Kurri Kurri, according to Cessnock City Council, is the largest mural town in mainland Australia. That’s why it features as a location on the Hunter Valley selfie trail. When I discover that there are over 60 outdoor artworks in Kurri Kurri, I make a plan to drive up the M1 to see them.
Taking a Drive in the Country
Leaving the traffic behind as I turn off the M1, my shoulders relax and I breathe more easily. Stands of eucalyptus trees stretch all the way to the horizon. Then the scene changes. Black cows stand almost motionless in green fields demarcated by wooden fencing. Their heads turn ever so slightly as they watch my car drive past.
Bikers in black leather jackets and dark helmets ride towards me in single file. They lean into the corners enjoying the freedom of the quiet country road.
The First of Many Murals in Kurri Kurri
A sign to the Richmond Vale Railway Museum signals to me that I’m nearly there. Then on a wall of the Station Hotel, I spot my first mural. It depicts a scene from the 2002 Ashes series. Further up the hill a brightly coloured parrot flies off a wall which reads “Kurri Kurri”.
Look for the Kookaburra
According to the information and map I’ve downloaded from the Visit Kurri Kurri website, most of the murals can be found on or near to Lang Street. Each mural includes a Kookaburra, the symbol of Kurri Kurri. Some are harder to find than others.
I pull into a 2hour limited parking spot. I’ll move the car if I run out of time.
The Kookaburra: A symbol of Kurri Kurri
A big metal Kookaburra looks down at me with cheeky beady eyes. It was donated to the town in 2009 by the Hydro Aluminium Smelter to celebrate the smelter’s 40th anniversary. The artist, Chris Fussell, captured the character of the bird perfectly.
Before stopping for coffee and brunch at Angels Café, I check out a few murals. There’s a sporting wall of fame commemorating the 2000 Olympics, a Pipe Band and a series of paintings depicting Women of World War l. Over the road in the faded Milk Bar mural people dance to a Juke Box alongside a coke-a-cola advert.
Although I look carefully, I cannot find the hidden Kookaburra in these works. The kookaburra in number 57 on my map, Ian “Beat” Hill, is more obvious.
A patchwork of wooden boards covers the windows of the Worker’s Club building. There’s a sign warning of asbestos. Joe, a volunteer at the Visitor’s Centre, tells me the club closed a few years ago due to “mismanagement”. He adds that “kids have been in there and there was a fire”. Apparently plans are afoot to convert it into a Medical Center.
A Bit of Background
Joe has lived in Kurri Kurri for over seventy years. He runs guided tours of the murals and says that 16 shops have shut and since the smelter closed (in 2014) the town has gone dead “like it used to be”.
Founded in 1902 to service the mining community of the Hunter Valley Coal mines, Kurri Kurri was the first fully planned (before building began) town in Australia. In the late 1950s mining declined. Plaques on a brick wall in Rotary Park name the mines in the area that have closed.
A recent addition to the park, a life-sized bronze statue of a pit horse, skip and wheeler is dedicated to the pit horse.
Kurri Kurri Visitor Centre and Angels Cafe
The Kurri Kurri Visitor Centre doubles as a gift gallery. It shares premises with Angels Café. An ornate pressed metal ceiling hints at the age of the building.
The café is like stepping back in time. Artworks decorate the walls; a shelving unit displays sets of old-style cups and saucers while locally made jams and relish fill another shelf. Woodcraft and hanging macrame plant holders sit side-by-side hand knitted babywear and cute summer dresses for little girls.
A blackboard offers Devonshire Teas and a breakfast bruschetta. I choose the latter which strangely comes with the salsa topping in a bowl beside the toasted Turkish bread. My flat white is a cappuccino, but that’s ok.
I check with the woman in the café if the rangers are vigilant around here. She doubts there would be a problem, but points out where I can park all day. I move my car.
Discovering the Murals
Suitably refreshed, I set out to discover more murals. The drive-in mural, sponsored by the Heddon Greta Drive-in features cars from the 1960s which belong to local car enthusiasts. The drive-in is one of the last in Australia. It would be fun to return one Friday night for a nostalgic night at the drive-in.
Many murals reflect the history of Kurri Kurri. They often include faces of well-known locals. Men play rugby league; a bachelor advertises for a cook “young lady preferred” and a campfire adorns the Guide Hall wall. The sewing mural references sewing factories which employed many local women. Fire fighters back burn, a man relaxes after work on a Friday night, reclining in an old steel tub, there’s an antique store and firemen assisting at a house fire on the Fire Station wall.
Life in Kurri Kurri
Australian flags flutter from several parked utes and 4×4 vehicles. Perhaps they were at the recent rally in Canberra protesting vaccination mandates.
Court is in Session
People gather in couples and small groups outside the local court house. A man, his hair pulled back neatly in a man bun leaves court. He has dressed for the occasion wearing a sparkling white shirt and freshly pressed black trousers. Another all in black walks briskly towards me carrying a plastic envelope of documents.
Three double cab utes roar up to the roundabout. The male drivers and passengers wearing dirty orange work shirts rest their arms on the open windowsills. They’ve come into town for their lunch break.
The Nostalgia Festival
Vinyl records hang from the ceiling inside the Vinnies window. They’re advertising the Nostalgia Festival on the last weekend in March. The festival celebrates all things rock and roll.
Down a laneway behind Vinnies, I discover the Mural Gallery. Back in the main street, I chuckle at the Kurri Shearing Shed. A great name for a hairdresser.
Beware the Parking Ranger
A man wearing a bright yellow vest labelled ‘Ranger’ inspects parked cars. Luckily I moved my mine. He starts to write out a fine. I hear a high-pitched wail behind me. A woman has sunk to the ground crying, her back leaning against her car. She’s the recipient of the fine.
Reasons to Return to Kurri Kurri
I’ve had a very pleasant walk past about 30 of the 60 Kurri Kurri murals. The other 30 or so are further away or down side streets. I have good reason to return to Kurri Kurri. To find the other murals, to watch a movie at the drive-in and to attend the Nostalgia Festival.
- Kurri Kurri is just under two hours drive from Sydney
- Download a map of the murals from the Visitor Centre or book a tour (about 1.5hours)
- The Visitor Centre and Angels Cafe can be found at 199 Lang Street. Ask for a print outs of a suggested self-guided walk to see many of the murals
- Rangers do patrol the parking. Park in all day parking if you’re going to be more than 2hrs
- The Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival is held on the Last Weekend in March