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Bathurst is more than petrol-head heaven, writes Simone Ziaziaris.
There are not many towns where you can bunk in the room of a schoolmaster, eat pizzas at the alter of a church or sip on a couple of old fashions in a heritage chambers building.
In Bathurst you can. The town changes colour like a chameleon. Its leaves turn in autumn from a vibrant green to an almost translucent shimmer of gold, which is fitting given it has a wealthy history that dates back to the first gold rush in the 1800s. It is not shy of visitors. Of course, it’s famous for the Bathurst 1000, when car enthusiasts flood into town. But you don’t need to be a petrol-head to appreciate this New South Wales destination. Like its swift ability to change suit with the seasons, the town has managed to push forward with the times, converting some of its most worn and decrepit buildings into contemporary spaces. The latest makeover has drawn in a new rush of travellers, eager for a taste of the local produce and wine or to spend a night in some of the country’s oldest homes and buildings.
A NIGHT WITH HISTORY
Ever wondered where the strict schoolmasters tucked in at night after class? (Think Miss Hannigan or the wrenched Miss Trunchbull). No doubt there have been a few tough teachers who have spent after-school hours by the fire at the Old Parish Hall. Just outside of Bathurst, the 1842 building breathes history. Its wooden-arched front door stares up towards a church which sits comfortably atop a soaring hill and sings on the hour. The sweet bells are a reminder that this is not just another Airbnb. Originally built to accommodate the schoolmaster and a classroom of about 50 pupils, the Old Parish Hall is now a modern accommodation for guests swinging into Bathurst. The floor is still paved with old, pale wood slabs and the light creeps in through the trinity of stain-glassed windows glowing in the hall and kitchen alike. But don’t fret, there isn’t a school book in sight. Its history is hung on the walls in the form of photographs and articles, and leaves me wondering — what has this hall heard and seen before me? It is quiet and only the rumble of the flame heaters are heard as we kick back to do some old-fashion reading.
There is no television in the hall, no distraction and no temptation to sink back into reality. It is one of the true beauties of this place.
The leaves quiver on the main street from the crisp breeze and it is clear summer has well and truly left Bathurst. While locals are still pottering about in thongs and singlets, this city-slicker is fully wrapped up — winter coat, boots, woolly socks and all. It’s pretty incredible given we are only three hours outside of Sydney, where the chill is yet to hit.
Luckily for me, the town is abundant with fireplaces to warm the toes and bars to warm the soul. My pick? Church Bar. The restaurant and bar is seamlessly tucked away behind Bathurst’s main street. The drinking den — which is full of character as much as people — is a sneaky surprise for out-of-town visitors. The fireplace is the first thing to welcome guests. The second is the bar, which runs down the aisle and is topped with bunches of edible flowers, fruit and other cocktail necessities.
The menu isn’t limited to martinis and cocktails, however. It includes the usual spirits and offers a range of home-grown and imported beers as well as an extensive wine list. Flip the page over for a look at Church Bar’s pizzas. Warning: the menu isn’t for the faint hearted, with quirky pizza toppings like kangaroo fillet or corn chips and guacamole. Sacrilegious? Absolutely not.
BUSINESS AFTER HOURS
Somewhere between dancing piano keys, taxidermy bulls and war memorabilia in the heritage Webb Chambers building, sits the dimly lit Webb & Co Bar. Up until a couple of years ago, visitors wouldn’t have ever wandered into it. In true trendy-bar-tradition, Webb & Co offers old-school standards such as mojitos, martinis and negronis, and an imaginative wine list. The food targets the umami taste buds with tapas-sized dishes of bruschetta, cheese platters and a trio of dips to name a few.
Buzzing with people and commonly frequented by groups for birthdays, engagements and graduation parties, it can sometimes be tricky to get hold of a seat or two. But if you are typically locked to a desk five days a week, odds are you’ll be happy to stand.