Highlands History | All aboard for anniversary

Railway services between Sydney and the Southern Highlands commenced in 1867. Thus, 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of rail services, and of the opening of Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale stations. 

The Great Southern Railway was built in stages from Picton to Goulburn during the 1860s. By February 1867 it was completed as far as Nattai, where Mittagong Station was opened and train services began. 

150 YEARS AGO: Stations built in 1867 at Bowral, looking south (top) and at Moss Vale, looking north; these photos c1880. Photos: BDH&FHS.

150 YEARS AGO: Stations built in 1867 at Bowral, looking south (top) and at Moss Vale, looking north; these photos c1880. Photos: BDH&FHS.

Mittagong was the southern terminus until the line was completed to Bowral and Moss Vale, where stations opened on December 2, 1867. Moss Vale Station (initially named Sutton Forest) then became the terminus until Goulburn was opened to traffic in May 1869.

Mittagong Station celebrated its anniversary in February this year and on December 9 the historic milestone will be celebrated at Bowral and Moss Vale stations.

An overview of the heritage significance of Bowral and Moss Vale stations will be presented in this series, following a brief history of the southern railway.

The first railway in NSW was built from Sydney to Parramatta Junction in 1855, and railways to the rest of NSW were proposed, largely driven by pastoral communities seeking improved transport from centres such as Goulburn, Bathurst, Singleton and Muswellbrook. When John Whitton arrived in Sydney in 1856 to take up his position as Engineer-in-Chief of the NSW Railways, his job was to plan and build these railways. 

For the first stage of a railway to Goulburn, Whitton built a single-track line from Liverpool to Campbelltown which opened in 1862. It was then extended to Picton in 1863 and from there the Great Southern Railway was built by contractors through the rugged terrain of the Bargo ridge, opening to Nattai in February 1867. 

South of Nattai the rail line entered a tunnel under Mount Gibraltar to emerge into a landscape “as beautiful and fertile as that before traversed is rugged and barren” (Sydney Morning Herald). Tunnel construction had commenced in 1863 and it was ready when the line opened to Nattai. Cut through hard rock and shale, the tunnel, over half a kilometre in length, was up to 70 metres below ground level. The hundreds of men engaged for the work lived nearby in tents. 

Construction of earth works for the rail line from the tunnel’s southern exit to the Wingecarribee River commenced in 1865. The line was built through the Wingecarribee Flats, land granted to the widow and two sons of John Oxley for his services as Surveyor-General and explorer. 

Initially there was no plan for a station where Bowral now is. The nucleus of a village, however, had arisen from a railway workers’ camp situated at the tunnel’s south end. The Oxley family set about surveying a township and sub-divided the surrounding country, naming it Burradoo and then Bowral. 

The Herald reported in June 1865 that a deputation, consisting of RH Roberts, MLA, J and H Oxley and others, presented the Minister for Works with a memorial from more than 300 Kangaloon and Yarrawa landholders requesting a station at Bowral. As well, it was pointed out that, for Berrima residents, it would be closer than Moss Vale. 

The request for a station was heeded and a small platform with station building was erected at Bowral ready for the commencement of railway services on December 2, 1867.

Construction of the line continued southward, the next contract section being for a length of about eight miles. It commenced from and included the Wingecarribee Viaduct and ended at Vine Lodge in Exeter, the residence of Henry Badgery.

A station, built about four miles south of the viaduct, was called Sutton Forest. This name had been given to a nearby locality by Governor Macquarie in 1820 where a village developed. By the 1860s three large rural estates, owned by the Throsby, Hutchinson and Browley families, spread across the area. In anticipation of the railway, the first subdivisions for a township near the station were put up for sale in 1863. 

Sutton Forest Station opened on December 2, 1867 and, until the line was completed to Goulburn in May 1869, it was the southern terminus. The fledgling township soon began to flourish, adopting the name Moss Vale, which in 1877 became the station’s name.

Bowral and Moss Vale stations have since remained in service for 150 years.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 5-part series. To be continued.