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1931 Bullock train and poles in High Street

Yamba Yesteryear’s


One of the greatest innovations in the history of Australia was the provision of an electricity supply, replacing the inconvenience of candles, kerosene lanterns and gas lighting. The availability of electricity was a milestone in the lives of the people as it made their everyday living much easier. Proper radios were now available where news and entertainment could be heard. Electrical household gadgets, which we take for granted these days, were accessible to help ease the burden of housework.

In the early 1920s, the Nymboida hydro-electric scheme was created with electricity being connected to Grafton in 1924 and Maclean in 1926.

In 1929, the Yamba Town Improvement Association succeeded in obtaining pledges of $1456 for the necessary guarantee for extension of electric light and power to Yamba from the Nymboida powerhouse and residents of Palmers Island and Palmers Channel pledged a further $534. The Clarence River County Council, based on this result, was prepared to carry out an investigation of the scheme.

1931 Newly completed club house

The first meeting of Yamba Urban Committee was held on 10 January 1930 with President Herbert Saxby (storekeeper), Herbert W Atkins (fisheries inspector) and John Campbell (farmer).  Mrs Emily Duggan was appointed Secretary. The committee was in favour of proceeding with the extension as a means of increasing trade and providing light, home facilities, and comforts. A section of the community opposed the scheme and argued that the cost should be a burden on the ratepayers. The community took sides and waged verbal warfare for months. This culminated in a referendum of the ratepayers being taken. The anti’s won, the decision being an overwhelming ‘no’ vote. The urban council was adamant, and despite the decision of ratepayers, completed arrangements with the County Council, contributing 13 streetlights of 200 candle power, each at approximately $180 per annum and securing contributions of $80 per annum from Government Institutions in Yamba. In March, the County Council agreed to proceed with the Yamba extension at an estimated cost of $9500.

1981 sketch by Keith Howland of the switching-on

A survey of the Maclean to Yamba extension of the electricity was commenced by the County Council in February 1931 and construction commenced in June. Mr J O’Shaunnessy of Jacky Bulbin supplied the poles by bullock train. In October, McKenna and Smith of Prince Street, Grafton advised that all installation work entrusted to them by council for the electricity supply to Yamba would be completed ready for service on 21 November 1931. The firm quoted $2.10 for installation of a complete household lighting plan.

Jane Schaumann switching on the lights

An enthusiastic public meeting was held at Yamba on 15 October to arrange celebrations at the switching-on of the electricity supply on 21 November. The meeting was convened by Herbert Saxby, president of the Yamba Urban Area Committee, following a request by the Chamber of Commerce. A committee of fourteen was formed and plans for a three-day carnival were discussed with an aim to raise funds for local sporting bodies and the Grafton ambulance.

The programme for the Electric Light Carnival was as follows:

Friday, November 20 — “Back to School” Picnic and children’s Sports day; Dance and 500 Tournament at the School of Arts Hall in the evening with music by McKenna’s Orchestra of  Grafton.

Saturday, November 21— Monster Sports carnival; Switching-on Ceremony at 7 p.m. by Mrs Jane (nee Freeburn) Schaumann, the first white child born in Yamba, assisted by Dr. Earle Page and Mr. A. S. Henry, Members for the district; Gala Dance (continuous) at 8 p.m. at the School of Arts featuring McKenna’s Orchestra; Ambulance Carnival at night.

Sunday, November 22. — Surf Carnival at Yamba Beach; Opening of new Surf Club Rooms at 11.30 a.m. by Dr Earle Page MHR with the ribbon cut by Mrs Roland Smith, wife of the club’s patron; Good programme of Beach and Water Events.

Electricity was connected to the Yamba School of Arts Hall (located on the site of present-day Yamba Library) in February 1932 and Palmers Island on 22 February 1935.

John McNamara, Port of Yamba Historical Society.