Engineer's workshopAssayers hut & harvester

History

Forbes

Forbes is referred to as the “Heart of the Golden West” and is located 360 from Sydney and 772km from Melbourne. It is situated on the Newell Highway, the major Melbourne to Brisbane Highway. The town is quite picturesque as it is dissected by Lake Forbes and skirted by the Lachlan River. In the region are Parkes, Cowra, Wyangla Dam and Burrendong Dam. The principle rural production within the Forbes area includes wheat, fodder, wool, meat and fruit. In recent years mining has become a major employer in the area.

The Forbes area is steeped in history. Originally a small farming settlement, when gold was discovered in 1861, there was a phenomenal influx of between 28,000 to 40,000 people in three months. As the area swelled with gold miners the area abounded with bushrangers. One of the most notorious gangs was Frank Gardiner’s Gang, who held up the gold shipment in 1862 at Escort Rock at Eugowra not far from Forbes. The bushranger, Ben Hall, was also shot and killed in the Forbes area and now lies buried in Forbes cemetery.

The town has many historical buildings, which have been well maintained. The older buildings have been painted in heritage colour schemes and an attractive streetscape has been maintained. Unfortunately, the historic Albion Hotel burned down in 2009. McFeeters Motor Museum is on the Newell Highway near the Lachlan Vintage Village site.

Perhaps the most significant feature of the locality of Forbes is that it is the ideal stopover for travellers to or from Melbourne and Brisbane. Travellers can visit tourist attractions in the region such as the Taronga Western Plains Zoo and Parkes Radio Telescope (“The Dish”) and stay overnight in Forbes. The major coach tour operators serve Forbes. The local airport is popular for gliding. The regional airport is located in nearby Parkes.

"The traditional custodians of the land surrounding the Lachlan River included the Aboriginal peoples of the Gundungurra, Dharaq, Ngunnawal, Wiradjuri, Ngiyampaa, Wongaibon, Barindji, Yitha Yitha, Madi Madi and Nari Nari nations with the Wiradjuri being the predominant nation. The Wiradjuri tribal area has been described as "the land of the three rivers, the Wambool later known as the Macquarie, the Kalare later known as the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee, or Murrumbidjeri. The Murray River formed the Wiradjuri's southern boundary, the change from woodland to open grassland formed their eastern boundary." [Wikipedia]. Forbes hosts an annual Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival.

Lachlan Vintage Village

The Lachlan Vintage Village was constructed on about 80 ha ((200 acres) of land that was formerly goldfields. The Lachlan Vintage Village was a historically authentic recreation of the New South Wales gold mining and early farming era from 1860 to 1900. The entry building was the Trigalana woolshed replica containing a shop, offices, conference centre and the Black Ridge Restaurant.

The entrance building was separated from the main area of the Lachlan Vintage Village by a man-made canal. The main area of the Lachlan Vintage Village was reached by a suspension bridge and included a gold rush town, early farm, Nineteenth century streetscape and many other exhibits. Some of the buildings were relocated from their original locations and reconstructed while others were erected using the materials and building techniques of those early days.

Visitors could view stores, homesteads, a bank, printers, a school, gaol and various stables and farm buildings. Included in the display were replica miner's huts, mining shafts, a gold-panning creek, a horse operated whim, friendship farm, three mainline steam locomotives and six carriages, three narrow gauge locomotives and carriages and various horse-drawn carts, wagons and farming implements.

Some special features included in the Lachlan Vintage Village were replicas of Henry Lawson’s childhood home, the home of bushranger Ben Hall and a medical hall with a collection of over 2,000 apothecary items. A blacksmith worked from the Engineering Workshop demonstrating how day to day items could be forged.

The original concept was for a living, working museum. Visitors could interact with the historic displays. They could pan for gold and ride on a wagon. Visitors could watch horse-drawn ploughing, sowing & harvesting, whim operation and chaff cutting. One of the early managers, Wilf Norris, displayed great knowledge and skills working with horses and the old equipment. The Lachlan Vintage Village staff dressed in period costume.

At holiday times and for special occasions, Ben Hall, a great grandson of the bushranger of the same name, would bring his four half-Clydesdales and Cobb & Co coach to the Lachlan Vintage Village. Visitors could take a train ride around the Lachlan Vintage Village or a Cobb & Co coach ride. If the horses had been standing still for a while it could be a fairly brisk coach ride.

The people of Forbes and the surrounding area were major contributors to the Lachlan Vintage Village. Local people donated antiques, mementos, items of great sentimental value and countless hours of voluntary labor. The Friends of the Village was established and the group worked hard for the long-term development of the Lachlan Vintage Village.

Lachlan Vintage Village development

The Lachlan Vintage Village was established in the early 1970’s at a cost in excess of $1.5 million and was officially opened by the Prime Minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, in 1975. The Lachlan Vintage Village has been the subject of television and movie specials.

A large part of the Lachlan Vintage Village (about 75 ha) was originally Crown land made available for this special purpose. The Forbes Municipal and Forbes Shire Councils contributed considerable amounts of money, time and labour to the project. Both the State and Federal governments made substantial grants to the Lachlan Vintage Village.

The Forbes Municipal Council through a succession of managers operated the Lachlan Vintage Village up until March 1980 and then a private company leased the complex. Unfortunately, the Council became entangled in a lengthy Supreme Court battle with the lessees of the Lachlan Vintage Village. The Council installed a caretaker-manager, Wilf Norris, until such time as it could sell the complex. Tenders, which closed on 18 November 1982, were called for the sale of the Lachlan Vintage Village but no sale eventuated.

Nola & Dan O’Keefe were involved in the early development of the Lachlan Vintage Village catering for university students who built the replica mining buildings. Then in the early 1980’s they operated the Black Ridge Restaurant in the entrance complex. In 1984 the O’Keefe family purchased the Lachlan Vintage Village.

1988, the Bicentennial year, was a high point for the Lachlan Vintage Village. At that time the facility thrived. There were large numbers of visitors to operating displays of early settlers, mining and colonial life. Both steam trains and horse powered displays operated. There were also tours through the Lachlan Vintage Village on a quiet gas powered trolley.

The Lachlan Vintage Village hosted country music festivals and on one occasion balloon rides. It was a popular venue for weddings. The Black Ridge Restaurant was very popular for functions such as conventions, weddings and birthday parties. The souvenir shop was busy selling a variety of gifts, handicrafts and locally produced wines.

Lachlan Vintage Village decline

The late 1990’s were a difficult time for the Lachlan Vintage Village. Interest rates had been high for many years and became an intolerable burden for many businesses. The overheads of operating a living museum became excessive. Employee wages and conditions did not favour the tourist industry, insurance premiums increased exponentially and occupational health & safety compliance was an extra cost.

The Lachlan Vintage Village inevitably became more of a static display. During the 1990’s there seems to have been a definite loss of interest in Australian colonial history. Old Sydney Town, North of Sydney, closed. Australians seemed more interested in travelling overseas than domestically.

In the late 1990’s Dan & Nola O’Keefe gradually wound-down the operation of the Black Ridge Restaurant. Subsequent lessees of the restaurant did not continue the operation. In the early 2000’s Dan & Nola O’Keefe reduced the hours of operation of the Lachlan Vintage Village and basically took on the role of caretakers until it was closed to the public in 2004.

The Lachlan Vintage Village is now just a ghost of what it once was. While the canal and interesting layout remain the historic buildings are in disrepair. Unfortunately, the replica buildings were largely constructed of wood, which deteriorates over time.

Most of the moveable items of display have been sold. A historic lathe has been relocated to the South Coast and the statue of Ben Hall has been moved into a park in the Forbes CBD. The replica of Ben Hall’s hut was blown over in a storm. There still remains on the site a huge Garrett steam engine that belongs to the Dorrigo Railway Society.

The manager's three-bedroom hardiplank cottage at the back of the property on Berkley Street is currently leased to a family.

Click here for a .pdf PDFmap of the Lachlan Vintage Village buildings.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall was not forced into a life of crime as some people might think. An ex-policeman, Edgar F Penzig, with an interest in firearms investigated the Ben Hall story by looking at the police and court archives. Click here for a .pdf PDFof a short extract to his book. Penzig's book was published by the Historic Australia Publishing Company in 1985.

Original Lachlan Vintage Village concept

Barry Noble was the architect of the original concept of the Lachlan Vintage Village. The cover (.pdf PDF) of the proposal described it as a major presentation of Australian history.

Educational information about colonial life, gold and some of the old buildings

Below are links to some information in .pdf PDFformat:-