Di Cato discovers a virtual ghost town where natural beauty overshadows an industrial past.
What do you get if you mix drupes, sugar and water and then cook slowly? You get drupe jam, according to the label on the jar I'm holding. I'm in the community hall at Glen Davis, about 3¼ hours' drive north-west of Sydney, and it is here I spot the tartan-topped jars of jam sitting near the history books and brochures.
I discover that a drupe refers to any fruit with a woody seed enclosed in a fleshy outer layer. My jam is made from cherry plums.
A very different kind of local product, however, was the reason for the establishment of Glen Davis. From 1938 to 1952 the town was at the centre of oil-shale mining and refining and the production of fuel.
In this period the town's population rose to 2500 but after the Oil Shale Works was closed, people and houses moved away.Today, Glen Davis is almost a ghost town, with only about 25 people still living here in a handful of houses scattered among a network of empty streets. A derelict picture theatre and shop and some house foundations also remain.
The largest building in town is an imposing two-storey brick structure, sitting in splendid isolation in front of sandstone cliffs. It is now the Glen Davis Boutique Hotel. When it was built in 1939, the building was described as the finest hotel west of the Blue Mountains and we are not talking hotel as in country-town pub here but a substantial, elegant, art deco building. It has had various reincarnations, from hotel to Marist Brothers' retreat to holiday farm to its recent restoration as a 16-bed boutique hotel.
It does not take long to drive or walk around the town itself but it is worth the trip. As well as visiting the ruins of the Oil Shale Works and learning some of the industrial history of the area, there is a landscape of astonishing beauty.
To get to Glen Davis, you need to turn right off the Castlereagh Highway at the village of Capertee, about 30 minutes north of Lithgow. A few kilometres before Capertee is a large sign in purple lettering with a panoramic photograph of sheer rock faces and dense scrub. It heralds the turn-off to "The Widest Canyon in the World".
It is about 30 minutes' drive from Capertee to Glen Davis. The road winds through part of the Gardens of Stone National Park and there are good views of sandstone cliffs and pagoda-shaped rock formations. About a third of the way to Glen Davis, the road leaves the park and the scenery changes. Beyond open farmland, backed by ever-present orange sandstone cliffs, the floor of the valley becomes wider.
The claim on the sign suddenly rings true. The Capertee Valley is broad, dramatic and canyon-like. A steep-sided, flat-topped formation called Pantoneys Crown dominates many of the views and is a landmark mentioned by Henry Lawson in 1891. In his poem Song Of The Old Bullock Driver, Lawson wrote: "We saw the wild country of the Capertee Valley, as slowly we rounded the base of the Crown." Part of the 5300-kilometre Bicentennial National Trail now goes past Pantoneys Crown.
As the road snakes along, the cliffs get closer as the canyon narrows. They almost enclose the village of Glen Davis. There are no shops or petrol stations in the village but at the community hall you can buy drinks and snacks on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, between 10am and 4pm. On the day we visit, the staff are encouraging visitors to help themselves from a bucket of local mandarins.
We take a few and eat them as we walk along the vacant streets in the shadow of the towering cliff faces. On this sunny Saturday, we see only four other cars on the road and one of them is pulled off to the side with two people probably locals collecting firewood.
You won't have to collect wood to boil the billy if you're thirsty after a day of exploring the Capertee Valley. In the village's community hall you are more than welcome to a cup of tea, with toast and jam drupe jam, of course.
Glen Davis is 220 kilometres north-west of Sydney. Take Bells Line Of Road or the Great Western Highway through Lithgow. Then, take the Mudgee turn-off and turn right on to Glen Davis Road at the village of Capertee.
The Glen Davis Boutique Hotel caters only for groups of 20-35, except on long weekends, when bookings for couples are welcome. Phone 6379 7372.
Accommodation is also available in holiday cottages in the surrounding area, some of which are only a few minutes' walk from the ruins of the Oil Shale Works. Phone Lithgow Tourism on 1300 760 276 or see tourism.lithgow.com or lithgow-tourism.com. You can camp free at the campground near the community hall, where there are toilets, showers and barbecues.
When you're there
For fit, experienced walkers the 20-kilometre return Pipeline Pass bushwalk from Glen Davis to Newnes will take about 10 hours.
Climb Pantoneys Crown for views of the valley or go birdwatching. Walk through old-growth forests and riverbanks where the varying altitudes provide a variety of habitats for birds, including the rare regent honeyeater.
Tour the above-ground ruins of the Oil Shale Works - these are on private property but there are tours at 2pm each Saturday, departing from the gates of the ruins, 200 metres from the hotel. Tour bookings are not necessary.
Visit Simmo's Museum, a collection of railway relics, razors, old newspapers, washing machines, machinery and more. Open weekends and public holidays, 10am-4pm, at 3253 Glen Davis Road, three kilometres from Glen Davis on the Capertee side, phone 6379 7203.