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St Johns Church

Camden (including Camden Park, Cobbity, Narellan, Kirkham, Catherine Fields)
Historic township now part of southwestern Sydney's suburban sprawl
Camden is located by the Nepean River 62 km south-west of Sydney and 68 m above sea-level.

Before European occupation it was much used as a hunting area by the Gundungurra Aborigines, who called it 'Benkennie', meaning dry land. As the whites took over the land, the game which fed the Aborigines began to disappear and, subsequently, cattle were attacked. In 1816, Governor Macquarie sent troops to kill or imprison the Aborigines although a corroboree attended by around 400 tribespeople was recorded in the area in the 1820s. In subsequent years the Gundungurra seem to have virtually disappeared though records are very poor.

Much of the initial European focus on this area related to the fact that seven of the eight cows on the government farm at Farm Cove had strayed just four months after the First Fleet's arrival. They were not seen again until 1795 when they were spotted west of the Nepean River. Confirmation of the sighting led to an expedition which included Governor Hunter and explorer George Bass in 1795. They found the herd had increased to over 40 and were grazing by the river where the town of Camden now stands. Macquarie returned the following year, climbing Mt Hunter and naming the district Cowpasture Plains. David Collins described the area as: "remarkably pleasant to the eye; every where the foot trod on thick and luxuriant grass; the trees were thinly scattered...several beautiful flats presented large ponds, covered with ducks and the black swan, the margins of which were fringed with shrubs of the most delightful tints, and the ground rose from these levels into hills of easy ascent."

Explorer Francis Barellier visited the area in 1802 and Governor King in 1803. His wife became the first white woman to cross the Nepean. A hut was established near the eastern side of what is now the Cowpasture Bridge near present-day Camden in 1803 or 1804. It was used to store salted meat and later housed the area's first constables.

In an attempt to exert control over what had become several thousand wild cattle, Governor Macquarie established three cattle stations on the Cowpastures in 1813. The main station was at Cawdor, 3 km south of present-day Camden. With the cattle either moved, slaughtered or missing all three were closed in 1826.

At the beginning of the 19th century the cattle provoked the curiosity of the colony's gentry who began to visit the area. John Macarthur and Walter Davidson both selected land west of the Nepean.

Macarthur named his property Camden Park Estate in honour of Lord Camden, then the colonial secretary. This tribute comes as no surprise when it is considered that it was Lord Camden who ordered Governor King to grant Macarthur the 2000 hectares.

After being sent to England to face charges relating to a duel with his commanding officer Macarthur was allowed to choose some merinos from the royal stud at Kew in order to convert the colony into a major wool-producing domain to supplant the dominance of the Spanish in that market..

The achievement of this goal probably owes more to Macarthur, his wife, nephew and two sons than to any other individuals and their contribution was realised at Camden Estate. Hence it is a property of great historic significance. Macarthur died in 1834. His wife continued to run what had become the most advanced wool-producing sheep station and the most highly developed mixed farm in the country.

The Macarthurs were also the first to introduce mechanical irrigation, the first to grow tobacco plants and the first to produce Australian wine in quantity and quality.

During his exile from Australia (1809-1817) Macarthur toured the vineyards of France where he accumulated vines and expertise. He established a commercial vineyard in 1820. In 1829 Camden Estate yielded 90 000 litres. Macarthur made Australia's first brandy at Camden Park in 1832. The family sent thousands of vines to the Barossa Valley which helped to start the wine industry in South Australia. Camden Park won a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1861.

Governor Macquarie began issuing the land around the Cowpastures in large grants from 1810. John Oxley received two off these properties, naming them Kirkham and Elderslie. These large estates became semi-autonomous villages.

The Cowpastures land was made available to settlers from 1820. In 1830 the swelling ranks of local residents wrote to the governor suggesting a townsite near the Cowpastures bridge, which had been designed by a convict named Wainwright and erected as a toll bridge in 1826 (the current span is the fourth) . The surveyor-general picked a site on the western side of the bridge and the first 100 blocks were sold in 1840. The first hotel, the Camden Inn, was built by 1842. The court and other public functions were transferred from the earlier settlement at Cawdor in 1841 signalling the decline of that centre relative to Camden.

The town's first public school opened in 1851 (the Macarthurs had earlier established a private school on their estate and the first church school opened in 1838). The town's population increased only marginally from 342 in 1851 to 505 in 1881. The railway arrived in 1882 and a municipal council was established in 1889.

Camden was envisaged as a satellite city of Sydney in the Three Cities Structure Plan of the 1970s, providing housing, work and proximity for those who had to commute. Subsequently the population increased from 3427 in 1966 to 22 473 in 1991.

Things to see:   [Top of page]

Visitor's Centre
The Camden Visitors' Centre is located at Curry Reserve, just north-east of the Cowpasture Bridge over the Nepean. The centre is housed in a worker's cottage which dates from the 1890s. It is one of a row of small houses which once lined the road into Camden. They have a range of pamphlets outlining walking and driving tours and local picnic spots. There is a sensory garden adjacent.


Historic Walk
Wander along Argyle St to the first crossroad, Elizabeth St. The Merino Tavern on the corner was built on the site of the town's first hotel, the Camden Inn (1840-42).

Turn right into Elizabeth St and continue along to Mitchell St. At number one is Nepean House, a lovely old building dating back to c.1857 with decorative carved wooden bargeboards on the gables.

Most of Camden's historical buildings are located in John St. They form an impressive streetscape sweeping up to St John's Church on the hillside at the end of the road.

To the left is St Paul's Catholic Church, a Gothic Revival structure of brick with stone dressings built on land selected and donated for that purpose by James and William Macarthur. The foundation stone was laid in 1859.

On the right are a group of old brick buildings including the 1857 courthouse (no. 31) and, next door, the 1878 police station and residence. Both were built on land that was provided by the Macarthurs who also donated 100 pounds towards costs. The chief constable's house and a wooden lock-up initially occupied the site from 1841.

The two-storey brick cottage 'Macaria' (no. 37) is an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture. Of note are the stone trim, high chimneys, gabled windows and wooden fretwork on the verandahs. It was built in the late 1840s for Henry Thompson who built the first flour mill in town (water-driven) at the corner of Argyle and Edward Sts. He established a steam-driven mill in the late 1850s. Macaria now serves as the council chambers.

Out the front is the Silver Ore Memorial Wheel which commemorates the town's association with the silver mines of Yerranderie. In the first quarter of the century the ore was carted to the Camden railhead by horse-drawn wagons. This wheel was taken from a 14-horse wagon.

Next door is Camden Cottage (c.1830), a small Georgian residence, thought to be the first built in Camden.

On the corner of John St and Argyle St is the Victorian Classical Revival CBC Bank building which opened in 1878. The intricate wrought-iron work on the balconies is original, as are the medallions of Queen Victoria in the gates.

At 40 John St is the public library and behind it is the Camden Historical Museum, located in what was once the School of Arts (1866). The first meeting of the Camden Municipal Council was held here in 1889. The museum is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m., tel: (02) 4655 9210. It contains clothes, photographs, household implements, uniforms, musical instruments, booklets, maps, furniture, coins, guns and badges. There is a small entry fee. If you want more detailed information check out the Historical Society's webpage at http://www/

Continue along John St and, on the left, between 70 and 80, are a series of wooden and brick cottages which convey some sense of how the town would have looked in the late 19th century. Over the road, at number 75, is a substantial brick residence built c.1860 by the Macarthurs for one of their overseers, a Mr Druitt. The verandahs sport some impressive cast-iron columns and balustrades.


St John's Church
Opposite, on the corner of Broughton St and Menangle Rd, is St John's Church, built on elevated land chosen by John Macarthur and donated for the purpose by the Macarthur family who also provided the ironbark from which the ceiling is constructed and contributed significantly to the overall cost. This outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture is made of 386 000 locally-made red sandstock bricks. A number of architects appear to have had a hand in its design, including Mortimer Lewis and Edmund Blacket. The structure is dominated by a large tower topped by an enormous needle spire. As a result the church reaches dramatically skywards. Dominating the cityscape it is visible from miles around. The effect is further dramatised at night when the spire is floodlit. There is a a stone-flagged floor, some beautiful Gothic stone tracery in the windows and an unusual ceiling. The foundation stone was laid in 1840 though shortages of funds meant the church was not completed and consecrated until 1849. The clock was added in 1897. The wooded and landscaped grounds are extensive and picturesque. Many early settlers are buried in the cemetery which has a fine entrance gate. The rectory was added in 1859, again on land donated by the Macarthurs.


Macarthur Park
Opposite the rectory, at the corner of Menangle Rd and Park St, is Macarthur Park. The town's finest and most historic reserve, it has beautiful gardens, sheltered picnic tables and amenities. The rotunda was erected in 1913 as a memorial to Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow, the granddaughter of John Macarthur. It was she who donated these 67 acres to the people of Camden in 1905 on condition that they be used for parkland, that no entry fee be charged, that no business be conducted on the land and that the timber be preserved. Some of the ironbarks are thought to be 600 years old. The gardens have won numerous awards.


Camden Rotary Club Mural
A little further along Menangle Rd is the hospital (1902) and just beyond it is the Camden Rotary Club Mural, a memorial to the local European pioneers. It is mounted on 200 tonnes of stone taken from an old church in Burragorang Valley before it was flooded.

The old mine poppet head wheel in Little St is from the Oakdale mine, restored by a local resident and intended as a memorial to an industry which is still important to the local economy.


Camden Park House
South of here is Camden Park House. This gracious, imposing and beautiful country mansion was commissioned by John Macarthur and designed by John Verge (1832-35). One of his finest works it is still occupied by members of the Macarthur family. The two-storey house is built of stuccoed sandstock bricks and flanked by single-storey pavilions. It possesses a grand colonnade verandah and sandstone portico. Inside are a plenitude of family heirlooms and colonial furniture. There is a large brick stable and, on a hill, the family mausoleum where John and Elizabeth Macarthur are buried.

The house can be seen during annual open days on the second-last weekend of September, tel: (02) 4655 8466. The surrounding 30 ha of garden represent a fine and rare surviving example of an early 19th century garden, albeit with later additions and alterations.

The first residence on the site was a simple slab and bark hut used by Mrs Macarthur during her husband's exile - the site now being marked by a stone cairn. It was succeeded by Belgenny Farm House (1821), a humble timber vernacular cottage which served the couple until Macarthur's death. This house and the related outbuildings form the oldest group of farm structures in Australia. It was here that Australia's wool industry started.

By the 1840s there was a largely autonomous settlement at Camden Estate of some 800 people. The bell on the brick cairn was rung to signal time to the employees. An unfortunate hand was killed in 1935 when he pulled too hard and the large bell came down on his head.

Amongst the many other buildings there is a blacksmith's with original bellows and forge, an interesting octagonal shed and, near the main roadway, a row of workmen's cottages. Nearby is what remains of the camellia garden established by William and Elizabeth Macarthur who took a special interest in the tree. In the remnants of the orchard is Australia's oldest-surviving apple tree, a Gravenstein planted in 1837 by William Macarthur along with some English magnolias. Also on the property is Australia's oldest oak tree grown from an acorn given to John Macarthur at Buckingham Palace. A brass plaque on the property marks the spot where Governor Macquarie and his wife camped in 1810 when they first visited the district. The dovecot was built in 1820. It is said to have housed pigeons that flew with messages between here and Macarthur's Parramatta farm. South of here is the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute.


At the end of Argyle St in Camden is a roundabout. The road opposite Argyle St is Cawdor Rd which heads south through the village of Cawdor, the earliest and most important centre of settlement on the Cowpastures until Camden town was established. A hut was built at Cawdor for the herdsman guarding the cattle in 1804 and a house for the superintendent went up in 1819. When the public offices were transferred to Camden in 1841 the settlement at Cawdor was closed. Heading along Cawdor Rd, on the right, between Druitt Lane and Westbrook Rd, are some old farmhouses established on land leased from the Macarthurs, most notably Mayfield, Burnham Grove (no.482) and Oldham Hills. Opposite the Westbrook Rd turnoff is the late 19th century Methodist Church which replaced an earlier church erected mid-century. Just past it, at 470, is an ancient slab hut which it has been speculated may be the original 1804 cattleman's bothy. The Camden Valley Inn, at the corner of Remembrance Driveway and Wire Lane, is a lovely English-style country pub and restaurant with award-winning five-acre gardens.


Another old and rather beautiful village is Cobbity, originally spelled 'Kobbaddee' or 'Cobbedee', which was settled in 1812. With its historic buildings, tranquil atmosphere and pleasant rural setting by the Nepean it makes for a very pleasant day-trip. To get there turn off Cawdor Rd just south of Bicentennial Park into Smeathers Lane, which becomes Werombi Rd. Nearly 4 km from Cawdor Rd Brownlow Loop Rd branches off to the left. Here you will find the impressive Brownlow Hill homestead (1829 with additions in 1834 and 1875) with its stone console table, marble fireplaces, fine cedar joinery, stone-flagged verandah and wide French doors. It is beautifully situated in a sophisticated and remarkably well-preserved landscaped garden established in the 1830s after contemporary English fashions. There is an aviary and a sundial lies at the centre of the parterre. The brick stables are also of interest.

Cobbitty Winery, tel: (02) 4651 2281, are open seven days a week and have barbecue and picnic facilities.

Past the school are St Paul's, Heber Chapel and, across the road, St Paul's Rectory. The excellent sandstone church, in its picturesque rural setting, was designed in the Gothic Revival manner by John Verge and John Bibb and consecrated in 1842. The original box pews remain inside and there is an historic graveyard. The Georgian chapel dates from 1827 and was named after Bishop Heber of Calcutta, a noted writer of hymns. The handsome Gothic rectory (1870) has stone quoins, dormer windows, carved wooden bargeboards on the gables, cedar joinery and a steep slate roof.


Continue on to Macquarie Grove Rd which heads off to the right. 2 km south along this road is a private track that leads to Wivenhoe, a Regency country house built c.1837-38 for MP Charles Cowper by John Verge on land granted by Governor Macquarie to the Reverend William Cowper in 1812. The house has a classical portico with sandstone Doric columns and a flagged verandah with timber columns. There is some ornate joinery and Art Nouveau additions from the late 19th century. Guided tours of the house are possible by appointment only, tel: (02) 4655 7483. The stables were built in 1834 and are enclosed by a high brick-walled stable yard. Very much in original condition they now house a craft centre, open from 9.00 a.m. - 4.30 p.m. every day except Thursday, tel: (02) 4655 6061. There is an Australian native garden with barbecue areas.


Camden Aerodrome
Camden Aerodrome where you will find vintage aircraft, gliders, Razorback Skydiving (02-4677 1845) and Balloon Aloft, who offer balloon tours of the area combined with a champagne breakfast, tel: 1800 028 568. Just by the entry road to the airport is Macquarie Grove, built on land granted to the missionary Rowland Hassall in 1812. The core of the house dates from somewhere around 1815 with the wings added later. It is now used in connection with the airport. The adjacent bridge over the Nepean is a good spot to launch a canoe.


Down Kirkham Lane isKirkham, originally a land grant from Governor Macquarie to John Oxley. On the left-hand side of the road is Oxley's Anchor, thought to have come from one of Oxley's ships. There is a tributary inscription. In the paddock behind the anchor lies the grave of the racehorse Chester who won the Melbourne Cup in 1877. He was owned by James White, the great-uncle of noted Australian author Patrick White.

Nearby are the large, two-storey Kirkham Stables. Built by Oxley in 1816 this is probably Australia's oldest-surviving stables building. The original horse stalls are still intact.

Further down the lane is James White's magnificent and very large three-storey house, Camelot (originally called Kirkham House) one of the finest contributions to Australian architecture of Canadian-born J. Horbury Hunt. It was built in 1888 on the foundations of John Oxley's mill. It is now privately owned. This dense and complex design features chimneys, gables and arched bay windows. There is a beehive-shaped smoke house and an unusual octagonal hen house. Even the gardener's lodge and stables are of the very highest architectural quality.



Studley Park house, Narellan

This township may have been named from William Hovell's early property Naralling. Hoddle marked out the village in 1827. It was the first townsite in the Camden district, again on land formerly granted to John Oxley.

On your right before you reach the residential area is Studley Park Golf Course. There is a large and historic towered mansion on the property built for W.C. Payne in 1889 at the height of a housing boom. Due to its size and grandiosity and the cost incurred it came to be known as Payne's Folly. There is a wealth of iron lacework. The interior is as extravagant as the exterior with decorative joinery, elaborate ceilings and stained glass. At the back is a large block containing the stables and coach house.

At the next set of lights, to your right, is St Thomas' Anglican Church (1884), a simple brick building in the Early English style designed by Edmund Blacket and built by his sons after his death. It is considered typical of Blacket's rural designs. There is a rather charming church hall adjacent (1839).


St Thomas' Anglican Church, Narellan

The next major road to the left is The Northern Rd. Nearly 3 km along this route is Oran Park Rd which will take you to Oran Park Raceway. Opposite the entrance is Denbigh, built in 1817 and still in its original condition. Thomas Hassall, who purchased it in 1826, added the stuccoed brick two-storey section. .

If you continue along The Northern Rd for another 8 km you will come to Bringelly Rd on your right. Turn off here and after nearly 2 km Jersey Rd appears to your right. At Lot 11 you will find the Australian Koi Farm where there are several million Japanese koi fish on display. The farm has won prestigious international awards for its breeding. It is open seven days a week, tel: (02) 4774 8180.

If instead you continue along Camden Valley Way the first left after The Northern Road takes you into Sharman Close. At the corner of Sharman Close and Stewart St is the Struggletown Fine Arts Complex. The old cottage dates back to the 1840s. The walls are rough-hewn slabs, the floors are of compressed earth and the slate roof is supported by gum saplings.The Boyd Gallery building was completed in 1919.

The Camden Aviation Museum is located at 11 Stewart St. Therein lies a private collection of military aircraft, tanks, equipment, memorabilia, models and photographs. It is open Sundays and public holidays or by appointment, tel: (02) 9529 4169.

Opposite the Sharman Close turnoff is Narellan Road.



The Sundial at Mt Annan Botanic Garden

Mt Annan Botanic Garden
Just over 3 km along this road is the entrance to the shining glory of the area, Mt Annan Botanic Garden, Australia's largest botanic garden. Within its 400 ha you will find 20 km of walking trails, a loop road, two ornamental lakes with lakeside picnic areas, an education centre, nursery and arboretum, an abundance of birdlife, most of Australia's known native plant species and some introduced species. The flora is featured in a variety of settings - a terrace garden, a bottlebrush garden, a wattle garden, a banksia garden and a western garden. There are also woodland and lakeside plant communities. From the hill it is possible to see Campbelltown, the Sydney skyline to the north-east, and, to the south-west, the Menangle district and the Razorback Range. There are picnic facilities, bike tracks and bicycles for hire. The entry fee is currently $5 a car.

Guided walks and mini-bus tours are available for free on a daily basis depending on staff availability, tel: (02) 4648 2477. Don't miss the human sundial, a sculptural feat made of basalt columns which allows you to tell the time by raising your hands in the air (just follow the instructions on the brass plate).

Just over a kilometre north of Sharman Close along Camden Valley Way is a side road to the left which leads to Harrington Park Homestead. This two-storey Georgian country house was built prior to 1830 on land granted to Captain William Campbell in 1815. He left the estate to his two nephews, one of whom, Murdoch Campbell, was shot by bushranger John Lockhart in 1833.


El Caballo Blanco
2.5 km north of this road along Camden Valley Way is El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields where you can see performances by Spanish dancing stallions and a miniature Fallabella horse show. There are also waterslides, train rides, row boats, car rides, horse-drawn omnibus rides, pony and trail rides, a small wildlife zoo, an antique carriage museum, souvenirs, eateries and a craft shop. The complex is open seven days a week from 10-4.30, tel: (02) 9606 6266.



Gledswood Homestead

At the northern tip of the El Caballo estate is, to your right, a road that leads off to the historic property of Gledswood. The land was granted to James Chisholm in 1829 and the family became pioneers in the wool industry. It has been transformed into a family-oriented tourist attraction which offers horse rides, laser clay shooting, skeet shooting, sheep shearing, sheep-dog mustering, cow milking, boomerang-throwing lessons, arts and crafts and a tour of the convict-built stone rubble homestead (c.1830). Some of the house's rooms have been furnished and decorated in the Victorian manner. There are multi-paned French windows, four-panel doors, beautiful gardens and a separate kitchen. The decorative porches and verandah were added in the 1870s. A winery has been established in the old coach house which, it is said, dates back to c.1810. The complex also has a licensed restaurant as well as barbecue and picnic facilities, tel: (02) 9606 5111.



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