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Muswellbrook, NSW

Important service town in the Upper Hunter Valley

Muswellbrook is a substantial rural service centre desperately awaiting a bypass. At the moment it is characterised by vast numbers of huge trucks roaring up and down the main street as they make their way between Sydney and Brisbane on the New England Highway. The district is in flux as the coal-fired power stations, which once were the economic lifeblood of the area, are being closed as they reach their use-by date. They are not being replaced. The town will probably evolve as an extension of the Hunter Valley wine region with gourmet food and specialist providores.

Location

Muswellbrook is located 247 km north-west of Sydney, 30 km south of Scone and 144 metres above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

In 1824 the explorer Henry Dangar reserved a village site at the junction of the Hunter and a creek at the southern end of the present townsite which he named Muscle Brook due to the large numbers of mussel shells he found on its banks. Consequently the town was named Muswellbrook although for nearly sixty years there was no official way of spelling the town's name and consequently it was spelt Musclebrook, Muscle Brook, Muswellbrook, Muswell Brook, Muscletown and Musswellbrook. It was only at the end of the 1880s that 'Muswellbrook' was consistently employed although it was not officially gazetted as such until 1949.

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Things to See and Do

Muswellbrook Heritage Town Walk
There are a total of 40 places of interest listed, and described, on the Muswellbrook Heritage Town Walk which is available from the Visitor Information Centre. Most of the places - nineteen of them - are located along Bridge Street, the town's main street. The total walk covers 4.5 km and will take a couple of hours to complete.
The places along the way which should not be missed include:

1. Kildonan
On the corner of Bridge and Wilkins Streets is a building which was erected as a residence by local stonemason J.H. Wilkins some time before 1870. It was later named 'Kildonan' after the vessel which returned the Wilkins brothers from World War I. It was subsequently owned by the Wilkins Sisters. Additions were made in the 1910s and in 1940.

2. Eatons Hotel
Eatons Hotel is a huge old two-storey building with round headed French windows and an enormous veranda featuring fluted cast-iron columns and decorative lacework supported at ground level by squared timber posts. The White Hart Hotel, licensed by Ann Ward, was built on this spot in 1839. It was sold to William Eaton and operated as Eaton's White Hart Hotel until it became Eatons Hotel in 1873. A tribute to its antiquity is the opening (at the southern end) beside the main entrance which was designed to allow access to the stables at the rear. Additions were made by William Eaton in 1866 (when the signage outside "Estab. 1866 was inscribed) and again by H R Flanders in 1929.

3. The St Vincent de Paul Centre
This two-storey stone and brick building was erected in the 1850s for an ex-convict employee of the St Heliers Estate named John Maddy. It was purchased by Edward White in 1860 and in 1882 by Carl Brecht, a German settler who planted the first vineyard of the Upper Hunter in 1864 on his Rosemount Estate. He built stone wine cellars to the rear of the building in 1882 and set himself up as a spirit and wine merchant. It was subsequently used as a cordial factory and bakery. It is now used by Vinnies.

Blue Heeler Sculpture
Located beside the forecourt of the Shell service station is the "Blue Heeler Country" statue which was erected in 2001 "in recognition of the contribution to Australian rural life by the Australian cattle dog and the development of the 'Blue Heeler' in the Upper Hunter." The sign on the sculpture explains: "The Blue Heeler was bred by crossing the Australian dingo and the Northumberland Blue Merle, producing an ideal working dog. The result was a dog capable of coping with the extreme conditions of the Australian Bush and the ability to control the wildest of cattle on the vast properties throughout the colonies. Our community salutes Thomas Simpson Hall who was instrumental in the development of the original Blue Heelers in the 1840s, at his family's property, 'Dartbrook' near Aberdeen."

4. Loxton House
Located on the corner of Bridge Street and Hill Street is Loxton House which was built in 1847 as a shop for Thomas Kerr. Over the years its function has changed many times. Its sturdy sandstone construction and sandstone footpath all hint at a time when the main street of Muswellbrook was notable for its impressive shops.

5. Weidmann Cottage
Located outside Muswellbrook Library (the library is also the Visitor Information Centre) at 132 Bridge Street, is Weidmann Cottage, a sandstone residence-cum-store dating from the 1840s. It is considered a typical example of a middle-class Victorian residence. It was purchased by the Weidmann family in 1891 who set it up as a butcher's shop. It was restored in 1988 and is now owned by Muswellbrook Shire Council. 

6. Masonic Lodge
Located across the road and notable for its distinctive blue and white facade, is the former Prince of Wales Masonic Lodge (1888), identifiable by the awning which still proclaims the building's origins. A shop below the impressive facade hides the building's original function.

7. Uniting Church
Surrounded by shops in Bridge Street is the former Methodist Church (now Uniting) built 1913-15 of red brick and sandstone rubble. The sandstone was constructed by local stonemason, William Armitage. It was constructed on the site of the original Methodist Church which dated from 1862. 

9. Campbell's Corner
Located on the corner of Bridge Street and Brook Street, and arguably the most impressive commercial building in the town, is Campbell's Corner which was the base of Malcolm Campbell's operations in the Upper Hunter Valley where he owned a chain of stores. The first section of this building was opened in 1870 with later additions in 1879, 1891 and 1910-1911. The clock tower was added in 1911. The facade was modernised in 1954.

10. St Alban's Church of England
Around the corner in Brook Street, and across the railway line, is the impressive St Alban's Church of England (1864-1869), designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, at the time the most famous church architect in England. It is the only church in Australia known to have been designed by Scott.  J. Horbury Hunt was appointed by noted colonial architect, Edmund Blacket, to oversee its construction. In the 1880s Hunt contributed the beautiful timber bellcote which stands in the grounds. The bellcote's design is echoed in the picket fence which was also designed by Horbury Hunt. The bellcote and picket fence have been painted the same colour to emphasise the connection. Hunt also oversaw the floral painting on the interior woodwork. 
Over the road is the rectory, built as a private residence for Mrs Sarah White, the sister of Canon White. It was completed in 1871 and purchased by the church in 1937. The main part of the rectory was designed by J. Horbury Hunt.

11. St Alban's Parish Hall
Across the road in Hunter Terrace, is the Anglican parish hall, built in 1874 as the church school and schoolmaster's residence. The front section was designed by J. Horbury Hunt and made of bonded brick taken from the original St Alban's Anglican Church (1839-45). The adjacent residence has prominent chimneys and a stone-flagged veranda. The hall is a fine example of Horbury Hunt's High Victorian style and is the only example of this aspect of his work in the Upper Hunter Valley.

13. Brighton Villa
Located at 12 Hunter Terrace is the very attractive two-storey Brighton Villa which was built for George Blunt, a railway contractor who had emigrated from Brighton in England. It originally had extensive gardens with stables and a coach house.

14. Royal Hotel
Occupying the first town allotment ever sold (it was sold in 1834 to George Forbes) is the Royal Hotel (1893) at the bottom of Bridge Street. There have been licensed premises on the site since 1835. Continue south under the railway line and you will enter Sydney Street

17. Yvonne Boyle's Real Estate
On the corner at 1 Sydney Street is Yvonne Boyle's Real Estate which, when it was built out of sandstone around c.1850 was known as the Plough Inn and continued as licensed premises until 1885 when it became a boarding house. 

Then walk back up Bridge Street from the roundabout

31. School of Arts
Located on Bridge Street, this School of Arts was built in 1871 and extended in 1913. The local council took over the building in the 1950s and for many years it operated as a Town Hall. In the 1970s an art gallery was established on the first floor and today it is part of the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre which houses the Max Watters collection - the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre website explains: "Purchased through the sale of his own work, the Max Watters Collection has grown to over 300 works.  It is regarded as one of the most significant collections of its type in rural Australia, and showcases some of the most influential names in Australian contemporary art: John Perceval, Grace Cossington-Smith, Ken Whisson, Charles Blackman, Jon Plapp, Danila Vassilieff, Euan Macleod, Imants Tillers and Tony Tuckson to name but a few.  These works complement the collection’s numerous examples of other prominent artists at their peak.
"In March 2004 Max Watters signed over his collection to the Shire of Muswellbrook so that residents and visitors alike could enjoy in perpetuity his vision.  It is, indeed, a generous bequest. This gift has the primary intention to provide art education for generations to come, to inspire visual awareness and curiosity, and promote culture as a tool for tourism in the area.
"Maxwell Joseph Watters was born in Muswellbrook in 1936 and began painting in the late 1950’s, his work being represented in every major collection around the country. A member of the prominent local family, Max was encouraged in collecting art by his brother Frank of the Watters Gallery in Sydney." For more information check out https://muswellbrook.nsw.gov.au/index.php/the-collections/max-watters-collection.

32. Post Office
Located next to the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre, the Post Office was completed in 1885 and stands in front of the town's Telegraph Office which was built in 1861. The two operations were amalgamated in 1870.

33. Luscombe's Chambers
Over the road, near the pedestrian crossing, is Luscombe's Chambers, the first three storey building in Muswellbrook. It was built by J.C. Luscombe in 1913 and for many years the top storey was occupied by photographers while the ground floor was used by auctioneers.

34. National Australian Bank
The history of this handsome sandstone building is remarkable. The first building was a private home for Henry Nowland, a local coach operator. It was built around 1834. In 1866 Nowland's wife, Harriet, added the second storey and a slate roof. In 1875 the building was purchased by the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and the first floor became the manager's residence. It was modernised in 1979 and in 1982, after the merger of the two banks, it became the National Australia Bank.

37. St James Precinct
Located in Brook Street, up the hill, is the Catholic precinct. The town's first Catholic church was erected on this site in 1861. The present St James, with its attractive belltower, dates from 1911. The architect was James Hicks. Parts of the school date back to the 1880s and the presbytery to 1896. The presbytery was originally built as a private residence for Martin Rasmussen. 

39. Former Presbyterian Manse
Located at the corner with Sowerby Street and Hill Street is the former Presbyterian manse, designed by John Pender and built of brick and iron with gables in 1876-77. The veranda has French doors and some attractive decoration around the columns. It is now a private residence. It was sold by the Presbyterian Church in 1993.

40. St John's Church and Hall
Located prominently in Hill Street, St John's Presbyterian Church was designed by W.L. Pender and erected 1913-15. It is notable for its arched lancet doorway, a fine cedar door, an impressive spire and a beautiful interior, especially the roof, organ and pulpit. The headstones of early Presbyterian settlers John and Janet Ferguson, who died in 1843 and 1851 respectively, are built into a nook on the western side of the church. The building further up the hill is an earlier St John's, erected in 1843. The Reverend John Dunmore Lang, a significant figure in colonial church history, preached here in 1850.

Muswellbrook Heritage Drive
The Muswellbrook Heritage Drive is a 9.5 km route around the town which focuses on 29 fine homes which are spread throughout the town. It is a superb opportunity to observe the affluence of the town and an insight into the prosperity which saw Muswellbrook become the largest town in the Upper Hunter.
The list of places of significance is as follows:

1. Koldonan - 208 Bridge Street
On the corner of Bridge and Wilkins Streets is a building which was erected as a residence by local stonemason J.H. Wilkins some time before 1870. It was later named 'Kildonan' after the vessel which returned the Wilkins brothers from World War I. It was subsequently owned by the Wilkins Sisters. Additions were made in the 1910s and in 1940.

2. The Old Manse - 106 Hill Street
Located at the corner with Sowerby Street and Hill Street is the former Presbyterian manse, designed by John Pender and built of brick and iron with gables in 1876-77. The veranda has French doors and some attractive decoration around the columns. It is now a private residence. It was sold by the Presbyterian Church in 1993.

3. Karoola - 37 Sowerby Street
This, the second hospital, was built in 1864 by the Muswellbrook Benevolent Society. Changes in the 1880s were designed by J Horbury Hunt. Today it is a stately home characterised by a wide hallway, a grand archway, stained glass doorway and high metal ceilings.

4. Cordach - 45 Sowerby Street
Built in 1923 for Dr Robert Roger by local bricklayer Francis Lowe, this was the Rogers' home and surgery. Dr Roger was the local mayor from 1920-1923.

5. Carramar - 10 Cook Street
A Federation-era home built in 1924 for the local bootmaker. It is characterised by a multi-gabled roof and a portico veranda.

6. Koombahla - 23 Cook Street
Built in the 1890s for local solicitor, E.H. Cohen, this is an example of Victorian filigree style architecture with impressive wrought iron gates and a street gas lamp which was brought to the home when electricity replaced gas in the town.

7. Doctor Rutherford's Home - 6 Roger Street
An impressive two storey home built for Dr L.O. Rutherford in 1936 from recycled bricks which had been used in the original St Albans Church. Dr Rutherford was a local doctor from 1929 to 1971.

8. Nebraska - 115 Brook Street
Built between 1911-1912 by James Phillips, a former farmer and hotel owner, the house was once set in large formal gardens.

9. Rivelin - 2 Armitage Avenue
This house was purchased in 1907 by William Bancroft Armitage (from Rivelin Valley in Yorkshire), a noted monumental mason who worked on the Victorian Parliament House, the Newcastle Post Office, St Marys Cathedral and the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Rivelin features two bay windows, mud stone window sills and a sandstone/marble vase shelf and circular window.

10. Midanga - 5 Midanga Avenue
A Federation house built in 1907 and designed by J.C. Luscombe. "A multi-gabled slate roof surmounts brick cavity walls constructed with locally produced Possum Gully bricks laid in the Flemish Bond style. Outstanding features include a bay window, a wide veranda and French windows, cast iron frieze and columns."

11. Biralee - 33 Brentwood Street
'Birralee', a large late Victorian villa was built in 1890-1891 for Dr Gregson, a member of the White family (the Nobel laureate Patrick White was the family's most famous member). It was designed by J. Horbury Hunt during what is considered his finest domestic architecture period. Gregson hired Hunt when he saw his work on St Albans Church and, through Gregson, Hunt went on to do a good deal of work for the White family. The house features extensive verandas with iron columns, intricate gables with finials and timber bargeboards, and a complex roof with two chimneys.

12. Dunroamin - 31 Brentwood Street
Built in 1932 for Miss Ruth White.

13. Braemar - 3 George Street
Built between 1920 and 1925 with art nouveau elements, the home was designed by W.H. Pender and features "double brick tuck pointed walls, a tiled roof and 17 rooms" - during World War II it was used by the Women's Army Corps.

14. Kanoona - 6 George Street
This is a multi-gabled weatherboard house that was built in 1908. It features an unusual corner structure which is like a bay window.

15. Atherstone - 3 Sowerby Street
Designed by W.H. Pender and built around 1888 this late Victorian home features a hipped slate roof, an impressive sandstone gateway and separate servant's quarters. It was used as an aeroplane spotting centre during World War II.

16. Roman Catholic Presbytery - 4 Sowerby Street
This impressive two storey building was originally constructed for Martin Rasmussen who owned the Railway Hotel. It was subsequently purchased by the Catholic Church.

17. Anglican Rectory - 19 Brook Street
Built as a private residence for Mrs Sarah White, the sister of Canon White, the rectory was completed in 1871 and purchased by the church in 1937. The main part of the rectory was designed by J. Horbury Hunt.

18. 9-11 Hunter Terrace
This late Georgian duplex was built in the 1840s in double rendered brick with deep set sandstone footings. "It features the original front windows, sandstone window sills, glazed French doors with louvre shutters and timber posts and beams supporting the front veranda."

19. Brighton Villa - 12 Hunter Terrace
The attractive two storey Brighton Villa was built for George Blunt, a railway contractor who had emigrated from Brighton in England. It originally had extensive gardens with stables and a coach house. "It features tuck pointing, metal posts, verandas on both levels, French doors and a ballroom/billiard room at the rear."

20. Hennor - 3 Lorne Street
A stately home built in 1885 for G.D. Fitzgerald, a prominent local citizen who became Mayor of the town and was a member of parliament. The house features cedar joinery, marble fire places and a bull nosed veranda.

21. Wahroongah - 19 Maitland Street
An attractive brick home built after World War II and notable for its impressive gardens which won many awards and were often used for local fashion shows.

22. 6 Mitchell Street
Constructed by timber merchant and builder, Walter Barrett, for his daughter.

23. 8 Mitchell Street
Joseph Edward Lowe, a bricklayer, arrived in Muswellbrook in the 1890s to build the Royal Hotel. He built this home prior to 1904. He used his bricklaying skills to achieve colourful contrasts between gold and terra cotta bricks.

24. Allandale - 12 Mitchell Street
This home was built for David Fleming, a contract painter who worked in town for over 60 years and died in 1945.

25. Wednesbury - 12 Mitchell Street
Built in 1897 by a local bricklayer, J.E. Lowe, "this home features oxide stained bricks forming circles, a bay window, tuck-pointing, timber fireplaces and rose patterned glass overlay windows."

26. Murilla - 16 Mitchell Street
A home built for local stock and station agent, Walter Valentine.

27. 23 Mitchell Street
A distinctive home with 23 cm concrete walls, cedar timber throughout, and pressed metal ceilings.

28. 25 Mitchell Street
This home was a wedding gift from W. Barrett to his son Frederick.

29. Skellatar House
Skellatar House was designed by Edmund Blacket in 1883 and built on one of the first local land grants, made out in 1825 to Francis Forbes. Skellatar was named after the family estate near Aberdeen, Scotland. Forbes was appointed first Chief Justice of NSW in 1823. He was also an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) and a member of the executive council until it was decided these positions clashed with his judicial duties. He clashed with Governor Darling on a number of issues during his tenure.

Muswellbrook Reconciliation Mural
Located in Simpson Park (on Market Street near the Railway Station), the mural was painted by local Aboriginal artist, George Anderson, after long hours of consultation with local Aboriginal elders. The painting started in 2001. The mural is 2.5 metres high, 17 metres long, comprises 14 panels, and was unveiled in 2004. A brochure explains that "What people saw was the story of black and white contact in Australia given and Upper Hunter context. From the left the panels depict pre-contact: a family group at home in the landscape, then we see the HMS Endeavour charting the coastline as the Rainbow Serpent is stirred to anger, sailors row to shore observed by the locals, a massacre takes place as a watcher witnesses from the trees, the lands are cleared for farming, the Aboriginal population is excluded to the fringes of the new towns, power and mining come to the Hunter and the land is further degraded, but then hope arises in the form of the Reconciliation movement represented by the merging of black and white in the final panels. Reconciliation is shown as an ongoing process which has just begun, a signpost to a future in which black and white are as one sharing Australia and its unique heritage."

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Other Attractions in the Area

Vietnam War Monument
Lying to the north of Muswellbrook on the New England Highway is an impressive monument to those who fought and died in the Vietnam War. It is a memorial to both sides of the conflict with the Republic of Vietnam being remembered in a plaque which records "In memory of our fallen 250,000 comrades from the army of the Republic of Vietnam who fought and sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the Vietnamese people."
The local Muswellbrook RSL sub-branch explain the concept behind the memorial with a plaque which states that: "The Memorial is to create a focal point which displays the names of those who gave their lives, this is achieved by the design.
"A visitor on arrival will see a red granite plinth representing a ship's bow and surmounted by the silent sentinel granite pillar, the 'right marker', with the Three Australian Service Emblems and the New Zealand Defence Force Emblem 'on guard' at the entrance.
"Upon entry along the track of red granite, the sloping walls, gradually increasing in height, are faced in green granite, burnt faced, to give effect to a green and confining space experience with a rubber tree and jungle track environment.
"On either side of the track are eleven crosses in staggered settings which represent the eleven years of continuous duty in The Republic of South Vietnam. The crosses are of stainless steel and placed to reflect morning and evening sun.
"This track opens into a circular viewing area which represents an artillery gun emplacement found at fire support bases, the floor is of red granite with a burnt texture, to represent the red clay earth found in the area of operations.
"The circular wall is a clay colour to represent a 'dug in' effect. To the left and right of the entry point are the Battle Honours awarded to units, emblazoned in steel letters, to the front, the commitment ... We should never forget.
"To the immediate front are three large black granite tablets, polished and ragged edged. These tablets or panels are vertically placed but separated, they have rock faced edges and denote the rift or schism in society of the time, caused by the objections of the population against the involvement of Australia in the Vietnam War and Conscription.
"Upon each of the polished tablets are etched the names of all those (521) Australians killed, in alphabetical order without rank or number or unit. To the lower right of the tablets are the names of 36 New Zealand servicemen killed, who in Anzac tradition, fought with the Australian Task Force.
"This record is to suggest that all were equal in their sacrifice, rank or unit of no consequence."

Balmoral
About 2 km along Sydney Street, to the right, is Balmoral, a two-storey brick house built in the late 1850s for William Bowman who became the town's first mayor and an MLA. There is a two-storey veranda on three sides with 12-pane windows on the ground floor, French windows above and gabled dormer windows to the attics. It is sometimes used as a wedding venue. 

Edinglassie
Located at 710 Denman Road, Edinglassie (1880 with additions from 1895), is a gracious mansion built for the White family on land originally granted to George Forbes, the brother of Francis. The stables and outbuildings form a sort of courtyard to the main house and were designed by J. Horbury Hunt in 1874. They were commissioned by James White Jr who was born at Stroud. The NSW Office of Environment & Heritage explains the significance of the property: "The Edinglassie property including the Edinglassie homestead, associated buildings and Rous Lench cottage are closely associated with the earliest European occupation of the area and collectively represent one of the earliest land grants of the initial settlement of the Hunter Valley. The Edinglassie property demonstrates various phases of human activities such as settlement and clearing, water supply and management, sheep and cattle running, development of specialist cattle breeding activities, recreation, viticulture and horse breeding." For more information check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5045625. Today it is a "boutique thoroughbred farm specialising in agistment, foaling, neonatal care, yearling and weanling sales preparation." See http://www.edinglassie.net.au.

Lake Liddell
Located 15 km south of Muswellbrook and just off the New England Highway on Hebden Road, Lake Liddell Recreation Area is an ideal spot for boating, waterskiing, camping and picnics. There is a bird sanctuary, a picnic-barbecue area, an oval, tennis courts, a parking area, a kiosk, toilets and showers. The lake covers 1133 ha, is 35 m deep and has a storage capacity of 152,000 megalitres. It was constructed to store cooling water (replenished by the Hunter River) for the Liddell Power Station. For more information check out Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/LakeLiddell.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by the Wanaruah Aboriginal people, and possibly the Kamilaroi. 

* European settlement started after John Howe's expedition to the Singleton district in 1820. 

* Henry Dangar explored the Hunter River further north in 1824. That year he reserved a village site at the junction of the Hunter and the creek at the southern end of the present townsite which he named Muscle Brook due to the large numbers of mussel shells he found on its banks.

* The first Chief Justice of NSW, Francis Forbes, was granted the land which now constitutes South Muswellbrook in 1825. He named his estate 'Skellater' after the family's ancestral estate in Aberdeen, Scotland.

* On 5 August, 1833 the surveyor, R. Dixon, started to survey for a village at the junction of Muscle Creek and the Hunter River.

* A township was laid out and gazetted on 23 October, 1833. 

* The first allotments were sold in 1834. 

* The first post office was established in 1837 and that year Edward Denny Day was made first police magistrate of the district and a mounted police force, police barracks and courthouse were established. 

* By 1840 the town had a population of 215 people in 41 houses.

* A flour mill was built around 1841. At the time wheat and wool were the mainstays of the local economy. 

* By 1842 the area south of Muscle Creek had been named Forbestown. It was changed to South Muswellbrook in 1848.

* The railway reached the town in 1869. It became the northern railhead.

* Muswellbrook was declared a municipality in 1870. At the time the population was 1445.

* Coalmining began in the 1890s.

* After World War I the larger properties in the district were broken up into smaller farms with dairying supplanting wool and wheat.

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Visitor Information

Muswellbrook Visitor Information Centre, 126 Bridge Street, tel: (02) 6549 3891.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://muswellbrook.org.au.

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