Stories From Urbenville

Rosemary Clark, Urbenville .

It was a bushfire emergency in the Upper Clarence that set Lyn Brereton on a path she never expected to walk.

“I came home one day to my newly built home to find a large number of people sitting on my verandah waiting for me, they wanted to set up their operations base in front of my house, because I live on a hilltop and the best place for radio reception in the area.” said Lyn.

Ms. Brereton’s house is on the Bonalbo road five kilometers from Urbenville and is a cleared area at a high point surrounded by hills and valleys.

In 1994 an extreme bushfire emergency occurred when large areas of hardwood forest around Urbenville burned for three week.

The flames were fanned by hot dry winds and the army was called in to help hard pressed firefighters and SES volunteers.

With all the firefighters and army personnel came another army of volunteers.
Women who made sandwiches and drinks all day and all night, a fruit van, and a baker with fresh bread every day, an amazing cavalcade of people all working together, and even though people were exhausted, they kept their spirits up and just kept coming and working until the job was done.
“I had a wonderful introduction to a village that will come together, and work so well together in times of need.” said Lyn.

Lyn, originally from New Zealand, had planned an easy retirement after twenty-five years as a sales representative, her life on the Gold Coast had been very happy, but a quieter lifestyle was planned until the bushfire experience changed everything.

Lyn threw herself into community life in Urbenville and introduced the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Club to the Urbenville Festival Committee.

Lyn is now the president of the Urbenville Development Association and hopes to develop an annual village festival or party that will bring all of the people from the village and surrounding area together to share a community spirit.
“You will only get out of life what you put in, so we should all put in.” said Lyn.

A Story by Rosemary Clark

The excitement of a new nation reaches right across Australia in 1901, even up into the goldfields of Tooloom. A new confidence is echoed by new traditions, and a new Australian tradition is on the first Tuesday in November, a horse race was held in Melbourne.

The Melbourne Cup was a glamorous social event; everybody was talking about this big race day.
The single men on the northern NSW gold fields at Tooloom had an idea for a race day of their own.
Supplies for the goldfield came by bullock dray from Lawrence own on the coast, food and drink could be arranged for such an event. The stagecoach stopped overnight at the Tooloom Hotel on its way to Tenterfield, passengers could be accommodated for an extra day and a social gathering and race day could be held at Tooloom.

Respectable young women from the surrounding villages were invited to the ‘Tooloom Picnic Races” and the single men boasted of past conquests as they eagerly awaited the race day.
A dance would be held that night following the day’s activities.
Six rooms were available for the young women and their chaperones, they would be safe and this would be a “class” event.

As preparations got underway the ladies set about the important issue of fashion. Hats were ordered from a milliner in Sydney and dresses were refurbished for the big occasion.

The little miners store sold lengths of vermilion pink ribbon to women livening up old bonnets and hatpins were sold in abundance to secure the new creations arriving from Sydney.

Horse races were often held on a flat across the Tooloom creek from the hotel, betting was heavy and the track inspected for new mineshafts and tunnel cave-ins before events took place.
The miners were a tough lot and cheating was expected

Races were at times also held on a circuit around the hotel, often as a result of a boast at the bar, the outcomes were almost always disputed and brawls involving fifty men were not uncommon.

It was decided that for the picnic races a circular racetrack around the hotel would please the ladies, and nobody wished to build an outhouse for the women in the hard ground on the other side of the creek.

The licensee of the hotel decided that the housemaids and stable boys should have a chance to join in the fun. {He wanted to be free of bar duty] and so tickets were sold that entitled everybody to free drinks from a 40 gallon punch barrel placed on the verandah of the hotel.

The punch was made up of everything that he could find in a bottle including some firry moonshine and a generous amount of rum and whisky.
Fruit juice was added to make it palatable and a plug of tobacco and a piece of blue metal were added to give it grunt.

The day arrived, 800 men and 120 women from the gold fields, 6 young ladies and their chaperones from the surrounding villages and a mob of stockmen’s horses and dogs made up the living.
The dust was washed down from the barrel of wild wild whisky

As each race was run, men and an assortment of dogs ran around the hotel while the women ran around the hotel verandah following their horses. Bets were laid before each race with the three men who now stood behind the bar. The hotel toilets were located beside the stables behind the hotel, and the racetrack was between the hotel and the toilets. The hotel possessed only six chamber pots, usually one to each of the guest rooms but around 55 women were now within the hotel building. Dresses of the day were corseted and with the eighteen inch waist being the height of fashion ladies had little room for comfort.

With an abound ace of alcohol consumed the need of the ladies to relieve themselves was great, a wise design of the day was to have a divided crutch in a ladies most personal undergarment so that the tightly laced corset need not be removed.

The chamber pots were quickly filled and a solution to the problem of overflowing pots was needed.
A lush patch of rhubarb grew at the back door of the hotel between the hotel and the kitchen. The rhubarb patch was four feel wide and ten feet long and was between the hotel wall and the earth footpath now experiencing a lot of fast running feet. The chamber pots were emptied out of a window each time to race-goers were out of site. This arrangement continued until the footpath became quite muddy and the hotel owner began looking for the broken water pipe under the hotel.

The cook was a large and loud woman who had little humor when it came to her cooking. The reputation of her rhubarb pies was about to challenge. Cook grabbed a rolling pin and waddled across to the hotel to “sort out” the culprit. At this point many of the ladies felt it opportune to join the men as they ran around the hotel garden.

It was now necessary for the ladies to go to the lavatory between races with a quick dash across the track to the stables. By this time many of the hats had become dislodged and the tightly buttoned bodices loosened at the neck.The women would then wait until the “out-house” was vacant; this was not a problem for the men who made liberal use of the back wall of the stables. This dash became more of an entertainment than the horse races as the affects of the punch barrel became apparent.

A large group of people had gathered across from the hotel on the veranda of the butchers shop and stable boy’s quarters. These were mostly married men and women but as they became increasingly more drunk, they spilled onto the racetrack at the end of each race, any assumption of safety was lost.

The finishing line was the large open area between the bar and the post office. Disputed results were resolved with a fight, often starting with the jockeys, still mounted, but soon involving twenty people.
Most miners were so drunk that their punches missed the mark and nobody was hurt.

At sunset a degree of calm settled over the hotel. The visiting ladies were promised a dance so a band was formed from patrons of various musical talents. A wall panel was removed between the dining room and a storeroom making a large dance floor for the women and those men still standing and a good time was had by most. The dancing continued past midnight with Scottish reels and the occasional wild romp around the room. The ladies were the center of much attention. The next morning unconscious bodies were strewn over the hills and it was not until sunset the following day the all the miners crawled back to their camps.

It was another three weeks before the gold fields were functioning normally. By 1905 the gold was gone and the hills were silent again. Very old style. Set in 1901 horses, lots of people, old buildings falling down. Cream/brown tones, pink ribbons.

Story’s by Rosemary Clark


The inky blue hills far to the east beckoned the adventurous mind, and the warm moist air of springtime nurtures the inner spirit of small boys. The original Urbenville School sat high on a hill overlooking the valley and the village below.

On a warm November afternoon a group of schoolboys were throwing stones at a group of flock pidgins perched on the telephone wire attached to the wall of the schoolhouse. Just as Patrick, an adventurous eight year old downed a pidgin with a well aimed stone, the headmaster stepped out of his office and witnessed the event. Patrick was marched into the office and given six across the hand with his much used cane.

This got Paddy’s Irish up, and as he left the office, he picked up another stone and threw it at the pidgins, downing another bird.

A now red faced headmaster saw this act of defiance, and marched Paddy back to the office for six more, and a sharp slap across the backside for good measure. The next morning Paddy arrived early at school, and downed every bird on the wire.


The Urbenville Football Team returned home late from their match in Lismore. The night was wet and cold, and the old school bus had seen many better days. A storm had caused flooding along the Richmond River but they had been able to cross the old wooden bridges along their way.

The lights of home could be seen through the trees as they approached the Tooloom Creek crossing just a mile out from Urbenville village.

The rain had been heavy in the mountains. The water was high over the bridge and the railings could just be seen beneath the surface of the rushing water.

Many hours of cold and darkness were ahead of the team on this winters night. Paddy was an unstoppable larrikin with a streak that some said was courage; his family often despaired at his antics and daredevil ways. Paddy wrapped his legs and arms around the handrail and began to move into the swirling stream. Slowly he made his way across the creek, guided by the handrail. Reaching the other side he headed into Urbenville leaving his mates to a cold night.

Paddy spent his evening enjoying a few good ails in front of a log fire at the Urbenville Pub.
Years later Paddy’s larrikin spirit and unswerving courage would see him through tougher times on the Kakoda Track.


The Urbenville dance was usually held on Friday night, the popular events attracted hundreds of people and the dancing would continue into the early hours of the morning.

The village hall would be full of young people from the local farms and neighboring villages, all eager to enjoy each other’s company and find a little romance.

Men would tie up their horses on one side of the hall, while the ladies had a set of hitching rails on the other side, this gave privacy and dignity for the women as they dismounted.
Pat Harris could not resist a joke, and nobody was safe from his tricks.

Paddy slipped out of the hall one winter evening shifted one mans horse up three positions on the hitching rail, and then whitewashed the horse, giving it a completely different appearance.
The owner came out of the hall to ride home and unable to find his horse, he was sure that the horse had been stolen and went to get the village constable.

On the other side of the building, Paddy had removed all of the ladies saddles and replaced them, backwards on the horses. Paddy hid in the bushes behind the hall to watch all the fun, he later remarked that he did not know that ladies could swear like that.***

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