Toormina Library celebrates its 25th birthday

On 21 April 2023, Toormina Library celebrated its first 25 years of operation. Library branches have always been important for community outreach, and the concept for a new branch at Toormina arose when the Coffs Harbour  Shire disconnected itself from the Clarence Regional Library service to set up its own library network.

Library likely for Toormina, Coffs Coast Advocate, 25 March 1987, p.1

Full steam ahead for Toormina library, Coffs Harbour Advocate, 29 September 1994, p.2

In a curious coincidence, the Council had previously purchased the timber house at 41 Gordon Street, the final home of Shire President Harry Bailey, in anticipation of setting up a new central library there but chose to extend southwards instead.

Council approve library building, Coffs Harbour Advocate, 29 June 1995, p.8

Ten years later, the branch library was moved from the Toormina Gardens Shopping Centre into its own building on Minorie Drive.

Library making a move, Coffs Harbour Advocate, 18 March 1998, p.1

These newspaper articles which tell the story of Toormina Library are available on microfilm at the Harry Bailey Memorial Library .

One of Toormina library’s earliest patrons attended the 25th birthday celebrations.

Repaying the favour

Recently I wrote about the larger national and state-based libraries and museums which do the heavy lifting in terms of preserving our culture and history for the long term.

The burden may be eased a little when our regional equivalents are able to repay the effort with a unique contribution to the historical record. So it was recently in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s TV series Back in time for the corner shop – the 1970s. 

The 1970s episode discussed the changes in food habits and cooking, and a new trend towards healthy eating defined as vegetarianism. By way of example, the episode quickly showed the front page of the Coffs Harbour’s  Bananacoast Opinion from 12 February 1975:

LEARN VEGETARIAN COOKING (1975, February 12). The Bananacoast Opinion (Coffs Harbour, NSW : 1973 – 1978), p. 1.

Our history started yesterday. We don’t necessarily have to wait very long to reuse it.

Lassified cads

The Apex Agitator, 1 April 1965, p.1; 13.845, Coffs Collections

For a brief bright shining moment, it is possible to measure the cohesion of a community via its publicly expressed sense of humour; the ability to laugh at itself. The Apex Agitator is a case in point.

The Apex Agitator, 1 April 1965, p.20

Seemingly, a lot the businesses operating in April 1965, from the long-standing such as W. H. Bailey and Sons (on page 5) and Lindsay Bros Transport (on page 15) , to the short-lived: Murrays Seed Store on Moonee Street (on page 5) were able to come together in a series of advertisements for this one-off newspaper edition.

The Apex Agitator, Glynns Cordials, p.3.
The Apex Agitator, p.3
The Apex Agitator, p.7
The Apex Agitator, 1 April 1965, p.6







The Lassified Cads  (Classified Ads) are on page 7 – click here to read them all. Then try searching for some of the above-named businesses in Coffs Collections.

The Basket

J. H. Howarth, Passenger transfer by basket for the SS Orara at the Jetty, 1920 (1920). Coffs Collections,

A poem, by Rosemary Nisted

Once upon a time Coffs Harbour Jetty had a track.
It bore a little crane that trundled out and trundled back.
When little ships came sailing to Coffs from Sydney town    
The crane was used in every case to set the cargo down.
It carried food and barrels and drums tied in a net,
Though for transferring humans they'd thought of nothing yet.
It swung cattle though, and horses, suspended in a sling.
It carried pigs and sheep I'm told, and every living thing,
And in return it loaded ships with timber tied with chain.
But that people could not go that way was obviously plain.
Yes. Humans were a problem. They were fussy as could be,
They feared the nets and slings and chains might drop them in the sea.
(though most young men and children thought the sling might be good fun,the ladies knew to travel thus was simply never done.)

Until one day a weaver cried 'I have a bright idea
I'll weave a sturdy basket, it will work well, never fear.'
And so he did. And so it did. And all were happy as you please
To be picked up and swung across the gap of raging seas.
So then each Sunday afternoon folk came from far and wide
To see the doughty travellers taking their basket ride.
The crane, to give the kids a thrill, was friendly as could be.
It would put them in a basket and dip them in the sea.
The lighthouse keepers too were glad to see that basket come,
For food and fuel and visitors from ship to shore were slung.
Spare parts and books and cleaning cloths, and tools and boots and more,
Swung in that sturdy basket across the rocky shore.
And so it was through two world wars, through fifty years no less,
The basket swung both to and fro. It was a great success.
Until at last, the travellers used cars, and rail and plane,
And put an end to steamer ships - they never came again.

Written in August 2000; published  in the Coffs Coast Advocate, 6 March 2001, p.12

Percy Crook, The SS Orara II disembarking passengers by basket at Coffs Jetty, 1908 (1908). Coffs Collections,


Playing the long game

The City of Coffs Harbour provides a range of cultural services, some ephemeral such as events, and some quietly achieving, such as our local libraries, museum and gallery which have been part of the fabric of our community for decades.

Coffs Collections is a beneficiary of the longevity of libraries and museums, not just due to our local versions of these, but through others across the state and nation who have cared for collections from the 19th century onwards. Coffs Collections plays a small part in an enormous ecosystem of digital preservation activities nationally. The content we preserve locally relieves other institutions with a broader geographical scope from having to do so. But that works both ways.

Digitisation is the process which has allowed us to tap into this benefit even further.

Our silent partners

Digitisation brings the past into the future. While born digital materials are  quick to share, preparing print and canvas requires more effort. Luckily, for a small city, we don’t have to do this on our own. Newspapers are a case in point.

Trove, hosted by the National Library of Australia, provided the Coffs Harbour Advocate in digital form from 1907 to 1954 inclusive. And when we discovered hitherto unremembered gems in our collections, such as the short-lived Sawtell Guardian and the short-run Bananacoast Opinion (part of a longer run known as the Advocate Opinion), the City underwrote the cost of adding them to Trove for all to access.

More recent newspapers, which are created as digital first and printed later, have an easier pathway to perpetuity. News Of The Area (NOTA) is automatically deposited weekly into the Trove Digital Library.  The Woopi News is also captured there, lodged via the State Library of NSW.


 Trove also gives access to  current and expired Australian websites, including those of local councils.  Want to know what the City’s website looked like in 2006 and in subsequent years ? Find it in Trove.

The added value of this is that the website capture can also include the Council’s published documents. Most Australian websites have snapshots.

How to find these items in Coffs Collections

We provide two different pathways in Coffs Collections. Firstly, under the Format labelled Resources, we link to sources of content hosted by other libraries. It’s not exhaustive yet, but keeps growing. Here you will find interviews conducted by other institutions, 3D tours and other sources.

Secondly, when we find out more about a person or event, we put in a link under the Read more label in the record for the item we hold in our local collections. It’s a shortcut to information we find elsewhere.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. Making connections between content collected by the City and content collated, preserved and shared by other cultural heritage organisations is a long game. It relies on the existence of all of them.

1. The Coffs Harbour Advocate,

2. The Bananacoast Opinion,

3. The Sawtell Guardian,

4. News of the Area – Coffs Coast,

5. Woopi News,

6. Coffs Collections’ Resources,


A Christmas gift

Chef: Tina Lee, Service Leader Museum & Gallery, 2022

Our cultural service Coffs Collections turned two years old a few months ago, and it continues to freely share easily accessible gallery, library and museum content. The newly added local histories included gems such as A Pioneer and the Eastern Dorrigo featuring a different style of treehouse

A Pioneer and the Eastern Dorrigo, p.55 (print), @

and From Pastures Green to Silver Screen, a personal memoir by cinematographer Jack Gerard, whose screen projector was donated to the Regional Museum.

Cummings & Wilson filmstrip projector, 1941; Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection 89.226

Jack Gerard’s partner Marie Hunt was a gifted photographer and had her own studio, where she did not baulk at any subject.

with Joe Blake – Heather Watt; Percy Hunt, father of Marie; and  Roma Hetherington

In addition to uncovering Joe Blake, some of our work revealing local stories found others who had an early start in the region but moved away for work, including the whistling mannequin Beth McKay who became Tad Wunderlich.

Beth McKay (Tad Wunderlich), Australian Women’s Weekly, 16 April 1938, p. 33.

We were also pleased to launch a completely new work via Coffs Collections: the South Solitary Island Lighthouse list of Early Keepers 1879 – 1915.

The sad part of the year

In January we lost an assiduous Museum volunteer and researcher, Geoff Watts. He continued to identify opportunities for filling gaps in our records, even after he left the area. One of those gaps was in the online coverage of the Coffs Harbour Advocate before 1955.

In December, the National Library added three sets of issues which had been missed from Trove: 4 – 11 December 1908; 10 January – 16 May 1925; and 5 -26 October 1928.

We were also able to dry out and contribute some flood-affected issues for August, September and October 1946. The World War II years were underrepresented because the paper was not available for printing.  More than 75 years later, we were able to fill in part of this gap.

And we farewelled Tina, who taught us a lot about museum collection management best practice. Thank you!




The Community Curator Project

Community Curator Sophie Gribble with some of her collaborators (L to R): Kobi Steward, Manduway Dutton, Nathan Brennan and Lizzy Rutten

The Community Curator Project was funded by Create NSW through the Local Government Authority Arts and Cultural Programs stream in 2020.

Ten Community Curators were recruited to locate stories and objects missing or under-represented in the museum collection.

Following training in the essentials of museum practice, Community Curators worked with their communities and networks to identify stories that mattered to them and that they wanted to see in the new museum in Yarrila Place. They then worked with local arts workers such as photographers and filmmakers to document these diverse histories and experiences and create new content. Videos were made, interviews and oral histories recorded and special items were identified and donated to the collection.

Fascinating stories from the Gumbaynggirr, refugee, surfing, alternative health and education communities were revealed.

These stories are now accessible to the community and will enrich and diversify the museum’s exhibitions, public programs and education activities in an ongoing way. Find out more about the Project, and see the end results, in Coffs Collections.

Story by Senior Curator Gallery & Museum, Joanna Besley

Jetty Foreshores – the Jewel in the Crown

The Jetty Foreshores which many refer to as the Jewel in the Crown has created community conversations for decades and it seems it is once again.

It’s a subject that has been discussed locally for four decades.

We went back into the archives to see what’s been suggested before and found this four-page wraparound from the Coffs Coast Advocate in November 2003.

It was called the Harbour Plan, – what Coffs Harbour City Council had planned in 2003 before the New South Wales State Government did their first Masterplan in 2008.

For those interested in the Jetty Foreshores it is worth a read.

Coffs Harbour Advocate, 1 November 2003 – this copy supplied by the State Library of New South Wales. You can Zoom in by clicking here, into Coffs Collections. 
Coffs Harbour Advocate, 1 November 2003 – this copy supplied by the State Library of New South Wales. You can Zoom in by clicking here, into Coffs Collections.

Remembering them

Peter Coverdale, 2nd 31st Battalion,

The stories entrusted to a Museum’s collection are held for sharing, but they don’t always immediately come to light due to regretful resourcing (space, people) constraints. Discoveries in the collection can then be serendipitous – a confluence of timing, or the result of a request for information. And when resources do become available, reviewing a backlog may also find a moving example such as this.

On the way up to our present camp we met up with some of our Battalion just out of the lines. Cpl Alan Kay, one of our crowd, has just made up these verses


We had stopped along the mule track to have a spot of tea,                              Just Reos going up to join our Company.                                                                        We were biting into biscuits which were on the bill of fare.                            When their trucks pulled in behind us – you could see that they’d been “there”.

You could see that they’d been through it by the lustre of their eyes                     And the horros they had witnessed would be hard to realize,                                  Dirty and unshaven with their clothes all torn & tattered,                                         The fever was within them, their hair was thick and matted.

[disrespectful content removed]

Men of the 31st Battalion with their circle black & red                                                Have won glory in many battles & scent there’s more ahead.

* reinforcements

Found in a collation of poetry written by Peter Coverdale 1942 – 1959 – 1963  

Here is part of the verse which “Peter the Poet” himself wrote,  with typing quirks, during November 1944:

Civvie Street

I’ve taken off the Kahki, that I’ve worn five years or so, I’ve hung my old slouch hat up in the hall,

The colour patch and badges that I once so proudly wore,  They now adorn a pennant on the wall,

And instead of service rifle, my hands now hold the plough, And I ride my horse, to fetch the cattle home

And my kiddies play around me, and my wife is by my side, And I’m thankful that no more, I’ve got to roam,

I sometimes miss the army, and the mates I used to know, Those hectic times, in many a varied place,

And Civvie clothes and civvy ways still seem a trifle queer, These Civvies seem to me a different race.

But I guess I’ll get accustomed to the joys of civvie street, My army days will grow dim with time,

I’ll forget about the hardships and the miserys we had. The jungle mud and horros of the line, But old mates I’ll still remember, and the happy scenes will stay,

Especially when I read my book of verse, That I wrote just as a hobby, to fill in odd idle hours, Instead of playing swi or something worse,

As it wasn’t penned for the ladies but for soldiers of the line, I’m afreaid a word or too is not polite,

But my book brought lots of pleasure to old tent mates that I had, They often made me read by lantern light.

And though its only gingle, without polish, grammer, wit, It still recalls to me, eventful days,

But my rhyming is now finished and I’m laying down my pen, For I’m starting off in brand new Civvie ways.

Peter wrote poetry for the Korora View. The Museum has not seen copies of this publication. Information on its whereabouts would be welcome.



South Solitary Island Lighthouse – The Early Keepers 1879 – 1915

Lightkeepers David Gow, John Fisher and Ralph Robinson; South Solitary Island (1912, February 28). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1919), p. 21.

For the very first time,  a comprehensively researched and referenced list of  the early lightkeepers on South Solitary Island from its first day of operation until the last day of 1915 has been compiled for easy browsing.

From that point onwards, until it was de-manned and automated in 1975, lightkeepers were appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service. The effort required to keep such an edifice operating before we even used the term ‘ 24/7 ‘ was astounding, as shown in the serious manner with which the positions were filled.

Richard Crossingham served as a lightkeeper in the 19th century. His descendant Brian has delved into the NSW government’s Public Service Lists (known as Blue Books), dug into NSW government gazettes on Trove, and discovered stories of the lightkeepers and their families to produce this essential reference list.

The end result is a very important document in the canon of research about the enduring South Solitary Island Lighthouse and its light.