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With reports of payable gold discoveries in 1851 and 1852, this land west of the Great Dividing Range and north of Orange that would become the town of Hill End was one of the first areas affected by the gold rush. By the 1870s Hill End was one of the biggest inland towns supported by the substantial community of gold miners and their families with the population reaching 8000 at its peak. The goldfields surrounding Hill End would produce some of the largest quantities of gold including the Holtermann nugget. Discovered in 1872, the whole gold nugget which stood nearly as high as the immigrant miners Ludwig Beyers and Bernhardt Holtermann who had uncovered it, contained an estimated 3000 ounces of payable gold and was worth over ₤10 000 at the time. With several banks, schools, specialty shops, churches and 27 pubs established to service the community, Hill End appeared to be one of the most successful gold rush towns in New South Wales. Yet by 1874 with miners often paid through a share of the prospective profits rather than cash, miners and their families began to suffer and with gold deposits seemingly exhausted, many chose to move to nearby gold rush towns such as Orange.
With the failure of various operations established in the early 1900s to try and extract more gold from the Hill End mines, the dwindling township was supported by surrounding agricultural crops and some livestock farming, yet would never enjoy the same prosperity it once did. The distinctly picturesque land surrounding the town and the rich colonial heritage of Hill End endeared itself to Australian artists Donald Friend and Russel Drysdale who were visiting the area in 1947. They would subsequently buy a small cottage in the town which continued to be frequented by other prominent Australian artists including Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart throughout the 1950s and John Olsen and Brett Whiteley in the 1960s. Haefliger’s Cottage, after artist Paul Haefliger who had lived in there during the 1950s, is now part of an Art Gallery of NSW-run artist-in-residence program which was established in 1995 to continue bringing new artists to the region. More than 30 well-known artists have visited Hill End on the program, including painters Richard Goodwin, Wendy Sharpe, Peter Wright, Toni Spence, Stephanie Sheppard, Colin Lanceley, Luke Sciberras, and photographers Tamara Dean and Dean Sewell. Luke Sciberras and Gria Shead now live in the town. Hill End has now been home to three generations of artists, cementing its history in Australian modernism.
In 1967 Hill End was declared a centre of historical significance and placed under the protection of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Due to the restrictions this places on redevelopment within the town, the village and homes which date back to the 1860s remain mostly untouched and provide the best preserved example of a colonial town in New South Wales.
SSC17507: Hill End