Playing the long game

The City of Coffs Harbour provides a range of cultural services, some ephemeral such as events, and some quietly achieving, such as our local libraries, museum and gallery which have been part of the fabric of our community for decades.

Coffs Collections is a beneficiary of the longevity of libraries and museums, not just due to our local versions of these, but through others across the state and nation who have cared for collections from the 19th century onwards. Coffs Collections plays a small part in an enormous ecosystem of digital preservation activities nationally. The content we preserve locally relieves other institutions with a broader geographical scope from having to do so. But that works both ways.

Digitisation is the process which has allowed us to tap into this benefit even further.

Our silent partners

Digitisation brings the past into the future. While born digital materials are  quick to share, preparing print and canvas requires more effort. Luckily, for a small city, we don’t have to do this on our own. Newspapers are a case in point.

Trove, hosted by the National Library of Australia, provided the Coffs Harbour Advocate in digital form from 1907 to 1954 inclusive. And when we discovered hitherto unremembered gems in our collections, such as the short-lived Sawtell Guardian and the short-run Bananacoast Opinion (part of a longer run known as the Advocate Opinion), the City underwrote the cost of adding them to Trove for all to access.

More recent newspapers, which are created as digital first and printed later, have an easier pathway to perpetuity. News Of The Area (NOTA) is automatically deposited weekly into the Trove Digital Library.  The Woopi News is also captured there, lodged via the State Library of NSW.


 Trove also gives access to  current and expired Australian websites, including those of local councils.  Want to know what the City’s website looked like in 2006 and in subsequent years ? Find it in Trove.

The added value of this is that the website capture can also include the Council’s published documents. Most Australian websites have snapshots.

How to find these items in Coffs Collections

We provide two different pathways in Coffs Collections. Firstly, under the Format labelled Resources, we link to sources of content hosted by other libraries. It’s not exhaustive yet, but keeps growing. Here you will find interviews conducted by other institutions, 3D tours and other sources.

Secondly, when we find out more about a person or event, we put in a link under the Read more label in the record for the item we hold in our local collections. It’s a shortcut to information we find elsewhere.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. Making connections between content collected by the City and content collated, preserved and shared by other cultural heritage organisations is a long game. It relies on the existence of all of them.

1. The Coffs Harbour Advocate,

2. The Bananacoast Opinion,

3. The Sawtell Guardian,

4. News of the Area – Coffs Coast,

5. Woopi News,

6. Coffs Collections’ Resources,


A Christmas gift

Chef: Tina Lee, Service Leader Museum & Gallery, 2022

Our cultural service Coffs Collections turned two years old a few months ago, and it continues to freely share easily accessible gallery, library and museum content. The newly added local histories included gems such as A Pioneer and the Eastern Dorrigo featuring a different style of treehouse

A Pioneer and the Eastern Dorrigo, p.55 (print), @

and From Pastures Green to Silver Screen, a personal memoir by cinematographer Jack Gerard, whose screen projector was donated to the Regional Museum.

Cummings & Wilson filmstrip projector, 1941; Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection 89.226

Jack Gerard’s partner Marie Hunt was a gifted photographer and had her own studio, where she did not baulk at any subject.

with Joe Blake – Heather Watt; Percy Hunt, father of Marie; and  Roma Hetherington

In addition to uncovering Joe Blake, some of our work revealing local stories found others who had an early start in the region but moved away for work, including the whistling mannequin Beth McKay who became Tad Wunderlich.

Beth McKay (Tad Wunderlich), Australian Women’s Weekly, 16 April 1938, p. 33.

We were also pleased to launch a completely new work via Coffs Collections: the South Solitary Island Lighthouse list of Early Keepers 1879 – 1915.

The sad part of the year

In January we lost an assiduous Museum volunteer and researcher, Geoff Watts. He continued to identify opportunities for filling gaps in our records, even after he left the area. One of those gaps was in the online coverage of the Coffs Harbour Advocate before 1955.

In December, the National Library added three sets of issues which had been missed from Trove: 4 – 11 December 1908; 10 January – 16 May 1925; and 5 -26 October 1928.

We were also able to dry out and contribute some flood-affected issues for August, September and October 1946. The World War II years were underrepresented because the paper was not available for printing.  More than 75 years later, we were able to fill in part of this gap.

And we farewelled Tina, who taught us a lot about museum collection management best practice. Thank you!




The Community Curator Project

Community Curator Sophie Gribble with some of her collaborators (L to R): Kobi Steward, Manduway Dutton, Nathan Brennan and Lizzy Rutten

The Community Curator Project was funded by Create NSW through the Local Government Authority Arts and Cultural Programs stream in 2020.

Ten Community Curators were recruited to locate stories and objects missing or under-represented in the museum collection.

Following training in the essentials of museum practice, Community Curators worked with their communities and networks to identify stories that mattered to them and that they wanted to see in the new museum in Yarrila Place. They then worked with local arts workers such as photographers and filmmakers to document these diverse histories and experiences and create new content. Videos were made, interviews and oral histories recorded and special items were identified and donated to the collection.

Fascinating stories from the Gumbaynggirr, refugee, surfing, alternative health and education communities were revealed.

These stories are now accessible to the community and will enrich and diversify the museum’s exhibitions, public programs and education activities in an ongoing way. Find out more about the Project, and see the end results, in Coffs Collections.

Story by Senior Curator Gallery & Museum, Joanna Besley

Jetty Foreshores – the Jewel in the Crown

The Jetty Foreshores which many refer to as the Jewel in the Crown has created community conversations for decades and it seems it is once again.

It’s a subject that has been discussed locally for four decades.

We went back into the archives to see what’s been suggested before and found this four-page wraparound from the Coffs Coast Advocate in November 2003.

It was called the Harbour Plan, – what Coffs Harbour City Council had planned in 2003 before the New South Wales State Government did their first Masterplan in 2008.

For those interested in the Jetty Foreshores it is worth a read.

Coffs Harbour Advocate, 1 November 2003 – this copy supplied by the State Library of New South Wales. You can Zoom in by clicking here, into Coffs Collections. 
Coffs Harbour Advocate, 1 November 2003 – this copy supplied by the State Library of New South Wales. You can Zoom in by clicking here, into Coffs Collections.

Remembering them

Peter Coverdale, 2nd 31st Battalion,

The stories entrusted to a Museum’s collection are held for sharing, but they don’t always immediately come to light due to regretful resourcing (space, people) constraints. Discoveries in the collection can then be serendipitous – a confluence of timing, or the result of a request for information. And when resources do become available, reviewing a backlog may also find a moving example such as this.

On the way up to our present camp we met up with some of our Battalion just out of the lines. Cpl Alan Kay, one of our crowd, has just made up these verses


We had stopped along the mule track to have a spot of tea,                              Just Reos going up to join our Company.                                                                        We were biting into biscuits which were on the bill of fare.                            When their trucks pulled in behind us – you could see that they’d been “there”.

You could see that they’d been through it by the lustre of their eyes                     And the horros they had witnessed would be hard to realize,                                  Dirty and unshaven with their clothes all torn & tattered,                                         The fever was within them, their hair was thick and matted.

[disrespectful content removed]

Men of the 31st Battalion with their circle black & red                                                Have won glory in many battles & scent there’s more ahead.

* reinforcements

Found in a collation of poetry written by Peter Coverdale 1942 – 1959 – 1963  

Here is part of the verse which “Peter the Poet” himself wrote,  with typing quirks, during November 1944:

Civvie Street

I’ve taken off the Kahki, that I’ve worn five years or so, I’ve hung my old slouch hat up in the hall,

The colour patch and badges that I once so proudly wore,  They now adorn a pennant on the wall,

And instead of service rifle, my hands now hold the plough, And I ride my horse, to fetch the cattle home

And my kiddies play around me, and my wife is by my side, And I’m thankful that no more, I’ve got to roam,

I sometimes miss the army, and the mates I used to know, Those hectic times, in many a varied place,

And Civvie clothes and civvy ways still seem a trifle queer, These Civvies seem to me a different race.

But I guess I’ll get accustomed to the joys of civvie street, My army days will grow dim with time,

I’ll forget about the hardships and the miserys we had. The jungle mud and horros of the line, But old mates I’ll still remember, and the happy scenes will stay,

Especially when I read my book of verse, That I wrote just as a hobby, to fill in odd idle hours, Instead of playing swi or something worse,

As it wasn’t penned for the ladies but for soldiers of the line, I’m afreaid a word or too is not polite,

But my book brought lots of pleasure to old tent mates that I had, They often made me read by lantern light.

And though its only gingle, without polish, grammer, wit, It still recalls to me, eventful days,

But my rhyming is now finished and I’m laying down my pen, For I’m starting off in brand new Civvie ways.

Peter wrote poetry for the Korora View. The Museum has not seen copies of this publication. Information on its whereabouts would be welcome.



South Solitary Island Lighthouse – The Early Keepers 1879 – 1915

Lightkeepers David Gow, John Fisher and Ralph Robinson; South Solitary Island (1912, February 28). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1919), p. 21.

For the very first time,  a comprehensively researched and referenced list of  the early lightkeepers on South Solitary Island from its first day of operation until the last day of 1915 has been compiled for easy browsing.

From that point onwards, until it was de-manned and automated in 1975, lightkeepers were appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service. The effort required to keep such an edifice operating before we even used the term ‘ 24/7 ‘ was astounding, as shown in the serious manner with which the positions were filled.

Richard Crossingham served as a lightkeeper in the 19th century. His descendant Brian has delved into the NSW government’s Public Service Lists (known as Blue Books), dug into NSW government gazettes on Trove, and discovered stories of the lightkeepers and their families to produce this essential reference list.

The end result is a very important document in the canon of research about the enduring South Solitary Island Lighthouse and its light.

The Banana Bowl Caravan Park

In a previous post describing the jewels of the Coffs Coast, there was mention of the Banana Bowl Caravan Park inaugurated by the Hill family. The Caravan Park was situated in Korora – a local word which means “the crash of the waves” or “the roar of the sea”. It was also very near to Pine Brush Creek, flowing through coastal rainforest, named for large hoop  and other pine trees.

Banana Bowl Caravan Park, 1960s; Photographer Desmond Eeley

The Caravan Park was opened on 22 December 1960, and John Hill was appointed the first manager:New big caravan park opens The Coffs Harbour Advocate 21 December 1960, p.1

Despite the view, the road sign leading down to the beach worked very hard to entice the public into the holiday park:

… An ultra modern caravan park and camping area is below you on the beach front beside the lake …. Hot Showers  Septic toilets  Laundry  Washing machines  Power  Ice & a fully stocked shop are at your disposal …. Safe swimming Diving Board Ponies & Canoes are free for the children …. Outside beach rock and spear fishing are easily accessible from here while there are many estuaries in the area for the enthusiasts …. All sports are available to you and many scenic drives and walks are within the area …. Visitors are invited to drive through the plantation where fresh banana bunches or hands may be inspected

The Banana Bowl, 1960s; Photographer Desmond Eeley

It was possible to stay at the Beach prior to 1960 when the Caravan Park formally opened. The locals loved to have their Christmas parties here and they became a regular event. In December 1956, more than 1,000 people including 600 children were guests of the Ex-Services’ Club.

The RSL’s Christmas picnic at Hill’s Beach, mus07-11349 in Coffs Collections at

These photographs exemplify the ongoing popularity of the Banana Bowl: The Banana Bowl, 1960s; Photographer Desmond EeleyThe Banana Bowl, 1960s; Photographer Desmond Eeley

Despite the obvious attraction, the Caravan Park was only to survive for a relatively short time…

Poetic history

The succinct power of poetry to explain our history has been aired before. In the days when there were no poetry slams, a few lines sent in to the newspaper had to suffice. Although poetry modestly published in a slim volume may have never seen the light of day.

We are fortunate, in the ephemeral collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, to hold some rhyming lines typed up or penned in ink. And on occasion, they reached us in a published format too. Here’s a taste:

Christmas time at Bonville

The crowds are back at Bonville for Christmas 49

With thousands of new faces,

Four hundred tents all looking fine.


They’ve come from North from South from West

To fish, to swim, to dance

Eat oysters free, put on the spree

And knock round in short pants

Sounds as though nothing much has changed. The remainder of the verses are available to read in Coffs Collections. Sometimes a gem such as this one  is tucked away in another publication:

The story of a lighthouse – South Solitary, 10.036 In Coffs Collections at

The most prolific poet in our area, current poets excluded, seems to have been the Reverend Henry Edward Hunt. He waxed lyrically about much of our beautiful region, yet again proving that poetry is timeless.

A string of jewels

Diamond — Emerald — Sapphire — Opal. The Coffs Coastline was once a string of jewels. But where are they now?

Behind each headland on the Coffs Coast lurks a history of derring do, making do, and pushing boundaries – political, environmental, social. Their names, on other hand, reflect the enticement of the climate and lifestyle.


Captured in the name of the Road which leads to the suburb of Sandy Beach, Diamond Head was originally the name of headland at the southern end of Sandy Beach, possibly given by an early developer. Perhaps the potential developer noted the sparkling nature of the sea during the winter months of cloudless skies?

Coffs Harbour Advocate, 29 April 1982, p.1

Robinson’s tourist complex did not eventuate in this location, and the beach’s  name became the suburb’s name instead.


Look-At-Me-Now Headland, famous for its protests against ocean outfalls of sewage during the early 1990s, is encompassed by the expanding suburb of Emerald Beach. Every age group in the population was in attendance to make their feelings known about the possibility of beaches covered with excrement.

Protestor in a Look-At-Me-Now headland protest T-shirt, 25 November 1991 Coffs Collections,
A tepee of protest, 25 November 1991 Coffs Collections,

The protests were ultimately successful – the outlet was placed elsewhere and the beach retained its beauty.

Aerial view of Emerald Beach, 10 March 1992 Coffs Collections,


Sapphire was the name of a property owned by the Williamson family. They moved to the area in 1958 and painted the roof of their home sapphire blue,  to match the colour of the sea. After only two years the property was sub-divided for housing. But much of the string of jewels has been kept accessible to the general public. The Sapphire Gardens Caravan Park, five miles north of Coffs Harbour, was one such location adjacent to the beach.

Foldout postcard booklet 19.725-1, in Coffs Collections at
Sapphire Gardens souvenir teaspoon, m2021.51.3 in Coffs Collections at
Foldout postcard booklet 19.725-1, in Coffs Collections at

The beach and surrounds became a suburb in August 1999. It is bounded by White Bluff and Green Bluff.


Opal Cove Resort has retained its status as a place for holidays and conventions as well as fundraisers. Two committed residents were Adelie Hurley and Toni Mooy (nee Hurley) – known as the Banana Twins – and they did an extraordinary job promoting the Coffs Coast.

Adelie and Toni dressed for a Pharaoh’s Night fundraiser for children at Opal Cove Resort, May 1989. In Coffs Collections at

Prior to the development of the Resort, the site was home to the Banana Bowl Caravan Park. It was managed by the Hill family. In 1988, John Hill spoke of his life at the heart of this jewel.

Foldout postcard booklet 19.725-1, in Coffs Collections at

Collectively, the names were always going to inspire:

Bananacoast Opinion, 1 November 1973, p.13






Coming full circle

Researching our local history means traversing a loose network of information both analogue and digital. The information is managed by dozens of loosely-connected heritage-collecting agencies. It requires experience to navigate the network between them, but sometimes the connections are right in front of you, just waiting to be discovered.

The first small collection added to Coffs Collections (in 2019) was rescued from old carriers (cassette and CD-ROM). Known as the Voice of Time, it contains oral interviews of local people recorded in the late 1980s. The audio was converted to digital form and can be listened to using any web-enabled device.

Our collected local identity takes many forms. In addition to audio, Coffs Collections  includes (museum) artefacts, (library) pamphlets, (museum) photographs, and donated stories. The latter are mostly on paper and are still to be digitised.

One donated story was a brief biography of a person named Pat Reedy. It summarises his war training and service on Morotai Island (in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia), with some photocopies of photographs. They made an immediate connection with some, until now, uncredited photos already in Coffs Collections (just search on Morotai). But who was Pat Reedy?

A tantalising clue or two was in the biography with photographs loaned by Helen Landrigan: a image of Pat with his sister Gloria Reedy; a description of his role in the Second World War. But no war record was to be found on the War Memorial’s or the National Archives’ website. No birth listed in the Registry’s index. No inclusion on the Coffs Harbour cenotaph, which meant that Pat had returned home to Australia.

Some broad searching in Trove did find a few articles about Pat in his early days.

LOCAL AND GENERAL (1939, March 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2.

and also about the marriage of his sister Gloria in 1942.

UPPER ORARA WEDDING (1949, October 25). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 4.

The latter was curiously titled Secomb – Faint Wedding, but it also mentioned the late Michael Reedy as father of the bride. A hint to follow further.

This turned out to be Gloria’s second marriage. There was no mention of Pat, but another search under his sister’s married name revealed confirmation of his existence. Was it an unusual form of memorial?


New Proprietors of Pat’s Gift Shoppe (1973, October 18). Sawtell Guardian (NSW : 1970 – 1976), p. 1.

Time to go back to Michael Reedy. He was listed in the NSW Registry’s Death index for 1942. The NSW Marriage index showed his wife’s name, Sarah Jane. She wasn’t listed as a guest at her daughter’s wedding. A check of the Registry’s Deaths index did have a name match for her, but in Orange, also in 1942. This geographical separation was unexpected.

Sometimes only a basic tool such as a certificate can provide the answers. There are several options for obtaining one: buying an original or a transcription, finding it in a family tree in Ancestry (also a cost unless your public library subscribes to it) or, a long shot for contemporary events, finding the information in FamilySearch. Most of these options require spending a little, but they can save time too.

The 1942 death certificate of Sarah Jane Reedy was invaluable – it solved the mystery of Pat’s name. He was formally known as Clifford. Pat was 22 when his mother died; his older sister Isabel was 28 and younger sister Gloria was 10 years old.

Subsequent quick searches uncovered his war service file, which mentioned his lost thumb, on the National Archives’ website; his gravestone in the Coffs Harbour Historic Cemetery via the Ryerson Index; and his funeral notice in the Coffs Coast Advocate (on microfilm at the Coffs Harbour City Library). Alas, they did not explain why Clifford was known as Pat.

Coffs Harbour Lawn Cemetery

But one last search of Coffs Collections revealed the remaining member of the family – Isabel Landrigan, older sister of Pat, who had been a Voice of Time interviewee in 1987. And the instigator of Pat’s brief biography. Our research in Coffs Collections had come full circle.