An historic rural town now rapidly becoming part of Greater Sydney
There was a time when Picton was an important stopover place on the old Hume Highway for travellers heading south-west from Sydney. Today, courtesy of the Hume Motorway, it is a quiet township beyond the limits of Sydney's south-western overspill where visitors interested in potent home made beers, historic and disused railway tunnels, botanic gardens and panoramic views over the surrounding countryside will find much to entertain them.
The Hume Highway bypass meant the town became a quiet centre of considerable historic interest at the centre of a dairying and mixed farming area until developers moved in and started subdividing land on the edge of town. It is now the furthest extreme of Greater Sydney.
Picton is located 87 km south-west of Sydney via the Hume Motorway and 171 m above sea-level.^ TOP
Origin of Name
The settlement that is now Picton was officially gazetted in 1841 and named Stonequarry - also the name of the creek. By 1845 it had been renamed Picton after Sir Thomas Picton, one of the Duke of Wellington's generals at the Battle of Waterloo.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Historic Picton Walking Tour
The Self-guided Historic Picton Walking Tour, which is available from the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre, includes a map of Picton and information relating to 29 places of historic interest in the town. A useful website dealing with the places of historic importance in the district is http://www.visitwollondilly.com.au/business_list.php?bcategory_id=1&bsubcategory_id=6.
Some of the highlights of the district include:
Picton Courthouse - Just south of the intersection of Argyle Street and Margaret Street is the old courthouse. It was built in 1864 with some of the sandstone coming from the old gaol which had been hit by floodwaters in 1860. The windows and ceilings are of interest and much of the original timberwork remains intact.
Post Office - Located on the corner of Argyle and Menangle Streets, the Victorian Classical stone post office, with its impressive clock tower, which was completed in 1892 is now used as the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre. It is a typical building from the late 19th century showing the affluence of Picton at the time.
National Australia Bank - Located on the corner of Argyle and Menangle Streets, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney (now the National Australia Bank) built in 1885. It is notable for its pointed Gothic arch windows, its cast-iron railing and the original coach house and barn behind the building.
St Mark's Anglican Church - Located in Menangle Street at the west of the town, this simple stone church was designed by Edmund Blacket and completed by 1857. It was started in 1850 but, it was delayed for seven years when news of the discovery of gold saw many of the workmen heading for the goldfields. The graveyard is the resting place of many of the district's early settlers.
The Toll House - Located in Argyle Street, the Toll House was built in 1867 when the railway reached Mittagong. It was necessary for travellers on the road to pay a toll. This continued until the 1870s.
George IV Inn - Located at 180 Argyle Street, the George IV Inn is one of the oldest hotels in the country. Said to have been built in 1819 but not licensed until 1839 it is a rambling, single storey building on the southern side of Stonecutter Creek. The inn’s veranda, stables and courtyard capture an earlier time when the journey from Sydney was a long and uncomfortable coach ride. Since 1987 there has been an independent brewery, Scharer's Little Brewery, which is known for its Burragorang Bock and Scharer's Lager. For more information check out http://georgeiv.com.au/home.
Located after the underpass beyond the George IV Inn (turn right as you head south) is the original Picton tunnel, which was opened on 28 February 1867 and used for over 50 years until the double track was constructed. It was used for a time as a mushroom farm. Just past it, to the right, is the old gatehouse erected in 1867 for the keeper of the level crossing when the railway was extended from Picton to Mittagong.
Located at Prince Street between Menangle Road and Argyle Street, the Victoria Bridge over Stonequarry Creek is a timber trestle bridge which was completed in 1897. It is 80 m long and classified by the National Trust. For more information check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/visit/ViewAttractionDetail.aspx?ID=5051388.
Picton Railway Viaduct
Located in Webster Street off Menangle Road (it can be viewed from Webster Street or from Picton Avenue) is the town's historic railway viaduct, which consists of five 12.2 metre arches made of stone quarried 200 m downstream. It is 84.1 metres in length, is 23.8 metres at its highest point, and is now the oldest stone archway over water still in use in New South Wales. It has been in continuous use since it was opened in 1863. During its construction two workers lost their lives.
Picton Botanical Gardens
Located at 50 Regreme Road are the 2 ha Picton Botanical Gardens. There are 9 km of cycle and walking tracks through the landscaped gardens, some exceptional views over the surrounding countryside, a delightful and unusual pergola, picnic and barbecue facilities and the amusing, but hardly challenging, 'Bottlebrush Maze'. For more information tel: (02) 4677 1100.
Other Attractions in the Area
Jarvisfield was the original name of the handsome Victorian stuccoed brick house (1863) which is located 2 km north of Picton off Remembrance Drive. In recent times the house has become part of the Antill Park Golf Club and the name "Jarvisfield" has been applied to a new development - part of the Sydney overspill - which is now part of Picton. The name was originally used by early settler, Major Henry Antill as the name for his 2000 acre property. It was named 'Jarvisfield' after Jane Jarvis, the first wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. She died, aged 23, in Bombay in 1796.
Located 3 km north of Picton at 1580 Remembrance Drive is Razorback Inn (1849). Erected on the Jarvisfield estate it was used briefly as a convict overseer’s residence. It was licensed as an inn in the 1850s and became a popular coach stop on the Great South Road. This attractive two-storey colonial Georgian building has been considerably altered over the years but retains its original shape and charm. It now trades as the Common Ground Bakery which is both a cafe, restaurant and a bakery. For more information check out http://commongroundbakery.com.au/.
Razorback Lookout and Razorback Range
On the Old Hume Highway between Picton and Camden is Razorback Lookout which offers panoramic views of Menangle, Camden and the Sydney skyline. The first road over the range was cut in 1825 by convict gangs with the current route being cleared in 1830. During the 1950s it became famous for a tree planted by Anthony Hordern which was the department store logo. The caption was "While I Live I Grow". It was eventually cut down and, around the same time, the department store was closed. A Razorback is a type of wild pig and it is likely that the low range was named after the animal. Check out https://www.sydney.com/destinations/sydney/sydney-west/destination-information/razorback.
Trainworks at Thirlmere
The main attraction in Thirlmere is Trainworks at 10 Barbour Road. It claims to be the oldest and largest railway museum in the country. Decades ago the New South Wales Railways, wanting to get their historic trains and rolling stock out of Sydney, joined with the volunteer-based Railway Heritage Museum and established a museum at Thirlmere.
In the early years it was one of those places beloved of railway enthusiasts where men (very few women were drawn to the old rolling stock) covered in grease and with spanners in their back pockets wandered around in blue overalls tinkering with ageing steam trains while visitors mooched through hectares of old trains. It included 60 locomotives (steam, diesel and electric) and 100 carriages, including a No 18 engine built in 1864 and a huge 260-tonne Garratt No 6040 built in 1956.
Then the New South Wales Labor government decided to spend $30 million and turn the dumping yard into a state-of-the-art “train experience”.
Trainworks was opened by the New South Wales Governor, Marie Bashir, on 4 April, 2010. It was a tour de force of museum creativity.
The highlights include a 15-minute audio-visual display created by the specialist tourism project company HPA Projects. It is built around a Cardiff 1012 steam train (built in 1916 it operated at Catherine Hill Bay for years and was “retired” in 1970) which is located on a “stage” in a theatre at one end of the main building. The history of the old locomotive is told by a mixture of back projection and a series of remarkable 3D hologram images of the men (specifically the engine driver and a blacksmith) who worked on, and drove, the Cardiff 1012. They talk about their experiences. Although nothing more than holograms their actions are carefully integrated with the audio soundtrack.
Among the other displays are the old Governor-General’s carriage with its elegant interior of polished English oak and Australian cedar; a prison van with a “hologram prisoner” sitting in a corner being moved from one place of incarceration to the next; a mail sorting carriage where bags of letters and parcels were sorted while the train travelled to its destination; a green and white rail bus (a bus designed to run on railway tracks) which delivered the pay to railway workers; a huge 260 ton (264 tonne) 6040 Garrat, one of the largest engines ever built; the steam train built in 1905 which was the first to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge; and a huge railway Roundhouse where engines are turned 180 degrees.
Inevitably visitors, having explored the museum, can take train journeys through the surrounding countryside from Thirlmere to Buxton on old trains (check out http://www.trainworks.com.au/heritage-train-rides) and, given every new generation’s enduring love affair with Thomas the Tank Engine, there is always the possibility to meet the Fat Controller and to hop aboard Thomas at Sodor. Check out http://www.trainworks.com.au/day_out_with_thomas for details.
The yard's full of rolling stock that is worth inspecting and there is a large parking area, a café serving coffee and light meals, audio visual displays inside carriages and an air of cleanliness and tidiness. Trainworks is run by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers. We were particularly impressed with a guide named Arthur Tubby (ask for him – he knows everything about trains and comes from a long line of railway workers) who is passionate about the entire operation.
Trainworks is open seven days a week. It is open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am - 5.00 pm on weekends, tel: (02) 4681 8001. Every Sunday there are rides to Buxton along the disused single-track Picton-Mittagong Loop Line which was built in 1867 when the railway first came through the area. This was the railway line which opened up the whole of the Southern Highlands. The construction of a new double track after World War I meant that the Picton-Thirlmere-Buxton Loop was by-passed. It operated as a local line until 1976 when it was closed down.
Thirlmere Lakes National Park
Thirlmere Lakes National Park has five interconnected freshwater lakes which are ideal for swimming and canoeing. They can be accessed from Thirlmere by heading south past Trainworks and turning right into Slades Road (2 km south of Thirlmere) which heads to Middleton Memorial Drive.
The shoreline has been developed for picnics and barbecues. There is a boat ramp. The eucalypt forests around the lakes are ideal for bush walking and the lakes are an ideal habitat for birds. There is a pleasant 6 km loop walk around Thirlmere Lake. As the website explains (see http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/thirlmere-lakes-national-park/thirlmere-lakes-walking-track/walking) the walk is easy, takes two hours and is so rich in birdlife that "you’ll see many of the 140+ species of waders, waterfoul and woodland birds that visit the area. Among them are white-faced herons, musk ducks, pacific black ducks, pied cormorants, Australasian grebes, and white-bellied sea eagles."
Located 13 km east of Picton is Douglas Park where one of the most unusual buildings in the Southern Highlands is located. Located at 415 Douglas Park Drive is St Marys Towers Retreat Centre, a strange and grand sandstone Gothic Revival country residence. It was originally named Parkhall and the first stage was built between 1842-1844 by Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell who was given the 1000-acre grant in 1830. It has a fine stone turret and stone staircase with cast-iron balusters and Mitchell's coat-of-arms on the eastern gable. The Gothic chapel and crenellated colonnade were added by the next owner in the 1870s. They were designed by Edmund Blacket. It is now owned by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and, as the website explains: "Steeped in the spirituality of the heart, central to the life and spirit of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, the Retreat Centre is set in 500 hectares of natural bush land that cretes a beautiful, pastoral, peaceful environment for anyone seeking to relax and enjoy God in silence and solitude, with a supportive, praying community." There are regular programs for people seeking to retreat to a place of silence. Check out http://towersretreat.abundance.org.au/ for more details.
Maldon Suspension Bridge
Located 5 km south-east via the Picton Road and Maldon Bridge Road, the Maldon Suspension Bridge, a handsome timber suspension bridge, is one of the few surviving structures of its type in the country. It spans a spot originally known as Harvey's Crossing where the road connecting Wilton to the Great Southern Railway crossed the Nepean River. It is 188 metres in length and was built in 1903 to cross the Nepean Gorge. It was partially rebuilt after a bushfire in 1939 and closed to traffic in 1980 when the Hume Motorway was completed. It is currently closed to the general public but can be viewed from a number of lookouts. The area around the bridge is picturesque and there are a number of walking trails.
* Prior to European occupation the district was inhabited by the Tharawal Aborigines. There is evidence that the bitter conflict between European settlers and the Tharawal resulted in the arrival of the Gundangarra people in the district. They called it 'Benkennie', meaning dry 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).
* By 1795 a small number of stockmen were living in the area and tending the cattle which had been grazing on the Cowpastures at Camden.
* By 1819 Governor Macquarie had authorised the construction of a road through to the Goulburn Plains.
* In 1822 Major Henry Antill established a 2000-acre property which he named 'Wilton' but subsequently renaming it 'Jarvisfield' after Jane Jarvis, the wife of his friend, Governor Macquarie. The station covered land from Stonequarry Creek to Razorback. The family home still stands and is the clubhouse for the Antill Park Golf Club.
* In 1828 the first land grant in the area was 'Stargard', a property of 1000 acres (405 ha) at Stonequarry Creek near Picton. It was a gift to Christian Carl Ludwig Rumker, Governor Brisbane's astronomer, who had rediscovered Encke's Comet.
* The railway arrived in 1863 and a settlement developed around the station.
* The settlement of Stonequarry was officially gazetted in 1841 and offered for sale as a private village.
* In 1845 it was renamed Picton.
* Another site near Redbank Creek was established as a government village and named Upper Picton. It was known to locals as Redbank.
* The railway arrived in 1863 and this saw further development of Picton.
* In 1980 the town was bypassed by the freeway now known as the Hume Motorway.^ TOP
Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre, cnr Argyle and Menangle Streets, Picton, tel: (02) 4677 8313.^ TOP
There is a useful local website - http://www.visitwollondilly.com.au.^ TOP