Gold Rush Days
As the home of the biggest gold nugget ever found, David Thorndike finds there’s still plenty to attract people to Hill End.
Hill End in NSW is the site where the biggest single gold nugget in the world was unearthed. David Thorndike and his family search the area again in case there is one more out there waiting to be found.
There’s a certain excitement for me that comes with heading anywhere in Australia with a rich colonial history, and one aspect of our history I find particularly interesting are the gold rush days. There are a handful of places you can visit to discover what life was like in Australia during that era, and one of the best is the town of Hill End on the western side of the Blue Mountains, about an hour or so north of Bathurst.
The drive out is now a lot easier than it used to be, with bitumen road for 98% of the journey and the remaining 2% a well graded gravel road that won’t cause any issues for the family sedan. In fact it is now the only way to get there from Sydney as the old ‘Bridle Track’ which was the original route by horse from Bathurst, and over the last thirty years one of the most popular 4WD trips in the region, has been permanently closed due to a landslide near Monaghan’s Bluff. If you have a 4WD you can still do 90% of the track but must turn around a couple of kilometres before the bluff on both sides and retrace your steps back to the main road before heading right around to tackle it from the other side.
If this is your plan, the best way to do it, is to head straight into Hill End and drive it from that side. You can choose to camp at one of the two campgrounds in town, or to tackle the bridle track down and over the causeway to one of the many free camping sites along the river. Wanting to explore the rich history including the museum, shops, old mines (and of course the pub) around
the village, we opted to camp on the edge of town at the ‘Glendora Campground’, which is equipped with a covered BBQ area and sink, powered sites with fresh water access, flushing toilets and showers. This means it is perfect for those who only want to bring a tent, sleeping bags and an esky, while those who are fully self-sufficient can choose to camp with just an open fire and a starry sky.
After setting up in the late afternoon on day one (we got a late start, not leaving home until nearly noon), we decided not to venture too far from the tent and our fireplace. We were content to spend the last hour of daylight exploring the local bush, with the kids getting excited every time they found a piece of quartz (which was lying around everywhere outside a 500m radius of the campsite) with a trace of yellow in it. “Mummy I’ve found some more gold!” was heard consistently every few minutes, with my wife lending authenticity to the latest discovery with her many positive and complimentary replies. It’s amazing how excited the kids were just to be out bushwalking and exploring, and goes to show just how easily we can forget when stuck in the concrete jungle that quality time doing the simple things is much more rewarding and enjoyable for both parents and kids than time spent on Nintendo’s or watching movies on the iPad.
We stayed up til well after dark that night roasting marshmallows and telling stories about what we were going to do with our recent gold finds. The next morning after breakfast, we headed off into town to walk the village proper and explore the old stores and its wares. While my wife was interested in the hand-made clothing and porcelain dolls, I lashed out and spent $20 on a fluted gold pan so we could have some fun panning in the river. The kids were more excited by the lolly shop and even more again by the general store where we stopped for ice creams.
All around the old town are signposts and placards letting you know what each building is or was at the centre of the gold boom period, and it is hard to imagine that this out of the way place was
03 01 Bush campsite just out of town 02 Praying for gold didn’t work for us 03 We did pick up a gold pan at the general store 04 Crossing the Turon River 05 First lookout on the Bridle Track 06 Mining relics can be found all over town