Some of the world’s finest wool comes from this small city up in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.
And to celebrate that fact there’s a giant merino ram to meet you from the side of the Hume Highway.
Goulburn was declared Australia’s first inland city by Queen Victoria in 1863, and a few years later was hooked up to the railway system to great fanfare.
Something special about Goulburn is just how much of its Victorian heritage is still here, be it a Gothic Revival cathedral, a grand courthouse, a working pump station, a railway roundhouse or the fine old estates on the edge of town.
1. Belmore Park
Goulburn’s genteel central park abounds with mature trees, neat lawns, flowerbeds and little monuments.
This space used to be the city’s marketplace, and was named in honour of NSW Governor Lord Belmore on the arrival of the railway in Goulburn in 1869. At the end of the century the plaza had become a park, and the cute band rotunda here dates from that conversion in 1899. On an amble around Belmore Park you’ll also find a mosaic of little gardens, war memorials, a fountain and a glasshouse conservatory.
You can download a guide for this heritage or pick up a leaflet at the Goulburn Visitor Centre, a few steps away at the bottom of Montague Street.
For a picnic in a refined spot, you can grab something to take away from the many eateries along Auburn Street and Market Street, on the park’s north side.
2. St Saviour’s Cathedral
At the head of Montague Street stands what is thought to be one of Australia’s finest provincial cathedrals.
St Saviour’s Cathedral is in a Gothic Revival style and was ready in 1884 after ten years of construction.
The monument is built from Bundanoon sandstone, and is noted for the delicate tracery throughout, but especially on the stunning east window.
There’s also a clerestory over the nave, while the buttressed tower is actually a recent addition, erected according to the original plans as a Bicentennial project in 1988. Inside, check out the hammerbeam roof, Early English-style clustered columns with foliate capitals, the organ by Foster & Andrews of Hull (1884), the ornate chancel arch and the detailed carving on the cathedra (bishop’s throne).
3. Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre
As soon as the railway reached Goulburn in 1869 it was joined by a depot in the town’s southern outskirts.
A 42-road roundhouse opened here in 1918 and this remarkable piece of heritage continues to function, representing a perfect snapshot of the transition between the steam and diesel eras.
Lined up around the turntable is a riveting collection of goods and passenger locomotives, going back to a Vulcan Foundry tank engine from 1884. There are steam engines from the Everleigh Railway Workshops and Baldwin Locomotive Works, as well as all sorts of other rolling stock ready to be boarded and explored from top to bottom.
For the inside track on the collection take a free guided tour with one of the expert volunteer guides.
4. Goulburn Historic Waterworks
In 1885 Goulburn’s first reticulated water supply came from a pumping station next to the Wollondilly River at Marsden Weir.
Now listed on the National Trust and State Heritage registers, the site is intact both inside and out, making it the only facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Within, the Appleby Bros. beam engine pump and its W&J Galloway & Sons Boilers are all in working order.
You can visit the waterworks Saturday to Tuesdays, and watch that beam engine in action on select Sundays throughout the year.
Also relocated to the waterworks is a stationary steam engine built by Bolton-based Hick, Hargreaves & Co in 1866. Every October the station is taken over by the Steampunk Victoriana Fair, with live music, dance and tons of activities and games from tea to carriage and penny farthing rides.
5. Rocky Hill War Memorial and Museum
One Goulburn landmark visible from far and wide is the hilltop war memorial, completed in 1925 to commemorate those who served in the First World War.
This tower is 20 metres tall and has a lookout at the top for spellbinding panoramas of Goulburn and mountains on the horizon to the east.
Needless to say, the sunsets are pretty special up here.
Gouldburn received a large collection of German war trophies in the 1920s, and these were put on show, first in the tower’s basement and then in the caretaker’s cottage beside it.
In 2020 a new, cutting-edge museum building doubled the exhibition space.
Among the many interesting pieces on display are a WWI German telephone switchboard, anti-tank rifles, a grenade thrower, medical pouches, a field telephone and myriad other pieces of specialised equipment.
6. The Big Merino
Australia is littered with giant objects known as “Big Things”, the first of which appeared in the 1960s.
These are minor tourist attractions, normally celebrating a local industry or piece of heritage.
So it’s apt that in a historically pastoral place like Goulburn, the Big Thing should be a humungous merino ram.
Commanding service station by a roundabout just off the Hume Highway, the Big Merino was completed in 1985 and stands 15.2 metres tall.
There’s a gift shop stocked with local fine merino knitwear on the ground floor of this concrete structure and a display for the local wool industry above.
Also upstairs you can look over Goulburn through the ram’s eyes, which light up at night.
The Big Merino was relocated to its current site in 2007 after Goulburn was bypassed by the Hume Highway in the 1990s, and the complex lost out on tourist traffic.
The first of a handful of charming old properties to be visited in Goulburn is this Georgian homestead that started out in the 1830s as an inn.
The property later became a school and then a residence, and was bought in 1875 by the Twynam family who would remain until Riversdale was acquired by the National Trust in 1967. Emily Twynam (1845-1910), who lived here with her husband Edward, was a talented artist and woodcarver, and Riversdale is still decorated with her picture frames, embroidery and furniture, and retains many of her wildlife drawings.
You can come to tour the main house, outbuildings and gardens, and drop by for a special Devonshire tea on the third Sunday of the month.
8. Goulburn Court House
Along the stately Montague Street opposite Belmore Park you’ll come to one of the finest court buildings in the state.
The work of government architect James Barnet (1827-1904), the Goulburn Court House was raised from 1885 to 1887 in the Victorian Free Classical style.
Composed of a mixture of brick and sandstone, the building’s most striking details are its copper dome and the handsome arched porch at the main entrance, flanked by loggias.
This continues to be a working court, so entrance is restricted, but you can go through the gates to wander the grounds.
9. Wollondilly River Walkway
The Goulburn Mulwaree Council has taken a lot of care to open the beautiful green banks of the Wollondilly River up to the public.
There’s a bike-friendly paved track along four kilometres of the riverbank in Goulburn, between Marsden Weir in the west and the Tarlo Street Bridge in the east.
There are plenty of places to take a break and enjoy the peace, and forget you’re just a few moments from the city centre.
The vegetation has been cleared for picnic areas, while native plants have been reintroduced and exercise stations have been installed so you can make the walkway part of your daily workout.
10. Lansdowne Park
The oldest European property in Goulburn is the heritage-listed Lansdowne Park, a homestead constructed between 1822 and 1825. On the estate is a single-storey Colonial house, a ballroom, coach house, stables, convict-built servants’ quarters, a synagogue, a convict gaol and three little cottages.
Although smaller than it was two centuries ago, the estate is still used for agriculture, and the synagogue stands in the middle of a vineyard.
Lansdowne Park has been faithfully restored, and as of 2020 was on the market, but still open for farms stays and tours.
11. Garroorigang Historic Home
More than 160 years of history is preserved at this homestead a little way past the Rail Heritage Centre.
Garroorigang Historic Home is no museum, but rather a private residence opened to the public by the Hume family, which can trace its lineage back to the 19th-century explorer Hamilton Hume.
Initially an inn on the way to the goldfields, the property served as a posh boarding school up to 1883. Garroorigang has held onto its exquisite Colonial furnishings and is replete with interesting historical objects, from old student textbooks to 19th-century cooking utensils and antique sports equipment.
The grounds are gorgeous, particularly the dainty rose garden with a gazebo.
12. Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
As a regional city, Goulburn has an institution devoted to developing contemporary art in this corner of New South Wales.
This is the most important gallery in a 100-kilometre radius, and it moved into its current purpose-built home at the Civic Centre in 1990. You can take the pulse of the region’s art scene at a multidisciplinary lineup of exhibitions each year, a portion of which have had an environmental theme which resonates with local audiences.
Since the 2000s, many of these exhibitions have gone on to find a larger audience on national tours, while locally the gallery is engaged in workshops and programs for schools and for adults with disabilities.
13. Bungonia National Park
For a convenient day trip there’s a national park with a landscape of limestone gorges, caves, sinkholes and peaks in the Great Dividing Range, only half an hour east of Goulburn.
For tens of thousands of years, these ridges were travel routes for the Ngunnawal indigenous people.
There’s evidence of Aboriginal campsites in the park, and the limestone sinkholes contain edible plants consumed by the Ngunnawal for millennia.
The park has around 200 caves, many of which can be explored by experienced cavers.
Some of these are open only seasonally as they’re inhabited by the large bent-wing bat, a vulnerable species.
You can go on an unforgettable canyoning adventure along Jerrara and Bungonia Creek, and above the latter is the magnificent Lookdown Lookout.
The majestic Bungonia Slot Canyon can be viewed in all its glory from Adams Lookout, while for an easy introductory hike to the park’s environment of rainforest and gorges take the Green Track.
14. Goulburn Wetlands
On the Mulwaree River, next to the war memorial is a wetland site that has been restored over the last few years.
You can cross this 13.5-hectare site via two walking tracks, both set up with interpretive signs about the natural diversity in this space.
The wetlands attract a wealth of water birds, from ducks to herons and spoonbills, as well as passerines and non-passerines like goshawks, falcons, kites and parrots.
Bring a pair of binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens and you’ll be able to observe this colourful birdlife from one of the hides.
Also hopping around the site is a troop of eastern grey kangaroos.
15. Goulburn Visitor Information Centre
The building clad with photovoltaic cells at the bottom of Montague Street is several things rolled into one.
If you’re in need of a souvenir the visitor information centre is a no-brainer, with a shop packed with wool and sheep-oriented mementoes, but also posh treats and wine from the region.
You can use the free Wi-Fi and there’s a space to take a breather and drink something cold, while you’ll be able to camp in the garden around the back (remembering that the railway runs next to the centre!). And apart from that you can make use of a goldmine of printed information and firsthand advice from the centre’s staff, who will be able to arrange accommodation and book tours for you.