Tenterfield, the birthplace of our nation

November 2nd

Odometer: 7520 km

Tenterfield is our next stop. Tenterfield, made famous by the Peter Allen song “Tenterfield Saddler” about his grandfather. Tenterfield, made famous for the passionate speech by Sir Henry Parkes in 1889, supporting the federation of the Australian colonies; One People, One Destiny.

We drove via country roads from Friday Creek via Grafton and the Gibraltar Ranges to Tenterfield.

We stopped in Nana Glen, where we had an excellent second breakfast in the Idle In Cafe, obviously a local favourite on a Sunday morning. We stopped again at Glenreagh, where I spotted another of those big things, this time a Golden Dog. Glenreach is a very small place where the general store sells everything from stockfeed to groceries, take away food and fuel, and the very small local church has a sign outside that it is “not for sale”.

We headed inland at Grafton, according to wikipedia an “unremarkable NSW town”, although the blooming jacarandas alongside the road provided a lovely purple tunnel to drive through.

The Gwydir Highway took us back over the Dividing Range, through the Gibraltar Range NP. This area was also badly affected by bushfires, but the trees are regenerating and the views are absolutely spectacular.

We joined the New England Highway, heading north to Tenterfield. Just before Tenterfield we pass Bluff Rock, which is infamous for being the site of one of the first conflicts between the European settlers and a local Aboriginal group in the 1840’s. Not much is sure, but what is known is that a shepherd from Bolivia Station was found dead with his coat missing. One of the local Aboriginal groups was found in possession of this coat. So the white settlers “punished them severely”. Oral lore tells of several of the tribe members, men, women and children, being chased up Bluff Rock and thrown from the top.

And so we arrived in Tenterfield, easily finding our home for the next couple of days, Donnelly House AirBnB. Our hostess had suggested doing a personal tour of Tenterfield with Kevin, a local tour guide. This proved to be a great experience. We learned a lot about Tenterfield, and also about Australian history.

Upon entering Tenterfield we had been impressed by the large number of rather grand buildings for what is a small country town (current population 4100).

The history of Tenterfield is closely interwoven with Australian politics. It started in the 1841, when Sir Robert MacKenzie obtained a massive depasturing licence for the greater Tenterfield area. The license was taken over by Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson in 1844, who called the area Tenterfield and used the lands for merino sheep farming. He grew his flock to 39,000 sheep, which required nearly 40 shepherds. Add to that their families, and associated services, and so a small town grew and was gazetted in 1851.

Sir Donaldson became the first Premier of NSW in 1856. In 1859, Queensland separated from NSW to become a seperate colony. Mackenzie (the original land owner), joined parliament in Queensland and became its Premier in 1867.

At the time, in the mid 1800’s, the only way to get from Sydney to Queensland was via boat along the Pacific coastline, or via the New England Highway and Tenterfield. Tenterfield became an important bordertown, collecting taxes for the Qld and NSW colonies. The post office was also the tax collection point. Telegrams to and from Queensland went via Tenterfield.

Until 1957 the New England Highway was still the main link between Sydney and Brisbane.

Then came the train in 1886. The railroad went from Sydney via Newcastle to Tenterfield. The train from Brisbane to the Qld border just north of Tenterfield was completed in 1888. Naturally on a different gauge.

All this traffic and money flowing through a small town with only 900 inhabitants. Politicians and other dignitaries were being wined and dined at Tenterfield station, by then in the hands of the Walker family. Tenterfield was a centre of Australian politics, and for some time, there was a serious push to make Tenterfield the capital of a federated Australia.

Banjo Patterson was a regular visitor and married Alice Walker, a daughter from the Walker family, in the small Presbytarian church in 1903. Waltzing Matilda is believed to refer to one of the local girls who used to accompany him on piano at the station.

On 24th October 1889 Sir Henry Parkes, who represented the local area in parliament from 1854, and was elected Premier of NSW in 1872, paid a visit to Tenterfield. Having visited Europe and the US, he was a keen federationist. He gave the now famous Tenterfield Oration in the School of Arts (1876), a pro federation speech that called for a united and strong Australia; “one Nation, one Destiny”.

Kevin drove us around pointing out the various sites and buildings while going through the history in a lot more detail. We visited Tenterfield Station and had morning tea inside, a lovely building in desperate need of repair. And we visited the School of Arts, site of the Federation Speech.

I must admit I didn’t know any of that. I just knew Peter Allens song about Tenterfield. His grandfather was George Woolnough (Allen was a stage name), who was the local saddler in Tenterfield from 1908 until 1960. George used to ply his trade, listening to the chatter and opinions of the many friends who used to wander into his saddlery.

Besides the fascinating history of the area, this part of the high Country also has some amazing natural history. We followed a local tourist drive up Mount Mackenzie (yes, after the original land owner), for a great view over the Tenterfield area and the Border Ranges. They represent the border with Queensland, which we hope to cross tomorrow.

There is so much more to see in this area, we definitely have to come back. Two nights was just not enough! As we drive off tomorrow, we will be playing our newly acquired “The Ultimate Peter Allen” CD!

  • Best coffee: there are a number of recommended places in Beanhunter, we just haven’t had a chance to test.
  • Accomodation: Donnelly House (Air BnB), a traditional weatherboard bungalow fully renovated and updated. Quirky and stylish, and right in the middle of town. Danni is a great host providing lots of local tips!
  • Tip: book a three hour personal tour with Kevin if you get to Tenterfield, entertaining and knowledgeable. Contact him via info@tenterfieldtours.com.au or his website: http://www.tenterfieldtours.com.au

Note: I copied the headline picture of Tenterfield in 1887 from Wikipedia!

2 thoughts on “Tenterfield, the birthplace of our nation

    1. Thanks Marea! The passes are ready, hope logic prevails as we have done two months in Country NSW now.

      We have seen and learned so much about NSW, it has been a great trip!


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