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Canowindra, NSW

Service town known as the 'Balloon Capital of Australia'.

Canowindra proudly describes itself as 'The Balloon Capital of Australia'. It is an ideal location known for its gentle winds and open countryside. Reputedly there are more flights from Canowindra than anywhere else in Australia which is why the Balloon Aloft organisation has located its headquarters in the town. Canowindra has a definite old world charm. The main street, Gaskill Street, is a genuine timewarp curiosity. It stills follows the winding route of the old bullock track. The many veranda-ed buildings have seen the entire town centre along Gaskill Street classified by the National Trust. The town lies beside the Belubula River. It is built on rich river flats it functions as a service centre for the fertile lands where lucerne, wheat, wool, fat lambs and canola are all successfully farmed. 

Location

Canowindra lies 307 km west of Sydney via Bathurst. It is 34 km north of Cowra and 300 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

It is accepted that 'Canowindra' is a Wiradjuri Aboriginal word meaning either "home" or "camping place".

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Things to See and Do

Hot-Air Balloon Flights
Canowindra is proud of its reputation as the go-to place for Australian hot air ballooning. The combination of gentle breezes, excellent thermals, good networks of roads to reach the balloons when they land and undulating countryside make the town the ideal starting place for this unforgettable experience. Let me add: I am not good with heights and I have been up a number of times in a hot air balloon. The experience is incredibly safe, not even slightly scary and genuinely as close to being a bird as any aerial experience can be. Balloon rides last 45 minutes to an hour. Check out Balloon Joy Flights - website: http://www.balloonjoyflights.com.au or (02) 6344 1819. The other operator is Aussie Balloontrek at http://www.aussieballoontrek.com.au or tel: (02) 6361 2552 or 0427 640 211.

An Historic Walk Down Gaskill Street
Gaskill Street, the town's main street, is a rarity. In a country where most towns are laid out in a grid pattern, Gaskill Street stills follows the winding route of the old bullock track. Today it is lined by many veranda-ed buildings. The entire commercial centre of the town has been classified as a Heritage Preservation Area by the National Trust.  There are a number of gift, antique and second-hand shops.

The Age of Fishes Museum and Learning Centre
Canowindra is known as the site of one of the most important fossil discoveries from the late Devonian period. 360-million-year-old Devonian fish fossils of world importance were found 11 km to the south-west of town in 1956. They were discovered by a road worker and subsequently removed to the Australian Museum in Sydney. Thousands of fish had been trapped in a pool of water that dried up. The fossils include two armoured antiarch placoderms, Remigolepis walkeri and Bothriolepis yeungae and Canowindra grossi, a lobe-finned crossopterygian fish, with two rare juvenile arthrodire placoderms, Groenlandaspis species. 
The Age of Fishes Museum and Learning Centre, which is located in the old courthouse in Gaskill Street, has hands-on educational displays relating to the fossils and talks relating to the area's geological history. Special school trips and tours involving fossil digs can be organised. The Museum and Learning Centre is open seven days a week from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel: (02) 6344 1008. For more details check out http://www.ageoffishes.org.au.

Gondwana Dreaming Fossil Tours
Gondwana Dreaming Fossil Tours are independent partners with the Age of Fishes Museum and offer "a range of personalised natural history tours with a strong but not exclusive geological theme.  We focus on the natural and cultural history of the places we visit and show how geology has contributed to our environment, from the scenery we admire to the distribution of flora and fauna and the way we live.", tel: (02) 6285 1872 or check out http://www.gondwana-dreaming.com.

Canowindra Museum
Located in Memorial Park, adjacent to Gaskill Street is the Canowindra Museum with displays relating to local history. It was established in a former school building in 1970. Since then several other small buildings and two machinery sheds have been added. The adjacent Railway Cottage, formerly the Stationmasters residence, built in 1910, was added 1988. Highlights of the Museum are the shepherd’s hut circa 1828, Harold Boyd’s complete dental surgery, a wedding gown collection from 1881-1982, a reconstructed wool shed, wheat harvesters collection from 1843, photo collection and the Pioneers Wall. It is open Saturday from 10.00 am - 2.00 pm or by appointment. For more information check out https://mgnsw.org.au/organisations/canowindra-museum.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Ben Hall in Canowindra
In 1863 Canowindra was twice raided by Ben Hall's bushranging gang, which then included the notorious Johnny Gilbert. They robbed two nearby station homesteads then moved on to the town where they forced the residents, and the local policeman, into Robinson's Hotel, holding an impromptu and compulsory party. They returned two weeks later, after raiding Bathurst, this time holding the townsfolk at Robinson's for three days of merriment, reputedly at their own expense. The site is now occupied by the Royal Hotel. A plaque on the side of the Royal notes the historical associations.

Here is a contemporary account of the second raid:
CANOWINDRA HELD BY THE BUSHRANGERS FOR THREE DAYS. (from The Bathurst Times, Oct. 17, 1863)
Yesterday, news reached Bathurst that Gilbert and his gang had paid another visit to Canowindra, and investing the town, had held it against all comers for three days and nights – their proceedings being characterised by a cool audacity which has hitherto been un-equalled. The tragedy of bushrangers is a thing of the past ; it is now such a familiar everyday matter that it has become a broad farce.
From what we learn, the bushrangers made their appearance late on Sunday night, or early on Monday morning, paying a visit to Mr. Robinson's hotel, and taking from him about £3. After this, the farce commenced: some of the gang were placed so as to guard the approaches to the town, and everyone who made his appearance was taken into custody and brought to the hotel, where he was told he must remain, but that he might call for whatever he liked at the bushrangers' expense. No restraint was imposed upon them other than they were ordered not to quit the town - the bushrangers amusing themselves in a variety of ways, holding a robbers' jubilee.
On Tuesday morning, at ten o'clock, Messrs. Hibberson, Twaddell, and Kirkpatrick drove up to Robinson's, where Ben Hall informed them that he was sorry to inconvenience them, but they really could not be permitted to proceed on their journey, and he must therefore trouble them to leave their vehicle and put up for a while. On getting out, O'Meally, who was present, saw a revolver in Mr. Kirkpatrick's possession, and presenting one of his own weapons at that gentleman's head, he compelled him to give it up, remarking that he did not require it, but as it might be used against them it was as well to take the precaution of keeping it out of harm's way. He promised, however, to leave it at Mr. Loudon's residence at Grubbenbong, as they intended to pay him another visit before long. This, and the robbery of the £3 already mentioned, were the only items of violence committed during their stay. A first-class dinner was ordered for the three gentlemen, and the cost of this as well as everything else called for was defrayed by the gang.
Every dray and team that passed was stopped, and the men belonging to them were lodged, fed, and supplied with drink, free of expense. There were twelve or fourteen drays drawn up in a line, and not the slightest attempt was made to interfere with the loading they contained. Bundles of cigars, purchased by Gilbert, as required, were thrown loosely on one of the tables in the public house, for all who cared about smoking them, and a huge pile of sweetmeats was also provided, to suit the tastes of others. Everyone was empowered to call for what he liked, but the bushrangers drank nothing but bottled ale and porter, the corks of which they insisted upon having drawn in their presence. 
Great festivities were kept up, and, from the description given of the gang, they entertained not the slightest apprehension of being disturbed, and did not seem to think they were incurring any risk. Amongst a variety of amusements, shooting at a target seemed to be the favorite, and nothing occurred to mar the revels, except the accidental dropping of a carbine, which went off, and sent its contents flying past O'Meally's legs. To some of the residents in the neighbourhood who desired to visit their homes, leave of absence of an hour's duration was granted - passes being given to them, duly signed. In one or two instances, where the time allowed was exceeded by the pass-holders, Ben Hall went after them, but on meeting the individuals returning, he contented himself with admonishing them for their transgression.
On one occasion, Ben Hall said he must go and look after the policeman, and getting on his horse, he rode to the barracks, where it seems a constable is stationed, and ordering the man to fix the bayonet to his gun, and place his revolver in his waist, he drove him before his horse down to the hotel, where the others amused themselves with him for a little time, and, taking his arms away, told him to go in and enjoy himself till he received further orders. There were about forty persons detained altogether, and the reason given for adopting this course was that they had a number of scouts out, who they were desirous should return before any one left the town.
They recounted several of their exploits, and expressed a lively contempt for policemen generally, and their officers in particular – saying that when the police came all they had to do was to ride away.
It is said that Messrs. Hibberson, Twaddell, and Kirkpatrick, were anxious to resume their journey, and upon representing to Hall the fact that the river was rising, and unless they were allowed to go at once they might be detained for days before they could cross, they were allowed to take their departure at four o'clock in the afternoon.
The same night the ruffians stuck-up Mr. Grant's place on the Belubula, and burnt it down, to wreak their vengeance on the owner, who had dared on a former occasion to give information to the police. They said they were overlooking him when he was directing the police, and saw him point out their tracks. We are told that information of the Canowindra business reached the Inspector-General on Thursday, but the matter was looked upon as a mere canard. We have, by the way, omitted to mention that besides the visit to Mr. Loudon, the bushrangers intimated their intention to revisit Bathurst shortly.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was home to the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people.

* One of the first white settlers was James Collits who was recorded as occupying land at 'Canoundra' in 1831, though he may have arrived as early as 1829. 

* Governor Fitzroy crossed the river here in 1836 or 1846 depending on which source you believe. 

* A post office opened in the town in 1847.

* The Canowindra Inn was established in 1849 and a settlement developed in a piecemeal fashion around this nucleus. 

* The town was surveyed in 1860. 

* In 1863 Canowindra was twice raided by Ben Hall's bushranging gang.

* Lucerne, which became a vital crop in the 1950s, was first grown in 1863. 

* The first road bridge across the Belubula River was built in 1874 and opened in 1875. 

* The railway arrived in 1888.

* Australian novelist Kylie Tennant stayed at the Canowindra Hotel in Gaskill St in the 1930s, writing her novel Tiburon while her husband taught at the local school.

* A 360-million-year-old fish fossil of world importance was found 9 km to the south-west of town in 1956.

* In 1991 an episode of the British detective series, Inspector Morse, was filmed in the town. 

* Another major dig occurred in 1993.

* In 2010 the first Canowindra International Balloon Challenge was held.

* Canowindra first hosted the Australian National Balloon Championships in 2011.

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Visitor Information

The Age of Fishes Museum and Tourist Information Centre, Gaskill Street, tel: (02) 6344 1008.

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Useful Websites

Visit New South Wales has an official Canowindra website. Check out https://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/orange-area/canowindra.

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