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Campbelltown, NSW

South-western Sydney suburb, once an historic town on the Hume Highway

Campbelltown is now effectively a suburb of Greater Sydney. It is surrounded by vast housing developments which, during the hot summer months, have to deal with blistering temperatures because they are too far from the moderating effects of the coast. This is an area in transition. Historically it was a small town on the Great South Road and a stopover point on the Hume Highway. When it was bypassed by the Hume Motorway it became a suburban sprawl servicing huge areas of factories and small industries. On many levels people from inner Sydney tend to look with ill-disguised disapproval at this dense urban sprawl. What they often fail to realise is that Campbelltown is much more than just suburbia. There is the superb Mount Annan Botanical Gardens. The impressive art gallery and sculpture garden. The historic centre of the town with buildings that remind the visitor of the importance of Campbelltown in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. And there is always the fascinating story of Fisher's Ghost. A truly Gothic tale.


Campbelltown is located  57 km south-west of Sydney via the M5 and Hume Motorway.


Origin of Name

Governor Lachlan Macquarie, passing through the area in 1810, named the district Campbelltown and Airds - Airds after the family estate of his wife Elizabeth Campbell and Campbelltown after his wife's surname.


Things to See and Do

Campbelltown Arts Centre
The Campbelltown Arts Centre, which started life as the Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery, is a remarkable complex which combines a Sculpture Garden, Japanese Gardens and a Tea House, and an impressive local gallery which has interesting exhibitions including the travelling Archibald Prize winners. Check out http://www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au/CampbelltownArtsCentre for details of exhibitions and opening times, tel: (02) 4645 4100.

Japanese Gardens and Teahouse
The gardens and tea house, which are part of the Arts Centre, are based on a 16th century design and were established by Campbelltown's sister city of Koshigaya in Japan. They are, like all Japanese gardens, simple and elegant combining a small waterfall, a koi pond, a timber bridge, stonework, a short and pleasant pathway and interesting planting of bamboo, Japanese maple, cherry trees and flowering plums. The gardens reflect the philosophy of both the Shinto and Buddhist religions.

Sculpture Gardens
Located next to the Art Gallery is the genuinely impressive Sculpture Garden with its elegant "singing" sculpture, a number of particularly beautiful abstract works and Eric Aarons' large sculpture of a creature which looks like an ancient mega-wombat. If you don't want to go to Bondi to see the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition the best of that exhibition is subsequently displayed in the gardens. It is open seven days.

Exploring Historic Campbelltown
There is an excellent and very comprehensive brochure - Campbelltown Heritage and Cultural Walk - which can be downloaded at http://www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au/Assets/1551/1/CampbelltownHeritageWalkingTourBrochurelowres.pdf. It contains a total of 24 places of historic interest of which the following are of particular interest. Check out:

1. Quondong Cottage
Quondong Cottage is now the home of the Campbelltown Visitor Information Centre and is located at 15 Old Menangle Road in the old St Patrick's schoolhouse which was erected in 1840, opened on St Patrick's Day by Bishop Polding, and was the first Catholic school in Australia to be built from private subscription. The building was designed by Father John Therry who, in 1820, became the first Catholic priest to be appointed to Australia. The building has been renovated, has an attractive rose garden and contains a replica schoolroom and small historical display.

2. Emily Cottage
A little further along Old Menangle Road is Emily Cottage, a quaint and attractive stone house (c.1840) with a dormer window and gabled roof. It is thought to have originally been a toll house. There is an exotic piece of local folklore that says it was named after Emily Denmed who lived in the cottage and died after being struck by lightning.

6. Koshigaya Park
Over the road from the Campbelltown Catholic Club is the Koshigaya Park which is an ideal place for a picnic. It has cherry blossom trees, facilities for children and celebrates the twinning of Campbelltown and Koshigaya in Japan. There are remnants of Fisher's Ghost Creek which run through the park.

Historic Precinct
7. Farrier's Arms
Located at 320 Queen Street and now occupied by the Campbelltown Craft Society, this simple building was licensed as the Farrier's Arms Inn in 1843 and was owned by blacksmith Edward Fitzgerald. Some sources claim the building was originally a grog shop dating back to 1826. It is certain that it was in existence by 1840 and that Fitzgerald plied his trade as a blacksmith from a shop at the rear of the Inn.

8. Kendall's Millhouse
Located at 318 Queen Street, Kendall's Millhouse was erected as Campbelltown's first steam-driven flour mill in 1843. The mill was built by the uncle of famous Australian poet, Henry Kendall, and operated from 1845-1920.

13. Town Hall
Located at 297 Queen Street is the old town hall. It is reputedly haunted by the ghost of Frederick Fisher because the town hall was built on the site of George Worrall's farm - Worrall was hung for Fisher's murder. The building was constructed around the old Sons of Temperance Hall which was built in 1862 and purchased by the local Council in 1884. The newly-formed council added the facade and front offices in 1892. The building has been used by the Campbelltown Theatre Group since 1980.

14-15. Historic Precinct
The buildings from 284-298 Queen Street form an 'historic precinct' within the city mall. This collection of two-storey colonial houses of brick or sandstone all date from the mid-19th century and all feature impressive balustrades, columns, windows and doors. They have been sensitively restored. At 298 Queen Street (c.1858) is the old staging post for Cobb and Co.; 294 was Bursill's shop (c.1842); 292 was Legacy House (c.1844); 288-90 is the old Railway Hotel (c.1840) which was converted to a music hall in the 1850s; and 284-86 was shoemaker Martin McGuanne's Cottage (1850s) - his family continued to live in the cottage for nearly a century.

16. Commercial Banking Company of Sydney
Located at 263 Queen Street is the former Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Victorian Italianate building which was opened in 1881 and has been carefully maintained. It is the work of the Mansfield brothers, architects who designed more than 40 banks for the CBC.

17. Campbelltown Post and Telegraph Office
Erected 1881-83 this post office was one of the first seven country post offices designed by Government Architect, James Barnet, in a distinctive Italianate style. It is a fine example of a Victorian Classical Revival country post office. A telephone exchange was installed in the building in 1913.

19. Glenalvon House and the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society
Located at 8 Lithgow Street, Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society occupies Glenalvon House which was built for Michael Byrne around 1841 and, as the website explains, it "consists of the two storey main house, the earlier Servants Quarters, and a Victorian Coach House and Stables" and "Glenalvon has been described as 'An exceptional two-storied sandstone home of colonial Georgian design' (National Trust), and 'A rare example of a residence and garden of its period, size, diversity, integrity, and quality' (Otto Cserhalmi and Partners, Heritage Architects)." It is open the 1st Monday, 2nd Saturday and 3rd Monday of every month, February to mid December, 10.00 am to 1.00 pm and by appointment, tel: (02) 4625 1822. The exhibitions are contained in a series of rooms - the servants quarters, the master bedroom, the agricultural shed etc - and offer a unique insight into the lives of early settlers in the area. Perhaps the most interesting piece in the museum is:
Graves of James and Elizabeth Ruse
The historic graves of James and Elizabeth Ruse which were located in the north-western corner of St John the Evangelist Catholic church graveyard. In 1994 descendants of the family removed the headstones due to the extensive vandalism which was occurring in the cemetery. Today they are precious pieces in the museum.

James Ruse has been described as the Father of Australian Agriculture. While this is exaggerated it is true that this ex-convict from Launceston in Cornwall, who arrived in Australia on the First Fleet, did become a successful farmer near Parramatta. He was the first convict to seek a grant of land and by 1791 he had become self-sufficient. He is remembered in James Ruse High School, regarded as the best state-run school in New South Wales. His grave has the inscription: "Sacred to the memory of James Ruse who departed this life September 5 in the year of oure Lord 1837. Native of Cornwell and arrived in this colony by the First Fleet, aged 77. My mother reread thy tenderly / With me she took much pain / And when I arrived in this colony I sowed the first grains / And now with my heavenly father I hope for ever to remain."

20. Mawson Park
On the corner of Queen and Cordeaux Streets is Mawson Park, once known as 'the green', where cricket and other sports were played and where the gallows and stocks once stood. It was on this site that Governor Macquarie named the area. The park has a statue of Elizabeth Macquarie, after whom Campbelltown is named, and there is an historic milestone recording that Sydney is XXXIII miles away.

22. St Peters Church
Located in Cordeaux Street, St Peter's Church was designed by Francis Lawless and built between 1821 and 1823. It is recognised as the oldest building in Campbelltown. The clock was installed in 1838 and other additions were made in the 1870s. Behind the church is the cemetery which has historic graves of great interest. There's an unusual diamond-shaped headstone which marks the grave of Matthew Healey, a pioneer of the Goulburn district; there's the grave of Harry Manns, a member of Ben Hall's infamous bushranging gang which held up the gold escort at Eugowra Rocks and stole £14,000 pounds. He was subsequently caught, tried and hanged in 1863. His body was displayed at a local inn for a short time as a warning to would-be bushrangers. Manns whereabouts within the cemetery is unknown.

St John the Evangelist Catholic Church
Located at 36 Cordeaux Street, St John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church is recognised as the first Catholic church built in Australia. This Georgian-style church is made of stuccoed brick with stone quoins. It was built between 1825 and 1841 under the direction of Father John Therry, one of the first Catholic priests in Australia. The mezzanine floor and wooden wall decorations were added  around 1886. It is now no longer used and is showing signs of neglect.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Story of Fisher's Ghost
Australia does not have a lot of genuinely persuasive ghost stories - the Min Min lights in far north Queensland being a notable exception - but the story of Fisher's Ghost persists and is so defining for Campbelltown that each year the city celebrates the Festival of Fisher's Ghost even though the creek where Fisher's body was found is now nothing more than a large drainage channel.

The story is that Frederick Fisher, an ex-convict who had been pardoned, came to Campbelltown in 1824 and settled on a farm on the western side of the town. No one is sure what Fisher's relationship with George Worrall, another ex-convict, was. Worrall may have been living on Fisher's farm. Fisher may have been living in Worrall's house.

On 17 June, 1826 Fisher disappeared. No one knew where he had gone but Worrall claimed that he had left the district. Some people suggested that Fisher had been involved in forgery and that he was escaping from the law. Others claimed that Fisher had stabbed a man. Worrall claimed that Fisher, expecting a long jail term, had given him power of attorney and that he was now in charge of Fisher's farm. There were other rumours around Fisher's disappearance. There was a suggestion he had returned to England. Another suggestion was that Fisher had been arrested and was serving a six month term. Whatever the case it was clear that Worrall took over Fisher's farm and there is some evidence he tried to sell some of Fisher's property - a horse and some personal belongings.

Myth has a strange ability to take over when facts are in short supply. So there are at least three versions of how Fisher's body was found. One explanation argues that Worrall's sudden acquisition of Fisher's farm raised suspicions and he was duly arrested but later released because of lack of evidence. Another claims that two boys found bloodstains, some teeth and hair on Worrall's fence. And another, probably the most plausible, argues that as a result of Fisher's disappearance a reward of £20 was offered and an Aboriginal tracker found Fisher's remains (this was three months after the disappearance) on the bank of a creek at the southern end of town. This creek, now little more than a storm drainage channel, is known as Fisher's Creek.

The best explanation of all - which needs to be taken with a degree of scepticism - is that in October, 1826 a local named John Farley was returning from Patrick's Inn (so his senses may have been impaired) when he saw Fisher's Ghost sitting on a fencing rail and pointing down at Fisher's Creek to a place where the body was subsequently found. The official version combines all these disparate rumours.

There are endless variations of these stories. One thing seems certain - Farley's sighting of the ghost did lead to a police investigation and that investigation did find Fisher's body.

The outcome is fairly predictable for the times. Worrall was arrested, tried, found guilty and convicted of murder. He was hanged after, so the story goes, confessing to the crime. The first account of the murder and the ghost appeared in 1832. Six years had elapsed since the crime and in that six years the myth had grown. Fisher was buried in the St Peter's Anglican cemetery which lies on the corner of Broughton and Howe Streets. No one knows exactly where his grave is. There is an outstanding, and downloadable, brochure Frederick Fisher and the legend of Fisher's Ghost. Check out http://www.fishersghost.com.au/Assets/11320/1/FrederickFisherandtheLegendofFishersGhost-emailversion2014.pdf. It is well illustrated and has a suggested map of places worth visiting. The map includes directions to the site of Fisher's farm; the site of George Worrall's farmhouse; the location of Fisher's Ghost Creek; the place where the body was found; and the graveyard at St Peter's Anglican Church.

Oh yes, and for those who prefer the official version rather than all the stories that hang around the event, here is the Campbelltown official version: "In October 1826, some four months after the murder, a strange paranormal thing happened. A local farmer named John Farley was returning home from Patrick’s Inn and on the way home he passed a paddock owned by Fisher.

“As he passed, he saw the figure of a man sitting on the fence of a bridge. As he got closer, he recognised the figure of Fred Fisher. As he approached, John became horror struck and realised he was looking at a ghost. He claimed that the ghost was bathed in an eerie light and had blood dripping from a wound in his head. Releasing a loud moan, the ghost beckoned to him, raised his arm and pointed to a creek back towards George Warrell’s farm before fading away.

“After the encounter John ran to a local hotel in a state of shock claiming he had seen the ghost of Fred Fisher.

“After relaying the extraordinary story of his encounter with Fisher’s Ghost to the Police Superintendent and then the local magistrate, Reverend Thomas Reddall, investigations into Fred’s disappearance intensified. ON 25 October, 1826 two young boys, Rixon and Burrows, were returning home across Fred’s farm and noticed bloodstains on a fence. On a closer investigation, a lock of hair and a tooth were also found.

“A local officer, Constable Luland, searched the area but found nothing, so it was decided to call in an Aboriginal tracker from Liverpool. On testing the water from puddles in the area, the tracker, named Namut, announced ‘white fellow’s fat there!’ They followed the puddles along the creek and discovered Fred’s body in a shallow grave, just where the ghost had pointed.

“The body was partially decomposed, and was ‘a saddened, death-like sickly white’. The face was not recognisable, however the clothes consisting of a plum coloured jacket, a full bloused shirt and buckles on the braces were easily recognised as Fred’s … George Worrall went on trial for Fred’s murder in a criminal court, on 2 February 1827. The jury took 15 minutes to find him guilty, and he was sentenced to death and executed three days later, on 5 February, 1827."

Mount Annan Botanic Garden
Mount Annan Botanic Garden is Australia's largest botanic garden and, according to its brochure, "the most popular tourist and recreation facility in south-western Sydney". Within its 416 hectares there are over 20 km of walking trails, a loop road, two ornamental lakes with lakeside picnic areas, the Bowden education centre, a nursery and arboretum, an abundance of birdlife and most of Australia's known native plant species (they dream of having all 25,000 species) including a good collection of young Wollemi Pines. The flora is featured in a variety of settings - a terrace garden, a wattle garden, a banksia garden and a mallee eucalypt arboretum. There are also woodland and lakeside plant communities. From Mount Annan it is possible to see Campbelltown, the Sydney skyline and, to the south-west, the Menangle district and the Razorback Range. The Sundial of Human Involvement, a sculpture made of basalt columns which allows you to tell the time by raising your hands in the air, has particular appeal to children. There are picnic facilities and excellent bike tracks. It reputedly has the only mountain bike trail through a botanical garden anywhere in the world.  The gardens are open from 10.00 am - 5.00 pm and there are daily tours - tel: (02) 4634 7935. For more information check out http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome/australian_botanic_garden which has details of entrance fees and a good map.



* Prior to European occupation, the district was inhabited by the Tharawal Aborigines. There is evidence that the bitter conflict between European settlers and the Tharawal resulted in the arrival of the Gundangarra people in the district. They called it 'Benkennie', meaning dry land.

* In 1788, just four months after the arrival of the First Fleet, seven of the eight cows on the Government Farm at Farm Cove, disappeared. They were finally sighted in 1795 on the western side of the Nepean and by that time the herd had increased to over 40. They were grazing on an area that became known as 'Cow Pasture Plains' which is where Camden now stands.

* The Burragorang Valley and the area around Camden was explored by the Frenchman, Francis Barrallier, in 1802-03.

* Between 1802-1804 the botanist George Caley travelled through the area and sighted the first lyrebird.

* Governor Macquarie visited the area in 1810 and, responding to complaints that the local Aborigines were attacking settlers, he established sentries in the district. He named the district 'Airds' after the family estate of his wife Elizabeth in Scotland.

* By 1811 there were 107 settlers in the district.

* Campbelltown quickly became a settlement on the main thoroughfare for those heading to the south-west grazing plains and south through Appin to the Illawarra.

* Governor Macquarie returned to the district in 1820. He marked out a townsite and named it after his wife, Elizabeth Campbell.

* In 1826 a regular mail service was established from Sydney to Campbelltown.

* In 1826 an ex-convict named Frederick Fisher was murdered. This gave rise to the famous Fisher's Ghost legend. Another ex-convict named George Worrall was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged for Fisher's murder.

* Campbelltown was surveyed in 1826 and it was laid out over the next few years according to a plan by surveyor Robert Hoddle who also built a track to the coast from the escarpment above Kiama.

* The settlement grew slowly from 1827-1831 with flour-milling being important.

* The infamous bushranger "Mad Dog" Morgan who was born at Campbelltown in 1830.

* A reservoir, to provide water for flour milling, was built by a convict chain-gang in 1838-39. It continued to operate until 1888.

* In 1841 a migrant depot was established at Campbelltown by Caroline Chisholm.

* In 1843 a district council covering Campbelltown, Camden, Narellan and Picton was established.

* The railway reached the town in 1858.

* During the 1860s rust wiped out the local wheat crop and farmers turned to dairying, stock-raising and orchards.

* The Campbelltown Post Office was constructed in 1881.

* 1882 was an important year: the town became a municipality and a tramway connected Camden and Campbelltown. The tramway continued to operate until 1963. It was used to transport ore from Yerranderie and milk from the local dairy farms.

* The Campbelltown courthouse was erected in 1888.

* The beginning of Campbelltown's suburban development occurred as early as the 1880s when Minto, Ingleburn, Macquarie Fields and Glenfield were all subdivided.

* In 1888 Campbelltown became the first country town in New South Wales to have piped water.

* In 1907 work was completed on the Cataract Dam, the first of the Upper Nepean Valley dams supplying water to Sydney.

* By 1911 the population in the town had reached 1,429.

* After World War II Campbelltown was envisaged as a satellite city of Sydney, providing housing and work in a reasonably priced commuter area.

* The population increased dramatically from 9,690 in 1954 to 16,374 in 1961.

* The town was declared a city in 1968.

* By the 1970s Campbelltown was experiencing some of the fastest urban growth rates in Australia.

* By 1986 there were 120,000 residents.

* Today it is a vast suburban sprawl in every direction with smaller settlements, such as St Helens, becoming part of Greater Campbelltown.


Visitor Information

Campbelltown Visitor Information Centre, 15 Old Menangle Road, Campbelltown, tel: (02) 4645 4921


Useful Websites

The local website - http://macarthur.com.au - includes a downloadable brochure and extensive information on eating and accommodation in the local area.

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1 suggestion so far
  • Regarding St. John’s Catholic Church, the current one in Cordeaux St is from 1886, ‘the oldest Catholic Church in Australia’, the original St. Johns is cnr Broughton/George Sts, dating from 1841. The actual oldest Catholic Church in Australia built solely as a church, is in Richmond, Tasmania, 1837. The oldest site of Catholic worship in Australia, built as school/church, is St. Brigid’s in Millers Point, Sydney, 1835.

    Peter Phelan