Murrurundi is a small rural service centre located by the Pages River at the foot of the Liverpool Ranges. Murrurundi and its rural heritage have been well preserved with the main street, Mayne Street, being declared an urban conservation area and a large number of local buildings being placed on the National Trust register. It is a place of hidden delights with the side streets housing many interesting buildings and the hinterland being the home of both the Timor Caves and the remarkable Wallabadah Rock, the largest monolith in Australia after Uluru and Mount Augustus.
Murrurundi is located 314 km north of Sydney via the New England Highway, 40 km north of Scone and 417 metres above sea-level.
It is believed that the town’s name comes from a Wanaruah place name ‘Murrumdoorandi’ which probably referred to five unusual rock formations near Temple Court (four now remain) and may mean ‘five fingers’ or ‘meeting place at the five fingers’. Some locals like to think the word means ‘nestled in a valley’ but there is no evidence of that.
There is a Town Walk at http://www.murrurundi.nsw.au/page.php?id=26&chamber_tag=Murrurundi&chamber_state=NSW which lists a total of 26 places of interest around the town. Of these the highlights include:
1. Literary Institute
Located at 127 Mayne Street (it was named after Edward Mayne – the first Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Liverpool Plains) is the local museum, situated in the Literary Institute which was built in 1913. It is an unusual symmetrical building consisting of two almost identical structures with steeply pitched roofs linked by a central hallway. Nearby is a Settlers Cottage (circa 1889), made from hardwood slabs with a frame of rough hewn hardwood, which is opened for selected events and an old Church. The town’s first police station was erected on this site when the town was first laid out in 1840 and the School of Arts and Mechanics Institute were built here in 1883 but almost entirely demolished in the 1960s. Out the front are some stocks, an antiquated iron-wheeled tractor (known as a portable steam engine it daes from some time after 1880), a gas lamp post, and an historic gun. The museum, described as “a museum in itself; a museum without walls”, contains artefacts of early settlement and local industry, and a collection of historical photographs. The Fishburn Room contains a 1:60 scale model of the HMS Endeavour, built by a member of the Fishburn family who are descended from mariner Andrew Fishburn, a member of the First Fleet. A plaque on the rock outside honours Murrurundi-born Peter Norvill who, in 1988, became the first Australian-born pilot to fly solo around the world solo in a fixed-wing aircraft. The museum is open weekends from 10.00 am – 1.00 pm or by appointment, tel: (02) 6546 6843 or 0418 647 176. For more information check out http://www.murrurundihistoricalsociety.com.
2. Suspension Bridge
Located off Murulla St, just before the intersection with Mayne Street, the town’s suspension bridge was built before World War I. The third bridge on the site it is much smaller than the previous two bridges – one of which was capable of holding a horse and buggy.
3. RSL Memorial Hall
Located on Mayne Street is a Victorian-era Italianate building erected in 1897 as the Manchester Unity Hall, a lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. After World War II it became the town’s RSL Memorial Hall.
Located in Little Street and listed by the National Trust, this brick and timber building dates from around 1848. In 1985 it was fully restored and today it is a private home.
5. Bridge House
Located at 70 Mayne Street, and listed by the National Trust, this house was built of local bricks with a shingle roof in 1854 for Thomas Haydon’s mother-in-law. The iron roof conceals the original shingles but the original sandstone is still evident. It was quarried locally.
6. Dooley’s Store
Located in Mayne Street and dating from 1905, Dooley’s Store in listed by the National Trust. Businesses have operated on this location since 1872. This store was built from Joseph Dooley.
7. White Hart Hotel
Located on Mayne Street and listed by the National Trust is the White Hart Hotel. The original dining room remains from the timber structure erected in 1842 by the in-laws of Thomas Haydon. It was enlarged in 1857. The northern end was rebuilt at the outset of the century and the second storey added in 1936. Such was the prestige of this hotel in its heyday that the Governor of New South Wales, the Earl of Belmore, dined here in 1869.
10. Haydonton Inn
Located in Mayne Street, this inn was named Heydonton as that was the name of the highway which passed through Murrurundi in the 1850s when it was built of local bricks. It was renamed the Carrier Arms much later.
11. Skin and Wool Store
Check out the handmade thumb-print bricks at the Skin and Wool Store in Mayne Street. They date from around c.1856. The store is currently being used as a private workshop.
13. Railway Station
Located in Heydon Street the railway station built in 1872 when the line reached Murrurundi from Scone. Murrurundi remained the terminus of the northern line until the Ardglen tunnel was built. The station master’s residence was not completed until the late 1890s.
14. St Joseph’s Church and Murrurundi House on Polding Street
One of the town’s earliest settlers, Thomas Haydon, was a devout Catholic. He donated land to the church and had a small wooden chapel built on the site in 1841. He oversaw the laying of foundations for a new church in 1855. The current building, St Joseph’s Church, is made of local sandstone and was completed in 1860. It was consecrated by Bishop Polding after whom the street is named. The church has an altar with 1000 pieces of marble which has been recorded by the National Trust. Behind the church is the cemetery which contains the tombs of town founders Peter Haydon (died 1842) and Thomas Haydon (died 1855) and of Eliza Hall (died 1869), the mother of Ben Hall whom she outlived by four years. Next door is the elegant Murrurundi House which was built in 1880 as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy. It is a large two-storey building with an upstairs veranda with impressive cast-iron lacework, a hipped roof, shuttered windows and a central gable.
16. Hall Family Home Site
Located in Adelaide Street this was once land owned by the father of bushranger, Ben Hall. It was the first block of land purchased in Haydonton and Ben Hall’s father built a slab cottage around 1842. It was where Ben Hall passed much of his early childhood and was located approximately on the corner of Mayne Street and Adelaide Street. The family moved to the Lachlan district in the late 1840s and Ben Hall’s parents and some of the children returned to Murrurundi in the early 1850s. There is a photograph of the old cottage in the local history museum.
19. CBC Bank
Now a private residence, this handsome two-storey blue building on Mayne Street was erected in 1865 as the Joint Stock Bank but became the CBC from 1870-1938.
20. Royal Hotel & Cobb & Co Stables
The old Royal Hotel in Mayne Street was built in 1863. It is characterised by a hipped roof, upstairs veranda and quoins. Cobb & Co. used it as a changing depot until 1867. To the rear of the building are the old stables built in 1860 of local sandstone and also used by Cobb & Co. The shingles are now covered with iron.
21. Telegraph Station
Located on Mayne Street is the old telegraph office which built in 1861 and became the local post office in 1870. It closed in 1913 when the new post office opened and is now the modest and charming Cafe Telegraph.
22. Court House, Police Station and Gaol
In Murulla Street, just up from Pages River, is the Police Station, Court House and Gaol. They are unusual in the way they combine Gothic and Italianate elements with handsome sandstone structures. There are three buildings. The one closest to the road is a symmetrical sandstone and brick courthouse which consists of a central block fronted by a triple-arched portico with two smaller wings, incorporating the police station. Next to this is the old gaol and lock-up keeper’s residence which consists of a two-storey brick block flanked by two single-storey sandstone wings. The ground-level veranda is a later addition. Both were designed by Alexander Dawson and built in 1860-1861 on the site of the original 1842 courthouse. The sergeant’s residence at the southern end of the complex was built in the 1890s.
23. Public School
Located in Mayne Street is the Murrurundi public school. The right side of the front section is the original school building which was designed in 1877. The trees in the grounds are of considerable botanic importance and are registered with the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. The ‘Pink House’, on the northern side of the school grounds, was made of local bricks in 1854 as a national school. It later became the Methodist parsonage. No longer pink it is now a private residence named ‘Elouera’.
Located on the corner of Liverpool Street and Adelaide Street, on land originally owned by Ben Hall’s father, ‘Rosebank’, was built in 1889 as the Joint Stock Bank. The bank was shortlived. It went broke in 1892. It is now a private home and hard to imagine it was once a bank.
25. St Paul’s Anglican Church
Located in Mount Street on lands that sweep down to the river, St Paul’s Anglican Church was designed by noted colonial architect J. Horbury Hunt and built of local sandstone in 1872-74. The work was commissioned by the White family of Belltrees fame (see Gundy). The roof of the nave is a timber hammerbeam construction clad in slate while internally the ceiling is boarded. There is a cast-iron eagle lectern and a wall surfaced with Italian tiles behind the altar. The windows are grouped in twos and threes between buttresses. The square bell tower was completed in 1913 to a design of Hunt’s and was constructed as a memorial to Frederick White of Harben Vale who was instrumental in having the church completed. The single-storey vicarage at 3 Mount St was built of local bricks in 1858. It has a hipped roof, French windows and a timber veranda.
At 180 Mayne Street, and located behind a dense garden of trees, is one of the oldest surviving buildings in town, Bobadil House, which was built of local sandstone in 1843 as the Woolpack Inn. It was constructed for surveyor Henry Dangar. Today it is a private home.
Located on Paradise Road beyond the local golf course, Paradise Park, which is literally at the foot of a steep and densely wooded hill, is a delightful picnic area with shelters, barbecues, toilets, plenty of birds and, at dusk, there are usually some wallabies. The walk starts approximately 1 km beyond the Murrurundi Golf Course and proceeds to climb through massive granite boulders until it reaches the ‘Eye of the Needle’, a narrow gap between the rocks through which you must pass to reach the summit. The trail continues to the lookout which affords fine views across to the mountains and the valley.
If you head east on Timor Road, about 3 km from the highway, Scotts Creek Road heads off to the left. About 16 km along the Scotts Creek Road is Wallabadah Rock, reputedly the largest monolith in Australia after Uluru. It is the plug of an extinct volcano and is estimated to be around 45.5 million years old. The base of the rock covers 61 hectares and it rises to 959 m above sea-level. It is possible to climb to the top. In October it is covered with flowering rock orchids. However, it is located on private property tel: (02) 6546 6446 if you want to climb it. It is worth gazing at as it is genuinely very impressive and, unlike Uluru, hidden from the sight of most travellers.
Timor and Timor Caves
Further along Timor Road (27 km from Murrurundi) is the virtually non-existent village of Timor which has an attractive little timber church, St Peters, built of pit-sawn timber by voluntary labour in 1883. Both the initial construction and the centenary renovations were financed by local families and it was deconsecrated in 2015. Located 5 km from the turnoff are the Timor Caves, a series of unguided limestone caverns which are estimated to be around 73.5 million years old. The caves – known as the Main Cave, Belfry Cave, the Hill Cave – are within walking distance of the road. The Timor Caves are easily accessible but good shoes and a strong, reliable torch are essential. Check out http://kurio.info/wordpress-server/timorcaves/ for more details. It is necessary if you are thinking of visiting.
St Luke’s, Blandford
Located 7 km south of Murrurundi on the New England Highway, St Luke’s Anglican Church (it was deconsecrated in June, 2015) is a small and attractive brick building with a tower covered in ivy. The prominent White family, of whom Patrick White was the most famous member, commissioned the famous architect J. Horbury Hunt to design it and it was built between 1879-1880.
The Lookout at Nowlands Gap
Located 4.5 km north of Murrurundi Nowlands Gap occurs where the New England Highway rises up and over the Liverpool Range. It was named Nowlands Gap after William Nowland, a farmer from Singleton who discovered this route across the mountains onto the Liverpool Plains in the late 1820s. Today there is a rest area at Nowlands Gap which provides impressive panoramic views over Murrurundi.
Located 17 km north of Murrurundi on the New England Highway, Willow Tree is a pretty village of arts and antique shops. Historically it was located at the north-eastern corner of the enormous Warrah grant which was acquired by the Australian Agricultural Company in 1833. An inn was established on the future townsite but it was the arrival of the railway in the 1870s that precipitated settlement. The village was surveyed when part of the Warrah grant was subdivided and sold in 1908.
The area around Murrurundi is known for agate, naturalite and zeolite crystal, calcite crystals, quartz, petrified wood and limestone fossils. Ask at the Visitor Information Centre for details of suitable places to fossick.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by the Wanaruah and Kamilaroi Aboriginal peoples.
* The first European in the district was surveyor Henry Dangar who passed to the west in 1824.
* A farmer named William Nowland searched for three months before he found the gap just north of present-day Murrurundi in 1827. He established a station on Warrah Creek in the Liverpool Plains.
* William Henry Warland established the estate of Harben Vale to the south of present-day Murrurundi in 1829. A village named Blandford developed nearby.
* By 1834 Warland had built a homestead and formed a partnership with Peter Haydon whose brother Thomas also acquired land in the area.
* In 1840 the government laid out the township of Murrurundi. At the same time Thomas Haydon created a private village which he called Haydonton to service local estates, government officers and travellers.
* Local bushrangers included the Jewboy Gang who murdered John Graham at Scone in 1840 and stopped at Murrurundi tp exchange their horses. Local police magistrate Edward Denny Day and his party caught up with the gang, captured them after a shoot-out and they were subsequently hanged in 1841.
* By the 1840s teamsters and stockmen passing through the district were frequenting the Woolpack Inn and the White Hart Hotel.
* In 1841 Thomas Haydon established the Murrurundi Race Club and donated land and funds for the town’s first church.
* The first courthouse and private school were built in 1843
* In 1849 Murrrurundi saw Australia’s seventh national school open.
* In 1867 the population was recorded as being 350. That same year the skull of a diprotodon was discovered in the area.
* The railway reached the town in 1872.
* By 1886 oil shale was being mined in the district.
* Murrurundi became a municipality in 1890.
* The Kamilaroi held their last known formal communal ceremony in 1905.
* By 1910 there were no indigenous people left in the Murrurundi area.
* In 1913 Haydonton was amalgamated with Murrurundi forming the a single town.
* Between 1911 and 1915 oil shale was commercially mined in the district.
* In the summer of 2012/2013, dubbed The Angry Summer by the Climate Commission, the temperature in Murrurundi reached a new recorded high of 40.9°C.