The lost village of Sherbrooke

Sherbrooke fruit wagons
Cases of fruit taken from Sherbrooke to the Bulli Railway Station for transport to Sydney, circa 1900. Picture: Wollongong City Library
george blincko
George Blincko

A FEW rusted corrugated iron water tanks scattered amongst the struggling plants, remnants from English ornamental gardens, stone walls and twisted barbed wire are all that remain of the once pretty little village of Sherbrooke on Bulli Mountain.

The settlement, a couple of kilometres west of the summit of Bulli Pass, is no more – given a death sentence by the government at the dawn of the 20th century to provide the water needs of Sydney.

“The government resumed our property, our orchards and all the other peaceful homes in Sherbrooke, and began to build the Cataract Dam,” former resident Lily Drinkal recalled in 1981.

“There were railway lines through our beautiful orchards; engines and trucks clattered all day; about 80 canvas tents were erected near our back fence. There was constant noise of blasting as the men blew out sandstone in Dad’s quarry to make the reservoir. To a child’s mind the workers seemed orderly and quiet people, but all our free happy times were ended.”

Today Sherbrooke is part of Sydney Water’s catchment area for the Cataract Dam, a forbidden zone, off limits, except with permits. Walking along the dirt track that constituted the main street of Sherbrooke, a feeling of paradise lost is felt – where as many as 16 families carved out an existence.

Reclaimed by Mother Nature, Sherbrooke can not even profess to be a ghost town – just a quiet valley with scattered evidence of where an isolated community lived and worked.

Sherbrooke began with the discovery of magnificent soft-wood forests in the late 1860s. The splendid red cedar interior of Bulli’s historic Uniting Church was cut and milled from the valley.

During its 40 odd years of existence the village has become legendary in the northern suburbs with many trekking the escarpment to walk through the remnants of a thriving fruit growing and timber milling community.

William Brown is credited with the first white settler of the area when he selected land at “Upper Bulli” or “Bulli Mountain” in about 1868. With his sons he cleared land for an apple orchard, calling his property “Ferndale”.

Ferndale Sherbrooke
Sherbrooke – “Ferndale”, home of the Browns (Brown Brothers Orchard); Members of the Brown and Knight families. Sitting at front from L-R: Frederick John James Brown with Marjorie (child), wife Lydia (nee Knight) with Sarah Alma (child) and Effie Brown. Picture: Wollongong City Library

As the 1870s progressed George Blincko and his family, and others such as the Lovedays, Knights, Reeves, Blinckos, Hunts, Haberleys, and Keenes joined Brown on Bulli Mountain.

They etched out a living, growing fruit on mainly 40 acres blocks, with some settlers buying as many as three 40 acre properties. Besides the timber-mills and orchards, vegetable growing, bee-keeping and honey-making were also thriving industries in the valley.

Sherbrooke Fruit Packing Sheds
Fruit packing sheds at Sherbrooke C1900. Picture: Wollongong City Library
rev taylor
Reverend Hugh Walker Taylor

Fruit trees flourished in the rich sandy loam and high rainfall of Sherbrooke. The mountain community bragged a school, boarding houses, and the Union Church, a protestant interdenominational chapel which opened in 1882 on land donated by William Loveday.

Protestant ministers from Bulli, such as the Reverend Hugh Walker Taylor, would make the journey up Bulli Pass on Sundays to preach in the sawn slab and shingled roof chapel.

The Rev. Taylor would make the arduous trip to Sherbrooke to provide the spiritual needs to parishioners such as William Dumbrell who was one of the first settlers of the valley and owned two 40 acre properties along Cataract Creek.

The first house reached would be that of the Parson family where the Church of England Minister would yell as he approached, “How’s the kettle Mrs Parsons”, with the teapot full of freshly made tea always on the ready for the preacher.

Dumbrell was in his mid 60s when he came to Bulli Mountain in the late 1860s to grow vegetables and fruit, later introducing blackberries that would one day become a major industry in the region.

The restoration of the former Sherbrooke church at the Illawarra Grevillea Park in 1992. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection
William Dumbrell

William Dumbrell (left) grew the prickly plants as hedges for boundary fences in the mid 1870s. They quickly spread as weeds in the favourable climate. Blackberry picking became a major industry in north Illawarra, supplying the needs of Sydney jam factories, until their eradication in the 1940s.

Dumbrell died in 1876, a few years before authorities decided that there were far too many localities known as Bulli. North Bulli, Little Bulli and Bulli Pass were becoming a little confusing and “Bulli Mountain” was given a new name. The decision was made to call the mountain village, Sherbrooke, after Lord Sherbrooke, Robert Lowe in 1882. Bush fires were a constant threat to the inhabitants of the village with the Union Church destroyed and rebuilt after a blaze in 1896.

Sherbrooke resident, George Blincko purchased the church, dismantling and rebuilding it in High Street, Woonona as a family home. There it remained as a home until 1993 when the site was purchased for town houses. The Illawarra Grevillea Park, with the Black Diamond Heritage Centre at Bulli arranged for the historic building to be relocated yet again.

The church was placed on a large semi-trailer and transported to the Grevillea Park behind Slacky Flat, Bulli, where it operates as a visitors centre and wedding chapel – a reminder of the long lost village of Sherbrooke.

First published 2014

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020

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2 thoughts on “The lost village of Sherbrooke

  1. I love reading about Sherbrooke,my mother grew up on Cataract Dam where her father was chief engineer and manager.She would tell of fruit trees in the bush and how she would collect badkets h of them and bring them back to the big house at the I wished now that I had asked her so much more when growing up ,she passed away when I was 17 and of course I was not very interested in the ‘olden’ days of her youth. I have an old photo somewhere of her with her sister in laws as young ladies eating standing around the fruit trees of /Sherbrooke .
    This yarn by Mick Roberts is so nostalgic for me now.


  2. Pingback: Shifting Sherbrooke’s church | Looking Back

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