Visiting country NSW is always a great way to travel back in history. It’s the first Australian state, so to speak, the place where the first convicts, pioneers and settlers were heading out to change the landscape forever. Sheep and cattle grazing, crops farming and logging – the abundance of natural riches made many entrepreneurs, settlers and gold diggers dance with glee.
In the area of the Upper Hunter, where we spend our Easter long weekend this year, there are many little country towns where you will still be able to find remains and anecdotes of these times – times when travelling is only possible on the rivers or on horseback, when there are large groups of Aboriginal people living in the woods, carefully observing the strange habits of the white men, and daring businessmen set up whole townships to support the growing community.
Convicts are playing a vital part in these first years of the colony, it is with their manpower that many of the public and church buildings are erected. Buildings you can still see today.
So when we pack our kids in the car to drag some on a roundtrip across the country on this rainy Saturday we are excited to see more of these little towns that dot the area. Towns that have distinctively English names such as Gloucester, Chichester and Stroud. I guess when you leave your home country behind you still carry a vital part of it in your heart and you need to surround yourself with something that is at least a little bit familiar, such as the names of the places that you know live in.
The tiny town of Stroud is a prime example of early settlement in Australia. Established in 1826 as a business enterprise by the public English company The Australian Agricultural Company this planned settlement develops soon into a hub which serves the area, helping with housing and businesses, distributing goods and shipping the riches of the area such as timber and wool off to Sydney and the world.
Today, there are still many buildings along the main street that will allow glimpses of this past, such as the court house, the post office and some churches. Despite the rain we go for a quick walk along the main street and enjoy that special relaxed country feel that you can only experience in quiet towns like Stroud.
Stroud’s most notorious attraction by the way is Silo Hill, a raised part of the town covering a number of underground silos. These days, there is not much to be seen of these silos, just the covered manholes, but the hill gives you some nice views of the surrounding countryside, and the kids may like have a look at the cannons that have been positioned here.
You will also find a nice little cafe in Stroud and a typical country pub, so if the weather is better than ours when visiting, plan your lunch break here.
Moving on… Chichester Dam is another attraction in the area that is a great day trip destination if you are staying in the area. The dam is nearly 100 years old, can you believe it? Although it is only 43m high (a dwarf compared to the Hoover Dam which was completed in 1936 and which measures a height of 221m) it is an important drinking water storage for the Upper Hunter Region. Thanks to the rain we are able to witness an impressive waterfall flowing down the dam wall and into the valley below. Mist hanging in the surrounding forests gives the area an almost otherworldly quality. Since the reservoir is largely part of the Barrington Tops National Park you will find that the water and the surrounding forests are of pristine quality.
On drier days than the one when we visit, you can pack a nice picnic and make use of the facilities there, then enjoy an easy walk up to the dam wall. You can enter and walk on the dam wall for a closer look, at least partly, an experience not to be missed!
Lastly, there’s a nice little church I’d like to share with you. You will find it on the left hand-side on the Chichester Dam Road when you drive back to Dungog. It’s the Bandon Grove Union Church, a little historic church which was built in 1888. It sits on top of a small hill, surrounded by pastures and farms, a lonely chapel in rural setting. Quite picturesque, actually, and perfect for a secluded country wedding. It is locked up when we drive past, but maybe you will be lucky and can have a look inside. Just be careful not to miss it!