Saturday, November 11, 2006

Secrets of New England - along the Fossickers Way Day Two

Graphic: Cover, Patrice Newell, Ten Thousand Wild Acres . A love story about a Hunter Valley property.

Day two of our secret journey begins. I hope that you had a good night.

Today we head north in the footsteps of the gold miners to the start of the Fossickers Way at Nundle. Our journey takes us through tiny remnant villages created after the settlement of Scone and subsequent gold discoveries set in some of the most beautiful country in Australia.

The direct drive time is under two hours, but there are so many things to see, so many by ways to explore. Parts of the road are dirt, so you need to take a little care.

Because part of the fun is working out for yourself just what you want to do, I am again only giving hints. Things change on the ground all the time, so as you drive take the time to ask the locals what they would recommend.

Some of the detail in the material that follows is drawn from various Fairfax Walkabout Australian Travel Guide articles. In all cases, links are provided to original sources.

Our first destination is the little village of Gundy, about 18k from Scone. The Gundy Road heads east off the New England highway at the southern end of Scone. On the way to Gundy you will pass turn-offs to Lake Glenbawn and the Lake Glenbawn State Park. Glenbawn has camping and caravan facilities and offers water sports and good fishing.

Named after a Mrs Gundy who kept an inn, the village began in the early 1860s as a stopover for teams travelling from Scone to stations located further up the Pages and Isis Rivers. Following the discovery of gold at Stewarts Brook and Moonan Brook, Gundy developed as a small service centre for the miners and their families. By 1881 the population had risen to 60 with an inn, church, school, post office and stores. Today only a few elements remain including the Anglican Church (1869).

For those who like their film history, Gundy was the setting for the 1957 productions of Smiley (and here, here) and The Shiralee. I remember seeing them when they first came out, as well as the 1958 sequel to Smiley, Smiley Gets a Gun.

Smiley, a classic Australian children's film, is the story of mischievous boy living in the small Australian country town of Murrumbilla. Always getting into pranks, Smiley wants a bike. This he finally gets, but with many misadventures along the way. The film's cast includes Ralph Richardson, John McCallum, Chips Rafferty and Bud Tingwell, with Colin Petersen as Smiley.

Based on the novel by D'Arcy Niland, The Shiralee tells the story of a man and his daughter. When Jim Macauley (Peter Finch) finds his wife with another man, he takes their young daughter (Dana Wilson) and hits the road. With a young child as his responsibility, he finds he can't be quite the fancy-free wanderer that he had been. Nominated for two BAFTA awards, the film has become another Australian classic.

Proceeding north from Gundy along Gundy Road towards Nundle, you will see Miranee Road on the left. This takes you across the Pages River. Just on the other side, to the right, is a two-storey brick mansion with bay windows owned by radio broadcaster and his partner Patrice Newell.

In 1986 Philip and Patrice purchased Elmswood, 10,000 acres of prime agricultural land embracing Gundy and rising from river flats to a mountain top sometimes dusted with snow. Since then they have developed Elmswood Farms on biodynamic principles producing (among other things) Virgo Extra Virgin Olive Oil (certified A – grade biodynamic ), Virgo Olive Oil Soap with Honey, Elmswood Beef and Elmswood Honey.

Patrice is a very well known Australian writer whose books tell the story of life at Elmswood. Her book The River (previous post) tells the story of the Pages River itself, while Ten Thousand Wild Acres is about Elmswood. If you read Patrice's books before you start it will make this part of the trip a much richer experience.

Continuing north towards Nundle, you will see the turn off to Belltrees Station on the right. I mentioned this in my first post as a possible place to stay. Home to the White family since 1831, Belltrees remains today a very large and historic working farm, incorporating horses and Black Angus cattle.

The Whites were one of New England's squatting dynasties who grew to power and wealth on the sheep's back, and Belltrees with its classic New England architecture homestead and other historic buildings provides a picture of this now vanished past.

Continuing past Belltrees, you will reach the little village of Moonan Flat at just under 44k since leaving Scone. The village itself is just to the left of the main road. Founded to serve the diggeres on the nearby Denison gold fields (in 1867 the bushranger Thunderbolt held up a store at Moonan Brook and hotel at Denison), Moonan Flat lies on the Hunter River in a beautiful setting ringed by the Mount Royal Range.

According to Newcastle ABC radio, the locals are passionate about where they live. The beautiful setting, a suspension bridge, federation homes, an old pub with an open fire and friendly farmers make the place a pleasure to visit.

The Barrington Tops National Park (and here) is near Moonan Flat and can be reached via Moonan Brook Rd which heads west of Moonan Flat towards Gloucester. However, we continue to the north east along Pages Creek Road towards Nundle.

Our road next passes through Ellerston. Originally part of Belltrees, Ellerston is now owned by the Packer family and became famous as the headquarters of Kerry Packer's polo activities.

This is the longest part of your trip.

To get to Nundle from here we have to cross the the Mount Royal Range, the rugged range linking the Barrington Tops with the Liverpool Range to the north and west, and then drop down into the foothills on the other side, a distance of 63k.

Just before you arrive at the village of Hanging Rock, you will see Sheba Dams. Erected by hand over a three-week period in 1888 by The Mt Sheba Company to serve the sluicing needs of the miners. This is a loverly spot to stop with picnic and barbecue facilities in a bush setting. There is also a 1.2-km bush walk. You are also entering good fossicking country with zircons, sapphires and other semi-precious stones to be found.

You are now within a short drive of Nundle. Here you really face a choice. Do you stop and look at things now or go into Nundle and then come back? I suggest that you investigate this before you go so as to set the itinerary that best suits you.

Near Sheba Dams you will also see a sign to the nearby Arc-En-Ciel Trout Farm. The farm is located on the top of the Great Dividing Range at a height of 4,000 feet with the Peel valley to the west, the Barnard Valley to the east and the Hunter Valley to the south. There are conducted tours of the ponds and hatchery. Fishing equipment is available for hire with all catches cleaned and packed for you. You can also purchase fresh and smoked trout, and smoked trout pate.

Leaving Sheba Dams you come to the little village of Hanging Rock. Just past the village there are two branch roads almost directly opposite each other.

Lookout Road on the left leads to the rock itself where there is a scenic vantage point with excellent views of the chasm and the valley below. The road on the right is signposted to Ponderosa Forest Park where there are walking trails, possibilities for overnight camping and all appropriate facilities. It also leads through the Zircon Gully Fossicking Area.

Beyond Hanging Rock (11oo metres) the road plunges steeply, past old mullock heaps where the hillside was overturned in search of gold towards Nundle with the massive treeless rock face of Hanging Rock looming overhead. You are now only minutes from the historic village of Nundle, your overnignt stop, with its many attractions.

Located at the headwaters of the Peel River, a tributary of the Darling, Nundle (and here) is an old gold mining town forming part of the Peel River diggings - Nundle, Happy Valley, Hanging Rock and Bowling Alley Point. As you might infer from what has already been said, the town is situated amidst some genuinely spectacular scenery between the towering slopes of the Great Dividing Range and the Peel River which is popular with anglers. Sheep, cattle, wheat and tourism are now the economic mainstays of this little village which today contains some 200 inhabitants.

Gold was discovered at nearby Swamp Creek in 1851. By By 1865 the population was around 500 with about 50 businesses in operation.

As with other parts of New England, there were many Chinese among the thousands who came to the area up to the 1880s. Most came looking for gold, while a few came to set up stores and gardens to supply the diggers. Illness or accidents took the lives of many searching the hills, and the Bowling Alley Point and Nundle Cemeteries became their final resting-places, while the majority left when gold petered out or new fields beckoned. Some stayed on and became a permanent part of Nundle and district history.

Nundle has an annual Go for Gold Chinese Festival - the next will be held on the weekend of 7 and 8 April 2007 - celebrating the Chinese contribution.

On arrival in Nundle you will want to go to your accommodation. You will be looked after no matter where you stay- from elegant Guesthouse and a comfortable Motel and Hotel, to Caravan Park with shady camping spots and Backpacker accommodation. You should however book in advance because the number of beds is limited.

You will want to spend some time exploring the town. Steeped in history, Nundle has achieved something rare. It has maintained it's heritage of the gold era of the late 1800's and yet it is progressing into the next millennia with well-maintained facilities for golf, tennis, bowls and swimming.

You can explore the depths of a working gold mine. Try your luck at fossicking,visit an underground mining museum, shear a sheep, browse for antiques. Nundle is an important craft centre. The Nundle Woollen Mill is the oldest working mill in Australia and provides a range of fine wools, while Minx Handknits offers a range of wool products.

Sleep well. Tomorrow we move north along the Fossickers Way.

Entry point for the Fosssickers Way series.

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