Once home to farmers and miners, these towns, along with their industries, went bust. They were settled upon in the early 1800s and thrived during their time, but like most places that fail to adapt, they were abandoned by their citizens. They exist frozen in time, hidden in our bushlands, outback, and mountains.
This small village, 26 kilometres northwest of Broken Hill, sprang to life after rich silver deposits were discovered, which was eclipsed by an even-richer silver-lead-zinc ore body at nearby Broken Hill. The town boasts colonial buildings and wide-open spaces. Although people live here (population 50), Silverton is mainly used as a set for the big screen. It has become one of Australia’s most iconic locations in movies and tv shows. There is one hotel in town and a few other accommodation options, including cottages and an old war memorial youth camp. Even if you don’t want to stay the night, you can still explore the town’s history by visiting the mine, lookouts, and several museums, including a Mad Max Museum. You can also ride a camel and see the town as it used to be.
Just beyond the Blue Mountains, the town of Hartley was once an important staging post for horse-drawn carriages heading west to the goldfields. Today, it serves as a perfectly intact remnant of its colonial past. Explore the 17 buildings in town to discover the stories of life and hardships in regional Australia. Stop by the visitor centre housed in the former Farmers Inn for all the information you need to navigate your way around. Be sure to stop by the Talisman Gallery to watch the Blacksmiths sculpting and hammering away. There are a few walking trails that take you to rivers and past ruins. While you can’t stay here, Oberon is not far up the road and makes for a great pit stop on the way to Jenolan Caves.
In 1872, the largest single piece of reef gold in the world – the Beyers and Holtermann Nugget – was found in the Hill End goldfields. The town was booming with miners looking to get a piece of the ‘richest quarter-mile in the world. It was home to 28 pubs, an oyster bar, and a kilometre of colourful shopfronts. Then everything stopped; now it’s a great place to visit, and there are still a few shops. Crawl through underground gold mines, wander through the preserved colonial town, or pan for some gold yourself. The History Hill Museum boasts gold mine relics and for a view of the town that’s inspired some of Australia’s most famous painters, head to Beaufoy Merlin Lookout, and Bald Hill Lookout.
Only a handful of people live in the tiny town of Milparinka, on the banks of Evelyn Creek. It has a rich gold rush history, but today you will find restored buildings, eerie ruins, and a single pub. Yes, just one. Three National Parks surround the town, which makes it perfect for those looking for an adventure. Hire a 4WD and go on a self-guided tour along sealed and unsealed roads. It’s a 16-hour drive to Milparinka, so your best option is to stay in Broken Hill for a few days, or The Albert Hotel is the only operational business in town. When it was at its prime, four hotels served a population of 300.
Joadja, a 90-minute drive from Sydney, was first established by the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company in the late 1870s to mine the vast kerosene shale deposits in the valley walls. It lasted until 1911 and has, for over a century, slowly decayed in the bush to the west of Mittagong. There’s not much to see here, unfortunately. You can tour the ruins with a guide who will explain the history and mention a few ghost stories. Tours don’t run every day, so you can check the website and book before you go. There is a Joadja Distillery where you can pick up award-winning spirits.
Sofala is one of the thriving small towns on this list, but nonetheless, it was still abandoned and is big in history. With just over 200 people living here, Sofala is a destination to take the family. You can throw a line in the river, reel in some fish, pan for gold, or tour the goldfields around Sofala. The historical walking tour takes you through the reminders of the gold rush, including gravestones, buildings, diggings, and a Chinese miner settlement. Walk through the town’s pretty streetscapes, admire the buildings, or ride horseback. There’s a lot to do here; sometimes, they have festivals.
This abandoned gold-mining town was the birthplace of Australian skiing. Nowadays, it’s nothing more than an old house, ruins, and open land, far from what it was in its prime. Ten thousand men, women, children, banks, hotels, and a mini-metropolis were there. Although today, you can walk the 1km Heritage Trail loop for a complete history of Kiandra, written on signs along the trail.