A wonderfully preserved historic gold mining village.
As you wander around the semi-ghost town of Hill End near Bathurst admiring the handful of heritage-listed buildings that remain, it’s hard to conceive it was once one of the busiest and most populous towns in NSW.
In 1872, a 285kg gold nugget was found here– at the time the largest gold nugget ever recorded – and that saw the population boom to a peak of 30,000 starry-eyed hopefuls.
The town’s main street stretched for over a kilometer and was lined with thriving shops, businesses and hotels – 27 of the latter, to be precise. These days there’s just one pub, The Royal Exchange Hotel, which offers affordable accommodation, tasty meals and a wonderful beer garden.
There’s a smattering of shops housed in historic buildings and a small population of local residents, but for the most part the town is considered an historic site and is managed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Two pleasant, grassy campgrounds are available, with coin operated hot showers and powered sites on offer. They’re located an easy walk from the village and can be paid for on arrival.
Taking the self-guided heritage walk is a great way to get an idea of what Hill End was like in its heyday, with plaques marking the locations of former shops on the main drag. Interestingly, little was known of the layout of the town prior to 1951, when a hoard of 3500 glass plate photographic negatives from the 19th century was found by chance in a garden shed in Sydney.
Called the Holtermann Collection, this stash painted a vivid portrait of life in a typical 1800s Australian gold mining town and allowed for the figurative ‘reconstruction’ of Hill End’s main street. The collection is kept in the State Library in Sydney, and is regarded as one of the most significant historic photography collections ever found in Australia.
After the gold receded and the boom turned to bust, the vernacular architecture and mining-modified landscape of the crumbling town began to attract artists. In August 1947, artists Donald Friend and Russell Drysdale made a trip to explore to the former gold rush town and were so taken by the character of Hill End, Friend bought a little cottage and lived there for a number of years.
Drysdale visited regularly, along with prominent artists Margaret Olley, Jean Bellette, Paul Haefliger, David Strachan and Jeffrey Smart. These artists are often referred to as the 'first wave' of Hill End artists. The town has served as somewhat of an artists retreat ever since, and is home to the highly regarded Hill End Artist in Residence Program.
But even those devoid of an artistic bone will love Hill End; its unique brand of Australiana tells of a significant and colourful time in our history. All roads to the village are now sealed, so access is easy. Travel In recommends a visit to Hill End and nearby Sofala as a scenic detour when travelling near Bathurst, Orange or Mudgee.