The 2023 Camden Show proves its resilience and came alive after the disasters of Covid and the 2022 floods when the show was postponed and cancelled.
Exhibitors and competitors
The arts and crafts pavilion is a good place to start, the must-see at all country shows. On display are the hidden talents of the local area.
A staple at all country shows are local farmers and producers who display their animals and produce. The cattle are always an interesting area to watch, and dairying has a rich history in the Camden area going back to the 1880s.
The produce exhibit is a snapshot of what can be grown and produced locally. Each of these products has been a vital part of the local farming scene over previous decades and in the present. For example, the apple industry was very important in The Oaks for most of the 20th century, and viticulture or growing grapes occurred across the Elderslie area for most of the last 100 years.
The flower exhibits are always popular with show visitors, and 2023 is no exception. The flowers have moved out of the main pavilion to a more compact area and the number of exhibitors is down on previous years.
Exhibitors are a mixture of keen amateurs and professional producers. All compete for the glory and fame that comes with first place. The cash prizes are really only pocket money, and it is the kudos that is the attraction.
The Show Ball and the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year
The winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year competition was announced on the front page of The District Reporter.
Camden Show promotional material
Much literature is produced at showtime; one of the most important is the show catalogue. The schedule lists all categories that competitors might want to enter with their animals, produce or crafts, the entry fees, the winning prizes and many other show time details.
Then there is the showground map which details all the exhibitors, events, show rings, entertainment, show bags, conveniences, parking and lots of other information.
One innovation this year has been the Agricultural Discovery Booklet for children. The booklet is full of puzzles, quizzes, colouring in, find-a-word, crosswords and other stuff. A great thing for the kids.
Information stalls and exhibitors
The 2023 Camden Show has many exhibitors, including commercial enterprises, the show guild members who provide rides and entertainment, government information services, community organisations and many others.
Exhibitors from the community
Community groups are regular exhibitors at the Camden Show, including the Country Women’s Association, Camden Historical Society, Camden Area Family History Society, Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Girl Guides, the Camden Show Society itself and many others.
Show promotional liftout
Promoting the show is always essential, and The District Reporter has had their show liftout for many years. The liftout is part of the only print edition of a newspaper that still circulates in the local area and has the show’s history and many stories about show personalities, events and exhibitors.
The role of social media has increased in recent years as a way to promote the show.
In late 2022 the Camden Show Society announced that Rubey Williams had been named the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year.
Ms Williams is the first Camden Show Young Woman of the Year after the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) changed the branding of the former Showgirl competition in 2019.
The competition had been rebranded earlier from the Miss Showgirl competition, which began in 1962. The name of the competition changed in 1979 by dropping ‘Miss’ from the title, indicating the competition moving with the times. (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019) And as Kate Darian-Smith has argued, changes in the competition have reflected changing representations of rural life and country towns, and the success of country shows (Darian-Smith, 2002, 17)
Yet there were supporters of the old name and the traditions it represented. In 2019 the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) showgirl committee spokesperson Peter Gooch said, ‘We don’t want to change the name.’
‘Why change what’s not broken? It’s tradition and means so much to the show.’ (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)
Dissatisfaction with Showgirl
Yet there was dissatisfaction with the marketing of the Showgirl concept.
Camden 2009 Showgirl Lauren Elkins, who came third in Sydney 2009, said there needed to be improved marketing for the competition at a grassroots level.
“The calibre of young women going to Sydney far exceeds what it was ten years ago,” she said.
“We need to look at how it is marketed and tell the stories of the girls of where they are and how they are developing.
“We are losing so many traditions; it would be a real shame to change the name, it’s tradition.” (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)
Ms Elkins, the 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins, certainly had an eye on tradition when she prepared the 2009 Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl. The guide stressed etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offered deportment lessons for entrants.
The Showgirl competition, formerly Miss Showgirl, has been an enduring anachronism and has withstood the assault of various forces and speaks well for its resilience.
While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunities.
These sentiments align with the feelings of Camden Show 2023 entrant Emily Perry who said she entered the competition because ‘she enjoys being involved in community activities, and wants to challenge herself and improve her own self-confidence’. (TDR, 21 October 2022)
Yet problems have persisted, and there have been concerns about the longevity of the competition.
Melanie Groves and Kemii Maguire have written, ‘ Nowadays, some view [the competition] as outdated pageantry from a bygone era at best, or the objectification of women at worst.’ (ABC News, 13 July 2019)
The popularity of the competition has waned in recent years, with only NSW and Queensland retaining the pageant. In Queensland, the entrants must be single, childless and under 28 years of age. (ABC News, 13 July 2019)
In Victoria, the competition stopped in 1995 after running for 38 years. (Darian-Smith, 2001)
RAS Young Woman of the Year
RAS Showgirl councillor Susan Wakefield has argued that changing the branding of the pageant to Young Woman of the Year has refreshed the program. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
‘The new title will continue to foster and encourage the fundamental building blocks of the competition through involvement in local shows and communities while also resonating better with younger generations’, said Ms Wakefield. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
2020 Cowra Showgirl Beatrice Patterson said her fellow showgirls supported the name change. Ms Patterson said that the RAS showgirl had received derogatory comments around ‘Miss Universe’ and beauty competition-related remarks earlier in the year. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)
Ms Patterson says that the Showgirl Competition is linked to the local show, yet others see Showgirl meaning ‘beauty’ and other negative connotations.
“I think this will be really good to get rid of that negative connotation.”
She hoped the name change would encourage more entrants. She said there were 15-20 entrants a few years ago, whereas in 2019, there were two or three.
She encouraged young women to enter the competition. ‘It’s a great program. You learn so much and develop as a person. You become more mindful of the world and agriculture’. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)
Ms Wakefield said that the professional development program within the competition encouraged young women to become community leaders. (The Land, 19 October 2021)
This was undoubtedly the Camden Show 2023 Young Women Rubey Williams situation. She said, ‘I want to become a bit of a role model in the community’. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
The District Reporter stated that Ms Williams had impressive agricultural credentials. She was the youngest ever Australian Alpaca Association Halter and Fleece Judge. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
She said she wanted to be a role model in the community and inspire young women to pursue careers in agriculture. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Ms Williams felt strongly about the show movement and was keen to give women a pivotal role in shaping the future of rural Australia. (TDR, 4 November 2022)
Kate Darian-Smith has argued that a sense of community shown by entrants was the result of long-standing family connections to the town, the agricultural society and other community organisations. (Darian-Smith, 2001)
Ms Williams certainly felt that her role as the 2015 Camden Show Junior Rural Ambassador ‘gave her a good grounding of how the show worked. I have a lot of good memories of the Camden Show; it still has a country feel.’ (TDR, 4 November 2022)
The Plough and Harrow Inn at 75-79 Argyle Street is the second oldest hotel in Camden and is still on its original site. The Camden Inn (1841) was the first hotel in Camden. Located on the Great South Road, the Plough and Harrow was part of the fabric of Macarthur’s private village of Camden within the Cowpastures. By the early 20th century, travellers who arrived at the inn were moving down the Hume Highway, renamed from the Great South Road in 1928, with increased motorised traffic.
Inns, pubs and hotels have been part of life in New South Wales since European settlement. The colonial government issued the first licences for public houses in Sydney and Parramatta in 1796 to discourage ‘riotous and disorderly’ unlicensed premises. (Kirby, Luckins & McConville, 2010) Obed West recalls that in the 1820s, public houses in the Cowpastures were extremely rudimentary, and the landlord lived in the premises which served the beer. (Kirby, Luckins & McConville, 2010)
Samuel Arnold built the Plough and Harrow in 1851, a decade after the establishment of the village of Camden. Arnold established a wheelwright’s business in 1841 on the corner of Argyle and Hill Streets and purchased the land opposite his business from the Macarthur family in 1849 for £80. (Mylrea 2011)
Arnold had arrived in New South Wales on the ship the ‘Brothers’ in 1837 with his wife Anne and two children as part of Governor Bourke’s assisted immigrants. He was a member of a group of 14 from the Isle of Wight sponsored by Camden Park (Bell 2007), where he worked from 1837 to 1839. (Burnett, et al, 2013)
The original building for the Plough and Harrow was a single-storey cottage-design ashlar building strongly influenced by Georgian-style buildings. (Camden-Narellan Advertiser, 21 November 2012) Colonial pubs were obliged to provide accommodation and meals for travellers, and most had stables for horses.
In 1855 Arnold leased the inn to innkeeper William Risley at £150 a year. Risley leased the land and the ‘messuage’, including a cottage and adjacent buildings. (Mylrea 2011)
A second-storey modernises
Samuel Arnold leased the inn from 1866 to 1886. (Mylrea 2011) and a second storey was added in 1885 to modernise the hotel. (HNSW)
The weekly cattle and horse sales were held at the rear of the Plough and Harrow, now Larkin Place, and helped boost trade. Convivial company at the hotel was provided by licensee M Hennessy and the lady of the house, Mrs Hennessy. Hotel owner CJ Arnold had recently renovated the sale yards conducted by auctioneers RH & JE Inglis. (Camden News, 27 June 1895)
The local pub was often a clubhouse (Kirby, Luckins & McConville, 2010), and in the early 20th century, the Plough and Harrow hosted the Camden Jockey Club. (Mylrea 2011) SP bookies were part of the scene in country hotels, and the licensee of the Plough and Harrow, FE Donnelley, and employee, VA Cook, were fined for allowing illegal gambling on the hotel premises in 1932. (Picton Post, 25 May 1932) The Plough and Harrow held community events and, in 1937, hosted a presentation to retiring stock inspector WN Rees by local ‘stock-owners’ and other interested parties. (Camden News, 25 February 1937)
In 1920, the Plough and Harrow licensee was GH Berner, who purchased the lease from the Estate of Charles J Arnold, and the mortgagee Tooth & Co. The rent for the hotel was around £19 per month. Beer sales between 1921 and 1929 had their lowest point in 1924 and peaked in 1929. (ANU 2011)
The licensee in 1927 was Frank E Donnelly. In 1937 the hotel was owned by Camden Hotel Pty Ltd, with a nominal capital of £2000. The shareholders were: JM Edwards, MW McIntyre, HV Single and BF Watkins and a registered office in Sydney. In 1930 the Plough and Harrow was Camden’s leading hotel, and during the following decade, licensees changed about every year or so. (ANU 2011)
In 1938 Cumberland Country Freehold Pty Ltd bought the freehold, and the licensee, JC Coffey, then JW Lear, leased the hotel for £15 per week.
Modifications in 1939 and 1940 reduced bedrooms from 25 to 16, and created a building that has remained largely unchanged. The building had a tiled gable roof with timber gable screens, brick chimneys, new windows, and doors though the old columns were in place along the ground floor verandah. The windows to the hotel’s ground floor were two-pane double-hung, with timber shutters to the French doors on the first floor. The entrance door was timber and glass panelled, and the ground floor verandah and steps were tiled. (HNSW; ANU 2011)
Beer, wine, and spirit sales peaked in 1940 with increased patronage from the personnel of local defence establishments, including Narellan Military Camp, Camden Airfield and Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park. The hotel was connected to electricity from Port Kembla and allowed the use of refrigerated cabinets for beer sales, and by 1949 the hotel was connected to the town sewerage system. (ANU 2011)
In 1947, the Plough and Harrow Hotel (Camden) Pty Ltd owned the hotel with a nominal capital of £10,000. The shareholders were: TA Povey, HL Anderson, JA Lloyd, with the registered office in Camden. Ownership changed to the Camden Hotel Pty Ltd in 1949, with a nominal capital of £50,000. The property was then transferred to the NSW Country Hotels Pty Ltd. (ANU 2011)
6 o’clock swill
The end of the 6 o’clock swill and early closing ended in 1955 had no identifiable effect on the level of beer, wine and spirit sales. (ANU 2011) Early closing at 6 o’clock was part of the restrictions from World War One and came into force in 1916 after the soldier riots at Liverpool camps and in Sydney.
In 1968 the freehold of the Plough and Harrow was purchased by Muriel F Kennedy and Son for $87,000. (ANU 2011)
During the 1970s, beer, wine, and spirit sales peaked in 1974 and gradually dropped off throughout the rest of the decade. The decline was primarily caused by the relocation of the Hume Highway away from the town’s main street to the Camden Bypass in 1973. By 1979 beer, wine and spirit sales were 20 per cent of the level of 1974. (ANU 2011)
In 1996 the name of the hotel changed to The Argyle Inn. (The District Reporter. 30 March 2007) Former Qantas executive Geoff Dixon purchased the inn in 2006 for $3 million and commenced $1 million in refurbishments. (Macarthur Chronicle, 25 September 2012)
In 2012 the property was transferred to the Dixon’s family’s D & G Investments for $4 million (Australian, 14 March 2014) and the family restored the pub to its original name, the Plough and Harrow Inn. The Camden Historical Society’s John Wrigley welcomed the decision to return the hotel to its original trading name and congratulated the owners for restoring this fine old Camden landmark. (Macarthur Chronicle, 27 November 2012)
The Plough and Harrow Hotel is an example of a relic of early Camden in a main street primarily dominated by modern shop fronts, within the town centre’s Heritage Conservation Area. (HNSW) Today the Plough and Harrow is one of over 6,500 pubs and bars across Australia (2022)
Brian Burnett, Janice Johnson, Richard Nixon and John Wrigley, 2013, They Worked at Camden Park, A Listing of the Employees, Leaseholders and Tenant Farmers Known to have worked on the Camden Park Estate. Camden Historical Society, Camden.
The former Foresters’ Hall occupies one of the most prominent sites in the Camden Town Centre at 147 Argyle Street on the corner of Oxley Street and Argyle Street. On its opening in 1908, the hall was considered the best in New South Wales by the Order of Royal Foresters.
The Royal Foresters were a friendly society at a time long before governments provided welfare benefits, and workers who became sick or injured had bleak prospects. British immigrants brought the idea of friendly societies with them and created branches of large English societies in Australia. Workers who joined friendly societies and paid a fortnightly contribution were provided health and sickness benefits for themselves and their families.
The Morning Glory No 504 of the Order of Royal Foresters was formed in Camden in 1874. The Order of Royal Foresters was a friendly society that originated in England in 1834 and offered members savings plans, health and sickness insurance, and gave sponsorships and grants to community organisations. In 1921 the Camden Royal Foresters merged with the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows. (Mylrea, 2008; Camden News, 14 December 1922)
Purchase of the building site
The Royal Foresters purchased the hall site, with frontages on Argyle Street and Oxley Street, in 1907 for £483. (Mylrea, 2008) The purchase of the hall site was guaranteed by three Royal Foresters’ trustees, HJ Huntley, Stephen Kelloway, and WF Peters. Huntley and Kelloway were part of the Camden Methodist community, who exercised a degree of power and influence well beyond their numbers in the local area.
WF Peters ran a local business as an undertaker, timber merchant and stonemason at 42 Argyle Street as WF Peters & Son, a brickyard at 24 Edward Street, and a branch of the business at Auburn. (SMH, 25 June 1928) He was briefly mayor in 1917, alderman for several years, captain of the Camden town fire brigade, committeeman with the AH&I Society and Camden District Hospital board member. (Camden News, 28 June 1928; Wrigley, 1990) Stephen Kelloway was a local dairy farmer, and HJ Huntley was a local painting contractor who served a term on Camden Municipal Council. (Camden News, 14 December 1922)
An impressive building
The hall was an impressive addition to Camden’s built heritage and cost a substantial amount of money. The hall was designed by local builder WC Furner and constructed by WF Peter. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
WC Furner, Methodist, was a larger-than-life figure and carried on a business as a timber merchant, ironmonger, and hardware outlet. (CN, 9 March 1939) He served as mayor from 1896 to 1899 and as an alderman on Camden Municipal Council from 1892 to 1905. He was a local magistrate, justice-of-the-peace and coroner (1890-1917), vice-president of the Camden AH&I Society, and president of Camden Hospital Board from 1911 to 1913. His building firm constructed some of Camden’s most notable landmarks, including CBC Bank, police barracks, Dr Crookston’s house, and Hilsyde at Elderslie. (Wrigley, 1983; Wrigley, 1990)
The best in News South Wales
The Camden News described the hall as a ‘magnificent and substantial building’, and a male-only banquet for over 100 was held for the official opening on Wednesday, 27 May 1908, with the Foresters in their regalia adding a ‘becoming tone’. (Camden News, 4 June 1908) The women were relegated to cooking with catering provided by Mrs WH McDonald and the hall ‘tastefully decorated’ by Mrs Woodhill and Mrs Coleman. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
Speeches followed, and SCR (Sub Chief Ranger) Brother H Hedger officially declared the hall open and stated it l ‘was the best building in connection with their Order in the State’. He went on that ‘nothing had been stinted to make this building up to date’ and emphatically stated that the hall was ‘the finest friendly society’s hall in NSW’. He said that the hall ‘was admirably located for the convenience of Shire and other councils’ for community use. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
Brother Hedger spoke of the work of Royal Foresters. He boasted that no other friendly society in New South Wales did more to alleviate ‘distress’ and paid out over £1,100 yearly for ‘medical fees and expenses’ for members. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
There was much applause, and the reply was taken by Camden’s Brother E O’Farrell, 80 years old, who was a foundation member of the Court in Camden in 1874. Toasts to the King and others followed.
In the evening, the festivities continued with a social where over 250 people danced to Beverley’s band with a line-up of piano, cornet, and violin. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
The building design
The Camden Heritage Inventory describes the building as a ‘two-storey adapted Federation brick building (of Federation style origins) with parapet roof. Double hung windows with timber shutters.’(Camden Heritage Inventory)
The upstairs part of the building had a supper room described as ‘a perfect room for socials and meetings, well fitted with two fireplaces, windows, and doors leading onto a large balcony commanding a splendid view of the town.’ (CN, 4 June 1908)
There was an ‘admiral stage and dressing rooms’ all lit by acetylene gas, as town gas had yet to be installed in the Camden town area. Plumber W Wilkinson of Camden constructed the acetylene plant. (Camden News, 4 June 1908)
In 1908 acetylene light was considered a modern and cost-effective way to light public spaces. The Kalgoorlie Miner reported that Coolgardie Municipal Council had installed the acetylene system to light the council offices and town hall. The press story made a cost comparison with electric lighting and reported favourably on the running costs of acetylene. The Coolgardie town hall supplied ‘soft light’ with 74 lights and was well suited to theatrical performances where light could be turned off and ‘instantaneously lit again’. (Kalgoorlie Miner, 5 June 1909)
Over the decades, the hall has had a variety of occupants and has been repurposed several times.
There were retail premises on the hall’s Argyle Street from 1908.
The building frontage was modified in 1914 when the building served as a movie palace that celebrated the arrival of modernism in the town. The Camden Star Pictures operated by Pinkerton & Fox (Fuchs) ran a movie theatre from 1914 to 1921. Pinkerton sold out in 1921 to PJ Fox for £2150 and renamed it Empire Pictures (1921-1933). (Mylrea, 2007; Mylrea, 2008)
In 1936 Camden Municipal Council ordered the removal of verandah posts and the balcony from the Empire Theatre. (Camden News, 15 October 1936) From 1938 the Empire Sports Club ran a billiard saloon on the upper-level access by the stairs in Oxley Street. (Mylrea, 2008)
During WW2, soldier support services ran the ACF-YMCA Hospitality Centre in the building from 1944 to 1946 and purchased the equipment from the Sports Club. Lots of Camden’s women, young and old, volunteered to entertain the troops from the Narellan Military Camp. (Willis, 2004)
In the post-war years, the Sydney-based firm Fostars Shoe Factory Pty Ltd occupied the auditorium as part of post-war reconstruction from 1947 to 1958. (The District Reporter, 1 May 2020)
In the following years, the building was primarily used as commercial premises. In 1960 the building was sold to Downes Stores (Camden) Pty Ltd for £10,000, then in 1985, the premises was purchased by B Rixon for £420,000. He operated Southern Radio and Piano Agency, known as Southern Radio (trading as Retravision) from 1985 to 2007. Most recently, the building has been occupied by Treasures on Argyle charity shop (2008-present). (Mylrea, 2008)
PJ Mylrea, 2007, ‘The Birth, Growth and Demise of Picture Theatres in Camden’. Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, March 2007, Vol 2, No 3, pp. 52-59.
PJ Mylrea, 2008, ‘The Centenary of the Royal Foresters’ Hall’. Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2008, Vol 2, No 6, pp.204-213.
John Wrigley, 1990, Camden Characters. Camden Historical Society, Camden.
John Wrigley, 1983, Historic Buildings of Camden. Camden Historical Society, Camden.
Ian Willis, 2004, The women’s voluntary services, a study of war and volunteering in Camden, 1939-1945, PhD thesis, School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/168
Updated 12 February 2023. Originally posted 11 February 2023.
In central Camden is an empty bank building of understated significance at the intersection of John and Argyle Streets. This building was the premises of Westpac, formerly the Bank of New South Wales, and was the second banking chamber on that site. Constructed in the 1930s by a prominent firm of local builders and designed by one of Sydney’s top award-winning architects. It is a building of much architectural merit, and few know its history.
First bank in Camden
The Bank of New South Wales was the first bank in Camden. The bank initially occupied 23 Argyle Street, a colonial-style brick building with corrugated iron gable and brick chimneys. This banking chamber opened in 1865. These premises were used by Wilkinson & Sons as a plumbing and tin smithing business. A funeral parlour currently occupies it. (Willis, 2015)
The oldest bank in Australia
The Bank of New South Wales is the oldest bank in Australia and was established in 1817 when Governor Macquarie signed its charter of incorporation. It was set up to provide some financial stability in Sydney’s military garrison but quickly became a South Pacific trading hub. The new bank financed local economic activity and financed overseas trade. The bank eventually merged with the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1982 and became the Westpac Banking Corporation. It is still one of the largest banks in Australia. (DoS)
When the Bank of New of Wales moved into Camden, it provided the newly emerging market-town with some financial stability. It financed the emerging trading activity for the town’s small business sector. In 1873 the original building had outlived its usefulness, and the bank moved west along Argyle Street to its current location at the corner of John and Argyle Streets.
Woolpack Inn (later Crofts Inn)
In 1873 the Bank of New South Wales purchased the former Woolpack Inn (later Crofts Inn) at 121 Argyle Street with its picturesque Victorian verandahs. Licensee Thomas Brennan had purchased the Woolpack site in 1852 and constructed the Victorian-style two-storey building with iron-lace work and outbuildings. Brennan sold the inn to Henry Denton, who sold it on to innkeeper Samuel Croft by 1863. (Willis, 2015)
The former hotel served the Bank of New South Wales well until the 1930s during the Interwar period when the economic prosperity of the district from the Burragorang coalfields encouraged the bank to build new premises to reflect its status in the town better. (Willis, 2015)
In 1936 Camden Municipal Council ordered the bank to remove the verandah posts on the Argyle Street frontage as part of the modernisation of the town centre. The council orders may have prompted the bank to consider updating its banking chamber on Argyle Street and demolishing the Victorian premises (Camden News, 15 October 1936).
121 Argyle Street
Architect-designed and locally built
The contract for the two-story banking chamber was awarded to Camden builder Harry Willis & Sons and designed by Sydney architects Peddle, Thorp & Walker. These architects were established in Sydney in 1889 and designed Science House, cnr Gloucester and Essex Sts, Sydney, which won the inaugural Sir John Sulman Medal in 1932. (PTW; SMH, 14 July 1936))
On the awarding of tenders, the old bank building was demolished. Temporary premises for the bank staff were found in one of WC Furner’s shops opposite the Empire Theatre. Here Mr J Stibbard, the bank manager, assured customers that they would find banking convenient during the building work. (Camden News, 11 June 1936)
Hand-made nails and a cellar
During the dismantling process, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that hand-made nails had been extensively used in the construction of the former hotel, made by ‘nailsmiths’ (SMH, 14 July 1936). The nailsmith in the 19th century was probably the local blacksmith, one of the most important trades in the local area.
Local timbers had been used extensively throughout the former hotel building and were reported to be in ‘an excellent state of preservation. A long-forgotten cellar was discovered under the bank floor, and ‘recalled the existence of an inn on [the] site during the coaching days’. (SMH, 14 July 1936)
Commodious banking chamber
In 1936 the Sydney Morning Herald stated the new building had a ‘commodious banking chamber and offices for the staff’. ‘Textured brick’ was used for ‘facing’ throughout the building ‘relieved by lighter-coloured treatment of the external woodwork. The bank entrance at the splayed angle at the intersection of the two streets will be treated with specially brick architraves and pediment surmounted by a synthetic sandstone ornamental shield.The interior was treated with polished maple woodwork throughout. The Georgian character design will be a colourful and artistic addition to this historic town’s architecture. (SMH, 14 July 1936)
The NSW Heritage Inventory states: ‘The 1936 two-storey glazed and rough brick building with double hung windows and tiled roof. Its detailing includes quoining and multipaned windows, typical characteristics of the Georgian Revival style.’ (HNSW)
Georgian Revival is an architectural style nostalgic for the colonial period in the USA and the early 19th century in the United Kingdom, sometimes called Neo-Georgian. The style has a proportionate symmetry and austere elegance, characterised by proportion and balance. Commonly there is brick construction with a gable or hip roof line and equal placement of windows, generally two storeys and rectangular.
The former Bank of New South Wales building is a high-quality contributor to Camden township’s substantial eclectic fabric and the overall cultural significance of the Camden Town Conservation Area. The building retains its historic integrity and is intact. (HNSW)
Westpac closed the Camden branch in 2020, and the building has remained vacant.
The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.
The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.
Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.
According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’, and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.
The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.
This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.
1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial
Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.
Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown, local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’. A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.
In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures. Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation. The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book.
The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement. The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.
Statue of Governor Hunter
In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release. The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.
According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.
Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.
On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.
The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.
Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre
Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.
European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.
The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area. By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.
In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them. The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:
The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.
In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.
Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape
In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.
In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.
Voices of Indigenous Australians
In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.
 Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.
 Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.
 Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture. Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.
In 2009 there was a public outcry when there was a proposal to relocate St Mark’s church and develop the site. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009) While the church building had remained unused for several years, the public protests posed a conundrum for local authorities. Why was there such an outcry over an empty building?
Small churches like St Marks are vital to small communities in the construction of place and development of community identity. Their potential loss threatens a community’s collective memory and sense of place. The church tells the story of a small farming community that has disappeared through the mists of time.
The history of St Mark’s church is the history of Elderslie, and the church was a special place of community celebrations and commemorations along with family celebrations, traditions, and events. The church has been a gathering place, a sacred site.
An outdoor Sunday School proves popular
St Mark’s church’s origins go back to 1901 and the formation of an outdoor Sunday School by Elderslie resident Miss Elizabeth Carpenter, a disgruntled St John’s church parishioner. Elizabeth (b. 1863) was the eldest daughter of Elderslie orchardist Horatio Carpenter. According to Elderslie resident Len English, the Carpenter orchard of Fernside was just behind the church with a frontage on Macarthur Road.
According to Harold Lowe, St Mark’s churchwarden and treasurer, the story goes that 38-year-old Elizabeth Carpenter had a falling out with the rector of Camden’s St John’s Church, Rev Cecil John King. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
The Sunday School proved popular with local families, and ‘in the summer of 1902…[the Sunday School was] held under the shade of the great stone pines below Mrs Lydia Carpenter’s orchard’. Miss Elizabeth Carpenter had her ‘American organ brought down on a slide and led the singing’. During the autumn, with inclement weather, the classes were held in Fernside’s ‘old wine press room’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The Sunday School continued to be an essential part of the church’s activities, and in 1933 the Camden press reported that the children of St Mark’s Sunday School held their picnic in Mr Bruchhauser’s ‘top paddock’. Showers did not let up until after lunch, but nothing was ‘daunted’, and the picnic was set up by ‘teachers and helpers’ in the church. ‘A very happy afternoon was spent by all’ after the ground dried out with ‘games and races’. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)
A new church
Miss Carpenter led fundraising efforts, ably assisted by RA Cross, Mr Albury, and Mr Bellingham, early in 1902 (Camden News, 5 August 1954) and moves were made ‘for the purchase of a piece of land’ and construction of the church building. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
A small portion of Thomas Teasdale’s land was acquired by the Church of England and held in the name of the Bishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend William S Smith, and part of the Narellan Parish. (SOHI 2022)
These efforts resulted in the opening of a church building on the site, with the first service on 22 June 1902. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
A church building was constructed and has been described as
a traditional vernacular form with a simple gable roof covered in shingles. It is a good and representative example of a very modest mission church typical of those erected in small country towns in the late 19th and very early 20th Centuries. Built of weatherboard with a corrugated metal roof and a small belfry, it contained two rooms (the nave and a small vestry) plus a porch. The window openings are simple timber sashes with horizontally pivoting openings. Windows are glazed with translucent and opaque domestic glass from the early 20th Century/Inter-War period. (SOHI 2022)
A new Elderslie resident, Mr Fred Carpenter, constructed the first six ‘handsome and comfortable seats of polished Kauri’, and parishioners donated chairs, books, lamps, blinds, alms dish, matting, communion cloth, pulpit cushions and drape. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The church was dedicated by The Rt Rev Bishop AW Pain from Gippsland on St Mark’s Day in 1903, April 25. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) Saint Mark’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Mark, is held on April 25 and commemorates Mark the Evangelist, also known as Saint Mark. Mark the Evangelist is an important character in early Christianity and is the ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark the Evangelist is considered the guardian of the earth and harvests and is celebrated in several countries.
According to the Camden press, churchwarden Harold Lowe suggested the church name some years after its consecration. (Camden News, 5 August 1954) According to Lowe, the new church was called St Marks at a meeting held on St Mark’s Day. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
Church of England authorities ‘licensed [the church] for divine service in 1913 and named [it] for St Mark’. (SOHI 2022)
By 1914 the church was known as the St Mark’s Mission Church. (Camden News, 13 August 1914) According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a mission church is not locally self-supporting but depends at least partially upon the support of mission funds from the larger religious organisation that established it.
St Marks was part of the Church of England Parish of Narellan along with St Paul’s Cobbitty and St Thomas’s Narellan. Services at St Mark’s Church were conducted by the rector of Cobbitty’s St Paul’s, Rev Canon Allnutt. (Cobbitty 1827-1927)
The first churchwardens were RA Cross, Thomas Albury and John Latty. By 1915 churchwardens were GM Gardner and T Albury, the minister’s warden was H Bellingham, and Miss Brain was the Sunday School teacher. (Camden News, 29 April 1915) Harold Lowe was the church auditor. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)
The church held its yearly vestry meeting, and the re-elected churchwardens for 1933 were T Albury, RA Cross and J Ross. (Camden News, 8 June 1933)
In 1940 the Narellan Parish Log reported that the rector decided to hold an evening service on the third Sunday of the month where he conducted a Lantern Picture Show. (Camden News, 7 November 1940)
First World War and Anzac Day
The First World War profoundly affected the church and the Elderslie community.
In 1915 a memorial service was held at St Mark’s for two Elderslie lads who ‘gave their lives for the Empire’ on the battlefield of the Great War and was held to an ‘overflowing’ congregation. They were Lance Corporal Eric Lyndon Lowe, Signaller, 18th Battalion and Bugler Milton Thornton. The local press reported that ‘beautiful wreaths’ were presented by Mrs Faithful Anderson of Camelot and one from the Cobbitty Rectory. Rev Canon Allnutt took the service, and his daughter, Alice, sang the ‘At Rest’ by Aylward during the offertory. An amount of £1/10/6d was collected for the Liverpool Camp Church Tent Fund. (Camden News, 28 October 1915)
The progress of the First World War and patriotic fundraising put pressure on the community and church parishioners. Yet despite ‘the many calls and patriotic funds’, church finances were pronounced ‘satisfactory’ at the annual 1916 vestry meeting. (Camden News, 11 May 1916)
St Mark’s Day coincided with Camden’s first Anzac Day in the Camden district in 1916. In 1919, the Anzac Day commemorative service at St Mark’s church ‘was crowded and especially attended by the families and friends of those who had met a soldier’s death’. (Camden News, 1 May 1919)
In 1934 Rev AF Pain celebrated the Festival of Saint Mark at the church, where parishioners presented ‘a bounteous supply of the fruits of the earth’ that was sent to Camden District Hospital. (Camden News, 15 February 1934) In 1937 there was a combined service for Anzac Day and the Festival of St Mark. (Camden News, 22 April 1937)
The services for Anzac Day commemoration and St Mark’s Day were split in the years after the Second World War. In 1952 the service with Holy Communion was held by Bishop EW Wilton from Cobbitty on Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 1952, at 9.30 am. The following Sunday, 27 April 1952, the church had the St Mark’s Festival Service. (Camden News, 24 April 1952)
Farewells and church anniversaries
The 10th anniversary of the church celebrations in 1912 was dampened by the departure of church founders Elizabeth Carpenter and her mother, Lydia.
According to rector Canon GH Allnutt, the Carpenter women had made an ‘immense contribution’ to the church’s foundation with service held once a month at Fernside while the church was being built. The rector presented Miss Carpenter with a gold watch for her efforts. She ‘was visibly affected’ as she thanked the assembly in ‘a simple words’ as the presentation had come as a ‘great surprise’. She said, ‘ she felt quite unworthy…as she had only tried to do her duty to the best of her ability’. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
In 1939 the church lost its long-term organist when parishioner Olive Burford of Camden to Alan Tindall of Rockdale. As a token of thanks, the parishioners gave her a silver hot water jug. (Camden News, 17 August 1939)
In 1952 on the 50th anniversary of the church, attendances were reported as ‘encouraging’ in the Camden press. Bishop Wilton conducted the evening service and said there was a Sunday School and a congregation ‘that is growing in strength’. The organists were Miss L Cross and Mrs J Bradford. Churchwardens were CS McIntosh, H Rudd, N Hore and Mr Bradford. The supper was organised by parishioners: Mrs Childs, Mrs Teasdale, Miss Teasdale, Mrs Wrench, Mrs N Ferguson, Mrs C Dunk, Mrs R Dunk, Mrs Weiberle, Mrs Harris, and Mrs Wilton. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)
Improvement and additions
There were ‘improvements and additions’ to the church over the decades. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The churchwardens at St Thomas Narellan gave parishioners at St Mark’s the ‘old ‘John Oxley’ harmonium’ after they installed a new organ. (Camden News, 18 July 1912)
The church’s original shingle roof was replaced in 1912 with ‘short-sheet corrugated iron painted dark red-oxide’. The ceiling and floors were also replaced. (SOHI 2022)
On the death of Canon Allnutt in 1919, Percy Butler was commissioned to construct a communion table in his memory. Local cabinet maker and carpenter Fred Carpenter had built additional seating, a prayer desk, a communion rail and a lecturn. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
A vestry was later added to the building that could act as a chancel when there was a need for additional seating. (Harold Lowe, File Notes, Camden Museum Archive)
The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild held the 1954 church fundraising fair with stalls selling ‘useful goods including handicrafts suitable for ‘Christmas presents’ at the home of Mrs C Dunk in Luker Street. The fair was opened by Mrs A Pain, the wife of the former rector St Paul’s Church of England, Cobbitty, who held services at St Mark’s church between 1919 and 1940. (Camden News, 4 November 1954)
The construction of Warragamba Dam was advantageous for the church community when the former Nattai Post Office/general store building was brought up from Burragorang Valley and placed at the church’s rear to be used as a hall. (The District Reporter, 2 February 2009). The Women’s Guild and the Elderslie community funded the relocation and fit-out of the hall for use as a kitchen. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; SOHI 2022))
In 1959 a meeting of churchwardens, the Women’s Guild and the rector resolved to create a special fund to finance the purchase of the land adjoining the existing church site. It was decided at the same meeting to repair the organ, which cost £24. (File Notes, Camden Museum archives) The kitchen was extended in 1961; in 1966, the Church of England purchased a small part of an adjoining property. (SOHI 2022) In 1968 a new hall was constructed on the site.
Funerals and remembrance services
Funerals and remembrance services were a time of community grieving and support, and the church had a central role in these events.
The death of local parishioners was always a loss to the church. A St Mark’s parishioner and ‘keen’ church worker Mrs Ellen Cross recently died aged 66. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1930) A stalwart of the St Mark’s Sunday School Mrs FA Goodman died aged 60 years old. She had taken the Sunday School just days before admission to Camden District Hospital, where she died of pneumonia last Saturday, December 5. Mrs Goodman had ‘conducted’ the Sunday School from 1926 to her death. (Camden News, 10 December 1931)
St Mark’s churchwarden James Ross was killed by a motor car as he walked at night between the Cowpastures Bridge and the milk depot in 1938. (Camden News, 29 December 1938)
A remembrance service was held at St Mark’s on the death of Joyce Asimus, daughter of Mr and Mrs Roy Asimus, of ‘The Heights’ Elderslie who died after a recent operation. Joyce was reportedly a ‘friendly, energetic and affectionate soul held a high place in esteem and affection of the neighbourhood’. The St Mark’s Churchwomen’s Guild was represented by Mrs Funnell Senr, Mrs Wilton, and Mrs Childs. (Camden News, 29 October 1953)
St Mark’s parishioner and Elderslie resident, 89-year-old Mr RA Cross of Macarthur Road Elderslie, died in 1954. Mr Cross had been a churchwarden since St Mark’s church foundation. The Camden press reported that Mr Cross had attended St Marks Church within days of death along with other parishioners. Mr Cross was a retired brickmaker and made bricks for famous local properties, including Camelot, Carrington Hospital, and Pomare at Cobbitty. His funeral was held at St Thomas’s church at Narellan, with the service taken by Bishop Wilton and buried in Narellan cemetery. A week later, there was a remembrance service at St Mark’s for this ‘faithful and regular worshipper’.(Camden News, 29 July 1854)
The funeral of Mrs Constance AM Ross of Elderslie, mother of Mrs Childs, was held at St Mark’s church in 1952. The Camden press reported that this was the first time a funeral service with the casket was held at the church in its 50-year history. (Camden News, 10 July 1952)
Last service and the loss of a church
Over time, church parishioners died, old Elderslie families moved away, the church congregation grew smaller, and the parish could not financially support the church. Church authorities decided to ‘amalgamate St Mark’s with St Thomas‘s, Narellan, with the final service being held at St Mark’s being held on 21 October 2001. The church was then closed to sell the land’. (SOHI 2022)
In Elderslie, as elsewhere, the threatened loss of a local church often triggers a passionate response from the local community. The local church, even if unused, is a repository of collective memories and a sacred site that possesses a sense of place and community identity.
In 2009 there was a community outcry over a proposal to subdivide the land surrounding St Mark’s church, relocate the church building, demolish the church hall, and cut down the camphor laurel on the Camden’s Register of Significant Trees. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009)
Passionate locals voiced their concerns, particularly about the state of the camphor laurel. Councillor Eva Campbell maintained that the church building was ‘the most significant building in Elderslie’. (Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009) Later reports show that the camphor laurel tree was planted to celebrate the church’s consecration in 1903.
In the end, Camden Council voted to cut down the tree and approved shifting the church across the existing site to allow the consolidation of three allotments into two. (The District Reporter, 16 February 2009; Macarthur Chronicle, 3 February 2009)
The Anglican Church deconsecrated St Marks in 2010. (SOHI 2022)
The church site and buildings were sold to the private owners in 2011 and converted to a private residence where the new owners became the guardians of the community’s collective memories.
In 2022 a proposal by the private owners to extend the former church building generated public interest in maintaining the cultural heritage of the church’s history.
The private English-style estate village of James and William Macarthur
The establishment of Camden, New South Wales, the town in 1840, was a private venture of James and William Macarthur, sons of colonial patriarch John Macarthur, at the Nepean River crossing on the northern edge of the family’s pastoral property of Camden Park. The town’s site was enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River and has regularly flooded the surrounding farmland and lower parts of the town.
The site of Camden was within the 5000 acres granted to John Macarthur by the 2nd Earl Camden [3.2], the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in 1805, while Macarthur was in England on charges for duelling. Macarthur was a fractious quarrelsome self-promoter who arrived in NSW with his wife Elizabeth and family in 1790 as paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The Corps (sometimes called The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as a permanent regiment of the British Army to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps, which had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 to fortify the colony of NSW.
The town’s site, as part of the Macarthur grants, was located on some of the finest farming country in the colony in the government Cowpastures reserve on the colonial frontier. The grants were part of the dispossession of traditional lands of the Dharawal people by the British settler colonial project and inevitably led to conflict and violence. Macarthur claimed that the town’s establishment threatened the security of his landholdings at Camden Park and opposed it during his lifetime. On his death in 1834, his sons had a different worldview and moved to establish an English-style estate village dominated by a church.
A fine Gothic-style church
The ridge-top location of St John’s Church (1840) on the southern end of the town meant that it towered over the town centre and had a clear line of sight to the Macarthur family’s Georgian mansion at Camden Park 2.6 miles to the southwest. The fine English Gothic-style church was funded mainly by the Macarthur family and has been the basis of the town’s iconic imagery. There were a number of large gentry estates built on convict labour in the surrounding farmland, the largest being the Macarthur family’s Camden Park of over 28,000 acres.
Many immigrant families came to the area under Governor Bourke’s 1835 plan and settled on the gentry estates as tenant farmers, some establishing businesses in Camden. The first land sales in the village occurred in 1841, which stifled the growth of the existing European settlements in the area. The population of Camden grew from 242 in 1846 to 458 in 1856, although the gentry’s estates still dominated the village. Camden Park, for example, had a population of 900 in 1850.
The English-style gentry practised philanthropy in Camden to maintain its moral tone. Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, John Macarthur’s granddaughter, encouraged the maintenance of the proprieties of life, moral order and good works, as well as memorialising her family by donating a clock and bells to St John’s Church in 1897. She also marked the memory of her late husband, Captain Onslow, by providing a public park in 1882 named after her husband (Onslow Park), which is now the Camden showground.
Camden became the district’s transport hub at the centre of the road network, primarily set by the pattern of land grants from the 1820s. The earliest villages in the district predated Camden and then looked to Camden for cultural and economic leadership as the district’s major centre. The arrival of the Camden tramway in 1882 meant that silver ore west of the district (1871) was shipped through the Camden railhead to the Main Southern Railway from Sydney.
Combined with rail access to markets, the town’s prosperity was assured by a series of technical and institutional innovations that transformed the dairy industry in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the Macarthur family set up the Camden Vale Milk Company and built a milk processing plant at the eastern end of the main street adjacent to the rail line. Whole milk was railed to Sydney and bottled under its label until the mid-1920s. Milk was delivered daily to the factory by horse and cart until the 1940s from local dairy farms.
Camden’s progress saw the construction of a new bank (1878), the commencement of weekly stock sales (1883), the formation of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society and the first Camden Show (1886), a new post and telegraph office (1898), the foundation of two weekly newspapers (Camden Times, 1879, Camden News, 1880), a new cottage hospital (1898), the formation of a fire brigade (1900), the opening of a telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), town water (1899) and the replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932), and a sewerage scheme (1939). By 1933 the population of the town had grown to 2394.
First local council
The first attempt at local government in 1843 was unsuccessful. A meeting of local notables formed the municipality of Camden at a public meeting in 1883. Still, it was not until 1889 that the municipality was proclaimed, covering 7,000 acres and including Camden and the neighbouring village of Elderslie. Nine townsmen were elected aldermen at the first election that year, and the first meeting was held at the School of Arts. In 1993 the Camden Municipal Council eventually became the Council of Camden.
Camden’s 1840 street grid is still intact today, with streets named after members of the Macarthur family – John Street, Elizabeth, Edward Street – and NSW colonial notables – Oxley Street, Broughton Street, Mitchell Street. The main highway between Sydney and Melbourne (the Hume Highway) passed along the main street (Argyle Street), until it was re-routed in 1976. The town’s business centre still has several Victorian and Art Deco shopfronts.
Some charming Federation and Californian bungalows in the church ridge-top precinct were the homes of the Camden elite in the early 20th century. The precinct is the site of Macarthur Park (1905), which was dedicated to the townsfolk by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and contained the town’s World War One cenotaph (donated by the Macarthur family).
John Street heritage precinct
John Street runs north-south downhill to the floodplain from the commanding position of St John’s church. Lower John Street is the location of the Italianate house Macaria (c1842), St Paul’s Catholic church and the government buildings associated with the Camden police barracks (1878) and courthouse (1857), and Camden Public School (1851). This area also contains the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in the town area, Bransby’s Cottage (1842). Lower John Street has the Camden Temperance Hall (1867), which later served as Camden Fire Station (1916–1993), and the School of Arts (1866), which served as the Camden Town Hall, while the rear of the building was occupied for a time by Camden Municipal Council.
Community voluntary organisations have been part of Camden’s life from the town’s foundation. In the late 1800s, they were male-dominated, usually led by the landed gentry, and held informal political power through patronage. James Macarthur sponsored the Camden School of Arts (1865) and Agricultural, Horticultural & Industrial Society (1886), later called the Camden Show Society, while the non-conformists sponsored various lodges and the temperance movement. A small clique of well-off local women established several conservative women’s organisations after Federation. Their social position supported their husbands’ political activities, and the influence of the Macarthur family was felt in these organisations, for example, the Camden Red Cross and Country Women’s Association.
Many men and women from Camden and the district saw military service in the Boer War and later World War One and Two when residents set up local branches of national patriotic funds and civil defence organisations. On the outskirts of the town, there were active defence establishments during World War II, including an airbase, army infantry, and training camps.
Economic prosperity from coal mining in the district’s western part challenged old hierarchies in the postwar years, replacing the old colonially-based rural hegemony. New community organisations like Rotary and later the Chamber of Commerce fostered business networks in the town. The Camden Historical Society (1957) promoted the town’s past and later opened a local museum (1970).
The New South Wales state government decreed that the town would become part of a growth area in the form of ‘new cities’ under the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), modelled on the British Garden City concept. Increasing urbanisation threatened the town’s identity and the number of community members formed by the Camden Residents’ Action Group (1973).
In 2007 Camden was the administrative centre of the Camden Local Government Area, which had a population of over 51,000 (2006) and an area of 201 square kilometres. The Camden LGA became part of the state government’s Sydney South West Growth Centre, planned to house 500,000 new residents, and is one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas.
Wave of nostalgia
Increasing levels of Sydney’s urbanisation have continued, threatened the loss of rural landscapes around the town, and awakened a wave of nostalgia. The NSW state government created the Camden Town Conservation Area (2008) based on the mid-20th century country town that aimed at preserving the town’s integrity and material fabric.
The Oran Park library has a number of public artworks that commemorate the former Oran Park motorway that was on the site. These wonderful public art installations celebrate the memories of the Oran Park Raceway which closed in 2010.
The commissioning of the artworks was a collaboration between Guppy Art Management & Camden Council.
Moto Caelifera Eclectica by James Corbett
James Corbett describes himself as a car part sculptor and is based in Brisbane, Queensland.
James Corbett created these works in 2018 and he describes this installation as a ‘challenging commission’ on his blog. He writes
to create two large racing grasshoppers in double quick time for the new Oran Park library near Camden in western Sydney. This used to be a rural area, but was known to me since I was a child for just one reason. It had a car racing track. All the big names raced there, and I used to rabidly read all about their exploits in my eagerly awaited, latest copy of ‘Racing Car News.’ I couldn’t get enough of that stuff when I was twelve years old.
The track is gone and the pastures are disappearing under houses, but there are still just enough paddocks of dry yellow grass about to give a feel for the history of the district. I wanted to pay tribute to both, that soon to be gone rural feel, and the rich racing history. Those dry grassy areas make me think of grasshoppers, flies, locusts and Hereford cattle. And Insects seem sort of mechanical, and built for a purpose. Form following function, like racing cars. Well the ones I like anyway.
Corbett created two works as part of the installation. He calls one ‘The Green Kawasaki Grasshopper’ and it is attached to the wall. In constructing the works he writes
The Formula cars of the era had riveted aluminium sheet chassis, and I wanted to reflect that. Hence the riveted abdomens. I wanted them to look like they could work like machines. I cut up a yellow Hyundai and found a green I liked on a Daihatsu. When I found a Kawasaki engine for the green one, it had to be given the late Greg Handsford’s race number 2.
The second hanging artwork Corbett calls ‘Beechy Grasshopper’ and it has a 4.8-metre wingspan with wings made of ‘glass car windows’. More information about the installation can be found on Corbett’s website.
Freya Jobbins is a Sydney-based contemporary Australian multidisciplinary artist based whose art practice includes assemblage, installation, video, collage and printmaking.
Speedster by Justin Sayarath
Sydney-based artist Justin Sayarath has a number of installations around the metropolitan area where he ‘combines both his technical skill of visual arts and graphic design to create and collaborate in the public and commercial domains’.
A landscape of memorials and memories of the Cowpastures.
Many memorials, monuments, historic sites, and other public facilities commemorate, celebrate and just generally remind us about the landscape of the Cowpastures.
In recent decades there has been a nostalgia turn around recovering the memory of the Cowpastures landscape. This is cast in terms of the pioneers and the legacy of the European settlement.
Memorials and monuments can be controversial in some quarters, especially in the eyes of those interested in Australia’s dark history.
Apart from monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures landscape, the most ubiquitous form of memorialisation across the Macarthur region are war memorials. Most Macarthur regional communities possess a monument of some kind, dating to the early 20th century commemorating the memory of those killed in action in the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.
The heyday of building monuments in Australia was in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when the new and emerging nation searched for national heroes. These heroes were overwhelmingly blokes – pale males.
Some of the most significant memorials to the Cowpastures landscape are historical sites, the built environment, and cultural heritage. Many of these are scattered across the Cowpastures region dating from the time of European settlement.
Most of the monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures in the local area date from the mid-20th century. Several have been commissioned by developers trying to cast their housing developments in nostalgia for the colonial past. Only one of these memorials was commissioned by women.
The monuments and memorials can be considered part of the public art of the local area and have contributed to the construction of place and community identity.
The memories evoked by the monuments, memorials, murals, historical sites, celebrations, and other items mean different things to different people.
The Cowpastures Landscape
So what exactly has been referred to by the Cowpastures landscape? In this discussion, there are these interpretations:
Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon.
Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
The political and philosophical – evils were the true corruptors of the countryside.
Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers.
‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside.
Emotional response – how the European viscerally experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing – and its expression in words and pictures. (after Karskins 2009, The Colony)
11. Parks and reserves, e.g., Rotary Cowpasture Reserve, opened in 1995 By Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair Governor of NSW, celebrating 100 years of Rotary.
12. In Campbelltown’s Mawson Park is a statue of Elizabeth Macquarie. The bronze statue honours the wife of Governor Macquarie, whose maiden name was Campbell, and Campbelltown was named in her honour. The sculpture was created by sculptor Tom Bass in installed in 2006.
4. Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations Annual Fair and Conference in 2016, called Cowpastures and Beyond, was held in Camden with exciting speakers and attended by various delegates.
5. An art exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre called ‘They Came by Boat‘ in 2017 highlighted many aspects of the landscape of the Cowpastures and its story.
7. Campbelltown-born architect William Hardy Wilson wrote The Cow Pasture Road in 1920, a whimsical fictional account of the sights and sounds along the road from Prospect to the Cow Pastures.
8. Macarthur ‘Bulls’ FC is a football team founded in 2021 named after the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures and has a training facility established at Cawdor in the centre of the former 1803 Cowpasture government reserve.
1. The Cowpasture Road was the original access route to the colonial Cowpastures Reserve in the early 19th century, starting at Prospect and ending at the Nepean River crossing.
2. The historic site at Belgenny Farm is one of Australia’s earliest European farming complexes in the Cowpastures. The farm was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate and is an example of living history.
3. Camden Park House and Garden is the site of John Macarthur’s historic Regency mansion and was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.
4. Other colonial properties across the Cowpastures region (in private hands), eg, Denbigh.
5. Indigenous paintings of polled cattle by the Dharawal people in the Bull Cave at Kentlyn
Updated 1 January 2023. Originally posted 22 August 2022.
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