|Towns & Villages: Kangaroo Valley|
Population: 844 (2011 census)
Kangaroo Valley lies between Fitzroy Falls in the Southern Highlands and Nowra on the South Coast.|
Nestled between the Cambewarra and Barrengary Mountains the area is the traditional home of the Wodi-Wodi people. It was also crossed by other tribes from the Highlands and the Illawarra region.
The valley was first sighted by Europeans in 1812 when George Evans explored northwards from Jervis Bay along its eastern side in an attempt to find a way north to Appin on the outskirts of settlement in Sydney.
It remained largely unknown until 1818 when explorer Charles Throsby, along with Joseph Wild, was commossioned to find a way from the newly discovered Southern Tablelands to the coastal settlement at Jervis Bay.
Setting out from Bundanoon creek, a tributary of the Kangaroo River, they were guided by local aborigines and others he had previously met at Illawarra, down Meryla Pass and into the valley and on to Jervis Bay.
Other explorers included James Meehan and John Oxley (1819) and Throsby again in 1821, Throsby was later to take up land grants in the area.
The first European settler is thought to have been a Captain Richard Brooks who had cattle runs near Liverpool and Dapto - although he didn't live there, but rather employed stockmen to set up a camp and cattleyards just north of the current Hampden Bridge.
He, and other settlers were given land grants by the Governor in the years after 1821. However, they were to be the first of a number of absentee landlords who dominated the Valley's history for several decades.
The main industries in the earliest days were the cattle runs and timber getting. Although the fertile soils and lush pasture were ideal for dairying, only butter-making was viable until later in the 19th century when better transport made it a prosperous area for milk production, which was to be the main commercial activity through to the late 20th century.
What the Valley did have was acres of red cedar - a valuable building timber. Huge areas of cedar were cleared, often floated down river to the mouth of the Shaolhaven on the coast for shipment to Sydney. Not all of ths timber was harvested legally.
In 1831 the Valley was first surveyed by Robert Hoddle, Govermnent Surveyor. This survey formalised earlier land grants and made it possible for later settlers such as Henry Osborne and A.B Spark to amass vast holdings in the area and speculators to deal in land.
This did not lead to closer settlement - there being perhaps between 10 and 20 Europeans and about four times as many recorded in the Valley in the 1841 census.
The first "serious" settlers were Charles McCaffrey and family; originally working for Osborne he established the first dairy (1846) on his own holding and therefore the local dairy and butter-making industies.
Land tenure changed after 1859 and 1861 - following the death of one of the largest absentee landlords and the Robertson (closer settlement) Land Acts. Soon about 100 lots of land were taken up by selectors and tenant farmers. By 1880 there were about 1400 people living in the area.
A new road over the Kangaroo Mountain in 1861 made access easier to the coast at Berry; access to the north was improved with the construction of a road over Meryla Pass in 1896 (since abandoned) - the original track into the valley.
Land near the Hampden Bridge became the basis of a town - or rather towns which local landowners tried to develop. One called the Village of Osborne was to be unsuccessful, as was another on Maguire's land further east - another on land owned by Charles Wiley is where most of the village is built today.
A postal service was opened in 1870 and a timber slab public school built in 1872 which was replaced by the current stone building in 1884.
The Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd was built by local subscription in 1871. It was designed by Horbury Hunt, who had worked with Edmund Blacket. It and his Rectory, Barrengarry School and Barrengarry House are heritage listed buildings - as is the entire village today.
St. Stephen's Anglican Church (1871)
The current St. Joseph's Catholic Church was built in 1888 (replacing an earlier church of 1873). The Uniting Church (originally Wesleyan, 1887 - original in 1873) and Presbyterian Church (1874 - now demolished) added to the local community's life. A cemetery dedicated in 1870 has areas for all denominations, including the small local Jewish community.
The first hotel was the "Pioneer" (1875 - 1916), across the road from the second, the "Commercial" (1891), still standing today as "The Friendly Inn". Several stores provided for local needs and a newspaper existed for some years in the 1890s. The local courthouse was built in 1910.
There were other smaller settlements in the Valley, most gone; Barrengarry is the only one remaining.
Five butter factories operated in the Valley in the late 19th century, but did not last long because of competition from factories on the coast and rail transport from Bomaderry which made it more profitable to ship fresh milk to Sydney. Annual agricultural shows have been held since 1874.
The landmark Hampden Bridge - the last surviving Australian wooden suspension bridge - was opened in 1898, replacing an earlier bridge (1879) which allowed coach traffic between Bowral and Nowra.
Local government came to Kangaroo Valley in 1906 when it was incorporated as Cambewarra Shire Council. One of the council's first tasks was to build the road over Mt. Cambewarra to the coast. It was also responsible for local roads, water supply, sanitation and pasture protection.
The council was amalgamated into the City Of Shoalhaven in 1948.
Kangaroo Valley's heyday was probably at the turn of the 20th century; thereafter there were less farmers and the younger generations moved out of the valley for better job opportunities. The many little one room schools closed one by one over the next decades - Kangaroo Valley P.S. the only one remaining.
The First World War in particular took a heavy toll on the young men: the many names listed on the War Memorial in the centre of the village attest to the high proportion of men from the area who enlisted, not to return.
By the 1970s there were only a few hundred residents left in Kangaroo Valley; the number involved in dairying have diminished by 90%.
During those years Kangaroo Valley became an integral part of the Sydney Water Board, the Tallowa Dam being completed in 1976. This dam provides wayer for the Shoalhaven area downstream, and water is pumped back upstream to the Southern Highlands, from where it finds its way to Sydney's water supply. The building of the dam also enabled the establishment of several power stations.
Over the last quarter of a century Kangaroo Valley's population has increased again. You will still find cattle grazing in pastures, but many properties are now hobby farms, some growing grapevines and olives, many eco tourist resorts or rural retreats.
Kangaroo Valley has skipped a step from a primary industry past to modern service industries and tourism is now a major activity.
The village's many boutiques, cafés artists and craftspeople are a magnet for the weekend tourist and there are dozens of accommodation houses and camping areas catering for overnight and longer stays.
The unspoilt nature of the surrounding bushland offers unlimited opportunity for walking tours, horse riding, swimming, canoeing and kayaking on the rivers and lakes.
Kangaroo Valley is about half an hour's drive from Fitzroy Falls. You will enjoy visiting at any time of the year.