Carcoar, New South Wales: Travel guide and things to do

Carcoar is a lovely little historic town with an English-village feel which is located just off the Mid Western Highway, 258 km west of Sydney, 52 km south-west of Bathurst and 720 metres above sea-level. It is nestled in a small green valley around the oak-lined banks of the Belubula River with steep hills on either side. Although it was laid out in a regular grid pattern, the settlement has developed along Belubula St, the steep, serpentine and charming main street which descends from St Paul's Church and winds its way through the settlement. The town has been classified by the National Trust due to the number of intact 19th-century buildings.

The original occupants of the land are thought to have been the Gundungura Aborigines and it is presumably from their language that the town's name, meaning either 'frog' or 'kookaburra', derives.

The first European to travel through what is now Blayney Shire was surveyor George Evans who headed south-west from Bathurst and camped at the head of Coombing Creek in 1815.

Unofficial occupation of the district began in 1821. The first land grant was 'Coombing Park' issued to Thomas Icely in 1829. In 1838 he requested that the village of Carcoar be established to service his large pastoral estate. The following year it became just the third settlement west of the Blue Mountains to be gazetted.

Land sales proceeded in 1840 although renegade convicts and bushrangers were a problem. German Charley was shot to death by Mickey Bourke while trying to prevent the theft of a racehorse from the Coombing Park stables (Bourke is buried near Neville). Martial law and the withdrawal of all convict privileges were threatened in 1841. However, the capture of the bushranger Curran and the arrival of a magistrate and more police saw things calm down and by 1850 Carcoar had become a banking and administrative centre and the second-largest settlement west of the Blue Mountains, after Bathurst.

Nonetheless the days of the bushrangers were far from over. In 1863, Johnny Gilbert and John O'Meally conducted Australia's first daylight bank robbery when they held up the Commercial Bank (still standing) but they fled empty-handed when a teller fired a shot into the bank ceiling to alert the town. The Reverend James Adam, an early Presbyterian minister at Carcoar, was held up by notorious bushranger Ben Hall but was not robbed on account of the good impression he made. Another noted bushranger, Frank Gardiner, worked in the area when he was granted a ticket-of-leave with parole conditions after serving six years for horse theft. He broke parole by leaving Carcoar and taking up cattle duffing.

The town was negatively affected by the discovery of gold further west in the mid-1860s. Furthermore, because Blayney received the railway in 1874 it replaced Carcoar as the major rural service centre in the district, particularly as Carcoar did not receive the railway until 1888.

Nonetheless the government, foreseeing the on-going development of the town and district, began erecting a number of significant public buildings from the late 1870s. The impression may have been aided by the ongoing mining of mineral resources such as iron ore from Coombing Park which supplied the Lithgow steelworks. However, the population was in decline by the early 1880s.

Things to see

Icely Street
Icely St is the main access road into Carcoar from the highway. Just before the Coombing St intersection, to the left, is the public school. The date on the bell tower (1884) indicates the year in which the Board of Education purchased the Carcoar Hotel (built in 1860) and used that building as the basis for the present structure. On the other side of the road is the old Presbyterian manse (1862).


Cross Coombing St. On the left is the former saddlery, established in 1844 (the second storey was added in 1860). Opposite is the town's second police station (1884) built as a sergeant's residence. The police were first stationed at Carcoar in 1836.

Continue along Icely St. To the left is the former Courthouse Hotel (1870) with its neat picket fence and attic windows. It is now a private residence. Next door is the school of arts building (1901).

Opposite, at the Belubula St intersection, is the former courthouse, a Victorian Classical building erected in 1882 to replace the original 1841 structure. Considered one of James Barnet's 'best small country court houses', it is made of brick with stuccoed pilasters and consists of a two-storey central section with single-storey wings. There is a fine timber colonnade to the facade and an Italianate clock tower with heraldic shield. The verandah ironwork is hand-forged. The interior sports an elaborate painted frieze, fine cedar joinery and original fittings.One wing contains a craft shop, Auld Lang Syne, which sells decorative artwork, local crafts and collectables, tel: (02) 6367 3056.

Belubula St
Across Belubula St is Carcoar Antiques and Bridge Tea Room which sells antiques and collectables, souvenirs and gifts. It is open every day but Tuesday from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., tel: (02) 6367 3145.

Next door to the courthouse, in Belubula St, is the post office, a two-storey brick building dating from 1879 with unusual ironwork to the upper floor (the single-storey structure at the front is a later addition).

Enterprise Stores
Opposite the post office, and adjacent the Royal Hotel, is a typical 19th-century general store which is the main tourist information centre for the town, tel: (02) 6367 3085. They can furnish you with a pamphlet outlining a walking tour which takes in the town's historic buildings. In case you arrive when they are not open there is a map of the town and its sights posted up by the general store. Alternatively you can enquire at the post office (02 6367 3077) or the antique shop.

Firearms Museum and Two Hotels
Next to the post office is the former CBC Bank, a Classical Revival building designed by G.A. Mansfield and built in 1877 of rendered brick with a detailed facade and cedar joinery. It now houses the Firearms Technology Museum which is open by appointment, tel: (02) 6367 3154.

Adjacent is the former Bakers Hotel (1879). One end of the single-storey terrace next door still bears a sign indicating its former life as the Commercial Hotel (1863). Parts of the original shingled roof can still be seen.

Old Commercial Bank
Next is a private residence called 'Daylesford'. It was originally built as a home. In the 1860s it was rented to the Commercial Bank. In 1863, the famous bushranger Johnny Gilbert, accompanied by John O'Meally, held up the bank. This robbery has the dubious distinction of being Australia's first daylight bank robbery. Unfortunately for Gilbert and O'Meally a brave teller grabbed a gun and fired a shot into the bank ceiling. The shot was heard around the town and the robbers fled empty-handed. Over the road is the former City Bank (1886), a three-storey red-brick building.

St Paul's and Rectory
Further along Belubula St, on the same side of the road, is the former Anglican rectory, designed by noted architect Edmund Blacket and built in 1849. It is a two-storey Gothic brick building with stone window trims and ornate timber bargeboards. Gabled dormer windows indicate the presence of attic rooms, built for the parson to conduct a private school, to supplement his income.

Up the hill is St Paul's Anglican Church, a small Gothic Revival structure, also designed by Blacket. It was built of brick and sandstone with a slate roof between 1845 and 1848, making it the second-oldest church west of the Blue Mountains. The unusual crossing tower and steeple date from 1874. The interior is essentially in original condition, including the brick sanctuary floor, the sandstone font and the family pew of original European settlers, the Icelys (Thomas Icely paid for the church).

A little further up the road is a single-storey brick building that was originally the New Criterion Inn. Its position indicates that this was the original access road into Carcoar. It is possible to see the cellar trapdoor in the pavement out the front of the building.

Catholic Church
The next crossroad is Coombing St. On the corner is the Church of the Immaculate Conception built in 1870. It has a slim stone bellcote and spire and retains its original cooling system which consists of wall cavities through which air passes into outlets in the window sills. Next door is the former convent (1874), built by the same architect.

St James
Turn into Coombing St heading back to Icely St. En route you will pass the driveway to Blenheim Hall, built in 1859 of plastered random stone with a separate kitchen wing. It is difficult to see from the roadside.

Further along Coombing St is the simple form of St James Presbyterian Church set picturesquely on the hillside. It was built in 1861 during the tenure of the Reverend James Adam who was held up by notorious bushranger Ben Hall but allowed to pass no poorer on account of the good impression he made.

Stokes Lane
If you turn right into Icely St and follow it across the river you will pass, on the right, a picnic-barbecue area and, at the corner of Stokes Lane, the Old Bakery Gallery which specialises in antique porcelain. They are open six days a week., tel: (02) 6367 3100.

The old and attractive stone building on the other side of Stokes Lane is the Stokes Stable Museum, erected by convict labour in 1849. It contains a modest display relating to local history. The museum is frequently but irregularly open so it may be best to make an appointment if you're interested, tel: (02) 6367 3154.

Down the road and around the corner is a single-storey brick residence with dormer windows originally built in 1862 for John Fagan who was the coach driver during the infamous gold-escort robbery at Eugowra.

Naylor St
Return to Naylor St and turn right. To the immediate left is Carcoar Pottery, tel: (02) 6367 3138.

Just beyond it is a side road on the right. On either side of this road are the former Stoke Hotel (1880), a two-storey structure, and the single-storey station master's residence (1888). The side road leads to the railway station, built to a Gothic design in 1888 and closed in 1974.

The two-storey red-brick building diagonally opposite the stationmaster's residence is the former Victoria Hotel (1878). Next door, near the caravan park, is the old flour mill (1850).

Further along Naylor St, to the left, is 'Dalebrook', an elegant two-storey residence with period furnishings built in 1880 for a local baker.

Mount Macquarie
Mount Macquarie Rd is unsealed and unsuitable in wet weather. It heads off Naylor St and passes through state forests to the mountain which is snow-covered in winter.

Coombing Park
Coombing Park was the original land grant in the area, made out to Thomas Icely in 1826. It was to service his estate that the town of Carcoar was created in 1839. At the time the station was harangued by bushrangers such as Mickey Bourke who shot an employee to death while stealing a racehorse from the estate's stables. Icely originally ran the estate with the aid of 62 convicts who built the original homestead and outbuildings between 1838 and 1842. The original shearing shed survives, and the stables, which date from 1848.

Icely's original cottage was replaced by a large, elegant, single-storey brick villa designed by G.A. Mansfield and built in 1900. The property had been purchased, in 1881, by the Cobb & Co coaching company and occupied by Cobb & Co partner William Franklin Whitney. His descendants still own the property, which retains Cobb & Co memorabilia.

To get to the estate continue west along the highway, past the Carcoar turnoff, for about 5 km. A private road heads off the highway to the left. The gatehouse can be seen from the highway but little else. If you wish to see more ring the owners on (02) 6367 3021.

Mandurama is located 7 km west of Carcoar on the Mid Western Highway. It began, in the mid-19th century, as a village for the workers on the Icely estate and developed into a service centre for the surrounding farmlands. There is an hotel, a general store and a BP Service Station, which can all furnish tourist information. Apart from the hotel, the masonic hall, the churches and bank premises are of historic interest. Sunny Ridge (tel: 02 6367 5189) and Millamolong (tel: 02 6367 5241) are two homesteads out of town which are both popular farmstay destinations.

Junction Reefs
Junction Reefs, now a mere locality just north-west of Lyndhurst, began as a goldmining settlement in the 1860s. Some old shafts and other ruins are still evident along the Belubula River. The main survivor is a dam, built to service the stamper batteries. It has since silted up but the dam wall and adjacent waterfall are very attractive.

A large mining company operates at the site and, at the moment, there is little to see as the area is temporarily closed while the area is rehabilitated. Access is via the Mandurama-Burnt Yard Rd (turn right at the pub in Mandurama).

Another 4 km west of Mandurama along the highway is Lyndhurst. At one time the town was the major service centre to the Junction Reefs goldfields and was apparently on the shortlist to become the national capital! The Royal Hotel remains from the boom days and the post office is located in the old bakery building.

Carcoar Dam
7 km east of town along the highway is a departure road to the right that leads to the dam which is popular with waterskiers, swimmers, anglers, windsurfers and sailors. There are camping, picnic and barbecue facilities.

Neville is a village of about 100 people located 16 km south-east of Mandurama along a sealed road. The area started to develop in the 1850s and a school emerged in 1858. The settlement was proclaimed as Macquarie in 1885 but became known as Mount Macquarie until the name 'Neville' was officially adopted in 1888. Several buildings date from the days when the township was still known as Mount Macquarie, such as the Presbyterian Church (1866), the post office (1870) and the Anglican Church (1875). The school of arts was opened in 1890 and the Catholic Church in 1897. Tourist information is available from the Valley Store, tel: (02) 6368 8411.

Barry was originally known as the Village of Five Islands. It was possibly named by prospector Edward Hargreaves. In 1836 he had 100 acres of land at Five Islands near Wollongong. Alternatively Five Islands may have got its name because it was situated between 5 distinct hills. The village developed in the second half of the 1800s with stores, school (established in 1862), Church, blacksmiths, hall, carrier and agricultural workers. Confusion in the mailing address with Wollongong Five Islands led to the use of Barry as the locality by 1890. The village was probably named after Caleb Barry, a former bank manager in Blayney and stalwart of the Church of England. The pulpit in Christ Church, Blayney is a memorial to Caleb Barry. It reads "To the Glory of God in recognition 27yrs (1888 - 1915) faithful service rendered to this parish as Christward and Sunday School superintendent by Caleb Robertson Barry. " The streets of Barry are named after clergy or bishops (Barber, Marsden, Hale, Moorhouse, Pearson, Sawyer, Selwyn, Staunton, Turner).

Today all Barry public buildings, except St. James Anglican Church and the community Centre have closed. The Post Office and both stores are now private homes, as is the school residence and former St Therese Catholic Church. The village roads are still unsealed except for the main crossroads Selwyn and Sawyer Streets. But there is now a piped water supply available to residents from a hilltop tank supplied by a bore. There are now approximately 40 houses in the village with some 80 residents.