Short Visit to Northern NSW and the Margaret Olley Exhibition

A room from the Margaret Olley exhibition


24 July 2018

Today I set off on a visit I had promised myself for a while, travelling from home in Newcastle to Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales.

First leg was a 385 km drive to Coffs Harbour where I spent the night with a friend, after the required number of stops for breaks.  The last break was Nambucca Heads, a pretty coastal town just south of Coffs Harbour that I hadn’t visited in many years and it was delightful to walk along the boardwalk next to the Nambucca River (right).  It was a very pleasant warm day and I was definitely over-dressed in my warm jumper, as we had experienced quite a cold spell for several days at home before I left.  When I met up with my friend at Coffs Harbour she was dressed in a singlet top and shorts!

It was great to catch up with Emily and her son Reign and we had an enjoyable dinner at a local club, and caught up on news.

25 July 2018

I had been looking forward to my next stop at Lismore (about 207 kms away), and in particular a visit to the local Family History Research centre (left).   The centre is only open for certain days and hours, so I knew the day that I arrived was the best afternoon for me to visit, and I had a few hours to spend with some of the volunteers who were very helpful in finding as much information as they could about my family.

My great grandparents had spent about 5 years in Wyrallah, a short distance from Lismore, on the Wilsons River.  Prior to 1974 this river was called the North Richmond River, it was tidal up to Boatharbour which meant the timber schooners, the smaller ships, would get up there, it was called Boatharbour because the boats got there to carry cedar out in the early period. The river provided the only transport from Sydney and would have been how my family travelled there, then later back to Sydney.

The era of the big ships on the river at Lismore ended in 1954 when the North Coast Steam Navigation Company went into liquidation, being no longer able to compete with the freight rates of the railway of that time.  This heralded the end of shipping on the river.


Research had revealed that my great grandparents had lived in Lismore/Wyrallah since about 1874 and they returned to Sydney in late 1879.  During that time they produced four children (the last one died as a baby) and for a few years they had run a boarding house for the cedar cutters.  I drove out to Wyrallah, but as expected there is very little left there now, only a few houses.  Quite a difference to the bustling, thriving community that existed at the time my great grandparents were there, but atleast I was able to see the part of the river where they would have lived.

26 July 2018

Today I had organised to drive the short distance from Lismore to Alstonville where a dear cousin lives, she and her twin sister turned 90 in May, and I was looking forward to meeting up with her.  I had a reasonably early start with enough time to purchase some delicious and decadent tiny tarts from the local bakery.  Joan has lived in this beautiful area for many years, raised six children, and now enjoys her games of lawn bowls and the company of friends at their weekly card games.  It was a delight to catch up with her and talk about family history, and enjoy a wonderful morning tea with a lace tablecloth and home made cake!  I am hoping to catch up with her again when she next visits her sister in Sydney.  Joan also directed me to the local church to purchase two famous Father Mac’s Heavenly Christmas Puddings which had been requested by my sister-in-law Virginia (and I wanted one too!).  Unfortunately production of the heavenly puddings has now ceased so I was lucky to be able to purchase two of the last remaining puddings for the coming Christmas.



I was back in Lismore with enough time in the afternoon to walk around the main town centre and visit the Lismore Regional Art Gallery (below left), and some interesting Back Lane murals (below right) and plan my next drive to Murwillumbah – really looking forward to seeing the Margaret Olley exhibition in their beautiful art gallery.




Lismore, a prosperous service town and the main commercial and administrative centre for the Northern Rivers, lies only nine metres above sea-level on the narrow and winding North Arm of the upper Richmond River known as Wilsons River. In recent times it has attracted people who come to the area to pursue creative endeavours and alternative lifestyles. Thus there is a high concentration of painters, woodworkers, ceramists, filmmakers, musicians, poets, designers and dancers. Consequently, there are many galleries, studios and theatres in the area. The district is known for its rich soils and high quality produce. There is an organic food market once a week; local restaurants are proud of their local produce; and the surrounding farmland is known for its coffee, avocados, tropical and stone fruits, blueberries, pecans, beef production, pig farming, bacon-curing, bananas, macadamias and sugar, as well as sawmilling and brewing. Consequently the town’s primary appeal to the traveller lies in its centrality to a region rather than its specific attractions.

27 July 2018

A reasonably early start this morning to drive about 85 kms to Murwillumbah where I will meet up with my travelling mate, Pete, who will be driving down from the Gold Coast.  I did take a wrong turn and got slightly lost, but was still able to make it in time to meet up at the Tweed Regional Museum which was very interesting, then a coffee and cake before we drove to the Tweed River Art Gallery.  This Gallery now houses the Margaret Olley exhibition which includes the contents of the artist’s home – if you have ever seen photographs of the house you will know that it was crowded with memorabilia, flowers, sculptures and the many items Margaret included in her fabulous paintings (below left and right).












The visit to the exhibition was one of the highlights of my holiday break and I took lots of photographs as a reminder of my visit.  The Gallery has recently been renovated and includes a wonderful cafe that overlooks the green valley and surrounds and river, and the mountains in the distance including Mount Warning.  We enjoyed an antipasto lunch sitting on the verandah of the cafe and drinking in the vista on a beautiful sunny day.


It had been difficult to find accommodation in Murwillumbah but I had been able to book a cottage near Uki, the Forest Cabin at Mt Warning B & B Retreat, only about 13 kms from Murwillumbah.  It was one of a number of cabins on the site, quite private and small, but with everything we needed (right).  Mavis’s Kitchen was a short distance away (below left) but we were not keen on walking  as there was no street lighting, a fairly narrow road, and it was safer to drive there for dinner.  They also have cabins for guests.  The meal was fabulous (each course included an edible flower (below right), and we discovered that the people who run Mavis’s also run the cafe at the Tweed River Art Gallery, we recognised the chef, and he remembered us!










28 July 2018


Surrounding Murwillumbah are several small and interesting villages, including Uki , and we decided to spend today exploring the area.  The village of Uki was only a few kilometres from our accommodation so this was our first stop for a walk around the town and breakfast at the Uki Cafe.  It is a very old and quaint village with the school in the main street and a variety of shops.



Uki village (“where the mountains touch the sky”) is a hub of arts, culture, organics and alternative lifestyle nestled at the base of Wollumbin Mt Warning. The lovely old school was built in 1895. The name (pronounced ‘yook-eye’) is believed to be derived from the Aboriginal name for a small water fern but some say that it evolved from the early days of timber-getting when the finest cedars were marked ‘U.K.1’ for export to the United Kingdom.




The shops here are housed in historical buildings, many of which date back to the town’s early days as a thriving dairy and timber centre. The old Norco Butter Factory now accommodates a range of galleries and art studios where you can watch local artisans at work, as well as funky bric-a-brac stores (some quaint ceramics in the Uki Cafe at left), a bookstore and an antique shop. Giving the village its organic-alternative vibe are outlets like Happy High Herbs which sells a range of local organic herbal teas, sustainable body products and healing herbs. Glorious Organics stocks a full range of supermarket products, as well as local fruits and vegetable. There is also a holistic health centre where you can have your mind, body and spirit balanced with a Ka Huna massage or Shamanic hot stone therapy while the Purple Podiatrist realigns your soles.



Our next stop was at the village of Tyalgum (“where country charm meets classical music”), about 30 kms from Uki, where the main street was cordoned off to accommodate a cycling race.  We didn’t see any of the cyclists (we did see some along the road after we left the village) and we were able to meander along the main street and through the interesting General Store which stocked almost everything you would need!


Set against a dramatic backdrop formed by the towering western wall of the Wollumbin Mt Warning Caldera (a caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making it a large, special form of volcanic crater), the historic village of Tyalgum oozes country charm. What was once a remote timber town is now one of the Valley’s most popular day-trip destinations, thanks to the quaint old buildings that have been lovingly restored and transformed into cottage cafes, art galleries and gift stores. The main street stroll starts at Tyalgum Hotel – one of the notable historic pubs – where locals gather for top quality fare and overnight visitors can stay in the recently refurbished rooms.

Across the road, the old Norco Butter Factory built in 1913 is now Bartrim’s Garage. Diagonally opposite, the House of Canelli boutique was originally a billiard room. The Tyalgum General Store and village post office celebrated 100 years of trading in 2008. Flutterbies Cottage Café was the town bakery back in 1926 and is now a flourishing hot-spot to enjoy a country meal and award winning cupcakes. The Little Shop Next Door opened as a butcher shop in 1931. But the town’s most famous historic building is undoubtedly the Tyalgum Hall, built in 1908 as the grandly-named Tyalgum Literary and Mechanics Institute. In the early 1990s, two classical violinists noted the hall’s incredible acoustics and invited some of their colleagues here to perform. That initial gathering of musicians turned into the annual Tyalgum Festival of Classical Music which celebrated its 27th anniversary in 2018.

Over the years, this three-day series of concerts held over the first weekend in September has attracted some of Australia’s – and indeed the world’s – finest musicians and is now rated as one of the premier classical music events in the country. Throughout the year, the Tylalgum Hall also hosts a selection of concerts, plays, dance spectaculars and more, attracting Tweed Valley locals and visitors from far and wide. On any day of any week, however, Tyalgum is a top spot to end a scenic country drive with a browse through the shops and lunch at Flutterbies Cottage Café.


One of the most popular stops on any scenic drive through the Tweed Valley, Chillingham (“home of the Tweed’s famous fingerlimes”) is home to the Tweed’s very own ‘bush tucker man’, Buck Buchanan. Tending the orchards behind his rustic roadside stall (left), Buck grows a fascinating variety of local and exotic citrus fruits and he happily takes visitors on a tour of his Bush Tucker Garden. A real true-blue Aussie character, Buck strides barefoot along the rows plucking native fingerlimes, Buddha’s hands fruit, bergamots, Japanese yuzu, Davidson plums, kaffir limes, warrigal greens and more for you to touch, taste and smell. He supplies some of Australia’s leading restaurants and has even created his own line of shampoos, moisturizers and lotions from his harvest. Just down the road, potter John Gillson has lovingly restored the village’s old butcher shop into a showcase for his stunning ceramics.

Unfortunately we didn’t see the orchards or the potter’s shop, but we did have a coffee on the verandah of the Chillingham Store (below left), which is also the local Bottle Shop and has the only petrol bowser, and watched the passing parade on the main street (about 3 cars!).  The  orange vine had put on a spectacular display!


Tumbulgum was our next stop (“the Tweed Valley’s most picturesque village”). Looking across to Wollumbin Mt Warning from the junction of the Tweed and Rous Rivers, Tumbulgum was one of the first villages established in northern NSW in around 1840. For many years, it was the Tweed Valley’s main hub of activity, with shops and services springing up to cater to the timber trade and cedar cutters. At one stage it vied with nearby Murwillumbah for commercial supremacy – until Murwillumbah scored the railway in 1897 and a bridge in 1901, guaranteeing its status as the Tweed Valley’s economic centre. In Tumbulgum today it is the tourists who generate the buzz, coming to enjoy the picturesque setting and admire the historic buildings which now house a range of art galleries, gift shops and cafés.


One of the most popular reminders of the past is undoubtedly the old Tumbulgum Tavern (above). Established in 1887, it was the region’s first unlicensed pub (otherwise known as a ‘grog shanty’) and over 120 years later, it is still going strong. The food here is excellent – as are the sunsets that illuminate the river and Wollumbin Mt Warning.  Ofcourse we had to stop at the Tavern for a nice lunch overlooking the river.  There were boat races in the afternoon sunshine, and a large crowd to watch the events.

On our way back to Uki we called in to the Aldi Store in Murwillumbah for some cheese, dips and crackers for a quiet last meal at the Mt Warning B & B Retreat.

29 July 2018

Time to say goodbye to the beautiful Murwillumbah area, and head for home, I had booked to stay overnight at Nambucca Heads so I didn’t have such a long drive on my last day.  I was able to stop at Coffs Harbour to meet up with Emily and Reign again for lunch at Big Oma’s Coffee House at the Clog Barn Holiday Park, where we walked through the model Dutch village with its working windmills and garden railway (below left).  All the models are replicas of actual buildings in Holland that have been handmade by owner Thomas Hartsuyker over the last 35 years – he is 85 years of age and still making the models today!  Lunch was on the verandah overlooking a pond with water dragons (below right) which fascinated Reign!


My last evening was spent at a quaint bush cottage at Nambucca Heads, quite close to the main centre, but it seemed miles away from the noise in a beautiful bush setting – I had just missed seeing the local kangaroos visit.  The cottage was very comfortable, and again I had been to the supermarket for some dips, cheese etc to save me going out for a meal.  Very peaceful and a good night’s sleep.



30 July 2018


Heading for home today, with a stop at the delightful small town of Ulmarra for breakfast al fresco at the back of the local pub, and overlooking the peaceful river.




It has been a delightful break finding out more information about my great grandparents, meeting up with my cousin, and exploring areas I have never visited before – and always glad to be back home!




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