From Banjo Paterson to gardens, wine and food, Orange is a cool place for a break
Naming yourself after a horse doesn’t sound like the smartest move if you want to be taken seriously, but it landed Andrew Barton Paterson on the $10 note. In the 1800s, lawyers couldn’t be seen to write poetry, so he adopted the pseudonym Banjo — the name of one of his father’s racehorses.
Paterson was born in Orange on February 17, 1864, and to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, the Banjo Paterson Festival is being held in his home town from February 7-17.
The annual Slow Summer festival will be incorporated into the 11 day event calendar. From night markets in Robertson Park to concerts and family picnics there is a range of free activities plus ticketed or gold-coin events.
Paterson was born on Narrambla, a sprawling property in Orange, and it is thought that he lived in a home very much like Emmaville Cottage.
It was relocated to the Botanic Gardens and restored by volunteer groups and the Rotary Club of Orange.
Mick Doyle, who is in charge of the project, believes the cottage will be a historical and educational tourist attraction but he can’t guarantee it’s where Paterson grew up.
“It’s a great mystery. Instead of nails, the house is constructed from tongue and groove Oregon timber and has Elizabethan features, such as the windows, and it’s from the right era. If it wasn’t Paterson’s home, he would have lived in something similar,’’ he says.
● Orange Botanic Gardens, off Hill St, Orange; 9am-2pm, free
The town of Yeoval, 80km from Orange, only has 260 residents but it’s the home of a new Banjo Paterson museum.
Alf Cantrell, president of the local historical society, has been a fan of Paterson’s for over 20 years and wants to highlight the fact that he was more than just a poet. He was a lawyer, journalist, war correspondent and soldier.
Paterson lived in Yeoval, on a property called Buckinbah, until he was about seven and the museum is across the road.
“Paterson writes about days spent shepherding his father’s sheep flock when he was a child and he would have done it nearby,” Cantrell says.
The museum includes a signed, first edition copy of the Man From Snowy River, Paterson’s handwritten letters and the world’s largest billycan collection.
“The main reason for doing it is to attract people to my community,” Cantrell says.
“Banjo Paterson was a great Australian man and this details some of the wonderful things he did.”
The official opening is on February 17 at 10am.
There is also a sculpture park across the road, perfect for stopping for a picnic. Billy can optional.
● Banjo Paterson … More Than A Poet, 43 Forbes St, Yeoval; adult $5, conc $3, child $2
Greg “Simmo” Simpson’s off-road tours are a great way to explore the central west. The private charter tours can be tailored to your itinerary, so if you want to ascend to the top of Mount Conobolas, go camping, visit a winery or spend an afternoon trout fishing, he can make it happen.
Within reason. While gold panning is a popular activity, he can’t guarantee you’ll find a valuable fleck. But it has happened before.
The Ophir gold fields, about half an hour north of Orange, were established in 1851 when Edward Hargraves recognised that the geology of the area was similar to California, which had just had a gold rush.
Long after the mines were abandoned, a 5.5kg gold nugget was found in 1975.
If you fancy trying your luck, you can explore abandoned mine shafts tunnelled into the mountain. But if you’re claustrophobic, Simmo will take you gold panning instead.
“You tend to find gold near barriers, because that’s where the river has slowed and as gold loses its velocity, gravity takes over and brings it to the bottom,” Simmo says.
“So you’ve got just as much chance of finding it at the base of a tree as in a river.
“You have to dig down, until you hit a solid structure and sift the dirt that has gathered at the bottom.
“Gold panning is just a physical separation of materials based on density. There’s nothing more dense than gold, so it will always fall to the bottom as you agitate the sample and the dirt gets washed away.”
Despite its name, Orange grows everything but oranges. It was named in the mid 1800s after the Prince of Orange, who went on to become the king of Holland.
Apples, cherries and most other crops are bountiful because of the cool climate.
The seasonal, local and sustainable message that is prevalent in Sydney food circles is also strong in Orange. The Agrestic Grocer opened in August and epitomises this ethos. Its menu is completely traceable and they can tell you who their suppliers are, including venison from nearby Mandagery Farm, milk from Country Valley and pastrami made from holistically raised Alma Beef.
Orange is sitting pretty at 600m above sea level and is the highest altitude wine region in Australia.
This makes it the ideal location for growing cool-climate French wines.
David Cumming from Define Wine says the local wine industry in Orange has really taken off over the last five years.
“It’s driven by more guys making wine in this region, before that the grapes were being sent to Mudgee or the Hunter,” Cumming says.
“The vines are getting older and that helps the quality and attracts more winemakers to the area.”
Cumming says red varieties such as shiraz, merlot and cabernet grow well at the 600-800m mark and as the elevation increases, white grapes such as sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot gris thrive.
“We tend to get longer ripening periods, cool nights and warm days, during vintage which tends to increase flavour. It’s a more refined, elegant flavour,” he says.
“The higher it gets the more sunlight hours you get.
“Mount Canobolas is an old volcano and that makes the soil we have around here quite fertile.”
Terry Dolle likes being first. He was the first winemaker in the area to make shiraz viognier and one of the first in Australia to make ice wine.
Traditionally, the grapes for this German-style dessert wine are picked in winter after they’ve frozen on the vine and have a lot of residual sweetness, but Dolle has developed a freezing technique that replicates the taste. And he has the awards to prove it, including a trophy in 2009 from the International Sweet Wine Challenge.
● Orange Mountain Wines, 10 Radnedge La, Orange; 6365 2626, orangemountain.com.au
This cellar door with a difference is an intimate experience as Gerald Naef lets you into his home to test a few drops before wandering through his wife Angie’s manicured gardens.
● Patina Wines, 109 Summerhill La, Lucknow; 6362 8336, patinawines.com.au
On your way back from Yeoval, stop off at Jayes for a bite to eat, take a squizz at the art gallery and sip at the Twister River cellar door. Libby Oldham, the gallery owner, is happy to take you through their selection.
● Jayes Café and Gallery, 31-33 Gidley St, Molong; 6366 9093, jayes.com.au
● Orange is about 250km from Sydney and a three-hour drive. Regional Express (rex.com.au) flies daily to Orange.
● Wide range of accommodation, from a caravan park to luxury self-contained apartments at De Russie Suites (derussiehotels.com.au)
TAKE A TIP
● Orange is a lot like Melbourne, the weather is changeable and locals always keep a jacket in their car in case it suddenly turns. It’s prudent to follow their lead.
● The writer travelled courtesy of Taste Orange
This story first appeared in The Daily Telegraph’s Best Weekend magazine on January 18, 2014