Our adventures around Byron Bay continue today as we visit the village of Bangalow. However, this journey is going to be a little different. You see, instead of simply walking up the hill and seeing what’s there now and exploring all the irresistible nooks and crannies, I’d also like you to think of yourself slowly walking through the doors of perception into a kind of time warp. Indeed, if you look at the main street, you’ll observe a red phone box, which for our purposes will act as a form of tardis. So, please step onboard and welcome to Bangalow past and present.
Self-described as “a bit above Byron”, Bangalow is a historic rural town located 13 km west of Byron Bay, 758 km north of Sydney and 165 km south of Brisbane. Moreover, just in case you have absolutely no sense of direction or geography whatsoever, we’re in Australia. I try never to take that for granted. Just because I know where I am, it doesn’t mean you’re in the know.
As you may be aware, Geoff and zipped up to stay at nearby Newrybar with his sister last week, while the kids were away at the Australian Scout Jamboree and I’m now endeavoring to drag you along with me in a virtual blogging sense.
However, rather than confirming how well I know Bangalow after coming here nearly every year for the last 20 years, this visit actually showed up my ignorance. Have you ever had that experience when you think you know a place, but then you suddenly see it from a different light, and you realize that you barely knew it at all? Indeed, you might even call this place home or your home away from home, and yet there are these mysteries. Those walls and corridors which are silent, and yet they speak. The trick, however, is finding a way to tune in and actually listen to their stories. Chip away at the layers of paint to find out what’s hidden underneath and the old newspapers are very good for that.
My ignorance suddenly jumped out at me when I met a member of the Bangalow Historical Society while I was photographing the museum (which used to be a brothel in nearby Brunswick Heads and it was transported to its current location.) I’d noticed that one of the shop fronts was clearly dated 1911 and I had wondered whether there was any significance to the date. As it turned out, a dreadful fire destroyed three wooden shops:
Fire at Bangalow.
All that remained of that range of comparatively new buildings from Garvey’s hotel property to the Commercial Banking Company’s premises in the main street on Friday morn ing was a strongroom, two chimneys, a tankful of boiling water and a confused mass of burning remains. Miss Dye first gave the alarm about 4.30. She states that she was awakened by the sound ,of burning timber, and, looking out of the window, observed flames rising from the building on the opposite side of the street. Calls awakened the Messrs Savage, who spread the alarm, and the ringing of the Convent and Pub lie School bells aroused the whole town. The building discovered to be on fire was owned by Mr W. Barby. It adjoined Garvey’s Hotel, and consisted of Mr W. Martin’s hairdressers, tobacconist, and fancy goods shop and billiard room, Messrs Ferguson and Torrens’ office, and Mr W, H. Perry’s tailoring establishment. Between this building and Blackwell and Sons’ store was a lane only 9ft wide and the flames quickly spread to their premises. The next building was the Commercial Bank, but be fore the fire reached it, the manager had time to remove valuable documents to the E.S. and A. Bank on the opposite side of the street. Fortunately the morning was calm, otherwise the houses on the opposite side of the street must also have gone. Savage’s new shop caught fire, but wet blankets and a copious drenching of water saved it. The telephone lines were fused, and telephonic communication was suspended. The damage is estimated at about £5000. Mullumbimby Star (NSW : 1906 – 1936), Thursday 10 August 1911, page 8
Another detail I noticed walking up the main street on this visit was the War Memorial Clock outside Bangalow Post Office. It was unveiled on ANZAC Day 1937, just two years before Australia and the world were back at war. In place of numerals to mark the hour, the words “Lest We Forget,” are placed around the dial.Although I hadn’t really noticed and embraced it before, this time I paused to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice and all those young lads, especially from our country towns who went to serve our country.
It’s interesting how these small details you can easily miss walking up the street, open a window in Bangalow’s past. Yet, of course, I’m not here to provide a comprehensive history of Bangalow. Rather, I’m here to share MY Bangalow, which is no doubt a different Bangalow to the one someone else experiences. After all, each of us is selective, plucking out the things we love and are relevant to us, while ignoring and perhaps even being totally oblivious to the rest. We couldn’t possibly take it all in and wouldn’t want to either.
Personally, I’m drawn to Bangalow’s historic architecture and quaint village feel as well as its artistic and creative flair…and of course the monthly markets when they’re on. As a visitor, it can be a bit hit and often more miss, as to whether the markets are on while we’re in town. Food is another drawcard and I always head up to the Choux Choux Cafe and love their Chocolate Saffron Chocolate Mouse Cake. I also buy a few Yum Cha treats at Red Ginger and sip on complimentary Chinese tea, while I write in my journal.
Bangalow has also been my escape hatch, especially when the kids were younger. Geoff’s sister used to do family daycare and would mind the kids while I escaped to spread my wings. Back when they were small, these escapes were my salvation. My creative side was actually able to draw breath and I know that I’ve already mentioned spreading my wings. However, when the bird escapes from her cage, that sense of freedom and being able to enter an artistic realm can not be under-estimated. That’s not to say I don’t love my kids and that we didn’t do creative things together. I don’t believe a parent should have to apologize for having a breather. Indeed, I believe it’s healthy. A short leash can have a stranglehold.
Yet, when you visit Bangalow today with its relaxed boutique village feel, it’s hard to believe that the notorious Pacific Highway used to roar through town and the very buildings where you now relax over a chai latte or peppermint tea, once rattled as the semi-trailers and trucks ploughed through. That all changed on December 14, 1994, when the Bangalow bypass was officially opened. The highway now bypasses most of these smaller coastal and country towns and while it’s dramatically reduced travel times and created quieter and safer local hubs, the trip is nowhere near as interesting as it used to be. It’s an A to B run with a fast food stop along the way. Or, for the wanderer at heart, detours off the road most traveled.
My explorations through the newspapers also reminded me of Bangalow’s dairying heritage. A relic of it’s dairying past can be seen at The Buttery, which in keeping with the changing times, is now a drug rehab centre. This newspaper description from the Farmer and Settler , Friday 22 July 1927 recreates this Bangalow well:
Bungalow, in the early days the centre of the ”Big Scrub, is to-day a district of broad pastures and successful dairy farms with over 40,000 milking cows on its 8,000 acres, Laid out In 1891 by Surveyor J. B. Kelly, it was first known as Byron Creek. The first settlers in the district, who arrived about 1882, wore Messrs. Robert Campbell and J. P Garvan, Mr Campbell’s farm, known as ‘Granuaille,’ consisted of 640 acres, and the town of Bungalow stands on part of this land. Mrs. P. Garvey called the town Bangalow, because of the many palms of that name in the district, and it is known by that name to-day. After finding that sugar-cane growing did not pay, because, of the long haulage to the mill, the early settlers turned to dairying only forty two years ago. A co-operative butter factory was started In Bungalow In 1892, but with the introduction of hand separators the cream was sent to the factories of the . North Coast. Co-oporatlve Co. Ltd., at Byron Bay and Binna Burra. Just before 1900, cow that returned £5 per year, was considered a falr animal, but to-day If she does not give a return of £12 per annum the owner Is likely to dis pose of her. Tho soil of the Bungalow district Is of porous, volcanic diameter. Watered by many small streams and receivlng an average of 70-lnches of rain annually, successful pastures of paspalum and clover are grown, and in many cases the land is ploughed and sown to winter grasses. Illawarra milking shorthorns are, .the most popular dairy breed, due to their steers bringing high prices, but at the present time the Jerseys are coming into general favor, and several fine herds of this breed are found in the Bangalow district. Pig raising, as a subsidiary industry of tho dairyman, is Increasing in the Bangalow district at a 25 per cent, rate every year. In addition to the pigs shipped to tho Byron Bay ‘Norco’ bacon, factory, thousands of pigs are sold at the Bangalow yards each year. No particular breed’ is favored, and the great majority are cross-breds of Tamworth, Berkshire, Improved York, and Poland China breeds. Only bacon pigs are produced In this district.”
Speaking of pork, these days Bangalow Pork is famous. As their web sites explains:
Bangalow Sweet Pork is supplied by small Australian Family Farms. We promote the use of Sustainable Agricultural Practices so that our farms will continue to provide fabulous fresh produce for generations to come. The Welfare of Animal is an extremely important part of our program as any stress at any time during the life of our pigs can greatly affect the quality of our product. So for Bangalow Sweet Pork to provide the best quality Pork available it is extremely important that our animals live a healthy and happy existence. We have been proud leaders in our industry and since our inception our product has been Antibiotic Free and we DO NOT use any Hormones on our farms.
Before we leave Bangalow, I just wanted to make one last stopover, which I plan to visit some time in the near future. While I’m not hugely into science fiction, I have a huge imagination and when I spotted these incredible glass sculptures at Zakay Zakay Studio & Gallery, I imagined shrinking myself, climbing inside and somehow taking flight and flying high above the world in this magical glass pyramid along with all of it’s dazzling lighting effects. Hey, would you like to join me and where would you like to go? I’m taking requests.
Anyway, I hope you can appreciate these various incantations of Bangalow and tomorrow I’ll continue the tour and take it into the modern era for Thursday Doors.
Have you ever been to Bangalow? What are your special memories of the place? I’d love to hear from you!
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