© oneplacestudy.org 2013-2015

One-Place Studies

in focus

• home • latest news the register • resources free guides in focus • forum  

Welcome to One-Place Studies in focus brought to you by oneplacestudy.org

This is where the spotlight can be shone on individual studies, individual one-placers or aspects of one-place studies you may wish to explore further

11 April 2015

Issue 7

In this issue, we stay in Australia but journey over to New South Wales, to learn about the former village of Sherbrooke, which is now emerging from its Shadowland, thanks to the determination and drive of the Sherbrooke Sisters. The Sherbrooke One-Place Study was inspired by the photographic collection of Robert Trevis Clifford Jones who bequeathed his primary collection to his granddaughter Sandra Jones, one of the Sherbrooke Sisters.

Bulli Mountain


Sherbrooke Sisters

A group of women with deep connections in the Illawarra, and a passion for its heritage, came together in 2013 to form the Sherbrooke Sisters.

Their aim is to collect stories and records of Sherbrooke and its interconnected families; where they come from; how they interacted with the Black Diamond coastal villages below Bulli Mountain; how they faced tragedies of bushfire, drought, flood and mine disasters; the impacts of the Cataract Dam during conception, construction and operations; where the families went after they were forced to leave.

The Sherbrooke Sisters are now collecting and sharing these stories and records through social media-internet technologies and special events – ensuring Sherbrooke’s stories never die.

The Sherbrooke Sisters include Kerrie-Anne Christian and Susannah Cavill, both active in the Illawarra Family History Group, Pamela Rose McGovern, Sharynne Chapman, and Sandra Jones, the grand-daughter of Robert Trevis Clifford Jones whose collection of Sherbrooke photos inspired the creation of the Shadowland website.

By the 1880’s, there was a push to change the name of the growing Bulli Mountain village because of confusion with the many other “Bulli’s” in the region. John Loveday proposed in 1883 that it should be called “Beaconsfield”.

Instead the village was renamed “Sherbrooke” after Lord Sherbrooke. In the crucial decade of the 1840s in NSW, no other figure stood out more vividly in the tussle for responsible government than Lord Sherbrooke (Robert Lowe). He was also instrumental in rejecting the British Government’s 1849 intention to resume transportation of prisoners (exiles) to Sydney. At the same time, he wrote a monumental report recommending a state supported, non-denominational system of schools, which became a reality many years later.

Sometimes the village was referred to as “Ferndale”, but that was just the name of the Brown’s Orchard property on Bulli Mountain, part of the Sherbrooke community.

It seems that Sherbrooke may have started out with as many as 16 families on Bulli Mountain, and then it grew by the time the village was resumed to more than 60 families that had lived there over the years. The family surnames included … Allen, Blinkco, Brown, Campbell, Cram, Dumbrell, Fritz, Haberley, Keen, King, Knights, Loveday, Martin, Molloy, Parsons, Reeve, Roberts, Smithers, Spinks-Jones, Vidler, Wales and Wilson.

There are still some descendants of the Sherbrooke village families around the Illawarra – many of their ancestors had moved down to Bulli and Woonona, setting up farms there. Others went to Dapto, Camden, Sydney & even the North Coast. The Jones later set up on the Bulli Pass, and Robert Trevis Clifford Jones’ treasured collection of the Reeve-Spinks-Jones family photo’s from the Sherbrooke days was passed down in their family and inspired the “Sherbrooke Sisters” to start this one-place study. The Spinks-Jones inter-married or been connected into other early Illawarra families like the Brookers after whom Broker’s Nose was named, & the Chilby’s (Childerley’s); as well as the Smithers, and so may be all inter-connected (see map), including into the Webb-Jones of Thirroul.

Village Life

Bulli Mountain lies above the northern Illawarra in NSW, Australia. “Bulli” is derived from “Bulla Bulla” – Wadi Wadi for “Two Mountains” – Mount Keira & Mount Kembla. Local Aboriginal legends told of the two mountains being sisters. One of the earliest contacts by Europeans was in 1815, when Charles Throsby, guided by Aborigines, brought cattle down Bulli Mountain during a drought.

Some settlement was established on Bulli Mountain by the 1850s, along a track cut by Benjamin Rixon in 1847. However, the track was rather dangerous in places and Westmacott’s Bulli Pass established to the north less than a decade later became the primary access route to Bulli Mountain, especially for Illawarra people on their way to connect with the new railway to Sydney.

Eventually settlement covered an area from just west of Broker’s Nose Corrimal in the south to above southern Thirroul in the north, but the main focus of Bulli Mountain ‘village’ was just above the top of Bulli Pass.

Lord Sherbrooke

Robert Lowe (1811-1892)

Sherbrooke developed into a prosperous community. Timber and fruit orchards were the key activities of the area. The coming of the railway in 1887 opened up the Illawarra region and improved market access which was great news for the Sherbrooke farmers. Farms at Sherbrooke were considered “Splendid Illawarra Property”, and no one could have imagined what would be in store for Sherbrooke just 15 years later..

Some Sherbrooke men went down the Bulli Mountain each day to work in the coal mines, others came up the mountains to pick blackberries for Sydney’s jam factories, or to husk corn from Sherbrooke’s farms.

Although Sherbrooke had no shops or pubs, it did have the Union Church and Sherbrooke Public School. It also had its own Cricket Team, Progress Association and the Athenaeum Debating Society which met in the Church.

Supplies were brought up from Bulli by the shopkeepers, or sometimes miners from Sherbrooke would take farm produce down in the morning and bring supplies back up the mountain after work. Some of the men would walk down Bulli Pass to go to one of the inns of Bulli, though there are whispers of some local stills up on the mountain.

Robert Trevis Clifford Jones, son of Charles Edward Jones & Elizabeth Spinks of Sherbrooke

Union Church

The first Union Church was constructed in 1882 but it was destroyed by fire in 1896 and rebuilt. Protestant Ministers from the coast would take it in turns to come up the mountain to conduct services. It was built as a public meeting place as well as chapel, hosting banquets, concerts, political meetings & the Athenaeum Debating Society.

There was a cemetery too but, being near a water course, it was unsuitable and burials had to take place down at Wollongong, Bulli or Corrimal.

The rebuilt Union Church (pictured above) is Sherbrooke’s last building, but it has been relocated twice and now stands at Grevillea Park, Bulli where it is still used as a wedding chapel.

The sandstone school building pictured above was built in 1883 to replace the earlier school built of sawn timber and shingles a decade before. After the resumptions for the second Cataract Dam, the sandstone building was used by the Cataract Dam Ranger as accommodation. Sadly, Sherbrooke’s last “in-situ” building was destroyed in the terrible bushfires of 1968.

Sherbrooke School


The Cataract Dams

When the construction of the ‘first’ Cataract Dam was completed in 1885, the good folk of Sherbrooke on Bulli Mountain would probably have had little idea that their idyllic existence would be under grave threat in less than two decades.

The floods of February 1898 caused a catastrophic failure of the Cataract Dam main wall. Although repairs were quickly under way to fix it, another alarmingly catastrophic failure occurred in 1900. And then there was the drought of 1902. Following a Commission of Inquiry held that year, legislation was sent through the NSW Parliament for a “New” Cataract Dam allowing for the resumption of all properties at Sherbrooke in 1902 and so shattering their “Shangri-la Secret Valley” existence.

To build the ‘second’ Cataract Dam, workers were accommodated in a temporary town known as ‘Cataract City’ (pictured above). The Australian Society for History of Engineering & Technology refers to the construction period as being 1903-1907, the NSW Government Heritage Council refers to its completion date as being 1907-08, and Sydney Water claim construction began in 1907 and was completed in 1915! None of the three make any reference to the little of village of Sherbrooke or to the first Cataract Dam and its failings.

Today Sherbrooke remains off limits - even for descendants - and you face big fines if you try going there.

Resumption map

Next steps

Much of Sherbrooke’s history was hidden for decades, but slowly it is emerging from its Shadowland.

Some of the Sherbrooke Sisters

Tragically, the newly named village of Sherbrooke was to enjoy a lifespan of less than two decades, before being resumed in 1902 ahead of the building of the second Cataract Dam. All residents were forced to leave their homes.

The focus in 2015 is documenting the stories of Sherbrooke’s Sons in WW1 – her descendants served from Gallipoli to the Western Front, the Middle East and even into the Indian Army. Some re-enlisted in WW2 – one was Commandant of the Cowra POW Camp at the time of the Breakout.

Additionally, many of Sherbrooke’s stories would have been lost forever without the Trove digitisation project by the National Library of Australia. Wollongong City Library and the University of Wollongong have partnered with the Trove team to undertake  the digitisation of the Illawarra Mercury and South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus. As this digitisation progresses, more stories should emerge of Sherbrooke, on Bulli Mountain.

Pictured left is the 1902 Sherbrooke Resumption Map after the NSW Government Inquiry.

March 1902 plans for the new Cataract Dam published in Sydney newspapers gave information on reservoir volumes etc., but contained no mention of Sherbrooke.

Sherbrooke residents didn’t realise their property was under threat until late 1902.

They fought for years to get decent compensation.

And for the women, there were the day to day activities of keeping house, drawing water from the well, the laundry, looking after the family, participating in Church, cooking for the banquets and concerts, probably helping on the farms and with the blackberry picking during the season. Some even attended the Sherbrooke Athenium Debating Society on occasions. Not to mention the Wildflower Shows, often held to fund raise for various good causes. And tourism had begun to emerge – conducted by women at the orchards.

Floods in the late 19th century & droughts in the early 20th century drove the need for a better dam and water supply for Sydney. Sherbrooke, as a community, still existed until around 1903, when the Water Board began to resume all the Sherbrooke properties, because of the area’s ideal geography & sandstone, for the second Cataract Dam and its catchment. One Water Board Officer at the time of the resumption was a member of Sherbrooke’s Brown family.

Aerial View

Former Sherbrooke Roads are still clearly visible

Cataract Reservoir (formerly Cataract Creek)

In focus’ is intended to shine the spotlight on individual studies, individual one-placers or aspects of one-place studies you may wish to explore further.

Would you like to be featured in future issues? Then email us now!

Kerrie Anne Christian

One of the

“Sherbrooke Sisters”

and President of both the

Illawarra Family History Group


 Black Diamond Heritage Centre Museum, Bulli

• home • latest news the register • resources free guides in focus • forum  

Next issue >>

<< Previous issue

Copyright © 2015, Sherbrooke Sisters

All rights reserved.

With special thanks to Kerrie-Anne Christian