How did Bruxner Park become a Flora Reserve?

Bruxner Park Road circa 1910.  Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour (mus 07-3818)

Bruxner Park Flora Reserve is located approximately four kilometres North West of Coffs Harbour and is 420 hectares in area. It is within two kilometres of the Pacific Ocean and is comprised of Rainforest, Hardwood, Blackbutt, Flooded Gum and Old Growth forest and is remarkable as being one of the few areas that links the Great Dividing Range to the ocean.  It is also listed on the Register of the National Estate as part of the Orara Ornithological Area due to having very high bird diversity.

The Bruxner Park Flora Reserve region has always been an important place for the Gumbaynggirr people, the traditional custodians of the area, and still holds significance as a place that connects them with their Dream time stories.  It is part of a larger “men’s area” and traditionally was used for hunting and gathering of bush foods and medicines.  The creation stories of the Gumbaynggirr people incorporates these lands and it has also been used for initiation and ceremonies and holds several recorded Aboriginal sites. The Bruxner Park Flora Reserve region was also part of a known travel route for the Gumbaynggirr people to and from the coastline of the Coffs Harbour region through the escarpment to the Orara Valley.

Logging commenced in the area in the 1880s soon after European settlement to the Coffs Harbour area. The logging industry was one of Coffs Harbour’s most significant economic industries at the time. There are tree stumps in the reserve that still display the signs of board cuts, a type of logging that was used until the 1950s.  There is also remnants of the tram line that was built by the British Australian Timber Company (BAT) to transport the logs down the steep incline to the sawmill in Coffs Harbour between 1908-1914. This is where Bruxner Road is today.

Steam train – “Fanny” B.A.T loco, carrying logs across Coffs Creek, logs from Bruxner Park , Coffs Harbour, circa 1910.  Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour (mus 07-2842)

From early settlement days the Bruxner Park area was used as an area for recreation where local residents went for picnics and walks in the rain forest, (See Fig 2) and by the 1930s the local community became concerned that the logging industry would destroy the rain forest and began lobbying the government. In 1933 the local member Ray Vincent who was also the Minister for Forests directed that a suitable area be reserved for Bruxner Park (named after the Deputy Premier of NSW at the time) and in 1936 57 hectares was transferred from the Orara East State Forest and it was finally declared a flora reserve in 1958. This was extended in 1984 to its current size, incorporating Sealy Lookout and thereby providing a larger buffer to the rain forest. There has been no logging since this time except for two trees as a demonstration when the Queen visited in 1970 as part of the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations.

The Queen and Princess Anne watch the logging in Bruxner Park, 11 April 1970. Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour (accession no. 802179572)

The first walking trails and picnic areas were built in the late 1950s and in 1961 a large flooded gum tree believed to be approximately 500 years old and still standing today was named the “Vincent Tree” in recognition of Ray Vincent’s role in the establishment of the park.  At a height of 65 metres and a diameter at breast height of 2.27 metres, the Vincent Tree was one of the biggest trees in New South Wales. The building of Sealy Lookout (which was named after a local forester who was involved in the Lions club) was commenced in the late 1960s with the noteworthy assistance of the Coffs Harbour Lions Club.

The Vincent Tree Bruxner Park 1962.  Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour (mus 07-5525)

The Bruxner Park Flora Reserve is now a major tourist site for the Coffs Harbour region as well as a popular recreation area for local residents.  It is still comprised of the original walking trails through the rain forest, picnic areas, The Vincent Tree and Sealy Lookout; but has also expanded to become a certified Eco Tourist Attraction; and includes Gumbaynggirr Cultural Heritage tours and experiences; an interpretive walk telling the story of Gumgali, the Black Goanna using mural art, signage, sculpture and sound; and a tree top adventure park.


Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation. (2019). Make a Booking.   Retrieved from

The Coffs Harbour Story. (1984). Coffs Harbour: The Central North Coast Newspaper Company Pty Ltd.

Eco Tourism Australia. (2019). Bruxner Park Fora Reserve Acheive Ecotourism Certification.   Retrieved from

Forests NSW. (2011). Working Plan for Bruxner Park Flora Reserve No 3 Upper North East Forest Agreement Region North East Region. Retrieved from

Kramer, J. (1985). Ships and timber: a short history of Coffs Harbour port and associated railways. Victoria: Light Railway Research Society of Australia.

National Parks (2019) End Peak walking track Ulidarra National Park.  Retrieved from

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. (2012). Ulidarra National Park Plan of Management. Retrieved from

Treetops. (2019). Choose your adventure.   Retrieved from

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour: Vol I, Pre-1880 to 1945. Coffs Harbour: Bananacoast Printers.

Yeates, N. (1993). Coffs Harbour Vol II: 1946 TO 1964. Coffs Harbour: Bananacoast Printers.

The Early Days of the Coffs Harbour Show

Cattle, horses and riders and vehicles in the arena, Coffs Harbour Annual ShowCoffs Harbour Showground (circa.1964)   Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-1196

Who’s going to the show this weekend?  Have you ever wondered when and how the show started? What was it like back then?

The Coffs Harbour Advocate 22 April 1975 had a special Coffs Harbour Show feature written by local historian George England as below:


The Coffs Harbour Show site has a history as old as the area it covers. Local historian George England here outlines some of the highlights.

In 1865-66 Walter Harvie and George Tucker with cedar cutters and aborigines camped on the showground site. They hauled logs and tilted them into the stream about where the present horse stalls are located.  The area was used as a slaughter yard in the 1880s.

A debate developed about 1912 on where to locate a showground at Coffs Harbour, with the choice being the site of the present Coffs Harbour Golf Course or north of Coffs Creek. The creek site won after much bitter squabbling. During the same year violent explosions from the showground area convinced many that their worst fears had come true and the Germans were attacking. However an investigation showed the disturbance was caused by an explosives expert demonstrating his skills. The ground was cleared and levelled by Mr. W. J. (Palmdale or Long Bill) Smith, assisted by Billy Perkins. The whole town turned out in full finery for the first show in 1914.  The ladies auxiliary provided lunch for a moderate charge.  There was a good response from dairy farmers who had stocks of differing breeds of cattle. Because there were no stalls, the cattle were tied to trees at the southern end of the ground where the present caravan park is located. Prize lists show there was splendid response from home vegetable and fruit growers.  J. Smith won many prizes for vegetables from his home garden and continued to do so for many years. Pavilion space was fully utilised. A problem of the early shows was that small boys used a convenient log to cross the creek and avoid the one shilling entrance charge.  When the log was blown up an enterprising lad brought his boat to offer passage across the creek for three pence. After two shows the war effort occupied the minds of farmers and show committees and the show was not held for a couple of years.

Members of the Coffs Harbour Show Society Ladies Auxiliary and the President of the Society W. T.Perry (seated), at the Coffs Harbour Show, (1914-1919?) Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour

In 1928 the newly-formed Golf Club established six holes on the centre green and outside the fence, which provided a hazard for the golfers.  After two years the club moved to Mr. W. R. Smith’s farm at North Boambee. However they later returned to the showground site after an argument with the landowner. The need for an aircraft landing strip was on everybody’s lips about 1928 and the showground would be ideal. It was close to town and large enough for the planes of the day.  But it stayed as a showground.

During World War 11 the area was taken over by the Army and the headquarters of 3,000 men in the local area was established there.  A barbed wire gaol near the entrance gate was used as a detention centre for men who had gone absent without leave and been picked up by the provosts. No shows were held for three years during the war.  There have been suggestions to sell the land fronting the main street and use the money to develop the larger area at the rear of the present showground.

Coramba and Ulong both once had shows of their own. In 1905 Coramba staged a three-day show and Ulong held a two-day show. During 26 years of shows at Coramba, only one had fine weather. However both these centres lacked a large population and their shows eventually failed. One event that created interest and finally disquiet was the worst turn-out, in which a broken-down horse dragged a vehicle of unimaginable disrepute with a driver to match. Public boos and disapproval finally drove this event from the program.”


The award list from the second Coffs Harbour Show  1915 (Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate, 27 February 1915, p 2-3 found in Trove) speaks of a different time. The farm produce section had awards for the following fruits and vegetables:  potatoes, pumpkins, grammas, cabbage, leeks, carrots, rhubarb, chillies, vegetable marrow, squashes, rock melons, onions, celery, turnips, tomatoes, shallots, radishes, kitchen herbs, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, parsnips, French beans, beetroots, water melons, bananas, cucumbers, baking pears and oranges. The expression “grow your own” had real meaning back then, this impressive list of fruit and vegetables speaks of a time when the health of your family depended on you having a green thumb.

The plain needlework, fancy work, etc, section had awards for the following sewing categories: Collection fancy work; Drawn thread work; Point lace work; Shadow work; Cortecilli work; Mount Mellick work; Teneriffe work; Ribbon work; Ivory work; Huckaback worked vest; Three crochet D’Oyleys; Buttonholes in cloth worked in silk; Buttonholes worked with cotton; Baby’s smocked dress; Best made boy’s washing suit; Crochet D’Oyleys with linen centres; Ladies’ underclothing; Crochet quilt; Darned stocking; Darned net pillow shams; Pin cushion; Specimen stiletto embroidery; Cross-stitch work; Child’s woollen petticoat in crochet; Crochet bonnet in silk; Hemstitched handkerchief; White shirt and collar. Being able to “make your own” was also essential back in the early 1900s.

Coffs Harbour Show Society Inc. centenary book: 1914-2014, compiled by Nan Cowling, is available at Coffs Harbour Library, for anyone wanting to look further into the history of the Coffs Harbour Show.

Research courtesy of Geoff Watts.

Was Coffs Harbour the First Place to Adopt a Universal Healthcare Scheme?


Opening Day Coffs Harbour Hospital 1917

The  Coffs Harbour Hospital was opened in 1917 after eight years of fundraising by the local community to provide the initial one thousand pounds as required by the government at the time.  Once it was opened however there was ongoing struggles to fund the everyday running costs and despite various schemes the hospital was struggling to stay open by 1927.

On page 100 of Jean Donn-Patterson’s Coffs Harbour 100 Years Down the Track” , believed to have been published in the 1980s, Jean states the following:

 “In those early days it was rumoured that Sydney was quite impressed by our [Hospital’s] financial improvements and they sent representatives here to see how it worked. They were very impressed and so, they say, this was the beginning of our medical benefits. The old identities firmly believed this, and I feel it could be right too, but have found no evidence, so far, to support this claim.”  [1]

Now through Trove, evidence for the old identities claim is available. The 17 June 1930 edition of the Coffs Harbour Advocate describes how the Coffs Harbour Hospital’s contribution scheme was being adopted around the State. [2]


Coffs Harbour Hospital initiated the scheme for financing the hospital that is now gaining State-wide application, and demonstrated the efficiency of it in rural districts. It has made Coffs Harbour so prominent throughout the State that the secretary is becoming quite used to explaining the scheme to other hospitals which write for particulars. These inquiries have become so frequent that he has drafted out a terse and explicit explanation of the scheme and the way it was launched here, which is typed in his office and sent to those asking for it. It is as follows:– 

     “We have a scheme here which is proving a great success. For the payment of 6d per week for an adult or in the case of a married man 1/ per week, we guarantee to give free treatment should it be required. This does not include medical attention, the subscribers making their own arrangements with the doctor. We have 1500 subscribers which means an income of about £37 per week. On this we get Government subsidy. We employ a collector to collect the subscriptions. This is a full-time position. We pay £4/10/ per week and 10 per cent. of all money collected over £80 per month. When we started this scheme we forwarded a circular to every house-holder in the district explaining the scheme and stating that our collector would be calling at an early date. We also received much publicity through the Press. We found that the people responded readily, and generally prefer this scheme to the old methods of cadging. When the scheme was launched we promised not to hold any functions, etc., in aid of the hospital, beyond the annual ball, and this we adhered to. We have found the scheme a great success. We started off in debt and now we have £1200 at fixed deposit, have painted the institution and are now building a new men’s ward, maternity ward, and installing a septic sewerage system. For the 1/ per week paid by a family we treat husband, wife and children up to the age of 18 years. I will be glad to give you any further information required at any time.”

Occasionally, of course, one or two necessary amendments of figures have to be made.

Taree Hospital has adopted the scheme and appointed Mr. W. G. Hopper collector on a 10 per cent. basis.

George England’s history of Coffs Harbour Hospital, published in the Coffs Harbour Advocate in 1970, refers to this scheme as the “Jackson scheme”. [3] In 1927, Coffs Harbour Hospital was in danger of closing due to lack of funds. The Hospital committee (under President R. G. Jackson) decided to try the above-described scheme. It was a voluntary scheme, but there were “very few refusals” from the local residents. [4]

The scheme thus amounted to a universal contribution scheme, and by this means cracked the puzzle of how to fund the weekly running costs of a hospital.

To find out more details of this interesting story, please visit our Local Heritage page here for the full article.


  1. Donn-Patterson, Jean Coffs Harbour 100 Years Down the Track, page 100.
  2. Coffs Harbour Advocate, June 17 1930, page 1, retrieved from:
  3. England, George  A History of Coffs Harbour Hospital (Part 4), Coffs Harbour Advocate, February 25, 1970, page 4.
  4. Yeates, Neil (1990) Coffs Harbour Vol I ; pre-1880 to 1945, page 187.

(Research courtesy of Volunteer Geoff Watts)


The continuing struggles for adequate health care for regional patients also led to the development of the Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme.

The 24th of March, 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme in Coffs Harbour. Over the years, the members of the Coffs Harbour branch have raised funds and worked with health practitioners to benefit thousands of local children, as well as contributing to the charitable works of the organisation across New South Wales.

As an integral part of the provision of health care in Coffs Harbour, the history of Royal Far West highlights how members of our community have rallied together, often in the face of isolation, financial scarcity and official indifference, to address the health needs of the Coffs Coast region.

The current exhibition on display at the museum until 11 May 2019 celebrates Royal Far West’s work in our community over the past 70 years, honouring the energy and commitment of its members and volunteers.

Coffs Harbour Surf Culture History and Current Exhibition


The Past

The five Coopers Surf Shops in the Coffs Harbour district have their roots deep in the early surf culture [1] of the local area.  Bob Cooper began surfing in Malibu USA in the early 1950s, well before the “Gidget-Revolution” (circa 1960-62) popularised the sport.  As a competition surfer, he won the European Championship in 1969.  That same year Bob became a permanent Australian resident, and subsequently opened the first Coopers Surf Shop at the Jetty. He was able to bring aspects of the more “advanced” US surf culture with him [2].  The following 1979 Coffs Harbour Advocate article gives details of the first 15 years of the local surf-scene [3].  Surf culture is a global phenomenon now.


  1. This article is about “surfriders” and “boardriders”. “Surf life saving” is another story, well-covered in the book Coffs Harbour Surf Life Saving Club, 1923-1983: the first 60 years, by C. Kuhn et al, 1983 (available at Coffs Harbour library).
  2. Article on Bob Cooper at
  3. “When older surfers ruled the waves…” Coffs Harbour Advocate May 10, 1979 (Used with the permission of the Coffs Coast Advocate).

Coffs Harbour Advocate May 10, 1979, page 12





transcription of the article:

When older surfers ruled the waves…

The Coffs Surf Classic is on this Saturday and Sunday at Diggers Beach, just North of Coffs Harbour.  A young boardrider is favoured to win the event but an ‘oldie’ could cause an upset.  Classic organiser, Archie Ashdown, takes a brief look for the Advocate at the days when the older surfers ruled the waves:  Boardriding at beaches around Coffs Harbour has grown dramatically during the past 15 years.  In 1964 there were only a few boards in the area and they were mainly owned by the surf club and a few fortunate individuals.

Members:  The first local club was formed in 1966 and was called the Coffs Harbour Surfriders’ Club. The club’s 16 members were Robert Franklin, Kevin Anderson, Graeme Franklin, Kevin Taylor, John Blanch, Alan Anderson, Robert Cowling, John Avard, Barry McKenzie, Bob Moon, Phil Horan, Geoff Unwin, Bob Thompson, Noel Peterson, Clyde Irwin and Russ Glover.  The club was one of the most competitive on the east coast and its only sizeable defeat was by the champion Queensland club, Windansea, at a Lennox Head contest in 1968.  Meantime, a younger group of surfers were spending their weekends at Park Beach because they had no transport.  They decided to form their own club and the Park Area Surfriders’ Club was born. As most of these surfers stored their boards during the week under Bob Watson’s house on Ocean Parade, it was rearranged into a suitable clubhouse.  The club boasted 30 up and coming members with Tony Glover being elected president.  The club was well run with the surfers being graded on their ability.

Natural form:  Tony and Billy Tolhurst showed natural form.  Tony was a talented surfer who had a smooth and fluid style while Billy was a very young surfer who spent a lot of time on the beach studying older boardriders.  In 1968 the Coffs Area Boardriders’ Club was formed with American surfer Bob Cooper attending the first meeting.  Bob is still here and runs a very successful surfboard business in the Jetty shopping centre.  Local surfboard manufacture began in 1967 when John Blanch started building boards under his parents’ house.  Around the same time Jim Pollard moved from Newcastle to Sawtell while Bob Cooper started in 1968.  Another talented surfer who has devoted his life to the sport is Michael Saggus.  ‘Mick’ worked around Pollard’s surfshop while still at school learning the basics about the manufacture of surfboards.  He began to build his own boards in 1972 and worked extremely hard until he left for California in 1975 to further his experience in the craft.  The older surfers all agree that boardriding gives the youngsters a better sense of competition and helps them become more confident within themselves.  And if you’re interested in the draw for this weekend, it’s on display at Bob Cooper’s shop.

Research courtesy of Geoffrey Watts, Museum Volunteer.


The Present

The museum collection has very little material related to surfing, do you have a surfboard that was made or surfed in Coffs Harbour?  Do you have surfing stories to share, or photographs, clothing or other historical items related to surfing in Coffs Harbour?  We’d love to hear from you just contact the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

Don’t forget if you are interested in surf culture to also come and see the new exhibition Ripped Off at the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery opening on 8th March 2019 and see how Jon Campbell, Robert Moore and Ozzy Wrong join Gerry Wed in looting and pilfering from the images of photo journalist John Witzig.

David Elfick, Alby Falzon and John Witzig produced the first edition of Tracks magazine in October 1970.  Its arrival in newsprint, with articles about music, places, lifestyle, the environment and politics established a distinctly counter culture orientation that defined surfing during its “golden age” of the 1960s and 70s.

See the ad below for Coopers surf shop from the first edition of Tracks magazine October 1970.  John Witzig was one of the founding editors of Tracks  and Coopers were one of the first advertisers.

(Tracks, No.1, October 1970)