The densely forested Yarrawa Brush on the Wingecarribee districts eastern side was opened up by free settlers in the 1860s. The Robertson Land Act of 1861 provided for free selection before survey of blocks of unreserved Crown Land at £1 per acre.
After clearing their land, the hardy pioneers grew crops and vegetables, and kept poultry, pigs and cows. As told in a previous series on dairying, they earned some income from farm-made butter which was packed in brine barrels or kegs and carried by pack-horses to Kiama for shipment to Sydney.
The first selections south of the Wingecarribee Swamp were registered in 1862 and the private village of Burrawang took shape. Initially it served as the eastern areas hub, by 1867 having a post office, store and inn.
One of the areas earliest selectors was John Cullen. He would prosper at Burrawang and at Moss Vale where, in the 1870s, he and his younger brother James became hotel owners and licensees and both served on the Municipal Council after its formation in 1888.
A local history of the Cullen family follows here, compiled from the Historical Societys biography files, from newspaper reports sourced by volunteer researcher Marg Muntz using the National Librarys Trove website, and from Shylie Browns book Life Behind the Bar: Inns and Hotels of the Southern Highlands.
John Cullen emigrated from County Fermanagh, northern Ireland, arriving in NSW on the ship Kate on December 4, 1855, aged 21. He came from humble origins, his father being a farm labourer, so most likely was seeking better prospects. His younger sister Jane had already emigrated, arriving in July that year, aged 19, on the Exodus with her husband William Vance, an agricultural labourer. They settled at Kiama, where their five children were registered.
John joined them at Kiama, found work and soon married an Irish immigrant, Anna-Maria Curry, who gave birth to their first child in 1857. Eventually they would raise 11 children, five girls and six boys, the last nine being born in the Wingecarribee district.
As John and Jane considered there were great opportunities for settlers prepared to work, they encouraged the rest of the family back in Ireland to also emigrate. Their parents, Rebecca and Robert Cullen, and three younger children Ann 19 years, James 17, and Sarah 12 arrived at Sydney in March 1861 on the ship Queen Bee, with John as sponsor.
By the early 1860s both the John Cullen and William Vance families had taken up at Burrawang, along with the Cullen family from Ireland. A descendant later recalled that Johns propertys was located on Pearsons Lane, midway between Wildes Meadow and Robertson. Johns rustic Irish upbringing no doubt provided him with the know-how and endurance required to clear and fence his land, erect a residence and stables, and care for the livestock he bred.
William Vance established a dairy farm at Burrawang which, according to a daughters obituary in the Southern Mail in 1947, had been regarded as the districts best.
John Cullen was instrumental in forming a Loyal Orange Lodge at Burrawang. In June 1872 the Protestant Standard reported that the Burrawang LOL, being number 80, was opened on Saturday, May 18, with several Sydney brethren present. The meeting was held at Bro Cullen's residence. The opening ceremony commenced at 8pm, after which the brethren repaired to Bro McClintocks, where supper was provided. Burrawang Lodge meetings continued to be held at John Cullens, on the first Wednesday before each full moon, for many years.
Johns mother Rebecca died in 1873 and his father Robert in 1876, both at Burrawang. Their son James became the first proprietor of Burrawangs Commercial Hotel in 1873.
By this time, the new township of Moss Vale was growing around its railway station. In 1875 John Cullen purchased the leasehold for that towns Terminus Hotel along with an adjoining Railway Store and Meeting Hall, all built opposite the station, and for land at the rear. In 1880 he renamed the hotel as the Royal.
Johns brother James and son-in-law Edward Aland would also own hotels at Moss Vale.
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