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Cobar visited, New South Wales

Cobar, New South Wales

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983


Cobar is a town located in the rugged and beautiful Western Plains region of central western New South Wales, Australia. At the crossroads of the Kidman Way and Barrier Way, 712km by road northwest of Sydney, here stands a fascinating town filled with cultural, historic and natural attractions. On a trip here you can explore museums, colonial 19th century architecture, lush wetlands, some of Australia’s largest and most important Aboriginal rock paintings, and the region’s rich mining history.

This article explores the history and attractions of Cobar to assist Odyssey Traveller’s small group tours New South Wales. An Odyssey small group tour of NSW seeks to go into outback NSW beyond the pristine beaches and major tourist attractions often listed as places to visit in NSW, such the Hunter Valley, Coffs harbour, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Byron bay or Bondi Beach. These are part of a portfolio of Australian Outback tours offered by Odyssey for likeminded people who are curious about Outback Australia.

We enjoy a day tour of Cobar during our guided tour of Western New South Wales after visiting the nearby Gundabooka National Park. This small group adventure lasts 14 days as we journey from Dubbo to Dubbo, around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, this tour moves in small groups limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers.

New South Wales Border Roadside Sign – Bourke, Cobar

History of Cobar

There are many different tales relating to the copper discovery at Cobar, but the official version is that in 1870 three tank sinkers, Charles Campbell, Thomas Hartman and George Gibb, accompanied by two Aboriginal guides, Boney and Frank, were travelling from Bourke to Condobolin. Camped at ‘Kubbur’ water-hole they noticed the unusual colour of the water. The men took ore samples from the area and showed them to the publicans at the Gilgunnia Pub, a Mr and Mrs Kruge.

Mrs Sidwell Kruge had worked as a ‘Balgal’, employed in sorting ore in copper mines in Cornwall (UK). When Hartman, Campbell and Gibb showed her the samples taken from ‘Kubbur’ water-hole, she identified them as copper ore.  The “kubbur” term was probably synonymous with “gubar”, an Aboriginal Ngiyampaa (Ngemba) word signifying ‘red ochre’ or ‘burnt earth’, which was used in making body paint for Corroborees.

Prior to this fortuitous discovery, the Cobar district was made up of huge pastoral holdings which relied heavily on the Darling River trade, and before that the region was inhabited by the Ngiyampaa (Ngemba) people.

Copper propelled the development of Cobar –  the townsite was promptly surveyed and by 1872 the CSA (Cornish, Scottish and Australian) Mining Company had located significant deposits of copper.  The main mines amalgamated in 1876 to form the Great Cobar Copper Mine, which became the largest copper mine in Australia. At the time of its peak in 1912, the Great Cobar boasted 14 smelters, a 64 metre chimney stack and employed over 2000 workers. At the turn of the 19th century the population of Cobar was approximately 10,000. Mining had become the most important industry in the region.

New Cobar gold mine. Just a short drive south of Cobar is Peak good and copper mine. Since mining commenced in 1870 in excess of 3 million ounces of gold and 200,000 tonnes of copper has been obtained from this mine. It is considered a medium sized mine.

Following World War I the demand for copper dropped and the Great Cobar Mine’s fortunes crashed.  It ceased production and was dismantled over the next couple of years.  With the mine closed, the town’s population dwindled to less than 1,000, with a flow-on effect on the surrounding small towns.

In 1924, Methodist minister, Rev. Stanley Drummond and his wife, Lucy arrived in Cobar which was at a low point after the closure of the mine. Many families lived in poverty and the Drummonds were appalled at the conditions that families endured. Many children suffered from long-term illnesses and disease and the Drummonds devoted their lives to helping the underprivileged and sick children of the Outback. They also organised for disadvantaged and sick children to visit Sydney and the beach.

The Far West Children’s Health Scheme” was started in 1935 as a direct outcome of the Drummonds’ work. Three railway carriages were converted into mobile clinics and over the years, children from all over Western NSW benefited from the service. The original Far West Children’s Health Scheme base in Manly continues to provide an outreach service to children in Outback NSW. One of the ‘Far West’ railway carriages has been restored and is a fascinating exhibit for visitors to the Great Cobar Heritage Centre.

Mining continues in Cobar, however.  From 1934 to the early 1950s the New Occidental Gold Mine was active, and its site has been resumed by Peak Gold Mines with new technology.  The CSA mine has had a chequered history, closing in 1920 when a fire broke out which burned for 16 years, reopening in 1965, reclosing in 1998, and now it is operational again.  Endeavour Mine a little north of Cobar is the largest zinc, lead and silver producer in the region.

Cobar Attractions

To gain a closer appreciation of the life of the town and the mine, even from the undisturbed time of the Ngiyampaa, it is highly recommended to visit both the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, which contains one of the finest rural museums in Australia, and the Fort Bourke Hill Lookout for commanding views of the open-cut and the town.  Cobar retains much of its colonial 19th century architecture, and the local Heritage Walk includes beauties such as the Great Western Hotel.  The pub’s timber veranda with cast-iron balustrades and a lacework balcony is 100 metres long and, as such, is reputedly the longest cast iron veranda and balcony in Australia.

View of the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, Cobar, New South Wales / Bahnfrend / CC BY-SA 4.0

Two annual Cobar events with a difference are the Grey Mardi Gras in April, and the Festival of the Miner’s Ghost in October.

The local council supports a local currency called Cobar Quid. Established in 2003 by the Cobar Business Association, Cobar Quid is a currency that encourages its residents to shop locally. This local currency is a minted medallion that can be exchange for goods and services with accepting local businesses. The Association sells the coins to the local business in values of $5, $10, $20 and $50 values, and the medallions are minted by the Royal Australian Mint.  The business can redeem the medallions for cash which is controlled by the Cobar Shire Council.

On the first floor of the Great Cobar Heritage Centre a special feature is the local Aboriginal Ngiyampaa Tribe ‘Long Time Comin’ exhibit of the famous Mount Grenfell rock caves.  Mount Grenfell is situated 71km northwest of Cobar.  For thousands of years before Europeans settled in this part of NSW, Ngiyampaa people regularly gathered around the semi-permanent waterhole and took shelter in the overhangs of what is now Mount Grenfell Historic Site. In the surrounding rocky ridge, there are over 1300 richly coloured paintings of human and animal figures, representations of the natural environment, and outstanding examples of hand stencils which are of ceremonial significance to traditional owners. These displays, most of which are applied with either fingertip or brush, are regarded as some of the best examples Aboriginal rock art in New South Wales.

Perhaps the town’s most unique attraction is the Cobar Sound Chapel – a bold sound art project inside an abandoned 10-metre-high water tank. The project is a collaboration between Georges Lents, one of Australia’s leading contemporary composers, and Glen Murcutt, the country’s highest-awarded architect. Two large slabs of concrete flank the outer entrance of the structure, guiding visitors up the hills. Inside the tank is a concrete cubic space, with four walls cast into a galvanised iron framework, each fitted with a speaker to diffuse sounds from an audio player. In the middle of the room is a concrete bench that seats four people, covering a sub-woofer placed on the floor. The ceiling, meanwhile, is shaped like an inverted cone, narrowing as it opens directly to the stimulating sky above, allowing sunlight to move across the walls. At each corner of the ceiling are Russian blue glass windows painted by local Aboriginal artist, Sharon Allsen. When the installation officially opens in April 2022, a single 24-hour classical and electronica piece created by Lentz will play continuously on a loop. The music will flow into the surrounding countryside, audible from up to 50 metres away, while those inside the cube will be entirely immersed within it.

Tour of Cobar

Odyssey Traveller visits Cobar as part of our escorted small group tour of Western New South Wales. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, we move in small groups of limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers. We travel for 14 days from Dubbo around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura, before heading back East towards Dubbo via Griffith.

Gain an understanding and appreciation of the complexity and features of the Murray Darling Basin through some spectacular scenery. The program skirts around the edges of the “Aussie Outback”, but is not an outback adventure for the traveller. Whilst the Murray-Darling begins in Queensland, by the time the river system reaches New South Wales it represents one the most complex river systems in Australia against which modern agriculture has placed substantial stress. We see the historic and contemporary evidence of this in the lakes around Menindee. and the many landscape changes including the Mallee, observing and learning about the river woodland galleries, arid lands, saltbush plains, agriculture practices; as well as the mining and railway history of Southern Australia

Murray River at sunset – aerial view

Travellers with an interest in touring New South Wales may want to check out some of our other tours including:

  • Small group tour: Broken Hill and Back. This off the beaten track small group tour enables the traveller to journeydeep into the outback NSW on a 13 day 3,200 kilometre round trip, tri state safari beginning and ending in Broken Hill , or ‘The Silver City’. It then tracks on North, just over in the Queensland border, up to Birdsville, before going deep into outback South Australia, and then heading up to Cameron Corner, corner country. Cameron corner is unique, it is the junction of the three states: New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. The tour heads south from here returning to Broken Hill.
  • The Darling River Run Tour. This small group tour travels along the Darling, through amazing landscape settings that have shaped the country of New South Wales including the Mallee forests in Malle country. We visit Aboriginal sites of importance, stay at station homesteads, and regional historic hotels, meeting the people and encountering the wildlife of the Murray Darling Basin and learning of the riverboat history of the rivers.
  • Small group tour to the Southern Highlands and Canberra. This tour takes you out of Sydneyand away from the beach culture to journey to some important cultural and natural attractions in the beautiful Southern highlands of regional New South Wales including historic Berrima, Kangaroo Valley, Bowral and the Blue Mountains.
  • Small group tour of North East New South Wales. This 16 day tour stops at some of the memorable and iconic destinations and places to visit in New South Wales, completing the loop from our start and end destination, Dubbo. We explore the local culture in New England, the North Coastand the Orana regions of New South Wales, including historic towns of Armidale, Tenterfield, Yamba and Mudgee and sections of the mid North coast as well as inland areas. Travelers also time to explore with a local guide the National trust houses including the Saumarez Homestead and the Dundullimal Homestead and properties of Morpeth, Mudgee Rylstone and Gulgong which is home to around 130 National Trust-listed buildings.

Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals.  For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

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External articles to assist you on your visit to Australia:

Originally published February 5, 2021.
Updated on January 25, 2022.