The pleasant city of BATHURST, elegantly situated on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, 207km west of Sydney, is Australia’s oldest inland settlement. Its cool climate – proximity to the mountains means it can be cold at night – as well as its beautifully preserved nineteenth-century architecture, quirky shops, lively arts scene and good cafés make it an enjoyable overnight stop, and it has a very different feel to anywhere on the baking plains further west. The settlement was founded by Governor Macquarie in 1815, but Bathurst remained nothing more than a small convict and military settlement for years, only slowly developing into the main supply centre for the rich surrounding pastoral area. It was the discovery of gold nearby at Lewis Ponds Creek at Ophir in 1851, and on the Turon River later the same year, which changed the life of the town and the colony forever. Soon rich fields of alluvial gold were discovered in every direction and, being the first town over the mountains for those on the way to the goldfields, Bathurst prospered and grew.
Although there’s still the odd speck of gold and a few gemstones (especially sapphires) to be found in the surrounding area, modern Bathurst has reverted to its role as capital of one of the richest fruit- and grain-growing districts in Australia. The presence of the Charles Sturt University, one of Australia’s leading institutes, gives the city an academic feel and adds to its liveliness. Car enthusiasts, however, probably associate it with racing and during the second weekend in October, rev-heads turn up for the big annual motor-racing meetings – centred on the famous Bathurst 1000 endurance race – at the Mount Panorama Racing Circuit.