History of Tennant Creek

Aboriginal people have lived in the Barkly region for over 40,000 years. The Barkly region is steeped in the ancient traditions and beliefs of its traditional custodians and around nine Aboriginal groups call the area home, including the Warumungu, Warlpiri, Kaytetye and Alyawarra people.

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 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.

Gold was discovered in the area in the 1930s and the opening of the rich Tennant gold field marked the start of Australia's last great Gold Rush. The Tennant Creek Telegraph Station remained an isolated outpost until that time. Gold mining in the McDouall Ranges, named after John McDouall Stuart, quickly caused the population to grow to 600. “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.

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.

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