Hunter Valley - An Unexpected Adventure – Heritage & Culture
Take a deep dive into the culture & heritage of the Hunter Valley
While a trip to the Hunter Valley means world-class wine, food and natural beauty, its burgeoning – and often surprising – arts and culture scene is becoming a draw in itself.
Look beyond the vines and you will discover a region with a rich cultural heritage. Thanks to a thriving community of art and crafts practitioners, the area’s towns and villages offer plenty of ways to connect with the creative arts, whether that’s dropping in at one of the many galleries, meeting the makers at the local markets or even taking up a paintbrush and creating a canvas of your own.
The Hunter Valley also has a fascinating indigenous history and is home to a rich collection of Aboriginal engravings as well as some of the most sacred sites in Australia, located in Yengo National Park. You can follow signposted trails or take a tour with an indigenous guide.
Add some of these highlights to your next midweek break.
Gallery owners aren’t the only ones championing art in the Hunter Valley. At the Winmark Wines cellar door at Broke, you can savour some outstanding art as well as some quality wines. The art-loving owners have an impressive collection on display, including large-scale sculptures dotted around the grounds. You’ll also find a standalone art gallery that showcases work in a range of mediums including the organic sculptures of ceramicist Katarina Wells, the abstract floral canvases of Felicia Aroney and the landscape paintings of James Ainslie.
And here’s one to keep an eye on: the new Arts and Culture Centre in Singleton, set to open at the end of 2021, promises to be a great destination for art lovers. While you're in Singleton, explore some of the town's fascinating past on the Singleton Heritage Walk.
Immerse yourself in indigenous culture
There’s more than just scenic bushland to enjoy in the World Heritage-listed Yengo National Park: it’s also home to some remarkable Aboriginal engravings. You can discover them on the signposted Finchley Cultural Walk, or sign up for a tour with Leanne King of Wollombi Aboriginal Cultural Experiences. She will explain how the area’s plants were used for medicine, materials and weapons as well as food by the local indigenous people, and explain how the rock-art sites were used as teaching tools by countless generations.
The park also contains many sacred sites including Mount Yenga. Learn the legend of how the mountain’s flat top was formed, when the ancestral spirit Baiame placed his foot on its peak in order to leap back up to the spirit world after he had sculpted the area’s lakes, mountains and rivers.
The past in pictures
You don’t have to pick up a book or step inside a museum to discover the Hunter Valley’s history: you can just take a stroll through the former mining town of Kurri Kurri, where street art helps provide snapshots of life as it once was. More than 60 colourful murals offer vivid images of the town, its people and its heritage. Some are nostalgic, such as the farmer with his ox train and the retro depiction of Heddon Greta Drive-In, still a much-loved place to catch a movie. Others are more gritty, such as the mural depicting the 1929 Rothbury riot, when protesting workers were locked out of the mine. Fun tip: keep an eye out for the kookaburra that is found somewhere in each mural.
You can explore more of the region's history on the Hunter Valley Heritage Cairn Trail. The trail takes you to a series of markers (or cairns) that have been installed at the valley's most significant sites, like Edward Tyrrell's Slab Hut, the Old Vats at Audrey Wilkinson Vineyards, Halls Cottage Circa 1876, Marthaville Homestead and the Rothbury Cemetery.
Time it right and you won’t just see grapes growing in the Hunter’s vineyards: you will also discover an extraordinary display of artworks among the vines. The Hunter Valley’s biggest arts event of the year is the annual Sculpture in the Vineyards festival, held in the pretty Wollombi Valley each spring. This lively festival is a great excuse to enjoy the Hunter Valley as it blossoms back into life after the cool winter. Expect to see more than 100 works by established and emerging artists on display among the area’s fields and vineyards, tucked into the grounds of local businesses and lining roads.
Meet a maker (or become one)
You can meet the area’s talented arts and crafts makers, and discover their work, at the Handmade in the Hunter markets, held on Saturdays in the gardens of Sobels Wines at Pokolbin. Browse everything from silk scarves, woven blankets and hand-carved wooden objects to handcrafted jewellery for men and women, felting, photography and handmade candles.
You don’t have to leave it to someone else, of course. If you fancy flexing your own creative muscles, Gemelli Estate offers Paint and Sip classes in the winery’s tranquil gardens. Even if you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since school, with the help of a local artist you’ll find it surprisingly easy to create your own masterpiece. Classes include wine, cheese and lunch. You can also drop into the on-site gallery to admire the works of local artist Philippa Cullen.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.