Tenterfield National Monument project gains traction

The project would see a return of the town's historic buildings to their former glory.
The project would see a return of the town's historic buildings to their former glory.

Heritage expert Robert Perry is behind a bold plan to develop the Tenterfield CBD into a national monument, restoring federation edifices and enticing tourists to stay awhile to immerse themselves in a town that exemplifies an important era in Australian history.

Mr Perry’s presentation at the Tenterfield Golf Club on February 14 hosted by the Tenterfield Chamber of Tourism, Industry and Business attracted a big audience which embraced the proposal.

The multi-million dollar project could see the return of verandahs on historic buildings and the removal of mid-century ‘upgrades’ to reveal the historic facades, and the restoration of those facades that had brickwork removed.

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Mr Perry emphasised that the community would have to be behind the project for any chance of success.

“Unless the town owns this idea it will never happen,” he said.

“If the town presumes to own it, it’s political inevitability.”

As a starting point he proposed a heritage precinct that stretches from the Tenterfield School of Arts north along Rouse Street and then east up High Street (the oldest street in Tenterfield). It could then extend behind the service station on the corner of High and Logan streets to meet up with Centenary Cottage.

There’s potential for one of the museum’s buildings to become the Butler Photography Gallery, showcasing the work of Cleeve Butler and son Harry, the longest established family photography business in Australia.

Mr Perry said that grants for the School of Arts’ $2.6 million restoration were secured because the town proved it had its act together, and a detailed business plan would again be needed.

The successful operation of Tenterfield Care Centre (TCC) is further proof that the community can run a multi-million dollar asset. 

“The stories around Tenterfield are stories of national consequence,” Mr Perry said.

“As a duty of care – if nothing else – it’s time to put our hand up and ask for it to be preserved.

“A lot of Australian values were forged here 100 years ago. Bring back the town to the state it was in when these things happened.”

Architect Robert Perry gifted the project concept to the Tenterfield community, on Valentine's Day.

Architect Robert Perry gifted the project concept to the Tenterfield community, on Valentine's Day.

The township of Tenterfield was gazetted the same year that the colony of Queensland was formed (1859). Until the railway’s arrival in 1886 Mt Lindesay Road was the only access between Brisbane and Sydney. (It was too expensive to build roads and rail lines across the rivers at the coast.)

Tenterfield was the communication hub of what is now the Lismore electorate, sending down mail by coach.

Local farmers could ship their produce via rivers to the coast and then by sea to Sydney, but Mr Perry said it could take five months to receive payment.

The alternative was despatching goods to Brisbane and incurring tariffs. Its location on the border of two colonies led to Tenterfield becoming a big customs town and tax collection centre.

“The people of Tenterfield were responsible for the free trade clause being part of our constitution,” Mr Perry said.

Local luminaries such as JF Thomas and Harry Chauvel (both born in the 1860’s) and Michael Bruxner and Oliver Woodward, born 20-odd years later, all walked its streets and visited its buildings, adding to the stories to be told.

Mr Perry said the bypass, if it happens, galvanises the idea of the town as a national monument. Even if it doesn’t, the town needs more options to bring in tourists.

“It’s about conservation and history, and the future economic security of the town.”

Mr Perry said there is an array of important buildings from when the nation was formed, and he believes it was under the editorship of JF Thomas that the proposal for federation was first mooted, in the Tenterfield Star.

Twenty-three buildings pre-date federation, with a similar number built in the 1901-1914 era (evidenced by the dates on their facades).

It was due to a state government edict that their verandahs were removed (probably thanks to lobbying by the car industry, Mr Perry said).

Federal and state coffers will provide capital for cultural enterprises but not operating expenses, so Mr Perry said it’s vital to have a strong business case.

He said we have the assets in the buildings to showcase, we have content in the stories to tell, and the desired outcome in increased visitation.

He said Brisbane/Tenterfield/Gold Coast form a ‘doable’ circuit for baby boomers and treechangers, and it means Queensland money coming to NSW.

(“Remember that when you go to the NSW government,” Mr Perry said.)

The next step is the town’s capability.

It’s not cheap to do this but in terms of the money I see sloshed around on stupid schemes in Sydney, it’s nothing much actually. You just have to be brave enough to ask.

Robert Perry

He suggested the establishment of a not-for-profit company Tenterfield National Monument Ltd, which TCC president (and deputy mayor) Greg Sauer has already agreed to chair.

Securing deductible gift recipient status will attract corporate sponsorship, and it will be important to have one or more well-known faces on the board.

Mr Perry said the coming 12 months would involve work that doesn’t cost anything, such as stakeholder engagement and workshops to assess the project’s feasibility, before money is sought for a detailed business plan.

“It’s not cheap to do this but in terms of the money I see sloshed around on stupid schemes in Sydney, it’s nothing much actually.

“You just have to be brave enough to ask.”

Here’s the full presentation…

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