Tennant Creek, Northern Territory

Tennant Creek, Northern Territory

Infobox Australian Place | type = town
name = Tennant Creek
state = nt

caption = Main Street Tennant Creek
pop = 3,500 (2005)
est =
mayor = Barry Sharples
timezone =
utc = +9:30
lga = Town of Tennant Creek
stategov = Barkly
fedgov = Lingiari
dist1 = 989
location1 = Darwin
dist2 = 2036
location2 = Adelaide
dist3 = 508
location3 = Alice Springs

Tennant Creek is a town located in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is the fifth largest town in the Northern Territory and it is located on the Stuart Highway, just south of the intersection with the western terminus of the Barkly Highway.

Tennant Creek is approximately 1000 kilometres south of the territory capital, Darwin, and 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs. The town is named after a nearby watercourse of the same name. At the 2001 census, Tennant Creek had a population of 3,185, of which 1,176 identified themselves as Aboriginal.Census 2001 AUS|id=UCL706800|name=Tennant Creek (Urban Centre/Locality)|accessdate=2007-06-30] Tennant Creek is near well-known attractions including the Devils Marbles, Lake Mary Ann, Battery Hill Mining Centre and the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre and is the hub of the sprawling Barkly Tablelands, vast elevated plains of black soil with golden Mitchell grass, that cover more than 240,000 square kilometres.

The Barkly tablelands run east from Tennant Creek towards the Queensland border and are among the most important cattle grazing areas in the Northern Territory. Roughly the same size as the United Kingdom or New Zealand, the region consists largely of open grass plains and some of the world’s largest cattle stations. It runs as far south as Barrow Creek, north above Elliott and west into the Tanami Desert.

The region encompasses the junction of two great highways, the Barkly and the Stuart, also known as the Overlander and Explorer’s Ways. The Overlander's Way (Barkly Highway) retraces the original route of early stockmen who drove their cattle from Queensland through the grazing lands in the Northern Territory.

Geography and climate

Tennant Creek is located in the middle of the Northern Territory, 376.5 metres above sea level. Day temperatures range from 24 degrees to 38 degrees, with an average of 22 days per year exceeding 40 degrees. Day time minimum temperatures range from 12 degrees in winter to 25 degrees in the hotter months.

Most of the rain falls during the summer months, but occasional storms occur at other times of the year. Average annual rainfall is 426mm. Winter (May to October) in Tennant Creek is dry with cool nights and mornings. Summer November to April) is hot and dry with occasional rainfall. [ [http://www.tennantcreek.nt.gov.au Tennant Creek' Climate] ]

Topography and climate

Tennant Creek has a warm continental climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Most rain falls during the period from December to March, when temperatures are also at their highest. Temperatures fall during the dry months with sunny days and mild nights. There is 9.1 to 10.4 hours of sunshine per day with an average of 155 clear days per year. Prevailing winds are from the east to south-east.

Built environment

Tennant Creek has developed from its rough, tough droving and gold mining days into a modern town with shops and a supermarket, accommodation, bars, clubs and restaurants, a major regional hospital, schools and banking facilities.

Parks and gardens

Mary Ann Dam is a popular recreation spot, easily accessible from town by road or bicycle track and popular for swimming, barbecues, picnics or bush walks. The area’s best known attraction, the Devil's Marbles Conservation Reserve is 100 kilometres south of Tennant Creek and is one of the Territory's most photographed features. These huge granite boulders are scattered through a wide, shallow valley. The formations provide shelter to a variety of flora and fauna of the area and glow a rich red in the light of the early evening. Local Aboriginal mythology holds that the boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. (Note: This is an old not necessarily true depiction of the story. Since joint management of the parks, and with consultation with the 4 main groups of Aboriginals in the area, the CLC has come to a joint story for the site, however permission to use it must come from CLC first. That story is in the latest Barkly visitor guide) Visitors can take a self-guided walk from the car park. This is a great place to camp and experience a real outback sunset.

Another popular spot close to Tennant Creek is the Davenport Ranges National Park, best explored by four-wheel-drive vehicle.


The Creek of Tennant

thumb|left|200px|Buildings of the Overland Telegraph StationEuropean 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 [http://www.westernscalemodels.com/Details/StampBattery.htm ten-head stamp batteries] , a Government owned ore crushing machine.

The town today is situated on a stretch of the Stuart Highway known as Paterson Street. As it is a regional centre, it contains government services and local business and also has a developing tourist centre. There are a number of restaurants and tourist activities to complement its friendly relaxed lifestyle. The people of Tennant Creek enjoy modern facilities including reserves, sporting venues, galleries, a civic hall and library. It's also home to Australia's premier go-karting event, held on a street circuit through the town.

World War II

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.


Tennant Creek has a town council form of government headed by a mayor. The main Aboriginal body within the town is the Julalikari Council which plays a major role in providing training and employment services for the Aboriginal people in Tennant Creek. It has developed a construction capacity and provides contract services to the Town Council such as recycling. The Julalikari Council also provides community services within the township such as Homemakers, aged care, and the night patrol.

The police district covers almost 22,000 square kilometres and has a strength of 25 officers. The force includes two Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) officers.


Tennant Creek was once the third largest gold producer in Australia and is still highly productive. Over 210 tonnes of gold have been mined in the area. The Bootu Mine to the north of town exports manganese to China. Major mining companies are continuing to explore for bauxite, lead-zinc-silver and copper around the area. Exploration has commenced to the southeast of town for unspecified minerals. Tennant Creek is also the centre of the rich pastoral industry of central Australia, with vast cattle properties stocked with herds of Santa Gertrudis and Brahman cattle.

Tourism is a growing industry emphasising its location, history, scenery and cultural attributes and provides tourists with an opportunity to experience the outback. The mineral collection at Battery Hill is a must see. Aboriginal enterprise and organisations generate economic activity for Tennant Creek by providing a range of services to the urban and rural communities of the town.

Nyinkka Nyunyu Arts and Cultural Centre opened in July 2003, offering visitors and the community an opportunity to learn about aboriginal life, history and the land in the region. The centre promotes Arts and Cultural activities for the whole Barkly Region.


The total population of Tennant Creek is approximately 3500, of which around 1500 are Aboriginal. Tennant Creek is a multicultural community, with residents from the UK, New Zealand and Germany as well as Australia.


Tennant Creek has been accessible by train since the completion of the Adelaide-Darwin railway north from Alice Springs in 2004. "The Ghan", run by Great Southern Railway between Adelaide and Darwin arrives twice weekly in each direction and can pick up and set down passengers on request. [Australian Railmaps, " [http://www.railmaps.com.au/central.htm "RAIL MAP - PERTH to ADELAIDE, CENTRAL AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA"] ". Accessed 12 June, 2007.]

Tennant Creek is serviced by Tennant Creek Airport. Charter flights can be organised from Darwin or Alice Springs to Tennant Creek. Two airlines flew light aircraft to and from Darwin and Alice Springs but both have ceased operation.

Tennant Creek has daily coach bus service from Darwin, Alice Springs, and
Queensland. The Barkly Tablelands are best explored via Tennant Creek, which can be accessed on the fully sealed Explorer’s Way, 1,000 kilometres south of Darwin, 670 kilometres south of Katherine and 510 kilometres north of Alice Springs. The Overlander’s Way (Barkly Highway) is another tourism drive from Queensland that meets the Explorer’s Way at Threeways – 25 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.


Tennant Creek has a primary and high school in the town, attended by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. In the 1970s and 80's, secondary students tended to leave Tennant Creek and board at secondary schools in Darwin and Alice Springs, but today young people prefer to remain at schools in Tennant Creek.

ociety and culture

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. Tennant Creek is an important social, cultural and business centre for many aboriginal people of various language groups.

Leisure and entertainment

The Northern Territory holds several regional events throughout the year, which in some cases can impact on visitor numbers to the region. Events located within the Barkly Area during the year include the Barkly Campdraft and Rodeo, Saint Patrick’s Day Races, Barkly May Day Muster and the Brunette Downs Races. The World Solar Car Challenge takes place every second year. [ [http://www.travelnt.com Tennant Creek Tourist information] ]

Music and Art

Tennant Creek has a rich and colourful musical community, and the Winanjjikari Music Centre home to a number of emerging singers, songwriters and musicians. In 2003 the award-winning Nyinkka Nyunyu Cultural Centre was opened, a purpose-built centre, planned and designed in close consultation with local Aboriginal people. The centre houses exhibitions on local history from an Aboriginal point of view, cultural displays and local artwork. It is considered one of the best of its kind in the Northern Territory, beautifully presented and maintained by the local people.


There are a number of sports and recreation clubs in Tennant Creek for locals.


ee also

* Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve
* Davenport Murchison National Park
* The Ghan

External links

* [http://www.tennantcreek.nt.gov.au Official Government web site]
* [http://www.travelnt.com/en/explore/tennant-creek/ Official Tourism web site for Tennant Creek and surrounds]
* [http://www.nyinkkanyunyu.com.au Nyinkka Nyunyu Cultural Centre]
* [http://www.lgant.nt.gov.au Local Government Association of the Northern Territory]
* [http://www.linguistics.unimelb.edu.au/research/projects/ACLA/tennant.html Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition Project]
* [http://www.barklytourism.com.au Barkly Tourism]

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