One of the most fascinating places I have been to in Australia is Silverton in the far west of NSW. A former silver mining town that now stands as a relic of a bygone age. “Stands” is a bit of a stretch really. It is basically a ghost town with very little of the town remaining. Hill End, near Bathurst, is like a gold mining town equivalent. Here is a short tale of what we found there…
Hill End was originally a part of the Tambaroora area (the town of Tambaroora was a few kilometres to the north). In the 1850s the area was known as Bald Hills. In 1860 it was named as a village, first as Forbes, then in 1862 the name changed to Hill End.
Hill End grew out of the New South Wales gold rush of the 1850s. At its peak in the early 1870s the population was estimated at 8,000. There were two newspapers, five banks, eight churches and twenty-eight pubs. Despite the wealth of hotels (also serving as pubs) in the town it was supposedly difficult to find a room.
When the gold ran out the town declined fairly rapidly. By 1945 the population was 700. By 2006 Hill End’s population was 166. That dropped below 100 by 2017 and is no doubt less than 70 now. Those still there serve as guardians and hosts of what is basically a tourist attraction.
Relics of an Old Town
I would say that Hill End has far more buildings over a wider area than you find in Silverton. The surrounding landscape may be quite different but that feeling of an old abandoned mining town is so similar.
Many of the abandoned lots have photographs of the property or business that once stood there. In a way it’s a good idea but it makes it more like an outdoor museum than a kind of living ghost town. I think that is part of the beauty of Silverton. Its “this is how it what’s left” approach seems to work well in the outback. This semi-organised museum approach tends to work well here at Hill End also. Maybe. I am not 100% convinced either way is best; only that I like both places for similar reasons.
It is incredible how quickly a town can grow. The little shacks that many of the poor miners would have lived in are easy to understand as they were cheap and easy to build. But there were (and still are) many grand properties in Hill End including several churches. These would have taken time to design and were well built. Not the kind of paces that would have shot up overnight.
While many properties have not left even a trace of their former existence – not even foundations – others are perfectly preserved.
If you fancy spending more time in the countryside setting of this old town there are places to stay. There are several B&Bs/cottages for rent and the hotel. There are also a couple of camp sites.
There is more to write about the gold rush this area including other small towns that still (just about) exist. Watch out for Part Two – coming in the near future.