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Tenterfield, New South Wales

Tenterfield, New South Wales

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983


Tenterfield is a historic town in the rolling New England region home to heritage-listed buildings, elegant wineries and superb wilderness, surrounded by rugged mountains and impressive national parks. Sometimes referred to as the ‘birthplace of Australia’, this is the town where Sir Henry Parkes made his famous 1889 speech calling for Australia‘s 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 as many orchards suitable for a wine tour. Various cultural events are held throughout the year including the Food & Wine Festival and the Oracles of the Bush Festival, a popular annual celebration of bush poetry.

This article explores the history and attractions of Tenterfield 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.

We enjoy a day tour of Tenterfield during our guided tour of North East New South Wales. We take a stroll along the streets of Tenterfield where we find many heritage-listed buildings and stop by the 1860-built Tenterfield Saddler, made famous by Peter Allen’s song of the same name. From Tenterfield we continue across the ranges through spectacular scenery, stopping for photo opportunities along the way. 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.

Barren Landscape At Tenterfield Creek With A Blue Sky An A Few Clouds In The Background

History of Tenterfield

Three famous names associated with Tenterfield, from 1889 to the current day, span the worlds of politics, literature and entertainment, but one of its first European settlers, Sir Stuart Donaldson also became the first Premier of NSW, and his son the first Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane.

Before Donaldson established his sheep station in 1841, which he named Tenterfield after a family home in East Lothian, Scotland, the region was inhabited by the Jukembal (Yukambul) people, the Bundjalung and the Kamilaroi who each had their own territories.  One of the best known, local geographic features – Bald Rock – served as neutral ground and a boundary, enabling the different nations to meet and trade without trespassing on each other’s sites.  Another people, the Githabul, lived in the northern part of the Shire.  Today the Aboriginal community in Tenterfield Shire has two main language groups: the Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay, Gamilaroi) people and the Bundjalung (Bunjalung, Badjalang & Bandjalang) people.

The nearby Woollool Woolloolni reserve is a centre of spiritual power for the Aboriginal people, and is home to a mountainous granite outcrop, rising over 1,000m above sea level at its peak. On top is a mushroom-shaped rock balancing upon the other boulders, which is visible from the Bruxner Highway, 18km northeast of Tenterfield.  It was first recorded by Thomas Hewitt in the early 1840s when he was looking for a route from the Tablelands to the coast.  He marked out the route that the Bruxner Highway now follows, and, while doing this, named the rock ‘Wellington’s Lookout’ because of its resemblance to the hat worn by Wellington at the battle of Waterloo.

Another notable rock, Bluff Rock, 10km from Tenterfield on the New England Highway, is the location of the first known serious conflict between local Aboriginal people (believed to be either the Jukembal or Ngarabal people) and the European settlers, which occurred in 1844.

The Tenterfield town was gazetted in 1851, and a few years later gold was discovered at Drake, Boonoo Boonoo and Timbarra.  By the 1870s, the population stood at just 900, however the town had five hotels and three churches.  When the Great Northern Railway arrived in 1886 thousands of people travelled from Sydney to celebrate with the people of Tenterfield. It is said to be one of the largest openings of a NSW railway at the time. Tenterfield was originally to be the junction for the NSW and QLD rail lines, however inter-colonial politics led to a new township and station (Wallangarra) being built on the Queensland side of the border. Moreover each state used a different rail gauge, which meant that passengers had to disembark at the station and change trains in order to travel through the neighbouring state (the colonial equivalent of Bald Rock!).  Wallangarra, meaning ‘the meeting place of the tribes’ in the language of the Aboriginal people of the area, became the pivotal station that connected the rail lines, creating a direct link between Sydney and Brisbane.

The year was now 1889, the date 24 October, and the place the Tenterfield School of Arts.  Nine days earlier Australia’s longest non-consecutive Premier of the Colony of NSW, and former member for Tenterfield, Sir Henry Parkes, had telegraphed to the premiers of the other colonies suggesting a conference following a report on the defences of Australia, which suggested among other things the federation of the forces of all the Australian colonies and a uniform gauge for railways.  Now he had chosen Tenterfield for its proximity to many regional centres and its position on the route between Sydney and Brisbane for the venue of his Federation Speech, afterwards splendidly known as the Tenterfield Oration.  The speech is credited with stimulating debate and firing the engines of bureaucracy towards the eventual Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901.  Sadly Parkes died five years before his great success.  He had been created Knight Commander and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George, but the simplest title, Father of Federation allies best with Tenterfield’s proud designation, Birthplace of our Nation.

Vintage engraving showing Sir Henry Parkes an Australian statesman, the “Father of Federation.”

During World War II Tenterfield was earmarked as a key battleground if the Japanese should invade Australia. During 1942 thousands of soldiers were set up in emergency camps, unbeknown to the locals, to cope with such an event. Overgrown tank traps and gun emplacements can still be seen on the Travelling Stock Route near the New England Highway. The highway was until the early 1950s the only all-weather road from Sydney to Brisbane.

When Australia became federated Andrew Barton Paterson was 37, and had been writing for the Bulletin under the pseudonym The Banjo since the late 1880s.  Banjo had friends in the Tenterfield region, including the Walkers on Tenterfield Station, and the Hurtz family at Boonoo Boonoo.  Young Matilda Hurtz would sit on his knee and play waltzes on the piano for him.  He told Matilda and her parents that he would one day compose a song with her name in it, and in 1894 he kept his promise.  In the early 1900s Banjo proposed to Alice Walker at the Boonoo Boonoo Falls lookout, and on 8 April 1903 they married at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Tenterfield.

While residing in Tenterfield, and during return visits, Banjo was also a regular at the Tenterfield saddlery, made famous in Peter Allen’s song, Tenterfield Saddler.


Peter was born in Tenterfield and his grandfather, George Woolnough, was the saddler from 1908 to 1960.  Peter (born Peter Richard Woolnough in 1944) wrote many popular songs, including “I still call Australia home”, which like Waltzing Matilda is an iconic, alternative national anthem. The spirit of the bush balladeer lives on in Tenterfield as it celebrates the written, spoken and sung word of the Australian bush in its annual Oracles of the Bush festival.

Tenterfield Small Group Tours New South Wales

Odyssey Traveller visits Tenterfield 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.

NSW Country Landscape near Tenterfield

Travellers with an interest in touring New South Wales may want to check out some of our other tours including:

  • 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:

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:


The Importance of Australian Aboriginal Kinship Systems Aboriginal lore was laid down in the Dreaming which is the embodiment of Aboriginal creation. The Dreaming gives meaning to everything and affects the relationships people have with…
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Bourke, Outback NSW: Explored for small group tours By Marco Stojanovik “If you know Bourke, you know Australia,” wrote the famous Australian poet Henry Lawson in 1910. Lying on the edge of a desert at…
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Reasons for the British Settlement of Sydney By Marco Stojanovik On 7 February 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip formally proclaimed the first of the Australian colonies, New South Wales, at Sydney. Twelve days earlier Governor Phillip…