The Campbelltown campus was originally part of the extensive swathe of dairy farm land which extended from Appin through to Minto. One of the first grants in the area was to former Scottish convict, chief constable and businessman Andrew Thompson, whose close association with Governor Macquarie and rise to wealth made him a subject for discussion even in the British Parliament. Thompson’s dairy farm in Minto, St Andrew’s, came into the hands of the family of another Scot, Robert Thomson.

This large family married into the family of Claude Charles Tarlinton Murray, dairy farmer on the Buena Vista property at Minto, five times mayor of Ingleburn, and husband of ‘Monaro pioneer’ family member Bertha Annie Clark. Many old Campbelltown families such as the Marsdens and the Kings have memories of working or playing across the property, while newer families – such as that of Roy Medich, who was engaged to Patricia Murray in her sister’s house on the site – found themselves likewise affected when the site was resumed from the Thomson family by the NSW Government.

Under the Whitlam government’s ‘Growth Centres’ plan and guided by the Bull Swanson Report (1974), 150 acres was set aside to provide for a future university, with 50 acres for a College of Advanced Education (CAE), and 20 for a TAFE. (Future foundation Acting Vice-Chancellor, John Ward, had originally argued for Campbelltown on the assumption that it would be an extension campus of the University of Sydney, which had agricultural research land in the area). Near the confluence of the Macarthur and Wingecaribee Shires, the campus could serve both. With a collapse within government, the Growth Centres were gradually denuded of funding, and so the area did not develop in the same coherent way as originally planned. It did mean, however, that the property was available for educational development. In 1982, the Federal Government decided to allow Milperra CAE (MCAE) to form a second campus, and so satisfied ‘razor gang’ requirements by merging with itself to form the Macarthur Institute of Higher Education (MIHE). David Barr (MCAE Principal) and his team sought government support for the development of the site, and lobbied for train services which would make the site accessible to students.

Early teaching had already begun with a number of Business courses held in a local leagues club and, while construction was underway, in the Poor Clares Monastery across from the site on Narellan Road. On advice from the NSW Higher Education Board and at the suggestion of Des Crawley, Philip Cox and Associates were contracted to design a coherent campus built according to a staged master plan. Cox had already done work at Sydney, Macquarie and various other institutions (including Hawkesbury).

Faced with the need to produce coherence on a greenfields site with minimum public finance, Cox drew on Leslie Wilkinson’s work at Sydney University, who (he considered) had ‘achieved a lot with very little’. Using tile, stucco, and timber  enabled others to gloss the design as the institution expanded. It became known in the region as the ‘Tuscan village’, because of its quality of ‘hanging together’.

With the help of regional business leaders (such as the Perich and Vitocco families, who gave the campus gates, and the Marsden family, who particularly supported the Law building development) buildings cascaded down the slope towards the central lake, as expansion plans led to the growth of Nursing and Allied Health programs, and student accommodation was built to overcome the campus’ distance from the CBD. Student administration moved to the Campbelltown campus in 1986. Flanked by a grand, tree-lined entrance designed to create a sense of place, the lake became a focus for artistic and community functions (particularly the UWS Sculpture Award).

The site saw continuous growth until the financial crunch of 1996, and growth continued through the mid-2000s. Among the more interesting developments was the opening of the UWS Rotary Observatory in 2000, consisting of two observing domes of 4.5m and 2.9m in diameter. Though there would be disagreements over the design of the Law School, and later with the award-winning modern design for the Medical School, it remains among the most coherent of UWS campuses, eliciting in alumni warm memories of its gathering and social spaces. The impact on the LGA was even greater – as Paul Tosi, General Manager at Campbelltown Council said, ‘There is not a single [regional planning meeting] I would go to where the University is not central to commentary, or talk, or issues. We are the jewel in the crown of Macarthur ... We have a knowledge heart, and it means that Campbelltown is a university town. A lot of the talk – especially since the [development of the] Medical School – is around the fact that this is such an incredibly unique place.’  The site has also made a useful contribution to the University’s need to develop non-government sources of funding – in particular through its partnership with Landcom to develop housing on the site.