A Meander Around Molong

Molong is a small country town about 300 km west of Sydney on the Mitchell Highway, and about 45 km north-west of Orange. The highway skirts around the town itself, but it is worth stopping for a while and having a look around the commercial centre of Molong.

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

The township of Molong began as a government stockyard in 1845, and copper mining also began in the area at this time. This was the first metalliferous working in New South Wales. The first land grant was at Larras Lee, still marked by a stone monument along the highway into town. Travelling from Orange to Molong, the turn off to Yuranigh’s gravesite is signposted, and the remnants of the Fairbridge Farm School can be seen before the rows of poplar trees mark the entrance into the town. Molong is derived from a Wiradjuri word, believed to mean a place of many rocks, and there are many limestone outcrops through this part of the countryside.

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

The main street of Molong, Bank Street, is classified by the National Trust. Heritage buildings line the street from the old railway station past old banks and the post office, beyond the town hall and towards the residential areas of the town. They evoke a different time, and many of them were built during the 1870s and 1880s when the town expanded as the extension of the railway line provided confidence in Molong’s future. Insight into town life in 1871 can be found here.

Old shop fronts in Molong

Old shop fronts in Molong

With a small population of about 1500, the town is remarkably vibrant. On the Friday afternoon when I passed through, most of the shops were open offering everything from antiques and second-hand books to gelato and pies. There were galleries and gift shops along with a small group of locals running a fundraiser. It is still one of those places where locals take the time to smile and say hello to people as they pass by.

Molong Railway Station, now a library

Molong Railway Station, now a library

The railway station is now a library. It was built in 1885 in preparation for the arrival of the railway in 1886. From 1886 to 1893, Molong was the terminus of the Sydney line.

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

The Telegraph Hotel dates from around 1880, and was extensively renovated in 1910.

The Western Stores, Molong

The Western Stores, Molong

Many central west towns still have the old Western Stores shop fronts in their main streets, and Molong is no exception. The Western Stores and Edgleys Ltd was a group of department stores operating in western and central western New South Wales. In the 1960s the group was purchased by Farmers & Co of Sydney, and subsequently purchased by Grace Bros (now Myer). Part of this building is now a supermarket.

When was the last time you took a detour from the highway to discover a hidden gem?

[Photo: streetscape of Molong, looking down Bank Street from the Town Hall]

 

 

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Mount St Mary’s College and Convent, Katoomba

This grand old building catches my eye whenever I glimpse it from the Great Western Highway. The sheer physicality of the building remains striking despite the air of dilapidation and dereliction that surrounds it. There are blazes of graffiti along with eyeless windows, covered with plastic following the ravages of fires. It requires quite a bit of imagination to think what it might have been like in its earlier days.

The Sisters of Charity arrived in Katoomba in 1900 seeking a place of respite for exhausted nuns “where they might find fresh vigour for God’s work”. Initially they moved into a former guesthouse, converting it into a convent and then opening a school for girls. It had a mix of day students and boarders and soon reached the capacity of the initial premises despite the purchase of a neighbouring property. A larger site was needed.

The new site, located within easy walking distance of the train station, fronted the Great Western Highway. Building commenced in 1909 and by 1910, boarding pupils were being accepted into the new college. The vision of the college included its role as a monument to higher education and its place in creating a progressive society. Students attended from interstate as well as from the Pacific Islands as the reputation of the college grew. Over the decades there were additions to the original buildings and continued development of the grounds, with land being purchased and sold as required. The college included a kindergarten, infants school, and middle school as well as university classes to prepare students for entry to Arts, Teacher Training, Medicine, Science and Law.

The impact and presence of the college on the hill was acknowledged by the local community. This was symbolised by the illumination of an eight foot cross on the roof of the tower in 1938 at the suggestion of a non-Catholic community member. The costs were covered by the local community, and it became a visible point of reference for travellers and locals alike. The site played an important role in offering refuge during World War II for Orders living close to Sydney Harbour during the Japanese submarine attacks. It also offered shelter for locals affected by the devastating bushfires in 1957.

Inevitably there were various changes to the educational offerings over time. In 1965, Mount St Mary’s became a regional school for girls, then became co-educational following the closure of St Bernard’s College at Katoomba. But by 1973, the school’s operation was regarded as non-viable and the Sisters withdrew from the education ministry. This was taken over by the Archdiocese of Sydney but with enrolments down to 180 students, the school was closed at the end of 1974.

The property was subsequently gifted to the Archdiocese of Sydney, and the premises were used for a decade for educational and religious retreats until a fire order was placed on the building and it was closed down. The costs associated with bringing the site up to standard was considered prohibitive, and the property was sold in 1985.

A new lease of life for the site commenced in 1987 when it was opened as the Renaissance Centre, a mix of speciality shops, performance and teaching areas. Ownership changed hands again in the early 1990s, but as tenants continued to leave, the site became vacant. Vandalism and fires have taken their toll in the intervening years, and it remains in its current state of disrepair.

A detailed history of the site is available here. There is a wonderful early photo of the convent along with a concise history by Blue Mountains Local Studies here.

There is a blog post here from the time the building was put up for sale in 2012.

There are some wonderful recollections of past students here including tales of tunnels and stories passed between siblings and students about a One-Eyed Nun.

Is there a place that you pass by that makes you wonder what it was like in its glory days?

St Mary's Convent and College, Katoomba

St Mary’s Convent and College, Katoomba

Sources: Mount St Mary’s College and Convent, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage; The Convent, Katoomba, Blue Mountains City Library; Mt St Mary’s: The St Bernards Katoomba Old Boys Association Website; Old Estates for Sale (WordPress).

[Photo: detail from above an entrance to the main tower]