A Drive Through History to Neilrex

Neilrex

 

Journey time to Neilrex is approximately 35min / distance 40km, one way.

(NB 6km of unsealed road)

Drive to Neilrex by going South on Binnia Street, turning right on Queensborough Street.  You will pass Queensborough Park on the left with its rotunda over 100 years old, and go through the Coolah Common, established in 1875.   You will ascend a fairly steep hill which in the past hosted hill start car races, and near the top you will see Mt. Hope Road on your left.

While our drive bypasses Mt. Hope Road, this mostly unsealed road goes through to Dunedoo and affords the passengers some lovely views from its heights to the south east of the Coolah Valley and to the north of the Warrumbungles.

Continue on the Neilrex Road and descend the hill, continuing on.  On your left you may notice a property named Moorombi.  Farmers may recognise the name as its owner bred a certain kind of wheat called Moorombi.   Historically, this area was the subject of news in 1875 when the highest priced horse ever imported from England (a two thousand guinea blood horse) was stolen and hidden in the pine scrub nearby (through Moorombi to Cloven Hills).   It was never truly found however it was rumoured to have been moved to Queensland and some years later a great improvement in horseflesh was apparent around Longreach in Queensland!

Continuing on, you will see an aircraft sign and the Coolah Aerodrome is situated down the road to your right.  Construction of the airfield began in 1954 and it was first serviced by Butler Airlines.  The service was by Heron aircraft twice a week to Sydney with a single fare of four pounds.  Regular services ceased in 1967.

Several charcoal burning kilns were located off this road during World War II, worked by 22 Italian internees.

A sign to your right a little further on is “Doganabuganaram Rd”.  Local legend claims it was named by a surveyor working in the area who had to share his camp with a dog, a bug and a ram!

Also on the right you will see a property named “Butheroe”.   This property was established by James Vincent, in the early 1800s, purportedly the first white man near Coolah.   James arrived from England in 1801 and proved to be a keen explorer, having Mt Vincent near Lithgow named after him.  Butheroe at the time was a huge tract of land and included the more recent properties of Mumbedah, Digilah, Moggee Hill, Dennykymine, Moorangorang and Queensborough.   Butheroe means ‘waterhole’.   In these early days, supplies only came to the Station once a year and when a beast was killed for meat the aborigines were given half of it.  As there were no fences, the sheep were minded by shepherds who lived in little huts, usually with a dog or two and had rations delivered to them weekly.   One shepherd on Butheroe stayed for 47 years!   Geologically, a deposit of slate was near the original homestead (which burned down in the 1880s).

 

 

On your left you will see a spot to pull over and an information board (see photo above).  This is the headstone of King Togee, head of the Butheroe tribe of aboriginals that lived to the east of this area.  A tall, strong man, he was skilled with spear and stone and the settlers in the area found him honest and trustworthy.    The Nevell family of Butheroe made a brass plate for him with “King of the Butheroe” tribe inscribed, which Togee wore with pride.   When an older man, he was speared by a young tribesman, Cutterbush and died.  The Nevell family buried him and had a headstone carved by a stockman on the property, to mark his burial.   When his tribe learned of his death, they plastered their faces and bodies with pipe clay and disappeared for 3 years, reportedly in mourning.

Continuing on, you will shortly come to a short stretch of unsealed road approximately 6km long.  Please note that it can be slippery in wet weather.

A little further on is the village of Neilrex.  This tiny settlement was named initially for the railway siding “Lochneil” but became Neilrex for its links to the existing siding and to honour local resident Rex McNeil who with his brother John had the nearby property Lochneil and Biamble in the early 1900s.   Rex served in WWI with the 1st and 12th Lighthorse regiments seeing active service at Gallipoli and the Middle East.  He was wounded at Gallipoli but never fully recovered and died in 1935.   His brother John also served with the Australian Lighthorse.

Neilrex still has a few residents, an operating silo and railway siding.  If you take the left turning towards Merrygoen, you will see the hall, church and old clay tennis courts that give an indication of a once thriving village.

Option: Merrygoen

If you would like to continue to another small village, follow the left hand turn (signposted) to Merrygoen, 16km away.  This road mostly follows the rail line and goes through some very pretty farmland.  Of interest a few kilometres down this road on your right (next to the roadside), is an old shearing shed, shearers quarters and meat house in good condition.  Biamble Station, situated between Neilrex and Merrygoen was once the home of Robert Hamilton Matthews a renowned anthropologist. His son Hamilton Bartlett Mathews was born here and became Surveyor General of NSW and his other son Gregory Macalister Mathews was a famous ornithologist.

Merrygoen was settled around the 1840s and the name is believed to have come from the Aboriginal word, Murragon-gon, meaning ‘bloody waters’ after a tribal battle where the creek water ran with blood.   In the 1860s “Granny” Richardson ran the old Merrygoen store and the Squatters Home hotel.   Eleven Richardson headstones can still be seen in the Old Merrygoen Pioneer Cemetery.   Gold was found in Merrygoen and Ukebung Creeks in the 1870s.

When the railway was being built, Merrygoen gained a new hotel (aptly called the Railway Hotel) and on one festive day in 1912 cars were parked three deep at the hotel.    In 1915 a newspaper article mentioned numerous assaults and robberies in Merrygoen by railway workers who were Sydney ‘confidence men’ and ‘crooks’, necessitating a temporary police presence in the town.   Merrygoen also had a turf club in the late 19th century, a post office opened n 1879 with a mail coach passing through twice a week, and a school in old Merrygoen from 1867-1914 and in new Merrygoen (nearer the railway line) from 1915-1969.   The railway station is now closed but is still standing.  The railway sidings and wheat silos are still in use.

Please note there are no stores or cafes in either Neilrex or Merrygoen.

 

Option: Binnaway

If you would like to continue your journey from Neilrex in a loop you could continue west in the village of Neilrex and follow the signs to Binnaway approximately 27km.  Please see separate drive “Binnaway” for information on the town.     You could then return to Coolah from Binnaway approximately 52km.  All roads are sealed.

 

More history on Neilrex and Merrygoen can be found in the book “Around the Black Stump” by Roy Cameron, a copy is available to view in the Coolah Library.

To download this drive in PDF format, please click here: http://coolahnsw.com.au/NEILREX%20DRIVE.pdf

A Drive Down the Coolah Valley to Leadville

Leadville

 

Journey time is approximately 27min / distance 32km, one way.

 

 

Drive to the small hamlet of Leadville by continuing down the main street in a southerly direction.   On the outskirts of town on your right and well off the road, can be seen large sheds that comprised the Coolah Sawmill, which closed when the Warung State Forest was turned into a National Park.   On the left, you can see some concrete remnants of the pump station where the steam rail engines were refilled with water.  Just before you exit town, on your right is the impressive sandstone Coolahville property.

A few kilometres out of town is the Three Rivers Recreation Ground on your right that hosts many sporting events, particularly horse sports as well as the local music festival.

On this drive down the Coolah Valley, you will pass through fertile farming land.  An option now is to turn left on Orana Road towards the Coolaburragundy River Crossing.  Note that Orana Road is an unsealed road.  Do NOT attempt this crossing in times of flood.   Follow the road as it passes farming flats, once the site of a subdivision intended to support a government butter factory, until it joins Moorefield Road where you turn right, cross the disused railway line and rejoin the main road heading south.   Turn left.

If you decide not to take the Orana Road turnoff you will come to Narangarie Road.  Here you can turn right and approximately 3km in, on the right, is the Narangerie Leaf Fossil Bed where you can fossick for fossils.   When you’re done, retrace your steps back to the main road and turn right.

Shortly after the Narangarie Road turnoff, is the location of Hannah’s Bridge on your left.  A settlement was formed in this area as it was close to water and one of the few areas not taken up by William Lawson.   First called “Benana Plains”, its name continued to change, being “Coolah Road”, “Coolah Bridge” and in the 1920s “Hannah’s Bridge”, named after the Hannah family who had lived in the area from the 1860s.  Hannah’s Bridge had some claim to fame through their football team, known as the Greens.  Often made up of cousins, the team won 95% of their matches and played as far afield as Sydney.

“Broombee” front paddock (Leadville Road) after the Sir Ivan fire in 2017

Continuing down the Dunedoo Road, you will come to the hamlet of Leadville.   The town was a private village that began in 1891 to support the local mining industry.   In 1887 Tommy Governor (father of the bushranger Jimmy Governor), found some silver ore that he took to nearby Pine Ridge Station and the Mt Stewart Silver Mining Company was formed in 1888.   In the first 14 months the mine yielded around 300,000 ounces of silver and over 1500 tons of lead, employing hundreds of men. Its relatively remote location and dropping returns meant the mine closed in 1893.   There have been a few attempts at further mining, the last being in the 1950s.   In 1966 the government stated that the area was practically worked out although exploration licences are still held in the area.

A sleepy hamlet now, Leadville did once have a post office, telegraph office, police station, general store, two churches, two hotels and a hall.  The hall is still used for local functions and events.  The current hall was built in 1935 by the community, replacing the original hall that was built in 1910.

Journey time is approximately 27min / distance 32km, one way.

A few kilometres further on is the location of Denison Town which was once a busy community although nothing remains apart from the Pioneer Cemetery which contains over 50 burials from 1858 to 1911.

More history on Hannah’s Bridge, Leadville and Denison Town can be found in the book “Around the Black Stump” by Roy Cameron, a copy is available to view in the Coolah Library.

To download this drive in PDF format, please click here: http://coolahnsw.com.au/LEADVILLE%20DRIVE.pdf

Countryside Drive to Uarbry

Uarbry

 

Journey time is approx. 43 minutes / distance 46 km one way.

 

Drive to the small village of Uarbry by exiting town via Campbell Street/Cassilis Road.  Approximately 18km from Coolah turn right into Tongy Lane.

Of note on Tongy Lane are the location of a number of old stories – John Jones, the owner of the Turee Station in 1837 was attacked by an employee Edward Tufts, with a pair of shears – wounded in the thigh and groin he died a few days later and was buried on the property.   Mary Ellliot, whose husband William Elliott held New Turee in the 1860s, died at Turee in 1864.   Her above ground sandstone vault stands in a paddock about a kilometre off the Lane near the grave of John Jones.   Mary often wore a red dress and old timers claimed that on many occasions at night an apparition in a red dress was sighted near her vault.     The nearby Croppy Creek also features a headless rider scaring late night travellers.    Also along the Lane was the place where two troopers and their horses were killed and buried and there were old reports of a bobbing light seen in the area at night.

The last property on Tongy Lane is Tongy Station whose sandstone homestead was destroyed by the Sir Ivan fires in 2017, however the historic woolshed can still be seen on the right hand side of the the Lane.  Tongy Station was initially owned by Robert Fitzgerald, an ex-convict who through hard work and charm increased his fortune.   In 1838 he had 41 assigned convicts on Tongy mostly engaged in clearing the land.    Tongy came into the Bailleau family in 1923 and is still held by a family member.

Continue down the Lane to the T-junction, and turn right on the Golden Hwy.  A few km further and the village of Uarbry is on your right (although this is the second village, an earlier village being located to the left on the plains but prone to flooding in its first few years, causing the move to higher ground and its present position).   Mentioned as early as 1833 by the Surveyor Robert Dixon  “Arrived at Uarbry and obtained for Captain Piper a native guide”.   Always a small village, it nevertheless was full of community spirit holding horse races and having a tennis and cricket club and of course a pub,all in the late 1800s.   The Mudgee Guardian of 30 July 1900 reported that Joe and Jimmy Governor  “called at Robinson’s, Uarbry … asking for George Cohen and France Piper, and wanted to know if they were home or not…” – this was during the time of the Governor’s rampage (made famous by the film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith).

Uarbry Church before 2017

 

The remains of Uarbry Chruch after Sir Ivan Fire 2017.

 

Uarbry was almost completely destroyed by the Sir Ivan fire in February 2017, losing its charming little church, community built hall and all but two residences, and fire damage is still very evident around the town as it slowly recovers.  The cemetery at the rear of the town (on a short but unsealed road) has mostly survived and contains some touching family stories, most notably that of the Hobbins family.

Settling near Leadville (over the hill to the west of Uarbry) at Old Castle (now Dhu Robin) in the 1850s,  Martin Hobbins left his family at Christmas 1876 to go droving, not returning until May 1877.  During this time his eldest daughter Catherine died, followed 2 weeks later by Teressa aged 9, twelve days later Ambrose age 6 died, all from diptheria.   On April 26th Martin’s wife Catherine died while giving birth to twins and a month later Mary, aged 18 also succumbed to the disease.   Martin arrived home soon after.   He is said to have cut, shaped and inscribed all the headstones with his own hands whilst mourning, then carrying them by horse and dray to the cemetery at Uarbry.  Martin died 13 years later and is also buried there.

More history on Uarbry, Tongy and Turee Stations can be found in the book “Around the Black Stump” by Roy Cameron, a copy is available to view in the Coolah Library.

To download this drive in PDF format, please click here: http://coolahnsw.com.au/UARBRY%20DRIVE.pdf