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Capturing the distance of the past

Camden Mileposts

On the Camden Town Centre edges, there are two white concrete posts with numbers and letters. What are they, and what do the letters mean?

These white concrete posts are mileposts from when the Hume Highway ran up the centre of Camden along Argyle Street. The letters indicate destinations, and the numbers are distance in miles. These items are part of Camden’s engineering heritage.

A concrete milepost on the southern end of the Camden Town Centre on the road verge of the former Hume Highway now the Old Hume Highway. (I Willis, 2021)

The letters: M is Mittagong, S is Sydney, L is Liverpool and C is Camden. The distance is a mile:  an imperial unit of measure from before the time of metric measurement. The mile here is a statute mile which is 5280 feet or 1.609 km, as opposed to a nautical mile used in air and sea transport and is different.

The English mile

Mileposts dated back to the Roman Empire and were placed alongside the Roman roads. Distances were measured from the city of Rome. The mile originated from the Roman mille passus, or “thousand paces,” which measured 5,000 Roman feet.

The first mileposts along English roads appeared in 1593 and were standardised in England under the reign of Elizabeth I. The English mile was a different length from the Scottish mile and the Irish mile.  These measures were not standardised in the British Commonwealth and the US until 1959. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1935. https://www.britannica.com/science/mile)

In the colony of New South Wales, the first sandstone milestones were located on the Parramatta, Liverpool and South Head Roads from 1816 on the instructions of Governor Macquarie. Milestones provided accurate reference marks along with the expanding public road system for travellers on coaches. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)

Macquarie Obelisk

In the colonial period, Governor Macquarie’s Obelisk of Distances was erected in 1818 as the official starting point for all distances in NSW. It was located in what was then the centre of Sydney and is now Macquarie Place. The monument was also ‘a symbolic peg’ as the furthest extent of the British Empire in the early 1800s.

Obelisk of Distances in Macquarie Place Sydney designed by Francis Greenway and built-in 1818 under the orders of Governor Macquarie c1926 (SLNSW)

The placement of milestones in colonial NSW set a precedent. They were placed along the left hand or southern side of the roadway with the destination facing Sydney. The posts were meant to be seen by travellers coming from either direction for the benefit of stagecoach drivers to measure their distance from Sydney. They also ensured that the driver was on the correct road as many were just bush tracks. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)

Concrete mileposts

The two concrete mileposts in Camden were part of the road improvements by the NSW Department of Main Roads in 1934.

The decision to implement a programme of mileposting followed the first annual conference of state road authorities in February 1934 held in Melbourne. The meeting decided to adopt uniform national procedures for mileposting and road warning signs for roadworks, among other matters. It was felt that uniformity of services would help interstate travellers. (DMR, 1934)

A concrete milepost on the northern entry to the Camden Town Centre on the roadside verge of the former Hume Highway that ran along Argyle Street Camden. (I Willis, 2021)

In 1934 the department allocated £134 to the program in the Sydney area. (DMR, 1934)

The DMR Main Roads magazine stated that

In the days before the advent of the motor vehicle, when travel by road was slow and was done on foot, on horseback, or in horse-drawn carriage, few things gave greater service, or were more eagerly looked for, than the mileposts. (DMR, 1934a)

According to the Department of Main Roads, mileposting before 1934 provided signs that gave direction and the distance of important towns. Mileposts had lost their importance to the traveller because the car speedometer gave ‘progressive mileage’ stated a departmental report. (DMR, 1934a)

Road maintenance

Mileposting in 1934 was implemented with one specific aim.

The purpose of the mileposts now is to provide a convenient system of reference marks along the road for the use of those whose responsibility is to maintain the roads in a proper state. (DMR, 1934a)

The stated purpose was for the milepost to be a reference point along the road to give a precise position for any roadwork that needed to be done. Information to travellers was only secondary. (DMR, 1934a)

Mileposting to 1934 had been haphazard, with much work generated at a  local level and many gaps. Road maintenance was a secondary consideration, with information for travellers paramount. Much work was ‘incomplete’. Groups of mileposts were only based around important towns, sometimes following main roads and sometimes not. (DMR, 1934a)

The 1934 mileposting project was partly triggered by the 1928 classification of all roads in NSW into state highways, trunk roads and ordinary roads.

The 1928 changes saw The Great Southern Road through Camden renamed the Hume Highway in 1928. The 1929 Razorback Deviation shifted the highway to the east away from the former Great South Road (now Cawdor Road). (DMR, 1934a)

Different types of mileposts were used in 1934 for different purposes.  Concrete posts were used in the Sydney area and country towns, like Camden, and elsewhere there were timber posts.

Specifications and drawings for mileposts as outlined in the Department of Main Roads journal Main Roads (May 1934) where the DMR mileposting project was detailed for all roads in NSW (Main Roads 1934a)

There was a strict protocol for the letters and numbers on the posts, with letters and numbers incised and painted black and distances measured from the post office, and sometimes not.  Posts were placed on the left-hand side of roadways leading from Sydney or the coast, as they were in colonial times.

Posts were located with a clear view from the roadway of 200 feet with specific instruction on distances from roadways and locations for cuttings and embankments. On bridges, the mileposts were be clamped to the handrails.

In mid-1934, the NRMA suggested the mileposts on the different highways should be painted in a variety of colours. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 20 June 1934) The suggestion was not taken up.

One supplier of the concrete mileposts was the Hume Pipe Coy (Aust) Ltd. (Main Roads, August 1938)

Wooden Mileposts

In the Camden area, the Camden Heritage Inventory states there were wooden mileposts along Cawdor Road, formerly The Great South Road. They pre-date the concrete mileposts.

Timber milepost c1927 on the road verge of The Great South Road now Cawdor Road. (2021 I Willis)

In a 2002 survey for the Heritage Inventory, the three Cawdor Road timber mileposts were intact.

The posts were local hardwood cut by a sawmill in Edward Street in the late 1920s and delivered to The Great South Road (Cawdor Road) site by Camden teamster Les Nixon. (NSWSHI)

In a recent search, I was only able to locate one intact timber milepost in a fairly poor condition.

This timber milepost c.1929-1934 is located on the former Hume Highway at South Camden now Remembrance Drive. This milepost is located on the 1929 Hume Highway Razorback deviation that moved the main road from the Great South Road now Cawdor Road. (I Willis, 2021)

This timber milepost c.1929-1934 is located on the former Hume Highway at South Camden now Remembrance Drive. This milepost is not on the Wollondilly Shire Council heritage inventory. The milepost is sited on the roadside verge adjacent to the Camden Valley Inn. (I Willis, 2021)

References

CROFTS, R. & CROFTS, S. 2013. Discovering Australia’s Historical Milemarkers and Boundary Stones, Sydney, Roberts and Sandra Crofts.

DMR 1934. Department of Main Roads Ninth Annual Report for the year ending 30th June 1934. Sydney: NSW Legislative Assembly.

DMR 1934a. The Mileposting on Main Roads. Main Roads, 5.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Farming · Frontier violence · Harrington Park · Heritage · History · Landscape · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memorial · Memory · Monuments · Place making · Placemaking · Sense of place · Storytelling · Urban development · Urban growth · Wayfinding

Cowpastures artwork at Harrington Park Lake

Public art as wayfinding, placemaking, memorial and urban development

The story of the Cowpastures is represented in public art across the Macarthur region and one example is found along the Harrington Park Lake walkway.

 A pleasant stroll around the lakeside path will bring the walker to a wooded section and where there is an art installation with cows hiding under the trees.

The public artwork is a mixture of elements that combine wayfinding, placemaking, memorialisation and urban development in a new suburb.

The artwork installation called Cowpastures was created by artist Jane Cavanough of Artlandish Art and Design in 2001. The signage states ‘The cows represent the history of cattle grazing in this region, formerly known as “The Cowpastures”.

Artist Jane Cavanough

Artist Jane Cavanough writes that she ‘produces site-specific public art that is a union of both classic and contemporary design, interactive, low maintenance with long-lasting beauty. She states that her ‘strength is creating artworks that have a strong relationship to the site’. (Cavanough 2020)

Cavanough has achieved her aim with Cowpastures on the Lakeside walk where walkers have been able to engage with the artwork and ponder what the real cows might have looked like over 200 years ago. The artwork has weathered well over the last 20 years and still carries the story that was created by the artist.

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpastures public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<cows pic>

Public art.

The considerations in Cavanough’s Cowpastures parallels the aims of public art in the Northern Beaches LGA. Important considerations for the community and the council along the Northern Beaches Coast Walk were eight principles:

  • Respect and acknowledge Aboriginal cultural heritage
  • Celebrate and conserve significant natural and cultural values
  • Connect places and people along the coast
  • Foster artistic and cultural expression and encourage creative collaboration
  • Enrich places through high quality art and design
  • Interpret the history and significance of the coast
  • Value artistic and cultural diversity and be inclusive
  • Create a distinctive and recognisable Northern Beaches Coast Walk identity.(Council 2019)

It is useful to actually define what is public art. The Northern Beaches Council Public Art Policy provides some guidance and states:

Public Art refers to a range of artwork and art-based activities that interface with the public, including property in private ownership that has publicly accessible space and the public domain. Public Art can include sculpture, place-making elements, wall embellishments, art integrated into the design of buildings, artist-designed seating and fencing, paving work, lighting elements and other creative possibilities. Public Art can serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose.

The public domain means public places and/or open spaces that are situated within, vested in or managed by Council, including parks, beaches, bushland, outdoor recreation facilities, streets, laneways, pathways and foreshore promenades and public buildings, facilities or enclosed structures, owned and managed by Council which are physically accessible to the general public. (Council 2019)

Jane Cavanough’s Cowpasture’s public art installation on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

The storyboard

To assist Harrington Park Lakeside walkers engage with Cavanough’s Cowpastures artwork there is information signage that provides an interpretation of the installation. It states:

Cowpastures

In 1788 a herd of 4 long horn cattle and 2 bulls escaped from the Government Farm at Rosehill. [sic] They were found seven years later in 1795 as a herd of 40 in a rich expanse of grassland. Later that same year Governor Hunter surveyed this region and appropriately named it “Cowpastures”. Harrington Park with [sic] the Cowpastures region.

The pastoral industry in Camden began when Governor King granted John Macarthur 2000 acres, which became known as Camden. Further land grants were handed out across the region, including Harrington Park in 1815 to Captain William Douglas Campbell.

The Davies family purchased Harrington Park from the Campbells in 1833. The Rudd family owned the property from 1902/3 to 1944 when it was sold to the Fairfax family.

It operated as a dairy in the 1920s-1930s and then, in 1946, under the Fairfax family’s ownership, it was operated as a poll hereford [sic] stud, nursery and dairy.

Harrington Park-Taylor Woodrow-Fairfax

The storyboard has a supplementary map of Harrington Park property in the Cowpastures.

The storyboard beside Jane Cavanough’s Cowpatures on the Harrington Park Lakeside walkway (I Willis, 2021)

<info board pic>

Hidden in the past

Cavanaugh’s Cowpastures tells the story of the site and reveals the layers of the past to the viewer. Yet there is more to the story hidden in the shadows. Some of these hidden stories are hinted at while others are still to be revealed. One example is the violence of the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures as the settler society project unfolded and Europeans took up territory from the Indigenous Dharawal. (Karskens 2015)

At Harrington Park lakeside Cavanough has taken part in placemaking, wayfinding, memorialisation and urban development with her creation of Cowpastures.  She has engaged in telling the cultural heritage and contributed to the construction of place and community identity in a new suburb, directed visitors to discover the stories of Cowpastures from the past in an aesthetic landscape setting, and celebrated the history of the site and the Europeans who farmed the land.

References

Cavanough, J. (2020). ” About Jane Cavanough.” Jane Cavanough Artlandish Art and Design. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from http://janecavanough.com.au/about/.

Council, N. B. (2019). Public Art Policy. Sydney, Northern Beaches Council.

Karskens, G. (2015). Appin Massacre. Dictionary of Sydney. Sydney NSW, State Library of New South Wales & City of Sydney.