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Lithgow, NSW

Historic industrial city west of the Blue Mountains.

The city of Lithgow is a hugely important historic industrial centre. For many people driving west it has an undeserved reputation as an industrial town which should be sped through having lingered in the Blue Mountains and before reaching the great inland centres of Bathurst and Mudgee. There is an element of truth about such an assessment. The town is famous for its Small Arms Factory, its importance in the nation's iron and steel history, and the main street is hardly likely to set any records for glamour, elegance or charm. But this is to miss out on the remarkable and unique attractions of the area: the Zig Zag Railway, the Lost City, the historic villages of Hartley and Little Hartley, the sublime Aboriginal art works at Miayingu Marragu (Blackfellows Hand Shelter) and Wolgan Valley, surely one of the truly beautiful highlights of the Blue Mountains.


Lithgow is located 141 km west of Sydney via the Great Western Highway and 920 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

In 1827 the explorer Hamilton Hume named the settlement Lithgow in honour of William Lithgow who, at the time, was the Auditor-General of the colony of New South Wales.


Things to See and Do

Furnace Fire & Forge Heritage Trail
There are a series of placards around town which identify nine important places worth inspecting around the town. The nine places are: 

1. Zig Zag Railway
If you are travelling with children a stopover at the Zig Zag railway (on Bells Line of Road 10km west of Bell) is an enjoyable train journey, particularly if the Thomas the Tank Engine journey is being offered. The regular Zig Zag service departs six times daily starting from 9.40 am and finishing at 1.40 pm. It takes about 2.5 hours return. See http://www.zigzagrailway.com.au for more details. The railway was closed after the 2013 bushfires but is due to reopen in late 2017 - check the website for up to date information.
The website provides a useful potted history of the railway line. "The Zig Zag Railway was built between 1866 and 1869, and acclaimed a major engineering feat of its time. It was constructed to enable produce to be taken to Sydney from the prosperous farming areas beyond the Blue Mountains and to develop the coal and iron ore deposits found in the Lithgow Valley ... The prodigious feat of bringing the railway from the top of the mountains to the valley below was accomplished by John Whitton, Chief Engineer of the NSW Government Railways. At the time The Great Zig Zag was regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the Victorian age ... The Zig Zag consists of a series of sloping tracks forming the letter "Z" with reversing stations at Top and Bottom Points. The Top part of the 'Z' is Top Road, the middle part is Middle Road. Bottom Road is now only a short section leading to the Depot; the rest remains part of NSW State Rail network ... The track passes over three magnificent sandstone viaducts, through two tunnels. There are striking views over the surrounding countryside." 
The railway enabled the industrialisation of the valley by making the exportation of coal and iron commercially viable. The railways also provided local industry with its biggest customer. Consequently, Lithgow became the railhead for the western region and a major industrial centre at the end of the 19th century.  
Although the line was intended primarily for goods trains it became a major scenic attraction due to the spectacular scenery, the excellent views and the marvel of the engineering. An important result of the railway's construction was the development of locomotive boilers which could cope with running on hills. This enabled the construction of mountain railways in other parts of the world, particularly the Americas.
By the turn of the century rail traffic over the Blue Mountains was heavy and the single track had become congested. Consequently a ten-tunnel line was constructed through the escarpment. It was completed in 1910 and bypassed the zig-zag line. During the Second World War Clarence Tunnel was used as an ammunition store. It was reopened in 1975 due to the work of the Zig Zag Railway Co-operative. The railway is signposted at Mount Victoria and at Bell. 

2. Cultural Precinct
Hoskins Memorial Church
At the corner of Mort and Bridge Streets, and surrounded by landscaped gardens, is the Hoskins Memorial Uniting Church, built from 1916-1928 at the behest of local steel magnate Charles Hoskins. This Gothic church was made of Waverley and Pyrmont sandstone, cut and finished in Sydney and shipped by rail to Lithgow. The furnishings are of Queensland maple and the striking 30 m spire houses a war memorial carillon. The Office of Environment and Heritage notes of the building: "Guildford Hoskins, the eldest son of Charles, the Lithgow ironmaster, died in an explosion at Eskroy Park in 1916 at the age of 29. His father determined to build a Presbyterian church in his memory. Work began on clearing an old brickwork site in 1919, and a hall was erected in 1924, but the church was built only after Charles Hoskins' own death in 1926. The architect commissioned by his family was John Barr of Sydney, the supervising contractor was J. Halliwell, the stonemasons were from Loveridge and Hudson, under the direction of old Thomas Loveridge himself. The stone building, set in grounds laid out by Searle Bros, opened in 1928, maintained by a family trust. In 1938 Sir Cecil Hoskins arranged for Paul Sorensen, the prominent garden designer, to lay out the grounds anew. A brick manse was built in 1977 at the same time as the congregation elected to join the Uniting Church." For more details check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=1960363.

Lithgow Court House
Located on the corner of Bridge and Mort Streets, the Lithgow Court House was designed by J. Barnet and W. Vernon and completed in 1879. The Office of Environment and Heritage describes it as "originally a Victorian building, has a Federation Free Style main façade which features an eclectic combination of elements and details with classical features, including a central arched entrance with multipanelled glazed windows over the main entrance. The single-storey flanking wings have gable end walls which are joined into the main building with verandas supported by brick columns. Internal joinery and features remain intact." 

La Salle Academy
La Salle Academy (originally Cooerwull Academy) at 96 Rabaul Street is an impressive two-storey Victorian Gothic building (c.1882) made of dressed stone with an unusual parapet. It was built by the valley's first European settler, Andrew Brown, as a training academy for prospective Presbyterian ministers. It closed when staff enlisted in World War I, converted to a private residence, and became a Catholic High School in 1953. The Academy's website explains the history: "Cooerwull Academy was founded in the 1880’s as a Presbyterian School for boarders and day students. It was attached to St. Andrew’s College, Sydney University and was one of the first G.P.S. Schools in NSW. It closed after World War I.
"La Salle Academy takes its name from the original Cooerwull Academy, replacing “Cooerwull” by “La Salle”. This latter honours the memory of St. John Baptist De La Salle, a French priest who established the teaching order of Brothers, named after him, over three hundred years ago. Since his death in 1719, his brothers, who now are of many different nationalities, have established educational institutions in many countries throughout the world.
"In 1953 the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney purchased the property and the De La Salle Order was invited to start a Catholic School for boys. In 1968 the Academy became a co-educational junior secondary school. The De La Salle Brothers conducted the school until 1995 when full lay administration was commenced."

3. Eskbank House and History Avenue
Eskbank House, a Georgian cottage, is the oldest building in Lithgow. It is located on Bennett Street which is off Inch Street and is open Thursday to Monday from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm or by arrangement, tel: (02) 6351 3557. Eskbank was built in 1842 of well-dressed sandstone with stone-flagged verandas, cedar joinery and a hectare of beautiful lawns and gardens. The four front rooms are well preserved and contain some fine early Victorian furniture. The stables and blacksmith's forge are also of dressed sandstone while the hexagonal garden house is made of rock-faced stone. The outbuildings house a Hansom cab and pennyfarthing bicycle and a locomotive from the old Lithgow ironworks is displayed in the grounds. 
Eskbank was built by Thomas Brown, who became the valley's second European landholder when he purchased 400 acres around 1835, naming it after the Esk River in Scotland. He acted as magistrate at the courthouse at Hartley and opened the area's first commercial coal mine on his property when the railway arrived in 1869. Brown represented the district in parliament from 1872 and remained at Eskbank until 1884.
The covered courtyard at the rear of the house is used as a museum. Displays include artefacts from the old Lithgow Pottery (1876-1906) and the Bracey Furniture Collection (local department store owner, Eric Bracey, bought the house and donated it back to the people of Lithgow), the Lithgow Woollen Mills collection (1857-1977), many objects from the history of the blast furnace and steel works in Lithgow (1876-1932), including Possum the Locomotive and impressive black roses, and other items that tell the social story of Lithgow. 
History Avenue
Lithgow History Avenue has 30 pieces of sculpture along Inch Street. Each work represents an important milestones in the history of Lithgow. 

4. Lithgow Blast Furnace Park
Located off Inch Street, to the right, is Blast Furnace Park, a rare relic of Australia's first iron and steel industry. There is an argument that William Sandford first used the site in 1886. Certainly he started to smelt iron on the site in 1907 after he had built the country's first modern blast furnace. From 1907 until 1915 it was the country's only iron production facility. Sadly in 1908 William Sandford was heavily in debt and forced to sell the blast furnace and his coal mines. The buyers were George and Charles Hoskins who, in 1913, expanded the railway and added new furnaces so that the Blast Furnace was producing 2,000 tonnes of pig iron a week and employing 120 workers.
The Blast Furnace continued to produce iron ore until 1928 when, demand for iron ore having declined and the cost of raw materials having increased, it was decided to move the blast furnace to Port Kembla where it eventually became Australian Iron & Steel and was absorbed into BHP. 
The site has now been developed as a park around the remains of the engine house, boiler house, turbines, storage bins, crane walls, stoves, rail sidings, cooling pond, water channels, a network of underground tunnels, a large slag heap and the foundations of the furnaces. There is a useful brochure available at the Lithgow Visitos Centre.

Lake Pillans
Lake Pillans was created as a cooling dam for the nearby Blast Furnace. Today it is a pleasant watery retreat which is ideal for picnics, pleasant walks and is home to the birdlife in the area. 

5. Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park & Railway
Located at 3 State Mine Gully Road, the industrial park is situated on the original site of the State Coal Mines head works, which were established to supply coal to the railways and other government departments in 1916 and from 1921 was the biggest employer in the western coalfields and one of the largest in the state. The mine was closed in June 1964 as a result of flooding. 
The displays include:
Workshops - The workshops at the Heritage Park contain blacksmith's facilities, machine shop and electricians workshop, as well as the main store for the mine. 
Bathhouse - The bathhouse started life as the local Power House producing electricity for the mine, the Small Arms Factory and the Lithgow Hospital. In 1928, when the Lithgow Power Station was opened, the Power House was converted into a Bathhouse for the miners. This building now houses mining displays and machinery.
Powder Magazines - Used to store explosives and detonators for use in the State Mine, these concrete huts were placed some distance from the mine, and behind a high earthen wall, in case of an explosion. 
Poppet Head - The Poppet Head is a reconstruction of the poppet head from Newstan Colliery which was brought to the site and reassembled.
Carriage Shed - The original Carriage Shed was demolished in 2001. The new Carriage Shed has two exhibits - the former BHP diesel electric loco D21 and steam loco 2605 
State Mine Office - The former Mine Manager's Office now houses the Mining Museum which records the working life in the mines and contains a large collection of memorabillia and artefacts from both the State Mine and other mines in the district.
It is open from 12.00 am - 4.00 pm on weekends and public holidays, and at other times by prior arrangement, tel: (02) 6353 1513. There are picnic areas at the powder magazines, nature trails, some fine scenery, flora and birdlife. 
There is a useful visual tour of the entire site which can be accessed at http://www.statemine.org.au/tour.htm and which provides pop-up information on each of the locations.

6. Main Street
Marjorie Jackson Statue
The sculptor, Antony Symons, created the statue known simply as 'The Lithgow Flash' at his studio and foundry at Rydal near Lithgow. It celebrates the town's most famous athlete - Marjorie Jackson, who grew up in Lithgow (she was born in Coffs Harbour) and who won two Olympic Gold Medals in the 100 metres and 200 metres at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. With those victories she became the first Australian woman to win a gold medal for track and field and the first Australian since 1896 to win an Olympic Gold Medal on the running track.

7. Queen Elizabeth Park
Located on Main Street, the Queen Elizabeth Park was originally known as Lithgow Park. It has been the heart of the town for generations having the town's war memorials and also being an ideal place for a picnic or a rally.

8. Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum
Located in Methven Street is the Small Arms Factory Museum. It is located in an old section of the Australian Defence Industry Factory which opened in 1912. Lithgow was chosen by the Federal Government as the site for the factory due to its steel and coal production and its distance from the coast, in case of naval bombardment. A major component of the local economy, the factory was the first modern manufacturing plant in Australia and, at its peak during World War II, employed 6000 people in 1942.
The museum's display includes a substantial collection of machine guns, rifles, hand guns, pistols and related items from around the world, including Australian-designed experimental, prototype and pre-production weapons. There are also non-military wares produced in the factory including sewing machines, sheep shearing handsets, hand cuffs and medical implants. As well there is a photographic collection which includes modern day production processes and the involvement of factory employees in the social, sporting and cultural events of Lithgow since 1912. In 2006 the museum acquired Ron Hayes handgun collection which includes such rarities as the Borchardt, Webley 1904, and the Persian Luger. Among the 800 varied handguns featured are a number of gold plated and hand-engraved presentation masterpieces. It is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9.30 am - 2.00 pm and weekends from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6351 4452. Check out http://www.lithgowsafmuseum.org.au for more details.

9. Visitor Information Centre
It is hard to miss. One of the most original "big things" the building is designed in the shape of a Miner's Safety Lamp. It is also an exceptionally good visitor centre with maps, detailed information and brochures covering the entire area - particularly places up the Castlereagh Highway towards Mudgee.

Bowenfels Railway Station
Located over the road from the Visitor Information Centre, the Bowenfels Railway Station is built on a simple rectangular plan with verandas front and rear, the station includes a ladies’ waiting room, main waiting room, ticket office and station master’s office. Housed in small rooms on either side were the luggage room and ladies’ washroom. Considered of lesser significance, the gentlemen’s toilet was a smaller room adjoining the ladies’ washroom.
The small waiting rooms have five and a half metre (eighteen-foot) ceilings and exterior walls 35 cm (fourteen inches) thick. A fireplace positioned in each room catered for the comfort of passengers. New South Wales Government Railways engineer, John Clifton, was responsible for the design of the building, which is described today as one of the finest examples of railway architecture of its period on the western line. 
The charming little Gothic Revival stationmaster's residence (1869) is made of sandstone and features a steeply pitched slate roof and ornately carved timber bargeboards. Check out http://www.lithgow-tourism.com/bowenfel.htm.

Historic Lithgow's Heritage and State Mine Park & Railway
There are two notions of the State Mine Heritage Park - one (the State Mine Heritage Park) includes the workshops, bathhouse, powder magazines, poppet head, carriage shed and state mine office and is located at 3 State Mine Gully Road - the other incorporates all the historic remnants of the town's coal and iron ore history from Eskbank House through to the ruins of the Lithgow Blast Furnace and the State Mine Heritage Park. All these features can be inspected by driving along Inch Street (over the railway bridge at the end of Main Street) and following the signs.


Other Attractions in the Area

Hassans Wall Lookout
Hassans Wall Lookout is located 5 km south of town along Hassans Wall Road. It was named by Governor Macquarie after a similar escarpment formation in India. There are views of Mt Wilson and Mt York to the east, Mt Tarana and Mt Blaxland in the west and the Hartley Valley below. To the south are the Kanimbla and Megalong Valleys and Mt Bindo (1363 m). 

Bracey's Lookout
Located 8 km south of Lithgow via Hartley Valley Road (or further on from Hassans Wall Lookout on the Norm Henry Drive), Bracey Lookout provides an excellent, panoramic view over the township and the Lithgow Valley. It is named as a tribute "to the late Mr. H. E. S. Bracey, whose works as a pioneer of Lithgow should carry a mark of perpetual remembrance."

The Lost City
The Lost City is located on the Newnes plateau above Lithgow and to the north of the Zig Zag Railway station. It is one of the rarely seen wonders of the Blue Mountains. Formed by sheets of ironstone sandwiched between layers of sandstone, the formations have weathered so they look like a series of dramatic, conical Asian pagodas. The sandstone was laid down by a massive river delta that flowed across the area about 230-250 million years ago. No one knows where the iron came from or how the formations occurred. It is not easy to find and, as such, is a very accurately named destination. The starting point is the Bungleboori Picnic Site. From there an unmarked track, characterised by huge potholes after rainfall, leads to a car park with vistas across a landscape dotted with pagodas. It is a short walk down the hill to inspect the formations. It can only be reached by 4WD. Ask for precise directions or purchase 4WD Treks Close to Sydney which is available in the Visitor Information Centres. If you want to read about the unique geology of the area check out http://www.bluemountains.org.au/documents/campaigns/LinnSocPagodaPaperWash_Wray.pdf.

Glow Worm Tunnel
The Glow Worm Tunnel Track from Wolgan Valley is of medium difficulty, is 8 km return and takes around 4 hours return. As the brochure points out "The Glow Worm Tunnel area is popular for walks along historic railway alignments, for viewing Glow Worms and for appreciating diverse natural environments. Tree fern gullies, pagoda rock formations, tall cliffs and conspicuous bird life are highlights of walking in the area."
The Glow Worm Tunnel was built in 1906-07 as part of the 50 km railway line joining Newnes to Newnes Junction on the Main Western Line from Sydney. The tunnel itself is 400 metres in length. It curves through almost 180 degrees, is very dark and is home to thousands of glow worms. These worms (4 cm when fully grown) are the larval stage of a fly which develops from eggs planted on the cave wall. The larvae drop sticky threads that trap small insects drawn by the light which is produced by the combination of body products with a regulated oxygen supply. The larvae shed their skin and become luminescent pupae which hang from the cave walls for about 12 days before emerging as adult flies, which also glow and live for no more than four days. The glow worms become more apparent the further into the tunnel you proceed. The Wollemi National Park Walking Track Guide: Newnes & the Glow Worm Tunnel brochure has very detailed instructions on the various ways to get to the tunnel.

Blackfellows Hand Art Site (known as Maiyingu Marragu)
In the past, because there has been some desecration of this remarkable site, I have tended to simply say "Check it out and get details from the Lithgow Visitor Information Centre" believing that people who went to so much trouble would be respectful. Well, here's a gamble. It is well worth seeing and this is how you get there: Drive towards Newnes from Lithgow on the Wolgan Road. When you reach the Blackfellows Hand Fire Trail follow it for about 800 metres. On the right there is an unmarked clearing. A track leads up a hill to the cliff line. Follow the cliff line to the left over fallen rocks. The cave is a broad overhang and the hand images are some of the best in the Blue Mountains. The cave is a huge overhang and the depictions of ancient indigenous hands and arms on the wall – some by children, others by adults – are superb. A National Parks and Wildlife visitor’s book explains: "The stencil art on the walls of this shelter were placed here by Aboriginal people. Most of the images were made by placing the hand or implement such as a stone axe against the wall and blowing a spray of ochre mixed with water from the mouth. It is thought that the rock art may be between 500 and 1600 years old and that the hand stencils are the “signatures” of the people who lived in the area." There is also a stern warning sign at the cave which reads:  "Australian Aborigines made these drawings. They help us to understand the way of life which is now past. Once destroyed they cannot be replaced. Please do not interfere in any way with the art or with any part of this site. Under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, it is an offence to destroy, deface or damage any Aboriginal relic in New South Wales. Penalty: $1000 or imprisonment for six months or both." 



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

* The Blue Mountains were crossed in 1813 and the road across the mountains was completed by 1815. This brought settlers to the area around Lithgow.

* The first settler was Scotsman Andrew Brown who established 'Cooerwull' station at what is now Bowenfels in 1824. He built a water-powered mill which he later converted to steam power by using coal mined on his property. 

* The valley was given its European name in 1827 by the explorer, Hamilton Hume, in honour of William Lithgow, the Auditor-General of the colony. 

* In 1827 Lieutenant George Bowen, Assistant Government Surveyor, explored the Lithgow Valley.

* In 1827 James Walker received a large land grant at Wallerawang.

* In 1835 Thomas Brown established Eskbank, the second property in the valley.

* Construction of a railway line into the Lithgow Valley began in 1866. 

* The famous Zig Zag Railway was completed in 1869. It was intended to link Sydney to Bathurst. 

* The Bowenfels Railway Station was opened in 1869.

* Thomas Brown commenced the first commercial coal mine in 1869. 

* Iron was found on Brown's property and iron smelting began in 1875. A blast furnace was soon producing 100 tons of pig-iron per week. 

* Thomas Mort set up a slaughtering and meat refrigeration works in 1875.

* In 1876 the Lithgow Valley Colliery set up the Lithgow Pottery, manufacturing bricks, pipes and domestic items.

* The first chilled meat from Lithgow reached Sydney in 1880.

* The employees of the iron smelter formed a co-operative and leased Brown's works until William Sandford took over in 1886. 

* By 1889 there were four brickworks in the town.

* In 1894 Sandford introduced Australia's first galvanising and corrugating works.

* In 1898 the Lithgow Pottery closed down due to the Depression, though pipes and bricks were still made. 

* By 1900 the town had an imported open-hearth furnace and was successfully puddling Australia's first steel.

* In 1901 the town was declared a municipality. That year saw seven collieries operating in the area. 

* Sandford built Australia's first modern blast furnace in 1907.

* Sandford's company went into liquidation in 1908 because of a lack of government assistance.

* The steel manufacturing company was taken over by G & C Hoskins who, by 1909, were employing 632 people. 

* Hoskins' experienced a nine-month strike in 1911 which ended in a riot when scabs were brought in.

* The famous Lithgow Small Arms Factory opened in 1912. It was the first modern manufacturing plant in Australia.

* A second blast furnace opened in 1913. 

* BHP opened a steelworks at Newcastle in 1915. 

* In order to compete Hoskins joined Australian Iron and Steel and relocated to Port Kembla in 1928. 

* The Lithgow blast furnaces were removed in 1932 causing major unemployment during the Great Depression.

* Lithgow was declared a city in 1945.  

* In the late 1950s, a power generating plant was built at Wallerawang. It created a ready market for local coal. 

* In 1974 the railway station at Bowenfels was closed down.


Visitor Information

Lithgow Visitor Information Centre, Great Western Highway, Lithgow, tel: (02) 6350 3230 or 1300 760 276


Useful Websites

An excellent brochure can be downloaded at http://archive.lithgow.nsw.gov.au/tourism/LithgowVisitorGuide2014.pdf. It has comprehensive information about the city.

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