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LAKE BATHURST

St John's Anglican Church
St. John's Anglican Church (1860)
Brief History
The area known as Lake Bathurst lies some 27kms south-east of Goulburn, flat undulating country bordered on the east and west by a chain of hills and part of what was to be known as the Goulburn Plains.

Part of the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people, it was also traversed by other aboriginal tribes en route to the coast or the Monaro during the Bogong moth season. Stone artefacts dating back 20,000 years have been found at nearby Lake George.

The lake itself, like its larger neighbour, is something of an enigma. No rivers flow into it, but it is fed by drainage through the soils of the surrounding area, and therefore dependent on the level of rainfall for its inflow.

Hence it fluctuates in size from a few to up to 10 square kilometres in area. The water itself is brackish, and at high levels temporary home to thousands of water fowl. At other times it recedes from its banks to little more than a large shallow pond, or even dries up completely.

To the east is a smaller body of fresh water, a marshy area traditionally known as the Morass which was once covered in wetland swamp vegetation.

This geographical curiosity explains why the earliest explorers waxed eloquent about the potential of the lake and the 'Goulburn Plains' for agricultural settlement.

The lake was discovered in April 1818 by chance on a journey of exploration commissioned by Governor Macquarie to find a route from the inland to the settlement on the south coast at Jervis Bay.

The party, headed by Charles Throsby, split up near Marulan - Throsby travelling north and east to discover a route to the coast, and the other party, headed by Surveyor General James Meehan south and east where they discovered the lake.

A young Hamilton Hume (who incidentally was related to Throsby by marriage) was a member of this latter party, and although he was to go on to become a famous explorer in his own right, was by no means the ''discoverer' himself, being but a junior member of this exploration.

Meehan's glowing report of the lake (often quoted), which he named Lake Bathurst (after the British Colonial Secretary of the time - explorers liked to ingratiate themselves with the higher 'powers'), was obviously made in a "good" year - the lake was full, birdlife was abundant, the grasslands green.

Such an attractive report, that in 1820 Macquarie came to see for himself on the way back from a visit to the newly discovered Lake George, and within a few years the first land grants were made for pastoral settlement.

The first was to Daniel Cooper, ex-convict and already substantial businessman and landholder around Sydney, some 1000 acres on condition of improving the land to the east of (and part of) the Morass - the property called 'Waterloo Plains Station'.

Cooper's Sydney business partner, Solomon Levey, also took up land, and between the two of them they owned most of the land around Lake Bathurst.

Neither, however, were settlers, but sent overseers and assigned convicts to improve and work the land - some cattle, mainly sheep, and crops and horticulture to support the workers. (Cooper himself retired to London not long after to live the life of a gentleman.)

Little remains of the rough colonial "gentleman's residences" they built (seldom visited) but on Waterloo Plains (1825) Cooper had built a barn designed by the architect of his Sydney home, Francis Greenway - now on private land, and not in a good state of repair.

Like Braidwood to the south, whose settlement has a connection to the English Navy, Lake Bathurst has an interesting connection to the Napoleonic Wars.

A grant of 250 acres was given to the retired Admiral John Gore for services rendered under Lord Nelson. Gore's father, incidentally, sailed with James Cook, and descendants of the family are buried in the St. John's Church cemetery.

Although land in this 'pastoral paradise' was reserved for the priveleged, smaller blocks were made available just to the north in Tirrannaville for veteran soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars - some of the first 'soldier settlements'.

As later such 'settlers' were to find out, acres in the Australian bush did not necessarily mean self-sufficiency and independence for the veteran.

More successful were the Durack family who took up a lease of 250 acres in Lake Bathurst in the 1850s to raise cattle, and then went on an epic journey droving cattle thousands of kilometres to the Kimberleys in north-west Australia to help establish Australia's great cattle industry.

Although a village reserve was set aside in the early years (to the north of the lake), it was not successful. The large landholdings themselves were 'villages' in their own right, containing the workers and artisans needed to provide for life on a large property.

When the village now known as Lake Bathurst was established there seems to be no real evidence.

The land on which it sits was once the property of James Coddington (former soldier and ex-convict), a manager of Cooper's holdings (to whom he was related). It is possible that in the 1840s after his death that the land was sold up in parcels - much of it to former convicts and servants of the surrounding properties.

What became a village was known then as Tarago (not to be confused with the village today further south, which was then known as Sherwin's Flat), on the road between Goulburn and Braidwood.

The village does not seem to have been substantial as the only registered inns seem to have been at Waterloo Station and south at Sherwins Flats (1840s). Even later, Cobb & Co. coaches had depots north and south of the village.

However, there were sufficient residents in the area on rural properties to warrant a church - St. John's (Anglican) - built of brick in 1860 - still standing.

Old Schoolhouse
Old schoolhouse (1881)

The railway from Goulburn to Queenbeyan reached Lake Bathurst in 1884 and brought about a change in the district's fortunes, as it did to most places it passed.

The sand and gravel on the shores of the lake were so suitable for ballast on the new tracks that a spur line was built to extract it and used until the railway reached Bombala in 1921.

These were also years when the lake was full and the romance of steam brought day trippers from Goulburn in such numbers to picnic that special trains ran to a new station built on the spur line by the lake (the remains still to be seen today).

The lake was also an attraction for rowing and sailing, some 3000 people attending a regatta in 1885.

This influx of tourists lasted until about 1897, by which time the lake was presumably receding again. But there seems no evidence that the village itself profited by it (in terms of local business growth).

Lake Bathurst (officially named as such in 1884, when Sherwin's Flat became Tarago) remained the rural centre of the surrounding region, the railway station, school (1869) and church the focus of its life. (The importance of the railway can be seen in the little museum today.)

A hidden, and somewhat secret aspect of Lake Bathurst's history was its role in World War II.

At a time when Japanese attacks on Sydney Harbour, and its later base for American troops in the Pacific War seemed to make the country vulnerable, a secret storage facility was built just south of the village to hold 658,000 gallons of fuel.

From 1943 to 1945 these were guarded in a lonely vigil by troops. Their bunker and turrets can still be seen today. After the war various uses were tried for them - all unsuccessful, and today they remain as ghostly sentinels to our past history.

In the 1950s the lake was in full flood again, just in time for the motorised hedonism of the post-war years.

This time Lake Bathurst was a mecca for waterskiers and motor boat enthusiasts, with regular regattas held during the 50s which attracted again up to as many as 3000 people.

Like most rural centres, Lake Bathurst went into decline in the years after the 1960s. Mechanisation meant fewer hands were required on the farms, villagers moved away in pursuit of work - most of their dwellings now disappeared, the new school built in 1881 (now a private residence) closed in 1969, the village store long since gone.

The railway remains, on the Goulburn-Canberra line, but its once important goods shed and water tank are also gone.

The attractive tree-lined road today was once the border of the village (stretching eastwards), the trees themselves planted in more recent times.

Lake Bathurst, however, has undergone a resurgency in the last decade and is now a favourite stopping place on the Braidwood Road, and even a destination for day trippers who visit the well known Lavender Gardens, Museum and Tea Rooms on weekends when the village comes alive again.

If you are travelling this way, be sure to stop and spend a while exploring this interesting and historical area.

Lake Bathurst QuickGuide


Major Events & Festivals
Spring - Autumn

Open Gardens


Lavender Gardens
Lake Bathurst Lavender Gardens


What to See and Do
For Visitors.

Lake Bathurst is an attractive little tree lined village on the Braidwood Road south of Goulburn. Nothing is open during the week, but it is worthwhile stopping for 10 or 15 minutes and inspecting the late colonial church grounds and cemetery.

On weekends and public holidays the village comes to life, with many visitors (even by the coachload).

Opposite the church is an excellent example of a craftsman-built colonial slab hut, and the afficionado may like to inspect it and compare it to other rougher pioneer huts built at the time.

The Lake Bathurst Lavender Gardens and Tearooms, whose outward appearance belies the fascinating wealth of interest within and easily a place to while away several hours.

The old hall
Old church hall (late C19th), now Tearooms and Museum.

Within the complex are not one, but three little museums. One, in the old church hall contains artefacts, photos of railway history and memorabilia of earlier life in the village (the Honor Roll shows 12 men from this tiny village went off to WWI).

Around the walls of the tearoooms itself is an eclectic display of domestic equipment and grocery store memorabilia from the middle of the last century - canisters, containers, enamelware and other domestic necessities from the age of grocer stores and home cooking (long before the supermarket) and signs and containers that used to line the walls of the village grocer shops and make them the sort of Aladdin's cave modern stores just can't reproduce.

Up near the railway station is another little museum in the old railway waiting room, with steam rail memorabilia and history - right down to part of the old tracks, and original gates from the defunct Crookwell line.

Open only to a guided tour is a small motoring museum, with restored vintage cars, petrol pumps, and a host of motoring and mechanical artefacts from the early 20th century.

From the gardens it is a short walk to inspect the old church and its grounds.

Most of the other sites of historical and heritage interest are today on private property. However, tours for groups of 6 or more can be arranged year round at the Tearooms and take in locations otherwise unaccessible: the spur line and platform at the edge of the lake, WWII fuel stores, colonial buildings, and the land rehabilitation project at the old Woodlawn Mine. The tour lasts about 3 hours.

For those wishing to experience a little more of life in this historic area of settlement, there are farmstays nearby (B&B and self-contained).

The lake
Sheep grazing on the edges of the lake.


For Kids.

Serious stop for drinks and munchies required here at the Tearooms. Then check out the old stuff and photos in the museum, and the pots and pans and other funny stuff grandma had to use to cook dinner in the days before they had takeaway. (See if you can work out what they were used for.)

Go up to the little railway museum and see what life was like travelling in the old days. (If you close your eyes you might even be able to smell a steam train!)

If you're lucky you might get to see the little motor museum - here is evidence of what excited 'petrol heads' in the days before big turbocharged V8 bangers!

Peer over the fence from the churchyard next door and see the old schoolhouse. Try to imagine riding here on your horse and spending the day with a dozen or so other kids at school.

Now for the mystery tour! Head south out of the village and try to find where the secret WWII fuel stores are (on the hill on the right just out of town), and where the lake is (look to the left) - remember this, because when you come back next time it will probably look quite different. Why is it sometimes big, and at others seem to disappear?

Slab hut
Slab Hut (c.1830)


Last updated 20/6/07