June 20, 2020

History on the Hume: Heritage-laden Berrima in the NSW Southern Highlands

Historic Berrima once rumbled all night long to the sound of heavy vehicles on their way to and from Melbourne and NSW's south. As one of many small towns and villages along the Old Hume Highway, Berrima was eventually bypassed in 1989, relieving the old roads and buildings of the constant, thundering traffic.

Before 1989, heavy traffic passed through Berrima day and night. (BDH&FHS)

The country around the Southern Highlands is the traditional home of the Dharawal (also Tharawal) people who were progressively displaced by the encroach of settlers. Give or take a year, Berrima became a town in 1830 and its first civic buildings sprung up soon after, the first of which being the large gaol in 1839. It operated on and off until 2011 and even served as a POW facility during WWI. It reopened as an operational low-security facility in 2016.

c.1900 – View from Church Hill, Post Office, Surveyor General Inn (1834), prison governor’s residence – right. Berrima Gaol (1835-1845) top left.

The abundance of excellent building stone and clean water discovered by explorers and surveyors under instruction from Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell accelerated the town's development. The 1834 hotel, the Surveyor General Inn, claims to be Australia's oldest continuously licensed inn.

The 1838 Court House in Wilshire Street was designed by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis and is classified by the National Trust. It was the scene of Australia’s first trial by jury, that of gentleman bushranger William ‘Jacky Jacky’ Westwood in April 1841.

The railway reached the region in 1869 but did not service Berrima, instead favouring the more recent settlements of Moss Vale and Bowral. Many historians contend that this omission served to help preserve Berrima in its delightful historic state and why we have a list of heritage-listed buildings throughout the town.

Staying in Berrima

Jellore Cottage (RE)

One of our surprising discoveries was that of Jellore Cottage (aka Mundays Cottage) recommended to us by the Southern Highlands visitors' bureau. It's in places like this that the old cliche 'a step back in time' becomes reality. Jellore Cottage is a heritage-listed B'n'B that is offered as a fully self-contained accommodation able to sleep four people (1x double bed, 2x singles) in two bedrooms.

Every room is tastefully decorated in antique furniture and ornaments yet still offers all the modern conveniences like microwave oven, electric heating, fridge etc. 

At the rear, beyond the flower and vegetable garden which throngs with birds, is the Settler's Hut which offers another three beds (1x double, 1x single) The single is by way of a detached single room 'studio'.

Settler's Hut offers seclusion and authentic heritage accommodation. (RE)

"The hut was actually found on a property out west of Crookwell," our host, Paul, tells us as he delivers our fresh eggs and milk, "It was in a bit of a state, but it was dismantled and rebuilt here about 25 years ago."

Again the hut authentically recreates a time when pioneer pastoralists and their labourers first opened up the Australian bush to agriculture. 

Of all the options available to visitors to the Southern Highlands, Berrima is perhaps one of the most original in terms of architecture and heritage, a fact that is obvious on most weekends when the town comes alive with daytrippers seeking respite from the confines of the city. 

Getting Around Berrima

Schmokin' Cafe is the new bikers' hang in Berrima (RE)

Hire an ultra-cool Vallkree electric bike from Schmokin' Cafe right on the old highway, near the museum.

More Reading:
MORE: History on the Hume series

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