Tennant Creek - History


European history of this area began in 1860 when explorer John McDouall Stuart passed this way on his unsuccessful first attempt to cross the continent from South to North. He named a creek to the north of town after John Tennant, a financier of his expedition and a pastoralist from Port Lincoln, South Australia, in gratitude for the financial help Tennant had provided for Stuart's expeditions across Australia.

The Overland Telegraph that once linked Melbourne to London was constructed in the 1870s and forged a corridor through the middle of the continent that the Explorer’s Way and Ghan train now travel. A temporary building for a telegraph repeater station was erected near the watercourse of Tennant Creek in 1872. Two years later, the solid stone buildings of the Tennant Creek Overland Telegraph Station that remain on the site today, were completed by the occupants of the station. This is one of the four remaining original telegraph stations in Australia. Tennant Creek was the site of Australia’s last gold rush during the 1930s and at that time was the third-largest gold producer in Australia. The Tennant Creek Telegraph Station remained an isolated outpost until that time.

Gold was discovered in the ranges three miles north of the current town area in 1926 by J Smith Roberts In 1927 Charles Windley, a telegraph operator, found gold on what would become Tennant Creek's first mine, The Great Northern. Australia's last great Gold Rush did not commence, however, until after Frank Juppurla, a local Indigenous man, took gold to telegraph operator Woody Woodruffe in December 1932. The population quickly grew to about 600, 60 of whom were women and children.“Battery Hill” which overlooks the town of Tennant Creek is the site of one of the last two operating ten-head stamp batteries, a Government owned ore crushing machine.

The town of Tennant Creek was located 12 km south of the watercourse because the Overland Telegraph Station had been allocated an 11 km reserve. Local legend offers a different explanation for the town's location. In 1934 Joe Kilgarriff from Alice Springs built the Tennant Creek hotel on the eastern side of the telegraph line . The pub still exists and is a historic monument to the early days.

Cecil Armstrong was one man who made a contribution to the early development of Tennant Creek. He arrived in April 1935 and began baking bread the next day. In 1937 he built Armstrong's bakery and cafe where he lived and worked for over twenty years as baker and cafe proprietor. The building still stands today, albeit under a different guise. Cecil's telephone number was simply the number 1 and his Post Office box was also number 1.

Another important contributor to Tennant life was Mrs Weaber, wife of the blind owner of the Rising Sun Mine, one the richest gold mines in the district before World War II. A devout Catholic, Mrs Weaber paid for the old church at Pine Creek to be transported to Tennant Creek plank by wooden plank. This beautiful building can still be found in Tennant Creek today. Mrs Weaber also started the Tennant Creek Christmas tree event when, in the early 1930s she held a party at her husband's gold mine and gave every child on the gold field a present. Mrs Weaber's generosity continues into the present day. Every year the town erects a public Christmas tree and every child, local or visitor, is given a present. The Weaber family left Tennant Creek in 1940 following a series of personal family tragedies. They sold the lease to what would become Tennant's richest post war mine, Noble's Nob, before they realised its potential. Nobles Nob was named after Jack Noble, an old friend of the Weaber family from the days when they all lived in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia.

Gold Mining was all but shut down in Tennant Creek in 1942. The only mine to remain operational was a large mine with its own crushing plant. During World War II, the Australian Army set up 55th Australian Camp Hospital near Tennant Creek. The Royal Australian Air Force utilised Tennant Creek Airfield as an emergency landing ground.

The town today is situated on a stretch of the Stuart Highway known as Paterson Street. As it is a regional centre, it contains government services and local business and also has a developing tourist centre. There are a number of restaurants and tourist activities to complement its friendly relaxed lifestyle. The people of Tennant Creek enjoy modern facilities including reserves, sporting venues, galleries, a civic hall and library. It's also home to Australia's premier go-karting event, held on a street circuit through the town.

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