Unless you are aware of where you are, you won't even know you are passing the first village established in the Southern Highlands. Bong Bong exists today only as a name on the map.
The site of Bong Bong today, as seen from Throsby Park.
|The site of Bong Bong can be found about 7kms from Bowral on the Moss Vale Road, just before you pass over the bridge on the Wingecarribee River. |
An "Historic Site" sign points the way: stop and have a look.
An obelisk commemorates the village. The Cecil Hoskins Reserve (road just next to it) takes you to the site.
Nothing is left above ground level. However, if you look around, you can get some idea of what it must have been like.
|Moss Vale Road itself was part of the Old South Road - the main route over the mountains from Stonequarry (now Picton), to the Goulburn Plains. It enters the now main road further back towards Bowral at Eridge Park Road, then goes over the back of the Gib to Mittagong.
South, it continues onwards as the main street of Moss Vale, to Sutton Forest.
The Old South Road was built by Dr. Charles Throsby, one of the first settlers in the area. If you look across the river towards the church, you can see part of the original grant given to him by Governor Macquarie in (1819); Moss Vale stands on part of this land, which stretched all the way east to Fitzroy Falls.
There was apparently a settlement here from 1817. The official site for the village was chosen by Governor Macquarie on a visit in 1820; a police barracks and huts built soon after.
Some may have been for servants on Throsby Park nearby, or merchants or tradesmen - this being the first main settlement in the Highlands.
An extension to the settlement was surveyed in 1826, on which was built the first inn (The Argyle Inn). Although famous at the time, it closed some years later after Berrima was established (1832). The whole village faded away soon after due to government servants moving to Berrima, and the new road there bypassing it.
|Even though the village was gone, there were still many residents in the area. The Old South Road still remained important, though not as busy as the new line of road through Berrima.|
There are some remnants of the past still to be seen. Back up the hill towards Bowral is the Briars Inn (originally the Royal Oak Hotel), built 1845.
The front part (not the paintwork) is well preserved; you can almost see the carriages pulling up outside it today.
Royal Oak Hotel, 1845. Now "The Briars".
|Across the river is Christ Church Bong Bong - first permanent church in the area, built by Charles Throsby himself in 1845, and consecrated by the first Anglican Bishop of Australia. (The white paint is not original).
Many pioneers of the Wingecarribee are buried in the churchyard: Joseph Wild (for whom Wildes Meadow is named), one of the earliest settlers; and generations of the Throsby family.
The church is still used today, and sadly, only open to the tourist during services. (See board outside for times.)
Christ Church Bong Bong. 1845
|Further to the left, is the site of Throsby Park - one of the first permanent homesteads in the area. Apart from over a century of Throsby inhabitants, it has had a colourful history of tenants and visitors.|
A Heritage estate, today it is owned by the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service. (For inspection times see Tourinfo.) Take Illawarra Highway on the left over the hill into Moss Vale.
Throsby Park. 1834
To the casual visitor, Bong Bong doesn't seem to have much to offer; but then again, neither do many of the archaeological sites of Europe.
Modern day Berrima has the stone, bricks and mortar, and ambience which helps tourists capture the spirit of the past. But it is the ghosts of Bong Bong past which have more importance in Australian history.
|At most just a temporary settlement, a way-post, its timber slab and bark huts gone a century ago - Bong Bong saw more important travellers and visitors, resting at the Inn, or entertained at the Throsby estate, on their way south to open up the inland of the continent than any other part of the Highlands.
The ghosts of these most famous Australians linger here in the air, among the vanished humble dwellings of Bong Bong.
It is perhaps fitting that they are commemorated today by a nature reserve, with swamplands, native birds, and animals. The bush returned - as it were - to what it was before they came.