New England High Country
Some visitors are surprised to see photos of the New England region under a dusting of snow. It’s not a common sight, but snow does fall.
Much of the area known as New England is on the spine of the Great Dividing Range that stretches from the Grampians in Western Victorian right up to Cape York, a distance of 3,500kms.
Glen Innes sits at an altitude of 1,062m – about half the height of Mount Kosciuszko. It’s lower than Thredbo and Perisher Valley, but higher than Jindabyne and Cooma in Australia’s southern snowfields. The altitude gives our region four distinct seasons. Summer nights are generally mild, autumn sunsets are aflame with reds and golds, winters deliciously crisp and springs a flurry of growth.
The Ngoorabul people who lived in this area called their home Gindaaydjin, meaning ‘plenty of big round stones on clear plains’. Large granite boulders are a common feature of the local landscape, none more famous than Balancing Rock. Many Ngarabal people continue to live in the Glen Innes Highlands area and still celebrate their historic ties to the region, practise many aspects of their way of life and share their culture with visitors.
The Celtic heritage
If you’ve ever wondered why the Glen Innes Highlands region is called Celtic Country, the answer is simple. The early settlers in the area were mostly Scots. The first to settle here was a Cambridge-educated barrister from Selkirkshire named Archibald Boyd. In 1838 he established what is now known as Stonehenge Station.
Boyd was guided to the area by two bearded stockmen. William Chandler and John Duval are celebrated today in the annual Land of the Beardies Festival and the Land of the Beardies History House.
Boyd went broke in the Depression of 1840. He returned to his family’s estate in Scotland, where he wrote historical romances.
Another early settler was William Vivers from Dumfriesshire who founded Kings Plains Station covering almost 30,000ha.
His grandson, Dr George Vivers, a ship’s doctor from Dumfries, built a castle on the property – which still stands today – to re-create a little piece Scotland in the Australian bush.
Glen Innes got its name from another Scot (and another Archibald) – Archibald Clunes Innes, from Thrumster in Caithness-shire. Innes arrived in Australia in 1822 on the Eliza, in charge of 170 convicts. He owned a number of New England properties, one of which was called Glen Innes Station.
The town of Glen Innes was gazetted at the height of the gold rush in 1852. Today’s Glen Innes Highlands citizens cherish the area’s Celtic heritage. It was a public-spirited group who established the Australian Standing Stones, a megalithic array similar to those found in the ancient Celtic world. They are unique in the southern hemisphere and have been officially recognised as the national monument to Australia’s Celtic pioneers. The Stones are the venue for the annual Australian Celtic Festival held on the first weekend in May.