Bathurst offers a wealth of gold trails heritage including the iconic Hills End Historical Village where the roaring early days of the gold rush come to life, and the nearby Bald Hills Tourist Mine where you can step into an original 1870s mine shaft and walk in the steps of the original colonial goldminers.
One of Australia’s oldest inland settlements, Bathurst in Country NSW is a gateway to former gold rush towns that features colonial buildings and grand old homes built for wealthy graziers.
As the original site of government settlement, Bathurst’s historical buildings are rich in history and character. Chifley Home, now a museum and education centre, was once the residence of Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley and his wife, Elizabeth.
In recent years, this sophisticated city has become synonymous with its annual motor race, the Bathurst 1000. Visit the National Motor Racing Museum, and you can even drive on Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit (when the race is not on, of course!), but the speed limit is a mere 60 km/h.
Neighbouring towns, such as Sofala and Hill End, which boomed during the gold rush, feature the remains of 1800s architecture and rusting agricultural equipment. To the south, the Abercrombie Caves form one of the most spectacular limestone cave systems in Australia.
Bathurst was settled in 1815, and has the distinction of being the first inland settlement west of the Blue Mountains. By the 1850s the settlement had expanded to become a prosperous town due to a successful wool industry.
The earliest recorded discovery of gold in Australia had been made near Bathurst in 1823 by a surveyor James McBrien but it was not until 1851 that “payable” gold was discovered by Edward Hammond Hargreaves at Ophir. A rush to the area ensued.
More gold was discovered on the Turon River in July of the same year and prospectors flocked to the area, following the western road from Sydney to Bathurst to purchase equipment and supplies before making their way to the Turon Goldfields. The settlement at Sofala quickly grew up amidst some of the richest gold deposits of the area.
The townships of Bald Hills (later renamed Hill End) and Tambaroora emerged when gold was discovered there shortly after the rush to Ophir. For the first time, reef gold was extracted, and a battery stamper was brought from England to Bald Hills. Tens of thousands of people poured into Tambaroora and Hill End through the 1870s. Significant townships with substantial commercial buildings, hotels and churches grew up.
During this boom time, Bernard Otto Holtermann discovered the largest single gold nugget of reef gold found anywhere in the world. It measured 4 feet 2 inches in height, 2 feet 2 inches in width and had an average thickness of four inches. It was valued at 12,000 pounds, a phenomenal sum at the time.
With gold fever sweeping the Central West, transport became a major issue. Cobb and Co, the famous American coaching company arrived in Bathurst in 1862, and the town became its headquarters west of the Blue Mountains for the next forty-nine years. Coaches ran regularly from Bathurst to the Goldmining centres of Sofala and Hill End, carrying passengers, supplies and the all-essential Post to these thriving settlements.
The days of gold and coaches eventually passed, but the gold rushes of the 1850s to 1870s had transformed Bathurst from a small provincial town to a major regional centre. The city continued to expand, its prosperity steadily grew, and many significant buidings – hotels, banks, schools churches and stately homes – were built to cater for the swell of citizens brought to the area by the lure of gold.