Home' Get Up and Go : Summer 2012 Contents GetUp&Go 83
Extract from The Australian Handbook 1876
Clarence River Heads, a post town and telegraph
office...number of inhabitants 35...there are three inns
but no public buildings of any kind except the resident
engineer’s office. The Grafton steamer is the only
means of reaching this metropolis.
Around 12 July 1799, the British
admiralty’s stalwart young
adventurer Lt Matthew Flinders RN
commanding his chubby little sloop,
Norfolk, squelched ashore somewhere
near Pilot Head to fix a leak.
He scanned his surroundings in a
preoccupied manner, dismissing the
unpromising looking estuary as “....
no river of any importance intersects
the east coast between the 24th and
The salty young navigator blithely
dismissed as ‘unworthy of his
attention’ the largest estuarine river
system in eastern Australia, the
verdant and richly resourced northern
rivers delta – the very river system
that his boss, Governor Hunter, had
sent him hunting for.
Yamba, moated by mangrove
swamps, a very large ocean, huge river
lagoons, marshy islands and snaking
tributaries, remained a pilot station
accessible only by ship. Further up
river Grafton became insufferably
warm during the hot and exhaustingly
moist summers. Still does.
But breezy Yamba quickly shaped
as a weekend getaway. Working
steamers, scrubbed clean and rigged
with gaily coloured bunting conveyed
the sweltering pioneers downstream
to reach Yamba’s cooling zephyrs
wafting off the Pacific.
Today, the elegant steamers are
sadly gone and the entire region has
grown into a popular holiday spot for
young and old.
Endowed with excellent surf beaches,
Yamba is unapologetically a family
friendly destination. Given its generous
supply of beautiful beaches, craggy
promontories, national parks and
tranquil, protected waterways most
activities are based on getting wet.
It’s in the northern part of New
South Wales and driving there
you turn east towards the coast
off Highway One at the Harwood
Bridge that, like a giant’s Meccano
set, spans the broad expanse of the
Yamba, the little town with a
sunny disposition and roughly
equidistant between New South
Wales’ Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour,
is a 14km meander through swathes
of sugar cane, mangrove fringed
mudflats, swamps, shallow channels,
numerous bridges and bucolic fields
of ruminating cattle. A dreary grey
council sign sombrely announces
Yamba. The more cheery welcome
hoarding toppled over ages ago.
First glimpse of the town’s
attractive appeal is the marina –
owned by super sailor Kay Cottee,
who circumnavigated the globe
solo and unassisted, aboard her
appropriately christened First Lady.
The marina, apart from providing a
safe and picturesque harbour, sports
a hire fleet of barbecue punts, Bimini
topped fishing tinnies, a pleasant cafe
and art gallery and is home to the
Yamba trawler fleet.
Carry on past the funeral home
(Yamba has been described by earthier
wits as ‘God’s waiting room’) and
immediately a large angular complex,
the Yamba Bowling Club, fills your
vision. Yambans are very proud of
their ‘bowlo’ as they are of their golf
course that is inhabited by grazing
mobs of kangaroo providing an extra
bouncing dimension (and a moving
target) to a ‘good walk buggered’.
A towering avenue of Norfolk Pines
forms a regimental guard of honour
into brightly attractive downtown
Yamba, nestled snugly behind the
protective rocky hulk of Pilot Hill.
The town’s ambience emanates
from its essentially surfing culture.
Until nomadic surfers back in the
early 1960s (Nat Young and Bob
McTavish being just two) discovered
Yamba’s abundance of eminently
surfable waves, the area slumbered in
Hitherto Yamba had unwittingly
overlooked one of Australia’s most
revered point breaks a few kms down
the coast at Angourie, now a designer
enclave for well-heeled veteran
grommets with increasingly arthritic
knees, affording fabulous views and
endless surf, memories and entry port
to surfing heaven. Angourie Point is
now protected as a surfing reserve.
Five and a half thousand folks
call Yamba home; 7000 others
annually head here for their vacation.
Families have holidayed here since
grandmothers wore buttoned-up
shoes. Apart from its fishing industry
and the ubiquitous sugar cane,
Yamba’s lifeblood is the increasing
infusion of visitors.
It boasts one of Australia’s first life
saving clubs (Bondi being the first) and
proudly proclaims that all who have
swum between their flags have made it
back to shore...one way or another.
The town’s lack of after dark pizzazz
is more than compensated for by
excellent eateries and more things to
do than you can point a wet flipper at.
There’s been a sprucing up of the
town, and street cafes now shelter
under sails and flourishing shade
trees; shopping has become a tad
more cosmopolitan offering posh
frock shops and galleries.
Still, even under pressure from
Yamba’s burgeoning popularity, it
refuses to move at any pace but its
own. That’s why folks seem to keep
coming back. They might even get a
new and cheerier welcome sign soon. •
By Mike Larder
Visit: [@] www.yambansw.com.au
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