Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia

Sunday, January 17, 2010


We motored along the coastal road heading south from Brisbane to Sydney. The scenery was breathtaking. Around every bend there was a delightful view of golden beaches and a deep blue sea covered by a big, vibrant blue sky.We were all taken by the beauty of the Australian coastline and we were happy to call this country home. Our next stop was Byron Bay for lunch. Today Byron Bay is one of the biggest tourist meccas in the country. However, the council has strict laws for development. There are no high rise buildings and it is a beautiful but expensive place to stay. It is also a centre for artists and alternate types. Once a year there is a huge blues festival there too. In the 50's it wasn't that popular maybe because it was the site of a smelly, whaling station.
Byron Bay Whaling Station 1956

John, Mum and Dad beside the carcass of a Humpback Whale waiting to be processed into tons of oil at Byron Bay. The oil was used for lamps, candles and soaps. I remember the smell, it made me retch and my Mum bought sandwiches for lunch but I couldn't eat anything because the smell was so foul.
Between 1954 and 1962 there were four whaling stations on the east coast and 12,500 whales were killed. The industry destroyed itself by over exploitation. Numbers of Humpback Whales declined drastically and in 1978 commercial whaling was banned. Most countries signed the treaty but not Japan. Today we have drama on the high seas with protesters in boats trying to stop the Japanese harpooning whales close to our country.

In Byron Bay today, they probably earn more money in the whale watching industry than they did in the whale processing industry. The Humpback Whales have been able to increase their numbers again, but it has taken thirty years.

In the last chapter, "Settling in Australia Part 6" I explained how the long, working hours and the strain of building a house, bringing up two kids and making ends meet finally caused my Mum to suffer a breakdown after 5 years without a holiday. A nursing colleague arranged for Mum to spend a two week holiday with friends in the northern New South Wales beach town of Ballina. Mum didn't know the couple as they were friends of a friend. However, they were very kind and helpful and Mum had a wonderful time and recovered. Where Mum stayed, the man was the lighthouse keeper and lived in the keeper's house nearby. I remember Mum came home with sea shells and wonderful stories of days spent beach combing . She also said, "One day I will take you there." I'm not sure if Mum went by coach or plane, probably by coach. Two years later she kept her word because on our way home from Brisbane to Sydney, we pulled into the Ballina Caravan Park .
The Lighthouse Keeper's house.

Mum showed us the house where she had stayed, with lots of windows facing the ocean. She loved it there and in later years she dreamed of retiring in a place like this, but sadly it never happened.
Loading sugar cane onto a barge on the Richmond River.

The lighthouse at Ballina  is actually called the Richmond River Lighthouse. It was built in 1886. It was one of five identical ones built along the north NSW coast, designed by James Barnet. It was automated in 1962. The keeper's house has been demolished. (How sad) We spent some time in Ballina and Mum showed us her favourite beaches and walks. Ballina is still a beautiful seaside town.
As we left Ballina we drove through acres and acres of sugar cane fields. We had never seen this before. We stopped and watched the cane cutters cutting the cane by hand, loading it onto little trains to the river and then onto barges to the factory. We also saw the fields being burnt, with flames and black smoke billowing into the sky. The fields were burnt to clear the undergrowth and chase away deadly snakes so that the cutters could access the canes better for cutting. It was a fearfully hard, backbreaking job. Most cane cutters were Italian migrants and there have been many colourful stories and histories written about this era. Today, they have sophisticated machines which harvest, strip and load the cane without the need of burning.
Me, Mum and Jenny in a banana plantation.

Next stop was another charming coastal town called Coffs Harbour. Besides being a popular holiday destination for Sydney siders it is also the heart of the banana industry for NSW. We had never seen banana plantations before either. So this holiday was not only an adventure but also educational. This town now is a huge tourist resort, as it isn't too far from Sydney, about six and a half hours drive.
The photos in my Mum's album stop here. I guess we were home in Sydney after this shot, ready to start work and school again. It would only have been a two week holiday but oh! What fun it was for us new Australians.


  1. Fancy seeing a whale about to be processed ... eeek

  2. Hi Diane! Lovely post!! Have to come back to see the whole history of settling and discovering...

    Thanks for your comment at my new blog Blogtrotter Two, now at the Art Deco District in South Beach! Hope to read you there often! Have a great week ahead!!!

  3. Lovely memories Diane and beaut to read - thanks for sharing.

  4. This is just so interesting, Diane. I finally looked up a map of Australia --to see what it looks like now between Sidney and Brisbane.

    Interesting about the whale problem.. I'm sure I'd be on the side of protecting the whales!!!!

    I can just 'feel' the struggles your parents had back then. Glad your Mom got away for a holiday. AND--I'm glad that she was able to take you all back to that special place.

    Thanks again for your 'story'..

  5. What a trip ! so interesting ! I went for the first time on holidays with my parents when I was 13 and we went to Austria this was in 1956. I had never seen high mountains so it was quite and experience for me too !

  6. Diane, what fun to be able to go around and get to know the place. I like the lighthouse photo :). It's a short lighthouse isn't it! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Gee, standing in front of that whale must have given your nostrils a thrill.... not!

  8. I know I've said this before, but your photos, your history of the place along with your own memories - this is the stuff for a good book! I love reading about your adventures and you are fortunate (as are we) that so many great photos were taken and perserved!
    Thank you for the great tour of your lovely country and the intimate glimpse into your family :-)

  9. Re your comment on Plumbing about grandparent titles, here is my response.

    Well, in that case, that is a terrific idea of his! I like it very much.

    Although does Ma go with Pop? I reckon Ma goes with Pa. So, youse can be iPa and iMa or, and I am madly inventing here, how about iPop and iMop ... just a thought.

    Now, I have just noticed in the side-bar that Bill has home-coming photies ... ciao!!

  10. Precious photos, Diane. NO sign of dementia getting closer - love the detail of all your stories! :)

  11. What great memories. So glad you have the photos also. I think I would like to spend some time at a beach house too. Except in the winter.

  12. What you said about the smell of the humpback whale reminded me of something I heard on the news today. It seems toothpaste is a hot item in Haiti. The people put this under their nose to help get past the odor of death there right now.

  13. Good to hear that whale numbers are at last increasing. Men kill and maim so many creatures and then when there is only a few left there is an outcry. I always felt so sad for the elephants and rhinos in S.Africa who were ans are still being killed just for ivory or horns. The rhino population is decreasing fast at the moment!

    Loved this part of your life as much as I have enjoyed the rest. Diane