A journey through New England High Country rewards visitors with a wonderfully unique experience of Australian art, culture and history.
With charming rural landscapes that display the colours of the seasons in high definition, dramatic national parks of pristine beauty, and idyllic townships, the New England High Country culture is brimming with creativity and ready to be discovered. Set two hours inland from the coast in Northern NSW, the region is threaded by the New England Highway and encompasses the city of Armidale, towns of Walcha, Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Uralla, and a handful of adorably agrarian villages.
Punctuate your journey through these historically rich destinations with stops that tell the stories of the area, from the artful community of Walcha to richly textured indigenous traditions in Armidale, and a celebration of pioneering Celts at Glen Ines.
1. Walcha Open Air Gallery
In the town of Walcha, where people are vastly outnumbered by livestock and it may or may not snow two days of the year, you’ll find a thriving art culture. In fact, the population prides itself on having one public artwork per every 60 of its inhabitants (human, that is).
You’ll find this continually growing display of creativity at the town’s Open Air Gallery of Sculptures and Artworks, which is free to roam and set along the charming main street. The unique and culturally rich outdoor gallery is made up of more than 50, mostly sculptural, pieces and forms a beautiful streetscape that attracts art lovers and tourists from near and far. Also on the main street, you’ll find the Walcha Gallery of Art, where you can browse works from local artists, of which there happen to be many, as well as international artists and revolving exhibitions.
Roam the sculptures of Walcha’s Open Air Gallery. (Image: Destination NSW)
2. Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place
Set in the New England Tablelands city of Armidale, this not-for-profit gallery is a must-visit on any tour of the region. In Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place, you’ll discover the history, traditions and hugely important customs of the Anaiwan, Kamilaroi, Dainggatti, Ngarabal, Banbai, Gumbainggier and Bigambul nations – the custodians of this northern NSW land for thousands of years.
Founded in 1988 with a mission to encourage cultural awareness and cross-cultural learning, the centre has evolved to house two Aboriginal art galleries, a family history centre, a gift shop and a cafe. It’s easy to spend hours admiring the incredible works on display and absorbing stories from modern and ancient times.
If time permits, book into one of the centre’s cultural activities, workshops or art classes, and pick up an Indigenous-made memento to take home.
3. McCrossin’s Mill Museum
The New England high country town of Uralla has deeply fascinating roots from its Indigenous heritage to Gold Rush history and captivating bushranger folklore. If you’re stopping by to sample the area’s wineries or craft breweries, be sure to dedicate some time to the McCrossin’s Mill Museum, where you’ll discover a collection of exhibitions in a sensitively restored 1870-era building.
A sometimes quirky deep-dive into the area’s diverse past, you’ll find everything from a collection of Chinese gold miner artefacts to an exhibition on the life and times of legendary gentleman bushranger Fred Ward, or, Captain Thunderbolt, as well as a tribute to the local Indigenous Anaiwan people.
The building itself, a former mill, is fascinating to explore and was saved from certain demolition in the ’70s by the Uralla Historical Society, who have since maintained the museum. Legend has it the mill is haunted, so keep an eye out for ghostly figures.
Dedicate some time to the McCrossin’s Mill Museum. (Image: Destination NSW)
4. Australian Standing Stones
Celebrating the descendants of the Celtic people who came to Australian shores in 1838 to begin a new life, the Australian Standing Stones are a cultural must-see on any trip through New England. Located in the town of Glen Innes, the 38 stones also reflect the movement of the sun and earth – an important theme in Celtic life.
Integral to pioneering European settlement in the area, the Celtic migration (including those from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall) helped to establish grazing, dairy and other farming enterprises, as well as gold and tin mining. Each of the numbered stones represents people, places, celestial movements, and cultural institutions.
Once you’ve wandered through the monolithic rocks, you can try your hand at removing the legendary Excalibur from the stone, check the Celtic family wall and stop by The Croft cafe for refreshments.
Pay tribute to the the Celtic migration at the Australian Standing Stones. (Image: Destination NSW)
5. Tenterfield Saddler
Made iconic by Peter Allen’s song of the same name, this historic former working saddlery set in a blue-granite building on Tenterfield’s High Street once counted Banjo Patterson among its clientele. While the building dates back to 1860, it was occupied by saddler George Woolnough for 50 years from 1908 to 1960, during which time it became a community hub and casual hangout.
Tenterfield Saddler is now part of the National Trust and visitors are welcome to stop by the volunteer-manned site to absorb the history evident in 130-year-old tobacco stains and patched-up wooden floors. A rare treasure of bygone architecture and industry, the museum’s rustic façade offers the perfect spot to pose for a New England selfie. Be sure to wear your Akubra.
Absorb the 130-year-old history at Tenterfield Saddler. (Image: Destination NSW)
6. New England Wood Turning and Sculptures
All manner of wood-turned curiosities are on display at this fascinating and slightly eccentric New England Wood Turning and Sculpture gallery. Begin your excursion with the sculpture walk, where you’ll encounter carvings, interesting objects fashioned from all kinds of materials, as well as steampunk-style metalworks. In the showroom and gallery, peruse intricate wooden clocks, trucks beautifully fashioned from timber, and a range of didgeridoos.
The hive of collectables is the work of local Rob Day, who is forever tinkering with scraps of wood to create new exhibits and sourcing unusual pieces. You’ll find Rob and his oddities at Gilgai, opposite the Inverell Airport. It’s a must-visit to take in the wonderful culture and sense of humour of New England.