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Population: 1466 (2006 census)
Wallace Street, Braidwood
Braidwood lies in the upper valley of the Shoalhaven River some 660 metres above sea level and surrounded by mountain ranges.
The region around Braidwood was the traditional land of two aboriginal peoples - the Walbanga and the Wandandian - whose boundaries met near the junction of the Shoalhaven and Mongarlowe Rivers.
These indigenous peoples seem to have fared better than most in their contact with Europeans, many being employed by landholders or the government; indeed native trackers were greatly feared by the bushrangers of the 19th century.
However, the paternalistic approach to their welfare did not prevent hundreds from dying of introduced diseases, and by the end of the 19th century their numbers were greatly diminished - "King Billy", the last chief of the Braidwood tribe dying in Goulburn hospital in the 1870s on his way back from Randwick races!
Descendants of these peoples still live on the south coast.
The Braidwood area attracted the interest of early explorers (Throsby, Kearns and Hume 1821) looking for a passage to the coast, but Braidwood itself seems to have been reached only in 1822 by Kearns, Marsh and Packer.
The ensuing great influx of settlers pursuing land grants and purchases in Argyle County and Lake Bathurst reached Braidwood in 1824 bringing cattle and other livestock to graze on the fertile pastures.
Rural allotments were surveyed over the subsequent years, but it was not until 1839 that a town plan was surveyed for Braidwood (James Larmer).
The area already had a number of settlers, and a courthouse and lock up had already been built there in 1837 to facilitate justice (more than half the residents at that time being assigned convicts on the farms).
The first land sales were made in the early 1840s and gradually the little township grew. The town became known as 'Braidwood' after pioneer settler Dr. Thomas Braidwood Wilson, part of whose landholding was resumed for the purpose in exchange for a grant elswhere.
The early settlers provide a contrast to those in other newly discovered areas. Apart from the usual governor's "favourites", explorers rewarded for their discoveries, and ex-colonial officers, many were army and particularly naval officers and surgeons demobbed after the Napoleonic Wars and who had signed on for service on the colonial run.
Armed with cash and promissory notes for services they were able to buy up large tracts of cheap land.
The increased demand for meat and wool in England and the availability of cheap convict labour meant they could establish themselves as landed gentry - something not possible at home.
They also persuaded their colleagues to join them, and sponsored immigration from Scotland (many were Scots). At least one (Duncan Mackellar) cashed in his holdings and retired to Scotland to live a life of ease, and Wilson was known as 'Laird of Braidwood' with control over 12,000 acres and many tenant farmers.
Another, Captain John Coghill, whose 'Bedervale' was extended to 33,000 acres by his son-in-law, has left behind the magnificent 'Bedervale' homestead (designed by John Verge, architect of 'Elizabeth Bay House').
This 1842 country house is classified by the National Trust and remains one of the only extant examples of a colonial building complete with all its outhouses and stables.
By 1841 Braidwood and surrounds had a population of 1100, of which about half were convicts, and the main industry was sheep raising.
Within the town the Courthouse (1837), Doncaster Inn (c.1841) and Royal Hotel (c.1845 - now the local Museum) were built and show the prosperity of the times.
A road had also been built across the ranges to the coast near Jervis Bay - known as the Wool Road it carried the clip from Braidwood and far beyond for loading onto ships bound for England.
In 1851 gold fever hit Australia and discovery of alluvial gold in the Araluen Valley led to an influx of thousands of fossickers.
Other finds followed at Majors Creek, Jembaicumbene and Mongarlowe River and within ten years there were estimated to be up to 8000 people in the Braidwood area and its nearby villages, and over 10000 by 1871.
This of course had a major impact on Braidwood itself with banks, hotels and other businesses opening their doors. Part of the heritage of Braidwood is that many of these are still standing today.
Gold also attracted bushrangers, the notorious Clarke Brothers being the local variant, although Ben Hall and his gang paid a number of visits to attempt to intercept the gold coaches on their way to Goulburn and Sydney.
Thousands of Chinese goldminers also flocked to the area over the years, and seem to have been more kindly treated than on other goldfields. The famous entrepreneur Quong Tart came from Bell's Creek, and Chee Dock Nomchong - whose family were later to play an important part in Braidwood's community life - arrived in Mongarlowe in 1877.
For two decades Braidwood prospered, but the easy alluvial gold soon ran out and the population dwindled rapidly. The demise of the convict system, however, was replaced by a permanent influx of new free settlers who worked or took up land in the area.
There was still gold to be had aplenty - but it required large amounts of capital and sophisticated hydraulic engineering works to extract.
These larger enterprises dammed creeks and rivers and floated huge barges on them housing steam engines and powerful hydraulic hoses which used water to blast away the sand and gravel banks to extract the gold within.
In some cases flumes (or watercourses) over 30 kms long were built to divert water from rivers to the scene of operations and independent gold fossickers were replaced by labourers or timber getters to feed the insatiable appetite of the boilers.
As you might imagine these efforts irreparably scarred much of the landscape, but in many places the bush has grown back and the mining sites are now regarded to be an important example of industrial archaeology and are very popular with visitors today.
This industrialised gold mining ensured Braidwood's prosperity up until the 1910s, although the depression of the 1890s effectively put a halt to the town's continued growth.
By the early 20th century Braidwood was a busy regional centre, with shops, newspapers, hotels, schools, churches, tradesmen and craftsmen catering to the surrounding area.
Braidwood was declared a municipality in 1892 (after 30 years of prevarication - lest rates go up!), and the region became Tallaganda Shire in 1906 - the two amalgamating in 1936 to take over responsibility for roads and other services required for modern life. A small local electricity generating plant (1936) was replaced by mains electricity in the early '50s, a reticulated water supply only in 1955 and sewerage in 1966.
Like many country areas Braidwood was adversely affected by the great events of the early 20th century: two world wars, the Great Depression, the decline in the value of agriculture, increasing industrialisation and urbanisation.
By the 1920s it was already regarded as a 'sleepy hollow'. A much hoped for railway to the coast never came; droughts and rabbit plagues provided relief only in short-lived rabbit catching, timber felling and eucalyptus distilling industries; and although the motor age made it easier to transport goods, it also effectively isolated the region.
Braidwood, as it were, was captured in a 'time capsule' - not appreciated at the time, but now cherished as part of our colonial and rural heritage.
Luckily "progress" passed it by, as it did some other fortunate towns. The 1970s, when many rural centres were contemplating razing everything to the ground and trying to reinvent themselves, was also the era of the birth of interest in Australia's history and heritage. Suddenly our own past became interesting and worthy of preservation.
In Braidwood the citizens recognised the asset of their carefully preserved heritage and their interest was supported by the National Trust and Heritage Councils.
Today it is unique in that the entire precinct of the town is considered a national treasure for its unspoilt beauty, and the grandeur and heritage of its public and private buildings.
Braidwood today remains an important agricultural and regional centre, but has new life in its tourism and service industries, and a large population of modern craftspeople and artisans who enjoy its ambience and contribute to its life.
Nearby are the interesting villages of Araluen, Majors Creek, Mongarlowe, Nerriga and Jembaicumbene - scenes of the gold rush and bushranging days.
Braidwood is surrounded by beautiful national parks - Deua, Budawang, Monga - with lookouts, waterfalls, bushwalking trails, caves, and native flora and fauna.
In beautifully restored buildings you will find accommodation, restaurants, cafes, galleries, artisans at work, shops to browse through and a vibrant cultural life.
There are numerous events and festivals which make Braidwood worth visiting throughout the year - and you might find yourself in the middle of a film shooting among its authentic heritage buildings!
Original Post Office & General Store (c1840s)