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

Gumbaynggirr people formed one of the largest coastal nations in New South Wales and have occupied the area for thousands of years. 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


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 Gumbaynggirr 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

51 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. 🙂

    • Thanks, Steve. The light was so beautiful at that moment and gave the rocks and sky a delicate pink glow. I was glad the camera was able to catch something of it for me to share with others. Usually I am disappointed with my landscape shots. I hope you and Eve are enjoying the holiday season and that you continue enjoying your travels and sharing your excellent photography and interesting and educational information. Best wishes. 🙂

  9. Hi Jane

    This post was so good that it gave me goose-bumps reading it and absorbing these images. You have a real skill for going from the big picture to the details, in words and images.

    Your theme is a powerful one, you have captured well that unease when those with eyes to see contemplate the violence associated with our ‘colonisation’ of this land. Indeed, the landscape is never wild, it has human stories written into and over it, going back thousands of years. In many cases stories of violence and suffering.

    Hopefully the stories can continue in positive ways with thoughtful writing such as yours. It is wonderful that the Gumbaynggirr people have survived and continue their ancient connection with that place. It was not that long ago I was told in primary school that the original Australians were “all gone forever”. The truth of the past is being gradually understood and hopefully we can move forward in reconciliation, although it would seem way too slowly.

    The Whitman quotes were excellent. I love the way that Australian poet Judith Wright captured that feeling of a legacy of guilt juxtaposed against our need to belong to the land we live in. I hope I’m not abusing copyright by quoting this poem of hers (remove of course if you wish), which is very relevant to your theme.

    At Cooloola

    The blue crane fishing in Cooloola’s twilight
    has fished there longer than our centuries.
    He is the certain heir of lake and evening,
    and he will wear their colour till he dies,

    but I’m a stranger, come of a conquering people.
    I cannot share his calm, who watch his lake,
    being unloved by all my eyes delight in,
    and made uneasy, for an old murderer’s sake.

    Those dark skinned people who once named Cooloola
    knew that no land is lost or won by wars,
    for earth is spirit: the invader’s feet will tangle
    in nets there and his blood be thinned by fears.

    Riding at noon and ninety years ago,
    My grandfather was beckoned by a ghost-
    a black accoutred warrior armed for fighting,
    who sank into bare plain, as now into time past.

    White shores of sand, plumed reed and paperbark,
    clear heavenly levels frequented by crane and swan –
    I know that we are justified only by love,
    but oppressed by arrogant guilt, have room for none.

    And walking on clean sand among the prints
    of bird and animal, I am challenged by a driftwood spear
    thrust from the water; and, like my grandfather,
    must quiet a heart accused by its own fear.

    • Hi Rob,
      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments which certainly add a great deal to the conversation about a topic which has not been discussed enough. I know that in your job you have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with colleagues from Indigenous Nations and I have valued the insights you have passed on to me, especially in regard to the history of land within national parks in Queensland.
      Thank you very much also for the appropriate Judith Wright poem. I don’t know if it infringes on copyright but will leave it there unless I am asked to take it down. I don’t know if the same rules apply to a comment on a blog. I hadn’t read it before but it is certainly relevant to the theme.
      Best wishes and thanks for your support, as always. 🙂

  10. Truely inspired by the natural beauty of this place. You have done it justice with your superb photography. Paid my respect to the Gumbaynggirr people.

    • Thanks, Rob. It is a very beautiful part of the world. I’m so glad you felt inspired by the place and that you paid your respects to the Gumbaynggirr people. They have suffered great loss since white settlement. Peace to you. 🙂

  11. Hi ! Lovely text , very poetic , although horrible facts. I’m doing a painting about Red Rock atm , could I use “ the sea, sky and shore, still caress each other despite the horrors of human history “ and quote you on my comments on social media ? Let me know please . Thank you ! ☺️ Carol

    • Hi Carol, thank you for the positive feedback about my writing and I am pleased that you would think those words good enough to quote. It’s best you send me a private email via the “Contact” tab of my website to send me more specific details of where you would like to share it and how. I do not publish my full name for various reasons. I don’t receive an income from writing my blog posts so quoting me in a business sense through social media for marketing purposes may be problematic. If it is more of a personal nature to share the beauty and the Indigenous history of the area that may be a different story and a specific link to my Red Rock blog post may suffice. It really depends on the details. Please feel free to email me. Kind regards. Jane. 🙂

        • Hi Carol. Just thought I’d check if you still wanted to email me. I’ve had some comments and emails go missing lately so if you have emailed and I’ve not replied, have another try. 🙂

          • Hi Jane! Oh good to hear from you, I did think you were not interested to see what I wrote as I didn’t hear back, do that’s why didn’t end up sending image to you… so here it is bellow . I was pleased that unintentionally, I finished the painting on NAIDOC week , last Monday… I wrote this bellow the image :

            I can’t stand winter so I painted one of my favourite National Parks summer destination 🌞 RED ROCK, at Northern NSW. It is the most amazing place, with pristine nature, and profound sense of wilderness, very inspiring. However looking at its history, I found out that Red Rock has quite a dark history despite its current beauty, being the site of horrendous massacre of the indigenous Gumbaynggirr people in the mid 19th Century. So beautiful, they were renowned as the “sharing people”, as they frequently shared the abundant resources in the region with other nations. I like to dedicate this wildflowers to them, all the indigenous people who still struggle with identity and all the spiritual workers of today contributing for a more compassionate world, with a lot more spirituality, unconditional love and wisdom.

            All the best !


            • I’m so sorry that something went wrong with my emails! It’s a bit concerning. I wonder how many other people have sent me emails and wondered why I didn’t reply! Oh well. Maybe it somehow went to spam and got trashed. Thank you for sharing those words with your painting. It’s important that people know the true history about what happened to the Indigenous people at Red Rock. Best wishes! Jane 🙂

  12. Thank you for writing this piece- it truly is a beautiful place with a horrific history. The resilience and beauty of the people still shine like the land. The heart is strong. But a resonating sadness at humanity is left. A dramatic and tragic balance encased in what feels like nirvana

    • Hi Erroll. Thank you so much for your kind feedback and taking the time to share your beautifully worded thoughts. I hesitated for some time before sharing this story, as I knew that no matter how much I tried, my words could never impart how this horrific massacre (and white colonisation) has impacted Traditional Custodians. In the end though, I thought it important to attempt to share a part of history often swept under the carpet or not even acknowledged, especially since many of my followers are probably unaware of this information. Once again, thanks for taking the time to comment. Best wishes. 🙂

  13. Your lovely photos, excellent writing and thoughts are an inspiration for me to visit these places and appreciate their healing power.

    • Thank you for those kind words, Trudy. I’ve been very lucky to spend so much time in the natural world. Not everyone has that opportunity. As my mobility decreases, I’m hoping that I can still gain pleasure from looking at my old albums. I hope you have many years of discovery ahead of you. All my best. 🙂

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