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Today Tamworth is known for the country music festival which is held there every year, for a week in late January. However it hasnít always been so, as it was once known for the high quality of its agricultural and grazing land. It is situated over the Liverpool Ranges north of Murrurundi, and lies in the Peel River catchment area.

In 1818, the explorer John Oxley, who passed through the Peel Valley on his way to Port Macquarie, was so impressed with the countryside that he wrote: "It would be impossible to find a finer or more luxuriant country ... no place in the world can afford more advantages to the industrious settler..." Oxley named the Peel River after Robert Peel, then Under Secretary of State for the colonies, and spread the word once he arrived back in the Sydney area. During the 1830ís, squatters arrived, and began to settle along the river and to open up the inland for farming and grazing.

Times were rough, and the Governor of the day, Ralph Darling had earlier prohibited settlement beyond the already settled areas, as he did not have sufficient police to protect too many scattered outposts. Anyone who settled north of the Liverpool Range could not obtain a legal title for his land and could be turned off it, effectively trespassing on crown lands. Land hungry settlers took the risk and were dubbed `squatters'.

Henry Dangar explored the valley for the Australian Agricultural Company in 1831 and in 1834 the Company was granted over 300,000 acres on the western side of the Peel River. The AA Company commissioner, Colonel Dumaresq, decided to call the settlement on the Peel "Tamworth" after Sir Robert Peel's electorate in England. ( Peel was then Prime Minister of England.) West Tamworth was developed by the AA company as a private town, although the AA Company superintendent moved his headquarters to Goonoo Goonoo in 1841.

The "Hungry Forties" were not good times for the colony of NSW, while for Tamworth, they were a disaster. Severe floods, followed by drought and economic recession hit the fledgling town throughout the 1840s. Despite this, she recovered, and the late 1840ís saw more free settlers arrive to take up land in the area.

On January 1, 1850, Tamworth was proclaimed a town, consisting of East Tamworth, bounded by the Peel River, East Street, North Street and Swan Street. The discovery of gold at Hanging Rock and Nundle in 1851 proved a much-needed boost to Tamworth's fledgling economy.

However, Tamworth's real growth began with an Act in 1861 which gave smaller farmers the right to select up to 320 aces of unreserved Crown Land at 1 pound an acre. Many families arrived in the area, and with them came a number of new businesses. Newly-built houses in the town grew substantially, and this subsequent expansion, led to banks, churches, and schools being built to accomodate both the recent arrivals, and old hands. Also a newspaper was established, and many new industries began in order to cater for the growing rural production. An abatoir, flour mill, saddlery, coaching shop, blacksmithing among others, became part of the new local economy.

The first traffic bridge over the Peel River was completed in 1861 and on March 17, 1876, Tamworth was proclaimed a town, when its population reached 3,000. At that time, it covered an area of 8 square miles.

The opening of the railway occurred in 1878, the lighting of the streets by gas in 1882, while in 1888 became the first town in the southern hemisphere to have its streets lit by a municipally owned powerhouse.

Tamworth was proclaimed a city in 1946. In 1996, it celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its proclamation as a City, and has continued to grow . Today it is the major business centre north of Newcastle. The town also has many attractions which include the Tamworth Art Gallery and the Pyramid Planetarium north of town, where the solar system is reproduced in miniature.

Out-of-interest, there is a town of Tamworth in England, which dates back to 600 AD and the name "Tamworth" is a contraction of "Tame Worth" meaning a "fort on the River Tame".

Compiled by Liz Parkinson

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