Gundaroo lies on the upper reaches of the Yass River about 10 kms west of the Lake George range, in a fertile valley of rich grazing land.
The original inhabitants were part of the Ngunawal tribe and do not seem to have been numerous. Few reports were made about them by early explorers and settlers, although there must have been enough around to have given them local aboriginal place names.
The river and its valley were discovered by the explorers Charles Throsby and Joseph Wild in 1820, and Gundaroo itself by Wild and Throsby's nephew Charles Throsby Smith a few weeks later.
Their favourable description of the area was instrumental in the later explorations of Hamilton Hume further up the river (Yass and Gunning, 1821) and the arrival of the earliest settler, Peter Cooney an ex-convict given a land grant of 30 acres by Governor Macquarie in 1825.
When the first survey was held in 1829 there were already 19 settlers in Gundaroo and 5 farms - although the area was quickly invaded by squatters for grazing sheep and cattle. Two of the earliest land grants were made to James Styles and Capt. Maurice Barlow, who turned them into large, profitable sheep runs.
The 1830s saw wealthy owners buying up large land holdings around Gundaroo, forcing squatters and small holders out as they expanded their stations along the river frontage.
Some of these pioneering families, Dr McLeod of 'Barnsdale', Partrick Dyce of 'Tillygrieg', William Packer of 'Esther Mead' and the Guises of 'Jerrabiggery' amassed considerable landholdings - William Guise having some 250,000 acres at Gundaroo, the Murray and Murrumbidgee in 1848. Descendents of some of these families still live in the area.
The first 'public' building in Gundaroo was of course a pub - the Harrow Inn (1834 - later the Caledonian Store, 1850 - the current building dates from 1881.). The village itself was not surveyed until 1849 - stations, as was typical at that time having their own little "villages", as it were, of craftsmen and artisans who supplied essential services. Other supplies would be brought in by bullock cart from Yass, Goulburn or Queanbeyan as required.
Most of these workers were convicts or ex-convicts, who made up half the local population in the 1830s. They were kept under control by magistrates police quartered at Yass and Queanbeyan. Apart from a few home-grown petty bushrangers (there were better pickings closer to larger centres), most offences related to drunkenness, idleness and insolence.
Courthouse (1870), now St. Luke's Anglican Church
Gundaroo itself did not get a police quarters until 1854. The lock-up, stables, and a courthouse were added in 1870. These can be seen where the Cork Street Cafe is today; the courthouse is now the Anglican church.
Although the local population had increased to about 400 in the 1840s, development of a village was slow - partly due to its isolation and partly due to a prolonged drought and rural depression which saw many of the pioneering families move off to greener pastures elsewhere south. Larger runs were broken up for tenant farmers and former station workers left to take up small holdings of their own - thereby changing the nature of local agriculture.
Being at the junction of 3 counties did not help either, as Gundaroo felt the pull of Yass and alternatively Queanbeyan over the decades.
Communication with the outside world improved in 1848 with the establishment of a postal office at an inn in Upper Gundaroo. An Anglican church (St. Lukes) was built in Upper Gundaroo in 1849 and the first school opened there in 1850 with the appointment of a resident schoolmaster; the priest, however, travelled from Canberra parish and over the next 50 years the locals did little to support a local ministry until the courthouse was acquired as a church in 1940 and renovated in its current style.
Throughout the gold rushes of the 1850s and into the 60s, while towns and villages flourished all around, Gundaroo remained a stagnant backwater, its village just a series of paddocks. Small amounts of gold were found in the 1860s east of Sutton (Macs Reef, Bywong and Brooks Creek) which attracted miners - but only by the dozens; later attempts at reef mining by syndicates were also unsuccessful and fossicking remained a hobby of locals in their spare time.
In 1864, Arthur Affleck, by then owner of the Caledonian Store, was instrumental in building the Presbyterian Church (now Uniting Church Community Centre) - testament to the large number of Scots immigrants who settled in the area after the Highland Clearances of the early C19th. The church was followed, paradoxically, by his son William opening the Royal Hotel (now Grazing Restaurant).
The Afflecks were stern but civic minded citizens, promoting development of Gundaroo, supporters of the Oddfellows branch and temperance(?), also attempting to open a Presbyterian school (the old C of E school now being moribund).
As at least 50% of eligible children were Catholics, this failed, and instead a state school was built (1868, still standing - front section added in 1898). Although there was a considerable number of people of Irish descent, a Catholic Church was not built until 1881 - St. Joseph's - although priests from neighbouring parishes had visited from the earliest days.
The Robertson Land Acts in the 1860s led to an influx of smaller landholders to add to the population. As most of the best land along the river was occupied, their holdings provided a marginal subsistence. One lasting consequence of this was the custom of men leaving their farms to work as day labourers, or on the trail for up to 6 months a year as shearers.
The importance of local agriculture was confirmed by the establishment of an Agricultural Society (and showgrounds) in 1887; an annual Bush Festival and Races is held every March in the present.
The village grew slowly in the late C19th, but never became a major rural centre - partly because the district was divided up between Queanbeyan, Yass and Gunning local governments. For much of the C20th it was a backwater of Gunning Shire and attracted little development, although its citizens were to play a major role in local and state politics.
Nevertheless, hopes of growth in the early C20th were disappointed when Gundaroo was unsuccessful in attracting either a main road or railway from Yass to Canberra.
As a result, many of the historic buildings of the village can still be seen today. The Police Station (1852) is the oldest building (now houses arts & crafts), with the Cork St. Cafe behind it in the police stables and its lock up (1870).
Sally Paskins store (1878 - now a boutique) is a very well preserved example of an original slab hut; next door, the Gundaroo Store (1893) with its polished kauri pine floors and counters and rows of shelves today houses art and collectables.
The Caledonian Store (1880 - third of that name) and Kilamaroy (1889) are now private residences. The Gundaroo (now Memorial) Hall (1890) is still a centre of the village's social activities; originally a skating rink (the craze of the 1890s) it later housed travelling picture shows until the advent of television in the 1960s.
Local provisions today are purchased from the General Store and Post Office (c.1890s), which also serves refreshments.
Other notable buildings are the Literary Institute and Library (1885), left to the village in perpetuity by pioneer William Affleck, and which served for years as the local version of the Mechanic's Institutes and Mutual Societies of larger towns - and the Commercial Hotel (1872), which has had a number of uses over a century or so and now is reinstated as the local pub.
Old Boree Creek homestead (orig. 1865) was moved to its present location in Lot Street from that place, and the woolshed next to the Post Office was re-erected there in the 1990s. The War Memorial in the main street is testament to the toll exacted on even small rural communities by world wars.
Progress in the early C20th - telephone 1914, telegraph 1916, exchange 1920, electricity only in 1954 - was thwarted, first by the Great Depression, then drought, rural recessions and finally the inevitable pull of Canberra as a growing city.
From just 100 or so souls in the late 1900s the population today is slowly growing again as Gundaroo finds favour with workers from the ACT who appreciate its quiet rural lifestyle, and with visitors who enjoy exploring a beautifully preserved part of Australia's rural heritage in the midst of cattle and sheep grazing farmlands.