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Grafton, NSW

The famous 'Jacaranda City' on the Clarence River.

Grafton, located nearly 50 km from the coast, is a substantial and gracious rural city characterised by wide streets, elegant Victorian buildings, a superb location on the banks of the Clarence River, a sense of solidity and permanence, and a long-standing concern with civic beauty which is obvious from the 24 parks which adorn the city. The first ornamental trees were planted as early as 1874 and the city's famous jacaranda stands, which are celebrated with an annual festival, were planted in 1907-08. The city is situated on, and divided by, the Clarence River which, until 1932 when the unusual two storey bridge was built, presented a major barrier between the city centre and the road to Sydney. The Clarence with its tributaries - the Nymboida, the Orara, the Mann and the Coldstream - constitutes the largest river system on the northern New South Wales coast. It drains over two million hectares and contains over 100 islands, including Susan Island which lies between Grafton and South Grafton. Grafton is the major settlement on the Clarence River and the commercial centre of an extensive agricultural and pastoral district. The fertile river flats are used for dairying, sugar cane and mixed farming. Fishing, the raising of pigs and cattle, and the processing and marketing of primary produce are also important to the local economy.


Grafton is located 616 km north of Sydney and 313 km south of Brisbane via the Pacific Highway.


Origin of Name

When the town of Grafton was laid out in 1849 it was named after the third Duke of Grafton who was the grandfather of Governor Charles Augustus FitzRoy who was New South Wales governor from 1846-1855.


Things to See and Do

Grafton Heritage City Walk
There is a downloadable brochure (http://www.clarencetourism.com/media/docs/grafton_heritage.pdf) which lists a total of 25 places of historic interest around the city. This is well worth the effort as Grafton has an impressive collection of distinguished churches and public buildings. It starts at the remarkable two storey bridge which crosses the Clarence and then winds around the town. Of particular interest are:

Grafton Bridge (Heritage Trail No.1)
It is remarkable that, given the size of the Clarence River and the fact that the town was developing on the northern bank, that it wasn't until 1932 that this unusual bridge (cars and trucks at the top, trains at the bottom) was built. It is a typical example of government inaction. The bridge was conceived in 1915 but not opened until 1932. It had a bascule span (it opened for larger river traffic) which operated from 1932-1969 when it was sealed shut. There are plans to build another bridge across the river.

Cathedral Precinct and the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral (Heritage Trail No.2)
Christ Church Cathedral is located on the corner of Victoria Street and Duke Street. The foundation stone was laid in 1874. Designed by notable architect, John Horbury Hunt, the main work was carried out between 1880-1884, with the western portion of the building and the Duke Street entrance added in 1934 - to Hunt's design. The bricks were locally manufactured from over 100 different design moulds. The roof trusses in the sanctuary and nave are particularly impressive. The louvres were a concession to the climate. It is open for inspection every day and there is no admission fee. The small church hall to the rear (c.1890) was also designed by Hunt and was intended for less formal activities. Of the two adjacent cottages, one dates from the early 1850s and one from c.1890. Across the road is the Deanery which was built in 1872 as a rectory. It is surrounded by a veranda and fine gardens. For more information check out http://www.graftoncathedral.org.au/#!history/cp3i.

The Grafton Court House Precinct (Heritage Trail No.3)
Walking along Victoria Street the Grafton Court House Precinct is a superb display of impressive Victorian-era buildings. There is the Post Office (1874) with its sombre sandstone colonnades; the Classical Revival court house (1877-80) with its colonnaded and stone-flagged veranda, gabled central section and intricate fretwork under the eaves; and the site of the former police station (1847), now the NSW Sheriff's Office, which was conceived as an harmonious complement to the court house. The Sheriff's Office is built of the same local bricks and features many identical architectural elements - note the columns. The original court house (1860-62) once stood to its rear and the footings remain. All three buildings were designed by colonial architect, James Barnet. Across the road are buildings of historic interest: 58 Victoria Street is the Post Office Hotel which dates from 1860 and, at 54, is Fitzgeralds Chambers (1908) an elegant two-storey Classical Revival building.

Roches Family Hotel (Heritage Trail No.6)
Located at 85 Victoria Street is Roches Family Hotel (c.1870) a large, elegant hotel noted for its upstairs veranda, its claim to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in Grafton, and the unusual claim that it is home to the world's longest table made from a single piece of timber. The table in question is almost 11 metres long and can seat 40 people. The pub's website recounts: "In the beginning Spiro Notaras makes the following statement (from the smallest table in the pub), "You know, Greg, if I can find a tree big enough, I could cut the table top in the one single slab from one log". Spiro finally finds his tree, a huge Blackbutt (eucalyptus Pilularis) reaching high above the canopy of "Wedding Bells" state forest near Woolgoolga, NSW. The log, over 11 metres in length, and weighing 6 tonnes is transported to the J. Notaras and Sons sawmill in South Grafton where it is seasoned for 7 months. The legs are turned from Hoop Pine by brothers Joe and Paul McCabe using a converted metal lathe (donated to the project by Big River Timbers). The finished table top is manoeuvred through a side window by a team of volunteers with only inches of clearance. The table was officially unveiled on 11/04/05 by Deputy Mayor Shirley Adams at a gala evening held in the function room." For more details check out http://www.roches.com.au/captains_table.html.

Istria (Heritage Trail No.7)
Located at 95 Victoria Street is 'Istria' (1899) an early Edwardian residence and a fine example of the affluence which existed when Grafton was the most important port on the Clarence River in the late 19th century.

Grafton Regional Gallery (Heritage Trail No.8)
Grafton Regional Art Gallery is located in Prentice House, an historic Federation-era home at 158 Fitzroy Street dating from 1880. It is open from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm Tuesday to Monday, tel: (02) 6642 3177. Check out http://www.graftongallery.nsw.gov.au for more details.

Schaeffer House Museum (Heritage Trail No.9)
Located at 190 Fitzroy Street is Schaeffer House (originally 'Kia-Ora') home of the Clarence River Historical Society. The home houses a collection of historic furniture, a 150 piece Wedgewood collection, and extensive photos, maps and old memorabilia from the local area. One of the city's most elegant homes, it was built around 1900 by local architect Frederick Schaeffer and is open from 1.00 pm to 4.00 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, tel: (02) 6642 5212.

Arcola (Heritage Trail No.10)
Located at 150 Victoria Street on the banks of the Clarence River, Arcola, which was built around 1907, is arguably Grafton's finest example of Edwardian architecture. It was sold in 2014 for a record $895,000. The hyperbole of the real estate agent describes it as: "The property provides a myriad of features from the formal gardens of roses & hydrangea, century old frangipani, mango, fig and rosewood trees, the red brick stables and the original water well. Whilst the southern wing of the home emits the original warm, romantic, river inspired memories of yesteryear the invigorated and sunny north aspect blossoms like Venice in spring. The fresh modern improvements can have you anywhere in the world, at a given time and have balanced this property package beautifully. The irreplaceable blend of Queen Anne, Victorian, Queensland & fresh Italianate architecture and improvements, alongside this desirable location has been the distinct attraction to the clientele who frequent Arcola currently operating as a successful bed & breakfast business." It is not open for public inspection but can be viewed from the street.

Bronte and Abbotsford (Heritage Trail No. 11)
Located at 11 and 13 Alice Street are 'Abbotsford' and 'Bronte', a pair of decorative Federation-style houses dating from the first decade of the 20th century. They were built around 1907. Of particular note are the timber decoration, the detailed chimneys and the roofs. They are a reminder of the affluence of Grafton at the time.

Grafton Gaol (Heritage Trail No. 17)
Located at Queen and Arthur Streets is the Grafton Gaol complex (1893). The buildings are of the highest quality with some fine decorative detailing throughout. Note particularly the ornate entranceway and elaborately moulded timber gates.

Commercial Precinct (Heritage Trail No. 25)
At the corner of Prince and Fitzroy Streets is one of the town's finest commercial buildings - the former CBC Bank (1877). Built in sandstone with a slate roof and cast-iron decoration, the striped colour scheme is authentic. It was one of the town's first buildings to have its first floor elevated above flood level. At the corner of Prince and Pound Streets is Weileys Hotel. It was built in 1909 to replace the original hotel which had been destroyed by fire. Opposite is Market Square: a pleasant park adjacent to the town's clock tower.


Other Attractions in the Area

Susan Island
Susan Island is a 20 ha nature reserve located in the middle of the Clarence River between Grafton and South Grafton. It was named after the Susan which was the first ship to enter the Clarence River in 1838. On board was a crew of cedar-getters led by ex-convict Richard Craig who, as an escapee seven years earlier, had provided the first European report of the 'Big River'. The western section of the island is dominated by a subtropical rainforest which is inhabited by a large colony of flying foxes (bats). Grey-headed flying foxes are most common but there are also little red and black flying foxes. There is a walking trail with interpretative signage and there are fine stands of Moreton Bay Figs and Tulipwood. The only access is by private boat or canoe and the best landing place is the sandy south-eastern tip of the island. There is a jetty at the end of Prince Street in Grafton which is a suitable departure point. For more information check out http://www.clarencetourism.com/about-the-clarence/national-parks/susan-island-nature-reserve/p/66.

Yuraygir National Park
Minnie Water Road, which is located 15 km south of Grafton, heads east off the Pacific Highway to the central section of Yuraygir National Park which stretches along 65 km of pristine northern New South Wales  coastline from Angourie to Red Rock. The fact that the park is some 40 km from the Pacific Highway means that it is a mixture of peaceful, isolated beaches, excellent coastal bushwalking and high quality fishing, surfing and swimming. The Yuraygir National Park was proclaimed in 1980. It covers 3137 ha. Check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0040#YuraygirCoastalWalk for details.

Yuraygir Coastal Walk
This signposted 65 km walk, which is recommended to take four days although it can be done in less, traverses the coast from Angourie to Red Rock. Along the journey, as the brochure explains, "you will encounter vast heathland plains, long sandy beaches, crystal clear creeks and lagoons, rocky headlands and abundant wildflowers and birdlife". Check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/parks/brochures/20100479YuraygirCoastalWalk.pdf which can be downloaded and provides details of the walk.

Washpool National Park
Some 88 km north-west of Grafton along the Gwydir Highway, Coombadjha Road leads into World Heritage listed Washpool National Park which includes the largest undisturbed rainforest in New South Wales and the world's largest remaining undisturbed stand of coachwood trees. The land rises to 1200 m above sea-level and the Washpool and Coombadjha Creeks have carved gorges through the plateau. About 1 km along Coombadjha Road a side road heads off to the left to the Granite Picnic Area where there is a picnic area and an 800 m walking track to the Granite lookout which has picturesque views of the south-eastern forests of the park. Further along Coombadjha Road leads past the Bellbird Rest Area and the Coachwood Picnic Area where there are two walks: the 1.1 km Coombadjha Nature Stroll and the Washpool Walk (10 km return). For more details check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/washpool-national-park.

Gibraltar Range National Park
Gibraltar Range National Park is located in high granite country on the Gwydir Highway. It is dominated by eucalypt forest. It is an ideal place for bushwalking. There are large numbers of wildflowers in the warmer months. There are eleven walks in the National Park all of which are detailed at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0012.

The walks are:

Lyrebird Falls Walking Track - one km each way, medium difficulty, will take around an hour each way. Located just off the Boundary Falls picnic area - it leads to a lookout over Boundary Creek and waterfalls.

Forest Walking Track - 1.8 km, 45 minutes, easy. 10 km along Mulligans Rd is the Mulligans Hut Rest Area on the western bank of Little Dandahra Creek. William Mulligan was a pioneering advocate of hydro-electric power on the Nymboida River. He built his hut in 1924 while establishing hydro-power for sawmills in the mountains.

Dandahra Crags Walking Track - a medium difficulty track of 3 km which will take around 2 hours 30 minutes.

Murrumbooee Cascades Walking Track - 3 km each way, two hours each way, medium difficulty. It is where William Mulligan built his second weir.

Anvil Rock - 4 km, 1 hour 30 minutes, medium difficulty. "This return track takes you past waratahs, grass trees and granite boulders to the base of Anvil Rock. You'll pass swamps that lie between high granite peaks. Some confidence is needed for the final scramble onto Anvil Rock, which has spectacular views."

Little Dandahra Creek Walking Track - 6 km each way, 2 hours each way, easy walk - "This superb walking track leads you past enormous granite outcrops, through montane heathlands and alongside pristine waterways."

The Needles - 6 km, 2 hours 30 minutes, medium difficulty. Six separate granite outcrops which, according to Aboriginal lore, are six sisters turned to stone by the curse of their pursuer.

Duffer Creek - 7.4 km, 3 hours, medium difficulty to a small, pretty waterfall.

Tree Fern Forest - 8 km, 3 hours, medium difficulty - walk through a rainforest of blue gums and tree ferns.

Grassy Creek - 19 km, 7 hours, medium difficulty - from Boundary Creek camping area to an old tin mine.

Gibraltar-Washpool World Heritage Walk - 45 km, 3 days, hard - "Dry eucalypt forests, set amidst ridges and granite tors, are surrounded by sub-alpine swamp. Lush rainforests hold the largest tract of coachwood trees in the world. Waterfalls plummet from a lacework of streams and wild rivers. In the 1880s, gold mining took place around Grassy Creek and remains of an ore crusher can still be seen along the eastern side of this waterway. O’Hara’s Rock marks the spot where, in 1873, a grazier by that name camped and tried to figure out a faster stock route over Gibraltar Range. Wades Mill, at Boundary Falls campground, dates back to historic logging days."

Nymboida National Park
Located 51 km from Grafton (23.5 km on the Gwydir Highway and then 28 km on a road through Ramomie National Park) this 19,000 ha area stretches south west of the Gwydir Highway and incorporates sections of the Mann and Nymboida Rivers which are recognised as among the best canoeing and white-water rafting rivers in eastern Australia. The terrain is rugged but scenic and the river flats include a number of campsites. Access is restricted to 4WD vehicles and the most popular destination is a campground on the banks of the Nymboida River. Check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkhome.aspx?id=n0055 which has a map and instructions for hikers and bushwalkers. Also check http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/nymboida-national-park/nymboida-river-campground/camping/map.

Everlasting Swamp National Park
In 2014 the Government announced it had purchased 1,700 ha of Everlasting Swamp, a wetland in the Clarence River floodplains, to establish a new National Park. The newly acquired land will be combined with the existing Everlasting Swamp State Conservation Area to cover an area of 2,160 ha. The Everlasting Swamp and the adjacent Imersons Swamp form one of the largest coastal floodplain wetlands remaining in New South Wales. An intact ecosystem of this size is extremely rare and globally significant.

Dr Greg Clancy, an ecologist and birding and wildlife guide who has been visiting the Everlasting Swamps since the late 1970s, said "The Everlasting Swamp is really important for the brolgas. We've had up to 100 brolgas in that area and that's very rare in New South Wales. And there's a whole range of other waterbirds like whiskered terns, which come in their hundreds, and glossy ibis. The abundance and diversity is just incredible." The Everlasting Swamp is located west of Lawrence which is between Yamba and Grafton on the Clarence River. It can be accessed from the Lawrence-Grafton Road.

Lower Clarence Aboriginal Tourist Site Drive
The project was created in 1992 and the information brochure (a single A4 sheet) was published in 1996. It lists 13 significant Aboriginal sites around Maclean and down the Clarence River to Yamba and Angourie. The sites include middens, camping locations, meeting places, a fish trap at Angourie, creation and Dreamtime stories, and the Ulugundahi Island mission site. It includes detailed maps of both Maclean and Yamba. It is available at the Visitor Information Centres in the area. It can be downloaded at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/parks/lowerclarenceaboriginaltouristsite.pdf.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Gumbainggir Aborigines.

* Matthew Flinders investigated the river mouth in 1799. He landed near present-day Iluka, but found the waters shallow and dismissed the whole area as "deserving of no more than a superficial examination". Flinders did not realise the bay was actually the mouth of the Clarence River.

* During the 1820s and 1830s convicts escaping from the penal colony at  Moreton Bay passed through the area.

* One convict, Richard Craig, reported a big river when he reached at Port Macquarie in 1832.

* In 1838 Thomas Small of Sydney, inspired by Craig's reports, sent his brother and two dozen sawyers on board the schooner, the Susan, to the 'Big River'. It was the first European vessel to enter the river.

* Governor Gipps named the river the Clarence in 1839.

* A store and shipyard were established at South Grafton in 1839.

* By the early 1840s there was a wharf, store and inn on the northern bank of the river.

* Twenty businesses were listed on the Clarence River in 1841.

* The district was surveyed in 1843.

* A police magistrate was appointed in 1846. At that time the population was recorded as 120.

* The town's original police station was built in 1847.

* A township was laid out in 1849 and named after the Duke of Grafton.

* The first land sale took place in the early 1850s.

* The first school opened in 1852.

* The first Anglican church was consecrated in 1854.

* The population, by 1856, had grown to 1,069.

* Wharves along the river were built in the 1850s.

* The town was declared a municipality in 1859.

* In 1859 Grafton became home to the Clarence and Richmond River Examiner newspaper and the first National School north of the Hunter River was opened.

* Sugar-growing commenced on the river floodplain in the 1860s.

* In 1861 a punt service began operating on the river. Prior to the punt the only way to cross the river was by rowboat.

* A steam-driven vehicular ferry was established by the mid-1860s.

* Grafton was declared a city in the mid-1880s.

* The founder of the Country Party, Earle Page, was born at Grafton in 1880.

* In 1897 South Grafton established itself as a separate municipality.

* By 1905 the Casino to North Grafton railway line had been completed.

* In 1932 a bridge across the Clarence,  a unique construction consisting of two storeys with the railway running underneath the road, was opened. It was also a lift bridge to accommodate high vessels wanting to pass underneath. The decline of the river trade saw the lift section sealed.

* Grafton's importance as a regional port declined although the river trade continued until the 1950s.

* Grafton and South Grafton were eventually amalgamated in 1956.


Visitor Information

Clarence River Tourist Centre, Pacific Highway, South Grafton, tel: (02) 6642 4677.


Useful Websites

The town's official website can be found at http://www.clarencetourism.com/about-the-clarence/grafton-and-clarence-country/grafton/p/40.

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2 suggestions
  • 30 Kilometers north west of Grafton is the town of Copmanhurst where the tidal limit of the Mighty Clarence River is reached. The Clarence then winds its way upstream past a popular camping spot at the Lilydale Bridge and then northwards through the famous Clarence River Gorge where it is joined by the Mann River before passing Yugilbar Castle on its way to humble beginnings at the NSW / Qld border.

    Ross Wood