Aesthetics · Architecture · Art · Artists · Attachment to place · Belonging · Community identity · Cultural icon · Design · Heritage · Living History · Local History · Memorial · Memorialisation · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Oran Park · Oran Park Library · Oran Park Raceway · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban Planning · Urbanism

Public art celebrates the ghost of motor racing at Oran Park

Oran Park Library

The Oran Park library has a number of public artworks that commemorate the former Oran Park motorway that was on the site. These wonderful public art installations celebrate the memories of the  Oran Park Raceway which closed in 2010.

Oran Park Library 2019 at night (I Willis)

The commissioning of the artworks was a collaboration between Guppy Art Management & Camden Council.

The Artworks

Moto Caelifera Eclectica by James Corbett

James Corbett describes himself as a car part sculptor and is based in Brisbane, Queensland.

James Corbett created these works in 2018 and he describes this installation as a ‘challenging commission’ on his blog. He writes

to create two large racing grasshoppers in double quick time for the new Oran Park library near Camden in western Sydney.  This used to be a rural area, but was known to me since I was a child for just one reason.  It had a car racing track.  All the big names raced there, and I used to rabidly read all about their exploits in my eagerly awaited, latest copy of ‘Racing Car News.’ I couldn’t get enough of that stuff when I was twelve years old.

The track is gone and the pastures are disappearing under houses, but there are still just enough paddocks of dry yellow grass about to give a feel for the history of the district. I wanted to pay tribute to both, that soon to be gone rural feel, and the rich racing history.  Those dry grassy areas make me think of grasshoppers, flies, locusts and Hereford cattle.  And Insects seem sort of mechanical, and built for a purpose. Form following function, like racing cars.  Well the ones I like anyway.

Corbett created two works as part of the installation. He calls one ‘The Green Kawasaki Grasshopper’ and it is attached to the wall. In constructing the works he writes

The Formula cars of the era had riveted aluminium sheet chassis, and I wanted to reflect that. Hence the riveted abdomens.  I wanted them to look like they could work like machines. I cut up a yellow Hyundai and found a green I liked on a Daihatsu. When I found a Kawasaki engine for the green one, it had to be given the late Greg Handsford’s race number 2.

‘The Green Kawasaki Grasshopper’ by James Corbett 2018 (I Willis, 2022)

The second hanging artwork Corbett calls ‘Beechy Grasshopper’ and it has a 4.8-metre wingspan with wings made of ‘glass car windows’. More information about the installation can be found on Corbett’s website.

‘Beechy Grasshopper’ by James Corbett 2018 (I Willis, 2022)

Tracks by Danielle Mate Sullivan

Sullivan is a Sydney-based Indigenous artist working in large-scale mural design and public art

Tracks by Danielle Mate Sullivan 2018 (I Willis, 2022)

Mr Rev Head The Local by Freya Jobbins

Freya Jobbins is a Sydney-based contemporary Australian multidisciplinary artist based whose art practice includes assemblage, installation, video, collage and printmaking. 

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‘Mr Rev Head the local’ by Freya Jobbins 2018 (I Willis 2022)

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Information Label for ‘Mr Rev Head the local’. (I Willis, 2018)

Speedster by Justin Sayarath

Sydney-based artist Justin Sayarath has a number of installations around the metropolitan area where he ‘combines both his technical skill of visual arts and graphic design to create and collaborate in the public and commercial domains’.

‘Speedster’ by Justin Sayarath 2018 (I Willis 2018)

The official opening in 2018

The mingling crowd at the opening of the Oran Park Library on 30 June 2018 with the grasshopper on the wall above the visitors. (I Willis, 2018)
Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Commemoration · Cowpastures Bicentennial · Cultural icon · Dharawal · Family history · Festivals · Frontier violence · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorialisation · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Public art · Settler colonialism · Settler Society · Tourism · War

The memory of the Cowpastures in monuments, memorials and murals.

A landscape of memorials and memories of the Cowpastures.

Many memorials, monuments, historic sites, and other public facilities commemorate, celebrate and just generally remind us about the landscape of the Cowpastures.

In recent decades there has been a nostalgia turn around recovering the memory of the Cowpastures landscape. This is cast in terms of the pioneers and the legacy of the European settlement.

An applique panel on the Cowpastures Heritage Quilt shows Belgenny Farm, which was part of Camden Park Estate. The quilt is hanging on display at the Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

Memorials and monuments can be controversial in some quarters, especially in the eyes of those interested in Australia’s dark history.

Apart from monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures landscape, the most ubiquitous form of memorialisation across the Macarthur region are war memorials. Most Macarthur regional communities possess a monument of some kind, dating to the early 20th century commemorating the memory of those killed in action in the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.   

The heyday of building monuments in Australia was in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when the new and emerging nation searched for national heroes. These heroes were overwhelmingly blokes – pale males.

Some of the most significant memorials to the Cowpastures landscape are historical sites, the built environment, and cultural heritage. Many of these are scattered across the Cowpastures region dating from the time of European settlement.

Most of the monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures in the local area date from the mid-20th century. Several have been commissioned by developers trying to cast their housing developments in nostalgia for the colonial past. Only one of these memorials was commissioned by women.

The monuments and memorials can be considered part of the public art of the local area and have contributed to the construction of place and community identity.

The memories evoked by the monuments, memorials, murals, historical sites, celebrations, and other items mean different things to different people.

The Cowpastures Landscape

So what exactly has been referred to by the Cowpastures landscape? In this discussion, there are these interpretations:

  1. The Cowpastures colonial frontier 1795-1820
  2. The Cowpastures government reserve 1803-1820s
  3. The Cowpastures region 1795 – 1840
  4. The landscape of the Cowpastures gentry 1805 -1840
  5. The English-style landscape of the Cowpastures 1795-1840
  6. Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures 1795-1840

A set of principles for viewing The Cowpastures landscape

The Cowpastures landscape and seven principles of interpretation:

  • Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
  • Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon.
  • Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
  • The political and philosophical – evils were the true corruptors of the countryside.
  • Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers.
  • ‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside.
  • Emotional response – how the European viscerally experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing – and its expression in words and pictures. (after Karskins 2009, The Colony)

Examples of memory evocation for The Cowpastures

Monuments and memorials

  1. The Cowpastures Heritage Quilt was commissioned by the Camden Quilters Guild commemorating the Cowpastures Bicentenary in 1995.

2. A public artwork called Cowpastures Story in the forecourt of Narellan Library was commissioned by Narellan Rotary Club.

3. A statue of Governor Hunter was commissioned by a land developer at Mount Annan.

Statue of Governor Hunter in the Governors Green Reserve at Mount Annan (I Willis)

4. A collection of bronze cows in the Cowpastures Wild Cattle of the 1790s was commissioned by a land developer at Oran Park.

5. At Harrington Park Lakeside, public artworks memorialise the Cowpastures commissioned by a land developer.

6. At Picton, the Cowpastures mural is completed by a local sculptor and local school children.

The Cowpastures Memorial Bronze mural at Picton (I Willis, 2021)

7. Camden Rotary Pioneer Mural was commissioned by Camden Rotary Club in the mid-20th century and is located adjacent to Camden District Hospital.

Camden Pioneer Mural was commissioned by Camden Rotary Club in the mid-20th century adjacent to Camden Hospital on the Old Hume Highway (I Willis)

8. A different type of memorial is the Cowpasture Bridge at the entry to Camden, spanning the Nepean River.

Information plaque for the 1976 opening of the Cowpasture Bridge located adjacent to the bridge in Argyle Street, Camden (I Willis, 2022)

9. Memorial to the Appin Massacre at Cataract Dam.

10. The Hume and Hovell Monument on the Appin Road celebrates the departure of the Hume and Hovell expedition to Port Phillip Bay in 1824.

11. Parks and reserves, e.g., Rotary Cowpasture Reserve, opened in 1995 By Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair
Governor of NSW, celebrating 100 years of Rotary.

The Camden Rotary Cowpasture Reserve was opened on 19 February 1995 by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, Governor of New South Wales. The reserve is located at Lat: -34.053751 and Long: 150.701171. and the address is 10 Argyle Street, Camden. The reserve is on an original land grant within the boundaries of Camden Park Estate from the early 19th century, which was part of the Macarthur family’s colonial pastoral empire. Camden Park Estate was a central part of the Cowpastures district. (I Willis)

Cultural Heritage

1. Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrations occurred in 1995 and were a loose arrangement of community events.

Postcard of the Cowpastures Heritage Quilt commissioned and sewed by Camden Quilter’s Guild members in 1955. The quilt is currently on display at Camden Library. (Camden Museum)

2. An art exhibition at the Campbelltown Art Centre in 2016 called With Secrecy and Dispatch commemorates the Appin Massacre’s bicentenary.

3. The Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, which is the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, is being considered for listing on the State Heritage Register.

4. Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations Annual Fair and Conference in 2016, called Cowpastures and Beyond, was held in Camden with exciting speakers and attended by various delegates.

Cowpastures and Beyond Conference held in Camden in 2016 (CAFHS)

5. An art exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre called ‘They Came by Boat‘ in 2017 highlighted many aspects of the landscape of the Cowpastures and its story.

6. Paintings by various artists, e.g., ‘View in the Cowpasture district 1840-46’  by Robert Marsh Westmacott.

7. Campbelltown-born architect William Hardy Wilson wrote The Cow Pasture Road in 1920, a whimsical fictional account of the sights and sounds along the road from Prospect to the Cow Pastures.

A fictional account of The Cow Pasture Road written by William Hardy Wilson in 1920 with pencil drawings and watercolours. (I Willis, 2022)

8. Macarthur ‘Bulls’ FC is a football team founded in 2021 named after the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures and has a training facility established at Cawdor in the centre of the former 1803 Cowpasture government reserve.

Historic sites

1. The Cowpasture Road was the original access route to the colonial Cowpastures Reserve in the early 19th century, starting at Prospect and ending at the Nepean River crossing.

2. The historic site at Belgenny Farm is one of Australia’s earliest European farming complexes in the Cowpastures. The farm was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate and is an example of living history.

3. Camden Park House and Garden is the site of John Macarthur’s historic Regency mansion and was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.

A Conrad Martins 1843 watercolour, ‘Camden Park House, Home of John Macarthur (1767-1834)’ (SLNSW)

4. Other colonial properties across the Cowpastures region (in private hands)

Updated 23 October 2022. Originally posted 22 August 2022.

Aesthetics · Art · Artefacts · Colonial Camden · Cowpastures · Cowpastures Bicentennial · Craft · Crafts · Cultural Heritage · Fashion · Heritage · Leisure · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorials · Memory · Place making · Placemaking · Public art · Quilting · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Sewing · Storytelling · Women's history

A Cowpastures memorial quilt

Camden Country Quilters Guild Cowpastures Heritage Quilt

Hanging on the wall in the Camden Library is a quilt, but no ordinary quilt. It is a hand-made quilt that had previously hung in the foyer of the Camden Civic Centre for many years. The quilt celebrated the Cowpastures Bicentenary (1995) and was made by members of the Camden Country Quilters Guild.

A panel in the Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt showing a map of the Cowpastures using an applique hanging in the Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

The Cowpastures Quilt is a fascinating historical document and artefact and tells an interesting story of the district.

The Cowpastures Review stated:

The Cowpastures Heritage Quilt, which is featured on the front page, is unique. It is a product of the Camden Country Quilters Guild. It was unveiled by His Excellency, The Governor of New South Wales, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair on the 19th of February 1995, as part of the opening of the Cowpastures Bicentennial. It was given by the Guild to the Camden Council, which has it displayed in the Camden Civic Centre.

Cover of Cowpastures Review displaying the Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt Issue Vol 1 1995. (I Willis)

The Cowpastures Bicentennial Committee created postcards and notepaper featuring the quilt that was sold at Gledswood Homestead and the Camden Library.

Postcard of Cowpastures Heritage Quilt 1995 (Camden Museum)

Quilts were practical items with social value

Quilts have sentimental or commemorative value and are examples of needlework skills and techniques, and the use of specific fabrics used in their designs.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London states on its website:

As a technique, quilting has been used for a diverse range of objects, from clothing to intricate objects such as pincushions. Along with patchwork, quilting is most often associated with its use for bedding.

Quilting first appeared in England in the 13th century, reached a peak in the 17th century and can be traced back to 3000BCE. The word quilt means a ‘bolster or cushion’.

According to the V&A museum, a quilt is usually a bedcover of two layers of fabric with padding or wadding in between held together by lines of stitching based on a pattern or design. Very fine decorative quilts often become family heirlooms and are passed down through generations. In a domestic situation, women made quilts to celebrate ‘life occasions’ like births and weddings.

The V&A states that quilts are often quite large and associated with social events where people share the sewing. In North America quilting was a popular craft amongst Dutch and English settlers and quilts were made as part of marriage dowry for a young woman.

Quilting is often associated with patchwork where the quilt was made of scraps of fabric or ‘extending the life of working clothing’.

Convict women and quilting – The Rajah Quilt

In the National Gallery of Australia is a quilt made in 1841 by convict women transported on the Rajah from Woolwich to Hobart. According to blogger Bernadette, a descendant of one of the women who made the quilt, it is one of the most important textiles in Australia and world history.

The Rajah Quilt (NGA)

The textile is called the Rajah Quilt and was organised as part of the scheme organised by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry’s British Ladies Society for promoting the reformation of female prisoners. The quilt is made up of over 2000 pieces of fabric and it has been described as

 a patchwork and appliquéd bed cover or coverlet. It is in pieced medallion or framed style: a popular design style for quilts in the British Isles in the mid 1800’s. There is a central field of white cotton decorated with appliquéd (in broderie perse) chintz birds and floral motifs. This central field is framed by 12 bands or strips of patchwork printed cotton. The quilt is finished at the outer edge by white cotton decorated with appliquéd daisies on three sides and inscription in cross stitch surrounded by floral chintz attached with broderie perse on the fourth…

On the Rajah’s arrival in Hobart, the quilt was presented to the governor’s wife Lady Jane Franklin by the 29 women who sewed it on the voyage to Van Dieman’s Land. Lady Franklin sent the quilt back to England to Elizabeth Fry and then it was lost. It was rediscovered in a Scottish attic and returned to Australia in 1989 and placed in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

The quilt’s story is one of hope at a time of despair and disempowerment from a group of women hidden in the shadows of history. A type of radical history.

Cowpastures Quilt tells a story

Quilts often told a story and in the V&A collection, there are a  number of significant quilts telling Biblical stories, scenes from world events and the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The Cowpasture Quilt tells the story of the Cowpastures on its Bicentenary. The story was represented in the different panels in the quilt created by the Guild members who were part of the project. The quilt’s construction was a community effort and each sewer has their name sewn into the quilt.

  

Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt hanging in Camden Library in John Street Camden (I Willis, 2022)

The significance of the individual panels in the quilt was explained by the Cowpastures Review and it stated:

The central pane – the discovery of the Hottentot cow. The left pane – The Aboriginal influence, mining, the map of the ‘Cow Pastures’, representing flora and fauna and the Stonequarry Bridge at Picton. The right panel – St John’s Church, John and Elizabeth Macarthur, Camden Park Estates, Belgenny Farm, Gledswood Homestead and merino sheep and vineyards. The bottom panel – John Street, Camden, including ‘Macaria’ and representations of horticulture venture in the area. Not visible in the photograph in the names of the ‘quilters’ and some surprise ‘first family’ names.

Title panel in Camden Cowpastures Bicentennial Quilt hanging in Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

Fashion quilting

According to the V&A quilting fell into decline in the early 20th century under the influence of modernism. It found a revival in the 1960s as part of the hippie culture and the art community and is firmly part of the art space.

Quiltmaking as art

Artist Isis Davis-Marks writes on the Artsy website that

Quilts’ inherent associations with warmth, nostalgia, and community make them particularly appealing now, in the midst of the pandemic and widespread division and inequity. Perhaps this fraught reality can account for, at least in part, why contemporary artists are drawn to quilting as a means to express themselves. The tactility of quilted fabric inevitability conjures domesticity, and every stitch—every precisely placed patchwork—brings us back to that feeling of the comfort and safety of home

Davis-Marks writes that contemporary American artists are engaging with the craft of quilting and building on the ‘enduring and complex history of quiltmaking’. In the US context quilting was practised by slaves, Indigenous Americans and other marginalised peoples as a form of expression and craftwork for the everyday.

An applique panel of the Cowpastures Quilt shows the Regency mansion on Camden Park still estate built in the 1830s. The panel uses figures to tell a narrative about the foundational story of Australia and the Camden district as part of a settler society. The Cowpasture Quilt is on display at Camden Library (I Willis, 2022)

Davis-Marks writes that the ancient craft of quiltmaking has resonance for contemporary artists in the age of social media and illustrates a broader appeal of working with traditional mediums of textiles, ceramics, knitting and other crafts.

In a January 2020 article for Artsy, writer and curator Glenn Adamson reflected “At a time when our collective attention is dangerously adrift,” Adamson wrote, “trapped in the freefall of our social-media feeds and snared in a pit of fake facts, handwork provides a firm anchor. It cannot be spun. It gives us something to believe in.”

Artists are using quilts as a lens to look into the dark history of the past. Sometimes these are called ‘story quilts’ where they tell a story in a narrative and figures. Artist Faith Ringgold‘s work often explores notions of ‘community and ancestry’ and said that she bonded through the experience of jointly sewing quilts with her mother.

The Cowpastures Quilt is a ‘story quilt’ and tells the story of our past as part of a settler society and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. The quilt uses figures and narrative to examine the past through the lens of the women who constructed the quilt in 1995. More than this the Cowpasture quilt is a public statement and an affirmation of community through the collective efforts of local women who undertook the sewing project. The collaborative efforts of the Camden Quilters created a significant piece of public art and a narrative statement of who we are through the use of history.

A panel of the Cowpasture Quilt shows the Henry Kitchen cottage from 1819 still standing today as part of the Belgenny Farm complex which is one of the most important colonial farming complexes still intact in Australia on the former Camden Park estate of the Macarthur family. The quilt is on display at the Camden Library. (I Willis, 2022)

Updated 26 August 2022; originally posted 16 August 2022

Art · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · History · Local History · Local Studies · Memorial · Memorials · Memory · Monuments · Parks · Place making · Public art · Sculpture · Storytelling · Streetscapes · Uncategorized

Cowpastures Memorial at Narellan

Public art at Narellan Library Plaza

I was walking through the Narellan Library Elyard Street Plaza recently and noticed a Cowpastures Monument.

On investigation, I have found that the artwork was jointly commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club.

This image shows the sculpture by Johnson and Topolnicki called Cowpasture Story jointly commissioned by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club in 2006 as part of the development of Narellan Library. The project was supervised by Guppy & Associates. (I Willis, 2022)

The artwork is called Cowpasture Story and was created by Blue Mountains artists and sculptors Philippa Johnson and Henryk Topolnicki from Art Is An Option. The artist’s website describes the artwork as ‘Sculptural Mobiles & Screen’.

Artist Philippa Johnson trained at the East Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney and describes herself as an installation artist, sculptor and painter.  Sculptor and artist Henryk Topolnicki are described as ‘a sculptor, furniture maker and public artist who works principally in metals’. 

The artwork is a series of leaves forming an arch over the path that leads to the front of the Narellan Library. The leaves have a variety of figures representing the settlement of the Cowpastures in early colonial New South Wales. There are depictions of the settler society with cows, settler housing and farms.

The leaves and elements of the Cowpastures Story monument in the Narellan Library Pedestrian Plaza which was commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club (2022 I Willis)

The artworks were part of the 2006 Narellan Library development that was designed by Sydney architect GSA, and built by Richard Crookes Construction with art consultants Guppy & Associates.

On the rear of the artwork panels, there are stories about the Cowpastures and the history of the Narellan Rotary Club.

The transcript of the Cowpasture story is located on the back of one of the panels of the artwork. (2022, I Willis)

The story is located on the back of one of the panels.

The elements of the Cowpastures Story monument in the Narellan Library Pedestrian Plaza which was commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club (2022, I Willis)

A Brief History of the Cowpastures and its importance to the Narellan/Camden Area

Transcription

The history of the Cowpastures shows the importance to this area of the straying colonial cattle as their discovery led to the early surveying and settlement of the area by the Macarthurs and other colonial landholders. The Cowpastures was ‘discovered’ in 1795, just 7 years after the foundation of the colony.

The Narellan/Camden area was penetrated by white men as far back as 1795. The loss of the early colony’s cattle forms part of the history of New South Wales. These beasts that strayed from Farm Cover led to the discovery and settlement of the Narellan/Camden area. Seven years elapsed after the report of the loss of the cattle before rumours came to Sydney Cove’s settlement of the whereabouts of the missing stock. Governor Hunter dispatched a party under Henry Hacking to confirm or deny the reports of the rumoured cattle.

The results of this party’s investigation so impressed Governor Hunter that he determined to visit the locality to see the cattle and country for himself. With a small party he left Parramatta on the 18th November 1795. After travelling a few days they crossed the Nepean River at a spot where the Camden Cowpasture Bridge now stands and there came across this fine herd.

The name ‘Cowpastures’ by which the locality became known is due to Governor Hunter, for he marked it on a map drawn by himself and dated the 20th August 1796.

In 1802 explorer Barallier journeyed through the area noting the country the cattle had settled in and on the 7th November 1802 passed a swamp called ‘Manhangle’ by the aboriginals. It was this locality that John Macarthur selected land for his future home and for rearing sheep.

In December 1803 Governor King and Mrs King visited the Cowpastures and viewed the straying cattle. The governor instructed that the cattle were to be preserved after attempts were made to cull some of the wild bulls. To bring about the preservation of the cattle a hut was built at Elderslie near the ford of the Nepean River on the southern side. This was the first house in the district and was officially feferred [sic] to as ‘Cowpastures House’. Constables Warby and Jackson were installed there making this not only the first house, but the first police station in the Macarthur District.

Several of the colonial gentry took excursions to see the country so attractive to the cattle and this lead them to acquire property and settle in the area.

The track to the Cowpastures led from Prospect. On the 17th September 1805 James Meehan, under the instruction from the Governor, surveyed the track from Prospect to the Nepean Crossing and a rough road followed. This became the Cowpasture Road, some of which formed part of the old Hume Highway to Camden.

The transcript of the history of Narellan Rotary Club on the back of one of the artwork panels (2022, I Willis)

What is Rotary?

Brief History of the Rotary Club of Narellan Inc.

Transcription

The Rotary Club of Narellan Inc in District 9750, was chartered on the 27th October 1992.

This enabled local business and professional leaders to join a worldwide service organisation to provide social, financial and physical support to the local and international community.

The Rotary Club of Narellan focuses on the Four Avenues of Service in Club, Community, Vocational and International Service and gained recognition within the community as an excellent service club. It has been involved in fundraising for charitable organisations, support of local youth in educational and development program, fostering high ethical standards in business and professions and supporting other charitable organisations.

In fundraising the club raised in excess of $1,000,000 for charities, medical research (in particular Rett Syndrome), international programs and local causes such as Lifeline, Kids of Macarthur Health Foundation and the Salvation Army.

Rotary International has been responsible for the eradication of Polio through a worldwide campaign to which the club has been a major contributor. The Rotary Foundation supports vocational visits between countries and scholars throughout the world, of which the club has regularly hosted.

The elements of the public artwork the Cowpasture Story in the Narellan Library Pedestrian Plaza (2022 I Willis)

Updated 18 July 2022. First Posted 16 July 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.

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Cowpastures memorial at Mount Annan

Governors Green Heritage Park, Mount Annan

Hidden out of the way in the back streets of Mount Annan is a memorial to Governor Hunter.

This memorial is located in the reserve called Governors Green in Baragil Mews, Mount Annan.

The view of the entrance off Baragil Mews to Governors Green Heritage Park at Mount Annan with the statue of Governor Hunter in the distance. The park is set in a bush reserve adjacent to residential housing. (2022 IW)

This is another hidden, and largely forgotten, memorial to the Cowpastures in the local area.

There is a bronze statue of Governor Hunter is at the centre of a circular colonnade with artworks celebrating the Cowpastures.

The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons (1942-2018) in 1995 to construct the work.

The view of the statue of Governor Hunter at you approach it from Baragil Mews. The statue is located at the centre of circular colonnade with other parts of the artwork. on the colonnade fencing. (IW 2022)

Governor Hunter and the Cow Pastures

The story of the Cowpastures begins in 1787 with the First Fleet and HMS Sirius which collected 4 cows and 2 bulls at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to New South Wales. After their arrival in the new colony, the stock escapes within 5 months of being landed and disappears.

In 1795 the story of the cattle is told to a convict hunter by an Aboriginal, who then tells an officer and informs Governor Hunter. Hunter sends Henry Hacking, an old seaman, to check out the story. After confirmation Governor John Hunter and Captain Waterhouse, George Bass and David Collins head off from Parramatta, crossing the Nepean River on 17 November 1795. They find good farming land covered with good pasture and lagoons with birds. After climbing a hill (Mt Taurus) they spotted the cattle and named the Cowpastures.

Governor  John Hunter marked area on maps ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in the region of Menangle and elsewhere on maps south of Nepean.  The breed was the Cape cattle from the First Fleet and the district was declared out of bounds to all by 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.

British colonialism and a settler society

Governor Hunter was part of the settler society project and the country’s dispossession of First Nations people. Hunter was a representative of British imperialism and how it implemented its policies on the colonial frontier of New South Wales.

The Cowpastures was a site of frontier violence and the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous land in the early 19th century.

Governor Hunter Statue

The statue of Governor Hunter in Governors Green reserve at Mount Annan. The statue was commissioned by land developer AV Jennings and Lithgow sculptor Antony Symons was engaged to complete the artwork in 1995. (2022, I Willis)

Plaques below the Governor Hunter statue

The plaque on the plinth at the base of Governor Hunter statue celebrating the opening of the reserve in 1995. (2022, I Willis)

Plaque inscription

Governor’s Green Heritage Park was presented to the people of Camden by AV Jennings and was officially opened by the Mayor of Camden Councillor FH Brooking on the 6th April 1995 in celebration of the centenary year of the discovery of the herd in 1795 at Cowpastures Camden.

Camden Mayor Frank Brooking

Frank Brooking served as Camden mayor from 1993 to 1997. Mr Brooking was a motor dealer whose business was located on the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets and sold Morris and Volkswagon brands. Frank was a community-minded person who volunteered for the Rural Fire Service, Camden Rotary Club, Camden Show Society, Camden Area Youth Service and other organisations. He died in 2013 aged 74.

Plaque Governor Hunter statue

A plaque highlighting the history of the decision of Governor Hunter in 1795 to the name the Cowpastures. The naming of the site was an act of dispossession of Dharawal country. Hunter was an agent of the British Colonial Office and its imperial interests in the settler society project of New South Wales. (2022, I Willis)

Plaque inscription

Governor John Hunter (1737-1821), Governor of New South Wales September 1795 – November 1799.

‘On the evening of my arrival…, I was directed to the place where the herd was feeding,… we ascended a hill, from which we observed an herd…feeding in a beautiful pasture in the valley I was now anxious to ascertain of what breed they were, whether natives… or the descendants of those we had so long lost, but in this attempt we were disappointed by being discovered and attached most furiously by a large and very fierce bull, which rendered it necessary for our own safety, to fire at him. Such as his violence and strength, that six balls were fired through, before any person dared approach him. I was now satisfied that they were the Cape of Good Hope breed…. offspring of these we had lost in 1788, at this time we counted sixty-one in number, young and old. They have chosen a beautiful part of the country to graze in…

Historical Records of Australia, Governor Hunter to the Duke of Portland, 21st December 1795.

AV Jennings.

Other elements of the artwork

Artwork by Antony Symons of a horned cow located on the collonaded surroundings of the Governor Hunter statue (2022, I Willis)

Artwork by Antony Symons of the Cowpastures on the colonnade surrounding the statue of Governor Hunter. The artwork is made up of a settlers slab hut, Cumberland Woodland, and a farmer’s cart. The cart carries the artists signature. (2022 I Willis)

Artist Antony Symons signature located at the bottom of the cart on the colonnade fencing. (I Willis, 2022)

A regal-looking Governor Hunter in full naval uniform. Hunter held the rank of Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy, and succeeded Arthur Phillip as the second Governor of New South Wales, serving from 1795 to 1800. The artwork was commissioned by land developer AV Jennings who engaged Lithgow sculptor Antony Symons. (I Willis, 2022)

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Blue Plaque recognises Camden Red Cross sewing circle in wartime

Camden Red Cross sewing circles during the First and Second World Wars

The wartime efforts of Camden women have been recognised by the successful nomination for a New South Wales Blue Plaque with Heritage NSW.

The announcement appeared in the Sydney press with a list of 17 other successful nominations for a Blue Plaque across the state. They include notable people and events in their local area.

What is a Blue Plaque?

The Heritage NSW website states:

The Blue Plaques program aims to capture public interest and fascination in people, events and places that are important to the stories of NSW.

The Blue Plaques program celebrates NSW heritage by recognising noteworthy people and events from our state’s history.

The aim of the program is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhood and other parts of NSW and connect with people of the past, historical moments and rich stories that matter to communities and have shaped our state.

The program is inspired by the famous London Blue Plaques program run by English Heritage which originally started in 1866, and similar programs around the world.

“Behind every plaque, there is a story.”

The essence of the Blue Plaques program is the storytelling. A digital story will be linked to each plaque.

The Blue Plaques should tell stories that are interesting, fun, quirky along with more sombre stories that should be not be forgotten as part of our history.

What is the Camden Red Cross story?

What is being recognised?

Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles at the Camden School of Arts (later the Camden Town Hall now the Camden Library) – 1914-1918, 1940-1946.

The Sidman women volunteer their time and effort during the First World War for the Camden Red Cross. Patriotic fundraising supporting the war at home was a major activity and raised thousands of pounds. This type of effort was quite in all communities across Australia and the rest of the British Empire. (Camden Images and Camden Museum)

What is the story?

The Camden Red Cross sewing circles were one of Camden women’s most important voluntary patriotic activities during World War One and World War Two. The sewing circles started at the Camden School of Arts in 1914, and due to lack of space, moved to the Foresters’ Hall in Argyle Street in 1918. At the outbreak of the Second World War, sewing circles reconvened in 1940 at the Camden Town Hall in John Street (the old School of Arts building – the same site as the First World War)

These sewing circles were workshops where Camden women volunteered and manufactured supplies for Australian military hospitals, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. They were held weekly on Tuesdays, which was sale day in the Camden district.

Sewing circles were ‘quasi-industrial production lines’ where Camden women implemented their domestics skills to aid the war at home. Camden women cut out, assembled, and sewed together hospital supplies, including flannel shirts, bed shirts, pyjamas, slippers, underpants, feather pillows, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. The workshops were lent a number of sewing machines in both wars.

The sewing circles also coordinated knitting and spinning for bed socks, stump socks, mufflers, balaclava caps, mittens, cholera belts (body binders) and other items. The women also made ‘hussifs’ or sewing kits for the soldiers.  During the First World War, the sewing circles attracted between 80-100 women each week. The list of items was strikingly consistent for hospital supplies for both wars, with the only significant addition during the Second World War being the knitted pullovers and cardigans.

The production output of the Camden women was prodigious. Between 1914 and 1918, women from the Camden Red Cross sewing circle made over 20,300 articles tallied to over 40,000 volunteer hours.  Between 1940 and 1946, during World War Two, women made over 25,000 articles, totalling over 45,000 voluntary hours.

The operation of the sewing circles was fully funded through the fundraising of Camden Red Cross and community donations.  In 1917 alone, over 95% of branch fundraising was dedicated to these activities.

In World War One, other Red Cross sewing circles in the Camden district were located at The Oaks, Camden Park, Theresa Park, and Middle Burragorang. During World War Two, other centres across the local area included Bringelly-Rossmore, Menangle, Narellan, and The Oaks. Each group independently funded its activities.

These patriotic voluntary activities by Camden women were part of the war at home and have received little recognition at a local, state or national level. Wartime sewing and knitting have been kept in the shadows for too long. There needs to be a public acknowledgement of the patriotic effort of these women.

Where will the plaque be placed?

Camden School of Arts – later called the Camden Town Hall (1939-1945) and now the Camden Library.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s (CIPP)

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

What will the plaque say?

Camden Red Cross patriotic wartime sewing circles – 1914-1918, and 1940-1946.

English Heritage and Blue Plaques in the United Kingdom

The English Heritage website states:

London’s blue plaques scheme, run by English Heritage, celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Founded in 1866, it has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world.

Unveiling a Blue Plaque in the United Kingdom (English Heritage)

Reference for Camden Red Cross story

Ian Willis, Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2014.

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We need new ways to tell stories of the past

We need new ways to tell local stories

I have just finished watching online a critical discussion on the practice of history held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

In these times of fake news, misleading information, and conspiracy theories. Whom do you trust? What is the truth? Social media is all-encompassing.

This photograph is of a voluntary aid at the Waley Convalescent Home for Soldiers at Mowbray Park in 1920 sitting at her desk perhaps writing a letter to a loved one in her time off. This is a wonderful story of service and sacrifice and how these women did wonderful service during and after the First World War. (NAA)
This photograph is of a voluntary aid at the Waley Convalescent Home for Soldiers at Mowbray Park in 1920 sitting at her desk perhaps writing a letter to a loved one in her time off. This is a wonderful story of service and sacrifice and how these women did wonderful service during and after the First World War. (NAA)

This discussion on the practice of history is a dose of hope when political interest groups seek to rewrite the past on their terms.

Maybe this discussion was not a complete cure, but it certainly seems like a ray of sunshine into the swamp of the abyss.

So what did I see?

I watched a panel of learned historians and museum directors discussing launching the Reframing History report by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). 

The promotional email I received boasted:  

This new initiative provides the field with a set of evidence-backed recommendations to communicate history more convincingly and to build a wider understanding of what inclusive history looks like and why it is important for all of us.

The discussion lived up to the hype.

I highly recommend this lively and challenging discussion to anyone involved in the practice of history. I do not think it matters whether you are from the academy, practise public history, or just like popular history. This discussion should interest you if you are concerned about the long term health of history as a discipline.

Panel Discussion Details

  • John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH, started the conversation by providing an overview of the project. 
  • That was followed by a discussion by Anthea Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan, Director of the National Museum of American History. 

Panellists included:

  • Martha S. Jones, author and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University
  • Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with Slavery Across America
  •  Jorge Zamanillo, director of HistoryMiami and incoming founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino

The panellists expand on the Reframing History Report and Toolkit by talking about their personal experiences of communicating about history and sharing their recommendations for how history organizations can create environments for positive and productive conversations.

You can view the discussion on the AASLH YouTube channel. AASLH YouTube channel.

 Watch on YouTube

Further reading

Be a historical detective.

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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.

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A century of horticulture for a local nursery

Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries

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

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

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

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

 Nurseryman Francis Ferguson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruit trees, camellias and roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campbelltown Nursery

Condamine Street, Campbelltown

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

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

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

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

Double Bay Nursery

Manning Road and New South Head Road, Double Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 20th century beckons

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated 6 January 2022; Originally posted 25 December 2021.