1920s · Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · Business · Camden · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Heritage · Horticulture · Local History · Local Studies · Nepean River · Placemaking · Plant Nursery · Retailing · Sense of place · Storytelling · Sydney · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · The Great South Road · Uncategorized · Urban growth · urban sprawl

A local nursery on Sydney’s urban fringe

The Ferguson nurseries and the urban fringe

The 20th-century story of Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries is about their location within Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition that is constantly being shaped and re-shaped by the forces of urbanisation and a host of competing forces. (Willis 2014)

Plant nurseries arrive in the fringe, and competing forces eventually drive them from it after a time.

In this space, the Ferguson Australian Nurseries came and departed Sydney’s urban fringe as it moved with urban growth over the past 170 years. Shrewd business judgements ensured that the nurseries survived and thrived in this dynamic space and place.

Double Bay outlet

Ferguson’s nurseries arrived on Sydney’s fringe at Double Bay in the 1870s when Sydney was still a ‘walking city’. Horse trams, and later steam trams, started to appear in the city and travel out to Double Bay.

Double Bay was sparsely settled, and there was an array of colonial villas and mansions like Alexander Macleay’s colonial regency mansion Elizabeth Bay House (1839).

As Sydney grew in population, there were land sub-divisions from the 1840s. (Sheridan 2021) (SLNSW)

By the early 20th-century, land values had risen with increased residential development   (Sheridan 2021). The land was more valuable for housing than a nursery, so economic forces gathered for its relocation.

By this time, Annie Henrietta Ferguson ran the nursery following the death of her husband FJ Ferguson, aged 48 years, in 1899. Annie had married FJ Ferguson in 1875.

Annie managed the Double Bay outlet until 1902, closed it by 1905 and moved the nursery to Hurstville. (WCL 2021)

F Ferguson’ & Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1930 (SLM)

Developments

Annie’s daughter, Margaret Elizabeth (Lizzie), born at Campbelltown in 1876, had married Alfred Denison (AD) Little at All Saints Woollahra in 1902. (WCL)

By 1903 Lizzie and AD Little had moved back to Camden from Double Bay with the birth of their son Sydney. AD Little was to play a leading role in the nursery’s management and became a partner in the business. (WCL 2021)

In 1902 the Sydney press reported a fire at the Camden Nursery that destroyed a packing shed full of equipment. The same report stated that AD Little was now one of the proprietors, the mayor of Camden (1904-1905) and a presiding magistrate. (Daily Telegraph, 15 August 1905)

The oldest nursery

The Camden News boasted in 1905 that Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries were the ‘oldest fruit nursery and garden in Australia’. (Camden News, 17 August 1905)

Hurstville nursery outlet

By 1904 the Double Bay nursery had been relocated to Hurstville on Stoney Creek Road. (Morris and Britton 2000)

The Hurstville area was a sparsely populated farming area with the first land subdivision in the 1880s. By the early 20th century, the urban fringe of Sydney had reached the site, and there were a series of residential land releases. (SLNSW)

The Camden press reported in 1913 that Ferguson’s nurseries were being run by AD & FB Little, and land had been leased at Elderslie, where 150,000 grafted apple trees had been planted out. (Camden News, 7 August 1913)

In 1915 the business was being managed by Fred Little. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

F Ferguson and Son Australian Nurseries Trade Catalogue for 1932 (SLM)

Nurseryman Eric Jurd recalls, ‘Fergusons grew open-ground stock at a site in Peakhurst’. Jurd believed that Ferguson’s had extensive land holdings in the Kingsgrove and Peakhurst. (McMaugh 2005: 251-253)

The Hurstville nursery site was purchased by the New South Wales Government to establish Kingsgrove High School on the corner of Kingsgrove Road and Stoney Creek Road in 1958. (SRNSW)

Continued expansion

The nursery continued to expand, and by 1915, a report in the Gosford press indicated that Fergusons were operating from four sites:

  • Hurstville – a 40-acre site which was a general nursery and despatching centre for sales
  • Camden – a 60-acre site mainly producing fruit trees
  • Gosford – a 40-acre site a nursery for grape vines and fruit trees
  • Ronkana (Ourimbah) – a 100-acre site under preparation. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In the early 1920s, there were extensive land releases in the Hurstville area, including the King’s Park Model Suburb of 600 lots adjacent to Ferguson’s Nursery on Stoney Creek Road. (St George Call (Kogarah) 22 September 1922) In 1926 the Simmons Estate next door to Ferguson’s Nursery was offered for sale. (St George Call (Kogarah) 5 February 1926)

By the interwar years, the Hurstville nursery site was a well-known landmark and often referred to by correspondents in the press. For example, a press report of Tooth’s Brewery purchase of a site at Bexley (Construction and Local Government Journal, 13 July 1927), and the NRMA used the nursery as a prominent and well-known landmark in their tourism promotion for road trips in and around the Sydney area. (Sun (Sydney) 18 November 1927).

The nursery business continued under the control of AD & FB Little until the 1930s, and they were followed by Arthur Bruce (AB) Ferguson (1889 -1949). (Little 1977)

Fruit trees and vines

Ferguson’s nurseries sold fruit trees and vines to new producers in the emerging horticulture areas throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Large quantities of grapevines had been supplied to the Yanco Irrigation Area in 1915. (Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, Friday 21 May 1915)

In 1926 an article in the Leeton press mentioned that Fergusons Nurseries had fruit trees for sale. (Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton, NSW: 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 16 February 1926)

Agents for the nursery were often keen to promote that stock of fruit trees, vines and flowering plants were available for purchase, as indicated by a story in the Tumut press. (Tumut and Adelong Times, 28 May 1929)

Water supply

A reliable water supply is essential for horticulture and the nursery industry.

In 1922 an irrigation licence was issued to Alfred D (AD) Little, a partner for Ferguson & Sons, Australian Nursery, Camden, to pump up to 150 gallons per minute on the right bank [Elderslie]. (NSW Government Gazette, 11 August 1922)

The next generation

In 1927 FB Little died at Hurstville, and in 1933 AD Little died at Camden and is buried in St John’s Cemetery.

In 1932 the Australian Nursery site on the Nepean River, known as The Nursery or the Camden Nursery, part ownership passed to Stanley Nigel (SN) Ferguson. (Sanders 2008b) After World War II, SN Ferguson’s son, Bruce (1916 – 2008), inherited a half-share in The Nursery site. (Sanders 2008a)

In 1935 Ferguson’s nursery purchased land owned by Mr W Moore between the Old South Road and the Hume Highway. (Camden News, 11 April 1935)

Following this period, the Camden nursery moved to Broughton & Little Street  (Nixon 1989) at the rear of the Camden District Hospital until the business was sold in the mid-1960s. (Nixon 1991)

References

Little, S. F. (1977). Correspondence to CHS 17 February 1977. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archive.

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, R. E. (1989). File notes for correspondence to CHS from Helen R Dick 18 July 1989, Camden Museum Archives.

Nixon, R. E. (1991). The Rose Festival. Rose Festival File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sanders, G. J. (2008a). Distinguished in war and peace, Bruce Ferguson, Obituary 31 May. Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2008.

Sanders, G. J. (2008b). Eulogy for Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson File, Camden Museum Archives.

Sheridan, P. (2021). Sydney Art Deco and Modernist Walks Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. Sydney, Bakelite and Peter Sheridan.

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.

Willis, I. (2014). “Townies Exurbanites and Aesthetics: Issues of identity on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.” AQ, Australian Quarterly(April-June 2012): 20-25.

Updated 9 January 2022. Originally posted 5 January 2022.

Agriculture · Business · Camden · Camden Story · Campbelltown · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Economy · Family history · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · Horticulture · Local Studies · Memory · Nepean River · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized

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.

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Four bridges and the Nepean River crossing

The Cowpasture bridge

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

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

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

The plaque states:

Cowpasture Bridge

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

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

Ald RB Ferguson, Mayor. Camden Municipal Council.

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

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

Plaque, Argyle Street, Camden.

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

Choke-point

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

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

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

Economic importance of access

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

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

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

A bridge at last – ‘a paltry affair’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A grand affair

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

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

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

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

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

The railway to Camden

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

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

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

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

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

An exciting boat ride

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

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

Flooded Cowpasture Bridge in 2022

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Macarthur Bridge

The Macarthur Bridge across the Nepean River

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

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

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

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

History and Description

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

The Camden Bypass

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

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

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

Open to traffic and construction details  

The official plaque on the bridge states:

Macarthur Bridge.

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

RJS Thomas Commissioner for Main Roads

AF Schmids Assistant Commissioner for Main Roads

GV Fawkner Engineer-in-Chief

FC Cook Engineer (Bridges)

Department of Main Roads, New South Wales

Open to traffic on 26 March 1973

Memories

Facebook 30 June 2021

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

Read more

State Route 89 on Ozroads Website Click here

State Route 12 on Paul Rands Website Click here

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

Aesthetics · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Australia · Australian Historic Themes · Belonging · Camden · Camden Town Farm · Colonial Camden · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dairying · Dharawal · Economy · Education · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Leisure · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Nepean River · Place making · Recreation · Ruralism · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling · Tourism

A walk in the meadows of the past

Walkway at the Camden Town Farm

I was recently walking across the Nepean River floodplain past meadows of swaying waist-high grass on a local walkway that brought to mind the 1805 description of the Cowpastures by Governor King. Atkinson writes

The first Europeans looked about with pleasure at the luxuriant grass that covered both the flats and the low hills. The flats seemed best for cattle…the trees were sparse.

The trees were certainly sparse on my walk, yet the cattle in the adjacent paddock proved the fulfillment of the observations of the early Europeans.

Black cattle graze on the waist-high grass just as the wild cattle of the Cowpastures did over 200 years ago. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway 2020 (I Willis)

The cattle I saw were polled hornless black cattle which were markedly different from the horned-South African cattle which made the Nepean River floodplain their home in 1788 after they escaped from Bennelong Point in Sydney Town. They became the wild cattle of the Cowpastures.

The beauty of the landscape hints at the management skills of the original inhabitants the area -the Dharawal – who understood this country well.

This is the landscape that characterises the recently opened Miss Lewella Davies Memorial Walkway which weaves its way across the Nepean River flats on the western side of Camden’s township historic town centre.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Pond fog 2020 IW lowres
The aesthetics of the Nepean River floodplain caught the attention of the early Europeans in a landscape managed by the local Dharawal people for hundreds of years. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Pond (2020 I Willis)

Layers of meaning within the landscape

Walking the ground is an important way for a historian to empathise the subtleties of the landscape and the layers of meaning that are buried within it.

The walkway is located in the original Cowpastures named Governor Hunter in 1796, which was then declared a government reserve in 1803 by Governor King. Just like an English reserved King banned any unauthorised entry south of the Nepean River to stop poaching of the wild cattle. Just like the ‘keep out’ signs in the cattle paddocks today.

According to Peter Mylrea, the area of the town farm was purchased by colonial pioneer John Macarthur after the government Cowpasture Reserve was closed and sold off in 1825. It is easy to see why John Macarthur wanted this part of the country for his farming outpost of Camden Park, centred at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta.

Although this does not excuse European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country.  Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley and John Macarthur were part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.

Today all this country is part of the Camden Town Farm, which includes the walkway.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Nepean River Rest Stop 2020 IW lowres
A rest stop on the walkway adjacent to the Nepean River. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Nepean River (2020 IW)

Llewella Davies – a colourful local character

Llewella Davies was a larger than life colourful Camden character and a truly notable Camden identity. On her death in 2000 her estate bequeathed 55 acres of her family’s dairy farm fronting Exeter Street to the Camden Council. Llewella wanted the site was to be used as a functional model farm for educational purposes or passive recreational use.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Information Sign 2020 IW lowres
An information sign at the beginning of the walkway explains the interesting aspects of the life of Miss Llewella Davies. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

The Davies dairy farm

The Davies family purchased their farm of 130 acres in 1908. They appeared not to have farmed the land and leased 20 acres on the corner of Exeter and Macquarie Grove Road to Camden Chinese market gardener Tong Hing and others for dairying.

Llewella was the youngest of two children to Evan and Mary Davies. She lived all her life in the family house called Nant Gwylan on Exeter Street, opposite the farm. Her father died in 1945, and Llewella inherited the house and farm on her mother’s death in 1960.

The house Nant Gwylan was surrounded by Camden High School which was established in 1956 on a sporting reserve. Llewella steadfastly refused to sell-out to the Department of Education for an extension to the high school despite being approached on several occasions.

Llewella, who never married, was born in 1901 and educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in Darlinghurst. The school educated young women in a progressive liberal curriculum that included the classics, scientific subjects as well as female accomplishments.

Llewella undertook paid work at the Camden News office for many years and volunteered for numerous community organisations including the Red Cross, and the Camden Historical Society. In 1981 she was awarded the Order of Australia medal (OAM) for community service.

The Camden Town Farm

In 2007 Camden Council appointed a Community Management Committee to examine the options for the farm site that Llewella Davies had gifted to the Camden community. The 2007 Camden Town Farm Masterplan outlined the vision for the farm:

The farm will be developed and maintained primarily for agricultural, tourism and educational purposes. It was to be operated and managed in a sustainable manner that retains its unique character and encourages and facilitates community access, participation and visitation.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Shoesmith Yards 2020 IW lowres
The walkway has several historic sites and relics from the Davies farm. Here are the Shoesmith Cattle yards… Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

The masterplan stated the farm was ‘ideally place to integrate itself with the broader township’ and the existing Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway that had been established in 2006.

It is against this background that the Camden Town Farm management committee moved forward with the development of a walkway in 2016.

The Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway

The walkway was constructed jointly by Camden Council and the Town Farm Management Committee through the New South Wales Government’s Metropolitan Greenspace Program. The program is administered by the Office of Strategic Lands with funding for the program comes from the Sydney Region Development Fund and aims to improve the regional open space in Sydney and the Central Coast. It has been running since 1990.

Camden Mayor Theresa Fedeli opened the walkway on 17th August 2019 to an enthusiastic crowd of locals. The walkway is approximately 2.4 kilometres and it has been estimated that by January 2020 around 1000 people per week are using it.

Invite for Miss Llewella Davies Walkway 2019Aug17

The walkway is part of Camden’s Living History where visitors and locals can see, experience and understand what a farm looks like, what it smells like and its size and extent. Located on Sydney’s urban fringe it is a constant reminder of the Indigenous Dharawal people and the area’s farming heritage of grazing, cropping, and dairying

If the walker is patient and perceptive the path reveals the layers of the past, some of which have been silenced for many years.

Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Walkers 2020 IW lowres
Some enthusiastic walkers on the path getting in some exercise on the 2.4 km long track. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Highlights   (on map)

  1. Chinese wishing wells
  2. Seismic monitoring station
  3. Views of Nepean River
  4. Views to Macquarie House
  5. Shoesmith livestock yard.
  6. Heritage precinct
Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Seismic Instruments 2020 IW lowres
The seismic station is adjacent to the walkway path on the Nepean River floodplain. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

 Additional highlights

  1. Nepean River floodplain
  2. Dam
  3. Camden Community Garden
  4. Camden Fresh Produce Markets
  5. Worker’s cottage
  6. Onslow Park and Camden Showground
  7. Bicentennial Equestrian Park
  8. Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area
  9. Camden RSL Community Memorial Walkway
Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Warning Do Not Sign 2020 IW lowres
There are information signs at the beginning and the end of the walkway. This one highlights the warnings and the things that walkers and visitors are not allowed to do. Camden Town Farm Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway (2020 I Willis)

The value of the walkway

  1. Tourism
  2. Education
  3. Memorial
  4. Commemoration
  5. Fitness and wellbeing
  6. Ecological
  7. Sustainability
  8. Working farm
  9. Living history
  10. Community events and functions
  11. Commercial business – farmers markets
  12. Aesthetics and moral imperative
  13. Storytelling
  14. Community wellness
  15. Food security
Camden Town Farm Walkway Signage No Dogs2 2020 lowres

Australian Historic Themes

The Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway fits the Australian Historic Themes on several levels and the themes are:

  1. Tracing the natural evolution of Australia,
  2. Peopling Australia
  3. Developing local, regional and national economies
  4. Building settlements, towns, and cities
  5. Working
  6. Educating
  7. Governing
  8. Developing Australia’s cultural life
  9. Marking the phases of life

Updated on 17 April 2021; Originally posted on 14 April 2020

Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Cobbitty · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Farming · Floods · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Nepean River · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Storytelling

Floods and the Camden ‘bathtub effect’

Flooding of the Nepean River on the Camden floodplain

What is the Camden ‘bathtub effect’?

Not sure – well you are not on your own.

The ‘bathtub effect’ is part of the flooding effect created by the landform that makes up the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river system has a unique floodplain system that creates particular problems for local residents and others along the river.

The NSW Department of Primary Industry stated in 2014:

The natural characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley make it particularly susceptible to significant flood risk. The combination of the large upstream catchments and narrow downstream sandstone gorges results in floodwaters backing up behind these natural ‘choke points’

The Hawkesbury-Nepean River system has four localised floodplains created by four ‘choke points’ along the river.  Each of these ‘choke points’ are created by a local gorge along the river system – Bents Basin Gorge, Nepean Gorge, Castlereagh Gorge and the Sackville Gorge.

Camden Flood late 1800s Camden Railway Station CIPP lowres
This is a view of Camden Railway Station in Edward Street and some likely local identities assessing the situation. This flood event is occurred in late 1800s with a view looking towards Narellan (Camden Images)

Each of the four localised floodplains upstream from the four gorges act like a ‘bath tub’ in a period of high rainfall, with floodwater flow choked off by the gorges.  The gorge restricts the floodwater flow and river rises quickly behind the gorge at the end of the local floodplain.

Camden ‘bathtub effect’

The 2015 Nepean River Flood Plain Report and the flood maps clearly show how the Bents Basin Gorge acts as a ‘choke point’. The gorge creates a ‘bathtub’ upstream along with Nepean River floodplain from the entrance of the gorge. The floodplain upstream from the gorge starts around Rossmore, then continues upstream to Cobbitty, to Camden and ends at Menangle.

While the Camden ‘bathtub effect’ is not as dramatic and dangerous as those created in the Penrith-Emu Plains area or the effect of the Sackville Gorge at Windsor and Richmond – it is real.

The 2015 study says (pp1-2) that while floods are ‘rare’  they happen:

 flows escaping from the Nepean River are known to inundate the low lying areas of Camden and certain sections within South Camden and Elderslie. Floodplain areas along many of the tributaries of the river (particularly Narellan Creek and Matahil Creek) are also known to be affected by backwater flooding from the Nepean River during flood events.

Camden Flood 1974 SMH lowres
This image of a newspaper photograph shows an aerial view of the Camden township in the 1974 flood event. The Nepean River is towards to the top of the image behind the town centre flowing from R-L. (SMH)

Characteristic of local flooding

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says:

Floods are characterized by rapid river rises with flooding commencing as quickly as 6-12 hrs after the commencement of heavy rain if the catchment is already saturated. Under flood conditions, the Nepean River overflows its banks and commences to inundate the low lying floodplain around Camden during floods of 8.5m on the Cowpasture Bridge gauge. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Camden Flood 1949 Peppertree Corner Cawdor Rd BYewen CIPP lowres
This is a view of Camden township from Peppertree Corner on Cawdor Road. Some inquisitive local children examining the waters flowing past them. This is the 1949 Camden flood event (B Yewen/Camden Images)

Causes of flooding along the Hawkesbury-Nepean River on the Camden floodplain

The headwaters of the Nepean River floodplain at Camden is the Upper Nepean Catchment. This geographic area drains the Avon, Cataract, Cordeaux and Nepean Rivers, with dams on each waterway.

The catchment of the Nepean River above the Warragamba River junction, below Warragamba Dam, is around 1800km2

The wettest conditions are usually created by low pressure systems, called east coast lows, that form up off the South Coast of New South Wales. The low pressure systems moves onshore and the orographic effect of the Illawarra Escarpment can produce heavy rainfall events.

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan says:

 Many localities in the catchment have received in excess of 175mm in a 24 hr period. (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Largest local floods on the Camden floodplain

The 2016 Camden Local Flood Plan states:

Floods have occurred in all months of the year. The highest recorded flood at Camden occurred in 1873, when a height of 16.5m was recorded on the Camden gauge (approximately a 200yr ARI).  [Cowpasture Bridge, Camden]

Other major floods occurred in 1860 (14.1m), 1867 (14.0m), and 1898 (15.2m). In recent times, major floods have occurred in 1964 (14.1m) and 1978 (13.5m) with moderate to major flooding occurring in 1975 (12.8m) and 1988 (12.8m). (Appendix, pp. A1-A3)

Camden Airfield 1943 Flood Macquarie Grove168 [2]
The RAAF Base Camden was located on the Nepean River floodplain. One of the hazards was flooding as shown here in 1943. The town of Camden is shown on the far side of the flooded Nepean River. (Camden Museum)

A report of the 1898 flood event at Camden taken from the Camden News 17 February 1898 gives an clarity of how quickly the river can rise in the local area:

Near midnight on Saturday rain began to fall, at first with moderation, towards day break gusts of wind sprang up from the South East bringing heavy rain, lowering the crops in its passage, even majestic trees were torn up by their roots and in sheltered paddocks the trees were denuded  of large limbs.

Sunday all day the wind blew with hurricane force; early on Monday morning the storm somewhat abated in its velocity.

Even on Sunday midnight no apprehension of a flood was anticipated by the Camden townspeople the continuous rain and boisterous weather, however made the more Cautious anxious, and one tradesman took the precaution to look after his horses in near paddock when the danger of a flood was manifested to him, the Nepean River had suddenly risen and was flooding the flats.

Camden News 17 February 1898

A report in the Camden News of the 1911 Camden flood event provides further clarity around the behaviour of the river:

The rain of Thursday, it may naturally be expected filled creeks, dams and watercourses to overflowing, but the climax came with a heavy storm between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., when some four inches [100mm] of rain fell. This brought the local water down from the adjoining hills in torrents, the Main Southern Road and Carrington Road were then covered with some two feet of fast rushing water, and on Druitt Road the local flood was then absolutely impassable..

In the early hours the Nepean River rose rapidly, and before the arrival of the first train the bridge was impassable ; the water continued to rise till about 3.15 in the afternoon, it having then reached it highest point, covering the new embankment between the town and the bridge, running through the Chinese quarters on the one side, and just into the pavilion on the show ground on the other. From near Druitt Road to Beard’s Lane was one long stretch of water….

Camden News, 19 January 1911

Sackville Gorge and the Windsor & Richmond ‘bathtub effect’

In 2012 director of community safety with the State Emergency Service, Steve Opper  argues that  the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a unique shape that can lead to catastrophic flooding. He describes the effect of the Sackville Gorge on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River:

 “The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is throttled down by a narrow gorge down near what’s called Sackville, which is just upstream of Wiseman’s Ferry,” he said.

“The result of that is that the water can flow into the top of the system very, very rapidly, can’t get out, and so you get very dramatic rises in the level of the river.

“So normal river level might be two metres; if you’re at the town of Windsor and in the most extreme thought possible, that could rise up to 26 metres, which is a number that’s quite hard to comprehend.”

John Thomas Smith reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1867 after a flood event that

‘The enormous body of water rushing down with relentless force on its way to the sea could not be easily described, nor its effects conceived. About the neighbourhood of Windsor, now that the waters are fast subsiding, the scene is most dreary, and the destruction caused be -comes every day more apparent. The feeling of bitter anguish expressed not in words but in the blank look of utter despair would move the most hardened.

Conclusion

Flooding is normal part of the cycle of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system, as it is for any river basin in Australia.

The particular landform features of the Hawkesbury-Nepean with its four gorges along the river produces four localised floodplains that create a local ‘bathtub effect’ on the local floodplain.

This landform effect of the river gorges creates flooding severity in the local communities.

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Living history on your doorstep

There is the opportunity to experience real living history on your own doorstep.

Living history is all around you. You just need to take a deep breath, pause for a moment and listen to the history around speak to you.

camden st johns vista from mac pk 1910 postcard camden images
Vista of St Johns Church from Macarthur Park in 1910. Postcard. You can still view this vista from the town’s fringe near the showground. (Camden Images)

 

Camden living history

In the town centre of Camden the buildings and the ambience of the historic precinct speak to you if you pause and listen.

They are all part of the Camden story.

The Camden living history reveals the intricacies of telling the Camden story.

The Camden town centre and its multi-layered history are evident in the many different building styles evident as you walk along the main street.

If walls could talk they would tell an interesting story that would immerse you in the past in the present. They would provide a gripping account of the characters that were central to the stories.

Camden CHS 231 Macaria c. 1890
The Camden Grammar School which was located in Macaria in the 1890s.  Macaria is open to the public and is the home of the Alan Baker Art Gallery located at 37 John Street, Camden. (Camden Images)

Living history is storytelling

Living history allows participants to be able to read the layers of history of an area.

Living history is like peeling off layers of paint from a wall when viewers peel back the layers of history of a site, building or place. Each layer has a special meaning – a special presence.

Lived experience leads to storytelling which is real and authentic.

Storytelling creates the meaning of the past and creates the characters of the past in the present. It allows the past to speak to the present. Storytelling and stories at the essence of place.

 

The living history movement

Living historian Scott Magelssen maintains that living history museums ‘engage strategies in their performance of the past’, claiming to be ‘real history by virtue of their attention to detail’.   (pp. xii-xv)

One of the early influencers of the living history movement in North America was Henry Ford who established his indoor and outdoor living museum experience in the Detroit suburb of Dearbourn in Michigan USA.  Henry Ford said of his museum

I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…

camden st_johns_church02
St Johns Anglican Church Camden 2018. You can visit the historic St John’s church and precinct in central Camden. The church was built in the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family. (I Willis)

 

The Camden story

The Camden story is the tale of the local area.

Camden storytellers peel back the layers of the history of the town and district and reveal the tales of local identities, larrikans, characters, rascals, ruffians and ratbags.

There are a number of layers to the Camden story and they are

  • Pre-European period of the Indigenous Dharawal people when they called the area Benkennie
  • The Cowpastures were named by Governor Hunter in 1795 and the establishment of the Cowpastures Government Reserve. Under European control the Indigenous Dharawal people dispossession and displacement of their country. The Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estatestarted with the 1805 grant to John Macarthur.
  • The Camden township was established as a private venture of the Macarthur family in 1840. The streets were named after its founders – Macarthur, Elizabeth, John, Edward.
  • The English-style Camden town centrehas evolved and is represented by a number of historical architectural styles since 1840 – Victorian, EdwardianInter-war, Mid-20th century. The town was the hub of the Camden District between 1840 and 1970s
  • The Macarthur region (1970s +), named after the famous local Macarthur family, grew as part of   Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. It is made up of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.

Camden Show Bullock Team 2018 MWillis
The bullock team walking up John Street for the 2018 Camden Show. Bullock teams were once a common sight in the Camden area before the days of motorised transport. The teamster monument in John Street celebrates their role in the history of the district. Visit the Camden Show. (M Willis)

 

Immerse your imagination in the past at the Camden Museum through living history.

The Camden museum tells the Camden story through displays of artefacts, objects, memoriabilia and other ephemera by using a living history approach.

The displays tell a story of an earlier period and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the past in the present.

Map Camden District 1939[2]

Map of the Camden district in 1939 showing the extent of the area with Camden in the east. The silver mining centre of Yerranderie is in the west. (I Willis, 1996)

 

Walking the past through living history

Visitors to Camden can walk the streets of the town centre and imagine another time. A time past that can be recalled through living history.

A self-guided walking tour lets visitors explore the living history of the Camden town centre. There is a pdf brochure here. 

Check out Camden’s main street with its Victorian, Edwardian and interwar ambience and charm. See where the local met on sale day at the Camden saleyards or the annual country festival at the Camden show.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. The show is held each year in the Onslow Park precinct. (Camden Show)

 

The Heritage Tourism website boasts that Camden – The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW.

The mysteries of the cute little locomotive that used to run between Camden and  Campbelltown via Currans Hill, Narellan, Elderslie, Kirkham and Graham’s Hill are also explored in a post called  The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram.

Maybe you would like to revisit the farming glory days of the 1800s at one of Australia’s most important living history farms at Belgenny Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. Visitors are welcome.  (I Willis, 2018)

Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Australia · British colonialism · Cawdor · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cowpastures River · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local newspapers · Myths · Nepean River · Newspapers · Place making · Sense of place · Settler colonialism

The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840

The story of a settler society in New South Wales

The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement.

The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.

 Regionalism in the Cowpastures

The geographers call this type of area a functional region. A functional region is based on horizontal linkages within a particular area that are to an extent self-contained.  The region was relatively self-cohesive when compared with linkages between regions.  The key concept is self-containment for the activities of those within a particular area.

A useful way into a regional study like the Cowpastures is an environmental history, which is a multi-disciplinary approach. This would cover the physical and cultural landscapes.

The boundaries of the Cowpastures region were both culturally derived and natural, where the landforms restricted and constrained European activity. The story of the Cowpastures regions has many layers of history that can be peeled back to unravel its bits and pieces.

The story of the wild cows and more, a cultural landscape

The story of the Cowpastures begins with the wild cows.  The First Fleet left England in 1787  and HMS Sirius and collected 4 cows and 2 bulls at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to New South Wales. They were Cape cattle.

The cattle did not think much of their new home and after their arrival, they took off within 5 months of being landed and disappeared. The cattle escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain.  The cattle occupied and seized the territory of the Indigenous people who were wary of these horned beasts.

Before the Cowpastures district was even an idea the area was the home for ancient Aboriginal culture based on Dreamtime stories.  The land of the Dharawal,  Gundangara and the Dharug.

After European occupation, the Dharawal people became known as the Cowpastures tribe by 1805.

Map Aboriginal Groups Sydney 2005 Belgenny Farm lowres
Map showing Aboriginal Groups of the Sydney area including the Dharawal of the Cowpastures (2005, Belgenny Farm)

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.

The party climbed a hill (Mt Taurus), spotted the cattle, and named the area the Cowpastures. Governor John Hunter marked area on maps ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in the region of Menangle and elsewhere on maps south of Nepean.  By 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.

Cowpastures cattle here Grafton 1875 SARNSW
Cattle similar to the horned wild cattle of the Cowpastures at Grafton in 1875 (State Archives and Records NSW)

The Europeans seized the territory occupied by the wild cattle,  allocated land grants, and displaced the Indigenous occupants.  In their occupation, they created a new land in their own vision of the world.

A countryside made up of large pseudo-English-style-estates, an English-style common called The Cowpasture Reserve and government men to work it called convicts.  The route that Governor Hunter took became the track to the area became known as the Cowpastures Road, starting at Prospect Hill and progressing to the crossing of the Nepean River.

1824-view-of-cowpastures-joseph-lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett (SLNSW)

In 1803 Governor King issued a proclamation in July 1803 banning any unauthorised entry south of the Nepean River to stop poaching of the wild cattle. (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 10 July 1803 page 1)

Governor King ordered that a constable be placed at the Cowpasture crossing of the Nepean River and that a small hut be built to house them. (Historic Records NSW Vol 5, pp. 719-720)  The government reserve for the wild cattle was strengthened under the Macquarie administration.

Government Cowpastures Reserve

Bigge Report 1822-1823

The government reserve was never really defined and just a vague area occupied by the Wild Cattle.  The 1823 Bigge report described the Cowpastures this way:

The county of Camden contains the extensive tracts known by the name of the Cow Pasture, which which five of the cattle that were landed from His Majesty’s ship Sirius, soon after the first arrival of Governor Phillip, had strayed from their place of confinement. They were discovered in these tracts in the year 1795 by a convict, and appear to have been attracted to the spot, and to have continued there, from the superior quality of the herbage. Since that period their numbers have greatly increased: and they have latterly occupied the hilly ranges by which the Cow Pastures are backed on the south, and have been found in the deeper ravines of the hills of Nattai, and on the banks of the Bargo River. It does not appear, however, that they have penetrated beyond the Blue Mountains, or the barren tract that is called the Bargo Brush. The Cow Pastures extend northwards from the river Bargo to the junction of the river Warragumba and the Nepean. To the west they are bounded by some of the branches of the latter river and the hills of Nattai. They contain by computation about sixty thousand acres; and the soil, through varying in fertility, but always deepening  and improving on the banks and margin of the Nepean, consists of  a light sandy loam, resting upon a substratum of clay.

(JT Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of NSW, 1823, Vol 3)

Public Buildings 1822 Bigge Report

At the centre of the government reserve

AT “CAWDOR”.

  1. A Brick Built House for the residence and accommodation of the Superintendant and principal Overseer of Government Stock in the Cow Pastures, reserving two rooms for the occasional accommodation of the Governor, with Kitchen and other necessary Out Offices, together with a good Kitchen Garden, well enclosed.
  2. A Weather-boarded House for the accommodation of the Subordinate Overseers and Stockmen.
  3. Four large paddock of 100 acres each enclosed with a strong Fence for the grazing of the Tame Cattle and Taming of the Wild Cattle, and cleared of the standing and dead Timber.
  4. A Tanning House and Tan Yard for Tanning the Hides of the Wild Bulls for the use of Government.
  5. Several other Paddocks and Stock-Yards enclosed for the Government Horses, Homed Cattle, and Sheep, grazing in other parts of the Government Grounds in the Cow Pastures. N.B.—Cawdor is the principal Run or Grazing Ground for the Government Horned Cattle and Sheep in the Cow Pastures on the western side of the Nepean River, consisting of about Fifteen thousand acresof land, and ought never to be alienated as long as it may be deemed expedient and advisable for the Government to possess and maintain Herds and Flocks.

(JT Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of NSW, 1822, Vol 1)

End of Government Reserve

A regional identity had emerged by the time the government reserve was dissolved in the early 1820s and the land sold off.

The usage of the Cowpastures as an identity extended into the second half of the 19th century.

The extent of the Cowpastures region by the 1840s

The extent of the Cowpastures by the 1840s was:

  • North – Bringelly Road – taking in the upper South Creek Catchment – west to Bents Basin and Warragamba River
  • East – Wilton Road north through Appin – ridge dividing Nepean and Georges River catchments – generally the Appin Road – following ridgeline north dividing Bow Bowing Creek and South Creek.
  • South – Stonequarry Creek catchment – bordering Bargo Brush – line following Wilton Road in the east – through Thirlmere – ridge line between Stonequarry Creek and Bargo River – west to Burragorang Valley
  • West – Burragorang Valley
Cowpastures Map 1840
The extent of the Cowpastures region in the 1840s (I Willis, 2018)

Cowpastures as a regional identity

The graph below shows the usage of the locality name Cowpastures in newspapers listed on the National Library of Australia Trove Database in 2017 using QueryPic.

Usage of the locality name ‘Cowpastures’

Cowpasture_QueryPic_Trove_Graph
A graph showing the usage of the locality name ‘Cowpastures’ in newspaper articles on the National Library of Australia Trove Database between 1795 and 1950 using QueryPic (I Willis, 2017)

 

The usage of the Cowpastures regional identity persisted into the late 19th century.

1836 Glendiver Estate

In 1836 Glendiver Estate at The Oaks was advertised for sale with the given address as The Cowpastures. The sale notice boasted that the estate was one of the finest dairy farms in the colony of New South Wales with ‘the finest soil’ and ‘abundance of water’.

The notice claimed that the owner could run ‘double the stock’ of any other part of the colony because of the ‘beautiful district’. The estate for sale came to 2390 acres. The estate had 70 acres under wheat the property suited a ‘wealthy grazier, horse or cattle-dealer’. (Australian (Sydney, NSW: 1824 – 1848), Friday 5 August 1836, page 4 (4))

1838 the estate of Narellan

In 1838 the estate of Narellan in the Cowpastures was advertised for sale on behalf of Francis Mowatt consisting of a desirable homestead and 800 acres of ‘rich productive’ land.  The property was fenced with 12 miles of fencing and watered by Narellan Creek. The property fronted the Cowpastures Road for ¾ of a mile.

The ‘commodious and comfortable’ cottage has ‘out-offices’, ‘excellent stables in good repair’. The garden has extensive fruit trees and ‘grapery’. The sale also included household furniture, harnesses, saddlery, and ten horses. (Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Saturday 3 February 1838, page 3)

Cowpasture Estates of 1840

In 1840 MD Hunter released the Cowpasture Estates on former properties owned by Sydney businessman John Dickson in the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser for auction by The Australian Auction Company.  The properties offered were Orielton, Nonorrah, Moorfield, Eastwood, and Netherbyres with a total of 7000 acres.

The properties were offered in lots ranging from 300 to 30 acres. The sale notice stated that Orielton had a ‘substantial Stone Barn, Threshing Mill, and Offices’, Nonorrah boasted a ‘spacious and elegant Cottage with Gardens, Stables, and Offices’. (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW: 1838 – 1841), Friday 5 June 1840, page 4 (4))

The northern extremity of the Cowpasture Estates

The northern extremity of the Cowpasture Estates was the Bringelly Road.  (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, 16 July 1840)

Map Bringelly Cowpasture Estate Map 1847 Land of MD Hunter NLA
Map of the Cowpasture Estates at Bringelly on the land MD Hunter in 1847. ( National Library of Australia)

1843 Charles Cowper in the Cowpastures district

In 1843 the Sydney Morning Herald announced the presence of Charles Cowper in the Cowpasture district. Mr Cowper arrived at Mr James Chisholm’s  Gledswood and joined a procession of horses followed by carriages and gigs of around 150 men and women. Mr Cowper took a seat in Mr Hassall’s carriage.

The procession was headed for by Mr Hovel of Macquarie Grove. with Mr John Wild of Picton bringing up the rear of the carriages. The procession then moved to Mr Chisholm’s house on his property Wivenhoe.  (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Tuesday 11 July 1843, page 2)

1843 GCP Living of Raby in the Cowpastures

In 1843 auctioneer Mr Stubbs announced the sale of the household effects, stock and farming implements for the insolvent estate of GCP Living of Raby in the Cowpastures.

The stock included heifers, bullocks, calves, dairy cows, steers totalling 165 beasts and five horses. The farm equipment included dairy utensils, and transport equipment including carts, drays, and wagons. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Monday 6 November 1843, page 4 (3))

1843 SR Swaine of Narellan of the Cowpastures

In 1843 Mr Beck advertised the sale of furniture of the late Mr SR Swaine of Narellan of the Cowpastures. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Friday 15 December 1843, page 3)

1845 Bridge repairs in the Cowpastures

The Camden District Council meeting in 1845 reported on the state of repair of the bridge across the Cowpasture River. (Weekly Register of Politics, Facts and General Literature (Sydney, NSW: 1843 – 1845), Saturday 14 June 1845)

1847 Cowpastures population

In 1847 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the population growth of the Cowpastures district which nearly reached 3000 people. The press reports described the schools in the villages of Narellan, Cobbitty and Camden, with the reporter visiting The Razorback and the properties of Raby, Gledswood and Harrington Park.

The beauty of other properties mentioned in the story included Orielton, Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Thursday 23 September 1847, page 2)

1870 shepherd Hugh McGuire in the Cowpastures

In 1870 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported a claim for compensation on the colonial government by a shepherd Hugh McGuire for services for supervising a team of men in the Cowpastures district. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 April 1870, page 10 (4))

1870 Camden flood in the Cowpastures

In 1870 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a flood in Camden which was located in the Cowpasture district. There was a heavy downpour with a violent gale that continued through Wednesday night on the 26 April. The lowlands presented a ‘uniform sheet of floodwater’ and were just below the ‘tow great floods of 1860’. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1870, page 7)

1877 Cowpastures River

In 1877 the Sydney Morning Herald one letter writer that as the late 1870s the Nepean River was still known as the Cowpastures River.  (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Saturday 24 March 1877, page 8)

1878 Campbelltown next to the Cowpastures

In 1878 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the state of the town of Campbelltown and the surrounding area which was adjacent to the ‘fertile flats and alluvials’ of the Cowpastures. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1870 – 1907), Saturday 16 March 1878, page 20)

1882 wheat growing in the Cowpastures

The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the state of the wheat growing in the colony in 1882. The story stated that wheat for bread making used to be grown in the ‘Camden, the Cowpastures, Hawkesbury, Hunter, etc’. In this area, hay production had replaced former wheat growing. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 September 1882, page 20)

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

 

The end of the Cowpastures region and a village is born

The beginning of the end of the Cowpastures region was the development of the Camden village from 1840 by the Macarthur family on their estate of Camden Park

The Camden district eventually replaced the Cowpastures regional identity.

Revival of the Cowpastures during the Interwar period

The Sesqui-centenary of the colonial settlement of New South Wales sparked a revival of the story of the Cowpastures during the early 1930s.

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of Cowpastures (SMH 13 August 1932)

There was also the revival of national pioneering heroes that it was felt provide a sound basis of the story of a new nation and one of those was John Macarthur of the Cowpastures.

Macarthur was the ultimate Cowpastures oligarch and he had many colleagues who also fitted this description.

640px-Macarthur_stamp_sheep_1934 (1)
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp (Australia Post)

 

Learn more

The Cowpastures Project

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Aesthetics · Attachment to place · British colonialism · Camden · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Entertainment · Floods · Heritage · Historical consciousness · History · Landscape aesthetics · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Memory · Menangle · Myths · Nepean River · Place making · Ruralism · Second World War · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · War · War at home · Water

Nepean River, more than a water view

The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe.

Nepean River near Cobbitty 1900 (Camden Images)
Nepean River near Cobbitty 1900 (Camden Images)

 

The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn.

West of Wollongong the tributaries including Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park.

The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past  Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty.

The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.

The Nepean River is economically important to the Sydney Basin and is used for mining, irrigation, recreation and other activities. It is ecologically significant to the area and has several rare and endangered species of plants.

Cultural importance

The river has an important meaning in terms of its intangible cultural heritage to the local landscape. The river and its surroundings had special meaning to the Indigenous Dharawal people of the Cowpastures area.

The river defines the landscape and the construction of place in the localities along the river including Menangle, Camden, and Cobbitty.

One locality of special significance is Little Sandy at Camden.

Little Sandy

Little Sandy on the Nepean River at Camden has been a popular spot with local Europeans for many decades for swimming, picnicking, boating and fishing. It is rich in the memories of local folk played out their childhoods, experienced the pangs of youth and enjoyed time with their families.

Little Sandy has been an important part of Camden cultural heritage for generations. It is a locality with a strong sense of place and identity with people’s memories.

The site has layers of meaning that can be peeled back and reveal a landscape of diverse dimensions. Its story has meaning across the generations.

The site and the pondage were created on the Nepean River with the construction of the Camden Weir in 1907. It is a culturally created landscape.

Today thousands of local residents enjoy the same rituals at Little Sandy on their jaunts along the Nepean River bike path with the friends and family.

Little Sandy with footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. Diving board in foreground. (Camden Images)
Little Sandy with a footbridge across the Nepean River at Camden c.1950. Diving board in the foreground. (Camden Images)

 

Swimming carnivals

Nepean River swimming carnival 1917 Little Sandy (Camden Images)
Nepean River swimming carnival 1917 Little Sandy (Camden Images)

 

In the early 20th century Little Sandy was a favourite swimming spot. In the 1920s the Camden Swimming Club built galvanised iron dressing sheds painted green in an area now known at Kings Bush Reserve.

Swimming became one of Elderslie’s earliest organised sporting activities after the Nepean River was dammed in 1907 with the construction of the Camden Weir.

Water backed up behind the weir for four kilometres through the Elderslie area and provided relatively deep water suitable for swimming.

The Camden Aquatic Sports carnival was organised in 1909 and attracted over 1000 spectators and was the location of the Camden Swimming Club in the 1920s.

The area was divided into Big Sandy, which was a deep hole, near Kings Bush Reserve. About 100 metres upstream was Little Sandy where the water was shallower. Learn to swim classes were held for a short time and Boy Scouts would go swimming there, according to Milton Ray.

Len English says

“In the 1950s the area was used for swimming by pupils from Camden Public School’,  ‘The girls went with the female teachers to Little Sandy, while the male teachers and boys went downstream to Camden Weir.’

Olive McAleer says

‘Little Sandy was a popular spot for family picnics between the 1920s and 1940s’.

The river stopped being a swimming spot when it was condemned because of pollution by medical authorities in the early 1960s. It was replaced by Camden Memorial Swimming Pool in 1964. (P Mylrea, ‘Swimming in the Nepean River at Camden’, Camden History, March 2006)

Learn more @ Ian Willis, ‘Elderslie’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008

 

Footbridge built 1943

Little Sandy footbridge over Nepean River at Camden in 1943 (Camden Images)
Little Sandy footbridge over Nepean River at Camden in 1943 (Camden Images)

 

In  1943 military authorities from the Narellan Military Camp were anxious to undertake a practical training exercise for engineers. In September they sought the view of Camden Municipal Council on erecting a footbridge and the council immediately agreed with the proposal.

The council covered the cost of some of the timber so that the bridge remained the property of the council. The  Australian Military Forces Engineers supplied the labour, supervision, transport vehicles and operators for the transport of stores and construction material.

The site at the bottom Chellaston Street connected two reserves on either side of the Nepean River. One on the Chellaston Street side and the other at River Road Elderslie.

In late September 1943, 40 troops started building a wooden footbridge 120 feet long and 4 feet wide. Construction took around four weeks and was finished by 28 October.

Observers commented on a

‘fine piece of workmanship…that would be much appreciated’ by the local community.

(Camden News, 16 September 1943, 23 September 1943, 28 October 1943).

Nepean River 1900

Nepean River near Cowpasture Bridge 1900
Nepean River below Cowpasture Bridge 1900 (Camden Images/CA Poole)

 

This image of the Nepean River is taken in the vicinity of the Camden Weir. It gives an indication of the degraded state of the river around 1900. There is evidence of sedimentation and streambank erosion caused by hard-hoofed animals trampling river banks.

These issues were typical of Australia’s inland waterways in the late 19th century after extensive clearing of the catchments for forestry, farming and other activities.

Sue Rosen quotes from James Atkinson’s 1826  An Account of the State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales in her book on the environmental history of the Nepean River

Atkinson states that even by the mid-1820s the river banks were undermined and collapsing into the stream. There were deposits of sand in the river channel and clearing practices had caused increased run-off,  accelerated the degradation of the river channel and increased obstruction in the river bed. All evident in the 1900  photograph of the river channel at Camden.

Atkinson felt that the original European settlers had failed to ‘improve’ the land for farming and that its farming potential had been compromised. The settlers had in Atkinson’s terms failed to fulfil the original objectives of opening up the land and favoured, according to Rosen, ‘the cultivation of a landscape reminiscent of British romantic pastoral scenes’.

The earliest reports of the Nepean River date from 1795. David Collins wrote about his impression after a wet spring in his An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798). These impressions have been quoted in Alan Atkinson’s Camden where it states there were

large ponds, covered with ducks and the black swan, the margins of which were fringed with shrubs of the most delightful tints.

After a dry spell, the river at Menangle was reported by George Caley in his ‘Report of a Journey to the Cowpastures’ (1804, ML) to be ‘reduced to a small compass’ and the water having ‘the foul appearance of a pond in a farmyard’.

Learn more  

Sue Rosen Losing Ground An Environmental History of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment, Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1995.

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

 Camden Weir 1907

Camden Weir 1917
The picturesque scene at the Camden Weir on the Nepean River c.1917 (Camden Images)

 

The Camden Weir pondage created an aesthetic water feature that runs through the Camden township and took in the Little Sandy. The aesthetic has moral, experiential, spiritual and well-being aspects to it.

The Camden Weir was constructed by New South Wales Public Works Department after the completion of the Cataract Dam from 1907.

The compensation weir was one of number constructed along the Nepean River to safeguard the ‘riparian rights’ of landowners affected by the interruption of flow to the river, according to John Wrigley.

A riparian right is the ability to take water from the river. The water supply dams of the Upper Nepean  Scheme reduced the flow of the tributaries of the Nepean River, and the weirs were to ‘compensate’ for the loss of water flow.

The other weirs near Camden were at Menangle, Begins, Thurns, Camden Sharpes and Cobbitty. The weirs were eventually transferred to the management to the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board as part of the Sydney Water Supply system.

Learn more @ John Wrigley,’ Nepean River Weirs’, The District Reporter 3 August 2001

 

Water has a calming effect on the mind and takes the mind to a quiet, tranquil and peaceful place.

Some say it can dim our internal chatter and calm some people.

Water provides a degree of serenity and the purifying effect it can have on the soul. Water can have a soothing meditative effect on some people.

People need to re-charge and re-vitalise in the tranquillity of the environment provided by the tranquillity and serenity of the pool provided by the weir.

For others, a visually pleasant water feature can also be a source of healing and relaxing in a man-mad environment.

Those that went swimming at Little Sandy had an experiential relationship with the water. Water is used to nourish and replenish man after exertion.

Swimming carnivals were a time of community celebration and strengthening community resilience.

The pondage at Little Sandy also has a scientific value for the marine ecosystem it supports. It supports a range of life from eels, to perch, birds, reptiles and other life.

The Little Sandy pondage creates a pleasant water feature that circles the township. The beauty of the scene with the trees along the water’s edge framing the quiet of the pond.

People doing simple tasks like fishing, picnicking, walking and re-engaging with nature on the water’s edge.    The surface of the water is a mirror that reflects the images of the trees and bushes on the water’s edge.

At dawn on a cold frosty morning, steam rise of the water’s surface as the walkers’ feet crackle under the frozen grass on the water’s edge.  There is a splash as a kingfisher dives into the water after a fish, that breaks the silence of the space.

The world disappears momentarily as you sit on the water’s edge taking in the serene quiet surroundings of the pond.

A new footbridge

Little Sandy Footbridge after completion of work 2014 (I Willis)
Little Sandy Footbridge after completion of work 2014 (I Willis)

 

The Little Sandy footbridge was officially opened on 4 May 2014 with another community event.

The weather gods were kind, and while there was a cool breeze and an overcast start the sun came out and the crowd turned up with families of mums and dads and the kids.

Camden Council organised a family fun day in Chellaston Reserve where there were stalls, a free train ride along the bike track and information stands.

The day opened at 11.00am and wound up in the afternoon at 3.00pm. Camden Rotary provided a sausage sizzle which sold out early in the day.

An information stand was provided by Camden Historical Society which was staffed by volunteers John and Julie Wrigley, Bob Lester and Rene Rem, while others turned up later.

This was another community event that has been typical of the popularity of the site for the Camden community.

 Pre-cast concrete

The new pre-cast concrete 43-metre footbridge at Little Sandy on the Nepean River was completed in April 2014. Camden Council let contracts for the completion of a new footbridge in September 2013.

The new structure replaced a wooden footbridge that was damaged in a flood in 2012. The new footbridge was jointly funded by the council and the state government.

The finished footbridge is part of the Nepean River cycleway that joins Camden with Elderslie, South Camden and Narellan. Local resident Kevin Browne stated in  2012 (Camden Narellan Advertiser 31 July) that:

the bridge was part of the unique attraction of living in a rural area [and] the availability of serene, natural beauty.

After the 2012 damage to the footbridge and its closure, local residents started to campaign for its replacement.

This culminated in a community meeting in the mayor’s office in August 2013 when 19 local residents attended an information session with the mayor, the Member for Camden,  and the council’s general manager and engineering staff.

The original footbridge was constructed in 1943 as a military training exercise by the AMF Engineering Corps stationed at Narellan Military Camp.

Camden Council agreed to fund the cost of the materials while the engineers provided the labour (40 men), supervision and vehicles. The original footbridge was 120 feet long and 4 feet wide.

Learn more @ The District Reporter 17 August 2012.

 

Kings Bush

King’s Bush is the reserve adjacent the river’s edge at Little Sandy and is named after Cecil J King, the rector of St John’s Church between 1893 and 1927.

According to John Wrigley, King kept his horse in the paddock next to the river and swam at the same spot in the river.

Reverend King was a keen sports fan and played for the Camden Cricket Club and was the team’s wicketkeeper for several years. In 1927 he was the patron of the Camden Golf Club and president of the Union and St John’s tennis club.

King was ordained at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1887 by the Bishop Barry of the Sydney Archdiocese. (Camden Advertiser 2 June 1949)

Learn more  @ John Wrigley, Place Names on the Camden Area, Camden, CHS, 2005.

 

Chellaston Street

Chellaston Street ends at the Nepean River in Chellaston Reserve in the vicinity of Little Sandy. Chellaston was a single storey brick residence at 38 Menangle Road built by Camden builder John Peat and used as his family home.

Chellaston Street was part of land releases on the south side of the township in the 1920s. There were several land releases in the area during the Inter-war period including Victory Ave and Gilbulla Ave that run off Menangle Road.

Learn more  @ John Wrigley, Place Names on the Camden Area, Camden, CHS, 2005.

 

Learn more

Many people have fond memories of Little Sandy at Camden
The Nepean River at Little Sandy is part of the Cumberland Woodland 
Not far from Little Sandy there are stands of the rare Elderslie Banksia Scrub
Read about the Camden White Gum which can be found on the banks of the Nepean River at Little Sandy

Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · Belgenny Farm · British colonialism · Camden Story · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dairying · Dr West · Economy · Elizabeth Farm · Family history · Farming · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · Legends · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Modernism · Monuments · Myths · Nepean River · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling

John Macarthur the legend

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The Legend

In school textbooks for decades, at least up the 1960s, John Macarthur has been written about as the father of the Australian wool industry. Writers have maintained that his vision for New South Wales was for fine wool to become the staple industry of the state and the country.

Postage Stamps

On the anniversary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 the Commonwealth Government’s Postmaster-General’s Department issued a special commemorative series of postage stamps to celebrate the his centenary of his death and his role, according to the Sydney press, ‘for being responsible for the introduction of the merino breed of sheep into Australia, and the consequent establishment of Australia as the greatest wool-producing country in the world’.

1966 Australian $2 note
1966 Australian $2 note

$2 Note

In 1966 John Macarthur’s image and the merino ram appeared on the first Australian $2 note. More than this he is a character in Eleanor Dark’s semi-fictional Australian classic trilogy ‘The Timeless Land’ (1941). John Macarthur also features in American writer Naomi Novik’s fantasy novel Tongues of Serpents (2010). In 1949 the Federal electoral Division of Macarthur, taking in Camden, was named in honour of John and Elizabeth Macarthur.

Festivals

In Camden the town celebrated the legacy of the John Macarthur in 1960 with the 4-day Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October). The festivities celebrated the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia.

While John Macarthur was important in the importation of Spanish merino sheep from South Africa and the early development of the Australian wool industry, he was not alone in this story. There are a host of other individuals in the story including his wife, Elizabeth, and other wool producers like Reverend Samuel Marsden and William Cox and folk like Governor Hunter, and Captains Waterhouse and Kent. Although for many, particularly in the early 20th century, John Macarthur single-handedly was responsible for the foundation of the wool industry at Camden Park.

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)
John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

The anniversary of the death of John Macarthur in 1934 was a time of reflection on his contribution to the story of farming in Australia. The country was looking for heroes and pioneer figures who conquered the colonial frontier and John Macarthur fitted the bill. The enormous wealth generated by the wool industry in the 1920s and 1930s contributed the feeding frenzy around the legend of John Macarthur.

Wool’s enormous wealth

The wool industry during the interwar period was of immense importance to Australia. By the mid-1920s the United Kingdom purchased about 50% of Australia’s total wool exports, and wool exports accounted for about three-quarters of all pastoral export income. By the late 1920s Australia’s 103 million sheep were 17% of the world’s sheep numbers and Australia produced half of the world’s merino wool. In the 1930s wool exports were 30% of the total value of the Australia’s exports. (ABS)

Commemorative anniversary

In 1934 the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate claimed under a headline ‘Australia supplies most of the World Wool’ with a sub-heading ‘John Macarthur’s Work’. It went on the John MacArthur (sic) ‘laid the foundation of the merino wool industry at Elizabeth Farm, at Rose Hill, near Sydney in 1796’. In a second article on ‘John Macarthur, Father of the Wool Industry’, the author wrote that ‘there were no band playing, no celebrations’ and ‘perhaps that is how he would have wished it. His great monument stands in the record wool return that has come to Australia this year; a record that has turned the tide of depression, a record that may yet come in the flood of prosperity fully restored’. The newspaper felt ‘it seems strange that a man who did so much to make the wealth of the country should be so little honoured’. The author felt that there had been ‘ a hundred years in silence – now a few stamps – how typical of the casual Australian’.

The Braidwood Review and District Advocate ran a headline ‘The Golden Fleece, Late John Macarthur’s Vision’. Parramatta’s Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate in 1934 felt confident is stating that ‘Australia lives on the sheep’s back’. RAHS historian James Jervis wrote an article for the Argus called ‘John Macarthur – An Appreciation’ and said his memory ‘to all good Australians’.

Various members of the rural press reported on an address given by James Walker the president of the NSW Graziers’ Association which traced the history of the wool industry in Australia and Dr Roland Wilson, the economist of the Commonwealth Statistician Department, who dealt with the importance of the wool industry to Australia and the legacy of John Macarthur.

Father of the colony

Earlier in 1931 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article written by WRS called ‘John Macarthur, the Father of the Colony’ claiming he came from ‘a warrior ancestry’ and should be remembered ‘in the respectful admirations of Australians from the beginning of the drama of civilisation here’.

Even from the early 20th century there was a recognition by some of the reality of Macarthur’s contribution. JHM Abbott acknowledged in The World’s News in Sydney in 1926 that Macarthur was the first to realise the potential of wool production in the colony and he backed his opinion with his financial resources. Abbott states that ‘it is often erroneously stated that Macarthur introduced sheep to Australia, but that is not the case’.

While John Macarthur’s role made an contribution to the foundation of the Australian wool industry today we have a nuanced understanding of the important contribution made by many people to the story and Camden’s role in that story.

Read more

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 12 October 1934, page 12 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17119037
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate @ The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW : 1894 – 1954), Saturday 27 October 1934, page 10 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131580256 &
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW : 1894 – 1954), Saturday 28 April 1934, page 9 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131582903
The Braidwood Review and District Advocate (NSW : 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 24 April 1934, page 5 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119333871
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Monday 9 April 1934, page @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104578328
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Thursday 3 May 1934, @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104577152
The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), Saturday 11 December 1926, page 10 @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131461348
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 20 June 1931, page 9 @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16787537