Four hours inland from Sydney, the gold-rush town of Hill End demands more than a two-day-weekend getaway. Settled off the major highways near Mudgee, Orange and Bathurst, it’s not a town you pass through on your way to somewhere else; it requires more purpose to take the turn-off on to the recently paved road. And there are plenty of reasons why you should.
Like for many artists over the years, Hill End has become a creative hideaway for Sydney-based designer and photographer, Ingrid Weir. After bumping into a representative from National Parks and Wildlife Service on the street (in true small-town fashion), she was invited to create a pop-up cafe, Hillendia, over the Easter long weekend. The town hopes to attract a restaurateur to lease out the historic building in the future.
“I’ve always loved creating spaces with atmosphere,” says Weir. With a background in TV and theatre, Weir has designed for shows such as Play School and The Chaser’s War on Everything, and created pop-ups everywhere from Mexico to the Opera House. (Creativity runs in the family, too – Ingrid’s father Peter Weir directed the classic Australian film, Picnic at Hanging Rock among others).
Rich in history, thousands of hopefuls flocked to Hill End during the gold rush of the 1850s. But long after the gold dried up the town’s sparkle remained. Walking through the streets today, you can still catch glimmers of the town in its prime – many of the buildings and houses remain largely unchanged. Soaking up the picturesque background, it’s easy to see why it attracted so many artists. In the 1950s it became something of an artists’ colony, with Australian painters Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend among its famous past residents. The popular Artists in Residence program still runs today.
Set in a beautiful, two-storey building, Hillendia will pay homage to the town’s bustling past. Ex gold miners created sign crafted from twigs hanging from the balcony. Inside, the walls are decorated with pieces by local artists. An enlarged photo from the Holterman collection is a nod to the gold-rush era and intentionally miss-matched furniture gathered from around the village fills the space with vintage charm. Unlike some city cafes, you won’t feel obliged to leave the second you’ve finished your coffee. Comfortable chairs encourage lingering, making it easy to laze away an afternoon. “The building itself has a very beautiful character so it’s really about bringing it out in a simple way. I like spaces that are warm and relaxed, so people feel relaxed coming into them,” says Weir.
The menu will be simple and classic, so don’t come expecting 62-degree eggs. Local bakers are making all the food, such as apple pie with homegrown blackberries, snickerdoodles (American-style cookies coated in cinnamon sugar), savoury pies, frittatas and a few sandwich options. Coffee beans will be supplied by nearby Bathurst roasters Fish River Roasters. “It’s become a real village affair,” says Weir. “A lot of people from around the town are going to help out.”
Home to a couple of hundred residents, countless kangaroos, a general store, a local pub, and for the Easter break a pop-up cafe, there’s a lot to love about the little old town of Hill End. Set up a campsite (or rent a cottage), grab your walking boots and take a step back in time.
Hillendia is at 1 Clarke Street, Hill End and is open from Thursday April 2 until Monday April 6. Opening hours are 8am–5pm.