Heritage Sculptures on Pensioners Hill

The stones were erected by Rotary Club of Gunnedah West and the sculptures were created by Carl Merten and Joan Relke Visit their web site to show some aspects of Gunnedah’s rich cultural heritage. The carving of the first five stones was funded by BHP Billiton and Rotary Club of Gunnedah West.

Red Chief

This is the most famous Aboriginal of the period before European settlement. He was the legendary chief, Gambu Gunera, also known as Red Kangaroo, whose story was popularised in the mid-20th century by novelist Ion Idriess in his book The Red Chief. The book was based on the story told by "Old Joe" Bungaree the last full-blooded Aborigine of the Gunn-e-darr tribe.

Red Chief probably lived from the late 17th through to the mid-18th century. He was the war leader of his community, leading attacks on neighbouring tribes and defending the community against attacks by rival tribes.

This stone also features a red kangaroo, a kookaburra, the Red Chief’s shield and boomerangs, designed and carved with the help of Ron Long and Mick Horne, members of the local Aboriginal community. A portrait of Bungaree can be seen in the lower left corner. In the centre of the shield is a symbol of the Place of the White Stones, representing Gunnedah.

In the Dream Time, the Rainbow Serpent created the native animals from the colours of its skin.  Here, the body and tail are depicted, with the Aboriginal symbol for water carved at the top of the stone.  The Serpent theme continues on the back of each of the four stones.

Coal Miner

Coal has been an integral part of the fabric of life in Gunnedah since 1880. The first mine was a crude pit on the slopes of Blackjack Mountain with the coal hauled by dray to the railhead. Coal mining has always been a tough industry. Gunnedah’s underground miners laboured stoically, in terrible conditions, cramped and stifling, working with crude equipment. They cut coal by hand and filled skips which were then hauled to the surface by pit ponies.

The head of the Rainbow Serpent leads underground, where the energy of the sun, transformed through photosynthesis over millions of years, has been stored in coal.  In the centre, a piece of coal in the shape of the sun radiates the heat and light trapped within.  Often a symbol of the underworld, the serpent leads us from this stone to the next.

Pioneer Woman

The first settlers crossed the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Valley in 1827. The initial settlement by the Namoi River was known as “The Woolshed”. Later the name was changed to Gunnedah, an Aboriginal word said to mean “Place of White Stones”. By the late 1840s a large part of the Gunnedah district had been taken up by squatters and their families, occupying runs or stations.

The women suffered great hardship, facing a harsh environment, loneliness and isolation. Despite the social restrictions of their time, they all left a lasting mark on this land. They did this as well as building and furnishing their pioneer homesteads, bearing, raising and educating their children, raising farm animals, and performing an enormous amount of hard physical work in the laundry, the dairy, and the fowl yard.  In a hostile environment, they established fertile vegetable and ornamental gardens, introducing new perfumes and colours, turning the dry, alien bush into a more familiar, kindly, and nurturing environment.

The continuation of the Serpent from the Coal Miner forms the symbol for woman.The overlapping gum leaves suggest the theme of “woman in the bush”.  In many cultures, past and present, the serpent has symbolised women and traits associated with women:  fertility, rejuvenation, sacred knowledge, and connection to the powers of nature through their ability to give birth to new life.  Pioneer women brought these qualities to settled life in the bush.


The early settlers brought their flocks of sheep onto the rich grazing lands of the Liverpool Plains. The first wheat crop was grown in 1865 but it was nearly 30 years before wheat was to become a substantial primary product in the area. By the early 1940s Gunnedah was the largest wheat receival area in Australia.  Cropping was confined to the sloping red soils until after World War II when increased mechanisation and new wheat varieties allowed the cultivation and cropping of the black soil plains. Grazing became concentrated on the slopes with cattle becoming the dominant livestock after the peak of the wool boom in the 1950s.

The Serpent theme enters this stone as the symbol of agricultural fertility.  As an underground creature, its powers are associated with the sprouting of new growth, here depicted in the typical twin-leaf form of seedling plants. Fertility combines the nutrients present in the earth with the energy of the sun, and here the serpent joins two complementary constituents necessary for agricultural life.  The serpent’s back suggests the familiar hills surrounding the fertile Gunnedah plains.

Ailsa Iceton

In 2019 Rotary Club of Gunnedah West commissioned work on the final Heritage Sculpture stone to commemorate the charitable work of Ailsa Iceton. A bas-relief plaque was created and installed  by Carl Merten.


Ailsa Iceton (1892-1986) was the wife of local solicitor E. A. (Ted) Iceton. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, struggling families lived in humpies on the side or at the foot of Pensioners Hill. For many 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.


Ailsa Iceton (1892-1986)
Commemorated for her charitable work in providing food and clothing to families
struggling to survive on Pensioners Hill during the Great Depression of the 1930s.


Commemorative Stone

Three brass plaques acknowledge the contribution of three organisations to the Pensioners Hill Project.

  • Rotary Club of Gunnedah West adopted the project in 1996 and has provided significant leadership, man-hours and funds.
  • Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group provided tree plantings, park benches and significant financial assistance as a Tidy Towns Project.
  • BHP Billiton provided significant funding for the the  Heritage Sculptures which were created by Carl Merten and Joan Relke of Uralla, NSW.

The Pensioners Hill Heritage Sculptures project was made possible by the support of the Gunnedah Shire Council and the people of Gunnedah.

Rotary Club of Gunnedah West is grateful for the support of the community and especially acknowledges the following – BHP Billiton, Gunnedah Shire Council, Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group, Red Chief Aboriginal Land Council, Namoi Valley Independent, Josh and Belinda’s Takeaway and CT and JM Sills.