They're Racing in Binda!

Words by Ellen Hill and photography by David Hill

Binda Picnic Races in the Southern Tablelands of NSW

It might be Flemington. It could be Royal Randwick.
Except it’s a tufty half-track in a paddock at Binda in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, population 211 according to the 2011 Census.
Picnic races have been held here each March almost without break since 1848, and horses will again gallop from the gate on March 14.

The track in the paddock 20km north of Crookwell (240km south-west of Sydney) is the second oldest registered racecourse outside Sydney and the oldest country racecourse in Australia.
Today Binda is one of the quaint sleepy villages and hamlets of the Upper Lachlan Shire fanning out along the backroads from the main centre of Crookwell an hour and a bit from Canberra, two hours down the Hume Highway from Sydney and two hours from Bathurst.

Tuena bookkeepers cottage - built in the bushranger days

Originally part of Gandangara people land, Binda (meaning “deep water’’) was settled by Europeans in 1825 and was shire’s commercial and administrative centre between the 1850s and `70s.
The discovery of gold at nearby Tuena – current population 45 – in the 1850s helped change the fortunes of settlers, boost the population to 500 and aggravate the persistent bushranger problem.
These days, dark tales of bushranger-infested mountains, escaped convicts and their delinquent sociopathic descendants wreaking bloody colonial pillage and murder are deliciously enticing.
Their essence is emotionally tangible in the crumbling walls of the old bookkeepers building and the hollows along Limestone Creek under the suspension bridge where a couple of colonial gold panners died tunnelling for their fortunes.

The old Crookwell Heritage Railway Museum

Keith Brown of Gunning Historical Society at the Canberra end of the shire relishes equally salacious tales as he points out landmarks in the town built on the spot from which Hamilton Hume and William Hovell set out to Melbourne.
“Do you know what this is?’’ he asks mischievously at Pye Cottage Museum. “It’s a sheep castrator so you don’t have to use your teeth.’’ He then explains in detail how it was done in colonial times “when this was frontiersville’’.
Sitting on the platform at the old Crookwell Heritage Railway Museum & Yards, legs swinging over the tracks, volunteer tour guide Brian Castles outlines the plan for maintenance trike vehicles to run 10km up the line with passengers. For the moment, visitors settle for a talk about how the line reduced travel time to Goulburn by a life-changing two days and poke through the bits and bobs in the station building.
Just as the sun sits defiantly at eye level, making the bluestone work on colonial buildings glow, we pull up outside Taralga Museum at the old 1868 Methodist Church property. Here, Taralga Historical Society has paid tribute to pioneers in the heritage shed, slab dairy and Cordingley Cottage.
But the Nissen Hut is a standout. Rows of young faces who have served in conflicts since the Boer War smile, frozen by a camera shutter. It’s the names that get you – the Chalkers, the Flemings, the Hardys and Quinns. They’re all still here in Taralga, living on through their descendants

Volunteer tour guide Brian Castles outlines the plan...

Back at the Canberra end of the shire is Oolong Sanctuary at Dalton where retired scientist Dr Gianni D’Addario has rehabilitated a broad acre sheep farm and gold mine property.
Heads almost bumping the ceiling as the 4WD bounces along a barely visible track, we pause near a billabong and allow the conversation of the bush to flow around us while guide Lewis Merriman talks and miniscule birds play hide and seek in the scrub.
Lewis rarely ventures into town, preferring the frogs, wild ducks, echidnas and wallabies for company: “It’s quiet here. Nobody’s around. You don’t have to please any neighbours.’’
Retreating into the dramatic chili red and black-toned folds of restored colonial gem Hillcrest House at Binda, we know what he means.
Built in the 1870s, the upmarket digs are a pleasant surprise given the main bathroom is splashed with shades of fuscia and the master bedroom is chocolate brown.
Rather than incite alarm, the light plays across the walls throughout the day before finally pooling into highlights at the focus of strategically placed lamps and the rich colour beckons you into the granite walls.

Retired scientist Dr Gianni D'Addario at his Oolong Sanctuary

The courageous palette was designed by owners Wentworth and Annette Hill, who scoured the globe without a budget in search of original artworks, antiques, unusual one-off pieces and décor with history and resonance.
Featuring the decadence of a chandeliered bathroom, the engulfing cosiness of deep sofas and the mesmerising flames of a combustion fire, the result is both sensuously dramatic and serenely comfortable.
Wandering through the custom-made French doors to sit on the wide verandah with a glass of local wine, it’s easy to release your mind to float with the breeze over the surrounding pasturelands.

The restored colonial gem Hillcrest House at Binda, NSW

WHAT TO DO

  • Binda Picnic Races will be held at Funny Hill Farm, Binda, on Saturday, March 14. Details: @BindaPicnicRaces on Facebook or 02 4832 1376
  • Oolong Sanctuary, Bush’s Lane, Dalton. friendsofoolong@skymesh.com.au.
  • Crookwell Heritage Railway Museum & Yards, Railway St, Crookwell. Details: http://www.gchr.4t.com/, crookwellheritagerailway@gmail.com or 0475 089 011.
    Taralga Museum, 83 Orchard St, Taralga. Open from 1pm to 4pm most Sundays. Details: www.taralgahistoricalsociety.com.au or (02) 4843 8112.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Crown Theatre Café, Goulburn St, Crookwell: the Greek fare is a delicious alternative to the fast food staples
  • Grandma’s at The Farm, 5796 Federal Hwy, overlooking an olive grove at Collector. Open 8.30am to 4pm seven days. Huge portions of home-style Mediterranean food
  • Laggan Pantry, 1 Peelwood Rd, Laggan. Fine dining with seasonal fresh regional produce. Open Friday and Saturday for dinner and Friday to Sunday for lunch. Bookings essential: thepantry@laggan.com.au or (02) 4837 3039.

WHERE TO STAY

Further details: visitupperlachlan.com.au

Ellen and David Hill were guests of Visit Upper Lachlan and Hillcrest House