Sunday, 1 March 2015

TOD Tour, Day 19 - Bellingen

We retraced our steps of a few days ago and returned up the Bellinger Valley to the town which is central to it, Bellingen.

Originally called Boat Harbour, the town became the dominate feature of the area because of the depth of the river at that point and available land. Cedar getters had been bringing the big red cedar logs down the river since the 1840's after stockman William Myles became the first non indigenous person to enter the valley in 1840. He was on a mission to find new grazing land north of Kempsey. Small settlements were already springing up Gleniffer on the north of the river, Fernmount to the east and Thora to the west when the first blocks were surveyed for the town in 1864. A police station, court house and the first public school were all in place by 1870, the year the name was changed to Bellingen and boat building had begun by the 1880's.

The Marx family established their orchard in those early years, on what is known as Marx Hill, just to the east of the town and it would prove to be an enduring business. By the turn of the century, Frederick Doepel had not only established a shipping facility on the Cahill Wharf for the areas produce and commercial goods like red cedar logs but he also had a ship building yard. The schooners Violet Doepel (1896) and Alma Doepel (1903) were both built and launched from his yards to ply the river trade. The Best and Doepel Sawmill was located on site, cutting the timbers being bought down from the steep slopes below the Dorrigo Plateau and in 1905, The Butter Factory was established near to the wharf in 1905 and its buildings still stand today, although put to turning the tourist dollar today.

Dairy farming is still the most common non-tourist commercial activity in the area.

After several abortive attempts to find a park to have lunch, we ended up at the home ground of the Belligen Magpies, the local rugby league team. If there is a nicer venue for country rugby league in NSW, I haven't seen it. The ground is lush and well maintained, the grandstand in good shape and a new canteen compliments a very tidy ground. The ground looks to be well served by arena lighting and a public address system and its little wonder that the club are previous winners of the Claytons Cup for supremacy in NSW Country footie in the working class game. My old kiwi mate, Joe Harrison, would be impressed with facilities, although he would have been smiling in heaven anyway after the Kiwis win against the Australians in the World Cup still stinging fresh in Aussie wounds.

We bought the one bottom, left
Our next stop was Lodge 241 Gallery & Cafe on the western end of the main drag, Hyde St. Built as a Masonic Lodge in 1912 by easily the area's most prominent architect, George Moore, it is a classic example of a three story Federation Building. Moore was also responsible for many of the early building in Bellingen, including the Court House and Police Station and gained a reputation which saw him work up and down the north coast. The Masons sold the building in 1996.

Today, the upstairs is a residence but the middle floor, on entry level from the street, houses one of the coast's most well respected and well known restaurants, galleries and entertainment venues. The dominant visual art on display is by local artist Tanja Karl. Born in Berlin in the late 1960's and attending the Ontario College of Fine Art, her work is strongly influenced by the French Impressionists and uses vibrant colours. One of her works is now in our collection - a fine work which reminded us of Brett Whiteley's lines when drawing the female form.

We had coffee on the balcony, overlooking the Bellinger as it flowed past the adjacent paddock, verdant after summer rain.

The next hour was spent on soaking up the streetscape, with its interesting mix of early twentieth century architecture which was the George Moore influence and then a later surge in building after the first world war, which is dominated by the clearly recognisable art deco style.

Belly-gen dancing
On one street corner, a girl in her early twenties was belly dancing, complete with harem pants and skimpy top but she was a long way away from our street corner. In whatever part of fairyland she was in, it was a happy pace and the guy behind her wasn't raking in a cut from anything thrown in her basket. She wasn't dancing before an admiring Sue, who just wanted to be able to move her hips like that without the ensuing lower back pain, she was performing in another time and place. Good luck to her but I got the distinct impression she was being worked over by both the dope in her system and the one standing behind her.

The Yellow Shed was next - a venue Sue has always wanted to visit - but it was disappointing. It had a fine collection of new books for sale, with an impressive array of Australian authors and an eclectic selection of CDs, especially jazz. The rest was uninspiring and very little of it was local.

Our last stop was at the Old Butter Factory, now a collection of businesses occupying the original buildings. If Lodge 241 had been about visual art, this was more craft-based and it must be said, all of very high quality. The staff at the cafe were friendly and more than happy to serve us a late refreshment in the dying embers of a Sunday afternoon as a storm approached. Afterwards, we went to the end of the dirt road to the unheralded Cahill's Wharf, which had been reconstructed by the Bellingen Council - we couldn't see it, of course. There just seemed to be a series of old piers but maybe the recent flood had carried it away or the signage was astray. The river still looked impressive and even more so when we walked up onto the fourth tee of the Bellingen Golf Course which ran from here, back up stream. One wouldn't wanted to possess a dying slice without a bucket of balls.

On the way back to Nambucca, we dropped in on Urunga, a place where we had a rather extravagant holiday in our first year of marriage. Poorer than our rich cousins, the church mice, we had spent our last cents on a posh flat behind the Police Station which overlooked the Kalang River. We had a week here, mostly doing what newly weds are famous for - fighting and then making up. We manage to find the old museum and recreate a photo Sue took of me all those years ago.

We closed down the day with hot chips - we shouldn't have but yesterday's were so nice - and a swim in the pool at our digs.

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