The first known European to pass through the Tenterfield area was Allan Cunningham during his 1827 investigation of the Darling Downs, white settlers soon followed and began to arrive in the late 1830s to begin grazing operations in this fertile area. Stuart Donaldson named his property 'Tenterfield' after a family owned property in Scotland, soon after Donaldson was granted the first official grazing licence in this area and thus the township name of Tenterfield was born in 1851.
The fortunes of the town were boosted when gold was discovered in the district in 1858 in several areas that included the Rocky River area, Morgans and Ropers Gully nearby Drake and on the Timbarra Plateau. In the following years till 1860 the town developed with a bank that was established in 1859, an Anglican church, flour-mill,school, blacksmiths shop and other significant buildings. By 1879 some 1500 people called Tenterfield home, and in these years a police station gaol and court house were erected. In 1868 bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (aka Frederick Ward) was active around Tenterfield. It is reputed that he attended the Tenterfield races that year where he mingled freely with other racegoers and avoided capture by the authorities. It is thought that Thunderbolt used caves formed by granite boulders around 12 kilometres from Tenterfield as a hideout and also launched some of his attacks from this location.
Several years later the railway arrived in Tenterfield in 1886, this gave the town a huge boost as it opened up areas towards Queensland for transportation and farming opportunities. But in later years towards WW11 the railway and town were inedated with thousands of soldiers around the Tenterfield area as a defence post against an attack from the north. Overgrown gun emplacements and tank caps can still be found in the area to the north to this day.The town's other famous associations include being the home of solicitor J.F Thomas, who owned the 'Tenterfield Star' newspaper for 16 years but was better known for defending Harry 'Breaker' Morant, who had been controversially court martialled and tried for murder by the British Army while serving in the Boer War and don't forget that Poet A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson was married at the Presbyterian Church in Tenterfield in 1903. Another international entertainer Peter Allen was born at Tenterfield in 1944 who spent time here and wrote the song 'Tenterfield Sadler' about his grandfather George Woolnough who ran the Saddler's Shop at Tenterfield from 1908-1960.
Today Tenterfield is located in an area primarily devoted to sheep and cattle-grazing, though timber, mixed farming and tourism provide other local industries and is home to some 3,200 people. The Rocky River trip starts just right in the heart of town as you wander down the aptly named Scrub Road then into Billirimba Road. Now there is no need to panic as you traverse this tar section for some 5km as the drive out here passes some historic old homes and farms. Keep an eye out for abandon farm and transport implements as they sit quietly in the paddocks. With minimal moisture in the air out here rust seems to stay away leaving metal alone. With long straight tree lined sections of dirt you can gaze across the paddocks with views towards the mountains in the distance, views to die for. Being out here the best thing to do is to slow down, enjoy the surroundings and switch your lights on.
With Quilgeran Pinnacle to your right and Black Mountain to your left you feel pretty small as you follow the road as it snakes through the terrain. Soon you pass through the locality of Steinbrook, not much anymore, just a big kink in the road with several 90 degree corners !!. Just out of town the dirt continues as you cross the Cataract River, here you are greeted with stunning views across fertile farmlands, with mountain peaks in the distance- the views are just that good. From here on you pass through a host of private stations, breeding primality cattle but some sheep in these valleys, the station owners like you to stick to the established roads, but there are several pull over spots on higher ground for photos. For 15km you will rise and fall between between 600- 800 metres above sea level passing old farms, used cattle yards and through working stations, give respect to the farmers out here with a friendly wave and slow right down as they don't appreciate the dust and some still muster on horseback- you don't see that everyday away from the outback !!. 20km along the Billirimba Road it slows right down as it winds its way down towards Rocky River.
In just a few kilometres you will drop some 500 metres at where you will hover around the 350 metres above sea level, this is where you know you are getting close to several rivers. At the 40 km mark an intersection will appear with a couple of options. With a right hand turn here along Upper Rocky river Road you can explore other reaches of these valleys and Rocky River. Now the trail here goes for another 30 km with creek crossings into some rugged areas, it does come to a dead end and It is possible to camp along the way but you will need prior permission to do this, then wander back to this intersection for another adventure decision. Our decision was to go straight on, sign posted towards Drake ( 53km away). This is another area that you should not be tempted to camp as nice as it seems, with green grassy sections all the way down to the cooling waters of the river, the farmers just don't appreciate it and there are signs saying just that.
With a single lane low level bridge in sight the head waters of this little waterway was one of many that flows down from the range above you from your left that was once the centre of a major gold mine debacle. The Timbarra Gold Mine attracted national and international attention that started a anti-cyanide extraction campaign here in Australia. The mine was developed in the late 1990's but after 6 months it was shut down for several reasons. The risk of pollution into the Clarence River system ( the largest system after the Darling River system ), the damage it could do to threatened species and it was very unstable for heap leach cyanide mining due to the high rainfall. This mine is located just 10 km up stream of this low level crossing, its hard to imagine the damage that would of occurred if mining went ahead. With hundreds arrested, court litigations and even a documentary was made in 2002, the mine was closed after 2 overflows from cyanide ponds soon after. From here the Rocky River road narrows down as it passes between huge boulders that line the road.
This was once the road used between Tenterfield, Drake then through to Lionsville ( now an abandon gold mine settlement ) towards Grafton some 100 years ago. The road workers simply could not move these granite boulders that in some case are as large as a bus, you'll even have to sound your horn as you approach some of these rocks as it is a near zig zag around a section here. As the road follows the river for the next 10km keep an eye out for the odd wallaby that needs to be across the other side as the undergrowth along here is thick, full and defiantly full of nutrients. Several farm houses are road side so by keeping an eye out for the local working dog that may shoot out too it will also keep the dust down. An added bonus when travelling here is the amount of birdlife you may see beside the river- from Shags, Kingfishers and the common old crow it is good for the kids for a bit of spot the bird game. The roads out here are typical of the old Cobb & Co run roads, as they rise, fall then twist its way over the terrain- this was to keep the stage coach fairly level and flat for those on board.
There are several areas along here on the right beside the river where camping is not allowed and are sign posted for all to see, but at the 15km mark a huge grassed area with several tracks leading down to some great flat areas are welcoming camp areas. It is a great option to pop across the road to the farmers house just to make sure you have the right one, a bit of common country courtesy. There are no facilities here but if you approach the station owner they will guide you in the direction of some great timber that you are welcome to cut up and carry down for a riverside fire. Camping under the old Casurina Trees is pretty special here as the water flows past. Don't forget to throw a rod in and either team it up with some old meat for a chance to snag a freshwater Yabby or a Fork Tail Catfish for dinner. Being self sufficient here also means toiletries, taking your rubbish away and to the point of not feeding the wildlife as it does upset their balance in the wild. Night time brings out Owls, the occasional Bat, frogs start crocking and if you sit still long enough and scan the grounds with a torch you may see the occasional possum. If you are a keen punter and the weather is right, swimming in the Rocky River is pure bliss. Clean fresh water that has filtered through granite particles defiantly leaves you feeling relaxed and clean.
Wether staying for one night or several have a scout around for any rubbish that may have been left behind, this keeps the area pristine and makes for a happy farmer for us to return. As from the previous part of this drive the last section traverses the same roads for several more kilometres, snaking its way along past working stations crossing into new properties, rising and falling with the terrain along beside Rocky River. There is nothing too difficult about this road that a good proper 4wd can undertake, for added safety why not choose 4wd high- this will give you some added traction on these granite based roads that can be slippery and the road surface can catch you out if find yourself trying to avoid an animal that suddenly appears. With several small causeway crossings just be aware of the slippery surface or the water depth, most of the time they should be ok. Soon the cleared country farmlands turn to a thicker growth as you veer away from the river and into the hills. Tall timber sections covered with vines and small hobby farms led the way as the elevation will soon rise, this is where the road changes into Long Gully Road.
Here as you enter Girard State Forest the terrain gets a bit more serious and the road rises to near 1000 metres above sea level in a few kilometres. Being on the southern side of this range, the rainforest is stunning and is generally a bit cooler than the flats below. With tall cool climate ferns, palms and even the odd coachwood tree is is a totally different eco system to what you have just left behind. Even the wildlife has changed to the sounds of Whip-birds, the odd Paddy Melon wallaby hiding road side to the ever popular Carpet Python. For those who want to explore Girard Forest, keep an eye out for Long Gully Fire Trail on the right. These trails are great to explore the top of the range, passing through large large stands of scrubby timber that contains Iron Bark, Black butt and a little Scribbly Gum. The trails in here do loop around back to where you start from, so getting lost isn't really a worry OR an option. You will find stands of Grass Trees, old log bridges and several rutty hills where 4wd will be needed. The trails in the Girard State Forest are maintained on a irregular basis so care must be taken, and you may encounter the odd tree that has fallen. Returning back to Long Gully Road it is a matter of swinging right and adjoining the dreaded tar section just down the road, as the houses seem to get closer and closer to each other. Not long the Bruxner Highway greets you and it is here you need to decide wether it is a short dash to your left into the town of Drake for a counter meal, or do you head to your right for a run down towards the coast. Options are great !!