Southern Highlands, New South Wales
The term is a fluid one and is used in several contexts, as there is no area officially designated “The Southern Highlands”. In essence, the region takes in the southern part of Wingecarribee Shire and the former Mulwaree Shire, now combined with Goulburn as part of the Gouburn-Mulwaree Council. The phrase has a certain up-market cachet, and is therefore used broadly by businesspersons, particularly those involved in real estate and tourism, to describe an area that includes parts of the Southern Tablelands, New South Wales as well as the Highlands, and extends from the town of Mittagong (some stretch it as far north as the town of Picton) to the village of Marulan, or even as far south as the city of Goulburn (which is without a doubt solidly in the Southern Tablelands). Wingecarribee residents often employ the term in a more limited manner to refer only to part of Wingecarribee Shire, while others restrict the term to the towns of Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale, and the smaller towns, villages and enclaves surrounding them, including the town of Bundanoon, and the Southern Villages of Sutton Forest, Exeter, Penrose, Wingello and Tallong. The Highland Way, Route 16, is a tourist drive which runs from the town of Mittagong to the village of Marulan, which is then considered the last, (or first) village in the Southern Highlands.
While bustling little towns in the northern highlands like Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale are well known tourist spots and the weekend havens of affluent Sydneyites, the Southern Villages have had a boom-and-bust economic cycle. Bundanoon, for example, became a well-known tourist destination early in the 20th Century; its picturesque nature and the exquisite scenery of what is now Morton National Park, combined with being a stop on the CityRail line, made it a pleasant and convenient holiday area for city dwellers who could not afford the upscale accommodation at the popular Blue Mountains resort area. By the 1950s, however, changes in lifestyle, particularly the affordability of the motor car, gave city folk many more options for weekend getaways, and Bundanoon declined.
Similarly, Marulan, once thriving, had its economy crushed when the Hume Highway was built and bypassed the village.
Recently, an ever-expanding Sydney with record high real estate prices has renewed interest in the Southern Highlands, and the area is undergoing a resurgence. Mulwaree Shire was, until its dissolution early in 2004, the fastest growing Shire in NSW outside of Sydney itself. Tallong, an otherwise insignificant village known only for having the oldest continuous one-teacher schoolhouse in Australia, and for a devastating bushfire in 1965 that crippled its economy, has seen a dramatic increase in real estate prices over the last five years, with the price of vacant land almost tripling in areas close to the village.
The Southern Highlands is within commuting distance of Sydney, Goulburn and Canberra, the nation’s capital, and this, combined with the availability of larger plots of land, and a peaceful lifestyle, may account for its renewed popularity.
Local attitudes towards the encroachment of civilization are varied, with citizens apparently desiring to have the conveniences of modern life, while living somewhat removed from it. The 2004 decision by Michael Costa, the Transportation Minister, for example, to reduce service on CityRail’s Southern Highlands Line, aroused a storm of protest from indignant commuters. A proposal for an internet café in Marulan was received enthusiastically by its villagers. By contrast, an announced proposal for the building of Sydney’s second airport near the village of Sutton Forest met with strong opposition. Many small businesses and single proprietors in the area welcomed the proposal, with its promise of increased trade, but other individuals, fearing the noise, pollution and increased congestion that an airport would bring, organized a citizens committee against the proposed scheme.
The villages attract visitors who travel considerable distances for a few special events. In April, it’s the annual Brigadoon Festival in Bundanoon, which is also home to the spring Garden Ramble; Tallong holds a popular Trail Ride in aid of the Rural Fire Brigade each April, and Wingello hosts Sled Dog Trials in June.
Horticulture is important to the tourism of the Southern Highlands, and gardening is a major hobby. Tulip Time is a Bowral Springtime festival, and there are several “open garden” schemes, where, for a fee, members of the public can visit the area’s well-known cool-climate gardens, such as Kennerton Green.
Vineyards and their attendant culture such as wine-tastings, are well-established in the area.