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Cooranbong, NSW

Seventh-day Adventist town near the shores of Lake Macquarie.

Cooranbong is a strange town. It lies to the west of Lake Macquarie on the Dora Creek. It is a town which, although it is close to major tourist areas on the Central Coast, has largely side stepped commercial development and remained the home of the Seventh Day Adventists in Australia. Avondale College (now Avondale University), the South Seas Islands Museum and Sunnyside (an historic home occupied between 1896-1900 by Ellen Gould White, one of the founders of the Seventh-Day Adventist movement) are all located in the township and worth visiting. The highlights of the area are the remarkably beautiful bushwalks and panoramas overlooking the coastline which can be experienced in the Watagans National Park to the west of the town.


Cooranbong is located 120 km north of Sydney via the M1 (the Pacific Highway).


Origin of Name

The word 'Cooranbong' or 'Kour-an-bong' comes from the local Awabakal First Nations people. It probably means 'rocky bottom creek' or 'water over rocks'. It is likely that it referred to Dora Creek.


Things to See and Do

Church of St Patrick and St Brigid
Located in Martinsville Road, just beyond the corner off Freemans Drive, is the Catholic Church of St Patrick and St Brigid. It stands rather starkly surrounded by a huge block of well-mown lawn. It was built in 1906 to replace the original 1861 structure. The graveyard behind the church is much older with the oldest headstone dating back to 1861. It is not known where the oldest grave is located by there is a plaque which explains: "Erected to the memory of Mary Blackford. First known burial. Died 23-7-1861 Aged 14. Accidentally killed by a falling tree. The exact location of her grave is unknown but believed in vicinity of Grave K7." The cemetery, not the church, is classified by the National Trust.

South Sea Islands Museum and Sunnyside House
Located at 27 Avondale Road is the South Seas Islands Museum. Seventh-day Adventist Ellen White, a significant figure in the church's history, visited the area in 1891 and built a house, now known as the Sunnyside Historical Home, in 1895. This house is adjacent to the unusual museum which has an impressive and historical collection of South Sea Island artefacts gathered by the church during its missionary work in the South Sea Islands. The museum's website explains the origins and range of the collection: "Working in partnership with the Adventist Heritage Centre the South Sea Islands Museum collection includes photos, artefacts and serials. These cover a wide range of regions including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tahiti, The Gilbert Islands, Pitcairn Island, Australia and New Zealand. Objects range from simple weaponry such as axe heads and clubs to sophisticated intricately woven baskets and head-dresses. All realms of life are explored; the museum contains idols and charms for spirit worship alongside items used for hunting and food preparation." It is open Sunday, Saturdays and Wednesday from 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm, contact (02) 4980 2265. For more information check out http://www.ssimuseum.adventistconnect.org.

Avondale University and the Sanitarium Health Food Factory
Avondale University, now mostly a collection of handsome modern buildings, is set in a 325 ha property and incorporates a church as well as a number of heritage listed buildings including Bethal Hall and the College Hall. Bethel Hall was completed in 1897. The original structure was a New England building with a thatched roof (which has been replaced with a tin roof) designed to serve as a Women's Dormitory and Assembly Room. College Hall was built in early 1899, it is also in the New England style of architecture, designed by one of the Kellogg brothers. Originally College Hall held classrooms, the principal's office, two primary school classrooms, library and chapel room. Today Avondale is a modern college. For more information check out https://www.avondale.edu.au.

Avondale College and the Michael and Lindy Chamberlain Saga
Avondale College (now Avondale University) is a Seventh-day Adventist Church education facility and, as both Michael and Lindy Chamberlain were followers of the faith. Michael Chamberlain saw both the college and the town as a retreat when the full horror of the death of Azaria Chamberlain, and the subsequent court cases, occurred after 17 August 1980.
The Seventh-day Adventists started in 1863 at Battle Creek in Michigan and the church’s “founding fathers” included Joseph Bates, James White, Ellen G. White and J.N. Andrews.
In the late 19th century the Seventh Day Adventists bought 1500 acres of land on the northern bank of Dora Creek at Cooranbong and established their own educational institution, Avondale College, in 1897 and the Sanitarium Health Foods in 1909.
It was also at Cooranbong that Ellen G. White, who was a prolific writer and a hugely important early leader, resided in Sunnyside House at 27 Avondale Road from 1896-1900.
When Lindy Chamberlain was falsely accused of murdering her daughter Azaria at Uluru in 1980 and subsequently gaoled, her husband Michael and her family fled to the comfort of the Avondale college and this very Seventh-day Adventist town.
It is now widely accepted that a dingo took baby Azaria from the family’s tent at the base of Uluru but, at the time, the Seventh-day Adventist faith became the subject of an hysterical “witch hunt” and a myriad of conspiracy theories. Some, not understanding the Seventh-day Adventists, believed that Azaria had been killed by her parents in a religious sacrifice. It was said that Lindy Chamberlain had “evil eyes”; that Azaria meant “sacrifice in the wilderness” (it didn't); that Lindy was a witch and that the Seventh-day Adventists were a cult that killed infants in religious ceremonies.
While Lindy was falsely jailed in Darwin for the murder of Azaria, Michael and his family settled in Cooranbong. He graduated from Avondale College with a Bachelor of Teaching degree in 2002 and that same year he was awarded a Ph.D for a thesis about Ellen White. He subsequently taught at both Avondale and state schools in the area. Today Michael Chamberlain is retired and lives in Cooranbong.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Watagans
Cooranbong is the natural starting point for exploring the forests in the Watagan Mountains which lie to the west of Lake Macquarie and the Tuggerah Lakes. There are some outstanding camping sites, lookouts, walking trails, picnic areas and forest drives.
The history of the mountains is fascinating. The Watagans have been a source of timber since the 1830s. The demand for railway sleepers created by the construction of the Sydney-Newcastle railway caused a major timber boom in the late 1880s and during World War II the forests were almost entirely stripped of their softwoods, particularly coachwood, which was used for the manufacture of the .303 rifle and for the construction of the Mosquito fighter plane. Throughout the twentieth century most of the houses on the Central Coast, around Lake Macquarie and in the Hunter Valley were built with frames made from Watagan hardwoods.
There is an excellent booklet Lake Macquarie City: Walking Trails Guide (available at the Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre in Swansea) which recommends, and describes in great detail, five walks in the Watagans.
1. Boarding House Dam
2. The Gap Creek Falls Trail
3. Muirs Walking Trail
4. The Pines Trail
5. The Watagan Trail

The Best Way to Experience the Watagans
Drive north from Cooranbong on Freemans Drive and a few kilometres from town take a left hand turn into Mount Faulk Road. Mount Faulk Road was once known as the 'unemployed road' as it was built by unemployed labourers in the Depression of the 1890s which hit the Cooranbong area hard when the railway skirted the town and contracts for railway sleepers dried up.
After a couple of kilometres the road becomes gravel but, unless there has been heavy rain, it is an easy and safe road into the mountains. There are roads off the Mount Faulk Road all of which are clearly signposted.

1. Bangalow Road and Gap Creek Waterfall
The first road, known as the Bangalow Road, is to Bangalow Rest Area (3.8 km over a rough and narrow road) and Gap Creek Rest Area (4.8 km). These are pleasant picnic spots in the bush. Bangalow Road was named after the many Bangalow palms in the area. It follows Monkey Shelf through an area rich in birdlife - lyrebirds, king parrots, crimson rosellas, satin bowerbirds, green catbirds, brush turkeys and whipbirds. There are two camping areas along the road and a car park at the end from where you can take a walking trail which follows an old bullock track which leads to the impressive Gap Creek waterfall which fall more than 40m after heavy rains.

2. Monkey Face Lookout
Further up Mount Faulk Road is a track (it is rough and potholed) to Monkey Face Lookout (1.6 km) and Gap Creek Lookout (1.4 km). They both offer views - Monkey Face looks out across Lake Macquarie but it is hard to get a clear view (ie views through the trees) and Gap Creek has sweeping views east across the Martinsville Valley. They both have good picnic spots under the ancient grass trees and ironbarks. In winter, the air is crisp and clean, refreshing and revitalising. In summer, the sun is hot and bright and casts a magnificent light over the valley.
From Monkey Face Lookout there are fine views south over Martinsville Valley. The homestead below belongs to the Browne family, early settlers and timber cutters who owned a very eccentric bullock they named Monkey who liked to hide on a mountain shelf which was thus named Monkey Shelf.

3. Heaton Lookout - The Highlight
This is the true highlight. I believe it is the best view in Australia with a total coastal view of at least 120 km from Stockton Beach north of Newcastle (a low hill hides the city of Newcastle completely) all the way down the coast, past Lake Macquarie, to The Entrance on the Central Coast. It is amazing. Heaton Lookout is clearly signposted to the right off Mount Faulk Road. The view includes the whole of Lake Macquarie with the stacks of its various power stations scattered about the shore; north to Newcastle and beyond to Stockton Beach stretching north-east towards Port Stephens; south over the entire Central Coast with Tuggerah Lakes in the foreground, Norah Head Lighthouse on the coast and beyond to Broken Bay and the mouth of the Hawkesbury. For bushwalkers this is the starting point for the remarkable Watagan Trail which is 8 km (one way) and is part of the Great North Walk. There are two shorter circular tracks (750 m and 2.5 km) from the lookout.

4. Macleans Lookout and the Watagan Trail
The walk to Macleans Lookout and Hunter Lookout is worth the effort. Both have picnic areas and superb panoramic views. The Hunter Lookout looks westwards and north-west towards Cessnock while the Macleans Lookout offers a view to the north-west (Cessnock) and north-east (over Mulbring and beyond to Kurri Kurri with Maitland in the distance). The two are linked by a 600 metre walking trail.

5. Great North Walk
The 250 km Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle is a moderately difficult walk which usually takes between 10-14 days (it has been done in under 60 hours) it includes a wide range of environments and attractions ranging from Aboriginal rock engravings to bridges, waterways, coal mines and beautiful bushland. It was created in 1988 as a Bicentennial Project but includes tracks which had been used by Aborigines for thousands of years. It can be broken down into smaller sections. The section from Heatons Lookout is 8 km one way, and takes in all the dramatically beautiful scenery through to Macleans Lookout. For more information check out http://www.thegreatnorthwalk.com/ and get a downloadable map from http://www.everytrail.com/guide/great-north-walk-australia-s-best-bushwalk. The Crown Lands website has details about the Brooklyn section of the walk. Check out http://www.lpma.nsw.gov.au/about_recreation/walking_tracks/great_north_walk/sections_of_the_great_north_walk.

6. Narrow Place Lookout
Further south on the Great North Walk (it can be accessed by 4WD) is Narrow Place Lookout, an impressive lookout which was named by the local Hall family. The Halls would use the steep narrow track to lead their horses up onto the escarpment from below the lookout. Positioned high amidst dry grassy woodland with prominent rocky outcrops and scree slopes below, the Narrow Place Lookout provides scenic views over Hunter Valley towns including Cessnock and Kurri Kurri. It is home to endangered brush-tailed rock wallabies and birdwatching can include wedge-tailed eagles which soar above the lookout.

Other Attractions in the Watagans
The other major access point into the Watagans is Martinsville Road which lies to the south of Cooranbong. The valley around Cooranbong was originally known as The Brush and the first Europeans in the area were the Martin family who arrived in the 1860s and worked as timber cutters. A village of farmers and sawyers developed. It was known as Deep Creek when a slab school was built in 1878. The post office, which opened in the 1880s, was called Dora Creek, causing conflict with the settlement of that name north of present-day Morisset. It was renamed The Brush and became Martinsville in 1894.
The Martinsville Road route offers access to:

Muir's Lookout
Muirs Lookout and picnic area has views eastwards over Lake Macquarie and beyond to the ocean. Two sets of stacks are visible: those of Vales Point Power Station on the southern shore of the lake and those of Eraring on the western shore. There is a 1.5 km loop walking trail with interpretative signs which passes through blackbutt and bluegum forests as well as gullies dense with rainforest.

Pines Picnic Area
Further along Martinsville Hill Road the road turns north-west and there is a large loop on the Walkers Ridge Forest Road. The Pines Picnic Area, one of the district's highlights, is along a short side-road to the right. Several walking trails, including a wildflower walk (1.1 km) and an 8-km walk to Abbotts Falls, depart from different points along this side-road. The 1.1 km Pines Trail includes in an old Aboriginal axe-grinding groove in the sandstone as well as a delightful rock pool.

Boarding House Dam
Further along the Watagan Forest Road is the access track to the Boarding House Dam picnic area. The original boarding house was home to the largest logging camp in the area. Today the area is known for its rainforest canopy, its lush ferns and moss-covered boulders and moss-covered walls along the Circuit walking track. The area is popular with families, since the picturesque creek and dam nearby are ideal for a paddle. It is around another 14 km to the Boarding House Dam turnoff to the left. Near the carpark and picnic area is a section of dense, subtropical rainforest and a small weir built to ensure a supply of water for bushfires after the ravages of a major fire in 1939-40. The dam is ideal for swimming in summer. Check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkhome.aspx?id=n0133 and http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/watagans-national-park for more information.

Circuit Walking Track
Starting at the Boarding House Dam picnic area, the Circuit walking track is a 600 metre loop which offers a stroll along the Congewoi Creek beneath a rainforest of ferns, blue gums, grey myrtle and turpentine. A rock wall covered entirely in moss makes for a beautiful spectacle on the trail. In summer, the rainforest shades the trail from the sun.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans around the shores of Lake Macquarie the area was occupied by people from the Awabakal First Nations language group.

* In 1800 Captain William Reid became the first European to explore the shores of the lake. He had been sent from Sydney to collect coal from the mouth of the Hunter River. He mistook the channel into Lake Macquarie for the river estuary. Members of the Awabakal tribe directed him to some coal in the headland. When he returned to Sydney he realised that he had reached the lake and not the mouth of the Hunter River. The lake became known as Reid's Mistake until 1826 when it was renamed in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

* Lieutenant Percy Simpson was probably the first European settler in the Lake Macquarie area. He received a 2000 acre grant in 1826 at Cooranbong, was assigned six convicts who cleared the land, grazed cattle, and built a homestead and stockyards near a ford over Dora Creek.

* Simpson departed in 1828 but one of his convicts, Moses Carroll, stayed on as a stockman and was made constable of the area in 1834.

* In 1835 a police station and lockup were built.

* In the late 1850s swans were hunted for their down which was sold in Sydney.

* The Robertson Land Act of 1861 saw seven lots sold in Cooranbong. This became the village centre.

* 1861 saw the consecration of the local Catholic Church. It was used as a school until 1879.

* The town post office opened in 1866.

* Timber was the backbone of the local economy and four large steam-driven timber mills were operating in the area in the 1870s. The cedar was loaded onto ketches at the Dora Creek and sent down river to Lake Macquarie.

* A police station and courthouse were established in 1873.

* In 1874 Robert King's sawmill exported timber from Cooranbong.

* A race course was established in 1875.

* The first ferry service on the lake was started in 1876.

* The first government school in the district opened in 1879.

* A post office opened in 1881.

* By the 1880s Cooranbong had become a staging post on the journey between Sydney and Newcastle.

* By the 1880s the population of the area had reached 700 and Cooranbong had four stores, two schools, three hotels and four wine bars.

* Sydney and Newcastle were linked by rail in the late 1880s. The line passed 5 km to the east of Cooranbong. The settlement around the station became known as Morisset.

* The population of Cooranbong had dropped to 206 by 1891.

* The Seventh Day Adventists bought 1500 acres of land on the northern bank of Dora Creek and established Avondale College in 1897 and Sanitarium Health Foods in 1909.



Visitor Information

The nearest information centres are Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, 228 Pacific Highway, Swansea, tel: (02) 4921 0740 and Central Coast Tourism, 52 The Avenue, Mt Penang Parklands, Somersby, tel: (02) 4343 4444.


Useful Websites

There is no dedicated website for Cooranbong. The Lake Mac Libraries site is excellent on the early history of the town. Check out https://history.lakemac.com.au/page-local-history.aspx?pid=1085&vid=20&tmpt=narrative&narid=30.

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