I like to think I am a bit of a history buff and know my hometown well, but my illusions were shattered when I joined the Mudgee Heritage Walking Tour.
What wasn’t shattered was my love for my hometown, a little slice of rural NSW paradise.
Join me for a relaxed wander around the historical streets of Mudgee.
White man first explored the Mudgee area in 1821 and the town was gazetted in 1838. It is now a thriving tourism destination due to its many beautiful old buildings and its 34 delicious wineries/cellar doors help too! As I walked the streets on a bustling Saturday morning, I tried to picture how it all would have looked way back in the 1800s.
Ned, our tour guide, is a young man going places. His love of history, gift of the gab, and long-standing family connections to the town make him the perfect person to lead us through the streets and debunk some urban myths along the way. I had always thought the layout of Mudgee was designed by the renowned Australian surveyor, Robert Hoddle, as a practice run for the much larger and grander, Melbourne. But, No. The credit for the original, and perhaps unimaginative, street grid pattern goes to a man (of course) called Mortimer Lewis. In recognition of this man’s work, both Mortimer and Lewis are the names of two central cross-streets of that grid pattern.
I also thought that the current site of Mudgee was selected by some wayward cows who wandered away from their overnight camping ground. But, No. The original site of the fledgling township was located further downstream on the Cudgegong River, but after being flattened by consecutive floods, the founding fathers thought it wise to move the village to higher ground.
We learned of the early glory days of the town with notable families – Cox, Loneragan and Kellett – divvying up the real estate and business community along religious lines. The Catholics vs the Protestants and never the twain shall meet.
We learned of the 53 hotels (also exclusively one religion or the other) that ensured the good residents of Mudgee town never went thirsty. Apparently one enterprising publican showing a flare for business diversification, decided to excavate below the cellars of his hotel. The locals started to wonder what all the piles of dirt were as they started to appear in the main street, only to find out later that the publican had established a subterranean brothel! Satisfying a thirst of a completely different kind.
The fascinating history of the town revealed itself with each of our steps, from the small section of original pavers and cobblestones, to the regal churches mercilessly competing with each other from opposing corners to see who could build the tallest steeple. The Catholics won!
I was surprised to learn how self-contained the town was in the early days. It makes sense of course as Mudgee would have been considered pretty remote in the early days of the colony, but to think that other than the standard breweries, flour mills and tanneries, we also had stained glass factories and pressed-tin factories to supply the local construction industries – that was a bit of an eye-opener.
The sad side of the tour was to imagine all the glorious buildings that we had lost. In the name of ‘progress’ graceful old buildings were demolished and elegant awnings and verandahs were torn down exposing pedestrians to the unrelenting Australian weather. Progress? I think not and much of that ‘progress’ was eventually reversed as 30 years later government-funded programmes paid for the reinstatement of many of the said same verandahs and awnings.
Another aspect that fascinated me was the existence of a warren of cellars and tunnels with many connecting and crossing under streets and beneath whole blocks. Apparently the Loneragan Department Store built a mini-rail network under our main street to easily transport goods from their shops on one side of the street to their businesses on the other. Now that sort of thinking and infrastructure is real progress. Who would have thought that there was a whole underground life in our little town that very few know about?
I must admit that is did feel a little strange playing tourist on the streets of my home town, but I was not alone. My fellow tourists were all locals too and we must have all had the same urge to find out more about this little gem we call home.
Strolling and standing on the street corners, I tried to block out the noise of the busy Saturday morning traffic and replace it with the clip clop and creak of horse and wagon, and the revelry of rowdy men tumbling out of the 53 pubs. What a wild old town it must have been then.
As the tour wandered back to near its starting point I reflected on all that I had learned about the buildings I regularly walk past and hardly notice. The small details of cobblestones and cast iron signs that get missed in the routine of day-to-day life. My mind was full of new facts and figures, some old urban myths has been busted and some wonderful new stories revealed.
When have you had a myth-busting experience?
What: Mudgee Heritage Walking Tours operate on Saturday mornings and cost $15pp. Book here.
Where: Meet at the clock tower on the main street and walk all of two blocks, but I can assure you, a lot of information is crammed into two blocks!
When: Tours start at 10am and last approximately 1.5hours.
Why: To learn some fabulous small town history.
How: On foot. The tour sticks to the footpaths and other walkways making it ideal for anyone with any mobility issues. Make sure you wear a hat or carry an umbrella if it is hot.
Who: History buff, visitors and Mudgee-lovers.
Related Posts: If you want to do a deep dive into some amazing gold rush history, then don’t miss the outstanding Holtermann Museum in Gulgong. Only a short 20 minute drive North of Mudgee. It is not to be missed.
Related Blogs: Mudgee likes to think it is a bit of a food and wine destination. If that tickles your taste buds then see what Not Quite Nigella has to say about the delights of Mudgee.
Read About It: If you would like to learn more about the early days of Mudgee and Gulgong, then see if you can track down a copy of Travelling Down the Cudgegong (the main river in our valley). Available from Abe Books.
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