Suburb Profiles

Muswellbrook

Muswellbrook. Bursting With Energy!!!

Muswellbrook is the major town in the Muswellbrook Shire which is approximately 263 sq km in size.

Muswellbrook sits on the Hunter River with the New England Highway to Sydney and Brisbane running through the heart of town.

The Northern Railway passes through the town.

Muswellbrook was first settled in 1824 and declared a township in 1833.

Muswellbrook is a substantial and very attractive country town of historic buildings and tree-lined streets situated beside the Hunter River, 257 km north of Sydney, 26 km south of Scone and 144 metres above sea-level. It is an expanding centre due to the employment opportunities provided by the eight coalmines in the district, the presence of the Liddell and Bayswater Power Stations and a flourishing wine grape industry. Thus the population of the shire increased from less than 8000 in 1976 to around 16 000 by 1997 with 26 per cent of the workforce employed in the mining, electricity, gas and water sectors in 1991. Muswellbrook also continues to fulfill its role as a service centre to the dairying and agricultural activities of the countryside which still supports a large number of horse studs.

The area was once occupied by the Wanaruah Aboriginal people and possibly the Kamilaroi. Certainly the two tribes 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 tribe was subdivided into clans and classes which determined marital possibilities (girls being often betrothed in infancy and married by about 14). They 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.

European settlement followed in the wake of John Howe’s expedition to the Singleton district in 1820 and Henry Dangar’s pursuit of the Hunter further north in 1824. That year Dangar reserved a village site at the junction of the Hunter and the creek at the southern end of the present townsite which he named Muscle Brook due to the large numbers of mussel shells he found on its banks (at the time ‘muscle’ was an accepted alternative spelling of mussel).

The first Chief Justice of NSW, Francis Forbes, an important figure in early colonial judicial history, was granted the land which now constitutes South Muswellbrook in 1825. He named his estate ‘Skellater’ after the family’s ancestral estate in Aberdeen in Scotland.

A township was laid out and gazetted in 1833 as Musclebrook with the first allotments sold the following year (the very first block is now occupied by the Royal Hotel). The first post office was established in 1837 and that year, when Edward Denny Day was made first police magistrate of the district, a mounted police force, police barracks and courthouse were established.

For nearly sixty years the town’s name was spelled in every way imaginable. Musclebrook, Muscle Brook, Muswellbrook, Muswell Brook, Muscletown and Musswellbrook were all employed. Day appears to have been the first to change the spelling of the town from Muscle Brook to Muswell Brook. It was only at the end of the 1880s that ‘Muswellbrook’ was consistently employed although it was not officially gazetted as such until 1949.

By 1840 the population was 215. There were 41 houses as well as some inns and shops. A flour mill was built around 1841, reflecting the fact that wheat, along with wool, was the centrepiece of the local economy.

In 1842 the sons of Francis Forbes established the private village of Forbestown south of Muscle Creek but due to confusion with the town of Forbes it was changed to South Muswellbrook in 1848.

When the railway arrived in 1869 it boosted the local economy as the settlement became the northern railhead and the population climbed to about 1500. However, when this advantage passed on to Scone the town shrunk again.


Aberdeen

Situated in the midst of pastoral and agricultural countryside, Aberdeen is a small township located on the side of a hill beside the Hunter River between Muswellbrook and Scone. It is 273 km north of Sydney and 186 m above sea-level with a population of around 1 750.

The district about Aberdeen was once occupied by the Wanaruah people. Because few written records of Aboriginal Australia were kept it is difficult to make firm assertions about their lifestyle in pre-colonial Australia. However, it is known that the Wanaruah had trade and ceremonial links with the Kamilaroi people who may also have occupied the area.

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. Another food source was lerp, a sweet, edible waxy secretion found on eucalyptus leaves and produced by the young of the psyllid (an insect) for protection. Lacerations were covered with wet clay or chewed eucalyptus leaves. As ironbark is slow to burn it was used as a transportable fire-stick while stringybark was used to make a twine employed in fishing and basket-making.

Government surveyor Henry Dangar, a central figure in the European investigation of the upper Hunter, camped here, by the river, in August 1824 during his first exploration of the district. He crossed the river, discovering Dart Brook and Kingdon Ponds (two tributaries) just to the north-west of the present townsite.

Later that year he returned and pursued Dart Brook to its source in the Liverpool Range but was attacked by the Geaweagal clan of the Wanaruah people west of present-day Murrurundi and returned to Sydney. After submitting a favourable report on the ‘rich alluvial land’ adjacent the two creeks he was back in a week with prospective settlers in tow.

In 1823, British MP, Thomas MacQueen, read a favourable report on the colony’s rural prospects. An advocate of transporting both capital and skilled workmen to the colony he invested in his own principles in 1825, sending to Australia stock, machinery, supplies, artisans, their families and overseer Peter McIntyre who chose the land around Aberdeen, naming MacQueen’s estate Segenhoe after MacQueen’s birthplace (Segenhoe Manor in Bedfordshire) and his own property Blairmore. However his claims conflicted with those of Dangar, whom McIntyre accused of improper and corrupt practices, thereby securing his suspension.

Segenhoe was a large property employing about 100 convicts. Being, at the time, near the northern edge of European settlement, it was used, in the 1820s, as a base for explorers such as Thomas Mitchell, Edmund Kennedy and Allan Cunningham. The latter followed Dangar’s route north from Dart Brook in 1827 and went on to ‘discover’ the Darling Downs and the overland route to the penal colony at Moreton Bay (the future site of Brisbane).

When MacQueens’ financial situation in England declined he moved to Australia, living at Segenhoe from 1834 to 1838. The value of his property was inflated when he persuaded the government to lay out the township of Aberdeen in 1838 by the river crossing. The town was named after MacQueen’s friend George Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen. The name also reflects the preponderance of Scottish landowners who took up the early grants.

By 1840 an inn and a mill existed beside the river (both still exist). Residents from Murrurundi transported their grain to this site in the early days. There were 27 recorded residents in 1851 and by 1866 there were two churches, a post office, a lock-up, a school, three inns, some shops and a steam-driven mill. The railway arrived from Muswellbrook in 1870. In 1881 the population was recorded as being 36.

Meat processing became the staple of the town when the Australian Meat Cutting and Freezing Company set up shop in 1892. The exportation of frozen mutton commenced that year via the port of Newcastle. By 1894, 200 men were employed by the works.

Meat processing is still the basis of the local economy with an abattoir, chilling and freezing works and tannery still in operation. Dairying, wheat, lucerne, horse studs, cattle and sheep also contribute to the local economy. There are coal reserves in the district but they are not currently being exploited.


Denman

Denman, on the rim of the Upper Hunter Valley, is a small, quiet and picturesque country town situated 276 km north-west of Sydney, 24 km south-west of Muswellbrook and 107 m above sea-level.

Surveyor Henry Dangar camped alongside the Hunter, north-east of the present townsite during his investigations of the upper Hunter in 1824. The following year William Ogilvie and naval surgeon Peter Cunningham travelled to Australia together. They investigated the Hunter Valley and chose land at the confluence of the Hunter and Goulburn Rivers. Ogilvie named his grant ‘Merton’ after the village in Surrey from which the family originated and Cunningham called his property ‘Dalswinton’ after his family’s English estate.

Cunningham, who wrote Two Years in New South Wales about his experiences, soon returned to England leaving Ogilvie to manage both properties. Merton became the centre of a designated police district (called Merton) and Ogilvie was appointed a magistrate.

A private village named Merton emerged on his property. It was isolated but largely self-sufficient. Aside from cattle and sheep, dairying and viticulture were practiced. In 1841 the population was recorded at 137.

The Wanaruah Aboriginal people were in the area until the 1860s, although it is known that the Kamilaroi were also present in this region. 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.

The Ogilvie family were reputedly on good terms with the local tribe and when 200 of their number besieged the village demanding the release of two tribesmen falsely accused of murdering a white man it is said that Mary Ogilvie saved the family by going out to talk with the tribal leader.

The present townsite developed on government surveyed land on the riverbank opposite Merton. Denman, named in honour of Lord Denman, was gazetted in 1853. The new township became a cattle-buying centre in the 1860s as it was located on the major stock route from the Upper Goulburn. The railway did not arrive from Muswellbrook until 1915. Much of the town was destroyed by fire in 1928 but was rebuilt.

The population of Denman (currently 1600) has increased in recent years due to the possibilities presented by open-cut coalmining in the area, the presence of Bayswater Power Station and the proximity of Muswellbrook and Singleton, both expanding centres. What was once an area known for its horse and cattle studs has seen a veritable explosion of vineyards opening in the area of late. The cement factory, once important to the local economy, has now closed down but the town continues to function as a service centre to the dairy farms, vineyards, horse studs and beef cattle studs in the district.


Scone

Scone (which rhymes with ‘bone’) is a pleasant rural centre of wide, tree-lined streets situated within the Hunter Valley, 283 km north of Sydney and 26 km north of Muswellbrook. It is 202 metres above sea-level and has a population of about 4000.

The commercial and administrative centre of a pastoral, agricultural and dairying shire Scone is an important stock-selling centre noted for its horse and cattle studs. It is known as ‘The Horse Capital of Australia’ and claims to be the second-largest horse breeding area in the world, after Kentucky in the United States. The equine focus of the town is reflected in numerous ways: the ten-day Scone Horse Festival in May when there are street parades, a rodeo, stock sales, an airshow, race meetings and entertainment; the six-week Hunter Horse Expo held over September-October; the new hi-tech racecourse with its Equine Research Centre, and the bronze sculpture, ‘Scone Mare and Foal’ by Gabriel Sterk, prominently situated beside the highway in Elizabeth Park.

In pre-colonial days the Wanaruah people occupied the district. It is known that the Wanaruah had trade and ceremonial links with the Kamilaroi people who may also have occupied the area.

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. Another food source was lerp, a sweet, edible waxy secretion found on eucalyptus leaves and produced by the young of the psyllid (an insect) for protection.

The first European in the area was surveyor Henry Dangar who, in 1824, passed by the area just west of the present townsite. He crossed over the Liverpool Range but retreated when attacked by the Geaweagal clan of the Wanaruah people west of the Murrurundi townsite.
Dangar’s favourable report on the district led to an immediate land grab by wealthy settlers who had been issued warrants authorising them to take up land. One of the first to investigate the new area was Francis Little who was seeking land for himself and his uncle Dr William Bell Carlyle.

Little established Invermein in 1825. Carlyle was issued the grant of Satur (pronounced ‘say-ter’) which is now a suburb on the western side of Scone. Allan Cunningham passed through in 1827 when he followed Dangar’s route north and went on to ‘discover’ the Darling Downs in Queensland.

The Crown had reserved three square miles for a townsite on the eastern bank of Kingdon Ponds, another creek just west of present-day Scone. However a village named Redbank had begun to emerge by 1828 to the west of that site. A hospital was established there in 1834, along with an inn and store. However, the traffic began to shift to the east when William Nowland discovered the pass at Murrurundi in 1827. His route eventually became part of the Great North Road. Built by 3000 convicts between 1826 and 1834 it was the first road into the Hunter Valley. In 1836 the St Aubins Arms and a store were established adjacent this track. This formed the seed from which the present township grew.

The newer settlement, officially called Invermein but locally known as St Aubins, was gazetted in 1837 as Scone. The latter name was suggested by Hugh Cameron and received a favourable hearing in the ears of fellow Scotsman Thomas Mitchell (surveyor-general). It was also decided that the parish should be called Strathearn. Both names reflect the heritage of the early European settlers – Scone being the residence of the Scottish kings and the site of their coronation. The new name was taken up by locals in 1838.

In 1840 bushranger Edward ‘The Jewboy’ Davis and his gang held up the St Aubins Arms and Thomas Dangar’s store. John Graham, an employee of the latter, shot at the gang when they were leaving then set off to alert the police but he was pursued and killed by one of the highwaymen.

Early development was slow. In 1841, when the first Anglican church was completed, the population was only 63. At the time the area was noted for its large pastoral properties (Belltrees, Segenhoe, St Aubins and Invermein). Bishop Broughton complained of ‘a great insensitivity’ to religious duties amongst the community, none of whom turned up to witness the consecration of St Luke’s churchyard in 1843.

The first school (Anglican) was established in 1845-46 and a proper courthouse built in 1848 (still standing). In the early 1860s a flour mill was erected (now the RSL Club) and gold was discovered in the mountains to the north-east. A national school opened in 1863.

The town received a boost when the railway arrived in 1871. By 1881 the population was still only 214. A new courthouse was constructed the following year. Scone was declared a municipality in 1888, the year the Scone Advocate was established.

English natural history artist Elizabeth Gould lived at Scone in the late 1830s, painting pictures of birds while her husband and Aboriginal helpers collected new species. English psychologist and writer Havelock Ellis stayed at Scone from about 1875 to 1879, teaching at Sparkes Creek School in 1878.