||North to Queensland via the Hawkesbury River|
Western Interior via the Blue Mountains to Broken Hill
South along the coast
South via the Hume Highway (Bushrangers)
The Hawkesbury River
As discussed in the section on the Western Suburbs and the towns of Windsor and Richmond, the discovery of the Hawkesbury River by Governor Phillip in 1789, on his third exploration of Broken Bay, was greeted with rejoicing by the fledgling colony, as the land surrounding the river promised fertile ground to plant desperately needed crops. Phillip named the river for Baron Hawkesbury, Earl of Liverpool.
The river originates in the Wollondilly River, which begins
near Crookwell in central New South Wales some 300km west of Sydney,
and winds romantically through the countryside, most picturesque, with
many inlets, in the 20km before it reaches Broken Bay and the sea. The
Aborigines called it Deerubbin. Intrepid Watkin Tench, First Fleet
chronicler who discovered the Nepean River, realised when he revisited
the area in 1791 that the Nepean and the Hawkesbury were the same
river. In his famous Journal of an Excursion Across the Blue Mountains
of New South Wales (1822), Barron Field, who usually found Australian
landscape unpicturesque, called the river 'the Nile of Botany Bay', and
British author Anthony Trollope, on his famous visit in 1871, was so
taken by the river's charms that he remarked, 'in my opinion, the
Hawkesbury beats the Mississippi'. It is indeed one of the most
grandiose of Australian rivers, which are often quite sinuous and
Along with the establishment of prosperous farms and ship-building industry along its banks, the river inevitably became the haunt of smugglers in colonial times, when spirits (that is, rum) were still a form of currency. The many inlets, coves and caves, now seemingly so picturesque, were the ideal hideaways for the most opportunistic pirates. Early poet Charles Harpur (1813-68), born in Windsor, used the pseudonym 'A Hawkesbury Lad' and wrote of the river's beauties in poems such as 'A Storm in the Mountains'; contemporary poet Robert Adamson also grew up in the district and set many of his poems here.
If you do not have time to travel extensively along the river, it is worth a detour to visit the river inlet of Berowra Waters. Berowra is 13km north of Hornsby on the freeway, and Berowra Waters is c 7km west of there. A delightful little car ferry goes across the water of this little gorge, leading to a serenely situated restaurant directly on the water itself.
The first stop on the river off the main freeway is Brooklyn, so named because the company that built the first Hawkesbury River railway bridge was the Union Bridge Company of Brooklyn, New York. It is easier to reach Brooklyn by continuing from Hornsby on the Old Pacific Highway rather than the freeway itself. From Brooklyn, you can take the Hawkesbury River Ferries cruises up the river, as well as the daily ferry service to Patonga across Broken Bay (t 02 9985 7566); Patonga has some of the best oysters in the region.
One of the most interesting ways to see the Hawkesbury River
is to take the River Boat Mail Run, leaving every weekday morning from
Brooklyn. The boat provides postal services for those who live along
the river, but they allow tourists to come along for the ride (about
four hours; $50 adults). The 08.15 train from Sydney and
the 08.23 from Gosford are scheduled to link with the postal ferry at
The freeway continues north over the river at Mooney Mooney; the bridge itself is awe-inspiring, and it is worth the stop at the scenic lookout on the northern side to view the bridge and the extraordinary scenery below. The freeway now skirts the coastline, with frequent turn-offs to reach the more interesting lakes and beachside sites.
At 85km north of Sydney, Gosford (population 38,210) is within commuting distance from the city (the commuter train from Sydney runs regularly from Central Station), and has recently experienced a residential boom that has spoiled whatever small-town charm it may have had. But it sits at the northern edge of the Brisbane Water National Park, an enormous (7870 ha) and varied reserve that encompasses sub-tropical rainforest, estuarine mudflats and beaches; the popular beachside communities of Woy Woy and Umina on Brisbane Waters are nearby, as is the chic Pearl Beach, an inlet beach with 'pearl-like' wave formations, noted by Captain Cook on his 1770 voyage. Pearl Beach is a popular holiday spot for the Sydney artistic scene, and has a community jazz festival over the Queen's Birthday weekend. Tourist information: 200 Mann Street; t 02 4385 4430.
Gosford itself has little of historical interest, aside from the stone cottage where poet Henry Kendall lived from 1873 to 1875, recovering from alcoholism in the care of local timber merchants, the Fagans. The cottage dates from 1838, and is now used as a local history museum. To the west of town is Old Sydney Town, one of Australia's oldest 'theme parks', a historical village that attempts to recreate events and activities from Macquarie's era. It is open Wednesday to Sunday, and daily during school holidays.
19km southeast of Gosford is the Bouddi National Park (02 4320 4280), a series of small beaches with great opportunities for bushwalking. Directly east of Gosford is Terrigal, a very popular holiday resort with excellent surfing. The area from here north to The Entrance on Tuggerah Lake, c 20km, is filled with caravan parks and holiday camps taking advantage of the clean beaches and lakeside views. This is really family holiday country, and is best avoided during school holidays.
Wyong, 22km north of Gosford on the Pacific Highway, has an interesting District Museum depicting the history of the ferries and logging activities in the area. On the northeast side of Lake Tuggerah, in Norahville on Elizabeth Street, is a timber house of the same name built in 1860 for Edward Hammond Hargraves, of gold-fields fame-Hargraves' discoveries at Ophir began the gold rush in New South Wales. The house, on the cliffs of Norah Head near a lighthouse, has a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean. It is possible from this point to travel north on the coastal road as far as Elizabeth Bay to rejoin the Pacific Highway around the eastern side of Lake Macquarie.
The largest seaboard lake in Australia and the largest saltwater lake in New South Wales, Lake Macquarie has no town centre, but its population (c 158,300) is comprised of tiny settlements around the lake itself. Tourism Lake Macquarie, 228-234 Pacific Highway, Swansea; t 02 4921 0740.
In the 1820s, one of Australia's first missionary
anthropologists, Lancelot Threlkeld (1788-1859), established an
Aboriginal mission at Belmont and later at Toronto; while they closed
in the 1840s, Threlkeld was able to produce some of the first
systematic studies of Aboriginal languages. In 1841 Threlkeld opened a
coal mine on his property at Toronto, the first in the Lake Macquarie
region. The region is still home to many poets, including Donald Moore
and Roland Robinson. Moore's poem 'No Mark for Lake Macquarie' (1980)
captures the confusion of geographical beauty and modern
holiday-makers' noise that marks the area: 'There is for a while/ a
suspicion of haloes/ as the sun goes down/ but no son walks/the unquiet
waters/ among the Saturday/ Sunday crowds/ of herons cats and
outboards/ inboards and followers on skis.'
William Dobell lived in this house from 1942 until his death in 1970, and became known as one of the area's leading 'identities'. He was born in Newcastle, where his father was a builder (Robert Dobell built this house). William demonstrated artistic talents at an early age, and in the 1920s he studied at Julian Ashton's school in Sydney. In the 1930s he studied in England and travelled throughout Europe, developing a style inspired by the Dutch Masters, as well as the English artist Walter Sickert and the French modernist Chaim Soutine. He returned to Sydney in 1939, where he acquired a circle of admirers and honed his skills both as a satirical artist and portrait painter; his work was always within the social realist direction and never abstract.
Satire and portraiture were at the centre of the controversy that erupted when Dobell received the Archibald Prize in 1944 for his portrait of his friend Joshua Smith. The prize is awarded by the Trustees of the Gallery of New South Wales. Conservative artists, still fighting the anti-modernist battle, argued that the painting was a caricature of Smith rather than a 'likeness', and therefore did not qualify for the portrait prize; the Archibald Prize was, and still is, lucrative and highly coveted. The arguments reached the Supreme Court of New South Wales, becoming Australia's first legal consideration of artistic values, in many ways mirroring a similar modernist-conservative debate between Whistler and John Ruskin in England nearly a century before. The case was eventually dismissed, after much popular debate about the issue; the verdict was greeted as a victory for the modern movement, although Dobell was never really a modernist painter. Dobell continued to paint his portraits until his death, was knighted, and became a venerable figure in Australian art; many of his idiosyncratic works can be seen at his Wangi Wangi house, and in nearly every gallery in Australia.
The main occupation here today is fishing, water-skiing, and cruising the lake on such ships as the Wangi Queen and the Macquarie Lady, which leave from the wharves at Toronto and Belmont. From the Morisset exit off the freeway, travel on route 133 c 20km to Wangi Wangi, at the tip of a western inlet of the lake. At 47 Dobell Drive is the home of famous and controversial Australian portrait painter, Sir William Dobell (1899-1970). Dobell House contains a collection of his work and memorabilia (02 4975 4115; open Sat Sun and holidays 11.00-16.00).
From Lake Macquarie you can proceed north back on route 133 and travel along the lake into Newcastle. The Sydney-Newcastle Freeway, no. 1, can also be joined again west of Toronto, for the quickest route into Newcastle, after which the Freeway connects again to the Old Pacific Highway.
As Australia's largest industrial city and New South Wales's
largest city (and with a population of 255,800, the sixth largest in
the country), Newcastle has a dubious reputation in the public's
imagination. While once reviled as a dirty and polluted factory
town-writer Donald Horne called it 'Australia's Pittsburgh'-the city
has gained international recognition in the last two decades for its
efforts to clean up industrial waste and grime and to emphasise its
magnificent geographical setting. Located on a huge harbour, Newcastle
is also surrounded by fantastic surf beaches, and sits most
salubriously at the edge of Australia's premier wine-growing region,
the Hunter Valley.
The area was the traditional home of the Awabakal and Worimi Aboriginal groups. While its real development stemmed from the discovery of huge coal deposits in the region, similarities with its English namesake end there. Newcastle came to world attention in December 1989, when the area experienced one of Australia's only major earthquakes, which killed 13 people; community spirit has led to rebuilding of those areas that were damaged. A bigger blow has recently struck the region: in 1997, the town's main industry, the great BHP steel plant which has been the town's mainstay since 1913, announced that the factory would close in 1999, leading most to lament the end of Newcastle's traditional working-class culture and causing widespread predictions of economic disaster. But the town has such a splendid physical location that it seems unlikely that the tourism industry could ever bypass Newcastle entirely. Like citizens of working-class towns the world over, the Novocastrians, as they call themselves, are intensely proud of their city.
information: 361 Hunter Street; t 02 4974 2999.
Festivals in Newcastle include 'Mattara' in the spring; the name is Aboriginal for 'Hand of Friendship'. The Newcastle Agricultural Show is held annually in February/March, and the Conservatorium of Music sponsors a prestigious Keyboard Festival each year.
Captain Cook described present-day Nobbys Island at the entrance to present-day Newcastle Harbour as he passed by in 1770; the harbour itself was first discovered in 1797, when Governor Hunter ordered a group of marines to search for four convicts who had escaped by boat and headed north. While the convicts and the boat were never found, Lieutenant John Shortland in the Reliance explored the coastline upon his return to Sydney and found the Newcastle harbour. He also identified coal in the rocks along the nearby river, thus naming it the 'Coal' River, now the Hunter; by 1798 a mining operation began there.
The settlement at present-day Newcastle was not established until 1804, when New South Wales Governor King decreed that a new penal colony, for recidivists and recalcitrants both male and female, should be founded at the mouth of the Hunter River. Charles Throsby became the first Commandant with only 20 soldiers and 20 convicts in the first year. By 1816 Captain Wallis had 1000 convicts under his control here, 400 of whom began to build the breakwater in the harbour, connecting Nobbys Island to the mainland. In the early 1820s the settlement gained its most fearsome reputation, when Major Morisset, popularly known as 'King Lash' (later to become the notorious Commandant of Norfolk Island), imposed his rigorous system of flogging, and forced convicts to construct the bathing pool known as Bogey's Hole, along with the backbreaking task of building the breakwater. By 1823, Morisset left, and under the term of Captain Gillman, the place became a free settlement and was named Newcastle. Land grants were quickly taken up in the region, particularly in the Hunter Valley, which soon became the breadbasket for the entire colony and, most importantly, a major source of red cedar (see box), the colony's prime timber.
Once Newcastle was declared a free town, the surveyor Henry Dangar was commissioned to devise a town plan. Dangar's solution, a simple grid of three east-west and seven north-south streets with a central north-south public axis, still forms the basis for Newcastle's inner city. Dangar also established city blocks of only 90m width, unlike the larger scale of Melbourne and Adelaide; this scale accounts for the unusually intimate and compact dimensions of central Newcastle today. While the 1820s saw the area become a primary agricultural centre with the founding of the Australian Agricultural Company, the town's real industry and reason for being was coal-mining. The first pit opened in 1831; by 1848, the convict gaol closed and the last remnants of penal settlement were removed. In the late 1840s, the opening of the immense coal deposit, the Borehole Seam, in the present suburb of Hamilton, led to new miners' encampments outside central Newcastle. This situation caused Newcastle to develop as a series of separate villages and townships that were not amalgamated as Greater Newcastle until the early 20C although Newcastle itself had become a municipality in 1859.
The area grew rapidly in the 1850s and 1860s, prompted by the arrival of the railway. Many of the early historical buildings date from this period. The great number of elaborate commercial buildings, many of them built by an immigrant architect from North Germany, Frederick Menkens (1855-1910), arose in the High Victorian era from 1880 to 1910, when Newcastle's coal-mining still sustained a thriving economy based on coal and shipping. By the time of Federation in 1901, however, the coal began to run out, and the city faced hard times. The decision by the New South Wales government to build a state dockyard in Newcastle Harbour coincided with the most significant event in Newcastle's development: the arrival of the Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd (BHP) steelworks in 1913, and the subsequent attraction of additional heavy-industry factories. By the 1920s, one-third of Newcastle's workers were employed in either the steelworks or the docks, and their factories came to dominate Novocastrian skyline and the citizens' lives; as novelist Elizabeth Harrower, who was born in the suburb of Mayfield in 1928, wrote, the city 'had been-you might say on principle-low-lying, single-storeyed in everything, that is, but steelworks and factories'.
Newcastle's sprawling suburban development did not augur well for inner-city living and architecture; still, the city did see the appearance of some interesting modernist architecture in the 1960s and 1970s. Particularly interesting is the work carried out at the University of Newcastle, especially those buildings completed under the direction of the German-Swiss-born architect Frederick Romberg (1913-92), the university's first Professor of Architecture. Romberg's presence at the university, after many successful years in Melbourne, inspired other leading architectural groups to build in the area. The university campus itself is an important architectural and cultural centre in the area; physically, it is set in bushland and is considered the most 'arboreal' of Australian campuses. Literary activities here are strong; the campus is the location for Nimrod Publications, which specialises in local writing, and the English department sponsors important poetry competitions and writers-in-residence programmes.
Visitors staying for any length of time in the Newcastle area
want to get a copy of the excellent Architecture
Barry Maitland and David Stafford for the University of Newcastle and
the RAIA; it is a thorough examination of buildings and sites of
historical and architectural interest.
The use of the common name of 'cedar' for various types of wood in Australia is a good example of the early settlers' practice of giving familiar Northern Hemisphere names to newly discovered flora which in some way resembled the tree or plant they knew at home. When Australians speak of red cedar, they mean Cedrela australis, a large tree of the family Meliaceae, the only species of the genus indigenous to Australia; these trees are not members of the genus cedrus, the 'real' cedar known to Europeans and Americans. Australians also talk of white cedar, Melia dubia, and even Mackay cedar, which is actually Albizzia toona. But red cedar was the timber at the heart of the colonial industry; the tree was once a familiar feature of most eastern coastal forests, and recognised immediately for its durability and flexibility-a feature missing from most other Australian woods. As early as 1795, Australian cedar was exported to India, and cedar felling was an important early industry, especially in the Hawkesbury and Northern coastal regions of New South Wales; the culture of the cedar-getters became legendary, as a rough and ready group. An American, writing about them in 1851, stated 'They labour very hard but they are certain the most improvident set of men in the world, often eclipsing in recklessness, mystery and peculiarity of character the wood-cutters of Campeachy and the lumberers of the Ohio and Mississippi.' Most of the beautiful interior floors and woodwork of the Macquarie-era buildings were of red cedar. By the 1890s, these once majestic trees had been almost entirely logged out; today, red cedar is one of the rarest and most prized woods for furniture-makers, and house salvagers still make enormous profits if they can find old house-fittings of cedar to recycle.
The Pacific Highway leads directly into Newcastle City, becoming the main shopping thoroughfare, Hunter Street, which ends at the harbour and near Nobbys Island. The foreshore at this point stretches along the harbour, which is comprised of the mouth of the Hunter River where it enters the ocean through an opening between the Nobbys Island breakwater and the land-spit of Stockton on the northern bank. Queen's Wharf, a project of the Newcastle Foreshore development scheme completed for the Bicentenary in 1988, is the location of the main tourist centre, and is linked to Hunter Street by a pedestrian bridge; the redevelopment continues into the Foreshore Park heading up towards Nobbys Island. The design of the wharf could be labelled 'post-modern' in its use of varying shapes and sizes, and won many awards at the time it first opened. It already appears dated architecturally, but is a valuable addition to the cityscape for its reclamation of previously inaccessible land. You can climb a tower here for magnificent views of the harbour and the city. A replica of William IV, the first Australian-built steam/sailing ship, is also moored along this reclaimed foreshore, and harbour cruises, as well as the ferry over to Stockton on the other side of the river, originate from the pier. The tourist centre is an excellent one, and provides a comprehensive heritage walk map.
Return to Hunter Street, which at this point is City Mall, and then becomes Scott Street heading east. Past the Railway Station, now a rather neglected Victorian structure, is the Convict Stockade, an unassuming area between Scott and Bond Streets of great historical significance for its archaeological record of early Australian convictism. Nearby, on the corner of Watt and Scott Streets, is the striking Customs House with Italianate tower, built in 1877 by Colonial Architect James Barnet, with 1900 additions by Government Architect W.L. Vernon. Situated on a plaza overlooking the harbour, this graceful building has a commanding presence in this early part of town; its architecture is complemented by the Earp Gilliam Building on the corner of Bond and Telford Street immediately to the east of Customs House. This former bond store and produce market was one of the many works of Newcastle's greatest early architect, Frederick Menkens, who completed this polychromatic brick structure in 1888. Its restoration was completed by Brian Suters' architectural practice, responsible for much of the conservation work carried out in the city in the 1980s.
From Customs House Plaza, travel c 1km towards Nobbys Head and Flagstaff Hill (also known as Beacon Hill). At Stevenson Place and Nobbys Road are 'Boatman's Row' terraces, a group of houses built in 1892 and associated with the lifeboat men responsible for rescue after shipwrecks. Travel up Nobby's Road to Fort Scratchley, now the site of the Military & Maritime Historical Museums (t 02 4929 2588, open daily in cooperation with a number of other sites). The hill was the site of the town's first coal mine, probably the first mine in Australia. In 1876, in response to fears of Russian invasion, Major-General William Jervois and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley recommended that fortifications be built at the entrance to Newcastle Harbour. The gun emplacements here, surrounded by concrete walls, were erected between 1881 and 1886. These guns, kept fully operational throughout the 20C, were finally used against a Japanese submarine during the Second World War. The museum on this site houses a collection on nautical history in the region and includes the relics of the French Barque Adolphe, wrecked on the infamous Oyster Bank in 1904; the hull of the ship can be seen against the Stockton Breakwall.
Continue up Nobby Road to Nobbys Head.
In 1816, the then Nobbys Island, still separated from the mainland, became the location of a prison for recalcitrant female convicts. At about the same time, Captain Wallis ordered the building of the breakwater to link the island. Under brutal Major Morisset, work continued in the 1820s, until suspended by Governor Brisbane. The breakwater was finally completed in 1846. In 1854, a certain Colonel Barney of the Royal Engineers, convinced that the island was an obstruction to navigation, attempted to blow it up with two tonnes of gunpowder. Novocastrians protested and the demolition was halted, although 30 feet from the top were cut away. The present lighthouse was erected in 1857, when the coal fire previously used for navigation on Beacon Hill was extinguished. The lighthouse, built by Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson, is the oldest lighthouse in New South Wales installed with modern 'Trinity House' codes.
Return to town via the Shortland Esplanade, travelling past the old Rock Baths, built in 1883 and known as Soldiers Baths because of their use by the garrison at Fort Scratchley. These baths fell into disrepair with the opening in 1922 of the Ocean Baths to the south by Newcastle Beach. Shortland Esplanade continues along the beach past the Royal Newcastle Hospital, situated nearly on the beach with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. At Fletcher Park along the beach near Watt Street is a statue to James Fletcher (1834-91), an important friend of the miners and union organiser. Continue south c 500m to the Bogey Hole, the infamous Commandant's Pool built by convict labour for Major Morisset between 1819 and 1822. 'Bogey' derives from an Aboriginal word for bathing. The pool was opened for public use in 1863; it is now the earliest reminder of Newcastle's convict past.
Bogey Hole sits at the edge of King Edward Park, one of the many attractive public parks throughout the city. This one includes sunken gardens, an ironwork rotunda from 1898, and a garden named in honour of Newcastle's American 'sister city', Arcadia, California.
At the top of the park off Reserve Road is the Obelisk, on the site of the settlement's first flour mill, the windmill of which was an important navigational marker from the 1820s until its demolition in 1847. In response to the demand for another marker on the site, the Obelisk was built in 1850. From here, citizens in 1866 watched one of the worst maritime disasters in Australian history, when on a single day five ships were blown onto the notorious Oyster Bank sandspit on the northern side of the harbour.
The Obelisk is also at the edge of the area known as The Hill, from the early days the location of the best houses and public buildings. Across the street from the Obelisk on Oradance Street is Jesmond House, one of the grandest Victorian villas in Newcastle, built in 1875 and long associated with the brewer John Wood. The tower was added in the 1880s, to allow the son John Robert Wood to pursue his hobby of landscape and ocean photography. When the younger Wood married a popular Shakespearian actress, the house became the venue for the city's most fashionable social events. It was in the process of building the rear wings of the house that Frederick Menkens accused the electrical subcontractor of shoddy work, was sued by the contractor, refused to pay, and was sent to gaol for 12 months.
The Hill is now dominated by the Newcastle Court House on Church Street near Bolton Street. Built in 1890 by Colonial Architect James Barnet and completed by W.L. Vernon, the building is a well-proportioned example of High Victorian Classical architecture. It is located on what was originally the army parade ground and then the first cricket ground in Newcastle. Around the corner on Newcomen Street, within the walls of the present James Fletcher Hospital, the Medical Superintendent's Residence is an excellent example of an early garrison house with verandah; it was built in 1841 to serve as officers' quarters for the barracks. Diagonally across the street from the Court House on the corner of Church and Bolton Streets is the former Newcastle East Public School, home of the oldest continuously existing school in Australia until its closure in 1980. A school was on the site from 1816. The present structure is an example of a rather loosely defined Federation Style applied to public buildings, completed in 1912 by W.L. Vernon, with Arts and Crafts-style proportions; the alternating brick-and-stone bands are referred to as a 'blood and bandages' or 'bacon-rind' façade.
This block of Bolton Street, between Church and King Streets, contains two other exemplary buildings. Cohen's Bond Store, a five-storey warehouse, was one of the most significant commercial works of Frederick Menkens, built in 1901 of monochromatic dark brick. Only the elegant façade remains, with its dramatic arches and detailed cornice; behind is now a car park. In contrast, the corner building on King Street is the Court Chambers, a whimsical two-storey High Victorian office building designed by E.C. Yeomans in 1898. Almost every window and gable includes a different form of decoration, and the corner entrance is topped by the bust of a judge.
Further along Bolton Street, on the corner of Hunter Street is the sober ANZ Bank building, built by Scott and Green in 1914 in what is called an 'Inter-War Commercial Palazzo style'; while around the corner at nos 127-131 Scott Street between Bolton and Newcomen Streets is Frederick Menkens' most exuberant building, now the Air Force Club. Originally built in 1892 to house the offices and auction rooms of wine merchant Joseph Wood, it became the Longworth Institute, with art gallery and recital hall, in 1907. The elaborate decorative façade is the most fanciful indication of Menken's North German origins.
Turn south on Newcomen Street to return to The Hill. At Kings
Claremont House, unique in Newcastle as an intact Victorian residence
in Georgian style. It was built in the 1840s and was at one time the
home of artist Richard Read, who sold it to mining boss Alexander Brown
in 1843. It is a charming example of a two-storey timber house with
impressive verandah and ironwork balustrade.
This part of The Hill is also the site of Christ Church Cathedral, certainly the most significant structure in Newcastle. The entire city centre was planned around its axial location, and its initial design was the largest work of the important early church architect, the Canadian-born John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904). The saga of the church's construction is, as one source states 'of medieval duration'. Commissioned to replace the dilapidated church that had occupied this prominent site since 1817, Hunt began the design in 1868, but many disputes between Hunt and the Dean of the Cathedral, Arthur Selwyn, delayed construction until 1883. By 1895, more feuds led to the sacking of Hunt, at which time only the external walls to the level of the nave were completed. Further variations were made in the next few years, although the present form of the cathedral was not carried out until the appointment of Frederick Menkens' partner F.G. Castleden in 1912. Castleden worked on the church over the next 20 years and added the castellated parapet to Hunt's original design. The tower was not raised until 1979, 110 years after the commencement of the cathedral. The 1989 earthquake caused substantial structural damage, leading to its reinforcement with 4km of concealed steel rods through the fabric of the building.
About 300m further west on Church Street is St Mary's Star of the Sea Church, built in 1866 as the first Roman Catholic Church in the town. Around the corner on Brown and Tyrrell Streets is the historic Navigation Beacon Tower, erected in 1865 as one of a pair of navigational aids. One tower had a red light, and the other a white light, by which ships could steer a course through the heads into the harbour. Another project of Colonial Architect James Barnet, the towers were used until 1918, when they were made obsolete by other devices.
Tyrrell Street proceeds west to Darby Street and Civic Park, where it becomes Laman Street, in the area known as Cooks Hill. This area is elevated from the main centre of town, offering good views of the area to the ocean.
At no. 1 Laman Street is the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery (Tues-Sun, 10.00-17.00; t 02 4974 5100), a rather uninspiring contemporary building, opened by the Queen in 1977. The gallery houses the city's art collection, largely Australian works with many examples by Novocastrian native William Dobell, and has regularly changing exhibitions. Next door is the Newcastle Regional Library, formerly the War Memorial Culture Centre, which opened in 1957 with the art gallery and conservatorium of music.
At the corner of Laman and Dawson Streets, an astonishingly
Baptist Tabernacle, built in 1890, stands as testimony to architect
Frederick Menkens' German training in a variety of stylistic modes. One
need only compare this church, with its Corinthian columns, with
another of Menkens' designs, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, across
the street on the other corner of Civic Park. For this church, built in
the same year as the tabernacle, Menkens selected a more predictable
Gothic style, facing the entrance away from the park rather than facing
in and with a highly vertical spire.
In spacious Civic Park is the Captain James Cook Fountain, the result of a sculptural competition in 1966. The sculptor Margel Hinder has attempted to incorporate water and non-water elements to signify, according to one critic, 'the energy, vigour and metallic strength of Newcastle'.
Across Auckland Street from St Andrew's is an exciting new addition to Newcastle's architectural and cultural life, the University of Newcastle Conservatorium. Built as a Bicentennial project in 1988 under the auspices of Government Architect J.W. Thomson, the post-modernist exterior, with its evocation of Art Deco motifs, envelops one of the best acoustic spaces in the world, designed specifically for music performances with state-of-the-art recording facilities.
The Cooks Hill area was in the early Victorian era a working-class residential neighbourhood, and some examples of these domestic structures remain, most of them now used as galleries or offices. Just as with the campaign to save The Rocks in Sydney, however, these buildings only barely escaped the wreckers' ball of the 1970s. The von Bertouch Galleries, 1-7 Hanniford's Lane off Laman Street, represents one of the first 'rescues' of these buildings from demolition. In 1969, the campaign was able to save these four terrace houses from the 1870s, and turned them into the first commercial art gallery in Australia outside the main cities. Also of historical interest in the area is 'Leslieville', at no. 63 Union Street. Now the headquarters of the Workers' Educational Association, this lovely Victorian residence with two-storey iron lace balcony was built by William Arnott (1827-1901), founder of Arnott's Biscuits, still one of Australia's best-known companies. Arnott migrated from Scotland, first setting up a successful bakery in Maitland. He moved to Newcastle in 1864, and established his famous biscuit factory on a site adjoining this house, named Leslieville after his first son. While the Arnott family moved to Mayfield in 1888, this building served as the main company offices until Arnott closed the Newcastle works in 1914 and moved to Sydney.
Many of Newcastle's older suburbs, those that were developed
as mining villages, are well worth a stroll, both for examples of 19C
architecture and to visit the Victorian-era parks, such as Lambton Park
in Lambton, created by ambitious local residents out of swamp and
scrubland. Other mining-village suburbs worth a visit are Wallsend,
established in 1859; Mayfield, in the 1880s the location of fashionable
homes and now the most working-class neighbourhood; and Waratah, dating
from the 1860s, now a students' neighbourhood.
Of particular interest is the very old suburb of Hamilton, site of Newcastle Racecourse and Learmonth Park, an Edwardian 'garden suburb'. Hamilton is now the most multicultural community in Newcastle, with Beaumont Street as its heart; the street is a good place to find ethnic eateries and markets.
University of Newcastle
Continue west on the Pacific Highway and follow the turn-off signs to University Drive in Callaghan, location of the University of Newcastle. Established as a university in 1965 from the amalgamation of an earlier college, the bushland setting of the campus provided ample opportunity for many important works of contemporary architecture. The first of these was the Student Union, completed in 1969 by Archer Mortlock Murray and Woolley. Described poetically by architectural critic Robin Boyd as 'tamed Australian romantic...brutalism', the building was one of the most important in the region in the 1960s, for introducing this organic style. Similarly, the Architecture Building, completed by the firm of Romberg and Boyd in 1970, at the time Romberg was Professor of Architecture here, blends well into the landscape and begins to define what would be called a Sydney Regional style. Similar low-scale modernism determines the look of the Great Hall, completed in 1973 by the Archer Mortlock group, while later buildings, such as the 1992 BSC Building by renowned British architect Michael Wilford with Suters Architects, and the 1994 high-tech Advanced Technology Centre by Jackson Teese and Associates, represent Australian architecture's coming of age. Finally, the Design Building of 1994, designed by Stutchbury and Pape, EJE Architecture, demonstrates the best of contemporary design sensitive to environmental needs and economic stringencies.
Only 50km west of Newcastle and 200km north of Sydney, Cessnock (population 17,500) marks the beginning of the Hunter Valley, Australia's first centre for viticulture and still one of the leading wine-producing areas in the country. The region extends from Cessnock in the south to the area near the Upper Hunter River in the north, around the town of Scone. Dotted throughout are some of the oldest and still the best known Australian wineries. The region's tourism center is north of Cesnock on highway 82 in Pokolbin (t. 02 4990 0900). They can help with the arrangement of tours, should you wish to partake of the grape and not be worried about driving after drinking (the state's strict .05 limitations are enforced here as well!).
History of the Hunter Valley vineyards
The Hunter Valley was not settled until the 1820s when explorer and pioneer John Howe blazed a trail from Windsor through Singleton to Maitland on the Hunter River. Wine-growing, bizarrely juxtaposed in the region with coal-mining, was established here almost immediately upon settlement. While vines accompanied the First Fleet and early figures such as John Macarthur and Gregory Blaxland had already established vineyards on their properties from the earliest days of the colony, wine became a viable Australian product only after the initiation of the Hunter Valley vineyards.
James Busby (1810-71) was instrumental in the establishment of the region for wine-growing. A remarkable Scottish immigrant (son of the engineer of 'Busby's Bore' fame in Sydney) with no previous knowledge of wine-making, Busby decided before arriving in the country that Australia held great promise for wine-producing. He set out to learn all he could about viticulture, publishing in 1825, at the age of 24, A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine, followed in 1830 by A Manual of Plain Directions for Planting and Cultivating Vineyards and for Making Wine in New South Wales. Busby was granted 2000 acres near the Hunter River, and on a trip to Europe in 1831, he assembled some 400 vine cuttings, both French and Spanish, to be planted in the Sydney Botanic Gardens upon his return in 1832, and distributed to suitable growers throughout the colony. He left Australia in 1833 for New Zealand, where he was instrumental in the development of that colony. At that time, he turned over the mantle of wine developer to Dr Henry Lindeman, founder of the Lindeman label still in operation today, and George Wyndham, founder of Wyndham Estates. In 1842, Lindeman, an ex-navy doctor, purchased the property Cawarra, near Paterson; by 1861, this estate produced some 5000 gallons from his own vineyard and 30,000 gallons from grapes purchased from neighbouring growers. The Cawarra Estate, listed by the National Trust, with buildings from the 1880s and a wine cellar used from 1853 to 1918, still stands in the Paterson River Valley, 3km north of Gresford. (The property is a private residence, not open to the public.)
The second half of the 19C was the golden era of Hunter Valley wines, with an increase in yields for their white table wines and recognition at international exhibitions. By the turn of the century, however, South Australian wines came to dominate the market, as Australian tastes tended towards sweet and fortified wines, a situation that continued until the 1970s. Hunter Valley whites, especially Semillon varieties, continued to be produced, but much of the land was turned back into grazing pasture, and vineyards were consolidated under a few labels. In the last twenty years, of course, all this has changed, as Australian drinking habits have been transformed. An enthusiastic wine culture, both at home and abroad, has nurtured new vineyards as well as the expansion of the established names. Along with Lindeman and Wyndham, these names include Tyrell's, Drayton's, and Rothbury Estate.
Although wineries (and dining) are the real reason to visit the Hunter Valley, a few other points of interest can be found in the region. The Cessnock Regional Art Gallery mounts modest though interesting exhibits. They also offer art classes for children of various ages (t. 02 4991 6619, open Tues. to Fri. 10.00-17.00, weekends 11.00-16.00).
southwest of Cessnock is the historic village of Wollombi (an
Aboriginal word for 'Meeting of the Waters'), filled with sandstone
buildings dating from the 1840s and the Endeavour Museum, located in
the 1866 Wollombi Courthouse.
On the road northeast of Cessnock (route 132) is Kurri Kurri (18km), which has an architecturally curious three-storey turn-of-the-century pub, The Kurri Kurri Hotel, on the corner of Land and Hampden Streets. Such large verandah-and-ironwork hotels in quaint country villages dot the Hunter Valley landscape, many dating from the prosperous period before the country-wide economic depression of the 1890s.
Maitland, with a population of 46,000, is on the Hunter River, 28km west of Newcastle. There is a regular train service from Newcastle. Settled in 1818 when convicts were brought up the river to chop cedar trees, Maitland was a flourishing town by the 1840s; until the early 20C, Newcastle students had to travel to Maitland to attend high school. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser was established in 1843 and is the oldest surviving country newspaper in the state. Its greatest claim to fame in the 20C was as the birthplace of the legendary boxer Les Darcy, who died tragically in America at 21 in 1917; and as the site of devastating floods in 1955.
office is at the corner of New
England Highway and High Street, t 02 4931 2800. The entire
inner city around High
Street, as well as several buildings on Church Street, are listed as
National Trust properties. Of note are 'Brough House' and Grossman
House, on Church Street, built as mirror images adjoining each other by
merchants Samuel Owen and Isaac Becket in 1860-62. Brough House is now
the Maitland City Art
Gallery (t 02 4934 9859; Tues.-Sun. 10.00-17.00) and
is a history museum (t
02 4933 6452; Sun 10.00-15.00). The Walka Recreation and
Wildlife Reserve is on the grounds of the 19th c. waterworks
immediately north of town. In addition to being a good bird
watching venue, it is a pleasant place for a picnic; the remaining
structures feature ornate brickwork.
Other outstanding structures include 'Aberglasslyn', a two-storey stone Regency house dating from the 1840s and situated on the banks of the river; and 'Cintra', Regent Street, an elegant homestead of the 1880s now open as a bed and breakfast. At 1 High Street in East Maitland is Fosters Farm, a small brick and stone farmhouse built in 1829 by ex-convict Samuel Clift.
Only 5km northeast of Maitland is the historic village of Morpeth, at one time the major port on the Hunter River and the seat of the bishops of Newcastle. Established as a river port from 1831-41, it developed on the property of Edward Close. The opening of the Great Northern Railway in 1857 bypassed Morpeth and caused Newcastle's emergence as the regional centre. The town consists of a surprising number of intact buildings from the 1850s, including Close's Georgian-style house 'Closebourne' and a charming courthouse (now a public library) dating from the 1860s as well as numerous shopfronts and verandahs.
From Maitland, the New England Highway (route 15) continues
through historic coal-mining towns such as Singleton, home of the
Australian Infantry Corps Museum (unfortunately closed until August
2011), and Muswellbrook and Scone, one of
the largest horsebreeding centres in the world.
20km north of Scone is Burning Mountain Nature Reserve, site of an underground burning coal seam that has been smouldering for a thousand years. Early settlers believed it was a volcano.
From Scone, you can take a largely unsealed road 80km east
Gloucester to reach this stunning mountain park. More conveniently, you
can travel from Maitland north towards Gloucester, through the historic
village of Scone, famed for its convict-built Anglican Church of St
John, constructed of local clay bricks in 1833.
At Gloucester, turn west and proceed 38km on dirt roads to the park's entrance. Rightly considered a 'must-see' by most travel writers, Barrington Tops National Park (t 02 6538 5300) has been World Heritage listed since 1969 and is the catchment area for six rivers feeding into the Manning and Hunter Rivers. The most extraordinary feature of this 39,000 ha park is the abrupt altitude changes, from subtropical rainforest at the base of the peaks (highest point is 1555m) to windswept plateaus with snow gums and occasional snow. Tremendous walking trails, including a riverside walk suitable for wheelchairs, make the journey to reach the park more than worthwhile. The mountains in part served as inspiration for popular poet Les Murray's 'The Bulahdelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle' (1984).
The New England Highway (route 15) northwest from
inland through the region along the Great Dividing Range designated
since 1836 as New England. First crossed by explorer John Oxley in 1818
on his way into Queensland, this farming region sits on a high plateau
which leads to seasonal weather changes unlike those on the warm
northern coast of the state; the region extends as far north as Warwick
in Queensland. As a way to avoid the most touristy parts of the coast,
this route offers an interesting alternative. Because of its escarpment
and its geological formation, the region is famous for its fossicking
possibilities. Jaspers, serpentine, quartz, crystal and chalcedony are
found throughout the countryside, and the area around the town of Glen
Innes contains major deposits of sapphires, as well as tin. Some
diamond and gold- mining are also still in operation.
Driving through New England offers picturesque scenery, with mountains, streams, and deep gorges on one side, and black-soil plains planted with wheat and cotton on the other. River fishing is also excellent. The rail from Sydney travels daily along this route, ending at Armidale (with bus connections to Inverell).
Major towns in New England include Tamworth (population 35,000), world-famous to country-music fans as the Down-Under Nashville. Major recording studios for Australia's thriving country music scene are established here, and the week-long Country Music Festival (t 02 6767 5300) occurs here every year, ending on Australia Day weekend (end of January), when the country music awards are presented. On a historical note, Tamworth calls itself the 'city of light', as it was the first city in the southern hemisphere to be totally electrified, in 1888. The tourist information office is at the corner of Peel and Murray Streets (route 15) t 02 6767 5300. The office can provide information on possible visits to country-music recording studios in the city.
A further 110km north on the New England Highway is Armidale (population 20,000), a convenient and pleasant place to stop over on the Sydney to Brisbane drive. Armidale Visitor Centre, 82 Marsh Street , Armidale; t 02 6770 3888. The University of New England, formed as an amalgamation of two university colleges in 1954, is located 5km northwest of the city, and provides an academic atmosphere in much of the town. The campus has a number of impressive buildings, including 'Booloominbah', a large three-storey residence built by J. Horbury Hunt in 1883. Author Thomas Keneally once taught here, as did the detective novelist Robert Barnard. Native daughters include the great poet Judith Wright, who was born at nearby Thalgarrah Station; and contemporary poet Kaye Mill, who wrote in one poem, 'Armidale flatly denies time'. The town sits at 1000m high, and so has true autumn, with attending colour changes of the area's many trees.
In town, the New
England Regional Art Museum, on Kentucky Street (t 02 6772
5255, Tues - Fri 10.00-17.00, weekends 10.00-16.00),
contains the Hinton Collection, a substantial and significant
collection of Australian art. Also in Kentucky Street is the Aboriginal
Centre and Keeping Place (t 02 6771 3606, weekdays
weekends 10.00-16.00), which has regular exhibitions. In the centre of
Armidale, at Dangar and Tingcombe Streets, is the Cathedral Church of
St Peter Apostle and Martyr, a veritable extravaganza of brick in
Gothic Revival style by J. Horbury Hunt (1871-78).
About 6km west from Armidale, near the airport, is Saumarez Homestead, the 1830s property of pastoralist F.J. White. The main house dates from the 1890s, with cast-iron roof and cedar joinery. Run by the National Trust, the property is open to the public (t 02 6772 3616, weekends and holidays 10.00-17.00, closed 15 June through 31 August).
Route 78 east from Armidale leads to two national parks of interest. 42km east is Oxley Wild Rivers National Park (t 02 6776 0000), a vast (90,276 ha) expanse of gorges, valleys, and stunning waterfalls, including Australia's highest (457m), Wollomombi Falls. The park contains some 750 species of plants. A further 40km east is New England National Park (t 02 6657 2309), part of the World Heritage listed rainforest parks of the northeast section of the state. The park includes great views and bushwalks, and provides some interesting cabin accommodation in the grounds itself.
Another 38km north on the highway leads to the small town of Guyra (population 2,000), which is an Aboriginal word for 'fish may be caught'; indeed, the many local streams provide excellent fishing opportunities. Tourist information, t 02 6779 1241. The town is situated on the highest part of the Great Dividing Range (at 1320m), so rivers east of the railway line flow towards the Pacific Ocean, those on the west flow west to the Murray River and ultimately the Southern Ocean. The area was first settled in 1838, when several families took up large tracts for sheep and other livestock; the area is also famous for its potatoes (commemorated in a lamb and potato festival in January). Ollera station is still owned by the original settlers, the Everetts, and is now classified by the National Trust; the lovely brick and timber house dates from the 1870s (not open to the public). Also in town is the St Bartholomew's Church of England (1876), one of the most dramatic of Newcastle architect John Horbury Hunt's small rural churches.
From Guyra, the highway proceeds north 60km to the dairying
and mining town of Glen Innes (population 6000), a centre for sapphire
fossicking. The town includes many fine examples of country-town
hotels, defining the corners of the street and including two-storey
colonnaded verandahs; the William's Club Hotel, on the corner of
Wentworth and Grey Streets, is a good example of this vernacular style.
The town also has Land of the Beardies History House, an amusing folk
museum with period rooms housed in the town's first hospital.
information office, t 02 6730 2400.
As with so many other areas in Australia, Glen Innes is immensely proud of its Scottish heritage, hence a number of Celtic monuments and events: street signs in Gaelic, the Australian Standing Stones monument on a hill above town, Celtic Festivals in early May.
West of Glen Innes on route 38 some 67km is Inverell
10,800), centre of sapphire mining. Industrial diamonds, zircons, and
tin are also mined in the area. Tourist information: Water Towers
Complex, Campbell Street, t 02 6722 1693. A self-guided walk brochure
is available from the information centre, and sapphire fossicking trips
can also be arranged there.
Further west c75km is the small town of Bingara (population 1,250), also a centre for mining, especially gold and tourmalines. An interesting way to travel from Inverell to Bingara is along the small road around Copeton Dam (a section of the road is unsealed) to the road west towards Keera along the Gwydir River; the area is filled with small creeks and rivers and old mines.
Immediately northeast of Bingara is the Myall Creek area, site of one of the most significant massacres of Aborigines. In May 1838, a group of 40 Aborigines had set up camp near a stockman's hut on the Myall Creek station, only recently settled. While the group had established friendly relations with the stockmen, on the night of 9 June, 12 armed men arrived and without any provocation murdered 28 men, women and children; they later returned to burn the bodies. When the station manager returned to Myall Creek and learned of the incident, he informed the police, who in turn informed the Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps. Gipps demanded an investigation; the murderers were arrested and tried on 11 counts of murder. While the prisoners freely admitted the killings, they were astonished that they would be charged with murder, considering Aborigines less than human. Despite protests from many colonists, seven of the men were executed-the first time white offenders were tried and convicted for crimes against Aborigines. At the time of writing, efforts are underway by the Uniting Church and others to place some kind of memorial at the site of the massacre, believed to be some 23km northeast from Bingara along the road to Delungra, at Whitlow Road. For more information, contact Paulette Smith, t 02 6724 1626.
The last town of any size in New South Wales on the New
is Tenterfield (population 3300), well-known as the birthplace of
entertainer Peter Allen, whose song 'Tenterfield Saddler' was an
international hit in the 1970s. The town's more serious claim to fame
is as the birthplace of Australian Federation. Here, on 24 October
1889, Sir Henry Parkes (1815-96) gave the famous Tenterfield
Oration, the speech that led to the
move towards a national convention and drafting of an Australian
constitution. These efforts culminated in federation of the Australian
states in 1901. The event is commenorated at the Sir
Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts,
corner Manners and Rouse Streets (t 02 6736 3592, dialy
10.00-17.00). On the Woodenbong
Road 29km northeast of Tenterfield is Bald Rock National Park, with its
enormous domed granite rock 213m high. Also on
this road is Boonoo Boonoo National Park, with river, waterfall, and
beautiful spring flowers. Tourist
information: Rouse Street, t 02 6736
The Pacific Highway continues north from Newcastle through the
most popular resorts and holidaymakers' beach towns. The railway from
Sydney and Newcastle continues along the coastline, with a dip inland
at Wauchope (the closest station to Port Macquarie), all the way to
The great attraction along this stretch is indeed the extravagant number of beautiful beaches and inlets, as well as the transformation to tropical terrain as one nears the Queensland border. The towns, while having some remnants of historical interest, are now largely geared towards tourism and suburban living, and will be a disappointment if not viewed in light of the heavenly ocean and tropical landscapes surrounding most of them.
Only 50km from Newcastle, Port Stephens is one of the most
unspoiled and calming spots along the North Coast. Take either routes
121 and 122 northeast to the small settlement of Nelson Bay, or
continue north on the Pacific Highway to Tea Gardens Road to reach Tea
Gardens and Hawks Nest on the northern shore of Port Stephens at the
mouth of the Myall River.
Port Stephens is actually the water inlet around which these small communities are situated. This is an ideal place to enjoy the charms of the Australian coast, without the overwhelming hype of the more touristy places. At Nelson Bay (population 9500), boat hire and cruises are available, and one can visit the historic lighthouse at Nelson Head. Nude bathing is also allowed at Samurai Beach. Nelson Bay is a great place to see dolphins, and there are even dolphin watch cruises from the harbour.
From Hawks Nest, travel north c 30km on a dirt road to Myall
Park (t 02 6591 0300); or turn off east of
Bulahdelah on the
Pacific Highway. These lakes, the largest coastal lake system in the
state, are popular with campers and bushwalkers but not at all
overdeveloped. The park includes ocean beaches with headlands as well,
and is a superb waterbird habitat.
From Bulahdelah, continue north on the Pacific Highway, past Alum Mountain, known not only for its enormous alum deposits, but for an abundance of rock orchids. About 5km north of here is the turnoff to see The Grandis, the state's biggest tree, a eucalyptus grandis, 76m high and 2.7m wide. You can also travel from Myall Lakes along the coastal route to the twin towns of Forster-Tuncurry, on either side of the sea entrance of Wallis Lake.
Taree (population 5000) is the next community en route north, located on the Manning River. The town is 72km from Bulahdelah and 340km from Sydney. Popular poet Les Murray is from this area, where his ancestors were timber-cutters in the rich forests up the river. Murray's 'The Bulahdelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle' speaks of 'Taree of the Lebanese shops'. Today the most noticeable sight in town is one of those roadside grotesques so beloved by Australians, in this case The Giant Oyster. Tourist information at Manning Valley Visitor Information Centre, Pacific Highway, t 02 6592 5444. About 10km west of Taree is Wingham, oldest town in the Manning River Valley, established as a centre for timber in 1836. Near the middle of town is the Wingham Brush, one of the few remaining sub-tropical rainforests in the state. The small roads in this valley are filled with lush vegetation, flying foxes and 100 species of birds.
Port Macquarie (population 30,000) is typical of the
towns along the coast. Tourist information: Horton Street; t 02 6583
1293. While it was founded in 1821 as a penal colony for repeat
offenders and recalcitrants, it became such a desirable location for
free settlers that the convicts were soon moved on to terrifying
Norfolk Island or the Moreton Bay settlement.
Very few reminders of 'The Port's' early history remain, only St Thomas the Apostle Church (1824-28), a Court House (1869), and the Historic Museum on Clarence Street. The town remained for much of the 20C a sleepy little fishing village with a harbour too unreliable for real commercial development. Tourists and retirees seeking warmer climes in the 1970s caused the first real boom for the region. The beaches in the area, especially Crowdy Bay to the south, and Hat Head to the north, are what attract visitors; from Port Macquarie north, the coast becomes increasingly lush and tropical. While tourism means that some of the tackier holiday 'attractions' begin to make an appearance here, a few of the more serious venues are worth a visit.
Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park (free admission), near the centre of town, is a lovely patch of rainforest in the midst of suburbia. The Sea Acres Rainforest Centre (t 02 6582 3355, daily 09.00-16.30), on the Pacific Highway, is a serious display of information about the coastal rainforest regions, including a 1.3km-long boardwalk (easy wheelchair access) through the adjacent rainforest floor and canopy. Port Macquarie is also home to Australia's only Koala Hospital (t 02 6584 1522, feeding and display at 15.00), housed on the grounds of a 19C homestead, Roto, which can also be visited.
The Akubra hat holds a place in Australian life comparable to that of the Stetson in America; it is an icon of the bush, an essential element of Australian dress, at least among the 'jackeroos' and other men of the countryside. The famous slouch hat of the Australian soldier is also made by the Akubra company. Known as 'the twelve-rabbit hat', because most of them are made from rabbit-fur felt, the style that would eventually become known as the Akubra was developed in the early 1870s by Benjamin Dunkerley, first in Tasmania and then in Sydney. The Dunkerley Hat Mills was joined by Stephen Keir, who in 1918 began branding the hat 'Akubra', an Aboriginal word for headdress. In the early 1950s, the company obtained a coveted manufacturing agreement with Stetson in the United States, at a time when most Australian men still wore a hat daily, even in the city. In the 1970s, as hat-wearing fell out of favour with urban folk, the company moved to Kempsey, where it still produces a variety of Akubra headgear, the most prevalent ones readily identifiable as 'The Man from Snowy River' or mounted stockman look.
Another 48km north is Kempsey (population 9000), a commercial centre on the Macleay River, noted as the home of the famous Akubra hat factory. The tourist information office is on the Pacific Highway, t 02 6566 3200. The office includes an excellent history museum and is housed in an award-winning building designed by architect Glenn Murcutt.
47km northwest along the road up the Macleay River is Bellbrook, a National Trust village with a famous old pub.
The area around Bellbrook includes an initiation ground of the Thungutti Aboriginal group, still highly sacred and inaccessible to the public. Another Aboriginal site is at Mount Anderson, northeast of the village; the mountain is a clearly visible landmark of the area, over 850m high. The Aboriginal name for the mountain is 'burrelbulai', or 'cooking-grill mountain', referring to a myth involving a green-twig frame used to grill a large eel from the mountain stream.
Returning to the coast, a small road northeast from Kempsey (right on Gill Street to South West Rocks Road) leads to the beachside community of South West Rocks (population 3800), on the stunningly beautiful Trial Bay. The area is surrounded by world-class surfing beaches. On the headlands 3km east of the town is Trial Bay Gaol and Arakoon State Recreation Area (t. 02 6566 6168). The gaol was built in 1886, and is now a small museum; it stands dramatically as a ruin on a peninsula looking out to sea. It was a prison for German internees during the First World War, and a monument to these prisoners is also on site.
Return to the highway, and continue north through Macksville and on to Nambucca Heads (population 6000), one of the first places along the coast to develop as a holiday retreat. In the 1920s it became a popular honeymoon destination. The name comes from the local Aboriginal group, the Gumbaynggirr, meaning 'entrance to the waters' or 'crooked river', referring to the Nambucca River which exits into the ocean here. The river was an important centre for the cedar-timber industry, and in the 1870s supported some shipbuilding concerns as well; 26km up the river from Macksville is Bowraville, location of Taylor Arms, the 'Pub with No Beer' made famous by country singer Slim Dusty's song.
Nambucca Heads houses a history museum at The Headland with Aboriginal artefacts; and Gordon Park Arboretum on Wellington Drive, a small rainforest with boardwalks in the heart of town. Local lookouts, most especially Yarrahapinni Lookout, provide spectacular views of the area, and pleasant river cruises aboard the Nambucca Princess can be booked from the information centre. The area's beaches are some of the best surfing spots in the state.
Some 25km further north turn west onto The Waterfall Way
pass through the pleasant village of Bellingen, with its historical
streetscape and an important artsy-craftsy market the third Saturday of
each month, to reach, 41km west, Dorrigo
Park (t 02 6657 2309), another of the
World-Heritage-listed rainforests of the region.
The village of Dorrigo itself contains a wonderful old hotel with tiled façade and other interesting buildings. But the real attraction is the park 4km southeast of the village, situated on the Dorrigo Plateau (the name means 'stringybark'). Boardwalks allow views of the canopy of the forest; and picnic areas attract local brush turkeys (Alectura lathami), fascinating creatures that build enormous mounds of brush in which to lay and incubate their eggs. Several walking tracks of varying lengths and difficulty begin in the picnic area, and lead to some exquisite waterfalls. The park is also famous for its variety of wild orchids. The entire area around Dorrigo and Bellingen is full of small roads, flying fox colonies, beautiful countryside, and even a memorial red-cedar forest, the Tallow-wood Grove, on Cedar Road out of Dorrigo.
To the west of Dorrigo c 60km is a rugged and remote area, Guy Fawkes River National Park (t 02 6657 2309), a great place for spectacular views, camping and hard bush-walks. (Alternatively, you can reach the park via Armidale, 100km southwest). At Ebor Falls, on the edge of the park, the Guy Fawkes River plunges spectacularly off the tablelands.
Return to the Pacific Highway and continue north c 25km to Coffs Harbour (population 20,300). Coffs Harbour airport has direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane. At this point, the Great Dividing Range reaches the sea for the only time. Like Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour's current reason for being is as a family tourist resort and a centre of sun worshippers' housing developments. The appearance, on the highway itself, of the Big Banana Leisure Park, highlighting the dominance of banana growing in the region, should give some indication of the general level of entertainment here outside the glorious surf beaches; the town marks the beginning of serious 'tourist attraction' country, mostly theme parks of one sort or another and most of which will not be mentioned here. Still, the older area of town near the harbour is picturesque and accessible, even when the summer holidays pack the place with sun-seekers.
The settlement's name is a corruption of Korff's Harbour, a reference to John Korff, a sailor who sheltered near here in 1847. The original settlers in the 1860s and 1870s depended upon the cedar industry and shipping from the town's harbour. The township was laid out in 1887, and the wharf, which shipped timber and other products around the world, was built in 1892. The railway arrived in 1915, marking the end of the port's importance. The town's resort status dates from the early days of the century; in They're a Weird Mob (1957), the main character 'Nino Culotta' spends his honeymoon here, learning to 'crack a wave'. The real tourist boom began in the 1970s, and does not appear to be abating.
The nicest place to visit in town, aside from the surrounding surf-beaches, is the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden, on Hardacre Street (t. 02 6648 4188). Located near the centre of town, the park has great displays and walks through the sub-tropical vegetation of the coast. North of the harbour, one can visit Muttonbird Island, where thousands of these birds breed (see the Great Ocean Road, Victoria for more on muttonbirds). The National Marine Science Centre's Aquarium is an interesting venue as well. It's displays describe the affect of the confluence of the warm and cooler ocean currents of the Solitary Islands Marine Park affect the marine life here. Open weekends and holidays 10.00-16.00.
The next 84km north along the highway travels inland to Grafton, while superb and usually isolated surfing beaches can be reached by small side roads. 26km north of Coff's Harbour, the village of Woolgoolga includes a gleaming Sikh Temple, the Guru Nanak Temple (not to be confused with the touristy Raj Mahal Indian Centre also in town), evidence of a large Indian population that accounts for the excellent Indian food available here.
Grafton (population 17,000) lies on the Clarence River at the junction of the Pacific and Gwydir Highways; the river, in fact, divides the suburb of South Grafton from the centre of town, and was an obstacle to the completion of the railway until 1932, when a double-deck bridge was completed connecting the two sides. The town is 663km north of Sydney. Tourist Centre, Pacific Highway, t 02 6642 4677.
The river provided the means for early settlement in the area; in the 1830s, exploration began as timber-getters arrived, and soon cattle stations were established. The town was proclaimed in 1849, named after then-Governor Fitzroy's grandfather, the Duke of Grafton. Poet Henry Kendall lived here as a child in the 1850s, as did adventure writer Ion Idriess in the 1890s. Writer Edwin James Brady ran a newspaper here in the 1900s with the wonderful name of the Grafton Grip.
Now Grafton is considered a nice country town, filled with
substantial (if predictable) 19C architecture, and famed for its
glorious jacaranda and flame-trees lining the streets. In late October,
the Jacaranda Festival takes place when the brilliantly coloured trees
are in bloom. Of the historical buildings, the most interesting are the
Grafton Gaol, designed in 1893 by H.A. Wiltshire, an elaborate fortress
of more imposing proportions than most country gaols; Schaeffer House
(open Tues-Thurs and Sun 13.00-16.00; t 02 6642 5212), 192 Fitzroy
Street, run by the National Trust as a small regional museum; and
House (open Tues-Sun 10.00-16.00; t 02
6642 3177), 158 Fitzroy
Street, which houses a fine provincial art collection.
On Victoria Street is Christ Church Cathedral, designed in the 1880s by John Horbury Hunt, the Canadian architect responsible for the cathedral in Newcastle; the interior of this cathedral is particularly pleasant, with louvred aisle windows as a concession to the area's tropical climate. Also in this block of buildings are three civic buildings designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet: the Courthouse, 1877-80, of apricot brick; the former Police Station; and the elegant Post Office, built in 1874 with clock and bell tower. The notable aspect of the buildings in this historical precinct is that they are remarkably intact and well-preserved examples of this period.
In the middle of the Clarence River is Susan Island, which is home to a huge colony of fruit bats, or Flying Foxes. These extraordinary creatures are quite common along the coast, and even in Sydney; with a wing-span of nearly a metre and with their screeching cry, they can make a rather terrifying sight when they take off at night, but they are harmless, although devastating to fruit orchards.
The highway north now heads back towards the coastline, through Maclean (population 3000), still on the Clarence River, and home of a large fishing and prawning fleet. These fishermen, along with those in Iluka and Yamba, 21km east, provide about 20 per cent of the state's seafood. The town plays up its Scottish heritage, hosting a Highland Gathering at Easter time. Near Iluka is Woombah Coffee Plantation, the world's southernmost coffee plantation. From Yamba, the little town of Angourie is 5km south; here is a fascinating freshwater pool of unknown depth, only 50m from the ocean, as well as a surf beach with quite enormous waves and conditions for experienced surfers only.
To the north of Iluka, the Bundjalung
Park (t 02 6643 5569
south; t 02 6627 0200 north) stretches along the coast for
stupendous beaches. The park also preserves one of the last wild
coastal rivers, the Esk, as well as mangrove flats, cypress swamps and,
at Woody Head, an exceedingly rare coastal rainforest. This region also
had a relatively substantial Aboriginal population; evidence of
indigenous habitation can be found in many forms, some of them
accessible to the public and some not. Consult the park's information
centre to determine if Aboriginal sites are available to the public.
At Woodburn, 98km north of Grafton, the highway diverges west to Lismore, and east 10km to Evans Head, another holiday and fishing resort with a great seafood restaurant run by the trawler fishermen's co-operative; it is also known for its safe surf beaches and riverflats. Woodburn was the site of the settlement of New Italy, established in the 1880s by a group of Italians from Treviso who had embarked on the abortive scheme to form a colony in New Ireland (New Guinea). After much travail, these travellers were rescued by the New South Wales government and allowed to select land here on the Richmond River. While the colony lasted intact for several years, by the 1930s most of the new generation had moved on to other parts of Australia.
Just north of Evans Head and east of Woodburn is Broadwater National Park (t 02 6627 0200), with 8km of beach and a walking track around Salty Lagoon, a swamp forest. Unusual rock formations and small caves have been created by wave erosion.
At this point, you can continue north on the Pacific Highway 36km to Ballina (population 13,000) past some excellent surf beaches; the town itself, on the Richmond River, is a quiet fishing village with a Maritime Museum/Tourist Office (t 02 6681 1002) housing Aztlan, a small raft that sailed from South America as part of the Las Balsas expedition. The Ballina Transit Centre on the Pacific Highway has another roadside grotesque, The Big Prawn. The Thursday Tea Tree Oil Plantation (tours on Mon-Thur at 11.00 and 14.00 and Fri 11.00; t 02 6686 7273), also on the Pacific Highway, extracts oil from over one million trees. From here, take the Bruxner Highway west 31km to Lismore. Or from Woodburn, travel 40km on a small road through beautiful country to this inland town surrounded by rainforest and abundant evidence of people seeking 'alternative lifestyles'.
Lismore (population 30,000) is the commercial centre of this exquisitely fertile rural region known incomprehensibly as 'The Big Scrub', apparently because of geological oddities engendered by prehistoric volcanic activities here. Tourist information is at the Wilson's River Heritage Centre, on the corner of Ballina and Molesworth Streets, t 02 6626 0100.
Situated on Wilson's River, the town grew in the 1870s as a centre for the timber industry, and then to accommodate dairy and fruit farming. It continued as a thriving rural community until the 1970s, when the original 'hippies' and serious commune-dwellers discovered the tranquillity and fecundity of the tropical surroundings. These alternative New Age sorts, some now converted even more primitively into 'Ferals', have somewhat transformed the community style; they have now been joined by an active and committed environmentalist contingent, intent on saving the rainforests and other wilderness areas.
Given its current status at the more cultivated end of 'hippie culture', with all the attendant paraphernalia of arts and crafts and remnants of psychedelia, it seems incongruous to find in Lismore itself some well-preserved examples of 19C rectitude and prosperity: a Classical Revival courthouse from 1888; St Carthage's Catholic Cathedral, believed to be designed by Wardell and Denning with a spacious Victorian interior; and an imposing brick Post Office from 1879, complete with clock tower. The Regional Art Gallery, 131 Molesworth Street (t 02 6622 2209), regularly showcases substantial local talent; next door is a small Historical Museum, predictably haphazard with photographic displays and artefacts, but also featuring a walk-through rainforest display, and situated in a beautiful park. Local artistic achievements are also highlighted at the annual Arts and Crafts Expo, held every October, and a professional theatre group, Theatre North, provides an active production programme.
As will be evident from a regional map, the area around
Lismore is filled with a maze of small roads traversing the wilds of
this hilly hippie heaven, all of which are worthwhile exploring. While
the train from Sydney stops in Lismore, any exploration of the adjacent
area requires a car. The best drive to consider is directly north; head
first to The Channon, a little town on the road towards Nimbin and home
of one of the best and most characteristic weekend hippie markets, held
on the showgrounds on the second Sunday of every month. The area's many
markets are legendary and a great way to experience the cosmic
lifestyle of the local inhabitants. You can even find waterfalls nearby
in which to swim.
That Nimbin, 30km north of Lismore, is officially the sister city of Woodstock, New York, should give a good indication of its public character. In 1973, Nimbin held an Aquarius Festival that established its near-mythological stature as the Woodstock of Australia. Indeed, the place does appear to be stuck in a Seventies time warp, with psychedelic shopfronts and herbal tearooms. Even the local Aboriginal legends seem to enhance this cosmic atmosphere: at nearby Nimbin Rocks, an outcropping of giant stones surrounding a forest, the local Bundjalung group believe that a little man named Nyimbunje, possessor of supernatural powers, is buried, thereby imbuing the place with a magical aura.
From Ballina, the Pacific Highway continues north 36km into Byron Bay; or take the coastal route, 35km, along another stretch of beautiful surf beaches through the relaxed village of Lennox Head. From Lismore, take the road through Bangalow and into Byron Bay (population 5000). The Tourist Information Office is in the Stationmaster's Cottage , 69 Jonson Street, t 02 6680 8558. Novelist Craig McGregor, who lived here for many years, provides a great description of this well-known spot:
Byron Bay-an enormous, limitless, crescent-shaped sweep of seawater, fringed with white sand, culminating in a high rocky cape and the virginal white phallus of the lighthouse. The township is a mess of galvanised iron roofs fractured by Norfolk Island pines. Looking north across the bay...past the trails of Brunswick Heads prawn trawlers heading for home, a jagged backdrop of mountains dwindles away into Queensland.
Byron, 3km southeast, is the site of the lighthouse,
the most powerful on the eastern coast, built in 1901 in the then-new
method of concrete block. The cape itself-the most easterly point on
the Australian continent-was named by Captain Cook as he sailed by on
15 May 1770, in honour of the navigator John Byron, Lord Byron's
grandfather. Byron Bay is renowned world-wide to surfers, and has
recently become the summer resort of the rich and famous from 'down
South' in Sydney; people such as Crocodile Dundee's Paul Hogan now have
It is conveniently accessible by train and bus from both north and south. Given this glitzy reincarnation, it is hard to imagine that the township used to be considered an ugly working-class community, known primarily for its abattoir and as the end of a camel track. While the high-rises of Queensland's Surfer's Paradise can actually be seen from the hills in town, and the stunning beaches can hold their own with any along the coast, Byron Bay citizens have made an effort to prevent total commercialisation à la the Gold Coast. Consequently it remains a relaxed and low-scale beach town, free of fast-food outlets and theme parks. The holidays can get exceedingly crowded, especially during the Easter weekend Blues Festival, which has become overwhelmingly popular with 'southerners'.
En route to the Queensland border from Byron Bay, the village of Mullumbimby (population 3000) is 3km west of the highway, about 15km further north. Best known for its semi-reconstructed hippie residents, the town has an admirable art gallery worth a visit, as well as a carefully restored house, Cedar House, on Dalley Street. The Brunswick Valley Historical Museum (t 02 6688 4356) is in the 1907 post office building. Sakura Farm, a bed and breakfast in the nearby hills, provides a glimpse of a Japanese style home with a bit of Buddhist. Back on the highway, Brunswick Heads is a further 5km north. The alluvial sands of the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve, at the mouth of the Brunswick River, support a sub-tropical rainforest unlike any other in the state. The location represents the southernmost distribution of several plant species, creating a habitat different from any further south. Mangrove swamps sit adjacent to rainforest, providing unique opportunities to view waterbirds of many species.
Another 32km north is Murwillumbah (population 8000). The
town sits on the Tweed River, 10km south of the Queensland border, and
882km north of Sydney. The name derives from an Aboriginal word meaning
either 'place of many possums' or 'people's campground'. Bob Ellis (b.
1942), journalist and screenwriter of The Year My Voice Broke and The
Nostradamus Kid, was born here and grew up in nearby Lismore. The most
prominent building in town is the Australian Hotel, on the corner of
Wharf and Commercial Road. It is one of the few remaining timber
weatherboard hotels in the area, built in 1912, with a verandah
colonnade extending to the street kerb. The Tweed River
Gallery (open Wed-Sun, 10.00-17.00, t 02 6670 2790)
on Queensland Road
has a surprisingly good collection of regional and international art
and craft and hosts the Douglas Moran Portrait Prize. Tourist
information office on the corner of the Pacific Highway and Alma
Street, t 02 6672 1340.
Of greatest interest in the area is Wollumbin/Mount Warning National Park (t 02 6627 6360), 12km southwest of Murwillumbah off the Murwillumbah-Kyogle Road. The top of this volcanic mountain is the first place to see the sun rise in Australia. The name was given to it by Captain Cook, who nearly ran aground at Point Danger, on the state border, from where this prominent mountain could be seen to warn later navigators. Now only half of its original height, Mount Warning is one of the earth's most ancient volcanoes; the many walking tracks in the park provide fantastic views of rainforest and the surrounding countryside.
From Murwillumbah, it is about 30km via the Pacific Highway to Tweed Heads (population 55,000). Tourist information on the Pacific Highway, t 07 5536 6737. While this is the last settlement in New South Wales, the town is actually a twin city of Coolangatta in Queensland, and is for all intents and purposes a part of the Gold Coast. The appearance of a Big Thing, in this case a Giant Avocado at Avocado Adventureland, 15km south of town, is a good sign that tourist entrapment is beginning. The town is filled with gambling clubs and casinos.
One interesting place to visit is the Minjungbal Aboriginal
Museum (open daily 10.00-16.00, t 07 5524 2109), Kirkwood Road in South
Tweed Heads. It is run by the local Aboriginal Council, and includes
displays and videos about pre-contact Aboriginal life in the region. In
the bushland nearby is a bora ring, a sacred initiation site.
Straddling the state line at Point Danger is the Captain Cook Memorial, erected in 1970 to commemorate the bicentenary of Cook's first voyage. The monument is topped by a lighthouse containing a laser-beam light visible 35km out to sea. A replica of the capstan of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour is here as well, made from the ballast Cook dumped when the ship ran aground further up the coast on the Great Barrier Reef; this ballast was recovered along with the ship's cannons in 1968.
Western interior ~ Blue
Mountains to Broken Hill
The Western Suburbs of Sydney have already been discussed in the main Sydney section. From Penrith, the M4 road continues west across the Nepean River and joins at Glenbrook with the Great Western Highway (route 32) again. This road now leads into the Blue Mountains and onto the plains at Bathurst.
The Sydney trains also travel as far as the Blue Mountains, a delightful way to venture into this region, Sydney's favoured holiday spot for 150 years, offering cooler temperatures in the summer and wintry weather in July.
The Great Dividing range formed as the Kosciuszko Uplift in the Pliocene Epoch. The geological event affected Australia from Cape York (in fact from Papua New Guinea south) in an arch along the eastern seaboard to the Victoria-South Australia border. The Dividing Range's highland regions are generally about 800 to 1000m above sea level. The mountainous areas were formed by granite intrusion beneath the sedimentary rocks and often reach elevations of 2000m.
Access to the Blue Mountains for the tourist is by train, tour bus from Circular Quay or car. The mountains are actually a part of the 245,929 ha of the Blue Mountains National Park (t 02 4787 8877 or 02 4588 5247), with headquarters in Glenbrook, although there are many entry points off the Great Western Highway between Glenbrook and Mount Victoria and at the railway stations along the route. Blue Mountains Information Centre, Great Western Highway, Glenbrook; t 02 4739 6787. The centre can provide detailed self-guide brochures delineating the many bush-walks in the region, as well as information on rock-climbing schools.
The remarkable valleys and lookouts of the Blue Mountains
were caused as the sandstone surface eroded to expose Permian shale and
coal beneath. These softer materials eroded more quickly, undercutting
the sandstone to produce cavities, overhangs and vertical faces. The
currency of advances in geological science can be noted here. Charles
Darwin visited the area in 1836. Unable to conceive of the extreme
geological time frame in which erosion could work, he assumed that the
land was formed as a coastline. The gradual action of erosion has
allowed archaic species of pine and fern to persist here.
The eroded plateau takes its name from the observed blue tint of both distant objects and haze. The volatile oils of the eucalypt and tee tree suspended in the air refracts light more in the low wave-lengths, causing the marked blue appearance, an effect called Rayleigh Scattering.
While forays into these ranges began with Watkin Tench and his exploratory party in 1789, the mountains were first crossed by Gregory Blaxland, surveyor William Lawson, the young William Charles Wentworth and four convicts in 1813. As with several earlier attempts, the need for new pasture land prompted the effort. Unlike these early explorations, which sought passage along the water courses, Blaxland and Lawson suggested that the party travel along the ridges. The current road and rail lines follow their passage, ascending near Glenbrook to the tableland around Wentworth Falls. To this point the ridge is never very wide. Shortly beyond the falls are sheer sandstone walls dropping 300m to the Jamison Valley.
The Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth party continued as far as the meadows below Mount York. George W. Evans followed their course later in the same year, eventually reaching Lithgow and the plains at Bathurst.
Governor Macquarie then commissioned William Cox to construct a road following this route through the mountains. Incredibly, Cox completed the road within six months. The Governor travelled the route shortly thereafter, heading a vice-regal party in 1815 which included artist John William Lewin (1770-1819). Of the 20 or so watercolours Lewin painted, 15 survived in Captain Henry Antill's journal. These are now at the Mitchell Library in Sydney and are occasionally on display. In addition to his work on birds, butterflies and sporting events, Lewin is mentioned as the first artist to depict Australian scenes without many of the encumbering conventions of British painting, so his eucalypts look like gum trees in an Australian landscape rather than oaks in composed British scenery.
An artist of a thoroughly different era, Norman Lindsay (1879-1969), had his studio near Springwood (the address is now Faulconbridge, the next settlement along the Great Western Highway). As the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum (14 Norman Lindsay Crescent, open daily 10.00-16.00, t 02 4751 1067), it is now open to the public, showing Lindsay's sculpture as well as the bacchanalian illustrations so easily recognised as Lindsay's. Many British visitors will recall more readily his children's story, The Magic Pudding.
The railway stops at Wentworth Falls, a good starting-point for the day visitor wanting to take in some of the scenery. The falls area was first known as Weatherboard Hut, after William Cox's slab huts built here in 1814. Also here is Yester Grange (t 02 4757 1110), a historic homestead built in 1888, now an art gallery and tea room with excellent gardens. It is a pleasant and simple walk to the falls themselves. Be warned, however: if you decide to climb down the precipitous cliffside steps for a further bushwalk, the route back to the top is long and arduous! It is definitely worth it for the exquisite views, but be prepared for a good 7-10km hike.
For those coming by train, the logical stopping point is Katoomba (population 15,000). The name derives from the Aboriginal word 'Kedumba', for 'shiny, falling water'. From this hamlet the Katoomba Skyway, built in 1958 over the mountain gorge above Cooks Crossing, and the Scenic Railway (it has been a tourist attraction since the 1880s), descend into the valley. The 45-degree angle makes this a hair-raising trip!
Katoomba is filled with tea rooms, restaurants and guest
of them dating from the Victorian era of holiday travel. One of the
loveliest experiences at many of these houses is the Blue Mountains
Yulefest, held in July-that is, in the winter-when a Northern
Hemisphere Christmas feast makes sense. Such an event makes for a nice
winter outing, especially if the area has some snow (a not uncommon
occurrence in July).
Numerous lookouts and walking trails allow access to the Blue Mountains scenery. A pleasant walk into the Jamison Valley allows one to catch the train for a ride back up. Check the current timetable but the last departure is at 16.55.
Katoomba Falls, Echo Point, the Three Sisters and Witches Leap Falls are all beautiful. The Three Sisters, the most famous of the region's characteristic rock formations, is floodlit at night. Maps of the numerous trails are available at the Information Centre at Echo Point.
A less heavily visited area is just beyond Katoomba at Blackheath, also a rail stop on the Sydney route. Starting at the National Parks and Wildlife Services Blue Mountains Heritage Centre on Govett's Leap Road (t 02 4787 3101), the Fairfax Heritage Track has wheelchair access to Grose Valley and Bridal Veil Falls.
Charles Darwin's walk in this area was from Blackheath to Govett's Leap. Govett, by the way, was not as legend sometimes has it a bushranger who rode his horse over the cliff to die rather than be captured. Rather, Govett was a surveyor with a Scottish ear, a leap being a waterfall in that language. In any event, Govett's Leap, sometimes called Bridal Veil Falls, is a spectacular view. Artists such as the early adventurer Augustus Earle (1793-1838) have made magnificent paintings of the place, and early photographers often depicted genteel tourists standing at this location. Walking farther to the picnic area at Evans Lookout provides more or less continuous views.
The Open Garden Scheme flourishes in the area, particularly
in the spring. The
Tomah Botanic Garden (t 02 4567 3000, open
March-Sept; 10.00-17.00 Oct-Feb), on Bells Line Road, is one of the
Sydney Botanic Garden outposts. It is open daily. Both gardens are
across the Grose Valley via the Darling causeway between Mount Victoria
and Bell or on Bells Line Road from Lithgow.
Except for winter (June through August), the area is well travelled. Fellow bushwalkers and trekkers can be depended upon for suggested walks, eateries, routes and directions. Brochures and assistance can be had through the Blue Mountains Visitor Information Centre.
The road past Katoomba and Blackheath passes through Hartley on its way to Lithgow, 40km west. Hartley was the first settlement (1832) west of the Blue Mountains. Many of its older buildings date from the 1840s. Near here the forest gives way to low scrub, grasses and intermittent eucalypts.
Lithgow (population 12,370) is at the westernmost edge of the Blue Mountains proper. The town came into being as an important centre of coal-mining in the mid-19C, and was renowned as Australia's first producer of steel. Tourist information: 285 Main Street, t 02 6350 3230.
A sudden drop in elevation revealed a coal bed below the
Hawkesbury sandstone and Narrabeen shales which characterise the Blue
Mountains plateau. This drop necessitated a Zig-Zag Railway to open the
mines; this technological wonder opened in the 1870s, and was the
subject of a famous series of watercolours by Sydney painter Conrad
Martens (1801-78). Industrial growth during the 1870s saw the opening
of four coal mines, a blast furnace iron works and copper smelting
plants. The iron works passed through a number of ownerships, having
been founded by Bathurst resident James Rutherford who also partially
owned the coach firm Cobb and Co. By 1928 Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP)
had moved its operations to Newcastle, local ore resources having been
The coal seam, which is still in production, was discovered in 1841 by Thomas Brown who built Eskbank House (t 02 6351 3557; open Thurs-Mon 10.00-16.00). The house is a simple four rooms with a surrounding verandah and courtyards, hexagonal garden house and stables.
In keeping with the origins of the town, a number of
industrial displays are open to visitors as well. The Zig-Zag steam
railway, 10km east of town, in Clarence (t 02 6353 1795;
holidays 10.30, 12.15, 14.00 and 15.30; weekdays 11.00, 13.00 and
15.00) has been restored by local rail buffs. Designed by Chief of
Railways John Whitton, it was an acclaimed feat of engineering when it
opened in 1869. The ride offers wonderful scenic views and crosses
three viaducts. The ironworks blast furnace site is near Eskbank House.
The pottery kiln on Hassan Street is well preserved. It fired some
glazed pottery but terracotta pipe and bricks were its primary
products. Established in 1875, the plant was closed in 1908.
To the southeast of Lithgow, c 56km, is Jenolan Caves, probably the best known of the many cave systems in this region. Discovered in the 1830s, the caves were systematically explored after a bushranger named McKeown who had hidden here was tracked down by the Whalan brothers. The Whalans then explored the caves; Charles Whalan and his sons acted as honorary guides for the throngs of visitors who came to the caves until the 1860s.
Formed of limestone and slate in the upper Silurian period, the caves feature remarkable stalactites and stalagmites and fantastic arches and chambers. The Grand Arch is over 130m long, between 12 and 20m high and equally wide. The larger Devil's Coachhouse is more than 80m high, 120m long and 35m across.
In 1866 the Jenolan Caves Reserve was established in an attempt to protect the caves' environment, but they remained one of the most popular tourist destinations. Electric lighting and as many as 2000 visitors a day seriously eroded the caves's natural formations. Still the area remains a popular site, with walking tracks and roads in the region, as well as good educational displays about the caves themselves. Guest houses and restaurants are also prevalent around the site. Guided cave inspections operate at half-hourly intervals; for more information t 02 6359 3924.
The next town beyond Lithgow is Bathurst (population 25,000).
Macquarie River, it is near the site from which G.W. Evans elected to
end his exploration and where William Cox's road terminated. The town
was Australia's first inland settlement in 1815, named for Lord
Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies. Despite having a coach
service from 1824 (it was a 24-hour journey in 12- to 15-mile
intervals), the town's population was meagre until gold was discovered
in the 1850s by an Aboriginal employed on a property near the Turon
River immediately north of the city. Tourist
office, 1 Kendall Ave; t 02 6332 1444.
Except for the sandstone of Government House (built c 1820), red brick from Lithgow predominates. The Courthouse was built by David Jones whose style is recognisably consistent in his design for the Goulburn Courthouse. A National Trust house at 321 Russell Street, Miss Traill's House (t 02 6332 4232; weekends and holidays 12.00-15.30) is a picturesque Georgian cottage (c 1845) with gardens.
St Stanislaw College is the oldest Catholic boarding school in
country, built in 1873 and enlarged occasionally since. Of the other
areas of particular note here, the entrance to town has lovely poplars
lining the road. The showground's brick gatehouse and timber pavilions
are from the 1880s.
The town also has a particularly good regional art gallery, at 70-78 Keppel Street (t 02 6333 6555; Tues through Saturdays 10.00-17.00; Sun 11.00-13.00), with an emphasis on 20C Australian art, especially the paintings of Lloyd Rees (1895-1987). The Bathurst and District Historical Museum, Russell Street (t 02 6330 8455; Tues, Wed, Sat, Sun 10.00-16.00) contains predictable displays of the town's history, including the discovery of gold.
Bathurst was also the birthplace of Ben Chifley (1885-1951), Labor Prime Minister 1945-49. It was during Chifley's term that the great Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was initiated, and 'Australia's own automobile', the Holden, first came off the assembly line. Chifley's Cottage (t 02 6332 4755; open Mon-Sat 14.00-16.00, Sun 10.00-12.00) at 10 Busby Street, was his lifelong home, and contains artefacts from his life and career.
Currently, Bathurst's fame results from a car race, the Bathurst 1000, on Mount Panorama each October, considered in motor-racing circles as one of the great annual events in the world. A National Motor Racing Museum (t. 02-6332-1872, dialy 9.00-16.30) is on the Mount as well. The Sir Joseph Banks Nature Reserve on the Mount in McPhillamy Park provides an idyllic contrast to zooming engines, with 41 ha of bush and parkland.
To the south of Bathurst, 72km along the small Bathurst-Goulbourn Road, you find Abercrombie River National Park and Caves (t 02 6336 1972), well worth the trip for cave lovers. The caves are set in 2200 ha of wildlife sanctuary; some 80 other caves are scattered throughout the park, discovered in the 1820s by European settlers. The main caves contain the Arch, the biggest natural limestone arch in the Southern hemisphere. Cave tours are scheduled regularly and camping facilities are available.
At Bathurst the main road divides, south to Cowra, Young, Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga and eventually Albury/Wodonga; north to Orange, Dubbo and Bourke or Broken Hill.
The southern route crosses largely sheep pasturage. At Cowra (population 8500) you may be surprised to find the Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre (t. 02 6341 2233; open daily 08.30-17.00). The centre, which commemorates the losses of the Second World War, is the result of Cowra having had a Japanese prisoner of war camp here. On 5 August 1944, 1000 Japanese prisoners broke out of the camp; in the ensuing response, 231 Japanese prisoners were killed. Opened in 1979 as a memorial to peace and cultural cooperation, the centre includes Japanese gardens with lakes, waterfalls and plants, and a good Japanese restaurant. Cowra Tourist Information: Mid-Western Highway; t 02 6342 4333.
56km west of Cowra on the Mid-Western Highway is Grenfell (population 2100), birthplace of national literary icon Henry Lawson. Every year in June (Lawson was born on 17 June 1867), this tiny town hosts the Henry Lawson Festival of Arts (t. 02 6343 2855), attracting some of the best Australian writers and literary figures for readings and performances. The event is capped by the Guinea Pig Races on the final day of the festival. Grenfell loves these races so much, the town also hosts the guinea pigs for a run on Easter Sunday.
Further south c 70km is Young (population 6900), yet another gold-mining town. Now a centre of cherry and prune orchards, its railway station is quaint and sits in a pleasant park. Tourist information office, Olympic Way, t 02 6382 3394. Every year, the first case of cherries from Young (in December) is auctioned off for charity, often raising $10,000 or more. Young cherries are a special Christmas treat throughout the state.
Cootamundra (population 6800), some 50km south of Young, is
Bradman's birthplace, making his house at 89 Adams Street a stop for
cricket enthusiasts (t. 02 6940 2160; open daily 09.00-17.00). The town
famous for the Cootamundra wattle (Acacia baileyana), one of the most
spectacular of the many yellow-blooming wattle that appear at the end
of winter. Tourist
office, Railway Station, Hovell Street t
02 6942 4212.
The Mitchell Highway from Bathurst continues west and after c 56km passes through the prosperous old town of Orange (population 30,000). The area was named by explorer General T.L. Mitchell, in honour of the Prince of Orange, later King of the Netherlands. An obelisk in honour of Orange's most famous native son, A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson, has been erected in the town, and every year his birthday, 17 February, is celebrated with a writers' competition sponsored by the local library. The poet Kenneth Slessor was also born here in 1901. Tourist information: Civic Gardens, Byng Street; t 02 6361 5226.
The early gold discoveries at nearby Ophir and Hill End made Orange a wealthy town in the 1850s, evident in the number of substantial and elegant houses and public structures in the area. Of special interest are Bowen Terrace, 3-25 Bathurst Road on the southern approach to town, a rare example of a country town terrace, built in 1872 with stuccoed brick and a continuous roof of corrugated iron. Beautiful examples of fancy ironwork occur at 'Kangaroobie', Molong Road, with encircling verandahs and carved interior woodwork; and at 'Ammerdown', off Molong Road, built in 1906 with polychrome brickwork and cast-iron grates; these are both private residences, not open to the public. In the city centre are excellent Victorian public buildings, including a James Barnet Courthouse (1882) and two notable brickwork churches, St Joseph's (1870) by Edward Gell, and Holy Trinity by Thomas Rowe (1879). On Byng Street near the information centre is another of the state's good regional art galleries (t 02 6361 5136; open Tues-Sat 11.00- 17.00, Sun 14.00-17.00), including the Mary Turner Collection of Australian paintings.
Today, Orange is a centre of the district's wine-growing
Visitors' Centre provides information on winery and food tours to the
surrounding region. In April, the 'Food of Orange District'(FOOD)
festival takes place.
From Orange, travel northwest on the Mitchell Highway (route 32) through agricultural country. The small town of Wellington (population 6000) has an interesting curved main street, with many early shopfronts. Tourist information: Cameron Park, t 02 6845 1733. Nine kilometres from town are Wellington Caves, with very large stalactite formations and rare cave coral.
Another 50km northwest is Dubbo (population 26,300). Tourist information: 232 Macquarie Street, t 02 6801 4450. An agricultural service centre, Dubbo is rightly known for the Western Plains Zoo (t02 6881 1400; open daily). In keeping with current zoo practice, animals from around the world are kept in very large enclosures and fed as nearly as possible their natural diet. The zoo's staff attribute its successful breeding programme to both these factors. The zoo is the one and only reason to come to Dubbo, but it is definitely worth the trip for anyone interested in the preservation of rare and endangered species. The Dubbo XPT train from Sydney arrives in Dubbo daily in the early afternoon.
Beyond Dubbo the land becomes quite arid, the scrub giving way to tufted grasses and occasional acacias. The Macquarie River ends in a marsh north of Nyngan. Bourke, 350km to the northwest of Dubbo, is a wool processing centre on the Darling River. Tourist information t 02 6872 1321. The area was explored by Charles Sturt via the river in 1829 and again by T.L. Mitchell in 1835. The stockade Mitchell built on Eight Mile Lagoon is about 10km southwest of Bourke. The phrase 'Back o' Bourke' means something like beyond civilisation. Past Bourke the outback, the great red centre of the continent, begins, sparsely watered with scrubby trees and virtually no ground cover. 260km north is Cunnamulla in Queensland. Bourke is the site of Fred Hollows' grave and memorial, in the cemetery on Cobar Street. Fred Hollows (1929-93) was a great Australian character and world-famous opthamologist who established eye clinics in Third World countries and in Aboriginal communities. His affinity for, and assistance to, oppressed people led to the admiration of many Aboriginal groups, especially those around Bourke. Hollows' work continues through the Fred Hollows Foundation.
To the west of Nyngan another 600km lies Broken Hill
(population 25,600). Tourist
office, on the corner of
Blende and Bromide Streets, t 08 8080 3560. Broken Hill
more towards the nearer ports of South Australia than New South Wales;
it is 50km from the South Australian border, and it operates on Central
Standard Time, one-half hour behind Sydney. The Broken Hill train
leaves Sydney every Tuesday afternoon, arriving in Broken Hill on
Wednesday night; the Indian Pacific also stops here, on Tuesdays and
Fridays en route to Western Australia.
A mining community depending on the silver-lead-zinc deposits in the Barrier Range, this surprisingly cultivated town boasts two dozen art galleries and was home to artists Pro Hart and Jack Absalom, the 'Bushmen of the Bush'. Canberra sculptor Ingo Kleinert praises the tip, that is the dump, in the area, from which he gleaned the corrugated and galvanised roofing necessary to make his 200-dingo piece, as one of the best in the country.
Serious mining in the area began in the 1880s, BHP being floated in 1885 as 2000 shares at £20 each. BHP, of course, stands for Broken Hill Proprietary Company, an indication of the enormous mineral wealth that has been derived from this region. The ore body in question turned out to be over 5km in extent. Strikes by miners in 1892, 1908, 1916 and 1919 were disgraceful affairs, the vicious methods used by the company against miners affecting the reputation of both BHP and the town itself. The settlement in 1920 was a landmark since which reasonable relations have largely prevailed.
The vast outback surrounding Broken Hill is like no other
place on earth. It is not surprising to learn that the region has
served as the location for such films as Wake in Fright and Mad Max 2.
It also figured, of course, in the recent high-camp spoof, The
Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Author Arthur Upfield, in one of his best-known 'Bony' mysteries, The Bachelors of Broken Hill (1958), describes its atmosphere:
While some of this ambience has altered in the intervening 40 years, the attitude remains the same.
Although the paved highways in this area are well enough travelled to ensure the safety of tourists, you must inform the local authorities if you plan to take secondary roads. They will give instructions regarding safe travel, the conditions of routes, and necessary subsequent reporting.
TAKE HEED OF ALL INSTRUCTIONS WHEN DRIVING IN THE OUTBACK.
To the southeast of Broken Hill, 111km, near the small settlement of Menindee (where the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition stopped on their way north in 1860), is Kinchega National Park (t 08 8080 3200), a magnificent surprise in the middle of this vast, dry landscape. On the banks of the Darling River and filled with glittering lakes in an area of 44,180 ha, the park is filled with Aboriginal sites and European relics such as a restored woolshed. The region teems with extraordinary birdlife and massive red river gums along the river. Lake Menindee provides water for Broken Hill; Lake Cawndilla is suitable for swimming. Camping facilities are available on the river and near Lake Cawndilla; it is also possible to book accommodation in the old shearers' quarters.
About 200km southeast of Kinchega National Park, and more
accessible (over dirt roads) from Mildura, Victoria (110km to the
southwest) and Balranald, New South Wales (150km southeast), is Mungo
Park (Mildura office, t 03 5021 8900), a
site, part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area.
Now a dry lake, Lake Mungo was once a large freshwater lake, the shores of which hold a continuous record of Aboriginal life dating back to 60,000 years ago. Other skeletal finds in the area suggest that the Australian continent may have been inhabited by two different groups of early humans. The park of 27,847ha contains remarkable geological features, especially the Walls of China, a 30km crescent of orange and white dunes stretching across the eastern shore of the lake bed. Camping facilities exist here, as well as accommodation in shearers' quarters, which must be booked well in advance from the park office.
Getting to the south of Sydney by road leads to one of the
confusing bottlenecks in the city's transportation network. Recent
efforts to upgrade access to the Kingsford-Smith International Airport
at Mascot have been bogged down in political battles, so travel is
still tangled. To get to Botany Bay and points south from the city,
take Dowling Street, which is marked as both route 64 and Highway 1; it
will become Southern Cross Drive, then General Holmes Drive at the
airport, finally becoming the Grand Parade along Botany Bay itself.
At Kirrawee, this road joins with the Princes Highway, which is route 66 from the city, and then becomes Highway 1, to continue along the entire southern coastline of the state and into Victoria. Following the signs to the airport will take you in the right direction. For day outings, the train from Central Station runs all the way to Cronulla and beyond to Wollongong.
The park site of La Perouse sits on the opposite side of Botany Bay from Captain Cook's landing point at Kurnell. To reach this interesting fort and memorial site, take Anzac Parade (route 70) south from the city to the end.
The place is named for Comte Jean François de Galaup La Perouse (1741-88), the gentleman captain of a French expedition to the South Pacific in 1785-88. In his ships Boussoule and L'Astrolabe, La Perouse and his crew landed at this spot on Botany Bay only six days after the First Fleet's arrival in 1788. Relations between these two camps, astonished to find each other serendipitously in a new land, were cordial. La Perouse assured Captain Phillip that his voyage was one of scientific exploration rather than conquest; he even concurred with Phillip's decision to move the fleet to a site more suitable than Botany Bay. La Perouse's men camped on this point until 10 March, then set sail for the north, never to be heard from again. Forty years later, other explorers determined that La Perouse had been shipwrecked near the New Hebrides.
At the very tip of La Perouse is the La Perouse Memorial
Group, now part of Botany
Park (t 02 9668 2000); the site
includes a memorial to the French navigator and a tomb to Père
Receveur, a priest and naturalist who died on La Perouse's voyage.
These structures were built by early Colonial Architect George Cookney
in 1825; they are some of the few remaining works by Cookney. Also on
the site is a two-storey octagonal watchtower, built in 1811 and
believed to be the oldest customs house in Australia, and the oldest
building on the New South coast. In the nearby cable station, built in
1882, is the Laperouse Museum (the organisers prefer this spelling of
the captain's name) (t 02 9311 3379; open daily), with historical
displays. A long-standing Aboriginal community is also located here; on
Sundays, they have been giving boomerang demonstrations, along with a
snake show, for decades.
From this site, you can cross a causeway to Bare Island Fort, one of the many military fortresses built in the 1880s in response to fears of Russian invasion. The construction out of concrete was considered exceptionally advanced by military experts of the day. The fort includes a museum, open on the weekends.
Much of Botany Bay has been given over to the airport, oil refineries, and industrial sites, but immediately south of the airport beginning at Brighton-Le-Sands, The Grand Parade presents a pleasant view of the bay, with tourist hotels and beachside cafes along the entire stretch. It is hard to imagine that Captain Cook and Joseph Banks would have chosen this flat, sandy spot as the ideal location for a new settlement; Governor Phillip was wise to look elsewhere for fertile ground.
To the south of the bay in Rockdale is Lydham Hall, 18 Lydham Avenue (t 02 9567 4259); it was built in the 1860s on a high point of land overlooking Botany Bay. Architecturally, the house demonstrates a transitional style from simple Georgian to ornate Victorian; historically, it is of interest as the childhood home of Christina Stead, author of Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) and The Man Who Loved Children (1941). Stead's father was a famous naturalist who named the nearby suburb of Banksia. Lydham House is open to the public on weekends and public holidays, 14.00-16.00. It is most easily reached by taking the train to Rockdale Station, then walking west on Herbert Street to Lydham Avenue, c 1km.
Directly south of Rockdale is the suburb of Kogarah, where
expatriate raconteur Clive James spent his childhood; in his Unreliable
Memoirs (1980), he paints an amusing picture of Sydney suburban life,
including the intriguing fact that most of these neighbourhoods still
had outhouses, or 'dunnies', into the 1950s.
Back on The Grand Parade (route 64) along the bay, continue south. At Sans Souci Wharf on the Georges River, you can book cruises to explore the upper regions of the river. The oyster farms of Georges River are reputedly the source of Sydney's best oysters, which means they are very good indeed. The cruises will travel past Sylvania Waters, the overstated residential development, filled with canals and nouveau riches residents, made famous through the 1991 BBC programme of the same name.
Cross the Georges River at Captain Cook Bridge at Taren Point. To the west of here in Kareela is the Joseph Banks Native Plants Reserve, a lovely botanical display including a 'scented' garden of native plants and a rainforest environment. The reserve is located on Manooka Place; turn off the Princes Highway at Bates Drive, left onto Alpita Street and left again on Garnet Road. It is open weekdays 07.00-15.30, weekends 10.00-17.00. Nearby on Bates Drive is the Kareela Golf Club (t 02 9521 6279), reputedly one of the best places to find Georges River oysters.
Further west from here on Carina Bay is Como, accessible by the Illawarra line train; on Cremona Road near Scylla Bay is the Como Hotel, built in 1880-82 for the workers on the railway construction project. A three-storeyed brick structure, the building has delightful timber verandahs with cast-iron filigree balustrading and a decorative roof. The hotel is a quintessential example of an Australian adaptation of the Victorian 'pleasure palace'.
Captain Cook's Landing Place
Off Taren Point Road, turn east on Captain Cook Drive to Kurnell, c 13km, and Captain Cook's Landing Place Historic Site. Bus 987 from the city travels here. Some 436 ha have been set aside here as part of Botany Bay National Park for recreational purposes. On the spot where Cook landed on 29 April 1770 in the Endeavour, a memorial obelisk was erected in 1870. Other monuments commemorate Midshipman Isaac Smith, Mrs Cook's cousin, and the first white man to set foot on the shore; and Daniel Solander, the Swedish naturalist who accompanied the voyage (his name has been given to the boxes that hold botanical specimens).
The Discovery Centre (t 02 9668 9111; open daily 9.30-16.30) in the park presents excellent exhibitions about Cook's exploration of the region, and also focuses on the natural history of the Botany Bay wetlands; most of the vegetation here remains as it would have been at the time of Cook's landing. Aboriginal rock engravings and axe-grinding grooves are also in evidence on the site. Entrance to the park is free.
Travel west back to Captain Cook Drive and turn south on Elouera Road to come to Cronulla, rightfully famous for its glorious surf beaches on Bate Bay. Cronulla is the administrative centre for the Sutherland Shire, which includes the Royal National Park. The Cronulla beaches were the location for the outrageous adolescent activities recounted in Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey's controversial book, Puberty Blues (1979); director Bruce Beresford made the book into a film in 1981. Cronulla is also the only one of Sydney's beaches accessible by train; take the Illawarra line to the Cronulla Station directly on Gunnamatta Bay for a short walk to the beach.
Cronulla is also located on Port Hacking and the picturesque Hacking River. Cruises from the Cronulla Marina (t 02 9523 2990) provide lovely old-fashioned tours of the many inlets and bays up the river, blessedly unspoiled by development because the Royal National Park borders the river to the south.
The 15,014 ha of the Royal National Park can make a legitimate claim to being the first national park in the world. While Yellowstone National Park in the USA was established in 1872, it was not designated in legislation as a national park until 1883. Sydney's National Park was gazetted in 1879, the first time this designation was applied to a public reserve.
The Royal National Park came to world attention during the devastating bushfires of January 1994, when 98 per cent of the park, more than 14,500 ha, were entirely burned. Scenes of its devastation prompted assistance from around the world, particularly from Sutherland Shire's Japanese sister city Chuo. Today, the park is a remarkable example of natural regeneration of Australian vegetation; it is almost entirely regrown.
The park offers a marvellous conglomeration of coastal walks, beaches and woodlands, with opportunities to view some 700 species of flowering native plants, as well as waterfalls and rockpools. The Visitor's Centre is located at the Audley entrance from Loftus and is open daily; it is administered by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, South Metropolitan District (t 02 9542 0648). As the land of the Dharawal people, Aboriginal sites are present here, but are stringently protected by the parks service. The park's coastal trail, 26km long, travels by a variety of beaches, some of them patrolled, others secluded and usually uninhabited.
From Cronulla, head back west to the Princes Highway (route
1) at Kirrawee; travel south to Loftus, c 2km, to the Sydney Tramway
Museum (t 02 9542 3646); this can also be reached by
train on the
Waterfall Line, and the Parkline tram from the museum enters the Royal
Sydney had one of the largest tram networks in the world until 1961, when the entire system was dismantled, victim of the Sydneysiders' obsession with the motor-car and with being 'modern'. For 100 years, Sydney rivalled Melbourne in tram service, first with horse-drawn cars, then, in 1879, with steam. By the turn of the century, Sydney trams were all electrified, the envy of their southern neighbour. During the 1920s, the phrase 'shooting through like a Bondi tram' demonstrated the domination of this form of transport in the public mind. During the Royal Easter show, the trams could move 50,000 people efficiently and in record time. While very few lamented their disappearance at the time, many Sydneysiders now regret their passing. Indeed, the recent installation of the light-rail lines in the inner city are an attempt to bring back some kind of tram system, but certainly without the character that still prevails on Melbourne's old green-and-yellow boxes. The Tramway Museum provides a 'hands-on' experience, with actual rides on vintage cars.
Wollongong (population 206,800) is an industrial city and
port. It lies
north of Lake Illawarra and Port Kembla, and 84km south of Sydney. The
Sydney train regularly travels here from Circular Quay and Central
Station, and some continue on to Bomaderry, with stops at Kiama,
Gerringong and Berry.
The third largest city in New South Wales, it is at the entrance to the Illawarra region, one of the most scenic parts of the Australian southern landscape. First mapped by sea when Bass and Flinders explored the coast in 1796 and first approached by land when Charles Throsby drove cattle there in 1815, Wollongong's origin rests in coal-mining in the 1850s. Its Aboriginal name means either 'five clouds' or 'hard ground near the water'. Tourist information: 93 Crown Street, t 02 2 4267 5910.
The place is dismissed by most as a 'coal town' and is therefore thought too unattractive to be considered worth visiting. But it is situated amidst wonderful scenery, with a dramatic descent from Sydney over Bulli Pass into town, fern-gully mountains to the west, and fantastic beaches along its shores. At the beach town of Thirroul, just off Bulli Pass, the writer D.H. Lawrence, en route to America, stayed for two months in 1922, and began writing his Australian-based novel, Kangaroo (1923). The Wollongong City Gallery, on the corner of Kembla and Burelli Streets (t 02 4228 7500; open Tues-Fri 10.00-17.00, weekends 12.00-16.00) is Australia's largest regional art museum. It has a good selection of works by Australian artists, as well as artefacts of Wollongong's exciting history; admission is free.
Kembla industrial area to the south of town has now been tagged as
'Australia's Industry World', as if it were a theme park; indeed, the
area now does provide interesting guided tours of the BHP Steelworks,
the coal terminals, and the port operations.
After the Second World War, thousands of new migrants from Europe and the Middle East arrived to work in the Wollongong factories, creating an ethnic diversity described in Mary Rose Liverani's wonderful novel Winter Sparrows (1975). This diversity is also celebrated annually in June at the city's Folklorika Festival, a most enjoyable event with food, dancing and entertainment. The University of Wollongong is a dynamic institution, organising among other things the Science Centre and Planetarium (t 02 4286 5000; open daily 10.00-16.00), a good hands-on exhibit 'to encourage scientific literacy'. The centre is located on Cowper Street in the Fairy Meadow section to the north of the central business district.
South of Wollongong in the suburb of Berkeley is the Nan Tien Temple (t 02 4272 0600), the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern hemisphere, opened in 1995. The complex includes a museum, pagoda, main shrine, many meditation rooms, and conference facilities that are used for international gatherings. The temple's Pilgrim Lodge provides accommodation for those interested in a Buddhist retreat. Take Berkeley Road off the Southern Freeway to reach the temple.
Immediately south of town is Lake Illawarra, known for its
fishing and prawns; on its south is Shellharbour, a popular seaside
resort. At Bass Point, 3km southeast of Shellharbour itself, Aboriginal
kitchen middens have been excavated and establish that Aborigines
inhabited the site 17,000 years ago.
Back west on the Princes Highway at this point, you can take the Illawarra Highway west over Macquarie Pass and onto Moss Vale in the Southern Tablelands and the Hume Highway to Canberra. (The state rail line also takes this route, leaving the coast at the Wollongong suburb of Dapto.)
Just before Robertson, 28km west of Albion, is a small park, Macquarie Pass National Park. It features some of Australia's most southerly sub-tropical rainforests; the 2km Cascades Walk from the car park offers spectacular views.
31km along the Illawarra Highway is Robertson, in a potato-growing district and with spectacular views of the coast. Robertson recently gained fame as the location for the filming of George Miller's 1995 talking-pig epic Babe; the area will surprise any visitor to Australia who envisaged a country without green meadows or rolling verdant hills.
Princes Highway, route 1, continues south from Wollongong
entire New South Wales coast and into Victoria and Melbourne. The
region from Wollongong as far south as Bateman's Bay is known as the
Illawarra, appropriately enough an Aboriginal word for 'high and
pleasant place by the sea'.
Continuing on the Princes Highway south and then to the west, on route 80, is Jamberoo (population 480), surrounded by enormous escarpments and with lush green pastures attesting to its status as a prime dairy region. Jamberoo is a real bush town, famed for the Illawarra Folk Festival, which takes place in mid-January.
West of Jamberoo c 3km is the Minnamurra Rainforest in Budderoo National Park (t 02 4236 0469; 09.00-17.00, though the walks close slightly earlier, ), a beautifully organised park that includes rainforest walks up the lush hills, where you can often see elusive lyrebirds with their resplendent tail-feathers and mimicking calls. Tours can be arranged, and a first-rate visitor's centre provides information on rainforest environments. The Minnamurra is definitely worth a detour.
Back on the coast from Jamberoo is Kiama (population 9200), an attractive coastal town most famous for its astounding Blowhole, which at times shoots water up to 60m high. It is no surprise to learn that 'Kiama' means 'where the sea makes a noise' in the local Aboriginal (Dharawal) language. From the Blowhole site, you can often spot whales off the coast during the migratory season in September. In October, the Kiama Seaside Festival, with all kinds of entertainment and food, takes place. Tourist information is at Blowhole Point; t 02 4232 3322.
At Omega, 8km south of Kiama, you can turn off to a small coastal road to Gerringong (population 2500), and from there to Seven Mile Beach (now famous for wind-surfing). At the northern end of the beach, a memorial to Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith commemorates the site where the aviator took off for his historic flight to New Zealand in 1933. Bushwalking in the rainforests around the white-sand beaches is excellent.
Continuing south on the Princes Highway, you pass through
Berry, one of the area's earliest settlements. In 1822, Alexander Berry
(1781-1873), in partnership with Edward Wollstonecraft, received a
grant here of 4047 ha, with government assurances that convict labour
would be made available to them to improve the land. While the convicts
were not forthcoming, the pair nonetheless were able to find workers
and eventually claimed more than 260,000 ha, creating a virtual private
fiefdom (see p 172). Industry, most notably the production of timber
from the once-abundant cedar forests, brought the area great
prosperity. The region also became known for its dairy farms, as it
still is today.
In town are several substantial Victorian buildings on the National Trust, most of them originally built as banks and now restaurants and cafes; Berry is a convenient place to stop for tea.
10km south of here on the Shoalhaven Heads Road is Coolangatta
the village that grew up around Berry's original homestead. Most of the
historical buildings, which date from the 1820s and 1830s, are now part
of a tourist resort, although tours are available. From here, you can
also see Mount Coolangatta, which offers beautiful views of the
Shoalhaven River and the coastline.
From Berry, a scenic 19km drive west leads to route 79 and
Kangaroo Valley; or drive from Coolangatta to Bomaderry and take route
79 north c 20km. A daily train service from Sydney Central Station
travels to Bomaderry. The journey offers stupendous views, with steep
ascents and descents into the valley. Nearby in Morton
(t 02 4887 7270) but still on route 79, is spectacular Fitzroy Falls,
which plunges precipitously over the plateau. In the village of
Kangaroo Valley itself is Hampden Suspension Bridge, spanning the
Kangaroo River; the bridge was built in 1898 and has castellated arches
on each side. The valley is known for its pub, the Friendly Inn, and
Sharply Vale Fruit World, with 80 ha (200 acres) of orchard.
Bundanon, the exquisite property on the Shoalhaven River given in 1993 as a 'gift to Australia' by the artist Arthur Boyd and his wife Yvonne, is located 21km west from the tourist centre, 8km of which is dirt road. Bundanon was established as a land grant in 1837; four years later it was purchased by Scottish Dr Kenneth Mackenzie, who built the first timber buildings in the 1840s and in 1866 the sandstone house at the centre of the homestead. Mackenzie's son Hugh continued to work Bundanon and purchased the nearby Terrara Estate, building the Terrara House at the beginning of the 20C. In the 1970s, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd purchased the property; in the 1980s, in joint ownership with their friend, the artist Sidney Nolan, they added nearby Eearie Park to the estate's holdings. Here Boyd produced some of his most stunning series of landscapes, capturing the beauty of the Shoalhaven River and its rocky vegetation. In the 1990s, while still resident at Bundanon, the Boyds announced their intention of leaving the property to the Australian Government, to be used as a cultural centre and artists' retreat. In 1993, the gift was officially accepted by Prime Minister Paul Keating on behalf of the Australian people.
Along with the property itself, the Bundanon bequest (t. 02 4422 2100; open Sun 10.30-16.00) includes a significant collection of artworks by the Boyd artistic dynasty, from Emma Minnie Boyd (1858-1936) and Arthur Merric Boyd (1862-1940) to Arthur's own children and grandchildren. Other paintings by Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman, Brett Whiteley and other notable Australian artists are part of the collection, as well as furniture, books, and photographs.
Take route 79 south back through Bomaderry and into Nowra
(population 20,000), now the administrative hub of the Shoalhaven
District; the region is known as the Shoalhaven, after the long,
meandering Shoalhaven River, which winds through town. As the centre
for the region's tourist trade, Nowra has recently become suburbanised,
with fast-food strips and tourist shops everywhere. Shoalhaven
Centre, Princes Highway and Pleasant Way,
t 02 4421 0778. The region
around Nowra is filled with holiday homes, caravan parks and
water-related tours and cruises. Every type of beach, and accompanying
water sports, can be found within the Nowra area.
Nowra's life in quieter times can be experienced at Meroogal (t 02 4421 8150, Sat 13.00-17.00, Sun 10.00-17.00, extended hours in January), on the corner of West and Worrigee Streets, administered by Sydney's Historic Houses Trust. Built in 1885, this charming timber house with iron lace-work balcony belonged to four generations of the Thorburn family and exhibits a rich collection of domestic artefacts, particularly highlighting women's life and activities in the early 20C century.
Jervis Bay is c 40km south of Nowra, an extensive inlet that
is now a
popular holiday resort. The bay was first explored in 1791 by
Lieutenant Bowen on the Atlantic, and named in honour of Bowen's
commanding officer Sir John Jervis. First Fleet chronicler Watkin Tench
speaks of the excitement surrounding its discovery in his wonderful
When the government established the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 1908, it was decided that the Commonwealth required access to the sea; 28 square miles of Jervis Bay were selected to be the port of the federal government administered by the ACT. Today the HMAS Creswell Naval College is located here; the rest of the inlet, with its beautiful beaches and dark green water, has developed into prime holiday property amidst nature reserves. To the south of Jervis Bay itself is a botanical garden emphasising native plants and filled with birds who are happy to be hand-fed.
Also to the south on Summerland Bay is Wreck Bay, an Aboriginal community accessible only by permission of the residents.
Nearby Sussex Inlet provides access to St Georges Basin, as well as a canal leading to the coast itself; the area is known for its good fishing, and a variety of beaches.
The Princes Highway continues south through state forests with no views of the coastline; Conola Lake is a popular fishing spot. The coastal plain from here to Bateman's Bay is now dotted with lagoons, inlets and lakes, along with ocean beaches. Milton, 65km south of Nowra, is the birthplace of 'bush poet' Henry Kendall (1839-82) at Kirmington Farm; the site is marked by a stone cairn near the present homestead.
Four kilometres further south is Ulladulla (7500 population), where the highway again reaches the sea. While 'Ulladulla' sounds Aboriginal, one tribal leader maintains that the town fathers actually 'Aboriginalised' the town's original name of 'Holey Dollar', after the early Australian coinage, to make it sound more authentic. The town is a true fishing port, with a fleet in the harbour; at Easter time, the town holds a colourful 'blessing of the fleet' ceremony.
The Princes Highway south is now surrounded by forests on both sides, with occasional side roads leading to numerous beaches and caravan parks; popular turn-offs are Bawley Point, 21km from Ulladulla, and Durras, another 22km south and 5km east to a windswept beach with pounding surf. Pebbly Beach, 5km north of Durras off the highway, is also well-known for its beach-wandering kangaroos, but requires a rather rough ride along a boulder-strewn road to get there.
Batemans Bay (6500 population), an attractively situated
beach town on the Clyde River, marks the end of the Shoalhaven
district; it is the major centre for Eurobodalla Shire (although Moruya
to the south is its headquarters), which extends west up the Kings
Highway (route 52) leading to Braidwood and Canberra. The bay itself
appeared on Captain Cook's chart, discovered by his expedition on 21
April 1770; Cook named it after Nathaniel Bateman, Captain of the
Northumberland, on which Cook had sailed as Master. As the most
accessible coastal town from the ACT, and with the upgrade of the Kings
Highway road, Batemans Bay is overrun with holiday-makers in the summer
and on school holidays, and has consequently lost much of its earlier
fishing-port charm. Eurobodalla
Visitor's Centre, Princes
Highway; t 02 4472 6900.
Still, it is a great place to find fish restaurants and Clyde River oysters; you can also hire houseboats here to travel up the picturesque Clyde River to Nelligen, site of a homey country-music festival in December.
The road to Canberra from Bateman's Bay is 150km and takes two hours to drive, ascending through the fern gullies of the Budawang Range to the 'cattle country' region at Braidwood and the beginning of the Monaro Plains region. Braidwood, 60km west of Bateman's Bay, is filled with pleasant 19C buildings, a remnant of its days as the administrative centre of surrounding goldfields, making it a popular site for filmmakers. Tony Richardson's version of Ned Kelly (1970) starring Mick Jagger was filmed here, as was the 1995 version of On Our Selection with Leo McKern, Joan Sutherland, and Geoffrey Rush. From Braidwood, take the road east 20km for the easiest entry into Budawang National Park (t 02 4887 7270), 16,102 ha of wild sandstone country and rugged peaks; very hardy bushwalking for the very fit. From Braidwood, you can also take a rugged road to Pigeon House Mountain in Morton National Park (t 02 4887 7270), offering spectacular views to the south.
South of Braidwood c 30km is the gorgeous Araluen Valley, in
the location of a bustling gold-fields community; the poet Charles
Harpur was a gold commissioner here, and poet Henry Kendall named his
daughter Araluen, which means 'place of waterlilies' (the waterlilies
are gone, dug up by greedy miners). The valley is now famous for
peaches, which one can buy from roadside stands in January.
A rugged unsealed road from Araluen travels east all the way to the coast at Moruya; the trip provides glimpses of the unspoiled Deua River, which is now part of the Deua National Park (t 02 4476 0800).
Also in the region is the old gold-mining village of Major's Creek, which holds a homey old-fashioned folk festival in September, with lots of bush ballads and improvised music.
Continue on Kings Highway 48km to Bungendore, another historic township that has lately become a bedroom community of Canberra. Bungendore is an ideal place to celebrate Anzac Day (25 April), with an old-fashioned parade and a ceremonial service at the War Memorial in the town park.
Queanbeyan (population 27,000) is one of the oldest settlements on the Southern Tablelands, now 10km east of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory. The Southern Highlands train from Sydney to Canberra makes a stop in Queanbeyan, but there is no local train service between the cities. Deane's Bus Service makes regular and frequent runs from Central Canberra to downtown Queanbeyan.
The area was first explored in 1820, and by 1828, an
ex-convict squatter named Timothy Beard had named a property here along
the Molonglo River 'Quinbean', supposedly Aboriginal for 'clear
waters'. The Aborigines of the region belong to the Ngunnawal group. By
1838, Queanbeyan was declared a township, although it was still largely
a sheep station. By the 1850s, gold discoveries in the area led to
growth as a regional centre, and in the 1880s, James Farrer's success
with rust-free wheat in the surrounds established the town as a leading
The most significant event in Queanbeyan's history was the establishment in 1911 of Canberra as the national capital. Not only did Queanbeyan grow as a result of the project, but its borders were strangely cut with the establishment of the territorial boundaries to the south of town; the residents of the neighbourhood Oaks Estate are officially in the ACT (Australian Central Territory), although they walk across the street to do shopping in New South Wales. While Canberra remained a 'dry' town, Queanbeyan established its reputation as the capital's watering hole-a reputation it has never quite lost.
From Canberra, the Monaro Highway heads south 110km to Cooma,
to the Snowy
and Kosciuszko National Park. The Snowy
Mountains encompass the highest mountains in Australia, and Kosciuszko
National Park is, at 690,000 ha, the state's largest
national park. Mount Kosciuszko, at 2228m, is the continent's highest
mountain-its rather piddling elevation an indication of how flat and
old the land is. While you cannot expect grandiose peaks, this
mountainous region is fascinating to explore, not only for its ski
resorts and alpine meadows, but because the High Country is also the
source of two of Australia's most important rivers, the Snowy River of
'Banjo' Paterson fame and the Murrumbidgee River.
The region is the habitat of several indigenous species, including the exquisite Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) and the endangered Mountain pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus), the only Australian mammal limited to the alpine region and the only marsupial known to hibernate for long periods. The Snowys are also the destination in summer of thousands of bogong moths, flying some 1000km from Queensland to rest among the boulders of the High Country. The region is especially beautiful in the summer, when the skiers have left and the countryside is full of wildflowers. Ski season runs from late June until October; snow levels are always unpredictable, although one can expect some ground cover at least in July and August.
Except for some rugged areas in Victoria, the Australian Alps generally appear more like occasionally broken high plains than mountains. Their climate and elevation, however, cause the familiar succession of alpine plant communities. The open pastures of the Goulburn and Monaro tablelands are broken by abruptly rising granite mountains. As the elevations rise the dry eucalypt forests become wetter and cooler; Stringy Barks are replaced by Blue Gum and its associates. Eventually the conditions favour Snow Gums and fairly dense subalpine scrublands. In the ravines ash, beech and ferns thrive. At the highest elevations, over 1800m, above timberline herbfields, ferns, bogs and grasslands typify the alpine plant communities. Glacial effects are evident at the highest elevations, particularly in the Kosciuszko area.
The snow country was first described by Hume and Hovell during their trip to the upper Murray catchment, but early squatters brought sheep to the highlands by the 1830s. In 1834 Polish explorer Lhotsky described the southern aspects of the Snowy Mountains. His countryman Count Paul Strzelecki described the area coming from its western side, naming its highest peak after patriot and democrat Tadeusz Kosciuszko in 1840. The first comprehensive survey was by Thomas Townsend between 1846 and 1850. Perhaps the most famous descriptions of these mountains were by German naturalist and artist Ferdinand Mueller in the 1850s and by English botanist Joseph Hooker in 1860. Mueller was the Governmental Botanist of Victoria; his collections are in Melbourne. Hooker wrote the Introductory Essay to Flora Tasmanie, which correlates Australian flora to that of geologically related areas of prehistoric Antarctica and South America. This work can be read in conjunction with Darwin's to understand the radical changes in 19C natural science.
Cooma (population 8300) is the starting-point for any trip to the High Country. The name comes from the Aboriginal word meaning either 'big lake' or 'open country'. Captain Mark Currie, Brigadier Major John Ovens and veteran explorer Joseph Wild first explored the area in 1823 during a trip on which they found Lake George and charted the upper Murrumbidgee.
Cooma itself was settled as early as 1826, but was not surveyed and gazetted until 1849. It grew rapidly for a few years after 1860 when gold was found at Kiandra, in the mountains between Cooma and Tumut.
Its present population is due to Merino sheep raising, the Snowy Mountains Scheme and tourism to the snowfields and Australian Alps.
Among its architectural sites is St Paul's Church on Commission Street overlooking the town. Built in 1865, its alpine ash joinery, roof framing and floors are original. The spire and roof shingles are from 1891. The rectory is in Edwardian style and was built in 1906.
The first inn in the district, the former Lord Raglan Hotel at 11 Lambie Street, is now a gallery. Like most of the town's commercial buildings, its verandah makes pleasant what might otherwise seem plain.
The Royal Hotel on Cambie and Sharp Streets remains one of Cooma's important social centres. Constructed in 1858, it has a substantial iron verandah and 12-pane windows. Local residents will describe rough times at the hotel on weekends when the workers on the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme came to town.
Cooma's tourist centre is open all year and includes fairly extensive information about the region. It is located on the town's main street, next to Centennial Park. (Tourist information: 119 Sharp Street; t 02 6452 1108.) This is a good place to find out about accommodation in the ski resorts, but it is probably best to arrange this ahead of time in the many tourist agencies in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra who specialise in skiing holidays (the Jolimont Centre in Canberra (see Canberra) is a good example). The park's International Avenue of Flags, with its flags from 27 nations, was erected in 1959 in recognition of the many nationalities who worked on Australia's greatest technological project, the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme, for which Cooma was the headquarters during construction from 1949 to 1972.
On 17 October 1949, the Snowy
Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was
officially opened by Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley at a
ceremony in Cooma, New South Wales. The project, intended to harness
the waters of the Snowy Mountains to generate power for the entire
country as well as irrigation for the inland, was the largest and most
ambitious engineering project ever undertaken in Australia: at a cost
of $800,000,000, the scheme would ultimately comprise 16 large dams and
several small ones spread over 2000 square kilometres of the Snowy
Mountains, 80 kilometres of aqueducts with more than 145 kilometres of
tunnels, a pumping station, and seven surface and underground power
stations. Lake Eucumbene, created when Eucumbene Dam was completed in
the late 1950s, caused the entire town of Adaminaby to be moved; the
resultant lake holds nine times as much water as Sydney Harbour.
The entire Snowy scheme was completed in 1972, under budget and on time. In 1967 the Scheme was listed as one of the Seven World Engineering Wonders by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the same organisation recently declared it an International Civil Engineering Landmark, along with the Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty.
By any standards the Snowy Scheme was a monumental task, and one that would require an enormous and committed workforce, a workforce that Australia did not possess. At the end of the Second World War, Australia's population stood at 7.5 million in a landmass the size of the United States. With a predominantly Anglo-Celtic population in a continent at the edge of Asia, Australia at the time was intensely concerned about its survival as a Western culture; and recognising that population growth was necessary and desirable, the one way to ensure this survival was to actively recruit migration by Europeans (not Asians). Immigration, then, was taken on as an essential task, one that both government and business were to encourage and support through federal policies and job programmes. The Snowy scheme at its height employed 100,000 people from 33 countries, many of whom stayed on to become the New Australians of the 1950s and 1960s. These 'Snowy People', then, were instrumental in the transformation of Australia into the multicultural, ethnically diverse country it is today.
The Snowys' authorities did make some effort to consider environmental questions at the time of construction, but certainly such considerations would have prevented such a massive project being constructed today. Indeed, current residents of the region lament the fact that the once-mighty Snowy River is now a mere trickle because of the dams; strong grass-roots movements are afoot to release more water. Still, the achievements of the scheme are notable and impressive, and visitors may enjoy a closer look at the workings of the dams and tunnels. The Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Authority's headquarters are on the outskirts of Cooma, with an impressive information centre (t 02 6453 2004). At Cabramurra, Australia's highest township and one of the permanent townships created by the scheme, a photographic display concentrates on the 'Snowy People'. A view of the nearby Tumut Pond Reservoir gives the most awe-inspiring impression of the gruelling conditions under which these people worked.
From Cooma, travel 60km to Jindabyne (population 1750),
another town that as a village was moved in 1962 to make way for
Jindabyne Dam. As is immediately apparent, the township is geared for
tourists, both winter sports fans and all year round fishermen. Across
from the information centre is a monument to Kosciuszko, and the Polish
explorer who named Mt Kosciuszko, Paul Strzelecki. Snowy River
Information Centre, Petamin Plaza; t 02 6453 2888.
20km west of Jindabyne is the entrance to Kosciuszko National Park, on Sawpit Creek Road (t 02 6450 5600; entrance fee). The entrance fee, which is a rather steep daily fee, is currently being contested by the ski resorts within the park, but at the moment the fee still stands. The information centre, a bit further on from the entrance gate, provides excellent walking-trail maps and other park information. From here the road continues through the ski resorts of Smiggin Holes and Perisher and onto Charlotte Pass at the base of Mt Kosciuszko.
At Charlotte Pass, site of the coldest recorded temperatures
Australia (the record is a mere -22ºC!), is a Swiss-style chalet,
as the Hotel Kosciuszko in 1909. It has twice been rebuilt after fires.
From here, you can walk to the footpaths which lead to the top of Mt
Kosciuszko, a 16km hike. It is more of a cross-country hike than a
mountain climb. En route is Seaman's Hut, a stone cottage built to
commemorate Laurie Seaman, an American skier who, along with Australian
Evan Hayes, perished in a blizzard in 1928. It is a good reminder that
weather conditions here are variable at all times-there have even been
blizzards on Christmas Day. Be prepared for inclement weather when
travelling anywhere in the Snowy Mountains.
From the entrance to the park, the Alpine Way travels some 20km to Thredbo Village, the most well known of the ski resorts. In 1997, the village suffered a disastrous land-slide, which killed 18 people (one survivor was found, miraculously, after being buried for three days). The community is still recovering from this blow to tourism. The region is certainly the most pleasant place to visit in the summer, with excellent walks and the possibility of a chair-lift ride without skiers.
The Alpine Highway from Thredbo continues north c 75km to Khancoban, another township built by the Snowy Scheme and site of the Murray 1 Power Station. The drive provides spectacular mountain views; in the area are opportunities for trout fishing and whitewater rafting. From Khancoban, continue on to the old gold-town of Kiandra, now a ghost town, on the main Snowy Mountains Highway between Tumut and Cooma, or proceed west into Corryong over the Victorian border.
Skiing as a sport, not as transport, was actually practised in
Australia well before it became popular in the European Alps. In the
1860s, Norwegian gold-miners at the snow-bound goldfields in nearby
Kiandra introduced the long-pointed ski then used in Scandinavia. By
1862, ski races were well established here, and even the Chinese
diggers participated. Kiandra's gold quickly disappeared and so did the
settlement; skiing then became limited to those few High Country
graziers who stayed in the area.
By the beginning of the 20C, tourists began to take an interest in the sport, and the 'Alpine Club of New South Wales' was founded. This led to the construction of chalets at Mt Kosciuszko and at Mt Buffalo in Victoria. During the 1920s, Australians travelling overseas brought back news of well-established skiing resorts, which prompted the importation of Austrian ski instructors and the development of more modern courses in the Australian Alps. Further impetus occurred with the arrival of so many winter-country immigrants during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The construction of the Snowy's present ski-resorts date from that time. Australians have competed in the Winter Olympics since 1952; so far, the combined winter-sport teams have only won two bronze medals.
Skiing in Australia is an interesting experience, if for no other reason than to come down a hill of gum-trees and view kangaroos in the snow. While the ski resorts are geared for downhill skiing, with many chair-lifts, none of the hills are spectacularly high; the land seems much more suited for cross-country skiing, an activity that is growing in popularity. Because of the short season, the ski resorts charge astronomical prices for lift tickets and accommodation in season. Still, enthusiasts from as far away as Sydney fill the slopes and the highways every winter weekend. Be sure to make bookings ahead of time if you plan to hit the slopes, and remember that many roads in the region may be impassable. Authorities also require snow chains on cars driving in substantial snow.
Another interesting feature of the Snowy Mountains region is the series of Alpine huts dotted throughout the mountains to provide shelter for those skiing or walking through the most rugged parts of the region; one can even stay overnight in these simple dwellings. These huts were first erected at the beginning of the century, and are maintained by a devoted group of bushwalkers. Information on the huts can be obtained from the Cooma Information Centre, and in any of several books by Klaus Hueneke, an avid Snowy mountaineer.
Skiing in the Snowys centres on Jindabyne and Thredbo. It is more expensive in Australia than it generally is in the United States or Europe. Ski holidays are bookable as packages or in part at any tourist office or travel agent. The Jindabyne Reservation Centre (1800 020 622) will make arrangements for accommodation. Reservations for accommodation are at a premium during the season; take care to book several weeks in advance. During ski season, regularly scheduled flights depart from Sydney. Most visitors either drive their own cars or take the bus, either one of the many charter coaches or regular services through Greyhound-Pioneer, Murrays, or Countrylink.
Back at Cooma, the Monaro Highway continues south across the
tussock-grass plains, then splits into two routes. As route 23, the
road proceeds south through Bombala and into Victoria; at Cann River,
it joins the Princes Highway along the Victorian coast. Route 18 jogs
east and becomes a road of lush fern gullies with great views down to
the ocean at Bega.
South of Batemans Bay
From Batemans Bay to Bermagui, the Princes Highway traverses the Eurobodalla Coast. Murrays, Countrylink and Greyhound-Pioneer have a bus service along the coast, but there is no local public bus service to speak of; you really need a car to explore the region. At Mogo, c 8km from Bateman's Bay, a road travels east to Tomakin and the popular beaches of Mossy Point and Broulee, and passes the surprising Mogo Zoo-one part of the zoo is a taxidermy display, while the other presents significant wildlife displays, including a rare pair of red pandas and a TV-star cougar.
Mogo itself is all craft-and-tea shops; the highway continues south into Moruya (population 2400). In the 1850s and 1860s, Moruya was an important stopover on the way to the goldfields of Araluen; the old road to the Araluen Valley along the Deua River still enters the town. Tourist information: Princes Highway, t 02 4474 1333.
Captain Cook sited and named nearby Mt Dromedary when passing by the coast in 1770, and in 1797 a group of shipwrecked survivors walked through the area on their way from Gippsland to Sydney. The first white settler was Irishman Francis Flanagan in 1829. By the end of the 19C, Moruya's isolation was eased by the regular appearance of the steamship ferries plying the coast between Sydney and Melbourne (see Tathra below). In the 1920s, Moruya boomed when the contractors for the Sydney Harbour Bridge chose its quarry on the Moruya River for the granite pylons needed to build the bridge. Hundreds of immigrant stonemasons, most from Scotland and Italy, poured into 'Granite Town', and the wharf became a loading zone for the stone. By the end of the decade, this boom had passed, and Moruya fell back on timber and agricultural industries. The surrounding landscape gives evidence of its position as a leading dairying district. Today it is a leading holiday destination for Canberrans.
A further 20km south is Bodalla, now a major cheese-making
centre. In the 1850s, the area was part of the 15,000 ha (38,000 acre)
holdings of entrepreneur Thomas Sutcliffe Mort and
evidence of his cultivated ambitions remain in the town's All Saints
Anglican Church, built by leading ecclesiastical architect Edmund
Blacket in Gothic Revival style in 1880 as a memorial to the town's
founder; the castellated tower was added by Blacket's son Cyril in
Thomas Sutcliffe Mort (1816-78) was one of the most successful and visionary businessmen in colonial Australia. He arrived from Lancashire in Sydney in 1838 as an agent of a brokerage firm that quickly collapsed; Mort then went into business for himself as a wool auctioneer. His firm Mort & Co. became the most important wool-selling agency in Australia, eventually amalgamating with R. Goldsborough & Co. to become Goldsborough & Mort. The company's enormous wool warehouses still stand near Darling Harbour in Sydney, now turned into a car museum and car park. Mort also became involved with steamship companies and mining concerns, both of which made him enormously prosperous. In 1856 he acquired vast land holdings at Bodalla and developed the area into a model dairy farm. He also established some of the first dry docks at Balmain, building ships as well as locomotives, and established the first employee profit-sharing scheme in Australia. He invested immense sums to develop a system of refrigerating meat on ships, the first successful refrigeration endeavour, although he died before the first shipment reached Europe in 1879.
Continue south 20km to Narooma, a popular fishing resort.
9km off the coast, and accessible by boat from Narooma's wharf, is
information t 02 4476 2881), site of a
well-known granite lighthouse built in 1881 to a design by prolific
Colonial Architect James Barnet. The island is known popularly as an
important landmark along the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day.
Most enjoyably, the island provides excellent venues to view waterfowl,
fur seals, and fairy penguin colonies without the tourist spectacle so
prevalent on Victoria's more famous Phillip Island. While weather is
often inclement, with very rugged seas, Montague Island is a splendid
day-trip destination; its tour operators have won a recent Excellence
in Tourism Award.
Nearby, among the verdant hills are the twin towns of Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba, the latter classified by the National Trust as an 'unusual mountain village'. Founded in the 1890s, virtually all of the buildings, made of timber, date from this period; the village is surrounded by spectacular mountainous terrain. A great favourite with tourists and film crews alike, the residents carry out crafts, cheese production, and shoe-making, and give the strong impression of a village-life commune. From Tilba Tilba, it is possible to take a walking track up Mt Dromedary.
From Tilba, you could make a short journey southeast to the fishing port of Bermagui. Big-game fishing in Australia was virtually invented here, or at least most actively promoted, after the arrival of American Wild-West author Zane Grey (1872-1939). Grey came here in 1935, and was so impressed with the marlin fishing that he stayed for months; his book An American Angler in Australia (1937) recounts his fishing experiences along the eastern coast. He also promoted the glories of Australia:
I was hardly prepared for this land of staggering contrasts, of unbelievable beasts, of the loveliest and strangest birds, of great modern English cities, of vast ranges that rivalled my beloved Arizona, and of endless forestland, or bush, as they call it, never adequately described, no doubt because of beauty and wildness beyond the power of any pen to delineate.
Bermagui lives up to Grey's praises still. Fishing in all forms dominates, although the coastline also provides beautiful rugged beaches with splendid rock-pools, and opportunities for bushwalking. Montague Island, 23km north, is still an international mecca for big-game fishermen. The ocean here can be quite cold but still enjoyable-do not expect Queensland-style bathing experiences anywhere along the south coast.
The coastline from Bermagui to the Victorian border has
label of the Sapphire Coast, an invention of the tourist industry
rather than an historic appellation. The unofficial centre of the
region is Bega (population 4300), 80km south from Narooma. Tourist
information at the Cheese Information Centre on Lagoon
02 6491 7645. Bega itself is not a
particularly attractive town, but it is ideally situated to experience
this part of the country. From here the Snowy Mountains Highway climbs
up into the mountains, offering breathtaking views, and eventually
reaching Cooma (c 127km), gateway to the Snowy Mountains ski
resorts; indeed, Begans boast it is possible to ski and swim on the
same day when staying here.
Bega is known especially for cheese, and the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre offers tours and tastings, and wonderful historical displays about the dairy industry in Australia. Grevillea Winery (t 02 6492 3006; open Mon-Fri andSun 09.00-17.00, Sat 10.00-15.00), just to the south of town, also offers tours.
28km east of Bega is the small fishing village of Tathra, at one time an important stop for the steamship ferries between Sydney and Melbourne. The Tathra Wharf is still intact, parts of it dating from the 1860s; it now houses a Wharf museum, which tells the story of the old steamship trading links (02 6494 4062).
From Bega, the Princes Highway heads south to Tantawangalo Mount Road and then west to the Kameruka Homestead an important remnant of the early dairying industry; its homestead dates from 1845, with interesting examples of 19C dairying buildings and equipment. Kameruka is open daily (10.00-16.00 with milking between 14.00-15.30). South of Kameruka is the 19thC town of Candelo which has a popular market on the first Sunday of the month.
Travelling back to the Princes Highway, you enter Merimbula, now a flashy tourist town, filled with new condominiums, which takes advantage of its stunning peninsula location, with lakes, inlets, and sparkling beaches (Merimbula Tourist Information, Beach Street, t 02 6495 1129). The region was the land of the Dyirringan people; Merimbula means 'place of the big snake'. Of historic note is the Munn Tower House on Monaro Street. Built in the 1870s by Matthew Munn, founder of Merimbula, the building is a large stone cottage with an added two-storey timber tower that could be seen for great distances. Munn developed the area agriculturally, most notably in the production of 'maizena', a cornflour. Also in town is the School Museum, between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches on Main Street. The museum is run by the Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society, and includes local history displays, as well as memorabilia as of the Munn family and a description of shipping on this part of the south coast.
The Princes Highway continues 6km south to Pambula, an
village' centred on The Grange, the grand mansion of a 19C sea-captain.
Also in the village is a small stone house that served as a post office
and store; it was built by Syms Covington, who had assisted Charles
Darwin on his Beagle voyage, after which he settled in Australia and
bought land here in 1853.
Directly east of here is the northern section of Ben Boyd National Park (t 02 6495 5000), which runs to Twofold Bay and Eden; the park continues to the south of Eden and on to Disaster Bay. The Wonboyn Dune System of 26 parallel coastal dunes are in the park, as are nesting grounds for an endangered species, the Ground Parrot.
Eden (population 3300) on Twofold Bay is a real fishing port
fishing fleet and opportunities to undertake deep-sea fishing cruises.
Tourist information: Princes Highway; t 02 6496 1953.
Ben Boyd (c 1796-1851) was one of the more colourful figures
Australia's early history. He was a Scotsman, working as a stockbroker
in London, where he acquired ships for the purpose of trade with
Australia. He devised an elaborate scheme of floating investments
whereby he could acquire land in several locations throughout
Australia. In 1842, he arrived in Sydney in his yacht the Wanderer,
along with his brother and the watercolourist Oswald Brierly (1817-94).
By 1843, he had established a bank, and, using the bank's money, had
acquired enormous properties in the Monaro district, along the Murray
River and at Port Phillip. His most ambitious venture involved the
purchase of several steamships, which would aid in the founding of the
twin townships of Boyd Town and East Boyd on Twofold Bay. Boyd built
here a jetty and lighthouse, as well as a Gothic church, a hotel and
several houses. By this time, he had nine whalers working for him from
this port. In 1847, Boyd tried to ship natives from the South Pacific
to the area to provide cheap labour, but the scheme failed.
His grandiose commercial dynasty, certainly too ambitious for the circumstances of mid-19C Australia, began to collapse, and by 1849, he was removed from control of his bank. He set sail in the Wanderer for the California gold rush in 1849, where he had no success; in 1851 he began a voyage around the Pacific Islands. In October of that year, he landed in the Solomon Islands, and was apparently killed. Boyd's name lives on in North Sydney's Ben Boyd Avenue, in the Ben Boyd National Park, and in the ruins of his beloved Boydtown.
The town's name commemorates not paradise, but the family
name of Baron Auckland, Secretary of the Colonies when the town was
laid out in 1842. As the excellent Eden Killer
Street; t 02 6496 2094) demonstrates, Twofold Bay was an important
whalers' station from the early 19C. As early as the 1790s, American
and British whalers plied these waters, carrying out the less laborious
practice of 'bay whaling'. The Whale Museum includes the skeleton of
'Old Tom', a legendary leader of a killer whale pack which allegedly
guided the whalers to their prey. The museum is open Mon-Sat
09.15-15.45, Sun 11.15-15.45.
8km south of Eden on the Princes Highway is the Seahorse Inn (t 02 6496 1361), built around the remnants of Ben Boyd's original house. After Boyd's departure and disappearance, the house became a thriving hotel, used by local whalers and travellers en route by ship from Sydney to Melbourne. The inn had fallen into disrepair until it was rebuilt in the 1930s; it has recently been renovated again. While there is little evidence of Ben Boyd's original structure, the inn is still a major landmark in the area, and provides wonderful views to the beach and Twofold Bay.
The Hume Highway is the main road to the south and inland between Sydney and Melbourne, a total of 870km or 1020km via Canberra. You can also take the Hume Highway as a tour loop south of Sydney to the Illawarra Highway at Moss Vale just south of Bowral across Macquarie Pass to the ocean and back to Sydney (240km). The main Sydney to Melbourne train route (the Melbourne XPT, travelling daily) follows much of the same route.
The highway, which actually bypasses virtually every town in New South Wales and Victoria, was named for explorer Hamilton Hume (1797-1873). Born in Parramatta, the son of Andrew Hume, the superintendent of convicts, Hume began exploring the country south of his family home in Appin, New South Wales in 1814, when he was seventeen. Three years later, Governor Macquarie arranged for Hume to guide pastoralist-explorers Charles Throsby and James Meehan through the area. They eventually reached the Goulburn Plains and Lake Bathurst. In 1830 Surveyor-General Major Mitchell planned a road and followed Hume's track, which traversed an easier route than the existing route over the Mittagong Range to Bong Bong. By 1832 the road reached Goulburn and by the late 1830s, Albury. Nonetheless, today's hour by car to Berrima took nearly a week by bullock dray.
The highway, which takes Hume's name, passes tortuously
through Sydney's entangled suburbs to leave the urban area at about
Campbelltown (much of this part of the route is circumvented now by the
M5 Tollroad to the far edge of Liverpool). Just beyond Campbelltown,
the hills fringing Sydney become rougher and eucalypt forests replace
the grassland scrub. Beyond these low mountains, the land is relatively
flat sheep and cattle paddocks to a point between Yass and Gundagai
where gentle hills break the monotony. (Mind the speed limit in this
valley; on one holiday weekend the New South Wales patrol issued more
than 1500 citations for speeding near Goulburn-nearly double the amount
in the rest of the Southern Tablelands region.) Again, past these
hills, farmland extends with a few variations all the way to the
outskirts of Melbourne.
While Liverpool, 31km from the heart of Sydney, was initially a separate town, it is now part of the most congested districts of suburban development. But since the inception of the M5 Tollway, the agonising drive through these streets can be avoided, and Liverpool is thought of largely as a place to avoid. Still, there are many places of historical note in the town. The train travels most expeditiously to Liverpool and on to Campbelltown from central Sydney. The train also travels to Casula, where the exciting Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre is located at 1 Casula Road, next door to the Casula Railway Station (t 02 9824 1121; open daily 10.00-16.00). The 1994 design of the building, a renovation of a 1950s power station, won the RAIAPresident's Award for recycled buildings. The open spaces in two galleries provide great opportunities for some of the most innovative art shows and performances in the Sydney region.
In the Liverpool area, two early bridges still in use and worth comment were constructed under Scottish stonemason David Lennox, one at Lapstone (built in 1833 using local stone by a gang of 20 convicts) and the other (1836) an elegant solution to a difficult crossing of Prospect Creek on the Hume Highway more or less between Bankstown and Cabramatta. The latter design harkens back to Lennox's training under the great English engineer Telford, particularly the crossing of the Severn at Over.
Campbelltown (population 38,250), named for Elizabeth
Governor Lachlan Macquarie, is famous for the Fisher's ghost story
centred here. Frederick Fisher, a convict who arrived in 1816, secured
a ticket of leave and established a farm in the town. Some time after
his disappearance in 1826, a local resident was directed by Fisher's
ghost (or having seen it on a fence rail convinced the authorities) to
search the area. His body was discovered in a nearby creek. George
Worrall, who rented a nearby farm (or who shared Fisher's hut with
him), was convicted of manslaughter and executed for the murder. This
basic story has been elaborated to heroically gruesome proportions. The
legend is commemorated every year at the Campbelltown City Festival of
Fisher's Ghost, beginning in early February, and continuing for two to
three weeks, with Highland Games and raft races on the Nepean River.
The Tourist Centre is at Quondong Cottage, 15 Old Menangle
Campbelltown; t 02 4645 4921.
Noteworthy architecture includes the old Campbelltown Post Office, an Italianate design by James Barnet who was the Colonial Architect from 1865 to 1890 during Australia's period of strongest expansion. St John's Church (1825) may be the oldest Catholic church in Australia. James Ruse, the pioneer farmer associated with the Experimental Farm Cottage in Parramatta, and his wife Elizabeth are buried here.
In nearby Camden, the Macarthur family had their second
Although the bulk of Macarthur's interests were engaged at Elizabeth
Farm in Parramatta, Camden Park supported, among other
enterprises, his winery. The First Fleet had brought vines to Sydney
(planted in what is now the Botanic Gardens and later at Government
House in Parramatta), but when Macarthur returned from England and
France in 1817, he brought a number of plants for cultivation here. By
1827, he was producing 90,000 litres per year and in 1839 he brought
out six German wine-makers to tend the plants. His son William improved
the process to the extent that the wines and brandies were recognised
The Macarthur house was designed by John Verge and built in 1835. It features a classical stone parapet, a large two-storey wing (added in c 1880), and single storey symmetrical wings. In addition to the family mausoleums, the well-maintained grounds and award-winning gardens are attractions. The farm is in private hands and, except on rare occasions like the Open Garden Scheme days, is closed to the public.
Along with Bowral and Moss Vale nearby in what is called the Southern Tablelands, Mittagong (population 4830) owes its existence to the railway rather than the road. The name is from an Aboriginal word meaning either 'little mountain' (a reference to Mount Gibraltar) or 'plenty of native dogs'. The area was referred to by Governor Macquarie as early as 1816, but was not settled until William Charker began raising cattle here in 1821; George Cutler ran the area's first licensed inn, known for its breakfasts. Once a renowned bottleneck between Canberra and Sydney, a new bypass now circumvents the town, offering splendid views of rocky escarpments heretofore unseen. Tourist information: Winifred West Park, Hume Highway; t 02 4871 2888. The town has some very good antique stores.
The Wombeyan Caves can be reached by taking the Wombeyan turn-off from the Hume Highway, then travelling 60km northwest of Mittagong. These caves are fully developed for visitors, with railings and steps, and walking tracks around the area; spectacular mountain scenery abounds. t 02 4843 5976.
Bowral (population 7400) is where cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman spent his childhood; his house is now part of the Bradman Museum on St Jude Street (t 02 4862 1247; open daily, 10.00-17.00). Arthur Upfield, creator of the Napoleon Bonaparte detective series, retired here. He describes the area in his Bony and the Kelly Gang (1960): 'the autumnal tints; the soft blues of the shadows and the jet black gaping jaws of the surrounding mountain slopes and cliffs'. Wingecarribee House, the homestead of the founding Oxley family, was imported as a kit from England in 1857. The Bowral area, along with the other towns of the Southern Highlands, is a popular destination for garden tours, with many nurseries and private gardens open for inspection in the spring. Especially popular is the Tulip Time festival in late September and early October. For tourist information, see Mittagong.
Travellers wishing to return to Sydney at this point can
take the Illawarra Highway. It proceeds east from here through some
spectacular scenery, crossing the coastal range at Macquarie Pass.
Intrepid motorists will be rewarded in good weather by taking the
unsealed road from just beyond Robertson to Jamberoo.
Those motorists continuing south to Canberra or Melbourne on
the Hume Highway will next pass Berrima (tourist information at
Mittagong; or at
Courthouse Museum, Wilshire Street, t 02 4871
2888, 10.00-16.00). From the Aboriginal word meaning 'to the south',
named by Surveyor-General Major Mitchell and established at the easily
bridged crossing of the Wingecarribee River on the Great Southern Road
opening the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. It replaced the
first town in the region, Bong Bong, which lacked adequate water, but
did offer the Argyle Inn. The Sydney Gazette (17 March 1832) mentioned
that the inn 'with its dashing hostess, forms an agreeable insipidity
for the dullest of dull settlements.'
Berrima's architectural highlights include the surrounding wall and gatehouse (1866) of the Berrima Training Centre (the current incarnation of the Department of Corrective Services' former gaol), the country's oldest continuously licensed hotel (the Surveyor-General Inn, erected using sandstone blocks and bricks by William Harper for his son James in 1834) and the two-storey sandstone residence, Harper's Mansion, corner Hume Highway and Wilkinson Street, t 02 4877 1508 (considerably restored by the National Trust of New South Wales). The oldest section of the town is pleasantly laid out and the architecture includes a number of buildings dating to the 1830s. It is a favoured spot for travellers to stop, either for a picnic lunch on the town green or to dine in one of the centre's ambitious inns. Several shops also cater to antique browsers.
From Berrima to Goulburn is c 80km on the highway. Advertised
'first inland city', Goulburn (population 23,000) was gazetted by March
1833, and was already settled in the late 1820s. Originally a garrison
to supervise the convicts impressed to build the road and to attempt to
control the flagrant bushrangers who operated in the district until the
1870s, the town's character is now essentially that of a rural service
centre. The main street's design is a particularly good example of late
19C style. Note the Post Office which was designed by Colonial
Architect James Barnet in 1880. It features a central clock tower
flanked by a two-storey colonnade of offices. The arches of the ground
floor colonnade have moulded keystones and Doric pilasters. St
Saviour's Cathedral, designed by Edmund Blacket in 1874, offers
interesting interior furnishings and an organ built by Forster
& Andrews (Hull) in 1884. Tourist
information: 201 Sloane Street, opposite Belmore
02 4823 4492.
In addition, two of the town's three historic houses are maintained for public inspection. These are Riversdale, Maud Street (t 02 4821 4741; open Sun. 10.00-15.00), a stone barn built in 1840 on the Sydney side of town near the gaol, and the only structure surviving from the town's Macquarie era. It has been restored by the National Trust. The more modest St Clair, at 318 Sloane Street (open Sat. and Sun. 13.00-16.00), one block off the business district, was built in 1843 and has been restored by the Goulburn Historical Society. Garroorigang (1857) on the Braidwood Road is currently a bed and breakfast, but is open for tours daily from 10.00-16.00. Also in town near the railway station is the Goulbourn Brewery, including a flour mill (1836) and brewery (1840); it is one of the only surviving examples of 19C industrial buildings.
The Federal Highway to Canberra begins c 13km south of Goulburn. It skirts Lake George's western edge. Like its companion, Lake Bathurst c 20km due east, the lake is quite shallow and occasionally empties if the water table drops. This and the conviction that fisherman too frequently disappear on the lake provoke lively superstitions. In fact, the lake is considerably less dangerous than the 20-minute ride along the two-lane road beside it; the recent upgrading of the road was prompted by the disproportionate number of fatalities occurring along this short stretch. Both lakes were popular tourist attractions in the late 19C, when the water level was very high, but little evidence of the lodges or piers remains.
Further west on the Hume Highway is the Hume or Frankfield Homestead (now a b&b, 02 4845 1200), 8km south of Gunning. It was granted to Francis Hume in 1836 for the capture of Patrick Bourke, a bushranger. The current house with a verandah on three sides and French windows was built in about 1870. In fact the Hume family was sprinkled throughout the area, with Hamilton's brother's residence at Collingwood (late 1830s) in Gunning. Hamilton Hume squatted in the area, buying grazier Cornelius O'Brien's bungalow in 1839. This homestead, called Cooma Cottage, is now a bed and breakfast about 5km north of Yass near the entrance of the Barton Highway from Canberra.
Yass (population 5300) was formally laid out by Thomas
and first settled in the 1840s. Tourist
information: Coronation Park, t 02 6226 2557. The
entire Main Street is listed by the National
Trust. Miraculously, the town fathers elected to maintain the verandahs
and supporting posts, so wrought-iron lacework designs are abundant.
The Court House and Post Office (1882) are of a Classical Revival
design by James Barnet. The railway station, though a bit hard to find
on the outskirts of town, is a gem largely due to the delicate hand
evident in the gardening. Other buildings of this period are the Bank
of New South Wales, 1885, by Blackman & Sulman and the Rural
Bank, 1886, by Smedley.
Although a new bypass on the highway detours around this notorious old bottleneck on the route to Melbourne, Yass is still worth a stop, for its excellent information centre, and for some good tea rooms. Anyone travelling from Canberra by train to Melbourne must depart from the Yass Station (a bus brings passengers from Canberra).
Gundagai (population 2125) may be small in population, but its name looms large in Australian folklore, having inspired several popular poems and songs. On the approach to town is a tourist feature commemorating the Dog on the Tucker Box tale. (The centre itself is now a quintessential tacky tourist conglomeration.) While authorities debate the details of the story, a popular version describes a wandering swagman who commanded his loyal dog to guard his tuckerbox (basically a small portable kitchen cupboard holding provisions). The poor creature's master never returned and the dog held his post until death. A version more revealing of the Aussie character describes a bullock driver having a difficult day at the crossing of the nearby creek. When he failed to return to camp promptly, the dog shat on the tuckerbox. This version was passed from the bullock driver to a wine salesman, Jack Moses, who made the poem famous. The dog was sculpted by local Frank Rusconi and the monument unveiled by Prime Minister Joe Lyons in 1932. The most famous song about the town was written by Jack O'Hagan, who had never been there. In 1922, his nostalgic melody 'Along the Road to Gundagai' became an international success and was the theme song for the 'Dad and Dave' radio programme.
Gundagai itself is a pleasant country town which offers an
Art Deco style theatre (built in 1929 as the Masonic Lodge) with intact
interiors. Frank Rusconi's idiosyncratic Marble Masterpiece, an ornate
model cathedral, is on display at Rusconi's Place. Tourist
Sheridan Street; t 02 6944
The Prince Alfred Bridge, made of three spans of iron and wooden approaches, was constructed in 1863-65. It crosses the Murrumbidgee River. Tragically, the town was first built on the river's flood plain. Ignoring the advice of the local Aborigines, 80 of the town's 250 inhabitants drowned and 71 buildings were destroyed by flood in 1852. The present bridge is now for pedestrian use only.
48km off the Hume Highway east on the Snowy Mountains Highway is Tumut (population 6140). The name is supposedly Aboriginal for 'a quiet resting place by the river'. Hamilton Hume and William Hovell, during their inland journey to Port Phillip, discovered Tumut valley and river in 1824. Part of the Hume and Hovell Walking Trail is accessible in town. (This trail extends from Gunning to Albury but has various access points throughout for shorter walks; more information from Department of Lands, Wagga Wagga, t 02 6937 2700.) Today, the town is known not only for its mountain scenery, but as the site of one of the great dams of the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme, the Talbingo; group tours can be arranged through the tourist information office: Snowy Mountains Highway; t 02 6947 1849.
48km in the other direction off the Hume Highway is Wagga
(population 40,800), usually referred to only as Wagga. From the
Aboriginal phrase meaning 'place of many crows', the area was first
described by Charles Sturt in 1829 as a 'rich and lightly timbered
valley ... parts of the [Murrumbidgee] river were visible through the
dark masses of swamp-oak ... or glittered among the flooded gum trees'.
Originally part of the Wiradjuri tribal grounds, it was settled by
squatters, became a village in 1847 and a city as late as 1946.
Mark Twain visited the town in 1895 due to its fame as the home of the Tichborne Claimant, a notorious English legal case growing out of a satirical mystery written by the local newspaper editor which featured a local butcher. More to its credit, the town has a School of Arts (1859), associated Literary Association (1873) and Shakespearian Club (longest running in the southern hemisphere) and offers an annual dramatic festival. In town is a lovely Botanic Gardens, Tom Wood Drive, that includes a small zoo and model trains; a city art gallery on Baylis Street (t 02 6926 9660; open Tues-Sat 10.00-17.00, Sun 12.00-16.000), with an excellent glass collection, as well as changing print shows; and Charles Sturt University. Wagga Wagga considers itself the cultural centre of the Riverina district, which begins here. The region is also known for its excellent new wineries-many of which offer tastings (check at tourist information); it has also begun to produce olive oil. Tourist information: Tarcutta Street; t 02 6923 5402. The office has brochures for self-guided walks.
From Wagga, you can continue on the Olympic Way for another 100km to Albury, or return to the Hume Highway, passing through the little town of Holbrook, with its amusing town slogan, 'Where the Hell is Holbrook?'
Our only experiences in Albury (population 38,000) involved fines for parking violations and non-existent cafes. This impression seems to be substantiated by the experiences of such writers as Robert G. Barrett, whose character Les Norton in the story St Kilda Kooler (1990) presents a similar interpretation of the city's charms. Just be sure to park according to the well-concealed traffic signs and do not jaywalk. Situated on the Murray River, the town does indeed have many sites of historic interest. Crossing Place Visitor's Centre, Public Library; t 02 6023 8333.
Albury/Wodonga marks the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Travelling by train from Sydney to Melbourne, the 19C American humorist Mark Twain was prompted at this juncture to observe a singular thing:
... the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the most baffling and unaccountable marvel that Australasia can show. At the frontier between New South Wales and Victoria our multitude of passengers were routed out of their snug beds by lantern-light in the morning in the biting cold of a high altitude to change cars on a road that has no break in it from Sydney to Melbourne! Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth ... It is a narrow-gauge road to the frontier, and a broader gauge thence to Melbourne.
This situation arose through miscommunication as well as state rivalries, but during the era of train travel, it was the subject of much derision and, indeed, inconvenience. It has always served as a metaphor for the lunacy of New South Wales-Victoria competition. The Albury Railway Station, built in 1881 after designs by New South Wales Government Railways chief engineer John Whitton, is an imposing structure with an extremely long platform and stuccoed decorative elements on the exterior. Its interior contains most of the original cedar joinery and a domed booking hall.
Wodonga (population 22,000) is Albury's twin city on the Victorian side of the border. The tourist information office is the same as for Albury.
The town began as a squatters' station built by Charles Huon and called Belvoir from the 1830s until it reverted to a form of its original name in 1874. The Victorian rail line reached Wodonga in 1873, eight years before its mate from Sydney reached Albury and ten years before a bridge over the Murray allowed passengers to continue to the Albury station. The absurd controversy regarding the rail gauge was compounded at this break in the journey. Neither government would allow the other to disembark at the end of its territory. Rather, the bridge was built double width, enabling the northbound train a terminus in Albury and the southbound train a terminus in Wodonga. After some acrimony about the Melbourne-bound trains' breakfast break prior to crossing the river, Albury was selected in 1886 as the station at which travellers changed trains.
The ethnic diversity of this inland area is due to Bonegilla
Camp, a processing centre for immigrants which functioned between 1947
and 1971. A number of the 315,000 people passing through the camp
Because of the proximity to the Murray River, this region presents many possibilities for water activities, and bushwalking tracks dot the landscape. Check with the information centre for details.
Outside Wodonga, the Hume Highway begins its long and utterly
drive into Melbourne. If you have the time and are driving, it is
worthwhile to make some detours off to the towns along the road.
The wine district of northeast Victoria is west of here, centred around Rutherglen on the Murray Valley Highway. The winery at All Saints was established in 1864 by G.S. Smith and J. Banks. The present building dates from about 1880 and is operated by Smith's descendants. The Mount Ophir Winery was built by Eisemann & Gleeson during the last decade of the 19C for the English family Burgoyne. The Victoria Hotel dates from 1868 and features a cast-iron verandah and parapet with prominent stables in the back. Nearly all of the many wineries in the region are open daily for tastings; tours, as well as maps highlighting all wineries and opening times, are available from the Tourist Information Centre, Drummond Street, Rutherglen, t 02 6032 9166/1 800 62 2871.
Wangaratta (population 16,600) is a pleasant little town at the juncture of the Ovens Highway heading north to Bright and the Victorian Alps. Tourist information; Hume Highway, Wangaratta South, t 03 5721 5711.
The first settler in the area was George Faithful who took up land at the junction of the Ovens and King Rivers in 1838. William Clarke is regarded as the father of the settlement. He opened an inn and operated a punt and stock crossing. The town was largely deserted during the 1851-52 gold rush, but came to prosper as a staging point en route to the diggings. Like Glenrowan (see below), Wangaratta had its own bushranger, Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan, a vicious murdering brute so appalling in his crimes that his head was cut off and sent to the University of Melbourne for analysis. He was thought to have the brains of a gorilla (rather a chauvinistic slight for those creatures), but public sentiment about the dismemberment led to the reprimand of the local superintendent of police.
The most famous of bushrangers met his end in the small village of Glenrowan, between Wangaratta and Benalla. Ned Kelly was finally arrested here in 1880, and his gang members were killed by the police.
The village of Glenrowan today, of course, plays up to the legend; the Glenrowan Tourist Centre (t 03 5766 2367) is essentially a re-enactment through animation of Kelly's Last Stand.
Benalla (population 9300) is an otherwise modest town known for its regional art gallery (t 03 5762 3027) containing the Ledger Collection of Colonial and Heidelberg School Paintings. Located on Bridge Street, the gallery is open normal business hours. The Old Court House (1864, design by G. Joacimi) on Arundel Street is evidence of the change to Victoria's architectural styles. The façade is from 1888. In October, the town has a Rose Festival. Joe Byrne, of the Kelly Gang, is buried in the cemetery here. Tourist information: 14 Mair Street, t 03 5762 1749.
The Australian fascination with bushrangers results from the
of a relatively small number of outlaws active in the 1860s and of the
Ned Kelly gang in the late 1870s. In fact, highway robbery and preying
upon isolated settlements had its first phase during the colonial era
when convicts who had escaped into the bush stole sheep and generally
operated as bandits. The surprisingly civil Matthew Brady-he would
tolerate no improprieties against women or children-and his associates
in Tasmania and Bold Jack Donahue in the Hawkesbury River area of New
South Wales are examples of these sorts. During the gold rush era,
shipments of gold were the focus of the criminal imagination. Still,
the tendency to bail up (that is to rob) passers-by of any description
was central to the outlaw, many of whom were ex-convicts from Tasmania.
The free-born bushrangers of the 1860s were a little more complicated. In one sense they were the result of the social inequities pitting the land-rich squatters against the land-purchasing selectors. The bushrangers were supported by these latter, poorer rural relations and, as such, attained something of a Robin Hood status in the press and among the locals. The police were generally disliked as representatives of the socially powerful, while the rangers were reported as daring and romantic and their exploits sensationalised.
That Ned Kelly rather than his predecessor and exemplar Ben Hall, also active in both New South Wales and Victoria, continues to receive the attention he does seems unwarranted. While it is nearly sacrilegious to slight the Kelly legend, in fact the man was a petty criminal from an unseemly family. Jailed several times and indeed unfairly harassed by the police, Kelly and his three associates (his brother Dan, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne) goaded the police into misuse of their power under the Felons' Apprehension Act.
In fact, more horses were commandeered by the police than stolen by the bushrangers, more provisions and weapons taken, more people held without recourse. Public sentiment naturally rested with the outlaws who boasted of never harming a woman or robbing a poor man, who joked about offering rewards for the capture of police chiefs, who took the entire town of Glenrowan captive, then donned armour, both helmet and chest plate, made of the mouldboards of ploughs to fight their last battle in 1879. It is this particularly bizarre iron mask that gained public attention, leading to the establishment of Ned Kelly in his armour as a recognisable Australian icon which appears in a plethora of visual forms, from Sidney Nolan's famous series of paintings to garden sculptures.
At the end of the Glenrowan siege, Joe Byrne was shot dead, and Dan Kelly and Steve Hart probably took poison to avoid being burned to death during their siege. The police shot, tried and finally, after a famous trial in Melbourne, hanged Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880. Earlier in the year, his mother's last words to him had been 'Mind you die like a Kelly, Ned.' His last words were, at least in legend, 'Such is life!'
Situated 18km north of Benalla on the old Hume Highway is Seymour Bridge, set in a park-like setting and also known as the Old Goulburn Bridge or the Hughes Creek Bridge. Built in 1859 by Hugh Dalrymple, it is comprised of six arches supported on piers with string courses.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has excellent descriptions of the State's park, including public transit instructions.
The National Trust (NSW), like the other National Trust offices, looks after many properties throughout the state, several of which are open to the public.
Trust has excellent descriptions of the properties it has
undertaken to protect.