The Manly of the North

During the 1920s, Sawtell was referred to as “the Manly of the North”. The story of Coffs Harbor, as broadcasted by Mr. P. J. McNamara from the Great White Train, included this statement:

With an ideal climate and an equitable temperature  involving the absence of hot nights, it is an ideal resort  for tourists, with is miles of golden sands. As a winter health resort, Coffs and the neighboring towns, with the beaches, are unsurpassed and destined to become famous owing to their evenness of temperature, which makes them splendid winter resorts for invalids and justly entitles Coffs to be called the – “Manly of the North.” Nowhere in N.S.W. are there more beautiful beaches than about Coffs. 

Story of Coffs Harbor. (1926, September 15). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p.3.

But so was everywhere else, from Stockton to Byron Bay:

Ministerial Visit. (1912, January 20). The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate (NSW : 1882 – 1950), p. 4.
MANLY OF THE NORTH (1923, May 16). The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 8.

BALLINA, THE “MANLY OF THE NORTH” (1935, December 18). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 12.
“MANLY OF THE NORTH” (1936, March 28). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 6.

Eventually, the accolade was dropped as other promotional ideas such as the Pacific Beautizone took off with locally focused campaigns.

Coffs Harbour did take advantage of the tour of The Great White Train which stopped at Coffs Harbour in 1926. Its goal was to promote Australian-made goods, not just a lifestyle.

A winning window display of Australian groceries, September 1926 (September 1926). Coffs Collections
The Great White Train. (1926, September 4). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2




Remembering Harry Bailey


Portrait of Harry Bailey, c.1962, mus07-9956; Harry Bailey in the Centenary of Federation Peoplescape, 2001, cc2023.5.16 @ Coffs Collections

Dorrigo-based businessman William Henry Bailey, known as Harry, became a Dorrigo Shire Councillor in 1941. The Dorrigo Shire encompassed Coffs Harbour and a civic centre with public library has been proposed for the town in June 1939. [1] Ten years later, in 1948, the possibility of having one was still under discussion. [2], [3]

Harry Bailey was one of the Dorrigo Shire Councillors who did not agree that a public library was a high priority. [4] In October 1948, he reinforced this:

The President (Cr. Bailey) stated that he thought rate-payers would prefer any increases in rates to be applied to roadworks before anything else.

This is a perennial issue for a career public servant. Like any government official trying to balance a budget, the need to set priorities could be difficult. Bailey spoke about this earlier when elected to the position of President of the Dorrigo Shire Council in December 1947:

Cr. Bailey tendered some “homely advice” to new councillors and that was that the shire could not go far without money and that all expenditure had to be governed by that factor. He said he came into council feeling that he “was going to play smoke with everything” and perhaps had wrongly trodden on the toes of the Shire Clerk and others. He soon learned that finance was the guiding and all-important factor. He urged new councillors to study Local Government in all aspects for their own and council’s benefit. [5]

Despite this setback in 1950, the public didn’t give up, and a public consultation was arranged in 1954. [6], [7], [8]

A Library may have been in sight, but Harry Bailey was still viewing it from a long distance. He was the first-appointed President of the new Coffs Harbour Shire Council, at a meeting convened on 14 December 1955. The Shire came into effect on 1 January 1957 and was administered for one year by nine provisional Councillors until elections were held.

In 1959, the Shire President changed his mind. The Shire had received a windfall payment from mining royalties. [9]

The discussion then moved from budgets to buildings. As stated by Librarian Lorraine Vass in her History, “And so we come to several years stalling on the issue. In 1959 it was the political temerity of financing the operation, by 1962 it was nowhere to put it.” [10]

But the idea of constructing a new Civic Centre to replace the School of Arts took hold in 1962, and it was to incorporate a suitable facility. In 1963, Harry Bailey lobbied to double the bookstock of 2,000 volumes, with half being paid for by the Library Board of New South Wales. [11] The new Civic Centre with library opened in 1964.

Like many a dedicated public servant, Harry Bailey died ‘in harness’ on Friday 24 September 1965, between a sporting engagement on the green and a scheduled attendance at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner as Guest of Honour. [12]

In his last years, Harry resided with his daughter Dulcie. He passed away at the still-standing white cottage at 41 Gordon Street in the CBD, property he purchased in January 1956. [13] It is a stone’s throw from Yarrila Place at 27 Gordon Street, Coffs Harbour.

Harry Bailey with daughter Dulcie Pitman at 41 Gordon Street, cc2023.5.5, Coffs Collections

The library service, having been part of Council buildings since inception in the Shire, received its own abode in 1973. It was opened on Thursday 23 June with the name Harry Bailey Memorial Library, nine years after his passing, and soon became very popular. [14]

It recognised the name of a faithful public servant who had commented 20 years earlier:

Speaking at Dorrigo Shire Council meeting the president, Cr. W. H. Bailey said he often wondered if ratepayers realised how much time a councillor spent in ratepayers’ interests. He said that during the twelve years he had been a councillor, he had given the ratepayers at least two years of his personal time. He added that two other councillors Crs. S. Hooson and R. G. Wilson, would also have given the ratepayers approximately the same.

Cr. Bailey said he based his figures on time spent in travelling to Council meetings and in visiting the Shire Chambers as occasion demanded. He did not include any time spent in interviewing or in attending meetings other than those of the Shire Council or at its direction. [15]

A proposal for a new library branch in Toormina took hold in 1994, proceeding at the expense of a proposed new larger, rain-proof building in the CBD. The Coffs Harbour Advocate stated:

Planning for a new library as part of a three-storey building in Gordon Street, Coffs Harbour, has been postponed for at least a year… The council bought 41 Gordon Street for a new library to replace the existing library, which is leased from the Coffs Harbour Ex-Services Club until 2001.

The existing building is expected to be too small to meet the demand in about three years and it cannot be easily extended.

The council has been evaluating the potential to erect a three-storey building with basement parking in Gordon Street, with one floor for a library and the other two to be leased out or the whole building sold. However talks with a major builder concluded the project is unviable and unlikely to become viable for some time to come.  [16]

The 41 Gordon Street address seems to have been a coincidence, but is an interesting parallel with Harry Bailey.

It wasn’t until 2001 that the library moved to a similarly-architected building on the corner of Coffs and Duke Streets. The new Coffs Harbour City Library Service and Information Centre was opened at Rigby House by NSW Premier Bob Carr with Mayor Jenny Bonfield, on 10 October.

Plaque at Rigby House, May 2023

The extension to its name reflected the general change in the direction of library services, as all public libraries moved beyond supporting relaxation and research to meeting the community’s social needs and providing sanctuary.

The name Harry Bailey Memorial Library was rededicated in March 2015 as the only memorial honouring a man who was the area’s longest-serving Shire President and Councillor.

Steve Little, Rigby House in Coff Street, 1990s,    mus07-10100; Coffs Collections


[1] SHIRE CHAMBERS (1939, June 27). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 4.

[2] Central North Coast Development League (1948, July 19). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 2.

[3] PUBLIC LIBRARY PROPOSAL AGAIN UNDER WAY (1948, July 20). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

[4] COUNCIL REJECTS PUBLIC LIBRARY (1948, October 22). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

[5] CR. H. BAILEY (1947, December 19). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 7.

[6] Public Library Move At Coff’s Harbour (1949, December 20). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 5.

[7] FIRE BRIGADE FOR SAWTELL (1950, February 24). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 6.

[8] Regional Library Sought On Coast (1954, November 20). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 5.

[9] Council Adopts Library Scheme, Coffs Harbour Advocate, 5 June 1959, p.1 (part)

[10] The History of the Harry Bailey Memorial Library Coffs Harbour, 25 October 1982 (25 October 1982). Coffs Collections,

[11] ibid.

[12] William Henry “Harry” Bailey, Coffs Collections,

[13] Historical Land Records Viewer, NSW Land Registry Services, Old Form Torrens Register, Vol-Fol 6079-120,

[14] A well equipped public library (1978, February 22). The Bananacoast Opinion (Coffs Harbour, NSW : 1973 – 1978), p. 6.

[15] TWO YEARS SERVICE TO RATEPAYERS Shire President Speaks His Mind (1953, March 6). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1.

[16] Full steam ahead for Toormina Library, Coffs Harbour Advocate, 29 September 1994, p.2