4/02/2015 From Wagga Wagga, we continued 40kms north on the Olympic Highway to Junee where we pulled over for a leg stretch. The town has retained many magnificent old buildings that give a hint of what life would have been like in the late 1800s. We could easily imagine an enthusiastic young porter whose job it was to pull the chain and ring the bell on the platform of the ornate railway station, announcing the imminent arrival and departure of the next north- or south-bound mail train.
We stayed that night in Young, 100kms distant along the highway, and the following night in Blayney, 140kms further on and just west of Bathurst. Our intention was to travel to Scarborough via the Pacific Highway along the NSW coastline. While I prefer quiet bushland settings and the country scenery, Di is much more a water-baby at heart and had been missing sand between her toes and sunburn on the beach. So, to miss the traffic and crowds that tend to be drawn to coastal areas, we planned to hit the coast further north beyond Sydney.
15kms before reaching Blayney, we turned off the highway to Carcoar, population 218, located in a small green valley, straddling the banks of the Belubula River. The town has been classified by the National Trust due to the number of intact 19th century buildings. It was fascinating to walk around the town, but equally fascinating to find none of them open, not even the pub. The town apparently bustles with tourist activity on weekends; but not Tuesdays, apparently.
The old general store with its walls still lined with the original shelving had its doors open, but was unattended, and we started to think we’d stumbled into a ghost town.
While we would have preferred a pub lunch, as we walked down the main street, we had a feed of plums followed by apples from fruit trees growing on the footpath, and followed this with a bunch each of muscat grapes from a vine growing next to the Stoke Stable, built by convicts in 1849. Not a pub lunch, but better for us and free for the taking. Thinking about it, though, there may have been not too dissimilar reasons why some of the convicts found themselves in Carcoar at that time building a stone stable.
From Blayney the next day, we took the Millthorpe road to meet up with the Mitchell Highway. Millthorpe is a lovely little town located between Blayney and Orange with a population of about 700 people. It comprises grand buildings, heritage architecture and a streetscape that has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900’s. The entire village is classified by the National Trust and the village centre has cobbled, bluestone bordered streets.
Beyond Orange, we stopped at Molong for morning tea and a refuel, and found a lovely old two-storey commercial building in the main street that the owner informed us was for sale. The price was reasonable and our thoughts went to what a lovely Grand Design it would make, but we resisted the urge and continued on to Gulgong, a 19th-century gold rush town in the Central Tablelands, where we stayed overnight at the showgrounds with a small mob of sheep grazing nearby.
Gulgong has a population of around 1,800 people and has retained much of its 19th century character, particularly the broad shady balconies on the many of the two-storey commercial buildings. With the advent of the automobile in the early 1900s, balconies that extended over footpaths were generally removed in most towns to avoid the problem of vehicles reversing into the balcony posts that were located at the gutter edge. Fortunately, Gulgong resisted this trend and has retained most of the lovely second-storey balconies on its many commercial buildings. You can get a very good impression of what main streets looked like in the 1800s if you replace the cars with horses and carriages. A montage of goldrush-era Gulgong street scenes was used as a backdrop to the portrait of Henry Lawson on the first Australian ten dollar note (which was in use from 1966 until replaced by a polymer banknote in November 1993). Novelist and bush poet Henry Lawson lived briefly in Gulgong as a child in the early 1870s and the town and surrounding district often feature in his works.
We spread the wealth with an enjoyable lunch and drinks at the Commercial Hotel and camped for the night on power at the showgrounds.