Once traversed by bushrangers and pioneers, the Southern Tablelands is the birthplace of rural New South Wales. The pristine countryside of the Southern Tablelands is reminiscent of the downs of England with undulating emerald hills that roll towards the horizon. Two and a half hours south west of Sydney, it sits high up on the Great Australian Dividing Range 914m above sea level to be exact. The central town of Crookwell is surrounded by the villages of Binda, Laggan, Grabben Gullen, Tuena and Bigga where bushranger, gold mining history and wonderful stone buildings abound.
From the sky, the area is land marked by Australia’s first commercial grid wind farm with its large white windmills circling furiously to generate electricity for 3500 homes.
It used to take several days to reach Crookwell from Tuena in a rickety old coach that groaned at the seams.
If you were a traveller, bouncing in potholes, you would have been wondering whether you would ever reach your destination without being hijacked by the shadowy figures that roamed the district.
You might have been a gold fossicker in Tuena dreaming about your land grant. ₤300 would get you 1000 acres of land!
Of course, you would have years of hard work ahead of you clearing yellow box trees and mustering wild horses.
You would build your home using readily available local iron bark trees, stone and straw to give you warmth in the freezing winters.
You would have also heard that Morris the Binda storekeeper – who was now penniless – had been robbed of 100 pounds and his store burnt down by Ben Hall and his gang. This was a risk you too might face.
Today, driving along one of the many country lanes in the area people are often overcome by the urge to stop the car and experience the glorious natural surroundings.
Get out of the warm car into the chilly wind and the smiling rays of the sun.
The dual effect of the sun’s warm rays and the brisk country air is invigorating. Take several deep breaths; greedily savour the fresh crisp clean air.
The leaves flutter in the wind as they fall from the trees to cover the ground in a gold and red carpet. Listen to the sounds of the wind rustling among the lemon scented gums, birds calling out in a myriad of sweet tones and lost lambs crying for their mothers.
Lambs and birds
Red-breasted rosellas fly alongside the car playfully unafraid, brilliant blue wings fluttering against the undulating landscape.
Autumn lambs dance gaily among the oats and the sheep scuttle away in flocks as the car passes the paddocks.
There are 107 known species of birds in the area such as swallows, crimson and eastern rosellas, willie wagtails, variations of robins, songlarks, thornbills and more types of ducks than you’ve ever heard of.
Wildlife such as kangaroo, wallaby, wombat and echidnas can be seen at dusk in their natural habitat. At night, the sky is so clear and pollution free that the stars form a bright sparkling blanket against the nights’ canopy.
One of the best views in the area is north of Laggan where there is a lookout over the Fullerton Valley which provides a grand vista across the grazing country side. It is situated about 12 km north on the Peelwood Rd, just before the Fullerton turnoff.
Old stone ruins
The old stone ruins that dot the landscape are intriguing to explore.
The straw floors are now compressed into hardened slabs from years of wear, old chimneys still stand with piles of crumbling stone lying in rubble around it and ruins of entire villages are now part of single farming properties.
The current owners would either leave the ruins as they were to form part of the landscape or spend their weekends restoring many of the old buildings to liveable standard.
Drive along the road to Binda, where several stone buildings built in the 1800’s are still standing including the Anglican Rectory, Store and Post Office, Old Mill and Funny Hill Sheep station.
The Binda picnic races are held in true picnic style in March each year at Funny Hill, and have been running since 1848. The St James church in Binda is built in Gothic Revival early English Style and constructed of bluestone and quartzite with dressed sandstone sills.
For a look inside the church, the key can be found at the Binda Store. It is a quaint and friendly country practice common throughout the area.
Gold and sapphires
People still come to the area to fossick for gold and sapphires in the sparkling streams as a fun thing to do on a weekend.
At Tuena, gold panning equipment is available for hire from the store and fossicking guides can be arranged through the local pub.
While tourism is not aggressively promoted throughout the area, it is surprising to find visitors from as far away and varied places such as Canada and Japan have managed to find out about the Southern Tablelands through word of mouth and tried their luck at fossicking in this quiet peaceful area.
With its cool bracing climate, gardens in the area are spectacular. Fabulous displays of bulbs in spring, and glorious colour changes in the trees during autumn, light the whole district ablaze with colour.
At the enormous Pejar dam, fishermen stand by the banks with their fishing rod cast in the blue calm water.
Many of the other clear cold rivers and streams are great for trout fishing as local fishing clubs restock rivers with brown and rainbow trout fingerlings each year.
There are professional fly fishing schools for beginners available on weekends and guided fishing tours for more experienced fisherman.
As dusk falls, the sky is washed in a palette of mauve and violet shades.
A kangaroo hops along the dirt road; it stops and blinks blinded for a moment by the car’s lights and then bounds away to the safety of the woods.
A whole family of smaller wallabies sit in a paddock watching the show. Further along the road, back on the bitumen, swerve to miss a wombat its low round body swaggering across the road in a slow lazy gait. It’s an appropriate description of the area today, slow and relaxed.
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2.5 hours from Sydney. Drive to Goulburn along the Hume Highway, at Goulburn take the Crookwell turn off.
Crookwell Information Centre. Tel: +612 4832 1988.
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