The Tasma Theatre – the jewel of Coffs Harbour’s cinema

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Tasma Theatre, circa 1954, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1438

Cinema in Coffs Harbour

In the early years, “moving pictures” came to town with travelling shows that used country halls and other places of public assembly. In Coffs Harbour, the venue was the School of Arts, a basic, hall-like building which opened on the north side of High Street, between Grafton and Castle Streets, in 1904. This was a vibrant centre of community life, used constantly for dances, balls, musical evenings, plays and public meetings. In 1908, it was significantly expanded and re-modelled, with a library and reading room added. From 1912, moving pictures were shown.

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Opening of the School of Arts, 16 August 1904, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-1430

In 1919, the School of Arts committee decided to show pictures themselves rather than leaving such a profitable undertaking in the hands of outside entrepreneurs. An excellent debut was reported: “with a six-reel Norma Talmadge drama and Charlie Chaplin at his funniest, screened by the latest 6B machine”. Mrs Minnie Franklin was employed as pianist to provide background music to the then silent movies. Films were also shown at the Fitzroy Stadium, which doubled as a roller skating rink and boxing arena! It was a rough and ready, open air experience.

In 1926, Lawrence Penn, later Jack Gerard’s partner in the Tasma Theatre, opened Penn’s Jetty Cinema on the site now occupied by the Forestry Building. Films were also shown at the Jetty Memorial Theatre when it opened in 1928 as the Soldiers Memorial Hall. Penn and Gerard later took over the leases at the Jetty Memorial in 1930 and the Coffs Harbour Picture Show at the School of Arts in 1932. The biggest news of the day was the introduction of the “talkies”. In November 1930, Broadway Scandals, an “all-talking, singing and dancing extravaganza” screened at the Jetty, followed quickly by the first talkie at the School of Arts a month later. In June 1931, Penn’s Jetty Cinema burned down in a serious fire.

For country people in particular, the cinema fulfilled two important roles – as a place for socialising and also for entertainment. Up until the 1960s, “going to the pictures” was the big social event of the week. People dressed up for this special occasion. At the Tasma, the program – two movies, newsreels, cartoons and the obligatory God Save the Queen – changed three times a week. Seats needed to be booked ahead on Friday and Saturday nights. The café next door provided drinks and sweets. Many a romance bloomed at the Tasma and a box of chocolates was mandatory. Unlike many cinemas in country towns, the Tasma was never racially segregated. Always the showman, Jack Gerard introduced Horror Nights. Although tame by today’s standards, the loud, spooky music in total darkness brought screams and squeals as patrons stamped their feet in delight. As Jack’s daughter Norma recalls, “the sounds and experience was incredible, and very scary, and LOVED by the people!”

When the Tasma closed in 1968, Penn & Gerard also stopped showing films at the Jetty Memorial Hall, however other operators continued screening there up until the building was bought by the Council in 1982. In 1988, a cinema (now closed) opened in Vernon Street, next to the Cinema Walk Arcade, and Birch, Carroll & Coyle’s five cinema complex on the corner of the highway and Bray Street opened in 1995 and is still in operation. The Sawtell Cinema, first opened in 1941, had been operated by three generations of the Brissett Family but was a casualty of the cost of converting to digital projection and closed in 2012. Due to an extraordinary fund-raising effort by the local community, the cinema was renovated, converted into two cinemas and reopened in 2015. Today, the Coffs Coast is a hub of cinema, home to the Screenwave International Film Festival and [REC] Ya Shorts Youth Film Festival.

The Tasma Theatre – Coffs Harbour’s jewel

The Tasma Cinema opened in March 1937 on the corner of Castle Street and High Street, as Harbour Drive was then known. With an imposing Art Deco façade, it was the grandest building in “Top Town” and became known as the “theatre beautiful”.

Designed by leading cinema architects Guy Crick and Bruce W. Furse, the Tasma Theatre offered big city luxury, seating 113 people in the Royal Lounge, 113 in the Dress Circle and 515 in the stalls – 741 overall. Crick & Furse were responsible for the design of numerous suburban cinemas in Sydney, as well as many throughout regional NSW. They favoured the Art Deco or Moderne style; the comfort and luxury of the buildings attest to the importance of cinema to Australian social life in the early to mid-20th century. As Everyone’s magazine commented in 1936:

Throughout the Commonwealth, comparative palaces now stand in pride as evidences of the solidity of the screen as the greatest medium of relaxation and edification of modern times.

The Tasma Theatre was the pride and joy of business partners Jack Gerard and Lawrence Penn. Penn was the original “Picture Show Man”, an old time showman who toured the countryside exhibiting films. In 1924, Jack Gerard became Penn’s trainee and they toured Queensland and New South Wales. After showing films in temporary locations in Coffs Harbour such the School of Arts and Memorial Hall, they realised their ambitions to open their own cinema when they formed Penn & Gerard Pty Ltd in1932.

The weather was horrendous on the night of the big opening on 15th March, 1937. Thousands of people milled outside while only 400 actually paid to attend the film inside – as Jack Gerard commented in later years, “just why the people of Coffs Harbour behaved in this strange manner, will never be known.” The film shown was The Big Broadcast of 1937 with Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Over 31 years, 9627 films were shown, which according to Jack Gerard was “almost every American and British film produced at that time”. With the beginning of television broadcasting in Coffs Harbour in 1965, the Tasma began to lose audiences. It closed in 1968; the final film was After the Fox with Peter Sellers and Victor Mature. The building was demolished in 1969 to make way for the Waltons Department Store. When the mall was built in the late 1980s, the street layout changed and Castle Street no longer connected with Harbour Drive, so the Tasma site is no longer evident.

Jack Gerard and Lawrence Penn: impresarios

The Tasma Theatre was the dream of two fascinating characters in the story of cinema in Australia.

Jack Gerard was the manager of the Tasma Theatre – but also so much more. Councillor, car dealer, service station owner, amateur geologist, radio operator and innovator, advocate for surf lifesaving, projectionist and newsreel cameraman, Gerard was a well-known figure in Coffs Harbour and across the North Coast for decades. Born in 1907, Jack followed his curiosity and applied his intelligence in many fields. He was the first person on the North Coast to build a single valve wireless receiver for example. Above all, he was a natural showman. In 1953 he painted “Australia’s largest” Union Jack on the facade of the Tasma to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Hundreds flocked to see A Queen Is Crowned when Jack secured the rights to screen this 1953 Technicolor story of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. Betty Sara, the mother of the famous Bellingen quadruplets (the first set of quads to survive in Australia), won the Queen Elizabeth lookalike contest. A Queen is Crowned was screened simultaneously at Jack’s two cinemas, the Tasma and the Jetty Memorial. Paid admission reached 7785 – 1785 more viewings than Coffs Harbour’s population at the time! Jack received a letter of congratulations from the Queen herself.

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Jack Gerard taking a movie at the Coffs Harbour Racing Club’s inaugural meeting, 7 August 1948 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-9088

He won Australian and international awards for showmanship, including for his promotion of Walt Disney’s Cinderella and the Australian film Robbery Under Arms, when he re-enacted the robbery in Coffs Harbour’s High Street. A keen “ham radio” operator, he had over 6000 world-wide radio contacts, including the Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul! For 31 years, Jack filmed newsreels for Cinesound Review and Fox Movietone news. With the advent of television and the resulting decline in cinema, Jack produced features for television for a short while before retirement. His most popular newsreel was the 1953 coverage of five lions escaped from the circus who roamed the streets of Coffs Harbour.

Lawrence Penn was, as the Coffs Harbour Advocate described upon his death in 1952, “one of the most colourful figures in the Australian motion picture industry.” Indeed, the 1977 film The Picture Show Man was inspired by Penn’s life and was based on his son Lyle’s memoirs of them touring the countryside and showing films in the 1920s. He launched his film business in Newcastle but really established his career in Tamworth where he ran a large open air cinema. Following the death of his first wife, he took to the road in a horse and buggy as “Penn’s Pictures”, using a hand-operated projector and limelight. In 1924 he purchased one of the first Western Electric amplifiers and coupled it to a radio receiving set to broadcast reception. He employed Jack Gerard to demonstrate this new use of technology throughout the country towns of New South Wales and Queensland.

Lawrence reputedly had an “excellent baritone voice” and provided entertainment between pictures, along with his various trained dogs. His star performer was a cattle dog named Dempsey, regarded as “the cleverest dog in Australia” – he was filmed for world distribution in the early 1920s and was renowned among filmgoers. Penn settled in Coffs Harbour in 1930 and together with Jack Gerard and alone, ran many of the cinema venues in town. He retired in 1949, leaving Jack to run the Tasma in the final years.

Experience the Tasma Theatre at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

Take the time to enjoy some of Jack Gerard’s work on the screen when visiting the Museum to look at the cinematic items on display:

Former Jetty Memorial Hall and Tasma Theatre seating 1931, 1937

Timber, cast iron, upholstery

The row of timber chairs are some of the remaining, original 100 wooden seats installed in 1931 at the Jetty Memorial Theatre, then called the Jetty Memorial Hall, by Jack Gerard who had secured a license to screen films at the venue. The seats with cast iron bases were transferred from the Tasma Theatre when it closed in 1968. In 2016, both sets of chairs were donated to the museum when the Jetty Memorial Theatre upgraded its seating.

Tasma Theatre screening record book 1947- 48

Leather-bound book

The large ledger-style book records the films screened at the Tasma in the years 1947 and 1948. It shows the many different distribution companies Jack Gerard dealt with to deliver a varied and current program to Coffs Harbour audiences – he was proud of the fact that both Cinesound Review and Fox Movietone newsreels were broadcast simultaneously with Sydney and that the cinema showed all the latest movies. It also records the length of the film in feet!

Tasma and Memorial Theatre programs 1948 – 49 and 1955

Paper

Three monthly programs for the two theatres operated by Penn & Gerard. Every film screened at the weekends was classified as suitable for general exhibition, showing a commitment to children that paid off – they were the theatre’s most loyal customers to the end. As Jack later remembered, the children’s matinees were full houses while adult were “forsaking new and exciting film productions in colour and presented on a giant screen, in favour of viewing oldies in black and white presented on a tiny glass plate”- television.

Acknowledgement

Written by Joanna Besley, Curator, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and Regional Gallery

 

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Through the lens of a 12 year old’s toy camera

This is a guest post.

If I hadn’t rediscovered these photos after over 40 years I would still believe that a photographic career could have been mine! It was 11th April 1970, a sunny Saturday and a crowd of 20,000 (more were expected) eagerly awaited the royal visit.

For my last birthday my grandfather had given me $2 which I had ‘wasted’ (according to my mother) on a toy box camera. Said camera had proven itself to actually take photos and was now loaded with it’s first role of colour film for the big event. The fact that my mother was using black and white film was touching because I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay for the developing of the film (not on my allowance)!

It was a 6 hour visit by the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Anne with the royal yacht moored in the harbour. (Is that a naval escort waiting outside the harbour?). No one had said that it wasn’t a good idea to take photos into the sun but I swear the royals were there somewhere! They were off to morning tea so we headed for town centre to await the royal procession.

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13978

My mum’s photos showed the anticipation of the crowd but my photo of the chauffeur and the royal wave taken with my arm stretched above the people in front is my favourite!

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13981

Next it was off to Park Beach for the royal march past and after while the royal procession headed to a banana plantation (the big banana?) we headed to Bruxner Park to once again await them.

 

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13985

Unfortunately once again the scoop royal picture eluded me as my last two photos were taken of 1970 Coffs Harbour and my 12 shot 127 size film was finished.

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13988

Lucky mum was there to capture the royal party on her camera when they arrived.

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13985

All in all an exciting day for Coffs Harbour and a very exciting day for a 12 year old who never did get into photography.

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13984

Acknowledgements:
Paul Rogan, Museum Volunteer
Photos Joyce and Paul Rogan.

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Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13979

Solving our history mysteries: “it’s a long lane that has no turning”

Early in 2018, the Coffs Harbour History Services team put out a call for information about four subjects: Gallows Beach; the location of Calder Brae; life in the old police station which is the current Museum’s home; and the origins of a porthole from a wrecked ship.

Gallows Beach

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Corambirra Point, with Gallows Beach on the right, 1956-1960
www.picturecoffsharbour.org; part of mus07-11104
Photographer: Desmond Eeley

A surfing afficionado explained that such terminology is common for beaches which are a little harder to surf at, so names such as Guillotines, Razors, Boneyards and Dead Man’s Beach are common. At the opposite end of Boambee beach is “Trapdoors” which is a local surf spot at the mouth of Boambee creek. Trapdoors and “the gallows” as such, go hand in hand in the context of sinister actions. [1]

The turn off to Sawtell, 5 km south of Coffs, can reveal some good quality waves. Trapdoor is the best set up in this area. Right when you first see the beach, there is a big, grassy bluff that you can drive up on – to the left is Trapdoor. Surfing Australia’s East Coast, Nat Young, 1980 ISBN 0725510544

There were also iron structures near Gallows beach to facilitate work in the nearby rock quarry, and one of them was a grim reminder of a gallows.

Calder Brae

In the early 1920s, during the last years of its life, Calder Brae was a house on a farming  property along the Coramba Road (opposite Roselands Drive). The house was rented, and its surrounding fruit trees are still remembered today. [2]

CalderBrae
HOUSE BURNT (1925, January 20). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article195366793

 

 

The home seemed to have an attraction for flames:

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Local and General News. (1918, March 13). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187843940

Life in Coffs Harbour’s first police station and court house

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Coffs Harbour Courthouse and Police Station, Coffs Harbour, N.S.W., circa 1925 
http://www.picturecoffsharbour.org; mus07-857
Photographer: Peter Jensen

Museum staff are still keen to talk to family members who resided in the building at 215 Harbour Drive, which served many purposes before becoming the Museum in 2014.

The porthole

This porthole in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum is believed to be from the Keilawarra shipwreck. It is on view as part of the travelling exhibition Submerged: Stories of Australia’s shipwrecks until the end of July 2018.

Keilawarra port hole
from the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection

The shipwreck is one of several described in the Museum’s publication for sale titled Local shipwrecks: Wrecks in the Solitary Islands Marine Park 1843-1933, and the request for information related to the discovery of the porthole. The Museum would welcome further details.

Keilawarra
Read more here: FATAL COLLISION AT SEA. (1886, December 11). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), p. 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220479645

The task to fill in our historical gaps continues.

Acknowledgements

  1. with thanks to Mitch Hardcastle for this information.
  2. with thanks to David Pike and Elizabeth Simpson for these details.

 

The story of the Coffs Harbour Jetty

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Coffs Harbour Jetty 4 July 1946, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-5972

The Jetty is an icon for Coffs Harbour because it was part of the beginning of the city’s economic growth. Before the jetty was built, logs were hauled to a site at the showground by bullock teams.  From there they were rolled into Coffs Creek and floated to its mouth on the outgoing tide by using bullock teams, ropes and pulleys. The logs were manoeuvred through the water to waiting ships beyond the line of surf.  Using ships’ winches, the logs were hoisted aboard. The process of loading was difficult and hazardous and, as the industry grew, it was necessary to construct a suitable jetty.

The builder

A builder and contractor, Mr Thomas L Lawson, was the successful tenderer.  Construction of the new jetty began in 1890.  The original length was 1641 feet (500.17m).    During construction a violent storm washed away 300 ft (91.5m) of the partially built structure.  The total expenditure of the completed jetty in August 1892 was £12,482 1s 8d ($24,964.10). The Public Works Department (PWD) accepted control of the jetty and was responsible for all future maintenance and improvements. The jetty was described in a newspaper article as ‘an outlet for our produce and an inlet for our necessities’.

Opening of the Jetty

Adjacent to the shore end of the jetty were calf and sheep pens, a goods shed and a wharfinger’s cottage. On completion of the goods shed the opening ceremony was arranged by Messrs Lee, Marles and Gill for Friday 5 August 1892.  A beautiful arch was erected over the western end of the jetty and the goods shed was adorned with ferns, greenery and flags and delicious food was presented there.  A banner suspended from the arch bore the words “Success to Coffs Harbor” while from a cord profusely decorated with flowers and ribbons hung the bottle of “fizz” with which the oldest resident of Coffs Harbour, Mr Peter Moller, was to perform the opening ceremony.

The arrival of Mr O. O. Dangar, Member of the Legislative Assembly, at 11.30am was received with cheers.  A large crowd gathered to witness the ceremony which, after a few words from Mr Moller, was duly performed amid cheers. Mr James Gill, Wharfinger, then read an address to Mr Dangar on behalf of the residents. Mr Dangar responded to the speech congratulating the people on the completion of the work. After the speeches, the Coramba Brass Band played suitable music and then a special luncheon was held.  At dusk, some people departed but others enjoyed a ball in the goods shed.

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OPENING OF THE COFF’S HARBOUR JETTY. (1892, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13874247

Development of the jetty

In 1909 a new 80ft x 30 ft (24.38m x 9.14m) cargo shed was provided, as well as a large waiting shed at the outer end of the jetty and additional trollies.  In 1909-10 the outer end of the jetty was widened and a duplicate tram line laid.

In 1911 the Public Works Department imported a new 1910 steam locomotive (Orenstein & Koppel No. 4365) and the jetty was strengthened to accommodate it.  This replaced the draught horses previously used to pull the trollies.

In 1912 gas lighting was added to the jetty.  In 1914 widening of the jetty to 41 feet (12.49m) and construction of 320 feet (97.53m) extension was completed.

During 1915 the rails were converted to 4 ft 8 ½ in to be compatible with the new railway line being laid from Raleigh to Coffs Harbour.

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Sleepers for New Zealand at Coffs Harbour jetty 28 August 1946 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-5972

In April 1946 further extensions were completed.  The jetty was widened at its base to accommodate a loop line to the new Northern Timber Depot and the track layout on the jetty was altered considerably.

Jetty Cranes

A single railway line of 3ft 6in gauge was laid along the centre.  A five-ton (4.53 tonnes) capacity steam derrick crane, built by Rogers of Newcastle, was erected near the end of the jetty for loading vessels.  The first crane driver was Dan Shea.  Pop Sampson and Cecil Owen Walsh were engine drivers. A number of small wooden trollies were provided for the conveyance of cargo along the jetty.

In 1906-07 the crane was replaced by a 7 1/2-ton (6.80 tonne) capacity steam derrick one from the Clarence Harbour Works, built by Ransomes and Rapier.  By 1909, increased traffic at the port facilities necessitated the jetty to be upgraded. In 1914 a second steam crane (10-ton capacity) was erected at the outer end of the jetty.

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S.S. Orara at Coffs Harbour jetty, 1910 Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-3893

Two new steam cranes were purchased for use on the jetty in 1928-29.  The first was a five and a half ton (4.98 tonne) capacity crane at the base of the jetty and the second, a seven and a half ton (6.80 tonne) capacity travelling crane.

In 1947 a timber floodlighting tower was erected to facilitate night work. Two diesel electric travelling cranes, Nos 209 and 210, provided prominent landmarks in the port area.  The cranes were constructed by Messrs. Stothert and Pitt of Bath, England in 1944 for use in the Normandy invasion of France.   No. 210, which was bought from Evans, Deakin and Co Ltd of Brisbane, was erected on the jetty in December 1947 with special rails being laid for it.

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Loading timber 1950, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-2773

In 1949 electric travelling gear was installed on the crane.  By July of that year the North Berth steam crane had been removed, leaving No. 210 as the sole operational crane.  This was later joined by No. 209, the inner crane, identical to the other one, which was supplied by the State Dockyard.  This crane became operational in August 1955.  The main function of the cranes was to load timber onto ships but, they were also used for jetty maintenance, especially pile driving.  With the cessation of regular shipping from Coffs Harbour in the mid-1970s they fell into disuse.  After 1973 owners of fishing vessels relied on the cranes to lift their boats on and off the jetty for maintenance and servicing.

Shipping

The first cargo loaded at the jetty was a consignment of sugar from Alexander Herman’s mill at Korora.  Although the jetty was not completely finished, Mr Lawson allowed Mr Herman to use the builders’ trucks to carry the sugar to a chute at the end of the structure, where it was loaded into the tiny ship Byron commanded by Captain Hunter.

Over a ten-year period from 1906, more than 400 ships a year called at the jetty.    During the following years, better rail transport and improved road conditions plus the build-up of sand in the harbour resulted in fewer ships calling at the jetty.

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Passengers boarding the S.S. Fitzroy at Coffs Harbour jetty with Muttonbird Island in the background, circa 1920. Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-2931

The most popular passenger vessel to leave Coffs Harbour for Sydney was the SS Fitzroy, commanded by Captain James Colvin.  It left the jetty at 3pm every Sunday arriving in Sydney the next day.  Passengers were embarked in a large basket which was lifted from ship to jetty and back again by one of the jetty cranes.

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Replica of the basket used for embarking / disembarking of passengers at the jetty             Photographer: Marie Davey, 2008

Inside the basket were two rows of seats facing each other which held a total of eight people.

By the 1970s the jetty had begun to slip into a state of disrepair.  The last regular trading vessel to call at Coffs Harbour, the Abel Tasman, paid its final visit in 1973.  The Lorrana loaded the final commercial shipment on 22 July 1979, when it sailed for Lord Howe Island with a cargo of provisions.

End of Commercial Activity

In 1982 most of the railway track was removed to enable replacement of defective timber decking.  Several sheds were demolished and two piles replaced. Due to their unsafe condition, the cranes were demolished by April 1984.  Their removal ended nearly a hundred years of commercial activity on the jetty.

The Centenary

Residents dressed in period costume for the jetty centenary celebrations held on 2 August 1992.  Bush ballad recitals, tug-o-wars, whip cracking, hay cart rides, buskers, model steam engines, vintage cars and historical photographic displays delighted the many people who came to witness the centenary of our icon.  There was a working model of the Timmsvale sawmill brought to life by Dudley Timms from the original stationary mill built by his father 50 years previously. A short official ceremony on the jetty was held at 11am Sunday when a giant birthday cake was cut by special guest, Marjorie Nelson (nee Jackson).  The week of festivities culminated in a Gala Ball held in the Town Hall on 8 August 1992.

jettycentenary

And Beyond

The jetty became unsafe and was closed in 1990.  Because it was listed under the Heritage Act and the fact that it was the only remaining jetty on the North Coast, the New South Wales Government decided to conserve it.  A Save the Jetty Fund was launched in 1992 with its goal being $100,000 towards the total cost. Work began in March 1996. Timber used was blackbutt, tallowwood and spotted gum.  The original piles were made of turpentine. The decking was removed and replaced.  A firefighting system was installed with safety fencing, lighting and seating benches.  The final cost was $3.8 million. jettyrefurb

As the jetty was closed to commercial shipping for 20 years and to the general public since 1990, there were big festivities to celebrate the re-opening on 11 October 1997.  Mayor Cr John Smith, and Andrew Fraser, Member for Coffs Harbour, officiated at the opening and the ribbon was cut by Carl Scully, Minister for Roads, NSW.  A re-enactment of a scene depicting Captain Korff stepping off the steamboat Mary was the highlight.  Sporting events, displays, food, drama and musical concerts were also enjoyed. There was a Best Decorated Boat competition and night entertainment including sky diving by Coffs City Skydivers and fireworks.

Our jetty is now enjoyed by tourists and residents alike for recreational purposes – walking, swimming and fishing and will continue to be an icon for our city.

Sources

Ships and Timber – a short history of Coffs Harbour port and associated railways, Dr John Kramer, 1984, 994.43 KRA

Coffs Harbour 100 years down the track, Jean Donn-Patterson, 994.43 DON

OPENING OF COFFS HARBOR JETTY. (1892, August 10). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234191457

Reminiscences of Jetty Town, 2015, 994.43 REM or available for sale at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.

The Advocate

17 August 1956 First cargo

10 December 1981 Cranes on jetty

2 May 1992 Save the jetty fund

22 July 1992 Working model of Timmsvale Sawmill

31 July 1992 The Centenary

1 August 1992 Gala Ball for centenary

4 August 1992 Outlet for produce inlet for necessity

14 May 2001 PWD have control of jetty.  Replacement of crane

Jetty Times, 9 March 1996 Jetty restoration

The Coffs Harbour Advocate, 14 October 1997 Re-opening ceremony

Acknowledgement

Compiled by Museum volunteer, Marie Davey

Back to Sawtell in the ’70s

 

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(1971, January 14). Sawtell Guardian (NSW : 1971 – 1975), p. 1.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page27128572

In the first half of the 1970s, an enterprising President of the Sawtell-Boambee Chamber of Commerce believed that the village needed its own newspaper and the Sawtell Guardian was launched. The President, Nancy Sanders, was its sole editor.

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WHO IS NANCY SANDERS? (1971, September 2). Sawtell Guardian (NSW : 1971 – 1975), p. 1.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article247255406

Published almost every Thursday between 1971 and 1975, this free newspaper gave a succinct four page snapshot of life both within and beyond local borders:

It offered a healthy mix of headlines, serious news articles, classifieds, business advertising, television and radio guide, along with local sport stories.  Conversations with long-term local residents said that the “Sawtell Guardian” served as a significant social conduit at a time when interest in what others were up to seemed incredibly high. Fast forward 48 years to the prominence of social media, and interaction, and one may argue that the “Sawtell Guardian” was ahead of its time.  From garden parties, to wedding commentary, to welcoming home individuals from holiday absences, there was a great deal of focus on prominent families and people.

Martin Wells, Vice President of the Sawtell Chamber of Commerce, 2018

Via a collaboration between Coffs Harbour City Council’s History Services, the Sawtell Historical Society which has cared for the original print copies, the Sawtell Chamber of Commerce and the National Library to digitise it for posterity, the Sawtell Guardian is now available for all to read in Trove.  Sawtellcollab2

A wide range of historical content includes the reason behind the naming of Sawtell and other places in the Coffs Coast region.

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Derivation of Place Names (1973, June 28). Sawtell Guardian (NSW : 1971 – 1975), p.1  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article247259087

 

For all those who grew up in Sawtell in the 1970s, the ability to “go home” without leaving home is an engaging possibility; while those who have never experienced this village life before will enjoy the lively snapshots which Nancy Sanders recorded as she kept an eye on the life happening around her.

 

 

Created from a Dream: a gift of calligraphy

Created from a Dream

The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum has curated an exhibition to feature a very special community project – the exquisite handmade book created by the Coffs Calligraphers in 2007 on the occasion of their 20th anniversary and presented as a gift to the city.

This unique book recounts the transformation of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden from a night soil depot to the stunning garden it is today – all beautifully inscribed by our city’s talented calligraphers. While the Botanic Garden is a well-known attraction, perhaps not so well-known is the fact that Coffs Harbour has one of Australia’s most active calligraphers’ groups, whose members include some of the country’s best calligraphers.

The group formed in 1987 and is still going strong as a hub of calligraphy. The book project began with a vague idea of “a community -based ‘something’” that would celebrate Coffs Calligraphers’ first 20 years and at the same time, give something back to the City. Successful in securing funding from Coffs Harbour City Council’s Community Arts and Cultural Development Small Grants Program in September 2006, the project began in earnest early in 2007. A further sum of $1000 was made available from the Council to commission local craftsman Neil Scobie to design and create a special display cabinet to permanently house the manuscript.

The book was developed in consultation with the Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden. It includes a time line of events, Gumbaynggirr history, special areas and plant collections, as well as the birds and fauna that inhabit the Garden. Members who worked on the book included Paivi Ranta, Carol Hellmers, Gloria Rigby, Judith Kilburn, Barbara Austin, Colleen Little, Maxine Kohlhagen, Lexie Arlington, Lynne Arnold and Robyn Lawrence. A truly local effort, the special interleaving papers were silk screened by Insight Screenprinting and the book was bound in suede and embossed by Nigel Lovett of the Coastal Bookbinding Co.

The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden

The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden was officially opened on 17th September 1988 as the centrepiece of Coffs Harbour’s celebration of Australia’s bi-centenary. The opening was the culmination of decades of vision and sheer hard work by many members of our community.

The site was first identified as a location for a botanic garden in the 1959 Coffs Harbour Planning Scheme, developed by Roy McRae, a Sydney town planner. At that time the area was known as Wilson Park and had been used as a rubbish dump from 1938. Prior to this it was used as a night soil depot – the place where the town’s “dunny cans” were emptied before we had a sewerage system.

Unfortunately the proposal for a botanic garden was forgotten and it was not until 1973 that the potential of the site was again recognised. Following a canoe trip along Coffs Creek, local conservation group the Ulitarra Society came up with a concept for a botanic garden. They spent three months intensively consulting with local community organisations to gain their support and in November presented a well-documented and researched submission to Council. The Plan for Management of Natural Areas, Coffs Creek prepared by Alex Floyd, Peter Roberts and Lloyd Jones was hailed as “a visionary plan” by the Coffs Coast Advocate. “If we let this opportunity slip through our fingers it may never come again”, the paper declared. Two years later in 1975, Reserve 89558 was gazetted for the Botanic Garden.

Such a visionary plan took time to implement. A conference held at the University of New England in May 1980 led to a development plan, which was then adopted by Council. John Wrigley, curator of National Botanic Garden in Canberra was engaged as consultant. In the same year, the Friends Steering Committee formed at a public meeting leading to the inaugural meeting of the Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden on 9th April, 1981. A small and dedicated group worked tirelessly at weekly working bees to clear the site of weeds and remove years of rubbish, then built paths, planted new areas and created the extraordinary and beautiful green space now in the heart of our city.

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The new Botanic Garden, Picture Coffs Harbour mus07-13020

 

Acknowledgement

This post was written by Jo Besley,  Gallery and Museum Curator, Coffs Harbour City Council

The exhibition is open for viewing at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum from 6 April until 12 May 2018.

Courageous Captain Colvin

 

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The S.S. Cooloon with Captain Colvin, 1910     www.picturecoffsharbour, mus07-2941

This story was told by the first of his grandchildren William James Colvin (1924) and compiled by him with assistance from Cathy Colvin, youngest granddaughter.

Born in Sunderland, UK in 1867, James Colvin was apprenticed to the Union Castle Line as a ship’s officer.  He joined “Roslyn Castle” and journeyed to Sydney via Cape Horn arriving in July 1883.  Enjoying the sunny winter weather, he decided to jump ship and make his home here and join in the gold rush.

James, 16 years, walked miles to the diggings at Queanbeyan, outside Canberra.   He spent the next four or five years at gold digging in New South Wales and Queensland.  He gambled the money he made on horse racing.

Returning to sea he received his First Mate’s Certificate.  He obtained a job with the North Coast Company as a Mate on a small ship which crossed the bar at Lismore.  During the loading an altercation occurred between himself and Allen Taylor, resulting in his leaving the company.

He went to work for the Nicoll Steamship Company.  He gained his Master’s Certificate and Mr Nicoll gave him a job commanding his ships.

After a collision between the ships of this company, James went to work for Langley Brothers as Captain of the S.S. Cooloon.  Once this ship went through a very bad storm for two days and when it came through, the family was very excited as they expected not to see him again.  This earned him the title ´Jimmy Cooloon’.

His first wife

Captain Colvin married Lucy Goff in St Philips’ Church, Sydney in 1892. They had five children.

In 1908 his wife, Lucy, died and James had to face the task of who would raise his children while he was at sea.  The Walsh family cared for them on their dairy property.  In return, James Colvin gave one of the sons, Fred Walsh, the deeds to crown land on the far north coast of New South Wales near the Queensland border.  This parcel of land was built up and called Kingscliff.

On 24 March 1908 Captain Colvin opened a Cordial Factory at the eastern end of Ocean Street (now Harbour Drive).  In 1911 he sold this business and in this year Langley Brothers had a steel ship, the Fitzroy, built in Scotland to replace the wooden one they had here.

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S.S. Fitzroy transferring passengers by basket at Coffs Harbour Jetty, around 1910, picturecoffsharbour.org, mus07-2922

Langley Brothers wharf where the Fitzroy docked was first on the left after passing through Pyrmont Bridge.  The cargo was hauled up Market Street to George Street by horse and cart where Markets were.

Captain Colvin was a generous and compassionate man rescuing two female passengers, and on another occasion he saved another from drowning at Darling Harbour for which he was awarded at a reception at Sydney Town Hall.  On another occasion he dived in to free a tangled chain around the propeller.  Captain Colvin, taking over from the cook, was cutting at the time the chain was cut.  The chain wrapped around his foot and he was dragged to the bottom.  At the bottom, the chain broke and he floated to the top unconscious.  He revived and in a short space of time he was back in control.

A second wife

In 1914 Captain Colvin married Alice May Cox, the great-great-granddaughter of William Cox, the retired paymaster of the 1st Military Corps who was overseeing the building of the Blue Mountains in 1813.   They had three children.

In 1919 James bought a small farm on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour at Upper Corindi.  On approaching Coffs Harbour in the Fitzroy, he would blow the horn on the ship which was heard at his home.  His son, Alfred, would saddle up the horse and gig and by the time they travelled six miles to the wharf, the ship was in.

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Captain James Colvin with a horse and buggy, (1908-1921), www.picturecoffsharbour, mus07-1052

The sinking of the Fitzroy

On 25 June 1921, just after his daughter May was born, Captain Colvin was travelling to Sydney from Coffs Harbour when he noticed a big storm brewing.  During the night when he was just off Cape Hawke the storm got worse and a southerly had washed cattle off the deck of the ship and the logs were rolling to the port side of the ship.  Captain Colvin with A B Johnannsen were able to move some of the logs overboard.  About 6.30 next morning the ship was listing towards the sea and water was going down the funnel putting out the fires.

The engineer announced that the situation was hopeless and the order to abandon ship was given and two boats got away.  There were 31 souls on board.  Johnannsen told James that it was time to go as the two had a big occasion coming up.  It was acceptance into the Masonic Lodge the following week.

Captain Colvin went to his cabin, put on his cap and went up to the bridge and bravely went down with his ship.

Johnannsen jumped overboard, swam away then returned to retrieve something.  He then swam a total of 13 miles (20.92 kms) to shore landing at Tuncurry.  Exhausted, he was washed ashore by a wave.  He rolled up the beach, dug a hole, covered himself with sand and lay there for four to six hours.  He was rescued and nursed back to health.

Meanwhile a lifeboat with four people reached the shore.  One man died soon after.    The bodies of Roy Daley and George Karlsen were washed ashore. The four survivors were Olaf Johnannsen, Carl Jensen and Peter Hansen and a passenger by the name of Herbert Ramsey.  The ship still lies a few miles off Cape Hawke in deep water.   Mr Langley did not live long after the disaster and the company folded.

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Past Days around Wallis Lake, p.27, https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/44141036 

The Marine Court of Enquiry

The finding of this enquiry was that everything possible was done to preserve the ship and the lives of the passengers and that there was no evidence of misconduct or error of judgment on the part of the captain or officers.

His Family

Alice May* Cox was a nursing sister at Coffs Harbour when they married and when he drowned, she had three small children and a debt on the farm.  She started a Midwifery Hospital in a rented cottage in Coffs Harbour.  Some years later she got out of the maternity hospital and the general hospital absorbed that section and went back to the farm where she lived until after the Second World War, eventually buying a house in Woolgoolga next to Valley Gilmore (her son-in-law).  She remained there until her death.  Her children were Dorothy born 1916, Archy born December 1917 and Mary born 1921

References

Coffs Harbour Regional Museum research file mus13-489

Further reading

WRECKED ON THE NORTH COAST (1921, June 27). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 1 (FINAL SPORTING), http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221463785

CAPTAIN COLVIN. (1921, June 28). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 5.,  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239742030

LOSS OF THE FITZROY (1921, June 28). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7., http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15960238

*given as Frances May in news articles of the day.

Acknowledgement

This blog post was compiled by Coffs Harbour Regional Museum volunteer Marie Davey.