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In my backyard – Geoff Goodfellow

Geoff Goodfellow is a much loved local, born and raised in the Highlands. A Moss Vale resident who worked for many years at the Wingecarribee Shire Council, Geoff also wrote a regular column, Across the River, for the local newspaper from 2008 to 2019. He tells Escape Southern Highlands why he loves the region and about the challenges it faces as it continues to grow.

Like many locals of the post war baby boom era, I was born at Bowral’s Yarrum Private Hospital, which is long gone, and I have lived in the Highlands ever since. My great great grandparents, William and Louisa Goodfellow, sailed from England to Australia in 1838 and came to Moss Vale to try their hand at farming.

The Malcolm side of my family travelled from Scotland in 1879 to work in the shale mines at Joadja. Most of my old relatives are resting peacefully under the gum trees at the High Range cemetery, although William and Louisa were buried beside the Bong Bong Church near Moss Vale.

I grew up on a sheep farm on the Wombeyan Caves Road at Bullio, west of Mittagong. Dad was a wool grower and Mum was a nursing sister at Bowral Hospital until she married and had to terminate her beloved nursing career.

I had a terrific childhood, with the best of both worlds. Because we were so far out of town, I had to board in Mittagong during my primary school years, then I went off to Sydney to board at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, where life was all about sport, study, more sport, pigs, cows and good times with mates. And then I had holiday breaks back home with hills, gullies, creeks, interesting critters and wild country.

When I was growing up, the Highlands community was much more farming orientated. Not lifestyle farms with expensive houses and big gates like now, but viable family farms, and lots of them. In 1964, for example, when the population of the Southern Highlands was less than 19,000, this district had 268 dairy farming families sending milk to the Moss Vale and Bowral processing factories. Now there are just a handful of dairy farms and no milk processing factories.

When I was a kid there were almost 40,000 sheep grazing in that wild Bullio country down to the Wollondilly River. Most of these properties had a shearing shed from which truckloads of superfine merino wool came out along the Wombeyan Caves Road to be loaded on trains for the Sydney wool markets. Today I doubt you would find a single sheep out that way.

I started working at the Wingecarribee Shire Council in 1970, just until I could find a proper job. Forty years later I retired from the same workplace.

In 1983 I married Barbara, a health and building surveyor, and together we set out to see the world. We have left Australia around 35 times since. Along the way we produced Sam and Lizzie, who were dragged to many corners of the planet before they were old enough to embark on their own travels. Unlike their old man, our kids didn’t have to board away from home for school, but they did both have to work at a local savoury food outlet to earn some spending money.

Sam is now a teacher and sports master at Tudor House so he lives in the Highlands, and Lizzie works for the British High Commission in Canberra.

The Highlands is a great place to raise a family and live a good life. Fresh air, plenty of trees, bushwalks, stunning gardens, safety, a lazy commute, a terrific choice of schools and a variety of towns and villages, each with something different to offer. Every councillor and town planner I worked with over 40 years agreed unanimously on just one thing: in order to retain the unique features we all love about each town and village, it is vital to keep those towns and villages separated by farmland or bushland, the green between, and not allow creeping development to merge towns together. This goal will be threatened if the state government or developers use their influence to override the wishes of the Southern Highlands community. And that is presently a worrying threat.

As a lover of the outdoors I’m a big fan of our bushland reserves. They are so well managed by the local council, working alongside a small army of bush care volunteers. Gibbergunyah, Mount Gibraltar, Bong Bong Common, Berrima River Walk, Hammock Hill, Mount Alexandra and Mansfield reserves. If you haven’t found them yet, look them up. Along with the Morton and Nattai National Parks, there are so many delightful chunks of freely accessible bush on our doorstep.

Among the genuine characters I grew up with was Clive Goodfellow, a magnificent horseman and natural athlete with cat like reflexes who became a local cricketing legend. During the 1920s young Don Bradman knocked up a Bowral Oval record of 214 and a district record of 320, but a decade later Clive smashed both these in a single afternoon with an amazing innings of 333 not out. His batting average in one season was almost 170, including a run of six successive centuries and a double century in 87 minutes. There was a period of eight consecutive seasons during which he was never bowled out. Even though Clive didn’t attend practice because he was too busy farming, his bat scored over 5,000 runs with the blade hardly marked, such was his timing.

If I have one tip for anyone living in or visiting the Highlands, it’s to venture out along the Wombeyan Caves Road beyond the Bullio tunnel. The road is narrow and winding and looks a tad dangerous, but if you drive slowly to the conditions and make a day of it, the journey from Mittagong down to the Wollondilly River then up the other side to the Wombeyan Caves is spectacular. Pack a picnic to have by the river or up at the caves, then travel home via Taralga and Goulburn.

I think the Highlands is a mighty nice place to be in winter. Paddocks blanketed in white frost, crisp blue skies, warm woollen jumpers, long walks with no pesky snakes lurking in the bush, crackling wood fires, red wine, baked dinners, and cold nights under cosy feather doonas.’


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