The Gothic landscape attracted tourists to sup the valley’s hypnotic beauty who stayed in one of the many guesthouses.
The outside world was linked to the valley through the Camden railhead and the daily Camden mail coach from the 1890s. Later replaced by a mail car and bus.
The valley was popular with writers. In the 1950s one old timer, an original Burragoranger, Claude N Lee wrote about the valley in ‘An Old-Timer at Burragorang Look-out’. He wrote:
Yes. this is a good lookout. mate,
What memories it recalls …
For all those miles of water.
Sure he doesn’t care a damn;
He sees the same old valley still,
Through eyes now moist and dim
The lovely fertile valley
That, for years, was home to him.
By the 1980s the Sydney urban octopus had started to strangle the country town and some yearned for the old days. They created a country town idyll. In 2007 local singer song-writer Jessie Fairweather penned ‘Still My Country Home’. She wrote:
When I wake up,
I find myself at ease,
As I walk outside I hear the birds,
They’re singing in the trees.
Any then maybe
Just another day
But to me I can’t have it any other way,
Cause no matter when I roam
I know that Camden’s still my country home.
The end of a district and the birth of a region
The seeds of the destruction of the Camden district were laid as early as the 1940s with the decision to flood the valley with the construction of the Warragamba Dam. The Camden railhead was closed in the early 1960s and the Hume Highway moved out of the town centre in the early 1970s.
Today Macarthur regionalism is entrenched with government and business branding in a area defined as by the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas. The Camden district has become a distant memory with remnants dotting the landscape and reminding us of the past.
The Anglican Church at Cobbitty recently held an open day for the community to celebrate 190 years of the Anglican community in the village. Those who attended could listen to local experts give talks on the history of the Anglican church in Cobbitty, the stain glass windows in St Pauls, and its fixtures, furnishings and artefacts.
The Anglican Church has been the heart and soul of the village since the Hassall’s established themselves in the Cowpastures district in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The church has taken a central part in place making and the development of community identity in the village.
The presence of the church is the reason the village exists and is closely reminiscent of a pre-industrial English style rural village. The village even had its own blacksmith, who was an essential traditional trade in all rural villages. Working over their hearth with hammer and anvil making and crafting the tools of the farmers to making decorative work for the church graveyard.
The Hassall’s were the de-facto lords of the manor. The development of the village was their fiefdom. Long term local identity and font of knowledge of all things Cobbitty John Burge recalled in his talk on the ‘History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ that the Hassall family owned pretty much all of the farms up and down the Nepean River in the vicinity of Cobbitty.
The Reverend Thomas Hassall, the son of missionaries Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall who arrived in New South Wales in 1798, was appointed the minister of the Cowpastures district in 1827.
The first chapel was built in the area by Thomas Hassall, called Heber Chapel and opened in 1827, with Thomas as rector. It was named after the Bishop Heber of the Calcutta Diocese, in which Cobbitty was located at the time.
Heber Chapel became the centre of village life as its first school and church. The chapel was used as a school building during the week and religious purposes on the weekend. Schooling at the chapel continued until 1920.
The Heber Chapel was constructed of hand-made bricks with a shingle roof. It is a simple design perhaps reflected the rustic frontier nature of Cobbitty of the 1820s when Pomari Grove, the site of the church and chapel, was owned by Thomas Hassall.
Recent renovations and restoration was carried out in 1993.
There was the opening of St Paul’s Church in 1840, with consecration by Bishop William Broughton. The community supported the construction of a Rectory in 1870 and a church hall in 1886.
St Paul’s Anglican Church was consecrated in 1842, designed by Sydney architect John Bibb in a neo-Gothic style with simple lancet shaped windows, typical of the design. These windows originally had plain glass and over the decades were changed for stained-glass
The church was built with plain glass windows. Stained glass became popular again in the mid-19th century as part of the Gothic-revival movement in England and New South Wales. Stained glass was originally installed in medieval churches and cathedrals, and then fell out of popularity. (Dictionary of Sydney)
There are 10 memorial windows in St Pauls with the oldest dated to 1857 and made by English glass artist William Warrington. It was donated by the Perry family in memory of their daughter Carolyn. There is one original window dating from 1842 with small panes of glass, in the style of the period.
Well-to-do members of the church community preferred to donate a window as a memorial rather than a wall plaque or other church object to commemorate their loved ones.
The current presentation of the church is different from the 1840 St Pauls. Today’s church represents the many changes that have occurred over the years. The changes in the building reflect changes in style, technology, tastes and support as well as periods of neglect.
A presentation by John Burge on ‘The History of the Cobbitty Anglican Church’ illustrated the many lives of the church from periods of strong support by the local community to relative neglect. During the 1980s the graveyard became overgrown and graves hidden under bushes. John’s images showed numbers of past symbolic trees, mainly cypress, that were planted grew into large trees. Sometimes these were planted too close to the church building endangered its safety and stability. They were removed.
When you look at the church you see a slate roof and automatically assume that this was original. It is not. The slate roof is a recent addition in 2014 and installed as part of the church restoration when work was done to roof trusses, barge boards, and guttering. The church originally had a shingle roof with a plastered interior vaulted ceiling. Now it has a slate roof with a maple timber lined interior ceiling. The walls are quarried sandstone from Denbigh.
Electricity was installed in 1938, after originally being lit by candles then kerosene lamps.
The pews and pulpit are unchanged and are Australian red cedar timber work.
Music is provided by an 1876 Davidson organ from Sydney, after music was originally provided by violin then harmonium.
The Anglican story of Cobbitty continues to evolve around the Heber Chapel, St Pauls, the Rectory and church hall. The village continues to grow as does the life of the church community with a host of activities under the current church leadership.
In late August 1928 two Camden colonial families celebrated the marriage of Keith Whiteman to Alice Margaret (Marge) McIntosh. This was an important local wedding between two local families of some importance and social status. The McIntoshes conducted a very successful dairy operation on the family property of Denbigh at Cobbitty, while the Whiteman family were successful Camden retailers.
Both families had colonial origins. Members of the Whiteman family had immigrated to New South Wales in 1839 from Sussex to work on Camden Park Estate. While the McIntoshes had immigrated to New South Wales from the Inverness region of the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s.
The wedding ceremony was a relatively small country wedding of 60 guests given the social profile and economic position of both families. The wedding ceremony was held in the historic setting of St Pauls Anglican Church at Cobbitty. St Pauls was the centre of village of Cobbitty and an expression of its Englishness, which was typical of a number of villages across the Camden District. The church was originally built under the direction of Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall in 1842 and adjacent to his 1828 Heber Chapel.
The church was decorated with a simple floral arrangement of white flowers and asparagus fern, according to the press reports (CN 20 Sept 1928). The white flowers for the August wedding were likely to have been, according to Angela Wannet of Butterflies Florist in Camden, local calla lillies, oriental lillies, and carnations with trailing ivy. The floral displays in the church, while not elaborate, indicated that the families did not spare any expense on this important family celebration.
Bride and Groom
Cobbitty born 33 year old bride Marge McIntosh was the fourth child of Andrew and Ada McIntosh of the colonial property of Denbigh at Cobbitty. Denbigh is one of the oldest gentry properties on the Cowpastures and listed on the state heritage register. It was originally an 1812 land grant to Charles Hook, then by the Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall (1826-1886) followed by the McIntosh family. The family first leased the property in 1868 and then purchased it off the Hassall family in 1886. The State Heritage Inventory States that the house and property ‘retains a curtilage and setting of exceptional historic and aesthetic significance’.
Camden born 28 year old bridegroom Keith Whiteman was the second child of Fred and Edith Whiteman of Melrose at 69 John Street, Camden. Melrose was a significant Edwardian brick cottage on John Street Camden. The Whiteman family had significant business interests in Argyle Street Camden including a general store and newsagency. Keith and his brother Charles gained control of the general store 12 months after Keith’s wedding on the death of father Fred. The original Whiteman’s general opened in Oxley Street in 1877, and later moved to Argyle Street. It was according The Land Magazine ‘reminiscent of the traditional country department store’. (28 February 1991) and at the time of the report on the oldest family-owned department stores in Australia.
The fashionable bride
We are lucky to have a wonderful photograph of the bride Marge McIntosh in her wedding gown at Denbigh. It provide many clues to the importance of the wedding to both families and their no-nonsense approach to life. While not an extravagant wedding the bride’s outfit reflects that no expense was spared on the gown and floral decorations for the bouquet and the church decorations. The design of the outfits, as described in the press reports and in the photograph, reflect the influence of modernism and the fashions from Paris and London. This was a moderne wedding in the country between two individuals of some social status.
The fashions worn by the wedding party, according to the press reports of the day, were the height of modernism. The bride wore a classic 1920s design described as a ‘simple frock of ivory Mariette over crepe-de-chen’ of light weight silk crepe as a backing, which was quite expensive. The made-to-order gown was fitted and, according to one source, likely to be hand-made by a Sydney-based dressmaker. The Mariette style of wedding gown is still a popular choice in England for brides-to-be if wedding blogs are any indicator of trends. The bride’s gown was a fashionable length for 1928 with the hemline just below the knee.
The bride’s veil was white tulle, with a bouquet of pink and white carnations. The bride’s shoes have been described by one local source in the shoe industry as a hand-made white leather shoe, with a strap, and a three inch heel. They would have likely been hand-made by one of the four or five Sydney shoe firms of the day, some of which were located around Marrickville.
Marge McIntosh wore a headdress of a ‘clothe’ veil style, which was popular at the time. The veil was ‘white tulle mounted over pink, formed the train and held in place with a coronet of orange blossom and silver’. The elaborate wedding floral bouquet, according to press reports, were made up of white and pink carnations and according to Angela Wannet who viewed the brides wedding photo was complemented by lillies and fern.
The history of wedding robes as a part of the celebration of the wedding festivities dates back the ancient Chinese and Roman civilizations. The first recorded mention of the white wedding dress in European history is 1406 when the English Princess Philippa married Scandinavian King Eric. In the British Empire the Industrial Revolution and the marriage of Queen Victoria to her first cousin Prince Albert in 1840 changed all that. The fitted wedding dress with a voluminous full skirt became the rage after their wedding. The British population romanticized their relationship and young women rushed to copy their Queen. The beauty of the bride was enhanced with the rise of wedding photography and did much to popularise the white-wedding dress trend.
Our moderne bride at Cobbitty was attended by her sister Etta (Tottie) McIntosh in a frock of apricot georgette, and the bridegroom’s sister Muriel Whiteman who wore a blue georgette, with hats and bouquets toned with their frocks. Georgette is a sheer fabric with a good sheen that is difficult to work, and requires a good dressmaker. The fabric is difficult to cut out and sew, and according to one source is easy to snag. The dressmaker exhibited her skill and experience with her handcrafted sewing, if the wedding photo of the bride, Marge McIntosh, is anything to go by.
The groom had his brother Charles Whiteman act as best man, and an old school friend from Albury Mr T Hewish as groomsman.
The wedding guests retired to a reception at the McIntosh’s historic colonial property of Denbigh, where the bride and groom were honoured with the ‘usual toasts’ and many congratulatory telegrams. A master of ceremony would have stuck to a traditional wedding reception with introduction of the bride and groom, then toasts, with a response speech from the father of the bride, more toasts, responses by groom’s father, followed by the reading of telegrams. The McIntosh family household would have likely provided the catering for the wedding.
Amongst the wedding gifts was a rose bowl from the Camden Tennis Club and a silver entre dish from the staff at FC Whiteman & Sons. These gifts reflect the interests and importance of the bride and groom in these organisations. Tennis was a popular pastime in the Camden area in the 1920s and some Camden tennis players did well at a state level in competitions. The entre dish would have been a plain design reflecting the influence of 1920s modern styling, rather than the ornate design typical of Victorian silverware.
The bride’s going away outfit was ‘a smart model dress of navy blue and a small green hat’. This would likely have been a fitted design typical of the style typical of the period and the influence of modernism in fashions in London and Paris.
The bride and groom left for a motoring honeymoon spent touring after the wedding festivities. In the 1920s motor touring was just starting to gain popularity as cars became more common and roads improved. Coastal locations and mountain retreats with their crisp cool air at in August were popular touring destinations in the 1920s.
The wedding photograph of Marge McIntosh in her bridal gown, like historical photographs in general, is a snapshot in time. The image provides a level of meaning that contemporary written reports in the Camden press does not contain. The photograph provides subtle detail that can fill out the story in great detail to the inquisitive researcher.
While the wedding reports did not make the social pages of the Sydney press it does not understate the importance of this union at a local level in the Camden community. It would be interesting to speculate if there were similar weddings between other Camden families.
The visual and written reports of the wedding give a new insight into life in Camden in the 1920s and how the community was subject to external transnational influences from all corners of the globe. Many claim that country towns like Camden were closed communities and in many respects that is true. For these two Camden families, they were subject to the forces of international fashion as well as those of maintaining the social sensibilities of their community.
On a frosty Saturday recently the CHN blogger attended the Cobbitty Markets. The carpark was covered with a light shade of white while the thermometer hovered around zero degrees.
The markets have been on Cobbitty Public School site for what seems likes for ever. The stalls are tucked around every conceivable corner. In the front yard. In the building courtyards. Every part of the school yard is filled with stallholders displaying their wares.
The markets have a tradition of attracting stallholders with their own genuine wares. Hand-made goods of all sorts. Not the bric-a-brac of the trash-and-treasure markets that you get around the place.
For the foodinistas. The school canteen will sell you an egg-and-bacon sandwich for $4 and an instant hot coffee for $2. Enough to satisfy any appetite. If you want to go gourmet then that is catered for as well. Great cappuccino if that is what you desire.
There is the ever popular plant stall attracting one of the largest crowds. Ever before the stallholder has set out all the plants for sale. Sales were hot in the cold. The stall sells tiny seedlings to not so-small seedlings. And even bigger plants.
There are the fruit and vegie stalls. Stalls selling honey and other organic goods. Cut flowers to make any room pretty.
Lots have artwork of various types. From painting to any type of creative work you can think of including authors flogging their books.
The knick-knack brigade are catered for with candles for the mood creator, and other smelly and feely-make-you-feel-better stuff. Lots to choose from. There is even pottery and lots of other traditional crafts.
Funds raised go to the Cobbitty community directed by the hard-working market committee in their purple shirts.
Narellan Military Camp occupies an important place in Narellan Military Heritage although in the overall picture of the Second World War the Camp was not of great military importance. In the national story it does not appear in Gavin Long’s Official History of the Second World War and there are very few references to the camp were found in the various unit histories.Yet the story of local men and women are very important and they add to the colour of the area’s military history.
In the early months of the camp’s operation the most common form of transport were horses. Horses have a long and glorious role in Australian military forces. There were mounted troops dating back to 1804 in colonial New South Wales with the New South Wales Corps. The Crimean War prompted the formation of mounted infantry troops in the colonies. Mounted ‘bush’ troops were sent by the colonies to support the British military in the opening months of the Boer War. Then there is the formation of the Australian Light Horse in 1902 and their service in the First World War.
At Narellan Military Camp the delivery of provisions, and firewood for cooking, from the central quartermasters’ store, near the Camp Headquarters, was carried out to all areas of the camp by horse transport. The four wheeled wagon pull by two horses was a very common site in most army camps of the period, partly because of the shortage of petroleum fuel. These wagons were apparently some of the transport equipment that had been mothballed from World War One. A lot of the firewood for the Camp, which was used in the cooking stoves, was cut in the scrub at the back of Cobbitty and Wallgrove.
The army is good for business
The presence of military in the local area benefitted many local businesses. Soldiers, and airmen from Camden Airfield, spent money in the local area. A number of local businesses won contracts to supply the army and air force with supplies and equipment.
Out at Cobbitty Fred Small owned the general store/newsagency with paper run/post office agency. He reported that his turnover rose from £30 per month to £300 per month in 1939, with mainly local sales. He would go to Narellan to pick up papers and mail and deliver to the military camp on his way back to Cobbitty in the afternoon. He used a small A Model Ford Utility for deliveries. On weekdays he would sell 500 – 1000 papers, with local sales only being 200 papers. On Sundays he would sell 1200 – 1500 papers at the camp.
For a shop the monthly tobacco and cigarette issue was 3 cartons of cigarettes and 2lb of tobacco. Mr Small reports that within 18 months he was selling 85lb of paper and tobacco – `an enormous amount of cigarettes’ – he had a `good’ business with the military camp. He maintains that Camden shops would have had a similarly good business from the military.
Mr Small reports that if the soldiers were on a route march through Cobbitty they would send a runner ahead and he would open up his shop. One such occasion he opened up at 11:00pm and sold lots of soft drinks and cigarettes. There would be up to 2 – 3 marches through Cobbitty per week and most would have break at the shop.
Mr Small reported that in late 1943 all the men moved out of the camp one night and he was left with 1000 newspapers and Section C owed him £300 for meat and food.
Soldiers also came into Camden. Arthur Colman reports that quite a few from the camp would go for an evenings leave across country to Camden for a few beers. Steak and eggs occasionally and be back in camp by midnight. He goes on that the local people made AIF personnel feel that they were made very welcome. 
Entertaining the troops
Many soldiers came into Camden to the movies and hotels in their spare time. At the camp entertainment was provided at the Camp a mobile cinema unit operated by the Woods Bros, from Manila. They travelled to the camps in the area (Narellan, Ingleburn, Wallgrove) and had an open air picture show once a week at Narellan. Newspapers were sold outside the canteen. A recreation room in the CENEF Hut, near the Camp Headquarters, was used for playing ping pong, writing letters, reading and lectures and listening a radio organised by Captain Webb, the Camp Adjutant. He made arrangements with Radio Rentals for the hire of a small mantle radio, from a special fund which he organised at the Canteen. Bailey reports that it was great to be able to listen to the ABC News at 7:00pm, as well as Dad and Dave, Martins Corner and other radio shows. 
The Salvation Army, which initially used the CENEF Hut, had a welfare unit staffed by a Captain who was a World War One veteran. As they became established the pastor established a marque in the south-eastern corner of the Camp on Cobbitty Road. Reports indicate that the service was greatly appreciated and it was a wonderful organisation for the troops.
Local troops in camp for training
The Camden News reported that local Camden men were in camp at Narellan undergoing three months training in the 1st Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment Reserve. They included:
Lieut. John Downes.
Sergeants C. Parker and Arundel.
Corporals K. C. Smart, I. Hum phries, Steele and Stoves.
Troopers C. Dengate, H. Dunk, W. I Driscoll, Coveney, R. Dudgeon, J. Mc Intyre, F. Clifton, A. Porter, W. Sweeney; McCoy, G. Moles, L. Small, R, Small, F. Byrne, E. Richardson, E. Reynods, A. Biddle, S. Crane, L. Fitzpatrick, K. Crisp, Kirkpatrick, Smith, Hull, McDonald, Burgan, Budgeon, Rutter, Darling, Dowel, Mitcherson, Barrett, O’Neil, Wilson, Darel.