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Manilla, NSW

Quiet rural service centre at the junction of the Namoi and Manilla Rivers.

Manilla is a quiet service centre in a rich wheat-growing, wool, mixed farming and fat lamb district at the junction of the Namoi and Manilla Rivers. In recent times it has become internationally famous as a result of the hard work and commitment of Godfrey Wenness who has developed Mount Borah as an outstanding paragliding destination. Beyond that it is surrounded by rich countryside which makes the local dams - Lake Keepit and Split Rock - attractive leisure destinations and Warrabah National Park an ideal place for bushwalkers.


Manilla is 363 m above sea level, 45 km north of Tamworth on the Fossickers Way and 450 km north of Sydney via the New England Highway.


Origin of Name

The history of the naming of Manilla is quite complicated. By 1853 George Veness had selected a property at the junction of the Namoi and Manilla Rivers which had become a teamsters' campsite known as 'The Junction'. He built a wine-shop, a store and a residence and later became the first postmaster. Veness was asked by the postal department to choose a name for the village and chose Manilla after the Manilla River which had been called the 'Manellae' which may have been a reference to the group of First Nation peoples who lived on its banks or which may have been a Kamilaroi word meaning "winding river". There is a popular myth that an ex-sailor who had visited Manilla in the Philippines encouraged the change in spelling.


Things to See and Do

Manilla Heritage Museum
Located at 197 Manilla Street and open seven days a week from 9.00 am - 3.30 pm this museum complex, which opened in 1975, includes the Pioneer Park, the Yarramanbully schoolhouse, a Chinese Memorial Garden, Henry Burrell's platypusary and the original house. The latter was originally a family home erected in 1884 by G.H. Royce, the building contractor who constructed the original bridge over the Namoi River. In 1900 the home became a bakery (built on at the rear) with the shop section added to the front. It is the only remaining building of that era on the main street; many others being destroyed by fires in the 1900s. The entrance is through the local Visitor Information Centre, tel: (02) 6785 1207. There is a useful website. Check out http://www.manillamuseum.com.au. There is a useful brochure which can be downloaded. Check out http://www.fossickersway.com/SiteFiles/fossickerswaycom/Manilla_Heritage_Museum_Flyer_2012.pdf.

Manilla Rural Museum
The Manilla and District Rural Collection of history farm machinery is stored in Alexander Lane (behind the supermarket) and can be accessed between 10.00 am - 3.00 pm on Friday and Saturday or by tel: 0428 421 668.

Manilla Weir
Located off Stafford Street at the eastern end of town is the very pretty Manilla Weir on the Namoi River. It is a pleasant place for a picnic, barbecue or to fish in the river.

Gliding, Paragliding and Ultralight Aircraft
Manilla has become internationally famous as a major sports flying centre with hang gliding, paragliding, ultralight aircraft, gyrocopters and gliders (sailplanes) being flown both recreationally and competitively in the district. Mount Borah, at an elevation of 880 m, provides excellent flying conditions and facilities, with four launching pads to suit nearly every wind direction and is now recognised as one of the worlds best Paraglider and Hang Glider launch sites. Much of the inspiration has come from local enthusiast and champion, Godfrey Wenness who developed Mount Borah. In 1998 Wenness became internationally famous when he paraglided for a World Distance record of 335 km. Major free-flight competitions are staged annually during the summer months. The 10th FAI Paragliding World Championships were held at the site in 2007, attended by 150 pilots from 41 nations. In the week prior to the event Manilla was in the headlines around the world for the survival of paraglider pilot Ewa Wisnierska of Germany who was sucked up into a thunderstorm to 9946m (32,000 ft). Check out http://www.flymanilla.com for more details. The Fly Manilla website points out that: "Since 1994 Manilla has hosted 18 international level paragliding events organised by Godfrey Wenness, 15 NSW State Hang Gliding Championships organised by Newcastle HG Club, and many annual fly-in's including the famous easter-time PG State of Origin which attracts over 100 pilots and is the largest paragliding event in Australia aside from the main international one held here."


Other Attractions in the Area

Lake Keepit State Park and the Keepit Dam
A dam at Keepit on the Namoi River was first mooted as early as 1896. Work did not begin on the dam until 1938. The war delayed it and the Keepit Dam was not officially opened until 1960. The dam wall was 53 m high and the total cost was £12 million. Today the Manilla end of the Keepit Dam is a popular recreation area, used for fishing, boating and water skiing. The park has an area of 32.3 hectares and includes facilities for camping and caravans. The Lake Keepit Recreation Area turnoff is 34 km south-west of Manilla and is ideal and popular for water skiing, fishing (the lake is noted for silver and golden perch, Murray cod and catfish), swimming, sailing, windsurfing and power boating, with fishing boats for hire. Children's facilities include a children's pool, a BMX track, a skateboarding area, a water park and a roller-skating rink. There are barbecues, a kiosk, toilets, half-court tennis and a five-hole golf course. Check out http://www.stateparks.nsw.gov.au/lake_keepit for more details.

Warrabah National Park
Warrabah National Park is 40 km north-east of Manilla on the Halls Creek Road. The Upper Namoi River descends 220 m as it traverses 18 km of striking gorge country, offering a number of large grade 3 rapids before flowing gently past the car camping and picnic area at the park entrance. Bushwalking, bush camping, canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling, fishing and swimming can all be pursued, The National Parks website explains the appeal: "One of the few inland river parks in NSW, beautiful Warrabah National Park, just east of Manilla and north of Tamworth, has an incredibly tranquil atmosphere thanks in large part to the spectacular Namoi River. The park is bisected by over 14 km of the river in a dramatic gorge. Massive granite boulders perch high above the valley’s deep, calm pools and the swelling river rapids offer the promise of exciting adventures for intrepid canoeists. Naturally, most visitors to the park base their exploration of the park around riverside activities, such as swimming, fishing, liloing, and canoeing, or vehicle-based camping, bushwalking and picnicking by the water." Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Warrabah-National-Park for more details.

Split Rock Dam
Located 28 km north of Manilla via the Fossickers Highway and located on the Manilla River, the Split Rock Dam was built between 1984-1988. Today it can store 397,000 megalitres. It provides camping and recreation facilities, including boat ramps, barbecues and picnic areas. It is a popular location for fishing, boating, swimming and water skiing. Head north towards Barraba for 20 km, turn right at the clearly sign posted turnoff and it is another 8 km.



* Prior to European occupation the area was home to the Kamilaroi First Nation people.

* By 1828 Harvest and Otto Baldwin of Singleton were occupying land about 10 km south of the present site of the town.

* The Baldwin family took up the 32,000 acre Dinnawirindi station in 1837. It was one of six cattle stations in the area and included all the land Manilla now stands on.

* In 1853 George Veness selected a property at the junction of the Namoi and Manilla Rivers. It was a teamsters' campsite known as 'The Junction'. He built a wine-shop, a store and a residence and became the first postmaster. Veness was asked by the postal department to choose a title for the village and named it after the Manilla River.

* The town was laid out in the early 1860s by Arthur Dewhurst who named its streets after himself, his wife, their English home towns, and the local MP Charles Lloyd.

* Manilla was formally gazetted in 1863 and town allotments were sold that same year.

* In 1864 George Veness's store was washed away by floods. The flood killed killed four of the town's twelve residents.

* Bushranger 'Thunderbolt' (alias Fred Ward) stole two horses from Lloyd's station and committed a series of robberies on the Barabba road in 1865.

* In 1866 Manilla was described by the NSW Gazetteer as a 'postal town' in a pastoral and quartz mining district. There was a hotel, an inn and a district population of 50.

* In 1867 Captain Thunderbold bailed up the Tamworth Mail 3 km from Manilla. He then proceeded to Hill's public house. At Veness's store he robbed everyone and stole clothes, spirits and groceries. The police arrived and he fled without his pack horse which carried some of his gains.

* By 1872 wheat was being grown in the area.

* In 1875 a small private school was established in the town.

* By 1879 the town had its own public school.

* By 1880 the area around the town was dominated by sheep farming.

* In 1883 Dinnawirindi station was taken over by Charles Baldwin (on the death of Otto Baldwin) and developed into a thoroughbred horse stud.

* Manilla was officially proclaimed a town in 1885.

* The Manilla Court House was completed in 1886.

* The first church, a Methodist Church, was built in 1889.

* In 1890 the editor of the Tamworth Observer described Manilla as a town which promised a prosperous future, and commented on the imposing bridge crossing the river, the stately court house, the well kept orchards and pretty flower gardens. He reported that there were two stores, two blacksmith shops, a branch of the Commercial bank, two butchers shops, a saddlers shop, several carpenters and a brickworks.

* St Michael's Roman Catholic Church was consecrated in 1894. It was destroyed by fire in 1971.

* Tobacco was first grown in the district by a Chinese farmer in 1896.

* The railway reached Manilla in 1899. That year a flour mill was built in the town.

* A series of fires between 1900-1910 destroyed many buildings in the centre of the town.

* Manilla became a municipality in 1901, at which time the population was 780. That same year the local Manilla Public School was opened.

* In 1905 the council installed lights on the local bridge. Electric light became available in 1915.

* In 1907 13,000 bales of wool passed through Manilla railway station.

* St Joseph's Convent was founded in 1914.

* By 1923 there were 17 tobacco plantations in the district.

* In 1929 the local flour mill was destroyed by fire.

* In 1933 a wheat silo with 150,000 bushel capacity was built in the town. That same year the town got its own water supply.

* In January 1964 a flood forced one third of the town's population to evacuate.

* By 1970 the town had a 500,000 bushel wheat silo at the Manilla railway station.

* In the 1970s impresario, Harry M Miller, established a large herd of German Simmental cattle at Dunmore near the town.

* In 1988 work on Split Rock Dam was completed.


Visitor Information

Manilla Visitor Information Centre, 197 Manilla Street, tel: (02) 6785 1207. It is open daily 9.00 am - 4.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is a remarkably detailed history of the town available as a download. Titled A Thematic history of Nundle, Manilla and Barraba it can be acquired by typing "thematic history of nundle, manilla and barraba" into Google and downloading the booklet. There is also an excellent and detailed coverage of the town at https://manillanswaustralia.blogspot.com.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

13 suggestions
  • You have conveniently overlooked the Aboriginal people’s history of the area and the terrible junction of violent and shameful reprisals launching thru this area which resulted in the murders of thousands of black defenders and innocent families.

    Given that I wrote Blood on the Wattle and recorded hundreds of massacres I find it deeply hurtful to suggest I “conveniently overlooked” the history. I did not know it. And that is from someone who has spent over 25 years studying the massacres.

  • Manilla monthly and seasonal weather reports from 2007 can be seen on my blog:
    There are also analyses of climatic trends, including the sequence of droughts since 1883.

    Garry Speight
  • I am enquring about a property built approx 1895 at 81 Arthur St Manilla,” Iona”. Does anyone have the history and builders name?

    Coleen Neboraczek
  • I am trying to find something about an Edward Mason who died in Manilla in 1936. I am trying to connect him to an Edward William Mason born in London England in 1868 who moved to Australia NSW some time after 1914. The Will of Edward, raised by local solicitors Kennedy, appointed May Kathleen Hall as an executor and his address was ‘Riverdale’ Manilla, and I think he lived in the town from 1930 to his death in 1936. Any information would be appreciated.

    Colin Finch
  • hi,
    I’m trying to find information regarding my grandmother Norah Elizabeth Hunt. On my Mum’s birth certificate it says Norah was born in Manilla but does not give a date. I would say between 1904 and 1905? If any person can help I’d be grateful.

  • Visitors can now browse more of Manilla’s story at http://historyofmanillansw.info

    Diana Nichol
  • Hi , My name is Michele Mcgregor. I’m trying to find my grandfather, real biological father, my grandfather John Matthews /Wilson was born in Manilla in 1908. Born to Mary Ann Matthews. We know there where 3 children out of wedlock with father unknown but we are unsure whether their father was Samuel Harold Sing. If anyone has any information that may help or know of theses families could you please contact me
    Thank you Michele

    Michele McGregor
  • Population and Heritage of Manilla in 1908?

    Michele McGregor
  • My maps show Strafford st, rather than Stafford St. We’ll check it out on 25th June. Thanks a lot for all the info.

    Roslyn Brooks
  • Did I miss something or if not why isn’t there any mention regarding our railway viaduct which is the longest curved viaduct left in the Southern Hemisphere built in 1906 and was still in use in the late 1970’s. This impressive structure was built completely by hand without all the modern equipment available today.

    E O’Brien
  • Brice and Dr Bronwyn Stokes purchased Dunmore from Harry m Miller in 1990. They were there for 15 years. A large flood irrigation scheme was installed and 22000 sheep were shorn in 1991. With the scrapping of the wool reserve the property had backgrounding cattle wheat and barley farming and a large eco shed pig operation was installed. Dr Stokes had a thriving medical practice in Tamworth. We sold in 2004 for $3,800,000 plus $500000 for the sheep. Plus $200000 for plant.

    Brice Stokes
  • I’m wanting info re my grandparents Albert Edward Ernest SUTTON and Esther Annie (nee Baker) who lived in Manilla 1906 -1921. 5 children. Edward had a store in town as a bootmaker./ saddle-maker. Family were associated with Methodist Church.

    Betty Jobling (nee SUTTON)
  • You may like to include this website: https://manillanswaustralia.blogspot.com/

    Mitchell Zen