The area now known as Thirlmere was first traversed by Europeans as early as 1798 (Wilson), whose attention was focussed more on Thirlmere Lakes (Barrallier, 1802) and finding an alternate route north towards Bathurst. In the earliest days is was part of the general geographic area south of Appin known as 'Bargo'
Although a few settlers took up grants near the Lakes in the 1830s, they remained isolated on the fringes of the greater settlement at Picton.
Thirlmere, like many towns, was born with the coming of the Great Southern Railway in 1863 to 1867, when a large temporary tent city grew up to house the railway workers. It was valued mostly for the proximity of the Lakes (then called Picton Lakes) which were used to provide water for the steam trains, pumped to a siding at nearby Couridjah.
Closer settlement always followed the railway, and a siding to allow trains to pass on the single line with a platform was built in 1883.
It was then known as Redbank, but changed to Thirlmere in 1886 to avoid confusion with Redbank (Upper Picton). The name came from a lake in England long used as a water supply for the city of Manchester.
Another early industry in Thirlmere was timber getting, and a number of sawmills were established to provide sleepers for the railway.
The proximity to Picton meant that the village did not grow significantly in its early days, apart from a general store and a few other businesses.
The Lakes, however, attracted day trippers on the railway until the advent of the motor car made other destinations more accessible.
With the deviation of the main southern line through Tahmoor and Bargo in 1919, Thirlmere remained a backwater on the 'Loop Line' for the next few decades. The noise and bustle of the steam trains was replaced by the quieter pursuits of farming.
Although the town's businesses supplied neighbouring farms and villages from Tahmoor to Lakesland, there was little opportunity for employment - made worse by the Depression years.
Farming, however, proceeded apace. In the years before the second world war, and especially afterwards, many Estonian immigrants and refugees from the loss of their homeland moved into the area to take up farming.
The Estonian Church
Within a few years their poultry farms became the largest egg producers in the state and their cooperative store - Kungla Farmers - was the largest in the town. The industry was so substantial that special feed trains used to run to Thirlmere to supply them.
This thriving industry was not, however, passed down to the next generations. An enterprising people, their sons and daughters took full advantage of educational facilities offered and mostly moved to skilled and professional jobs in the city.
As the original settlers aged, their poultry farms closed down one by one. Their sense of community, however, still lives on in the large Estonian retirement home built west of the town they called their home.
Thirlmere shared in the prosperity brought by the opening of new collieries in the Burragorang Valley (1959) and at Tahmoor (1975), which provided employment opportunities for new residents.
Although bypassed by the main railway line, and later the southern freeway, in the last 20 years Thirlmere's proximity to the city (1 hour) has made it an attractive rural residential area for people who commute to work.
Today the steam trains are back - at the NSW Heritage Railway Museum in Thirlmere - and run regularly on the line between Picton and Buxton.
Together with the beauty of the Lakes, picnic areas, train rides, and the peacefulness of the countryside, Thirlmere is an attractive day's outing for families of travellers and city folk seeking to escape from the bustle of modern life.
Thirlmere Public School (1886)