Centre of cedar trade by the river
Gundurimba rivalled ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Lismore and Casino for dominance
A FEW kilometres from Lismore on the righthand side of the road to Casino there are roads, which are named as streets. Until a few years ago when a few houses started to be built there it seemed rather odd.
However, it can be explained by the fact that this area was part of the old township of Gundurimba which, in its heyday, was much more important than Lismore, and a rival to Casino.
When the cedar cutters came to the Richmond River District in the 1840s they set up camps at several spots along the riverbank.
One of these camps, at Camp Creek, was near Wyrallah, and apparently in a time of severe drought water was scarce and some men went upstream to find a better campsite. They found Gundurimba. This soon became the centre of the cedar trade on the Richmond.
There are several versions for the meaning of the word Gundurimba, although all agree that it is of Aboriginal origin.
One version is that it means ‘frightened’ from the Bundjalung Kundurimban, and possibly refers to a tribal battle.
Another version is that it is from ‘goondoorimba’ or ‘goonjerimba’ meaning cross-eyed, possibly a cross-eyed man, or old man with the palsy.
A third version is that it is associated with the word ‘gindihrma’, meaning to act in a peculiar manner, to be giddy, to have a headache, and probably refers to when the Aboriginals were first given alcohol.
The old town of Gundurimba was a rough place of hardworking and hard-drinking people.
There were several hotels and stores.
These were supplied from boats trading up the river, the first of which had to cut the overhanging vines away before it could proceed upstream.
John Beattie owned the Farmers Home Hotel and it had a reputation for the quality of the spirits it sold.
They are said to have had an intriguing tobacco aroma and soon made the drinker very merry!
Thomas Barker had a store at Gundurimba. Barker Street in Casino is called after him.
He was a Scot and his brother, William Thomson Barker, was the first known doctor at Casino (and possibly the Richmond). The local squatters had guaranteed Dr. Barker’s income, but he preferred to live at one of the Gundurimba hotels. He is said to have had a preference for whisky although he considered that rum was ‘not so bad’.
Dr Barker died from alcoholism in 1863. It was not long after his death that Temperance Societies established themselves in the Richmond District.
Apart from trying to stop people from drinking alcohol these established medical benefit societies that paid doctors’ fees.
It is interesting to speculate whether they would have used the services of Dr. Barker had he still been alive!
The residents of Gundurimba scorned Lismore and called it ‘Sleepy Hollow’.
They also resented Casino, which was the headquarters of all the government services in the District.
The people of Gundurimba were a great mixture. One hotel owner, William Johnson, established a small private school.
He had previously been a cedar-getter at Bald Hill (Bexhill) but went to Gundurimba about 1857.
The postman came from Ballina via Wyrallah and often had to contend with very swampy tracks to get through.
A ferry was installed as, by the 1870s, the township was on both sides of the river.
However, those residents on the southern side had to cross over on the ferry to get their mail – and pay four pence each time for this privilege! Soon afterwards ‘Sleepy Hollow’ won the day!
Contact the Richmond River Historical Society by calling 02 6621 9993, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lismore Museum at 165 Molesworth St is open 10am–4pm, Monday–Friday. The research is room open 10am–4pm, Monday and Wednesday.
A DIFFERENT CENTURY: Gundurimba, 1875, including local identities.