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.
Development proposal for 80 John Street and dunny demolition
In the backyard of an historic cottage at 80 John Street there is a funny little dunny that dates from the 1890s. In 2011 it created a great deal of fuss when there was a proposal for a two-storey commercial development at the rear of the cottage site and the demolition of the dunny for parking.
A funny little dunny goes by a host of names
The funny little dunny is an example of a building that has gone by a host of names over the years. According to Margaret Simpson from the Powerhouse Museum they have variously been called a
Lav, privy, loo, thunderbox, WC, outhouse, toot, throne, restroom, powder room, washroom, john, kharsi, bog, comfort station, and even twinkle-palace, are just some of the euphemisms used for toilets. If you were in the military you’d be using the latrines, on a sailing ship going to the heads, but in country Australia it’d be the dunny.
This line of simple, neat, and pleasing four cottages (74-80 John Street) along the eastern side of John Street, leading up to the view of St Johns Church spire, are representative of late nineteenth-century country town cottages. They are remarkably consistent in quality and form a good group.
The cottage at No 80 where the loo is located is described as a weatherboard cottage had a ‘corrugated iron hipped roof’ with a ‘brick chimney, timber-posted corrugated-iron bullnose verandah and four-pane double-hung windows with timber shutters’ enclosed by a front picket-fence.
The development drew community concern at a number levels: obstructed views from Broughton Street; the bulk and height of the proposed new building; and the demolition of the loo.
The Camden Historical Society lodged an objection with the consent authority, Camden Council, and then published an article in the 2011 Winter Newsletter.
This was followed by a front-page story in the Macarthur Chronicle under the headline DE-THRONED, with a full-page picture of society member Robert Wheeler with the loo in the background.
The report stated that the loo was
‘One of the few in remaining buildings in the town area which were common before the town was connected to the sewer in 1938.
The Chronicle reported that ‘former Camden town planner Robert Wheeler [was] leading calls for the loo to be preserved due to its historic significance.
‘Mr Wheeler said the proposed building was not ‘sympathetic’ to the heritage of the surrounding area and the outdoor toilet should not be demolished’.
(Macarthur Chronicle, 28 June 2011).
[Camden Historical Society] vice-president John Wrigley said, ‘The society was concerned about the ‘block-like’ look to the new building and the demolition of the outside toilet’.
The little dunny is special
The Macarthur Chronicle posed the question:
‘Is this Camden’s oldest toilet?’
(Macarthur Chronicle, 28 June 2011).
The Development Conservation and Landscape Plan noted the special architectural feature of the outhouse. It had a ‘custom-rolled roof’ that ‘mayhave been by half a water tank’, unlike standard outhouse roofs which were ‘gables or skillion’.
(Source: Stedinger Associated, 78-80 John St, Camden, Conservation Schedule of Works and Landscape Plan, Unpublished, 2011, Camden).
The pan system
The Landscape Plan detailed how the ‘outhouse, which dated from the 1890s, was part of the Camden’s pan toilet system. Cottage residents who used the outhouse walked along a narrow path leading from the loo to the cottage kitchen.
The toilet had a pan for ‘nightsoil’ which was collected by a Camden Council contractor. The contractor accessed the pan through a small opening in the rear wall of the outhouse, and replaced the full pan with an empty can.
The cottage outhouse was not built over a pit or ‘long drop’ for the excrement and urine like those built on local farms.
(Source: Stedinger Associated, 78-80 John St, Camden, Conservation Schedule of Works and Landscape Plan, Unpublished, 2011, Camden).
A vivid description of the experience of using a pan system has been provided by Margaret Simpson from the Powerhouse Museum.
I grew up in a small New South Wales rural town before the sewer was connected. Ours was an outside toilet in the backyard. Underneath the seat plank was a removable sanitary pan (dunny can). About once a week the full pan was taken away and replaced with a clean empty one. This unfortunate task was the job of the sanitary carter (dunny man) with his horse and wagon and later a truck. Going to the dunny, especially in summer towards the end of the collection week, was a breath-holding, peg-on-nose experience.
Modern commercial toilet paper was not part of the pan system experience. She says:
In Australia, newspapers were cut into sheets by the householder and held together with a piece of fencing wire or string and hung on a nail inside the dunny. Another source of paper were the thick department store catalogues like Anthony Horderns sent out to householders.
Sewer gas was a big problem in the nineteenth century when knowledge of how to trap the gas and prevent its return back into homes and city streets was scarce and workmanship in sewer construction often cheap and shoddy.
Air pollution was a particularly damning accusation since it was believed that ‘miasmas’ were responsible for many of the life-threatening diseases around at that time.
A 1914 advertisement for a contract to collect nightsoil (excrement) at Picton gives an idea of how nightsoil was disposed of in our local area. The contractor used a sanitary cart pulled by a horse to collect the pans from outhouses in the town area. The contractor was then expected to dispose of the nightsoil by dig trenches at the depot which was one mile from the town centre. At the time there were 270 pans in the Picton town area.
Before World War One Camden Municipal Council had considered the installation of a septic tank sewerage system for the town area. (Camden News, 24 August 1911)
In 1938 the council was given permission to proceed with a sewerage scheme for the town managed by Sydney Metropolitan, Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board and town sewerage scheme was completed in 1939. (Camden News, 29 June 1939)
Carpentry was an essential craft in all communities and has been practised for centuries. In the Camden area, the traditional trade of carpentry as it was practised had a variety of forms. Traditional trades were part of the process of settler colonialism on the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures.
In pre-settlement times, the first form of bush carpentry was practised by the Aborigines. They stripped bark from trees and used it for shelters that kept them from the natural elements and made weapons.
At the time of European settlement, many on the frontier had no formal trades skills and learnt bush carpentry from watching the Aboriginal people or experimenting themselves. The bush carpenter was a practical make-do pioneer who innovated with naturally occurring products from their local environment. They practised sustainability in a period when it was a necessity for their very survival and relied on their ingenuity, adaptability and wit.
Some of the bush carpenter’s spirit and tradition arrived with the early European settlers and owed some of its origins to the English tradition of green woodworking. This traditional practice dates back to the Middle Ages and is linked with coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management. The craftsmen led a solitary existence in the woods and made a host of items from unseasoned green timber, including furniture, tools, fencing, kitchenware and other things.
The early settlers who built these basic shelters did so without the manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution. Either through cost or just a make-do attitude, they built rudimentary vernacular buildings that lasted for decades. In later times settlers’ structures were improved with the introduction of galvanised iron after the 1820s.
There were many examples of huts and farm sheds being erected in other parts of the Camden district, remote from major centres, like the Burragorang Valley. Post-and-rail fencing and a host of other structures put a defining character on the rural landscape. There is still evidence of bush carpentry in and around Camden.
The bush carpenter’s tool kit usually did not have specialised tools and would have included saws, axes, adze, chisels, augers, hammers, wedges, spade, and other items. Their kit was meant to cope with all the contingencies of the rural frontier that were typical of the remote parts of the Camden district.
The formal trade of carpentry and joinery has a long history going back centuries centred on the guilds. Guilds appeared in England in the Middle Ages, and according to the website London Lives 1690-1800, their purpose was to
defend the interests of the trade, regulate the quality of workmanship and the training of new members, and provide support and welfare for their members.
In London, they were established by charter and regulated by the City authorities. Guilds in London had considerable political power and were one of the largest charitable institutions in the City. Carpenters were organised in the Carpenter’s Company, one of 12 powerful London guilds. Guilds were a mixture of apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen, with no women.
In the colony of New South Wales, carpenters were formally trained artisans have examples of their work in colonial mansions of the grand estates and the many local towns and villages across the Camden district. These artisans used milled timber and other manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution that were readily available and that their clients could afford.
Camden’s carpenters were a mixture of journeymen and master craftsmen, who had served their apprenticeship in Camden and elsewhere. John Wrigley’s Historic Buildings of Camden (1983) lists 38 carpenters/builders who worked in Camden between the 1840s and 1980s.
The pre-WW2 tradesmen used hand tools and traditional construction methods, which is evident in any of the town’s older buildings and cottages. Take particular notice when you walk around central Camden of the fine quality of artistry that has stood the test of time from some of these traditional tradesmen.
The hand tools used by the Camden carpenter changed little in centuries of development and refinement. The tool kit of the mid-1800s would have included hammers, chisels, planes, irons, clamps, saws, mallet, pincers, augers and a host of other tools. It would be very recognisable by a 21st-century tradesman. Master carpenter, Fred Lawton’s tool kit, is on display at the Camden museum (TDR 19/12/11)
Hand tools were utilitarian, and some had decorated handles and stocks, particularly those from Germany and British makers. By the early 19th century, many hand tools were being manufactured in centres like Sheffield, UK, and these would have appeared in the Camden area. Carpenters traditionally supplied their own tools and would mark on their hand tools to clearly identify them. Many of the hand tools became highly specialised, especially for use by cabinet-makers, joiners and wood-turning.
The Camden carpenters listed in the 1904 New South Wales Post Office Directory were JP Bensley, John Franklin, Joseph Packenham and Thomas Thornton, while at Camden Park, there was Harry ‘Herb’ English. According to Herb’s nephew Len English, Herb English was one of a number of generations of the English family who were carpenters in the early years of the 20th century in the Camden area. It was a family tradition for the sons to be apprenticed in the trade to their father and work at Camden Park. This practice followed the training principles of English carpentry guilds under a system of patrimony.
Len English’s grandfather, William John English,e was apprenticed to his father, James, and worked at Camden Park between the 1890s and 1930s. William lived in Luker Street, Elderslie, where he built his house and had his workshop, where Len recalls playing as a lad. William’s son, Jack Edward English, was apprenticed to his father (William) in the family tradition, also worked at Camden Park and later in Camden and Elderslie during the 1930s and 1940s. During this period, Jack and his brother, Sidney, both worked with local Camden builders Mark Jenson and Mel Peat (TDR19/12/11).
In 2015 I posted an item called ‘Camden’s mysterious heritage list’. In it I complained about the travails of trying to navigate Camden Council’s website to find the Camden heritage inventory. I wrote:
Recently I needed to consult Camden’s heritage inventory list for a research project. I also consulted similar lists for Campbelltown and Wollondilly LGAs. They were easy to find. Camden’s list was mysteriously hiding somewhere. It had to exist. The council is obliged to put one together by the state government. But where was it? Do you know where Camden Council’s heritage inventory is to be found? I did not know. So off I went on a treasure hunt. The treasure was the heritage list.
I am very happy to report that many things have changed since 2015.
Committee member LJ Aulsebrook has written about the activities and role of the committee in Camden History, the journal of the Camden Historical Society.
The Camden Historical Society has an ex-officio position on the Heritage Advisory Committee and the president is the nominee of the society.
One of the outstanding activities of the committee was the 2019 Unlock Camden held during History Week run by the History Council of New South Wales. The Camden event was co-ordinated by LJ Aulesbrook.
The aim of the Heritage Advisory Committee are outlined in the Terms of Reference. The ToR states that the HAC aims :
To promote heritage and community education by: a) Generating a wider appreciation of heritage through public displays, seminars, participation in the annual National Trust Heritage festival & history week; b) Promoting and coordination of heritage open days; c) Generating a greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal heritage in Camden Local Government Area; d) Actively encouraging conservation and maintenance of heritage items and heritage conservation areas to owners and the general public; e) Investigating grant opportunities; f) Investigating opportunities for Council run awards/recognition in response to good heritage work; g) Developing a register of local heritage professionals and tradespeople; and h) Assisting in developing education packages for information, school education, and best heritage practices.
Heritage is something that we have inherited from the past. It informs us of our history as well as giving us a sense of cultural value and identity. Heritage places are those that we wish to treasure and pass on to future generations so that they too can understand the value and significance of past generations.
Heritage makes up an important part of the character of the Camden Local Government Area (LGA). Camden’s heritage comprises of a diverse range of items, places, and precincts of heritage significance. Items, places or precincts may include public buildings, private houses, housing estates, archaeological sites, industrial complexes, bridges, roads, churches, schools, parks and gardens, trees, memorials, lookouts, and natural areas. Heritage significance includes all the values that make that item, place or precinct special to past, present and future generation.
In addition Camden Council has set out for general environmental heritage conditions on its website here.
Camden Council has recently offered advice on for owners who want to restore their residential properties along heritage lines. The advice covers materials, colours, and finishes for Victorian, Edwardian and Mid-century residential architectural styles in the Camden Town Conservation area.
The Camden Town Centre conservation area was proclaimed by the state government in 2008 and is subject to a range of development conditions.
One of the most important pieces of public art In the Macarthur region is the Camden Pioneer Mural. The mural is located on the corner of the Old Hume Highway and Menangle Road, adjacent to Camden Hospital. Thousands of people pass-by the mural and few know its story.
Public art is an important part of a vibrant community and adds to its cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality. Public art promotes
‘a sense of identity, belonging, attachment, welcoming and openness, and strengthen community identification to place. [It creates] a tangible sense of place and destination’.
The pioneer mural does all these and more. The mural makes a public statement about Camden and the stories that created the community we all live in today.
reflect the social fabric of communities past and present – visual representations of their dreams and aspirations, social change, the cultural protests of an era, of emerging cultures and disappearing ones.
Public murals have recently gone through a revival in Australia and have turned into tourist attractions. Murals have become an important part of the urban landscape of many cities including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Launceston and other cities around the world. Mural art in the bush has been used to promote regional tourism with the development of the Australian Silo Art Trail.
The Camden pioneer mural is visual representation of the dreams and aspirations of its creators.
The mural was originally the idea of the town elders from the Camden Rotary Club. The club was formed in halcyon days of the post-war period (1947) when the club members were driven by a desire for community development and progress. Part of that vision was for a tourist attraction on the town’s Hume Highway approaches, combined with a wishing well that would benefit the hospital. (Clowes, 1970, 2012)
The next incarnation of the vision was a mural with a ram with a ‘golden fleece’ to ‘commemorate the development of the wool industry by the Macarthurs’. The credit for this idea has been given to foundation Rotary president Ern Britton, a local pharmacist. (Clowes 1970, 2012)
Club members were influenced by the mythology around the exploits of colonial identity and pastoralist John Macarthur of Camden Park and the centenary of his death in 1934. Macarthur was a convenient figure in the search for national pioneering heroes. The ‘golden fleece’ was a Greek legend about the adventures of a young man who returned with the prize, and the prize Macarthur possessed were merino sheep.
The scope of the mural project had now expanded and included a number of themes: the local Aboriginal tribe; local blackbirds – magpies; First Fleet arriving from England; merino sheep brought by the Macarthur family establishing Australia’s first wool industry; grapes for a wine making industry; dairy farming and fruit growing; and development of the coal industry. (Clowes, 2012)
Mansell created a concept drawing using these historic themes. (Clowes, 2012) The club accepted Mansell’s concept drawings and he was commissioned to complete the mural, creating the ceramic tiles and firing them at his studio. (Clowes, 2012)
The mural concept seems to have been an evolving feast, with Mansell refusing to supply the Rotary Club with his interpretation of his artwork. (Clowes, 1970)
The artist and the meaning of the mural
To understand the meaning what the artist intended with the design this researcher has had to go directly to Mansell’s own words at the 1962 dedication ceremony.
Mr Mansell said,
‘I was happy to execute the work for Camden and Australia. We are a great land, but we do not always remember the early pioneers. But when I commenced this work there came to me some influence and I think this was the influence of the pioneers.
Mr Mansell said,
‘The stone gardens at the base is the symbol of the hardships of the pioneers and the flowers set in the crannies denote their success.’
‘The line around the mural, represents the sea which surrounds Australia.
‘To the fore is Capt Cook’s ship Endeavour and the wheel in the symbol of advancement. The Coat-of-Arms of the Macarthur-Onslows, pioneered sheep, corn, wheat, etc are all depicted as are the sheep which were first brought to this colony and Camden by John Macarthur.
‘Aboriginals hunting kangaroos are all depicted and so on right through to the discovery of coal which has been to us the ‘flame of industry’. Incorporated in the central panel is the Camden Coat-of-Arms, and the Rotary insignia of the wheel highlights the panel on the left.
‘Colours from the earth have been used to produce the unusual colouring of the mural. (Camden News, 20 June 1962)
According to Monuments Australia the mural ‘commemorates the European pioneers of Camden’ and the Australian Museums and Galleries Online database described the three panels:
There is a decorative border of blue and yellow tiles creating a grape vine pattern. The border helps define the triptych. The three panels depict the early history of Camden. The large central panel shows a rural setting with sheep and a gum tree in the top section. Below is a sailing ship with the southern cross marked on the sky above. Beside is a cart wheel and a wheat farm. There are three crests included on this panel, the centre is the Camden coat of arms bearing the date 1795, on the proper right is a crest with a ram’s head and the date 1797, and on the proper left is a crest with a bunch of grapes and the date 1805. The proper right panel of the triptych, in the top section depicts an Aboriginal hunting scene. Below this is an image miner’s and sheafs of wheat. The proper left panel depicts an ornate crest in the in the top section with various rural industries shown below. (AMOL, 2001)
The mural has three panels is described as a ‘triptych’ constructed from glazed ceramic tiles (150mm square). The tiles were attached to wall of sandstone blocks supported by two side columns. The monument is 9.6 metres wide and 3 metres high and around 500mm deep. There is a paved area in front of the mural 3×12 metres, associated landscaping works and a wishing well. (AMOL, 2001; Clowes, 1970)
Tourists visit mural
Tourists would stop in front of the mural and have their picture taken as they travel along the Hume Highway.
UOW historian Dr Ian Willis has recently published an article in Media History (UK) about the role of local newspapers in the creation of Macarthur regional identity and the mythology surrounding New South Wales colonial identity John Macarthur.
The three New South Wales market towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton made up the Macarthur region where several local town-based newspapers emerged in the 1880s. Local newspapers used local history to enable their readers to reflect on their past by storytelling and creating an understanding of their cultural heritage. The local press lionised the historical legacy of John Macarthur and contributed to the construction of a regional identity bearing his name through the creation of regional newspaper mastheads. The key actors in this narrative were newspaper owner-editors, their mastheads and the historical figure of Macarthur. This article uses a qualitative approach to chart the growth and changes of newspaper mastheads, their owner-editors and Macarthur mythmaking and regionalism.
The article explains the role of the local press in the creation of the Macarthur mythology and included local newspapers like the Camden News,Camden Advertiser, Macarthur Advertiser, Macarthur Chronicle, Picton Post, The District Reporter and the Campbelltown Herald.
Local newspaper editor-owners were an important part of this story and notable names included William Webb, William Sidman, George Sidman, Arthur Gibson, Syd Richardson, Jeff McGill, Lee Abrahams and Mandy Perin.
The Macarthur regional press had its own press barons most notably Syd Richardson and George Sidman who had significant influence and power across the Macarthur region.
Then there is the New South Wales colonial identity of John Macarthur who was a great self-publicist, opportunist, rogue and local land baron. Over the last 200 years his exploits have been exaggerated into a local mythology that has become part of Australian national identity.
John Macarthur has become a local legend, a regional identity, and his name has been applied to a regional name, electoral division and lots of local business and community organisations.
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’.
I was recently walking across the Nepean River floodplain past meadows of swaying waist-high grass on a local walkway that brought to mind the 1805 description of the Cowpastures by Governor King. Atkinson writes
The first Europeans looked about with pleasure at the luxuriant grass that covered both the flats and the low hills. The flats seemed best for cattle…the trees were sparse.
The trees were certainly sparse on my walk, yet the cattle in the adjacent paddock proved the fulfillment of the observations of the early Europeans.
The cattle I saw were polled hornless black cattle which were markedly different from the horned-South African cattle which made the Nepean River floodplain their home in 1788 after they escaped from Bennelong Point in Sydney Town. They became the wild cattle of the Cowpastures.
The beauty of the landscape hints at the management skills of the original inhabitants the area -the Dharawal – who understood this country well.
According to Peter Mylrea, the area of the town farm was purchased by colonial pioneer John Macarthur after the government Cowpasture Reserve was closed and sold off in 1825. It is easy to see why John Macarthur wanted this part of the country for his farming outpost of Camden Park, centred at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta.
Although this does not excuse European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country. Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley and John Macarthur were part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.
Today all this country is part of the Camden Town Farm, which includes the walkway.
Llewella Davies – a colourful local character
Llewella Davies was a larger than life colourful Camden character and a truly notable Camden identity. On her death in 2000 her estate bequeathed 55 acres of her family’s dairy farm fronting Exeter Street to the Camden Council. Llewella wanted the site was to be used as a functional model farm for educational purposes or passive recreational use.
The Davies dairy farm
The Davies family purchased their farm of 130 acres in 1908. They appeared not to have farmed the land and leased 20 acres on the corner of Exeter and Macquarie Grove Road to Camden Chinese market gardener Tong Hing and others for dairying.
Llewella was the youngest of two children to Evan and Mary Davies. She lived all her life in the family house called Nant Gwylan on Exeter Street, opposite the farm. Her father died in 1945, and Llewella inherited the house and farm on her mother’s death in 1960.
The house Nant Gwylan was surrounded by Camden High School which was established in 1956 on a sporting reserve. Llewella steadfastly refused to sell-out to the Department of Education for an extension to the high school despite being approached on several occasions.
Llewella, who never married, was born in 1901 and educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in Darlinghurst. The school educated young women in a progressive liberal curriculum that included the classics, scientific subjects as well as female accomplishments.
Llewella undertook paid work at the Camden News office for many years and volunteered for numerous community organisations including the Red Cross, and the Camden Historical Society. In 1981 she was awarded the Order of Australia medal (OAM) for community service.
The Camden Town Farm
In 2007 Camden Council appointed a Community Management Committee to examine the options for the farm site that Llewella Davies had gifted to the Camden community. The 2007 Camden Town Farm Masterplan outlined the vision for the farm:
The farm will be developed and maintained primarily for agricultural, tourism and educational purposes. It was to be operated and managed in a sustainable manner that retains its unique character and encourages and facilitates community access, participation and visitation.
The masterplan stated the farm was ‘ideally place to integrate itself with the broader township’ and the existing Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway that had been established in 2006.
It is against this background that the Camden Town Farm management committee moved forward with the development of a walkway in 2016.
Camden Mayor Theresa Fedeli opened the walkway on 17th August 2019 to an enthusiastic crowd of locals. The walkway is approximately 2.4 kilometres and it has been estimated that by January 2020 around 1000 people per week are using it.
The walkway is part of Camden’s Living History where visitors and locals can see, experience and understand what a farm looks like, what it smells like and its size and extent. Located on Sydney’s urban fringe it is a constant reminder of the Indigenous Dharawal people and the area’s farming heritage of grazing, cropping, and dairying
If the walker is patient and perceptive the path reveals the layers of the past, some of which have been silenced for many years.
As visitors approach the Camden town centre along Camden Valley Way at Elderslie they pass Curry Reserve which has a quaint late 19th-Century workman’s cottage and next to it a ship’s anchor. What is not readily known is that the anchor disappeared for 34 years. What happened? How did it become lost for 34 years? How did it end up in a park on Camden Valley Way?
The cottage is known as John Oxley Cottage and is the home of the local tourist information office The anchor is a memorial which was gifted to the Camden community from British naval authorities on the anniversary of the death of noted Englishman and New South Wales colonial identity John Oxley. So who was John Oxley and why is there a memorial anchor?
This tale could also be viewed as a celebration of European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country. Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley was part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.
Whichever view of the world you want to take this tale is an example of how the past hides many things, sometimes in plain view. This story is one of those hidden mysteries from the past and is also part of the patina of the broader Camden story.
Pioneer, Explorer and Surveyor General of New South Wales.
This Navel Anchor marks the site of the home and original grant of 1812 to John Oxley RN.
The anchor was relocated to Curry Reserve in Elderslie in 2015 by Camden Council from a privately-owned site in Kirkham Lane adjacent to the Kirkham Stables. The council press release stated that the purpose of the move was to provide
greater access for the community and visitors to enjoy this special piece of the past.
Mayor Symkowiak said:
The anchor represents an important part of our history and [the council] is pleased that the community can now enjoy it in one of Camden’s most popular parks.
We are pleased to work with Camden Historical Society in its relocation to Curry Reserve. The society will provide in-kind support through the provision of a story board depicting the history of the anchor.
The anchor had originally been located in Kirkham Lane adjacent to Kirkham Stables in 1963. According to The Australian Surveyor, there had been an official ceremony where a descendant of John Oxley, Mollie Oxley, of Cremorne Point, NSW unveiled the plaque. The report states that there were around 20 direct descendants of John Oxley present at the ceremony organised by the Camden Historical Society.
British naval authorities had originally handed over the anchor to the Camden community in 1929. So what had happened between 1929 and 1963?
[had] languished in the council yard all but forgotten.
In 1929 the British Admiralty had presented the anchor to the Camden community to commemorate the centenary of the death of Englishman and New South Wales colonial identity John Oxley.
The British Admiralty actually had presented three commemorative anchors to Australia to serve as memorials. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:
One anchor, from the destroyer Tenacious, is to be sent to Wellington, where Oxley heard of the victory at Waterloo. A second anchor, from the minesweeper Ford, will to Harrington, to mark the spot where Oxley crossed the Manning River. The third anchor is from the destroyer Tomahawk, and will go to Kirkham, near Camden, where the explorer died.
The Australian Surveyor noted that Oxley came to New South Wales on the HMS Buffalo in 1802 as a midshipman, returned in England in 1807, gained his lieutenancy and came back to New South Wales in 1809. Oxley returned to England in 1810 and was then appointed as New South Wales Surveyor-General in 1812 and returned to the colony.
Oxley was born in Kirkham Abbey in Yorkshire England and enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1802 aged 16 years old.
The sculpture of Oxley’s profile had been originally erected in John Oxley Reserve in Macquarie Grove Road at Kirkham in 2012 after lobbying by the Camden Historical Society. The metal cut-out silhouette was commissioned by Camden Council at the instigation of Robert Wheeler of the society. The sculpture commemorated the bi-centennial anniversary of Oxley’s appointment as surveyor-general to the New South Wales colony.
Mayor Greg Warren said:
John Oxley was a major part of Camden’s history. The signage and silhoutte will be a continual reminder of [his] significant contribution to the Camden area. (Camden Narellan Advertiser 20 June 2012)
John Oxley Cottage
The John Oxley Cottage is only remaining building from a row of workman’s cottages built in the 1890s along what was the Great South Road, later the Hume Highway (1928) and now the Camden Valley Way.
The Visitor Information Centre was opened in 1989 after the cottage, and its surrounding curtilage was purchased by Camden Council in 1988 and added to Curry Reserve. The cottage was originally owned by the Curry family and had been occupied until the late 1970s, then became derelict.
The four-room cottage had a shingle roof that was later covered in corrugated iron. There were several outbuildings including a bathroom and toilet, alongside a well.
Curry Reserve is named after early settler Patrick Curry who was the Camden waterman in the 1840s. He delivered water he drew from the Nepean River to townsfolk for 2/- a load that he transported in a wooden barrel on a horse-drawn cart.
John Oxley is remembered in lots of places
There is Oxley Street in the Camden Town Centre which was named after Oxley at the foundation of the Camden township in 1840.
An obelisk has been erected by the residents of Redcliffe that commemorates the landing of Surveyor-General Lieutenant John Oxley. In 1823, John Oxley, on instructions from Governor Brisbane, was sent to find a suitable place for a northern convict outpost.
There are more monuments to the 1824 landing of John Oxley and his discovery of freshwater at North Quay and Milton in the Brisbane area.
An anchor commemorates the route taken by John Oxley in his exploration of New South Wales in 1818 and marks the spot where Oxley crossed the Peel River in 1818 outside Tamworth. In 2017 the anchor was targeted as a symbol of settler colonialism and the European invasion of the lands of the Wiradjuri people. The anchor was obtained from the Australian Commonwealth Naval Department and came off the British survey ship HMS Sealark.
A monument, the anchor from the HMS Ford from British naval authorities, was erected at Harrington NSW in honor of explorer John Oxley who explored the area from Bathurst to Port Macquarie. Oxley and his 15 men crossed the Manning River on 22 October 1818 having stayed here from 19 October in the lands of the Biripi people.
There is John Oxley Park in Wellington NSW on the Macquarie River on the land of the Wiradjuri people. Wellington was named by the explorer John Oxley who, according to the popular story, unable to cross the Lachlan River because of dense reeds, climbed Mount Arthur in 1817 and named the entire landscape below him Wellington Valley, after the Duke of Wellington who, only two years earlier, had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
The Oxley Historical Museum is housed in the old Bank of New South Wales, on the corner of Warne and Percy Streets, in a glorious 1883 Victorian-era two-story brick building designed by architect J. J. Hilly. Wellington’s Oxley anchor memorial is today found in the grounds of the Wellington Public School.
Updated 4 July 2020; original posted 27 March 2020
The Camden story is a collection of tales, memories, recollections, myths, legends, songs, poems and folklore about our local area. It is a history of Camden and its surrounding area. I have created one version of this in the form of a 1939 district map.
Camden storytelling is as old as humanity starting in the Dreamtime.
The Camden story is made up of dreamtime stories, family stories, community stories, settler stories, local stories, business stories, personal stories and a host of others.
These stories are created by the people and events that they were involved with over centuries up the present.
Since its 1997 inception History Week has been an opportunity to tell the Camden story.
What is the relevance of the Camden story?
The relevance of the Camden story explains who is the local community, what they stand for, what their values are, their attitudes, political allegiances, emotional preferences, desires, behaviour, and lots more.
The Camden story explains who we are, where we came from, what are we doing here, what are our values and attitudes, hopes and aspirations, dreams, losses and devastation, destruction, violence, mystery, emotions, feelings, and lots more. The Camden story allows us to understand ourselves and provide meaning to our existence.
Local businesses use the Camden story as one of their marketing tools to sell local residents lots of stuff. There is the use of images, logos, branding, slogans, objects, window displays, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and other marketing tools.
What is the use of the Camden story?
The Camden story allows us to see the past in some ways that can impact our daily lives. They include:
the past is just as a series of events and people that do not impact on daily lives;
the past is the source of the values, attitudes, and traditions by which we live our daily lives;
the past is a way of seeing the present and being critical of contemporary society that it is better or worse than the past;
the present is part of the patterns that have developed from the past over time – some things stay the same (continuity) and some things change.
History offers a different approach to a question.
Historical subjects often differ from our expectations, assumptions, and hopes.
The Camden storyteller will decide which stories are considered important enough to tell. Which stories are marginalised or forgotten or ignored – silent stories from the past.
Just taking one of these component parts is an interesting exercise to ask a question.
Does the Camden story contribute to making a strong community?
The Camden story assists in building a strong and resilient community by providing stories about our community from past crises and disasters. These are examples that the community can draw on for examples and models of self-help.
A strong and resilient community is one that can bounce back and recover after a setback or disaster of some sort. It could be a natural disaster, market failure or social crisis.