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Bowral, NSW

Fashionable Southern Highlands rural retreat

Bowral is the most prosperous town in the Southern Highlands. In recent times Bowral, and nearby Burradoo, have become synonymous with an image of wealthy city people retreating to the cool climate charm of the area. This has been the case since the arrival of the railway in 1867. By the late 1880s Bowral was the Sydney equivalent of an Indian Hill Station. The wealthy left steamy Sydney to spend extended holidays in the Southern Highlands where they played tennis, had long afternoon teas, courted and caroused.
Today Bowral prides itself in its "sophistication" and its up-market boutiques, gift shops, antique dealers, restaurants and cafes, bookshops and art galleries. The town's economy is driven  primarily by tourism and the surrounding district is known for its cattle breeding. If you want to experience European elegance close to Sydney then Bowral has hotels, exclusive guest houses, and boutique shops designed to meet those needs.

Location

Bowral is located 118 kilometres south-west of Sydney and 661 metres above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

No one is sure how the district and town got the name Bowral but, as early as 1823, John Oxley, who had large land holdings in the area was referring to the land below Mt Gibraltar as 'bowrel' which was thought to mean 'high' in the language of the local Aborigines.

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Things to See and Do

Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
The town's major tourist attraction is the Bradman Museum in St Jude's Street which, in recent times, has morphed into the International Cricket Hall of Fame. It is always worth remembering that Don Bradman, widely acknowledged as Australia's greatest cricketer and probably the finest batsman to play for any country, was not born in Bowral and did not play regularly in the district. Bradman arrived in Bowral from Cootamunda as a child. He scored a century for the local school at the age of 12 and lived for three years at 20 Glebe Road opposite what is now Bradman Oval. He did not play cricket on the oval. At the time it was a timbered swamp prior and it wasn't developed into a cricket oval until the summer of 1927-1928. In 1926 Bradman was playing for the Sydney cricket club, St. George. The complex comprises the Bradman Museum, Stumps Cafe, Bradman Oval and an exhibition which, as the website explains: "Features cutting edge technology, interactive touch-screens and much more, the Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame is dedicated to promoting the game of cricket not just to the keen followers of the game but to all who wonder: what is cricket and why is it so important to millions of people around the world?" It comprises six themed exhibitions: The Living Centre of Cricket; The Origins; Greats of the Game; The World of Cricket; The Game and Cricket Through the Eras.

The Museum contains the Don's old cricket cap, his cricket bat, some old Movietone films, a recreation of the famous backyard where the young cricketer honed his batting skills by trying to hit a cricket ball onto a rounded water tank with a cricket stump. It is open from 10.00 am - 5.00 pm daily. Check out http://www.internationalcrickethall.com/visit/ for details or you can tel: (02) 4862 1247.

The Bradman Walk
'The Bradman Walk' encompasses ten 'Bradman' locations and traverses 1.7 km (a pleasant 45 minute walk) starting from Bradman Oval and including the Commemorative Gateway, St Simon and St Jude's Anglican Church, the Bowral Public School, the Empire Cinema, Corbett Gardens, 52 Shepherd Street (It was in the backyard here that the young Bradman mastered batting by hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump against a water tank and continuously volleying the rebounds). He also practiced at the horse paddock on the corner of Merrigan and Una Streets), 20 Glebe Street and Bradman Oval. It is a pleasant flat walk. There is a downloadable guide complete with a map at http://www.bradman.com.au/wp-content/themes/tichof/download/pdf/Bradman-Walk.pdf.

Tulip Festival
The town's famous 'Tulip Festival', held during the September school holidays, is centred around Corbett Gardens in Bendooley Street. A popular destination for bus trips. The Festival offers spectacular floral displays in Corbett Gardens and an opportunity to wander through the sumptuous English gardens of some of the town's larger private homes. For additional details check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/southern-highlands/bowral.

Bowral Walk
A self-guided walking tour of historic Bowral was developed in 2013, the year of Bowral's sequicentenary. It can be downloaded at http://www.bookeasy.com.au/website/images/southernhighlands/Bowral_Heritage_Walk_2013_A4web.pdf. It lists a total of 30 places of interest of which the most interesting include:

1. Stafford Cottage - located at 22 Bendooley Street - it is one of the town's oldest buildings. It dates to 1867 and was probably built around the time of the arrival of the railway.

4. Bowral Court House - located at 14 Bendooley Street, it was designed in the Romanesque style by the Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon, and completed in 1895. It is one of many buildings in Bendooley St which use trachyte, a volcanic rock mined at a local quarry on Mount Gibraltar. Trachyte was used as the basic material for the piers of the railway bridge over the Hawkesbury River, for Australia House in London and for a number of buildings in Sydney.

10. Corbett Gardens - located at 21 Merrigang Street these handsome gardens were named after Ada Corbett who lobbied tirelessly for their creation. The gardens were proclaimed in 1911 and are now the site of the town's annual Tulip Festival which attracts thousands of people during the September school holidays.

13. Mt Gibraltar: The Gib - Mt Gibraltar (863 m), known to the locals as 'The Gib', is located on the northern side and has strong spiritual significance for the local Gundungurra people. It is the highest point between the Illawarra coast and the Great Dividing Range. In the 1890s it became important as a quarry with the local trachyte being used extensively on buildings including the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the National Library in Canberra and Australia House in London. The quarry was closed in 1980 after local protests.

There are four lookouts on Oxley Drive which traverses "The Gib". (i) The Bowral Lookout has views across Bowral (180 m below) with the Wingecarribee Dam, Moss Vale and the Cuckbundoon Range near Goulburn in the distance. (ii) Then there is Oxley View, overlooking the first European land grant in the area which was issued to explorer John Oxley in 1825 and which he named 'Wingecarribee'. (iii) Jellore Lookout faces west and north-west to Mount Jellore (a conical volcanic summit). In the distance are the Blue Mountains and (iv) the Mittagong Lookout faces north and north-east over Mittagong (240 m below) with Sydney visible on a clear day and Mount Keira, above Wollongong, to the east. The quarries on The Gib were listed on the State Heritage Register in 2013.

18. Wingecarribee - This private home, named 'Wingecarribee' was built in 1857 by the son of John Oxley, the explorer. It was constructed on the original land grant and the materials were entirely imported from Bristol, England as a pre-fabricated dwelling. It was shipped to Australia in crates. Everything - including screws and bolts as well as the cast-iron parapet on the roof which supports a series of iron urns - was imported. It is still owned by members of the Oxley family.

27. Empire Theatre - Located in Bong Bong Street this cinema, which opened on 15 September 1915, is reputedly the longest running commercial cinema in Australia. There was a time when the entry was in the front. Today it is located at the side.

28. Bowral Public School - The public school opposite St Jude's in Bendooley Street was opened in 1863 but has been greatly altered. Most of the school's older buildings date from 1893. It houses the Bowral Schoolhouse Museum and Gallery which contains a range of local history memorabilia. One of the school's more interesting pupils was Donald Bradman who attended between 1913 and 1922.

29. St Simon and St Jude's Church - The original St Jude's was consecrated in 1874. It was designed by the architect Edmund Blacket (he had designed Sydney University's quadrangle) in an unusual and impressive Norman-style. A decade later it was deemed too small although there is a school of thought that argues Blacket's original design was damned because Norman churches were only appropriate for 'primitive' societies. Bishop Charles Barry declared that 'he liked to see churches simple and rude when the houses round them were simple and rude also; but he did not like to see the church building rude when the houses around them showed increasing signs of improvement'. Given that Blacket was the Church of England architect of choice - his work included St Andrews Cathedral, Christ Church St Lawrence and St Marks Darling Point - this was a strange decision. However a new church was built in 1886-87 and only the bell turret, the western end of the vestry, the font, communion rails and the stone beneath the communion table remain from the original building. The church rectory was built in 1880.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Bong Bong Picnic Races
Located opposite the Kangaloon-Horderns Road intersection is the Bong Bong racetrack site where the Bong Bong Picnic Races are held in the second week of November. The Bong Bong Picnic Race Club was formed in 1886. A century later it was still going strong with the 1985 Picnic Races attracting a crowd of 35,000 and being recognised as the largest Picnic Race meeting in the world. It was closed for a number of years because of the bad behaviour of the crowds but resumed as a regular event in 1992. Check out http://www.bongbongprc.com.au for details.

Mt Gibraltar's Lookouts
Mt Gibraltar (863 m), known to the locals as 'The Gib', is located on the northern side and has strong spiritual significance for the local Gundungurra people. It is the highest point between the Illawarra coast and the Great Dividing Range. In the 1890s it became important as a quarry with the local trachyte being used extensively on buildings including the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the National Library in Canberra and Australia House in London. The quarry was closed in 1980 after local protests.
There are four lookouts on Oxley Drive which traverses "The Gib". (i) The Bowral Lookout has views across Bowral (180 m below) with the Wingecarribee Dam, Moss Vale and the Cuckbundoon Range near Goulburn in the distance. (ii) Then there is Oxley View, overlooking the first European land grant in the area which was issued to explorer John Oxley in 1825 and which he named 'Wingecarribee'. (iii) Jellore Lookout faces west and north-west to Mount Jellore (a conical volcanic summit). In the distance are the Blue Mountains and (iv) the Mittagong Lookout faces north and north-east over Mittagong (240 m below) with Sydney visible on a clear day and Mount Keira, above Wollongong, to the east. The quarries on The Gib were listed on the State Heritage Register in 2013.

Milton Park
Located 5 km from Bowral on the road to Robertson, and at the end of Horderns Road, is Milton Park, one of the district's most impressive and distinctive "grand old homes". It is a huge stately home in a 285 ha rural setting which has become a boutique hotel, wedding venue and conference centre. The homestead was built in 1910 by noted livestock breeder, Anthony Hordern, grandson of the Anthony Hordern who made his fortune with a Sydney department store. The building has been modernised but still retains the magnificent 8 ha gardens which was created by the Horderns. It is still immaculately kept and the original 'Garden Room', which has been converted into a restaurant, offers a taste of what country living was like for the wealthy nearly a century ago. Check it out at http://www.miltonpark.com.au.

Historic Bong Bong
Located north of Moss Vale, on Moss Vale Road between Moss Vale and Bowral, is the site of Bong Bong, the first village in the Southern Highlands which was chosen by Governor Macquarie when he passed through the area in 1820. The road to the Cecil Hoskins Reserve takes visitors to the site which is now nothing more than Christ Church which, ironically, was built by Charles Throsby and consecrated in 1845 after the village had effectively disappeared. The church survived because it was supported by people in the district. The cemetery is historic and contains descendants of Charles Throsby as well as the grave of Joseph Wild who gave his name to Wildes Meadow.
Across the Bong Bong Bridge over the Wingecarribee River is an obelisk which marks the site where the first settlement on the Southern Highlands stood. The village was short lived with settlers preferring to settle around Berrima. Check out http://www.highlandsnsw.com.au/towns/bong.html for a detailed history.

Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve
Located off the road, Argyle Street, between Moss Vale and Bowral, Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve is on the banks of the Bong Bong Reservoir. This wetlands site, which was once part of Charles Throsby's 1,000 acre property, has plenty of waterfowl, as well as the occasional platypus. Kangaroos and wallabies can be seen on the eastern side of the reserve. The Cecil Hoskins picnic area (it was named after the man whose family were responsible for the establishment of Australian Iron & Steel - now part of BHP - who lived in the area) is an ideal picnic area. It is also the start of the Wingecarribee River Walking Track which is a short easy walk along the river and back through regenerating forest on the Wingecarribee floodplain. The website points out that walkers can identify "less well-known gums, like snow, swamp, black sallee and manna eucalypt trees" and spot "woodland birds such as white-throated needletails, welcome swallows and spotted pardalote. Eastern grey kangaroos also inhabit the forest. And did you know you can find platypus shyly hiding in the lagoon?" There is also a walk - Weir View - along the lagoon's southern bank which offers walks around the edge of the lagoon. Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/cecil-hoskins-nature-reserve for details. The reserve, which was created as a result of the damming of the Wingecarribee River in the 1920s, now attracts over 90 species of bird.

Briars Inn
Located at 653 Moss Vale Road is historic Briars Inn, originally the Royal Oak Hotel, which was built c.1845. It was owned by the descendants of Dr Charles Throsby until 1943 and today is a pleasant, boutique hotel known as Briars Country Lodge. Check out http://www.briars.com.au/ for menu and accommodation.

Oldbury Farm
A short distance south of Moss Vale, Oldbury Road heads north off the Illawarra Highway between Moss Vale and Sutton Forest. The elegant colonial Oldbury homestead, a handsome two-storey stone Georgian house built in 1828 by James Atkinson on land he was granted in 1818, has been beautifully preserved. It has a timber Doric portico and cantilevered timber stairway with a separate kitchen and cellar. It is now the centre of one of the finest gardens in the Southern Highlands. The gardens are open during the main periods (spring and autumn) for garden inspections in the district. Type "Oldbury Farm Open Garden" into Google for times and costs.

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History

* The area was once occupied by the Tharawal (Dharawal) Aborigines who, by the 1870s, had been driven off the land.

* The first European to explore the area was John Wilson, an ex-convict, who led a party through the area in 1798. Their mission was to find out about the area so they could report to Governor Hunter who wanted to convince deluded Irish convicts that there was not a "New World" of white people living 200 miles south-west of Sydney. During the expedition Wilson shot a lyrebird and the group saw a "cullawine" (koala).

* In 1802 a botanical collector for Joseph Banks named George Caley passed through the area.

* The sons of Alexander Hume, one of the early settlers, accompanied by their uncle John Kennedy, explored the area in 1814.

* In 1815 John Oxley, explorer and Surveyor General, and his stockmen drove cattle into the area to avail themselves of the rich pastures.

* In 1817 Charles Throsby, Hamilton Hume, Joseph Wild and and a party of explorers ventured into the country lying to the west of Sutton Forest.

* By 1818 Throsby and a party which included Surveyor-General James Meehan passed through the area searching for a route to drove cattle down the escarpment to Jervis Bay.

* In 1819 Governor Macquarie rewarded Throsby with 1,000 acres (upon which Throsby Park was subsequently built) and made him superintendent of the construction of the road from Picton to the Goulburn Plains.

* Macquarie visited Throsby's land grant in 1820. He suggested the name 'Throsby Park'.

* The site for the short-lived village of Bong Bong was surveyed in 1821. It became the first European settlement on the Southern Highlands.

* Throsby's servant Joseph Wild was given 100 acres adjacent Throsby's. His hut was located adjacent the Wingecarribee River near where the Bong Bong Bridge.

* In 1823 John Oxley was granted 2,400 acres in the area. He died in 1828 and his sons purchased a further 5,000 acres and named the property Wingecarribee.

* By 1852 a road from Gib Gap to Bong Bong had been built.

* Religious services were held in a house on John Oxley's property as early as 1853.

* In 1857 Henry Oxley built Wingecarribee, a grand mansion, on the slopes of Oxley Hill.

* By 1859 it was obvious that a train line would run through the area. John Oxley's son subdivided 81 ha of the Wingecarribee property, reserved a townsite and sold adjacent lots as farms. The prospective village was surveyed that same year.

* In 1861 the district's first school was set up primarily for the children of the railway workers.

* The arrival of railway workers meant that in 1862 a collection of "stores and public houses, chiefly for supplying the wants of railway navvies" were built and in 1863 the first inns were built and the town was formally proclaimed.

* The first Church of England was built in 1863. Methodist services commenced that year and a Wesleyan chapel was built the following year.

* The local post office was opened in 1864.

* The townsite, initially known as Wingecarribee, soon changed to Burradoo and, by the time the railway arrived and the railway station was built in 1867, it was known as Bowral.

* By 1871 the town had a population of 133. After the railway reached the town it started to grow as a holiday destination.

* The first bank branch was opened in 1877.

* By 1881 the population had risen to 363. Wealthy Sydneysiders built grand country homes surrounded by English-style gardens.

* The years 1881-1892 saw the construction of new Wesleyan, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian churches, a school of arts, post office, police station, courthouse and hospital and three sawmills.

* In 1883 the Bowral Cricket Club was formed.

* It was declared a municipality in 1886.

* Between 1911-1924 Don Bradman lived at 52 Shepherd Street. He attended Bowral Public School between 1913-1922.

* In the 1920s the town experienced a building boom and the area became a popular retreat from the heat of summer in Sydney.

* In 1921 the Bowral Brickworks started production.

* In 1930 Corbett Gardens was the scene of Don Bradman's return to his home town. The park was decked with flags and bunting.

* In 1947 the oval known as The Glebe Wicket was renamed Bradman Oval.

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Visitor Information

Destination Southern Highlands and Information Centre, 62-70 Main Street, Mittagong, tel: (02) 4871 2888.

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Useful Websites

The most detailed historical information about the town can be found at http://www.bookeasy.com.au/website/images/southernhighlands/Bowral_Heritage_Walk_2013_A4web.pdf. The official website is http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/southern-highlands/bowral.

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Got something to add?

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1 suggestion so far
  • The first Exotic Mushroom Tunnel was established in the old single line Railway Tunnel underneath Mittagong/Bowral in the early 70s. by Dr. Noel Arrold who breeds a range of exotic mushrooms in the 660 metre long single track tunnel. The current tunnel is right next door and is on the mainline between Sydney and Canberra.
    A hugely popular visitor attraction as well as supplying mushrooms to restaurants, retail outets etc More at: http://www.lisunexoticmushrooms.com.au

    Claire Cooper