Thursday, April 16, 2009

Distant memories of a now vanished North Coast - Introduction

Ocean View hotel Urunga

This photo shows the Ocean View Hotel at Urunga. It was built in 1927 and then was a big hotel. I stayed there as a young child.

Lynne and I have been exchanging comments about the Urunga floods. It made me realise how much even Urunga had changed.

I have been writing a lot of serious stuff recently. I thought that it might be fun to write a series of personal memoirs about the old coast before it vanished for ever. I am an inland person, but I remember the old North Coast.

Why is it that the flats we later stayed in in Urunga were called the New England Flats? Why do the flats in a Yamba Street carry the names of Tablelands' stations from the Armidale area? Why do people in Grafton today not remember when Grafton was the great river port? What was it like to be university student when your friends were nearly all the first in their families to attend university? And what was surf music like at Coffs Harbour?

Dorrigo Road This photo shows one of the waterfalls crossing the road down the Dorrigo mountain during the recent floods. Even now, heavy rain can quickly destroy road connections.

When I first travelled this road on my way to that holiday in Urunga with my aunts, there was not a single tarred road between the Tablelands and the coast.

Past the dingo gate on the Grafton/Dorrigo road the country changed. This was a rugged world, one where P A Wright, my grandfather and others fought to create what would become the New England National Park. This was a world in which my my Aunts sheltered from a snowstorm at a little bush nursing centre.

The bush was close, to be enjoyed even by those who lived there on a regular basis. This was a world far removed from modern urban Australia.

This photo from cousin Jamie's collection shows the Drummond family camping at Jock's Water near Ebor in 1931. It's not what you would call a modern Camping at Jock's Water Ebor December 1931camp site.

Past Ebor, the road entered the rolling green hills of the Dorrigo Plateau before plunging down the mountain to the coast.

I am an inland person. I find the modern obsession with the narrow edge of the coast absolutely boring and personally incomprehensible. We may as well pack all of the Australian population off to live in the narrow beach strip between the waterline and adjoining sand dunes. Yet I find the New England coastal zone as a whole intensely fascinating.

I might see if I can bring this alive.


Neil said...

As A D Hope puts it:

And her five cities, like five teeming sores,
Each drains her: a vast parasite robber-state
Where second hand Europeans pullulate
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.
My Whitfield ancestors over the past 190 years have never strayed far from the original 19 counties -- Picton/Bargo being the main domicile, with a coniderable tribe around Braidwood. Some went as far as the Central West. My Christison ancestors, a sojourn in Scotland aside, have mainly kept to the coast as well. My grandfather went a bit further as a teacher; my mother's heart-home was twofold -- around Quirindi and around Milton. While I am Surry Hills, my nostalgia place is Sutherland Shire in the 1950s.

I am sure there is nothing strange about such attachments and such a distribution.

Surely all through history and prehistory the bulk of Australians -- including Aboriginal people -- have hugged the coasts and the coastal mountains, being more thinly spread wherever living conditions were harsher.

Jim Belshaw said...

I enjoyed this comment, Neil. So far as the Aborigines are concerned, though, its not that clear cut.

The highest population density was probably along the Murray River. Modern population densities in some inland areas are now lower than they were in 1788!

I do still find you coastal huggers very strange!

nellibell49 said...

That brings back memories for me. My life started in Sydney and out holidays were back to family towns and then Urunga on the North Coast. Dorrigo Mountain still fills me with frights left over from the 1950s. I shall see what photos I have. My Parents honeymooned in the OceanView in 1948.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good lord, Lynne. Ocean View! Do see what photos you have!

Tobias said...

The memories of the drive between Armidale and Valla are some of the stongest and most cherished I have from my childhood. Out of town through the poplars and off to the coast, Armidale radio stations fading into static before Hillgrove. Granite boulders piled on top of more granite. The T intersection that that always had skid marks heading off into the grass beyond. Being deafened by cicadas near at the turn off to Cathedral Rocks. I remember my brother being car sick as the road seemed to leap from one waterfall to the next. One day we ran over a poor old snake that seemed as long as the road was wide. My mum said a prayer for it. Dorrigo, always green and always foggy. Down the mountain, past Weeping Jenny, to the general store at Thora where everyone stopped to tell everyone else about their trip down the mountain. Back in the car, windows down now and the air became thick and heavy. We'd roll into Valla Beach and run straight down the long footpath to the beach, leaving mum and dad to sort out the car. Only later in the day did we bother going up to Mrs Jones' corner store for a bubble o' bill. She always sold milk well past its used by date.

Jim Belshaw said...

Lovely memories, Tobias. I think that most kids who grew up in Armidale will have similar memories to us, although destinations and timing may differ.