I didn’t make this title up, this is seriously how this town pitches itself on the only sign on the Mid-Western Highway that gives any clue as to where it is. The charming historic village of Carcoar should possibly be more of a tourist-magnet than it is, but for now it’s a wonderful hidden gem of a #localsecret township nestling on both sides of the banks of the Belubula River (just past Millthorpe and Blayney if you’re coming from Sydney or Orange, or you can come straight over from Bathurst).
One of Australia’s most beautifully preserved goldrush-era villages, Carcoar was originally the third settlement west of the Blue Mountains (gazetted in 1839) and earmarked for grandeur at the time with a courthouse, two banks, post office, tearooms, three churches and about three times more pubs and hotels. The Carcoar School of Arts was also erected in 1901, and the town is classified by the National Trust of Australia due to the number of intact 19th century buildings.
Starting off as an agricultural hub, the town exploded Wild Wild West-style in the 1850s with the discovery of gold. By the 1860s the place was swarming with gold-panners, escaped convicts and bushrangers, and the old Commercial Bank in the main Belubula Street was the scene of Australia’s first daylight bank robbery. The Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall gang counted the Carcoar district as their playground.
Walking down the streets here is like stepping straight back into the late 1850s – except where is everybody? Carcoar’s current lonely ambience feels a little wistful, as it was obviously a hopping place at some stage. The town got passed by as a major railway route in favour of Blayney in the 1870s, the gold started running out in the 1890s, and then in 1893 the town struck tragedy with the axe-murder of an esteemed bank manager and a female family friend by a wealthy local grazier’s son. You can read the details of the sorry tale in the local courthouse, and apparently it took the community decades to come to terms with. Not long after, WWI rolled into town and took quite a few more of the local sons – never to return. And it feels like the place kind of gave up the ghost after that.
A highway bypass in the 1970s sealed its fate, however wandering though the wide deserted streets of Carcoar now you kind of get the feeling that this place has just drifted off into a forgetful slumber and is almost, just quite on the verge of possibly, maybe waking up.
Stay + Eat
Stoke House Carcoar – charming bed + breakfast with charming hosts, and a garden cafe attached.
The Royal Hotel – recently refurbished and offering dinner, bed and breakfast.
Explore + Shop
This Sydney Morning Herald article on Carcoar provides a comprehensive list of the historic buildings, history and things to see in Carcoar. This place really comes alive once a year for Australia Day, with Cobb & Co coach rides, a re-enactment of the town being held up by bushrangers and the atmosphere of a 19th century village fair.
There are quite a few small homeware boutiques, but the real secret to Carcoar is it’s amazing antiques. Here are my two favourites (and I was really tempted not to share the details of Carcoar Trading…):
Bridge Tearooms – step straight back into the 1920s, treat yourself to a devonshire tea and shop to your hearts content if antique silver, glassware and lace doilies are your thing. They don’t have a website, and they don’t do social media. You’ll have to go there and have a real life experience.
Carcoar Trading – ummm…this is a terrible shop. really not worth the drive. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It’s about one of my most favourite shops in the world, it’s packed to the rafters with antique porcelain, china, glassware, crystal, linen and lace. When you step inside the front door, onto the floorboards, the whole shop rattles. LOVE IT.
Top tip: when you get to Blayney, the signs to Carcoar to get through town are atrocious. Follow the signs to Cowra, and then once you’re on the Mid-Western Highway just out of town you will see a sign with poor little Carcoar tacked onto the bottom as an afterthought. Hopefully one day someone fixes this.