When a steam train first rolled into a small town in northern New South Wales in 1913, 4,000 people, dressed in Sunday attire, flocked to witness the event.
It marked the extension of the North Coast Rail Line to Tower, which was a boon for the town as it connected to Sydney for the first time.
“Before the railway got to Tari, it was difficult, the roads were very difficult and it was hilly,” said local researcher Penny Teerman.
“They’ve been waiting for years for the railway to slow down here.
“Tarry turned into a railway town, a lot of people were employed here, the station was always busy and would have been full of noise, vibration and steam.”
The extraordinary photos of the day are one of many important stories of the Mid North Coast’s past that have been brought to light in a series of heritage trails.
“Things Not Recorded in Books”
The MidCoast Stories Heritage Trails app, created by Ms. Teerman and local history enthusiast Janine Roberts, allows people to take self-guided tours of the Manning area, including Taree.
Their goal is to ensure that the often undocumented social history behind regional towns is preserved.
“It’s a bit like owning an old house and you think: ‘What’s going on here, what can these walls tell us?'” Ms Tillman said.
“They’re things that aren’t recorded in general history books…so we wanted us to present history in a slightly different way.”
Ms Roberts said it was a way of sharing stories with the next generation.
“A lot of times, the stories of the creators or early settlers in towns are recorded and told…but we miss other stories, the diversity of the community, so all of our stories try to capitalize on those stories,” she said.
Fearless Boys: British Child Migration
The trails are based on a variety of themes, including bringing people from all walks of life to Taree Station in regional NSW.
In 1929, heavy rain grounded a train from Sydney to Tarry Grafton, causing some great inconvenience.
But a group of British teenagers looking for work in rural Australia, a type of immigrant known as the Fearless Boys, see it as an adventure.
“The fearless boys basically decided to get a lark and they started swimming like mushrooms in the flood, which we certainly don’t recommend,” Ms Roberts said with a smile.
Ms Tillman said locals were simultaneously feeding thousands of people trapped on the train.
“Passengers are hungry, there is no railway refreshment room yet at Tari Station, people from the town gather to deliver food, and local women deliver porridge to babies.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Taree Railway Station is also the focal point of the pigeon sport.
Pigeons’ navigation and homing abilities have long been used to relay information, and the race will test how far they can get from home.
“Back in the 1920s, pigeons were being transported from Newcastle to Tower on trains in wicker baskets, and they were released from Tower Station about six days a week,” Ms Roberts said.
After the war, the popularity of pigeon racing continued into the 1960s, with up to 10,000 pigeons regularly released from Tarry Station, with children paying 6p to help.
Lebanese Immigrants: Dahdah the Wonder Draper
The Heritage Trail also illuminates life in the 1920s and 1930s, a period of optimism after the end of World War I and a period of struggle during the Great Depression.
During this period, many Lebanese migrants, who initially started out as hawkers in Redfern, Sydney, arrived in Taree and set up shop.
Ms Roberts said the town had one of the largest Lebanese immigrant populations outside Sydney, with many descendants still living there today.
Among them was Anthony Dahdah, who arrived in Taree in 1933 and opened a curtain shop on the main street called Dahdah the Wonder Draper.
“Anthony Dahdah became a much-loved resident of Taree…he would stand outside the store every day to greet customers and passersby,” Ms Roberts said.
“He was lucky during the Great Depression that he was able to get the fabric cheap and sell it cheap.”
Another trail is geared towards children and focuses on stories related to the “Mighty Manning River”, including the Biripi Dreamtime story.
So far, 3 trails have been launched, and another 7 will be rolled out gradually, featuring a series of regional towns.