Highlands History | How railway shaped a town

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

The station at Moss Vale, originally named Sutton Forest Station, was opened on December 2, 1867, on the Great Southern Railway, and now ranks as one of NSW’s most important regional heritage stations. 

The NSW Office of Environment & Heritage has compiled State Heritage Listings (available on its website). These rank Moss Vale Railway Precinct as having both local and state heritage significance. 

Moss Vale served as terminus until the railway opened to Marulan in August 1868. The original 1867 platform building at Moss Vale is the town’s oldest existing structure. It also has state heritage importance due to being one of several stations built in NSW to Georgian-influenced designs selected by John Whitton, the Engineer-in-Chief of NSW Railways, later known as the ‘Father of the Railways’. 

By 1890 the station had grown in importance and the original, modest structure with its restrained decoration had to be modified to fit in with new buildings. 

BUSY YARD: A view across Moss Vale railway yards in 1930s, looking south from footbridge.

BUSY YARD: A view across Moss Vale railway yards in 1930s, looking south from footbridge.

Moss Vale became the favoured holiday destination for a succession of NSW Governors from the 1880s and elaborate Railway Refreshment Rooms were built in 1890. The station is significant for its use by many NSW Governors until 1946, and is rare in Australia, being uniquely re-designed for regular Vice-regal use. 

Originally the station featured an extensive yard and, while many elements no longer exist, the jib crane, weighbridge and hut survive as good examples of their type.

There are also various features dating from line duplication in 1915 that contribute strongly to the station’s heritage. One such structure is the prominent Argyle St rail overbridge, and other significant items include a two-storey signal box, the booking office, the awning along the Down platform, and two footbridges. 

The cantilevered awning was amongst the first of its type used in NSW. The decorative curved steel and timber platform awning follows the curvature of the railway line. The structure is of posts and curved steel brackets carrying a skillion corrugated iron roof. The wall is formed by vertical 'v' jointed painted timber boards decorated above walkways. Timber seats are built into the bays at a number of places. The awnings are simple, elegant structures of an uncommon type, probably purpose-designed for the location. 

The two footbridges at Moss Vale were identified in the 2016 ‘Railway Footbridges Heritage Conservation Strategy’ as items of high heritage significance because of their relatively intact Warren Truss deck support and steel trestle substructure. 

Major extensions were made to the Refreshment Rooms in 1919 and additions in the 1920s. The complex is significant as one of the largest remaining in NSW. 

Moss Vale Railway Precinct thus has aesthetic significance as a large and grand collection of station buildings with a Georgian-style core and a relatively intact group of Victorian-era buildings, together with extensive structures from line duplication in 1915 and catering additions in the 1920s.

OVER ARGYLE ST: Moss Vale’s rail bridge built in 1915 for duplicated line; this photo c1940. Photo: BDH&FHS.

OVER ARGYLE ST: Moss Vale’s rail bridge built in 1915 for duplicated line; this photo c1940. Photo: BDH&FHS.

Little change has since been made to Moss Vale Station’s public areas except for the removal of staff buildings and works necessary for steam train operation. The station buildings have a high level of integrity and the Moss Vale precinct, despite extensive modifications and additions, has retained many early significant features. It reflects the main phases of railway development in NSW from the 1860s to the 1930s. 

Moss Vale Station is also of considerable social significance to the local community on account of its lengthy association in providing an important source of employment, trade and social interaction for the district. The Heritage Listing cites it as significant for its ability to contribute to the local community’s sense of place, as a distinctive feature of the daily life of many community members, and for providing a connection to the local community’s past. 

The railway station and yard at Moss Vale are closely linked to town developments and to nearby Sutton Forest, and remain a historic landmark within the town.

Long may Moss Vale continue as a railway town.

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

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