The Ten Dollar Town

Kevtoberfest #6 Gulgong

When decimal currency was introduced in Australia in 1966, the newly minted bank notes featured images of notable Australians and scenes connected with their lives. The town of Gulgong, in central New South Wales, was depicted on the original ten dollar note. What was it about Gulgong that distinguished it from countless other small country towns?

After gold was discovered in 1870 Gulgong flourished and the population rose to more than 20,000, although today it’s closer to 2,500. The narrow streets are lined with distinctive 19th century buildings, whose wide, shady verandas and ornate wrought iron lacework are heritage listed.

Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba once performed at Gulgong’s Prince of Wales Opera House. Built in 1871, it’s the oldest performing arts building still in use in the southern hemisphere.

While the colonial architecture of Gulgong is historically significant, it was the town’s connection with one of Australia’s best known writers which led to its inclusion on our currency. Henry Lawson – poet, story teller and bush balladeer, was born on the gold fields of Grenfell. In 1873, he moved with his family to the Gulgong district, following his father’s relentless search for riches. Henry went to school at nearby Eurunderee and spent his childhood in the area before moving to Sydney with his mother in 1883. His experiences of country life influenced his writing and Henry often referred in his work to the people and places he knew so well.

Gulgong celebrates its connection with Henry Lawson with an annual festival in June and a small but comprehensive museum. At The Henry Lawson Centre, once the Salvation Army Hall, a collection of documents, photographs and copies of his works tells the narrative of his life, from his birth to his sad decline into alcoholism and poverty.

Best known for poems like The Ballad of the Drover and Andy’s Gone With Cattle,  Henry Lawson remains forever remembered, along with the town of Gulgong, on Australia’s first ten dollar note.

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49 thoughts on “The Ten Dollar Town

    • I didn’t know how sad his life was until we went to this museum. He suffered a childhood illness and lost his hearing, then went through several very painful treatments in an effort to have it restored. His mother didn’t really like him and his marriage failed miserably. He was very successful as a writer but that wasn’t enough to stem his addiction to alcohol. In his later life, he was supported by a wonderful landlady who took care of him. I read that he would give away his money to homeless people and then not be able to buy food for himself. That was sad.

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  1. “The Ballad of the Drover” is such an evocative and sad poem. And so Australian. I love this type of country town; the architecture; the history; to me this is the heart of Australia not the suburban bustling metropolises. But I may have said this to you before 😀 😀

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    • It is a beautiful poem and really shows how hard life was. I wonder if it was based on a true event. We love these towns too. Gulgong and Nundle and other small town like these have so much history. I always say to Glen we could spend several days at any of them.

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  2. A couple of thoughts Carol. Firstly, what was the currency before decimalisation? Was it Australian pounds and shillings, similar to the UK? Second, I am struck by the buildings in this town. Despite the links with England, if I didn’t know you were writing about Australia, I would have looked at the pictures and thought “USA”. Did the presence of gold attract prospectors from America, who brought over their house designs too, perhaps?

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      • I was thinking about that when I commented but decided to leave it out ET – you intuited 🙂 So many of our artists and writers have battles with addictions and depression. I think it is because they are such sensitive souls and self medicate to destruction. It’s hard to be a sensitive man in this world! It makes the work so much more precious don’t you think?

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        • Part of his problem was that he lost his hearing as a child. Also his mother wasn’t very nice to him. It was interesting to read about his state funeral, the first ever given to anyone other than a politician. So sad that he didn’t know how much he was loved.

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  3. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Hetton Lyons Country Park | restlessjo

    • You would only need a half a day in Gulgong but a little further south is Mudgee. We spent a couple of days there and my next post will be about that. I’m pleased to hear you’re learning more about Australia from my posts Agness.

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