History of Commons in NSW
Based on the British tradition that dates back many centuries Commons in NSW are areas of Crown land set aside to benefit the local community in ways set down in the Commons Management Act 1989. The earliest in NSW were set up in 1804 with many coming into being in the later 1800s. Most were established for town residents and small-scale local farmers to use as a common area for grazing, watering of stock and other like activities. There are currently about 200 commons across the state, most managed by Trust boards elected by the ‘Commoners’.
History of Gundaroo Common
Gundaroo Common was gazetted on 19 August 1870 at 450 acres (182 hectares). In 1880, another 1175 acres (475 hectares) to the east and northeast of the village was added. By 1959, the additional area had been taken up by various lessees and the Common was reduced to its current size of 60 hectares (148 acres).
Old slaughter yards The Common includes a second Crown Reserve that contains the old slaughter yards used by locals. The area was subsumed into the main Common several decades ago. The remaining yard posts are protected as a heritage site.
Uses of the Common
For most of its existence the main aim of the Common has been the agistment of cattle owned by villagers who are enrolled as Commoners.
- A recent roundup of Common cattle for health checks and vaccinations.
- Local Commoners during a regular roundup of cattle
While cattle management is still very important, in the past 20-30 years, encouraged by state government, this has broadened into a more multi-use focus providing a great asset to the village as open space for walking, riding horses, and exercising dogs. An example is the weekly Sunday Handicap walk/run organised by Gundaroo locals.
The run also includes walkers and strollers and starts and finishes in the village and takes a route through the Common.. The Trust has built pedestrian gates into the main fences to allow easy access without the danger of cattle escaping from unlocked gates. In the past it was also the site of the Gundaroo Bush Races fundraising event which sprang from the Gundaroo Bush Festival. There are some activities which are not allowed on the Common including the use of vehicles without permission.
- New pedestrian gates to make visitor access easier and safer including the weekly Sunday Handicap. They were funded by a Crown Lands grant.
Do I need to be a Commoner?
If you’d like to agist cattle on the Common you’ll need to sign up as a Commoner. If you simply want to use it for exercise, walking dogs etc you don’t need to be a Commoner.
How to be a Commoner
The Common is managed by a voluntary board of trustees (between 3 and 7 members) elected by the village Commoners and appointed for three years. A Commoner is a resident or landholder within the Gundaroo village boundaries. To become one you apply to the Common Trust which decides on the application after a process of public advertising. When accepted your name is entered on the Commoners’ Roll. The present Commoners’ Roll has been in constant use since 1923.
Each commoner is entitled to agist cattle (with a limit on the total number of cattle depending on land conditions) at a nominal cost per head per quarter. The cost is set at each Annual General Meeting. Management of the stock is undertaken by the Trust Herdsperson with the support and guidance of the owners and experienced stock managers.
The Common is managed under a formal Management plan approved by Crown Lands. The Plan includes uses of the Common, a grazing regime, animal welfare, vegetation protection and revegetation, maintenance of scenic values, protection of the natural grassland and open grassy woodland areas, weed and erosion control, and ground water protection.
Regular working bees implement much of the plan including tree planting and weed control and round-ups of the stock to check their health, for vaccinations and other disease control measures, weaning and other activities including getting stock ready for sale.
Funding for running the Common comes from the nominal fees charged for agistment of cattle and local fund raising. Larger projects including weed control and replacement of infrastructure (fencing etc) is supported by state and federal government grants.
Natural heritage significance
The Common is recognised as a significant site of natural heritage with remnant eucalyptus and natural temperate grasslands and is home to a number of endangered species, including the earless dragon, golden sun moth and superb parrot.
- The Common is a significant site of natural heritage with remnant eucalyptus and natural temperate grasslands and is home to a number of endangered species.
The Trust keeps this natural heritage in mind when managing the Common especially with agistment which continues for several reasons; history, lowering fire risk near the village and its role in allowing threatened species to survive. Because of this role grazing management (i.e., stocking rates, timing) is planned carefully to avoid actions that may be detrimental to threatened species habitat in the long term and is done with the support of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
It’s also why unauthorised vehicles aren’t allowed on the Common. As well as disturbing the cattle vehicles can bring in weeds that will impact on the native species.
The trust has a series of signs on its gates as part of its management strategy and for public safety.
Signs on gates are an important part of the safety management of the Common
Examples include allowing visitors to see if the bull is on the Common or if certain paddocks should remain closed.
The Trust asks all visitors to respect these signs as they are important and also to remember the old country adage: “if a gate is closed leave it closed.”