Towns and villages of:

argylecounty.com.au

BOOROWA

Population: 2333 - Boorowa district (2006 census)

Brief History

The town of Boorowa is 66 kms from Yass and is the centre of the shire of the same name.

Situated on the Boorowa River, a tributary of the Lachlan, with the Murrumbidgee to the south, it lies among rich river flats with volcanic soils from an extinct volcano (Mt Canemumbola) surrounded by undulating hills.

The local area was originally inhabited by the Wiradjuri tribe - largest in NSW - which ranged from the foothills of the Snowy (Tumut) along the great rivers to far western NSW.

A nomadic people with a warlike reputation, there were many reports of attacks on early explorers when their territory was invaded.

The Wiradjuri had semi permanent camping spots on the Boorowa and Lachlan Rivers.

There may have been several thousand of the Lachlan tribal group at first settlement, but surveys showed only 300 were left in 1851.

The last remants of local tribes were herded on to government reserves (Rye Park, and Edgerton, near Yass.) The last member of the Lachlan tribe was thought to have died in 1926.

The name Burrowa, by which the region was once known, and Boorowa were said to be aboriginal words for native birds - long since gone.

It is not known who the first European explorers were to have discovered the Boorowa River and its surrounding plains.

Hamilton Hume, in conjunction with brother in law George Barber, brother John and neighbour William Broughton, undertook a private and secret journey of exploration to seek out land suitable for settlement in journey in 1821

Hume reported the discovery of the Yass Plains (he and Broughton took up a land holding near Gunning) and may have ventured further into the Lachlan district: Broughton had one of the first landholdings on the Boorowa River by 1828, and later extensive squattings in the district (13,400 acres by 1849). Hamilton's younger brother Francis, also settled in the area.

Other early grants were made to James Hassall (1827). The Hassall family had extensive landholdings (including 'down river' at Cowra in 1823): many of their employees gained early holdings in Boorowa. Brother Tom (the "galloping parson") Hassall and wife Ann Marsden (daughter of Rev Samuel) plus other family members were granted land in 1831 under a provision of the time which allowed free grants to the children of clergy.

This "squattocracy", made up of families who knew each other, and who often intermarried, greatly extended their grants, which were worked by the large number of assigned convicts they were entitled to.

By 1851 there were less than 3000 people in the entire Lachlan district. But the discovery of gold in nearby Young in 1861 brought many thousands of prospectors, some of whom remained as settlers after the introduction of the Robertson Land Act in that same year which made it possible for free selectors to buy crown land at cheap rates.

These holdings (from as small as 40 acres) grew rapidly in the Boorowa district within a few years, but closer settlement was thwarted until the government began to buy up larger pastoral holdings for redistribution as homestead settlements in the 1890s.

Many of the early settlers in Boorowa were ex-convicts and Ticket of Leave men, who were obliged to remain in the district to which they had been assigned.

And of these, many were Irish (often political prisoners). Their role as labourers on the large properties was taken up in the 1840s and 50s by Irish settlers fleeing the Potato Famine, and Scots the 'Highland clearances' of the early 19th century. These in turn often stayed to take up local selections or businesses. The large number of Irish settlers gave Boorowa a distinctive society and culture which remained down to the late 20th century.

The main occupation of Boorowa settlers was wool. There were already tens of thousands of sheep in the district by 1840. With fencing and improved tecchniques Boorowa flourished as a prime sheep growing region - shipping wool, meat and (in the 1990s) live ship to world markets.

This heritage is still celebrated today in the annual 'running of the sheep' through the main street.

Wheat growing was also a staple of early Boorowa agriculture. The few thousand acres in the district in 1860 (farmed by manual labour) grew into a major industry in the early twentieth century which the silos today attest to. For many years Boorowa had flour mills, but most wheat was taken to larger towns to be processed.

In early days oats and fodder were also grown, along with cattle raising and dairying (there were as many as 8 dairies in the 1920s) - that legacy seen today in the many stud cattle farms in the area.

Other types of agriculture were trialled over the years on small farms - ventures which continue today to provide variety to the rural life of Borrowa.

Boorowa is a proud agricultural community with a long history. The first "agricultural show" was held in the 1860s and the show is still a main feature on the local calendar, offering an opportunity for city dwellers to savour life in the 'real country'.

The village of Boorowa was surveyed around a main crossing of the Boorowa River and gazetted in 1850. On Crown Land and with sections reserved for the infrastructure of a town - court house (originally 1860 - present building 1884 - closed 1988), post office (first 1856 - today's 1876) , and pound, it replaced earlier private towns.

In 1851 the first allotments in the town were offered at auction and soon rough houses, a hotel, flour mill and other businesses were established to serve the surrounding farms.

Within decades the early slab huts were replaced by more substantial buildings (a local brick kiln contributing to this development). Many of the fine colonial buildings of the 19th century, in fine condition, still adorn the streetscape of modern Boorowa.

J.F. Mann, the Government Surveyor, when he surveyed the new town in 1850, left aside a large tract of land in the centre of the town around Ryans Creek as a public reserve.

This land, sometimes wasteland, often abused, has been revisited by the civic fathers over the years and today stands unique among country towns as an oasis of green parkland and facilitiies in the centre of the town.

The wide streets, large blocks and flat terrain meant that town development was not confined to part of the site. The first 'main' street was Court Street, where, with Brial Street, many of the earliest buildings remain. Today Market Street is the town centre.

In the early days Boorowa was notorious for crime and lawlessness. Robberies, assault and stock stealing were rife - fuelled by ex-convicts, poor immigrants from the U.K. with little respect for authority, and of course, bushrangers.

The earliest of the latter appeared in 1828, including the notorious Thomas Witton who held up a store at Boorowa and then went on to kill John Hume at Gunning.

The gold fields attracted more later and they infested the Boorowa district: Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall, local John Gilbert and others.

Early offenders (convicts) were dealt with by magistrates at Yass, and a station for police troopers was established at Binalong.

The first police station and lockup was established in Boorowa in 1857, and a district court in 1866. A court house was built in 1886 (now home to the Visitors Information Centre). As the village of Boorowa grew, major buildings began to enhance its importance as a country town. Banks were established in the 1860s and some of these buildings remain today.

Some of the earliest buildings were hotels (the first in 1840 - there were 10 in the 1880s). The oldest existing today are the Ram & Stallion (originally the Royal Hotel, 1860), and The Star Hotel (1867 - now a private residence).

A walk today along the "Shamrock Trail" pinpoints some of the important historic buildings of Boorowa - including an old dairy (1854), Mechanics Institute (1883), Mill Cottage (1854), the dynamite store of Webb & Crego's (1862) - held up by Ben Hall in 1863, Municipal Chambers (1909), and many more. The Model Store (1918), now a newsagency, is an excellent example of an early 20th century emporium - a rural version of a big city Department Store.

Most major traffic bypassed Boorowa to the east and south during its life - including the railway. Forty years of lobbying got the town a branch line in 1914, but passenger trains ceased to run in 1980 and the line - used for wheat shipment, closed in 1987. The station is gone, but the silos can still be seen on Court Street.

Poor transport left Boorowa somewhat isolated in early years. Inadequate roads and bridges often prevented travel during floods. Motor cars, buses and trucks in the early 20th century travelled over roads hardly any better.

The streets of Boorowa were only tarred in the 1920s and major country roads upgraded only in recent years.

This isolation often prompted residents to fall back on their own resources. Boorowa had its first newspaper in 1863. Its long history - as the Boorowa Times, then Boorowa News - makes Boorowa's one of the longest running country newspapers. (The 1936 Printery building can still be seen in Pudman Street.)

Private enterprise installed gas lighting in the park in 1905, and the first electrical generator in 1919 (for the cinema). Street lighting was installed in the 1920s and in 1938 electricity brought in for consumers from Burrinjuck Hydroelectric scheme.

Post Offices were opened in nearby villages in the 1860s, and in Boorowa the telegraph (1866), telephone (1906) and telephone exchange (1908) which was replaced by one the countryside's first automatic exchanges in 1975.

The spiritual life of Boorowa has been well served by the churches over the last century and a half, and they reflect the early social life of the town.

The first services were probably held by "the galloping parson", Thomas Hassall, whose Church of England ministry at one stage ranged from Parramatta as far south as Boorowa. St John's Anglican Church was built in 1862, and can be identified with the early, landowning citizens. It had its own school from 1868 until 1870, when it closed in favour of the State Public School.

The original state schoolroom is now part of the residence, the new schoolrooms added in 1892; it became a high school in 1947, then a Central School in 1958.

The Irish (early convict) population were served by an outreach of the Catholic mission at Yass after 1838, which was set up by Archbishop Polding. As this mission extended its activities all the way to Port Phillip in Victoria, and the local 'parishioners' a fairly rough and lawless crowd, there was little attempt to establish a permanent presence until the later Irish migrations after the 1850s.

The first St Patrick's church was erected in 1855 (the remains of which can be seen in Court Street), and the first priest not appointed until 1865.

Catholic churches in the smaller villages followed, and a new St Patrick's built in Queen Street in 1877.

Significantly, catholic residents looked after the education of their children with their own school in 1848, which the Sisters of Mercy took over in 1882. They had a convent in Boorowa from 1885 to 1987. The St Joseph's School buildings were opened in 1888; its high school section closed in the 1960s.

The many prominent buildings associated with the church to be seen today attest to the strong (and Irish) social life of Boorowa.

The Irish cultural heritage is today recognised in the town's annual Irish Woolfest.

Other significant elements of Boorowa society are reflected in the Wesleyan Methodist Church (1868) - the 'chapel' brethren among late 19th century English migrants, and St James' Presbyterian Church (1885), Scots immigrants.

Although isolated in early days, boorowa had a rich social and sporting life - horse racing since 1842; cricket matches(1857); football 1881; tennis clubs (1900); golf (c.1900), a club in 1936, lawn bowling (1947). Lessons were held in the local swimming hole on the river from 1920 until a proper swimming pool was built in 1965.

Dances, brass bands, 'uplifting' lectures, musical and dramatic societies, a skating rink, Mechanics Institute and library (1883) were also popular.

A number of small private hospitals gave way to a community supported hospital in 1903 which served largely to look after the needs of women and children during the 1900s.

Boorowa residents were more tardy in accepting local government as the cost of local works, of course, could only be paid for by higher rates and taxes.

It was not until 1888 that Boorowa became a municipality, and 1909 that a Council Chambers was built. Proper property alignments of the streets had been achieved by 1900, but it took over 30 years for them to be sealed, 50 years for a proper garbage service. Many such local projects were voted down on grounds of cost in its first 100 years.

In 1944 the municipal council was incorporated into Murrungal Shire (1906) to form Boorowa Shire, and a modern sewerage sytem was only installed in 1960. By the mid 20th century, Boorowa, despite a vibrant commercial centre not yet eroded by chain stores, supermarkets and cheap car travel to larger centres, was yet another sleepy country town.

Today agriculture remains its main business, and smaller industries, like the mining of the early 1900s, are gone. They have been replaced by 'seachangers' and new small businesses, attracted to its bucolic lifestyle.

Boorowa today is a neat, attractive and hospitable country town with an excellent tourist information centre with detailed guides to walking trips to see interesting town history and scenic drives throughout the local area - well worth a visit or an overnight stay.

Boorowa Courthouse
Boorowa Courthouse (1884) - now Visitors' Centre

Boorowa QuickGuide

Visitor Information Centre

War memorial
Boorowa War Memorial (1933) - monument to the many local country lads who served in Australia's wars from the Sudan to WWII.

Major Events & Festivals

March:
Boorowa Show

October:
Irish Woolfest

Glenara
Glenara (1866) - Victorian mansion, now an antique store.

What to see and do

For Visitors.

Boorowa lies inland between Yass, Young and Cowra and it is easy to miss it if you follow the Burley Griffin Way highway to the west.

However, it is worthwhile to take the earlier turnoff south of Yass and drive through pleasant rural countryside to the town, then continue your journey further inland.

You will be surprised by how appealing the town is, and you will be delighted if you stop in at the Visitors' Center and get a map to follow the "Shamrock Trail" to discover Boorowa's interesting history and its many heritage buildings.

There are a number of walks you can take - try them all, it will take several hours - and you will find one of the best introductions to the history of rural Australia, and the best of soaking up the atmosphere of past and present.

Boorowa is one of the best country towns in NSW in which to do this.

Stay a while - there are good cafes, pubs and accommodation.

Ram and Stallion
Royal Hotel (1860) - now the Ram & Stallion.

Boorowa is part of the 'Hilltops' region (which has a local wine and food festival), and a leisurely drive around the countryside and towards Young will reveal interesting villages, orchards and boutique wineries.

Boorowa is also the home of the Superb Parrot, and endangered native species which can be seen at a local aviary.

There are plenty of local sporting activities and recreational facilities for all the family at nearby Wyangala Dam, and serious cycling treks for the enthusiast.

Good cafes for lunch. Great park for the kids. Arts & Crafts and galleries also open during the week, and a little historical museum on weekends.

The annual agricultural show is one of the best in the region and the Irish Woolfest in October is a good time to visit.

At the Irish Woolfest, sheep are droved through the streets just as in the 19th century - not quite like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but just as exciting, with lots of other fun activities to enjoy: dancing, music, games, and exhibitions.

You will be tempted to stay for some hours in the day exploring Boorowa. Stay a little longer and enjoy the country life.

St Patricks
St. Patrick's Catholic Church (1877)

For Kids.

Sleepy country town - eh!

Get out of the car, play in the park (Market Street), have a swim in the local pool in summer.

Lots of good places to have munchies when you're hungry, or places to have a picnic (try in the park alongside the river, you may see a platypus!).

The best part about Boorowa, if you're adventurous, is to take a walk around town (the "Shamrock Trail") and see some of the amazing things from the past which are still here today.

Like the old Mill Cottage (imagine living in that with 6 brothers and sisters!), and the old storehouse on Farm Street - a little brick building behind what used to be a store.

Webb & Crego's
Webb & Crego's dynamite storehouse (1862)

Boring? The store has now gone, but that funny little building is where they used to keep the explosives and the bushranger Ben Hall robbed it in 1863! Do some research on bushrangers. You are in the place they used to roam!

Wonder what life was like before supermarkets and convenience stores?

Have a look in the newsagency in the main street. Newspapers and magazines today, but all those shelves and the upstairs bit (which you can't go into now) were once full of stuff you needed to buy in the old days.

If you're really lucky you will come to Boorowa during the annual Irish Woolfest and see heaps of sheep up the main street.

For other adventures try cycling along some of the local cycle routes, fishing at the trout farm, or water sports at Wyangala Dam.

Model Store
The Model Store (1918), now a newsagency.

Star Hotel
Star Hotel (1867), now a private residence.

Council Chambers
Old Municipal Council Chambers (1909).


Last updated 15/5/08