Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

New England Tableland - regional history

Aboriginal occupation

The Aboriginal language groups whose traditional lands lie in the New England Tablelands Bioregion include the Anaiwan (the area around Armidale) and the Kwaimbul in the north, while the Banbai inhabited areas around Ben Lomond and Mt Mitchell at the centre of the region.

Bundjalung people also inhabited the north-eastern side and Ngarrabul people were located from Glencoe, north to Bolivia then slightly east to the Bundjalung border and west to take in the Beardy plains and the top of the Seven River area. The area around Kingsplains, Wellingrove and Strathbogie stations have also been home to the Ngarrabul.

Aboriginal people used the landscape as both a natural and cultural resource and there is a strong oral history indicating seasonal movement of Aboriginal people through the rugged gorge system, between the coastal plains and tablelands. The tablelands were occupied during summer and autumn, communities moving either to the coast or the western river systems for winter.

Archaeological evidence suggests the tableland Aborigines traded with groups on the Western slopes and that a range of stone tools such as jagged spears, boomerangs and waddies were developed with local and traded stone and local hardwood. Mammals such as kangaroo and possum were used for food, clothing and decoration. The region is also known for ornately carved trees, ceremonial bora grounds and art sites, indicating an intimate spiritual, as well as a physical, attachment to the sacred landscape the Aboriginal people inhabited.

Aboriginal people of the New England Tablelands worked as stockman on stations such as Strathbogie, Wellingrove and Kingsplains. Generally, they had a good relationship with most station managers and the women were engaged in domestic duties.

European occupation

John Oxley first visited the New England Tablelands Bioregion in 1818 during his early explorations of northern NSW. Squatters began to occupy the area in the 1830s, seeking suitable land for grazing (NSW NPWS 1991). Robert McKenzie occupied the land in the bioregion's north in 1839, where the township of Tenterfield now stands (NSW NPWS 1991), while Glen Innes had similar beginnings as a 25,000-acre station which was acquired by Major Innes of Port Macquarie in 1844.

The station at Tenterfield was surveyed in 1851 and incorporated as a municipality in 1872. The railway reached Glen Innes in 1884 and Tenterfield in 1886 (NSW NPWS 1991).

Armidale had a population of only 76 in 1846, but even so it was already serviced by a post office, court house, flour mill, church and several inns. Five years later the population had reached more than 500 and became the central administrative town of the bioregion (HO and DUAP 1996). By 1861 the population of Armidale was 4,200 people and the town grew substantially over the next 40 years, becoming an established centre for education and strengthening its position as a regional capital by the 1890s.

Gold was discovered at Rocky River just southwest of Armidale in 1851 and soon 3,400 miners were there searching for the precious ore. By 1855 this number had grown to 5,000 people. Another goldfield northeast of Glen Innes, with a population of 400 miners including many Chinese settlers, was active throughout the 1850s (HO and DUAP 1996). Further gold and other metals were discovered in the bioregion in the 1870s, 80s and 90s.

Tin deposits found at Elsmore in 1871 and Emmaville in 1872 prompted commercial developments and stimulated townships based on eager miners in their hundreds (NSW NPWS 1991). Tin was discovered throughout the bioregion, advancing towns like Glen Innes and swelling the populations of smaller towns such as Tingha (meaning "the flat place" in the local Aboriginal language) that was largely abandoned after 1900 (HO and DUAP 1996).

Towns like Walcha, Armidale and the nearby Hillgrove gained economic boosts from finds of gold and antimony, while gold and tin mining also occurred in the far north of the bioregion on the upper reaches of the Clarence River (HO and DUAP 1996). The area near what is now Bald Rock Nature Reserve (dedicated in 1906) on the Qld border was declared the Boorook and Lunatic goldfield in 1872 (NSW NPWS 1991).

Tenterfield received a boost from the discovery of gold, silver and copper at nearby fields in the adjacent North Coast Bioregion in the 1880s. Bismuth, molybdenite, manganese and sapphires were all mined in the region, with gemstone mining developing only in the 1920s and expanding into the 1960s (NSW NPWS 1991). Many mining relics still remain in the bioregion today, such as the boilers used in quartz crushing that were found in Boonoo Boonoo National Park north of Tenterfield (NSW NPWS 1991).

Cattle grazing was the dominant land use of the bioregion in the early days of European settlement but by the end of the 1800s sheep grazing was expanded due to improved pastures and better fencing (NSW NPWS 1991). The government established an experimental farm at Glen Innes in 1902.

As in the Nandewar Bioregion, softwood timber was abundant but difficult to retrieve. Many forests were dedicated as state forests around 1900 and most are still managed by State Forests of NSW (NSW NPWS 1991).


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Page last updated: 26 April 2016