In the balmy days before the outbreak of World War I, local architect Alfred Payten was enjoying a quiet horse ride across the sprawling Glenlee property with its owner, James Fitzpatrick Jr.
Sitting under a shady tree to enjoy their pipes, they glanced across to the riverside paddock that was often used for equestrian events.
Turning to his friend, Alfred mused: "I think this would make a good racecourse Jim". This was the recollection of Alfred's daughter, Sarah Payten, who left hand written notes with Campbelltown Library in 1976. She continued: "James Fitzpatrick agreed and negotiations were carried out with Joynton Smith, a well-known squire in Sydney business and press circles, who said to my father: 'What do you want out of this?', to which my father replied, 'Give me the job, that's all I want', meaning of course, the architecture. When Menangle Park Racecourse opened in 1914, it was to become so synonymous with the surrounding district that "North Menangle" quickly redefined itself as the suburb it is known as today - Menangle Park.
But where exactly does the name "Menangle" come from? It derives from an early Aboriginal word, spelt either as Manhangle or Manangle. This word was actually used by the Tharawals to describe a small lagoon on the opposite side of the Nepean River. For it was here, on the west bank, in 1805 that a 2000 acre (800ha) grant was awarded to Walter Davidson. He called his new farm Manangle, after the lagoon.
But within a few years this estate had been swallowed into the huge Camden Park property of John Macarthur. A small private village was later established on this land in later decades and named Menangle - after the original grant. Today, this hamlet is part of Wollondilly Shire, with the Nepean River forming the boundary.
The small farming community that became established on the eastern bank (in Campbelltown territory) came to be loosely known as North Menangle. By the 1860s, this area was a prosperous farming community and a North Menangle railway platform was opened in April 1873, on a site south of the modern station.
Arguably the most dominant local family were the Tabers. Their patriarch, Thomas Taber, had arrived at Sydney Cove in 1797 as one of the colony's first schoolmasters. He and two of his sons later received land grants in the area, and within a few decades members of the Taber clan could be found on farms dotted across the hills. It was George Taber, described as a "gentleman farmer", who built the historic Menangle House.
One of the family properties was called Medhurst Vale, in honour of the maiden name of Thomas Taber's wife. (In 1977, Campbelltown Council gave an unnamed roadway adjacent to the homestead the appellation of Medhurst Road after a request by the family).
But if there was a premier property in the area, it was without doubt Glenlee. The impressive house (which still stands at the end of Glenlee Road) was built for police magistrate William Howe in 1824. At the end of the 1850s, it was acquired by James Fitzpatrick (1800-82). This man arrived in NSW as an Irish convict, but won some fame by accompanying the explorers Hume and Hovell on their overland journey to Port Phillip.
At the end of his sentence, Fitzpatrick quickly built up vast squatting runs in the southern tablelands, but eventually returned to the Campbelltown district to invest in local farms. His wife had given him no children, but after her death he remarried and had three children by Elizabeth Cummins, the youngest daughter of Glenlee tenant farmers, William and Annie Cummins. (Erratum - Elizabeth Cummins was the daughter of tenant farmer James and Margaret Cummins.)
A grandson of this union, Frederick "Mate" Sedgwick was the mayor from 1957-59, while William Cummins (brother of Elizabeth) was mayor in 1888 and 1900.
By the 1890s, Glenlee was under the control of James Fitzpatrick junior - the same man who went horseback riding with Alfred Payten and dreamt of creating a Menangle Park Racecourse. Horses and Menangle Park have always gone hand-in-hand. Racing events had been held on the site of the modern course as early as the 1860s. In fact, Menangle House was for a time operated as the Horse and Jockey Inn.
After the opening of the racecourse in 1914, it became a makeshift army camp and was used to train troopers in the famous Australian Light Horse. As World War I drew to an end in 1918, a host of new housing estates were launched across Campbelltown. And the grassy paddocks adjoining the popular racecourse were no exception.
By September 1920, the Campbelltown News was noting the "proposed subdivision at Menangle Park". Estate agents Hardie, Susby & Norman told council they were willing to carry out the formation of roads "in any reasonable way the council might suggest." The following year, the estate was subdivided and sold as a village of 2.5 acre (1ha) blocks.
The basic layout of Menangle Park's streets remain unchanged to this day. Fitzpatrick Street, Cummins Street and Taber Street note, of course, the three pioneering families. Racecourse Avenue and Station Road are named in honour of the obvious. The railway station was opened at its present site in 1937. The remaining street recalls the racecourse architect, Alfred Payten. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the course was once again converted into a military base, providing camping and training facilities for troops. An airstrip was even laid through the middle of the racetrack.
In 1945, it was the location of scenes for the film "Smithy", based on the historic flight of Charles Kingsford-Smith. The NSW Trotting Club acquired and upgraded the site in 1952, redeveloping it as a paceway. (In 1975, it became the new home of the annual Campbelltown City Show). For many years the Vulcan fireworks factory operated off Cummins Road, and made its presence well and truly felt in April 1957, with a deafening explosion that could be heard as far away as Camden. "As the building exploded a sheet of the flame leapt high into the air and pieces of the building were thrown in all directions," the local press reported. "Homes in Menangle Park and Menangle felt the full blast and crockery was shaken violently." In the end it was left a smouldering ruin.
In 1978, restoration work began on the historic Glenlee House, which the Macarthur Development Board had bought from the Fitzpatrick family. Two years later, it was opened for public viewing before it was privately owned. Broughton Anglican School, named after the early Bishop of Australia, William Broughton, opened on Menangle Road in 1986.
As early as 1955, Menangle Park residents were lobbying the Government to allow them to subdivide their lost and create a township. "Two and a half acres are too small to make a living from rural pursuits and too large for building blocks," they argued. But the authorities constantly refused to permit subdivision. In 1973, Menangle Park was designated to become a future urban suburb of the expanding City of Campbelltown.
In 1981 the State Government gave its blessing to the proposals and detailed planning by the council began. These plans are now finalised, but the entire area still remains rural because of the government's ban on all new suburban releases in the Nepean River catchment until pressing air and water quality issues are addressed. To this day, Menangle Park remains a quiet rural corner of the city.
The only official park in the entire area is the picturesque Menangle River Reserve, on the banks of the Nepean. This spot was always a popular swimming hole, and in 1926 the local press reported: "The swimming pool near the Menangle bridge continues [to be] very popular and each weekend sees a number of cars parked nearby, whilst their occupants enjoy a dip in its cooling depths."
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the site became an unemployment camp. Joan Ponsonby recalls: "This was a collection of huts and shanties built by the unemployed. The occupants, unable to pay rent were thrown on their own resources and apart from the dole of 7/6 (75c) per week could extract no further government help. In January 1960, the Campbelltown -Ingleburn News noted 160 pupils had enrolled for swimming lessons in the river. Later that same year, Council acquired the land adjoining the sandy beach to provide parking for the swimmers, setting the foundation for the reserve of today. Despite the pollution issues facing the Nepean, the site remains a popular one.
"Campbelltown's Streets and Suburbs - How and why they got their names" written by Jeff McGill, Verlie Fowler and Keith Richardson, 1995, published by Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society
Reproduced with permission of the authors