By guest writer Jo Besley, Curator, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum & Regional Gallery
The new exhibition at Coffs Harbour Regional Museum features tools of the timber trade and hand-crafted, household textiles from the museum’s collection to recall the earliest days of settlement in the district.
Timber was the Coffs Coast’s first colonial industry. Timber-getters arrived here from the 1860s, seeking cedar – “red gold” – a tree of the mahogany family highly prized for its rich red appearance, warm grain and workability. It grew plentifully in the subtropical rainforests of New South Wales and from the 1820s cedar-getters moved up and down the coast, hauling it out of remote gullies, making rafts of logs and floating them to the coast. It was an opportunistic pursuit requiring little more than an axe, some bullocks and kit – and a great deal of muscle. Fortunes could be made if the conditions were right but given the remoteness of the Coffs Coast from major settlements, it was a tough way to make a living.
There were no roads – just rough bush tracks and the ocean beach – and the only communication was via ships that stopped at river heads to collect the cedar, bringing supplies with them. Many of the cedar-getters were itinerant single men, moving from district to district, denuding the forest of its riches. Others came with their families looking for a place to settle. A common pattern was for a selector to arrive first as a timber-getter; then after they’d cleared the land they would begin farming. Women took part in these activities too, planting crops and tending gardens, while also creating homes with whatever materials were at hand or that could occasionally be bought. Clothing and domestic items were usually handmade and repaired constantly to last as long as possible.
In the 19th century, domestic sewing was strongly associated with femininity and was a primary duty for women in maintaining their family’s welfare, as well as a recreational pursuit for many. Class was a factor, with working class women doing “plain needlework” and utilitarian tasks, while middle and upper class women spent their time on fine embroidery and fancywork. These types of households were rare in Coffs Harbour; most women in the early days were living in tents or rudimentary huts, with few creature comforts.
Clothing supplies were sparse and took months to arrive. The few local stores stocked just basic fabrics such as cottons, calico and canvas, so women depended on hawkers who came by intermittently to buy haberdashery and drapery. The exquisite hand-sewn and detailed items on display show the care that women took to clothe their families and furnish their homes, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
From Hardwoods to Soft Cottons is on at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, corner of Harbour Drive & North Street 24 August – 21 October 2017. CHRM booklet Sawmills, Tramways & Jetties is also available from there.
On page 31 of the Wednesday 12 July 2017 issue of the Coffs Coast Advocate, its 110th birthday* was announced. What is astounding to note is that it is still possible to read the newspaper in full from 1907 to now. To do so requires an understanding of where to find it.
In 1907, the Coffs Coast Advocate began with a slightly different title – The Coff’s Harbour Advocate and Dorrigo, Orara, Coramba, Bucca Bucca, Woolgoolga, Glenreagh and Lower Clarence Advertizer. The issues of the paper between 1907 and 1942 are available for reading or searching on the National Library of Australia’s discovery platform, Trove.
There was a publication break during the Second World War, from May 1942 until October 1946, but the geographical coverage of the Coffs Coast remained the same when it resumed.
However it is still possible to explore subsequent issues, copied for reading and preservation onto microfilm. They are accessible at the Harry Bailey Memorial Library in Coffs Harbour. The Library continues add microfilm to its local history collection, and for the digital years this still provides an important backup copy for the newspaper on the Advocate’s own website.
We are fortunate that, by virtue of various tranches of government and other sponsored funding, the newspaper is freely available to read in all of these forms – online, on microfilm and through free delivery to local households since 1985. Using these mechanisms we can ensure that more recent editions are not lost, so that we can browse through the trove of compelling stories and celebrate the paper’s next major anniversary.
* A supercentenarian is acknowledged as the result of surpassing a 110th birthday event.
The name Coffs Harbour has passed through a few permutations since the location was acknowledged in 1847. Originally named after John Korff, the location’s name was changed to Coff’s Harbor by surveyors in 1861. But the apostrophe lingered, and in response to a recent enquiry, the Library-Museum team at Coffs Harbour City Council looked into the transition.
The quintessential barometer of small-town life, the daily newspaper, was a leader in this transition. The Coff’s Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate commenced printing in 1907 and dropped the apostrophe from the text of the newspaper in 1914. The abbreviation “Coffs”, used in article headings and elsewhere, didn’t look right when written as “Coff’s”.
The Guide Book to Coffs Harbor and District, published by the Chamber of Commerce in 1926, uses the apostrophe throughout except, ironically, in its title:
A fire at the Advocate’s premises on 3 August, 1930 resulted in a new printing press and a new masthead. The masthead changed from “Coff’s Harbour” to “Coffs Harbour” on 16 September, 1930.
In 1950, in response to a letter from a member of the public How is Coffs Harbour spelled? the editor wrote
The New South Wales Government Gazette of 17 May, 1968 announced that the Geographical Names Board had dropped the apostrophe from “Coffs Harbour” from both the town name and the harbour name. However some Government Gazette notices continued using “Coff’s Harbour” until 1972.
Of particular note is the fact that Coffs Harbour Shire Council notices published in the Government Gazette continued to use “Coff’s Harbour” until 1972.
While the apostrophe was not completely put to rest until 1972, it was dropped from common usage in 1914.
With thanks to volunteer researcher Geoffrey Watts for his investigation into this matter.
In 2014, the Coffs Harbour City Libraries celebrated their 50th anniversary of service to the Coffs community with a blog called 50 years 50 stories. Many of those stories touch on the early days of the region’s development, sharing the quirky – how one branch library came to be in a cell block lock-up; the uncensored; and the climactic.
This blog will extend that auspicious beginning – here is the place to learn about and respond to our local heritage in the form of events, objects, people and locations from the Coffs Coast region stored away in our cultural agencies. How do we define that region? It reaches north to Red Rock, south to Yellow Rock and west to Tallawudjah Creek. In the east are the Solitary Islands.
This is the record of our heritage.