By Roger ALLNUTT
The peaceful Lachlan River flows through parts of Central Western New South Wales including the towns of Forbes and Cowra.
The three well known towns – Cowra and Forbes together with Grenfell are all thriving community centres with a great deal of civic pride. The streets are clean and neat, parks and gardens are a riot of colour and the historic buildings are well maintained. Each offers a good selection of boutique shops, hotels and other types of accommodation, and restaurants and cafes are of a good standard. Above all the locals are kind and friendly and very welcoming.
Perhaps the best known is Cowra because of the iconic Japanese Garden and other reminders of the time during World War II when Japanese prisoners of war were held in Cowra. The breakout from the compound on the night of 4/5 August 1944 is well captured by a 9 minute hologram of the event and its aftermath which shows throughout the day at the Cowra Visitor Information Centre – also famous for its Rose Gardens.. To further immerse yourself in this event visit the Prisoner of War campsite with replica guard tower, stroll the Garrison Walk and pay your respects at the Australian and Japanese War Cemeteries.
However the jewel of Cowra is the Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre. Five hectares of manicured lawns, serene lakes and cascading streams combine with sweeping views of Cowra’s countryside. Designed by Ken Nakajima the Kaiyushiki (strolling) garden symbolises the Japanese landscape. Two huge boulders dominate the highest point of the garden and the view from there is overwhelming.
The gardens are beautiful during all seasons but are at their best in spring when the annual Sakura (Cherry Blossom Festival) is held. View the Koi karp from the viewing platforms overlooking the lakes and enjoy the open air Tea House. The Cultural Centre includes two galleries with an extensive collection of Japanese artworks and artefacts.
In the centre of town the Civic Square proudly houses Australia’s World Peace bell made from melted down coins donated by 106 countries. For railway enthusiasts the Lachlan Valley Railway Heritage Centre has a large collection of historic engines, carriages and wagons. Outside of Cowra a drive through the countryside takes you to peaceful Wyangala Dam. Nearby town of Canowindra is known for its hot air balloon flights.
Cowra is the centre of a large wine growing region. Cellar door sales are available. The Quarry Restaurant and Cellar Door is a good place for lunch (Thursday to Sunday) and dinner (Friday and Saturday) and they also provide wine tasting and sales from local wineries.
Grenfell is 50km west of Cowra and another picturesque and community minded town. Birth place of poet Henry Lawson who was born in 1867. His name is an Anglicised version of his father’s Norwegian name Larsen and there is a small bust of him set in a sort of glass box between two of the lovely historic buildings that line Main St. You can listen to some of his poetry at the push of a button.
The main street of Grenfell stretches up a short hill and contains the usual mix of hotels (the Railway Hotel and Royal Albion are impressive), historic old bank buildings, boutiques and even a supermarket. The adjacent narrow George St which suffered a fire many years ago still has a Salvation Army Citadel and Band Hall.
Two shops worth visiting are Jan Parlett’s Country Experience in the renovated Exchange Hotel, an eclectic collection of items from around the world – quite unlike anything I have ever seen before.
Across the road Raffia & Co became famous when milliner Lisa Schaefer (a local from a nearby farm) designed the hats worn by local girl Emily Hunter when she won Fashions on the Field at the Melbourne Cup carnival in 2015. Her mother made all her dresses. Lisa has now turned her upstairs workroom into a terrific exhibit of the all the outfits (including shoes) Emily wore during the following year as ambassador for the 2016 carnival.
I stayed at Grenfell Hall, a historic (c1907) Victorian residence meticulously restored by owner ex-diplomat Warwick Crampton. One of its iterations was as a convent and the old chapel is now a luxurious guest room– I had never slept in a chapel before. There are two other guest bedrooms and those and the sitting/dining rooms are full of period furnishings many collected during his postings.
About 18km from Grenfell Weddin Mountains National Park is an island of bushland in a sea of agriculture rich in wildlife, great for walking and birdwatching. It has a Ben Hall (bushranger) cave.
About 35 km northwest of Grenfell on the road to Forbes is a unique experience at Phillip and Jan Diprose’s Ochre Arch Farm. Both passionate about sharing their knowledge in running their farm which runs Merino sheep and Angus cattle you learn by discussion and also touring the property about holistic management principles, off-grid power supply, sustainable farming while taking in the panoramic views, and see the Aboriginal ochre quarry, artefacts and scar tree. The experience was a real eye opener for me. The home cooked scones and slices were a bonus.
Forbes is another historic town. In a smallish area in the centre of town close to Victoria Square are a number of lovely old buildings. Many have been used in feature films including the Post Office, Town Hall, Court House, Vandenberg Hotel and some churches. A self-guided tour booklet of the Heritage Trail (best on foot) is available from the Visitors Centre located in the old Railway Station.
The exploits of bushranger Ben Hall is synonymous with Forbes and you can watch a DVD at the Visitors Centre or take in a showing of the recently premiered film The Legend of Ben Hall. You can also visit his grave in the town cemetery but it a bit overgrown.
Forbes is a centre for wheat, sheep, dairy and fruit and one of the prime agricultural regions of NSW. If you want to witness the frenzy of cattle sales check out the action at the Central West livestock exchange about 12km out of town towards Parkes – check at the Visitor Centre for times.
For car lovers McFeeter’s Motor Museum is across the River Lachlan south of the town centre. A fascinating collection of vintage cars and motor bikes including an elaborate Japanese funeral vehicle, some very fast utes and a number of Rolls Royce cars.
The Lachlan River winds through the town and the parks along the banks are a perfect spot for a picnic or for a stroll on the pathways. Just out of town Gum Swamp Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for over 150 species of birds and the hide (rather dilapidated) is a good spot from which to view them.
Farmers Kim and Wendy Muffet sold their property at Wirrinya south of Forbes a few years ago and established a Green Living Farm Experience with permaculture and sustainable living. Their property Girragirra just south of the town includes a self-contained eco-friendly retreat and I can highly recommend it as the perfect place for a restful break. Watch the local ducks and other birds on the ‘pond’ close to the retreat. You can indulge in some of the produce from their flourishing garden.
Roger Allnutt was a guest of Centre West Tourism New South Wales