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Cultural and heritage tourism adds $6.4 million a year to the local economy  

Camden Museum and Alan Baker Art Gallery add over $1.7 million annually

New research shows that cultural and heritage tourism is worth around $6.4 million per year to the Camden LGA.

The story of the Camden-Campbelltown train, the locomotive affectionately known as Pansy, generates a considerable amount of nostalgia amongst day-trippers and other visitors to the Camden LGA. The railway engineering heritage still visible across the former train route includes this bridge, railway cuttings and other engineering works. This image shows the train approaching crossing the Nepean River railway bridge in 1910. (SLNSW)

This figure is drawn from data sourced from Destination NSW (2018), which states that the average daily spend of a day tripper was $140 per day. The proportion of day-trippers that constitute cultural and heritage visitors is 9% of all day-tripper visitors.

According to .idCommunity (2023) demographic resources, in 2020-2021, there were 509,000 day-trippers to the Camden LGA per year. Cultural and heritage visitors comprise around 45,000 day-trippers of the total number of day-tripper visitors annually. These day-trippers are worth $6.4 million to the Camden economy.

Within these figures, the volunteer-run Camden Museum is one of the most prominent destinations with around 6000 day-tripper visitors per year, worth around $840,000 to the local economy each year. The Alan Baker Art Gallery has about 6500 day-tripper visitors annually, worth around $910,000 to the local economy annually.

The Alan Baker Art Gallery is located in the former gentleman’s townhouse of Macaria, which is a valuable part of the built heritage of the Camden Heritage Conservation Area. This gallery and the building form part of the John Street heritage precinct, which includes the former police barracks, courthouse and Sarah Tiffan’s cottage and the former CBC Bank. (ABAG, 2023)

What is cultural and heritage tourism?

 Destination NSW (2019) defines cultural and heritage tourism as:

Ted Silberberg explains cultural and heritage tourism as ‘a tool of economic development that achieves economic growth through attracting visitors from outside a host community, who are motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical, artistic, scientific or lifestyle/heritage offerings of a community, region, group or institution’

Source: Cultural Tourism and Business Opportunities for Museums and Heritage sites, Tourism Management, Ted Silberberg, 1995.
St John’s Church and Cemetery is one of the most important cultural and heritage sites in the Camden LGA. Dating from the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family of Camden Park, the church dominates the town and the Nepean River floodplain from its ridge-top location. The church is visible from many points around the area. The vistas from Camden Park House and Garden are an integral part of the Cowpastures story and the gentry estates that dominated the area until the town was settled in the 1840s. The church is critical in the area’s sense of place and community identity. (I Willis, 2021)

How important is cultural and heritage tourism?

Destination NSW (2019) quotes research from Tourism Australia that

 ‘rich history and heritage’ was the 4th most important factor for the Domestic market when choosing a holiday destination, and 6th most important for the International market.  

Source: Consumer Demand Project, Tourism Australia, 2018

According to the National Trust of Australia (2018):

Globally, heritage tourism has become one of the largest and fastest growing tourism sectors, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimating that more than 50%[1] of tourists worldwide are now motivated by a desire to experience a country’s culture and heritage[2]

Of all international visitors to Australia in 2017, 43% participated in a cultural activity and 33.9% in a heritage activity. Cultural and heritage segments have grown at 7.5% and 11.2% respectively over the past four years.

Source: 1. Tourism Research Australia, IVS YE September 2017. 2. United Nations World Trade Organisation, 2016 Annual Report

Cultural and Heritage Tourism in Camden

The Camden township is a site rich in heritage and history and a visitor destination with huge potential.

The Camden LGA is an active participant in cultural and heritage tourism with a host of visitor attractions in the and is outlined in the Macarthur Visitors Guide (MVG 2020). The guide is complemented by the Camden Heritage Walking Tour guide (CHWT 2023), the Camden Scenic Drive (CSD 2020) and the Visit Camden Official Visitor Guide (CVIC 2022).

Camden Council is responsible for the most critical cultural and heritage tourism planning instrument. The Camden Heritage Conservation Area, Argyle Street, and John Street precincts are within it. (DCP 2019) The DCP (2019) outlines the conservation area’s character elements, objectives and controls.

Camden Council (2023) provides valuable information on its Heritage Planning webpage and lists all the local heritage items on the local and state heritage inventory (CC 2020).

Storytelling

Within cultural and heritage tourism, storytelling is an essential feature of the visitor experience.

Oliver Serrat (2008) defines storytelling as

The vivid description of ideas, beliefs, personal experiences, and life-lessons through stories or narratives that evoke powerful emotions and insights.

https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/27637/storytelling.pdf

The National Trust of Australia (2018) maintains that storytelling is a new global trend and

found that what encourages a visitor to a certain destination is its ability to engage in unforgettable and truly inspiring experiences that touch visitors in an emotional way and connects them with special places, people and cultures.

Source:  Tropical Tablelands Tourism, Hero Experiences Guidebook (2015)

Camden storyteller Ian Willis (2023a) has written extensively about the local history of the Camden area, with an outstanding example being the Camden History Notes blog. He has published many other articles and stories in newspapers, newsletters, journals and books (2023b).

The outstanding storytelling organisation in the Camden LGA is the Camden Historical Society (CHS 2023a). The society’s activities include the biannual journal Camden History (CHS 2023b), monthly public lectures, and numerous book publications. (CHS 2023c). The Camden Museum archives provide much raw material for local storytelling. (CHS 2023d)

The Camden Museum Library building is one of the many cultural and heritage tourism sites in the Camden LGA. The archives of the Camden Museum provide much of the raw material for Camden storytelling. The museum holds many artefacts that add to local stories and provide a rich experience for museum visitors. The Camden Library occupies the building in John Street Camden and has a rich collection of local interviews and stories on its website. The building is home to the Camden Area Family History Society and its archives. The Camden Museum Library building is part of the rich built heritage of the John Street precinct and is an example of adaptive reuse. (I Willis, 2008)

The Camden Area Family History Society (CAFHS 2023) is a crucial storytelling organisation which draws on raw material from extensive archives and keen volunteer members.

The Back Then feature of The District Reporter provides the most popular storytelling platforms. Here local storytellers include Ian Willis (2023c), John Wrigley, Julie Wrigley and others who tell interesting and exciting local stories about the past in each issue.

The Back Then section of The District Reporter 18 November 2022.

References

CAFHS 2023, Camden Area Family History Society. CAFHS. https://www.cafhs.org.au/

CC 2019, Camden Development Control Plan 2019. Camden Council. https://dcp.camden.nsw.gov.au/

CC 2020, Local and State Heritage Items listed under: State Environment Planning Policy (Sydney Regions Growth Centres)2006, & Camden Local Environment Plan 2010. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/pdfs/Planning/Heritage-Conservation/Heritage-Items-List-September-2020-v1.pdf

CC 2023, Heritage Planning. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/strategic-planning/heritage-planning/

CHS 2023a, Camden History. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/index.html

CHS 2023b, Camden History, the journal of the Camden Historical Society. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/chsjournal.html

CHS 2023c, Publications For Sale At The Camden Museum. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/Publications%20for%20Sale%20%2022.5.2018.pdf

CHS 2023d, Camden Museum Archive Catalogue by Category. Camden Historical Society. http://www.camdenhistory.org.au/LibraryJune2008.pdf

CHWT 2023, Camden Heritage Walking Tour. Pamphlet. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/Uploads/Camden-Heritage-Walking-Tour-2023.pdf

CSD 2020, Camden Scenic Drive. Pamphlet. Camden Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/Tourism/Camden-Scenic-Drive.pdf

DCP 2019, 2.16.4 Camden Heritage Conservation Area. Camden Council. https://dcp.camden.nsw.gov.au/general-land-use-controls/environmental-heritage/camden-heritage-conservation-area/

Destination NSW 2019, Cultural and Heritage Tourism in NSW, Year Ended December 2018. NSW Government, Sydney. https://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/cultural-and-heritage-tourism-to-nsw-snapshot-ye-de-2018.pdf

Ian Willis 2023a, Camden History Notes, Some Stories of Place. Camden History Notes. https://camdenhistorynotes.com/

Ian Willis 2023b, Ian Willis Historian. Author. https://ianwillis.wordpress.com/

Ian Willis 2023c, Newspaper Articles. Academia.com.  https://independent.academia.edu/IanWillis/Newspaper-Articles

idCommunity 2023, Camden Council area, Tourism visitor summary. Camden Council. https://economy.id.com.au/camden/tourism-visitor-summary

MVG 2020, Macarthur Visitors Guide, Camden & Campbelltown. Camden Council & Campbelltown City Council. https://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/Tourism/Macarthur-Visitors-Guide-2020.pdf

NTA 2018, Next Steps: Australian Heritage Tourism Directions Paper. National Trust, June. https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Australian-Heritage-Tourism-Directions-paper-.pdf

Olivier Serrat 2008, Storytelling. Knowledge Solutions. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/27637/storytelling.pdf

The District Reporter. https://www.tdr.com.au/

Tourism Research Australia 2020, Regional NSW Visitor Profile, Year Ending June 2019. Destination NSW. https://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/travel-to-regional-nsw-snapshot-jun-2019.pdf

CVIC 2022, Visit Camden Official Visitor Guide. Camden Visitor Information Centre, Elderslie.

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Public art at Campbelltown brightens up the Queen Street precinct

Murals brighten up dull spaces around town

Keep your eyes open in central Campbelltown for inspiring public art installations that brighten up dull spaces around the town.

The Campbelltown Arts Centre, in conjunction with Campbelltown City Council and the NSW Government, have a program to re-invigorate the city centre using public art.

A screenshot of the public art webpage on the website of the Campbelltown Arts Centre. Each of the seven public art projects has a dedicated webpage with detailed descriptions of the artworks, what the artist was trying to achieve and the installation specifications. (CAC, 2023)

Public art positively affects the community and people’s self-esteem, self-confidence and well-being. Campbelltown Arts Centre has created a public art website to assist people in this process and shows several murals around the Queens Street precinct.

This blog has promoted the benefits of public art in and around the Macarthur region for some time now. There are lots of interesting public artworks around the area that are hidden in plain sight. This blog has highlighted the artworks and other artefacts, memorials and monuments that promote the Cowpastures region.

An exciting local example is the Campbelltown Campus of Western Sydney University is a vibrant sculpture space.

The public art program of the Campbelltown Arts Centre and Campbelltown City Council is creative, innovative and inspirational. It is playful yet takes a serious approach to a contemporary problem, urban blight.

Urban blight hits a once-vibrant retail precinct

Campbelltown’s urban blight originates in the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan and the creation of the Macarthur Growth Centre.

The cover of the New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan (State Planning Authority of NSW, 1973)

These urban planning decisions came from the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan of the NSW Askin Coalition Government.

Sydney-based planning decision created tensions between Campbelltown City Council and the Macarthur Development Board around what constituted the city centre. The Queen Street precinct, supported by the council, gradually declined in importance as a retail area as newer facilities opened up.

Queen Street could not compete with the new shopping mall Macarthur Square opened in 1979 by the Hon. Paul Landa, Minister for Planning and Environment in the Wran Labor Government.

High-value-added retailing deserted the Queen Street precinct and became populated by $2-shops and op-shops.

Campbelltown’s sense of place and community identity has taken a battering in the following decades.

Reinvigoration of the Queen Street precinct

The public art program at the Campbelltown Arts Centre is trying to ameliorate the problems of the past through community engagement in art installations.

In 2022 Mayor George Griess said

The murals would enhance the local streetscape and make the area more welcoming to residents and visitors.

“The first mural is located at one of the entrances to the CBD and will add a new element to our public domain,” Cr Greiss said.

“It’s important that works to the Queen Street precinct enhance the current amenity to build pride among residents and make the area more attractive to people visiting our city,” he said.

https://www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au/News/CBDmurals

The mayor referred to an art installation created by Campbelltown street artist Danielle Mate ‘Raw Doings’ in Carberry Lane. The Arts Centre website states:

This vibrant and bold artwork comprises many shades of blue and purple, and is inspired by aerial views of Country and the Australian landscape.  

https://c-a-c.com.au/raw-undoings/

The mural ‘Raw Doings’ by street artists Danielle Mate was commissioned by Campbelltown City Council in 2022 (Document Photography/CAC 2022)

 In 2022 the Campbeltown City Council commissioned ‘Breathing Life / Bula ni Cegu / Paghinga ng Buhay’ by artists and designers Victoria Garcia and Bayvick Lawrance.

The Arts Centre website states:

 ‘Breathing Life’ is a celebration of Campbelltown’s thriving Pacific community, and the extensive connections between people, plants, animals and all living things.

https://c-a-c.com.au/breathing-life/

The mural ‘Breathing Life’ by artists Victoria Garcia and Bayvick Lawrance in 2022 and was commissioned by Campbelltown City Council (Document Photography/CAC 2022)

In 2012 Campbelltown City Council commissioned a mural board across the bus shelters at Campbelltown Railway Station supervised by Blak Douglas in Lithgow Street called ‘The Standout’. The art installation is the work of 28 artists across 70 panels with a full length of 175 metres.

The Arts Centre website states:

The Standout pays homage to the Dharawal Dreamtime Story of the ‘Seven Eucalypts’, and Douglas’ previous photographic series of deceased gums standing alone within landscapes and casting shadows within urban facades.

https://c-a-c.com.au/the-standout-by-blak-douglas/

The ‘Stand Out’ mural by Blak Douglas is located in Lithgow Street Campbelltown along the bus shelters outside Campbelltown Railway Station. The work was commissioned by Campbelltown City Council in 2012. (Black Douglas/CAC 2012)

The public art installation ‘Three Mobs’ by Chinese-Aboriginal artist Jason Wing was commissioned by Campbelltown City Council in 2022. The mural is located on Dumersq Street and Queen Street, the south side of the 7Eleven wall, and features a rainbow serpent as an intersection of cultures.

The Arts Centre public art website states:

Aboriginal culture reveres the rainbow serpent as the creator of all things on Earth. Chinese culture understands serpents to be a symbol for luck and abundance, and a highly desired zodiac sign.  

https://c-a-c.com.au/three-mobs/
Three Mobs mural by artist Jason Wing in 2022 commissioned by Campbelltown City Council (Document Photography 2022)

So what is public art?

Camden Council defines public art as:

Defined as any artistic work or activity designed and created by professional arts practitioners for the public domain, Public Art may be of a temporary or permanent nature and located in or part of a public open space, building or facility, including façade elements provided by either the public or private sector (not including memorials or plaques).

Public art can….

  • make art an everyday experience for residents and visitors
  • take many forms in many different materials and styles, such as lighting, sculpture, performance and artwork
  • be free-standing work or integrated into the fabric of buildings, streetscapes and outdoor spaces
  • draw its meaning from or add to the meaning of a particular site or place.
https://yourvoice.camden.nsw.gov.au/public-art-strategy

Why does public art matter?

On the website Americans for the Arts (2021) it states:

Public art humanizes the built environment and invigorates public spaces. It provides an intersection between past, present and future, between disciplines, and between ideas.

https://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/PublicArtNetwork_GreenPaper.pdf

The paper maintains that public art has the potential to reinvigorate public spaces and add to their vibrancy. It states:

Throughout history, public art can be an essential element when a municipality wishes to progress economically and to be viable to its current and prospective citizens. Data strongly indicates that cities with an active and dynamic cultural scene are more attractive to individuals and business.

https://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/PublicArtNetwork_GreenPaper.pdf
The statue of Elizabeth Macquarie by artist Tom Bass in Mawson Park in the Campbelltown CBD on Queen Street. The statue was commissioned by Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society in 2006 and cost $75,000. (Wikimedia)

What is the purpose of public art?

The Association for Public Art (2023) website says:

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.

associationforpublicart.org/what-is-public-art/

Public art can be found in the most unusual places. In this case, this is a statue of a boy at Emerald Hills Shopping Centre Leppington. The statue memorialises the St Andrews Boys Home that once was located on the Emerald Hills land release site. (I Willis 2021)

To continue the story of Campbelltown, this is an excellent overview by local author Jeff McGill with many fascinating images of past and present times. (Kingsclear Publication, 2017)

Updated 17 May 2023. Originally posted on 16 May 2023 as ‘Public art at Campbellton brightens up a dull space’.

https://doi.org/10.17613/546c-t984

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The Camden Story: the historiography of the history of the country town of Camden NSW

Journal Article Review

‘Making Camden History: local history and untold stories in a small community’. ISAA Review, Journal of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. Special Edition, Historiography. Volume 19, Number 1, 2023, pp. 23-38.

The history of telling the story of a small community has been interpreted in different ways at different times in the past by different historians.

This area of study is called the historiography.

This is an aerial image of the country town of Camden in the 1940s with St John’s Church on the ridge overlooking the town and the Nepean River floodplain. The Macarthur family-funded church is the community’s soul and was constructed shortly after the private town was established by the Macarthur family at the river crossing into Camden Park Estate. (Camden Images)

I have recently published an article on the historiography of the small country town of Camden, NSW.

The Camden township is located 65 kilometres southwest of the Sydney CBD and, in recent years, has been absorbed by Sydney’s urban growth.

The main streets are a mix of Victorian, Edwardian and interwar architecture comprising commercial, government and domestic buildings.

The town site was originally the entry point into what became Governor King’s Cowpasture Reserve at the Nepean River crossing, part of the lands of the Dharawal people, which then called Benkennie.

Jill Wheeler argues that while local histories are embedded in a long storytelling tradition, new understandings inform our interpretation in a contemporary context.

The historiography of the history of a small country town demonstrates the shifting nature of storytelling and how different actors interpret the past.

This article seeks to examine some of what Wheeler calls ‘the other’ by looking beyond the conventional history of Camden as found in newspapers, journals, monuments, celebrations, commemorations and other places.

I have written an article about the making of the history of Camden NSW to illustrate and explore these issues.

Click here to learn more

This is the cover of my Pictorial History Camden & District, which tells the Camden story in words and pictures. The book is a brief account of the main events, characters and institutions that were part of the Camden township from its foundation to the present, as well as the Indigenous story in pre-European times and the foundation of the Cowpastures Reserve.
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Elderslie land releases 2000-2023, the background and fancy estate names

Elderslie part of Sydney’s strategic growth

The Elderslie area has been identified in Sydney’s strategic growth plans for land releases on the metropolitan rural-urban fringe. It is a valuable exercise to see how and when Elderslie was identified as part of Sydney’s planning framework.

Elderslie was not part of the NSW Government’s first attempt at town planning with the 1948 County of Cumberland Planning Scheme. A greenbelt surrounded the metropolitan area, and Elderslie was beyond it and not destined for the development. The scheme was prescriptive and met with significant opposition, including local government and the development industry, and the scheme was dissolved in 1963.

The County of Cumberland Planning Scheme flyer 1948 (City of Syd Archives)

The Elderslie area was included in the next planning iteration with the Askin Government’s 1968 Sydney region: Outline plan 1970-2000 A.D.: a strategy for development. This plan led to the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Structure Plan and the Commonwealth Government’s Macarthur Growth Centre. This plan offered flexibility and changes and turned into a developer’s dream. Sydney’s urban sprawl continued to spread, and nothing much eventuated at Elderslie. (Ashton & Freestone 2008)

The first hint of real change at Elderslie occurred with the third strategic plan: the 1988 Sydney into its third century: a metropolitan strategy for the Sydney region. This plan envisaged that Sydney’s growth would be contained in newly developing areas along the transport routes: Northwest, Southwest, Bringelly and Central Coast, with higher densities to consolidate Sydney’s growth. (SRANSW 1995) These plans resulted in suburbia encroaching on the boundaries of Elderslie with the development of Mount Annan, Narellan Vale, Harrington Park and surrounding suburbs.

Air pollution and water quality issues in the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment further postponed the rezoning of land in the Elderslie area beyond 1990. (BBC Consulting) Meanwhile, another new metropolitan plan appeared in 1995, Cities for the 21st Century.

The Elderslie Urban Release Area was identified by the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning in 1995 under the 1980 Urban Development Program managed by the department. (BBC Consulting 1998) At the time, the department was looking for opportunities to drive Sydney’s urban growth (SRANSW 1995) and the identification and coordination of new residential land. (BBC Consulting 1998)  The Elderslie Release Area consisted of 180 hectares, and it was envisaged that the area might yield 2800 lots, which was revised down to 1700 lots. (BBC Consulting 1998)

Sydney’s strategic planning was further updated with the 1998 Shaping Our Cities. This plan called for higher densities with familiar themes of better integration of land use and transport and promotion of suburban activity centres with a more explicit concern with urban design at a regional scale. (Ashton & Freestone 2008)

In 2000 the state government identified the Elderslie Urban Release Area for redevelopment under  NSW Urban Development Program. The Elderslie area was zoned rural then, with a minimum subdivision of 40 ha. (Godden, Mackay and Logan 2001)

An article from the Camden press about the Elderslie Urban Land Release in 2000 by the NSW Government (The District Reporter, 3 November 2000)

The 180 ha. Elderslie Release Area was developed as part of the Camden Local Environmental Plan No 117 when it was put on public display in 2000 to replace the Camden LEP No 46. The LEP described the desired character of the area in a list of planning controls and was legislated in 2004. (Godden, Mackay and Logan 2001)

Elderslie was within the South West Growth Centre as part of the 2005 City of Cities: a plan for Sydney’s future metropolitan strategy of the state government. The plan reflected familiar urban planning themes of the end of sprawl with a more compact city, higher densities, sub-regional centred, transport integration and urban design. (Ashton & Freestone 2008)

Elderslie land releases

The names given Elderslie land releases range from the commodification of the rural aesthetic of the local area to a  locality name, names of local identities or hints of the historical past.

1999 Elderslie

The Elderslie land release in 1999 (Macarthur Advertiser, 25 August 1999)

2000-2014 Elderslie Masterplan and community meetings

2004-2007 Camden Acres

The cover of the Camden Acres land release in 2004 (Camden Acres)

2005-2014 The Ridges

A flyer from the developer of The Ridges land release in 2006 (The Ridges AV Jennings)

2007-2014  Vantage Point

2008-2009  Camden Hillside

2009  Mount View Estate

2010 Elderslie Estate

2010-2012  Hillcrest

2011-2013  Merino

2012-2013  Camden Heights

2013  Studley Park

2016  Franzman Ave

2017 Lodges Road

2017-2023 Argyle

Screenshot of The Argyle land release in 2023 (The Argyle)

References

BBC Consulting 1998, Elderslie Open Space and Social Plan. Camden Council, Camden.

State Records Authority of NSW 1995, Department of Environment and Planning (1980- 1988) Department of Planning [I](1988-1995). Online at https://researchdata.edu.au/department-environment-planning-i1988-1995/164536 Viewed 18 April 2023.

Ashton, Paul, Freestone, Robert, Planning, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/planning, viewed 18 Apr 2023

Godden, Mackay and Logan 2001, Elderslie Urban Release Area Heritage Assessment. Camden Council, Camden.

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The Camden district, 1840-1973, a field of dreams,

It is hard to imagine now, but in days gone by, the township of Camden was the centre of a large district. The Camden district became the centre of people’s daily lives for over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.

The Camden district was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. All are joined together by a shared cultural identity and cultural heritage based on common traditions, commemorations, celebrations and rituals. These were reinforced by personal contact and family kinship networks. The geographers would call this a functional region.

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)

The Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangle into the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. The southern boundary was the Razorback Ridge and in the north, it faded out at Bringelly and Leppington.

The district grew to about 1200 square kilometres with a population of more than 5000 by the 1930s through farming and mining.  Farming started with cereal cropping and sheep, which turned to dairying and mixed farming by the end of the 19th century. Silver mining started in the late 1890s in the Burragorang Valley, and coal mining from the 1930s.

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

The district was centred on Camden and there were several villages including Cobbitty, Narellan, The Oaks, Oakdale, Yerranderie, Mt Hunter, Orangeville and Bringelly.  The region comprised four local government areas – Camden Municipal Council, Wollondilly Shire Council, the southern end of Nepean Shire and the south-western edge of Campbelltown Municipality.

Cows and more

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

The Europeans turned up in their sailing ships. They brought new technologies, new ideas and new ways of doing things. The First Fleet cows did not think much of their new home in Sydney. They escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous-managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain.

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932

On discovering the cows, an inquisitive Governor Hunter visited the area and called it the Cow Pasture Plains. The Europeans seized the territory, allocated land grants, and displaced the Indigenous occupants.  They created new land in their own vision of the world.  A countryside comprised of large pseudo-English-style estates, an English-style common called The Cowpasture Reserve and English government men to work it called convicts. The foundations of the Camden district were set.

A river

The Nepean River was at the centre of the Cowpastures and the gatekeeper for the wild cattle.  The Nepean River, which has Aboriginal name of Yandha, was named by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 in honour of Evan Nepean, a British politician.

The Nepean River rises in the ancient sandstone country west of the Illawarra Escarpment and Mittagong Range around Robertson. The shallow V-shaped valleys were ideal locations for the Upper Nepean Scheme dams built on the tributaries to the Nepean, the Cordeaux, Avon, and Cataract.

Nepean River Cowpastures

The river’s catchment drains northerly and cuts through deep gorges in the  Douglas Park area. It then emerges out of the sandstone country and onto the floodplain around the village of Menangle. The river continues in a northerly direction downstream to Camden, then Cobbitty, before re-entering the sandstone gorge country around Bents Basin, west of Bringelly.

The river floodplain and the surrounding hills provided ideal conditions for the woodland of ironbarks, grey box, wattles and a groundcover of native grasses and herbs.  The woodland ecology loved the clays of Wianamatta shales that are generally away from the floodplain.

The ever-changing mood of the river has shaped the local landscape.  People forget that the river could be an angry raging flooded torrent, set on a destructive course. Flooding shaped the settlement pattern in the eastern part of the district.

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 river. (Camden Museum)

A village is born

The river ford at the Nepean River crossing provided the location of the new village of Camden established by the Macarthur brothers, James and William. They planned the settlement on their estate of Camden Park in the 1830s and sold the first township lots in 1840. The village became the transport node for the district and developed into the area’s leading commercial and financial centre.

Camden St Johns Vista from Mac Pk 1910 Postcard Camden Images
Vista of St. Johns Church from the Nepean River Floodplain 1910 Postcard (Camden Images)

Rural activity was concentrated on the new village of Camden. There were weekly livestock auctions, the annual agricultural show and the provision of a wide range of services. The town was the centre of law enforcement, health, education, communications and other services.

The voluntary community sector started under the direction of mentor James Macarthur. His family also determined the moral tone of the village by sponsoring local churches and endowing the villagers with parkland.

Camden Mac Park
Camden’s Macarthur Park was endowed to the residents of Camden by Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the early 20th century (I Willis, 2016)

Manufacturing had a presence with a milk factory, a timber mill and a tweed mill on Edward Street that burnt down.   Bakers and general merchants had customers as far away as the  Burragorang Valley, Picton and Leppington, and the town was the publishing centre for weekly newspapers.

Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis
Macarthur Bridge View from Nepean River Floodplain 2015 IWillis

The Hume Highway, formerly the Great South Road, ran through the town from the 1920s and brought the outside forces of modernism, consumerism, motoring, movies and the new-fangled-flying machines to the airfield.  This re-enforced the market town’s centrality as the district’s commercial capital.

Burragorang Valley

In the western extremities of the district, there were the rugged mountains that made up the picturesque Burragorang Valley. Its deep gorges carried the Coxes, Wollondilly and Warragamba Rivers.

Burragorang Valley Nattai Wollondilly River 1910 WHP
The majestic cliffs and Gothic beauty of the Burragorang Valley on the edges of the Wollondilly River in 1910 (WHP)

Access was always difficult from the time that the Europeans discovered its majestic beauty. The Jump Up at Nattai was infamous when Macquarie visited in 1815.  The valley became an economic driver of the district, supplying silver and coal hidden in the dark recesses of the gorges. The Gothic landscape attracted tourists who stayed in one of the many guesthouses to sup the valley’s hypnotic beauty.

Burragorang V BVHouse 1920s TOHS
Guesthouses were very popular with tourists to the Burragorang Valley before the valley was flooded after the construction of Warragamba Dam. Here showing Burragorang Valley House in the 1920s (The Oaks Historical Society)

The outside world was linked to the valley through the Camden railhead and the daily Camden mail coach from the 1890s. Later replaced by a mail car and bus.

Romancing the landscape

The district landscape was romanticised by writers, artists, poets and others over the decades. The area’s Englishness was first recognised in the 1820s.   The district was branded as a ‘Little England’ most famously during the 1927 visit of the Duchess of York when she compared the area to her home.

The valley was popular with writers. In the 1950s, one old timer, an original Burragoranger, Claude N Lee, wrote about the valley in ‘An Old-Timer at Burragorang Look-out’. He wrote:

Yes. this is a good lookout. mate,

What memories it recalls …

For all those miles of water.

Sure he doesn’t care a damn;

He sees the same old valley still,

Through eyes now moist and dim

The lovely fertile valley

That, for years, was home to him.

Camden John St (1)
St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

By the 1980s, the Sydney urban octopus had started to strangle the country town and some yearned for the old days. They created a  country town idyll.  In 2007 local singer song-writer Jessie Fairweather penned  ‘Still My Country Home’. She wrote:

When I wake up,

I find myself at ease,

As I walk outside I hear the birds,

They’re singing in the trees.

Any then maybe

Just another day

But to me I can’t have it any other way,

Cause no matter when I roam

I know that Camden’s still my country home.

The end of a district and the birth of a region

The seeds of the destruction of the Camden district were laid as early as the 1940s with the decision to flood the valley with the construction of the Warragamba Dam. The Camden railhead was closed in the early 1960s and the Hume Highway moved out of the town centre in the early 1970s.

Macarthur regional tourist guide
Macarthur Regional Tourist Promotion by Camden and Campbelltown Councils

A new regionalism was born in the late 1940s with the creation of the federal electorate of  Macarthur, then strengthened by a new regional weekly newspaper, The Macarthur Advertiser, in the 1950s.   The government-sponsored and ill-fated Macarthur Growth Centre of the early 1970s aided regional growth and heralded the arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

Today Macarthur regionalism is entrenched with government and business branding in an area defined by the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.  The Camden district has become a distant memory, with remnants dotting the landscape and reminding us of the past.

Updated 20 April 2023. Originally posted 19 February 2018.

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Ferguson’s Nursery, the post-war years

Ferguson’s Nursery at Hurstville, Mittagong and Sylvania

During the post-war years, Ferguson’s Nurseries continued to be located on Sydney’s urban fringe as the metropolitan area expanded into the rural surrounds.

Hurstville nursery prospered then closed, another opened on the urban fringe at Sylvania, a cold-climate nursery opened at Mittagong, and the Camden nursery closed.

In the mid-1960s, the family sold the business to new owners who continued to use the Ferguson nurseries as a trading name.

Significance

The importance of the colonial legacy of Francis Ferguson is emphasised in July McMaugh’s Living Horticulture. She only lists four New South Wales 19th colonial horticulturalists of significance, one of whom is Ferguson.

The Camden Nursery site remains quite significant in the history of the Australian nursery industry. Morris and Britton maintain that the site is

A rare remnant of an important and influential colonial nursery from the late 1850s and includes a collection of 19th century plantings and is a landmark in the local area.  (Morris and Britton 2000)

Camden Nursery site

The Camden Nursery on the Nepean River stopped operating in the immediate post-war years, and the nursery headquarters relocated to Hurstville.

In 1937 Camden Municipal Council rejected an offer from Ferguson’s nurseries of 100 rose bushes for planting in Macarthur Park. The council did not want the nursery to take cuttings from the park’s rose bushes. (Camden News, 13 May 1937)

In the 1930s, the Camden press reported that Ferguson’s nurseries had purchased the property of W Moore between the Old Southern Road and the Hume Highway (Camden News, 11 April 1935). This was in the vicinity of Little Street. (Cole, CHS, 1989) This is likely the 1937 outlet fronting the Hume Highway in Camden and still operating in 1944. (Camden News, 18 February 1937, 17 February 1944)  

The Camden Nursery outlet had stopped trading by 1946. The Camden press reported an application to connect the electricity supply to RB Ferguson’s property at the ‘the Old Nursery’. (Camden News, 19 December 1946, 27 November 1947)

Hurstville Nursery

By the mid-1950s, the nursery was trading as F Ferguson & Son, headquartered at Hurstville with branches at Sylvania and Mittagong. (Sun Herald, 13 September 1953)

Operations for Ferguson’s Nurseries were centralised at the Hurstville nursery in the post-war years, and the area around the nursery became known as Kingsgrove.

There was growth in the area following the opening of Kingsgrove Railway Station in 1931. Sydney’s residential development followed the development of suburban railway lines.

There was increased growth in the Hurstville area in the post-war years, with increased housing and rising land values.

The NSW Housing Commission built over 200 homes on the Ferguson Nursery Estate at Kingsgrove. (St George Call (Kogarah) 21 September 1945)

The state government purchased the site of Ferguson’s Nursery in 1958 and established Kingsgrove High School. (SRNSW)

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue, the nursery indicates that the business had a Kingsgrove address and had branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

1957 Plant Catalogue

In the 1957 Plant Catalogue of 54 pages, the nursery listed a Kingsgrove address and branches at Sylvania and Mittagong (Ferguson Nursery 1957). The catalogue listed plant stock for sale with advice for the gardener to achieve the best results.

Cover of Ferguson’s Nursery Trade Catalogue for 1957 trading as F Ferguson & Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

The catalogue listed for sale: fruit trees; Australian trees and shrubs; flowering plants including roses, camellias (51 varieties), azaleas, hibiscus; conifers; ornamental trees; palms and cycads (varieties from California, Canary Islands, Siam, South America, India, China and Japan).

Amongst the fruit trees, the catalogue listed apples, apricots, citrus (cumquats, oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit), nectarines, passionfruit, peaches, pears, plums (English, Japanese), prunes, quinces, as well as almonds and walnuts.

Roses were a speciality and included novelty roses for 1957, standard roses and others. The catalogue advised gardeners to achieve the best results with roses, particularly with planting and pruning. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Under Australian trees and shrubs, the catalogue stated:

Australia is endowed with of indigenous Trees and Shrubs that are entirely different and considered by many far superior to anything else in the world. Nothing is more useful for Parks, School Grounds, etc, that some of out Native Flora, and certainly nothing is more hardy or topical. (Ferguson Nursery 1957)

Fergusons offered a landscaping service to

assist and advise you in the correct formation and setting-out of Lawns, Drives, Shrubberies, also in the correct selection of suitable Shrubs, Roses, and all kinds of Flowering Plants, so that the ultimate results will be charming. (Ferguson Nursery 1957) (Ferguson 1957)

Sylvania Nursery

111 Port Hacking Road, Sylvania

In the post-war years, Fergusons Nurserys followed Sydney’s urban fringe and established a new nursery south of Hurstville in the Sutherland Shire at Sylvania.

Sutherland Shire was growing in the late mid-20th century. McDowells opened a department store at Caringbah in 1961, Miranda Fair Shopping Centre opened in 1964, the new Sutherland District Hospital opened in 1958, and the Sutherland Daily Leader was launched with its first edition on 29 June 1960. (Sutherland Shire Library)

The first mention of the Sylvania nursery in the Sydney press was in 1955 when Fergusons placed an advertisement for contractors to provide a quote to build a fibro cottage on the nursery site at 111 Port Hacking Road. (SMH, 1 October 1955)

The nursery opened for trading in 1961. A story in the Sutherland press about the history of the Ferguson Nursery group. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 26 April 1961)

Nurseryman Rex Jurd conducted the management of the Sylvania nursery. (McMaugh 2005:252) (McMaugh 2005)

Nurseryman Jurd recalled that Francis Ferguson’s granddaughter, Nancy, and her husband lived on the site. He said, ‘It seemed to Rex that they had little interest in the business’.

‘It was run down, and he spent two years there fixing it up and replacing all the plant material’, wrote Judy McMaugh.

The Sylvania Nursery extended from Port Hacking Road to the waterfront on Gwawley Bay (now Sylvania Waters) (McMaugh 2005: 252-253). According to Jurd, the nursery was not clearly visible to on-coming traffic and was on the low side of the road and suffered from ‘few customers’.

Jurd, a fellow student with well-known Sydney nurseryman Valerie Swain at Ryde School of Horticulture, left Fergusons in 1959 and started working for Smart’s Nurseries at Gordon. (McMaugh 2005: 252-253)

The Sylvania Nursery was sold to the Pike family in 1966 and became part of Ferguson Garden Centre Pty Ltd. The new business retained the Ferguson name as part of the sale. (Sutherland Daily Leader, 16 May 1966)

The advice page for gardeners who purchased roses from Ferguson’s Nursery for their care and maintenance of roses. Trade catalogue for F Ferguson and Sons (Camden Museum Archives)

Mittagong Nursery

Hume Highway (then Old Hume Highway, then Ferguson Cres) Mittagong

Ferguson’s Nurseries developed a cold-climate nursery at Mittagong in 1939 and developed under the management of nurseryman Arthur Carroll.

According to nurseryman Bill Starke, Arthur Carroll ‘was equipped with a draught horse, a cross-cut saw, and an axe, and basically cleared the property by hand’. (McMaugh 2005: 105)

Mr Carroll was away on active military service during the Second World War and returned in 1946 as manager of the nursery, which traded as F Ferguson and Son. (Southern Mail, 10 May 1946)

An advertisement placed in the Southern Mail newspaper for F Ferguson & Son (Southern Mail, 17 May 1946)

Bruce Ferguson sold the Mittagong nursery to the Pike family in 1970. (McMaugh 2005:363)

This is the signage for Ferguson Cres (formerly the Hume Highway, then Old Hume Highway) at the intersection with Bowral Road, Mittagong. The street was named after the old Ferguson Nursery, located further north along what is now Ferguson Crescent. (I Willis 2022)

The former site of Ferguson’s Nursery on Ferguson Crescent (formerly Hume Highway, then Old Hume Highway) at Mittagong. This aerial view shows the remnants of the Hazelwood Garden Centre, which in 2022, is a housing development site called Ferguson Estate. (CRE 2021)

New ownership and the Ferguson name continues

Bruce Ferguson sold the Sylvania Nursery in 1966. (Reeve 2017)  

Jack Pike of Pikes Nurseries Rydalmere and Arch and Alan Newport of Newport Nurseries Winmalee (Springwood) were new owners. (McMaugh 2005: 320) The new ownership arrangement was incorporated in 1966 as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Pty Ltd. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

The Pikes were innovative businessmen, and the Sydney press ran a story in 1967 that promoted the nursery as Sydney’s new ‘supergardenmarket’. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1967).

In 1970 the business purchased the Baulkham Hills Garden Centre and re-named it Ferguson’s Baulkham Hills Garden Centre. By 1973 the Newports had sold out to the Pike family interests. (McMaugh 2005:320, 366)

In 1974 outlets opened at Narrabeen, Warringah Mall, and the Sydney CBD. (McMaugh2005:365-366)

By the 1980s, many centres across the Sydney metropolitan area, including Baulkham Hills, Sylvania, Bonnyrigg, Narrabeen, Guilford, Mittagong in the Southern Highlands,  in Victoria the Mornington Peninsular and on the far-north coast at Alstonville. (McMaugh 2005:366)

The  Baulkham Hills Centre traded as Ferguson’s Garden Centres Holdings Pty Ltd and was incorporated in 1981. The nursery ceased trading in 2018, and the site was developed for residential units in 2019.

References

Ferguson, F. (1957). Ferguson’s Nursery Catalogue. Hurstville, F Ferguson & Sons.

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

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.

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

Updated on 13 May 2023. Originally posted on 16 January 2022.

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Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries on the urban fringe

Ferguson nurseries depart 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 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 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 New South Wales Government purchased the Hurstville nursery site 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 often referred to in the press. For example, a press report of Tooth’s Brewery’s 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)

As indicated by a story in the Tumut press, agents for the nursery were often keen to promote that stock of fruit trees, vines, and flowering plants were available for purchase. (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 23 May 2023. Originally posted 5 January 2022.

Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Agriculture history · Business · Business History · Camden · Camden Story · Campbelltown · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Cultural plantings · Economy · England · Family history · Farming · Fergusons Australian Nurseries · Gardening · Heritage · Horticulture · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Nepean River · Nursery · Place making · Plant Nursery · Sense of place · Storytelling · Trees · Uncategorized · Urban growth · Urban history

Ferguson’s Australian Nurseries, a century of horticulture

A local nursery serves the world

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 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 integral to British imperialism and the settler-colonial project. The Enlightenment notions of progress and development were good for business and reinforced the dispossession and displacement of the 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 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 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 comprised over 6000 camellias and 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 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 numerous 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 on how to look after them were provided. 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 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 on 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, 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. Herbert Ferguson successfully managed the nursery shop and specialised in plants, seeds and cut flowers. (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 August 1887, page 278)

The Fergusons 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 is near the former entrance to the Ferguson Australian Nursery. The lane is lined with African Olive, which is remnant vegetation with the regrowth of an Araucaria emerging from 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 on 13 May 2023; Originally posted 25 December 2021.

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The Cowpastures bridge at the Nepean River crossing

Four bridges at the river crossing

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 bridge’s western end is a small park where a plaque celebrates the 1976 reconstruction 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 moving 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 essential 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 Wild Cattle in 1795. Governor Hunter named the Cowpastures in 1796, and it became a restricted reserve in 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 for the increased traffic along the Great South Road. The first Cowpasture bridge was built in 1826, and then new bridges followed in 1861, 1900 and 1976. Each tried to solve the same access problem (SMH, 2 October 1861).

This sketch of the 1826 Cowpasture Bridge was 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. Crossing the bridge on a Sunday was forbidden; 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)

Several memoirs described the bridge 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 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. Many toasts started 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 was 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 few 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 for £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 to 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. (Camden News, 20 June 1901) This was followed by an official lunch at the Camden School of Arts for around 70 guests who purchased tickets. (Camden News, 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, 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 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 28 April 2023, 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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Campbelltown City Council office extension 1982 – a brutalist addition

The confidence of brutalist office extensions

On 18 September 1982, the Governor of New South Wales, His Excellency Air Marshal Sir James Rowland AC, KBE, DFC, AFC, opened the new brutalist style office extensions for Campbelltown City Council.

Gosford architects Grenfell, Fraser, and Associates designed the office extensions and, when combined with the 1964 building, created one of the most important modernist precincts in the Macarthur region.

Campbelltown Council Admin Building Open 1982Sept16 Cover lowres
The cover of the official programme at the opening of the new administration building in 1982. (CCC)

Unprecedented growth

Mayor Thomas stated at the official opening that the city had undergone ‘unprecedented’ growth and embraced ‘enormous changes’ since 1964. (Official programme)

The city’s population growth had grown from 24,000 (1963) to 43,000 (1974), and by 1980 was 120,000.

The council’s administration was ‘strained to the limit’, and there was a risk of fragmentation of council departments. The architects recommended a new single building to accommodate council staff to avoid this.

The architects presented three sites for the council’s consideration: the existing civic centre site, Camden Road opposite the Campbelltown Catholic Club, and the Macarthur Regional Growth Centre.

Campbelltown Council Admin Buildings 1964 & 1982 Photographer John Nobley CCL 1983
The Campbelltown City Council administration buildings. The 1964 Modernist tower is on the left, and the 1982 Brutalist extension is on the right. The image shows how the architects integrated the design of the 1982 extension on the civic centre site. This image was photographed from Campbelltown Railway Station by John  Nobley in 1983. (CCL Fairfax Collection)

Moral obligation

After considering the three options, the council felt it had a ‘moral obligation’ to the existing Queen Street commercial precinct to remain at the civic centre site.

The new office building would act as an ‘anchor of confidence’, and the site would remain as the northern gateway to the commercial precinct. It would set a standard for future development in the area. (Official programme, 1982)

The council requested the architects design a ‘four-storey administrative building’ of around  2000m2 with an associated pedestrian plaza, landscaping and parking within the civic centre precinct.

In 1980 the civic centre precinct consisted of the 1966 single-floor community hall, the 1971 single-storey library building, a single-story women’s rest centre, a service station, the former fire station and a two-storey ambulance station. (Official programme, 1982)

The council needed to acquire the service station on the corner of Queen and Broughton Streets to complete the project.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension9 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 brutalist administration building showing the architectural detail and exposed concrete exterior finish to the building. (I Willis, 2020)

Dominant form

The primary design constraint on the civic centre site was the 1964 office tower of 1400m2  containing the council chambers and the administration offices.   (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

The building completely dominated the precinct and was ‘considered as the major visual element in any design’ because of its height’. The architects described it as a “high rise” curtain wall construction with external sun shading’.  (Proposed Civic Centre Development, Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Architects Grenfell, Fraser and Associates felt that the new building extension had to integrate with the 1964 office tower in a functional and aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension7 2020 IW (3) lowres
The architectural detail of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building shows the exposed concrete finish to the exterior of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

The spirit of the past

The architects stated that the design of the new building extensions and its ‘scale, proportion and detailing’ recognised ‘the legacy of the district’ :

‘The “colonial” pitched roof on the new extensions reflects the graceful simplicity of colonial architecture, and the simple proportions, “depth” façade detailing and pitched roof echo the features of “old” Campbelltown buildings’. (Official programme, 1982)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension12 2020 IW (2) lowres
A perspective of the Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building with the pedestrian plaza in front of the building. The roofline is visible on the top level of the building. (I Willis, 2020)

The building design inspired Mayor Thomas to draw on the past and ‘old Campbelltown’ as an inspiration for his address.

The new building was a metaphor for the area’s pioneering spirit.

The mayor stated that the new building illustrated how the spirit of the Campbelltown pioneers had not ‘suppressed the basic community character of Campbelltown’s early days’.

‘The spirit of the hardy pioneer bred of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today’, he said.

‘The City of Campbelltown has an ancient heritage in terms of the nation’s history, and this is being matched by a vital modern record of achievement’, said the mayor.

Mayor Thomas said

The wisdom and vision of another progressive Governor of this State, Lachlan Macquarie, almost 160 years ago, formed the nucleus of the closely-knit community which continues to grow in size and stature. The spirit of the hardy pioneer breed of early settlers is woven into the fabric of our history and community life of today. (Official programme)

Scale, proportion and detailing

The new office building was set at the rear of the civic centre site and kept a ‘lower profile to Queen Street, consistent with the general two-storey nature of the older buildings’.  This design provided ‘an intermediate scale’ to help its integration with the existing higher 1964 building.   (Official programme, 1982)

The building materials for the project ensured that the external finish blended ‘aesthetically with existing buildings and landscape and are architecturally pleasing’, and the ‘finishes are dignified, tastefully chosen and dignified’. (Official programme, 1982)

The proposed building used reinforced concrete as the main structural element, with ‘precast concrete with exposed aggregate finish’ to the exterior walls with anodised aluminium window frames.  The internal walls were concrete blockwork with cement rendering.

The new design ‘provide[d] a building of similar bulk possessing a horizontal fenestration opposed the vertical nature of the existing building’ to act as a ‘counterfoil’ to the 1964 office tower. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

At the end of the design phase, the architects believed the proposed scheme was both ‘aesthetically and materially adequate’ and ‘integrated functionally and aesthetically’ with the civic auditorium. (Proposed Civic Centre Development for Campbelltown City Council feasibility study. Grenfell, Fraser and Associates, 1980)

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension5 2020 IW (2) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 administration building showing the architectural detail and the exposed concrete exterior finish. (I Willis, 2020)

Brutalist style

The monolithic presentation of the office building extension with a rigidly geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete was representative of brutalist-style architecture.

Brutalism grew out of the early 20th-century modernist movement that is sometimes linked with the dynamism and self-confidence of the 1960s. The characteristics of the style are straight lines, small windows, heavy-looking materials, and modular elements with visible structural elements and a monochromic colouring.

The brutalist style appeared in the post-war years in the United Kingdom and drew inspiration from mid-century modernism. The style represented the new town movement and appeared in modernist UK cities like Milton Keynes. Brutalism was common in the Sydney area in the late 1960s and 1970s and an integral part of the 1973 New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The cover of The New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden, Appin Structure Plan 1973 (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales)

Consequently, the Campbelltown area has several brutalist-style buildings, including Airds High School (1974), Glenquarie Shopping Centre (1975), Campbelltown TAFE College (1981), Macarthur Square (1979), Campbelltown Hospital (1977), and Campbelltown Mall (1984).

Conclusion

The new 1982 office extension reflected how the winds of change from population growth had reshaped the Campbelltown area since the construction of the 1964 modernist office tower.

Campbelltown Council Admin 1982 Extension4 2020 IW (3) lowres
Campbelltown City Council 1982 Administration building showing the exposed concrete exterior. (I Willis, 2020)

Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge the assistance the local studies librarians at the Campbelltown City Library provided in completing this blog post.

Updated on 8 May 2023. Originally posted on 10 June 2020.