Merriwa derives from an Aboriginal term thought to mean ‘grass seeds’. Possibly the first European in the vicinity was Allan Cunningham who made a camp here by the river in the 1820s. The area was initially known as the Gummum Plains district, after the river, which was then known as Gummum Creek.
The first runs were taken up in the late 1820s. An early pastoralist was Charles Blaxland (son of explorer Gregory Blaxland) who established Cullingral station to the immediate south and south-west of town. The homestead is still standing. His uncle, John Blaxland, held land along the riverside to the north of the present townsite. After being detained by the British authorities in 1808 as a mutineer against the deposed Governor Bligh, John managed to convince the authorities of his innocence in 1811 and returned to the colony where he became a merchant, landowner and MLA of some note.
The townsite was surveyed in 1839 with the streets being named after early settlers who were attracted by the quality of the pasturage. Merriwa served a flourishing district which was located on a route through the Liverpool Range to the Liverpool Plains. When the railway was built to the east in the 1870s (it did not arrive in Merriwa until 1917) the popularity of the route declined.
It was at nearby Poggy Station that the Governor brothers, subjects of the novel and film ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’, struck on 24 July 1900. Here Jimmy Governor killed Elizabeth O’Brien and her baby son. This was part of a rampage which had started at Breelong where Governor, reputedly incensed by a snub his pregnant wife had received from the Mawbey family and particularly their schoolteacher Helena Kurz, took a tomahawk and murdered Mawbey’s wife, two daughters, son and Helena Kurz. They hid out in what is now Goulburn River National Park where armed parties conducted a search.
Today Merriwa is at the centre of a vast mixed farming area focusing principally on cattle, sheep, wheat and horse studs, although olive trees are becoming increasingly common in the area. The Festival of the Fleeces is held on the long weekend in June. This celebration of rural heritage includes shearing and shed hand competitions, games, a street parade, yard dog trials, a billy cart derby, spinning display and a woolshed dance. The rodeo is held in February, the Polocrosse carnival in July and the Agricultural Show in September.