Famous for its high quality merino wool, Gunning is preparing to celebrate its 200th year

Hamilton Hume, one of Australia's first explorers.

Hamilton Hume, one of Australia's first explorers.

The long and proud history of Gunning, north of Canberra, will be marked by a series of celebrations this year for the town's 200th anniversary.

Back in 1821, the township was identifiable to the European settlers for one notable reason: it was the governor's declared so-called "limit of settlement", and settlers could not acquire or lease land beyond that point.

The first people and traditional owners of the area were the Ngunnawal to the south and Gundungurra to the north, with their rock paintings, middens and artefacts found throughout the region.

The town's name appears to have been derived from the Indigenous name for the area which was Gonnong or Gunnong, and was later written as Gunning.

Hamilton Hume squatted to set up the first small sheep holding on these so-called settlement limits after an earlier expedition in which, together with Irish emancipist and surveyor James Meehan, set forth as far as Lake Bathurst and the Goulburn plains.

Hume, together with his brother-in-law George Barber and William Henry Broughton, were later understood to be the first Europeans to set up camp just west of where Gunning stands today.

John Kennedy Hume, the brother of Hamilton Hume, established a 6000-acre station, later called Collingwood, on the Fish River near Gunning and it was from here the famous Hume and Hovell overland expedition to Westernport on Port Phillip Bay started in 1824.

The tiny Gunning village, with less than a handful of buildings, was first surveyed in 1829 and again in 1836.

The poster for Gunning's 100-year celebrations in 1921 features such games as sheaf-pitching, a tug-of-war and a boy and rooster race. Picture: Supplied

The poster for Gunning's 100-year celebrations in 1921 features such games as sheaf-pitching, a tug-of-war and a boy and rooster race. Picture: Supplied

Grazier John Hume, one of the earliest European inhabitants, was later shot and killed by bushrangers during what was known as the Siege of Gunning, on January 20, 1840.

Thomas Whitton, who led the bushranger siege on the town, was captured a few days later and hanged for his crimes at Goulburn jail. Hume left a widow and nine children.

The Hume family's interest in the Gunning area quickly generated activity from others, with squatters and would-be settlers soon trekking inland, looking to establish landholdings.

The economic prosperity of Gunning has waxed and waned over its history. Gold was discovered in the area which brought a brief flurry of activity but wool-growing has long been the area's staple, achieving among the country's highest-quality Merino clips.

The town was an early Cobb and Co coach stop, then a railway terminus in 1875. In 1876, it had its own newspaper, the Gunning Leader.

The ramp-up of interstate travel and the rising efficiency of the truck and semi-trailer as a fast and efficient form of goods and freight delivery has been influential on Gunning's growth as a stop-over location, with the Hume Highway rumbling with traffic at all hours of the night and day until the town was bypassed in 1995.

Despite predictions the town would die when the bypass occurred, it has survived and was now enjoying steady growth. It sits on the main rail line between Sydney and Melbourne.

A bicentennial committee has been established, and will be chaired by former Upper Lachlan Shire Council mayor, John Shaw.

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This story Bypassed but now thriving, Gunning celebrates 200 years first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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