The Early History of the Tennant Creek Public Library

Credit must go to the tenacious character of the Territorians, for in this foreboding region people have struggled to achieve a library service. From its earliest beginnings along the Overland Telegraph Line and pastoral stations, people have craved access to reading matter.               by Helena M Ablett

By 1875, permanent stone buildings for the Tennant Creek, Powell Creek and Barrow Creek Telegraph Stations were constructed that housed a handful of lonely men whose only communication to the outside world was by the Morse key and overland telegraph wire. They craved reading material to alleviate the boredom and encourage mental stimulation at these isolated outposts.

Overland Telegraph Station Tennant Creek

The Commonwealth Government had direct involvement with library services, commencing with the transfer of the Northern Territory from South Australia in 1911, the irregular quantity of financial aid being supplemented by Carnegie Corporation grants.
About 1919 a library was established at Borroloola, known as the MacArthur River Institute, was under the control of the South Australian Mounted Police and serviced the Barkly region (prior to the establishment of the Tennant Creek township 1935) Boxes of books were delivered to financial members by camel teams that might pass through the region about every four to six months. This library is reported to have had some 3000 volumes and is said that the books were sent by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in a response to a request for cultural enrichment. (Andrew Carnegie envisioned Carnegie Corporation as a foundation that would “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding” as an education foundation. While Mr. Carnegie’s primary aim was to benefit the people of the United States, he later determined to use a portion of the funds for members of the British overseas Commonwealth.)

MacArthur River Institute building

By 1930 the Depression had set in throughout Australia and by this time little remained of the library at Borroloola, being ravaged by time, misuse, tropical weather and termites.
The discovery of gold at Tennant Creek was a beacon of hope for hundreds of people when the news was declared in 1934, the last Australian gold rush started. There was no township at that time, just the Overland Telegraph Station at Tennant Creek, locally known as the Seven Mile.
Life on the goldfield was primitive for years but in 1935 Tennant Creek was declared a township, and the population there saw a new rush for residential and business properties, all being held as mining leases

The Australian Inland Mission Welfare Hut in Tennant Creek housed the first collection of books in their reading room and the Australian Inland Mission also had stocks of books and magazines which were generously distributed throughout the Northern Territory and were stamped “Greetings from the A.I.M. Read and Pass On” and were greatly appreciated.
But with the closure of the AIM ‘s reading room, people  sought reading matter from other sources; the SA Country Lending Service and the Country Children Book Services operated from 1938 up to the 1980’s under the auspices of the Adelaide Library were sending parcels of books to borrowers on regular basis that were sent freight free by rail to Alice Springs and then trucked by Government road train to Tennant Creek, as no other method of postage existed. The only disadvantage was the length of time between return and receipt of another supply of books

Staff had profiles of borrowers’ subject interests and recorded books sent out on large cards. Unless otherwise requested, adults received three non-fiction and one fiction title per batch. The Library had a special arrangement with the South Australian Railways whereby postage to borrowers was free, and the borrower’s could return the box by rail at half price.

A.E.C. road train. This is the original Government road train consisting of prime mover and two trailers which operated out of Alice Springs from before World War II. Now in the transport museum in Alice Springs.

In 1943, Marjorie Fullwood, wife of a Hatches Creek miner Bill Fullwood was an avid reader, later moving on to Tennant Creek in 1946 was having parcels of books sent to her from the Country Lending Service.
One of the first requests made by the Tennant Creek District Association to the Administrator was the establishment of a public library facilities in the town, for study, research and recreation but it became dependent on the completion and opening of the Darwin Public Library, as it was decided to plan a comprehensive library service for the whole of the territory, rather than isolated for individual areas. So it was resolved that Darwin would be central library for the Northern Territory.
Concerted efforts by Tennant Creek residents were made to acquire a suitable property to house the branch library.
photo Scott’s Hall
In Jan 1949 the Municipal Inspector  Mr A Fraser, negotiated the purchase of Scott’s Hall,  a galvanised iron shed on the northern side of the Tennant Creek Hotel to provide the people of Tennant Creek  with a public hall, and to house the library in a “lean to” verandah type enclosure on the south side. Being a public venue it was considered that security of the books would be a problem.
photo school
On 6th June  1951 the Tennant Creek School’s Jubilee Library situated in a small room within the only school building was opened. This first school library was to set an example to all other schools in the Northern Territory, and a month before the opening of the Darwin Public Library (July 1951, after many years)
In 1952 a decision was made to use the Mining Warden’s Office to house the library.

Lot 169 – corner of Paterson Street and Windley Street (now Peko Road) This property is claimed to be the first real home in the town, a milestone in its development. It was the home of William and Kathleen Weaber standing in 1938. On 5 March 1942 it was acquired for administrative purposes; namely for the  Mining Warden, as the Mines Branch Headquarters. Price paid was £1308/8/10. During World War 2 the army took procession but in Feb 1946 the Mine’s Office reopened.
 After long negotiations, the Tennant Creek District Association  were asked to supply the names of a number of volunteers to run the service for two years, and if warranted, then the library would be placed on a firmer basis. Five volunteers gathered to become familiar with their duties. They were Reg Carter (Municipal Officer) John Horn (ES&A Bank Clerk) Les Ashenden (Head Master)  Eaho Griggs and Marjorie Fullwood. Within a few weeks the others has resigned on account of transfers or pressure of business leaving Marjorie to carry on the out of hours duties, which she did for ten and a half years.
On 23 March 1954 a library was opened with an initial book-stock of 650 volumes before a gathering of some fifty persons.
A four roomed bungalow dwelling with galvanised iron roof and with bathroom and kitchen portioned off on the easterly corners of the verandah which were 10 feet wide … three of the four rooms were 12foot x12 foot, fourth 18foot x 12foot; verandah walls were iron  2foot 6inches high with fly wire gauze above that; wooden floors 2 foot off the ground on stumps, with a wind driven “Impcolite”electric lighting plant.
“This building housed the Mines and Land Branches, Municipal Office, the Library and for some time was the venue of the voluntary Fire Brigade on after hours duty.

The arrangement was that the books would be stored on tall shelves around three walls of the room used by  Evelyn Turner, the Mines Branch stenographer (Typist)   Evelyn Turner attended to office hours openings about 4 hours weekly and Marjorie Fullwood took over the Wednesday evening and Saturday morning duties of 4 ½ hours weekly.
The space in this small room was most crowded, even if only two borrowers were there at one time, and soon became impractical to find storage for the extra books sent from Darwin. It was really inconvenient for the official inspecting Librarians to check the books annually and it was a relief when this house was vacated  for the more commodious Paterson Street building purchased by the NT Administration from Arthur F Campbell in June 1961.
A severe storm in December 1961 saw the old building badly damaged  and was then demolished.
The Town Management Board in 1964 recommended that Lot 169, the original home site of William and Kathleen Weaber become a public park. It is  ironic that the lot was named “Peko Park” given the Weaber family history as the discovers and owners of Rising Sun, Nobles Nob, Kimberly Kids and Weaber’s Luck mining leases, (having no association with Peko Mine)
photo campbells store
It was built on the site of Harold Williams’ store that burnt to the ground in 1956, on the western side of Paterson Street opposite the Tennant Creek Hotel.
Arthur Campbell first opened the building as a general store, containing many agencies but hard times forced him to sell.
The library was now sited in a fairly large room with several electric lights plus extra light being allowed by the glass louvres facing onto Paterson Street (but which also admitted dust and a draughts) a mobile air conditioner and a small annex which was used as the children’s section, extra shelving, office table and one chair.
After the two years trial Marjorie was paid 10/- a week, but later when she was employed by the Welfare Branch the library duty was classified as overtime. Marjorie was given ½ hour after closing the library to tally the books borrowed, card and place on the shelves all books returned and make out the daily borrowing.  Saturdays were usually busy with about 100 books being handled in the two hour opening.
As time went on borrowers became more interested, books of all types were added and there was a gradual increase in furniture.
Books were catalogued by Darwin Library staff, but the Tennant Creek Library had to keep their reference cards in order.  The District Office staff packed the old books requested by Darwin for return. The monthly returns were noted and fine notices for books that were two weeks overdue attended to, with a follow up reminder a week later. Fines were chargeable at 3d a day per book, with a limit of 5/- per borrower. Adults were allowed two books and a magazine returnable any time within a fortnight and children could take only one book at a time.
There were also a number of adults taking correspondence courses in English mainly from the Queensland University who were able to procure their listed study books on long term loan from this library.
Another service offered to the people at the mines who were unable to take advantage of the opening hours, was the choosing of books for their particular taste and which the mines courier delivered. This was time consuming as each book card had to be checked for the relevant number of the borrower. Staff had to check through a dozen or so books before they could choose two.
With the fluctuating population there was quite a lot of non recovery of books, but not exceptionally so. Sometimes it was a bonus when someone found and returned material left by the previous borrower, and overall there was always very little damage done to the books.
Marjorie recalled Evelyn Turner arranging books and posters for Children’s Book Week and many times the kindergarten and early primary children were brought to the library for sessions with children’s stories. Enid Blyton was their favourite author, although the school and official librarians frowned on them.
Marjorie did no cleaning and was pleased about this as she was a sufferer of long periods of hay fever, even the  handling of the ever dusty books brought on trouble which actually led to her resignation in September 1964 for by that time she was doing all the library duty, as Mrs Turner had resigned.
After Marjorie’s resignation, a part time librarian was appointed (the first one being Jane Carter) which led to the expansion in hours and amenities. Marjorie is still a constant user of the Library, and envies the pleasant premises and amenities of the current accommodation.

Tennant Creek’s New Library .. Tennant Times

The library in the new Government office block opened its doors on Monday 11th August 1975 for the first time. The new surrounds are a vast improvement on the old library. Readers will appreciate the luxury of the new library where it will be pleasant to sit and browse through books and the extensive selection of periodicals. The library has a weekly copy of the “Advertiser”, “The Sydney Morning Herald”, “The Courier Mail” and “Australian”; a daily copy of “The Northern Territory News” and the weekly”Centralian Advocate” as well as the “Tennant Times”.
The move took place over several days last week and Mrs Reilly was greatly assisted by students from Grade 8. Because of the beautiful decor, the rule of “NO SMOKING” is to be strictly enforced. As an added attraction for the opening, there was art exhibition in the library – all local artists. There are also many new books – 1,450 altogether, as well as the 4,200 which were transferred from the old library
The library is open for 4 hours daily, Monday – Saturday


With self government in 1978, the Northern Territory Government assumed total responsibility for the Library service.

Tennant Creek Public Library, 41 Peko Road



  • “A Study of the Development of Public Library Services in the Tennant Creek / Barkly Region” : The Story to 1978 By Helena M Ablett (TC Collection 027.494295)
  • Tennant Times – 15 August 1975
  • Recollections of Marjorie Fullwood Tennant Creek Librarian 1980
  • NT Library
  • Barkly Regional Council, Public Library – Tennant Creek Collection