Cootamundra, located 385 km south west of Sydney and 318 metres above sea level, is a prosperous rural service centre (current population around 8,300 in the district) whose fortunes depend on its location as a major junction on the Sydney-Melbourne railway line.
Prior to European settlement the Cootamundra area was inhabited by the Wiradjuri Aborigines. It is widely accepted that it is their word 'gooramundra', which possibly means either 'turtle', 'swamp', 'marsh' or 'low-lying', which was adopted in 1861 when the government decided to construct a 'village of Cootamundry'. It was not officially changed to Cootamundra until 1952.
There is evidence that Europeans were in the area from as early as 1830. Certainly by 1847 John Hurley had stock on 'Cootamundra Station' which covered an area of 49,920 acres. It was on the site of Hurley's horse paddock, on the banks of the Muttama Creek, that the government surveyors marked out a village in 1860.
Gold mining started in the area in 1862 and, while it was never in the town, it attracted large numbers of miners to the region. Inevitably gold attracted bushrangers to the district and in 1863 John Barnes was shot dead by John O'Meally at a holdup. When the gold ran out many of them decided to settle in Cootamundra.
Once the town had been surveyed it was open for sale and the first sale of town lots occurred in 1862 at the Gundagai Police Station where 52 lots were sold on the first day and 44 were sold on the second day. Two years later the first 'receiving office for mail' was established in the village and by 1866 the town had a proper Post Office, a police station, a hotel and about 100 residents. The first church - Roman Catholic - was built in 1870 and the first school was completed in 1875. To that first school, in 1878, arrived the woman who would become the famous Australian poet, Dame Mary Gilmore. At the time she 13 and working as an unpaid pupil-teacher.
1877 was a watershed year for the town. In that year the town got its first newspaper, the Cootamundra Herald, and the paper was able to record the rail connection between Cootamundra and Sydney. It became the hub from which a number of branch lines to various parts of the Riverina and South West Slopes departed. The town's first rail disaster - resulting in 8 deaths and 49 injuries - occurred in 1885.
The next decade saw the construction of most of the town's important public buildings. The Cootamundra Gaol (1885), Town Hall (1890), District Hospital (1892), Hardys Folly Dam (1893) were all constructed around this time. Australia's oldest country golf club was established at Cootamundra in 1895.
Today Cootamundra is a prosperous and well-known country town. The name Cootamundra Wattle (Acacia baileyana) evokes images of the Australian bush at its most beautiful (it flowers in July and August each year) and the connection with Donald Bradman gives the town a potent link with one of Australia's greatest citizens. The town's prosperity is largely due to its location in the centre of a rich sheep grazing area although in recent times a number of industries - furniture manufacture, brickworks, tannery - have all contributed to its general economic well-being. The name 'Cootamundra Gold' has been given to the canola oil which is produced in the district.
Things to see
Things to See
Sir Donald Bradman's Birthplace
Located at 89 Adams Street and open 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. seven days a week, this is an ultimate shrine for cricket lovers. Sir Donald Bradman is regarded by many as Australia's greatest sportsman. Certainly his achievements as a batsman are never likely to be equalled (his test average of 99.94 is far ahead of his nearest rival) and his status as a quiet, unassuming, Aussie high achiever is secure. For more information see the Bradman Museum at Bowral.
Bradman was born in Cootamundra on 27 August 1908 and his parents moved to Bowral three years later. The Birthplace now houses Bradman memorabilia and interesting material on the history of Cootamundra.
Located next door to Bradman Cottage, Memorabilia Cottage has a display of old style memorabilia. Everything from old convict-made bricks to tobacco tins and a Trafalgar drip cold safe.
Located in Wallendoon Street this park is now part of a major project which will see bronze busts of all the Australian cricket captains featured on a 'Captains Walk'. Stage One, completed in 1998 and unveiled as part of Sir Donald Bradman's 90th birthday celebrations, featured busts of Arthur Morris, William Murdock, Unaarrimim (the Aboriginal captain of the team which played England in 1868), Richie Benaud, Allan Border, Mark Taylor, David Gregory, William Lawry, Robert Simpson, Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell. When the project is completed it will be topped off by a full size statue of 'The Don' in cover drive stance.
Located on the southern edge of Cootamunda Pioneer Park is a pleasant natural park with good bushwalking and picnic facilities. There is a 1.3 km bushwalk which offers excellent views over the town.
There is a small brochure, available at the Tourist Information Office, which provides a map and details of 29 historic locations in the town. It is called 'A Two Foot Tour of Cootamundra'. It takes about two hours.
An extraordinary four storey tower stands above the building making it one of the town's most prominent landmarks. Built in 1881 and classified by the National Trust the Post Office was designed by the Office of the Colonial Architect and is characterised by four-panelled windows and doors, a timber verandah and the clock tower with its ornamental fleche and weathervane.
Outside the Post Office is the 'Tree of Knowledge' peppercorn tree which was probably planted around 1891.
National Australia Bank
Originally the CBC Bank this handsome Victorian Classical stuccoed brick bank was built in 1887 and designed by the prolific Mansfield Brothers. It has a cast iron verandah on two sides and attractive cast iron balustrades. It is topped off by two balanced chimneys.
Cootamundra Railway Station
This important and historic railway station was started in the late 1870s and continued to be altered and improved for the next decade. It is an unusual building with an octagonal central tower, a classic Australian bull-nose roof and the platform roof is held up by fluted iron columns with lace brackets. For decades it was the major stopping point for all trains travelling from Sydney to the Riverina and South West Slopes.
Located in Parker Street the local Court House was built in 1901 and is characterised by an Ionic portico, slate clad hips on the roof and multi-paned windows. It is a typical symmetrical Court House building of its period.
Originally the Bank of New South Wales (located at 250 Parker Street) this elaborate Late Victorian two-storey building was designed by Varney Parkes and completed in 1895. It has arcaded verandahs, a gabled main entrance and a large bay window over a small portico. A fine symbol of the prosperity of the district at the time.
John Barnes Grave
John Barnes was shot by the bushranger John O'Meally. Barnes is buried in the Cootamundra Cemetery which is about 1.5 km out of town on the Young road. The grave is located in the Church of England section and the inscription reads simply: 'Erected to the memory of John Barnes who was shot by bushrangers on 30th August, 1863. Aged 51.'
Located about 13 km south of Cootamundra on the Olympic Way, Gardiner's Lookout is a large outcrop of boulders which made an ideal hiding location for bushrangers eager to rob the mail coach as it passed. It is said that the bushranger Frank Gardiner used this lookout to keep an eye on the troopers who scoured the country trying to capture him.
Bethungra Railway Spiral
About 23 km south of Cootamundra (on the main road between Cootamundra and Wagga) it is possible to see an unusual piece of railway engineering. The railway line north spirals around Bethungra Hill crossing itself and the south line while traversing some of the deepest cuttings in Australia.
Local History Tours
The Cootamundra Local History Society have organised a group of active members to provide visitors with a conducted tour of the town's historic sites. All they ask for is a gold coin donation (which presumably means 'give generously'). Contact the local tourist centre for more information on (02) 6942 4212.
Cootamundra Visitor Information Centre
c/- Railway Station, 59 Hovell St
Cootamundra NSW 2590
Telephone: (02) 6942 4212
Facsimile: (02) 6942 4865