Bong Bong Common is the site of the first European settlement in the Southern Highlands. Located between Moss Vale and Burradoo, the site is on gently sloping river flats that rise northward from the Wingecarribee River to the Briars Inn.
It is where from 1820 the first South Road forded the river and where 30 acres (12 hectares) were reserved for a government village in November 1821.
Thus in less than three years it will be 200 years since Europeans settled locally at Bong Bong – surely an historic bi-centenary deserving of celebration!
The settlement became the district’s first administrative centre, with a row of government buildings erected between 1822 and 1832. It became abandoned, however, after road gangs constructed a new line of road in the early 1830s, surveyed by Sir Thomas Mitchell, to avoid the steep Mittagong Range and the flood-prone Bong Bong river crossing. The new line diverted travellers to an administrative centre five miles downstream at Berrima.
Except for the commissariat store, which became Dovey’s general store, the buildings at Bong Bong were in total disrepair when the site was sold to Charles Throsby Jnr in 1844. The consequent growth of Moss Vale after the southern railway opened through the district in 1867 did not restore settlement at Bong Bong. Its most noticeable enduring features are two river crossings – a road bridge and railway viaduct – and Christ Church up on the hill.
In 1986 Wingecarribee Shire Council acquired a major portion of the site after local historians drew attention to its heritage significance. A common was created to provide public open space and to preserve the site. In 1995, council established the Bong Bong Common Management Committee to help manage and develop the site.
A walking track in the commons along the Wingecarribee River opened in 2003, having been completed by the council with the committee’s support in a range of specialist studies that related to Aboriginal and historical archaeological sites, as well as conservation and management plans and interpretation strategies.
In 2008, the council recommended that the Bong Bong Common be consolidated by the purchase, when it became available, of the remaining portion, being the historically significant land between Moss Vale Road and Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve.
This purchase was completed in January 2017, placing all the original site into public ownership. The acquired portion comprises the land on which the commissariat store and Dr Throsby’s original hut were situated. As noted in a booklet produced by the Bong Bong Committee in 2017, it consolidates a stronger link with the adjoining Nature Reserve, creating a larger area of public space along the Wingecarribee River for present and future generations to enjoy. The booklet, outlining the site’s history and heritage, is available on council’s website.
With the bi-centenary looming in 2021, it is timely to recall that the NSW Governor unveiled an historical obelisk at Bong Bong on January 18, 1947.
The occasion was reported by the Southern Mail on January 24, 1947 as follows: “The pleasing fact that interest in district historical memorials is becoming particularly keen was evinced by the attendance of more than 300 people at Bong Bong on Saturday last, when the Governor, Lieut General J Northcott, CB, MVO, unveiled a trachyte obelisk to mark the site of the first surveyed township and military station on the Southern Highlands.”
“The attendance of district enthusiasts was augmented by about 50 metropolitan members of the Royal Australian Historical Society, who reached Mittagong on the 11.22am train and were taken in two buses on a tour round the historical spots of interest in the district. A brief halt was made at the Fitzroy Iron Mines whilst Councillor Turland, of Nattai Shire Council, explained the proposed location of an historical memorial in that locality, which the Council at present envisages, and the party then went on to Berrima, where, after inspection of buildings of interest, members lunched.”
“Later, the buses proceeded through Sutton Forest and Moss Vale to Christ Church, Bong Bong, where Mr Guy Blaxland, a descendant of the famous explorer and president of the Society, read a brief history of the church.”
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 2-part series. To be continued.