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Tulips in bloom in Corbett Gardens
 

Bowral
Fashionable and attractive township in the Southern Highlands. Once a kind of hill station for Sydney's wealthy, it is now a retreat for those wanting to enjoy city living in the country.
Located 126 kilometres from Sydney and 661 metres above sea-level the Bowral area was first traversed by Europeans in 1798 when ex-convict John Wilson and his party were sent south by Governor Hunter with the aim of accumulating information about the southlands to discourage convicts who were escaping and heading south in the belief that China was only 150 miles away. Wilson had been living with the Aborigines for some years and had almost certainly been in the area prior to the expedition.

Over the next decade there were expeditions into the district by John Warby and a botanical collector for Joseph Banks named George Caley. The Hume brothers, probably in the company of their uncle John Kennedy, investigated the area in 1814. With pastures around the Sydney area becoming scarce, John Oxley, with his stockmen, followed the route of what is now the old Hume Highway to the Berrima district in 1815. Charles Throsby, usually in the company of Hamilton Hume and Joseph Wild, undertook a series of explorations between 1817 and 1819, travelling over the Mittagong Range to the sites of present-day Moss Vale and Sutton Forest.

Oxley and Throsby were rewarded with land grants in the area. Oxley was granted 2400 acres in 1823 and was authorised to purchase a further 5000 acres which he named 'Wingecarribee'. The family homestead is still standing.

The property incorporated part of Mt Gibraltar, called 'the Gib' by locals and 'Bowrel' (thought to mean 'high') by the local Aborigines. It is under the shadow of this rocky outcrop to the north that the present town of Bowral stands.

A road from Gib Gap to Bong Bong was built in 1852 which increased traffic through the area. However, it was the coming of the railway that was really crucial to the town's establishment. John Oxley's son subdivided 81 ha of the Wingecarribee property in 1859 when he heard the railway would soon be built, reserving a townsite and selling adjacent lots as farms. The prospective village was surveyed that same year.

The district's first school (Anglican) was set up, principally for the children of the railway workers, in 1861. In 1862 a collection of 'stores and public houses, chiefly for supplying the wants of railway navvies', was set up. The township was proclaimed the following year when the first inns were built. A post office was opened in 1864.

The first religious services in the district (Anglican) had been carried out in a house on the Oxley property in 1853. The first Church of England was built in 1863. Methodist services commenced that year and a Wesleyan chapel was built the following year.

The townsite, initially known as Wingecarribee, soon changed to Burradoo and, by the time the railway station was built in 1867, it was known as Bowral. By 1871 the town had a population of 133. It was correctly believed that the railway would attract Sydneysiders to the pleasant country air and the European climate, particularly in summer when the humidity of Sydney became oppressive. The town started to grow rapidly. New and more substantial buildings appeared. The first bank branch was opened in 1877. By 1881 the population had risen to 363 and was increasing. Wealthy Sydneysiders began to establish grand country homes and English-style gardens, some of which are still flourishing.

It is a sign of the prosperity and expansion that 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, as well as numerous residences and three sawmills. It was declared a municipality in 1886.

In the 1920s the town experienced another building boom and the area became a popular retreat. Families would stay at guest houses and hotels like Craigieburn (at the western end of town on Centennial Rd), where golf and tennis were popular leisure activities. The hotel has not been modernised and still has a certain 'bygone charm' with formal dining rooms, gracious lounge rooms and a private 9-hole golf course.

Grazing and cattle-breeding drove the economy. Bowral became, and still is, the commercial centre of the Southern Highlands, as well as a service centre to the surrounding properties.

Today Bowral is a decidedly up-market, some would say yuppified, tourist centre full of boutiques, gift shops, antique dealers, restaurants and cafes, bookshops and art galleries. It is possessed of a healthy climate and scenery reminiscent of rural England. There are a number of excellent municipal parks and playgrounds. With an economy focused on tourism, vegetables, dairying and grazing the current population is over 8000.

 


 

Things to see:   

 

Bradman Oval before the Museum was built
 

Bradman Museum
Bowral's most famous son is cricketing legend, Sir Donald Bradman. The Bradman Museum, located in Glebe Park (follow Boolwey St east from the main streets), takes a comprehensive look at the history of cricket, particularly in its early days, and has an interesting display of Bradman memorabilia, including the bat he used to score 304 at Headingly in 1934. Other items include an oak bat dating back to the 1750s.

The museum is open from 10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. daily and has a 100-seat cinema with Bradman footage and newsreels. It was opened by 'the Don' with much ceremony in 1989. John Howard opened stage two in 1996. There is a tea shop and admission charge and you can obtain a leaflet to guide you through the Bradman Walk taking in the town's Bradman iconography, including the two family residences.

Bradman arrived in Bowral as a child, scored a century for the local school at the age of 12 and lived for three years at 20 Glebe Road opposite the oval. It is popularly believed that Bradman played regularly on Bradman Oval but this is untrue. The oval was a timbered swamp prior to its development in 1927-1928 and by 1926 he was playing for the Sydney cricket club, St. George. In fact 'the Don's' local matches were conducted at Centennial Park. People interested in Bradman's early history should travel one block north of Glebe Park to Shepherd St where, at no.52, you will find the family home. 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.

 

The Bradman Museum
 

 

Tulip Festival
The town's famous 'Tulip Festival', held during the September school holidays, offers spectacular floral displays and a rare opportunity to wander through the sumptuous English gardens of some of the town's larger private homes. The centrepiece of the festival are the rather beautiful Corbett Gardens in Bendooley Street, one block east of Bong Bong Street. The Southern Highlands Visitor Centre in Mittagong can furnish all details about the pertinent attractions at Tulip Time and their whereabouts, contact 1800 656 176.

 

Autumn Garden Festival
There is also an Autumn Garden Festival in May and the Open Garden Scheme ensures that some of the most impressive gardens can be visited throughout spring and autumn, albeit by arrangement. Furthermore, in October, there is a series of lectures featuring horticulturalists and gardeners from all over the world. The town is alive with dahlias in February.

 

Historic Buildings
Also in Bendooley St are a number of old cottages made from trachyte, a volcanic rock mined at a local quarry in the past. The stone was used as the basic material for the piers of the first railway bridge over the Hawkesbury River, for Australia House in London and for buildings in Sydney.

Heading south along Bendooley St from Corbett Gardens there are a number of older buildings - the courthouse (built of trachyte in 1896), the police station (1887), the council offices (1890), and St Jude's Church of England.

The original St Jude's, consecrated in 1874, was designed by the famous architect Edmund Blacket (the designer of Sydney University's quadrangle). Amazingly, his unusual and impressive Norman-style building was found wanting. It was thought too small, though snobbery played its part. The prevailing view was that Norman churches were only appropriate for 'primitive' societies. The Bishop Charles Barry said 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'. Consequently 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 gracious rectory was built in 1880.

The public school opposite was opened in 1863 but has been greatly altered. It houses the Bowral Schoolhouse Museum and Gallery which contains a range of local history memorabilia. It is open in summer and at Tulip Time or by arrangement, contact (02) 4861 1086.

Turn right into Banyette St. The first crossroad is Bong Bong St, so named because it originally led south to the village of Bong Bong. At the end of Banyette St is the Roman Catholic Church, built in 1891.

Return to Bong Bong St and head north. The north-east corner of Boolwey and Bong Bong Streets was the site of the town's first dwelling - a log cabin owned by an Aborigine named Adam.

The Grand Hotel on the corner of Bong Bong and Wingecarribee Sts was erected in 1887 where the town's cricket oval once stood. Continue north for one block to Bundaroo St. The Port-O-Call Hotel on this corner dates back to 1863 when it was allegedly built by Mittagong's first settler William Charker as the Prince of Wales. It was, at the time, the second hotel in town and the first brick building.

 

Wingecarribee House and Other Mansions
Out of town are three residences of historical interest that are privately owned. 'Wingecarribee', the house built in 1857 by the Oxley family on the original land grant, was entirely imported from England. A cast-iron parapet on the roof supports a series of iron urns. The Classical Revival mansion 'Retford Park', on the Old South Road, was built in 1887 for Sir Samuel Hordern on property purchased from Bowral's first shopkeeper, George Riley. The extensive gardens were established by his wife. 'Robertson Park', on Kirklands Rd at Glenquarry (south-east of town) is a large sandstone mansion built in the 1850s for the prominent politician Richard Hutchinson Roberts.

 

Arts and Crafts
There are a number of art, craft, antique and homeware shops in town on Bong Bong St and in Springetts Arcade, and an antiques and collectables shop called the Old Produce Store in Banyette St. The Berrima District Art Society Gallery is in Short St, contact (02) 48614093, and Gallery J, specialising in arts and crafts, is at 327 Bong Bong Rd, at the Empire Cinema Centre, contact (02) 4862 2310.

 

 

View over Bowral from 'The Gib'
 

Mt Gibraltar's Lookouts
Mt Gibraltar (863 m) on the northern side of town is the highest point between the Illawarra coast and the Great Dividing Range. The drive to the summit is very pleasant. Head north out of town along the Mittagong Rd and turn off to the right into Oxley Drive which will take you to the summit. It leads past four scenic lookouts.

The Bowral Lookout takes in Bowral (180 m below) with Wingecarribee Dam, Moss Vale and the Cuckbundoon Range near Goulburn in the distance. The next is the Oxley View, overlooking the first European land grant in the area, issued to explorer John Oxley (1825), which he named 'Wingecarribee'. Jellore Lookout faces west and north-west to Mt Jellore (a conical volcanic summit which was a significant landmark in Major Thomas Mitchell's early mapping of the district). In the distance are the Blue Mountains. The Mittagong Lookout faces north and north-east over Mittagong (240 m below) backed by Mt Alexandra with Sydney visible in the distance on a clear day and Mt Keira, adjacent Wollongong, to the right. There are barbecue and picnic facilities en route.

 

Walking in the Area
It is actually possible to walk to the summit from the picnic area at the intersection of Cliff and Ellen Sts at the north-eastern end of Bowral. The Gib Track (marked by white posts) leads 300 m to an intersection with the 1.2-km Rim Track (marked by yellow posts) which connects all four lookouts. Bowral Lookout is to the right.

50 m west of the Mittagong Lookout the Reservoir Track (red) heads northwards off the Rim Track through 'the Cavern' and down to the Mittagong-Bowral Rd (1.4 km return). En route you will pass The Ravine Track (blue) which heads east to the junction with a fire trail (1.2 km return).

 

Milton Park
Starting at the roundabout at Kangaloon Rd proceed eastwards towards Robertson. After about 5 km Horderns Rd heads off to the left to Milton Park, a huge stately home in a 285-ha rural setting, now a fashionable hotel and conference centre. The homestead was built in 1910 by noted livestock breeder, Anthony Hordern, grandson of the Anthony Hordern of Sydney-department-store fame. Although the building has been modernised with fashionable pastel hues and modern designer furniture the magnificent 8-ha gardens, created by the Horderns, are still sumptuous and immaculately kept and the original 'Garden Room', now the restaurant, allows the visitor a hint of past genteel luxury and offers a splendid, relaxing view once enjoyed by the original owners. There are bicycles available, horseriding, bushwalking, golf, tennis, croquet, swimming and other activities.

 

 

Tiny church at Bong Bong
 

Other Activities in the Area
Opposite the Kangaloon-Horderns Rd intersection is the Bong Bong racetrack site where the famous, or infamous, Bong Bong Picnic Races are held in the second week of November.

Continue east along Kangaloon Rd through what is dairying country towards Robertson and the reservoir will eventually appear to the right. Further east again is some beautiful scenery and the villages of Kangaloon and East Kangaloon.

Highlands Trips and Treks, P.O. Box 298, Bundanoon NSW 2578. Phone/Fax 02 4883 6523 or Mobile 015 244 714 and email httreks@acenet.com.au offer 4WD tours and bushwalks in the Southern Highlands and will pick you up from your accommodation, be it in Sydney or the highlands.

Another way to see the area is through Balloon Aloft who run dawn flights, with champagne breakfast, through the Southern Highlands, contact (1800) 028 568.

Bowral has two golf clubs - the Country Golf Club and the Bowral Golf Club. The local markets are held on the third Sunday of each month at the Rudolph Steiner School on the corner of Kirkham and Centennial Roads, west of the town centre.

 

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Bowral