Historic town now a popular day-tripper destination.
Wollombi is charming historic rural village which, because of its proximity to Sydney and the attractiveness of the winding roads from Cessnock, Sydney and Windsor, has become a hugely popular weekend daytripper getaway destination. Nestled into a valley and surrounded by hills, it is seductively pretty with two sandstone churches, a sandstone school and Court House. It wears its history effortlessly and appeals to people who want a good meal, a mooch around an historic village and a relaxing day far away from the suburbia of Sydney and Newcastle. The village developed at a major junction in the Great North Road from Sydney which forked with one road heading north-east to Maitland and the other heading north through Broke to Singleton. The road was built by 3000 convicts between 1826 and 1834 and remnants of their labours - stone culverts, bridges and retaining walls - can still be seen on the winding road between Wollombi and Wisemans Ferry. The village has been revitalised in recent years by the tourist trade. Several shops now sell gifts, clothing and bric-a-brac. It has become a desirable place to live for commuters and weekenders. There are still some small subsistence farms and some grazing in the district.
Wollombi is 132 km north of Sydney via the M1 and the road through Mangrove Mountain and Bucketty. It is 179 km via Castle Hill and Wisemans Ferry on the Great North Road. And it is 31 km south-west of Cessnock.^ TOP
Origin of Name
It is accepted that the town's name, although pronounced differently, was a local Aboriginal word meaning "meeting place of the rivers".^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Village of Wollombi Historic Walk
There is a downloadable brochure (http://www.visitwollombi.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/wollombi-walk.pdf) titled Village of Wollombi Historic Walk which identifies a total of 16 places of interest around the village. It is an easy walk which takes around an hour. Some of the highlights include:
1. St John's Anglican Church
St John's Anglican Church was built between 1846 and 1849 and represents an early example of the work of noted colonial architect Edmund Blacket. This simple Gothic sandstone church has been little altered apart from a small extension of the nave in the 1860s. It features lancet windows, gables, a small bellcote and projecting porch. There is some notable wrought ironwork and the pews and woodwork are of fine local cedar. An old sconce, indicating the church's antiquity, is on the wall by the pulpit where it provided light for the cleric's text. The picket fence and gate with wrought-iron lantern are original. The church's stained glass windows are memorials to the early parishioners.
2. Wollombi Tavern
A wine saloon has operated at this critical junction since 1868. Today the Wollombi Tavern is famous because a previous owner, Mel Jurd, invented Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice. This alcoholic beverage was apparently created in 1960 after the pub was burnt down. There is a full history of Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice below.
3. Endeavour Museum
The Endeavour Museum, located in the old, single-storey sandstone Court House which was designed by Mortimer Lewis and erected in 1866 to replace a slab lock-up which had become infamous for the ease with which prisoners managed to escape. A simple, sandstone building, it has a hipped roof with gables and a front veranda. The museum's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Wollombi-Endeavour-Museum-744286888943163/) explains that it "contains an interesting collection from the rich colonial past of the Cessnock and Wollombi districts. The judges bench houses a growing photographic collection of the life and time of the area. Souvenirs and family history literature are on sale. The museum is in Wollombi village, and there is a shaded picnic table in the grounds." The museum, which first opened in 1970, is open 6 days a week. Monday, Wednesday & Thursday 10.30 am - 1.30 pm. Friday from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. Saturday & Sunday from 11.00 am - 4.00 pm.
5. The Forge Gallery
Next door to Saint Michael the Archangel's church on the hill is the very unusual gift shop known as The Forge Gallery. It is a replica-style slab hut with with a bewildering and unusual range of gifts. Historically this was the site of the village blacksmith and wheelwright, named Townshend, who operated a coach and wagon building business from the 1870s to the 1930s.
6. Saint Michael the Archangel's Catholic Church
Located next door to the post office is St Michael the Archangel's Catholic Church (1893), built of dressed sandstone which was recycled from an earlier church erected between 1840 and 1843 on land donated by John McDougall. The original Catholic Church was destroyed by floods in 1892 and this structure was built on higher ground the following year. The church was sold to the Friends of St Michael in 1992.
7. Old Post Office
The most dominant building in town, and looking more like an elegant Victorian house than a post office, is the town's beautiful two-storey post office (1839) with a hipped roof, pediment, front veranda and rear lean-to. The ground floor was originally an inn that served as a changing station for coach horses travelling along the Great North Road. The first postmaster was John McDougall, a convict overseer during the construction of the Great North Road. The first telephone link from Sydney to Newcastle passed through this exchange. It is now a private residence.
9. General Store
Over the road from the church and the post office is the general store which dates back to the late 19th century. It still operates as a general store and is at the centre of an impressive range of timber buildings.
11. Old Wollombi Dance Hall
The Old Wollombi Dance Hall (c.1850) is a timber building which was used as a dance hall until the 1920s. At various times it was a barn and a fuel store. The plaque outside explains that "The old hall is an excellent example of the type of timber construction common to the mid-19th century. In those days, saw milling equipment was rare, and timber was usually squared with adzes. Pit-sawn planks were generally used only for flooring. Roofing iron became available in the second half of the 19th century, prior to this wooden shingles were used. Split-slab walls were common and tin strips were used to seal the gaps. Sawn wall planks in this style are still a popular form of construction today."
13. Wollombi School
Wollombi Public School, built in 1881, is a small building of dressed sandstone with a tall gabled roof. The headmaster's residence is also of dressed sandstone with a hipped roof, timber annexe and front veranda. Located directly opposite is a large pond, a charming walking path, and the town's cemetery which has been used since the establishment of the village in 1838.
Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice
The truly brave who visit Wollombi can partake of Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. The story is an hilarious modern Australian bush story. A tale of humour, disaster, dubious brewing and a fiery draft guaranteed to ensure that serious drinkers cannot leave the village for days. This is taken from the Wollombi Tavern website (check it out http://www.wollombitavern.com.au/dr-jurds-jungle-juice - you can even order the deadly brew).
“Born just about 10 miles from the Tavern in 1929, Mel Jurd became a legend in Wollombi folklore through his various escapades, the most notable of which was his purchase of the Wollombi Wine Saloon in 1957.
"The Wine Saloon was a quiet sort of place with nothing much happening, just the usual locals dropping in for their fortification. Oh yes, there was Clarence the Clocker, Jackhammer Jim, Arthur the Carpenter, and a few others who you might call the “regular” crowd. The odd traveller who would venture up the rough dusty track from Sydney might also visit the Wine Saloon.
“Then there were those times when things around the Wine Saloon were anything but quiet. Take Christmas night 1959. Mel and his wife Rose threw a large party for visiting relatives and their local friends. A feast of great magnitude, of which Wollombi had rarely seen took place. Now in those days, Wollombi did not enjoy the benefits of electricity and beer and food were kept cool in kerosene refrigerators. As the party dwindled and the those staying with the Jurds in the Saloon went off to bed, Mel attended as best he could to his publican’s duties which included topping up the kero in the fridges. On this occasion, it seems that Mel got his kero confused with his petrol, both of which would have been stored in 44 gallon drums. It was around midnight when the alarm was raised and the result of Mel’s swapping the petrol for kero in the fridges became apparent. The Saloon was on fire.
“Despite the valiant efforts of those who fought the blaze, Mel and his family sat under the big camphor laurel tree outside the courthouse and watched the Saloon burn to the ground. The Jurds were suddenly transformed from their high status of leading public figures to homeless waifs. They had only their bedclothes that they slept in and everything in the Saloon was lost.
“But Wollombi is typical of the Australian spirit and soon all the locals were pitching in, offering help. Soon timber was being felled and milled as a local builder worked to build the family a new house and bar. Within just six weeks, Mel Jurd was back in business. There was still a lot of work to be done to build up the business and to finish off their home and Mel, always the adventurous looking for new ways to make a “quid” was struck by the idea of creating his own special brew that could be sold only through the new Wine Bar. A mate of Mel’s had told Mel about one of his old bush remedies for a sick tummy. He believed a double nip of port with a nip of brandy was just the shot. Mel, being the sort of entrepreneurial fellow he was expanded upon this idea. He had heard of stories of similar vain from troops that had served in the tropics during World War II. The soldiers called their concoction “Jungle Juice”. The notion appealed more and more to Mel.
“Legend has it that Mel, in his efforts to keep costs down and revenues up would save all the leftovers from the night before and pour them into a single container. Port, brandy, wine, you name it, Mel saved them all and experimented with various brewing techniques. Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice was created. This was eventually followed by a “spirited” marketing campaign. But, you could only obtain this special drop at Mel Jurd’s Wollombi Wine Bar, which stands by the old convict built Great North Road about 100 miles north west of Sydney town. The product has remained the trademark for the establishment ever since.”
Other Attractions in the Area
Located south along the Great North Road enroute to Bucketty and the Newcastle-Sydney Freeway is Mulla Villa. Only a kilometre from the Wollombi Tavern is Wollombi Brook and 800 m further is Mulla Villa, a two-storey Georgian cottage built by convicts in 1840-41 for David Dunlop, the first magistrate for the police district of Wollombi and the MacDonald River (1839-1847). David Dunlop and his wife Eliza were both interested in Aboriginal culture and welfare. David understood their obligations to tribal matters and advocated allowing Aborigines to return to their tribes when a particular job was finished. Eliza also offended some contemporaries with her displays of sympathy for indigenous ways though the famous Aboriginal advocate, Reverend Threlkeld, was a supporter. Both David and Eliza are buried in the Church of England section of the Wollombi cemetery. Today it is an award-winning guesthouse with restaurant/coffee shop, tel: (02) 4998 3338. Check http://www.mullavilla.com.au for details.
Located 7 km along the Old Northern Road from Wollomi Tavern is the village of Laguna. Assistant Surveyor Heneage Finch was granted 1000 acres in the late 1820s and started a farm whilst he was in charge of the construction of the Great North Road. He later sold his property to Richard Wiseman. Like his father Solomon Wiseman (after whom Wisemans Ferry is named), Richard capitalised on the traffic created by the Great North Road. He established an inn at Laguna in 1829. Around 1835 Finch built Laguna House opposite the inn. You can see it on the roadside south of Laguna. It is situated at a bend in the road, to the right, 10 km south of Wollombi Tavern. This gracious single-storey sandstone Georgian house features a hipped roof and a stone-flagged veranda with columns. There is a kitchen to the rear, a brick structure with a shingle roof from the same era and some vernacular outbuildings. It is now a private residence.
* Prior to European settlement the district was home to the Darkinjang, Awabakal or Wanaruah Aboriginal peoples. There are a number of historic Aboriginal sites with rock engravings, hand stencils, tribal markings and other images in caves, shelters and outcrops around the town.
* The village emerged as a stopping place on the Great North Road which was constructed between 1826-1830.
* Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars were granted 40 ha lots here from about 1830 as they were discharged from NSW regiments.
* A village site was reserved in 1833-34.
* Allotments in the village became available from 1838.
* The settlement developed as a service centre for the local farming community and for travellers on the Great North Road.
* John McDougall, former convict overseer during the construction of the Great North Road, became postmaster in 1838.
* McDougall left that post office in 1840 when he built the Governor Gipps Inn. That year David Dunlop was appointed Police Magistrate.
* McDougall owned two 40 acre farms and donated land in 1840 to build the Catholic church.
* In 1844 a local mill was established for grinding wheat.
* McDougall's Governor Gipps Inn closed in 1845 due to a bout of temperance.
* St John's Church was consecrated in 1849.
* By 1851 the population was 105.
* In 1859 the Anglican Parsonage was completed.
* The first school opened in 1860. The local telegraph station was opened in that year.
* The Court House and police station opened in 1866.
* Rust destroyed the wheat industry in the 1860s and local farmers turned to grazing.
* The first Catholic Church was washed away by floods in 1892.
* The police residence was built around 1900.
* By 1911 the population had reached a high of 406.
* In 1970 the Endeavour Museum opened in the local Court House.
* The 1991 census indicated that there were 823 persons in the Yango-Coolamon Planning District which includes Laguna and Bucketty.
* By 2008 the Endeavour Museum had expanded to include local agricultural equipment.
* Today Wollombi has become a desirable place to live for commuters and weekenders. There are still some subsistence farms and some grazing in the district.^ TOP
Hunter Valley Visitor Centre, 455 Wine Country Drive, Pokolbin, tel: (02) 4993 6700, 1300 6948 6837. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Saturday and 9.00 am - 4.00 pm Sunday.^ TOP
There is a detailed local website. Check out http://www.visitwollombi.com.au.^ TOP