When taking in the hectares of rolling hills, orchards, churches, gardens while soaking up the high country climate and sense of peace, the average Kentucky visitor may find it hard to believe so much is going on in this thriving community.

Nestled between Uralla and Walcha, the beautiful area of Kentucky started as an orcharding settlement for returned WWI servicemen and is steeped in history and a strong sense of community. 

Weatherboard cottages built on small blocks of prime New England land were won by ballot, and the diggers and their families settled into a life of hard work.

The initial years were difficult for many orchardists, waiting for their trees to produce fruit and trying to survive on the subsistence allowance granted by the Government (15c per day in today’s currency!) They grew vegetables and shot rabbits to eke out an existence until the fruit came in.

Nationwide, the soldier settlement scheme was a disaster, as often the country selected was unsuitable and the blocks were not large enough. According to a government inquiry in 1929, one third of the settlers failed in their attempts to work the land.

However, once the orchards started to bear fruit in Kentucky, the area prospered, also bolstered by the surrounding grazing land of Kentucky Station and Terrible Vale, which was producing some of the nation’s finest wool. Churches, schools, halls, and shops sprang up, and lively dances, sporting days, and community gatherings were the order of the day.

Kentucky had a unique, almost English-style atmosphere, where, due to the relatively small size of the farms, neighbours were never far away and there were always plenty of social activities available.

The peacefulness of this idyllic lifestyle was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, when Kentucky, like nearby Uralla, volunteered a high proportion of its men.

The hardship of this came with the comfort of living in a close knit and supportive community where working bees were held for anyone needing help on their orchard due to illness, or absence of manpower.

The arrival of Italian POWs brought more colourful stories and humour to Kentucky’s orcharding days during the war years. POWs were distributed among families and provided labour for many of the area’s orchards. The gregarious and generous natures of the Italian men brought another diverse element to Kentucky, including the introduction of spaghetti!

Forty historical photographs of these early years giving an overview of the diversity of life in Kentucky from the 1920s to the 1970s have been hung in the Kentucky Memorial Hall and are available for viewing (enquire at Kentucky Store).

Kentucky today
Fast-forwarding sixty years, people are realising the old-fashioned lifestyle enjoyed by the pioneers of Kentucky is still available – a simple, less expensive existence of peace and quiet, trees, chooks, and a vegetable patch.

All this may sound like the proverbial cliché, but it sums up the lifestyle in Kentucky perfectly. Today, of course, it also includes the modern conveniences of excellent amenities, social activities, telecommunications, and the nearby commercial centers of Uralla, Armidale, and Tamworth.

These unique demographics have seen families settle in Kentucky for the safe, cohesive and friendly community, and the top quality primary school.

People who come to Kentucky embrace the history and quirkiness of the settlers’ cottages – there is no sprawling suburbia here. Instead, there are churches sympathetically converted into family homes, a renovated brick railway house with a beautiful stone ‘meditation retreat’, and weatherboard cottages with their original features.

With the nearby towns of Uralla, Armidale, and Tamworth providing excellent commercial and educational opportunities within easy reach, Kentucky has become the perfect place to raise families while still being able to commute to work. The housing in Kentucky remains affordable a nd good value for money, usually offering land, sheds, and established gardens – not to mention stunning rural views.

There is plenty to do in the area too, with the Kentucky Hall hosting weekly exercise classes, children’s dance classes, a preschool play group, old time dances, discos, and community BBQs. In spring, visitors can enjoy the daffodils that surround the school, church and hall, then call into the Kentucky General Store for a a cappuccino and cake in the licensed café.

Businesses in Kentucky includes Eastview Estate, a vineyard offering fine dining in the restaurant “Pinot” and accommodation in a beautifully decorated railway carriage. Kentucky Tree Nursery offers low cost farm trees and is also known for providing an estimated 2 million native tube stock plants for major infrastructure and replanting work around the state in the past 40 years.   

Ural of Oz is a unique business offering training and tours of the local area in bikes with side cars. Green Gully Alpacas sell prize-winning pet and herd Alpacas, as well as knitting yarn and fleece. Accommodation options including Camellia Cottage, Woodhaven Cottage B&B and The Huts farmstay.

The area is also home to fine wool producers Maisters Swamp Merinos, Essex Hill Superfine Merinos, West Vale Merinos, and Shalimar Park Merinos. These studs and other local properties produce some of the best quality wool in Australia, highly sought after in Italy for top grade fabric.

The lynch pin of Kentucky is the local primary school. Kentucky Public School is set in beautiful, award winning grounds and headmaster Danny Spillane at the helm.  Danny was won a Churchill Fellowship Award (given to Australians doing outstandingly beneficial community work) and the Caltex-Rotary Award for innovation in teaching (only four of which were awarded in 2008). Both awards have given Danny the opportunity to study overseas in Brazil and Africa.

Danny teaches the children to play an African instrument called the marimba, which encourages the use of the right and left sides of the brain. This has direct links to dramatic improvement in academic performance.

Children become proficient very quickly, and within six months of starting to learn the marimbas, the Kentucky School students were able to give outstanding performances at the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Entertainment Centre this year.

So, if you are looking for an area that has the perfect balance of community, rural lifestyle, and work opportunities, or simply want a leisurely drive in the country, make Kentucky your destination.

Written by Kate Hedges