Bowral is situated in a valley at the foot of Mt. Gibraltar, largely on land originally granted to John Oxley, famous explorer of the early colony of NSW. For a generation it was farmed by his sons.
With the coming of the railway in the 1860s, the Oxleys subdivided part of the land for a private village. On this land (not much bigger than the current shopping centre) a town grew.
Soon, there was a railway station, churches, schools and public buildings. There were also many guesthouses, and private 'holiday houses', as Bowral became a favourite place to escape to from the city.
As early as 1886 Bowral was gazetted as a Municipality, and the corporate life of the town began. Within 20 years it had over 1000 citizens and many community, social, and sporting organisations.
The Grand Hotel (1888)
Land around the town was progressively subdivided and added to the Municipality, but most of the surrounding farmland and countryside was controlled by larger shires, and Bowral remained a purely civic centre.
It became the "big town" of the Highlands, with its well paved streets, neat residences, many businesses, and municipal amenities (such as a gasworks and electricity). Its main industries were tourism, a large Brickworks, a milk processing factory, and services for surrounding farms.
In 1981 the Municipality was integrated into the new Wingecarribee Shire.
Today Bowral has over 14,000 inhabitants, with new residential subdivisions expanding east of the town. Many of its recent residents are 'refugees' from the city looking for a better lifestyle, commuting back to the city on the freeway to their jobs.
Bowral is now the commercial and retail centre of the Southern Highlands.
The beauty of townscape and countryside, and the climate - enhanced by over 100 years of plantings of exotic deciduous trees, "English" gardens, and annual massed displays of bulbs and perennials - gives it a unique attraction in the Australian countryside - especially in the leafy area of Burradoo with its fine houses and gardens stretching south towards Moss Vale.
The many historic public and private buildings, accommodation houses, boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants - as well as famous festivals and events - attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Bowral is just over an hour away from the city, and worth a visit at any time of year.