The New England area of NSW has so many opportunities to get away, explore, camp, fossick and so much more; but we’ve recently found a place where you can do all this in one destination. Bingara is a small town on the banks of the Gwydir River. Reached via the backroads east of Narrabri or by following the Fossickers Way, it 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 people followed and subsequently Bingara was officially founded in 1840.
As with most new settlements, locals started searching the outlying areas. Gold was found a few years later along with other gems like rubies, garnets and a few diamonds. After the word got out about another new goldfield, it didn’t take long for the town’s population to grow, and for shops and pubs to be built along with a police station, post office, flour mill and much more.
At the time the Bingara diamond field was Australia’s largest and most profitable with the largest one found being 37,000 carats. But the gold and diamonds dried up in about 1950 and the miners, families and shop-keepers moved on.
These days it’s a quiet, slow town where travellers are welcomed by friendly locals with big hearts and plenty of advice to share. On our arrival we headed straight to the local Tourist Information 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, so 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 also set aside areas where you can fossick freely for different gems, and the info centre will even give you a map to point you in the right direction.
One of the biggest gold mines in Bingara (and the last to close just before 1950) was the All Nations mine, and thankfully the stamper was saved. Minutes from town in Hill Street you can get up close and personal with the massive 10 head stamper that was used in the mine.
Fully intact, you’ll be blown away with the size of this thing—be sure to stop for a minute and think about the logistics of getting this monster out here from England.
A sad reminder of the past can be found northeast of the town at Myall Creek, where back in 1838 a huge massacre of local Aboriginal people took place; a time when local white folk though it was “ok’’ to massacre men, women and kids thought to have stolen cattle. After several court sittings a group of white men were hung. Every year on June 10 the local community still gather here to pay respect to those who innocently lost their lives.
Back in town, one of the best places to get an overall view of Bingara 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 a day of it up here, as there are toilets, BBQs 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.
These days there are coffee shops, boutique galleries, bakeries and a local supermarket occupying the shop-lined streets. But strolling around town you can see just how old the buildings are, from the Post Office built in 1860 and churches dating back to the 1800s, to 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 opportunity to liven up the town’s slow pace of life.
After several owners it has now been fully restored back to its art deco look and feel. If you’re lucky enough to visit when it’s open you’ll be amazed with the restored and original items displayed in the museum inside—beautiful red theatre seats, old projectors and news-clippings to name a few. Just next door, the milk bar is another chance to step back in time. Get comfy in the booth-style seating, have a ‘proper’ milkshake in original cold canisters, and admire the old-timey objects 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, cold skies. Summertime is often hot and dry with four million flies buzzing around, so come prepared for this, or just spend your time in the nearby pool or the Gwydir River to cool down.
Some come to Bingara for the peace and quiet and others just for a quick stopover as they’re passing through, but we found many reasons to stay longer; the history, the country hospitality, and some of the best free camping around. But most importantly, we discovered that sometimes you just need to stop, learn and listen.
Explore Bingara with CamperMate
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