Don’t pass Marulan next time to hurry along the Hume Highway…
by Richard Robertson
It’s easy to miss the tiny township of Marulan, some 170 km southwest of Sydney. Best known these days for its heavy vehicle weighing stations that straddle the Hume Highway, Marulan has never been a picturesque town in tourist terms. It is, however, steeped in history and also has a unique claim to fame.
The town sits on a narrow neck of land some 18 km wide between the Wollondilly and Shoalhaven Rivers. This provides the only navigable route between Sydney and points south west – like Canberra and eventually Melbourne – unless you cross the Blue Mountains or follow the coast. For centuries, Indigenous people from four tribes met at this point for trade; it marking the boundary between their traditional lands.
Although explored by Europeans as early as 1798, it was 1818 when, together with the deputy surveyor-general, James Meehan, and explorer Charles Throsby, a young Hamilton Hume reached and explored the Goulburn Plains. Governor Lachlan Macquarie ordered construction of the Great South Road – the forerunner of today’s Hume Highway – from Picton in 1819 and it was planned the township of Bungonia, at its southern end, would become a major commercial centre. That didn’t eventuate due to the unsuitability of the land for intensive agriculture and the road was realigned, with a junction built for a new road towards today’s Goulburn. It was this junction that became the fledgling settlement of Marulan, servicing travellers on both roads.
The advent of the railway in 1868 put Marulan on the map, and if you’ve ever driven through you will have passed The Terminus Hotel in the centre of town. As the railway passes through to Goulburn, Canberra and beyond, I’d often wondered why the hotel was called The Terminus. It turns out Marulan was initially the end of the line and from it, Cobb & Co coaches and supply wagons delivered people and goods to outlying properties and settlements. The railway line terminated three kilometres north of Old Marulan and the site, with its makeshift workers’ cottages, was known as Mooroowoolen. It didn’t take long for businesses and residents to move ‘up the road’ to the railhead, which was quickly renamed Marulan. The railway was soon extended to Goulburn and Marulan’s glory faded somewhat, but it remained an important town on the Great South Road.
Marulan’s unique location meant that when the Great South Road eventually morphed into the Hume Highway, in 1928, it became the logical place to monitor road commerce. The first vehicle checking station was established in 1931 and it developed into the first heavy vehicle weighing stations in 1958. Marulan was bypassed by today’s dual carriageway Hume Highway in 1985 and much of the traveller-related commerce in the town soon shut down.
Marulan is undergoing a steady, if not rapid, renaissance. Just 15 minutes from Goulburn it’s turning into something of a ‘satellite suburb’, with a large and expanding new housing area on its western boundary. It also appears to becoming popular with retirees; offering affordable housing within easy reach of Sydney and Canberra and good road access for travelling. The Town’s long main street – George Street, which is actually the Old Hume Highway – has a few new buildings near the Terminus Hotel, including a bakery and small supermarket, and there’s now a modest museum by the park.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to detour into town is the chance to stand on – indeed straddle – the 150º meridian of longitude! Marulan is the only town in the world this meridian passes through, and it also happens to place Marulan at the centre of the Eastern Standard Time Zone. Here, every equinox, the sun rises at exactly 6 am and sets precisely at 6 pm! Meridian Park is at the very southern end of town, immediately on the right as you take the Marulan turnoff heading north. Sandwiched between the Old and ‘New’ Hume Highways, the small park features a rather abstract concrete structure that marks the meridian’s passage. There you can stand on or straddle it, while watching a metal sculpture overhead that represents the World’s longitudinal meridians, spin on a windy day. Such excitement!
From Meridian Park a historic walk stretches to the far end of town, but you’re likely to drive its couple-of-kilometre length. Along the old road historic buildings in various states of repair have plaques out the front explaining their significance. The old Royal Hotel – now a private residence – is superb, while the old General Store and neighbouring sheds, replete with fading Billy Tea advertisements and featuring a collection of old farm machinery, are pure nostalgia. You can even download a self-guided tour of the Great South Road here, which includes all the historic buildings in town. In many ways Marulan is like a town time forgot, and the old and new rub shoulders in a kind of easy going mateship any busy tourist town would long ago have segregated and sanitised.
Marulan doesn’t have a tourist office, but information can be found on the Goulburn Visitor Information Centre website. Not being a tourist town is part of Marulan’s charm. It certainly doesn’t bustle, but its historic buildings and interesting past make it a little slice of Australia well worth exploring.
Go Fly a Kite!
Things to do include taking the historic walk, oohing-and-aahing in Meridian Park, enjoying a picnic in neatly kept Tony Onions Memorial Park and checking out the museum, antique shop and cafes. That could keep you busy for anything from an hour to a day – maybe even two. On Saturday 24 October Marulan hosts its annual Kite Festival! This is supported by local and visiting stall holders offering everything from handicrafts to fresh food and real coffee, plus there’s live music and plenty of activities for kids of all ages. There’s even a Kite Parade led by players from the Goulburn Pipe and Drums, so if you’re looking for a fun day out be sure to mark it in your diary.
Regardless of when you visit, the main thing is to stop by and explore. Marulan has rewards you’ll never discover if you simply drive past…
The Terminus Hotel is a small country pub with a bistro open Wednesday to Sunday. Right in the centre of town it’s the place to go for a cleansing ale any day of the week, but I haven’t tried the food. The Meridian Cafe is the best known eatery and it has been there for years. It must be pretty good as my In-Laws recommend it!
However, our favourite is across the road from the Terminus in a tiny old stone cottage: The Blacksmiths Tucker Box. Open daily and operated by single-mum Anna it claims to be, “The cutest lil takeaway… Come try our BBQ Chooks, Chicken Burgers, Chick Snitz Burgers, Fish and Chips, Fresh Cut Sandwiches, Hot Food Snax, Coffee Tea and Cakes, lollies, icecreams and much much more….”
We popped in on a Saturday night, which along with Fridays turned out to be Pizza Night! The tiny shop is basically a take-away, but there are two inside tables and a few outside in the, cough, ‘alfresco dining area’. We BYOd (inc glasses!) over a BBQ chicken pizza with garlic and chilli as a steady stream of locals dropped by for their take-home treats. Immaculately clean, neat and tidy, we backed-up Sunday morning for Brekki Toasty Wraps of cooked bacon, sausage, egg, cheese and tomato or BBQ sauce, and good coffee. Delicious! The only downside? It’s cash only.
There is no caravan park in Marulan, nor are there any free camping sites listed on Wikicamps. We overnighted in the small carpark at Meridian Park, which was well suited to our longterm Horizon Casuarina van conversion and would be fine for vehicles up to about 8 m. With the freeway right behind and a truck stop across the road it wasn’t the most serene spot, but being late autumn and rather cold the closed windows kept out quite a bit of background noise.
Truck Stop 31, directly across from Meridian park, has a huge parking area on its northern side and we saw a couple of caravans staying there overnight. Being a Saturday night the parking area was deserted, but it might be a different story during the week.
There also appear to free camping opportunities down by the railway station, which would escape the highway noise but be subject to occasional nighttime goods trains. There is even a set of level concrete wheel tracks big enough to park a bus on, to one side of the station’s informal car park. A bit of a hunt around would likely reveal many more free camping opportunities, and the god thing is there isn’t a ‘No Camping’ sign in sight.
For the full article and more photos download Issue 73 of iMotorhome eMagazine by clicking HERE