By 1868 the Great Southern Railway extended through the local district as far as Exeter, with Meryla Siding being built midway between there and the station at Moss Vale.
As noted in the last article, 'Meryla' (pronounced Me-rye-la) was the name of a mountain in the neighbouring valley below Fitzroy Falls. The siding was for farmers to load their produce. Close by on the line was a gatehouse, its staff ensuring safety at a level crossing for a track from nearby Sutton Forest to the siding.
In 1901 the siding was renamed Werai, which became the name of the locality to the east of the rail line. From there the settlers' track continued further east to farmland around the mid-portion of Bundanoon Creek and proceeded southeast to Meryla Pass, a gap in the ridge, and into Kangaroo Valley. Today the Wingecarribee Shire localities of Werai, Manchester Square and Meryla cover the area, the latter being an extensive rugged area to the south, now mostly State Forest and adjoining Morton National Park.
Today's Greenhills Road at Werai is a remnant of the early Meryla track, now terminating at Bundanoon Creek Dam. The other part of the track that headed west across to Sutton Forest fell out of use, the road through Exeter becoming the main access.
Meryla Pass is described, but not named, in the 1818 journal of explorer Dr Charles Throsby, who was led by Aborigines down the steep track into Kangaroo Valley and on to Jervis Bay, as part of an expedition to find an inland road to the coast. The Gundungurra and coastal Wodi Wodi people had long made use of the route.
While too rugged for wheeled vehicles, the Meryla Pass track soon became a bridle path and stock route, remaining in use for over a century. From the early 1820s Sutton Forest settlers James Atkinson, Benjamin Crew and others moved cattle down the Pass to graze on the fertile flats at the western end of Kangaroo Valley and it was most likely them who improved the track and positioned the solid rock retaining walls that are still in place today.
In 1830 Robert Hoddle, working for Surveyor-General Major Mitchell, surveyed eastward from Berrima through the thick Yarrawa Brush to the escarpment and down to Kiama. The following July he conducted a survey of Kangaroo Valley, visiting James Atkinson at Sutton Forest beforehand, no doubt gaining useful information. Extending from the Wingecarribee Swamp to Kiama, Hoddle's map of 1831 names the area's various ranges, including Mt Meryla, and shows the Kangaroo River with its branches including Yarrunga Creek (at the head of which is Fitzroy Falls) and Meryla Creek. This is the earliest known documented use of the name 'Meryla'. As no other place in the world bears the name and, as most of the other creeks and mounts in Kangaroo Valley are named from Aboriginal words, perhaps also is Meryla, but its derivation is unknown.
In the 1860s settlers took up land in the eastern parts of the Wingecarribee district and from 1868 townships developed along the railway line at Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and Bundanoon. The Meryla area also attracted settlement around Bundanoon Creek and as far as the pass and down in the valley. The Garbutt brothers, Stephen and Joseph, were significant landowners, the latter establishing a fine orchard and productive sawmill.
At a turn-off on Yarrawa Road out of Moss Vale, by then a major town, in 1896 Meryla Road was built. Today it passes through Manchester Square, continues to a bridge across Bundanoon Creek and after 16 km reaches the head of Meryla Pass, terminating at gates locked to motorists. Two walking tracks commence nearby: the Meryla Fire Trail that winds along ridge lines towards Fitzroy Falls, and the Griffins Fire Trail that descends Meryla Pass to Gales Flat in Kangaroo Valley and on to Lake Yarrunga.
By the 1890s the local district had become a popular destination for holiday-makers, attracted by its scenic beauty and waterfalls including, surprisingly, one at Meryla. In 1895 the Town and Country Journal described the natural loveliness in the vicinity of Meryla Falls "which are destined to be included among the most popular of our numerous pleasure resorts" - but the future does not always turn out as expected. Who today knows of Meryla Falls?
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society - compiled by PD Morton. Part 2 of a 3-part series. To be continued.