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THE township of Coraki, which is situated at the junction of the north and south arms of the Richmond River, was called Hooraki, Cooriki or Kurrachee by the Aborigines, Meaning ‘Meting of the waters’. It is hard to imagine now tat when the village was founded by William Yabsley in 1849, Casino had one store and a hotel and Lismore was only a small cattle station.
William Yabsley and his family obtained the lease of Brook Station and the first permanent settlement was established, with William building his shipyard just above ‘The Junction’, as it was first called, on the main arm.
Many Ships and small river boats were launched in the next few years, and he soon opened a store for necessary provisions for the convenience of cedar-cutters, as supplies were difficult to obtain due to the dangers of crossing the shallow bar at the mouth of the river.
In those days transport was almost entirely by water, and Coraki was the busiest inland port on the Richmond where its ideal location saw local cedar and pine being shipped to cities and towns around Australia.
THE VILLAGE GROWS
IN 1866 plans were drawn up for the Village of Coraki, and about this time the first general store and the first hotel opened on Richmond Terrace.
In 1858 William Yeager arrived, bringing the first steam drogher (tug) to the Richmond in 1863. He established his business with a mill, wharves and shipyards across the river at Oakland, Coraki.
In the decades to follow Coraki became a hive of activity in the Rivertown district. Sugar cane was introduced to Coraki farmers by cuttings from the Hunter River in 1866 by Rev Thom, beginning another productive industry for the region.
Without doubt Coraki’s growth and prosperity as an inland port was largely due to the business enterprise of the Yabsley and Yeager families, who were the Richmond River’s largest shipowners at the time.
Coraki Post Office had been opened in 1870 and the Police Station in 1881, while in 1886 the North Coast Steam Navigation company established its Head Office at Coraki, and Louis Benaud chose the village as the publishing place for his newspaper, ‘ The Richmond River Herald’. Printed on paper with a pinkish tone, the Herald was commonly referred to as ‘the Pink’un’, and had a wide circulation, and is still regarded as one of the best newspapers which was printed on the lower river. Today the Coraki Public School still issues a news-sheet, printed on the appropriate shade, which is entitled ‘The Pink Paper’.
In 1878 the Commercial Bank opened a branch in Coraki and in that same year the township grew considerably with the sale of a number of town blocks on which many of the grand old houses of the day along with several new shops were erected.
HOWEVER life was not all work for those in and around Coraki – the 24th May was set aside annually for the Coraki Regatta, when settlers from around the district would meet to take part in the festivities and among other pursuits, to compete in its famous rowing championships.
These races became the highlight of the Coraki Regatta days, creating competition for some of Australia’s finest rowers who competed in the two-oars, four-oars and double sculls. The Rivertown’s area was the home for Jim Paddon and his son, Evans, both world champions, and Snowy Burns and Roy Dolby, Australian champions, and many oarsmen defended titles on the fine stretch of water at Coraki.
The present Post Office was built in 1890, with the mail being carried to Brisbane from Casino on horseback, and to Sydney by steamer, and the year 1900 brought improved communications with a telephone exchange being installed at the Post Office, then servicing only twenty one subscribers.
The first Municipal Council was formed in 1891, and functioned as a Local Government body until it amalgamated with the Woodburn Shire in 1933, which in turn united with Tomki Shire in January, 1976 to for Richmond River Shire.
The School of Arts opened in 1893, the first Coraki Show held in 1896 and the butter factory opened in 1898.
With the coming of the new century, Coraki still held an integral and important place in the Rivertown district.
THE CAMPBELL HOSPITAL
WITH John Campbell of Coraki providing the funds, the Campbell Hospital was built, opening in 1903, while in 1905 the bridge over the south arm ( the Richmond River) was built.
The Campbell Hospital was originally equipped to provide for 15 patients, and operated in conjunction with the ‘Ventura Maternity hospital’ in Surry Street, but this hospital was sold in 1956 and a new maternity wing added to Campbell Hospital – since then many changes and additions have been made, including a Retirement Village which is situated adjacent to the hospital, as is a modern Convention Centre.
ROADS were improving and as much of the land was cleared, dairy farming and grazing began to take over from the shipyards, but although Coraki pressed for a link with the rail system which was being extended in the north, this didn’t eventuate.
River transport was being replaced by the railway network, and had the railway passed through Coraki, the village would no doubt have continued to progress as Lismore has in the twentieth century.
During this century Coraki has lost most of its commerce to the larger towns of Casino and Lismore, and taken on the role of a satellite village to the larger centres, but it has retained its vital community spirit with its small hospital, two schools, churches, community and service groups, and with its active sporting clubs.
SPORTING IN CORAKI
THE present golf course, which lies next to the Campbell Hospital, was designed and constructed in 1958 on the site of the old showground, but golf was played in Coraki as early as 1926, when it was not unusual for members to carry a shot gun to try to bag a duck or two at the large waterhole which was then found on the course close to the present 8th green.
The bowling club was opened in 1952, and both inter and intra-club tournaments are held regularly, while Coraki’s first tennis courts were built in the early 1900’s. <> ‘The cradle of North Coast hockey’, this small town fielded twelve hockey teams in 1992, and this concentration on the game has led to local teams winning district premierships and many players represevting New South Wales in various age divisions, while Warren (Buster) Birmingham captained the Australian team at the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
THE VILLAGE TODAY
NO doubt because Coraki is positioned away from the highway, it has retained much of its historic atmosphere with many of its old buildings, hotels and homes still standing, and it has also remained the home of many descendants of its original Aboriginal people.
Kurrachee Co-operative Society looks after the interests of Aboriginal residents in the Coraki district and has set out to create employment for its community
Balunyah Plant Nursery is one of the society’s ventures, while it has also opened an Aboriginal art centre at New Italy.
Increased interest in the history of the area saw the opening of the mid Richmond Museum in the former Woodburn Shire council Chambers in Adams Street, which many tourist visit today to discover the history of the district.
The river is also seeing greater numbers of people exploring its quiet waterways or enjoying small boat activity there, and it is not unusual to find a houseboat slowly meandering upstream.
As in the past, people are turning once again to the river – what tales of busy times it could tell!
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