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Nicholas Cooney's Hotel, corner Herbert and Bayly Streets, Gulgong, Holtermann Collection. Photo courtesy of National Library of Australia

A woman standing in doorway of hut with bark roof, Gulgong 1872 or 1873, Holtermann Collection. Photo courtesy of National Library of Australia
Section of main deep lead north of Gulgong

Gulgong - Gold Rush Heritage

Latitude, Longitude -32.362563, 149.53356

Located in the Central West Region of NSW, nearest town Gulgong


Source: NSW Geological Survey Gulgong 1:100,000 and Dubbo 1:250,000 explanatory notes.

Source: The newly revised stratigraphy of the Mudgee Gulgong District J.J.Watkins 1996

Link to Detailed Map

The indigenous people of the Gulgong area were the Wiradjuri. Remnants of their presence was lost completely by the latter part of the 19th century but the Wiradjuri language is still evident in the name "Gulgong" which means "gully".

The Mudgee-Gulgong district was an important gold mining centre in the late 1800s and Gulgong, in particular, was one of the richest deep lead gold areas in New South Wales. Official recorded production for the Gulgong area between 1870 and 1927 (Jones, 1940) was 555,205 ounces. True production figures from the field are thought to be closer to 1 million ounces. Several reef mines were worked in the area, notably the Red Hill, Gulgong and Mariner mines; however the majority of the gold production (96%) was derived from the deep leads. The Gulgong area is also rich in coal, clay and magnetite.


The Early Tertiary Gulgong deep leads are located principally to the south and southeast of the township of Gulgong and are, in part, capped by Tertiary basalts. The Gulgong Granite, located about 16 kilometres to the southeast of Gulgong, was historically thought to be the hard rock source for the Gulgong deep lead gold.

Ground magnetic surveys over the deep leads conducted by Rayner (1940) showed that the deep leads drained north in a radial nature from the area to the south of Gulgong and not from the granite as previously thought. This area was later mapped by Offenberg et al., (1971) who showed it as an Early Devonian intermediate volcanic unit that was named the Burranah Formation.

During the early stages of mapping, the Burranah Formation was found to be Late Ordovician in age. This was initially based on an interpretation of a bright red (high potassium) response on radiometric imaging. This response also suggested the formation may be shoshonitic in character. Interest was heightened when a detailed inspection of limestone clasts from a debris flow unit within the Burranah Formation provided rare examples of several typically Late Ordovician corals. The debris flows in these instances are contemporaneous with the development of the volcanic pile. The significance of this finding clearly upgraded the prospectivity of the Burranah Formation and highlighted the need to further understand and characterise this unit and the nature of any mineralisation. The mineralisation is mostly located within a zone of higher regional strain between the Mudgee Fault and the Home Rule Fault.

Geology of the Gulgong gold mining region Geological Legend

Other Commodities

Gulgong is famous today for its clay, bringing potters from far and wide to practice their trade. There are also good sources of Kaolin, known as china clay, which is a very useful mineral in the manufacture of paint, cement, high gloss paper, ceramics and many other commodities.

Nearby Ulan and Dunedoo have extensive coal deposits. You can get a good view of the Ulan open cut mine from the road just north of Ulan township. According to Ulan Coal's website, The Ulan Mine Complex is at the western limit of the geological formation known as the Sydney Basin and at the southern end of the Gunnedah Sub-basin. The resource coal targeted for extraction is from the Illawarra Coal Measures, which are of Permian age and overlain by sedimentary formations of varying thicknesses and types, including sandstones, shales and alluvium. Ten coal seams range in thickness from approximately 0.4 to 10 metres (with the Ulan Seam being thickest). Apart from the Ulan Seam, all seams within the mining leases are considered uneconomic in the current market due to their high ash content.


Gulgong's gold rush began in 1870. Tom Saunders was the first person to find significant traces of gold at Red Hill, in the heart of the present town. The Gulgong find has been called the last of the small man's gold rushes, because large amounts of gold were close enough to the surface to be mined with hand tools, rather than the heavy machinery needed for deep reef gold mining.

Over millions of years the gold bearing quartz from the source rock (thought to be the Burranah Formation (see map)) weathered and the gold migrated downstream via small watercourses. The gold was deposited whereever the streams lost the velocity to drive it further and became covered with silt and debris. These old creek beds are called leads and are prime targets for alluvial gold.

The prospector's task was to find the leads and there were many willing to try their luck. Thousands had tracked gold finds through the Australian colonies, in the process learning that mining was hard work, conditions were primitive and the chances of success were slim. Many of those who came to Gulgong were married and had families. Some had been born on one goldfield or another.

Within a year or so of the Gulgong find, the area had a population of more than 10,000 people: not all in the present town, but spread for kilometres along the leads which circled the town. The names of the leads, and the roads to them, give some idea of the feelings of the miners: Eureka, Happy Valley, Coming Event, Star; along with Perseverance, Nil Desperandum and Gambler's Retreat. Some of these names can still be seen along the roads leading into Gulgong town.

Ellen Dillon and daughter in front of Michael Dillon's Hotel and butcher Alfred Blanchard standing near the lamp post, Mayne Street, Gulgong, 1872 or 73. Photo courtesy of National Library of Australia
Note the kink in the Commercial Hotel building to the left of the photo corner of Mayne and Herbert Streets, Gulgong

The gold field reached further when discoveries were made at Canadian Lead, between Gulgong and Home Rule, in 1871, and at Home Rule itself in 1872. New prospectors arrived and others moved from Gulgong leads that had been exhausted.

Within five years most of the surface leads had been worked out. By 1880 the rush had definitely ended, and the deeper reef gold proved too expensive to recover profitably. The diggers moved on, and Gulgong shrank to a tiny hub but it has survived for almost 130 years, supported by farmers, pastoralists, miners and wine makers.

Today, history lives on the streets of Gulgong - in the memories of its elderly inhabitants; in the stories they've told to their children and grandchildren; in the weatherboard facades, built as fronts to the leaning bark and tent dwellings which defined the town's streets in the days of the goldrush; and in the crooked streets themselves that follow the tent lines, hastily pegged out by gold prospectors when the rush began.

The narrow roads you drive and stroll along today trace perfectly the once muddy tracks between those first tents, erected with sufficient space between the facing rows to allow two drays to pass each other. In the kinks and bends which trace the town's buildings (watch out for the pronounced angle the Commercial Hotel is built around) the roads also record the trees and boulders which once stood in the way of the prospectors' priority-to establish their diggings. There was no time to waste on the removal of such obstacles.

Imagine the press of fortune seekers, the daily scurry of business people, making the most of the commercial opportunities the rush brought them, the crash and clatter of the stamper batteries stationed around the town. Imagine yourself amongst the unruly mining crowd, at the intersection of Herbert and Mayne Streets, the rowdiest and most crowded thoroughfare in the world in the 1870s. Drawn from every corner of the globe, the chaotic mix of culture creed and race compelled one English clergyman to exclaim, "Why man, there's nothing like it. The view from here is immense, exhilarating. Yes, Gulgong is the hub of the World." The corner of Herbert and Mayne is shown in the adjacent modern photo.

Gulgong Post Office Hotel
Outdoor Mining Museum stamper
The Prince of Wales Opera House

Gulgong Township

About 130 buildings in Gulgong enjoy National Trust classification while the town preserves around 170 historically significant buildings dating from between 1870 to 1910. From their weatherboard frontages to their creaking floorboards, loosened with time and tread; from wooden counters that survive from the time of their original installation to the timber walls put up to refine the inner sides of rough bark and slab walls; many of Gulgong's shops, cafes and houses communicate a real sense of domestic and commercial life in the latter half of the 19th century.

Australian Joint Stock Bank's simple weatherboard facadeThis classic Australian Georgian cottage was built by Henry Lawson's father Niels Larsen

Take a walk through history and into the 1870s, past all the contradictions that compose Gulgong: from the ornate 'Victorian Italianate' style of the Post Office Hotel, with its pilasters and pediments, urns and gables, to the more modest architectural features of the Federation style. There are classical revival features, like the arches and Grecian pediments of "Wyaldra Hall" which stand in contrast to the former Australian Joint Stock Bank's simple weatherboard facade, so characteristic of the earliest permanent goldrush buildings. Look out especially for old rough-sawn timber overlapping weatherboards and for corrugated iron which you'll find used in a variety of ways on verandahs. Curved to ape the sag of canvas, the tent effect was emphasised by painting such awnings in contrasting stripes.

Also worth a look is "Lansdowne", a classic Australian Georgian cottage at 68 Medley Street, built by Peter Larsen, Henry Lawson's father.

Evocative of the goldrush days, the Greatest Wonder of the World and the American Tobacco Warehouse stood on Mayne Street in the 1870s. It is the latter establishment which was featured on the old Australian ten dollar note, though its identity was shown on the note as the Gulgong Dispensary of Dr Zimmler.

Take a drive to Flirtation Hill Lookout, (which shares a namesake with Mudgee) for a good view of Gulgong. The outdoor Mining Museum at Red Hill is also nearby and includes a stamper, a windlass, a slab hut school room and a fascinating relief map of the mining leads around Gulgong.

View from Flirtation Hill Lookout

The Prince of Wales Opera House

The Last Review, Henry Lawson

Rough built theatres and stages where the world's best actors trod
Singers bringing restless rovers nearer boyhood, home and God.
Paid in laughter, tears and nuggets in the drama fortune plays
Tis the palmy days of Gulgong-Gulgong in the Roaring Days.

Like many of Gulgong's valuable historic places, the Prince of Wales Opera House survives and thrives thanks to the dedication of many volunteers. A combination of the prosaic and the grandiose, the Opera House was built in 1871 by John Hart Cogdon, a member of the performing "Ironclad Minstrels" who disbanded in Gulgong. Originally known as Cogdon's Assembly Rooms, the 290-seat theatre was built of bark and is thought to have been the largest bark structure ever built.

When world famous Irish actress Joey Gougenheim came to Gulgong to perform her one-woman show she persuaded Cogdon to replace the bark roof with galvanised iron, give the place a weatherboard facade and cover the earthen floor with boards. Joey leased the building from Cogdon and named it The Prince of Wales Opera House. Since then, the Opera House's stage has hosted some remarkable excerpts from Australia's cultural history, including Les Darcy's last fight before sailing for America and one of Nellie Melba's earliest performances, given under her first married name, Mrs Armstrong.

Did you know?

The expression "waltzing Matilda", going walkabout with a swag, owes its derivation to German diggers on the goldfields and to Gulgong's Prince of Wales Opera House. The matz, or bed-roll was carried from town to town across Europe by apprentice boys. Hildr, the battle heroine of the Valkyries, was the soldiers' solace in defeat and victory. So, as the boys walked or, in old German, waltz through Europe, their Hildr went with them in the form of their mattress. Once on the Gulgong goldfields, the matzhildr inspired another use. Single men, anxious to learn to waltz, took their swags as partners to the Prince of Wales Opera House. They swung ropes over the rafters, attached them to their swags and learnt the steps which would help introduce them to the scarce resource of real girls in the district. So was born the literal practice of waltzing Matilda, which may or may not predate the practice of bush wandering with a swag.

Henry Lawson Centre
Gulgong Pioneers Museum
Nicholas Cooney's Hotel, corner Herbert and Bayly Streets, Gulgong, Holtermann Collection. Photo courtesy of National Library of Australia
Gold scales

The Henry Lawson Centre

The Flour Bin, Henry Lawson

By Lawson's Hill near Mudgee,
On old Eurunderee -
The place they call New Pipeclay,
Where the diggers used to be -
On a dreary old selection,
Where times were dry and thin,
In a slab and shingle kitchen
There stood a flour bin

Surprised to see it still in use on his return to Eurunderee in 1915, Henry Lawson eulogised the flour bin which his father made and which stood in the Lawson's kitchen during Henry's childhood. Come to The Henry Lawson Centre and you can see the very flour bin Lawson wrote of. A repository for "Lawsonia", including rare editions, writings and memorabilia, The Henry Lawson Centre is a memorial to Henry Lawson's life and times and a study centre for contemporary Australian writers. The museum resides in Gulgong's former Salvation Army Citadel, an appropriate home as the Salvos often cared for the writer in his years of decline. Gulgong is vitally proud of its association with Lawson who remembered the town and its citizens in many of his writings.

The Henry Lawson Museum is at 147 Mayne Street and is open 10am-12pm from Sunday to Friday, and on public holidays from 10am-3pm on Saturdays.(02) 63742 049

Gulgong Pioneers' Museum

Muster as much time and concentration as you can to visit Gulgong's extensive folk museum. See an acre-full of the town's popular, industrial and social past in a seemingly infinite selection of artefacts gathered from the district. Categorised, well-labelled and provenanced, you'll see articles of every description, from barbed wire samples, whips and rifles to farm tools of every kind; from a beautiful collection of hand-made bricks, with clear and distinctive makers' marks to pit saws and tools of the carpenter's trade. Portraits of the town's war heroes hang by cabinets filled with their uniforms and kits and dressed mannequins show how every member of a given family dressed during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The museum also includes whole rooms, furnished and labelled: a dining room of the 1870s; a bedroom and parlour from 1880; a kitchen straight out of 1872, the shelves complete with freshly cut newspaper friezes, pinked into diamond shapes; and an 1872 bakehouse. The museum is housed in what was the Times Bakery, so the ovens and baking equipment you see here are in situ and unchanged. Two whole cottages and a blacksmith's shop have been moved to the site and carefully reconstructed. The Gudgeon Cottage shows how working class domestic life was lived in 1891. Four tiny rooms - a parlour, two bedrooms and a kitchen-squeezed around a narrow central hallway. The Reedy Creek Inn, later known as the "Stonehouse", was given by its owner to the museum. A Cobb & Co. coach, local Aboriginal artefacts, rocks and fossils from the area, farm vehicles and rail locomotives are also on display. Gulgong Pioneers' Museum is at 73 Herbert Street and is open seven days a week, 9am-5pm. (02) 63741 513

The Holtermann Collection

In the spring of 1872, photographer Beaufoy Merlin and his assistant Charles Bayliss followed the goldrush to Gulgong. But these young photographers weren't after gold. They were there to capture the life of a goldrush town on glass plate negatives. They compiled approximately 500 images which so impressed Hill End's great goldminer, Bernard Otto Holtermann, that he commissioned Merlin to document the life, commerce and industry of Hill End and other towns all over New South Wales. Holtermann's commission led him to purchase all the plates from Merlin's widow, thus saving them for posterity.

The collection represents a great photographic achievement. Coating, exposing and processing the three-by-four-inch glass plates had to be done in the field, and within half an hour. Given these difficulties and the fact that exposure time was five to ten seconds, it is remarkable that Merlin's images are clear enough to tolerate enlargement. There is perhaps no other town in the world with such a complete snapshot of its life than Gulgong. The Holtermann Collection provides a rare insight into country town and gold mining life in the 1870s and we have Keast Burke to thank for its recovery. In 1951, he discovered the vast glass plate collection in a state of perfect preservation in the garden shed of Holtermann's daughter-in-law.

You can see some images from The Holtermann Collection at Gulgong Pioneers Museum, while the complete set of glass plates is safeguarded by The Mitchell Library in Sydney.

Did you know?

Thomas Alexander Browne was Gulgong's mining warden from 1871-1872. You might know this mining warden better as Rolf Boldrewood, author of Robbery Under Arms. It's said that Boldrewood used the Prince of Wales Opera House's piano as a writing table in the absence of any suitable furniture of his own and that Gulgong provided him with background for his novel The Miner's Right.

Within a year of the discovery of gold in Gulgong, the town's population grew from a few hundred to over twenty thousand; its pubs grew from four to forty; and the settlement evolved from temporary tent town to a permanent one of bark, iron and weatherboard.

The iconic Henry Lawson had much to say about the gold rush particularly in his poem The Roaring Days

The Roaring Days

Their shining Eldorado,
Beneath the southern skies,
Was day and night for ever
Before their eager eyes.
The brooding bush, awakened,
Was stirred in wild unrest,
And all the year a human stream
Went pouring to the West.

Oh, who would paint a goldfield,
And paint the picture right,
As we have often seen it
In early morning's light;
The yellow mounds of mullock
With spots of red and white,
The scattered quartz that glistened
Like diamonds in light;

The azure line of ridges,
The bush of darkest green,
The little homes of calico
That dotted all the scene.

The flat straw hats, with ribands,
That old engravings show
The dress that still reminds us
Of sailors long ago.

I hear the fall of timber
From distant flats and fells,
The pealing of the anvils
As clear as little bells,
The rattle of the cradle,
The clack of windlass-boles,
The flutter of the crimson flags
Above the golden holes. . . . . .

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