Covering an area of approximately 5,230 square kilometres, in south-eastern New South Wales, Cooma-Monaro Shire is home to just over 10,000 residents. The population density is a little over 1.9 people per square kilometre.
The epicentre of the region is the town of Cooma. Its population of six and a half thousand represents about two-thirds of the Shire’s residents. It is the major service centre and largest town in the Snowy Mountains region.
Other hamlets include Nimmitabel, Bredbo, Michelago and Numeralla. Smaller clusters of residents are found at localities such as Bunyan, Four Mile, Shannons Flat, Yaouk, Peak View, Jerangle, Rock Flat, Countegany and Kybeyan.
The Monaro region is a unique part of Australia. North to south, it stretches from Tinderry Mountains near the southern outskirts of Canberra, to just south of the Victorian border. It is a high plateau of generally rolling plains bordered by coastal ranges dropping sharply to the east and the roof of Australia to the west in the Snowy Mountains range within Kosciuszko National Park.
The Monaro Range gently divides the catchments of the Murrumbidgee River to the north and Snowy River to the south. Much of the area is in a ‘rain shadow’ and characterized by granite outcrops of a highly leached, ancient landscape, creating a steppe or prairie type of environment.
Despite pockets of rich basaltic soil, the average altitude of over 900 metres and extreme winter temperatures, preclude extensive crop growing. However, the region has an historical reputation for Angus and Hereford cattle with sheep breading having produced some of the world’s finest merino wool.
Climatically, with the exception of Snowy Mountains, the Monaro region is the coldest in mainland Australia.
The Shire’s roots are rich in indigenous history. Prior to the 1800s the Ngarigo Aboriginal tribe had occupied the greater Monaro district for some 15,000 years.
European exploration began in 1823 and the village of Cooma was surveyed in 1849.
Gold discovered at Kiandra in 1860, and other parts of the district, saw Cooma’s population accelerate and the foundations as the region’s administration, commercial and service centre were established.
Prior to the 20th Century, the Monaro region developed a reputation for fine merino wool. With the coming of more efficient road and rail access, Cooma became the gateway to the Australian Alps, now more widely known as Snowy Mountains.
However, the town’s name and reputation was etched in Australian history when Cooma became the centre of Australia’s largest engineering project, the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electricity Scheme.
For 25 years between 1949 and 1972, the project employed 100,000 workers with 70% from overseas. At the time, Cooma was the most multicultural town in Australia. The project’s road network opened up the region to greater tourism.
In 1967, the Snowy Mountains Scheme was rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Its legacy is that Cooma remains the headquarters of Snowy Hydro Limited, the Shire’s largest employer, and it retains a regional location for SMEC, a global civil engineering consultancy, spun out of the project.
In 1959, the district was the location for Academy Award-nominated feature film, “The Sundowners”, starring Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov.
The Shire’s overlays of state and federal government areas include electorates of Monaro and Eden-Monaro respectively.
The New South Wales Legislative Assembly division of Monaro has approximately 48,000 electors and is currently represented by Mr John Barilaro MP.
The Federal House of Representatives Division of Eden-Monaro has approximately 100,000 electors. Constituents are currently represented by Dr Peter Hendy MP.
At a local government level, a council of nine members elected by residents administers Cooma-Monaro Shire. Councilors elect the mayor. Current Councillors are Dean Lynch (Mayor), Rogan Corbett (Deputy Mayor), Bronnie Taylor (Member of Legislative Council), Martin Hughes, Tony Kaltoum, Angela Ingram, Craig Mitchell, Ignazio Mondello and Winston Phillips.
The Local Government Area (LGA) came into being with the amalgamation of Cooma Municipal Council and Monaro Shire in 1981. While Cooma-Monaro Shire occupies a significant proportion of the Monaro geographic region, two other LGAs cover southern sections: Snowy River to the south and west, and Bombala to the south-east.
The north-west of Cooma-Monaro Shire overlaps with Kosciuszko National Park in the Tantangara region. Here the Shire’s highest elevation is reached at Mt Morgan (1,874 metres).
The Shire is the main gateway to the Snowy Mountains Regional Tourism Area as designated by Destination New South Wales. The region covers Local Government Areas of Cooma-Monaro, Snowy River, Tumut and Tumbarumba with a total population of approximately 35,000.
The region is best known for the highest point on the Australian mainland, Mt Kosciuszko (2,228 metres) within Kosciuszko National Park. It also boasts the mainland’s only truly alpine areas, only glacial lakes and the southern hemisphere’s leading snow resorts of Perisher, Thredbo, Charlotte Pass and Selwyn Snowfields.
The tourism region was consolidated with the completion of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which created numerous lakes and underground tunnels with capacity estimated to be 15 to 20 times greater than Sydney Harbour.
Over 1.2 million tourists visit the region each year.