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The memory of the Cowpastures: the Cowpastures Bicentennial and the Appin Massacre

Representations of the memory of the Cowpastures

The Cowpastures was a vague area south of the Nepean River floodplain on the southern edge of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain.

The Dharawal Indigenous people who managed the area were sidelined in 1796 by Europeans when Governor Hunter named the ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in his sketch map. He had visited the area the previous year to witness the escaped ‘wild cattle’ from the Sydney settlement, which occupied the verdant countryside. In 1798 Hunter used the location name ‘Cow Pasture’; after this, other variants have included ‘Cow Pastures’, ‘Cowpasture’ and ‘Cowpastures’. The latter will be used here.

John Hunter, Second Governor of New South Wales 1795-1800 and Royal Navy Officer (Wikimedia)

Governor King secured the area from poaching in 1803 by creating a government reserve, while settler colonialism was furthered by allocating the first land grants in 1805 to John Macarthur and Walter Davidson. The Cowpastures became the colonial frontier, and the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people inevitably led to conflict and violence. The self-styled gentry acquired territory by grant and purchase and created a regional landscape of pseudo-English pastoral estates.

This is a portrait of Governor Phillip Gidley King, the third governor of the British colony of New South Wales from 1800-1806. He saw service in the British Navy with the rank of captain. (SLNSW)

Collective memories

 According to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, collective memories are ‘all around us in the language, action and material culture of our everyday life’,[1] and I often wondered why the cultural material representative of the Cowpastures appeared to have been ‘forgotten’ by our community.

The list of cultural items is quite an extensive include: roads and bridges, parks and reserves; historic sites, books, paintings, articles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; monuments, memorials and murals; community commemorations, celebrations and anniversaries.

Material culture

This material culture represents the multi-layered nature of the Cowpastures story for different actors who have interpreted events differently over time. These actors include government, community organisations, storytellers, descendants of the Indigenous Dharawal and European colonial settlers, and local and family historians. Using two case studies will illustrate the contested nature of the Cowpastures memory narrative.

Case Studies

1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial

Firstly, the 1995 Cowpastures Bicentennial celebrated the finding of the ‘wild cattle’ that escaped from the Sydney settlement by a party led by Governor Hunter in 1795.

Following the success of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary and the publication of histories of Camden and Campbelltown,[2] local officialdom decided that the anniversary of finding the ‘wild cattle’ deserved greater recognition. Camden Mayor HR Brooking stated that the festival events’ highlight the historic and scenic significance of the area’.  A bicentenary committee of local dignitaries was formed, including the governor of New South Wales as a patron, with representatives from local government, universities, and community organisations.

In the end, only 10% of all festival events were directly related to the history of the Cowpastures.  Golf tournaments, cycle races and music concerts were rebadged and marketed as bicentenary events, while Indigenous participation was limited to a few lines in the official programme and bicentennial documentation.[3]  The legacy of the bicentenary is limited to records in the Camden Museum archives, a quilt, a statue, a park and a book. 

The Camden Quilters commissioned a ‘story quilt’ told through the lens of local women, who took a holistic approach to the Cowpastures story. It was the only memorial created by women, and the collaborative efforts of the quilters created a significant piece of public art. Through the use of applique panels, the women sewed representations of the Cowpastures around the themes of Indigenous people, flora and fauna, ‘wild cattle’, agriculture, roads and bridges, and settlement.[4]  The quilt currently hangs in the Camden Library.

A postcard produced in 1995 at the time of the Cowpastures Bicentennial of the Cowpastures Quilt produced by the Camden Quilters. (1995, Camden Museum)

Statue of Governor Hunter

In the suburb of Mount Annan, there is a statue of Governor Hunter. The land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons to construct the work to coincide with a residential land release.   The statue has a circular colonnade, supporting artworks with motifs depicting cows, settlement, and farming activities.  

According to Alison Atkinson-Phillips, three trends in memorial commemoration have been identified since the 1960s, and Hunter’s statue is an example of a ‘representative commemoration’ – commemorating events from the past.  

The statue of Governor Hunter in the suburb of Mount Annan. Land developer AV Jennings commissioned Lithgow sculptor and artist Antony Symons (1942-2018) in 1995 to construct the work. Officially opened by the Mayor of Camden, Councillor FH Brooking, on the 6th April 1995. (I Willis, 2022)

Two other types of memorialisation identified by Atkinson-Phillips have been ‘participatory memorialisation’ instigated by ‘memory activists’ and place-based memorials placed as close as possible to an event.[5] 

On the northern approach to the Camden town centre is the Cowpastures Reserve, a parkland used for passive and active recreation. The reserve was opened by the Governor of NSW on 19 February 1995 and is located within the 1803 government reserve, although the memorial plaque states that it is ‘celebrating 100 years of Rotary’.

The NSW Department of Agriculture published Denis Gregory’s Camden Park Birthplace of Australia’s Agriculture in time for the bicentenary. The book covered ‘200 years of the Macarthur dynasty’. It demonstrated the ‘vision and determination’ of John and Elizabeth Macarthur to make ‘the most significant contribution to agricultural development in the history of Australia’. Landscape artist Greg Turner illustrated the work with little acknowledgement of prior occupation by the Dharawal people.[6]

Commemoration of the 1816 Appin Massacre

Secondly, commemorating the 1816 Appin Massacre has created a series of memorials. The massacre represents a more meaningful representation of the Cowpastures story with the loss of Indigenous lives to the violence of the Cowpastures’ colonial frontier. The commemoration of these events is part of Atkinson-Phillip’s ‘participatory memorialisation’ and includes a place-based memorial.

European occupation of the Cowpastures led to conflict, and this peaked on 17 April 1816 when Governor Macquarie ordered a reprisal military raid against Aboriginal people. Soldiers under the command of Captain James Wallis shot at and drove Aboriginal people over the cliff at Cataract Gorge, killing around 14 men, women and children[7] on the eastern limits of the Cowpastures.  

 

Governor Macquarie (SLNSW)

The Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group organised a memorial service for the Appin Massacre in April 2005 at the Cataract Dam picnic area.[8]  By 2009 the yearly commemorative ceremony attracted the official participation of over 150 people, both ‘Indigenous and Non-Indigenous’. Attendees included the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and representatives from Wollondilly Shire Council and the NSW Police.[9] 

In 2007 Wollondilly Shire Council and the Reconciliation Group commissioned a commemorative plaque at the picnic area. According to Atkinson-Phillips, plaques are often overlooked and analysing the words gains insight into the intent of those installing them.[10] The inscription on the Cataract memorial plaque leaves no doubt what the council and the reconciliation group wanted to emphasise, and it states:

The massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here on 17 April 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the actual number will never be known. We acknowledge the impact this had and continues to have on the Aboriginal people of this land. We are deeply sorry. We will remember them. Winga Mayamly Reconciliation Group. Sponsored by Wollondilly Shire Council.

The memorial and remembrance service have given the descendants of Indigenous people a voice in telling the Cowpastures story.

The plaque at the Cataract Dam picnic area. The memorial was placed at the picnic area in 2007, jointly organised by Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group and Wollondilly Shire Council, following the memorial service started in 2005 by the Reconciliation Group. (Monuments Australia, 2010)

In 2016 the Campbelltown Arts Centre held an art exhibition with an international flavour commemorating the bicentenary of the Appin Massacre called With Secrecy and Dispatch. The gallery commissioned new works from ‘six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists’ that illustrated ‘the shared brutalities’ of the colonial frontier for both nations.[11]

Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape

In 2021 an application was made to Heritage NSW for consideration of the Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape, the site of the 1816 Appin Massacre, for listing on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage NSW website states that the Appin Massacre was ‘one of the most devastating massacre events of First Nations people in the history of NSW’. It is ‘representative of the complex relationships between First Nations people and settlers on the colonial frontier’.[12]

The application was approved in December 2022.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these two case studies briefly highlight how the contested meaning of memorials commemorating aspects of the Cowpastures story varies for different actors over time. At the 1995 bicentenary, only European voices were heard telling the Cowpastures story emphasising the cattle, Governor Hunter, and settlement.

Voices of Indigenous Australians

In recent years the voices of Indigenous Australians have been heard telling a different story of European occupation emphasising the dire consequences of the violence on the colonial frontier in the Sydney wars.[13]

Endnotes


[1] Kate Darian-Smith & Paula Hamilton (eds), Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne, Oxford, 1994, p 4.

[2] Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales. Melbourne, Oxford, 1988. Carol Liston, Campbelltown, The Bicentennial History. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988.

[3] Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p3

[4] Cowpastures Review and 1995 Calendar, Bicentennial Edition. Vol 1, 1995, p2

[5] Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.126.

[6] Turner, Greg. & Gregory, Denis. & NSW Agriculture, Camden Park, birthplace of Australia’s agriculture.  Orange, NSW, NSW Agriculture, 1992.

[7] Karskens, Grace, Appin massacre, Dictionary of Sydney, 2015, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre , viewed 09 Oct 2022

[8] Macarthur Chronicle, 12 April 2005.

[9] The District Reporter, 20 April 2009.

[10] Alison Atkinson-Phillips, ‘The Power of Place: Monuments and Memory’ in Paul Ashton & Paula Hamilton (eds), The Australian History Industry. North Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022, p.127.

[11] Tess Allas and David Garneau (Curators), With Secrecy and Despatch. Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, 9 April-13 June 2016, Campbelltown. Online at With Secrecy & Despatch | Campbelltown Arts Centre (c-a-c.com.au) Viewed 9 October 2022.

[12]Heritage NSW, Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape (Under Consideration), Heritage NSW, Sydney, 2022. Viewed 10/10/22. Online at

https://apps.environment.nsw.gov.au/dpcheritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5067855

[13] Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, Conflict in the Early Colony 1788-1817. Sydney, NewSouth, 2018.


Initially published in The Federation of Australian Historical Societies Newsletter, December 2022, No 54. Online at https://www.history.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/FAHS-Newsletter-No-54-2_page-0001.pdf titled The memory of the Cowpastures in monuments and memorials

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

A walk in the meadows of the past

Walkway at the Camden Town Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Layers of meaning within the landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Llewella Davies – a colourful local character

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

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

The Davies dairy farm

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

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

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

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

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

The Camden Town Farm

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

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

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

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

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

The Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway

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

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

Invite for Miss Llewella Davies Walkway 2019Aug17

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

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

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

Miss Llewella Davies Pioneers Walkway Highlights   (on map)

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

 Additional highlights

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

The value of the walkway

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

Australian Historic Themes

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

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

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