Picton is located on fertile land 68 km south-west of Sydney and 171 m above sea-level in the foothills of the southern highlands near Stonequarry Creek, a tributary of the Nepean River. It was once a thriving township servicing the traffic between Sydney and Melbourne. With the rerouting of the Hume Highway the town has become a quiet centre of considerable historic interest at the centre of a dairying and mixed farming area. Its current population is 3589.
Once occupied by the Gundungura and Tharawal Aborigines, the first Europeans to investigate the area around Picton were the party of ex-convict John Wilson who passed through in 1798. They had been sent by Governor Hunter to accumulate data about the southlands to discourage convicts who were escaping and heading south in the belief that China was only 150 miles away.
There was already a very small European presence to the north around present-day Camden, consisting of stockmen sent to tend the cattle on the Cowpastures, although all other settlement of that area had been forbidden in order to ensure the development of the herd (see entry on Camden for further information on the Cowpastures).
By 1819 Governor Macquarie had authorised the construction of a road from Picton through to the Goulburn Plains. The first land grant in the area was 'Stargard', a gift to Christian Carl Ludwig Rumker, Governor Brisbane's astronomer, in honour of his rediscovery of Encke's Comet. Nearby Major Henry Antill established a 2000-acre property in 1822 which he first named 'Wilton', subsequently renaming it 'Jarvisfield' after Jane Jarvis, the wife of his friend, Governor Macquarie. The station stretched from Stonequarry Creek to Razorback. The family home still stands although now it is used as the clubhouse for the Antill Park Golf Club.
The township of Stonequarry was officially established in 1841 and offered for sale as a private village. In 1845 it was renamed Picton (already the name by which the district was known) after Sir Thomas Picton, who had been one of the Duke of Wellington's generals at the Battle of Waterloo. Around this time another site was surveyed near Redbank Creek and it was here that the government village of Upper Picton was established, though it was locally known as Redbank. When the railway arrived in 1863 a further settlement developed around the station. Subsequent growth saw the three villages incorporated.
Things to see
Historic Buildings in the Town
Picton has a number of notable historic sites. At the northern end of town, overlooking Picton, is Vault Hill, so named as it is apparently where early settler Henry Antill is buried, allegedly upright at his own request, so that he could better overlook his domain. It is currently on private property.
Just south of the intersection of Argyle St (the name given to the old highway as it passes through town) and Margaret St, at the bottom of Vault Hill, is the old courthouse, built in 1864. Some of the sandstone for its construction came from the old gaol which was hit by floodwaters in 1860.
The Victorian Classical stone post office, on the corner of Argyle and Menangle Sts, with its impressive clock tower, is a typical, prominent late-nineteenth century building dating from 1892.
Opposite is the CBC Bank (now the National Australia Bank) built in 1885. It is notable for its pointed Gothic arch windows, its cast-iron railing and the original coach house and barn behind the building (visible from the side fence). The coach house has been converted into a local historical museum and is open Thursdays from 10.00 a.m. - 2.00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10.00 a.m. - 3.00 p.m.
Turn right into Menangle St. St Mark's Church of England, to the left, is a simple small stone church designed by the prolific architect Edmund Blacket and completed by 1857. It was started in 1850 but, with news of the discovery of gold, most of the workmen left the site and headed for the goldfields. The graveyard is also of historic interest.
A little further along, around the corner in Elizabeth St, is Larkin Cottage, one of the oldest surviving buildings in town. Thomas Larkin owned a mill which was located where the carpark now stands between St Mark's and the hotel on the corner.
Return to Argyle St and continue south. Just before the Stonequarry Creek Bridge is the information centre, open weekends and public holidays, subject to volunteers. The first bridge across the creek was built in 1834 but was destroyed in the 1860 floods. The current span dates from 1899.
Just across Stonecutter Creek, to the left, is the George IV Inn, one of the oldest hotels in the country. Said to have been built in 1819 but not licensed until 1839 it is a large and rambling building in Argyle Street on the southern side of Stonecutter Creek. The inn¹s verandah, stables and courtyard capture an earlier time when the journey from Sydney was a long and uncomfortable coach ride. Today there is an adjoining and independent brewery, named Scharer's Little Brewery, which is well-known for the quality of its beer.
Behind the inn is One Man and a Dog where there is an art gallery and a 4WD charter service which offers tours of the local bush, tel: (018) 222 149.
Turn right, following the highway (not Oaks Rd).To the right, just before the underpass, is a restaurant. The building was originally the Railway Hotel, dating back to the 1860s.
Go through the underpass. The road bends south again. Just around the corner, to the right, is the Anglican rectory, also, ironically, built as an inn during the 1860s.
Proceed south along Argyle St. To the right is the road that takes you to the original Picton tunnel, which was opened on 28 February 1867 and used for over 50 years until the double track was constructed. It was used for a time as a mushroom farm. Just past it, to the right, is the old gatehouse erected in 1867 for the keeper of the level crossing when the railway was extended from Picton to Mittagong.
More Historic Buildings
Around the corner in Lumsdaine St is the 1886 sandstone Presbyterian (now Uniting) Church, with fine views back down to Picton.
Continue along Argyle St and take the second right into Thirlmere Way. Virtually on the corner is the Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1849 and now extended and functioning as the Uniting Church Redbank. The stone derived from Stonequarry Creek.
Return along Argyle St and take the second right into Prince St and cross Victoria Bridge. Built in 1897 it is 80 m long and classified by the National Trust. On the other side of Victoria Bridge, across Stonequarry Creek, is an old house which was originally a creamery (1899), a reminder of the days when the district was noted for its butter and cream.Behind this building, further downstream from the bridge, is the site of the old sandstone quarries.
Turn left into Campbell St and have as look at the historic railway station. Steam trains were first used in the colony in 1855. Picton's first train arrived in 1863. The original platform was nearly 80 m long.
Return to and proceed along Prince St. To the left is a two-storey house built in 1877 as a stationmaster's residence and, except for the porch, unchanged. The land was sold by the Antills. At the end of the road is the Imperial Hotel, originally known as the Terminus and licensed as the Terminus Hotel in 1863. The iron lacework was added in the 1880s when it reverted to a hotel after usage as a sanatorium.
Turn left into Menangle St. This section of the street, with buildings dating largely from the turn of the century, has been classified by the National Trust as "representing a typical country town street".
Take the first left into Webster St. Some of the houses in Webster St date back to the 1860s when they were constructed to house those helping to build the railway. The building on the corner, known as 'the Cheese Factory', was a feather and fur factory built in 1920 which has also been classified by the National Trust. The iron gates derive from the Customs House in Sydney.
The end of Webster St is the access point to the old viaduct, which consists of five massive arches made of stone quarried 200 m downstream. 83 m in length it is now the oldest stone archway over water in NSW. It has been in continuous use since it was opened in 1863. During its construction two workers lost their lives.
Return north along Menangle St. At no. 83 is Wendover House (c.1880). A little further along, opposite Colden St, is Walton's Butcher Shop (1894). Just past Colden St is the shire hall (1869), originally a public school. Opposite is St Anthony's Catholic Church.
Regreme Rd, which runs west off Argyle St at the northern end of town is a good access point to the Hume Oval and the 2-ha Picton Botanical Gardens. There are cycle and walking tracks through the gardens, a lovely pergola, picnic and barbecue facilities and the 'Bottlebrush Maze'.
North of the Town
2 km north of town of Picton is the impressive Victorian stuccoed brick country house 'Jarvisfield' (1865), now the Antill Park Golf Club.
3 km north of Picton, near Brookside Bridge on Remembrance Drive, is the Razorback Inn (built either in the 1830s or 1849 depending on your source). Erected on the Jarvisfield estate it was first used as a convict overseer¹s residence. It was licensed as an inn in the 1850s and became a popular coach stop on the Great South Road. This attractive two-storey colonial Georgian building has been considerably altered over the years but retains its original shape. Adjoining it is the Wool-Away Woolshed (1880s) where entertainment and food are on offer.
Razorback Lookout and Razorback Range
About halfway to Camden, at the corner of Remembrance Drive and Mount Hercules Rd, is the Razorback Lookout from whence there are excellent views of Menangle, Camden and the Sydney skyline beyond. The Razorback Range was named after a type of wild pig which has serrated bristles atop its back. The first road over the range was cut in 1825 by convict gangs. The current route was cleared in 1830.
At 70 Mulhollands Rd is Over The Road. It provides the opportunity to explore the local bush, partake of some country cooking in the restaurant, go for a ride in a tractor train into a deep and forested ravine, do a circuit around a water canal in a boat and enjoy the landscaped gardens, or purchase something from the gift shop. They are open weekends and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. and at other times for group bookings. Head out of town along Barkers Lodge Rd (opposite the George IV Inn) for 3.5 km and Mulhollands Rd is to your left, tel: (02) 4677 2340.
On The Oaks Rd at Picton is Abbotsford (c.1827-1841), an early brick farmhouse with outbuildings which has remained virtually unaltered since its completion.
6 km north-west of Picton via Oaks Rd, is Mowbray Park, an historic estate which has been run as a cattle stud, riding holiday farm and conference centre since 1972, tel: (02) 4680 9243. The homestead was built in 1884 on a land grant issued in 1822.
5 km south-west of Mowbray Park is the tiny village of Lakesland, noted for its orchards, where, on Fergusson Rd, you will find Bell Bird Cottage where you can stroll through 5 acres of gardens and listen to the tuneful sounds of, well, bellbirds. The house has a collection of memorabilia. They are, however, open by appointment only, tel: (02) 4680 9255.
One of the great attractions of the district is the Rail Transport Museum in Barbour Rd at Thirlmere. The oldest and largest such museum in the country it features 60 locomotives (steam, diesel and electric) and 100 carriages, including a No 18 built in 1864 and a huge 260-tonne Garratt No 6040 built in 1956. It is open 9.30 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. on weekends, tel: (02) 4681 8001. There are picnic and barbecue facilities and every Sunday there are rides to Buxton along the disused single-track Picton-Mittagong Loop Line which was built in 1867 when the railway first came through the area. This was the railway line which opened up the whole of the Southern Highlands. The construction of a new double track after World War I meant that the Picton-Thirlmere-Buxton Loop was by-passed. It operated as a local line until 1976 when it was closed down. Craft markets are held at Buxton on the third Sunday of each month.
Thirlmere is located 7 km south-west of Picton. Turn off Argyle St into Thirlmere Way at the southern end of Picton. A Festival of Steam is held every March. Thirlmere Memorial Park in Oaks St has picnic, barbecue and play facilities. A little further along Oaks St crosses Matthews Creek and becomes Oaks Rd. Lin Gordon Reserve is to your right. There you will find a car park, barbecue facilities and a bushwalk.
Thirlmere Lakes National Park
While in the area the Thirlmere Lakes National Park is well worth a visit. These five interconnected freshwater lakes are unusual in the Sydney region. It is the lakes which provided the inspiration for the town's name - Thirlmere being a lake in Cumberland, England. These lagoons are ideal for swimming and canoeing. Barbecue and picnic facilities have been developed on the shorelines of two lakes and there is a boat ramp. The eucalypt forests make for some pleasant bushwalking and there are waterfowl aplenty. From Thirlmere cross the railway, turn left and proceed south-west on the Thirlmere-Buxton Rd (Barbour Rd) and turn off either into Slades Rd (2 km south of Thirlmere) or take the next road to the right (4 km south), just after the Couridjah Station and Couridjah Rd (to the right). This second road will take you to Middleton Memorial Drive which bisects the park. At its end is a 16-km return walk through the Nattai wilderness to Little River, a lovely swimming hole near Buxton. For those who think a 16-km walk is too arduous, the swimming area can be accessed by driving to the quarry at the end of Boundary Rd at Buxton and parking your car. From there it is about a 1-km walk to the river. Cross over the waterway and follow the old farm road to the right.
11 km south of Buxton is Hilltop. There is a lovely 2.6-km marked walking track through a cave to Cave Creek. Access is via Wilson Drive. There is a car park with picnic, barbecue and toilet facilities. A 12-km return walk commences from Wattle Ridge Rd west of Hilltop. Contact the local ranger on (02) 4659 6133 for more details. There are also markets held at the Hilltop Memorial Hall in Wilson Drive on the second Saturday of each month.
Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council
Couridjah (an Aboriginal word said to mean 'home of the white ants'), located on the Old Loop Line Railway, was once the railhead for an extensive area. At West Parade, Couridjah, is the Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council where you can partake of bush tucker and inspect some Aboriginal art and crafts, but only by prior arrangement, tel: (02) 4681 0059.
8 km south of Picton via the old Hume Highway is Tahmoor (population 4368), named after an Aboriginal word referring to a bronze-winged pigeon. The Pot Holes on Rockford Rd are a good access point for canoeists wanting to explore the Bargo River. A walking track meanders along the right-hand bank for about 3 km past See Through Pool to Mermaid Pools. Tahmoor House at Myrtle Creek on the old Hume Highway is an old weatherboard inn built in 1821 and extended by subsequent owners in 1824 and 1835. It is the oldest building in the shire and an important surviving remnant on the South Road. A cycleway links Tahmoor to Thirlmere. There is a collectables swap meet on the first Friday of each month.
15 km east is the small village of Douglas Park. Canoeists can find easy access to the Nepean from the Camden Rd causeway. Just south of Douglas Park, in Mt Keira Rd, is the grand Gothic Revival country residence now known as St Mary's Towers. Originally named Parkhall it was built between 1842 and 1844 by surveyor-general Sir Thomas Mitchell who was given the 1000-acre grant in 1830. Of quite some architectural distinction it has a fine stone turret and stone staircase with cast-iron balusters and Mitchell's coat-of-arms on the eastern gable. The Gothic chapel and crenellated colonnade were added by the next owner in the 1870s. They were designed by Edmund Blacket. It is now owned by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and is a retreat centre and a novitiate. Also in Douglas Park is Mt Batten homestead (1865) on land originally granted to a Spanish free settler after whom nearby Spanish Hill is named.
Maldon Suspension Bridge
South-east of town, off the road to Wollongong, is the Maldon Suspension Bridge, one of the few surviving structures of its type in the country. 4 km from the Picton post office you will come to the cement works. Turn right there and follow this road to the bridge which spans a spot originally known as Harvey's Crossing where the road connecting Wilton to the Great Southern Railway traversed the Nepean. Because the river gorge was deep here the approach roads were steep, often flooded, expensive to maintain and caused difficulties for road traffic - hence the construction of the bridge. 188 m in length it was built in 1903, partially rebuilt after a bushfire in 1939 and closed to traffic in 1980 when a cantilever bridge was built 2 km downstream. The area around the bridge is highly picturesque and both walking trails and picnic facilities have been established. The riverside location also makes it a good spot for swimming and canoeing.
Tours and Adventures
If you head south-east along Picton Rd to Wilton, at the intersection with the F5 freeway is the drop zone of the Sydney Skydiving Centre, tel: 1800-805 997.
There are a number of tour operators who cover the area. Scenic flights are available from Curtis Aviation (02-4655 6789) and Macarthur Air Experience (02-4655 8844), 4WD tours from One Man and a Dog (018-222 149), adventure packages from Australian Extreme Team (02-4677 3133), motorbike tours from Harley Tours (02-4631 1261), transit services for bushwalkers and mountain bike riders from NSW Wilderness Transit Services (02-4681 9094), bushwalking tours from Rockreation (02-4782 6224) and tour guides from Liz Vincent - Picton Historic Tours and Picton Ghost Hunts - (02-4677 2044) or Wollindilly Heritage Tours (02-4657 1439).
The Picton Show is held in October and the country markets on the fourth Saturday of each month in Menangle Rd.
The Old Post Office Tourist Information Centre
cnr Argyle & Menangel Sts
Picton NSW 2571
Telephone: (02) 4677 3962
Facsimile: (02) 4677 2339