I love exploring old places and things, they make me think about the passing of time and send me on journeys I would otherwise never take – down wild, pretty and forgotten parts. The Northern Rivers region in northern NSW (where I live) – with its unexplored islands, abandoned sites, caves, rivers, waterfalls and rainforests – has many such places. Here’s a heritage trail that might tell you a little more about this wonderful part of the world.
This trail starts in the far south of the Northern Rivers, near Grafton (Dalmorton) and heads north. If you’re heading south through the region, just follow it in reverse.
A splintered shell of its former self, Dalmorton is a ghost town that flourished in the 1850s and ‘60s when gold was reaped from the surrounding hills. Once home to roughly 5,000 people and 13 pubs (by varying reports), Dalmorton today lies all but forgotten by the edge of the wild-looking Boyd River. The silence in the surrounding hills is wonderful and there’s a tunnel, a further four kilometres down the road, that was hand-hewn through solid rock a century past (see above).
The Woombah midden
Roughly marked past the Goodwood Island turn-off near the coastal down of Woombah, the Woombah midden (human settlement site) is the largest of its kind on the east coast of Australia. Long ago the Yaegl people would prepare and eat food here, particularly seafood. The midden contains wallaby, kangaroo and dingo bones, with the latter allegedly over 3,000 years old – the oldest of its kind in Australia.
It’s a fun place to find as you’ll need to navigate a bit. The spot is pretty and has several modern BBQs nearby, making it the perfect spot to imagine a time lapse starring the evolution of cooking.
A little further north by the Pacific Highway you’ll come to the unassuming ‘road stop’ of New Italy, where Italian immigrants once established themselves under extreme duress. In 1880, 50 families sailed from Barcelona to Papua New Guinea under the promise of a better life. After disease, cramped conditions and starvation severely dwindled their party, the remaining crew arrived in Sydney, emaciated, almost a year later.
Heading north, the Italians made their home in the Northern Rivers. Despite the poor soil and hardship, they adapted with dishes such as the ‘parrot pie’. Today, New Italy is a museum dedicated to their legacy. It tells their story, which moved me and reminded me how sugar-coated my life is. The place is well worth a visit. Wander through the garden and take in the trees named in honour of these stalwart pioneers.
Tucki Tucki bora ring and cemetery
Continuing north and slightly inland towards Lismore, head to the small town of Tucki Tucki where lies a bora ring by an old cemetery. Bora rings are old sacred Aboriginal grounds where secret ceremonies took place. Young boys were initiated into manhood with circumcision, body scarring, fire rings and dancing – unique to each tribe. The Tucki Tucki site is one of the finest remaining examples of its kind and the adjacent cemetery, which contains a lone grave, harbours a few stories of its own.
Rous Mill macadamia orchards
Rous Mill is one of the prettiest places in the Northern Rivers. Many macadamia orchards line the road and it’s no wonder, as this place is home to the first commercial macadamia orchard in the world. The delicious macadamia nut is native to Australia and Rous Mill is the macadamia central of old. Grab yourself a bag. A wander through an orchard is an enchanting experience. Head through tunnels, where light falls in patterns and the soil and trees do likewise.
Dry stone walls
When pioneers first came to the Northern Rivers, newly purchased land was strewn with volcanic basalt boulders. This was put to good use with hard work, as walls were strategically crafted. Dating back 150 years, the walls still survive in small numbers and are an important reminder of a time far removed from today, when men were paid three shillings a chain and things looked rustic and good.
A good example of a dry stone wall lies back towards the sea on North Creek Road in Skennars Head (pictured above).
Perhaps only part of Bushrangers Cave is located in the Northern Rivers, as its lies on the NSW/QLD border in Numbinbah Valley, at its far northern end. Nevertheless it’s just over an hour’s drive north of Byron Bay and is well worth a visit.
The trail is unkempt and forgotten by National Parks, although it’s still doable. The cave is an incredible spot – with towering ryholite overhangs – only an hour’s walk from the border. Here bushrangers allegedly slept fearful nights and Aborigines held ceremonies 6,000 years past.
Are there any other heritage-type places in the Northern Rivers I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about them!