A History of the Pensioners Hill Project

Pensioners Hill was once a barren, rocky hill located on the western edge of Gunnedah between Lloyd Road and Farrar Road. It has fine views over the town and panoramic views of the surrounding area.

 The hill was completely denuded of shrubs and grass by herds of goats, and it was known as Goat Hill in 1893 when a Mr Cantrell ran 900 angora goats on the site. Some years later a local clergyman also ran a large herd of goats on the hill.

It became known as Pensioners Hill during the Great Depression years when local families without income set up humpies and crude huts made from flattened kerosene tins and other available scrap. One of the factors that encouraged those down on their luck and their families to camp on this hill in the 1930s was the open water reservoir (still located below the northern escarpment) which contained over 1,000,000 litres and was built by the Railway Department in July 1915 for steam trains.

The last residences (described as shanty houses) were demolished by Gunnedah Municipal Council in 1977 as they were deemed as unsafe and unhygienic.

The development of Pensioners Hill was initially proposed by former councillor, Mikie Maas, in the late 1980s with plans enhanced by input from students of the Canberra Faculty of Landscape Architecture who came to Gunnedah to develop some landscaping ideas for the town. The initial work involved the planting of hundreds of trees, mostly white box and ironbark on the formerly barren area. Rotary Club of Gunnedah West and Gunnedah Shire Council helped Councillor Maas to plant the trees. Further developments on Pensioners Hill were promoted by Councillors Hans Allgayer (member of Rotary Club of Gunnedah West) and Owen Hasler (member of Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group).

Viewing Platform

The Pensioners Hill project was adopted as a major service project by Rotary Club of Gunnedah West in 1996. Construction of a large viewing platform commenced in 1999 and was completed in 2000. Thousands of hours were spent on the construction and erection of the viewing platform and in the beautification of the area. A water supply and a picnic table were also installed.



Memorial Wall, Entrance Gates and Walkway

In 2001 the club constructed a memorial wall and entrance gates on Lloyd Road and commenced a walkway to the viewing platform. The memorial wall was constructed with bricks salvaged from the boiler chimney of the Blackjack colliery which was demolished when mining ceased at the colliery in 2000. The walkway was named in honour of Ailsa Iceton (1892-1986), wife of local solicitor EA (Ted) Iceton. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, struggling families lived in humpies on the side of Pensioners Hill or at the foot of the hill and, for years, Ailsa Iceton used to cook a roast and vegetables every Sunday for as many people as possible, taking the meals to the humpies. She also bought and made clothes for the families. The Memorial Gates, Ailsa Iceton Walkway and the Viewing Platform were officially opened on 19 December 2001.






The next stage of development was the construction of an environmentally-friendly toilet just off the walkway and built from the same bricks as the memorial wall. Landscaping students from the Gunnedah College of TAFE made an important contribution by constructing a path and steps from Farrar Road up to the viewing platform.



To celebrate the centenary of Rotary International on 23 February 2005, Rotary Club of Gunnedah West decided to construct a large Rotunda on the top of Pensioners Hill. The Rotunda and an extension to the Ailsa Iceton Walkway were completed in October 2006. The Rotunda was given to the community of Gunnedah on 26 November 2006 – the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Gunnedah – and was accepted on behalf of the community by the Mayor Gae Swain. A public concert was staged by Rotary Club of Gunnedah West to celebrate the occasion.



Development continued with the installation of a gas barbeque and picnic tables. The success of the concert prompted the development of a performance area between the Rotunda and the Viewing Platform. Pensioners Hill became a popular area for weddings and other activities all of which emphasised a need to provide electric power to the site.

Heritage Sculptures

In early 2007 a major initiative by Councillor Hans Allgayer was the sourcing and transport of six large sandstone stones to the site. The stones were mounted onto concrete plinths by Rotary Club of Gunnedah West members. The idea was to invite sculptors to carve images on the stone to depict the cultural heritage of Gunnedah.


Rotary Club of Gunnedah West, with the support of Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group, Gunnedah Shire Council, Gunnedah College of TAFE and Gunnedah High School, applied to BHP Billiton Caroona Coal Project for funding for the Pensioners Hill Cultural Heritage Project (PHCHP). This project was to carve images on the stones to depict the Cultural Heritage of Gunnedah and, in turn, train local people in stone carving techniques. The application was successful with a grant of $28,582 being provided.

Renowned sculptors Carl Merten and Joan Relke from Uralla commenced work on two stones, Red Chief and Coal Miner, in late 2007. A number of community members participated and received training in the stone carving project with the bulk of the work falling on the sculptors with the assistance of Rotarians. Members of Red Chief Lands Council helped with the Red Chief stone.

The carving of the Heritage Sculptures continued through to 2012 with work concentrated on the Pioneer Woman and Agriculture sculptures and a Commemorative stone.

The Heritage Sculpture project was officially opened by a representative of BHP Billiton on 18 October 2012.


Rotary Club of Gunnedah West, with financial support from Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group, installed electrical power, lighting, two electric barbeques and additional picnic tables in 2010.

Scar Trees

Ten large scar-trees (carved poles) were erected on Pensioners Hill in July 2012 by volunteers from Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group and Red Chief Land Council. The erection of the poles was the culmination of twelve months work by members of the local Aboriginal community, Michael Horne and Matthew Draper.

The ironbark and bimble-box logs were donated by the Idemitsu mine at Boggabri and were carved by Michael Horne with the assistance of Matt Draper and Michael’s daughter, Renee. The scar-trees were erected for, and were part of, the 2012 NAIDOC week celebrations in Gunnedah.

The first group of three poles, located near the main entrance to Pensioners Hill, symbolize three important aspects of Gamilaraay belief – the Biamee Spirit; the Red Chief shield (which is a copy of that in the Lands Council building in Chandos Street, Gunnedah); and the Rainbow Serpent, which is a common spiritual figure found in many aboriginal communities.

The second group of five poles depicts a central story teller explaining Aboriginal beliefs to members of his community utilizing the four other poles set to the north, south, east and west of the central log.


The two poles adjacent to Lloyd Road have symbols indicating men’s and women’s camps.

The camps were established by the elders to preserve and teach cultural law and knowledge to the aboriginal people so the young would grow up strong and resilient, proud of and knowledgeable in the ways of their people.

Men and women had different roles in ceremonies and these roles varied. In many areas men had the role of guardians of a special spiritual site where a ceremony was performed. This role meant that the site would need to be cared for so that a particular spirit would continue to live there. Women were the guardians of special knowledge and therefore held great religious and spiritual power within the group. Roles in ceremonies would vary considerably depending on the reasons why the ceremony was being held.

Some ceremonies were for men only, others were for women only and both men and women had their own particular spiritual and sacred objects. This is talked about as men’s and women’s business.

Neither men nor women possessed greater spiritual needs then the other, they coexisted in different ways to ensure that sacred elements of The Dreaming would be practiced and passed on.

The Hans Allgayer Shed

Rotary Club of Gunnedah West and Gunnedah Urban Land Care Group combined to design and construct a large storage shed and workshop on Pensioners Hill. The shed provides for storage of Rotary club records and catering equipment and Urban Landcare Group outdoor tools and equipment used in planting native flora and undertaking environmental upgrade works on Pensioners Hill, the Wallaby Trap, Mullibah Lagoon Wetlands and the Cushans Reserve / Namoi Riverine areas.  

The building was made possible by grant of $48,000 from BHP Billiton in 2013 and a further contribution of over $10,000 from the Urban Landcare Group’s reserves.

The shed was named The Hans Allgayer Shed in recognition of the passion and commitment of Hans Allgayer in his promotion of Pensioners Hill. The opening was performed by Mick Lovely of BHP Billiton and Councillor Hans Allgayer on 12 August 2014.


The area below the Viewing Platform was planted with various tree species in 2015.

Upgrades in 2017

In May-June 2017, Rotary Club of Gunnedah West completed an upgrade to the path and entrance of Pensioners Hill. The Ailsa Iceton Walkway was completely reconstructed to facilitate disabled access and the entrance gates were modified to make the entrance more attractive to visitors. Improved signage will be installed later. The work was supported by local businesses and individuals.




In July the legacy of Ned Iceton was honoured with the installation of a plaque on the rock located on the track from the Rotunda to the toilet. The memorial plaque was designed and installed by Uralla sculptor Carl Merten. Ned Iceton was the son of Edward and Ailsa Iceton and he grew up in Gunnedah.

Mr Iceton became a doctor and worked in the Northern Territory, United Kingdom and the Sub-Continent. In his later years, he helped establish the Nurturing Evolutionary Development (NED) Foundation, which aims to foster social and personal evolutionary processes within Australia and the world. The NED Foundation provided the funds for the creation and installation of the plaque.


On 3 October 2019 a plaque commemorating Ailsa Iceton was installed on the final stone of the Heritage Sculptures. The stone was not of sufficient quality to allow a carving so Carl Merten created and installed a bas-relief bronze plaque.Watch a Video


An automated watering system and an upgrade to the car park was completed in July using a grant of $12,000 from the Community Resilience Fund.

Before and After

Pensioners Hill c. 2000


Pensioners Hill October 2021



The development of Pensioners Hill Reserve continues with new plantings of native flowering shrubs in beds and along the walking track which circles the hill from the Toilet to the Rotunda.


The development of the Pensioners Hill Reserve has been a community partnership and Rotary Club of Gunnedah West is grateful for the assistance of many individuals and local businesses, especially: BHP Billiton, Gunnedah Shire Council, Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group, Gunnedah College of TAFE, Namoi Valley Bricks, Sanson Sprayed Coatings, Tony Bowles Concreting, Gunnedah Cranes, Joe Jolliffe, Warren Barwick, CT and JM Sills, Josh & Belinda's Takeaway, Northwest Projects, Lindesay Allan, Hanson Concrete, Somerville Earthmoving, and Owen Jones.

We thank Graham Sanson for the supply of most of the early photographs.and Harvey Stoneman for facilitating the aerial photography in 2021.