Once the busiest port on the Richmond River, Coraki is today a sleepy little town that lies on the junction of the Richmond and Wilson Rivers in northern NSW. It was established solely due to the efforts of William Yabsley, who, in 1849, decided he would set up a shipyard there. Coraki is also a curious place in that it’s pretty, yet inconspicuous and contains old memories that line its quiet streets, riverbanks and fields of sugar cane.
One prominent bit of town history is the old Woodburn Shire Council Chambers, which, despite protestation from the town clerk, appointed the first female shire engineer in Australia. A 27-year-old Esme Martens was awarded the position in 1967, even after the clerk told the council they had gone “stark raving mad” appointing a woman. And, in one of life’s great twists, the town clerk ended up marrying her.
Interestingly, Martens was the only woman among 600 male students when she got her engineering degree at Queensland University. Clearly she was one tough cookie. The chambers looked all but deserted and I stood there thinking about the minds that were once challenged and expanded in this tiny part of the world.
Exploring town, I took in the Coraki Hotel, which is a nice place to slurp a beer by the river and watch the world go by slowly, as it does here. People were waterskiing, playing and lazing by the Richmond River across the street. Coraki has interesting buildings scattered around town too – an old bank converted into a house, a handsome church and dilapidated-looking dwellings beside fields of sugarcane and patches of bushland.
Today the edges of town look a little forgotten and I wondered what things might have been like here had river transport not slumped in favour of road and rail (benefiting nearby Lismore), or if Yabsley and Martens had decided to do something else. Although I’m sure the locals will tell you Coraki is just fine as it is.
Besides, it’s a nice place for a wander and a think.
Happy New Year.