Mention Bathurst, and chances are that a car race will be in the same sentence.
It’s the race that stops a nation, an iconic 1,000km car race around Mt Panorama that has been held annually since 1960, relocating from Philip Island to Bathurst in 1963. ‘The Great Race’ attracts over 200,000 visitors to the city, another 2.357million people watching the race’s finale on televisions around the nation. The Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, known to most people simply as ‘Bathurst’, defines the NSW city, providing fuel for its growth through out of town patronage of accommodation, restaurants and shopping, adding the vibrancy and excitement of motor sport to an otherwise sleepy town.
Starting on Pit Straight, we drive around the 6.2km circuit where the famous race takes place, marvelling at the tight curves of Hell Corner to admire the view from Brock’s Skyline, through the Esses and The Dipper and down Conrod Straight to the finish, foregoing the locals’ challenge to drive the track in the opposite direction to the race.
At Murrays Corner of Mt Panorama, we take in the National Motor Racing Museum. This is motor racing heaven, celebrating the history, personalities and achievements of Australian motor sports. The museum houses historic cars and motorbikes that have competed in on the mountain but, on the day we visit, there’s as much excitement outside as in, with a car from the Mercedes AMG Roadshow parked outside, the ultimate in road sports cars that many of us only dream of.
As important as it is to the town, Bathurst is more than an annual car race, with many other attractions to see when you visit. It’s a city of dinosaurs and gold, of Prime Ministers and bushrangers, of vineyards and railways.
Bathurst was Australia’s first inland European settlement, founded in 1815. We take a walk along Keppel, George and William Streets beneath their iconic 1920s streetlamps to check out some of the city’s 1,000 heritage Victorian buildings before driving across to 10 Busby Street to see Chifley Home where Prime Minister Ben Chifley and his wife Elizabeth lived. The Great Western Railway reached Bathurst in 1876, and it was there that Chifley completed his apprenticeship driving engine No. 5112, which stands beside the Bathurst Railway Station today.
Another view of history is gained from the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum. Housed in the heritage 1876 Public School building, the museum houses Australia’s largest collection of fossils.
The collection, divided into two galleries (fossils and minerals) includes a 10.5m long, 4m high Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and over 2000 fossil and mineral specimens from around the world, including the lifetime collection of Warren Somerville AM. A university lecturer, TAFE teacher and orchardist in Orange, Somerville built one of the world’s best private collections of minerals and fossils which he donated to the Australian Fossil & Mineral Museum for the public to enjoy.
We marvel at the prehistoric Hallucigenia from the Cambrian Sea, the Gogo fish dating from the Devonian Period, learn the history of opal and view Stibnite, the shard-like mineral which probably inspired the throne used in the series Game of Thrones.
The influence of history can be seen in the food scene as well. In heritage listed buildings, we visit bars and restaurants, coffee shops and hotels where spaces are repurposed to bring vitality and new life. We dine at The Church Bar, a funky bar serving wood-fired pizza in the former Old Anglican School House on Ribbon Gang Lane, named after the infamous Ribbon Gang of escaped convicts. In 1830, ten members of the gang were charged with murder, bushranging and horse theft and publicly hanged in what was to be Bathurst’s largest execution.
Visiting on a Monday and Tuesday, a number of restaurants are closed. We dine at The Church Bar, the laneway far quieter than history pages would tell us, the stone school building and its charming garden-filled courtyard playing host to diners and party-goers seeking fabulous cocktails and delicious woodfired pizza.
Another historic precinct, Tremain’s Victoria Mill, an 1857 flour mill, together with the historic Victoria Hotel beside it, is presently undergoing renovation, being repurposed as a multi-use complex.
It’s there that we find Doppio Espresso, which provides our morning coffee, Ciao Italian Pizza and the Australian Milling Museum. The beautiful Victoria Hotel houses an open bar, several dining areas as well as an arts and entertainment precinct hosting live music and art exhibitions in The Backyard.
We’re staying at the gorgeous Alfred on Keppel apartment, a Paddington-style terrace that oozes charm and sophistication. With high ceilings, a fully kitted out modern kitchen and charming courtyard garden, it’s an ideal holiday stopover for upmarket travellers.
Situated within sight of the Railway Station and opposite Tremain’s Victoria Mill, we pop across the road to Doppio Espresso, which provides our morning coffee, Ciao Italian Pizza and the Victoria Hotel for a hearty dinner and drinks.
One of our most interesting historical twists comes on our visit to the retro Annie’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour, one of the Top 25 ice cream shops in Australia, where we take a step back in time for sweet treats. Annie’s handmade preservative-free ice cream creations are made from 40-year-old recipes, their names drawing inspiration from the local area and its history.
The Mt Panorama is a sundae as high as the track itself; The Bridal Track, named after a rough local road, features marshmallows and Turkish delight in chocolate ice cream; and the Sofala Gold Caramel Popcorn Sundae, named after the local town where James McBrien first discovered gold in Australia in 1823, has nuggets of treasure (honeycomb) strewn through with caramel fudge, whipped cream and the award-winning Sofala Gold ice cream topped with caramel popcorn and a wafer. Who could say no!
Not only was the Bathurst region home to Australia’s first gold discovery, but also to our first ‘liquid gold’ from the first grapes planted in Australia. With a distinct ‘four season’ cool climate, basalt soils and elevations between 700 to 1000 metres, the region is perfect for producing wine. Today, its wineries, boutique spirit distillers and craft breweries are attracting attention, the National Cool Climate Wine Show held annually in Bathurst being the largest show dedicated to cool climate wines in Australia.
Unfortunately, Two Heads Brewing were undergoing a move on our visit, and we had already checked out the award-winning spirits made by Stone Pine Distillery on our visit to Ferment: the Orange Wine Centre (their official cellar door). Specialising in the use of Australian native ingredients, their spirits include Black Spiced Rum, Finger Lime Vodka and Liqueur and their flagship Dry Gin, which won a coveted Silver Medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London in 2013. This gin was the drop of choice for Rene Redzepi in his Sydney Noma popup, but it’s a bottle of the seasonal Rhubarb Gin that we come away with.
With limited time, we pay a visit to Mark Renzaglia, the award-winning winemaker for Mt Panorama Estate and Renzaglia Wines in O’Connell, as well as being consultant to several others. With increasing interest in his elegant minimal intervention wines, Mark is midway through building a new tasting room beside their mud brick house to accommodate the winery and cellar door. Of all the messages learned from the Bathurst region, perhaps Mark Renzaglia’s is one of the most pertinent: ‘Live simply so that others may simply live.’
At just over 200km from Sydney, Bathurst draws crowds for its annual Bathurst 1000 supercar race. However, the title of ‘King of the Mountain’ could just as easily be applied to James McBrien who stood on a mountain of gold, to Prime Minister Ben Chifley who steered a train before he guided a nation, or to many of the characters who made this city what it is today. Bathurst may be a city of under 40,000 residents, yet its streets carry stories of the past 200 years of Australian history, a fine place to enjoy the bounties of its surrounding landscape.