The Braidwood district was discovered by the European community in 1822. Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson (1792 - 1843), a highly respected pioneer of this district, gave his name to the town. A Surgeon Superintendent of convicts transported by the Royal Navy, Dr Braidwood Wilson was a humanitarian and during his several voyages, tried to teach all to read and write.
Cattle and sheep properties developed in the area in the 1820s and 1830s. In the 1850s, Braidwood's population exploded as "gold fever" hit the surrounding region; but, as the gold ran out, the numbers declined and today, Braidwood is listed by the National Trust as an historic town with a population of 1,100.
Nineteenth century architecture dominates the undulating townscape, from workmen's cottages to the larger public buildings. Preservation and restoration are encouraged by the local council and guided by the NSW Heritage Council.
Many of the beautiful early Australian buildings have been restored to their early glory, and now house a variety of businesses, hotels, galleries and sophisticated eating houses. Many writers, quilters, potters and ceramicists call Braidwood home.
The National Theatre Community Centre in Wallace Street, Braidwood, is thought to be the oldest operating picture theatre in Australia. The Braidwood Visitor Information Centre is housed at the Wallace Street entrance to the National Theatre Community Centre.
Braidwood celebrates its historic past each April, at the annual Heritage Festival. Visitors are made aware of Braidwood's diverse past, the turmoil of the gold mining era, the influence of Chinese settlers and the hardworking farmers. Locals and visitors alike are encouraged to dress in period costumes to add to the festivity of the day.
Following the discovery of gold in the Araluen Valley in 1851, the infamous bushrangers Ben Hall, the Clarke brothers and the Connell family played their part in the fascinating history of the Palerang Shire.
The Clarke Gang, also known as the "Jingera Mob", held up stores, hotels and homesteads, and shot policemen and "special constables". In January 1867, when the Braidwood Police found the bodies of the four "specials", they wrapped them in bark and buried them nearby. After a few days, Premier Parkes ordered that the bodies be exhumed and brought to Braidwood. Today, a memorial to the four constables can be seen in the Braidwood Cemetery.
Having survived those wild days, Braidwood is now listed by the National Trust. The beautiful buildings from the second half of the 1810s form Braidwood's historical streets cape and interesting original settlers' cottages can be found in the lanes and in the outlying villages.
The old gold mining village of Majors Creek now plays host to "Music at the Creek", held on the second weekend in November. And, while in the vicinity of Nerriga, the adventurous can thrill to the excitement of white-water rafting.
Visitors now enjoy horse riding, bush walking and scenic drives through the very same countryside that was once frequented by the wild colonial boys of bygone days.
You can learn every historical fact there is to know about the local area at the excellent Braidwood museum, which resides in a lovely old stone building opposite the pleasant tree-filled park.
The collection includes over 2100 artefacts and 900 photographs of local origin. A unique attraction is the Nokehong collection consisting of items from the Nomchong family (Chinese traders in the town from the 1870s.
The Museum also features a machinery shed and other rural items displayed in the grounds. A library of local records, newspapers and family histories can be used for research. You can also see the armour worn by Mick Jagger in his portrayal of Ned Kelly in the movie he filmed in and around Braidwood.
Braidwood was born of the rather prosaic need to select a site for the building of a courthouse to bring ‘the rule of law’ to what
was then considered to be the limits-of-settlement.
Several sites were considered. But Duncan Mackellar Senior (the then only magistrate in St Vincent County) held sway. He publicly argued that the area at the foot of Mt Gillamatong was ideal because it was in the centre of the population. Perhaps closer to the private truth was that this site was the closest (and more convenient) to his property ‘STRATHALLAN’. Anyway, he won the day and Braidwood (named after Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson’s farm ‘Braidwood Farm’) was born in 1837.
The ‘Georgian square’ town plan (with its surrounding curtilage of rural greenery) followed in 1839 - and private land sales began.
This agriculturally focused town grew in a slow organic fashion until the gold rushes of the 1850s. Then it exploded to accommodate the huge influx of miners that flooded in from the surrounding gold fields.
By 1859 the commercial life of the town was thriving. Here’s a snap shot of the businesses then operating:
BRAIDWOOD - NO ONE HORSE TOWN IN 1859
- * BUILDER
- * GENERAL STORE
- * BUILDER and CONTRACTOR
- * VICTORIA STORE
- * BUILDER and UNDERTAKER
- * BEEHIVE STORE
- * CABINET MAKER
- * BUTCHER
- * PROVISIONER (BACON, CHEESES, BUTTER)
- * BREWERY
- * GINGER BEER and CORDIALS
- * 3 HOTELS
- * 3 FLOUR MILLS
- * NEWSPAPER
- * TANNER
- * 3 SCHOOLS
- * 2 SADDLEMAKERS
- * BANK
- * SHOEMAKER
- * DISPENSARY
- * TAILOR
- * CARRIER and COMMISSION AGENT
- * SIGNPAINTER
- * WATCHMAKER and JEWELER
- * HAIRDRESSER
PLUS DOCTORS, SOLICITORS and STOCKAGENTS
By 1866 another 11 hotels had been built to entertain the swelling, male-dominant population. As the money flowed into town, so too did the banks, then the churches and the hospital (which celebrated its 150th birthday in 2008).
Many, many stories can be told about the people who lived in town. How they coped with the depression of the 1840s and 1890s, how they educated their children, how they coped with illness and prayed (or didn’t pray) to the Lord for assistance in what was just as often a valley of tears as the light on the hill.
It can’t be done here. But a few snippets from the historical records will help catch the flavour of the times
ON THE NEED FOR THE CIVILISING IMPACT OF THE MINISTERY
“The districts (are) the dwelling places of nominal Christians, who are, however, far removed beyond the sound or hearing of all that is Christian. Living in a state of concubinage, frequently promiscuous, without books or means of instruction of any description. The observation of the Sabbath Day totally obliterated among them. Their children growing up, not only without baptism, but almost in unacquaintance with the name or being of their Creator.” Bishop Broughton (head of Anglican Church Australia after visiting Braidwood in 1845) Source, Netta Ellis 'Braidwood Dear Braidwood'.
The fine granite church that now stands next to freemasons lodge was built between 1881 and 1889. It is named after St Andrew. Almost a third of the population was Irish. With sectarian competition being intense in those days the Catholics wanted a church of equal impressiveness. They got it before the Anglicans in 1870. The Big Bell of St Bede's. The thirty-two hundred weight bell (there are 20 hundred weight to the old imperial ton) was originally intended to ring in Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathederal.
It carries a Latin inscription, a poem by Cardinal Wiseman 1862. Roughly it reads
“cry aloud with iron voice the angels salutations; While the day star sleeps, trumpet the news of his coming; O bell dedicated to venerable Bede, With your voice, awaken that love of home which links together hearts that the world has forced asunder”
St Bede (the venerable Bede) 672-735 Benedictine monk, scholar and historian: Northumbria. The only Englishman to be titled 'Doctor of the church' (Pope Leo x111 in 1899). As the town matured, so to did its cultural life as manifested in the story of the Literary Institute (1871) now Palerang Council Chambers.
In 1870 women didn’t have the right to vote. Nor did they have equal rights even in such liberal and educative institutions as the Literary Institute. True, they could join the Institute for an annual subscription of 10 shillings (half the male fee), but they were limited to taking out only one book at a time and weren't admitted to the reading room. The ban on women using the reading room persisted to 1905.
Many of the historic colonial buildings in which these stories of the past were enacted are still standing today, although their use has changed many times over. There is no better way to experience and savour the past than to take a walk around town and look at these sentinels of history.
The Braidwood and Villages Tourism Information Centre at the National Theatre in Wallace St has a wonderful map of the town and its significant buildings.