Origin of the name - a mystery

Table of Contents

Cotta Walla Region

Initially, in the mid 1800's Cotta Walla encompassed several small settlements including the centres known today as Crookwell, Roslyn and Woodhouselee.

Search keywords (these have all been seen in print):

  • Cotta Walla
  • Cottawalla
  • Cotta Wolla
  • Cotta Wollah
  • Cottle Wolly
  • Cottle Wolley
  • Cottle Walley
  • Cottle Wallah
  • Cottle Wolla
  • Cotton Valley
  • Cotta Valley

Several theories

The origin of the name "Cotta Walla" is a bit of a mystery.

According to this web site:

The poet Dame Mary Gilmore was born at Roslyn, 16 km south-east of Crookwell, in 1865. The settlement was, at that time, known as Cotta Walla. Her father, a property manager and building contractor, is said, by his daughter, to have translated the legends and songs of the Wiradjuri people into Gaelic and English.

Some sources suggest "Cotta Walla" is an Aboriginal name, and there was clearly a preference to use indigenous names wherever possible, but it would not be the first time that names have been incorrectly attributed so, e.g. a common mstake in Australia is the origin of the name Nullabor Plain. It sounds like it should be an Aboriginal name, e.g. "Nulla nulla" is an Aboriginal name for a club/waddy style weapon, but Nullabor is derived from Latin (Null Arbor - meaning "Treeless"). Nevertheless, the Wollondilly River rises in the Cotta Walla region and this reference says "The name Wollondilly is said to be derived from wallandillii, an Aboriginal word for 'water trickling over rocks'. However, there is no evidence for this in Tharawal language." Is there a connection between "Cotta Walla" or "Cottle Wolly" and "Wallandillii"?

This reference says that the name "Cotta Walla" was dropped temporarily in favour of "Cotton Valley". That author assumes the original name was Aboriginal. I think this can be shown to be incorrect as references to "Cotton Valley" go back much earlier than any I can find for "Cotta Walla".

Another suggestion I was given directly by an ex pupil at the old schoolhouse was that the name was a derivation of "cattle wallow". It's difficult to accept that someone hearing the phrase "cattle wallow" wrote it down as "cotta walla".

This letter to the editor from 1938 on the naming of Crookwell confidently claims that the name "Cotton Valley" became "Cottlewalley" which became "Cotta Walla".

An exploration on-line to discover facts

The property named "Cottle Wolly" has existed in the Pejar district since at least 1828 (referred to therein as "Cottle Walley") and is noted on later historical parish maps. The land was promised in a grant in 1827. It was one of very few recognised holdings at that time in the area and would have been a regional landmark or location of reference for travellers heading into the region, regardless of their precise destination. The name "Cottle Wolley" appears in a land grant list from 1835 and a land auction list from 1836, and the name "Cottle Wallah" is listed on a burial certificate from 1851, although I believe the deceased did not live on the property but nearby. The latter reference is important because it shows both an intermediate step in the evolution of the name (but probably yet another aural transcription variation), and that the name has been adopted for the region.

The name "Cotton Valley" was referenced at least as early as 1833 (I can't relocate that reference) and was also in the same area. The location names "Cotton Valley" and "Cottle Wolley" were certainly in common use at the same time.

This reference from 1853 (Sydney Morning Herald) lists the village of Woodhouselee in "Cotta Walla" for sale, describing the property as the estate of the late W. Lithgow. This reference to the same property by the same auctioneer but on different dates as printed by the Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser identifies the region as "Cottle Wolly".

This reference from 1866 lists "Cottle Wolla" for sale, again describing the property as the estate of the late W. Lithgow consisting of 6381 acres that includes the village and township of Woodhouselee. The remainder of the grant appears to have been subdivided into farms that could be sold.

The name "Cotta Walla" appears in published lists of names of voters for the electorate of Argyle in NSW in 1865 and many voters with vastly different family names are listed against "Cotta Walla". There are none listed against "Cottle Wolley" etc. nor "Cotton Valley". Again, the names "Cottle Wolley" and "Cotta Walla" are contemporaneous. There are also references to "Cottle Wolley Road" (from Goulburn) and "Cotta Walla Road" (from Crookwell) that I believe refer to the same road today.

This reference from 1850 mentions a reservation through "Thirty-one and a half acres parish unnamed, near the head of the middle arm of Tarlo Creek for a public road from "Cotton Valley" to Goulburn. From historical parish maps this lot for sale would be near where Roslyn [railway] Station was if not directly adjacent to it. "Cotton Valley" and "Cottle Wolly" are clearly both being used at the same time, and have both been used in descriptions of the road between Goulburn and Crookwell, which at the time appears to be the one that passes through Roslyn and Woodhouselee.

This reference from 1834 refers to a Crown grant at "Cotton Valley".

1. The road across the bottom left of this historical parish map is that described as a road "from Cotton Valley to Goulburn" in a government land sale advertisement. The middle arm of the Tarlo River can be seen and extends toward the Roslyn Station. Lot referenced as "64" on the map could well be the lot offered for sale in 1850.

Another source references both "Cotta Walla" and "Cotton Valley" in the same paragraph:

  • Education in the Crookwell district has always been a high priority for local residents. A Full time School opened at Cotta Walla in 1876. A Half- time School opened at Pejar in May 1912 and operated until July 1921 when a full time was opened. This School closed in February 1930. The ‘Third Creek Public School’ was located about one mile down the Pejar/Crookwell Road from Cotton Valley at Middle Creek. Half time School opened at Third Creek, July 1869, till December 1870. The Third Creek School remained closed from December 1870, and reopened as a Full time School in May 1878. The Third Creek School finally closed down in December 1941.

From this description "Cotton Valley" could be either the First Creek or Third Creek valleys. Driving through the area the three creeks flow though quite distinct valleys and it is unlikely that the name "Cotton Valley" would refer to more than one of those valleys, or it could refer to the Wollondilly River valley into which all three creeks flow. The reference itself clearly suggests that the Third Creek Public School is not in Cotton Valley but down the road from it, so that author also does not regard Middle Creak as "Cotton Valley". Further, the road is named as "Pejar/Crookwell Road" which suggests the direction of travel from Pejar to Crookwell. That suggests "Cotton Valley" is the First Creek valley because it is on the Pejar side. The road starts on the ridge on the western side of the Wollondilly River valley a little more than a mile further on from First Creek.

Historical parish maps make no mention of "Cotton Valley" (but government advertisements for land sale do), unlike "Cottle Wolly" which is marked as a building (homestead) located near the Goulburn to Crookwell road between what is now the Crookwell wind farm and Lake Edward near the middle of the original 2560 acre grant. The current "Cottle Wolly" homestead is at the western end of the original grant on the other side of Third Creek Road.

The earliest printed reference to "Cotta Walla" that I have found so far is 1851.

It is likely that "Cotta Walla" did come from "Cottle Wolly". It is possible that "Cottle Wolly" was an adaptation of "Cotton Valley" although no reference has been found that predates the earliest reference to "Cottle Wolly", so in my opinion it is more likely to have been the other way around. All of the references to "Cotton Valley" that I can find, apart from the Gray family records, are from sources not local to the area. Names of places, evidenced by the variations in the keyword list at the top of this page (all spellings seen in print), were likely communicated aurally and written down as heard in the first instance after which that version would persist. Possibly "cottle wolly" was heard and consequently transcribed as "cotton valley" because that makes more sense to a non-local.

Just a factual note: the candidate valleys for "Cotton Valley" are all on the eastern side of the dividing range while "Cottle Wolley Creak" is on the western side but rises just by but not actually on the original "Cottle Wolly" holding.

At some point "Cotta Walla" became the official name for the region (Lists of Persons Eligible to Vote) and was possibly done deliberately to differenciate from the property whose name was and still is "Cottle Wolly".

Miscellaneous Facts

This historical parish map contains a reference to the Cotta Wolla Inn:

  • Parish name : UPPER TARLO
  • County name : ARGYLE
  • Edition number : 3
  • Sheet reference : 1

This reference from 1873 (page 2463 - Goulburn District) lists "Cotta Walla Inn" at Cotta Walla with Francis Cartwright as the licensee. The map clearly puts the inn, there named "Cotta Wolla Inn" in the Roslyn/Woodhouselee area.

2. Cotta Wolla Inn at the junction of the now Roslyn and Woodhouselee Roads

3. Cotta Walla Inn licensee - 1873

Interestingly, this reference from 11 Nov 1857 (page 2161) lists lots for sale near "Cotta Wolla" [sic]/"Cotta Walla". They are near what was at the time the "Cottle Wolly" property about 1 mile further down the Wollondilly River.

This reference from 1853 reporting court proceedings quotes a local who had had his horse stolen stating "Am a shepherd from Cotta Walla".

This reference from the Goulburn Herald 1851 in a correction notice mentions a person now residing "on the Cotta Walla Road". Given all of these references all three names and variant forms of them are clearly all in common use at the same time circa 1850's.

This reference from 1855 (page 1267) lists land for sale located at the "confluence of the Kiamma and Cottle Wolly Creeks". See map image 4. This is the first reference I've found to the name referring to a geological feature. When did this branch of the Kiamma Creek get named?

4. Cottle Wolly Branch: bottom right

The book "Settlers and Convicts: or Recollections of Sixteen Years' Labour in the Australian Backwoods" (eBook here), author given as anonymous but later ascribed to Alexander Harris, and published in 1847 refers on page 230 to the "Cottlewolly Creek". In the context of the chapter, which is written in the form of a diary, the author most likely camped in the area as he passed through. The complete quote is "Sixth day. - Cottlewolly Creek. Some of the stations about this part of the country are perfect natural Edens." The story is regarded as a fiction based on actual experiences between 1825 and 1841. I assume the branches of the Kiamma Creek were named by surveyor Dixon when he surveyed the area around Cottle Wolley in 1829.

Cotta Walla today

Today the name Cotta Walla is attached to one small farming property named "Cottawalla", the neighbouring "Old Cottawalla Public School" (now a private residence) and "Cottawalla Lane" that borders both those properties.

Stony Gully Creek rises on the property now named "Cottawalla", crosses Cottawalla Lane and feeds into the Wollondilly River toward Roslyn. The homestead of "Cottawalla" sits precisely on the line of the Great Dividing Range at the western boundary of the property. The old Cotta Walla schoolhouse is just next door 150 metres to the west, and as rain that falls on "Cottawalla" flows to the Tasman Sea 200 km to the east, rain that falls on the old schoolhouse flows to the Southern Ocean 1000 km to the west.

As it happens, water flowing off the old school lot goes initially via various gullies into Parkers Creek before entering the Kiamma Creek and then into the Crookwell River, Lachlan River, Murrumbidgee River and finally the Murray River. The Cottle Wolly Branch, now designated the Kiamma Creek all the way appears to rise just to the west of the Roslyn Road and so does not appear to start on the original Cottle Wolly property, but certainly close by. All of the gullies and creaks on the Cottle Wolly property appear to drain into the Wollondilly River.