Six of the best NSW museums in the Central West

PIONEERS MUSEUM, GULGONG

Few towns preserve the atmosphere of gold-rush and bushranger days better than 1870s Gulgong, which has some 150 listed buildings. The Pioneers Museum started in an old bakery but expanded to cover two entire blocks, in which you can see recreated interiors such as a schoolroom, doctor's surgery, cottages and an inn. The magnificent jumble of random memorabilia from across 150 years would give Marie Kondo palpitations. The highlight is a superb Cobb & Co transport carriage, but your kids might be most amazed at the outsized Victorian-era vacuum cleaners – or the 1970s telephones and computers. See mgnsw.org.au

AUSTRALIAN FOSSIL & MINERAL MUSEUM, BATHURST

xxMuseumNSW six of the best central west nsw museums; text by Brian Johnston ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; No syndication ; credit: Destination NSW : Australian Fossil & Mineral Museum 

Photo: Destination NSW

Museums don't have to be big to be fascinating. This museum inside a colonial-era schoolhouse is barely more than a couple of large rooms and yet packs in a surprising amount under its looming Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. The mineral section is a gorgeous shimmer of crystals and explains the everyday uses of obscure minerals such as zeolite and sphalerite. The fossils, some 250 million years old, are magnificent and include dragonflies, crabs, dinosaur eggs and the skull of a sabre-tooth cat. Pull open drawers to see displays of astonishing calcified insects. See museumsbathurst.com.au

REGIONAL MUSEUM, ORANGE

Facade of the Orange Regional Museum and Visitor Information Centre in Orange.
xxMuseumNSW six of the best central west nsw museums; text by Brian Johnston ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; No syndication ; credit: Destination NSW : 

There's a lot to like just about this building, which has huge glass facades and a sloping grassy roof with town views, and incorporates a theatre, art gallery, library and civic centre that expands assumptions of what a museum should be. High-quality, changing exhibitions of contemporary art are balanced by others that explore the theme of connection with country and the importance of rural Australia's agriculture, mines and environment. It's a refreshing change from the often-international outlook of other regional galleries. School holidays see plenty of activities for kids of varying ages. See orange.nsw.gov.au

MCFEETERS MOTOR MUSEUM, FORBES

Vintage cars on display at the McFeeters Motor Museum in Forbes. xxMuseumNSW six of the best central west nsw museums; text by Brian Johnston ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; No syndication ; credit: Destination NSW : 

Photo: Destination NSW

This amazing private collection of some 60 cars and other vehicles ranges from early vintage models (the oldest is a pale-green 1902 English Mechanic) to hot rods and bizarre custom cars such as an ornate Japanese hearse. Among the most striking early models, gleaming with leather and brass, are a 1905 Minerva from Belgium and an unusual 1916 Mitchell from the US, but even the trucks and commercial vehicles (such as a Model T Ford school bus) are wonderful. There are several Holdens and a few long-forgotten car models built for the Australian market. See motormuseum.net.au

AGE OF FISHES, CANOWINDRA

Among the displays at the Age of Fishes Museum in Canowindra, NSW. xxMuseumNSW six of the best central west nsw museums; text by Brian Johnston ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; No syndication ; credit: Destination NSW : 

Photo: Destination NSW 

An entire museum devoted to fish fossils? Sounds like a yawn, but you would be wrong. This gem of a museum displays finds from one of the world's richest deposits of fish fossils and uses them to present a compelling evolutionary story about how these early ancestors of the first vertebrates invaded land and became amphibians. You can inspect everything from two-metre giants to tiny fish that you have to view through a magnifying glass, and you're welcome to touch many of the exhibits. Volunteers give guided tours and are always up for a chat. See ageoffishes.org.au

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ABERCROMBIE HOUSE, BATHURST

Edwardian High Tea at Abercrombie House: with scrumptious savoury and sweet treats and tasting plates, leaf tea, plunger coffee, a glass of champagne and elegant live light classical music - all set in the beautiful ballroom - main rooms and gardens are open for you to explore during the afternoon. xxMuseumNSW six of the best central west nsw museums; text by Brian Johnston ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; No syndication ; credit: Destination NSW : 

Photo: Destination NSW

This privately-owned, 1870s granite and sandstone mansion is proof you don't have to travel to Europe to enjoy a stately home. The 50-room sprawl in the Scottish baronial style – with flamboyant Jacobean-style chimneypots for added effect – displays acres of paintings, gilded mirrors and ornate plastering, and a clutter of period furniture and collectables. Signboards provide good explanations of the house's architectural history and its place in pioneer country life. There are regular themed days, events and concerts in the gardens. Children will love the occasional night tours by torchlight, and the roaming peacocks in the grounds. See abercrombiehouse.com.au

Brian Johnston travelled courtesy Destination NSW.

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