Memories of Your Suburbs: Mount Annan

The suburb is on the traditional lands of the Dharawal and Gundungurra people. Mount Annan is the name given to a high point in the western part of the locality and is 190 metres above sea level. It only appears on published maps after 1834. This point was part of Glenlee which was owned by William Howe, who built a fine Georgian house (1824) on the property. Glenlee was acquired by James Fitzpatrick in the 1850s and his descendants ran it as a dairy farm until 1978 with associated cropping and grazing.
The first land release for housing at Mount Annan was in late 1980s for first home buyers and low income families. Later land releases such as Garden Gates were aimed at second and third home buyers. The population growth encouraged the establishment of new shopping facilities, a leisure centre and schools.
The Mount Annan Botanic Garden is the highlight of the suburb. It is a native plant botanic garden and arboretum in an attractive garden and parkland setting and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.

Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, 1989. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, 1989.Ceremonial opening of the memorial sundial in the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan donated by the Macarthur Onslow women in memory of their mother Winifred Macarthur Onslow (nee Owen) widow of Edward Macarthur Onslow. L to R Pamela Harrison; Annette Macarthur Onslow; Phoebe Atkinson. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

On the eastern side of the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens is a little piece of history which was constructed in 1880. It is a water canal (aqueduct) which is partly made of sandstone blocks thought to be quarried from Mount Annan. It is part of the Upper Nepean Scheme which supplies water by gravity from the dams on upper Nepean River to Prospect Reservoir along a course of 62 km. Until Warragamba Dam was finished in 1960 this canal supplied most of Sydney’s water.

Glenlee Coal Washery, viewed from top of Mount Annan, 2007. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Glenlee Coal Washery, viewed from top of Mount Annan, 2007. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

In 2001 Mount Annan had a population of 6,761, and which was an 85 per cent increase from 1996. The demographic profile of Mount Annan is predominantly young families, with 35 per cent of the population under 18 years of age.

Drought and Deluge

Agricultural areas such as Camden have a mixed relationship with rain. It provides much needed relief and vitality to crops and livestock through the hot Australian summers, but, as with any good thing, too much is disastrous.

Thompson's Mill inundated by the flood of 1898. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Thompson’s Mill inundated by the flood of 1898. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Hazardous during the storms, the floods have inflicted damage on many notable Camden businesses. Thompson’s Mill, once the centre of Camden’s wheat industry, was heavily inundated by the 1898 flood. Thompson’s was by no means the only one that suffered damage, with many businesses and public buildings in the town, like the Crown Hotel, hit by the flood waters. It has also caused its fair share of havoc with travel in the area, most notably damaging Cowpasture Bridge on numerous occasions.

The Drill Hall and Crown Hotel inundated by the 1898 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Drill Hall and Crown Hotel inundated by the 1898 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

One unique record in the Local Studies collection are extracts from the Camden News and Sydney Morning Herald from 1873 and 1898 covering news of the floods during that time. Although prone to exaggeration (it often describes the winds as “hurricanes”) it does provide an interesting and detailed record of the floods that hit. It details crop and stock losses and damage to various residential properties while describing the series of events of the storm and flooding.

Homes in Edward Street at the mercy of the 1964 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Homes in Edward Street at the mercy of the 1964 flood. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Although causing damage and difficulty for the residents of Camden, there is a certain affection towards the flooding rains. One of the most notable parts of Camden is actually called the Flood Plain. Located only a few blocks from Argyle Street and the centre of the town of Camden, it is regularly submerged by the overflow of the Nepean River. Despite being a regular site of flooding, the section of land has been home to many agricultural enterprises, including the Davies’ family dairy farm.

The Camden Flood plain. From Oxley Street on site of Camden Public School. Showing flood water over Showgrounds. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The Camden Flood Plain. From Oxley Street on site of Camden Public School. Showing flood water over Showgrounds. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Despite the strong association with flooding, drought often had similarly devastating effects. It was a drought that changed Camden’s primary industry from wool to wheat in the 1840s. The early part of the 21st century saw farmers experience a severe drought. It reached its peak in 2002, which also saw the price of cattle feed at its highest. It would continue for several more years, placing the local industry under severe strain. Tony Biffin, a local farmer, saw production drop 50 percent (Abrahams, 2006).

The wine industry has an especially mixed relationship with rain and flooding. The 2008 downpour that saw the end of the long drought caused havoc for local wine producers. Camden viticulturist Bruno Carmagnola lost around $150,000 worth of wine grapes due to the timing of the rain (Abrahams, 2008). Had it arrived a few weeks later it would have saved the crop, but instead it caused a fungus to develop, devastating the harvest. Other producers such as Eddie Galea who grows salads and brassicas, experienced a decline of the crop, although the filling of the dams ensured hope for the following year.

Not just a topic for small talk, the weather has been an integral part of life and prosperity throughout Camden’s history.


Abrahams, L. (20/10/2006). “Drought hits hard”. The District Reporter.

Abrahams, L. (22/02/2008). “The good and bad of a deluge”. The District Reporter.

n.a. (n.d.) The Greatest Floods, 1873-1898: News Extracts from the Sydney Morning Herald & Camden News.

Before Camden: Settlement and Conflict

This section may contain the names and images of deceased people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when reading this section. 

The early 1800s saw an increase in contact between the Aboriginal people of the Cowpasture area and the Europeans. Agricultural development of the area aggravated the deteriorating relations between these two groups. Governor Hunter, King, and  Bligh were all opposed to land grants within the Cowpasture area, wishing instead to preserve it. However, Macarthur and Davidson pressured Earl Camden, Secretary for War and the Colonies in London, to provide large land grants in 1805.

Aboriginal people defended their access to traditional lands. Initially, these were the acts of a handful of individuals against an administration that was set up to remove them from the land. Conflict increased from 1814 onward, when Governor Macquarie gave more land to the settlers and responded with extreme violence against any Aboriginal people who took actions against Europeans.

Despite pleads with settlers, Governor Macquarie was unable to stop the violence that would lead to the Frontiers War.

Despite pleads with settlers, Governor Macquarie was unable to stop the violence that would lead to the Frontier War.

As more land was being developed for agriculture, the single greatest reason for conflict between the Aboriginal people and the Europeans emerged. It is explained by Bruce Elder in ‘Blood on the Wattle’ (2003). The pattern of the Aboriginal people’s relationship with the land was clearly one of foraging. They used what the land offered. When European agriculture was introduced they approached the produce, the livestock, vegetables, and maize, with the same understanding. They approached this food as a communal source rather than restricted to the ownership of the landowner. The fences erected also alienated the Aboriginal people from their traditional hunting areas and sacred sites, and a prolonged flood brought the Gundungurra people to the area, placing even greater pressures on what was a traditional hunting ground.

The farmers saw the foraging by Aboriginal people as theft and responded with force. The retaliation was often severe, with both sides engaging in tit-for-tat killings. Governor Macquarie recognised that many of the killings by Aboriginal people were reciprocal for not only having their clansman killed, but also for sexual violation against women. Macquarie encouraged farmers to allow the Aboriginal people to take some crops and livestock as a small price to ensure peace.

Unfortunately his moderate approach was not followed by those in the area, with killings becoming more regular. With increasing pressure from white settlers, Macquarie relented, and on 9 April 1816 Macquaire issued orders to three detachments of the 46th Regiment to seek out ‘Hostile Natives’ and take others they encountered as ‘Prisoners of War’. The conflict had escalated into a war, now known as the Frontier War. This may seem a strong indictment, but as Michael Organ reveals, it was the British, such as Macquarie and his men, who viewed and fought it as a war (Organ, 1990).

In most cases the Aboriginal people were able to escape due to their great knowledge of the land, although about 30 indigenous people had been killed by May 1816. The local culmination of this period was the Appin Massacre, on April 17, 1816, where 14 Tharawal people, mainly women and children, were killed. Those of the original inhabitants that were not killed were scattered into the mountains to the west and south. The lands were now available for colonial agriculture.

There were some who supported the Aboriginal people even during the darkest period. The most vocal supporter was the explorer Charles Throsby. Throsby wrote to numerous officials and local administrators in defence of the Aboriginal people, revealing the brutal treatment of the settlers against the Indigenous owners and pointing out the exaggerations of the crimes claimed to be committed against the settlers. Unfortunately his pleas had little success (Organ, 1990).

Life after the massacre. Some Aboriginal residence adopted European practices, such as 'Nellie' liked to dress in European clothes.

Some Aboriginal people who stayed in the area adopted European practices, such as ‘Nellie’ liked to dress in European clothes.

As a result of conflict and reduction in accessible lands, most Aboriginal people scattered out of the region. Some stayed mixing work on settler’s properties with a traditional lifestyle.  Thomas Hassall, an Anglican Clergyman and owner of the property ‘Denbigh’, supported the Aboriginal people who came to him. He was something at odds with other landowners and his father-in-law Samuel Marsden, who viewed Aboriginal people with contempt. Hassell hosted the Aboriginal people who occasionally worked on his property in exchange for food. His son, James Hassall, also recalled witnessing a corroboree on the property attended by around 200 Aboriginal people (Hassell, 1902), the vast majority of which would most likely have been from other areas.

By 1858, the magistrate in Campbelltown stated that the last of the Aboriginal people in that area had died from natural causes and the magistrate in Picton mentioned that only 67 of the original population remained. Those that survived to the beginning of the twentieth century were placed on reserves such as La Perouse, on the north shores of Botany Bay that was established in 1878.

Recent NAIDOC Week celebrations in Camden.

Recent NAIDOC Week celebrations in Camden.

The number of Aboriginal people in the area has increased considerably since 1970, with the 2011 Census indicating 1118 people identifying as Aboriginal in the Camden LGA. A keen interest in the culture has also begun to thrive. A person of particular impact is Frances ‘Aunty Fran’ Bodkin, a Tharawal Elder who was named as one of the 100 most influential Aboriginal women in the last 100 years by the National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Women’s Alliance (Armstrong, 2011). She has been particularly active in recent years with workshops to inform residents of the first people of the area. In 2011, the Mygunyah Camden Aboriginal Residents Group was formed, the aim of the group being to raise the profile and awareness of Aboriginal people and culture in the Camden area.


Kerrie, Armstrong. (23.3.2011) Honour a Surpise for Aunty Fran. Camden Narellan Advertiser.

Elder, Bruce. (2003) Blood on the Wattle: Massacres and Mistreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788. Frenchs Forest, N.S.W. : New

Holland. Hassell, James Samuel. (1902). In old Australia : records and reminiscences from 1794. Brisbane: R.S. Hews & Co.

n.a. (2010). The Appin Massacre of 1816.

Organ, Michael, ed. (1990). A documentary history of the Illawarra & South Coast Aborigines 1770-1850 : including a chronological bibliography 1770-1990. Wollongong:Aboriginal Education Unit, University of Wollongong.

Before Camden: The Macarthur Region’s Aboriginal Heritage

This section may contain the names and images of deceased people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when reading this section. 

Dating Aboriginal history is difficult, particularly as it deals with tens-of-thousands of years. Estimates vary from 40,000 to as much as 75,000 years of Aboriginal habitation on the continent. Trying to establish figures for a single area, such as the Camden area, is even more difficult.

What is known is that the area was not home to a single language group. This is evidenced by the different names for the region, it being called Baragil (or Baragal) in one language, and Benkennie, meaning the dry land, in another. The region was the intersection of three language groups: the Dharug, the Tharawal, and the Gundungurra. The regions these groups occupied were vast.

The Dharug inhabited as far east as Sydney Harbour to Penrith and the Blue Mountains in the west, and south towards the Macarthur region. They were known as the ‘Climbers of Trees’ due to their hunting technique that involved hollowing out toeholds allowing them to catch possums, birds and collect eggs.

The Tharawal occupied from Botany Bay to Jervis Bay in the south, and westward to Camden. The Tharawal were also divided into two groups. One was the ‘Salt Water People’ who were along the coast from Botany Bay to Jervis Bay. The other, the “Sweet (or Fresh) Water People’, lived inland towards Camden.

The Gundungurra could be found from Windsor in the north across to Lithgow and south towards Goulburn, with what is now the town of Camden being within their territory. The Gundungurra group were known as the ‘Mountain People’.

Corroboree around a camp fire by Joesph Lycett (ca.1817). Used with permission from the National Library of Australia. http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2962715-s16

Corroboree around a camp fire by Joesph Lycett (ca.1817). National Library of Australia, an2962715.

Language groups consisted from a few hundred to several thousand people. These were spread across clans or bands of around 200 people that controlled a particular region. For example, the Dharug group had two clans in the Macarthur region, the Mundingong people of Narellan and the Cubbitch Barta who used a distinct dialect called Gur Gur. These clans comprised what were called hearth or foraging groups, made up of one or two families.

Family groups roamed throughout the various regions and sharing of food and resources was an accepted custom. This made it possible for them to travel without fear of starvation. Inter-tribal conflicts are debated, with some claiming that tribes were hostile to their immediate neighbours but friendly to those further afield. There are others who believe that conflicts tended to be based on individual confrontations, rather than being continuous, deep seated animosities (Organ, 1990).

Baragil was a meeting and hunting ground. One resident tells of numerous sites that had importance, such as Crocodile Creek as it was once called, which is now part of the Stonequarry area in Wollondilly. It was a meeting place between the Dharug and Tharawal people. The interaction between the tribes was not only in terms of goods but also to arrange marriages. Thirlmere Lakes was the meeting place between the Tharawal and the Gundungurra people.  One of the impacts that European settlement had was taking the land that was the traditional meeting place between the Tharawal and the Dharug people, resulting in the the Tharawal trading more with the Dharug people (Learning from the Past, 2007).

Contact between the Aboriginal people of the area and Europeans was gradual. The first traces of the Europeans were supplies, livestock and disease. European goods were traded amongst the Tharawal people of coastal and inland areas. In particular, glass and iron was traded between the Gweagal clan of the Tharawal people who lived on the southern shores of Botany Bay who traded with their inland kin. This clan witnessed the arrival of the First Fleet of 1770 and the 1778 arrival.

Aborigines using fire to hunt kangaroos by Joesph Lycett (ca.1817). Used with permission by the National library of Australia. http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2962715-s20

Aborigines using fire to hunt kangaroos by Joesph Lycett (ca.1817). National library of Australia, an2962715.

The Tharawal people also witnessed the cattle that escaped from the Sydney camp and wandered into the “Cowpastures“. This is evidenced by the paintings that clearly depict the hoofed animals with horns removed in sandstone shelters along the Georges River, with one even being called Bull Cave, located near Campbelltown. The cattle, when discovered by the Europeans, gained a reputation for being quite aggressive. The Tharawal people also observed this aggressive behaviour. According to Governor King, the Tharawal people would climb trees and wait for the animals to pass rather than engage or hunt them. It is also very likely that the cattle caused the direct contact between the Tharawal and the European settlers to increase, as it was on the search for the cattle that led the settlers further inland (Liston, 1988).

Contact between the Aboriginal people of what had become known as the Cowpastures and the European settlers became more regular in the early 1800s. Many comments reveal a degree of admiration of the Aboriginal people. An often quoted remark by Lieutenant Collins describes them as “short, stocky, strong and superbly built” (Wrigley, 2008.). Governor Macquarie too expressed respect for the Aboriginal people of the area, recording during his 1810 tour of the area, a visit of around 15 Aboriginal people who “honoured us (Macqaurie and his companions) with their company and attendance during our stay” (Atkinson, 2008). Macquarie and his party also witnessed the hunting of a goanna and a performance of a corroboree, an event in which Aboriginal people interact with the Dreamtime through music, dance and costume (Mylrea, 2002).

You can read about the next stage of Aboriginal history here.


Atkinson, Alan. (2008). Camden: Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales.

Liston, Carol. (1988). Campbelltown: The Bicentennial History. North Syd. : Allen & Unwin.

Lycett, John. (ca. 1817). Corroboree around a camp fire. National Library of Australia, an2962715.

Lycett, John. (ca. 1817) Aborigines using fire to hunt kangaroos. National library of Australia, an2962715.

Mylrea. P.J. (2002). Camden District: A History to the 1840s.

n.a. (14.9.2007). Learning from the Past. The District Reporter.

Wrigley, John. (21.3.2008). The First Australians. The District Reporter. 

Camden Agriculture-Wool, Wheat and Wine

What is most striking about the development  currently occurring in the Camden area is the change of large expanses of open land to urbanized dwellings and town centres. It leads many to wonder what other changes occurred with land use in the area.  Numerous enterprises were attempted, and although some are considered the start of the Nation’s wealth, many have not continued in the Camden area.

Camden is known today primarily as a dairy producer, and although it was in the 1880s that dairy became the primary industry of Camden, it was about a century before that when cattle first came to the region. Cattle were brought in the early days of the settlement, but many escaped due to the lack of fencing, creating a population of wild cattle that would eventually wonder beyond the settlement. It was Governor John Hunter, after hearing reports of wild cattle around the Nepean, who decided to explore further in 1795. The area in which the cattle were found became known as “Cowpasture”.

The cattle became almost sacred, deemed the property of the Governor and protected. But this status did not last. The land grants to John Macarthur in Camden in 1803 and Major Henry Colden Antill in Picton in 1822 required the cattle to be rounded up and slaughtered, becoming the sacrificial calves of Australian agriculture. Part of the reason for the slaughter was the need for the land, but also because the wild cattle were not only uncontrollable, but, as Governor King described in 1801, “so vicious as to be not easily approachable”. Additionally, the meat and dairy they produced was deemed unsuitable.

Now clear of the wild cattle, the Macarthurs transformed Camden with the three enterprises that spelled the “Birthplace of the Nation’s Wealth”: wool, wheat and wine.

Copy of portrait in the library at Camden Park House.

Copy of portrait of John Macarthur in the library at Camden Park House.

Wool is the most famous of the three and was a significant success. By 1830 they  produced over 18,000 kg of wool that they shipped to England. This was not merely a bulk enterprise, with the wool being of a consistent high quality that encouraged “contemporary envy and grudging admiration” (Kerr, 1960). This came from Macarthur’s breeding of two stocks. His original flock was of Benghal sheep that he farmed on the small land grant of Elizabeth Farm in 1793. In 1797 he gained a flock of “Gordon” merinos and successfully bred the two. The flock produced the famed wool of high quality. It was at this point that Macarthur decided to breed sheep for wool rather than the meat the colony so desperately needed.

This gamble paid off when, in 1802, Macarthur went to London to face court martial charges.  The charges were dropped, but Macarthur utilized the trip to show samples of the wool produced by the flock and the industry had a booming start. Macarthur then secured the Cowpasture land to expand his enterprise. However, the land was not always welcoming to industry, and in 1840 a severe drought required the animals to be transported to greener pastures. The stock’s purity was retained by William Campbell in Victoria, with some of the sheep finding their way back to Camden in the 1880s. Although they returned, wool would never again be the primary industry of the area.

Descendants of the original Macarthur flock, now at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute. 1980.

Descendants of the original Macarthur flock, now at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute. 1980.

With large, empty portions of land available, Macarthur turned his attention to wheat. He divided the land into “clearing leases”. These required the lessee to clear and fence the land, build a dwelling and grow their won crops. Macarthur wheat had a strong reputation with one of Macarthur’s lessees, Thomas Dunk of Cawdor, winning the gold medal for “the best wheat in the world” at the Great London Exhibition of 1851 (Nixon, 2005). A similar medal was won by Henry Gumbleton at the Paris Exhibition in 1855 using the same strain.

The wheat was not only produced in Camden but also milled into flour. Henry Thompson operated a water powered mill in the 1840s, and the expansion of the industry required him to change to steam power to cope with the demand. His confidence in the industry’s longevity is evidenced by his building a brand new mill in 1858. The flour, like the wheat, had a strong reputation and was used extensively. Seemingly establishing the primary industry in the area, this, like the wool enterprise, was not to last. It was plagued by rust, with the first outbreak occurring as early as 1803. However, this did not halt the industry, but two severe outbreaks in 1861 and 1863 devastated the crops causing many farmers to seek ends meat elsewhere (Nixon, 1998; Robinson). The industry collapsed.

Thompson's Mill, inundated by flood of 1898.

Thompson’s Mill, inundated by flood of 1898.

The last of the Ws was wine. This did not have the runaway success of the wool or wheat industries, but it was considerably more stable. It was John Macarthur’s sons, James and William, who established the enterprise. The first successful wine maker in Australia was Gregory Blaxland, who made silver and gold medal winning wine from his Brush Farm near Eastwood in the early 1800s. It was around the time of his success that James and William made their first unsuccessful attempts. This changed when they gained a 20 acre property on the slopes of the Nepean River. The venture was a success in numerous fields. By 1827 they produced 100,000 litres per year and it was highly regarded both in Australia and abroad. What made their enterprise unique was the scale, with it being recognized as the first commercial vineyard in Australia and the Hawkesbury/Nepean region being considered the ‘cradle’ of the Australian wine industry (Penfold, 1989). The wine industry, unlike wool and wheat, has remained within the Macarthur region, although never becoming its primary industry.

The later part of the 19th century saw another industry establish itself in Camden, one that would remain well into the 21st century despite the changes. This was the dairy industry.


Kerr, Jill. (1960). Merchants and Merinos. R.A.H.S. Journal.

Nixon, R.E. (26.11.98). Camden’s Wheat Industry Blighted. Back Then. District Reporter.

Nixon, R.E. (4.3.05). When the Local Wheat was World Renowned. Back Then. District Reporter.

Penfold, Barry J. (1989). Wine Regions of New South Wales. Secret Wines of New South Wales. Kenthurst Kangaroo Press.

Robinson, Steve. (n.d.) Camden West.