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Memories of your suburb: Menangle

The name Menangle is accredited to the language of the Tharawal people and is thought to have derived from the word Manangle meaning ‘place of swamps and lagoons’. The town was originally the village for the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park House. Prime farmland and the flowing Nepean River made the area rich for grazing and the Macarthur’s established prosperous sheep and dairy industries in the region.

The Menangle Viaduct is the oldest railway bridge in New South Wales having opened in 1863. The original 1860 design was for a timber bridge however, following a terrible flood in the same year, new plans were made for a higher iron and stone bridge.

Menangle Railway Bridge across the Nepean River soon after its opening in 1863. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

A Menangle tourist destination for many years was the Rotolactor. This rotating milking platform opened in 1952 and after some closures, ceased production completely in 1983. In its heyday, the Rotolactor was capable of milking up to 375 cows an hour, operating both day and night under fluorescent lights. Cows were milked in an efficient 8 – 12 minutes.

Menangle has several Heritage listed buildings including Camden Park House, Gilbulla, St James Anglican Church and St Patricks Catholic Church.

Rotolactor and cattle yards on Camden Park Estate at Menangle. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

 

Memories of Your Suburb: Narellan

Narellan is on the traditional land of the Dharawal and Gundungurra people. Narellan lies in the central part of the Camden Local Government Area, although it was originally part of Nepean Shire Council until it was abolished in 1948.

The name Narellan is used for the village, the district and the parish and was probably derived from William Hovell’s 1816 grant of ‘Narralling’ of 700 acres. Most of the parish of Narellan was granted to settlers by Governer Macquarie between 1810 and 1818.

Coal loader, Narellan, c.1960. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Coal loader, Narellan, c.1960. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Farming in the local area consisted of vineyards, orchards and dairying. Narellan Railway Station was the hub of activity in the village on the branch-line between Camden and Campbelltown. The tramway operated from 1882 until 1963. Coal loading operations were centred here from 1940s until 1980s. St Thomas’s Church, Narellan Public School, Ben Linden and Narellan Hotel are examples of historic buildings remaining in Narellan.

Narellan grew as a residential suburb from the 1960s and by the 1990s commercial development in Narellan had usurped the dominance of Camden and become the commercial centre of the local district.
(Information provided by Camden Historical Society, Camden Council Library Service and Camden Council Community Profile)

Memories of Your Suburb: Cobbitty

On land originally inhabited by the Tharawal and Gundungurra people, Cobbitty lies in an area bounded by Bringelly Creek, Nepean River, Macquarie Grove Road and the Northern Road. Remnants of the Cumberland Plain Woodland are found in and around Cobbitty.

Land was granted in 1812 to Gregory Blaxland, who called his holding ‘Cubbady Farm’. Other land grants were made to the Reverends Cowper (Wivenhoe); Hassall (Macquarie Grove) and to Charles Hook (Denbigh).
Heber Chapel was constructed by Reverend Thomas Hassall and was dedicated by Reverend Samuel Marsden in 1828. St Paul’s Anglican Church was completed in 1842 with the rectory being erected opposite in 1870. The present Cobbitty School was constructed in 1882.

Heber Chapel School Cobbitty, 1868. Copyright: Camden Historical Society

Heber Chapel School Cobbitty, 1868. Copyright: Camden Historical Society

Dairying was the main industry in Cobbitty in the 1880s. A winery, along the Nepean River, was established by the Cogno brothers in the 1960s and continues trading today. The University of Sydney acquired land in Cobbitty and operates the Plant Breeding Institute, and Veterinary Science facilities, together with a number of farms.Turf farming along the Nepean River on the alluvial soils continues.

Cobbitty remains predominantly rural although the northern reaches of the area will become increasingly developed for housing as the NSW State Government implements the Metropolitan Growth Strategy.
(Information provided by Camden Historical Society, Camden Council Library Service and Camden Council Community Profile)

Denbigh

Denbigh is something of an unsung landmark. Where Camden Park is linked with the history of Australian agriculture, and Camelot is the current star of A Place to Call Home, Denbigh has had a very intimate relationship with Camden’s history and is considered “one of the finest early colonial farmhouses in Australia, with important historical associations and an evocative atmosphere.”

Part of the Cobbity land grant between 1812 and 1819, Denbigh was allotted to Charles Hook. He, like all the grantees, had to clear and cultivate the land within 5 years. Between 1812 and 1819 Hook had between 3 and 9 convicts working the land. This was not necessarily an easy period with the 1814-1816 Cowpasture War in full effect and the land being well within the battlefields. But by 1819 Hook started building some form of residence, living first in Sydney and then in Macquarie Grove with Samuel Hassall, finally moving onto the property in 1820. The first buildings were defensive “siege-style” structures due to the Cowpasture Wars, but later he began constructing the main bungalow that still stands on the property. Like Camden Park House, it was based on a Georogian style, but ‘Denbigh’ was set lower with a simplified version of this English style, which suited it well to the Australian climate.

The front section was built by Charles Hook before 1826 and the two storey section by Thomas Hassall after he purchased Denbigh about 1826. Since renovated. Mrs Lesley McIntosh ( owner) standing on verandah. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The main bungalow. The front section was built by Charles Hook before 1826 and the two storey section by Thomas Hassall after he purchased Denbigh about 1826. Since renovated. Mrs Lesley McIntosh (owner) standing on verandah. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The property began to see considerable success and become self-sufficient. Livestock  increased with the notable addition of sheep, 400 of the 1,100 aces was cleared, and 60 acres was dedicated to growing the famous Camden wheat. Hook passed away in 1826, and the property was sold to Thomas Hassell the following year.

Hassell came from a family of churchmen, and his move to the area was due to his appointment as chaplain in the Cowpastures. Although already owning land in the area, ‘Denbigh’ offered many advancements over these other properties, both in agricultural terms and in its suitability as a parsonage. While Hook lived on the property only with his wife, never having children, and a handful of convicts, Hassell and his wife Anne had a growing family and undertook works to develop the property. These increased works called for more hands on the property, and Denbigh expanded from a self-sufficient farm to a scattered village, having everything from a blacksmith and carpenter to a shoemaker and schoolmaster.

From northern side showing the Hassall additions and the nineteenth century garden. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

From the northern side showing the Hassall additions and the nineteenth century garden. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Hassell was considered a generous and benevolent landowner by many who came to work for him. Testament to this is that some would continue working on the property even after gaining their tickets of leave, some for as long as fifty years. The prosperity came to an end in the 1840s, largely due to factors within the colony as a whole. The end of transportation and the economic depression resulted in Thomas reducing his holdings, selling some of his properties and leasing considerable amounts of ‘Denbigh’. A further hit to the property came in the 1860s, when rust brought an end to the Camden wheat industry.

In 1868 Thomas Hassell passed away, and his wife Anne found a suitable lessee in Charles McIntosh, who would own the property eighteen years later, when Anne Hassell passed away in 1886. The McIntoshes continue to farm the land to the present day. The first generation with Charles saw the property develop from crop based agriculture to a greater reliance on livestock, in particular dairy cattle and breeding draught horses. It was a leading dairy farm for much of the 20th century, and also witnessed the mechanization of agriculture in Australia.

Jim at 2-3 years of age in a yard with cows at Denbigh, 1925. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Jim  McIntosh at 2-3 years of age in a yard with cows at Denbigh, 1925. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Denbigh is a unique property in the Camden Area, still maintaining many of its period features. Like the more famous Camden Park, it witnessed the changes and developments of the area. And with the current residents actively undertaking steps to conserve the property it remains a perfect, “intact example of a continuously functioning early farm complex.”

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.

References:

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.

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.

References:

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.