We are located in the historic township of Camden NSW in southwestern Sydney, surrounded by the suburbs of Oran Park, Gregory Hills, Camden Park, Cobbitty, Narellan, Kirkham, Bridgewater, Picton, Tahmoor, Catherine Fields, Bringelly, Rossmore & Liverpool.
The town lies on the Nepean River 62 km south-west of Sydney and is 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, and is expected to reach 210 000 by 2036