Bathurst, New South Wales: The hidden history of Australia's oldest inland city

On the drive to the top of Wahluu to meet uncle Bill, whose traditional name is Dinawan Dyirribang, we pass grapevines planted near notorious bends of road.

Until a few years ago this mountain, or, more precisely, this hunk of misshapen volcanic rock, was known as Mt Panorama. Rarely would you hear much about it in between the famous races – the Bathurst 1000 and the Bathurst 12 Hour - held in October and February respectively on the 6.2 kilometre circuit.

In April 2015 the "mountain" was re-named Mt Panorama-Wahluu following a 50-year campaign by the local Wiradyuri people to have their sacred site recognised.

At the top Uncle Bill (or Bill Allen to most) tells me the Wahluu legend: Wahluu and his older brother Gaanhabula were attracted to the same young girl. They challenged each other to a spear-throwing contest to win her affection. Wahluu won but in a fit of jealousy his older brother killed him. This angered the spirit of the mountain, which exploded and covered the hill top and Wahluu's body in lava. Gaanhabula himself was turned to stone and became the mountain, known as Mt Canobolas, at Orange 55 kilometres to the west.

Naturally I didn't know any of this. Most people only hear about the car racing and while that certainly brings in thousands of locals and visitors and plenty of money – it's said the two big races earn $200 million for the city (and Dan Murphy's apparently gets about $1.38 million of this haul in a week) - there is a lot more to Bathurst than high octane entertainment a few times a year.

For thousands of years, long before the race circuit opened in 1938, it was an Aboriginal place of initiation – "a place where the elders told the story of rage and jealousy to the young ones" Bill says, while Leanna Carr-Smith, whose "skin name" is Werribee (meaning "heaven") says many parts of the mountain were also used for women's business. She has brought along her full-length possum cloak which she puts on for us; it's heavy and it's hot on this summer morning but is just the sort of thing the elders would need in the cold winters the city endures.

Nowadays two wineries grow their vines on the slopes and amazingly the fumes and rumble of the V8 engines don't seem to bother the buds and grapes. Mt Panorama Wines welcomes visitors to its cellar door at the racing address of 117 Mountain Straight, while, just to confuse things, the other is called Mount Panorama Estate. Both produce cold climate wines like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling although the latter processes its grapes at another of the region's wineries, Renzaglia Wines, a few kilometres away at O'Connell.

I visit Mark and Sandy Renzaglia's vineyard and also see what else Bathurst has to offer. I also return to Wahluu on both nights for the Inland Sea of Sound, an annual music festival (the 2020 festival headliners are Missy Higgins and Killing Heidi), which opens at dusk with a smoking ceremony by the Wiradyuri people.

Bathurst is Australia's oldest inland settlement and many of the historic buildings are now cafes and restaurants.

Advertisement

We breakfast at The Hub in Keppel Street, in a old terrace with posting rails out front, which serves its own blend of local artisan coffee, Fish River Roasters. Sweet Caramel, opposite beautiful Machattie Park, has French flair and terrific cakes. Both are buzzing. The city's top-rated dinner spot, Cobblestone Lane, has taken over the former EG Webb & Co department store.

Church Bar, in the old Anglican church hall in a lane named after the notorious Ribbon Gang, is the place for wood-fired pizza and drinks, while the old Crago Mill now houses the Two Heads craft brewery.

The latest restoration project, the Bathurst Rail Museum, is due to open in February 2020 in the former railway institute building, once the social hub for railway workers and their families. A scale model of the Main Western Line, that connected the inland city to Sydney, is one of its attractions.

And then there are the city's jewels - the neoclassical Court House, Ben Chifley's home and King's Parade with its memorials and Carillon. And Bathurst also has its own castle, or more correctly a Scottish baronial mansion, Abercrombie House. Here we meet the lord of the manor, Christopher Morgan. He has lived in the 50-room, seven-staircase granite and sandstone residence since his father, Rex, bought it 50 years ago. He and his wife, Xanthe, run tours and hold weddings, high teas and jazz nights to finance the never-ending restoration work. Built in 1878 by James Stewart, the son of the Lieutenant Governor of NSW, William Stewart, the house had been shut up and unoccupied since 1927.

Chris tell us that his father, who still owns the property, operated the first guided tours on Easter Saturday 1969 for the princely sum of 30 cents and 400 people turned up to see what was behind the rusting iron gates.

Our next slice of history is a visit to whip-maker Robin Willis who crafts Australian stock whips from his home workshop. He's one of 220 whip-makers in Australia and although formerly a school teacher who only began making them six years ago, he has a steady business for his custom made designs which he sells at the monthly Tarana Farmers' Market in the tiny town 42 kilometres from Bathurst.

The last encounter with Bathurst's rich past is my home for the weekend - the Bishop's Court Estate. This former residence of Anglican Bishop Samuel Marsden is now a sumptuous boutique hotel. Owner and interior decorator Christine Le Fevre took four years to restore the 1870 two-storey mansion with six guestrooms, library, private chapel and sprawling gardens, to five-star standard. Breakfast is served in the grand dining room and dishes are enhanced by veggies and herbs from the garden and eggs from the resident hens.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/bathurst

Visitbathurst.com.au

DRIVE

Bathurst is 203 kilometres west of Sydney, about a three-hour drive.

STAY

Bishop's Court Estate is a lavish six-room boutique hotel. One room has an ensuite bathroom, while the others have their own bathrooms a little way down a hall. Five have access to a balcony. There's a guest lounge/library and spacious gardens. Rooms from $250 a night. See bishopscourtestate.com.au

EAT + DRINK

Church Bar churchbar.com.au; Cobblestone Lane: cobblestonelane.com.au

The Hub: facebook.com/thehubbathurst; Sweet Caramel: facebook.com/SweetCaramelByMarisaPom; Renzagliawines.com.au

VISIT

Bathurst Tours has day trips that include Abercrombie House and wineries. See bathurstonedaytours.com.au; abercrombiehouse.com.au

Inland Sea of Sound will be held on February 28-29, 2020. See inlandseaofsound.com.au

Caroline Gladstone travelled courtesy of Bathurst Regional Council and Bishop's Court Estate.

Comments