News & Politics

A natural history of the Ham Common, the lands sandwiched between Richmond and Windsor - two of Governor Macquarie's five towns

Description
A natural history of the Ham Common, the lands sandwiched between Richmond and Windsor - two of Governor Macquarie's five towns
Published
of 14
All materials on our website are shared by users. If you have any questions about copyright issues, please report us to resolve them. We are always happy to assist you.
Related Documents
Share
Transcript
  Establishment of the Ham Common Against the wishes of Governor Arthur Phillip, while the Governor was on a visit to England, Lieutenant-Governor Major Francis Grose developed a small farming community on the banks of the Hawkesbury River between the mouth of South Creek and Canning Reach (now Pitt Town). The first land grants were distributed among 19 ex-convicts, one private of the New South Wales Corps (Giles Moore), another was a marine (John Howell), and one was a free settler (James Webb). Each received 12 ha of land with river frontage. By January 1794 these holdings were settled and, from these small beginnings, by 1810 agriculture was well established in the Hawkesbury (Barkley, 1994) and production was on an upward trajectory. Over the following two decades the Hawkesbury district, now on the peri-urban fringe of north-western Sydney metropolitan area, expanded to become one of the largest settlements in the colony, together with Sydney and Parramatta (Nichols, 1994). As part of this development of farming activities in the area, in August 1804 Governor King directed that land be set aside to be used exclusively by settlers to graze their stock. Unique in Australia, three of these commons were established in the Hawkesbury. Although the srcinal purpose of these commons has changed with time, portions of these public lands have been retained (Nichols, 1994). One of these land parcels became known as the Ham Common. It was srcinally established on 2000 ha that stretched from Castlereagh Road near Richmond, to the back of farms facing South Creek, and circuiting the srcinal urban area of South Windsor: the land sandwiched between Richmond and Windsor, two of the five towns that Governor Macquarie planned in the development of the Hawkesbury region. Significant excisions from the Ham Common The railway reserve Over time, segments of the Ham Common have been eroded (Stubbs, undated). For example, in 1862 when funds were made available for the extension of the railway line from Blacktown to Richmond, part of the northern section of Ham Common was resumed for a railway corridor. This line was officially opened in 1864 (Nichols, 1994). A natural history of the Ham Common, the lands sandwiched between Richmond and Windsor - two of Governor Macquarie’s five towns 1 Shelley Burgin College of Health and Science, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, South Penrith Distribution Centre, 1797 Australia.e-mail s.burgin@uws.edu.au      A     B     S     T     R     A     C     T Unique in Australia, three Commons were set aside in the Hawkesbury River catchment for the exclusive use of the colony’s free settlers to graze their stock. One of these, Ham Common, was sandwiched between the towns of Windsor and Richmond. In this paper, I provide a thumb-nail sketch of the fragmentation of this Common. The first major section to be excised was for the railway, subsequently land has been excised for a racecourse, Hawkesbury Agricultural College (HAC), the Royal Australian Air Force Richmond (RAAF) Base, and Hawkesbury Showground. Effectively all that remains as the Ham Common is a roadside corridor wedged between the RAAF Base and the railway reserve. The remaining remnant vegetation of the Ham Common is restricted to approximately 575 ha on the grounds of the University of Western Sydney (formally HAC). Even this bushland is fragmented, abutted by roadways, power-line corridors, the University’s infrastructure, and open agricultural lands. The data presented in this chapter are opportunistic records of species recorded since the early 1990s. Based on these data, both taxa of protected invertebrates of the area, Cumberland Plain Land Snail  Meridolum corneovirens  and jewel beetles Buprestidae, are present. Of the vertebrates predicted to be present, 69.2% of reptiles, 80% frogs, and 60.1% mammals, and 94 bird species were recorded. Many of the predicted species not encountered are nocturnal, or otherwise may not be observed without targeted searches, although some species have undoubtedly become locally extinct. Key words:  fauna; animals, western Sydney species; peri-urban wildlife; Hawkesbury Agricultural College; animal biodiversity; extant species Pp263 - 276 in The Natural History of Sydney, edited by Daniel Lunney, Pat Hutchings and Dieter Hochuli. Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Mosman, NSW, Australia. 2010 1. The author has been an environmental scientist on the Hawkesbury campus of the University of Western Sydney since it was established in 1989. She is currently the campus Provost and Associate Dean Research in the College of Health and Science. Over her period with the institution her peers have come to recognise her as the acknowledged expert on the remnant bushland of the campus. Much of the information in this paper is unpublished and, by necessity, she draws on oral history.  264 The natural history of Sydney  The racecourse and showground This was followed by the lease of 80 ha of the Common by the Hawkesbury Race Club’s Racecourse in 1868 (Stubbs, undated; Nichols, 1994). In 1951, the Race Club was reclassified as a provincial club. It now has a 1,000 m course, and buildings that include a grandstand and stables. It has become one of the State’s major provincial racing clubs (Nichols, 1994). Between 1879 and 1985 the annual Hawkesbury District Agricultural Show was held on the grounds of the Hawkesbury Race Club. It is now the third largest agricultural show in New South Wales after Sydney Royal and Newcastle shows. With the continued success of the Hawkesbury Race Club and the Hawkesbury District Agricultural Show, negotiation was initiated for land that had been excised for the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. In 1993, after five years of negotiation, 40 ha of land adjacent to the Hawkesbury Race Club were provided for the Hawkesbury District Agricultural Show Society, and the Hawkesbury City Council was appointed Trustee (Nichols, 1994). Thus the land occupied by both the race club and the showgrounds were excised from lands srcinally included in Ham Common. The Hawkesbury Agricultural College   The largest parcel of land to be excised from the Ham Common was the lands that became the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. Throughout the early years of the colony, in despatches to the Home Government from the Colony of New South Wales, reference was repeatedly made to the inefficiency of the Colony’s farmers. W. C. Wentworth first recommended agricultural education, however, it was not until 1874 that Mr A. Bruce, the Chief Inspector of Stock, submitted a draft Bill proposing the establishment of a College for ‘imparting instructions in, and disseminating information relating to, agriculture’. In 1886 the chief draftsman of the Department of Mines, Walter Scott Campbell, was enlisted to find suitable areas for experimental or demonstration farms in the Colony. In 1889, Mr Pudney and Mr Campbell were asked to report on the relative merits of two potential sites: Rookwood Reserve and the Ham Common. Both recommended Ham Common as the most suitable site for the College and farm. Initially 1600 ha were made available for the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. The area was subsequently reduced to 1,584 ha because of local protests over existing rights. Despite the investigation of 20 sites before selection of the Ham Common, it was soon realised that the proportion of sufficiently fertile soil for agriculture on this land was limited (Dart, 1941). With the establishment of the College, and the associated offices of the newly formed Department of Primary Industries, much of the Ham Common had been removed from its srcinal purpose.Dart (1941) suggested that the broad guiding principles in the establishment of the College seemed to have been:1. Provision of technical training in agriculture for those who desired it.2. That this education was within the reach of all, and so fees were kept low and bursaries were established.3. It was to be established in an area that gave free access to visitors and, therefore, must be within ‘leave of Sydney’.4. In addition to instruction in the practice of agriculture, science had to be taught. The College was therefore charged with providing a full course of instruction in such subjects that had a direct bearing on soil production, and this education had to also have a focus on practical work.5. It was also envisioned that the College would be the central institution of its kind, and connected with a small number of experiment farms that were to be located in suitable areas so that the capabilities of the variable conditions of soil and climate found across Australia’s ‘extensive land surface’ could be ‘tested’.In the first issue of the  Agricultural Gazette  (July 1890), the Minister wrote ‘The greatest hope for the future must, however, rest in the systematic education of the lads who are to settle on the soil. There must be instituted a scheme of education that will fit our boys for the intelligent occupation of the soil, and they should receive the best possible scientific and practical training to enable them to hold their own in the march of progress and to add to the material wealth of the Colony’.In preparation for the foundation of Hawkesbury Agricultural College, clearing of the native vegetation commenced in 1891. After the first boys were enrolled in that year, their training included alternating days between the classroom and working on the farm. This included working at orchard and garden activities ‘as far as the equipment would allow’. In the first years of the College the boys were said to have performed ‘hard work’. The stump holes left from the removal of trees had to be in-filled, dams were excavated, together with fencing and clearing of the mature apple trees [  Angophora  sp.] and in many places tea-tree [ Melaleuca  sp.] scrub (Dart, 1941). These early students were therefore taught the operations required for conversion of native bushland to agricultural land, and in doing so removed much of the native vegetation, and changed the distribution of water in the landscape. In his first annual report, the College Principal wrote that the boys carried out ‘cheerfully and well’ the activities of clearing, fencing, grubbing, draining, trenching, ploughing and planting of land that had at the beginning of the College year been virgin forest. On this land they had also grown large quantities of farm crops and nursery stock that included maize, vines, apples, pears, plums and walnuts. In 1893 a travelling dairy was stationed at the College which resulted in a temporary milking shed being erected. In 1894 building for a permanent dairy began (Dart, 1941). Some decades ago this building was restored, and has been used as staff offices since that time. Since dairying was introduced, the College developed a commercial dairy factory and a cheese maker was employed until the 1980s. Initially milk and its by-products, particularly cheese, were provided for the staff and students of the College. In the 1970s the ‘dairy shop’ still sold produce from the farm including milk, Burgin  265 The natural history of Sydney  cheese, ice cream, eggs and horticultural produce. On Friday of each week free fresh produce was delivered to each of the senior staff. Milk continued to be sold into the 1990s, however, with the deregulation of the dairy industry in New South Wales the dairy was closed. Although in recent times, the source of the produce was not from the institution’s farm animals, hams were cured and sold at Christmas until the last decade.In 1892 the Principal reported that the College had acquired 200 wethers and 60 lambs, and the handling, killing and dressing of these animals was deemed to be educational. In the 1893 Annual Report the farm had 11 ‘good working horses’, 10 Ayrshire cows and heifers and a bull, together with seven ‘common’ cows. Other livestock included a team of 12 bullocks. There was talk of supplementing these herds with a range of other breeds (Dart, 1941). In 1894 a saw mill was constructed near the dairy, presumably to mill timber from the site. In 1895 stables were erected (Dart, 1941) for the prize-winning Clydesdale horse stud. By the 1980s this stud had been replaced by an Arabian horse stud. The only traces that are left of these studs is the now heritage listed stables and the photographs and artworks on the walls and in the archives of the institution. This building, and inner open space, is known as Stable Square and currently houses businesses such as the campus bar and hairdresser, and meeting rooms. In the late 19 th  century ostriches were introduced, and they were breeding by 1900. The breeding program was successful, and on one occasion it is recorded that a flock of 24 adult birds, raised on the College farm, were sent to a commercial farm in Queensland. Feathers were sent to the Franco-British Exhibition where they were awarded a gold medal. Ultimately, the birds were disposed of because the market for feathers was spasmodic due to the ‘vagaries of fashion’, and an embargo on the import of new birds from South Africa prevented the introduction of ‘new blood’ (Dart, 1941).H. W. Potts was appointed as the Principal in 1902 and retired in 1920. This period is ‘noted for its series of landmarks in the advance and progress of agricultural education in its numerous phases’ (Dart, 1941, pp 24). He greatly reorganised the curriculum, extended the accommodation, introduced a diploma in dairying, purchased and laid out the River Farm with frontage onto the Hawkesbury River (presumably to acquire an acreage of fertile alluvial soils in contrast to the generally low fertile, sandy soils of most of the existing campus), acquired many additional breeds of high-grade poultry, pigs, sheep, cattle, and horses, and he added an apiary. For example, it is recorded that ‘the greatest wonder of all…was the poultry farm’. Dart (1941. pp. 30-31) reported that it was ‘beyond the powers of memory to recall the number and names of the various breeds of fowls and ducks…[and] the greatest array of livestock’. He also commented on the ‘high standard of quality reached by the breeds’ that he claimed had had ‘an immense influence on breeds throughout Australia, and not without some influence on world breeds’. Currently, the only stock that are retained on the lands are sheep, cattle and deer, while there is a small rodent house to support research, and recently a reptile house has been established.The focus of the College was on training agriculturalists, and in hindsight, the removal of biodiversity rather than its study or conservation. However, Potts who was srcinally employed as the lecturer in botany and entomology, was considered to be ‘close to nature’ and his observations and research are recorded in ‘many’ papers published in the Agricultural Gazette and other scientific journals. Historically this research was more likely to be associated with field experiments in crop production (e.g., varieties, manuring, culture methods, disease, pest control). There were also experiments in animal feeding and production in a range of animals including poultry, pigs and sheep. One indication of the success in this area was the ‘world cow record’ for Wagga Gladys who, on more than one occasion, secured the world record for the breed for the butter-fat content of her milk. In 1927 research into plant breeding was introduced, particularly associated with the development of new strains and varieties of many agricultural crops (Dart, 1941).In the 1970s the Department of Primary Industries handed control of the College to the Higher Education Board and a large number of their staff ceased work on the campus, although the department has continued to maintain a presence. The change in ownership was accompanied by a major change in the funding structure. This resulted in a move from supporting a fully functioning farm, student learning and associated research, to per-capita funding based on specific courses. No additional funds were provided to maintain the property, and by the 1980s the institution was in substantial debt. Throughout the 1980s there was ‘serious’ down-sizing of College staff and equipment. This included the sale of a high-powered bull-dozer used to remove timber and build dams. These changes resulted in a reduced threat to the biodiversity, and no further vegetation clearing or wetland modification has occurred. In 1989 Hawkesbury Agricultural College, which offered tertiary degrees to research masters level, joined two other colleges of advanced education to become the University of Western Sydney. The associated legislative change dropped mention of the lands being used to teach agriculture, although the University continues to offer courses in the area with very modest uptake, together with related spin-off courses including horticulture, business, food technology, and environmental management and science. The Richmond RAAF Base By 1916 the Hawkesbury Agricultural College was well established, and in August of that year a military flying school was developed on the remaining segment of the Ham Common (SMH, 2007). Subsequently the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Richmond was established in June 1925. The total area of the RAAF Base is approximately 280 ha (Stubbs, undated), which resulted in the loss of most of what remained of the Ham Common. A natural history of Ham Common  266 The natural history of Sydney Burgin This Air Force Base was the first established in New South Wales, and the second in Australia. Between 1923 and 1936 it was also used as a supplementary airport for Sydney. During this time Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith landed the Southern Cross  on the airfield at the end of his trans-Pacific flight in 1928, and Miss Jean Batten also used the airfield at the end of her solo flight from England in 1935 (RAAF, 2007). During World War II a substantial number of flying squadrons were formed on the Base and RAAF Richmond ‘developed into a base of major importance to Australia’s defence’. Sine that time it has evolved from a combat centre to the home base of most of the Air Force’s air transport fleet, and it is now the hub of logistics support for the Australian Defence Forces (RAAF, 2007). At its peak, the Base housed over 2,500 air force personnel (Stubbs, undated). As a result of the RAAF’s activities, this former segment of the Ham Common has been largely denuded of natural vegetation. Conservation of the natural history of the Ham Common With only small remnants of the Ham Common remaining, most significantly, a strip that is little more than a road side corridor sandwiched between the Richmond RAAF Base and the railway reserve, the grounds of what was srcinally the Hawkesbury Agricultural College now retains effectively the only intact natural vegetation from the srcinal Common.As indicated above, over the first hundred years of Hawkesbury Agricultural College, agricultural activity first peaked and then began to wane. In the latter half of the 20 th  century, the focus on the land for production (agriculture, horticulture) was largely replaced by an emphasis on the social aspects of farming. In the last decade of the century, this was followed by the emergence of courses in environmental studies and biology. In parallel with these changes, was a shift from the focus on production agriculture to an interest in the natural environment. The change to university status has resulted in even greater loss of funding for outdoor staff, and there has been a reduction in the numbers of agriculture students and the course no longer has a production base, the ‘enterprises’ have been closed (e.g., black smith, dairy shop, milk factory). In parallel, there has been a modest rise in demand for environmental studies, and a greater emphasis on environmental and ecological research. With the reduced pressures from grazing and cropping there has also been a modest expansion of remnants in some areas of the campus via natural regeneration.These changes within the institution have occurred in parallel with the continued erosion of biodiversity associated with increased urbanisation, increasingly intensive agriculture across the region, and the strengthened legislative protection of native flora and fauna, including communities. The implications of these changes for the long term viability and protection of the remnant natural history of the Ham Common have occurred without comment from the institution’s senior management.The 575 ha of bushland on the Hawkesbury campus is effectively the only endemic bushland of the former Ham Common, and it is one of two of the largest areas of vegetation left on the Cumberland Plain (White and Burgin, 2004), of which McManus (2005) estimated only 5% remained. The erosion of these ecosystems continues (Burgin, 2008). The Ham Common remnants encompass three main associations: Castlereagh Woodlands, Shale/ Gravel Transition Forest, and Swamp Woodlands (Benson, 1992), although the published survey did not extend to another section of the Hawkesbury campus which has a substantial area of River Flat Eucalypt Forest. Although not legally recognised, the Rare or Threatened  Australian Plants  (ROTAP) List , and associated coding system, was developed and has been maintained by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation  ( CSIRO) since 1979. This list categorises taxa under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List codes: presumed extinct, endangered, vulnerable, rare, and poorly known at the national level (Brigg and Leigh, 1996). When developed it was the only nationally recognised list of threatened plants. When the Federal government’s Endangered Species Protection Act 1992  was proclaimed, the ROTAP list was used as the basis for publication of the schedules of this Act. Subsequently, the Federal Government replaced this instrument with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in an attempt to further strengthened biodiversity conservation through integrated management.Under New South Wales legislation, the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995  complemented the  National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974  to protect threatened species, communities and critical habitat. Under this instrument, an independent scientific committee was formed to determine which species, populations and ecological communities should to be listed as endangered, vulnerable or extinct under the Act, and to determine key threatening processes. River Flat Eucalypt Forest, Shale/Gravel Transition Forest and Cumberland Plain Woodlands (Shale Plains) are listed under Schedule 1, Part 3 of this Act, while the Cumberland Plain Woodland remnants are also protected as endangered under the Commonwealth Environment   Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. All of these vegetation types occur on the Hawkesbury campus (formally Ham Common lands). In addition to the legislative protection of ecological communities, there are also at least four mammal species ( Mormopterus norfolkensis  eastern free-tail-bat, Myotis adversus  (now  macropus ) large-footed myotis, Scoteanax rueppellii  greater broad-nosed bat, Pteropus  poliocephalus  grey-headed flying-fox) and one bird species ( Lophoictinia isura  square-tailed kite) that have been recorded on the Hawkesbury campus that are listed on the schedules for protection under state, and most also under Federal legislation. A further 19 vertebrate species could potentially use the site as habitat (Abel Ecology, 2008).  267 The natural history of Sydney A natural history of Ham Common However, the jewel beetle fauna of the remnant vegetation of the Ham Common is specifically protected on the Commonwealth Register of the  Australian Heritage Commission Act 1977 . To achieve this outcome, remnants of Castlereagh Woodland vegetation (one of the major remnant ecosystems on the Hawkesbury campus) are protected as part of the National Estate for the conservation of the jewel beetles Buprestidae. Forty-four jewel beetle species have been recorded from north-western Sydney. This makes the Cumberland Plain one of the most diverse and richest buprestid areas in the Sydney region and, as a consequence, the Castlereagh vegetation assemblage was considered ‘unique’ because of its importance as habitat of four nationally rare species and eight nationally uncommon species. This legislation has been invoked to successfully discourage inappropriate use of the woodlands over the last 20 years, although the more recent identification of a range of threatened plants species, together with the classification of the woodland community as an Endangered Ecological Community  under the state and federal legislation has strengthened the protection of the area considerably. An accidental success story? As previously outlined, there have been no detailed targeted surveys carried out to determine a baseline dataset of species in the remnant woodlands of the Ham Common. The data presented in this paper have been opportunistically recorded in, and adjacent to, the remnant woodlands since the early 1990s. This has occurred during fieldwork for specific research projects, on an ad hoc  basis. However, there is no imperative to provide observations and no central database has been developed. There is, therefore, no doubt that the data provided here are a gross underestimate of the extant taxa of the area covered by the former Ham Common. Invertebrate diversity Representatives of two taxa of invertebrates that are specifically protected under legislation occur in association with the naturally wooded areas of the Common. The Cumberland Plain land snail Meridolum corneovirens  is currently listed ‘endangered’ on Schedule 1 of the NSW Threatened Species Act 1995 , and ‘vulnerable’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 . It is present in apparently viable numbers (Clarke, 2005; Abel Ecology, 2007), and they may be found among logs and debris of the woodlands on the western edge of the campus (Abel Ecology, 2007). The only information on the second protected taxon, the jewel beetles, comes from casual observation of the presence of individuals. Although it would be predicted that there would be multiple species present, there is no record of them being keyed to species. Although there is only limited information on even the habitat requirements of these species, since the remnants with vegetation types that these invertebrates are known to inhabit are now seldom visited, even by researchers, it is tempting to assume that the populations remain viable.In a one-year investigation of seasonality in canopy arthropod diversity and richness, over 20,000 Recognisable Taxonomic Units (RTUs) and approximately 35,500 individuals from 21 ‘control’ Melaleuca linariifolia  shurbs were recorded (Azarbayjani et al ., 1999). Variation in organismal diversity between host trees from the same species sampled in the same area, and within one month, revealed that there was up to 60% difference between two adjacent M. linariifolia  shrubs. When compared between species within the same area, 394 and 1810 specimens and 68 and 99 RTUs were collected from M. linariifolia  and 298 and 1593 specimens and 34 and 137 species from Melaleuca decora  (Richardson et al ., 1999). The canopy arthropods have not been recorded for any other plant species in the area.The data provided on the invertebrates are restricted to a relatively few shrubs of two species, and the plant species were carefully selected for the low diversity. Since adjacent trees of the same species can differ by 60% of their taxa (Richardson et al ., 1999), the taxa identified would be expected to be a fragment of the real diversity, even within the one woodland sampled, without consideration of other woodland and forest vegetation types, or the adjacent agricultural lands and aquatic ecosystems.Hochuli et al . (2004) investigated patterns of insect herbivory in Eucalyptus botryoides  in remnants across the Sydney region. Overall, they found that there was not a significant difference in the number of species between large and small fragments of heath vegetation, or between small and large remnants of woodlands. Although not directly comparable, the species diversity was greater on the eucalypts in urban remnants than was found on the only study of canopy arthropods undertaken on the Ham Common. The Melaleuca  species were chosen for study because of their relatively low species diversity, determined after a comparative assessment of the levels of biodiversity on a range of species was undertaken as a practical assessment in an undergraduate laboratory (data not recorded). There is, therefore, no reason to suspect that the level of arthropod diversity on the Ham Common differs from other similar remnants elsewhere in the region.Warner (1995) undertook a study of the diet of two species of skinks, Lampropholis delicata  and Lampropholis  guichenoti , within a single woodland remnant of the campus. To compare diet with prey availability, she collected potentially available prey by sweep-netting within the foraging stratum (< 1 m from ground level) around the pitfall traps used to capture skinks. She observed that there were 84 ‘potentially available prey types’ but the total number collected was not recorded, and there are no other ground-dwelling invertebrate data recorded from the area. Because of the diversity of ecosystems that have remained without additional fragmentation for decades (some >100  years), and they have had minimal disturbance due to fire, weeds, stock grazing, or even human usage for several decades, it is likely that the remnants would have retained much of their biodiversity within the broader matrix of human impacted areas of western Sydney.
We Need Your Support
Thank you for visiting our website and your interest in our free products and services. We are nonprofit website to share and download documents. To the running of this website, we need your help to support us.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support.

No, Thanks