John Oxley Bicentenary Walcha

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On September 8th and 9th, the gorgeous, friendly town of Walcha will be a bustling site of festivities, as the town celebrates the bicentenary of John Oxley’s exploration of the area. From a Show & Shine to a family picnic, school performances to guided tours of the Apsley Gorge, the weekend offers something for everyone!

The organising committee members have all been hard at work planning the weekend …

What can you tell us about explorer John Oxley’s connection with the Walcha region? 

John Oxley was born in Yorkshire in 1784. At 15 he joined the Royal Navy and travelled to Australia twice; he served on the ship transporting Governor Bligh back to England and returned to Australia to become Surveyor General of NSW.  

His 1818 expedition brought the first “European” to the Walcha District, in search of new farming and grazing lands and the inland sea. On September 8 and 9, 1818, he camped by a good waterhole on the Apsley River, only 1.5 km south of the current Walcha township, near where present day Langford House stands – naming the river after Lord Apsley. He wrote in his journal of the area being “the finest open country, or rather park, imaginable. A country of running waters, on every hill a spring and in every valley a rivulet”.   

On 14 September 1818, after several attempts to cross the gorge, he discovered the falls and named them Bathurst Falls (now Apsley Falls). He wrote in his journal, “We were lost in astonishment at the sight of this wonderful natural sublimity”.

Who are the organisations that have been busy working together and planning the weekend of festivities to commemorate the John Oxley Bicentenary?

Walcha Tourism, in conjunction with the Walcha and District Historical Society, formed the organising committee. Organising Committee members include: Susie Crawford (Tourism Manager), Lisa Kirton (Tourism Officer), Nerida Hoy and Jane Morrison (as members of the Walcha and District Historical Society).  

The local schools have joined in, encouraging the students to enter the John Oxley competitions on offer and will also take part in a production at Langford House on Sunday 9th September, covering different aspects of Walcha’s history.  

Local service groups Quota, Rotary and Walcha Historical Society have sponsored the prizes for the competitions.  

National Parks and Amaroo LALC are providing guides for the Apsley Falls and Gorge tours, and Lions will be involved in the family picnic day on the Sunday.  

The Oxley Riders Club and Walcha Royal Café are planning the Mystery Ride, Show & Shine and live music for Saturday.

The Bicentenary celebrations will take place over the weekend of September 8 – 9.
Briefly run us through the event programme and some of the highlights …

On Saturday there will be a Mystery Ride come Poker Run, with motorcycles and cars all welcome, a Show & Shine motorcycle display followed by Aprés-Ride celebrations and live music (everyone is welcome) at the Walcha Royal Café. 

The school competition winners will be on display at the Walcha library. There will be guided tours of Apsley Falls and Gorge by National Parks and the Dunghutti people, where you will learn about Dreamtime stories, site significance, National Parks’ role and John Oxley’s discovery.  

There will be a dinner with guest speaker Dr John Atchison OAM at the Sports Club that evening.

Sunday will be our Family Picnic Day at Langford House, with our Schools Bicentenary Production a highlight. The Oxley Room at Langford, with its extensive collection of John Oxley memorabilia will be open. Bring your own picnic or enjoy a Lions BBQ; espresso coffee will also be available.

Amongst the planned activities will be two guided tours of the beautiful Apsley Gorge. What’s the significance of this land to the local Aboriginal people – and will we be able to experience the Indigenous stories/culture associated with this land during the tours?

The Apsley Gorge was a meeting place for the local Aboriginal people and the tribes from the coast. They would make and exchange axes and tools here. The National Parks and Dunghutti Guides for the tours will not only explain the terrain, but also the cultural significance of the area.

Introduce us to Dr John Atchison OAM, who’ll be the special guest at the John Oxley Dinner at the Walcha Sports Club on Saturday evening. What will John’s presentation entail?

Dr John Atchison OAM is a retired academic historian from UNE and is chair of Saumarez Homestead Advisory Committee. Dr Atchison has been recognised for his work as a historian and educator, including a long history with the Armidale and District Historical Society, an involvement with Saumarez Homestead and a position as senior lecturer in Australian history at the University of New England. Dr Atchison will be speaking on John Oxley himself and his expeditions; bookings are essential. 

Langford House will be the site for a public picnic on Sunday 9th from 11am. You mentioned The Oxley Room at Langford will also be open … what will visitors be able to see/experience in this room?

The Oxley Room contains an extensive collection of John Oxley’s letters, journals, his cane and historical documents of the Oxley Family. 

John Oxley married Emma Norton in 1822; the Nortons are a well known Walcha family, and there are still Nortons in the area today.

What portions of the weekend’s festivities require booking in advance – and where can we go to book, or find out more information?

The tours of the Apsley Gorge must be prebooked with the Walcha Visitor Information Centre, as there are limited numbers, and will cost $2 p/person or $5 p/family.  

The dinner with our guest speaker Dr John Atchison OAM must be booked in advance, and you can do this through as bookings will close 10 days prior to the event, for catering purposes.

For more information, go to or phone Walcha Visitor Information Centre on 6774 2460.

Thanks everyone.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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