Bathurst to Cootamundra
Distance: 240.1 kilometres (via Mid-Western and Olympic Highways)
Time: 3 hours 55 minutes, including stops and sight-seeing
LIKE Herbert Thomson and Edward Holmes, we too, left outside The George Hotel (previously the Park Hotel), Bathurst, at 10am, and although fine, it was just 2-degrees.
There were no officials to see us on our way as the intention always was to keep this re-enactment drive a low-key affair.
With a whole day to travel the 198 kilometres to our overnight destination of Cootamundra, we were in no rush, so after a hearty breakfast we headed along Panorama Avenue to the Mount Panorama racing circuit where we drove four laps (at 60km/h as this is a public road on non-race days) and took photographs from the carpark at the top of the mountain at what is known as The Esses.
The views across Bathurst and the surrounding countryside from the summit are stunning.
It was then onto the Mid-Western Highway, our first 'obstacle' being Fitzgerald's Mount.
It took the two motoring pioneers almost four hours to make the climb up this steep, winding pass which, today, although still steep, is a climb of two and sometimes dual, roadway which the Polo did in a scamper. A small rural community named after the mount now sits near its summit.
It took us just 40 minutes to cover the 37-kilometres from Bathurst to Blayney, which included a stop to photograph the pass Thomson and Holmes took so long to find a safe way up. This historic town was frequented by bushranger Ben Hall and others. Thomson and Holmes arrived in the village at 6.15pm and departed at 9.30am the following morning. We made use of the town's courthouse, which was built in 1882, for a photo opportunity.
'The town history forgot' is arguably one of the prettiest towns in Australia. As Holmes wrote, 'Carcoar is built in a hollow', but that hollow adds to the picturesque nature of the town which is fast becoming a tourist attraction. After spending time looking around, we headed for Mandurama, 'a usual sleepy country township' as Holmes put it, and not much has changed to this day. As is the now-bypassed village of Lyndhurst where the two men stopped for lunch before tackling their first major obstacle - how to cross Limestone Creek.
Today a substantial two-lane road bridge crosses this deep creek, but when Thomson and Holmes arrived 120 years earlier the original bridge had been swept away in a flood, necessitating using an old ford further down the creek to make the crossing. Once clear, they then encountered a red clay bog which further impeded their advance to the township of Cowra. We saw no evidence of red clay as the surrounding area has been well farmed and was green as far as the eye could see.
History will show that Cowra was the scene of a Japanese prisoner of war break-out during World War Two. The town is located at the junction of three highways - the Mid-Western Highway, Lachlan Valley Way, and Olympic Highway – and on August 5, 1944, at least 545 Japanese prisoners of war attempted a mass breakout from a POW camp located just north of the town. Simultaneously, other Japanese prisoners committed suicide, or were killed by their countrymen, inside the camp. During the breakout and subsequent recapture of POWs, four Australian guards and 231 Japanese had died, and 108 prisoners were wounded. The dead Japanese are buried in a specially created Japanese War Cemetery. This is the only such cemetery in Australia. An Avenue of Honour also commemorates those who died in World War I. The stunning Japanese gardens are a must-see and we spent over an hour doing just that. This bustling town sits on the Lachlan River and while having lunch there we couldn't help thinking of poor Thomson and Holmes who would still have been struggling up Fitzgerald's Mount. When they did arrive in Cowra, they had trouble finding the right track to Young, but we had the excellent, and well sign-posted Olympic Highway to follow.
Originally called Lambing Flat but changed to Young in 1863, Young is the Cherry Capital of Australia and each year it hosts the National Cherry Festival. This thriving township was built on gold and at one stage up to 20,000 miners worked the diggings, including 2000 Chinese miners. From November 1860 through to June 1861, anti-Chinese miners attacked Chinese gold miners in the area, now known as the infamous Lambing Flats Riots. As gold became scarce, European miners began to resent what they saw as the greater success of the more industrious Chinese, and hence many Chinese miners were attacked, robbed and killed. Young also lays claim to be the first town in Australia to install electricity in both its streets and houses of the township. This happened in 1889. Thomson and Holmes overnighted at Young. Like many towns in the region, most of the town's businesses close at noon on a Saturday, the day we arrived. Finding somewhere to get a coffee was a chore!
Twenty kilometres north-east of Cootamundra is the village of Wallendbeen which sits at the intersection of the Olympic Highway and Burley Griffin Way and on the Sydney-Melbourne railway line. Wheat is an important industry for the area. The village's well-maintained oval has supported a cricket club since 1887 and the oval is probably where Thomson and Holmes ate their lunch.
We arrived in Cootamundra at 4pm and took photographs outside the Bradman Museum, a fully-restored visitor centre and the same house where cricketing great Sir Donald Bradman was born in 1908. The museum features cricketing memorabilia and artifacts from the time. Close by is the Cricket Captains Walk which features 42 bronze sculptures of Australian Test Cricket captains and Unaarrimim, the leading Aboriginal player in the first Australian cricket team tour of England in 1868. Cootamundra is the home of the Cootamundra wattle and at the end of every August the town celebrates with a large ‘Wattle Time Festival’. After booking into our accommodation for the night, we dined at a new restaurant in the town, aware that Thomson and Holmes were still a half hour or so from Blayney and battling icy cold conditions. From Bathurst to Cootamundra we had the luxury of a warmed, weather-tight cabin, rather than sitting atop a buggy open to the elements.