When the old Post Office in the historic gold mining town of Hill End was built in 1872 it serviced a burgeoning 8,000-strong community.
They came to the outback to make their fortune, drawn by the ‘yellow spirit’ buried deep within the rock of the surrounding hills.
Hill End resident and gold miner Malcolm Drinkwater wrote the book on Hill End Gold. Literally.
In his book, Hill End Gold, Drinkwater estimates 65 tonnes of gold was removed from the hills around Hill End. The most famous find was the Holtermann Nugget, a gold and quartz monolith weighing 286 kilos.
It took 12 men with crowbars to lift the nugget out of the Star of Hope Mine under Hawkins Hill. To this day it remains the largest single piece of reef gold the world has ever seen.
It was gold, and only gold, that brought Europeans to this isolated, idyllic site above the Turon Valley.
Gold. Not pastoral leases, not opals, not copper, tin or coal. The romance and legacy of those heady gold mining days still brings travellers here today. Hundreds of them, every weekend.
Which is why I arrived on a Tuesday.
I rode into Hill End on my rented 2020 Harley-Davidson Road King Special at 2:00pm. It felt like the the 21st century equivalent to riding in on a horse, clip-clopping down the main street and looking for a hitching post.
Hill End accommodation
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When I arrived, the streets were all-but empty and the silence was overwhelming.
By the time I parked it at the other end of town outside The Stables, my converted accommodation behind the old Post Office, I’d already fallen in love with this place.
So much of what once stood here when that old post office was built in 1872 is now gone – The Exchange Hotel, the Bottom Pub, Moses’ Jewellery Premises and Luff’s Butcher Shop, not to mention innumerable miners’ huts.
The Post Office, however, made from locally quarried sandstone, is still here, now a beautifully restored three-bedroom colonial gem.
My bed for the next two nights, The Stables, were out back.
The Stables was restored and reimagined by Christo Aitken & Associates, an architectural firm in the Central West who specialise in the restoration of heritage buildings. The firm undertook the renovation under the watchful eyes of the National Parks & Wildlife Service.
The two-storey sandstone building has a pitched iron roof and a loft-style bedroom that sleeps two. Its internal walls are brick and stone, the floors recycled timber.
To access the loft, guests ascend a gorgeous spiral staircase where they will find a Queen bed, toilet and wash basin. Downstairs there’s a small but cosy living room and modern kitchen.
The Stables can be rented together with, or independently of, the Post Office. A small picket fence tastefully separates the two.
A shower/bath and extra toilet, exclusive to Stables’ guests, are a few steps from the side door.
Hill End’s charms
When the gold ran out in Hill End, so did the people. What they left behind is possibly Australia’s most intact example of a late-1800’s community.
Hill End locals did not rebuild anything more modern when buildings were demolished, or simply fell over, they simply cleared the land and left.
The result? A town with as many empty lots as there are buildings. Which only adds to its charm. The town also has a dearth of street lights, which makes for an atmospheric walk across town after an evening meal.
The Royal is the only place you can dine in Hill End at night.
If the pub is out of T-bones and Porterhouse, or maybe they can’t do burgers because their delivery hasn’t arrived or the meat wasn’t defrosted, fear not. They will find something delicious to offer hungry travellers.
Things to do in Hill End
The History Hill Museum outside town is a must-see. Here you will find thousands of old mining artefacts collected by Drinkwater.
The best thing to do is to gaze at the stars. I’ve never been anywhere in Australia that imparts such a palpable sense of peace. The Milky Way shone bright in an unpolluted sky, so close I felt I could touch it.
Hill End slowed me down. No wonder Brett Whiteley, Russell Drysdale, Margaret Olley and other artists were drawn here over the decades. Drawn to things that were hard to find elsewhere, even then. And still are.
If you come to Hill End, bring a sketch book. You will feel inspired.
I rode my horse – oh, sorry, my Harley – around town, up to Bald Hill, out to the old mining site at nearby Tambaroora, and barely went beyond second gear because going fast anywhere here is just, well, silly.
I even enquired about the only house that was for sale, a renovated cottage in Lees Road for $660,000. All serious offers accepted.
A bit pricey, perhaps. But nothing that a chip off the ol’ Holtermann Nugget wouldn’t get ya.
To book The Stables or Post Office email: firstname.lastname@example.org