|Past & Present - Agricultural Land Use|
The original inhabitants found the Highlands abundant in wildlife and natural foods. Not so abundant as to cause them to proliferate - early evidence suggests they were in the hundreds rather than thousands. But if that is the case, they were no different from the settlers who supplanted them.
The earliest "settlers", as has been suggested, were probably itinerant herders, then squatters and graziers. Real settlement did not occur until almost 20 years after discovery, as the colony at Sydney was kept artificially smaller by Governor's decree, so that he could control the population.
After initial "official" explorations - by Wilson, Throsby, Meehan, Hume and others - the first land grants were made in the Highlands. These were for the purpose of grazing sheep and cattle. Hence these were the first uses of the land by European settlers.
Typical settler's home, with timber slab walls and shingle roof. Style similar to earliest homes except for glass windows. (Gardiner family, Burrawang 1880s).
These earliest settlers - mostly smallholders - built homesteads on more favourable open land (Mittagong and Bong Bong).
Around these homesteads they established farms on the European model, growing mostly subsistence crops, trees, and gardens to meet the needs of existence. Later holdings were expanded by clearing the scrub - in particular to the east after the Robertson Land Acts in the 1860s.
Wheat was first grown commercially by Dr. Charles Throsby but was not successful in the climate. Throsby had a large estate stretching from Moss Vale to Fitzroy Falls and built the first of substantial homesteads (Throsby Park 1834).
Close in their wake came other enterprising individuals who set up inns and taverns for the travellers who started passing through the area, plus farm workers, timber cutters, and tradesmen.
Another significant early homestead was the Oxley brothers' Wingecarribee House near Bowral (1850s) on land they had first farmed since the earliest days.
As the first towns were beginning to grow another wave of settlers settled around today's Robertson and Burrawang where they cleared the dense scrub to establish small farms in the last half of the 19th century.
A later wave of pioneering smallholders came in the beginning of the 20th century to set up orchards in the area around Penrose.
Under Governor Macquarie, due to the outward pressure of settlement from Sydney, Berrima was established as a county seat on the English model (1831), with a magistrate, police, and organs of government to control the area. It replaced an earlier smaller government settlement at Bong Bong.
Various town dwellers followed, as did further grants of land to settlers.
The government laid out plans for a village at Sutton Forest in the 1830s (to the east of the current centre) but this was not successful. Settlers there tended to have larger holdings and preferred to live as country squires in the Georgian and Victorian mansions they built in the area.
The history of the Highland's towns only really begins with the coming of the railway in the 1880s.