Lithgow - in a Flash!

Words by Dorian Mode and photography by David Hill at Deep Hill Media

Lithgow has reinvented itself to become a bonafide tourist destination

Just a short 2 hour 10 min drive from Sydney, Lithgow has reinvented itself from a post-industrial village to a bonafide tourist destination.

You may not think of Lithgow as a tourist mecca but within minutes of the city itself, you can be walking through historic villages, visiting picturesque lookouts, sitting beside clear flowing creeks or discovering the many beautiful valleys that dominate the region.

When vast coal reserves were discovered at Lithgow in the early 19th century, the town’s fate was sealed. Soon belching smelters, brickworks, mills and power plants and other portals of heavy industry dominated the mountainous landscape.

As the rich coal inexorably depleted and those sundry industries faded away, Lithgow needed to reinvent itself. Now, Lithgow has become a great place to visit, with excellent dining options, sight-seeing, fun bush walks and outstanding museums (we loved the museums!).

I reckon Lithgow is a much-underrated getaway. It’s only a little over two hours in the car from Sydney and it’s a good jumping off point for the foodie/vino towns of Orange and Mudgee.

But before we hit Lithgow proper-ish, there’s another place I need to tell yawl about. We like to stop at Hartley Historic Village, at the base of the Blue Mountains at the bottom of Victoria Pass before you enter Lithgow.

Here you travel back in time to the 1830s as Hartley remains of one of the first rural settlements west of the Blue Mountains and was important in opening up the area for grazing. In the village, there are seventeen buildings of historic interest.

Indeed, the scene of many convict trials, The Courthouse (1837) is now a museum and offers interesting guided tours.

Don't miss the nearby historic village of Hartley

There’s also a brand spanking new indigenous gallery located in the old Farmer’s Inn building at Hartley Historic Site. Moreover, it’s the only dedicated indigenous art gallery in the NSW Central West that showcases the evolution of art from the ancient culture, to convict Australia and then to modern Aboriginal talent, featuring work by Aboriginal painters, weavers, designers, jewellers
and photographers.
Hartley Historic Site manager Steve Ring says, “Visitors can actually experience the evolution of art at the site from the crude convict scratchings in the cells in the old courthouse to the quality artworks exhibited in the Kew-Y- Ahn Art Gallery, which we like to say were 40,000 years in the making.”

Talisman Gallery is another interesting place to visit at the village. Recently more than 60 people – under the tuition of Blackheath metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick
– took part in bashing into shape a 
fire poker. It’s called the Fire Poker Challenge. “People came from as far as Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “We had couples who did it as a bonding exercise and a lot of older people enjoyed it.” For others, the fire poker challenge fulfilled a lifelong wish to try blacksmithing. All participants kept their hand-forged fire pokers. “One woman plans to keep her poker in her car for security.”

A lazy picturesque 20 min drive is the town of Lithgow itself. (I’m a fan of fly- fishing so I usually stop at Thompsons Creek Dam on the way with a box of flies, much to my wife’s chagrin.)

As aforementioned, you may not think of Lithgow as a tourist mecca but within minutes of the city itself, you can be walking through historic villages, visiting picturesque lookouts, sitting beside clear flowing creeks or discovering the many beautiful valleys that dominate the region. Not only are there’s loads of things to do in Lithgow but the town offers a wide choice of places to stay.

Indeed, a great place to stay is the 
local club. Providing excellence in service, entertainment and leisure for almost 130 years, the Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club – known fondly by locals as “The Workies” – is the oldest registered club in NSW. They’ve just invested $6.5 million in upgrades to the club including a new 36-room 4-star motel with two disability access rooms, new restaurant and art gallery. They’ve also recently upgraded their restaurant.

Lithgow Workies Club general manager, Geoff Wheeler said: “We’ve never had a dining venue at the club before where you can have table service and enjoy quality wines and food in a quality environment with lovely views and decor.”

The Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club - known locally as “The Workies”

Small Arms Factory Museum
In 1912, the Government built the Small Arms Factory in Lithgow to produce weapons and small arms. The factory was the first modern manufacturing facility in Australia. The Museum presents a visual journey into the social and engineering history of this renowned facility.

State Mine Heritage Park
This museum’s collection of memorabilia and artefacts depict working life in Australia’s coal mines. Lithgow State Mine’s newest attraction is the spectravision presentation called “Fire in the Mine” and its the latest amazing exhibition at the Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park. (This is really amazing with a hologram display that will really move you.)

Turon Technology Museum
The Turon Technology Museum displays the engines of the Industrial Revolution covering the period 1850-1950. Exhibits include the steam and internal engine and the internal combustion engine and its development.

Do you have worms?
One of the more interesting Lithgow attractions is your glow worms. (Isn’t there an ointment for that?) Located within the World Heritage listed Wollemi National Park, the Glow Worm Tunnel area offers magnificent views of pagoda rock formations, extensive flora and a wide array of native wildlife including glow worms, kangaroos and wallabies. The walk into the tunnel follows a disused railway line, which once descended into the (aforementioned) Newnes valley, transporting shale oil.

Visit the indigenous gallery at Hartley Historic Site

The highlight of a trip to the tunnel is the thousands of Glow Worms that are visible in the darkness of the tunnel. A torch is required for the tunnel, however, don’t shine the light at the glow worms directly, as they are sensitive to light and also to noise. Much like me on holidays!

Hold that train…!

What about the Zig Zag?? (SOTC readers, I can hear you asking me already!)

Lithgow’s Zig Zag Railway is a 19th Century engineering masterpiece and renowned tourist railway. But since the disastrous bush fire in October 2013, when fire swept through the railway, a cadre of zealous volunteers have been busy replacing lost machinery, repairing buildings and rolling stock and preparing for the eventual recommencement of tourist railway operations. And after a huge amount of work, rail maintenance activities recommenced on 2 July 2016.
The gang hope to resume passenger services in late 2019. So, watch this space – then turn left – then turn right – then turn left…then turn…

The Old Tralee homestead at Hartley built in 1846

Before we go…

After your stay at Lithgow, why not head back to Sydney via the Bells Line of Road, through the Hawkesbury to experience the World Heritage Area from a different perspective. It makes a nice change from the busy Great Western Highway. And on the return leg, you could explore Jenolan Caves and Oberon for day trip!


The gallery, Hartley Historic Site

Great Western Hwy (400m before the turn off to Jenolan Caves heading west) is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Details: Ron 0407 723 722 or