Traffic jams and accidents are the plague of the modern commuter. But travel was not necessarily safer in bygone times. Existing as a rural town for much of its existence, Camden has been plagued by many hazardous routes and methods of travel.
The Great South Road over Razorback was one of the most treacherous. Although formally completed in 1835, those who used the road would argue that it was never finished (Villy, 2011). Many people, from William Macarthur to John Macquarie Antill, complained about the roads constant disrepair, and undertook many efforts to get it fixed. The difficulties were so great and the fatalities so numerous that the gruesome history of the road is recorded in Elizabeth Villy’s The Old Razorback Road. Of the fatalities, Villy reports of one woman who was killed after her carriage overturned after hitting a rut in the road surface. Her 12 year old son and the baby she was holding survived, but there was no doubt that the accident was caused by the bad state of the road.
Travelling by rail is often a much safer option, but clear passage is not guaranteed. With flooding common in Camden, the Pansy Tram line, the train that went from Campbelltown to Camden, quite frequently became flooded. The floods sometimes left passengers stranded near the playing fields at Elderslie where they had to be rescued by boat.
Another transport structure that was subject to flooding was Cowpasture Bridge. Built in 1826, it replaced numerous fords that were used to cross the Nepean River between Camden and Liverpool. As with the Great South Road, the road leading to the bridge was constantly mentioned as being in disrepair. But the flooding made it impossible to cross, with the actual bridge covered in water (at one time it was sixteen feet underwater). The surrounding area would be inundated, delaying mail and other vital supplies (Starr, 2007). Repairs were undertaken in 1852, with a new bridge constructed in 1861 after one section was washed away. In 1975 there was a severe flood, which extensively damaged the bridge, requiring another rebuild.
Even Argyle Street in the centre of town has been subjected to many traffic issues. For a long time the main road between Sydney and Melbourne, numerous accidents occurred along the stretch of road, particularly around the sharp right turn at Murray Street. Wrigley tells of many who became victims of the corner, including a lady who’s accelerator became jammed, sending her straight into a building entrance (2001). This was only one of many accidents, and safety on Argyle Street remains a concern for many in the area.
It may not help alleviate the traffic fury of today or stop the traffic jams during peak hour, but knowing the travel hazards of the past may help put it all into perspective and remind us that difficulty journeys are as old as travel itself.
Starr, M. (12.01.2007). A Governor and flash floods on Cowpasture Bridge. Back Then. The District Reporter.
Villy, E. (2011). The Old Razorback Road: Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930. (Kenthurst, N.S.W. : Rosenberg Publishing).
Wrigley, J. (9/11/2001). A step down Argyle Street of old. Back Then. The District Reporter.