WALK-ABOUT IN Wollombi
Bordered by pristine national parks and spectacular state forests, Wollombi is a nature lover's paradise. But as the southern gateway to the Hunter Valley, and the point where the convict-built Great North Road diverges to usher travellers north towards Singleton, and north-east to Cessnock and Maitland, the tiny rural hamlet is also a haven for history buffs.
Prior to European settlement, the land around Wollombi was a significant meeting point for various coastal Aboriginal peoples.
When colonial settlers arrived in the district, the village that was established was named Wollombi, after the Aboriginal word for meeting place or meeting place of the waters.
Visitors keen to explore the region’s rich indigenous heritage are in for a treat, with more than 300 significant Aboriginal sites dating back over 13,000 years in the area. Many sites in Yengo National Park and surrounds are well-preserved and can be visited via walking and driving tracks.
The Finchley cultural walk in the Yengo National Park offers an easy 1km-return trip packed with amazing ancient Aboriginal rock art and a wealth of insights into local Aboriginal history.
Taking in the Finchley Aboriginal engravings, renowned as one of the best Aboriginal sites in Australia, the walk also features a number of informative signs along the way that give insight into the Aboriginal culture of the area.
GIRRI GIRRA offers Aboriginal guided bush walks through Yengo and the Wollombi Valley, with the tours taking in a host of indigenous sites including caves, carvings and the mind-blowing view from the Finchley Trig lookout, as well as sharing local cultural stories and experiences.
Farmers moving north from the Hawkesbury River district and the MacDonald Valley were among the first Europeans to settle in the Wollombi area, which was established as the administrative centre of the district in the 1830's.
Wheat became one of the core agricultural industries from 1844 until rust disease devastated the area in the 1870's, and by the early 1900's the coal mining industry was taking off in the wider Hunter Valley, with Cessnock taking over from Wollombi as the commercial hub.
Farming activities continued in Wollombi, although crops were replaced with livestock operations, while timber from the local area was felled and sent to Cessnock for use in the mines.
The Historic Wollombi Walk offers the perfect introduction to the colonial heritage of the picturesque village, covering just 1km with an easy trail that meanders past 19th-century sandstone buildings and timber slab constructed cottages and sheds.
The walk kicks off at St John’s Anglican Church, which was designed in a pointed Gothic style by Edmund Blacket and consecrated by Bishop Tyrrell in 1849. Stained glass windows within the church provide memorials to past parishioners. This is one of two local churches featured on the walk, with a later stop taking in St Michael’s Catholic Church, which was built at Cunneens Bridge in 1840 but relocated to its current position on higher ground following the flood of 1893.
The diversity of Wollombi’s early colonial history and everyday life in the village can be seen on the third stop of the Historic Wollombi Walk, which visits the Endeavour Museum.
The museum is located in the former police station and courthouse, which was built on the site in 1866. The building features fine timber fittings made from locally-sourced red cedar, including the courthouse doors, railings and magistrate’s bench, while the rear of the structure features two cells, which were once used to house prisoners, as well as a wire exercise yard.
The former police station was converted for use as a museum in 1970, with an additional building constructed at the rear in 2008 to showcase local agricultural machinery and equipment.
A popular stop on the walk will no doubt be the historic Wollombi Tavern (once known as the Wollombi Wine Saloon), which has been the focal point of social activities in the town since 1868. The original building was owned by Mel Jurd, the creator of the locally-renowned alcoholic concoction Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. It burned down in 1959 and was replaced by the current building.
Other historic sites on offer along the 1km trail include a former blacksmith and wagon building business (The Forge), the police residence (built in 1900), the former overland telegraph office, which was established in 1860 as part of the Sydney to Brisbane telegraph line, and Ken’s Folly, a two-storey stone building built around 1890. Part of the building was leased in the early 1900's to district road engineer Robert Gordon Edgell, who went on to establish the Edgell food canning company near Bathurst.
To learn more about the history of Wollombi and what else there is to offer, go to www.visitwollombi.com.au