Travelling Australia - Journal 2014
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9-11 February 2014

Peak Hill Description
Peak Hill is a small town in central west New South Wales on the Newell Highway, 70 kilometres south of Dubbo. The Newell Highway goes through the middle of town and heavy transports are a common sight. Population is now reported as 1400; the 2009 census reported 946.

Average annual rainfall is 560 millimetres, summers are classed as hot (average daily maximum temperature is 24.4°C); winters are mild (average winter daily maximum is 11.9°C).

Peak Hill (elevation is 285 metres) is on the New South Wales central plains extending far to the west. East of Peak Hill the land is more broken, frequently with north-south oriented mountain ranges, many of which are national parks. Harvey Range, about 10 kilometres east of Peak Hill, has mostly been incorporated in Goobang National Park.

The shops and businesses lining the Newell Highway (known as Caswell Street through the town) include a Post Office, Newsagent, several coffee shops or retaurants, a supermarket (IGA), butcher, pharmacy, RSL club, Bowling Club and a hotel. There is also a Centrelink/Medicare office. On the corner opposite the Post Office is the Country Crafts/Information Centre incorporating local information centre and a mining museum and sells local craft. There are several empty shops.

There are two caravan parks, the hotel and several motels.

The hospital on the southern edge of town, built in 1904, is still in use. A Multi-Purpose Service (MPS) Project is under construction behind the hospital to provide co-ordinated medical services to the Peak Hill region.

Fuel supplies in Peak Hill are not straightforward, the remains of one burnt-out servo are on the road approaching town, another servo appears to have stopped selling fuel to concentrate on tyres, the third servo was closed for unknown reasons for most of this visit. Nearest fuel is at Tomingley 11 kilometres north of Peak Hill.

Newell Highway The Newell Highway (known as Caswell Street in Peak Hill) passing through the shopping centre is frequently used by heavy transports.

Peak Hill township grew after gold was discovered in the hill of the same name. The first claim was registered in 1889 and the town grew at the base of the Hill as gold rushes bought optimistic diggers into the town. Much readily available gold lying around on the surface and loose in the soil was soon collected and some miners grew rich.

Peak Hill - page 2
But most of the gold was embedded in ironstone requiring crushers and chemical processing to recover the precious metal. Costs were beyond the means of individual diggers who left the field or began working for wages for business corporations with the necessary financial backing.

Shafts were sunk down into the Hill from the top and the recovered ore crushed then treated with cyanide to extract the gold. The mines operated until 1917 when cost of labour, cost of transport (of the ore to the crusher) and raw material prices (particularly cyanide and zinc essential to gold recovery) had risen so much that the mines were breaking even but making nil profit. Faced with further increases in costs the owners closed the mine. Much machinery was recovered and sold and the Hill degenerated into a neglected eyesore.

In 1996 the Peak Hill gold mine was re-opened as a group of adjacent open-cut mines using modern mining equipment. Mining and local processing continued until 2002 when all payable gold had been recovered.

Farmland Looking north-west from the top of the Hill over agricultural land on the NSW plains

Silo Current grain storage facility incorporating the first silo completed in 1918. This silo is beside the railway line on the western side of the town.

By the time underground mining ceased in 1917, Peak Hill had diversified into agriculture. Some accounts claim that many gold diggers realised there was not much future in gold and turned to growing crops and raising sheep. Whatever the reason, by 1918 Peak Hill was a major cropping area and the New South Wales government built an upright cement wheat silo at Peak Hill to receive farmers grain.

A number of these silos were being built around New South Wales as part of a project to introduce bulk handling of grain and the one at Peak Hill was the first completed. Farmers came from near and far (some reportedly from Victoria) to watch the way grain was delivered in bulk to the new silo during a test run. Availability of silos allowed farmers to stop using bags to deliver grain; now they could more conveniently deliver in bulk from trucks into the silo.

Peak Hill - page 3
This silo was first filled in 1920 when a very good crop was obtained after two poor years. The silo has been substantially extended but is still in use. Wheat, barley and canola are widely grown around Peak Hill; some grain goes to Parkes but most is delivered to the local centre.

The Peak Hill area is also well known for merino sheep producing medium wool.

The railway line to Narromine was completed and opened for use in December 1910, the line to Parkes (in the other direction) opened in September 1914. Peak Hill was the only source of fresh water for steam engines on this line and boasted a 60 foot railway turntable. The station is now closed.

While open-cut mining was ongoing on Peak Hill, the mining company was also cleaning up the site after decades of neglect. After mining ended the open cut pits became a tourist attraction with stout fences around these formidable holes in the ground but with well placed observation/photographic platforms and a lot of high quality explanatory signage.

This attraction, now called "The Open Cut Experience", on the edge of Peak Hill township (400 metres from the Post Office) is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., access is free. Car parking at the entrance is readily available and is free. Self-guided walking is probably the best way to visit, spending as long as needed to absorb the signage and the scenery. Visitors need to be reasonably fit to negotiate the hills.

Most of the open pits are into solid rock so regrown trees or grass are not common. Rock colours are quite startling in direct sunlight; signage at the Proprietary Mine (the largest pit and the one closest to the car park) explains these rock colours.

The Information Centre on the Newell Highway displays a collection of photographs and historic material related to the mine and can provide information for visitors. The town has a website (at www.peakhill.nsw.au) describing facilities available.

i Country Crafts/Information Centre sells a range of craft goods and includes a mining museum and local information centre.

Courthouse The Peak Hill Courthouse is a reminder of earlier days when the township was an administrative centre.

Peak Hill - page 4 (Open Cut Experience)
Proprietary Pit Along the length of Proprietary Pit from the Open Cut Experience lookout.

Bobby Burns Part of the Bobby Burns pit.

Swamp Wallaby A Swamp Wallaby near an open cut. The fence behind the wallaby is intended to keep people out of danger and presented no obstacle to the wallaby when it wanted to leave.

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