Camden Agriculture-Dairy and Beyond

The three Ws that established Camden as an agricultural centre only lasted for a few decades. What made that period of agriculture so bizarre is that it established agricultural industries within Australia but the viability of the crops and livestock in the Camden area were short lived.

It would be in the 1880s, when dairy became the primary industry, that agricultural longevity came to the region. Although the surrounding areas have undergone and continue to experience urban development, the centre of Camden is still a testament to the dairy heritage of Camden.

In a way it was a return to the original agricultural inhabitants of the land, with the wild cattle that led to the discovery of “the Cowpastures” returning as domestic livestock to bring the area to agricultural fruition.

Apart from the fields that still surround the town of Camden, there are other indicators of Camden’s dairy history. The strongest is the old Milk Depot. It was constructed by James Downie Rankin in 1896 and designed by Sydney consulting engineer W.W. Crawford, who also supplied the machinery.

Camden Milk Depot 1923-1926.

Camden Milk Depot 1923-1926.

A separate, although no less significant, structure was the Camden Refrigerating, Butter Making and Bacon Curing Works. As the name suggests, this is where the dairy was churned into butter and the pork cured into bacon for the Sydney markets. Before this building was constructed, farmers went to the Menangle Creamery located at Camden Park. The Menangle Creamery, although smaller, was considered one of the “most compact and best designed structures of its time” (Johnson, 2011).  Sadly there are no photos of the Refrigerating, Butter Making and Bacon Curing Works remaining. The building suffered extensive flood damage in February 1898 and was not reopened (Back Then, 2011).

The Menangle Creamery located at Camden Park.

The Menangle Creamery located at Camden Park.

The Camden Refrigerating, Butter Making and Bacon Curing Works is a strong reminder that although dairy is so linked to the modern agricultural  image of Camden, it was not all smooth sailing. Flooding was a particularly hazardous and regular occurrence, with the area immediately surrounding the main town of Camden being called the flood plain. A prime example of this style of land is the Camden Town Farm, which was originally a 52 hectare dairy farm owned and run by the Davies family from 1915-2000, with Miss Llewella Davies, the daughter of the dairy farmer, bequeathing the land to Camden Council in 1999. Although an issue for the farmers, the floods never destroyed the dairy industry in the way the 1840 drought brought the Macarthur wool industry in Camden to an end.

 Flood water inundating Drill Hall and Crown Hotel, at corner of Argyle and Murray Streets in the centre of Camden. 1898.

Flood water inundating Drill Hall and Crown Hotel, at corner of Argyle and Murray Streets in the centre of Camden. 1898.

In addition to flooding, disease caused its fair share of problems. These bouts of disease and pests were never as severe as the rust that demolished the wheat industry in the Macarthur region. It has however continued to create distress in modern times, with viruses such as bovine ephemeral “three-day sickness” (Priest, 2013) and akabane virus (Ward, 2007) surfacing as recently as the last decade.

Viruses and climate were not the only threats to livestock. There were bushrangers in the area, and cattle theft was a particular specialty (Sidman, 2007). More recently, the supermarket price wars for dollar milk created economic problems with many farmers like Tony Boffin and John Farley encouraging a stand in support of local produce (Stillitano, 2011). Despite all these hardships, success for Macarthur dairy continues, with companies such as A2 Milk opening up a $8.4 million processing plant in 2012 (Dougherty, 2012).

Dairy may be the cornerstone of Camden’s agricultural prosperity but other crops and livestock were farmed and contributed to the area’s wealth. Even in the early days producers as varied as orchardists, poultry and pig farmers,  and market gardeners all supplied produce for the Sydney Markets (Villy, 2013). After the mid-twentieth century, the industry of the area began to diversify further. One of the more unexpected additions was angora, with local farmers seeing the new possibilities of expanding this industry (Golden Goats of Narellan).

The most striking change in this millennium is the rapid urbanisation of the Camden area. And although agriculture’s place as the primary industry of the Camden area is being shifted to new industries, it is a testament to the area’s fertility that it created agricultural industries that not only brought the area to prosperity, but contributed significantly to the birth of Australian agriculture.


Dougherty, Scott. (12.9.12) Cheers to Milk Factory. Camden Narellan Advertiser. 

Johnson, Janice. (19.9.11) Camden’s Butter Making and Bacon Curing Enterprise. Back Then. District Reporter.

n.a. (26.9.11). Correction. Back Then. District Reporter.

n.a. (n.d.). Golden Goats of Narellan. Macarthur Leader Magazine.

Priest, Evin. (22.1.13). Help Beat the Fever. Macarthur Chronicle.

Sidman, G.V. (26.10.07) Bushman and Cattle Theft. Back Then. District Reporter.

Stillitano, Iliana. (16.3.11). Supermarket Games Milk Dairy Farmers of a Viable Livelihood. Camden Narellan Advertiser. 

Villy, Elizabeth. (1.2.2013). Farming in Picton in the Old Days. Back Then. District Reporter.

Ward, Matthew. (12.6.07). Beware of Deadly Bite. Macarthur Chronicle. 

Camelot-The Real “A Place to Call Home”

With the television drama series “A Place to Call Home” entering into its second season viewers are being treated to the latest clashes between Sarah Adams and the matriarch Elizabeth Bligh.

The fictional Bligh’s Ash Park is the real life building known as Camelot. Located on the outskirts of Camden it has many of its own stories to tell. The one that is filled with the greatest drama is that of its second and longest running residents, the Andersons, who occupied the property from 1890 to 1979.

Last year Ian Willis revealed the power play of the real life matriarchs in Camden that mirror much of the drama on the TV show. While the show focuses heavily on the stories of the two strong female leads, the story of the Andersons is far more heart wrenching. It’s a story filled with forbidden love, suicide and mourning, striking the fairy tale notes to which the architecture alludes. What makes the Anderson’s story so compelling is that this fairy tale drama was real.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright:  Camden Historical Society.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Originally known as Kirkham, the building was created in 1888 for Hon. James White, great-uncle of author Patrick White. It was designed by Canadian John Horbury Hunt, an architect known for his unique buildings, with Camelot considered one of his greatest. Although it has a fairy tale feel and a grandeur not associated with domesticity it has been described as a very ‘human house’.

The fairy tale proportions and aesthetics began to make real life impacts with the second owners. James White passed away from heart disease in July 1890. It was then purchased by William Hugh Anderson and his wife Frances Lillian Faithfull. In something of a reversal of the Cinderella story, William was the coachman of the Faithfull family of Springfield Estate in Goulburn. Frances was their daughter and greatly upset her family by marrying ‘below her status’. Despite attempts to appease the family they rejected him and refused to accept the marriage. The family did however provide a generous dowry, which would prove necessary to finance the purchase of Kirkham. It was the Anderson’s that renamed the estate Camelot, Frances being reminded of the Lord Alfred Tennyson poem “The Lady of Shalott”:

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.

“Who is this? And what is here?”
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;

Tragedy struck the Andersons in 1912 when William committed suicide. William was a considerable horseman and also community minded. He began to suffer from depression, declining mental health and alcoholism. The forerunners to his suicide are revealed by his retirement as town Alderman in 1903, with things getting gradually worse. His suicide was dramatic. He set the large hayshed behind the main house alight and then shot himself. The fire grew and every attempt made to extinguish it failed.

Despite the nature of his death, William was heralded in the local papers after his passing. Sharon Greene reveals that there were no negative words written about him at the time and that he was actually praised for his role as an Alderman and described as a “useful citizen who had won the esteem of the residents”.

Frances approached Camden Council in 1913 to erect a drinking fountain as a memorial to her husband. The memorial erected in memory of William was in the middle of the intersection of John and Argyle Streets Camden. It was eventually moved to Camden Showground and is now part of the  rose garden in Macarthur Park. Local stories reveal that this was not the only memorial for William. After his death, Frances maintained their bedroom in original condition as a shrine to William.

The W.H.Anderson Memorial in its original location at the intersection of John and Argyle Street, Camden

Frances Anderson and her daughter, Clarice Vivian, remained in the house.  The garden, as reported by Nora Cooper for ‘The Australian Home Beautiful’  in 1929, was a great horticultural feat. Cooper reports how Frances described the large variety of trees that she grew in the yard to create a rich variety of green. She knew the different varieties by heart and spoke of them with great pleasure.

They were not isolated from the town and were socially minded. During the depression, Frances commissioned work to be done on the property as a way of helping those who needed work. It was also around this time in 1932 that they changed their name from Anderson to Faithfull-Anderson, incorporating her maiden name.

When Frances passed away in 1948  her will requested that the property be used as a convalescence hospital. Clarice continued to reside in the property until 1979. Never marrying or having any children, Clarice Vivian was the last of the Faithfull-Anderson line. They are all buried together in Springfarm, Goulburn.

What remains of them is Camelot, and although “A Place  to Call Home” may be the more famous story, it is the tale of the Faithfull-Andersons that echoes through its rooms and corridors.

More stories of Camelot can be found in Camden Library and  Camden Images.


From the Local Studies Collection on Camelot.

Cooper, Nora. (1929) “Camelot”-A house of dreams. The Australian Home Beautiful.

Greene, Sharon. (2013) The tale of Camelot. Back Then. District Reporter.

Willis, Ian. (2013) Camelot’s country matriarchs. Back Then. The District Reporter.