The 2023 Camden Show proves its resilience and came alive after the disasters of Covid and the 2022 floods when the show was postponed and cancelled.
Exhibitors and competitors
The arts and crafts pavilion is a good place to start, the must-see at all country shows. On display are the hidden talents of the local area.
A staple at all country shows are local farmers and producers who display their animals and produce. The cattle are always an interesting area to watch, and dairying has a rich history in the Camden area going back to the 1880s.
The produce exhibit is a snapshot of what can be grown and produced locally. Each of these products has been a vital part of the local farming scene over previous decades and in the present. For example, the apple industry was very important in The Oaks for most of the 20th century, and viticulture or growing grapes occurred across the Elderslie area for most of the last 100 years.
The flower exhibits are always popular with show visitors, and 2023 is no exception. The flowers have moved out of the main pavilion to a more compact area and the number of exhibitors is down on previous years.
Exhibitors are a mixture of keen amateurs and professional producers. All compete for the glory and fame that comes with first place. The cash prizes are really only pocket money, and it is the kudos that is the attraction.
The Show Ball and the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year
The winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year competition was announced on the front page of The District Reporter.
Camden Show promotional material
Much literature is produced at showtime; one of the most important is the show catalogue. The schedule lists all categories that competitors might want to enter with their animals, produce or crafts, the entry fees, the winning prizes and many other show time details.
Then there is the showground map which details all the exhibitors, events, show rings, entertainment, show bags, conveniences, parking and lots of other information.
One innovation this year has been the Agricultural Discovery Booklet for children. The booklet is full of puzzles, quizzes, colouring in, find-a-word, crosswords and other stuff. A great thing for the kids.
Information stalls and exhibitors
The 2023 Camden Show has many exhibitors, including commercial enterprises, the show guild members who provide rides and entertainment, government information services, community organisations and many others.
Exhibitors from the community
Community groups are regular exhibitors at the Camden Show, including the Country Women’s Association, Camden Historical Society, Camden Area Family History Society, Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Girl Guides, the Camden Show Society itself and many others.
Show promotional liftout
Promoting the show is always essential, and The District Reporter has had their show liftout for many years. The liftout is part of the only print edition of a newspaper that still circulates in the local area and has the show’s history and many stories about show personalities, events and exhibitors.
The role of social media has increased in recent years as a way to promote the show.
Climbing a pole tucked away in the corner of Elyard Reserve Narellan NSW is a wooden carving of a goanna climbing a pole.
The artwork is amongst mature trees, and the goanna could be imaged climbing one of the adjacent gum trees.
There is no credit given to the artist.
Wood sculpture is one of the oldest art forms, going back centuries. It is a form of art common to all cultures because it is low cost, widespread and plasticity.
The drawback to this artwork is that the weather, insects, and wood can degrade rapidly. For these reasons, bronze, marble and other types of stone are usually preferred by artists for monumental work.
Wood carving requires gouging tools, chisels and mallets and hammers. The types of wood carving can include chip carving and relief carving in hardwood or softwood.
The goanna has been climbing the pole at Elyard Place for many years. It is a relief work from hardwood, like the trees adjacent to the artwork. The weather has taken its toll on the work, with a large crack running through the centre of the pole.
I was wandering through Elyard Reserve at Narellan with my granddaughter and found a piece of public art hidden in plain sight.
The artwork is a bench covered in mosaic tiles and is all but forgotten in the corner of the park amongst the slides, swings and climbing equipment for the youngsters.
The mosaic was commissioned in 2009 as The Community Harmony Mosaic Project, funded by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
The artwork was a community collaboration between
Leppington Public School
Hope Christian School
Camden High School
Camden Youth Café.
And ceramic artists Selma Fida and Natalie Valiente.
According to a bio on Facebook, Selma Fida is a local artist who presented an immersive exhibition of realistic hand-made porcelain flowers at the Casula Powerhouse in 2019. The show was the result of the 2018 Casula Powerhouse Scholarship Prize. Selma states that the exhibition explored how flowers speak a universal language of care and empathy through celebrations, anniversaries, births, wars, sickness and death. (Facebook)
Natalie Valiente is a self-employed ceramic artist from Eagle Vale, NSW, who has exhibited at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Natalie’s recent collaboration with Susan Grant and Dharawal elders called Life Blood is on permanent display at the National Herbarium of NSW forecourt at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. According to a report in the National Indigenous Times, the artwork has the eucalyptus tree at its heart. A magnified gum leaf became the design which has been sandblasted onto the concrete forecourt. The artists drew their inspiration from being on Country and the grey gums, ironbark and forest red gums that covered the landscape. (NIT, 22 April 2022)
Hawaiian music and dance arrived in Camden after sweeping the rest of the country on the stage, at the movies and broadcast across the radio waves. The craze of the 1920s and 1930s was centred on hula dancing and the steel guitar.
The first mention of Hawaiian culture in Camden occurred in 1925 when a young Daphne Butt dressed as a Hawaiian hula dancer at the 1925 Fancy Dress Costume Ball for the Camden District Hospital. She was the only example of Hawaiian culture in a sea of fairies, princesses, dolls, butterflies, American sailors, jazz musicians, and princes. (Camden News, 20 August 1925)
The dark history of Hawaiian music and dance
Daphne Butt’s naïve interest in hula dancing hides a dark past with links to transnational capitalism and colonialism. In pre-contact Hawaii, the hula was a strict religious practice of telling epic stories, past glories, and great chiefs within a framework of fertility rights expressed through poetry and body movements. Newly arrived Christian missionaries in the 1820s condemned the hula for its sexual and spiritual overtones. Restrictions on Hawaiian culture in 1859 effectively banned public performances, and the hula was driven underground. (Imada, 2004, Hawaiians on tour)
Moralistic attitudes towards Hawaiian culture were also evident in the Australian press. Sydney’s Evening News reported on ‘hula hula’ dancing at the San Francisco Midwinter Fair in 1894. The reporter wrote:
‘the Hawaiian hula-hula dance. I think it would paralyse the average Australian playgoer, not merely to see this grossly indecent, immoral, and suggestive performance, but the class of people standing around looking at it.’
(Evening News, 4 April 1894)
Even in 1924, Lester Way wrote in The Bulletin that Hawaiian hula ‘dances were like the frolics of happy children who had learned with candor naïve and unshamed the lesson of sex’. (The Bulletin, 31 January 1924)
Racial stereotypes at the movies
By the 1920s and 1930s, American business interests recognised the tourism potential of Hawaiian culture, and Hollywood produced films depicting Hawaiian music and hula dancing that screened at Camden, Campbelltown and Picton.
Commodified Hawaiian women became the new ‘hula girls’, used to promote Hawaiian plantation sugar and pineapples. They were also marketed in print, on stage, and in film, appearing in bikini tops, grass skirts, flowers in their hair sensuously hips swaying to the tones of the steel guitar. (Imada, 2004, Hawaiians on tour)
The first appearance of Hawaii on local movie screens occurred in 1926 when ‘The Hawaiian Melody Makers’ promised ‘a twilight in Hawaii’ at the Royal Pictures in the Picton Town Hall. (Picton Post, 1 September 1926) The Lopez Hawaiian Melody Makers, a nine-piece ensemble with steel guitars, had toured Australia in 1925 and played at Broken Hill Crystal Theatre. (Barrier Miner, 1 May 1925)
Film promotions from American film studios published in the Camden News relied on racial stereotypes and the language of primitivism. The film promoters for Cosmopolitan Productions ‘White Shadows in the South Seas’ promised ‘native instruments and customs, alluring dancing girls and feasting give intimate and colourful scenes of native life’. ‘White Shadows’ was an adventure romance loosely based on a book by Frederick O’Brien and screened at Sydney’s State Movie Theatre in 1929. The silent film ‘White Shadows’ was innovative and had synchronised ‘dialogue, sound, song and music’ where the soundtrack matched the film. The first synchronised musical soundtrack was the film Don Juan in 1926. (Camden News, 14 March 1929, 28 March 1929)
At Campbelltown’s Macquarie Cinema in 1933, the RKO-Radio Pictures ‘Bird of Paradise’, filmed in the ‘authentic background’ of the Hawaiian Islands, showed the ‘breathtaking’ beauty of the islands. The film, a romantic adventure drama, depicted the love of the hero and ‘white man’, Johnny Baker, with the ‘primitive, trusting Luana’ who ‘hopelessly sacrifices’ her love in a ‘sublime’ setting. The Hawaiian hula was described as ‘the barbaric beauties of the primitive Hawaiian mating dance were caught in all their splendour’. (Campbelltown News, 27 October 1933) Wikipedia states that the director King Vidor presented ‘this “tragic” romance as a clash between modern “civilisation” and a sexual idyll enjoyed by Rousseauian-like Noble savages’. In the early 1930s, Hollywood produced several films that connected former Pacific colonies with widespread interest in “exotic” tropical locations. (Wikipedia)
In the late 1930s, film promoters used less paternalistic language in advertising. The 1938 Camden’s Paramount Movie Theatre screened RKO Radio Pictures ‘Hawaii Calls’, and the advertising stated that the story of an ‘island paradise [that] rings with song’ and full of ‘adventure, beauty, novelty, song and entertainment’. (Camden News, 16 June 1938) The following year, Paramount screened MGM’s ‘Honolulu’, a movie that promised to ‘call you’ to Hawaii with ‘the sweat heart of musical hits!’ ‘It’s star-packed, song-filled, laugh-jammed . . . .the romantic colossus of spectacle . .with hundreds of hip-swinging hula honeys!’ (Camden News, 6 July 1939)
Hula dancing direct from the Tivoli circuit
Camden was part of the country circuit for Hawaiian musicians. In 1935 local promoter Charles New announced in the Camden News that The Royal Hawaiians, ‘direct from the Tivoli circuit’, would appear at the Camden Agricultural Hall on a Tuesday night. Patrons were promised the ‘greatest instrumentalists in Australia’ who were ably supported by comedians the Richie Brothers and ‘All Star Vaudeville’ of acrobats and dancers. Front seat prices cost 1/6, with others 1/-. (Camden News, 31 October 1935)
The Royal Hawaiians toured Australia appearing at Geelong’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1922 and 1929 at Hobart’s Theatre Royal. The company had an ‘extensive repertoire’ of Hawaiian music on steel guitar, ukuleles, and banjos. The show included ‘native songs and dances’ provided by Honolulu’s ‘premier hula hula dancer’, the ‘graceful Lilloukalani’. (The Mercury, 19 February 1929)
Author Jackie Coyle has stated that Hawaiian musicians toured on the Tivoli circuit in Australia from the 1920s. (ABC News, 23 January 2023). Hula hula dancing first appeared on Australian stages in the 1890s in Melbourne (The Argus, 6 August 1892), and Hawaiian sheet music, wax cylinders and 78rpm records were sold across the country. (ABC News, 23 January 2023)
Hawaiian music filled the Camden airwaves
Camden radio listeners who owned a Fisk Radiola wireless set from James Pinkerton’s store in Argyle Street could tune into the tones of Hawaiian music from the Sydney Hawaiian Club Band. The band had a spot-on Sydney radio 2GB every Sunday at 10.00 am and on 2GZ at 5.45 pm. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 17 February 1938) The popular radio show ‘Hawaii Calls’ was broadcast from the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach to a global audience from 1925. (Imada, 2004, Hawaiians on tour)
In 1938 Camden residents could purchase a Radiola wireless set from James Pinkerton at 59-61 Argyle Street, where he ran a tailor shop. Prices for the latest Fisk Radiola started at 13 guineas, a princely sum in 1938 when the average weekly wage for a factory worker was just under £5. Built by ‘master craftsmen’ and allowed Camden listeners to tune into global short-wave broadcasts with ‘better tone and performance’. (Camden News, 22 December 1938)
In country NSW, the Hawaiian Club band broadcasts on Goulburn radio 2GN on Friday nights at 8.00 pm. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 17 February 1938) For those who wanted to immerse themselves in Hawaiian completely, the Sydney Hawaiian Club toured country NSW, offering tuition on the steel guitar with weekly lessons costing 2/6 in Goulburn. The Hawaiian club Goulburn representative in 1938 was E Scarpas in Clifford Street. Steel guitars could be purchased for 30/1, with a 5/- deposit, or with weekly repayments of 2/-. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 17 February 1938)
Adria L. Imada (2004). Hawaiians on Tour: Hula Circuits through the American Empire. American Quarterly, 56(1), 111–149. doi:10.2307/40068217
The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.
The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.
Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.
According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’, and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.
The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.
This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.
1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial
Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.
Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown, local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’. A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.
In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures. Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation. The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book.
The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement. The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.
Statue of Governor Hunter
In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release. The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.
According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.
Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.
On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.
The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.
Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre
Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.
European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.
The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area. By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.
In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them. The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:
The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.
In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.
Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape
In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.
In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.
Voices of Indigenous Australians
In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.
 Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.
 Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3
Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.
 Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture. Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.
 Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.
The private English-style estate village of James and William Macarthur
The establishment of Camden, New South Wales, the town in 1840, was a private venture of James and William Macarthur, sons of colonial patriarch John Macarthur, at the Nepean River crossing on the northern edge of the family’s pastoral property of Camden Park. The town’s site was enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River and has regularly flooded the surrounding farmland and lower parts of the town.
The site of Camden was within the 5000 acres granted to John Macarthur by the 2nd Earl Camden [3.2], the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in 1805, while Macarthur was in England on charges for duelling. Macarthur was a fractious quarrelsome self-promoter who arrived in NSW with his wife Elizabeth and family in 1790 as paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The Corps (sometimes called The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as a permanent regiment of the British Army to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps, which had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 to fortify the colony of NSW.
The town’s site, as part of the Macarthur grants, was located on some of the finest farming country in the colony in the government Cowpastures reserve on the colonial frontier. The grants were part of the dispossession of traditional lands of the Dharawal people by the British settler colonial project and inevitably led to conflict and violence. Macarthur claimed that the town’s establishment threatened the security of his landholdings at Camden Park and opposed it during his lifetime. On his death in 1834, his sons had a different worldview and moved to establish an English-style estate village dominated by a church.
A fine Gothic-style church
The ridge-top location of St John’s Church (1840) on the southern end of the town meant that it towered over the town centre and had a clear line of sight to the Macarthur family’s Georgian mansion at Camden Park 2.6 miles to the southwest. The fine English Gothic-style church was funded mainly by the Macarthur family and has been the basis of the town’s iconic imagery. There were a number of large gentry estates built on convict labour in the surrounding farmland, the largest being the Macarthur family’s Camden Park of over 28,000 acres.
Many immigrant families came to the area under Governor Bourke’s 1835 plan and settled on the gentry estates as tenant farmers, some establishing businesses in Camden. The first land sales in the village occurred in 1841, which stifled the growth of the existing European settlements in the area. The population of Camden grew from 242 in 1846 to 458 in 1856, although the gentry’s estates still dominated the village. Camden Park, for example, had a population of 900 in 1850.
The English-style gentry practised philanthropy in Camden to maintain its moral tone. Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, John Macarthur’s granddaughter, encouraged the maintenance of the proprieties of life, moral order and good works, as well as memorialising her family by donating a clock and bells to St John’s Church in 1897. She also marked the memory of her late husband, Captain Onslow, by providing a public park in 1882 named after her husband (Onslow Park), which is now the Camden showground.
Camden became the district’s transport hub at the centre of the road network, primarily set by the pattern of land grants from the 1820s. The earliest villages in the district predated Camden and then looked to Camden for cultural and economic leadership as the district’s major centre. The arrival of the Camden tramway in 1882 meant that silver ore west of the district (1871) was shipped through the Camden railhead to the Main Southern Railway from Sydney.
Combined with rail access to markets, the town’s prosperity was assured by a series of technical and institutional innovations that transformed the dairy industry in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the Macarthur family set up the Camden Vale Milk Company and built a milk processing plant at the eastern end of the main street adjacent to the rail line. Whole milk was railed to Sydney and bottled under its label until the mid-1920s. Milk was delivered daily to the factory by horse and cart until the 1940s from local dairy farms.
Camden’s progress saw the construction of a new bank (1878), the commencement of weekly stock sales (1883), the formation of the Camden Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society and the first Camden Show (1886), a new post and telegraph office (1898), the foundation of two weekly newspapers (Camden Times, 1879, Camden News, 1880), a new cottage hospital (1898), the formation of a fire brigade (1900), the opening of a telephone exchange (1910), the installation of reticulated gas (1912), electricity (1929), town water (1899) and the replacement of gas street lighting with electric lights (1932), and a sewerage scheme (1939). By 1933 the population of the town had grown to 2394.
First local council
The first attempt at local government in 1843 was unsuccessful. A meeting of local notables formed the municipality of Camden at a public meeting in 1883. Still, it was not until 1889 that the municipality was proclaimed, covering 7,000 acres and including Camden and the neighbouring village of Elderslie. Nine townsmen were elected aldermen at the first election that year, and the first meeting was held at the School of Arts. In 1993 the Camden Municipal Council eventually became the Council of Camden.
Camden’s 1840 street grid is still intact today, with streets named after members of the Macarthur family – John Street, Elizabeth, Edward Street – and NSW colonial notables – Oxley Street, Broughton Street, Mitchell Street. The main highway between Sydney and Melbourne (the Hume Highway) passed along the main street (Argyle Street), until it was re-routed in 1976. The town’s business centre still has several Victorian and Art Deco shopfronts.
Some charming Federation and Californian bungalows in the church ridge-top precinct were the homes of the Camden elite in the early 20th century. The precinct is the site of Macarthur Park (1905), which was dedicated to the townsfolk by Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow and contained the town’s World War One cenotaph (donated by the Macarthur family).
John Street heritage precinct
John Street runs north-south downhill to the floodplain from the commanding position of St John’s church. Lower John Street is the location of the Italianate house Macaria (c1842), St Paul’s Catholic church and the government buildings associated with the Camden police barracks (1878) and courthouse (1857), and Camden Public School (1851). This area also contains the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in the town area, Bransby’s Cottage (1842). Lower John Street has the Camden Temperance Hall (1867), which later served as Camden Fire Station (1916–1993), and the School of Arts (1866), which served as the Camden Town Hall, while the rear of the building was occupied for a time by Camden Municipal Council.
Community voluntary organisations have been part of Camden’s life from the town’s foundation. In the late 1800s, they were male-dominated, usually led by the landed gentry, and held informal political power through patronage. James Macarthur sponsored the Camden School of Arts (1865) and Agricultural, Horticultural & Industrial Society (1886), later called the Camden Show Society, while the non-conformists sponsored various lodges and the temperance movement. A small clique of well-off local women established several conservative women’s organisations after Federation. Their social position supported their husbands’ political activities, and the influence of the Macarthur family was felt in these organisations, for example, the Camden Red Cross and Country Women’s Association.
Many men and women from Camden and the district saw military service in the Boer War and later World War One and Two when residents set up local branches of national patriotic funds and civil defence organisations. On the outskirts of the town, there were active defence establishments during World War II, including an airbase, army infantry, and training camps.
Economic prosperity from coal mining in the district’s western part challenged old hierarchies in the postwar years, replacing the old colonially-based rural hegemony. New community organisations like Rotary and later the Chamber of Commerce fostered business networks in the town. The Camden Historical Society (1957) promoted the town’s past and later opened a local museum (1970).
The New South Wales state government decreed that the town would become part of a growth area in the form of ‘new cities’ under the Macarthur Growth Centre Plan (1973), modelled on the British Garden City concept. Increasing urbanisation threatened the town’s identity and the number of community members formed by the Camden Residents’ Action Group (1973).
In 2007 Camden was the administrative centre of the Camden Local Government Area, which had a population of over 51,000 (2006) and an area of 201 square kilometres. The Camden LGA became part of the state government’s Sydney South West Growth Centre, planned to house 500,000 new residents, and is one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas.
Wave of nostalgia
Increasing levels of Sydney’s urbanisation have continued, threatened the loss of rural landscapes around the town, and awakened a wave of nostalgia. The NSW state government created the Camden Town Conservation Area (2008) based on the mid-20th century country town that aimed at preserving the town’s integrity and material fabric.
The Oran Park library has a number of public artworks that commemorate the former Oran Park motorway that was on the site. These wonderful public art installations celebrate the memories of the Oran Park Raceway which closed in 2010.
The commissioning of the artworks was a collaboration between Guppy Art Management & Camden Council.
Moto Caelifera Eclectica by James Corbett
James Corbett describes himself as a car part sculptor and is based in Brisbane, Queensland.
James Corbett created these works in 2018 and he describes this installation as a ‘challenging commission’ on his blog. He writes
to create two large racing grasshoppers in double quick time for the new Oran Park library near Camden in western Sydney. This used to be a rural area, but was known to me since I was a child for just one reason. It had a car racing track. All the big names raced there, and I used to rabidly read all about their exploits in my eagerly awaited, latest copy of ‘Racing Car News.’ I couldn’t get enough of that stuff when I was twelve years old.
The track is gone and the pastures are disappearing under houses, but there are still just enough paddocks of dry yellow grass about to give a feel for the history of the district. I wanted to pay tribute to both, that soon to be gone rural feel, and the rich racing history. Those dry grassy areas make me think of grasshoppers, flies, locusts and Hereford cattle. And Insects seem sort of mechanical, and built for a purpose. Form following function, like racing cars. Well the ones I like anyway.
Corbett created two works as part of the installation. He calls one ‘The Green Kawasaki Grasshopper’ and it is attached to the wall. In constructing the works he writes
The Formula cars of the era had riveted aluminium sheet chassis, and I wanted to reflect that. Hence the riveted abdomens. I wanted them to look like they could work like machines. I cut up a yellow Hyundai and found a green I liked on a Daihatsu. When I found a Kawasaki engine for the green one, it had to be given the late Greg Handsford’s race number 2.
The second hanging artwork Corbett calls ‘Beechy Grasshopper’ and it has a 4.8-metre wingspan with wings made of ‘glass car windows’. More information about the installation can be found on Corbett’s website.
Freya Jobbins is a Sydney-based contemporary Australian multidisciplinary artist based whose art practice includes assemblage, installation, video, collage and printmaking.
Speedster by Justin Sayarath
Sydney-based artist Justin Sayarath has a number of installations around the metropolitan area where he ‘combines both his technical skill of visual arts and graphic design to create and collaborate in the public and commercial domains’.
Camden Country Quilters Guild Cowpastures Heritage Quilt
Hanging on the wall in the Camden Library is a quilt, but no ordinary quilt. It is a hand-made quilt that had previously hung in the foyer of the Camden Civic Centre for many years. The quilt celebrated the Cowpastures Bicentenary (1995) and was made by members of the Camden Country Quilters Guild.
The Cowpastures Quilt is a fascinating historical document and artefact and tells an interesting story of the district.
The Cowpastures Review stated:
The Cowpastures Heritage Quilt, which is featured on the front page, is unique. It is a product of the Camden Country Quilters Guild. It was unveiled by His Excellency, The Governor of New South Wales, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair on the 19th of February 1995, as part of the opening of the Cowpastures Bicentennial. It was given by the Guild to the Camden Council, which has it displayed in the Camden Civic Centre.
The Cowpastures Bicentennial Committee created postcards and notepaper featuring the quilt that was sold at Gledswood Homestead and the Camden Library.
Quilts were practical items with social value
Quilts have sentimental or commemorative value and are examples of needlework skills and techniques, and the use of specific fabrics used in their designs.
As a technique, quilting has been used for a diverse range of objects, from clothing to intricate objects such as pincushions. Along with patchwork, quilting is most often associated with its use for bedding.
Quilting first appeared in England in the 13th century, reached a peak in the 17th century and can be traced back to 3000BCE. The word quilt means a ‘bolster or cushion’.
According to the V&A museum, a quilt is usually a bedcover of two layers of fabric with padding or wadding in between held together by lines of stitching based on a pattern or design. Very fine decorative quilts often become family heirlooms and are passed down through generations. In a domestic situation, women made quilts to celebrate ‘life occasions’ like births and weddings.
The V&A states that quilts are often quite large and associated with social events where people share the sewing. In North America quilting was a popular craft amongst Dutch and English settlers and quilts were made as part of marriage dowry for a young woman.
Quilting is often associated with patchwork where the quilt was made of scraps of fabric or ‘extending the life of working clothing’.
The textile is called the Rajah Quilt and was organised as part of the scheme organised by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry’s British Ladies Society for promoting the reformation of female prisoners. The quilt is made up of over 2000 pieces of fabric and it has been described as
a patchwork and appliquéd bed cover or coverlet. It is in pieced medallion or framed style: a popular design style for quilts in the British Isles in the mid 1800’s. There is a central field of white cotton decorated with appliquéd (in broderie perse) chintz birds and floral motifs. This central field is framed by 12 bands or strips of patchwork printed cotton. The quilt is finished at the outer edge by white cotton decorated with appliquéd daisies on three sides and inscription in cross stitch surrounded by floral chintz attached with broderie perse on the fourth…
On the Rajah’s arrival in Hobart, the quilt was presented to the governor’s wife Lady Jane Franklin by the 29 women who sewed it on the voyage to Van Dieman’s Land. Lady Franklin sent the quilt back to England to Elizabeth Fry and then it was lost. It was rediscovered in a Scottish attic and returned to Australia in 1989 and placed in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
The quilt’s story is one of hope at a time of despair and disempowerment from a group of women hidden in the shadows of history. A type of radical history.
Cowpastures Quilt tells a story
Quilts often told a story and in the V&A collection, there are a number of significant quilts telling Biblical stories, scenes from world events and the 1851 Great Exhibition.
The Cowpasture Quilt tells the story of the Cowpastures on its Bicentenary. The story was represented in the different panels in the quilt created by the Guild members who were part of the project. The quilt’s construction was a community effort and each sewer has their name sewn into the quilt.
The significance of the individual panels in the quilt was explained by the Cowpastures Review and it stated:
The central pane – the discovery of the Hottentot cow. The left pane – The Aboriginal influence, mining, the map of the ‘Cow Pastures’, representing flora and fauna and the Stonequarry Bridge at Picton. The right panel – St John’s Church, John and Elizabeth Macarthur, Camden Park Estates, Belgenny Farm, Gledswood Homestead and merino sheep and vineyards. The bottom panel – John Street, Camden, including ‘Macaria’ and representations of horticulture venture in the area. Not visible in the photograph in the names of the ‘quilters’ and some surprise ‘first family’ names.
According to the V&A quilting fell into decline in the early 20th century under the influence of modernism. It found a revival in the 1960s as part of the hippie culture and the art community and is firmly part of the art space.
Quilts’ inherent associations with warmth, nostalgia, and community make them particularly appealing now, in the midst of the pandemic and widespread division and inequity. Perhaps this fraught reality can account for, at least in part, why contemporary artists are drawn to quilting as a means to express themselves. The tactility of quilted fabric inevitability conjures domesticity, and every stitch—every precisely placed patchwork—brings us back to that feeling of the comfort and safety of home
Davis-Marks writes that contemporary American artists are engaging with the craft of quilting and building on the ‘enduring and complex history of quiltmaking’. In the US context quilting was practised by slaves, Indigenous Americans and other marginalised peoples as a form of expression and craftwork for the everyday.
Davis-Marks writes that the ancient craft of quiltmaking has resonance for contemporary artists in the age of social media and illustrates a broader appeal of working with traditional mediums of textiles, ceramics, knitting and other crafts.
In a January 2020 article for Artsy, writer and curator Glenn Adamson reflected “At a time when our collective attention is dangerously adrift,” Adamson wrote, “trapped in the freefall of our social-media feeds and snared in a pit of fake facts, handwork provides a firm anchor. It cannot be spun. It gives us something to believe in.”
Artists are using quilts as a lens to look into the dark history of the past. Sometimes these are called ‘story quilts’ where they tell a story in a narrative and figures. Artist Faith Ringgold‘s work often explores notions of ‘community and ancestry’ and said that she bonded through the experience of jointly sewing quilts with her mother.
The Cowpastures Quilt is a ‘story quilt’ and tells the story of our past as part of a settler society and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. The quilt uses figures and narrative to examine the past through the lens of the women who constructed the quilt in 1995. More than this the Cowpasture quilt is a public statement and an affirmation of community through the collective efforts of local women who undertook the sewing project. The collaborative efforts of the Camden Quilters created a significant piece of public art and a narrative statement of who we are through the use of history.
Updated 26 August 2022; originally posted 16 August 2022
I was walking through the Narellan Library Elyard Street Plaza recently and noticed a Cowpastures Monument.
On investigation, I have found that the artwork was jointly commissioned in 2006 by Camden Council and Narellan Rotary Club.
The artwork is called Cowpasture Story and was created by Blue Mountains artists and sculptors Philippa Johnson and Henryk Topolnicki from Art Is An Option. The artist’s website describes the artwork as ‘Sculptural Mobiles & Screen’.
Artist Philippa Johnson trained at the East Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney and describes herself as an installation artist, sculptor and painter. Sculptor and artist Henryk Topolnicki are described as ‘a sculptor, furniture maker and public artist who works principally in metals’.
The artwork is a series of leaves forming an arch over the path that leads to the front of the Narellan Library. The leaves have a variety of figures representing the settlement of the Cowpastures in early colonial New South Wales. There are depictions of the settler society with cows, settler housing and farms.
The artworks were part of the 2006 Narellan Library development that was designed by Sydney architect GSA, and built by Richard Crookes Construction with art consultants Guppy & Associates.
On the rear of the artwork panels, there are stories about the Cowpastures and the history of the Narellan Rotary Club.
The story is located on the back of one of the panels.
A Brief History of the Cowpastures and its importance to the Narellan/Camden Area
The history of the Cowpastures shows the importance to this area of the straying colonial cattle as their discovery led to the early surveying and settlement of the area by the Macarthurs and other colonial landholders. The Cowpastures was ‘discovered’ in 1795, just 7 years after the foundation of the colony.
The Narellan/Camden area was penetrated by white men as far back as 1795. The loss of the early colony’s cattle forms part of the history of New South Wales. These beasts that strayed from Farm Cover led to the discovery and settlement of the Narellan/Camden area. Seven years elapsed after the report of the loss of the cattle before rumours came to Sydney Cove’s settlement of the whereabouts of the missing stock. Governor Hunter dispatched a party under Henry Hacking to confirm or deny the reports of the rumoured cattle.
The results of this party’s investigation so impressed Governor Hunter that he determined to visit the locality to see the cattle and country for himself. With a small party he left Parramatta on the 18th November 1795. After travelling a few days they crossed the Nepean River at a spot where the Camden Cowpasture Bridge now stands and there came across this fine herd.
The name ‘Cowpastures’ by which the locality became known is due to Governor Hunter, for he marked it on a map drawn by himself and dated the 20th August 1796.
In 1802 explorer Barallier journeyed through the area noting the country the cattle had settled in and on the 7th November 1802 passed a swamp called ‘Manhangle’ by the aboriginals. It was this locality that John Macarthur selected land for his future home and for rearing sheep.
In December 1803 Governor King and Mrs King visited the Cowpastures and viewed the straying cattle. The governor instructed that the cattle were to be preserved after attempts were made to cull some of the wild bulls. To bring about the preservation of the cattle a hut was built at Elderslie near the ford of the Nepean River on the southern side. This was the first house in the district and was officially feferred [sic] to as ‘Cowpastures House’. Constables Warby and Jackson were installed there making this not only the first house, but the first police station in the Macarthur District.
Several of the colonial gentry took excursions to see the country so attractive to the cattle and this lead them to acquire property and settle in the area.
The track to the Cowpastures led from Prospect. On the 17th September 1805 James Meehan, under the instruction from the Governor, surveyed the track from Prospect to the Nepean Crossing and a rough road followed. This became the Cowpasture Road, some of which formed part of the old Hume Highway to Camden.
What is Rotary?
Brief History of the Rotary Club of Narellan Inc.
The Rotary Club of Narellan Inc in District 9750, was chartered on the 27th October 1992.
This enabled local business and professional leaders to join a worldwide service organisation to provide social, financial and physical support to the local and international community.
The Rotary Club of Narellan focuses on the Four Avenues of Service in Club, Community, Vocational and International Service and gained recognition within the community as an excellent service club. It has been involved in fundraising for charitable organisations, support of local youth in educational and development program, fostering high ethical standards in business and professions and supporting other charitable organisations.
In fundraising the club raised in excess of $1,000,000 for charities, medical research (in particular Rett Syndrome), international programs and local causes such as Lifeline, Kids of Macarthur Health Foundation and the Salvation Army.
Rotary International has been responsible for the eradication of Polio through a worldwide campaign to which the club has been a major contributor. The Rotary Foundation supports vocational visits between countries and scholars throughout the world, of which the club has regularly hosted.
Hidden out of the way in the back streets of Mount Annan is a memorial to Governor Hunter.
This memorial is located in the reserve called Governors Green in Baragil Mews, Mount Annan.
This is another hidden, and largely forgotten, memorial to the Cowpastures in the local area.
There is a bronze statue of Governor Hunter is at the centre of a circular colonnade with artworks celebrating the Cowpastures.
The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons (1942-2018) in 1995 to construct the work.
Governor Hunter and the Cow Pastures
The story of the Cowpastures begins in 1787 with the First Fleet and HMS Sirius which collected 4 cows and 2 bulls at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to New South Wales. After their arrival in the new colony, the stock escapes within 5 months of being landed and disappears.
In 1795 the story of the cattle is told to a convict hunter by an Aboriginal, who then tells an officer and informs Governor Hunter. Hunter sends Henry Hacking, an old seaman, to check out the story. After confirmation Governor John Hunter and Captain Waterhouse, George Bass and David Collins head off from Parramatta, crossing the Nepean River on 17 November 1795. They find good farming land covered with good pasture and lagoons with birds. After climbing a hill (Mt Taurus) they spotted the cattle and named the Cowpastures.
Governor John Hunter marked area on maps ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in the region of Menangle and elsewhere on maps south of Nepean. The breed was the Cape cattle from the First Fleet and the district was declared out of bounds to all by 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.
British colonialism and a settler society
Governor Hunter was part of the settler society project and the country’s dispossession of First Nations people. Hunter was a representative of British imperialism and how it implemented its policies on the colonial frontier of New South Wales.
The Cowpastures was a site of frontier violence and the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous land in the early 19th century.
Governor Hunter Statue
Plaques below the Governor Hunter statue
Governor’s Green Heritage Park was presented to the people of Camden by AV Jennings and was officially opened by the Mayor of Camden Councillor FH Brooking on the 6th April 1995 in celebration of the centenary year of the discovery of the herd in 1795 at Cowpastures Camden.
Camden Mayor Frank Brooking
Frank Brooking served as Camden mayor from 1993 to 1997. Mr Brooking was a motor dealer whose business was located on the corner of Cawdor Road and Murray Streets and sold Morris and Volkswagon brands. Frank was a community-minded person who volunteered for the Rural Fire Service, Camden Rotary Club, Camden Show Society, Camden Area Youth Service and other organisations. He died in 2013 aged 74.
Plaque Governor Hunter statue
Governor John Hunter (1737-1821), Governor of New South Wales September 1795 – November 1799.
‘On the evening of my arrival…, I was directed to the place where the herd was feeding,… we ascended a hill, from which we observed an herd…feeding in a beautiful pasture in the valley I was now anxious to ascertain of what breed they were, whether natives… or the descendants of those we had so long lost, but in this attempt we were disappointed by being discovered and attached most furiously by a large and very fierce bull, which rendered it necessary for our own safety, to fire at him. Such as his violence and strength, that six balls were fired through, before any person dared approach him. I was now satisfied that they were the Cape of Good Hope breed…. offspring of these we had lost in 1788, at this time we counted sixty-one in number, young and old. They have chosen a beautiful part of the country to graze in…
Historical Records of Australia, Governor Hunter to the Duke of Portland, 21st December 1795.
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