Do you sometimes wish you knew more about your western Sydney neighbourhood, but don’t know where to start? Who were the Aboriginal clans living there for thousands of years before 1788? What happened after 1788 and how did the relationship with the white invaders unfold ? Who were the newcomers and what brought them into the area? Were they convicts or free settlers, and what were their experiences? Then in the 20th century, how was your neighbourhood affected by the World Wars, 1930s Depression and the impact of post war immigration?
An easy way to begin your enquiries is through Kingsclear Books, Pictorial History Series, mostly about Sydney suburbs. Nine of the current editions are about western Sydney local council areas, with another in preparation about Campbelltown. The latest addition to the list is Camden and District by local historian Dr Ian Willis. The book was published just before Christmas when rocketing local sales indicated it was a very popular Christmas gift.
Ian writes that the impact of Europeans was felt within months of the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788. Four cows and two bulls had been collected at the Cape of Good Hope, but within five months of landing, they escaped. Subsequent searches in 1795 found a herd of 60 cattle in the area leading to the name Cowpastures. In 1805, 5000 acres were granted to John Macarthur, the first European to take up land south of the Nepean River. Generations of his descendants lived at Camden Park and played a major role in state and local community life.
Descendants of Aboriginal people, both Dharawal and Gundungarra, continued to live in the area – many in the Burragorang Valley – ultimately flooded for the Warragamba Dam and Sydney’s water supply. One well known Aboriginal identity of the valley was William Russell, or Werriberrie, who lived from 1835 to 1914. In the last year of his life, he published a book My Recollections, which was republished by The Oaks Historical Society in the Camden area, in 1991. Werriberie was the centrepiece of the map locating Werriberri Creek in the Wollondilly area, in the 1995 Parallel Paths display at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre, right, (see page 155 of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney)
The Camden area remained a pleasant rural outpost of Sydney until well into the 1980s, though the state government’s New Cities Plan of 1973, heralded urban development and significant change. Like all Kingsclear’s Pictorial Histories, there is a select bibliography in the back, which opens up further research, if you want to know more about the local history. Among the contemporary housing developments in the Camden area, there are still many homes from the 19th and early 20th century, though the challenge for private owners to continue to maintain them becomes increasingly expensive. The construction of Denbigh, above, began in 1818, and has had many additions in the intervening years – photo Camden Museum.
The Pictorial History Series includes Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Canterbury Bankstown, Hills District, Holroyd, Liverpool and District, Parramatta, and Penrith & St Marys. They can be ordered online here or by phoning 02 9557 4367.