Draw a generous ring clockwise around Moree, Inverell, Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Armidale, Uralla, Walcha, Tamworth, Quirindi, Gunnedah and Narrabri, and you have the New England region, encompassing the Northern Tablelands and North West Slopes. Between Glen Innes and Armidale lie Ben Lomond and Glencoe, so it is a wonder the area was not named New Scotland. Glen Innes even has its own Standing Stones, based on the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney or Calanais in Lewis.
Located 596 km north of Sydney, the charming town is set amidst rolling countryside, surrounded by impressive national parks. It is known for its picturesque main street of historic buildings, World Heritage wilderness, Celtic heritage and festivities, and gourmet food experiences.
This article explores the history and attractions of Glen Innes to assist Odyssey Traveller’s small group tours New South Wales. An Odyssey small group tour of NSW seeks to go into outback NSW beyond the pristine beaches and major tourist attractions often listed as places to visit in NSW, such the Hunter Valley, Coffs harbour, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Byron bay or Bondi Beach. These are part of a portfolio of Australian Outback tours offered by Odyssey for likeminded people who are curious about Outback Australia.
Odyssey Traveller visits Glenn Innes and the New England region on our guided tour of North East New South Wales. This small group adventure lasts for 16 days as we journey from Dubbo to Dubbo, exploring the local culture in, New England, the North Coast and the Orana regions of New South Wales. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, this tour moves in small groups limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers.
The Founding & Early History of Glen Innes
Explorer John Oxley was the first European to travel through the area in 1818, and around 1838 Archibald Boyd registered the first run in the Glen Innes district. Tradition has it that two stockmen known as “the Beardies” because of their long beards took Boyd to this area to establish his run. The Beardies later introduced other squatters to the best runs in the area to become known as the Land of the Beardies or Beardy Plains. As is documented at the Land of the Beardies History Museum, however, the two ex-convicts, Duval and Chandler, were not contemporaries, so the “beardie” name may in fact have arisen from a whiskered local fish resembling a catfish, or from the Scottish sheepdogs known as the Bearded Collie or Beardie.
Major A. C. Innes was one of the first squatters in the district, his New England properties including among others Beardy Plains, and Furracabad Station. Furracabad station was subsequently the site of the town of Glen Innes which was named after him and laid out in 1851. Innes’ career typified the huge ups and downs of many Australian pioneers: during the 1830s he was one of Australia’s richest colonists, but he lost just about everything in the 1840s credit squeeze and became bankrupt in 1852. He was later an assistant gold commissioner and magistrate, then police magistrate at Newcastle.
Glen Innes was duly gazetted in 1852, and was mainly a producer of wool, sheep and beef cattle until it became the centre of a mining bonanza when tin was discovered in 1872 on Strathbogie Station – the resulting settlement was called Vegetable Creek after the Chinese market gardens which developed to service the mining population, and renamed Emmaville in 1882.
By 1875, the Glen Innes population had swelled to about 1,500 and the town had a two-teacher school, three churches, five hotels, two weekly newspapers, seven stores and a variety of societies and associations. On 19 August 1884 the new Main North railway from Sydney opened. The arrival of the rail service and the expansion of mining contributed a new prosperity in the town, which is reflected in some of its beautiful buildings. The Town Hall had the honour of being opened by Henry Parkes. The Glen Innes Heritage Walk lists an impressive 63 places of interest.
In the 1920s timber milling became important to the local economy, and in 1959 commercial sapphire mining started. Fossicking remains a popular pursuit – sapphires, topaz, quartz, zircon, garnet and beryl are all found in the district.
Glen Innes’ Celtic Festival
Another colourful pursuit in Glen Innes is maintaining the Celtic connection. The town hosts the annual Australian Celtic Festival and recognises different Celtic nations in 3-year cycles. In 2021 it is the turn of Ireland and the Isle of Man, in 2022 it will turn to Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, and in 2023 Scotland will be the star.
The Festival has the perfect setting for many events. The idea of developing a national monument to honour all Celtic people who helped pioneer Australia was first conceived in 1988 – the year of the Bicentennial. The town suggested the Australian Standing Stones. (A hint had already been given in the mid 1800s by the naming of nearby Stonehenge Station due to the abundance of boulders.)
When the idea was approved, two locals spent three months looking for suitably huge pieces of granite within a 50 km radius of the town. The stones had to be at least 5.5 metres long so that 3.7 metres could stand above ground level. It took six months to split the rocks and carry then to the site. Each rock weighed, on average, 17 tonnes. The formation of 40 precisely placed granite monoliths was formally opened on 1 February 1992, and a replica of Taigh Dubh, a crofter’s cottage which survived the Battle of Culloden, was built nearby.
The festival takes place on the first weekend in May and lasts four days. Needless to say, it is enthusiastically attended by clans, national groups, dancers and artists from across Australia and overseas.
At other times of the year the Standing Stones are used for their ancient purposes of signalling the winter and summer solstices and the four points of the compass. In addition, the site displays ground-level plaques that are solar noon shadow markers, which track the longest shadow of the day, cast by the sun at its height from the summer to the winter solstice. The plaques are compared to a clock, with the minute hand gradually ticking away. Sundials exist everywhere but this solar shadow marker is unique as the plaques map the Earth’s orbit around the sun. It would be very interesting to hear the opinion of the Ngarabal people.
The Ngarabal: Original Inhabitants of the Land
Before the Scots arrived in New England, the original inhabitants of the area were the Ngarabal or Ngoorabul people. Their name for Glen Innes is Gindaaydjin, meaning “plenty of big round stones on clear plains”, and they are thought to have called the wider district “Eehrindi”, meaning wild raspberry. As might be suspected from a region encompassing the Washpool and Gibraltar Range national parks of the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, the Ngarabul benefited from a rich array of flora and fauna, and developed a wide knowledge of the healing properties of many species of plant, bird and animal.
In 1987 the Glen Innes Local Aboriginal Land Council purchased The Willows, while nearby the Boorabee Aboriginal Corporation purchased three adjoining properties Rosemont, Canon and Boorabee. Together, these properties were declared an Indigenous Protected Area to protect and support the sustainable use of natural resources. In total, there are about 10,500 hectares of land, with 22 km of Severn River frontage, which is home to numerous sites of significant cultural importance.
The Ngoorabul people are committed to the conservation of wildlife, bush food and medicine. The Willows and Boorabee areas contain rare trees as well as more than 30 threatened animal species. There have even been sightings of a rare Albino Echidna. In the Severn River Gorge the Local Aboriginal Lands Council also undertakes the control of weeds and feral animals, and replants endangered species of a yellow box tree. The Severn River is unspoilt, with no introduced fish species.
Glen Innes Small Group Tours New South Wales
Odyssey Traveller visits Glen Innes as part of our escorted small group tour of North East New South Wales. This 16 day tour stops at some of the memorable and iconic destinations and places to visit in New South Wales, completing the loop from our start and end destination, Dubbo.
We explore the local culture in New England, the North Coastand the Orana regions of New South Wales, including historic towns of Armidale, Tenterfield, Yamba and Mudgee and sections of the mid North coast as well as inland areas. Travelers also time to explore with a local guide the National trust houses including the Saumarez Homestead and the Dundullimal Homestead and properties of Morpeth, Mudgee Rylstone and Gulgong which is home to around 130 National Trust-listed buildings.
Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, we move in small groups of limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers.
Travellers with an interest in touring New South Wales may want to check out some of our other tours including:
- Small group tour of Southern Australia, including World Heritage sites and more. Designed to make you re-think the way you see Australia, our tour focuses on the borderlands between South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Beginning in Adelaide city, our tour heads east to Port Fairy, before heading to the Budj Bim World Heritage Site, an important place of Aboriginal aquaculture. We then go on to Mildura and the mallee, touring the spectacular scenery of Mungo National Park on a day trip from Mildura, before heading to the outback city of Broken Hill. Finally, our tour takes us through South Australia‘s spectacular Flinders Ranges and to the mining town of Burra, before returning to Adelaide city.
- Small group tour: Broken Hill and Back. This off the beaten track small group tour enables the traveller to journeydeep into the outback NSW on a 13 day 3,200 kilometre round trip, tri state safari beginning and ending in Broken Hill , or ‘The Silver City’. It then tracks on North, just over in the Queensland border, up to Birdsville, before going deep into outback South Australia, and then heading up to Cameron Corner, corner country. Cameron corner is unique, it is the junction of the three states: New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. The tour heads south from here returning to Broken Hill.
- The Darling River Run Tour. This small group tour travels along the Darling, through amazing landscape settings that have shaped the country of New South Wales including the Mallee forests in Malle country. We visit Aboriginal sites of importance, stay at station homesteads, and regional historic hotels, meeting the people and encountering the wildlife of the Murray Darling Basin and learning of the riverboat history of the rivers.
- Small group tour to the Southern Highlands and Canberra. This tour takes you out of Sydneyand away from the beach culture to journey to some important cultural and natural attractions in the beautiful Southern highlands of regional New South Wales including historic Berrima, Kangaroo Valley, Bowral and the Blue Mountains.
- Small group tour of Western New South Wales. We travel for 14 days from Dubbo around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura, before heading back East towards Dubbo via Griffith.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:
- Broken Hill
- Uncovering the Ancient History of Aboriginal Australia
- The Australian Outback: A Definitive Guide
- The Kimberley: A Definitive Guide
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Australia:
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The Darling River Run small group tour
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Small group tour for the mature and senior traveller of the Darling River. Learn about the history, culture and landscapes of the Darling, a key part of the Australian river system including Aboriginal trading routes and aquaculture. Suitable for mature and senior couples or solo travellers.
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Articles about New South Wales
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Australian Outback Cattle King
These mature and senior programs for couples and senior travellers explore the outback Sidney Kidman sought to tame in the Channel country to the Birdsville track, Marree and Farina. Our escorted small group tours of the Australian interior explore history, cultures and landscapes that we experience as we travel from the previous time to the contemporary.
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The Arrival of Aboriginal Australians on the Continent
The Australian Outback: A Definitive Guide
Explore learn and consider what is the outback in this article. For mature and senior travelers considering joining a small group package tours into the outback to see, learn and explore about this unique place, not only the landscape but the Aboriginal approach to living. On each of the tours for couples and the single traveler you learn something different but fascinating, from Outback Queensland, the Flinders, Broken Hill and the Kimberley and the wildflowers all contribute to this question, what is the outback?