The Lithgow Visitors' Centre is situated in the old Bowenfels railway station at 1 Cooerwull Rd in north-west Lithgow, tel: (02) 6353 1859. It is open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily. Enquiries can be made here concerning local attractions, operators, accommodation, maps and brochures. There are also historic photographs and displays of local arts and crafts. Lithgow Heritage Tours offer guided tours of the district, tel: (02) 6351 4848.
The attractive sandstone railway station was built in 1869 to accompany the arrival of the Zig Zag Railway. The charming little Gothic Revival stationmaster's residence (1869) is made of sandstone and features a steeply pitched slate roof and ornately carved timber bargeboards.
Some Heritage Buildings
De La Salle College (originally Cooerwull Academy) in Rabaul St is an interesting two-storey Victorian Gothic building (c.1882) made of dressed stone with an unusual parapet. It was built by the valley's first European settler, Andrew Brown, as a training academy for prospective Presbyterian ministers. It closed when staff enlisted in World War I, converted to a private residence, and became a Catholic High School in 1953.
At the Mort and Bridge St intersection is the Hoskins Memorial Uniting Church, built from 1916-1928 at the behest of local steel magnate Charles Hoskins, in memory of his son Guildford who died in an accident in 1916. This Gothic church was made of Waverley and Pyrmont sandstone, cut and finished in Sydney and shipped by rail. The furnishings are of Queensland maple and the striking 30-m spire houses a war memorial carillon. The landscaped gardens are outstanding.
Diagonally opposite is Lithgow courthouse (1879), a symmetrical, Federation-style brick structure.
At the corner of Main and Gray is the old CBC Bank, a Tudor-style building dating from 1883, designed by G.A. Mansfield. The ANZ building at Main and Eskbank was erected in 1888.
Small Arms Museum
At the western end of town, in Methven St, is the Small Arms Museum. It is located in an old section of the Australian Defence Industry Factory which opened in 1912. Lithgow was chosen by the Federal Government as the site for the factory due to its steel and coal production and its distance from the coast, in case of naval bombardment. A major component of the local economy, the factory employed 6000 people at its peak in 1942.
On display is a substantial collection of machine guns, rifles, pistols and related items from around the world, including Australian-designed experimental, prototype and pre-production weapons. There are also non-military wares produced in the factory, a photographic collection and memorabilia. It is open weekends and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. or by arrangement, tel: (02) 6351 4452. .
In 1876, the Lithgow Valley Colliery established a brick and pipe works, using clay near the mine. In 1879 trained English craftsman James Silcock emigrated to establish the manufacture of domestic items on the site. But for a brief revival in 1906, it closed down in 1898 due to the depression though pipe and brick manufacture continued.
Remnants include a residence and several old brick structures - the warehouse, flue and clay store. The old buggy shed is now home to a modern-day pottery selling hand-made items and a large range of ceramics. The estate is in Silcock St, off Bent St, behind the Lithgow Valley Shopping Centre. It is open every day from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Entry is free and there are barbecue facilities, tel: (02) 6351 4483.
Zig Zag Railway
Chifley Rd heads east out of town until it becomes Bells Line of Road (convict-built in 1841), which extends to Richmond. About 10 km east of Lithgow, at Clarence, is the delightful Zig Zag Railway, acclaimed worldwide as a major engineering feat when it was completed in 1869. The track passes over three magnificent sandstone viaducts and through two hand-hewn tunnels and a cutting, furnishing striking views over some spectacular natural scenery during its precipitous descent from the Blue Mountains into the Lithgow Valley.
The railway enabled the industrialisation of the valley by rendering the exportation of coal and iron commercially viable. The railways also provided local industry with its biggest customer. Consequently, Lithgow became the rail-head for the western region and the major industrial centre of NSW in the latter part of the 19th century.
The feat of bringing the railway from the top of the Blue Mountains escarpment into the Lithgow Valley was accomplished by John Whitton, engineer in chief of the NSW Government Railways. Whitton rejected a 3.2-km tunnel. Instead, he designed a 'Zig-Zag' line - a series of gently sloping ramps in the form of a letter 'Z' - which would alternately push and pull trains down the escarpment by means of specifically arranged grades and bridges.
Although the line was intended primarily for goods trains it became a major scenic attraction due to the spectacular scenery, the excellent views and the marvel of the engineering. An important result of the railway's construction was the development of locomotive boilers which could cope with running on hills. This enabled the construction of mountain railways in other parts of the world, particularly the Americas.
By the turn of the century rail traffic over the Blue Mountains was heavy and the single track had become congested. Consequently a ten-tunnel line was constructed through the escarpment. It was completed in 1910 and bypassed the zig-zag line. During the Second World War Clarence Tunnel was used as an ammunition store. It was reopened in 1975 due to the work of the Zig Zag Railway Co-operative.
Steam trains now operate on weekends, public holidays and most school holidays while a diesel-powered vintage motor runs during the week. The latter takes in a tour of the workshop and allows more time to investigate the viaducts and scenery.
Tickets for the 12-km return journey are $18 for adults, $15 concession, $9 for children. Trains leave the Zig Zag Station at Clarence at 11.00 a.m., 1.00 p.m. and 3.00 p.m. every day of the year except Christmas Day. For further information ring (02) 6353 1795. A recorded message outlining the timetable is available on (02) 6351 4826.
The railway is signposted at Mount Victoria and at Bell. If you are travelling by train from Sydney, inform the guard at Mount Victoria, or if you are coming from Lithgow, tell the guard there, and move into the front carriage as the platform at Zig Zag is short. Bottom Points Station is a short walk from the main line.
There are numerous picnic and barbecue places along the line where you can be dropped off and picked up later (speak to the guard before leaving the Clarence or Bottom Points stations). There is a shop, as well as picnic and barbecue facilities at Clarence station where you can also enquire about bushwalking opportunities.
The Sleigh Inn
The Sleigh Inn sells Christmas decorations from around around the worlds and offers light meals and refreshments. It is located 500 m on the Lithgow side of the railway.
Eskbank House, the oldest building in Lithgow, is open to visitors, for a small entry fee. To get there, head east along Inch St, turn left into Bennett St and the Georgian Cottage is to the right.
Eskbank was built in 1842 of well-dressed sandstone with stone-flagged verandahs, cedar joinery and a hectare of beautiful lawns and gardens. The four front rooms are well preserved and contain some fine early Victorian furniture. The stables and blacksmith's forge are also of dressed sandstone while the hexagonal garden house is made of rock-faced stone. The outbuildings house a Hansom cab and pennyfarthing bicycle and a locomotive from the old Lithgow ironworks is displayed in the grounds.
Eskbank was built by Thomas Brown, who became the valley's second European landholder when he purchased 400 acres around 1835, naming it after the Esk River in Scotland. He acted as magistrate at the courthouse at Hartley and opened the area's first commercial coalmine on his property when the railway arrived in 1869. Brown represented the district in parliament from 1872 and remained at Eskbank until 1884.
The covered courtyard at the rear of the house is used as a museum. Displays include artefacts from the old Lithgow Pottery (1876-1898) and other memorabilia. The complex is open Thursday to Monday from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m or by arrangement, tel: (02) 6351 3557.
Blast Furnace Park
Further west along Inch St, to the right, is Blast Furnace Park, the only surviving relic of Australia's first iron and steel industry. There is some debate about the origin of the site. Some historians claim that William Sandford first used it in 1886. There is no dispute that he started to smelt iron on the site in 1907 after he had built the country's first modern blast furnace. From 1907 until 1915 it was the country's only iron production facility. It continued to produce iron ore until 1928 (for further detail on the operation see the general introduction).
The site has now been developed as a park around the remains of the engine house, boiler house, turbines, storage bins, crane walls, stoves, rail sidings, cooling pond, water channels, a network of underground tunnels, a large slag heap and the foundations of the furnaces. A pamphlet outlines the features in some detail.
Lake Pillans, adjacent, is a rehabilitated wetland area, through which some walks have been established.
State Mine Heritage Park
Further east along Inch St, Atkinson St heads off to the left. It crosses over the railway line, becoming State Mine Gully Road. The industrial park is situated on the original site of the State Coal Mines headworks, which were established to supply coal to the railways and other government departments. It opened in 1916 and from 1921 was the biggest employer in the western coalfields and one of the largest in the state. The mine was closed dramatically in June 1964 as a result of flooding.
There are displays relating to mining history, steam power and the town's rail heritage. It is open for guided tours from 9.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. on weekends and public holidays, and at other times by prior arrangement. The entry fee is $2 for adults, $1 for children and concessions, tel: (02) 6353 1513.
There are picnic areas at the powder magazines, nature trails, some fine scenery, flora and birdlife. Plans are afoot to link the park with the Zig Zag Railway late in 1998 but, at this stage, are still uncertain.
The dirt road continues on past the park, ultimately leading to the Glow Worm Tunnel (see entry on Newnes).
If you continue east along Inch St it soon takes you to Oakey Park, an old mining village which is now a quiet leafy suburb of Lithgow at the foot of the mountains. Its name derives from the Scottish term 'oakey' meaning a small stream.
The houses at 1-10 and 12 Brisbane St and 1-13 Bragg Sts were originally cottages for the mineworkers. The blue-roofed house is the original mine manager's residence and both the Zig Zag Brewery and Zig Zag School remain from the early days. Other remnants include the foundations of the coke ovens and the brewery chimney, built c.1912, which can be seen against the background of the cliff.
The Oakey Park mine was close down in 1897 when the company tried to cut their employees' pay. Some strikebreakers were brought from Sydney but they were stopped 4 km from town by the employees who then raised enough money to send the scabs back to Sydney
Hassans Wall and Braceys Lookouts
The lookout is located 10 km south of town along Hassans Wall Rd (take Lithgow St south off Main St and keep to the left). The highest scenic lookout in the Blue Mountains (1130 m above sea-level) it was apparently named by Governor Macquarie after a similar escarpment formation in India. There are views of Mt Wilson and Mt York to the east, Mt Tarana and Mt Blaxland in the west and the whole Hartley Valley below. To the south are the Kanimbla and Megalong Valleys and Mt Bindo (1363 m).
Proceed past Hassans Wall Lookout and turn left into Norman Henry Drive to Braceys Lookout from whence there are fine views over Lithgow.
Archvale Trout Farm
Archvale Trout Farm offers recreational fishing, fresh and smoked trout and fingerlings. It is located at Marrangaroo, 11 km north of Lithgow via the Great Western Highway. Turn left into Hughes Lane, just before the Mudgee turnoff. There are barbecue and picnic facilities. The complex is open, for a small entry fee, every day from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (02) 6352 1341.