Yamba’s Ford Park is a popular spot for residents and visitors alike. It is the site of a monthly market and of fairgrounds and the circus. It also provides access to the Calypso Caravan Park, the Iluka ferry and the well used path alongside the river between the marina and the southern breakwater. Few may realise that this park was once an expanse of shallow water known as Yamba Bay.
A rock training wall, constructed about 100 metres offshore in the 1860s created three bays of shallow water within Yamba Bay: Billy Black’s Bay, Barclay’s Bay and Pegus’ Bay. This transformed the riverside into a focal point of activity as holidaymakers disembarked from riverboats at the main public wharf and made their way across the wooden pier to the Yamba Hotel and other attractions on shore.
From the early 1900s, hundreds of people camped during the summer holidays in tents on Flinders Park above Yamba Beach, which was then well timbered, and in the surrounding streets with very basic amenities. This finally led to complaints by homeowners as people were continually camped outside their premises.
By 1930 the newly formed Yamba Urban committee, which had taken on the responsibility of maintaining and improving the communal areas of Yamba, looked to formalise the area available for camping. It was decided to partly fill the eastern end of the bay, which had been used for oyster leases and for swimming (near where the ferry wharf is today), as shown in the 1933 aerial photo. The area was reserved for public recreation and named Ford Park in 1933, in honour of a chairman of the Urban Area committee, John Henry Ford.
John ‘Henry’ Ford, a retired farmer, had joined the Yamba Urban Area Committee after moving to Yamba from Copmanhurst in 1926. An active member of the local community, he was chairman of the Yamba Urban Area Committee for 17 years. Henry Ford assisted William Ager in the construction of the first green for the Yamba Bowling Club and was responsible for the avenue of Norfolk Pines in Wooli Street. Henry also assisted with road and drainage works and spearheaded the construction of Ford Park, doing much of the labouring work himself as funds were tight.
Ford Park provided a much-needed extra camping ground and in 1935 the camping fees were 2s 6d per tent per week, compared to 8s per tent per week up on Flinders Park. However, debates continued between local authorities and the community over plans for a bigger picnic/camping area, boat moorings and swimming pool. When a Pioneer Recreation Shelter was erected on the park in 1952, J. H. Ford unveiled the plaque.
The eastern end of Yamba Bay, Billy Black’s Bay, was finally filled in the late 1950s and the Calypso Caravan Park was opened here in 1960, taking over part of the original Ford Park.
John Henry Ford was buried at Maclean Cemetery in 1963, aged 87 years, just as the park bearing his name was being extended – the dredge Maclean spent six months pumping 60,000 tons of sand into Barclay’s Bay to form the western end of Ford Park.
John McNamara and Sue Spence, Port of Yamba Historical Society