Day 21 – 9,150 KM. Town 34.
After a break since the trip to Canberra it is great to be back on the road visIting a few more “Everywhere” locations. Today I’ve journeyed 345 KM from Terrigal along the Golden Highway to Gulgong.
Now, lets start at the beginning and in this instance, a rainy day, possibly not unlike today on 14 April 1870. Miraculously Tom Saunders, a sheep farmer, found 14 ounces of gold that had been washed to the surface alongside a sheep track. By June 500 hopefuls arrived creating Gulgong and by 1872 the population had increased to 20,000.
The gold rush soon run dry and by 1880 it was over but the town has survived and with a population of just over 2,200 is now modest in its size.
Whilst the peek of the gold rush may only have lasted 10 years or so, its impact on the town is profound. I often find that Australian country towns are reminiscent of towns from wild west movies, but in Gulgong you need very little imagination to picture what the town was like at the hight of its gold rush. Unusually narrow streets and lanes, old buildings with their verandas and quaint signage take you back in time quite effortlessly. Add to this the 170 historically significant buildings built between 1870 and 1910 and you can appreciate the town is really something quite special.
I had three “must see” items on my list for Gulgong and it started with the Pioneers Museum. This is quite amazing. Nearly a whole block of the town centre is taken up by this museum which, through the donations of the towns folk provides a records of the towns history through artefacts and pictures. Rooms are used display elements of rural life so for example, you have the recreation of a dentists surgery, hospital operating theatre, bank and toy shop. You then venture outside to see farm machinery, a recreated school house, miners cottage, newspaper publishers and so the list goes on. The museum is vast and to see everything would require much more time that the afternoon I had available, but certainly worth the visit and $10 entry fee.
Next, I was very keen to track down the Gulgong Opera House. I was curious to see what form this would take appreciating it would be less dramatic than its Sydney counterpart. Built in 1870, the Prince of Wales Opera House, as it is formerly known, is the oldest continually operating entertainment theatre in Australia. The reason for my interest however was not because of the building but because of a certain entertainer who had performed there. Apparently Dame Nellie Melba once sang here, although under her married name of Mrs Armstrong. And my interest in Nellie Melba? Well, a French chef Auguste Escoffier, created Peach Melba, Melba sauce, Melba toast and Melba Garniture all in her honour. I did think that given this amazing link with Gulgong I may be able to get a Peach Melba in town. Sadly the owners of the two cafe’s where I asked looked at me with an expression along the lines of “your one peach short of a basket full”.
The final of my three “must do’s” was short lived. I wanted to find out more about the famous Australian novelist and bush poet Henry Lawson who lived briefly in Gulgong as a child in the early 1870s (his father sought instant wealth as a miner). Unfortunately the museum dedicated to this famous town resident had closed earlier than its published opening times so I can not elaborate too much. I do know that he had a fantastic moustache which has to be seen to be believed! I also know he appeared on a former version of the Australian $10 note from 1966 until November 1993 along with various Gulgong street scenes.
The town is quite rightly proud of its $10 note association, although not knowing this before I booked into the “Ten Dollar Town Motel” did leave me with a shock when they advsed the price was considerably more than $10!
In conclusion, Gulgong is a great place to visit. If you enjoy local history, quaint streets, museums and shops I’d recommend stopping by.
Gulgong Pioneers Museum
Come and see our extensive collection of early rural Australian artefacts set in historically significant original buildings. Open daily 9-5 (except Good Friday and Anzac morning). Wheelchair accessible.