Camden is one of Australia’s most historic towns, enclosed on three sides by a sweeping bend in the Nepean River on land originally home to the first inhabitants, the Dharawal people. Camden and its surrounds were originally known as The Cowpastures after missing cattle from the Sydney colony were eventually found in the area.
Agriculture was key to the prosperity of the district, with the Macarthur family establishing wool growing, dairying, wheat growing, vineyards and orchards on John Macarthur’s original 5,000 acre land grant, from 1806 onwards. The village of Camden was created following sales of land by the Macarthurs in 1841. The Macarthur family became synonymous with Camden, being responsible for the construction and establishment of landmarks such as Camden Park house, St John’s Church, Macarthur and Onslow Parks.
John Street Camden, c.1890. Copyright: Camden Historical Society
The Macarthur family’s agricultural enterprises also provided employment for immigrant workers, who came to the area under Governor Burke’s 1835 plan as tenant farmers. Many later obtained their own landholdings and established businesses in the area. Descendants of these families remain in Camden today.
Originally part of Nepean Shire, The Municipality of Camden was proclaimed in 1889. Camden township contains many historic buildings which were established during the 19th century to provide services such as the police, Court House, churches, schools, banks and School of Arts (now Library and Museum). The present day town reflects the layout of its earlier establishment in the 1840s, and some of the shopfronts and facades remain from the early decades of the 20th century.
Aside from agriculture, industries such as mining provided employment for the inhabitants. Mines situated in the outlying areas provided coal and silver ore, which was shipped by rail once the tramway was established in 1882. One of the locomotives, affectionately known as ‘Pansy’, travelled on the branch-line from Campbelltown, and in the 1940s had 24 weekday services which were a mixture of goods and passenger services. The line ceased operation in 1963 and was replaced by road transport when coal trucks were a familiar sight in Camden. Today there exists a mix of rural, retail, and light industrial activities in Camden, with many residents now employed outside the local area.
From a population of 242 in 1846 the Camden Local Government area has dramatically increased to include a population of 51,000 in 2006. This expansion follows the State Government’s Growth Centre Plan from the 1970’s and continues with current government plans for increased urbanisation and expansion. The geography of Camden township, with the surrounding flood plain, has allowed the township to retain much of its historic form, with development being concentrated in non-flood prone areas.
(Information provided by Camden Historical Society, Camden Council Library Service and Camden Council Community Profile)