RoadTrip2021: Gold rush towns - Wattle Flat, Sofala and Hill End

April 30, 2021 | 22 Comments

Wattle Flat

After leaving Bathurst I headed north into an area where a lot of gold was discovered in 1851. The first town was Wattle Flat, but it can hardly be called a town now.

To quote Wikipedia again “It is said that, at the peak of the gold boom, the area had a population of 20,000 and Wattle Flat had ten hotels, four large stores and several smaller ones. By 1932, the population had fallen to around 400.”

It’s hard to believe it was as big as that as now there is just a string of houses and one general store.


I spent about an hour sketching here. This is rather an eclectic page but it was fun to do.

Note: I decided to buy a tube of WN Yellow Ochre after Chris mentioned how much she had used it. Generally I prefer a raw sienna colour as it creates grey when mixed with blue rather than green, but at the moment I want a more yellowish earth colour. I’m still using Monte Amiata Natural Sienna but I’m enjoying the Yellow Ochre(YO) as well. I’m just squeezing a little YO into the corner of my palette when I need it.



My destination for the day was Hill End (the most well-known Gold Rush town in NSW?) but on the way I stopped at Sofala. It is a gorgeous little town with narrow streets and lots of heritage buildings!


Before planning this trip I had not heard of Sofala before, but these paintings by Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend were familiar. The top photo is roughly the same view…  but when I was on location I was facing the other direction when trying to find the view.


There was a lot to sketch but as the road was narrow and cars coming and going I found it hard to find a spot to sit and sketch. Here is my (almost) finished spread. Since taking this photo I extended my notes down the full column as a background to the rusty bushranger and it looks much better.

Note: I’m absolutely loving the layout options of this A4 vertical moleskine and have been doing lots of experiments. When I used these books in 2019 (big Europe trip) I found that I often filled double page spreads with a single sketch. I seem to be generally working smaller so far this trip. It might be because of the smaller scale buildings that I’m seeing. 


Hill End

Final stop for the day was Hill End. National Parks site says this about it “Hill End is not your run-of-the-mill gold rush town. A small village full of original Victorian buildings, it’s also home to a thriving community of artists, artisans, poets and painters.”


I didn’t meet anyone from this community as I arrived at 3pm on Monday afternoon and left early Tuesday morning. However I did meet a fellow sketcher! This day was my first solo sketching day since Chris left, so it was super fun to meet Errol from QLD and sketch with him. He started sketching as a result of Mike Daikubara‘s book Sketch Now Think Later. Small world!


The next morning I got up early and guess who was already sketching at the spot I had decided on?


This cottage is a  favourite to photograph due to its fence! When I got up after I finished my sketch what did I see behind me…


First kangaroo of the trip!

I did a quick drive around the town (and the afternoon before I had gone through the visitor centre) but I made the decision not to do too much in Hill End. I want to keep it for another visit!


And finally here is my finished spread from a short sketching session in the morning.

Visiting these three gold rush towns was a lovely way to start the solo sketching part of my trip. At this stage already I’m thinking that I might tire soon of rusty roofs! Also, I’m more interested in streetscapes than individual buildings as many of the old buildings in NSW are very similar.

Oh! I feel so incredibly privileged to be able to go on this trip and I’m loving every minute of it!


  • Sabine Naumann says:

    Dear Liz! Thank you for your effort to let us / me be part of your journey and your thoughts! It’s so exciting for me and so great that there is always a sequel. Life is beautiful and exciting when you see and absorb it with fresh eyes! Have fun and all the best! Sabine from Germany

  • Liesa Miller says:

    I am just echoing what others have said already, but thank you for the opportunity to live your journey vicariously and to see the photos and sketches of your travels! It is inspiring, especially for those of us who might wish to plan a similar trip and would be travelling alone most of the time.

  • Marion Starr says:

    Thank you Liz for sharing the story of your travels through the Blue Mountains, Hartley, Lithgow, Tarana, O’Connell and the old gold rush towns, and your great sketches that really capture the character of these old historical places. These are all familiar locations for me as I have visited and sketched many of these heritage buildings as well, so can really appreciate your delight when visiting these places. Looking forward to the rest of your journey!
    Best wishes, Marion

  • Rockie Weymouth says:

    This is so fun to read about your day’s adventures each morning as I eat my breakfast. I almost choked on my cereal when I saw the kangaroo. That is so cool — and so unreal for us North Americans. What beautiful landscapes and buildings in this area. You’re inspiring me to do a sketching road trip myself, though I may not sketch every day with the gusto you do. I’m also inspired to read more about the history of Australia. Have fun!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Rockie, Ha ha!! What would you say if I told you they are considered pests! 🙂 But they are incredible animals no doubt.
      Hope you go on a road trip (on your own pace) – its so much fun!

  • Sophie Vancaillie says:

    Also have to chip in and say how much I enjoy this. It is a part of the world I cannot imagine ever visiting. It is so great to see it through your sketcher’s eyes and encourages me to look anew at what is around me here.

    • Kate Burroughs says:

      I love it that you had found earlier paintings by others, to look for spots on your trip! It is interesting to see how two painters in the same year painted the town so differently. Lovely to see your work as well. So nice to randomly meet up with another sketcher.

      • Liz Steel says:

        Hi Kate – yes very cool to refer to those paintings and rather special to meet a fellow sketcher!!!

    • Liz Steel says:

      THanks Sophie! that is so great.. yes amazing to see things close to home in a new way!

  • CS Kinnaird says:

    Wow this is so cool! What a fun idea to sketch and paint and travel throughout the country! Please tell me you painted the kangaroo too? As a writer, I’d love to do this and write little stories about people I see or places I visit.

  • Bec says:

    I’m really loving your trip. I’ve always loved your overseas trips too but for some reason I am really drawn to this one. I grew up in Country NSW but I haven’t lived in that area for a long time (over 25 years). Your trip is really making me want to do the same, and look at the places I knew growing up with fresh eyes! Thank you.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Bec – this trip is special to me too. Its been great to be able to do so much publishing of articles here as I go!

  • Errol R J Morrison says:

    Great to meet you Liz. As a beginner to Urban Sketching, I’m enjoying the freedom and spontaneity. Suits my ADHD personality. Always prefer En plien sure.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Errol -great to meet you – all the best!!! Will enjoy following your sketching adventures on IG

  • Jay Sarkis says:

    Thank you Liz for taking us with you through you journey, through your lovely sketches . It is remarkable and very inspiring . I am looking forward everyday to start my day with your journey. 🙂

  • Jean McCarron says:

    While it might be better if I were really there, I am so enjoying “my” trip with you…while still sitting in BC Canada.
    Loving the historic towns and buildings
    Thank you!

  • Susana Smith says:

    Thanks Liz. Love this area and have many happy memories of our visits to Hill End and Sofala when we lived in the Blue Mountains, and later Millthorpe, near Orange. I didn’t sketch at the time but did a graphite drawing of an old cottage with a rustic fence, just like the one in your pic … could even be the same one!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Susana – that’s very cool. Millthorpe was one of the places I didn’t explore that much – leaving it for next time!

Leave a Reply