Sofala, So Good

Story by guest blogger Al McCartan. Photos Copyright © Al McCartan.

Bathurst is in New South Wales (NSW), about two-and-a-half hour’s drive west of Sydney. Of the six states and two territories, NSW is Australia’s most populous state.

WE BATHURSTIANS CAN lay claim to two movie star towns in our region. Given our rich, colourful history, these became ideal spots for the productions. One of these towns is Sofala. The movies were the 1974 Peter Weir film, The Cars That Ate Paris, and village scenes in John Duigan’s 1994 film, Sirens, starring Hugh Grant.

Sofala ain’t pretty, folks, but oh boy! What charm it has.

Located 250 kilometres NW of Sydney, our “movie star” town is the result of a long-ago gold rush. The rush was triggered on 12 February, 1851 by Edward Hargraves, who discovered gold at Summerhill Creek.

A contemporary travelling journalist described Sofala as “a strange jumble of tents of every possible shape: canvas, calico, slab and bark huts, bough gunyahs and nondescripts. Among the medley, two circuses are conspicuous. Stores of every possible description and containing varieties of merchandise are everywhere, embellished with placards announcing the best gold prices available.”

As the 1900s progressed, there was the need for Australians to capitalise on their history. Sofala, already steeped in colourful history, needed no major facelift to attract visitors.

Sofala became a haven for Australian artists. Painters such as Russell Drysdale and Paul Haefliger brought the town to the rest of Australia. In his role as art critic, Haefliger said of Drysdale’s painting of Sofala in the Sydney Morning Herald (1948):

Russell Drysdale’s beautifully modulated ‘Sofala’ deserves the [Wynne] Prize. In the heat of a late afternoon, the stifling air red with dust; the main road empty of life, he conveys a difficult and lonely existence, where man constantly battles the elements.

One is drawn into the painting and if you have a vivid imagination like the writer, you’re sitting on the veranda at the Royal, sipping a cooling, cleansing ale and letting the rest of the world go by. Not hard to do on a drowsy summer afternoon.

Just 45 kms and a hundred years from Bathurst, Sofala has some nifty tourist tempters, including:

The Old General Store With its lacework and weatherboard construction, The OGS in Denison Street is one of the town’s most notable buildings. It was built in the 1860s to meet the needs of local miners.

Royal Hotel Over the road from the OGS is the Royal Hotel, which was established in 1862.

Post Office Now a private residence, the post office was built in 1879 and continued operating until 1989. A gracious two-storey building, it has since been turned into an interesting family home.

Gas Hotel This hotel dates from late 1851. Because the foundations are timber stumps that sunk over time, the building looks as though it was knocked together in a hurry by a miner or carpenter who had overloaded on libations.

Court House This building has changed function three times. It was built in 1874 as a court house. By 1934 it had become the local hospital, and in the early ’60s it became the Community Health Centre.

Highlands Hotel Built on the site of the Globe Hotel (one of the town’s original pubs) the Highlands still has the original shingles and cellar. It’s now a private residence.

For those who want to remain in the car, the Sofala Souvenir Shop has a self-drive tour that covers a number of interesting destinations around Sofala.

Perhaps A.B. “Banjo” Paterson was thinking of the NSW Central West when he penned the following line for Clancy of The Overflow:

I see the vision splendid, of the sunlit plains extended.

Sofala, the vision splendid

Sofala, the vision splendid


Al McCartan doing the morning shift at 2MCE-FM Bathurst

Al McCartan doing the morning shift at 2MCE-FM

AL McCARTAN lives in Bathurst with a redhead (aka Cheryl), one cat (Milo) and about 200 stuffed teddy bears. He has worked with the Department of Defence in Canberra, as a journalist with the Army Newspaper and with the Recruiting Directorate. As a sideline he became an easy listening music DJ and he still practices that medium as morning DJ at 2MCE-FM. Al says, “Reading, writing, fine dining and music are my likes. Oh! I’m nuts about history and I like to slant my writings to the good (and bad) old days.”

Tags: , , , ,


  1. Hmmmm…this may sound weird but I would love to do a writing retreat in Sofala and spend my time alternating between writing and sifting through stuff!

  2. I love the telephone box, If that is what it is. It has such character it wouldn’t be out of place in any number films and or even cartoons. I almost expect it to respectful to decent folk and rude to the disrespectful. 😀

    “the building looks as though it was knocked together in a hurry by a miner or carpenter who had overloaded on libations.”

    Love that desciption Al.

    It always amazes me how, after discovering gold, Edward Hargraves and others like him couldn’t keep his find to himself until he could buy the land surrounding his claim, thus avoiding the ‘rush’ and controlling the market… or did he?

    Another concise and enjoyable read Al.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *