Jetty Village and Top Town – a town divided?

Coffs Harbour Progress Association was formed in 1891. [1] From 1905 to 1909 it met alternately at Top Town and Jetty Village [2], and was “the acknowledged official representative of the township in Government matters”. [3] Membership of the Progress Association (presumably) was open to anyone.
With the 1905 “rise of Coffs Harbour”, an elitism of sorts raised its head. A “Coffs Harbour Ratepayers’ Association” was formed, membership of which was confined to ratepayers (in other words, property-owners). [4]  The Ratepayers’ Association met monthly at Top Town.
On 12 February 1907, the Coffs Harbour Advocate’s editor accused this new organisation of trying to undermine (and ultimately “disintegrate”) the Progress Association. [5] In mid 1909 a conference was attempted between the two associations which revealed mutual mistrust. [6]
About this time, a Coffs Harbour Jetty Progress Association comes on the scene. [7] Its meetings over the next year are reported under the banner “The People’s Parliament”, fairly obviously a jibe against the more exclusive Ratepayers’ Association. The issues to be discussed were also ironic, echoing complaints in 2017 about weather reporting: “The Commonwealth Meteorologist [does] not favor Coff’s Harbor Jetty being established [as] a weather reporting station, as if the desired concession were granted it would be necessary to extend it to dozens of other places. He pointed out that for scientific purposes the daily bulletins contained that was required.
In May 1911, Dr Cook was president of the “combined Ratepayers’ and Jetty Progress Associations”. [8] In November 1911, a meeting was called to discuss the question of whether to revive the now ‘defunct” Progress and Ratepayers’ Associations, or to establish a Chamber of Commerce instead. The latter option was chosen [9], and the Chamber of Commerce was operating by December 1911. [10]
The Chamber of Commerce would have looked very like the Ratepayers’ Association. A win for the Top Town elitists against the Jetty Village egalitarians?
In 1941, NSW Shire elections were opened up to all residents of a district. Before then, you needed to be a ratepayer (property-owner) to vote at Shire elections. [11,12]  After 1941 Shire Councillors became the local Progress Association. Between 1912 and 1941 in Coffs Harbour, the People’s Parliament went underground.
With thanks to volunteer Geoff Watts for research.
Image: Aerial View from Top Town to the Jetty, Allen Hogbin, 1951-52. Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-11313

  1. TUESDAY FEBRUARY 12, 1907. (1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  2. PROGRESS ASSOCIATION. (1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  3. ibid.
  4. RATEPAYERS’ ASSOCIATION. (1908, March 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  5. TUESDAY FEBRUARY 12, 1907. (1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  6. THAT CONFERENCE. (1909, June 18). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  7. The People’s Parliament. (1909, December 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  8. The Public Dinner. (1911, May 19). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.
  9. ibid.
  10. Continuous Telephonic Service. (1911, December 8). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. from
  11. Hearfield and B. Dollery, “Representative Democracy in Australian Local Government”, Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, Issue 2: January 2009, p.69 and
  12. Advertising (1906, January 15). The Grafton Argus and Clarence River General Advertiser (NSW : 1874 – 1875; 1879 – 1882; 1888; 1892; 1899 – 1922), p. 1. (“Election of Aldermen & Auditors”)

From Hardwoods to Soft Cottons

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.

mus07-2193_bullock team on jetty becah 1908
Bullock team on Jetty Beach 1908 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-2193

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.
mus07-0959_Dorothy Black 8 mths 1918
Dorothy Black, eight months old in 1918 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-0959

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. SawmillsTramwaysJettiesCut

A supercentennial trove of compelling stories

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.

(1907, February 12). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

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.
(1942, April 24). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

(1946, October 11). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

(1954, December 31). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

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.

When did Coffs drop its apostrophe?

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:

Read it here

“Next issue Sept. 16. Office burnt down”

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.
“Owing to office being burnt down, the previous issue was August 1, 1930.”

In 1950, in response to a letter from a member of the public How is Coffs Harbour spelled? the editor wrote
Excerpt from CORRECT SPELLING OF COFFS HARBOUR (1950, April 21). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.

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.
From Coff’s to Coffs

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.