history + heritage

live + work + play

The river is sacred to the Widjabul, who view it as an old friend

Lismore and its surrounding villages is Country to the Widjabul people of the Bundjalung nation, a living culture with continuous connection to place. Widjabul Country is steeped in the tradition of Ngathang Garr, ancestral beings whose movements, travels and events are etched in the landscape and rivers of this ancient land.

The Wilsons River that runs through the heart of Lismore is the lifeblood of Widjabul Country, supporting ecosystems that have evolved over thousands of years. The river is sacred to the Widjabul who view it as an old friend – always there in times of need with sources of nourishment to feed and look after the people. Through this relationship, the river is seen as an important gathering place where shared learning takes place.

Today, the Widjabul people share their ancestral lands with a mix of people from all around the world who are drawn to the area’s magical richness and unrivalled quality of life. Farmers, hippies, healers, students, academics, entrepreneurs, artists, entertainers and business professionals co-communities who are proud to call the Rainbow Region home.

The amazing cultural diversity, artistic expression and spectacular, lush landscape of the Rainbow Region are defining characteristics of the area and fundamental to the region’s history.

the river city

The Wilsons River is the reason that Lismore is here today. The city was built on river transport and from 1842, timber-getters arrived by sea via the Richmond River.

Lismore was the furthest navigable section of the river system for ocean-going vessels. It provided the access necessary for shipping out the region’s ‘red gold’ – magnificent red cedar cut from the vast expanse of rainforest known as ‘the Big Scrub’ that once blanketed the region. The landscape was swiftly stripped of cedar and as the timber-getters moved further west, the land was opened up for pastoral runs.

In 1845, Jane and William Wilson established Lismore Station, named after the Island of Lismore in Loch Linnhe, in their native Scotland. While there is no longer any trace of Lismore Station, the family was commemorated in 1976 when the north arm of the Richmond River was renamed Wilsons River.

By the second half of the 19th century, the landscape was rapidly changing and with the clearing of the forests and draining of swamp lands, villages and towns were developing. The timber-cutters and cattle grazers were followed by pioneering dairy farmers and they, in turn, by waves of settlers from across the globe.

With its riverside location, Lismore became the natural ‘crossroads’ for the region and the town grew rapidly as a result of its river trade. The introduction of the railway between Lismore and Byron Bay in the 1890’s linked the river and rail systems, confirming Lismore as the regional centre.

Despite the droughts and severe floods that have devastated the city over the years, many historic buildings still grace Lismore’s wide thoroughfares and businesses established in those early days continue to prosper.

see + do

  • Visit Lismore’s Historical Society Museum to view relics of a bygone era
  • Take a stroll along the unique outdoor museum of the Wilsons River Experience Walk. Plaques mark this interpretive walk that starts in the city centre and skirts the river for 3km. Along the way you’ll pass a bush-tucker garden, consisting of nurturing plants that once formed the daily diet of the local Widjabal people
  • Wander around the city’s Historic Interest Walk for a snapshot of Lismore’s quirky and colourful history. Pick up a copy of the Walkabout brochure at the local visitor centre or download from the maps + brochures section.
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