Manilla is an historic country town at the junction of the Manilla and Namoi rivers. It is situated 44 km north of Tamworth on the Fossickers Way and 456 km north of Sydney. Manilla has a population of 2110 people and is 363 m above sea-level on the North-West Slopes of NSW. It lies between two magnificent lakes – Lake Keepit to the southwest and Split Rock Dam to the north.
Manilla’s first squatters were the Baldwin’s of Singleton, occupying land about 10 km south in the late 1820s. The family took up the Dinnawirindi station in 1837. It was one of six cattle stations which swallowed up all of the local land.
In 1853 George Veness selected a property at the confluence of the Namoi and Manilla Rivers, thereby capitalising on what was then a teamsters campsite known as The Junction. He built a wine-shop, a store and a residence and later became the first postmaster. Veness was asked by the postal department to choose a title for the village and named it after the Manilla River which had originally been called the Manellae, either a reference to the tribe which hunted its banks or a Kamilaroi term meaning winding river. It is said an ex-sailor familiar with Manilla in the Philippines instigated the change.
The town was laid out in the early 1860s by Arthur Dewhurst and he named its streets after himself, his wife, their English home towns, his chain man and his employer. It was gazetted in 1863 although a major flood the following year swept away a number of buildings and killed four of the twelve residents. This kind of inundation has proved a periodic problem, down to the 1970s.
In 1866 Manilla was described by the NSW Gazetteer as a postal town in a pastoral and quartz mining district. There was a hotel, an inn and a district population of 50. However, over the next 35 years there was considerable development and population growth facilitated by closer settlement after the passing of the Robertson Land Act, the construction of a bridge over the Namoi River, the coming of the railway to Tamworth in 1878 and to Manilla in 1899, and the development of the wool and especially the wheat industries.
The boom years of 1894-1900 saw a spurt of building, although a series of fires the following decade destroyed many structures. Manilla became a municipality in 1901, at which time the population was 888. Tobacco was commercially grown in the early years of the twentieth century.
Bushranger Thunderbolt (alias Fred Ward) began a regular association with Manilla in 1865, taking two horses from Lloyds station and committing a series of robberies on the Barraba road. In 1867 he bailed up the Tamworth mail 3 km from Manilla. He then proceeded to Hills public house where he partook of refreshments. At Venesss store and hotel he robbed everyone, pilfering clothes, spirits and groceries. The police arrived and he fled without his pack horse which carried some of his gains. He returned to again rob the mail coach later that year.
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Nearest Airport: Tamworth (45km)
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