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Hill End, NSW

Beautifully preserved historic gold mining town.

Hill End is a well-preserved gold mining ghost town which is now an important historic site and a major tourist attraction. Surrounded by rugged mountain and gorge country, it is a prosperous 19th century town held in aspic. The Historic Site can be accessed either via Mudgee from the north (66 km) or Bathurst from the south (71 km). It is an interesting mixture of National Parks & Wildlife care and signage and remnants of the old town including the local pub and cafe.


Hill End is 269 km north-west of Sydney via the Great Western Highway and 870 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

The town was surveyed, gazetted and incorrectly named 'Forbes' in 1860. It was renamed 'Hillend' in 1862 and this eventually became Hill End. No one knows who changed the name although Hill End does sound like a simple description.


Things to See and Do

History Hill Museum
Located at 3548 Bathurst Road, two kilometres before the visitor reaches the official Hill End village, this is a private museum owned and run by the remarkable Malcolm Drinkwater. It has an extensive range of gold-related items including Chinese gold scales, firearms, gold tools, bottles, household items, mining equipment as well as working and static stamper batteries, a blacksmith's shop, steam engines, winches, pumps, interactive displays, a video and a walk-in underground gold mine which is 135 metres long and has a shaft exit. "The theme of History Hill is to display original artefacts that were on the land during the time of the gold rush." Opening hours are 10.00 am to 4.00 pm on weekends and at holiday times, tel: (02) 6337 8222 or check out http://historyhill.com.au.

Exploring the Hill End Historic Buildings
Many of Hill End's buildings have been demolished over the years and on-site photographs (taken by Beaufoy Merlin) record the buildings that stood on what are now empty lots. Almost all the buildings which remain date from the early 1870s and many have been carefully restored. A self-guided walking tour pamphlet is available from the Hill End Heritage Centre but is is equally fun to just wander through the town. A sensible route will cover around 2 km and take about an hour. Each building has a plaque outside with both the history of the building and an appropriate Beaufoy Merlin photograph. 
Historic buildings include the cottage which belonged to Louis Beyers (late 1850s); the Great Western Store (c.1872), which now has an excellent photographic display; the hospital (1872); Hosie's Store (1872); Northey's Store (1873); the school (1872); the Methodist (now Anglican) church (1870); the rough dressed sandstone of St Paul's Uniting Church (1872); 'Craigmoor' (1875) and the Royal Hotel (1872) which retains some original fittings and furniture. The police station and post office date from the turn of the century. There is a useful map which can be downloaded at https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/village-walking-track.
Beyers Avenue forms an attractive corridor leading into town from Bathurst. The European trees were planted by one of the town's most successful mining figures, Louis Beyers, in 1877 and the mid-1880s, with extensions made in 1928.
The buildings in the town that are of particular interest include:

Located on Beyers Avenue near the entrance from Bathurst, Craigmoor is recognised as the grandest residence in Hill End. Designed in 1875 with the Duke of Elgin's hunting lodge in Scotland as its model, it has impressive timberwork and is furnished with paintings, pottery, magazines and books from the late 1800s. It can only be inspected by guided tour. Check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/craigmoor for more details or tel: (02) 6337 8206.

General Store
Located on Beyers Avenue over the road from the Royal Hotel, the General Store was originally two separate buildings - the Baker and Grocer section dates from 1872 and the Salvation Army Hall was added in the 1880s. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily and functions as a cafe, restaurant and general store. Check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/general-store for more details.

Great Western Store
Located in Tambaroora Street and open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm daily, this historic store is now the home of the impressive Holtermann Collection (see below for more details) of photographs of Hill End in the 1870s by Beaufoy Merlin. It is a superb record of the town at its height. Check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/great-western-store for more details.

Northey's Store
Located on Clarke Street just below the Royal Hotel, Northey's Store must be the most photographed building in the town. It is an impressive two-storey building with a corrugated iron roof and an impressive veranda. It now functions as a retail outlet (you hire all your gold fossicking gear here) and is a place where tours of Bald Hill Mine can be booked. For more information check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/northeys-store.

Royal Hotel
Located in the centre of town and now the only pub still open (there were once nearly 30 pubs in the town), the Royal Hotel was built in 1872 and has been extensively renovated with a determination to offer patrons an experience from the 19th century.

Beyers Cottage
The National Parks and Wildlife website explains: "Beyers Cottage was built by the pioneering Polish miner Louis Beyers in the 1850s. Beyers was involved in the famous Holtermann Specimen discovery - the largest gold nugget found at the time. He later became the mayor of Hill End and is renowned for developing the local area. This working class cottage is a miner’s dwelling relic and a great example of the wattle and daub construction technique." It is located on Clarke Street and the corner of Warrys Road. Check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/beyers-cottage for more information.

Presbyterian Church
Perhaps the most important connection this church has with the history of Hill End is the fact that it features in Russell Drysdale's 1948 painting Picture of Donald Friend and a copy of the painting, with the church in the background, can be seen near the fence on Clarke Street. The National Parks & Wildlife notes: "While the church is of Gothic design, the inclusion of Romanesque details makes it distinctive and beautiful. The inclusion of the thistle motif in the church’s doorway symbolises the strong Scottish support for the Presbyterian faith." Check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/presbyterian-church for more details.

Located at the end of Clarke Street, Athol was built in 1890 and its unusual Italianate features and marble interiors are a reminder of the wealth that the gold boom generated in the town. It has been beautifully preserved.

The Story of Beaufoy Merlin and Bernard Holtermann
Most of the photographs on the signs and in the museums around Hill End were taken in 1872 by Beaufoy Merlin. They were commissioned by Bernard Holtermann who made his fortune at Hill End. He displayed the extensive collection internationally with a view to attracting other immigrants to the country which had favoured him. Some of the photographs have been set up around the streets to furnish some insight into how the town looked in its heyday. As one of the signs explains: "One of the world's finest series of historic photographs was taken at Hill End in 1872 by a photographer named Beaufoy Merlin. His work vividly depicts the town at a key instant in its history when almost overnight it flourished into the largest inland town in New South Wales. For the first half of this century Merlin's collection of glass plate negatives lay forgotten in a garden shed in Sydney. Their rediscovery in 1951 was of enormous significance for Hill End, as through them we can picture the town exactly as it was in 1872. The shops, the 28 hotels, the miners and their families - they're all there in wonderful detail."

Artists at Hill End
The story of artists at Hill End is fascinating. In the late 1940s artists, notably the young Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend, saw the huge potential in painting at Hill End because of the untouched nature of the ghost town. In 1947 Drysdale and Friend moved to the area. In their wake came such important artists as Margaret Olley, Jeffery Smart, Brett Whiteley and John Olsen. There is now an Artist in Residence program which encourages artists to come to the village, live in two cottages which have been specifically allocated for the use of artists, and to paint the town. The program is jointly run by National Parks & Wildlife and the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery.

Bald Hill Walk
The Bald Hill Walk is a 4 km loop (it takes around 90-120 minutes) with interpretative signage. It starts in Reef Street and leads to Bald Hill Mine passing through woodlands and beside old mine workings. Apart from the old mines, stamper batteries, dams and signs of mining activity the walk is also excellent for bird watchers (king parrots, grass parrots, rosellas).It is possible to see native animals and the hills are alive with wildflowers in the spring and summer months. There is a map and additional details at https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/bald-hill-walking-track.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Lookouts 
(a) Beaufoy Merlin Lookout
A particularly beautiful lookout (it lies to the south-west of the town) with panoramic views across the undulating countryside. It was at this point that Beaufoy Merlin took a panoramic photograph of the mining activity on Hawkins Hill in 1872.

(b) Split Rock and Kissing Point Lookout 
Located out of town via Reef Street, the Kissing Point Lookout offers excellent views of the Turon River Valley and Split Rock.

(c) Bald Hill Lookout
The Bald Hill Lookout is north-west of town past the Glendora Camping Ground. Take Lees Lane. The lookout offers 360° views across the town and the valley.

Bald Hill Tourist Mine
Located to the west of the town, this subterranean mine has been restored by National Parks & Wildlife to reflect mining conditions when Hill End was booming in the 1870s. It is an opportunity see exactly what miners were confronted with - the quartz veins they exploited, the tools and drilling methods they used. There are regular conducted tours which can be booked, tel: (02) 6337 8206.

Hill End and Tambaroora Cemetery
Located north of town on the Mudgee Road before you reach the Valentines Mine turnoff, the restored Hill End and Tambaroora cemetery has numerous engraved headstones dating back to the 1870s. It offers an insight into the harsh life of the goldfields when the valley was teeming with miners.

The Ghost Town of Tambaroora
Just beyond the Hill End and Tambaroora Cemetery, about 3 km north of Hill End are the remnants of the ghost town, Tambaroora which was once the most vital centre in the valley. It once had a population of 2,500. Now there is little more than a few shacks and ruins. It also has the foundations of the country's first stamper battery which was imported from Cornwall in 1856 as well as the roasting pits used to break the gold-bearing quartz up into manageable pieces for the battery. 

Although no metal detectors or gold panning are allowed within the historic site, there is a fossicking area just past the cemetery, off the Mudgee Road to the north of the town. Fossicking equipment can be hired from either the Hill End Gold Shop or the Great Western Store and, for those who are beginners, there are organised fossicking tours. Malcolm Drinkwater has published a Fossicker's Guide which can be purchased from the History Hill Museum or tel: (02) 6337 8222 or check out http://historyhill.com.au.

Golden Gully and the Walking Track
Golden Gully is really a study in erosion. Where once there were literally dozens of small underground mines, today it is a deeply eroded valley which tells a story of the Chinese who worked the area. There is a very detailed sign above the gully which explains that "After the discovery of alluvial gold, Golden Gully and environs were worked in a frenetic burst of alluvial mining activity that brought many hopefuls to the area. A settlement grew on the eastern side of Golden Gully near the site of the first discovery of gold at Camp Hill, with a business and commercial area established along the road connecting Sofala and Mudgee - the beginnings of the Tambaroora settlement. By 1852 or, at latest, early 1853, Tambaroora was a settled community proclaimed as a goldfield and fossickers ransacked the nearby creeks and gullies in search of gold  ... The gold deposits at Golden Gully were alluvial in nature, rather than as large reef deposits and was more easily accessible to prospectors with simple equipment for digging and washing out the minerals. The alluvial gold attracted people from diverse backgrounds and ethnic origins including Chinese, English, Welsh, Cornish and others as well as second generation immigrants who were already in the colony ... it has been stated that Chinese miners worked the top veins for many years after other miners had deserted the area. Survivors of the Chinese influx, including Wun Hoi, New Chip and Shepherd living on their sluices for years. These men lived in precarious poverty, scratching out a little alluvial gold or growing vegetables." 
The Golden Gully walking track is a short and easy stroll which is clearly signposted. It leads to a deep gully with old mine shafts and the remnants of Chinese and European alluvial mining techniques. The gully was named because of the impressive stands of wattle.

Valentine's Mine
Further along the road (approximately 5 km from Hill End) to Mudgee is a turnoff to Valentine's Mine and the Hill End Quartz Roasting Pits Complex. The sign at the mine site explains: "The Valentine was early in the development of reef mining in the Hill End area. It had supposedly been discovered by H.L. Beyers who made many gold finds in Hill End. The mine commenced operation in the early 1860s. Successful Cornish man, James Letcher, was in partnership with the Jeffree brothers. Workings initially followed the reef down 175 feet and rich patches were found on the surface. The first spectacular crushing through Mrs Beard's battery came from the two Cornish partners, Philip Jeffree and James Letcher, with 10 tons of ore returning 61 oz of gold in August 1863. Today all that is left at Valentine's mine is a shaft, a huge pile of waste and the old 12 stamp Excelsior battery which had arrived in the area in 1861.

Hill End Quartz Roasting Pits Complex
Further along the gravel road from Valentine's Mine is the Hill End Quartz Roasting Pits Complex, a collection of historic ruins dating from 1855 when the Colonial Gold Mining Company built a range of structures to process their ore. The quartz roasting pits were used to help prepare the ore for crushing. There are also the foundations for the stamper battery which has been dismantled. The remains of the buildings were all constructed from locally quarried stone. The Quartz Roasting Pits and ancillary equipment were all operated by Cornish miners. The complex only lasted a year before the Colonial Gold Mining Company went broke through mismanagement. Since 1967 the site has been repaired and maintained by curious archaeologists. It is important because the process was so rare in Australia. It involved, as the signage explains: "Quartz gravel was poured into the kilns along with alternate layers of firewood and roasted or calcinated. A constant supply of roasted quartz was maintained by firing one pit as the other was cooling and being emptied. In theory, kiln roasting weakened the ore before crushing in the battery and assisted in separating gold from other mineral trapped in the quartz. In practice, however, roasting may have hindered the gold extraction process."



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Hill End was home to the Wiradjuri people.

* The Surveyor-General John Oxley passed through the district in 1817-18 and explored the Macquarie River.

* By the 1820's stockmen were passing through the area looking for good grazing lands to the west.

* Alluvial gold was discovered at Hill End (then known as Bald Hill) in 1851 and there were 150 miners on the site within a month. 

* The first stamper battery in Australia was set up around 1856 by the 'Old Company' which employed Cornish equipment and miners. The stamper battery was located near the township of Tambaroora 5 km to the north of present-day Hill End. 

* In 1860 Bald Hill was surveyed and gazetted and named, mistakenly, Forbes. At the time it had only a few hundred residents, a hotel and two stores.

* By the early 1860s Hill End had a population of some 2000 people. 

* In 1862 Bald Hill was renamed 'Hillend'. 

* In August, 1863 the first crushing at the Valentine Mine yielded 61 oz of gold from 10 tons of ore. 

* In 1866 33 children died in Tambaroora from a range of diseases caused by a particularly cold winter.

* Steady work began on sites such as Hawkins Hill and by 1870 the area was clearly very profitable. 

* In 1871 speculators moved in en masse. They turned syndicates of self-employed reef miners into floated companies with the miners reduced to employee status.

* In October 1872 the Star of Hope Gold Mining Co. uncovered what was, at the time, the world's largest specimen of reef gold. 'Holtermann's Nugget', as it was known, weighed 286 kg and measured 150 cm by 66 cm with an average thickness of 10 cm. In the week that Holtermann's Nugget was discovered over 700 kilograms of gold were taken from Hill End by the gold escort.  

* By the end of 1872 Hill End had overtaken Tambaroora as the major settlement. There were over 8,000 people and the town had more than a kilometre of shops, five banks, two newspapers, a brewery, 27 pubs, over 200 gold prospecting companies in the field, and stamper batteries pounding ore 24 hours a day. 

*  By March 1873 there were four churches, a hospital, improved roads, decent business premises, a public school, three banks and two newspapers. 

* By 1874 cash was scarce on the goldfields. Miners received a share in prospective profits rather than wages. 

* Stores closed and the population went into decline, from 8,000 in 1872 to 5,000 in 1875, 4,000 in 1876, 1,200 by 1882 and 500 at the turn of the century. 

* Hill End revived in 1908 when the Reward Company began operations.

* By 1910 there was only one mine operating in the Tambarooma area.

* The Reward Company ceased operations in the early 1920s. 

* The town attracted unemployed men during the Great Depression. 

* In 1945 the population was about 700 but it soon declined dramatically. 

* In 1947 the painters Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend travelled to Hill End to paint the buildings and the landscape. Other painters followed in their wake and the Hill End Artists in Residence Program ensures the continuity of the tradition. 

* Renewed mining by Cornish immigrants in the early 1950s was short-lived.

* An attempt at hydraulic sluicing in the 1960s failed. 

* Hill End was proclaimed an historic site in 1967 and placed under the care of the National Parks & Wildlife Service. 


Visitor Information

The National Parks & Wildlife Service have a visitors' information centre which doubles as a museum and souvenir shop. It is located at 4 Beyers Avenue and is open from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm but is closed from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm. Information can be obtained here on the tours operating in the area, tel: (02) 6337 8206. The centre "brings the incredible characters, stories, and more than 120 years of Hill End history to life through screen projections, historic artefacts and interactive iPads. Peek into the the remains of a miner's cottage from the 1890s gold rush glory days. You can even see the old red Blitz fire truck, and an historic mining trolley." Some of the many photographs taken of Hill End in 1872 by Beaufoy Merlin are also on display. 


Useful Websites

The National Parks & Wildlife Service has an excellent and detailed website. Check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/hill-end-historic-site.

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