Woolgoolga celebrated its Gumbaynggirr, timber and Sikh heritage with the creation of the Woolgoolga Heritage Walk in 2013, 125 years after the town was gazetted. Twelve information boards were installed around the village, from the Sikh Temple on River Street to the caravan park on the beach. Following the map on the website, I parked at the Sikh Museum on River Street, put on my Covid mask, and set off for my morning walk.
The first panel in front of the white Temple describes the arrival of the Sikh community in the 1800s. The second panel a short distance away has drawings by three Gumbaynggirr school children telling stories of the traditional custodians of this Country. On the reverse side, a map shows the cattle runs of the squatters. I found this juxtaposition quite unsettling, here we have an idyllic coastal life with dolphins presented in innocent, colourful drawings, but step around the sign and zap bang that is wiped out, replaced by lines of occupation drawn on a map.
Onward, cross the road to information panel number 3 on a street corner. An early European hut was built here, the start of the town named Woolgoolga after the misspelt mispronounced wiigulga (black apple tree). In Hastings Road the first Sikh Temple (since extended) gleams in the morning sunshine. I would have liked to have had more time to explore the Sikh Museum and Temple, but in these days of lockdown, nothing is open.
There are two panels on Scarborough Street, one outside the school has the alarming note that “timber town life was dangerous. In the 1920s almost half the children had injuries – even axe wounds and missing fingers and toes!”.
I cross busy Beach St at the pedestrian crossing, and turn down Boundary Street. Oops wrong way. Realising my mistake, and too lazy to backtrack, I strike out hopefully across a grass patch alongside the creek line, emerging on a track behind Diggers where a sign tells me this is “Memorial Walkway”. The Art Gallery panels are weather worn, but still readable, and tell timber stories. Tucked behind some fences is a big log on an old tramline, a 1988 Bicentennial project that is now looking a bit sad.
Returning to Diggers, I stop to read panel 9 and admire the Iroquois helicopter on its pole. It commemorates Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force (R.A.A.F.) members who died and served in Vietnam. Outside historic Marsh House, the panel talks of industry, and local policeman Cecil Marsh.
I pass the heritage blue anchor bouys installed on the street corner, then hunt without success for the last two panels. I guess they were removed with the renewal of the beach reserve. I do find a new wooden sculpture, a nod to the old Jetty perhaps?
There is no shortage of cafes in Woolgoolga, so I grab a take away coffee, chatting to friendly locals as we stand in our masked socially distanced queue. RUOK signs in shop windows reinforce that this is a friendly, caring community. Wandering back to my car, kids are playing in the skate park, a kangaroo mob graze on the nature strip. Houses have vegetable patches in their front yards, Hills Hoists swing lazily in the sea breeze. The Heritage Walk might have been a bit hit and miss, but I like modern Woolgoolga.