‘I’m lapping up the rich history of Australia’s country towns in retirement’

Aug 14, 2020
Tenterfield is a town that is proud of its history. Source: Getty.

Retirement has allowed me to pursue my main interests. They include gaining a familiarity of the country towns that dot our landscape and learning their history, as well as Australian movies. May I tell you how excited I was when I found a township that encompassed films with a local bent and a fascinating history?

Eight hours drive from Sydney, or five hours from Brisbane, Tenterfield in northern New South Wales is located in a valley within the Great Dividing Range. It’s largely preserved architecture, natural attractions and rich farmland make it the perfect destination when you are ready for a change of pace. For those of us from the northern side of the border one of Tenterfield’s major charms for me is its distinctive four seasons – the autumn colours are spectacular and I’m partial to nights in front of a log fire throughout winter.

Established in 1851 because of its position on the route between Sydney and Brisbane, politician Sir Henry Parkes delivered a speech in Tenterfield in 1889 which ultimately led to the Federation of Australia in 1901.

Singer-songwriter, Peter Allen, was born in Tenterfield in 1944. His Grandfather, George Woolnough, had been a long time Tenterfield resident and owner of the Tenterfield Saddlery on High Street for fifty-two years. Peter Allen perpetuated the memory of his grandfather in one of his best-known songs “The Tenterfield Saddler”.

The first saddler in Tenterfield purchased this property in 1870 which was then sold and used as a bank four years later because the granite walls were over twenty inches thick. In 1895, it was sold for use as a private home, who then sold it on to the next saddler, before coming into Woolnough’s hands.

The solicitor who arranged these last three sales was Major J F Thomas. Sound familiar? He was the solicitor who defended Harry (Breaker) Morant in South Africa during the Boer War. His part in this saga was depicted by actor Jack Thompson in the Australian movie, Breaker Morant, released in 1980. Indeed, in the School of Arts Building where Parkes made his famous speech, you can see the lucky coin Morant wore on a chain around his neck with an indentation from a bullet from the firing squad that took his life. You may remember Edward Woodward as The Breaker yelling “Shoot straight, you bastards” at the end of the movie. Perhaps the coin was not so lucky after all.

Another of Tenterfield’s favourite sons was Oliver Woodward. Who, you may ask?

Captain Oliver Holmes Woodward, CMG, MC & Two Bars, was a metallurgist, mine manager and soldier noted for his tunnelling activities at the Ypres Salient during World War 1. Woodward kept diaries of these activities which were later moulded into a book by historian and writer, Will Davies, which in turn became the 2010 Australian war film, Beneath Hill 60. Actor Brendan Cowell portrayed Woodward and if you’ve never seen the movie put it on your Must Do list.

Australian poet and war correspondent Andrew Barton Paterson, affectionately known as Banjo, married a lass from Tenterfield at St Stephens Church, in April 1903. The congregation of this tiny, wooden structure revisit this event annually in an attempt to keep bush poetry alive with an annual Poets Of The Bush Festival. The rural property that hosted the wedding reception still sits proudly on the outskirts of town.

Not familiar with the poetry of Banjo Paterson? Think ‘The Man From Snowy River’, with the movie of the same name released in 1982, starring Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton and American import, Kirk Douglas. Jack Thompson gets a run playing Clancy of the Overflow.

Tabulam, a rural village a few kilometres out of Tenterfield, was the birth place of Henry Chauvel, the son of a local grazier.

He was commissioned as an officer in the Upper Clarence Light Horse and became a regular officer in 1896 , only to become three years later the commander of one of two companies of Queensland Mounted Infantry that were Queensland’s initial contribution to the Boer War.

After the war, he was closely involved with the training of the Australian Light Horse, which later led to his leadership during World War 1 in numerous conflicts including at Beersheba in October 1917, where his light horse captured the town and its vital water supply.

This action was depicted in The Light Horsemen, the 1987 movie starring Aussie Bill Kerr playing Sir General Henry Chauvel. The movie also featured young actors making a name for themselves such as a much-leaner Peter Phelps, Michael Walton, Gary Sweet, and Sonny Blake (who sadly became a quadriplegic after a road accident on the drive home).

Tenterfield is a town that is proud of its history. Just sometimes it is too easy to miss the signs.

Have you ever visited Tenterfield?

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