Old Glen Innes Road – A Trip Back in Time

I was back in Dalmorton again, a ghost town about an hour-and-a-half south-west of Grafton in northern NSW. A few buildings still stand, old wooden shells harbouring ghostly stories of another life. The silence here is palpable – an eerie, misplaced sense that makes it more beautiful in a way.

Old Glen Innes Road
The remains of Dalmorton

Like many such towns, Dalmorton flourished during the gold rush fever of the 1850s and ‘60s. When the gold ran dry, people slowly decamped until the town became forlorn and forgotten. Once home to 3000 to 5000 people (by varying reports) and allegedly 13 pubs, Dalmorton today is a window back in time that you’ll likely have to yourself.

Old Glen Innes Road
Along the way

Passing abandoned shacks and wild-looking scenery, I rolled into town (this time alone and with fuel) and spotted a bloke out the front of the old butcher’s store with a gold detector. It was Sunday, so today there actually were a couple of people about. “G’day”, I said as I wandered past him into the old store, then around the old police lock up (which I’d missed last time). Since I was aiming to get to Glen Innes by nightfall, I pushed on.

Old Glen Innes Road
Inside Dalmorton’s old butcher store – hooks still intact

After another six kilometres, I came to the old tunnel I’d previously passed through, which was hand-hewn through 20 metres of solid rock and was a frequent route for horse and carts 100 years past. The next 128 kilometres, all the way to Glen Innes, was virgin country to me and I was excited to be finally traversing Old Glen Innes Road.

Old Glen Innes Road

Once upon a time, before the Gwydir Highway opened in 1960, this road was the only way to travel from the mountains to the sea. Today, it’s a backwater for both nature and adventurer lovers. At its northern end (where I began), the road has been forged into the cliff face and follows the winding Boyd River like an old mountain road. This is particularly evident around the Dalmorton area and it gives it a nice adventurous touch.

Old Glen Innes Road
Following the Boyd River

I headed south in my trusty little 1996 Toyota Seca under an overcast summer sky, which intermittently spat drops of rain. Following the savage-looking river, I passed forested hills and emerald glades hidden behind bushland. There were cows, wallabies and horses crowding the road at various points and numerous 4WD trails which wander up mountains, or down towards the river – wild places I wished I had another lifetime to explore.

Old Glen Innes Road

The road has plenty of atmosphere and I found myself stopping every 500 metres or so. Twisted branches, which looked like poised serpents, lined the side of the road. I passed a few dead wallabies, solar panels, abandoned cars, bikes and houses which could be depots for contraband. It struck me you could do pretty much what you wanted out here.

Old Glen Innes Road

Looking at houses tucked away in front of forest, mountains and a sea of green grass, I pictured myself living here in years to come – writing books, smoking a pipe and stealing nips of whisky from my well-stocked cabinet after late afternoon rides on Ed, my horse.

Old Glen Innes Road

Each time I rounded a corner, the scenery would change – one minute from dry bushland to lush meadows, which rolled into forested hills veiled with clouds of light mist. Passing more dilapidated shacks I arrived at the old ‘town’ of Newton Boyd. Here I came across a war memorial which reveals that 30 of the town’s boys marched off to war and only one returned. The place is now all but deserted. Just a bridge, a house and a few pots of honey remain.

Old Glen Innes Road
Newton Boyd war memorial

The honey was sitting right by the memorial, for sale on an honesty policy. Just deposit your money and take a tub. I was rather disappointed I didn’t have any cash on me (does anyone these days?), as I rather liked the idea of a country pot of honey. It looked good too.

Old Glen Innes Road

Heading on towards Mann River, the main camping spot on Old Glen Innes Road, I drove past a few signs of interest. One included a pink, fluffy horse nailed to a tree and read “horse poo $5 a bag”. The other was sadder – a memorial carved into a tree where the lives of two young boys were cut short after a motorbike accident.

Old Glen Innes Road

As the light was fading fast, and kangaroos and wallabies began appearing in increasing numbers, I rolled into Mann River campground to a number of caravans, cars, tents and a few fires.

Old Glen Innes Road
At the Mann River site

It was a Sunday evening in the summertime, high time for camping and I thought about stopping the night as I’d packed a tent, but I didn’t have any food.

Old Glen Innes Road
Mann River campground

Besides, I had a mystery to investigate, so I continued onwards, up through the steep forest of the aptly named Big Hill, towards Glen Innes.

Facts & tips

  • Old Glen Innes Road (aka Old Grafton Road if you’re coming from Glen Innes) is roughly 170 kilometres long and takes about four hours to traverse. Be warned, as it’s both interesting and beautiful, it took me about six hours.
  • The road is mostly unsealed, although you can easily drive the whole way in a two-wheel-drive.
  • There’s no fuel on Old Glen Innes Road, so you’ll want to fuel up at either Grafton or Glen Innes, depending on which way you tackle it.
  • Mann River campground, which is at the end (or start) of Old Glen Innes Road, near Glen Innes, has both toilet and camping facilities. There’s no fishing allowed here as the eastern freshwater cod has become an endangered species.
  • Take $9 to try a pot of Hibbos Honey at Newton Boyd.
  • It’s believed the traditional ancestors of this land were the Bundjalung, Gumbaingirri and Ngarrabul Aborigines, who used the area for initiation ceremonies.

31 thoughts on “Old Glen Innes Road – A Trip Back in Time”

    1. Hi Justine,

      Yes, I was aware of that. I probably should have mentioned it but for some reason I didn’t think it was necessary to include. But of course it is! I’ve updated the facts & tips section.

    2. Hay Andy I don’t know if you knew about the tunnel IT was carved out.in the convict days all by hand and chisels if you take the time to stop and take a look inside you can still see the chisel marks clean as the day they were struck 🐾.

  1. Thank you for sharing your adventures and beautiful pictures, Newton Boyd is Gods country just beautiful and a lovely place to grow up in and to call home. I noticed you did not have any photos of the Newton Boyd school or Sports ground. I live in Glen Innes but still call Newton Boyd home my family still have property down there and it is beautiful. Stay safe and happy adventures. Regards Patty

    1. Hi Patty,

      Always good to hear from a local and Newton Boyd certainly would have been a great place to grow up. No shortage of beautiful, wide open spaces. I did snap the outside of the school, but it didn’t make the cut.

      Thanks Patty and great to have you stop in.

  2. Love Your page and in put on the old Grafton road. I grew up in Glen Innes and now live in Norway,have done for 42yrs now.Seeing these beautiful photos and Reading your page brings back a lot of wonderful memories of my times back home we use to travel a lot Down through this way. Beautiful country side.Last time we drove through to Grafton the road was in very poor condition.Is there still a sign With a witch on her broom along the road.?I was very amused when I saw it I actually have a photo of it some where in my album.We use to og on picnics,swim and Dad had Cattle Down there on a property. Lots of fond memories. Thank you for sharing you page. Fay Habbestad.

    1. Hi Fay,

      Wow, I bet being away for that long (and so far away) and seeing this would strike up some memories. I thought the road was in really good condition and I didn’t have any problems in my ageing little hatchback. I didn’t see the witch, but there were a few signs that caught my eye along the way.

      Sounds like some great memories you have there Fay. Glad you liked it and thanks for stopping in!

  3. Gday Andy,

    Lovely bits and bobs out here eh…..its greener than a catapiller i reakon. I am gunna do the drive soon, thanks for the tid bits, your a great Aussie bloke.

    Regards,
    Mort

  4. Undertaking PhD responding to the question, Who is Ngarrabull?. Country ofcourse is the larges ellement of that answer Your travelogues prove most valuable as his place is revered by both Nagrraul

  5. I’ve traveled down the Gwydir Highway and its freaky and scary,
    that’s coming from a person who’s spiritual and see spirits alot.
    awesome story

  6. Patricia Allen

    Hi Tony, I feel very inspired by your beautiful pics……..I want to make this trip one day soon as my partner’s grandmother was born in Dalmorton………in 1891!!! Her father actually found gold there!(in the late 1800;s!)

    Best wishes,
    Pat.

      1. Lol, no worries Pat.

        So glad I inspired you, particularly with your family connection to Dalmorton.

        Enjoy the journey and don’t forget the $9!

        Andy.

  7. Jan Blacklock

    Hi Andy
    I am going back to where I was born in Glen Inness to show my sister and her Grand Mother lived and also to bring roots to my niece so that one day when her children are really old enough to know their history.rand
    Both my Grand Mother and Great Grandmother buried in Glen Innes.

    I went up a couple of years ago with my girlfriend and saw part of the house my Grandfather built back in 1930 for his wife and family

    I would like to do this trip one day

  8. Peter Dowling

    My great Uncle Bruce Winn was the last owner of Dalmorton before the Mining Company bought it. He and his brother Douglas lived in the old Police Station.. The lockup next door one had a gallows [butchery} at the rear. His place was to the south of the river all the way to Black Slate mine workings. I remember the Rhodes, Brown and Adams family. My GG grandfather leased this country, including Buccarumbi and Yarrow Creek.

  9. Peter Dowling

    The traditional owner around here are Ngarrabull {Glen Innes} Bunjalung to the north and Gumbaynggir northwest south and south east. Its a place where the three groups met years ago. The area around Broadmeadows is particularly important as is on the junction of the Guy Fawkes River. Henry Brown of Broadmeadows was one of the first squatters and many Gumbaynggir people adopted the surname Brown.

  10. Faye McLeod

    My Grandfather was born at Broadmeadow Station Dalmorton. His Mother was Isabella Brown and Father James Arandale. I beleive there is three Graves there. Would love to know who they belong to. Isabella was a twin and her twin sister’s name was Elizabeth have never found what happened to her if she died at childbirth or not. Would love to find her story if anyone knows it.
    Thunderbolt was a regular visitor at Broadmeadow and played cards there.
    Have a lot of history on Henry Brown and Family.

  11. Peter Dowling

    Last time I was there their was a relatively modern home on the hill above the riverbank. Thunderbolt was indeed a visitor. There were Ward descendants at Nymboyda, and Bostobrick. They were all Freds descendants. They all say that the person in the grave at Uralla was his brother. Thunderbolts wife was Mary Bugge who was an Aboriginal woman. Cangie is another place associated with the Ward Family, according to a Gumbaynggir elder I know. There was a Robert Ward of upper Orara River, a former Convict worked for James Aitkin of Bushy Park, Nymboida. He was a bad piece of work. I understand that Henry Brown had Aboriginal people living on his run. They adopted the Surname Brown. There are also Aboriginal Brown descendants scattered all over the place. I have some info on , including Run Maps, Parish Maps, and Broadmeadows early lease information and a little of family information including his relationship to Thomas S. Hall Squatter and to John Fleming the ring-leader of the Myall Creek Massacre Gang. I would need your email address to send you a couple of files.

    1. Faye McLeod

      My Cousin was a Ward her Grandfather was an Uncle to Thunderbolt.
      Her Name was Nola . The family lived in South Grafton on the Armidale Road
      one of her Aunties was Bella Ward(Mulley) mother of Athol Mulley the Jockey.Nola’s Father was Francis Ward.
      Appreciate any info on the Brown Family Thank you.

  12. Faye McLeod

    My Cousin was a Ward her Grandfather was an Uncle to Thunderbolt.
    Her Name was Nola . The family lived in South Grafton on the Armidale Road
    one of her Aunties was Bella Ward(Mulley) mother of Athol Mulley the Jockey.Nola’s Father was Francis Ward.
    Appreciate any info on the Brown Family Thank you.

  13. Peter Dowling

    Yes I have seen the Ward Family at South Grafton and Nymboida mentioned in the Daily Examiner [trove searches] while looking for Robert Ward. Please send me a message on my email address.

    1. Many years ago I drove along the old glen Innes road from Grafton a couple of times . It’s very interesting The Dalmorton road tunnel and the ghost town
      Of Dalmorton. Researched Richard Craigie , as much as I could and gave a talk about his life about a year ago. He arrived in Australia on the same ship my great Grandfather came here on 1820…I remember seeing a statue to Richard Craigie … think Skinner street South Grafton ???
      Years ago …. what a fascinating character …
      Ray Griffiths
      raysphotos@gmail.com

  14. Hey Andy, great reading and makes me want to go there. Would you know the height clearance through that tunnel as our camper is around 3.5-4m high?

  15. Hi Andy/Lee,
    Just tried to email you about Grafton road tunnel but something went wrong in transmission. I am one of two sons of the late Robert (Bob) Taylor stationed there from about 1938 – 1953.
    The Road Tunnel clearances can be obtained by Google search.
    I have been enjoying intensively that your tours & recorded history are revealing constantly.
    I would welcome an invitation to actively participate inyour historic discovery & reporting, as I have a lot to offer with photos & recollections.
    Also, I participated in assisting the Grafton Historical Society with producing a book on The Old Glen Innes Road & special emphasis on Dalmorton., providing many photos & recollections.
    Name & contact details available at commencement of this comment.

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