Highlands History | Bowral Station turns 150

This year, 2017, marks the 150th anniversary of railway services linking Sydney and the Southern Highlands. The historic milestone will be celebrated at Bowral and Moss Vale stations on December 9.

In 1867 the Great Southern Railway opened as far as Mittagong Station on March 1, and the line was progressively extended. Stations at Bowral and Moss Vale (initially known as Sutton Forest) were opened on December 2.

STEAM POWER: A passenger service from Sydney approaches Bowral Station, c1915.
Photo: BDH&FHS.

STEAM POWER: A passenger service from Sydney approaches Bowral Station, c1915. Photo: BDH&FHS.

While railways were primarily built in NSW to provide better transport for pastoral landowners, other uses were envisaged, as revealed in this Sydney Morning Herald letter of November 16, 1867:

“To the Editor. In a recent article you mentioned that a passenger traffic would spring up on our railway in consequence of the wish of Sydney residents to escape to the hills during the summer months, and that though it was beneath the dignity of the Government to expedite this traffic, it would develop itself. But is it beneath the dignity of those interested in the hill country to develop this traffic? The present summer set in with great severity. The medical men say that the best restorative is a change of climate to a cooler air.”

“The Southern railway is now open to Mittagong, and will shortly be open to Bowral and Sutton Forest. Are there not plenty of eligible spots within reach of these three stations, where the charms of rural scenery can be added to the luxury of a temperate summer climate? lt is probable that many Sydney families would visit the districts if they knew where to find suitable accommodation. Yours, obediently, Perspiro.”

Indeed, within a decade, boarding houses were established in the Highlands and the district was later promoted as ‘The Sanatorium of the South’. The railway became an essential aspect of life. As well as transporting produce and goods, trains carried passengers and the mail, and stations provided telegraphic communications.

In tribute to their 150th anniversary, an overview of Bowral Station’s history is presented here, and that of Moss Vale Station will follow in later articles.

BETTER TO CROSS: Old level crossing at Bowral Station in foreground and new overhead bridge at south end, c1912.

BETTER TO CROSS: Old level crossing at Bowral Station in foreground and new overhead bridge at south end, c1912.

When Bowral Station opened on December 2,1867, it consisted of a 47-metre platform with a single structure housing a stationmaster’s residence, booking office and waiting room, built on the east side of the line, slightly north of the present main building. Nearby was a goods shed and level crossing. The line arrangement consisted of a loop and one track (now the ‘down’ track).

Bowral grew and prospered and by 1879 cattle yards and a loading bank were built at the station. The platform was lengthened in 1880 and a crane, weighbridge and milk-loading platform were added in 1883.

In 1892 Bowral Station was provided with a larger platform and an elegant, Victorian building, still in use today, housing the booking office and waiting room. A stationmaster’s residence was built nearby in similar style, now privately owned.

Due to a steady increase in rail usage, in 1905 Bowral’s platform was extended at the southern end. By 1910 duplication of the entire Southern Line had become essential and was undertaken in stages, being completed between Bowral and Goulburn in 1915.

In readiness for duplication, an iron overbridge was constructed in 1912 at the south end of Bowral Station to provide pedestrians and vehicles with a safer crossing than the old level crossing. In 1915 a new platform was built on the ‘up’ side of the line with an office and waiting room in standard inter-war style.

Once a new section from Picton to Mittagong via Bargo was completed in 1919, the Southern line was duplicated to Goulburn. There were other changes and additions at Bowral including a milk shed (1915), signal box (1919), re-erection of goods shed and yard crane on the down side (1919) and the re-erection of the stockyards (1929). The stockyards were demolished in 1985.

The NSW Heritage Register lists Bowral Station as having local historic significance for its continuity of use over 150 years, and social significance for providing local employment, trade and community interaction. It has aesthetic significance for its substantially intact collection of railway structures of contrasting architectural styles and periods.

Bowral Station remains an important civic landmark in the town.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 2 of a 5-part series. To be continued.