South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic Management Plan

South Solitary Island Lighthouse optic, courtesy of Coffs Collections at

The South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic (SSILO) is the largest and one of the most significant items in the collection of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum. In early 2020, Coffs Harbour City Council commissioned a Management Plan to inform how best to preserve, protect and promote the SSILO into the future. Undertaken by International Conservation Services and Story Inc., the Management Plan provided an opportunity to dive deeply into the fascinating history and exciting future of this most special object. This blogpost shares some of the information that came to light.

The South Solitary Island lighthouse was a critical factor in the early development of our region in both economic and social terms, allowing the expansion of trade, industry and employment opportunities that would have otherwise been restricted by the treacherous maritime environment. The need for a lighthouse at South Solitary Island was raised as early as 1856; actual construction commenced in July 1878 and took 20 months. This latter part of the 19th century was a peak period of lighthouse construction and South Solitary Island was an important link in the highway of coastal lights along the New South Wales coast.

South Solitary Island Lighthouse, 11 March 1934. In Coffs Collections at

The First Order Lens, or optic, was supplied by the famous British firm Chance Brothers and was installed in the lighthouse in 1879. Chance Brothers was a leading glass manufacturer in Birmingham established in 1824, responsible for the Crystal Palace in 1851 and the glass faces for the Westminster Clock Tower/Big Ben. They manufactured lights and apparatus for hundreds of lighthouses across the world. The glass manufacturing process required a series of complex machining and polishing processes. Unfortunately, Chance Brothers’ specialist machines were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and replacement glass for lighthouse optics can no longer be manufactured anywhere in the world.

The SSILO was the first in New South Wales to operate on kerosene instead of the widely used colza oil, and continued to provide light from kerosene later than any other New South Wales lighthouse, as it was not automated until 1975. Its design was developed from the work of Augustin-Jean Fresnel, a French physicist who pioneered optics, particularly polarised light. He established the use of compound lenses instead of mirrors for lighthouses. The SSILO Fresnel lens is a First Order (the most powerful type) dioptric lens. It has eight panels with prisms of flint glass (often called lead crystal) and each panel has 127 pieces in a gun metal frame. The lens sits on a cast iron pedestal and was set in a bath of mercury to provide frictionless rotation.

When the SSILO technology became redundant, Coffs Harbour City Council took over responsibility for the optic from the Federal Government and it was removed from the lighthouse in two stages between 1975 and 1977, with assistance from a RAAF Chinook helicopter. Vigorous debate took place locally and various plans were put forward. Should it be in the CBD, or by the sea? In a replica lighthouse, a park or a museum? Ultimately, it was installed in 1980 in Coffs’ first museum, then located at 189B Harbour Drive and operated by the Historical Society. Council funded the works – a specially-designed sunken floor area was constructed and engineering staff spent many months sand blasting the frame, cleaning the glass and working out how to fit the SSILO all back together again before carefully craning it into the building before the roof was completed. The museum has since re-located to 215A Harbour Drive due to flooding risk and the original building is hired to local table tennis clubs. A perspex shield has been installed to protect the SSILO and it can be viewed by appointment.

As this short history highlights, key to any consideration of the future location of the SSILO is an understanding of the process of disassembly and reassembly of this priceless glass object. There are two schools of thought on this, one being that it is a highly complex and expensive exercise that should only be undertaken when the final and permanent location of the optic is resolved, as it is likely that it will be too risky and too costly to move again. Costs of $300-$400,000 have been mentioned! This view has been reinforced by the images of the Chinook helicopter removing the SSILO from the island and the knowledge that the pedestal was lifted into its current location by a crane through the roof of the former museum.

The other school of thought is that the disassembly of the optic is a relatively simple process that could be undertaken by a couple of skilled fitters and machinists in a week. Certainly it needs to be remembered that the optic originally came to South Solitary Island as a series of parts in crates, and if it was feasible to haul these to the top of a lighthouse in such a remote and inaccessible location and install it there with 19th century equipment, it must be feasible to take it apart and relocate it in Coffs Harbour in the 21st century! Happily, it is the consultants’ view that disassembly and reassembly of the optic can be undertaken relatively simply. The SSILO can be dismantled into small enough component parts and brought out of the former museum through the doors, thus not necessitating the removal of the roof. Another mystery that was solved during the Management Plan was whether the SSILO still contained mercury. Although the fate of the mercury is unknown, we can confirm that there is no longer any mercury in the cast iron “bath” in the pedestal; it now contains lubricating oil.

The consultants also gave serious consideration to the question of the future location of the SSILO:

“Visiting SSILO allowed (us) to see its huge value to the Coffs Harbour community, both as an object of beauty and as an historical and technological wonder. It is fully understandable why the Council fought so hard to retain ownership of it at the time of its decommissioning from South Solitary Island, and the community pride it has engendered over the 45 years since. More broadly there is a wider national interest from both the maritime history and heritage sectors. It is therefore clear that SSILO’s current location within the non-operational museum should change to overcome the lack of access for the local community and tourists. The opportunity of this project is to create a reimagining and contextualization that allows SSILO to be both fully interpreted and fully appreciated.”

Predictably, there are just as many options and opinions about the future of the SSILO today as there was back in the 1970s when it first came ashore. The consultants considered a number of these, including: continuation of the status quo, 189B Harbour Drive; placement into long term storage; placement into museum storage with guided tours; relocation to the new Cultural and Civic Space; and relocation to a revitalised Jetty Foreshores.

They sought the views of stakeholders including Friends of South Solitary Island Lighthouse (FOSSIL) and the Australian Maritime Authority (AMSA). FOSSIL members contributed many positive ideas and were open to various possibilities but their overall message was clear: SSILO belongs by the sea. On this point the consultants agree, stating that “the optimum position for the long term location of SSILO should be adjacent to the harbour within sight of the sea.

SSILO’s future became clearer in early May 2020 just before the Management Plan was completed when the NSW Government announced Stage 3 of the Coffs Harbour Jetty Foreshore Precinct master plan project. It will surely be the “jewel in the crown” of our beautiful harbour precinct.

Jo Besley, Museum and Gallery Curator

South Solitary Island: Design for Lighthouse, James Barnet – NSW Colonial Architect, 1878. Courtesy of National Archives of Australia, A9568, 1/18/1

Many more images of the Lighthouse and its optic over their lifetime are available in Coffs Collections.

Announcing Coffs Collections

Coffs Collections is a new cultural service hosted by the Coffs Harbour City Council to share digital versions of the collections managed by the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and the Coffs Harbour Libraries in a single destination website.

Coffs Collections may also be referred to as a discovery service – a system on the web for searching across a wide range of local and remote content and in most cases, immediately providing access to that content. The content can take many forms, so the service provides different viewers to experience it.

Here’s what you can do in Coffs Collections.

Discover and

reveal the artworks

watch the films       

read the documents         

admire the objects 

view the photographs 

find the maps


explore the collections 

revisit the exhibitions

trace the public art   

follow the resources 

excavate the timelines 

The chart can be viewed in two formats, here and here  

What happens when we haven’t created a digital version of the item?

You will see the casuarina nut, an artwork in its own right. The casuarina trees appear both on the coast and in the hinterland of the Coffs region. When you click on it, the details of the item will still pop up even when there is no image. We are continuing to add to the service all the time.

Coffs Collections is waiting at for you to use – please let us know what you think of it.

“The Packing Case Chair” – Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

Figure 1: The Packing Case Chair at Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, 2020.

While it may have an initial unprepossessing appearance this chair is a uniquely handmade gift from the Fraser family given to their friends the Williams family .  The chair is was made from old kerosene packing cases from the Vacuum Oil Company and Plume Motor Spirits & Kerosene.  It is upholstered in two kinds of floral fabric. It was made by Henry ‘Harry’ Fraser, and was most likely upholstered by his wife, Elizabeth Grant Fraser. The packing case chair was a gift to Ivy Williams (nee Dent), the matriarch of the Williams family, with whom the Frasers first lived upon arriving in the Coffs Harbour area in the early 1920s. It is estimated that the chair dates from around this time.

The Frasers and the Williams lived in an area of Coramba Road that was previously known as ‘Orange Trees’. This site is now home to a plant nursery, but was once largely covered with banana plantations and tomato fields. When the Frasers moved out of the Williams home, they built their own home not far away. The donor remembers them as ‘Uncle and Aunty Fraser’. Ivy Williams kept the chair in her bedroom. When she passed away, the chair was handed down to her daughter Daisie Nelson (nee Williams) who used the chair for sewing and reading – the drawers in the arms were used to hold sewing equipment and magazines were kept under the seat. The chair was subsequently handed down to Daisie’s daughter Jill who donated it to the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum. All three generations of women lived on the same site and used the chair in intimate, quiet spaces of their home.

Domestic furniture made from packing cases and other recycled materials was commonplace in the early 20th century. Though usually associated with the Great Depression of the 1930s, this kind of ‘bush carpentry’ was made in remote locations decades earlier due to the lack of access to furniture makers and the funds to purchase pre-made items. Soldier settlers and people leaving the city for the country were often supported by organisations like the New Settlers League of Australia. The League produced a booklet titled ‘Makeshifts’ that included instructions on how to make furniture from packing cases for every room in the house. A very similar chair design illustrates the cover of the 1925 edition. It is not out of the question that the Frasers may have been aware of this booklet, or that the construction of these objects came from a local, vernacular knowledge passed between neighbours and communities.

Figure 2: Front cover of Makeshifts booklet, 1925

The Makers – The Fraser Family

Henry Murray Fraser, known as Harry, married Elizabeth Grant Fulton in 1915 in Kogarah in Sydney. Harry Fraser was a fitter at the Eveleigh Railway workshops and Elizabeth worked at the Children’s Hospital in Camperdown. Harry left his work at the Railway workshops because of ill health. Subsequently, the Frasers moved to Coffs Harbour in 1921, when Harry went into business with his cousin George King and helped him run a traction engine (a self-propelled steam engine, also known as a road locomotive) in Coffs Harbour [1].

Figure 3: Harry Fraser and George King with their traction engine, Picture Courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum mus07-3674.

They hauled sawn timber from Mackenzie’s sawmill at Coramba to the jetty at Coffs Harbour. It wasn’t without its hazards:

Figure 4: from The Coffs Harbour Advocate, 8 April 1922

Harry and Elizabeth moved back to Sydney briefly and returned to Coffs Harbour for good in 1924, around the time the chair was built. They lived out at ‘Orange Trees’ and became market gardeners, growing tomatoes and bananas.

A Note on ‘Orange Trees’

In mentions of the Frasers in newspapers, ‘Orange Trees’ is given as their place of residence, as if it were a suburb. According to an old label for the packing case chair in the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, “Orange Trees is an area centered on the present Total Gardens Nursery, which stretched from Buchanan’s Road to Bennett’s Road.” [2]

Orange Trees is part of a broader area that was selected by a man called Thomas or Tommy Albert. Yeates (1990) makes a note of the origin of the name: “James Marles chose two blocks adjacent to Moller, while Thomas Albert went a mile or so to the west where he tried his luck growing citrus. However, he sold his 160 acres in 1887 when his five-year term for conditional purchase expired, and his stay is now remembered by the naming of Orange Trees Road.”[3]

Museum Volunteer Marie Davey (2012) discovered the following about Albert and his land:

“Aged nineteen, Tommy Albert came south to Coffs Harbour after hearing stories of the good land available to settlers. Choosing a site between the present town of Coffs Harbour and Red Hill, he applied for 160 acres (64.75 hectares) on which he intended growing sugar cane.

However, after assessing the immediate needs of the tiny settlement, he switched to growing corn for the increasing number of bullock teams, and fruit and vegetables for his own use and for the families of the timber cutters. On his selection, Tommy Albert built a dwelling of slabs and invited his fiancée down from Grafton to view her future home. Unfortunately she was not impressed with the house, or the neighbours and quickly returned to Grafton.

Tommy stayed on working his selection with little success because of the roughness of the terrain and the poor quality of the soil. Finally he took outside work for Marles a neighbour, ploughing jobs for James Small at Korora, helping on the survey of Boambee and assisting Eugene Rudder over Red Hill at Coramba.

Tommy stayed on his selection for five years until his term of occupancy ran out. He sold his farm for twenty-five pounds but his labour on the barren soil had not been in vain, as his fruit trees, the only ones in the district, survived and the area became known as Orange Trees.”[4]

Orange Trees is also described in newspapers up until at least the 1950s as a distinct suburb during a load-shedding schedule [5]. At one point, it even had its own tennis team [6].

Figure 5: from The Beacon, 1936, P.62.

The packing case chair is an example of the resourcefulness of new settlers to the Coffs Harbour area. It has a strong connection to  local families, the Frasers, who arrived in the area in the early 1900s, in part to escape poor health associated with industrial city living. It represents a wave of migration to the local area and gives us a sense of the personal, domestic life of people in Coffs Harbour at a time that required a large amount of ‘making do’ by residents.

It is also an example of Australian ‘bush carpentry’ that was common from the early 1900s until the 1950s. It reflects the lack of resources of most new settlers to non-metropolitan areas, and the need to repurpose cheap, readily available material like packing cases into functional and beautiful household furniture. Though living and working on a farm in Coffs Harbour in the early years of the 20th century would have been harsh and hard work, the chair is also a reminder of the desire to have beautiful, personal items in the domestic spaces of these farms. The packing case chair was used and appreciated by three generations of women in personal spaces such as the bedroom, or for more peaceful pastimes like sewing and reading.

The packing case chair is currently on display in the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.


[1] 2001, ‘Our History’, The Coffs Harbour Advocate, 17 August, p. 11

[2] Written by Terrie Beckhouse, 19 April 2016

[3] Yeates, N. 1990, Coffs Harbour Volume 1: Pre-1880 to 1945, Bananacoast Printers, Coffs Harbour, p. 24

[4] Davey, M. comp. 2012, Historic Sites of Coffs Harbour, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, Coffs Harbour, p. 3

[5] 1951 ‘Load Shedding Schedule’, Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), 23 November, p. 1, viewed 14 July 2019,

[6] Coffs Harbour High School. (N.S.W. :). Beacon Retrieved July 21, 2020, from


Figure 1: The Packing Case Chair at Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, 2020.

Figure 2: New Settlers League, 1925. Makeshifts and other home-made furniture and utensils, front cover, accessed 15 July 2019, <> 

Figure 3: First Steam Tractor in Coffs Harbour, circa 1910, photograph, viewed 11 July 2019, <>

Figure 4: 1922 ‘Advertising’, Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), 8 April, p. 3. , viewed 30 Apr 2019,

Figure 5: Coffs Harbour High School. (N.S.W. :), 1936. Beacon, Retrieved July 21, 2020, from

Research by Nerida Little, Digitisation Collections Officer.
With many thanks to Jill Horton for additional information.

The Original Coffs Harbour Police Station and Court House

The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum is pleased to announce our new exhibit – a 1:25 scale model of the original Coffs Harbour Police Station and Courthouse – our Museum building!  This delicately made model has been a labour of love over the last 18 months by a local craftsman and heritage enthusiast, Don Langley.  It comes complete with miniature people, furniture, lights, animals, and fine detailing that is bound to engage people of all ages who see it.

Don Langley with the model at Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, June, 2020.

The Coffs Harbour Police Station opened in 1906 following “complaints of drunkenness in the street and disorder at dances” (Coffs Coast Advocate, 2001).  The existing Coramba Police Station, established in 1896, was  twelve miles away on horseback and considered too distant to respond to immediate problems in the Coffs Harbour area.  Senior Constable Belson and Constable D.M. Harper were the first men to operate the new police station (Yeates, 1990, p. 107).  In 1907 the building expanded to include the courthouse. It contained a courtroom, a Clerk of Petty Sessions,  a magistrate’s room, offices and living quarters for the policemen, two cells, an exercise yard, a forage room and a two-stall stable.  The building was used in this capacity until 1930 when the Moonee Street Police Station and Courtroom opened (Yeates, 1990, p. 185).

Coffs Harbour Courthouse and Police Station, Coffs Harbour, N.S.W. built in 1905, Photo courtesty of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum mus07-857.

Don Langley has written an account of his experience researching and building the model.  Below is his story:

The title – “Original Coffs Harbour Police Station” is a somewhat misnomer.  According to the records I have been able to access, the Police Station construction begin in 1906 or thereabouts but several times, up to 1920, the building was subject to a number of additions and modification.   What I decided to do was make the scale model as close to its structure at that time (1920).

In the researching process I could find no plans of the original building or the modifications up to 1920.  It appears that severe flooding at one time destroyed a large amount of the Council archives and the plans for the Station may have been victim of those floods.  As a consequence I was unable to ascertain the type of quite a few construction materials and specifications causing a considerable amount of guesswork. 

For instance, what was the external cladding?  Several old photographs of early Coffs Harbour buildings such as the Arts and Crafts building and the original Surf Club headquarters quite clearly indicated that the weatherboards were rough sawn square edge boards.  From the photographs I guessed that the weatherboards may well have been produced using local cedar timber.  The records indicate that the original building was designed by the Government Architect, W.L. Vernon. From my past experience it seemed that such weather boards would have been too “lacking in finer quality” for an architectural designed building and the architect would have specified something better looking.  Thus it seemed to me that the “shiplap”weatherboards on the present building may well have been the original style. 

What would have been the finish to the internal lining boards in the original Courthouse/Police Station?  My guess is that in accord with such buildings that have been preserved to a greater degree than the Coffs Harbour building e.g. Port Macquarie Police Station and Courthouse, the finish to the internal lining was stained and polished timber.  This is how I have displayed it even if the colour may well have been quite different.  Then I considered the internal lining of the residence.  It seemed to me that residences attached to public buildings did not receive the grandiose finishes as the public buildings did.  So my assumption was that the lining boards and general finishes in the residence were painted in bland colours and, whether that was so or not, this is what I have done. 

Other materials were easier to establish.  Corrugated iron roofing was common even in those days and though there may be some conjecture as to whether wooden shingles could have been used corrugated iron seems a more plausible material.  However the original may have been replaced at time of additions and modifications.  Nevertheless shingles could well have been the original roof covering as cedar shingles have been produced from local timber sources for many years and not so long ago I was talking to a district saw-miller who stated he was cutting cedar shingles for a government entity. 

The flooring was/is timber with the prisoner exercise yard being concrete.  Likewise the residence wet areas.  As said original records seem to have disappeared so much of my work was calculated guesswork.  The brick base to the building is accepted as original.  In research I could find no evidence at all that the bricks may have been made locally so I assumed that they were imported, most likely from Grafton.

The Prison Lock-Up Cells

Though the few plans available indicated where they were located on site there was no other information other than that they were portable.  Incredibly I found out that one was still in existence and furthermore was in the locality – in the backyard of the Sawtell Police Station (now not in operation).  I was able to inspect it and take detailed measurements and photographs.  Thus I was able to accurately reconstruct the cells in the model.  I might add that the cells were not made in a joinery shop but appeared to be made at the sawmill where the timber was produced.  One thing is certain they were made robust enough to be transported as well as adequate for prisoner confinement.

Original prison lock-up cell in Sawtell, 2019, photo courtesy of Don Langley.

Prison lock-up cells in model, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, June 2020.

Brief description of how various linings were produced for the model

General construction:  Floor, walls and roof were made from 5 mm MDF board, it being more stable than plywood and available in larger area sizes that balsa wood though some plywood was used.

Base brickwork:  This was achieved by Googling up panels of brickwork on the internet, selecting the most appropriate and saving it on my PC, then enlarging/reducing the panel to the scale I was using.  I made the individual brick in the panel 9 mm x 3 mm representing 1:25 scale of standard bricks 225 mm x 75 mm in size. Having then achieved this correct scale I reproduced as many panels as I wanted and packed them side by side in rows similar in appearance to a wall of brickwork.  This I took to a commercial printer who was able to produce a continual panel some 4 meters long on heavy paper.  This enabled me to cut the paper to sizes I wanted.  Finally the paper was pasted to plywood base.

Internal wall lining: Basically I used the same principle for the brickwork but I was limited to finding on the internet the exact patterns I required. 

Corrugated iron for the roof: This stumped me for a while.  I tried to find a mould with a stamp to press aluminium foil into corrugations but was not successful.  I could not get a mould to true scale.  Then a friend showed me some corrugated paper which was exactly to scale but needed to be painted.  I was able to find a colour matching weathered corrugated iron.

Flooring:  The flooring was 5 mm x 0.5 mm strips of mahogany which I glued to a plywood base piece by piece.

Weatherboards:  Having established that shiplap profile was the one to use, procuring such timber to scale was impossible.  So I used 5 mm x 1.5 mm strips of Limewood glued to plywood backing and separated by 2 mm x 1 mm strips giving the rebated shiplap profile.  Each 5 mm x 1.5 mm strip and each 2 mm x 1 mm strip was glued individually.

Ground contours:  The base for the building was formed on a flat base and the ground contours were formed by moulding polystyrene sheets to the contours required.

Lighting:  I used small LED lighting strips fixed to the underside of the roof.

Research by Don Langley in accordance with current information.

Make sure you visit the museum to see this wonderful model, you can find out our current opening days and times on the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum website.

Reference List

Coffs Harbour Advocate (2001, 4 September). Our History.

The Coffs Harbour & District Independent Weekly (2003, 6 November). History Under the Hammer.

Langley, Don. (2020) Original Coffs Harbour Police Station.

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour: Vol I, Pre-1880 to 1945: Bananacoast Printers.


Louie La Crosse an Early Coffs Harbour Character


Louie La Crosse was born Ange La Craux in 1871 in Mauritius (Coffs Harbour District Family History Society). It is not certain how Louie came to Australia.  Joyce Franklin recalls him telling her as a child, that he came to here via Madagascar and landed in Western Australia.  From there he worked his way across the country on the railway line, his job being the “Billy Boy” for the linesman (Coffs Harbour City Council, 1986-1988). His obituary states that he was “shanghaied” from Mauritius, ended up in Newcastle and then worked on the railway up the coast to Coffs Harbour (“OBITUARY,” 1940).  However, he arrived he was a valued, respected and renowned character who lived in Coffs Harbour during the 1920s & 30s.

He is reported as arriving in Coffs Harbour in the first week of 1918 in an old sulky that was described as forerunner to the present-day caravan with a horse in poor condition.  He was well received by the residents in town, where he restocked his supplies before going onto Red Hill where the North Coast Railway was being constructed by Norton Griffiths (Thomas; Coffs Harbour District Family History Society). Unfortunately on his way up the hill his carriage fell over the edge which was very upsetting for Louie. He was given a job as the “Billy Boy” which did not last long as the contract was cancelled which resulted in all of the workers being laid off.

Louie then came to town and built a home out of beaten out kerosene tins (see picture below) and stayed for the next two decades until his death in February 1940.

Louie outside of his home, Courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

He supported himself by doing general odd jobs for local business such as yard cleaning and then began collecting bottles, bones and bags.  He had a two-wheel cart described by Milton Smith as made out of a door with two sulky wheels and a couple of shafts that he pulled around town to collect his bottles and bones (see picture above) (Coffs Harbour City Council, 1986-1988).


While it was apparent from the above clipping and resident’s memories that he did at times have one too many alcoholic beverages this did not seem to make people think any worse of him.  He was mostly well respected and cared for in the town and there were many who called him their friend. Kon Ruthning the local jeweler made some of his land available for Louie to build his kerosene tin shack near top town after he was moved off council land. Ruthning and Fred Lowery also bought him an accordion for Christmas one year which Louie used to play in the centre of town accompanied by his dog who used to howl.  Madge Durrington recalled him as “the music man, he always had his accordion with him, and in his straw boater and tie he would play, and we (the children) would dance around him and he would play as long as we would jump, to me he made us laugh.” There are numerous accounts of how he was very kindhearted especially when it came to children and animals.  Isabel Landrigan recalls as a child sitting outside Cunninghams all day with a crying Louie comforting him when a horse (perhaps his own) died in the culvert.  Joyce Franklin, whose father was the local blacksmith recalls that he was a friend of her father’s and used to often have morning and afternoon tea on the back veranda.  The family worried that he did not eat enough as he had a very slight build and was often “bronchial”.  When he was unwell her father used to deliver a billy of pea soup and at Easter, hot cross buns (Coffs Harbour City Council, 1986-1988).

(“PERSONAL,” 1936)

He had a great talent for kite making and it was the goal of all the children to buy one of Louie’s kites.  They were made from bamboo and tissue paper and flew very well.  Douglas Harrigan remembers spending a long time collecting all the bottles he could find to get enough money to buy a kite. The cost was 9 pence and he eventually got one; at that time it was the “thrill of his life to get one of those kites”.  If you collected enough bottles you could also take them to Louie, and he would swap them for a kite.  Colin McGregor, whose father owned a local café, remembers sneaking a pound of butter when his Dad was not looking and swapping it for a kite.  He describes them as big box kites 3 foot x 2 foot, they had flaps on the sides and when you flew them over town you could hear them flapping in the wind. Joyce Franklin recounts that her Dad, the blacksmith, was very strict about the type of male company that she was allowed to keep growing up, but that he didn’t mind her and her siblings flying kites with Louie. Louie didn’t have any teeth, so their job was to “whistle up the wind” (Coffs Harbour City Council, 1986-1988).

He also was talented as a craftsman and artist.  Joyce Franklin recalls that when The Fitzroy sank in 1921 Louie drew a particularly good picture of the ship sinking and all his bottles floating away.  He would send his bottles and bones (the bones to be turned into fertilizer) to Sydney every month or two and the sinking of the Fitzroy meant he had a very lean couple of months ahead of him.

(“A LOCAL ARTIST.,” 1930)

Yet, there was a flip side to how some people in Coffs thought of and treated Louie. There were some children who feared him, and some of the boys and even adults used to play tricks on him.  His home was on the main route between town and the primary school so children sometimes would run past in fear, some would try and spy on him and others play “jokes”; Bill Payne recalls telling him “that the lions were after him”.  Colin McGregor who thought of Louie as a friend and used to often visit him, remembers making a “mistake” when being dared to call Louie “black” and Louie chasing him back home where he hid under a table. When his father found out, Colin got “a swift kick in the backside” for doing it.  Muriel Brennan recounts an incident when a boarder of her mother’s put something on Louie’s horse to “make it go hell for leather, he thought it was a great joke, poor old Louie was hanging on for dear life”.  There were even doubts about his gender according to Joyce Franklin, because he did not have any facial hair.  One day some high school boys (about 18 years old) decided to strip him to check his gender.  It happened outside the blacksmith shop and her Dad broke it up, Louie was terribly upset and cried (Coffs Harbour City Council, 1986-1988).

Louie was religious and went to mass regularly and when he died a collection was taken up to pay for his funeral and headstone, as a sign of respect and of how well-liked he was in the community. As narrated by Yeates “The number of important citizens who attended the funeral of this man without any of his own kin was a tribute to him” (Yeates, 1990, p. 254).

Louie La Crosse and his dog, circa 1920, Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1060 (Coffs Harbour City Council, 2020)


(“OBITUARY,” 1940)

OBITUARY Transcription

Louie’s Sudden Passing

On Tuesday night last Angel La Crosse, better known to everyone in Coffs Harbour during the past 15 or 20 years as “Louie,” was found dead in his hut near the Methodist Parsonage. Apparently, he had not long been dead. Neighbours had not seen him about much lately, and it was known that he was not well. This caused Sergeant Blanchard and Messrs. L Ruthning, J. Faulkes and. M. Cunningham to walk across to the hut on Tuesday night, about 9 o’clock, to investigate. They could get no reply when they knocked, so opened the door and found Louie dead. Apparently, he had been sitting on his bunk when he fell backwards and expired. The body was still warm when found so evidently death had taken place not long previously. One neighbour had seen him about during the afternoon. He was in the habit of retiring about 5 p.m. each day. The Deceased, who was about 69 years of age, was one of the best-known identities about Coffs Harbour. He was a black man who did no one any harm but knocked about the town a good deal. During the past few years, he has not enjoyed, good health, particularly in the very cold weather. Several times he has been a patient in the District Hospital when little hope was entertained for his recovery. He was a native of Mauritius, of Portuguese extraction and has told that he was “shanghaied” from home as a young man and placed on board a ship bound for Australia. He landed at Newcastle when in his early twenties and became a cook. When the railway line was built along the North Coast, he followed it as a cook, and finally settled down in Coffs Harbour, 15 or 20 years ago. For some years he collected bottles and bones as a means of livelihood, but for the past four years or so has been having the old age pension. He had a fair ear for music, and at Christmas time particularly was a familiar figure about the town playing tunes on an accordion, apparently learned by ear. The funeral was at the Catholic portion of Coffs Harbour Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon, Father Ryan conducted the service. At the graveside Father Ryan expressed appreciation of the sentiment shown by the group of citizens who assembled to pay their last respects to the deceased, who as far as they knew was without kith or kin in this country. It was a tribute to a black man who had lived an honest and straightforward life in the community. (Yeates, 1990)


BIG OYSTER LOSSES. (1928, 16 March 1928). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from

Coffs Harbour City Council (Producer). (1986-1988). Voice of Time Oral History Project. Retrieved from

Coffs Harbour City Council. (2020). Picture Coffs Harbour. Retrieved from

Coffs Harbour District Family History Society. The Early Residents of Coffs.

A LOCAL ARTIST. (1930, 14 October 1930). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved from

OBITUARY. (1940, 16 February 1940). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from

PERSONAL. (1936, 24 November 1936). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from

Thomas, M. Louie won the heart of Coffs. Coffs Harbour Advocate.

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour: Vol I, Pre-1880 to 1945: Bananacoast Printers.

Researched and written by Simone Newman, Local Studies Librarian.

The Magic Years of Brian Hodge, Coffs Harbour High School Cadet

During preparations for the launch of digital copies of Coffs Harbour High School’s annual magazine the Beacon [1] in 2019, a less well-known publication about the School came to the attention of the Cultural Development and History Services team of the Coffs Harbour City Council.

The Magic Years Cadet Story 1939-45, was written by historian the late Brian Hodge, a cadet himself. Brian and his family lived in Coffs Harbour from 1932 until 1945. His father, Russell Frederick Hodge, was the Principal of Coffs Harbour High School and a member of the Coffs Harbour Militia Unit. Captain Hodge had lived through World War I, also as a cadet, and that in addition to his beliefs, led him to propose and set up the Corp. [2]

Jeety High School Cadets, Bonville Reserve, 1942
Coffs Harbour High School Cadet Corp
with Captain R. F. Hodge
Bonville Reserve 1942

Not wishing to miss out, a Girls’ Volunteer Corp was established in May 1942 – the first of its kind in NSW. The Magic Years does justice to their story too. It is a well-researched and well-written book. As Mr Hodge states in the Introduction, ‘the war years of 1939-45 were very special ones for us boys and girls in the Coffs Harbour High School Cadet Corp. The unit was very young and vigorous, and we kids were lively teenagers – “with eager unrest” – all very patriotic, all with pulses quickened by the threat Japan was posing to our coastline and to Coffs Harbour. Especially was this so in 1942.’ [3]

Jetty High School Girls' Volunteer Corp
Coffs Harbour High School Girls’ Volunteer Corp
Non-Commissioned Officers’ May camp Bonville Reserve 1942
Picture Coffs Harbour, mus07-1614

Was the Coffs coast really under threat during World War II?

Having lived through World War I, Captain Hodge knew it was best to be prepared and he acted on that in a very disciplined manner. Recent research by a Regional Museum volunteer led to the source of a sub-mariner’s maritime chart prepared by the Naval Department of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1940.

Japs Had Plans Of Coff’s Harbour (1946, March 5). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 2.
Part of a Japanese sub-mariner’s chart
Coffs Harbour Regional Museum mus12-1425

Did the Jetty High students actually carry live ammunition?

This is a question often received by Museum staff. The short answer is yes. The cadets were issued with guns and ammunition, for use in training. They also trained with bayonets. Training camps conducted night patrols in the sandhills along Boambee Beach every school holidays, sometimes alarming the locals. And in the manuscript archive, a confession: “Did you know that a group of us fired live tracer bullets out of a Room 8 window the night Victory was announced? We used a Bren & tried to form patterns of Vs in the sky over the harbour.”

Aiming for Little Muttonbird Island
“Old Trig. Station, Little Muttonbird the Target.”
The Brian Hodge manuscript

What happened to the missing years of the local newspapers?

As noted in The Magic Years, Brian Hodge found that some sources of Coffs’ wartime history have disappeared. In particular, although our continuing newspaper is available both before and after World War II, no copies of the Coffs Harbour Advocate between 1943 and 1945 remain. [4] The Museum holds just a few small cuttings as proof it existed. Mr Hodge filled in the gaps by sending out detailed questionnaires, and the resulting thoroughly researched publication goes some way to making up for this loss, describing not only the activities of the Cadets but also wartime life as experienced locally.

From Coffs Harbour to Hill End and back again

Brian Hodge lived in Hill End, a small town near Tambaroora. He was a member of the Hill End And Tambaroora Gathering Group [5]. A message asking about copies of the publication was responded to by HEATGG’s honorary librarian, Lorraine Purcell. Her intervention led to the donation of Brian Hodge’s research archive of the book to our Regional Museum, and during the height of the summer bushfire season, Mrs Purcell arranged for the safe transfer of The Magic Years to Coffs Harbour.

Copies of the book will be available for sale at various outlets when they open, and of course, at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.


[1] Coffs Harbour High School. (N.S.W.). Beacon

[2] Cadets – Educational establishment – Appointment to Officer Commanding Coffs Harbour High School Senior Cadet Detachment – Captain R F Hodge, Australian War Memorial AWM61, 426/2/515

[3] The Magic Years : Cadet Story 1939-45; Hodge, Brian, Hill End, NSW : Cambaroora Star publications, 1993, p. vii

[4] Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954) 

[5] Hill End And Tambaroora Gathering Group has a website at with a shop link to publications.

Debbie Campbell

LMG Digitisation Coordinator

Coffs Coast Heritage & Arts Digitisation (CCHAD) project



Life as a Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife on South Solitary Island

South Solitary Lighthouse Keepers and Families circa 1935, Right Back: Jessie and Wilfred Tulk , Picture courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum 07-4467.

This month is the the 140 year anniversary of the South Solitary Island lighthouse.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on a small island?  Many people might assume that living on South Solitary Island with only your children and husband for 5 years would be hard work and lonely. The assumption of it being hard work is correct. But Jessie Tulk and her daughter Mercedes Sauerstein tell the tales of how the island was never boring or lonely and there was excitement and plenty of activities to keep them entertained.

Jessie came from a family of hard working women.  Her mother “Dolly Lee” (Margaret) was a renowned cook, and worked at the Pier Hotel while Jessie was growing up, as did Jessie once she was 14 years old.  “Dolly Lee” also owned one of the early banana plantations in Coffs Harbour in the 1920s, and worked “like a man” all day, supplying bananas to local stores, she would even “chip” down the plantation when the bananas were ready and carry them on her back. (Berzins, North Coast Women – A History to 1939, P. 35)

Jessie was 33 years of age when she moved to South Solitary Island with her 3 children and husband Mr Wilfred Reginald Tulk after he was offered the job of lighthouse keeper. They lived there for 5 years and she remembers her time living on South Solitary Island fondly and that she and the children loved it on the secluded island.

The Tulk Family Swimming at South Solitary Island, Picture courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

They would place their food stores order via Morse Code in the evening and fishermen would bring it out to them once a fortnight. They would throw a rope out to tie the mailbag to that had the food inside, as the mailbag was waterproof. She had to make sure she kept a good food store that could last months in case there were any storms or problems with boats bringing stores out. The stores boat coming in was always an exciting event.

They had on the island, 30 chickens, lots of fish and an original 8 rabbits, which multiplied possibly to 100. Goats were brought out as a potential food source and the peelings would always go to the goats, unfortunately though they were not a total success on the island.

SOLITARY ISLAND (1936, July 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from


A picture of goats on South Solitary Island taken by the Tulk family in the 1930s, it may be Billy, the dates correspond.  Picture courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

BILLY’S LAST CHARGE (1936, August 10). Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from

There were giant oysters also on the island and fish was a main component of everyone’s diet.  Jess was the only person who at that time successfully grew flowers on South Solitary Island, petunias and carnations, as her husband made a wind break to help them to grow along with the root vegetables.

Fried scones and eggs were the staples if the stores did not come. Once this happened, and a stores boat could not land for a month, frustratingly they could see the boats coming towards them and then being unable to land, finally turning around and leaving again.  Jess had let her stores run down because they were due for a shift change so she had to cook fried scones and jam, as all they had were the chicken’s eggs and flour, but no butter, for a month.

Jessie also learnt to make ginger beer and beer. Her children recall the stores coming onto the island, and the smell of the apple boxes in the crates with straw. She made her own bread on the island. They would even cut the mould off and eat the bread, she would make a new batch every second day. Her children remember their mother being an independent, resourceful country women who accepted life and got on with it, the men did the lighthouse work and the women did the heavy housework.

Wilfred Tulk and Sausage on the bosun’s chair, Picture courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

One day, about the year 1937, Jessie and her husband went over the channel (thirty feet wide) on a bosun’s chair suspended from the cable and were gladdened by a haul of twelve snapper, a twelve pound groper and sundry small fish. This was probably a record for the island in that Jessie hooked and landed the entire catch, except the groper, in which case some extra weight was required on the line from her husband. Needless to say, fish figured largely on the island’s menu for several meals.

Jess Tulk, on the right, and her friend Poppy Maggs at South Solitary Island in the 1930s. Picture courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

Jessie’s children remember that she kept herself busy, and enjoyed her time on the Island with her children. The memories of which they all cherished.

Research by Alana Castor, Southern Cross University Intern December 2019-February 2020, Community Heritage Project for Coffs Coast Heritage and Art Digitisation Project.


Lessons from the Past: The 1919 Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Coffs Harbour

The current Coronavirus outbreak (COVID19)[1] has certainly aroused fears of a possible global pandemic in 2020 and the reactions of all levels of Australian Government: Federal, State and local bodies have some interesting parallels to the responses made by the same legislative groups back in 1919. Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo districts underwent a level of restrictions unheard of to minimise the possible outbreak of the influenza in the period from April 1 to September, 1919. There have been some successful initiatives adopted by current authorities as a result of the actions taken by the Australian Government to reduce the morbidity rates of the Spanish Flu in 1919; including compulsory notification, nursing and medical assistance, hospital accommodation, extensive use of vaccination, restrictions on travel and assembly (including the closure of schools and churches), and the wearing of masks at certain periods.

Distant view of a temporary isolation camp set up for interstate visitors at Jubilee Oval, Adelaide during the influenza outbreak of 1919. Picture Courtesy of State Library of South Australia. PRG 280/1/9/57

The Spanish Flu is a little of a misnomer as it was associated with the King of Spain catching influenza in 1918 but he managed to survive the illness.  Yet the truth is more intertwined with the fortunes of military activities and censorship during World War One of the combating Allied and German forces in the period of 1918, where the outcome of the war was still very much in the balance. Indeed, General Foch, the French General and Commander of the Allied forces, conceded that in May 1918 he had real fears of the German Ludendorff Offensive being successful leading to a decisive victory for the Germans. Likewise, the British Cabinet discussed on June 5, 1918 the possibility of evacuating the entire British Expeditionary force from the Continent[2]. Interestingly, the pneumonic influenza may have been a decisive factor in the demise of German troops. By July 1918, almost half a million German troops had contracted the first wave of the so called Spanish Flu. As well as this misfortune, 400,000 German citizens had died of the disease in 1918 on the Home front sealing the fate of the outcome of the war for Germany combined with the Allied Naval Blockade and civil unrest.[3] Elsewhere, the Spanish Flu had well and truly affected Allied troops.

Sister Anne Donnell an Australian field nurse on the Western Front, contracted the same influenza as early as in early March 1918 but recovered. She believed the flu originated amongst the troops around Etaples in France.[4]

Whatever the origin of the Spanish Flu, the mass return home of armed forces globally led to a greater spread of the disease and misery just after the cessation of the war. Figures vary greatly but most sources acknowledge at least 40 million to possibly 100 million people died during the period 1918-1919. Far more fatalities than World War One of around 18 million people soldiers and civilians combined.

Soldiers returning to Australia and particularly men from Coffs Harbour were looking forward to welcome home parades and ceremonies on their homecoming. It was not to be for many for some time.

The Diggers Ball, Coffs Harbour, 3 September 1919. Front row: (from the left) Beatrice Matten, Dick Gailer, unknown, unknown, ? Worland, Mary Dunlop, Tommy Dent, Joe Cavanagh, Alf Dodd, ‘Nugget’ Worland, Billy Kay. Second row: 6th from left Jim Gailer, 8th from left Jack Knight. Third row (only two people in the row) Billy Sutton on far right. Fourth row: 6th on left Col Buchanan. Back row: Captain Seymour 2nd from the right. Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-1624.    Note the date of the image 3.9.1919

To give some picture of the spread of the disease originating from Victoria towards New South Wales in 1919, a letter addressed to the NSW Health Minister from an engine driver [5] highlighted the problems of enforcing regulations with ex Servicemen who happened to attend the races in Corowa. Reference to them as “wasters” was a peculiar term describing the quarantine breakers.

Courtesy of State of New South Wales through the State Archives and Records Authority of NSW 2016 

By January 27, 1919 the Spanish Flu had reached NSW. By the time the disease was officially declared over in September some 6,387 people died in New South Wales, infecting as many as 290,000 in Metropolitan Sydney alone.[6] In terms of loss of life, the ‘outbreak’ first wave of the disease was “comparatively mild” when contrasted with the second and third ‘high-mortality’ waves in 1919. Up until the middle of March 1919, only fifty people had died across NSW, while the second wave killed 1,542, and the third 4,302, with the peak occurring between the weeks ending 24 June and 8 July:

  1. (Outbreak wave) 27/1/1919 – 18/3/1919
  2. (High mortality wave) 19/3/1919 – 27/5/1919
  3. (Highest mortality wave)  28/5/1919 – 30/9/1919

Influenza leaflet, Department of Public Health, April 1919. From: NRS 905, [5/8097], 19/57573

Courtesy of State of New South Wales through the State Archives and Records Authority of NSW 2016 

What was unusual about the death rates was the group of males aged between 20 and 39 years accounted for half of the deaths in this period. [7] The NSW Government acted quickly with state wide inoculations and quarantine periods for those people affected. People in Coffs Harbour reacted quickly to the news of the Spanish Flu. Organisations such as the Red Cross started preparations for quarantining people suffering the disease at the Coffs Harbour Showground but desperately needed volunteers. What is interesting to compare were the isolation periods of four days for this pandemic recommended by the Department of Health in NSW compared to the 14 days recommended for the current COVID19 virus in 2020. page41

Coffs Harbour Advocate Wednesday April 9, 1919, P.3. Retrieved from Trove.

Coffs Harbour Advocate Wednesday April 5, 1919, P. 2. Retrieved from Trove.

Likewise, in Dorrigo local government regulations were quickly enforced. Drinking in hotels, local social groups and even church attendance were affected.

Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate Wednesday April 2, 1919, P.3, Retrieved from Trove.

Public association of any kind was restricted. Imagine a publican enforcing the five minute rule with serving drinks and asking patrons to move along!

Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate April 23, 1919, P.3.  Retrieved from Trove.

In Australia, while the estimated death toll of 15,000 people was still high, it was less than a quarter of the country’s 62,000 death toll from the First World War. Australia’s death rate of 2.7 per 1000 of population was one of the lowest recorded of any country during the pandemic.  In Coffs Harbour, so successful were the prevention measures of quarantine, inoculations and wearing of face masks that only a couple of residents succumbed to the disease. It did affect emotionally the community when death came, as outlined in the newspaper announcement of Mrs Cosgrove in 1919:

The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate Wednesday 30th July 1919, P.3. Retrieved from Trove.

In effect, the death toll was far greater in 1919 than the COVID19 virus in 2020, yet the hysteria and misinformation of the contagiousness of the disease and the protective measures to prevent falling ill bear an interesting comparison. Perhaps the more contagious the disease became during this time, the more anxious were people to minimise the spread of the Flu. Even the morals and health of train passengers, through constant kissing of one another, was a subject of debate at a Camden Council meeting.

The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate Wednesday 28th May, 1919, P.4. Retrieved from Trove.

Rhonda Dahlen recorded her grandfather Irvine may have accidentally brought the first case of Spanish Flu to Coffs Harbour after his marriage to his wife Elsie on March 19, 1919 in Sydney. On their return to Coffs Harbour Irvine known as Scob to his family developed flu symptoms  of headaches and fever. This was later identified by Dr Larbaleister as a possible case of the Spanish Flu. The Pier Hotel at the Jetty was used to quarantine possible contacts of Irvine Smith whilst he was quarantined at the back of the old police station in a house in North Street.  His sister Violet and his mother shared the nursing duties to care for him in his recovery from a mild case of the flu.[8]

Perusing the local Coffs Advocate during the period of April to September, 1919, there was a steady update of new Spanish Flu outbreaks and deaths occurring in Sydney in virtually every edition, constantly reinforcing the perception that the danger was ever present in the minds of the citizens of Coffs Harbour. This vigilance can be seen expressed in a few letters to the Coffs Harbour Advocate newspaper whenever newcomers to town managed to obtain free passage from infected regions. The following letter is a particularly good example of xenophobia of people living directly to the north of us in South Grafton.

Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate Wednesday May 21, 1919, P.2. Retrieved from Trove.

Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate Saturday June 28, 1919, P.2. Retrieved from Trove.

However, not everyone “slipped through the net”, as indicated by the band member being nursed by Mr E. Fogarty. This highlights the importance of selfless volunteering by the people of Coffs Harbour who were a key factor in preventing the spread of the disease by volunteering at the quarantine area at the Coffs Harbour Showground. Additionally, the generous donations of food and linen, as well as a cow for milking, were ways people felt they were being part of the community preventing the spread of the pandemic.


Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate Saturday April 5, 1919, P.2. Retrieved from Trove.

The actions of Dr Larbalestier as the town’s physician and Mr Leonard coordinating quarantine and recovery at the Coffs Harbour Showground were important in the low mortality rate. The Showground was used up until August 1919 when the Spanish Flu had run its course in the town.  Volunteer nurses were inoculated by Dr Larbalestier, whilst co-ordination of supplies was under the care of Mr Leonard. According to Neil Yeate’s investigation, Mrs Moore from the Red Cross Society and Honorary Secretary helped open up Coffs Harbour Primary School as a convalescent during July, 1919 overseeing the recovery of several patients.[9]

What is little known was the effect on the Aboriginal Community at this time as records are lacking both of infection rates and hospitalisation in Coffs Harbour.  Although, Indigenous Australians, particularly in rural and remote areas, experience profound social disparity, including overcrowding, excess co-morbidity, poor access to health care, communication difficulties with health professionals, reduced access to pharmaceuticals, and institutionalised racism. During the 1918-1919 pandemic, mortality rates approaching 50% were reported in some Australian Indigenous communities, compared with the national rate of 0.3%.[10]

Even spiritual worship was not immune from the restrictions of the pandemic with a stern reminder of wearing masks for religious services and with an estimated finish time so the congregation would not be worried about spending so much in a public with so many parishioners.

Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate Saturday July 19, 1919, P.2. Retrieved from Trove.

Local and regional businesses were keen to advocate all sorts of remedies to alleviate the symptoms of the Spanish Flu. Many people parted with their money judging by the volume and variety of so called “cures” appearing in the local newspapers. Below is a selection of the wide range of medicines available:

The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, 28 February 1919, P. 2. Retrieved from Trove.

The Tweed Daily Tuesday June 24, 1919, P.1. Retrieved from Trove.

Nicely nestled in the Jay’s fashion advertisement of the latest fashionwear, was the sale of influenza masks at the fixed price of sixpence.

The role of volunteers during this period were essential for the control of the disease and although they were recognised in occasional columns in the Coffs Harbour Advocate, their role was quickly forgotten as the Federal Government’s action plan to rehabilitate Ex -Servicemen back into society through plans such as the Soldier Settlement Scheme had an immediate impact on the economy of Coffs Harbour. Yet there are small tangible reminders of the work completed by volunteers of the rarely seen Influenza Emergency Worker Badge. Coffs Harbour’ first recorded case was on April 1 and the official end of the disease was declared on July 6, 1919. Dorrigo was registered as the last town in New South Wales to record a Spanish Flu case on 27th September 1919.

The significance of the work against preventing this global pandemic through quarantining; extensive use of inoculations; wearing of masks and people adhering to restrictions of public association were successful in stopping the disease from being contagious in Coffs Harbour. The historical importance of this public health event has certainly been overshadowed by the end of World War One and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles by historians but the global response to the Spanish Flu does warrant more recognition for its significance in world history and in particular to those selfless men and women that cared for patients putting their own health at risk in doing their work.

Research by Charlie Bellemore, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum Volunteer.



[2] Joan Beaumont (2013) page 443 Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War

[3] Peter Rees (2014) page 295 Anzac Girls: The Extraordinary Story of Our World War One Nurses

[4] Susanna De Vires (2013) page 236  Australian Heroines of World War One

[5] Copy of letter 24/3/1919 from H S Robinson engine driver re irregularities in NSW Victoria border controls (prepared as Circular for    Cabinet) [4/6247]


[7] Joan Beaumont (2013) page 443 Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War page 524

[8] Cowling, N (2012) Coffs Harbour Time Capsule Book 1847-2011 pages 146-147

[9] Yeates, Neil (1990) Coffs Harbour Story Volume 1 pre1880-1945 pages 104-106

[10] Massey, P. (2007)


Beaumont, J. (2013). Broken Nation Australians in the Great War. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Cowling, N (2012) Coffs Harbour Time Capsule Book 1847-2011 Office Choice. Coffs Harbour.

De Vires, S.  (2013)  Australian Heroines of World War One Brisbane. Pirgos Press

Rees, P. (2014) Anzac Girls: The Extraordinary Story of Our World War One Nurses Sydney. Allen and Unwin

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour Story.  Volume 1: pre1880-1945 Coffs Harbour: Banancoast Printers

Massey, P et al.

Aldrich R, Zwi AB, Short S. Advance Australia Fair: social democratic and conservative politicians’ discourses concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their health 1972-2001. Social Science & Medicine 2007; 64: 125-137 page41

Trove National Library of Australia

Letter 24/3/1919 from H S Robinson engine driver re irregularities in NSW Victoria border controls (prepared as Circular for Cabinet) [4/6247]


Water Skiing on the Coffs Coast


Fig 1, Bob Hannaford, Gail Murray, and Tammy Mills-Thom, 1960s. Tammy is at the top of the human totem pole. Courtesy of Coffs Collections

The first man to water ski in the world is widely believed to be Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota, USA, in 1922. In 1925 Ralph Samuelson also became the world’s first water ski jumper.  Water skiing came to Australia in 1934, when Ted Parker skied at Hen & Chicken Bay in Sydney. The sport did not become popular until after the Second World War. Coffs Harbour’s entry into water skiing in around 1949 proved it to be a pioneer in the regional water-skiing arena.

Jim and Bob Limbert (see Fig 2 below) from the Coffs Harbour region were reputedly among the first water skiers in Australia. They built a boat from local flooded gum, powered with a car engine. They also made their own skis using 9 foot (3 metres) long, one inch (2.5 cm) thick and 8 inch wide Oregon planks. They skied at Jetty Beach and on the Bellinger River. Later the Coffs Harbour Water Ski Club used North Beach where they built a concrete launch pad and club house. (Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1266)

Cliff Murray, together with Bill & Patty Mills-Thom, were the founding members of the Coffs Harbour Water Ski Club. The club began in around 1954 and continued until the late 1970’s. All three were made life members in 1975.

Fig 2, Water skiers at Jetty Beach in Coffs Harbour, 1950, L-R, Fred Reid, unknown, Jim Limbert, Ray Alcock, Bob Limbert, Front Row, Cliff Murray, unknown. Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1266

During the 1950s, Cliff Murray and Bill Mills-Thom were the only people in Coffs Harbour to make water skis. They initially referenced a photo in a magazine showing Italian skiers and copied the idea. Over time they developed their own techniques to get better performance. The first skis in Coffs Harbour were probably made about 1950 and were very basic in design. The picture above shows a group of skiers in about 1950. The skis were little more that planks with a foot hold screwed on. Cliff is the man with the white shirt sitting on the sand in the picture above (fig 2).

Water skiing was very much a novelty pastime and exhibitions by these men and women attracted much community interest in as evidenced by several articles in the Coffs Harbour Advocate at that time.   In December 1958 a well attended carnival at North Beach, Mylestom, netted £400 which was donated to the Ambulance service as was the usual practice.  Local skiers and the Coffs team between 1961-64 took out several zone, state, and national titles, some of our local famous skiers were Peter Brindley, Graham Loader and Doug McQuade and Bob Hannaford.

Fig 3, Gail Murray, Patty Mills-Thom and Narelle Murray in a water-skiing ballet, 1960s. Courtesy Coffs Collections

The Coffs Harbour women skiers became well known with performances of pyramid skiing (see fig 4 below) and ballet (see fig 3 above). The ballet team which competed at Keepit Dam in 1964 included Margaret Forsythe, Elaine Murray, Aili Smith, Narelle Murray and Grace Gibson.

Coffs Harbour had a vibrant water-skiing community from the 1950s till the late 1970s, particularly excelling in Show Skiing. Coffs Harbour skiers may have been the first group to do the Totem Pole (see Fig 1) and the first group to do a Pyramid (fig 4 below) with each person using only one ski.

Fig 4, Coffs Harbour lady water skiers demonstrating their skills with a performance of the Pyramid at North Beach early 1960s. L to R (top): Margaret Forsythe, Elaine Murray; (lower): Aili Smith, Judy Timms, Grace Gibson.  Photo: Judy Timms. Courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour mus 07-11148.

The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum has on display two separate wooden water skis (see below, fig 5) that were hand made from local timber by Cliff Murray in the mid 1950s. One of the skis has a foot holder made from wood and thick leather and is currently configured for backwards skiing. The second ski has two rubber foot holders, indicating that it was made and used as a single ski. Both skis are shaped and varnished. The skis are in good condition for their age and both show evidence of having been converted. These markings help tell the story of the progression of water-skiing skills and the innovation required in the resource poor post World War II period. They are a rare example of handmade water skis in Australia and are likely to be the earliest surviving skis made at Coffs Harbour.  They illustrate the beginning of a new era in the Coffs Harbour economy with increasingly reliance on water sports and leisure based tourism.

Fig 5, Wooden Water Skis, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

Research by Lyn Matthews 2019


Coffs Harbour Advocate, February 16 1962, P.12.

Coffs Harbour Advocate, October 29 1964, P.12.

Daily Examiner Grafton, December 14, 1953, P. 4, retrieved from Trove

eHive, retreived from:

Mills-Thom, Bill, Personal recollections, 2019.

Picture Coffs Harbour (now Coffs Collections)

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour: Vol II, 1946 to 1964: Bananacoast Printers.


The History of Our Rural Fire Service

Bush fires are a constant in Australia and after three months of fires in our local region we are still intermittently shrouded in smoke and with bush fires still active, everyone is extremely thankful that we have a professional and able Rural Fire Service.  So when and how was it formed?

The Bush Fires Act which was passed in 1949 led to the formation of The Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade in Coffs Harbour in 1951.

This followed  a series of devastating fires in the region. Including what was known as “Black Monday” 20 November 1944, when several disastrous fires occurred in Boambee and Korora.  One of the fires started in West Korora and raged all the way to the sea, burning banana plantations, packing sheds and some homes.  Many of the local residents spent the night on the beach. One of the homes destroyed was Mr Tom Jordan’s and after the fire passed the water tank remained precariously tilted with the water boiling inside it.

1946 was again another bad year for fires and when these photos were taken they were fought by local residents working together in informal bush fire brigades with “green bushes , wet bags, chipping hoes and perhaps an odd knapsack spray, mainly possessed by the few banana-growers in the area’ (Secomb, Michael, Red Gold to Green Grass, 1986, P.78)

“The Great Smoke”, Karangi, Neil Potts on bike, 12/9/1946. Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-5950
Bushfire Coffs Harbour 1946, Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-5954
Dairyville Road , bushfire viewed from above Orara Road at Houlahans, 14/9/1946.  Courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour 07-5957.

1950 was a very wet year with floods and cyclones, which resulted in the heavy growth of fuel.  This was followed by by a severe frost in July 1951 and then eight months of drought which did not break until March 1952.  After once again another series of devastating fires in 1951 when 22 000 acres was burnt in the Coffs Harbour area Cr Norm Jordan recommended the formation of a shire sanctioned volunteer bush fire brigade which was finally endorsed by the Dorrigo and Bellingen Shire Councils. This meant that combined with the Forestry Department effective bush fire protection could be instituted across the region which has continued to this day.

We thank our Rural Fire Service members for their unstinting service to the community and wish everyone a fire free and peaceful festive season.

Research by Simone Newman


Brewer, Mary,. Looking back: Nana Glen, 1878-1979,. 1979, P47-50.

Blundell, Geoff (retired Bushfire Control Officer for Coffs Harbour and Bellingen Shires),. The History and Development of Bushfire Brigades in the Shire of Coffs Harbour, An Address to the Coffs Harbour and District Historical Society, 22 March 1982.

Bush Fire Brigades to be Formed (1951, December 14). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from

Our Bush was on Fire when Capt. Cook Came In.  (18 October 1962). The Coffs Harbour Advocate.

Raging Bushfires In Coff’s District (1944, November 21). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from

Secomb, Michael,. Red Gold to Green Grass,. 1986, P.78.

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour: Vol I, Pre-1880 to 1945: Bananacoast Printers.