Located a good 400km southwest of Sydney off the new freeway, Cootamundra is an important railway town for goods running north, south and west to the Riverina. Settled back in 1830 as another pastoral area, it was John Hurley who set up the first major station. It was in one of his paddocks that the new town was surveyed and set out. Like many Outback towns, gold was found! A small rush was on within the district, bringing opportunistic bushrangers hoping to make a quick fortune with holdups and attacks.
Between 1862 and 1890 the town grew and a water supply was put in place. A major hospital, gaol and golf course were opened (the oldest golf course in NSW to this day). In 1952, the original name of Cootamundry was changed to Cootamundra. Lost over the years, the name has several meanings to the Wiradjuri People, including “marsh, swamp, low lying or maybe turtle”. Mostly the place just goes by “Coota”.
The railway in town was established in 1877 but at the time it was little more than some timber sheds. It wasn’t until 1888 when more substantial workshops, railway station and other grand buildings were built. The Cootamundra station is a classic example of the Victorian era when people took immense pride in their work. Examples include the beautiful wrought iron scrolls, a central tower and bullnose roof.
In the years leading up to 1945, additions were made but builders stayed true to the theme of the buildings. Today the complex has a station master’s house, booking and parcel office, and waiting rooms. It is a major rail junction for the central west. Just next door in the railway barracks, a heritage museum has been set up displaying the town’s military, rail, aviation and local Aboriginal history.
Another rail feature just 15 minutes out of town is the heritage-listed Bethungra rail spiral, dating back to 1940. To combat a steep hill, the line splits with the north line and spirals 360 degrees! It passes around the hill and the southern line, through several deep tunnels. You don’t have to be a rail fan to appreciate the engineering on display here.
Cootamundra is also a sporting town where cricket holds a special place. It was here in 1908 that a baby boy was born, Donald Bradman. Around town there are several places that pay homage to this great man and his sporting achievements. Sir Don only lived in the town for 3 years before his parents moved to Bowral in the Southern Highlands but Coota still claims him.
He was born at 89 Adams Street in Granny Scholz’s private hospital. It’s been converted to a museum dedicated to Sir Don. You’ll be amazed at the amount of memorabilia on display, all while standing in the very room where he was born.
Another cool place to check out is Jubilee Park and the Captains Walk. A whopping 42 busts have been placed in chronological order of the cricket captains that led Australia against the rest of the world. Below each bronzed bust there is a rundown on their history and success. As a special tribute to Sir Don, in 2008 a life size statue was put in the park, with Sir Don wearing his cricket attire lining up to a bowler.
The parks around Cootamundra are nothing short of stunning, providing cool and relaxing relief from the dry pastoral land that surrounds the district. From rose gardens to magnificent peppercorn and oak trees that line the wide streets, it’s a beautiful town. As always, the best place to get an overview of the town is at the local lookout. Gardiners Hill boasts 360 degree views across the vast landscape.
Around town there’s a great heritage walk that includes banks, churches, the original hospital, and the courthouse. The National Trust post office has a tower and the grave of John Barnes, who was the first local in Cootamundra shot by a bushranger in 1863.
Today the Hume Freeway bypasses the town, but it’s well worth pulling off the beaten track for a day or two to discover yet another piece of Australia’s history.