Place Names – Solferino on the Clarence

Solferino was a small gold mining township on the upper Clarence River, about 92 kilometres northwest of Grafton. The town was short-lived. Over the last hundred and thirty years the bush has reclaimed the site and today there is very little evidence that it existed at all.

Alluvial gold was found on the upper  Clarence and Rocky Rivers in Northern New South Wales in 1859, which caused a gold rush to the area.

In 1870 there was another gold rush on the Clarence River when gold was found in the quartz reefs in the mountains on Yulgilbar Station some fifty miles ( eighty kilometres) North-West of Grafton. They were known as the Lunatic and Perseverance Gold Reefs.

On August 10th a report appeared in the local newspaper the Clarence and Richmond Examiner that  “ a new payable quartz reef has been discovered on Noggregar, perhaps better known as McGrath’s Creek, eight miles from Yulgilbar by two bothers Commissari, two brothers Valli, and two brothers Muchilelle – it is named the Solferino. The lucky proprietors on finding payable gold immediately proceeded to Mr. G W F Addison, Gold Commissioner who authorized the allocated reward, a double claim of 60 feet for each man. This reward is too little for the important discovery of a new quartz reefing district.

In the early years, much gold was taken out of these mines which led to fortunes being spent on very fine businesses and homes in Grafton. Some of these buildings are still standing today.

In 1872 J W Lindt the well-known photographer went to the Solferino Goldfields with his travelling studio. He produced a series of photographs that were described in The Clarence and Richmond Examiner.

“… a dozen different views of the various scenery in and around the township of Solferino, in which the light and shade is really magnificent while the sharpness with which the figures and objects are brought out enabling one to detect at first glance many old and familiar faces while the names of the different businesses places can be read with the naked eye… the list of those before us — Mr Wilkinson’s crushing Machine; the old Solferino store, Australian Joint Stock Bank,Mr Watt’s chemist Shop and Mr Kuhl’s Private Residence; An Old Miners Residence; Trying for Colour (two views); Mr J Laird’s Hotel from across the creek; View of Grass Tree Creek; View of Solferino Township(taken from the hill opposite; Mr J P Jordan’s Stores; Large Box Tree; Ferns and Grass trees in a gully and a large Panoramic View of Solferino Township.”

One of the above mentioned Commissari brothers, Giovanni, remained in the district when the others sold out and moved on to other goldfields in Australia.   Giovanni (John) Commissari married Angelina Brown in 1873. They had three children; Lucy, 1873-1874, Sarah Jane, 1875 and John (Jr), 1877. John Comissari (Sr) was naturalized in 1874. He died on his farm at Coaldale in 1878.

The Italian immigrants who discovered the Solferino Reef came from the northern part of Italy, near the famous village of Solferino. Why it was famous I will explain the following blog.


J W Lindt’s View of Solferino from across the creek.

PIC/15544/1-8 LOC Album 23-Characteristic Australian scenery [picture]/Solferino, New South Wales, early 1870s [picture] /

From <>


Grafton – Weiley’s Market Hotel

The first hotel built opposite the Market Reserve was erected by Mrs.E White in 1875. It was built of local brick. It was enlarged over the years and continued to be run by various members of the White family. This hotel did extensive trade including with the traveling troupers, circus entertainers and quack doctors that practiced their trade in the Market Reserve in the evenings.

In 1899 the Market Hotel was taken over by William J Weiley, formerly of the Willow Tree Hotel (Grafton) and the Globe Hotel (South Grafton). Extensive improvements were made and another storey was added in 1901, making it one of the finest hotels in the city.

On the night of 27 May 1908, the hotel was destroyed by fire, along with several other shops in this part of Prince Street. A full account was given in the local newspapers. From what can be gathered, the fire broke out unaccountably about the centre of Mr. McCann’s Trade Palace, next door to Weiley’s Hotel. When the fire alarm was given the fire had a firm hold. The tolling of the fire bell and the glare of the flames soon indicated the precise locality of the outbreak, and in a short time, hundreds of people were on the scene.

By this time it could be seen that the store where the fire originated was doomed and its contents also, for it was a seething mass of flames, leaping through the roof and windows. Though this building was of wood, those adjacent were partly of brick, and this offered some resistance to the devouring element.

For a while, the brick wall of the two-storeyed Market Hotel prevented the spread of the fire, but eventually, the intense heat allowed the flames to catch the eaves and ignited the woodwork of the roof. From this point the fire worked downwards, first consuming what was combustible on the top floor and then making its way to the lower.

Meanwhile, many willing hands were busy removing the stock and furniture to a place of safety in the Market Reserve, and a considerable portion was got out before the workers were driven back by heat and flames.

The fire brigade, who were promptly on the spot rendered great service. A hose was attached to the newly laid water mains in Prince Street and from that point, two continuous streams of water poured onto the flames. Special attention was directed to prevent the destruction of Hockey’s Boot manufacturing building. The contents of the building were removed but with the strenuous efforts of the firemen, the building was saved.

On the Pound Street side, the fire-engine was set to work, and there is no doubt the continuous streams of water there saved the adjacent buildings of E G Powell. Had this building been destroyed the fire must have destroyed several more buildings in that street.

Within two days of these business premises being destroyed, temporary work places had been established to other parts of the city. W J Weiley applied to the Grafton Municipal Council for permission to erect temporary bar and parlours on the Market Reserve.

Within a few weeks, W J Weiley had F W C Schaeffer, the well- known local architect, draw up plans for a new hotel. Work was started immediately and by May the following year, the new building had just about been completed.

Mackey Archives - Local History

The new building was of two storey, extending nearly 77 feet on Pound Street and 75 feet on Prince Street. A spacious and ornamental balcony of 12 feet wide extended along the whole frontage. It contained forty rooms including a bar, billiard room, dining room, a number of ground floor parlours, upstairs a drawing room and bedrooms, bathrooms, and storerooms. On the Prince Street side are a tobacconist shop and hairdressing salon. A two storey wing of bedrooms extended from the rear of the hairdressing salon, parallel with the Pound Street wing, and in the yard centre formed by these buildings is an underground tank with a holding capacity of 9000 gallons of water.

The building was of brick throughout, the front with its high parapet wall being re-enforced with cement. The interior was plastered, with all ceilings of various Wunderlich designs.

The woodwork of the main bar is French Polished Queensland Maple with paneling of Silky Oak.

The contractor was Hamlet Hann with Herman Schaeffer a sub-contractor for the gas fittings and plumbing.

The new hotel was opened in June 1909 in readiness for the unveiling of the new Jubilee Town Clock.

For over a century this hotel has stood the test of time and has always been a favourite of Graftonian’s as well as visitors.

During World War I and II on the battle fields of Europe and the Pacific, many young Clarence Valley soldiers’ parting words to their mates were, “See you at Weiley’s”.

Although no longer a hotel the building remains the same. The main bar area has been repurposed as a restaurant and continues to serve as a meeting place for many in this city.


Pound Street side Weiley’s Hotel-2018

Grafton – Headstones in the Villiers Street Cemetery -1

In a former blog, I wrote about the history of the Villiers Street Cemetery, Grafton here.

Most family historians love cemeteries. They love them more if they can find a headstone concerning a family member.

I love the old Villiers Street Cemetery, Grafton, although I have no family members buried there.

Over forty years I have spent countless hours transcribing, photographing and researching those that are buried there. It is estimated there are more than six thousand burials in that cemetery over a period of more than 150 years. When I transcribed the surviving headstones and burial markers in 1986 there were nearly four thousand. That leaves many graves without a marker of any kind.

Originally there would have been a small wooden cross to mark the church burial, but over time these would have disintegrated. If the family could not afford a more permanent headstone to mark the grave then many years later it cannot be identified.

Sometimes headstones were erected, but for some reason, they did not survive. They may have been of poor quality stone and are now so weathered they cannot be read. Other headstones may have fallen and were broken. Over many years the fragments were lost.

Headstones tell stories. They can tell you much about the people whose grave they mark.

  1. Surname and Christian names
  2. Maiden name
  3. Ideals/Hopes/Fears
  4. Relatives
  5. Place of birth
  6. Place of death
  7. How died
  8. Relationships/Friends/Workmates
  9. Religion
  10. Occupation
  11. Sports/Hobbies
  12. Nationality
  13. Financial Status/Social position
  14. How long in Australia/Town
  15. Lodge Membership
  16. War Service
  17. Travel
  18. Photographs
  19. Stonemason

Headstones can be a wonderful source of information, but they do not tell the whole story and you need to gather as much information as you can from various sources to get a better understanding.

The Oldest Burial in the Villiers Street Cemetery?

For example, the following headstone shows the oldest dates of death in this cemetery.

SHANNON,Headstone,1986,Grafton,Headstone Photograph



To the memory of

Charles McAlister Shannon

Died 27 Sept 1846

Aged 61 years


Elizabeth Shannon

Died 2nd Feb 1864

Aged 75 years


James Walter Shannon

Died 3rd May 1853

Aged 19 years

This headstone is believed to have been erected by the Shannon family after Elizabeth Shannon’s death in 1864. If you take the information on this headstone at face value you would be misled.

This cemetery was not in use when Charles McAlister Shannon died on 27 September 1846, aged 61 years.

The early  Church of England burial register states that he was ” Captain Charles McAlister Shannon of Moleville on the Clarence River, who died on 20 September 1846 and was buried on 23 September 1846. He was aged 60 years, and at that time was a Superintendent (of the station). He was late of Levenstrath, Argyleshire, Scotland.” (Moleville was a Station on the Clarence River about 15 Kilometres above Grafton).

The family moved after Charles McAlister Shannon’s death.

James Walter Shannon, died 3 May 1853 aged 19 years.

The Church of England burial Register states” James Walter Shannon of Geergaroo, aged 18 years. Died 2 May 1853 and buried 3 May 1853 a gentleman.” (Geergaroo, was a Station about ten kilometres south-west of Grafton.) He was buried by Rev Arthur E Selwyn and WCB Wilson, Clerk of Petty Sessions, Grafton. The Villiers Street Cemetery was not open at this time.( Note the different spelling of “Geergaroo” in the death notice below.)

Elizabeth Shannon, died 2 February 1864 aged 75 years. As the Villiers Street Cemetery, opened in 1859, it is most likely that she was buried in this cemetery, with the other burials being added to the headstone for memorial sake.

There are many sources which can help with further information including-

Death Certificates

After March 1856 all burials in the Clarence Valley were to be recorded with the Clerk of Petty Sessions, at the Grafton Court House.

Here is the reference for Elizabeth Shannon’s death at the Registrar of Births,Deaths & Marriages for NSW.


Retrieved 8 Aug 2018 from <>



SHANNON – On the 2nd February, at Gergorrow

Clarence River, Elizabeth, widow of the late

Charles M’Alister Shannon, Esq.


Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW: 1859 – 1889), Tue 9 Feb 1864, p2 Family Notices
Retrieved 8 Aug 2018 from <>

Cemetery On-line Websites- Australian Cemeteries Index

Shannon Headstone

Headstone Photograph retrieved 8 August 2018 from

Local Government Records -Clarence Valley Council Website

Clarence Valley Council Cemetery Register Records retrieved 8 Aug 2018 from

Shannon 1

Shannon 2

Shannon 3

As you can see records do not always agree. You need to resolve this conflict in the records by consulting as many different sources as you can find and make an informed decision, of which of the records are most likely to be correct.

A headstone does not always tell you the correct story, so take care when using them as a source.

In this case, we have a headstone for three members of the Shannon family in the Grafton Villiers Street Cemetery, but they are not all buried there.




Grafton- History of the Villiers Street Cemetery

The first burial ground in Grafton or ‘The Settlement’ as it was known in the early 1840s was a section of the ‘Church Reserve’ in what is now known as Fry street. The first burial in this cemetery was about 1843 and is believed to have been a young child. The second burial was in September 1844 of George Dixon. When the Church of England was built in 1854 it was built on a section of land on the river bank which had been purchased from the Crown by the Bishop of Newcastle. The Church Reserve in Fry Street was never used for its intended purpose. Although some form of memorial stones or crosses were probably placed on some of the approximately forty burials there, only one headstone remains on the site. See the story of this cemetery here

Cemetery Opened

The Grafton Cemetery in North Grafton was incorporated in the Grafton Town Plans in 1848 drawn up by W W Darke. It was located at the northern end of Villiers Street and was bounded by Villiers, Kirchner, Duke and Crown Streets. Due to the thick brush in that vicinity and sufficient space in the Church Reserve Burial Ground, it was over ten years before the first burial took place in the ‘new’ cemetery in 1859. An extract from the reminiscences of the late Allan Cameron:

” About Grafton Cemetery- Uncle Donald (Cameron) was the first buried, and Uncle Duncan, Donald Gillies, Alan McLean and myself dug the first grave. There was a young publican in Grafton present at the funeral, and that day three months (later) he was buried in the Church of England Portion. So these were the first funerals in the cemetery. His name was Reuben Pate. He went to the Casino races, got a chill, and that was the finish of him.”  (A headstone purchased by public subscription, stood over Pate’s grave for over a century before it fell and was broken into several pieces. No fragments of this headstone now survive.)

There were a number of burials in this cemetery between 1859 and 1870 according to the death registrations at the Grafton Court House.

In April 1870 a brief notice in the local paper The Clarence and Richmond Examiner read: “Crown Lands dedicated to Public Purposes…section 135, town of Grafton, 10 acres as a general cemetery…” Although a Municipal Cemetery, the plan drawn up, showing various sections for the various religious groups in the town, including Church of England, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and Jewish. Each church was responsible for the clearing and management of each section of the cemetery. Various Church Trusts were set up to manage the cemetery.

The Presbyterian Church appointed a committee to collect subscriptions for the “clearing, stumping and fencing the Presbyterian Section of the cemetery, with a five feet paling fence on the street boundaries.”

Various dedication ceremonies may have taken place for all the denominations but the only one reported in the newspaper was for the Roman Catholic section. “The consecration ceremony was performed by the Bishop, assisted by the Very Reverend Dean Lynch, Vicar General, and the Rev M Keogan, in the presence of a large assemblage”. The Lands Department maps show the dedication as 15th July 1871, while the newspaper reports give the date as 9th July 1871.

Later further areas were dedicated for the Baptist, Salvation Army and Lutheran faiths.

It is likely that the early graves had wooden crosses and or picket fences erected over them, but these haven’t stood the test of time and disintegrated. All the headstones erected between 1860 and 1870 were of sandstone. These would have been purchased in Sydney and brought to Grafton by ship.

The earlier burials in each section seem to have been rather haphazard and in general, were in family groups. Most of the headstones faced due east, however, I did find two headstones, with foot-stones, facing west. I can offer no explanation except perhaps the symbolism as the setting of the sun setting in the west signifies the end of life of the day the headstone facing west signifies the end of the life of the body.

In the early 1870’s George Cook opened a quarry on his land at Whiteman Creek. This was a sandstone quarry and the stone was brought by barges pulled by boats from Moleville to Grafton for the building of the new premises for the Grafton Post Office and Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and the Bank of New South Wales. These were built by William Kinnear. William Coulter a Master Stonemason came to Grafton to work on these buildings.

In 1876 Coulter with partner James Keen opened a ‘Cemetery Works’ and stone yard in Pound Street, Grafton, next to the Commercial Hotel(now the Clock Tower Hotel). It is very likely that Coulter worked some of the local sandstone in his monumental works although no stones bear his name.

Some of the large sandstone and marble monuments came from the large Sydney firms. An extract from the Clarence and Richmond Examiner- “an obelisk of white marble, is placed in the north Grafton Presbyterian Cemetery over the grave of the late Mr. Angus Cameron of Argyle Villa. The inscription is inlaid metal letters, and the work is an ornament to the cemetery in which it stands. The erection was carried out by Mr. Coulter of Pound Street…the monument was supplied by Messrs Hanson and Lewis of Sydney from their stock and the works in execution and design do them every credit.”

Mackey Archives - Local History

General View of Section of Villiers Street Cemetery Grafton – 2018 – Copyright

By the mid-1870s with the Denominational Trusts administrating the cemeteries, the burials became more ordered in the form of rows. The plans of plotting of such burials are reputed to have been kept in a grave diggers hut in the cemetery ground. This hut was destroyed by fire in the late 1920s, including any records of the burial plots, which might have been kept. One firm of Undertakers which served the district over three generations had a tremendous oral history to the burial of many people, especially where there were no headstones. Much of this was lost on the death of the last member of the firm.

In 1922 the Church of England section of the cemetery had new work completed with the erection of a new fence and a gatehouse, after the style of the English Lytch-gate. However, this building is much larger allowing for a vehicle to pass through. Whereas in the English villages the Lytch-gate afforded a place for the pallbearers to rest the coffin, while they awaited the mourners to catch-up before moving to the burial place in the churchyard, the Grafton gate-house may have afforded a resting place for the hearse in the shade while the mourners in carts and buggies could suitably hitch the horses and the pedestrian mourners to catch-up with the burial party before moving into the cemetery. There are no chapter houses or chapels in the Grafton Cemetery, nor is there a Cemetery Office.



Gatehouse Grafton Villiers Street Cemetery


In 1928 the state government amended regulations for the management of cemeteries in New South Wales and the cemetery church Trusts of the various denominations were required to keep better records of the burials.

Like everywhere else in the state the numerous church trusts for the Grafton cemetery found it difficult due to lack of funds and authority to keep the cemeteries in good order and it was left to families who had people buried in the cemetery to keep the graves weed and grass free.

Throughout the 1930’s to 1960’s there were numerous campaigns with letters to the press urging the State government to put all cemeteries in the hands of the local councils and allow them to levy in the city rates for funds to keep the cemeteries in good order.

Cemetery Closure

That finally happened in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1968 that it was gazetted and Cemetery Trusts were dissolved and local government authorities were made responsible for all cemeteries and burial grounds in their area. Cemetery Trusts were to hand over all records of burials in their cemeteries. In most cases, these records were very basic and not complete. Few maps of actual burials survived.

Due to the poor state of the Villiers Street Cemetery at the time, from major flooding in 1967 as well as years of neglect, the Grafton Municipal Council closed the site for burials.

A new burial site was opened on flood-free land outside town limits and is known as the Clarence Lawn Cemetery.

The Council called on the community to supply any information on burials in the Villiers Street Cemetery to help them with the documentation of this large and century-old city cemetery.

Although the Council has continued to seek information, many gaps remain in their records.


Family Historians looking for burials in this cemetery will find the following resources useful.

  1. Clarence Valley Council Cemetery Register at

The Council Office also hold ‘constructed’ maps of burials compiled from a number of sources to assist people to locate graves.

2. Cemeteries Australia Index at

3. Newspaper references at

Grafton- Market Square

When the first plans of Grafton were drawn up in 1848, this area was set aside as a Market Reserve, where farmers were to bring their produce for sale.

The land was never used for this purpose and for many years the Grafton Council leased it for the grazing of cattle, particularly to William Noud, a blacksmith, who resided on the block and to Mrs White the proprietor of the Market Hotel, which was on opposite side of Pound Street..

In 1884 when the Grafton Municipal Council was looking for a suitable source for town water, a bore was drilled in the reserve to a depth of more than 200 feet, but when hard shale was struck the operation was abandoned and the shaft was partially filled in. A pump was later attached for stock water and gardening purposes.

This land was also used as an area where circus and other traveling troupers exhibited their daring deeds. It was also the scene for many a fiery political meeting.

Before the turn of the Nineteenth Century,  trees were planted along Prince Street and those at the edge of the reserve sheltered many horses as their owners shopped in the nearby establishments.

About 1908 a drinking fountain was erected on the corner near the street and reticulated water was laid to help with the dust problem in the streets. The water came from a bore in Fisher Park and was pumped to an overhead tank. It was this scheme that helped save many businesses in the fire of May 1908, when the Market Hotel burned down. At the time the hotel proprietor was Mr. W J Weiley. Many of Mr. Weiley’s possessions were rescued and moved to the Reserve. After the fire, he applied to the Courts and Municipal Council to erect a temporary hotel bar and parlours on the Market Reserve so he could continue to carry on business. This was granted.

In 1908 a portion of the Reserve was dedicated as a site for the Grafton Fire Station. By 1911 a fully equipped fire station under the control of State Fire Commissioners had been completed and the city was very proud of its achievement. However, there was a problem. There were no horses on site to pull the fire engine. This was soon remedied when generous city residents stabled two fine draught horses nearby, for the use of the fire brigade in times of need.

New additions were added in 1923 including a high- class recreation room for the on-call and off-duty firemen. Although new amenities, fire trucks and, equipment have been added over the years the fire station building has changed little over the years and can be seen on the Reserve today.

Mackey Archives -Local History

Fire Station, Grafton

The Grafton Ambulance Society had been formed in 1892. In 1911 a new horse-drawn ambulance was housed at the hospital. In 1923 the Grafton Ambulance acquired their first motorized vehicle and a new brick garage to house it was built next to the Fire Station on the Market Reserve. (Site was to the right of the picket fence in above photograph). A new ambulance was purchased in 1927. However, it became obvious that the small garage was becoming inadequate and in 1929 a block of land on the corner of Fry and Prince Street was gazetted for the purpose of a new Ambulance Station. The new premises were built in 1936.

In 1930-1932 rail embankments were built on the northern side of the Reserve to carry the rail lines leading to the rail and road bridge which was opened in 1932.

Later the Grafton Municipal Council resumed and purchased adjoining lands and the whole area was turned into parklands and renamed Market square. Trees were planted and formal gardens constructed.

In recent years Market Square has been the venue for many community functions and activities from political and protest rallies and Carols by Candlelight, to the Jacaranda Festival ceremony of the crowning of the Jacaranda Queen. This takes place in early November under the flood lit Jacaranda Trees.

Mackey Archives -Local History

Market Square on a Sunday morning in Winter

Grafton – The Saraton Theatre

The ‘silent movies’ were brought to Grafton in the mid-1920’s when H Smythe used the Fitzroy Theatre under the banner of Picture Pops.

(This building was later known as “The Trocadero”. It stood where the Westlawn Finance building is today)

The first purpose-built theatre in the area was the Prince Edward Theatre, which was built in South Grafton and opened in October 1925 for Carl Schwinghammer, a very enterprising businessman of that municipality.

Soon afterward, T J Dorgan who had the Star Court Theatre in Lismore announced he was to open his Dorgan Kinema in Clarence Hall in Prince Street before the end of the year. (Clarence Hall is now the Wesleyan Church).

The Notaras Brothers were Greek immigrants who had arrived on the Clarence River in 1908. They built up several businesses in Grafton area. These enterprising young men took over the Picture Pops from Smythe and expanded and up dated the program with not only the latest movies but other world-class feature acts. It continued under the name of the Fitzroy Theatre.

In September 1925  they announced they were building a new ‘State of the Art’ theatre in Prince Street (opposite Market Square), not only to rival Dorgan’s Star Court in Lismore, but it would be the largest and best-equipped theatre on the North Coast.

Notaras’s new theatre in Prince Street rose quickly and a competition was held among the Fitzroy Theatre patrons for a suitable name for the new theatre. Several people proposed the name “Saraton’ which is the name ‘Notaras’ spelled backward. This was chosen as the winning entry, and the entries proposing this name were put into a hat and Mrs. C Ryder of Grafton was drawn out as the winner.

The Saraton with three shops in front occupied a frontage of 25 metres to Prince Street with a depth of over 50 metres. The main entrance had a spacious vestibule, at the back of which were two wide doors giving access to the downstairs spring cushioned seats for over 700 persons. A wide reinforced concrete stairway led up to a foyer of 15 metres by 3 metres which opened to a large gallery seating over 400 persons comfortably. Electric light together with the latest fittings made it a real show case of architectural and decorative splendour.

The Saraton Theatre opened on 17 July 1926 to great excitement and fanfare to a record crowd. A special feature film named “Grafton at Work and Play” was commissioned by the Notaras family for the opening night.

The Notaras family very generously made the new theatre available to many community groups from St Celia’s Choir, Grafton Schools P and C, and Grafton Hospital to the Grafton Philharmonic Society for fund raising and benefit concerts.


Immediately Dorgan proposed plans for another new theatre on the corner of Pound and Queen Street. His Garden Theatre was opened on 11 April 1927.

However, the Great Depression was just beginning to be felt but Dorgan expanded operations by leasing the Saraton and Prince Edward Theatres allowing their owners to concentrate on other business interests.

In November 1929 Dorgan brought the ‘Talkies’ to Grafton and installed the latest sound equipment in the theatres. Matinees were added to the programs and were enhanced by the best artists in the entertainment world.

During World War II all the news was brought up and close and personal on the big screens by Newsreels shown in the theatres,

T J Dorgan died in 1944, but his company remained one of Australia’s leading theatre businesses and was managed by Fred Kehoe from 1934 to 1963.

With the trends of the time of ‘Drive-In’ theatres and television in nearly every home, the movie theatres suffered greatly and patronage dwindled.

In the 1990’s the Prince Edward Theatre burned down and the Garden Theatre was sold off. Only the Saraton soldiered on.

After some unfortunate fires, the Saraton had to close. However instead of selling off the theatre and land in 2008 members of the Notaras family decided to invest heavily in the complete restoration, updating and extension of the theatre complex to make it the leading one in country  New South Wales.

After some delays, the complex was finally opened in September 2010 and exceeded all expectations of the record crowd. The original film ‘Grafton at Work and Play’ was a feature for the grand reopening of the complex.

In April 2011 it was awarded the top National Trust Award for the restoration.

The Saraton continues to play a big part in entertainment for the Grafton patrons, not only for the latest movie releases, but world-class live shows, and concerts.

Grafton-Redevelopment of Pioneer Park

Just as places have histories, so do projects. This is the story of a community project that in reality had been 150 years in the making. The Sesqui-centenary Committee did not know this some years ago when they first embarked on the project. However, subsequent research showed that it had been a community dream from 1859 when the ‘burial ground’ was closed, as the Municipal Cemetery in Villiers Street opened. The Committee was honoured, as well as pleased, to be able as long last to bring this long-held wish to fruition. It was not easy, as the story below will reveal, but it certainly was worth it.


Pioneer Park 2010

This is and will remain a special place. There are no picnic tables, rubbish bins or toilets, that can usually be seen in Municipal Parks. This is a special area to sit and walk with nature in quiet reflection and meditation. To read the story of people buried here, and those who are not, but are honoured by their descendants for their contribution to the Clarence Valley.

In 2007 the newly formed Clarence Valley Council called for expressions of interest from the community to form a committee to arrange and generally organize celebrations in 2009 for Grafton’s Sesqui-centenary, or 150th Anniversary, of Local Government. This Committee made up of a cross-section of residents of the Clarence Valley represented no organizations or bodies and was under the direction of the Council. Committee members were encouraged to present projects and activities they thought would be suitable and to put forward to the Council for consideration for funds in the budget.  In the early budget estimates two projects were proposed, that of a written History of Grafton over 150 years and redevelopment of Pioneer Park as a Sensory Garden. A visionary idea put forward by a descendant of an early pioneering family. These were announced to the community through the press. Separate Sub-committees of the Sesqui-centenary Committee and Council staff were set up to investigate and oversee these projects. However, when the final budget program was announced the Clarence Valley Council could not find the necessary funds needed to set up the Sensory Garden. The History of Grafton had been funded for the research and writing of the book but fell short for the publication of same. Finally, the Council granted the additional funds for the publication of the book. That meant that the original Sensory Garden Sub-Committee was disbanded by the Council, as they were no longer needed.

At the next full Sesqui-centenary Committee meeting members were reminded that even though there were no funds available from the Council, that the Committee had already announced to the community that the redevelopment of Pioneer Park was a Sesqui-centenary Project, and great public interest had been shown. Members of the Committee expressed the wish, that every avenue should be explored to raise the necessary funds, including community and corporate sponsorship and State and Federal Grant Funds. The Committee Chairperson and other Committee members undertook to investigate the matter.

Several meetings between Committee members and Council staff were held concerning the proposed garden redevelopment using the original conceptual drawing brought to the Sesqui-centenary Committee at a previous meeting. The Committee was advised that the Council had no allocated funds or staff to help in any way. However, if the Committee went ahead with the project, the Council would require all the documents required by law for development and administration of such a project. The Council also insisted that the proposed plan fit in with the Management Plan of the Open Spaces and Parks. This included the long-term maintenance and care of the area. The Committee was advised that Council Staff could not manage the proposed extensive raised garden areas on the site. Any volunteer group willing to take on the long-term maintenance of such gardens would need to have insurance, and written contractual evidence of their commitment. The necessary project documentation included:- copies of all land Title searches, and original lands Department surveys and plans; all diagrams of plans and structures of the proposed gardens had to be prepared by a qualified draughtsman; any structures had to be of a licensed design and any large structures had to be accompanied by civil engineer certificates.

At this stage, the task was so daunting that it looked as if it was impossible to consider the project at all. However, the Sesqui-centenary Committee decided to investigate what could be achieved, and a new Pioneer Park Garden Sub-Committee was convened. This Sub-Committee then spoke to possible sponsors and many professional people throughout the city and beyond. They included surveyors, draughtsmen, title searchers in the Lands Department, builders, bricklayers, landscapers, nurseries, civil engineers, community clubs and service groups and others. Nearly all the people approached were completely supportive of the project and many volunteered their professional services, at little or no cost, and out of business hours. It was because of this enthusiastic community support, that the Committee was inspired to push on.


Pioneer Park-2010

It was during research in the Lands Department in Sydney, that several of the early surveys and maps of the area, where the burial ground is located, were sighted. Surveyor Burrows (1841), which showed the area covered in thick bush; Surveyor Darke (1849), which showed ‘graves’; Mrs Rose Selwyn’s sketch map of Grafton (1853), showing position of the ‘unfenced b(urial) ground’, and then the detailed survey of W A B Greaves (1856), which showed a plan of the actual location and alignment of the graves. As further research was done into the old newspapers, Grafton City Council Minute Books, Lands Department documents and family histories it became very evident that the citizens of Grafton had always held this burial place of their ancestors as a special and sacred place worthy of being specially put aside as a memorial to the pioneers of the area.

With the exact burial sites and the expressed community wishes over more than a hundred years or more coming to light, the Pioneer Garden Committee felt morally bound not to interfere with this section of the land, but to have it set aside undisturbed and without gardens and pathways, or the like set on it. The Committee felt they could no longer continue with the original proposed plan, which involved building over the grave sites. They felt they would need to come up with a fully documented and costed alternative design, which would better reflect the importance and significance of this historical site, not only for Grafton but the whole Clarence Valley.

The Committee then looked at past and present projects involving the restoration and development of old burial grounds in Sydney, and other cities across the state, and even interstate. They also looked at the costs, expertise, and requirements to undertake these projects. After much soul-searching, consultation and thought, a new design was drawn up. The new design with full costings was presented and explained to the full Sesqui-centenary Committee, who unanimously supported the new design and recommended it be sent to Council for approval. The Council approved the new design but reiterated that they had no funds for the project and that the Sesqui-centenary Committee was responsible for the funding of the project. However, they did confirm they would in their works program, lay water to the site. As the full costing of the project fell in the vicinity of $150,000 the Committee divided the project into Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Over the next few months with the great support of the businesses and community the Committee raised over $100,000 in donations and in-kind for this project. This was deemed to be sufficient for the completion of Stage 1 with a further $50,000 to be raised for the completion of Stage 2.

The Committee then set to work and arranged to have the work done with completion of Stage 1 for an Opening Ceremony to take place shortly before Christmas.

Then in late 2009, further funding became available through a Federal Government grant to Clarence Valley Council for works programs in the Clarence Valley. The Committee then put forward to the Clarence Valley Council, a proposal for consideration. Stage 2 of the project to be completed. This was successful as the Council unanimously voted to award the necessary funds and work program for the completion of the project.

The Councillors, Council Staff, Sesqui-Centenary Committee and Community worked tirelessly to bring this project to completion, even though there were many challenges right to the last, not the least of which was the weather.

The Pioneer Gardens were opened on 28 March 2010 with a very large crowd present. Several ministers of local churches were present and took part in the proceedings. The area was consecrated and formally recognized as a cemetery to be held in trust for the community in the future.


Information on the people buried in this cemetery; the family memorial plaques and the special features of this garden can be found in the publication ‘In Memoriam-Fry Street Pioneer Burial Ground Grafton, 1844-1868’ by Nola Mackey,2010, Grafton. This book of 125 pages includes maps, colour photographs, is fully indexed and referenced. Copies of this publication can be found in the Clarence Valley Libraries.


Extract from  In Memoriam- Fry Street Pioneer Burial Ground, Grafton 1844-1868, Nola Mackey,2010, ISBN 978-1-875840-68-7,pp11-13. Publication is available at Clarence Regional and Grafton Library.

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