10.2 - Beginnings of Local Industry

Bananas in Woolgoolga

Bananas were grown in 1875, but were abandoned due an initial poor season. It was not until the late 1930s that they were again grown, and Woolgoolga's banana industry was re-established. Bananas are grown as far south as Macksville. An increasing number of blueberry farms are currently being established in the Woolgoolga district.

As you enter Coffs Harbour, tucked between Sydney and Brisbane, it is not hard to guess why the Big Banana stands as a landmark. The area grows one of the best varieties of bananas in Australia, and the fruit has a dominant Indian connection. In the early part of the 19th century when the British still ruled India, a few adventurous men from Punjab decided to cash in on the shortage of farm labourers in Australia. Their journey led them first to Queensland, then south to Coffs Harbour, and finally to nearby Woolgoolga, New South Wales.

Familiar to farming, these men slowly acquired small parcels of land and began working hard to make their fortunes. By the 1940s, they had laid the foundation of the first Australian Sikh Community in Australia at Woolgoolga, 20 km north of Coffs Harbour. Today, some of the wealthiest Indians reside in Woolgoolga.

A winding road leads to a majestic gurudwara (temple) perched on top of the hill. It is, in fact, the second Sikh shrine built in Australia, in 1970. The first gurudwara, constructed in 1968, still stands nearby, a mere shadow of the new one.

Over hot chai and tikkas, head priest Gurmandip Singh said the gurudwara was a meeting place not only for the 1200 Sikh residents of Woolgoolga but also of the local community. It was easy to locate Satpal Singh Gill, 38, whose great grandfather travelled to Australia around 1910. “He worked in the Wollombi area and earned enough money to invest in small farms for banana cultivation,” Gill proudly says. “We were the second family to have moved to Australia,” he adds.

The traditional life of Sikhs here has not changed much. Kirpal Singh, 50, a banana grower, says they have maintained their traditions. "Every farm is in close proximity. Work starts at 7 am and by 4 pm we are at home and have time to socialise and keep our culture alive."

Through the 70s and 80s, many among those born in Coffs Harbour went back to Punjab and got married. With banana cultivation on the decline, many of the original growers have diversified into blueberries and macadamia nut plantations.

Mal Husna with Woolgoolga bananas. Photo: Coffs Coast Advocate


In the 1920s and up until 1939 at least, there was a Woolgoolga Cooperative Dairying & Refrigeration Cooperative Ltd registered in Woolgoolga.

The North coast’s sub-tropical climate produces bananas, sugar-cane, macadamias and exotic fruit, whose production has grown while the traditional dairy industry has declined. The dairy industry is still important on the Mid North coast of NSW.

A banana plantation and dairy cows near Woolgoolga. Photo: flickr.com

Sugar Cane

The first record of settlement of the region is that of Thomas Small's outstation for herding cattle. In 1878 William Sare also passed through Woolgoolga, looking for land free from frost and floods on which to grow his sugar cane. He followed the coastline, but returned to Woolgoolga in 1880, and settled west of the town. He established his sugar cane crops there, and built a small cane crushing plant. Other settlers followed, including William Pullen who, in 1885, built the first sugar mill in the district. Pullen also built, in 1887, a small jetty which enabled him to ship out his sugar and timber. The sugar industry declined in the 1890s, due to the frosts and the competition of fine white crystal and soft sugar.

Sugar cane. Photo: abc.net.au

Gold Mining around Woolgoolga

Woolgoolga- Coffs Harbour region 

The Coffs Harbour - Woolgoolga region had over 100 registered mines at the turn of the 20th century. Gold has been found in the Coffs Harbour area, as well as at Coramba, Nana Glen, and, Upper and Lower Bucca, near Woolgoolga.

Numerous small gold mines have been worked in the vicinity of Coramba, Nana Glen, and the upper reaches of Tallawudjah Creek (19 to 32 km NW of Coffs Harbour).

The most important mine was the Coramba King situated in the Parish of Moonee, County Fitzroy, about 1.6 km east of the Coramba Railway Station. The orebody is a lenticular quartz vein in altered claystones and tuff, ranging in thickness from a few centimetres to 2.1 metres in which sulphides of iron and arsenic occur.

At Upper Bucca (16 km NW of Coffs Harbour) the Beacon and Reward mines are also situated in the Parish of Moonee, County Fitzroy. In these mines several lenticular veins have been mined, the two most important being known as Taylor’s Reward and Perseverance. The former was developed for a length of 152 metres with thicknesses ranging from a few centimetres to approximately 1.2 metres. The Perseverance vein was usually no more than 30 cm in thickness and was worked over an appreciable length. The greatest depth attained appears to have been 61 metres. The maximum annual output, obtained by Beacon Gold Mines Ltd. in 1897, was 5,980 tons of ore crushed for a return of 8,916 ounces of gold.

Between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga, gold-bearing quartz veins similar to those at Coramba, Nana Glen and Upper Bucca occur. The Sea Breeze Mine (11 km north of Coffs Harbour) two lenticular quartz veins in altered sediments about 1 chain (20 metres) apart were worked. The western vein has been traced over a distance of 122 metres by shafts and potholes. The vein material ranges in thickness from a few centimetres to 1.07 metres. The ore consists of quartz with oxides and sulphides of iron in places. Values are said to range from 15 dwts. to 3 ounces per ton. To the end of 1938, 652 ounces of gold had been won the average grade of ore exceeding 1¼ ounces per ton.

The Golden Arrow Mine alongside the Coffs Harbour-Woolgoolga Road (13 km from Coffs Harbour) also had two veins from a few centimetres to 1.2 metres in width and 9.2 metres apart, which were worked. However, the full extent is not known but it is believed that the gold values were as high as 2 oz. 12 dwt. per ton. During 1931-33, 248 tons of ore were crushed for a total yield of 410 ounces of gold, but little work has been done since that time.

Georges Gold Mine Bushmans Range Road Lowanna 2450

George's Gold mine is an authentic historical attraction set in beautiful forest countryside of the Eastern Dorrigo region. The Gold Mine suggests all kinds of historical experiences like an amazing tour through a tunnel of the Bayfield Gold Mine where you will find a real vein of gold-bearing quartz. Don't miss seeing the gold-bearing quartz stamper battery and take part in the gold panning demonstration.

Wedding Bells Mine

The Wedding Bells Mine is an underground gold mine. It is also known as the Lady Helen Reef Mine. The Wedding Bells Mine is a mine just off the Corindi River, at an altitude of approximately 121m. It is approximately 9km from Woolgoolga. The nearest sealed road to Wedding Bells Mine is the Pacific Highway (6.7km away).

The Advance Woolgoolga Mine

The Advance Woolgoolga Mine is an underground gold mine

The Advance Woolgoolga Mine is at an elevation of approximately 24m above sea level. The nearest populated place is the town of Woolgoolga which is 2.4km away. The nearest sealed road to Advance Woolgoolga Mine is the Pacific Highway (2.4km away).

Panel 10.2 - Beginnings of Local Industry