Murrurundi's position means that it will survive. It sits beneath the pass over the Liverpool Range and traffic these days is slowly increasing. Mining and grey nomads provide much of the impetus and the changing main street reflects that.
Service stations have reduced in number and two cafes I used to love have gone but, in the latter's place is a new, less atmospheric (but more popular) cafe that caters for passing trade.
However, out in the back streets you can still get a good idea of what Murrurundi used to be like and soak up some of its history.
In particular the early 20th century housing, the cemeteries, and some of the old commercial buildings.
This is across the road from the Railway Hotel. It closed in 1952 and it's sad to see such a potentially nice building in such a state. The signs of ruin are omnipresent and nothing more poignant than the German piano that sits, decrepit and unwanted, on the footpath (see pic 2).
This is from a trip I did in 2011
Day 9 – A Morning In Paradise
I did but see it passing by,
An outcrop set before the sky
Whose ramparts, torn and scoured with age
Sought to rise above the foliage.
Then one day I decided to chance my arm,
Turned off and drove out past a farm,
Out through the golf course by rough ground,
Until, at last, Paradise found.
For here in lovely Paradise Park for me
A lovely example of Nature’s gallery
The squeaks, squawks and screeches of birds do sound
Midst peace, serenity and scrub all around.
The ruffled white clouds above the distant range,
Foretellers in numbers of coming change
Buffeted by winds they travel on high
In time they’ll be part of the night sky.
I walk up through the cleft called keyhole
And note the eerie roots that roll
From fig trees whose life seems so tenuous
Clasping at conglomerate with tendrils numerous
Then I turn onto the Lookout Trail
And soon am gazing, marvelling at the scale
Of Gaudi-esque sculptures wrought by weather
While I take wide steps to avoid the heather.
And then at last I climbed the tor
Beyond in the vista Murrurundi I saw
And way beyond the Great Divide rose
And a foreground of wattle beneath my toes
This was a view to remember
A wide panorama viewed in September
That took in so much colourful ground
At last, paradise, not lost, but found.
In August 1845 the following notice was posted in the Government Gazette:
'Whereas, it has been represented to the government that Benjamin Hall of Murrurundi, and Alexander Paterson, lately in charge of Mr. John Chilcott 's station; at Doughboy Hollow, against both of whom warrants have been issued for their apprehension on charges of horse stealing, have effected their escape; his Excellency the Governor directs it to be notified that, in addition to the pecuniary rewards offered for the apprehension of these persons by the Association recently formed in the upper Hunter District for the suppression of horses and cattle stealing, a ticket of leave will be granted to any prisoner of the crown who shall apprehend and lodge in gaol either of the above named parties, and if the person apprehending either of the above named already a ticket of leave holder, application will be made to her Majesty for the allowance to him a a conditional pardon'
It seems that townsfolk were reluctant to betray one another despite the inducement of rewards. James Gowan was lock up keeper in Murrurundi at this time. He was dismissed from his position after being accused of giving or permitting an intimation to Benjamin Hall to keep 'out of the way'. By March 1846 Gowan was the local school master. His school was eighty yards from the lockup and was said to be patronized by 'the most respectable people in Murrurundi.' One of his students was nine year old Mary Hall.
Fondest memory: Six months after the above notice was posted, a Court case was heard at Maitland Quarter Sessions. William Hall the 13 year old son of missing Benjamin Hall was cross examined in Court as was his nine year old sister Mary. Mary stated that her brother William had been told by a fellow prisoner that if he did not do as he was told he would be sent away in a ship and drowned or be put in Newcastle gaol and hung. William was in fact put in a dark room near the Murrurundi lockup, the windows of which had been boarded up. It was said he cried very much through fear; he was kept there some days and then put in with another prisoner who told him' Beware of men in wigs, only give them such answers as suits'. The cries of the boy, terrified in the darkened room, were said to be such that they had brought tears to the eyes of the lockup keeper's wife.
Although the prosecutor thought that William Hall, albeit young in years, was 'evidently old in crime and well versed in dissimulation', William must have impressed some in the Court that day as it was stated to the court that a gentleman was willing to take him as an apprentice, being strongly impressed with the belief that his obvious intelligence and energy of character could be turned to good account.
The Attorney General was of opinion that in the absence of the father who had absconded the court had authority to bind the boy. His mother Eliza (Somers) Hall, was in Court and consented to the arrangement. (4). (William's father Benjamin Hall was captured at Mr. Hamilton's station on the Lachlan (near Bathurst) two years later by Trooper Hoy of the Mounted Police.)
Perhaps William was more fortunate than his younger brother Ben who was destined for an early grave after becoming one of Australia's best known bushrangers, arguably the best known after Ned Kelly, but that's a whole other story.
In the late 1840's a visitor passing through Murrurundi described the area:
'Murrurundi affords a fair specimen of an inland town. We were greeted with the sight of something green; for the rain, probably attracted by the hills, often drives through the deep valleys as through so many open tunnels.
We have two inns both well built; and one is kept by a widow of real, homely, English aspect, and as kind and attentive as neat and respectable. Her nicely plaited widow's cap and her fine countenance tell a long and touching tale. There is a slab built Roman Catholic chapel, with broken windows and otherwise much out of repair; and, behind it, is an open graveyard, with some neat monuments and head stones. There are two or three brick cottages, and a tolerable sprinkling of bark huts; and, at a little distance in the bush, is the court house. Here divine service is performed once a month by a clergy man of the Church of England who travels twenty five miles for the purpose; and the magistrate's clerk gives the responses. A Roman Catholic priest comes from Maitland four times a year to shrive his flock at the slab built chapel. He also catches every stray drunkard, of whatever denomination, on whom he can lay his hands, and insists on his becoming a tee totaller. There is a large store, where every thing that can possibly be required in the bush is to be bought.
In one of the bark huts you would find a good natured, intelligent, and comfortable looking medical man, who came out in charge of emigrants, and has not exactly made up his mind when he shall return, but will probably think about it some day or other. In the meantime, he turns his skill to account, and is gradually accumulating cattle and horses; and, for the love he bears them, may perhaps become a fixture. He reads 'Blackwood,' and is fond of talking of 'that fine old fellow, Christopher North,' whom he follows through all his fishing excursions. In the climate of NSW a bark hut is as substantial a dwelling as a man needs; such abodes are often very comfortable; but they do not, unless double roofed, afford sufficient protection from the sun. The river Page runs, or rather lingers, in the rear of the town. The people seem happy and contented; and as all of them have cattle running on the waste land, they are at no loss either for meat, or a matter of constant interest.'
Fondest memory: Although this gives a peaceful almost idyllic picture, the district still had a reputation for lawlessness. In April of 1848 four men were tried in Maitland for the assault of a Constable at Murrurundi in the previous February. A violent encounter occurred when a half drunken William Wilsdon 'grossly abused' Magistrate William Henry Warland as he rode through the town. Magistrate Warland instructed Constables McDonald and Doyle to arrest Wilsdon and the gathering crowd responded by obstructing the constables in their task. Constable Berkely and Mounted Policeman Trooper Barnam were called to assist and they were jostled and kicked particularly Berkeley who was said to have been terribly bruised and hurt. Despite this the men accused were found not guilty as Constable Berkely, remaining loyal to the townsfolk and reluctant to betray them, had stated that the only blows received were from a man named Wood, (not one of the defendants). One of the magistrates hearing this case was Edward Denny Day. He could be forgiven for thinking that the rough little town had improved little since the days of the bushranging Jew Boy Gang.