You may have been lucky enough to visit Hill End on a school camping trip back in your youth. You know the one, to tie in with your study of the history of gold in NSW. It probably meant a long, stuffy bus ride, sleeping in small tents with 4 other kids, and those dreaded excursion work sheets.
Or maybe you missed out on this formative experience altogether. Either way perhaps it is time to revisit Hill End and see what all the fuss is about.
Hill End is located in the central west of New South Wales, around 77km from Bathurst (via Turondale) and around 72 km from Mudgee. It was proclaimed an historic site in 1967 and is now looked after by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as an example of a well-preserved gold mining ghost town. Almost all of the remaining buildings date back to the boom years of Hill End in the 1870's.
We recently visited Hill End during mid-April when the magnificent trees along Beyers Avenue were changing colour and creating a stunning entry to the historic site.
The main streets of Hill End, Clarke St and Tambaroora St, used to be a bustling commercial centre during Hill End's boom years from 1871 to 1874. By the end of 1872 there were 8000 people living in and around the Hill End area. During this period the town had five banks, two newspapers and dozens of hotels. Today only a fraction of these historic buildings remain.
However the fascinating thing about Hill End today is that it is not merely a few old buildings and scattered ruins. What makes Hill End special, and so bloody interesting, is the collection of historic outdoor photographs erected on the sites where the photos were taken in the 1870s during Hill End's boom. These photos show the buildings and the people of that time and allow us to glimpse what life would have been like in the gold rush era.
The story behind this collection of photographs, known as the Holtermann Collection, is fascinating in itself. You can read about it here. The Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group also have a selection of "Then & Now" photos on their website here.
On arrival in the main street you are greeted by the charming Royal Hotel, which is the sole survivor of the dozens of pubs said to have been in existence during the boom years. Still in use today, you can get a cold drink, a meal and even accommodation at the Royal Hotel.
If you walk along Clarke Street you will pass Northeys Store on the left, now operating as a camping shop and further along on the right you will come to Louis Beyers cottage. Louis Beyers was one of the pioneer miners at Hill End and an associate of Bernhardt Holtermann, who both made their fortunes from Hawkins Hill gold. The cottage was built in the 1860's and is an example of the "wattle and daub" construction technique. Louis Beyers later became mayor of Hill End and is known for planting the avenue of trees along the main street (Beyers Ave) in to town.
Also in Clarke Street you will find Athol, a townhouse style dwelling from 1890 and Bryants Butcher Shop.
Moving in to Tambaroora St you will find the Post Office, Police Station and Henry Stuart's Great Western Store. This is another building dating from 1872 and is a must see as it is now home to a display of some of the 'Holtermann Collection' photographs.
See the Holtermann Collection at the Great Western Store
The school at Hill End was built in 1872 and is still used as a public school today. In Hill End in 1872 Infant mortality rates were terribly high, with 1 out of every 3 children born not making it to school age due to malnutrition, dysentery or diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
To explore everything that Hill End and its surrounds has to offer you really need a few days. There are a number of options for accommodation in Hill End - at the Royal Hotel, or one of the Bed & Breakfasts or in one of the campgrounds.
We chose to set up our tents under one of the big trees in the Village Campground.
Enjoy a few nights camping in the Village Campground
You can choose from a powered or unpowered site. You don't need to book in (it is a first come, first served basis) but fees do apply. We found the Village campground very nice, with grass and some lovely old trees perfect for climbing in. There is a large amenities block which includes, toilets, showers, a laundry & microwave as well as a dish washing area. However if you want a hot shower you need to take a stash of $1 coins with you. Each campsite is provided with a fire pit and BBQ plate which was fantastic. You need to bring or collect your own firewood (or you can also buy some from the general store).
The Village Campground has the added advantage of being in walking distance to the main street. We saw plenty of kangaroos and wallabies during the late afternoon and in the early morning, in the campground and in the open areas of Hill End. There are also a few varieties of large parrots in the area.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service run a Museum and Visitor Centre located in the former hospital building. Here you can find information about activities in the area and also book tours, such as the Bald Hill Tourist Mine tour. There are a number of lookouts to drive to such as the Bald Hill Lookout which gives you a panoramic view of the Hill End Historic Site.
Whilst the gold may have run out, Hill End can still be treasured for its historical significance as a fantastic example of our gold rush heritage. As you stroll around the streetscapes of a bygone era, and view the old photographs, you can imagine the goldmining boom days of the past and appreciate how they have shaped the Australia of today..