We volunteers at the Richmond River Historical Society and Lismore Museum have a sort of “busman’s holiday” – an expression first recorded in 1893 in the UK – once a year (but not last year for COVID reasons).
Tenterfield is just over two hours’ drive from Lismore, so we started early. Our president drove eight of us in a minibus to Tenterfield, where we met another volunteer who found it easier to drive from her home than into Lismore. Some of our volunteers drive a long way to pursue their interests!
The first museum we visited was the Tenterfield Railway Museum.
The station [now heritage-listed] opened in 1886 and is a rare survival of something that was once common throughout NSW nineteenth century railway precinct. When the line was completed to the border in 1888, Sydney and Brisbane were linked by rail for the first time. Services declined gradually from the 1970s and finished completely in October, 1989.
Volunteers maintain the displays inside the buildings and also the many locomotives and machinery – both rail and agricultural – on site. Two out-buildings once housed railway workers and soldiers in World War II.
Denise won the prize for best “find” when she discovered a coffin (unused, we hoped!) in one of the carriages. In the old days, the dead were occasionally transported by train to their final resting place.
I’d forgotten that each state used to have its own width of tracks – all different. This caused a lot of messing about because a train could not fit on the tracks if it wanted to go interstate – there was much unloading and reloading of passengers and freight. This was inefficient and expensive, and eventually a standard gauge was adopted in all states.
Next on the agenda was the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts museum.
Best remembered for his fiery and impassioned support for the Federation of Australian Colonies, Sir Henry Parkes took his Federation call to the people at the Tenterfield School of Arts on 24 October 1889.
The museum is obviously well-funded – many large rooms, shiny wooden floors, clean and well-looked-after. The rooms cover the memorabilia of Parkes’s political and personal life (he had three wives over a long life); the long table at which he gave his historic speech; a games room; a library; and a collection of Aboriginal artefacts. I was disappointed at the Indigenous display, but that is probably because the one in our own museum is so good. The building also contains the town cinema.
As Premier of New South Wales, Parkes had been to Brisbane for talks on the federation issue with his parliamentary counterparts. He broke his return journey at Tenterfield to tell the people ”the time was close at hand when they ought to set about creating a great national government for all Australians”.
You can see interior shots of the museum here.
Tenterfield also celebrates the life of entertainer Peter Allen, since he was born there. The song he wrote about his grandfather is Tenterfield Saddler, and the saddlery still exists as a museum, much photographed by tourists.
All that brain stimulation made me hungry, so lunch was had inside the warm Courtyard Cafe, conveniently at the Parkes museum. The cold wind outside encouraged indoor eating – the tableland temperatures are much lower than ours on the coast. Then onwards to the Tenterfield Centenary Cottage Museum.
Tenterfield Centenary Cottage Museum consists of the Cottage Museum, General Sir Harry Chauvel Gallery, Petrie Pioneer Cottage and various examples of machinery from a bygone era.
The cottage now houses a large collection of memorabilia and historical material relating to Tenterfield and its surrounding district, with the cottage being the nucleus of the complex.
Domestic museums are more my speed than political ones, maybe because I like to be reminded that I grew up in a classic South Australian sandstone, late-1800s cottage somewhat like this one. Many of the domestic appliances and furniture are things I recognise from my parents’ or older aunts’ places when I was a kid.
The parlour also contained comfy chairs, a piano, old concertina/button boxes and various dust-gathering ceramics. Those were the days when families made their own fun.
There’s a unique object in one of the rooms – a strange and disturbing (to modern sensibilities) kangaroo-skin wardrobe. The skin was laid on the cedar frame. Built in the late 1880s and allegedly one of a kind, it would be of national historical significance.
One of our group was much taken with the early (1930s) electric fridge. It would have replaced an ice-chest, much to the happiness of the woman of the house.
The adjacent Petrie Pioneer Cottage, built of wood, showed the more humble lifestyle of a worker’s family (the blacksmith who had the stone cottage would have been thought of as a more than a mere workman – it was a respected and much needed occupation; he would have been self-employed).
I must have been very small but I certainly remember my mother warning me to keep my fingers out of the mangle when she used a copper of boiling water to wash the clothes, then wring them out with one of these.
She was very pleased to have a wood stove in the kitchen, like the one below, replaced by an electric one when Dad (who was a plumber) could afford it.
Many of the outbuildings house agricultural equipment and tools.
I wasn’t familiar with bark huts, but they were certainly built by pioneers who needed a cheap or temporary shelter like this one.
Thanks to the many enthusiastic volunteers who showed us around. It’s always interesting to see how other regional museums display their wares – and possibly steal some ideas for our own!