Gunnedah is one of the main towns of the sweeping Liverpool Plains, in the centre of an area of rich black soil. It is located beside the great Namoi River, near the Mooki River, and the township itself still has all its rural charm. This closeness to water made it an ideal location for the early settlers, who regularly fell victim to failing crops during the cruel droughts which hit far too often. Today, many of the farmers are engaged in cultivating wheat, assorted crops, oil seed and cotton. However, there are still many properties carrying on with their traditional pursuit of raising cattle, while there are some well-known horse studs in the region too.
The town is 434 km north-west of Sydney and has a population of some 10,000 people. It is a major centre in the wheatbelt and has an extensive flour mill. It once also possessed a large beef-cattle abattoir but this was closed in recent years. In addition, it is situated upon one of NSW's largest coal seams and this has been a source of controversy in recent times. Initial attempts to establish coal mining proved unsuccessful until the Gunnedah Colliery was established in 1900. New discoveries in 1978 greatly expanded operations, although the Vickery Mine, which exploited the resources there, is now closed.
The town's most famous citizen was the poet Dorothea Mackellar, who grew up in the area and wrote the very well-known poem 'My Country'. The Mackellar Memorial in Anzac Park, has a life-size bronze statue her on a horse.
The name Gunnedah is derived from an Aboriginal word, meaning 'place of many white stones'. Once the town had a sizeable outcrop of white stone where the public school stands in Bloomfield St. The Gunn-e-darr people of the Kamilaroi tribe inhabited the area before white settlement, and at the end of the 18th century, they were led by a legendary warrior named Cumbo Gunnerah. He was also known as the 'Red Chief', and he became immortalised by being the subject of a 1953 novel by Ion Idriess.
Possibly the first European in the area was Alan Cunningham who travelled through there in 1827, while exploring further north. He was followed by the Colonyís Chief Surveyor, Thomas Mitchell, in 1831. The location for the town was originally a ford used by teamsters crossing the Namoi River. White settlement began in the late 1830s, when John Johnston established the Bulomin run on the Namoi River, building his homestead and woolshed by the riverbank. The area was known as 'The Woolshed' for a while until it was later renamed. Other squatters followed Johnston, and the area was then opened up to selectors in the 1860ís.
A survey of the townsite was carried out in 1854, and the first land sales took place in 1857. Wheat-growing soon commenced, and by the mid 1860ís, the population was recorded as being about 300.
A very dramatic moment in history occurred in the area around that time, when the bushranger 'Thunderbolt' (alias Fred Ward) robbed the patrons of the Carroll Hotel! He had then settled in for a party, which unluckily for him, was broken up by a party of mounted troopers. A gun battle ensued, and Ward escaped. Later some of the horses and property he had stolen were recovered.
The railway arrived in Gunnedah in 1879 and the town subsequently became the commercial centre of the north-west and began to expand further. It became a municipality in 1885 (with a population of about 1,000), and Cohen's Bridge was built over the Namoi during the previous year.
AgQuip, the largest agricultural machinery field day in Australia, is held each year in August - attracting around 100,000 visitors. Surprisingly, the area is home to one of the largest koala colonies in NSW. They can be seen on local farms, in the remaining woodlands and even in the township itself.
Compiled by Liz Parkinson
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