Part one of a three-part series
THE local district is renowned for its natural beauty and from early days attracted many holiday makers. They visited by train after the southern line opened in the 1860s and then by car, once motor vehicles came into use in the early 20th century.
The first caravan park in the district was established at Mittagong in the 1930s and later others opened at Berrima and Bundanoon. A modern van park was built at Moss Vale in 1972. An overview of these developments is presented in this series.
In 1928 the entire inland road from Sydney to Melbourne was renamed the Hume Highway.
Within NSW the route had been known since the 1830s as the Great Southern Road. Locally, this road from Sydney proceeded through the Wingecarribee district's western side, entering Mittagong from the north and passing through Berrima on its way south.
Step by step, over a period of years, the road was improved to cope with the motor vehicles that gradually replaced stage coaches and horse and bullock-drawn transport.
The emergence of the motor car made it easier for city people to explore the countryside. The use of trailer caravans designed to be towed behind a private car was gradually adopted.
Caravans were built in Australia from the 1920s, including the Furness, a four-berth van manufactured in South Australia. These were adaptations of horse-drawn European designs used for centuries by gypsies and other folk.
Convinced of the growing popularity of caravans and trailers, in the 1930s the NSW motoring body NRMA organised a caravan section among its members. In the USA and Europe, large numbers of motorists were purchasing or hiring these portable homes for holiday tours. Australians were slower to follow the example, but by 1937 there was a definite increase in the number of vans and trailers registered.
For those heading out of Sydney with a car and caravan in the 1930s, the south provided a less rugged journey than the northern or western routes. Even so, the south coast road and the inland Hume Highway were slow going with many hills and treacherous sections.
The need for comfortable overnight stops with suitable facilities was soon felt. Eden's Beach at Kiama has the distinction of being the first place in NSW to be used as a caravan, camping and holiday spot.
From 1935 a large grass paddock fronting the beach, part of a dairy farm owned by the East family, was made available for camping. It was rustic with pit toilets, cold showers and old boilers to wash clothes. Cows roamed about and guests were provided with fresh milk, butter and ice.
This pristine location by the sea was in those days a three-hour road trip from Sydney. It soon became popular and has remained so.
It was a similar travelling time from Sydney to Mittagong on the Hume Highway. The leafy surrounds of the Baths and Oval there proved irresistible as a suitable place to stop.
Mittagong Council had opened the Baths in 1931, being the district's first municipal pool. Fronting the highway on its northern approach into town, the Baths were located near an existing sports oval and gymnasium. Further facilities were soon added: a Golf Club opened in 1933 with a 9-hole links stretching from the rail line to beyond the Baths, and a Bowling Club, located between the oval and rail line, opened in 1936. Tennis courts were also built.
A small zoo and garden picnic area were established outside the Baths, where an unusual and decorative rustic front entrance was erected in 1932. The recreation reserve attracted many children, adults and whole families from all over the district.
An adjoining 25 acres was purchased to be a camping ground where holiday makers could camp in tents. This ground was also used by motorists towing caravans or trailers for overnight and longer stays. With basic amenities and ready access to all the recreation facilities, it soon became a drawcard for stays in the Southern Highlands.
In 1939 Mittagong was selected by the NRMA for its first ever camping and caravan rally. In the Sydney Morning Herald of March 14, it invited members to take part that Easter. "The Mittagong ground is one of the finest in the State, possessing adequate water and sanitation facilities. Arrangements will be made for the delivery of food supplies. A special area, well grassed and level, has been set apart for a caravan parking ground, and a sheltered section is available for tent campers."
Would this inaugural event be a success?
To be continued