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Tenterfield, NSW

Rural service town known as 'The Birthplace of the Nation'

Tenterfield is a prosperous rural service centre noted for its impressive stands of deciduous trees which are particularly impressive in autumn. It is situated in a shallow valley 882 metres above sea-level at the northern end of the New England Tablelands and surrounded by rugged mountains and impressive national parks. The town's main claim to fame, which is reflected in a genuinely fascinating museum, is that it is 'The Birthplace of the Nation'. It was in the town, in 1889, that Henry Parkes delivered a crucial speech about the need for Australian Federation which led to the establishment of Australia as a nation in 1901. Today Tenterfield is surrounded by rich sheep and cattle country. As well it is known for its orchards and in recent times it has become an important cold climate wine area. 


 Tenterfield is located 668 km north of Sydney and 275 km south-west of Brisbane. It is situated in a valley 882 metres above sea-level. 


Origin of Name

The Deepwater station to the south of the present town was taken up in 1839 and first occupied by Europeans in 1840. One explanation for the town's name is that the property's first owner, Mr Templer, named the property 'Templerfield'. This is now widely discredited by the accepted explanation that Stuart Donaldson, who acquired the property in 1844, named it 'Tenterfield' after the property of two maiden aunts near Haddington in Scotland. The town was named after the property.


Things to See and Do

There is a useful Historic Walk which can be accessed at http://www.tenterfieldtourism.com.au/business-details.php?bid=107. It includes a total of 19 places of interest around the town. A brochure and map is available at the Visitor Information Centre but it can only be viewed, they do not have copies to take away. One way of using it is to photograph it on your phone and use it as you wander around the town. Of particular interest are:

1. Post Office (1881)
Located on the corner of Rouse Street and Manners Street, the Post Office, built by the McGauran Brothers in 1881, is an elegant two-storey, rendered brick Victorian Classical building with a metal mansard roof, arched colonnades and a clock tower. 

1a. Sandstone Obelisk (1894)
Located in front of the Post Office, and erected by the residents of Tenterfield in 1894, is an obelisk to Edward Reeves Whereat. The inscription on the obelisk reads: "This community-sponsored monument celebrates the life of Tenterfield businessman and community leader Edward Reeves Wherat (1840 - 1894).  As Mayor, he chaired the banquet when the New South Wales Premier Sir Henry Parkes made his Federation call to the people in the Tenterfield School of Arts on 24th October 1889. Earlier, Mr Whereat had given up his ambition of a Parliamentary career for the sake of the town in which he lived.  He withdrew his unopposed candidacy for the seat of Tenterfield in December 1882 and nominated in his stead Sir Henry Parkes who had lost his seat of East Sydney.  Mr Whereat's selfless act returned Sir Henry Parkes to Parliament as the Member for Tenterfield. Whereat, six times Mayor and founder of the School of Arts Institute in Tenterfield, was prominent in leadership roles in many civic affairs of the town.  Every worthy objective had a warm supporter in Edward Reeves Whereat. He was a man held in unequalled esteem and on his death was acclaimed 'generous friend and manly foe'." For more detailed information check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/government---colonial/display/23418-edward-whereat.

4. Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts (1876)
Located on the corner of Manners and Rouse Streets is the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts. The building was completed in 1876 and was initially used as a working man's institute. In 1889 it became one of the most famous buildings in New South Wales when Henry Parkes (who was Premier of the state five times) delivered a famous speech about the future federation of Australia. On Friday 25 October, 1889 the Sydney Morning Herald reported a speech which had been delivered by Parkes at a “Banquet to the Premier” in Tenterfield. Parkes, it wrote, had raised the question of “authorising the troops of the colonies to unite in one federal army” and had gone on to address the question of the control the Imperial Government in London had over the colonies.
“The great question which they had to consider”, the article continued, paraphrasing Parkes, “was, whether the time had not now come for the creation on this Australia continent of an Australian Government, as distinct from the local Governments now in existence.” The paper reported that this was greeted with wild applause.
Parkes called for a nation which would be both cohesive and united. Historians regard this speech as the official beginning of the movement which culminated in Federation eleven years later and produced the Australian Commonwealth in 1901. The building was given to the National Trust in 1957 - the first building in New South Wales to be given to the Trust by an act of parliament.

Henry Parkes Museum
The building at 205 Rouse Street now houses the Henry Parkes Museum which contains fascinating pieces relating to the history of Federation. Cartoons from papers at the time, a replica of the banquet table, a huge photo of the banquet with many local worthies around an impressive table, some local Aboriginal artefacts. There is also "a display of memorabilia from Parkes' personal life, including a compelling portrait by Julian Ashton, ivory carvings and journals". The museum houses a collection of Parkes memorabilia. It is open seven days from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6736 6100. Check out https://www.tenterfieldtourism.com.au/business-details.php?bid=2 for more information.

7. St Stephen's Presbyterian Church (1884)
Located at 117 Logan Street, St Stephen's Presbyterian Church (1884) was built on land donated by the manager of the Tenterfield Station, a Mr Walker. The church was where Walker's daughter, Alice, married Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson in 1903.

11. Centenary Cottage and Museum (1871)
Located at 136 Logan Street, the Centenary Cottage Museum and Art Gallery is a 7-room stone cottage erected in 1871 for blacksmith Michael Egan. It now houses a local history collection, including historic tools and machinery, both domestic and agricultural. Petrie Cottage, adjacent, is an old worker's slab cottage with period furnishings. The two front rooms, made of local pitsaw hardwood, sassafras slab and battens with board roof, were built c.1860. The complex also includes the General Sir Harry Chauvel Gallery built from a bequest from his sister Lillian Chauvel. The Gallery is a memorial to Chauvel, the first Australian to command a military corps, and houses 38 original Lillian Chauvel paintings. The story of the Light Horse volunteers who went to the Boer War and Great War is told in detail. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6736 2844. For more information check out https://mgnsw.org.au/organisations/centenary-cottage-museum.

13. Tenterfield Saddler (1860)
Located at 123 High Street is The Saddler's Shop which achieved fame through the song 'Tenterfield Saddler', written by Tenterfield-born Peter Allen as a tribute to his grandfather, George Woolnough, who plied his business here from 1908 until his retirement in 1960. Made of locally quarried, hand-cut blue granite with 50 cm thick walls, the building was erected in the 1860s and initially served as a residence before becoming the premises of the Australian Joint Stock Bank in 1874. In original condition, the doors and joinery are of red cedar. 

14. Royal Hotel (1851)
Over the road from the Tenterfield Saddler, in High Street, is the Royal Hotel which was formerly the George Inn and dates from 1849. It was the first pub in town. It is worth inspecting as it has high ceilings and polished timber floors - typical of an impressive, late 19th century rural pub.

16. Tenterfield Star Building (1913)
Located at 323 Rouse Street, the Tenterfield Star opened as a newspaper in 1870. The building was completed in 1913 by Major J.F. Thomas who was famous for defending Breaker Morant in his famous Boer War Court Martial. Thomas ran the newspaper and had his solicitor's chambers in the building.

18. Police Station and Gaol (1870)
To the rear of the courthouse, facing Martin Street and Scott Street, are the gaol with its unusual masonry dormer, the police station and the brick police and warden's residences (1874), the whole complex being integrated by fencing and landscaping.

19. Court House (1870)
Located in Molesworth Street is the masonry courthouse (1882), designed by noted Colonial Architect, James Barnet, with a huge and unusual glass skylight. The trees were planted in the 1880s. It is listed in the State Heritage Register which notes: "Tenterfield Courthouse was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet and constructed in 1885. The builders were T and J McGauran. Major additions were made to the building in 1911, designed by Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon. Tenterfield Courthouse replaced an earlier Barnet-designed courthouse built in 1864 ... By the 1870s, the original courthouse was inadequate and in 1877 plans for a much larger courthouse were drawn up by Colonial Architect James Barnet. Builders T and J McGauran began constructing the building in 1879, but because they were also building three other government buildings in the town, progress was slow and it was not until 1885 that the courthouse was completed. Extensive additions and alterations were designed under Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon in 1910. These included the enclosure of the front entry porch and a new front verandah, together with a new three-roomed wing on the right-hand side of the building. TL Mitchell won the contract for construction ... The Tenterfield Courthouse was originally designed and built in the Victorian period. After enlargements made in the Federation period, the building now has Arts and Crafts influences evident in the portico entrance and gable end wall treatment which features a group of five highlight windows to the courtroom. Flanking single-storey buildings complete the courthouse building. The front verandah on half-height timber posts supported on brick columns. Moulded cement detailing decorates the exterior." Check out https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=3080120 for more details.

Claremont House (c.1875)
Located on the corner of Scott Street and Douglas Street is Claremont House, built c. 1875 as the home of parliamentarian Mr Charles Lee (after whom the town of Leeton is named) and named after his wife Clare. The house was used to house the nursing staff who tended to the 10,000 troops stationed around the town during World War II.

Stannum House (1888)
Located at 114 Rouse Street (just up from Clive Street) is Stannum (1888), a beautiful Victorian-era Italianate villa with a Juliet balcony and a fireplace imported from Italy. Built by mining magnate John Holmes Reid it was once a military hospital. The house now contains display rooms of antiques and offers B&B accommodation. It is open for tours and accommodation, tel: (02) 6736 5538. For more information check out http://stannumhouse.com.au.

Deloraine (1874)
Located at 14 Clarence Street is Deloraine (1874), a fine bluestone building possibly intended by its original owner, William Patrick, as a synagogue which could serve the local Jewish community. Over the years it has been used as an inn, a B&B and a school.

The Cork Tree (1861)
Located in Wood Street is the very unusual cork tree which was brought from England by Edward Parker and planted in 1861. It still grows and is reputedly the largest cork tree in Australia.

Railway Museum
The Tenterfield Railway Museum is located in Railway Avenue, at the western edge of town. It was built in 1886 when the railway line reached Tenterfield. Three years later the line was extended to the border which resulted in a railway between Sydney and Brisbane. The complex includes the station, station master's residence, goods shed, barracks, railway yard and signalling equipment. The station is made of stone and brick to a design by John Whitton emphasising the gables. The interior is largely original, including cedar joinery. The entire precinct is now run by the Tenterfield Railway Station Preservation Society. The station closed in 1989 but has been converted into a museum with railway memorabilia and a photographic collection. It is open daily from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6736 2223. 


Other Attractions in the Area

Thunderbolt's Hideout and the Brisbane Line
Located to the north-east of town along the Mt Lindesay Road (an extension of Logan Street) is Thunderbolt's Hideout. Some 12 km from town there is a sign pointing to the Hideout. The path is clearly marked and the cave is about 150 metres from the parking area. Large granite boulders form two caves. It is believed that the bushranger Frederick Ward ['Thunderbolt') used the caves because the location offers an ideal vantage point overlooking the north-south road.   
A further one km up the Mount Lindsay Road, to the left of the cement wall, are some upright posts. Designed as tank traps they are remnants of the Brisbane Line fortifications from World War II. This was the second line of defence in case of an invasion from the north. In the course of the war there were up to 10,000 troops stationed in the Tenterfield area. The Tenterfield Tourism site notes: "The three rows of wooden posts (1500 mm in the ground - 900 mm out) were to force the tanks to rise up, exposing their soft underbelly. The rockfall further from these posts was from rock blasted from higher up to make the passage more difficult. Drill holes can be seen in this fallen rock. The area, a forced funnelling of the Japanese expeditionary force, was a trap that would put them at a disadvantage, whilst well dug-in forces could hold them for some time." Check out http://www.tenterfieldtourism.com.au/business-details.php?bid=109.

Basket Swamp National Park and Woollool Woolloolni Aboriginal Place
Located 14 km from Tenterfield via Mt Lindesey Road is the 2820 ha Basket Swamp National Park, an area of heaths and sedges. It is an area without facilities but it does contain, within a 370 ha reserve, the Woollool Woolloolni Aboriginal Place, an impressive stone outcrop with one mushroom-shaped rock protruding above the other boulders (1040 m above sea-level at its peak). A spot of great natural beauty it is a designated sacred site of the Bundjalung people. Woollool Woolloolni was a 'wuyangali', a clever man with special rights to this centre of spiritual power. His spirit is reputed to have returned to the site upon his death, rendering it approachable for others.
During his 1840 expedition to the coast Thomas Hewitt noted the feature and decided it resembled the hat worn by Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, hence its old European name of Wellington Lookout. For more information check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/basket-swamp-national-park.

Boonoo Boonoo National Park
Located 27 km from Tenterfield via the Mt Lindesay Road is the Boonoo Boonoo National Park where the highlights are the Boonoo Boonoo Falls (only 700 m return from the car park) which can be viewed from a platform over the falls and the Boonoo Boonoo River which forms beautiful pools amidst green forest before plummeting 210 m into the gorge below. There is a picnic area and a graded walking track descends from the main parking area to a viewing platform with excellent views of the gorge and the falls. Poet 'Banjo' Paterson was a regular visitor here just prior to and after his marriage in 1903. There is a popular legend that Paterson proposed to Alice Walker while the couple were gazing at the falls. For more information check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/picnic-areas/boonoo-boonoo-falls-picnic-area.

Bald Rock National Park 
Located 34 km north of Tenterfield via Mt Lindesay Road and the Bald Rock Road is the Bald Rock picnicking and camping area. From here the Bungoona Walk is an easy 2.4 km trek past some interesting granite boulders to the summit of Bald Rock. Signs and white markings lead to a more direct route, which is only 1.2 km but very steep, marked up the north-east face of the rock. If you are really brave you can descend the rock on gradients of about 30 degrees. It is well worth climbing for its sublime views over the surrounding countryside. On a clear day you can see as far as Cunningham’s Gap in Queensland. Bald Rock is the largest exposed granite monolith in Australia, being 750 m long, 500 m wide and 260 m high (1341 m above sea-level at the highest point). South Bald Rock, a smaller granite dome, is 5 km away and can be reached via a marked trail from the rest area. It is actually west over the state border in Girraween National Park.

Girraween National Park
Girraween National Park is located 38 km north of Tenterfield and is reached by taking the turnoff from the New England Highway at Wyberba.  The park is known for its spectacular wildflower displays (Girraween is an Aboriginal word meaning "place of flowers") as well as its impressive granite outcrops which include angular tors and boulders which appear to be precariously balanced. The website https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/girraween includes a detailed and downloadable map (https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/girraween/pdf/girraween-map.pdf) which has details of ten bushwalks in the park including the Bald Rock Creek circuit and Wyberba walks. The excellent Girraween and Sundown National Parks brochure (downloadable at https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/girraween/pdf/girraween-dg.pdf) proudly points out that the visitor can have a range of experiences "From easy Wyberba walk to a challenging full day hike to Mount Norman and back, it takes more than a couple of days to explore Girraween’s 11,800 hectares of rock-strewn ridges, cascading creeks and fascinating forests ... Thrill at seeing The Pyramid or hiking up it for the first time. Stand in awe under Granite Arch. Delight in discovery along the creek or between boulders on the Bald Rock Creek circuit or The Junction track, where enticing rockpools beckon you to dip in your toes or watch reflections in still, chilly waters. Simply disappear! Underground Creek will amaze as water mysteriously vanishes and then resurfaces to continue its journey downstream to Dr Roberts Waterhole. Get your blood pumping on a longer hike to imposing Castle Rock, The Sphinx or Turtle Rock, where you’ll gaze over rugged scenery formed by molten rock that has been uplifted, exposed and eroded by water, wind and ice. Be transported into Girraween’s remote ‘back country’ when you visit Mount Norman day-use area, cycle or walk shared trails, or take on the challenge of an overnight hike."

Mt Mackenzie Lookout
Mt Mackenzie Granite Drive provides a fine overview of the town and district from several vantage points to the west of town. It also takes in some of the district's striking granite outcrops. The 38-km (one-hour) circular route to the west of town also draws attention to various sites, including Ghost Gully, a dry creek bed featuring some interesting erosion formations, and Mt Mackenzie Lookout (1298 m above sea-level). There is a parking area with picnic and barbecue facilities at the summit.

Bluff Rock
Located 12 km south of Tenterfield via the New England Highway, Bluff Rock is an unusual granite outcrop rising steeply from the highway. It is on private property but is clearly visible from the roadside. The rock's speckled appearance is owing to large crystals of pink feldspar. There is a rest area on the northern side and there is a monument recording the massacre which took place on the rock in 1844. It is said that in 1844 a shepherd named Robinson was murdered by Aborigines who ultimately fled to the rock, pursued by a posse of whites who then decimated the tribe by throwing them off the top of the rock. The story of the massacre is deeply rooted in the oral history of the local community and they have provided a detailed account which exists on a monument beside the New England Highway and which reads: "The Massacre. The truth of this event remains clouded by many conflicting versions.  One time Overseer at Bolivia Station, Thomas Keating, in describing the massacre as it had been told to him by an old man at Bolivia, told of Aboriginal attacks on shepherds and sheep.  Keating outlined how men at Bolivia station were mustered and armed, then set out on the track of Aborigines to Pyes Creek on the western boundary of the property.  According to Keating`s story, the aboriginals were then attacked at Pyes Creek and fled across country to Bluff Rock, where they were thrown from the top killing most and injuring many.  None of that tribe survived were ever seen on Bolivia Station again.
"Commissioner MacDonald reported that in October 1844 a shepherd had been killed by Aborigines on the Irby Station at Bolivia, but no retaliatory action was mentioned in his dispatch.
"It was Edward Irby and his brother Leonard who named the huge granite rock whilst moving from Tenterfield Station to Deepwater Station in 1842.  It was St. Swithin`s Day and they named it St. Swithins Bluff. However, Edward Irby himself, when writing of the incident, describes how one of his shepherds, Robinson, had been killed by Aborigines and how four men had set out to find the culprits.  In these few simple words he described in his journal the terrible deeds of that day.
"'The blacks saw us coming and hid themselves among the rocks.  One in his haste, dropped poor Robinson's coat so we knew we were onto the right tribe.  If they had taken to their heels they might have got away, instead of doing so, they got their fighting men to attack us.  So we punished them severely and proved our superiority to them.'
"A very strong oral tradition exists amongst the local Aboriginal community of a baby surviving the fall in its mother's arms and being rescued and brought up by a nearby resident.  The unmarked grove is said to be East of the rock and the present road.
"The plaque was prepared and installed by the Moombahlene Local Aboriginal Land Council from information researched and supplied by the Tenterfield & District Visitors Association."



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Jukembal Aborigines who reputedly called the area 'Moombillen', meaning 'place of wild honey'

* The first European to reach the area was Allan Cunningham who passed 25 km to the west of the present townsite when returning from his exploration of the Darling Downs in 1827. 

* The first European settlers arrived in the late 1830s. The Deepwater station to the south was taken up in 1839.

* By 1840 the run was occupied with a Mr Templer being the first owner.

* Robert Ramsay Mackenzie took up the run and was granted legal title in 1842. That same year a bullock dray track to the coast was completed.

* Mackenzie's business associate, Stuart Donaldson, acquired the property in 1844. 

* By 1848 the Tenterfield property covered 100,000 acres. 

* From 1847 until the late 1860s most of the wool from the New England district passed through Tenterfield en route to the coast. 

* Court hearings were established at Tenterfield in 1847. 

* In 1849 a post office was established and the first publican's license was issued for the Georges Inn (on the site now occupied by the Royal Hotel). 

* A townsite was surveyed on the Tenterfield station in 1849. 

* The town was gazetted as Tenterfield in 1851, by which time there were some police buildings and huts. 

* In 1851 Donaldson fought in the last known duel in Australia against surveyor-general Sir Thomas Mitchell. Possibly the duel was complicated by Mitchell declaring the township of Tenterfield on Donaldson's station. 

* In 1854 the first land sales took place and a flour mill was built. 

* In 1856 the population was recorded as 133.

* Gold was discovered at Drake in 1858, sparking other discoveries in the district. 

* The town acquired an AJS Bank in 1859.

* The Anglican church was consecrated in 1860. 

* The bushranger known as 'Thunderbolt' (Fred Ward) was in the Tenterfield area in 1868. 

* Tenterfield was declared a municipality in 1871. 

* 1884 saw the arrival of the railway.

* At the Tenterfield School of Arts in 1889 Henry Parkes delivered his famous speech calling for the federation of the Australian colonies. This is credited with setting off the chain of events which culminated in the declaration of the Australian Commonwealth in 1901. 

* Poet 'Banjo' Paterson was married in Tenterfield in 1903 in the timber Presbyterian (now Uniting) Church. 

* By 1942 10,000 troops were stationed around Tenterfield.

* Singer/songwriter Peter Allen was born in Tenterfield in 1944 as Peter Woolnough, the grandson of George Woolnough, celebrated in Allen's song 'Tenterfield Saddler'. 


Visitor Information

Tenterfield Visitor Centre, 157 Rouse Street (the New England Highway), open seven days Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 4.30 pm, Saturday 9.00 am - 4.00 pm, Sunday 10.00 am - 2.00 pm, tel: (02) 6736 1082. 


Useful Websites

There is a useful, official website. Check out http://www.tenterfieldtourism.com.au.

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5 suggestions
  • nothing here about the beginnings of the sport of Campdraft. The first competition for camp draft was held at Tenterfield showgrounds.

    david robinson
  • If your passing through Tenterfield you must eat or have coffee at the Bohemian Teahouse it’s on the main Street on the hill headed towards Glen Innes.

    Anthony Reading
  • The first Bank building from 1857 is now renovated and a heritage Cafe and Restaurant by the name of Rosenhof. Also the home of the first Australian quintuplets. It has a beautiful garden and is only minutes from the town centre.

    Christian Uhrig
  • Thanks again, Bruce for a wonderful listing. We have booked 2 nights in Stannum House for July 2021 as part of a 2 week road trip and will make good use of your information.

    Roslyn Brooks
  • Very much enjoyed the short stay over at the Royal Hotel/Motel Tenterfield… thankyou Richard and Sharon. Fittingly at this the first ‘town pub!’ With time taken to explore the beauty and history of the township…I say ‘Tenterfielders’ keep enhancing the historical beauty and uniqueness of this gem of AUSTRALIAN HISTORY…which for me truly encapsulates the phrase …I STILL CALL AUSTRALIA HOME…I am, you are, we are Australians!

    Jane van Woerkom