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JOHN ROZENTALS finds Hartley worth more than a glance from the highway.

February 26, 2014 Travel Deals No Comments Email Email

unnamed (17)I MUST have glanced at the historic village of Hartley, nestled just off the Great Western Highway about midway between Lithgow and Mount Victoria, hundreds of times as I travelled between Sydney and Orange.

But it was only relatively recently that I finally took the detour of literally just a few hundred metres and explored the dozen or so buildings — many of still very solid sandstone — that remain of one of the first white settlements west of the Blue Mountains.unnamed (18)

Those few hundred metres take you from modern highway to a slower time when travel was totally dependent on the power of horses, oxen or feet.

Hartley was established in the 1830s, after the road west through Victoria Pass was completed, and it apparently grew into quite a bustling commercial centre and an important cog in the wheels of the colonial government.

It quickly gained several churches, doubtless many more inns, a post office, a constabulary headquarters and an imposing courthouse, which still stands and can be unnamed (19)toured by arrangement (the information office across the street has details).

The courthouse dates from 1837 and was built in what is known as the Greek Revival style.

The St John’s Anglican Church is of simple design, but it has withstood the ravages of time and is stillused for weddings as well as weekly services. The neighbouring rectory is a veritable mansion by the standards of most Australian villages, though I do pity the servants who had to brave the weather — both sweltering and freezing — to deliver meals from the downstairs kitchen via the external staircase.

Just as the road west was the seed for Hartley’s growth, especially when thousands of prospectors flocked through, the railway was the cause of its demise. The iron horse bypassed the village and by the 1890s the decline had set in.

The remnants are certainly worth exploring, though, and Hartley provides an excellent spot to break your journey, wander among the remnants and perhaps enjoy a picnic on one of the shaded grassy slopes.

The old Farmers Inn ... now the village’s information office.

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