This historic gold rush town near Bathurst exudes the charm of yesteryear.
The first words that spilled out of my mouth as we drove into Sofala were, “It looks like a film set!”, and I’m sure I’m not the first traveller to utter the sentiment. Sofala is a wonderfully preserved gold rush town where it seems great care has been taken to retain the village’s historic charm.
Located 50km north of Bathurst off the Bathurst-Ilford Road near the slightly larger historic town of Hill End, Sofala is a pretty little town in a sleepy hollow beside the Turon River.
One of Australia’s earliest gold rush towns, Sofala was established in 1851 after the discovery of gold at nearby Summerhill Creek. Thousands of people rushed to the region to try their luck, so a general store and a pub were established to service the tent city that had formed along the banks of the river.
The pub, the Royal Hotel, is still in operation today and takes pride of place on Sofala’s main street.
Like the pub, the historic buildings on the main street are mostly wooden heritage structures, their low doorways and peeling paint a reminder of bygone days.
The gently winding main street is unusually skinny, a legacy from the days of horse and cart. It was made famous by the artist Russell Drysdale, whose painting Sofala is deemed his finest work by the Art Gallery of NSW, which describes the piece as ‘an expression of the quintessential qualities of an inland Australian country town’. It won the prestigious Wynne Prize in 1947, and most of the buildings featured are still standing today.
Sofala has also enjoyed stardom on the silver screen, serving as the location for many of the scenes in the raunchy 1994 Australian film, Sirens, starring Elle McPherson. Still frames and behind-the-scenes photographs from the film hang on the wall of the Royal Hotel, where no doubt one or two locals might still tell tales of the scantily-clad actors who visited them more than 20 years ago.
Visitors can try their hand at panning for gold, have a coffee at the café in the old gaol, buy second hand books, visit the Turon Technology Museum and stay in a colonial-era cottage at nearby Chesleigh Homestead, where horse riding is also on the cards.
Or alternatively, just enjoy a scenic drive-by of this idyllic little village that time seems to have forgotten.