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)



Memories of Coffs Harbour High School 1958-59

This article was written by Neil Bonnell recalling his time as a teacher here in Coffs Harbour 1958-59, I’m sure current students would be surprised to see how much has changed but also how much has stayed the same.
pic of teacher (2)
Picture from the “The Beacon” 1958, the Coffs Harbour High School magazine, Neil Bonnell is in the third row.
Sixty years ago, Coffs Harbour was a small seaside town whose main claims to fame were its extensive banana plantations and its role as a major stop on the Sydney to Brisbane railway line.  The population was just 7,000 hardy souls who had to frequently visit Grafton for goods and services which were not available in Coffs.  The Pacific Highway south was liable to flooding or just closure at Nambucca Heads.  The twelve miles (we were not metric yet) north of the town was winding and in poor condition. There was no library or public swimming pool.  We did have a Woolworths and a Coles and the relaxed lifestyle made up for any deficiencies. 
The High School (the only one) at the Jetty catered for secondary students from a wide area.  Those who came furthest were the remaining Macksville students who travelled to and from school on the North Coast Mail.  Others came from Nana Glen in the north-west and Woolgoolga, known as “Woopie” even then, from the north.  Enrolments from both Bellingen and Macksville ceased after high schools were established in those towns.  Bicycles were the most popular mode of transport to school for local students.  Mr Eric Silk, the new Headmaster, used much of his time at school assemblies instructing students in road safety and warning against riding side by side on the road between the centre of town and the Jetty.  
I was regarded as extremely lucky to be sent to Coffs Harbour for my first teaching appointment, as the North Coast was a popular location.  My personal record at Head Office showed that I was qualified as an English/History teacher and was a lieutenant in the CMF.  It so happened that Mr G.A. Paterson who ran the Cadet Unit and taught English and History had been appointed English/History Master at Bellingen.  Someone at Head Office had made an informed choice. I had heard that the Cadet Unit was being run by a World War II Lt-Colonel and I was looking forward to working with him.  It was with some dismay that I learned that Lt-Colonel Paterson had filled that role and that I was expected to be CO in his place.
The Cadet Unit which numbered just under 120 boys conducted an annual camp, paraded in uniform on Anzac Day, provided the bugler to play the Last Post mounted an annual Passing Out Parade and possessed a band which participated in the town’s Anzac Day parade and service.  The signals platoon also provided communications for an important golf tournament at the local course.
Coffs Harbour High was in the process of rapid expansion.  In 1958 there were just over 670 students at the school.  The following year the total stood at about 760 if the records in The Beacon are correct. It was possibly over twenty more.  Only two extra staff were appointed. Relationships between staff and students were generally relaxed and congenial, although there were problem students and some difficult classes.  One of the most eccentric students was Alvin Murray.  He lived north of the town and during one holiday period he amused himself by placing a cardboard box on the highway and climbing inside.  He had poked eye-holes in the side facing the traffic, leaving the open side facing the side of the road.  At the last possible moment he would scuttle out of the box into the bushes.  Another was a boy in my roll call class, whom I privately called “Pedro the Fisherman.”  With a deep knowledge of the truancy laws, he would stay away from school until the last moment when the truancy inspectors would come looking for him. He told me that he spent his time fishing and offered to bring me a crab or two.  Recognising conflict of interest, I politely declined.
One result of my military connections was a message from Mr Silk asking me to go the office where the police were waiting to interview me.  It seems that I had assumed the title of Senior Military Officer in the district, a grandiose title for a mere lieutenant in charge of a small army depot catering for two platoons who paraded once a week.  I think that Mr Silk was considerate enough to mention that the police wanted advice on a military matter.  They had found in the garage of an unoccupied house an “aerial bomb”.  Could I please go and investigate?  As our Regular Army Warrant Officer was in town, I took him with me to see this bomb.  What we found was a 3 inch mortar shell seemingly intact and with a full set of propulsion charges in place around the fins.  We agreed that it was safe to move and took it back to the depot with us on the front seat of the army ute.  The one thing we didn’t want to do was drop it.  Further examination showed that the explosive material had been removed by means of small holes drilled into the side of the shell.  The detonator was still active and we gave that to the local council to destroy.
The staff at Coffs was reasonably stable, as an appointment to Coffs was not lightly given up.  The second most senior teacher in the Commerce Department was content to remain top of the list for promotion to Subject Master rather than be promoted and have to leave Coffs.  The majority of the teachers were well-qualified and experienced.  Most country secondary schools of any size were expected to provide a full curriculum including preparation for tertiary study, the trades and office work.  Furthermore, the teaching staff was refreshed periodically by the promotion system which encouraged upwardly mobile teachers to take their first promotion at each level in the country.  Occasionally, one could also find a pre-war graduate with first-class honours teaching in a secondary school.  Tom Byrne, English/History Master was one such example.
Several of the teachers had bought a few acres where they grew bananas.  Colleagues often helped them to “chip bananas”, which I think meant to remove weeds from around the trees.  If they were paid they had to be careful to keep records and declare their income, as inspectors from the Tax Office made frequent visits to the district.   Banana growers, it seems, were reluctant to fully declare their income.  Another unusual hobby for a teacher was lobster fishing in the harbour by the P.E. teacher who used to pop down there at lunchtimes.  Freshly cooked lobsters, by the way, could be bought for 2/6 (25 cents) at the Co-Op on the jetty.
If some readers are irritated by the sexist terms being used in this memoir, please be consoled by the fact that this was the language of the day.  It was a time when female teachers were fighting to be paid 75% of the male wage.  Equal pay was not to be achieved for several years. The senior members of the teaching staff were the Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster.  Teachers in charge of subject areas were classified as Subject Masters or Mistresses.  The heads of English/History, Mathematics and Science were all male, as were the heads of Commercial Subjects, Modern Languages and Manual Arts.  Female teachers were allowed to run the departments of Classical Subjects (Latin), Art, Home Science and Music.
In the classroom there were some quaint customs.  Boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the room. Boys were called by their surnames and girls by their Christian names.  I don’t remember total segregation in the playground, what there was of it.  There was, of course, no mixed sport with the exception of tennis.  Inter-school visits from Grafton and Macksville were highlights of the sporting calendar.  Boys and girls were part of the same team in athletics and swimming, but competed in separate events.  There was a High School cricket team organized by Don Tom which played in the district B Grade competition.  As it was an adult competition, teachers were allowed to play, as I did.  I believe that Don was elected to the Coffs Harbour Cricket Association Hall of Fame.  In the winter, girls were allowed to play the murderous game of hockey instead of the merely bruising game of Rugby League football.  No one had heard of soccer. Boys’ basketball teams as well as girls’ hockey teams not only competed in town competitions, but also won premierships in 1958.  These victories were won despite inadequate sporting facilities, as outlined by Sports Master R. F. Jarvis in The Beacon in 1959.  The swimming carnival, for example, had to be held in a branch of the creek opposite what is now the Botanical Gardens.
Wednesday afternoons were given over to sport which was held at various venues around town.  The school had no playing fields, just a small area on the railway side of Camperdown Street, which was large enough for softball.  Incidentally, both boys and girls had softball teams.  There were some students for whom Wednesday afternoon was the highlight of the week.  Unfortunately, during February and March particularly, it was liable to rain in the afternoon.  This seemed to happen on Wednesday more often than on other days.  When it was too wet to conduct sport, Wednesday morning’s timetable was repeated.  Disgruntled students and teachers presenting hurriedly prepared lessons was not a happy combination.  I dreaded wet Wednesdays.   To make up my quota of lessons, I was given five periods of P.E. per week in a school without a gymnasium.  In fine weather, I arranged softball matches on the Camperdown Streeet playing area. When it was wet, P.E. lessons were held in a cramped basement with no room for gym equipment.  Three of these periods were on Wednesday mornings when I had to resort to party games and quizzes such as buzz-buzz which was a counting game which required participants to say buzz whenever the number three or a multiple occurred.  Twenty questions and Chinese whispers also featured. When the afternoons were also wet, six periods of parlour games were a strain for all concerned.  It was the job of “Snow” Turner to make a weather forecast at about the time of morning break and declare sport on or off.  On more than one occasion, the weather cleared after the cancellation had been issued and it was too late to restore the sports afternoon.  Snow was not popular when his weather forecast was wrong.
One of the two classes I remember best was 2E 1959, with whom I fought for most of the year but then many years later taught the son of one them. The other was 3A 1958 which contained some very able female pupils.  Frank Walker, who later gained prominence in politics, could only come fourth in English.  He was, however, a most proficient debater.  I often wonder what happened to Bronwyn Phillips, Jill Nelson, Robyn Roche and Marilyn Haworth and what use was made of their talents.  What would be totally unacceptable today was the regular advertisement in The Beacon of The Bank of New South Wales. It offered jobs and training to “young ladies” (who would join the nicest girls) as a stenographer/typist, clerk/typist or in general clerical duties.  Judy Henderson (3A 1959 and Hall Of Fame) obviously didn’t take one of those jobs. Junior males were told that every new junior was regarded as a potential executive.  One of the great successes of the 1959 cohort was Diane Russell, who topped the State in English in the Leaving Certificate.
It was a different world. I had a busy two years in Coffs and gained very valuable experience.  There are those who would say that I was stupid ever to leave. 
Neil Bonnell  2018.

beacon pic 1958 (2)

2018's History Highlights from the Coffs Coast

Throughout 2018, the History Services Unit of the Library, Museum & Gallery Team’s goal has been to make our local heritage accessible to everyone. Whether it be digitally through this Blog, Facebook and our Museum Newsletter – subscribe here or view back issues through Trove here; or tangibly through our museum.
Coffs Harbour Regional Museum’s varied and interesting exhibitions this year have included:

  • Rime of the Ancient Mariner paintings by Geoff Mould and the associated sea themed open mic session on World Poetry Day.
  • Created from a Dream: A Gift of Calligraphy, which presented the beautiful handmade book “The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden – Created from a Dream”
  • Submerged: Stories of Australia’s Shipwrecks which included a very popular after dark event.
  • The Tasma Theatre: Coffs Harbour’s Jewel (currently on display)
  • Bananas to Beautizone: Coffs’ Changing Summers (currently on display)

Over the last 12 months there has been exciting and significant grants won by two talented members of our team that will ultimately have a great impact on public access to our local historical information, these were:

We would like to acknowledge and thank our museum and library volunteers, as well as the community for all of the considerable assistance they have contributed this year and wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2019.
I wonder whether Rene and Flo McCristal preparing Christmas dinner at the Pier Hotel, Coffs Harbour, 25 December Circa 1910,  would have preferred to have put a prawn on the barbie? Picture Coffs Harbour Collection,  mus07-1572

The Mountain Maid Mine of David Pont


David Pont Miner's pick (photographed 20181115)
David Pont’s mining pick – Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection

David Pont was a Glenreagh-based man who married Charlotte Shipman in 1889 [1], and passed away in 1936. [2]
His main claim to fame was his “Mountain Maid” mine, which was the principal mine in the brief-lived Lower Bucca goldfield. [3]  The mine produced £20,000 of gold. [2]
While the Lower Bucca goldfield existed for only a few years from 1896, the village which sprang-up next to it, lasted well into the 20th century as an agricultural service centre, which included a school, store, hotel, and Mechanics’ Institute (School of Arts) at various stages.
The mining data sheet for the “Mountain Maid” mine (held by Coffs Harbour Regional Museum) gives a location of 0751E 6402N, which places the mine 200 metres south of the village.
The Upper Bucca goldfield (the Beacon Mines) also produced a village at the same time, but this Beacon Village was dismantled in the months after the Beacon company pulled the plug in 1899.
The Beacon Village was up in the scrub; the Lower Bucca Village was down on the plain.
UPS AND DOWNS. (1929, February 8). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.

This miner’s pick reminds us of how hard life was before mechanisation.
Australia’s gold-miners in the 1800s were known as “diggers”, because that’s what they did. Dig.
See David Pont’s miner’s pick at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

  1. Glenreagh – A Town of Promise by Elizabeth Webb, 2001, p.30
  2. PERSONAL (1936, July 31). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  3. THE MINES AT CORAMBA, BUCCA CREEK AND CORINDA. (1896, August 18). Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 – 1915), p. 5.

Volunteer Geoff Watts November 2018

The little Nymboida Post Office

Figure 1: circular date stamp

The black ink manuscript, Receiving Office cancellation, Little Nymboida, 20 Aug 13, over stamped with a Coramba, N.S.W. 20 August 1913 date stamp, tying a 1d red Kangaroo to piece (see Figure 1), is the only postal marking from this small office in the Northern Rivers Region of New South Wales, recorded by Hopson & Tobin [1]. I am not aware of any other recorded examples.
Little Nymboida Receiving Office
Little Nymboida opened as a Receiving Office on 1 November 1910, operated by Adolph Pauls, a German immigrant and farmer, whose property was located approximately 8 miles from the turnoff at the 8 Mile Peg on the existing Coramba to Brooklana mail route, at a location then known as Eastern Dorrigo [2]. Pauls was also contracted to convey and deliver settler mail exchanged at the 8 Mile Peg twice weekly. Representations by the Mole Creek Progress Association for establishment of a mail service, described the locality as being in the area of the Mole Creek and Little Nymboida River end of Eastern Dorrigo and inhabited by 40 settlers. The location is identified on the period map extract (see Figure 2) [3].
Figure 2: Little Nymboida

Interestingly, Hopson & Tobin recorded a Receiving Office at Mole Creek, 25kms from Coramba, opening on 1 January 1898 and closing on 25 April 1900. There is no reference to this past Office in correspondence contained on the Little Nymboida Post Office file. However, co-incidentally, Hopson & Tobin record Little Nymboida as also being located 25kms from Coramba.
The Progress Association’s desired alternate designation for the proposed receiving office, in the event that ‘Little Nymbodia’ might have been considered unsuitable, possibly clashing with the existing ‘Nymbodia’ Post Office, was ‘Leonora’. Nymbodia was of course Nymboida. As I have pointed out in previous articles, local discrepancies in the spelling of place names was not unusual for the period. The Office name was derived from that of the nearby Little Nymboida River.
Manuscript Cancellation
The manuscript cancellation is clearly in the hand of Adolph Pauls, as depicted in the example of correspondence contained on the Official Post Office File (see Figure 3). Of note, in this document is Pauls’ spelling of the proposed office name, ‘Little Nymbodia’, the spelling also used by the Progress Association in correspondence directed to the Postmaster Coramba.
In respect to the over stamping of the manuscript cancellation it is relative to note that instructions issued to Pauls by the Postmaster General’s Department on his appointment as Receiving Office Keeper included, “The Postage Stamps on the correspondence forwarded in the bags you send should be obliterated by the Postmaster at Coramba”.
Figure 3: Robinson’s four mile map of N.S.W

Little Nymboida was designated a Telephone Office on 4 May 1926 and a Non-Official Post Office in 1927. On 15 July 1931, the Post Office closed and it was again designated a Telephone Office operated by Adolph’s son, Ernest Henry Pauls. The Office temporarily closed for a short period in July 1936, before again reopening in August of that year. It finally closed on 31 August 1950.
Adolph Pauls passed away in 1934 and is buried at the Coffs Harbour Historic Cemetery alongside his wife Elizabeth [4].
[1] Hopson, N. C and Tobin, R S.W. and A.C.T. post, receiving, telegraph & telephone offices : their circular date-stamps and postal history. N. Hopson & R. Robin, [Sydney], 1991.
[2] National Archives of Australia: SP 32/1 LITTLE NYMBOIDA.
[3] E.C. Robinson Ltd Robinson’s four mile map of N.S.W. Published by H.E.C. Robinson Ltd, Sydney, 1913.
[4] Australian Cemetery Index 1805 – 2007 – Compiler: Coffs Harbour District Family Historical Society; Collection Title: Coffs Harbour & District Deaths, Burials, Cremations – 1866 to 2003.
This article was written by Mr Tony Curtis. Tony is a resident of Murrumbateman. He is a member of the Philatelic Society of New South Wales, The Australian States Study Circle Royal Sydney Philatelic Club, the Australian Philatelic Society and the Philatelic Society of Canberra Inc. He is also a member of the Canberra & District Historical Society Society and the Yass & District Historical Society. Tony is a retired former Commissioned Officer with the Australian Federal Police, inaugural Chief Executive of the A.C.T. Gambling & Racing Commission and Chief Executive and Executive Director of ACTTAB Ltd. He was awarded the Public Service Medal in the 2003 Australia Day Honours for outstanding service and in 2001 he received an Australian Group Citation for Bravery in his role as Australian Police Contingent Commander at the UNAMET Mission in East Timor in 1999.
Tony blogs at

The Tasma Theatre – the jewel of Coffs Harbour's cinema

Tasma Theatre, circa 1954, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1438
Cinema in Coffs Harbour
In the early years, “moving pictures” came to town with travelling shows that used country halls and other places of public assembly. In Coffs Harbour, the venue was the School of Arts, a basic, hall-like building which opened on the north side of High Street, between Grafton and Castle Streets, in 1904. This was a vibrant centre of community life, used constantly for dances, balls, musical evenings, plays and public meetings. In 1908, it was significantly expanded and re-modelled, with a library and reading room added. From 1912, moving pictures were shown.
Opening of the School of Arts, 16 August 1904, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1430
In 1919, the School of Arts committee decided to show pictures themselves rather than leaving such a profitable undertaking in the hands of outside entrepreneurs. An excellent debut was reported: “with a six-reel Norma Talmadge drama and Charlie Chaplin at his funniest, screened by the latest 6B machine”. Mrs Minnie Franklin was employed as pianist to provide background music to the then silent movies. Films were also shown at the Fitzroy Stadium, which doubled as a roller skating rink and boxing arena! It was a rough and ready, open air experience.
In 1926, Lawrence Penn, later Jack Gerard’s partner in the Tasma Theatre, opened Penn’s Jetty Cinema on the site now occupied by the Forestry Building. Films were also shown at the Jetty Memorial Theatre when it opened in 1928 as the Soldiers Memorial Hall. Penn and Gerard later took over the leases at the Jetty Memorial in 1930 and the Coffs Harbour Picture Show at the School of Arts in 1932. The biggest news of the day was the introduction of the “talkies”. In November 1930, Broadway Scandals, an “all-talking, singing and dancing extravaganza” screened at the Jetty, followed quickly by the first talkie at the School of Arts a month later. In June 1931, Penn’s Jetty Cinema burned down in a serious fire.
For country people in particular, the cinema fulfilled two important roles – as a place for socialising and also for entertainment. Up until the 1960s, “going to the pictures” was the big social event of the week. People dressed up for this special occasion. At the Tasma, the program – two movies, newsreels, cartoons and the obligatory God Save the Queen – changed three times a week. Seats needed to be booked ahead on Friday and Saturday nights. The café next door provided drinks and sweets. Many a romance bloomed at the Tasma and a box of chocolates was mandatory. Unlike many cinemas in country towns, the Tasma was never racially segregated. Always the showman, Jack Gerard introduced Horror Nights. Although tame by today’s standards, the loud, spooky music in total darkness brought screams and squeals as patrons stamped their feet in delight. As Jack’s daughter Norma recalls, “the sounds and experience was incredible, and very scary, and LOVED by the people!”
When the Tasma closed in 1968, Penn & Gerard also stopped showing films at the Jetty Memorial Hall, however other operators continued screening there up until the building was bought by the Council in 1982. In 1988, a cinema (now closed) opened in Vernon Street, next to the Cinema Walk Arcade, and Birch, Carroll & Coyle’s five cinema complex on the corner of the highway and Bray Street opened in 1995 and is still in operation. The Sawtell Cinema, first opened in 1941, had been operated by three generations of the Brissett Family but was a casualty of the cost of converting to digital projection and closed in 2012. Due to an extraordinary fund-raising effort by the local community, the cinema was renovated, converted into two cinemas and reopened in 2015. Today, the Coffs Coast is a hub of cinema, home to the Screenwave International Film Festival and [REC] Ya Shorts Youth Film Festival.
The Tasma Theatre – Coffs Harbour’s jewel
The Tasma Cinema opened in March 1937 on the corner of Castle Street and High Street, as Harbour Drive was then known. With an imposing Art Deco façade, it was the grandest building in “Top Town” and became known as the “theatre beautiful”.
Designed by leading cinema architects Guy Crick and Bruce W. Furse, the Tasma Theatre offered big city luxury, seating 113 people in the Royal Lounge, 113 in the Dress Circle and 515 in the stalls – 741 overall. Crick & Furse were responsible for the design of numerous suburban cinemas in Sydney, as well as many throughout regional NSW. They favoured the Art Deco or Moderne style; the comfort and luxury of the buildings attest to the importance of cinema to Australian social life in the early to mid-20th century. As Everyone’s magazine commented in 1936:

Throughout the Commonwealth, comparative palaces now stand in pride as evidences of the solidity of the screen as the greatest medium of relaxation and edification of modern times.

The Tasma Theatre was the pride and joy of business partners Jack Gerard and Lawrence Penn. Penn was the original “Picture Show Man”, an old time showman who toured the countryside exhibiting films. In 1924, Jack Gerard became Penn’s trainee and they toured Queensland and New South Wales. After showing films in temporary locations in Coffs Harbour such the School of Arts and Memorial Hall, they realised their ambitions to open their own cinema when they formed Penn & Gerard Pty Ltd in1932.
The weather was horrendous on the night of the big opening on 15th March, 1937. Thousands of people milled outside while only 400 actually paid to attend the film inside – as Jack Gerard commented in later years, “just why the people of Coffs Harbour behaved in this strange manner, will never be known.” The film shown was The Big Broadcast of 1937 with Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen.
Over 31 years, 9627 films were shown, which according to Jack Gerard was “almost every American and British film produced at that time”. With the beginning of television broadcasting in Coffs Harbour in 1965, the Tasma began to lose audiences. It closed in 1968; the final film was After the Fox with Peter Sellers and Victor Mature. The building was demolished in 1969 to make way for the Waltons Department Store. When the mall was built in the late 1980s, the street layout changed and Castle Street no longer connected with Harbour Drive, so the Tasma site is no longer evident.
Jack Gerard and Lawrence Penn: impresarios
The Tasma Theatre was the dream of two fascinating characters in the story of cinema in Australia.
Jack Gerard was the manager of the Tasma Theatre – but also so much more. Councillor, car dealer, service station owner, amateur geologist, radio operator and innovator, advocate for surf lifesaving, projectionist and newsreel cameraman, Gerard was a well-known figure in Coffs Harbour and across the North Coast for decades. Born in 1907, Jack followed his curiosity and applied his intelligence in many fields. He was the first person on the North Coast to build a single valve wireless receiver for example. Above all, he was a natural showman. In 1953 he painted “Australia’s largest” Union Jack on the facade of the Tasma to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Hundreds flocked to see A Queen Is Crowned when Jack secured the rights to screen this 1953 Technicolor story of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. Betty Sara, the mother of the famous Bellingen quadruplets (the first set of quads to survive in Australia), won the Queen Elizabeth lookalike contest. A Queen is Crowned was screened simultaneously at Jack’s two cinemas, the Tasma and the Jetty Memorial. Paid admission reached 7785 – 1785 more viewings than Coffs Harbour’s population at the time! Jack received a letter of congratulations from the Queen herself.

Jack Gerard taking a movie at the Coffs Harbour Racing Club’s inaugural meeting, 7 August 1948 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-9088

He won Australian and international awards for showmanship, including for his promotion of Walt Disney’s Cinderella and the Australian film Robbery Under Arms, when he re-enacted the robbery in Coffs Harbour’s High Street. A keen “ham radio” operator, he had over 6000 world-wide radio contacts, including the Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul! For 31 years, Jack filmed newsreels for Cinesound Review and Fox Movietone news. With the advent of television and the resulting decline in cinema, Jack produced features for television for a short while before retirement. His most popular newsreel was the 1953 coverage of five lions escaped from the circus who roamed the streets of Coffs Harbour.
Lawrence Penn was, as the Coffs Harbour Advocate described upon his death in 1952, “one of the most colourful figures in the Australian motion picture industry.” Indeed, the 1977 film The Picture Show Man was inspired by Penn’s life and was based on his son Lyle’s memoirs of them touring the countryside and showing films in the 1920s. He launched his film business in Newcastle but really established his career in Tamworth where he ran a large open air cinema. Following the death of his first wife, he took to the road in a horse and buggy as “Penn’s Pictures”, using a hand-operated projector and limelight. In 1924 he purchased one of the first Western Electric amplifiers and coupled it to a radio receiving set to broadcast reception. He employed Jack Gerard to demonstrate this new use of technology throughout the country towns of New South Wales and Queensland.
Lawrence reputedly had an “excellent baritone voice” and provided entertainment between pictures, along with his various trained dogs. His star performer was a cattle dog named Dempsey, regarded as “the cleverest dog in Australia” – he was filmed for world distribution in the early 1920s and was renowned among filmgoers. Penn settled in Coffs Harbour in 1930 and together with Jack Gerard and alone, ran many of the cinema venues in town. He retired in 1949, leaving Jack to run the Tasma in the final years.
Experience the Tasma Theatre at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum
Take the time to enjoy some of Jack Gerard’s work on the screen when visiting the Museum to look at the cinematic items on display:
Former Jetty Memorial Hall and Tasma Theatre seating 1931, 1937
Timber, cast iron, upholstery
The row of timber chairs are some of the remaining, original 100 wooden seats installed in 1931 at the Jetty Memorial Theatre, then called the Jetty Memorial Hall, by Jack Gerard who had secured a license to screen films at the venue. The seats with cast iron bases were transferred from the Tasma Theatre when it closed in 1968. In 2016, both sets of chairs were donated to the museum when the Jetty Memorial Theatre upgraded its seating.
Tasma Theatre screening record book 1947- 48
Leather-bound book
The large ledger-style book records the films screened at the Tasma in the years 1947 and 1948. It shows the many different distribution companies Jack Gerard dealt with to deliver a varied and current program to Coffs Harbour audiences – he was proud of the fact that both Cinesound Review and Fox Movietone newsreels were broadcast simultaneously with Sydney and that the cinema showed all the latest movies. It also records the length of the film in feet!
Tasma and Memorial Theatre programs 1948 – 49 and 1955
Three monthly programs for the two theatres operated by Penn & Gerard. Every film screened at the weekends was classified as suitable for general exhibition, showing a commitment to children that paid off – they were the theatre’s most loyal customers to the end. As Jack later remembered, the children’s matinees were full houses while adult were “forsaking new and exciting film productions in colour and presented on a giant screen, in favour of viewing oldies in black and white presented on a tiny glass plate”- television.
Written by Joanna Besley, Curator, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and Regional Gallery

Through the lens of a 12 year old's toy camera

This is a guest post.
If I hadn’t rediscovered these photos after over 40 years I would still believe that a photographic career could have been mine! It was 11th April 1970, a sunny Saturday and a crowd of 20,000 (more were expected) eagerly awaited the royal visit.
For my last birthday my grandfather had given me $2 which I had ‘wasted’ (according to my mother) on a toy box camera. Said camera had proven itself to actually take photos and was now loaded with it’s first role of colour film for the big event. The fact that my mother was using black and white film was touching because I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay for the developing of the film (not on my allowance)!
It was a 6 hour visit by the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Anne with the royal yacht moored in the harbour. (Is that a naval escort waiting outside the harbour?). No one had said that it wasn’t a good idea to take photos into the sun but I swear the royals were there somewhere! They were off to morning tea so we headed for town centre to await the royal procession.

Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13978

My mum’s photos showed the anticipation of the crowd but my photo of the chauffeur and the royal wave taken with my arm stretched above the people in front is my favourite!
Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13981

Next it was off to Park Beach for the royal march past and after while the royal procession headed to a banana plantation (the big banana?) we headed to Bruxner Park to once again await them.
Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13985

Unfortunately once again the scoop royal picture eluded me as my last two photos were taken of 1970 Coffs Harbour and my 12 shot 127 size film was finished.
Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13988

Lucky mum was there to capture the royal party on her camera when they arrived.
Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13985

All in all an exciting day for Coffs Harbour and a very exciting day for a 12 year old who never did get into photography.
Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13984

Paul Rogan, Museum Volunteer
Photos Joyce and Paul Rogan.
Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13979