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Woolgoolga, NSW

Unusual North Coast town noted for its large Sikh population.

Everyone who travels north along the Pacific Highway knows Woolgoolga because it is "that town with the Indian temples". The traveller, noting the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple on one side of the road and the large Indian complex a few hundred metres further north, would be forgiven for thinking they were not in the New South Wales northern rivers district but in part of the Punjab. It is also, although few people stop and spend time, a pleasant seaside town which spreads from the hills down to the beach and headland. The region's real bonus is that Ocean View Beach at Arrawarra Headland, just 9 km north of Woolgoolga, has some of the finest Aboriginal stone fish traps in the country.


Woolgoolga is located 562 km north-east of Sydney and 26 km north of Coffs Harbour.


Origin of Name

It is accepted that the first European settler in the area, Thomas Small, called his property Weelgoolga. No one knows what the word means but there is a plausible argument that it was used by the local Gumbaynggirr Aborigines to describe both the entire area and the lily-pilly trees which grew in the area. Another interpretation claims it is the word used by the Gumbaynggirr, "wilgulga", which means black apple tree.


Things to See and Do

Woolgoolga Heritage Walk
There is a downloadable Woolgoolga Heritage Walk brochure (http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/woolgoolga-heritage-walk) which includes 11 historic sites in the town and covers a total distance of 4 km. It starts at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and makes its way down into the town to the Solitary Island Coastal Walk. The highlights include:

1. Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and the Sikhs
Located prominently on the hill above the Pacific Highway, this large white building is open from 9.00 am - 6.00 pm seven days a week. Tel: (02) 6654 0099. It was completed on 3 January 1970.
Sikhs from north west India started to arrive in Australia around 1880. A substantial number migrated from the Punjab to work on the Queensland cane fields. There are funny stories of these Sikhs finding the weather so oppressive that they had to remove their dastar (headwear) because it was so hot and humid on the canefields.
Around 1900 a number of these Sikhs, attracted to the area by banana farming, migrated south from Queensland and settled around Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga. The first was Booja Singh from Malpur Arkan, a village in the Punjab.
Today the local Indian population are the descendants of the Punjabi migrants. Sikhs represent about 25 per cent of the total population of Woolgoolga. They are a mixture of the descendants of the original settlers and immigrants who, over the past century, have come to join relatives and to marry within the community.
There is an excellent website on the temple (see http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/1-guru-nanak-sikh-temple) where it explains in great detail: "Sikhism was founded in 1469 by Guru Nanak Dev ji (the name of this temple is in remembrance of the first Sikh Guru). He was the first of ten human gurus. The term Guru means teacher and the word Sikh means to learn or to become a disciple.
"These ten Gurus bought the message of God to the people of India. This message is simple: Sikhs believe there is only one God, that god has no shape, size, gender, colour or race.  They believe all that is, is in fact God. God is described as unfathomable, indescribable, and infinite in the Sikh text. Sikhs have no caste discrimination. Everyone is welcome and equal.
In the centre of the temple you will notice a raised platform. This is where the current Guru (the Guru Granth Sahib ji) resides. To demonstrate the concept of the oneness of God and the brotherhood of mankind, the Sikh Gurus collected the writings of all the Gurus plus the writings of other contemporaries (some from Muslim faith and others from Hindu faith, as well as so called untouchables or lower caste contemporaries). These writings were compiled and the Tenth Guru ji (Guru Gobind Singh ji) ordained that these writings would form the new and everlasting Guru for the Sikhs. (Please note: it is the message within the text that is important, hence symbolically the scriptures are located on a higher platform in all Sikh temples.) Sikhs believe the awareness of God comes about by remembrance of God in all that we do. By earning one’s living in an honest way and sharing.
"Sikhs do not have a priest class, hence the service at the temple is conducted by many in that anyone is able to perform Kirtan (Devotional singing). Sikhs have no gender bias, again this is demonstrated by prayer being conducted by both female and male Sikhs. Further to this, the baptism is granted to anyone willing to follow the beliefs of the Sikhs. Each of the Gurus contributed to the Sikh faith, forming a way of living, that addressed social, economic and community issues, uplifting people from centuries of superstitious and divisional practices. In doing so they built a platform allowing each human to thrive and lead a healthy existence, thus focus was on humanity, not self."
Visitors are welcome to inspect the temple which is open for prayer at 5.00 am and 6.00 pm. People have to remove their shoes and cover their heads to enter (there are cloths for covering the head).

Woolgoolga Beach and Headland
Woolgoolga Beach, which stretches from Woolgoolga Lake to Woolgoolga Headland, is ideal for swimming, surfing, fishing, diving and snorkelling. There’s a small park along the southern edge of the beach which has play equipment and is suitable for a picnic. Pollack Esplanade leads up to the headland where there are scenic walking tracks and panoramic coastal views which stretch to Yuraygir National Park and to the dunes and rolling hills of the Coffs Coast and hinterland. Between May and October, the headland is ideal for whale watching. For more information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Swimming-spots/Woolgoolga-Beach-and-Headland.


Other Attractions in the Area

Arrawarra Stone Fish Traps
The main attraction in the area – and it is very easy to find because it lies 9 km north of Woolgoolga at the edge of the water at the end of Second Avenue at Arrawarra Headland – is the historic Aboriginal stone fish traps. They have been used for thousands of years to catch bream, drummer, mullet, whiting and flathead and are so well preserved they could be used today. Not surprisingly this rich harvest meant the headland was a popular meeting place for the local Gumbaynggirr people. The word “Arrawarra” means “meeting place” in the Gumbaynggirr language. There are twenty fact sheets which can be downloaded. They explain exactly how the fish traps were used. Check out http://www.arrawarraculture.com.au/fact_sheets/index.html.

Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Located 10 km north of Woolgoolga, at 170 Red Rock Rd, Corindi Beach, is the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre, established by the Gumbayngirr people, a large community who traditionally lived along the coast and into the hinterland. There is a detailed brochure which can be downloaded (see http://yarrawarra.org/files/2010/03/Official-Yarrawarra-Brochure.pdf). The cultural centre is a mixture of an art gallery, a conference centre, and a cafe.The grounds and buildings are used to hold numerous cultural programs and to undertake cultural research. There is a range of activities available for visitors including a bush tucker and bush medicine walk, tours of local Aboriginal sites, basket-making, a history walk (through ancient middens, ochre quarries, campsites, stone and tool workshops, mythological and ceremonial sites), organic bush tucker meals at the bush-tucker cafe and a display of Aboriginal artefacts, arts, crafts, books and CDs. One of the highlights of the complex is the "Yuraal Bush Tucker Cafe which offers contemporary Indigenous cuisine including Kangaroo, Crocodile, and Emu, native fruit, vegetables and herbs. The cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and snacks as well as gourmet coffees, fresh juices, homemade cakes and native breads. Yuraal also has a range of native teas, spices and jams available for purchase". For more information download the brochure or tel: (02) 6640 7100.



* Before European settlement the Woolgoolga district was inhabited by the Gumbayngirr Aborigines. It was the northern extremity of their territorial area which was bounded by Dorrigo to the west and Nambucca Heads to the south.

* By the 1830s cedar cutters were in the area.

* By 1848 the Redbank Run was held by Captain John Pike.

* It wasn't until the 1870s that any permanent European settlement occurred.

* In 1875 Thomas Small took up the Weelgoolga Run.

* In 1879 Samuel Cohen purchased the lease to the Redbank Run.

* By 1885 most of the best land around Woolgoolga was occupied by European settlers.

* The village, originally known as Woogoolga, was officially gazetted in 1888. That same year the Woogoolga Hotel was built.

* By the end of the 19th century timber milling and the cutting of cedar were important in the area although Woolgoolga was never a major timber milling centre.

* In 1890-1891 there was a jetty built near the town which was used by the sawmills. There was some sugar farming in area. The area proved unsatisfactory for sugar cane. By the turn of the century bananas were being grown but it was not until around the 1930s that they were grown with any success.

* Around 1900 a substantial number of Indian migrants, probably attracted to the area by banana farming, moved south from Queensland and settled.

* In 1961 the Woolgoolga jetty was demolished.

*The name was officially changed to Woolgoolga in 1966. Previously it had been either Woolgooga or Woogoolga.

* Today Woolgoolga is a peaceful seaside holiday destination. It has the usual attractions of swimming, surfing and fishing.


Visitor Information

Woolgoolga Visitor Information Centre, cnr Beach and Boundary Street, tel: (02) 6654 8080.


Useful Websites

There are a number of useful websites relating to the town. Check out the Chamber of Commerce site - http://woolgoolga.org.au; and the http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org has detailed information about the history of the town.

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