History of Bowral

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Bowral is a town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia. It has a history spanning nearly 200 years.

Pre-colonial times[edit]

The Bowral area during pre-colonial times was a part of land that belonged to the Tharawal Aboriginal Tribe. However, no permanent aboriginal settlement occurred because of the area's cool climate.[citation needed] The name Bowral is believed to be derived from the Aboriginal word "Bowrel" which loosely translates into the word "High".

European discovery and early settlement: 1780 - 1830s[edit]

The area of Bowral was first traversed in 1789 by ex-convict John Wilson and his search party. Wilson's search party had been commissioned by Governor Hunter to explore south of the new colony of Sydney.

After Wilson's expedition a series of expeditions followed decades later by John Warby and Botanist George Caley (an associate of Joseph Banks), the Hume brothers and later famous pioneer explorers John Oxley and Charles Throsby.

In 1817, Charles Throsby was given land by Governor Lachlan Macquarie of the New South Wales colony. Throsby established a small township named Bong Bong which today is located 7 km north of Bowral. Throsby built Old South Road, a road that lead from Stonequarry (Picton) and Sydney to Goulburn and the southern plains of New South Wales.

Governor Macquarie had also given 2,400 acres (9.7 km2) to John Oxley in a land grant. This land would one day be present-day Bowral. John Oxley never lived in the area but he sent his sons to live in the area as sheep and cattle pastoralists. Oxley's sons named the area around Bowral "Wingecarribee"; the current name of the local government area of the Southern Highlands.

In 1831, 3,000 acres (12 km2) had been granted to what is known today as East Bowral to a Sydney business man, Edward Riley whose son, George took residence on the land.

Village: 1840 - 1850s[edit]

During 1857- 1858, John Oxley's sons, John Norton Oxley and Henry Molesworth Oxley had built the locally renowned "Wingecarribbee" homestead that remains until this day. The homestead held the Wingecarribee (modern-day Bowral) village's Church of England services. The homestead is currently privately owned. It is during this period in time that Henry conveyed his share of the 4,200 acre grant to his older brother John. John subdivided 200 acres (0.81 km2) as it was known that the railway would be constructed through the district. The arrival of the railway in 1867 was the catalyst for the development of Bowral from a private village into a township. Henry also subdivided the land for farms which in the future lead to growth in Bowral.

Township and railway: 1860 - 1890s[edit]

During the mid to late 19th Century (1860 - 1890s), Bowral rapidly grew as a town and by the end of the 1890s it had was a small town that had a bakery, blacksmith, newsagency, general store, hotels and post office. It was during this time that Bowral had a substantial growth of residency due mainly to the building of the railway line from Sydney to Melbourne.

Churches and schools[edit]

In 1860, a church which doubled as a school on a glebe was built on land that covered 43 acres (170,000 m2). This land was set aside by John Oxley Jnr. It was located near the present day Bradman Museum. It had 100 enrollments upon its opening. The students were mostly children of railway workers.

In 1863, a permanent stone building was built for the church. However, the building would be replaced by the first Anglican church of St. Simon and St. Jude. The church and chapel had been designed by Edmund Blacket and was built on the glebe in 1874. The churches would once again be subject to rebuilding in 1887 because the churches had been deemed to small for the growing town. Today, only Blackett's belltower remains on the current Church of St. Simon and St. Jude.

During the 1880s, a school and hall had been built and extended on the church's ground. However, due to Henry Parkes' Public Education Act, the school went under state education. The school remains today as the local primary school across the road from the church.

The new Bowral Public School in 1898 had constructed on a few buildings including a 2-storey building to cater for secondary education. Bowral's school had been used as a combined primary and secondary educational institution until the construction of Bowral High School (in 1928), leaving the original buildings as a primary school.

In 1864, Wesleyans or Methodists had built a chapel on Bendooley St. However, in 1881, they demolished the original chapel and built a church. Nearly 40 years later, in 1926 with the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, the church was demolished and rebuilt.

Notably, in 1883, a religious event occurred in Bowral when the Salvation Army famously preached, performed and paraded in Bong Bong St.

The first Catholic Church of Bowral was built in 1891 on Banyette St. This was the first movement of the Catholic Church into Bowral. Bowral had long been considered a "Protestant" town unlike its neighbouring towns Moss Vale and Mittagong which had a Catholic presence. This original church on Banyette St. was sold to the Evangelical Church in 1986 and rebuilt next to St. Thomas Aquinas School and presbytery on the same year.


The first hotel of Bowral was built in 1862 named the "Wingecarribee Inn". The building was built on the corner of modern-day Merrigang St and Bong Bong St (where the current Royal Hotel is). The second hotel was built in 1887 named "The Grand Hotel & Motel". The building had 35 rooms. The original Hotel building remains but only a quarter of the building is used as hotel. The building was formerly known as "The Grand Bar and Brasserie" on the corner of Wingecarribee St and Bong Bong St. Sold in 2014 after 126 years in operation.

Town development and railway[edit]

After and during the construction of the railway line from Mittagong to Moss Vale in the late 1860s and 1870s, petitions brought forth by recent settlers to open a station at Bowral. These petitions as well as the increased commerce, agriculture and industry in Bowral lead to Bowral Station opening in 1886. The present Bowral station is where the original station was built. The station was originally called "Burradoo", however the name was changed to "Bowrall" and then at the turn of the century its modern spelling "Bowral". (For more information, see Bowral Railway Station)

In 1876, milk was shipped from Bowral Station and during the 1880s due to the railway shipping to Sydney and Goulburn, a tannery was also built. The tannery had operated where the current Commonwealth Bank stands today.

Before the construction of the Grand Hotel, the site was where the first School of Arts was built. The building was rebuilt to its current position in Bendooley St in 1884. The current Police station was built 3 years later next to the School of Arts on Wingecarribee St and 1896, the Bowral Court house was built next to the police station.

In 1886, Bowral established itself as its own municipality. The "Bowral Municipality" was 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) with a population of 1,000. The Victorian Imperial-style town hall of the municipality was built in 1890 next to the police station.

The town of Bowral had to rely on the Berrima District Hospital in Berrima for the towns health needs until 1863 with Jacob Ward becoming Bowral's first doctor.

Gardens and European plants flourished from 1887 when citizens started planting European and English deciduous trees to make the area look more British. This legacy still lives on throughout Bowral. Notably, the Oaks at the start of Bong Bong St are a characteristic which makes Bowral distinctive from other rural towns.

A signal of Bowral's significant growth into a town was established when in 1889 Bowral's lamps were lit by gas. The demand of gas paved way for Bowral's first private gas-works in 1890.

Country town: 1900-1950s[edit]

Bowral, once an independent municipality during the early 20th century, became part of Nattai Shire based in Mittagong in 1906. It was also during this time where the Bowral population boomed evident in the opening of schools such as Bowral High, Chevalier College and St. Thomas Aquinas.

In the 1920s-30s, Bowral developed a reticulated water supply, the construction of Bowral Hospital and the installation of electricity into Bowral from Port Kembla in 1925, as well as the installation of a town sewerage system in 1935. It was in 1923 when Robert Loseby gave away some land behind Bowral Hospital for a local park and Bowral High School. The local park had become a major sportsground with 2 ovals and later a greyhound track. Currently, the park is divided into a skatepark, tennis court, youth centre and sporting field known as "Loseby Oval".

Bowral's quick development and population during this time was evident when in 1909, the glebe where the Anglican Churches stood was subdivided into residential land. This land includes the land where the current Bradman Museum is located. However, a large portion of the land was reserved as a large park known as "Glebe Park" which remains until this day across the road from Bowral Hospital.

Development of schools[edit]

Bowral, once considered a "Protestant Town", has had a Catholic church since the 1890s. This church, St. Thomas Aquinas, led to an influx of Catholics into the area and in 1904, the nuns of Our Lady of Sacred Heart bought land known as "Belmore Park" on Centennial Road and established a convent school. In 1924, Belmore Park became a boys college still under the nuns of Our Lady of Sacred Heart. Belmore Park today serves as a park and function centre.

During World War II, a stronger Catholic presence was felt when St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School and a new presbytery was built. Just three years later, in 1946, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart bought a large property in Burradoo and established it as Chevalier College which eventually became the largest secondary school in the Southern Highlands and Wollondilly Regions. The college is established as a day and boarding school for boys. However, in the 1970s, Chevalier had ceased to become a boarding school and became co-education upon the closure of the girls convent school in Moss Vale.

In 1928-30, Bowral High School was built. It served as a tribute building to the ANZACs of the Great War. Its original building remains until this day. The school served as the prime high school for the area from Picton to Moss Vale until Moss Vale's Primary School was upgraded into a High School.

The Springett family[edit]

The Springett Family had established themselves in Bowral when they opened a general store in 1926. Two decades later the Springett Family expanded this general store into a bakery and soft-drinks plant. These buildings were the first to distribute soft drinks and sliced bread in the Highlands. The soft drinks plant was the first plant to make the soft drink Passiona in Australia.


In 1920, Bowral's Brickworks were built to supply the booming residential and commercial growth in the Southern Highlands region. Bowral Brickworks remain until this day.

Milk had been shipped from Bowral since the 1870s and this paved way in the 1930s for the construction of Bowral's Old Milk Factory. This milk factory dominated the dairy industry around Bowral. The Old Milk Factory remains until this day.

Garden and reserves[edit]

Since the late 19th century, the residents of Bowral had been gardeners, planting many decorate European trees and plants. This legacy paved the way for the construction of "Corbett Gardens" in 1911. The gardens are named after Ada Corbett. The gardens were established as a public garden with a large band rotunda. The rotunda was dismantled in the 1950s and rebuilt in the 1990s by donation from the Springett family.

In 1958, Corbett Gardens put Bowral on the map with its planting thousands of tulips that would flower during September. This annual tradition became known as "Tulip Time".

In 1919, 60 acres (240,000 m2) of Mount Gibraltar was decreed as a nature reserve.

Hospital and ambulance service[edit]

During the 19th century, Bowral relied on Berrima District Hospital for its hospital needs. However, in the late 1920s and 1930s, Bowral established its own health-care system with the construction of Bowral Hospital in 1935, which was expanded in 1959. The hospital's construction paved the way for ambulance station in 1935 in Bong Bong St. The station was later sold and is currently used as a commercial space.

Modern town: 1950 - present[edit]

Timeline of recent events[edit]

  • 1972 - The Springett Family opened Springetts' Arcade.
  • 1980 - The Nattai Shire (Mittagong Shire) incorporated with Moss Vale's Wingecarribee Shire to form the Wingecarribee Shire.
  • 1983 - Hot Canary Supermarket, one of the first "no frills" bulk grocery stores established by the Springetts, was closed and made way for the extension of Springetts' Arcade.
  • 1986 - St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church was built next to the St. Thomas Aquinas School and presbytery. The old one was sold to the Evangelical Church.
  • 1980s - Oxley Mall was built.
  • 1990 - The state sold unused hospital land next to Bowral Hospital which was then built into Bowral Private Hospital.
  • 1990s - Land in East Bowral was sub-divided and developed into the modern suburb it is today, nearly doubling Bowral's population.

See also[edit]