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Archaeology in the Goulburn Region – Southern Tablelands.


The recent Archaeological Management Plan for Goulburn Mulwaree Council, completed in 2010, has enabled Ted Higginbotham to study the whole range of archaeological and heritage sites in the area.


The Goulburn Plains was one of four regions that witnessed the expansion of settlement from Sydney and the Cumberland Plain in the late 1810s. The other areas were the Hunter Valley, Bathurst and the Illawarra. The pioneers first settled in the Bungonia area, then the rich alluvial land of the Wollondilly River and the Mulwaree Ponds.


The “Landscape of the Assigned Servant” is the name given to the large-scale pastoral settlement of these regions up to the end of convict transportation in New South Wales in 1840. The preservation of many of these early farms is surprising, not only the farmhouses, but also the range of farm buildings. Weatherboard and slab homes, dating from the 1820s, survive at Lansdowne, Goulburn, and Inverary Park, Bungonia. These are some of the earliest timber buildings in New South Wales. Elsewhere beautiful colonial Georgian houses are found, though some of the earliest farms owe their origins to buildings that would not be out of place in rural England.


Stables and barns are the most common farm buildings to survive, but nothing compares with the range of buildings to be found at Springfield, south of Goulburn. Even the horse powered flourmill still stands, one of two surviving out of six recorded in the 1830s.


The early farms depended on convict labour. Law and order was maintained by the Mounted Police and the local magistrates, with their courthouses and gaols. The farms of the magistrates are sometimes distinguished by the provision of a gaol, even on these rural properties. Examples are known at Inverary Park, Lansdowne and Rossiville.


Locating the Headquarters of the Mounted Police at Old Goulburn in 1829 was the reason for the foundation of the town. Riversdale, the National Trust property, stands on the site of Mat Healey’s hotel, which served the needs of the police, travellers and settlers. The stable there is claimed to be “the first stone building ever erected in Goulburn.”


A new site for Goulburn was chosen in 1832, supposedly in a less flood prone location. The town was slow to grow, but Charles MacAlister described its attractions:

‘In the early ‘40s, Goulburn had grown to be, if not the “loveliest,” at all events, one of the liveliest “villages of the plain,” and boasted several hotels, about a dozen stores (mostly run by Jews), a branch of the Commercial Bank, managed by a most kindly and worthy citizen – the late John O’Sullivan, sundry blacksmiths, butchers and cobblers, a nailmaker in one Donald MacAllister…and began to have a practical acquaintance with primary education and religious knowledge…The old township had by this time (1840-45) lost its grip on the situation: the Head Quarters of the Penal Office had been removed, and as Mat Healy had also left to start a hotel in Sydney, the glory of the first settlement had departed with its oldest inhabitants, and now the New Town, a mile distant across the plain, was springing up in a position more convenient to the tread of the traffic – then making south. There was no such thing as kerbed footpaths, or any real attempt at street forming in those days; and as for Progress Committees, each man was his own organiser and committee. Goulburn in the early Forties was simply a little bark-roofed frontier town, a tablelander’s outpost – midway between the wild and woolly inland and the “Big Smoke” by the sea.’

Goulburn became a Municipality in 1859 and ‘Australia’s First Inland City’ in 1863 (though Bathurst makes a similar claim).


The Penal System has left us with other important sites in the Goulburn region, notably the stone bridge and culverts of Thomas Mitchell’s Great South Road at Towrang. The bridge itself is reputed to have been designed by that famous engineer, David Lennox (1788-1873). The convict road labourers and masons were housed in stockades, kept under guard by military detachments, both at Towrang and Wingello.


One place where you can almost feel the presence of Governor Lachlan Macquarie is at Wild’s Pass, where the Government Road of 1820 crossed the Cookbundoon Range by a series of zigzags. Of this place, Macquarie wrote in his Journal on Sunday, 22 October 1820:

“The ascent to the Top of this Range is very steep, rocky, and difficult – owing to the bad construction of the Road up it – the Turnings or Traverses being very short and abrupt. We had great labour and difficulty in getting the Baggage Carts up to the Top of the Mountain and it occupied upwards of two Hours to do so, and in descending the opposite side of the mountain to the western side. — I named this ascent and Descent "Wild's Pass", after Joseph Wild the Overseer of the Road Party, who are employed in constructing the Road in this new Country.”


Many of the heritage sites in and around Goulburn remain little known and deserve greater attention.


Riversdale, the National Trust property, was built as a coaching inn and residence in the 1840s. While many of the historic farms in the region are hidden away from the road on private properties, Riversdale has many similarities to these rural establishments.


Goulburn Brewery, built in the 1830s and extended throughout the 19th century, is one of the most complete industrial complexes of this period to survive in New South Wales. The steam engine for the works is now housed in the Powerhouse Museum, but the original boiler remains on site.


Goulburn Waterworks, built in 1895, is unique in the Southern Hemisphere. The beam engine, by Appleby Bros, is in working condition and is powered up on special occasions. The beam engine was one of the main innovations that powered the Industrial Revolution. To see one at work in Australia is a fascinating experience, when one would normally have to travel to Europe to see other working examples in their original locations.


The Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre is housed in an almost complete Roundhouse, just one of the buildings surviving from the heyday of Goulburn as a centre for rail transport since 1869. The Roundhouse has a selection of steam locomotives, but specialises in diesel engines.


Mandelson’s Hotel stands on the site of the first hotel built in Goulburn after the new town was laid out in 1832. John Cole, a sawyer, built a hotel here in 1833. This made way for the present hotel in 1846. where Nathan Mandelson ran his renowned establishment for many years. The hotel is open to the public and offers the use of its magnificent rooms, still ‘not to be surpassed’ (1859) after recent renovations of the historic building (2001). Daniel Daniehy (1828-1865), orator and lawyer, who represented Goulburn in the NSW Parliament between 1857-1859, had his offices at Mandelson’s and conducted his business there. He was a liberal politician, whose main work was in support of the small settlers on the land, though it was not until 1861 that the Robertson Land Acts passed into law.


If you require archaeological or heritage advice for the Goulburn Region, please contact Ted Higginbotham.



This timber framed and slab building at Inverary Park, Bungonia, has walls that are clad in weatherboards on the exterior and with lath and plaster inside. Its construction is highly unusual. Could it be the so-called ‘miserable hovel’ described by William Riley in 1831 where the family lived before building the present house before 1840?


The weatherboard homestead at Lansdowne was built in the 1820s, before Goulburn was founded as a town.


The wide verandah of the beautiful Colonial Georgian farmhouse at Longreach is derived from buildings in India, the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire.


The two storey farmhouse at Kelburn, south of Goulburn, could just as easily be found in rural England.


The combined barn and stable at Norwood is visible from the road. It was described by Rachel Roxburgh in 1978 as the finest example she had seen.


The wooden teeth and timber construction of the 1830s flour mill at Springfield remind us of traditional technology, more reminiscent of mediaeval Europe than an Australian farm.


The range of farm buildings at Springfield, south of Goulburn, was extended throughout the 19th century. Here the stables, woolshed and other buildings form one side of the square farmyard.


Inverary Gaol, Bungonia, is located at Reevesdale, beside the original South or Argyle Road. Dr. David Reid, the magistrate, lived at nearby Inverary Park.


Charles MacAlister in his ‘Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South’ stated, “but we must not forget Mat Healey’s famous stable – the first stone building ever erected in Goulburn…” in the 1830s. It is now part of Riverdale, the National Trust property, on Maud Street, Goulburn.


The beautiful stonework of the bridge at Towrang on the Great South Road tells us of the skills of the convict stonemasons.

Selection of plans for Goulburn Mulwaree AMP.
The following maps were produced for the Goulburn Mulwaree AMP in 2009-2010 (Basemaps provided by Goulburn Mulwaree Council).
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© 2010 Edward Higginbotham & Associates Pty Ltd.
This web site last updated – 20 April 2010
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