Woolgoolga has a notable history and remnants of it still exist, some very close to Halcyon Retreat. The township was proclaimed in 1888 and its name believed to originate from the Aboriginal word of Wei-gul-ga the name they gave to the Lillipilli trees that are abundant in the area.
The Gumbayngirr tribe camped along the ocean foreshore, lake and Woolgoolga Creek and there is evidence of ceremonies occurring on Woolgoolga Headland. Stone artifacts have been found on the headland, along the Creek and even on the hill just above Halcyon Retreat. Further up Woolgoolga Creek Road onto Gentle Annie Road is an Aboriginal site known as ‘Mary’s Waterhole’ where pregnant women bathed to ensure safe carriage of their babies.
Later with non-indigenous settlement, bullock teams hauled timber wagons from the forest down along Woolgoolga Creek to Woolgoolga Beach where the timber was “floated out” to schooners waiting in the Bay. These ships brought supplies to Woolgoolga and transported timber up and down the coast. In 1907 the bullock teams were replaced with a steam locomotive that pulled wagons loaded with logs on a railway alongside Woolgoolga Creek Road to a timber mill on the site of the present day Bowling Club at the end of Boundary Street down town. A relic of the track and railway wagon is on display next to the Art Gallery and workshop on Turon Parade in Woolgoolga. From the mill, the logs were shunted on rails out onto a jetty built in 1892 that extended almost half a kilometer out into Woolgoolga Bay to awaiting ships. A few of the ships however met their fate in wild storms whilst at anchor. The wreck of one such vessel, the Buster that was a 310 ton 39 meter long barquentine destined for New Zealand after loading. Parts of it can be seen at times in the sand on the beach between the surf club building and the entrance to Woolgoolga Lake. Woolgoolga Beach and the Lake became a tourist attraction from the early 1900’s and the jetty existed until the frequency of storms and high seas eventually caused its upkeep unviable. The jetty was demolished progressively from about 1952 to 1961. Mooring buoys used in the bay can now be seen on what was the entrance to the Woolgoolga Beach Caravan Park at the intersection of Wharf and Beach Street opposite Bluebottles Café.
Another local coastal historic site is the Arrawarra Fish Traps located at the southern end of Arrawarra Bay between the headland and beach boat ramp. The traps consist of several pools created by hand placed stones that allow fish to enter at high tide but become trapped at low tide. Some claim the trap was constructed by a local non-indigenous fisherman, but evidence exist that he reconstructed the original trap created by the aboriginals, a practice seen elsewhere on the mid north coast.
Woolgoolga non indigenous settlement was started in the 1870’s with cattlemen from the Clarence River and one of the original grazing lands still exists opposite Halcyon Retreat on the northern side of Woolgoolga Creek. On this land only a few hundred meters across the paddock from Halcyon Retreat are also the remains of a disused gold mine complete with an old stamper battery. Unfortunately this site is not open to the public.
The first farming settlers in Woolgoolga arrived in 1880, and grew sugar cane. The Pullen family established a sugar mill on the banks of Woolgoolga Creek near the street that bears their name. The Pullen family was also responsible for the building of the first hotel in Woolgoolga, the Sea View Tavern in 1888. It was constructed on the site of the current Sea View Hotel at the intersection of Clarence and River Street that was the original road to Grafton. The hotel was originally a stage coach stop offering ‘refreshments’ and accommodation and caused quite a controversy at the time.
In 1929 new white settlers arrived to set up banana farms after trying several other fruit crops and later in 1939 Sikh Indians started to settle here to work in the plantations that suffered labour shortages due to World War II. Many of the Sikhs had come to Australia to work on the sugar cane plantations in Queensland and when manual labour was replaced by machines, coming to Woolgoolga where both sugarcane and bananas were being grown was a logical choice. After the War, they themselves started to acquire lease and free hold banana plantations and now own 90% of the banana farms in the area. These days sugar cane is no longer grown here and the banana industry has declined due to competition from Queensland and overseas. The growing of banana are being replaced by blueberries farms that can be identified by being covered with white netting to avoid them being eaten by Fruit Bats and Possums.
As the population of Sikhs grew, two temples (Gurdwaras) were constructed, the first being also the first in Australia is on Hastings Street and opened in 1968. The second is the prominent “Temple on the Hill” is situated on River Street running parallel to the Pacific Highway. It was opened in 1970.
Another historic building is the original Woolgoolga Police Station built in 1890 on Scarborough Street next to the Woolgoolga Public School in town. In recent times it has been moved to the main street of Woolgoolga at the intersection of Beach and Boundary Street and now is the Woolgoolga Neighbourhood and Visitor Information Center. Inside there are several pictures framed by the owners of Halcyon Retreat that show many of the places of historic value described in this story about the notable history of Woolgoolga.
By Steve Moody, with facts obtained from the book ‘Woolgoolga Past & Present’ 1982 by Professor Neil Yeates.