Ben is taking a spooky tour in the gold rush town with a very dark past.
Forbes' slogan is "Friendly, Historic, Inviting". The town has flourished in recent years, becoming more aware of the importance of tourism. A substantial rural town of 8500 people, it has some beautiful parks and gardens, plus Lake Forbes, which bisects the town. Rural economy is based on a major saleyards complex, abattoir, feed lots, beef and hay exports, wool, wheat, grain seed crops, oil seed crops, fruit and vegetables.
John Oxley explored the district in the 1800s. Its really colourful period began when gold was discovered in 1861, luring tens of thousands of people to the diggings. With that came the Albion, the first hotel in town, which allegedly sold the greatest quantity of alcohol in Australia during the 1860s.
Cobb & Co was set up in Melbourne in 1853 by a group of immigrant Americans. Once the goldrush hit Forbes, it became a regional centre for trade and business, with Cobb & Co playing a prominent role. Mail contracts were awarded and the company operated a gold escort, passenger and mail service based on reliable and efficient schedules.
Cobb & Co used the Albion as a changing station and booking office and a bugle was sounded from the lookout tower as coaches approached. Fresh horses were ready and quick changeovers made.
Tunnels were dug under the hotel after one too many coachload was robbed by bushrangers. Gold was transferred to and from the bank underground and coaches and bars were set up down there so regular patrons could enjoy the drinks in cooler conditions.
Eight thousand one hundred kilos of gold was found in the first two years. With that came those wanting gold without putting in the hard work.
Bushrangers Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and Johnnie Gilbert, along with their gangs, became notorious for daring robberies. Stories of their exploits have become folklore.
Ben Hall and Kate Kelly (sister of Ned) are buried in Forbes and stories of Ben are wide and varied. One goes that he was handsome, flash and a fine horseman with every sign of being an honest man. He was surrounded by thieves and bushrangers and various events turned him to crime and he joined the Frank Gardiner gang.
John Rennick runs Ben Hall Country Tours. Tours take three-and-a-half hours and take in a winery, biscuit factory, Redbank college, historic buildings, including the Albion Hotel, main street, Daisy's Cottage and Ben Hall's grave.