“Sofala was dead. Everything was closed” says a friend. “I couldn’t even get a cup of tea” she adds.
With her comments front of mind, my expectations are low as we drive into Sofala. Perhaps that’s why I’m pleasantly surprised.
We park in the narrow main street and begin exploring. It’s around eight thirty in the morning, and there’s no one around. Doors to the few shops and houses are shut.
About 45km from Bathurst, Sofala claims to be Australia’s oldest surviving gold-rush town. In the mid-1800s thousands of people sought their fortune here and frequented the numerous hotels. Reduced to a population of 131 (2016 census), the village with some quite dilapidated buildings, has a certain historic charm.
Doctor Wilson will be in town in four weeks’ from 2pm to 4pm according to a notice on the community hall door. The community nurse visits for an hour on Monday mornings, but not on Public holidays.
The sound of morning television drifts into the street from an open window. Somewhere a dog barks.
I follow the road up a hill where a small corrugated iron building overlooks the town. A cross fixed to the apex of the roof and broken headstones in the dry grass give it away as a local church.
Peering through a broken window I notice an elaborate wooden organ. A cushion rests at the end of a nearby pew with a water bottle next to it. Rolls of barbed wire lean against the back wall. I doubt there’s been a service held here for some time.
A schoolboy of about 12 years old opens a gate in the wooden fence adjoining the church property. He latches the gate, and walks through the church grounds to the primary school over the road, greeting me as he passes.
The village is waking up. Two men, mugs in hand, chat over the open bonnet of a car parked in a back yard. A man walks his golden retriever with another very overweight dog waddling behind. He tells me that “The one from the pub follows me. He needs the exercise”. Later we meet again. He’s given the pub dog a bone and sent him home.
A Quirky Village
There’s a pretty double storey wooden home with filigree balustrades and a rusted metal roof. A second look reveals that while the front is still standing, the back half is falling down.
The Old Sofala Gaol Museum and Café is closed. A biggish box with a corrugated roof sits on a table alongside a fence, advertising fresh herbs for sale. The box is empty. A collection of rusty metal items stand in line on a front lawn.
Behind the sun-bleached picket fence there’s an exercise bike and a bicycle attached to a lawn mower. An iron coat of arms and a faded surfboard lean against the house. Opposite the house, metal bedheads staked into the ground fence off a triangular patch of green.
There’s movement in the main street. An elderly woman parks her car in front of the Royal Hotel. She and her husband get out of the car to look around. She holds video camera up to her eye and starts filming her surroundings.
Time for Breakfast
It’s 9am and the Rustic Café has started to serve coffee. We’re lucky. They only opened for business (Wednesdays to Sundays) yesterday. Today is Thursday.
A local couple arrive for take away coffees. Looking through to the kitchen one jokes “I never thought I’d see him in the kitchen” adding “he does look the part, old codger”. As they leave, they wish the owner luck.
Sofala is worth exploring
Sofala may not be open for business every day of the week, but it’s definitely worth exploring. However, if like my friend you want a cup of tea, it’s best to visit later in the week.