The Heritage Trail brings the history of NSW’s mid-north coast to life with quirky and colourful but little-known stories

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.

1913, Tarry Station Open Day.(Provided by: MidCoast Library Taree)

“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.

A black-and-white photo shows a group of people gathered around a building in an area town in 1918.
In 1918, a crowd gathered in the tower to hear news of the armistice.(Provided by: Australian War Memorial)

“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.”

Two women smiling while standing at a rural railway station.
Janine Roberts and Penny Teerman have created a series of MidCoast heritage trails with funding from Heritage NSW.(ABC North Central Coast: Emma Siossian)

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.

Black and white photo of a steam train roundabout.
This roundabout is the locomotive station of the Tari steam train.(Provided by: Jenny Roberts)

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.

    A group of teenage boys in casual trousers and shirts stand in front of a tree in 1922.
In 1922, a group of intrepid boys immigrated to Australia from England.(Provided by: Jenny Roberts)

“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.”

racing pigeon

A black-and-white image shows a flock of pigeons flying over a rural train station.
Until the 1960s, thousands of racing pigeons were regularly released from Tari Station.(Provided by: Jenny Roberts)

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.

A black and white photo shows a man in military uniform releasing a pigeon.
During World War II, carrier pigeons were used to send messages.(Courtesy: Janine Roberts, Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)

“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

A black-and-white image showing shops on the main street of a regional town in the 1930s.
Anthony Dahdah arrived in Taree in 1933 and opened his own store, Dahdah the Wonder Draper.(Provided by: Jenny Roberts)

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.

A Lebanese man in black and white stands next to a Mauni priest in a robe.
Anthony Dahdah and his uncle Joseph Dahdah helped build Australia’s first Australian Maronite Catholic Church.(supply)
A black-and-white photograph showing women in a materials store in the 1950s.
1950s Dahdahs store in the tower.(Provided by: Jenny Roberts)

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.”

A black-and-white photo of a store with
The Dahdah family shop near Taree has been thriving in the town for many years.(Provided by: Peter Dada)

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.

A black-and-white photo shows a large group of people huddled on a bridge.
When Tarry’s iconic Martin Bridge opened in 1940, huge crowds poured in.(Provided by: MidCoast Library Collection.)

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