Settlement of the Hawkesbury area was initiated by Lieutenant Governor Major Francis Grose to help make the colony self-supporting. The rich land along the Hawkesbury River became known as the “granary of the colony”. The farms at Pitt Town Bottoms in the Hawkesbury area are Australia’s oldest still under cultivation.
The Hawkesbury River was named by Governor Phillip in 1789 and explored by an expedition two years later. In 1794, Francis Grose reported that “I have settled on the banks of the Hawkesbury twenty two settlers, who seem very much pleased with their farms. They describe the soil as particularly rich, and they inform me whatever they have planted has grown in the greatest luxuriance”. ( Historic Records of NSW, Vol. 2)
The produce from the Hawkesbury area supplemented that of Sydney and Parramatta. Among the early settlers to take up land in the area was James Ruse, the colony’s first free farmer, who sold his property at Parramatta to take up land on the Hawkesbury. In 1807 Governor Bligh established Australia’s earliest model farm in the area.
Production in the early years centred on wheat, maize and pigs. A Government granary was erected at Green Hills on the south bank of the river and produce was taken by boat for transportation to Sydney town. However, severe floods in 1801, 1806 and 1809 caused great losses. Settlers subsequently moved their homes and stock to higher ground but continued to cultivate the river flats.
In 1810, Governor Macquarie named five “Macquarie towns”: Richmond, Windsor, Pitt Town, Castlereagh and Wilberforce. After the Blue Mountains were crossed in 1813, grain from the Hawkesbury area became less important to the colony. However, the region remained the chief supplier of vegetables.