Tennant Creek is a little town with a big heart that gets a bad wrap that it doesn’t deserve.
It’s located in the Barkly Region, and is the region’s main town and service centre.
Tennant Creek is exactly what an outback town should look like: it’s got a big, wide main street lined with trees and old-fashioned shops with large, shady verandas.
As you drive north up the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs, if you look carefully, you’ll see the country change. Once you leave the Devils Marbles, the land flattens out and different vegetation appears.
The landscape becomes greener, the creeks often have water in them and you’ll see lot of small white eucalypt trees, called Snappy Gums by locals, everywhere you look.
Many of these trees are sacred to local Aboriginal people and have Dreaming Stories connected to them.
Along the way, there’s even a swamp (Gilbert Swamp), and a very popular, free roadside rest area, Bonney Well.
And then, you reach Tennant Creek.
Every second vehicle is a well-loved Toyota ute -Australian for ‘utility vehicle’ or ‘pick up truck- or a Troopy (Outback talk for Toyota Troop Carrier), straight in from one of the area’s pastoral properties or Aboriginal communities.
Pop your head inside one of the town’s two supermarkets, and you’ll soon see that everyone knows everyone else, and there’s plenty of time for a chat. No one ever seems to be in a hurry here!
And then there’s the town’s special quirks – there’s a fantastic restaurant in the squash courts, an amazing Aboriginal cultural centre, and the biggest surprise of all – Lake Mary Ann, the perfect place to swim after a long, hot drive.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this little town is that a large number of its residents are Aboriginal.
Tennant Creek is in Warramungu country (Warramungu is the name of the local Aboriginal people), although Walpiri, Kaytetye and Alyawarr people also have connections to the town.
Because of the strong Aboriginal presence here, it’s one of the best places in the Outback to learn about Aboriginal life, history and land.
The Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre the place to visit if you’re interested in learning about Aboriginal culture.
Nyinkka Nyunyu (pronounced NYING-kuh Nyin-YOU) is an Aboriginal-owned museum and art gallery that will help you to learn more about the culture of the local Aboriginal people.
It’s also got GREAT coffee at its cafe!
If you’re looking to buy Aboriginal Art, then we recommend a visit to the Anyinginyi Arts Centre or Julalikari Arts.
Want to learn about the Barkly Region’s Aboriginal languages and culture?
Then pick up a book, CD or DVD from the Papulu Aparr-Kari language centre.
A short drive north of town, there’s also the Aboriginal-owned conservation area and sacred site – the Devil’s Pebbles/Kunjarra.
An hour’s drive south of Tennant Creek is the world famous Devils Marbles/Karlu Karlu Conservation Area.
Tennant Creek’s Gold Mining History
No matter where you look in Tennant Creek, you’ll see something that reminds you of its past and present connections to mining. Unlike other mining towns, however, there’s no ugly piles of rusting metal, mine diggings or huge open cut holes.
Although the town is famous for its gold rush, it started life an outpost along the Overland Telegraph Line -a communication link between Australia and the rest of the world.
Tennant Creek’s Overland Telegraph Station is located 10 km north of the town, and visitors can see firsthand what it was like to live in the outback over 100 years ago.
Gold mining, of course, is what put the town on the map. We think the Battery Hill Mining Centre, located on Peko Road, only 1.5 kilometres from the town centre, is another must-see when you visit the town.
At Battery Hill you can take an underground mine tour, pan for your own gold, and learn how gold was mined in the old days.
There’s even two museums at Battery Hill: Flies, Fortitude & Freedom, which looks at social life on the goldfields during the early years; and the McLaughlin Minerals Collection, a collection of mineral samples from around the world.
And does the town have real, working mines today? The answer to that is yes.
Accommodation & Hotels
For a small town of only 5000 people, Tennant Creek has a surprising range of accommodation options.
There’s four motels, two hotels, backpackers’ accommodation (including a YHA), and several caravan parks.
Tennant Creek is an offbeat, quirky town where history is alive and kicking! But you’ll only understand this if you stop and spend some time walking around and getting a sense of what the town is really like (take a short walk up Anzac Hill to get an even better sense of the town).
If you just rush through, stop at a roadhouse, then speed on, you’re missing one of the Northern Territory’s (and the Outback’s) most authentic, warts-and-all places.