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Grenfell, NSW

Birthplace of Henry Lawson and historic gold mining town.

Grenfell is a town which came into existence as a result of a major goldrush in 1866. Among the prospectors who poured into the district was a Norwegian migrant, Niels Hertzberg Larsen, who arrived with his wife in 1866. The following year Larsen's son, the famous Australian poet and short story writer, Henry Lawson, was born on the goldfields at Emu Creek. The town celebrates its wild goldrush days and the importance of Lawson every year with the Grenfell Gold Festival and the Henry Lawson Festival. It is equally famous for its connections with a number of infamous bushrangers, particularly Ben Hall, who used the district as a base for their daring raids on gold escorts and wealthy landowners.

Location

Grenfell is located 364 km west of Sydney via the Blue Mountains and Cowra; 211 km north of Canberra via Boorowa and Young; and 384 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

In 1866 the tiny settlement was known as Emu Creek. In that year a shepherd, Cornelius O'Brien, discovered gold on a property named Brundah.  The settlement was renamed Grenfell to honour the late John Grenfell, Gold Commissioner at Forbes, who had been shot and killed by bushrangers.

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Things to See and Do

Henry Lawson Obelisk
Today the site of the Emu Creek diggings (the start of the town of Grenfell) is the local sports fields. Clearly signposted is a large, white obelisk where Peter Larsen (Henry Lawson's father) had his tent. Nearby is a tree which was planted in 1924 by Mrs Bertha Jago, the daughter of Henry Lawson, "to commemorate the spot where her father Henry Lawson was born on 17th June, 1867."

Henry Lawson in Grenfell
Henry Lawson was born in a tent in Grenfell on 17 June, 1867. His father was a Norwegian-born miner, Niels Hertzberg (Peter) Larsen who had jumped ship in Melbourne in 1855, married a remarkably gifted woman, Louisa Albury, in 1866, and then wandered the goldfields hoping to find his fortune. The family name was changed from Larsen to Lawson when Henry, the eldest of four children, was born. This might seem a dubious reason for Grenfell to hold a three day festival, the “Henry Lawson Festival”, each June long weekend. But then, while Lawson’s connection with the town may have been short, his importance to Australian literature is huge. In my humble opinion he is the best writer of fiction this country has ever produced. His first collection of short stories - While The Billy Boils (1896) - virtually inventing Australian realism. His writing is full of short, sharp sentences and it is as raw as Hemingway and Raymond Carver with its sparse use of adjectives and its honed-to-the-bone realism – which was dryly laconic, intensely Australian, passionately egalitarian and socialist, and deeply humane. It was forged out of his experiences living in Grenfell, Mudgee and, most importantly, the time he spent around Bourke and Hungerford. Lawson's realistic vision of the Australian bush was of a place of hardship, pain, suffering and loneliness.

Henry Lawson Festival
Few festivals in Australia can claim to have been running for over 50 years but the Henry Lawson Festival, which is held on the June long weekend each year, has been running since 1957. Check out http://www.henrylawsonfestival.com.au for specific details.

Historic Grenfell
Most Australian towns are built on a simple grid system. When a town adopts a different street pattern it is worthy of notice. Grenfell has a main street (named Main Street) which bends and similarly George Street, which is a lane which runs behind the Main Street, is also shaped like an arc. Most of the town's significant historic buildings are in these two streets and consequently the best way to experience the town is to park and wander. Of particular interest are:

Court House
The Court House is located in Camp Street (this is the western extension of Main Street) and is an impressive brick court house with 6-paned sash windows and a large veranda. It was completed  in 1873 and replaced an earlier Court House built in 1867 out of corrugated iron and timber slabs and described as "a small corrugated iron pot in which justice fries and freezes and culprits melt away." It is a typical impressive, solid rural Court House of its era.

Grenfell Historical Museum
Located in the old School of Arts building (1896) on the corner of Camp and Weddin Streets it was opened as a museum in 1976 during the Henry Lawson Festival. It is a typical country town museum focussing on local history with good exhibitions "themed around a bedroom and kitchen display from the early 1900s, a gold mining exhibition, Henry Lawson and bushranging."

George Street
George Street is more of a laneway than a major street and yet it has a number of interesting, historic buildings including the Oddfellows Hall, with its elaborate facade and high iron ceilings, which was built in 1888. There is also the Tattersalls Turf Hotel (1866) with its old archway where horse-drawn coaches used to drive into the courtyard: the Bank of New South Wales (1890), now a private residence; the old Salvation Army Citadel (1883) now the local Band Hall; and The Railway Hotel (1879) which still has stables for horses.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Searching for Ben Hall
Ben Hall (if it wasn't for Ned Kelly he would definitely be the most famous of all the bushrangers - he was serious, deadly and efficient) arrived in the area when he was twelve. He bought a station in the Weddin Mountains in 1860. He was tried for armed robbery in 1862 (the record of the trial is still held in the Forbes Court House) but acquitted.
It is easy to romanticise Hall but, in fairness, when he returned from his trial he found that his house had been burned down, his cattle had been killed and his wife had run off with a former policeman. It is hardly surprising that he saw this confluence of events as a police vendetta and probably took up bushranging as an act of revenge.
Later in 1862 Frank Gardiner's gang, of which Hall had become a member, pulled off the largest Australian gold robbery of the century near Eugowra when they successfully robbed a gold escort of 77 kg of gold and £3,700 in cash. Hall was arrested but released when gang member, Dan Charters, refused to implicate his best friend. Hall moved across towards Goulburn where he robbed people on the Sydney to Melbourne road with relative impunity. Like most bushrangers Ben Hall's reign was short-lived. Effectively it lasted from late 1863 until his death on 5 May, 1865. The Australian Dictionary of Biography's analysis of Hall's gang is: "Hall was probably the most efficient of the bushranger leaders. His men were well armed and superbly mounted, often on stolen race-horses which easily outpaced the police nags."

Ben Hall's Homestead
It would have been an important reminder of Australia's most impressive and successful bushranger but in 1862 it was burned down by a police party. If you are keen there is a signpost in a paddock which points out where Hall's house was. The site can be accessed by heading west on the Mid-Western Highway. After 23 km turn right at Pullabooka and then, after 12 km, turn right to Forbes. The homestead site is about 250-300 metres along the road. There is a sign reading "Ben Hall's Homestead" beside the road.

Weddin Mountains National Park
Weddin Mountains National Park (it was gazetted as a Wildlife Reserve in 1962 and a National Park in 1970) is a small, 19 km long, crescent shaped range of mountains lying south-west of Grenfell. They rise sharply from the surrounding plains and are broken midway by the 'Weddin Gap’. Cliffs and escarpments dominate the northern and eastern sides of the range, while the gentler slopes to the south and west are dissected by steep gullies. The southern side consists of a series of large and small valleys with rugged spurs between them. All the water sheds travel south and some of these valleys wind their way through the mountain range to the northern summit where their floors are carpeted in mountain grass, beautiful ferns and wild flowers. Some thirty different varieties of orchids have been identified, tall iron and stringy barks and giant gums abound and in some valleys sheer sandstone cliffs rise hundreds of metres. The park is rich in bird life and the keen "twitcher" may see the endangered superb parrot, peregrine falcon, wedge tailed eagle and bush stone-curlew. There is a sheet which lists 92 native species which can be seen in the park.

The shortest route to the park is only 15 km via Holy Camp Road which lies 2 km south of the town. At the end of the road is a camp site and a walking track to Euraldrie Trig station.
There are six walking tracks which range from medium to hard.

(1) Basin Gully to Euraldrie Trig Station Walk - walk to the trig station (4.5 km one way - 3 hours, 30 minutes, medium grade) where, on a clear day, you can see Mount Canobolas nearly 120 km to the north. The website (http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Basin-Gully-to-Eualdrie-lookout-track) explains: "You’ll be surrounded by white box, Blakely’s red gum, grey box and fuzzy box. As you move up the slope, you go through heathland dominated by shrubby she-oak and then into open forest dominated by mugga ironbark and black cypress pine. The views across the surrounding farming country and along the rugged escarpment on the eastern side of the Weddin Mountains are equally breathtaking."

(2) Ben Hall's Cave Walking Track (see below) is a 1.5 km walk, 30 minutes, easy. Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Ben-Halls-Cave-walking-track.

(3) Bertha's Gully Walking Track - 3 km one way, 1 hour 15 minutes, medium difficulty. The website (http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Berthas-Gully-walking-track) explains: "Located at the eastern end of Ben Hall’s campground, the trail is lined with rugged rocks and little stone overhangs. The walk takes you through woodland dominated by white box, Blakely’s red gum, grey box, fuzzy box and kurrajong, which persists up much of the gully. Along the flanks of the gully, hillside species such as black cypress pine, mugga ironbark, shrubby sheoak and tumbledown red gum dominate the open forest. Expect to see Australian indigo, wattles and seven dwarf’s grevillea throughout your hike. It’s best seen in spring when the wildflowers – orchids and lilies - and shrubs are blossoming, and the surrounding farming country looks flush and fertile."

(4) Eualdrie Walking Track - 2.4 km one way, 90 minutes, hard. The website (http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Eualdrie-walking-track) explains "This moderate track, with short steep sections, winds through heath and woodlands dominated by mugga ironbark, black cypress pine, dwyers red gum, and red stringybark. In spring it’s the wildflowers of daphne heath, pink five-corners, wattles and grevillea you’re most likely to see in bloom. Wallabies will often be standing quietly on this track blending into the surrounding woodlands of ironbark, black cypress pine and stringybark. You might only notice them when they suddenly dart off through the bush."

(5) Lynch's Loop Trail - 2.5 km loop, 90 minutes, medium. The website (http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Lynchs-loop-trail) explains: "After rain, water may be held in some areas of the drainage line in Small Basin gully, which adds to the natural beauty of this hiking track. In spring, things get even more appealing as the wildflowers start showing off their true colours, attracting nectar-loving birds."

(6) Weddin Gap to Black Springs Loop Trail - 20 km, 7 hours, medium. The website (http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Weddin-Gap-to-Black-Spring-loop-trail) explains: "Beginning with a steep trail to get your heart pumping, a second trail leads you to the top of the range for fantastic scenic views across the surrounding plains. As you make your way along the ridgeline, there are views of the rugged eastern escarpment and, on a clear day, you should be able to see the town of Grenfell in the distance. Keep your binoculars handy for birdwatching, as there are many birds that feed, nest and hunt in the park such as peregrine falcons, wedge-tailed eagles, babblers, warblers and even emus."

Two major attractions in the park are Ben Hall’s cave and Seaton’s Farm.
Ben Hall's Cave, Weddin Mountains
There are, in the Weddin Ranges west of Grenfell, a number of caves believed to be used by Ben Hall and his gang. The easiest to access is named, unsurprisingly, Ben Hall's Cave and is located above a pleasant picnic area. It is easy to imagine Hall and his gang sitting comfortably and watching the troopers moving across the plains below. Easily accessible on foot it would have been very difficult for horses. Head west out of Grenfell on the Mid-Western Highway. 4.3km out of town there is a signpost to Ben Hall's Cave. The cave is 26 km from this point. 18.7 is sealed road and 7.3 km is on good dirt road. The walk up to the cave is easy and the views over the surrounding countryside are suitably "bushranger panoramic". Check out http://www.grenfell.org.au/attractions/ben-halls-cave-and-weddin-mountains-national-park for more details.

Seaton's Farm
A short walk from the cave is Seaton’s Farm, an amazing dilapidated set of buildings, machinery and a vegetable garden which shows how resourceful rural families were during the Great Depression. You might notice grey kangaroos or swamp wallabies in the Seaton’s garden. Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/Seatons-Farm-historic-site for more information.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the Grenfell area was home to the Wiradjuri Aborigines whose lands stretched from Bathurst to the Victorian border.

* The first European to settle in the district was John Wood whose 'run' called 'Brundah' included the present townsite. Wood arrived in the district in 1833.

* From 1859-1865 bushrangers rampaged through the area drawn by gold at Lambing Flat (1859) and Forbes (1860).

* In 1866 Cornelius O'Brien (a shepherd working for John Wood) realised there were rich gold deposits on the property.

* Miners rushed to the settlement, known as Emu Creek, in 1866. That year it was renamed Grenfell to honour the late John Grenfell, Gold Commissioner at Forbes.

* Gold attracted bushrangers, including Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert and Frank Gardiner, to the district.

* Grenfell was officially proclaimed on 1 January, 1867.

* Between 1867-1869 over 40,000 ounces of gold were extracted from the district around Grenfell.

* In 1870-71 the Grenfell goldfields produced more gold than any other area in New South Wales.

* Wheat was first grown in the district in 1871.

* The town's Oddfellows Hall was opened in 1873.

* By 1875 the Grenfell Pastoral, Agricultural & Horticultural Association had been formed.

* By the early 1880s wheat dominated the local economy.

* In 1888 both the current Oddfellows Hall and the Tattersalls Turf Club were opened.

* The Bank of New South Wales building was completed in 1890.

* The railway from Koorawatha arrived in 1901.

* In 1958 the first Henry Lawson Festival was held.

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Visitor Information

Grenfell Visitor Information Centre, 88 Main Street, tel: (02) 6343 2059.

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Useful Websites

The town's official website is located at http://www.grenfell.org.au.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 suggestions
  • I think this site has totally forgotten Cornelius O’Brien who was the first to find gold & mined on O’Brien’s Hill. He may not have been a poet but at least he lived there more than 3 days. Remember Grenfell would not exist only for a poor shepherd, but it appears Henry Lawson and his father’s history is more important than the real history of the town.

    Caroline Barlow
    • I have relatives who have lived in the town for more than 3 days but no one has mentioned them in the towns history. Henry Lawson has been claimed by many towns,but he was born in Grenfell “and you can’t get over that”.

      A. O'Connor
  • Thanks, a great site.

    John Fuller