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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Blue Mountains Railways Celebrate 150 Years

From a vantage point beside the moving throng of commuters, thousands of them on any given day, the bust of John Whitton keeps a watchful eye on all who pass through Sydney’s Central Station.

Whitton was the Engineer-In-Chief from 1857 to 1890 and his extensive tenure coincided with the rapid development of railway lines across much of New South Wales. A mere 37 kilometres of tracks were in use at the time of his commencement in the role. By his retirement this had expanded into over 3,500 kilometres branching north from Sydney through Newcastle, Werris Creek and Tenterfield, south to Cooma, Albury and Hay, and west to Dubbo and Bourke. The key to opening up the gateway to the west was overcoming the challenging terrain of the Blue Mountains.

Initial challenges for the railway construction included building a railway bridge across the Nepean River and negotiating a way through Knapsack Gully in order for the western railway line to cross the mountains. Victoria Bridge, designed by Whitton, still survives today. The viaduct at Knapsack Gully was also designed by Whitton.

The character of many of the mountain villages have been defined by the arrival of the ‘iron horse’ and the railway opened up employment and housing opportunities. Prior to the establishment and extension of the railways with the arrival of Whitton, various other transportation ideas were proposed. Reverend Hulbert suggested the importation of elephants or camels as a solution; Sir William Denison spoke of horse-drawn railways. What a different world it may have been without Whitton’s vision.

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Tribute to John Whitton, Central Station, Sydney

Last weekend marked the 150th anniversary of the Blue Mountains railway line, which reached as far as Weatherboard (now Wentworth Falls). The first passenger train to Weatherboard ran on 22 July 1867. The line was then extended to Blackheath and Mount Victoria before the construction of the famous zig zag descent into Lithgow – another achievement of Whitton’s. The coming of the railway was to alter and redefine life in the area, and all these decades later, the railway remains an integral aspect of mountain life for locals and visitors alike.

Read through the letters most weeks in the Blue Mountains Gazette and you’ll find that train timetable changes continue to create a flurry of interest and weekend trains are so regularly packed with tourists that additional carriages have been commissioned. The noise of freight and coal trains is regularly compared to existing and anticipated aircraft noise. Like many mountain folk I can hear trains trundle by at all hours, but for me the short toot of commuter trains leaving the station and the low rumble of freight trains remind me of the perpetual motion of life, of people and goods moving about, travelling from one place to another.

Celebrations over the weekend included heritage train rides, and you can see some footage of the trips here.

My I Spy: something beginning with ‘V’

Verily it seems as though this alphabetical quest is slipping along at speed now as the tail end veers into view. There was a variety of objects vying for my attention, and this is what I have spied.

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Vases

Vases

This is a sample of my vase collection. In recent years I have taken a fancy to coloured glass and have been accumulating bottles and vases such as these – lovely with flowers from the garden or with the sunlight shining through as they are clustered on my kitchen windowsill.

Victorian Bow Wagon, West Wyalong

Victorian Bow Wagon, West Wyalong

Victorian Bow Wagon

This was spied at the extensive museum at West Wyalong. Wagons such as these carried untold tonnes of wool and grain across the Australian landscape in the 1800s and early 1900s. The sheer size of the wagon can be appreciated up close, or in paintings such as Across the Black Soil Plains by G W Lambert. There is additional history about this painting here. One of my ancestors owned a wool wagon which is part of the collection at the Western Plains Cultural Centre – there is a link to the wagon and its history here.

Lithgow viaducts

Viaducts at Lithgow

Viaduct

These railway viaducts are near Farmers Creek at Lithgow. The original viaduct was a single track which was part of the Great Western Railway, forming a vital part of the extension of the railway from Lithgow to Bathurst and out to the central west of NSW.  It dates from 1870 and is one of the oldest stone arch railway viaducts in the state. The original plan was for iron girder bridges but economic constraints intervened and the stone arch was erected instead. As the demand on the railway line increased, a second track was required. The second viaduct was built in 1921.

Verandah at Elizabeth Farm

Verandah at Elizabeth Farm

Verandah

A wide verandah is an essential part of Australian homesteads to take advantage of cool breezes and provide shade during long, hot summers. This verandah is part of Elizabeth Farm, one of the oldest houses in Australia.

Violets

Violets

Violets

This late entry has been sitting on my kitchen window sill for a couple of years now. There was a spurt of leafy growth over the past month or so and now there are a couple of purple blooms to make me smile whenever I spot them.

Have you spied anything vibrant beginning with V lately?

Check out what Autumn has spied here, as well as atman.art.studio on Instagram.

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]

 

Train of thought*

The railway station at Mount Victoria was formally opened in 1869. The sheer magnitude of the railway construction through the mountains must have been overwhelming, an engineering feat through dangerous and challenging terrain. The road through the mountains would have been over 50 years old but was still rough in parts and had been given a good thumping during the gold rush years.

Inevitably the coming of the railway opened up the mountains and created new opportunities for businesses and lifestyles away from the established towns in Sydney and surrounding areas. There is a good overview of the impact here.

The towns along the railway line would have thrived; those further off the track (excuse the pun) may not have fared so well. I wonder how expensive it was to travel initially as a passenger. Was it something that would have been within reach of an ordinary person?

By 1894, the trip from Sydney to Katoomba cost five shillings and sixpence; roughly about $40 in today’s money. These days a full fare is $5.80/$8.30 one way, depending on the time of travel.

From historical accounts, Mt Victoria began to thrive once the railway arrived, and it was an important gateway to the central west. It was a changeover point and a large staff were employed at the station and in the dining rooms to meet the demands of feeding the hungry hordes who disembarked at the station with about half an hour to refresh themselves as the trains were refueled, ready for the next stage of the trip.

The museum at Mt Victoria contains an amazing array of paraphernalia relating to this now lost time.

Do any transport options near you capture your imagination?

*Title of a song by Sharp.

[Photo of the platform at Mount Victoria station]