Rural service town with an impressive Open Air Sculpture Gallery
Walcha (pronounced 'Wolka') is a small rural service town located on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range. The dominant agriculture of the area includes sheep, wool and cattle, timber and timber-processing. Its location on the route from Port Macquarie to Tamworth and Armidale has ensured its continued importance as a stopping point for transport and travellers.
Walcha is located 410 km north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway and Thunderbolt Way. It is 90 km east of Tamworth via the Oxley Highway and 1067 m above sea-level.^ TOP
Origin of Name
The first settler in the New England area was Hamilton Sempill who took up the 'Wolka' run in 1832. It is not known why he named the property "Wolka" but the word is thought to mean "sun" in the language of the local Nganyaywana and Dyangadi people.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Tour Our Historic Buildings of Walcha
There is a downloadable brochure - Tour Our Historic Buildings of Walcha - which lists the important buildings around town and has photographs so they can be easily identified. The entire walk will take about one hour. The most significant buildings and places of interest include:
St Andrews Anglican Church
St Andrews Anglican Church is the third church built in Walcha. On a slight hill behind St Andrew's is the original Anglican church which was built between 1862-1866. It was constructed of stone quarried from Old Wolka station and taken from the demolished homestead, 'Villa Walcha', which had been erected on the Wolka run in the 1840s by then-owner David Jamieson. The old church has fine stained-glass windows which bear tribute to the town's pioneers. The church was originally known as St Paul's but was renamed St Andrews in the 1870s. The new church was built in 1963.
St Patrick's Catholic Church
St Patrick's Catholic Church was built in 1881 and extended in 1955. It replaced an earlier timber church which had been built in 1859. The church's cemetery is the oldest in the area.
Pioneer Cottage and Museum
Located on Thunderbolts Way (111 Derby Street) is the Pioneer Cottage Museum Complex, open 10.30 am - 4.30 pm Saturday and Sunday and open by appointment, contact the Visitor Information Centre, tel: (02) 6742 2460. There are twelve buildings in all and there is a downloadable map and information about each building available at http://www.walchansw.com.au/files/pages/attractions/museum/Pioneer-Cottage--Museum-brochure.pdf.
The highlight is the (1) Pioneer Cottage which was built on the site in 1862 by Constable James Buckland, the town's first policeman. He had bought the 2 1/2 acres (1 ha) block for £7/10/0 in 1858. The cottage was built in 1862. The historical society purchased the cottage in 1962.
Other buildings include the (2) Museum Building which dates from 1862 and was located at 117 Fitzroy Street. It has three glass fronted cabinets with historic memorabilia. There are also rooms of memorabilia from World Wars I and II; a display of early medical equipment; a room of Aboriginal artefacts; and a room with sketches of the town.
(3) There is a stringybark tree with Aboriginal carvings, one of the few surviving examples of a once common feature of the area, (6) the Wool Industry Hall - The old School of Arts building (1887) features a display of the wool industry. It was originally built at Glen Morrison, a mining settlement 24 km south-west of Walcha, and now houses a shearing machinery, wool presses, fleeces and a photographic display. (7) The Machinery Barn - There is a collection of horse-drawn vehicles and early agricultural equipment in the slab barn and (9) a slab blacksmith's shop with bellows, forge, anvil, brands and horseshoes.
(10) The Plane Shed contains the 1930 Tiger Moth biplane which was used at a local property in 1950 by A.S. Nivison. This is claimed to be the first time a plane was used to spread superphosphate over crops in Australia. It was a major breakthrough, greatly increased the stock-carrying capacity of local land.
Located on the corner of Derby and Hill Streets, Anglea House was built by Dr Schrader in the 1870s and, although altered later, was used as a doctor's surgery until the 1930s. It is now a B&B.
St Paul's Presbyterian Church
Abraham Nivison bought this land and donated it to the Presbyterian church. The current building replaced a wooden church which was destroyed by fire in 1883. The current building was completed in 1887 and consecrated in 1888. At the time it was known as St Mary's but this was changed to St Paul's in 1915. The manse was built beside the church in 1904.
George Hope Erratt arrived in Australia around 1853 and settled in Walcha in 1864. He purchased a local store and built this new store in the 1880s. It is located opposite the Post Office.
The post office, on the corner of Apsley and Derby Streets, was opened on this site in 1884. The first Post Office in the town had opened in 1851.
New England Hotel
Originally known as Livingston's Stores, the New England Hotel was purchased and renovated in 1881 by Charles H Moore who operated it as a hotel until his death in 1895. The building dates from the 1860s.
Located opposite the Visitor Information Centre, this pleasant park in the middle of town is home to two of the earliest sculptures - Weather Signs by Stephen King which dates from 1996 and The Family by Tom Deko which dates from 1998 and was originally exhibited in Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi.
National Australia Bank
National Australia Bank, formerly the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, was constructed in 1909. It is listed by the National Trust. The NAB occupied the building in 1981 when it merged with the CBC.
Located on the corner of Derby and Apsley Streets, this is an unusual Court House. It was designed by James Barnet in 1878 with later timber additions. The construction is characterised by iron stone foundations, brick in colonial bond, granite windowsills and cedar woodwork. The interior walls are 20 feet high and have narrow ornamental niches. It is a singularly unusual Court House.
Located in Fitzroy Street just over the bridge across the Apsley River, Fenwicke House is a terrace style house which was built from local bricks in the 1880s. " In the early 1900's the Hamilton sisters taught music here. The big window out the front was put there for a tailor, Mr Howe, who is remembered sitting in the widow sewing and mending suits. The upstairs rooms of the house in 1906-1912 were used for delivering babies. The McDonald family later lived here from 1919 till 1969 ... It was later used in 1979 as an art gallery, tearooms and the upstairs was rented. It was named The Parmenter Gallery. The owner's maiden name. It continued as an Art Gallery and in 1989-90 was extended further."
Walcha's Open Air Gallery of Sculptures and Art Works
In 1996 Stephen King, a local farmer and sculptor, approached the Walcha Council. He wanted to design a fountain sculpture for McHatten Park in the centre of town. It was the beginning of a grand project which, by 2017, had seen a total of 49 pieces of public sculpture around the town. The result has effectively turned this quiet rural service centre into one of the most interesting open air galleries in Australia. It is not just another example of vernacular rural art but rather a fine collection of local and international artists.
John McDonald, the art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, has written of the sculptures: “Walcha has found a way of signposting its continued vitality. For a modest investment of ratepayer’s funds, the Council has given the town a special place on Australia’s cultural map. This has come about with the assistance of artists and supporters who have donated a great deal of time and expertise to create this unique facility. It is an example of many individuals working together for the good of the community in which they share strong family and sentimental ties.”
The result: although Stephen King may have been the founding father of the project the town now has works from Tom Deko from Papua New Guinea; Emmanual Watt from Vanuatu; Bronwyn Bancroft from Sydney; Victor Nui from Tonga; Vaclav Fiala from the Czech Republic; Ross Laurie, Myfanwy Gullifer, Plum Henry, Julia Griffin and James Rogers from Walcha; David Waters, Gordon Hookey and Mike Nicholls from Melbourne; Nigel White from Mudgee; Charlie Trivers from Wamberal; John Turier from Adamstown; Sallwa Hourani from Armidale; Andreas Buisman from Austria; Alan Hubble from Tamworth; Marcus Tatton from Tasmania; Peter Lundberg from the USA and Mandy Francis from Hardy’s Bay.
The most sensible approach for those interested in exploring the sculptures is to get the brochure - Walcha's Open Air Gallery of Sculptures and Art Works - from the Visitor Centre (it has a map and detailed information about all the sculptures), start over the road with 'Weather Signs" (it was the first sculpture, dates from 1996 and was created by Stephen King) and then wander through town. Part of the pleasure is finding sculptures in the most unlikely places - beautiful carved seats in the main street, impressive signs at the entrances to the town - and enjoying quirky sculptures like "And the cow jumped over the moon" which is outside the local pre-school.
About 750 m south of the Derby and Fitzroy St intersection (via Thunderbolt's Way), on the western bank of the Apsley River, is a memorial cairn to John Oxley who camped near here en route to the coast in 1818. The sign reads: "John Oxley Surveyor General on his journey of exploration to the coast camped approximately 1 mile S.E. of here 8th September, 1818."
The Oxley Cairn Scenic Walk and Langford
There is a short walk from the cairn to to the A.S. Nivison Lookout at the southern end of Middle Street. The walk incorporates scenic views of the town, sections of bushland and Langford House.
Located 1 km south of Walcha on the original site of John Oxley's 1818 campsite, this impressive two storey building has 22 rooms and a five storey tower. It was constructed in 1903-1904 for Willliam Fletcher. The house, a classic Victorian-era grand manor, has stained glass windows, iron lacework, an iron staircase, an imported mahogany staircase and imported marble mantelpieces. Upon his death Fletcher, who had no children, left the property to his manager, A.S. Gill, who lived in the residence until 1971. In recent times it has been owned by Barry and Beverley Marshall who have restored it and open it for group tours. Tel: (02) 6778 0395 or 0429 946 788 for bookings.
The Grave of Nat Buchanan
Pay homage to one of Australia's legendary cattle men. Nat Buchanan really was one of the legends of the Australian bush during the late 19th century. Here is an abridged version of his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography:
"Nathaniel (Nat) Buchanan (1826-1901), pastoralist and explorer, was born near Dublin. He arrived in Sydney in January 1837 and the family settled at Rimbanda in New England in 1839.
"In 1859 he joined the explorer, William Landsborough, and they set out from Rockhampton to look for grazing land. In 1860 they reached their promised land: 1500 sq. miles (3885 km²) on the Thomson River. They secured it in 1863 when Nat was sent as first manager and partner in the Landsborough River Co. to pioneer Bowen Downs station. A few months earlier he had led a group of men to blaze a stock route from Port Denison (Bowen) to the runs, three hundred miles (483 km) inland.
"Nat continued to make excursions into the country north and west of Bowen Downs. His reputation as a bushman was already established and his sense of direction and locality was unrivalled, but he left no account of his journeys and hardly more of his activities as manager of Bowen Downs.
"Nat was caught up in the renewed optimism of the 1870s when a run of good seasons sent pastoralists into the far western fringes of Queensland. As an experienced explorer and drover in the area west of the Georgina, Nat was given contracts to pilot cattle from Burketown to the head of that river. In 1877 he and Sam Croker left Rocklands station to cross the Barkly Tableland and ride on to the Overland Telegraph Line. Nat's next trip in 1878 was the famed first stocking of Glencoe station in the Northern Territory: 1200 cattle from Aramac in Queensland to the Adelaide River with no predefined route and no settlement for a thousand miles (1609 km).
"The overlanders of the 1880s followed Nat's route from Burketown to the McArthur River, to the Roper and on to Katherine. Nat himself retraced his steps to Glencoe with 20,000 cattle for Charles Fisher in 1880.
"He was first to take cattle into the Kimberley, crossing the Victoria River country with 4000 head to stock the Ord River station in 1883. This was the route used by gold seekers flocking to the Kimberley fields in 1886.
"Nat and the Gordon brothers took up Wave Hill on the Victoria River in 1883, one of the first stations established west of the Telegraph Line, in rich but remote cattle country; their nearest neighbour was two hundred miles (321 km) away.
"At 70 he made his last big expedition, exploring land between Tennant's Creek and Sturt Creek in an effort to find a route from the Barkly Tableland to Western Australia.
"Nat made other shorter trips, searching for mica east of Tanami and exploring south of Hooker's Creek until in 1899, acting on doctor's orders to leave the area, he bought Kenmuir, a farm on Dungowan Creek near Tamworth. There twenty-five acres (10 ha) of lucerne kept him active until he died on 23 September 1901, survived by his wife and son.
"Nat became a legend well before his death, for his feats of droving, his bushcraft and especially his peculiar powers of observation … Although, as claimed by the Bulletin, 9 July 1881, he perhaps helped to settle more new country than any other man in Australia, he died with almost none in his possession." The full account can be read at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buchanan-nathaniel-nat-3101.
Other Attractions in the Area
Apsley Falls in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park
Located 19 km east along the Oxley Highway is a turnoff to the Apsley Falls.
This vantagepoint on the way to the Apsley Falls Lookout offers dramatic views across to the bluffs on the other side of the Apsley Gorge. There is some evidence that early settlers chased local Aborigines to the edge of the gorge and forced them to jump to their death off the cliffs. Just another of those untold stories of the ugliness of the frontier.
Gorge Rim Walk - At the Day Use area there is a 1 km loop Gorge Rim Walking Track. At the Falls Lookout there is a 52 metre steel stairway which leads down to an observation deck where there are excellent views of the deep gorge and the falls which drop 309 m in two stages. If you are very lucky you may spot a spotted-tail quoll (see photo). The steps were first built as wooden steps in 1902. They were demolished in 1932 and it wasn't until 1961 that they were built in steel by the Walcha Lions Club. National Parks refitted the steps in 2001.
Oxley Walk - clearly signposted this 90 minute walk crosses the impressive Suspension Bridge and continues around the Apsley River to the north side of the gorge. It offers excellent views of the main falls and the lower falls from four lookout platforms.
The falls were discovered by John Oxley in 1818 who wrote of being "lost in astonishment at the sight of this wonderful sublimity". They are located in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, a wilderness located on the Great Escarpment which divides the tablelands from the coast. The park is notable for the fact that the New England Plateau drops into the gorges carved out by the Aspley and Macleay Rivers. For more detailed information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/oxley-wild-rivers-national-park.
Located 43 km south-east of Walcha along the Oxley Highway is a turnoff to Tia Falls Road which leads to the Tia Falls Campground which is located in a bush setting which is ideal for a picnic. There is a Gorge Rim walking track which is 1.5 km return and which usually takes around 90 minutes. The lookout offers spectacular views over the gorge and the falls. There is also the Tiara Walking Track (5 km return - 90 minutes to two hours) which also offers views over the Tia River. For a map and detailed instructions check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/tia-falls-walk/map. The site notes of the fauna in the area: "The varied plant communities of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park provide a home for over 350 animal species, including the largest confirmed population of brush-tailed rock wallabies. Even though there are roughly 10,000 of this endangered species in the park, you'll have to keep your eyes open to catch a glimpse of their bushy tail. The park also boasts over 173 bird species, including the majestic wedge-tailed eagle, peregrine falcon, square-tailed kite and sea eagle."
Budds Mare Lookout and Camp Ground
Located 44 km west of Walcha via the Emu Creek Road and Moona Plains Road the Budds Mare Rest Area has a camping ground with picnic facilities and there are a number of walking tracks as well as a lookout above the Apsley River valley with views across the gorge to Paradise Rocks and to Round Mountain and Point Lookout.
There is a challenging 14 km (return) walk to the riverside. For more information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/lookouts/budds-mare-lookout.
Nowendoc National Park
The drive south through Nowendoc to Gloucester on Brackendale Road is exceptionally beautiful. Nowendoc, which is 57 km south of Walcha, is a tiny village with a general store and a few houses. The National Park's website explains: "Beautiful Nowendoc National Park sits in rugged escarpment terrain in the NSW Northern Tablelands, 70km south of Walcha. Boasting spectacular diverse scenery, including moist eucalypt forest with rainforest hugging the creek lines, the park offers ample opportunity for quiet recreation.
"Experience bushwalking amongst wildflowers and visit nearby canyons and waterfalls. Enjoy birdwatching and have a picnic or take a dip. The park’s creeks run throughout the year, though winter swimming is only for the brave.
"Accessible only by 4WD, Nowendoc National Park protects a range of threatened plants and animals and is also known for its Aboriginal and pastoral heritage." For more information check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/nowendoc-national-park.
* The area is thought to have been occupied by the Dunghutti/Dunggadi Aborigines prior to white settlement.
* In 1818 John Oxley camped beside the Apsley River near the present townsite. He recorded the event in his diary: "We halted in a fine and spacious valley ... watered by a fine brook, and at a distance of a mile we saw several fires at which appeared many natives."
* The first settler in the area was Hamilton Sempill who took up the 'Wolka' run in 1832, establishing slab huts where 'Langford' now stands.
* Other early runs around the town were Ohio (1836), Orandumbie (1837) and Europambula (1830s).
* A road to Port Macquarie was constructed in 1842 to transport wool from New England to the coast.
* A postal service was established in 1851.
* The village of Walcha was gazetted in 1852. At that time there was a blacksmith's, a store and a flour mill.
* A Catholic chapel was erected in 1854.
* A police station and the first Presbyterian church were operating by 1857.
* The Walcha National School was opened in 1859.
* In 1861 the population was recorded at 355.
* St Andrews Anglican church was built in 1862 from stone quarried on Wolka station.
* By 1870 cedar-getters were active in the area's rainforests.
* Goldmining began in 1873 at Tia, Glen Morrison and Nowendoc.
* In 1878 Walcha was gazetted as a town and a courthouse was built.
* A rail link opened to the west, at Walcha Road, in 1882.
* A new Post Office was built in 1884.
* The town became a municipality in 1889.
* The timber industry became important after World War II.
* The first aerial spraying of superphosphate in Australia took place at a local property in 1950. The result was so successful the local railway station became the busiest non-metropolitan freight terminal in New South Wales.
* In 1996 the first of the 49 sculptures was installed in the town's Open Air Gallery.
* In 2014 Walcha produced the world's finest 'paddock grown' bale of wool, at 11.6 microns.^ TOP
Walcha Visitor Information Centre, 51 Fitzroy Street, tel: (02) 6774 2640. Open 9.00 am - 4.30 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am - 4.00 pm weekends.^ TOP
There is a worthwhile local website. Check out http://www.walchansw.com.au. There is a useful downloadable brochure on the town and district at http://walchansw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/WTBrochure_Feb2016.pdf.^ TOP