I'm staying for a week not far from one - Gulgong. It's about 4 hours west of Sydney. In 1870 some bloke up on Red Hill on the edge of town with his sheep found gold nuggets lying on the ground. The dill must have told his mates. The resulting gold rush pushed the town's population up to 20,000 really quickly. Then by 1880, all the gold was found and the place collapsed and lots of people would have lost money. It's always the way with mining towns. But this town fared better than Hill End. It's an hour from here and I took one of my teenage daughters, Lulu, there yesterday. Only 100 or so people now live in Hill End and it was once huge - it had 28 pubs. At least Gulgong has grazing land around it and Mudgee, 30 kms down the road, is a wine centre with dozens of vineyards. And there is the clay. The main street in Gulgong is called Mayne Street - they wouldn't have been great at spelling back then. It's a narrow street that runs a few hundred metres and isn't straight, unlike the main streets in all country towns. That's because it follows the line of the tents when it was a gold rush town. I bet even back then there were spruikers flogging tent sites. Some of the buildings on Mayne Street date from the 1880s. The are a couple of pubs and some of the usual country stores and an opera house, bizarrely. It's a big old building and is apparently the oldest continuously run opera house in the country - or something like that. There is apparently stuff on all the time - not opera, luckily. The original opera house - ABC Western Plains NSW - Australian Broadcasting Corporation Less than 3,000 people live in Gulgong now and there are lots of empty buildings. Some of them look like they might have been on the market since the 1880s. Every third year (I think) they have a huge ceramic festival organised by a local family - the Mansfields - and there are 1,000 people here for it this time. My wife is into ceramics, so we came along. There are lots of middle aged women wearing colourful hand made stuff and sensible shoes. Lulu made the whispered observation today that 'they all look like older and smaller versions of mum.' I said, 'I know. I have seen the future and I'm not sure I like it.' There are also lots of blokes with beards and home spun knitwear in natural colours. And, interestingly, there are a lot of youngsters here now that ceramics has become hip. I'm glad I brought my flannie shirts. I could either be a local, or a ceramics bloke - I'm going for the ambiguous look. The wood-fired ceramics people are the hard core ones. They are the ones who like to dig their own clay and fashion it by hand and then fire it in kilns made from rock and clay bricks and powered by wood. So their stuff looks primitive. Lots of them even make their own glazes by crushing up rocks - probably between their teeth. They look down on those wussy ceramics people who use a wheel, and as for those ones who do slip casting, they would run them out of town if they got wind of them being here. Up on Red Hill the are huge tents with people doing ceramic demonstrations and others flogging stuff they have made for strangely low prices - probably because all the people here are fellow ceramicists and none of them make money so they sort of buy stuff from each other in a weird closed financial loop. In the opera house they have talks every day from people who have come from all over the world to talk about what they are doing back home. It's amazing that given people have been making stuff from clay for thousands and thousands of years, the are still people experimenting with new techniques. Along the main street lots of the shops, including the mechanic, have given over their windows to displays of ceramics, which is sweet. People in small towns always embrace these sort of things because they bring money in. So why Gulgong? Apparently the land around here has fabulous clay. Those gold miners wouldn't have realised that. If I see anybody with a bulldozer moving some land around, I'm going to see if they have uncovered some clay. (Might ask them if I can have a turn on their bulldozer, too.) It's a nice town, but if I see somebody in the 'where to buy' forum say they have found a cheap house in Gulgong, I'll have to jump in and set them straight.