Representations of the memory of the Cowpastures
The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.
The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.
Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.
According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’, and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.
The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.
This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.
1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial
Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.
Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown, local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’. A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.
In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures. Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation. The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book.
The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement. The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.
Statue of Governor Hunter
In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release. The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.
According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.
Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.
On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.
The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.
Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre
Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.
European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.
The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area. By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.
In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them. The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:
The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.
The memorial and remembrance service have given the descendants of Indigenous people a voice in telling the Cowpastures story.
In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.
Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape
In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.
The application was approved in December 2022.
In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.
Voices of Indigenous Australians
In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.
 Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.
 Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.
 Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3
 Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.
 Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture. Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.
 Karskens, Grace, Appin massacre, Dictionary of Sydney, 2015, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre , viewed 09 Oct 2022
 Macarthur Chronicle, 12 April 2005.
 The District Reporter, 20 April 2009.
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.
 Tess Allas and David Garneau (Curators), With Secrecy and Despatch. Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, 9 April-13 June 2016, Campbelltown. Online at With Secrecy & Despatch | Campbelltown Arts Centre (c-a-c.com.au) Viewed 9 October 2022.
Heritage NSW, Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape (Under Consideration), Heritage NSW, Sydney, 2022. Viewed 10/10/22. Online at
 Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, Conflict in the Early Colony 1788-1817. Sydney, NewSouth, 2018.
Initially published in The Federation of Australian Historical Societies Newsletter, December 2022, No 54. Online at https://www.history.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/FAHS-Newsletter-No-54-2_page-0001.pdf titled The memory of the Cowpastures in monuments and memorials