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Cooma, NSW

Largest town in the Snowy Mountains and historic centre of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Cooma is the largest town in the Snowy Mountain region and consequently is seen as the gateway to the Snowy Mountains ski fields, the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electricity Scheme and the Kosciuszko National Park. In recent times tourism and the snowfields have ensured that it is more than just a rural service centre. It is the base for exploring the entire area and a prosperous tourist town. Central to the town's attractions are the Snowy Hydro Information Centre; the Centennial Park which celebrates the town's historic multiculturalism; the excellent historic walk and the fascinating Correctional Services Gaol Museum; and the area's excellent horse riding and fishing facilities. The town has a reputation for being bitterly cold in winter when the winds off the Snowy Mountains and the Antarctic whip across the flat, treeless Monaro Plains.

Location

Cooma is located 810 m above sea level and 397 km south west from Sydney via the Hume Freeway, Federal Highway and Monaro Highway. It is 116 km south of Canberra.

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Origin of Name

It is accepted that Monaro is a corruption of an Aboriginal word meaning "treeless plains" and that Cooma, originally spelt "coombah", means either "big lake" or "open country".

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Things to See and Do

Lambie Town Walk
The Lambie Town Walk was designed in 1985 and consists of 5 km of easy walking around Cooma which focuses on a total of 24 buildings and places of historic interest in a circular route which starts at Centennial Park, encompasses Lambie Street and winds past the town's churches - St Paul's Anglican, St Andrew's Uniting and St Patrick's Catholic Church - before returning to Centennial Park. The entire walk, complete with detailed information about each of the places of interest and a very good map, can be downloaded at http://visitcooma.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Discover-Coomas-Rich-History-Feb-2014.pdf. It can also be obtained from the Visitor Centre.

Particular highlights include:
1. Centennial Park (1890)
Located on the Monaro Highway in the centre of town, the Centennial Park, once a swamp, became a football field in the 1890s and had trenches dug in it during World War II in anticipation of an imminent Japanese invasion. The park as it currently exists dates from the 1950s. It is an ideal place to stop and have a much needed break or a picnic. The attractions in the park include the unusual "Man from Snowy River" sculpture, an avenue of 22 flags recalling the 22 nationalities which helped build the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the “Cooma Mosaic Time Walk” which dates from 1988 and is a sequence of murals which record the history of the region from Aboriginal times. The park is particularly impressive during autumn.
Man from Snowy River Sculpture
This small sculpture was inspired by A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson's poem, "The Man from Snowy River", created by the acclaimed South Australian-born sculptor, Ian McKay, and unveiled in 1961 as part of the Fifth Festival of the Snows.
Avenue of Flags
There is a fascinating explanation of the origins of the flags which includes information that between 1947 and 1952 Australia accepted 170,000 people who had been displaced by World War II and that some 60-70,000 of those people ended up working on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme. In 1959, to mark the tenth anniversary of the start of the project, the Avenue of Flags was erected in Cooma. It was refurbished and expanded in 1999 and remains a reminder of the true roots of Australian multiculturalism.

5. Cooma Post Office (1872)
Designed by the great Colonial Architect, James Barnet, and built by John Harris, the Post Office is characterised by an ornate Italianate style. It is part of a collection of important public buildings all designed by Barnett.

6. Cooma Court House (1886)
This elegant and impressive building was constructed out of granite gneiss. It was designed in what is known as the Victorian Mannerist style and still retains its original cedar fittings. It is located in Vale Street.

7. NSW Correctional Services Gaol Museum
The NSW Correctional Services Gaol Museum is located in Vale Street next to the Cooma Gaol. The gaol was built in the 1870s, cost £11,000 and housed 98 inmates. Over the years it has been used as an insane asylum and from 1957-1990s it was a prison. In 2001 it reopened as a minimum security prison which currently houses around 120 inmates.
The correctional museum explores the history of incarceration from convict days to the present day. It takes the visitor on a journey from convict times (the travails of sailing from England to Australia) through to modern prisons and focuses on those aspects of prison life that few know or understand.
The visitor starts the tour by sitting on a seat, used on the first fleet, which is so high that no one’s feet touch the ground. It is extraordinarily uncomfortable and designed to cause maximum discomfort for convicts. Then there are the stocks where convicts could be forced to stand for up to a week; the cat’o’nine tails – the vicious whip – where there is a specific model for women and another one for men; the huge ball and chain with a ball that weighs 60 kg (it is difficult to lift, let alone drag); the prison cell (an exact replica of the real thing inside the gaol) with the transparent television so parts cannot be refashioned into escape equipment; the model of Bathurst Gaol to show exactly what the riots did to the buildings in 1974 at a time when the gaol was horrendously overcrowded; the gallows from Bathurst Gaol with a list of all the men who were hanged; and, most interestingly, accurate depictions of the two most famous escapes from New South Wales Gaols – with the so-called “Trojan Horse” – an elaborate device where two men were covered with pieces of timber to give the illusion that the pile of timber was solid – being the most ingenious.
The guide/prisoner was a source of endless information. You can get two years added to your sentence for being in possession of a mobile phone. Smoking is forbidden in all NSW gaols. They can earn money sewing bags and making timber pieces for sale and the gaol takes 16½% of the cost. In the case of guard dogs: German shepherds have been replaced by cocker spaniels because the spaniels have a better sense of smell and can even detect the lithium in phone batteries. Gaolers were called “screws” because the locks they used had screws rather than conventional keys. And, most interestingly, prison guards prefer to work in men’s gaols rather than women’s – because there is more danger, fighting and violence in the women’s gaols. It is open Monday - Saturday 9.00 am to 3.00 pm. Ask for a guide at the shop.

8. Nijong Reserve
There is a pleasant walk through Nijong Reserve (once a Chinese market garden) which passes across a footbridge and reaches Lambie Street (named after John Lambie, Commissioner of Crown Lands in the 1840s) which is surely one of the finest domestic streetscapes in rural New South Wales. It is common to see prisoners from the gaol working in this area tending lawns and the flower gardens.

9-20. Lambie Street
By any measure this is a remarkable street. It is tree-lined (particularly beautiful in autumn) and has a superb run of fine houses dating from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century. By the 1850s it was one of the town's main streets (the other was down near Centennial Park) and for 20 years it was the commercial centre of the town. The dominant materials for the houses was either granitic gneiss, a local granite which was soft and could be cut into bricks, or over-sized bricks (look carefully and you will see houses with alternate rows of small and larger bricks). By 1860 the street could boast it had the Lord Raglan Inn (1854), a spirit merchant's store, a doctor's surgery, the town's first hospital, the first court house, the first post office, the first school, the first bank and the Royal Hotel (1858).
The street, named after John Lambie the first Commissioner for Crown Lands in the Monaro, has eleven listings in the National Trust Register including a beautiful pair of late Victorian semi-detached cottages (16) at 39-41 Lambie Street, an early coursed stone terrace dating to 1855 with five bays and a rolled iron roof at 55 Lambie Street (19) and a gracious two storey Victorian house (1880) which now spreads from 51-53 Lambie Street (18). The Lord Raglan Hotel or Inn at 11 Lambie Street (10), which dates from 1854 and is the oldest inn in the district, became a bank in 1860 and is now an art gallery. At the end of the street is the Royal Hotel (20) and its outbuildings. The hotel was built in 1858 and has a superb cast iron veranda and an attractive hipped roof. It has the only veranda in Cooma to survive the demolition order of the 1950s.

21. Southern Cloud Memorial
On the corner of Boundary Street is the Southern Cloud Memorial Park which commemorates the disappearance of the Southern Cloud aircraft which crashed in the Snowy Mountain in 1931. It was on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne and was Australia's first major air disaster. It is a comment on the difficulty of the terrain and the wildness of the area that the wreckage in which 8 people were killed wasn't found until 1958 when a Snowy worker, Tom Sonter, found it in the Kosciuszko National Park. The display includes interesting remnants of the wreckage which were retrieved from the site.

Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre
The Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre is located 2 km north of Cooma on the Monaro Highway from Canberra. It is open 7 days a week - from 8.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am - 2.00 pm and Saturday and Sunday. The excellent Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre website (http://www.snowyhydro.com.au/our-scheme/visit-the-scheme/snowy-hydro-discovery-centre-cooma) explains: "The Centre houses a comprehensive exhibition hall including an extensive photographic collection, models, hands-on exhibits and interactive displays. You will find information about the Scheme such as engineering, the environment, the National Electricity Market, history, water management and power generation. Take your turn on the “power bikes” and see if you can peddle hard enough to power a TV, make some toast or boil a kettle.
You will also find screens displaying the Scheme working in real time. See which generators are operating, how much electricity they are producing and the prices of electricity in the market. There are also two theatres in the Centre which show a variety of short films about the Scheme throughout the day. The outdoor picnic area displays two turbine runners from the Scheme, including the largest from the Tumut 3 Power Station weighing an incredible 47.7 tonnes!" The Centre also provides an excellent relief model of the entire region. For more information tel: 1800 623 776.
By any measure the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme was a remarkable achievement. It was built not only to provide huge amounts of hydro-electricity (an environmental adventure long before global warming) but its masterstroke was to take the melting snow waters which were disappearing to the east of the Great Dividing Range and redirect them west where they were used to provide vital water for areas which had previously been unable to engage in dense crop growing because of lack of natural water. More than 100,000 people from 22 countries worked on the construction of the seven power stations, (two are underground), 16 major dams and 140 kilometres of trans-mountain tunnels over a 25 year period from 1949. Today it provides around 70 percent of all renewable energy that is available to the eastern mainland grid of Australia and diverts water that underwrites more than $3 billion in agricultural produce." The memorial outside records the names of 121 people who died during the construction of the scheme. It is worth noting that Coleambally (http://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/coleambally-nsw), for example, only came into existence as a result of the redirection of the vital snow waters.

A Statement About the Snowy Mountains Scheme
Near the Avenue of Flags there is a plaque with a simple, elegant overview of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It reads: "Construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme commenced in October 1949 at the original site of Adaminaby. For almost 53 years, the scheme was built, operated and maintained by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority. The proud history and special values established during the building of the Snowy Mountains Scheme live on in Snowy Hydro Limited. This is demonstrated by the innovative products supplied to the national electricity market, the achievement of the world's best practice in maintenance and operation of electricity generation plant and hydraulic facilities, and in the priority given to the care of the environment and to the safety of the men and women of the 'Snowy'.
"The Snowy Mountains Scheme is recognised as one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world. It is also recognised as the birthplace of multiculturalism in Australia. Over 60,000 people from over 30 countries, together with 40,000 Australians, participated in constructing the scheme between 1949 and 1974.
"The Snowy Mountains Scheme provides renewable energy and related products and services, water for irrigation and for food production in south eastern Australia while contributiing to the care and maintenance of its areas in the Kosciuszko National Park, working in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In addition the scheme output of renewable energy displaces up to 4.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere each year."
Nearby there is an excellent relief model of the entire scheme created in 1959 by Metal Manufactures Limited in Port Kembla.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Gladstone Lookout
Located 3.5 km west of Cooma off the Snowy Mountains Highway, this lookout offers superb views of the Snowy Mountains and Monaro Plains as well as views over the town. It has picnic facilities.

Horse Riding
There is a strong, romantic association with horse riding in the Monaro and the Snowy Mountains made famous by Banjo Paterson’s ballad “The Man from Snowy River”. Consequently there are a number of properties in the Cooma district which offer horse riding from one hour lessons to three day treks. Check the Cooma Visitors Centre for information and brochures. Check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/snowy-mountains/horseriding for further information.

Fishing
The area around Cooma is famous for trout fishing. The lakes are open for fishing all year round and the rivers and streams are open for fishing from the October long weekend until the June long weekend. Check the Cooma Visitors Centre for more detailed information. Check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/snowy-mountains/fishing for further information.

Cooma Monaro Railway
When the railway between Canberra and Cooma was closed in 1988 there was a feeling that the rail lines should not be wasted. In 1992 a public meeting led to the formation of the Cooma Monaro Railway. In 1994-1995 four CPH Railmotors was transported from Tumut. They were slowly repaired and by 1998 they were operational.  Today it is possible to experience the nostalgia of rail travel on a 1924 railmotor with a round trip to Bunyan or Chakola Railway Stations. Chakola is 20 km from Cooma. The round trip is around 40 km. Trains operate on a regular timetable each weekend and on public holidays. For more details check out http://www.cmrailway.org.au or tel: (02) 6452 7791.

Wadbilliga National Park
Located 37 km to the west of Cooma, the Wadbilliga National Park is a 98,530 ha area of rugged mountain ranges, wide plateaux, deep river valleys, wet sclerophyll forest, heathland, bogs and pockets of rainforest. It is a largely untouched wilderness area which lies between the Snowy Mountains and the coastal hinterland and is home to 122 species of native birds as well as swamp wallabies, echidnae, possums, platypus, eastern grey kangaroos and wombats.
The National Park contains two impressive highlights:

(a) Tuross Falls (35 metres) and the 4 km Tuross Falls Walking Track. It is a medium difficulty walk which usually takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours 30 minutes. The falls can be viewed from the walking track which departs from the Cascades camping area, which has toilets, picnic and barbecue facilities. Head east from Cooma through Numeralla and follow the road north towards Braidwood then turn right into Badja Forest Road. After 4.5 km there is a signposted turnoff to the south (do not take the road to Nerrigundah). Follow this for 1.5 km until you come to another signpost which directs you south along Tuross Falls Road. For more detailed information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Tuross-Falls-walking-track.

(b) Cascades Walking Track and Viewing Platform described by National Park as "A short easy walk takes you to a viewing platform where you can watch the spectacular Tuross River tumble over boulders into a beautiful pool that makes for a gorgeous spot where you can swim, splash and cool down on a hot summer’s day. The pool is surrounded by a diverse range of plant life, from dwarf she-oaks and stunted mallee and eucalypts on the dry ridge tops, to majestic white trunked ribbon gums on the river banks. Greater gliders can be spotlighted at night. You may also be lucky enough to see some of the larger owls such as the powerful owl and sooty owl ... There is also an abundance of other birds in the area. This tranquil swimming hole has good gravel road access, as well as picnic facilities, making it a perfect spot for a day trip getaway." For more detailed information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Cascades-walking-track-and-viewing-platform.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by members of the Ngarigo Aboriginal language group who were visited annually by the coastal Yuin people. In turn the Ngarigo travelled to the coast to enjoy the feasts provided by the annual whaling in springtime.

* The area was first explored by Europeans in 1823 when an expedition led by Captain Currie and Major Ovens moved south from Lake George searching for good grazing land.

* By 1827 the Monaro Plains had been settled as far as Berridale.

* In 1845 a small Gothic Revival church, Christ Church of England, located 2 km south of Cooma on Myalla Road, had been built. It is the oldest church in the area.

* By 1847 there were enough settlers in the area for a Court of Petty Sessions to be established.

* The village of Cooma was surveyed in 1849.

* The first sales of village lands occurred in 1850.

* The Lord Raglan Inn, now an art gallery, was opened in 1854.

* Gold was discovered near Kiandra in 1859.

* Over the next twelve months the town of Cooma was inundated by miners and prospectors. It has been estimated that over 15,000 people passed through the town in less than a year.

* St Paul's Anglican Church was consecrated in 1865.

* The Cooma Gaol was opened in the 1870s. It housed 98 inmates.

* In 1873 St Patrick's Catholic Church was consecrated.

* By the 1880s the goldrush was over.

* The Cooma Court House was opened in 1886.

* The railway arrived in 1889. It ensured easy access to the snowfields and made Cooma the centre of a winter tourist industry.

* In 1949 Cooma became the headquarters for the huge Snowy Mountains scheme which was to bring workmen from 22 nations to the town.

* By the 1950s Cooma was the headquarters for some 120 camps dotted throughout the Snowy Mountains from Tumut in the north to Pilot Camp south of Khancoban.

* Christ Church of England, built in 1845, was restored in 1960.

* The railway from Canberra was closed in 1988.

* In 2012 the Tumut 3 Power Station was upgraded.

* By 2014 the Snowy Hydro's electricity was being provided to 1 million customers.

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Visitor Information

Cooma Visitors Centre, 119 Sharp Street, tel: 1800 636 525. Open seven days and from 7.00 am in the ski season.

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Useful Websites

The town's official website is http://visitcooma.com.au.

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