highlands.nsw.tourinfo Sutton Forest

The Everything Store
The famous Everything Store. c.1850s
- on this site since the 1830s.
Historical significance.

At first sight there does not seem to be much to Sutton Forest - an intersection on the Illawarra Highway between the Freeway and Moss Vale.

Few people live here: of those only there are only a few houses, now off the main road; the rest live on properties which spread out towards Moss Vale, Berrima, and Exeter.

However, the name is famous, and the visitor is greeted with the sight of dozens of cars parked around the main buildings on weekends and holidays.

Why do they come here? For the same reason they have been doing so for over 150 years - as passing travellers, and as visitors to this picturesque part of the Southern Highlands.

The entire area between the Bong Bong River (a few kilometres north of Moss Vale) and Paddy's Creek (about ten minutes' drive toward and along the freeway south) was once called Sutton Forest.

It was so named by the notorious Commissioner Bigge who, when travelling through the area with Governor Macquarie in 1820 (it was then on the very edge of settlement) no doubt thought to ingratiate himself with the then Speaker of the House of Commons in England, and named it after him. (Many areas of the Southern Highlands were named with the same motives.)

All Saints
All Saints Anglican Church. 1861
Designed by Edmund Blackett.

St. Patrick's Church
St. Patrick's Catholic Church - 1879
On site of former Catholic School
and graveyard going back to 1840s.
The beautiful rolling green hills and trees seen today are not part of the original Sutton Forest.

They are the result of landclearing and pasture improvement over a hundred years, and the plantings by former residents wishing to recreate the idyllic landscape of England remembered. (In summer and drought nature reverts to a more severe Australian landscape.)

Like other parts of the Highlands, the pines, poplars, elms, and other European trees provide a modern vista of this remembered past, as do the magnificent gardens surrounding many of the old homesteads.

What is also not evident today, is the labour of hundreds of convicts who toiled in road gangs to build the South Road which passed through here, and were indentured to settlers to clear land and act as domestic servants. (Some evidence of their work can be seen in the footings of the old bridge on the former road over Medway Rivulet, 150 metres north of All Saints Church.)

Considerable grants of land were given to early settlers in the Sutton Forest area, some of whom built substantial Georgian and Victorian homes. These, unfortunately for the tourist, are still in private hands and can not be visited except glimpsed from the road; their owners deserve their privacy.

What can be visited are the historic churches and cemeteries, and a few other historic commercial buildings, beautifully restored by their current owners and operated as must see venues for the traveller looking for antiques and collectables.

Sutton Forest has a significant place in early Australian history. First settled in the 1820s it was then on the very outer limits of the colony.

Sutton Forest School
Public School. 1871.
Although in ecclesiastical styleit
was not a former church school building.

slab hut
Slab wall house, Conflict St. c.1860s
unusual in having 3 chimneys on one side
The villages.

There are in fact four "Sutton Forests". The first is the area described above - from the Throsby estate at Bong Bong, south west to Paddy's River. It was also referred to as "Argyle", although the county of that name was later fixed further south and runs from the Highlands (outer "County Camden") through Goulburn to Lake George.

The second Sutton Forest was a government village surveyed about a kilometre east of the present village centre in 1854. This did not come to anything and has largely disappeared; only a few original houses, and the streets are evident today. New houses, however, have been built there in recent years.

The site of this village lies near the property now known as "Boscobel", (original building 1877) which can be seen on the right as you go around the first bend to the right on the Bundanoon Road from the village today.

What to see today.

The third Sutton Forest actually predates this, and grew up as a private village in the 1830s near land made available for a cemetery (1828) on the banks of the Medway Rivulet by one of the early settlers.

A wooden chapel was erected nearby, the only one south of Camden. Later an Anglican school, at least three inns, a store, and a few houses followed.

The remains of this village can be seen on the right just as you pass over the new bridge entering Sutton Forest from Moss Vale today.

If you turn at Golden Vale Road, then hard right again, you can see the Public School (1871) and All Saints Anglican Church (1861).

The graveyard behind the church is the resting place of many of the earliest inhabitants, as well as soldiers and convicts who were buried there.

The church itself is where successive governors of NSW worshipped for over 70 years when in residence at the nearby viceregal residence "Hillview".

The gates in front once stood at the entrance to Hillview, and were moved here after it was sold in 1958.

Old Post Office
The Old Post Office. 1883
Sandstone, originally built for Thomas Cosgrove
purchased immediately thereafter by Post Office

Few of the other early buildings remain, but you can get an idea of the layout of the former neat little village.

If you walk down the hill from the church to the bridge on the old road, and venture off a little to the left or right, you can see the stone foundations over which the old bridge passes. This was built by convict labour (c.1830).

The fourth and better known Sutton Forest or the village centre today, is the buildings at the corner of the Illawarra Highway and Bundanoon Road. These include the "Everything Store", c.1850 and later extended.

The old butcher shop (now a specialist scottish boutique and still in the hands of descendants of the original owners) dates from before the turn of the century; the stables behind (now a craft boutique) date from the same time and used to house the horses and cart of the butcher for when he made his deliveries.

Old Butcher Shop
The Old Butcher Shop 1895
Now "A Little Piece of Scotland"
The old post office was built in 1883, taking over this role from the Everything Store across the road.

The hotel opposite (c.1930s?) stands on the spot of the former Talbot Inn (1833).

In front of the hotel is a memorial to the first explorer in the region (1798) - the convict John Wilson and his party - who had been sent inland by Governor Hunter to prove to the convict population of Sydney that they could not escape over the mountains to China and freedom!

Further south is the old village hall (late 1800s), now restored, and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church (1870), built on the site of a former catholic school (1856) and which also served as a place for worship.

The graveyard dates back to the 1850s, many of its graves bearing testament to early Irish settlers in the region.

The surrounding countryside.
As mentioned above, the land around Sutton Forest was originally settled over 175 years ago - mostly in large land grants later consolidated into thousands of acres by early settlers.

The soil was attested to be rich, and sparsely vegetated. Early land use included grazing, wheat and other grains, and vegetables. Being too far away from Sydney, these were used for local consumption (or in the case of turnips, fed to stock).

Early visitors acclaimed the area as being like "an English pleasure ground" (Bigge, Oxley, Macquarie). None, however, settled to make a a go of life on the land here.

Public Hall
Sutton Forest Hall. c.1890

Like other parts of the Highlands, the Sutton Forest area had its ups and agricultural downs.

Early crop growing was unsuccessful due to the distance from Sydney markets; other areas were more suitable to sheep (although one settler actually preceded Macarthur's interest in sheep and pasturage of Australia).

Cattle raising was almost wiped out in the mid nineteenth century due to disease.

At the turn of the century, dairy cattle were part of the local agricultural scene, although the large estates in the area continued to raise beef cattle.

When dairying declined mid-century, many farmers moved into stud cattle raising. and such farms are still to be seen in the area.

Old Stables
The Old Stables c.1890
Now Jordies Craft & Garden
In the 1950s and 1960s many of the larger estates were broken up and sold off. From this time a number of horse resting farms and stud farms were introduced - perhaps perpetuating the area's role in producing the winner of the first Melbourne Cup. There is a large equine centre on Illawarra Highway.

Today, many of these former estates are divided into hobby farms. There is a berry farm along Bundanoon Road, and the former Mt. Broughton property is a first class resort and exclusive golf club (if you can call golf a hobby!)

Two kilometres towards Berrima on the Freeway junction to the Illawarra Highway is Eling Forest Winery. This small vineyard, along with Joadja Wines, pioneered vine-growing in the Highlands; today some 200 acres of grapes are under cultivation in the Highlands and it is expected that it will become one of Australia's biggest producers of cold climate grapes early in the 21st century.

Tucked away in corners of Sutton Forest are places to stay - bed & breakfasts and farmstays. These continue the tradition of hospitality extending back to the earliest days. A hundred years ago there were many such places, after the Governor of NSW chose to make his summer residence at "Hillview" in Sutton Forest (after the railway made it easier for him to travel) - in the manner of the great viceroys of India and other such grand places.

Sutton Forest Hotel
Sutton Forest Hotel. 1936
Built next to site of original Talbot Hotel
dating back to 1830s.

The gentry and other hopefuls of Sydney flocked in his wake, perhaps hoping to rub shoulders with him at the many garden parties, or at All Saints Church on Sunday morning.

(Interestingly, the governorship of the colony of NSW seems to have fallen out of favour as a vice-regal sinecure of lesser branches of the English nobility around the early years of this century. Have a look at the list on the gates at All Saints to get an idea.)

There are perhaps lots of places more evocative of the past the tourist can visit than Sutton Forest. Few have as enduring an appeal as this little hamlet.

Maybe it is because there is apparently so little to see here: the few and obviously historical buildings; the large and mysterious graveyards (who could these people have been, and what were their lives like?); the hospitality and style of the local businesses; the beautiful open vistas of farmland; and perhaps the sense that this is what early Australia was really all about - a few people in big open spaces.

All the more important, like Berrima - which the railway passed by (and which it also wanted!) - Sutton Forest remains largely unspoilt by the excesses of 20th century pressures and population.

Do drop by, and see what we mean! You are sure to visit again!

Phone Box
The whimsical H.Q.
of the Single Malt
Appreciation Society.

Last updated 20/6/07