Murrurundi History (Page Two)

Murrurundi (including Blandford, Timor Caves, Ardglen, Willow Tree)
Small town at the edge of the Liverpool Range west of Sydney

Murrurundi is a small rural town of about 1000 people situated 327 km north of Sydney, 44 km north of Scone and 417 metres above sea-level. It is quite beautifully located by the Pages River at the foot of the Liverpool Ranges. Mountains loom impressively overhead, particularly to the east and west.

Except for shale mining in the early 20th century there has been an absence of heavy industry in the locality and consequently change has been gradual. Murrurundi and its rural heritage have been preserved. The main street has been declared an urban conservation area.

It is known that the area was occupied by the Wanaruah and/or Kamilaroi Aboriginal peoples before colonial settlement and that the two groups had trade and ceremonial links.

The Wanaruah favoured goannas as a food source, covering larger animals in hot ashes and stuffing them with grass. They also adopted burning off practices as the new shoots which emerged after fire attracted kangaroos which they surrounded and killed with clubs and spears (du-rane) barbed with sharp stones. They also used stone axes (mogo) made of hard volcanic rock bound to a wooden handle.

The Kamilaroi wore opossum clothing and, for ceremonial or ornamental purposes, smeared themselves with red ochre and pipe clay, scarred their bodies and wore decorative headwear. Once one of the largest linguistic communities in Australia their last known formal communal ceremony was held in 1905. By the start of the 20th century there were no indigenous people left in the Murrurundi area.

It is from the Wanaruah place name ‘Murrumdoorandi’ that the town’s name derives. Despite understandable local publicity which claims that it means ‘nestled in a valley’ it seems more likely that it refers to five unusual rock formations near Temple Court (four now remain) and may mean ‘five fingers’ or ‘meeting place at the five fingers’.

The first European in the vicinity was surveyor Henry Dangar who passed through the area to the west in 1824 while scouting for new grazing lands. When his party was attacked by the Wanaruah’s Geaweagal clan he retreated but settlers still moved into the upper Hunter Valley.

William Nowland, a farmer from Singleton (then known as Patrick’s Plains), followed in Dangar’s footsteps, crossing the Range and establishing a station on Warrah Creek in the Liverpool Plains. He searched for three months before he found the gap just north of present-day Murrurundi in 1827. Others soon followed his dray track which formed part of the Great North Road. Built by 3000 convicts between 1826 and 1834 it was the first road into the Hunter Valley.

William Henry Warland established the estate of Harben Vale to the south of present-day Murrurundi in 1829. The village which developed nearby he named Blandford after his birthplace in England. By 1834 Warland had built a homestead and formed a partnership with Peter Haydon whose brother Thomas also acquired land in the area.

When the government laid out the township of Murrurundi in 1840 Thomas Haydon decided to create the adjacent private village of Haydonton which serviced the local estates, government officers and travellers. In time the name Haydonton fell into disuse. The two, separated by Halls Creek, were amalgamated in 1913 with old Haydonton forming the town’s commercial district.

Bushrangers in the district included the Jewboy Gang. They were known to frequent the area known as Doughboy Hollow (the area between Ardglen and Willow Tree). After they murdered John Graham at Scone in 1840 they stopped at Murrurundi, where they exchanged their horses and headed north over the range to the hollow. There police magistrate Edward Denny Day and his party caught up with the gang who were captured after a shoot-out and hanged in 1841.

While the district became noted for its fine wool production, the village acquired a somewhat dubious reputation in the early days. Being a frontier town at the northern edge of settlement it was full of transients, or ‘many restless and disorderly characters’ as it was put at the time. In the 1840s teamsters and stockmen frequented the Woolpack Inn and the White Hart Hotel.

A good Irish Catholic, Thomas Haydon established the Murrurundi Race Club and a racecourse in 1841 and donated land and funds for the town’s first church the same year. The first courthouse and private school were built in 1843 and Australia’s seventh national school opened in 1849. In 1867 the population was recorded as being 350.

The railway arrived in 1872 and Murrurundi became an active and prosperous rail centre with a repair shop and barracks while the track to the north was under construction.

Murrurundi became a municipality in 1890. Shale was mined between 1911 and 1915 with the town’s population peaking around 1914. Since that time it has settled back into being a service and transport centre. Today it is sustained by quality sheep, beef and horse studs and by both crop and meat production. The sheepdog trials are held in April and the Bushman’s Carnival and Rodeo in October.

At Chilcott’s Creek, 15 km north, the remains of a huge diprotodon were found. It is now in the Sydney Museum.

Source – Sydney Morning Herald – February 8, 2004