Historical information about the city of Lismore

Our Coat of Arms

Lismore City Council petitioned the Right Hon. The Lord Lyon, King of Arms of Edinburgh, Scotland, to grant a Coat of Arms based on Scottish heraldry with appropriate ancient symbols.

The Coat of Arms was granted on 29 January 1947.

The design of the Coat of Arms is that of a three compartmental shield. The first section shows an ancient galley of Lorne; the second, an Episcopal mitre in the midst of water, indicating the Island of Lismore, seat of the historic episcopal sea; and the third compartment relates to the meaning of the word ‘Lismore’ (The Great Garden). The latter compartment shows white roses surrounding a bull’s head, this being symbolic of the industry around Lismore.

Council’s present Latin motto Qui Non Proficit Deficit (He who does not progress retrogresses) is inscribed on the Coat of Arms in Gaelic: Am baile nach teid air agaidh, theid e air ais.
 

A history of Lismore

Below you will find a history of Lismore from the forming of our landscape and our first inhabitants to white settlement and 20th century economic growth, written by Lloyd D. Fielding. It was written as one historical document and can be read as a whole. However, we have split it into sections so you can find the time in Lismore's history that most interests you.

 

Primordial Lismore

All life as we now know it bears much to the geological events which took place some 23 million years ago during the Miocene Epoch. The local landscape was shaped dramatically by lava flows from the Tweed Shield Volcano. During the height of its activity, the lava flow extended from the Tweed River basin area to as far afield as the mid-Richmond. To the west the flow extended to Kyogle and some 30 kilometres into the sea to the east.

The first of the lava flows consisted primarily of basalt. Over millions of years the basalt eroded away leaving a hard plug of volcanic rock in the centre of what was the shield volcano. This plug is today known as Wollumbin or Mount Warning. The surrounding shield wall remains today to the north west as the MacPherson Range, to the west as the Tweed Range, and south west as the Nightcap Range. The Tweed River Shield Volcano is the largest of its kind in Australia. Volcanic activity became extinct some 3 million years ago.

The original caldera of the Tweed Shield Volcano had a radius of some 16 kilometres with the centre being Wollumbin. Subsequent smaller lava flows occurred at a number of places, forcing its way up through many vents and forming rhyolite rock which was more resistant to weathering than the previous basalt. Over millions of years, the underlying basalt rock eroded away, causing some sections of the prominences to collapse. The results of this collapse are the steep cliffs noticeable today in the Nimbin district.

As volcanic activity waned, atmospheric conditions became conducive to significant rainfall generated by nearby seawater and land-generated heat. The high prominence of Mount Warning (now just over half its original height of 1900 metres) attracted moisture-laden ocean air that condensed on rising over the mountain and associated ranges. The resultant rainfall on the southern shed of the Nightcap Range formed water systems which fed into the Wilsons River, namely the Goolmangar, Coopers and Terania Creeks. The Back Creek and Hanging Rock stream system developed with their headwaters in the Kyogle area and merged to form Leycester Creek, which in turn joins with the Wilsons River in Lismore.

The river systems carried mineral silt down from the ranges to the lowlands forming rich volcanic soils. A combination of high rainfall, warm climate and the rich basaltic soils led to the creation of unique subtropical rainforests found nowhere else in Australia. The rainforests provided sanctuary for many species of bird life including the lyrebird, brush turkey, green cat bird, double-eyed fig, bush cuckoo, marbled frogmouth, brown warbler and many more.

Our first peoples

Unfortunately, little is known or documented on the origins of the local Aboriginal Bundjalung tribes. Evidence indicates the Bundjalung arrived from far northern Australia somewhere around 6000 BC. They occupied the region extending from the Logan River in Queensland to as far south as the Clarence River in northern NSW and west to the Great Dividing Range.

The Bundjalung are of the land and depended on the land for their survival. The tribe and its various family groups moved from one area to the next in search of variety in their diet. The district provided an abundance of native fauna and flora which was hunted and gathered by the Bundjalung. Their nomadic lifestyle maintained the balance between supply and demand for food.

Representatives from the Bundjalung clans were however permitted from time to time to visit the lands of adjoining clans and share in the hunt when an abundance of a particular type of food was available. They would travel as far north as the Bunya Mountains (up to 500km) to cut the bunya nut cones which flowered every three years. They camped and fed off the nuts and held Aboriginal dances – corroboreees – at night. These gatherings provided an opportunity to trade both goods and culture with their neighbours.

The Bundjalung family clans would travel to the coast to feast on fish, pippies and oysters, and west for larger game such as wallaby. This food supplemented their regular diet of possum, bird, flying fox, porcupine, reptiles and native plants and berries. Within the clan the women would undertake the gathering while the hunting was left to the men of the tribe.

Life within the tribal group was generally peaceful and governed by strict social and spiritual lore. Marriage was not a ceremony as such but more the giving of a promised girl to a man after the completion of his initiation ceremony. The couples were chosen by the tribal elders with refusal and elopements being frowned upon and in some instances punishable by death.

The Bundjalung Aboriginal tribe comprised 11 major dialectic subdivisions. These were further divided into extended family groups. The main group in the Lismore area was the Wiyabal, whose territory also covered Alstonville, Dunoon, Nimbin, Cawongla and Larnook. Each extended family group had its own home territory (or djagun) for hunting and heroes of mythology. The groups were nomadic only within their own territory and trespassing into another group’s djagun was forbidden.

The Wiyabal territory roughly coincides with the present-day boundaries of the Lismore LGA. The Wiyabal djagun included numerous mythological and sacred sites. The Tucki Tucki bora ring was a main traditional site along with two other bora rings near the villages of Bentley and Nimbin. Several Djurbils (i.e. ritual sites for beseeching increases of various kinds, such as food) were well known, one for possums at today's Wilson Park in Lismore and one for echidna at North Lismore on the stone quarry hill. There was a Djurbil for cat birds at Mount Lion (Jiggi) and one of the most awesome sacred sites to the Wiyabal tribe at Parrots Nest. It was here that the Hoop Pine curse was invoked by the Cooradgi against offenders of the tribal codes. The ritual coincided with the bone-pointing procedure common among Aboriginal tribes throughout Australia. Blue Knob and Hanging Rock in the Nimbin district were also very sacred sites for the Wiyabal with deep mythological significance.

The arrival of Europeans

In 1770 the local Bundjalung tribes must have been amazed as they witnessed a strange vessel sailing north along the coast. On board this ship The Endeavour was one Captain James Cook and a crew – the first white men to lay eyes on this part of the east coast of Australia.

Whilst Cook’s observations were mainly restricted to the coastline of eastern Australia, he failed to discover the major river systems of what is now the far north coast region of NSW, based on the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed Rivers. He did however discover and name Cape Byron on 15 May, 1770, and by Thursday of the same week had taken bearings on and named a prominent inland mountain as ‘Mount Warning’ and the rocky headland on the coast as ‘Point Danger’.

In 1823 Governor Brisbane ordered Lieut. John Oxley to sail the Mermaid north from Sydney to locate a suitable site for a new penal colony. The existing northern penal settlement at Port Macquarie was now required for free settlers. Bad weather forced Oxley well out to sea, resulting in his failure to discover the Richmond River. Oxley's subsequent report to Governor Brisbane on the results of his discoveries led to the establishment of a penal settlement at Redcliffe.

By 1827 the population of NSW had grown to 36,596 and graziers in the south were feeling the full impact of a prolonged drought. New fertile grazing land needed to be discovered and the then Governor of NSW, Ralph Darling, sent one Allan Cunningham to explore the northern tablelands region. In 1828 Captain Henry Rous, in command of the HMAS Rainbow, a vessel of 530 tonnes, was also commissioned to assist in finding suitable new fertile lands.

Captain Rous (1795-1877) was the second son of Viscount Dunwich and his father was also the first Earl of Stradbroke. On 14 August 1828 Captain Rous set sail northwards from Sydney along the east coast. On 26 August 1828 the Rainbow anchored at the mouth of the Richmond River. The next morning Rous crossed the bar at the entrance of the River in the ship’s pinnace and explored the river for about 32 kilometres, turning around at the entrance to Tuckean Swamp. Rous named the river after a family friend, Charles, the Fifth Duke of Richmond of the Lennox Line, and christened the headland to the north Lennox Head.

Early settlers and sawyers

It is appropriate to quote Captain Henry Rous's report on the geography of the lower reaches of the Richmond valley prior to settlement by white man. It read:

“The general outline of the neighbouring country appeared to be flat open forest on the western bank and thick jungle to the eastward with fine timber, and as you ascend the river the tea tree mangrove and swamp oak give place to Moreton pines, cedar, yellow wood, palms and gum trees – the banks in general not exceeding 10 feet in height, rich alluvial mould – as far as the eye could reach to the W.S.E. not a hill could be discovered of any size, and on the whole it appeared remarkably flat country. Many natives were seen, and a few huts upwards of 30 feet in length and 6 feet in height.”

By 1845, 21 licences had been granted for pastoral runs in the Richmond valley. Whilst more research is required to prove the identity of the first squatters, evidence suggests this may have been one Ward Stephens, who applied for a licence for Runnymede station in 1839.

Squatters were sheep or cattle graziers who, until the 1850s, occupied large areas of Crown land. From 1837 the squatter was required to pay a licence of 10 pounds ($20) per annum to lease the land from the NSW Government, plus a fee for the number and type of stock grazed on the land. The fee was introduced to finance the cost of Border Police assigned to each Land Commissioner. The Border Police were employed to ‘limit conflict’ between squatters and Aboriginal people, enforce the Crown Lands Act and to eliminate illegal runs. Land occupied by a squatter was referred to as a run or station. A number of stations were established in what is now the Lismore LGA.

Lismore run

The Lismore run was located on the north arm of the Richmond River. (In 1976 the northern arm was renamed Wilsons River). Lismore station covered an area of some 23,000 acres and was originally taken up by Captain Dumaresq in 1843. The run was originally stocked with sheep herded down from New England by one Scott of Glendon. Ward Stephens took up the run on their behalf in 1843, however the subtropical climate was totally unsuited to sheep grazing and consequently stock losses due to fluke, footrot, catarrh and other diseases led to the abandonment of the run.

In January 1845, William and Jane Wilson took over the run and named it Lismore after a small island in Loch Linnhe in the Scottish highlands. The Wilsons were born near Aberdeen in Scotland and arrived in the NSW colony in May 1833. The Wilsons set sail from Sydney for the Richmond River arriving in Ballina in February 1844. Twelve months later the Wilsons had settled in Lismore and built a house at the far northern corner of the run to the east of the junction of Leycester and Wilsons Creeks.

A second house was built in 1851 near the corner of present Ballina and Molesworth Streets and became known as ‘Lismore House’. Unfortunately, both homesteads no longer exist.

In 1855 surveyor Frederick Peppercorne was instructed by the Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell to determine a suitable site for a township at the confluence of the Wilson and Richmond Rivers. The site chosen by Peppercorne was Wilson’s homestead paddock and this site was proclaimed the Town of Lismore in the Government Gazette on 1 May 1856. At the same time Wilson was able to secure freehold land at Monaltrie and Invercauld (part of the Lismore run) by using his pre-emptive rights. Mrs Francis Girard bought out the interests of Wilson’s cattle station in 1863 including Lismore House.

Mrs Girard took up occupation of the pastoral lease with her two sons Francis Napolean and Alfred Michael Girard.

With the passing of the Robertson Land Acts in 1861, the Lismore Station with its fertile land and river frontage became a prime target for land-hungry selectors. The land grab reduced the size of the Lismore run by half and, coupled with personal disaster and recurring devastating floods, the Girards were forced to abandon their pastoral operations in 1873.

Tunstall run

In 1843 Augustus Adolphus Leycester and his partner Robert Shaw took up the pastoral lease over their run which they called Tunstall. The two partners previously held a run on the Severn River, New England, and arrived overland with their cattle stock via Woodenbong-Urbenville.

The Tunstall lease was described in the New South Wales Government Gazette as follows:

“…Estimated area: 19,200 acres. Estimated grazing capabilities: 1200 cattle. Bounded on the north by a creek known by the name Duck Creek (now Leycester Creek) which divides it from the stations of Messers Fawcett and Lord; on the south by a pine range which divides it from Mr Clark Irving’s station; on the east by a creek running into the north arm of the Richmond River (now Wilsons River), dividing it from Mr Ward Stephens’ Heifer Station known by the name of Virginia Water; on the east by the north arm dividing it from Mr Wilson's station known by the name Lismore; and on the west by a ridge or spur running from the pine range into the Duck Creek (now Back Creek) on Mr Stephens’ side of a large plain fronting Mr Lord’s station Ellerby.”

In 1847 a protracted law suit commenced between Leycester and Shaw and their neighbour Ward Stephens of Runnymede over a land claim for a large plain between the two runs. The plain became known as Disputed Plain. In the same year Shaw left Tunstall, forcing Leycester to buy out his share, and these costs coupled with the large debts associated with the legal action forced Leycester to finally sell his interests in Tunstall to Henry Garrard in 1849. Leycester remained on as manager of Tunstall until 1850 when he left Australia for the California gold fields.

Garrard used his pre-emptive rights to purchase some 320 acres of Tunstall which he named Twickenham. The property’s homestead was built on the present sight of the Lismore railway station and directly opposite Lismore House on the western bank of the Wilsons River.

Virginia run

The Virginia pastoral lease was taken up by Ward Stephens of Runnymede. The station later became known as Heifer Station and was used as a breeder run for Runnymede.

Ellerby run

The original pastoral lease known as Ellerby was taken out in 1842 by John Lord.

Lord pastured sheep on the run, but as elsewhere in the Richmond valley, the subtropical climate was totally unsuitable. The lease was subsequently taken over by Atkinson and Mackellar and became an outstation of Runnymede.

Blakebrook run

Irving Clark took out the lease on Blakebrook Run in 1848.

In 1856 Mary Garrard acquired 201 acres of Blakebrook and, with her husband Henry, renamed it Booerie and commenced building on the property. John Goodfellow acquired land around the Rosehill and Nimbin areas and subsequently in 1858 sold these holdings to Edward Flood.

The sawyers

Unlike the first squatters in the Richmond valley, the early cedar cutters arrived by sea via the Richmond River. First sawyers arrived at the mouth of the Richmond River in December 1842, the first white men to cross the river bar since Captain Rous in 1828. The arrival of Steve King and others in the schooner Sally heralded the beginning of the cedar cutting industry on the Richmond River with the first cedar being cut at Coraki.

As soon as word reached other cedar cutters working on the Clarence River they travelled as fast as they could to cash in on the abundance and quality of the region’s cedar. The cedar cutters required a licence, costing $8 per year, to fell trees on unallocated Crown land. However, the licence only gave them the right to cut and export timber and not to settle nor build permanent homes on the land. Consequently, the sawyers and their families were forced to live in temporary camps. Larger camps were established at Bexhill (formerly Bald Hill) and Gundurimba.

Initially the cedar was felled adjoining the river and as the river flooded the owner-marked logs were floated downstream towards the first sawmill located at Shaw’s Bay, Ballina. As the timber close to the river was exhausted, the sawyers were forced to move further up river towards Kyogle and deeper into more inaccessible country called the Big Scrub. The clearing of timber in these areas created land for pastoralists and brought the introduction of bullock teams to transport the logs overland to the new and prospering sawmills located at Wyrallah, Coraki and Lismore.

In the second half of the 19th century the primary industries of the Richmond valley and the Lismore region in particular continued to be cattle grazing and timber. These primary industries supported a growing economy and population and the development of secondary industries including ship building, transportation, saw milling, tallow manufacturing and other associated business.

To Federation

The last 50 years of the 19th century evidenced the rapid commercial expansion of Lismore and its development into the regional centre for the far north coast area of NSW. The population grew unabated from a mere 93 in 1871 to 4542 by the year 1901, the year of Australian Federation.

This frontier period of the town’s development was heralded by some enterprising cedar getters who established stores in the front part of their huts to provide the basic necessities for the other sawyers, particularly those working around Bald Hill (now Bexhill). These basic provisions included sugar, flour and tea, and some clothing, which was shipped from Sydney on the return leg of the timber trade.

With the passing in 1861 of the Robertson Land Act, much of the land around Lismore was opened up for free selection. The same land that was unsuitable for running cattle because of the dense forest (the Big Scrub) was now eagerly taken up by free settlers who undertook subsistence farming. Agriculture included sugar, maize, corn and the pasturing of the first dairy cattle.

The original selection, survey and naming of many of the streets which now form the central business district of Lismore was undertaken by licensed government surveyor Peppercorne. With ocean-going ships being able to navigate as far as the confluence of Leycester and Wilsons Creeks, Lismore became the natural crossroads for transportation in the region. By 1875 the first bank had been established, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, and was followed in May the next year by the opening of the first newspaper. The Northern Star and Richmond and Tweed River Advocate was first published by William Kelleway and survives today as The Northern Star.

In 1879 Lismore was incorporated as a municipality with James Stocks, a chemist, elected as first Mayor and William James Harman appointed as Town Clerk. Council set about developing the basic infrastructure needed to support its growing population, including drainage and the provision of kerosene lamps on street posts. By 1879 there were at least three schools in Lismore: the public school, a commercial school for boys and a day school for young ladies. In 1880 the government wharf was built just south of Leycester Creek on the southern bank of the Wilsons River. By the next year the population had increased tenfold.

1883 saw the opening of the Lismore Hospital and the expansion of other government services including police, mail and land administration along with regular church services and the ever-growing commercial enterprises. A devastating fire of 1883 saw many of the pioneer businesses within the central town area destroyed, including the properties of James Stocks, Glasgow, Drew, Trattens and others as well as two private residences.

Much fanfare accompanied the second opening of Fawcetts Bridge in 1884. A disappointing turnout for the first opening led Council to hold a second opening and the declaration of a public holiday to fully commemorate the event. That year also saw the opening of the Winsome Hotel just north of the bridge. The following year, the bridge over Leycester Creek (Colemans Bridge) was completed and finally north, south and east Lismore were connected. The government-run punt, which previously supplied a somewhat irregular service, was discontinued. This decade also saw the opening of the first Council Chambers in 1887 and the introduction by the Council in 1888 of gas lamps to replace the existing kerosene street lighting.

By 1891 Lismore had a population of 2925, with much of its economy based on the flourishing dairy industry and the expanding of dairy cooperatives throughout the region. The district was also ravaged by numerous floods and in the last half of the decade was caught in the jaws of drought, which did not break until the second year of the new century. In 1894 the railway was extended to the Tweed, but still no connection had been built to the main Sydney line passing through Tenterfield some 160Km to the west of Lismore. By the end of the 19th century Lismore boasted a population of over 4500, a new post office (completed in 1898), a proud involvement in the Boer War in Southern Africa and an overwhelming vote for Federation and the formation of the new Commonwealth of Australia.

A new century

At the beginning of the 20th century, river navigation was still the dominant form of transportation in Lismore with the blue and black funnels of the Northern Rivers Steamship Company dominating trade on the Richmond River and its northern arm (the Wilsons River).

Whilst the railway was operational, few people used this service since it still required a trek of some 130km from Casino to Tenterfield to join the main Sydney line. However, both rail and shipping were soon to be seriously challenged by the new internal combustion engine and motorised road transportation.

In December 1902 the Lismore branch of the central creamery was opened and in January of the following year it was “sold” to form the basis for the new North Coast Co-Operative which was later to become the main office of Norco Ltd. Along with the new branch creamery at The Channon, the Lismore region became the centre for dairy production from the surrounding farms and the richest dairy district in Australia.

1907 saw the building of the new School of Arts which became the centre for cultural events within Lismore. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1932. The initial Lismore Musical Festival was organised in 1908. This first festival was so popular that there was no hall big enough to cater for the expected number of attendees. Marquees were erected in the Lismore Sportsground (later named Oakes Oval).

By the end of the first decade of the 20th century churches had been built for Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist services. The increased wealth generated by the dairy industry within the region meant people were becoming more mobile and could start to afford new motorised cars sold by Trevan Motors. Trevan also sold the first motor bus, which commenced operations between Lismore and Casino. These new forms of road transport not only began to replace the horse and buggy but started to challenge the river trade, particularly the cream boats. In 1912 a plague of water hyacinth imported from India made the Richmond and Wilsons Rivers unnavigable, particularly for the smaller cream boats. It was some years before this problem was eradicated by an unusual influx of salt water, but by then some dairy farmers were starting to transport their produce by road.

In 1914 the band rotunda was built in Spinks Park in central Lismore and the village of Dunoon got its own branch butter factory. This year also heralded the beginnings of World War I and another significant period of drought.

WWI, between the wars and WWII

World War I

The effect of the outbreak of the first World War on citizens of the Lismore region was to be divisive. Those in favour of conscription and those against argued strongly their point of view, often leading to permanent severing of friendships. 1914 saw a patriotic fever for Empire and Country surpassing that of the Boer War. On Empire Day, 24 May 1915, one of the most enthusiastic Patriotic Carnivals took place in Lismore with a large number of horse-drawn floats and even some of the new motorised vehicles.

One notable ugliness occurred in Lismore on Christmas 1915. Under the heavy influence of a certain amber fluid, Christmas revellers in Molesworth and Woodlark Streets undertook a disgraceful display of vandalism, smashing and looting businesses which bore German names. These events were thoroughly condemned by the vast majority; the same majority that were nevertheless strong supporters of the war effort.

By the conclusion of the Great War in 1918, Lismore had suffered its share of losses in life, in a war which was said to end all wars.
 

Between the wars

Suddenly in 1929 the economic future took a decided turn for the worse. The Wall Street stockmarket crashed and the shock waves engulfed Lismore, bringing an alarming rise in unemployment and a drastic downturn in the rural economy. The 1930s were to herald the Great Depression.

However the effects of the depression did not cause as much difficulty for the man on the land. No-one in Lismore starved and most people were able to be fed and clothed. Norco continued to expand, opening its new Lismore factory in 1931, and the dairy industry remained viable though farm incomes declined as prices fell. In the same year Lismore's population had grown to 10,000. The situation darkened in February – 260mm of rain fell in under 12 hours causing a major flood and raising the Wilsons River some 12 metres. In April the flood was followed by the collapse of the Government Savings Bank in Lismore and the freezing of depositors’ funds.

Despite the economic gloom, 1931 saw the construction of St Vincent's Hospital and St John’s College Woodlawn by the Catholic Church and the building of the Salvation Army's new citadel in Molesworth Street. George A. Robinson established his New England Airways at Gundurimba, providing both mail and passenger services to Brisbane and Sydney. At the height of the Depression, 1932, local leading business men gathered to form the first Rotary Club. This was to be Lismore’s first service club.

By 1935 Lismore homes were receiving their first broadcasts from the Australian Broadcasting Commission (the ABC) and the following year Lismore’s own radio station 2LM was established. It was via this medium that the citizens of Lismore were first to learn the news that Hitler and Nazism were in control in Germany.
 

World War II

On 3 December, 1939, radio listeners in Lismore were to hear the following broadcast from Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia:

Fellow Australians! It is my melancholy duty to inform you that, in consequence of the persistence of Germany in the invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war on her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.”

The citizens of Lismore went about their normal day to day activities, but perhaps with a little more determination than usual. The older folk and parents carried on working their farms and businesses, while the younger men went to support the war effort. Guards were placed on all the major bridges in and around Lismore to presumably protect the area from enemy invasion and movement. All small rowing boats used by the local folk were confiscated as a precaution against possible use by the Japanese to penetrate inland. The boats were allowed to rot upside down on the riverbank opposite the Lismore Police Station with their disgruntled owners having to accept this situation as part of the price of war.

Lismore also contributed directly to the war effort by constructing larger boats (up to 45 feet) for the Australian and US armies. Some 14 vessels were built by local firms and launched at the government wharf located where the Northern Rivers Rowing Club building in Lismore stands today. Lismore was honoured by having a Bathurst Class Corvette named after the town. The Sydney-built HMAS Lismore was commissioned on 24 January 1941.

In 1942 plans were drawn up for the evacuation of Lismore in the event of enemy landing. People and livestock were to be moved westward and all crops were to be destroyed to prevent their use by the invasion forces. Fortunately these plans never needed execution.

All householders in Lismore were asked to implement blackout arrangements with all windows covered by dark curtains. Doors were to be kept closed after dark to prevent light escaping into the streets; light which could be seen by enemy aircraft. Motor car drivers required to travel at night were requested to affix slotted hoods over their headlights to minimise the length of the light beam. In any case, in Lismore there were few cars on the roads because of severe petrol rationing.

On 6 August 1945, the Americans dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima; bringing an end to World War II.

HMAS Lismore

The acute shortage of ships early in WWII saw the Australian Government embark on a program of building ships suitable for mine-sweeping, anti-submarine protection of ports and merchant shipping and myriad other tasks suitable for small agile ships.

The ‘Bathurst Class’ ship was primarily designed for mine-sweeping and 56 ships of this class were built from 1940 to 1944 as part of this program. The original concept of mine-sweeping became a minor role for this class of ship when it was quickly established that they could be better used on other tasks.

They became known as ‘Bathurst Class Corvettes’ and their major role was the anti-submarine protection of merchant shipping. Other roles including shore bombardment, transport of troops and materials to forward positions, surveying and port protection soon gave them a reputation as the ‘Navy's Workhorse’. The ships were named after Australian towns and were adopted by the town after which they were named.

The second of this class of ship, built in Mort's Dock, Sydney, was commissioned on 24 January 1941 as HMAS Lismore, named after our town. The Town Council presented HMAS Lismore with a plaque of the Town Seal and she carried this plaque attached to her bulkhead through all her five years and six months of active service in the Royal Australian Navy, during which she steamed 354,310 kilometres on active service, most of them over hazardous oceans and seas from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The original plaque can be seen in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Although her crew normally numbered about 90 officers and men, nearly 500 Australian, New Zealand and English sailors served on HMAS Lismore during her active service.

Leaving Australia in February 1941, barely one month after her commissioning, HMAS Lismore steamed to Singapore, where she provided anti-submarine patrols outside the harbour before proceeding on to the Red Sea to become part of the Red Sea Force, which was responsible for blockading the coast of French Somaliland. This was a boring exercise and orders to transfer back to Colombo and join the Eastern Fleet were welcome. This commenced the ship's best role as convoy escort and these duties saw her visiting ports along the coasts of East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean islands and the entire coast of India and Burma, including escorting the last convoy from Rangoon before the city fell to the Japanese.

In 1943, HMAS Lismore was summoned to the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet to participate in ‘Operation Husky’, the invasion of Sicily; the first major assault on German-occupied Europe. With three of her Australian sister-ships and five Royal Navy ships, she formed the 2nd Escort Group, which was charged with escorting large convoys over the entire length and breadth of the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Atlantic Ocean. For this role, HMAS Lismore was painted in a specific camouflage to thwart the ferocious air attacks employed by the Germans at that time. This was the second of the three colourings in which the HMAS Lismore was painted during her service: the light grey colour of the Eastern, the camouflage of the Eastern Mediterranean and the light blue/dark blue colour of the British Pacific Fleet. During her tour of duty in the Mediterranean, HMAS Lismore visited such famous Mediterranean ports as Gibraltar, Malta, Haifa, Alexandria and all those North African ports which figured prominently in the campaigns of that era. Only one of the many dozens of merchant ships entrusted to the care of her group was lost, the troopship, SS Yoma. Through the personal bravery of HMAS Lismore crew members (ignoring the possibility of submarines in the vicinity and using boats or just diving into the water employing life-saving techniques learnt on beaches back home) 389 survivors were taken on board, packing the decks of the ship until they could be disembarked at the port of Derna.

During the previous months, scrounging in arms stores, abandoned Italian supply dumps and wherever Australian ingenuity could be used, HMAS Lismore’s armaments had increased until she was now the most heavily armed corvette in the Fleet, perhaps even the Navy. In addition to her main armament of a 100mm gun, she had anti-aircraft armament of one 40mm ‘Pom-Pom’, four 20mm Oerlikons and two Italian 20mm Breda anti-tank guns which had been converted to anti-aircraft guns.

The invasion of Sicily saw HMAS Lismore escorting a convoy to the invasion port of Syracuse, mine-sweeping the channel and then carrying out anti-submarine patrols along the invasion coast while the ships of the convoy were unloading. During this time the battleships of the Fleet were hurling their 380mm shells over the patrolling HMAS Lismore, bombarding the enemy shore positions. These projectiles sounded like express trains as they roared overhead. At the same time, enemy bombers endeavoured to discourage HMAS Lismore, straddling the ship with bombs but failing to record a hit while the ship’s gunners claimed a number of hits on the bombers. HMAS Lismore was then ordered, together with her sister-ships Gawler, Ipswich and Maryborough, to proceed to Malta and escort a convoy from that port back to Alexandria.

The next trip for the 2nd Escort Group was to take a convoy from Alexandria to England. Forty merchant ships left Alexandria with some left at each North African port enroute and others picked up, so that when dusk approached on the evening of Friday, 13 August 1943 near the island of Alboran, off the coast of Spain, some 190kms east of Gibraltar, the convoy still had 40 ships. Out of the setting sun, 35 Heinkel 111 torpedo bombers and 12 Junkers 88 high-level bombers attacked. The battle lasted for an hour with one torpedo passing under HMAS Lismore (again justifying her reputation as a lucky ship). Her gunfire caused one bomber to veer away without launching its torpedo and hits were scored on another bomber. In all, nine bombers were shot down by the defensive fire of the escort, while only two merchant ships suffered hits and these were escorted into Gibraltar. The Commander in Chief signalled the group: “I congratulate you, the escort force of Convoy MKS21, for your sturdy defence of convoy against heavy torpedo bomber attacks. The enemy got a sore head he is likely to remember.” Disappointingly for her crew, when almost in sight of England, HMAS Lismore’s escort group was relieved of her convoy, being given an outbound convoy to escort back through the Mediterranean.

In September 1943, HMAS Lismore was ordered back to the Arabian-Bengal-Ceylon Escort Force of the Eastern Fleet and spent the following 15 months escorting convoys to those same ports of 1941-1942, taking offensive convoys from South African ports to Chittagong in Burma. During this period, one of her encounters with an enemy submarine saw a torpedo travel down the side of HMAS Lismore without doing any damage, convincing her crew that HMAS Lismore was always going to bring them home.

At the end of 1944, HMAS Lismore was ordered to join the British Pacific Fleet in Sydney. She arrived in Fremantle on 3 December, her first Australian port for three years and nine months, the longest continuous period of overseas service of any RAN vessel in WWII.

Her duty with this fleet was to escort merchant ships of the Fleet Train, which supplied the Fleet in advanced areas. After being involved around the coast of the Philippines and the invasion of Okinawa, HMAS Lismore returned to Fremantle via Auckland, New Zealand, for a much-needed major refit. It was during this refit that the Americans dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Japan surrendered. But HMAS Lismore’s duties were not over.

As if to prove her reputation as a workhorse, HMAS Lismore was given the difficult and onerous job of towing two huge barges, loaded with many ne of steel and explosives, from Fremantle to Yampi Sound on the north West Australian coast.

HMAS Lismore then became the control ship of a special task-force – TIMFORCE – charged with the task of removing Japanese troops from the Dutch and Portuguese East Indies islands and taking war criminals to base for trial. On successful completion of this task, TIMFORCE was disbanded and HMAS Lismore returned to Brisbane to be ‘paid-off’ (removed from the Navy's list of active ships) as so many ships were at this time. But before this could happen, she was ordered to steam back to Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the scene of a large part of her overseas service where, on 3 July 1946, she was handed over to the Dutch Navy, being renamed HMNS Batjan, under which name she served for another 12 years.

Before leaving on this last voyage, the opportunity was taken, from 21-24 March, to accept the hospitality of the citizens of Lismore and this firmly established the bond between the ship, her crew and the town. This bond has continued for more than half a century. The town became a city, HMAS Lismore became a memory and her crew became HMAS Lismore Association. Its members, in diminishing numbers because of the ravages of age and illness, continue to make an annual pilgrimage to Lismore every Anzac Day from all parts of Australia. The pilgrimage in 1998 is marked by an historic marker on the Flame of Remembrance, erected by Lismore City Council and the HMAS Lismore Association to perpetuate the name of this gallant ship. Council also granted Freedom of the City to the Association as a mark of appreciation for the manner in which the ship and her crew represented the name of Lismore.

The RAN Cadet Unit in the region, TS Lismore, is a further link with HMAS Lismore, being named after the ship.

1950s and 1960s

With the war over, the people of Lismore quickly sought a return to normal life. However, some things were to change forever.

The pre-war reliance on shipping along the Richmond and Wilsons Rivers had taken a serious downturn. The ships which plied the rivers had been requisitioned for the war effort and valuable trade had been lost to railways. The ships used during the war were returned in 1947 in poor condition and in need of renewal, but the costs involved were too high. In the same year the largest shipping line operating on the two rivers, the Northern Rivers Steamship Company, went into liquidation and so ended Lismore’s reliance on shipping as the predominant mode of transportation.

Post war, the youth of the area tended to remain in the larger cities and industrial regions, draining the surrounding rural areas of Lismore. Some areas were to never regain their former populations, however Lismore remained a centre of commerce and by 1947 its population had increase to 15,214.

In the period of post-war reconstruction, Lismore was officially gazetted as a city on 9 September 1946. An official coat of arms including Gaelic motto was granted from the Lord Lyon King of Arms recognising Lismore's Scottish origins. The coat of arms was granted in 1947 with the legend translating to “He who does not progress retrogresses” indicating Lismore's commitment to progress and future development.

The decade of the 1950s saw the growth of clubs. The community found they had more leisure time for drinking and socialising and began patronising their favourite clubs. The legalisation of poker machines in 1956 boosted the incomes of the clubs to the detriment of the local hotels, restaurants and cafes, many of which were forced to close down.

In February 1954 Lismore people were visited by Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty and her consort the Duke were lodged in the Gollan Hotel at the corner of Woodlark and Keen Streets. The Royal couple's Lismore subjects commenced gathering the previous night and by the following day some 5000 people awaited a glimpse of the Queen.

Two years later, Lismore was to receive the first transmission of television from Brisbane via a transmitter on Mt Nardi near Nimbin. A local TV channel was not established until May 1962 when Television Station 8 began its first transmission from Goonellabah. Goonellabah was incorporated into Lismore city in 1958. In that same year Norco bought out Foley Bros., thus securing complete local control of dairy supply and processing, and by August 1962 Norco had established its headquarters in Lismore.

1963 saw the completion of construction of the new Ballina Street Bridge and consequent change of traffic flow, extending business trading beyond the old central business district. To take advantage of this new traffic flow, Woolworths built their new shopping complex in Carrington Street, which was closer to the re-routed Bruxner Highway over the new bridge. In the same year Lismore became the first Australian town to establish a sister-city relationship with the Japanese city of Yamato Takada.

In May 1969 the Department of Civil Aviation licensed the aerodrome at South Lismore. Over a period of several decades of persistence by Council and community groups the Department finally agreed to upgrade the facility to executive level, providing the necessary facilities including electric flare paths, directional beacons and night flying facilities. The aerodrome was seen as playing a vital role in the development of Lismore.

In comparison to the relatively slow 50s, Lismore in the 1960s experienced a boom in development. However, signs of a downturn in the dairy industry had started to show.

Alternative lifestyles

Some 30 kilometres north of the city of Lismore is the small rural village of Nimbin. This idyllic village set in the green southern foothills of the Nightcap Range was a declining rural town in the 1960s and 1970s as the dairying downturn hit hard. It had lost its resident doctor and its only bank closed in 1964.

In 1973 all this changed.

Alternative thinkers around Australia organised the Aquarius Festival, a festival of love and peace which lasted for some three weeks. A generation of people who eschewed the mainstream capitalist lifestyle converged on Nimbin to discuss new ideas and embrace sustainability and communal ways of living. Nimbin thus began its life as the hippie capital of Australia.

The organisers of the Aquarius Festival poured new life into Nimbin with many festival goers deciding to stay in the village or settle permanently in one of the new communes established in the surrounding areas.

Over a period of time the alternative culture began to have an effect on the original 'locals'. Many saw the advantages of preserving the environment, using organic methods of farming and alternative lifestyles. Lismore slowly became a more diverse and tolerant community, accepting different lifestyles and approaches.

Today, the city and greater region actively encourages acceptance of alternative cultures and this liberal tolerance has become the hallmark of Lismore.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to acknowledge the use of the following books and documents as major reference material.

1. A Short History of the Richmond River, Richmond River Historical Society Publications Committee, 1984.

2. Wollumbin, N C. Keats, 1988, ISBN 07316 9661 1.

3. The story of a north coast city: Lismore, edited by Maurice Ryan and published by Currawong Press, 1979, ISBN 0 908001 14 2.

4. Pillars of Earth, M A Timbrell and M C McKenna, published by M E Timbrell, 1985, ISBN 0 9589380 0 3.

5. Lismore – One Hundred 1879-1979 (A Century of Local Government), Glen Hall and Jubilee Publications, published by Lismore City Council, 1979, ISBN 0 9596252 0 8.

6. The River Still Flows, Glen Hall, 1978, ISBN 9 598257 4 6.

7. Historic Sites of Lismore and District, Richmond River Historical Society Inc., published by Richmond River Historical Society Inc., ISBN 1-875474-00-5.

8. HMAS Lismore, An Australian Corvette, Ron Brennan, 1988, ISBN 0 7316 2608 7.