highlands.nsw.tourinfo Bundanoon

Established: 1861

Main street
The main street today.
Bundanoon is something of an enigma in the Southern Highlands. At the southern edge of settlement (along with Penrose and Wingello), and off the main roads, it gives all the appearance of a sleepy little village.

Indeed in modern times it is the perfect location for the annual celebration of the mythical Brigadoon which appears to rise from the mists of time, then disappear again.

Behind this sleepy facade is in fact an interesting history, and an often overlooked role in the life of the Highlands.

Although it is not one of the oldest villages in the Highlands - like many others it owes its existence to the coming of the railways in the 1860s - the area is one of the first mentioned by early explorers.

Wilson, Kennedy, Hume & Hovell passed nearby, but to Dr. Charles Throsby goes the credit of first mentioning this area ("Bantanoon" - from the local aboriginal name meaning "place of deep gullies") in 1818 when on an expedition to find an overland route to Jervis Bay.

The land did not particularly inspire the earliest explorers or settlers. Indeed the area to the west of the town, towards the original Old South Road, was known as "the Barren Ground".

It was here in the late 1830s (about half way between Bundanoon and west of Exeter) that the first small settlement arose at "Jumping Rock".

What did impress them, was the magnificent scenery to the east, so much so that it seems Throsby persuaded the Governor to declare what we would call today a heritage reserve of over a thousand acres over the area (1824). This today is part of Morton National Park.

Bundanoon Gullies
View from Echo Point.

Erith Coal MIne
Erith Coal Mine, 1867-82
Although admired at the time, the "gullies" were then seen as a barrier to communication, and a limit to the expansion of landholding. This asset was to later be one of the most important ingredients in the development of the town.

The earliest large landholders (Throsby, Badgery, Oxley) took up allotments elsewhere in more easily developed parts of the Highlands.

It was not until the Robertson Land Act of 1861 which opened up more marginal land in the Highlands, that closer settlement came, and a number of allotments were taken up in the Bundanoon area.

By this time, valuable coal deposits had been discovered in the escarpments, which were later to be exploited after the railway came through.

During the time when the Great Southern Railway was extended from Badgery's Siding (Exeter) to Barber's Creek (Tallong) from 1864-8, two private villages had grown up: Bundanoon (then known as Jordan's Crossing - as the railway passed through Jordan's property) and South Lambton, some 2 miles south of the present town.

South Lambton was a collection of workers huts and stores at the junction of a private railway from the Rock Reef, later Erith, Coal Mine (operated on and off from the 1860s to the late 90s). It has now disappeared.

Why a settlement grew up around 'Jordan's Crossing' is still unclear to this writer, except that local landowners had subdivided a few lots for worker's houses and stores. No doubt the large intinerant camp of railway workers offered opportunity for commerce.

By 1873 a formal station had been built, and development of the area was under way.

Apart from coal, which was successfully sold to the railway (unlike the coal at Mittagong), a large timber milling industry was established by early settlers which provided sleepers, and timber for building. Crop and dairy farming followed. A large sandstone quarry employing up to 80 men operated in the 1880s and still operates (although somewhat smaller) today.

By the 1880s Bundanoon was thriving, and local landholders were pressured to release land for a village. The station was renamed Bundanoon in 1881.

One of the first public buildings was a Primitive Methodist Church (early 1870s - earliest grave 1872), originally on the site of the present Memorial Hall. The current church was built in 1885.

Methodist Church
Methodist Church. 1885

Anglican Church
Holy Trinity Anglican Church 1905.
A Church of England soon followed (1879, later burnt down and replaced by the present church in 1905), and St Brigid's Catholic Church in 1895. A school was opened in 1871, the school on its present site in 1880.

A post office was opened in 1889, and was operated from a number of buildings before the present one was built in the 1960s.

The main street shopping area had begun to form in the 1890s and has remained largely there since, although since the day of the motor car, there are lesser shops than in previous days.

By the turn of the century Bundanoon was a thriving small village, with timber mills, dairy farming, and orchards.

For ten years, tourists from the city had discovered the "gullies", and local boarding houses were built to cater for holidaymakers. At this stage Sutton Forest, Moss Vale, and Bowral already had a thriving tourist industry based on the Sydney gentry who followed the Governor to the Highlands after he had made Sutton Forest his summer retreat.

Tourists to Bundanoon were of more modest background. There was plenty of sightseeing and things to do, and accommodation was cheap, Bundanoon never having been a "fashionable" resort. Lodgings were modest, often just a few extra rooms on the family home, which one commentator suggests gave the womenfolk something to do while the men were out working.

The 1890s seem to have been relatively quiet for the new village (depression years), but with the recovery at the turn of the century the tourist industry began to expand.

This was also the beginning of tourist growth in the Blue Mountains further to the north, when people took advantage of the good railway connections to get out of the city and discover the "country".

Old Post Office
The Old Post Office - actually the 3rd premises

Country in this sense not being the "outback", but somewhere not too far away, and preferably with spectacular scenery. Bundanoon suited this need, and it was not too far from Sydney.

Efforts were made in the 1900s to build walking tracks from the village into the nature reserve to exotic sounding places such as "Fairy Bower", "Glow Worm Glen", and "Echo Point". Tourists were soon trekking to Bundanoon, as many as 300 in one month in 1903, thereby considerably increasing (albeit temporarily) the size of the village.

The Gasthof
The old 'Nicholas Pill Factory'
now a restaurant and motel.
For the next 30 years the affluent Sydney middle and working classes flocked to Bundanoon and its scenic attractions as an alternative to the Blue Mountains, whose pretentious and grandiose resorts and hotels were often out of their spending power.

In 1884 a hotel licence was obtained by W.A. Nicholas, whose "Pill Factory" still stands in the town. From here he made his fortune manufacturing analgesics, the profits from which were partly reinvested in the village.

The original hotel stood near where the present Bundanoon Hotel (1920s) can be found. The tourist boom made such businesses viable, as it contributed to the explosion in the accommodation business.

By the 1920s there were almost 60 boarding houses and more salubrious lodgings in Bundanoon. Some had but a few rooms. Others, unassuming exteriors but lavishly appointed interiors in the style of the day; some were grand resorts with golf courses, but on a somewhat lesser scale than the pleasure palaces of Katoomba.

For their clients, a fussing hostess and old English stodge served 5 times a day - made more digestible by the cold air - reminded them of a past not long since gone; but sufficiently removed from their "modern" lifestyle to be recalled with nostalgia.

Just how such tourists enjoyed themselves overdressed in uncomfortable clothes, and having to walk miles to visit the scenic spots (unless they were wealthy enough to afford a 'charabanc ride'), would boggle the imagination of the modern visitor who can "do" a tour of the sights in an hour in a car.

On the other hand, the peace and tranquility of such a sojourn may be a lesson to us in 'the fast lane' today.

Some of these old guesthouses have been resurrected today to cater to a different clientele - just as interested in an escape from the city to the Highlands air, but more appreciative of the ambience and decor of these establishments than the tourists of the "modern" 1950s who had begun to find them "old fashioned".

Daytrippers 1920s
Daytrippers at Bundanoon Station, 1920s.

Interestingly enough, modern accommodation establishments today offer "hearty English Breakfasts" and log fires - a lifestyle no ordinary thinking person would wish to pursue in this day and age -- but OK for holidays!

The heyday of Bundanoon as a resort was the period from 1920 to the late 50s. Apart from the normal holiday crowd, hundreds of daytrippers took advantage of special fares offered by the railways to visit Bundanoon for the day.

The Bike Shop
Originally the second Post Office
For almost 50 years the famous Bicycle Shop
Less expensive than Katoomba, and arguably with more accessible and interesting places to visit.

Although vibrant when the tourists were in attendance (which wasn't for much of the year), for the rest of the time Bundanoon returned to being a sleepy village, on the fringes of the Highlands.

By the 1950s the tourist trade had so diminished that the locals resorted to staging an annual "Boronia Festival" - to celebrate a pretty native flower which once grew prolifically in the national park.

This succeeded in attracting daytrippers during the spring, but the advent of the motor car meant people were now more mobile than in the past, and there were many other places within reach of a day's tour of Sydney.

By this stage most of the guesthouses had closed down, and Bundanoon returned again to being a sleepy village for the next two decades, waiting for the civic amenities to bring its citizens into the modern age.

Highland Gathering.

In the late 1970s a group of enterprising citizens strove to put Bundanoon on the map again by staging a Highland gathering.

Brigadoon is now one of the most famous, and largest Highland gatherings in Australia. Tens of thousands of visitors descend on Bundanoon each year in April to watch pipe bands, Scots Highland games, and catch up on their Caledonian roots.

As the Highlands themselves have grown, so has Bundanoon. The coming of the freeway has placed it less than 2 hours from Sydney. Not only have many retired people made their homes here; so have many others, who work in the Highlands.

Bundanoon is Brigadoon

Even today Bundanoon gives the impression of being a sleepy village - just the sort of place the weary escapee from the rigours of the city would want to spend some time.

Its new generation of guesthouses and accommodation offer a far more luxurious and pleasant way to make your escape. The spectacular scenery (now called Morton National Park) is still there to be seen; the cold mountain air, and the fogs, will still close you in at night so as to make you cuddle up around the open fire.

And the rest of Bundanoon, hidden away in its hills and valleys - now the 4th largest town in the Highlands (after Mittagong, Bowral, and Moss Vale) - will leave you alone to enjoy your holiday in the peace of yesteryear.

Last updated 12/8/00