Saturday, August 02, 2008

New England Australia - introducing the Liverpool Plains

Photo: Liverpool Plains near Carroll.

As I write, controversy rages over plans to explore for coal in another area of the Liverpool Plains.

Very few Australians know the Liverpool Plains as such, although many have driven through them along the New England Highway. Yet this is not a small area, totalling around 1.2 million hectares.

The Plains lie on the western slopes of New England's Great Dividing Range, so the New England Tablelands form the eastern boundary.

The Liverpool Range forms the southern boundary.

This range starts from the Barrington Tops volcanic plateau and runs for about 100 km westwards, in so doing forming the northern boundary of the Hunter Valley, before merging into the Warrumbungle Range, the Plains' western boundary.

The Liverpool Range itself can be quite high (1300 metres) and rugged and formed a significant barrier to the expansion of settlement in the early period of British settlement in New South Wales. This was frontier country, marking the edge of the thirty nine counties proclaimed by the Governor in Sydney as the limits of settlement.

The first route across the range was Pandoras Pass discovered by Allan Cunningham (botanist). This is located near the western end of the range, north from the town of Coolah and within Coolah Tops National Park.

Most Australians will know Nowland Pass or Murrurundi Gap better. Here the New England Highway climbs sharply up the Range, leaving the Hunter Valley behind. The Great Northern Railway crosses under this pass via Ardglen Tunnel. Further to the east lies the country and journey that I described in Secrets of New England - along the Fossickers Way Day Two.

If the Plains are bounded by the Tablelands on the east, the Liverpool Range on the south and the Warrumbungle Range on the west, what is the northern boundary? I have never been sure. In my mind, driving north from Tamworth along Fossickers Way, the Plains end with the first of the western spurs from the Tablelands.

This was originally Kamilaroi country. With European intrusion, it became part of the Australian Agricultural Company's vast holdings. Tamworth, the Plains' main centre, began as a small village surrounded by AA holdings.

With the break-up of the big stations, the Plains became prime agricultural land, a wealthy wheat farming district. This remains true today, and lies at the heart of the conflict between mining - large coal deposits lie under parts of the Plains - and farming.

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