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Located on the far north coast of New South Wales, this land was originally inhabited by the Goori Aboriginal people whose heritage in the Tweed Valley dates back 6000 years. Tweed Heads is of particular significance and the ceremonial bora ring which is of particular importance to the Goori people was made part of the Tweed Heads Historic Site in 1980. Explorer John Oxley first came through the Tweed region in 1823 and his expedition along the Tweed River had him proclaim the valley the most beautiful of all the places he had seen in his travels around Australia.
The densely forested banks of the Tweed River saw timber getters move into the Valley in the 1840s, and by the 1870s a town had formed around nearby riverside town of Tumbulgum with schools, churches and a post office established to service the growing community. With the land cleared, farmers would begin planting crops in the fertile volcanic soil and graziers would introduce cattle runs to the valley and soon settlement had extended down the river towards the heads.
The piece of coast which ran alongside the Tweed Heads was renowned for its treacherous reefs and sandbar which saw many passenger and goods vessels wrecked necessitating the construction of a lighthouse at Fingal Head in 1872. Despite having undergone significant upgrades and redevelopment since it was first constructed, the lighthouse tower remains unchanged and is the oldest surviving building in the Tweed Heads area. Even with the lighthouse providing a warning for incoming vessels, a further 30 ships would run into trouble along the Tweed coast up to the 1940s.
Yet one of the most notorious shipwrecks which occurred just outside of the heads was not due to the sand bar or the underwater rock formations. The Australian military hospital ship the AHS Centaur was on its way from Australia to New Guinea with medical supplies and a full medical staff on board to treat wounded Australian and allied soldiers who were held at a military outpost in Port Moresby during World War II in 1943, when it was sunk in the water off Tweed Heads. Despite a medical cross clearly painted on the ships sides rendering it safe from enemy fire, a Japanese submarine fired a torpedo into the ship starting a severe fire which would sink the ship very quickly. Of the 332 people on board the Centaur, only two would survive the ordeal which saw many other survivors succumb to shark attacks in the 34 hours between the ships sinking and help arriving. This remains the most devastating ship wreck in the Tweed region.
Today, the comfortable coastal climate and stunning scenery of Tweed Heads has seen tourism overtake all other local industries to become the economic backbone of the town. In addition to being one of the favoured north coast towns for retirees, the excellent surf beach, nearby National Parks and lookouts and whale watching during the annual migration period have seen the coastal town become a favoured stop on the route between Brisbane and Sydney.
SSC19149: Tweed Heads