We spent yesterday exploring family history and we devoted today to exploring the towns and surrounding areas of these Southern Highlands. This area reeks of history. Many of the towns here are amongst the oldest in regional New South Wales.
Even the place where we staying, ‘The Briars” is historic. It was built in 1845 as the Royal Oak Inn. This Georgian-style property once served as the prestigious Sydney Church of England Grammar School between 1958 and 1974 before being converted back to an inn. In the 1980s it became a country hotel with the addition of 31 guest suites, a guest lounge and lakeside conservatory.
These Southern Highlands were first visited by Europeans in 1798 (just twenty years after the arrival of the First Fleet) when an exploration party was sent south from Sydney by Governor John Hunter, although it was not formally settled until 1819 when official sanction was given to Dr Charles Throsby and a group of small settlers to take up land.
Throsby, along with Hamilton Hume, had first ventured into the area in 1817 and the following year undertook further exploration with Surveyor John Meehan.
A small settlement at Bong Bong on the Wingecarribee River was set up in 1820. It was the first official Government township in the so-called ‘New Country’ south of Sydney.
The township of Berrima was established in 1831, with plans for it to become the major town for the County of Camden, to which end a substantial court house and gaol were constructed in the late 1830s. (This never eventuated as the railway was eventually built through Bowral and it quickly overtook Berrima as the main town in the area).
The Courthouse, now a museum, is a symbol of Berrima’s failure to become that major centre. It was constructed between 1835-1838 and now looks somewhat incongruously large and elegant for such a small village. It was designed by the Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis, and the foundation stone was laid by Governor Bourke in 1835. It ceased to operate as a courthouse in 1889.
Adjacent to the courthouse is Berrima’s famous jail which was built between 1834 and 1839 by contractors, not convicts in leg irons as some sources claim. The current gateway and walls were constructed from local sandstone between 1863 and 1868. The internal buildings were demolished and rebuilt in 1945. This jail had an horrific reputation. From 1866 the prisoners spent the first nine months of their sentence in total silence and solitary confinement.
During WW1, the gaol became home to some 300 German Prisoners who were interned here during the war. Whilst the jail was their home, they were allowed out into the local community during the day. Some ran little businesses or worked on properties around the area.The jail is still in use today.
The little museum at Berrima is filled with interesting history., The volunteers at the museum were very helpful to with information about Jill’s family.
A short distance down the the Illawarra Highway from Moss Vale are the Fitzroy Falls. These impressive falls descend more than 80 metres into Yarrunga Valley on the Illawarra Escarpment in Morton National Park.
We thought we would continue on to another town down to the town of Kangaroo Valley but the road was closed by landslides after all the heavy rain in this area. Instead, we were diverted towards the town of Robertson. Along the way, we saw a sign pointing down a road to the Belmore Falls.
There were a few washouts along the way that we were able to pass by driving carefully, but the road became impassable about a kilometre from the falls car park. We turned back and headed to Robertson instead.
The problem now was two of the main roads back to Bowral (where we wanted to go next) were also closed. The continuous heavy rain that has occurred in this area over two weeks has certainly caused some damage. In the end, we had to take another circuitous detour. Our detour eventually took us past the road to Mt Gibraltar, an extinct volcano, so we took advantage of the lookout there to take a photo across the impressive area in which we are staying. Trachyte rock was mined at Mt Gibraltar for many years and was used for the foundations of buildings, including the old Parliament House in Canberra.
Bowral hosts the Donald Bradman Cricket Museum. It is a wonderful place to visit if you are any sort of cricket enthusiast. You will think you have died and gone to heaven! It tells the story of cricket from the early days of settlement through to the recent popularity of women’s version of the lane. Of course, the central feature of the museum is the story of Sir Donald Bradman, Australia’s greatest ever batsman.
I was rather taken by this funny display that illustrates all the fielding positions on a cricket field. It won’t make any sense at all to any of my American friends, but eery Australian kid who has grown up playing back yard cricket will know all about this.
There is a very well kept cricket ground at the museum with a small grandstand. I would love to have seen a cricket match in progress here. But not today.
Near the old location of Bong Bong is a nature reserve with a path along the Wingecarribee River where a wetland provides home to dozens of water birds. It is a very scenic place.
In this area, there is no escaping the name ‘Throsby”. Jill’s grandfather worked on his estate for some time.
In 1819, retired Naval Surgeon Dr Charles Throsby was granted 1000 acres by NSW Governor Macquarie in appreciation of his services to the Colony. Macquarie stated that Throsby was to select the 1000 acres in any part of the area Throsby had discovered. Dr Throsby’s services to the colony included involvement in the exploration of routes down the Illawarra Escarpment, from Sutton Forest to Jervis Bay and from the Cowpastures to Bathurst. As I noted earlier, this exploration was undertaken by himself, Hamilton Hume, James Meehan the surveyor, and Joseph Wild.
During a later tour of inspection of this area of the colony, Governor Macquarie gave the name ‘Throsby Park’ to the property that Throsby had selected. By 1820, a hut had been constructed on the property and by 1823 Throsby’s nephew, also named Charles had erected a small cottage on the property. The cottage is reported to have been used as a court when Throsby was required to act as Magistrate.
The 1830s were a time of great pastoral opportunities in NSW, particularly for pastoralists. Throsby took advantage of these opportunities and became a major producer of food for the colony, supplying by tender much of his produce of beef, mutton, maize, flour, straw, bran and spirits. to road parties and the mounted police. Construction of Throsby Park House by (the nephew) Charles and Elizabeth Throsby began some time around 1833 and was completed by 1836.
We could get just a glimpse of this colonial Georgian Style mansion from a side road. The Throsby Park Historic Site now occupies the 184 acres core area of the the original 1000 acre allotment.