Located at the intersection of the New England and Bruxner Highways in the New England region of New South Wales, Tenterfield is the largest town in its Shire and has a rich history dating back to the traditional landowners.
Known as the ‘Birthplace of our Nation’, Sir Henry Parkes delivered his famous federation speech in the Tenterfield School of Arts in 1889, which ultimately led to the federation of all Australian states in 1901. However, there is more to the region’s story than one speech.
Tenterfield offers a fascinating history, from the ancient stories and sacred sites of the traditional land owners, to the first European settlers and the establishment of agriculture, and the many notable residents that have called Tenterfield Shire home and gone on to make a significant contribution to their fields.
The Bundjalung and Jukembal (Yukambul) people were the first to inhabit the land now known as Tenterfield Shire. The Jukembal reputedly called the area ‘Moombilleen’, meaning ‘place of wild honey’. A third Nation, the Kamilaroi people also inhabited the area.
One of the region’s most famous landmarks, Bald Rock, served as neutral ground for the three nations. It was considered a boundary so meetings and trade could occur on the site without each nation having to journey through the other territories.
The first European settlers were known to be in the area in the late 1830s to the early 1840s. Sir Stuart Donaldson, a London merchant, was running an 18,000 head sheep station as early as 1841, which he named Tenterfield Station. Donaldson went on to become the first premier of NSW and his son was the first Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, the reverend St. Clair George Alfred Donaldson, D.D.
The first official grazier licence was issued to Sir Robert Mackenzie in 1842 for the land known as Tenterfield Station. Mackenzie was a known associate of Stuart Donaldson and worked on the property until Donaldson applied for a grazier licence in his own name in 1844. Mackenzie stayed on as the property’s manager for a number of years.
Tenterfield Post Office opened on 1 January 1849, and the township was gazetted in 1851, with allotments being sold in 1854. In 1858 gold was discovered at Drake, and shortly afterwards at Timbarra and Boonoo Boonoo. During 1859 an AJS Bank opened.
During the 1860s, an Anglican Church was built, the Tenterfield Chronicle was published, the district court and the Tenterfield School of Arts were established, construction commenced for the local hospital, and a public school was opened. By the 1870s, the population stood at just 900, however the town had five hotels and three churches.
The Great Northern Railway was opened in Tenterfield in 1886. Tenterfield was originally to be the junction for the NSW and QLD rail lines, however inter-colonial politics lead to a new township and station being built on the Queensland side of the border. Wallangarra, meaning ‘the meeting place of the tribes’ in the language of the aboriginal people of the area, became the pivotal station that connected the rail lines, creating a direct link between Sydney and Brisbane. When in town, the Historic Tenterfield Railway Museum is a must-visit.
Sir Henry Parkes’ historic federation speech was delivered in the Tenterfield School of Arts on 24 October 1889, which ultimately led to the Federation of all Australian States in 1901. The School of Arts now houses a fantastic museum dedicated to the life of Sir Henry Parkes, federation and local history.
Arguably the most famous modern-day resident was Peter Allen, a singer and songwriter that went on to have international fame with hits such as I Go to Rio, I Still Call Australia Home, and Arthur’s Theme from the movie, Arthur, for which he won an Academy Award for best original song. Peter was born in Tenterfield and made the town famous in his song Tenterfield Saddler, about his grandfather, George Woolnough, who was the saddler in the town from 1908 to 1960.
One of Australia’s most famous writers and poets, Banjo Patterson, also lived in Tenterfield for a short time in the early 1900s. Coincidentally, he was a regular visitor at George Woolnough’s saddlery. Banjo proposed to his sweetheart, Alice Walker of Tenterfield Station, at the Boonoo Boonoo Falls lookout in Tenterfield in 1903.
To discover more of Tenterfield’s fascinating history, download the Tenterfield Soundtrail app (available from the App Store & Google Play),which will take you up the creek and down the main street of town, and into the history, the hearts and the minds of the locals. Hear stories of the ghosts in the jailhouse, the playful patter of what it means to be a local, talking cats, German brass bands and Peter Allen’s manna from heaven. This is a celebration of Tenterfield – the town, its history and people.
The Tenterfield Visitor Information Centre has reopened following closures due to COVID-19 restrictions. The centre will be operating via a window service for the time being, and is staffed Monday to Saturday. Phone calls will be answered on Sunday.