Sunday 1 September 2013

Cumberland Plain Woodland, Sydney's natural heritage

Cumberland Plain Woodland (cc Wikimedia)
What good is Cumberland Plain Woodland you might ask?

The early settlers in the Sydney Basin might not have understood the ecology of the Cumberland Woodland but they knew good farming country when they saw it. John Macarthur understood the potential of the good grazing country on the Nepean River floodplain.

The cows that escaped from the Sydney penal settlement found their nirvana in Cumberland Woodland managed by the Dharawal people in the Cowpastures.

Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow saw the importance of the Cumberland Woodland in 1905 when she insisted the mature specimens with the bounds of Macarthur Park be preserved when she gifted the park to Camden township.

It is clearly shown in the Appin district on Sydney's rural-urban fringe, where the Woodland comes up against the Sydney sandstone communities.

Just east of Appin the colonial settlements of the early 1800s stopped. Why? Sydney sandstone is terrible farmland. Better to use the clay soils of the Cumberland Woodland.

There are the clay soils of the Cumberland Woodland between Appin and Campbelltown and a host of land grants handed out to would-be yeoman farmers from about 1813.

These colonial land grants created a pseudo-European cultural landscape of smallholder farms on the colonial frontier. There was a conflict between the Dharawal and the Europeans that resulted in the Appin Massacre of 1816.

There are surviving remnant patches of Woodland at Beulah, a Hume family property, now owned by the Sydney Living Museum and at Noorumba Reserve at Rosemeadow.

One important stand that has had recovery work is at The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan.
Cumberland Woodland (ABG)

Cumberland Plain Woodland in Serious Trouble

Cumberland Woodland Mt Annan (cc Blogger/A Koskela)


The Cumberland Woodland is found on clay soils derived from Wianamatta Group geology of Sydney's Cumberland Plain. Where once it covered over 100,000 hectares it is a mere skerrick of its former glory.

Today Cumberland Woodland barely covers 6,000 hectares of Sydney's Cumberland Plain. That is less than 6 per cent of the original area.

The Woodland is indigenous to the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly Local Government Areas and the catchments within them including the Nepean River and South Creek.

Critically Endangered

In New South Wales under the Threatened Species Conservation Act the Woodland proposed to be listed as critically endangered. The Woodland is highly fragmented across the Cumberland Plain.


The Woodland is under threat from clearing, fire and grazing associated with urban development, industry and farming. Invasive weed infestation is a major problem in remnant Woodland.

One common weed is African Olive which escaped from the gentry estates of the Camden district in the 1820s where it was introduced as a hedging plant and rootstock for olives.


Common Species

Grey Box, Forest Red Gum, Narrow-leafed Ironbark, Grey Ironbark, Narrow-leaved Stringybark, Spotted Gum and Black Wattle.

 Best Viewing

The best viewing in the local area is at The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan.

More reading

NPWS, Cumberland Plain Woodland Fact Sheet, Endangered Ecological Community Information,  2004.

Originally posted 1 September 2013. Updated 8 August 2020.