Goulburn today is a world renowned fine wool area, symbolised in the city by a three story high concrete castrated sheep, but it also has a secret in it’s grand old buildings and magnificent cathedrals, which look like they were transported stone by stone from Britain. But Goulburn also holds the secrets of the settling of Australia, a secret of lawlessness and heritage which goes right back to the First Fleet.
The first settler to set eyes on Goulburn Downs, in 1798, was the freed convict John Wilson, who was deported to Australia on the First Fleet for the heinous crime of stealing nine yards of cloth. It was not until 1863 that Goulburn was actually proclaimed as Australia’s first inland city.
The trip to Goulburn from Sydney used to take 16 days on dirt roads in rickety old horse drawn coaches. Many of those making the trip knew already of the lawlessness of the area. There were the two convicted murderers, White and Mooney, who were hanged in Goulburn and left on the gallows for three years as an example to everybody else.
The bushranger Frank Gardiner may have been sentenced to seven years gaol, but there were others around just as dangerous, such as Ben Hall, or the Goulburn-born The “Duce”.
The trip today is much easier, taking just two hours by air-conditioned train, alighting at the well-preserved historical railway station.
Just down from the railway station is Grafton Street, once the main connecting road between the original settlement (now known as North Goulburn) and the main settlement based around Auburn Street. Grafton Street has reminders of Goulburn’s past, including old stone buildings and a bright red letterbox with a high vertical mail slot, a reminder of the days when the riders on horses could post their letters without having to dismount.
Also around the corner from the railway station is Goulburn Court House, designed by one of the most espected architects of the time, James Barnett (who also designed Sydney General Post Office). A law was passed in Goulburn Court House for all Australia, making it illegal to harbour bushrangers.
Overlooking the city is the Rocky Hill War Memorial, astanding 20 metres tall, which at night is an imposing floodlit monolith, with a sweeping air beacon light which can be seen for many kilometres around. The caretakers cottage at Rocky Hill has been made into a museum, and the names of 2500 residents who served in World War I are inscribed on the tower’s base.
The Wollondilly River runs through Goulburn, and is a favourite palce for barbecues. Belmore Park is in the centre of town, and provides a quiet setting for a peaceful strollor a quiet lunch.
On the outskirts of town is the waterworks museum, which houses the southern hemisphere’s only steam powered water supply.
Goulburn is a two hour drive along the Hume Highway from Sydney, and about one hour north of Canberra.