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Coffs Harbour (1861 - )

Archival Resources
Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia
A port city on the North Coast of New South Wales, about 435 kilometres by sea from Sydney and 600 kilometres by rail. 'Coffs' is a corruption of its European discoverer's name, Captain John Korff, who took refuge in the habour during a southerly gale in 1847 (Captain James Cook had sailed past the site on 15 May 1770 and called its outlying area 'Solitary Islands'). So impressed was Korff by the harbour's qualities that he felt compelled to furnish the colonial authorities with a report on its coastal configuration and good depth of water on his return to Sydney.

The area was originally occupied by the Kumbaingeri, a people known for their unusual tallness and 'herculean proportions'. They followed strict codes of social behaviour in relation to marriage and family group, a condition which was meant to preserve a safe balance between the area's population and its rich resources. Skirmishes between the Kumbaingeri and Europeans were sporadic in the 1840s and 1850s, but became more frequent in subsequent decades as settlers increasingly intruded on the hunting grounds and sacred sites of Aborigines in neighbouring Nambucca and Bellingen.

Though proclaimed (as Coff’s, not Korff’s) in 1861, the harbour and its surrounding land were not settled by Europeans until the 1870s and early 1880s. Most of the first settlers, such as Walter Harvie and John Bayldon, were sawyers from the cedar-rich Bellinger Valley who sought new forests and a suitable port for shipment.

Coffs Harbour’s ‘golden harvest of cedar’ and the discovery of gold in the Orara Valley in 1881 brought an ‘overflow’ of settlers during the following decade. Favourable reports of the area also enticed selectors and businessmen to settle there. A postal service, school and lighthouse were established in the early to mid 1880s, while timber milling, dairying, fruit growing and sugar farming became the staple hallmarks of the local economy. With the harbour in greater use, and the ferrying of people through the surf no longer safe or practicable, the settlers increasingly called upon the government to erect a jetty. After some delay, plans for a government jetty were approved in 1888. Construction began the following year, and in 1892 the jetty was finally completed.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Coffs Harbour had become the locus for a flourishing hardwood timber industry, and the arrival of new mills brought considerable prosperity to the region. With the coming of the railway in 1915 and the completion of the link with Sydney in 1923, the town experienced quite rapid growth. Churches, schools, fire-houses, hotels and a myriad of local businesses convinced many, including its first Presbyterian Minister, WN Small, that Coffs Harbour had ‘grown from a wilderness to its present size and importance’.

During the 1920s, as the region's rich deposits of cedar and gold were gradually exhausted, many local farmers turned to banana growing. It was believed that the climate in Coffs Harbour made the fruit much sweeter than other varieties grown elsewhere, and by 1955 Coffs Harbour was the major banana producing area in Australia. The boom reached its peak in the late 1960s, when New South Wales produced about 80 per cent of the nation's bananas. From the 1970s, Queensland gradually displaced Coffs Harbour as Australia's 'banana capital' (Queensland now accounts for about 75 per cent of national production). Accordingly, over the last decade, the area under bananas in Coffs Harbour has been declining at about 5 per cent a year.

Fortunately, the Coffs Harbour authorities, and especially its Shire Council, which was established in 1956, had begun to diversify the local economy at the height of the banana boom. That year, a Mid-North Coast Tourist Authority had been founded and three years later, a Tourist Festival was held with bands, water skiing displays, parachute drops into the harbour and sheep dog trials. New caravan parks began to appear, and in December 1960 the Banana Bowl Tourist Resort was opened at Korora. Within a year, the Banana Bowl was acclaimed by the NRMA as the best privately owned tourist attraction in the district. Four years later, in 1964, locals John Landi and John Enevoldson built a huge model banana and invited the public to 'See and walk through the biggest banana in the world; see the nursery, enjoy a panoramic view, watch the snakes and tame animals; browse through our art and gift shop; try our American milkshakes and hamburgers - seven days a week'. In its first week of operation, the Big Banana attracted more than 4,000 visitors a day, prompting one local commentator to describe the 'Horticultural mammoth' as 'the district's major tourist attraction'.

Today, Coffs Harbour thrives on tourism, which injects approximately $400 million into the local economy. At the same time, the city (proclaimed in 1987) with a population of nearly 62,000 people recognises the importance of promoting the growth of emerging industries such as health, aviation, technology, aged services and sport.

There is now a first-class international airport, an Education Campus which offers secondary schooling, TAFE education and some tertiary studies (in association with Lismore's Southern Cross University), an international sports stadium at Marshall's Estate where World Cup Soccer fixtures, National Rugby League trials and ING Cup cricket matches have been played (Coffs Harbour is also the home training base for the Wallabies, Australia's international Rugby Union side and its Captain, George Gregan, is an acting roving ambassador for the city), and an invaluable collection of native and exotic sub-tropical flora housed at the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden. Less tangible but equally important innovations include Coffs Harbour's revamped water storage facility, its commitment to waste management and its promotion of energy conservation projects.

These efforts were rewarded, first in 2000, with the Inaugural Prime Minister's Environment Award for Sustainable Communities, and then in 2001, with the prestigious AR Bluett Memorial Award for the Most Effficient Local Government Authority in New South Wales. In 2002, Coffs Harbour was also recognised by the UN-sponsored Nations in Bloom Awards as the World's Most Liveable City with a population up to 75,000 people.

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Related People:

Neil Yeates, Coffs Harbour. Volume 1: Pre-1880 to 1945 (Coffs Harbour: Bananacoast Printers, 1990) and http://www.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au/resources/documents/Cofss_Harbour_Snapshot.2doc.pdf


Prepared by: Sophie Patrick
Created: 26 June 2002
Modified: 7 July 2006

Published by The Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, 5 April 2004
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 23 February 2010

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