Hill End with cultivated and intelligent detachment achieves its real and significant beauty to an artist, its sense of history, its charm, of form and dignity, its life of contrast that its roots in the past give it in this day and age.
Russell Drysdale 19481
In Golden Gully Russell Drysdale created a painting that combines elements of history, observation and imagination. The work was inspired by Drysdale’s visits to the abandoned gold-rush town of Hill End in the Bathurst region of New South Wales. He first visited Hill End with his friend, the artist Donald Friend, in 1947. They were attracted to the history of the town and its isolation. Shortly after their first visit Friend purchased a cottage in Hill End, which became an important gathering place for a small group of Australian artists.
At the height of the gold rush in 1872 Hill End was the largest inland settlement in the colony of New South Wales and had a diverse population of more than 30000 people.
By the end of 1874 the land had been exhaustively mined and Hill End was abandoned and largely forgotten.2 When Drysdale visited the area he found a landscape rich in subject matter and made a number of sketches, paintings and photographs. In Golden Gully he explores the relationship between the town and the environment. He depicts the layers of earth like a skin that has been peeled back to expose an inner structure. The eroded gully frames the view of a cross-section of the earth, leading to the entrance to two underground mines. Above this a thin crust separates the gully and the town, suggesting a fragile balance between human settlement and the environment.
1 Russell Drysdale, writing to Donald Friend, April 1948, quoted in Gavin Wilson, The artists of Hill End: art, life & landscape, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1995, p. 69.
2 Wilson, pp. 15–16.