What is our town of Tamworth best known for Australia wide?
Is it being the Nation's Country Music Capital? Or perhaps having four Maccas in town?
I think we could add to these the sometimes undervalued fact of being the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to be lit by a Council owned - and -operated electricity generating plant - even 16 years before Sydney - hence the term 'The City of Light'.
Concerns were expressed about poor local street lighting by Tamworth's 'Observer' newspaper in 1881 - "We must have more light in this town somehow, or some night serious damage will be done to limb ..... perhaps life."
We must have more light in this town somehow, or some night serious damage will be done to limb ..... perhaps life.
At this time our only street lighting from 1876 were oil lamps, initially outside the Post Office, then on the Peel River bridge.
It wasn't until March, 1881 that Mayor Edwin Hunt chaired a meeting to discuss forming a gas-making company in Tamworth, with gas then being the best and cheapest method of lighting available, with electricity still in its development stage.
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In June, 1882 Tamworth's first gas street lighting system had commenced, with an initial 25 streetlamps, increasing to 52 by 1888.
The increasing viability of electric street lighting overseas led to a local Borough Council committee, comprising Messrs Smith, Piper, Todd & Ison, investigating the possible change from gas to electricity.
Led in particular by Councillor William J. Smith, a decision was eventually made to pursue the cheaper electric street lighting, despite considerable opposition from the strong gas-lighting lobby.
On June 10, 1887 a demonstration of electric lighting had been led by Smith in the offices of the local newspaper Tamworth Observer.
Eventually Council accepted a tender from Messrs Harrison & Whiffen, representing the firm of Crompton & Co. of Birminham, England.
The 36 kw Powerhouse generating plant, measuring only 3m x 3.7m, on the site of today's Powerhouse Museum, was completed 10 days ahead of schedule, and guaranteed to last for at least 12 years.
Direct current transmission was chosen rather than alternating current. The plant was equipped by two John Fowler steam-engines. Coal used in the operation was conveyed by horse-drawn drays from coal rail-trucks at the 1882 Railway Station to the Power House.
Initially there were three arc-lights installed in Peel St at the Brisbane, Fitzroy (see graphic) and White St intersections, plus 78 street lanterns lighting 18km of streets, compared to the previous 11km by gas-lighting.
The night prior to the official 'switching-on' of the electric street lights, a celebratory banquet was held in the Olympic Hall in Brisbane St.
Then on Friday, November 9, 1888 at 7:30pm the Mayoress Mrs Piper used a gold key to perform the 'switching on'.
The ceremony was strictly a local affair, with State Government representatives declining their invitations - politics! Three blocks of Peel st lit up under the arc-lamps, with street lights turned on as far away as 2.4km from the Powerhouse.
A procession then moved along Peel st to The Oval (now a section of Bicentennial Park) where a crowd of around 3000 had assembled to witness the 100 yard Grand Sheffield Handicap race under lights - the first sporting event to be held under electric lights in Australia - now that's a first!
The finish of the sprint would have been somewhere near today's toilet block inside the park gates at the bottom of Fitzroy St.
Conflicting reactions to the new street lighting ensued within the Tamworth public, with many of the previous gas-lighting advocates advancing criticism.
The negativity was balanced by commentary such as that published in the November 10, 1888 Sydney Morning Herald publication - "Tamworth was successfully lighted with electricity last night amid much rejoicing.
The success of the undertaking eclipsed the anticipation of the most sanguine."
In 1907 the Peel/Darling St Powerhouse was enlarged, with electricity then being made available to private consumers.
In November, 1922 the much larger replacement Powerhouse was opened in Marius St, on the site of today's Powerhouse Motel.
The opening was conducted by Tamworth Town Clerk and Chief Electrical Engineer Vincent Guy Kable.
The number of domestic electricity consumers had grown to more than 1200.
The new Powerhouse provided Tamworth with the cheapest power in northern NSW.
At its opening it lit up 242 streetlamps along 72 km of streets.
The Peel Valley County Council managed the electricity supply system of Tamworth and surrounding districts.
At its peak the new Powerhouse produced 26 000 kw of electricity, servicing an area of 90,000 sq km.
In 1956 the NSW Electricity Commission brought about significant changes to power production, reducing Tamworth's strong presence in that area since 1888.
Recognition of Tamworth Council's significant role in commencing electric street lighting in 1888 brought about a decision in 1957 to commemorate this achievement with an annual 'Festival of Light', which many older residents will remember.
With the first Festival getting underway in 1958 under Committee President Mayor Doug Campbell, it grew in scope , although only lasting for 8 years, with 1965 being the last one held (I remember it - my first year in Tamworth).
Various Festival highlights included a 'Lighting-up' ceremony, Popular Queen competition, an Aircraft Pageant, a Procession & Carnival, an Electronics Exhibition, Motor Cycle & Midget Car races, Marching Girls, Cars' Hill-Climb, Children's Torchlight display, Agricultural Machinery procession, various sporting tournaments, etc.
At its final year in 1965, we had to wait another 8 years before our first Country Music Awards took place in 1973, the 50th Festival anniversary being celebrated last January.
Now, 134 years after Tamworth celebrated its first electric street lights, we have the possibility of potential widespread power outages, brought on by various political and climatic factors, but nothing can detract from Tamworth's early claim to fame as "The City of Light".
Mention this to your Sydney visitors!
Mike Cashman - Tamworth Historical Society
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