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Camden, a Macarthur family venture

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.

John Macarthur on the cover of Australia’s Heritage 1970. The original oil painting of John Macarthur is held in SLNSW (I Willis, 2022)

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.

St John’s Anglican Church in its hilltop location at the top of John Street Camden. This image is by Charles Kerry in the 1890s (Camden Images)

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.

English-style gentry

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.

Transport hub

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.  

The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard (Camden Images)

Progress assured

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 Milk Depot, trading as Camden Vale Milk Coop Ltd located at the northern end of Argyle Street adjacent to Camden Railway Station. (Camden Images)

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.

In 2014 this is the head office of Camden Council in the former Victorian gentleman’s townhouse built by Henry Thompson. (Camden Images)

Street names

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.

Camden School of Arts located in John Street PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

Volunteerism

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.

The women of the Camden Red Cross at their weekly street stall in Argyle Street Camden in the 1920s. The women ran the stall for decades and raised thousands of pounds for local and national charities. (Camden Images)

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.

Coal mining

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).

Camden Museum Library building in John Street Camden, where the Blue Plaque with being located, recognising the efforts of the Camden Red Cross sewing circles in both World War One and World War Two. (I Willis, 2008)

Urbanisation

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).

Mount Annan suburban development, which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

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.

Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

Posted 19 September 2022

Bathtub effect · Floods · Grief · Hawkesbury-Nepean river · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Trauma

The rain comes tumbling down, again

Flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Valley

As heavy rain fell on my roof this morning, I pondered another forecast for heavy rain and possible flooding in the local area.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning that stated:

HEAVY RAINFALL For people in Metropolitan, Illawarra and parts of South Coast, Central Tablelands and Southern Tablelands Forecast Districts. (BOM, 2/7/22)

This brings back memories of early 2022 and the effect of local flooding. There is damage to property and people’s mental health.

Flood on Nepean River at Camden next to milk factory looking to Elderslie along Argyle Street in the early 20th century (CIPP)

People become worried about the unknown. So let’s help clear some of the fog.

What is unique about floods on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River?

 The ‘bathtub effect‘ of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Valley

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley has unique landform features that make flooding in the local area perilous.

The river in flood does not behave like other valleys with wide-open flood plains that allow flood water to spread out and slow down.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River valley has several pinch points constricting the flow and creating upstream localised flooding. This has been termed the ‘bathtub effect’ by engineering geologist Tom Hubble from the University of Sydney in 2021.

The 2019 H-N Valley Regional Flood Study describes the river valley this way:

 The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley consists of a sequence of floodplains interspersed with incised meanders in sandstone gorges. (ERM Mitchell McCotter, 1995).[p.6]  [ERM Mitchell McCotter, (1995). Proposed Warragamba Flood Mitigation Dam Environmental Impact Statement, Sydney Water, July 1995.]

The Geography Teachers Association has produced an excellent teaching resource about the river valley, and it states:

The unique geomorphic features of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly vulnerable to dangerous, fast-rising floods.

An aerial view of the Camden township in the 1974 flood event. The Nepean River is behind the town centre and flows from R-L. (SMH)

The NSW SES says:

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a long history of dangerous and damaging floods. Since records began in the 1790s, there have been over 130 moderate to major floods in the valley, including 6 major and 21 other serious floods since Warragamba Dam was completed in 1960.

So local people have a right to be worried when the BOM issues flood warnings,

Flood trauma is real.

Floods cause a considerable amount of anxiety in the local area.

The New South Wales Governments website Emotional and trauma support after flood states:

Natural disasters, cleaning up and recovery can take a toll on your mental and physical health. It’s vital people seek support and look after their own and their loved ones’ wellbeing. 

Flooding at the Cowpastures Bridge Camden in 2022 (I Willis)

The Black Dog Institute states that after flooding:

We anticipate that Australians living in areas affected by the current New South Wales and Queensland floods are likely to experience psychological distress. While some level of distress is a normal and understandable response to these events, we know from previous disasters that for many this may lead to more chronic mental health problems.

Royal Life Saving Australia says that there is grief and trauma after flooding. It maintains:

Looking after yourself during and following a flood event is an important part of the flood recovery process. If you have lost someone during a recent flooding event, or been rescued, it is especially important to check in with your support network and identify steps to help you get the additional support you may need. Everyone processes grief differently, and there is no one ‘right’ way to grieve, but we all need help in difficult times.

For the nerds

There is a lot of nerdy technical stuff around flooding in the river valley.

Technical details

There is an excellent study called the 2015 Nepean River Flood Study for technically minded people.

The study defines the Upper Nepean as the river upstream of the confluence of the Nepean River with the Warragamba River and is around 1800 square kilometres (p1).

For those who want to read a broader study about flooding across the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment, I suggest looking at a study called the 2019 Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Regional Flood Study.

A keen beekeeper and stalwart of the community garden, Steve rescues his hives from flooding in April 2022 (S Cooper)

One local sage, community gardener and flood watcher, Steve, commented on Facebook:

There has been some discussion about the possible rain event on its way [1/7/22]. Happy to report that all upstream dams are below capacity as per the Bureau of Meteorology. The [community] gardens are not affected till 8.5 metres, upstream inflows will be monitored and in the event of water reaching 8 metres livestock will be moved to higher ground within the garden where applicable or externally if required under the guidance of any relevant authorities. Note that the lagoon fills slowly from the river via the old creek line. However, if the river reaches 11 metres Macquarie Road floods over. Flooding has typically peaked in Camden 9 hours after Avon Dam Road peaked and 3 hours after Menangle. The last floods #3 peaked @ 20 metres at Avon Dam Road. The previous #2 at close to 17 metres. Note the last flood 12.2 metres in Camden occurred after all dams were also full.

This information comes from the BOM rain and river data site.

Steve was disappointed in his predictions about the size of the weather event affecting the New South Wales East Coast.

The rainfall at Robertson is a good indicator of what might happen in the Upper Nepean River river valley. Up to 9.00am today (3/7/22), Robertson had received 258mm of rainfall; at Menangle Bridge, there had been 185mm of rain. The Upper Nepean River valley is saturated and partly explains the behaviour of the Nepean River at Camden.

This view shows the Nepean River at Camden from the Elderslie side of the river on the right bank. This image was taken at 10.00am today (3/7/22), and the river was rising. By 3.00pm, the water had risen to the height of the telegraph pole. (2022, I Willis, 3/7/22)

Historic river heights at the Cowpasture Bridge, Camden.

The historical records of flood heights at the Cowpasture Bridge provide an interesting comparison of the present flood. The records are contained in the 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan.

Historic river heights at the Cowpastures Bridge (2016 Camden Local Flood Plan)

Updated 4 July 2022. First posted 2 July 2022.

1932 · Artefacts · Camden · Camden Museum · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Ephemera · Heritage · History · Interwar · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Place making · Political history · Propaganda · Sense of place · Starvation Debenture · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Political propaganda in 1932

The Starvation Debenture

I recently came across this political propaganda piece in the Camden Museum collection. It is a political flyer for the United Country Party from the 1932 New South Wales state election. The flyer was titled the ‘Starvation Debenture’.

It is reasonable to assume the flyer was circulating in the Camden area at the time for it to end up in the museum collection.

The front of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The “Starvation Debenture” features the hammer and sickle emblem in a circle at the centre top, and ONE LANG printed in squares in each corner, “Starvation Debenture” is printed across the top to foot blame for the Depression to the three caricatures, Premier Jack Lang, union leader Jock Garden, and an unidentified politician (possibly Theodore the Federal Treasurer who was at odds with Lang), are printed in circles beneath this, accompanied by a printed caption criticising the Lang government. (Camden Museum)

The certificate was issued against the wider background of the Great Depression, the White Australia Policy and the conflict between the rise of communism and fascism in Europe. These forces were played out in the 1932 state election and were just as relevant in Camden as anywhere else in the state.  

Stephen Thompson from the Powerhouse Museum has argued:

New political ideas were coming to Australia from migrants from Europe. These ideas included fascism and socialism. These ideas were embraced by some as solutions to the growing racial and economic problems facing the world after World War One. To conservatives it was a direct threat to Australia’s links to the past of protection and governance by Britain and British class structures.

 The Interwar period also saw the emergence of a number of organisations that influenced state politics:

  • the Old Guard – a secret fascist organisation formed as a counter-revolutionary group and opposed the Lang Government, originally established in 1917;
  • the New Guard – a fascist paramilitary organisation that split with the Old Guard was pro-monarchist, anti-bolshevik, and pro-imperialist;
  • the New State Movementthe Riverina and New England State movements.
The reverse of the Lang Starvation Certificate was issued by the United Country Party on Friday 3 June 1932 during the election campaign. The text on the reverse side consists of further criticisms, particularly regarding Lang’s loan ‘repudiation policy’, and urges support for the United Country Party: “Help United Country Party Candidates to Snip the Latch on Lang on June 11”. The United Country Party was the forerunner of the present National Party’.  (Camden Museum)

Reports of the flyer in the Sydney and country press

The Sydney press published a picture of the United Country Party flyer and there was an immediate demand for the leaflet. In the end, the United Country Party distributed over 200,000 flyers across the state. (SMH,4 June 1932)

The country press carried reports of the circulation of the flyer. The Wellington Times reported that the UCP flyers circulated around the town for the ‘amusement of the townspeople’. (Wellington Times, 9 June 1932)

At a political rally in Albury United Country Party supporters handing out flyers brawled with Langites who ‘did not like the leaflets’. (Sun, 8 June 1932) and the Melbourne press carried more reports (Argus, 6 June 1932).

United Country Party organisers were elated with the response to the flyers:

All over the country there has been a rush to secure the “starvation debentures” as souvenirs, and in many places they are pasted on the walls of hotels. (Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1932)

1932 State Election

Polling for the state election was held on Saturday 11 June 1932 for the single chamber of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. The opposing camps were Jack Lang’s Labor Party and Bertram Stevens’s United Australia Party and United Country Party coalition.  

The third Lang government had been dismissed by Governor Philip Game on 13 May 1932. The Governor requested the Opposition Leader, BSB Stevens, to form an interim government until the election.

The Stevens coalition won the election with an 11 per cent swing against the Lang government and ended up with a 42-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The Labor vote was diluted because the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party ran 43 endorsed candidates against the state division candidates. The ALP had split in 1931 and none of the Federal ALP candidates was elected. Both parties re-united in 1936.

Camden and the 1932 election

Camden and the surrounding villages were in the state electoral district of Wollondilly which also took in the Southern Highlands and Picton districts.

The endorsed candidates in Wollondilly were: United Australia Party was represented by Mark F Morton, MLA, John J Cleary represented the ALP (NSW) and Patrick W Kenna ALP (Federal). Morton was re-elected with a 71% primary vote.

MF Morton (NSW Parliament)

The Camden press reported the remarks of the acting premier BSB Stevens in a front-page editorial. It stated:

Above all, each and every one of them wishes to maintain Australia’s membership of the British Empire the greatest of all democracies — and to keep Australia free from the taint of communism and its tyrannous methods. Freedom-loving Australians, like Britons from whom they are descended, shall never be the slaves of such a demoralising, dishonest, and humiliating system. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

The Camden branch of the United Australia Party organised a public meeting addressed by MF Morton, the endorsed UAP candidate. The meeting was chaired by Mr EA Davies, and Mr Morton

  gave an interesting resume of the events leading to the dismissal of the Lang Government ; stressing the point that it had been the first Ministry of the Crown to incite disobedience to the law of the land. (Camden News, 2 June 1932)

Mrs W Larkin and Miss Grace Moore moved a motion of thanks.

Enthusiastic rallies and vitriol

 The 1932 election campaign was typified by large gatherings on both sides of the political spectrum, with a number of public meetings in Camden.

 The acting premier, Bertrum Stevens, travelled over 1000 miles across the state in the days before the election. There was a particularly large rally at Peak Hill where over 5000 people gathered to listen to the acting premier and gave him a ‘thunderous reception’.

Jack Lang (NLA)

In the Sydney Domain, Jack Lang held a rally with over 200,000 people assembled to listen to the dismissed premier. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Another rally in the Domain organised by the Same Democracy League denounced Langism and one speaker that voting for Jack Lang was ‘voting for civil war and bloodshed’. (Argus, 6 June 1932)

Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · England · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memorials · Memory · Modernism · Monuments · Myths · Newspapers · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Stereotypes · Streetscapes · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Urban growth · urban sprawl · Urbanism · War · Women's history

Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the Camden District

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.

(Facebook, 23 November 2015)

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society.  In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).

The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal.  The first appeared in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

Mount Annan suburban development which is part of Sydney’s urban sprawl c2005 (Camden Images)

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography

Updated 6 February 2022. Originally posted 20 November 2015.

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

Jacaranda fever hits Camden

2018 Camden Jacaranda Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first mention of jacarandas in Camden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first Jacaranda tree in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

Camden Jacaranda Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camden Flower Festivals

Flower festivals were not new to Camden.

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

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

The House and Garden website states,

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

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

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

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

Neil McMahon writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that

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

Oldest Jacaranda Tree living in Australia

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

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

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

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

Constructed on Sydney sandstone the garden website states:

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

Updated 15 August 2022. Originally posted 8 December 2021.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Farming · Frontier violence · Harrington Park · Heritage · History · Landscape · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorial · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban development · Urban growth · Wayfinding

Cowpastures artwork at Harrington Park Lake

Public art as wayfinding, placemaking, memorial and urban development

The story of the Cowpastures is represented in public art across the Macarthur region and one example is found along the Harrington Park Lake walkway.

 A pleasant stroll around the lakeside path will bring the walker to a wooded section and where there is an art installation with cows hiding under the trees.

The public artwork is a mixture of elements that combine wayfinding, placemaking, memorialisation and urban development in a new suburb.

The artwork installation called Cowpastures was created by artist Jane Cavanough of Artlandish Art and Design in 2001. The signage states ‘The cows represent the history of cattle grazing in this region, formerly known as “The Cowpastures”.

Artist Jane Cavanough

Artist Jane Cavanough writes that she ‘produces site-specific public art that is a union of both classic and contemporary design, interactive, low maintenance with long-lasting beauty. She states that her ‘strength is creating artworks that have a strong relationship to the site’. (Cavanough 2020)

Cavanough has achieved her aim with Cowpastures on the Lakeside walk where walkers have been able to engage with the artwork and ponder what the real cows might have looked like over 200 years ago. The artwork has weathered well over the last 20 years and still carries the story that was created by the artist.

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpastures public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<cows pic>

Public art.

The considerations in Cavanough’s Cowpastures parallels the aims of public art in the Northern Beaches LGA. Important considerations for the community and the council along the Northern Beaches Coast Walk were eight principles:

  • Respect and acknowledge Aboriginal cultural heritage
  • Celebrate and conserve significant natural and cultural values
  • Connect places and people along the coast
  • Foster artistic and cultural expression and encourage creative collaboration
  • Enrich places through high quality art and design
  • Interpret the history and significance of the coast
  • Value artistic and cultural diversity and be inclusive
  • Create a distinctive and recognisable Northern Beaches Coast Walk identity.(Council 2019)

It is useful to actually define what is public art. The Northern Beaches Council Public Art Policy provides some guidance and states:

Public Art refers to a range of artwork and art-based activities that interface with the public, including property in private ownership that has publicly accessible space and the public domain. Public Art can include sculpture, place-making elements, wall embellishments, art integrated into the design of buildings, artist-designed seating and fencing, paving work, lighting elements and other creative possibilities. Public Art can serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose.

The public domain means public places and/or open spaces that are situated within, vested in or managed by Council, including parks, beaches, bushland, outdoor recreation facilities, streets, laneways, pathways and foreshore promenades and public buildings, facilities or enclosed structures, owned and managed by Council which are physically accessible to the general public. (Council 2019)

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpasture’s public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

The storyboard

To assist Harrington Park Lakeside walkers engage with Cavanough’s Cowpastures artwork there is information signage that provides an interpretation of the installation. It states:

Cowpastures

In 1788 a herd of 4 long horn cattle and 2 bulls escaped from the Government Farm at Rosehill. [sic] They were found seven years later in 1795 as a herd of 40 in a rich expanse of grassland. Later that same year Governor Hunter surveyed this region and appropriately named it “Cowpastures”. Harrington Park with [sic] the Cowpastures region.

The pastoral industry in Camden began when Governor King granted John Macarthur 2000 acres, which became known as Camden. Further land grants were handed out across the region, including Harrington Park in 1815 to Captain William Douglas Campbell.

The Davies family purchased Harrington Park from the Campbells in 1833. The Rudd family owned the property from 1902/3 to 1944 when it was sold to the Fairfax family.

It operated as a dairy in the 1920s-1930s and then, in 1946, under the Fairfax family’s ownership, it was operated as a poll hereford [sic] stud, nursery and dairy.

Harrington Park-Taylor Woodrow-Fairfax

The storyboard has a supplementary map of Harrington Park property in the Cowpastures.

The storyboard beside Jane Cavanough’s Cowpatures on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<info board pic>

Hidden in the past

Cavanaugh’s Cowpastures tells the story of the site and reveals the layers of the past to the viewer. Yet there is more to the story hidden in the shadows. Some of these hidden stories are hinted at while others are still to be revealed. One example is the violence of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures as the settler society project unfolded and Europeans took up territory from the Indigenous Dharawal. (Karskens 2015)

At Harrington Park lakeside Cavanough has taken part in placemaking, wayfinding, memorialisation and urban development with her creation of Cowpastures.  She has engaged in telling the cultural heritage and contributed to the construction of place and community identity in a new suburb, directed visitors to discover the stories of Cowpastures from the past in an aesthetic landscape setting, and celebrated the history of the site and the Europeans who farmed the land.

References

Cavanough, J. (2020). ” About Jane Cavanough.” Jane Cavanough Artlandish Art and Design. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from http://janecavanough.com.au/about/.

Council, N. B. (2019). Public Art Policy. Sydney, Northern Beaches Council.

Karskens, G. (2015). Appin Massacre. Dictionary of Sydney. Sydney NSW, State Library of New South Wales & City of Sydney.

1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · Bridges · Camden · Camden Bridge · Camden Story · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cowpastures River · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Engineering Heritage · Floods · Frontier violence · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · History · Industrial Heritage · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorials · Monuments · Nepean River · Place making · Railway · Sense of place · Technology · Transport · Travel · Utilities

Four bridges and the Nepean River crossing

The Cowpasture bridge

Walking over the Cowpastures bridge, you have a vista of the tranquil water of the Nepean River impounded behind the Camden weir. The tranquillity belies the raging torrent that can cover the bridge at flood times.

Plaque located in the Rotary Cowpasture Reserve in Argyle Street Camden adjacent to the Cowpasture Bridge commemorating the opening of the reconstructed bridge after the 1975 flood (I Willis 2021)

On the western end of the bridge is a small park where a plaque celebrates the 1976 re-construction of the bridge. A flood had turned the timber bridge deck into a twisted mess twelve months earlier.

The plaque states:

Cowpasture Bridge

Originally opened in 1901 this bridge was extensively damaged by flood in June 1975.

Following repair it was re-opened by The Hon J JC Bruxner MLA, Minister for Transport and Highways, 9th April 1976.

Ald RB Ferguson, Mayor. Camden Municipal Council.

REA Rofe Esq. MLA, Member for State Electorate of Nepean.

AF Schmidt Esq., Commissioner for Main Roads, New South Wales.

Plaque, Argyle Street, Camden.

The twisted Cowpasture bridge timber deck after the 1975 flood closed access across the river for many months. (Camden Images)

Choke-point

The low-level Cowpasture bridge is a pinch point for the movement of goods and people across the river. Its closure at flood times has created a choke-point that disrupts daily life. Other low-level bridges in the local area at Menangle, Cobbitty, and Macquarie Grove Road have suffered the same problem.

The eastern approach to the Cowpastures Bridge on Camden Valley Way with signage for the Cowpasture Bridge in the early morning (I Willis, 2017)

The access issue was only solved with the opening of the high-level Macarthur Bridge in 1973. The bridge is an important example of Camden’s engineering heritage and was built as part of the local region’s NSW Askin Governments New Cities structure plan.

Economic importance of access

Access to the southern side of the Nepean River has been an issue since European settlement and the discovery of the Wild Cattle in 1795. Governor Hunter named the area the Cowpastures in 1796, and it became a restricted reserve from 1803 to stop cattle poaching.

The issue of access across the river was illustrated in 1810 when a party led by Governor Macquarie visited the area.   Macquarie wrote in his journal on 16 November 1810:

There being very little Water in the River at this time, we crossed it at the usual Ford in our Carriage with great ease and safety.

A bridge at last – ‘a paltry affair’

As the colonial frontier moved beyond the Cowpastures, there was increased traffic across the Nepean River, sometimes reported as the Cowpastures River. (SMH, 2 October 1861). The frontier conflicts between Europeans and Indigenous people calmed on the Cowpastures after the 1816 massacre. (Karskens, 2015) The process of settler colonialism and its insatiable appetite for territory increased traffic through the Cowpastures in the 1820s.

The river crossing required a more permanent solution to deal with the increased traffic movement along the Great South Road. The first Cowpasture bridge was built in 1826, then new bridges followed in 1861, 1900 and 1976. Each was trying to solve the same access problem (SMH, 2 October 1861).

This is a sketch of the 1826 Cowpasture Bridge attributed to Thomas Wore of Harrington Grove in 1842. St John’s Church is on the hill consecrated in 1849. Historic Sketch Discovered: Camden Village in 1842, The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, 10 June 1933, p.9 (illustrated is a previously unpublished sketch of an almost identical drawing to (Cowpastures) Bridge & Village of Camden.) http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1151602

A low-level bridge was first raised in 1823 when Surveyor-General John Oxley of Kirkham objected to a bridge at Bird’s Eye Corner river crossing (Menangle). The final decision was to build a crossing halfway between the Belgenny Crossing and Oxley’s Macquarie Grove. (Villy, 62-63)

Work began on the low-level Cowpasture bridge in 1824 and finished in 1826. Construction was supervised by convict Samuel Wainwright and built below the crown of the riverbank. There was no shortage of sceptics, and a band of local ‘gentlemen’ thought the bridge would collapse in the 1826 flood. (Villy, 62-63) They were wrong.  

A convict was stationed at the bridge as a caretaker to remove the bridge rails in flood. In 1827 a toll was introduced on the bridge, with the right-to-collect sold for £70. It was forbidden to cross the bridge on a Sunday, offenders were fined and cattle impounded. (Starr, 16-17)

Repairs were carried out on the bridge after floods in 1835 (Starr: 17) and in the 1840s ‘landowners, carriers and mail contractors’ complained. They were concerned that the bridge was submerged by floodwater ‘on every occasion’ and in a recent deluge ‘the Bridge was sixteen feet underwater and the neighbouring flats, a complete sea for miles’. (Starr: 17)

In a number of memoirs, the bridge was described as ‘a very a paltry affair’ (Starr: 23) and a ‘primitive structure’ (Sydney Mail, 5 February 1913). 

In 1852 a portion of the bridge washed away, and there were terrible floods in February and April 1860. There was a need to replace the ‘dilapidated’ bridge. (SMH, 2 October 1861)

The timber truss Camden Bridge across the Nepean River with Thompson’s Woollen Mill on the right of the image in 1861. (Camden Images)

Tenders were called in early-1860 for a new five-span timber truss bridge (NSW Government Gazette, 6 April 1860), and it was under construction by September. The construction tender was won by Campbelltown building contractors Cobb and Bocking (SMH, 21 September 1860; SMH 2 October 1861), who also built the low-level timber truss bridge at Menangle in 1855. (RMSHC, 2019; Liston, 85)

A grand affair

There was much fanfare at the new bridge opening on Monday, 30 September 1861, at 3 pm. There was conjecture about the crowd size. The Empire claimed a crowd of 50 people while the Sydney Morning Herald boasted there was 200 present. (Empire, 3 October 1861; SMH 2 October 1861).

Whatever the crowd, there were a host of speeches and Mrs Bleecke, the wife of Camden doctor Dr Bleecke, christened the new bridge the ‘Camden bridge’ by breaking a bottle of Camden wine on the timbers. Then, the crowd let out three loud hearty cheers (SMH 2 October 1861).

At the end of the official proceedings, the men, 40 in number, adjourned to the Camden Inn, owned by Mr Galvin, for a ‘first-rate’ sit-down lunch. The meal was accompanied by a host of speeches and much imbibement. There were many toasts starting with ‘The Queen’ and ‘Prince Albert’. The ladies were left ‘to amuse themselves as best they could until the evening’ (SMH 2 October 1861).

The festivities at lunch were followed in the evening by a ‘grand’ ball held at Mr Thompson’s woollen mill. The floor had been cleared on orders of Mr Thompson, and the space decorated with ‘evergreens’ and ‘flowers’ and brilliantly lit by kerosene lamps. (SMH 2 October 1861)

According to the Sydney press, the Camden populace had ‘seldom’ seen an event like it. One hundred thirty-four people attended the ball. Festivities on into the night with a ‘great profusion’ of food and dancing winding up at 4 am the following day. Locals declared they ‘had never spent a happier or pleasanter day’ (SMH 2 October 1861).

The railway to Camden

In 1882 when the railway line was built between Campbelltown and Camden, the track was laid across the timber bridge deck. This reduced the width of the roadway to 15 feet, and traffic had to stop when a train needed to cross the bridge.(Camden News, 27 June 1901)

According to the Camden press, passengers were regularly notified at Redfern Station (now known as Central Station) with a sign saying ‘traffic to Camden stopped at Camden bridge’ due to frequent flooding. The bridge’s timber deck was ‘well below the banks of the river’. (Camden News, 27 June 1901)

The existing 1860 timber truss bridge was constructed for light road traffic and continually posed problems for the railway. Only the lightest railway locomotives could use the bridge, and the heavy grades of the branch line at Kenny Hill meant that the train was restricted to a small number of cars. (Camden News, 27 June 1901).

In 1900 a new steel girder bridge was constructed to take the weight of two locomotives. The specifications for the bridge are:

  • five steel girder spans each of 45 feet on concrete piers;
  • 178 feet of timbers beam spans;
  • making a total length of 403 feet;
  • the bridge deck was seven feet higher than the 1860 timber truss bridge deck;
  • construction was supervised by the Bridge Branch of the NSW Public Works Department;
  • the bridge was built at a cost of £10,000;
  • construction used 126 tons of steel and 984 cubic yards of concrete. (Camden News, 27 June 1901)

An exciting boat ride

Flood time was an exciting time for rail passengers going to Camden. When the bridge closed, railway passengers got an exhilarating boat ride across the flooded Nepean River. The train would stop at Elderslie Railway Station, climbing aboard the railway rowing boat. Passengers would take their lives in their hands and be ferried across the flooded river by the boatman. The rowing boat was given the Camden Municipal Council in 1889 (Pictorial History Camden: 87)

This image shows the new 1900 Camden Bridge with concrete piers and steel girders which replaced the 1860 timber truss bridge. (SLNSW) The bridge was opened in June 1901 by the NSW Minister for Works the Hon EW O’Sullivan assisted by the Member for Camden, the Hon John Kidd, at a ceremony at Camden Railway Station. (CN, 20 June 1901) This was followed by an official lunch at the Camden School of Arts for around 70 guests who purchased tickets. (CN, 13 June 1901)

Flooded Cowpasture Bridge in 2022

This photograph shows the Cowpasture Bridge under floodwater on 3 March 2022 on the eastern approaches along Camden Valley Way. The height of the Nepean River at the Camden Weir just downstream from the Cowpasture Bridge reached a peak this morning (3/3/22) of 10.01 metres at 9.42am, and the river level was falling at the time this photograph was taken. The Bureau of Meteorology’s river heights are classified by the Bureau of Meteorology as: 6.8 metres is minor flooding; 8.30 metres is moderate; 13.00 metres is major flooding. The river level at the Camden Weir in the days leading up to this photograph ranged from 1.8 metres on 27/2/22 to 2.3 metres on 2/3/22. (I Willis 2022)

This image was taken at the intersection of Camden Valley Way and Macarthur Road on the northern end of the Cowpasture Bridge which was inundated by the Nepean River. The time was Tuesday 9 March 2022 at 9.00am when the height of the Nepean River at Camden Weir was 11.9 metres and classified as a major flood. (I Willis, 2022)

This image was taken at the corner of Camden Valley Way and Macarthur Road looking towards the Cowpasture Bridge on Thursday 7 April 2022 at around 9.00pm. The Nepean River rose to a maximum of 12.21 metres at the Camden Weir mid-evening. The river rose very quickly on Thursday and the Cowpasture Bridge was closed at 12.30pm on Thursday 7/4/22. The bridge was re-opened to traffic on Friday afternoon after the river had dropped below the level of the bridge decking. (I Willis, 2022)

References

Willis, I 2015, Pictorial History Camden & District, Kingsclear Books, Sydney.

Road and Maritime Authority 2018, The Old Hume Highway, History begins with a road, 2nd edn, eBook, viewed 18 October 2021, <https://roads-waterways.transport.nsw.gov.au/documents/about/environment/protecting-heritage/hume-highway-duplication/history-begins-with-a-road.pdf>.

Villy, E 2011, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg Publishing, Sydney.

Starr, M 2002, Murder, Mayhem and Misdemeanours, Early settlers at the Cowpasture River, New South Wales, 1810-1830, Australian Horizon, Sydney.

Liston, C 1988, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Roads and Maritime Services Heritage Committee 2019, The Timber Truss Bridge Book, eBook, viewed 21 October 2021, <https://roads-waterways.transport.nsw.gov.au/about/environment/protecting-heritage/timber-truss-bridge/index.html>.

Karskens, Grace 2015, ‘Appin massacre’, Dictionary of Sydney, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre, viewed 22 Oct 2021

Updated 9 April 2022, 3 March 2022, 19 November 2021; Originally posted as ‘Access Denied, flooding at the Cowpasture Bridge’ on 22 October 2021.

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Camden and its French Connections

French nationalism on show

Glory or death each morning brought –

Small matter which the chance.

Our General knew his soldiers fought

For Liberty and France!   

– Marcus Clarke  (Camden News, 20 July 1916)

During the First World War, the Camden News’s editorial policy expressed strong cultural connections with France, especially around Bastille Day. The News carried reports of patriotic celebrations around the French National Day, visits by French soldiers and the personal reminiscences of Paris by Camden identity and owner of the News, William Sidman.

The Franco-Prussian war

In September 1914, the Camden News published a series of six articles written by William Sidman. They documented his personal experiences of the chaotic events of Paris at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. (Camden News, 27 August, 3 Sept, 10 Sept 1914, 17 Sept, 24 Sept, 1 Oct 1914)  

Sidman had been sent to Paris in mid-1869 to ‘take charge ‘of The European News by the owners of Hull’s The Eastern Morning News, where he worked as a ‘junior reporter’. (CN, 27 August) The European News was large circulation bi-lingual, English-French, daily with a weekly edition. (CN, 3 Sept 1914)

In his memoirs, Sidman wrote about the chaos that broke out in Paris in mid-1870. There were large mobs of people roaming the streets after a national vote supporting the bellicose policies of Napoleon III towards Prussia. Sidman recalled that the ‘ends of streets were made impassable, omnibuses overturned’, resulting in ‘a political crisis’ with a ‘simmering discontent by the masses’. (CN, 10 Sept 1914)

The front page of the Camden News of 27 August 1914 with William Sidman’s memoirs of Paris and the Franco-Prussian war in columns 2 & 3 alongside cables from Europe about developments of the war front.

Sidman wrote that eventually, the French government declared war on Prussia. The situation in Paris deteriorated, foreign nationals were told to leave, and Sidman left for London (CN, 24 Sept 1914). He was later told by an English compositor who fled Paris that the lead-type of The European News had been ‘melted down for bullets’ during the Prussian siege of the city in late 1870. (CN, 1 October 1914)

Sidman felt guilty leaving France and recalled that he felt sorry for ‘all my French friends’ during the conflict. The following year, he returned to Paris and found that the old newspaper office had been re-built by French authorities after its destruction by Prussian forces. (CN, 1 October 1914)

William’s articles were published under  George Sidman’s editorship of the Camden News and were put on the front page. GV (George) Sidman was William’s son, took control of the Camden News in 1912, and continued William’s support for the French.

Bastille Day

Support for French patriotic causes was not unique to Camden. Historian Alexis Bergantz in his book French Connections, Australia’s Cosmopolitan Ambitions, writes that Bastille Day celebrations in Melbourne in 1915 were prevalent. He reports that ‘hundreds of women spilled onto the streets selling flowers and cockades and flags in the colours of France’ according to the Melbourne Argus. The Marseillaise was played and funds raised for the French Red Cross on 14 July. The day was topped out with a ‘great concert of French music’ at the Melbourne Town Hall. (Bergantz, p136)

Camden’s first celebration of Bastille Day and French nationalism occurred on Friday, 14 June 1916.  The Camden News published Marcus Clarke’s patriotic French poetry as the story’s lead item (see the beginning of this article) and then reported on a town hall meeting called by Camden Mayor GF Furner. Press reports stated that a ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd celebrated the ‘French National Day’ by listening to patriotic speeches from the mayor and Rev Hogan and ended with ‘three hearty cheers’ for France. (Camden News, 20 July 1916)

Camden Frances Day Procession for French Bastille Day 14 July 1917 (Roy Dowle, Camden Images)

In 1917 the Camden Red Cross organised a fancy dress procession and sports day for France’s Day on 14 July and raised £374. The aim of the appeal was to assist French widows and children after the defence of Verdun. France’s Day started with a ‘hearty’ fancy dress procession along the main street, ending up at the showground, led by the Camden District Band and the fire brigade.

The procession along Argyle Street was followed by a sports day where the Camden Red Cross conducted a ‘tea tent’. The whole event attracted an ‘enormous crowd of people’ and entry was 1/-. The ‘younger members’ of the Camden Red Cross organised a concert (9 July) and raised £23 with entertainment provided by the Guild of St Faith and the Camden District Band.  (Camden News, 5 July 1917, 12 July 1817, 19 July 1917.)

In Australia, the British Red Cross, including the Camden branch, conducted extensive fundraising for the French Red Cross and other French causes throughout the First World War. (BRC)

New Caledonian garrison visits Camden

These Red Cross activities were followed later in 1917 (Monday, 15 October) with a visit by a group of 20 French soldiers from the New Caledonia garrison. Sibella Macarthur Onslow hosted the soldiers in the ‘famous gardens’ at Camden Park after a planned visit to Gilbulla had been cancelled. The soldiers were part of a group of nearly 300 French troops welcomed in Sydney by the military, the Red Cross and Sydney’s French residents. They were entertained at a variety of functions around the city.

After their morning visit at Camden Park, the soldiers were driven into Camden, where they were entertained at a garden party on the lawn at the Commercial Bank in Camden’s main street. They took afternoon tea and were introduced to Camden’s mayor, WF Peters, his wife, over 25 members of the Camden Red Cross and other local identities by Sibella Macarthur Onslow. Several toasts and speeches were followed by rousing cheers of thanks, after which they boarded the train for Sydney.  (Sydney Morning Herald 15 October 1917; Camden News, 18 October 1917.)  

French soldiers from the New Caledonian garrison visit Camden and are entertained for lunch by women from the Camden Red Cross at the lawn at the Camden Commercial Bank building. (Camden Images)

Sidman and French nationalism

The country press is a store of knowledge around cultural heritage and powerful local political interests especially in wartime.

Sidman was an identity of some weight in the Macarthur family strong-hold of Camden and his newspaper was a powerful voice in the town and district. He well understood the impact of the provincial press after working on a number of local mastheads in the United Kingdom and his time in Paris. So what was he up to? What was he trying to achieve with his French memoirs of war?

I would argue that while Sidman’s memoirs were really just a recollection of events at the time, their publication had a very pointed political agenda in a New South Wales country town at the outbreak of the First World War.

Sidman whimsically opened his memoirs of Paris with these comments:

memory is our only friend and true in thought and as long as a man’s memory lasts it becomes a treasure of unknown intrinsic value’

(Camden News, 27 August 1914)

What was Sidman really trying to say in his memoirs? Who was he trying to influence?

Disappointingly George Sidman did not provide insight or editorial comment in the Camden News at the time of William’s memoirs of Paris to help answer my questions.

Part of the answer might be provided by William Sidman in 1898. He wrote of his despair at the cost of warfare, the loss of resources in the nations which took part in them and the threat to world stability. (Camden News, 9 June 1898)

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Macarthur Bridge

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River is one of the most critical parts of the economic and social infrastructure in the Macarthur area on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe.

The bridge can also be regarded as one of the most items of engineering heritage in the Camden Local Government Area. The bridge provides a high-level flood-free crossing of the Nepean River which can isolate the township of Camden when the numerous low-level bridges in the area are flooded.

The low-level bridges are the Cowpasture Bridge (Camden), the Cobbitty Bridge and the Menangle Bridge.

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River floodplain upstream from the Camden township in New South Wales (IWillis 2015)

History and Description

The Macarthur Bridge is named after one of the Camden district’s first land grantees John Macarthur and their pastoral holding of Camden Park, which the family still occupy. There are many descendants of the Macarthur family in the Camden district.

The naming of the bridge coincided with establishing the Macarthur Growth Centre as part of the Askin Government’s 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan and The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan. These plans were supported by the Australian Government’s own Growth Centres program.

These were exciting plans that were never fully realized by the planners. The New Cities Plan turned into a developer’s dream and hastened Sydney’s urban sprawl into the southern reaches of the Cumberland Plain. The Macarthur Region is one of those legacies.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan of 1973 was completed by the NSW State Planning Authority of the Askin Government.

The Macarthur bridge guaranteed flood free access from the Burragorang Valley coalfields to the Main Southern Railway at Glenlee for American shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig’s Clutha Development Corporation.

This development was considered important given the defeat of the Askin Liberal Government’s support for a proposal by Clutha for a rail link between the Burragorang coalfields and the Illawarra coastline. The Askin government passed special enabling legislation, which turned into one of the first environmental disputes in the Sydney basin in the early 1970s.

The Construction of the Macarthur Bridge (RMS 1973, 71/2 mins)

The high-level Macarthur Bridge allowed the diversion of coal trucks from the Burragorang Valley coalfields away from Camden’s main street, passing across the low-level Cowpasture Bridge from 1973. Coal trucks then travelled along Druitt Lane and over the Macarthur Bridge to the Glenlee Washery at Spring Farm.

The flooding by the Nepean River of the road access to the township of Camden at the low-level Cowpasture Bridge had been a perennial problem since the town’s foundation in 1840.

Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Cowpasture Nepean River Road Rail Bridge 1900 (Postcard Camden Images)

In 2002 the NSW Minister for Transport replied to a question in parliament from Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, Member for Camden, about the bridge. The Minister stated

I am advised that Macarthur Bridge was built in the early 1970’s on the basis that most of the long distance traffic would use the F5. I am advised that the primary function of the Macarthur Bridge was for use as a flood relief route. It was built parallel to the Cowpasture Bridge at Camden to take the full traffic load when the Cowpasture Bridge is impassable.

I am advised by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) that the bridge referred to was not specifically designed to be widened at a later date. (NSW Parliament, 8 May 2002)

Specifications

The Macarthur Bridge is a 26-span, 3380 feet (approximately 1.12 km) long concrete structure that carries the Camden Bypass across the Nepean River and its flood plain. The bridge was built between 1971 and 1973, originally to carry Hume Highway traffic, on a flood-free alignment around Camden.

The Camden Bypass

The Camden Bypass is the former Hume Highway alignment between the localities of Cross Roads and Camden. It is marked as State Route 89. The proper route is from Cross Roads, skirting Camden via the Camden Bypass and ending at Remembrance Drive, another part of the former Hume Highway near Camden South.

The  Camden Bypass was in turn bypassed in December 1980 when the section of what was then called the South Western Freeway (route F5) from Campbelltown to Yerrinbool was opened. It has grown in importance as a major arterial road linking the Hume Motorway, WestLink M7 and M5 South Western Motorway interchange at Prestons, near Liverpool, with Camden.

Macarthur Bridge Approaches 2015 1Willis
The Macarthur Bridge northern approaches from the Camden Bypass  (1Willis, 2015)

Open to traffic and construction details  

The official plaque on the bridge states:

Macarthur Bridge.

The bridge was designed by the staff of the Department of Main Roads and is the longest structure built by the Department since its inception in 1925. Length (Overall) 3380 feet comprising 26 spans each of 130 feet long. Width between kerbs 30 feet with one footway 5 feet wide. Piled foundations (max 90 feet deep) were constructed by the Department’s Bridge construction organisation. Piers and superstructure by contact by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Total cost of bridge £2,600,000.

RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads

AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads

GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief

FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)

Department of Main Roads, New South Wales

Open to traffic on 26 March 1973

Memories

Facebook 30 June 2021

Annette DingleI remember the day it opened, the school ( Camden south) walked to it . I lived in the street under it ( it was a dead end back then ) we use to play in the “tunnels “ under the bridge. You could only go so far before there was no air . Fun times

Read more

State Route 89 on Ozroads Website Click here

State Route 12 on Paul Rands Website Click here

Updated 4 March 2022, 30 June 2021. Originally posted 6 January 2020

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Camden Edwardian Cottages

The Camden Cottage

Camden has quite a number of Edwardian cottages in the town area, on surrounding farms and in local district villages. They are typical of the early twentieth century landscape in the local district. These have been called the Camden Cottage.

The housing style was evidence of the new found confidence of the birth of a new nation that borrowed overseas trends and adopted them to suit local conditions. These style of houses were a statement of the individualism and the national character.

64 John St Camden, early 20th century ( J Riley)

The name Edwardian is loosely attached to cottages and buildings erected during the reign of Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. This period covers the time after the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 when the six self-governing colonies combined under a new constitution. They kept their own legislatures and combined to form a new nation.

Australian architecture

Examples of Edwardian style cottages, including in and around Camden, were an Australian version of English Edwardian houses. Houses were plainer in detail, some with lead lighting in the front windows. Australian architecture was a response to the landscape and climate and the building style tells us about the time and the people who built them, how they lived and other aspects of Camden’s cultural heritage.

The Edwardian style of housing also includes a broad range of styles including Queen Anne, Federation, Arts and Crafts and Early Bungalow. These styles often tend to be asymmetrical with a projecting from gable, can be highly decorated with detailed work to gables, windows and verandahs. Edwardian style cottages often fit between 1900 and 1920, although the style extends beyond this period influencing the Interwar style housing.

Window detailing Camden Edwardian Cottage Elderslie (I Willis)

Edwardian Cottage Detailing

A number of Camden Edwardian style timber cottages have a projecting room at the front of the cottage with a decorated gable, adjacent to a front verandah, with a hipped roof line. This housing style is often characterised by a chimney that was a flue for a kitchen fuel stove and chip copper in an adjacent laundry. In some houses plaster cornices were common, sometimes there were ceiling roses, skirting and architraves. A number of been restored while unfortunately many others have been demolished.

Some Camden Edwardian homes had walls of red brickwork, sometimes with painted render in part. While there are many examples in the local area of timber houses with square-edged or bull-nosed weatherboards. Sunshades over windows supported by timber brackets are also common across the local area.

Doors in Edwardian style houses typically have three or four panels, with entry doors sometimes having an ornamentation. Common windows were double hung while later cottages may have had casement windows especially in the 1920s. Some cottages have return L-shaped verandahs, sometimes roofed with corrugated bull-nosed iron. Verandah post brackets had a variety of designs, with lattice work not uncommon feature. Verandahs featured timber fretwork rather than Victorian style cast ion lacework for ornamentation. Front fences may have had pickets, or just a wire fence in country areas.

Typical Edwardian colour schemes range from apricot walls, gables and barge boards, with white lattice panelling, red roofing and green coloured windows, steps, stumps, ant caps.

Edwardian Cottage Garden

Gardens were often more complex than Victorian examples. Amongst Edwardian gardens growing lawns became popular. Sometimes had a small tree in the front yard which could frame the house and might separate it from adjacent houses. Common trees included magnolia, elm, tulip tree or camellias, while shrubs and vines might have been agapanthus, agave, St John’s Wort, plumbago, standard roses, begonias, day lily, jasmine and sometimes maidenhair ferns.

Camden Edwardian Cottage

In the March 2014 edition of Camden History (Camden History Journal Volume 3 No 7 March 2014) Joy Riley recalls the Edwardian cottages in John Street. Joy Riley vividly remembers growing up as a child and calling one of these cottages her home. ‘I lived at 66 John Street for the first 40 years of my life before moving to Elderslie with my husband Bruce Riley. The two rooms of 66 John Street were built by the first John Peat, Camden builder, to come to Camden. In the 1960s I had some carpet put down in my bedroom, the floor boards were so hard, as they only used tacks in those days to hold carpet, the carpet just kept curling up.’ She says, ‘The back of the house was built by my grandfather, William Dunk. They lived next door at 64 John Street. He also built the Methodist Church at Orangeville or Werombi.

Yamba Cottage, Kirkham

Another Edwardian style house is Yamba cottage at Kirkham. It was built around 1920, fronts Camden Valley Way and has been a contested as a site of significant local heritage.

The building, a Federation style weatherboard cottage, became a touchstone and cause celebre around the preservation and conservation of local domestic architecture. This is a simple adaption of the earlier Victorian era houses for Fred Longley and his family who ran a small orchard on the site. The Yamba story is representative of smallholder farming in the Camden LGA, which has remained largely silent over the last century. Yamba speaks for the many small farmers across the LGA who have not had a voice and were an important part of farming history in the local area.

Ben Linden at Narellan

Ben Linden at Narellan is an outstanding example of the Edwardian cottages across the local area.

Ben Linden at 311 Camden Valley Way, Narellan is an Edwardian gem in the Camden District. Images by J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)

Ben Linden was constructed in 1919 by George Blackmore originally from North Sydney. George Blackmore, born in 1851  was married to Mary Ann and had seven children. George and his family lived in Ben Linden from 1921 to 1926. After this time he retired as a builder and eventually died in 1930.

The Camden Cottage

It is with interest that I see that a local Camden real estate agent has used the term ‘Camden cottage’ on a sale poster for 21 Hill Street.

Camden 21 Hill Street. The use of the term Camden cottage on the advertising sign is an important acknowledgement of this style of residential cottage in the local area. (I Willis)

This is the first time I have seen the term ‘Camden cottage’ used in a commercial space before and it is an interesting development. The sign actually state ‘Classic Camden Cottage’.

The Toowoomba House

Edwardian country cottages are not unique to the Camden area and can be found in many country towns across New South Wales and inter-state. Toowoomba has a host of these type of homes and published the local council publishes extensive guides explaining the style of housing and what is required for their sympathetic restoration in the online publication called The Toowoomba House. More elaborate Edwardian houses with extensive ornamentation can be found in Sydney suburbs like Strathfield, Burwood and Ashfield.

The Australian Edwardian house

For those interested in reading more there a number of good books on Australian Edwardian houses at your local library and there are a number of informative websites. Edwardian style houses have had a revival in recent decades and contemporary house can have some of their features. For example some are evident in housing estates at Harrington Park, Mt Annan and Elderslie.

Camden 21 Hill Street. The first time that I have seen the use of the term the Camden Cottage used in a commercial space in the local area. This is a simple Edwardian style cottage that was a typical building style of the early 20th century in local area. (I Willis)

Updated 17 May 2021. Originally posted 7 February 2015 at ‘Edwardian Cottages’.