Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that bring the most joy. A stroll in the sunshine through historic streets with your significant other is hard to beat. Our ‘built’ history in Australia is relatively new in comparison to many other places around the world, but it is still fascinating to us Aussies and provides an excellent insight into our times past.
Join me for a gentle stroll along the goldrush-era streets of Hill End.
Hill End is a very small and quite remote village approximately 270km north-west of Sydney. To describe it as the middle of nowhere is pretty accurate although in its day, it was a thriving metropolis of over 8,000 thirsty, brawling, hungry and mostly unlucky gold miners.
Gold was discovered in the region in the early 1870’s. Gold fever was rampaging all over Australia (and the World) at that time, and an announcement of a new discovery in the region encouraged a flood of men to abandon their normal jobs and lives in pursuit of untold riches. Their women, families and entrepreneurial shopkeepers soon followed to carve out their share of the gold boom.
Hill End could have been easily relegated to the dusty shelves of history if not for a pair of photographers – Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss. In 1872, an incredibly lucky and successful gold miner, Bernhardt Otto Holtermann, commissioned the photographers to record the social and economic life of the village. The Holtermann Collection captures the vibrancy of both town and gold fields, including the sense of commercial prosperity and endless social aspiration. Even 100 years on, you can still feel it.
In the 1960’s the entire village was heritage listed – covering all the remaining buildings and streetscapes. Unfortunately, many of the structures had been destroyed and/or robbed of their materials, leaving only a smattering of complete houses and shops to represent the goldrush era. Despite the losses, the character of the remaining buildings was protected and many are still in use today.
The NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) eventually took over management of the village and now very little can happen in the township, and surrounding areas, without their permission. While this adds an element of care and protection, their restrictions are not always popular with the locals.
For sightseers like us, it is a joy to visit. The NPWS has installed around 80 signs along the streets which feature the Holtermann Collection photographs and depict the building that used to stand on that exact same spot over 150 years ago. It is simply brilliant to stand there and try to imagine what the streetscape looked like, the sounds and smells.
What Else is There to See?
- Art: Hill End also has a very rich artistic history and was a favourite retreat for many of Australia’s most famous and prolific artists such as Margaret Olley, Brett Whitely, Russell Drysdale and Sydney Nolan.
- Pan For Gold: The whole region is riddled with gullies and creeks where you can roll up your sleeves and have a crack at striking it lucky. To increase your chances of success, book on a tour with a local panning expert.
- Walking Trails: For a true lay of the land stroll the walking trails that skirt the village, giving you an insight into some of the various mines and workings. Clamber up to the lookouts for stunning views over the rugged countryside.
- Hill End Heritage Centre: Open seven days, contains a small selection of audio-visual information, brochures etc that provide a quick insight into the village’s glory days. It is free to enter.
- Tourist Attractions: A number of mining-related tourism business operate including museums, mine tours and gold panning expeditions.
Where to Eat?
Bring a picnic or enjoy a simple pub meal at the Royal Hotel. Excellent coffee and light meals can be found at the General Store & Café or pop into Hill End Estate Tea Gardens. I recommend you check their opening hours as, while Hill End is a popular weekend destination, some businesses may close mid-week.
Where to Stay?
Accommodation to a variety of standards is plentiful from camping, caravanning, to B&Bs. NPWS manages many accommodation facilities and bookings can be made here.
Hill End is an excellent inclusion in any Central West NSW road trip. Visit for a day out or stay for a few days to absorb the history and beauty of the region. You won’t be disappointed.
Where is your favourite historic village?
What: In the 1870’s, Hill End was a major commercial centre and one of the largest inland towns in NSW. Today, it is home to around 100 residents.
Where: Hill End is an easy 73km drive south-west from Mudgee.
When: We visited on an unseasonal mild Summer’s day. The village would also look stunning in Autumn as the streets are lined with large deciduous trees and their Autumn colours would be glorious.
Why: For history, art, fresh air, peace, beauty and an escape from Covid19.
How: Public transport is non-existent so you will need your own transport to enjoy the region. The road from Mudgee to Hill End is sealed and only partly sealed on the Bridle Track from Bathurst.
Who: It’s an old cliché, but Hill End has something for everyone. The place is particularly popular with motorbike riders on a Sunday ride and grey nomads looking to get off the beaten track.
Related Posts: The Holtermann Collection also includes a dazzling array of historic photographs of the Gulgong goldfields. Check it out here.
Related Blogs: Snowys enjoyed their time in Hill End and managed to capture some of those Autumn colours.
Read About It: To develop your own dose of gold fever and learn about all the things goldrush-related in Australia, grab a copy of David Hill’s – The Gold Rush. Go straight to Book Depository.
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