Red Rock, New South Wales – The Memorial

Sunset Red Rock

Next to a boardwalk winding up to the Red Rock headland in New South Wales, rests a simple memorial plaque. Easily missed in overgrown grass, it records a brutal event in Australian history  unknown to many who flock to the small coastal village during holiday season.

Red Rock Headland

Red Rock is located 39 km north of Coffs Harbour. It is the beginning point of the 60 km Solitary Islands Coastal Walk to the south and is the recommended endpoint of the 65 km Yuraygir Coastal Walk to the north.   I’d often thought about combining these walks into a longer adventure and  last winter conducted a reconnaissance trip to the region with my daughter. During our brief stay we explored south from Red Rock to Corindi Beach and also the southern tip of the Yuraygir Coastal Walk.

The Solitary Islands Coastal Walk links rocky headlands, golden beaches and lush rainforest with plenty of cafes and accommodation options along the way.

Solitary Islands sign

Red Rock Headland Solitary Islands walk

Solitary Islands walk Red Rock

Solitary Islands Walk

Across the estuary from Red Rock lies Yuraygir National Park part of the traditional homelands of the Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl Nations.

Yuraygir Sign

ed rock headland to Yuraygir

I can easily see why it is described as a coastal treasure. Long sandy beaches, rocky headlands, crystal clear creeks, vast heathlands, and wildflowers attract many visitors each year.

Sunset Red Rock

Red Rock Yuraygir National Park

Along with the Bundjalung and Broadwater National Parks and the Iluka Nature reserve, Yuraygir National Park makes up the largest stretch of protected coastline in New South Wales.

Jane taking a shot

Pelicans Red Rock

Yuraygir estuary

Yuraygir National Park

The headland is named after the geological rocks it is made of  – Redbank River beds, which are comprised of fine-grained sedimentary rocks.

Red Rock Headland

Red Rock sediment

These have been folded and faulted into strongly contorted shapes. This has posed a puzzle to geologists as these formations only occur at the Red Rock headland.

Red Rock geology

Red Rock geology

It has been suggested that the Redbank River beds at the headland are so different to surrounding rocks because they have been deposited and deformed elsewhere and were broken off and dropped into deeper water where they were engulfed by sediment. Another theory is that they represent very old rocks that occur beneath surrounding rocks in the region. The red colour of this ancient headland is due to jasper, a form of quartz.

Red Rock geology

Red sediment

After a brief visit to Dorrigo National Park, my daughter and I  arrived at Red Rock late in the afternoon and strolled up to the headland at sunset.

Red Rock Boardwalk

It was then  we first discovered the memorial plaque. It was difficult to believe  this peaceful setting had been the site of such an horrific event.

Blood Rock Massacre

The Gumbaynggirr people occupied the area for thousands of years and formed one of the largest coastal nations in New South Wales. They were renowned as the “sharing people” as they frequently shared the abundant resources in the region with other nations. The Blood Rock Massacre  occurred in the 1880s when Europeans  chased a large group of Gumbaynggirr people from their camp at the river to the headland, where many innocent people lost their lives. You can read more about the history of how European settlement affected the Gumbaynggirr People in this Fact Sheet . 

The Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre is located at Corindi Beach and includes a Bush Tucker Cafe, the regional Aboriginal Art Gallery, a function centre and hostel. Locals and visitors are invited to take part in various activities throughout the year.  Their website states:

Despite the ravages that colonialism brought, the Corindi Beach Gumbaynggirr community survived throughout the 20th century by living outside the reserve system in ‘no man’s land’, on the other side of the fence. Here they could still talk lingo, continue traditional practices and retain their relationships with the cultural landscape.”

The sharp contrast between the tranquil scenery and the dark history of the headland brought to mind Walt Whitman’s poem, This Compost, in which he describes his incredulity that the  nourishing landscape surrounding him could remain visibly untarnished by past evil, corruption, disease, death and decay.

This realisation led him to write, “Something startles me where I thought I was safest, I withdraw from the still woods I loved,” and “O how can it be that the ground does not sicken?

He finishes with fearful adoration for the transformative power of nature to turn death back into life, “Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.”

Somehow I expected there to be a stain on the Red Rock landscape – that the trees should be sagging and leaning with the burden of grief, or that the rocks should be weeping.  Instead, tree roots hold fiercely to the eroding headland.

Yuraygir National Park

Red Rock Tree Root

Their limbs continue to reach  upward and the golden glow and sweet nectar of their blooms delight the senses.

Red Rock Banksia

Surely the mournful cry of curlews is a more suitable soundtrack than the chatter of rainbow lorikeets,   spangled drongos and  honeyeaters?

Rainbow lorikeet

Spangled Drongo Red Rock

blue-faced honeyeater

Shouldn’t the sky  be a chilling steel-grey rather than a delicately cloud-laced, dazzling blue?

Clouds Red Rock

Clouds

The cycles of the natural world continue. The sun rises and sets each day painting  ephemeral masterpieces across the horizon.

Sunset Red Rock

Sunset Red Rock

Red Rock sunset

The tide continues its ebb and flow. Waves soothe the soul and polish sharp edges into smooth treasures.

Rocks and pebbles

Warm sand particles between our toes are oblivious to the past.

Red Rock sand

And the sea, sky and shore still caress each other despite the horrors of human history.

clouds over sea Red Rock

The only visible reminders in the landscape now of this horrific event are the simple memorial plaque and the  colour of the headland,  symbolic of the bloodied waters.  However, this act will always be remembered by the Gumbayngirr people and male Garby Elders continue to visit Red Rock Headland to pay their respects to loved ones killed at the Blood Rock Massacre.

Red Rock Sunset

[I always appreciate your feedback but  I will be travelling for a few days  and unable to moderate or reply immediately. Thank you for reading. ]

33 thoughts on “Red Rock, New South Wales – The Memorial

    • Thanks, Hernan. It is a lovely part of the coastline and has the advantage of not being highly developed like the Gold Coast. Red Rock is quite a sleepy little village except at peak times of year such as Easter and Christmas. A good place to contemplate life. 🙂

    • It certainly is a terrible story. After finding the memorial I couldn’t turn my visit into a humorous tale of adventure. I wanted to share the event to recognise a part of history which is so often swept under the carpet. A beautiful, tranquil place with a dark past. Thanks, Tom. 🙂

  1. Wonderful photos, a terrible story. There is so much non-indigenous Australians need to do to make sure we know and remember our awful history of violence in this land. Thanks for sharing this Jane.

    • Thanks, Nic. I totally agree. 🙂 I find it difficult to accept the hypocrisy of non-indigenous people who tell Indigenous people to forget the past when those same people still value war memorials and public holidays to commemorate a history of war/loss/invasion. Glorifying the colonial history of Australia without acknowledging the heavy cost to Indigenous Peoples does nothing to help heal and restore justice.

  2. Another beautiful post Jane, with really great shots. I always find it hard to understand how our forefathers did such atrocities. When I lives on the mid-north coast I had indigenous friends who told us why so many are still carrying their anger into the 21st century. I was shown where these atrocities took place and some of the other terrible murderous things that were done. You have captured some beautiful vistas my friend.

    • Thanks, Ashley. The dark history of colonialism still impacts Indigenous Australians today in many ways. Killing people and removing them from their lands and their families has had a devastating effect on future generations and inequality still exists in health, education, employment, and the justice system. Indigenous Peoples not only have a right to feel anger and loss over past atrocities but also over the current gap in these areas. I hope that as non-indigenous people listen more to what Indigenous Australians are saying is needed, that the autonomy of First Nations people will be restored. 🙂

  3. What a terrible thing to have happened to such peaceful and generous people! That such a lovely place should be forever tainted by the memory of such an act! It is a beautiful place and your gorgeous photographs have made me wish I could see it for myself.

    • Thank you, Clare. 🙂 It is a horrible part of colonial history. I often find it difficult to wrap my head around events that have happened in the past and the injustice that is still going on today. It is a very beautiful part of the world and I found it difficult to reconcile the dark history with the tranquility of the scenery. Knowing that some readers enjoy the more lighthearted aspects of my walks, I considered not sharing this story, but it’s vital we acknowledge the terrible cost to Indigenous peoples. My freedom and lifestyle are partly due to their loss.

  4. Hi Jane, another great post. We certainly have a sobering history in this country in relation to our indigenous peoples, something that we still haven’t quite come to grips with as a nation yet I don’t think. The north coast of NSW is a beautiful spot isn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed some quality time there with tough cookie. Cheers Kevin

    • Thanks, Kevin. Yes, the north coast of NSW is a beautiful part of the world, made more attractive because it hasn’t undergone as much development as the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Red Rock is a very peaceful area that is really only busy around Easter and school holidays. Yes, colonialism certainly came at a huge cost to Indigenous nations. We need to acknowledge this and work towards restoring autonomy and reducing gaps in health, education, employment and the justice system. 🙂

    • Thank you. New South Wales has some very beautiful areas of undeveloped coastline which I’d love to explore. I hope to share a few more stories in the future if I don’t run out of steam. 🙂

  5. Wonderful photos, especially of the clouds and bird life along the way.

    Looks like it was perfect weather for your walk too.

    ….and the sun setting – stunning – Mother Nature at her best and you captured it very well within the frame.

    • Thank you, Vicki. 🙂 We were thankful to have such beautiful weather during our trip. Some of the cloud formations as a change came through were fascinating. I spent hours just sitting on the beach staring at the sky, contemplating life. It really is a special part of the world and I’m glad I was able to share the experience with my daughter, even though we carried the sadness of the memorial discovery with us.

  6. Marvelous capture of such a beautiful place. It’s hard to imagine the cruelty that humans are capable of and in such a serene location! Your beginning shots remind me much of my coastal beaches, but then you bring in plant and bird life and I know for sure you’re on the other side of the planet! Happy travels where ever you go!

    • Thanks, Gunta. Some of the rocky coastline did remind me of the shots from your blog, although my photography doesn’t do it justice like yours. I’m a big fan of rocky coastal views. Ah, yes we do have some unique flora and fauna here. Our huge native blooms such as banksias are spectacular and attract so many birds and insects (and even tiny marsupials.) It is awful that such a beautiful location carries such a dark past. I spent a lot of time pondering that thought. Happy travels to you too, Gunta! 🙂

  7. This area is simply breathtaking. The first photo is amazing. As for the horrific history, there is an ugly, troubling similarity in the treatment of indigenous people in the U.S. and Australia. The invading colonial mentality of entitlement and dehumanization of those in the way is depressingly universal. I do find, however, that when I am in a landscape where battles or massacres occurred, I am comforted by the fact that the land and its plants and animals continue on in their beauty and life, despite the atrocities committed by humans there.

    • Thanks, Brenda. The sunset on our first day had such beautiful shades of pink which brought out the pink tones in the headland rock. It is such a pretty area made more appealing by lack of highrise development. It is increasingly more difficult to find quiet coastline these days. Yes, I also find it comforting to see how nature continues on so wondrously despite the evil deeds of humans. Perhaps that is why I escape to the wild so often? 🙂

  8. Wow, Jane your photographs are beautiful. It’s a lovely area that I could very well hike. Confess I especially liked your photograph of the pelicans, which are among my favorite characters of the bird world. I also appreciated your history lesson. It is a story told over and over when colonialists came in contact with indigenous people. Thank you. –Curt

    • Thanks, Curt. 🙂 It’s not hard to take good shots when the area is so pretty. I’m sure you would enjoy both the Solitary Islands Walk and the Yuraygir Coastal Walk. I originally hoped to do both, one after the other, over a relaxed 1 1/2 to 2 week period. I’m also a big fan of pelicans. I would have shared more shots if I’d known you liked them so much. Perhaps you have seen the movie Storm Boy or read the book it is based on by Colin Thiele? I may actually add a close up shot of their cheeky eyes to the blog post later. Yes, sadly the negative impacts of colonialism on Indigenous people are common stories. Some of my own ancestors were perpetrators and victims.

    • Sorry, I didn’t think about that. 😉 I probably wouldn’t have been able to send it due to quarantine restrictions anyway. Haha… Thanks! Love your collections. 🙂

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