Historic Byng & Eastern Heritage Wine Trail ⋆ Silver Compass Tours
First settled by Europeans in the 1830s, the region surrounding Orange was the site of the first payable gold discovered in Australia in the 1850s.
There are a number of charming and historic goldrush-era villages to discover in the Orange region, such as Borenore, Byng and Millthorpe. This has also been home to the Wiradjuri nation for many thousands of years, with a rich cultural tradition and many sacred sites.
First, we would like to acknowledge the Wiradjuri people as the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to the Elders – past, present and future – for holding the memories, traditions, culture and hopes of this place.
HISTORIC VILLAGE OF BYNG
The first payable gold in Australia was discovered in Byng in the 1850s. The area was first established in 1829 by two Cornish settlers, Parson William Tom Senior and George Hawke, and other Cornish families swiftly followed to join them so it was known as The Cornish Settlement: until the village was renamed Byng in 1852.
George was the person responsible for bringing Byng’s delightful variety of English trees and colourful hawthorn bushes to the valley, which line the country roads and laneways and must have helped the new settlers feel a little more at home.
Byng’s pioneering settlers established copper mines in the area, until gold was discovered in its surrounding rivers and hills. Two local Cornish lads, John Lister and William Tom Junior, were taught how to ‘cradle’ for gold at Sheep Station Creek by the English adventurer Edward Hargreaves, just below where Byng’s Wesleyan Chapel now stands.
They eventually found gold in February 1851 at Lewis Ponds Creek at a nearby spot which became known as Ophir, and one of Australia’s most memorable goldrushes was born.
Much to the consternation of the families and relatives of the Cornish men who found it, history has incorrectly recorded that Edward Hargraves was ‘Australia’s First Discoverer of Gold’.
Byng and its former residents seem to have never recovered from the disappointment, and now all that remains of the once bustling village is a quaint sandstone church and pioneer cemetery, and the abandoned wild hawthorn-lined laneways.
SCENIC DRIVE THROUGH BYNG
Take a leisurely afternoon to amble along the laneways of Byng, which is just 15 or 20 minutes drive from Orange as you head towards the city from Bathurst on the Mitchell Highway. There will be a very sharp turn right at the Bluestone Church to Byng Road, so here’s a link to a GPS map to help you >>
There are several large private properties which were established by the original Cornish settlers in the area. Godolphin, settled in 1838 by free settlers Richard Glasson and his wife, is still a working sheep and cattle farm and while the old homestead has been replaced still standing are the Old Dairy Cottage and Stables that provide charming country accommodation.
The Wesleyan Chapel Methodist Church dates back to 1873 and along with the cemetery it is really all that remains of the village, along with the historic cemetery where the village’s former august citizens now lie to rest, covered in wildflowers in Spring.
It is at the bottom of the hill that the church stands on that John Lister and William Tom discovered the first gold in the creek amongst the willow trees. William Tom and his family now rest in the cemetery opposite, while John Lister is in the cemetery at Millthorpe.
As you continue on through the now-sparse village you will be taken into a loop behind the church, and this is the area where several of the original Cornish settler homesteads are placed. They are all private property, and descendants of the families continue to live in them but you can at least sneak a peek as you drive past (slowly).
The Pendarves property belonging to free settler George Hawke – who also arrived in Australia in 1838 and the Orange region not long after – became the first orchard of the area and gave birth to the region’s orchard industry. George planted 20 apple trees, along with a few cherry, plum and peach trees.
From this humble start, Byng became a primary source of the region’s apple-growing industry for well over 100 years. And thanks to George Hawke’s legacy, the Orange region is still famed for its apples and cherries.
Possibly the oldest homestead of Byng is ‘Bookanon’, a two-story rubble stone house which is still well preserved. The main section of the house dates back to 1839, although it is thought that a two-storey wing is potentially a little older. It has been in the Hawke family since 1872.
Continuing through the winding lanes with hawthorn hedgerows on either side you will see in the distance the old Springfield homestead. Our friend George Hawke was responsible for all the hawthorn planted in Byng, orginally bringing back plants from England which all died and so he then imported hawthorn from Tasmania to great results (according to him, it’s now considered a noxious weed in Australia).
“The road to ‘Bookanon’ hedged with hawthorn. When I returned to the Colony I brought with me a cask full of haws in order to introduce the hawthorn fence extensively, but they, like the trees, all died, but I imported some plants from Tasmania which grew luxuriantly; made a strong fence, and produced haws from which I have grown tens of thousands of plants. I have now some miles of fences of them on Pendarves, and have sold many thousand plants at 10 pounds per 1000.” – courtesy of The Orange Museum
By following the Byng Road, you will eventually be faced with a choice of turning right to Ophir and the old goldfields, or turning left on the Icely Road towards several superb vineyards. Ophir is definitely worth a visit but if you’re like me, by this time you’re thirsty. Turn left.
THE EASTERN HERITAGE WINE TRAIL #1
Here’s our top 3 nearby vineyards on the The Eastern Heritage Wine Trail to slake your thirst after an adventurous day of exploring the historic villages surrounding the Orange region. There’s another flurry of excellent cellar doors on this trail, but they are closer to the historic village of Millthorpe on the other side of the highway from Byng. More on those later…
A gorgeous garden and gorgeous wines, with wine-tastings held in the cellar door of the property’s californian-style bungalow. Winemaker Gerald Naef produces boutique wines that are approachable, and believes that all wines should be a good complement to food.
Elegant wines in The Old Schoolhouse, on another historic farming property of the Byng area. It’s also possible to stay in boutique cottage accommodation on the vineyard, could life get any better after a wine-tasting?
Wonderful vineyard views – take a seat on the deck and drink up the experience. Viticulturist Rob Coles likes to produce single-vineyard wines with thought and passion, and you can ponder this with a group of friends as you soak up the views.