Highlands History | Spectacular scenery has been drawing tourists for over a century

“Every traveller who has crossed by rail from Sydney to Melbourne knows the Southern Highlands.” Thus began, in September 1909, a feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald which continued as follows:

“This tourist district is comprised in the towns and districts of Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and Bundanoon, all within three hours' run by train. The train passes through Balmoral, Hill Top and Braemar into a region of bracing air and picturesque scenery, which practically commences at Mittagong, 77 miles from the metropolis.” 

FRESH AIR: A picnic at Fitzroy Falls in early 1900s shows that not all that much has changed - families still visit the area for outdoor activities. Photo: BDH&FHS.

FRESH AIR: A picnic at Fitzroy Falls in early 1900s shows that not all that much has changed - families still visit the area for outdoor activities. Photo: BDH&FHS.

“A few miles on the train passes through ‘The Gib’ tunnel and runs into Bowral, which is the central town of the Southern Highlands. Moss Vale, six miles beyond, and well known to passengers on the Melbourne express who breakfast there, is soon reached. The line then passes through Exeter, noted for its rich volcanic soil and growth of shrubs and flowers, to the pretty town of Bundanoon, the terminus of the tourist district.”

“The towns have for many years attracted a regular stream of visitors, who come from the city every summer in search of health, rest or recreation. The average tourist, however, is not in search of health, the objective generally being a change of scenery. One of the charms of this district is the combination of bold mountain scenery with the peaceful rural country-side. The soil on the tableland is valuable for cultivation, dairying and grazing.” 

“Chief amongst the district’s scenic features are falls and cascades, which compare favourably with any in the State. Although not remote, the falls are generally situated at a distance from the towns but can be comfortably reached in vehicles by good roads, and the drives in themselves well repay the visit. At each of the falls there are pavilions and stalls for horses.”

ON EDGE: Visitors at Fitzroy Falls dare to sit near the sheer drop, c1900. Photo: Bundanoon History Group.

ON EDGE: Visitors at Fitzroy Falls dare to sit near the sheer drop, c1900. Photo: Bundanoon History Group.

“One of the finest sights are the Fitzroy Falls, situated on the main road from Bowral and Moss Vale to Kangaroo Valley and Nowra. The principal fall leaps over a granite precipice of 270 feet, and then, foaming and bounding over boulder and cliff, finds its way to the bed of the valley, 1000 feet below. The canyon forms a magnificent panorama, immense gullies, precipices, and forests stretching away as far as the eye can see.”  

“From Fitzroy Falls, by a picturesque route arched with spreading trees, the visitor can reach Belmore Falls. The height of the first fall is over 300 feet, with two further considerable bounds before the waters reach the bed of the valley. At the base of the first fall is a large basin with the purest and coldest of water. From the lookout on the summit of the falls one gains a wonderful panorama. At Carrington Falls, 5 miles from Robertson, the cascade negotiates a dizzy precipice which forms a continuation of the flows which give rise to the Fitzroy and Belmore Falls.” 

The Herald feature also noted that “the Southern district has long had the hall-mark of favour as a summer resort, for ever since the days of Earl Belmore (Governor, 1868-72) the State Governor has had his country residence there. The vice-regal residence, Hillview, is delightfully situated at Sutton Forest, 3 miles from Moss Vale, and the pretty manors around the township are astir with fashionable house parties during the season”.

The district’s three main waterfalls were named after NSW Governors. While visiting the Southern Highlands in 1850, Sir Charles FitzRoy (Governor 1846-54) went to see what was then known as Throsby’s Falls, and from then the name Fitzroy Falls was adopted. In 1870 John Hanrahan, a district pioneer, led a party to spectacular falls near Robertson. The group included the Royal Botanic Gardens Director and Dr Reed of Sydney who named the site Belmore Falls, after Sir Somerset Lowry-Corry, Earl of Belmore (Governor 1869-72).  For the Falls five miles southeast of Robertson, from 1888 the name Carrington came into common use, in honour of Charles Robert Carrington (Governor 1886-90).

The naming of these sites reflect their significance to the district. Each was designated as a Crown reserve with trustees appointed to manage them.

Having previously presented a history series on Fitzroy (Throsby) and Belmore Falls, still available online, a history of Carrington Falls will commence in next week’s column.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 4-part series. To be continued.

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