Day 3: Friday 8th July 2011
At our accommodation, the Gulgong Telegraph Station, I woke so comfortably enclosed in a cloud of fluffy quilt that I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. An hour or so earlier I had heard the garbage collection, and even in my sleep I was amused by it. It has been many years since we have heard such a normal sound, being as how we live in apartments with garbage chutes that feed all the rubbish into the basement for collection from a two hundred litre skip. As I dragged myself out of bed and stepped on to the timber floorboards I realised there must be underfloor insulation, as they weren’t cold at all. No expense has been spared in this tasteful development. So sad that we could only get one night’s accommodation here.
The day is crisp, but dry with a cloudless, incredibly vibrant blue sky. After a light breakfast we drove into Mudgee, thirty kilometres back down the road. Mudgee is popular for weekends away. It has re-invented itself as a food and wine destination. We wanted to look a bit deeper, so we were armed with a map from the historical society which suggested two city walks and gave the background of the buildings we were seeing. The first walk started from near the visitors’ centre, and covered several blocks on the outskirts of the city centre.
One of the first buildings was the court house, with a number of people milling around. It turned out that the magistrate was having her morning tea break and everyone had been sent outside while she had ten minutes to herself. We were invited to come back later and watch one of the cases being heard that morning, but in the end we didn’t get back. I have put it on my bucket list to go sit in the local courthouse and eavesdrop on what happens (just so long as I am not the one having to answer probing questions).
The walk included Mudgee’s colonial museum, so we spent a half hour or so there. It was manned by one of the researchers from the Mudgee Family History Society, so if we had ancestral connections with this area, she would have been very happy to help us with some advice. It is nice to know in case we ever go to another country area of relevance. Bill’s family history goes right back to the second fleet that arrived in 1790, but I have never heard of anything to do with Mudgee.
(Bill had a female convict ancestor who arrived on the Lady Juliana, a ship remarkable for having a full complement of women prisoners – around 250 of them. She was convicted of stealing a gown, 5 caps and other items of clothing. That earnt her seven year’s transportation, which in effect, was transportation for life. Technically, the Lady Juliana was not part of the second fleet, but it took so long getting here, that it was overtaken en route. Why did it take so long? Well, there was a book written about the journey, and the title is: The Floating Brothel. You can guess – or you can read the book 🙂
This first walk took us around many of the residential streets, and we were impressed with the width of the roads and the level of maintenance on the houses, and generally how tidy the streets were. We took particular note that there was no graffiti on any part of our walks.
The second walk led us around the city centre. It seems that Mudgee is based around two main streets in a cross, with lesser streets criss-crossing them in a grid. The roads are very straight, wide and neat, not at all like Gulgong, which twists and turns and is incredibly narrow. There are some fine, solid buildings in Mudgee (with one Art Deco in the mix) and two churches in the centre of town on opposite corners, one Anglican and the other Catholic. Both are very impressive buildings, almost like small cathedrals.
When we went inside the Anglican church to see their stained glass windows, it was a thrill to discover that the organist was practising, and so we were honoured with a private concert. We didn’t go inside the Catholic Church as a service was in progress – so I guess that was the church that was really doing its job!
In the middle of the cross-road there is a monument with a clock tower at the top that serves as the war memorial. Standing here and looking east-west or north-south, one gets a good view of the commercial length of Mudgee, and it is striking to notice that the township is surrounded by green-brown hills on all sides. It is a little oasis of stability cut from an expanse of scrub and bush.
We sloped off to one of the fine restaurants in town, for a slap up bistro lunch. There were many to choose from. Mudgee is extremely cosmopolitan now. Much transformed from my forty year old memories.
Lunch must have left us rather mellow, because on an impulse afterwards, Bill offered that we could drive out to Hill End. He knew I was keen to go there, although he didn’t know of the historical aspect of it. Hill End is yet another town that had its heyday during the gold rush. On our drive towards there we went through the tiny village of Hargraves, which is said to have begun the whole gold rush with the discovery of a nugget weighing thirty-six kilograms. What was once a very busy town now exists as a general store/post office and primary school. (Edward Hammond Hargraves 1816 – 1891 was a gold prospector who claimed to have found gold in Australia in 1851, starting the Australian gold rush).
These photos were taken in Hill End, not Hargraves:
Hargraves is about forty kilometres from Mudgee. Hill End is even further along. We drove along a narrow winding dirt road, probably another forty kilometres, with hill after hill ahead, and both sides of the road clustered with eucalyptus forest and some type of tree that looks almost like a pine. I noticed that the undergrowth in parts was very sparse, almost like a European forest, perhaps because of the cold? Rocks pushed up through much of the forest. I thought of how it would have been in the days before cars and trucks, trying to drag a cart up here with a team of bullocks. Everything that the gold miners and store-keepers needed would have had to be carted in from Mudgee or Bathurst.
During its heyday, Hill End had twenty-eight hotels, and still a visitor might have to sleep on the floor – it was such a busy place. Then when the gold ran out and depression came in the 1890’s or maybe a little later, it became a ghost town. The buildings – mostly timber and tin – were left to rot and become neglected. Then in much later years, the 1940s I think, one of Australia’s famous artists ‘re-discovered’ this town, and invited his artist friends to come visit, and many famous paintings by people such as Russell Drysdale are based on tumbledown buildings here. The earth is red, the rock is studded with quartz, the trees have white trunks and the foliage grey-green, and on days like today the sky is an intense clear blue without cloud. There is still a reasonable amount of buildings standing, and all along the roadway – what looks as if it just a park, and has always been so – there are photographs and explanation boards of the businesses that once stood there. It was a very busy town!
Rather than return the way we had come, we decided to make a circular trip of it and push on towards Sofala. All the towns around here claim their fame from gold, and Sofala claims to be the first town to commercialise gold production. We knew that all the roads around here were likely to be dirt, but the road to Sofala was particularly rutted, narrow and winding, with dirt pushed up high into the centre of the road, so that our chassis dragged from time to time. (A four wheel drive would be preferable for this road). If the people at Hill End named the town that way because they thought that was the end of the mountain range, they were very wrong. We had to slow to around forty or fifty kilometres per hour, so that by the time we arrived in Sofala it was almost four-thirty in the afternoon and people were shutting shop, since this is winter and daylight would be gone within the hour. So instead of walking around and having a coffee, we drove up and down Sofala’s three narrow streets looking at all the old buildings and businesses. It has survived whereas Hill End, which was many times bigger in its day, did not.
(Pictured: On the road between Hill End and Sofala)
From Sofala we drove on to Ilford, where we had been the day before, and then took the main highway directly to Mudgee, and then on to Gulgong, so that by the day’s end, our little afternoon side-trip to Hill End had consumed more than two hundred kilometres (125 miles). All the same, I am very glad we did it, as it is not the sort of place you pass by accident on your way to somewhere else.
It was around 6pm and quite dark as we came up a lonely country lane to find our accommodation for the next two nights. We are booked to stay at Cherry Lane Cottage, on a farm outside of Gulgong. The owner was there to shine a torch on our driveway, even though she had not long been home from work herself. Annette is a lively woman with a boisterous laugh, and she and her young daughter Olivia and dog Eddie made us very welcome. Annette had just got the combustion heater going with a couple of heavy logs which were flaming red.
The accommodation is a self-contained converted shed very close to the main house. It is a country delight of white painted timbers and floral bed linen with a small kitchen and spacious shower and toilet area. We are very happy to call this home for two nights, and the room rate includes a large breakfast tray including eggs from the chickens in the coop behind us.
We were quite exhausted from our big day out, and Bill had been doing all the driving, so we had no desire to drive the two or three kilometres back into Gulgong. We had settled on picking up a pizza in Mudgee, which we re-heated in the microwave here.
It was only a couple of hours later, woozy from the heat and a few glasses of red wine, that we elected to jump into bed and watch television, and of course, it was a short step from there that the eyes started to droop and I hit the ‘off’ switch on the remote control.
Tomorrow: More mooching around Gulgong and Mudgee