Climbing a pole tucked away in the corner of Elyard Reserve Narellan NSW is a wooden carving of a goanna climbing a pole.
The artwork is amongst mature trees, and the goanna could be imaged climbing one of the adjacent gum trees.
There is no credit given to the artist.
Wood sculpture is one of the oldest art forms, going back centuries. It is a form of art common to all cultures because it is low cost, widespread and plasticity.
The drawback to this artwork is that the weather, insects, and wood can degrade rapidly. For these reasons, bronze, marble and other types of stone are usually preferred by artists for monumental work.
Wood carving requires gouging tools, chisels and mallets and hammers. The types of wood carving can include chip carving and relief carving in hardwood or softwood.
The goanna has been climbing the pole at Elyard Place for many years. It is a relief work from hardwood, like the trees adjacent to the artwork. The weather has taken its toll on the work, with a large crack running through the centre of the pole.
I was wandering through Elyard Reserve at Narellan with my granddaughter and found a piece of public art hidden in plain sight.
The artwork is a bench covered in mosaic tiles and is all but forgotten in the corner of the park amongst the slides, swings and climbing equipment for the youngsters.
The mosaic was commissioned in 2009 as The Community Harmony Mosaic Project, funded by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
The artwork was a community collaboration between
Leppington Public School
Hope Christian School
Camden High School
Camden Youth Café.
And ceramic artists Selma Fida and Natalie Valiente.
According to a bio on Facebook, Selma Fida is a local artist who presented an immersive exhibition of realistic hand-made porcelain flowers at the Casula Powerhouse in 2019. The show was the result of the 2018 Casula Powerhouse Scholarship Prize. Selma states that the exhibition explored how flowers speak a universal language of care and empathy through celebrations, anniversaries, births, wars, sickness and death. (Facebook)
Natalie Valiente is a self-employed ceramic artist from Eagle Vale, NSW, who has exhibited at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Natalie’s recent collaboration with Susan Grant and Dharawal elders called Life Blood is on permanent display at the National Herbarium of NSW forecourt at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. According to a report in the National Indigenous Times, the artwork has the eucalyptus tree at its heart. A magnified gum leaf became the design which has been sandblasted onto the concrete forecourt. The artists drew their inspiration from being on Country and the grey gums, ironbark and forest red gums that covered the landscape. (NIT, 22 April 2022)
The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.
The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.
Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.
According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’, and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.
The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.
This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.
1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial
Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.
Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown, local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’. A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.
In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures. Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation. The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book.
The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement. The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.
Statue of Governor Hunter
In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release. The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.
According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.
Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.
On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.
The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.
Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre
Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.
European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.
The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area. By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.
In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them. The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:
The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.
In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.
Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape
In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.
In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.
Voices of Indigenous Australians
In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.
 Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.
 Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.
 Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture. Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.
The Oran Park library has a number of public artworks that commemorate the former Oran Park motorway that was on the site. These wonderful public art installations celebrate the memories of the Oran Park Raceway which closed in 2010.
The commissioning of the artworks was a collaboration between Guppy Art Management & Camden Council.
Moto Caelifera Eclectica by James Corbett
James Corbett describes himself as a car part sculptor and is based in Brisbane, Queensland.
James Corbett created these works in 2018 and he describes this installation as a ‘challenging commission’ on his blog. He writes
to create two large racing grasshoppers in double quick time for the new Oran Park library near Camden in western Sydney. This used to be a rural area, but was known to me since I was a child for just one reason. It had a car racing track. All the big names raced there, and I used to rabidly read all about their exploits in my eagerly awaited, latest copy of ‘Racing Car News.’ I couldn’t get enough of that stuff when I was twelve years old.
The track is gone and the pastures are disappearing under houses, but there are still just enough paddocks of dry yellow grass about to give a feel for the history of the district. I wanted to pay tribute to both, that soon to be gone rural feel, and the rich racing history. Those dry grassy areas make me think of grasshoppers, flies, locusts and Hereford cattle. And Insects seem sort of mechanical, and built for a purpose. Form following function, like racing cars. Well the ones I like anyway.
Corbett created two works as part of the installation. He calls one ‘The Green Kawasaki Grasshopper’ and it is attached to the wall. In constructing the works he writes
The Formula cars of the era had riveted aluminium sheet chassis, and I wanted to reflect that. Hence the riveted abdomens. I wanted them to look like they could work like machines. I cut up a yellow Hyundai and found a green I liked on a Daihatsu. When I found a Kawasaki engine for the green one, it had to be given the late Greg Handsford’s race number 2.
The second hanging artwork Corbett calls ‘Beechy Grasshopper’ and it has a 4.8-metre wingspan with wings made of ‘glass car windows’. More information about the installation can be found on Corbett’s website.
Freya Jobbins is a Sydney-based contemporary Australian multidisciplinary artist based whose art practice includes assemblage, installation, video, collage and printmaking.
Speedster by Justin Sayarath
Sydney-based artist Justin Sayarath has a number of installations around the metropolitan area where he ‘combines both his technical skill of visual arts and graphic design to create and collaborate in the public and commercial domains’.
A landscape of memorials and memories of the Cowpastures.
Many memorials, monuments, historic sites, and other public facilities commemorate, celebrate and just generally remind us about the landscape of the Cowpastures.
In recent decades there has been a nostalgia turn around recovering the memory of the Cowpastures landscape. This is cast in terms of the pioneers and the legacy of the European settlement.
Memorials and monuments can be controversial in some quarters, especially in the eyes of those interested in Australia’s dark history.
Apart from monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures landscape, the most ubiquitous form of memorialisation across the Macarthur region are war memorials. Most Macarthur regional communities possess a monument of some kind, dating to the early 20th century commemorating the memory of those killed in action in the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.
The heyday of building monuments in Australia was in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when the new and emerging nation searched for national heroes. These heroes were overwhelmingly blokes – pale males.
Some of the most significant memorials to the Cowpastures landscape are historical sites, the built environment, and cultural heritage. Many of these are scattered across the Cowpastures region dating from the time of European settlement.
Most of the monuments and memorials to the Cowpastures in the local area date from the mid-20th century. Several have been commissioned by developers trying to cast their housing developments in nostalgia for the colonial past. Only one of these memorials was commissioned by women.
The monuments and memorials can be considered part of the public art of the local area and have contributed to the construction of place and community identity.
The memories evoked by the monuments, memorials, murals, historical sites, celebrations, and other items mean different things to different people.
The Cowpastures Landscape
So what exactly has been referred to by the Cowpastures landscape? In this discussion, there are these interpretations:
Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon.
Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
The political and philosophical – evils were the true corruptors of the countryside.
Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers.
‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside.
Emotional response – how the European viscerally experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing – and its expression in words and pictures. (after Karskins 2009, The Colony)
11. Parks and reserves, e.g., Rotary Cowpasture Reserve, opened in 1995 By Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair Governor of NSW, celebrating 100 years of Rotary.
12. In Campbelltown’s Mawson Park is a statue of Elizabeth Macquarie. The bronze statue honours the wife of Governor Macquarie, whose maiden name was Campbell, and Campbelltown was named in her honour. The sculpture was created by sculptor Tom Bass in installed in 2006.
4. Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations Annual Fair and Conference in 2016, called Cowpastures and Beyond, was held in Camden with exciting speakers and attended by various delegates.
5. An art exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre called ‘They Came by Boat‘ in 2017 highlighted many aspects of the landscape of the Cowpastures and its story.
7. Campbelltown-born architect William Hardy Wilson wrote The Cow Pasture Road in 1920, a whimsical fictional account of the sights and sounds along the road from Prospect to the Cow Pastures.
8. Macarthur ‘Bulls’ FC is a football team founded in 2021 named after the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures and has a training facility established at Cawdor in the centre of the former 1803 Cowpasture government reserve.
1. The Cowpasture Road was the original access route to the colonial Cowpastures Reserve in the early 19th century, starting at Prospect and ending at the Nepean River crossing.
2. The historic site at Belgenny Farm is one of Australia’s earliest European farming complexes in the Cowpastures. The farm was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate and is an example of living history.
3. Camden Park House and Garden is the site of John Macarthur’s historic Regency mansion and was part of the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.
4. Other colonial properties across the Cowpastures region (in private hands), eg, Denbigh.
5. Indigenous paintings of polled cattle by the Dharawal people in the Bull Cave at Kentlyn
Updated 1 January 2023. Originally posted 22 August 2022.
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.
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 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 story is located on the back of one of the panels.
A Brief History of the Cowpastures and its importance to the Narellan/Camden Area
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.
What is Rotary?
Brief History of the Rotary Club of Narellan Inc.
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.
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.
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.
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
Plaques below the Governor Hunter statue
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the Camden Town Centre edges, there are two white concrete posts with numbers and letters. What are they, and what do the letters mean?
These white concrete posts are mileposts from when the Hume Highway ran up the centre of Camden along Argyle Street. The letters indicate destinations, and the numbers are distance in miles. These items are part of Camden’s engineering heritage.
The letters: M is Mittagong, S is Sydney, L is Liverpool and C is Camden. The distance is a mile: an imperial unit of measure from before the time of metric measurement. The mile here is a statute mile which is 5280 feet or 1.609 km, as opposed to a nautical mile used in air and sea transport and is different.
The English mile
Mileposts dated back to the Roman Empire and were placed alongside the Roman roads. Distances were measured from the city of Rome. The mile originated from the Roman mille passus, or “thousand paces,” which measured 5,000 Roman feet.
The first mileposts along English roads appeared in 1593 and were standardised in England under the reign of Elizabeth I. The English mile was a different length from the Scottish mile and the Irish mile. These measures were not standardised in the British Commonwealth and the US until 1959. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1935. https://www.britannica.com/science/mile)
In the colony of New South Wales, the first sandstone milestones were located on the Parramatta, Liverpool and South Head Roads from 1816 on the instructions of Governor Macquarie. Milestones provided accurate reference marks along with the expanding public road system for travellers on coaches. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)
In the colonial period, Governor Macquarie’s Obelisk of Distances was erected in 1818 as the official starting point for all distances in NSW. It was located in what was then the centre of Sydney and is now Macquarie Place. The monument was also ‘a symbolic peg’ as the furthest extent of the British Empire in the early 1800s.
The placement of milestones in colonial NSW set a precedent. They were placed along the left hand or southern side of the roadway with the destination facing Sydney. The posts were meant to be seen by travellers coming from either direction for the benefit of stagecoach drivers to measure their distance from Sydney. They also ensured that the driver was on the correct road as many were just bush tracks. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)
The two concrete mileposts in Camden were part of the road improvements by the NSW Department of Main Roads in 1934.
The decision to implement a programme of mileposting followed the first annual conference of state road authorities in February 1934 held in Melbourne. The meeting decided to adopt uniform national procedures for mileposting and road warning signs for roadworks, among other matters. It was felt that uniformity of services would help interstate travellers. (DMR, 1934)
In 1934 the department allocated £134 to the program in the Sydney area. (DMR, 1934)
The DMR Main Roads magazine stated that
In the days before the advent of the motor vehicle, when travel by road was slow and was done on foot, on horseback, or in horse-drawn carriage, few things gave greater service, or were more eagerly looked for, than the mileposts. (DMR, 1934a)
According to the Department of Main Roads, mileposting before 1934 provided signs that gave direction and the distance of important towns. Mileposts had lost their importance to the traveller because the car speedometer gave ‘progressive mileage’ stated a departmental report. (DMR, 1934a)
Mileposting in 1934 was implemented with one specific aim.
The purpose of the mileposts now is to provide a convenient system of reference marks along the road for the use of those whose responsibility is to maintain the roads in a proper state. (DMR, 1934a)
The stated purpose was for the milepost to be a reference point along the road to give a precise position for any roadwork that needed to be done. Information to travellers was only secondary. (DMR, 1934a)
Mileposting to 1934 had been haphazard, with much work generated at a local level and many gaps. Road maintenance was a secondary consideration, with information for travellers paramount. Much work was ‘incomplete’. Groups of mileposts were only based around important towns, sometimes following main roads and sometimes not. (DMR, 1934a)
The 1934 mileposting project was partly triggered by the 1928 classification of all roads in NSW into state highways, trunk roads and ordinary roads.
The 1928 changes saw The Great Southern Road through Camden renamed the Hume Highway in 1928. The 1929 Razorback Deviation shifted the highway to the east away from the former Great South Road (now Cawdor Road). (DMR, 1934a)
Different types of mileposts were used in 1934 for different purposes. Concrete posts were used in the Sydney area and country towns, like Camden, and elsewhere there were timber posts.
There was a strict protocol for the letters and numbers on the posts, with letters and numbers incised and painted black and distances measured from the post office, and sometimes not. Posts were placed on the left-hand side of roadways leading from Sydney or the coast, as they were in colonial times.
Posts were located with a clear view from the roadway of 200 feet with specific instruction on distances from roadways and locations for cuttings and embankments. On bridges, the mileposts were be clamped to the handrails.
In mid-1934, the NRMA suggested the mileposts on the different highways should be painted in a variety of colours. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 20 June 1934) The suggestion was not taken up.
One supplier of the concrete mileposts was the Hume Pipe Coy (Aust) Ltd. (Main Roads, August 1938)
In the Camden area, the Camden Heritage Inventory states there were wooden mileposts along Cawdor Road, formerly The Great South Road. They pre-date the concrete mileposts.
In a 2002 survey for the Heritage Inventory, the three Cawdor Road timber mileposts were intact.
The posts were local hardwood cut by a sawmill in Edward Street in the late 1920s and delivered to The Great South Road (Cawdor Road) site by Camden teamster Les Nixon. (NSWSHI)
In a recent search, I was only able to locate one intact timber milepost in a fairly poor condition.
CROFTS, R. & CROFTS, S. 2013. Discovering Australia’s Historical Milemarkers and Boundary Stones, Sydney, Roberts and Sandra Crofts.
DMR 1934. Department of Main Roads Ninth Annual Report for the year ending 30th June 1934. Sydney: NSW Legislative Assembly.
DMR 1934a. The Mileposting on Main Roads. Main Roads, 5.
As you wander around the administration-library-shopping precinct at Oran Park, there is a sense of anticipation that you are being watched. If you look around, several bronze bovine statues are guarding the site. They are a representation of the Cowpastures Wild Cattle of the 1790s.
The bronze herd of horned cattle consists of six adult beasts and one calf wandering in a line across the manicured parkland landscape. The bovine art connoisseur can engage with the animals and walk among them to immerse themselves in a recreated moment from the past – a form of living history.
The bronze cattle dramatically contrasts with the striking contemporary architecture of the council building across the road. Opening in 2016, the cantilevered glass-boxed and concrete Camden Council administration building was designed by Sydney architects GroupGSA.
This bovine-style art installation is the second memorial to the Cowpastures, the fourth location of European settlement in the New South Wales colony. The artwork is found in Perich Park, named after the family that endowed the community with the open space.
The story of the Cowpastures is told on the storyboard located adjacent to the artwork. It states:
The Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures
There are several versions of this story. There seems to be a consensus that two bulls (one bull calf) and five cows were purchased at the Cape of Good Hope and landed at Sydney Cove with the First Fleet in January 1788. The cattle were black and the mature bull was of the Afikander [sic – Afrikander] breed.
Shortly after the arrival of the First Fleet the two bulls and five cows could not be found and it was not until seven years later in 1795 that a convict reported sighting a herd of cattle in the bush.
Governor Hunter dispatched Henry Hacking to report on the cattle. Hunter resolved to inspect them himself and in November 1795 with a party of mainly Naval officers he found a herd of sixty-one cattle near the Nepean River near what is now known as Menangle.
Governor Hunter named the area The Cowpastures Plains. He wrote ‘They have chosen a beautiful part of the country to graze in…and they may become…a very great advantage resource to this Colony’. They were rather wild and inferior but bred rapidly.
By 1801 the herd had increased naturally to an estimated five or six hundred head. In 1811 they were estimated to be in their thousands.
The bronze cattle here have been kindly donated to the Community by the Perich Family.
The bronzed-bovines in Perich Park on Central Ave were installed in 2016 to coincide with the opening of the new council building.
The Perich Park art installation is preceded by an earlier artwork that depicted more bovines just up the street. The other animal sculptures were a set of concrete cows that were represented wandering around in a small reserve opposite the Oran Park development sales office in Peter Brock Drive.
The reserve is located between Peter Brock Drive and Moffat Street, and this batch-of-bovines were installed around 2010. The reserve and open space is not designated parkland, and signage indicates that it is destined for housing development.
The use of public art is one approach to placemaking that is employed by urban planners and designers, architects, and others. The authorities responsible for creating the Oran Park community and the new suburbs within it have used public art for placemaking.
What is placemaking?
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.
integrates arts, culture, and design activities into efforts that strengthen communities. Creative placemaking requires partnership across sectors, deeply engages the community, involves artists, designers and culture bearers, and helps to advance local economic, physical, and/or social change, ultimately laying the groundwork for systems change.
Storytelling promotes the concept of place and the process of placemaking. One of those stories is the Cowpastures and the Wild Cattle history from the days of colonial New South Wales.
Understanding the past through storytelling contributes to the construction of community identity and builds resilience in new communities. The cultural heritage of an area is the traditions, ceremonies, stories, events and personalities of a place. There are also dark and hidden stories of the Cowpastures that need telling, such as the frontier violence of the Appin Massacre.
The Cowpasture art installation uses a living history approach to tell the story of the European occupation of the local area that is part of the history of colonialism and the settler society project in New South Wales.
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