TAMWORTH may be famous for the Big Golden Guitar and its annual country music festival which is a massive event for the town and local area, but have you ever heard of Nundle, NSW located just 40 minutes’ drive to the south-east?
Back in its heyday of the 1800s gold was found, the rush was on and fortunes were lost and found. Today, the town is alive with tourists and a few old prospectors still scratching around in the valley. Gold was first found just outside town at Hanging Rock, where today you can visit a host of mine sites – some are just pits in the ground – where you can freely walk in.
The ground in the Hanging Rock area is solid rock and there’s not much dirt to actually dig through, showing just how tough it would have been for the old timers; combine this with a lack of water, bitter winters and stifling hot summers.
The Hanging Rock mine sites led to the first village in the area, with Chinese immigrants moving in to mine, create food gardens and open up stores. Over time gold ran out, but more was found down the valley in the Peel River.
Nundle was buzzing when gold was found, with 16 pubs (reportedly!), banks, a school, a church, a courthouse and even a wool mill; all built in the late 1800s. Soon after Nundle was officially declared a town, and closer to the 1900s it got another church, a post office and even a council office.
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Today, Nundle is like a step back in time, where you can freely fossick for gold and crystals, walk the streets visiting the old buildings and museums, grab a coffee, or drive the history trails. The Mount Misery Gold mine café is a unique coffee shop in Nundle where you can get the best coffee in town and, for a small entry fee, you can go behind the cafe into parts of the old mine to explore the relics, read the 100-year-old reports and newspaper clippings, and admire the memorabilia collected over the years.
For those keen on fossicking and rock collection head to the Nundle Caravan Park cum Tourist Information Centre, where you can admire the lifetime collection of all things rock by the late Gil Bennett. The staff at the centre is clued-up on the display and will even give you a map of where to fossick in the area.
The map will lead to the Hanging Rock area, passing roadside mines, old mullock heaps and pine forests. An essential trip is the short drive to the lookout, where the 1100-metre-high vantage point provides views down and across the valley.
The area surrounding the lookout has a rich history, and if you head a few more miles you’ll reach the Sheba Dam Reserve which is a great base to camp (all free, with barbecues and toilets) to explore.
An old road cuts through a historically significant pine plantation east of Sheba, while an old cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s is at the start of Forest Way. This is no ordinary cemetery, as it’s where the original founders of the well-known Ashton Circus are buried.
Mrs Ashton was buried here in 1852 when she gave birth to her daughter and died shortly after. Continuing along Forest Way, there are signs and plaques where the old pub was, as well as where the Ashton Circus performed every day except for Sundays, at Gibbons Inn.
The road heads 20km to Ponderosa Park, where there’s a free campsite among huge pine trees with soft tree ferns growing underneath. Ponderosa Park was once the site of an old sawmill where timber was sent locally and to the coast.
Closing down 60 years ago, it now operates in Nundle. You can walk around the old site today to admire the relics left behind and read the info boards on the company’s history; you can also dig for zircon in the rich soil.
If you’ve had enough of the hinterland history trail, head back to Nundle and explore the 2km tourist walk where there are nearly 30 points of interest along the way. Museums, boutique shops and galleries now fill the proud historical buildings.
It’s easy to spend a few days at Nundle, especially when there’s free camping. In addition to Ponderosa Park and Sheba Dam, another free camp is located 4km on the northern side of town called Swamp Creek. Not only is it free but the area comes with toilets and shelters. Fires are also permitted, and you can fossick for gems in the creek nearby.
The magnificent Chaffey Dam, which supplies water to the Tamworth area, can be spotted when heading out from Nundle towards Tamworth, and the public can camp beside (with a small fee), swim, fish in and boat on this huge expanse of water.
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SHEBA Dam was originally set up in 1888 to serve the miners with water. Built in several weeks, it played an important part in the miner’s way of life. Locals can still find semi-precious gems around the dam such as sapphires and zircons, and for nature buffs there is a walking trail around the dam.
This area near Sheba was the site of Hanging Rock Village, where there were grog shops, stores and a school of arts. There are a few signs highlighting the old buildings, but, sadly, over the past 150 years they have fallen down or been forgotten.
The Hanging Rock area covered 15,000 acres, and a great deal of gold was found within this area which was sent to Maitland and later onto Tamworth. Some say this gold discovery was the start of the growth and prosperity for Tamworth.
WHEN Chaffey Dam was built, the village of Bowling Alley Point was flooded. These days all that is left are three original stone buildings, the 1877 cemetery and, when the dam is low, a few ruins visible in the swamp.
Back in 1864 a wrought-iron bridge was built across the Peel River (now concrete), but it was sadly washed away in a flood in the 1980s. The bridge was constructed at Newcastle and was brought up in pieces by bullock teams that took many days.
It’s amazing to think that in this area there were a stack of hotels, a school, a post office and nearly 50 assorted buildings, but, sadly due to progress, this history is all but gone.