Tennant Creek is a town that many, many grey nomads pass through, but far fewer choose to pause for a day or two to fully explore and to understand.
With a population of just over 3,000, the Northern Territory’s fifth largest town lies on the Stuart Highway just south of the junction with the Barkly Highway, and about 1,000 kilometres south of Darwin and 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs.
From a grey nomad’s perspective the area is most well known for the popular Devil’s Marbles camping area 100 kilometres to the south … but Tennant Creek itself is well worth a look. Shaped by mining, droving and Aboriginal culture, the town sits in the vast Barkly Tableland which houses some of the world’s largest cattle stations.
Gold was discovered in the area back in 1926 and various sorts of mining – as well as tourism – still help shape the town’s identity. As well as a caravan park, the modern Tennant Creek boasts a number of shops, a supermarket, clubs, restaurants, a regional hospital, and an airport. First port of call for most grey nomads – apart from maybe the caravan park – is the Battery Hill mining centre, which houses a ten-head stamp battery and offers underground mining tours, as well as the chance to view an amazing mineral collection.
Battery Hill is also the place to get information about the entire area, and the nearby Bill Allen Lookout, which offers a clear 360-degree panoramic view of Tennant Creek, is another great place to get your bearings. Also well worth a visit is the old Telegraph Station about 12 kilometres north of town. The original temporary building for a telegraph repeater station was erected in 1872, and the solid stone buildings that remain on the site today were put up two years later.
This is one of only four of the original 11 stations remaining in the Territory. Close by is the turnoff to a formation of granite boulders known as The Pebbles, or Kunjarra, which is a sacred women’s dancing site for the local Waramungu people. The Nyinkka Nyunyu Arts and Cultural Centre is the best place for visitors to learn about Aboriginal life and history … and the legend of ‘Nyinkka’, the spiky tailed goanna that shaped the town.
If you’re ready to take a break from history and just relax in a magnificent setting, Lake Mary Ann – about five kilometres north of town – is a great place for a picnic, a walk or a swim. While Tennant Creek may not, at first glance, offer the ‘glamour’ of the more illustrious tourist destinations to the north and south, many travellers are delighted to find there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.