A walk up Laurie Street

Written by Dr Diane Solomon Westerhuis

In a joint lecture with the Independent Scholars Association, Dr Diane Solomon Westerhuis delivered a lecture at History House on Tuesday, 12 March 2019. Her topic, A walk through time and the archives focused on the archival research she undertook to complete a detailed heritage study of Laurieton, NSW. For those who were unable to attend, Diane has provided an overview of her work.

This research began in 2018 when I undertook an intriguing ‘Heritage Walk’ in the New South Wales village of Laurieton, led by Michael Dodkin from the Camden Haven Historical Society. [1] The brief walk explored a vibrant local history in one street of the village, which included an Aboriginal midden, a dilapidated wharf site, some old buildings, and some hints at a captivating oral history of the area.

Memorial service for Robert Laurie, soldier killed in World War I – Laurieton, NSW [Image courtesy State Library of New South Wales, 01941.

The outcome was perhaps inevitable: further research followed. I undertook a detailed census of the old main street of the village and then further research, in order to prepare a thematic history. The thematic history will assist the historical society to apply for heritage listing of the street as a conservation area or historic precinct.

The buildings provide a captivating glimpse into the past, but there is much more to be told about the heritage of Laurie Street. The initial census makes possible the subsequent chronological narrative, expressed in the metaphorical ‘A Walk Up Laurie Street.’ This narrative is arranged spatially up the street, as the street itself extended east to west, over time. Beginning with a description of the evidence of Aboriginal occupation by the river’s edge, the narrative tells of historical events and the people who contributed over time to the heritage evident today.

The walk is also told in discrete periods, in which different historical themes are identified, each contributing to the heritage of the street and the village. These narratives are supported by archival evidence which links sites, buildings or archaeological remains in the street to historic events and to people, producing a chronology of the village and its context, in its surrounds, over time.

The combination of topics identified in this history, reference themes that are recognised by the Heritage Council of New South Wales. [2] While the combination of themes is unique to this locality, each theme inevitably links to the context of neighbouring histories, especially those of Port Macquarie to the north and the Manning River in the south.

The first theme discussed is that of Aboriginal Cultures and Interactions with Other Cultures, focussing on the midden site at the end of the street and Dooragan mountain. Then John Oxley’s 1818 encounters with local first peoples links to a second theme, Exploration. The mountain is now a national park and an identified Aboriginal Story Site of the Birpai people. [3] Their stories depict an oral history that is also linked to the colonial renaming of places by Oxley, a significant aspect of the interactions between cultures, as was Oxley’s recognition of the superior skills of Indigenous boat-builders. [4]

The history also includes a Convict theme. Although this was not a penal colony like Port Macquarie, soldiers were posted here to prevent escapees finding their way south. The detection of the previously unknown location of ‘soldiers’ huts’ in the archives was very special and gives the reader an understanding of why we do local history, which can be so exciting. The location of maps and early surveyors’ plans in archives have proved invaluable in my research and is discussed in the history.

Later themes identify and associate people with places and sites, depicting the context of this history in the better known North Coast – Regional History, published by NSW Heritage. [5] The discussion of the surviving buildings and the fabric and curtilage within the village demonstrates the aptness of the other historical themes identified in this history, including: Towns, Suburbs and Villages, Transport, Social Institutions, Education, Communication, Religion, and particularly Persons, Events and Environment- Cultural Landscape.

For example, Laurieton’s Avenue of Honour is a unique feature of the town and NSW history in general. [6] This feature, still recognisable in the landscape, depicts how the villagers of the time created their cultural landscape by planting trees for soldiers in 1916 and 1918. Such demonstration of historical significance is paramount in this thematic history. Publication of this work is planned for later in the year.

References:

[1] The village of Laurieton, previously called Camden Haven and before that, Peach Orchard, nestles at the foot of Dooragan, otherwise known as North Brother Mountain, and on the Camden Haven River, mid-North Coast of New South Wales.
[2] Heritage Council of New South Wales, ‘Appendix 1’ in Assessing Historical Importance, a Guide to State Heritage Register Criterion A, online, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, 2006. <https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/heritagebranch/heritage/themes2006.pdf>, accessed 7 November 2018.
[3] NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dooragan National Park, Plan of Management, Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), 2004, <https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Parks-reserves-and-protected-areas/Parks-plans-of-management/dooragan-national-park-plan-of-management-040135.pdf>, accessed 14 October 2018.
[4] John Oxley, Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales, Undertaken by Order of the British Government in the Years 1817-1818, London, J. Murray, 1820.
[5] NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, ‘North Coast – Regional History‘, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, <https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/bioregions/NorthCoast-RegionalHistory.htm>, accessed 7 November 2018.
[6] Phillip Bowman, Camden Haven’s “Avenue of Honour”: The World War 1 Memorial Trees 1916-1918, Laurieton, Camden Haven Historical Society, 2018.

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