Five nights we stayed in Gulgong with the Australian Camper Trailer Club participating in workshops focussed on camping equipment, camp cooking, LED lighting, trailer maintenance, the women knitted and nattered, the men swapped stories and kicked tyres; a good time was had by all.
In free time between the socialising and checking out each other’s rigs we spent our days acquainting ourselves with the historic town of Gulgong. We found the people friendly wherever we went who were genuinely interested in our event, willing to speak about their town with pride.
An information session hosted by a 75-year old volunteer of the Henry Lawson Centre recounted tales of early gold-mining days at the beginning of the 19th century. Henry Lawson is one of Australia’s celebrated bush poets and authors very much celebrated hereabouts. In the cool sanctuary of the old Salvation Army church we heard the main drift of the region’s history but the highlights were the back stories of those who held centre-stage during those harsh times. Henry’s mother, Laura, one of the first women to own and run a business in the and not any business, a printing press on which she printed the first magazine Dawn which she used as a voice for women and to speak against the unionists.
With temperatures ranging between 25 and 30degrees C inland Australia is not for the feint-hearted or those easily affected by dry heat. Beside the pioneers of rural Australia we are a whimpish lot with our modern conveniences, speedy transport travelling in to well settled towns. In its heyday Gulgong was described ‘as the hub of the world’ with a population topping 22, 000 mot of whom were involved in the gold fields, and all aspects of the economy that supported industries both locally and further afield.
Mining is thirsty work and fifty-five pubs in the surroundings area helped slate the thirst of dusty miners who exchanged stories and local knowledge. When gold finds dwindled the region emptied as fortune hunters moved on to more lucrative pickings, the remaining population fell to 2, 200 (2011 census) and is hard put to keep what was once a thriving community afloat.
Today volunteers resource Gulgong with energy and passion and over time many old buildings have been purchased – with the help of grants – and restored to as near original state as practical, or possible. The commitment and enthusiasm is tangible and local friendliness is infused with such pride and sense of ownership.
The Camper Trailer Club hold two events every year: an auction and a trivia night. The auction night tables are arrayed with donated items – all camping related – and this year, as every other year, the items went for more than original purchase price. A local auctioneer runs the night which is lively with much jockeying between bidders but all in good heart knowing that all money will be benefit local businesses.
The annual trivia night was every bit as lively as other. While laughter and chatter punctuate the more serious moments of brain-racking the best part is the music challenge. Short snippets of songs are played and teams identify both the song title and singer. Wen the familiar notes blare from the speakers; in unison the hall erupts to sing along … I like to have a beer with Duncan ‘coz Duncan’s me mate; Delilah; lick go the Sheers and of course Waltzing Mathilda.
When the Camper Trailer group swoops in to town the opportunities are not lost on the locals. Volunteers host talks, like that at the Henry Lawson Centre, another was held in the Prince of Wales Opera House that opened its doors to stage a series of short dialogues and music squeezed from an accordion to the beat of a battered violin. All proceeds of the night went to support the historic trust that works tirelessly to reclaim as many old buildings as possible.