Visual Storytelling

A Trip to Mullumbimby in the 1970’s

My family hails from Mullumbimby so I have family down there that we have been visiting since the 1960’s.

It would’ve been 1973 or 1974, I would’ve been 7 or 8 years old and most school holidays we would go down for a visit/holiday to the Northern Rivers often staying with family in Mullumbimby or in a unit in Brunswick Heads.

We lived in Aspley on the Northside if Brisbane, and a trip down to the Northern Rivers in those days was still an adventure. We didn’t have all the new highways and bypasses in Brisbane, on the Gold Coast and down through Tweed and all the way through to Byron Bay. I want to say it was about 2 1/2 to 3 hour trip depending on traffic and crossing the border. Crossing the border, every vehicle had to declare any fruits and vegetables that were not allowed into the state. It often involved cars and trucks being fully inspected which would cause big delays.

The next point of noting was The Burringbar Ranges. In those days there were dangerous with tiny narrow (often one way) but steep roads with sheer drops to the farmlands and forest below. They were many stopping points, blind spots and it was a drama to drive over them safely in the summer, let alone raining or cold foggy conditions.

Then a favoured spot, going through Mooball. It was a family tradition my grandfather started, you had to Moo loudly out the window when you drove into Mooball, I thought that was the best and happily did that my entire childhood and did it again with my own son many years later. These days Mooball has all it’s buildings on a stretch of road there painted with the jersey cow print, and I think that was a lovely little touch.

More familiar turns in the road until you reach the turn offs to Oceans Shores and Billinudgel. My grandfather signed up for WW1 in the Billinudgel Pub. He was living in Mullumbimby at the time. My head even then glanced right so I could see the Billinudgel Pub as we drove on by. As for Oceans Shore, Dad later bought land there.

Then onto a familiar bridge between Ocean Shores and Brunswick Heads with view of the breakwater on your left and Mt.Chincogan on the right. Always beautiful and always a picturesque little spot.

We stayed in units in Brunswick Heads in the 70’s. Swims at Brunswick, fish and chip lunches or dinners fresh from the trawlers, or fancy dinner at The Heidelberg Inn Motel’s Restaurant. the annual Prawn Festival every Summer. All the purple soldier crabs (in their thousands) near the old bridge across to the breakwater (they are gone now from a chemical spill in Mullumbimby that washed through to Brunswick Heads.

Just round the coast and up the road is Byron Bay, my great uncle ran the Lighthouse for a time in the 40’s for a while. I loved going up to the lighthouse, it felt like it was mine with the family working there connection. I always enjoyed all the wild goats clinging lovingly to the cliff side on the Cape.

Suffolk Park didn’t really exist back then. Where the Byron at Byron now stands used to be a little tourist place called ‘The Everglades’. Wetlands with animals you could see whilst paddling up swampy water in Paddle Boats.

But this trip wasn’t to Byron or Suffolk Park. Today, once into Brunswick Heads we went inland to Mullumbimby.

At the T Intersection – a right turn to drive into Mullumbimby. Always loved seeing this sign, it told me we were very close now. Though my Great Aunt Marie (Myra) Henderson nee Tulk always warned us that once there were bad men hiding in the scrub just up from this sign, then would have a decoy of a broken down car and them trying to fix it. Whilst trying to flag down drivers to help them, their cronies would run out of the bush and steal from whomever pulled up taking all valuables before swiftly driving off in a very working car.

Driving safely past that ‘bad spot’ there was a rise in my little girl’s excitement as a familiar stretch of road comes into view.

No matter what on this particular stretch of road you always got the faintest breeze or a wave of summer breeze and right on this spot on your right is an old farm house that always has a multitude of Crucifix Orchids in a splash of colours in it’s front garden around and near it’s letterbox. 

As you get closer to the town of Mullumbimby with turns and twists in the road, Mt. Chincogan is no longer in front of you but on your right side.

A few more twists and turns and we drive over train tracks and we are in Mullumbimby at last.

We we’re here to  see my Great Aunt Marie (Myra) Henderson née Tulk.
Locals even today still remember my Aunt Marie she was always quite a personality out in Main Arm and later in town. She was a hard working farmer’s wife but she also had an over the top personality and a wonderful sense of humour, she was always laughing about something. Dad would often take us and Marie and her hubbie Les Henderson to the club for a lunch.

Aunty Marie made it fun for everyone at The Club, her laughter loudest in the building every time. When Dad left the table to order food and drinks, Marie would bustle me to the pokies and immediately put some money in to ‘let me play the pokies FOR her’. She’d be saying ‘quickly, quickly before your Dad comes back’ and inevitably a staff member would eventually would come over and say “Now Marie  you know you can’t have kids in here’ and she’d laugh (her booming laugh – she would throw her head back so far it almost touched her shoulders and her false teeth were quickly reined in, cos they were tempted to fly out of her mouth completely) and say ‘Yes I know, but my niece is down from Brissy and she deserves a quick pull, I’m watching her it’s ok’ . They would end up smiling, rolling their eyes and  saying ‘Ok , but not too long ok’ lol. I got a couple more pulls on the one armed bandit and then it was quick back to the table before your Dad comes back!
It was a regular thing. Dad knew we did this but pretended he didn’t so Aunty Marie could continue to be sneaky and spoil me a little. All done with humour of course.

I still remember sitting in the big bay windows in the dining part of the club always looking out onto the street and across the street to the court house. I loved watching the myriad of people going by and in those days a lot of colourful hippies too.

Through town we would then turn onto Daley Street and drive past the Mullumbimby Ex Services Club on our right.

Then onto Tincongan Street, take a left and out onto Main Arm Road.
We drove along until we reached Marie and Les’s Farm on the right along Main Arm Road. The house and shed’s are all gone now but this picture is roughly what you saw from the road back then.

We would stay at the farm for a few days and literally work. Aunty Marie said I was a farmer’s daughter and had to work as such. I had to earn my keep lol. I was to stop playing with the dogs and help.

I remember the days there quite vividly still. Morning would come, up at first light to milk the cows, feed the pigs, gather eggs from the chickens, stop playing with the dogs, help clean out the pig barn from the night before, watch where I walked because there could be snakes in the sheds or in the grass… 

I love working with the cows, patting them, calling them by name, all named by Marie. The smell of them, in the shed being milked, the heat coming off those warm bodies in winter was also kinda nice. Being flicked by the ever swishing cow tails keeping the flies away. It was a warm and cozy cow nursery almost. A cup of warm milk straight from the cow. I became very skilled at dodging cow pats for a city girl lol.

I enjoyed the pig shed too, Mother Pigs with all their babies running around screaming for food etc. I loved patting the pigs – their skin and hair texture so unusual to me. Rough and scratchy, bristled and often muddy and smelly. I was lucky sometimes and could bottle feed a special pig baby that needed help, and I took that duty very seriously..

I loved the smell of crops growing and baking in the warming sun early in the mornings. Golden scents of Summer Produce. 

Back to the house for an enormous fresh from the field breakfast,  all fried up by Aunty Marie.  Then all our table scraps and leftovers straight into dog bowls.
I was sent outside with the bowls to feed the cattle dogs so vitally important on the farm. They were always Blue Heelers. All her dogs were Blue Heeler Cattledogs, but she also had one special dog that was allowed to sleep on the verandah of the house and he had house priveledges as well. His name was Bluey 2. When he died the next special house guarding cattle dog would be called Bluey 3 and so on. That was a running joke of course.

Further up Main Arm, this time on the left you will come across the original Tulk Homestead right next to Sherry’s Bridge.

This house had been built in the early 1890’s and is Heritage Listed today.
Edwin Perrin Tulk my great great grandfather bought the house when he moved his family up from Wyrallah. They drove for many days on the trip in a bullock dray along with the kids and all their possessions.

Aunty Marie (my great Aunt) and my grandfather Horatio Tulk were born and raised there.

The property was sold by us in the 1940’s to the Roly Johnston’s father. When he died Roly himself continued the farm as his own and making sure it was heritage listed.

We would always drive there and stop and admire the ‘homestead’ but we never went onto the property as it was no longer ours. I wanted to. As I grew up and we returned each year, I wanted to even more. I wanted to stand on the very earth my great great grandfather lived and worked and raised his 12 children. And I never gave up on that desire, to stand and walk on Tulk sacred ground. That would eventuate in about 1998 when I finally got to stand on ‘our’ land and it was with my own husband and 3 year old son.

Uncle Les died around this time in the 70’s and Marie sold off the farm and moved into town with Bluey 3 in tow, in a nice little house on the Corner of Tincogan Street.

Today that house now has a little op shop in it selling clothes and antiques in it.

With Marie now having established herself ‘in town’ she really did become a well known and loved local.
Dad was an accountant and helped her manage the money from the sale of the farm with which she toured the world on cruise ships every year, seeing Italy, Rome, America, Hawaii, Indonesia, Fiji and more.
When visiting her in town I was older 9 or 10 and went around doing my own thing. I got to know the
guys at Frank Dodd’s Bus Depot across the street, and I used to go visit them there and share their morning tea biscuits etc.
Today Frank Dodd’s Bus Depot is now a car repair place.

One year we all (Mum, Dad and I) climbed Mt. Chincogan after being granted permission by the land owner. I had to be about 11 or 12 because I had my flute with me and when we finally reached the top of the peak, I sat there playing the flute for an hour or so. It echoed off rocks and gully’s beautifully and was hauntingly Celtic in its feeling. I felt like the Pied Piper playing the very land and countryside alive with classical and modern tunes from across the ages.

Aunty Marie’s health was failing and on occasion she had to have operations in a Brisbane hospital and would stay with us to recuperate.

In 1990 she had another operation this one in her stomach. She had a huge line wound where she was opened up and she stayed with us for weeks to recover from that operation.
Meanwhile, I had been engaged to my first husband for a couple of years by then, and he came over to
see us and visit with Aunty Marie. He really liked her and her sense of humour.
He came in and went and hugged her hello, and she proceeded to tell him of her huge operation and huge cut hip to hip and he said jokingly that would be worth seeing.
and next thing we know she pulled her nightie up round her ears to show David the scar with all those stitches. The nightie pulled so high her head completely covered. You saw an old gal with faded yellowing undies etc and he was kind of embarrassed and said said oh my goodness as he then covered his eyes, to not see the sight of an ancient woman in her 80’s showing her all.
she slapped at him and said “Silly boy! We are family, there’s nothing you can’t see now!” As she threw her head back and laughed whole heartedly through her entire being. ASI always remover she did.

Marie was like a grandmother to me, since both my grandmothers had already died, she was going to be
my grandmother at my wedding in September 1992.

Unfortunately something else went wrong with her health and she passed away before my wedding day where she was sorely missed on the day.

For me during my childhood right through to today Mullumbimby is a town full of memories, family, laughter and stories to share, and I never fail to miss her and the days of olde.