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Tenterfield - A Federation Town

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by Julian Groneberg (subscribe)
Freelance copywriter and blogger. Avid dog owner, living in Brisbane's bayside. If you like my articles please hit subscribe or 'like' at the end of the post!
Published June 7th 2012
Tenterfield - A Federation Town

Architecture dating back to colonial days, famous historical figures and a significant speech on Federation delivered here in 1889, paint the picture of Tenterfield - a small New England town steeped in history. Along with Bathurst and Cowra, Tenterfield's location as a centre on the New England Highway between Sydney and Brisbane lent itself as a major voice in the Federation debate which would later transform the nation. It was here Sir Henry Parkes gave his famous talk on Federation at the town's now famous school of arts, which help set the wheels in motion and brought the tides of change to the numerous colonies of Australia in the late nineteenth century.

Today, Tenterfield retains its colonial charm and country appeal where flannelette is the uniform of choice for many of the locals, and cattle and other livestock dotted around the countryside paint the picture of a traditional farming community. However make no mistake, Tenterfield is no boring, ordinary country town, it boasts activities and things to see and do that other towns of its size and profile could only dream of.

Tenterfield's Historic Museums
The Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts Museum is a perfect start point to learning about and exploring Tenterfield

The above-mentioned Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts Museum on Rouse St (New England Hwy) houses a significant collection of Federation memorabilia and chronicles the impact of Federation on social, cultural and economic life in the nation. The centre includes a theatre, public library and includes personal collections of Sir Henry Parkes who has since been dubbed the 'Father of Federation.' It is a lovely building and cultural hub of town, complete with courtyard coffee shop and a great starting point for visitors exploring the town.

Museums are aplenty in Tenterfield, which is unique for such a small town. Other museums worth a visit include the Centenary Cottage Museum on Logan Street boasting a large collection of memorabilia relating to the district and includes a 1860s wooden timber workers cottage with rustic machinery from a bygone era.

The Tenterfield Railway Museum is another museum worth a look while you're in Tenterfield. Opened by NSW Governor Lord Carrington in 1887, it features a heritage operated railway station and locomotive to view and explore. Tenterfield was the last station built on the now defunct Sydney to Brisbane railway line and the preserved infrastructure gives a good impression of the importance and glamour of rail during in the late nineteenth century.

image courtesy of

Colonial Architecture

Tenterfield Post Office built 1881

One of the most charming features of Tenterfield is seeing history reflected in its colonial buildings which abound in the town. A walking tour is the best way to see these buildings which are located on or just off the New England Highway which divides the town in two. Opposite the School of Arts is the historic and grand Post Office - an imposing building complete with clock-tower and archways and what I personally would like every town or suburb's post office to resemble. I can dream can't I?

Further up Rouse Street is historic Stannum House built on the highest point in town and a perfect example of Victorian era grandeur where many notable visitors including Banjo Patterson have stayed. Gazing up at the enormous structure, I felt a resemblance to a British countryside manor house and pictured servants and stewards working around the clock to please their masters. The residence, now privately owned, runs tours Wednesday to Sunday at a cost of $8 per person and showcases the remarkable restoration work of a property that also features marble fireplaces and cedar spiral staircases.

Historic Stannum House

Fans of the renowned Tenterfield-born entertainer Peter Allen, who was married to even-more renowned Liza Minelli, are sure to be familiar with 'The Tenterfield Saddler' a song penned by Allen about his grandfather who was the saddler in town for 52 years. Still producing authentic hand-made leather goods today, the Tenterfield Saddler (High St) is an essential place to visit to step back in time and admire the leather-making and tradition of this town icon where there has been only five saddlers since 1870.

New England Scenery and Countryside

Beautiful New England countryside in Autumn on the outskirts of Tenterfield

Perhaps the most charming feature of Tenterfield and a character of the town in its own right is the rugged countryside that it is set in. The New England region of Northern NSW features a cool dry climate and almost zero humidity giving the countryside distinct seasons and a rustic and often dry landscape.

Being from suburban subtropical Queensland,I have rarely been so excited about trees, let alone been exposed to trees which actually change colour since I had naively thought that was exclusively a northern hemisphere phenomenon. Stately Poplar and Oak trees line the streets in town and if you are lucky enough to visit during Autumn months you will be treated to a spectacle of colour as the trees change to gold and ruby. Combined with the backdrop of traditional homesteads and rugged countryside, you'll forgive me for being completely enchanted. Snapping away at nothing in particular was commonplace during my visit however my next stop was to visit one of Australia's most remarkable trees which stood only a few streets away.

Australia's oldest cork tree was planted in Tenterfield in 1861 and is located on the aptly named Wood St. Brought over from England the tree is also one of the largest in Australia and since I had never seen or considered that cork came from a tree, it is another sight worth a look in a town rich in history and country appeal.

Australia's oldest cork tree is found in Tenterfield
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Why? To see the birthplace of Federation
When: Anytime, particularly beautiful in Autumn months when it is not too cold and trees turn brilliant colours.
Where: Tenterfield
Your Comment
Thanks Lexa! You are right it gets FRIGIDLY cold in winter. I can't believe you actually skinned a rabbit they are so cute! My mum now lives in T'field which is why I was visiting quite a random detour otherwise. It has surprising amount of charm which can't be said for all country towns. Thanks for reading and commenting :)
by Julian Groneberg (score: 3|1808) 3975 days ago
This bought back some wonderful childhood memories. We camped by the creek in the middle of winter on our way to Cairns, (my dad liked the scenic route) when we woke the next morning, I 'broke' the tea towel that was hanging on the side of the tent, yep frozen! It was also the day I skinned my first and last rabbit, cried the whole time. he he he Thanks for the memories Julian. Beautifully written, once again.
Lexa :)
by Lexa T (score: 3|1070) 3979 days ago
I grew up in Tenterfield (lived there 16 years) and my sister and her family are now back living there (so I am back a couple of times a year). It is a really top little spot, very picturesque and just a lovely feel to the place. There are also some great wineries in the area now (not just over at Stanthorpe), so it's also good for a weekend winery tour if that's what you fancy. There are some great restaurants and pubs in the place too and I can high recommend Coco Thai in the main street for delish thai food (and not what you necessarily expect in a small country town) and also the Willowtree Cafe for amazing breakfasts. It's also well worth keeping an eye open for when they hold the Bush Poets weekend (every two years from memory) ... that is a great time. Yes it does get bitterly cold in winter and a not-to-be-missed event is the autumn colours ever year (gorgeous with all the liquid amber trees that line many of the streets including the highways in and out). Also close by are some amazing national parks with great walks - Bald Rock is about a 30 minute drive from town, Boonoo Boonoo is also fantastic - great swimming holes in summer and a lovely waterfall (about a 20 minute drive from town). Definately a great destination for a weekend away from Brisbane!
by m.lew (score: 1|66) 3436 days ago
TENTERFIELD in Autumn is just magic. The colours in the trees is a photographers delight. Mornings are crisp and days are warm. I have climbed Bald Rock (easier than Uluru) and walked some of the tracks in the National Park. I purchased a Irish Linen souvenir tea towel from the Tenterfield Saddler shop which has many quotes on it, this one especially is testament to a good quality product - " If you are not satisfied with your purchase, we will replace or refund your money.. no time limits apply". I have used it at least once a week for the last 6 years remembering my brief stay in the town. Ted Woolnough certainly made saddles to last. His grand son Peter Allen wrote the best song in memory of him.
by Gloria (score: 2|550) 1728 days ago
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