The New England area of NSW has so many opportunities to get away, explore, camp, fossick and so much more; but we think we just found a place where you can do all this in one destination. Bingara - a small town on the banks of the Gwydir River on the back roads east of Narrabri is known as the Gem on the Gwydir.
Taking a step back to 1827 Allan Cunningham came through Bingara and camped beside the river with his entourage as they headed north looking for new pastoral land. Over the next few years things more people followed and subsequently Bingara was officially founded in 1840. With most new settlements locals started searching the outlying areas and gold was found a few years later along with other gems like Rubies, Garnets and a few diamonds. Not long after the word got out about another new goldfield the towns population grew, shops and pubs were built along with a police station, post office, flour mill and much more. The gold and diamonds soon ran out about 1950 and the miners, families and shop keepers moved on. At the time the Bingara diamond field was Australia’s largest and most profitable with the largest one found being 37 000 carats.
These days it’s a quiet slow town where travellers are welcomed and the locals are friendly with advice and have big hearts. On our arrival we headed straight to the local Tourist info centre for some advice on where to stay and what to do. The local council has set aside several areas in the heart of town where you can free camp beside the Gwydir river and that’s where we headed. Only minutes from town there are plenty of spots along the river with water and paddock views. Being an ex mining and very friendly town Bingara has set aside areas where you can freely fossick for different gems and thankfully the Info centre can give you a map where you can go. One of the biggest gold mines ( and the last too close just before 1950 ) in Bingara was the All Nations mine and thankfully the stamper was saved. Minutes from town in Hill Street you can get up and personal to the massive 10 head stamper that was used in the mine. Fully intact you’ll be blown away with the size of this thing, but just for a minute stop and think about the logistics re getting this monster out here from England.
A sad reminder of the past can be found NE of the town at Myall Creek where back in 1838 a huge massacre took place of local Aboriginal people when local white folk though it was “ok’’ to massacre men, women and kids who they thought stole cattle. After several court sittings a group of white men were hung. Every year on June 10 the local community still gather here for a mark of respect for those who innocently lost their lives.
Back in town, one of there best places to get an overall view of town is the Batterham Lookout on the eastern side of town. The narrow road leads you up several hundred metres to some of the best views of the area. You can make it a day out up here as there are toilets, bbq’s and one of the many bird walking trails in the area. This one leads you around Batterham Mountain and to the base where you may possibly see many types of birds and Wallabies.
Strolling around town you can see just how old the buildings are from the Post office built in 1860, old churches dating back to the 1800’s, the Court House built in 1879 and the magnificent Roxy Theatre built in 1936. The Roxy was built by three men from Kythera who saw a niche in the towns quiet and slow life. After several owners it has now been fully restored back to its art deco look and feel. If your lucky enough to visit when it’s open you’ll be amazed with the restored and original items in the museum inside, the beautiful red theatre seats, old projectors and news-clippings. Just next door at the milk bar it’s an ideal spot to step back in time to sit in the bay type seating, have a ‘proper’ milkshake in original cold canisters and admire the old things on display.
Bingara sits in a valley surrounded by several ranges including nearby Mount Kaputar ( an old volcano active 20 million years ago ), so weather conditions vary immensely from winter to summer. Frost is a common occurrence during Winter but that’s the best time to throw another log on the fire and enjoy the clear Winter skies. Summer time is often hot and dry with 4 million flies being a pain so come prepared or just spend time in the nearby pool or the Gwydir River cooling down.
These days there are coffee shops, boutique galleries, bakeries and a local supermarket occupying the street lined shops. Some come to Bingara for the peace and quiet and others just for a quick stop over passing through but we found much more in it’s history, country hospitality, some of the best free camping around but more importantly we discovered that sometimes you just need to stop learn and listen.