A brief history of the Regional Museum


Looking east along High Street (Harbour Drive), the Courthouse appears on the left and the Public School appears on the right. In Coffs Collections, CC2022.11.1 @ https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/75972

The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum became a reality after a concerted effort by the Country Women’s Association, which started amassing objects and information from August 1952. This was complemented by George and Naomi England, who were approached to establish an Historical Society in 1955. [1]

There has been more than one Museum building. The first one was on the drawing board in 1978:

An architect is to be commissioned to prepare working plans for Coffs Harbour museum. The shire council gave its approval this week when it also voted to borrow $40,000 towards the cost of the museum. The plans will be prepared in collaboration with council staff and the Coffs Harbour Historical Society. Tenders will be called for its construction when the working plans are completed. 

The historical society, in a letter to council, said it had $6000 which it intended using for furnishings and certain fixtures. However it was prepared to put this money towards the cost of the project. The society was confident that if the money was needed it could raise extra money for furnishings. However council will not use the society’s money unless costs exceed council’s allocation.

PLANS FOR A MUSEUM (1978, February 22). The Bananacoast Opinion (Coffs Harbour, NSW : 1973 – 1978), p. 1.

A special site to display the collection was chosen at 191 Harbour Drive, and it opened in 1988. At the edge of Carrall’s Creek, it was very near to the location of Coffs Harbour’s first cottage.

The anchor in place at the original Regional Museum, 6 October 1994, mus07-7813, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/75424

The Historical Society shut down in late 2004, and the collection and the responsibility for its care were taken on by the Coffs Harbour City Council. This was officially acknowledged on Australia Day 2007.

Left to right: Terrie Beckhouse Coordinator, unknown, Dave Senior, Cec. Whitney, Deborah Dixon, (obscured) Wanda Hancock, Keith Rhodes (Mayor) Leigh Summers (Director), Bill Richmond, Alan Fardell, (obscured Steve Rae), Bernie Hynes. In Coffs Collection, mus07-13731, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/54871.

Only two years later, there was an extreme weather event, the second to affect this building. (The first flood occurred in November 1996.)

on the corner of 191 Harbour Drive and Duke Street, 31 March 2009

It took a year for the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum to find a new location after the catastrophic floods of March 2009. In the interim, there was no curated exhibition space available to the public.

An old new contender emerged to be the next Museum, at 215 Harbour Drive. The building itself, with history embedded in every corner, made up for the loss of connection with the community. Even its purpose as an Antiques business prior to becoming a Museum seemed like a perfect match. It took four years to salvage the collection and prepare it for display.

Antiques, 215 Harbour Drive, 21 January 2005

At the time of re-opening in 2014, the building was 107 years old. It had been designed by Walter Liberty Vernon, state government architect, as a Police Station and Courthouse. It housed two constables; a tracker, Carty Craig, lived elsewhere.

Coffs Harbor. (1907, March 7). The Macleay Chronicle (Kempsey, NSW : 1899 – 1952), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181504186

This building operated as the Police Station and Courthouse until the new facility was built at 20 Moonee Street in 1963, and then took on many lives. It remains as a  significant historical icon in central Coffs Harbour.

Its function as Coffs Harbour Regional Museum finished on Saturday 26 February 2022. Farewell CHRM. We’ll see you in the Yarrila Arts and Museum at 31 Gordon Street soon. Until then, the Museum’s collection is available for browsing at Coffs Collections.


[1] Coffs Harbour Vol II 1946 – 1964, Yeates, p.166

[2] The research work of Museum volunteer Gay Bell is acknowledged as a significant contribution to this article.

Coffs Harbour Police Station and Courthouse, February 1982, m2022.70.1 in Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/76423

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