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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Hartley Historic Village

One of the first things to know about the Hartley area is that there is a lot of it. From the Blue Mountains heading towards Lithgow you first pass through Little Hartley (with the old Harp of Erin on the left hand side, past the lolly shop) then the roadhouse cafe and farming produce store at Mid Hartley. A detour along Browns Gap Road will take you through Hartley Vale, providing an opportunity to enjoy a lovely drive through the valley.

The historic village of Hartley is under the care of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The NPWS took over the upkeep of the village in 1972, and there are various tours and accommodation options available. On the day I went for a wander there was a bus load of school kids visiting from the south coast, and they were split into groups to explore the historic courthouse and the Catholic Church.

The village of Hartley began to take shape in the mid 1830s with travel along the Great Western Road passing nearby following the opening of Victoria Pass. By 1837 the Hartley Courthouse was in operation, administering local justice until 1887 when court business was transferred to Lithgow. The building became a popular backdrop for tourists taking group photos on tours to the Jenolan Caves and was set up as a museum from the period after World War II until it came under the control of NPWS.

Hartley is one of the towns that came into existence due to the needs of travellers heading to the western districts, but then declined in significance when bypassed by the railway in the 1870s. The remaining buildings include old pubs and places of worship.

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Old Post Office, Hartley

The old post office is now a family-owned and operated cafe. The pressed tin ceiling, painted white, has a lovely rose design and there is local artwork on display and for sale inside the cafe. The granite tor, which I’ve written about previously, is located behind the old post office. There is an energy about it, and it is worth the walk up the slope in order to see the vistas stretching out towards Oberon and Lithgow, with the Great Western Highway snaking its way up the incline to Lithgow, Bathurst and beyond.

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The Farmer’s Inn, which now includes the Kew-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Gallery. St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church in the background.

The Farmers Inn, which has served various purposes including time as a pub during the gold rush, is now a tourist centre and a gallery for indigenous artists from the central west of NSW.

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St Bernard’s Presbytery (right) and St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church

Evidence of the strong Irish Catholic community is evident in St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church and Presbytery, built in the 1830s and 1840s. The Anglican church, St John the Evangelist, is located closer to the highway and was built in the 1850s.

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The Shamrock Inn, Hartley

During my occasional visits to Hartley I’ve been drawn to the Shamrock Inn, one of the last buildings along the road. It seems to be settling down into its foundations with each passing year, the stones at the front of the building a little more uneven and the doorways slightly shorter than my height.

Pride and preservation combined with an interesting heritage make Hartley Historic Village a place well worth the trip. 

[Photo: Hartley Courthouse]

A Chance Encounter, A Lasting Legacy: Lennox Bridge, Lapstone

I have passed the sign for Lennox Bridge countless times. I knew it was off the Great Western Highway, past the Blaxland McDonald’s, but that was about the sum of my knowledge. I took a detour recently, winding my way down the Old Bathurst Road. The road continues to narrow and bend until the bridge comes into view.

David Lennox, an experienced bridge builder and stonemason, had migrated to Australia from Scotland in 1832 following the death of his wife. He was spotted by Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell as Lennox was working on a stone wall in Sydney. Following the chance encounter, Mitchell noted that”Mr David Lennox, who left his stone wall at my request, and with his sleeves still tucked up” had agreed to plan and construct stone bridges as required using government – convict – labour.

Mitchell placed importance on the design of well-constructed bridges as a sign of civilised society and had been despairing over the lack of skilled tradespeople to carry out the bridgework required in the colony. Mitchell’s mountain road, formed between Cox’s original road and a zig-zag road that had been constructed in 1824 to offer an alternate road in an attempt to ease the mountain crossing, required a significant bridge at Lapstone. The road became known as Mitchell’s Pass.

Lennox Bridge was built between November 1832 and July 1833 as part of Mitchell’s Pass. Lennox had to teach the stonemason’s art to the work crew of 20 convicts. The stone for the bridge was quarried from nearby and the horseshoe shape was chosen for optimum strength. There is an early painting of the bridge by Conrad Martens here. It was the first scientifically constructed stone arch bridge of any magnitude in New South Wales, and is the oldest stone bridge on the mainland. Richmond Bridge in Tasmania, completed in 1825, is the oldest bridge in Australia in continuous use.

Shortly after the bridge was opened, a crack was spotted. Lennox inspected the damage and advised that it wasn’t serious and the bridge continued to carry all traffic westwards until 1926 when a new deviation was built along an abandoned railway line. The bridge was finally closed to traffic in 1964 when a serious crack appeared. Following repairs and restrengthening it was reopened to local traffic in 1982. It had been dismantled and rebuilt, stripped back to its original arch.

Lennox was appointed as Sub Inspector of Bridges in New South Wales a mere seven weeks after his arrival in the colony. His annual salary was £120 ‘but without any forage for a horse’. He went on to build various bridges in New South Wales and Port Phillip, near Melbourne. The legacy that he left still endures today.

There is a short video here showing the bridge from various angles, including from the roadway and the base of the bridge.

[Photo: Lennox Bridge, Lapstone]

Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park

The industrial history of Lithgow is intricately linked to coal mining in the district. The outcrops of coal at Esk Bank were an early indication of the mineral wealth of the area, and the demand for coal increased exponentially with the arrival of the railways in the late 1860s. The first commercial mining of coal in the area is attributed to the Hermitage Colliery in 1868, and before long there were more coal mines operating in the valley, including the Eskbank Colliery, Lithgow Valley Colliery and Vale of Clwydd Colliery. The coal was transported by the railways, along with the output from the various factories and industries of the town.

The State Railway mine was officially opened in 1916 and was under the control of the Department of Railways. There were a couple of stops and starts, and it wasn’t until 1921 that the mine was at full production. It was a substantial operation, and in 1927 an electricity plant was built for the mine and for a while this supplied the town with electricity.

In this age of privatisation, it is difficult to imagine public ownership and operation of a large coal mining enterprise. Looking over some of the histories of Lithgow, tensions between entrepreneurs running their own coal mines versus the government-owned enterprise were evident from the outset and continued until the mine was closed in 1964. The closure coincided with a number of external events, including serious local flooding and the lowering price and demand for coal due in part to the dieselisation of the railways.

A personal insight into the history of coal mining in the region is available through the Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park. Located at the old State Railway Mine site, it provides a wealth of insights into what life was like for miners, illustrating the shift in technologies over time with a wide range of mining memorabilia. On a crisp winter afternoon I arrived for a look around, inspired by a talk on the history and culture of Lithgow by Ray Christison. I was met by a volunteer guide who provided an overview of the site and its history. An indication of the depth of the mine shaft was provided by dropping a pebble and waiting to hear it land in water half as deep as the original shaft – it seemed to take an age. The mine workshop was once used as the repair workshop for all of the state-owned mines, and is now used by a local blacksmith.

The bathhouse, which was originally a powerhouse, is a popular venue for hire and has a collection of coal mining transport vehicles on display as well as coal cutters. In the auditorium there was a holographic movie telling some of the stories of the men and their families who worked at the site as well as the moving story of the fire that had a catastrophic outcome for 27 pit ponies.

A wide range of information along with a documentary on coal mining methods is on display in the old office building. I was glad that I walked around the grounds before I entered the museum, as the displays really helped to bring it all together and to provide insight into what it might have been like to work there. It also demonstrated why it is so important that industrial heritage is kept alive.

How is industrial heritage preserved in your area?

Sources: Lithgow: The Valley and the People by Brian Jinks; Lithgow State Coal Mine: A Pictorial History by Ray Christison. A drone-eye view of the park by daviddth99 is available here, and a touching rendition of the life of a pit pony by Martin Doherty and Leigh Burkitt is available here. It includes the cheering of the pit ponies by the householders in Macauley Street as they were brought above ground for the annual spell at Bowenfels.

[Photo of the Bathhouse and workshop at the Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park]

 

Down in the valley, the valley so low*

I have a bit of a thing for old places. Places with a history, regardless of whether they are in current use or not. The Australian countryside is host to thousands of ruined and abandoned sites, including places where entire towns have been left to slip slowly back into the soil. When driving beyond the city limits, sooner or later you will come across properties where there is little more than a chimney left standing in an enclosed space that once held a home where people lived.

But it isn’t just homes that are left in this state. It can be industrial sites that are left behind when their usefulness has come to an end due to changes in technology or productivity. They can be schools or boarding houses, factories or power stations, convents or hospitals.  I recently came across a blog post by Alien Shores with some beautiful photographs of ruins which you can find here.

One of the notable industrial ruins in the mountains area is the Blast Furnace in Lithgow. The Australian iron smelting industry began here, and it was an important industrial development as well as being a major employer and support for the mining industry. There is a detailed analysis of the significance of the site here. It was constructed between 1905 and 1913, and operated until it was relocated to Port Kembla in 1928. The site was opened in 1907 when Lithgow was the fourth largest town in Australia. To understand the sheer scale of industrial activity in Lithgow at the time, have a look at the historic photographs assembled here by John Paix.

The historical importance of the Blast Furnace has been acknowledged, and there is currently preservation work being carried out in order to make the location more accessible for tourists following government and council funding grant approvals. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this site.

Do old places capture your imagination?

*Taken from the lyrics of Industrial Town by Weddings, Parties, Anything

[Photo: Blast Furnace Park, Lithgow]