Old news from Armidale and New England

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Armidale; then to Tenterfield by train in 1887

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The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Tuesday 21 June 1887

A Journey due North.

Armidale to Tenterfield.

(By Bruni in the Australasian.)

Armidale, the oldest and most important town on the New England plateau, is a place of considerable importance. It is the principal business centre of an extensive pastoral and agricultural district, of which it is considered the capital, and is the residence of a Church of England and of a Roman Catholic bishop. I find it is much smaller in size than I anticipated, and with no appearance of rapid advancement, but it has an air of quiet respectability befitting the leading town of a large and steadily-improving district. The oldest part of the town is situated close by the bank of the rivulet that runs by the place, and consists of a group of extremely quaint old-fashioned wooden houses, huddled together as if for mutual protection. The principal portion of the town is situated on some gently-rising ground on the western bank of the stream. The houses are built in a much more modern style than those of the first settlement, but here and there one meets with one of those homely square brick dwellings, with small windows, low ceilings, high shingled roofs, and attic-windows, that are so frequently seen in all the older towns of the parent colony. Though having no pretensions to architectural beauty, they are generally roomy, comfortable places to live in, and I have frequently found them inhabited by the children, grand-children, or even more remote descendants of the pioneers who erected them. They are solidly built, and though presenting often a somewhat weather-beaten appearance, will yet last longer than the more pretentious run-em-ups of later days. It is quite a noticeable feature in rural life in New South Wales that families should remain on the land taken up by their fathers in the early days of the colony. Sons and daughters may marry and go out into the world but there ever remains a representative of the family at the old home. This is quite different to what one finds in Victoria, where change seems to be the order of the day. Though the country is still so young it is a very rare thing to find a rural property still remaining in the hands of the original settler or his family. Even the farms that have been reclaimed from the stubborn forest change hands as readily as so many chattels. This may denote progress, but I am old-fashioned, and prefer the mode of life which obtains in these pleasant but somewhat sleepy old towns of New South Wales.

At the first view of Armidale one immediately perceives that the climate is entirely different to that of the country lying between Newcastle and Tamworth. The air is sharp and bracing, but with nothing unpleasant in it. In winter the climate is said to be very severe, but in spring, summer, and autumn it is admitted by everyone to be most delightful. A better holiday ground for the sunburnt residents of Queensland and the hot plains of north-western New South Wales it would be hard to find, and when the rail is carried over the short gap between Wallangarra and Tenterfield, New England will doubtless be a favourite place with those who are anxious to escape from the terrors of a Central Australian summer. The streets of the older portion of Armidale are narrow and irregular, but a marked improvement is shown in the newer portion of the town. No attempt has been made to beautify the place by planting trees in the streets, though nowhere have I seen the elm with such a splendid mass of foliage as in the gardens of Armidale. They were just touched by the first frosts of winter when I saw them, and the contrast between the yellow of the outside leaves and the dark-green of the rest of the foliage was very fine. English fruit trees grow well in this district, and so, I believe, would all English flowers, but one sees very few of them. There is a notable absence of cottage gardens, though pocket-handkerchief allotments were not the fashion when the town was laid out. Indeed, in Armidale a cottage garden may be said to be the exception and not the rule, and few of the larger houses have gardens. This is one of the peculiarities of the place that is at once noticed by a visitor. The business portion of the town is of small extent, and to judge by the appearance of the shops, the trade done is a very quiet one. The most attractive feature of the place is the pleasant villas that surround the town, and these have a very pretty appearance, peeping through the foliage of the forest that hems the town round. The little valley in which Armidale is situated is bordered by lines of low hills, composed of a poor white-coloured soil, with frequent outcrop of rock. The forest that clothes the hills is of a very poor description, stunted in growth, and useless except for firewood. These barren hills give one a poor opinion of the surrounding country, but almost immediately beyond them is a large extent of fertile land, scattered over which are many farms, the comfortable homesteads on which indicate well-to-do proprietors.

In the centre of the town is a large square, which has been planted with ornamental trees. Surrounding it are all the leading places of worship. I was shown the cathedrals of the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church. Had I not been told they were cathedrals I would have taken them for well-built, unpretending village churches. The Government buildings are extensive, and each department has a large staff ; Armidale being a Government as well as a business centre for the New England district. There is a large hospital just outside the town on a fine site. The public schools are of considerable size, and are attended by a numerous troop of sturdy, rosy-cheeked, young Englanders. The railway station is situated a considerable distance out from the north-western corner of the town, and, magnet like, is drawing the town towards it. A good deal of building is going on, the material used being invariably brick. A better building material could not be found than the bricks made in Armidale ; they are dark in colour, and almost as hard as flint. My stay in Armidale was a brief one, but I saw much that pleased me. Nature had done much to make this an attractive summer residence for the dwellers in tropical and semi-tropical Australia. The air is pure and invigorating, and nowhere have I seen anything so closely resembling the lovely turquoise blue of the Tasmanian skies as in Armidale. Even in winter the cold is not unpleasant, though the frosts are sharp and frequently last till late in the forenoon. Often in winter one may sit on the leaside of a house and enjoy the genial warmth of the sun, while on the shady side the air will be freezing. On such occasions the different sides of the street have widely different climates. It is a remarkably healthy district, and there is no tonic that I know of like the air of this elevated plateau. To judge by the substantial repasts prepared to satisfy the heroic appetites of their guests, this fact had been forced upon the attention of the local hotelkeepers.

Resuming my northward way, I left Armidale by a goods train after an early breakfast on a bright frosty morning. The train travelled at a marvellously slow rate, and I was thus enabled to have a good view of the country we passed through. About a couple of miles out of town I was shown the fine mansion lately built by Mr F. White. It is on a very pretty site, and overlooks the little valley, which is here of much greater extent than at Armidale. The train for a few miles passes through low hills on which a thin layer of cold poor soil produces only a forest of stunted, worthless trees. Then a welcome change took place, the light coloured stiff clay gave place to a rich chocolate soil, and the country was dotted over with pleasant looking and substantially built homesteads. Stock feeding is much practised about here and every little steading was surrounded by numerous large and well built stacks. I noticed that many of the farm horses in the fields we passed by were rugged, a sure sign of cold climate, and of care on the part of the stock owners. Much of the forest near Eversleigh would be greatly improved by ring-barking, but the practice is not in favour with the residents. Though we were now approaching the highest part of the tableland traversed by the railway, the views were never extensive, and only disclosed a series of low wooded hills in every direction. The formation was now granite, and the cuttings along the line were very heavy. This portion of the railway must have cost a large sum per mile, and for a considerable distance it runs through an almost uninhabited country, in which the natural resources are apparently very small. The line appears to follow the summit of the mountain range ; sometimes the fall is to the east, and then, again, it is to the west. On more than one occasion I saw the fall of the country east and west from the line at the one spot. At Black Mountain we had reached an elevation of a little over 4300ft. ; there was a bright sunshine, but the air was sharp and cold. Like the greater portion of the tableland, there was a large quantity of young timber springing up through the forest. From the appearance of the patches that have been ringbarked, clearing this country will be a very difficult operation, as, owing to the climate, the native trees have a strong vitality. Beyond Black Mountain the country is flat and swampy, and at Guyra the train runs by a very large marsh named “The Mother of Ducks,” but the ducks had deserted their mother at the time I passed. The formation about here is basalt, and if the surface were drained it would make excellent. grazing ground. At Ben Lomond we were 4471ft. above the sea, the highest point reached by any railway in Australia. The station is a pretty one, with comfortable quarters for the railway officials. The hamlet is small, the most noticeable building being a diminutive wooden church. To my surprise I saw a calico poster announcing the fact that there was to be a large sale of business and villa allotments on a day in December last. In a cutting beyond the highest point I noticed that the formation was still basalt. The descent beyond Ben Lomond is rapid, the train running down a narrow valley, and at times I got a view of a forest country extending a long way to the north, with blue mountains outlined against the sky. As we went on, the little mountain glen opened out into a large valley, and I got a fine view of the country to the northward. There were plenty of both cattle and sheep on the hillsides, and the grass was everywhere abundant. The lower we ran down the valley the more extensive became the flats, which were composed of the finest black soil. The temperature rapidly became higher as we descended the valley, and orchards, maize-fields, and small farm-steadings were frequently met with. The prevailing grass all over this country was kangaroo grass. Beyond a place named Glencoe we got into granite country again, and at Stonehenge passed an immense number of granite boulders standing high above the surface of the ground. The granite country lasted till we reached Glen Innes, where I anticipated there would be a halt for refreshments. To my intense disgust, there was a long wait, but nothing eatable or drinkable was to be obtained, and this is a country where the appetite is sharpened by the fresh mountain air.

Glen Innes is a small town, but a very “live” one. It is fully alive to the advantages of railway communication with the coast, and the inhabitants seem thoroughly in earnest in their determination that their town shall be the point of departure of the line to the coast and of that for Inverell. I intended stopping at this interesting town on my return journey, but unfortunately had not the time to spare. The soil around Glen Innes is remarkably good, and some of the very best is contained in the Furrucabad estate, lately purchased and cut up into farms by a syndicate. Though granite rock crops out all over the district, the soil is of the blackest and richest I saw in New England. The agricultural resources of the district surrounding Glen Innes are very great. After passing through a large area of rich-soil country, we come into a poorer soil on which there are very few habitations to be seen. The cuttings are numerous, and some of them very deep and long. We were rising again beyond Deepwater, and the incline was so steep at times that the engine could only just keep the train moving. On the summit of the range called the Bolivia Mountains a halt was made to let the brakes down, a precaution we soon found was absolutely necessary. If the hills were steep on the southern side, they seemed to be much more so on the northern side. The train plunged down among a series of wild rocky hills. The sudden curves on this part of the descent showed the necessity for strong brake power. In some respects this place resembles the famous Zigzag on the Blue Mountains, but to my mind is much more beautiful. The hills are wilder and the view more extensive, while below is seen a most charming valley, in which the groups of bright-foliaged apple-trees have a very fine effect. On reaching the valley I found it consisted of a wide extent of rich black soil, on which there was a heavy sward of grass. Here I saw a good many well-bred cattle all of which were in excellent condition. From below, the prospect of the mountain side, with the bold sweeping curves of the railway, was almost as attractive as that from the summit. Soon after leaving the Bolivia station night closed in, and the remainder of the journey was performed in the dark. The train reached Tenterfield a little after 7 o’clock, having taken 10 hours to perform a journey of 121 miles. The line from Newcastle to Tenterfield is 381 miles long, and there are no less than 66 stations on the way, an average of a station to every 5-2/3 of miles. During this long ride I was surprised to see so much good soil, the greater portion of which is as yet unimproved. It is a splendid country, and appears capable of producing all descriptions of agricultural produce in unlimited quantities. To me, the most attractive portion of the journey was the run across the New England tableland. With its immense area of splendid soil and glorious climate it has capabilities that are as yet undreamt of by the inhabitants. When the railway is completed to Sydney, and the carriage tariff arranged on a scale that will encourage traffic, there will be a great awakening all through this important district. In many respects the country resembles the plateau that extends eastward from Ballarat, but it is more than a hundred times larger. For growing all the fruits of a temperate clime, for dairy produce, for agriculture, and for grazing, I know of no district of equal size that can compare with New England, when the great natural resources of the land are fully developed.

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Written by macalba

September 18, 2011 at 8:07 am

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