Indigenous History of Uralla
The Thunderbolt name does not define Uralla, but it certainly lends a quintessential aura to this gracious New England town 25km from Armidale. However, before bushrangers became a key element of local history, and well before British explorers and graziers rode through the high, rolling country with appraising eyes, the local inhabitants were the Anaiwan (also written Aniwan/Anewan/Anaywan) whose name for the area, Uralla, meant “a ceremonial meeting place and look-out on a hill”. It may also have signified a “chain of waterholes” as Rocky Creek meanders through the town.
Indigenous languages also suffered deprivation in the early days of European settlement as their speakers were dispersed so widely as to lose elements of their own dialect. Sometimes terms for different things ended up merging as consonants faded away. In this way the words for goanna and bull ant in Anaiwan became identical. The Anaiwan dialects were affected more severely than some other languages because the smaller indigenous population was displaced over a much wider distance. The Anaiwan dictionary has about 500 words, compared to Gumbaynggir on the mid-north coast with 3000 or Dunghutti in the Macleay Valley with more than 1000.
From about 1830 to 1860, Anaiwan people put up a fierce resistance to white settlers, with acts of violence well-documented in newspapers and squatters’ diaries at the time. These recorded the killing of convict labourers and the seizure and destruction of thousands of livestock to the point where some settlers were forced to flee the district. It took three different police units from the coast to drive the “Macleay mob” toward Armidale and at least 40 years to crush the last part of the resistance, where each region has its own story.
European Settlement of Uralla
The first European settler in the district was squatter Edward Gostwyck Cory, whose search for “unallocated” grazing country led him to the tablelands of the Salisbury Waters. Cory was a stockowner based in the Hunter Valley, and one of many pastoralists who were themselves displaced by the Australian Agricultural Company’s appropriation of 600,000 acres of land on the Liverpool Plains in 1832. Denied access to these rich pastures, some stockowners began to look further afield for land.
Cory formed his head station at Gostwyck with an out-station on what was then called Terrible Valley. Terrible Vale Station, situated about 20 kilometres south-east of Uralla, was one of the earliest grazing runs established on the New England Tablelands during the 1830s. The “Terrible” name stemmed either from Cory’s head stockman, ‘Terrible Billy’, or from the Turrubul tribe of Aborigines who ranged the area from south east Queensland before European settlement. In any case it became an extremely successful enterprise, and has been run by the same family since 1843.
Another interesting local name is the unusually French Saumarez, the sheep station established by Henry Dumaresq in 1834. Henry’s grandfather, John Dumaresq, was honoured by Britain for his defence in 1781 of St Helier, the capital of Jersey An earlier John Dumaresq was Seigneur of Saumarez, and this name occurs as a forename in the Dumaresq family.
At the southern boundary of the Saumarez, on the banks of Rocky Creek, a settlement was born, and once the townsite was reserved in 1849 Irishman Samuel McCrossin opened the all-important inn. Gold was discovered in the Rocky River area, the population grew rapidly and Uralla officially became a town in 1855. There were more gold finds, and the Mount Jones gold fields became the largest in northern NSW with some 4,500 miners on-site. Large numbers of Chinese arrived in 1858 to rework the original alluvial field. They left when the surface gold was exhausted in the 1870s, and the operation continued underground until the early 20th century.
In 1870 the McCrossin family built a three-storey brick and granite flour mill, and a decade later used the power generated by the mill to cut chaff in a dedicated cutting shed. Both of these buildings now constitute the fascinating McCrossin’s Mill Museum and Thunderbolt Gallery.
1870 was also the year of the dramatic end of Captain Thunderbolt. It was the name Frederick Ward, son of convict Michael Ward, gave himself in 1863 when he robbed a toll-house on the road between Maitland and Rutherford. His brandishing of a pistol confirmed him as a “professional bushranger”.
That same day he came across Godfrey Parsons who was taking his sick wife to Maitland to see the doctor. Thunderbolt ordered him to “bail up and hand out”. Parsons replied, “We’ve only two pounds, and we want that for the doctor.” The bushranger asked what was the matter with Mrs Parsons and how long she had been ill. Parsons told him. “Well,” said the robber, “I’m a bushranger, but I don’t rob sick women; pass on.”
This is one recorded incident that led to Thunderbolt’s rather generous appellation as a “gentleman bushranger”. There are rather more records of his holding up mail coaches, wagons and inns, and his bushranging lasted 6-7 years. He teamed up at times with likeminded desperadoes. Fellow escapee from Cockatoo Island, Fred Britten, was waiting with Thunderbolt to ambush the mail near the huge cluster of granite rocks now called Captain Thunderbolt’s Rock when they were spotted by troopers. In the ensuing gunfight, Ward was shot in the back of the left knee, an injury that left a critical identifying mark that helped to identify his body after his death. Seven years later the same site was to provide the setting for Thunderbolt’s last hold-up and final day.
The Melbourne Argus newspaper described Frederick Ward as the last of the professional bushrangers of NSW. His official death site is a heritage-listed paddock near Kentucky Creek, and his is a heritage-listed grave in Uralla surrounded by an orderly picket fence.
Uralla has more than 50 buildings and sites of heritage significance, including the New England Brass and Iron Lace Foundry, the oldest foundry in Australia. The streets are full of delightful cottages and town dwellings and the main street is lined with replica gas lamps. St Joseph’s Church features lovely stained-glass windows and memorials to pioneer families, while the old Trickett’s General Store was purchased in 1920 by the son of Australia’s first international sporting champion, sculler Ned Trickett.
Cool-climate wines and super-fine merino wool are the main agricultural products of the Uralla area today. Metal-working businesses are big employers, and the proximity of the University of New England in Armidale has encouraged a growing community of artists.
Uralla Small Group Tours New South Wales
Odyssey Traveller visits Uralla 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.
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