The Shire's European History
When Captain James Cook sailed the Endeavour along the east coast of Australia in 1770, both he and his companions overlooked the entrance of the Richmond River as it was, then, 'well-concealed'. Not until 1828 did Captain Henry Rous aboard the HMS Rainbow 'discover' and name the Richmond River.
Families harvesting cedar were the first Europeans to 'settle' on the Richmond following the news of an overland journey of a small party of cutters from the Clarence in the Spring of 1842. Equipped with bullocks and a whaleboat these men, after reaching the Richmond at Codrington (near Casino) launched their boat and rowed to the mouth of the river at Ballina. After checking the river entrance at Ballina, they journeyed back to the Clarence to collect their families and tools before returning on board the Sally.
Within several years of the first cedar cutters coming to the Richmond, Ballina had become a small cedar settlement boasting huts and sawpits, with the landscape dotted with stacks of cedar. The settlement at Richmond Heads also from the mid-1840s and early 1850s serviced other smaller cedar settlements along the larger tributaries of the river including Duck Creek and Emigrant Creek and further up river at Wardell.
As the number of cedar camps in the Ballina area increased throughout the 1840s and 1850s other settlers moved to the area to take advantage of the economic opportunities that surrounded the cedar cutting trade. Storekeepers, ship-owners and shipwrights were among the many occupations that the early cedar camps supported. With many of the camps accommodating women and children, the need for teachers and clergy to guide the intellectual, moral and spiritual lives of settlers added further diversity to cedar settlements.
The introduction of the Robertson Land Act in 1861 brought a new wave of European settlers to the Ballina area to take advantage of freehold land to establish farming. The first selectors to come the area undertook mixed farming with many also engaging in some form of timber getting in association with land clearing. The considerable distance of these farms from markets meant maize was for a decade the only crop they grew for cash. The restrictions distant markets placed on early farmers also meant a large part of their work focused on producing food for domestic consumption. Many families also kept cows, pigs and chickens, as well as grew vegetables and fruits.
From the 1860s a number of early farmers also experimented with sugar cane along the flood plains of the Richmond and along North Creek. Before the establishment of the Broadwater Sugar Mill these early sugar cane farmers processed their own cane using small and privately owned mills. The establishment of the mill at Broadwater in 1881 saw much of the floodplain areas south of Ballina cleared and cultivated for sugar cane, marking a change in land use that continues to the present day.
While for a short time also sugar cane was grown on 'higher ground' at Alstonville and Rous, the country surrounding these localities and other hinterland areas had, by the 1890s, become dominated by dairy farming. Like cane farming, small farms characterised the early pattern of dairying in the district. Early dairy farms also produced cream for butter making rather than for whole milk production, which did not become widespread until 1972.
The processing of timbers was also an important industry in the Ballina area throughout the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Milled timber was in demand to construct housing and commercial buildings an increasing population required. While modest timber houses for many decades dominated both the rural and urban landscape, a number of larger and 'finer' domestic houses from the turn of the century remain in the Ballina area. 'Brundah', built in 1908 for the Lang family, is listed on the State Heritage Register and is one of a number of domestic buildings that form part of the Norton Street Heritage Trail in Ballina. At the beginning of the Norton Street trail on the corner of Norton and River Street is Riversleigh. Built in the late 1880s, Riversleigh is an important example of the type of commercial buildings that were once common along River Street.
At Alstonville, Crawford House, originally known as 'Olivene', was built in 1910 for William Ambrose Crawford and his bride Olive. Crawford House today is the home of the Alstonville Plateau Historical Society's Archive and Museum and is open on Fridays from 10am to 4pm and Sunday, 1pm to 4pm or by appointment. Crawford House is heritage listed by the National Trust and the Ballina Shire Council and is also part of the Alstonville Heritage Walk that incorporates a number of other heritage listed timber buildings including the former CBC Bank (1896), the (old) Post Office (1888), the Alstonville Police Station (1903), the old Butter Factory (1900) and the Federal Hotel (1901). A number of other historic timber buildings are also part of the heritage walk and include St Joseph's Catholic School Convent (1919), the RSL Hall (1909) and the former Bank of New South Wales building (1923). Brochures on the Norton Street Heritage Trail and the Alstonville Heritage Walk are available from the Ballina Visitor Information Centre.
The small river village of Wardell also boasts a number of 'original' timber buildings, including Mayley, built in 1910 by Henry Lumley. Recently renovated and restored, Mayley is still used as a home but also operates as a restaurant. Across the street from Mayley is the Wardell Police Station (1898) and next door the (old) Post Office (1927). Close by is the Catholic Church precint which includes the timber convent (1912), presbytery (1904), and the 'little school' building (1913), all heritage listed by the National Trust and Ballina Shire Council. Other notable historic timber buildings include the Wardell and District War Memorial Hall (1925) on Richmond Street and the charming Carpenter Gothic Uniting Church (1905) on Wilson Street.
A number of historic timber community halls also dot the rural landscape in the Ballina Shire including the Tintenbar Hall (1905), Rous Mill Hall (1959), Pimlico Hall (1937), the Pearces Creek Hall (1926) and the Meerschaum Vale Hall (1906).
Want to learn more about the shire’s history?
- Thematic History of Wardell and surrounding localities (produced by Council as part of the Wardell and Surrounding Localities Community Based Heritage Study)
- Thematic History of the Ballina Shire (produced by Council as part of the Ballina Shire Community Based Heritage Study)
- Part Three - Thematic History
- Link to Aboriginal Women’s Heritage: Ballina and Cabbage Tree Island (Published by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage)
- Visit the Local History Room at Richmond Tweed Regional Library – River Street, Ballina.
Last reviewed January 2013