The historic township of Canowindra is located on the Belubula River 30km from Cowra in the central west of New South Wales, Australia and derives its name from the indigenous Wiradjuri Aboriginal word meaning ‘home’ or ‘camping place’
Today the main street has an old-world air, with its kerbside verandah posts lining the dog-leg course of what was once a bullock team track however Canowindra has quite a history.
White settlement of the area may have begun as early as 1829. In 1831 it was recorded that James Collits had established himself on land at ‘Canoundra’.
The settlement grew in an unplanned manner around the Canowindra Inn (1849). This lack of formal planning is still evidenced today by the winding nature of Gaskill Street, the main street of Canowindra. The whole commercial precinct of the main street has now been listed by the National Trust as a Heritage Conservation Area
In October 1863 bushranger Ben Hall and his gang, including Johnny Gilbert, took over Robinson’s Hotel in Canowindra, taking the town’s residents hostage for a three day-long celebration. It is reputed that the gang treated their hostages well and even covered the expenses of their party. An account of the incident was reported in the Bathurst Times, also quoted in the Maitland Mercury.
Today the Royal hotel stands on the site of the Hotel where Ben Hall’s gang had their spree.
For the movie buff’s, The bar of the Royal hotel was also featured in the 2003 Action, Adventure, Comedy film, Kangaroo Jack starting Anthony Anderson, Jerry O’Connell, Estella Warren and directed by David McNally.
The Royal Hotel bar itself was never actually used in the movie, a replica was built in studios in Sydney for the scene and locals from Canowindra were cast in the scene.
Other twentieth century buildings of note in Canowindra include the Bank of NSW branch building, designed circa 1915 and dating from the 1930s, and the Garden of Roses Cafe (1920s).
In 1956 fish fossils dating back to the Devonian period, 360 million years ago, were found nine kilometres south-west of town. In January 1993 further fossils were recovered when a trial dig rediscovered the fossil stratum, where the mass mortality of fishes was preserved in detail. Specimens can be viewed in the specially established The Age of Fishes Museum,
The Canowindra site has now been listed as part of Australia’s National Heritage because of its international scientific importance.
Modern Day Canowindra
Today Canowindra is also popularly known as the Balloon Capital of Australia.
The Canowindra International Balloon Challenge takes place in April each year and is the largest ballooning event in Australia, attracting pilots from Japan, US, Russia, Brazil and the UK.
Known as Marti’s Fiesta, the week-long event of ballooning competitions and skill-based activities coincide with local food and wine markets incorporating the 100-mile principle where the products must be made or produced within 100 miles of Canowindra.
The 2015 Australian-Irish drama suspense film, Strangerland featured Canowindra as the Australian desert town where characters Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker’s (Joseph Fiennes) lives are flung into crisis when they discover their two teenage kids, Tommy and Lily, have mysteriously disappeared just before a massive dust storm hits. This film was directed by Kim Farrant and written by Michael Kinirons and Fiona Seres.