Fascinating outback mining town.
For over 100 years Cobar has been a mining town. Even today an essential part of every visitor's itinerary is a visit to the New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine and the Peak Gold Mine. Cobar is one of those deceptive country towns which, on the surface, just looks like any one of a hundred rural service centres. However just beneath this ordinary exterior there is an exceptional museum, an excellent Mining Heritage Park, a remarkable Sound Chapel and a superb display of Aboriginal rock art at Mount Grenfell. Mining still drives the local economy but, in the winter months, it becomes popular with tourists driving from the coast to Broken Hill.
Cobar is located 690 km north-west of Sydney via the Blue Mountains and Mudgee. It is 243 m above sea level.^ TOP
Origin of Name
In This is What Happened: Historical Narratives by Aborigines Luise Hercus records a story told by Dave Harris, an old local Aborigine, at Murrin Bridge in 1970.
"You've heard of Cobar, out there, township Cobar? Old blackfellow sitting down there at the burba (an initiation ceremony). He's making paint for corroboree. He's painting himself for a corroboree. Whitefellow came riding: 'What are you making, Daddy?'"
"I'm making paint for corroboree."
Whitefellow said to him: 'Where did you get that? Show me!'
"He showed him the gubar, the red ochre. That's how they named Cobar. The old Blackfellow showed him where it was, and it was copper worth thousands of pounds."
So modern Cobar is simply a bad translation of 'gubar' meaning red ochre or copper.
Things to See and Do
Great Cobar Heritage Centre
The Great Cobar Heritage Centre stands on the Barrier Highway at the eastern end of town and is located in the former Mines Administration Office which was built in 1910. It is a handsome building which contains one of the finest rural museums in Australia. A model of a rural museum the Great Cobar Heritage Centre was created by professional museum curators and today it still employs, albeit on a part time basis, a professionally trained curator. The result is a museum which, rather than being a repository for the detritus of the local area, is a cleverly constructed experience where visitors can smell and touch home made soap made from lard and kerosene and see the history of the Cobar district gradually unfold in a series of excellent displays starting with Aboriginal settlement and including displays of indigenous artefacts and bush foods; the problems of water shortages in the area; the unique bush skills required by Europeans to survive in this inhospitable land and displays on the experience of growing up in Cobar. The Shire Council website explains that "On ascending the magnificent internal staircase to the first floor the exhibits focus on mining and pastoral industries - a model woolshed, an operating model of a gold stamper, and a seat at the controls of a massive excavator. The CSA copper mine and the Peak Gold Mine all feature in the comprehensive mining displays. A special feature on the first floor is the local Aboriginal Ngiyampaa Tribe 'Long Time Comin' exhibit of the famous Mt Grenfell rock caves ... Visitors can view Aboriginal artwork, play a tune on the ironstone xylophone and learn about the unique culture of the Ngiyampaa people. Outside, the colourful exposed rock strata of Cobar's first copper mining site rises from the famous 'open-cut' lake which is formed by the rising water table." As well the outside exhibition includes the story of the Royal Far West Children's Health Scheme. It is open from Monday to Friday from 8:30 am - 5:00 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, tel: (02) 6836 2448. Check out http://www.cobar.nsw.gov.au/index.php/tourism/visitor-s-centre for other information.
The Great Cobar Heritage Centre includes the excellent Cobar Visitors Centre. This is a very necessary starting point for anyone wanting to explore the town and the surrounding attractions as the Visitors Centre provides the excellent Cobar Mud Map which provides three maps (a Heritage Walk town map which lists 41 places of interest on a walk around town), a district map and a map of the Day Tours in the area. It also has an important and useful brochure on Mount Grenfell National Park and the National Parks Back o' Bourke. Like the Heritage Centre, the Visitor Centre is open from Monday to Friday from 8.30 am - 5.00 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, tel: (02) 6836 2448. Check out http://www.cobar.nsw.gov.au/index.php/tourism/visitor-s-centre for other information.
The Cobar Heritage Walk
The Cobar Mud Map includes a detailed Heritage Walk which starts at the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, heads into town past the Great Cobar Copper Mine Open Cut (which was excavated between 1870-1920 mostly using pick and shovel and horse and dray), through Drummond Park (named after the founder of the Royal Far West Children's Health Scheme), past a series of historic private and public buildings in Frederick, Bourke and Murray Streets, up to the railway station, back to the Great Western Hotel and then back to the Heritage Centre via the Miner's Heritage Park. In total 41 places of interest are listed with the highlights including:
Great Western Hotel
The most interesting and the most prominent building in town is the huge Great Western Hotel (1898) in the main street. The pub's timber veranda with cast-iron balustrades and a lacework balcony is 100 metres long and, as such, is reputedly the longest cast iron veranda and balcony in Australia.
Now a National Trust-listed building this elegant building was built for Thomas Longworth who used it as both a surgery and a residence. He was the doctor for the Great Cobar Mine.
Cobar Court House
The Cobar Court House (1887) in Barton Street is a fine example of a late Victorian Free Classical Style public building and a comment on the prosperity of the town at the time.
Court House Hotel
This is the third hotel on this site. The original was the Miner's Arms which became Tattersall's Hotel which was burnt down and replaced by the Court House Hotel (1895). It was renamed for no better reason that it stood opposite the Court House. In recent times it has been converted into offices for solicitors and accountants.
Located at the end of Belagoy Street, which runs off the main street, the Newey Reserve surrounds Cobars's New Reservoir, built in 1910 within the town boundaries of Cobar, to the south of the town centre. It is set aside for recreation, fishing and nature conservation. The site is a haven for water birds and includes a large circular walk during which many other birds can be seen. On weekends, families visit the reserve to use the BBQs provided and to rest under the many trees.. Check out https://www.cobar.nsw.gov.au/engineering/parks-and-reserves#the-newly for more information.
Cobar Sound Chapel
Located 1.5 km west of the town centre, the Cobar Sound Chapel, a permanent new sound installation artwork which was completed in early 2022 and is a creation by composer and sound artist Georges Lentz in collaboration with architect Glenn Murcutt. The Cobar Sound Chapel is a marriage of sound, architecture, art, poetry and nature. The website explains:
"The Cobar Sound Chapel is a permanent new sound installation, set in an old disused water tank from 1901 and inspired by the vast landscape of the Australian outback. It is cross-disciplinary, combining sound, architecture, art, poetry and the natural environment in a unique and site-specific context. It functions as a digital 4-channel string quartet lasting 24 hours, played on a loop, day and night, whether someone is listening or not. The Cobar Sound Chapel celebrates the rugged beauty of the outback landscape and its starry night skies. Other major influences include Australian Indigenous art and culture, the art and poetry of William Blake (1757-1827), and the gritty rawness of the tank wall's grafitti art.
"The Cobar Sound Chapel is a creation by renowned composer and sound artist Georges Lentz in collaboration with Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt, the outstanding musicians of The Noise String Quartet, as well as Cobar Indigenous visual artist Sharron Ohlsen. The Chapel functions as the permanent home of Lentz's digital surround-sound composition String Quartet(s) (2000-2022), a vast piece of sound art inspired by the outback landscape and its night skies. Glenn Murcutt's architecture is in direct dialogue with structural and rhythmic patterns found in String Quartet(s), such as the number 4, squares, multiples of 4, the relationship between the numbers 1, 4 and 16 (or in musical terms, between semiquavers, crotchets and semibreves - patterns found throughout the music heard in the Chapel). To give a simple architectural equivalent, the four walls of the Chapel cube are 5 metres tall, of which the corner window occupies only the last metre.
"The Cobar Sound Chapel is an immersive walk-in sound installation in the shape of an intimate 5 by 5 by 5 metre concrete cube, set within the existing 10-metre-high water tank. Each of the four walls of the cube has an in-built loudspeaker, thus placing the listener sitting on the central bench right "inside the sound". The Chapel sets up a dialogue between the sound and its architectural vessel, with the sound of the music (and sometimes also of environmental noises) colouring the atmosphere of the architecture, and vice versa. Sound will also spill out of the Chapel and out of the tank into the surrounding landscape, giving the impression of a lonely 'musical water tank' in the midst of the silence of the Outback."
Access to the Cobar Sound Chapel is free of charge. The Chapel is locked by two gates which allow the casual visitor without a key to peep into its interior and hear some of the sound emanating from the artwork. To gain access to the inside, visitors need to pick up a key from the Great Cobar Museum in Marshall Street. If you are coming from far away, we recommend you contact the Museum to reserve the key for your chosen day and time. Tel:02 6836 5806 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visitors will be required to leave proof of ID as well as a AUD $300 cash bond, which will be fully refunded to you upon returning the key. Please note you must return the key yourself. Do not hand the key to third parties, or you will not get your bond back.The opening hours of the Museum are Mon-Fri, 8.30 am - 4.30 pm, Sat-Sun, 9.00 am - 4.30 pm. Check out https://www.cobarsoundchapel.com/ for more information.
Other Attractions in the Area
Fort Bourke Lookout and New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine
Located, and clearly signposted on the Hillston Road south of town, is the Fort Bourke Lookout which offers an excellent view of the town and the deep open pit which is the New Cobar Open Cut Mine. This is a working mine and it is fascinating to see the huge trucks making their way up from the 150 m deep hole. Beside the viewing platform is a rather ugly Filtration Plant which is vital to the survival of the town. In 1966 a 130 km-long pipeline was built from Nyngan to Cobar to provide the town with a reliable supply of water. Prior to that Cobar battled to sustain itself with water as it is not located on any major river. The only water available was from the Old Reservoir.
The Old Reservoir and Devil's Rock
Located 3 km from town the Old Reservoir became Cobar's major water supply in the 1880s. There is a one kilometre walking path to Devil's Rock. Today the Old Reservoir is notable for its birdlife and wildlife. It is worth visiting at sunrise and sunset. Follow the Old Bourke Road out of town.
Aboriginal Rock Art at Mount Grenfell National Park
The journey to Mount Grenfell is not easy. Firstly don't attempt it in the early morning or late afternoon unless you want to battle your way through mobs of kangaroos. Secondly be prepared: It is a 146 km round trip with 66 km on a very ordinary dirt road. Head towards Wilcannia on the Barrier Highway for 40 km then turn right (it is clearly signposted) along a gravel road and drive 33 km to the picnic-barbecue-toilet-car parking area. The journey is worth the effort. Mount Grenfell, which has been inhabited by Ngiyampaa people for tens of thousands of years, has some of the finest examples of rock art in Australia.
When you reach the car park you have to walk up the hill to a secondary car park (the gate is often locked) where there is signage and two walks - a 300 m walk to the three main rock shelters and a 5 km Ngiyampaa Walk through the surrounding bush country.
The three main rock shelters (which can be accessed by a good pathway from the farthest point on this car park) contain over 1,300 richly coloured images including humans, kangaroos, birds and other animal figures. There are outstanding examples of hand stencils which have been made by placing the hand on the blackened roof of the cave and blowing ochre onto the hand. There are also some interesting abstract linear designs. These displays, most of which are applied with either fingertip or brush, are regarded as some of the best examples Aboriginal rock art in New South Wales.
The 5 km Ngiyampaa Walk was once marked by wooden posts but the termites ate them and they have been replaced by metal star posts. The walk is across harsh terrain and eventually reaches a semi-permanent waterhole which, in this arid area, was reason enough to settle in the caves.^ TOP
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Cobar area was the traditional home of the Ngemba and Wongaibon Aboriginal people.
* Pastoralists moved into the area in the mid-1860s.
* In 1870 Campbell, Hartman and Gibb discovered copper at Kubbar waterhole and the town of Cobar sprung up.
* By 1871 the townsite had been surveyed and the first mine manager, Captain Thomas Lean, arrived in the town.
* By 1872 the CSA (Cornish, Scottish and Australian) Mining company had discovered significant deposits of copper.
* In 1873 the Cobar Hotel, the town's first hotel, opened for business.
* By 1875 Sidney Kidman had opened a butchery in the town.
* In 1876 the main mines amalgamated to form the Great Cobar Copper Mining Company.
* In 1892 the railway reached Cobar.
* The Great Western Hotel opened in 1898.
* By 1900 the population in Cobar and the surrounding district reached 10,000.
* In 1910 the Administration Building for the Great Cobar Copper Mine was built.
* In 1884 the town officially became the municipality of Cobar.
* By 1910 Cobar has its first electricity.
* By 1912 the Great Cobar Mine was employing 2,000 workers.
* The Great Cobar Mine closed in 1919 with a huge loss of employment.
* The CSA Mine caught fire in 1920 and burnt for the next 16 years.
* Cobar's population dropped to 1150 in 1920.
* In 1963 the Barrier Highway was sealed from Sydney to Cobar.
* The CSA Mine was reopened in 1966.
* In 1992 the Peak Gold Mine opened.
* The CSA Mine is currently New South Wales' largest producer of copper and zinc.^ TOP
Great Cobar Heritage and Visitor Information Centre, Barrier Highway, Cobar, tel: (02) 6836 2448.^ TOP
The local shire has a good, detailed website - http://www.cobar.nsw.gov.au/ - which provides information about the main attractions around town.^ TOP