Braidwood is a town in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, in Palerang Shire. It is located on the busy Kings Highway linking Canberra to Batemans Bay on the coast. It is about 200 kilometres south west of Sydney and about 60 kilometres inland from the coast. Braidwood is a service town for the surrounding region which is based on sheep and cattle grazing and forestry operations. At the 2006 census, Braidwood had a population of 1,108.
European explorers reached the district in 1822 (Kearns, Marsh and Packer). The area was first settled by Europeans in the 1820s, and the town was surveyed in 1839. The village was located near the headwaters of the Shoalhaven River.
The town was named after Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson. He had been a surgeon-superintendent of ships taking convicts to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania). He was first granted land in Van Diemen's Land in 1824, which he exchanged for land near Lake George in 1825. In addition he was given 2560 acres (10 km²) which he selected in the 'new country' on two tributaries of the Shoalhaven, Monkittee and Flood creeks. In 1833, the western end of Wilson's grant was resumed and reserved for a future village and a similar area added to the eastern end in compensation. Wilson settled in the district in late 1836 with his wife and family. He became a community leader and amongst other things contracted to build the first courthouse in 1837-38. In 1840 Wilson petitioned the government to build a road from Braidwood to Huskisson to enable faster and cheaper shipping of the wool clip to Sydney and, with Col. John Mackenzie, supplied the materials and labour for the Braidwood to Nerriga section.
In 1841 Braidwood Farm had 141 residents. Wilson was sent bankrupt due to a drought in the late 1830s and the subsequent depression. He died in November 1843. His land was sold for £2,000 to John Coghill, who now owned all the land on the south, east and north of the town. Coghill built the historic house Bedervale. However, before his death, Wilson had purchased the block immediately to the north of Braidwood. He was buried on this block, high on the hill overlooking the town.
A memorial and large pine tree mark the site of Wilson's grave, from which there are views of the town. The path to the grave is open to the public the path and is through a series of paddocks intersected by gateway sculptures and installations by local artists. At the moment, (June 2010), the path is not open to the public. It is recommended to check the status of the path at the tourist information center in Wallace Street, which is the main street of Braidwood.
The first Royal Commission
Braidwood was the subject of Australia's first Royal Commission in 1867, inquiring into the activities of police officers and managers in the district, concerning the extent to which bushrangers had been shielded and assisted by police connivance and inactivity. The Commission identified several instances of misconduct and found the superintendent of police had failed to exercise 'strict and proper control over his men.'
Gold was discovered in 1851, and for the next two decades the district's population swelled to about 10,000. Supplies and produce to support the workforce on the gold fields came from as far afield as the Canberra region, (though Canberra itself would not be founded until 1913). This prosperity lasted for several years, during which some substantial commercial buildings including banks and hotels were constructed.
The twentieth century
Braidwood was formerly the seat of the Tallaganda local government area. However, following restructuring of local government areas by the New South Wales Government, it is now part of the Palerang council and the eastern office of the council is located in the town. The local paper is now called the Braidwood Times.
Through much of the 20th century, Braidwood was essentially in rural recession. Amongst other consequences, very little building work was carried out, and as a result the town entered the 21st century with much of its original streetscape and architecture intact. On 30 March 2006 the town and its setting were listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, following a period of unpleasant dispute between those wishing to preserve the town's charm and those wishing to develop it.