A walk down memory lane
In 1866, a group which included the Gollan and Trustum families landed on the Clarence and walked over to the Richmond River, settling in an area now called Dungarubba. Here, William Gollan opened the first general store and erected the first post office, which he called Burning Timbers, all on his own property.
The village was established in the early days on the northern side of the river and names for the district ranged from Rocky Mouth to Burning Timbers. The name Woodburn was chosen when the official post office was opened in 1906 on the southern side of the river, which is the centre of town today. At this time, the hill on which the school is now built was used as a camp by Bundjalung people. Although the centre of Aboriginal life moved to the Bungawalbin Creek and West Coraki area, later it centred on Coraki.
William Gollan gave Woodburn its name and apparently its inspiration came from the burning of the timber during the clearing operations. At this time, mail was brought to Woodburn on horseback from Iluka.
In 1869, the first building was raised in the village of Woodburn, being the Presbyterian Church. From 1870 to 1874, this church became a provisional school, opening with an enrolment of 16. Between 1874 and 1876, the school was moved to its current location.
1871 saw the beginning of the sugar industry in Woodburn when the McLaren brothers opened the first mill using horse drawn rollers to crush the cane. Meston and King owned the most famous mill which was shipped from Scotland and could crush sixty tonnes of sugar in 12 hours. Although the floods in 1893 brought disaster to this mill, which closed in 1905, sugar is still the major industry in the district. The opening of the bridge across the Richmond brought a great increase in land use for cane growing.
A branch of the Australian Joint Bank opened in 1880 and, in 1889, the Woodburn Butter Factory opened on the north side of the river. This closed in 1916, as did many other businesses on the north bank due to the steam ferry service. Woodburn’s first steam ferry was built in 1904. Before that, a hand ferry and rowing boat was used when two or more people wished to travel.
The Richmond River
Woodburn’s position on the river made a perfect site for boat building and two of the earlier boats built there were the ‘Britannia’ and the ‘Woodburn’. This industry remained strong for many years and still continues today.
During the 1920’s, Woodburn Rowing Club became one of the most successful in Australia. The first annual regatta was held in 1922 and, during the years until 1932, the club enjoyed a very successful period.
The World Championship was rowed on the Richmond in 1923 with the match between Jim Paddon from Evans Head and D Hadfield from New Zealand. Waterskiing was another sport at which Woodburn’s local people excelled. Jim Roder and Bill Grenfell both held titles throughout New South Wales and Queensland and were chosen to represent Australia at the World Championships in Florida during 1957.
The Italian settlers at New Italy, the only survivors of the tragic Marquis de Rays expedition, also play a very significant role in the history of Woodburn. Their story began when they were promised land at Port Breton in New Ireland… many died on the voyage and in the jungles of the ‘promised land’.
Survivors were brought to Australia and one of them, Rocco Cominetti, told his friends of the vast stretches of land available on the Richmond and within a few years New Italy was a thriving settlement.
These settlers worked hard with the land they acquired and, within a few years, grew mulberries, grapes for wine, kept silk worms for silk, and made their own salami and cheeses. It was a New Italy settler than opened the first wine shop in Woodburn.
By 1944, the village was eventually disbanded. The ten minute drive south on the Pacific Highway to the New Italy Museum Complex is well worth the effort.
New Italy: newitaly.com.au
Woodburn: Southern gateway to the rainforest way (brochure produced by the Department of State and Regional Development, Woodburn Chamber of Commerce and Richmond Valley Council).