Goulburn lies on rolling plains, at the head of the Southern Tablelands as you descend from the Great Dividing Range through the Southern Highlands from Sydney.
The plains and the Wollondilly River provided native game and fish for a number of the traditional aboriginal peoples (Mulwarrie, Tarlo, Burra Burra and Wollondilly) whose tribal lands seemed to have overlapped in this fertile area. Evidence remains of sites where stone tools were made and great corroborees were held - the last in the late 19th century.
The aboriginal peoples and the Europeans seemed to have lived in some harmony after settlement, but great epidemics of disease largely wiped out the indigenous population in the 19th century, and sadly few of the original inhabitants remained by the turn of the 20th.
The first white explorers (Lt. Hacking and the indomitable Price, Wilson and Collins) to see the future site of the great inland city reached Mt. Towrang in 1798, but it was not until the opening of the inland some 20 years later that the land was largely explored.
Goulburn Railway Station (1875)
Settlement followed the explorations of Throsby, Hamilton Hume, Meehan, and Oxley (1818 onwards) whose discovery of the 'Goulburn Plains' and Lake Bathurst led to an influx of adventurers and land seekers.
The first recorded settler in Goulburn established 'Strathallan' in 1825 (on the site of the present Police Academy) and a town was originally surveyed in 1828, although moved to the present site of the city in 1833 when Surveyor Hoddle laid out it out.
By this time Major Mitchell had surveyed the Great South Road through to Marulan and settlement had commenced in the areas visited by Governor Macquarie in 1820 right down to Lake Bathurst, as far as Braidwood and inland beyond Yass.
Goulburn as a township quickly grew, and after the settlement of the Highlands (County Camden) it became the administrative and judicial centre of the new County Argyle which covered then most of the SW of NSW.
Being on the "crossroads" between Sydney, and Braidwood to the south, Crookwell and Taralga to the north, and Yass to the west, service industries (hostelries, retailers, blacksmiths, brewers, millers) soon flourished and by 1841 Goulburn had a population of some 1200 people - a courthouse, police barracks, churches, hospital and post office and was the centre of a great sheep and farming area.
Prosperity came with the discovery of gold in various parts of the County in the 1850s and by 1859 Goulburn had been declared a vigorous municipality, to be named the first inland 'city' in Australia some 4 years later by Royal Letters Patent (the last such grant given in the Empire).
In the late 19th century Goulburn became a great Victorian rural city, and some of its most notable architecture dates from this time - an eclectic mix of the styles of the period.
The railway station (c.1875) and associated yards are not only one of the most important examples of architecture and industry (see the Railway Museum) of its time , but signify the importance of Goulburn in the state's economy.
From here produce and the fine wool the region became famous for was shipped to the city and overseas.
The Post Office (1881), St. Saviour's Cathedral (1884, one of the last of the great neo-Gothic Victorian Cathedrals), present Court House (1887), District Hospital (1889), St Peter & Paul's Roman Catholic Cathedral (1890), and very many commercial buildings, inns, terrace and private houses provide a beautifully preserved view of the architecture and development of the city from the Victorian through to the Federation and 1920s periods.
In the late 19th century Goulburn was something of a multi-cultural city before its time: the Jewish cemetery attests to the largest Jewish population outside of the great cities (although it had dwindled by the end of the century), and the Goulburn Liedertafel theatre still remains as a monument to earlier pioneers.
Many of its buildings date from the early 20th century, when large banks, insurance houses and other organisations had regional headquarters in Goulburn (many of which can still be seen), but the promise of becoming a great city was killed off by a combination of Australia's inability to develop inland regional centres (especially in NSW) and the building of Canberra nearby as the country's capital.
Being so close this had the effect of draining all the major regional headquarters of business away and Goulburn largely became a minor city dependent on its agricultural (wool) base, and a service centre based on the railway, rural, and a few local industries.
Goulburn Waterworks (1883), now Waterworks Museum
For most of the 20th century Goulburn existed on these industries - the Big Merino west of town a symbol of that agriculture's importance.
It became a major way-station on the highway inland and to the south in the motoring era, with hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks passing through its main street every year, giving rise to more transitory service industries which were also wiped out when the Freeway bypass was built in the 1980s.
Today even the wool storage and auctions have gone to the city; economic rationalism has seen the departure of service industries - the railway, insurance houses, banks, big stores and government departments - an ongoing process since the 30s, not just the present.
Perhaps one of the advantages is that Goulburn today retains much of its unique heritage - unspoiled by the "developments" of the 20th century.
The main street which once rumbled with the sound of big trucks is now more vibrant than ever - with the cars of its many local and regional residents coming to town to enjoy its facilities.
Now the passing tourist has to divert off the freeway to visit instead of taking a rest stop, and is more likely to discover the beauty of the city and its attractions than before.
Today Goulburn has new life as a growing city in the 21st century, with businesses and industries more appropriate to the new millenium.
It retains the sense of community and belonging that only a country city can have, and by rediscovering its own history offers the visitor an unparalled view of its heritage with both a view into the past and a more tranquil experience of the present.
Goulburn now beckons the visitor on the Great South Road (Freeway) and invites you to stop and explore both its urban and rural heritage and lifestyle.
You are sure to want to stay and spend some more time here.
Goulburn Brewery (c.1834)