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Lismore, NSW

Major administrative and service centre in the Northern Rivers hinterland which describes itself as the 'Rainbow Region'.

Lismore, a prosperous service town and the main commercial and administrative centre for the Northern Rivers, lies only nine metres above sea-level on the narrow and winding North Arm of the upper Richmond River known as Wilsons River. In recent times it has attracted people who come to the area to pursue creative endeavours and alternative lifestyles. Thus there is a high concentration of painters, woodworkers, ceramists, filmmakers, musicians, poets, designers and dancers. Consequently, there are many galleries, studios and theatres in the area. The district is known for its rich soils and high quality produce. There is an organic food market once a week; local restaurants are proud of their local produce; and the surrounding farmland is known for its coffee, avocados, tropical and stone fruits, blueberries, pecans, beef production, pig farming, bacon-curing, bananas, macadamias and sugar, as well as sawmilling and brewing. Consequently the town's primary appeal to the traveller lies in its centrality to a region rather than its specific attractions.

Location

Located 738 km north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway and 197 km south of Brisbane via the Pacific Motorway. It is 9 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was known as "Tchukarmboli" or "Tuckurimba" to the local Bundjalung Aborigines. When Scotsman William Wilson settled in the area in 1845 he named his property "Lismore" after the island of Lismore in Loch Linnhe, Scotland which he had visited on his honeymoon. Wilson remained in the district for a decade and when a townsite was surveyed it was located on what had been Wilsons' home paddock.

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Things to See and Do

Lismore Walkabout Cafe + Culture Trail
There is a downloadable brochure (http://www.visitlismore.com.au/media/docs/Walkabout_Lismore.pdf) titled the Lismore Walkabout Cafe + Culture Trail. It is an interesting trail which does not include the town's very impressive Court House or the main churches. Instead it focuses on 20 places of interest all within a few blocks in the town's central business district. The walk starts at the Visitor Information Centre (Ballina Road and Molesworth Street), heads along Molesworth Street to Woodlark Street and then heads back via Keen Street, Magellan Street and a path along Wilsons River.

The highlights include:
1. Lismore Medical Clinic
Officially titled The Lismore Clinic Medical Centre this very handsome two storey timber house was built in 1902 as a home and surgery for Dr Oscar Muller. The architect was Colonel F J Board.
2. Commemorative Park
3. War Memorial Baths
Unlike swimming pools in other towns these are characterised by a rare elegance because they were constructed in 1928 as a memorial to all those from the district who had served in World War I.
4. The Patriotic Memorial
5. Lismore Municipal Building (Richmond River Historical Society Museum)
A particularly elegant building with strong Art Deco elements. It was built in 1928 and designed by a Sydney architect, William Gilroy. Upstairs is the Richmond River Historical Society Museum which features some fine colonial furniture made of local cedar and other pioneering relics, geological specimens, Aboriginal artefacts and a photographic collection. "The main display area is in the Council Chamber, which is lined with cedar taken from the homestead of the Kyogle pastoral run. It features musical instruments and other fascinating artefacts. Major exhibitions are mounted here. A feature of the main hallway is an exhaustive display of local native timbers. There are also rooms for aboriginal, industry, natural history, pioneer and shipping displays. In the industry room may be seen artefacts used by early timber getters and other workers. Domestic utensils are also displayed, revealing something of the difficult life experienced by early families. The Bundjalung Yanha (Bundjalung Way) exhibition deals with the history of the Bundjalung people whose traditional country this is. It covers such areas as Caring for Country; Ceremonies and Gatherings; Old Ways, New Ways; and Quiet Achievers." The museum is open weekdays from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6621 9993. Check out http://www.richhistory.org.au/museum.htm for more information.
6. Lismore City Bowling Club
Reputedly the oldest bowling club in New South Wales. it was formed in 1907. The croquet club in Molesworth Street is equally interesting.
7. Band Rotunda
Designed by Colonel F J Board this band rotunda dates to 1914. Now more than 100 years old, it is a fine example of a Federation-era band rotunda at a time when town bands were hugely popular.
8. Fire Station
9. Lismore Regional Gallery
Originally the NSW Government Savings Bank - another building designed by the ubiquitous Colonel F J Board.
10. Queen Victoria Fountain
11. Lismore Post Office
Designed by the notable architect, W.L. Vernon, this outstanding Art Nouveau post office (1897) with its fine brickwork, sandstone masonry, fretwork cupola and massive tower is a comment on the important of Lismore as a port at the end of the 19th century.
12. Commercial Banking Company Building
Located at 67 Molesworth Street, this is a particularly elegant bank building constructed at the height of the Art Deco period (1936) and beautifully preserved as a reminder of the era. Next door is the Westpac bank, a typically solid country bank.
13. Australian Joint Stock Bank Building
Located opposite Alternating Current, the boat sculpture, this handsome building was constructed in 1891 in an Italian villa style (note the frieze on the third floor and the columns in Woodlark Street)  by the Australian Joint Stock Bank.
14. Gollan Hotel
Located on the corner of Woodlark and Keen Streets and built in 1934 this hotel, and I know this sounds implausible, was used as an evening stopover by Queen Elizabeth II during her royal visit in 1954. By royal appointment?
15. Educational Buildings
16. Butter Churn Sculpture and Wilsons River Experience Walk
There is a riverside walk which starts at the Lismore Visitor Information Centre. It is part of the Culture Trail and includes an outdoor museum, the Aboriginal bush food garden and the butter churn sculpture. There are three ‘story’ sites which record the history of the Widjabul and European settlement along the banks of the river.
17. Interpretative Sites
18. Dog off-leash enclosure
19. Aboriginal Bush Food Garden
20. Interpretative Site

As you can see it is a mix and match of the interesting and the banal (does any tourist really want to spend time at the "dog off-leash enclosure"?) and it misses such gems as the Winsome Hotel (between 12 and 13), the Alternating Current sculpture (between 13 and 14) and the town's impressive churches and the Court House.

Alternating Current - the Boat Sculpture in Woodlark Street
“Lismore’s newest art installation, the skeletal boat sculpture on Woodlark Street, will be unveiled tomorrow – three years late, and costing three times its original budget. What do you think of the boat sculpture”, the local paper, the Northern Star, wrote on Facebook in July, 2014 … and the town went feral. “Lismore needs some public toilets before art works,” one disgruntled local wrote.
The facts:
• The Federal Government gave the local council a grant of $96,688.
• The design was by Gail Mason and a Queensland sculptor, Paul D Johnson, was paid $150,000 to craft and build the sculpture. That fee included all the materials and the fabrication.
• The council chipped in $80,000 to make up the short fall.
• There was an agreement with Essential Energy but they reneged on the agreement. It was designed to cover an electricity substation.
• The boat’s initial cost was a total of $176,688
• The need to store the sculpture and to build a large concrete plinth blew the budget to the tune of $114,812. Lot of money for storage and concrete.
• The final work, titled Alternating Current, presumably a reference to the involvement of Essential Energy, cost $291,500. For more information check out http://www.northernstar.com.au/news/council-deep-water-residents-over-300000-sculpture/2320482.

Winsome Hotel
Located in Bridge Street near Fawcett's bridge this hotel is actually dated "1925" but there has been a hotel beside the river since 1882. It was originally located near where the punt ferried stores and supplies across the river on the road to Nimbin. The bridge was completed in 1884 and the North Lismore Hotel became the Junction Hotel in 1888. "On August 13 1925 there is a description of a new hotel opening at the old Junction Hotel site ... and it was opened as the Winsome Hotel. The Winsome Hotel has since had a long history as a popular meeting place, hotel and pub. In 1980 the Winsome Hotel was included on the National Trust Register and officially designated as a 1925 building. This date remains displayed at the front of the Winsome building. The hotel has passed through many hands and has had notoriety amongst the Lismore and northern rivers community as being a venue for the music scene. The Winsome underwent significant modifications and renovations in 2005 and 2006 when the new owner, Dallas Bayly, purchased it and designated it for luxury accommodation. It was reopened on September 30 2006 with its new and current look. The significant change that occurred in 2009 is that the Winsome Hotel was bought by the Lismore Soup Kitchen and renamed The Winsome from where the Winsome Café will serve meals to the people doing it tough and provide low cost accommodation for those seeking pathways out of homelessness." For more information check out http://www.winsome.org.au/About-Us/history-of-the-winsome.html.

Court House
Proceed further along Molesworth Street (beyond 13 - Australian Joint Stock Bank) and in Zadoc Street there is both the imposing Classical Revival court house (1883), with its grand stairway and St Andrews Anglican Church (1904).

The Town's Churches
In Zadoc Street, directly opposite the Court House, is the elegant St Andrew's Anglican Church which was built in 1904 with additions in 1913 and 1935. It has a commanding view over the river. It replaced an original timber church (1871). Only a few blocks away, on the corner of Orion Street and Leycester Street, is St Carthage's Roman Catholic Cathedral (1892-1907) which has some fine woodwork and stained-glass windows. At the corner of Keen and Woodlark Street is the Uniting (formerly Methodist) Church (1908-09) and at Keen and Magellan Streets is the 'Byzantine-inspired' Church of Christ (1923). At Keen and Conway Streets is St Paul's Presbyterian Church (1907-08) which replaced an earlier church built in 1881.

The Back Alley Gallery
The Back Alley Gallery is an open air gallery in the back lanes of the CBD. There are details available at the Visitor Information Centre. It features works by a collective of artists from Lismore, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah, Nimbin, Coffs Harbour, Brisbane, and Germany. The works include graffiti art, street art, murals, paste ups, stencils, installations and more.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Rotary Park
Located off Rotary Drive (follow Ballina Street east of the Visitor Centre for 3.5 km and turn left at the roundabout into Rotary Drive), Lismore's Rotary Park, is a small remnant  (11.5 ha) of the 'Big Scrub' rainforest which has been regenerated in the middle of the city. There are 3 km of pathways with rare species of rainforest plants clearly marked and stands of Hoop Pines and Moreton Bay Figs.

Claude Riley Memorial Lookout
Located in New Ballina Road is the Claude Riley Memorial Lookout with a trig marker dedicated to a local surveyor. The view from the lookout is of the town's central business district and residential areas.

Robinsons Lookout
Located on Girards Hill (which lies to the south of the main town), Robinsons Lookout has panoramic views west over Wilsons River to South Lismore and north over the town to Blue Knob, Mt Nardi and Mt Matheson. It can be accessed via Cathcart Street which runs off Ballina Road.

Wilsons Nature Reserve
Located off Wyrallah Road (2 km south of Ballina Street) is Wilsons Nature Reserve. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service site explains: "This reserve is on the southern outskirts of Lismore, at the corner of City View Drive and Wyrallah Road. It contains a significant patch of dry rainforest - a remnant of the 'Big Scrub'. The threatened marbled frogmouth can be found here, and koalas live in the eucalypt forest. A 1 km walking track leads from the picnic area to the lower section of the reserve, then back via Wilsons Creek. It's strenuous but very scenic." Check http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/parkHome.aspx?id=N0708 for more details.

Nightcap National Park
The ridges, peaks and gullies of Nightcap National Park (4945 ha) consist of solidified and eroded lava from the gigantic Tweed caldera, a vast super-volcano which covered 4,000 square kilometres from Coraki in the south to Beenleigh in the north, west to Kyogle and east beyond the coast where it formed islands (Cook Island) and dangerous reefs..

The fertile soil which derived from the igneous rock, together with the state's highest rainfall, has created one of the state's finest sections of subtropical rainforest. Some of the park's enormous brush box are thought to be up to 1,500 years old. The park is also of spiritual importance to the Bundjalung Aboriginal people and is now World Heritage listed. For more information about the walks in the area check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0062. There are two main locations for vehicle-based visitors in the park: Mount Nardi and Terania Creek.

Mount Nardi and Pholis Gap
Mount Nardi is one of the park's highest peaks. There are visitor facilities at the summit and a 3 km loop walking track (90 minutes) to Mount Matheson. From Mount Matheson the track leads east, eventually linking up with the Nightcap Track. The latter was originally a pack-horse trail constituting the first overland link between the Richmond and Tweed Valleys.

Pholis Gap Walk is a 4 km link track that leads from the Matheson Track to Pholis Lookout (named after Athol Pholi who was killed by a falling tree). The lookout provides outstanding views of the Tweed and Doon Doon Valleys. The National Parks' website notes: "The track meanders through lush rainforest of yellow carabeen and towering brushbox. You might see Albert’s lyrebirds and brush turkeys darting through the understorey. Descending westwards, look for grass trees and New England blackbutt along the drier ridges."

The Channon
The Channon is an attractive village halfway between Lismore and Nimbin. It is surrounded by an area known for its enthusiasm for permaculture and organic farming. It is perched on a hilltop which is noted for its artistic alternative community.  The village is named after a local palm which, it is believed, helped Bundajung Aborigines to find their way to the coast. The centre of the cultural life of the village is the tavern and The Channon Craft Market which is held on the second Sunday of each month. For more information check out http://thechannon.com.au.

Terania Creek and Protesters Falls
To reach Terania Creek Picnic Area take the turnoff to The Channon. Beyond The Channon follow Terania Creek Road, after 9.5 km, the visitor reaches the Terania Creek Picnic Area. It is a 1.4 km return walk (it takes around 40 minutes) to Protesters Falls which is set amidst glorious rainforest featuring dense thickets of bangalow palms and native tamarind. The falls were named after the protesters who carried on an anti-logging campaign here in 1979 which led to the declaration of the national park in 1983. Another walk follows an old logging track adjacent Terania Creek. There is detailed information at http://thechannon.com.au/attractions/protesters/index.html.

Tucki Tucki Bora Ring
Located 12 km south of Lismore is the village of Wyrallah and just south on Wyrallah Road beyond Tucki Tucki there is a signposted turnoff on the left to an excellent example of an Aboriginal bora ring: a circular cleared area measuring 22 metres in diameter which is bounded by a bank of earth forming a ceremonial site. There is an information board at the site. For more information ask at the Lismore Visitor Centre or check out http://www.visitlismore.com.au/member/520.

Tucki Tucki Koala Reserve
Located 15 km south of Lismore, and 5.5 km south of Wyrallah village, is Tucki Tucki Koala Reserve (4.47 ha). It was established in 1963 by local residents to preserve a habitat for the disappearing marsupials. The locals planted over 4 ha of land with a variety of trees to provide shelter and food for the local koala population. There are picnic tables and a short, graded walking track. There is a very detailed Management Plan complete with good maps at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/TuckiTuckiNRpom.pdf.

Victoria Park
Located 16 km south-east of Lismore, Victoria Park Nature Reserve is an 18 ha remnant of the 'Big Scrub'. It has a wheelchair access, 400 m loop boardwalk (easy, 30 minutes) which the NSW National Parks and Wildlife describe as: "Discover the giant Morton Bay figs and towering black beans, remnants of the original Big Scrub that covered the Northern Rivers region ... As soon as you enter the shady green cool of the lush rainforest, dappled light filters through the dense canopy. The kids will love bird watching for the vibrant wompoo fruit­dove and colourful pitta bird. If you hear a scurry in the leaf litter, it’s likely to be the shy red-legged pademelon. On a series of informative displays, learn how the local Widjabul Aboriginal people, of the Bundjalung nation, used the plants of the rainforest. You’ll find out how the curved sheath of the bangalow palm was used to carry water, and the sap of the strangler fig to heal wounds." For more information check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkFacility.aspx?id=N0500.

Minyon Falls
Minyon Falls are located 33 km north-east of Lismore via Corriedale and Rosebank. From Repentance Creek Road, the Minyon Falls Road passes the Minyon Grass Picnic Area. From the Picnic Area there is a  2 km walking track  to the base of the falls or, alternatively, there is a picnic area and recreation site near the falls. The Minyon Falls are impressive. They tumble 97 m down sheer cliffs, formed by solidified lava, into the beautiful gorge below. They are part of the Minyon Falls Flora Reserve which has been exempted from all logging due to its high recreational, scenic and scientific value. A board in the picnic area indicates the whereabouts of a nearby walking-trail complex. The departure track, which takes in a lookout over Minyon Falls, follows the rim of the escarpment for about 2 km around to Quandong Falls. From this point you can return to the picnic area or continue on for another 2 km to the valley floor at the base of the falls. For more information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/nightcap-national-park/minyon-falls-lookout/lookout.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area was occupied by the Widjabul Aboriginal people, of the Bundjalung nation who lived successfully off the fauna and flora of the rainforest which extended from the coast over an area of 75,000 ha.

* In 1828 Captain Henry Rous reached the river which he named the Richmond after a family friend - Charles, the Fifth Duke of Richmond. He followed the river upstream for about 32 km noting the Bundjalung Aborigines and admiring the "flat open forest on the western bank and thick jungle to the eastward with fine timber".

* By 1842 there were reports of a shepherd and 10,000 sheep on the edge of a dense forest area of around 75,000 ha known to whites as the 'Big Scrub' which is thought to have been the largest stand of subtropical rainforest in the world. The cedar cutters arrived in the valley around this time.

* Scotsman William Wilson was in occupation of the land around modern day Lismore by 1845. He named the property 'Lismore' after the island of Lismore in Argyllshire, Scotland.

* By the early 1850s the district was the major source of timber for Sydney and Melbourne.

* A sawmill was operating at South Lismore by 1855.

* In 1855 the townsite was surveyed on the Wilsons' home paddock. The town's first hotel opened for business in 1855.

* The village of Lismore was gazetted, and the first land sales took place, in 1856.

* Lismore's first store opened in 1857.

* Lismore represented the head of navigation on the North Arm of the Richmond River. Cedar-cutters upstream floated timber to Lismore where it was picked up by river craft.

* A school opened in the town in 1862.

* Sugar cane growing started in the district in the late 1860s.

* Work commenced on an Anglican Church in 1871.

* The town's first bank opened for business in 1875.

* The local newspaper started publishing in 1876.

* The Catholic Church was consecrated in 1877.

* The court house was built in 1877-1878.

* Lismore became a municipality in 1879.

* A Presbyterian Church was built in 1881.

* Through the 1880s the population passed 1,000; bridges were built to replace ferry punts; and the first permanent post office, the council chambers and a cottage hospital were all completed. The decade also saw the introduction of gas lighting and a water supply system.

* The Colonial Sugar Refining Company opened a large crushing mill in 1881 at Broadwater, buying cane on contract from farmers in the district. Potatoes, maize, bananas and livestock were also cultivated. Dairying started on a very tentative basis as there was a lack of good grass for cattle.

* More sawmills were set up during the 1880s.

* The success of local dairying resulted from the introduction of paspalum grass in the 1890s.

* Lismore was linked by rail to Murwillumbah in 1894.

* Lismore became a city in 1946.

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Visitor Information

Lismore Visitor Information Centre, cnr Ballina Road and Molesworth Street, Lismore, tel: 1300 369 795.

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Useful Websites

The official local website, organised by Lismore & Nimbin Tourism, is http://www.visitlismore.com.au.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 suggestions
  • Lismore claims to be a city. Really it’s not. It’s about the same size as Casino.

    Shane
  • Lismore actually is a city because it has a cathedral and has an urban population of 29,413, about three times that of Casino. Casino is a town because it hasn’t a cathedral and its population is only 9,629.

    Geoffrey
  • Beautiful City, rich history. Great place to live, & work.
    Wonderful hospitality & very friendly people.

    Mary