From The Archives, 200 Year Old Tourist Town

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Port Macquarie has been a tourist destination almost since free settlement began. Here’s what one visitor wrote about our town some hundred years later in February 1932.  

October marks two hundred years since Surveyor General John Oxley and his party arrived at the place he named Port Macquarie. Many community celebrations to recognise this event have already taken place and many others are planned throughout the month. Sometimes we overlook the obvious monuments commemorating Oxley.  

Oxley Beach at Port Macquarie was named after John Oxley. The naming was an initiative of Port Macquarie Municipal Council to mark the Oxley Centenary in 1918. Correspondence to Council from the Lands Department in December 1918 confirmed the suggestion to name the beach immediately south of the Flagstaff, “Oxley Beach”, had been agreed to and the name would be noted on the Department’s maps.  

Oxley is also an electoral district of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. It too was named after John Oxley. The electoral district was created in 1920, and in 1927 divided into the single member electorates of Oxley, Raleigh and Gloucester. Although the seat of Oxley was abolished and replaced by Port Macquarie in 1988, it was recreated in 1991 due to population changes. Oxley is one of only three original electorates (post 1927 redistribution) to have never been held by the Australian Labor Party. The other districts are Tamworth and Upper Hunter. 

The largest monument to Surveyor General John Oxley is the Oxley Highway which starts in Western NSW where it joins the Mitchell Highway and ends at Port Macquarie. 

The Oxley Highway in parts has its origins as far back as 1838. From the 1840s the road was used by bullock teams to haul wool from the New England to Port Macquarie with travel times depending on weather and flooding. The quickest time from Tiara to Port Macquarie and return, a distance of 200 miles was recorded at 22 days. The slowest travel time from Waterloo to Port Macquarie and return, a distance of 220 miles was recorded at 6 months and 5 days. 

The Highway as we know it today was named in 1928 to commemorate John Oxley. The Oxley Highway formed part of the State Highway system. It was described at the time:  “… West of Wauchope, the road had fair alignment and grading for about 8 miles. Then it became a steep, narrow and tortuous local road through hilly forest and dairy land. It had little or no pavement, and storm waters crossed at many open crossings. In good weather the road could be travelled as far as Yarras, 44 miles west of Port Macquarie. West of Yarras, ordinary traffic was impossible …” Over 400 men and boys were employed to clear and form the highway and in 1933, the Oxley Highway section between Walcha and Port Macquarie was officially opened.  

Join us on Town Green for the Port Macquarie-Hastings Bicentenary Event “200 Together” on Sunday 28th October, when we take the Port Macquarie Museum out of the building for our “Museum on the Green”, or visit the “Celebrating Oxley” exhibition at Port Macquarie Museum. Admission on the first Sunday of each month is free.

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