It is not a new phenomenon for a shire council to receive complaints about the condition of local roads. But it is uncommon for the situation to inspire poetry.
In April 1918, an intrepid Minister for Local Government made a journey to several towns on the North Coast. His itinerary was carefully detailed in the newspaper of the day:
The unusual part of this itinerary was the mention of a particular street in a particular town: the Jetty Road in Coffs Harbour. It was heavily used as the main thoroughfare for all traffic to and from the Jetty.
A few years before the Ministerial visit, there was some competition for road space and the concern about the condition of the road continued. So the opportunity to highlight the issue was eagerly grasped by the newspapers of the day, in both longform and poetry.
Fitzgerald remained as Minister, and the state of the Jetty Road remained for some years.
Patriotism takes many forms – restoration and placement of the artefacts of war across Australia, monuments and memorials to the sacrificed, poetry and music filled with bravado, and special days for remembering.
The most gentle form of patriotic fervour must be lace-making, a skill adapted to show support and raise funds for soldiers at war.
This activity took place during both World Wars, but spread nationally during World War I.
The making of these delicate pieces was inspired by the context of the lives of their makers; for those in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, it was the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. The recent discovery of four fine crocheted shapes required further investigation.
As The Maitland Daily Mercury explained in November 1915:
Mrs. L. A. Cavalier wrote asking the [School of Arts] committee's acceptance for placing on view in the library two samples of crochet work executed by her from designs taken from publications in the reading room. The designs are artistic and unique, and represent a large amount of labour and patience. One represents the "British Lion,", and the other gives the words "Dardanelles 1915, Our Heroes," with a warship in the centre. Mrs. Cavalier's object in undertaking the work was to arouse interest among other lady members, who might be able to improve on the designs, and so foster a work which might be a means of raising some small amounts to help the patriotic funds. Mrs. Cavalier was very heartily thanked for her thoughtfulness and her request acceded to.
Cordial was one of the treats inspiring early businesses to develop in Coffs Harbour. Cordials manufacturing was usually developed to disguise the poor taste and quality of water.  To quench the thirst of the local community, the Glynn Brothers – John and William – had established a cordial factory near the Coffs Harbour jetty by 1912.
The business was formally registered on 17 July 1917. John assumed full responsibility for it in 1921. As it grew, the factory had to deal with some location issues:
John Glynn decided to rebuild in a new location; so a new construction plan was devised and the business moved to Collingwood Street.
The site prior to construction is shown in this land sale poster:
The business continued into the late 1940s. Its artefacts live on in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.
Research is an essential part of writing a good memoir or non-fiction book. My second book will explore my O’Neill family history and the indigenous population they unsettled when they “pioneered and settled” the Karangi and Orara area in the 1880s. But where to get accurate information? We’d had a family reunion twenty-odd years ago and there was a booklet put together about the O’Neills but what about the Gumbaynggirr people? I wasn’t getting very far with my desktop research so I contacted the librarians at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and Libraries.
What a good choice that was! After clarifying what I was interested in, Debbie Campbell connected me with Coffs Collections, a digitised treasure chest of photos and documents from the Museum’s collection, sent me other documents on file and links to relevant information, and also put me in touch with Richard Widders, the Aboriginal Planner and Liaison Officer, who gave me the contact details of a number of Aboriginal elders and people with local knowledge.
I live in Sydney and was very excited to be travelling up the Pacific Highway to pursue these leads. I met with Debbie Campbell at the Museum and she laid out books and articles that contained information about the O’Neills and also took me to the Museum archives where Nerida Little, Digital Cultural Collections Specialist, presented a fascinating little black book on Karangi, with notes on the area written by William Maston in 1929. One of those notes was about my grandfather, “First store built early in 1927 for Alf O’Neill (opp. Orara Rd. turnoff). Later bought by George Kelly.”
I really appreciated the professional knowledge and skills of those I met and their enthusiasm, helpfulness and expertise in uncovering useful information. So, wherever you might be up to with your research, really, just ask a librarian!
A comment from Coffs Collections’ staff
Since we launched the new Coffs Collections service six months ago, we’ve added more than 3,000 items to our repository of 15,000 resources relating to the history of the region. These are the raw materials which we have made available for everyone to explore, to be inspired by, to uncover their heritage in.
When an artist, or a student with an assignment, or an author comes along, and is able to publish their story or develop a new idea after tapping into these resources, we know we have achieved success. We’ve helped to create something bigger from the collections assembled over many many years.
The Museum recently digitised a collection of photographs of Woolgoolga Adventure Village in the 1980s. A tourist attraction aimed at children, it contained miniature houses from fairy tales, a working miniature railway, a lake and a large park.
When we shared the images, we received a reply from someone who remembered that every Woopi kid had their birthday party there at some point. Not only that, but her parents now lived on the site where the Woolgoolga Adventure Village once stood. Here at the Museum it definitely pays to ‘know someone who knows someone’!
The residents of the area kindly gave permission for our staff to visit the site and take photos of what the Village looked like now. Here are some standouts!
Miniature cottage, 1980s
Miniature cottage, 2020
This miniature cottage had a new coat of paint, a brightly decorated front door and a great big tree tucked into its roof!
Model Sepik village, 1980s
Remains of hut, 2020
Anything in the Village made of wood was destroyed by termites. Residents were forced to remove the damaged houses, but cleverly repurposed what remained. The remaining section of a Sepik hut has been repurposed into a chicken coop.
Miniature castle, 1980s
Miniature castle, 2020
The mini castle has been repainted and is still used by the residents’ grandchildren to play in.
Tree stump house, or ‘The Fort’, 1980s
Tree stump house, or ‘The Fort’, 2020
The tree stump house still has its original paintwork, including the bright red front door. Our correspondent said both her and her own children liked to play on this, and almost all of them fell off it at one stage.
It was heartening to see the spirit of preservation shared by the residents living on the site of the former Woolgoolga Adventure Village. Rather than knock the buildings down, they were lovingly refurbished and repurposed.
The site is now privately owned and is not open to the public. We received special permission to visit and photograph the area. You can still enjoy the trip down memory lane by viewing the entire collection of images from then and now for free on Coffs Collections.
I would like to thank the residents who live on the site of the former Woolgoolga Adventure Village for letting me traipse around taking photographs. Thanks also to the original lender of the 1980s images. You have all made our collections and local knowledge richer!
This is a guest post of the memories of Ken Morley, contributed by Marie Davey.
T.S. Vendetta is a Naval training school for young people 14 to 18 years interested in a possible future career in the Navy. There is no commitment. The T.S. stands for “Training Ship” and it was started to encourage young people who were interested in Navy affairs.
The Royal Australian Navy decided many years ago, sometime around early 1950s, to further develop what was known as “Sea Scouts” – the equivalent of “Boy Scouts” – into a better organised, navy-backed youth group nurturing an interest in all things nautical and to show young men (and later on young women) that there is an interesting career and a solid future in ultimately joining the RAN.
It was begun pre 1972 and its first leader was Douglas Grange Drysdale who was appointed Lieutenant Commander.
Ex Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy personnel were co-opted to organise, set up and instruct these Naval Cadets as they became known with the RAN providing training, information, uniforms, equipment etc including a few small sailing boats and a once annually ten day posting to a RAN Base in each state. (In New South Wales it is to the Navy Base HMAS Watson at Sydney South Head).
These ex-Navy personnel took on the responsibility of training the cadets in Navy routine, seamanship, correct military terminology, sportsmanship and training the cadets to assist their shipmates when necessary. They also learned how to handle sailing boats, power boats, navigation, signalling and other skills.
The whole idea took off so quickly and became so popular that almost every large town and city in every state had its own unit, particularly places on the coast or adjacent to big rivers.
The ex-Naval personnel running and maintaining these units were given rank and uniform as well as training by the RAN. The head of the unit is made a Lieutenant Commander and his uniform sleeve has two thick and one thin gold stripe on the lower sleeve. His 2nd in Charge is a Lieutenant and he has two thick stripes. The 3rd in Charge is a Sub-Lieutenant who has one thick stripe. Under these there is a Chief Petty Officer who has brass buttons on the lower sleeve and one or two Petty Officers who have crossed anchors on the upper sleeve.
When a Group go on their Annual Posting to a Navy Base, it is customary for one or two Officers, plus one or two Petty Officers to go with the Cadets for the 10 days or so of the posting.
Each unit is named after the Royal Australian Navy Ship and that is why Coffs Harbour is T.S. VENDETTA named after a destroyer. Other units around the State are T.S. TOBRUK, T.S. ANZAC, T.S. ARUNTA, T.S. VAMPIRE and T.S. SYDNEY.
Other items no longer required by the RAN were offered to various cadet units in case they had a use for them.
Lieutenant Ken Morley who spent 5 years with the T.S. Vendetta from 1973 was second in command of the unit. This is the way things were done during his time in the unit. Whilst it is still organised and provided for by the RAN, regulations are somewhat firmer now especially with regard to provision of unwanted ex-Navy equipment. There were no female cadets in his time and the male cadets were challenged to take a few risks, which at this time it is no longer encouraged to do.
Lieutenant Ken Morley personally knew quite a few cadets who then joined the RAN and have gone on to achieve great things saying it was the best thing they have done in their lives.
In the 1970s the Cadet Units were encouraged to obtain boats, which were 27 ft sailing whalers and power-driven 2 cylinder diesel engines, and take them out on the ocean. Several trips were made to the lighthouse on South Solitary Island. These were made always under the direction of a Senior Instructor. All the Instructors were ex-Regular Navy personnel. It is now considered too dangerous and the cadets are only allowed small canoes used within the harbour and not out at sea.
The Flag Mast at the unit was given to them by the Lighthouse Keepers of the South Solitary Island. The personnel took the 27ft motor-driven whaler with cadets onboard to pick it up and they towed it back to the unit where it was repaired, painted and installed. It is still there today.
After his time in Coffs Harbour Lieutenant Ken Morley was transferred by the Bureau of Meteorology to Brisbane Airport and was attached to a cadet unit there for a time. It was a larger unit and not quite the same relaxed group as was the one in Coffs Harbour. After this he was transferred to OIC of a new station at Cobar which did not have a cadet unit. When he returned to Coffs Harbour Doug Drysdale had died and so he didn’t take up the cadets again.
The Museum collection holds some beautiful objects, and these embroidered postcards are such an example.
Known as ‘French silks’, they were handmade by Frenchwomen during World War 1. Early on, the embroidery would be done at home and then taken to factories where they were glued to cards.
Their imagery were often heroic or romantic, sending messages of patriotism and victory, or love and fidelity.
Their bright colours and delicate designs must have served as a sight for sore eyes for weary soldiers, surrounded by khaki and mud. They may have served as reminders of their own womenfolk waiting for them at home, and the promise of domestic comforts.
See more embroidered postcards at Coffs Collections, and have a safe and happy holidays on behalf of everyone at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.
Museums are full of stories. They are told through collection objects, photographs, and documentary records. Some stories tell of innovation and past glories; some relate to hardship and deprivation; and some reflect the humour and warmth of people long gone. With the happier stories, it is easy to lapse into nostalgic visions of a simpler past as a balm for the heartaches and struggles of the present day. In at least one arena, that nostalgia would be misplaced: medicine.
The Museum recently digitised two Undertaker’s Indexes, which are available in full and for free on Coffs Collections. These indexes are lists compiled by members of the Coffs Harbour & District Historical Society from the records of local undertakers. They list the names, dates of death and ages at death of people in the local area. The entries often include biographical details such as names of parents or partner’s name, occupations, cause of death and the attending doctor. They are a fantastic family history resource, and often show how far we’ve come in treating injuries and illness that were fatal in earlier eras.
When processing the photographs of the Undertaker’s Indexes, one young man’s story caught our eye. His name was Alfred Garland, and he died by suicide when he was 25 years old. Two articles were published in the Coffs Harbour Advocate that can give us clues as to what happened to Alfred. The first was published in 1931, and recounts an incident involving Alfred’s admittance to hospital. At the time he was suffering from amnesia, and became violent. The article also mentions that Alfred was known to violently shake his head and had regular seizures that resulted in memory loss. It also notes a possible cause – when Alfred was younger, he was kicked in the head by a horse.
If this happened to Alfred today, what he suffered from may have been given a name: acquired brain injury. All of Alfred’s symptoms are outlined by the Brain Foundation’s description of ABI. If this had happened today, he would have access to support groups and organisations that advocated for him and funded research into better treatments. He might have had access to medicines to help control his symptoms, or therapies to help him cope with everyday life.
Learning about history can make us feel nostalgic for what we interpret to be happier and simpler times. It is also a reason to reflect and feel grateful for the things we have now that our ancestors did not.
If this article has raised any issues for you, please contact:
Mental Health Line – 1800 011 511
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Mensline – 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
For more information on Acquired Brain Injury, please contact:
The closure of several regional newspapers in print, including the Coffs Coast Advocate, may have seemed the end of a way of life available to all Australians since 1803. 
However libraries have always been quietly working in the background to ensure that the personal version of our life stories remain public. Libraries took in, kept, and cared for copies of newspapers from their earliest days. From the 1960s onwards libraries also funded the production of space-saving microfilm copies, used to preserve that content for as long as possible.
Michael Pascoe, of W.F. Pascoe Pty Ltd, played a significant role in the conversion, making sure that the Coffs Coast Advocate was secured right up until its last day in print – 26 June 2020. One day it too will be available for reading in Trove, Australia’s digital repository for our history.  But what do we do until then?
Newspapers of our area which can be browsed online
Coverage of Coffs’ stories prior to 1907 when the Advocate started to roll off the presses was considered important enough to include in a range of titles: several Clarence River papers , The North Coast Times – in the only year which has survived – and the Raleigh Sun 1898 – 1918. The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advertiser, available in Trove from 1910 to 1954 sometimes also fills gaps.
Coffs Harbour was fiendish for alternate views so other papers such as the Bananacoast Opinion, bookended by the Opinion and the Advocate Opinion before 1973 and after 1978, were saved by the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum for future searching. It too is available in Trove. 
Yes, Sawtell did have its own title for a while, known as the Sawtell Guardian. Recently the Council arranged for its digitisation – a perfect snapshot of life between 1971 and 1976.
The Coffs Harbour City Library holds a full run of the Woolgoolga Advertiser up to 2017 on microfilm, and it’s easy to book a reader. Coffs Collections is providing access to its newest journal, the Woopi News. A quick search there will reveal all issues.
Need a shortcut to all of these newspapers? Just go to the Resources link in Coffs Collections and click from there.
(Later date ranges are available to view on microfilm at the Coffs Harbour City Library, and there is a Newspaper Index available as a starting point.)
The South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic (SSILO) is the largest and one of the most significant items in the collection of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum. In early 2020, Coffs Harbour City Council commissioned a Management Plan to inform how best to preserve, protect and promote the SSILO into the future. Undertaken by International Conservation Services and Story Inc., the Management Plan provided an opportunity to dive deeply into the fascinating history and exciting future of this most special object. This blogpost shares some of the information that came to light.
The South Solitary Island lighthouse was a critical factor in the early development of our region in both economic and social terms, allowing the expansion of trade, industry and employment opportunities that would have otherwise been restricted by the treacherous maritime environment. The need for a lighthouse at South Solitary Island was raised as early as 1856; actual construction commenced in July 1878 and took 20 months. This latter part of the 19th century was a peak period of lighthouse construction and South Solitary Island was an important link in the highway of coastal lights along the New South Wales coast.
The First Order Lens, or optic, was supplied by the famous British firm Chance Brothers and was installed in the lighthouse in 1879. Chance Brothers was a leading glass manufacturer in Birmingham established in 1824, responsible for the Crystal Palace in 1851 and the glass faces for the Westminster Clock Tower/Big Ben. They manufactured lights and apparatus for hundreds of lighthouses across the world. The glass manufacturing process required a series of complex machining and polishing processes. Unfortunately, Chance Brothers’ specialist machines were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and replacement glass for lighthouse optics can no longer be manufactured anywhere in the world.
The SSILO was the first in New South Wales to operate on kerosene instead of the widely used colza oil, and continued to provide light from kerosene later than any other New South Wales lighthouse, as it was not automated until 1975. Its design was developed from the work of Augustin-Jean Fresnel, a French physicist who pioneered optics, particularly polarised light. He established the use of compound lenses instead of mirrors for lighthouses. The SSILO Fresnel lens is a First Order (the most powerful type) dioptric lens. It has eight panels with prisms of flint glass (often called lead crystal) and each panel has 127 pieces in a gun metal frame. The lens sits on a cast iron pedestal and was set in a bath of mercury to provide frictionless rotation.
When the SSILO technology became redundant, Coffs Harbour City Council took over responsibility for the optic from the Federal Government and it was removed from the lighthouse in two stages between 1975 and 1977, with assistance from a RAAF Chinook helicopter. Vigorous debate took place locally and various plans were put forward. Should it be in the CBD, or by the sea? In a replica lighthouse, a park or a museum? Ultimately, it was installed in 1980 in Coffs’ first museum, then located at 189B Harbour Drive and operated by the Historical Society. Council funded the works – a specially-designed sunken floor area was constructed and engineering staff spent many months sand blasting the frame, cleaning the glass and working out how to fit the SSILO all back together again before carefully craning it into the building before the roof was completed. The museum has since re-located to 215A Harbour Drive due to flooding risk and the original building is hired to local table tennis clubs. A perspex shield has been installed to protect the SSILO and it can be viewed by appointment.
As this short history highlights, key to any consideration of the future location of the SSILO is an understanding of the process of disassembly and reassembly of this priceless glass object. There are two schools of thought on this, one being that it is a highly complex and expensive exercise that should only be undertaken when the final and permanent location of the optic is resolved, as it is likely that it will be too risky and too costly to move again. Costs of $300-$400,000 have been mentioned! This view has been reinforced by the images of the Chinook helicopter removing the SSILO from the island and the knowledge that the pedestal was lifted into its current location by a crane through the roof of the former museum.
The other school of thought is that the disassembly of the optic is a relatively simple process that could be undertaken by a couple of skilled fitters and machinists in a week. Certainly it needs to be remembered that the optic originally came to South Solitary Island as a series of parts in crates, and if it was feasible to haul these to the top of a lighthouse in such a remote and inaccessible location and install it there with 19th century equipment, it must be feasible to take it apart and relocate it in Coffs Harbour in the 21st century! Happily, it is the consultants’ view that disassembly and reassembly of the optic can be undertaken relatively simply. The SSILO can be dismantled into small enough component parts and brought out of the former museum through the doors, thus not necessitating the removal of the roof. Another mystery that was solved during the Management Plan was whether the SSILO still contained mercury. Although the fate of the mercury is unknown, we can confirm that there is no longer any mercury in the cast iron “bath” in the pedestal; it now contains lubricating oil.
The consultants also gave serious consideration to the question of the future location of the SSILO:
“Visiting SSILO allowed (us) to see its huge value to the Coffs Harbour community, both as an object of beauty and as an historical and technological wonder. It is fully understandable why the Council fought so hard to retain ownership of it at the time of its decommissioning from South Solitary Island, and the community pride it has engendered over the 45 years since. More broadly there is a wider national interest from both the maritime history and heritage sectors. It is therefore clear that SSILO’s current location within the non-operational museum should change to overcome the lack of access for the local community and tourists. The opportunity of this project is to create a reimagining and contextualization that allows SSILO to be both fully interpreted and fully appreciated.”
Predictably, there are just as many options and opinions about the future of the SSILO today as there was back in the 1970s when it first came ashore. The consultants considered a number of these, including: continuation of the status quo, 189B Harbour Drive; placement into long term storage; placement into museum storage with guided tours; relocation to the new Cultural and Civic Space; and relocation to a revitalised Jetty Foreshores.
They sought the views of stakeholders including Friends of South Solitary Island Lighthouse (FOSSIL) and the Australian Maritime Authority (AMSA). FOSSIL members contributed many positive ideas and were open to various possibilities but their overall message was clear: SSILO belongs by the sea. On this point the consultants agree, stating that “the optimum position for the long term location of SSILO should be adjacent to the harbour within sight of the sea.
SSILO’s future became clearer in early May 2020 just before the Management Plan was completed when the NSW Government announced Stage 3 of the Coffs Harbour Jetty Foreshore Precinct master plan project. It will surely be the “jewel in the crown” of our beautiful harbour precinct.
Jo Besley, Museum and Gallery Curator
South Solitary Island: Design for Lighthouse, James Barnet – NSW Colonial Architect, 1878. Courtesy of National Archives of Australia, A9568, 1/18/1
South Solitary Island Lighthouse, 1934, courtesy of Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/46748. Please observe all copyright conditions as shown in Coffs Collections.