5ks from Lismore

The purchase of a new car is an an experience I only remember from childhood. As an adult, I’ve never purchased a new car. But as a child, I remember there was a strong family ritual about such purchases. The ritual involved taking my grandmother for a drive in the potential purchase to the nearby settlement, Tuncester. And the final purchase could only ever go ahead if she was happy with the drive.

Tuncester is about five kilometres from where I grew up on the edge of Lismore. Even now, it’s only a handful of houses, a factory, and a wrecking yard. Back then, the factory space was occupied by Tooth’s Northern Brewery. I don’t know what happened to the brewery, but I recall there was a lot of excitement when it opened about possible employment. The factory there now seems much larger.

In between Lismore and Tuncester there are vast paddocks.

The only thing I’m aware of now, though I wasn’t back then, was that Tuncester was home to Cubawee, a self-managed Aboriginal settlement in the days of state and church run “missions”.

This biography of Frank Roberts records the significance of what happened back then.

Roberts and his family moved in 1937 to the Aboriginal settlement at Tuncester, near Lismore, where there was no board-appointed manager. About 1933 he had committed himself to evangelism under the auspices of the United Aborigines Mission. Frank, his father and brothers held prayer meetings and ran the Tuncester settlement. In an effort to put pressure on families to move to supervised reserves, the Aborigines Protection Board had closed the school and threatened to remove children from their parents. Roberts campaigned against the board’s policies.

Tuncester became a refuge for Aborigines who objected to the authority of White managers on stations and reserves. Roberts called the settlement by its Aboriginal name, Cubawee, which meant ‘plentiful food’.


As we drove to Tuncester this afternoon, I kept an eye out to see if there was any evidence of the former settlement though, to be honest, I had no idea what to look out for. I noticed there was a Cubawee Creek, so I can only assume it was closeby.

Living not far from the railway tracks, as a child, I would regularly get as close as I could and wave to the passengers. As you’ll see from the photograph, it’s been a number of years since the train passed through Tuncester.
I’m reasonably sure this house was also once a shop.

Tuncester is only a few kilometres from the edge of the Lismore city settlement, and it’s not long before you find yourself on a dirt road, surrounded by cattle. Though you hear the sounds of the cattle and occasional car going past, you find yourself there with only your thoughts, some beautiful countryside and an amazing sunset. 

As you return to Lismore the road rises slightly, as you go over the levee bank, designed to protect South Lismore from flooding. In my childhood mind, it was always much larger, and a sign for this young boy that I shouldn’t travel any further out beyond the city limits.

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