highlands.nsw.tourinfo History of Berrima

Welcome to Berrima Berrima is a unique and historic village. Established in 1831, it is the only example of an existing and largely preserved Australian Georgian colonial town.

Prior to its establishment Bong Bong, near Moss Vale, was the centre of settlement in the Southern Highlands (1817).

The earliest road south from Sydney passed through present Mittagong and over the east of Mt. Gibraltar (now known as the Old South Road) and across the Wingecarribee River at Bong Bong, then south towards Sutton Forest and Goulburn.

The road, however, was thought to be too difficult, and in 1829 Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell (later famous as one of Australia's greatest explorers) was commissioned to find an easier route. This new road ran from Mittagong to Berrima (approximately the route of the present road) and then on to Paddys River.

Camping on the banks of the river near the present bridge south of the town, he was impressed by the location, and recommended it as a townsite to the then Governor Bourke.

Located in a picturesque valley, with a good supply of water from the river and the many springs in the area, and the availability of sandstone for building, Berrima was chosen as to be the administrative centre for the County of Camden - which then stretched from the Highlands to near the Nepean River at Camden.

Slab hut
Slab hut - probably shed.
Construction similar to earliest settler's
homes - rough wooden slabs cut from
eucalyptus trees.

The plan of Berrima was laid out by surveyor Robert Hoddle (who later became famous as the planner for Melbourne). It was designed on the lines of a traditional English village, with a village green at its centre, public buildings surrounding it, and streets for residences.

Berrima Courthouse
Berrima Courthouse.
Now a museum.
Although the main road now cuts through the village green, and subsequent building masks the original plan, a walk round the green will reveal Hoddle's vision.

Because it was to be the centre of government administration for the county, and for all points south in those early days of settlement, the plan included a gaol, courthouse, and residences for government officials.

Once the main road south went through, it was not long before enterprising individuals built taverns and other businesses to take advantage of the passing trade.

Most of these buildings are still standing, many of them built by convict labour. The Gaol (still operational), and the Courthouse, are obvious to the visitor.

The many other historic buildings - some restored, and most in a good state of preservation - can be overlooked because of their present usage.

Berrima's promise as a great town did not last very long. Early settlers were more drawn to the opportunities available in the vast hinterland of NSW, and locally the agricultural and industrial opportunities of other areas of the Highlands attracted more development.

Berrima gaol
Convict built in local sandstone.

Berrima has never had more than a few hundreds of settlers - and for most of its history a good number of these would have been in the gaol.

Breens Inn
Breens Commercial Hotel. c.1840
Now a restaurant.<
It is for this reason that Berrima is such a unique and well preserved example of early colonial architecture today.

It is difficult to imagine today that most roads in the country, including the Highlands, were always rough dirt tracks. Indeed, except for major roads, most in the Highlands were only bitumised by local governments in the 1950s and 60s.

The advent of the railway, then, was very important to country folk. When the main line south from Sydney was planned in the 1850s, Berrima lobbied heavily for the route to pass through it, in the hope it would stimulate development.

Unfortunately, when the railway arrived in the 1860s it followed more closely the original route south through the Highlands, and Moss Vale was to become the centre of growth with a major railway station and works. Berrima was to remain a sleepy town again.

Industry did come to Berrima. There was a coal mine not far south of the village at Medway the turn of the century. A cement factory was established nearby in the late 1920s, but a new village - New Berrima - was built for its workers (about 3km south east of Berrima).

From the 1950s through to the 80s Berrima was a whistle stop on the main southern highway in NSW. Hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks rumbled their way through the main street on their way between Sydney and Melbourne.

Berrima Gallery
Taylor's Crown Inn, c.1834.
Now a well restored arts & craft boutique.

Luckily the big petrol stations were located at Mittagong and further south at Goulburn, so the village remained unscathed by development.

White Horse Inn
Oldbury's Inn, c.1840.
Now the White Horse Inn.
However, cafes and tourist shopping flourished to cater for the 'carriage trade' - as it had done so before in the past.

In the 1960s, there was sufficient local concern to preserve the heritage of Berrima, that a local society was formed to ensure that the beautiful buildings and the integrity of the village could be saved for future generations.

About ten years ago, with the arrival of the freeway in the Highlands, Berrima was by-passed again.

Instead of fading away, the village has prospered as a favoured tourist destination for hundreds of thousands of people who now were only less than 2 hours drive away on the Freeway.

It is for these reasons that Berrima, a window to our colonial past, has remained for us to visit and enjoy.

Today, only twice as many live in the village than did 100 years ago. The main industry is tourism, which enables the local people to maintain and preserve the beautiful old buildings - both grandiose and humble - which make the whole village a unique and living testament to our historical past.

Last updated 12/8/00