Morpeth: Rich in river history

THAT great river adventurer Huckleberry Finn observed as he rafted down the Mississippi that the days “slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely”. Which is how time travels through Morpeth. Perhaps that’s because it is a historic river town.

The Hunter and the past slide through the character of Morpeth. The town exists because of the river. 

For a fascinating history lesson, first visit the Morpeth Museum in the courthouse, built in 1862. It contains hundreds of exhibits, telling Morpeth’s story from its birth, its importance as an agricultural hub, and its growth as a river trade centre.

For a time, this was the biggest river port in the colony, as ships from around the globe sailed up the Hunter to a string of wharves here. The bell from one of the country’s first steamships and frequent Morpeth visitor, Sophia Jane, is in the collection. Another room is filled with about 200 Arnotts’ biscuit tins.

William Arnott had a bakehouse by the river here in the 1860s, before he moved to Newcastle and into Australian business legend. In a delicious case of history repeating, Stephen and Allison Arnott bought the site in the early 2000s and followed Stephen’s forebears; they opened a bakery and cafe.   

Follow the flow of the past along Swan Street and pop into converted warehouses and bondstores to shop or have a coffee.

Or head into one of the old hotels, grab a drink and stand on the veranda, listen to the clickety-clack lullaby of vehicles on the town’s truss bridge, built in 1898, and look over to the flood-fed fields of Phoenix Park.

But be sure to go down to the river, which can be accessed at the boat ramp, peer into the water and imagine when ships churned its surface. Or simply watch time and the current slide by, so quiet and smooth and lovely.