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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 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. It was derived from a word, "wiigulga", that was used by the local Gumbaynggirr Aborigines to describe a black apple tree, a local tree that provided edible fruit, wiigul. The tree grows to around 30 metres, and the local Aborigines collected the ripe fruit soon after it fell to the ground.


Things to See and Do

Woolgoolga Heritage Walk
There is a downloadable Woolgoolga Heritage Walk brochure (http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/woolgoolga-heritage-walk) which feaatures 16 attractions in the town and covers a total distance of 4 km (2.2 km one way) taking about 80 minutes. It starts at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and makes its way down into the town to the Solitary Island Coastal Walk. There is a useful downloadable map and the internet has greater detail on each site. The walk includes:

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, it was the second Sikh temple constructed in Australia. The first is further down in the town.
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 these 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).

Sikh Heritage Museum of Australia
Located at 10-12 River Street, opposite the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, is the Sikh Heritage Museum of Australia which was opened in 2019. It was curated by Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan. Len Kenna described the museum to SBS as "It starts with the Sikh belief about their creation and goes through the early history of Guru Nanak Ji, it includes some photographs and writing of each of the Gurus and explains the conflict with the British and goes on in sequence to the arrival in Australia and finishes in present-day Woolgoolga.” For more information check out http://sikhheritagemuseumofaustralia.com.au.

2.1 Gumbaynggirr Heritage
The second sign on the Heritage Walk gives the visitor in insight into the life led by the traditional owners, the Gumbayggirr people, who have lived in the area for at least 6,000 years and moved along the coast from Red Rock to Nambucca Heads. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/2-1-gumbaynggirr-heritage for more details.

2.2 Squatters and Settlers
This sign tells the story of Redbank/Corindi Run, the Weelgoolga Run and the arrival of the settlers who occupied the land, grew sugar cane and raised cattle. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/2-2-squatters-and-selectors for more details.

3.1 Woolgoolga Started Here
This sign offers an excellent overview of the history of the Gumbaynggir people in the local area. It explains the origin of Woolgoolga and tells the story of the building of the Weelgoolga Run homestead. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/3-1-woolgoolga-started-here for more information.

3.2 Sea View Hotels, Hall and Theatre
The sign explains: "Woolgoolga's first hotel, erected by William Toft Pullen in 1888, was originally  licensed as the Woogoolga Hotel and renamed the Sea View Hotel in 1899. The residential annexe on the left was built in 1897-1898. William Stone built a new Sea View Hotel on the same site in 1910. The observation tower gave better sea views. This hotel was demolished in 1975. The annexe was converted to a public hall in 1914 and named Sea View Hall. It was a venue for dances, concerts, travelling boxing troupes and picture shows. From 1936, it was a movie theatre ... The theatre was demolished in 1978." For more information check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/3-2-sea-view-hotels-hall-and-theatre.

4 First Sikh Temple
The sign, located outside the temple, explains "Woolgoolga is honoured and indeed proud to be home to the first Sikh Temple in Australia, which has been an inspiration for many Sikh temples that exist in Australia today. The original temple building was completed in early 1968 and was officially opened on 8 June 1968." In 2019 a more impressive temple was built to replace the original building. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/4-first-sikh-temple for more information.

5 Changing Townscape
This sign has a number of historic photographs dating from the early years of the twentieth century. It provides interesting information about the early town. For more information check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/5-changing-townscape.

6 Early Education
This sign offers a brief history of the schools in the town and provides interesting photographs of the local school students in 1898, 1912 and 1930. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/6-early-education for more information and some strange comments made by a teacher named Mr Hinman who described his pupils as “Very many of the children of Woolgoolga are not worth educating. They come from the convict stock from Port Macquarie and therefore have convict tendencies. It is impossible to do anything with such material. If they were any good they would not be in Woolgoolga”.

7 Early Timber History
The sign explains that early settlers were eager to exploit the local timber including "Grey and Red Ironbark, Spotted Gum, Turpentine, Tallowwood, Blackbutt, Hoop Pine, White and Red Mahogany and Cedar". The industry continued for over 100 years. For more information check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/7-early-timber-history.

8 Further Timber Industry
This sign looks at the importance the local timber industry played in the development of Woolgoolga. It points out that by 1914 the town had the largest hardwood timber mill in New South Wales, outside Sydney. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/8-further-timber-industry for more information.

9.1 RSL and Sub-Branch
This sign records the history of Woolgoolga war memorial and the importance of the RSL to the local community. Check http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/9-1-rsl-and-sub-branch for more information.

9.2 A Village is Born
This sign tells the story of the town in the 1880s and 1890s and points out that by 1885 the town comprised a post office, a general store, blacksmith, tinsmith, carpenter, a steam mill for sugar and timber, a stopgap school and a few houses." For more information check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/9-2-a-village-is-born.

10.1 Original Police Station
The sign is located outside the original Woolgoolga police residence which was built in 1890-1891 and moved to its present location in 1994. Check http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/10-1-original-police-station for more information.

10.2 Beginnings of Local Industry
This sign recounts the history of banana and sugar cane growing in the area and the importance of timber, shipping, fishing, mining and agriculture to the local economy. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/10-2-beginnings-of-local-industry.

11.1 The Jetty: Backbone of the Village
This sign explains the history of the town's jetties and how they were vital to the economy of the town, particularly for loading sugar and timber to be shipped from the area. Check http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/11-1-the-jetty-backbone-of-the-village.

11.2 From Tents to Motor Homes
This sign tells the story of Woolgoolga's evolution as an important beach resort town. Check out http://www.woolgoolgaheritagewalk.org/11-1-the-jetty-backbone-of-the-village.

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.

The Wreck of the Buster
In 2012 the remains of the Canadian-built 310 ton, wooden, three-masted barquentine Buster were exposed on the town's main beach, near the Lakeside Caravan Park, as a result of winter storms removing several metres of sand. The Buster had departed Sydney for Woogoolga in mid-February 1893 to load timber for various New Zealand ports. The vessel arrived safely at Woogoolga but could not tie up at the town's jetty. Conditions deteriorated and early on the morning of 17 February one of the anchor cables broke and shortly after 7.00 pm that same day a huge sea struck the vessel and it crashed onto the beach. Although the vessel had not broken up in the surf it proved impossible to salvage and sand slowly covered the remains.
Due to severe winter storms over the last one hundred or so years the sand covering the Buster has been scoured away. For a more detailed description of the shipwreck check out https://www.sea.museum/2012/08/10/no-need-to-excavate-the-wreck-of-the-buster-1893.


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.

Red Rock and Yuraygir National Park
Located 19 km north of Woolgoolga Headland, Red Rock is a remarkable formation which lies opposite the Solitary Islands Marine Park. Red Rock was known to the local Aborigines as Ngaalgan meaning "ear" and when viewed from above it actually looks like an ear. The rock, a 20 m high headland composed of 300 million year old jasper, a form of red quartz, is of great importance to the Gumbaynggir people and the area has a number of ancient middens and important ceremonial places. For more information and a short video check out https://www.coffscoast.com.au/play/red-rock-headland.

Sherwood Nature Reserve and Woolgoolga Creek Falls
Starting at Woolgoolga Creek picnic area, this easy 1.3 km walk (2.6 km return) runs beside Woolgoolga Creek to Woolgoolga Creek Falls. It is a delightful walk through subtropical rainforest where huge vines, bangalow palm and stands of blue quandong trees edge the path. The forest is home to goannas, pythons, butterflies and the threatened giant-barred frog. Over 50 bird species live in the canopy including wompoo pigeons, rose-crowned fruit-doves, brush turkeys and grey-headed flying foxes. The walker has to cross the creek a number of times.

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. 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.

* The original run owned by Thomas Small was called Weelgoolga.

* 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. That year saw the growing of the first banana crop in the district.

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

* The first timber mill in the district was built in 1883.

* In 1884 a provisional school was built by the local parents.

* By 1885 most of the best land around Woolgoolga had been occupied. That year saw William Pullen build the first sugar cane mill in the district.

* In 1887 William Pullen built the first jetty. That year saw oyster leases issued for Woolgoolga.

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

* By 1889 a permanent school had been built on Scarborough Street.

* By the end of the 19th century timber milling and the cutting of cedar were important in the area.

* In 1890-1891 there was a jetty built near the town which was being used by the sawmills and there was some sugar farming in area. 

* The local police station was built in 1890-1891.

* In 1892 a long jetty was built to ship butter, timber and sugar from the district.

* Around 1890 a small number of Indian migrants, probably attracted to the area by banana farming, moved south from Queensland and settled. They were the descendants of Punjabi migrants who had originally come to Australia to work on the Queensland canefields. Today the 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 arrived after World War II.

* In 1893 the Canadian-built barquentine Buster was wrecked on the town's main beach. The remnants can still be seen today.

* In 1922 a War Memorial was erected in the town.

* In 1931 the Beach Reserve was established.

* In 1961 the Woolgoolga jetty was demolished.

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

* In 1968 the first Sikh Temple in Australia was built in the town.

* Today Woolgoolga is an interesting and peaceful seaside holiday destination. 


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.

Got something to add?

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

4 suggestions
  • Good morning how to reach Woolgoolga from Sydney. How long will it take. Details of reasonable hotels.

    Very easy. You simply drive up the Pacific Highway for 562 km. There is also a regular bus service between Sydney and Brisbane and it will stop at Woolgoolga. There is also a train service. Check out https://www.rome2rio.com/s/Sydney/Woolgoolga for prices.

    Yakesh Anand
  • What of the Aboriginal population now? Do they still thrive?

    Jacquie Kerr
  • Great time to visit is 28 September for Woolgoolga’s signature festival, “Curryfest” It runs 9-5 that day…a Bollywood movie on the beach 27 September the evening before and Eat St on Market St the following Saturday. If in Sydney book on the Bollywood Express leaving central station on Thursday 26 September. Check out http://www.curryfest.com.au or Curryfest on Facebook to book on line….the festival is run by volunteers and all profits used in the local community. experience a little of the unusual local cuisine and culture.

    Pam fayle
  • The town’s name is Woolgoolga not Woopi. When I worked in Woolgoolga in 1956 Woopi, thank goodness , was not used. I could write much more but at 88 I’m a bit slow!!

    John Fielding OAM, CMDR. RAN R'td