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Maclean, NSW

Town with strong Scottish heritage on the Clarence River.

There is something gently amusing about a town that proudly claims that it is "The Scottish Town in Australia." Of course it looks nothing like a Scottish town. The claim is based on two simple facts: a large number of the early settlers in the valley were originally from Scotland and the town itself, although the spelling has changed, was named after a good Scot, Alexander Grant McLean, who was the New South Wales Surveyor-General from 1861-1862. To compound this for over 100 years (it had its 112th celebration in 2015) the town has held the Maclean Highland Gathering where pipe bands, caber tossing, wearing of kilts, a parade down the main street and highland dancing are all part of the celebrations. The town is located where the southern and northern arms of the Clarence River meet but, being only 6 metres above sea-level, it has been prone to flooding and is now protected by a levee bank which runs beside River Street. The Maclean district is recognised as the southern limit of the Australian sugar crop.


Maclean is located 1.5 km west of the Pacific Highway and 656 km north of Sydney on the Clarence River.


Origin of Name

When Maclean was laid out  in 1862 the surveyor, in a suitably ingratiating action, decided to name the town after Alexander Grant McLean who had been made NSW Surveyor-General in November, 1861.


Things to See and Do

Maclean Highland Gathering
Held over the Easter weekend (see http://www.macleanhighlandgathering.com.au for details) the Maclean Highland Gathering is a symbol of the town's overt passion for all things Scottish. There is a pipe band parade down the main street; sports day includes manly sports like caber tossing and putting the shot; the opportunity to wear a kilt is embraced by most of the male population; and highland dancing is an integral part of the celebrations. How legitimate is the town's Scottish connection? Well it was named after a Scot - Alexander Grant McLean - even if the name has changed over the years; and it is true that the district was settled by a large number of Scots although it is a typical irony that the Presbyterian kirk is a modest and dour building while the Catholic church is large, Gothic and impressive.

The Tartans on the Telegraph Poles
One of the town's most distinctive, and overtly Scottish, symbols are the numerous Scottish tartans which have been painted on the base of the telegraph poles. Visitors who are interested can drive around town identifying a wide range of clan tartans which, conveniently, have all be named. There are now over 200 poles around the town and if you are looking for your family name's telegraph pole (a rather eccentric thing to do - "oh look! that's out telegraph pole") there is a map which is available from the Scottish Corner Shop in River Street.

Maclean Heritage Trail
The Maclean Heritage Trail brochure, which is available at the local visitor centres as well as on the website (http://www.clarencetourism.com/media/docs/maclean_heritage.pdf- it can be downloaded as a pdf) suggests 19 places of interest around the town. The most interesting buildings in the town include:

The Main Civic Buildings - Post Office, Police Station and Court House 
The post office, designed by W.L. Vernon, dates from 1893 and replaces earlier post offices which were built in 1862 and 1875. Further along MacNaughton Place is the police station (1895-96). Interestingly in 1914 it was described as having two bedrooms, a parlour, kitchen, dining room (the residence of the local policeman) as well as a charge room, three cells, a prisoners yard and a barracks room. At the end of MacNaughton Place, across the road from the river, is the impressive courthouse which was designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnet, and built in 1893 for £2,581. It must surely have the most attractive location in town. Its physical orientation harks back to a time when the river was the town's focal point for business, transport and communication. Inside it includes a vaulted ceiling, teak flooring and lots of local cedar. The facade has the coat of arms of Victoria Regina and there is an attractive cast iron veranda.

Stone Cottage Museum and Bicentennial Museum
Located on the corner of Wharf Street and Grafton Street, the Stone Cottage Museum was originally the home of Johann Georg Schaefer and was built between 1879-1889. The cottage was built from local sandstone and it has been set up as a typical Maclean house from the 1880s. The large adjacent folk museum, known as the Bicentennial Museum, has a display which includes some particularly fine examples of sulkies, drays, cane carts and carriages. The Museum is open from 1.00 pm to 4.00 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm on Fridays or by arrangement, tel: (02) 6645 3416. For more information check out http://www.macleanhistory.org.au.

Town Churches
The town churches are a window into the different theologies of the early settlers. At the southern end of River Street, beyond the Post Office, is an intersection, with two churches virtually directly opposite each other. The Baptist Church was built in 1907 from timber provided by the dismantling of the disused local fish cannery. Amusingly the third clergyman, Reverend Jock Garden, gained the rights to operate the Publican's Booth at the Maclean Show and proceeded to serve only soft drinks in a Temperance Booth. To the right, over the road, is the very simple and ascetic Free Presbyterian Church which has been in continuous use since its construction in 1864 by the early Scottish settlers. It is the oldest continuously used church in the Clarence Valley. Further up the hill on the corner of Woodford and Stanley Streets is St Mary's Catholic Church (1893), a beautiful stone Gothic building with an 18.29 metre high tower capped by battlements. The grounds offer attractive views over the valley.

Maclean Lookout
At the inland end of Wharf Street (continue driving beyond the Stone Cottage Museum) is the Maclean Lookout which offers fine views over the town and the district's cane fields, east along the Clarence River to Yamba and Iluka at the river's mouth, and along the coast.

Bicentennial Scottish Cairn
The Scottish Cairn is a mound of rocks from all over Australia and from Scotland. It is located in the Herb Stanford Memorial Park at the intersection of Bent Street, Taloumbi Street and Harwood Street. The Monument Australia site points out "The Maclean 'Scottish Town in Australia' Committee decided to construct its own Cairn under the supervision of Scottish stonemason George Kerridge of Canberra. Stones were obtained from parts of Scotland, Scottish families throughout Australia and locally. The Maclean Scottish Cairn is a fitting memorial to the contribution Scottish settlers made to the Clarence and to Australia. Scottish Settlers who came to the Maclean area were mainly Highlanders driven from their land during the Highland Clearances. Responding to offers of immigration to Australia, several shiploads arrived on free or assisted passages." The Bicentennial Scottish Cairn has its inscription in both English and Gaelic with a passage from Proverbs 22.28 reading 'Na atharraich an seann chonharadh–criche a shuidhich d’aithrichean'. For more information check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/landscape/settlement/display/21953-maclean-bicentennial-memorial-cairn. It was dedicated in 1988 by the Reverend Kenneth Macleod.

Maclean Talking Trail and more about the Tartan Poles
This is a self-guided tour around the town which can be downloaded to an MP3 player or iPod. It is available on the internet (see https://www.clarence.nsw.gov.au/cp_themes/metro/page.asp?p=DOC-EOG-60-54-35) and can be borrowed from the Clarence Coast Visitor Centre. In total it covers ten main places around town - the Ulugundahi Island, Woolitji House, Hollywood Theatre, Conroy & Stewart, Post Office, Police Station, Court House, Old Ashby Ferry Ramp, Tartan Poles and Maclean Showground. There is a transcript available for those who don't want to listen to the commentary and songs. A typical entry is the Tartan Poles where you listen to: "As you wander through the streets of Maclean, you cannot help but notice the myriad of decorated power poles featuring the numerous individual Scottish clan tartans. This amazing project began life in 2000 and was initially developed by the Maclean Scottish Town Association to coincide with the arrival of the Olympic Torch in Maclean that year. At first, only a small number of poles were painted however, following much favourable comment from the community, the committee decided to extend the project. Today, Maclean’s streets feature more than 200 tartan poles stretching from the Harwood bridge through the town and all the way to Ferry Park at the town’s southern end. The striking artwork was carried out Maclean’s own resident artist, Linda Elmir."

“My name is Bob Macpherson, and I’m the president of the Maclean, the Scottish Town in Australia Committee, and I’m representing that committee here this morning and talking about the tartan poles here in Maclean. I fly the flags in Maclean on a Friday and, down on McLachlan Park, I was flying the flags and I noticed there was an old man sitting in the park and he seemed to be there on a day‐to‐day basis, and one week when I was down there on a Friday he called me over. He said ‘hey sonny, come over here’ and I took that as a great compliment calling me “sonny” at the age of 70, and he said ‘I’ve done an enormous amount of travelling and I sit here each day and I’m totalling engrossed with watching people moving, and coming and going,’ and he said ‘I’ve never in my life been in a town and seen people stop, get out of their car, and give a telegraph pole a hug!’ So the tartans mean a lot to different people so, yes it’s been a wonderful project.”


Other Attractions in the Area

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.

Yuraygir National Park
Yuraygir National Park is a true rarity. It stretches along 65 km of pristine Northern New South Wales  coastline from Angourie to Red Rock. The fact that it is some 20-30 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. It traverses the coast from Angourie to Red Rock, and 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.

Brooms Head
Known to the locals as 'The Broom' this small village, which is located 22 km from the Pacific Highway, is surrounded by Yuraygir National Park. The village's main beach is lined with Norfolk pines. There is an excellent lookout which is ideal for whale watching in the season. Deep-sea anglers can launch their boats from the southern end of the beach. The lagoon and Lake Cakora offer safe swimming for children. It is also home to jabirus, swans and mud crabs. It is a sleepy village away from the larger centres which has resisted expensive holiday development although it is slowly changing as old fibro holiday homes are being knocked down and replaced by McMansions. 

Bundjalung National Park
The Bundjalung National Park stretches along the coast from Iluka to Evans Head. It covers 18,000 hectares, 38 km of beaches and ranges from rainforest through heathland, coastal cypress stands, lagoons and wetlands to coastal plains. The park is home to 205 bird, 30 mammal, 38 reptile and 13 amphibian species. For more detailed information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/Bundjalung-National-Park. It lists six activities in the park: canoeing on Evans River; canoeing and birdwatching on the Esk River; walking the Gummigurrah walking track along the Evans River (it is a 1.75 km loop and usually takes around 2 hours - medium difficulty); admiring the view and looking from whales from the Iluka Bluff lookout; canoeing and kayaking on Jerusalem Creek and walking along the banks and across the wetlands at Jerusalem Creek (it is an 8 km loop of medium difficulty and takes around 3 hours - there is a shorter Black Rocks walk from the Black Rocks campground).



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Yaygir/Yaegl and the Bundjalung Aborigines. European observers spoke highly of their crafts, skills, material culture and intelligence.

* Matthew Flinders investigated the river mouth in 1799. He landed on the northern headland, 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. He called the river mouth Shoal Bay.

* 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.

* Thomas Small took up a large parcel of land on Woodford Island in 1838.

* Governor Gipps named the river the Clarence in 1839.

* The Clarence Valley was surveyed east of the Orara junction in 1849 and the name Rocky Mouth was given the area now known as Maclean.

* By the 1850s a man named Chowne had a shipyard on the Clarence near Maclean.

* Maclean was laid out in 1862 and named after the surveyor-general, Alexander Grant McLean by the Grafton Commissioner for Lands, W.A.B. Greaves.

* While many of the early settlers along the Clarence were farmers from the Highlands of Scotland there were also many Irish and German settlers.

* The early crops in the valley were maize and cotton.

* By 1865 sugar had become an increasingly important local crop.

* By 1874 Harwood had a sugar mill. The oldest operating mill in Australia.

* Maclean was declared a municipality in 1887.

* Maclean became a shire in 1957.


Visitor Information

Clarence Coast Visitor Information Centre, Ferry Park, Pacific Highway, Maclean, tel: (02) 6645 4121. There is also useful information and souvenirs at the Scottish Corner Shop in River Street near the McLachlan Park and Wharf.


Useful Websites

There is a useful website at https://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/north-coast/clarence-valley/maclean/activities which provides details of the entire region.

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