Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts

Since 1876 the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts has served the evolving community needs of Tenterfield from its Rouse St site. For over a century it has been the centre of community activity, serving as a town reading room and library, public hall for meetings, performances and events and more recently, a museum.

The complex is most famous for being the venue for the “Tenterfield Oration” by former NSW Premier, Sir Henry Parkes on 24 October, 1899. This speech set in motion the popular movement that resulted in the Federation of Australia in 1901. Today the School of Arts provides visitors with a variety of services including public library, cinema, venue for theatrical productions and a museum dedicated to exploring the life of Sir Henry Parkes and his ideas concerning the federation of Australia’s colonies into a single nation. The property was acquired by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in 1957 and is run jointly with the Tenterfield Shire Council.


The Collection was assembled by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) over three decades which is featured in the Sir Henry Parkes Gallery. Major items on display include a large portrait by nineteenth century painter Julian Ashton, a bust of Sir Henry by Theo Cowan, a copy of The Empire newspaper of which he was owner and editor, along with memorabilia such as a ceremonial wheelbarrow used to turn the first sod of the North Shore railway, walking sticks, a birthday book signed by Parkes’ contemporaries including Lord Tennyson and Arthur Streeton and the collar of Parkes’ dog, a mastiff of the name of Maori. Collectively these items provide an intriguing insight into an outstanding Colonial politician.